“We have a dream to overcome Apple.”

Since I’m a human, and we humans love to focus on the negative things around us, even if things are great, I’m going to point out what I think is one of the dumbest feature placements on a phone I’ve ever seen.

Samsung has decided it was a good idea to place the fingerprint reader on the back of the new Galaxy 8, right next to the camera lens:

To make it extra confusing, the fingerprint reader appears to have very similar contours and shape to the camera lens. What this means is, as you fumble your finger around the back of your Galaxy 8 to tap the fingerprint reader, there’s a high likelihood you’ll be smudging up your camera lens in the process.

The reason Samsung is merely dreaming of overcoming Apple, and not actually doing it, is because of shitty decisions like this.

Maybe next year, Samsung. Maybe next year.

Rather Than Innovate, Sue Them

Inside the Hotel Industry’s Plan to Combat Airbnb:

Last year, Airbnb underwent a rough regulatory patch.

The short-term rental company became a Federal Trade Commission target last summer after three senators asked for an investigation into how companies like Airbnb affect soaring housing costs. In October, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York signed a bill imposing steep fines on Airbnb hosts who break local housing rules.

The two actions appeared unrelated. But one group quietly took credit for both: the hotel industry.

In a presentation in November, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, a trade group that counts Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide and Hyatt Hotels as members, said the federal investigation and the New York bill were “notable accomplishments.”

Rather than innovate and make booking a hotel room as easy as booking an Airbnb, the hotel industry would rather snitch on Airbnb, form alliances with politicians, and sue them out of existence.

It’s the American way!

I’m not suggesting Airbnb isn’t capable of, or hasn’t engaged in shady business practices like Uber, I’m just saying fighting upstart rivals can’t be the only tool in your box.

“Behind every great fortune, is a great crime.”

Uber’s Top Secret “Hell” Program Exploited Lyft’s Vulnerability (paywall):

As the ride-sharing market was exploding in the U.S. between 2014 and the early part 2016, Uber had an advantage over Lyft that helped Uber maintain its lead, The Information has learned. Thanks to a secret software-based effort within Uber called “Hell,” Uber could track how many Lyft drivers were available for new rides and where they were, according to a person who was involved in the program and a person who was briefed about it.

As the philosopher Chris Rock said in his great standup act, Never Scared (channelling Honoré de Balzac), Behind every great fortune, is a crime.”

Uber is chock full of ’em.

No Speaky to Bixby

Samsung says Bixby voice assistant won’t ship with Galaxy S8:

One of the key signature features of Samsung’s Galaxy S8, its Bixby voice assistant, won’t work out of the box, when the device goes on sale later this month. Other parts of Bixby, including its visual search and reminder abilities, will ship at launch, a Samsung representative told Axios in a statement.

Samsung really doesn’t like being reliant on Android to power all their mobile devices. Tizen is the most obvious example of this. TouchWiz is another. Bixby is the latest example.

What I want to know is if Samsung is truly invested in Bixby for the long-term?

Siri was very beta and had many problems when it first launched. Today it has much fewer, although it has a ways to go. Apple’s great at having the balls to ship 1.0 versions of products and then iterate year after year. Remember when everyone was bitching about the shitty colors, icons, and hard-to-read Helvetica Light in iOS 7? If you compare iOS 7 to iOS 10 you can see a lot has changed in four years.

Even if Samsung does decide to stick with Bixby, they have yet to prove they can ship top-quality software experiences on par with iOS and Android.

If Samsung is dreaming of overcoming Apple, they have some work ahead of them.

“Who,” Not “That”

Over at The New York Times, Frank Bruni asks, What Happened to Who?:

I first noticed it during the 2016 Republican presidential debates, which were crazy-making for so many reasons that I’m not sure how I zeroed in on this one. “Who” was being exiled from its rightful habitat. It was a linguistic bonobo: endangered, possibly en route to extinction.

Instead of saying “people who,” Donald Trump said “people that.” Marco Rubio followed suit. Even Jeb Bush, putatively the brainy one, was “that”-ing when he should have been “who”-ing, so I was cringing when I should have been oohing.

It’s always a dangerous thing when politicians get near the English language: Run for the exits and cover the children’s ears. But this bit of wreckage particularly bothered me. This was who, a pronoun that acknowledges our humanity, our personhood, separating us from the flotsam and jetsam out there. We’re supposed to refer to “the trash that” we took out or “the table that” we discovered at a flea market. We’re not supposed to refer to “people that call my office” (Rubio) or “people that come with a legal visa and overstay” (Bush).

Bruni acknowledges the historical precedent of “that” in place of “who”, but I agree with him: using “who” when referring to a person is just more accurate.

There are many inconsistencies languages adopt through common usage, but that doesn’t make them ok, and it doesn’t mean should use them as the basis for how we write and speak.

I guess my question is: Once you explicitly see the options, “people who” and “people that,” what possible justification would you have to use “that“?

New Mac Pros for 2018

John Gruber with the Mac Pro scoop:

Let’s not beat around the bush. I have great news to share:

Apple is currently hard at work on a “completely rethought” Mac Pro, with a modular design that can accommodate high-end CPUs and big honking hot-running GPUs, and which should make it easier for Apple to update with new components on a regular basis. They’re also working on Apple-branded pro displays to go with them.

I also have not-so-great news:

These next-gen Mac Pros and pro displays “will not ship this year”. (I hope that means “next year”, but all Apple said was “not this year”.) In the meantime, Apple is today releasing meager speed-bump updates to the existing Mac Pros. The $2999 model goes from 4 Xeon CPU cores to 6, and from dual AMD G300 GPUs to dual G500 GPUs. The $3999 model goes from 6 CPU cores to 8, and from dual D500 GPUs to dual D800 GPUs. Nothing else is changing, including the ports. No USB-C, no Thunderbolt 3 (and so no support for the LG UltraFine 5K display).

I’m not a Mac Pro user, but I’m excited about this nonetheless.

Now the Apple-branded pro displays I am interested in.

Car Companies Are Still Struggling with Interface Design

Headline from The Verge:

The 2017 BMW 5 Series emphasizes design over intuitive software

First off, shame on whoever the editor is for creating that headline. They’re conflating design with the superfluous. Design isn’t how it looks, it’s how it works.

How many times do we have to go over this?

If you do eventually get your phone connected over Bluetooth, you have a few options for controlling iDrive. The most novel way is with those gesture controls. I was excited to try them because, as I’ve learned after playing around with many gadgets, it’s often a gimmicky and faulty feature. I hoped that BMW had figured out the magic solution to making it an essential form of interaction. Spoiler: the company hasn’t. The gesture controls didn’t always function, and beyond that, I never wanted to rotate my finger in a circle to adjust the volume level or stick two fingers out to end a call. I tried to make the controls part of my driving experience and ended up never using them, although they were still a fun party trick that entertained my passengers. Buttons and knobs have a 100 percent success rate — why would I want to struggle to change the volume with a twirl of my finger when I could just turn the volume knob?

BMW’s voice commands also weren’t foolproof. The system registered people who have a full name in my phone book, like The Verge’s photographer Amelia Krales, but not addresses like 550 West 25th Street, or simple words like “mom.” Why is it always so hard to call my mom?

Incumbents always laugh at the idea of a newbie coming into their industry and stealing away market share, but the car industry is a great example of an industry ripe for disruption. This happened to the fixed-keyboard smartphones with the iPhone, it’s happening now to the watch world with the Apple Watch, but I’m not sure we can say it’s happening to the auto industry yet (Ford sold 2.5 million cars in 2016, Tesla moved 80K).

It frustrates me when I read about BMW creating it’s own (currently inferior) voice command system, when a lot of us already use Siri or ‘Ok, Google’. It’s bad enough we have redundant AI efforts happening at Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Apple, but now auto makers are joining in. I understand not wanting to let the tech companies eat your lunch, but something has to give. Let us plug our phones into our cars, our lives are on those devices.

Mercedes-Benz is another company continuing to make cumbersome user interfaces. I recently drove a fully-loaded 2016 E Class sedan and for such a classy, well-engineered, and fun-to-drive car, the on-screen graphics and menus lack the visual sophistication you expect from a Mercedes (fonts are clunky, drop shadows are heavy-handed, background swooshes and texture are dated, animations are stiff), and are also confusing to navigate.

Uber’s Psychological Tricks

The New York Times has a fascinating look into all the psychological tricks Uber (and Lyft) uses to get drivers to to keep driving:

Uber even published a study last year, using its vast pile of data on drivers’ rides and hours, finding that a “substantial, although not most, fraction of partners” practice an extreme form of income targeting when they start on the platform, though they abandon it as they gain more experience. Strict income targeting is highly inefficient because it leads drivers to work long hours on days when business is slow and their hourly take is low, and to knock off early on days when business is brisk.

The beauty of the messages that Uber sent Mr. Streeter and his fellow drivers is that the drivers need not have even had a specific income goal in mind in order for the messages to work. Some of the most addictive games ever made, like the 1980s and ’90s hit Tetris, rely on a feeling of progress toward a goal that is always just beyond the player’s grasp. As the psychologist Adam Alter writes in his book “Irresistible,” video game designers even have a name for this mental state: the “ludic loop.”

Uber, for its part, appears to be aware of the ludic loop. In its messages to drivers, it included a graphic of an engine gauge with a needle that came tantalizingly close to, but was still short of, a dollar sign.

And the ludic loop is far from the only video game feature that Uber has adapted as a way of keeping drivers on the road.

If taken in isolation, this article isn’t all that crazy, but it’s part of a bigger picture revealing a company whose executives visit karaoke-escort bars in Korea, evades law enforcement with their technology, has a hostile, sexist work environment filed with sexual harassment cases, and give the actual drivers rather shitty compensation considering they’re valued at over 60 billion dollars.

The ultimate goal of a corporation is 100% efficiency and after reading this piece, it’s clear humans are but a stopgap solution until robots start driving (and doing everything else).

Not Fooled

Guys, this is really lame.

And I just got this 30 minutes ago — it’s still Match 31st in California, idiots.

Can we retire April Fools’ Day? Please?

They call it a dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.*

Over at The Verge, Dan Seifert has a interesting look into Samsung and their goals behind the new S8:

“We have a dream to overcome Apple.”

With that simple, obvious statement, the air was sucked out of the large conference room in Samsung’s Suwon, South Korea, headquarters before the company even had a chance to show me the device I flew halfway across the world to see. It’s not often that you hear someone at Samsung actually verbalize the unsaid motivation for many of the company’s products — most executives won’t even mention Apple by name. Yet here was the company’s vice president of product strategy just blurting it out to a small group of journalists.

It seems marketshare isn’t always enough and doesn’t always make you feel like the best. It was only in Q4 2016 that Apple regained the #1 spot in market share. Before this past Q4 Samsung had been the reigning champ.

One of the S8’s flagship features is their new AI ‘bright sidekick’, Bixby:

It’s a smart play: Samsung knows it can’t compete with Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and others when it comes to raw machine learning power and putting vast amounts of information at your fingertips, so it’s using Bixby to solve a simpler task, one that those companies have largely ignored. Bixby isn’t going to try to be the everything-assistant. Instead, it will be that “bright sidekick” that complements those other services. It’s a new user interface, not a new way to ask how tall the Eiffel Tower is.

Wow, less capable than Siri and ‘Ok, Google’. Sounds like a must-have feature!

Seifert had a nagging thought that quelled his optimism for the S8:

As I watched brand-new S8 phones get bolted together on Samsung’s new production line in the Gumi factory, it was obvious that the company has a plan for designing great hardware in the wake of the Note 7 fiasco. But as much as I knew that the devices coming off that factory line would have amazing hardware and eye-catching design, I couldn’t escape a nagging thought.

I realized that there’s a thing that many pro users do when they get their hands on a new Samsung smartphone: they immediately disable as many of Samsung’s own apps and services as possible and replace them with Google’s versions. The appreciation for Samsung’s design and hardware rarely extends to its software efforts.

Samsung makes Android phones, so the only way (outside of hardware) they can distinguish themselves from all the other Android phone makers is to make a unique software experience and people are disabling their software features.

Ouch.

Good luck with that dream, Samsung.

*the title of this piece was borrowed from George Carlin

The Mature Smartphone Market

The end of smartphone innovation:

This autumn Apple will release a new iPhone design, and the fact that it postponed a new design and kept the 6 design for three years instead of two suggests it has something that will attract attention. However, it will really still ‘just’ be another iPhone. Meanwhile, we have some indications that Apple is working on AR glasses (of which more later) and certainly was working on a car project – but neither of these is likely to see a mass-market consumer release for a year or two at the least (cars perhaps longer). So, expect a lot more ‘innovation dead at Apple!’ stories.

This is paralleled at Android, I think: the new developer release of version ‘O’ has lots of good work and solid worthy stuff, but nothing world changing. Again, the cry will go up, “innovation is dead!”

Evans is skeptical on voice being the next hot tech. He’s more bullish on augmented reality (AR).

It seems like only yesterday the iPhone was released, but in reality it debuted 10 years ago this past January. The smartphone market is mature, so everyone is anxious about what comes next.

Like every other tech company, Apple’s goal now is not to predict the post-iPhone future, but to invent it.

Spark

Blanchard Joins Readdle to Work on Popular Email Client ‘Spark’:

Readdle has hired former Apple Mail engineering manager Terry Blanchard in a position that will focus on creating the “future of email” for Readdle’s popular email client “Spark,” working with an entirely new team of his choosing in Silicon Valley. Blanchard’s new role, per his LinkedIn page, is vice president of engineering for Readdle.

I decided to start testing Spark as my main email client on iPhone and desktop a few months ago and so far I love it.