February 28, 2024

Snippet: Wendy’s Will Experiment With Dynamic Surge Pricing for Food in 2025 ☇

Benj Edwards for Ars Technica:

American fast food chain Wendy’s is planning to test dynamic pricing and AI menu features in 2025, reports Nation’s Restaurant News and Food & Wine. This means that prices for food items will automatically change throughout the day depending on demand, similar to “surge pricing” in rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft. The initiative was disclosed by Kirk Tanner, the CEO and president of Wendy’s, in a recent discussion with analysts.

According to Tanner, Wendy’s plans to invest approximately $20 million to install digital menu boards capable of displaying these real-time variable prices across all of its company-operated locations in the United States. An additional $10 million is earmarked over two years to enhance Wendy’s global system, which aims to improve order accuracy and upsell other menu items.

I realize $20 million with another $10 million each year to upgrade technology is a drop in the bucket for an operation like Wendy’s. Unfortunately, the fact that this is being considered is disgusting and yet another instance where Big Fast Food has forgotten its place. McDonald’s has jacked up prices and seems okay with losing the under-$45,000/year crowd. This industry tends to blame increased minimum wages in some states, but in mine, things are still very much 2009 and everyone has increased prices beyond the rate of inflation.

In the case of Wendy’s, this is yet another way that technology is being used to abuse customers and being spun as an improvement. If companies are willing to go to this length, one has to wonder what their apps are doing with your data behind the scenes, too? I’m not here to tell you to give up all fast food or stop using the app for your favorite restaurant, but maybe we ought to step back and be a bit pickier about what apps we let on our devices and who we buy lunch from? Similarly to Netflix’s anti-password-sharing measures being considered a success, due to increased subscriptions, surge pricing may spread throughout the industry if deemed “successful” at Wendy’s.

Update: Looks like they backpedaled on the idea, but I stand by what I said that it’s a terrible idea.

Snippet: Apple to Wind Down Electric Car Effort After Decadelong Odyssey ☇

Mark Gurman for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. is canceling a decadelong effort to build an electric car, according to people with knowledge of the matter, abandoning one of the most ambitious projects in the history of the company.

Apple made the disclosure internally Tuesday, surprising the nearly 2,000 employees working on the project, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the announcement wasn’t public. The decision was shared by Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams and Kevin Lynch, a vice president in charge of the effort, according to the people.

The two executives told staffers that the project will begin winding down and that many employees on the car team — known as the Special Projects Group, or SPG — will be shifted to the artificial intelligence division under executive John Giannandrea. Those employees will focus on generative AI projects, an increasingly key priority for the company.

I think this is probably for the best, even if it sucks to scrap much of the work that has been done. Over the last couple of years, it has started to feel like Apple is spread too thin at times and while the employees working on the car won’t jump over to go fix That Bug You Hate™ in iOS now, I think it removes a notable distraction for the company. This news also should quiet the “Apple needs to do more AI” critics for a bit, too.

Snippet: Granular Private Data Is the Foundation of Targeted Advertising, Obviously ☇

Nick Heer:

What people with Big Business Brains often like to argue about the unethical but wildly successful ad tech industry is that it is not as bad as it looks because your individual data does not have any real use or value. Ad tech vendors would not bother retaining such granular details because it is beneficial, they say, only in a more aggregated and generalized form.

The problem with this argument is that it keeps getting blown up by their demonstrable behaviour.1 For a recent example, consider Avast, an antivirus and security software provider, which installed to users’ computers a web browser toolbar that promised to protect against third-party tracking but, in actual fact, was collecting browsing history for — and you are not going to believe this — third-party tracking and advertising companies on behalf of the Avast subsidiary Jumpshot. It was supposed to be anonymized but, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, this “proprietary algorithm” was so ineffective that Avast managed to collect six petabytes of revealing browsing history between 2014–2020.

I always wondered how things got so bad and I think it’s the lie that anonymized data has mostly sat well with people (it almost lines up with the “Why should I be concerned about privacy? I’ve got nothing to hide” argument). I’ve enjoyed Heer’s coverage of privacy issues over the years and this post is no exception. It’s just a shame we basically have to treat almost every business entity as hostile.

February 26, 2024

Snippet: Apple Arcade Isn’t Exactly Winning Over Developers ☇

Neil Long for MobileGamer:

Multiple mobilegamer.biz sources have voiced their concern for Apple Arcade’s future, citing a glut of cancelled projects and ever-declining developer payouts.

One developer said there was the “the smell of death” around the service – though others suggested there are now whispers of (another) reboot for the service.

Payouts for titles on Apple Arcade have been falling for years, our sources said, and following a shift in strategy very few original games are being greenlit unless they are attached to a big family-friendly IP.

Apple is often aloof or difficult to work with too – though as one developer noted, “that’s nothing new”. While some described their relationship with Apple as very positive (and lucrative), others said that Apple is “famously vindictive” and “spiteful” in its dealings with developers – especially once the tech giant discovers that you have signed a deal with Netflix’s rival service.

If true, this is a damning report, but not surprising as many of Apple’s services products have seemed to be a mix of ruthless and incompetent, frustrating users and developers. While Arcade has plenty of excellent titles, it never clicked with me to keep it beyond any trial (I have a handful of purchased favorite iOS games and even those don’t get played that often). It reminds me a lot of Apple News, a great idea on paper, but the execution has been lacking.

Apple has not made that strategy shift very clear to its partners, however. One studio boss told us that after months of glowing feedback on one particular game, the Arcade team suddenly withdrew its interest in the title, citing a change in strategy. When the developer asked for feedback and offered to reduce the budget and re-tool the game to better fit Apple’s needs, the Arcade team simply stopped responding to their emails.

Unfortunately, unless they continue to add excellent games through cultivating great developer relationships, everyone doing worthwhile stuff will walk away, leaving buggy or lazy ports, along with derivative franchise releases as the main options on the service.

February 21, 2024

Snippet: Apple Releases iPhone-Only Sports App ☇

Apple:

Apple today introduced Apple Sports, a free app for iPhone that gives sports fans access to real-time scores, stats, and more. Designed for speed and simplicity, the app’s personalized experience puts users’ favorite leagues and teams front and center, featuring an easy-to-use interface designed by Apple. Apple Sports is available to download now in the App Store in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada.

I dig it—it’s a fairly basic app, but way less cluttered than something like ESPN or the CBS Sports app (my previous go-tos). These have shifted to be more interested in headlines, video, and betting, rather than simple scores. Apple does include betting odds, but they can be hidden by going to the Settings app > Sports > Hide Betting Odds.

In kicking the tires, it’s nice to see the variety of leagues—I’m glad the NWSL is included. I hope they’ll add more lower-level leagues and more women’s sports. For me, the notable absent items are international soccer national teams (USWNT) and Minor League Baseball—I’m going to keep using the excellent FotMob and the fine-enough MiLB app. Finally, it would be nice to see iPad and Mac support in the future, but I understand this is an initial release.