Good Reads for September, 2018

Every month, we’ll be bringing you a selection of very voluminous, if slightly longer, reads about the wonderful world of Apple. Sometimes, they’ll be commentary on the state of Apple’s largest revenue stream, technical explanations of what makes the iPhone camera as good as it is, or a thoroughly enjoyable oral history of Apple’s Infinite Loop campus in Cupertino. All I know is, bring your own Instapaper account, because this is Good Reads.

  • September saw the release of new iPhones, and Ben Thompson of Stratechery points out it has done so for the past 11 years. And even though everyone’s talking about the new top-of-the-line iPhone, both about how it’s the most expensive iPhone ever and the fastest and whatever other superlatives Apple want to bestow upon it, Thompson says it’s the non-flagship iPhones that speak volumes about how Apple thinks about the iPhone strategically — no small point, given that the iPhone still accounts for roughly two-thirds of Apple’s revenue — and itself.

The iPhone X was the “future of the smartphone”, with a $999 price tag to match. A year on, it is quite clear that the future is very much here. CEO Tim Cook bragged during yesterday’s keynote that the iPhone X was the best-selling phone in the world, something that was readily apparent in Apple’s financial results. iPhone revenue was again up-and-to-the-right, not because Apple was selling more iPhones — unit growth was flat — but because the iPhone X grew ASP so dramatically.

  • And of those 11 years, we’ve had a camera upgrade in almost every subsequent model of iPhone, with the iPhone to iPhone 3G and iPhone 6 to iPhone SE being the notable exceptions. It’s a similar story this time around with the iPhone XS and XS Max, and although you might expect that Apple would eventually reach a stage where they can’t pack more focus pixels into the iPhone’s sensor, increase the quality of the lenses used in it, or apply fancier computational photography to produce the best-looking photos of any iPhone yet, every year Apple somehow manages to do all of that and more. It’s basically black magic at this point, and over at Medium, Lance Ulanoff has all the correct incantations to tell us how it all works.

Obviously, professional photographers know the limits of smartphone photography. Even with multiple lenses, telephoto capability, and post-processing, it’s hard to replace what you can do with full-frame 35 mm sensors and a 55 mm or larger lens. But that hasn’t stopped Apple from trying. Apple’s multi-pronged effort to put pro-level photographic capabilities in the hands of millions of iPhone users starts with addressing image capture (both photo and video) as a system.

  • Putting aside the new iPhones for a moment, the argument could be made that Apple’s best new product isn’t the Apple Watch Series 4, any of their recently-upgrade software platforms, or even their impressive services ecosystem. Fast Company’s Michael Grothaus says Apple’s best product is now privacy, making the argument that the single best reason to choose an Apple product today, over that of any competitor, is privacy. Apple’s said time and time again that they consider privacy to be a basic human right, and now that same stance extends to its products and services in ways that are more important than ever, despite being something you won’t find on any spec sheet.

But let’s be honest–Apple is a corporation, and a corporation’s goal is to make as much money as possible. In this age of tech giants, user data may be the new black gold, but Apple’s business model doesn’t rely on monetizing such information. Apple makes its hundreds of billions every year by selling physical products that have a high markup. Facebook and Google, on the other hand, have a business model built around advertisers who want as much data about users as possible so they can better target them. This is why, for example, Google would never build the types of anti-tracking and privacy protections into the Android OS that Apple has done with MacOS and iOS. Google–and Facebook–aren’t going to cut off their access to all that black gold.

  • Just like privacy, news is becoming an increasingly valuable commodity. It always has been, but now more than ever, given that anything is just a click or a tap away. As technology has evolved, so has news — there’s more competition for our attention, for our eyeballs, for the views, for everything. Apple News is a news platform that’s continually growing, with News readership surpassing even that of Facebook for some publications, making it an important facet of any outlet’s reach. But while Apple News is bringing in clicks and views, it’s not bringing home the bacon. And until Apple does something like monetise News for publishers in more meaningful ways, it probably won’t, reports Will Oremus at Slate.

Launched to rather tepid fanfare three years ago, Apple’s mobile news app has recently surged in popularity and influence, if publishers’ traffic figures are any indication. Sources at several news outlets say they’ve seen their audience on Apple News multiply in 2018 alone. Some now say it has become one of their top traffic sources, alongside Facebook and Google. At Slate, which disclosed its data for this story, page views on Apple News have roughly tripled since September 2017, and the app recently surpassed Facebook as a driver of readership.

  • Now that Apple has more-or-less moved into its new campus at Apple Park, we can start to read about the stories that made its original campus at Infinite Loop great. Steven Levy’s oral history of Apple’s Infinite Loop over at Wired is a wonderful compilation of tales that came out of what is probably one of the most important places in tech history, and certainly an excellent backdrop to plenty of great goings-on.

One of the first things Steve did was to put giant “Think Different” banners in the huge atrium in IL1, which seemed a little propaganda-ish, but they were a hit with everybody. Then he started putting the products on the banner. If you’re a product manager or an engineer on a team, there’s nothing more motivating than seeing your product 40 feet high on a billboard.

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