I don’t regret being an iPhone early adopter

Do you remember where you were when Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone, more than 10 years ago? It’s a pretty nerdy thing to admit, but I do. I spent the day glued to my computer, at my desk — theoretically hard at work. But I was actually devouring Engadget’s liveblog, after which I watched and rewatched video of the event so I could see the mythical device in action. And then I spent the next 12 months waiting for my Verizon contract to expire, hating my Moto RAZR the entire freaking time. (No, I wasn’t a day-one adopter, but I definitely stopped in an AT&T store to play with their demo phones.)

The first iPhone wasn’t a world-beater in terms of sales, and many have pointed out that it was the classic “first-gen” Apple product. It lacked important features like 3G connectivity and any third-party apps, you had to hook it up to iTunes to activate it, and it was wildly expensive — $ 500 for a paltry 4GB of storage (or $ 600 for 8GB), and that was with a two-year contract.

None of that mattered to me, and that’s in large part due to Jobs’ presentation, one that’s widely considered the best he ever gave. I’d agree with that assessment, because he so clearly outlined the benefits of the iPhone over the phones that most consumers (including me) were using. Some of my colleagues fondly remember the Windows Mobile devices they used before the iPhone and noted how they waited a few years for Apple to fix those first-gen issues before getting on board.

But the 2007 smartphone market was wildly different, particularly in the US. BlackBerry and Palm Treo devices dominated, but they were business-focused and didn’t resonate with the people buying iPods. Jobs’ presentation was the complete opposite. The first feature he announced and demoed was iPod functionality — before even bothering with the phone part. Nearly everything he showed off was focused on consumers, from photos and movies to looking up restaurants on Google Maps.

Of course, Jobs tied it all together at the end, showing a sequence where he listened to music, took a call, sent a photo over email and looked up a movie while still talking on the phone. He then hung up the call and the music automatically resumed. Right now, it seems laughably simple, but in the days of flip phones this seemed like magic.

Even the six-month gap between the iPhone’s announcement and its on-sale date worked in Apple’s favor. The company didn’t typically announce products that far in advance, but in this case it gave them crucial time to polish the device and make improvements (like adding YouTube support and using glass instead of plastic for the front screen cover). It also helped build up some serious hype and anticipation among the Apple faithful. Jobs’ presentation paid dividends over those months; it was something fans could rewatch and use to stoke their interest in the iPhone while they waited.

Jobs had made presentations like this before, and Apple has continued to do so long after he died, in 2011. The format has changed slightly, but Apple still focuses on selling you on the entire vision of its connected universe of products — all of its devices and services work better the more you use them together. When Apple makes a presentation like the one at this year’s WWDC, I often come away with the notion that my digital life would work better if I went “all in” on its software and hardware. It’s not just Apple, though — after Google I/O, I always consider whether things would be easier if I used Android for everything, and Microsoft has been doing a good job of selling me on the benefits of Windows everywhere lately as well.

The iPhone presentation was a bit different, because it was focused purely on one device — Apple hadn’t tied the phone so closely to the Mac just yet. But Apple did tie the iPhone to the Mac — before the cloud, it was home base for your phone and let you sync photos, movies, contacts, calendars and music, making it a mini-extension of your personal computer. And even though some aspects of the first iPhone did feel a bit beta (remember how you couldn’t send pictures via text message?), it also did exactly what Apple promised.

The relatively large screen and unique UI couldn’t have been more different from the garbage Verizon forced onto the Moto RAZR. There weren’t any third-party apps, but between Safari, YouTube, Mail and Maps, I could get to the most essential info on the internet while on the go … even if it took forever. I learned to accept that and use the phone’s more data-heavy features when on WiFi, which was fairly easy to find in 2008.

I still carried my iPod around for a while, but it wasn’t long before I started working around the iPhone’s limited storage space and leaving my iPod at home. Sure, the Windows Phone and BlackBerry crowd may have been doing many of these things for years, but for me (and millions of other iPhone owners), this was a huge step forward, even if there were caveats.

Looking back, the iPhone’s influence on the consumer electronics market is obvious. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reflecting on. It’s also worth considering Jobs’ performance to see how it influenced Apple’s competitors. Jobs made many similar presentations over the years, but after the iPhone became a success, Microsoft, Samsung and Google (among others) really started emulating Apple’s events. It’s common now to see companies sell you on their entire vision, not just a series of products or software features.

Ultimately, Jobs’ presentation is as much a part of the iPhone’s history as the product itself. The introduction was nearly a complete disaster, with shoddy prototype phones barely able to connect to the internet, running out of memory and crashing if they weren’t used very carefully. But that craziness only adds to the legend of the iPhone’s introduction.

Fortunately, the experience of actually using the iPhone was pretty seamless when it launched six months later. The first iPhone didn’t age very well (I had mine for only 18 months before grabbing a 3GS when it launched), but it made a good enough impression that I’ve been a repeat customer for nearly a decade. If Jobs’ introduction had gone as badly as it could have, things would have worked out very, very differently for both the iPhone and Apple as a whole. Yes, the first iPhone was basically a working beta — but it worked well enough to change an entire industry.

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How to be a human being in the comments: A refresher

So it has been a long time since we last posted comments guidelines and standards. To put it in perspective, the last time we talked comments with y’all, the iPhone 5 hadn’t been released, Android fans were using Jelly Bean and Facebook had just gone public. A lot can change in the course of nearly five years, but one thing that’s remained constant is our dedication to our readers. To that end, we wanted to take a minute to answer some questions, explain some features and, frankly, lay down the law when it comes to the comments section and our social channels. Pull up a chair and read on to find out what you need to know about Engadget’s comments and community.

Why do we have a comments section?

Comments sections get a bad rap: Everyone is familiar with the adage “Don’t read the comments,” and that didn’t become a common refrain because comments sections are full of hugs and puppies. Even so, there are some genuinely interesting conversations happening in our comments section, from personal experiences with gadgets to incredibly technical explanations of hardware, and we’re often impressed by what you have to say.

We have a comments section because we sincerely enjoy having a place for our readers to discuss the articles we write — and our readers often provide us with insights that add to the story, shed light on new angles or help us update the facts in the post. Many of rely on the comments for additional information and alternative opinions, all while many other publications have opted to shutter their comments sections (or just use Facebook). We’ve kept ours open because it’s valuable to you as readers, which makes it important for us too.

While the rules of internet interactions naturally vary from one website to another (and in some cases are unclear), we took the time to rethink our guidelines and have laid out a detailed policy on what does and doesn’t fly here.

Commenting basics: features and functions

First, a few technical details. While the basics of logging in and posting a comment are largely the same as they’ve always been, there are a few handy features in our current system that are worth highlighting.

Editing and deleting. The options to edit or delete your comment can be found in a drop-down menu; the arrow for the drop-down menu appears when you mouse over the upper-right area of your comment. (Mousing over the upper-right of someone else’s comment will allow you to report that comment; more on that below.)

All links require approval. This means that any comment containing a URL will be held in “pending” until it has been approved by a moderator. Moderators will refuse comments with links that are broken or that direct to spammy or inappropriate content. We know the delay in approving comments with links isn’t ideal, but it helps keep a large amount of spam from getting through. Also, please don’t resubmit a link over and over again; each one will still wind up in pending.

Banned words. We have a list of banned words that will automatically remove a comment. No, you cannot see this list — but we will tell you that it largely consists of insults, swears and name-calling-type stuff. Any comment with an f-bomb is going to get pulled (no matter how you spell it), but we’re pretty lax about the other “blue” words as long as you’re not swearing at somebody.

Notifications. If you do not want to get an email notification when other commenters like your comment, reply to your comments or mention (@) you, you can disable all of that in your profile settings. (You can access settings by clicking your username next to the alert bell.)

Commenting basics: behavior

There is pretty much one golden rule here, and it’s “don’t be a jerk.” Please, don’t be rude or mean or nasty. We appreciate that you care about these topics and our stories (hey, we care too). But no matter how fired up the discussion, please be civil.

Don’t jump down people’s throat because they made a mistake or disagree with you. Don’t be insulting. Don’t call people names. Don’t make personal attacks. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Try not to jump to conclusions or make assumptions. Have some patience and compassion; everyone comes here to be a part of the community. No one comes here to be ridiculed or belittled. Treat your fellow community members and the Engadget staff with respect. Be nice, and if you can’t be nice, then at least be tolerant.

There’s a comment that is offensive. What can I do?

Please report it! The “report” button can be found on any comment by mousing over the upper-right corner of that comment; a drop-down arrow will appear, and from there you can select the “report” button to alert our staff. (We don’t currently have tools for community moderators, but we haven’t ruled out the idea.)

Every comment that’s reported to us is vetted by moderators; we delete those that we deem inappropriate or feel are in violation of our guidelines. Rest assured, we will not delete comments just because they’re argumentative or because someone has a different opinion than you. For more details on why comments get deleted, see the list below.

There’s a problem with the article

Every single writer and editor for Engadget does their best to produce stories that are clearly written, concise and informative, not to mention error free. However, every writer and editor at Engadget is also a fallible human being capable of making the occasional misstep. If you see a mistake in an article, be it a typo, an imprecise technical detail or a broken link, please do us a solid and let us know (because we’d obviously like to fix it!). You can holler at us by adding #articleerror to your comment, which will flag your comment for our moderators.

There’s a problem with the comments section

If, however, you are experiencing a problem with the comments system or functionality itself, then please let us know by emailing us with as much detail as possible at commentsupport@engadget.com, so we can alert the developers.

Comment deletion

We prefer to keep a light hand when moderating, but there are still several reasons we might remove your comment. Here are some of the most common reasons for deletion.

  • Spam of any kind (human or robot) is always deleted. Trying to sell something in the comments, pitching us about your product or repeatedly posting discount links and referral codes all count as spam. Posting the same comment over and over again also constitutes spamming.
  • We don’t currently ban all swearing by default, but all f-bombs are going to get caught automatically by the banned-words filter. Profanity directed at another person — be it a commenter or staff member — will pretty much always be deleted.
  • Comments that are racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic or otherwise hateful will be removed. Suggestions that someone is mentally ill, disturbed or should “take their meds” will be removed. (Let’s just assume everyone’s already taken their meds, OK?)
  • Any comment that contains a threat, that threatens violence or that encourages self-harm or violence toward someone will be deleted. Comments that threaten other commenters or staff members will result in that member being banned from the community.
  • Name-calling. Perhaps unsurprisingly, name-calling in a comments thread does not encourage a positive response. You should be able to have a conversation without resorting to name-calling — and that includes Engadget’s writers and staff members. Our banned-words filter will automatically pull comments with a variety of ruder terms, so keep it classy.
  • You’re just slagging on us. If all you have to contribute to the conversation is how much we suck, are biased, don’t deserve our jobs, can’t perform our jobs, are shills and/or have been bought out by Apple/Samsung/Microsoft/Google, then don’t be shocked if your comment disappears (or, in extreme cases, if you are banned altogether). We’re perfectly willing to hear constructive criticism, but we are also under no obligation to let you insult us without merit.
  • Comments that are unnecessarily political, polarizing or incendiary are at risk for removal. Please don’t jump into a thread just to say things to incite other people or tick them off; that’s pretty trolly (and boring). Please don’t make generalizations or stereotypes to draw conclusions about another commenter (i.e., “all you millennials/liberals/Trump voters”).
  • We reserve the right to delete comments that are off topic. This includes comments that complain about comments being closed on another story; hijacking the thread to a different article only reinforces the feeling that we were right to keep comments closed on the initial article.

In short, we want the comments section to be like an interesting conversation happening in a college classroom: thoughtful, respectful, insightful, funny and interesting. What we don’t want is a comments section that’s like a fight on a kindergarten playground: pushy, mean, spiteful and requiring adult intervention.

We want our comments section to be a place where our readers and staff can interact civilly, learn from one another and participate in an awesome community. And as much as we know some of you like to break out the popcorn and watch the fanboy fights, that’s not really the kind of community we’re looking to host.

Articles without comments

Here’s the real deal, straight up: We are not required to have a comments section on Engadget. Likewise, we’re not obligated to have comments open on every article. While we strongly prefer to give the benefit of the doubt and leave comments open on all stories, there are going to be some instances where it makes more sense to leave comments closed.

Our desire to leave comments open comes down to a number of factors, including the proportion of comments that have violated our rules or guidelines, how many moderators are available and how contentious the comments section has gotten on articles on similar topics. A closed comments section is not an invitation to call us names, hijack other threads or otherwise pout about it. We don’t want to close comments and will only do so when absolutely necessary. Please respect that and know that the best way to make sure comments sections stay open is to treat one another respectfully and follow our guidelines.

“This is just censorship and you’re afraid of hearing feedback”

This is a common complaint we hear when we delete comments or close comments sections. And to this we have to say: Nah, man. Let’s be clear about this: Commenting on our site is not a right of law passed down to you in the Constitution, and Engadget’s comments section is not an open forum where you can say whatever you please. Engadget is a news site and a business, which along with its parent company, AOL, allows commenting in order to further the discussion, engage our readers and let interested parties have a good time. Commenting here is a privilege, not a right, and if you must be nasty, well, then … it’s a big internet and you can do that on your own website. And to be frank, if we really didn’t want to hear feedback from our readers, we wouldn’t have a comments section at all.

Banning

If you create a user history of trolling, harassment or offensive behavior, or if you only visit our comments section to act like a total jerk, congratulations! You will get banned. That means your user name, email and potentially IP address will all be barred from our system and you will no longer be able to comment.

What do we mean by “trolling, harassment or offensive behavior”? Hate speech of any kind is always unacceptable. If you just dropped by to say something nasty concerning someone’s race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability or age, don’t be surprised when you find your privileges revoked. If your only purpose in life is to comment on all of our articles to tell us how much we suck and deserve to be fired, then bye, Felicia. If you can’t seem to have a discussion without attacking another commenter, using insults, calling people names or cursing at someone, then you’re outta here. If at any point you threaten another user or an editor with any form of physical violence or encourage them to commit acts of self-harm, you are no longer welcome here.

In conclusion

We know that the comments section has been through a lot of bumps and bruises over the past few years, and we’re dedicated to making upgrades and changes that will improve the experience for all of our users. You can help make the comments a better place by observing our guidelines and reporting comments that show disregard for our community. We don’t want Engadget to be just another site where people “don’t read the comments” — we want the comments to be a reason to come to Engadget.
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SMS two-factor authentication isn’t being banned

Another week gone by, and the place is in cybersecurity shambles again. A years’ old hacking issue, unencrypted wireless keyboards, being featured in an upcoming Defcon talk mystifyingly became a hot new Internet of Things threat. Obama gave us a colorful “threat level” cyber-thermometer that no one’s really sure what to do with. Ransomware is hitting hospitals like there’s a fire sale on money. And the DNC-Wikileaks email debacle exploded, splattering blame all over Russia.

Just when I thought I’d picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue, a U.S. National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) report came out that included recommendations about the inherent risks in two-factor authentication, upon which the tech press basically lost their minds and told everyone to assume crash positions because the password sky was falling. Again.

What actually happened was, the NIST released the newest draft version of its Digital Authentication Guidelines. In its public preview, the agency included language that hinted at the depreciation of SMS-based Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) because, basically, phone numbers can be hijacked, and SMS can be intercepted — making the NIST impetus sensible for government employees or those dealing with sensitive medical information or state-level secrets.

But for normal people, 2FA is still going to limit the ability of an attacker to intercept or alter both your password and your SMS code. (Which is, incidentally, the point.)

Using a text message-based code is what would have prevented what happened to tech journalist and editor Mat Honan. In August 2012, a malicious hacker logged into just one of his online accounts and reset the password.

Then the attacker went to town resetting and taking over the rest of Honan’s accounts, remotely erasing (forever) everything on his iPhone, iPad and MacBook, including photos of deceased in-laws and the first year of his daughter’s life. That attacker also deleted Honan’s Google account and took over his Twitter account to post a bunch of racist and homophobic tweets under his name.

With two-factor activated, Honan would’ve gotten an SMS alerting him that someone was logging into his account. In fact, the only reason he realized something was wrong was because his iPhone prompted him for a reset code.

But neither the practical use cases for 2FA nor the emphasis on a draft recommending depreciation were what came out in this week’s mainstream news. Hardly anyone seemed to mention that NIST’s guidelines aren’t legally binding (we did!), though government agencies often follow them.

Defense Daily pointed out the obvious thing that everyone missed — this is a work in progress, directed at government. It said, “This new NIST draft was released as a public preview wherein it is considered a stable draft illustrating what the agency has learned through public comment periods, public workshops, and industry collaborations.” However, it is “neither complete nor perfect-and it’s not intended to be.” They added, “This is the point where the agency is articulating the direction it is going but seeks comments from stakeholders on what is right, wrong, and entirely missed in the guidelines.”

Headlines cried out that the freewheeling halcyon days of 2FA were soon to be forbidden fruit. CNET claimed, “SMS-based two-factor authentication will soon be banned.” Dabbing away tears, we were told, the age of 2FA is over and we should “Say Goodbye to SMS Two-Factor Authentication.”

Suddenly, news outlets and tech blogs were telling us, bizarrely, that Apple was under attack by NIST. Apple wasn’t actually targeted in the NIST document, but headlines proclaimed “U.S. to ban Apple and others from SMS two-step authentication.” Here at Engadget we came this close to making a video, our mascara running as we sobbed into the camera begging NIST to leave Apple alone!

Ultimately, the anti-2FA mob mentality out-crazied our craziness. We were simply outdone when people started telling the public that SMS authentication was now deemed “no longer safe.”

The punchline? No, I think we’ve been punched enough, thanks.

Still, there’s always room for a little insult added to injury. While CNET was telling readers that 2FA was decreed dangerous and about to be banned, government publications bothered with the details and got to the truth.

The coming two-factor apocalypse was only really coming for government agencies, and the recommendation to depreciate SMS would be for new implementations on the road ahead. “The SP-800-63 document set provides technical and procedural guidelines to agencies,” Defense Daily wrote. “The recommendation includes remote authentication of users (employees, contractors, or private individuals) interacting with government information technology (IT) systems over open networks.”

The public may be none the wiser after this week. If they’re reading Apple Insider or Sci Tech as gospel, the logical next step would appear to be quitting two-factor altogether. Or, just setting fire to your laptop and throwing it out the window.

Either way, it’s a bad message to send. As many people as possible should be adding this second step to logging in because they are not edge cases, and 2FA is actually making the general public safer.

The real problem here is, as usual, people freaking out about security issues that require more than a “hot take.” It’s a phase in our collective infosec adolescence I worry we’ll never grow out of.

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