eXtensions - Wednesday 10 February 2021


Wednesday Diversion: Corporate Report Card; Intel and Facebook Move the Goalposts; Apple Reacts to Developer Pressure

By Graham K. Rogers


Bloomberg report on Tim Cook's years as Apple CEO, where he was always blamed for not being Steve Jobs. Big Sur updates cause problems for some: space needed. Google follows Apple on ad warnings and Facebook is criticised by Harvard Business Review. Intel follows Facebook and moves the goalposts.

This morning (Wednesday) there was an Update to Big Sur. Version 11.2.1 fixes battery charging problems (on some Macs), and updates SUDO (stack overflow). On my Mac it was a 3.35GB download, but there appear to be different download sizes, which suggests machine-specific changes (Eclectic Light Company and Mr. Macintosh). The download and the following installation were a bit slow, even early morning. There were no problems once the update was completed.

The battery charging problem that was addressed concerned older (Intel) Macs, but those from 2016/17 may have an additional problem. Mine was replaced a while back in an Apple program, but for those that will not charge past 1% (I never had that), it is reported by several sites that Apple is to replace these for free.

MacBook Pro
MacBook Pro from November 2016

We mentioned last month about the reassignment of Dan Riccio from the SVP role he had had for a while to a new, then-unspecified role. Joe Rossignol (MacRumors) outlines the new job Riccio has been given. It concerns AR/VR headsets and (as the article explains) it is an are that needs his dedicated attention, like Phil Schiller and the App Store.

Tim Cook was himself originally hired as senior vice president for worldwide operations and was later selected by Steve Jobs as his successor. I mentioned this last time, as well as the unceasing negativity by the "500 words by 5pm brigade" and several more so-called journalists who should have known better. Tim Hardwick in Mac Rumors links to a piece in Bloomberg by Austin Carr and Mark Gurman that looks at his years as CEO of Apple and the success story it is. This is a long article that comments fairly on Cook, including some of the good decisions and the questionable relationships (China, Trump) without going into assassination mode. At about 4000 words it is not a quick read, but Cook is well-served by the examination. Hardwick's summary breaks it down into some bullet points which are easier to digest, but the longer version is worth the (small) effort.

In another report that carried the news about Riccio, Chance Miller (9to5Mac), writes that Apple is "transitioning the group working on "in-house displays and camera technology" to Johny Srouji" - the chip man. I saw later that several sites carried this news. I also saw mention on a number of sites that the Apple Car, or Project Titan, which may be running towards a release (this year, next year, sometime, never) will apparently not now be running in the Hyundai/KIA chassis, nor will it be built by either of them. Although several other companies are also developing chassis/frame/battery modular systems that can be used on several vehicles, none is a clear favorite at the moment. I still think that Rivian is in with a chance, although Nissan has also been mentioned.

MacBook Pro
M1 Macs with Big Sur: Image courtesy of Apple

Some users have had problems with recent updates to Big Sur and these seem to come from the lack of space available on the computer before the upgrade was initiated. Mr Macintosh explains the background behind these problems that can cause data loss, especially for those with encrypted disks. With the size of the downloads, including the installer and the caching that occurs during the process. As outlined in the article, Apple's own notes set out the space requirements:

If upgrading from macOS Sierra or later, macOS Big Sur requires 35.5GB of available storage to upgrade. If upgrading from an earlier release, macOS Big Sur requires up to 44.5GB of available storage.

As I tend to have something like 120-150GB space, depending on the Mac I am using, this has not been a problem for me, but in the past, I always tried to keep at least 50GB free for normal running. Less than that and the normal file-swapping that goes on may be affected and the computer could slow down. Now there is an even more compelling reason. In the text, that is like a Readme file, Mr. Mac explains the reasons behind the problems and sets out some ways in which it should be possible to recover from this unfortunate situation. Apple has been informed.

I rely on Keychain Access on my Macs and iOS devices: for when I forget; or when setting up a new service on one device and the password is usable on the others. This week I set up an account on a new MySpace-like site that is attracting some users: SpaceHey. I would do much to be able not to have to use Facebook. Christian Zibreg (iDownloadBlog) notes that Microsoft has released a cross-platform app (iPhone, iPad, Mac, Windows and Android) that goes by the name Autofill. This works for those with a Microsoft account (so I won't be looking at it), and seems a good way to help users increase efficiency.

I have made some comments on the ongoing disagreements between Apple and Facebook in recent weeks, so I was interested to see that Google is likely to roll out a similar "nutrition" rating for its apps with regard to user privacy. This is now clearer with some information on the upcoming Android 12 release (Juli Clover, MacRumors). Google developed the idea of making money from user data but some commentators suggest that Facebook ran with the idea and made it much more nefarious. Harvard Business Review says that the Facebook position (that it will hurt small businesses) is misleading. In a comment on 9to5 Mac by Ben Lovejoy he outlines the background and then looks at the HBR article in which a key difference is noted to be "revenues associated with advertising, and revenues caused by advertising".

Lovejoy also adds, "It says Facebook also failed to source its data, making external review impossible. Not only that, but a different claim that the social network does source is wrong." This goes along with comments I had made on the initial Wall Street Journal ad and Facebook's obvious (to me) clouding of the issue. It is not as if Apple is preventing users seeing ads, it is just that they are to be notified that some companies may use their data in ways that they might not have realised: opt in or opt out. When I use an app on iOS now, I allow Apple and developers to collect data that may help improve the ways in which iOS and the apps work. I made that choice. As much as I can I opt out of data sharing with Facebook.

Imagine then if Facebook added a new dimension: AI. Although Facebook mentioned AI in 2017 (and many companies are investigating such applications), Puja Das (AnalyticsInsight) writes that this seems now to have taken some serious steps towards reality: a brain reading computer. Initially there were benign goals (victims of paralysis). The concept is approaching much more of a reality and there is some suggestion that it is also being developed to assist with its social media platforms. Just because you can do something, does not mean you should do it. As they used to say of the police (maybe they should still), who will watch the watchers?

surveillance capitalism That article was in book review on Fair Observer. Peter Isackson examined Shoshana Zubof's book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power which looks at the way the social network can be remodeled to maximize its commercial value. Isackson was referencing the comments of Sam di Bella in the LSE Review of Books: "If traditional capitalism aimed at creating customer loyalty, surveillance capitalism aims at customer capture". I immediately thought of the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, which Tim Cook referenced in his speech online last week.

Isakson notes the article by Das outlining the brain-reading computer and adds, "The premise Facebook's scientists and AI experts are putting forward is either dangerously simplistic or (more likely) deceptively reassuring." He ends, "Like a dog waiting for a treat, we will sit up and beg for a service, especially an online service offered to us for free. And we will accept the consequences, especially if we are kept in the dark about what those consequences might be." I certainly fear the potential of these online giants: Facebook now more than Google. I had a look at Amazon and saw that the Kindle version of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism was available for a reasonable price, so downloaded that.

The WSJ advertisement that started this chapter of the rivalry between Facebook and Apple, which far exceeds the older Apple-Microsoft friction, has been seen by many as a reinterpretation of facts: Facebook moving the goalposts. Intel has also tried this. The arrival of Apple Silicon has put it on the back foot: AMD and Qualcomm investigating ARM-based solutions; Apple using 5nm technology (soon 3nm) while Intel can only access 7nm foundries; the CEO replacement; and a firm commitment to its chip master plan (many read that as "no change"). Rather than developing new ideas and improving the technology. A late note on intel's 7nm move: that has now been put back to 2022 or later.

What do you do in the face of the lead that Apple now has? Nehal Malik (iPhone in Canada) reports that, while the M1 had been shown to produce good results in all benchmark tests, Intel has developed a new set of benchmarks that show its chips beating the M1 on all fronts. Indeed where Apple tech does not handle a particular technology, it has a score of zero, while Intel's products of course soar. This alternative reality does not have anyone convinced. Indeed it makes Intel look dishonest and even weaker.

The new benchmarking from Intel also caught the eye of J. Fingas on Engadget who similarly outlines the ways in which Intel cherry-picked devices and testing methods, ending with, "Intel sees Apple's chips as enough of a threat that it feels compelled to launch a media offensive. . . ." Malcolm Owen (AppleInsider) also pointe out the cherry-picking in an article he wrote that examines several of the claims carefully. Intel does itself no favors here and this is reminiscent of the juvenile Samsung approach when faced with the iPhone.

A couple of days ago I mentioned the news that Apple was offering developers $200 for returning the A14 Mac mini computers that were supplied after WWDC last year so they could test apps on the new environment. There were plenty of negative comments at the low fee, particularly when developers using the first Intel Macs were offered full refunds. Apple has seen the error of its ways and Juli Clover (MacRumors) reports that Apple has upped the $200 to a more respectable $500 after the bad publicity. With a record quarter (Q1 20210 in the bank, this was seen as somewhat mean. Apple "heard the feedback."

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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