Third-Party USB-C to Lightning Cables Might Come in Mid-2019 (Which Is Good, Because I Still Don’t Think iPhone Is Ever Going to Switch to USB-C)

Regarding my question a few days ago about why there still aren’t any third-party MFI-certified USB-C to Lighting cables, here’s a report from Japanese site Macotakara, back in September (scroll down for their English translation):

Apple informed developers who participate in the MFi licensing program that they are planning to approve third-party products of “Apple USB-C to Lightning Cable”.

Apple plans to move C48 Lightning connector to C89 Lightning connector, C68 Lightning connector to C78 Lightning connector, ​​C12 Lightning connector to C79 Lightning connector, the price will also be about $0.50 higher.

In order to manufacture the USB-C to Lightning cable, a new “C94 Lightning connector” is necessary, it explains that it becomes a maximum 15W power supply specification in the case of non-USB-PD and 18W charging is supported in the case of USB-PD compatible. […]

As it is in the stage of USB-C to Lightning Developer Preview, third party USB-C to Lightning cable is expected to be released in mid-2019.

A few things to unpack here. “PD” stands for Power Delivery, a protocol for providing power up to 100W by switching to higher voltage. This is an alternative to Qualcomm’s Quick Charge standard in use on some Android phones. Standard USB is fixed at 5V and max current of 2.1A. 5V × 2.1A = ~10W max. Apple’s fastest non-PD USB charger is the 12W charger that came with older iPad Pros. That one does 5.2V × 2.4A = 12.48W. (You can see the output volts and amps in the small print on all chargers.)

With a PD power supply, chargers support multiple output configurations, and the devices negotiate which to use via a handshake. Apple’s old 29W charger supported two output configurations (photo):

  • 14.5V × 2.0A = 29W
  • 5.2V × 2.4 = 12.48W

Apple’s new 30W charger supports four output configurations (photo):

  • 20V × 1.5A = 30W
  • 15V × 2A = 30W
  • 9V × 3A = 27W
  • 5V × 3A = 15W

The next thing to understand is that MFI certification requires vendors to source their Lightning connectors from Apple.1 The old connectors don’t support PD, and the new connectors that do aren’t yet available to third parties. Basically, this is why the only option for officially certified USB-C to Lightning cables remains Apple’s own 1m and 2m cables.

Yes, there are some no-name brand USB-C to Lightning cables available on Amazon right now. Amazon even labels one of them “Amazon’s Choice”. But they aren’t MFI-certified and I don’t think any of them support more than 10W. Personally, I would never trust these uncertified cables. The reviews on Amazon are full of complaints that they fail after a few weeks, and honestly I wouldn’t trust them in terms of safety. I get wanting to charge Lightning devices from USB-C chargers and MacBooks, but if you don’t want to buy Apple’s own cables (which admittedly are expensive) you might as well just use an old USB-A to Lightning cable and a USB-C to USB-A adapter, because you’re still limited to the non-PD charging limits. The no-name brand USB-C to Lightning cables available today do not support PD, are not certified, and are limited to 12 watts. There’s a reason they only come from no-name brands.

It’s small consolation to those of us looking for high-quality third-party USB-C to Lightning cables and adapters today, but it does sound like they’ll start appearing in the second quarter of 2019.

The iPhone and USB-C

This brings me to a second point, which feels at least tangentially related to this whole USB-C to Lightning situation. Now that the iPad Pros have switched to USB-C, there are a lot of people — possibly most of you reading this — who think/hope Apple is going to switch the iPhone from Lightning to USB-C next year.

I don’t think that’s going to happen, ever. I could be wrong — there are definitely some compelling reasons why they might. But I don’t think they will for a few reasons.

First, Apple likes having complete control over the iPhone peripheral market. Consider iPhone cases that include a built-in battery pack. There aren’t many of them. Apple only recently approved Mophie’s battery pack for the year-old iPhone X. Battery packs are difficult — they block inductive charging and they can interfere with the phone’s antennas. That’s why Apple’s own battery case for the iPhone 7 had such a seemingly weird hump-on-the-back design: that design kept the battery from interfering with the antennas. It’s in Apple’s interest to certify that third-battery cases don’t interfere with antenna reception, because if they did interfere, people would naturally blame the iPhone for the poor reception, not the case.

But Apple wields its MFI control in other ways too. In a Twitter thread Wednesday, Nilay Patel pointed out there has never been an MFI-certified battery case with a headphone jack. This almost certainly is not because no one thought to make one, but rather that Apple will not approve them. Apple clearly thinks external battery packs (connected to iPhones via a cable) are a better solution than cases with integrated batteries. With Lightning, they can effectively control this. If the iPhone were to switch to USB-C, I don’t think they could stop anyone from making USB-C battery cases. I do not think Apple will cede this control.

Second, the nerd world may clamor for one universal connector that charges everything from iPhones to iPads to MacBooks, but the normal world just wants their existing cables to keep working when they buy a new iPhone. Lightning is obviously better than the old 30-pin adapter — the old 30-pin connectors look ridiculous in hindsight. But people upgrading from older iPhones were outraged when Apple introduced Lightning with the iPhone 5 in 2012. They saw it as a money grab — a new port introduced so everyone would have to buy new cables. The fact that you wouldn’t have to buy USB-C cables from Apple wouldn’t change that perception if future iPhones switch to USB-C — nerds might rejoice but regular folks will object.

For however many iPhone users there are who are upset that iPhones continue to use the proprietary Lightning port when they could, technically, use USB-C instead, I would bet big money there are way more who just want Apple to keep using Lightning because they already have Lightning cables everywhere they need them. It’s also almost certainly true that there are way more iPhone owners who do not own either an iPad or MacBook than there are iPhone users who also own an iPad or MacBook. These iPhone owners don’t care that the new iPad Pro and recent MacBooks have switched to USB-C. And even those iPhone owners who do own an iPad or MacBook are very unlikely to own the brand-new $800-and-up iPad Pro, and their MacBooks are most likely models with MagSafe.

Third (and admittedly a distant third at that), Lightning connectors and ports are smaller. Sure, at 5.9mm thick, the new iPad Pros are the thinnest iOS devices ever,2 and they use USB-C. But still, it’s easier to make a thinner device with a smaller connector. I also think Lightning connectors are more pleasant to use. They’re easier to plug in and easier to pull out. Lightning is a simple, elegant male/female design. USB-C, like all previous USB versions, is a weird male connector with female slot / female port with a tiny little male connector inside. USB-C certainly has some technical advantages over Lightning, but iPhones don’t need those features. The elegance (and I suspect durability) of Lightning probably matters more to Apple.


  1. Apple would prefer to maintain MFI control over all iPhone peripherals.
  2. Most iPhone users would be displeased, at least in the short-term, by a switch to USB-C.
  3. Lightning is smaller and more elegant than USB-C and Apple prefers smaller and more elegant.

I think iPhones will stick with Lightning until wireless charging is fast enough that Apple can remove all ports, Apple Watch-style.

In fact, I don’t think regular (non-Pro) iPads will switch to USB-C either. Apple is pitching the iPad Pros’ switch to USB-C based on actual professional features — driving external 5K displays, using PC-class peripherals, and support for very high-power charging. The only one of those that might apply to regular iPads is faster charging, which is always nice to have, but even that wouldn’t matter much to most iPad users, who (a) stick with whatever charger Apple supplies in the box, and (b) choose extra chargers based on price, not output wattage. (Spec-knowledgeable nerds have trouble believing this, but many iPhone users love the wimpy 5W charger Apple includes with iPhones because it’s so small.)

Lightning Gadgets

When I think of Lightning-powered devices I tend to think of iPhones and iPads. But over the last few years, Apple has put Lightning ports into a bunch of battery-powered gadgets:

Most of those aren’t related to iPhones at all — the iPhone could switch to USB-C and it wouldn’t really matter if these gadgets stayed on Lightning. Except for one: the AirPods charging case. That’s the one that is intimately tied to iPhone use in daily life. You really want to be able to charge your AirPods case with the connector you’re most likely to have handy, and that’s your phone charger.

There were rumors that Apple might ship next-generation AirPods this year. (There still are rumors they might ship this year, in fact, even though at this date that doesn’t seem very likely.) That would have been an interesting hint regarding the future of the iPhone’s charging port. I really don’t think Apple would launch a second generation of AirPods now, and sell them all through next year, only to change the iPhone’s charging port to USB-C in September.

One supply chain leaker with a supposedly good track record published a photo purportedly showing new AirPods cases, and, for what that’s worth (not much, in my opinion), the cases shown still have Lightning ports.

If Apple had announced second-generation AirPods this year, and the new cases still had Lightning ports, I’d take that as a strong sign that next year’s iPhones will too. And if they had shipped without Lightning ports (using inductive charging instead, perhaps, like Apple Pencil 2), I’d be a little less willing to bet that next year’s new iPhones will stick with Lightning. But Apple has not announced new AirPods (or even just new AirPod cases), nor recent updates to any of its Lightning-powered gadgets other than Pencil, so we don’t have any clues to glean on this front. 

  1. MFI licensees sign non-disclosure agreements with Apple with exorbitant financial penalties. So, they tend not to talk. But one little birdie I spoke with recently said that last year, for months, there simply were no Lightning connectors available to third parties, because Apple was consuming the entire supply because they were including three with each iPhone 8 and iPhone X — one for the cable, one for the headphones, and one for the headphone adapter. These supply constraints make me wonder if that’s why this year’s new iPhones still ship only with USB-A Lightning cables and chargers — Apple may not have felt confident in the supply of the new Lightning connectors that work with USB-C PD charging speeds. If they had included a USB-C to Lighting cable with every iPhone XS and XR, they’d have needed at least 50 million new Lightning connectors this quarter, and they apparently don’t even have enough to sell them to MFI licensees until some time next year. ↩︎

  2. Remember the iPod Touch? Apple still sells them, but they’re so long in the tooth they still use iPhone 6-class A8 chips. I think the plethora of old hand-me-down iPhones has really put a crimp the market for iPod Touches. I can’t even remember the last time I heard someone say “iTouch”. ↩︎︎

Rumors Float Claiming AirPods 2 Are Still Coming This Year 

Chris Smith, BGR:

A few weeks ago, Apple insider Ming-Chi Kuo said that the AirPods 2 would launch either in late 2018 or early next year. Now we have a Samsung insider making a similar claim. “Ice Universe”, who’s a constant source of rumors, mostly related to Samsung mobile devices, said on Twitter that “Apple will definitely launch AirPods 2 this year”.

Anything is possible, but I’d find it a bit strange if Apple released new AirPods this year. If they were going to be ready for the holidays, why wouldn’t they have announced them at the event in Brooklyn two weeks ago? Why would they release a holiday gift guide listing the current AirPods as the second item on the list?

People are already buying holiday gifts, and gift-buying reaches its manic peak next week with Black Friday. People who are buying $160 AirPods now — on Apple’s own recommendation — would be justifiably angry if AirPods 2 come out before the holidays.

And what about inductive charging? Last year Apple promised a new charging case for AirPods that would work with the still-missing-don’t-talk-about-it AirPower charging mat. I don’t think they were going to use the Qi standard for that, but instead something proprietary like Apple Watch uses. If they still plan on supporting this, would they launch new AirPods now even while AirPower is totally missing? How do you launch AirPods with inductive charging without a way to inductively charge them? And if they still plan on shipping AirPower in the even vaguely near future, would they ship new AirPods without support for it?

Idea: Deleting Apps From the App Store Updates Tab 

600+ likes and counting on this tweet that popped into my head this morning:

I wish you could delete apps right from the App Store Updates tab. When I see an update is pending for an app I never use, I just want to delete it right there.

Also, it would be great to be able to delete apps from Spotlight search results (or even just reveal them).

How to See the Magnets in the New iPad Pro 

It’s one thing to hear that there are a lot of magnets in the new iPad Pros. It’s another to see them.

Trump Warns That Florida Recount Could Set Dangerous Precedent of Person With Most Votes Winning 

Satirist Andy Borowitz:

Calling for an “immediate end” to the recount in Florida, Donald J. Trump warned on Monday that it could set a dangerous precedent of the person with the most votes winning.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said that those in favor of the recount had a “sick obsession with finding out which candidate got the most votes.”

“Democrats are going on and on about counting every last vote until they find out who got the most,” Trump said. “Since when does getting the most votes mean you win?”

Under Trump, the line between satire and news is ever more blurred. The above is a more fair, more accurate description of Trump’s reaction to these close elections than anything in the supposedly straight news.

Why Aren’t There Third-Party USB-C to Lightning Cables? 

Here’s a thread on Reddit asking why there aren’t any USB-C to Lightning cables from reliable, certified companies like Anker, Monoprice, and Amazon. It’s a year-old thread and the situation is unchanged. This stinks now that all MacBooks and the new iPad Pros have gone to USB-C, along with chargers that output by USB-C.

I have this Anker 30-watt charger, for example. It’s a terrific product — nice size, great build quality, and just $26. (Apple’s 30-watt charger is $50.) Another great charger is Apple’s new 18-watt charger that’s included with the new iPad Pros (but which, oddly, is not yet available for purchase separately). These chargers all use USB-C for output. So if you want to use them to charge a Lightning device — like, say, your iPhone — you need a USB-C to Lightning cable, and your only certified options are Apple’s 1-meter and 2-meter cables. Apple’s cables aren’t bad, but (a) they cost $19 and $35, respectively; and (b) the 1-meter cable is awfully long to be the shortest cable for this. I like having 6-inch cables for traveling, for plugging my phone into my MacBook to charge overnight.

Here’s a 9to5Mac story from 2015 where Anker was already showing off USB-C to Lightning cables for use with the then-new 12-inch MacBook. They still haven’t shipped.

What’s the deal here? Is there a technical issue? Or is Apple just spitefully keeping this market to itself? It really seems like a raw deal when you consider that Apple still doesn’t include a USB-C to Lightning cable with new iPhones.

Stan Lee: ‘America Is a Dream’ 

Great little graphic essay Stan Lee wrote for The Atlantic in 2007.

‘An Unshakable Humanism’ — Michael Chabon on Stan Lee 

Michael Chabon, on Instagram:

Some people are influences. Others — a rare few — rearrange the very structure of your neurons. Stan Lee’s creative and artistic contribution to the Marvel pantheon has been debated endlessly, but one has only to look at Jack Kirby’s solo work to see what Stan brought to the partnership: an unshakable humanism, a faith in our human capacity for altruism and self-sacrifice and in the eventual triumph of the rational over the irrational, of love over hate, that was a perfect counterbalance to Kirby’s dark, hard-earned quasi-nihilism. In the heyday of their partnership, it was Stan’s vision that predominated and that continues to shape my way of seeing the world, and of telling stories about that world, to this day.

There’s something apt about Chabon using a primarily visual medium like Instagram as an outlet for the perfect words to remember a man whose life’s work was writing for comic books.

Stan Lee Dies at 95 

Alexander F. Remington and Michael Cavna, writing for The Washington Post:

Traditionally, comics were drawn from a screenplay-like script provided by the writer. Instead, Mr. Lee said, he would offer his artists plot ideas and brainstorm with them. The artists would then draw the story, and he would later fill in dialogue and text.

Artists in his “bullpen,” where the artists worked in proximity to each other and to him, were much more involved in the creative process. This became known as the Marvel Method.

What remarkable staying power his universe has had. And the man was a master of the cameo.

Jack Dorsey Says Twitter Is ‘Considering’ an Edit Button to Fix Typos in Tweets 

It’s perfectly reasonable for something as advanced as an “Edit” button to take a multi-billion dollar company years to consider.


My thanks to Universe for sponsoring Daring Fireball this week. Universe is the first website builder designed from the ground up for iOS. Building a website should be fun and creative, so Universe doesn’t have templates. Themes, yes. Templates, no. Instead, Universe uses an open-ended grid and a constantly expanding array of “blocks” for content types, which makes building a site as fun as playing with Legos. Design a store (they’ve partnered with Shopify), create a portfolio, or start a magazine right from your iPhone.

Just this week, they released a major 2.0 update, including full support for iPads — just in time for the new iPad Pros. (Universe already supports the new iPad Pro screen sizes and round corners perfectly.)

I really just love the idea of owning and creating your own website. Universe offers a really original take on how to actually do this, and the fact that it started as an iPhone app means the iPhone is a first-class device for using it. I really think it’s one of the most interesting creative apps for iPhone and iPad that I’ve seen. Trust me, download Universe and just poke around for a while — it’s deeper than you think. Try it out free of charge on the App Store.

The Talk Show: ‘Welcome to Dongletropolis’ 

Special guest Merlin Mann returns to the show. Topics include the new iPad Pro and the state of iOS as a work platform, the mid-term election results, and holiday parties of yore.

Brought to you by these fine sponsors:

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The Baseball Ponzi Scheme 

Month-old news at this point, but I only just now got around to reading Grant Brisbee’s spot-on summary of game 4 of the ALDS, the best single game, by far, of the entire postseason:

But this is it. This is the baseball experience. You build up the energy over 162 games, and you store it and hope for the best, and the radiation becomes too much, and now the parakeet is dead. Great. Except that’s exactly what you want. You want the release after 162 games, the progressive jackpot paying off.

Baseball is a ponzi scheme, except it really does pay off occasionally, and when it does, you get everything that you promised.

Apple’s Q4 2018 Results

Amidst last week’s event and diving into testing the new iPad Pros and MacBook Air, I didn’t find time to comment on Apple’s quarterly results. Let’s catch up. Here’s Apple’s press release, which includes links to their data summary. Long story short, compared to the same quarter last year:

  • iPad unit sales and revenue were down a bit.

  • Mac unit sales were down just under 2 percent but revenue was up over 3 percent — so mostly flat.

  • iPhone unit sales were flat but revenue was up a whopping 29 percent. The iPhone X (and now XS) is a hit.

  • Services and “Other Products” were up too, 17 and 31 percent, respectively. I take this to mean AirPods and Apple Watch are growing like crazy. Anecdotal observation everywhere I go backs this up.

Jason Snell, as usual, has over two dozen excellent charts visualizing Apple’s results at Six Colors. I’ll reproduce just one, the first:

Pie chart showing Apple quarterly revenue by category.

I look at this and I think one thing: Fuck yeah, Macintosh.

For all the fretting for the future of the Mac — the widely held notion that Apple wants everyone to move from the Mac to iPad, that these totally shitty Marzipan apps in Mojave are the future, that the Mac is “legacy” — here is some cold, hard, financial proof that the Mac is doing as well as ever. Not only was the Mac far ahead of the iPad in terms of revenue, it’s downright amazing that it amounted to one-fifth the revenue from the iPhone.

No More Unit Sale Numbers for iPhone, Mac, and iPad

The biggest surprise was CFO Luca Maestri’s announcement during his prepared remarks on the conference call that Apple would no longer be announcing unit sales for iPhone, Mac, and iPad:

Third, starting with the December quarter we will no longer be providing unit sales data for iPhone, iPad, and Mac. As we have stated many times, our objective is to make great products and services that enrich people’s lives, and to provide an unparalleled customer experience so that our users are highly satisfied, loyal, and engaged. As we accomplish these objectives, strong financial results follow. As demonstrated by our financial performance in recent years, the number of units sold in any 90-day period is not necessarily representative of the underlying strength of our business. Furthermore, a unit of sale is less relevant for us today than it was in the past, given the breadth of our portfolio, and the wider sales price dispersion within any given product line.

This stinks as an observer of the company, but I don’t find it at all surprising. None of Apple’s competitors release unit sale numbers for phones, tablets, or PCs. I think it’s more surprising that it took Apple so long to make this change. Secretive company decides to be more secretive — news at 11.

After Tim Cook announced at the outset that they were never going to reveal Apple Watch unit sale numbers, and it played out just fine, I began wondering if Apple would switch to that policy for all of their products. There’s nothing special about Apple Watch in that regard.

I wish it weren’t so, but I don’t blame Apple for making this change. I also don’t think it has anything to do with Apple expecting bad unit sale numbers in the near future. Apple doesn’t make policy changes like this with the near term in mind. This change will affect what they announce in all quarters, for years to come, whether unit sales are good, bad, or middling. Apple is a long-term company, not a short-term one.

Tim Culpan at Bloomberg had this take:

HomePod was an abject failure, and the AirPower wireless charging pad is missing in action. But Apple Watch Series 4 is getting rave reviews, and the sleeper hit, the AirPods, will likely do well when that product gets updated. A refresh of its Mac lineup is nice, but it’s destined to remain a niche product in a market where people are less interested in buying computers.

HomePod may well be a disappointment, but “abject failure” seems a bit harsh. A few weeks ago Strategy Analytics pegged HomePod’s share of the U.S. “smart speaker” market at just 4 percent. That sounds terrible. But they also pegged HomePod’s share of the $200-plus smart speaker market at 70 percent. At $350, HomePod is nearly double $200. Maybe Apple ought to make a $100 HomePod Mini or something, but given what HomePod is and what it costs, it seems like a typical Apple product: dominating the high end of the market, overall market share be damned.

And to revisit a sentiment from above, I don’t get Culpan’s argument that the Mac constitutes a “niche”. $7.4 billion in revenue — in a quarter during which the most popular Macs were all overdue for updates — is one hell of a niche.

Also, not to keep picking nits with one paragraph, but AirPods are “doing well” right now, without an update. Given that Apple had nothing to say about AirPods last week, it seems pretty clear that AirPods aren’t getting an update this year. I still expect them to sell in record numbers as holiday gifts. 

Steve Jobs Announcing the Switch from PowerPC to Intel Chips at WWDC 2005 

The bit about performance-per-watt (around the 2:50 mark) seems like an argument Apple will be making again, this year or next, when they announce Macs running with Apple’s in-house ARM chips. Really, the argument is going to be exactly the same: Apple has ideas for future Macs that they can’t build using Intel chips. (Via Peter Zopf.)

What We Can All Do at This Moment Is Vote 

Inspiring piece by 98-year-old Roger Angell in The New Yorker:

What we can all do at this moment is vote — get up, brush our teeth, go to the polling place, and get in line. I was never in combat as a soldier, but now I am. Those of you who haven’t quite been getting to your polling place lately, who want better candidates or a clearer system of making yourself heard, or who just aren’t in the habit, need to get it done this time around. If you stay home, count yourself among the hundreds of thousands now being disenfranchised by the relentless parade of restrictions that Republicans everywhere are imposing and enforcing. If you don’t vote, they have won, and you are a captive, one of their prizes.

Via Kottke, who aptly describes Angell as a national treasure.

The 2018 Retina MacBook Air

The elephant in the room at last week’s Apple event was Intel.

Apple introduced two products based on Intel chips — the new MacBook Air and new Mac Mini — but barely mentioned the company’s name. The word “Intel” appeared on a single slide during VP of hardware engineering Laura Legros’s presentation of the new MacBook Air. She also spoke the word once, saying the new Airs have “the latest Intel integrated graphics”. In the presentation of the new Mac Mini, “Intel” never appeared in a slide and wasn’t mentioned. The CPUs in the new Mini were simply described as 4-core and 6-core “8th generation” processors.

One slide, one mention.

Apple is not going to throw Intel under the bus — they’re taking an “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” approach, as they should. Macs are Apple’s products, not Intel’s, and it’s ultimately Apple’s responsibility that both of these products went so long between updates. But Apple’s frustration with Intel as a partner is palpable at this point. Look no further than the other product introduced at the same event, the new iPad Pro. Apple spent an entire segment talking about the A12X chip in the iPad Pro and the performance it delivers. They spent almost no time talking about the performance of the CPU or GPU in the new MacBook Air. Performance is actually pretty good for the price and for the intended audience of the MacBook Air — but only when compared against other Intel-based notebooks. When compared against the iPad Pro, it doesn’t look good at all.

Single-Core Multi-Core Compute
2018 MacBook Air With Retina 4,316 7,847 22,048
$999 Old MacBook Air 3,335 6,118 14,570
2018 iPad Pro 5,007 18,051 42,574
iPhone XS 4,851 10,534 21,869
15" MacBook Pro w/ 2.9 GHz Core i9 5,653 21,737 59,010

What we’re seeing here is a double whammy. On the one side, Apple’s custom silicon team is firing on all cylinders, delivering new A-series chips year after year with ever-more-incredible performance and efficiency. On the other side, Intel has missed deadlines, and what they have shipped often isn’t impressive. In fact, when Apple did spend time bragging about the performance of the new MacBook Air’s chips, they were talking about the T2, the Apple-designed “security chip” that does a hell of a lot more than just manage security features. Even before they’ve moved away from Intel chips, Apple is boasting about the performance of their own custom silicon, not Intel’s.

Behind the scenes last week in New York, I asked a few folks from Apple for any sort of hint why these two Macs — the MacBook Air and Mac Mini — went so long between updates. One thing I was told is that Apple wants to focus on “meaningful updates”. The days of “speed bump” updates are largely over. The value just isn’t there.

The new MacBook Air is a meaningful update. It is faster, smaller, thinner, and lighter, with a terrific retina display (finally), vastly improved speakers, Apple’s terrific Force Touch trackpad, and more. If there’s a blessing in the long wait for this new MacBook Air to appear, it’s that it debuts with the third-generation of Apple’s butterfly keyboard. The Air skipped the bad keyboards.

The iPad lineup has seen meaningful updates on a regular basis not because Apple cares more about iPads than MacBooks, but because Apple controls the system architecture of iPads and they don’t control it on MacBooks — Intel does. Apple sells more iPad units than Macs, but the Mac accounts for significantly more revenue. Apple should love the Mac because it’s a fantastic platform — but they should also love it because it makes the company a lot of money.

Look at the iPad’s A12X compared to the iPhone’s A12 and you can see how much attention Apple is paying to the iPad’s system architecture. There’s no reason they won’t pay as much or more attention to the Mac’s custom silicon when they switch from Intel to their own chip designs. It should be downright glorious.

But that’s the future. In the present, we’ve got this new MacBook Air, and it’s pretty damn sweet.


There’s only one CPU option for the new MacBook Air: “1.6GHz dual‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz”. There are no build-to-order CPU options. I could be wrong, but off the top of my head, I think this is a first for a Mac notebook in the Intel era. MacBook Pros have a slew of different CPU options. The 12-inch MacBook, surprisingly, has three CPU options. Even the base model non-retina MacBook Air has two CPU options.

Why? I hate picking a CPU. Putting cost aside, I never know what the right balance is between performance and battery life. These are the sort of decisions I want Apple to make. That’s what they do with iPhones and iPads.

When you order a new MacBook Air, the only choices you make (other than color) are how much storage you want and how much RAM (8 or 16 GB). That’s it, and that’s how it should be.

I’ve been using a space gray model with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of SSD storage since late last week. I’m glad to be testing a model with the base 8 GB of RAM — this is the configuration that most people will actually buy and use. I use a lot of RAM because I tend to keep a lot of apps open and a lot of tabs — too many tabs — in Safari. My personal MacBook is a 13-inch MacBook Pro from 2014 with 16 GB of RAM. I’ve been thinking about buying a new 13-inch MacBook Pro with 32 GB of RAM. (I really need to clean up my Safari tabs more often.) Update: The problem, of course, is that currently only 15-inch MacBook Pros support more than 16 GB of RAM. My desired 13-inch MacBook Pro with 32 GB of RAM doesn’t (yet) exist.

I’ve been using this device heavily over the last few days — as heavily as I could while simultaneously testing the new iPad Pro, at least — and performance has been great. The system is swapping, but I honestly don’t notice. SSD performance is that good.

If you don’t know whether you need the upgrade to 16 GB of RAM, you don’t need it. I would recommend the base 8 GB configuration to just about any typical user.

The display is excellent even if it’s not Apple’s best. MacBook Pro displays offer 500 nits of maximum brightness; the new MacBook Air offers only 300 nits, according to Apple. MacBook Pros also offer wide color gamut (P3), and the models with the Touch Bar also offer True Tone. They also start at $1,800. Everyone who’s been waiting for a retina MacBook Air should be pleased by this display — it’s sharp, accurate, well-balanced, and more than bright enough.

The form factor is just about perfect. It’s noticeably thinner and lighter than a 13-inch MacBook Pro and noticeably more modern-looking than the old Air. One thing that Apple doesn’t get enough credit for in their latest notebooks is the quality of the display hinge. Metal now, not plastic, these hinges have just the right amount of resistance — they’re easy to open, easy to close, and easy to adjust to the perfect viewing angle. It’s obvious when you look at the industry and see what size notebooks are the most popular, but a 13-inch display really is perfect as the default size for most people.

These butterfly keyboards are polarizing. Some love them, some hate them. I’m in the middle. I like a laptop keyboard with a clickier feel and more travel than these keyboards, but with this third generation, the keys do snap back a bit more than they did in the first two generations. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve seen asking for Apple to make a MacBook keyboard with Touch ID but without the Touch Bar. Well, here it is. The only problem I’ve run into with Touch ID is that I just spent the last week with a new iPad Pro with Face ID, which is even better.

The Esc key works perfectly.

Battery life has been outstanding. Apple’s tech specs suggest this new MacBook Air should get better battery life than any other MacBook, Pro or not. I believe it.

Here’s a nice little touch: the Apple logo stickers included with the Getting Started packet are color-matched to the device. Space gray stickers for a space gray MacBook Air. Maybe this isn’t new, but I hadn’t noticed it before.

The Modern MacBook and the End of an Era

With this update the MacBook Air falls in line with Apple’s modern MacBook design language:

  • Aluminum color options (space gray, silver, gold)
  • Butterfly keyboards
  • Large Force Touch trackpads
  • USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports for power and peripherals

There are some cool things about the old designs that I miss:

  • MagSafe. USB-C plugs are hard to pull out. MagSafe was easier to connect and disconnect. The magnetic charging of the new Apple Pencil reminds me quite a bit of MagSafe. It was just such a great idea. I miss the charging indicator light on the MagSafe connector too.

  • The glowing Apple logo on the back. I’m happy to trade it for a thinner display, but I do miss it. It was just such an iconic aspect of Apple’s Mac notebooks, going back to the PowerBook era. I noticed a bunch of the black-and-white “Behind the Mac” images Apple showed in a short film on stage last week in Brooklyn prominently featured glowing Apple logos on MacBooks.

  • The new arrow key layout. I’m getting used to the feel of these butterfly keyboards in general, but I cannot get used to the new arrow key layout. I want my upside-down T layout back.

Making Sense of Where This New Air Fits in the MacBook Lineup

Back in August I wrote:

But the more I think about it, the more I think that something along the lines of the “just put a retina display in the MacBook Air” scenario seems the most likely. Nomenclaturally it makes no sense. The computer named just-plain “MacBook” should logically be the one that is the baseline best-selling model for the masses. The one named “Air” should be the one that is as thin and lightweight as is feasible. But today we’re three years into the era when the just-plain MacBook is the radically thin and light model, and the Air is the best-selling baseline model that isn’t really any thinner or lighter than the Pro models. Well, so what? We drive on parkways and park on driveways and no one is confused.

And so here we are, with a new MacBook Air that really is the MacBook for almost everyone, and a just-plain MacBook that is the MacBook for those willing to pay a premium — both in dollars and performance — for an ultra thin and light form factor.

These new MacBook Airs are terrific computers at fair prices. But the overall state of Apple’s notebook lineup is a bit of a mess at the moment. Here are your options if you’re looking to spend about $1,000-1,500 on a Mac notebook:

  • The old non-retina MacBook Air, which still starts at $1,000.
  • The new MacBook Air, which starts at $1,200.
  • The 12-inch MacBook, which starts at $1,300.
  • The 13-inch MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar — a.k.a. the MacBook Escape — which starts at $1,300.

The $200 difference between the $1,000 non-retina Air and new $1,200 retina Air is quite possibly the best $200 value you can spend in the Apple Store. The $1,000 MacBook Air is a machine I wouldn’t recommend to anyone; the $1,200 MacBook Air is a machine I’d recommend to anyone who doesn’t need more than 128 GB of storage.

The non-retina MacBook Air has a CPU upgrade for $150, but even with that upgrade it’s still slower than the new MacBook Air. I understand why the $999 Air is still in the lineup — so that Apple can say they have a notebook at $999. I have no idea why the $1,150 configuration of the old Air is still there. It seems like a rotten deal next to the new MacBook Air.

The entry model of the 12-inch MacBook comes with 256 GB of storage. The other entry models — including the MacBook Pro without Touch Bar — come with 128 GB of storage. Upgrading from 128 to 256 GB of storage costs $200 for all of these devices. These prices start to make more sense when you consider that. For 256 GB of storage and 8 GB of RAM:

  • New MacBook Air: $1,400
  • 12-inch MacBook: $1,300
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro: $1,500

The 12-inch MacBook is for people who want the very thinnest and lightest MacBook they can get. It weighs 3/4 of a pound less than the new MacBook Air, which is significant.

It’s not clear at all who the MacBook Pro without Touch Bar is for today, though. In principle, it’s for people who want higher performance than the MacBook Air provides. In practice, it’s not much faster — about the same in single-core, and about 15 percent faster in multi-core. It weighs more, costs more, and yet doesn’t have Touch ID.

Both the 12-inch MacBook and the MacBook Pro without Touch Bar are overdue for updates. (Have I mentioned that Intel has been dropping the ball lately?) Presumably, updates are coming, and when they arrive, these prices should all make more sense value-wise. But right now, the new MacBook Air is the only consumer MacBook that looks like a good deal.

A lot of people are looking at the lineup as it stands today thinking they must be missing something, because it seems obvious that most people looking for a MacBook in this price range should buy the new MacBook Air. They’re not missing anything. The new Air is exactly that: the MacBook most people should buy, and exactly the MacBook everyone has been asking Apple to make. 

The 2018 iPad Pros

The iPad Pro is like a computer from an alternate universe. In the normal universe, Moore’s Law has stopped delivering significant year-over-year returns, and high-performance portables need fans to cool them. In the iPad universe, Moore’s Law still delivers year after year, and a super-fast, genuinely “pro” portable needs no fan.

When I reviewed the previous generation of iPad Pros in June 2017, I wrote:

Apple’s in-house chip team continues to amaze. No one buys an iPad because of CPU benchmarks, but the new iPad Pro’s CPU performance is mind-boggling. Forget about comparisons to the one-port MacBook — the iPad Pro blows that machine out of the water performance-wise. The astounding thing is that the new iPad Pro holds its own against the MacBook Pro in single-core performance.

The new iPad Pros, equipped with Apple’s A12X system-on-a-chip, are now competitive in both single- and multi-core performance with the very fastest MacBook Pro you can buy. Some results from GeekBench 4:

Single-core Multi-core Compute
2018 iPad Pro 5,007 18,051 42,574
2017 iPad Pro 3,894 9,242 27,349
iPhone XS 4,851 10,534 21,869
15″ MacBook Pro w/ 2.9 GHz Core i9 5,653 21,737 59,010

That 15-inch MacBook Pro costs $3,100 with the base amount of RAM and storage. The new iPad Pro starts at $800. That’s not an entirely fair comparison — for one thing, the base storage for that MacBook Pro is 512 GB and for the iPad it’s 64 GB. But even with 512 GB of storage, the new iPad Pro is just $1,150 for the 11-inch model and $1,350 for the 12.9-inch. And that’s the current top-of-the-line MacBook Pro. The new iPads are faster than most recent MacBook Pro models.

“No one buys an iPad because of CPU benchmarks”, I wrote last year. I don’t think that’s true any more. I think there are people who will and should buy the new iPad Pro because of its performance. At the hands-on area after last week’s event, Apple was showing Adobe Lightroom editing 50 megapixel RAW images from a Hasselblad camera. The photos were by Austin Mann, who was there, and helpfully demoed the software, showing what a real pro photographer would do in real life with real images. The experience was completely fluid and instantaneous.

The main appeal of an iPad has always been about the experience of using one. It still is. But put that aside for a moment and consider the new iPad Pro only as a portable computing device. Its performance, both from the CPU and GPU, is simply bananas. It’s nuts. Astounding performance per dollar, astounding performance per watt.

Apple bragged during the iPad Pro introduction that they are faster than 92 percent of notebook PCs sold in the last year. That’s not so funny when you consider that “PCs”, in this formulation, includes MacBooks. iPads were popular and useful when they were much slower than typical notebooks. Now they’re faster than all but the highest-end notebook PCs. They’re just staggeringly impressive, well-balanced computers.

Apple Pencil 2.0

The new Apple Pencil is one of the best “2.0” products I’ve ever seen. The original Apple Pencil is a terrific product, but the new one nears perfection for the concept. New and improved:

  • Matte finish. I never really thought to complain about the glossy texture of the original Pencil, but the moment I laid hands on the new one I realized matte is better for this product.

  • Magnetic charging and pairing. When rumors surfaced that the new iPad Pros were moving from Lightning to USB-C, there was a lot of speculation that Apple would need to make a new Pencil with USB-C. This is so much better. As a nice touch, when you first connect the Pencil to your iPad, iOS shows you a Pencil on screen and it’s the exact size of the actual Pencil. It’s adorable. With the original Pencil, Apple didn’t provide a good answer for where you were supposed to keep it when it wasn’t in your hand. The magnetic connection answers that. It’s strong enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to keep the Pencil connected magnetically when putting the iPad in a backpack.

  • No cap, no dongle. It took me almost two years, but last month I finally lost the cap to my original Pencil on a train. The new Pencil has no pieces to lose.

  • Flat side. The old Pencil was weighted to keep it from rolling, but a flat side works better. There’s a reason why most pens and pencil either have clips or at least one flat side.

  • Optional engraving. I wonder how much of this is a “Why not?” thing and how much is fueled by the real-world scenario of coworkers or family members losing track of whose Pencil is whose.

  • Double-tap. Seems like a such a small thing, but it really does make accessing the eraser easier.

The new Apple Pencil is so good I have no complaints and can only think of one suggestion for the future: it’d be nice if there were haptic feedback when you double-tap.

Size and Form Factor

Apple doesn’t always explain their thinking, but when they do, it usually makes perfect sense. Their explanation for the physical sizes of the two iPad Pros is a good example. They kept the physical size of the 11-inch device the same as that of the 10.5-inch iPad, and increased the display size. They did this so that a keyboard cover would still offer a full-sized keyboard. With the 12.9-inch model, they kept the display size the same and shrunk the physical device, making it noticeably smaller and lighter.

I’ve been using the 12.9-inch model for testing over the last five days. It’s a lot easier and more comfortable to hold. There have been times when I forgot I was using the “big” iPad. When my wife — an avid iPad user currently using a 10.5-inch iPad Pro — first saw it, she couldn’t believe it was the bigger one. She never really considered getting the previous 12.9-inch iPad, but after some time using this review unit, she’s convinced she wants this size. I think everyone should go try them in a store before ordering, but I suspect most people who use an iPad as their primary “bigger than a phone” portable computer will prefer the 12.9-inch model, the same way most people prefer 13-inch MacBooks over smaller ones like the 12-inch MacBook or late, great 11-inch MacBook Air.

Personally, I still prefer the smaller size. But I don’t use an iPad as my primary portable for work, and these new iPad Pros aren’t going to change that.

With split view, iPad supports running two apps side-by-side. When both apps are 50-50, there remains a difference between the 12.9-inch and 11-inch iPads. On the 12.9-inch iPad, two apps sharing the screen 50-50 are both shown as the “full-screen” version of the app. It’s like each of the two halves of the screen are treated as an iPad Mini display. On the 11-inch iPad, however, two apps sharing the screen 50-50 use a compact size class horizontally. Apple illustrates the difference here. It’s not something most people care about, but it’s another reason why iPad power users are likely to prefer the 12.9-inch model.

The flat sides of the iPad look cool and feel good. I think this is not just the best-looking iPad ever, but the best looking iOS device ever. Round corners and flat everywhere else. No notch. The sides are even nicer than those of the iPhone 5/SE — more pleasing to the touch. I’d like to see iPhones adopt this look.1

The display is terrific, and just like with iPhones, the edge-to-edge round-cornered look makes older models look dated. Tap-to-wake feels so natural on the iPad. I’m used to it from over a year with the iPhone X/XS, but I think it’s even more important on iPad. With iPhones, portrait has always been the natural orientation, so the home button was almost always at the bottom. iPads don’t have a true orientation — they can be used in landscape just as often as portrait. Having the home button on the side while in landscape was always a bit inelegant.

I didn’t need any adjustment period for the lack of a home button. I think part of that is a year spent using iPhone X and XS, and the other part is that iPads have used swipe-from-the-bottom gestures for switching apps and getting to the home screen ever since iOS 11 last year. iPad was prepared to lose its home button a year before it lost its home button.

Cameras and Face ID

In years past, new iPads often used the cameras from iPhones — usually a generation or two behind. The new iPad Pros have their own all-new rear-facing camera. It’s not exactly like any previous iOS device’s camera. I haven’t had time to test it thoroughly, so I’m not sure where it stands compared to recent iPhone cameras, but it seems like a step up from the previous iPad Pro camera.

The front-facing camera is based on the one from iPhone XS and XR. This allows for Portrait Mode (you cannot use Portrait Mode with the rear-facing camera).

Face ID works great. You must train it in portrait orientation, but once trained (and training is quick, just like with iPhone X-class phones) it just works in any orientation. The only hitch I’ve noticed is that it’s common to use iPads while laying down. Face ID can struggle then.

iPad is not really a multi-user device, because unlike MacOS, iOS still doesn’t have any concept of user accounts. But I know that many people use iPads as shared family devices. iOS 12 limits you to two faces with Face ID — your default face and an “alternate appearance”. This has worked just fine with me and my wife sharing this iPad. But if you’ve got more than two people who’d like to share one iPad, you can’t use Face ID with more than two of them. You can enter a passcode, of course, but I think Face ID on iPads needs to support more than two faces.


  • The speakers sound amazing. I’m not sure how much better they are than the previous iPad Pro speakers, but they’re loud and clear and provide a surprising amount of stereo. It’s a great little TV.

  • I firmly believe that the iOS Files app should show attached USB drives. I believed this before, when USB peripherals needed to be attached using a Lightning adapter, but now that iPad Pros have a USB-C port, it seems downright silly that USB drives don’t appear in the Files app. I think the iPad’s old policy of not even having a Files app at all made sense. I’m glad Apple added the Files app, but it made sense not to have one in the name of simplicity. But it doesn’t make sense to me to have a Files app but not show the contents of USB drives when you connect them. This just feels spiteful.

  • In addition to tapping the display with your finger to wake it, you can tap it with the Apple Pencil to jump right into Notes. There are settings to always open a new note or re-open your most recent note. It’s very clever, and I think some people will use this all the time.

  • The new Smart Keyboard Folio cover is a much better design than the old Smart Keyboard. As promised by Apple, it’s much sturdier and more stable. Apple is really serious about all these magnets. They work. The downside, though, is that it’s thicker on the device, because it covers the front and back. I think this trade-off is worth it. The old Smart Keyboard was simply too clever. It’s still the case, and always will be, that an iPad Pro in “laptop mode” is very top heavy compared to a real notebook computer. On a MacBook, the base is the heavy part and display is light; with an iPad Pro it’s the other way around. Keyboard-wise, the new one feels about the same to me as the old one. Maybe the new one has a bit more click to it, but that could be me feeling what I want to feel — me succumbing to the reviewer’s placebo effect.

The Bottom Line

These iPad Pros aren’t cheap. Throw in a $179 Smart Keyboard Folio and $129 Apple Pencil and even the $799 base model will run you over $1,100 all told. (The 12.9-inch Smart Keyboard Folio is $199.) But these aren’t “just tablets”. They’re tablets, yes, but there’s no just to them. Dollar for dollar, they’re a better value than any MacBook Apple has ever made. They match — and in some areas exceed — the CPU and GPU performance of MacBook Pros that cost $3000 or more. These are serious iPads for serious iPad users. 

  1. There was some speculation (or maybe just wishful thinking) that this year’s new iPhones might support Apple Pencil. That made sense with the Lightning Pencil, but not so much with this new magnetic one. The iPhone would need one of these magnetic chargers. Rather than attach to the side of the iPhone, I think it would have to go on the back. But would you want a strong magnet on a phone? And how would it work through a case? The old Apple Pencil seemed like something that could work on iPhone. The new one not so much. ↩︎


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Tens of Thousands of Google Employees and Contractors Participate in ‘Global Walkout for Real Change’ 

Google Walkout:

More than 20,000 Google employees and contractors in Google offices located in 50 cities worldwide walked out for real change at 11:10am local time protesting sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency, and a workplace culture that doesn’t work for everyone. Nine offices have yet to report numbers, and additional offices in Europe have planned walkouts in the coming days. […]

Protest organizers say they were disgusted by the details of the recent article from The New York Times which provided the latest example of a culture of complicity, dismissiveness, and support for perpetrators in the face of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse of power. They framed the problem as part of a longstanding pattern in a toxic work culture further amplified by systemic racism.

Awful lot of “Don’t Be Evil” signs in the crowd shots.

Apple’s Welcoming, Inclusive Brand of Luxury 

Zachary Karabell, in an article for Wired under the headline “Apple Abandons the Mass Market, as the iPhone Turns Luxury”:

As its market cap hovers near $1 trillion, Apple has gradually been shifting its strategy away from grabbing ever-more market share and focusing instead on dominating the higher end of its markets. If there were even a small doubt about that, the recent results made it screamingly clear.

When has Apple ever had a different strategy than focusing on dominating the higher end of its markets and ignoring sheer market share? The iPod — maybe — was a market share leader, depending on how you defined its category. But even with iPods Apple clearly was determined to dominate the higher end of the market.

It’s also worth noting that Apple stores are chock full of people from all walks of life. As I noted 7 years ago, Apple’s brand of luxury is mass-market luxury:

I think it’s impossible to overstate the importance of Apple’s retail business. The growth in stores — both in the number of outlets and the size and architectural prominence of the flagship locations — is a physical manifestation of Apple’s market share growth in device sales. Luxury retailers have long done this. Think about brands like Tiffany, Gucci, Hermès, Louis Vuitton. Their retail stores are physical manifestations of the brands. But Apple’s brand of luxury is mass market luxury. Apple’s stores are crowded. They’re bustling. They’re loud. And they’re inclusive, not exclusive.

It’s been a long 7 years since I wrote that, but every word remains just as true today.

Apple’s New Map 

Justin O’Beirne has a detailed look at what’s new in Apple’s limited rollout (big parts of California, a few counties in western Nevada) of all-new maps in iOS 12:

Unless they’re already listed on Yelp, none of the shapes Apple has added appear in its search results or are labeled on its map. And this is a problem for Apple because AR is all about labels — but Apple’s new map is all about shapes.

So is Apple making the right map?

O’Beirne’s keen observation is this: even in the areas where Apple’s new maps have rolled out, Google is still far ahead in correctly identifying places and specific destinations. And that might be the most important thing for maps to get right going forward. As usual, his piece is exquisitely well-written, designed, and illustrated.

Dan Frakes Goes to Apple as Mac App Store Editor 

Dan Frakes:

Some job news (thread): After 4(!) amazing years at @wirecutter, I’m leaving for a new editorial position at Apple (Mac App Store Editor!) focused on helping Mac users discover and get more out of great Mac apps. (It’s like Mac Gems redux :) )

Apple is a great place to work, and the App Store teams are producing (and commissioning) excellent work. This is good for Apple, good for App Store users, good for developers whose quality apps are getting editorial attention, and good for these talented writers and editors, job-wise.


A ton of the top talent in the Apple media world now works at Apple, un-bylined and without credit. Many of them came from Macworld. In addition to the folks who’ve gone to work at Apple full-time, there are others who are writing as freelancers for App Store features. I don’t blame Apple for hiring great talent and I don’t blame anyone for taking a well-paying, secure job at Apple (or accepting well-paying freelance work).

But I don’t think this is a good thing for the Apple media world. The talent pool writing about Apple products and platforms from outside the company’s walls is getting noticeably shallower. And on a personal level, this trend is not good for me, because I can’t link to App Store articles, because they’re not on the web. They only exist within the App Store apps. I can’t link to some of the best pieces being written these days about indie iOS and Macs apps — and that’s a little weird. And none of these pieces are archived publicly.

Tom Boger on Rene Ritchie’s Vector Podcast 

Boger is senior director of Mac product marketing at Apple, and was on stage this week to introduce the new Mac Mini. Terrific interview.

Recode Folded Into Vox, Sort Of 

Kara Swisher:

Let me be clear, for those who enjoy heedless media speculation: The Recode brand remains the same; the Code conferences remain the same; the podcasts remain the same; the television specials we do with MSNBC remain the same. And I am not going anywhere either, because Recode has allowed me — whatever the medium — the great gift of being able to do what journalists are supposed to do. Which is to say, to use an old journalism bromide: Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

More here from The Wall Street Journal. In staffing news, my friend Dan Frommer is leaving after three years as Recode’s editor-in-chief.

Bonus: A get-the-popcorn back-and-forth between Swisher and The Information founder Jessica Lessin on Twitter.

The Talk Show: ‘North Korean USB Fan’ 

You wanted more Moltz, you get more Moltz. Our thoughts and observations on Apple’s “There’s More in the Making” event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the products they announced: new MacBook Airs, Mac Minis, iPad Pros, and Apple Pencil.

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Blind Taste Test Between iPhone XR and Xiaomi Pocophone F1 Displays 

Jonathan Morrison set up a blind display comparison between the iPhone XR and Xiaomi Pocophone. Both displays are 6.1 inches, both are LCDs, but the Pocophone is 1080p (1080 × 2246 pixels, 403 PPI) and the XR is not (1792 × 828, 326 PPI).

Rene Ritchie on iPhone XR vs. XS Displays 

Good explanation from Rene Ritchie on the many nuances involved comparing the iPhone XS and XR displays. It’s a lot more complicated than “OLED is better”, and it’s just plain nonsense that the 326 pixels per inch is not enough to make for a great display.

New Tech Talk Has Developer Info on New iPad Pros 

Apple Developer

Take advantage of the all-screen design of the new iPad Pro by building your app with the iOS 12.1 SDK and making sure it appears correctly with the display’s rounded corners and home indicator. Learn about the new common inset compatibility mode and what it means for apps running in multitasking mode. Find out how to provide support for Face ID and for the second generation Apple Pencil with its double-tap feature.

One change is that these new iPads don’t have a 4:3 (1.33:1) aspect ratio. The aspect ratio is 199:139, which works out to about 1.43:1 — a little wider in landscape than 1.33:1.

The video also has a great overview of the ways third-party apps can use the double-tap gesture on the new Apple Pencil.

Update: Another good video: “Designing for iPad Pro and Apple Pencil”.

Undocumented API in Google Home Devices Is Easily Exploitable 

Jerry Gamblin:

I am genuinely shocked by how poor the overall security of these devices are, even more so when you see that these endpoints have been known for years and relatively well documented.

I usually would have worked directly with Google to reboot these issues if they had not previously disclosed, but due to the sheer amount of prior work online and committed code in their own codebase, it is obvious they know.

Very strange — you can cause any of these devices to reboot or forget their wireless network with a simple curl one-liner. You have to be on the same local network, but still.

Buy USB-C to 3.5 MM Headphone Jack Adapter 

$9, same price as the Lightning version. (The new headphone-jack-less iPad Pros don’t come with one.)

Fifty Years of BASIC, the Language That Made Computers Personal 

Harry McCracken, in a nice feature for Time:

It was huge news among the small number of people who could be called computer nerds at the time — people like Paul Allen, who was working as a programmer for Honeywell in Boston.

When he bought a copy of the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics at the Out of Town newsstand in Harvard Square, with the Altair on the cover, he and an old friend — a Harvard sophomore named Bill Gates — got excited. Immediately, they knew they wanted to try to make the Altair run BASIC, a language they’d both learned in its original timeshared-via-Teletype form at the Lakeside School in Seattle.

Actually, Allen had been ruminating about the possibility of building his own BASIC even before he knew about the Altair. “There hadn’t been attempts to write a full-blown programming language for a microprocessor,” he explains. “But when the chips leading up to the 8080 processor became available, I realized we could write a program for it that would be powerful enough to run BASIC.”

For those of us of a certain age, a BASIC prompt was what you’d expect to see when you turned any computer on.

Halide and Focal Depth on iPhone XR 

Ben Sandofsky:

Now we get to do that again: Halide 1.11 will let you take Portrait mode photos of just about anything, not just people.

We do this by grabbing the focus pixel disparity map and running the image through our custom blur. When you open Halide on iPhone XR, simply tap ‘Depth’ to enable depth capture. Any photo you take will have a depth map, and if there’s sufficient data to determine a foreground and background, the image will get beautifully rendered bokeh, just like iPhone XS shots.

You’ll notice that enabling the Depth Capture mode does not allow you to preview Portrait blur effect or even automatically detect people. Unfortunately, the iPhone XR does not stream depth data in realtime, so we can’t do a portrait preview. You’ll have to review your portrait effects after having taken the photo, much like the Google Pixel.

I’m so glad Halide offers this, but I can see why Apple hasn’t enabled it for non-human subjects in the built-in Camera app. It’s hit or miss. But when it hits it can look great. What you want to do is let Halide handle the focus blurring; if you don’t like the result, disable “Depth” for that shot in Halide.

With frequent updates and support for the latest iPhone hardware, Halide has established itself as an essential app for serious iPhone photography. Doesn’t hurt that it’s a beautiful app, either.

BMW Executive Says Electric Cars Will Always Cost More Than Conventional Cars 

Filed away for future claim chowder:

Electric vehicles will always be more costly than fuel-burners, according to a senior BMW executive. “No, no, no,” is Klaus Fröhlich’s reply when asked if EVs will ever equal the prices of equivalent conventional cars. “Never.”

Audio Memos Pro 

My thanks to Audio Memos Pro for sponsoring Daring Fireball last week. Audio Memos Pro is the pro voice recorder for iPhone and iPad (and Apple Watch can be used as a remote control). Interviews, lectures, business meetings, even music sessions — Audio Memos is great for recording anything. And it’s not just about recording — Audio Memos Pro lets you keep a library of recordings organized with tags. You can attach photos to recordings, make annotations at time stamps, and more.

Audio Memos just celebrated its 10th anniversary on the App Store. Join the million of users who have recorded with it. Get it before Monday evening and save 10 percent off the regular price.

The Talk Show: ‘I’ll Eat My Hat’ 

Special guest John Moltz returns to the show (finally). Topics include the iPhone XR, next week’s Apple event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and more.

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Andy Rubin Responds to New York Times Story 

Andy Rubin on Twitter:

The New York Times story contains numerous inaccuracies about my employment at Google and wild exaggerations about my compensation. Specifically, I never coerced a woman to have sex in a hotel room. These false allegations are part of a smear campaign to disparage me during a divorce and custody battle. Also, I am deeply troubled that anonymous Google executives are commenting about my personnel file and misrepresenting the facts.

Donate to The Great Slate 

The Great Slate:

Tech Solidarity is endorsing thirteen candidates for Congress. Each of them is a first-time progressive candidate with no ties to the political establishment, an excellent campaign team, and a clear path to victory in a poor, rural district that is being ignored by the national Democratic Party. None of the candidates takes money from corporations.

In the third quarter of 2018, the Great Slate raised $1.18M for our candidates. Let’s keep the momentum going into the election!

These are great candidates for Congress. No corporate money. Progressive agendas. Ignored (mostly) by the national Democratic Party. And fighting for seats in districts that in years past sometimes didn’t even field a Democratic candidate. Republicans simply ran unopposed.

I’m particularly impressed by Jess King, who is running in district PA-11 in nearby Lancaster, PA. I have close family who live in that district. I don’t just like her as a candidate — I really do think she can win. If you listen to her talk or read what she writes, she sounds like a real human being, not a full of shit politician. Jess King is smart, informed, and empathetic, and she’s out there every day talking to the citizens in her district. She’s held 52 town halls and counting during this election. Her opponent, Rep. Lloyd Smucker (that’s his name, I swear) has not held a single town hall in over 600 days. He is taking his reelection for granted as a supposedly “safe” Republican seat. I say to hell with that, no seat is safe.

Lancaster Online:

King, a former economic development nonprofit director, has raised nearly 100 percent of her funds from individuals while refusing to accept money from corporations’ political action committees.

The majority of Smucker’s funds, meanwhile, have come from PACs representing corporations such as General Electric, Exelon, Koch Industries and Williams, the company that recently built the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline going through Lancaster County.

I’ve donated to The Great Slate before, and today my wife and I donated another $1,000. It’s easy — they even support Apple Pay. By default your contribution is distributed between all 13 candidates, but you can distribute it however you choose if there’s a particular candidate you want to get behind. They’ve set a goal to raise $1,000,000, and they’re currently sitting at $952,154.

I would love to see this link from Daring Fireball help them blow past that goal. If you can give a lot, do it. If you can only give $10, do it! Every single dollar helps — I mean this so sincerely I just used an exclamation point. If you’re feeling like me — anxious about this upcoming election, deeply concerned because the stakes are so high — donating to The Great Slate is one of the most effective ways you can make a difference today.

The Stakes Are Dire 

Josh Marshall, writing at TPM:

As a friend pointed out yesterday, 2016 can be seen as a fluke. A series of perfect storm factors coming together to make Donald Trump President with a minority of the popular vote and razor thin margins in three critical states. 2018, if it’s a winning election for the Republicans, will be a choice. A ratification of everything we’ve seen over the last two years. That will be a reality we’ll all have to contend with for what it says about the state of the country. It will send a signal abroad that this is now the American political reality and unquestionably accelerate all the geo-political processes Trump has spurred or which drove him to the White House in the first place.

A lot of people are calling this election the most important of our lifetimes. That can sound like hyperbole, I know. You can find some people saying the same thing about every election. But I think Marshall puts his finger on it above. 2016 was certainly a momentous election, but there was no consensus on what a Trump presidency would mean. A lot of people voted for Trump arguing that while he said crazy, ignorant, reckless, hateful things, he wouldn’t actually do crazy, ignorant, reckless, hateful things when in office. Now we know, we all know.

If the Republicans hold Congress it will ratify that this is who we are.

China Recommends Trump Switch to Huawei Phone 


Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying also dismissed the Times story, calling such reports “evidence that the New York Times makes fake news.”

Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, she also offered two suggestions apparently aimed at the Trump administration.

“If they are really very worried about Apple phones being bugged, then they can change to using Huawei,” she said, referring to China’s biggest telecommunications equipment maker.

A nice burn, but if Russia and China really are listening to Trump’s unsecure cell phone calls, they’re almost certainly doing it by tapping the cellular signal or phone network, not by hacking the iPhones he uses. I don’t think the Times story made this clear, but it should have.

Google’s Night Sight Feature for Pixel Cameras Looks Astounding 

Vlad Savov:

Night Sight is the next evolution of Google’s computational photography, combining machine learning, clever algorithms, and up to four seconds of exposure to generate shockingly good low-light images. I’ve tried it ahead of its upcoming release, courtesy of a camera app tweak released by XDA Developers user cstark27, and the results are nothing short of amazing. Even in its pre-official state before Google is officially happy enough to ship it, this new night mode makes any Pixel phone that uses it the best low-light camera.

Some of these results seem impossible. Handheld long exposures are a huge breakthrough.

In a Huff, Google Style 

Andrew Marantz, writing for The New Yorker two years ago about HBO’s Silicon Valley:

During one visit to Google’s headquarters, in Mountain View, about six writers sat in a conference room with Astro Teller, the head of GoogleX, who wore a midi ring and kept his long hair in a ponytail. “Most of our research meetings are fun, but this one was uncomfortable,” Kemper told me. GoogleX is the company’s “moonshot factory,” devoted to projects, such as self-driving cars, that are difficult to build but might have monumental impact. Hooli, a multibillion-dollar company on “Silicon Valley,” bears a singular resemblance to Google. (The Google founder Larry Page, in Fortune: “We’d like to have a bigger impact on the world by doing more things.” Hooli’s C.E.O., in season two: “I don’t want to live in a world where someone makes the world a better place better than we do.”) The previous season, Hooli had launched HooliXYZ, its own “moonshot factory,” whose experiments were slapstick absurdities: monkeys who use bionic arms to masturbate; powerful cannons for launching potatoes across a room. “He claimed he hadn’t seen the show, and then he referred many times to specific things that had happened on the show,” Kemper said. “His message was, ‘We don’t do stupid things here. We do things that actually are going to change the world, whether you choose to make fun of that or not.’ ” (Teller could not be reached for comment.)

Teller ended the meeting by standing up in a huff, but his attempt at a dramatic exit was marred by the fact that he was wearing Rollerblades. He wobbled to the door in silence. “Then there was this awkward moment of him fumbling with his I.D. badge, trying to get the door to open,” Kemper said. “It felt like it lasted an hour. We were all trying not to laugh. Even while it was happening, I knew we were all thinking the same thing: Can we use this?” In the end, the joke was deemed “too hacky to use on the show.”

Via Tom Gara, who quipped, “Whenever there’s a big Google story in the news, I always think of this, the funniest thing ever written about Google.”

Andy Rubin: ‘Being Owned Is Kinda Like You Are My Property, and I Can Loan You to Other People’ 

Daisuke Wakabayashi and Katie Benner have published a scathing exposé in The New York Times on Google’s massive payouts and protection to senior executives credibly accused of sexual misconduct. Like many long reports in The Times, some of the most intriguing details are buried deep in the report. Almost 1,900 words in, is this regarding Andy Rubin:

Mr. Rubin, 55, who met his wife at Google, also dated other women at the company while married, said four people who worked with him. In 2011, he had a consensual relationship with a woman on the Android team who did not report to him, they said. They said Google’s human resources department was not informed, despite rules requiring disclosure when managers date someone who directly or indirectly reports to them.

In a civil suit filed this month by Mr. Rubin’s ex-wife, Rie Rubin, she claimed he had multiple “ownership relationships” with other women during their marriage, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to them. The couple were divorced in August.

The suit included a screenshot of an August 2015 email Mr. Rubin sent to one woman. “You will be happy being taken care of,” he wrote. “Being owned is kinda like you are my property, and I can loan you to other people.”

How is this buried so deep in the story and not the lede?

Also this:

Mr. Rubin often berated subordinates as stupid or incompetent, they said. Google did little to curb that behavior. It took action only when security staff found bondage sex videos on Mr. Rubin’s work computer, said three former and current Google executives briefed on the incident. That year, the company docked his bonus, they said.

Here’s another story, also buried over 1,100 words deep:

In 2013, Richard DeVaul, a director at Google X, the company’s research and development arm, interviewed Star Simpson, a hardware engineer. During the job interview, she said he told her that he and his wife were “polyamorous,” a word often used to describe an open marriage. She said he invited her to Burning Man, an annual festival in the Nevada desert, the following week.

Ms. Simpson went with her mother and said she thought it was an opportunity to talk to Mr. DeVaul about the job. She said she brought conservative clothes suitable for a professional meeting.

At Mr. DeVaul’s encampment, Ms. Simpson said, he asked her to remove her shirt and offered a back rub. She said she refused. When he insisted, she said she relented to a neck rub.

“I didn’t have enough spine or backbone to shut that down as a 24-year-old,” said Ms. Simpson, now 30.

A few weeks later, Google told her she did not get the job, without explaining why.

This guy still works at Google as a director of Google X.

In-App Purchasing Scams in the App Store 

Apple’s App Store isn’t free from scams, either. John Koetsier, writing for Forbes:

I tried it myself, and the flow is very clear:

  1. Download the app
  2. Open it
  3. Click the big “Start” button (this has small, hard-to-read pricing information, but even though I was testing the app and forewarned, I missed it)
  4. Instantly be taken to an Apple payments confirmation screen: free for three days, and then $3.99/week in perpetuity.

The flow is smart and sneaky. It’s carefully designed to have you “agree” to the charges without having any intention of paying

“Users open the app and quickly tap a ‘Start’ button or ‘Continue’ button on the first page,” she told me via email. “Unfortunately this loads the Apple payment prompt instead of starting the free app as most users would expect. Users then panic and press the home screen to exit the app — unfortunately on fingerprint devices this makes payment or signs up for the free trial.”

Needless to say, $4/week for a very, very, very simple barcode-scanning device is completely ridiculous. $156/year borders on criminal.

Apple has since pulled most of these apps from the App Store, but how did they get there in the first place? I can see how a new app with a malicious IAP scam might slip through review, but once an app is generating tens of thousands of dollars a month, it ought to get a thorough review from the App Store.

The scam outlined above is admittedly pretty clever. I’d never really thought about it before, but the fact that the home button on Touch ID devices serves both as the “Yes I really do want to authorize this payment” verification and the “Get me out of this app and back to the home screen” escape hatch makes it ripe for abuse like this. Face ID doesn’t make X-class iPhones immune from scams, but the requirement that you double-click the side button to verify a payment means you can’t be tricked into doing it inadvertently.