McAfee can solve Apple vs. FBI

Lee Hutchinson, ArsTechnica, in an amusing story on libertarian presidential candidate and former antivirus developer John McAfee (titled: McAfee will break iPhone crypto for FBI in 3 weeks or eat shoe on live TV):

It takes only four short paragraphs for McAfee to start talking about Nazis and Hitler. Two paragraphs later—not counting blockquotes—McAfee proclaims that by pressing Apple to “back door” (his words) the iPhone and bypass or defeat the mechanisms keeping its data secure, the government is seeking to bring about the end of the world (as we know it).

[…] McAfee has a novel solution: just stand back, folks, and he’ll hack the damn iPhone himself. McAfee will step up and play the part of Batman to Tim Cook’s Harvey Dent, becoming the hero we need, even if he’s not the hero we deserve. Or maybe the FBI is Harvey Dent. Or maybe McAfee is the hero we deserve instead of need? I’ll be honest—I don’t exactly remember how the damn Batman movie ended but I am pretty sure that if you’re thinking of John McAfee as Batman then you’re getting out of the op-ed exactly what McAfee wants you to be getting.

Essentially, McAfee intends to go about this by barking at the iPhone 5C in question, in a croaky, hoarse voice – ‘I’m Batman‘. (See also: Nanananananana)

Further:

“With all due respect to Tim Cook and Apple,” writes McAfee, “I work with a team of the best hackers on the planet. These hackers attend Defcon in Las Vegas, and they are legends in their local hacking groups, such as HackMiami. They are all prodigies, with talents that defy normal human comprehension. About 75% are social engineers. The remainder are hardcore coders. I would eat my shoe on the Neil Cavuto show if we could not break the encryption on the San Bernardino phone. This is a pure and simple fact.”

All the luck to him; I just hope McAfee prefers flip-flops over sneakers.

Concluding:

“So here is my offer to the FBI,” he continues. “I will, free of charge, decrypt the information on the San Bernardino phone, with my team. We will primarily use social engineering, and it will take us three weeks. If you accept my offer, then you will not need to ask Apple to place a back door in its product, which will be the beginning of the end of America.”

‘…and once I make it as the president, I’ll get Apple to build their damn computers in America’. Oh wait, that wasn’t him.

For additional humour, visit the ArsTechnica article.

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Harper Lee dies at 89

Tragic piece by Fox News:

Alabama-born author Harper Lee, whose book “To Kill a Mockingbird” became one of the most beloved, widely-read and best-selling novels of the 20th century, has died at the age of 89, Fox News has confirmed.

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favourite books of all time, monumental in shaping me up. Lee was a recluse and also liked observing cats. May she rest in peace.

A quote from the book:

It ain’t honest but it’s mighty helpful to folks. Secretly, Miss Finch, I’m not much of a drinker, but you see they could never, never understand that I live like I do because that’s the way I want to live.

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Twitter and Facebook on Apple vs. FBI

Facebook (via Catherine Shu, TechCrunch):

We condemn terrorism and have total solidarity with victims of terror. Those who seek to praise, promote, or plan terrorist acts have no place on our services. We also appreciate the difficult and essential work of law enforcement to keep people safe. When we receive lawful requests from these authorities we comply. However, we will continue to fight aggressively against requirements for companies to weaken the security of their systems. These demands would create a chilling precedent and obstruct companies’ efforts to secure their products.

I chuckle since this statement would hold even if it were made last year, the year before that and so forth. At no point does it explicitly mention the current Apple v/s FBI case.

On the flip side, Jack Dorsey, CEO at Twitter, in a tweet:

We stand with @tim_cook and Apple (and thank him for his leadership)!

Take your pick

 

Previously (other notable responses): Microsoft, Sundar Pichai (Google), Jan Koum (Whatsapp), Donald Trump.

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The iPhone ‘5SE’: Processor and pricing

Micah Singleton, The Verge:

The report confirms 9to5Mac’s reporting from last month on the phone currently dubbed the iPhone 5SE. The new iPhone is expected to resemble the outgoing iPhone 5S, alongside beefed up internals like NFC for Apple Pay, and Live Photos, but is not expected to have a 3D Touch display.

Bloomberg is also reporting that a new iPad — widely expected to be the iPad Air 3 — will come with Apple’s A9X processor, which is currently only available in the iPad Pro.

The supposed iPad Air 3 being equipped with an A9X makes perfect sense; the iPhone ‘5SE’ equipped with an A9 seems unsettling.

Currently the iPhone line offers four entry tiers : free, $99, $199, $299 corresponding to iPhones 5S, 6, 6 Plus and 6S, and 6S Plus respectively. Each tier offers increasingly ‘more’ in one way or another over the predecessor.

Now replace the 5S with the iPhone ‘5SE’ and this spatial order breaks. This is what the new tiers along with their processors(as a loose reference to their speed), are:

  • iPhone ‘5SE’ (A9) : free
  • iPhone 6 (A8) : $99
  • iPhone 6s(A9), iPhone 6 Plus(A8) : $199
  • iPhone 6s Plus(A9) : $299

I hope it is immediately clear how this arrangement just doesn’t make sense. For instance, a cheaper iPhone is newer, faster, better advertised (let alone has better software thanks to Live Photos) than one that is priced higher?

Let’s take a look at the other alternatives:

  • Apple makes the iPhone ‘5SE’s internals identical to the iPhone 6 (ships the ‘5SE’ with an A8). Then, the lower tiers basically boil down to paying $99 for a bigger screen (‘5SE’ to 6 and 6 to 6 Plus).
  • The iPhone ‘5SE’ does ship with an A9 processor and gets priced alongside the iPhone 6 at $99; the 5S gets the boot. Plausible, but Apple won’t be giving up the free tier.
  • The ‘5SE’ ships with an A9 processor and gets priced alongside the iPhone 6 at $99 and the iPhone 5S stays as the free tier.

Personally, I’d put my money on the last alternative. Apple gets to ship its free tier to people who are budget-constrained (and in countries such as India where the 5S has been a huge success, especially after its price drop last year) as-is.

This also works in synergy with Apple’s cyclical repricing of their iPhones where they simply slash $100 off existing models. Additionally, people who aren’t budget constrained but simply don’t want to bump up to a bigger iPhone 6/6+ screen get a powerful iPhone (powered by an A9). And lastly, Apple gets a higher profit margin off their new iPhone than if they were to price it under the free tier. For convenience, here’s what I think the lineup would look like:

  • iPhone 5S (A7) : free
  • iPhone 6 (A8) ‘5SE’ (A9): $99
  • iPhone 6s(A9), iPhone 6 Plus(A8) : $199
  • iPhone 6s Plus(A9) : $299

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Microsoft on the Apple-FBI case

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s chief legal officer shared a statement on behalf of the Reform Government Surveillance, a group that constitutes of major technology companies (via Tom Warren, The Verge):

Reform Government Surveillance companies believe it is extremely important to deter terrorists and criminals and to help law enforcement by processing legal orders for information in order to keep us all safe. But technology companies should not be required to build in backdoors to the technologies that keep their users’ information secure. RGS companies remain committed to providing law enforcement with the help it needs while protecting the security of their customers and their customers’ information.

Sounds exactly like a legal document from a lawyer; somehow not surprising, coming from Microsoft. This makes Sundar Pichai’s statement seem warmer, sympathetic. Sundar’s statement actually has a face to map them back to.

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Sundar Pichai on Apple’s battle against the FBI

Sundar Pichai, CEO at Google, tweeted today (thanks to John Gruber for the compilation) about Apple’s decision to resist the FBI’s demands to forcibly bypass an iPhone’s encryption (via John Gruber, DF):

Important post by @tim_cook. Forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise users’ privacy

We know that law enforcement and intelligence agencies face significant challenges in protecting the public against crime and terrorism

We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders

But that’s wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices & data. Could be a troubling precedent

Looking forward to a thoughtful and open discussion on this important issue

As John points out, some response is better than none; one inclining towards Apple is somewhat better but that doesn’t shadow the ostensible timidness in Sundar’s tweets. To me, this seems to have been put out there simply on the grounds of ‘not saying anything in this matter would be damaging to the image of a company whose core business is studying a user’s data’. Re-read the tweets above and think if Sundar truly said anything beyond ‘We comply with laws, hacking is bad’ ?

Here’s what taking a definitive stance on an issue looks like — Jan Koum, CEO at Whatsapp, in a post on his Facebook page:

I have always admired Tim Cook for his stance on privacy and Apple’s efforts to protect user data and couldn’t agree more with everything said in their Customer Letter today. We must not allow this dangerous precedent to be set. Today our freedom and our liberty is at stake.

To conclude, here’s jon hendren (@fart) with a tweet:

congrats @sundarpichai. in true google fashion, google’s ceo saw what apple produced and replied with an uninspired, shittier version of it

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An iPhone’s afterlife

Tim Culpan, Bloomberg, writing an extensive piece on Apple’s process of recycling its iPhones (via Mitchel Broussard, MacRumors):

In the electronics recycling business, the benchmark is to try to collect and recycle 70 percent, by weight, of the devices produced seven years earlier. Jackson says Apple exceeds that, typically reaching 85 percent, including recycling some non-Apple products that customers bring in.

Apple isn’t living up to the industry standard, its defining it. Furthermore, it’s probably defining it for others, for them. In the span of 24 hours, this is the second time Apple is at the vanguard for doing the right thing (the previous instance doesn’t validate the use of the word ‘vanguard’ since there are no trailing parties).

Further:

Apple said it collected more than 40,000 tons of e-waste in 2014 from recycled devices, including enough steel to build 100 miles of railway track. […]

Reclaimed iPhones can’t be shipped across regions, must have their storage wiped, and must have all logos removed. The scrap can’t be mixed with that of other brand names, so recyclers need to have dedicated facilities for Apple, Li said.

Our shit is better than your shit.

Further still:

While some brands salvage components such as chips that can be used to repair faulty phones, Apple has a full-destruction policy.

“Shredding components takes more energy than repurposing,” Li said. […]

Apple shreds its devices to avoid having fake Apple products appearing on the secondary market, Jackson said. The company is working on ways to reuse components in the future, she said, declining to elaborate. […]

Hazardous waste is stored at a licensed facility and the recycling partners can take a commission on other extracted materials such as gold and copper. The rest is reincarnated as aluminum window frames and furniture, or glass tiles.

One man’s iPhone is another man’s outlet to the world.

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100 books for designers

This list of 100 books for designers compiled by Robin Raszka (via Dave Mark, The Loop) is a godsend! As of now, I love absolutely anything that could teach me more about design and books are, for me, the most efficient medium to learn.

Among these 100 is Becoming Steve Jobs, a book that was monumental in shaping up my understanding of Apple. It taught me that there’s more to judging an idea/entity and classifying it as merely good or bad; sometimes they’re just interesting and a joy to understand. I recommend it in a heartbeat.

 

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How to go off-topic at a ‘HOWTO’ talk

I recently came across this excellent talk by John Gruber and Merlin Mann, delivered back in 2009, on how to build a blog (or any creative endeavour) that you’re actually proud of and making the right decisions along the way.  Merlin jokes, at some point, that the way you can tell when to start a blog is when people get sick of hearing what you have to say about whatever it is you obsess over. Listening to that bit reminded me of the very first draft of my ‘About’ page and had me smirking.

If you’ve been following Apple weblogs for any considerable amount of time, chances are that you’ve heard someone mention this talk at some point1. If not, let me employ my limited skills in brevity: Click here.


1. [Unless you, like me, weren’t inveterate about the Internet back then.]

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Tim Cook on backdoors

Tim Cook just wrote an open letter to Apple’s customers about Apple’s commitment to privacy:

We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.

Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.[…]

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. […]

We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.
While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products.

Judge this statement one way or another – call it a publicity stunt or an actual, noble decision made towards preserving what is right; you simply can’t argue with the fact that Apple is, in fact, earnestly backing their claims to support user privacy; singularly so.

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Apple’s television series

Michael O’Connell and Lesley Goldberg writing for The Hollywood Reporter:

Multiple sources say the 50-year-old mogul is starring in and executive producing his own six-episode vehicle, dubbed Vital Signs, and the production is being bankrolled by Apple. The series likely will be distributed via Apple Music, the company’s subscription streaming site, but it’s not clear if Apple TV, the iTunes store or other Apple platforms (or even a traditional television distributor) will be involved.[…]

Those who have seen descriptions of the Dr. Dre show say it is billed as semi-autobiographical, with each episode focusing on a different emotion and how Dre’s character deals with it.[…]

While technically a half-hour, the show is not a comedy. Instead, it is described as a dark drama with no shortage of violence and sex.

This week’s episode of Upgrade has Myke and Jason talk over this piece and I’ve read other outlets post about this too. In my opinion, I think that they’re approaching this the wrong way.

Let’s say Apple is indeed funding this TV series and plans to distribute it someway under the Apple brand. I see it simply as a value addition to the Apple TV (maybe it even trickles down to the iPad and iPhone) but this is not a part of Apple Music. Maybe Apple Video? ( Its a bad name since music videos already exist on Apple Music; I’d say Apple TV but…you know why that can’t happen). Eventually Apple could even add more to the platform; maybe they’ve already signed a few other exclusives. I do think, undoubtedly, that these exclusives would not be released on iTunes.

A word on the pricing-if this show is one of a few introductory programmes on said ‘Apple Video’, I’d include it in the current Apple Music model. It’s after all, as I see it, a value add.

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1970: The beginning of time

This time Tom Scott returns with an explanation of an actual ‘bug’ with iPhones where setting the date to 1/1/1970 on your 64-bit iPhone (iPhone 5S and above)  results in a dead phone. To oversimplify, this happens because Unix-based systems (iOS)  consider 1/1/1970 as the beginning of time (from a computer’s perspective). Going that far back in time, suddenly, doesn’t sit well with iOS.

Apple has since confirmed the bug’s existence with a fix coming soon.

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User-customizable Control Center

Following by a recent post by Stephen Hackett on Control Center’s shortcomings, my attention spikes up when I see a writer whom I follow mentioning changes to Control Center they’d like. One reoccuring theme is the ability to change the apps present at Control Center’s bottom row (presently: Torch, Stopwatch, Calculator and Camera).

Ben Brooks:

Perhaps it would be cool to be allowed to customize it, but I also think that might be overkill.

John Gruber:

I kind of wish you could change the apps hard-coded at the bottom (I’d replace Calculator with PCalc, for example), but I use it all the time.

Dr. Drang:

And, as Gruber said, if I could remap the Calculator button to launch PCalc, I’d probably use it.

I think allowing users to pick bottom-row apps would be a terrible decision. Here’s why:

Let’s say a friend (also an iPhone user) needs to use the calculator and their phone isn’t around. When in a pinch, they could just pick up my iPhone and quickly swipe up to launch the same old familiar calculator that they’ve been using all along. If I had swapped the calculator out for, say, an ebook app, they would then have to ask me where my calculator is (or do a quick spotlight search).
Alternatively, my mom – a frequent user of her iPad – can easily pick up my iPad and swipe up to get to the camera and be presented with the good old trusted interface.

My point is simple: allowing user-replaceable apps in Control Center’s bottom row detracts from the consistency that is staple to the iPhone experience. With standard apps, Apple ensures that any iPhone user can pick up anyone’s iPhone and infallibly get to few key tasks(decided by Apple) with just a swipe and a tap.

Additionally, thinking about Control Center gave me another insight into the order and placement of these four actions (I’d call them apps but the torch icon doesn’t open an app). Look closely at the torch and camera icons and the fact that they are placed at the left and right edges. I think this is a concious decision made by Apple since, if you call yourself an avid user of your iPhone, you could close your eyes and try turing on the flashlight; more often than not, you’d succeed.

I suppose this is because these two are, to Apple, the most important and the most used actions out of the four. Hence, both are placed equal distances from the left and right edges of your iPhone. Over repeated usage, the actions that reside so close to the edges become a part of your muscle memory.

The iPad’s Control Center UI is different and doesn’t require a similar case to be made for it since your iPhone is the device that stands to benefit the most from muscle memory, being the device that you have on you more often than your iPad.

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iTunes’ inconsistent menus

I was recently spending some time on iTunes, playing with Apple Music to setup a playlist that I could use to get close to a distraction-free experience while working on Xcode when I came across an inconsistency in iTunes’ formatting of menus post Apple Music.

Traditionally, hovering on an expandable menu item that has a list of sub-items causes that sub-menu to automatically expand. Here’s a screenshot to illustrate said behavior.

In iTunes, post-Apple Music, however, each song now has a small icon next to it that’s described as a circle with three dots. This is an expandable menu item too but the traditional hover-based system doesn’t make its way here. Instead, you have to intentionally click on that item to expand it further. Hovering on the item makes no difference. Here’s how it looks.

Now I have had very few problems with Apple Music since I started using it but this behaviour stood out to me due to its peculiarity. Hovering over an expandable menu-item and not having the consequent sub-menu expanded for you seems strange on a desktop; you stumble in your flow and then have to remember you have to click too. When I first encountered this behaviour, I immediately thought of my iPad and related it with the tap-to-expand behaviour on a touchscreen based direct-manipulation environment. It just seems out of place on a Mac (a pointer-based system).

I’ve been contemplating Apple’s decision to implement menus in this fashion ever since and while I do understand that traditional menus are ‘system menus’ and the new menu style is an ‘extenstion to…’ abstraction (hence the choice to go with a circle with three dots), I don’t find that enough of a reason to disrupt a perfectly well established UI flow by porting over tap-to-expand from a touchscreen-based device.

However, I also refuse to chalk up this decision as neglegence on Apple’s part or simply ‘one of those weird things Apple Music does since its so bad’. As of now, this new menu style remains a mystery and an annoyance to me.

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