The Drill Down 477: Google I/O 2017

This week, a global ransomware hack will make you WannaCry, Google’s I/O Conference, babies made from skin cells, Apple builds a new spaceship, and a pizza box, plus much, much more.

You can find the episode here.

Apple and the Autonomous Car

I was catching up on a news backlog and came across this interesting piece on the Project Titan, the code word for the autonomous electric vehicle that Apple seems to be making. Max at Appcessories brings us up to speed with history and findings from his recent research. 

One thing struck out to me in particular:

"Apple seems to have hit a bump when BMW politely excused itself from the future partnership. The German automaker, Daimler, also refused to join up with Apple for its project."

Apple, Inc. is a different company than it was in 2005, but it's worth remembering that Steve Job's Apple Computer, Inc teamed up with Motorola to create the first mobile device, a phone called the ROKR, that could connect to iTunes. At the time Motorola was at the top of hte mobile space, with a series of devices that had great performance and style, like the conversation piece, I owned, the Moto V70, the standard, practical flip, the Moto V60, and the gold standard of mobile device design at the time, the Moto RAZR.

Motorola was exactly where BMW and Diamler are now-- at the top of their industry. They worked with Apple to get the ROKR device out, but Apple was either distracted by the imminent release of their iPod Nano, which was smaller than the phone and could hold far more song's than the Motorola's arificially capped 100 song limit.

The disruption was complete two years later when Apple unveiled the iPhone, a device with more speed, more storage, a dazzling interface, and a music app. Motorola would never regain its spot as the top mobile phone maker again.

No- Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs but the lesson here is that BMW and Daimler, both of whom are working on both autonomy and advanced drive vehicles,  would do well to innovate on their own-- grabbing talent where they can, lest a relationship with Apple lead to a vehicle that completely devours their core audience.

Beijing Regulator Orders Apple to Stop Sales of Two iPhone Models

Eva Dou for the Wall Street Journal: 

"Beijing’s intellectual property regulator has ordered Apple Inc. to stop sales of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in the city, ruling that the design is too similar to a Chinese phone, in another setback for the company in a key overseas market."


I was in Beijing a couple of weeks ago and on the subway I was surprised by the look of one Android phone that at first glance, looked like an iPhone 6/6S. It was white and it was everywhere.  

The Drill Down 427: Peter Thiel, We ♥ You (Don’t Sue)!

While I was in China, Andrew and Tosin connected with Greg Davies of TARDISBlend podcast fame, to discuss Uber's ambition for autonomous cars, how Twitter plans to let you tweet longer, Google’s modular phone Project Ara, and they ask whether Apple become the next Blackberry.
Also-- in the episode: are crime algorithms racist? And why you shouldn’t piss off Peter Thiel...

Find the episode on Geeks of Doom.

The Drill Down 426: Fix Yo’ Sh*t

On this week’s Drill Down podcast, , Andrew, Tosin and yours truly discuss the end of the free ride for Windows 10, shady trending news reporting at Facebook, how Amazon plans to challenge YouTube, a new intelligent assistant from the mind behind Siri, and we wonder about disturbing reports that say Apple Music can wipe out your song collection.

Find the episode at Geeks of Doom.

One Year On, the Apple Watch Is in Need of a New Direction

Nilay Patel, writing for The Verge:

"I look at the Apple Watch and it's so obviously underpowered. We can sit around and argue about whether speeds and feeds matter, but the grand ambition of the Apple Watch is to be a full-fledged computer on your wrist, and right now it's a very slow computer. If Apple believes the Watch is indeed destined to become that computer, it needs to radically increase the raw power of the Watch's processor, while maintaining its just-almost-acceptable battery life. And it needs to do that while all of the other computers around us keep getting faster themselves."

I agree with him completely. But his argument is not impervious to critiques. As a close friend pointed out, the watch will get faster. Apple's moves to Watch OS 2 and native apps has helped immensely. And it's "a given" that future generations of the device will move more quickly.

But when I look at those truths, I remain unsatisfied. Patel's point is, in essence, that the watch was premature because the tech wasn't there in the first place. 

It's slow and has barely OK battery life from his (a quite a few others') perspective. When you think deeply and critically about those drawbacks, you realise that Apple compromised on performance in order to get the thing to last through the day, and that compromise lead to a poor experience-- consistently labelled as "laggy" -- from Day One. That's the opposite of what we expect from Apple.

My 120mhz Pebble Classic does a lot less than the Apple Watch to be sure, but the interface remains snappy after myriad of software updates and the battery still lasts for days on end. Those attributes are ones that I consider more "Apple-y" than the experience that I felt when I owned the watch for a couple of days before returning it; and that Patel has concluded over the course of a year of usage. 

When Apple lover and analyst John Gruber says he hopes Apple can "take a step back and reconsider some of the fundamental aspects to the *conceptual design,*" he's sugarcoating nothing less than severe dissatisfaction with the product and signalling that the iPhone+Wrist paradigm, with its gestures, buttons and swipes, and mostly-off screen doesn't make for a compelling device. When you combine his take and Patel's it sounds like they would hope that Apple chooses to make the watch less of a computer on the wrist, and more native to a watch experience- because this thing isn't working. 

This is not just an Apple problem. Google-based watches suffer from the same soup of technical yuck. The fact that purpose built, fitness trackers are still a thing rather than being sidelined by last year's touch-screen wonder watches means that if Apple and others want to attract people with their take on this new category, they need to offer truly snappy interfaces (read: quick), along with long enough battery life so that users don't really think twice about it. Charge it every night, sure, but build it so an active person gets an perceptually unlimited amount of use from the thing during the day. Additionally it's got to feel durable enough for users to really not worry about scratches to glass  and anodised paint, and yet retain whatever stylistic grace it's come to hold. And if it can't do these things, and do them soon, it needs to get cheaper. 

Especially when they at Apple's leadership claim such devices have a lifetime of only three years.

"We’ll support Mac if Apple ‘ever releases a good computer"

“[Rift support] is up to Apple,” Oculus founder Palmer Lucky said. “If they ever release a good computer, we will do it.”

Palmer's definition of a “good computer” is one that can handle the demands of VR software. The issue is that these games and tools need a hyper-rapid frame rate in the range of 90-to-125 frames per second to prevent people from getting motion sick. The Oculus founder says that Apple just doesn't have an option on the market to meet that demand.

“It just boils down to the fact that Apple doesn't prioritize high-end GPUs,” said Luckey. “You can buy a $6,000 Mac Pro with the top of the line AMD FirePro D700, and it still doesn't match our recommended specs. So if they prioritize higher-end GPUs, like they used to for a while back in the day, we'd love to support Mac. But right now, there's just not a single machine out there that supports it.”

The clickbaity headline leaves one feeling like "thems fighting words." But  once you read on, you realise that Apple really needs a product that allows the hardcore to be the hardcore vis-a-vis graphics. 

This month Apple is bringing back the iPhone 5 in an SE (Special Edition) form factor because, presumably, not everyone wants a huge phone in their yoga pant pocket. I've got a 6S and I can't say that I disagree. Running is harder with this phone than any other iPhone. 

Similarly, there is demand for the old-style tower Mac Pro. Call it the Mac Pro Classic or whatever, I'd happily give Apple $3k+ for a device that I could swap hardware in and out of. They've got great products but their push-up make things smaller and tighter has become frustrating for many. Now it threatens to leave them out of the game when it comes to the top brass of emerging VR tech. 

Then again Apple could release their own VR solution and many would strongly consider it over the competition.  

Report: Google is the default iPhone search engine because it paid Apple $1 billion

Caitlin McGarry, writing for PCWorld:

"Apple has admonished Google for violating user privacy with practices like mining emails for keywords to generate ad revenue. Now we know that Apple financially benefits from Google’s ad-targeting practices."

This quote (and  the article's headline) strikes me as bothersome. First-- Google has a revenue sharing agreement with Apple on search ad revenue. They didn't cut Apple a check for $1 billion up front to exclude other search engines. The arrangement is performance-based. It doesn't seem as if there's any sort of barrier to MS's Bing outbidding Google for the same arrangement. 

As for the quote-- this statement simply doesn't ring true. In fact, Apple's making money on search ads-- ads that have context based not on scanned emails but on terms that users input to a search engine for the purpose of receiving a contextually relevant response as output. The ads they receive are based on the search terms, not on scans of email or browser tracking.


Griffin's BreakSafe Magnetic USB-C adapter

I've recently been in the market for a new laptop. The Macbook seemed attractive at first because it's thin, light, and sufficiently powerful for a daily driver.

But then one notices that it's missing the one thing that convinced me that Apple's laptop hardware was thoughtful, all those years ago when I started my romance with their products: Magsafe. 

For all the tradeoffs that a general purpose computer could have, this one boggles my mind the most. The statement that one port on a computer makes is... big. But making that big statement while taking away a truly key feature is.... bizarre. We would ooo and ahh about the awesome new keyboard, the thinness, lightness, power, and battery life fine and not at all begrudge that port sitting next to a MagSafe power cord. 

If this Macbook truly indicates where Apple is taking it's laptops, I'd feel compelled to pop it on the list of Apple's questionable design choices for 2015

And I don't care what Stern says, that battery case is yuck. Not iPhone 4 's line-breaks-on-the-antenna-that-I-could-get-used-to-yuck. Just yuck.

The Verge has some more info on how accessory maker Griffin has hacked or dongled their way into getting MagSafe on the new Macbook. It's ugly, but it could literally save your Mac from a fateful crash from atop a coffee table.

Apple Watch-- watch out.

Las Vegas-- CES 2016:


Samsung's Tizen-based Gear S2 watches will be coming to iOS in 2016. During their press conference this afternoon, Vice President of Product Marketing Alanna Cotton relayed the news that Samsung would be the second mass-market company (after Pebble) to come to Apple's iconic smartphone platform with an operating system that's native to the embedded device format.

Korean-based Samsung further announced two new versions of the Gear S2 Classic--platinum and rose gold. Notable is the fact that the format of the Gear S2 Classic hasn't changed meaning that it's unclear if females with smaller wrists will find them selves attracted to the device-- especially with the recent female-focused watches from Huawei competing for the wearable computing attention of the fairer sex.

Just Tap Ten Times

Ever since iOS 9 showed up, my App Store app has been acting funny. Before upgrading my phone (due to certain reports, I waited until 9.1 arrived)  the App Store would often display "Cannot Connect to App Store" on every screen but the update page. After upgrading.... Same thing.

Today, the page is just blank and it's been that way for a bit. But Quartz reported on a trick worth trying: "Tap on the tab bar of any item 10 times." They report that tapping on any item in the App Store navigation bar should clear the app's cache and get it working again. Further, this is apparently a fix for other Apple App's with caches, like iTunes and  Watch's included app. 

Why not allow users to clear caches in the app's settings page, which is clearly the most obvious place to put the tweak?

"Don't Count Fitbit out Yet"

 "Fitbit, an eight-year-old company, went public in June amid a wave of skepticism about the impact that Apple's new smartwatch might have on its business.

Yet Fitbit has consistently beaten Wall Street's earnings estimates in the second half of the year. On a conference call with analysts in November, Fitbit's CEO said the Apple Watch had "no material impact" on its business. And now Fitbit is proving to be one of the most popular gifts over the holiday season, a key period for gadget shopping.

Translation: Don't count Fitbit out yet."

While some may be surprised, Fitbit's resilience actually makes a lot of sense. The fact is that Christmas has always been about kids and kids today care about the one huge experiential offering that (1) Fitbit has focused on and (2) that Apple's never been able to get their products to properly exploit: Social.  

Hop into the Fitbit app and one of the first things you'll notice is that the bottom navigation bar has four items. Two of them-- Challenges and Friends are not only in the Center, but they're easy to tap on because of that location. Challenges allows you to compete against specific friends for the day, weekend or week and friends is a more casual way to see what life is like on the leaderboard. As Apple's Watch is somewhat an "all things to all people" device, the lack of focus on that Fitness component is to be expected. But it's also something that Apple may be able to overcome. 

Let's get back to kids. Kids are relatively irresponsible compared to their adult counterparts since they're still being raised. Parents factor this into their gift decisions. A) They break things. Which means if you're a parent that wants to support your post-Millennial, Generation Obesity child, and you can choose between an indestructible watch+fitness band for 

B) They're forgetful so battery life matters because they always want to play with their device. The Apple Watch lasts about 20 hours with moderate use. The Fitbit HR counts battery life in DAYS. Sleeping over at a friends for the weekend and forgot your Fitbit charger? You'll be fine. Not so for Apple Watch. 

C) Price is also a thing parents are concerned about. At $147 for the Charge HR (Amazon as of this writing) , a couple with two tweens or teens can get each of them a robust fitness device without breaking the bank. 

D) Finally, the most important thing-- interaction. The Apple Watch is wonderfully compelling. For children, that's an issue. While a Fitbit HR quietly does its thing all week long; allowing youngsters to wear it in class with little to no distractions or associated drama, the Apple Watch, like all Apple products, wants you to play with it and to pay attention to it. This isn't because it's the One Ring or anything nefarious like that but because that's what happens when devices have touch screens-- users are compelled to touch them. To a teacher, that touching, no matter how meaningful, is fiddling with a distraction. 

this isn't to say that Apple didn't have a strong showing this Christmas with their wearable. It's safe to say that they've trounced the Pebbles and Galaxy Gears and even Android Wear devices sales numbers this holiday. That's probably the more important target...not Fitbit.

 "Instead, some industry watchers now believe there are enough wrists out there for both Fitbit and Apple to succeed — at least for this holiday season."

These devices -- especially the base models are inexpensive enough to own more than one. And in 2016, that's probably what's going to happen for a lot of interested consumers; especially when the second version of the Apple Watch debuts.

Who knows? Maybe they'll buy Pebble and become the "independent wearable company." 

Walt Mossberg isn't impressed: His Year in Review

Walt Mossberg on the tech of 2015:


 "Perhaps the most disappointing new twist came from Apple's 3D Touch. In my iPhone 6S review, I said I thought it could become a big deal. But, so far, it hasn't seemed to take off. Maybe next year. Maybe never."

new 12" MacBook:

"The newest Mac is slow, overpriced, and has a keyboard some find tough to get used to."

Mossberg continues with a discussion about the resurrection of MS and the general "meh" surrounding the Apple Watch, along w/ similar wearables. 

 I'd agree with most of his assessment but for one thing-- the Amazon Echo. To be sure, it was m released to a pilot audience in (late) December 2014, but it changed my domestic life in 2015. The Echo has gotten better and better-- week after week and month after month without my ever needing to approve an update or download apps for it. Between its lightning fast voice recognition, growing library of content along with it's aforementioned seamless updates and robust IFTTT support (you can set custom voice command triggers), Amazon really felt like the Queen of the Cloud.  What made the device stand head and shoulders above Apple's Siri and Google Now was the way the Echo was implemented, with seven microphones and a bunch of other kit, meant that I didn't need a phone nearby to take advantage of its functionality. I spoke to my house and it listened. I even picked up a second device for the bedroom to replace an app-enabled iHome clock radio. 

Other smart/connected home devices like Piper NV and the growing suite of Belkins WEMO tools also came in handy, with the latter certainly integrating nicely with the Echo directly as well as with IFTTT. 

It's true that the idea that every year needs a breakout super hit is part and parcel with what Paolo Bacigiulupi often "the Expansion Economy," in his work. It's a flawed measurement of success. Indeed for me, the Echo became indispensable (I very much want some version of it for my car), but like so many things, Echo is a remix of many ideas, implemented well. A revolution every hearsay make for great news cycles, but I'd rather tech giants take what they have, and refine it than drop half-baked moonshots at us all year long. 



Understanding the iPad Pro


In a recent piece on his site, Daring Fireball, John Gruber (who inspired the format of this blog) layed out an effective response to anyone confounded over the price and purpose/scope of the iPad Pro:

"We’ve now reached an inflection point. The new MacBook is slower, gets worse battery life, and even its cheapest configuration costs $200 more than the top-of-the-line iPad Pro. The iPad Pro is more powerful, cheaper, has a better display, and gets better battery life. It's not a clear cut-and-dry win..."

At first, many complained that the iPad Pro was too expensive since it began at $700 ($200 more than a base model iPad Air 2) and that to add insult to this imagined injury, its storage capabilities are tiny at 32GB.

When you look at the device as a computer replacement however, the pricing begins to make a lot more sense to me-- especially since this iPad, with the Pro designation, is not marketed as a movie watching, comic reading, couch surfing device - it's meant for productivity. It's meant for work. It delivers on that front and that means as is the case with all well-used tools, it pays for itself.

Perhaps if Apple had called the device the "iMac Mini," or the "Mac Nano," there wouldn't be any confusion on these points. But they won't because it runs iOS rather than Mac OS, so it can't be a Mac. As Apple continues to develop two operating systems, iOS will have to struggle with growing out of the perception that iDevices are toys or field hardware to be synced up w/ a computer later; that they're the stuff of reading, and Instagramming and games. It's a marketing struggle, to be sure, but one which Apple will handle with aplomb, as it always does.

The iPad Pro is the first device to directly confront that struggle.

Steve Jobs, the movie.

The 2013 Steve Jobs film, Jobs was abysmal at the box office. The 2015 effort, Steve Jobs seems to have failed as well. 

The reason is becoming clear. The man is a hero to a lot of people-- but not enough people-- not to regular people. The vast majority of individuals are muggles when it comes to business and technology don't really identify or deify Mr. Jobs. And that's OK. In Mr. Jobs' case, where there is serious confusion about the way he went about creating that legacy, and the style with which he treated people, creating a compelling narrative is exceedingly difficult. 

When it comes to the box office there is one more thing to think about. While The Social Network was a film focused on a tech and business leader, we must remember that Facebook had more than a billion active users at the time. Apple has sold 700 million iPhones, many of which are obsolete. The pool of people tied to the company's products is much, much smaller. The Social Network also came out at a time when the movie space had some comic book films but was not absolutely dominated by comic book films and other attempts at blockbuster. People are more likely to take a look on video because the story is as easy to take in on the small screen as on the large one. 

Fans should take heart. If the performances were tight, the film may have some success during the award season.