August 10th, 2021

Alex Stamos on Apple’s New Child Safety Measures

Alex Stamos — former head of security at Facebook, currently at Stanford Internet Observatory, in a thread on Twitter:

In my opinion, there are no easy answers here. I find myself constantly torn between wanting everybody to have access to cryptographic privacy and the reality of the scale and depth of harm that has been enabled by modern comms technologies.

Nuanced opinions are OK on this.

Good thread with much to consider.

Gurman on New iPhone Camera Features: Portrait Mode for Video, Machine-Learning-Based Filters

Mark Gurman, with a few scoops on the upcoming new iPhones:

Apple first added Portrait mode to the iPhone 7 Plus in 2016, and it quickly become a fan favorite. The feature can put a person in sharp focus while blurring the background in what is known as a bokeh effect. For the new iPhones, Apple plans to add this same technique to video with a feature internally dubbed Cinematic Video. Like with still photos, the iPhone’s depth sensor will create the effect and allow users to change the amount of blur after recording. […]

Another feature will let users better control the look of colors and highlights in their pictures. Users will be able to choose from several styles to apply to their photos, including one for showing colors at either a warmer or cooler temperature while keeping whites neutral. Another option will add a more dramatic look with deeper shadows and more contrast, and the company is planning a more balanced style for showing shadows and true-to-life colors with a brighter appearance. The feature will differ from standard filters, available in the iPhone’s Camera app since 2013, by precisely applying changes to objects and people across the photos using artificial intelligence, rather than applying a single filter across the entire picture.

Computational photography is easily one of the most exciting, fast-moving areas in computing today. You can literally see it getting better year-over-year. I’ve noticed in recent weeks that Portrait Mode on the iPhone 12 has gotten better than ever at separating subjects from the background.

Sidenote, but the sort of thing I spend way too much time thinking about around this time every year: Are they going to be the iPhones 13 or iPhones 12S? I’m thinking that since — by all reports — the new iPhones are the same sizes and shapes as last year’s lineup, it might be an “S” year. Also, now that I’m thinking about it, is this numbering ever going to stop? Will we be speculating about the iPhone 23 in 10 years? I’m not even saying it should stop, but it is an unusual naming scheme. The reason, I think, Apple sticks with it is that iPhone models are sold for years to come. Apple’s mid-range iPhones are years-old models that were once top-of-the-line. They need names that make that clear.

What’s the Point of Apple TV Hardware?

Speaking of Mark Gurman, his Power On newsletter continues to be an excellent read. His main topic this week argues that Apple TV (hardware) is “mostly pointless”:

Most importantly, buying an Apple TV no longer gives users a content advantage. We are in the age of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, and business models have shifted so that every service is available on every device — phones, tablets, TV sets, streaming sticks and game consoles.

Apple, known for its closed ecosystem, is even embracing the shift by offering many services on smart TVs and boxes made by competitors. […] That made the Apple TV a mostly pointless accessory, and consumers seem to agree: 2020 data from Strategy Analytics found that the Apple TV holds 2% of the streaming device market.

The product isn’t without its benefits, though, for the Apple ecosystem’s most loyal users. Integration with HomeKit, Fitness+, AirPods and the iOS remote app is useful. The new remote control and faster chip in this year’s version are definite improvements, and the box is getting SharePlay and Spatial Audio support later this year. Still, I don’t see these enhancements moving the needle for most people.

I’d argue that Apple TV is a quintessential Apple product: its primary point is to deliver a superior user experience for those who care and are willing to pay a premium for it. If you look only at “content” there’s little reason to buy an iPhone or Mac or iPad, either. The Mac in particular seems an apt comparison. The reason to buy a Mac instead of a PC isn’t that the Mac can do things PCs can’t, but that what you do on a Mac is delivered through a superior experience. That’s Apple TV, too — especially now that Apple is shipping a good remote control. For a lot of us, it clearly delivers a superior and more private user experience that is worth paying a premium for.

2 percent market share is really low, no question about it, but if you look at those market share numbers from Strategy Analytics, no TV platform has a dominant position. It’s a remarkably diverse market, with no platform over 12 percent share. And Apple’s market share isn’t just any random 2 percent of the market, it’s 2 percent at the very high end of the market. It’s a premium product for Apple’s core customer base.

Update: An alternative response to Gurman’s “What’s the point of Apple TV?” question is just one word: privacy. Here’s a note I just got from an Apple TV devotee friend:

Remarkable that Gurman never even mentions the privacy benefits of Apple TV hardware. There are no circumstances in which I’d feel OK connecting a TV to the internet, or buying a streaming box from a company monetizing it with user tracking, so his “content is available everywhere, shrug emoji” outlook looks myopic. What’s the second-best option supposed to be?

That’s a great point and a good question. If Apple were to get out of the streaming hardware game, what’s the next best choice?