Archive for March 6, 2017

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Genius Bar Idea

Eric Johnson quoting Ron Johnson (via Joe Rossignol):

“I remember the day I came in and told Steve about the Genius Bar idea and he says, ‘That’s so idiotic! It’ll never work!’” Johnson said. “He said, ‘Ron, you might have the right idea, but here’s the big gap: I’ve never met someone who knows technology who knows how to connect with people. They’re all geeks! You can call it the Geek Bar.’”

“And I said, ‘Steve, kids who are in their 20s today grew up in a very different world. They all know technology, and that’s who’s going to work in the store.’”

Apple Losing Education Share

Natasha Singer (MacRumors, Hacker News):

Mobile devices that run on Apple’s iOS and MacOS operating systems have now reached a new low, falling to third place behind both Google-powered laptops and Microsoft Windows devices, according to a report released on Thursday by Futuresource Consulting, a research company.


While school administrators generally like the iPad’s touch screens for younger elementary school students, some said older students often needed laptops with built-in physical keyboards for writing and taking state assessment tests.

The public school system in Eudora, Kan., for instance, used to have rolling carts of iPads for elementary school classrooms and MacBook carts for older students to share. But last year, when administrators wanted to provide a laptop for each high school student, the district bought 500 Chromebooks at about $230 each.


To compete with Chromebooks, Microsoft announced last month that it had worked with Acer, HP and Lenovo to develop low-cost Windows laptops for schools, with prices starting at $189.

This is sounding like a familiar refrain, but it seems like either Apple doesn’t care about this market or it completely misjudged its needs. I haven’t used a Chromebook, but at least on paper it seems like a near perfect machine for education: great price and durability, a real keyboard, a larger screen than on Apple’s cheaper devices, cloud-based productivity apps, and little need for administration. In some cases, students would need the full power of a Mac or PC, but for most education uses they don’t.

Update (2017-05-19): See also: Natasha Singer (via Hacker News).

Lightning or USB-C on the New iPhones?

Takashi Mochizuki:

People familiar with Apple’s plans said the iPhone releases this year would include two models with the traditional LCD and a third one with an OLED screen.

They said Apple would introduce other updates including a USB-C port for the power cord and other peripheral devices, instead of the company’s original Lightning connector.

John Gruber:

My expectation has been that iPhones will never switch to USB-C — that Apple would stick with Lightning until they can do away with external ports entirely.

I have no inside dope on this, but it rings false to my ears. If there’s any truth to it, I’d bet that this year’s iPhones will ship with USB-C chargers, that use a USB-C to Lightning cable to connect to the phones. That makes sense, given that Apple has dropped USB-A ports from the newest MacBook models.

Joe Rossignol (via John Gruber):

All three iPhones rumored to be launched in 2017 will retain Lightning connectors with the addition of USB-C Power Delivery for faster charging, including an all-new OLED model with a larger L-shaped battery and updated 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch models, according to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.

My initial expectations matched Gruber’s. I didn’t think Apple would drop Lightning. That said, I think there’s a pretty good case to be made that they should. That would take some courage because people don’t like change. But I don’t think it would be that hard of a sell. Lightning was the right choice when Apple adopted it because it was better than the alternatives that existed at that time. But now we have USB-C, which is an emerging standard and offers many of the same benefits, plus some of its own—though also some confusion.

Imagine that Lightning didn’t exist today. Would there be a compelling reason for Apple to invent it? USB-C looks like it will become a widespread standard. If Apple doesn’t switch, it had better have a good explanation for why it’s inconveniencing its customers with a proprietary connector.

And if it’s going to switch, why not do it now? Why ship a few hundred million more devices with Lightning when you know USB-C is the future? It’s better to be a little early than a little late on these transitions.

Update (2017-03-09): See also: Accidental Tech Podcast.

Update (2019-01-15): Juli Clover:

Mac Otakara’s report also suggests that the next-generation iPhone coming in 2019 could potentially include a USB-C port. According to “those who are working on it,” though, it has not reached a design reference step and whether or not the new iPhones will use USB-C over Lightning is not yet fully established.

Amazon S3 Outage

Amazon (via Sam 北島-Kimbrel, Hacker News):

The Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) team was debugging an issue causing the S3 billing system to progress more slowly than expected. At 9:37AM PST, an authorized S3 team member using an established playbook executed a command which was intended to remove a small number of servers for one of the S3 subsystems that is used by the S3 billing process. Unfortunately, one of the inputs to the command was entered incorrectly and a larger set of servers was removed than intended. The servers that were inadvertently removed supported two other S3 subsystems. One of these subsystems, the index subsystem, manages the metadata and location information of all S3 objects in the region. This subsystem is necessary to serve all GET, LIST, PUT, and DELETE requests. The second subsystem, the placement subsystem, manages allocation of new storage and requires the index subsystem to be functioning properly to correctly operate. The placement subsystem is used during PUT requests to allocate storage for new objects. Removing a significant portion of the capacity caused each of these systems to require a full restart. While these subsystems were being restarted, S3 was unable to service requests.


While this is an operation that we have relied on to maintain our systems since the launch of S3, we have not completely restarted the index subsystem or the placement subsystem in our larger regions for many years. S3 has experienced massive growth over the last several years and the process of restarting these services and running the necessary safety checks to validate the integrity of the metadata took longer than expected.


From the beginning of this event until 11:37AM PST, we were unable to update the individual services’ status on the AWS Service Health Dashboard (SHD) because of a dependency the SHD administration console has on Amazon S3.

Amazon Web Services (Hacker News):

The dashboard not changing color is related to S3 issue. See the banner at the top of the dashboard for updates.

Jim Dowling (via Hacker News):

Aside from the outage, there are many limitations of working with S3 that make it a less than ideal long term storage technology, and most of its problems relate to S3 object replication and metadata. S3 is a an eventually consistent key-value store for objects. However, eventual consistency tells us nothing about what guarantees S3 provides.


Netflix does not trust the metadata provided by S3. They have replaced it with their own metadata service, s3mper, which is essentially an eventually consistent key-value store that stores a copy of the metadata in S3 [s3mper]. Netflix rewrote their applications to account for s3mper. In the diagram below, you can see that application programming becomes more complex. Creating an object in S3 becomes a write to DynamoDB and a create operation in S3. This is not done transactionally. All S3 read/list operations need to be re-written to query DynamoDB and S3 and compare the results.

For me, the S3 outage brought down part of my FastSpring store, and a bunch of serial number reminder e-mails and crash reports didn’t go out because Amazon SES kept failing. My server code had assumed that sending e-mails would always succeed. In fact, it relied on sending e-mails to myself in order to report errors with the site and store. I’ve since added SparkPost and FastMail as backup SMTP providers.

I also plan to store e-mails in a database until they’ve been successfully sent. This seemed like it would be really easy, but I ran into a weird issue with my database layer not saving, and I haven’t had time yet to track that down.