We kick off TidBITS this week with some rocky news for Apple, as the company saw year-over-year revenues decline for the first time in 13 years (but still recorded over $10 billion in profits). Michael Cohen provides the details on what’s new in Smile’s PDFpen 8, which adds support for attachments, digital signatures, and more. Julio Ojeda-Zapata discovers that the MacBook’s 29-watt adapter is the perfect accessory for the power-hungry 12.9-inch iPad Pro, charging it almost twice as fast as the included charger. Glenn Fleishman discusses what Comcast’s new 1 TB data cap means for Comcast subscribers and the industry as a whole. Joe Kissell has an intriguing new book out, a collection of essays about technology titled “Are Your Bits Flipped?”, and he joins us to talk about why it’s important to understand how various aspects of computers work. Finally, we have the latest chapter of Glenn Fleishman’s serialized “Take Control of Slack Basics” for TidBITS members, in which he explains how to make the most out of Slack’s search feature. Notable software releases this week include Lightroom CC 2015.5.1 and Lightroom 6.5.1, OmniOutliner 4.5.2, HoudahGeo 5.0, and iMovie 10.1.2.
In Q2 2016, Apple Sees First Revenue Decline in 13 Years
Reporting on its Q2 2016 financial results, Apple has announced net profits of $10.5 billion ($1.90 per diluted share) on revenues of $50.6 billion, disappointing financial observers who had expected gross revenues of $52 billion. The company’s revenues were down 12.8 percent compared to the year-ago quarter (see “Apple Makes Even More Money in Q2 2015,” 27 April 2015). Although Apple had predicted a revenue decline, this quarter represents the first in thirteen years.
Keep in mind, however, that the financial quarter ended 26 March 2016, so Apple’s announced results don’t reflect sales of the iPhone SE, which CEO Tim Cook claimed has had a “terrific customer response,” and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, both released on 31 March 2016.
All three of Apple’s major product lines experienced a year-over-year decline. iPhone sales dropped 16 percent, and iPhone revenue dropped 18 percent. Although Apple sold 10 million fewer iPhones this quarter than it did a year ago, the company nonetheless sold 51.2 million iPhones in the quarter. Tim Cook expressed optimism about the iPhone’s future, noting the very large number of Android switchers, as well as what’s “in the product pipeline.”
iPad sales and revenue both dropped 19 percent year over year. Apple sold 10.3 million iPads as compared to 12.6 million a year ago. It appears that the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and iPad-specific features of iOS 9 have done little, if anything, to reverse the iPad’s decline. Apple expects to see a better June quarter for iPad revenues this year than in the previous two years.
Mac sales were also down by 12 percent, and Mac revenue was down by 9 percent, which is a bit surprising given Apple’s recent resistance to overall declines in the PC market. Overall, Apple sold over 4 million Macs in Q2 2016, compared to 4.6 million in Q2 2015. Apple CFO Luca Maestri, however, said that Mac sales increased significantly in a number of foreign markets, and that, despite the lower unit sales, he believes Macs gained market share last quarter.
The Services and Other Products categories remain bright spots in Apple’s lineup. Service revenue increased by 20 percent year-over-year, while Other Products revenue rose by 30 percent; Maestri said that the Apple Watch led the increase in the Other Products category. Combined, these two income categories bring in about $8 billion of revenue. In fact, the Services category is now larger than either the Mac ($5.1 billion) or iPad ($4.4 billion) revenue categories, having brought in about $6 billion in the quarter. Maestri remarked that the music business had reached “an inflection point” after several quarters of revenue declines, thanks to Apple Music, which now boasts 13 million subscribers.
Apple is having a tough time abroad as well, with year-over-year revenue declines of 26 percent in Greater China, 24 percent in Japan, 25 percent in the rest of Asia Pacific, and 5 percent in Europe. Luca Maestri pointed to the strong U.S. dollar as a cause of Apple’s lower foreign revenues, which may play a contributing role, even if it can’t completely explain the drops. One optimistic note: iPhone sales in India increased by 60 percent, and, as Cook pointed out during the analyst call, India is “the third largest smartphone market in the world”.
Despite Apple’s having had what Cook dubbed in his opening remarks as a “challenging quarter,” Apple is expanding its capital return program by $50 billion. Apple plans to spend a total of $250 billion on capital returns, up from $200 billion, by the end of March 2018. Apple’s board has authorized an increase in the share repurchase program from $140 billion to $175 billion, an increase of 10 percent to the quarterly dividend, and a dividend of $0.57 per share, payable on 12 May 2016, to shareholders of record at the close of business on 9 May 2016. Despite challenging times for Apple, the company is offering deep incentives for shareholders to stick around.
So where is Apple now? Though the news isn’t good, remember that this is merely a drop in revenues, not a loss of any sort. The company won’t be hoisting a “Going Out of Business” flag: Apple has $232.9 billion in cash and securities, and it’s still making money hand-over-fist; it’s just not growing at previous rates. Nor is Apple alone in disappointing analysts — Alphabet, Microsoft, and Twitter all missed their estimates recently.
Apple certainly faces challenges, such as improving services, making the Apple Watch and Apple TV more attractive, and convincing customers to upgrade their iPhones, iPads, and Macs, but there’s clearly something bigger at work here. It’s possible that we’re looking at the start of a slowdown, of either just the tech sector or of the entire global economy, but whether that slowdown is merely short-term economic bad weather or if it represents significant economic climate change remains to be seen.
Chapter 9 of “Take Control of Slack Basics” Available
One of the essentials of a good team messaging system is being able to find previous messages. “What did my boss tell me to do yesterday?” “Where’s that link my coworker posted?” “Who posted that file I need for my report?” are all common tasks made easy when you understand Slack search.
Slack offers a powerful array of search capabilities, and in the serialized “Take Control of Slack Basics” book, Glenn Fleishman walks you through all of them in Chapter 9, “Search Effectively.” He explains where Slack can search, how to build effective search queries, and how to view results in context. You’ll learn the best ways to refine searches to be more precise, limiting your queries by date, finding messages from specific people, and even searching for messages with links or tagged with stars and emoji.
Everyone can read the first two chapters of “Take Control of Slack Basics” in its current serialized form, but Chapter 3 and the rest are limited to TidBITS members, so if you’re not currently a member, we hope that early access is incentive to join! TidBITS members receive other benefits too (like a full-text version of our RSS feed), but what’s most important is that TidBITS members provide vital support for getting our work into your inbox every week. If you’re already a TidBITS member, to read these chapters, log in to the TidBITS site using the email address from which you joined.
The full ebook of “Take Control of Slack Basics” will be available for purchase by everyone in PDF, EPUB, and Mobipocket (Kindle) formats once it’s complete, along with the administrator-focused “Take Control of Slack Admin.” We’re also planning to make the final books available as discounted bulk buys for entire Slack teams, so if you’re interested in that, let us know.
PDFpen 8 Adds Attachments, Digital Signatures, and More
Hot on the heels of Smile’s revamp of TextExpander (see “TextExpander 6 Adds Teams and Subscription Billing,” 6 April 2016, and “Smile Brings Back Standalone TextExpander, Reduces Subscription Price,” 13 April 2016), the software company has unveiled updates to PDFpen and PDFpenPro, its PDF editing apps for Mac, taking them both to version 8. Both apps are compatible with OS X 10.10 Yosemite and later.
New to PDFpen and PDFpenPro is the capability for users to preview and extract both file attachments and annotations from PDFs; furthermore, PDFpenPro 8 offers the capability to add file attachments to a PDF. In addition, users can now use both apps to add and play back audio annotations.
The apps now offer a new measuring tool, enabling users to get measurements of practically anything on the page: for example, if you want to how know far the chapter opening of your novel manuscript is from the top of the page, it’s just a drag away.
New features exclusive to PDFpenPro 8 include the capability to create portfolios — PDF files that contain multiple documents — and to customize the appearance of radio button and checkbox form elements. Also added is the capability to rearrange the tab order of form elements from the PDFpenPro sidebar.
A number of existing features also received enhancements. Microsoft Word export, available in both apps, no longer requires an online connection as it did in version 7. Similarly, Excel export, a PDFpenPro-only feature, can also be performed offline.
Also enhanced is the apps’ document-signing capability. In addition to the interactive signature fields supported by the previous versions, users can now create and validate digital signatures. Such signatures can employ self-created certificates or AATL (Adobe Approved Trust List) certificates.
Both apps are available from Smile, with PDFpen priced at $74.95 and PDFpenPro at $124.95. Upgrades for single user versions of PDFpen and PDFpenPro each cost $30 (those who purchased either PDFpen 7 or PDFpenPro 7 after 1 January 2016 are eligible for free upgrades). In addition, PDFpen owners who want to step up to the advanced features of PDFpenPro can do so for $50. Family packs and office packs are also available.
PDFpen and PDFpenPro will also soon be available from the Mac App Store, which, unfortunately, has no facility for offering upgrade prices. Purchasers of previous versions of either app from the Mac App Store, however, can download the latest version of the app from Smile and launch it: the registration process recognizes the Mac App Store versions and applies the appropriate upgrade price.
Why Your Bits Might Be Flipped (and What to Do about It)
While working on my latest book, “Are Your Bits Flipped?,” I spent lots of time thinking about the widespread phenomenon of technology misconceptions. Hardware and software have seen incredible advances in recent years, and we’ve all become more accustomed to products that would have seemed magical just decades ago. At the same time, basic misunderstandings about technology are rampant, with results that range from comical to tragic. I’d like to offer a few reflections on why that may be and what to do about it.
At a dinner party with some casual acquaintances, a guy asked me what I do for a living. I replied that I write books about technology. I mentioned a few of the topics and suggested that he might find them useful.
“I hope your books aren’t the kind that try to explain how things work,” he said, wrinkling his nose. “I don’t have time for that, and I’m not interested. Just tell me what to click — that’s all I care about.”
I took a deep breath and paused to think about how to reply diplomatically. I said that my books usually do have lots of explicit, step-by-step instructions but that they also provide background explanations so that people who want to know what’s going on behind the scenes can learn more. That clearly wasn’t good enough for him, and he became defensive when I gently suggested that a little bit of behind-the-scenes information could never hurt.
I quickly changed the subject. But I felt sad, because this fellow’s attitude made him prone to mistakes and ensured that he’d forever be relying on friends, technicians, and authors like me to figure things out for him and solve his problems.
Nobody is going to force you to understand the inner workings of your Mac or iPhone, an app or cloud service, or any other technology you might encounter. But however much you may try to distance yourself from the mysterious contents of the black box, your brain will automatically and involuntarily create a mental model that you’ll rely on to predict future behavior and make decisions. The further that model is from reality, the greater the chance you’ll experience confusion and frustration.
For example, suppose you use Gmail, and you notice that the Web sites you visit often have ads for exactly the products you’ve been discussing with a family member by email. Maybe that strikes you as mysterious or even suspicious, and you unconsciously form the opinion that someone at Google must be reading your email and actively passing along your interests to advertisers. That is, shall we say, a highly inaccurate description of what actually occurs. But if you’ve never looked into the details behind the technology, you might become excessively paranoid (or, at the other extreme, excessively trusting), and that can affect the way you use email, browse the Web, respond to advertising, and choose which products to buy.
More often than not, the initial flawed assumption is pretty tiny. Metaphorically speaking, it’s nothing more than a “flipped bit” — a one that should be a zero or vice-versa — but it can lead the brain down the garden path to an elaborate misconception. For as long as I’ve been working in technology (over two decades), my mission has been to help people notice and eliminate these errors and thereby become smarter about how they use their tools.
And this is what I have to say to anyone whose brain has led them astray: It’s not your fault (Fair warning: that video clip has some profanity).
You know the old story about the guy whose computer had a broken “cup holder,” but it was actually the CD-ROM tray. Or people who see the message “Press any key” but get stuck and call tech support because they can’t find the Any key. There are countless tales like these, and when we hear them, we all laugh and roll our eyes, baffled that anyone could be that stupid.
But stupidity isn’t the right diagnosis. Rather, the people who create products have a set of assumptions, but the people who buy and use those products don’t necessarily share the same assumptions; they have different mental models. If stupidity is indeed at work, one could just as easily say it was stupid of designers and engineers not to put themselves in the position of their customers and imagine what things would look like from their perspective.
Some of us may have more experience than others, or mental models that are more likely to match those of product designers, but anyone can experience a misconception about technology. If you have a bit flipped, it’s not your fault. But if you have the opportunity to correct a flipped bit, you should take it!
In my opinion, the people who develop technology and the people who use it should be willing to meet each other halfway. You shouldn’t have to be a technology expert to use a computer or smartphone, but on the other hand, following a policy of willful ignorance does no one any good. By all means, complain about foolish design choices, but also, read the manual. Urge developers to make their products “just work,” but also, take responsibility for understanding how they’re intended to be used.
There’s no shame in not knowing something, or in being honestly mistaken. But being willing to learn more — to eliminate incorrect assumptions and improve your mental models — is a virtue.
Whenever I write a TidBITS article or a Take Control book, I start with the assumption that I understand the subject matter pretty well and end with the assumption that I’ve explained it clearly. Both assumptions are often wrong! Like everyone, I sometimes get my bits flipped. Tech reviewers and commenters point out factual errors that slipped past me, while editors and readers tell me when my explanations baffled them, despite my best efforts. Although I may grumble or gripe, I do my best to accept these corrections with equanimity. They’re learning experiences. They mean I’ve just gotten a tiny bit smarter, and when I next revise the article or book, it’ll be that much better.
Whether as technologists or as consumers, we can all benefit from examining our assumptions from time to time. The more willing we are to acknowledge our flipped bits and improve our understanding, the better our relationship with technology (and with other people) will be.
In that spirit, I invite you to take a look at “Are Your Bits Flipped?.” Let me be candid: if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool “just tell me what to click” person, this book is not for you. It’s not a how-to book, like most Take Control titles. Instead, it’s a series of essays about common tech misconceptions, inspired by my FlippedBITS series of TidBITS articles. For each myth or misunderstanding, it explains what’s really going on in a friendly, down-to-earth way. Not only will it help to set your brain on the straight and narrow, it will also help you understand what may have led some of those bits to flip in the first place and
learn what you can do to avoid future misunderstandings. I hope you find it both entertaining and educational — and I’ll eagerly await your corrections.
iPad Pro Charges Faster with MacBook Adapter and New Cable
As one who makes heavy use of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and laments how slowly it charges using its 12-watt power adapter, I perked up when Apple unveiled its USB-C to Lightning cables.
Like others who rely on the larger iPad Pro, I made a mental leap to the 29-watt USB-C Power Adapter that comes with the 12-inch MacBook. Using the MacBook charger and one of the new cables with the big iPad Pro would mean shorter charging times, right?
That is, indeed, the case. In my tests, charging times are reduced by nearly half, from about 4.5 hours to about 2.5 hours, with the iPad Pro in a sleep state and in airplane mode.
This is possible because of a fast-charging capability that kicks in on gear that supports it, as Apple notes on its product pages for the 1-meter and 2-meter USB-C to Lightning cables:
This USB-C cable connects your iPhone, iPad, or iPod with Lightning connector to your computer’s USB-C port for syncing and charging. You can also use the cable with an Apple 29W USB-C Power Adapter to take advantage of the fast charging feature on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
My charging tests with the iPad Pro screen cranked up to full brightness and placed in airplane mode were also illuminating. With the MacBook’s adapter and the 1-meter USB-C to Lightning Cable, I achieved a 95 percent charge in about 4 hours (though charging at that point slowed to nearly a standstill). With the iPad Pro’s standard 12-watt adapter, 24 hours of continuous charging got the battery to no more than about 25 percent.
Some might wonder why this is a big deal. For those charging a sleeping iPad overnight, after all, there is no practical difference between the two methods. The device will be fully charged in the morning regardless of whether 2.5 hours or 4.5 hours are needed to pull this off.
Besides, the gear for fast charging is not cheap. The 29-watt USB-C Power Adapter costs $49, with the 1-meter USB-C to Lightning Cable running $25 and the 2-meter cable going for $35. This means paying between $74 and $84 for all the pieces.
But for some hardcore iPad Pro users, it might be worth it. Some use their iPads as primary productivity devices, and need all the power they can get at all hours. Such people often like to plug in the tablets at their desks to charge while working on the devices, and even here the iPad Pro’s default charging gear is problematic.
Depending on what you’re doing on the iPad Pro, you could actually see the battery level go down when using it while it’s plugged in. I’ve seen this happen and have worried about the implications for when I have to remove it from power and start relying on the battery.
This is when I grasped the magnitude of Apple’s error in bundling a 12-watt charger with the iPad Pro. With the 29-watt charger, it’s possible to work on the tablet while its battery level rises steadily – more slowly than if the device were idle, to be sure, but a better situation than next-to-useless “trickle” charging.
This is why, for users of the 12.9-inch iPad, buying a 29-watt charger and USB-C to Lightning cable may be money well spent.
Out of curiosity, I did similar charge tests with the newer 9.7-inch iPad Pro. The results were far less dramatic. Though the 29-watt power adapter charged the smaller tablet a bit more quickly than the 12-watt variant, both did so in just over 3 hours.
There’s a reason for this: the smaller iPad Pro does not support fast charging like its bigger brother.
My testing procedures were far from scientific, so I was happy to see others achieving similar results with more rigorous methods.
MacStories’ Federico Viticci, for instance, saw how much faster the 29-watt brick charges the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and wondered if there was a way to “benchmark the 29W and 12W adapters to obtain averages for different charging conditions in a series of 10-minute samples?”
He goes on:
I asked Marco Arment if I could use his battery level monitoring tool that he built to observe the performance of Overcast for version 2.5 of the app. Marco was kind enough to send me a build of an app which, by using IOKit (with private APIs not meant for App Store distribution), reports changes in battery level over time for both gain and loss of energy.
Viticci ultimately found that “fast charging with the new 29W adapter trumps regular charging with the 12W model in every test.”
The performance gap between the 29W and 12W power adapters is simply too big to ignore: every iPad Pro user would want to spend less time charging their device and end up with more battery, more quickly. The 12W power adapter essentially brings glorified iPhone charging to the iPad Pro — a subpar experience that, at this point, is barely acceptable. If you use a 12.9-inch iPad Pro as your primary computer every day, I strongly recommend getting the 29W USB-C power adapter and USB-C to Lightning cable. It’s money well spent.
This all raises the obvious question of why Apple didn’t bundle a better charger with the large iPad Pro in the first place. It could have been a Lightning adapter instead of a USB-C one, but with the same charging capabilities. The 12W adapter is inadequate for the job, which is unacceptable with an $800 tablet.
I suspect Apple has already seen the error of its ways, and likely will make an adjustment for the next 12.9-inch iPad Pro update. In the meantime, I have migrated permanently over to the 29W MacBook adapter with the USB-C to Lightning Cable – it’s the only way to go for power users like me.
Comcast Raises Monthly Data Cap to a Less Insulting 1 TB
As a persistent, long-term critic of Internet service provider usage thresholds that are set too low and overage fees that are set too high, I was surprised to find myself thinking, “Eh, that’s okay,” upon reading Comcast’s announcement of a new 1 TB limit for monthly data use in the parts of the country in which the cable company has caps in place.
The new limit isn’t generous, but it’s sufficient for most people right now, and will probably remain so for at least a few years. More importantly, it shows that even a company that’s effectively a monopoly in most areas it serves still has to respond to consumer, regulatory, and political pressure.
This announcement came out of nowhere — no news outlet seemed to have advance word or leaks — and it may be in response to the terms the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice set in allowing Charter Communications, another large cable provider, to acquire Time Warner Cable. That merger agreement requires no caps and no usage-based pricing for the first seven years of the deal. It also bars interconnection shenanigans that would throttle competing video providers from providing high-quality streaming services.
Comcast is clearly signaling an intent to roll out data usage caps and overage fees across its entire territory, which should make me irate. But I find myself thinking that this crack in Comcast’s long insistence that it couldn’t allow more usage without suffering from network congestion is a positive sign, and 1 TB is far more reasonable than the data caps the company has implemented in the past.
What a Capper — Comcast has been imposing and testing data caps for several years. At one point, it was a “soft cap” that, if you crossed more than once or twice, typically led to having your service canceled for a year. There was no appeal, and regulators had no authority. Even in markets in which there’s tight franchise-board control over cable television, ISPs can only be regulated by the FCC, which lacked and still lacks oversight over this sort of customer issue (see “Net Neutrality Controversy Overshadows U.S. Broadband Woes,” 19 February 2015).
In 2008, Comcast rolled out a hard cap of 250 GB per month, even if you paid for its highest-tier 105 Mbps service. I hit this while testing online backup services in 2009. Absurdly, Comcast didn’t provide a tool to show its view of your usage until 2010, provoking questions of accuracy and arbitrariness. In the face of political pressure and intense discussions about net neutrality in 2012, Comcast dropped caps for a time but then started testing overage charges in some parts of the country.
Comcast deployed these tests mostly where it’s the only choice or the only reasonably fast and affordable option. Before 28 April 2016, the limit was 300 GB of combined upstream and downstream usage per month, and a fee of $10 for each 50 GB increment above that. In some areas, you had the option of paying an additional $30 or $35 per month (roughly the cost of basic cable) for unlimited bandwidth.
AT&T has a similar plan in effect, with a variable threshold from 150 GB to 1 TB per month, depending on service levels, the same $10 per 50 GB overage fee, and a recently introduced $30 per month unlimited usage add-on.
TidBITS Managing Editor Josh Centers lives in one of Comcast’s overage-charge regions — they’re mostly in the South (see “Comcast Expanding Data Caps: How You Can Respond,” 10 November 2015). He shifted to Comcast’s business service, which costs more for slower speeds, but has no cap or overage charges — I also used Comcast Business for a few years for the same reason. You have to sign a contract for at least a year, and last time I checked, there was a 75 percent cancellation fee — highly offensive, but again, it doesn’t violate the regulatory rules.
I recently switched to gigabit broadband via CenturyLink, a regional telco that has struggled to stay afloat with landlines and DSL, and is now rolling out fiber as fast it can for a chance at survival. Most fiber-backed service plans — including mine — have no bandwidth limits, though they often have provisos about not running servers or, for consumer tiers, not running a business from those lines. Such terms are typically unenforceable unless you start consuming vast amounts of bandwidth.
I paid about $300 for installation of the service and a “phone line” (provisioned from the same fiber-optic cable coming into my house), with a $100 rebate, which took some prodding to get sent out. Monthly service without any long-term commitment costs $155, including the phone line and unlimited calling. Without the phone line, CenturyLink would have charged me about $185 per month because part of their motivation in pushing fiber is to reduce the cost of maintaining their aging, outdated, and expensive copper wire base.
About a year ago, Comcast responded to the steady increase of fiber-optic broadband service, most notably Google Fiber, by promising it would offer 2 Gbps service to customers inside a third of a mile of its extensive fiber network within a year, and 1 Gbps service to nearly everybody by the end of 2017 through an update to its underlying data-encoding standards. (The company is moving to DOCSIS 3.1.)
Comcast’s promises seemed overly ambitious, but the rollouts have proceeded, another good sign that there’s something like competition going on. The 2 Gbps service reaches 18 million customers (about a third of the 55 million homes and businesses to which it can offer service). It costs $1000 for the installation, the bill is $300 per month, and the service requires a minimum contract of two years. (It
likely costs Comcast a few grand to install the line, so a two-year contract is not outlandish.)
Comcast’s 1 Gbps service just launched in Atlanta in March, and has a $500 installation fee and a promotional $70 per-month rate that lasts for the duration of the required three-year initial contract. Comcast says it will cost $130 per month after that.
But here’s the funny part: The fine print says its usage plan still applies in cities in which it’s charging for overages. Comcast may still not understand that when you offer 1 or 2 Gbps, any threshold has to be proportional to the service offered.
Keeping Competitors At Bay — Comcast insists that data caps are about improving network quality, but in fact, they’re meant to discourage customers from canceling cable TV in favor of streaming services. It appears to have worked, as The Wall Street Journal (paywall) reported just a few days ago about how cord cutters are now hitting usage caps and switching back to cable or changing their viewing behavior when they hit the point at which they’d pay overage fees.
The Comcast corporate blog noted a couple of interesting facts: 99 percent of its customers consume less than a terabyte per month, and its average user transfers only about 60 GB. The Wall Street Journal article got an additional tidbit from Comcast, however, noting that 2 million subscribers exceed 300 GB a month, and commenting that Time Warner Cable’s average use is 141 GB per month and growing 40 percent a year.
Where does that usage come from? Netflix can use 500 Kbps to 5 Mbps of bandwidth for video streaming. Amazon says it needs 900 Kbps to 3.5 Mbps. Hulu cites a need for 1.5 Mbps for standard-definition video (SD) and 3 Mbps for HD.
If you left Netflix streaming at 5 Mbps on a single device 24 hours a day for 30 days, you’d consume roughly 1.6 TB. In a home in which, say, three people watch 40 hours of programming a week in HD — possibly an excessive amount — that would still only be 1.2 TB.
Other users might hit the limit more easily. My colleague Jason Snell, an avid podcaster and podcast-network operator, crosses 1 TB a month due to the large audio files he creates and edits every week, which are in turn synced to a cloud backup service. When I seeded a Backblaze backup after getting gigabit service, I pushed 1.3 TB in a couple of days. I suspect between photo syncing, cloud services, and cloud backups, I regularly use a few hundred gigabytes a month.
But 1 TB is probably an entirely reasonable limit, even for video-intensive households. Comcast is clearly wagering that when it rolls out overage fees nationwide, it will avoid a popular revolt. Based on Comcast’s own numbers, it will charge overage fees to about 200,000 of its 20 million or so customers who are heavy users (above 1 TB) instead of the 10 percent or 2 million above 300 GB today. Paying from $10 to $50 a month extra is significant, but it doesn’t come off as so petty at the 1 TB limit.
The real test will be how Comcast continues to refine this argument over time and whether it increases that 1 TB limit, especially as gigabit services roll out — and as TVs that can show ultra-high-definition (UHD) media continue a slow but steady progression in the home, as people replace dead equipment or choose to upgrade.
Netflix streams UHD at up to 25 Mbps, and you could watch (exclusive of any other usage) 20 hours a week of UHD streaming media without crossing 1 TB. However, in households with multiple TV sets or viewers, and with more displays and content becoming available at higher definition, it’s going to be ever easier to cross that limit, too.
Will Caps Hold? — Bandwidth caps, thresholds, and overage fees are not necessarily predatory, even in monopoly or duopoly environments. All networks have capacity limits, and if a good percentage of users in any given region were using massive amounts of bandwidth for long periods, it would have a detrimental effect on everyone else on the network.
But that doesn’t seem to be what ISPs are addressing with usage caps. If it were a matter of capacity, Comcast would have gradually increased the amount year over year. My rough calculation of what’s reasonable, based on known costs and Comcast’s reporting of customer behavior, is that customers should be able to transfer about 250 GB per month plus 150 GB per month for each additional 10 Mbps of service. A 25 Mbps Comcast customer would thus end up with a 700 GB cap, while a 150 Mbps customer would have a limit of 2.5 TB. That may still be too low, but it’s least proportionate to the price paid for throughput.
Even there, the trend seems to be moving away from thresholds of any kind. Cablevision competes with Verizon’s FiOS fiber service in several markets and has long argued against caps, which Verizon also eschews for FiOS. (That extends beyond competitive areas, but they have a significant overlap.) Likewise, as noted above, Charter will accept a no-cap/no-usage-fee limit for seven years to acquire Time Warner Cable.
AT&T and Comcast seem more like outliers now, even with this latest change, which makes Comcast’s continued expansion in owning media more interesting. It has owned NBCUniversal for years, which includes a ton of production companies and many cable channels. And NBCUniversal just bought the animation studio DreamWorks.
We’ve all been waiting for pay TV to both implode and explode simultaneously, where the large packages of channels offered mostly via cable and satellite are sold a la carte and in bundles over the Internet. This started to happen a couple of years ago, accelerated in 2015, and the trend seems more supercharged than ever. AT&T said in March that it would start to compete with Dish Network’s Sling TV later this year.
Maybe caps are disappearing and thresholds are loosening because cable and telephone companies have figured out how to shift their businesses to this new model. They’re staking out territory even as they appear to be more friendly to the competition. Whatever the reason, we’ll benefit in the short run.
TidBITS Watchlist: Notable Software Updates for 2 May 2016
Lightroom CC 2015.5.1 and Lightroom 6.5.1 — Adobe has released the standalone Lightroom 6.5 and Lightroom CC 2015.5 (available as part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography plan) with a few bug fixes. The professional photo cataloging and editing applications address an issue that prevented droplets from working as export actions, resolve problems with incorrect folder permissions, ensure the EXIF lens name is visible for all camera models, and fix a bug related to merging HDR or Panorama from a collapsed stack. They also add support for the Pentax K-1 and Sony DSC-RX10M3 cameras. ($9.99 monthly
subscription or $149 for the standalone app, free update, release notes, 10.8+ for Lightroom CC 2015.5 and 10.9+ for standalone Lightroom 6.5)
Read/post comments about Lightroom CC 2015.5.1 and Lightroom 6.5.1.
OmniOutliner 4.5.2 — The Omni Group has released OmniOutliner 4.5.1, a small maintenance release that relaxes the XSLT parser file size limit so larger documents can be exported to HTML, CSV, DOCX, or PPTX formats. The outlining and information organization app ensures that the status of parents are correctly saved when editing an existing OPML document, fixes a crash that occurred due to automatic link detection while in the middle of keyboard manager assisted input, and adds localizations for print panel options. ($49.99 new for standard edition (Mac App Store), $99.99 for Pro edition (Mac App Store), free update, 24.8 MB, release notes, 10.10+)
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HoudahGeo 5.0 — Houdah Software has released HoudahGeo 5.0, a photo geotagging app that works with Apple’s Photos, iPhoto, and Aperture, along with Adobe’s Lightroom. HoudahGeo writes GPS location coordinates and names to EXIF, XMP and IPTC tags in JPEG and raw files, enabling photo cataloging tools to organize and later find photos by location. This major new release adds the capability to assign photos to favorite places and apply coordinates and location names, enables drag-and-drop geocoding and reverse geocoding (via location name lookup), adds a new keywords editor for assigning keywords in bulk, improves support
for Google Earth KML export, and improves metadata integration with Lightroom’s catalog. If you own a license for HoudahGeo 4, you can upgrade to version 5 for $19 (and licenses purchased on or after 1 December 2015 are eligible for a free upgrade). ($39 new, free update, 21.7 MB, release notes, 10.10+)
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iMovie 10.1.2 — Apple has released iMovie 10.1.2, adding a New Project button in the Project browser, enabling you to create a project and begin editing with a single click. The update also displays larger project thumbnails that match the look of iMovie for iOS, changes the behavior of clicking a video clip from selecting a range to selecting the entire clip, adds a keyboard shortcut to select a range within a clip in the browser and timeline (hold down the R key while dragging), and adds support for App Preview resolutions for iPad Pro (1600 x 1200) and Apple TV (1920 x 1080). iMovie now requires OS X 10.11.2 El Capitan or
later. ($14.99 new from the Mac App Store, free update, 2.05 GB, 10.11.2+)
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ExtraBITS for 2 May 2016
In this week’s ExtraBITS, Apple has redesigned its support Web site, there’s a battle brewing over emoji, and the iPhone Upgrade Program is now available online.
Apple Redesigns Support Site — You probably don’t visit it every day, but the next time you’re looking for help from Apple, you’ll find a redesigned Apple Support site. The new site features a prominent search field at the top before breaking the page into blocks for browsing by product, popular topics, Apple Support Communities, warranty and repair information, contacting Apple support, getting help via Twitter, signing up for in-store workshops, and listing exchange and repair extension programs. The site degrades nicely on small-screen devices, but the main page requires so much scrolling that we worry people will get
lost or confused before they find the right section.
Inside “Emojigeddon” at the Unicode Consortium — If you’ve noticed the ever-growing collection of emoji characters available on your Apple devices, the people to thank are the members of the venerable Unicode Consortium, a non-profit group that has been working to standardize the character sets for all the world’s languages and writing systems since 1991. The recent work on emojis is not without cost, however: a number of Unicode Consortium members think that the emoji characters are distracting the group from more
important work. The chronicles of “Emojigeddon” make for fascinating reading, even if you don’t know a PUNCTUS FLEXUS MARK from a CAT FACE WITH TEARS OF JOY.
iPhone Upgrade Program Now Available Online — Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program, which lets you pay a monthly fee for an iPhone with AppleCare+, was originally available only if you walked into an Apple Store. However, Apple is now offering it as an option if you buy a phone online, with no store visit required if you’re an eligible AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon customer. Frankly, this should have been available from the start.