The iPhone SE, the irregular iPhone

John Gruber, on Daring Fireball, on why the special edition” explanation makes a lot of sense for the SE letters of the newest, second-generation iPhone SE:

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 SEs are special editions because they fall outside this continuum.

On the same article, he also mentions something about the first-generation iPhone:

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

In 2017, I had to finally say goodbye to my iPhone 5 from 2012 and I seriously considered the iPhone SE. The no camera bump” part was indeed very interesting to me: I think the iPhone 5 design — reused for the 5S and for the SE — was in 2017 not only the best iPhone design, but also the best smartphone design. I would have bought the iPhone SE in 2017, if the 16 GB entry level had not eventually pushed me to buy a similarly-priced Huawei P9, which had an amazing black and white camera, and a lot more storage.

iPhone SE: great for buyers, even better for Apple

Today, Apple announced the long awaited new iPhone SE. I won’t get into the details — the manufacturer’s website does a fantastic job at that — but I wanted to share Carolina Milanesi’s take on Tech.pinions:

[The iPhone SE is] a product that serves the purpose of getting the most pragmatic users to upgrade after holding on to their phones for years. These users might be coming from a hand-me-down or a secondhand iPhone or even be Android users looking for their first iPhone. […] For Apple, upgrades are not only driving hardware sales nowadays, but they also assure that as many users as possible can take advantage of Apple’s new services, such as Apple TV+, which comes free for a year with the new iPhone SE.

Exactly. I believe the iPhone SE is here to convince a large group of people to buy their first iPhone, or their relatives to buy it for them. If Apple’s website clearly has teenagers in minds, I noticed quite a lot of people on Twitter saying this is the iPhone for a parent or their partner: usually a person that is seemingly not into tech enough to spend $700 for a new phone like the iPhone 11, and won’t mind the outdated design or the lack of a ultra-wide angle lens.

What this means for Apple is the possibility to sell services and accessories to a group of people who would never have bought an iPhone before. AirPods, Apple Watches, silicon and leather cases, apps, Apple Pay, Apple Music, Apple News, Apple Arcade, Apple TV+, Apple Care, the list is indeed very long. The iPhone SE extends Apple accessories and services market by reaching a new population. For Apple, the iPhone SE could eventually mean a remarkable services and wearables growth: SE for services” or secure the customer base”?

For the buyers, the iPhone SE means all the goodies about the Apple ecosystem: Apple Messages, FaceTime, better-than-competition privacy, great security, excellent already-included apps such as Notes, Reminders, iCloud Drive, even the fully featured Garage Band or iMovie, and on top of it all, the App Store. Along with a great if not the best software experience out there, people also get a good and reliable camera, and the usual iPhone overall delightful experience: for first-time Apple buyers, this is a very important point.

Apple uses the A13 chip on the iPhone SE, the same as the expensive iPhone 11 Pro, which should allow the device to stay up to date with the latest iOS release for years to come, maybe up to five years, which is far from common in the Android world, even for flagship devices or premium brands.

If iPhone SE buyers don’t break the phone, Apple would have successfully removed a huge chunk of the sub-$500 market from the claws of its competitors, and will probably keep it for itself for years, especially if these buyers end up as Apple Watch or AirPods owners too.

Selling great and long-lasting devices is a good way to have loyal customers, customers that will eventually love your products and your brand.

Selling exclusive services, desirable iPhone-only accessories like the AirPods is an even better way — the Apple way — preventing the customers to even consider the competition. Like Ben Bajarin said on Twitter:

It is fascinating how Apple keeps enticing its competition into battlegrounds where they can not compete.

The iPhone SE is using the same recipe as the regular” annual new iPhone, but this time aiming for a segment of the market where you usually find last years’ iPhone models only in the hands of users. For them, the SE is a great upgrade. For Apple, it is a way to build a new, more loyal, customer base.

Another advantage of the iPhone SE to consider for Apple

The Guardian’s Samuel Gibbs, quoting Ben Wood, the chief of research at CCS Insight, about what could mean the iPhone SE for Apple:

Apple will be nervously waiting to see whether the arrival of such an affordable and well-specified iPhone will make consumers think twice about buying its premium flagship products, which, depending on configuration, can easily approach three times the cost of the new iPhone SE. History shows that iPhone purchasers seem happy to pay the premium Apple’s products command, but the current global economic uncertainty risks challenging this assumption.”

I did not think of this yesterday when I wrote about the iPhone SE but this is a very interesting point indeed. If the economy remains troubled for a while, the iPhone SE may not only convince first-time iPhone buyers like teenagers and seniors, but also regular edition iPhone buyers too, who may prefer the SE and staying on iOS rather than switching to Android, at least that is what Apple must think.

Why there are no software equivalents of Rolex

Smart, very interesting article, Signaling as a service, by Julian Lehr, mainly about the signaling (or signalling?) virtues of software compared to hardware, or, to put it shortly and in Lehr’s words, why there are no software equivalents of luxury products such as Rolex watches or Louis Vuitton handbags,” and also why Fortnite is doing so well:

Digital products have one crucial disadvantage over atom-based products and services: Intangibility. Apps live on your phone or computer. No one can see them except for you. […]

I believe that this is the main reason why consumer software companies have a harder time monetizing than their physical counterparts.

Here’s another example: eBooks have never caught up with paper books despite being more convenient. On the contrary, physical book sales have remained stable (and in some markets even increased) in recent years. Interestingly though, people spend less time reading them. Their value seems to stem from lying around the house to impress visitors (see also coffee table books) — a benefit digital books simply can’t offer.

If you have one thing to read this weekend, I strongly suggest that you read this excellent article.

On top of the examples mentioned in it, I would add: This is why The New Yorker sends tote bags to its subscribers, why there are no black AirPods, and why having a verified badge on Instagram, or a blue bubble on Apple Messages, is apparently so valuable. I would also argue that the Sorry, I don’t have Facebook” beat or the I refuse to have a smartphone” stance are forms of signal messaging too…

Did I tell you that I don’t have Instagram anymore by the way?

“I’ve fallen in love with blogging again”

A few months ago, my old Twitter pal Daniel Benneworth-Gray quoted late screenwriter and director Nora Ephron, on blogging. The quote is very interesting1 but Daniel’s comment got my attention:

It’s startling how quickly we’ve taken for granted this incredible new freedom to publish something, anything, nothing. I’ve fallen in love with blogging again; my own little corner of internet that I can spill my thoughts into without fear of them being washed away by the social media tide. Most of it may be inconsequential whatever, but it’s my inconsequential whatever.

As I am skimming through my barely infinite read-later list, I keep on discovering little gems like this one. Considering what is currently happening in the world, you can expect a lot more of these is the coming days, or weeks. Maybe I should think of a way to combine and compile them, or give this kind of short post a clever name.2

Anyway, I cannot be the only one thinking that My inconsequential whatever would be a fantastic title for an autobiography, can I?

  1. A blog is sort of like an exhale.” The whole thing is brilliant. Go read it now.

  2. Obviously The Skimm came to mind.

Things I want Apple to adopt rather sooner than later

If you use Apple products, you eventually get annoyed at some of the decisions that were made, or you start wondering why this feature has not been included yet. This is true for any kind of technology, but with Apple the feeling is just more intense, more vocal.

Hence this tiny list of things I want Apple to do, change, implement, or just simply fix.

1. Two-factor authentication

In the case of a stolen or hacked account password, two-factor authentication — or 2FA — is a way to prevent the bad guys to access that account. Basically, 2FA adds a layer of security on top of the login + password combination. Sometimes it is a simple code received via SMS (not secure, to avoid), but the easiest and best way has to be one-time passwordsOTP, usually generated by authenticator apps.

Apple’s own 2FA system — which is very easy to use by the way — uses OTP but only works with Apple ID. Since Apple’s own password manager — Keychain — doesn’t offer any kind of 2FA, you have to use a third-party app to generate OTPs for the accounts offering proper 2FA. I don’t mind at all using 1Password,1 as you already know, but I wish all Apple users had access to this level of security natively through Keychain.

2. Cables

By embracing USB-C for MacBooks, Apple abandoned MagSafe. The magnetic connector was without a question a fantastic innovation. It was easily detachable — saving many laptops from crashing on the floor — and the LED indicator was absolutely perfect. You could just look from across the room and check if your laptop was still charging. If the outlet you were using had no juice, you knew instantly, without having to open and power-up your laptop, also avoiding leaving your laptop plugged thinking it is charging when it is actually not.

What is lost in the ease of plugging and unplugging is more than compensated by the ubiquity of USB type C, but I still miss the LED indicator. What I do understand though is why Apple did not use this opportunity to change the cable material. I don’t know who likes this white rubbery material, but I find it outdated, not durable, and it seems to pick up way too much dust. Apple certainly can do better in this department, they proved it by including a very nice braided cable in the Mac Pro box.

3. Subscriptions

This is an easy one: I am happy to pay for Apple TV+,2 Apple Arcade, Apple Music, and iCloud storage, I really am. But wouldn’t it be nice if you could have a single invoice every month, instead of three, four, five? Maybe each of these services can be considered as an option within the same Apple subscription? This would be so much easier, and it would make a lot more sense.

Also, if someone pays for every service there is, a cheaper services bundle doesn’t seem like a crazy idea, does it?

My wish list of course doesn’t end here, but I feel like my other demands are not as important or as meaningful as the ones listed here, so I will just list them quickly:

  • Please Apple, stop using Yelp for information on venues in Apple Maps.
  • If someone pays the price for a ceramic or titanium Apple Watch, I believe it would be very nice if it was possible to upgrade the computer (and the battery) inside, and keep using the case. Maybe Apple already buys back the previous generation of watch for a fair price, but it would be cool.
  • Safari’s Reading List deserves an optional shortcut on the homescreen.
  • This one is driving me nuts: It has been months and maybe years now that Techmeme for instance is displayed Techmem” and the final e” is centered on the next line on my Favourites pop-up window, as you can see here. This is stupid and ugly and very un-Apple.

As usual, thanks for reading, and please let me know about your main Apple complaints by sending me a message on Twitter or via email.

UPDATE: A reader sent me an email with a link to this recent article on Gizmodo that I completely missed. It mentions the rumours that a 2FA feature for Keychain — like the one I describe — is coming to iOS 14. Thanks for the tip John!

  1. I believe 1Password’s way of copying-pasting the OTPs automatically is genius.

  2. Well, even if I won’t pay until October 2020.

The Onion on Zoom

Since the news broke about Zoom and all its privacy-related scandals, it was just a question of days before The Onion decides to hit. After a gentle first piece, they went all in, and it was worth all the wait:

Settling in for another day at the helm of his booming telecommunication empire, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan reportedly reclined in his chair Thursday to watch the massive wall of screens in his office that continuously displays 10 million live video feeds from his company’s platform.

On that gentle piece from last week, part of the Opinion section, where fake people quotes are associated with real news:

I expected so much more from this service I hadn’t heard of until three weeks ago.”

The Onion is not only my favourite satirical news site, it is my favourite site on the internet.

Why it makes sense for news orgs to remove their paywalls during the coronavirus crisis

Poynter’s Howard Saltz has a very interesting take on news organisations removing their paywalls during the coronavirus crisis:

The newspaper industry seems to think that public service can’t coexist with revenue. That’s a mistake — at a time when the beleaguered industry can’t afford to make one. We do provide an important public service, but why can’t a public service business be, well, in business?

Food is essential, but grocery stores aren’t giving it away.

Clothing? Not free. Not even at Goodwill.

Police are being paid during the crisis. So are garbage collectors. There are no freebies at the pharmacy.

These are all essential to the community at a time of crisis, yet no one expects these goods and services to be free. What are newspapers afraid of? Our products have value. People pay for things of value.

I think this is an excellent article by Howard Saltz. The headline gets your attention, and Saltz makes a lot of good points. At the end of every paragraph I nodded in agreement, thinking that’s right, I did not think of this.”

But one thing is — I think — missing in the article: context.

Sure the COVID-19 crisis is mentioned, but what does it really mean for news organisations? My guess: it means a ton of extra traffic. These days, people check the news way more often than usual, and a lot of people are checking the news when they usually don’t.

To use Saltz’s analogy where news orgs are food stores, imagine there are ten times more people in the streets than on a regular day (I don’t thing there is ten times more traffic, but this is for dramatic effect). Now imagine you are a news org and all your direct competitors are suddenly giving some of their food for free: where do you think all the extra traffic will go? Your regulars and loyal customers will still be coming to your store, but even if only one percent of these extra visitors end up becoming regulars at the other stores, that is a missed opportunity for you.

News orgs may not be able to afford putting down their paywall for weeks, but they must think that they also cannot afford to miss a potential opportunity of that scale. Or so they might think.

Another point to consider: branding.

I’m sure Saltz knows a lot about branding, but I suspect he decided not to mention it to make his point stronger and to simplify. So when he asks So why are we making our journalism free?” I think the answer is in the title: Removing paywalls on coronavirus coverage is noble.” Being noble can be good for your brand.

Let’s use the store analogy again. In your neighbourhood, there are two kinds of food stores: the free ones,” where store owners make money with ads, and the premium stores,” where the owners make money by selling their products directly. Now imagine there is a crisis such as the coronavirus crisis in your neighbourhood. Imagine that suddenly, most of the premium stores” — your direct competitors — start giving products for free to help people, to show solidarity in some way; in short: to be noble. Do you really want to be the guy who doesn’t help like the others? Your regulars may even be disappointed in you and switch their loyalty to the good guy” at the other end of the street.

The sudden desire to have a public service role may not come from being noble. The need of being seen as a mobilised and involved brand may have played its part here. Being noble is not only a goal, it is also a mean: a mean to be liked.

Many companies are doing something to fight the spread of the virus. Whether it helps or not isn’t what matters for brands. What matters is how people will remember them. What matters is how people will react is they don’t do anything.

News orgs can’t afford to buy millions of masks. News orgs can’t manage to deliver thousands of breathing aid devices. So what do they do? What can they do? They remove their paywall for a while: a public service gesture that allows them to both look good and potentially increase their traffic at the same time. And if that does actually help, well that doesn’t hurt: it is a noble gesture after all.

In the end, removing the paywall may very well be a mistake like Saltz explains very well, but keeping it may end up being a bigger mistake in the end. It seems most news orgs have already made their choice (and also maybe just honestly want to help, without thinking too much about the consequences).

The challenges of translating a video game into 17 languages

Andrew Webster, writing at The Verge about the process of translating the Apple Arcade video game Tangle Tower into 17 languages: Apple requires Arcade titles to be available in at least 14 languages. Webster shares great insights on the story behind this huge amount of work:

The process of localizing for so many languages isn’t necessarily a big deal for games that have minimal text, like a simple puzzle game, but it turned out to be a huge undertaking for the two-person team behind the charming detective game Tangle Tower. The game, developed by a four-person team led by brothers Tom and Adam Vian, has more than 40,000 words of in-game text, from character descriptions to the copious dialogue. The brothers had originally planned to localize the game into only a handful of languages — including English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Japanese — but, due to Apple’s requirements, Tangle Tower ended up launching in 17 languages.

Very interesting, insightful article about my favourite Apple Arcade game to date and about the overall translation process.

The two or three hours I spent playing Tangle Tower were fantastic entertainment: funny, beautiful story, smart, and extremely well produced. The soundtrack was very good too.

I’ve been a subscriber of Apple Arcade since the launch, even if I only play on average one hour per week. But I have to say, Arcade might be the most underrated Apple success from the last couple of months, at least in terms of quality. The games I played were all excellent: Pilgrims, Stela, LEGO Builder’s Journey, INMOST, and of course, Tangle Tower. Considering that the subscription costs only 5 euros per month, it is certainly one hell of a bargain.

Zoom may not be trust-worthy, but sadly their recent success may already protect them

Yesterday, John Gruber shared his thoughts on the new privacy / security issue with Zoom, the now-famous video conferencing tool: its iOS app was sending data to Facebook, even if the user didn’t have a Facebook account. A well recommended read if you recently installed Zoom. I tweeted about this: Zoom does not appear to be a trust-worthy company and — not unlike Facebook or Uber — will have to do much better if they want to be trusted again. As Gruber says:

This Facebook data issue is nowhere near as bad as the web server issue. But it betrays Zoom’s institutionally cavalier attitude to privacy. Their privacy policy more or less grants them carte blanche to do whatever the hell they want.

Mistakes happen. Bugs happen. I not only forgive mistakes, I enjoy forgiving mistakes. But Zoom’s callous disregard for privacy does not seem to be a mistake. As Zoom itself said about the hidden web server they secretly installed on Macs, it’s a feature not a bug.

The main concern I have with this, is that trusting Zoom or not won’t matter. It just recently got adopted by millions of people accross the globe; I believe it is now close to become a verb, just like Skype of Facetime before it. Apps like Zoom tend to share the same behaviour than messaging apps in terms of adoption: the best one is the one your friends or colleagues are using. Even if a few users become concerned about Zoom after this new bug”, they will have to convince most of their contacts to switch to something else: an video conferencing app where you’re the only one talking is rather useless. That’s why failed, that’s why Signal, despite being a great app, is far from being as popular as Facebook Messenger.

The same happened with Facebook, the same happened with Uber. The services were already so ubiquitous, that not using them required not only a good alternative, but also a strong will to give up the benefits of using them.

That is why Zoom will probably get away with this. Its reputation is even more tainted than before, but this will probably not slow down a bit Zoom’s recent crazy growth.

UPDATE: Well, I barely got the time to publish this post before Zoom was at the center of another privacy-related scandal. VICE is once again behind the scoop:

For at least a few thousand people, Zoom has treated their personal email addresses as if they all belong to the same company, letting them video call each other.

Well, maybe the word zoom” will become a verb sooner than expected, but rather as a synonym of privacy-hostile bug”, instead of Skype”.

UPDATE 2: So, apparently, Zoom is very generous with tech stories these days. This time it is reported by The Intercept:

Zoom, the video conferencing service whose use has spiked amid the Covid-19 pandemic, claims to implement end-to-end encryption, widely understood as the most private form of internet communication, protecting conversations from all outside parties. In fact, Zoom is using its own definition of the term, one that lets Zoom itself access unencrypted video and audio from meetings.

This company is a just a gift that keeps on giving.

UPDATE 3: and it goes on: this time about a critical vulnerability of the Windows client. I even suspect that changed the publishing date to March 31st at 11:59pm just so the article isn’t mistaken for an April’s fool joke.

UPDATE 4: What does it take for an app to be qualified as malware? This Twitter thread exposes another shady behaviour from Zoom and the author of the thread — a technical expert on the matter — explicitly says the same tricks that are being used by MacOS malware.”

One thing is for sure, I wouldn’t want to be working in their PR department right now.

UPDATE 5: I just can’t keep up.

UPDATE 6: Glenn Fleishmann at Tidbits produced a great recap of Every Zoom security and privacy flaw so far.

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