Archive for November 1, 2019

Friday, November 1, 2019

Google Acquires Fitbit

Rick Osterloh (via MacRumors, Hacker News):

Today, we’re announcing that Google has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Fitbit, a leading wearables brand.


Over the years, Google has made progress with partners in this space with Wear OS and Google Fit, but we see an opportunity to invest even more in Wear OS as well as introduce Made by Google wearable devices into the market. Fitbit has been a true pioneer in the industry and has created engaging products, experiences and a vibrant community of users. By working closely with Fitbit’s team of experts, and bringing together the best AI, software and hardware, we can help spur innovation in wearables and build products to benefit even more people around the world.


Consumer trust is paramount to Fitbit. Strong privacy and security guidelines have been part of Fitbit’s DNA since day one, and this will not change. Fitbit will continue to put users in control of their data and will remain transparent about the data it collects and why. The company never sells personal information[…]

Except, I guess, when they sell all of it to Google at once.

Mike Wuerthele:

Multiple analysts say that Fitbit’s value has more to do with user data collection, more than hardware. The company has been making deals with insurance companies to bundle the product in with customer health offerings, and is trying to expand its revenue in a crowded low-end fitness tracking market, increasingly squeezed by the Apple Watch.

Dieter Bohn:

Fitbit is going to be part of Google’s hardware division, this is about Google getting smarter at making wearable hardware -- Wear OS is almost tangential to this deal from what I can tell.

I stand by everything I wrote earlier this week when the Fitbit acquisition was just a rumor.

Think of this like the HTC acquisition: it will make Google slightly better at making wearable hardware. But Fitbit doesn’t make processors.

Buying Fitbit won’t help Google overcome Apple’s biggest smartwatch advantage It’s the silicon, stupid

….and Fitbit’s platform will need to be supported for 3? at least 3 years preferably much more alongside Wear OS. There’s also Google Fit.

Basically this integration is going to take forever and there is a good chance it’ll be messy and involve a long Nest-esque falllow period

Update (2019-11-02): See also: Hacker News.

Update (2019-11-27): Jason Perlow:

You’ll have to excuse my pessimism. I fully expect this to result in a total catastrophe for Fitbit’s employees, products, and customers. Just about everything Google has ever purchased has been discarded like garbage or has been completely devalued as a result of the company’s inability to successfully integrate acquired businesses into its culture.


But questions remain: Does a “not invented here” mentality pervade Google? Will WearOS continue to be developed in favor of Fitbit OS? Plus, there’s the issue of the continued WearOS investments by Google’s smartwatch partners -- if WearOS development at Google ceases, then developers will abandon it entirely. That would look very bad for Google indeed.

Nick Heer:

There’s a common thread here: Google is acquiring massive amounts of deeply personal information, but it insists that you can trust it — the company promises that it won’t use this data for advertising purposes nor will it mix it with behavioural data it has collected about you.

And you know what? I believe Google when it says that it won’t do that right now — I really do. But will it uphold the same promise in five years, or ten?


Even if you believe that this collection of highly personal information is kept perpetually secret, why is it the case that companies that have a primary business of behavioural data mining are able to dabble in industries that necessarily require a privacy firewall? I think of this in much the same way that financial institutions in the United States were once prohibited from being in consumer businesses and investment banking under Glass–Steagall.

Alex Sherman:

Scoop: Facebook was mystery Party A that bid against Google to buy Fitbit, sources say. Facebook made a best and final of $7.30, falling by five cents a share to Google. Facebook doesnt plan to bid again, one of the people said.

The Varying Date.distantFuture


An NSDate object representing a date in the distant future (in terms of centuries).

Craig Hockenberry:

Date.distantFuture is fixed at “January 1, 4001 at 12:00:00 AM GMT” - that means its timeIntervalSince1970 (currently at 64,092,211,200) will change over time because of leap seconds.

Date/time will always be hard, unless the Earth stops moving.

In other words, even within the same run (not to mention when unarchiving), you can’t rely on two distant future dates being equal. So don’t use it as a sentinel value.

Nikolai Ruhe:

I think timeIntervalSinceReferenceDate (and 1970) works differently: It does not take leap seconds into account. Each day ends at an exact multiple of 86400. That means that a given timeInterval might point to one (normal), two or zero points in time (at leap seconds).

Update (2019-11-02): The value can also vary between OS releases.

Tylenol Moment for Apple’s Laptop Keyboards

Kev van Zonneveld (Hacker News):

Both in terms of productivity and delight I had my best years on Apple and I didn’t think I’d ever look back. But here we are.

Why? I (guess I’m the only person alive that) didn’t mind the TouchBar or lack of a real escape key (can map Caps Lock to that). And I liked having 4 USB-C+ ports that I could do anything with. But yes, The Keyboard.

I spent the most money I ever did on this MacBook Pro, and it’s also the worst machine I ever had because the keyboard breaks down (like, it won’t register the s).


So far I’ve brought it in for repairs three times, and each time I’m without my workhorse for a week. Those are unplanned holidays that are dragging my productivity–and basically my company down.

I personally also feel macOS has taken a freefall regarding robustness and polish, but that might be just me. It’s the keyboard that ultimately made me feel just really concerned about having my productivity/company/future so tightly coupled to what Apple ships next.

Joe Rossignol:

While it is unclear if the widely rumored 16-inch MacBook Pro will launch in 2019 or 2020, the latest report from DigiTimes claims that Apple will begin receiving volume shipments of the notebook in the fourth quarter of this year.


Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo originally said the 16-inch MacBook Pro would launch in the fourth quarter of 2019 with an all-new design, including a scissor switch keyboard. As of late, however, Kuo has more vaguely stated that a “new MacBook model” with a scissor keyboard will launch in mid 2020. It’s unclear if the “new MacBook model” that Kuo has referred to more recently is the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Mid-2020 would be more than five years after the initial 12-inch MacBook shipped with the bad keyboard, and it may take longer to turn over all the laptop product lines.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

My great hope for the keyboard debacle is that Apple pulls a Johnson & Johnson 1982 move and recalls every single laptop they’ve sold since 2015, and gives buyers a new scissor-keyboard equipped model instead. How many billions might that cost? A quarters’ worth of buybacks?


I know it’s institutionally almost impossible for Apple to accept that they not only fucked up the MacBook’s keyboard, but that they failed to fix their fuckup for 4 years running, with several attempts. They’re proud people, Apple. But I’d be prouder still of them if they did.


Apple’s consumer confidence amongst people who’ve been stricken by the keyboard debacle is hurting. Maybe it’s not showing up in their net-promoter scores yet, but it’s there. Oh it’s there. I-FUCKING-BOUGHT-A-WINDOWS-LAPTOP it’s there.

Alec Joy:

I bought the first butterfly switch MacBook Pro when it came out in 2016. After three years, and 4 keyboard repairs (thankfully all free) I bought a Thinkpad last month and sold my MacBook and ipad.

Patrick McKenzie:

I felt like I was really missing something for years after I started using Macs in 2014. My next personal computer is unlikely to be a Mac, solely because I want a built-in keyboard that works. Happy to eat N months of retraining muscle memory to get it.


Yup. I was an Apple Fanboi until the current generation of MBPs (2015+). Then they demonstrated just how utterly tone-deaf they are to the things that matter to actual professionals.

Colin Cornaby:

Both my home and work Touch Bar MacBook Pro creak very loudly as they heat and cool. I have heard Apple is fixing this with top case replacements.

I use two MacBook Pros and both have serious hardware issues in addition to the keyboard.

Dave Nanian:

Even thought I’m a macOS developer, when I’m on vacation and don’t need to do development, I travel with a Windows laptop, because my Mac laptops are kind of awful.

Awful to the point where I’ve considered installing macOS in a VM on said laptop.


Update (2019-11-02): David Heinemeier Hansson:

The favorite go-to explanation for why Apple screwed up their laptop keyboards seems to be: They went too thin!! This fails to account for the fact that the Surface Laptop is thinner than a MacBook Air and has a great keyboard. ThinkPad X1 is super thin, great keyboard.

Addison Webb:

If I didn’t use Xcode for a living, I would be heavily considering a non-Apple laptop to replace my 2016 MacBook Pro.

Dave Hidding:

Truth. With all due respect & as a really long-time Mac owner (going back to a FatMac) @tim_cook, this is worth the five minute read. Surprise us with a J&J response...


Current MacBook Pro status:

- external keyboard on top because internal keyboard broken
- frozen shrimp as ice pack to stop overheating while browsing the web

Update (2019-11-05): Giles P. Croft:

Yes. Must confess, this was one of the factors that led me to sell my MacBook Pro: typos in every other sentence on that damned keyboard 🙄

It’s crazy that one company can concurrently make both the best/most satisfying keyboard I’ve ever used (Magic Keyboard) and the worst (every Mac laptop currently on sale).

The TV App Strategy Tax

Joe Cieplinski:

Take a look at the TV app on your iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV. At first, when I saw the way Apple was mixing and matching all the content from available channels, iTunes rentals, purchases, and streaming services like Prime, I was annoyed. How am I supposed to find shows specific to certain sources in here? And more importantly, how can I tell the difference between what I already have access to with my existing subscriptions, and what is going to require a new subscription or a one-time payment?

And that’s the rub. You can’t easily get a screen with all the content you already have access to. Sure the library tab will show you movies and tv shows you’ve purchased on iTunes. But my HBO subscription? Prime? These are just mixed in with all the rest of the content. You can dig and find HBO specific pages, sure. But they are buried behind multiple layers of UI. And there’s a good reason for that.

The TV app is not an app. It’s a store. And Apple knows a thing or two about running stores. They know the more you walk in and hang out, the more likely you will spend some money while you are in there.

In other words, the app is designed to optimize for Apple’s needs rather than the customer’s. I prefer the old strategy where Apple makes its money from hardware, so it’s free to design the software to do the right thing. “Only Apple could do” didn’t only apply to the technical aspects, but also to what it could do because of its business model. Now, the strategy is that Apple, too, can spend money to buy content, creating constraints for itself that didn’t need to be there. The whole effort is clearly a distraction from product concerns for Tim Cook and various company departments. And it gets in the way of making partnerships with other content companies, which didn’t have to be enemies.

The question is why? Does TV content further the mission of empowering people through technology? I don’t see how. Is that even still the mission? Does it provide a better return on investment than technology R&D, documentation, or QA? Sadly, maybe, at least in the short term.

Lesley Goldberg and Natalie Jarvey:

By several accounts, the company already has well outspent its initially projected $1 billion annual content budget. Morning Show alone costs $15 million an episode for a total of $300 million for two seasons, per sources, due in large part to the $2 million-an-episode fees that Witherspoon and Aniston negotiated. (Their deals are said to be even higher with producing fees and ownership points.) See also is expensive, with sources estimating $240 million for two seasons. These costs are at the high end of premium streaming but represent pocket change for Apple.

The reason they are doing this:

Though Apple makes significantly more — $167 billion in 2018 — from the sale of the iPhone, as people hold on to their devices longer, services like TV+ will be key to ensuring Apple ecosystem loyalty. “There’s a lot at stake,” notes Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives. “TV+ is going to play a major role in them further monetizing their 900 million iPhone users. The next leg of growth for Apple is going to be services.” Apple declined to participate in this story.

I see a lot about how this will increase services revenue but little about net services income. Netflix has only recently become profitable, and there is now more competition in streaming.

And does “ecosystem loyalty” mean keeping people buying Apple hardware or getting more revenue per hardware customer?

The logic for the latter is clear, although I’m not sure why customers should care. No one seems to expect Apple to lower prices and make its products more widely accessible because it’s making the profit up from services.

For the former, the idea seems to be that Apple is going to make TV shows so good that they keep people from considering Android or Windows. But that seems kind of nutty and is belied by the availability of Apple TV+ on Amazon Fire as well as various TVs.


Update (2019-11-02): Jason Snell (tweet):

Consider the soul-sucking term ARPU. It stands for Average Revenue Per User (or, alternately, Unit), and it’s a useful-yet-noxious lens through which businesses can view their customers. Of course, businesses should be aware about how much revenue their customers are generating—the issue is more that focusing on ARPU is often a sign that a business is on a path that will attempt to wring every last penny out of its customers. It’s a sign of nickel-and-diming, sliding in hidden fees, and all sorts of other questionable practices that make sense if you’re looking at a balance sheet—but are so infuriating if you’re a customer.

On the phone call, Evercore Analyst Amit Daryanani asked Tim Cook directly about whether Apple’s growth in services revenue was based on growing the overall number of people using Apple products, or scratching more money out of the collective wallets of existing Apple customers. Cook walked that line[…]

Update (2019-11-06): Nick Heer:

Apple TV Plus doesn’t fit that archetype — not yet, anyway. This becomes plain if you compare it to the closest television equivalent to an Apple product that I can think of: HBO — a premium cable channel that features must-watch shows that are defined as much by their quality as their budgets, all without being interrupted by ads. Apple TV Plus is, so far, serving up fine shows with astronomical budgets, all for either a low monthly cost or, if you’ve bought a new Apple product recently, a free year’s trial. Are they going for subscription volume?

Apple TV Plus has just launched, and the app is more of a storefront for more established players in the streaming video market. They can get better at this, and they should. But I want to hear a reason for Apple to be in the streaming business beyond ARPU and subscription stickiness.

Update (2021-01-26): Tom Harrington:

Apple’s TV app on macOS supports having a local library of videos. But the “search” feature only looks at things you can buy from Apple, not things you already have. iTunes got this right.

Maybe it’s not a big thing but it reinforces the idea that Apple’s more about rent seeking than features these days.

Giving Notes on China

Eddy Cue, just a few months ago:

There’s never been one note passed from us on scripts, that I can assure you. We leave the folks [alone] who know they’re doing.

Alex Kantrowitz and John Paczkowski (via John Gruber, Hacker News):

Apple’s recent actions in China are a continuation of the company’s years-long practice of appeasing Beijing. To do business in China, the company adopts to local dictates, distasteful as they may be to its CEO Tim Cook, an outspoken gay rights advocate and privacy crusader. It’s an ironic inversion of a longstanding argument in the West that by bringing China into the world trade system, the country would adopt western values. Instead, China is asking tech companies to adopt its values — and Apple is willing to pay that price.

In early 2018 as development on Apple’s slate of exclusive Apple TV+ programming was underway, the company’s leadership gave guidance to the creators of some of those shows to avoid portraying China in a poor light, BuzzFeed News has learned. Sources in position to know said the instruction was communicated by Eddy Cue, Apple’s SVP of internet software and services, and Morgan Wandell, its head of international content development. It was part of Apple’s ongoing efforts to remain in China’s good graces after a 2016 incident in which Beijing shut down Apple’s iBooks Store and iTunes Movies six months after they debuted in the country.

Nilay Patel:

If you want to be the face of “privacy is a human right” then you are also the face of “we brushed off a targeted attack against a religious minority in China” and “we told our TV creators not to piss off China”

Nick Heer:

The bigger story here can be found in an article yesterday from Shane Savitsky in Axios[…]

Jason Kottke:

The partnership between China and Western governments & corporations has hit a rough patch recently, namely the Hong Kong protests and how the NBA, Apple, and gaming company Blizzard have handled various responses to them on their platforms.

Ben Thompson:

And then there is Apple: the company is deeply exposed to China both in terms of sales and especially when it comes to manufacturing. The reality is that, particularly when it comes to the latter, Apple doesn’t have anywhere else to go. That, though, is where the company’s massive cash stockpile and ability to generate more comes in handy: it is past time for the company to start spending heavily to build up alternatives.


The biggest, shift, though, is a mindset one. First, the Internet is an amoral force that reduces friction, not an inevitable force for good. Second, sometimes different cultures simply have fundamentally different values. Third, if values are going to be preserved, they must be a leading factor in economic entanglement, not a trailing one.

Nick Heer:

Just a few months ago, Tim Cook denied that the company was exploring other places to build their products. The depth and extent of the electronics supply chain in China beggars belief — and, in one of those decades-old twists of fate, Cook helped make it so. There are loads of American tech companies that build products in China; Apple’s particular investment, though, is notable.

Nilay Patel:

It’s not hard to understand that carmakers in the US market build to California emissions standards because they are the strictest - it’s the most efficient choice.

Not a leap to think global companies will hold themselves to China’s speech restrictions for the same reason.

Josh Rogin (via Ryan Saavedra):

Last year, China severely punished Marriott after an employee in Omaha, Neb., “liked” a pro-Tibet tweet. Marriott profusely apologized and fired the employee.

Joe Rogan:

Superstar German DJ ‘permanently banned’ from China for liking a ‘South Park’ tweet

Noah Smith:

HOLY SHIT there are a lot of American companies doing pro-China censorship!!!

Tom Gara:

The new DreamWorks movie uses a map of Southeast Asia that contains the Chinese “nine dash line” that annexes basically all of the South China sea[…]


Update (2019-11-06): Chance Miller:

Apple, alongside viral video sharing app TikTok, skipped a congressional hearing today that focused on the relationship between the tech industry and China. The absence of an Apple representative drew ire from some lawmakers at today’s hearing.

Safari Safe Browsing, China, and Privacy

Matthew Green (tweet, Hacker News):

It appears that, at least on iOS 13, Apple is sharing some portion of your web browsing history with the Chinese conglomerate Tencent. This is being done as part of Apple’s “Fraudulent Website Warning”, which uses the Google-developed Safe Browsing technology as the back end. This feature appears to be “on” by default in iOS Safari, meaning that millions of users could potentially be affected.


Google first computes the SHA256 hash of each unsafe URL in its database, and truncates each hash down to a 32-bit prefix to save space.


If the prefix is found in the browser’s local copy, your browser now sends the prefix to Google’s servers, which ship back a list of all full 256-bit hashes of the matching URLs, so your browser can check for an exact match.


The weakness in this approach is that it only provides some privacy. The typical user won’t just visit a single URL, they’ll browse thousands of URLs over time. This means a malicious provider will have many “bites at the apple” (no pun intended) in order to de-anonymize that user. A user who browses many related websites — say, these websites — will gradually leak details about their browsing history to the provider, assuming the provider is malicious and can link the requests. (There has been some academic research on such threats.)

MacJournals covered Safe Browsing back in 2008:

We must point out here that this system provides, indirectly, a way for Google to estimate what pages you’re visiting. If the URL of a page you want to visit matches the hash prefix of a known malicious page, Safari 3.2 appears to send that prefix to Google and ask for the entire 256-byte hash to make sure that this really is a malicious page (and also to verify that the page hasn’t been removed from Google’s lists since Safari’s last list update). Millions and millions of URLs could produce hashes that start with the same 32 bits, but if Google gets several requests for the same value, the company could reasonably infer that people were visiting the malicious page it had tracked—and since the request from Safari to Google comes from your IP address, Google might infer data from that as well. Mozilla’s privacy policy would forbid use of that data except to improve the service, but Apple’s privacy policy does not. Neither Apple nor Google state anywhere that they would only use such data to improve the phishing and malware protection features.


Safari 3.2’s “SafeBrowsing.db” file does not appear to contain data for Google’s whitelist, but the specification confirms that some clients can, with Google’s permission, use an “enhanced mode” that looks up each page you visit rather than maintaining the list on the client computer.

Rene Ritchie (MacRumors, Hacker News):

First, here’s Apple’s statement[…]


Because Safari is communicating with Google and Tencent, they do see the IP address of the device, and because they have the hash prefix, they do know the general pool to which the site belongs.

I assume the URLs are not very private, despite being hashed, because with knowledge of the full set of URLs and visit frequency, it’s probably possible to estimate what the hash prefixes map to. The main source of privacy is not the hashing but the fact that most URLs are only checked locally.

And you’d hope that only “unsafe” URLs would be looked up with Google/Tencent. But the implementation, at least initially, used a Bloom filter to save space. Since Bloom filters allow false positives, this means that the browser would be sending lookup requests even for some URLs whose prefixes didn’t actually match the local data set, i.e. ones that were not even suspected to be dangerous.

In a perfect world, a more privacy-centric company like Duck Duck Go or Apple would be able to maintain and use their own lists, both internationally and inside China. In the meantime, some system that anonymizes and relays requests, like Siri does or like Sign in with Apple, perhaps, could improve privacy within the current implementation.

This likely wouldn’t have much performance impact, since it would only affect URLs whose hash prefixes already matched.

John Gruber:

My assumption was that Apple was only using Tencent in mainland China, where Google services are banned. Apple’s statement today makes it clear that that is true. But Apple brought this mini-controversy upon itself, because Apple’s own description of the feature doesn’t specify when the Fraudulent Website Warning feature uses Google and when it uses Tencent.

John Gruber:

Via Dino Dai Zovi, a user on Hacker News disassembled the code for Safari’s Fraudulent Website Warning feature and verified that it only uses Tencent (instead of Google) if the region code is set to mainland China.


Update (2019-12-16): Rosyna Keller:

Oh yeah, the Safari Privacy statement was updated in iOS 13.3 to more accurately describe how fraudulent websites work.