Microsoft Word Now Flags Two Spaces After a Period as an Error 

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge:

Microsoft has settled the great space debate, and sided with everyone who believes one space after a period is correct, not two. The software giant has started to update Microsoft Word to highlight two spaces after a period (a full stop for you Brits) as an error, and to offer a correction to one space. Microsoft recently started testing this change with the desktop version of Word, offering suggestions through the Editor capabilities of the app.

Wake me up when Word starts flagging the use of Arial with “Did you mean to use Helvetica?” if you want to give Microsoft any credit at all for doing right by good typography.

The two-spaces thing has been a “debate” only in the way that wondering if the earth is round, or if man landed on the moon, or if you should smash up a couple of cherries and orange wedges while mixing an Old Fashioned, have ever been debates. One side has all the experts in agreement; the other side is wrong. Go look at a few professionally-typeset books?—?every single sentence on every page in every book has one space after the period.

If you have the double-space habit as a typist, you shouldn’t worry about it. Just go ahead and double-space and trust your software to do the right thing?—?either replacing your double spaces with a single space as you type or when you publish. Web browsers, for example, will all do the right thing. Most die-hard double-spacers don’t seem to know this, but from the get-go, HTML specifies collapsing runs of multiple spaces into a single space. You can type three or four spaces after each sentence if you want, but web browsers are going to render them as a single space. When you do see two spaces after a period on a webpage, the space-space sequence has been transmogrified into a non-breaking space ( ) followed by a normal space?—?a sure sign of typographically ignorant software somewhere in the publishing chain.

John Legere Resigns From T-Mobile Board of Directors ‘To Pursue Other Options’ 

Chris Welch, The Verge:

After steering T-Mobile through a dramatic turnaround that culminated in its successful merger with former rival Sprint, Legere stepped down and Mike Sievert was appointed T-Mobile’s new chief executive earlier this month. At that time, Legere had said he would remain on T-Mobile’s board of directors until June 4th. But that’s not the case anymore. In an 8K filing with the SEC today, T-Mobile revealed that Legere is leaving the board “effective immediately to pursue other options.”

“Mr. Legere noted that he was not resigning because of any disagreement with management or the board on any matter,” T-Mobile said in its note.

He’s going to need some new clothes.

Dieter Bohn on the iPad Magic Keyboard 

Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge:

In the first of several “finallys” for the iPad, the keys are also backlit. They adjust automatically based on the ambient lighting conditions, and they were exactly the right brightness most of the time. However, if you just want to turn them off if you’re watching a movie in the dark or something, then you’re in for a hassle.

To fix that, you have to go to the iPad’s Settings app, then dig into General, then Hardware Keyboard, and only then will you be able to adjust the brightness using a slider. […] Both of these hassles could have been immediately and instantly solved if Apple had simply put a function row of keys above the number row. There are plenty of system-wide buttons that would be useful there! Music controls, volume, screen and keyboard brightness, home, multitasking, search: all things for which it would be convenient to have dedicated buttons.

I’m OK with omitting F-keys, both in principle and in practice. In principle, F-keys are fiddly holdovers from decades ago; I don’t think using Control Center to manage audio, display brightness, music playback, etc. is a hassle. That’s obviously my subjective opinion though?—?I seldom use those keys even when I have them. But practically, as I mentioned in my review, there just isn’t room for them on the Magic Keyboard?—?when the connected iPad is at its widest angle, it already overhangs the row of number keys. A row of F-keys would be completely under the “floating” iPad.

The problem with controlling keyboard backlighting isn’t the lack of dedicated hardware F-keys. The problem is that going deep into Settings is the only way to control it. Clearly it ought to be a slider in Control Center, and backlighting ought to be controllable via Siri. (If you ask Siri to control the keyboard backlight brightness, it just shows you the slider for display brightness.)

Any app that doesn’t use Apple’s standard APIs for creating buttons or text views feels off-kilter with the trackpad. Stuff you can swipe with your finger can’t be swiped with the trackpad, text selection can be a fiasco, and the cursor doesn’t always do its neat shape-shifting tricks. Google’s apps are particularly guilty here, but they’re far from the only ones.

Google’s apps are awful iOS citizens in general?—?Chrome being a notable exception?—?so this is unsurprising. Trackpad issues aside (and Docs is just atrocious with a trackpad?—?it doesn’t even switch to the I-beam pointer for text editing, which I’ve never seen on any other app), where Google’s iPad apps fall completely apart is keyboard support. The ones I’ve looked at don’t have any keyboard shortcuts at all. No ?R for replying in Gmail, no ?N for creating new items in Gmail, Tasks, or Keep. Nothing. At least trackpad support in iPadOS is a new thing. Hardware keyboards have been supported for years. It’s ridiculous. (Again, Chrome is a bit of an exception?—?it has a bunch of good keyboard shortcuts. The Chrome app for iOS feels like it was made by an entirely different company than the rest of Google’s apps?—?a company that is at least notionally aware of how iOS apps should behave. But even in Chrome you can’t use the trackpad pointer to drag tabs, etc.) Lesson: native apps that follow the idioms of the underlying platform are good, film at 11. [Update: Turns out the Gmail app for iPad does support some keyboard shortcuts, but (a) they’re based on the Gmail web app, not the standards for native iOS apps, and (b) they’re hidden behind a setting that for some bizarre reason is off by default.]

Bohn argues toward the end of his review that he prefers several aspects of Microsoft’s keyboard/trackpad cover for the Surface Pro X. (This segment is best illustrated in his video.) I just don’t see how the Surface keyboard design could work without a built-in kickstand on the tablet, and I, for one, say no thanks to a kickstand built into iPads. And the Surface keyboard design is a no-go for use as a laptop on your actual lap or on an airplane seat-back tray. But it’s definitely interesting to get the perspective of someone who owns and likes a Surface Pro.

Panzarino on the iPad Magic Keyboard 

Matthew Panzarino, writing at TechCrunch:

Over the past two years, I’ve typed nearly every word I’ve written while traveling on the iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard Folio. […] For the purposes of this look at the new Magic Keyboard, though, you should probably just know two things about the old Keyboard Folio:

  1. It was reliable, incredibly durable and never once failed me.

  2. It kind of stunk in every other way.

Really good review from the perspective of someone who?—?unlike me?—?was a heavy user of Apple’s Smart Keyboard cover.

A little quirk: when it’s tilted super far back to the full stop I sometimes nick the bottom edge of the iPad with my fingers when hitting numbers?—?could be my typing form or bigger hands but I thought it was worth mentioning.

I’ve noticed this too?—?and even more so with the 11-inch model, which arrived two days ago and I’ve been using since. It’s not even a problem, per se, it’s just … weird. In close to 40 years of computering I’ve never before used a keyboard where my fingers nick an overhang while reaching for the Delete key.

‘Why We Can’t Build’ 

Ezra Klein, writing at Vox, on Marc Andreessen’s “It’s Time to Build” call to arms:

Which goes to a problem that afflicts governance at all levels of America: If you live in a vetocracy and one of your two political parties actively wants the government to work poorly, the government will work poorly. And so it does. […]

I don’t think that’ll be enough. So let me end with my answer to Andreessen’s question: What should we build? We should build institutions biased toward action and ambition, rather than inaction and incrementalism. […] At the federal level, I’d get rid of the filibuster, simplify the committee system, democratize elections, and make sure majorities could implement their agendas once elected. As I’ve argued for years, we should prefer the problems of a system where elected majorities can fulfill the promises that got them elected to one where elected majorities cannot deliver on the promises that the American people voted for. The latter system, which is the one Americans live in now, drives frustration and dysfunction.

Strong endorsement for this basic notion from me?—?knowing full well that political tides ebb and flow. Let the party in power try new things. If they turn out to be unpopular, the tide will change and so too will the laws and policies. Conduct politics more like we do science: try new ideas and see what happens. The Senate has been slowly moving away from the filibuster in favor of simple majority rule anyway?—?e.g. Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

‘How Tech Can Build’ 

Ben Thompson, following up on Marc Andreessen’s “It’s Time to Build”:

What it means to ask more of one another, at least in tech, is right there in the overlap between preferences and vision.

First, tech should embrace and accelerate distributed work. It makes tech more accessible to more people. It seeds more parts of the country with potential entrepreneurs. It dramatically decreases the cost of living for employees. It creates the conditions for more stable companies that can take on less risky yet still necessary opportunities that may throw off a nice dividend instead of an IPO. And, critically, it gives tech companies a weapon to wield against overbearing regulation, because companies can always pick-up-and-leave.

Second, invest in real-world companies that differentiate investment in hardware with software. This hardware could be machines for factories, or factories themselves; it could be new types of transportation, or defense systems. The possibilties, at least once you let go of the requirement for 90% gross margins, are endless.

Third?—?and related to both of the above?—?figure out an investing model that is suited to outcomes that have a higher likelihood of success along with a lower upside. This is truly the most important piece?—?and where Andreessen, given his position, can make the most impact. Andreessen Horowitz has thought more about how to change venture capital than anyone else, but the fundamental constraint has remained the assumption of high costs, high risk, and grand slam outcomes. We should keep that model, but surely there is room for another?

Software gives investors the biggest potential upsides, but software alone won’t get us to the future we need?—?not even close. To paraphrase Peter Thiel, we’ve focused too much on bits, not enough on atoms.

‘It’s Time to Build’ 

Marc Andreessen, on the opportunity this crisis presents:

And we need to separate the imperative to build these things from ideology and politics. Both sides need to contribute to building.

The right starts out in a more natural, albeit compromised, place. The right is generally pro production, but is too often corrupted by forces that hold back market-based competition and the building of things. The right must fight hard against crony capitalism, regulatory capture, ossified oligopolies, risk-inducing offshoring, and investor-friendly buybacks in lieu of customer-friendly (and, over a longer period of time, even more investor-friendly) innovation.

It’s time for full-throated, unapologetic, uncompromised political support from the right for aggressive investment in new products, in new industries, in new factories, in new science, in big leaps forward.

The left starts out with a stronger bias toward the public sector in many of these areas. To which I say, prove the superior model! Demonstrate that the public sector can build better hospitals, better schools, better transportation, better cities, better housing. Stop trying to protect the old, the entrenched, the irrelevant; commit the public sector fully to the future. Milton Friedman once said the great public sector mistake is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results. Instead of taking that as an insult, take it as a challenge?—?build new things and show the results!

I find this essay inspiring, and I’m baffled?—?but unsurprised?—?that anyone considers it controversial. (Even better are the folks asking who this Andreessen guy is to be telling anyone to build anything. What does some rich VC know about building new things, right?)

Huawei’s Annual Tradition of Getting Caught Trying to Pass Off Photos Shot With Professional Cameras as Having Been Shot With One of Their Phones 

Matt Birchler:

Look, Huawai has responded every time saying that they technically never said that the photos were taken on their phones, but the context these photos were displayed heavily implied that was the case. Huawai phones can take some great photos, so I really can’t fathom why the company’s marketing does this year after year after year.

That’s easy: because they’re dishonest. Huawei’s company culture is one of lying and cheating. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Get caught lying, cheating, and stealing repeatedly for years on end, you’re obviously a bunch of crooks and grifters. When you hear “Huawei”, put your hand on your wallet.

France and Germany Toss Privacy Concerns Out the Window When It Comes to Contact Tracing 

Mathieu Rosemain and Douglas Busvine, reporting for Reuters:

In Europe, most countries have chosen short-range Bluetooth “handshakes” between devices as the best approach, dismissing the alternative of using location data pursued by some countries in Asia as intrusive. But a rift has opened up between countries led by France and Germany that want to hold personal data on a central server, and others that back a decentralized approach in which Bluetooth logs are stored on individual devices.

Apple and Alphabet’s Google, whose operating systems run 99% of smartphones, have promised tweaks in May that would accommodate the decentralized approach. A trial version is due out next week.

I don’t know where Reuters came up with the word “tweaks” here. What Apple and Google are working on is a full-fledged joint project to support privacy-protecting contact tracing. It’s not a tweak to something existing, it’s a new initiative.

That has added a political dimension to the standards-setting debate, with a senior French official saying it was time for Europe to stop caving in to pressure from the United States. “The European states are being completely held hostage by Google and Apple,” said the official, who is involved in coordinating efforts to develop a French contact-tracing app called StopCovid.

They’re not being “held hostage”. If these governments want to make contact tracing apps that store location data on centralized servers (an approach with obvious privacy implications), and which require users to run their apps in the foreground all day long (an approach with obvious battery life implications), they can go ahead and build them. They can’t expect Apple and Google to build support for these techniques into their operating systems, though.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, I get it. But I haven’t seen a good argument against Apple and Google’s project in terms of balancing the benefits of widespread contact tracing with privacy concerns. The European government officials clamoring for Apple and Google to help them build whatever they want, privacy concerns be damned, aren’t making technical arguments.

And the whole thing is a bit rich coming from countries in the EU, which have, until now, held themselves up as the stewards of privacy in the face of the U.S. tech titans.

Cuomo to McConnell: ‘Who’s Getting Bailed Out Here?’ 

New York governor Andrew Cuomo, responding to Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s accusation that federal pandemic relief amounts to “blue state bailouts”:

At the end of the year, we put into that federal pot $116 billion more than we take out. OK? His state, the state of Kentucky, takes out $148 billion more than they put in. […] Senator McConnell, who’s getting bailed out here? It’s your state that’s living on the money that we generate. Your state is getting bailed out, not my state.

Worth mentioning that this discrepancy between payments between states and the federal government is year-in, year-out, and unrelated to the pandemic.

This inconvenient truth brings to mind the classic delightfully-profane anonymously-bylined “Fuck the South” rant, originally published the day after George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004. The original domain has, alas, lapsed, but The Internet Archive has it.

‘Star Wars’ Backgrounds for Video Calls 

If you’re stuck doing video calls every day, you might as well do it in style.

‘The Real Reason to Wear a Mask’ 

Zeynep Tufekci, Jeremy Howard, and Trisha Greenhalgh, writing for The Atlantic:

If you feel confused about whether people should wear masks and why and what kind, you’re not alone. COVID-19 is a novel disease and we’re learning new things about it every day. However, much of the confusion around masks stems from the conflation of two very different functions of masks.

Masks can be worn to protect the wearer from getting infected or masks can be worn to protect others from being infected by the wearer. Protecting the wearer is difficult: It requires medical-grade respirator masks, a proper fit, and careful putting on and taking off. But masks can also be worn to prevent transmission to others, and this is their most important use for society. If we lower the likelihood of one person’s infecting another, the impact is exponential, so even a small reduction in those odds results in a huge decrease in deaths. Luckily, blocking transmission outward at the source is much easier. It can be accomplished with something as simple as a cloth mask.

There’s a very high chance that you, dear reader, are now wearing a face mask whenever you leave home. I’ve linked to a few good pieces on the subject in recent weeks. If you need help convincing anyone else, however, this piece at The Atlantic is a good one. It reviews the previous confusion regarding the reasons for mask-wearing, clears it up, and does so cogently.

It’s also worth noting that Zeynep Tufekci, co-author of this piece, deserves tremendous credit for her March 17 column in The New York Times, “Why Telling People They Don’t Need Masks Backfired”. It seems crazy that she wrote that column only a little over one month ago, but at the time she wrote it, Tufekci was calling out the CDC and WHO for giving bad advice?—?her take was very controversial?—?and she was right. Her courage and clarity moved the needle and helped change public policy and our social norms. It sounds hyperbolic but I think it’s clearly true: Tufekci wrote an op-ed column so compelling it will wind up saving untold lives. We in the U.S. would have gotten to universal mask-wearing during this pandemic sooner or later, but thanks to Tufekci we got there sooner.

Sounds ‘Interesting’ to Me, Too 

Aaron Rupar, reporting for Vox:

At the briefing, William Bryan, under secretary for Science and Technology at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), discussed preliminary government research indicating that “heat and humidity suppress COVID-19” and “commonly available disinfectants work to kill the virus.”

After Bryan’s presentation, Trump took to the podium and made a deeply bizarre inference.

“Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light … and then I said supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. And I think you said you’re gonna test that,” Trump said, addressing Bryan. “And then I see disinfectant, where it knocks it [coronavirus] out in a minute — one minute?—?and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that. So, that you’re going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me.”

Craig Mazin:

One of the hallmarks of the dangerously stupid is the consistent belief they’ve found great solutions that experts somehow missed.

Bloomberg Reports ARM Macs Coming Next Year 

Mark Gurman, Debby Wu, and Ian King, reporting for Bloomberg:*

The Cupertino, California-based technology giant is working on three of its own Mac processors, known as systems-on-a-chip, based on the A14 processor in the next iPhone. The first of these will be much faster than the processors in the iPhone and iPad, the people said.

There’s not much new information in this report, but what is new is interesting, and I want to focus on that. Saying that the first ARM Mac processor will be based on the A14 is news. Saying that the first ARM Mac processor will be “much faster than the processors in the iPhone and iPad” would be spectacular news, because the A13 in the iPhones 11 and new SE already offers faster single-core performance than a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro, and iPad Pros have better multi-core performance than MacBook Airs.

If what Bloomberg is reporting is true?—?see footnote below, of course?—?they’re burying the lede. An ARM chip in a Mac that’s “much faster than the processors in the iPhone and iPad” would be much faster than anything Intel offers for use in portables.

Apple is preparing to release at least one Mac with its own chip next year, according to the people. But the initiative to develop multiple chips, codenamed Kalamata, suggests the company will transition more of its Mac lineup away from current supplier Intel Corp.

Of course they’re going to transition more than one Mac.

The latest iPad Pro has four cores for performance-intensive workloads and another four to handle low-power tasks to preserve battery life. The first Mac processors will have eight high-performance cores, codenamed Firestorm, and at least four energy-efficient cores, known internally as Icestorm. Apple is exploring Mac processors with more than 12 cores for further in the future, the people said. In some Macs, Apple’s designs will double or quadruple the number of cores that Intel provides. The current entry-level MacBook Air has two cores, for example.

News!

Despite a unified chip design, Macs will still run the macOS operating system, rather than the iOS software of the iPhone and iPad.

Duh. Unsaid in the article but widely known to be true is that Apple has had MacOS compiling for ARM for years, just like how they had MacOS compiling for Intel years before they announced the switch from PowerPC?—?what Steve Jobs described as a “secret double life”.

Apple is exploring tools that will ensure apps developed for older Intel-based Macs still work on the new machines.

Yeah but what tools? They already have cross-compilation tools in Xcode. The $64,000 question is whether they’re going to have an emulator for running x86 code on ARM Macs. When Apple transitioned from Motorola’s 680x0 family of processors to PowerPC, and when they transitioned from PowerPC to Intel x86, they built emulators into the OS so that old binaries still executed. If they don’t offer an emulator, all existing Mac software will need to be recompiled.

The company also has technology called Catalyst that lets software developers build an iPad app and run it on Mac computers.

Catalyst isn’t really relevant to the x86-ARM transition. Catalyst is already here, today. Whatever problems developers (and users) have with Catalyst, they’re not related to ARM vs. x86?—?iOS apps have always been able to be cross-compiled to x86 because that’s what the Xcode iOS Simulator is?—?a version of iOS that runs on Intel.

If Apple plans to start this transition with new hardware in 2021, I expect the initiative to be announced at WWDC in mid-or-late June this year.

* Bloomberg, of course, is the publication that published “The Big Hack” in October 2018?—?a sensational story alleging that data centers of Apple, Amazon, and dozens of other companies were compromised by China’s intelligence services. The story presented no confirmable evidence at all, was vehemently denied by all companies involved, has not been confirmed by a single other publication (despite much effort to do so), and has been largely discredited by one of Bloomberg’s own sources. By all appearances “The Big Hack” was complete bullshit. Yet Bloomberg has issued no correction or retraction, and seemingly hopes we’ll all just forget about it. I say we do not just forget about it. Bloomberg’s institutional credibility is severely damaged, and everything they publish should be treated with skepticism until they retract the story or provide evidence that it was true.

WSJ: ‘Amazon Scooped Up Data From Its Own Sellers to Launch Competing Products’ 

Dana Mattioli, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

The online retailing giant has long asserted, including to Congress, that when it makes and sells its own products, it doesn’t use information it collects from the site’s individual third-party sellers?—?data those sellers view as proprietary.

Yet interviews with more than 20 former employees of Amazon’s private-label business and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal reveal that employees did just that.

Read between the lines and the Journal is saying Amazon executives lied in testimony to Congress. Which is illegal.

Amazon has said it has restrictions in place to keep its private-label executives from accessing data on specific sellers in its Marketplace, where millions of businesses from around the globe offer their goods. In interviews, former employees and a current one said those rules weren’t uniformly enforced. Employees found ways around them, according to some former employees, who said using such data was a common practice that was discussed openly in meetings they attended.

“We knew we shouldn’t,” said one former employee who accessed the data and described a pattern of using it to launch and benefit Amazon products. “But at the same time, we are making Amazon branded products, and we want them to sell.”

I’m fine with Amazon having its own house-branded products. All major stores do, and of course all store brands use the data from product sales to decide what to make. The difference with Amazon is that Marketplace isn’t really Amazon’s store?—?it’s a way for companies to set up their own store on Amazon’s online platform. Amazon should just clean this up and do right by Marketplace sellers?—?Amazon will continue to thrive by operating entirely above board. Amazon isn’t hurting for revenue (especially now), but they are hurting for trust.

(Apple News link, for News+ subscribers who don’t have a standalone WSJ subscription.)


The 2020 iPhone SE

The 2020 iPhone SE is a device where, for the most part, what you see is what you get. The one thing you get that you can’t see is the A13 Bionic chip?—?although you can see, particularly with Portrait Mode photography, what the A13 makes possible in the SE.

Let’s start with the outside.

Close your eyes and the SE feels identical to the iPhone 8: same materials, same button placement, same size (down to the 10th of a millimeter?—?the iPhones SE and 8 are 100 percent case compatible), same weight (148 g).

Open your eyes and you’ll notice the coloring is different, if you’re looking at the white model. The white SE has a black front face. There’s some prior art for this?—?the white iPhone 3G and 3GS models also had black front faces. But starting with the iPhone 4,1 white/light-colored iPhones equipped with home buttons have had white front panels, except for the iPhone 5C. I have never cared for those white front panels?—?I don’t like the way they emphasize, rather than hide, the elements embedded in the iPhone’s forehead: the speaker, the camera, the flash. It’d be bad enough if those elements were symmetrically arranged but they’re not?—?the camera is off center. The black front face is simply a better look, to my eyes. And it doesn’t hurt that when the display is off, the black front disguises the now-dated forehead and chin above and below the screen.

Apple’s Product Red iPhone 8 was introduced 6 months after the other colors, and it too sported a black front face. It’s a sharp look. My iPhone SE review unit is white, and I think it looks much nicer than the “silver” iPhone 8, which, to my eyes, plays as off-white on the back panel. Pure white looks better, and Apple nailed it with the iPhone SE.

A silver iPhone 8 and white iPhone SE, faces down.

There’s one more cosmetic improvement: the back panel of the iPhone 8 sported an Apple logo, centered vertically between the volume buttons, and the word “iPhone” at the corresponding position toward the bottom.2 Like its iPhone 11 brethren models, the iPhone SE’s back panel markings have been reduced to the essential minimum: just the Apple logo, perfectly centered. Everyone who is going to put their new SE in a case and never remove it should take a moment to appreciate the purity of this design before they do.

Like the iPhone 5-style 2016 iPhone SE before it, the new iPhone 6-style iPhone SE feels like the canonical ideal of the form factor it embodies.

Performance

Because I recently reviewed the updated iPad Pros, I had it in my mind that the A13 system-on-a-chip isn’t that much faster than the A12. Not true.

I had that erroneous notion in mind because the iPad Pros have the A12Z. Now, it’s definitely the case that the new A12Z chips are only ever-so-slightly improved over the A12X chips in the 2018 iPad Pros?—?CPU performance is identical, and GPU performance is improved only by going from 7 cores to 8. And because the A12X and Z chips in iPad Pros have more CPU cores than the A12 chip in the iPhone XS and XR models, they perform better on benchmarks. In my benchmarks for the new iPad Pro, I was comparing the A13 against A12X/Z in iPad Pros, not the “plain” A12 in the iPhone XS and XR.

When you compare iPhones to iPhones, it’s quite obvious that the A13 is remarkably more performant than the A12. Geekbench 5 results, averaged over a few runs and rounded to account for variability (single- and multi-core benchmarks test the CPU, “compute” tests the GPU):

Chip Single Multi Compute
2020 iPhone SE A13 1,330 3,325 6,370
iPhone 11 Pro A13 1,330 3,340 6,350
iPhone XR A12 1,090 2,425 4,490
iPhone 8 A11 910 2,170 3,420
?
2020 iPad Pro A12Z 1,125 4,690 10,050
2019 16″ MBP i9 1,265 7,275 25,350

So, yes, a $400 iPhone SE bests a $3,000 top-of-the-line MacBook Pro in single-core CPU performance.

Camera

Benchmarks only measure CPU and GPU performance. The biggest improvement from the A12 to the A13 might be the Neural Engine, used for machine learning, which in practice means AR and photography. You can’t put a simple number on it like a benchmark score, but there are tangible features it enables, most noticeably with Portrait Mode photography.

Apple is calling the new SE camera its “best single-imaging system ever”. It has just one rear-facing camera lens and sensor, and that sensor (but not the lens) is apparently the same as that in the iPhone XR.

When Apple’s Portrait Mode first appeared, it required a dual-imaging system?—?either two cameras (on the rear) or a camera and Face ID TrueDepth system (on the front). This makes intuitive sense?—?we all know that our own depth perception is impaired significantly if we close one eye. Doing it with nothing but a single camera lens requires what Apple terms “monocular depth estimation”.

The iPhone XR does monocular depth estimation with its rear camera. The iPhone SE does it with both its rear and front-facing cameras. The results are rather amazing, really. Apple’s built-in Camera app only supports Portrait Mode for human subjects with the iPhone SE (both front and rear)?—?no inanimate objects, and, alas, no pets. The reason why, quite obviously, is that this monocular depth estimation is powered in large part, if not entirely, by a machine learning model optimized specifically for human faces. Using the third-party Halide camera app, however, allows you to shoot photos of anything with an accompanying depth map. Halide also allows you to view this depth map. It’s clear to me, but well beyond the scope of this review to examine in detail, that the iPhone SE’s rear-facing camera is capable of much more accurate depth maps than the iPhone XR’s. Since they’re both single-imaging systems and the same (or very similar) sensors, the SE’s superior depth mapping can only be attributed to the A13’s much more powerful neural engine.

I find this even more impressive with the SE’s front-facing camera. Self portraits using Portrait Mode’s advanced lighting effects are quite comparable between the SE and the iPhone 11 Pro. Below are side-by-side “Stage Light Mono” examples of yours truly, taken with front-facing cameras on the SE and 11 Pro. In the first two, I was standing next to a window on a sunny day; in the next two, I was in the same sunny room, but away from the windows. No editing was performed on any of the files, other than to use Photos to export HEIC originals as JPEGs, and to rescale the versions embedded below using Retrobatch.

iPhone 11 Pro (original JPEG file):

iPhone SE (original JPEG file):

iPhone 11 Pro (original JPEG file):

iPhone SE (original JPEG file):

I include no comparative examples from the iPhone XR because the iPhone XR doesn’t support any of the background-masking Portrait Mode lighting effects?—?no Stage Light, Stage Light Mono, or High-Key Light Mono.

Update: Whoops, actually the XR does support those effects, but only for the front-facing camera, which has the TrueDepth system.

To my eyes the SE does a very credible job compared to the 11 Pro. You can see the differences most obviously on my shoulders. And remember, the 11 Pro front-facing Portrait Mode is aided by the TrueDepth sensors from the Face ID system. The iPhone SE is doing this with just a single camera and a presumably very advanced machine learning model.3

Experience

Spending a week with the iPhone SE, after two and a half years using an iPhone X, then XS, now 11 Pro, has been, well, a bit frustrating.

A while back, I was talking with someone at Apple who had worked on the iPhone X. The X wasn’t just a fork in the iPhone hardware?—?Face ID instead of Touch ID, OLED instead of LCD, round-cornered edge-to-edge displays instead of sharp-cornered rectangles, etc.?—?but the fact that it didn’t even have a home button at all necessitated a rethinking of the fundamental software interface too.

OK, it wasn’t necessary per se. What Apple could have done, in theory, was replace the hardware home button with a virtual on-screen home button that worked just like the hardware home buttons on previous iPhones. Maybe that’s what they would have done with the iPhone X’s “all screen” design if they couldn’t figure out something better than a home button.

But they did figure out a better design. An all-new fundamental paradigm for the basic operation of using an iPhone: swipe up from the bottom to go home, swipe up more for the multitasking switcher, and animate the user interface as you swipe to make it look and feel like you’re directly manipulating the apps on screen, not indirectly applying gesture shortcuts as though the touchscreen were just a trackpad.

What this source told me is that while developing the iPhone X, members of the team would typically carry two phones with them: a prototype iPhone X they could use, but (of course) not while in the presence of anyone who wasn’t disclosed on the project, and an older iPhone they could use in front of anyone. These team members would spend time, every day, using both phones. They knew they were onto a winning idea with the new interaction design for the iPhone X when they started instinctively using the X-style gestures on the older iPhone, and never vice versa. When a new design is clearly better than an old one, it’s a one-way street mentally.

I believed that then, but I believe it more now after spending the last week with the iPhone SE. I’ve used it exclusively for hours at a stretch and I never stopped expecting it to act like a post-iPhone-X device. I swipe up from the bottom to go home or multitask. I expect it to wake up just by tapping anywhere on the display. I pull down from the top right corner expecting to see Control Center. I can’t stop doing any of these things unless I’m consciously thinking about the fact that I’m using an old-style iPhone. Even if I locked my personal iPhone 11 Pro in a drawer and touched no phone other than the new SE for a week or two, I still wouldn’t shake my iPhone X interaction habits unless I abandoned my iPad Pro too.

Once you get used to the post-iPhone-X interaction model, there’s no going back. A week with the new SE has not shaken my belief that the X-style interaction design is superior. Not one iota.4

But that’s OK. The new iPhone SE is not intended for anyone who has already switched to an iPhone X or later. It’s not a phone for enthusiasts, unless your enthusiasm is for the smallest phone you can get, or if price is a significant concern. The users the SE is targeting are upgrading from an older Touch ID iPhone or an Android phone.

It’s quite remarkable that the $400 iPhone SE significantly outperforms?—?and to a lesser but still noticeable degree, out-photographs?—?the $600 iPhone XR, both of which prices are for 64 GB base models. It’s even more remarkable that you can upgrade all the way to a 256 GB iPhone SE for $550, which is still less than the XR base model. But the XR has one obvious advantage: screen real estate. With the same text size, the XR shows significantly more vertical content:

An iPhone SE next to an iPhone XR, both showing the Settings → Display and Brightness screen.

But no one considering an iPhone SE is unaware of its size. SE buyers are either buying one despite its smaller size or because of it.

The iPhone SE is an excellent value if you’re fine with the smaller display and Touch ID instead of Face ID. It’s an astoundingly good value if you flat-out prefer the smaller form factor and familiar Touch ID experience.5 


  1. The white model of which proved to be surprisingly difficult for Apple to manufacture?—?it didn’t begin shipping until 10 months after the black models. That delay was surprising at the time, but seems downright bananas now. Can you imagine if, say, the midnight green iPhone 11 Pros still weren’t shipping now, and wound up not shipping until this coming July? ????

  2. Long gone are the various regulatory indicia and small-print cruft like model numbers and “Designed by Apple in California / Assembled in China”. Apple moved most of that stuff to software in the Settings app starting with the iPhone 6S. But the first iPhone that didn’t have those regulatory marks on the back was the Verizon iPhone 4, one of my favorite iPhones of all time. What an odd beast that was. It debuted 7 months after the regular iPhone 4, and was an entirely different model because Verizon’s 3G network was CDMA, not GSM. It sported the 4S antenna lines over eight months before the iPhone 4S was unveiled. ????

  3. These Portrait Mode effects all have a live preview in the Camera app, but the live previews are crude approximations. I wonder how many people don’t bother trying these effects because the previews look so rough. Once you snap a portrait using these effects, it takes a brief moment to be processed, and while the end result can still be hit-or-miss, it’s always way better than the live preview would suggest. ???

  4. I must point out here that Touch ID works just fine while wearing a face mask, and Face ID doesn’t work at all. That’s been a consideration for medical professionals and citizens of countries with a culture of face-mask-wearing ever since Apple introduced Face ID with the iPhone X in 2017. Now it’s a consideration for literally billions of us around the world. That’s not enough to even vaguely make me, personally, consider switching to the SE as my personal phone. But your mileage may vary, especially if the nature of your work requires you to wear a face mask all day, not just while out of the house on brief excursions. (But such jobs might also require gloves.) ????

  5. If you’re in that camp, I strongly advise buying an iPhone SE while the getting is good. I would wager, heavily, that this is the last iPhone Apple will ever make with a home button and the old-style user interface. ????


Epic Games Begrudgingly Launches Fortnite on the Google Play Store 

Lucas Matney, writing for TechCrunch:

“Google puts software downloadable outside of Google Play at a disadvantage, through technical and business measures such as scary, repetitive security pop-ups for downloaded and updated software, restrictive manufacturer and carrier agreements and dealings, Google public relations characterizing third party software sources as malware, and new efforts such as Google Play Protect to outright block software obtained outside the Google Play store,” an Epic Games spokesperson said in a statement. “Because of this, we’ve launched Fortnite for Android on the Google Play Store.” […]

“We hope that Google will revise its policies and business dealings in the near future, so that all developers are free to reach and engage in commerce with customers on Android and in the Play Store through open services, including payment services, that can compete on a level playing field,” Epic Game’s statement further read.

Andy Rubin should re-up his 10-year-old tweet on openness, a mantra we don’t hear as much about as we used to from Google. “Open always beats closed”, etc.

Apple’s Standalone Kit to Add Wheels to Mac Pro Costs $700 

Juli Clover, reporting for MacRumors last Wednesday:

Apple today introduced a Mac Pro Wheels kit designed for the Mac Pro, which adds wheels to the machine after purchase. The kit is priced at $699.

When adding wheels to the Mac Pro when making an initial purchase, Apple charges $400, but the standalone kit to be used after purchase is $300 more because the pre-purchase price includes the price of removing the $300 feet.

I don’t know if they’re over-engineered or overpriced, but until this week, I was under the impression that they cost $400 on their own, not $400 after subtracting $300 for the feet. I joked about it at my show at WWDC, when the price still hadn’t been announced, but no matter how great they are, $700 sure seems like a lot of money for four wheels to put on a computer. Even with the niche stature of the Mac Pro, this has to a be a good third-party opportunity.

Federico Viticci on the iPad Magic Keyboard 

Federico Viticci, writing for MacStories:

The Magic Keyboard turns an iPad Pro into a laptop, but it does so in a way that isn’t definitive?—?the transformation can always be reversed by the simple act of pulling the “computing core” away from it. This is also where the Magic Keyboard differs from competing accessories such as the Brydge keyboard: aside from Brydge’s poor trackpad implementation, I always found their design discouraged a constant alternation of roles?—?from laptop to tablet, and vice versa. It could be done, but carefully putting the iPad inside the Brydge’s keyboard clips and pulling it out was a chore. As a result, I found myself leaving the iPad Pro inside the Brydge keyboard at all times and never using it as a tablet. The Magic Keyboard feels like it was designed with the opposite principle in mind: it enables a laptop mode for the iPad, but you can always undo it and return to the iPad’s pure tablet form in two seconds. And when you’re done using the iPad as a tablet, you can just as easily re-align it with the Magic Keyboard (thanks to magnets in the case) and go back to using the physical keyboard and trackpad.

I’ve never owned a Brydge product, but Jason Snell let me use his for a quick kick-the-tires test drive at a keynote event a while back. You can see just by looking at one that they’re (a) pretty clever for Bluetooth iPad-as-laptop accessories, but (b) not as clever as Apple’s Magic Keyboard. Part of that is the Magic Keyboard’s reliance on Apple’s proprietary Smart Connector instead of Bluetooth. I’ve been using desktop Bluetooth keyboards with my iPads for years, and it adds a slight inconvenience whenever you walk away from the keyboard with the iPad in tow, but remain within Bluetooth range of the keyboard?—?you need to toggle Bluetooth off/on to get the iPad to switch to its on-screen keyboard. Not a huge deal, for sure. But however minor a chore, it’s still a chore?—?every single time you take the iPad away from the keyboard.

The other difference is Brydge’s use of clip connectors compared to the Magic Keyboard’s reliance solely upon magnets. You might think, Well, of course Apple has pulled off an accessory that makes better use of the magnets in the iPad Pro?—?they designed the iPad Pro. Apple’s peripherals can be designed while the products they pair with are being designed. But the 2018 iPad Pros have the exact same magnets. As I reported in my review, the 2018 iPad Pros connect to the Magic Keyboard every bit as securely as the new 2020 models. Third-party accessory makers have had one and a half years to make an iPad Pro keyboard case that magnetically snaps into place like the Magic Keyboard. I know that the Smart Connector requires a licensing deal with Apple, but there has been nothing in the way to stop a Bluetooth iPad-as-laptop keyboard accessory from being as magnetically and structurally clever as the Magic Keyboard.

Apple has a first-party advantage, for sure, but they’re also really good at designing accessories.

What Is the Market for Smaller Than 4.7-Inch Phones? 

Samuel Axon, writing at Ars Technica:

All that is to say that while some smartphone buyers might say they want a small smartphone, a big chunk of those who say that might change their tune when told that means worse battery life and poorer-quality photos.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that, though. The way Apple’s iPhone lineup has shaken out over the years, device size has correlated to camera quality to some degree. Maybe better said as camera capabilities, rather than quality?—?recall that in the 6/6S/7/8 era, the Plus-sized models had additional lenses and image stabilization features the non-Plus models lacked. And battery life?—?I think that argument is off base. Yes, bigger phones have bigger batteries, but they also have bigger displays and the display is the biggest consumer of energy. On the iPhone side of the fence at least, smaller phones have not had worse battery life.

Companies like Apple do market research and adapt their product lineups accordingly. This isn’t something former CEO Steve Jobs was known for, but Apple’s current lineup seems to suggest Tim Cook is not so averse to that approach to product development. And market research is probably telling smartphone makers that the great majority of consumers want big phones?—?either because they want big screens, or because other desires like longer battery life are easier to deliver in larger devices.

There is surely still a niche audience for small phones, though, and it’s not being served very well. Part of that may be because supply lines can only produce so many components in a given time frame, and it may make sense in many cases for Apple and its partners to focus those supply lines on products that have the widest possible appeal.

This is a profound misunderstanding of Jobs-era Apple decision making, or at the very least a conflation of market research (what people are buying) and focus group research (asking people what they think they want to buy). Jobs was famously averse to focus group testing, but I don’t think that’s changed. Focus groups would not have told Apple to remove the home button and Touch ID. Focus groups would have thrown chairs at the two-way glass if asked about removing headphone jacks.

But Apple has always done fanatically detailed market research. They don’t talk about it because by any company’s standards for trade secrecy, market research is a trade secret, and Apple is, we all know, more secretive than most companies. I think what makes truly small phones?—?let’s say iPhone 5S-sized phones?—?hard to gauge the demand for is that no one has even tried making a good one since the original iPhone SE 4 years ago.

COVID-19 Pandemic Euphemism of the Day: ‘An Unapproved Manner’ 

The Philadelphia Inquirer:

The horror of the coronavirus pandemic took an especially macabre turn on Sunday afternoon when a Ford pickup truck pulled up behind the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office with five or six bagged bodies stacked in its open cargo bed.

The driver got out, spoke briefly to a medical examiner’s employee who seemed unnerved by the delivery, and then climbed onto the cargo bed, walking on bodies that initially had been covered by mats, according to an Inquirer photographer who was working near the site in University City. He pulled the bodies by their feet to the edge of the truck bed. The remains were offloaded one at a time onto gurneys and wheeled up a ramp into a refrigerated trailer. The unidentified driver wore torn jeans, a blue jacket, and a dark blue cap.

The Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed that a transfer of human remains from a local hospital had arrived in “an unapproved manner.”

This is one where the pictures tell more than a thousand words. Horrific. These aren’t bad people. No one wants to see dead bodies piled in the back of a pickup like bags of sand. This is the result of a system that is overwhelmed by the pandemic’s death toll.


The iPad Magic Keyboard

Greatly anticipating its arrival, I unboxed the iPad Pro Magic Keyboard as soon as it appeared at my door, and before I even attached my iPad Pro, I was put off. It felt too stiff to open. Then I did attach my iPad Pro (immediate thought: “Man, these magnets are strong”), closed and opened the iPad-as-laptop configuration a few times, and formed a crushingly disappointing first impression. I didn’t like it.

The hinge was way stiffer than I expected. I mean like “What the hell is going on here?” stiff, “Is there some sort of packaging attached that I neglected to remove?” stiff?—?which, needless to say, was not what I was expecting at all. And I knew the iPad-as-laptop was going to be top-heavy, but not this top-heavy. But where I say expecting I really mean hoping for. What I was hoping for was something approximating the feel and experience of a MacBook?—?a little more top heavy, a little stiffer at the hinge to accommodate that extra top-heaviness?—?but basically I wanted an iPad-as-laptop that feels like a MacBook Air.

It doesn’t feel like that at all. Not even close. Totally different. Going in with a set of expectations even loosely based on a hope like mine?—?for something that feels even vaguely MacBook-y?—?is like expecting a sip of piping hot coffee and it turns out your mug is filled with cold water. You instinctively reject it.

But water isn’t bad. Water, of course, is actually great.1 You just need to be expecting it.

Same with the iPad Magic Keyboard. Once I let go of my preconceptions, I fell in love. This took all of 15 minutes. I went from that “I don’t like the way this thing feels at all” first impression to “I can’t wait to start raving about how great this thing is” in 15 minutes. The iPad Magic Keyboard is to iPad-as-laptop accessories what AirPods were to earbuds: a game changer.

Physicality: Hinges and Magnets

Here’s why an iPad Magic Keyboard feels nothing like a MacBook: because it’s not actually magic. I mean that. It’s clever in several ways, but it cannot defy the laws of physics. An iPad Pro is so much heavier than a MacBook top case that of course the Magic Keyboard hinge system has to be not just a little stiffer than a MacBook hinge, but way stiffer. Your first impression, like mine, is likely to be off-base just because it’s so different. But once you start using it, just for a few minutes, you can feel why it has to be so different. It’s just an entirely different allocation of weight and center of gravity, by necessity.

You know how with a regular laptop, when you want to open it, you just set it down where you want it, closed, and you open the lid just by lifting it with one of your thumbs? Yeah, you cannot do that with this. Opening the iPad Magic Keyboard is a two-handed operation. Part of this is that the combination of the magnets and stiff primary hinge forms a strong seal. But mainly it’s because the iPad with Magic Keyboard is so top-heavy.

Illustrative Exercise: Turn a MacBook Air upside down and try opening it one-handed. Even if you give yourself a little bit of an opening to break the initial magnetic seal, you can’t really open an upside down MacBook one-handed because as you try to raise the heavy part (which is now on top), the bottom part rises with it, because the hinge is stiffer than the bottom (the display half) is heavy.2 But that’s the weight distribution of the iPad with Magic Keyboard right-side up. One-handed opening of a laptop is predicated on the base being not just heavier, but significantly heavier, than the top.

Apple’s iPad Smart Keyboards are top-heavy too, but you can open them one-handed because the Smart Keyboard hinges have no tension at all. The Smart Keyboard “hinges” are just floppy strips of silicone (or fluoroelastomer or whatever that rubbery material is), so you can set an iPad with Smart Keyboard on its spine, pry it apart with your thumb, and let the keyboard flop to the table surface. Gravity won’t help you like that with the Magic Keyboard because the hinge has so much resistance. Closed, the Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard look a lot like. But they don’t work alike mechanically at all?—?the Magic Keyboard main hinge has a lot of tension and the Smart Keyboard “hinge” has no tension at all. If you really do find yourself needing to open the iPad Magic Keyboard one-handed, it can be done with some contortions, but practically speaking it’s like opening a jar?—?there’s no way to do it one-handed that’s more convenient than two-handed.3

Another thing to understand about the iPad Magic Keyboard is that it has two hinges, which serve entirely different purposes. The main hinge is the metallic (aluminum, I presume) cylinder connecting the top and bottom panels. The secondary hinge is the crease in the top panel. The main hinge only has two positions: open and closed. When you open the iPad Magic Keyboard and the main hinge gets to its fully open position, it firmly snaps into place. At this point, with the iPad itself still flush against the entire top panel, the iPad is more closed than open?—?it’s not yet a usable viewing angle. You then need to exert a bit of additional force to magnetically separate the bottom of the iPad display from the bottom fold of the top panel?—?once separated, you’re now adjusting the secondary hinge, which is how you adjust the viewing angle. This secondary hinge has a bit more tension than a regular laptop, but not much. To tilt the viewing angle further back, you’ll want to keep a counterweight?—?your other hand, generally?—?on the palm rest area of the keyboard panel. Otherwise, instead of tilting the display back, the keyboard will lift off the table.

So yes, both hinges are quite stiff. But this is good. They need to be stiff because the iPad is?—?relative to a normal laptop top panel?—?quite heavy. The stiffness of these hinges means that when you adjust the viewing angle just so, to the exact angle you want, the entire unit stays in that position even as you detach and reattach the iPad. Snap the iPad off, snap it back on, and it will be at the exact same viewing angle. The primary hinge snaps into place and stays there; the secondary hinge is not something you merely fold open but rather something you bend into position. But because it has such tension you can bend it to the exact angle you want and it will stay there. It’s reminiscent of using a GorillaPod tripod. This is good.

With the Smart Keyboards, you can fold the keyboard all the way around to the back, like you would with a regular non-keyboard iPad cover. (The iPad is smart enough to ignore key presses when a Smart Keyboard is folded back like this.) The Magic Keyboard doesn’t even come close to this. Look at any of Apple’s marketing photos for the Magic Keyboard?—?they all show the main hinge at its fully-open position, which is a decidedly acute angle. That’s as far back as it goes. That’s not clear just from looking at it, but when you feel it, it makes sense immediately.

The Smart Keyboards are iPad covers you can type on. The Magic Keyboard is a portable keyboard stand, not a cover?—?when you want to use your iPad as a tablet, not a laptop, you must detach it.

Apple advertises the iPad Magic Keyboard as supporting viewing angles from 90 to 130 degrees. Using a simple protractor (hooray for having a high-schooler in the house), fully open, it appears to be exactly 130 degrees. It feels like it should open at least a little bit more, but that’s wishful thinking. At 130 degrees the iPad Magic Keyboard is not tippy at all; if it opened even a little further, it would be.

For comparison, a new MacBook Air opens to about 135 degrees, and an iPad with Smart Keyboard in the more open of its two positions opens only to 125 degrees. (The Smart Keyboard’s more upright slot = 110 degrees.) 5 degrees doesn’t sound like much, but in practice it is quite noticeable. At their widest viewing angles, the Magic Keyboard feels noticeably more open than the Smart Keyboard, and the MacBook Air feels noticeably more open than the Magic Keyboard.

It’s hard to convey just how strong the iPad Magic Keyboard‘s hinges and magnets are. I know there was a lot of skepticism when Apple’s promotional video introducing the new iPad Pros showed people using the Magic Keyboard on their laps, laying in bed, sitting on a park bench, etc. Wouldn’t that risk tipping over or detaching magnetically or flopping at a hinge? Nope. The hinges are so stiff and magnets so strong that you can pick it up by the keyboard palm rest and give the whole thing a vigorous shake and it not only will remain attached magnetically, the viewing angle will not change. You can turn the whole thing upside down, holding it by the keyboard, and it will not detach. It feels like it can’t possibly separate accidentally. You can use this as a literal laptop with utter confidence.

The Magic Keyboard’s magnets are much stronger than those of the Smart Keyboard?—?I would never try to hold an iPad in a Smart Keyboard upside down or give it a shake while open. The iPad Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard look quite similar and serve the same general purpose, but in practice they are as different as a surgical scalpel is from a butter knife.

Regarding compatibility with 2018 iPad Pros, there seems to be no difference at all. I’ve been testing a 12.9-inch Magic Keyboard with my 2020 iPad Pro review unit, but I also attached my wife’s 12.9-inch 2018 iPad Pro. Magnetically and functionally, I could detect no difference.

Apple erred on the side of making the hinges and magnets too strong, not too weak, and once you grok that it’s a folding stand, not a folding cover, it is obvious that this is the correct design.

Weight

Again, I’ve been using a 12.9-inch Magic Keyboard review unit. I’ve ordered an 11-inch model for my personal 2018 iPad Pro, but I don’t yet have one to test, so the weight for the 11-inch model below is speculative. But given how accurate Dr. Drang’s speculation was for the weight of the 12.9-inch model ?—?a mere 3 percent low, according to my scale?—?it’s safe to assume it’s close enough. Update 22 April 2020: My 11-inch Magic Keyboard arrived today, and it’s actually quite a bit heavier than Drang’s guesstimate (actual: 597g, guess: 483g). I’ve updated the table below accordingly.

Weight (kg) Δ vs. 13″ MBA
12″ MacBook (2017) 0.92 72%
11″ MacBook Air (2015) 1.08 84%
13″ MacBook Air (2020) 1.28
 
11″ iPad Pro (naked) 0.47 37%
11″ iPad Pro (w/ Smart Kbd) 0.77 60%
11″ iPad Pro (w/ Magic Kbd) 1.07 84%
 
13″ iPad Pro (naked) 0.64 50%
13″ iPad Pro (w/ Smart Kbd) 1.06 83%
13″ iPad Pro (w/ Magic Kbd) 1.35 105%

Comparing laptop to laptop, a 12.9-inch iPad with a Smart Cover is 15 percent lighter than a 13-inch MacBook Air. With a Magic Keyboard, it’s about 8 percent heavier. That seems like a win?—?if you choose to carry a 12.9-inch iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard instead of a MacBook Air as your 13-inch-ish laptop device, you don’t pay any practical price in weight for it being a convertible.

The real win, in terms of weight, is the 11-inch configuration. Now that the 12-inch MacBook is discontinued (joining the late great 11-inch Air in the retirement home for ultra-lightweight Mac notebooks), Apple doesn’t make a Mac laptop in this size/weight class.

Keyboard and Trackpad

The keyboard is excellent. The keys have an outstanding feel and sound. It’s not exactly the same as the MacBook Air keyboard?—?the key caps are more rounded at the corners, and there’s just a slightly different feel and sound to it. But they definitely feel similar enough to justify sharing the “Magic Keyboard” name. If anything, I like typing on the iPad Magic Keyboard more than typing on the 16-inch MacBook Pro or 13-inch MacBook Air?—?the keys either have slightly more travel or they just feel like they do to me?—?but all three are so fundamentally similar that the differences come down to nitpicking. Apple’s portable keyboard game is back.

Backlighting is excellent. You can adjust the brightness in Settings → General → Keyboard → Hardware Keyboard, but the default is perfect for my taste. There’s a wee bit of light leakage around the outside of the keys, but it’s so subtle and looks so nice that I suspect it might be deliberate, and if not deliberate, it’s a Bob Ross-esque happy little accident. In the dark, it just subtly outlines the shape of the keys.

As on Apple’s Smart Keyboards, the iPad Magic Keyboard has no Escape key. If you miss the Escape key, there are a couple workarounds. First, in most situations, ?-period works as a synonym for Escape. This is a standard Mac shortcut that dates back to classic Mac OS decades ago. (In my opinion, any context where ?-period doesn’t work as a synonym for the Escape key ought to be considered a bug.) The other option is to go to Settings → General → Keyboard → Hardware Keyboard, and remap one of the modifier keys to Escape. I suggest either Caps Lock or the Globe key. If you do remap Globe to Escape (which I did), you can still bring up the Emoji keyboard with the system-wide Control-Space shortcut?—?a good shortcut to remember if you use any third-party keyboard that doesn’t have a built-in Globe key.

I went back to the Smart Keyboard cover to type just this single paragraph. It’s like comparing a meal at your favorite restaurant to a meal on an airplane. iPad Smart Keyboards are dead to me.

There are no F-keys (nor, obviously, a Touch Bar). I think this is partly philosophical, in that Apple intends iPad keyboards for typing only, not for controlling stuff in the system like display brightness or audio volume. But also this is practical?—?there’s really no room for a row of F-keys. The iPad doesn’t really “float” the way Apple’s exquisite product photography or new ad campaign suggests.4 In practice you barely notice that the bottom of the iPad is suspended at all, and where it is suspended actually overhangs the top of the number key row when fully open to the 130 degree viewing angle. You could reach a hypothetical row of F-keys if they were there, but it’d be like reaching into a slot to get to them. Awkward.

While the keyboard is very comparable in size and feel to that of the MacBook Air, the trackpad is entirely different. The MacBook Air trackpad is about 120 x 80 mm. The 12.9-inch Magic Keyboard trackpad is just 100 x 50 mm?—?by area it’s just a hair over half the size. (The 16-inch MacBook Pro keyboard is the size of a small studio apartment in comparison?—?160 x 100 mm?—?as tall as the iPad Magic Keyboard trackpad is wide and over 3× the area.)

This small trackpad takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s fine. I increased the speed of the pointer to the fastest setting,5 which helps.

One basic task that wasn’t obvious to me, and I’ll admit took me surprisingly long to figure out on my own, is how you show the Dock: you swipe down with one finger past the bottom of the screen. If I had read Apple’s instructions rather than stubbornly insisting upon figuring it out myself, I’d have saved a good five minutes.

Tracking precision and multi-finger gestures are excellent. Mac users will feel right at home.

A significant difference, though, is that the trackpad is not “magic”?—?it is a physically-clicking button, not an inert piece of glass with haptics to simulate clicks. It clicks for real. It feels great, and it’s equally clicky at the top and bottom, unlike older MacBook trackpads which had a diving-board-like mechanism that made them far clickier at the bottom than at the top. The only downside to this trackpad is that it’s pretty loud when it clicks?—?way louder than any MacBook trackpad or a standalone Magic Trackpad.

Miscellany

This is a great-looking keyboard. The key caps and trackpad are black; the surrounding area is near-black. I wish the dark MacBooks were this dark instead of “space gray”, which is just slightly darker than regular aluminum. If you’re going to go dark, go dark.

When you charge the iPad through the Smart Connector (by plugging your charging cable into the Magic Keyboard), it charges slowly: about 0.4 percent per minute, 25 percent per hour. If you want to charge your iPad quickly, plug the cable into the iPad. Charging via the Smart Connector is the iPad equivalent of using an inductive Qi charger with an iPhone?—?convenient but slow. [Update: Take this whole paragraph with a large grain of salt for the moment?—?my charging-over-Smart-Connector-is-slow numbers don’t match what others have been reporting, so I’m retesting. Stand by for updated numbers, but the good news is I think charging via the Smart Connector isn’t slow.]

The Bottom Line

At $350 for the 12.9-inch model and $300 for the 11-inch, the iPad Magic Keyboard is not cheap, but it feels like a premium product. I think it unlikely we’ll find a peripheral with comparable quality at a lower price.

As per my usual habit when reviewing iPads and iPad peripherals, I wrote this entire review using the Magic Keyboard. In the past, this has felt like a chore. The lack of trackpad support for precision editing felt like trying to write with a pen while wearing mittens. Now it’s an outright pleasure?—?a combination I might choose for long-form writing simply because it’s great.

As a physical contraption the iPad Magic Keyboard is utterly brilliant. As a practical device for work, it feels seamlessly natural. The combination of excellent hardware?—?truly exquisite, from the hinges and magnets to the keyboard and trackpad themselves?—?and outstanding pointer and gesture support in iPadOS 13.4 make it hard to believe we haven’t been able to convert an iPad into a great laptop for years. This is an altogether new experience with an iPad, but it’s so natural it feels longstanding. 


  1. As longtime DF followers well know, this is even more true if the water is preposterously, bordering on dangerously, over-carbonated. Unless of course you’re using the water to fussily brew coffee. ???

  2. When you consider it, it has to be this way?—?a MacBook hinge must be stronger than the display is heavy, otherwise the display wouldn’t stay in position when open. It would droop. ????

  3. You can, of course, close the Magic Keyboard one-handed, no problem, because you’re exerting force against the resistance of the desk?/?table?/?lap it’s sitting upon. ????

  4. Apple’s new commercial, promoting the iPad Magic Keyboard specifically, is particularly problematic in this regard. The ad is titled “Float”, and shows a hummingbird hovering around an iPad Magic Keyboard tilting to and fro, seemingly ever so effortlessly. As I expound upon at great length in this very review, it’s not at all effortless to tilt the display backward?—?an entire swarm of hummingbirds couldn’t do it?—?and this ad is going to set the wrong expectation for how it feels and works. ????

  5. You have to love the explicit homage to Susan Kare’s brilliant 1984 Macintosh Control Panel design with the tortoise and hare icons on the iPad’s new tracking speed slider. The new iPad slider flips the direction of the hare, which at first I objected to on general principle. Kare’s original 1984 Control Panel is quite arguably the single best graphical user interface ever designed. It had no text labels (!), which made it both literally and figuratively iconic. But upon reflection flipping the hare actually makes more sense: it puts slow to fast in one direction. A subtle improvement to a 36-year-old masterpiece of UI design. ????


Jamf Now 

My thanks to Jamf for sponsoring last week at DF. Jamf Now is a simple device management solution designed to help anyone set up, manage, and protect Apple devices?—?from anywhere. Jamf Now lets you easily configure email and Wi-Fi networks, distribute apps to your team, and protect sensitive company data while keeping everyone productive.

Daring Fireball readers can create an account and manage three devices for free. Each additional device starts at just $2 per month. Two bucks!

Together at Home: The Rolling Stones’ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ 

Splendid version of the perfect song for the moment.

We’re Woefully Short of COVID-19 Tests and Using the Few We Have to Test the Wrong People 

Ezekiel J. Emanuel (oncologist, bioethicist, and vice provost of the University of Pennsylvania) and Paul M. Romer (professor of economics at New York University), in a must-read piece for The Atlantic:

Current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention give priority first to hospitalized patients and symptomatic health-care workers, then to high-risk patients, specifically those over 65 and those suffering from other serious health conditions, with COVID-19 symptoms. Under this system, asymptomatic individuals are not tested, even if they had contact with people who tested positive.

This is an enormous mistake. If we want to control the spread of COVID-19, the United States must adopt a new testing policy that prioritizes people who, although asymptomatic, may have the virus and infect many others.

We should target four groups. First, all health-care workers and other first responders who directly interact with many people. Second, workers who maintain our supply chains and crucial infrastructure, including grocery-store workers, police officers, public-transit workers, and sanitation personnel. The next group would be potential “super-spreaders”?—?asymptomatic individuals who could come into contact with many people. This third group would include people in large families and those who must interact with many vulnerable people, such as employees of long-term-care facilities. The fourth group would include all those who are planning to return to the workplace. These are precisely the individuals without symptoms whom the CDC recommends against testing.

We need to vastly increase our testing capacity and invert our who-should-be-tested priorities. This is easily understood, eminently fixable, and should be uncontroversial.

Rt.live?—?New Website From Instagram Co-Founders Tracking the Rate of COVID-19 Transmission by State 

Rt.live:

These are up-to-date values for Rt, a key measure of how fast the virus is growing. It’s the average number of people who become infected by an infectious person. If Rt is above 1.0, the virus will spread quickly. When Rt is below 1.0, the virus will stop spreading.

The “Last Week” and “2 Weeks Ago” buttons clearly illustrate the effectiveness of our collective stay-at-home / stay-apart measures.

See also: This post at TechCrunch by Josh Constine, with backstory on the creation of and thinking behind the site.

Legendary Pitt Eatery ‘The O’ Closes 

Alan Saunders, reporting for Pittsburgh Sports Now:

The Original Hot Dog Shop has closed its doors after nearly 60 years of selling hot dogs, french fries, pizza and more from its location on Forbes Avenue adjacent to Pitt’s campus.

Better known as The O, the hot dog shop was founded by Syd and Moe Simon in June 1960, and over the years became Oakland’s most legendary eatery.

Over the years it had been honored by the likes of Gourmet Magazine, The New York Times and Food Network, and was featured on WQED’s A Hot Dog Program with host Rick Sebak.

Its colorful menu boards, neon signage, low prices and sometimes absurd portions made The O a throwback classic. Open until 2 a.m., The O was a frequent destination for Pitt students after a long night of partying.

“Sometimes absurd portions” is putting it lightly. A “small” order of fries was mountainous; a large to-go order barely fit in an entire brown paper bag. And they were some of the best damn French fries I’ve ever had?—?fresh cut and fried on the spot. Not just good but “Holy shit these fries are amazing” good. The O had everything a college student could want, including a decent-enough pizza?—?a whole pizza?—?for just a handful of bucks. And the service was delightfully curt. God help you if you got to the front of the line and weren’t ready to order.

The O was the canonical ideal of the greasy college spoon, the sort of institution that you can’t imagine not having always been there or ever going away. Devastating news?—?and I was only ever a few-times-a-year visitor from across the state.

‘Capitalists or Cronyists?’ 

Scott Galloway:

However, no more. Modern-day “capitalism” in America is to flatten the risk curve for people who already have money, by borrowing from future generations with debt-fueled bailouts for companies. We have consciously decided to reduce the downside for the wealthy, thereby limiting the upside for future generations.

CNBC guest: Equity holders deserve to get wiped out.

CNBC host: Why does anybody deserve to get wiped out in a crisis like this? This is a natural disaster, why does anybody deserve to get wiped out? Wouldn’t that be immoral in and of itself?

“Immoral,” here we go. Morality for CNBC, and the current administration, is not capitalism but the worst type of socialism, cronyism. Rugged individualism and capitalism on the way up, privatizing the gains?—?and then socialism/cronyism on the way down as we socialize the losses with bailouts.

The analogy has been used enough to border on cliché, but it really is a “heads they win, tails we lose” system. It’s a scam, when you honestly examine it, but as Galloway pointedly observes, it’s become a foundational belief in the Wall Street class.

Take the cruise line industry. They’re getting crushed by this pandemic for obvious reasons, and they very much want to be bailed out by the U.S. government. But why do they deserve it? For tax and regulatory reasons, they don’t even register their ships in the U.S.?—?Carnival Cruise Lines is incorporated in Panama, Norwegian in Bermuda, and Royal Caribbean in Liberia. Bermuda is not part of Norway and, last I checked, Liberia is not in the Caribbean. Not only do these companies want U.S. funded bailouts, they don’t even want to pay U.S. taxes or comply with U.S. laws during normal times.

The thing to remember is that if allowed to fail, the cruise ships won’t sink to the bottom of the ocean. The jobs won’t disappear. The companies will go into bankruptcy, existing shareholder equity will get wiped out, and new ownership will take over. A bailout won’t rescue the industry or the jobs?—?it will rescue the shareholders.

Right-Wing Nuts Turn Against Bill Gates and Anti-Vaxxers Dig In 

Daisuke Wakabayashi, Davey Alba and Marc Tracy, reporting for The New York Times:

In a 2015 speech, Bill Gates warned that the greatest risk to humanity was not nuclear war but an infectious virus that could threaten the lives of millions of people.

That speech has resurfaced in recent weeks with 25 million new views on YouTube?—?but not in the way that Mr. Gates probably intended. Anti-vaccinators, members of the conspiracy group QAnon and right-wing pundits have instead seized on the video as evidence that one of the world’s richest men planned to use a pandemic to wrest control of the global health system.

Mr. Gates, 64, the Microsoft co-founder turned philanthropist, has now become the star of an explosion of conspiracy theories about the coronavirus outbreak. In posts on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, he is being falsely portrayed as the creator of Covid-19, as a profiteer from a virus vaccine, and as part of a dastardly plot to use the illness to cull or surveil the global population.

Those of us on the sane side of the aisle have been angrily frustrated for years by the anti-vaccination nutters and the soap boxes they’ve carved out online and even on TV. It was bad enough when their unfounded anti-science nonsense brought back small outbreaks of measles. There have been real consequences from the anti-vaccine movement to date, but they’ve largely been abstract. Now it’s real?—?there’s an out-of-control pandemic and we’re desperately in need of a vaccine for it.

It seems inevitable that anti-vaxxer bullshit is going to depress the number of people who will get an eventual COVID-19 vaccination, and that is both incredibly frustrating and terrifying.

These are the same type of lunatics who, pre-internet, would yank out their own dental fillings and wrap their heads in aluminum foil to “block“ mind-control radio transmissions sent by The Trilateral Commission. Now they think Bill Gates wants to put population-control “microchips” in vaccines. And they’re going to hurt us all. Social media platforms should treat anti-vaccination rhetoric as a hate crime and ban it. It’s every bit as dangerous as an incitement to violence. You can’t reason with anti-vaxxers any more than you can reason with Nazis. What works is shame?—?shame them.

Fun With Charts: Today’s iPhone Price Spread 

Jason Snell:

Apple’s got a pretty solid spread of prices slots, but that gap between the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro really sticks out. Apple’s prices mean you can make no mistake about which portion of the product line is the cutting-edge, premium, spared-no-expense part.

That is quite a gap, and it jibes with what I’ve been saying ever since the iPhone X launched?—?it’s not that Apple raised the price of high-end iPhones, it’s that Apple added a new premium tier. There’s a continuum in price points among all regular iPhones, from the 64 GB SE to the 256 GB 11. The one and only gap is the $150 that separates the top-of-the-regular-tier 256 GB iPhone 11 ($850) and the bottom-of-the-premium-tier 64 GB iPhone 11 Pro ($1000).

Details on the 2020 iPad Pro Camera and Lidar System 

Sebastiaan de With has a great write-up on the new iPad Pro camera system for the Halide blog. One interesting note: the wide-angle camera (the main rear-facing lens) is most comparable to the iPhone 8’s, not the iPhone XR’s. Even in the Pro models, iPad cameras remain a few years behind the state of the art for iPhones.

De With links to this neat video from iFixit, which uses footage from an infrared camera to illustrate how sparse the iPad Pro lidar sensor’s projected dot grid is compared to the front-facing Face ID sensor on iPhones.

The Guardian: ‘NHS in Standoff With Apple and Google Over Coronavirus Tracing’ 

Alex Hern, writing for The Guardian:

Apple and Google are encouraging health services worldwide to build contact-tracing apps that operate in a decentralised way, allowing individuals to know when they’ve been in contact with an infected person but preventing governments from using that data to build a picture of population movements in aggregate. But the policies, unveiled last week, apply only to apps that don’t result in the creation of a centralised database of contacts. That means that if the NHS goes ahead with its original plans, its app would face severe limitations on its operation.

The app would not work if the phone’s screen was turned off or if an app other than the contact tracer was being used at the same time. It would require the screen to be active all the time, rapidly running down battery life, and would leave users’ personal data at risk if their phone was lost or stolen while the app was in use.

It’s early days on this?—?Apple and Google only announced their joint project a week ago. But what Hern describes above is unfeasible. Any idea that requires an app to be frontmost, with the screen on, is completely and utterly preposterous. That’s so obvious that I don’t even understand how this got printed. Anything that might actually prove effective for using phones for contact tracing must run in the background as an operating system service, and that means Apple and Google are in charge.

Whether that’s the way it should be?—?ethically, democratically, scientifically?—?is up for debate. But that’s the way it is, so it’s pointless to act otherwise.

Apple Changes Default MacBook Charging Behavior to Improve Battery Health 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

The way MacBook batteries charge is about to change. Apple has released a new developer preview of macOS Catalina 10.15.5, and as these releases often do, it contains a new feature: Battery Health Management. […]

The feature works by analyzing the temperature of the battery over time, as well as the charging pattern the laptop has experienced — in other words, does the laptop frequently get drained most of the way and then recharged fully, or is it mostly kept full and plugged in? In the latter case, Battery Health Management is more likely to stop a bit short of full capacity in order to extend the battery’s long-term lifespan. (All charging data is kept private on the MacBook unless the Mac has been opted in to share anonymous analytics data with Apple.)

This sounds like a nice little feature, and very simple from a user’s perspective. It’s just one checkbox, on by default. And I think Snell is right that Apple is getting out in front of this, having learned from the controversy over iPhone battery throttling. To be clear, this is not the same feature at all?—?there’s no performance throttling involved here, and it’s not about dealing with a battery that is no longer in peak condition. It’s about tweaking the charge pattern to keep the battery in peak condition longer. But if Apple had sprung this feature unannounced, it might have engendered a similar controversy.

But, on the other hand, there’s no conspiracy theory floating about that Apple is purposely undercharging MacBooks to trick people into buying new ones; whereas there has long been a widely-held but misbegotten theory that Apple purposely “slows down” old iPhones to trick people into buying new ones. Apple’s iPhone battery throttling, though well-intentioned?—?the point was to slow down iPhones with old batteries to keep them running at all?—?was like tossing gas on a fire.


The Quadrennial iPhone SE Schedule

The answer: Leap years, the summer Olympics, U.S. presidential elections.

The question: What are things that occur every fourth year?

Add to that hypothetical Jeopardy answer another item: new iPhone SE models.1

Apple’s SE strategy is commonly misunderstood, in two different ways. The first misunderstanding is that the SE concept was specific to the 4-inch-display iPhone 5?/?5S form factor. This is understandable, because I know there is a contingent of people who prefer that size and weight. If you don’t like the size (and weight!?—?but I’ll stop mentioning weight alongside size, even though the difference in weight is at least as noticeable, if not more so, as the difference in volume between the 4-inch iPhones (5, 5S, 5C, 2016 SE) and the 4.7-inch models (6, 6S, 7, 8, 2020 SE) so for the sake of brevity I’ll just use “size” henceforth to talk about both volume and weight) of the larger-than-4-inch iPhones, well, the original iPhone SE was your jam. I get it. I didn’t go with the SE as my personal carry in 2016, but I was tempted, and enamored as soon as I got my hands on my review unit. No camera bump! It stood up!

I opened my review of the 2016 SE with this quote:

Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.” —Obi-Wan Kenobi

And that about sums it up. We’ve had size choices ever since the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in 2014. But those choices have always felt like a choice between big and bigger, not between small and big. And it’s not just about how it feels in your hand, or how it fits in your pocket or purse.2 There’s a philosophical aspect to it, which was evident even back in 2016, when the 4.7-inch size still felt “big”, and it’s why that Obi Wan quote still feels so apt. It’s about the role our phones play in our lives?—?how big a chunk of our attention they consume, how big a space they occupy in our minds. We are all cognizant of how ever-present phones now are in our lives. Cutting back on the time we spend staring at, poking, and swiping them?—?paying more attention to the world and to the people around us rather than the content on our phones?—?is something most of us try to be mindful of. Both iOS and Android have added OS features to help us track and manage that time.

The fact that our collective concern about the time we spend on our phones has grown alongside the physical size of our phones is not a coincidence. The 4-inch 2016 iPhone SE felt like a statement in that regard, whether intended by Apple or not. To finish abusing my Star Wars analogy, with the iPhone 6 and its successors, it’s as though we’re debating only how big a blaster we want to carry, not whether to carry a blaster in the first place. The 4-inch 2016 iPhone SE felt not just smaller but different in purpose.

But that’s not what the 2016 iPhone SE was about, from Apple’s strategic standpoint. Maybe it should have been. For all of you who were holding out hope that the rumor mill was wrong and the new SE would be the size of the old one, I feel for you. But it is what it is, and the SE never really was about being tiny.

Which brings us to the second way people seem to be misunderstanding the new iPhone SE: as some sort of repudiation of the post-iPhone-X era of iPhones?—?the larger-than-ever sizes, the higher prices, the no-Home-button interface, the large multi-lens camera arrays and corresponding protruding bumps, Face ID in place of Touch ID. It’s certainly true that the new SE stands as the antithesis to all those things. But its existence is in no way a repudiation of anything about the post-iPhone-X era. What I mean by this is that there’s nothing new strategically about this SE in 2020?—?it’s a nearly exact replay of the original SE strategy from 2016, before the iPhone X era began.

Officially?—?and for the most part, unofficially?—?Apple generally does not explain what the letters in iPhone names stand for. When Phil Schiller unveiled the 3GS?—?the successor to the 3G?—?at WWDC 2009, he said on stage that “the S simply stands for ‘speed’”. On stage at AllThingsD in 2012, Tim Cook said, “If you keep the same industrial design, as in the case of the 4S, some people might say it stands for ‘Siri’ or ‘speed’. We were thinking of ‘Siri’ when we did it.” They haven’t publicly explained a letter in a numbered iPhone name since. The S in 5S, 6S, and XS perhaps stood for “speed” too?—?each of those iPhones was, of course, faster than its no-S predecessor?—?but Apple never made that official. The C in 5C seemingly stood for “color”, but that was never stated. And the R in XR?—?that’s just a letter that sounds cool, as well as coming just before S alphabetically, reflecting the XR’s relative position to the XS technically. These letters have been a feel of it thing more than a think of it thing.

Regarding the original iPhone SE, though, Schiller told Jason Cipriani, then writing at Fortune, that SE stood for “special edition”:3

Shortly after Apple announced the iPhone SE, I had the chance to ask Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, the meaning of “SE” in the phone’s name, which deviates slightly from its previous “S” format. SE is an abbreviation for “Special Edition,” Schiller said, a name that, to him, recalled the Macintosh SE, a computer the company released in the late 1980s.

The nostalgia is well placed. The iPhone SE is virtually indistinguishable from an iPhone 5 but for a slight change in the chamfered edges of the device, which now have a matte finish.

I like “special edition”. It fits on its own, and does hark back to the Macintosh SE: updated internals in a familiar form factor.

But there was only one Macintosh SE?—?its successor, sort of, was the SE/30, the greatest Mac ever made. Now we have a second iPhone SE?—?the first time Apple has reused an old name for a new iPhone. What makes “special edition” apt for the two iPhones bearing the SE name is the way they differ, strategically, from regular edition iPhones.

Regular edition iPhones are numbered. Yes, that’s not quite true of the primordial models. The 2007 original iPhone was just “iPhone”, and the “3G” in the second and third models stood for the cellular networking technology. But starting with the iPhone 4, regular edition iPhones have all been numbered. Higher-numbered iPhones both look new on the outside and offer improved technology on the inside.

The iPhone SE’s are special editions because they fall outside this continuum. They look like phones from several years prior, and some of their technology is several years old as well. But other aspects of their technology are state of the art (e.g. chip systems) or nearly so (cameras).

Here’s the SE pattern, aspects applicable both to the 2016 and 2020 models:

  • They appear exactly mid-cycle between regular editions. Regular edition iPhones (starting with the 4S in 2011) appear in September or early October; the SEs appear in March (2016) or April (this year). And it seems safe to assume that if not for COVID-19 disruptions to Apple’s supply chain, this year’s SE would have appeared in March as well.

  • The original SE appeared 2.5 years after its lookalike predecessor, the iPhone 5S. The new SE appeared 2.5 years after its lookalike predecessor, the iPhone 8. That is to say, SE form factors have appeared 2.5 years after last appearing in a regular edition new iPhone.

  • The original SE was equipped with the then-state-of-the-art A9 system-on-a-chip, same as the then-six-month-old iPhone 6S. The new SE is equipped with the A13, same as the now-six-month-old iPhone 11 models.

  • Improved cameras compared to the previous model with the same form factor. The iPhone 5S had an 8-megapixel main camera, as did the iPhone 6. The 2016 iPhone SE bettered the 5S with a 12-megapixel camera, matching the then-new 6S. The new SE betters the iPhone 8 with a main camera that is physically?—?sensor and lens?—?equivalent to that of the iPhone XR. But in practice the SE is more capable than the XR as a camera system because of the A13 imaging pipeline (compared to the XR’s A12). This is evident from the fact that the new SE supports Portrait mode features the XR does not?—?the background-masking “stage light” and “high-key light” effects.

  • Low prices: Both the 2016 and 2020 SE models started at $400. But the entry-level 2016 had a stingy 16 GB of storage (remember that?) and upgrading to 64 GB moved the price to $500. The new $400 SE base model has a reasonable 64 GB of storage, and upgrading to 128 or 256 GB costs $450 or $550, respectively. The 2016 SE was a good value; the 2020 SE seems even better.

  • Each is the final version of a popular form factor, designed to remain in the lineup for years to come. The 2016 SE was Apple’s last 4-inch iPhone. I expect this new SE to be the last 4.7-inch model, and thus also the last with a Touch ID Home button and the pre-iPhone-X user interface.

  • They introduce nothing new?—?no design aspects, no technology, no colors even?—?that we haven’t seen before.

Like a fool, during the rumor churn I thought Apple would name this the iPhone 9. But looking at the specs, that would make little sense. 9 would imply less than 10 (X in iPhone nomenclature), and even more so less than 11. But with the A13 SoC the new SE is the performance peer of the iPhone 11 and superior to all of the iPhones X?/?XR?/?XS. The new SE has but a single main camera lens, but thanks to the A13 imaging pipeline and neural engine, it should prove at least slightly superior to the single-camera XR. To call it the iPhone 9 would befit its industrial design, but not its place in the tech-specs pecking order.

Numbers?—?including that damned Roman numeral X?—?are for regular edition annual iPhones. SE’s are irregular editions, and, to date at least, appear to be on a quadrennial cycle. I don’t know if there will be a third SE, but if there is, I’d expect to see it in four years.

Regular edition iPhones are on one-year cycles. One year after debuting, they either stay in the lineup at a lower spot in the price range, or they disappear from Apple’s lineup entirely. For example, 2018’s XS and XS Max disappeared after a year, replaced by the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max. 2018’s XR, however, was replaced by the no-adjective 11 but remains in the current lineup at a reduced price point.

Part of what makes the SE editions different is that they’re not on that sort of schedule. The 2016 SE debuted as the lowest-price model in the lineup at $400?—?and then stayed there, completely unchanged, for years. I expect the new iPhone SE to remain in the lineup, unchanged in specs and price, for years to come.


There are three iPhones worth comparing the new SE against.

Compared to the old iPhone SE, the new SE is quite a bit bigger, but also fully four years faster and equipped with a vastly better camera. The only reason to mourn the old SE is size, if you feel that smaller is better.

Compared to the iPhone 8, the new SE looks largely identical, but it’s faster, has a better camera, and costs less. There is absolutely zero reason for the iPhone 8 to hang around.

Compared to the iPhone XR, well, this is interesting:

64 GB 128 GB 256 GB
iPhone XR $600 $650
iPhone SE $400 $450 $550

On the outside, the XR looks new and the SE looks old. The XR has a much bigger display (6.1 vs. 4.7 inches), the modern “all display” no-chin-no-forehead curved-corner look, and Face ID instead of Touch ID. The XR is obviously a post-iPhone-X design; the new SE is just as obviously a pre-iPhone-X design.

On the inside, though, the new SE has an A13 and the XR has the A12. The SE is a faster computer. And (as mentioned above), although they have the same camera hardware, the improved imaging pipeline of the A13 should make the new SE an at least slightly better camera?—?and at the very least the XR’s equal.

But GB for GB, the new SE costs $200 less than the equivalent XR. And the SE is offered in a 256 GB configuration that is no longer available for the XR (and when it was available, when the XR was new, cost $900)?—?and that $550 256 GB model is still $50 less than the 64 GB base model XR.

It is essential here to note that everything the XR has going for it compared to the SE?—?its post-iPhone-X design, both in hardware and software?—?is a con, not a pro, for the segment of the audience that values familiarity over novelty, that is suspicious of rather than intrigued by change. For some iPhone users?—?many of them, let’s just say it, older and/or less technically savvy?—?a brand-new iPhone SE that looks, feels, and works (again, hardware and software) just like their old ready-to-be-replaced iPhone 6 or 6S is music to their ears. These are people who might choose the new SE over the XR even if they cost the same amount, but the SE actually costs $200 less.

Assuming Apple’s 2020 regular edition iPhones launch on the usual schedule?—?and it feels unwise to presume anything this year?—?this will make more sense in six months. My guess is that the iPhone XR will then disappear from Apple’s official lineup,4 and the iPhone 11 will move down into the $600 spot in the lineup (replaced at the $700 spot by the iPhone “12” or “11S” or whatever they’re going to call this year’s new regular edition).

When that happens, the new SE should remain a very good value. At the moment, however, it’s an extraordinary value. 


  1. And yes, I know that leap years aren’t every four years?—?there is an exception for years divisible by 100, and an exception to that rule for years divisible by 400. ↩︎

  2. To that point though?—?and I swear to you I am not making this up?—?I dug out and charged up my old iPhone 5S today, just to feel the size and weight of a 4-inch class iPhone again, and just now, right before writing this footnote, spent five minutes combing the house for where I’d left it, because it wasn’t here at my desk. Turns out it was in my left pants pocket, with my wallet and money clip. I’d forgotten I’d tucked it there and didn’t notice the difference from the normal heft of my wallet (which is decidedly minimal) and money clip alone. No shit. ↩︎?

  3. Fortune sort of has the article behind a paywall, but the text can be selected and copied from behind the paywall banner intended to obscure all but the opening paragraph. I’d like to think this is purposely porous as a courtesy, but it’s probably just slipshod work. Update: Turns out my ability to select and copy the ostensibly paywalled text was the result of neither benevolence nor ineptitude (per se) on Fortune’s part?—?it’s in fact the result of my use of Jeff Johnson’s excellent StopTheMadness browser extension↩︎?

  4. But, as with other old iPhones, the XR will almost certainly still be sold through “channel partners” like carrier stores and resellers such as Best Buy. Apple keeps a tight lineup in its own stores and website, but if you look at carrier offerings, pretty much every iPhone from the last four years is still available new. AT&T has a 32 GB original SE for $350; Verizon has the iPhone 7 starting at $350 and 7 Plus at $450. The XS and XS Max are everywhere. ↩︎?


Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro Now Orderable, Delivering ‘April 24–May 1’ 

Big morning: in addition to the new iPhone SE, Apple is now taking orders for the iPad Pro Magic Keyboard. Delivery dates (as I type) are in late April, well ahead of Apple’s originally-promised “May” date.

Drone Footage of Philadelphia During The Quarantine 

Some serious 12 Monkeys vibes here.

The Talk Show: ‘Everybody Is an Expert’ 

Joanna Stern returns to the show to talk about working from home, the utter suckitude of laptop webcams, the new MacBook Air, and Face ID in our new world of face-mask-wearing.

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The Stockdale Paradox 

Jim Collins, quoting a conversation with Admiral Jim Stockdale, who spent seven years in a North Vietnamese prison:

He said, “Well, you have to understand, it was never depressing. Because despite all those circumstances, I never ever wavered in my absolute faith that not only would I prevail?—?get out of this — but I would also prevail by turning it into the defining event of my life that would make me a stronger and better person. Not only that, Jim, you realize I’m the lucky one.”

I said, “No, I don’t.”

He said, “Yes, because I know the answer to how I would do, and you never will.”

A little later in the conversation, after I’d absorbed that and said nothing for about five minutes because I was just stunned, I asked him who didn’t make it out of those systemic circumstances as well as he had.

He said, “Oh, it’s easy. I can tell you who didn’t make it out. It was the optimists.”

A lesson for our current moment.

Treasury Will Delay Stimulus Checks to Print Angry Yam’s Name on Them 

Lisa Rein, reporting for The Washington Post:

The Treasury Department has ordered President Trump’s name be printed on stimulus checks the Internal Revenue Service is rushing to send to tens of millions of Americans, a process that is expected to slow their delivery by several days, senior agency officials said. The unprecedented decision, finalized late Monday, means that when recipients open the $1,200 paper checks the IRS is scheduled to begin sending to 70?million Americans in coming days, “President Donald J. Trump” will appear on the left side of the payment.

It will be the first time a president’s signature appears on an IRS disbursement, whether a routine refund or one of the handful of checks the government has issued to taxpayers in recent decades either to stimulate a down economy or share the dividends of a strong one. […]

Trump had privately suggested to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who oversees the IRS, to allow the president to formally sign the checks, according to three administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. But the president is not an authorized signer for legal disbursements by the U.S. Treasury. It is standard practice for a civil servant to sign checks issued by the Treasury Department to ensure that government payments are nonpartisan.

Let’s hurry up and get Trump’s portrait on the $20 bill while we’re at it.


COBOL, Programming, and Coding

Makena Kelly, reporting for The Verge on the important segments of U.S. infrastructure that run on COBOL legacy systems, which have been overwhelmed during the COVID-19 crisis:

Colorado?—?like most states and territories across the country — is experiencing record unemployment numbers. But the state’s unemployment system is built on aging software running on a decades-old coding language known as COBOL. Over the years, COBOL programmers have aged out of the workforce, forcing states to scramble for fluent coders in times of national crisis.

A survey by The Verge found that at least 12 states still use COBOL in some capacity in their unemployment systems. Alaska, Connecticut, California, Iowa, Kansas, and Rhode Island all run on the aging language. According to a spokesperson from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the state was actually only a month or two away from “migrating into a new environment and away from COBOL,” before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

To modern eyes, COBOL syntax is just plain weird. Programmers are famously opinionated about languages, but at a high level, almost all popular modern languages in use today are fundamentally similar. If you know, let’s say, JavaScript, you can pick up Go, Swift, Java, Python, Ruby, Lua, etc. pretty easily. You can at least look at examples from those other languages and follow along. They are, ultimately, all derivatives of C. COBOL, on the other hand, is like something from another universe. It’s a significant investment to get up to speed with the COBOL language, and from the sounds of it, an even deeper investment to get up to speed with these 40-year-old code bases (not merely to make changes?—?but to make changes that don’t result in unintended breakages elsewhere).

As a sidenote, I’m fascinated at how code has, seemingly all of a sudden, eclipsed program in common usage. Until recently, a programmer was one who programmed using a programming language. Now, you typically hear that a coder is one who codes using a coding language. I don’t mind the noun coder or verb coding so much?—?I don’t like them, but I can bear them?—?but the adjective coding language truly grates on my ears. The Art of Computer Coding or The C Coding Language just wouldn’t carry the same literary heft. Programming is a serious endeavor; coding sounds like a lark?—?like the difference between writing and jotting.

There’s also a missing noun form for the output, the product. A programmer can write code to create a program. A coder can write code to create … well, all sorts of stuff?—?scripts, frameworks, plugins, services, bots, and, of course, apps?—?but none of them are rooted in the word code. But we don’t much speak of programs any more, which, I suspect, is partly to blame for the decline in usage of all forms of program.

A bigger factor, I suspect, is generational. Programming sounds old and stodgy; coding sounds young and cool. Today’s usage trend toward coding is in fact the opposite of the ’90s trend toward calling the field software engineering?—?coding sounds informal, guileless, ad hoc; engineering sounds rigorous, regulated, and let’s face it, pretentious.

And, lastly, there’s the explosive growth in demand, which has led to many people doing it who aren’t any good at it. Code is merely a means to an end. Programming is an art and code is merely its medium. Pointing a camera at a subject does not make one a proper photographer. There are a lot of self-described coders out there who couldn’t program their way out of a paper bag. 


Hank Steinbrenner, Co-Chairperson of the Yankees, Dies at 63 

The New York Yankees:

The New York Yankees mourn the passing of General Partner and Co-Chairperson Henry G. “Hank” Steinbrenner, who passed away earlier today at his home in Clearwater, Fla., from a longstanding health issue. Mr. Steinbrenner was 63.

“Hank was a genuine and gentle spirit who treasured the deep relationships he formed with those closest to him,” said the Steinbrenner family. “He was introduced to the Yankees organization at a very young age, and his love for sports and competition continued to burn brightly throughout his life. Hank could be direct and outspoken, but in the very same conversation show great tenderness and light-heartedness. More than anything, he set an example for all of us in how comfortably he lived enjoying his personal passions and pursuits. We are profoundly saddened to have lost him and will carry his memory with us always.”

His brother and co-chairman Hal has been the de facto boss of the organization, but man, Hank is the one who really looked like the old man.

Cards Against Humanity’s Product Videos for Target 

“Eggs not included.”

Democrats Score Upset Victory in Wisconsin Despite Voter Suppression Efforts 

Reid J. Epstein, reporting for The New York Times:

Democrats scored an enormous political and moral victory in Wisconsin on Monday night when a liberal challenger upset a Trump-backed incumbent to win a State Supreme Court seat, a down-ballot race that took on unusual significance by demonstrating strong turnout and vote-by-mail efforts in a major presidential battleground state.

The victory, by upward of 90,000 votes as of Monday night, came as a shock to Republicans and Democrats alike in Wisconsin, where contests for president, governor and the state’s high court in the last four years have all been decided by about 30,000 votes or less. It followed weeks of Democratic anger over Republicans’ insistence on holding elections amid the coronavirus pandemic.

No one is going to count any unhatched chickens this election, that’s for sure, but to say this augurs well for Democrats this fall is an understatement. These Republican bastards forced hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites to risk exposure to the coronavirus (and in Milwaukee and other urban areas, face the certainty of preposterously long lines) to vote, in the cynical hope that suppressing the vote would help them, and they still got wiped out.

The World’s Most Charismatic Mathematician 

Siobhan Roberts, profiling John Conway for The Guardian in 2015:

This lust for the seemingly trivial has consumed a remarkable amount of Conway’s time and energy. In addition to all the gaming, he’s also been infatuated with factoring large numbers in his head; with reciting pi from memory to 1,111+ digits; with calculating, nearly instantaneously, the day of the week for any given date using what he calls his “Doomsday” algorithm. He’s invented many peculiar algorithms?—?for counting stairs while you climb without actually counting, and for how best to read through a stack of double-sided loose-leaf pages. And he’s been known to carry on his person decks of cards, dice, ropes, pennies, coat hangers, sometimes a Slinky, maybe a miniature toy bicycle, all props he deploys both for explaining ideas and for his own amusement.

While there may seem little method to this madness, curiosity-driven research is attracting renewed attention and support as a strategy for success in the sciences, both pure and applied, and economically for society as a whole. At the first National Mathematics Festival in Washington in April, the Italian economist Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank and one of the keynote speakers, noted that to believe and invest in fundamental research is to believe and invest in the future — that with increasing constraints on demographic and natural resources, and the impending “secular stagnation” as some call it, the countries that make fundamental research in maths and science a high priority will be the countries that prosper economically. Although Conway himself regards money with an indifference verging on contempt, he is a crusading ambassador for simple curiosity, which he considers the universal force driving discovery.

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