Apple and Greed

It is becoming increasingly hard to justify Apple’s high price points. I have always responded to those claiming that Macs are overpriced by comparing them to the competition, lauding their reliability and build quality. The iPhone X is £999, but the Pixel 2 XL and Galaxy Note 8 are also highly priced at £799 and £869 respectively. But that is no longer an excuse.

While Google offers unlimited photo backups with the Pixel 2, and unlimited compressed photo backup to anyone, Apple still give just 5GB of free iCloud storage to all their users, no matter how many devices you own. This is barely enough to backup one device’s preferences, let alone someone’s collection of photos.

iPhone, including the £999 iPhone X, ships with a 5W power adapter. This is a phone that supports fast charging, but users will spend up to £75 on the adapters required to use this feature.

If you buy an Apple Watch Series 1, you get no power adapter at all. In the box is only a USB-A cable, meaning if you have purchased one of Apple’s high end MacBook or MacBook Pros at often over £2000, you need to spend an extra £15 to charge your Watch. In fact, with no iPhone or Watch do you get a USB-C cable or adapter, shunning a standard that Apple claim is the future.

Apple are a nearly trillion dollar company, with high R&D spending on products that will likely never see the light. They invest in diversity, charity, an incredible Headquarters, and manufacturing in the USA, so they aren’t tight. They are, however, user hostile, and to change that, they need to give up their pocket change.

Apple’s HomePod is DOA

Bloomberg reveal the torrid and dithering development of Apple’s latest delayed audio device:

Apple Inc. audio engineers had been working on an early version of the HomePod speaker for about two years in 2014 when they were blindsided by the Echo, a smart speaker from Amazon.com Inc. with a voice-activated assistant named Alexa. The Apple engineers jokingly accused one another of leaking details of their project to Amazon, then bought Echos so they could take them apart and see how they were put together. They quickly deemed the Echo’s sound quality inferior and got back to work building a better speaker.

Gurman’s sources once again have a unique insight into Apple’s design and development processes. It seems Apple has known for sometime that the HomePod won’t be as good an assistant as the Amazon Echo, pushing them to develop a great speaker rather than a great virtual assistant. Bloomberg also report that the project was cancelled multiple times, showing Apple’s lack of confidence in their own product.

Apple are very good at making luxury and premium priced products enticing to the mainstream, but not with HomePod. Alexa is a household name (literally, too) and is a cheap and accessible entry point into the future. If the Echo was priced like a HomePod, it would never have reached the same level of success. Both Siri and Alexa are known for being haphazard and unreliable, but nobody ever pays much money for them; Siri comes with every iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple Watch. To charge $349 is promising it will be better, to which there is no evidence it will be.

Apple were therefore right not to market the HomePod against the Echo, but rather as a great speaker. That way it will appear worth its price. Right? As it only supports Apple Music and, as Bloomberg highlight, is three years behind in terms of third party services, I’d say not.

I’m sure the HomePod is a great product, but it’s bizarrely placed in Apple’s ecosystem and misunderstands the industry. It’s trying to compete with Amazon, Sonos and Spotify, and I think initially it may struggle.

A Letter to my MP on Net Neutrality

Mr Prisk,

You may be aware of heated debate in the US over Net Neutrality, with the FCC threatening to end this valuable principle. I’m proud and relieved that the UK has Net Neutrality, and am fearful of the future of the internet if the US loses it.

The fight for Net Neutrality is important to consumers, to small business, and to the future. The internet is built on the freedom of ideas. Ideas that have improved the quality of our lives and disrupted stagnating industries. Innovation thrives on the internet being open.

If corporations such as Comcast and Verizon control the flow of internet traffic, such traffic is no longer the people’s. Small business will never be able to compete against web giants with the money to pay off ISPs, and consumers will pay more depending on what they use the internet for. In Portugal, for example, where there is no net Net Neutrality, customers are forced to pay for add ons to their internet bills if they wish to use social networks or streaming services not owned by their ISP. Portugal’s web is hostile to business and consumers.

For the UK to remain competitive in a future built on connectivity, the government must promise that Net Neutrality is here to stay. We must state our intentions post-Brexit that we encourage tech startups to build their bases here, where all of our web traffic is equal.

And in urgency, we must disavow the words of Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman promising to end Neutrality in the country that allowed Apple to go from a garage to the most valuable company in the world, and Netflix from a DVD distributer to an Oscar-winning content powerhouse. We must stand up for startup tech firms in the US and remind the FCC and the Trump administration that the internet is valuable, will soon be a human right, and is not to be messed with.

Faithfully,

Nathan

This letter was sent to Mark Prisk MP on 22nd November 2017, and the following reply was received on the 29th November. 

Dear Mr Liu,

Thank you for contacting me about net neutrality. I take your point about the issue in the USA.

In addition to the self-regulatory Open Internet Code of Practice which all the main UK Internet Service Providers have signed up to, the UK is currently subject to net neutrality rules under EU regulation. This regulation prevents internet service providers from blocking, slowing down or otherwise interfering with services or content unless for specific exceptions (such as to deal with temporary network congestion).

In order to ensure the immediate continuity of legislation after we exit the EU, over the coming months the Government will be converting EU law into UK law through the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. This means that the net neutrality rules will continue to be in place after we leave the EU.

Moving forward, I support the Government’s commitment to a free and open internet as the bedrock for a thriving and innovative digital economy. I know that Ministers have made clear that users of internet services should be able to access the services they wish to, without unnecessary blocking or slowing down by providers.

In future, if the Government was to consider any proposals to change the current net neutrality rules, this would be subject to public consultation.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Prisk MP

The Best Laptop Ever Made

Marco Arment named the 2012-2015 MacBook Pro as the best in history and the pinnacle of Steve Jobs’ vision for the Mac:

Everything else about this machine was an upgrade: thinner, lighter, faster, better battery life, quieter fans, better speakers, better microphones, a second Thunderbolt port, and a convenient new HDMI port.

It feels as delightful as when I first got one in 2012. It’s fast, capable, and reliable. It gracefully does what I need it to do. It’s barely heavier or thicker, and I got to remove so many accessories from my travel bag that I think I’m actually coming out ahead.

This is my laptop from mid-2014, and I love it. It has never let me down and I have no desire to upgrade; this is a rare feeling for someone who already is excited about 2018’s iPhone.

Marco is right, in 2012 the new MacBook Pro was an all round upgrade. It pushed technology just the right amount to feel like the future and yet not too much to alienate customers. The removable of ethernet ports and the disc drive were well timed, much unlike the premature removal of the headphone jack in the iPhone.

It is not to say that modern Macs are not technically better and more exciting. They are. But they come with tradeoffs. You get the future but one that is sullied by a high price and an awkward port situation. For someone willing to go ‘all-in,’ and has the money to do so, the 2017 MacBook Pro is wonderful. Unfortunately few people are.

Apple’s MacBook Pro from 2012 to 2015 was a well timed, well crafted machine that wasn’t too forward thinking, but wasn’t boring. I hope there comes a day where that feeling returns.

To End Sexual Harassment in Westminster We Need to Put the Victims First

There is a harassment scandal in Westminster, and one that has frequently surfaced a dangerous question: “is it true?” It is extremely hard to admit that you are a victim of sexual assault, and the fear of being judged, humiliated or accused of lying is enough to prevent many from speaking out.

Various studies suggest that false accusations of rape are rare, often between 2% and 10%. Further, those who are falsely accused rarely suffer serious consequences, as seen in a detailed Home Office study summarised in Quartz:

…in the early 2000s, out of 216 complaints that were classified as false, only 126 had even gotten to the stage where the accuser lodged a formal complaint. Only 39 complainants named a suspect. Only six cases led to an arrest, and only two led to charges being brought before they were ultimately deemed false.

From a legal perspective people are innocent until proven guilty, but those accused of sexual assault—especially those in positions of power—should only have their chance to claim innocence once the victim is supported and feels safe.

Andrea Leadsom agrees:

The vital first step in this is guaranteeing that those who feel someone has acted inappropriately towards them have an opportunity to raise this confidentially, and have their grievance sensitively handled, without fear of it being made public. Politicians who face the glare of public scrutiny accept they will sometimes find themselves facing hostile press coverage – that is a part of public life – but others in Westminster may have been deterred from coming forwards precisely because of the hostile press they may receive.

False accusations are rare and the idea they happen should be relegated below our concern for the accuser. People in positions of power—in Hollywood and Westminster—need to understand their responsibility to treat people with the very highest standards.

We must tolerate no mistake.

Facebook Isn’t Listening to You, But Delete Their App Anyway

WIRED ask if conspiracy theories about the Facebook app are true. Spoiler: they’re not.

Feasibility, ubiquity, and efficacy: Those filters demolish almost every Facebook conspiracy theory you’ll ever hear.

The short version to all this tin-foil-hat theorizing: There’s no way Facebook is eavesdropping on you right now. But it is tracking you in other—no less insidious—ways you’re not aware of. To quote the soldier’s maxim, it’s always the shot you don’t hear that ultimately gets you.

Facebook isn’t an ethical company, and like Google, it knows a lot about you. It knows enough to appear creepy and to target you with pinpoint accuracy. Realistically, however, they’re not listening to you through your phone, but they are watching what you do in every app they own from Instagram to WhatsApp (although chats, remember, are end-to-end encrypted).

You’ll gain a lot from deleting the Facebook app, from more battery life to a streamlined, less bloated web based alternative. But you don’t have to worry about them eavesdropping. They know enough already.

iPhone X: A Buttonless Future

Or not, according to Fastcodesign on a website that has an email sign up graphic overlapping its articles:

You’re looking at a UX disaster, the result of eliminating what is probably the simplest, most intuitive form of navigation ever implemented in consumer electronics: the iPhone’s home button. The iPhone X replaces it with the mess above. This is bad news, because this interaction is a fundamental part of the user experience.

I’ve read much criticism about Apple’s new gesture based interface on the iPhone X, but few are as bitterly resistant to change as this one. Just because the home button was once a fundamental part of user experience, it doesn’t mean it has to be for eternity. Criticisms such as these for the most part are silly and overblown.

The X is meant to be the cutting edge of technology. It feels like a first gen product and has its flaws and a learning curve. But that’s why Apple sell the 8 and 8 Plus. If you want a ‘classic’ iPhone experience, there are plenty available. Many users are and will be happy with older phones, and those who want the latest in technology can still get almost all the X has to offer with the 8.

Personally, using the iPhone X is a pleasure, and the gestures work almost flawlessly. A lot of work has clearly gone into making them feel comfortable and extremely fast. This phone is made for people like me, but it’s not forced on the people who aren’t. Apple’s gesture based interface is almost perfect and for an early adopter, no big deal.

280 Characters is Bad, but it’s the Users That Will Kill Twitter

Twitter is losing its character while gaining 140. Twitter has a problem with Nazis and the President of the United States and instead it chose to double its character limit in a move few really wanted. Rightfully, users are angry.

Many, however, went too far. A trend of people claiming they will not read tweets over 140 characters long has become an immature form of resistance that does even more damage to the platform. Not only may these users miss out on good tweets by intelligent people (probably, therefore, not mine), but users wanting more attention will simply stop tweeting. Worse, Twitterrific, a 3rd party client which was once the sole way I interacted with the platform, encourages this behaviour by allowing users to mute tweets over 140 characters.

Of course, many longer Tweets in the last few days have lost their sense of brevity. Sometimes this is a good thing, as arguments lose ambiguity and tech support is easier to understand, but at other times long posts appear lazy. It is understandable—if still concerning—that users skip them out of time constraints, but not out of some closed-minded principle.

Twitter was never a blogging platform, it was for sharing links, ideas, and your opinion in short bursts. It was for public figures to publicise, people to network, and sports fans to joke. Twitter endangers all of these people’s enjoyment of their service. But users must adapt. Twitter won’t change their mind.

If nobody bought phones without headphone jacks, in ten years nobody would have a smartphone. If people ignore Tweets over 280 characters, in ten years nobody will use Twitter. And unfortunately, there’s no viable alternative.

This is a platform caked in controversy. It has dug its own grave. But I believe that we as users need to be part of the solution, not the ones who pull the trigger.

iPhone Socialism

I recently bought a £999 phone, and so did many other socialists, Labour voters and sceptics of capitalism. The launch came shortly before it was revealed that Apple were intentionally moving money overseas to avoid tax. Why should anyone be sharing their excitement about their iPhone in the same breath as they shudder at the queues to our foodbanks?

‘Champagne Socialism’ is spoken as an insult. With your petty cash you walk past a homeless man and into Waitrose, looking down on those leaving Aldi with £14.99 magnums of Prosecco. How dare you?

It shouldn’t be an insult. We should be warmed by rich socialists, those willing to give up some of their wealth for equality, those who understand that their quality of life doesn’t have to change to make a huge difference to those really in need. Those who new tax bands would affect earn enough that they will still be able to afford luxuries and can still give more to the state.

Capitalism works. I am a capitalist and socialist. I believe that we need things to work towards and to desire and every business, provided the playing field is equal, has the right to market their products, up sell, and to strive for more profit. Competition is important to drive innovation. I am also a socialist, because I believe capitalism has no place in services that are human rights such as education, healthcare and transport.

I’m delighted with my new phone. And so are thousands of socialists with some spare cash. Our purchase is compatible with our beliefs because we’re part of a capitalist country that occasionally rewards us. Whilst I will likely spend most—if not all—of my life below Labour’s planned £80,000 tax band, I hope that if I ever were to cross it, my beliefs won’t change. I also hope that nobody would judge me for how I choose to spend my money.

The Greatest Sport You’ve Never Heard Of

The World Rally Championship is the most spectacular sporting competition in the world.

Little rivals the feeling of hiking through a forest at sunrise, pouring coffee into a polystyrene cup, listening intently to a crackling radio and already drunken Scandinavians chanting beside you, anticipating the best viewpoint and hearing the crackle of the first car through the trees. Nothing is as chilling, nothing is as serene. And when a car is sideways at 80mph, two metres from your feet, it’s insane.

Last week, the WRC made BBC News for the first time in as long as I can remember. Perhaps this sport is returning to it’s glory days.

The WRC has been in a lull as of late. The last real British interests, 2001 champion Richard Burns, and 1995 champion Colin McRae, both died tragically in the middle of the last decade, Burns of cancer, McRae in a helicopter crash. In the time since the sport has been dominated by nine time world champion and the greatest driver in history, Sebastien Loeb, and four time world champion Sebastien Ogier. They may have been challenged by the likes of Jari-Matti Latvala, Marcus Gronholm and more recently Theirry Neuville, but ultimately the last 13 years has seen the French Sebs as unbeatable. The sport became uncompetitive, and that meant it was boring.

Around 12 years ago I first saw Kris Meeke, an amateur Northern Irishman, drive. He was mentored by Colin McRae. During the rise of Ogier, I heard that Meeke was rising to professionalism. In 2015 he took his first WRC event win. Last year I watched him become the first Brit to ever win the prestigious Rally Finland. This year, after competing a partial season in 2016 to develop a new car, he’s tipped as a championship hopeful.

The 2017 championship is, for the first time in a decade of the sport, a level playing field. Dominating drivers were left with last minute deals as VW left the sport, Ogier went to a recently unsuccessful M-Sport Ford, and Latvala to a Toyota team returning to the sport after a 16 year absence. The cars are built with new regulations which make them faster, ridiculous looking, and more unpredictable. In charge of the Citroen C3 WRC’s development, Kris Meeke knew his 380bhp beast better than anyone else knew theirs. I went back and watched onboards from years gone by in hopeful optimism that this year I could witness a driver I’ve followed for over half my life become the best in the world.

And then co-driver Paul Nagle yells “Jesus Kris ya bastard” as the car slides into a bank in the Monte Carlo season opener. A month later, in a now infamous onboard recording of Rally Sweden’s 17th stage, Kris swears at every corner, the car is doing everything he doesn’t want it to do: “I’m not driving this piece of shit.” Craig Breen, his teammate, turns to his co-driver at the end of the same stage and asks him to “just smile for the cameras.” The car is a mess and Meeke has scored just 2 points in 2 rallies. Citroen’s year of testing seemed a disaster.

Or not. Because Meeke and the C3 commanded the high-altitude, high-temperature, car destroying stages of Rally Mexico last weekend. A strong Friday and Saturday and a stage win on Sunday morning saw him with a 37 second lead going into the final 21km test.

Kris was back.

The ‘power stage’, broadcast live, strained my heart. Meeke has crashed out from the lead before, he’s crashed on final stages before. He doesn’t make it easy to be his fan. But this time it’s going well, he’s flying, he recorded the third fastest time at the first split, and now he’s gaining on second. We’re 11 minutes into a 12 minute stage. He’s going for bonus points.

“Jesus Christ Kris!”

“Oh naaaaw,” the thick Irish accent of Nagle bellows.

Then a cloud of dust.

Then Colin Clark on WRC Radio: “No no no no no no no.”

“What’s happened? Colin tell us!”

The TV broadcast goes aerial. Meeke’s car is still on its wheels. To much relief, the rolling we’d momentarily seen was just a loose camera. But the car is squeezing through gaps in a spectator car park. He has a puncture, he’s sliding round parked vans. Back in the service park a Citroen mechanic slams his laptop shut.

Moments later, he’s back on the road pulling with him a safety ribbon, a souvenir of his tenacity.

Twenty seconds later and Meeke is shell shocked, stalling the car after the finish and beside him, Paul Nagle is assuring him he lost. Thankfully, Meeke got the luck he needed. He looks to the sky and says ‘thank you’, Nagle draws a cross on his chest, rests his head in his hands, they’ve won by 13.8 seconds.

On news channels across the world the footage is repeated. It’s a gloriously exciting finish. It’s what this sport is all about. If flying off the road less than a minute before an essential rally victory is idiotic, then so is driving 100mph down roads you can hardly walk on.

With three different winners from three different teams in the first three rallies, the glory days are back.