The Another-Butterfly Edition Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Apple Updates MacBook Pro Processors And Keyboard, Extends Keyboard Service Program, by Jason Snell, Six Colors

Apple says these new models also feature another change (I think this is the fifth?) to the butterfly keyboard in response to customer complaints that the keyboard would end up in a sad state where key presses were ignored or doubled. While Apple is quick to say that the vast majority of MacBook Pro customers haven’t experienced any keyboard issues, the company still keeps tweaking this design. It claims that the change made in these new MacBook Pro models will substantially reduce the incidence of ignored or doubled characters.

Beyond that, Apple is also seeking to reassure its customers that they shouldn’t avoid buying a Mac laptop out of fear of having keyboard problems. As was reported last month, Apple is working to shorten the time it takes to repair keyboards in Apple Store. And today it’s extending its Keyboard Service Program to cover all laptops with butterfly keyboards, including not just these new MacBook Pros, but also all of its laptops released in 2018, including the new MacBook Air. That program is separate from the standard Apple warranty and covers keyboard repairs for four years after the first retail sale of the laptop.

Some Good Old-Fashioned Speed Bumps For The MacBook Pro Lineup, And A Tweak To The Butterfly Key Mechanism, by John Gruber, Daring Fireball

So on the keyboard front, these new models can’t be worse and are likely better. That’s good. The best that we could hope for while waiting for a true next-generation keyboard design — which for all we know might be a year or more out — is a mid-generation tweak. At the very least, talking about this material tweak and including all butterfly keyboard models in the service program is an acknowledgement that last year’s keyboards were not good enough. That was the worst case scenario — that Apple didn’t see a problem.

But what pleases me more is that Apple is updating Mac hardware on an aggressive schedule. I wrote “just speed bumps” a few paragraphs ago, but speed bumps are important in the pro market.

Apple Finally Did The Right Thing (Sort Of), by Adam Clark Estes, Gizmodo

It seems like any computer company would stress test a new key design, maybe in the way that Ikea stress tests its chairs: by making a robot pound on them a few thousand times. We’re not talking about any computer company here, either. We’re talking about Apple, the company that’s famous for its obsession with perfection!

Maybe that obsession is what kept Apple from dealing with this keyboard properly sooner. After all, it’s been going on for years, and Apple has only offered incremental temporary fixes for a select number of its customers, people who paid thousands of dollars for devices that proved to be defective. The whole debacle reminds me of the recent controversy over Apple secretly throttling iPhones in order to extend battery life. It took Apple a few years to address that issue and ultimately to offer discounted battery replacements to certain iPhone customers. It’s taken Apple years to admit that it screwed up the first three generations of the butterfly key design. And now, we’ll just have to wait and see if the fourth generation fails, too.

Apple’s New MacBook Keyboard Fix Is Reassuring And Worrying At The Same Time, by Sean Hollister, The Verge

For all we know, Apple’s all but eliminated the issue. We won’t truly know until after months of real-world usage, if ever. But even if you assume that Apple has a fix and is genuinely trying to do right by its customers, today’s move still isn’t totally reassuring.

Apple Will Repair 2016 MacBook Pros With ‘Flexgate’ Display Issues For Free, by Jacob Kastrenakes, The Verge

Apple will offer free repairs to owners of 2016 MacBook Pros with backlight issues — a problem that’s increasingly started to appear on the laptops as they age. The repair program, announced this afternoon, covers only the 13-inch MacBook Pro model that debuted in 2016, though both the Touch Bar and non-Touch Bar versions are eligible. Repairs will be covered for four years after a laptop was first purchased.

Privacy Matters

Apple Has A Plan To Make Online Ads More Private, by Zack Whittaker, TechCrunch

Apple’s thinking, outlined in a blog post Wednesday, is that ads don’t need to share that you bought something from an online store with anyone else. Ads just need to know that someone — and not an identifiable person — clicked on an ad on a site and bought something on another.

By taking the identifiable person out of the equation, Apple says its new technology can help preserve user privacy without reducing the effectiveness on ad campaigns.

Haptical Buttons

Good Vibrations: How Apple Dominates The Touch Feedback Game, by Taylor Dixon, iFixIt

In its endless quest to produce an iPhone that has even fewer physical features than the last, Apple made its iconic home button virtual in 2016, then killed it entirely last year. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Buttons are an ingress point for water (among other liquids) and dust, and internal water damage is nigh impossible to repair. Buttons are also a moving part, and fewer moving parts means fewer potential points of failure.

One of the most interesting and overlooked parts of Apple’s switch from familiar to the futuristic, though, is the effort that went into their Taptic Engine. This work helped Apple move away from physical buttons without alienating too many fans, while also making their watches and laptops feel responsive. It’s a remarkable bit of engineering, and a strategic advantage. Yet it retains the company’s emphasis on a simple, effortless user experience. Having watched Apple’s haptics technology advance inside every one of its devices we’ve taken apart, we’re more than a little impressed, and curious where it will lead in the future.

Town Square

Foster + Partners Converts Historic Washington DC Library Into Apple Store, by Jenna McKnight, Dezeen

"We felt a great sense of responsibility in giving this much-loved monument a new life," the team said. "After a period of neglect, Apple Carnegie Library continues the traditions of the building by creating a new platform for learning, performance and art for a new generation."

Apple's Newest Store And The Perverse Logic Of Philanthro-Capitalism, by Benjamin Soskis, Boston Review

It is true that plenty of knowledge will be diffused on the screens sold there. But in two fundamental respects, the Apple Carnegie Library embodies recent developments that betray the principles that animated Carnegie’s giving: the uncritical valorization of philanthro-capitalism and the privatization of public goods and public spaces. Carnegie’s philanthropy was certainly not unimpeachable—it was often warped by his own ego and eccentricity—but we don’t need to idealize it in order to admire elements of it, especially his library campaign. Indeed, reexamining that campaign should help us appreciate the problem with using Carnegie’s philanthropic legacy to promote the opening of an Apple store in the shell of Washington’s old public library.


Beyond The Tablet: Seven Years Of iPad As My Main Computer, by Federico Viticci, MacStories

I realized when writing this story that I've been running MacStories from my iPad for longer than I ever ran it from a Mac. The website turned 10 last month, and I've managed it almost exclusively from an iPad for seven of those years. And yet, I feel like I'm still adapting to the iPad lifestyle myself – I'm still figuring out the best approaches and forcing myself to be creative in working around the limitations of iOS.

Hands On: Newly Updated FileMaker Pro 18 Focuses On Improvements For Long-time Users, by William Gallagher, AppleInsider

The more you already know and use FileMaker Pro, the more you are going to find to make you very happy with the new FileMaker Pro 18. There's less for brand-new users than there has been with versions 16 and last year's FileMaker Pro 17, but the company is continuing to aim at making this powerful tool a place for people to create their own apps.


What I Wish I'd Known When I Made A Drastic Career Change, by Anna Goldfarb, Medium

While there are no statistics on how many people make a dramatic career change, most of us hopscotch through our working life to some degree. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor found that the average person changes jobs a dozen times in their career. For anyone making a drastic career change, settling in means learning new things about your goals, your skills, and yourself. Some of those lessons are easy to anticipate; others, like in Jones’ experience, are learned on the fly.


iPhones, Armed Robbery, And Hacking, by Gustavo Duarte, Many But Finite

This past summer I was walking around in the neighborhood where I grew up, happy-go-lucky, when some guy jumped off a motorcycle pointing a gun at me. It was my first time at gunpoint, and from the outset the weapon was positively spellbinding. As I gazed at it, strange thoughts hit me: "Am I going to get shot by this rusty piece of shit? What a sorry way to die! And what if I get tetanus?"

Those were thoughts I wouldn't have anticipated, but as Dan Carlin says, humans in extreme situations often behave unexpectedly. And while a gun-toting thug is a far cry from the Battle of Verdun, it is pretty extreme for me. This post tells the story of the robbery and its surprising information security developments. There are lessons here for both users and designers of technology.

Reading The Room, by M.G. Siegler, 500ish Words

What if rather than having someone with veto powers over individual products, you just need someone taking the high level temperature of their industry. That is, someone who could “read the room” and could make sure that many initiatives at a company aren’t directionally incorrect, or worse: dangerously amiss.

AI Voice Assistants Reinforce Harmful Gender Stereotypes, New UN Report Says, by Nick Statt, The Verge

The paper argues that by naming voice assistants with traditionally female names, like Alexa and Siri, and rendering the voices as female-sounding by default, tech companies have already preconditioned users to fall back upon antiquated and harmful perceptions of women. Going further, the paper argues that tech companies have failed to build in proper safeguards against hostile, abusive, and gendered language. Instead, most assistants, as Siri does, tend to deflect aggression or chime in with a sly joke. For instance, ask Siri to make you a sandwich, and the voice assistant will respond with, “I can’t. I don’t have any condiments.”

“Companies like Apple and Amazon, staffed by overwhelmingly male engineering teams, have built AI systems that cause their feminized digital assistants to greet verbal abuse with catch-me-if-you-can flirtation,” the report states. “Because the speech of most voice assistants is female, it sends a signal that women are ... docile and eager-to-please helpers, available at the touch of a button or with a blunt voice command like ‘hey’ or ‘OK’. The assistant holds no power of agency beyond what the commander asks of it. It honours commands and responds to queries regardless of their tone or hostility.”