The Stochastic Game

Ramblings of General Geekery

Posts tagged with apple

The Roku Remote

From The Verge:

In a sign of how far Apple is willing to go to continue raising the profile of Apple TV Plus, the company has worked out a deal with Roku that will give the streaming video service its own shortcut button. This is the first time a branded Apple TV Plus button has appeared on any remote control.

I’ve been a Roku user for years, dating back to when their devices were basically shitty under-powered little pieces of cheap plastic with a laggy interface (the current models in comparison are good, decently smooth-going, and get the job done).

At first, I got a Roku as an alternative Plex machine, when turning on a video-game console was slow and noisy, and I was growing tired of maintaining a DIY home-theatre PC machine with a custom IR remote. I had an Apple TV at the time (which didn’t run third party apps yet back then), so consolidating everything under the same puck-sized device made sense.

What got me hooked to the Roku brand, though, is the remote.

Roku didn’t minimize their remote past the point that it doesn’t feel good in your hand anymore. It’s designed so you can quickly know which way it is in the dark, and work it through feel alone. It always had volume buttons, which can go through protocols like HDMI-CEC to adjust the volume on your super expensive receiver. The remote is still the thing that keeps me with Roku instead of going to an Apple TV.

However, I always had ambivalent feelings about the “quick buttons” on the remote. On the one hand, they’re purely and simply advertisement, right under your hand, and that’s gross. On the other hand, a couple of them are actually useful because they’re apps I do want quick access to. Obviously the ideal thing would be for Roku to offer the ability to reprogram these buttons (some special models do allow that), but that would probably not get them as much money from partners.

Either way, it’s a big deal to see Apple spending some cash to get a space on this remote as one of the “quick buttons”1. It’s well known that Roku does tracking and advertisement on their dashboard2 in order to get enough revenue, as the hardware sales alone don’t cover all the manufacturing costs3, so hopefully they managed to get a sizable chunk of money from Apple. In fact, I wonder how much is Roku’s cut on in-app purchases on their hardware… it would be funny to see Apple lose 30% on all their transactions there, even if that would barely make a dent on their business. In fact, my cynicism leads me to believe that they struck a backdoor deal on that, the same way Apple itself also has backdoor deals with select companies on the App Store… oh well.

  1. Although arguably it was an even bigger deal that Apple TV Plus was even available as a Roku app in the first place. I did a double take when I saw it there the first time. 

  2. Which you can somewhat opt-out of. Go do that. 

  3. Another stupid side-effect of capitalism, where few companies really sell stuff at the price they should. 

The nightmare horrorshow that is the Apple TV remote

A rant on Ars Technica:

I wanted to love the Apple TV remote. It was sleek and futuristic. Plus, it had an accelerometer and its own little trackpad. Besides which, I didn’t think I’d really need the remote, anyway, since I could simply tell the TV what I wanted to watch. What wasn’t to love? Turns out, pretty much everything.

I largely agree. After Apple added 3rd party app support on the Apple TV, I considered it for a bit (I don’t care about the iTunes eco-system, I’m mostly a Plex + Netflix kind of guy, but I’m interested in getting AirPlay/mirroring working between my iPad and the TV). However, after test-driving the new remote and asking friends about it, I realized I didn’t like it at all. It really felt like one of those times where Apple designers care more about how it looks that how it gets used. The Roku remotes are not perfect but immensely better as far as I’m concerned.

Missing The Point Again

I’ve seen quite a few Apple bloggers link to this piece from Adam Geitgey about the new MacBook Pro, and how it’s supposedly “_kind of great for hackers_”. All because you can plug a lot of different things thanks to USB-C ports1.

Huh… OK?

Well first, it’s great to see Apple users realize the benefits of standard ports – and based on how Adam seems to easily use lots of peripherals without any apparent problem, it’s good to know that some concerns about the compatibility landmine of USB-C may be overblown. I thought it was a given, that standard ports are better, and that yes, Apple ditching proprietary ports is an excellent (although baffling in some ways) development. But MacBook Pros having USB ports of any version is not a new thing. The only new thing is that they upgraded to the latest version of the standard… should we celebrate them for that? Isn’t that like saying “_thank you_” to cars stopping at red lights?

I feel like people are missing the point. Again.

The problem isn’t whether the new MacBook Pro is a good machine or not. It is a good machine. It’s the best MacBook Air that Apple ever released. It’s arguably an excellent MacBook, too. It’s just a shitty MacBook Pro because, in many ways, it’s a downgrade from the previous iterations – something that Apple does quite often.

But of course, it seems to pay off. Like I said before, Apple is now focused on mass consumer markets.

Someone (I don’t remember who) said that “_Pro_” now meant “_Premium_” in Apple’s line-ups. You don’t necessarily get a more complicated machine anymore. Instead, you get a fancier and pricier one. That’s arguably why they called the big iPad an “iPad Pro”. Not “iPad XL”, or “12” iPad", or “the new new bigger iPad” or something.

“_Pro_” is now the opposite of “_Mini_” and “_Air_”2 – not the opposite of “_consumer_” or “_simple_”.

  1. You know what would be great for hackers? For Apple to stop changing, obfuscating, and removing the Unix-y parts of macOS. So we can keep hacking things. Plugging a peripheral into an USB port is not what I would call “hack-y”, unless I’m some character in a Hollywood blockuster thriller about being chased on the Internet or something. 

  2. “_Air_” actually doesn’t mean much anymore either. It’s the middle point in the iPad line, but the lower point in the MacBook line. 

The iOS-ification of hardware

It’s been an interesting week. Apple announced some new Macbook Pros and everybody’s unhappy in the Apple blogosphere – something I wasn’t sure could happen anymore. Just look at Michael Tsai' roundup and be amazed. All those people unhappy because they finally realized Apple doesn’t care about “pro” users. Apple effectively made a new version of the MacBook Air, but called it “Pro” and that’s obviously not a great move.

It’s not a great move because it means a lot of compromises. A shitty keyboard. Mediocre specs. No useful ports. Some people are getting into the wrong debate, discussing how Apple designs for the future, but the reality is different. Will DSLRs use USB-C keys to store photos? Will network switches use USB-C for connections? What kind of future has Apple in mind where you won’t need adapters and dongles to efficiently transfer gigantic RAW pictures onto your NAS or other safe storage?

The truth is that this has been coming for a long time. This is a company that killed their pro-sumer photo editing software Aperture and replaced it with the family-friendly Photos. The company that crushed their pro video editing software into Final Cut Pro X and only looked back when petitions grew big. The company that is, slowly, inexorably, removing or hiding pieces of macOS’s underlying Unix system. The company that, over the years, removed the ability of customers to hack their own machines, whether it’s just replacing the battery or RAM or hard-drive in a notebook, or more important upgrades like replacing the CPU or GPU in a desktop machines.

At first this was all dismissed as “reasonable” compromises because hey, look how sleek those Macs look and work compared to the competition… but more and more people started getting annoyed. And now maybe we’ve hit some kind of point of no return? I does look like the majority (or a much more vocal than previously minority) is saying “_that’s enough_”.

I wonder if it’s too late. Apple has made 1/6th of the keyboard into a touch screen, while the remaining keys are slowly disappearing into the frame – it’s a matter of time until that keyboard is so flat that they have no problem replacing it with a giant touch screen. Actually, hardware is becoming so integrated that I wouldn’t be surprised if next year they were announcing a yearly subscription for MacBooks, similar to the one for iPhones. You were licensing your media, and then you were licensing your software – soon you’ll be licensing your hardware. And all the while they’ll continue their (timid, for now) attempts at hiding the file-system from users. Phil Schiller may say now that they will never merge macOS and iOS together but that doesn’t mean they can’t replicate the iPhone’s success formula with Macs… and it wouldn’t be the first time an Apple exec (or any exec for that matter) flat out lied about something they were doing.

I wonder if it’s too late. Even Microsoft is doing Apple-ish stuff. Their new Surface Studio looks amazing, but instead of being a monitor you plug into a computer you can replace or upgrade, it’s an all-in-one, tightly integrated system. Either you’re rich, or you learn to live with the same specs for 6 years.

I wonder if it’s too late. Tim Cook thinks you can replace PCs with iOS devices, and that the iPad Pro is the “future of personal computing”. Sure, he’s probably talking about the average, mass-market customer here, but that tells you all you need to know about where Apple’s focus is. Apple’s focus is not on the million-dollar markets anymore. It’s on the billion-dollar ones. They’ve tasted absolute power and boy how did it absolutely taste neat.

I wonder what Apple programmers will have on their desk in 5 years… Maybe that’s what will keep Apple in check eventually – can they build software and cloud services on average consumer hardware?

Missing The Point

It’s September 2016, and Apple showed once again some pretty cool hardware: dual cameras, clever asymmetrical core design, water resistance, blah blah. I’m not interested since I already have the very recent 6S (I’m not that rich or desperate) but it’s a very nice piece of technology.

The change that will create the most ripples on the rest of the market however is the removal of the headphone jack, I think. Actually, scratch that. The removal in itself is not that important – it’s what they replaced it with that’s important. Yet, 90% of the press gets hung up on the removal.

I think they’re all missing the point.


The matter of the jack port removal is temporary. It’s going to be very annoying for those of us whose audio needs are not limited to “_one phone and one pair of headphones_”, but it will be temporary. Hopefully.

I don’t imagine Lightning port headpones will take off – as a manufacturer you’d have to be crazy to invest in a proprietary connector for which you need to pay licensing fees, which is something you didn’t have to do before, and which would also prevent you from selling your products to half of your market. Plus, even low-cost manufacturers are already able, to some degree, to produce relatively cheap Bluetooth headphones. So that’s where the market will go, and where Apple wants to go anyway.

AirPods for cheap

The real problem is that in my opinion Apple opened a can of worms with their wireless headphones: they run with a proprietary “secret sauce” layer on top of Bluetooth. Some people are worried about the potential for DRM but I’m mostly wondering if we’ll see some kind of “wireless protocol war” starting in the next couple years.

Right now, Apple’s “secret sauce” is supposed to be backwards compatible with normal Bluetooth devices, but you know how these things go. The proprietary layer will get bigger with each new release – I’m even expecting that you’ll have to download firmware updates for your headphones on a regular basis soon – but all those cool features will create envy. You can bet that someone like Samsung will come up with their half-assed version of another proprietary layer on top of Bluetooth, as a “me too” feature. Maybe there’s going to be a couple of those out there. Some of those implementations may have some kind of DRM, added under pressure from the movie or music industry, in exchange for some short term IP, marketing, or financial boost.

Eventually the Bluetooth SIG will try and draft some new version of Bluetooth that tries to fix all the basic problems that really should have been fixed before anybody decided to remove the jack port… and meanwhile, Apple has a 5+ year lead on wireless technology, keeps growing their accessory licensing revenue, and is laughing at how everybody else is still having trouble pairing headphones correctly. It’s like the dark ages of the W3C all over again, for audio.

So yeah, Apple is really clever here. I’ve got no doubt iPhone users will be buying increasingly more “W1” enabled headphones from approved manufacturers… it’s a smart move. But not a courageous one. Courage would be to open-source their Bluetooth layer. Courage would be to work with the Bluetooth SIG (which they’ve been a member of since last year) to improve wireless audio for everyone.

Hopefully Apple finds some real courage soon.