Current Events Hardware

Understanding Apple silicon (lots of videos)

Yesterday, I posted an article positing that WeWork’s CEO might just be indirectly and accidentally responsible for drastically changing the processor industry:

What if WeWork’s jamoke CEO accidentally changed the processor industry?

The article got a record number of pageviews, and I got a number of emails and direct messages asking all sorts of questions about Arm chips, from “What makes Arm processors so different?” to “Has anyone seen an Arm-based Mac in action yet?”

Here are some videos that should provide lots of background material to better help you understand Arm chips and Apple’s move to their own custom silicon.

Let’s start with this CNET supercut of the parts of the WWDC keynote where Tim Cook and company talk about Apple’s transition from Intel chips to their own Arm-based ones:

This is Max Tech’s best guess as to what the Arm-based Mac release timeline will look like:

Many people have a take on what Apple’s move to Arm means. Here are CNET’s top 5 guesses:

Here’s a video from a year ago that asks “Is Intel in trouble? Is ARM the future?”. It’s worth watching for its history lesson about Arm:

Here’s a really quick (under 6 minutes) look at Arm CPUs:

Here’s a more hardcore explanation of how CPUs (in general) work:

CPUs used to be stand-alone things, but we’ve been migrating to SOCs (systems on a chip) for some time. Here’s an explainer:

This Gary Explains video explains the differences between Arm’s and Intel’s architectures:

Here’s a reminder from Computerphile that Arm design chips — they don’t make them. There’s a difference:

Here’s a treat: an unboxing of Apple’s “developer transition kit”, which registered Apple developers can apply to try out to test their apps on Apple silicon. It’s a Mac Mini powered by an Apple A12z chip, which is the same processor that drives the iPad Pro.


Pivoting is the sincerest form of flattery (or: What the Android team did when the iPhone was announced)

Photoillustration of a woman photocopying an iPhone.

Relax, Fandroids. I kid because I care.

Cover of 'Dogfight' by Fred Vogelstein.“As a consumer, I was blown away,” says Googler Chris DeSalvo in a quote from Fred Vogelstein’s book, Dogfight, upon seeing the now-legendary January 9, 2007 Stevenote when he unveiled the first iPhone.

“I wanted one immediately,” DeSalvo continues. “But as a Google engineer, I thought ‘We’re going to have to start over.’

According to the Atlantic article The Day Google Had to ‘Start Over’ on Android, an excerpt from Dogfight, Google’s big concern at the time was Microsoft. It made sense at the time: They seemed to be making the right moves. If you remember those days, Windows Mobile 5.0 was the third revision of their mobile operating system, and true to the general rule about Microsoft revs, it was finally good enough. They’d lined up an impressive array of nearly 50 hardware partners, including HTC, who’d end up shipping the most WinMo phones, and the big coup: Palm, whom they’d convinced to build phones that ran WinMo. Their OS featured mobile versions of Office. The industry rumblings were that Microsoft would end up eating away at the dominant phone OS player at the time, Symbian. “Microsoft comes out fighting when threatened,” the conventional wisdom said. “Remember what happened in the browser wars?”

Here’s what was considered to be the game-changer that would make Microsoft a serious mobile threat: the Palm Treo 700w

Palm Treo 700w phone

The Palm Treo 700w.

The best smartphones of the era followed a design template that had been defined years earlier by the Blackberry: screen at the top, physical keyboard at the bottom, augmented by some kind of device to move the cursor (first a scroll wheel, then a D-pad, and optionally, a stylus).

Then this happened:

(If you haven’t seen it before or in a while, watch it again. You can almost feel the audience’s excitement in the opening moments, as Steve teases them with hints of what he’s about to announce. You can also feel the envy when Google’s Eric Schmidt comes onstage at the 51-minute mark — remember that he was on Apple’s board then.)

From the article:

On the day Jobs announced the iPhone, the director of the Android team, Andy Rubin, was six hundred miles away in Las Vegas, on his way to a meeting with one of the myriad handset makers and carriers that descend on the city for the Consumer Electronics Show. He reacted exactly as DeSalvo predicted. Rubin was so astonished by what Jobs was unveiling that, on his way to a meeting, he had his driver pull over so that he could finish watching the webcast.

“Holy crap,” he said to one of his colleagues in the car. “I guess we’re not going to ship that phone.”

Another key quote, this time from Ethan Beard, one of Android’s early biz dev people:

“We knew that Apple was going to announce a phone. Everyone knew that. We just didn’t think it would be that good.

With the announcement of the iPhone, the Android project, whose members had been working “sixty-tp-eighty-hour weeks for fifteen months — some for more than two years” made a pivot whose effects we’re still feeling today. The BlackBerry-like phone that they’d been working on — codename “Sooner”, with a physical keyboard, no touchscreen, and a general “me-too” design — was pushed aside. They filed mobile phone-related patents galore in September 2007. The iPhone forced them to rethink the OS and phone design, and from that came a new design, codenamed “Dream”. This pivot would require them to delay their first release by a year, and the end result was the HTC Dream, released in October 2008.

HTC Dream phone, shown in landscape mode with the sliding keyboard extended.

The HTC Dream.

As you can see, the Android weren’t so sure about all of Apple’s design decisions, hence the physical keyboard and trackball. Today’s phone designs tell you how those choices by the Android team worked out.

I’ll close with an observation based on the article by John “Daring Fireball” Gruber. He may be Apple’s freelance PR guy, but he’s often right, including in this case:

Remember a few years ago, at the height of the “Android is a ripoff of the iPhone” controversy, when Android supporters claimed that the similarities were just some sort of amazing coincidence, like Newton and Leibniz discovering calculus concurrently, because Android had started life a few years before the iPhone was introduced? Good times.

I’m going to get my paws on a copy of Dogfight and read it over the holidays. Expect a review of it in the coming weeks.



Samsung’s Superbowl Ad, the Galaxy Note and the Dreaded Netbook “Zone of Suck” [Updated]

Update: Newsy have put together a piece summarizing the tech news’ reaction to the Samsung Galaxy Note ad. It’s at the end of this article – check it out!

i believe in a thing called loveEven if you missed the big game, you can still catch the Superbowl ad for the Samsung Galaxy Note. Directed by Bobby Farrelly (one of the Farrelly Brothers, creators of high-larious films like Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, and unfortunately, the upcoming Three Stooges Movie), it’s a continuation of the series of ads that poke fun at Apple fandom. It opens with a scenes from lineups outside Apple stores. The bored Apple fanatics are tethered to their white earbuds and awaiting their next gift from the gods when one of them sees a passer-by with a Samsung Galaxy Note.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa – what is that?” he asks.

“Here,” says the passer-by, walking towards soon-to-be-ex-Apple-worshipper. “It’s the new Samsung Galaxy Note.”

samsung galaxy note

Then comes the kicker: “It’s got a pen?” That’s right: it’s bringing back the stylus, the very thing that iOS devices put out of style.

After that, the Apple fans break free of their self-imposed imprisonment in line – a line that Samsung probably wishes they had – and partying, powered by The Darkness’ hit I Believe in a Thing Called Love – ensues.

It’s a little hard to tell from the ad, but the Galaxy Note is bigger than your standard phone; in fact, it’s bigger than even the biggest of the notoriously oversized Samsung phones. Size-wise, it’s in Newton territory: smaller than a tablet, a tad too big to fit into most pockets. Perhaps they’re also trying to bring cargo pants back:

samsung galaxy note vs iphone 4 size comparisonPhoto from TechInferno.

I’m reminded of this promotional photo, where Sony tried to convince you of how portable their smallest VAIO was:


It sits somewhere in the “Zone of Suck” from my 2009 article, Fast Food Apple Pies and Why Netbooks Suck (I’m going to have to revise the graphic to include tablets as well as the Galaxy Note):

As for what it’s like to use the device, consider this review in TechInferno. The reviewer loves the Galaxy Note and says he’s never going back to an iOS device, but he damns it with his faint praise:

  • “Is the Galaxy Note as smooth as an iOS device? Not really, it still has the android signature stuttering when you scroll and the occasional semi-freeze here and there.”
  • “Is the Galaxy Note built as good as the latest iPhone? No, it is not, I think that a fair comparison would be to equal it to the build quality of the 3G/3Gs versions of the iPhone.”
  • Sure you can expect some hiccups here and there, not everything is so custom tailored to the device and to bring it to full functionality you need to invest some effort but in my personal opinion this phone is worth it.”
  • “Who I would NOT recommend this device to:
      • People expect the device to “just work”
      • Women or men with small hands
      • People who like to operate the phone with one hand only.

Samsung-Galaxy-Note3You know what they say about guys with big phones…

  • “Build quality is very good and the device feels solid in the hand although iPhone 4 build feels better.
  • “Out of the box with all options at their defaults the device will eat through the 2500mA/h battery in less than 10 hours of normal usage.”
  • The stylus needs a fair amount of pressure to operate, otherwise it doesn’t work.”
  • I still haven’t found a keyboard that matches the precision of the iPhone, i can’t type as fast but maybe it’s a matter of getting used to it?”
  • “I keep accidentally pushing the Back or the Menu buttons especially in landscape mode when trying to type/interact with the screen – a big design flaw.”
  • “Expect surprised looks from people around when you put it to your ear to talk. It really does look a bit ridiculous, almost like holding an iPad to your ear.

iPhone 4s Samsung Galaxy Note side by side

  • “The text to speech compared to Siri is awful.”
  • Keep in mind that Ice Cream Sandwich update for the Note is around the corner and is expected to fix a lot of issues listed here and introduce lots of neat features.” That, and the Lord Jesus Christ is due back any day now, so look busy!

I think I’ll be sticking with my iPhone 4S and iPad 2 a little while longer, thanks.


Newsy’s got a good piece summarizing the tech press’ and pundits’ reaction to the Galaxy Note ad. Check it out!


Future Visions

Welcome Daring Fireball readers! In case you were wondering if I’ve prepared a response to the article titled The Types of Companies that Publish Future Concept Videos, take a look here.

Pictured above is Microsoft’s most recent technology concept video. Here’s their description:

Watch how future technology will help people make better use of their time, focus their attention, and strengthen relationships while getting things done at work, home, and on the go.

As you might expect, John “Daring Fireball” Gruber, who’s often been called Apple’s freelance PR guy, viewed it with a jaundiced eye:

This video encapsulates everything wrong with Microsoft. Their coolest products are imaginary futuristic bullshit. Guess what, we’ve all seen Minority Report already. Imagine if they instead spent the effort that went into this movie on making something, you know, real, that you could actually go out and buy and use today.

Of course, he’d never say such a thing about Apple’s classic Knowledge Navigator video, which at the time it was made – circa 1987, when the Macintosh II and SE, IBM PS/2 series and Amiga 500 and 2000 were brand new machines – was at least as pie-in-the-sky as this newest Microsoft video. It’s contained within one of the segments of the video below, which features videos by Apple:

Now I’ll agree with Gruber that by and large, Apple technology is generally more enjoyable to use and feels more like “the future”. I will also agree that my former employer, whom a former coworker recently referred to as “The Fail Ship Microsoft”, seems a shadow of its former self and far less likely to be the company to create future industry-defining products than Apple — or at least the incarnation of Apple with Steve Jobs as Chief Tastemaker. Today’s Microsoft doesn’t have a keeper of the vision: Bill Gates has left to focus his on saving the world, Ray Ozzie, the guy who took on the role of “chief visionary” at The Empire, resigned last year along with the Entertainment and Devices division’s last, best hopes, Robbie Bach and J Allard. The people who remain are extremely skilled techies, astute suits who can continue to drive sales and “keep their managers’ scorecards green” (that’s a common expression within the company) and an evangelism team that’s second to none and of which I was a proud member, but they’re all hamstrung by decision-makers with the sense of vision that God gave oysters. That’s one of the reasons I left the company: to be an evangelist, you have to believe, and I didn’t believe anymore.

I part ways with Gruber in his declaration that Microsoft should spend more effort making some cool stuff today and less on creating concept videos. Concept videos aren’t promises of products coming in the next one or two years, but act as a star by which people can navigate the future and an inspiration to invent it. Working with technology means dealing with overwhelming amounts of minutiae, and it’s all too easy to get lost in the technology for technology’s sake and forget about what it’s all for. I would argue that if Microsoft wants to rehabilitate its image and regain its relevance in the hearts and mind of both the alpha geeks and the public at large, they should probably make more of these videos, not only for the public, but for their own benefit as well. Without visions like concept videos to guide them, especially with the lack of someone in the visionary role, they may remain stuck on their current course: doing well but effectively coasting, content to make incremental improvements to already successful products or playing catch-up as with Internet Explorer, phones and tablets in efforts that are in danger of being too little, too late.

Some other concept videos worth watching include these old AT&T ads from that played all the time between shows in the early 1990s. Many of the predicted devices and services in these ads came to be, but AT&T had little to do with their creation:

Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini was a user interface guy at Apple from 1978 to 1992, after which he worked at Sun and created the Project Starfire concept video, a little drama that illustrates his vision of the office of the future. Just as Apple’s Knowledge Navigator has the 1980s all over it, this video has all the earmarks of early 1990s television, right down to the incidental synth music that’s straight out of the better, earlier seasons of Beverley Hills 90210.

Here’s part one:

The first thirty seconds of the video shows how risky it is to try and add little “realistic” touches to a story about the future. In the first thirty seconds, Princess Di is mentioned as having joined the British House of Lords; in real life, she died seven years prior to the story’s setting of 2004. Also sad is the fact that while Sun existed in 2004, it would be absorbed by Oracle six years later.

Here’s part two:

Compare the Starfire video with this “vision of the future” video that Microsoft debuted at the TechReady conference in early 2009. Popular Science said that "The 2019 Microsoft details with this video is almost identical to the 2004 predicted in this video produced by Sun Microsystems in 1992." I’ll leave it to you to make the call:

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


Steve Jobs: King of All Tech Media

Here’s a testament to Steve Jobs’ influence on the industry: a snapshot of the tech news aggregator site Techmeme, with the stories about Steve Jobs, his resignation and Apple highlighted. As I wrote this post, the answer to the question on everyone’s mind, the “Tim Cook: Apple is Not Going to Change” story, became the headliner.

Steve jobs on techmeme

Also notable: at the bottom of the story pile: a story about Microsoft. The Techmeme page used to be peppered with them, but they’ve become increasingly rare over the past couple of years. If it weren’t for the sponsored BizSpark articles in the right-hand-side column, there’d be times throughout the day when there were no Microsoft-related stories at all. In the meantime, I can’t recall ever checking into Techmeme and not finding an Apple-related story.

Keep in mind that this is all based on casual observation and not from carefully logging the contents of Techmeme over the past few years. However, I’m there fairly often as a practitioner of the Global Nerdy technique for using Techmeme to drive more people to your blog.


Shopify Perquisites

I don’t think the word perquisite gets used enough. You probably know the shortened form of the word: “perk”, as in bonus, privilege, advantage or “extra”. Here are the perquisites that come with a job at Shopify:

Shopify gear 1

Sweet gear! Working at Shopify means a return to the Mac and startup worlds with the following equipment, which is standard issue for all new employees:

  • 15″ MacBook Pro. The current spec for this machine is 2.2 GHz quad-core i7 processor, 4 GB RAM, 1GB VRAM, 750 GB hard drive. And at last, the trackpad knows what a right-click is!
  • 27″ LED Cinema Display. Gorgeous. Just gorgeous.
  • Apple Wireless Keyboard. Compact, connects via Bluetooth.
  • Apple Magic Mouse. The first Apple mouse I’ve liked in a really long time. Feels nice, knows the difference between a left- and right-click, 4-way touch sensitive scrolling that feels much better than Microsoft’s Arc Touch mouse. (I love the Arc Mouse, but don’t like the Arc Touch.)
  • Herman Miller Aeron Chair. Yes, it’s the classic symbol of the dot-com bubble, but it’s a very, very comfortable chair. The only thing that loves your butt more is that guy from Deliverance.
  • The bag o’ stuff. I’ll cover what’s in it below.

Shopify gear 2

What’s in the bag o’ stuff? Extra goodies to make you feel welcome:

  • Shopify hoodie. Light grey with the Shopify logo on the left. Very warm and fuzzy on the inside.
  • T-shirts. One light grey sporting a grey monochrome Shopify logo, one dark grey with the green Shopify logo. Both are American Apparel, which means they’re extra-soft.
  • Moleskine notebook. Because sometimes ink and paper is the best way to take something down.
  • Neat pen.Sacchi ballpoint pen, to be precise.
  • Godiva chocolates. It’s a nice touch.
  • $50 Apple Store gift card. An even nicer touch. The Apple Store in Ottawa is in the Rideau Centre, a short walk away from the office.
  • $100 gift card for Play and Beckta restaurants. Still even nicer. Both are great restaurants — Harley took me out to Play for lunch on my first day. Now to find someone to take out to dinner.
  • The Shopify Handbook (not pictured), which I’ll cover in the next blog entry.

All in all, very, very nice.

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.


Gizmodo’s Vendetta

Techmeme screenshot featuring 4 Gizmodo stories: "Apple iPhone 4 Pre-Ordering is a Total Disaster", iPhone 4 Order Security Breach Exposes Private Information", "AT&T iPhone Pre-Orders Have Sold Out", "AT&T Now Taking iPhone Orders in Pen and Paper"

In case you were wondering if Gizmodo’s fight with Apple over that ill-gotten iPhone prototype might be affecting their reporting, consult this screenshot from Techmeme, taken at 8:45 p.m. EDT, above.