Archive for January 10, 2017

Tuesday, January 10, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

How Adobe Flash Fell, and Why Flash Content Is Worth Preserving

Keith Collins (via Hacker News):

The earliest signal of Flash’s fall came in 2007, when Apple decided not to support it in the newly introduced iPhone. At the time, the fifth version of HTML was about to emerge, and promised to replace some of the functionality Flash provided. With the nascent mobile web in mind, developers across the world began moving away from Flash and toward HTML5.

[…]

HTML5 became a catch-all term for the New Web: a pure, plugin-free internet experience that worked as well on the phone as it did on the desktop. […] By 2011, that idea had gained enough momentum that even Adobe acknowledged the changing tide. It ceased production of the Flash Player for Android and released a product called Edge Animate—a new way to create HTML5 content.

[…]

Facebook isn’t the only tech giant with a stake in Flash’s future. Earlier this month, Google announced changes to its Chrome browser that will block Flash by default. Users will still be able to access Flash content by clicking an opt-in button, but the move suggests a ticking clock on Chrome—the most popular web browser in the world—dropping support for Flash altogether. When that day comes, trying to play Flash games or watch Flash cartoons will be much like trying to play a cassette without a tape deck.

[…]

The Internet Archive and the Archive Team are currently saving Flash files. The website oldweb.today, which allows visitors to access archives of the internet past, provides emulations of vintage browsers, which will be necessary for viewing Flash content should modern browsers stop supporting the plugin entirely.

Previously: Thoughts on Flash.

Amazon’s 1-Click Checkout Patent Expires in 2017

Mike Arsenault (via Hacker News):

Amazon filed the 1-Click patent in 1997 and it was granted by the USPTO in 1999. In fairly broad terms, it protects any E-commerce transaction executed with one-click using stored customer credentials to validate.

[…]

Together with Amazon Prime, Amazon has put forth what are probably the two biggest game changing products in online retail over the past two decades. The 1-Click patent is scheduled to expire in 2017, but my guess is that Amazon doesn’t really care.

AirPods vs. the Competition

Jordan Kahn:

In the lead up to Apple’s release of AirPods late last month, I had tested just about every pair of cord-free earbuds already on the market. But now that AirPods are here and I’ve been using them daily for an extended period of time, the difference is even more striking than I anticipated.

With AirPods, Apple has done what it does best: taken an emerging product category with a frustrating user experience and delivered a polished product made possible by its control over both the hardware and software. And the AirPods are one of the best examples of that in a long time.

The AirPods continue to work well for me. Every few days there is a little glitch, but it’s short-lived and usually corrects itself. This is a big improvement over the Bluetooth headsets I had been using, and the audio quality is much better. Physically, the AirPods are a bit too slippery and easy to drop, and it takes two hands to get them out of the case. I wish they came in black.

Owen Williams:

AirPods are actually one of the few Apple inventions in recent memory that ‘just work’ like the company is famous for. From the moment you take them out of the box and flick the charging case open, they’re paired with your phone and automatically pop up on the screen, which actually shocks you for a second — you mean that’s it? It is.

[…]

When asking to change the volume, or skip a song not only would it rarely recognize me awkwardly tapping on the side over and over, it’d often do the opposite of what I asked, or even just randomly call someone. On top of that it’s incredibly slow, so by the time you’ve managed to do what you started out trying to do, it’d have been faster to pull out your phone, unlock it, do it and put it back again.

We all know Siri is crap on the iPhone, but putting it in your ears doesn’t make it any more convenient, instead, it made me resent how bad it really is.

I don’t think the idea of voice control is fundamentally flawed, but Siri is just too slow and unreliable.

I’ve seen a lot of reports of trouble with the double-tap gesture, but it’s almost always worked for me the first time. I expected to play/pause by temporarily removing one of the AirPods. But in practice I find myself using the double-tap nearly every time. When I’m pausing the audio, it’s usually also at a time when my hands are wet or dirty or I don’t have a good place to put the AirPod.

Serenity Caldwell:

I’d just about given up on listening to music wirelessly during my warmup — and then came the AirPods. Their tiny shape makes them a perfect candidate for slipping into my ears during warmups without having to remove any of my gear, and my helmet keeps them in place easily while I skate. And thanks to their lengthy Bluetooth range, I can put my iPhone by our bench, do laps, and never worry about losing my connection.

Previously: My AirPods Experience.

Update (2017-01-10): See also: The Talk Show.

Update (2017-01-12): John Gruber shows how to remove the AirPods from the case.

It would be nice, when the Mac and iPhone are together, if the Mac could “steal” the AirPods without having to first deselect them on the iPhone.

Lex Friedman’s way of removing the AirPods from their case is even better.

Update (2017-01-13): Park Silkenson compares the two methods.

Explanation for Consumer Reports’ Battery Results

Rene Ritchie quoting Apple (tweet, MacRumors, AppleInsider, Hacker News, ArsTechnica):

We learned that when testing battery life on Mac notebooks, Consumer Reports uses a hidden Safari setting for developing web sites which turns off the browser cache. This is not a setting used by customers and does not reflect real-world usage. Their use of this developer setting also triggered an obscure and intermittent bug reloading icons which created inconsistent results in their lab. After we asked Consumer Reports to run the same test using normal user settings, they told us their MacBook Pro systems consistently delivered the expected battery life. We have also fixed the bug uncovered in this test.

It sounds like they are referring to the “Disable Caches” setting in the Develop menu. It’s not front and center, but I wouldn’t call it “hidden” since it can be enabled from within Safari’s own Preferences window. It’s not a defaults write preference.

The setting definitely is used by customers, e.g. Web developers, though probably not by most consumers.

It does seem legitimate to me for Consumer Reports to turn off caching when repeatedly loading the same Web pages. A test that just reads from the cache would not be representative of real-world use. Maybe it would have been better to test a series of unique pages with the cache enabled. Either way, it’s hard to say what would be a fair, controlled test involving servers run by third parties from around the world. Consumer Reports tried to control for some factors by loading pages from their own server, but that introduces other problems.

Regardless, their main finding was the inconsistent battery life, and it sounds like that is explained by the Apple bug.

Previously: Consumer Reports on the New MacBook Pro’s Battery Life.

Update (2017-01-10): Consumer Reports:

We communicated our original test results to Apple prior to publication on Dec. 22 and afterward sent multiple rounds of diagnostic data, at the company’s request, to help its engineers understand the battery issues we saw in our testing. After investigating the issue, Apple says that the variable battery performance we experienced is a result of a software bug in its Safari web browser that was triggered by our test conditions.

[…]

Separate from Consumer Reports’ test findings, many MacBook Pro owners have posted in user forums about episodes of remarkably short battery life, and both CR’s findings as well as these consumer posts have caused much discussion and debate in the tech press and on user forums.

[…]

At Consumer Reports, we test every laptop from every manufacturer in a comparable way. Because people use laptops differently and because their usage can vary from day to day, our battery tests are not designed to be a direct simulation of a consumer’s experience. Rather, we look to control as many variables as possible, then perform a test that gives potential users a reasonable expectation of battery life when a computer’s processors, screen, memory, and antennas are under a light to moderate workload. This test has served as a good proxy for battery life on the hundreds of laptops in our ratings.

[…]

Many of these settings are set by default to extend battery life. That’s generally a good thing. But because these settings are so variable and situation-dependent, we turn several of them off during testing. For instance, we turn the screen auto-dimming features off on all laptops and set the displays to a constant level of brightness. […] We also turn off the local caching of web pages.

John Gruber:

I still think something was/is wrong with Consumer Reports’s testing, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that disabling the caches is unfair or a flawed method. And while the preference setting is obscure, I wouldn’t call it “hidden”.

Geoff Hackworth notes that none of this explains how Consumer Reports got a high of 19.5 hours, when Apple claims only 10 hours of “wireless web.” It will be interesting to see the times when they re-test.

Jason Snell:

At Macworld we built a lot of different lab tests over the years. It’s hard to test real-world performance in automated tests. You want to produce a result that represents what regular people would experience when using the product, but it’s a constant battle against software and hardware that’s designed to reduce power consumption at every turn. You can’t just use a human to do the testing, because in addition to being wildly inefficient (these tests take a days to perform, per system), they won’t be exactly the same on all the different systems.

[…]

There are judgment calls like that at every turn when you’re building lab tests.

[…]

My guess is that this bug is more likely the cause of the battery-life disparity than anything specifically weird or unfair in Consumer Reports’ laptops tests, but I suppose we’ll see when it revisits its findings.

Marco Arment (tweet):

Consumer Reports has a spotty history with calling Apple out on product flaws. […] But almost every time, the problem they’re reporting is real — especially in retrospect, after everyone’s defensiveness has passed and we’ve lived with the products for a while. It’s just debatable how big of a deal it is in practice.

[…]

Apple’s framing here is almost Trumpian, evading responsibility for the real problem — Apple’s bug — by attempting to insult the test (“does not reflect real-world usage”), discredit and imply malice by Consumer Reports (“a hidden setting”), and disregard the bug as irrelevant (“obscure and intermittent bug”).

[…]

But disabling the browser cache during a battery test to make results more consistent is reasonable, Apple’s browser offers that feature, and it’s neither very well hidden nor unused by any customers.

Andrew Hart:

They did contact Apple about the results, and Apple sent them a canned statement.

Sean:

Apple declined to help until after CR published. That’s Apple’s MO.. they don’t acknowledge problems.

It would be interesting to know how long they waited before publishing, but it’s hard to fault them for doing so if that was Apple’s only response.

Nick Heer:

The [Apple] statement goes on a little longer, but the nutshell version comprises these three sentences. And I have issues with all of them.

Update (2017-01-13): Consumer Reports (Glenn Fleishman, John Gruber, Hacker News):

With the updated software, the three MacBook Pros in our labs all performed well, with one model running 18.75 hours on a charge. We tested each model multiple times using the new software, following the same protocol we apply to hundreds of laptops every year.

There’s still no explanation for the unexpectedly long battery life that they saw. And why did the bug fix reduce the time from 19.5 to 18.75 hours?

I’d also like to point out that people seem to be misremembering Antennagate, perhaps because of Jobs’ masterful presentation. The iPhone 4, even with the bumper, had worse reception than all previous iPhones. In the area where I live, this was the difference between the phone working and not working. The Apple Store wouldn’t acknowledge this and made it difficult to return the phone.

Update (2017-02-01): Gordon Mah Ung:

In looking at other battery run-down scenarios, I ran smack into a problem that’s likely at fault for many of the confusing battery life issues with the laptop, at least in macOS Sierra 10.12.2. On occasion, the laptop’s discrete GPU would just get stuck on and consume power even when it wasn’t used. Others had reported this too, but you’d really have to stumble onto it.

I was able to reproduce the issue in Safari by opening Google Maps, which would cause the laptop to switch over to the GPU for the WebGL workload. Opening additional browser tabs and then closing the Google Maps tab would, on occasion, leave the GPU consuming up to 10 watts of power while doing absolutely nothing.

Update (2017-02-14): Benedict Slaney (via Rui Carmo):

I don’t know exactly what Apple or Intel have done right, but the power drain under low usage conditions is now around half of that that the previous MBP’s.

[…]

Given that the time remaining calculation is calculated by using nothing but the battery drain average over recent time, the only reason behind Apple’s statement that the newer CPU’s are causing unpredictable calculations that I can think of would be because sometimes the CPU moves into a higher power state for a minute or so, and that the time remaining estimate gets updated during the same period, only to be inaccurate because the CPU then switches into a low power state and spends the majority of its time there, or vice versa. But that answer just leaves more questions hanging.

[…]

This is in line with consumer reports saying that they would get around 19 hours out of a laptop on a single charge. It’s also in line with people reporting that under high load the new MBP lasts a shorter amount of time than the earlier models. It does have a 25% smaller battery, and it is more performant. Under high stress it will use its resources and drain the battery quickly.

Chris Lattner Is Leaving Apple

Chris Lattner (MacRumors, Reddit):

I’m happy to announce that Ted Kremenek will be taking over for me as “Project Lead” for the Swift project, managing the administrative and leadership responsibility for Swift.org. This recognizes the incredible effort he has already been putting into the project, and reflects a decision I’ve made to leave Apple later this month to pursue an opportunity in another space. This decision wasn’t made lightly, and I want you all to know that I’m still completely committed to Swift. I plan to remain an active member of the Swift Core Team, as well as a contributor to the swift-evolution mailing list.

John Voorhees:

Lattner’s contribution to Apple’s developer tools has been enormous. His departure is a big loss for Apple.

John Gruber:

The Apple developer community is still in the middle of the transition to Swift. I’m a little surprised he’d leave in the midst of the upheaval. It’s a thriving language, but it is far from a completed project — neither the language itself nor the OS frameworks.

Makes one wonder why Apple couldn’t keep him, but depending on what he ends up doing this could be very good for Swift.

Update (2017-01-10): Andrew Pontious:

I always wondered if Lattner would be happy under several layers of Apple management.

Company is very top-down.

For someone of his talents and ambition, you either work your way up to the top, or you leave.

Lattner is doing an AMA on Slashdot.

Wil Shipley:

I’m very sad to see Lattner go after Swift 3, but remember Parkhurst left NeXT after NeXTstep 3, and Cocoa’s had a 28-year run so far.

He’s going to Tesla (tweet):

We would like to welcome Chris Lattner, who will join Tesla as our Vice President of Autopilot Software. Chris’ reputation for engineering excellence is well known. He comes to Tesla after 11 years at Apple where he was primarily responsible for creating Swift, the programming language for building apps on Apple platforms and one of the fastest growing languages for doing so on Linux.

Jeff Johnson:

I hope Teslas will crash less than Xcode.

Dan, writing before the Lattner news (via Zac Cichy):

Apple’s poor ability to attract and retain artificial intelligence and services talent is the most serious effect. Apple rarely acquires AI or services companies; however, the odd occasion when they do, key staff depart soon after— often to work on competitors’ products[…]

Nick Heer (Hacker Newsx):

Also making news today is Daniel Gross’ announcement that he’s leaving Apple for Y Combinator. Gross directed many of Apple’s machine learning initiatives, while Lattner created Swift; these are two of the highest-profile initiatives within the company.

Update (2017-01-11): John Gruber:

Now, it feels like Apple is out of the car game, and Tesla is gunning for Apple’s lead in computing. You can’t overstate what a star Chris Lattner is.

USA Today:

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk famously called Apple a “Tesla graveyard” where his failed employees go to toil.

That was a nifty bit of Musk-esque verbal sparring in what is a growing talent war between the tech titans. But it seems he’s now robbing the graveyard.

See also: ArsTechnica, Reddit.

Seth Weintraub:

Chris Lattner isn’t the only high profile Apple executive who departed for Tesla over the past month, rather than sticking around to work on Titan. 9to5mac has learned that Matt Casebolt, a high profile Senior Director of Design for Apple’s Mac lineup left the company last month for a role at Tesla as Sr. Director Engineering, Closures & Mechanisms. A job meant for a man named Casebolt …

Over the past two and a half years Casebolt led the development of the MacBook Pro with its standout and sometimes controversial Touch Bar feature. Before that, he led the team working on the iconic ‘trash can’ Mac Pro and was previously instrumental in the design of the first generations of MacBook Air. These are some of Apple’s most iconic Mac products over the past decade.

Chris Lattner:

Ted has been one of the quiet but incredible masterminds behind Swift (and Clang, and the Clang Static Analyzer) for many years. His approach and modesty has led many to misunderstand the fact that he has actually been running the Swift team for quite some time (misattributing it to me). While I’m super happy to continue to participate in the ongoing evolution and design of Swift, I’m clearly outmatched by the members of the Apple Swift team, and by Ted’s leadership of the team.

Update (2017-01-13): Ben Lovejoy (Hacker News):

Business Insider reports that Lattner had found Apple’s extreme approach to secrecy wearing, especially as his role was to create open-source developer tools, including Swift.

Julie Bort:

“He always felt constrained at Apple in terms of what he could discuss publicly — resorting to off-the-record chats, surprise presentations, and the like,” the person told us. “Similarly, I know he was constrained in recruiting and other areas. Eventually I know that can really wear people down.”

[…]

This wouldn’t be Apple’s first time losing someone in a big public way because it insists on secrecy over collaboration. As we previously reported, Apple’s entire networking team quit within a one-week period back in 2015 when Apple asked the team to build a bulletproof network and then refused to allow it to collaborate with others outside the company in its field doing similar work via an organization called Open Compute Project.

Chris Lattner:

My decision has nothing to do with “openness”. The “friend” cited is either fabricated or speculating. Folk just want to make 🍎 look bad.

Update (2017-01-15): See also: Accidental Tech Podcast, Core Intuition.

Update (2017-01-18): Joe Rossignol:

As it turns out, Lattner told MacRumors the answer is actually very simple: he is ready to move on to something new.

See also: Accidental Tech Podcast’s interview with Lattner.