Peter Singer on Sony’s Reaction to North Korea Hack 

Peter W. Singer, in an interview with Motherboard’s Jason Koebler:

​Now we get to the part that moves from jokes and silliness to serious, which is: This is not just now a case study in how not to react to cyber threats and a case study in how to not defend your networks, it’s now also a case study in how not to respond to terrorism threats.

We have just communicated to any would-be attacker that we will do whatever they want.

It is mind boggling to me, particularly when you compare it to real things that have actually happened. Someone killed 12 people and shot another 70 people at the opening night of Batman: The Dark Knight. They kept that movie in the theaters. You issue an anonymous cyber threat that you did not have the capability to carry out? We pulled a movie from 18,000 theaters.

This, in a world where “Keep Calm and Carry On” has become an overused meme.

L.A. Weekly: ‘Sony Pulling “The Interview” Is the End of Free Speech in Hollywood’ 

Amy Nicholson, writing for LA Weekly:

Sony’s official announcement that the studio will no longer release Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s North Korean comedy The Interview closed with the line, “We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression.”

So what’s it like when they don’t?

Yahoo’s Decline

From a New York Times Magazine excerpt of Nicholas Carlson’s upcoming book, Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo:

In many ways, Yahoo’s decline from a $128 billion company to one worth virtually nothing is entirely natural. Yahoo grew into a colossus by solving a problem that no longer exists. And while Yahoo’s products have undeniably improved, and its culture has become more innovative, it’s unlikely that Mayer can reverse an inevitability unless she creates the next iPod. All breakthrough companies, after all, will eventually plateau and then decline. U.S. Steel was the first billion-dollar company in 1901, but it was worth about the same in 1991. Kodak, which once employed nearly 80,000 people, now has a market value below $1 billion. Packard and Hudson ruled the roads for more than 40 years before disappearing. These companies matured and receded over the course of generations, in some cases even a century. Yahoo went through the process in 20 years. In the technology industry, things move fast.

Carlson’s take is pretty brutal, and paints a bleak picture for Yahoo’s prospects as an independent company. (Activist investors are pushing for a merger with AOL.) And it doesn’t seem like Mayer is going to get much more time.

I would argue that Yahoo lost its way early. Yahoo was an amazing, awesome resource when it first appeared, as a directory to cool websites. Arguably, the directory to cool websites. It was hard to find the good stuff on the early web, and Yahoo created a map. Their whole reason for being was to serve as a starting point that sent you elsewhere.

Then came portals. The portal strategy was the opposite of the directory strategy — it was about keeping people on Yahoo’s site, instead of sending them elsewhere. It was lucrative for a while, but ran its course. And it turned out that the web quickly became too large, far too large, for a human-curated directory to map more than a fraction of it. The only way to index the web was algorithmically, as a search engine. And one search engine stood head and shoulders above all others: Google.

Yahoo reportedly had an opportunity to buy Google in 2002 for $5 billion. Yahoo, under the leadership of CEO Terry Semel, declined. And that was the end of Yahoo.1 We all know hindsight is 20/20. There are all sorts of acquisitions that could have been made. But I would argue that acquiring Google in 2002 (if not earlier) was something Yahoo absolutely should have known they needed to do. The portal strategy had played itself out. All they were left with was their original purpose, serving as a starting page for finding what you were looking for on the web.

Buying Google in 2002, at whatever cost, was the only way for Yahoo to return to those roots. Google wasn’t just something shiny and new — it was the best solution to date (even now) to the problem Yahoo was originally created to solve. In a broad sense, buying Google would have been to Yahoo what buying NeXT was to Apple in 1997: an acquisition that returned the parent company to its roots, with superior industry-leading technology and outstanding talent.2

In short, Yahoo’s early 2000s leadership had no understanding whatsoever why Yahoo had gotten popular and profitable in the first place. That serving as the leading homepage for the entire web was important and profitable, and that the only way to maintain that leadership was to acquire Google.

Google, on the other hand, learned an important lesson from Yahoo. The basic gist of portals never really died: Google has gone on to build all sorts of properties like Gmail, Google News, Maps, and Google Plus, all of which are designed to keep users on Google-owned sites. But Google never conflated these things with web search. The home page remains to this day as spartan as when it first appeared, and they fully understand that the point of it is to send users to other sites.

Yahoo’s loss of focus on indexing the web was a mistake in the late ’90s. They had a chance to completely correct that mistake by acquiring Google in the early 00’s. They blew that chance, and it’s been all downhill for them ever since. 

  1. You could argue that the mistake wasn’t declining to acquire Google, but rather the earlier decision to hire Semel as CEO and an executive staff with a Hollywood/media company background. Two sides of the same bad coin, I say. 

  2. Among the many problems with this analogy: Apple and NeXT needed each other. Both companies were deeply adrift in 1996. NeXT had talent and great software, but their prospects were even bleaker than Apple’s. Google, obviously, did not need Yahoo, and in fact was almost certainly better served by staying independent and declining any offers to acquire it. 

U.S. Links North Korea to Sony Hacking 

David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth, reporting for the NYT:

American intelligence officials have concluded that the North Korean government was “centrally involved” in the recent attacks on Sony Pictures’s computers, a determination reached just as Sony on Wednesday canceled its release of the comedy, which is based on a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.

Senior administration officials, who would not speak on the record about the intelligence findings, said the White House was still debating whether to publicly accuse North Korea of what amounts to a cyberterrorism campaign. Sony’s decision to cancel release of “The Interview” amounted to a capitulation to the threats sent out by hackers this week that they would launch attacks, perhaps on theaters themselves, if the movie was released.

It seems very wrong to me to capitulate to the demands of terrorists and not release the movie on schedule, but ultimately it wasn’t Sony’s call, it was made by the theater chains.

App Store Search Results: As Bad as Ever 

Marco Arment:

Ged Maheux searched the App Store for “Twitter” and found Twitter clients ranked horribly below a bunch of spam and garbage apps, most having little to nothing to do with Twitter.

You can see similar ranking problems with almost any common search term. I searched earlier today for an iPad Instagram client — the iPad App Store search list for “Instagram” is just as spammy and unhelpful as this. I was only able to find what I was actually looking for by searching Google and asking people on Twitter.

It has always been the case that a Google web search for “whatever iPhone app” provides far superior results to searching the App Store for “whatever”. Sometimes the difference is as vast as perfect (Google’s results) and useless (the App Store’s), as we can see searching for “Twitter iPhone client” in Google and “Twitter” on the App Store.

That this is still the case in 2014 is a worrisome sign.

Apple Found Not Guilty in DRM Class Action Lawsuit 

Fast Company:

Apple’s lawyers pointed out in their closing statements that the plaintiffs had no actual customers complaining about their user experience, and two plaintiffs originally named in the suit were taken off after lawyers found they had never actually purchased iPods during the named time period.

The whole case was nonsense anyway, but this just shows how slapdash the whole suit was. The lawyers behind it were in such a rush to get their hands on a settlement from Apple that they didn’t even bother to vet their plaintiffs.

Apple Halts Sales in Russia as Ruble Craters 

USA Today:

Apple confirmed Tuesday it has halted online sales in Russia after the ruble plummeted to an all-time low against the dollar. And more tech companies could follow its lead, analysts say.

“Due to extreme fluctuations in the value of the ruble, our online store in Russia is currently unavailable while we review pricing,” Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said in a statement. “We apologize to customers for any inconvenience.” ​

Eric Schmidt Mistakenly Claims That Chrome’s Incognito Mode Can Foil Government Snooping 

The Daily Dot:

“If you’re concerned, for whatever reason, you do not wish to be tracked by federal and state authorities, my strong recommendation is to use incognito mode, and that’s what people do,” Schmidt explained.

So what’s the problem here? Incognito mode is designed for — and serves — a completely different kind of privacy protection than the one Schmidt implied.

People make mistakes all the time. But shouldn’t Eric Schmidt be an expert on this? The intersection of privacy, government snooping, and Google’s flagship product?

Tortured Logic

Adam Goldman and Peyton Craighill, writing for The Washington Post, “New Poll Finds Majority of Americans Think Torture Was Justified After 9/11 Attacks”:

A majority of Americans think that the harsh interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were justified, even as about half of the public says the treatment amounted to torture, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

By a margin of almost 2 to 1 — 59 percent to 31 percent — those interviewed said that they support the CIA’s brutal methods, with the vast majority of supporters saying that they produced valuable intelligence.

In general, 58 percent say the torture of suspected terrorists can be justified “often” or “sometimes.”

I find this disappointing, but not the least bit surprising. This cartoon by Jen Sorensen explains the hypocritical nature of U.S. support for torture. There are many Americans who see the United States’s role as the leading nation of the western world as entitling us to do things we’d never tolerate if done by others. What I would prefer would be to see the United States lead by example — to be the last nation to torture prisoners.

When the Senate report was first released last week, a host on Fox News, Andrea Tantaros, had an on-air reaction that many found comically absurd:

“The United States of America is awesome, we are awesome,” she said. “We’ve closed the book on it, and we’ve stopped doing it. And the reason they want to have this discussion is not to show how awesome we are. This administration wants to have this discussion to show us how we’re not awesome.”

“They apologized for this country, they don’t like this country, they want us to look bad. And all this does is have our enemies laughing at us, that we are having this debate again,” Tantaros continued.

I don’t think there’s anything funny about it. I think Tantaros perfectly explained why so many Americans think they support torture: if you start with the assumption that the U.S. is morally good, then whatever our government did must have been morally justified. That’s the thinking. Alas, that’s backwards. Our morality is based on our actions, not the other way around.

On the one side: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. On the other: Do unto others before they do unto you. Only one of those mindsets is “good”. 

Torture and the Truth 

Jane Mayer, writing in The New Yorker:

It’s hard to describe it as a positive development when a branch of the federal government releases a four-hundred-and-ninety-nine-page report that explains, in meticulous detail, how unthinkable cruelty became official U.S. policy. But last Tuesday, in releasing the long-awaited Senate Select Intelligence Committee report on the C.I.A.’s interrogation-and-detention program, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee chairman, proved that Congress can still perform its most basic Madisonian function of providing a check on executive-branch abuse, and that is reason for gratitude.

The Q.A. Mindset 

Michael Lopp:

My first job in technology was a QA internship. The summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I tested the first release of Paradox for Windows at Borland.

As an intern, I started by following someone else’s QA test plan — dutifully checking each test off the list. After a few weeks, I knew my particular area inside and out. A new build would show up, which I’d install via 3.5-inch floppies, and in ten minutes of usage, I’d have a sense — is this a good or bad build?

In QA, there is a distinct moment. It comes once you’re deeply familiar with your product or product area; it comes when you’re lost in your testing, and it comes in an instant. You find a problem, and because of your strong context about your product, you definitely know: Something is seriously wrong here.

A good QA engineer is worth their weight in gold.

How Circa Asks Users to Review Their App 

Matt Galligan:

The trouble with the pop up approach is that the app was inevitably interrupting the user’s experience. A method that’s more integral into the experience is the next step — we call this the integrated rating.

For Circa we decided to place an integrated rating in the middle of our list of news stories. That way, someone could scroll right past it without having to interact with it, as opposed to a pop up which requires interaction.

Apple: ‘The Song’ 

Nice sequel to last year’s holiday TV spot from Apple. Note how small a role Apple kit plays in the whole piece. It’s about people, family, and love — not gadgets.

Mat Honan on The Racket, and How It Almost Upended Journalism 

Almost heartbreaking that we never got to see The Racket come to be. Sounds like it would have been great.

Sound Designer Ben Burtt Deconstructs the Millennium Falcon’s Hyperdrive Malfunction 

I remember as a kid seeing a behind-the-scenes TV special that explained where a slew of the sound effects from Star Wars came from. Love this stuff.

‘Stephen Colbert Is Dead. Long Live Stephen Colbert.’ 

Nice piece by Will Leitch on the end of The Colbert Report, and along with it, Colbert’s blowhard politico persona. Part of what makes his upcoming role as the new host of The Late Show — as himself rather than the character — so intriguing is that we don’t really know what we’re going to get yet.

Andy Borowitz: ‘Dick Cheney Calls for International Ban on Torture Reports’ 

Nailed it. 

This week’s DF RSS feed sponsor was, a classic daily deal site. Here’s the title they chose for their sponsored entry in the RSS feed earlier in the week:

(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━uozɐɯɐ━┻

It makes perfect sense if you know the backstory of their founders. Check them out for some cool stuff.

Last Call for DF T-Shirts 

Last call for this round of DF T-shirts. Order now, or you’ll be shirtless.

Update: The shirt store is now closed. Thanks to everyone who ordered; we’ll start printing tomorrow.

‘Holiday Johns’ 

I made a special guest appearance on Turning This Car Around, with my pals John Moltz and Jon Armstrong (listed in order of who spells their first name the better way).

The Financial Times Person of the Year: Tim Cook 

Tim Bradshaw and Richard Waters, writing for the FT:

More than an hour into Apple’s annual shareholder meeting in February, Tim Cook had patiently fielded questions ranging from its plans for the television market to what he thought of Google Glass. But when one audience member tried to push Apple’s chief executive on the profitability of Apple’s various environmental initiatives, such as its solar-powered data centre, Mr Cook snapped.

“We do things for other reasons than a profit motive, we do things because they are right and just,” Mr Cook growled. Whether in human rights, renewable energy or accessibility for people with special needs, “I don’t think about the bloody ROI,” Mr Cook said, in the same stern, uncompromising tone that Apple employees hope they never have to hear. “Just to be very straightforward with you, if that’s a hard line for you … then you should get out of the stock.”

That’s the lead of their article, and I think it’s a great choice — the most telling impromptu public moment of Tim Cook’s year.

Top 10 Things to Love About Letterman’s Top Ten Lists 

Great piece by Ben Blatt for Slate:

In May, when Letterman steps down and hand the reigns of the Late Show to Stephen Colbert, the Top Ten List will likely retire with him. Before Letterman counts down for the last time, I wanted to commemorate one of the longest running comedy routines in late-night history by trying to learn more about its inner workings: how it’s crafted, how it comments on our culture and politics, and how it’s evolved since the mid-1980s. How do Letterman’s writers start a list, and how do they end one? What kind of jokes work best in the Top Ten format? What kind of jokes don’t work at all? Which political figures have found their way onto the list most often? And what’s with all the Regis references?

To answer these questions, I performed a statistical analysis of every Top Ten List ever read on the air by Letterman.

The Wrist Business 

Joe Cieplinski, on why he’s decided against developing WatchKit extensions:

  • Third, I’m talking about right now. Does it make sense to build a Watch app today, given what we know and what we have at our disposal? All of this could change in a few months, years, etc. What I want to know is what I should be doing right now to benefit my bottom line.

Me, I find it difficult to imagine what it’s like to actually wear and use an Apple Watch. If I designed software for it now, I expect that after the watches come out and I actually use one, I’d want to redesign/rewrite whatever I’d already done. I’m sure there will be some cool third-party extensions available on day one, but I don’t think developers will lose anything in the long run by taking a wait-and-see stance at this point.

App Store Rejection of the Week: ‘Papers Please’ 

Phill Cameron, writing for Gamasutra:

Papers Please launched last year to both critical and commercial success, and placed you in the role of a border inspector working for a totalitarian regime. The demands on exactly what is required for entry into your country grow over the course of the game, until you implement a full body scanner to check for explosives and contraband.

It’s this scanner that Apple has deemed to be “pornographic content,” according to Lucas Pope, the games developer.

So here’s an App Store rejection that many disagree with, but which is easy to understand from Apple’s perspective. Apple tends to err on the side of running the App Store with Disney-esque family values. The company places inordinate value in its family-friendly reputation.


  • Pornography usually involves nudity, but nudity is frequently not pornographic. Pornography is famously difficult to define, but I think one aspect almost everyone would agree with is that pornography is intended to create sexual arousal. I haven’t played Papers Please, but by all accounts, it’s a serious game attempting to create a dystopian police state. The nudity seems to be oppressive and invasive, not pornographic.

  • This case highlights the way Apple holds games (and apps in general) to a different standard than other iTunes content. Movies, music, and books are not held to the same PG-13-ish standards that apps are. I can buy A Clockwork Orange from iTunes, but if I made a game that showed the exact same things that are depicted in that film, it’d have little chance of being approved. Conversely, an R-rated movie version of Papers Please could depict this scene without a hitch when it comes to iTunes.

Update, 13 December: Developer Lucas Pope says Apple has asked him to resubmit the app with the nudity intact.

Transmit for iOS Update Restores ‘Send To’ Feature 

Good news:

After a considerate conversation with Apple, Transmit iOS 1.1.2 has been released with restored “Send To” functionality.

While the process feels less-than-perfect, this resolution is a nice reminder that, just as we thought, there are good people at Apple who will push hard to do the right thing. We hope you enjoy Transmit iOS 1.1.2.

I was optimistic that this would happen, because it just didn’t make any sense to me why they weren’t allowing this. With many controversial App Store rejections, you may not agree with Apple’s rationale, but you can at least understand it. This one just didn’t make sense.

Tools and Toys’s Favorite Camera Accessories 

Speaking of photography, Tools and Toys has put together a solid list of accessories.

Ken Rockwell Reviews the Fujifilm X100T 

Ken Rockwell:

The Fuji X100T is the world’s best digital camera because no other camera has its ability to capture great photos perfectly in any light, all usually on the very first shot. It’s also the world’s quietest camera, with a completely silent electronic shutter. […]

The X100T has an astonishing combined optical and electronic finder that allows perfect viewing of anything in any light. A lever push selects each one, and even shooting with the optical finder the just-shot image can pop up for review! New in the X100T is the ability to use the optical finder and have an electronic inset at the bottom right to magnify a focus area. No other brand of camera can do any of this.

The X100T is a mechanical jewel, made at least as well as a $7,000 LEICA M240, with all-metal dials, lenses and top and bottom covers.

I own and adore the year-old X100S. The T update brings face detection, Wi-Fi, the silent electronic shutter, and a few other improvements, but not enough for me to consider upgrading. This is a great camera.

Rockwell writes:

Just like the older versions, ergonomics are superb. The X100T is designed for photographers, not computer programmers. The X100T has all the dials and controls we need right at our fingertips, not buried behind a function button.

The menu/settings system could use a thorough redesign, but in terms of shooting controls — having aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation as analog dials is just wonderful. It feels like a camera. And image quality is excellent. It’s a little too big to fit in a pocket, but it’s way smaller and lighter than my Canon SLR. I already have a good camera in my pocket; the X100 series hits a sweet spot for me, between image quality, photographic control, and weight. $1300 isn’t cheap, but in my opinion there aren’t many cameras left that (a) cost a lot less than that; and (b) are good enough to justify carrying them around instead of just shooting everything with your iPhone.

How Overcast Asks for Reviews 

Marco Arment:

My strategy to get good App Store reviews is simple:

  1. Make an app good enough for some people to love it. By nature, you’ll lose some people along the way, but that’s OK: an app that strives to satisfy as many people as possible will usually only get people to kinda like it, not love it.
  2. Accumulate a huge surplus of goodwill from those customers with a combination of step 1, usefulness, delight, and adding more functionality over time.
  3. Make it easy to rate the app with a button that’s never annoying or in the way, like in the Settings screen.

Maybe it’s just me, but in the past year, I’ve seen fewer apps interrupting me with an alert asking to rate the app. (When I do see such a prompt, I still do what I recommended last year: I give it a review with a low star rating.)

I’m also seeing more and more apps asking, in an earnest and honest way, for reviews in their App Store update notes. That’s a great practice, and I often do just that to reward them.

HockeyApp Acquired by Microsoft 

I didn’t see this one coming. From the HockeyApp team blog:

We want to be very clear about the most important thing: we remain dedicated to our mission of making the best mobile app development feedback and testing distribution platform in the world. Your HockeyApp apps and accounts will continue to work and the team has not stopped working on advancing the platform. Throughout the next few months, we’ll reveal more about our plans with Microsoft.

HockeyApp is the leading rival to TestFlight, which Apple acquired last year and began officially supporting within Xcode a few months ago. I’ve always liked HockeyApp — it’s what we use for beta distributions at Q Branch.

Very curious to see what comes of this.

If You Enable iCloud’s Two-Factor Authentication, Do Not Lose Your Recovery Key 

Harrowing tale from Owen Williams at The Next Web: his iCloud account was locked because someone seemingly had attempted to hack into it. But he couldn’t unlock it without his recovery key (which he couldn’t find), even though he still knew his account password and had access to his second “trusted device”, his iPhone.

I think he’s way too harsh on Apple’s policies here, though. Even the headline of the piece seems off to me: “The Dark Side of Apple’s Two-Factor Authentication”. The lesson here is that if you enable two-factor authentication, you might need to access your recovery key even if you haven’t forgotten your password or lost your trusted device. Apple should make that clear.

The lesson is decidedly not that Apple should allow you to talk your way back into accessing your account over the phone, which seems to be what Williams wanted. That’s exactly how Mat Honan’s account got hijacked two years ago.

The Talk Show Bond Anthology 

Back in 2011, Dan Benjamin and I reviewed the then 23 James Bond movies made to date (including the non-EON production Never Say Never Again). David Smith has collected those segments into a standalone feed so you don’t have to hunt for individual movies, and don’t have to scan each episode trying to find where the Bond discussion starts. This is so great.

‘They’re starving for material. Starving.’ 

From a fascinating 1997 interview with Paul Thomas Anderson by Roger Ebert:

Q. Los Angeles is filled with people who want to direct films. They’re always asking, “How do I get started? What do I do?” You have somehow managed to negotiate a path to that point. What do you tell people who want to be directors?

A. That there is nothing else I can do, and nothing else I will do. “No” is not an option. I have to do this or I will die. I only get to direct because I can write - that’s the key. The scary thing is, if you can write, you hold a lot of cards. They’re starving for material. Starving.

Instagram Hits 300 Million Monthly Users, Surpassing Twitter 

Perhaps it’s as simple as photos being more appealing to a broader audience than tweets. But I say part of Instagram’s success is that their interface is simpler, and the rules for what you see in your feed are like what Twitter’s used to be: a simple chronological list of posts from the people you choose to follow. Insert your own “Correlation is not causation” disclaimer here, but it seems to me that Twitter’s slowing growth corresponds pretty closely to its complexity increasing over the past few years.

Put another way: Instagram is clearly run by people who get what it is that makes Instagram a cool thing. Twitter seems run by people who just don’t get Twitter.

Apple and IBM Deliver First Wave of IBM MobileFirst for iOS Apps 

This press release from Apple is rather dry — full of blustery enterprise-ese that has a sedative effect on me. But I’m glad I stuck with it to the end, where they have links to both IBM’s and Apple’s galleries of these apps. These don’t look like “enterprise” apps. They look like regular apps — really good ones, the sort of apps Apple would choose to feature in the App Store. This was a huge question I had about this deal. Great design is fundamental to what sets iOS apart, and what has enabled iOS to lead the post-PC disruption of the entire consumer computing industry. Would great UI design play a part in this IBM/Apple enterprise endeavor? Looks to me like the answer is yes.

(Interesting color palette on that insurance retention app — looks like something I’ve seen before, can’t quite put my finger on it.)

President Obama Writes His First Line of Javascript for Hour of Code 

Obama writing JavaScript is a gimmick, yes, but I like the idea of making basic programming skills a fundamental aspect of education, right up there with reading, writing, math, and history. It’s fundamentally just logic, and better logic skills are useful universally.

(Apple’s iTunes team has put together a good list of apps, books, and podcasts to promote Hour of Code, including The Talk Show.)

Grantland’s Oral History of ‘Boogie Nights’ 

Fantastic look back at the making of one of my favorite movies ever. Here’s just one tidbit from postproduction supervisor Mark Graziano, regarding the spectacular opening shot/scene:

I remember that shot because I’m a Scorsese fan and I love that shot in Goodfellas where he goes into the Copa. And here’s Paul basically … he never said so, but the way I read it was he’s trying to one-up that Goodfellas tracking shot. And he did.

The whole movie owed a creative debt to Goodfellas to my eyes. Goodfellas created a mold for this sort of sprawling, years-long period-piece ensemble saga. The flow, the pace — the genius use of pop music to establish the era.

On HBO’s Existing Apple TV App 

Greg Sandoval, writing for The Verge back in June 2013:

Getting HBO Go on the Apple TV might have taken longer had HBO not begun to boost the number of engineers working at the company’s new development center in Seattle. Apple TV was the first app that HBO created completely in-house, said [HBO CTO Otto] Berkes, a former Microsoft executive who started at HBO two years ago. Prior to Apple TV, HBO teamed with third parties on its apps, but “this was 100 percent created by our software and design staff,” Berkes said. “It marks a turning point. I would say we’re two times faster than just a year ago, and that will increase over time.”

Earlier today: “HBO CTO Otto Berkes Resigns After Network Enlists MLB to Build OTT Platform”:

“Recently HBO’s management decided to partner with a third party to assist HBO in bringing our OTT service to market in 2015,” Berkes wrote. “This is a change in direction from what I planned with HBO and the approach will not utilize my overall capabilities. Therefore, I feel that this is the right time for me to move on from HBO so that I am able to fully pursue my passion building world-class technology teams, products and businesses.”

Major Update to YouTube App for Apple TV 

Peter Kafka, writing for Recode:

The world’s biggest video service has refreshed its app for Apple’s TV streaming box. The update means YouTube on Apple TV will look similar to YouTube on Xbox and other devices, both in terms of appearance and content.

The most consequential change is that YouTube videos on Apple TV will run with ads. Which also means that all of the videos that run on YouTube (most notably music videos) will now run on YouTube’s Apple TV app.

It also (probably) means that Google’s team doesn’t think Apple is planning a significant overhaul of Apple TV anytime soon, since it (probably) wouldn’t spend the time on an app refresh if it thought the device was going to change radically in the near future.

Kafka makes it sound like the apps for Apple TV are written by the third party companies, like with App Store apps for iOS. I’m pretty sure that’s not the case, and that the YouTube “app” for today’s Apple TV is like the YouTube app for the original iPhone: written by Apple, but designed through some sort of partnership with Google. Surely, for example, it’s Google that wanted ads to play. But I really doubt they wrote the code for the app. Apple TV (as we know it) has tons of third-party content, but no third-party software.

Has anyone ever written about the dynamics between Apple and the partner “channels” they have for Apple TV, and how those apps get written and updated?

Update: I had forgotten about this year-old piece by Jordan Kahn for 9to5Mac, with behind-the-scenes information on the development of the then-new Bloomberg channel:

While Apple’s SDK allowed them to build the app and interface and does include general guidelines and suggestions for video, the backend powering the video experience is completely built and maintained by Bloomberg. Apple actually has very little input in the development process after handing over the SDK, which is a good indication the development process could be transitioned into a more open tool for all developers. You might have noticed that the recently released apps on Apple TV all seem to have a similar design, although slightly different when it comes to certain features and layouts. That’s because Apple provides several templates that XML developers can choose from and customize in a variety of ways. Apple has also been working on improving the templates for Apple TV apps in recent months. Its newer Apple TV apps use navigation with tabs along the top of the screen, rather than the older apps that use a list on the right of the screen when first launching the app. Using Apple’s XML templates and guidelines, Bloomberg built the app using its own server side (Java, Tomcat).

Do they actually get to write Objective-C code, though?

Update 2: From what I’m hearing, no, it’s not compiled Objective-C code, it’s JavaScript.

Fortune: HBO to Outsource Streaming Tech From MLB Advanced Media 

Erin Griffith, reporting for Fortune:

Moving HBO’s new streaming service to an external platform is a blow to Otto Berkes, the chief technology officer of HBO. Since becoming HBO’s CTO in 2012, Berkes has brought in a number of his ex-colleagues from Microsoft and set up a large office in Seattle with 55 engineers, laying off a number of longtime employees in New York. The Seattle office, which is rumored to cost HBO as much as $100 million per year, has been the source of internal squabbling at the company. Insiders accused Berkes of building “a Napoleonic empire” within HBO.

From a recent Glassdoor review:

The once great group, now called Digital Products, has been in decline since about 2012. Change had been desperately needed, but change we got is toxic and lacking unity, direction and clarity. Culture is now unfriendly and full of back stabbing done with a smile.

Earlier this year, HBO Go suffered several embarrassing outages during episodes of Game of Thrones and True Detective. According to sources, Berkes had known about a “memory leak” for nine months but decided it was a “non-issue.” That leak eventually led to the HBO Go outages. Internally, some accused Berkes of using the outages as a way to ask for more money to invest in his Seattle engineering team. He got the investment, but HBO executives have not been pleased with what he’s delivered.

Pitch: an HBO series about an HBO-like premium cable channel going through the rough transition to the post-cable streaming world.

Daring Fireball T-Shirts 

Almost sort of kind of just in time for the holidays: a new printing run of DF t-shirts. We’ll take orders through the end of this week, print them early next week, and start shipping them around December 19. U.S. domestic orders should arrive before Christmas; international orders, alas, won’t.

J.J. Abrams on the Magic of Mystery 

2009 essay for Wired magazine by J.J. Abrams:

Spoilers give fans the answers they want, the resolution they crave. As an avid fan of movies and TV myself, I completely understand the desire to find out behind-the-scenes details in a nanosecond. Which, given technology, is often how long it takes — to the frustration of the storytellers. Efforts to gather this intel and the attempts to plug leaks create an ongoing battle between filmmakers and the very fans they are dying to entertain and impress. But the real damage isn’t so much that the secret gets out. It’s that the experience is destroyed. The illusion is diminished. Which may not matter to some. But then what’s the point of actually seeing that movie or episode? How does knowing the twist before you walk into the theater — or what that island is really about before you watch the finale — make for a richer viewing experience? It’s telling that the very term itself — spoiler — has become synonymous with “cool info you can get before the other guy.” What no one remembers is that it literally means “to damage irreparably; to ruin.” Spoilers make no bones about destroying the intended experience — and somehow that has become, for many, the preferred choice.

Space Age 

Speaking of Panic employees and cool new apps, I’ve been digging this whimsical exploration game from Big Bucket (Matt Comi and Neven Mrgan) — with an entire soundtrack by Cabel Sasser. Pure fun.

Mozilla, Way Late to the Game, Finally Decides to Bring Firefox to iOS

Mozilla’s then-CEO Gary Kovacs in April 2013:

One of the most interesting things he spoke about today was why Firefox has not been released on iOS while Google has offered its Chrome browser on iOS for some time. He confirmed earlier reports that Apple was blocking its submission due to Mozilla wanting to use a different web engine.

“iOS has a policy, generally speaking, where you have to use their web engine,” Kovacs said. “Our web engine is different. … I would love to see far more energy behind iOS. We refuse to make the policy switch.”

Mozilla VP Jonathan Nightingale, earlier this week:

We need to be where our users are so we’re going to get Firefox on iOS.

(Via Engadget.)

That it took them until 2014 to bend to practicality — iOS has been growing in popularity worldwide ever since it debuted, and Apple was never going to allow them to use their own rendering engine in an iOS app — epitomizes everything wrong with Mozilla as an organization. I’m all for idealism, but Mozilla has been idealistic to a fault. (Exhibit A: their stance against H.264 video.)

To once again quote the great poet-philosopher Kenny Rogers, “You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” Their refusal to create an iOS version of Firefox unless they could use their own rendering engine was a losing hand. They’ve now spent close to a decade bleeding relevance in the only part of the market that is growing: mobile. Compare and contrast with Google’s iOS version of Chrome.

Practicality wins. I’ve long suspected that Mozilla’s leadership didn’t understand why Firefox beat IE. It wasn’t because Firefox was idealistically superior — open source, free of charge, superior support for open standards — but because it was just plain better to use.

What Nightingale tweeted is exactly right. They need to be where their users are. But their users have been on iOS for seven years. Better late than never, I say — and it’s worth noting that Chrome for iOS has only been out for two years. But there’s no logical reason why it should have taken Mozilla this long to make this decision. 

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