Apple Announces HomePod Pre-Orders, Ship Date

Per Apple’s press release:

HomePod, the innovative wireless speaker from Apple, arrives in stores beginning Friday, February 9 and is available to order online this Friday, January 26 in the US, UK and Australia. HomePod will arrive in France and Germany this spring.

Of note, Apple says AirPlay 2, which is needed to connect two or more HomePods together, isn’t slated to appear until “later this year.”

It’s good to see Apple announce a ship date for this product, although it’s a bummer AirPlay 2 support won’t be coming until later. As for my interest in HomePod, I’m more excited about it than I am about the Amazon Echo or Google Home. It’ll be interesting to see how the review cycle goes; my biggest area of interest in HomePod is, of course, accessibility. The story there is a crucial element to its appeal to me and others who have speech delays.

WebAIM Conducts Screen Reader Use Survey

Insightful results of WebAIM's survey on screen reader usage. The charts clearly show most blind and visually impaired users prefer Apple's VoiceOver software. These results also help reaffirm Apple's place as the leader in accessibility—their lead over Android is substantial. In a broader sense, these charts show Apple and the tech industry at large in a different light; it gives key perspective on an area that most analysts tend to ignore.

On Lobsters and Pain

Karen Weintraub reports for the NYT on Switzerland banning killing lobsters by putting them in boiling water. The idea is there are more humane ways to kill the animal since they’re presumed to feel pain—a point which is debated by scientists.

I’ve not cooked a live lobster myself, but everything I’ve read from chefs say the best way to kill a lobster prior to cooking is to quickly cut at the head.

On Blink-182 and Aliens

Weird story on ex-Blink member Tom DeLonge by Drew Millard for The Outline:

This year, NASA will be launching a satellite called TESS, whose job it will be to map out all the stars we can see, so that we can identify planets that aren’t too far from their sun to be really cold, but not so close that they’d be too hot. (This ideal space is called the “Goldilocks Zone.”) From there, a high-powered space telescope will hone in on those planets and analyze their wavelengths, looking for these biosignature gases. By the calculations of Sara Seager, the MIT astronomer who conceptualized the project, that this process, once complete, will provide us with exactly one life-bearing planet besides our own.

Tom DeLonge, however, thinks the aliens are already here. During his music-making prime, DeLonge had long been fascinated by conspiracy theories. He referenced the alleged 50s-era alien hunters Majestic 12 on Enema of the State’s “Aliens Exist”; the sole album by his Box Car Racer side project was peppered with angsty lyrics about how frustrated he was with the lack of government disclosure about various secrets; in 2001 he got married on Coronado, an island near San Diego that was once the site of an alleged alien abduction. (From here on out, just mentally insert the word “alleged” whenever you see something that seems dubious, because shit’s about to get alleged as hell.)

But around the time of his split with blink, he went full tinfoil. He began giving conspiracy-laden interviews to incredulous outlets, who gleefully racked up clicks by playing up the incongruity of the blink-182 guy talking about aliens. He became a curious footnote in last year’s presidential election when a Wikileaks dump of Hillary Clinton’s emails revealed he’d been communicating with Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta about aliens, which in part led to him being named “UFO Researcher of the Year” by OpenMinds.tv.

I’m not inclined to believe aliens exist, but I do have some Blink-182 in my Apple Music library. Their new stuff may not be great, as Millard writes, but their back catalog—with DeLonge—is chock-full of some pretty great tunes.

Why Stephen Hackett Bought the iMac Pro

In his column this month at iMore, Stephen writes:

The standard iMac Pro is still a lot faster than my 2015 could ever be, but then I started looking at a fully loaded 2017 5K iMac. If I opted for third-party RAM, I could pick up a 4.2GHz i7 iMac with a 1TB SSD for $3,099. With this iMac, I would still have a noticeably faster machine on my desk, but with a lot more cash in the bank.

I decided to take the conservative route, so I ordered the regular iMac. It showed up the day after Christmas. I slapped 32GB of OWC RAM in it — for a total of 40GB — and migrated my data from my trusty 2015 model.

Unfortunately, it didn't take long to realize that I had made a mistake. Even during the migration, I could hear the new iMac's fan blowing, and once I was logged in, it was even louder.

Apple Investors Write Open Letter on Children and Tech

David Gelles at the NYT has a story on an open letter by Janas Partners & Calstrs to Apple pushing the company to offer, among other things, more granular parental controls on iOS. The idea here is more parental controls will help parents better govern their children’s time with tech.

As I said to Carolina Milanesi and John Gruber on Twitter today, the onus is ultimately on educators and parents to monitor how much screen time a child gets. More granular parental controls are good, but it isn’t the responsibility of tech companies to limit how much time children have with technology. As I was taught in my early childhood development classes years back, that responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the adults who care for our children.

See also: Apple’s statement on this matter, per Rene Ritchie.

‘World Leaders on Twitter’

Twitter on Friday published a blog post in which the company explains why it won’t ban heads of state from its platform. Of course, “world leaders” is really a euphemism for “Donald Trump.” Twitter writes:

Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets, would hide important information people should be able to see and debate. It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.

What Twitter is saying is, despite Trump’s proclivity for threatening nuclear war, they won’t take action because apparently threatening war isn’t in violation of their terms of service.

‘The Snapping Point’

I enjoyed this story by Casey Newton and Nick Statt for The Verge on Snapchat and its founder and CEO, Evan Spiegel.

The public face and chief strategist at the company has been Spiegel, an obsessive product mind who reveres Steve Jobs, former employees say. (Spiegel has a portrait of Jobs hanging in his office.) Like Jobs, Spiegel is known to involve himself in seemingly minor decisions involving office aesthetics. He once ordered employees’ individual trash cans in New York City be removed in favor of communal receptacles, because he disliked the look of so many trash cans in the office, one source said. This week, he personally co-sponsored the company’s New Year’s Eve party, where public snaps were banned.

Despite my tech savvy, Snapchat continues to befuddle me. I’m old.

On the iMac Pro’s T2 Chip

In his More Color column for Macworld this week, Jason Snell writes about what the T2 chip in the new iMac Pro does. (My Late 2016 Touch Bar MacBook Pro has a T1.)

Notably, here’s an excerpt on booting up the machine:

When you start up the iMac Pro, the familiar Apple logo appears almost immediately. This is a sign that the T2 is taking control. For security reasons, the T2 is the iMac Pro hardware’s “root of trust,” and it validates the entire boot process when the power comes on. The T2 starts up, checks things out, loads its bootloader, verifies that it’s legitimate and cryptographically signed by Apple, and then moves on to the next part of the boot process.

This new boot process means there’s also a new utility for Mac users to get to know: Startup Security Utility, which you can only access by booting into Recovery mode by holding down Command-R while starting up. Startup Security Utility gives the T2 guidance about just how strict it should be when judging whether it should boot your computer.

Jason Snell’s First Impressions of His New iMac Pro

Jason posted his first impressions story to Six Colors last week:

It’s a 5K iMac, albeit in a slightly darker shade. I made my transfer of data using Migration Assistant via Thunderbolt, which meant I needed to dig up a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter. (Turns out I had one of those!) I look forward to compressing more video and denoising more audio. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I’ll say it again: I’m not in the market for this machine, but that space gray sure is pretty.

On Streaming Video and Classic Film

Zach Schonfeld, writing for Newsweek, on the dearth of classic films on Netflix:

Netflix’s selection of classic cinema is abominable—and it seems to shrink more every year or so. As of this month, the streaming platform offers just 43 movies made before 1970, and fewer than 25 from the pre-1950 era (several of which are World War II documentaries). It’s the sort of classics selection you’d expect to find in a decrepit video store in 1993, not on a leading entertainment platform that serves some 100 million global subscribers. Netflix’s DVD subscribers enjoy a much wider selection (four million customers still opt to receive discs in the mail), but as the company shifts its focus to streaming and original content, cinephiles fear the cinematic canon is being left behind.

“If you're the biggest name in film streaming services, the less you offer in classic movies, the more you imply that classic movies have less to offer,” says Nora Fiore, a 26-year-old writer who has a blog devoted to classic cinema, “The Nitrate Diva.” “It's a terrible message to put out there.”

I’ve long been a fan of classic film, and have a good-sized library of movies on DVD. If Turner Classic Movies ever launches a streaming service, I’d sign up for it in a heartbeat.

John Gruber’s iPhone X Review

John’s review is quintessential Gruber: incredibly thoughtful and well-written.

This is the key passage to me:

The iPhone X is not the work of an overcautious company. It’s a risk to so fundamentally change the most profitable platform in the world. But Apple is gambling on the taste of the team who lived with the iPhone X during its development. Ossification is a risk with a platform as popular and successful as the iPhone — fear of making unpopular changes can lead a platform vendor to make no significant changes. Another risk, though, is hubris — making changes just for the sake of making changes that show off how clever the folks at Apple still are.

After two months using an iPhone X, I’m convinced Apple succeeded. The iPhone X is a triumph, a delightful conceptual modernization of a ten-year-old platform that, prior to using the iPhone X, I didn’t think needed a modernization. Almost nothing7 about the iPhone X calls undue attention to its cleverness. It all just seems like the new normal, and it’s a lot of fun.

Also of note, we have similar takeaways about the lack of Face ID on our iPads.

Eminem Interview with Vulture

David Marchese at Vulture interviewed Eminem about his new album, Revival, released earlier this month. Eminem is one of my favorite artists, and although I was initially skeptical, Revival has turned into one of my most favorite albums of the year. The man is a genius, lyrically and technically. I say Recovery is his best work, but this new one is up there.

It’s fascinating to read how Eminem dislikes his Encore and Relapse albums.

The Moat Between Apple Maps and Google Maps

Justin O’Beirne wrote (another) blog post comparing Apple and Google’s respective mapping apps. In this recent piece, he argues there’s a sizable moat between the two because Google has more AOIs, or “areas of interest.” Namely, buildings.

I don’t dispute Google has collected better data than Apple—and you can argue data is paramount in this context—but there is a flip side to this. In my usage, Apple Maps wins the day over Google. This is because (a) I live in the Bay Area, and as such, the data here is great; and (b) Apple Maps is far more visually accessible. As I tweeted earlier today, it’s a matter of perspective. In other words, data isn’t everything, even to maps. Accessibility, as ever, is a key factor too, so in my case, design and data make the difference.

Bloomberg: Apple Developing EKG Monitor for Watch

Good scoop by Alex Webb at Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. is developing an advanced heart-monitoring feature for future versions of its smartwatch, part of a broader push by the company to turn what was once a luxury fashion accessory into a serious medical device, according to people familiar with the plan.

A version being tested requires users to squeeze the frame of the Apple Watch with two fingers from the hand that’s not wearing the device, one of the people said. It then passes an imperceptible current across the person’s chest to track electrical signals in the heart and detect any abnormalities like irregular heart rates. Such conditions can increase the risk of strokes and heart failure and develop in about one-quarter of people over 40, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As someone who recently had a bit of a heart scare—my EKG results came back normal, thankfully—I find this incredibly exciting news. Every bit of Apple Watch news is exciting, as Apple is clearly invested in pushing the device’s health and fitness capabilities even further.

‘iMac Pro: The First Shoe Drops’

Jason Snell published a great piece at Six Colors on what the new iMac Pro means for Apple, customers, and developers. Jason puts everything nicely into perspective. As I’ve said on Twitter, I’m not even remotely close to being in the market for this machine, but I’d be all over the space gray accessories if they were available as standalone purchases.

See also: John Gruber, Matthew Panzarino, and Rene Ritchie on Apple’s new desktop.