News of Interest

Xiaomi and Huawei to Enter US Market

Mark Gurman, Yuan Gao, Scott Moritz and Selena Wang writing for Bloomberg:

“Huawei Technology Co. and Xiaomi Corp. are in talks with U.S. wireless operators about selling flagship smartphones to American consumers as soon as next year, according to people familiar with the matter. The handset makers are negotiating with carriers including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., said the people, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. Talks are still fluid and it’s possible no agreements will materialize, they said.”

Firstly, I am surprised Huawei and Xiaomi have not entered the US market via carrier channels already.

Secondly, and this is purely in my own observation, the people I know using Huawei or Xiaomi phones are generally people who used to buy Samsung phones. The iPhone has never been the market leader by market share. Samsung has. Clearly Apple is doomed.

App Store Pre-orders

Following on the developer bad news from the banning of template generated apps from the App Store some good news! Apple has introduced pre-ordering of apps to all developers along with the option to provide discounted pricing. This will certainly be boon in terms of drumming up interest and pre-orders.

App Store Introductory Pricing (and Free Trial Periods) for Subscriptions

Apple have also added introductory pricing to auto-renewable subscriptions. This option allows the developer to offer the app for free or at a lower price for a defined amount of time. While this is not “trial period” leading to a once off purchase. It is a step in the right direction and will certainly help developers nudge would-be customers over the purchasing line.

200 – 300%

Vincent Laforet writing about his experience with the new iMac Pro:

“Whether you’re editing 8K RED video, H.264 4K Drone footage, 6K 3D VR content or 50 Megapixel RAW stills — you can expect a 200-300% increase in performance in almost every industry leading software with the iMac Pro.

I’ve seldom seen a jump this dramatic before on any new generation of Macs — 20%-30% speed increases are the norm … NOT 200%-300% increases. That’s SIGNIFICANT.”

That performance increase really does seem significant – was the jump in performance from iPhone 7 -> 8 -> X that much?

More Uber Underhandedness

Andrew J Hawkins writing for The Verge:

“At first glance, the Jacobs letter an incredibly detailed accounting of multiple unlawful actions by the ride-hail company. He alleges that Uber’s secretive Strategic Services Group (SSG) “frequently engaged in fraud and theft, and employed third-party vendors to obtain unauthorized data or information.” He also accuses Uber security officers of “hacking” and “destruction of evidence related to eavesdropping against opposition groups.” And he says Uber’s ex-CEO Travis Kalanick knew about a lot of it.”

Seems to me Uber under Kalanick invested an awful lot of time, effort and money into areas other than actually improving their service and product.

At least it seems like new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi will not be putting up with any of it:

“With regard to the allegations outlined in Ric Jacobs’ letter, I can tell you that we have not been able to substantiate every one of his claims, including any related to Waymo. But I will also say that there is more than enough there to merit serious concern. As I hope you’ve seen over the past 2.5 months, I will always be fair when people admit mistakes or bring hard problems to me. But let me be clear: I have drawn a line. I will not tolerate misconduct or misbehavior that was endorsed or excused in the past. Period.”

CDC Gets List of 7 Forbidden Words

Lena H. Sun and Julia Eilperin writing for The Washington Post:

“Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden terms at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden terms are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.”

I have another 7 words as a suggestion for a response to this list.

Apple’s widened ban on templated apps is wiping small businesses from the App Store

Sarah Perez writing for TechCrunch:

“Many companies have recently been given a January 1, 2018 deadline, after which point any new apps they submit will be rejected by the App Store Review team, they’ve been told by Apple. In the meantime, some have been able to maintain their existing apps, but it’s unclear how long that will last. […] What’s unfortunate about the expanded policy enforcement is that these app makers specifically target the small business market. They build apps for businesses that don’t have the internal resources to build their own apps or can’t afford to hire a custom shop to design a new iOS app from scratch.”

  • Cleaning up the App Store is a good thing.
  • Apple clamping down on spammy, keyword-squatting, low quality apps is a good thing.
  • Banning apps only because they are generated by a template or app builder is not a good thing.

Firstly, the argument that this move by Apple is akin to banning websites running WordPress or Squarespace from the internet is off base. The App Store is not the internet. The App Store is Apple’s. Right of admission reserved.

The case can also be made in defence of Apple’s move that, if these app generators allow legitimate small businesses to generate apps, the same will go for spammy businesses generating spammy apps. Chances are fair that there is a side to this story not highlighted in the article and that Apple may well be responding to scenarios where these generators are being used to submit many low-quality apps to the App Store. If this is the case, the situation would improve if the companies behind the generators were to apply a more rigorous approach to enforcing standards on their customers. In the same breath however, this would likely reduce the app generator sales pitch – which is anyone can make an app, easily, quickly and cost effectively.

What does not ring true about this situation is that Apple’s focus seems to be on the implementation details. On the surface it seems that Apple may be using this as a polite way of kicking out hordes of low quality apps without saying so directly. Ultimately though, the centre of the affair should be that the banning of apps from the App Store should be about app quality and app content. That is to say, that the app should have a purpose and reason to exist beyond just being a copycat or spam. While it may irk Apple to have, for example, 50 pizza ordering apps that are more or less the same, chances are good that there are, at the same time, some unique, high quality apps that are built by generators too.

I don’t know anything about the technical merits of these bans, but as mentioned in the article, Apple’s partnership with IBM and their app generators are not included in the ban. The optics of this are poor: “Large successful company can sell template apps to large corporate customers for very high fees, but John Doe down the way may not use the same approach in a more cost effective manner”.

As is often the case, one needs to consider the sheer scale of the App Store. The volumes of app submissions are enormous and as the saying goes “You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs”. However, if you take a look at the Shoutem website, it certainly seems like they have created a high quality product and now, their egg is broken. Apple does not mind breaking a few eggs on balance, yet the rub is that there are real people on the other end of these businesses catering to real needs and real gaps in the market. Apple is eager to promote the successful underdog stories however it is not all roses in the App Store. This reminds developers that this is not the Internet. This is a walled garden and you are at the whim of a gatekeeper whether you like it or not.

Without being able to see more clearly how Apple judges or determines these bans it is difficult to side with Apple on the surface of it. As is often the case, more transparency and clear guidelines would alleviate the confusion. This is precisely what Congressman Ted W Lieu asks for in his letter to Apple. The concern is that Apple is “casting too wide a net” and it seems this could be true. If anything, large tech companies likely do not want to be under any further scrutiny than is necessary.

After all, quality should come before implementation. Just because your app was generated in some way, does not necessarily mean it is low quality. In the end, while we all know the App Store is not a level playing field, developers would rest easier at night knowing that if John Doe down the way cannot build apps from templates, then IBM should not be allowed to either.

About that Apple TV Set

It seems the rumour mill around the Apple TV Set has started churning again. Let’s examine this topic for a moment.

The Hockey Puck

The future of the “TV” is in the streaming of content to a hockey puck device. Whether that puck is “integrated” into the panel remains to be seen. The latest Apple TV is already coming under criticism for what is seen to be an overly inflated price for something that is done as well in considerably cheaper devices.

Generally speaking, Apple charges premium prices for its integration of hardware, software and services. While Apple TV is a good product, it is not widely considered good enough for the price tag in an area where the software is not considered a differentiating factor (yet). TVs and hockey pucks have, until recently, struggled when it came to software, and I would venture to say that most people dislike the software bundled with regular TVs and satellite/cable boxes. The challenge here is that:

  • Most people just make do with the crappy (but improving) TV interfaces they have.
  • There are not that many “killer” apps. Broadly there are only two at present: video and games. With a bit of music thrown in (however, that job is being eaten by smart speakers and soon the HomePod).

As such, delivering an easy to access streaming app, game or music player is just about all the average home viewer wants.

The differentiating factor, is the service (or the game). HBO, Netflix, Hulu or Amazon are not limited to one box, they are on all the boxes. Ditto, more or less, when it comes to streaming music. As such, the choice of box is more often than not driven by price and “good enough” with the true decision point being “Which streaming services do I sign up for?”

4K is a feature not a selling a point and will be adopted across all devices and services in time. The integration of software and the value of “how it works” is not that valuable in the living room at present. Especially if you are not deeply invested into the iTunes ecosystem.

On the mobile phone and computer, the integration of software and hardware is so critical because the use cases for the devices are so diverse. They enable so many people to do so many things that are used in so many situations. When it comes to TV, most people just want to watch TV (or YouTube), play games or listen to music (when not watching the screen). For the rest they have their phone, tablet and increasingly some form of voice computing.

The Screen

Since Apple already has a a horse in the hockey puck race, that leaves Apple with the screen. Apple makes some gorgeous displays. And as Nilay Patel convincingly lays out in his piece about the possibilities of ProMotion for a TV set. Apple can surely bring some much needed improvements to the experience. However, that argument to one side, despite the fact that Apple makes gorgeous displays and has some great software to make them even better, for some time it looked highly likely that Apple would be leaving the external monitor market. Only selling integrated devices – which a TV set would be. That was until the announcement of the Mac Pro and the poor showing of other brand monitors. As such, if there is any credence to this rumour, it is that Apple will be looking to re-enter the monitor market with a range of high-end monitors that are there to be the perfect display for your Mac Pro or possibly your Apple TV. An expensive and premium monitor for a niche market of customers willing to shell out a lot of money for Apple hardware. I suppose that the market for such high-end, specialised devices is small. The equation in many people’s minds might be that they want to strike a balance with good picture quality and price when it comes to the screen and video quality. For most people, I suspect, they may be willing to shell out a little more on the screen, but then what is left for the puck when they have to pay for all their video service and satellite/cable too?

Too Many Products

I would not go so far as to say Apple has too many balls in the air at the moment. It is just that some balls stay in the air longer. That is to say, some products do not progress and improve as quickly as others or as quickly as some customers would like. The addition of a raised, white ring on the Apple TV remote screams “we just didn’t have time/it’s not a priority at present”. There are few devices in Apple’s current stable that raise so much ire as the Apple TV Remote, yet with Apple’s skill sets would be achievable without massive investments. However, the need to field an edge to edge phone, bring the cellular Apple Watch, AirPods and a completely revamped Mac line to bear as well as a new product, the HomePod, is clearly taking priority over the TV.

My gut tells me the HomePod will follow the same path as the Apple TV. Amazon will keep iterating and expanding for all it is worth in the Home/TV area since it does not play in the mobile space at present. Google’s contributions will be more similar to Apple’s in that they will come out with a new device and vision every now and then but will not submit the necessary resources to making them must have devices.

It is all well and good to say that Apple should enter a space and save those of us frustrated by less than perfect experiences, but the reality is that product categories are not one time things. When Apple enters a market they believe they can make a difference there, but they cannot enter every market and regularly, update all those products all the time. One need only look to the frustrations around the Mac, iPad and Apple TV upgrade cycles to realize there is no magic bullet.

Apple will slowly but surely keep turning the wheel in the TV space and a hockey puck keeps their options open while they tease out the threads and see where they lead. A successful HomePod may well start to tip the scales towards Apple creating a larger presence in the living room over time. The fact is, coming out with a premium TV set, with ProMotion and perfectly mastered video will convince some, but the reality is that good enough is a strong motivator in the TV market at present. For Apple it will be a case of finding the right levers to pull in the right way to make the entry worthwhile.

So for now, I think Apple will keep chipping away at the TV. At times the change is imperceptible and frustrating but it is happening. Just not as fast as some would hope.

Thoughts on Apple acquiring Shazam

Apple Confirms Shazam Acquisition

  • I didn’t realize Shazam have been around since 1999!
  • Did Google ever kick the tires on a deal? If you take a look at YouTube comments on videos that have music, inevitably there are people asking “What song is that?” Or “Who is the artist?” Having to use another app to figure out the song and then yet another app to actually get hold of the music is too much friction.
  • As Apple says in their statement on the acquisition. This is a natural fit to Apple Music. To my mind it will widen the funnel into Apple Music and remove layers of friction in the process of recognize > discover > purchase. Integrating this into the OS/Siri layer so that it is easily and more importantly, instantly available when you need it os a good step.
  • The potential of the integration of Shazam into Apple TV is appealing! How many times have you heard a song in a movie or TV show and you wonder what it is? I can’t count how many times I hear something good on TV but then having to bring up the phone, open the app and record. Often this process takes too long and the moment passes. Built into the OS, into Siri, connected to the streaming is where this should be. It is the natural form and extension to the question of “Who is this?” when hearing a great song.
  • What happens to the existing integrations to Spotify and Snapchat?
  • I imagine the Android version will remain since Apple Music is on Android.

News to Remember (Or possibly forget)

A brief rundown of some of the (mostly tech) news over the past week or so:

Apple Root Login Bug

“Anyone can login as “root” with empty password after clicking on login button several times.”

It really does take courage to release an OS that lets you login as root user without a password.

Hopefully Apple have added a test case for this.

Another Report About Uber Allegedly Doing Shady Shit

“Uber allegedly paid hackers a $100,000 ransom to delete the data and not disclose what had happened to the media and public.”

As if Dara Khosrowshahi wanted another topping on the shit-sandwich Travis Kalanick left for him.

A suggestion for any CEO anywhere: If you fuck up, own up to it and be done with it. Someone always finds your dirty laundry, no matter where you put it.

Yahoo Must Pay Mozilla $375 million even if Mozilla doesn’t use Yahoo Search 

“According to the change-of-control term, 9.1 in the agreement, Mozilla had the right to leave the partnership if — under its sole discretion and in a certain time period — it did not deem the new partner acceptable. And if it did that, even if it struck another search deal, Yahoo was still obligated to pay out annual revenue guarantees of $375 million.”

What was Marissa Mayer thinking?

Considering Yahoo has been doing so well in 2017 2000 one could be forgiven for thinking a change-of-control scenario was not in the realm of possibility.

And if you are from Mozilla, buy the person who got this deal through a drink!

AlphaZero Beats The World Chess

“Oh, and it took AlphaZero only four hours to “learn” chess. Sorry humans, you had a good run.”

If AlphaGo/Zero is a toddler and has beaten Go and Chess. What will it achieve by the time it turns 18?

On that note: I don’t think teaching it to play StarCraft is a very good idea…

Amazon Prime Video Now Available On Apple TV

“With the addition of Prime Video, Siri can now search 1.3 million TV episodes and movies on Apple TV.”

I haven’t even finished the previous season of The Walking Dead yet…

And in local news:

Steinhoff Skeletons Emerge

“The directors are confidant that they will be able to defend these actions successfully and that the potential impact on the group will not be material.”

As it turns out the actual impact was losing R282 billion (+- $20,5 billion) in market value in a week. Some might consider that to be material.

Yet another video service

The launch of the Amazon Prime Video app on Apple TV yesterday is a reminder of the scale of challenge I believe HBO will face when Game of Thrones, currently the biggest (and last) TV show on earth, ends:

  • Netflix is currently available in over 190 countries
  • Amazon Prime Video is available in over 200 countries
  • HBO Go is available in 1 country. HBO Now is available in that same country as well as US territories.
  • HBO itself, is available in over 50 countries.
  • The rest of the world gets its HBO shows through regular TV.

Added to the pure reach of these services, one of the more underrated aspects of Netflix’s strategy is that they are investing heavily into foreign language shows. In the past few months myself or my girlfriend have watched:

  • Peaky Blinders (UK)
  • Fauda (Israel)
  • Cable Girls (Spain)
  • Dark (Germany)
  • Luther (UK)
  • Sherlock (UK)

The significance of the above is that, over the past few years, the majority of shows we have watched have been American shows. Now that we have access to such variety, there is no reason for us to watch only American shows.

No one disputes HBO’s ability to create incredible shows that people the world over want to watch, but the questions I have are:

  1. Can HBO extricate itself from all the international rights deals that feed its business model in order to go direct to customers worldwide?
  2. Can HBO build out the necessary networks in order to to reach those worldwide customers?
  3. Can HBO continue to create the great shows while Netflix, Amazon, Apple and others start to compete for and possibly to crowd out the talent base with their deep pockets?

Keep in mind, that Netflix is very quickly becoming the default. Amazon seems to be rapidly establishing itself as the sidekick in second place (especially since it is free for Prime members). Personally, the third spot is currently reserved to the local competitor Showmax (which has the rights to all HBO’s shows in this country and is quickly expanding in Africa) and fourth place is a holdout for what is likely to be Disney’s horse in the race.

So if HBO’s answer to my 3 questions above is: Yes.

The remaining question is can HBO do all of that before people lose their desire the fork out for yet another video service?

*  All of this goes without saying that YouTube, Facebook and Instagram are also steadily carving out more viewing time from all of the above

** There is however, always that anticipated Game of Thrones spin-off to potentially kickstart things.

The name

I have been an avid blog reader for many years. I first became aware of the form way back when Blogger was a thing. I don’t remember which blogs I read and the habit soon died away. Many years later, more or less nearing the end of 2010 I started reading Daring Fireball and kept up to date with RSS feeds via Google Reader (RIP). I have been coming back ever since. [1]

Shortly after becoming a regular Daring Fireball reader, I became aware of “The Talk Show” (during the James Bond days) and by extension the 5by5 network of podcasts (which is where The Talk Show began). Via 5by5 I discovered “Build & Analyze” which was the first time I had listened to a developer talking about his craft other than talking to my coworkers. It was refreshing and insightful to listen and learn from some really smart people having conversations.

Many years later still, it was on Marco Arment and _DavidSmith’s podcast “Under the Radar” that I came across the term “unexpected complexity”. The first half of which this site is named after. Unexpected complexity describes the challenges developers often encounter when building software and encountering complexity that they had not considered or planned for. I felt the term perfectly captured one of the daily challenges that comes up in writing code and solving problems. More importantly though, in some ways I see unexpected complexity as a lens through which to see some of life’s own challenges. We often think things are going to be one way and discover them to be another. This is neither good nor bad, but it is interesting, that despite the fact that the unexpected and unplanned-for complexity happens almost every day, it still often feels that we do not expect the unexpected.

And thus, this site was named. I do not yet know what format, or content I will share on this site, but the important thing for me is to write and to communicate. Consistently.

This is a start, after many stops and many more false starts.

Inspired by: John Gruber, Marco Arment, David Smith, RSS and podcasts.

Currently reading RSS via Feedly.

Currently listening to podcasts via Overcast.

[1] I really wish I could remember how I first came across Daring Fireball.