iOS 9.3.5 Patches Major Vulnerability »

Nicole Perlroth:

One of the world’s most evasive digital arms dealers is believed to have been taking advantage of three security vulnerabilities in popular Apple products in its efforts to spy on dissidents and journalists.

Investigators discovered that a company called the NSO Group, an Israeli outfit that sells software that invisibly tracks a target’s mobile phone, was responsible for the intrusions. The NSO Group’s software can read text messages and emails and track calls and contacts. It can even record sounds, collect passwords and trace the whereabouts of the phone user.

Holy moly. Update today.

New Apple 

Today marks the fifth anniversary of Tim Cook becoming CEO of Apple. There’s a lot of coverage today, following Cook’s big interview 10 days ago.

There’s a phrase that’s been thrown around a lot in the years since Steve Jobs died.

The New Apple.

In different contexts, it means different things: the more open nature of the company and its executive team, the dedicated focus to advancing human rights, the push into mobile computing or China or India.

On Episode 124 of The Talk Show, both Jason Snell and John Gruber remarked that they liked “Old Apple” better. The smaller, leaner company that was encouraging people to Think Different about computers. When I heard the comment, I nodded along in agreement.

It’s easy to see the past with rose-colored glasses, especially when you spend so much time writing about it.

I first used a Mac in 2001, my sophomore year of high school. In 2001, Apple was crawling out of the pit it found itself in during the 1990s. I was able to watch the company bring the iPod to market, and begin to make the transition from a computer to a consumer electronics company.

To some of you reading this, the early 2000s feel like New Apple, and that’s completely fair. However, there’s no doubt the Apple we see now is different then it was when Jobs was in his heyday.1

Whatever era Apple was in when you first showed up, the Apple of today is different. It’s not only one of the world’s largest companies, it’s been that way for some time. Employee head count has swelled and the company is pushing into services more than ever before, all while juggling more products than ever.

There have been growing pains in New Apple. Maps sucked at launch. iOS 7 had stability issues. The iPhone 5c didn’t perform as well in the market as hoped. The iPad market is still struggling to find level ground. The App Store has a laundry list of issues. Professionals who rely on the Mac have been frustrated by the lack of updated hardware at times.

At times, I think Cook and his team put too strong of an emphasis on hitting price points. Sometimes, they put design — and even manufacturing — higher on the list of priorities than they should be. I question several of (seemingly all-powerful) Jony Ive’s decisions, especially in terms of user interface.

It’s easy to forget the complaints we had about 2000s Apple. People wanted the iPod to be more user serviceable. Early versions of OS X were plagued with performance issues, and some G3 and G4-era Macs had mind-boggling limitations.2

(Go back even further and this entire blog post would be a rant about the Performa line of Macs.)

Five years in, New Apple is here to stay. It’s traded some of the old problems for new ones, and while I may personally identify more with a smaller company with more fight in it, it’s impossible to deny that New Apple is a greater force for good in the world. We have Tim Cook to thank for that. His unwillingness to conform to Jobs’ image has proven to be his greatest strength, and one that I think Steve himself saw and appreciated.

Cook was a good choice. He’s no bozo.

  1. I’ve been watching a lot of old keynotes in completing research for a book I’m writing. No one has the stage presence Jobs had, and I miss seeing him announce products. Also, I think I just announced a book in a footnote… 
  2. My favorite is that the iBook G4 was limited to mirroring to an external display only. A third-party hack was required to enable extending to a second display, and it worked just fine. The PowerBook G4 (even the 12-inch model) didn’t ship with this limitation. 

Deck Chairs »

John Kheit at The Mac Observer:

Now that Apple is done planting trees in its stores, fixing punctuation, and creating new titles for the same old jobs, perhaps they can get back to actually making and shipping some new products. Hopefully Apple’s recent housekeeping is the end of a transition that will bring more coherently named and more regularly released product offerings.

It’s a real shame that Tim Cook pulled engineers off of their hardware projects to renovate Apple Stores. While it is past time for some new Macs, Kheit’s entire article is ridiculous.

Five Years of Tim »

Jena McGregor has a lengthy piece on Tim Cook in The Washington Post, five years after Steve Jobs announced he was stepping down as CEO.

In the interview, Cook is his regular self. He doesn’t stray far from points the company has made before, but this passage jumped out at me, in context of Apple being an active voice in social issues:

Maybe there are compelling reasons why some people want to be silent. I think for us, though — for a company that’s all about empowering people through our products, and being a collection of people whose goal in life is to change the world for the better — it doesn’t sit right with me that you have that kind of focus, but you’re not making sure your carbon footprint isn’t poisoning the place. Or that you’re not evangelizing moving human rights forward. I think every generation has the responsibility to enlarge the meaning of human rights.

Questions About That Rumored OLED Bar on the Next MacBook Pro 

If rumors are true, the next MacBook Pro will lack the standard F1-F12 keys that have graced keyboards for years. In its place, Apple is said to be using an OLED touch-sensitive bar.

Martin Hajek has created some mockups of what this could look like that are pretty stunning:

Mockup of MacBook Pro OLED bar

This type of hardware would give Apple a lot of flexibility. In the original iPhone keynote, Steve Jobs said something really interesting, with photos of existing smartphones on the slide over his shoulder:

They all have these control buttons that are fixed in plastic, and are the same for every application. Well, every application wants a slightly different user interface, a slightly optimized set of buttons just for it.

What happens if you think of a great idea six months from now? You can’t run around and add a button to these things. They’re already shipped. So what do you do? It doesn’t work because the buttons and controls can’t change.

The iPhone’s solution was to get rid of all of these plastic buttons, and make the entire experience — keyboard and all — take place in software running on a touchscreen.

I think this flexibility has a lot to do with what Apple is up to with this probably-new MacBook Pro.

The obvious example is updating the function keys themselves. With OS X Lion, F4 was rebadged for Launchpad, demoting Dashboard and its icon from the keyboard of new Macs. However, if you had an old Mac, F4’s outdated keycap would remain as a testament to Dashboard’s fall from grace.

In short, Apple couldn’t run around and update the button for everyone. The OLED bar would allow Apple to change the purpose of the function keys as needed. However, their placement has been pretty stable for a long time and I don’t see this is a good enough reason to radically shake things up.

Of course, a new MacBook Pro with light-up function keys wouldn’t be taking full advantage of this hardware, so it’s been heavily rumored that the bar can show context-aware controls.

The most frequent example I’ve seen go by on Twitter is media playback.

The F7-F9 keys of today can skip forward and backwards and play/pause music, while F10-F12 control volume. These keys sit to the right of things like screen brightness and Mission Control, tucked nicely out of the way. iTunes doesn’t have to be active for these buttons to be just a finger’s reach away.

I assume that information displayed by apps like iTunes wouldn’t cover up the system-wide function keys like screen brightness. I really hope that’s the case, but app-driven content will surely have to cover some system function keys. There’s not a ton of space there, so what gets overridden when?

Assuming all sorts of apps can put information on the OLED bar, I don’t want to see this screen change its content every time I change my foremost application. That could be fairly distracting while trying to focus.

Furthermore, If Apple open this up to third-parties, it may be frustrating to have very different types of information or controls present on the OLED bar. If iTunes displays music one way, but Spotify does something else, it’s going to be an inconsistent experience.

This space could be the next-generation menu bar app. Some are really good, and some are terrible wastes of space. I’m hoping there are settings to limit what apps are allowed to be present.

Maybe I’m approaching this with a lack of imagination, but at this point, I’m not sold on this change being a great one. Apple doesn’t change function keys around very often, and allowing apps to place content or controls above the regular keyboard may prove confusing or distracting.

I’m ready to be wooed, Phil Schiller.

Gurman: New MacBook Pros on the Horizon »

Now writing at Bloomberg, Mark Gurman has some details on what looks like a new MacBook Pro:

The updated notebooks will be thinner, include a touch screen strip for function keys, and will be offered with more powerful and efficient graphics processors for expert users such as video gamers, said the people, who asked not to be named.

Additionally, the new MacBook Pro will introduce Touch ID to the Mac lineup for the first time.

Rumors of this machine have been floating around for a while, and I wouldn’t bet against Gurman’s information this late in the game. I think all that is left to see is how many ports will be replaced by USB-C and how much a loaded 13-inch model is going to cost me this fall.

Inside Tim Cook’s Apple »

Rick Tetzeli has published a wide-ranging interview with Tim Cook, Craig Federighi and Eddy Cue.

At the heart of the article is the concern that Apple is stretching too thin, moving far beyond it’s old scope of projects and products:

Steve Jobs had been the company’s editor, proud of saying no to features, products, business ideas, and new hires far more often than he said yes. Apple’s seemingly diffuse product line reinforces the argument that Cook is not as rigorous. (The fear has a worrisome precedent: During the early and mid-1990s, Apple’s product line was a mess of marketing-inspired offerings, and both its reputation as a unique manufacturer and its business suffered.)

I don’t know if Apple’s doing too many things or not, but I think it’s worth keeping in mind that the company isn’t led by the bozos that ran it in the 1990s. Tim and company know what they’re doing.