News


Opinion

What's Not in the Box

3rd July 2020 PERMALINK • 8 min read

If you’re interested in Apple, or you simply follow tech news, then you’ll probably be aware of the rumour that Apple may not include a power adapter and EarPods in the box with the 2020 iPhone models. If you’re somehow in the weird intersection of not following iPhone news, but do read this my blog, then I’d recommend Sam Byford’s piece on The Verge as a brief introduction.

I’ll prefix everything in this post with the fact that this is just a rumour. So while it’s getting a lot of attention, it’s not official. Therefore every reaction to this is purely based on a hypothetical situation.

My opinions on this rumour are predominantly based around the potential lack of power adapter in the box. Not specifically because I don’t care about EarPods. I mean, I don’t care about EarPods. But that’s not the reason I see them as two separate scenarios to be discussed. The obvious distinction is that you need to be able to charge the iPhone to be able to use it, and EarPods are an optional accessory.

I haven’t used EarPods since I got a copy of the very first AirPods. In fact, the pair of EarPods that I got in my most recent iPhone two years ago, the EarPods went straight to my girlfriend. Who incidentally is starting to think about making the switch to AirPods as well. So while my sentiment is more than likely clouded my by own bias, I don’t think not including EarPods with every iPhone is a big deal. Simply because they are not required for typical use, and I bet a lot of people don’t use them at all. And that could also be for a few reasons, maybe they don’t need EarPods because they have a third-party option already, or maybe they already have a pair from their last iPhone, or maybe they just don’t use earphones at all. Nevertheless, I would assume that the people that really want to get a new pair of EarPods when they get a new phone, would most likely be willing to purchase them separately. Or that the amount that would mind, wouldn’t be a large enough of a percentage to matter.

The power adapter, however, is a completely different story. Because without one, you wouldn’t be able to use your phone after the battery ran out. Sounds pretty stupid, doesn’t it? Imagine paying a huge amount for a phone, only to find out that you need to buy a power adapter separately. That’s going to get you some bad press. And surely a lot of confused and angry customers. It certainly sounds like a case of Apple being greedy.

However, that reaction would most likely only be the case if Apple didn’t include a power adapter in the box, but offered no reason why, and let customers pay extra for it. And like most situations, there would probably be a lot more nuance that can’t be captured by a headline.

Because let’s face it, most people that buy the iPhone probably don’t need another power adapter. And in a lot of cases, it will be left in the box, which obviously means unnecessary waste. In Dieter Bohn’s piece on The Verge about the situation, he quotes an interview in 2018 between Nilay Patel and Steven Yang, the CEO of Anker, where Yang estimated the level of waste from smartphones that include a charger in the box:

[Say] every smartphone has a charger with it. We had 1.5 billion smartphones that shipped last year. … That’s only for phones. When we have tablets, laptops, power drills, [and more], we estimate a total of four billion chargers (were shipped last year). We estimate about 300,000 tons of e-waste just from these in-box chargers.

So there’s the environmental angle that Apple could push, which to be honest is something that Apple likes to do. But I still think that if they simply said “Most people don’t use the power adapter that we include in the box, so to reduce waste we’re not giving you one”, then they will still get a ton of bad reviews. And for a CEO that loves his “customer sat”, I’m not sure if he would do that. Or at least, I don’t think he would do something as simple as explaining it was better for the environment and leave it like that.

I think the general angle will be on reducing waste, but in my opinion, there are a few different potential benefits:

  • Obviously, the lack of EarPods and power adapters means less waste for people that wouldn’t use them.
  • If the box contains just the iPhone (and all the paperwork), then the box can be really small. That’s a good win for waste reduction, but it also benefits the logistics side of things as more boxes will be able to fit in a smaller area.
  • This may or may not be passed down to the customer, but the costs would be reduced. Meaning higher margins, or lower prices.
  • This is just a thought, but maybe by not including a pair of EarPods in the box, if they do decide they want a pair of earphones/headphones, they may decide to buy something more upmarket. Maybe a pair of AirPods, or even a pair of Beats. The same could also apply to power adapters.

There’s also one more thing that probably isn’t a real benefit to anyone, but I think it makes things simpler. Well, maybe more so for the EarPods. Because if you buy an iPad or Mac, you don’t get a pair of EarPods. I’m not sure if that thought process works regarding the power adapter but is certainly takes the product to it’s most essential form (Apart from going as far as removing the need for a power adapter, but I’ll get to that later).

Alongside the potential benefits, there are also potential drawbacks:

  • First-time buyers will need to purchase a separate power adapter.
  • Even current iPhone owners that are buying a new iPhone may need a new power adapter or EarPods, so they are in the same situation as first-time buyers.
  • Damage to Apple’s reputation. They’re already thought to be a greedy company by some, and the products are expensive. So this will only make that worse.
  • If people have to purchase a separate power adapter and earphones, then that purchase might not be made through Apple. Meaning they lose out on potential revenue.

I’m sure there are more pros and cons to the potential situation, but that’s what’s in my mind. And to be honest, my first reaction to it was a negative one. It seemed like such a fundamentally stupid idea that you could buy a smartphone, and have it not come with a power adapter in the box. Because at the face of it, it’s absolutely a dumb thing to do.

Having said that, I then read other articles about it, including M.G. Siegler’s, and also watched MKBHD’s video, and my mind started to change. I decided to step back and truly take a look at how Apple could deal with the situation, and I’m starting to think that’s there’s a potential to do it well. So I’ve come up with a few things that I think Apple could do to make the best out of it, some of them better than others. They won’t be able to do them all, but maybe just one of them, or even a mix would be beneficial.

Reduce the cost. Simply subtract the retail price of the EarPods and a suitable power adapter away from the cost of an iPhone, and have them available as optional extras on the product page. This one would be difficult to see on its own though, seeing as by subtracting the retail price would be reducing the margins of the iPhone. So it would have to be part of a bigger story about reducing the cost of an iPhone or adjusted slightly to make it possible.

Offer a discount for a power adapter or earphones/headphones. Probably the most obvious idea. But, essentially if Apple wants to sell the iPhone as a device-only package, by offering a discount on EarPods or the power adapter that would have typically come in the box, then at least customers have a less annoying solution if they really wanted one of those. Then the message becomes a bit more friendly, and not as if the decision is purely about trying to make customers pay full price for every accessory.

Don’t change the default configuration but let customers “opt-in” to not having EarPods or a power adapter included. This way no-one is negatively affected. In fact, it only benefits people that don’t want these “extras” and would be happy for them not to be included in the box. Although this would make logistics more complicated, as there would need to be flexibility for the product to come with different things in the box.

Have different configurations of each iPhone. In a similar vein to the previous idea, Apple could have multiple “default” configurations of each iPhone. If they did it this way, you probably wouldn’t be able to have all four options (with/without either EarPods or a power adapter), so it might just be that you get the iPhone as we expect, and a “device only” option.

Differentiate based on the model. One way to try and please more people is to decide on a model-by-model basis. It just allows for slightly finer control and has a chance to give more people a better default. My first thought was that maybe the base iPhone would just be the device, but maybe the “Pro” model would include EarPods and a power adapter. However, I can imagine it wouldn’t be as simple as that. Seeing as you might find that customers that opt for the more expensive model, might also have their alternatives, so you’d be benefitting the wrong side. I’m sure Apple would have more data on this, so if for example they knew that the majority of customers for a certain model threw their power adapters away, then they could make the decision specifically for that model. It has the potential to be messy. But one example that I think may work, is singling out the cheaper model, which right now is the iPhone SE, and having the “main” set of iPhones device only.

Go full-on configurable. One way to ensure each customer gets what they want is to let them configure every part of it. So instead of having one default configuration for the iPhone, or even just having the option to include a power adapter or not. What if, when you went to buy an iPhone, you could choose from the usual model, colour, and storage size, expand that to audio, charging, and maybe even a few other types of accessories. For example, Apple wouldn’t be removing EarPods, they would simply be letting you choose from having nothing, EarPods, AirPods, Beats, and maybe select third-party options. The same applies to charging as well, maybe you don’t need another power adapter, but at the same time, you might want to buy a 5w charger, a fast charger, or even a Qi charger. So instead of the story being Apple removing things from the iPhone box, it becomes a story about Apple giving customers more freedom and flexibility to choose what’s right for them.

After thinking about all of these ideas, and potential ways Apple could handle the situation, I’m not 100% certain what I would do. As it stands now, I think the best solution is to lean into the idea around letting users personalise their iPhone package, and making everything configurable. But that would need to be coupled with discounted options for things like EarPods and power adapters.

However, I am aware that if I was in charge of this decision at Apple, then I’m sure I would have totally different motives behind the decision. For example, if it was to increase the margin on the iPhone, to reduce electronic waste, or even because they want to encourage more people to make the switch to Qi or AirPods. But as I don’t know Apple’s motives, I can only offer an outside perspective on the situation.


It all changes though if the iPhone didn’t need a power adapter, or at least what we expect as a power adapter, a cable and a plug. What if the iPhone only charged via a Qi-compatible For example, what if the iPhone had no ports? And you had to have a Qi-compatible charger. Then it would be a whole new set of circumstances to deal with. And maybe all of this is simply preparing people for that future. But that debate will have to wait another day.

Technology

The Lopifit "Electric Walking Bike"

1st July 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

I just came across this product via an Instagram post, and I just had to share it. I just can’t stop laughing about it.

Caption

It’s a bike that’s designed for exercise. Specifically high-cardio workouts. But instead of just making a normal bike that people can read, they’ve taken out the seat and pedals, and put a treadmill in the middle! So it’s not an “electric walking bike” like they claim, it’s a treadmill scooter. Which now I think about it, is no better than just walking!

Who even comes up with these ideas?

This Fantastical Sea Creature Helps Remove Planet-Warming Gases From the Atmosphere
News

This Fantastical Sea Creature Helps Remove Planet-Warming Gases From the Atmosphere

9th June 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Rosanna Xia, writing for the LA Times:

It was decades ago when Bruce Robison first looked through the plexiglass sphere of a submersible and spotted a most curious critter in the waters off Central California.

Nearly transparent and no larger than a fist, the squishy tadpole-like animal was surrounded by an enormous balloon of mucus about 3 feet wide. Robison could discern chambers intricately inflated within this sticky structure, speckled with particles of food and plant debris.

Robison spent years in the open ocean studying these gelatinous animals, which are too large and too fragile to bring back into a lab. Known as giant larvaceans, they inhabit seas across the world. Tens of thousands of them live just outside Robison’s office in Monterey Bay.

He and fellow researchers eventually learned that these creatures and their snot palaces play an outsize role in helping the ocean remove planet-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — one more part of a vast and underappreciated system that makes the ocean an unsung hero of climate change.

There are some truly fascinating creatures in the ocean, and the giant larvacean is certainly one of those. Who would have thought that something so small could grow that big?

Watch the video by Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute to get a proper look at what the giant larvacean, Bathochordaeus, looks like.

Technology

Trading Standards Squad Targets Anti-5G USB Stick

28th May 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Rory Cellan-Jones, writing for BBC News:

Trading Standards officers are seeking to halt sales of a device that has been claimed to offer protection against the supposed dangers of 5G via use of quantum technology.

Cyber-security experts say the £339 5GBioShield appears to no more than a basic USB drive.

This story is incredible in so many ways.

Especially when you get to this:

Each of these USB keys costs £339.60 including VAT, though there is a special offer of three for £958.80.

But, at first sight, it seems to be just that – a USB key, with just 128MB of storage.

“So what’s different between it and a virtually identical ‘crystal’ USB key available from various suppliers in Shenzhen, China, for around £5 per key?” asks Ken Munro, whose company, Pen Test Partners, specialises in taking apart consumer electronic products to spot security vulnerabilities.

And the answer appears to be a circular sticker.

Technology

Twitter Starts Testing a Feature That Limits Who Can Reply to Your Tweets

20th May 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Suzanne Xie, writing at the Twitter Product Blog:

Twitter is where you go to see and talk about what’s happening. But sometimes, unwanted replies make it hard to have meaningful conversations. (Ahem, reply guys.) Since last year, we’ve been working to give people more control over their conversations starting with the ability to hide replies. We also began trying out new ways to start conversations with casual, fleeting thoughts. And now, we’re testing new settings that let you choose who can reply to your Tweet and join your conversation.

Twitter also posted a short video showing off how the feature would work:

So tweets will (for the small percentage of users that can access the feature) have three options regarding who can reply: everyone, only people you follow, or only people you mention in the tweet. That seems to make sense, and they are probably the most common options you’d want if you wanted to limit replies.

It does seem slightly odd though, in that you would be able to have a public Twitter profile that no-one can reply to. However, as soon as you mention someone in a tweet, they can reply, since that’s allowed on all three options. SO at least you won’t be able to troll people, and at the same time stop them from replying.

Well, no matter happens with this idea, I’m personally all for Twitter experimenting with features such as this. And also the mentioned “fleeting tweets” idea, that interesting me as well. Surely one’s going to stick eventually?


Update: Since seeing a thread between Twitter and NASA, the benefits of this feature have clicked my head. Since you’ll be able to limit who replies to each tweet, your threads can stay perfectly clean!

Science

The Largest Ever Ozone Hole Over the Arctic Has Now Healed

20th May 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Back in early April, it was announced that CAMS1 was tracking a record-breaking hole in the ozone above the Arctic:

Ozone columns over large parts of the Arctic have reached record-breaking low values this year, and the ozone layer over the Arctic is severely depleted at altitudes of around 18 km. The last time similarly strong chemical ozone depletion was observed over the Arctic was during spring 2011, and ozone depletion in 2020 seems on course to be even stronger.

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS*) has been closely following the rather unusual ozone hole that has formed over the Arctic this spring.

In late April, they then shared on Twitter that the hole had healed.

People were then assuming that this had something to do with the lockdowns happening all over the world because of COVID-19. However, they say that the lockdown probably had no effect on this and that it was due to an unusually strong and long-lived Polar Vortex.

Either way, it seemed like a pretty interesting thing to read about, so I thought I’d share. And I think I’m going to start following them on Twitter, as they seem to share a lot of intriguing bits of data.


  1. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. Which is implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts on behalf of the European Commission. 

Technology

Turns Out Some Children Own a Smartphone

4th February 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Zoe Kleinman, writing for BBC News:

The amount of young phone owners doubled between the ages of nine and 10, which Ofcom dubbed “the age of digital independence”.

In addition, 24% of 3 and 4-year-olds had their own tablet, and 15% of them were allowed to take it to bed.

This doesn’t seem to bad to me. A smartphone gives people access to the vast quantities of information available on the internet, entertainment in the forms of games, videos, etc. and also a tool for communication with their friends and parents.

But there’s always at least one quote in these types of articles, to try and prompt a bit of outrage. Here we have one about not recognising the difference between the real world and online:

“I’m conscious that for these children who have never known a world without the internet, in many respects their online and offline worlds are indistinguishable.”

And also one trying to prompt outrage at the suitability for content on the internet for children:

“We are seeing around half of 12-15 year olds saying they have seen hateful content online, and an increase in parents who are concerned about it,” said Yih-Choung Teh.

I think the problem is not that children have access to mobile computing devices, but rather some parents tend to think that they don’t need to control their child’s usage of such devices. You look after them in the physical world, so surely you’d expect to do the same in the digital world.

Back before smartphones were a thing, people grew up without constant access to the digital world. But now they are so ubiquitous, it’s obvious that more younger people will have access to smartphones, and especially the vast internet. I think the responsibility falls on the shoulders of both the parents, the education system, and also the various content platforms.

However, I don’t think the fact that children use the internet, means that the entire web needs to be child friendly.

Emoji

The "Anti-LGBT" Emoji

20th February 2019 PERMALINK • 1 min read

tl;dr it’s not a thing

What It Is

Combined Emoji: 🏳️‍🌈⃠

Modifier: ⃠

Image Example:

It’s a unicode character (U+20E0 COMBINING ENCLOSING CIRCLE BACKSLASH) that acts as a modifier. Emojipedia included it in a post titled “Fun Emoji Hacks” back in September 2016.

Based on the platform, and font being used, it may appear differently. But the idea is that it appears over the previous emoji.

Here are some examples:

(These may appear differently depending on what you’re viewing this on)

  • 😀⃠
  • 🤯⃠
  • 💩⃠
  • 👍🏻⃠
  • 🐸⃠
  • 🌕⃠
  • 🥩⃠
  • 🏈⃠

Does this mean Apple is “anti” poo, frogs, or American football? No.

What People Have Been Reporting

They’ve basically followed the rhetoric that it’s a problem. Some report it as a glitch, others a separate emoji, and it seems they’re trying to create a problem out of nothing.

The Independent – “ANTI-LGBT EMOJI SPARKS OUTRAGE ON SOCIAL MEDIA”:

A new emoji with a clear anti-LGBT message has sparked outrage on social media.

Pink News – “People are mad at Apple about this new anti-LGBT emoji”:

…the arresting image seems to be a glitch in the software.

Out – “There’s a New Anti-LGBTQ+ Emoji and We Have Questions”:

Several people took to Twitter to question the emoji’s origin, since it is not an official emoji, but rather seems to be an aberration or glitch.

Instinct Magazine – “A New Anti-LGBTQ Emoji Has Taken Social Media By Storm”:

A new anti-LGBTQ emoji is popping up on social media.

Heavy – “Pride Flag Emoji Appears to Be Homophobic”:

An LGBTQ pride flag with a strikethrough symbol layered across it has appeared on Twitter.

Paper Magazine – “WTF Is This ‘No Homo’ Emoji?”:

Late last night, the “no homo” emoji — a struck-through pride flag — began popping up around Twitter.

Twitter Moment: @VIKTORIOUS – “Newly Discovered Flaw in Unicode Leads to Homophobic Tweets”:

This flaw was unexpectedly discovered by twitter user @mioog and jokingly posted it.

News

The best news aggregation service

13th July 2016 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Joe Caiati, writing for The Sweet Setup:

News has changed dramatically. Today, there are remnants of the way news used to work, but these traditional channels are slowly becoming a distant memory.

In an age past, the newspaper was delivered to your doorstep in the morning ready to be digested over a cup of coffee. When you returned home from work and settled down on the couch, the nightly news on TV caught you up on the day’s events.

While those outlets are still around today, news is much more complicated.

He talks about what news is, and how we tend to consume news nowadays,

There are innumerable online publications hurling stories everywhere. Some of them are pertinent to your interests, some of them waste your time, some of them are shared by friends, and then there is still the unknown that you may be missing out on.

To combat this news overload, a group of apps have tried to tackle this problem in hopes that they can bubble up the right stories so that you don’t have to work so hard to stay up-to-date on your interests and current events. We have tested many news digest services and found that Nuzzel is the best.

It’s a great read, and I’m a Nuzzel user myself. But even if you already use the app as well, Joe has written a very intriguing piece on news in general, and also more in depth into Nuzzel features you may not be aware of.

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