Looking back at the cybercafés of the future

Everything innovative and cutting-edge is destined to become quaint and old-fashioned — from cassettes, DVDs and mobile phones, to laptops and the web itself, even. Looking back at the internet of the 90s, it’s easy to forget how revolutionary and necessary cybercafés once were.

Introducing the crazy new world of cybercafesCNET: YouTube
“What happens when plugged-in people congregate for a little indoor surfing? You get cybercafés. Desmond Crisis, the newest member of the CNET central team, takes us on a tour of these hi-tech hangouts.”

The hippest internet cafe of 1995Vox: YouTube
The cyber-struggle is real. Vox’s Phil Edwards spoke to one of the founders of @ Cafe, an internet cafe that launched just as the internet was coming into the public eye.

Cybercafés were the brainchild of Ivan Pope, as he’s keen to tell us, though Cyberia’s Eva Pascoe was perhaps more influential.

The first Internet cafe operates (for two days)History of Information
Commissioned to develop an Internet event for “Towards the Aesthetics of the Future,” an arts weekend at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, Ivan Pope wrote a proposal outlining the concept of a café with Internet access from the tables. Pope’s Cybercafe, the first Internet cafe, operated only during the weekend event, March 12-13, 1994. Pope and internet artist Heath Bunting planned to open London’s first cybercafe later in 1994, but were preempted by Cyberia, an internet cafe founded in London in September 1994.

Cafe with a mission to explain: Cyberia offers chance to check your e-mail and network over coffee and croissantThe Independent
Welcome to Cyberia, Britain’s first cybercafe, where you can turn on, tune in and ‘surf’ the information superhighway. The cafe concept, devised to make a computer environment less formidable, has been borrowed from California where ‘surfing’ – or hopping between global databanks – is commonplace. Here in Whitfield Street, central London, over a cappuccino and an almond croissant, cognoscenti and novices alike can communicate with kindred spirits around the world. Even people with scant technical knowledge will be able to access international databanks and pick up ‘e-mail’.

All About Eva: Wired UK Issue 2.04 April 1996Yoz
Cyberia is a barely-decorated street-level space where 50-year-old gardening club members, 40-year-old advertising execs, 30-year-old nurses, 20-year-old hairdressers and still-living-with-their-mums teenagers sit shoulder to shoulder basking in the joys of the Internet. And that means it’s the cool hang-out for technologically-curious people in London.

They spread everywhere — from London to San Francisco, Paris, even Bolton.

Remembering the Horseshoe, quite possibly the nation’s first Internet cafeHoodline
Before the city’s coffee shops were filled with laptops, Internet cafes were among the few places to access the World Wide Web outside of the home. The Lower Haight once boasted one such spot: the Horseshoe Cafe at 566 Haight St. Said to be the first Internet cafe in the nation, the cafe opened in the 1990s, and endured until it caught fire and closed in 2005.

Cybercafes@ParisSecrets of Paris
My favorite was the High Tech Café up on top of the Galeries Lafayette next to Montparnasse. It has passed on to its next life as a restaurant, but just to give you an idea of how the French interpret an internet café: the computers were lined up on one side, with a dining room and bar on the other side, a big dancefloor in between with a disco ball. I could order food and drinks while sitting at the keyboard, and on Friday nights I could barely type out my e-mails because the karaoke was too loud.

8 of Edinburgh’s best-known internet cafes of the 2000sEdinburgh News
They were the petrol stations for drivers on the “information superhighway”, filling us up with all our World Wide Web needs in an age when fewer than a quarter of us had internet access at home. While they can still be found in the Capital, the early 2000s witnessed a surge in the number of internet cafes in the city with the number of people reliant on them at its peak. From Scotland’s first, Hanover Street’s Cyberia, to the gigantic Easy Everything on Rose Street, we take a look at 8 of Edinburgh’s most fondly-recalled cyber cafes.

Cyber cafe set to keep doors openWarrington Guardian
Youngsters in Winsford can continue to surf the net and develop their computer skills after the Cybercafe scheme proved to be a huge success. The cafe, at Willow Wood Community Centre, attracted 200 youngsters in its first week who were all keen to surf the internet, play computer games and even take part in a pool tournament. The scheme was originally set up to run for four weeks, but as it was such a hit, it will run for a further six.

Cyber cafe is a winnerThe Bolton News
Two friends who run a Horwich Internet cafe believe they have logged on to a franchise winner. Directors Gary Marsden and Hassan Isaji spent several months planning the details before the December opening of Cyberjungle on the Middlebrook leisure development at Lostock. Customers can enjoy a cappuccino coffee while using one of the 16 available computer terminals to send e-mails or surf the worldwide web.

People loved them …

I landed on IRC in a hot summer night 1996Fred Thoughts
I landed on IRC in a hot summer night 1996. The Internet room at my local cybercafe was small and smelly. The air was full of a persistent mix of dust, sweat, coffee, cold cigarette and cheap washing powder. It was filled with 4 old PCs, recycled from the gaming room. Most of the day, it was empty but passed 7PM, it was constantly full of people. For 4.5 € an hour, the introvert I was started a wonderful social life. I was surfing the awakening World Wide Web and chat with people from the other side of the world, staying hours after the shop closed its curtains. Around 4 AM, the owner kicked us out, and I walked back home across the dormant city before another boring day, another night online.

… and they were keen to let you know what was going on.

Cyberia Edinburgh live webcam!Cybersurf
If you can see the inside of the café: those people sitting at the computers are our valued customers. They are mostly writing e-mails, word processing or perhaps chatting on IRC. If you would like to chat with any of them, I’m afraid there is currently no reliable way to reach them, aside from visiting every IRC channel and running a ‘finger’ on every single person! For lively chat on all things Scottish, try #scotland on your local server. If the channel doesn’t exist, start one up! Who knows, perhaps someone you can see will join it!

Cyberpub CAMS
Air Academy Spy Cam; Apple Live; Brew Cam, Sacramento; Café Boatquay; Cafe Brno, Repubblica Ceca Internet Bar; Cafe’ Action Cam, Switzerland…

Everyone wanted to get involved.

Tesco joins Internet café societyDesign Week
A Tesco spokesman confirms that “we are going to do it” though there are no definite plans about the number of outlets or where they will be. He believes the cafés will build on the success of the existing Tesco website, which was established in July 1998 and created by Designer City. “TescoNet is going very well, but there is still a large proportion of people who are curious about the Internet. They are put off by big computer brands and have a fear of the technology,” he explains.

Apple nearly got in on it, too.

Apple once considered building futuristic cybercafes instead of Apple StoresThe Next Web
Developed in collaboration with Mega Bytes, the Apple Cafe was imagined as an innovative internet cafe with a “high tech” interior design that reflected the forward-looking mindset the Big A aspired to stand for. Radically diverging from the facade of traditional retail stores, the modernist locale was slated to bring together food service, paraphernalia retail, user support and computer sales into one single common space.

Apple almost built a futuristic cybercafe in 1997 with computers at every tableMacRumors
Jobs was reportedly involved in the design process, choosing Christopher’s team because of their work creating unique retail spaces. Jobs wanted a way for Apple to connect to customers, which led to the idea of a cafe equipped with Apple products. A computer was at every table, where people could do things like order food, watch movies, surf the web, design web pages, and play video games.

That EasyJet guy had big plans …

U.K. gets largest cyber cafeCNN Money
Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder and chairman of U.K.-based no-frills carrier easyJet, opened the first in a chain of giant Internet cafes, called easyEverything Internet shops, opposite one of London’s largest railway stations. The huge 10,000 square foot store, opposite Victoria Station in central London, has 400 screens and will offer access to the Internet from prices as low as 1 pound ($1.60) per hour. The standard telephone costs alone for home users in the U.K. is around 1.05 pounds. London’s first Internet cafe, Cyberia, charges 3 pounds for a half hour session.

… which led to even bigger plans.

U.K. cyber cafe heads to New YorkCNN.com
EasyEverything founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou is planning to extend his chain of big orange cyber cafes to the Big Apple, a spokesman for the company said Monday. The easyEverything chain offers low-cost Internet access to travellers and others without their own computers through its five London cyber cafes, easily recognizable by their giant orange facades. Located in tourist areas such as Oxford Street and Victoria Station, the cafes have a total of 2,300 computer terminals. The company has recently added outlets in Rotterdam, Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Barcelona.

Some had their doubts …

Internet cafe chain to try a Times Sq. connectionThe New York Times
Among the reasons EasyEvery thing, which is open 24 hours a day, may have succeeded in London are that most people here do not own personal computers and that the telephone rates for dial-up modem access to the Internet are significantly higher than in the United States. Because local telephone calls are billed by the minute here — not a flat rate like American telephone companies offer — Internet users must pay the telephone company and the access providers, like America Online, every time they log on.

”By itself, it is deadly dull for a U.S. audience,” said Bruce Kasrel, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, which analyzes e-commerce. ”People already have Internet access at the office and at home.” He cited empty Internet access terminals at airports as an example of a similar scheme that had not worked.

… which turned out to be well-founded.

‘The world’s first,’ Café Cyberia in London, takes a bow : A decade of Internet cafésThe New York Times
But like many entrepreneurs from the early dot-com years, Pascoe left the business in 1998 and went on to other projects. The chain of Cyberia cafés were sold to South Korean investors about three years ago, who rebranded them under the name Be the Reds, or BTR — borrowing a cheer shouted by supporters of the South Korean soccer team. […]

Haji-Ioannou has said that he overinvested in the business, which turned into a big money-loser for his EasyGroup.

Stelios bails out EasyEverythingBBC News
The EasyEverything internet cafe chain has run out of money and is to get a £15m funding injection from its founder, budget airline entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou. But Mr Haji-Ioannou confirmed he is cutting the value of shares held by staff from one pound to one penny as part of the refinancing.

I have kidnapped your auntie: The Ballad of the Bad Café, and the end of the road for the internet café hoboBBC World Service
I have now completed a world journey of internet cafes. Scroll to the bottom of the blog and you’ll see I started all bright and bushy-tailed, finding stories of education, enterprise and cheer. There are huge advantages to the public nature of internet cafes. And – as I discovered in programme three – some disadvantages too. As I type this in my comfortable office, the only people who can “shoulder surf” or look over my shoulder at what I’m writing, are colleagues. For me, privacy is easy. On the other hand, Sam Roberts shoulder-surfed a man in Burkina Faso and saw he was threatening to kidnap someone’s auntie.

Cybercafés haven’t entirely gone away …

The weird, sketchy history of internet cafesGizmodo
The idea was eventually exported to New York’s Times Square in 2000, but by then, the idea of going someplace to simply get online was already getting outdated and quaint. The internet was something you could access from home; it was evolving. And internet cafes got a whole lot weirder. […]

Flannel-wearing 90s hipsters got Internet cafes off the ground, but internet pirates jonesing for free movies and music took the establishment to a whole new level. At the turn of the millennium—around the same time Napster became popular—sharing music online did, too. And people in pursuit of illicit MP3s started filling internet cafes again. […]

PC bangs [internet cafes built for just for gaming] are still in full force today, with over 22,000 reported in 2007. Patrons spend a buck an hour for the all-you-can-play, high-speed bandwidth, powerful hardware, and snacks for purchase. Gaming addiction is also a problem, with work and school falling by the wayside as gamers spend all their time and money at PC bangs. In 2011, Korea implemented a controversial curfew that mandated customers under 16 were not allowed in internet cafes from midnight to 6 a.m.

… but they are very different places now.

The Japanese workers who live in internet cafesVice
For 10 months, Fumiya, a 26-year-old Japanese security guard, has been living in a 24-hour internet cafe. In a tiny cubicle where he can barely stand, he sits hunched over a glowing screen, chain smoking and chugging soda between his work shifts. When he is able to sleep, he puts a blanket over his face to block out the fluorescent lights.

Japan’s disposable workers: Net cafe refugeesMediaStorm: Vimeo
Internet cafes have existed in Japan for well over a decade, but in the mid 2000’s, customers found a new use for these spaces: living quarters. As a result, cafes are now equipped with showers and laundry service, all reasonably priced for overnight users. “Internet cafe refugees,” as they are called by the media, are mostly temporary employees. Their salary is too low to rent their own apartments. The number of low-paid temp workers, with little benefits and no job security, has been steadily climbing. Today, more than one in three are temporary workers.

For HK$55 a night, Hong Kong’s ‘invisible homeless’ or working poor turn to cybercafes, amid unaffordable rents and with nowhere to goSouth China Morning Post
Air conditioning and desktops for internet are better options than squalid, bug-infested subdivided flats or 24-hour fast-food chains.

Life hasn’t returned to normal for China’s internet cafesSouth China Morning Post
Business are urged to reopen across the country as coronavirus infections drop, but gamers wonder when they can visit their favorite haunts again.

So yes, cybercafés are still around …

All about internet cafesLifewire
Do your research at home before traveling and bring along a list of well-rated cyber cafes. Travel guides often provide locations of internet cafes for travelers. Do a Google search for cyber cafes in the areas you plan to visit. A Google Maps search of your intended destination will pinpoint locations. Check in advance to find out if an internet cafe is still open. They often have unusual hours and close down with little or no notification.

… though they are now as far from their chic hi-tech bistro beginnings as it’s possible to be. Many of the existing ones, little more than just mobile phone shops, are all using the same Google template. Not all, though.

Internet Cafe Kentish Town
Internet Cafe Kentish Town. From 09.45 til 22.30. Printing and Photocopying. Hampstead. Highgate.

Global Gaming Arena
Founded in 1998, Netadventure Cybercafe and Global Gaming Arena was the UKs first dedicated on-line gaming centre. We concentrate on being a community for gamers to meet as well as to play.

Still, if you’re interested in setting one up, there are companies out there ready to offer all you need, from IT admin software to more bespoke website templates.

Internet Cafe softwareAntamedia
Antamedia Internet Cafe software controls, secures, and enhances the running of your Internet cafe, gaming center, eSports center, library, school or hotel public computers. The software restricts access to the system, desktop, drives, folders and programs based on your settings. It helps you control and bill your customers for the Internet browsing, playing games, using Office applications, even covering retail products.

Talnet Internet Cafe HTML5 website templateTemplate Monster
The Talnet internet cafe HTML5 website template provides a modern & bright design combined with a spacious layout. It is a perfect choice for any internet cafe or coworking space.

Or you could just run a simulation instead.

Internet Cafe SimulatorSteam
You must pay the rent of your apartment and shop. You must satisfy your customers. You should install more elegant and powerful gaming computers. You can also do illegal work if you want. But be careful, the price can be very heavy.

Internet Cafe Simulator 2Steam
You can attract more customers on rainy days. Increase the skills you want to develop from the tech tree. Will you become a business prodigy or a brawler skilled at protecting his cafe? You have to earn money to pay off your brother’s debt!

Internet Cafe Simulator (PC) reviewHardcore Gamers Unified
Internet Cafe Simulator puts you in charge of a brand-new internet café. As the new boss, every success and failure is in your hands. Purchase new computers and make sure they’re updated with the latest and greatest applications and games. Choose how much you want to charge customers so you can maximize profit by chasing them away, after all, you need to pay the rent at the end of every month!

I think I’ll continue trying to set up my cybercafé in Second Life. Pop in, if you’re passing. Free internet access!

Plenty of time

We should always take the time to appreciate well-designed details. Designer and Apple fan Arun Venkatesan has done a wonderful job here explaining the context behind some of the Apple Watch design cues and references.

The iconic watches that inspired Apple Watch facesArun Venkatesan
[T]he analog faces reveal what Apple does so well — taking the familiar and making it their own. Over the years, they have released quite a few faces with roots in history. Each one started as an iconic watch archetype and was remade to take advantage of the Apple Watch platform. … Let’s dive into five Apple Watch faces — California, Chronograph, Chronograph Pro, Count Up, and GMT.

The intricacy of these old watches is amazing, so sit back and relax to some smooth jazz whilst this rusty old Rolex is repaired.

Restoration of Rusty Rolex – Water damaged 1996 GMT Master IIYouTube
This 1996 Rolex GMT Master II suffered badly. Soaked in water, it spent two years in a drawer. The amount of rust was unbelievable. Actually, apart from the case and bracelet, only 8 of close to 100 internal parts were preserved. But the core challenge was to preserve the mainplate: the very base of the watch that holds all components together.

2021 off to a flying start

Trump and his followers aren’t going out quietly, are they?

Pro-Trump mob storms US CapitolThe Guardian
A mob of Trump supporters invaded the Capitol after mass demonstrations in the nation’s capital. They breached security, took over the rotunda and House chamber, and disrupted the vote certification for Joe Biden.

Riot, insurrection or social media performance?

The pro-Trump mob was doing it for the ‘GramBuzzfeed News
For Trump supporters who occupy those extreme-right universes, anyone who believes that Trump lost the election is the delusional one. What’s more: they experience this narrative entirely online, safe from facts, where stars of this alternate universe emerge to cement it for them. And there is a reward to be found in that stardom: After all, why would anyone don a costume like the QAnon Shaman, if not as a play for the cameras?

But if the stardom is the reward, what of their revolution? Don’t they have work to do, a vote to stop? For many in the mob that showed up in DC, the posing is the work.

Twitter has been such a huge part of this presidency, it’s hard to imagine one without the other. Up to now, at least.

Twitter permanently suspends President Donald Trump’s accountTime
In a series of tweets on its @TwitterSafety account, the social media giant said that Trump’s account had continued to violate the rules even after being warned by temporarily locking Trump’s account on Wednesday evening after the insurrection that caused the death of at least six people, either at the Capitol or from injuries sustained there.

“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” Twitter said in its announcement. “In the context of horrific events this week, we made it clear on Wednesday that additional violations of the Twitter Rules would potentially result in this very course of action.”

Permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrumpTwitter Blog
Our public interest framework exists to enable the public to hear from elected officials and world leaders directly. It is built on a principle that the people have a right to hold power to account in the open. However, we made it clear going back years that these accounts are not above our rules entirely and cannot use Twitter to incite violence, among other things.

Well, that’s one less password for him to remember, at least.

Trump goes “ballistic” after Twitter ban, says he’s looking at creating own platformSlate
Trump seemed to be engulfed by a burning desire to tweet and so he grabbed hold of the official @POTUS Twitter account and published a statement that the White House also issued separately. Trump lashed out at Twitter, saying it had “coordinated with the Democrats and the Radical Left” to remove his account. Trump also said he had been “negotiating with various other sites” and that he and his allies are looking “at the possibilities of building out our own platform in the near future.” Twitter quickly took down the messages from the @POTUS account. Donald Trump Jr. characterized the ban as “absolute insanity,” adding that it showed how “we are living Orwell’s 1984.”

Trump Jr’s reference to 1984 is interesting. He’s not the first to spot similarities.

One alternative to Twitter, favoured by his supporters is (was?) Parler.

Apple suspends Parler from App StoreTechCrunch
Apple confirmed that it has suspended the conservative social media app Parler from the App Store, shortly after Google banned it from Google Play. The app, which became a home to Trump supporters and several high-profile conservatives in the days leading up to the Capitol riots, had been operating in violation of Apple’s rules.

Amazon will suspend hosting for pro-Trump social network ParlerBuzzfeed News
“Recently, we’ve seen a steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms,” the email reads. “It’s clear that Parler does not have an effective process to comply with the AWS terms of service.” […] On Parler, reaction to the impending ban was swift and outraged, with some discussing violence against Amazon. “It would be a pity if someone with explosives training were to pay a visit to some AWS data centers,” one person wrote.

It seems to me that these people aren’t contesting their 2020 loss, but the one from 1865.

Over-promising, under-delivering

We’re expecting news of more lockdown restrictions being eased today; restaurants, cinemas, museums, 2 metre rule etc. But the virus hasn’t gone anywhere, and we’re still without a vaccine, so we’re relying on a rigorous track and trace system, I guess. That works very well in other countries, scarily so sometimes.

The detectives racing to contain the virus in SingaporeBBC News
“It was surreal,” she says, describing the moment an unknown number flashed up on her phone. “They asked ‘were you in a taxi at 18:47 on Wednesday?’ It was very precise. I guess I panicked a bit, I couldn’t think straight.” Melissa eventually remembered that she was in that taxi – and later when she looked at her taxi app realised it was a trip that took just six minutes. To date, she doesn’t know whether it was the driver or another passenger who was infected. All she knows is that it was an officer at Singapore’s health ministry that made the phone call, and told her that she needed to stay at home and be quarantined.

The next day Melissa found out just how serious the officials were. Three people turned up at her door, wearing jackets and surgical masks. “It was a bit like out of a film,” she says. “They gave me a contract – the quarantine order – it says you cannot go outside your home otherwise it’s a fine and jail time. It is a legal document. They make it very clear that you cannot leave the house. And I knew I wouldn’t break it. I know that I live in a place where you do what you’re told.”

It’s a different picture here, however.

England’s ‘world beating’ system to track the virus is anything butThe New York Times
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain unveiled last month a “world beating” operation to track down people who had been exposed to the coronavirus, giving the country a chance to climb out of lockdown without losing sight of where infections were spreading. As with much of the government’s response to the pandemic, however, the results have fallen short of the promises, jeopardizing the reopening of Britain’s hobbled economy and risking a second wave of death in one of the countries most debilitated by the virus.

Can technology come to the rescue?

What Big Tech wants out of the pandemicThe Atlantic
The government has flailed in its response to the pandemic, and Big Tech has presented itself as a beneficent friend, willing to lend a competent hand. As Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, wrote in April, “The challenges we face demand an unprecedented alliance between business and government.”

Also in April, Google and Apple announced that they would suspend their rivalry to work with nations of the world to create a new alert system. They would reconfigure their mobile operating systems, incompatible by design, to notify users if they have stepped within the radius of a device held by a COVID‑19 patient.

Is this the approach others are taking?

Japan rolls out Microsoft-developed COVID-19 contact tracing appThe Verge
Japan’s government today released its coronavirus contact tracing app for iOS and Android. The apps rely on Apple and Google’s co-developed exposure notification platform, using Bluetooth to help determine whether users have come into close contact with others who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Germany says coronavirus tracing app ready to goReuters
After delays to ensure the bluetooth technology would work at the correct distance, the government says the app will be a vital tool to help avoid a second wave of infections.

But we don’t need their help, right?

Britain didn’t want Silicon Valley’s help on a tracing app. Now it does.The New York Times
For months, British authorities have pursued an app that they promised would help ease the country’s coronavirus lockdown, despite growing criticism that it posed privacy risks and would not work well. On Thursday, officials abruptly reversed course, saying Britain will join other countries and design a new contact-tracing app based on software provided by Apple and Google.

So what happened?

Why the NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app failedWired UK
Matt Hancock has had another app catastrophe. England’s planned contact tracing app, which has been trialled on the Isle of Wight and downloaded by tens of thousands of people, has been ditched in favour of a system developed by Google and Apple.

The reversal, first reported by the BBC and later confirmed by the government, follows months of delays for the home-brewed app and difficulties surrounding its implementation. It also makes England the latest in a string of countries to ditch a centralised system in favour of a decentralised one supported by two Silicon Valley giants. That club also includes Germany, Italy and Denmark.

UK abandons contact-tracing app for Apple and Google modelThe Guardian
Work started in March as the pandemic unfolded, but despite weeks of work, officials admitted on Thursday that the NHS app only recognised 4% of Apple phones and 75% of Google Android devices during testing on the Isle of Wight. That was because the design of Apple’s iPhone operating system is such that apps quickly go to sleep when they are not being used and cannot be activated by Bluetooth – a point raised by experts and reported by the Guardian in early May.

What went wrong with the UK’s contact tracing app?BBC News
Two days later, with quite a fanfare, Health Secretary Matt Hancock unveiled the plans for the Covid-19 app, promising “all data will be handled according to the highest ethical and security standards, and would only be used for NHS care and research”.

But immediately privacy campaigners, politicians and technology experts raised concerns. “I recognise the overwhelming force of the public health arguments for a centralised system, but I also have 25 years’ experience of the NHS being incompetent at developing systems and repeatedly breaking their privacy promises,” said Cambridge University’s Prof Ross Anderson. […]

The blame game has already begun. Mr Hancock and some of the scientists working with the NHS believe Apple should have been more cooperative. Technology experts and privacy campaigners say they warned months ago how this story would end.

Now what?

UK virus-tracing app switches to Apple-Google modelBBC News
Baroness Dido Harding – who heads up the wider Test and Trace programme – will only give the green light to actually deploying the Apple-Google technology if she judges it to be fit for purpose, which she does not believe is the case at present. It is possible this may never happen. […]

The NHS has been testing both systems against each other, over the course of the past month. The centralised version trialled on the Isle of Wight worked well at assessing the distance between two users, but was poor at recognising Apple’s iPhones. Specifically, the software registered about 75% of nearby Android handsets but only 4% of iPhones. By contrast, the Apple-Google model logged 99% of both Android mobiles and iPhones. But its distance calculations were weaker.

The Apple-Google model faired better, so that’s the option to take further, in this embarrassing reversal turnaround backtrack ‘next phase’.

Next phase of NHS coronavirus (COVID-19) app announcedGOV.UK
This next phase will bring together the work done so far on the NHS COVID-19 app and the new Google/Apple framework. Following rigorous field testing and a trial on the Isle of Wight, we have identified challenges with both our app and the Google/Apple framework. This is a problem that many countries around the world, like Singapore, are facing and in many cases only discovering them after whole population roll-out. As a result of our work, we will now be taking forward a solution that brings together the work on our app and the Google/Apple solution.

That seemed to take Apple by surprise.

Apple ‘not told’ about UK’s latest app plansBBC News
During the briefing, Mr Hancock said: “Measuring distance is clearly mission critical to any contact-tracing app.” However, speaking to the Times, Apple said: “It is difficult to understand what these claims are as they haven’t spoken to us.” The firm also pointed out that the tech was already either in use or intended for use in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Ireland.

The tech giant also expressed surprise that the UK was working on a new version of the contact-tracing app which incorporated the Apple-Google software tool. “We’ve agreed to join forces with Google and Apple, to bring the best bits of both systems together,” Mr Hancock said. However, Apple said: “We don’t know what they mean by this hybrid model. They haven’t spoken to us about it.”

<sigh>

Should we be more pessimistic?New York Times
“[The virus] challenges our presumptions about being able to fully control things, and it raises existential issues about our very ability to relate to the world outside of a human-centric point of view,” said Eugene Thacker, a professor of media studies at the New School and the author of books on pessimism, including “In The Dust of This Planet” and “Infinite Resignation.” “It’s at once awe-inspiring and scary. You have a sense of wonder at something bigger than the human, but also a sense of the ground giving way beneath your feet.”

New for old

iPad looks great in an SE/30 caseBoing Boing
At Reddit, mtietje posted this remarkable photo of their lockdown project: an iPad stand made using an old Macintosh SE/30. The display size is perfect for the 9.7″ iPad, and now that iPadOS can use mice they work much better as “normal” computers.

That looks very stylish. Perhaps I should give something like that a go with my old bits of Apple tech. I’ve got an iMac G3 and an iBook G4 with a dodgy keyboard.

They don’t make ’em like that anymore. But sadly, after languishing in the cellar for more years than I care to remember, they won’t boot up anymore either.

How to advertise a phone battery

Ages ago, I shared a post about that incredible movie, The Russian Ark. It was filmed entirely in the Winter Palace of the Russian State Hermitage Museum with 2,000 cast members, three orchestras and a single 96-minute steadicam shot.

Well, the folks at Apple have done something similiar, to show off their new mobile, but have considerably upped the runtime. No orchestras this time, though it’s just as mesmerising.

A one-take journey through Russia’s iconic Hermitage museum, shot on iPhone 11 ProApple
Experience a 5 hr 19 min 28 sec cinematic journey through one of the world’s biggest museums in St. Petersburg, Russia. Take in 45 galleries, 588 masterpieces, and live performances, shot in 4K on iPhone 11 Pro in one continuous take.

Here’s the one and a half minute trailer, for those in a hurry.

Bringing the click wheel back

There’s something fundamentally pleasing about a solid, tactile interface. That’s missing from all our gadgets now, I think, as we jab at our pictures under glass. The original iPod was on to something, and now it’s gone.

But now it’s back! Kind of.

This iPhone app will make you nostalgic for the iPod click wheelThe Verge
Elvin Hu, a design student at Cooper Union college in New York City, has been working on the project since October, and shared an early look at the app on Twitter yesterday. It essentially turns your iPhone into a fullscreen iPod Classic with a click wheel that includes haptic feedback and click sounds just like Apple’s original device.

Happy 18th birthday, iPod

The iPod is 18 already? Time flies. Here’s the original Apple iPod press release, from 23 October 2001.

Apple presents iPod
“With iPod, Apple has invented a whole new category of digital music player that lets you put your entire music collection in your pocket and listen to it wherever you go,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “With iPod, listening to music will never be the same again.”

Yep, pretty much.

Oct. 23, 2001: Now hear this … The iPod arrives
Apple’s Steve Jobs, who tends to overuse superlatives (“the best ever,” “it’ll put a ding in the universe”), was not far off the mark with the iPod. Despite some conspicuous flaws — a wonky scroll wheel, no Windows compatibility, short battery life and a whopping $400 price tag — this innocuous-looking device was indeed a game-changer.

Mine are still going strong. Well, I guess so, I’ve not fished them out from the back of that drawer for ages.

Apple | The Very 1st iPod Ad (ever) | Circa 2001

Collecting and paying for music

Following on from that post about music formats we’ve loved and lost, here’s news of a unique record collection up for grabs.

For Sale: 40 years of vinyl singles that topped the British charts
Tim Claydon acquired his first vinyl single—“She Loves You,” by the Beatles—in 1963, when he was just three years old. The purchase kicked off a lifetime of voracious vinyl-collecting, and Claydon can still recall the most minute details from that auspicious day in Maldon, in southeastern England. He remembers walking to Woolworths on High Street with his grandmother, and watching the vendor slip the vinyl into its brown paper packaging. “I can even smell it now,” he says, more than half a century later.

If you’re looking for something on cassette that’s a little more avant-garde and experimental, check these out.

Various cassette tapes
A collection of digitized commercial and amateur mixtapes recorded on cassette format, dating over the last 30 years.

music-collections-1

Once upon a time, these physical things, vinyl and cassette tapes, were bought with real, physical money, and a proportion of that money would find its way to the artist. Nowadays, of course, it’s all online and streamy, and the way the money flows is less clear.

Let’s imagine Anna, a fictitious Spotify user, spent the whole of last month only listening to one album by her favourite band. You’d think that all of her $10 subscription for that month would go to that band, right? Well.

Your Spotify and Apple Music subscriptions pay artists you never listen to
They take all of the money generated from users, whether by advertisements or subscriptions, and put in a big pot. They then divide that pot by the total share of streams each artist received. So, if Apple Music gave $100 million of their revenues to artists in a month, and Drake songs accounted 1% of all streams that month, then Drake (and the writers of Drake’s songs) would receive $1 million. Essentially, 1% of Anna’s money is going to Drake.

Nothing’s ever straightforward, is it?

So, farewell then, iTunes

Technology, software, media — none of it stands still. Here’s something that’s been getting a lot of attention from the latest Apple updates.

The rise and fall of iTunes, Apple’s most hated app
The success of iTunes cannot be overstated; it outlived pretty much every other consumer-focused piece of software from its time (here’s to you, Winamp). Windows 10 users would search for iTunes so much in the Windows Store that Microsoft eventually convinced Apple to bring it to the store last year. Over the years, however, Apple’s original philosophy of providing a one-stop shop for all your media became iTunes’ greatest undoing by saddling the app with more and more baggage that’s eaten away at its usability. The world has moved on as ubiquitous connectivity, cloud storage, and streaming media became the norm. iTunes is still around as a legacy app for those who need it. But for everyone else, iTunes is now officially a thing of the past.

I’ve moved away from Apple things now, but back in the day iTunes was such a large part of it all for me, so it was nice to see a screenshot of the old version alongside its less familiar new look.

Winamp gets a mention there, which reminded me of this bookmark I’d kept from last year.

Winamp is coming back as an all-in-one music player
First released in 1997, Winamp was a popular freeware media player famous for its utilitarian music playback and its wealth of incredible community-made skins. It was acquired by AOL in 2002, then sold to Radionomy in 2014. The last time Winamp was updated was in 2013, so news that a revival is coming should be welcomed by longtime fans of the app.

Those were the days. We shouldn’t live in the past, though, should we? But before we say goodbye to all that, let me point you to this again.

Update: 12/09/2020

OK, just one more trip down memory lane.

Winamp Skin Museum
The Winamp Skin Museum is an attempt to build a fast, searchable, and shareable, interface for the collection of Winamp Skins amassed on the Internet Archive.

Breaking up is hard to do

The techlash continues.

Elizabeth Warren proposes breaking up tech giants like Amazon and Facebook
At a rally in Long Island City, the neighborhood that was to be home to a major new Amazon campus, Ms. Warren laid out her proposal calling for regulators who would undo some tech mergers, as well as legislation that would prohibit platforms from both offering a marketplace for commerce and participating in that marketplace.

“We have these giants corporations — do I have to tell that to people in Long Island City? — that think they can roll over everyone,” Ms. Warren told the crowd, drawing applause. She compared Amazon to the dystopian novel “The Hunger Games,” in which those with power force their wishes on the less fortunate.

“I’m sick of freeloading billionaires,” she said.

She’s far from the lone voice on this issue.

Elizabeth Warren is right – we must break up Facebook, Google and Amazon
The current effort is bipartisan. At a Senate hearing I attended last week, the arch-conservative Missouri Republican Josh Hawley asked me, rhetorically: “Is there really any wonder that there is increased pressure for antitrust enforcement activity, for privacy activity when these companies behave in the way that they do?”

Hawley added: “Every day brings some creepy new revelation about these companies’ behaviors. Of course the public is going to want there to be action to defend their rights. It’s only natural.”

House of Lords report calls for digital super-regulator
The chair of the committee, Lord Gilbert of Panteg, called on the government to be less reactive in how it responds to digital risks: “The government should not just be responding to news headlines but looking ahead so that the services that constitute the digital world can be held accountable to an agreed set of principles,” he said.

“Self-regulation by online platforms is clearly failing and the current regulatory framework is out of date. The evidence we heard made a compelling and urgent case for a new approach to regulation. Without intervention, the largest tech companies are likely to gain ever more control of technologies which extract personal data and make decisions affecting people’s lives.”

You can always take matters into your own hands.

Goodbye Big Five
Reporter Kashmir Hill spent six weeks blocking Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple from getting my money, data, and attention, using a custom-built VPN. Here’s what happened.

Needless to say, it didn’t go well.

Just my type

Jesse Simon continues to pay attention to the details of his built environment.

The colours of Berlin: yellow
The colours of Berlin is a new bi-monthly series that will run throughout 2019. Where other posts on this blog have attempted to describe typographic trends and phenomena in Berlin, the entries in this series will focus on a particular colour by presenting a collection of images without additional text. Every city has its full spectrum on display; this is the one that belongs to Berlin.

just-my-type

It’s hard not to feel down about the ugly state of my city, when I compare it with those examples of considered design. So here’s something quirky to lift my mood.

“Something illegible still has something to say”: Eliott Grunewald on his type designs
“I’ve been more interested in display typefaces, for their expressiveness and ‘voices’; like type as an image more than the design of a text typeface,” he tells It’s Nice That. “So I guess, sometimes, it does result in letterings which are formally too intense or even illegible. But something illegible still has something to say, to show or to promote, I don’t feel that even if you cannot read the word, you cannot get anything from it.”

just-my-type-2

And, for a full account of what goes into good typeface design, take a look at this.

Why San Francisco
We got our first glimpse of Apple’s new sans-serif typeface, San Francisco, when the Apple Watch was unveiled in September of 2014—a new typeface designed specifically for legibility at small sizes on a tiny, high-resolution screen. Big news for type nerds and Apple fans alike.

It’s very thorough, and I don’t pretend to understand half of it, but it’s nice to see someone paying such close attention to the details.

Pictures under glass

Following on from yesterday’s post about Joe Clark’s frustrations with various aspects of iPhone interface design (and smartphone design more broadly, I think), here are a few more.

First, Craig Mod on the new iPads — amazing hardware, infuriating software.

Getting the iPad to Pro
The problems begin when you need multiple contexts. For example, you can’t open two documents in the same program side-by-side, allowing you to reference one set of edits, while applying them to a new document. Similarly, it’s frustrating that you can’t open the same document side-by-side. This is a weird use case, but until I couldn’t do it, I didn’t realize how often I did do it on my laptop. The best solution I’ve found is to use two writing apps, copy-and-paste, and open the two apps in split-screen mode.

Daily iPad use is riddled with these sorts of kludgey solutions.

Switching contexts is also cumbersome. If you’re researching in a browser and frequently jumping back and forth between, say, (the actually quite wonderful) Notes.app and Safari, you’ll sometimes find your cursor position lost. The Notes.app document you were just editing fully occasionally resetting to the top of itself. For a long document, this is infuriating and makes every CMD-TAB feel dangerous. It doesn’t always happen, the behavior is unpredictable, making things worse. This interface “brittleness” makes you feel like you’re using an OS in the wrong way.

How we use the OS, the user interface, is key. Here’s Bret Victor on why future visions of interface design are missing a huge trick – our hands are more than just pointy fingers.

A brief rant on the future of interaction design
Go ahead and pick up a book. Open it up to some page. Notice how you know where you are in the book by the distribution of weight in each hand, and the thickness of the page stacks between your fingers. Turn a page, and notice how you would know if you grabbed two pages together, by how they would slip apart when you rub them against each other.

Go ahead and pick up a glass of water. Take a sip. Notice how you know how much water is left, by how the weight shifts in response to you tipping it.

Almost every object in the world offers this sort of feedback. It’s so taken for granted that we’re usually not even aware of it. Take a moment to pick up the objects around you. Use them as you normally would, and sense their tactile response — their texture, pliability, temperature; their distribution of weight; their edges, curves, and ridges; how they respond in your hand as you use them.

There’s a reason that our fingertips have some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the body. This is how we experience the world close-up. This is how our tools talk to us. The sense of touch is essential to everything that humans have called “work” for millions of years.

Now, take out your favorite Magical And Revolutionary Technology Device. Use it for a bit. What did you feel? Did it feel glassy? Did it have no connection whatsoever with the task you were performing?

I call this technology Pictures Under Glass. Pictures Under Glass sacrifice all the tactile richness of working with our hands, offering instead a hokey visual facade.

And that was written in 2011. We’ve not got any further.

The YouTube video he links to isn’t there anymore, but this one from Microsoft works just as well.

Microsoft: Productivity Future VisionYouTube

Stop neglecting the users

This is a great breakdown from Joe Clark — not quite tipping over into a rant — of all the iPhone user interface issues Apple is happily ignoring.

iPhones are hard to use
Observing what are dismissively called “normal people” (or “users”) for more than a decade, the one thing iPhone owners are proud they know how to do is force-quit apps. They also know how to set a ringtone and choose atrocious wallpaper. And that’s it. But they aren’t to blame.

People kind of don’t know that they can swipe up or down from top or bottom of screen. As an example, I certainly almost never see anybody turn wifi on or off that way (it’s almost always through Settings). They certainly don’t know what Control Center and Notification Center are by name. (They also don’t know what their iSight camera is. They don’t know what Springboard is, and shouldn’t have to. But do they know what the home screen is?)

It’s not just an issue with iPhones, I don’t think. It certainly frustrates me too, when I see people struggle unnecessarily with a task on any smartphone, though no fault of their own.

Seniors love iPads, but seniors and unhealthy people in general have a serious pressing need to fill out the Medical ID section (not obvious) in the Health app (also not obvious). Exactly the people who need this function are the least likely to use it. We cannot, and should not, rely on these seniors’ grandkids or caregivers to do it for them.

Fill out these fields and not only could a paramedic, or just a bystander, learn what medical conditions you have if you’re unconscious, they can phone your emergency contacts (and also call an ambulance via 911 or local equivalent).

Ok, I admit that’s something I hadn’t done until reading this. We’re really not making full use of these devices. And Apple (and I’m sure all the others) aren’t really, either.

You really need to tell the phone, and/or Siri, who you are and who your family members are. This involves creating a contact card (what’s that?) for yourself and linking to it. Then all your family members need their own cards, and you have to laboriously specify their relationships to you.

I insist this is not an optional or nice-to-have feature. If you have chest pain, you have to be able to hold the button down and say “Call Charlie” or “Call my wife.” (God help us if Siri asks which Charlie to call.)

Another friend really did have chest pain in a foreign country and it never occurred to him to call anybody. So in fact, Apple, a trillion-dollar corporation, has to put considerably greater resources into telling people how to set up their phones for emergencies so they will actually use those phones then. Again, this means forcing people to do it upon setup and making it exceedingly clear, in writing and in video, what their phones can do for them when they need their phones the most.

This is obvious, when you think about it. I hope someone from Apple reads Joe’s blog.

I’m still quite reluctant to talk to my phone (rather than talk with) but I gave it a go after reading this article, with mixed results. I just wanted to know what was in my calendar later on.

Doing what?

What? Let’s try again.

Doing what?

OK, never mind.

Iconic icons

Via kottke.org, here’s a great write-up of the contribution Susan Kare made to the success of the Macintosh. She started as a typeface designer but is best remembered for much more iconic work.

The sketchbook of Susan Kare, the artist who gave computing a human face
Inspired by the collaborative intelligence of her fellow software designers, Kare stayed on at Apple to craft the navigational elements for Mac’s GUI. Because an application for designing icons on screen hadn’t been coded yet, she went to the University Art supply store in Palo Alto and picked up a $2.50 sketchbook so she could begin playing around with forms and ideas. In the pages of this sketchbook, which hardly anyone but Kare has seen before now, she created the casual prototypes of a new, radically user-friendly face of computing — each square of graph paper representing a pixel on the screen. …

There was an ineffably disarming and safe quality about her designs. Like their self-effacing creator — who still makes a point of surfing in the ocean several mornings a week — they radiated good vibes. To creative innovators in the ’80s who didn’t see themselves as computer geeks, Kare’s icons said: Stop stressing out about technology. Go ahead, dive in!

All these years later and her designs are still seen as culturally significant.

London’s Design Museum announces 2017 exhibition programme
“‘Designed in California’ is the new ‘Made in Italy’. … This ambitious survey brings together political posters, personal computers and self-driving cars but also looks beyond hardware to explore how user interface designers in the Bay Area are shaping some of our most common daily experiences. The exhibition reveals how this culture of design and technology has made us all Californians.”

Problematic face furniture

Ian Bogost from the Atlantic gets to grips with Apple’s wireless ear air bud head phone pod buds. Yes, they’re technically quite remarkable, but if they are as successful and therefore as ubiquitous as expected, they may change how we relate to each other.

Apple’s Airpods are an omen
There are some consequences to this scenario, if it plays out. For one, earbuds will cease to perform any social signaling whatsoever. Today, having one’s earbuds in while talking suggests that you are on a phone call, for example. Having them in while silent is a sign of inner focus—a request for privacy. That’s why bothering someone with earbuds in is such a social faux-pas: They act as a do-not-disturb sign for the body. But if AirPods or similar devices become widespread, those cues will vanish. Everyone will exist in an ambiguous state between public engagement with a room or space and private retreat into devices or media.

In the way that we didn’t realise old style traffic lights melt the snow that falls on them until we moved to LED traffic lights that don’t, I think we’re overlooking a benefit of using your hand to speak into your phone. As well as the visual clues it provides other people, as the article above points out, having your hand to your ear helps to keep your focus inwards, as well as slightly muffling your voice to keep your conversation to yourself. We’re already losing that with people talking into the mic on their earphones, and that’s only going to get worse.

I know I sound like one of those old farts that complain about the kids oversharing on social media, but perhaps this is just an extension of that — loudly oversharing conversations.

face-furniture-2

All as bad as each other?

Rhett Jones from Gizmodo strikes a cautionary note about Apple’s positioning following Facebook’s recent data sharing controversies.

Apple isn’t your friend
In its own deliberate fashion, Apple appears to see a market opportunity in the privacy debate that goes beyond polishing its own image. As headlines blared about Facebook’s latest data-sharing turmoil, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple has been quietly planning to launch a new advertising network for the past year. It’s said to be a re-imagining of its failed iAd network that was shuttered in 2016.

[…]

Generally, more competition is welcome. If Apple is giving Facebook and Google headaches, we say that’s great. But it’s a thorny issue when we’re talking about a few billion-dollar companies exchanging places on the ladder as they strive to be trillion-dollar companies. It’s just not enough for the least bad megacorp to keep the evil ones in check.

Start stopping

We’re into well March but there’s something new-years-resolution-y about a couple of things I’ve been reading recently — less is more / stop grasping the new / focus on what’s important…

Your old gadgets are likely good enough
The TV I watch with my wife when I’m kicking back is close to 12 years old. It pushes out pixels in 1080p. I don’t care about the fact that it doesn’t provide me with the sharpest image or that it’s not as thin as new models are. I love it because my wife and I can cuddle on the couch in front of it and share an experience together. A newer model wouldn’t do much to change that. My smartphone is two years old. It takes decent photos and lets me stay in touch with people. Sometimes I watch a movie on it. I can’t imagine myself saying anything different about this year’s handsets. Would I love an iPhone X? Probably. Do I think that it’s worth forking over $1,000 for? Not for a second. I’ll use it until the wheels fall off because it’s good enough.

Couldn’t agree more. I was prompted to resuscitate our old iPod Classic after reading this from The Verge. I’d forgotten how well designed it was.

My original iPod is a time capsule from 2002
As for me, the moment I plugged my headphones into my freshly charged iPod and listened to music that had lain dormant for the past 16 years, it was like being transported back in time. Nothing had changed. The music sounded as good as it did back then. Some tracks even sounded better on my old iPod than they do on my Google Pixel 2 XL. My iPod may be scratched and dented but it still looks cool as hell and is a joy to use, even if it is just for a short while before its ancient battery gives out. And at least it has a headphone jack.

Our iPod Classic isn’t quite that old (and I found a first generation iPod Shuffle too, which I’d completely forgotten about), but using that again, for the first time in ages, felt great. That click wheel is still a marvellous thing, much more tactile that all this featureless glass-stroking that surrounds us now.

Speaking of which:

It’s not you. Phones are designed to be addicting.
The 3 design elements that make smartphones so hard to put down, explained by Google’s former design ethicist.

If you can get past the use of the word ‘addict’ as a verb or the term ‘design ethicist’, there are some interesting points here about colour theory and user interaction.

And here’s an interview with Tristan Harris, the man behind that video:

How technology is designed to bring out the worst in us
… I say this because addiction with teens, developmentally, it’s not good for them. When you talk about regulation, or we talk about how we’re going to get out of this, the specific things you do is another question. I just want to say that we know there’s a huge public health problem here. We have got to do something, because the current thing that’s happening now is not working.

Pretty pessimistic, really. It sounds intractable. He’s persevering, though:

Center for Humane Technology
Since 2013, we’ve raised awareness of the problem within tech companies and for millions of people through broad media attention, convened top industry executives, and advised political leaders. Building on this start, we are advancing thoughtful solutions to change the system.

Mine at 13 and 16

Old iMacStephen Fry’s written a thing about the Mac turning 30 recently. I like the Jony Ive part:

Sure enough the call came to come to Jobs’s office. “These yours?” Steve asked pointing at some designs of a unibody, transparent blue plastic computer. “Yes,” said the British designer whose name was Jony Ive. “This is the computer we’re going to build and sell this year,” said Jobs. “Nothing else.”

“You do realise that’s how I want it to look?” said Jony. “I mean, the transparent plastic and everything.” “That’s exactly how it’ll look,” Jobs returned.

http://www.stephenfry.com/2014/01/24/mac-at-30

Reading it reminded me that I still have my old orange iMac in the cellar. Long since defunct, it’s sitting there gathering dust with an old iBook that’s also seen better days. I’ve thrown away a number of HP and Dell things in the past, but I just can’t bring myself to get rid of these two characters.