Archive for May 2017

Wednesday, May 31, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Intel to Integrate Thunderbolt 3, Eliminate Royalties

Joe Rossignol:

Intel today announced that it plans to drive large-scale mainstream adoption of Thunderbolt by releasing the protocol’s specification to the industry next year under a nonexclusive, royalty-free license.


Intel also revealed plans to integrate Thunderbolt 3 into its future CPUs, but it didn’t provide a timeline as to when. The all-in-one design will take up less space on a Mac or PC’s logic board, and reduce power consumption by eliminating the need for a standalone Thunderbolt controller.

Hopefully this isn’t too late to avoid a FireWire-like fate.

Update (2017-05-31): Colin Cornaby:

FWIW I think Thunderbolt 3 is seeing a lot more success on the PC side than Firewire ever did, and it’s still growing.

So that’s the weird thing is that the PC companies have been shipping a whole bunch of docks. Meantime the Mac is a mess.

The higher end PC docks have GPUs, which isn’t supported under macOS. Apple blocked certain chipsets. Other stuff seems glitch on macOS.

Dangers of Google AMP

Scott Gilbertson:

Google’s AMP is bad — bad in a potentially web-destroying way. Google AMP is bad news for how the web is built, it’s bad news for publishers of credible online content, and it’s bad news for consumers of that content. Google AMP is only good for one party: Google. Google, and possibly, purveyors of fake news.

Via John Gruber:

It implements its own scrolling behavior on iOS, which feels unnatural, and even worse, it breaks the decade-old system-wide iOS behavior of being able to tap the status bar to scroll to the top of any scrollable view. AMP also completely breaks Safari’s ability to search for text on a page (via the “Find on Page” action in the sharing sheet). Google has no respect for the platform. If I had my way, Mobile Safari would refuse to render AMP pages. It’s a deliberate effort by Google to break the open web.

The scrolling behavior seems to be due to a design choice, since changed in WebKit; it‘s actually the rest of Mobile Safari that’s inconsistent with other scrollable views.

Nick Heer:

Forms and interactive elements were previously verboten in AMP land, but they’re now allowed through a proprietary — albeit open source — and nonstandard fork of HTML largely developed and popularized by one of the biggest web companies out there.


Consider this: Google owns the most popular search engine and the biggest video hosting platform in most countries, operates one of the most-used email services on Earth, has the greatest market share of any mobile operating system, makes the most popular web browser in many countries, serves the majority of the targeted advertising on the web, provides the most popular analytics software for websites, and is attempting to become a major internet service provider. And, to cap it all off, they’re subtly replacing HTML with their own version, and it requires a Google-hosted JavaScript file to correctly display.

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai (via John Gruber):

According to Citizen Lab researchers, the hackers used Google AMP to trick the targets into thinking the email really came from Google.


So if the victim had quickly hovered over the button to inspect the link, they would have seen a URL that starts with, which seems safe, and it’s followed by a URL, which the user might not have noticed. (For example:[.]com/amp/

HTTPS on Stack Overflow

Nick Craver (via Joel Spolsky, Hacker News):

We began thinking about deploying HTTPS on Stack Overflow back in 2013. So the obvious question: It’s 2017. What the hell took 4 years? The same 2 reasons that delay almost any IT project: dependencies and priorities. Let’s be honest, the information on Stack Overflow isn’t as valuable (to secure) as most other data. We’re not a bank, we’re not a hospital, we don’t handle credit card payments, and we even publish most of our database both by HTTP and via torrent once a quarter. That means from a security standpoint, it’s just not as high of a priority as it is in other situations. We also had far more dependencies than most, a rather unique combination of some huge problem areas when deploying HTTPS. As you’ll see later, some of the domain problems are also permanent.

The biggest areas that caused us problems were:

  • User content (users can upload images or specify URLs)
  • Ad networks (contracts and support)
  • Hosting from a single data center (latency)
  • Hundreds of domains, at multiple levels (certificates)

Keyboard Maestro Beats System Preferences

Dr. Drang:

As you have no doubt guessed by now, Yosemite didn’t erase the annoyance. Nor did El Capitan or Sierra. Today, after running into the problem once again, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I turned off that shortcut in System Preferences and built a Keyboard Maestro macro to do the job.

Custom keyboard shortcuts have been buggy for me, too, especially in Sierra.

A Year of Google Maps & Apple Maps

Justin O’Beirne (Hacker News):

According to Google Analytics, that essay has received more than 1,000 hits from computers on Apple’s corporate network, mainly Apple’s Sunnyvale and Cupertino campuses. Yet nearly a year later, Patricia’s Green still isn’t green.


Google has distinct locations for each. But Apple plots them at the same location... […] ...and as the months pass by, Apple cycles through all three – padding our addition/removal counts[…]


Speaking of place labels, did you notice that halfway through the year, Google’s changed in appearance?


And in addition to the color changes, Google also flattened the map – eliminating the coastline dropshadows it had added just a couple years ago and removing most of the road casings[…]


And speaking of places, Google has also been increasing the variety of places it shows.

Nick Heer:

I hope Apple’s on-the-ground data collection indicates that they’re pushing for a big improvement soon. But, while they may be working really hard, Google’s designers and engineers aren’t twiddling their thumbs either, and Google is starting with a much stronger base. This article is so good that Apple could almost use it as a todo list. And they probably should.

O’Beirne was apparently the “Head of Cartography” at Apple, but given this essay and the one last year, it sounds like he no longer works there.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

iPhone SE Tops Customer Satisfaction Survey

Joe Rossignol:

Despite a shift towards smartphones with larger screens, the iPhone SE has topped all other smartphones in the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

Apple’s four-inch smartphone received a customer satisfaction score of 87 out of 100 to finish just ahead of Samsung’s 5.7-inch Galaxy S6 edge+ and the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus.

Previously: Switching to an iPhone SE.

PSPDFKit for macOS


PSPDFKit is a cross-platform solution for everything related to handling PDFs in your apps and services. The macOS version offers great interoperability with PSPDFKit for iOS, Android, the web, and future PSPDFKit products. By providing just our core, we think we cover many of the use-cases particularly of interest to macOS developers, including manipulating PDF documents and filling out forms programmatically.

This has the potential to help developers work around the bugs and limitations in Apple’s PDF Kit. However, it does not include a replacement for the top-level PDFView class, and that would be a lot of work to reimplement well.

1Password Travel Mode

Rick Fillion (MacRumors):

Travel Mode is a new feature we’re making available to everyone with a 1Password membership. It protects your 1Password data from unwarranted searches when you travel. When you turn on Travel Mode, every vault will be removed from your devices except for the ones marked “safe for travel.” All it takes is a single click to travel with confidence.


Your vaults aren’t just hidden; they’re completely removed from your devices as long as Travel Mode is on. That includes every item and all your encryption keys. There are no traces left for anyone to find. So even if you’re asked to unlock 1Password by someone at the border, there’s no way for them to tell that Travel Mode is even enabled.


Travel Mode is limited to accounts, and there’s no way to directly interact with it within the apps themselves. It’s an example of a feature that’s now possible with a centralized service that can coordinate everything for all of your devices, and provide a place to control settings outside of the apps themselves.

Tom S:

While I can’t speak for the AgileBits team, the major theme behind Travel Mode seems to be the fact that the data isn’t present on your device and that there’s no possible way to get around it. Even if a comparable, modified approach could be managed by splitting up vault files, all of that data could still be accessed indirectly via Dropbox/iCloud. There’s no way around that without third-party access.


Unless you logout of Dropbox on your phone/laptop/other devices, trash the 1Password files in your ~/Dropbox folder on your laptop, and remove your Dropbox info from 1Password, the data is still indirectly accessible. And as such, border agents have a viable—albeit indirect—route to access it.

So it seems like there’s a good reason that this particular feature is only available when syncing via I can see why is the future, as it provides a better experience for most users, requires less support from the developer, and has a subscription business model. Yet it’s sad that the old syncing methods are basically in maintenance mode, when they offered some advantages of their own.

1Password is an essential app for me, so I wouldn’t really mind paying for a subscription except that I’m not that keen to use their cloud service. I like that I don’t have to give them my (encrypted) data or depend on their server for syncing to work. I like having direct access to the sync files. I like that I can deny the 1Password app network access (at least on the Mac). I like that, thanks to 1PasswordAnywhere, my passwords are accessible offline without the need for an app. This was a deciding factor in getting me to start using 1Password back in the day. It still gives peace of mind, even though it’s no longer viewable on Dropbox. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like there are any plans to support it with

Also unfortunately, the file format that 1Password uses with Dropbox is slower and less secure. It’s not the focus of development, so it’s unlikely to get any new features, even where they would technically be possible.

I much prefer the way 1Password has evolved compared with what happened with TextExpander. The latest versions of the apps still work with the old syncing methods, and they’re even still selling standalone licenses. But though those of us who prefer the old design have not been abandoned, it still feels like we’re being left behind.

Update (2017-06-01): Bruce Schneier:

Everything you do along these lines is problematic, because 1) you don’t want to ever lie to a customs official, and 2) any steps you take to make your data inaccessible is in itself suspicious. Your best defense is not to have anything incriminating on your computer or in the various social media accounts you use.

@dkhamsing pointed me to pass, which can synchronize via Git and has an open source iOS app.

Update (2017-07-10): Kenn White:

1Password’s decision to sunset local credential storage for a 3rd-party cloud model alienates its most vocal allies — security professionals

It increasingly sounds to me like us standalone users have been abandoned. They’re just waiting until something breaks before they tell us.

Update (2017-07-12): Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai (via Jason Snell, AppleInsider, MacRumors, Hacker News):

Last weekend, though, several security researchers tweeted that 1Password was moving away from allowing people to pay for a one-time license and have local password vaults, in favor of its cloud-based alternative that requires a monthly subscription.


I know it’s not the answer you want, but we will never publicly commit to Dropbox, iCloud, or local vaults for the future. Even if we bring local vaults forward in a hypothetical new version of 1Password which does not yet exist, that’s not to say that the subsequent version will continue that, especially if the costs we put into building that into a new app far outweigh the return we get on that work in license sales.

Doug Lhotka:

The design of the new cloud based system appears robust, and they’ve had audits done on the code and service. Good so far. […] But that statement is based an overly simplistic user base and threat model. The truth is far more nuanced, and for substantial minority of users it’s not a good option. These include folks who are prohibited by corporate policy from using non-contracted third-party cloud services (extremely widespread), and individuals willing to put up with the minor hassle of local syncing to reduce their risk. Having all the vaults in a single place makes it a tempting target for an attack, breach and disclosure. Unfortunately, Agilebits asserts in forum posts that compromised vaults are “useless” to an attacker. That’s grossly oversimplified, and I quickly came up with three ways they aren’t useless[…]


I give many briefings on future ‘plans’ and have the legal boilerplate about commitments and forward looking statements memorized. ‘No plans to remove’ does not equal ‘plan to keep’. We understand that things change, but there’s a very important intent and nuance in the language you’re using. One breeds confidence, the other raises concerns.

Clearly the development effort will focus on the subscription client, not the standalone, and a browser, iOS or OSX update will break it at some point (much as High Sierra has). How long will you continue to support the standalone client for those changes? We don’t know.

Update (2017-07-13): Juanjo López:

Unbelievable comment by a @1Password employee. People are not really concerned about local vaults, [they] just want to be “security gurus.”

Update (2017-07-15): Kenn White (Hacker News):

Nowhere in that process did I remember being specifically prompted to sync or backup my dummy accounts in the 1Password app to the 1Password cloud. It just happens. Automatically. When you respond to that initial “New to 1Password? Get started with your free trial of subscription” splash screen by clicking on the “Start My Trial” button, what you you are really saying is: auto-sync & backup everything by default into the 1Password cloud. In this theater, it’s a package deal. Popcorn comes with the Coke.


From a geek perspective, it’s kind of amazing that the HTML5 WebCrypto API has evolved enough to allow that. But there’s still a fundamental problem. Unlike, say, Signal Desktop which is a Chrome App with a known signature and a well-understood body of code, this is on-demand web-based javascript which gets pulled down anew every time I visit the 1Password site (which is presumably a lot, since it’s also where you manage your monthly billing and any other cloud syncing sorts of things that one does).


The security chief at 1Password seems to be saying that he’s not a big fan of the browser client either, or at least acknowledges the inherent additional risks that this particular type of host-based javascript crypto (i.e., live web page loads, versus a fixed browser extension or app) introduces.

Glenn Fleishman:

There’s one significant way in which syncing via Dropbox or iCloud has an advantage over syncing: in the latter case, you have to trust AgileBits to do what it says it will. When 1Password native apps use local vaults and sync via Dropbox or iCloud, your password never touches AgileBits’ login Web page. Because 1Password itself is freestanding, security researchers can test (and have tested) it in ways that aren’t possible with

AgileBits says that your password never leaves your browser, and while trusting the company is reasonable, Thomas H. Ptáček noted to me via Twitter that the point is to not have to trust them.

Update (2017-07-16): My1:

2) you are using a CDN ( -> IP -> amazon AWS), meaning you are not in control of what happens in the transit meaning the CDN has the ability to (it doesn’t matter whether they promise not to do so or whatever, just that they have to ability to) add or change scripts in a way that the master password is sent directly to a rogue server, they could even go one step further and just sent a decrypted wallet along the way.

Dash for iOS Returns to the App Store

Bogdan Popescu (tweet):

Quite a few “developers” have even added it to the App Store themselves, violating the GNU GPL license in the process. Apple has been very responsive in removing these apps, but the developers kept adding it back in different shapes and forms and I got tired to fill the same copyright claim forms over and over.

Previously: Apple Removed Dash From the Mac App Store.

Resolving Modern Mac Alias Files

Daniel Jalkut:

There’s a big catch, however, which is that you must take care to pass the alias file’s URL as the “relativeTo:” parameter when resolving the bookmark. Otherwise the bookmark will resolve as expected in typical scenarios, but will fail to resolve in all the scenarios where bookmarks really shine, as for example in the case of moving a bookmark and its target to another volume.


The safety of ignoring staleness is supported by the fact that, starting in macOS 10.10, there is a new convenience method on NSURL specifically for resolving “alias files”[…]

Saturday, May 20, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

iOS 11 iPad Wishes and Concept Video

Federico Viticci:

iOS for iPhone is, I believe, at a point of sufficient maturity: aside from particular feature additions, I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally missing from the iPhone. The iPad now bears the proverbial low-hanging fruit of iOS. There are obvious areas of improvement on iOS for iPad, which is, effectively, two years behind its iPhone counterpart. The iPad’s lack of meaningful software advancements allows us to explore deeper ideas; thus, in a break with tradition, I decided to focus this year’s iOS Wishes exclusively on the iPad and where Apple could take its software next.


The argument that the iPad doesn’t “need a filesystem” lost its validity when Apple introduced document providers in iOS 8 and the iCloud Drive app in iOS 9. iOS already has a visible filesystem, only it’s been rebuilt with simplicity in mind for the age of apps so it doesn’t expose system information like on macOS. The next logical step for Apple is to turn their scattershot implementation of document pickers and providers into a true Finder layer that can work with every app and be more cohesive and intuitive than what we have today.

Friday, May 19, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Xcode Autocomplete Frustrations

Erica Sadun:

A year after it debuted, Xcode’s enhanced autocomplete features continue to struggle with overly liberal matches[…]


Successful autocompletion promotes good matches and discards inappropriate ones. “upper“ should score high on CFStringUppercase and low on CGScreenUpdateOperation and CSSMERR_TP_INVALID_CERTGROUP_POINTER.

That’s not the only problem with autocomplete. Image literal completion is a big problem. Xcode often prioritizes images over code APIs. When starting to type “picker”, Xcode should not suggest “picture-of-lovely-cat”.

Every time I create a new variable in Swift (i.e. type let, space, and then a letter), Xcode gives me a useless list containing only names of images. Not only do I never want these—I use methods/properties to access my images rather than hard-coding strings in multiple places—but an image would not even be valid at that source location.

Getting Info From iTunes

Paul Kim:

With some versions, one API may return some special playlist that the others don’t. Also, [MediaLibrary API] is asynchronous while the others are synchronous. I don’t see that as a big deal either way as you can convert one into the other with a tiny bit of work.


As you can see, ML is pretty damn slow with ITLib being much, much, much faster. What is surprising to me is how much faster parsing the XML file is than ML.


The persistent IDs of entities in iTunes are hex strings. In the XML file, they are zero padded. In ML, though it returns strings, they are not zero padded (rdar://26624642 for you Apple folks watching from home). To add even more confusion to the mix, they are NSNumbers in ITLib.

Twitter Abandons “Do Not Track” Privacy Protection


While we had hoped that our support for Do Not Track would spur industry adoption, an industry-standard approach to Do Not Track did not materialize.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols:

Twitter was one of the first companies to support Do Not Track (DNT), the website privacy policy. Now, Twitter is abandoning DNT and its mission to protect people from being tracked as they wander over the web.


According to Sarah Downey, an attorney and privacy advocate, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), which represent most online advertisers, have their own interpretation of Do Not Track: “They have said they will stop serving targeted ads but will still collect and store and monetize data.”

Nick Heer:

Like Google and Facebook, Twitter is now displaying the topics it thinks you’re interested in, how old it thinks you are, and what languages it thinks you speak — apparently, I speak Estonian and Portuguese. Twitter goes one step further and allows you to request a list of which advertisers are currently targeting your profile. As of writing, 874 advertisers have included my personal account in over two thousand of their audience lists, while 102 have for the Pixel Envy auto-posting account.

Retina Monitors

Casey Liss:

As I write this, there are three general options, that will work with most modern Macs[…]


Additionally, there are two options for those with a fancypants MacBook with USB-C[…]


If you look at Marc’s chart, you can see what the issue is. Displays over 24" that are only 4K land in “the bad zone”—more resolution than non-Retina, yet not enough to be full Retina.

As far as I can tell, only the 2016 MacBook Pro can drive a 5K display. For 4K at a decent refresh rate, you need a mid-2014 or later MacBook Pro.

Thursday, May 18, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Apple Wants 30% of Tips From Chinese Chat Apps

Tim Hardwick:

Apple has told several Chinese social networking apps to disable their “tip” functions to comply with App Store rules, according to executives at WeChat and other companies.

The tip functions in Chinese messaging platforms are free to use and allow people to send authors and other content creators monetary tips through transfers to mobile wallet accounts. However, according to The Wall Street Journal, Apple has decided that tips are equivalent to in-app purchases – similar to buying games, music, and videos – therefore Apple is entitled to a 30 percent cut of every transaction.


The annoyance stems from the way the tipping culture is viewed in China. Chinese app developers see tipping as fundamentally different from in-app purchases because users only tip voluntarily as a mark of appreciation when they consume content.

It sounds kind of like Apple asking for a cut of every PayPal transaction that’s initiated through an app. That really doesn’t make much sense.

The promise of in-app purchase was that it was supposed to make purchases uniformly easy for the customer. Instead, Apple’s insistence on 30% is degrading the user experience (e.g. Kindle) and encouraging developers to complicate their apps to route around the fee. And if Tencent doesn’t back down—and I don’t see why they would—this could really hurt iOS in China. Hopefully this spat will trigger a rethinking of Apple’s policies.

Previously: Apple’s China Problem: WeChat.

Update (2017-05-19): See also: Ben Thompson, John Bergmayer.

Update (2017-07-20): Emma Lee:

Apple is planning to remove its controversial App Store policy of taking a 30 percent cut on tipping from users to content creators in China, local media The Paper is reporting (in Chinese), citing several sources they identified as execs at Chinese internet firms. Several game developers also got wind of Apple’s plan to change its tipping policies, the report noted.

Android Adds Official Kotlin Support

Steve Yegge (Hacker News):

The only way a new language can make a big splash -- and I think this has been true for at least ten, maybe twenty years -- is for it to have a “killer app”. It needs a platform that everyone wants to use so badly that they’re willing to put up with learning a new language in order to program on that platform.

It turns out the perfect killer app here -- and this brings us full circle -- is Android’s crappy Red Light APIs. When you’re zooming along the road in Android-land, every time you hit an API that stops you in your tracks, you curse the platform. It doesn’t actually matter how many good APIs Android has, as long as there are sufficiently many bad ones to make you pause and look around for big solutions.


When you have a big gap like that, there’s an opportunity for a language-based solution. And unsurprisingly, the full-on departures are all based around specific languages that aren’t Java.

Kotlin’s competitive advantage, though, is that it’s not a full-on departure. It’s completely 100% interoperable and even interminglable with Java, almost (though not quite) to the extent that C++ was to C. Kotlin feels like an evolutionary step. You can just start mixing it right into your existing Android project, right there in the same directories, and call back and forth without batting an eyelash.

Mike Cleron (Hacker News):

Today the Android team is excited to announce that we are officially adding support for the Kotlin programming language. Kotlin is a brilliantly designed, mature language that we believe will make Android development faster and more fun. It has already been adopted by several major developers — Expedia, Flipboard, Pinterest, Square, and others — for their production apps. Kotlin also plays well with the Java programming language; the effortless interoperation between the two languages has been a large part of Kotlin’s appeal.

The Kotlin plug-in is now bundled with Android Studio 3.0 and is available for immediate download. Kotlin was developed by JetBrains, the same people who created IntelliJ, so it is not surprising that the IDE support for Kotlin is outstanding.

In addition to the IDE support, we’re announcing a collaboration with JetBrains to move Kotlin into a non-profit foundation. (Kotlin is already open sourced under Apache2.)

Maxim Shafirov:

Starting now, Android Studio 3.0 ships with Kotlin out of the box, meaning Android developers no longer need to install any extras or worry about compatibility. It also means that moving forward, you can rest assured that both JetBrains and Google will be supporting Android development in Kotlin.

In case you are concerned about other platforms that Kotlin supports (Kotlin/JVM for server and desktop, Kotlin/JS and Kotlin/Native), please be sure that they are as important for us as ever. Our vision here is to make Kotlin a uniform tool for end-to-end development of various applications bridging multiple platforms with the same language. This includes full-stack web applications, Android and iOS clients, embedded/IoT and much more.

Brandon Williams & Lisa Luo (tweet):

At Kickstarter, Android and iOS development co-exist harmoniously. Our small team of native engineers have spent the past two years embracing functional programming, from building our Android app using RxJava to rewriting our iOS app in Swift using ReactiveSwift. We have learned a lot from a cross-platform functional workflow and will talk about how FP, Swift and Kotlin have unified our approach in writing consistent code across platforms. We will give a tour of the features of Kotlin and all its similarities, strengths, and weaknesses with respect to Swift.

See also: Swift is like Kotlin (Hacker News).

Update (2017-05-31): See also: Hacker News.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]


Brent Simmons and Manton Reece (via John Gruber, Hacker News):

The JSON Feed format is a pragmatic syndication format, like RSS and Atom, but with one big difference: it’s JSON instead of XML.

For most developers, JSON is far easier to read and write than XML. Developers may groan at picking up an XML parser, but decoding JSON is often just a single line of code.

Our hope is that, because of the lightness of JSON and simplicity of the JSON Feed format, developers will be more attracted to developing for the open web.

Seems like a good idea. Sure, it’s another standard, so if it catches on this will create more work for people writing code in this area. But the fact that it’s so easy to use could open up more possibilities, and I assume that it will be more amenable to the needs of new services. There’s a WordPress plug-in.

See also: Dave Winer (2012).

Update (2017-05-17): See also: Brent Simmons.

Update (2017-05-18): See also: Manton Reece.

Update (2017-05-30): John Gruber:

The DF RSS feed isn’t going anywhere, so if you’re already subscribed to it, there’s no need to switch. But JSON Feed’s spec makes it possible for me to specify both a url that points to the post on Daring Fireball (i.e. the permalink) and an external_url that points to the article I’m linking to. The way I’ve dealt with that in the RSS (technically Atom, but that’s sort of beside the point) is a bit of a hack that’s caused problems with numerous feed readers over the years.

Ben Ubois:

One of the criticisms I’ve seen of JSON Feed is that there’s no incentive for feed readers to support JSON Feed. This is not true. One of the largest-by-volume support questions I get is along the lines of “Why does this random feed not work?” And, 95% of the time, it’s because the feed is broken in some subtle way. JSON Feed will help alleviate these problems, because it’s easier to get right.

Update (2017-06-01): See also: The Talk Show.

Update (2017-06-02): See also: Chris Siebenmann.

Update (2017-06-12): See also: Dave Winer.

TidBITS News Shows How an Old 32-bit iOS App Becomes 64-bit

Matt Neuburg:

To revive TidBITS News, therefore, I effectively had to rewrite the code from scratch as if I were creating the same app today, doing things the iOS 10 way. Luckily, TidBITS News is a fairly small, simple app; it has only three “scenes” — the master view (the list of article headlines and blurbs), the detail view (one complete article), and the player view (for listening to a recorded version of an article). But imagining a much more elaborate app, you can appreciate why a developer might not be willing to recast an old 32-bit app as 64-bit — it could be more work than it’s worth. (And the fact that Apple forces all updates to be given away for free means that it will generate absolutely no income from existing users. Is it any wonder apps are abandoned?)

Previously: iOS to Drop Support for 32-bit Apps.

FastMail “Lifetime” Member Plans

brong (via Hacker News):

FYI, we’re finally closing off guest and member accounts entirely. […] We have already not allowed new signups at those service levels for quite some time. We are offering very generous discounts for upgrades.

In 2002, the member account promised a lifetime mail account for a one-time $14.95 fee.


The member accounts were introduced at a critical time in Fastmail’s development, when they needed serious funding (when they first went paid).


That Fastmail have honored their commitment (to keep these accounts valid, over all these years) I consider impeccable.

Now they are reneging on that deal, although obviously anyone who signed up 15 years ago got a tremendous value. I don’t really understand why FastMail is doing this, since it seems like the 16 MB storage quota on the old plan would be enough to entice most users to upgrade. Anyone remaining wouldn’t drain their resources much—except perhaps for customer support. Is it really worth sullying their reputation? If the situation is so dire that they’ll go out of business if they keep their word, then as a satisfied non-lifetime customer I’m glad they’re not going down in flames to prove a point. On the other hand, it is worrying that either they’re simply choosing not to honor their commitment or that the business I’m relying on is that close to collapse.

The bottom line: customers should never count on anything actually being lifetime, businesses should only offer such plans as a last resort, and anyone who really cares about their e-mail address should get their own domain.

Moom vs. the Rectangular Grid Patent

Many Tricks (tweet):

The one change was to the grid, which switched from rectangular (with the circles of 3.2.7) to the new hexagonal layout, as seen at right.

Why did we change the design? Late last week, we learned there’s a US patent that covers resizing windows using a rectangular grid in a miniature preview image. We learned this when the patent’s owner told us they believed Moom’s grid was infringing on their patent. For now, we have redesigned the grid in such a way that no infringement claim can be made, and we’re working on further improvements.

This sort of thing should not be patentable. Plus, the timeline is depressing: the patent application was filed in 2008, the Moom feature shipped in 2011, the patent was granted in 2013, and the complaint was made in 2017.

See also: Hacker News.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

No More iPad mini Updates Planned

Jonathan S. Geller (via Zac Hall, Joe Rossignol, Hacker News):

First introduced in 2012, Apple’s iPad mini was a welcome alternative to the much larger, thicker, and heavier 9.7-inch iPad. There was no 5.5-inch iPhone Plus, so the iPad mini made a great choice for light reading and effortless web browsing, email, and gaming. The market doesn’t stand still, however, and we’re now looking at a redesigned iPad Pro to be launched this summer that should offer everything the current 9.7-inch iPad features, but in a smaller footprint with a larger 10.5-inch display.

On the other side, there’s the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus, which is large enough to negate the need for a tablet for many users. The device you take everywhere, that’s always with you, that has the best camera, and that has everything else you need. The device that you already own. Therein lies the problem, and that’s why we have heard from a source close to Apple that the iPad mini is being phased out.

That’s a shame. Maybe the iPad mini hasn’t been selling well because it’s been neglected. The full-size iPad is too big and heavy for my liking. I’ve actually been hoping for a smaller and lighter iPad mini, more like a Kindle. As a fan of the iPhone SE, the fact that Apple sells a 5.5-inch phone does nothing to help my tablet needs. I don’t want a big phone, or a second phone. If they had a 5.5–6.5-inch iPod touch, that could be interesting, though it wouldn’t be able to run true iPad apps.

“MP3 Is Dead” Missed the Real, Much Better Story

Marco Arment (Hacker News):

So while there’s a debate to be had — in a moment — about whether MP3 should still be used today, Fraunhofer’s announcement has nothing to do with that, and is simply the ending of its patent-licensing program (because the patents have all expired) and a suggestion that we move to a newer, still-patented format.


AAC and other newer audio codecs can produce better quality than MP3, but the difference is only significant at low bitrates. At about 128 kbps or greater, the differences between MP3 and other codecs are very unlikely to be noticed, so it isn’t meaningfully better for personal music collections. For new music, get AAC if you want, but it’s not worth spending any time replacing MP3s you already have.


MP3 is supported by everything, everywhere, and is now patent-free.

Apple’s New Campus

Steven Levy (Hacker News):

For the next two hours, Ive and Whisenhunt walk me through other parts of the building and the grounds. They describe the level of attention devoted to every detail, the willingness to search the earth for the right materials, and the obstacles overcome to achieve perfection, all of which would make sense for an actual Apple consumer product, where production expenses could be amortized over millions of units. But the Ring is a 2.8-million-square-foot one-off, eight years in the making and with a customer base of 12,000. How can anyone justify this spectacular effort?


The meetings often lasted for five or six hours, consuming a significant amount of time in the last two years of Jobs’ life. He could be scary when he swooped down on a detail he demanded. At one point, Behling recalls, Jobs discussed the walls he had in mind for the offices: “He knew exactly what timber he wanted, but not just ‘I like oak’ or ‘I like maple.’ He knew it had to be quarter-cut. It had to be cut in the winter, ideally in January, to have the least amount of sap and sugar content.


Those post-Jobs details were largely crafted by Foster + Partners and Ive’s design team, who custom-developed almost every aspect of the building, down to the wash basins and faucets.


It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by all of this. Ask me sometime about the fonts in the elevator or the hidden pipes in the bathroom commodes. And it’s hard not to return again and again to the same question: Is Apple Park the arcadia outlined by Jobs in his public farewell, or is it an anal-retentive nightmare of indulgence gone wild?

In my experience, these sort of architectural marvels end up not being very functional, but hopefully they’ve bucked that trend. If it works as intended, this will be a great investment in the future, but it also sounds like there was a huge opportunity cost. Apple’s attention is its most limited resource. Apple Park’s design and construction has consumed a lot of time for key people these last several years, at the same time it seems like entire product lines have been neglected.

Update (2017-06-02): Steven Levy:

But at this first meeting in 2010, Muffly learned that he and Steve Jobs shared a love of trees, and in particular a passion for the foliage native to the pre-Silicon Valley landscape, before big tech companies showed up and changed it. The encounter would lead to Muffly becoming the senior arborist at Apple, Inc., in charge of choosing, locating and planting the 9,000 trees that justify Apple’s choice to call its 175-acre campus a park — and in making Apple Park a leaf-and-blossom tribute to the CEO who designed it but would not live to see it built. Or planted.

CMD-D | Masters of Automation Conference

Sal Soghoian:

The conference is called CMD-D (pronounced “Command-D”), and it will be held August 9th at the Santa Clara Convention Center. It’ll be a full day of exploring the current state of automation technology on both Apple platforms, sharing ideas and concepts, and showing what’s possible—all with the goal of inspiring and furthering development of your own automation projects.

To assist in this exploration of all things Automation, I’ve invited some of my smartest friends to present sessions focused on their own areas of automation expertise, on macOS and iOS. And, for those new to automation, we’re also planning a Scripting Boot Camp on August 8th.

All About Concurrency in Swift

Umberto Raimondi:

Swift 3 introduces a new function to perform assertions on the current execution context, that allows to verify if a closure is being executed on the expected queue. We can build predicates using the three enum cases of DispatchPredicate: .onQueue, to verify that we are on a specific queue, .notOnQueue, to verify the opposite and .onQueueAsBarrier to check if the current closure or work item are acting as a barrier on a queue.

Update (2017-06-04): John Sundell:

One common misconception about GCD is that “once you schedule a task it cannot be cancelled, you need to use the Operation API for that”. While this used to be true, with iOS 8 & macOS 10.10 DispatchWorkItem was introduced, which provide this exact functionality in a very easy to use API.


As you can see above, using DispatchWorkItem is actually a lot simpler and nicer in Swift than having to use a Timer or Operation, thanks to trailing closure syntax and how well GCD imports into Swift. You don’t need @objc marked methods, or #selector, it can all be done with closures.

Monday, May 15, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

A Tale of Three Git Filter Branches

Greg Hurrell (via tweet):

I used git-filter-branch to rewrite the history of the repo containing this website’s files, processing 4,980 commits and transforming 3,702 wikitext files to Markdown along the way. I wrote three separate versions: the first would have taken as long as 42 days to complete, the second perhaps 3 to 4 days, and the third and final version completed in about an hour.


That last one sure sounds the most elegant, doesn’t it? But it also obliges us to accept a reality about Git’s object database: it’s made to be blazingly fast for certain common operations (git status, git commit etc) but not others. For example, answering that question of “detecting when an item first entered the repository” could require you to traverse back from the current HEAD all the way back to the root commit of the repository, which could mean examining a thousands-long commit chain. And note, even if you know how Git works and seek to minimize the number of git processes that you need fork and the number of commits that you actually need to examine (eg. by limiting git log with a pathspec), Git’s internals will still need to traverse that thousands-long chain in the worst case.

Searching for Swift Objects by Type

Tim Ekl:

This rubbed me the wrong way, specifically because of the is SpecialView/as! SpecialView combination. It seemed like I should be able to do the type check once and get the object back as that type, maybe using as?.


However, there’s a cost here: where previously we’d stop enumerating subviews once we found the first SpecialView, with flatMap we run all the way through the array before getting the first result. If subviews is an especially large array, this could become a performance hotspot very quickly.

In Objective-C, the obvious for loop or array-searching closure would do the right thing, without the need for concepts like flatMap and lazy. Then again, so would a Swift for loop with if let, but people would tend not to write it that way.

If you wanted to generalize this sort of view search in Objective-C, you could pass a class as a parameter. That doesn’t really work in Swift because you would end up with an awkward Any? return value. So you get into generics. You can pass a parameter of type Any.Type, but that doesn't really help because Swift can’t use this to determine the return type. Instead, you could make the function take no parameters, passing the type as a generic parameter that’s inferred based on the calling context. However, I think that makes the call sites look weird, and you still end up with an optional to unwrap.

Everything Is Broken

Dan Luu:

If I had to guess, I’d say I probably work around hundreds of bugs in an average week, and thousands in a bad week. It’s not unusual for me to run into a hundred new bugs in a single week. But I often get skepticism when I mention that I run into multiple new (to me) bugs per day, and that this is inevitable if we don’t change how we write tests. Well, here’s a log of one week of bugs, limited to bugs that were new to me that week. After a brief description of the bugs, I’ll talk about what we can do to improve the situation.

See also: Will Thompson (tweet).

This is how I feel using Apple’s software lately, but I guess the grass isn’t greener.

Update (2017-05-15): See also: Cédric Luthi.

Scholle McFarland:

macOS 10.12.5 bug has broken Calendar’s coolest custom alert--the one that lets you open a file automatically. Appppllllle!!! <shakes fist>

Instagram Now Supports Photo Uploads From Mobile Site

Juli Clover:

Prior to the update, Instagram only allowed photo uploads from its mobile apps, and the iOS app is limited to the iPhone, so iPad users were forced to download an iPhone-only app with an unoptimized layout to upload photos to the social network.

The Instagram website on mobile devices was previously only available for browsing photos, liking content, searching, and viewing notifications, but now it's possible to upload photos.

But it sounds like there still isn’t a first-class iPad experience, and you can’t upload from a Mac unless you set your browser to use the mobile version of the site.

Friday, May 12, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Amazon Prime Video Coming to Apple TV

John Paczkowski:

Amazon’s Prime video app — long absent from Apple TV — is indeed headed to Apple’s diminutive set-top box. Apple plans to announce Amazon Prime video’s impending arrive to the Apple TV App Store during the keynote at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on June 5 in San Jose, California.


As part of the arrangement between the two companies, Amazon — which stopped selling Apple TV devices two years ago, when it also banned Google’s Chromecast devices from its virtual shelves — will likely resume selling Apple’s set-top box.

I still find Amazon’s policy of not directly selling iPads weird.

Update (2017-10-27): John Voorhees:

As Amazon rolls out new products and apps, I’m left wondering where the hell is my Amazon Prime Video app for the Apple TV?

Update (2017-11-09): John Voorhees:

Wondering how long ago it was announced that Amazon Prime Video was coming to the Apple TV? @rmlewisuk has you covered. Spoiler: 157 days.

Secret Audio and Key Recording

Dan Goodin:

Almost a year after app developer SilverPush vowed to kill its privacy-threatening software that used inaudible sound embedded into TV commercials to covertly track phone users, the technology is more popular than ever, with more than 200 Android apps that have been downloaded millions of times from the official Google Play market, according to a recently published research paper.


SilverPush founder Hitesh Chawla said the finding surprised him because his company abandoned the ad-tracking business in late 2015.

Dan Goodin:

HP is selling more than two dozen models of laptops and tablets that covertly monitor every keystroke a user makes, security researchers warned Thursday. The devices then store the key presses in an unencrypted file on the hard drive.

People trust Apple to protect them from this kind of stuff.

Better GitHub Searching

Daniel Jalkut:

To search any subpath, just modify the search with the “path:” flag: “struct String” path:/stdlib. Six results, all pertinent to the actual implementation of “struct String”. Just what I was looking for.

There are lots of fancy constraints you can apply to GitHub searches, I simply hadn’t thought to look them up until now. Maybe some of them will make your exploration easier, too.

It’s so great having access to the Swift source during development.

How to Shoot on iPhone 7

Apple has a bunch of short videos that show how to use the iPhone’s camera (via Phil Schiller, Hacker News). Very nicely done.

Amazon Lowers Free Shipping Threshold to $25

Lauren Thomas:

In February, Amazon reduced its minimum order amount required to qualify for free shipping — for non-Prime members — to $35 from $49, price tracker BestBlackFriday first reported.

Amazon's website now reads that online orders of $25 or more, featuring eligible items, will qualify for free shipping.

This news comes after big-box retailer Wal-Mart, in January, rolled out free two-day shipping for orders over $35. The shift was one of the first major changes Marc Lore made at Wal-Mart since the retailer purchased his e-commerce start-up,, last year.

I gave in and got Prime, now that the Visa card gives you 5% back.

Previously: Amazon Increases Free Shipping Threshold, Amazon Increases Free Shipping Minimum to $35.

Update (2017-05-15): resoluteteeth:

Walmart has free two-day shipping on orders over $35 right now, with no membership required, and yet people are still writing articles like this asking, “will it be possible for Walmart to get 2 day shipping within the next couple years?”

We’ve had lots of problems with Walmart orders, such as boxes that never ship or arrive damaged. The prices are good, but you just can’t depend on receiving the correct, working item on time, like with Amazon.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

WhatsApp Extends Encryption to iCloud Backups

Tim Hardwick:

WhatsApp has offered end-to-end encryption on its messaging service for some time, but that encryption did not previously extend to iCloud backups of messages. Given that Apple holds the encryption keys for iCloud, a subpoena of Apple or an unauthorized iCloud hack could potentially allow access to WhatsApp messages backed up there.

However, WhatsApp has moved to prevent that possibility by also pre-encrypting the backup files.


According to Russian-based Oxygen Forensics, third-party hacking tools are able to download the encrypted WhatsApp data backed up to iCloud and then generate an encryption key to decrypt the data using the associated SIM card. The tools could potentially be used by police with access to a phone where the WhatsApp account has been deactivated but the encrypted messages are still stored in iCloud.

This is more protection than iMessage offers for iCloud backups, but it seems like both could benefit from allowing the user to specify a backup password, as is possible for local backups via iTunes.

Apple Music Redesign

Jason Yuan:

What you’ll find below is a case study offering potential solutions to address some of Apple Music’s problems, as well as ideas for future development. My process was guided by qualitative user research, Apple’s official Design Principles, and my own designer intuition.


I think Apple should focus on integrating existing social media with Apple Music instead of trying to push yet another one on its already overburdened consumers.


My solution was to implement a gesture that most users are already familiar with — the double tap — into the Now Playing experience. I observed that many users tried to press the “floating” album art in the present release (it just looks so delightful)…why not add a response?

Amazon Echo Show

Amazon (via Hacker News):

Echo Show brings you everything you love about Alexa, and now she can show you things. Watch video flash briefings and YouTube, see music lyrics, security cameras, photos, weather forecasts, to-do and shopping lists, and more. All hands-free—just ask.

Introducing a new way to be together. Make hands-free video calls to friends and family who have an Echo Show or the Alexa App, and make voice calls to anyone who has an Echo or Echo Dot.

Seems like a good idea, at a good price, although I agree that the design is not very attractive. Based on Phil Schiller’s comments, I assume that Apple is working on something similar, and that it will work with FaceTime, which is more convenient. It’s too bad that there are so many incompatible video calling platforms.

30 Years of PopChar

Günther Blaschek:

It all started back in 1987, when I tried to find a few special characters in the Symbol font. Apple’s Key Caps utility was not very helpful because I had to try all sorts of keyboard combinations to see which characters were available.


“Desk accessories” were an exception, as they were accessible from the Apple menu and could open a window on top of the current application. I therefore created a desk accessory called “Character Map” which displayed all symbols in a given font and let me copy and paste them into a text document.


Starting with version 3 (2006), PopChar had a search function for finding characters by their Unicode name. But what do you do if you don't know the name of a character?

In 2014, we extended PopChar 7 with a graphical “shape finder”.

Click a button, draw a shape and let PopChar search for characters that look like this.


To survive all these changes, PopChar has been redesigned and re-implemented from ground up again and again.

I think this is a good example of an app where the paid upgrade model worked well. Looking at the initial version, you might have thought that it was pretty much done. It solved the problem; how many more features could it need? It doesn’t seem like the kind of app that would need a lot of maintenance or that customers would want a subscription for. Yet platforms changed, Unicode and Emoji emerged, and the app continued to receive development attention and thrive. By App Store standards, 30 Euros is a lot for what seems like a little utility, but it’s a deceptively small app. There is a lot of functionality and design there, and from what I’ve heard from customers over the years, people love it.

Sierra Bluetooth Problems Due to GCD?

Howard Oakley:

One of the well-known problems in multi-tasking and concurrency is deadlock, when one task sits waiting for another, and the other task cannot proceed until the first task is complete. GCD is not immune from deadlock, and there are some curious issues which have arisen in El Capitan and Sierra which look suspiciously as if deadlock may have been their root cause.

I am also beginning to wonder if some of the persistent problems which we have experienced with Bluetooth disconnects, in both El Capitan and Sierra, are the result of issues within GCD, rather than in the Bluetooth drivers themselves. Even now, with Sierra 10.12.4, seldom a day passes without my Magic Trackpad 2 spontaneously disconnecting, then reconnecting.

These are all made the more complex by GCD’s heuristics, its ‘smart’ dispatching system. When trying to identify and diagnose problems, predictability is one of the most important properties, but because of those complex heuristics nothing about GCD follows clear and simple rules.

Previously: Sierra Bluetooth Problems and the Logitech K811 Keyboard.

Update (2017-05-15): Howard Oakley:

libdispatch (‘old’ GCD) provides facilities which include the management and dispatch of code threads or Operation Objects, which can be distributed optimally across the processor cores available in a Mac. In particular it manages multiple dispatch queues.

Centralized Task Scheduling (CTS) allows a developer to assign criteria for when a task should be performed, so that scheduled and other tasks can be deferred when necessary, for example when a laptop is running from its battery rather than mains power.

I hope that I have shown that Duet Activity Scheduler (DAS) manages heuristically a pool or queue of tasks or activities, and determines when to dispatch them for execution.

Monday, May 8, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

After 19 Years, CMU Switches From Cyrus IMAP to Exchange/Gmail

Carnegie Mellon (via Hacker News):

In fall 2016, Computing Services began a multi-phased project to decommission the Cyrus email service as part of an effort to provide modern, industry standard, cost-effective email and calendar solutions.

The email and calendar services offered to campus have undergone a number of changes over the past several years. Many administrative departments have transitioned to Exchange providing an integrated solution with mobile support and advanced scheduling functionality; and in 2013, G Suite @ CMU became the default email service for undergraduate students.


Cyrus development will not be affected by this. While CMU has been running Cyrus, and employing one of the key developers, FastMail has a team dedicated to supporting the biggest open source project that we use. We have a new developer starting on Wednesday next week as well as Ken from CMU who has agreed to keep working on Cyrus as a FastMail employee and representing the project at conferences.

See also: Cyrus IMAP server.

Apple Updates Workflow

Juli Clover:

Apple-owned Workflow was updated to version 1.7.4 today, re-introducing features that were removed when Apple acquired the app and adding new Apple Music actions.


When Apple purchased Workflow, the Workflow team said app integrations and the Gallery would be updated on a regular basis, but a later report suggested Apple planned no more updates. Based on today’s update, which adds new features, that report was incorrect.

Though two new actions have been re-introduced, there are still features missing from the Workflow app. Maps actions are restricted to Apple Maps, and translating text only works with Microsoft's translation services. Other previous app actions, including Uber, Telegram, and LINE, are still unavailable.

Previously: Apple Acquires Workflow.

foreach Using Objective-C Generics

Peter Steinberger shares an Objective-C macro that lets you write foreach (object, collection), where object gets the proper type based on the collection’s type parameter. The benefits: you save space and typing vs. a standard for loop, yet you still get static checking and auto-completion. The code ends up looking like my macro from the old days before NSFastEnumeration and for…in loops.

Update (2017-05-15): Peter Steinberger:

I wrote a header that overrides mutable/Copy to pass along types+generic type data in Objective-C.

HandBrake Proton Trojan

HandBrake (Hacker News, MacRumors):

Anyone who has downloaded HandBrake on Mac between [02/May/2017 14:30 UTC] and [06/May/2017 11:00 UTC] needs to verify the SHA1 / 256 sum of the file before running it.

Anyone who has installed HandBrake for Mac needs to verify their system is not infected with a Trojan. You have 50/50 chance if you’ve downloaded HandBrake during this period.


Downloads via the applications built-in updater with 1.0 and later are unaffected. These are verified by a DSA Signature and will not install if they don’t pass.

Patrick Wardle:

So yah, when run, the infected Handbrake application:

  1. unzips Contents/Resources/HBPlayerHUDMainController.nib to /tmp/
. This ‘nib’ is a password protected zip file who’s password is: qzyuzacCELFEYiJ52mhjEC7HYl4eUPAR1EEf63oQ5iTkuNIhzRk2JUKF4IXTRdiQ
  2. launches (opens) /tmp/

Once the /tmp/ is launched, it displays a (fake) authentication popup - which is how the malware attempts to elevate its privileges[…]

Thomas Reed:

The fact that the malware requests an admin password yet installs all components in user space where no admin password is needed was initially puzzling, but that password request is actually not a system-generated prompt. It’s a phishing dialog displayed by the malware to obtain your password, which will be sent in clear text to api[DOT]handbrake[DOT]biz, the command & control (C&C) server for this malware.


This is a general-purpose backdoor with all the usual backdoor functionality. In addition, it appears this malware is exfiltrating the entire keychain, with all passwords. Thus, if you’re infected, the first priority should be changing all your online passwords. (After ensuring that your computer is free of infection, of course! Never change passwords on a device that may still be infected.)

Howard Oakley:

Apple has, over the last twenty-four hours or so, pushed another update to the XProtect data for macOS Sierra and, presumably, El Capitan.

Last year, something similar happened with Transmission, also from Eric Petit. However, the hacked Transmission was signed for Gatekeeper, whereas the hacked HandBrake was unsigned, like the normal HandBrake.


The HandBrake Team is independent of the Tranmission Developers. The projects share history in the sense that the same author created these apps but he is not part of the current HandBrake team of developers.

We do not share our virtual machines with the Transmission project.

Update (2017-05-17): Steven Frank (Hacker News):

In a case of extraordinarily bad luck, even for a guy that has a lot of bad computer luck, I happened to download HandBrake in that three day window, and my work Mac got pwned.

Long story short, somebody, somewhere, now has quite a bit of source code to several of our apps.

Saturday, May 6, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Apple’s China Problem: WeChat

Ben Thompson (Hacker News):

The fundamental issue is this: unlike the rest of the world, in China the most important layer of the smartphone stack is not the phone’s operating system. Rather, it is WeChat. Connie Chan of Andreessen Horowitz tried to explain in 2015 just how integrated WeChat is into the daily lives of nearly 900 million Chinese, and that integration has only grown since then: every aspect of a typical Chinese person’s life, not just online but also off is conducted through a single app (and, to the extent other apps are used, they are often games promoted through WeChat).


Naturally, WeChat works the same on iOS as it does on Android. That, by extension, means that for the day-to-day lives of Chinese there is no penalty to switching away from an iPhone. Unsurprisingly, in stark contrast to the rest of the world, according to a report earlier this year only 50% of iPhone users who bought another phone in 2016 stayed with Apple.

John Gruber (tweet):

If it really is true that “the operating system of China is WeChat, not iOS/Android”, that’s the whole ballgame right there.


Apple has nothing to worry about as long it makes desirable iPhones. But WeChat has killed any possiblity of FaceBook or Snapchat in China.

Lucien Hoare:

Thought experiment: what would Apple do if WeChat started using private APIs (or other rule breaking feature) Could they afford to reject?

Like Uber. I don’t quite understand how WeChat is allowed in the App Store in the first place; doesn’t it offer apps within an app?

Ben Lovejoy:

Samsung smartphone shipments fell by 60% year-on-year in China during the first quarter of the year according to Counterpoint Research data. The company saw its market share in the country slashed from 8.6% in Q1 2016 to 3.3% Q1 2017.

The main reason for the fall at a time when smartphone sales in China are still growing was far stronger competition from local brands …

Roost and Nexstand Laptop Stands

Mark Jaquith:

Increasingly I found myself hunched over at a coffee shop, or curled up on a couch. Not good for my back or my neck.


That slim black plastic thing is the Roost Laptop Stand. That’s what it looks like all folded up. Here’s what it looks like in action[…]

This raises my laptop screen between 6 and 12 inches (it is adjustable), which means I’m not peering down at it, but am looking straight ahead. It seems like a little thing, but it makes a huge difference in my comfort.

I started reading the Amazon page, and which pointed me to the similar Nextstand Laptop Stand, which is $30 instead of $75.


When folded, the Nexstand is about 1” longer than the Roost, and slightly thicker. This means the Roost is more compact than the Nexstand, and for me that is a bonus - the extra inch that I save in my bag means I can stuff an extra pair of socks in that space!

When expanded though, the Nexstand’s extra inch of length makes a big difference in that it appears considerably larger than the Roost. It suggests the Nextstand can hold a thicker or wider laptop than the Roost, but the Roost is still very capable despite its smaller size. The Nexstand comes with extra clips for thinner laptops.


Both the Roost and Nexstand are excellent, solidly built stands that will hold your laptop steady. I don’t want to advocate one above the other and have personally kept both for now. The Nexstand’s price represents excellent value and there’s nothing really negative about its quality, so if price is important to you, or you have a really large thick laptop, go with the Nexstand. The Roost provides extra luxuries such as rubber paddings and a more compact frame, but for the price it’s slightly more difficult to justify - if the price point doesn’t bother you then the Roost certainly represents a more “upgraded” model.

Phil Schiller on App Store Upgrade Pricing

Kunal Dua interviewed Phil Schiller (via Federico Viticci, Steve Troughton-Smith):

The reason we haven’t done it is that it’s much more complex than people know, and that’s okay, it’s our job to think about complex problems, but the App Store has reached so many successful milestones without it because the business model makes sense to customers. And the upgrade model, which I know very well from my days of running many large software programmes, is a model from the shrink-wrapped software days that for some developers is still very important, for most, it’s not really a part of the future we are going.

I think for many developers, subscription model is a better way to, go than try to come up with a list of features, and different pricing for upgrade, versus for new customers. I am not saying it doesn’t have value for some developers but for most it doesn’t, so that’s the challenge. And if you look at the App Store it would take a lot of engineering to do that and so would be at the expense of other features we can deliver.

On the other hand, subscriptions aren’t available for all types of apps, are more difficult to implement and use, and—except for really high-priced apps—customers seem to dislike them compared with upgrade fees.

Previously: Software Pricing Damage, App Store Subscriptions Clarification, Pre-WWDC App Store Changes.

Update (2017-05-06): Mark Munz:

I’ve never seen the level of anger from loyal customers like when topic of subscriptions was brought up.

Michael Love:

I’m fortunate that my biz model allows me to monetize old users w/o upgrades, but does affect what I spend time on.

We’ve also done a major, time-consuming UI refresh on iOS, and two of them on Android, since those have a big impact on new customer sales.

But making a heavily-used feature better in ways that are only obvious to people who already bought it is not a very profitable proposition.

Whereas with paid upgrades, making a heavily-used feature better in ways that are obvious to existing customers is how you make money.

In other words, existence of ‘professional’ apps is kind of a happy accident that relied on historical circumstances we may never see again.

Update (2017-05-07): Marco Arment:

Paid upgrades aren’t always bad, but I think he’s right that they’re ideal for a pretty narrow niche relative to the entire App Store.

Siddhartha Oza:

Since OS upgrades are always free, I doubt we will ever see upgrade pricing.

Apple can’t allow OS to upgrade and a few apps stop working.

Andrew Hart:

It’s how well paid upgrades do on the Mac, and how often they’re utilised, that convinces me otherwise.

Peter N Lewis:

Upgrade pricing is not about “value for some developers” - it is about ensuring value for existing users by closing the feedback loop.

Dan Counsell:

Hands up if you’re a user and prefer subscriptions rather than paid upgrades for apps.

Jeff Johnson:

There’s a mix of app buyers:

1. Always upgrade posthaste

2. Upgrade years later

3. Never upgrade

Subscriptions scare 2 & 3 from buying app.

Diane Ross:

Apps that I recommend with subscriptions scare away 9/10 users.

Matt Gemmell:

This Schiller interview’s segment re app upgrade pricing seems extremely disingenuous. The issue isn’t “complexity”.

Will Cosgrove:

Major eye rolls when I read this quote. They want apps to be free and ad supported or VC funded money losers.

Traditional devs have no place in the app store. No one, including Apple, wants to pay for the work involved iterating apps.

Ivan Vučica:

I love “App Store has one price for an app, when you see it, you see if there’s a price on it, that’s the price” <- what are IAPs then?

Update (2017-05-12): Dan Counsell (tweet):

The idea that developers will be able to charge their users a few bucks a year and make a living from it is bonkers. You only have to do the maths to see this is going to be tough for anyone what tries it[…]


No sane person wants to subscribe to each app they use on their phone.

Here’s how I’d like monetise my apps on the App Store:

I release version 1.0 of my app on the App Store. I continue to ship free updates just like I do now. Then when I’m ready to release version 2.0, the App Store can prompt all my existing users and asks if they’d like to purchase the upgrade. The user can choose to upgrade then, or ignore it.

Kirk McElhearn (blog):

Apple doesn’t generally use the excuse that something is too hard. But Schiller makes it clear hear that this process is complex.

Update (2017-05-15): Ben Thompson:

Still, even if the U.S. government is less to blame than Smith insists, nearly two decades of dealing with these security disasters suggests there is a systematic failure happening, and I think it comes back to business models. The fatal flaw of software, beyond the various technical and strategic considerations I outlined above, is that for the first several decades of the industry software was sold for an up-front price, whether that be for a package or a license.


The truth is that software — and thus security — is never finished; it makes no sense, then, that payment is a one-time event.

Thursday, May 4, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Hollywood Archivists Can’t Outpace Obsolescence

Marty Perlmutter (via Michael Love):

These days, the major studios and film archives largely rely on a magnetic tape storage technology known as LTO, or linear tape-open, to preserve motion pictures. When the format first emerged in the late 1990s, it seemed like a great solution. The first generation of cartridges held an impressive 100 gigabytes of uncompressed data; the latest, LTO-7, can hold 6 terabytes uncompressed and 15 TB compressed. Housed properly, the tapes can have a shelf life of 30 to 50 years.


As each new generation of LTO comes to market, an older generation of LTO becomes obsolete. LTO manufacturers guarantee at most two generations of backward compatibility. What that means for film archivists with perhaps tens of thousands of LTO tapes on hand is that every few years they must invest millions of dollars in the latest format of tapes and drives and then migrate all the data on their older tapes—or risk losing access to the information altogether.


The head of digital archiving at one major studio, who asked not to be identified, told me that it costs about $20,000 a year to digitally store one feature film and related assets such as deleted scenes and trailers. All told, the digital components of a big-budget feature can total 350 TB.


When Pixar wanted to release its 2003 film Finding Nemo for Blu-ray 3D in 2012, the studio had to rerender the film to produce the 3D effects. The studio by then was no longer using the same animation software system, and it found that certain aspects of the original could not be emulated in its new software. The movement of seagrass, for instance, had been controlled by a random number generator, but there was no way to retrieve the original seed value for that generator.

Software Pricing Damage

Matt Gemmell:

Has Apple created a huge market, in terms of potential customers? Absolutely. It’s just done so at the expense of its platform-invested developer community. Judging by the company’s value and income, it was a very wise move, and you can justify it on that basis if you choose. But don’t ignore the reality of the situation. Apple is not a benevolent entity; your human-centric partner in aesthetics and ethos. If that was ever true at all.


For developers who target the Mac, the last segment of the glass-and-aluminium Cupertino hardware line-up to still have plausibly sustainable economics, there’s only one course of action: pray that Apple remains disinterested.

See also: Paul Haddad.

Update (2017-05-05): Wojtek Pietrusiewicz:

I also tend to feel that developers themselves are partly to blame. For example, many years ago App A launched at $9.99. A few months or years later, competing App B comes along, but it starts out at $4.99. After a while, App A starts a 50% sale (and often doesn’t raise the price again). App C comes along at $0.99, followed by App D, which is free with in-app purchases. That’s the trend that I have seen for many of my favourite apps.

For sure, but I think a lot of this is because the App Store is designed to encourage it.

Update (2017-05-06): See also: Rene Ritchie, Colin Cornaby, Ben Oberkfell , McCloud (2).

Update (2017-05-10): Riccardo Mori:

The brief pre-App Store period when Apple promoted the creation of Web apps for the iPhone, and later the early offering of so many low-cost and free apps from third parties, strongly reinforced this idea in the eyes of most consumers; that these apps were simply low-value additions designed to extend their iPhone’s functionality. ‘Mobile apps’ were not viewed as regular software packages, but something smaller, lighter, etc. This, in turn, didn’t justify having to pay for these little apps more than one or two dollars.

Exception-oriented Exploitation on iOS

Ian Beer (via John Gordon):

My guess is that the developer copy-pasted the code for the entire function then tried to add the extra level of indirection but forgot to change the third argument to the copyin call shown above. They built XNU and looked at the compiler error messages. XNU builds with clang, which gives you fancy error messages like this:

error: no member named 'recipes_size' in 'struct mach_voucher_extract_attr_recipe_args'; did you mean 'recipe_size'?
if (copyin(args->recipes, (void *)krecipes, args->recipes_size)) {

Clang assumes that the developer has made a typo and typed an extra ‘s’. Clang doesn’t realize that its suggestion is semantically totally wrong and will introduce a critical memory corruption issue. I think that the developer took clang’s suggestion, removed the ‘s’, rebuilt and the code compiled without errors.


Perhaps most importantly: I think this bug would have been caught in development if the code had any tests. As well as having a critical security bug the code just doesn’t work at all for a recipe with a size greater than 256. On MacOS such a test would immediately kernel panic. I find it consistently surprising that the coding standards for such critical codebases don’t enforce the development of even basic regression tests.

App Store Sources and App Referrer Data


App Analytics in iTunes Connect now provides insight on where customers discover your app, including App Store browsing and search, within other apps, or on the web. With key metrics based on source types, you can see your top referring apps and websites, making it easier to optimize your marketing campaigns.

Sounds like a good change, but I guess this must be iOS-only because the entire App Analytics section of my account is blank.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Essential Tech Companies

Farhad Manjoo:

What’s the order in which you would drop Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook from your life, if forced to — from first to last.

For me, it would be Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple. The first two would be relatively easy. The last two would be hard.

Update (2017-05-06): See also: Aristotle Pagaltzis.

Update (2017-05-12): See also: John Gruber.

Apple Services

Ryan Christoffel:

Services are a key component of modern Apple. The way the company defines itself, along with the numerous services shoutouts in quarterly earnings calls, prove that.

Despite Apple’s increased focus on services, the common narrative that the company “can’t do services” still hangs around – in online tech circles at least.

But is that narrative still true, or has it grown outdated?

Going through the services he lists:

Update (2017-05-04): Nick Heer:

Despite their presently-good state, however, I get a wary look whenever I recommend many of Apple’s services to someone who asks. A lot of people have been burned before by bad experiences with Maps or iTunes, and are reluctant to trust in more Apple services.

Update (2017-05-06): Nick Heer:

A week later, I received an email from someone in iCloud engineering. She scheduled a call and worked on my case personally. She was able to resolve the bug on my iPhone remotely, but found that a similar bug with Photos on the web wasn’t fixed yet. She filed an internal ticket; nearly a month later, it was fixed, too.

A system like this isn’t scalable. iCloud bugs are such a mysterious black box that a technician at an Apple Store or typical phone support would not be able to assist with resolving them.

Update (2017-05-10): Jordan Merrick:

My experience has been the same as Ryan’s: Apple’s services really are very good and that poor reputation isn’t reflective of what the company achieves today. I’ve since gone all-in and even moved away from some popular third-party alternatives completely.

Update (2017-05-13): Dan Masters:

I used Google Maps for navigation for the first time in ages.

I am flabbergasted by how superior it is to Apple Maps in almost every way[…]

Update (2017-09-04): My mother shoots photos with an iPhone, which uploads them to iCloud Photo Library. Unfortunately, her iPad that syncs with iCloud Photo Library never ends up with a complete set of the photos. It gets about 95% of them, but it’s as if the rest never existed.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

JavaScript-Free Discourse


For anyone who has to deal with the pain of reading Discourse message threads, you can append ?_escaped_fragment_ to the URI to get a JS-free page that loads completely immediately and doesn’t unload when you scroll. I have no idea why this user-hostile functionality is present by default. It breaks ctrl+F, ctrl+S, the scrollbar, and loads of other browser functionality.

I still don’t like the Discourse user experience. The mailing list mode is probably the least painful way to use it, but of course that doesn’t help when browsing old threads on newly discovered forums.

Microsoft Surface Laptop

Microsoft (Web site):

Meet the new Surface Laptop. Performance made personal.

Mark Gurman and Dina Bass:

Microsoft has already cracked the professional and creative markets with inventive tablets and a desktop that turns into a virtual drafting table. Now it’s chasing another category many believe is Apple’s to lose: the $1,000 laptop for everyone.

I would have thought so, but the lackluster MacBook starts at $1,299, the $999 MacBook Air hasn’t been updated in 785 days, the $899 MacBook Air was discontinued, and the current 13-inch MacBook Pro (sans Touch Bar) starts at $1,499.

Microsoft set out to make a laptop with better-than-average battery life because students said they wanted a device that would last through a long day of classes. The trick was to design a machine with a bigger battery that was still slim and light. Panay’s team adhered to a “fail-fast” philosophy that emphasized constant experimentation. Fancy prototyping machines were capable of spitting out mockups 24 hours a day; the prototypes were delivered to individual designers, allowing them to constantly refine the design. Working with Intel, the team shrank the motherboard, the circuit board containing a computer’s main components, to provide space for the bigger battery. Intel also helped Microsoft make the machine run cooler.

Andrew Cunningham:

The Surface Laptop ships with Windows 10 S, the new cut-down Windows 10 SKU Microsoft also announced today. Out of the box, the operating system can only run apps from the Windows Store, though it’s possible to upgrade it to a full Windows 10 Pro install for free until December 31, 2017. Afterward, the Pro upgrade will cost $50, the same as it normally will for Windows 10 S users.

John Gruber:

I, for one, don’t find it the least bit odd or surprising that Microsoft has shipped a version of Windows that’s locked to their app store before Apple has done similarly with MacOS. That’s a fundamental aspect of Apple’s dual OS strategy. Microsoft only has one OS, Windows, so if they want to ship a laptop with the advantages of being restricted to software from an app store, they have to do it in a version of Windows. I wouldn’t go so far as to state with certitude that Apple will never ship a version of MacOS that is App-Store-only, but I would bet against it.

John Gruber:

I can see the argument for making the OS App-Store-only by default. I can also see the argument for an iOS-style system where it’s App-Store-only, period. But charging $50 for this feels like a shakedown.

It does. And I can see why this could end up being worse than choosing one or the other. But I think it might actually be a good compromise—and one I’d like to see on iOS. Fully locked down has advantages and drawbacks. So does fully open. A fee that people will think twice about, but which isn’t insurmountable, could be a good way of providing an escape hatch. Anyone who really needs it could use it, but most users won’t bother opening the door to untrusted software.

Update (2017-05-02): Nilay Patel:

All anyone wanted was a MacBook Air with a Retina Display, and Microsoft gave it to ’em.

Ian Betteridge:

Yep. Apple has failed to give people a proper replacement for the hugely-popular Air. Microsoft just delivered that.

Tom Warren:

“The performance on this device is absolutely amazing,” says Panay. Microsoft is using the latest Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, and claims the battery life will last for 14.5 hours as a result. Microsoft claims the Surface Laptop is faster than the i7 MacBook Pro, and it has “more battery life than any MacBook Air on the market today.”

Update (2017-05-03): Daniel Jalkut:

Another alluring aspect to the Windows 10 S lineup is that the most affordable computers will sell for as little as $189. While my understanding is that these computers are licensed, and not manufactured by Microsoft, I wonder if the cutthroat pricing represents a compromise on Microsoft’s part. To allow for computers this cheap, the OEM price for Windows 10 S must be effectively $0. Separately, Microsoft is offering the operating system as a free update to schools that want to update older Windows computers.

Marco Arment:

Apple did finally make the Retina MacBook Air we wanted.

They just called it the MacBook Pro 13” (non-Touch Bar) and charged $500 too much.


The lack of reliable Thunderbolt 3/USB-C docks means that I can’t use my 13” full time with only 2x Thunderbolt 3 ports.

ATP Tipster:

The 12″ is too slow for too many people and the Air’s screen is an abomination.

I don’t think it’s good for the brand for there not to be an affordable laptop for students and such.

The practical result, though, is that people buy the 12″ MacBook and find it too slow to enjoy using. The Air CPU class is special.

Update (2017-05-04): Russell Ivanovic:

The real news here is Windows S is taking on ChromeOS. Not that this shiny laptop from MS will steal MacBook Pro customers.

John Gruber:

Neither allow alternative browsers to be set as the default web browser.


iOS defaults to Google for web search, Windows 10 S to Bing. But iOS lets you change the search engine to Yahoo, Bing, or DuckDuckGo. Windows 10 S doesn’t let you change it.

The Dangers of Using Nonatomic Properties

Quincey Morris:

For some reason, the decision was taken to make properties default to “atomic”, but no attempt was made to convert any pre-existing getter/setter implementations, and no attempt was made to verify that any new custom accessors provided atomicity. The whole thing was broken right from the start.

Although nothing syntactic has ever changed, common usage has changed over the years, to (informally) regard the default (omission of attribute) and explicit “atomic” as different things, in terms of API contract. The usage has come to be that only properties explicitly marked “atomic” can be reasonably assumed to be making an API contract, and that properties without the attribute make no API contract (even if they happen to be atomic as an implementation detail).

John McCall:

I can’t speak to that decision: it pre-dates me. At a guess, probably over-enthusiasm for the idea of eliminating low-level failures due to races, buoyed by the era’s general optimism about the ability of future machines to hide the performance cost. Atomic properties may not provide a (typically) semantically meaningful level of atomicity, but they do prevent races on the property from immediately leading to crashes.

Greg Parker:

Another influence was Objective-C garbage collection. GC was assumed to be The Future, and atomic properties are cheap when you have GC.

Update (2017-05-02): The title comes from this blog post. I actually prefer nonatomic properties myself. Atomic properties can be slow and give a false sense of security.

Hiding Mac Menu Bar Icons

Keir Thomas:

All you need do is install the Vanilla app, which was created by Mac developer Matthew Palmer. There is a “Pro” upgrade available for $3.99 that’s well worth it but the core functionality is entirely free – and there are no nags aside from a prompt that appears within the Preferences dialog box.

Major Apps Abandoning Apple Watch

Neil Hughes (via Dan Masters):

In the last few weeks, the latest update for Google Maps on iOS ditched support for the Apple Watch. Its removal was not mentioned in the release notes, and Google has not indicated whether support for watchOS will be reinstated.

It's the same story with Amazon and eBay, both of which previously included Apple Watch support in their iOS apps. Both were updated in late April, and as of Monday, neither includes an Apple Watch app.

Update (2017-05-03): John Gruber:

It’s pretty clear that despite the significant improvements in WatchOS 3, Apple Watch is not a successful app platform. It’s a successful fitness tracker and notification platform, but not for apps.


It’s just too slow and finicky to even get apps installed on Apple Watch in the first place. And the thing most apps are useful for on the watch — notifications — you don’t even need a WatchOS app for. You can just have the notifications from your iPhone show up on your watch.

Update (2017-10-01): Chance Miller (via Dan Masters):

Earlier today, Apple Watch users noticed that Twitter had seemingly killed off its Apple Watch app with a silent update to the iOS client. Given the release of the cellular Apple Watch, many had hoped developers would have a renewed interest in Apple Watch apps, but this doesn’t seem to be the case for Twitter…

Monday, May 1, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Challenges Implementing an iOS Share Extension

Marco Conti:

iOS is missing the concept of custom background service that apps and extensions can connect to, something that makes such problems simpler to solve on Android. On iOS we are stuck with two separate processes that can’t talk to each other reliably because the main app may or may not be running.


Luckily Core Data automatically handles file coordination for us, so we only had to move the database inside the shared container. Unfortunately, iOS versions between 8.0 and 8.3 had a bug with file coordination that cause deadlocking or data corruption. This means we had to disable the share extension in any iOS version lower than 8.3.


If the user hits the cancel button, or dismisses the share extension before that then the sharing process is aborted completely.

The alternative is to pick up the sharing process from the main app, but since there is no reliable way to start the main app automatically, this could happen hours later.


It is safe to assume that when a user sends content from the share extension, the main app is in the background. Wire’s solution, inspired by these posts [1] [2], is to save the content of save notifications to a file, every time there is a save in the share extension. When the main app comes to the foreground it check if such file exists. It then extract the list of object IDs that changed, and makes sure that the objects are re-fetched from the persistent store to get the most up-to-date information.

Close Encounters of The Java Memory Model Kind

Aleksey Shipilёv:

Two years ago I painfully researched and built JMM Pragmatics talk and transcript, hoping it would highlight the particular dark corners of the Java Memory Models for those who cannot afford to spend years studying the formalisms, and deriving the actionable insights from them. JMM Pragmatics has helped many people, but there is still lots of confusion about what Memory Model guarantees, and what it does not.

In this post, we will try to follow up on particular misunderstandings about Java Memory Model, hopefully on the practical examples.

Life Without Interface Builder

Zeplin (via Andy Bargh):

Interestingly enough, we started thinking about dropping Interface Builder only after we’ve started using Swift.


Using Swift with Interface Builder brings many optionals to the table and they don’t belong in a type-safe domain. I’m not just talking about outlets either, if you are using Storyboards with segues, your data model properties also become optionals. This is where things get out of hand. Properties that are required for your view controller to work properly are now optionals and you start writing guards everywhere, confused about where to handle them gracefully and where to simply fatalError your way out. This is quite error prone and decreases readability drastically.


Writing layout code in Objective-C isn’t too bad, but with Swift it’s gotten a lot easier and most importantly, more readable. Declaring Auto Layout constraints is painless and beautiful, thanks to libraries like Cartography.


Storyboards are the future, according to Apple. Since Xcode 8.3, we don’t even get a checkbox to disable Storyboards when creating a project! 😅 Yet it’s quite heartbreaking that there’s no straightforward way to reuse a view you build on Interface Builder.

Previously: Eject from Interface Builder.