A Better Widget


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

Widgets in iOS 14 change more than layouts…

As someone who rather obsesses over the organization of my iPhone home screen (as you can see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), it seems like iOS 14 may be by far the biggest change to the operating system yet. For 13 years, we’ve lived with a grid of apps. Now that grid is getting shoved to the side and down and pushed all around to make room for widgets. Finally.

Yes, yes “Android already did it”. But who cares? I don’t use an Android phone, so I care little if another OS did it first. Though I am curious what learnings can be gleaned from those first-mover users, as even just a few days in, it seems like there’s a greenfield of opportunity for iOS with widgets.

And, of course, widgets aren’t exactly brand new on iOS either. They’ve been around for a few years, but were relegated to the left-hand drawer. Oddly, they still are stuck there with iPad OS 14, which makes basically no sense.¹ But with iOS 14, again, they’re given the room to breathe and they’ve been revamped to make you want to showcase them.

I’ve actually been using the iOS 14 betas for a while so I’ve had a bit of time day-to-day with the widgets. But those were only the Apple-built ones. Some are great, like Calendar. Others are in a way, slightly less useful, like Stocks, because you can’t expand them as you could in the previous version of the widgets. We get it: this is because space is so precious on homescreens and you have your grid of apps to consider.

But with iOS 14 now officially out in the wild, the third-party apps are coming fast and furious. The fantastic Weather Line widget was the first one I got to try. And some surprising other developers are making early entries, such as a little shop called Google. Their search widget with one-tap text, visual, voice, or incognito search feels like the perfect use of the space. So much so that it makes me wonder if some services may pop up that are widget-first…

TechCrunch has a good rundown of some of the early entrants. A few others are listed in the replies to my tweet here.

Unsurprisingly, a few widget-focused apps already blowing up on the App Store. That is actually an understatement. Currently, the top three apps in the App Store are simple widget showcase apps. Yes, overall. Yes, beating Zoom and the threatened-to-be-banned-shortly TikTok. After a decade-plus of grid confinement, I would say that interest is quite high here…

¹ The best (only) explanation I’ve heard is that because of the homescreen rotation element of the iPad, widgets are far more complicated on that device than they may appear. That would make it seem like they won’t be coming until iPad OS 15, sadly.


A Better Widget was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Apple’s Nice, Tight, and Light Event


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

Apple Watch and iPad put on a good show, but the undercard of Fitness+, Apple One, and the A14 chip may have upstaged…

We entered through a wormhole. We exited the same way. I’m not really sure what that was all about, but beyond that, today’s Apple event was pretty solid. A nice, tight one hour and two minutes. Two key products on which to focus, as expected: the Apple Watch and the iPad Air.

Though the most interesting elements may have been the tangential ones: Fitness+, Apple One, and the A14 chip. A few more thoughts on the event…

No one actually took the stage at the Steve Jobs Theater this time. A few of the presentations were in that building, but not in that room. Which would have been empty, of course. This was less of a faux keynote, and more of a product showcase, which was smart.

Apple Watch

The new Apple Watch, the Series 6, seems great. The blood oxygen reader is certainly timely in our current COVID predicament, but you could certainly argue that an air quality reader would be even more timely — at least on the west coast of the US, currently under a shroud of smoke. The new colors look nice. Blue is fun and would seem to point to a forthcoming blue iPhone.

Interesting that the ‘S6’ chip in the new Apple Watch is based on the A13 Bionic — aka, the year-old iPhone chip. That makes some sense, still, it’s sort of a weird thing to highlight.

A brighter screen is most welcomed. As are the new watch faces. I enjoyed the continued movement to make Alan Dye the new Jony Ive, at least when it comes to omniscient video narration. The Geoff McFetridge-designed faces are fun — and not the first time Apple has worked with him. As someone who may or may not change my watch face and straps for when Michigan is playing — which, sadly, is not this year #GoBlue — I appreciate the ability to more easily customize faces that match your team’s colors.

Jeff Williams — aka, the presumptive next Apple CEO-in-waiting — really, really wanted to make “there’s a watch face for that” happen. It did not.

The new bands look great as always but I’m a little concerned about the new non-adjustable loops. It’s actually quite a bit more work to figure out the right size — especially in a time when we’re not (for the most part) going into Apple Stores to try them on. Giving people a print out to figure out sizing seems like a lot to ask. Did simplicity breed complexity here?

The new family set-up for Apple Watch is a nice idea. But as Joanna Stern pointed out on Twitter, how on Earth did they do a rather involved family setting for Apple Watch ahead of doing a simple one for a shared family iPad?! Also, cellular only. Which makes some sense but is… pretty complex as well!

Then came the really confusing part: the Apple Watch SE. Yes, it’s the cheaper Apple Watch. But it’s not as cheap as the old Apple Watch, which is still on sale. And that’s also not last year’s Apple Watch, but rather the Apple Watch Series 3. And unlike with the iPhone line, the SE Apple Watch isn’t any smaller than the other versions. Again, it’s just cheaper than the new version, but not as cheap as the old. It’s faster than the old, but not as fast as the new.

No one is asking me — not Microsoft, and certainly not Apple — but if it were me, I would have made it much more simple: call the Apple Watch SE the ‘Apple Watch’ and call the Apple Watch Series 6 the ‘Apple Watch Pro’. If the naming scheme works for the Mac, iPad, and iPhone, it should work here too. You could even still sell the Apple Watch Series 3 at the lower price point, that’s just ‘last year’s Apple Watch’ (well, technically, oddly, a few years ago, but you get the picture). And you could still have ‘Edition’ models.

Next up Lisa Jackson took the stage to announce that Apple would not be including power bricks with the new Apple Watch models in the name of saving the environment. Which, look, I get. But it rings a little less true when the higher end models are still apparently going to have them. So Apple is going to save the world one power brick at a time, unless you’re wealthy and then you can do what you want. Anyway, this is all just setting the stage for Apple to pull the same move with the iPhone next month.

Fitness+

Not only does Jay Blahnik still work at Apple, he got a lot of screen time today to unveil a new service — Apple is really into services now, in case it’s not clear — Fitness+. It looks… pretty solid, actually. It’s entirely built around the Apple Watch and seamlessly interacts with videos you can play on your iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV. It’s a play Apple can uniquely make thanks to their hardware/software combinations here.

That said, the fact that it made Peloton’s stock drop today is a little comical. In a way, Peloton is even more of the Apple play, at least for cycling (and to a lesser extent, running) with a fully integrated solution. If Apple starts making a bike (and poaches Peloton’s celebrity instructors)…

$9.99 a month seems fine. $79.99 a year seems more than fine, relatively speaking. And including the family at no extra charge is the standard Apple nice touch these days. Still, $9.99 is another $9.99 you’re sending to Apple. These services bills are starting to add up. So…

Apple One

No surprise to see an Apple bundle on this end, of course. But it was surprising to hear Apple frame iCloud storage, and not Apple Music, as the “linchpin” of the bundle. I mean, sure. We need it. Are we excited about it? Probably not. Still until we have the real linchpin, the iPhone, as a part of these bundles, this is fine.

For now, the bundle is (in seeming order of importance): iCloud, Apple Music, Apple TV+, and Apple Arcade. This will cost you $14.95 (why $.95 and not Apple’s standard $.99? I have no idea). John Gruber was right about the price, and I was wrong.

Though I was also right. Because the “real” bundle is not $14.95 but $29.95 and that includes News+ and Fitness+. More importantly, it raises the iCloud allotment from 50GB (not enough — I’m already past 180GB) to 2TB. (And yes, there’s a family plan with 200GB of storage for $19.95, but that’s also not enough.) The real bundle is the big bundle: $30/month.

Spotify is not happy. Expect many more folks over the coming days to be unhappy about this bundle.

iPad

Tim Cook casually announced that Apple has sold over 500 million iPads (and is still somehow portrayed as a disappointment). They wasted no time making the case to sell more. The 8th generation iPad — Apple really needs to coordinate device branding strategy — is 2x faster the the most popular Windows machines, 3x faster than the most “popular” Android tablet, and 6x faster than the top Chromebooks, according to Apple.

In other words: are you listening school administrators? At $299 (the education edition price), they may be.

But the real star of the show was the new iPad Air. And that’s because it’s seemingly now faster than every other iPad — not to mention iPhone — including the Pro, because it’s the first Apple device with an A14 chip. And this chip does seem like a leap forward, as it’s the first 5 nanometer silicon.

Before we got to that, we got to see the new design which is indeed similar to the Pro design (and the rumored new iPhone design). But in colors! Fun. Also, a new edge-to-edge screen means TouchID had to move, so it’s now in the power button up top. Please, please, please do this on the next iPhone as well. Signed, every single person on Earth now forced to wear a mask.

That’s actually one of the few differences between the iPad Air and the aforementioned now slower iPad Pro: the Air doesn’t have Face ID at all. Nor does it have a “Pro Motion” display. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure how much either matters. I would absolutely get this Air over a Pro right now.

Of course, a new Pro will inevitably be coming soon (likely next Spring). And maybe that’s a good strategy to ‘tick’ and ‘tock’ these releases. Still, it’s really weird that the Air is now more pro in many ways than the Pro.

And cheaper, to boot.

The star of today’s show may have actually been Tim Millet, Apple’s VP of platform architecture, who walked everyone through the A14 chip. He claimed Apple was “challenging the laws of physics” with the 5nm process, where things are measured in atoms. 11.8 billion transistors here — apparently 40% more than the 7nm chips.

USB-C! And it works with the second generation Apple Pencil and even the new Magic Keyboard too. $599 seems like a great starting price for this. Though it’s not available until October — which is interesting because that’s also the rumored launch timeframe of the iPhone. Yet Apple still felt the need not to announce the iPhone here. Might we not see the iPhone until November? Late October now seems likely, at the very least.

iOS 14

Tomorrow. Nice.


Apple’s Nice, Tight, and Light Event was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Xbox Series Xbox One 360 S E X


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

Great moments in Microsoft branding

I mean, they do *look* nice…

I was starting to get worried. Microsoft’s latest attempt at branding the new Xbox was almost starting to make sense.

First, a bit of history. Back in 2001, we got the original Xbox.¹ In many ways, it was an anti-Microsoft product. First and foremost because it was a consumer gaming console. But more so because it had clean branding. It wasn’t ‘Xbox for Workgroups 3.11 XP 95 Edition’ or something like you might expect from Microsoft. It was simply ‘Xbox’. It was so simple. And had symmetry. Hell, it sounded like a gaming machine.

Then came the second generation of the machine which was naturally called the ‘Xbox 2’.

Ha! No no no. The second generation of the Xbox was called the ‘Xbox 360’ because it had to compete with the Playstation 3. And 3 is bigger than 2, you see. But you know what is bigger than 3? 360. They went from being behind Sony to beating them by a whole 357 generations. Brilliant.

In all seriousness, it was a sort of clever maneuver to get a ‘3’ in the name. In fact, Apple would use a similar move a few years later when the ‘iPhone 2’ transformed into the ‘iPhone 3G’. Of course, that was more of a functional name — it was the first iPhone with 3G service. Still ‘Xbox 360’ is seamless enough. Then things started to go off the rails.

The successor to the Xbox 360 was not the ‘Xbox 4’ or ‘Xbox 480’ or ‘Xbox 4000’ or any other variation to continue down the line they jumped and to keep pace with the ‘Playstation 4’. Instead, we got the ‘Xbox One’.

The Xbox One was not the first Xbox, of course. Again, that was the Xbox. It was the third Xbox. But ‘Xbox Three’ would make no sense after ‘Xbox 360’ and ‘Xbox Four’ seems odd. ‘Xbox IV’ may have been cool. Like ‘Rocky IV’ was cool. Drago! But no. Xbox One. Because reasons.

Then things really started to go off the rails. The Xbox One ended up getting a second iteration called the ‘Xbox One S’. Unclear if this was following Apple’s (also odd) iPhone naming schemes at this point (some will recall the ‘iPhone 3GS’ naming debacle complete with capitalization and spacing changes after launch). Was the ‘S’ also for “speed” here? It was the first Xbox to support 4K, so you’d think they could have course corrected with an ‘Xbox 4K’ name — but that may have implied that this was an entirely new console. So what about ‘Xbox One 4K’? Nah. Xbox One S.

This is where I’ll point out that there was apparently an ‘Xbox 360 E’ as well, but no one remembers that. Or at least, I didn’t.

Moving on, a year after the Xbox One S, we got the ‘Xbox One X’. Why that name? Again, it’s unclear. It’s more redundant than symmetrical. It did come out just a few days after the ‘iPhone X’, but as everyone still doesn’t fully know, that ‘X’ stood for ‘10’ not the letter ‘X’. And it was because it was the 10th anniversary of the iPhone. (We won’t get into why there was never an ‘iPhone 9’ — the ‘Xbox 2’ of smartphones.) In 2017, when it was released, the Xbox brand was 16 years old, not ten. ‘Xbox One XVI’ doesn’t quite have the same ring… So Xbox One X, it is — with memories of ‘C++ for You++’.

This brings us to present day. We’re on the verge of the launch of the ‘Xbox 5’ or ‘Xbox 6’, depending how much of a jump you considered the Xbox One X to be. The name? Well, now we have two names because we have two machines. The ‘Xbox Series X’ and the ‘Xbox Series S’. Because of course.

Honestly, in a vacuum, these aren’t bad names. They’re a bit automotive, and yes, hearkens back to both the Xbox history as well as the iPhone history. Thankfully, all the previous iterations of the Xbox are no longer for sale, otherwise this naming scheme would be a total clusterfuck.

The Xbox Series X is newer than the Xbox One X, which is newer than the Xbox One, which again, isn’t actually the first Xbox, but instead the third Xbox. There was also an Xbox One S, but that’s not the same as the Xbox Series S, which is newer. There’s also the Xbox, which was the first iteration, but is not the same generation as the Xbox Series series. Because ‘Series’ implies newer. Or something. Also the Xbox 360 is still 355 or 354 iterations ahead of all of these in naming sequence, at least. Got it?²

Again, at least we don’t have ‘Xbox 3.11 SE 2020 Edition’ — which in a previous Microsoft, we very well could have! Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X seem easy enough to remember.³ The one earlier in the alphabet is worse than the one later.

But wait, you’re not getting away that easy. Did I mention that apparently, the Xbox One will run Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X games? Which Xbox One, you ask? Good question. No idea. And also not all the games. But some. Also the Xbox Series S will not run all the same games as Xbox Series X because of “enhancements” the Series X is capable of for older games, apparently. Instead, it will run Xbox One S versions of Xbox One and Xbox 360 games.

So why buy the Xbox Series S instead of an Xbox One X? Because it’s faster. But not as fast as the Xbox Series X. But fast enough that it can play the same games. Sometimes. You could also just play them in ‘xCloud’ — which has a small ‘x’ unlike the Xbox’s large ‘X’. But it’s not a 10, remember. They’re saving that for the 10th iteration of Xbox, which will obviously be called the ‘XboX’.

¹ Or was it the ‘XBOX’?

² Could be worse, could be HBO.

³ Elon Musk would obviously release an ‘Xbox Series E’ in the middle here.


Xbox Series Xbox One 360 S E X was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Compete!


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

Apple is now writing App Store rules to do everything but…

How stupid does Apple think we all are? I mean, seriously. The announced changes this past week to the App Store rules are maybe the most absurd attempt to placate bad PR that I’ve ever seen. Instead, they helped clarify something pretty fundamental: Apple no longer wishes to compete.

I feel as if I’ve been dancing around this realization for a few months now. But reading over Steve Jobs’ statements in the original press releases around in-app subscriptions and Marco Arment’s recent post on the matter, mixed with these changes, really drove it home. Again, Apple clearly — I mean this: clearly — does not want to have to compete with the best offering and experience any more. They want to leverage their user base to bend the will of developers.

I’m not an antitrust lawyer, nor will I play one on the internet. And there’s obviously a lot going on here at the moment.¹ But simply as a diehard user of Apple products, I find this extremely disappointing.

I want an Apple that wins not by obfuscation, but by offering the best experience. Make everyone want to use the in-app purchasing system across the board because it’s the best. Because users demand it. Because it’s so seamless for developers. Not because if you don’t, it’s no app for you.

Look, it’s Apple’s App Store. To date, they’ve earned the position of power they’re in. They do and should benefit from this. But I also want them to aspire to be better than using that strength to prey upon the weakness of others. Again, I want them to win on the field. To compete. These days, they seem more interested in some Sun Tzu shit.

But it’s more like the CliffsNotes version of Sun Tzu. It’s hilariously obvious what they’re doing. They’re now re-writing rules on the fly based on specific exceptions they wish to grant. And they’re doing so because they’ve gotten bad press around those deviations. It’s ridiculous.

Apple, revisit and rewrite the App Store rules. Don’t Frankenstein the rules to try to please certain developers (and the public) with some one-off changes. This is a Band-Aid on a dam. Blow it up, and start again. And more generally, just go back to competing for business by offering the best products and services. The ones both users and developers love.

I know this is easier said than done. It may not be as lucrative at first. And that’s hard as the most valuable company in the world trying to appease the public investors.² But this is the definition of short term “pain” for longer term gain. Think about this differently.

¹ This is where I disclose that I’m a partner at a fund whose LP has been in the news around such topics recently. My thoughts and opinions on these topics are my own, obviously!

² Of which I’m one, in a small way.


Compete! was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

As someone who prefers to communicate via the written word, I’m usually not a big fan of interviews.


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

As someone who prefers to communicate via the written word, I’m usually not a big fan of interviews. But I honestly think the chat I had with Alex Kantrowitz for his Big Technology podcast was pretty good — the main focus is Apple, but also investing, our work-from-home reality, and more. The written transcription, which OneZero published, in particular hits the key points.

Apple at a Crossroads: An Interview With M.G. Siegler

To subscribe to the podcast and hear the interview for yourself, you can check it out on iTunes, Spotify, and Overcast.

(I’ve also just been trying to use Medium’s new tools — in beta — to try more bloggy-style posts, more regularly. Hence, no title here. Risqué!)


As someone who prefers to communicate via the written word, I’m usually not a big fan of interviews. was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

A Too Short Lasso


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

30 minute ‘Ted Lasso’ is the best. A week between is the worst.

So, Ted Lasso, the sort of goofier little sibling to Major League which airs as a show on Apple TV+ is surprisingly pretty good.¹ Well, that may be a bit generous.² It’s seemingly knowingly corny, but in an oddly welcome way. Still, it’s decidedly watchable — especially in our current reality of pandemics and poisonous air.

Actually, it’s one fatal flaw has nothing to do with the show at all, but rather with how it’s presented. Which is: 30-minute chunks, once a week.

Now, don’t get me wrong, in our era of prestige television where the state of the art form is dominated by hour-long dramas, this 30-minute side of french fries is a most welcomed change of pace. But the week-long intervals one must wait to watch another is obscene. This is utterly snackable content that is being dished out like the Stanford marshmellow experiment. It’s cruel.

And I think it’s dumb. I know I’ve argued in the past that shows like Stranger Things may actually benefit from a week-long build-up, going against the Netflix grain, but Ted Lasso is in a different camp. A weekly watercooler chat about the latest episode isn’t the key here. Ted Lasso is a binge show stuck in a cable show’s body.

The problem is that Ted Lasso’s lightweight also leaves it fleeting. The strength is the weakness.

So my advice to Apple would be the opposite of my advice to Netflix: release the full season of Ted Lasso all at once. Let people binge-mode it in a marathon, talk about it online as a whole and wholesome escape from our current reality, let it grow, and let the anticipation build for season two.

Part of me wonders if this isn’t as simple as the idea that 30-minute shows should be released binge-style, while hour-long shows should be weekly in cadence (at least once they’re established as hits). Obviously, there would be exceptions, but 30 minutes feels like too short a time to ask people to wait a week each time. I realize this wasn’t true 30 years ago, but the world has changed. Netflix changed it, and Apple should learn from it.

¹ For those who haven’t seen Major League — first, see it. Second, it’s the story of a woman who takes over a sports team (in this case, baseball — incidentally, my hometown Cleveland Indians, so I have a very real soft spot for the movie, but it’s honestly good) from her husband and aims to run it into the ground… But again, the tone is completely different here.

² Though, I don’t know. Ted Lasso’s first seasons isn’t done yet and the first season of The Morning Show — also an Apple TV+ show, of course — grew on me like wildfire (which is a decidedly bad metaphor to use right now, sadly).


A Too Short Lasso was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Windows All the Way Down


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

Disney creates a new window of their own design for Mulan

The latest shoe to drop in the now rapidly-changing theatrical window environment has Disney confirming that not only will their premium video service, Disney+, have a premium layer on top of it, but that premium layer will have a new windowing system too. Per Julia Alexander at The Verge:

For Disney Plus subscribers who don’t want to pay an extra $30 to watch Mulan when it drops on September 4th, the company has announced it will be free to all customers on December 4th.

What’s sort of amazing is that this is actually a far longer window than the one AMC agreed to recently with Universal. That window, of course, is 17 days. This one is 90 days, give or take.

But it’s also perhaps not, exactly. Also per Alexander:

A new description on Mulan’s Disney Plus page notes that it will be available to all subscribers on December 4th, 2020. An FAQ page for Mulan on Disney Plus also states that “Premier Access offer will be available until November 2, 2020,” but it’s unclear exactly what that means for people who want to purchase Mulan between November 2nd and December 4th.

So the premium-on-top-of-premium window may only actually be 50-some days. Then it’s unclear what happens to Mulan in the November 2 to December 4 window. Does it vanish into thin air? Just like Disney used to do with their movies in the VHS days? More likely: it goes to the “regular” premium video services. You know, like iTunes.¹

And presumably on iTunes there will be a short window of a week or two to buy Mulan first, and then to rent it. And there it will likely reside even after it moves back to Disney+, this time on the less premium tier of their premium service. And eventually, one day, it will likely head to cable too for a time, while still living in the above mentioned places as well.

So yeah, it’s windows all the way down.

Now, to be fair to Disney, we’re living in extraordinary times. Perhaps this Mulan situation won’t be indicative of what they’ll do with most or perhaps even any other movies. But it’s also clearly an experiment of sorts, to see what might work in our multi-windowed world.

I’m mostly curious to see how they’re going to message all of this. Because on paper, it sounds confusing as hell.² To watch Mulan on day one, you need to subscribe to Disney+. And then you need to upgrade to a premium access layer. Unless you want to wait until December 4, then just your Disney+ subscription will get you access. But if you want to watch it between November 2 and December 3, you’ll likely have to pay for it on iTunes or one of the similar services. That is, unless it’s playing in theaters by then.

¹ Yes, the place you buy and rent movies on Apple products is still called iTunes. ‘iTunes Movies’, I guess. But still iTunes. Yes, this is crazy in 2020.

² This is a growing problem. And one Hollywood should probably take seriously. I have a rant building on this topic. Hint, it involves Bruno and The Italian Job.


Windows All the Way Down was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Ping!


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

10 years ago, Apple tried their hand at social…

First and foremost, it was an awful name. Ping? It was a name so generic so as to sound like nothing at all. And when you consider that Apple had to pay the golf equipment company for the rights to use it — at least there, “ping” makes sense as a sound of a club hitting a ball, I guess — it makes even less sense. Steve Jobs was usually pretty good at this stuff, to say the least! But Ping was a huge branding fail.

Today marks 10 years since the service was unveiled on stage by Jobs during an iPod event — remember when Apple still had iPod-focused events? — in San Francisco. I was there in the audience that day, but I barely remember it. Though Techmeme helpfully reminds me that I wrote quite a few articles about Ping. As did a whole fun cast of characters.

It was a big deal. Apple was entering “social” for the first time. This was “Facebook and Twitter meet iTunes,” Jobs noted. “But it’s not Facebook, it’s not Twitter; it’s a social network all about music.” And it would have 160 million users right out of the gate, as Jobs touted. Because that’s the number of iTunes users there were (in the 23 countries Ping would operate in). iTunes 10! Again, huge.

Two years later, Ping was dead.

It was a pretty humiliating defeat for Apple. Except that no one really cared because basically from day one, no one actually used Ping. It was one of those things that may have made sense on paper — you can follow your favorite artists,¹ and your friends,² in the most popular music player in the world! But in practice, it was just a total dud.

Interestingly enough, it also showcased some hiccups Apple was having with Facebook. Which became burps. Which have become violent stomach ailments. “Onerous terms” go both ways, it seems.

¹ Apple would try again with “Connect” in Apple Music. But, nah.

² This still lives on in Apple Music, of course.


Ping! was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

It Hinges On…


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

Microsoft’s odd slow-mo reveal of the Surface Duo continues…

I’m on record as being quite skeptical of the Surface Duo — Microsoft’s new dual-screen Android phone,¹ tablet,² device. At the same time, I’m quite intrigued by it. Case in point: this is not the first, but the second post I’ve written on the product. One I’ve never used. Nor have I even seen.

That’s because I found Marques Brownlee’s product overview video illuminating. And when I say “product overview”, I really just mean “hardware overview” because, amazingly, the reviewers who got the device ahead of time are not allowed to talk about the software yet.

Yes, this is weird. A product is not just its hardware, no more than its just its software. The two halves make a whole. And yet Microsoft is very explicitly asking for you to only see half here. It’s not quite asking you to review a piece of music by its packaging (when music still had packaging!), but it’s not entirely not that either. And this follows the truly bizarre move of shipping out hardware with no internals several weeks back.

Okay, we’ve determined that this is weird. But why? What is the strategy here? Brownlee may have hit on it in his video at the 2:08 mark:

I think a reason why Microsoft is limiting this whole first impressions thing to just hardware only is because the hardware first impression experience all around is super, super positive with this whole tablet phone thing — whatever we’re calling it. Now I think once you turn it on and you get a load of those bezels and you start using the last year’s specs and the not-so-impressive camera, I think that’s when you start to fall back down to earth about the whole thing.

Now, maybe it’s as simple as Microsoft knows they have a winner here with the hardware. Such a winner that they want everyone to focus on that for a click before they move on to the full reviews. But Brownlee’s idea above makes even more sense. If you think the hardware is great, but you know the software experience is just so-so (or worse), you’re going to want everyone to focus on that hardware. The winning half. So you set two embargoes, I guess.

But it’s actually not even a winning half because the real disappointment may not actually be in the software either, but rather the specs that are a part of the hardware. But those are untestable right now because you’re not allowed to turn the thing on. Or you are, but you’re not allowed to talk about it in such a state. The first rule of Surface Duo review club is…

Even if those specs are just okay (which is what they would seem to be, on paper), they’re going to be downgraded significantly to something worse because… this thing costs $1,400.

So, Occam’s razor. Microsoft is trying to sell a premium product with a premium price, but the only thing that may be premium about it is the exterior shell. And more specifically, the hinge.

But the important part is they’ve made this bet here on this hinge. This is a 360-degree hinge and I think I said out-loud within like four minutes of taking it out of the box I think this is the nicest hinge I’ve ever used in a piece of tech. It is so smooth and firm and satisfying — it’s honestly incredible and I’m including laptops and other folding phones and everything in this. I think the hinge engineers specifically for the Surface Duo here deserve a round of applause.

Now, it does look like an amazing hinge. Just look at it side-by-side with the ridiculous Galaxy Fold (start at 4:05 in the video). Everything about the outer shell looks fantastic. I would absolutely want a device with this type of form factor.³ But, to Brownlee’s points at the end, his “guess” is that he won’t be able to recommend the Surface Duo as a whole. Because the whole is not just one half of one half.⁴

Microsoft may well get there in a couple years. But you’re being asked to pay $1,400 today to help subsidize that future for others. Or, at least, that’s what the early reviewers think they’re going to think. Because Microsoft won’t let them talk about the entire product. They just want them to gush about the hinge. Which does look great!

¹ Not a phone.

² Not a tablet.

³ It does seem like the dual screen will make more sense than Apple’s confusing iPad OS dual app side-by-side paradigm. But it also feels like a bit of a crutch. A temporary solution until we’re ready for truly foldable screens, which as the Galaxy Fold continues to show — we’re not yet.

⁴ Again, the hinge and shell without the internals.


It Hinges On… was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Blogger Comes Around


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

Medium’s changes to bring the world back to blogging

Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash

As I age, I find myself increasingly aware that most things seem to be cyclical in nature. That is, things change, and then go back, then they change back the other way again. This is both fairly obvious but also extremely hard to see in real time when it seems like things are changing and can’t possibly go back to the way they were. They often do. Maybe not exactly, but directionally.

The opposite of the opposite is where you started.

This is also true in technology. But it’s even harder to see because technological changes are so massive and rapid in relatively short time spans. The Apple Watch we have on our wrists is more powerful than the first smartphone we had in our pocket which was more powerful than the first computer we had on our desk which was more powerful than the first mainframes which took up whole rooms. And so on. But still, at a higher level, things seem to come back around.

I found myself thinking about this while reading Ev Williams’ post yesterday about the latest core changes to Medium — the platform on which this blog is published.¹ As he notes:

With streaming television, most of us watch fewer TV shows than we did on cable, but we watch them much more consistently. Less catching an episode here or there. We’ve seen 100% or zero. At the same time, our reading has gone the opposite way . We read far more outlets, but nearly all of them sporadically. In other words, our reading has gotten more transactional while TV has gotten more relational.

I had never really thought of it this way, but it is interesting that those two worlds have inverted.² And, per above, I would expect things to go back the other way eventually. And that’s clearly what Medium is trying to get ahead of with their most recent changes to the site.

But they’re also not fully ahead of such changes. In a way, I believe this is a part of what has led to the rise in newsletters. It’s a more relational… medium. And yes, they were back in the day too, before they went out of style, before they came back in style!³

This is also, of course, what blogging was back in the day. Something which Ev knows better than anyone as one of the founders of Blogger. Many folks who grew up in that old school era of blogging have long desired for it to come back (myself included). And I think it’s less about the nostalgia factor (though that’s part of it, to be sure), and more about the relational style.

Another form of relational media on the web is blogging — especially in the early days. One of the things I loved about blogging back then — and that people enjoy about writing newsletters today — is the feeling that you’re publishing to a relatively consistent group of people who care what youhave to say. Even if it’s a small group. This lets you write with more freedom and confidence. You build context and trust over time. Your success is less dependent on your latest headline and more on delivering on the trust your readers have given you by showing up. Do so reliably and that readership grows, like a great show (via word of mouth/tweet, or, in the old days, blogrolls).

Medium itself has tried to bring this back in various ways before and it has never quite caught on. But all of these new tools and ideas feel like a far more correct and comprehensive way to bring blogging back.⁴ And just as big of a factor in all of this is timing. Because things naturally come back around.

¹ And the company in which GV, where I’m a partner, is invested, of course.

² Though I’m not actually sure we do watch fewer shows than we did on cable. I, for one, watch more, but I think that has to do with the fact that they’re simply better than they were in the “olden days” of cable. I do think we perhaps watch fewer shows at any given time — less “snacking” as it were, and more gorging. So, the overall point stands.

³ I run one here, which has evolved over the years, though I’m obviously curious in Medium’s new tools for this!

⁴ Custom domains are coming back too! (Though in some cases, they never fully left — such as, here.)


The Blogger Comes Around was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

“Our philosophy is simple…”


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

A decade ago, Steve Jobs outlined in-app subscription rules

Photo by Gilles Lambert on Unsplash

When you’ve been at this long enough, sometimes you completely forget what you’ve written about a topic before. Or that you’ve written about it at all. Or that you were one of the first to write about it.

Also, forget “sometimes”; this happens often.

Such was the case a couple weeks ago when amidst the unfolding Apple v. Epic imbroglio, my old colleague at TechCrunch, Jason Kincaid, reminded me of a series of posts we did around the launch of Apple’s in-app subscriptions for iOS apps nearly a decade ago:

The year was 2011. In smartphone years, this may have not been the stone age, but it was the bronze age.¹ It was so long ago, in fact, that this was just a few months after Apple rebranded “iPhone OS” to “iOS”. The broader implications were just starting to come into focus…

Along those lines, on a random day in February, just after the launch of The Daily — remember The Daily?! — Apple unveiled subscriptions on the App Store. It was a big enough deal to get its own press release, but not a big enough deal to get its own press event. Again, it was all telegraphed alongside The Daily unveiling, as it was the first publication to use the service. But it was also much bigger than that. This much is clear now, almost a decade later. But re-reading those posts, it was clear back then to some of us as well.

As I wrote at the time:

Simply put: this is one of the boldest bets Apple has ever made. And it could backfire. Or it could be huge beyond belief. Either way, it’s going to be very controversial.

Both things ended up being true, of course. It ended up being huge beyond belief — it’s a key component of Apple’ second-most important business after the iPhone: services. And it was controversial at the time. And it’s even more controversial now, as it is backfiring, it would seem.

And while Apple was just focused on subscriptions with that announcement, it was pretty clear that this would underpin all in-app economics. In-app purchases had been around since 2009 with their 30% cut, but now Apple wanted to extend the 30% across the board. And that’s where we find ourselves today

But I think this announcement also betrays a sentiment Apple may wish we all had forgotten. In the words of no less than Steve Jobs:

“Our philosophy is simple — when Apple brings a new subscriber to the app, Apple earns a 30 percent share; when the publisher brings an existing or new subscriber to the app, the publisher keeps 100 percent and Apple earns nothing. All we require is that, if a publisher is making a subscription offer outside of the app, the same (or better) offer be made inside the app, so that customers can easily subscribe with one-click right in the app. We believe that this innovative subscription service will provide publishers with a brand new opportunity to expand digital access to their content onto the iPad, iPod touch and iPhone, delighting both new and existing subscribers.”

Jobs was saying that Apple was totally fine with app developers keeping 100% of the revenue if they brought in the customer — Apple’s 30% cut would just be a finder’s fee, as it were. And while that’s still technically true, this is also where it feels like Apple has started to deviate from the original intent.

As we all are well aware, Apple now makes it all but impossible to subscribe to a service by any method other than their own. Forget the MFN clause, you can’t even mention that there’s another way to sign up for a service anymore.

As I read this holy scripture, my interpretation is that Jobs intended for Apple to showcase that their payment method was the best and win on those merits. These days, Apple is winning more on obfuscation. One is understandable, the other is shitty.

Apple would seem to be reading their old press releases in a very literal and narrow way. But they’re looking past intent. And while it has taken a decade, such strict adherence to a (rather arbitrary) dogma from a different world is finally catching up to them. It’s time to lead by example again, and revisit those rules.

I’ll give Jason, 9+ years ago, the last word:

Which brings us to why I find all of this so alarming. Above all, I don’t like the precedents that Apple continues to set. The App Store has existed for less than three years, and Apple has been drastically changing the rules on the fly, ruining some businesses and hampering others. It took years to reveal its developer guidelines in the first place, and, even when it actually printed some guidelines, it’s continued to arbitrarily change how it’s enforcing them.

The lyrics have changed, but the song remains the same.

¹ Adjusting for COVID years, this was pre-historic times.

² Except for the backroom hush hush deals, of course. Such deals eventually yielded a 15% second year option across the board.


“Our philosophy is simple…” was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Linchpin of the Apple Bundle


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

What should ‘Apple One’ include, and how much should it cost?

John Gruber makes some good points in thinking about Apple’s rumored-to-be-imminent ‘Apple One’ bundle. First:

A great bundle offering does have a lynchpin. And while Prime and cable TV are good examples of that, they’re at extremes pricing-wise. Prime makes it feel like a good deal for shipping and everything else is free; cable TV makes it feel like you’re paying a ton of money for a bunch of channels you never watch just to get the ones you do (sports or otherwise).

So let’s think this through and figure out what Apple One “should” include and cost.

It’s a great point on framing. Many of us view Amazon Prime as a great deal, myself included. To the point where they’ve been able to raise prices and we still view it as a great deal! And that’s because the shipping part of Prime is so useful. The rest is all just icing on the cake.

Cable TV is the opposite. It feels like we pay for a bunch of stuff we don’t want, and so when we see that ever-increasing bill, it feels increasingly like a rip-off. And that’s how we get to the situation we are in today. Perhaps if cable reframed the cable bundle as the sports bundle with all the extra channels as a bonus, things would be different.

The cable bundle is, as everyone is fully realizing now, actually a good deal. It’s just sort of shitty marketing (and the fact that the cable providers have historically had poor customer service certainly doesn’t help!).

My back-of-the-envelope proposal is that Apple One should cost $15/month for an individual and $20/month for family sharing, and include: Music, TV+, Arcade, and the top tier of iCloud storage. Make News+ a $5/add-on.

Basically: start with Apple Music as the lynchpin service in the bundle, charge $5 more than they currently are for Music alone, and include everything Apple owns the entirety of: TV+, Arcade, and iCloud storage. I think they have to charge extra for News+ to pay the participating providers — News+ is more like a bundle unto itself. And that still leaves TV Channels as extra monthly add-ons, too. What Gurman describes sounds basically like “Pay for a bunch of services on top of Apple Music, get one of them free”; what I’m suggesting is more “Pay for one additional service on top of Apple Music, get the rest free”.

I think that’s all correct — except for the price. I think Apple Music absolutely has to be the linchpin, at least for now, as it’s by far the most popular of these services. Maybe — maybe — Apple TV+ can get there over time, if Apple is able to create the new HBO faster than HBO can create the next Netflix (hint: that is never going to happen). Arcade is great, but it’s clearly one of those awesome-to-haves in a bundle, not a need-to-have, for most people. News+ is clearly not worth paying for to most people, so it absolutely needs to be part of a bundle and then it transforms into nice-to-have.

I just think there’s no way Apple only charges $15-a-month for all this. I’d bet something closer to $25-a-month. Maybe more. (And yes, a bit more for families — mainly for the Apple Music component.) And that’s probably why the rumors suggest Apple is going to get pretty granular with these offerings, instead opting to let people mix-and-match the services they’d like.

I also think this is a mistake, albeit a minor one, mainly because of customer confusion. I would do a single bundle as Gruber is implying, but it seems like Apple wants to do something more akin to packages. Less like Amazon, more like the, yes, cable company. And I’m guessing the main reason is the price Apple is going to charge for the all-you-can-eat bundle.

Anyway, I suspect all of this will be shaped and molded over time. Until Apple is ready to offer their true “Prime” offering, the actual bundle as it were with the truly vital linchpin: the iPhone.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash


The Linchpin of the Apple Bundle was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

‘Home’ Has Moved Away From Us


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

The rapid transformation of San Francisco

Where are we now?
I’ve got to let you know
A house doesn’t make a home
Don’t leave me here alone…

The above is a lyric from U2’s 2004 song “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” which pops into my head from time to time. Tonight again, while reading Om Malik’s post about the feeling of being “home alone” in San Francisco during the pandemic, the most recent wild fires, and people seemingly just leaving in general. As he notes:

I didn’t think of San Francisco as Home at that point, but fast forward to today, unbeknown to me, it is home. This past week, three of my favorite neighbors have moved out. Another close friend has packed up and moved out of San Francisco. Slowly, I am starting to lose people and places that gave life some context. Life is the context friends, and places provide us.

Many of my favorite places are shutting down. Reality has a porous quality to it now. And like the ash falling from the sky, it is sprinkling a sense of loss. I wonder how many others feel this social disruption that is happening around us.

I definitely feel it. While the history of the city has seemingly been written, quite literally, by the “Why I’m Leaving San Francisco” posts, this time feels different. Perhaps that’s because it’s happening more acutely. But I also feel as if in my dozen+ years in San Francisco that I’ve seen a few of these waves. And again, this one just feels different.

And I think Om hits on why. It’s because we’re still here, but what has made San Francisco feel like home is in flux.

That is to say, “home” has moved away from us.

Part of it is the virus, part of it is the fires, part of it is the quality of life, part of it is the cost of living. But the bigger part is the ramification of all of these things: it’s driving people and their businesses away.

And so San Francisco truly does feel less like home on a near daily basis. I’m sure this is true in many other cities as well, but I happen to live in San Francisco. And I’m sure San Francisco will be back. But I’m also sure that it will be different. And I think that’s probably a good thing. But I’m also quite sure that it will no longer be home. Because a house doesn’t make a home.


‘Home’ Has Moved Away From Us was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

30 for 30?


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

The curious case of the 30 percent cut…

There’s a lot going on in the battle between Apple and Epic. And while you could and probably should argue that it’s about more than the 30% cut Apple is taking from Fortnite, that’s undoubtedly a core element. Those in the pro-Apple camp are quick to note that this is the standard cut in the gaming industry. As is Apple. And they’re not wrong. But that doesn’t make it right.

As Takashi Mochizuki for Bloomberg reminded us yesterday, the whole 30% cut has a sort of humorous/fascinating history in the gaming industry:

But what was the 30% supposed to pay for in the first place? It was the Nintendo Entertainment System that first introduced the platform fee in the early 1980s. It began when Namco Ltd., the creator of Pac-Man and a major provider of arcade games at the time, wanted to expand its distribution via Nintendo’s nascent console — called the Famicom when it was released in 1983 in Japan. Namco got together with another game maker, Hudson Soft Co. (creator of Bomberman), to persuade Nintendo Co. to open its platform to outside software makers, according to Hisakazu Hirabayashi, an independent industry consultant.

Both were eager to be on Nintendo’s popular console, but Hudson couldn’t make its own cartridges, according to Hirabayashi. And so Namco proposed paying Nintendo a 10% licensing fee to be able to be on the console while Hudson paid an additional 20% for Nintendo to make its game cartridges. Nintendo agreed — and that two-component fee, licensing and manufacturing, became the basis of today’s 30% “tax.”

The 10% Namco proposed to pay Nintendo to get on to their console sounds reasonsable. But a full 20% of the 30% fee we all now live with stems from the Hudson paying Nintendo to produce the physical game cartridges.

I don’t know about you, but it has been a looooong time since I’ve used a game cartridge. Maybe since the Nintendo 64? The world subsequently moved on to optical discs or memory cards, which are, of course, both insanely cheap to produce. Or more recently, to fully digital distribution. All iOS devices fall into the latter camp, of course.

And yet, Apple still charges the 30% fee to game developers. As do the other platform owners. It’s a standard because it’s a standard, even though every other standard has changed.

The iPhone, of course, does a lot more than play games. And actually, the real history of the 30% cut from the App Store is seemingly more directly tied to iTunes. That is, Steve Jobs decided Apple should take such a cut of paid apps (this was an era before in-app purchases) in order to “keep the lights on” in the App Store. And he likely chose that cut because it’s the same amount Apple got from the music labels when $0.99 tracks were sold in the iTunes Store. Back when such a thing was also still the norm. And became a standard.

With such arbitrary history in mind, you can see why developers are starting to push back against the 30%. The App Store has allowed businesses to be created that could never have been dreamed of when the iPhone launched. And game cartridges are more long gone than Hudson Soft itself. Yet the 30% remains.

If I were Epic, for my next troll, I would agree to pay the 30% but only if Apple mass produces cartridges of Fortnite.


30 for 30? was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Shall We Play a Game?


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

Apple and Epic go thermonuclear…

Last week, in trying to think about how the Apple/Epic battle would play out, I thought that, if nothing else, Apple might recognize the poor optics of this dispute and try to resolve things quickly and quietly, behind the scenes. As I quipped, Apple was playing checkers while Epic was playing Fortnite.

Boy was I wrong.

Rather than retire with a tip of the cap to Epic for the Jobsian maneuver, Apple dug in. Then kept digging. So far down that they created a bunker. Just in time to drop a nuclear bomb on Epic. Not only were they going to remove Fortnite from the App Store, they were going to pull Epic’s developer license. This meant that all the apps which utilize Epic’s Unreal Engine were in jeopardy. Thousands of apps. Maybe more.

If Epic was playing a game, Apple was not. And while Epic may have started the escalation, Apple seemed determined to finish it. Their statement says as much. No prisoners, no mercy. A full surrender or see ya.

If this feels like a disproportionate response from a $2T company well, you don’t work at Apple. It’s hard to know if they view this as some sort of existential threat (to their services narrative, at least) or if they’re just legitimately pissed off by the Epic maneuver. Anyone who follows Apple closely knows that they hate bad press. And Epic pwned Apple last week.

And yet, it’s still unclear how this actually plays out. Certainly, it seems like Apple is standing on solid legal ground. Epic broke their App Store rules and Apple responded. But there are bigger battles being fought here.

One is with regulators, who are looking into Apple, alongside the other tech giants, around anti-competitive behavior. This may not be that in the letter of the law, but in every other alphabet, it sure reads that way.

The far bigger battle remains the one for the hearts and minds of two core groups, which are intertwined: developers and users. Apple’s entire business is built on the foundation of those two. With seemingly each passing week, Apple is eroding that relationship with developers thanks to moves like this one. And if that continues, at some point, it has to change the other side of the equation as well. Users may not want to walk from the products they know and love, but they will if the apps they know and love just aren’t there.¹ Apps like Fortnite.

So while Apple may think they’re standing on some sort of moral high ground here, they’re failing to recognize the moral mountain right next to them. They should be leading by example, not by excuses. Developers want a “new deal” with regard to the App Store. Apple is in no way obliged to give it to them, of course. But it seems incredibly short-sighted to not engage in this debate given everything else going on. Let alone to drop nuclear bombs instead.

That’s easy to do when you’re a massive company — perhaps the most massive ever — that needs a growth narrative. Apple wants what every company which becomes the first $2T company wants: to become the first $3T company.

Hard to say where we go from here. “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?”

¹ Of course, this presumes that Google also isn’t at war with Epic forever.


Shall We Play a Game? was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Surface Deuce


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

The oddness of Microsoft’s Surface Duo

I am confused. Microsoft did a press blitz for their Surface Duo device this week and… I don’t understand anything. About the product. The strategy. The goal.

Look, I think the foldable tablets on Westworld look cool too. But if this is that, it sure seems like the prehistoric version of it. Granted, I think it looks and sounds better than Samsung’s gimmicky foldable phones, but only just. At least with a phone you can make the argument that folding a big screen to be pocketable makes some conceptual sense. This is decidedly not a phone. Because Microsoft insists it’s not. Even though it runs Android and can make phone calls. Listening to Microsoft, it’s not a tablet either. It’s something new.

Well maybe it is. Or maybe it isn’t. Cnet’s Scott Stein spoke with Microsoft’s Panos Panay on the matter:

Panay seemed hesitant to call the Duo a new device category, because it really isn’t. It’s an Android phone. Or, a tablet. “It really is five years of invention … we just have a belief that there’s a new category here,” Panay adds.

What it actually is, at least right now, is not real.¹ Speaking of that Cnet article, it has to be one of the most remarkable “first looks” I’ve ever read:

This isn’t a working version of the Microsoft Surface Duo being unveiled today. This is a special see-through prototype sent to me in advance just so I can see the circuits and feel how the hinge works.

I had to check the date of the article. Was this a piece from a year ago? Nope. It’s from this week. Less than a month until it supposedly ships. Pre-orders started yesterday. Hope you’re feeling lucky, punk.

Well, at least Wired’s Lauren Goode got a look at the thing in action — remotely.² She notes another oddity:

Now Microsoft is trying to sell an ultraportable two-in-one at a time when many of us are going exactly nowhere. For the digital employee, work has officially been redefined as WFH, and our days are structured by whatever screen we have to use at any given hour. The move from a 6-inch screen to a 13-inch one, and later in the evening to a 50-inch screen or 10-inch one, is the delineator between work and leisure. Now, Microsoft wants to wedge its way into your living room and onto your couch, instead of your train ride and your office.

People criticize the iPad as a “tweener” device, still, after all these years and insane success. So I don’t know what to make of this. Maybe there’s a market for this type of thing — again, I want the Westworld foldable tablet! — but to Goode’s point, it feels like Microsoft made this for a world in which we’re not actually living. One more thing — the most important thing:

Microsoft may very well be able to make the case that two screens are better than a single screen, especially when it comes to switching between apps. But the Duo’s starting price of $1,399 will also turn off many a potential buyer. Early pandemic concerns about supply chain disruptions in the tech industry eventually gave way to daunting concerns about consumer demand. Many millions of people in the US are unemployed, the pandemic is still raging, and, by the way, you can get a pretty good Android phone right now for around $400. At a thousand dollars more than that, the Duo is a tall order.

I’ll say. Again, this is a device for which Microsoft is shipping transparent shells to test out the look and feel of the hinge. Who wants to hit the craps table after this? As with Samsung’s aforementioned foldable phones, it feels like you’re paying a ton of money to beta test something. Which, look, godspeed. But that’s not how Microsoft is trying to frame this. This is the future of computing.³ On the go. When you’re stuck at home.

The iPad mini starts at $399. It can run two apps side-by-side.⁴ It may not fold, but where the hell are you going anyway?

Is anyone going to hold it like this? That looks uncomfortable.

¹ What’s especially odd is that there were hands-on impressions with the device a year ago, when it was first announced. What has taken them so long, even in the age of COVID, I have no idea. And why no hands-on now beyond hollowed-out Duos, I really have no idea.

² You can watch the “closed door” video briefing for the press yourself, here. It’s also a bit weird.

³ And none of this is to talk of the confusion of this being a Surface device — let alone a Microsoft device — that doesn’t run Windows, it runs Android. On one hand, that’s smart — that’s where the apps are. On the other, one could argue that the reason no Android tablets have taken off in the way that the iPad has is because there are no apps built for those form factors, as they are for the iPad. We’ll see what happens here, but Microsoft is obviously touting the idea of running two regular (read: phone) apps side-by-side. Maybe that’s interesting — but is it $1,399 interesting? Of course not. This thing needs to be sub-$500, then we can talk.

⁴ And the screen size is actually similar — 8.1" for the Duo versus 7.9" for the iPad mini. (And the rumored next iPad mini will likely have a larger display thanks to a reduction in bezels, something which the Duo doubles down on.)


The Surface Deuce was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Apple, the Bundler


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

With the world unbundled, Apple bundles up…

Photo by LuAnn Hunt on Unsplash

“Gentlemen, there’s only two ways I know of to make money: bundling and unbundling.”

You’ve undoubtedly heard the quote before because it’s a great one. It’s from Jim Barksdale the then-CEO of Netscape while he was on the roadshow in London to take the company public. The context was great as well because it was actually in response to a question about the prospects of Microsoft bundling a web browser into Windows. It was a pithy statement to get out of a meeting quickly. But it ended up being much more than that.

“It had the added advantage of being true,” Barksdale would later say in recalling the story. And he’s right. Because we see it over and over again. In many different contexts and industries. And we happen to be in the midst of it happening again, in two very different ways that are ultimately connected.

The Apple Services Bundle

As Mark Gurman scooped today for Bloomberg, Apple is on the verge of rolling out a bundle of their services:

The bundles, dubbed “Apple One” inside the Cupertino, California-based technology giant, are planned to launch as early as October alongside the next iPhone line, the people said. The bundles are designed to encourage customers to subscribe to more Apple services, which will generate more recurring revenue.

There will be different tiers, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private plans. A basic package will include Apple Music and Apple TV+, while a more expensive variation will have those two services and the Apple Arcade gaming service. The next tier will add Apple News+, followed by a pricier bundle with extra iCloud storage for files and photos.

This was flagged for me a few times on Twitter this morning because I’ve written a lot about this topic, for a long time. Apple may not be using the “Apple Prime” moniker (no real surprise there as Amazon all but owns that branding), but this is the official start of such a service.

And it’s exciting because of course Apple should be doing this. If you have any number of Apple products, there’s a strong likelihood you’re paying for at least one of their services, be it Apple Music, or Apple Arcade, or just iCloud storage.¹ And because Apple keeps rolling out new services as part of their push to diversify their revenue away from selling iPhones (though the services narrative is very linked to selling iPhones, of course), it’s becoming a bit unruly, not to mention expensive. Why not make it a more seamless experience to sign up and manage the services, while also offering a discount to those who are using multiple services? That’s Apple One. A no-brainer.²

The far more interesting aspect is in what comes next.³ Namely, does Apple start baking hardware into the bundle as well? Per Gurman:

At first, Apple doesn’t plan to integrate the bundles with services such as AppleCare support or monthly payment plans for hardware like the iPhone or Mac. Earlier this year, as part of the Apple Card, Apple started offering monthly payments with no interest for several of its devices.

“At first” is a tease that is never elaborated upon. But it would seemingly make sense at some point — especially given what Apple is doing with their own iPhone payment plans with Apple Card, of course. Hardware would make a bundle far more expensive but as long as there are tiers — which it seems like there are already going to be at least — one could imagine an ‘Apple One Pro’ plan, where you get a new iPhone every year along with all the services and support. You know the “just inject it right into my veins” option. The one I would sign up for. And would pay Apple for. For the rest of my life. That one.

Photo by Li Lin on Unsplash

The Apple Cable Bundle

But wait, there’s more. As in, another scoop from Gurman today, which is getting less play, but is also interesting. This one is about Apple TV:

Starting as early as Monday, Apple TV+ subscribers will be able to access both the CBS and Showtime channels in Apple’s TV app for $9.99 per month combined. CBS All Access and Showtime normally cost $9.99 and $10.99 per month respectively, so the deal would be a significant savings.

This is a good deal! And it’s also not surprising given that we’re living through a period where content is king and yet the throne is continually empty because COVID has shut down production of all the things we want to see. So the race is on to pump in stuff you haven’t seen yet. If you weren’t a subscriber to CBS All Access or Showtime before, now’s a great time to catch up on what you’ve missed for a low-low price.

The question, of course, is what kind of deal Apple must be giving Viacom here to do this. Presumably, they’re not giving up the full 30% bounty when they’re already marking the services down 50%. Because again, this benefits Apple just as much as Viacom. The company has been trying to replicate Amazon’s success with the “Channels” services model, to seemingly middling success. This should lead to better success.

And it should spur more usage of the Apple TV app on Apple TV (yes, this is incredibly confusing). This is Apple’s play at unifying all the disparate content you’re consuming via the various streaming services.⁴ This is the attempt to create a bundle of your bundles, as it were. It makes sense, someone needs to do this. But there’s a problem. And it’s a big one. No Netflix.

Until they play ball (and it’s hard to see how they would cede UI and recommendation controls — you know, what they do — to Apple), we’re going to be stuck hopping between apps for content.

Still, I think this CBS+Showtime mini bundle is a smart thing to try. And I suspect we’ll see more things along these lines. Because we’ve just spent the past several years unbundling, and there are only two ways to make money, after all.

Photo by Alex Block on Unsplash

¹ Oh yes, and Apple News+, if it’s bundled, I suppose.

² And it’s even more of a no-brainer with family plans — an aspect of services which doesn’t get a lot of buzz, but Apple has seemingly done a great job with. Per Gurman:

The new bundles will be geared toward families, meaning they will work with Apple’s Family Sharing system that provides access to as many as six people for each service. The offerings are designed to save consumers about $2 to upwards of $5 a month, depending on the package chosen. For example, if a family subscribes today to all of Apple’s major services plus the highest iCloud storage tier, that would cost about $45 a month. A new bundle could knock more than $5 off that.

³ Actually, it sounds like something else might come next, first. Per Gurman:

The company is also developing a new subscription for virtual fitness classes that can be used via an app for the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV, the people said. That service will be offered in a higher-end bundle with the rest of Apple’s services. Codenamed “Seymour,” the workout package would rival virtual classes offered by companies including Peloton Interactive Inc. and Nike Inc., according to the people.

It almost — almost — feels like Apple is launching new services just to troll regulators at this point.

⁴ After giving up on various other strategies. BTW, I still think Apple should put more focus on hardware here…


Apple, the Bundler was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

When Yellow Lights Look Red


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

Was the HomePod hampered by the Jobs-to-Cook transition?

A lot of good parts in this interesting, yet weird, profile of Tim Cook by Tripp Mickle for The Wall Street Journal. One part that stood out to me:

When hardware chief Dan Riccio was exploring the idea of a smart speaker around 2015, Mr. Cook peppered him with questions about the product and asked for more information, said Mr. Deaver, the former human-resources executive, who said he was briefed on the exchange.

Mr. Riccio’s team scaled back working on it, Mr. Deaver said. Later, Mr. Cook emailed Mr. Riccio about Amazon.com Inc.’s Echo speaker and asked where Apple stood on its speaker effort.

Mr. Riccio’s team ramped up work. Apple’s resulting HomePod speaker trailed rivals to market by about two years and has struggled to catch up, accounting for five million of the 76 million active smart speakers in the U.S. as of last year, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

“Here’s Dan, who was used to getting firm direction, so if it feels like a yellow light, then it looks like a red light,” said Mr. Deaver, who said he spearheaded a project to improve internal collaboration. “Then you have Tim, who is a processor. He likes to listen a lot. Time and patience are his favorite warriors.”

This all, of course, implies that there was a pretty vital miscommunication when it came to the product that would become the HomePod. Riccio thought Cook was skeptical of the product, which in the Jobs era may have meant it was a no-go. But in the Cook era, such skepticism was just meant as a gut-check for executives running more autonomously.

Whether that’s an entirely fair categorization or not, you could see it playing out this way, at least directionally. You could see a world in which a company which had a product guy at the head struggles a bit in the move to a company with an operations guy at the head.

Now, I still highly doubt Apple would have created their own Alexa/Echo devices even if the yellow light above was interpreted as a green light — the cheap/ubiquitous device strategy isn’t in Apple’s DNA.¹ But it is interesting to think about if the HomePod would have been more successful for what it is — a great music-listening device — if it had launched in 2015 or 2016 instead of 2018. Alexa launched in late 2014, so it would have only had a head start of months or a year instead of almost four years.

In 2018, Amazon (and to a lesser extent Google) had already laid the groundwork for a market of the aforementioned cheap, ubiquitous devices where the smart assistant and voice interface was the key, not the sound quality. At that point, Apple’s strategy of a high-priced, great sounding machine with a poor voice assistant looked and sounded, well, dated

It may as well have been an iPod Hi-Fi.

Photo by Nicolas Lafargue on Unsplash

¹ We’ll see what they end up doing with the newer, apparently smaller HomePod devices coming soon. My guess is that they’ll be sticking largely to the Apple strategy: they’ll still be relatively expensive (though slightly less so) and will still sound great. I do expect Apple will try to push them to become more ubiquitous around a home.

² I do think they could have done someting interesting with a ‘FacePod’ though — a HomePod with a camera for FaceTime that connected to the TV…


When Yellow Lights Look Red was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Microsoft’s Poisoned Chalice


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

Bill Gates sure seems to feel strongly about that TikTok deal…

Photo by Matt Riches on Unsplash

Like seemingly everyone on the internet, I thought Steven Levy’s interview with Bill Gates for Wired last week was great. Obviously, the COVID-related parts are the most important. But Gates’ thoughts on the perhaps even more timely topic (thanks to the President’s odd timetable), Microsoft’s would-be acquisition of TikTok were fascinating as well:

As you are the technology adviser to Microsoft, I think you can look forward in a few months to fighting this battle yourself when the company owns TikTok.

Yeah, my critique of dance moves will be fantastically value-added for them.

TikTok is more than just dance moves. There’s political content.

I know, I’m kidding. You’re right. Who knows what’s going to happen with that deal. But yes, it’s a poison chalice. Being big in the social media business is no simple game, like the encryption issue.

So are you wary of Microsoft getting into that game?

I mean, this may sound self-serving, but I think that the game being more competitive is probably a good thing. But having Trump kill off the only competitor, it’s pretty bizarre.

Do you understand what rule or regulation the president is invoking to demand that TikTok sell to an American company and then take a cut of the sales price?

I agree that the principle this is proceeding on is singly strange. The cut thing, that’s doubly strange. Anyway, Microsoft will have to deal with all of that.

I mean, using the term “poison chalice” seems like a pretty bold statement from Gates! If he means it literally:

an assignment, award, or honor which is likely to prove a disadvantage or source of problems to the recipient.

If he means it in the Macbeth sense, it’s perhaps even more literal.

Maybe — maybe — he’s just referring to the tricky political content on the app. But it doesn’t read that way. It reads as if he’s… awfully negative about Microsoft doing such a deal. And that’s a big deal! It’s literally a big deal! And Gates is figuratively a big deal! Certainly within Microsoft, still!

When Levy follows up to ask him about that stance more directly, Gates softens a bit, but only by way of misdirection, noting that he thinks there needs to be more competition in the space (implying domination by Facebook, of course). But again, that doesn’t mean that he thinks Microsoft should do this deal, just that TikTok shouldn’t be banned, and implying that Microsoft’s saving of it may be the only alternative.

Again, this is all hardly a resounding endorsement of the deal. And the political complexity on top of it just adds to the headaches, in Gates’ head.

Now, perhaps he just wants to give CEO Satya Nadella and the board (which Gates is no longer on, remember) room to maneuver in their own way without him holding sway over every deal. But again, this is a massive deal, and Gates has to know that any comment he has on the matter will be seen as important with regard to the company he built. He could have couched his thoughts more, but he chose not to. Which, again, seems to imply quite a bit.

This entire deal continues to feel off in a number of ways. And while it’s seemingly evolving to make a bit more sense (taking over TikTok for the entire world, rather than just four countries, certainly makes more sense), there are other things unfolding which make even less sense.¹ And Microsoft is treading on dangerous political ground here, to say the least.

To say more, they should be ashamed of going along with the whole paying-the-Treasury charade. Or, to use Gates parlance, it’s “doubly strange”.

In a way, this feels almost more like a Steve Ballmer deal rather than a Satya Nadella one. Ballmer, of course, was able to milk Microsoft for profits in fantastic new ways during his tenure as CEO. But the market viewed it as more or less of a ‘lost decade’, which in hindsight, feels correct.² Nadella has turned that around in spectacular fashion, of course. And that’s perhaps what’s so surprising here: Nadella has added $1T to Microsoft’s market cap, he doesn’t have to do this deal to prove anything. It feels like an overreach.

Perhaps he feels as if it’s Microsoft’s path back into consumer (Xbox aside) in a meaningful way. Or perhaps more importantly, back into mobile. Or maybe he just sees a deal that he knows Microsoft is uniquely positioned to pull off and wants to take advantage of that opportunity.

But again, like Gates, I don’t know. Something about it feels a bit like Ballmer’s ill-fated attempt to buy Yahoo — which perhaps would have sunk both companies, in hindsight. Or the Nokia deal, which was a shockingly fast total write-down. But even that was “only” $7B. If this is really $30B or $40B or more… There’s a lot at stake here!³

But here upon this bank and shoal of time,
We’d jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgement here, that we but teach
Bloody instructions which, being taught, return
To plague th’inventor. This even-handed justice
Commends th’ingredience of our poisoned chalice
To our own lips.

— Macbeth, Act 1 Scene 7

¹ And then there’s the Twitter twist here. Because there always has to be a Twitter twist, especially when Donald Trump is involved, right? I actually think a Twitter/TikTok tie-up makes some sense if Twitter had the means to pull it off. Which they do not. And, of course, there’s the matter of Twitter having bought TikTok’s spiratual successor, Vine, only to kill it off for no good reason other than to… save costs.

² To give Ballmer some credit, he did allow Microsoft to invest in (it seems as if Kevin Johnson spearheaded it) that hot consumer product of yore: Facebook. At a $15B valuation — a massive win which was, not so obvious to some at the time.

³ Again, to say nothing of the ethics — which may ultimately prove to be the true misstep.


Microsoft’s Poisoned Chalice was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Microsoft’s Poisoned Chalice


This post is by M.G. Siegler from 500ish - Medium

Bill Gates sure seems to feel strongly about that TikTok deal…

Photo by Matt Riches on Unsplash

Like seemingly everyone on the internet, I thought Steven Levy’s interview with Bill Gates for Wired last week was great. Obviously, the COVID-related parts are the most important. But Gates’ thoughts on the perhaps even more timely topic (thanks to the President’s odd timetable), Microsoft’s would-be acquisition of TikTok were fascinating as well:

As you are the technology adviser to Microsoft, I think you can look forward in a few months to fighting this battle yourself when the company owns TikTok.

Yeah, my critique of dance moves will be fantastically value-added for them.

TikTok is more than just dance moves. There’s political content.

I know, I’m kidding. You’re right. Who knows what’s going to happen with that deal. But yes, it’s a poison chalice. Being big in the social media business is no simple game, like the encryption issue.

So are you wary of Microsoft getting into that game?

I mean, this may sound self-serving, but I think that the game being more competitive is probably a good thing. But having Trump kill off the only competitor, it’s pretty bizarre.

Do you understand what rule or regulation the president is invoking to demand that TikTok sell to an American company and then take a cut of the sales price?

I agree that the principle this is proceeding on is singly strange. The cut thing, that’s doubly strange. Anyway, Microsoft will have to deal with all of that.

I mean, using the term “poison chalice” seems like a pretty bold statement from Gates! If he means it literally:

an assignment, award, or honor which is likely to prove a disadvantage or source of problems to the recipient.

If he means it in the Macbeth sense, it’s perhaps even more literal.

Maybe — maybe — he’s just referring to the tricky political content on the app. But it doesn’t read that way. It reads as if he’s… awfully negative about Microsoft doing such a deal. And that’s a big deal! It’s literally a big deal! And Gates is figuratively a big deal! Certainly within Microsoft, still!

When Levy follows up to ask him about that stance more directly, Gates softens a bit, but only by way of misdirection, noting that he thinks there needs to be more competition in the space (implying domination by Facebook, of course). But again, that doesn’t mean that he thinks Microsoft should do this deal, just that TikTok shouldn’t be banned, and implying that Microsoft’s saving of it may be the only alternative.

Again, this is all hardly a resounding endorsement of the deal. And the political complexity on top of it just adds to the headaches, in Gates’ head.

Now, perhaps he just wants to give CEO Satya Nadella and the board (which Gates is no longer on, remember) room to maneuver in their own way without him holding sway over every deal. But again, this is a massive deal, and Gates has to know that any comment he has on the matter will be seen as important with regard to the company he built. He could have couched his thoughts more, but he chose not to. Which, again, seems to imply quite a bit.

This entire deal continues to feel off in a number of ways. And while it’s seemingly evolving to make a bit more sense (taking over TikTok for the entire world, rather than just four countries, certainly makes more sense), there are other things unfolding which make even less sense. And Microsoft is treading on dangerous political ground here, to say the least.

To say more, they should be ashamed of going along with the whole paying-the-Treasure charade. Or, to use Gates parlance, it’s “doubly strange”.

In a way, this feels almost more like a Steve Ballmer deal rather than a Satya Nadella one. Ballmer, of course, was able to milk Microsoft for profits in fantastic new ways during his tenure as CEO. But the market viewed it as more or less of a ‘lost decade’, which in hindsight, feels correct. Nadella has turned that around in spectacular fashion, of course. And that’s perhaps what’s so surprising here: Nadella has added $1T to Microsoft’s market cap, he doesn’t have to do this deal to prove anything. It feels like an overreach.

Perhaps he feels as if it’s Microsoft’s path back into consumer (Xbox aside) in a meaningful way. Or perhaps more importantly, back into mobile. Or maybe he just sees a deal that he knows Microsoft is uniquely positioned to pull off and wants to take advantage of that opportunity.

But again, like Gates, I don’t know. Something about it feels a bit like Ballmer’s ill-fated attempt to buy Yahoo — which perhaps would have sunk both companies, in hindsight. Or the Nokia deal, which was a shockingly fast total write-down. But even that was “only” $7B. If this is really $30B or $40B or more… There’s a lot at stake here!

But here upon this bank and shoal of time,
We’d jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgement here, that we but teach
Bloody instructions which, being taught, return
To plague th’inventor. This even-handed justice
Commends th’ingredience of our poisoned chalice
To our own lips.

— Macbeth, Act 1 Scene 7


Microsoft’s Poisoned Chalice was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.