John Voorhees

1180 posts on MacStories since November 2015

John, who is an editor for MacStories and the Club MacStories newsletters, joined MacStories in 2015. With Federico, he co-hosts AppStories, a weekly podcast exploring the world of apps, and Dialog, a seasonal podcast about the impact of technology on creativity, society, and culture. John also handles sponsorship sales for MacStories and its podcasts.

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Apple Suspends Program In Which Contractors Listened to Recorded Siri Snippets

Last week, The Guardian reported on Apple’s Siri grading program in which contractors listen to snippets of audio to evaluate the effectiveness of Siri’s response to its trigger phrase. That article quoted extensively from an anonymous contractor who said they and other contractors regularly heard private user information as part of the program.

In response, Apple has announced that it is suspending the Siri grading program worldwide. While suspended, Apple says it will re-evaluate the program and issue a software update that will let users choose whether to allow their audio to be used as part of the program.

In a statement to Matthew Panzarino, the editor-in-chief of TechCrunch, Apple said:

“We are committed to delivering a great Siri experience while protecting user privacy,” Apple said in a statement to TechCrunch. “While we conduct a thorough review, we are suspending Siri grading globally. Additionally, as part of a future software update, users will have the ability to choose to participate in grading.”

In an earlier response to The Guardian, Apple had said that less than 1% of daily Siri requests are sent to humans as part of the grading program. However, that’s not very comforting to users who are left wondering whether snippets of their daily life are part of the audio shared with contractors. Consequently, I’m glad to see that Apple is re-examining its Siri quality-control efforts and has promised to give users a choice of whether they participate.


Apple Q3 2019 Results - $53.8 Billion Revenue

Apple has just published its financial results for Q3 2019. The company posted revenue of $53.8 billion. Apple CEO Tim Cook said:

“This was our biggest June quarter ever — driven by all-time record revenue from Services, accelerating growth from Wearables, strong performance from iPad and Mac and significant improvement in iPhone trends,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “These results are promising across all our geographic segments, and we’re confident about what’s ahead. The balance of calendar 2019 will be an exciting period, with major launches on all of our platforms, new services and several new products.”

Estimates and Expectations for Q3 2019 and the Year-Ago Quarter (Q3 2018)

Apple’s revenue guidance for Q3 2019 fell between $52.5 billion and $54.5 billion, with gross margin estimated to be between 37% and 38%.

Going into today’s earnings call, Yahoo Finance said that analysts, who were not expecting extraordinary financial results from Apple, would be focused on News+ and other revenue generated by services,

But according to Bloomberg’s MODL consensus, iPhone sales are expected to fall 10.3% in Q3, pushed lower by the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China.

The same consensus, however, also points to an increase in sales of iPads, Macs, wearables like the AirPods and Apple Watch, and services by as much as 14.4%. Don’t forget, Apple recently revamped its iPad and Mac lineups, and released a new version of the seemingly ubiquitous AirPods.

In the year-ago quarter (Q3 2018), Apple earned $53.3 billion in revenue. During that quarter Apple sold 41.3 million iPhones, 11.6 million iPads, and 3.7 million Macs. As announced on Apple’s Q4 2018 earnings call, however, the company no longer reports unit sales for any of its products.

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Creating the World of Red Rising with Author Pierce Brown (Part 1)

Today on Dialog, we are joined by author Pierce Brown the creator of the Red Rising series of novels. In this first part of a two-part interview, we talk about the lead up to the release of Dark Age, Brown’s latest book that will be released tomorrow, how he got started writing, the themes and influences behind the Red Rising series, the business of writing, social media, and interacting with fans.

You can find the episode here or listen through the Dialog web player below.

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Apple Announces Acquisition of Intel’s Smartphone Modem Business

As the stock market closed in the US, Apple announced the acquisition of Intel’s smartphone modem business. As part of the deal, 2,200 Intel employees will join Apple. The company is also buying intellectual property and other assets from Intel like equipment and real estate associated with the business. According to Apple’s press release, the companies anticipate that the transaction will be consummated in the fourth quarter of 2019, subject to regulatory and other conditions.

Apple says that:

Combining the acquired patents for current and future wireless technology with Apple’s existing portfolio, Apple will hold over 17,000 wireless technology patents, ranging from protocols for cellular standards to modem architecture and modem operation. Intel will retain the ability to develop modems for non-smartphone applications, such as PCs, internet-of-things devices and autonomous vehicles.

Commenting on the deal, Johny Srouji, Apple senior Vice President of Hardware Technology said:

“We’ve worked with Intel for many years and know this team shares Apple’s passion for designing technologies that deliver the world’s best experiences for our users,” said Johny Srouji, Apple’s senior vice president of Hardware Technologies. “Apple is excited to have so many excellent engineers join our growing cellular technologies group, and know they’ll thrive in Apple’s creative and dynamic environment. They, together with our significant acquisition of innovative IP, will help expedite our development on future products and allow Apple to further differentiate moving forward.”

Given Apple’s two-year court battle with Qualcomm that resulted in a settlement earlier this year, the deal with Intel is not surprising. Ever since Apple’s acquisition of P.A. Semi in 2008, Apple has been buying hardware companies that have allowed it to make more of the components that are crucial to the iPhone and its other products. The Intel deal, however, is one of Apple’s largest acquisitions and demonstrates just how serious the company is about 5G technology and gaining independence from Qualcomm.


Billboard Profiles Apple Music Lead Oliver Schusser

Billboard has an in-depth profile of Oliver Schusser, who has been running Apple Music for the past 15 months. You may not have heard Schusser’s name before, but he’s been at Apple since 2004, first working to expand iTunes in Europe. With Jimmy Iovine taking on a consulting role at Apple Music and Robert Kondrk moving to a product and design role, Billboard explains that Schusser was tapped to grow the streaming service.

The profile, which also includes interviews with Jen Walsh, the director in charge of Shazam and Beats 1, and Rachel Newman, the global senior director of editorial, emphasizes the service’s focus on editorial over algorithmic content:

“You hear Tim talk a lot about humanity – how we’re at the crossroads between the liberal arts and technology,” says Oliver Schusser. “It’s got to be both.” The new leader of Apple Music (the Tim in question would be his boss, Apple CEO Cook) is relaxing in his sun-drenched corner office at the company’s Culver City, Calif., headquarters on a June morning, explaining – in his typically measured way – why the service he oversees hasn’t gone all-in on algorithms. “That’s just not the way we look at the world,” continues Schusser. “We really do believe that we have a responsibility to our subscribers and our customers to have people recommend what a playlist should look like and who the future superstars are.”

Among other changes Schusser has implemented since taking the reigns of Apple Music, Billboard emphasizes the shift away from annual feature releases timed around Apple hardware releases noting the mid-year of top 100 charts and new personalized playlists. Those changes caught my eye in particular because unlike software tied to hardware advances or operating system changes, services, which have become increasingly important to Apple, demand ongoing attention to remain in the forefront of the public’s mind to retain existing customers and sign up new ones.

The approach is a departure for Apple, but one we’ve begun to see more often with ongoing improvements to Siri and mid-year updates to Shortcuts, for example. Apple Music’s advances may not get a lot of attention from the software and hardware-focused tech press, but in my experience, Apple Music has steadily improved since its debut, developing into an excellent way for me to enjoy my favorite bands and discover new ones.

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StayGo USB-C Hub: First Impressions

The two devices that first got me interested in USB-C hubs were my iPad Pro and MacBook Pro. With the iPad, the attraction was a single device that could connect an external display, support Gigabit Ethernet networking, and read photos from an SD card with the promise of external storage support in iOS 13. For my 2016 13” MacBook Pro, I wanted a way to easily connect legacy USB-A devices, jump on my wired network, copy photos from SD cards, connect to an external 4K display, and leave other USB-C ports open for devices I only occasionally connect to my Mac.

One of the trickiest aspects of picking a hub is finding one with ports that fit your use cases the best. On top of that, not all connections are created equal. As Federico explained in his story on his iPad setups late last year, there are a variety of USB flavors that support different data speeds and power delivery amounts as well as HDMI ports that refresh 4K video at different rates.

Since early this year, I’ve been using the HyperDrive Slim 8-in-1 USB-C Hub, which has:

  • 1 USB-C port with Power Delivery, but that isn’t Thunderbolt-compatible
  • 2 USB-A 3.1 ports with 5Gbps throughput
  • an Ethernet jack
  • Mini DisplayPort (4K at 30Hz)
  • HDMI (4K at 30Hz)
  • an SD card slot
  • a microSD card slot

I haven’t had a need for the Mini DisplayPort connection on the Slim 8-in-1 much, but the hub has handled my other needs well as I detailed in my review. However, one of the biggest problems with the HyperDrive hub is that it has a short built-in cable that can’t be removed. The trouble is that at about 16 centimeters long, the short cord causes the hub to dangle from the side of my MacBook Pro when it’s elevated on Twelve South’s Hi-Rise stand and my iPad Pro when it’s in the Viozon stand I use to write. Both setups look messy and put stress on the cable that I worry will cause it to fail eventually.

That’s why I was intrigued when Twelve South told me they were working on a way to solve the problem. The solution is the company’s new StayGo USB-C hub, which Twelve South sent me to try.

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Flighty: A Pro-Level iOS App for Frequent Travelers

Good flight tracking apps are few and far between. Simply by having a top-notch design, Flighty is superior to most of its competition. There’s more to the app than superior design though. Flighty combines smart design choices with traveler-centric features to generate a comprehensive picture of every flight you track. The result is a pro-level travel app that’s an excellent fit for frequent travelers.

That said, Flighty isn’t for everyone. The app is free to download and use to track basic flight details. However, much of Flighty’s value lies in its granular level of flight detail, extensive push notification options, and inbound flight tracking, which require an expensive subscription.

You can try Flighty’s pro features free for 14 days, after which the subscription costs $8.99/month or $69.99/year, which is currently $49.99/year for a limited time. That’s more than any other flight tracking app I’ve tried, but I expect many travelers who spend lots of time in the air will be willing to pay monthly or annually.

Fliers who don’t need push notifications or the level of detail Flighty’s subscription offers can still track basic flight data with the free version of the app. However, as I’ll explain in greater detail below, the prominence of banners advertising the app’s pro subscription doesn’t make that a good option.

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Video Game Narrative Design and Writing Science Fantasy Novels with Carrie Patel (Part 2)

Today on Dialog, we are joined by video game narrative designer and novelist Carrie Patel for the conclusion of our conversation. This week, we cover where Patel finds inspiration, planning a novel, the writing process, the benefits of having a publisher, balancing writing and a full-time job, and a lot more.

You can find the episode here or listen through the Dialog web player below.

Sponsored by:

  • Astropad Studio – Turn your iPad into a professional graphics tablet. Get started today wit http://hullopillow.com/dialog h a 30-day free trial.
  • HealthView – A dashboard for Apple Health.

Next week, we’ll begin our final interview of this first season of Dialog with a very special guest, Pierce Brown, the author of the Red Rising series of novels who will join us the same day that Dark Age, the latest installment in his series, is published.

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