The Intercept: ‘Apple Logs Your iMessage Contacts — and May Share Them With Police’

The Intercept just published a very thoughtful critique of some seemingly incongruous marketing claims and actual behavior from Apple. Starting with:

Apple promises that your iMessage conversations are safe and out of reach from anyone other than you and your friends. But according to a document obtained by The Intercept, your blue-bubbled texts do leave behind a log of which phone numbers you are poised to contact and shares this (and other potentially sensitive metadata) with law enforcement when compelled by court order.


The fact that Apple is able and willing to help the government map the communications networks of its users doesn’t necessarily undermine the company’s posturing (and record) as a guardian of privacy, though this leaked document provides more detail about how the iMessages system can be monitored than has been volunteered in the past. Ideally, customers wouldn’t need to read documents marked “For Official Use Only” in order to know what information Apple may or may not disclose to the police.

If we take the Apple vs. the FBI on face value, it suggests that Apple will fight the government when it believes it’s the right thing to do and that it can win. What’s also rather interesting about Apple’s communication services is that FaceTime was supposed to be open source, which would allow independent review of the security of the protocol. Sadly, the FaceTime protocol never came to be open-sourced, arguably because of patent-trolling. It still seems true given this new evidence that Apple cannot handover the content of your messages, but some important metadata instead.

Bo Burnham: Make Happy movie review

I’ve enjoyed every one of Bo Burnham’s specials, and Make Happy is no exception. His unique musical take on the monologue is smart, entertaining, and not always funny – and this is a good thing. There are plenty of time in Make Happy that I didn’t laugh but I enjoyed, and don’t get me wrong, there are gut splitting laughs to be had. But occasionally, and the last 30 minutes in particular, are only incidentally funny to make his performance palatable, like he’s pushing what’s possible for the comedy special. He constantly maintains the element of surprise, faking the audience out only to reveal it was a double fake out, etc. At times, it’s relatable, and you feel as though the Burnham is talking directly to you, and others, it’s incredibly self-indulgent: he constantly walks the line of being “one of the audience” and being a performer on some other plane of existence. Make Happy contains enough of his previous work in that some of the songs in the special are reminiscent of his earlier work, but not strenuously so, and the jokes have that same rapid-fire wit and irony that they’ve always had. But the comedy special goes deeper, and I recommend that you check out his specials chronologically to really get it, and that’ll it’ll be worth your while. Burnham is a master of medium, he adopts and sheds genres and comedic styles and media as his comedy requires. Make Happy is evocative enough of his previous work to please his fans and yet evolutionary enough to not be stale or boring, I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Disney could acquire Twitter

Bloomberg via Gruber:

The Walt Disney Co. is working with a financial adviser to evaluate a possible bid for Twitter Inc., according to people familiar with the matter. After receiving interest in discussing a deal, Twitter has started a process to evaluate a potential sale. Inc. is also considering a bid, working with Bank of America on the process, according to other people, who declined to be named because the matter is private.

That makes me a lot more confident in Twitter’s future than a Google bid. Also, a touch of told ya so.

WSJ: ‘Snapchat Releases First Hardware Product, Spectacles’

What does it do? Cut’n’dry, from the Wall Street Journal via Gruber:

When you slip Spectacles on and tap a button near the hinge, it records up to 10 seconds of video from your first-person vantage. Each new tap records another clip.

  1. They look stupid, but so does much of wearable tech and perhaps this is just my taste;
  2. I would not want Snap Inc. to have the power to “see what I see” arbitrarily, I’d like to see the terms of use and privacy policy of these things;
  3. Bluetooth?

Twitter may soon be acquired by Salesforce or Google


David Faber and Anita Balakrishnan, reporting for CNBC:

Twitter shares surged Friday after sources said the ailing social media company moved closer to being sold.

The sources said the company has received expressions of interest from several technology or media companies and may receive a formal bid shortly. The potential suitors include Google and, among other technology companies, sources said.

If this happens, I sure hope it’s Salesforce that buys them, not Google. The news was taken seriously enough that Twitter’s share price closed up 21 percent for the day.

I would much prefer it was a communications, media company, or publishing company, like AT&T, MSNBC, or Advance Publications. For Google, Twitter is a stream to fit ads into; for Salesforce, perhaps a research tool? (Still not entirely sure the Salesforce bid makes any sense.) I’d be much more inclined to use Twitter if it became a communication product, news distribution tool, or a content generation platform, not another advertisement (and therefore surveillance) platform. Ideally: a public utility for free speech funded by the people.

Haptics in the iPhone 7

Graham Spencer for MacStories on the new Taptic Engine functionality with the iPhone 7:

Apple introduced the Taptic Engine with the iPhone 6s, where it replaced the old vibration motor and was also used to provide haptic feedback for when you activated 3D Touch. This year with the iPhone 7, Apple has improved the Taptic Engine and it plays a critical role in simulating the press of the Home button, which is no longer a physical button. But the Taptic Engine in the iPhone 7 goes even further with the introduction of System Haptics, where a number of UI elements in iOS will now also provide tactile haptic feedback when you activate them.

I had forgotten about this change when I first picked up an iPhone 7 while I was passing an Apple Store. Immediately, when I pressed the home button to unlock the phone, I was really taken by surprise at how strange it felt. There was nothing moving, and yet the phone was making it seem like something within it was clicking. I continued to click the button for some time to get a feel for it, and within a couple clicks I was sold: I like the new taptic home button. What I think is especially great about it is that it removes an external moving part and seals the phone there, while still giving the user feedback. Apple have a slogan in one of their recent commercials that illustrates the point perfectly: practically magic. It’s practical, because now it doesn’t matter if you have oily corn-chip-covered fingers when you go to press the home button: there are no creases or cracks for that to slip under and ruin (though please, reconsider touching your $700 with those fingers). It’s magic, because to the user, how it works is completely opaque, it just feel right. Subtle, but I like it.

iOS development links: September 22nd, 2016

iOS development links: September 21st, 2016

macOS Sierra ships today


Apple® today announced that macOS™ Sierra, the latest major release of the world’s most advanced desktop operating system, is now available as a free update. macOS Sierra brings Siri® to the Mac® with intelligent and helpful features users know and love from iPhone® and iPad®, along with all-new capabilities designed specifically for use on the desktop. Features like Universal Clipboard, iCloud® Desktop and Documents, Auto Unlock and Apple Pay® on the web help your Mac work even better with other Apple devices. And Photos gets an update with a new Memories feature that automatically creates curated collections of your favorite photos and videos.

The feature I’m most excited for is Auto Unlock!

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 vs. Apple iPhone 7 Plus

Supposedly, part of the reason for the Samsung Galaxy Note 7’s battery problem was that the company was looking to best Apple in a cycle Samsung believed would be dull. Here’s Bloomberg via Gruber:

So the top brass at Samsung Electronics Co., including phone chief D.J. Koh, decided to accelerate the launch of a new phone they were confident would dazzle consumers and capitalize on the opportunity, according to people familiar with the matter. They pushed suppliers to meet tighter deadlines, despite loads of new features, another person with direct knowledge said. The Note 7 would have a high-resolution screen that wraps around the edges, iris-recognition security and a more powerful, faster-charging battery. Apple’s taunts that Samsung was a copycat would be silenced for good.

Putting aside the tragic recall, I was interested in what colossal advantage the Note 7 had over the iPhone 7+ that caused it to fly too close to the sun, so I took a look at some comparisons online. Starting with the battery, the iPhone 7 Plus has 1,960 mAh rated battery, and the Note 7 has a 3500 mAh battery. Samsung’s battery is clearly better. But what about battery life in real-world use? As an example, consider that for Internet browsing on WiFi, the Note 7 lasts 14 hours according the Anandtech and Apple are advertising the iPhone 7 Plus lasts 15 hours. So despite Samsung’s nearly doubly rated battery, it’s arguably the same as the iPhone. Where consumers really care, which is day to day use, the iPhone is a clear victor. In terms of raw technological specifications, the Note 7 clearly wins.

Moving on to the display:

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has a stunning 5.7-inch QHD Super AMOLED display. It’s the absolute best in the business, bar none. The Quad HD resolution remains the same as before, for a 518ppi pixel density. Where Samsung has improved things is with the inclusion of Mobile HDR, which leads to an even more vivid, high-contrast picture in your videos.

Conversely, Apple’s mobile display technology remains a bit static. The company opts for the same 4.7-inch display with a 326ppi pixel density for the iPhone 7, and a 5.5-inch display with a 401ppi pixel density for the iPhone 7 Plus. It’s also used the same IPS LCD panel technology for years now, and it finds itself trailing Samsung on pretty much all counts.

The Note 7 is definitely better, especially when you consider that Samsung’s bigger and brighter display is also curved. As far as I can tell, the best use case of a display that dense is virtual reality headsets where the screen will be optically zoomed by lenses and right next to your face, meaning the iPhone’s mere 326ppi screen will show its pixels much before the Note 7’s 518ppi screen. I’d argue most users do not care about this, but indisputably the Note 7’s display is better.

What about the camera?

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 packs exactly the same camera as the Galaxy S7. We’re talking the same 12-megapixel unit with phase detection, Dual Pixels, OIS, an f/1.7 lens, and a 1/2.6-inch sensor – and we’re not complaining one bit.


But the real advance can be found in the shape of the iPhone 7 Plus, which adds a second camera to the rear of the device. This dual-lens setup combines a telephoto camera with a wide-angle camera – both 12-megapixel – to create an effective optical zoom option. They can also combine to allow you to alter the focus after the picture has been taken, much like a Lytro light field camera.

So roughly equal here in terms of megapixels, with the only obvious advantage being Apple’s optical zoom. This is something Apple clearly got very right: the camera is something that almost everyone cares about, including the people looking to push the limits of what’s possible with a phone.

What about performance? First of all, RAM:

The Galaxy Note 7 does have double the RAM of the iPhone 7 – 4GB versus 2GB, with the iPhone 7 Plus having 3GB, apparently – but that’s never been a particularly useful metric for comparison.

Double is definitely better. What about CPU? (via John Gruber)

iPhone 7/7 Plus 3,450 5,630
Samsung Galaxy S7 1,806 5,213
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 1,786 5,228
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 1,744 5,203
Huawei P9 1,729 4,735
OnePlus 3 1,698 4,015

Apple’s the clear victor in CPU benchmarks. But none of this is really what consumers care about. How long does Angry Birds and co. take to load on both devices? I haven’t tried this myself, but embarrassingly, in real-world app launch tests, the new iPhones lap Samsung’s latest offering:

As you can see in the video, the iPhone 7 doesn’t just completely dominate against the Galaxy Note 7 — it laps it by completing its second run of opening the apps before the Galaxy S7 has even finished its first. That’s despite the fact that the iPhone 7 has a mere 2GB of RAM compared to the Galaxy Note 7’s 4GB. It somewhat confirms Apple’s claim that designing software and hardware together improves performance and means the phone can perform well with less RAM.

I’m beginning to see a trend emerging. With the exception of the CPU and camera, the Note 7 is clearly better than the iPhone in a number of ways. (Not to mention it comes with both an audio jack and a smart stylus and a curved display!) But the problem is that Samsung has been trying to improve the phone when they should be improving the user experience. Instead of worrying about the mAh of the battery, they should have been worried about the number of hours on the web or on Netflix that people can have. What I find most embarrassing about this is that Samsung is blaming Apple’s “dull iPhone” for the Note 7’s bad year, and the iPhone is still arguably better in ways that most users care about. Some of these problems are more with Android than with Samsung: those battery life benchmarks reveal that Android seems to be doing double the amount of work that iOS is doing for browsing the web, and that’s not allowing Samsung’s battery marvels to shine. If Samsung ever launches their own mobile operating system which is only 50% better than Android at most tasks users care about, the iPhone would need to be careful. Until then, Apple can ship phones with half the battery life, half the screen resolution, half the RAM, and the same camera as Samsung offerings, and still have the courage left to remove the headphone jack. I’m very happy with my iPhone 6 Plus, but everyone whose getting an iPhone 7 is getting the best smart phone experience money can buy.

iOS development links: September 20th, 2016

iOS development links: September 19th, 2016

iOS development links: September 16th, 2016

South Park: “Member Berries” review

Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s absurd comedy with purposely poor animation is back! The episode starts off strong with a volleyball game modeled after the Olympics where the principle interest to the audience is whether or not people stand for the national anthem, and they quickly leave after discovering this. In order to make people like the national anthem again, the American government ask J.J. Abrams to  reboot it, and they take aim at his Star Wars reboot (reviewed here) when the new anthem is the same as the old anthem.

The season also picks up where the last one left off, with Mr. Garrison and Caitlyn Jenner running as a Donald Trump stand in, with an absolutely perfect narrative gag of Mr. Garrison doing too well in the polls despite actually trying to lose (this also resurrects the old school “giant douche vs. turd sandwich” joke). Mr. Garrison and Caitlin sit through the national anthem in hope of derailing the campaign and giving it to the turd sandwich (who is Hillary Clinton) This complements a trippy, out-of-nowhere plot element of “member berries”, which ask “member Reagan?” and “member when we were safe?” in a stupid high-pitched voice, as if it’s taking aim at Seth Rogen’s latest movie (which I review here).

Also, Cartman’s latest activity of being a social justice warrior in his own way – holding a school assembly to insist that “women are funny” and speak out against the harassment that women experience on the Internet. It’s heavily implied that he’s the aggressor (known as skankhunt42) as well as purposely botching his job, which wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Cartman. But then he asks Kyle what if he isn’t skankhunt42 and he’s genuinely scared of having a gender war. When you learn that skankhunt42 is Kyle’s dad the absurdity just flows over you in a wave of hilarity.

Overall, the South Park season premier was excellent, chock full of absurdity, crudeness, and satire that made me laugh throughout and left me wanting more. There was a lot in there, as you can tell from how difficult it was to describe, but it’s good that Matt and Trey are staying ambitious. I think it’s going to be a great season!

I’m going independent

I’ve big news: I’ve left my 9-5 job to freelance full-time.

For a while now, I’ve offered my development services to clients in free time. I’ve consulted with startups on strategy, built apps for agencies, and even done some photography and writing. What inspired me to do this is that it’s fun – I love meeting new people, working on new projects, and helping people. Starting today, I’ve taken the leap to make this my full-time job, and I’m so excited to see where this takes me. Taking on a new job has always seemed to me like a big risk – you need to make a life-changing decision with limited information. And every choice comes with a series of compromises, including being a freelancer vs. being an employee – for instance, guarantee of income, commuting, use of an office, withholding tax, etc.

Last time I took a job I did it with a company I had never heard of before, and it was only after a few months of working there that I understood the decision I made. I think this is another one of those cases, where I don’t have the experience of being exclusively a freelancer yet, and so I can not in principle know the consequences of my decision. Perhaps this is part of the appeal, because I know I am excited to do this, just like I was excited to take my last job. I’ll be documenting my experience on this blog to help people in the future make this decision with more information. Thanks for reading and feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to work on a project together!

iPhone 7 follow up

The on-stage reasons for removing the headphone jack were space, being antiquated, and the advent of wireless. Ben Thompson brought a BuzzFeed article to my attention that goes more in-depth about the space portion of this justification:

Apple executives told BuzzFeed that removing the headphone jack made it possible to bring that image stabilization to the smaller iPhone 7, gave room for a bigger battery, and eliminated a trouble-spot when it came to making the iPhone 7 water-resistant. It’s a solid argument, albeit one not quite worth Schiller’s hubris.

It also adds easier water resistance as a benefit of removing the jack, which I believe is probably true even given the other devices which are water resistant with headphone jacks.

Thompson also raises an excellent point about the iPhone 7 Plus camera. Because there are two sensors, with some clever software which combines triangulated information about the subject with clever guesses about depth, it’s possible to use the iPhone camera to created 3D imagery, even if only very slightly (the greater the space between the two sensors, the more you can triangulate and capture the 3D scene). Here’s how he puts it:

[W]hat Apple didn’t say was that they are releasing the first mass-market virtual reality camera. The same principles that make artificial bokeh possible also go into making imagery for virtual reality headsets. Of course you probably won’t be able to use the iPhone 7 Plus camera in this way — Apple hasn’t released a headset, for one — but when and if they do the ecosystem will already have been primed, and you can bet FaceTime VR will be be an iPhone seller.

What also struck me about this presentation was how conspicuously Schiller brought up machine learning as what powers some of these new features. This, along with artificial intelligence and virtual reality, are the new hotness in the Valley, and it seems to me that Apple is making long-term plays and hedges with the iPhone 7 Plus camera sensor.

iPhone 7

There was a lot announced at Apple’s event today, and I’d like to offer this piece as a knee-jerk analysis of what was announced. Before I dig in, I’d like to note that this was the first Apple presentation that used San Francisco as the font, which I think is a great change.


One of the most innovative products announced at Apple’s events today was not a phone, but an accessory which will conveniently upset users which suddenly find themselves without a headphone jack on their phone. Here’s how Apple introduces their new headphones:

Apple® today introduced AirPods™, innovative new wireless headphones that use advanced technology to reinvent how we listen to music, make phone calls, enjoy TV shows and movies, play games and interact with Siri®, providing a wireless audio experience not possible before.

Removal of headphone jack notwithstanding, I am excited to try out these AirPods. I’ve believed for a while now that Bluetooth wireless headphones have become “good enough” when compared to their wired counterparts. Admittedly, there are still problems, specifically the user experience around pairing, especially for multiple devices. While the battery life seems low and the price tag high when compared to similar products, the fit and finish of an Apple product seems present in this product. For instance, with regards to the user experience around pairing, when you pair your AirPods with your phone, that pairing is propagated across your Apple devices using iCloud, so you can use them with your other devices too. Also, you can use just one AirPod, perhaps as an earpiece, to be more inconspicuous, to use it more casually, or to wait while your other AirPod charges.

The bottom line is that I will get myself a pair of AirPods – I’ve wanted a gadget like this for some time, and Apple appears to have nailed the execution on Bluetooth earbuds.


But what of the new iPhone? Here’s how Apple put it:

The new iPhone features new advanced camera systems that take pictures like never before, more power and performance with the best battery life ever in an iPhone, immersive stereo speakers, wide color system from camera to display, two new beautiful finishes, and is the first water and dust resistant iPhone.

What stands out to me about the iPhone updates is that Apple finally seems comfortable with iPhone updates being just that – updates. In the past, the marketing materials and surrounding press all seemed to expect and to be delivering another “breakout/breakthrough/revolutionary” product, where the iPhone 7 seems comfortable with being an all-things-considered total upgrade. The new “Black” is absolutely beautiful, I much prefer it to Space Gray. The stereo speakers, improved display, improved camera, improved processor, and improved battery are all great – Apple really delivered an excellent phone.

Of course, the most glaring change to the every day consumer isn’t even listed in the press release, and that’s the omission of the headphone jack. I’m not personally opposed to removal of the headphone jack, I’ve been using Bose QC 35s for some time now and with great results. However, if I made music on my iPhone and wasn’t able to use flat-response headphones (necessarily with a jack) while charging my device, I’d be pretty upset. The problem for music creators with wireless is latency – when you’re starting and stoping a lot, the delay between hitting play and hearing audio in wireless headphones, even if measurable in the 100s of milliseconds, is infuriating and probably insurmountable for the foreseeable future. Once you start using monitors which process the audio before sending it as output, you can just forget about using Bluetooth, you need a wire.

The way that Phil Schiller justified this change was principally “courage”, but ancillarily having more space for the battery, the 3.5mm jack being “old”, and wireless being the future. The space justification is interesting in that this device is not any thinner than the last iPhone, which included a 3.5mm jack, and also on grounds that I bet this changes makes its way into bigger devices like the iPad, where space isn’t so tight. The “old” justification is not so convincing – the use of pixels, the use of cellular networks, the idea of a CPU are all “old” but still somehow relevant and important. Schiller is right about wireless being the future however, which is the only way I can interpret the “courage” line as arrogant and tone-deaf. The exciting thing about this, to me, is that the market will decide. I imagine Apple has done their homework, and found that not enough people care about the 3.5mm jack to justify its continued existence. I would much prefer to see usage numbers rather than hear about hand-wavy “courage” to justify this change.

The bottom line is that I won’t be upgrading my iPhone 6 Plus to the iPhone 7, but there’s definitely never been a better time to get an iPhone if you’ve wanted one. If I were going for a iPhone, however, it’d be an iPhone 7 Plus in Black, because the increased screen size, battery, and better camera all make for a better phone that the smaller sibling. Like Stephen Hackett, I wouldn’t go for the jet black:

I really like the look of the jet black in photos, but between this note and photos of the matte black option, I’m going matte.

Apple Watch

Here’s Apple’s take on the updates to the Watch:

Apple Watch Series 2 is packed with incredible fitness and health capabilities including a water resistance 50 meter rating for swimming,*  and built-in GPS so users can now run without an iPhone®. Apple Watch Series 2 also features a dramatically brighter display and a powerful dual-core processor.

The grand irony here to me as an avid Apple Watch user is that across Apple’s entire product line, from their professional-grade desktops to their bottom-of-the-line smart phones, Apple are obsessed with thinness to the detriment of every other metric. Number of ports? Well, we better remove a few in favor of being thinner. Size of battery? Well, battery improvements mean it doesn’t have to be as big, so better make it thinner. And yet, in the one product where thinness really matters to me, on the device which I think stands the most to gain from shaving a couple centimeters, Apple adds more power. These updates to the watch are much needed – third party apps are very slow, I must admit I’ve found the display ever so slightly lacking (but no showstopper by any means), and the experience of having your phone and your watch while running definitely needed rectifying.

The bottom line is that I will not be upgrading my Series 1, but I greatly look forward to getting watchOS 3 on there.