The Initial Charge Linked List

 
The Initial Charge Linked List is a frequently updated list of notable links and commentary. You can subscribe to the Linked List with its dedicated RSS feed or you can follow along on the main feed, which includes both Linked List items and feature articles from the site.
 

Early Thoughts on DirecTV Now ➝

Eric Schwarz:

I sort of see the product as a public beta right now. It’s mostly complete, but with the amount of excitement and emphasis that AT&T is putting on it, they’d be morons not to tweak it a bit these first few months. By offering a discounted rate and free devices to early adopters, the risk is pretty low.

The thought of paying $35 or more each month for a streaming media service seems outrageous to me. Between the WWE Network and Hulu, I currently only pay $23 a month. What has me interested in the service, though, is the free devices they offer. The way I see it, if I pre-pay for three months of DirecTV Now, I’m essentially paying $105 for an Apple TV and getting the service for free. That’s a great deal even if I never launch the DirecTV app and cancel before it auto-renews.

Seagate’s New Amazon Cloud-Syncing Portable Hard Drive ➝

A neat new hard drive from Seagate that automatically uploads backup copies of everything stored on it to Amazon Drive. This seems like the perfect backup solution — offering local and offsite backups in a single product.

Counterfeit Apple Chargers Fail Safety Tests ➝

BBC News:

Investigators have warned consumers they face potentially fatal risks after 99% of fake Apple chargers failed a basic safety test.

Trading Standards, which commissioned the checks, said counterfeit electrical goods bought online were an “unknown entity”.

Of 400 counterfeit chargers, only three were found to have enough insulation to protect against electric shocks.

This problem has been around for quite some time, but it seems to have gotten a lot worse recently.

The ‘Twist’ ➝

A great tip by Joe Cieplinski on how to prevent your cables from fraying prematurely. I don’t experience this problem as frequently as other people do — my cables tend to last for several years, even the ones I use every day. But I’ll probably give the twist a shot anyway.

Twelve South Compass Comparison ➝

Ben Brooks:

One of the best products Twelve South has ever made is the Compass. A collapsible stand for iPads which can hold it at two angles, but really you just use it to hold it at an easel like angle. I’ve had one, off and on for years, and swear by them.

However, at some point Twelve South revised the design and launched the Compass 2. The new design looks very much the same, but is worse in just about every aspect (I’m being generous here, because I honestly can’t think of a way that it is better). I hate it.

I couldn’t agree more. The original Compass was great, and I continue to use it regularly, but the Compass 2 is a real stinker.

The front feet don’t sit wide enough to keep your iPad stable and it’s almost impossible to tap anything in the top corners without knocking your tablet over. Luckily, Amazon still has the original Compass available if you’re looking for one, but they’re almost out of stock. And I don’t expect they’ll be getting any more once those are gone.

I’ll continue clinging to my Compass 1 until it’s completely unusable, but I sure hope Twelve South does another redesign and fixes these problems.

Tim Cook Expects AirPods to Ship Within ‘Next Few Weeks’ ➝

Here we are, two months after Apple proclaimed that wireless is the future of audio. Their solution still hasn’t hit the market and their ability to communicate with customers about why that is or when we should expect them has been absolutely terrible.

Netflix Announces Offline Viewing ➝

Netflix:

Netflix members worldwide can now download in addition to stream great series and films at no extra cost.

While many members enjoy watching Netflix at home, we’ve often heard they also want to continue their Stranger Things binge while on airplanes and other places where Internet is expensive or limited. Just click the download button on the details page for a film or TV series and you can watch it later without an internet connection.

I wonder how long these videos are available once you go offline. Are they watchable indefinitely or does the app have to hit Netflix’s servers once a month? If not, could you take a bunch of videos offline, cancel your subscription, and continue to watch them as long as the app isn’t able to check with the server?

Amazon Developing an Echo Speaker With Touchscreen ➝

Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg:

Amazon.com Inc. is developing a premium Echo-like speaker with a screen, a sign the world’s largest online retailer is trying to capitalize on the surprise success of its voice-controlled home gadgets and fend off competition from Google and Apple Inc.

The new device will have a touchscreen measuring about seven inches, a major departure from Amazon’s existing cylindrical home devices that are controlled and respond mostly through the company’s voice-based Alexa digital assistant, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Based on what I’ve heard from Echo owners, the kitchen is where these devices really shine. I wonder if Amazon will position this touchscreen model as the ultimate kitchen computer, with cook books from the Kindle Store and food shows from Amazon Video.

Hands-on With ‘Designed by Apple in California’ ➝

If you don’t have two hundred dollars laying around, DetroitBORG walks through the entire Designed by Apple in California book.

Fake News ➝

Ben Thompson:

There are even more fundamental problems, though: how do you decide what is fake and what isn’t? Where is the line? And, perhaps most critically, who decides? To argue that the existence of some number of fake news items amongst an ocean of other content ought to result in active editing of Facebook content is not simply a logistical nightmare but, at least when it comes to the potential of bad outcomes, far more fraught than it appears.

This is the biggest concern I have with this fake new debate: who decides what is and isn’t fake and could that position be abused?

Best Backup Plan for Your Mac ➝

Peter Cohen and Lory Gil, writing for iMore:

If you’re using any one, individual technique to make sure your Mac is backed up, you may be wondering why you have to combine strategies at all. The main reason is redundancy: You don’t want a single point of failure in the system to keep you from gaining access to the files that you need.

My current backup system includes all of my Macs running Time Machine pointed at our Time Capsule and myself occasionally making clones with SuperDuper. I know it’s not as comprehensive as it should be. Here are the two main problems:

  • I don’t have an offsite backup.
  • There’s no system in place for regular SuperDuper clones — I do them when I think about it, which is less frequently than I should.

What I hope to do in the future is sign up for BackBlaze, which will give me an offsite solution, and setup a reminder system for cloning.

What to Do With That Old iPhoto Library ➝

Glenn Fleishman, writing for Macworld:

Deleting a hard link in one place leaves all the other references intact. When the number of hard links drops to just one, you’ve just got a file! No hard links at all. And deleting that one reference, the file itself, truly does throw the file in the trash. Thus, delete your iPhoto Library, and—ostensibly—you won’t delete any files shared by Photos through hard links.

Having said all that, please make a complete backup of both your iPhoto and Photos libraries before deleting the iPhoto Library. You should be able to toss it and lose nothing, but I’m not so blithe as to suggest you whistle while you’re emptying the trash and assume all is well.

A great tip for anyone who has fully transitioned from iPhoto to Photos on the Mac.

Apple Halving Fees for Subscription Streaming Services That Integrate With TV App ➝

Lucas Shaw and Alex Webb, reporting for Bloomberg:

Some video partners have already been paying 15 percent of monthly subscription fees to Apple. The company is now extending the rate to all subscription video services as long as they are integrated with Apple’s new TV app, said the people who asked not to be identified because the changes aren’t public.

That’s one way to encourage these companies to integrate iOS and tvOS’s new features into their apps. I just hope it will entice Amazon to bring their video service to the Apple TV.

Designed by Apple in California ➝

From Apple’s press release:

Apple today announced the release of a new hardbound book chronicling 20 years of Apple’s design, expressed through 450 photographs of past and current Apple products. “Designed by Apple in California,” which covers products from 1998’s iMac to 2015’s Apple Pencil, also documents the materials and techniques used by Apple’s design team over two decades of innovation. […]

“Designed by Apple in California” is available in two sizes and printed on specially milled, custom-dyed paper with gilded matte silver edges, using eight color separations and low-ghost ink. This linen-bound, hardcover volume was developed over an eight-year period. It is published by Apple.

I wonder if Apple realizes how bad it looks for them to release a book amidst all of the complaints about their Mac lineup. Not that I believe this project kept them from developing their products — I don’t expect many of the people that produced this book are the same people who work on Mac hardware. But any effort Apple spends on unnecessary products leaves them open to ridicule — “why didn’t they put their effort into working on the Mac mini, Mac Pro, or iMac instead?”

Don’t get me wrong, I want this book. I don’t think I’ll ever buy one given its price point, but as a huge fan of Apple for over a decade, I love stuff like this. It is an odd product, though. I never would have expected Apple — of all companies — to release something like this.

I guess this book would have been more palatable if Apple produced it for employees and sold it to the public exclusively in their company store in Cupertino. But in that scenario, we’d probably be reading headlines like: “Apple made the most amazing design book that you can’t buy.”

PhotoScan ➝

A neat new app from Google that helps you digitize old, analog photographs. I sent the link to my wife, Becky, as soon as I heard about it. I expect she’ll give it a try sometime this weekend.

A few months ago, Becky came across hundreds of photos from her childhood that she’s been looking for a good way to digitize. My hope is that it’ll work as well as Google claims it does in their promo video. But if the folks in my Twitter timeline are to be believed, the results are a bit of a mixed bag.

Apple Begins App Store Purge ➝

Sarah Perez, writing for TechCrunch:

Earlier this year, Apple promised it would clean up its iOS App Store by removing outdated, abandoned apps, including those that no longer meet current guidelines or don’t function as intended. That great App Store purge now appears to be underway, according to new data from app intelligence firm Sensor Tower. The company found that app removals increased by 238 percent in October 2016, with mobile games seeing the most deletions.

It’s now far less likely that you’ll encounter broken apps when browsing the App Store. And that sounds great to me.

Using the iPad for Web Development ➝

Matt Gemmell:

Responsive testing, though, is something you actually can do on the iPad, up to a point, with Web Tools. It lets you resize the viewport, or choose from a set of popular device sizes, and it also has a rudimentary built-in web inspector with DOM tree and editable CSS attributes (and a JavaScript console, as an in-app purchase). It’s basic, but you can readily use it to see how your site responds as the browser window resizes, or on different screen sizes than your own.

I hadn’t heard about Web Tools until reading this piece, but it looks like a great app. I’ll have to give it a try next time I’m in front of my iPad with some time to kill.

‘The iPhone 7 Plus Is My Only Computer’ ➝

Justin Blanton:

I’ve long wanted to get to this point, and being (mostly) here now feels pretty damn good.

Much of what makes this possible is that I can delegate in one way or another most of what I think of, and can get away with being extremely terse in my emails. At this stage of my career my day-to-day job requires minimal work-product; if I was coding all day, designing websites, or researching, I probably wouldn’t be able to leverage my pocket computer the way I do, but I wouldn’t want to either.

There are a lot of people who just don’t need traditional computers anymore. Delegating tasks, checking on projects, discussing ideas — communicating — is the kind of work that smartphones excel at. There’s no reason to add the unnecessary cruft that comes along with desktop operating systems when you have everything you need on your pocket computer.

(Via Eric Schwarz.)

Moving Forward Together ➝

Tim Cook, in a memo to employees following the election:

While there is discussion today about uncertainties ahead, you can be confident that Apple’s North Star hasn’t changed. Our products connect people everywhere, and they provide the tools for our customers to do great things to improve their lives and the world at large. Our company is open to all, and we celebrate the diversity of our team here in the United States and around the world — regardless of what they look like, where they come from, how they worship or who they love.

As a rule, I don’t cover politics here on Initial Charge. But I thought this memo was worth breaking the rules for.

The Retina Divide ➝

Apple released their first Intel Macs in January 2006 — the MacBook Pro and iMac. The final Mac to transition from PowerPC to Intel was released in August of that same year. In just seven months, Apple was able to transition their entire lineup to x86 processors. Granted this isn’t a direct comparison, but Apple announced their first product with a Retina display in June 2010 — the iPhone 4 — and here we are nearly six-and-a-half years later and Apple is still selling products with low pixel density displays.

Based on the price differential between Retina and non-Retina Macs, it’s clear that the cost of including these high-density displays is the limiting factor. But why is that still the case? Why hasn’t Apple found other ways to shave manufacturing costs on their computers or come to terms with temporarily decreased margins?

At this point, I wouldn’t buy a new Mac without a Retina display and Apple should draw a similar line in the sand. Non-Retina displays are drastically inferior products and Apple should feel like fools for continuing to sell them.

tvOS Apps Can Now Be Purchased on iOS Devices and Macs ➝

John Voorhees, writing for MacStories:

Today, Apple added tvOS apps to its iTunes Link Maker web app and enabled tvOS app purchases on iOS devices, even if the tvOS app is available only on the Apple TV. iTunes Link Maker lets you search for and generate links to iTunes content. tvOS app links generated by the iTunes Link Maker open in iTunes on macOS and the App Store app on iOS where the apps can be purchased or downloaded. If automatic downloads are enabled on your Apple TV, any apps acquired this way should show up on your Apple TV the next time you turn it on.

I expected Apple to add this functionality to their new Remote app — allowing you to fully manage your Apple TV from iOS, like you can with the Watch. I’m not sure if this is a better solution, my proposal seems a bit cleaner to me, but at least we can finally link to tvOS apps on the web. This is great news for developers who may have found it difficult to promote their Apple TV apps — it’s much easier to send someone a link than to tell them to search for it, and hope they remember to, next time their using the device.

We Don’t Want to Leave the Mac ➝

Marco Arment makes a great case for why Apple should continue developing the Mac Pro:

The world has never seen anything like macOS, and nothing will truly replace it. If we’re forced to move to something else, it’ll be painfully, inescapably, perpetually worse.

Keep the Mac Pro alive, Apple, so none of us have to make that choice.

The rest of the lineup is great for almost everyone. Almost. But please don’t abandon those of us who truly want or need the best computers in the world, because if they’re not Macs, they’re not good enough.

I’ve never owned a Mac Pro and I probably never will. But I think it would be a huge detriment to the community if Apple discontinued its development.

Apple Slashes USB-C Dongle Pricing Following MacBook Pro Backlash ➝

Joanna Stern, reporting for the Wall Street Journal:

Apple Inc. announced Friday it will significantly cut the prices of the USB-C adapters it sells in its stores, following backlash to the lack of full-size USB, SD card or HDMI ports in the new line of MacBook Pro laptops. […]

Among the price cuts, the much needed $19 USB-C to USB adapter will now cost $9. The $69 USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter drops to $49. And a 1-meter USB-C to Lightning cable—the only direct way to connect an iPhone to a new MacBook—drops from $25 to $19, the same price as a standard USB to Lightning cable.

Remember when Apple dropped the original iPhone’s price by $200 just a couple months after release? That was weird.

Updates to IFTTT ➝

From the IFTTT weblog:

In the past, you used IFTTT by adding Recipes, which were “if this, then that” connections between two services. Today, Recipes have evolved into Applets. Applets can do everything that Recipes could — and much more. They bring your services together, creating new experiences that you can unlock with a single switch.

I really need to spend an afternoon exploring everything that IFTTT has to offer. These updates seem like a perfect opportunity to do just that.

Apple Designs for the Future ➝

Marco Arment:

We’ve had the standard USB plug (USB-A) in widespread use for 18 years, and it’s going to take a few more years for USB-C to become so ubiquitous that we can get away without USB-A ports most of the time.

A pro laptop released today should definitely have USB-C ports — mostly USB-C ports, even — but it should also have at least one USB-A port.

This may have been the more pragmatic approach from Marco’s perspective, but it all depends on what Apple was trying to accomplish. Maybe Apple was determined to push the industry towards USB-C and wireless as quickly as possible. If that’s the case, including a USB-A port would have been detrimental to their plans — prolonging the lifespan of a dying technology.

Apple Exiting Standalone Display Market ➝

In case you missed it, in the storm of coverage following Apple’s MacBook Pro event last week, Nilay Patel has been told that Apple is leaving the standalone display business.

Google AMP Gets Mixed Reviews From Publishers ➝

Jack Marshall, writing for the Wall Street Journal:

In recent months Google has begun including many more links to stripped-down AMP pages in its mobile search results. This has directed more traffic to those AMP pages and less to publishers’ full mobile websites. Google said in a Sept. 21 blog post that AMP search results would be introduced across search engine results pages worldwide “in the coming weeks.”

For some publishers that is a problem, since their AMP pages do not currently generate advertising revenue at the same rate as their full mobile sites. Multiple publishers said an AMP pageview currently generates around half as much revenue as a pageview on their full mobile websites.

Here’s a novel idea, stop using AMP entirely and build leaner web pages.

’Most People Don’t Draw Professionally’ ➝

John Gruber:

I tried out a Surface Studio in Microsoft’s San Francisco store (in the Westfield Mall) yesterday evening. It’s an interesting machine, as well-built as promised. And I do think it might prove useful and very popular with people who draw professionally. Most people don’t draw professionally, though. And using a pen or fingers on a mouse pointer-based OS remains as clunky as ever. Also, for what it’s worth, drawing latency on the Studio is OK, but not as good as on an iPad Pro with Apple Pencil. And there’s noticeable parallax between the glass surface and the actual pixels of the display.

I don’t draw professionally.

If I had $3,000 burning a hole in my pocket, I think I’d buy a 27-inch iMac with a 256GB SSD, a 12.9-inch iPad Pro with 128GB of storage, and an Apple Pencil.

Why I Still Buy Apple Hardware ➝

Ben Brooks, regarding the Surface Studio’s biggest flaw:

When I was talking about the Surface Studio on Twitter, someone responded “have you guys even used Windows lately”. I chuckled, because I have, and it’s shit. Anyone who thinks the Surface Studio makes up for that, is going to be really fucking sad.

No good Markdown writing apps, no robust note taking app market (hope you love OneNote), or good apps period. The apps look like apps out of 2003, and don’t even hold a candle to many of the free apps on Mac or iOS.

I originally switched to the Mac in 2006 because I fell in love with Apple’s hardware designs. After purchasing an iPod nano and fifth-generation iPod, I wanted that experience to extend behind my music listening.

I bought the base model white plastic MacBook and upgraded the RAM and hard drive myself, shortly after taking it home. What followed was serval weeks (or months) of discovery. There were all of these incredible third-party developers making some of the most well-designed applications I’ve ever seen.

I may have switched to the Mac because of the hardware, but I’ve stayed on Apple’s platforms because of the software. Nothing on Windows compares to the fit and finish of apps like Transmit, Alfred, Ulysses, and countless more. I haven’t dipped my toes in the other pond as recently as Ben — it’s been a few years since I’ve used a Windows machine for any meaningful length of time — but the impression that I get is that very little has changed on this front.

An Ode to the 11-Inch MacBook Air ➝

A great piece by Serenity Caldwell, about one of my favorite Macs of all time. I own the mid-2011 model with a Core i7 and it’s a machine I still use regularly, despite its age.

The Death of Vine ➝

From the announcement on Medium:

Today, we are sharing the news that in the coming months we’ll be discontinuing the mobile app.

Nothing is happening to the apps, website or your Vines today. We value you, your Vines, and are going to do this the right way. You’ll be able to access and download your Vines. We’ll be keeping the website online because we think it’s important to still be able to watch all the incredible Vines that have been made. You will be notified before we make any changes to the app or website.

This was published earlier today, likely in an effort to hide it within the noise of the Apple event.

Vine founder Rus Yusupov tweeted the following shortly after the announcement:

Don’t sell your company!

Wise words.

Apple’s New TV App ➝

From Apple’s tvOS webpage:

Watching TV has quickly become all about apps. And now, with the new TV app, you have one place to access shows and movies from multiple video apps — in one unified experience. The TV app lets you see all the movies and shows you’re watching. Find upcoming episodes. Get recommendations for new things to watch. See your entire iTunes video collection. You can even start watching a movie or show directly from the TV app. All without switching between individual apps.

I’m not too keen on the name or the icon, but I’m sure it will grow on me in time. And it’s terribly unfortunate that Netflix isn’t one of the supported services. This will undoubtedly be a sticking point for a lot of users until Apple is able to work out a deal.

I can’t wait to get my hands on this, though. The app-based interface for watching media content doesn’t scale too well, once you have more than a few services, you find yourself cycling through each one while browsing for something to watch. This simplifies the experience and offers an interface that’s much more attractive than that of most standalone media apps.

Apple to Announce ‘Watch List’ App ➝

Dawn Chmielewski, reporting for USA Today:

Apple plans to announce this week a new way for viewers to discover TV shows through an app, people with knowledge of the project told USA TODAY. […]

Described to network executives as “the Watch List,” the app will recommend shows based on the content viewers access through their Apple TVs. For example, a subscriber to FX Networks might be encouraged to check out the new dramatic series Atlanta.

There’s no indication as to whether you’ll need a cable subscription or not, but I really hope the app is cord-cutter-friendly.

Carrot Weather ➝

I still use Weather Line when I want to check the forecast on my iPhone and Dark Sky for its Today View widget, but Carrot is by far the best watchOS weather app I’ve used.

On iPhones and Tenth Anniversaries ➝

John Gruber:

Let me add here a note about something that’s been bothering me for months: the notion that Apple is going to do something “special” next year to commemorate the iPhone’s 10th anniversary. I would wager heavily that they won’t. Apple under Tim Cook is a little bit more prone to retrospection than it was under Steve Jobs, who was almost obsessively forward-thinking, but only slightly.

I do expect Apple to briefly mention the tenth anniversary on stage, but that’ll be it. There isn’t going to be a special edition of the iPhone or any type of proper celebration. Any major industrial design changes will be purely coincidental — because they’re ready to ship, not because of some arbitrary anniversary.

Hacked Cameras, DVRs Powered Yesterday’s Internet Outage ➝

Brian Krebs:

At first, it was unclear who or what was behind the attack on Dyn. But over the past few hours, at least one computer security firm has come out saying the attack involved Mirai, the same malware strain that was used in the record 620 Gpbs attack on my site last month. At the end September 2016, the hacker responsible for creating the Mirai malware released the source code for it, effectively letting anyone build their own attack army using Mirai.

Mirai scours the Web for IoT devices protected by little more than factory-default usernames and passwords, and then enlists the devices in attacks that hurl junk traffic at an online target until it can no longer accommodate legitimate visitors or users.

Setting aside the shoddy security of these devices, yesterday felt incredibly weird. I spent most of my work day without access to Twitter and it was a miserable experience. The service has become an important part of my life, it’s where I communicate with my friends and first hear about important news. Without it, I feel eerily disconnected. I actually had to type a URL into my browser to find out why the service was down.

How the Web Became Unreadable ➝

Kevin Marks, writing on Medium:

There’s a widespread movement in design circles to reduce the contrast between text and background, making type harder to read. Apple is guilty. Google is, too. So is Twitter. […]

My plea to designers and software engineers: Ignore the fads and go back to the typographic principles of print — keep your type black, and vary weight and font instead of grayness. You’ll be making things better for people who read on smaller, dimmer screens, even if their eyes aren’t aging like mine. It may not be trendy, but it’s time to consider who is being left out by the web’s aesthetic.

I’ve always found this trend troubling, why wouldn’t designers want their text to be crisp? Instead, they settle for muddy grays on slightly-less-muddy light gray. I think it looks like trash and is difficult to read.

‘The Google Pixel Is Too Dumb and Ugly to Replace Your iPhone’ ➝

Michael Nunez, writing for Gizmodo:

If you’re like me, and have avoided the iPhone all these years, it’s time to give in. The iPhone is definitively better this year. The current roster of flagship Android phones are a complete joke. The Galaxy S7 at least looks nice, but it’s already more than six months old. If you must buy an Android phone, the Pixel makes a strong case. But I can no longer heartily endorse buying an Android, because if this is the best phone available, it’s time to move on.

Dang.

Apple’s AirPort in the Age of Mesh Networking ➝

Rene Ritchie, writing for iMore:

Apple’s AirPorts are currently pre-mesh. You get an AirPort Extreme and, if it doesn’t reach every room in your house, you get an AirPort Express — or another Extreme — and cobble it all together. It’s… quaint. Perhaps even antiquated. And it’s no longer the best experience for Apple’s customers.

I think Apple’s AirPort routers are still great products, but they aren’t the best on the market anymore. In the three years since they were last updated, mesh has become the high water mark. I haven’t seen any rumors of updates to the AirPort lineup, but I have to imagine Apple’s working on it. They’d be foolish not to.

What to Expect at Apple’s October 27 Event ➝

Mark Gurman sheds some light on what he expects to see at next week’s Apple event. Updates to the iMac and MacBook Air are possible, but the headliner will certainly be the long-rumored MacBook Pro with the touchscreen function row.

I saw some skepticism in my Twitter timeline after Gurman’s piece was published — specifically regarding the MacBook Air. Here’s my take: the MacBook Air is Apple’s low-priced, high-volume offering. It’s perfect for education and enterprise customers, as well as consumers looking for an inexpensive macOS-powered machine. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Much like the non-Retina MacBook Pro, the Air will stick around for as long as there are customers demanding a notebook with legacy ports. But I don’t think we’ll see any major improvements in the new Air, only relatively minor upgrades like the addition of USB-C