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Steven Levy: ‘Apple Shares the Secret of Why the 40-Year-Old Mac Still Rules’

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Steven Levy has a great piece at Wired commemorating the Mac’s 40th anniversary, including interviews with a slew of Apple executives:

For the past few years, the form factors of Macintoshes have been fairly stable. Could a Mac in the future look totally different, as when the iMac morphed from a basketball to a lamp?

“There’s definitely the possibility for a revolution in the future,” says Molly Anderson, a leader in industrial design at Apple. “When we start a new project, we don’t start by thinking of the constraints of how popular our existing products are. We’re always focused on trying to design the best tool for the job.” Joswiak adds that it has taken courage to keep changing the Mac to keep it on the forefront — always, of course, in a deliberate fashion. “The road to tech hell is paved by people who do things because they can, not because they should,” he says.

Jony Ive told me once that one of Apple’s guiding principles was never to make changes for the sake of change alone. If an idea doesn’t make the product better, they don’t do it. If that means some products only change radically in form factor once or twice a decade, so be it. Good design should stand the test of time.

Levy also includes an excerpt from a piece he wrote for Rolling Stone on the original launch:

If you have had any prior experience with personal computers, what you might expect to see is some sort of opaque code, called a “prompt,” consisting of phosphorescent green or white letters on a murky background. What you see with Macintosh is the Finder. On a pleasant, light background, little pictures called “icons” appear, representing choices available to you. A word-processing program might be represented by a pen, while the program that lets you draw pictures might have a paintbrush icon. A file would represent stored documents — book reports, letters, legal briefs and so forth. To see a particular file, you’d move the mouse, which would, in turn, move the cursor to the file you wanted. You’d tap a button on the mouse twice, and the contents of the file would appear on the screen: dark on light, just like a piece of paper.

This seems simple, but most personal computers (including the IBM PC) can’t do this.

“When you show Mac to an absolute novice,” says Chris Espinosa, the twenty-two-year-old head of publications for the Mac team, “he assumes that’s the way all computers work. That’s our highest achievement. We’ve made almost every computer that’s ever been made look completely absurd.”

Espinosa might be the only person at Apple who can say “40th anniversary? That’s nothing.”

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jheiss
36 days ago
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I'm certainly happy with Apple's products in general, but the notion that they don't change things just for the sake of change is just bunk. The iPhone design going from square sides to rounded sides back to square sides?
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Signal Will Cost $50 Million Per Year to Run

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Meredith Whittaker and Joshua Lund, writing for the Signal blog back in November:

Instead of monetizing surveillance, we’re supported by donations, including a generous initial loan from Brian Acton. Our goal is to move as close as possible to becoming fully supported by small donors, relying on a large number of modest contributions from people who care about Signal. We believe this is the safest form of funding in terms of sustainability: ensuring that we remain accountable to the people who use Signal, avoiding any single point of funding failure, and rejecting the widespread practice of monetizing surveillance.

But our nonprofit structure doesn’t mean it costs less for Signal to produce a globally distributed communications app. Signal is a nonprofit, but we’re playing in a lane dominated by multi-billion-dollar corporations that have defined the norms and established the tech ecosystem, and whose business models directly contravene our privacy mission. So in order to provide a genuinely useful alternative, Signal spends tens of millions of dollars every year. We estimate that by 2025, Signal will require approximately $50 million dollars a year to operate — and this is very lean compared to other popular messaging apps that don’t respect your privacy.

Signal funds itself through voluntary donations. Most of its competitors are funded through advertising. But iMessage is funded through device sales. If it costs $50 million per year to operate Signal, I’d guess it costs Apple more than that to run iMessage.

I know the Beeper thing is last month’s news, but the fact that iMessage costs a lot of money to operate is generally overlooked by those who think Apple should be forced to “open it up”, whatever that might mean.

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jheiss
37 days ago
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It's pretty clear what "open it up" would mean. I'm not saying that Apple necessarily should do it, but let's not play dumb. The general form of an API and identity management for a messaging service is well understood.
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★ Al Gore, Mac Nerd and Internet Pioneer

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Apple press release, on 19 March 2003 (about seven months after I started writing Daring Fireball1):

Apple today announced that Albert Gore Jr., the former Vice President of the United States, has joined the Company’s Board of Directors. Mr. Gore was elected at Apple’s board meeting today.

“Al brings an incredible wealth of knowledge and wisdom to Apple from having helped run the largest organization in the world — the United States government — as a Congressman, Senator and our 45th Vice President. Al is also an avid Mac user and does his own video editing in Final Cut Pro,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “Al is going to be a terrific Director and we’re excited and honored that he has chosen Apple as his first private sector board to serve on.”

I love that the second sentence from Jobs was about how Gore is a Mac enthusiast who uses Final Cut Pro. Compare and contrast with today’s utterly milquetoast statements from Tim Cook and chairman Arthur Levinson about new board member Wanda Austin:

“Wanda has spent decades advancing technology on behalf of humanity, and we’re thrilled to welcome her to Apple’s board of directors,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “She’s an extraordinary leader, and her invaluable experience and expertise will support our mission of leaving the world better than we found it.”

“Wanda has long been a leader in unleashing the potential of cutting-edge technology,” said Arthur Levinson, the chair of Apple’s board of directors. “She brings incredible insights and experience to our board, and she will play an important role in helping Apple continue enriching users’ lives around the world.”

In 2003 there was one person in the world who could be described as a former vice president of the United States and avid Mac user. (That’s still true today, and that person remains Al Gore.) Cook’s and Levinson’s descriptions of Austin could apply to just about any technology company executive in the world.

Gore’s statement from 2003:

“Steve and his team have done an incredible job in making Apple once again the very best in the world,” said former Vice President Al Gore. “I have been particularly impressed with the new Mac OS X operating system and the company’s commitment to the open source movement. And I am especially looking forward to working with and learning from the great board members who have guided this legendary company’s inspiring resurgence.”

In 2003, Mac OS X was the most important product for the future of the company, and the open source movement was one of the major stories of the moment.

Austin’s statement today:

“Like Apple, I’ve always believed in the power of innovation to improve lives, support human potential, and shape a better future,” said Dr. Austin. “I’m honored to join Apple’s board of directors, and I look forward to being part of a company that’s always creating new ways to empower people all over the world.”

She could have said the exact same thing about joining the board of any tech company in the world today. If she serves for 20 years, like Gore did (which is unlikely, given that she’s already 70 and Gore is stepping down because of a policy “directors generally may not stand for reelection after reaching age 75”2), no one in the year 2044 is going to look back her statement above and think, Yeah, that captures what was then the current moment for Apple. Austin may well be a perfect candidate to serve on Apple’s board, but there’s nothing in today’s press release that indicates why.

Gore was widely mocked in the run-up to the 2000 election for supposedly claiming to have “invented the internet”. But he never claimed any such thing. From Snopes:

The claim that Gore was actually trying to take credit for the “invention” of the Internet was plainly just derisive political posturing that arose out of a close presidential campaign. If, for example, Dwight Eisenhower had said in the mid-1960s that he, while president, “took the initiative in creating the Interstate Highway System,” he would not have been the subject of dozens and dozens of editorials lampooning him for claiming he “invented” the concept of highways or implying that he personally went out and dug ditches across the country to help build the roadway. Everyone would have understood that Eisenhower meant he was a driving force behind the legislation that created the highway system, and this was the very same concept Al Gore was expressing about himself with interview remarks about the Internet. [...]

A spirited defense of Gore’s statement penned by Internet pioneers Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf (the latter often referred to as the “father of the Internet”) in 2000 noted that “Al Gore was the first political leader to recognize the importance of the Internet and to promote and support its development” and that “No other elected official, to our knowledge, has made a greater contribution [to the Internet] over a longer period of time.”

Not a bad endorsement.


  1. No mention of Gore’s appointment to the board in my archive for March 2003, but that preceded the existence of the Linked List (my short-form link entries). That month did see what I still consider my best ever one-two shot of back-to-back headlines: “Aliasing” and “Anti-Aliasing”. (There was also an “Anti-Anti-Aliasing”.) But this one, clearly, was the best piece of the month. ↩︎

  2. It’s wild to think that Gore, whose ill-fated lost-by-a-hair run for president took place a quarter century ago, has reached the mandatory retirement age for Apple’s board, yet is several years younger than both Joe Biden and Donald Trump. ↩︎︎

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jheiss
47 days ago
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Footnote #2: !!
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★ iOS 17.3, Now in Beta, Includes New ‘Stolen Device Protection’ Feature

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Joanna Stern and Nicole Nguyen, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+ link):

If you enable the new Stolen Device Protection, your iPhone will restrict certain settings when you are away from a location familiar to the iPhone, such as your home or work. Here’s the rundown:

Apple ID password change:

  • If you do nothing: A thief can use the passcode to change your Apple account password and lock you out. This move is the key to thieves turning off Find My and wiping phones for resale. Since you, the iPhone’s owner, don’t have the changed Apple ID password, you can’t immediately locate your iPhone or remotely wipe its data.

  • With Stolen Device Protection: If you want to change an Apple ID password when away from a familiar location, the device will require your Face ID or Touch ID. It will then implement an hour-long delay before you can perform the action. After that hour has passed, you will have to reconfirm with another Face ID or Touch ID scan. Only then can the password be changed.

This sounds like a very thoughtful solution to a devilishly tricky problem: a combination of biometrics, a time delay, with exceptions for when you’re in a known location like work or home.

Stern and Nguyen reported a series of stories this year detailing how thieves — in some cases, organized crime rings — were taking advantage of the god-like powers of your device passcode, the first in February and the follow-up in April. The gist of it is that your device passcode/passphrase controls the keys to your entire digital kingdom. With the phone and your passcode, you can reset your iCloud account password and access the passwords saved in your keychain. Thieves were scamming people to glean their passcodes, then stealing their phones. This granted thieves access not just to the phones’ contents, but to the victims’ banking accounts. And resetting the victims’ iCloud passwords prevented the victims from remotely wiping, locking, or finding the stolen devices. (One way the scam would run: Chat up the victim in a bar, and offer to use the target’s phone to snap a photo of the victim and their friends. Surreptitiously lock the phone out of Face ID when handing it back to the victim. Then, when next the victim wants to do anything on their phone, they need to enter their passcode. Either the thief or a partner in a team gleans the passcode. Then they steal the phone, knowing the device passcode.)

After Stern and Nguyen broke this story, a lot of people reasonably wondered why Apple allows you to reset your iCloud account password using only your device passcode. The reason is customer support: every single day, hundreds — maybe thousands? — of people are locked out of their iCloud account because they can’t remember the password. Android phones work the same way: you can reset your Google account password knowing only your device passcode. However many people are falling victim to thieves taking advantage of this, there are orders of magnitude more innocent users who do know their phone passcode, but have forgotten their iCloud/Google account password.

Stolen Device Protection sounds like it solves the problem very well. No existing workaround is a true defense against a thief who knows your device passcode. (Locking your iPhone with Screen Time protections was suggested by many as a mitigation, but you can completely override Screen Time protections with the device passcode — it just adds a few extra steps.)

Stolen Device Protection will be off by default, but users will be prompted about the feature upon restarting after upgrading to 17.3. That’s a reasonable compromise. My only doubts about the feature are the “home” and “work” safe locations, where the hour-long delay is overridden. (You still need to authenticate with Face ID or Touch ID, though.) How are these locations determined? I’ve installed the first 17.3 beta on a spare iPhone, and after enabling Stolen Device Protection, I tried changing my iCloud password, but I still need to wait an hour, even though I’m at home. (And this spare iPhone — my iPhone 13 Pro from last year — hasn’t left my house since September.)

Overall, this new feature is clearly a win for security — and a triumph of Joanna Stern and Nicole Nguyen’s investigative reporting.

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jheiss
80 days ago
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I'd love a setting to disable the iCloud password reset based on the device PIN, but I guess this is a reasonable compromise.
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Tip of the Day: You Can Select Multiple Tabs, Then Drag Them, in Safari, Chrome, and Firefox

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Jack Wellborn:

I just recently discovered that you can select and drag multiple Safari tabs by holding Shift or Command, just as you would to select and drag multiple items in Finder.

I had no idea you could do this with tabs. Just like making multiple selections in a list view, Shift-click will select an entire range at once, and Command-clicking lets you select (and deselect) noncontiguous tabs. If I’d known you could do this, I probably never would have written the AppleScript I posted the other day — but if I hadn’t written and posted that script, I don’t think I would learned this trick. Once you have multiple tabs selected, you can drag them together to create a new window, or do things like close them all at once.

This same trick works in Firefox and Chrome (and Chrome-derived browsers like Brave), too. This trick does not work in Safari on iPadOS, because iPads are baby computers where you can’t select more than one thing at a time.

Update: In a reply on Threads, Jay Robinson points out (and includes a nice screencast) that you can select multiple Safari tabs on iPad with multitouch. Drag one tab out of the tab bar, then, while keeping the drag active with one finger, use another finger to tap additional tabs to add them to the collection of tabs being dragged. But: all you can seemingly do with such a collection of dragged tabs is move them to another area in the current Safari window, or drop them as URLs into another app, like a message in Mail or Apple Notes. You can drag a single tab in iPad Safari to the edge of the screen to move it to a new split screen window, but if you have more than one tab in the drag collection, you can’t do that. Nor can you take group actions on the collection of tabs, like closing them all at once, or closing all tabs in the window other than the selected ones, like you can with the multiple-tab-selection feature in the big-boy Safari on MacOS. You can drag a collection of tabs on iPadOS into a tab group, if you have the sidebar open. That’s useful in combination with tab search, to filter the list of visible tabs — search, select the tabs that match the search term, and drag them together to a new or existing tab group. (You can create a drag collection of multiple tabs in iPhone Safari the same way.)

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jheiss
85 days ago
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Use this all the time in Chrome at work. I swear I'd tried and failed in Safari, but sure enough it works there too.
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1 public comment
Belfong
85 days ago
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Excellent tips!
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iOS 17.2 Adds NameDrop-Like Feature for Sharing Boarding Passes, Movie Tickets, and Other Wallet Items

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Joe Rossignol, MacRumors:

Starting with the upcoming iOS 17.2 software update, there is a new NameDrop-like feature that allows an iPhone user to quickly share boarding passes, movie tickets, and other Wallet app passes with another iPhone user.

To use the feature, open the Wallet app and tap on the pass that you want to share. Then, hold your iPhone near the top of another iPhone, and a “Share” button will appear below the pass on your iPhone. Finally, tap on the “Share” button to send the pass to the other iPhone via AirDrop. Both iPhones must be updated to iOS 17.2.

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jheiss
86 days ago
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Finally something about this functionality that seems actually useful. Always a hassle to make sure I get to the front of the boarding line ahead of my family, would be nice to just give everyone their boarding pass and let them go.
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