Category Archives: Business

S is for Sandboxed

Today Microsoft announced their forthcoming Windows 10 S operating system which is being framed, by the press at least, as a competitor to Google’s Chrome OS.

Notably, Windows 10 S will only allow users to install applications from the Windows Store. As with Apple’s app stores, Windows Store applications are “sandboxed” to prevent them from accessing data from other applications on a device. While sandboxing is seen by many as a welcome security protection, it also rules out many types applications that require more sophisticated interaction with user data across multiple applications.

Users who want or need to install applications from outside the Windows Store will be able to pay $50 to sidegrade to Windows 10 Pro. I use the word sidegrade specifically because, as Business Insider quotes, Microsoft “can’t guarantee you’ll get the improved battery life and performance” that they promise with Windows 10 S.

The $50 charge to escape the Windows Store doesn’t sit right with John Gruber:

But charging $50 for this feels like a shakedown. Imagine if Apple charged $50 to toggle the setting in the Security pane of System Prefs to allow the use of apps from outside the App Store.

On the face of it, I agree with this reaction. If you look at the $50 strictly as a fee to “unlock” an otherwise more powerful Windows 10 S machine, it does feel like a shakedown. But my reading of the $50 offer is much more dramatic than a simple “unlocking.” Users who choose to pay the $50 will also be opting in to a substantially different operating system. One with different battery usage, performance metrics, and perhaps other feature deviations from the default Windows 10 S software that Microsoft recommends for these devices. You get, and lose, what you pay for.

Another alluring aspect to the Windows 10 S lineup is that the most affordable computers will sell for as little as $189. While my understanding is that these computers are licensed, and not manufactured by Microsoft, I wonder if the cutthroat pricing represents a compromise on Microsoft’s part. To allow for computers this cheap, the OEM price for Windows 10 S must be effectively $0. Separately, Microsoft is offering the operating system as a free update to schools that want to update older Windows computers.

A $0 operating system that stands to earn ongoing Windows Store sales commissions is a slightly different proposition than one that enables users to install software from third party sources. With no other option, most users are bound to purchase something from the Windows Store, generating a modest profit for Microsoft. The $50 price for upgrading to Windows 10 Pro could be the amount of money that Microsoft deems necessary to cover its losses, on average, for effectively licensing its software for free to owners of millions of computers on which it will otherwise make no profit.

Social Networks are a Feature

Apple’s pre-announcement of Clips reminds me of Steve Jobs’s infamous quip to Dropbox CEO Drew Houston. From a 2011 Forbes feature:

Jobs smiled warmly as he told them he was going after their market. “He said we were a feature, not a product,” says Houston.

I’ve heard many dismiss Clips as too little, too late. A blatant attempt by Apple to weasel into the crowded market for quirky photo and video sharing apps. As a 41-year-old, I’m not sure I completely understand this field, but it appears to be dominated by Snapchat, while Facebook seems desperate to catch up and surpass them.

Where does that leave Apple? In punditry circles, the company is almost as well-known for their repeated failure to spark a fire in social networking as they are known for their successes in building highly desirable hardware and software products. Yes, products. Apple loves products, and is good at building them.

Despite constant criticism, Apple controls a pretty huge, relatively smooth-operating social network. The Apple ID single-sign-on infrastructure powers a host of social services including photo sharing, friend finding, document collaboration, shared calendars and reminders, and peripheral services such as Apple Pay that seem poised to make the leap to social when the company sees fit.

But “Apple ID” is not a catchy name for a social network, and despite its popularity among the Mac and iOS faithful, Apple makes little attempt to meaningfully bridge the gap with people who are tied into Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Weibo, whatever. These networks are enormously popular not only because users enjoy their features but because they are accessible from all popular hardware platforms. They facilitate interplatform friendship.

For a variety of reasons, the features afforded to Apple ID account-holders do not seem likely to attract non-Apple customers away from other social networks. So if Apple can’t beat ’em? Join ’em. Or rather, make it easy for Apple’s customers to participate at once in Apple-ID-powered services, and with outside social networks.

It started to appear that Apple had ceded “the social network” to other companies when they added standard share functionality to iOS and Mac. Virtually any text, image, or video on these platforms can be efficiently shared to Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, or any of an unlimited number of apps installed on the device that implement support for working with the media in question. If Apple had ambitions of becoming the dominant social network for sharing any of these types of content, they would probably not be so generous in facilitating this integration with their competitors.

I think Apple wisely considers their role, as the maker of personal computers and mobile devices, as empowering users to achieve specific goals in life. Apple empowers its users to write school papers, organize photos, record a jam session, check email, surf the web, work with a spreadsheet, play games, and yes, to connect with friends and family through a variety of social networks.

To this end, any time Apple might have spent building out their own social network is better spent investing in tools that maximize users’ enjoyment of the social networks they already belong to. Rather than obsessing over the venue in which social interactions occur, Apple can profit by equipping its users to be more expressive, wherever they may roam.

If I may stretch the venue metaphor for social networks, imagine you are invited to a huge gala event. Thousands of attendees are anticipated to meet up for an epic night of dining, drinking, and social revelry. Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter are dying to rent the venue, cater the snacks, and serve the drinks. All things that set the tone for where, and how, people will interact. Apple is content to sell the suit, dress, or whatever, that empowers 30% of attendees to look and feel their best.

Clips falls naturally into Apple’s long history of software that is designed to enhance the creative productivity of its customers. GarageBand empowers users to share their musicality with anybody, on any platform, who can play an audio file. Photos and iMovie do the same for visual creative works. And now Clips, recognizing the unique appeal of combining film, photography, visual effects, text, and emoji overlays, seeks to do the very same thing with a twist on the format.

Few of us wake up every morning “excited to social network.” Yet we turn to services like Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat to connect with friends and strangers. We’re excited to use the chat, image sharing, file transfer, and collaboration tools that add value to the stark, cold network. Many of these tools are built and shipped by the makers of the network, while others are supplied by third parties.

Apple’s Clips appears to be a canonical example of adding value to social networks from the outside. Regardless of whether you meet your friends on Facebook, Twitter, or a network that I have never heard of, Apple is glad to have you use and app like Clips to make your experience more fulfilling and fun. Clips is the latest of many products, from Apple and from others, that empowers you to express yourself uniquely. The social network you choose to do that on is merely a feature that connects you with friends and family.

Paid App Store Search

Bloomberg set off a wave of fear, uncertainty, doubt, and skepticism with their report alleging Apple’s plans to offer paid placement in App Store search results:

Apple is considering paid search, a Google-like model in which companies would pay to have their app shown at the top of search results based on what a customer is seeking.

Putting aside the fact that such a move seems un-Apple-like, I don’t see how it would benefit Apple, either.

Google sells placement in search results because that is the core of their business model. When a user finds and clicks a non-sponsored link in search results, it may serve Google’s ambition to collect information about users, but it doesn’t earn them any money. Without paid placement in Google search results, Google probably wouldn’t exist.

Apple’s overall business model is selling hardware with high profit margins. The business justification for the App Store is multi-faceted: its purpose is first to enrich Apple’s hardware products with novel third-party functionality, and second to generate revenue in the form of that 30% cut that developers love to complain about.

To this end, it’s in Apple’s best interests to ensure that the intersection of the best and the most profitable software is presented to users in the App Store. This is probably why the tired old high-level charts are broken down by “Free,” “Top Paid,” and “Top Grossing.” Items that rise to the tops of of those categories are most likely to serve Apple’s business justification for the store.

Allowing third parties to pay for placement in the App Store would not contribute to Apple’s justifications for the App Store in any way. Who benefits from such a change? The businesses paying for the placement, presumably. It’s hard to see how paid placement would consistently benefit either Apple or its direct customers. It’s unlikely that paid listings would be used to highlight apps that are in line with Apple’s other goals for the store.

I hope that Bloomberg’s report indicates that Apple is indeed brainstorming many ideas for improving search and inventory presentation in the App Store, but count me among the very skeptical that paid placement will be among the ideas that the company actually follows through with.

Bad Preference Gatekeeper

With the release of OS X 10.11.4, developers of standalone preference panes face a new challenge with respect to users installing their software.

Apparently, the validation process that Apple applies to downloaded software, Gatekeeper, fails to validate OS X preference panes, even if they are signed with a legitimate Developer ID code signature.

The upshot of this is when users download a bona fide 3rd party preference pane such as Noodlesoft’s excellent Hazel, instead of having the software install as expected, a scary warning is displayed indicating the purported untrustworthiness of the software.

According to Paul Kim of Noodlesoft, the problem affects every preference pane he’s tested, including a freshly built, completely plain preference pane built with Apple’s latest tools. I put this to the test in Xcode 7.3, running on 10.11.4, by creating a new Preference Pane project from Apple’s template, setting it to sign with my Developer ID, and creating a release build of the project.

Running Apple’s “spctl” tool on a binary is a reasonably approximate way of determining whether Gatekeeper would reject the binary after downloading it from the web. Here’s the result for all the affected preference panes:

% spctl -av ./TestPanel.prefPane
./TestPanel.prefPane: rejected
source=obsolete resource envelope

Ah, that pesky “obsolete resource enveloped” message. Those of us who survived the transition from Version 1 to Version 2 code signing remember it well. But it’s not an accurate assessment in this case:

 % codesign -dv ./TestPanel.prefPane              
Executable=/Volumes/Data/daniel/Desktop/TestPanel 2016-03-31 14-03-51/Products/
Sealed Resources version=2 rules=12 files=2
Internal requirements count=1 size=220

The “version=2” indicates we are using an appropriate version for the signed resources. It would be hard, perhaps impossible, to do otherwise on a modern system with a modern Xcode toolchain.

The “spctl” tools supports a command line option to ask for more and more verbose results by adding “v”s to the command line. Unfortunately “spctl -avvvvvvv” doesn’t yield anything more informative than the seemingly inaccurate “obsolete resource envelope.”

I wondered if there was some magic flag that preference panes must now exhibit, or some new requirement that internals be signed in a different way than before. Surely, if anybody could get this right, it would be Apple! Their “Network Link Conditioner” is the only downloadable preference pane I could think of, and what do you know, it was updated as part of the Hardware I/O Tools for Xcode 7.3 download package, released on March 20. I downloaded a fresh copy to be sure I had the best that Apple could offer, located the preference pane, and double-clicked it.


You know it’s bad when even Apple’s own downloads are portrayed as untrustworthy.

This is a minor annoyance for folks trying to install an obscure development tool, but it’s a major issue for developers like Noodlesoft whose entire livelihood is built on the distribution of software packaged as a preference pane. The scary wording in the dialog casts doubt on the reputation of the developer, and for the more savvy, on the reputation of Apple’s ability to properly assess the trustworthiness of software that we download.

Let’s hope Apple can address this problem soon. Although it doesn’t pose a security risk, it seems appropriate that they could include this in a security update. After all, it has everything to do with preserving trust between users, developers, and Apple.

Update: According to Paul Kim, it’s not just preference panes that are affected, but any standalone non-app code bundle. So, for example, color palettes, screensaver modules, and, if anybody ever used them anymore, Dashboard widgets, are all affected. Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty bad.

(Radar #25468728)

Brent Goes To Omni

Well, I’ll be darned.

Brent is a great developer and a great friend, who will now be working, in addition to his capacities at Q Branch, for the great, great Omni Group.

There are a few people in the Mac/iOS realm whose reputations are almost universally celebrated and admired. And there are a few companies that enjoy the same kind of respect. Brent and Omni are each of that ilk and it’s going to be very interesting to see what kinds of work they do together.

Breach Of Trust

There’s a spectrum, as with all things, to the reactions people have had to Apple’s promotional gifting of U2’s new album, “Songs of Innocence.” On one end you’ll hear ridiculous, conspiracy-minded talk about how Apple has violated customer privacy by, you know, giving them a free album. On the other end you’ll hear ridiculous derision of anybody who, even upon careful reflection, finds fault with the way Apple and U2 carried out this PR stunt.

I tend to agree with Marco Arment’s take, both about it being a mistake to overlook the nuances of this situation, and that the nut of the problem, the part especially worthy of scrutiny by Apple’s fans, is the extent to which this move, and the threat of more moves like it, erodes our trust that the company has our best interests at heart.

Hold up a minute, I hear you choking on your disbelief that I could actually believe a giant corporation has my best interests at heart. I get it: to them, in the big scheme of things, I’m nothing. We’re all “nothing.” But their actions over the course of many years tell a different story. Whether they ultimately care about our interests or not, it has been a primary business practice to respect not only customer privacy, but customer primacy. It’s important to Apple that we trust them to safeguard our personal data, but it’s also important that we trust them to let us choose the desktop picture, the system beep sound, and the computer’s name. The notion that Macs, iPhones, and iPads are personalized devices runs deep in Apple’s history and remains a powerful marketing message.

So, many of the people who complained about the U2 album suddenly appearing in their “Purchased” list weren’t outraged by a petty act of gifting an album that they may or may not like. They were instead annoyed, and perhaps a little scared by the implication that Apple doesn’t respect the boundaries that separate “customer stuff” from “Apple stuff.”

I can’t help but draw a parallel between the ongoing debate about the merits of Facebook’s algorithmic timelines vs. Twitter’s (up to now) more-or-less self-curated timelines. Over the course of years, Twitter has trained customers to believe that we have control over our timelines, while Facebook has not. Does it matter in the big scheme of things if Twitter injects an ad here or there, or treats a friend’s favorited tweet as a retweet? Not really. In the same sense that it doesn’t matter much that Apple inserts an unwanted music album into your purchased list. But even a little move in a direction that threatens the primacy of users is a relatively big move for companies like Twitter or Apple, whose track records have inspired us to trust that we retain more authority over the personalization of these products than perhaps we do.

First Impressions

I recently bought my first TiVo (the baseline Roamio), and was excited to get it up and running so I could start collecting shows. I started the process last night and only finished this morning, after investing about 3 hours of my time. Granted, it didn’t help that I forgot to plug the coaxial cable in when I first turned on the machine, but everything that happened after that was a bona fide shit-show, from the cryptic error feedback of the device, to the hit-or-miss activation of the cable card, to the dreadfully long support call with Verizon.

Knee-deep in the trouble, I kept second-guessing my expectation that TiVo would actually turn out to be of value to me. Why was I investing hundreds of dollars into a product that treats me like a grade-A jerk from the start? Ardent fans of TiVo assure me that once it’s setup it truly is a better experience than most of the clumsy cable-company DVR boxes provide, but my confidence was eroded by a “first launch” experience that seemed hostile in every respect. I tweeted:

But as I’m also trying to turn over a new leaf with respect to blogging, I also added a note to my TODO list:

  • ▢ Blog about “the first launch”

The idea being, I bet I have plenty to say on this topic and I should sit down with MarsEdit and write about it! Great idea, except … I already did that six years ago. From the Red Sweater Blog’s Designing for the First Launch:

Every product has shortcomings that will cause some users to run away screaming. The best we can do is try, with each iteration, to make fewer and fewer people do so. If 100 people download your product, and 90 of them run away screaming after launching it once, then you’ve only got a chance of selling to 10 of them. We can assume that statistically, some fixed percentage of the people who remain will end up buying. So cut the flee factor down to 80 and you’ve just doubled your sales.

And my post was itself a response to Brent Simmons’s On the Design of the First-Run Assistant:

Present as little friction as possible—don’t overwhelm the new user so that he quits without trying the app. Ask for just the minimum required to make an account: username and password.

Given that I barely remember reading this, and barely remember responding to it, how likely is it that I’ve followed this sage advice over the past six years? Looking back at how MarsEdit treated new users then, compared with how it treats them now, I have definitely made some improvements, but these have come in fits and starts. There were long lulls during which I just took it for granted that the current “onboarding” experience was good enough, and focused on features that, unfortunately, will only be appreciated by users who don’t run away screaming.

My experience with TiVo, and review of these old blog posts, reminds me that good enough almost never is, and that the single most important feature of any app is keeping new users engaged long enough to appreciate the rest of them.

Apple Watch Pricing

Since Apple announced the Apple Watch yesterday, one of the main points of contention among friends and colleagues seems to be whether or not the base price, $350, is too expensive for it be a massive success.

First off, I think there is some good wisdom in the argument that as a 1.0 debut for a product line that Apple no doubt currently expects to spend years if not decades refining, it doesn’t matter all that much if it’s “too expensive” for the mass market.

One challenge in determining what the watch should cost is determining what other products it should be compared against. Apple presents it as a “smart watch”, a “fitness watch” and as a “fashion watch,” but I’m sure that aficionados of each category will find plenty of faults.

It’s not exactly a “fitness watch” because even the special sport model doesn’t appear to be as rugged or water resistant as watches designed specifically for that market. It also doesn’t possess its own GPS, so unless you’re planning to carry your iPhone with you on every adventure, it’s a poor competitor to dedicated navigation watches from e.g. Garmin. On the other hand, its passive activity collection features such as monitoring vigorous activity, heart rate, etc., set it apart from relatively simpler sport watches such as this Casio which itself breaks the $200 mark. It might not be such a stretch that a significant subset of the sports/fitness market will pay the extra $150 for the purported advantages of Apple’s UX design, activity monitoring, and integration with other Apple products.

The elusive “smart watch” category is so new it’s hard yet to even know what a smart watch should or shouldn’t do. When Google announced its Android Wear platform earlier this year, the watches it presented included fancy features like turn-by-turn mapping navigation, voice recognition, and integration with Android devices and the apps on those devices. Apple seems to be aiming for the same targets, but also adding novel additions such as the “digital crown” as a usability enhancement, and touchy-feely stuff like the ability to send Taptic pulses to your friends and loved ones.

As far as fashion is concerned, it appears that this is the niche in which Apple probably sets itself farthest away other sports or smart watches. Frankly, the Apple Watch looks pretty good to me. And it’s meaningful that Apple will offer a wide variety of bands and designs, such that it will be difficult to write off the whole line as “ugly” without thoroughly evaluating the options. But as attractive as it is, it’s bulkier than most watches worn purely in an effort to appear sleek or stylish. This is probably something that will change over time. I agree with Manton Reece, who quipped on our latest Core Intuition episode that he had no doubt in a year or two’s time we will be looking back at this debut line of Apple Watches as the relatively clumsy 1.0 releases that they are.

But here’s the thing about fashion watches: they get really expensive, really fast. I don’t think anybody who would consider Apple’s watch purely for its fashion appeal would blink twice about the price tag at $350. So to the extent that Apple can itself influence what is or isn’t “in style” for a certain subset of fashionistas, it seems realistic to expect that Apple will sell an awful lot of these to folks who don’t particularly care about the finer points of their functionality as a sports or smarts enhancement device.

I was intrigued to read this review by Benjamin Clymer (via Ryan Nielsen), who evaluated the Apple Watch from the point of view of a self-identified “watch guy.” He gushes about many aspects of the watch’s design, and perhaps more importantly, appreciates Apple’s apparent attitude in approaching that design. He senses that Apple has respect for the art of watchmaking, and I guess by extension, respect for watch lovers as well. Early in his review he jumps to what I think makes a great summary of his findings when he appreciates the “feel” of the Apple Watch:

The overall level of design in the Apple Watch simply blows away anything – digital or analog – in the watch space at $350.

If Benjamin’s impressions are at all shared by other watch-lovers who get their hands on Apple’s watches, it seems likely to me that it will be an outright success as a fashion watch. Bear in mind that people who wear a watch for this reason do not typically limit themselves to one watch. I’m not even a watch-lover, per se, but I own two watches that are nice enough to wear when dressing up a bit, each more suited to a different style of apparel.

I suspect that at least for the 1.0 release of Apple’s watch, few people will buy it as an outright sports or fitness solution, but many will appreciate those features after buying the watch primarily for its “smart watch” or fashion appeal. As a satellite device to an iPhone, $350 seems in the realm of palatability for most people who value the thrill of owning and using cutting-edge technology. And for anybody who senses the watches will fill a fashion void on their watch rack, $350 will seem like a steal.

For everybody else, who will continue to feel that $350 is an absurd price to pay for something with such little proven utility, and with so many compromises compared to other solutions? I’m sure the $99 Apple Watch is only a couple years away.

Apple’s Nest

Google is acquiring Nest Labs, and since the news broke, most of the analysis I’ve seen has to do with why Nest might be worth $3 Billion to Google, and whether or not it’s a blow to Apple that Google bought the company before they could.

I agree with the folks who point out that $3 Billion is a hefty price tag for a small company that only sells home thermostats and smoke detectors. But I also agree with the folks who argue that the potential upside for Google could be huge. On the latest episode of The Talk Show, John Gruber and John Moltz cover many potential wins for Google: a proven consumer product expert in Tony Fadell, tens if not hundreds of talented engineers, and perhaps most importantly a team with a knack for delivering casual infometric devices to the masses.

For years, Google’s successful tack has been first inserting itself between users and their data, and then figuring how to best capitalize on that relationship. This approach pans out proportionally to the total number of users and to the amount and diversity of data being intermediated. As Google’s knowledge of people and their data grows, it empowers them to provide increasingly clever life solutions. It also empowers them to help themselves to what advertisers will pay for access to this very large, very well understood user base.

The products might seem to offer little to Google, but it’s easy to imagine how Nest’s knowledge could strengthen Google’s other services. For Maps? “Raise the thermostat in my home to 68F when I am 1 mile away from arriving at home.” Or for Gmail and Google Voice? “Do not disturb … unless there is an emergency at home.” It also seems reasonable to assume that Nest’s two shipping products are the tip of the iceberg and that Tony Fadell and his team have a long list of ideas for how their product line should expand in the future.

What does it mean for Apple that Google acquired Nest? Not much. Unlike Google, Apple has made a habit of staying out of the relationship between users and their data. Sometimes to a fault! For most of Apple’s products, knowing anything about the specific data that users are working with is at best an afterthought and more often a degree of involvement that the company has made a point of avoiding. What are your emails about? Apple doesn’t want to know. What kind of writing are you doing in Pages? Not interested. What are your favorite mapping POIs? They barely know where anything is, let alone whether you’ve been there or not. This is Apple’s flaw and it’s great, great asset: they care much, much more about the kinds of things than the specific things that people use their products to work with. Google is more interested in raw, specific data, while Apple is more obsessed with generalized ideas about data.

On that point, one reason I wouldn’t expect Apple to acquire a company like Nest is that the products are far too specific, far too niche. Apple doesn’t make very many specific things anymore. They make general tools and leave it to customers how they should best be used. In fact, over the past 10 to 15 years, Apple’s products are increasingly generalized, and more suitable to a wide range of uses (and customers) as the products become more refined.

Apple used to sell a countless variety of Mac models which are now more or less reduced to MacBooks, iMacs, Mac Minis, and the Mac Pro. Apple used to sell iPods for playing music, QuickTakes for taking pictures, and printers for … printing. Now they sell devices that double as music players, devices that double as cameras, and devices that extend the capabilities of 3rd party printers.

Apple’s Airport Express could be sold as a standalone Wi-Fi printer adaptor. Have a USB-based printer? Just plug it in to the Apple AirPrinter device and now it’s a Wi-Fi-connected printer. It could also be sold as a Wi-Fi music adaptor. Have a pair of powered speakers? Just plug it in to the Apple AirPlayer and let your tunes fly. But no, it’s sold as a Wi-Fi base station. A base station that happens to offer many features that are generally useful to a household with network-connectable devices.

In many respects Apple’s Airport Express is like Nest’s thermostat: a small form factor with built-in WiFi and considerable smarts. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the next version of the Airport Express featured a touch screen for interaction and feedback? During AirPlay broadcast of music to connected speakers the on-board display could show the album artwork, artist, and song title, as well as a convenient UI for skipping or favoriting a song. While printing documents it would reflect up-to-the-moment job status and offer a big, fat “Stop” button for canceling an unnecessary printout. And when it wasn’t doing anything in particular? It could show generally helpful information such as the current time, local weather, etc.

Given Apple’s history of expanding the functionality of the Airport Express, I wouldn’t outright reject the possibility that they might add a temperature sensor or smoke detector to the device itself. Or better yet, what if they announced a standard Bluetooth LE protocol for in-home instruments from any manufacturer to integrate seamlessly with Apple’s $99 Airport Express? That would be pretty great, and maybe at that point it would finally be time to come up with a better name for Apple’s Nest.

A Mockery Of Whom?

Are Marissa Mayer and Yahoo!’s design team playing the fools, or playing us for fools? I honestly am not sure anymore.

When the company announced more than a month ago that they would debut a new logo, I was surprised to learn that before sharing it with us, they would subject themselves and us to 30 days of lackluster logos. It felt to me like a lapse in judgement to:

  1. Put off for even a day the fresh new logo that was prepared to move the company forward.
  2. Accept for even a day, let alone 30, the use of any logo that had not made the cut.

But I sort of laughed it off, snidely and then crudely shared my thoughts on the matter, and waited out the 30 days.

Last night Yahoo! finally revealed the new logo, and the mildest reaction I can possibly muster is that it does not appear to be a professional design:

Yahoo's new logo, September 2013.

Because I myself am not a professional designer, I am tentative about making specific judgements, but my relatively untrained eye reacts to several problems with logo. The beveled characters make the logo appear dated and distractingly three dimensional. The scalloped edges lead the eye away from forming any unified shape. The lightness of the strokes, particularly in the bar of the A and H makes the whole thing feel fragile and not suited to scaling very large or very small.

A snarky summary of my criticisms would be to say that it looks like something somebody threw together in a weekend. Upon seeing the new logo I tweeted that I hoped it “was designed by committee, because I don’t want to imagine an individual taking the brunt of reactions.”

Marissa Mayer herself chimed in on the new logo, so now we know that both are true: it was designed by committee, and it was thrown together in a weekend:

So, one weekend this summer, I rolled up my sleeves and dove into the trenches with our logo design team: Bob Stohrer, Marc DeBartolomeis, Russ Khaydarov, and our intern Max Ma. We spent the majority of Saturday and Sunday designing the logo from start to finish, and we had a ton of fun weighing every minute detail.

Expletives are begging to let loose in my typing. You have to be kidding me.

This is not how any company, big or small, cherished or unknown should design a company identity. The more I read about Yahoo!’s process for this redesign, the less respect and confidence I have in them. As a minor Yahoo! shareholder and a long-time, sometimes grudging fan of the company, I am not sure where to go with these feelings.

It’s that point of gullible disbelief where one starts to look around for hidden cameras. Are we being punked? Is Marissa Mayer merely making a mockery of Yahoo! and its identity, or if she is snickering churlishly as she pulls off an elaborate prank, hi-fiving her co-conspirators as they witnesses the world react jaw-gapingly to their purported pride in these actions?

AAPL Stops On A Dime

Two months ago, Joe Springer of Seeking Alpha called out January 18, today, as a point of interest in the trajectory of Apple’s stock price. He suggested that because of a particularly large number of open AAPL options expiring today, this would be a turning point: the stock price would remain artificially deflated through today, and then rise more organically starting next week.

Earlier this week, John Gruber of Daring Fireball linked to the post and gave his own summary of the situation:

Billions of dollars at stake if AAPL stays near or under $500 a share until January 19 and then makes a run after that. No tinfoil hat required to see the motivation here.

I’m not sure where the $500 number comes from, because it wasn’t cited in the original article. I suspect that Gruber did some more research and determined that in the months since Springer’s article, $500 had become the most popular option price among investors, and thus carried the heaviest weight among the variously-priced options set to expire today.

Today, Apple’s stock price closed at exactly $500. Sometimes the way things unfold seem too precise to be merely coincidence, and Gruber’s reaction to the news says as much:

I still have that bridge to sell you if you don’t think the fix was in on this.

But was it a fix, or merely an “honest” market doing what markets do? I don’t claim to know too much about the perplexing ebbs and flows of the stock market, particularly when it comes to options, but this article by Rocco Pendola offers a counterpoint to the conspiracy angle, taken verbatim from his interview in 2011 with Neil Pearson:

Neil Pearson: Let’s use AAPL as an example. Friday, AAPL’s closing price was near $340. Further, let’s suppose that there is a large trader or group of traders who follow a hedging strategy that requires them to sell aggressively if AAPL rises above $340, and buy aggressively if AAPL falls below $340. If this is the case, their trading will have a tendency to “pin” AAPL at or near $340. It is only a tendency, because during the week there might be some event, either a news announcement or trading by some other investors, that dwarfs the effect of the hedging strategy and moves AAPL away from $340.

In other words, Pendola agrees that the large number of open options had a part in pushing the stock price to $500, but insists that the fact that it closed precisely on that number was hardly guaranteed or “fixed” as Gruber suggests.

Because Pendola and Pearson are experts in stock analysis, who have covered precisely this topic before, even to the extent that Apple was previously the subject, I tend to respect their conclusion. I also noticed that in after-hours trading, AAPL hasn’t begun rocketing upwards. If there were some conspiratorial manipulation of the stock to keep it at $500 only through close of trading today, one would imagine it would have traded higher than $500.31 after-hours.

I was as quick as anybody to jump on the conspiracy wagon when the stock closed exactly at $500, but sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.