Why I’m getting an iPhone 8 Plus and not an iPhone X

I’m typically a fan of buying the newest/latest/best, so I was psyched to see Apple’s presentation of its newest suite of smartphones this past week. Going in, there was much chatter about an “iPhone X” that would feature a larger screen than the iPhone 7, but in a smaller body than the iPhone 7 Plus.

As usual, Apple delivered in a big way when it came to sparking online conversation about its products. But for the first time in awhile, I struggled with the decision on whether to go in for its top-of-the-line phone (you can read feature comparisons here and here, and a neat MKBHD video here). After a lot of deliberation, I’ve decided to go with the iPhone 8 Plus. Here are some reasons why.

Most of the specs for the two phones are the same

The processors. The rear-facing camera. The wireless charging. They’re all identical in both phones. For me, the primary differences are the front-facing camera (which supports Face  ID and animoji in the iPhone X), the iPhone X’s OLED screen, and the fact that the iPhone X screen is taller by a few pixels. Additionally, I believe the iPhone X’s secondary telephoto lens has a slightly better aperture than that of the iPhone 8 Plus. If these sound like compelling upgrades to you, then the iPhone X is definitely the phone for you. But for me, they weren’t enough to justify the additional $200+ on the price tag.

On that note…

Think of the compromises

The iPhone X completely re-imagines the paradigm of how users interact with their smartphones. Face ID replaces Touch ID as how people unlock their phones. There is no more home button — instead, everything is driven by new gestures.

I have no doubt that Face ID will one day be the new standard by which all forms of biometric authentication are measured. I also think that one day it’s likely we will look at phones like the iPhone 8 and wonder how we ever dealt with a barbaric, massive bezel “chin” like that, whose only purpose was to house a home button in the center. But for now, those features feel purposeful and useful to me.

Due to screen size, one-handed operation would be too challenging with the iPhone X for me. The iPhone X requires you to swipe down from the top right for control center. Right now, I can unlock my iPhone before I even look at it, and/or swipe up from the bottom to quickly get to control center. These are actions I perform dozens of times a day without thinking about them, and I simply won’t be able to do those things with the iPhone X.

The iPhone 8 Plus still has better battery life

It’s supposed to last slightly longer than the iPhone X at a couple of primary tasks. Since battery life is one of the most important features for me in a smartphone, this almost swung the decision single-handedly.

The Notch

Maybe one day “The Notch” will be like vertical video — something we used to hate but is no so ubiquitous that most people don’t give a crap anywhere. For now though, it looks pretty terrible.

How SoundCloud lost its way

Dani Deahl and Casey Newton, writing for The Verge:

SoundCloud experimented with a variety of business models, including content-related ads and charging the creators for premium accounts that host more audio. But much of the audio uploaded to its servers contained derivative copyrighted material: DJ sets, mashups, and unofficial remixes using songs the SoundCloud artists didn’t have rights to. As those tracks racked up millions of views, record labels pressured the company to crack down. While the company worked to develop its paid platform, the service began to fray around the edges. SoundCloud’s increasingly confusing system of paid tiers caused contention for creators and their teams: unwarranted song takedowns ruined PR for new releases, labels pulled music off SoundCloud against artists’ will, and those who had helped make SoundCloud a force from the beginning now found it had simply stopped paying attention to their needs.

What’s happening to SoundCloud is sad. What was once a great platform for discovery and creativity is a confusing mess to use and is in danger of shutting down. For my part, I am freaked and will be attempting to move my SoundCloud podcasts off the platform as soon as possible.

Canon announces C200 cinema camera

Yesterday, the press embargo lifted on Canon’s newest addition to its cinema camera line, the C200. Here are the tech specs:

  • Internal 4K recording with Cinema RAW Light and MP4 format
  • Continuous 120fps (maximum) High Frame Rate with no cropping at Full HD
  • Up to 15-stops dynamic range (Cinema RAW Light)
  • Super 35mm CMOS Sensor
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF Technology
  • Dual DIGIC DV 6 Processors
  • 4K DCI and UHD, 1920 x 1080
  • 59.94p, 50p, 29.97p, 25p, 24p, 23.98p
  • Canon RAW Light, MP4, MP4 Proxy
  • Integrated EVF, 2 x XLR Audio Inputs
  • Rotating 4″ LCD Monitor, Camera Grip
  • 1 x CFast Card, 2 x SD Card Slots
  • 1 x SDI Output, 1 x Ethernet Connector

Here’s a pretty good summary by Pro AV of the key features:

My opinion: This is a weird set of features for a camera that cost $7500.

The default recording mode in HD provides only 35Mbps of quality, which is pretty much the same as the C100 Mark I (yes, Mark I) from five years ago. I’m sure the image will look great, but that data rate is painful in this day and age.

But the camera comes with RAW Light, which is great, and comes with dramatically higher data rates and file sizes (bafflingly, the much more expensive C300 Mark II does not currently support RAW Light). RAW Light records at 12bit 4K DCI at 30p and 10bit 4K DCI at 60p. There’s also talk of support for the XF-AVC codec in 2018, so that’s a huge positive.

That being said, I think it’s also Canon’s first camera for under $8000 that allows for high frame rate capture (up to 120p) in full HD, something that competitors such as Panasonic and Sony have already featured for years.

There are also a bunch of other cool things, like the fact that it supports 2 SD Cards AND a CFast card, as well as a better top-handle system than the C100 Mark II.

There’s a lot that’s appealing about the camera. There’s also a few head-scratching decisions. I wish it cost about $1000-2000 less than it does. In other words: It’s a Canon camera.

For more reading, I’d  recommend Erik Naso’s commentary on the C200.

Facebook organic reach continues to plunge

Facebook has publicly stated that organic reach on its pages for businesses and publications will decline as time goes on. For many large publishers, organic reach has been approaching 1% for a long time (that is, the number of people who see a post from a Facebook page on their personal News Feed is 1% of the people who Like that page).

Now comes a new report from Kurt Gessler at the Chicago Tribune that illustrates just how far organic reach has dropped:

Starting in January of this year, we at the Chicago Tribune started to anecdotally see a fairly significant change in our post reach.

We weren’t seeing a huge difference in post consumption or daily average reach, but we were just seeing more misses than hits. At the Tribune, we have a fairly stable and predictable audience. We had around a half million fans at the end of March and have seen slow but steady growth in the last year. Most Facebook posts fell into the 25,000 to 50,000 reach range — with a few big successes and few spectacular failures each day, usually based on the quality of the content or the quality and creativity of the share.

But starting earlier this year, we started to see far more misses. And not reaches in the low 20,000’s but 4,000 reach or 6,000 reach. Digital Editor Randi Shaffer was one of the first to notice […]

In December of 2016, we had only 8 posts with 10,000 reach or less. In January of 2017, that had grown to 80. In February, 159. And in March, a ridiculous 242 posts were seen by fewer than 10,000 people. And while late 2016 saw record lows in that lowest quartile, that 242 is far above any prior month in our dataset. And we were seeing a steady decrease in that 25,001 to 50,000 quartile. That had gone from 248 in January 2016 to 141 in March 2017.

What did this mean? In baseball terms, we were hitting far fewer doubles and we were striking out 1 every 3 times at the plate. Four months earlier, we struck out 1 of every 90 at-bats.

Gessler speculates on reasons for this change, the most plausible of which is Facebook’s algorithm. Usage of Facebook’s app as a whole could be declining, but it seems unlikely based on mobile usage statistics.

Either way, it’s a difficult time to rely on Facebook if you’re a publisher. According to a recent report from The Verge, Facebook’s Instant Articles experiment seems to not be panning out as they’d hoped, from a subscription/revenue perspective.

Media has always been a side interest for Facebook, and not essential to its core function. But I hope for the sake of a well-informed citizenry that they continue tweaking their algorithms to surface content, including news, that is relevant, interesting, and true for all users.

See also: Why Facebook’s tips for spotting fake news don’t really work very well.

Recommendation for the new Mac Pro: Make it as versatile as possible

Marco Arment, writing for his blog, on how Apple should design the new Mac Pro:

The requirements are all over the map, but most pro users seem to agree on the core principles of an ideal Mac Pro, none of which include size or minimalism:

  • More internal capacity is better.
  • Each component should have a reasonably priced base option, but offer the ability to configure up to the best technology on the market.
  • It needs to accommodate a wide variety of needs, some of which Apple won’t offer, and some of which may require future upgrades.

Or, to distill the requirements down to a single word:

  • Versatility

I agree with all of Arment’s recommendations. The pro market needs versatility to accommodate a huge variety of use cases.

I’m skeptical that Apple, which seems to prize thinness above all other design principles these days, will follow this path. That being said, their recent mea culpa seems to indicate they are open to a hard pivot on a product for this product.

Burger King is trying to trigger your Google Home

Jacob Kastrenakes, writing for The Verge, about one of Burger King’s new ads:

Burger King is unveiling a horrible, genius, infuriating, hilarious, and maybe very poorly thought-out ad today that’s designed to intentionally set off Google Homes and Android phones.

The 15-second ad features someone in a Burger King uniform leaning into the camera before saying, “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?”

For anyone with a Google Home near their TV, that strangely phrased request will prompt the speaker to begin reading the Wikipedia entry for the Whopper. It’s a clever way of getting viewers’ attention, but it’s also a really quick way of getting on viewers’ nerves — just look at the reactions people had when ads accidentally triggered voice assistants in the past.

After much use, my home assistants now feel like an extension of my household. I don’t like companies like Burger King messing with them without permission.

Side note: I’ve noticed that whenever an Amazon Echo ad comes on TV, it typically doesn’t trigger my Echo (or the ad briefly triggers the Echo before it powers down again). Not sure how Amazon is pulling this off — my guess is it involves “teaching” Alexa the audio profile of the ads and telling Alexa to ignore them — but it’s impressive.

UPDATE: Google seems to have disabled the ad’s ability to communicate with your Google Home:

New Mac Pros are coming

The Mac Pro, long thought dead by many pro users, will return. Apple recently invited several journalists from places like TechCrunch, Mashable, and Buzzfeed, to an on-the-record conversation about the future of its Mac Pros and iMacs. John Gruber at Daring Fireball sums up the news most succinctly:

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).

There are also upgraded iMacs on the way for this year, with some models theoretically targeted at professionals.

I’m fascinated by the quotes from executives, such as this one Craig Federighi:

I think we designed ourselves into a bit of a thermal corner, if you will. We designed a system with the kind of GPUs that at the time we thought we needed, and that we thought we could well serve with a two GPU architecture. That that was the thermal limit we needed, or the thermal capacity we needed. But workloads didn’t materialize to fit that as broadly as we hoped.

Also, here’s Phil Schiller on the decision to take a different path:

As we’ve said, we made something bold that we thought would be great for the majority of our Mac Pro users. And what we discovered was that it was great for some and not others. Enough so that we need to take another path. One of the good things, hopefully, with Apple through the years has been a willingness to say when something isn’t quite what we wanted it do be, didn’t live up to expectations, to not be afraid to admit it and look for the next answer.

It’s rare for any major company, let alone one with a culture like Apple’s, to admit they’ve made a strategic error of this magnitude, so kudos to them for their honesty. The most recent Mac Pro was indeed a massive miscalculation.

But will a new Mac Pro next year be enough to satisfy professionals? Many are already fleeing the platform due to the lack of communication up to this point. I’m not sure this news will be enough to reassure them to stay.

Why anonymous apps like Secret and Yik Yak failed

Miranda Katz, writing for Backchannel, on why apps like Secret, Yik Yak, and Whisper failed to gain traction or live up to their promise:

From the bulletin boards of the early internet to the subreddits of today, anonymity has always had a place online. But as Secret, Yik Yak, and Whisper all discovered, anonymous social networks are something of an oxymoron. An anonymous app that relies on social connections to be relevant all too easily breeds foul behavior, and quickly becomes antisocial. An anonymous app that lacks real-world social or geographical ties, meanwhile, struggles to be addictive. What does work, more or less, is an anonymous or pseudonymous group that forms around an interest, where a person’s identity matters less than their willingness to engage on a shared passion.

In Byttow’s view, a fatal flaw of anonymous social media is that using the apps doesn’t pay dividends. Users can’t build relationships or burnish their own reputations while operating without names. From time to time, people may have a piece of information they’d like to share with the world without revealing their identity, but that’s not enough to sustain a network. What makes an app sticky is positive reinforcement: more followers, more friends, more retweets. “For the most part people want to communicate with an audience,” says North. “People want credit for what they’ve said and done. Anonymity flies in the face of people’s need to have acknowledgment.”

This passage nails it: app retention is largely built around “stickiness” — what gets people to come back and keep engaging with the app. In an anonymous social network, the incentives are largely missing.