Writer/editor/programmer on Mac, JavaScript, CSS, & Web geekery. See dori.com, b
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★ The Knives Come Out for Phil Schiller in Brian Merchant’s ‘The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone’

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The Verge has an exclusive (and lengthy) excerpt from Brian Merchant’s The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone, which comes out next week. Merchant seemingly has many first-hand sources on the record, including Tony Fadell and perhaps Scott Forstall. (I say “perhaps” because it’s not clear from the excerpt whether Forstall spoke to Merchant, or if Merchant got the Forstall quotes from somewhere else. It seems like there should be a lot more from Forstall in this story if he actually talked to Merchant.)

But Fadell spoke to Merchant extensively, including this shot at Phil Schiller:

The iPod phone was losing support. The executives debated which project to pursue, but Phil Schiller, Apple’s head of marketing, had an answer: Neither. He wanted a keyboard with hard buttons. The BlackBerry was arguably the first hit smartphone. It had an email client and a tiny hard keyboard. After everyone else, including Fadell, started to agree that multitouch was the way forward, Schiller became the lone holdout.

He “just sat there with his sword out every time, going, ‘No, we’ve got to have a hard keyboard. No. Hard keyboard.’ And he wouldn’t listen to reason as all of us were like, ‘No, this works now, Phil.’ And he’d say, ‘You gotta have a hard keyboard!’” Fadell says.

I don’t know if it’s true or not that Schiller was singlehandedly pushing for a Blackberry-style keyboard. But even if true, it only looks foolish in hindsight, especially if this argument took place before the iPhone’s software team had come up with a proof-of-concept software keyboard. Today it’s clear that the iPhone needed a good keyboard, and that a touchscreen keyboard can be a good keyboard. Neither of those things was obvious in 2005. And in the context of this story, it’s clear that at the time of this purported argument, Steve Jobs and Apple weren’t yet sure if the iPhone should be a pocket-sized personal computer or a consumer electronics product that would have no more need for a keyboard (hardware or software) than an iPod did. My guess is that Schiller was insisting that the iPhone needed to be a personal computer, not a mere gadget, and it wasn’t unreasonable to believe a software keyboard wouldn’t be good enough. For chrissakes there were critics who insisted that the iPhone’s software keyboard wasn’t good enough for years after the iPhone actually shipped.

I do know that Schiller’s hard-charging, brusque style and his obvious political acumen have made him a lot of enemies over the years. It sounds like Fadell is one of them.

So I’ll just say this: this story about Phil Schiller pushing for a hardware keyboard comes from one source (so far — if anyone out there can back that up, my window is always open for little birdies), and that one source is the guy who admittedly spent over a year working on iPhone prototypes with a click wheel interface.

Then there’s this:

Schiller didn’t have the same technological acumen as many of the other execs. “Phil is not a technology guy,” Brett Bilbrey, the former head of Apple’s Advanced Technology Group, says. “There were days when you had to explain things to him like a grade-school kid.” Jobs liked him, Bilbrey thinks, because he “looked at technology like middle America does, like Grandma and Grandpa did.”

Hats off to Bilbrey for putting his name on this quote, but having spoken to Schiller both on- and off-the-record many times, the idea that he “looks at technology … like Grandma and Grandpa did” and needs things explained to him “like a grade-school kid” is bullshit. Especially off-the-record, Schiller can drill down on technical details to a surprising degree. I don’t know what Schiller did to piss off Bilbrey, but Bilbrey either has a huge chip on his shoulder or was severely misquoted by Merchant.1

Anyway, I sure wish this book excerpt had come out before my live episode of The Talk Show last week — now I do have one more question I wish I’d gotten to ask Schiller.


  1. Here’s a story from Yoni Heisler for Network World on Brett Bilbrey’s retirement from Apple in 2014. Bilbrey headed Apple’s Technology Advancement Group. Merchant describes Bilbrey as having led “Apple’s Advanced Technology Group”. It’s a small detail, and the names are clearly similar, but the Advanced Technology Group was Larry Tesler’s R&D division at Apple, from 1986-1997. It was among the numerous divisions and products that Steve Jobs shitcanned after he rejoined the company. ↩︎

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dori
10 days ago
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"there were critics who insisted that the iPhone’s software keyboard wasn’t good enough for years after the iPhone actually shipped."

Me, everyday.

I still miss my BlackBerry keyboard.
Healdsburg, CA
brennen
9 days ago
Seriously. Onscreen keyboards, across the board, are just not good enough. My first generation Android with the slidey keyboard was _so much more pleasant to use_ than anything I've had since.
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Are There More Developers Than We Think?

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JavaScript's npm package manager reports 4 million users, doubling every year, leading to an interesting question from tech industry analyst James Governor: Just how many developers are there out there? GitHub is very well placed to know, given it's where (so much) of that development happens today. It has telemetry-based numbers, with their own skew of course, but based on usage rather than surveys or estimates. According to GitHub CEO Chris Wanstrath, "We see 20 million professional devs in the world as an estimate, from research companies. Well we have 21 million [active] users -- we can't have more users than the entire industry"...

If Github has 21 million active users, Wanstrath is right that current estimates of the size of the developer population must be far too low... Are we under-counting China, for example, given its firewalls? India continues to crank out developers at an astonishing rate. Meanwhile Africa is set for crazy growth too... You certainly can't just count computer science graduates or software industry employees anymore. These days you can't even be an astronomer without learning code, and that's going to be true of all scientific disciplines.

The analyst attributes the increasing number of developers to "the availability, accessibility and affordability of tools and learning," adding "It's pretty amazing to think that GitHub hit 5 million users in 2012, and is now at 20 million." As for the total number of all developers, he offers his own estimate at the end of the essay. "My wild assed guess would be more like 35 million."
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dori
26 days ago
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Healdsburg, CA
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1 public comment
jepler
26 days ago
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why would github's CEO believe that each user account on github represents a professional programmer? there are huge swathes of three categories I can think of just offhand:
* students not yet in the workforce
* those programming as a hobby
* those who have github accounts just to file low-quality bug reports
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
dori
26 days ago
I also know non-programmers who have used it for collaboration on and storage of text files.
CrystalDave
25 days ago
Plus people whose workplace uses Github & they don't want to mix personal & professional accounts
jepler
25 days ago
oh yeah, I forgot I have two github accounts for that very reason.
sirshannon
18 days ago
I have 2 github accounts but prefer to use my bitbucket account.

‘This Isn’t AI’

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Terence Eden, on trying to get his Amazon Echo to respond to a custom query:

I kinda thought that Amazon would hear “solar panels” and work out the rest of the query using fancy neural network magic. Nothing could be further from the truth. The developer has to manually code every single possible permutation of the phrase that they expect to hear.

This isn’t AI. Voice interfaces are the command line. But you don’t get tab-to-complete.

Amazon allow you to test your code by typing rather than speaking. I spent a frustrating 10 minutes trying to work out why my example code didn’t work. Want to know why? I was typing “favourite” rather than the American spelling. Big Data my shiny metal arse.

A voice interface that’s as rigid as the command line can still be very useful, but he’s right — it isn’t AI. (Via Charles Arthur.)

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dori
51 days ago
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Healdsburg, CA
dori
51 days ago
Is it possible to delete comments -- especially ones created by NewsBlur bugs?
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the7roy
51 days ago
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I asked our Google home, "what's 6.5 times 3?" And got back "9.5". I asked, "what did you hear?" It answered, "6.5 x 3". It might be artificial, but it ain't intelligence.
Mountain View
jwolman
51 days ago
I just tried this and it got the answer right!
dori
51 days ago
My Echo got it right.
jhamill
51 days ago
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Nowhere on the Echo product page does AI appear.

MeJust because you want to call it something doesn't mean that's what it is.
California

Tom Negrino: 1956-2017 ↦

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Tom Negrino, longtime Apple writer and community member, passed away on March 15.

In lieu of flowers, Tom asked that donations be made to App Camp for Girls. He supported their message of gender equality in tech from the beginning.

Rest, Tom.

[Read on Six Colors.]

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dori
99 days ago
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Healdsburg, CA
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Andy Ihnatko's appreciation

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Dan Lyke:

Back in May of last year, Tom Negrino wrote "I've had a big secret, now I'm sharing it."

Based on Dori's Twitter, it's likely that Tom will take his own life tomorrow or Wednesday (does the countdown end at 1 or 0?). See The Healdsburg Tribune: Living and dying on his own terms.

There have been a whole lot of appreciations of Tom in various places, Andy Ihnatko's appreciation was open in my tabs as I sat down to copy and paste this over from Facebook:

I've seen a bunch of blog and social media posts honoring Tom Negrino, and I figure I should say something, since the countdown suggests that tomorrow is when he may choose to take his own life slightly early, and not wait through the pain for cancer to take it for him. Unlike so many of y'all in the Mac community, I don't have a publishing story, though I have bought every revision of Tom and Dori Smith's reknown "JavaScript for the World Wide Web Visual Quickstart Guide".

I had hoped to get up to visit, but this sick cough hit me and I definitely didn't want to impose anything that might be communicable.

I met Tom and Dori because we were part of that pre-2000 group of not quite journalers not quite resource directory publishers that eventually became called "webloggers". Back when Google PageRank was a number, my blog fought it out with their cat's domain for the higher rank. Being North Bay folks, we've run into each other over the years. A breakfast with tech geeks, a "hey, we happened to stop in Healdsburg, y'all up for dinner?", we always found things to talk about, perhaps because we had many of the same interests but came at it in such different ways. I think the last time we ran into them was a book signing event, probably William Gibson at Copperfield's.

Tom and I never worked together, so I don't have personal stories of how gracious he was to the poor company reps doing their best at press events gone bad, or how awesome he was working with editors, or any of the other fantastic memorials I've read over the past few days.

But as a member of the early blogging community (who are all still very much welcome to crash on my couch any time they've got an interview in the Bay Area) and a part of the the base level of running into cool people that makes living in the North Bay what it is, I'll miss him.

And I still feel like he's gonna go with me owing picking up the tab at at least one dinner. Probably more than that. Damn it.

And, Dori, I realize we've been lax in getting our butts up to Healdsburg, and I am totally not the best person for saying "Oh, hey, we should do something unasked...", but if there's anything we can do, please ask.

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dori
102 days ago
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Healdsburg, CA
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'Tom has those talents in spadefuls.' ↦

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Andy Ihnatko on our mutual friend Tom Negrino and his wonderful wife Dori Smith:

Honest, I feel closer to Tom than some members of my actual legal family. I wouldn’t always know ahead of time that Tom would be attending a certain conference, but I always knew it was likely. One of the other members of the family would tell me “Oh, yeah, Tom and Dori are here. I said hi to them in the press room about an hour ago.” And then the ten-year-old kid in me would shout YAYYYY!!! Tom is like the cousin whose presence (and backpack full of Star Wars action figures) makes a boring grownup’s party bearable.

Yes. This.

[Read on Six Colors.]

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dori
102 days ago
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Healdsburg, CA
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