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kottke.org posts about Apple

How the iPhone surprised and then crushed the Blackberry

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2015

The full story is behind a paywall,1 but the WSJ’s The Inside Story of How the iPhone Crippled BlackBerry is kind of amazing. The piece is an excerpt from Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry.

The next day Mr. Lazaridis grabbed his co-CEO Jim Balsillie at the office and pulled him in front of a computer.

“Jim, I want you to watch this,” he said, pointing to a webcast of the iPhone unveiling. “They put a full Web browser on that thing. The carriers aren’t letting us put a full browser on our products.”

Mr. Balsillie’s first thought was RIM was losing AT&T as a customer. “Apple’s got a better deal,” Mr. Balsillie said. “We were never allowed that. The U.S. market is going to be tougher.”

“These guys are really, really good,” Mr. Lazaridis replied. “This is different.”

“It’s OK — we’ll be fine,” Mr. Balsillie responded.

RIM’s chiefs didn’t give much additional thought to Apple’s iPhone for months. “It wasn’t a threat to RIM’s core business,” says Mr. Lazaridis’s top lieutenant, Larry Conlee. “It wasn’t secure. It had rapid battery drain and a lousy [digital] keyboard.”

“RIM’s chiefs didn’t give much additional thought to Apple’s iPhone for months.”

“RIM’s chiefs didn’t give much additional thought to Apple’s iPhone for months.”

“RIM’s chiefs didn’t give much additional thought to Apple’s iPhone for months.”

Oof. (via @craigmod)

  1. You know how to circumvent the WSJ’s paywall, right? You paste the title of the piece — in this case, The Inside Story of How the iPhone Crippled BlackBerry — into Google and click on the story from the search results or in Google News. Boom, instant access.

Your iPhone is tracking you like Lester Freamon from The Wire

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2015

Freq Locations

Since iOS 7 came out in 2013, your iPhone’s Location Services has included a little-known feature called Frequent Locations, which keeps very detailed track of every distinct location you visit. How detailed? This, precisely, was when I was in my apartment over a three-day period last month:

Freq Locations

All told, my phone recorded all 33 different locations I’ve visited in NYC since April 15, including 84 visits to my apartment and 54 visits to my office, down to the minute and a ~130-foot radius. The feature is on by default if you’ve got Location Services switched on, so you can find your information by opening the Settings app and going to Privacy > Location Services > System Services (at the bottom) > Frequent Locations. You can also turn the feature off if you wish.

Apple says the feature is used to learn your favorite places and the data is kept only on the phone:

Your iPhone will keep track of places you have recently been, as well as how often and when you visited them, in order to learn places that are significant to you. This data is kept solely on your device and won’t be sent to Apple without your consent. It will be used to provide you with personalized services, such as predictive traffic routing.

It’s likely that Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and the NSA (until recently) are collecting this same sort of data about you regardless of what sort of phone you use, except that these organizations do not share Apple’s public commitment to privacy. (via @dunstan)

Asking “who’s the customer?”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2015

If you’ve bought a ticket to an event in the past, oh, 15-20 years, chances are you got it from Ticketmaster. Chances are also pretty good that you think Ticketmaster completely sucks, mostly because of the unavoidable and exorbitant convenience fee they charge. And that probably has you wondering: if everyone who uses the service hates Ticketmaster so much, how are they still in business? Because ticket buyers are not Ticketmaster’s customers. Artists and venues are Ticketmaster’s real customers and they provide plenty of value to them.

Ticketmaster sells more tickets than anybody else and they’re the biggest company in the ticket selling game. That gives them certain financial resources that smaller companies don’t have. TM has used this to their advantage by moving the industry toward very aggressive ticketing deals between ticketing companies and their venue clients. This comes in the form of giving more of the service charge per ticket back to the venue (rebates), and in cash to the venue in the form of a signing bonus or advance against future rebates. Venues are businesses too and, thus, they like “free” money in general (signing bonuses), as well as money now (advances) versus the same money later (rebates).

Read that whole Quora answer again…there’s nothing in there about TM being helpful for ticket buyers. It turns out asking “who’s the customer?” is a great way of thinking about when certain companies or industries do things that aren’t aligned with good customer service or user experience.1

Take Apple and Google for instance. Apple sells software and hardware directly to people; that’s where the majority of their revenue comes from. Apple’s customers are the people who use Apple products. Google gets most of their revenue from putting advertising into the products & services they provide. The people who use Google’s products and services are not Google’s customers, the advertisers are Google’s customers. Google does a better job than Ticketmaster at providing a good user experience, but the dissonance that results between who’s paying and who’s using gets the company in trouble sometimes. See also Facebook and Twitter, among many others.

Newspapers, magazines, and television networks have dealt with this same issue for decades now.2 They derive large portions of their revenue from advertisers and, in the case of the TV networks, from the cable companies who pay to carry their channels. That results in all sorts of user hostile behavior, from hiding a magazine’s table of contents in 20 pages of ads to shrieking online advertising to commercials that are louder than the shows to clunky product placement to trimming scenes from syndicated shows to cram in more commercials. From ABC to Vogue to the New York Times, you’re not the customer and it shows.

This might be off-topic (or else the best example of all), but “who’s the customer?” got me thinking about who the customers of large public corporations really are: shareholders and potential shareholders. The accepted wisdom of maximizing shareholder value has become an almost moral imperative for large corporations. The needs of their customers, employees, the environment, and the communities in which they’re located often take a backseat to keeping happy the big investment banks, mutual funds, and hedge funds who buy their stock. When providing good customer service and experience is viewed by companies as opposite to maximizing shareholder value, that’s a big problem for consumers.

Update: I somehow neglected to include the pithy business saying “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product”, which originated in a slightly different phrasing on MetaFilter.

Update: One example of how maximizing shareholder value can work against good customer service comes from a paper by a trio of economists. In it, they argue that co-ownership of two or more airlines by the same investor results in higher prices.

In a new paper, Azar and co-authors Martin C. Schmalz and Isabel Tecu have uncovered a smoking gun. To test the hypothesis that institutional investors gain market power that results in higher prices, they examine airline routes. Although we think of airlines as independent companies, they are actually mostly owned by a small group of institutional investors. For example, United’s top five shareholders — all institutional investors — own 49.5 percent of the firm. Most of United’s largest shareholders also are the largest shareholders of Southwest, Delta, and other airlines. The authors show that airline prices are 3 percent to 11 percent higher than they would be if common ownership did not exist. That is money that goes from the pockets of consumers to the pockets of investors.

How exactly might this work? It may be that managers of institutional investors put pressure on the managers of the companies that they own, demanding that they don’t try to undercut the prices of their competitors. If a mutual fund owns shares of United and Delta, and United and Delta are the only competitors on certain routes, then the mutual fund benefits if United and Delta refrain from price competition. The managers of United and Delta have no reason to resist such demands, as they, too, as shareholders of their own companies, benefit from the higher profits from price-squeezed passengers. Indeed, it is possible that managers of corporations don’t need to be told explicitly to overcharge passengers because they already know that it’s in their bosses’ interest, and hence their own. Institutional investors can also get the outcomes they want by structuring the compensation of managers in subtle ways. For example, they can reward managers based on the stock price of their own firms — rather than benchmarking pay against how well they perform compared with industry rivals — which discourages managers from competing with the rivals.

(via @krylon)

  1. BTW, asking who the customer is doesn’t help in every situation where bad service and contempt for the customer rears its ugly head. See cable companies, mobile carriers, and airlines. Companies also have other conflicts of interest that interfere with good customer experience. Apple, for instance, does all kinds of things that aren’t necessarily in the best interest of the people buying their products. And as the Ticketmaster example shows, determining a company’s true customer isn’t just a matter of where the revenue comes from. It’s never simple.

  2. This is a potential problem with kottke.org as well. Almost all of my revenue comes from advertising. My high regard for the reader keeps me pretty honest (I hope!), but it’s difficult sometimes.

The Remarkable Apple Computer

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2015

Early Apple Article

From 1977, is this the first news article written about Apple Computer? Sheila Craven wrote about the fledgeling computer maker in the second issue of Kilobaud, The Small Computer Magazine.

“My interview with the two Steves took place while they were still in the folks’ garage,” Craven tells Business Insider. She remembers it this way:

“I flew up from LA, and the two Steves picked me up in a red Chevy Luv Truck, tossed my suitcase in the back, and put me between them in the front seat. We went someplace for lunch, and talked about their plans.

Of course, Steve Jobs did all the talking. After lunch we drove to his parents home in Palo Alto-never went inside the house-straight to the garage. On a workbench sat a PC board. above the workbench on a shelf sat a TV set where wires dangled from it to the PC board.

The whole time Steve Jobs was talking, explaining, outlining future plans for marketing and development, he was just about dancing on his tippy toes in his tennies. Then Woz sat at the workbench, initiating the operating system (I suppose) to demonstrate a program. Woz was pretty quiet. I got that he was the engineering brain power, and Jobs was the idea guy.

One of the things Jobs told me was that they would make certain there would be an Apple in every classroom and on every desk, because if kids grew up using and knowing the Apple, they would continue to buy Apples and so would their kids. The computers would be donated by Apple Computer. I understand that when that article came out, orders starting pouring in, and Apple Computer was seriously launched.”

Earliest Apple.com homepage

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2015

Kevin Fox recently unearthed a screenshot he took of Apple’s homepage in the early 90s:

Apple early homepage

I don’t remember this version, but it looks like it was contemporary with this Microsoft homepage (which I do remember). I bet there’s footage of this page in Triumph of the Nerds or Nerds 2.0.1 or on an episode of Computer Chronicles. Anyone?

The Apple II Watch

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2015

This is magnificent. The little floppies!

And you can totally build your own with these instructions. Case is 3D printed and the chip & software run on the Arduino platform. So cool! (via devour)

Apple Watch and the induced demand of communication

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2015

Apple Watch

Some sort of embargo seems to have lifted because here come the Apple Watch reviews! As I’m unanointed by Apple, I haven’t experienced Apple Watch in the flesh, but I do have a few random thoughts and guesses.

John Gruber notes that why Apple made a watch is different from why they made the iPhone. People were generally dissatisfied with their mobile phones (I know I was) so Apple made one that was much better. But people who wear current watches like them.

But as Ive points out, this time, the established market — watches — is not despised. They not only don’t suck, they are beloved.

I’m one of the watch non-wearers Gruber discusses elsewhere in his review; I haven’t worn a watch since my Swatch band broke when I was 17. Part of the reason I don’t wear a watch is they look hideous. The more expensive watches get, the uglier they are. Have you seen the watch ads in the New Yorker or Vogue? Garish nasty looking objects. And men’s watches are generally massive, built for lumberjacks, linebackers, and other manly men, not for dainty-wristed gentlemen like myself. I tried on a regular men’s Rolex some years ago and it looked like I’d strapped a gold-plated Discman on my wrist.

I know, I know, not all watches. The point is that for me, Apple Watch looks like something I would consider wearing on a regular basis — imagining myself living in Steve Jobs’ living room has always been more my speed than J.P. Morgan’s library.1

The subtle notifications possible with Apple Watch (taps, drawings, heartbeats) are very interesting. Also from Gruber’s review:

You’re 16. You’re in school. You’re sitting in class. You have a crush on another student — you’ve fallen hard. You can’t stop thinking about them. You suspect the feelings are mutual — but you don’t know. You’re afraid to just come right out and ask, verbally — afraid of the crushing weight of potential rejection. But you both wear an Apple Watch. So you take a flyer and send a few taps. And you wait. Nothing in response. Dammit. Why are you so stupid? Whoa — a few taps are sent in return, along with a hand-drawn smiley face. You send more taps. You receive more taps back. This is it. You send your heartbeat. It is racing, thumping. Your crush sends their heartbeat back.

In 2005, I wrote about a feature I called sweethearting:

Pings would be perfect for situations when texting or a phone call is too time consuming, distracting, or takes you out of the flow of your present experience. If you call your husband on the way home from work every night and say the same thing each time, perhaps a ping would be better…you wouldn’t have to call and your husband wouldn’t have to stop what he was doing to answer the phone. You could even call it the “sweetheart ping” or “sweethearting”…in the absence of a prearranged “ping me when you’re leaving”, you could ping someone to let them know you’re thinking about them.

Like I said elsewhere in that post, this stuff always makes me think about Matt Webb’s Glancing project:

Glancing: An application to allow ultra-simple, non-verbal communication amongst groups of friends online.

It’s a desktop application that you use with a group of other people. It lets you “glance” at them in idle moments, and it gives all of you an indication of the activity of glancing going on.

A group is intended to be less than a dozen people. A person may belong to several groups simultaneously by running separate instances of Glancing. Groups are started deliberately, probably by using a www interface, and people are told the group secret so they can join (a “secret” is just a shared password).

But the thing that has struck me the most since the announcement of Apple Watch is the idea that if you’re wearing one, you’re going to be checking your devices a lot less. From TechCrunch last month:2

People that have worn the Watch say that they take their phones out of their pockets far, far less than they used to. A simple tap to reply or glance on the wrist or dictation is a massively different interaction model than pulling out an iPhone, unlocking it and being pulled into its merciless vortex of attention suck.

One user told me that they nearly “stopped” using their phone during the day; they used to have it out and now they don’t, period. That’s insane when you think about how much the blue glow of smartphone screens has dominated our social interactions over the past decade.

From Joshua Topolsky’s review at Bloomberg:

I’m in a meeting with 14 people, in mid-sentence, when I feel a tap-tap-tap on my wrist. I stop talking, tilt my head, and whip my arm aggressively into view to see the source of the agitation. A second later, the small screen on my new Apple Watch beams to life with a very important message for me: Twitter has suggestions for people I should follow. A version of this happens dozens of times throughout the day-for messages, e-mails, activity achievements, tweets, and so much more. Wait a second. Isn’t the promise of the Apple Watch to help me stay in the moment, focused on the people around me and undisturbed by the mesmerizing void of my iPhone? So why do I suddenly feel so distracted?

The promise of the Apple Watch is to make it more convenient to send & receive notifications and quick messages, although many of the reviews make it clear that Apple hasn’t entirely succeeded in this. In the entire history of the world, if you make it easier for people to do something compelling, people don’t do that thing less: they’ll do it more. If you give people more food, they eat it. If you make it easier to get credit, people will use it. If you add another two lanes to a traffic-clogged highway, you get a larger traffic-clogged highway. And if you put a device on their wrist that makes it easier to communicate with friends, guess what? They’re going to use the shit out of it, potentially way more than they ever used their phones.

Now, it’s possible that Apple Watch doesn’t make receiving notifications easier…instead, it may make controlling notifications easier. Like congestion pricing for your digital interactions. But that is generally not where technology has been taking us. Every new communications device and service — the telegraph, telephone, internet, email, personal computer, SMS, smartphones, Facebook, Whatsapp, Slack,3 etc. etc. etc. — makes it easier to 1) connect with more and more people in more and more ways, and 2) to connect with a few people more deeply. And I don’t expect Apple Watch will break that streak. The software will get faster & better, the hardware will get cheaper & longer-lasting, and people will buy & love them & use them constantly.

P.S. While I didn’t quote from it, The Verge review is great. But mainly I’m wondering…where are the reviews from the fashion world? I assume Vogue and other such magazines and media outlets received Apple Watches for review and their embargoes lifted as well, but after searching for a bit, I couldn’t find any actual reviews. And only a single major review by a woman, Lauren Goode’s at Re/code. If you run across any, let me know?

Update: Joanna Stern wrote a review for the WSJ with an emphasis on the fashion aspect. (via @trickartt)

Update: Executive editor Nicole Phelps wrote a review for style.com. (thx, louis-olivier)

  1. Have you been to the Morgan Library? It’s great, a lesser known gem of a museum in Manhattan. I went this past weekend, in fact. But I would not like to live in such a baroque place.

  2. God, I hate linking to TechCrunch — I’ve only linked to them a handful of times and I complain about it every time — but they were the best source for this point. Apologies to my soul.

  3. The conventional wisdom about Slack is that it’s rescuing us from the tyranny of email. But when everyone is on Slack because it’s easier and offers certain advantages over email, then what? What will rescue us from the tyranny of Slack? (A: Nothing. That’s the point…we can’t help wanting to communicate in easier ways with our fellow humans, so much so that we gorge ourselves like geese at the gavage. Whatever kills Slack will be a bigger, easier communications gavage. Rinse. Repeat. Until the heat death of the Universe.)

How Apple Watch is made

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2015

Apple Watch

From product designer Greg Koenig, a fantastic display of Kremlinology on how he thinks Apple makes the Apple Watch, based on the available evidence (production videos, patents, product specs).

In the above shot, blanks are placed in an immersion ultrasonic tester. What Apple is looking for is the presence of voids or density variances within the structure of the blank that, under stress, could lead to part failure or surface defects as material is removed in further machining processes. This level of inspection is, to put it mildly, fastidious beyond where most other companies would go (save Rolex). Immersion ultrasonic inspection is typically reserved for highly stressed medical implants and rotating components inside of aircraft engines; not only does this step take time, it also is typically performed by custom built machines of tremendous expense.

If you don’t have the time or energy to read through the whole thing, at least skip to the final two paragraphs about manufacturing as ritual.

Also, Koenig’s Twitter stream is full of interesting nuggets about Apple. Here are a few that caught my attention:

Shot on iPhone 6

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2015

For their new ad campaign, Apple gathered some photos that people had taken with their iPhones and are featuring them on their website and on billboards. Here are a few I found particularly engaging.

Apple iPhone 6

Apple iPhone 6

Apple iPhone 6

Apple iPhone 6

Apple iPhone 6

I’ve said it before and it’s just getting more obvious: the iPhone is the best camera in the world.

Update: Apple has added a section for films shot on iPhone 6.

Becoming Steve Jobs

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2015

A new biography of Steve Jobs is coming out in March, written by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, a pair of technology journalists who have covered Jobs and the personal computer revolution for decades. John Gruber has read it and calls it “remarkable”.

It is, in short, the book about Steve Jobs that the world deserves. You might wonder how such a book could be written without Jobs’s participation, but effectively, he did participate. Schlender, in his work as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and Fortune, interviewed Jobs extensively numerous times spanning 25 years. Remember the 1991 joint interview with Jobs and Bill Gates? That was Schlender. As the book makes clear, Jobs and Schlender had a very personal relationship.

The book is smart, accurate, informative, insightful, and at times, utterly heartbreaking. Schlender and Tetzeli paint a vivid picture of Jobs the man, and also clearly understand the industry in which he worked. They also got an astonishing amount of cooperation from the people who knew Jobs best: colleagues past and present from Apple and Pixar — particularly Tim Cook — and his widow, Laurene Powell Jobs.

Instant pre-order.

Update: A glitch in Amazon’s Look Inside the Book feature gave Luke Dormehl a sneak peek at some of the book’s details, including that Tim Cook offered Jobs a part of his liver and Jobs talked about buying Yahoo.

Another interesting tidbit: Steve Jobs and Disney boss Bob Iger talked about buying Yahoo! together at one point, a move that would have given Apple an “in” in the search business.

While the question of Apple buying Yahoo! has been raised plenty of times over the years, this is the first time there’s been a serious suggestion that Jobs considered such an acquisition.

Buying Yahoo! would have given Apple access to a host of patents, web services and other tools in a fiercely competitive sector. Yahoo! would have been an interesting fit for Apple (which is probably why it didn’t happen), but it’s fascinating to consider what might have been.

Update: Excerpts of the book are starting appear. Fast Company has a Tim Cook-related excerpt as well as an interview with Cook conducted by Schlender and Tetzeli.

One afternoon, Cook left [Jobs’] house feeling so upset that he had his own blood tested. He found out that he, like Steve, had a rare blood type, and guessed that it might be the same. He started doing research, and learned that it is possible to transfer a portion of a living person’s liver to someone in need of a transplant. About 6,000 living-donor transplants are performed every year in the United States, and the rate of success for both donor and recipient is high. The liver is a regenerative organ. The portion transplanted into the recipient will grow to a functional size, and the portion of the liver that the donor gives up will also grow back.

Woz the designer

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2014

Totally sweet and charming video of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak talking about the early days at the company while setting up and using an old Apple II.

Of Apple’s two founding Steves, Wozniak was the technologist and Jobs was the one with the artistic & design sense, right? But it’s obvious from watching this video that Woz cared deeply about design and was a designer of the highest order. Those early Apple circuit boards are a thing of beauty, which is echoed in the precision and compactness with which Apple currently designs iPhone and Mac hardware. They each have their own unique way of expressing it, but Woz and Jony Ive speak in a similarly hallowed way about how their products are built.

Update: Wozniak still has improving the Apple II on his mind. From earlier this year:

I awoke one night in Quito, Ecuador, this year and came up with a way to save a chip or two from the Apple II, and a trivial way to have the 2 grays of the Apple II be different (light gray and dark gray) but it’s 38 years too late. It did give me a good smile, since I know how hard it is to improve on that design.

(via @samryan)

Update: From Founders at Work, an interview with Woz that goes a bit deeper into the genesis of the Apple I and the early days at Apple.

By the time I was done, the design of the Nova was half as many chips as all of the other minicomputers from Varian, Digital Equipment Corp., Hewlett-Packard, all of the minicomputers of the time (I was designing them all). And I saw that Nova was half as many chips and just as good a computer. What was different? The architecture was really an architecture that just fit right to the very fewest chips.

My whole life was basically trying to optimize things. You don’t just save parts, but every time you save parts you save on complexity and reliability, the amount of time it takes to understand something. And how good you can build it without errors and bugs and flaws.

Apple Watch font on OS X Yosemite

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 21, 2014

I just upgraded to OS X Yosemite yesterday1 and the Helvetica as the system font is as jarring as everyone says it is. But that new Apple Watch font, San Francisco, seems really nice. So of course someone has worked out a way to use the Watch font as the system font on Yosemite. Here’s what you do…just type the following in Terminal.app:

ruby -e “$(curl -fsSL https://raw.github.com/wellsriley/YosemiteSanFranciscoFont/master/install)”

Then restart your computer. Full instructions are on GitHub. Here’s what it looks like:

Apple Watch font on Yosemite

Pretty nice. But it’s not perfect. For instance, look at the text in the Chrome tabs…it’s not aligned correctly. And if you have the fast user switching menu enabled in the menu bar, that’s weirdly misaligned too. If you’d like, you can also switch back to using the previous font, Lucida Grande.

  1. From 10.8, no less. I’d been wary of upgrading for the past couple years due to the 15 hours I’d have to spend getting my development environment back into working order again. New version of Apache? Perl moved? Oh, I need to install memcached again? Where did all my configuration files go? [hair tearing out noise] But recently I moved my web development to Vagrant and holy crap is that a game changer. After updating OS X last night, I just issued a quick ‘vagrant up’ command and there was my dev environment, just like I left it. Awesome.

Tim Cook: “I’m proud to be gay”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2014

In an article for Businessweek, Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly reveals he is gay.

At the same time, I believe deeply in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ ” I often challenge myself with that question, and I’ve come to realize that my desire for personal privacy has been holding me back from doing something more important. That’s what has led me to today.

For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation. Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky.

While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.

The Chinese black market iPhone trade

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2014

Casey Neistat visited several Apple Stores in NYC on the eve of the iPhone 6 launch to observe the folks standing in line. He found that many of those in line, particularly right in the front, were Chinese resellers.

The iPhone 6 won’t be available in China for several months, so a lively and lucrative black market has sprung up. The video shows several typical transactions: two phones (the maximum allowed per person) are purchased with cash and then the people sell those phones to men who presumably have them shipped to China for resale.

I remember last year, when the iPhone 5s came out, there was always a line of mostly Asian people outside the Soho store in the morning, even months after the launch. (via @fromedome)

Erotic poetry about the iPhone 6

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2014

This is glorious: an erotic poem by Chris Plante constructed from snippets of iPhone 6 reviews.

I have really big hands
Would be an understatement.
This is quite helpful.
When the tips of your fingers are grasping on for dear life,
Your fingers need to secure a firm grip.
I can still wrap my fingers around
Well…
More of everything.

No lines from John Gruber’s review, but Linus Edwards made a short poem just from that one:

Makes itself felt in your pants pocket.
Ah, but then there’s The Bulge.
I definitely appreciate the stronger vibrator.

(via @sippey)

Steve Jobs unveils the iWatch

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2014

Steve Jobs Keynote

The analysis of the weak parts of Apple’s recent introduction of the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch at the beginning of this piece is good, but the real gem is the complete reworking of the presentation as Steve Jobs might have approached it.

Jobs: It’s not easy being an engineer at Apple. (Laughs) How do you take the world’s best phone and make it even better? (Cheers)

When we first launched the iPhone back in 2007, we didn’t anticipate the central role it plays today-how it would touch every part of our lives. (Cheers)

Seven years later, our iPhones are the window to our world. Through this window I see my wife and kids. I see my friends, take care of work, and relax.

If this window is so important, what if we made it a little bigger?

(Steve holds out his hand and starts separating his fingers as if he’s stretching an iPhone)

(Once they get really far, he grins and quickly pushes them back together)

Jobs: But not too big! (Audience chuckles) You still want to be able to hold it in one hand and fit it inside your pocket.

Our team of smart engineers have come up with the perfect size.

The heartfelt folksiness is pitch perfect. And the whole thing about the iWatch is amazing:

Jobs: The iWatch comes with a special sensor that detects your heartbeat. In addition to linking to Apple Health, it does something very special.

Something very dear to me.

I’d like to see how my daughter is doing. Instead of sending her a text, what can I do? I press this button twice, and… (Heartbeats echo in the auditorium)

You can’t see it, but my watch is vibrating to her heartbeat. I can close my eyes and know that my daughter is alive, living her life halfway around the globe.

Not sure if Jobs would have approached it this way, but it made me actually want to get an Apple Watch. (via @arainert)

Steve Jobs learned to play well with others

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 06, 2014

Peter Sims writes about an under-appreciated aspect of Steve Jobs’ success: he “was a superb collaborator with the people who he respected and trusted”.

[Ed] Catmull, now president of both Pixar as well as Walt Disney Animation (a position Catmull has held since Disney acquired Pixar for $7.4 billion in 2006), was Jobs’ longest-running colleague, a working relationship that spanned 26 years. Catmull dedicates a chapter of his superb recent book Creativity, Inc. to what it was like to work with Jobs. Catmull, who has the least overt ego of any senior executive I’ve ever met, saw Jobs mature enormously over time, especially in the development of personal empathy and humility.

In fact, Catmull, sees Jobs’ life as having taken a classic Hero’s Journey arc.

From his widely-reported immature and often arrogant youth, Jobs by all accounts appeared to develop into a far more empathetic human being and wise leader. But that personal transformation would not have happened without what leadership scholar Warren Bennis described as “crucibles” — those personal crises and setback experiences that shape us much like “medieval alchemists used in their attempts to turn base metals into gold” — and, that allow for personal and leadership metamorphosis.

The “far more” qualifier in front of “empathetic” is necessary when speaking of Jobs’ transformation. I think what he developed could probably be referred to as a ruthless empathy, employed much like another other tool in the service of building great companies and making great products.

RIP Aperture and iPhoto

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2014

Apple is stopping development of Aperture and iPhoto in favor of its new Photos app.

“With the introduction of the new Photos app and iCloud Photo Library, enabling you to safely store all of your photos in iCloud and access them from anywhere, there will be no new development of Aperture,” said Apple in a statement provided to The Loop. “When Photos for OS X ships next year, users will be able to migrate their existing Aperture libraries to Photos for OS.”

I wonder if the Photos app will be geared at all towards semi-pro/pro photographers or if they’ve permanently ceded that market to Lightroom.

Something only Apple can do

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2014

An instant classic John Gruber post about the sort of company Apple is right now and how it compares in that regard to its four main competitors: Google, Samsung, Microsoft, and Amazon. The post is also about how Apple is now firmly a Tim Cook joint, and the company is better for it.

When Cook succeeded Jobs, the question we all asked was more or less binary: Would Apple decline without Steve Jobs? What seems to have gone largely unconsidered is whether Apple would thrive with Cook at the helm, achieving things the company wasn’t able to do under the leadership of the autocratic and mercurial Jobs.

Jobs was a great CEO for leading Apple to become big. But Cook is a great CEO for leading Apple now that it is big, to allow the company to take advantage of its size and success. Matt Drance said it, and so will I: What we saw last week at WWDC 2014 would not have happened under Steve Jobs.

This is not to say Apple is better off without Steve Jobs. But I do think it’s becoming clear that the company, today, might be better off with Tim Cook as CEO. If Jobs were still with us, his ideal role today might be that of an eminence grise, muse and partner to Jony Ive in the design of new products, and of course public presenter extraordinaire. Chairman of the board, with Cook as CEO, running the company much as he actually is today.

This bit on the commoditization of hardware, and Apple’s spectacularly successful fight against it, got me thinking about current events. Here’s Gruber again:

Apple’s device-centric approach provides them with control. There’s a long-standing and perhaps everlasting belief in the computer industry that hardware is destined for commoditization. At their cores, Microsoft and Google were founded on that belief - and they succeeded handsomely. Microsoft’s Windows empire was built atop commodity PC hardware. Google’s search empire was built atop web browsers running on any and all computers. (Google also made a huge bet on commodity hardware for their incredible back-end infrastructure. Google’s infrastructure is both massive and massively redundant - thousands and thousands of cheap hardware servers running custom software designed such that failure of individual machines is completely expected.)

This is probably the central axiom of the Church of Market Share - if hardware is destined for commoditization, then the only thing that matters is maximizing the share of devices running your OS (Microsoft) or using your online services (Google).

The entirety of Apple’s post-NeXT reunification success has been in defiance of that belief - that commoditization is inevitable, but won’t necessarily consume the entire market. It started with the iMac, and the notion that the design of computer hardware mattered. It carried through to the iPod, which faced predictions of imminent decline in the face of commodity music players all the way until it was cannibalized by the iPhone.

And here’s David Galbraith tweeting about the seemingly unrelated training that London taxi drivers receive, a comment no doubt spurred by the European taxi strikes last week, protesting Uber’s move into Europe:

Didn’t realize London taxi drivers still have to spend years learning routes. That’s just asking to be disrupted http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxicabs_of_the_United_Kingdom#The_Knowledge

Here’s the relevant bit from Wikipedia about The Knowledge:

It is the world’s most demanding training course for taxicab drivers, and applicants will usually need at least twelve ‘appearances’ (attempts at the final test), after preparation averaging 34 months, to pass the examination.

Uber, in this scenario, is attempting to be Microsoft in the 1980s and early 90s. They’re implementing their software layer (the Uber service) on commodity hardware, which includes not only iPhones & Android phones, mass-produced cars of any type, and GPS systems but also, and crucially, the drivers themselves. Uber is betting that a bunch of off-the-shelf hardware, “ordinary” drivers, and their self-service easy-pay dispatch system will provide similar (or even better) results than a fleet of taxi drivers each with three years of training and years of experience. It is unclear to me what the taxi drivers can do in this situation to emulate the Apple of 1997 in making that commoditization irrelevant to their business prospects. Although when it comes to London in particular, Uber may have miscalculated: in a recent comparison at rush hour, an Uber cab took almost three times as long and was 64% more expensive than a black cab.

Apple Design Awards 2014

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2014

Apple Design Awards 2014

Apple recently announced their annual design awards for 2014. Some nice work there.

Early Apple prototypes

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2014

From a book by Hartmut Esslinger, a collection of photographs of prototypes his company Frog Design worked on for Apple Computer.

Apple prototype

The portables and phones are especially interesting.

Marketing by Beats By Dre

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2014

This short profile of Beats By Dre contains many nuggets of marketing wisdom.

When developing the first Beats headphones, Iovine would lay out various prototypes in his Interscope offices and then poll everyone who came to see him. “It was this incredible parade of the world’s great artists,” says Wood. “M.I.A. or Pharrell Williams or Gwen Stefani or Will.i.am would come around, and I’d ask them, ‘What do you think of this one? What about this? What about that?’ ” says Iovine. “It’s not a numbers thing. I go to people with great taste.” As he and Dre prepared to launch the final version of Beats, Iovine sent a pair to another world-famous guy: LeBron James. Iovine had been hanging out in the editing room with James’s friend and business partner Maverick Carter during the development of a documentary on the basketball star. “Mav called me back and says, ‘LeBron wants 15.’ ” Iovine sent them, and they turned up on the ears of every member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic basketball team when they arrived in Shanghai. “Now that’s marketing,” says Iovine.

It’s easy to see why Apple might want to buy them. See also With Beats, Apple buys the unobtainable: street cred, Why Apple Wants Beats, Why Apple’s Beats buy is genius, and Apple’s Beats Deal Is All About Bringing Music Mogul Jimmy Iovine On Board. Iovine is the new Steve Jobs, basically. *ducks*

Rare interview with Jony Ive

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2014

John Arlidge scores a very rare sit-down interview with Apple design chief Jony Ive for Time magazine.

He spent “months and months and months” working out the exact shape of the stand of the desktop iMac computer because “it’s very hard to design something that you almost do not see because it just seems so obvious, natural and inevitable”. When he has finished a product, even one as fresh and iconic as the white headphones that came with the first iPod, he is haunted by the idea: could I have done it better? “It’s an affliction designers are cursed with,” Ive frowns.

It was an affliction he shared with Jobs, although he seemed to apply it to everything, with — almost — funny consequences. Ive recalls traveling with Jobs. “We’d get to the hotel where we were going, we’d check in and I’d go up to my room. I’d leave my bags by the door. I wouldn’t unpack. I’d go and sit on the bed and wait for the inevitable call from Steve: ‘Hey Jony, this hotel sucks. let’s go.’”

Would have preferred more of the actual interview — lots of biographical filler in this to make it accessible for the general public — but there are good bits here and there.

Macintosh ad with Hunter S. Thompson

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2014

What the what?! Hunter S. Thompson was in an Apple Macintosh commercial? Check it out:

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(via @brillhart)

The slow-motion political race to build tiny stars on Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2014

Raffi Khatchadourian’s long piece on the construction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is at once fascinating (for science reasons) and depressing (for political/bureaucratic reasons). Fusion reactors hold incredible promise:

But if it is truly possible to bottle up a star, and to do so economically, the technology could solve the world’s energy problems for the next thirty million years, and help save the planet from environmental catastrophe. Hydrogen, a primordial element, is the most abundant atom in the universe, a potential fuel that poses little risk of scarcity. Eventually, physicists hope, commercial reactors modelled on iter will be built, too-generating terawatts of power with no carbon, virtually no pollution, and scant radioactive waste. The reactor would run on no more than seawater and lithium. It would never melt down. It would realize a yearning, as old as the story of Prometheus, to bring the light of the heavens to Earth, and bend it to humanity’s will. iter, in Latin, means “the way.”

But ITER is a collaborative effort between 35 different countries, which means the project is political, slow, and expensive.

For the machine’s creators, this process-sparking and controlling a self-sustaining synthetic star-will be the culmination of decades of preparation, billions of dollars’ worth of investment, and immeasurable ingenuity, misdirection, recalibration, infighting, heartache, and ridicule. Few engineering feats can compare, in scale, in technical complexity, in ambition or hubris. Even the iter organization, a makeshift scientific United Nations, assembled eight years ago to construct the machine, is unprecedented. Thirty-five countries, representing more than half the world’s population, are invested in the project, which is so complex to finance that it requires its own currency: the iter Unit of Account.

No one knows iter’s true cost, which may be incalculable, but estimates have been rising steadily, and a conservative figure rests at twenty billion dollars — a sum that makes iter the most expensive scientific instrument on Earth.

I wonder what the project would look like if, say, Google or Apple were to take the reins instead. In that context, it’s only $20 billion to build a tiny Sun on the Earth. Facebook just paid $19 billion for WhatsApp, Apple has a whopping $158.8 billion in cash, and Google & Microsoft both have more than $50 billion in cash. Google in particular, which is making a self-driving car and has been buying up robots by the company-full recently, might want their own tiny star.

But back to reality, the circumstances of ITER’s international construction consortium reminded me of the building of The Machine in Carl Sagan’s Contact. In the book, the countries of the world work together to make a machine of unknown function from plans beamed to them from an alien intelligence, which results in the development of several new lucrative life-enhancing technologies and generally unites humanity. In Sagan’s view, that’s the power of science. Hopefully the ITER can work through its difficulties to achieve something similar.

Microsoft: new CEO, new company?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2014

Microsoft has a new CEO, Satya Nadella — birthplace: Hyderabad, India; hobbies: cricket, poetry. Here’s a nice succinct piece by John Gruber on Microsoft’s past, present, and future.

“A computer on every desk and in every home” was incredible foresight for 1977. It carried Microsoft for 25 years of growth. But once that goal was achieved, I don’t think they knew where to go. They were like the dog that caught the car. They spent a lot of time and energy on TV. Not just with Xbox, which is alive and well today (albeit not a significant source of income), but with other ideas that did not pan out, like “media center PCs” and the joint ownership of “MSNBC”, which was originally imagined as a sort of cable news network, website, dessert, and floor wax rolled into one.

No surprise: Gruber writes about Microsoft as well as he does about Apple.

The Apple-ness of the Macintosh

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2014

On Daring Fireball, John Gruber reflects on the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh by noting what seems particularly Apple-like about the Mac.

The second aspect of the original Mac that stands out today as Apple-like is putting just enough whimsy into the experience. Most famously, the smiling Mac you saw as the system booted. Had anyone prior even considered a smiling computer? But fundamental to the genius of the smiling Mac is that it didn’t come across as silly or corny. Friendly and fun: yes. Goofy: no. Getting that right required that most Apple-y of talents: taste.

And he’s spot on in that second footnote about the lack of whimsy in iOS 7. There’s nothing funny about those Settings and Safari icons.

Eau de MacBook Pro

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2014

A “scent solutions” company called Air Aroma made a Macbook Pro unboxing smell for an art exhibition in Melbourne last year.

To replicate the smell a brand new unopened Apple was sent to our fragrance lab in France. From there, professional perfume makers used the scents they observed unboxing the new Apple computer to source fragrance samples. On completion the laptop was sent back to Australia, travelling nearly 50,000kms and returned to our clients together with scent of an Apple Macbook Pro.

(via @buzz)

The Macintosh is 30 years old today

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2014

Apple is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh with a special subsite.

Incredible that the Mac is still around; the 90s were a dire time for Apple and it’s amazing to see the current fantastic iMacs and Macbooks that came after some epically bad mid-90s machines. Here’s Steve Jobs introducing the original Mac in 1984 (a snippet of the full introduction video):

Steven Levy writes about covering the introduction of the Mac for Rolling Stone.

First, I met the machine. From the instant the woman running the demo switched on that strange-looking contraption (inspired in part by the Cuisinart food processor), I knew the Macintosh would change millions of lives, including my own. To understand that, you must realize how much 1984 really was not like 2014. Until that point, personal computers were locked in an esoteric realm of codes and commands. They looked unfriendly, with the letters of text growing in sickly phosphorescence. Even the simplest tasks required memorizing the proper intonations, then executing several exacting steps.

But the Macintosh was friendly. It opened with a smile. Words appeared with the clarity of text on a printed page - and for the first time, ordinary people had the power to format text as professional printers did. Selecting and moving text was made dramatically easier by the then-quaint mouse accompanying the keyboard. You could draw on it. This humble shoebox-sized machine had a simplicity that instantly empowered you.

Here’s the piece Levy wrote for Rolling Stone.

If you have had any prior experience with personal computers, what you might expect to see is some sort of opaque code, called a “prompt,” consisting of phosphorescent green or white letters on a murky background. What you see with Macintosh is the Finder. On a pleasant, light background (you can later change the background to any of a number of patterns, if you like), little pictures called “icons” appear, representing choices available to you. A word-processing program might be represented by a pen, while the program that lets you draw pictures might have a paintbrush icon. A file would represent stored documents - book reports, letters, legal briefs and so forth. To see a particular file, you’d move the mouse, which would, in turn, move the cursor to the file you wanted. You’d tap a button on the mouse twice, and the contents of the file would appear on the screen: dark on light, just like a piece of paper.

Levy has also appended a never-seen-before transcript of his interview with Steve Jobs onto the Kindle version of Insanely Great, a book Levy wrote about the Mac.

Dave Winer participated on a panel of developers on launch day.

The rollout on January 24th was like a college graduation ceremony. There were the fratboys, the insiders, the football players, and developers played a role too. We praised their product, their achievement, and they showed off our work. Apple took a serious stake in the success of software on their platform. They also had strong opinions about how our software should work, which in hindsight were almost all good ideas. The idea of user interface standards were at the time controversial. Today, you’ll get no argument from me. It’s better to have one way to do things, than have two or more, no matter how much better the new ones are.

That day, I was on a panel of developers, talking to the press about the new machine. We were all gushing, all excited to be there. I still get goosebumps thinking about it today.

MacOS System 1.1 emulator. (via @gruber)

iFixit did a teardown of the 128K Macintosh.

Jason Snell interviewed several Apple execs about the 30th anniversary for MacWorld. (via df)

What’s clear when you talk to Apple’s executives is that the company believes that people don’t have to choose between a laptop, a tablet, and a smartphone. Instead, Apple believes that every one of its products has particular strengths for particular tasks, and that people should be able to switch among them with ease. This is why the Mac is still relevant, 30 years on-because sometimes a device with a keyboard and a trackpad is the best tool for the job.

“It’s not an either/or,” Schiller said. “It’s a world where you’re going to have a phone, a tablet, a computer, you don’t have to choose. And so what’s more important is how you seamlessly move between them all…. It’s not like this is a laptop person and that’s a tablet person. It doesn’t have to be that way.”

Snell previously interviewed Steve Jobs on the 20th anniversary of the Mac, which includes an essay that Jobs wrote for the very first issue of Macworld in 1984:

The Macintosh is the future of Apple Computer. And it’s being done by a bunch of people who are incredibly talented but who in most organizations would be working three levels below the impact of the decisions they’re making in the organization. It’s one of those things that you know won’t last forever. The group might stay together maybe for one more iteration of the product, and then they’ll go their separate ways. For a very special moment, all of us have come together to make this new product. We feel this may be the best thing we’ll ever do with our lives.

Here’s a look inside that first MacWorld issue.

As always, Folklore.org is an amazing source for stories about the Mac told by the folks who were there.

Susan Kare designed the icons, the interface elements, and fonts for the original Macintosh. Have a look at her Apple portfolio or buy some prints of the original Mac icons.

Stephen Fry recounts his experience with the Mac, including the little tidbit that he and Douglas Adams bought the first two Macs in Europe (as far as he knows).

I like to claim that I bought the second Macintosh computer ever sold in Europe in that January, 30 years ago. My friend and hero Douglas Adams was in the queue ahead of me. For all I know someone somewhere had bought one ten minutes earlier, but these were the first two that the only shop selling them in London had in stock on the 24th January 1984, so I’m sticking to my story.

Review of the Mac in the NY Times from 1984.

The Next Web has an interview with Daniel Kottke (no relation) and Randy Wigginton on programming the original Mac.

TNW: When you look at today’s Macs, as well as the iPhone and the iPad, do you see how it traces back to that original genesis?

Randy: It was more of a philosophy - let’s bring the theoretical into now - and the focus was on the user, not on the programmer. Before then it had always been let’s make it so programmers can do stuff and produce programs.

Here, it was all about the user, and the programmers had to work their asses off to make it easy for the user to do what they wanted. It was the principle of least surprise. We never wanted [the Macintosh] to do something that people were shocked at. These are things that we just take for granted now. The whole undo paradigm? It didn’t exist before that.

Like Daniel says, it’s definitely the case that there were academic and business places with similar technology, but they had never attempted to reach a mass market.

Daniel: I’m just struck by the parallel now, thinking about what the Mac did. The paradigm before the Mac in terms of Apple products was command-line commands in the Apple II and the Apple III. In the open source world of Linux, I’m messing around with Raspberry Pis now, and it terrifies me, because I think, “This is not ready for the consumer,” but then I think about Android, which is built on top of Linux. So the Macintosh did for the Apple II paradigm what Android has done for Linux.

A week after Jobs unveiled the Mac at the Apple shareholders meeting, he did the whole thing again at a meeting of the Boston Computer Society. Time has the recently unearthed video of the event.

Recording the lived-in moment

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2013

There was a bit of handwringing over the Apple video I posted yesterdaythis Forbes piece was a typical take.

I caught it on TV last night, and I couldn’t disagree more. It’s called “Misunderstood,” as in misunderstood teenager. I found it depressing, upsetting, and a sad commentary on our social-, video- and image-obsessed culture. The goal, of course, was to market the wonder of the iPhone using the element of surprise: show a seemingly slacker teen disengaged from the goings-on of family life, his eyeballs glued to his iPhone-save for very fleeting moments-suddenly reveals to stunned family members a touching video he’d made of their Christmas merriment. That he’d been creating all day.

The problem is that while he was creating, he wasn’t really living the day, he was a mere voyeur during it. The message? Life is better through video. Don’t live life, tape it.

I admit I do this as much as anyone. We all love to photograph and record the activities and people we love. But lately I’ve been going to bed at night with that nagging feeling that I hadn’t lived enough and had spent too much time focused on a device. Seriously. Are we happy that this year’s Thanksgiving and Hanukkah was Instagram’s busiest ever? This commercial glorified that reality. And I don’t think it is a positive message.

John Dickerson reminds us you can live in the moment and capture it.

In “Why I Write,” Joan Didion explains, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” Hey, we’re all little Joan Didions! Well, not exactly, but if my theory sounds grandiose, go back to look at things you wrote a few years ago, if you can. When I look at the notes I’ve stopped to write in those books, entire worlds come back at me. “Watching the squirming foot of the resident during the circumcision,” I wrote while my son went through the procedure. I hadn’t thought about that moment since it happened, but that image of the nervous young doctor put me right back on the threshold of the small operating room 11 years ago. The set list from the Bob Dylan show at Madison Square Garden in November 2001 reminds me of my visit that day to ground zero. I’d forgotten that George Plimpton nearly ran me over riding down 54th Street on a bicycle. My wife’s malapropisms dot the books (“Hang up the towel,” “Breathing down my throat,” “Stick his neck out on a limb for me”). I recalled each dinner where they were minted, how we laughed over them and how she has the equanimity not to care.

Everything in moderation.