Uber settles with Waymo

Out of nowhere on Friday, Waymo and Uber announced a surprise settlement and the court case suddenly came to a screeching end. 

Uber will give up a piece of itself — 0.34 percent, or $245 million — in exchange for agreeing to end the trial. This was something both sides needed, and a few hundred million seems cheap compared with being dragged through the court for weeks.

Both Uber and Google had a strong interest in ending this quickly: Kalanick, Levandowski and others were set to take the stand to testify, and over the course of the trial we'd seen numerous skeletons come out of the closet to share their side of the story.

The two companies are in business together separately, and it's easy to forget that. GV, the investment arm of Google, has a sizable stake in the company and I imagine this is a massively contentious issue internally — how much harm do you bring to your own investment?

This move simply lets both sides get back to work, while quietly acknowledging allowing it to continue would bleed too much from either side, and distract from actually building the self-driving cars. 

How Apple plans to root out bugs

Another day, another report about how Apple plans to "fix" its software by magically reorganizing the company and having its software teams get better. Here's Bloomberg:

For years, the company has funneled its energies into quick-turnaround, splashy upgrades that are designed to wow the faithful and make rivals seem slow-footed. [...] The strategy has paid off handsomely because the feature-packed upgrades keep customers tied to Apple’s ecosystem and prompt them to use more of the company’s lucrative services.

And the kicker:

But the feature-packed upgrades place huge demands on Apple’s beleaguered engineers. At Google, teams update apps on their own schedule and aren’t tied to the annual Android release. At Apple, all new features are tied to a big release in the fall, when Apple rolls out its splashiest new software, and a more modest update in the spring. Individual apps aren't updated on their own, and everything is driven by the release schedule.

Reading between the lines, and the glossy PR-led piece (this was certainly a well-placed article by Apple to stem the tide for a bit), there's two core problems I can see:

  1. Apple has become marketing driven, not software driven
  2. Apple's software engineering organization is not healthy

We've discussed the quality issues facing Apple's software here before, but perhaps a more interesting place to look is how the company organized itself around flashy features and single monolithic release dates — before forgetting about those features and never really improving them.

In recent years it's become apparent how marketing-led the company has become, rather than by innovation, as a mode of pushing sales to ever-increasing heights — which has been wildly successful — at a cost. A decade ago, Apple would happily withhold innovations until they could make enough impact, but today you see devices like HomePod ship with crucial software unfinished.

Apple's engineering organization, after years of sprinting at full speed, is hurting as a result. Reports have claimed over the last few years that core iOS talent is disappearing at the company. 

While it's hard to draw many conclusions externally, friends in the industry have told me that people struggle to last beyond 1-2 years at the company because competitors offer more alluring perks and challenges, with less internal politics.

iOS 12 will try to rectify many issues by slowing down Apple's release schedule to focus on quality, but I'm convinced that distributing smaller, incremental updates to individual apps would help here. 

This year of 'quality' also means major features have been dropped: no new home screen (ugh), no iPad improvements and so on. The more interesting story, however, is this change only really sweeps the issues under the rug: a year to catch up is one thing, but how will this be addressed long term?

Tab Dump

Thousands of websites hijacked by crypto-mining code
A third-party content-delivery network snuck a Javascript-based crypto-mining client into thousands of websites, including the UK's National Health Service. Adblockers are able to protect against this — it's a bizarre grey-area to use people's CPU without telling them while they're browsing.

Inside the years that shook Facebook
A huge, controversial, piece in WIRED that looks at Facebook's issues from the internal side, and how it grappled with fake news, ultimately leading to it standing aside and watching as the platform was pushed to its limit. 

The piece is proper sensational, and I take some claims with a grain of salt, but an interesting inside look at a company that reaches two billion people every month.

Snapchat's new design triggers revolt
New design, new problems: Snap started rolling out its biggest overhaul to date, which was designed to welcome new audiences to the platform, but it's not going well. 600,000 people have signed a petition to ask for it to change back, and a fake tweet about rolling it back has 1 million retweets.

Redesigning anything is tough, and my bet is Snap will not roll this back, but I don't recall the scale of complaints like this about any other app (perhaps the Facebook News Feed, aeons ago).