Farhad Manjoo Gives Me an Aneurysm

Where to begin.

First, the title. Not the headline, which is not lacking in reasons to be mocked itself, but the <title> attribute. The Title and the URL both are prepended with "Samsung Galaxy S4". That phone doesnt get mentioned until there's two paragraphs left on page 2 (don't even get me started on the fact that there's two pages). Why is it in the title? For SEO and linkbait, that's why! Farhad Manjoo, keeping it classy over there at Slate.

Next, the main photo: a Galaxy S4, attempting to get into Google Image results! Who'd have guessed that a phone not mentioned until the very end would get main photo status!

A closer look at the phone reveals that, yup, it's plugged in. In an article about phone battery life, the main picture is a phone that isnt using its battery.

I haven't even begun reading the article and I've already started to twitch. This is not a good sign.

Smartphones keep getting faster. If you buy a new high-end phone this year, you’ll find it’s noticeably more powerful than last year’s best gadgets. It will let you run much more demanding apps, it will load up Web pages more quickly, and it will deliver sharper, more advanced videos and games.

This is a fundamentally incorrect premise, as whether it's noticeably faster is relative and, from somebody who's actually paid attention to this stuff for a while, very hard to determine, as well as because the speed at which web pages load is due to browsers, not hardware, but I get what you're saying. Go on.

This might not sound like a big deal—aren’t new gadgets always faster than old gadgets? Yes, that’s true. But what’s striking about phones is how quickly they’re getting quicker. This year’s top-of-the line phones are likely to be twice as fast as those released last year. And last year’s phones weren’t slouches—they were twice as powerful as the ones that came out in 2011. This pace is remarkable. Indeed, if you study the speed increases of smartphones over time, you notice a thrilling trend: Phones are getting faster really, really fast—much faster, in fact, than the increase in speed in the rest of our computers. If you scrutinize this quickening pace, though, you’re bound to get disillusioned. One of the reasons phones have been getting faster is that they’re also getting bigger. A bigger phone allows for a bigger battery, which allows for a faster processor. But now we’ve hit a wall in phone size: Today’s biggest and fastest phones carry screens of around 5 inches, and they’re not going to get any bigger than that. (If they did, they wouldn’t fit in your hand, and would thus be phablets.)

...and this is when he veers off course.

There's a valid premise to be made out of those facts: the "speed" (by which I assume he means CPU speed, because my phone already feels faster than a lot of computers because of its flash memory) of laptop and desktop CPU's hit a ceiling of about 3 Ghz per core in about 2007. Now, chip foundries have compensated by fabbing multi-core chip artchitectures, but the focus on speed for the consumer PC market (in which I am including Macs, obviously) has diminished, simply because the processing speed of your average CPU has surpassed the level of perception in everyday tasks. An extra performance bump in my CPU could not load applications any faster than it does now: I'm almost completely throddled by RAM and hard disk speed. (That's why, when someone asks me for a quick performance boost, my first recommendation is always get an SSD if you can afford it. Just as an aside.)

The focus of chip foundries has turned to power consumption: how can I leverage the same amount of computing power out of cooler, less power hungry chips? This makes for smaller, thinner, cooler and lighter devices, which make everyone happy. It made products like the iPhone possible in the first place. CPU speeds will get faster, but that extra performance bump won't be felt in anything but power-hungry applications that are leveraged to use it.

Farhad should have actually mentioned this, because it indicates that power vs. battery life has been an age-old problem in hardware design for years. But he doesnt. Instead, he takes the fact that phones have gotten faster more rapidly than computers have gotten faster and decides that that must be because phones have gotten bigger. Bad conclusion to draw. Why?

Because the most popular smartphone in the entire period he references was a device that got smaller, thinner, lighter and faster, all at the same time. It's almost like Apple gave its customers the best of both wo-SAMSUNG PHABLET SAMSUNG GALAXY GALAXY PAGEVIEWS S4 S4 CLICK HERE FOR MORE.

This sort of thing is the reason why co-workers don't give me stress balls. Or why I have a bat at my desk.

So if the size of our phones—and, thus, the size of their batteries—is now fixed, phone makers (and phone buyers) must make a sharp trade-off.

...fixed? It is? You're going to make a baseless assertion that the size of phones won't grow anymore, and then you're going to make that a cornerstone of your opinion? I sure hope that doesn't come back and bite you in the ass.

The rest of the article (or "blog post", which is what it really is, considering his use of "I" and his constant editorializing) uses Geekbench (which is the basis by which all computer speed can be flawlessly measured and objectively compared, don't you know) to draw a line to the sky showing how fast phones get faster. It doesn't go into software at all (after all, how could software make a phone faster, or make its battery life last longer?), and it doenst even touch PC chips at all. And as he describes how we've gotten to where we are now...

Battery tests on the Samsung Galaxy S4 show that it can last a full day for heavy users, which is pretty good—but that’s primarily due to the fact that Samsung squished a bigger battery into the phone compared with last year’s S3.

So, how did they squish a bigger battery in there? By making it bigger. I thought the size of phones was fixed, Farhad!

It's conclusion, of course, is that with the Galaxy S4 (and phones like it), consumers have no choice but to choose between perfomance and battery life. Except if you just don't want to, and you'd like to continue as is, ignorant of even your own stupid argument.

Which is better, a fast phone or a long-lived one? I really don’t know. I want both.

Well, thanks for nothing. I have to go fix my nosebleed now.

Peak Happy

Meghan Kelly’s VentureBeat article about the iCloud password reset flaw a few days ago still hasn’t been updated to reflect Apple’s reaction, which was, as usual, to squash the bug and move on, according to this Verge post posted that same evening. The problem, as it existed earlier that day and was exhaustively reported on by several tech news agencies and re-posted by several mainstream news agencies, does not exist anymore - in fact, it lasted less than a day. If you were to read the article, as I did today after catching a link to it on the front page of the Post, you wouldn't know that.

Now, I initially attributed Kelly’s negligence to update her article as just that: negligence. Something stuck out to me as odd, though - before Apple announced that they had solved the problem, they responded to a few news outlets and confirmed that yes, there was a problem, and they were working on a solution, that they care about security, blah blah blah. That comment was reported on by the same news outlets, and Kelly updated her post to include the comment. So, why did she include the comment from Apple, but not the fix from Apple?

That was when I reread the title of her post: “New Apple flaw lets hackers change your Apple ID and iCloud passwords”1

Not "Apple security flaw". Not "Apple password reset flaw". Not even "Apple iCloud flaw", targeting it to a specific product area of their company. It's a flaw with Apple themselves. That's the reason this is a story at all - that's the news, and it would still be the news whether they fixed it that day, that week, or ever. Hot off the presses: Apple Is Not Perfect. No big deal, except it's inclusion in the Washington Post Social Reader gave it a headline on the front page of the Washington Post.

Of all the recent discussions about the problems facing Apple going into 2013, I think this is their biggest. It's the one that will color the perception of every product they release, will direct every PR move they make and will influence everything from their tech support to their stock price. Apple's biggest problem is that they are held to a standard that not even they can possibly meet anymore.

This has been a long time coming. It started January 10, 2007, they day after Steve Jobs went on stage at Macworld and announced the iPhone. Tech journalists and Apple fans alike still share stories about the day before. I wasn't even in the game at that time, I only heard about it later from many very, very excited people.2

What was so remarkable about that day was, well, the phone for one, but more importantly that it marked an astonishing feat in product marketing.

Up until that point, I think it's fair to say that no product had been hyped, speculated about, critiqued on its mere concept, hypothetically mused about, and fervently anticipated than Apple's entry into this market. Seriously, read some archives of some tech sites and see what it was like. Even more remarkable was that every prediction was based in literally nothing: Apple had announced nothing and kept its entire campus sealed shut, and not once did a design leak, a part find its way out of Thailand, or an employee whisper a thing.

And then, amidst a murmur of anticipation like nothing else, Apple did the impossible and surpassed every expectation. Multitouch, full web browsing, fully featured email. Every bullet point was greeted with thunderous applause and joyous screams of delight. Don't believe me? Watch it. They can't contain themselves.3

Apple hit a point very few companies or artists ever get to hit: Peak Happy, or the moment where they cannot possibly be loved and adored any more than they are at that moment. Michael Jackson had one. Michael Jordan had one. Apple had one.

Just one.

Apple's next few years were the best years any company has had in the history of people keeping track of companies. That fact is without dispute. Any company, given the opportunity, would give anything for the opportunity to have the worst of Apple's last 24 quarters. It's like they printed money that came with an app that also printed money.

But nothing they did could come close to how well the iPhone annoucement went. That was Peak Happy, and everything they've done since sits in its shadow. Every release since that time has, in some way, come up short: the iPhone 3G and 3GS were remarkable iterations on the concept and drastic improvements to the original iPhone, but they battled insanely high expectations; the iPhone 4 set the standard for the already-fiercely-competitive industry, but the phone was no longer a surprise and it suffered criticism for an antenna design flaw; the iPhone 4S was a substantial internal improvement, but it was regarded as boring because it didnt have a new outer shell.

Never mind that each iPhone has sold more phones than all iPhones that preceded it combined. Never mind that it's still the most popular individual phone in the world, and never mind that it's year old version is the second-most popular phone in the world. Never mind the J.D. Power ratings, the explosion it created in the enterprise that has changed the landscape of IT forever, the development community, or the extrordinary amount of money they have made.

Those aren't the areas in which Apple is expected to compete, and their preformance in those areas are not the way the public measures Apple. Their judgment of Apple is and, for the forseeable future, will be based on how they currently measure up to their highest point. That's easy for some companies, but impossible for Apple.


1. Yes, that is quoted directly in context, with the (updated) flag removed. They apparently don’t need to title-case titles at VentureBeat. And can I also add that they append text to the clipboard when copying text, bringing them into the lead for Most Annoying Internet Experience of the Day?4 
2. That was shortly followed by, no joke, the first time I was told by a phone salesman from AT&T that "the iPhone was nothing, the phone you should really be excited about is this thing coming from google called 'Android'." No joke - The then-Cingular-now-AT&T store in West Windsor, NJ.
3. My favorite part is at 31:10 where Steve Jobs does his best Larry David impersonation.
4. See, that’s title-case, assholes.

Ownership

What I neglected to tell people, whenever the subject of RSS came up and "RSS is dead" got casually thrown around, was that I rely pretty heavily on RSS for all of my daily news and casual reading. I mean it: I read everything Ben Brooks writes on his blog, and I don't think I could tell you what his homepage even looks like. I don't know why I was particularly reticent to mention that - when someone's looking for a chair to sit in and they start eyeing mine, I don't sit quietly while they start testing it out. It's my chair, I'm using it.

But I didn't this time. The tech community, of which I've always wanted to be a part, doesn't look kindly on stragglers, on hangers-on. Supporting old operating systems, old browsers, and old languages has traditionally been tossed aside in favor of supporting new features, features that can't be implemented otherwise. I remember a story of Steve Jobs rationalizing one particular interface change by answering a call for backwards compatibility with "well, those people are all going to die soon anyway."

So I don't think I said anything because if the community decided that the RSS horse was dead, I wasn't going to be caught trying to ride it. Now, with this whole Google Reader mess, it seems like I'm not alone in my sudden desire to scream, "Hey, asshole, that's my chair! I was using that!"

Well, it is and it isn't. When I say I rely on RSS, what I really mean is that I rely on Google Reader to give me my RSS feeds, which I read entirely through the iOS/OS X client Reeder (which is awesome). I could go read each website individually, and most of them would probably thank me - i'd be contributing more to their individual page views and their front page advertisers. I could self-host a Fever server (for a $30 fee) and run that through my local RSS client, if I really wanted to.

But, of course, I don't. I don't want to host my own server, or maintain 57 separate RSS accounts myself, much like I don't want to host my own email account or manage my phone's operating system. I don't have the time or energy for that sort of stuff, and it's not worth it to me in these cases to have the kind of control that self-management provides.

So, I let someone else do a lot of this stuff. My personal email is managed by Apple, after years of having it be managed by Google, and for now it seems to be working fine. iOS does most of the management work on my phone, of course, and I trust Apple to make the UI/UX choices I might otherwise have to make if I chose to use Android or Firefox OS or something along those lines.

But what I gain in convenience I lose in ownership. I use these services at the provider's discretion, and only as long as they deem it worthwhile to offer. The fact is, iCloud mail could shut down tomorrow and I wouldn't really have a say in it. OS management is much more complicated, but anyone who owns a WebOS device knows what living with an orphaned product feels like. And, in this case, Google Reader is going away, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it.

This is all pretty much common sense. So, why do people get up in arms when Google does things like this?

The upside to the web is that it's all mine, if I want it. If I work hard enough at it, if it's connected to the public web I can get at it. It's the world's most powerful democratizing agent.

The downside is, that even if I put it there, if it's on the web, I can't own it. I'm taking an implicit risk using it, building products off of it, and relying on it for my business, because it could all go away tomorrow if someone gets bored.


That conflict is partially why I started this site, coming from having my sole "social" outlet being Ol' Zuck's Blue Discount Ad Emporium. I'm skeptical of the "public, but open, but proprietary, but secure" nature of Facebook, and I wanted more curatorial control over what I posted. I went from "free, public, but proprietary" to a service I control and manage, for a fee.

(Even still, if Squarespace decided to shut down tomorrow, they'd make my life more complicated, but I have creative and contextual ownership of both my content and my domain. I think.)


The way Google went about its business with Reader is par for the course for them, which means it was pretty reprehensible, shortsighted and dishonest. That doesn't change the fact that it's now my responsibility to manage my RSS feed subscriptions, and I have to decide whether I'm interested in doing so, or whether I'll find a different service to do what Reader did, or whether i'll switch to a different content consumption method entirely. I have a feeling that in the next few weeks there will be plenty of options to choose from, but I'm just going to be switching from one product I don't own to another.

Now it's still just technology - its not the end of the world. Google still can't eat me. But if I do end up picking a different RSS client, not taking it for granted in the same way I treated Google Reader is going to be difficult, and working against heavily instituted sense memory.

It doesn't matter if I do, though: it's not my chair. They can take it back whenever they want.