Harris Tweed, the miracle fabric

To understand the development of technology, you may be better off studying evolutionary biology rather than, say, computer science. A grasp of evolutionary theory, with the facility for reasoning backwards which it brings, is a better model for understanding the haphazard nature of progress than any attempt to explain the world by assuming conscious and deliberate intent. One useful concept from evolutionary thinking is the idea of the ‘adjacent possible’. As the science writer Olivia Judson explains: ‘Evolution by natural selection only works if each mutational step itself is advantageous. There’s no such thing as advantageous in a general sense. It’s advantageous in the circumstances you’re living in.’ In the

The arrogance of Apple

Can flexible working get the best out of what a ministerial press release calls ‘hardworking Brits’ – or is it a couch potato’s charter? As of 6 April, employees have had the right to ask for flexibility – including remote working and hours to suit – from their first day in a job; employers can reject unworkable requests, but are obliged to consider and consult. If you’re an optimist, you’ll think workers whose family lives are accommodated by enlightened employers will be happier, more loyal and more productive: ‘5 a.m. will be the new 9 a.m.,’ declares the HR Director, for parents who choose to ‘tackle work before attending to

How on earth does Rishi Sunak keep going?

It’s my birthday this week and the end of my seventh decade (mathematicians will note that this does not make me 79). Looking at my long and generally happy life, I do wonder quite how we arrived where we are with this all-pervading sense of gloom and despondency. Gaza, Ukraine, Putin, Trump, Islamic State, Brexit… whichever way you look, there’s something you don’t want to see. The doomsday clock now stands at 90 seconds to midnight, the closest we’ve ever been to complete annihilation. Happy birthday to me. It’s not all bad though. Last week my son came home with a borrowed Apple Vision Pro, the wrap-around headset which retails

Netflix vs Apple: which streaming subscription offers best value for money?

Amid rising energy bills, the announcement that Netflix will hike its prices – with its basic package increasing by £1 a month to £6.99 – seemed to pass without too much fuss. But, as the cost of living crisis hits, many households will be looking at which subscriptions to prioritise. But with more of us subscribing to multiple streaming services (thanks, in part, to those spontaneous lockdown purchases) these extra costs have a habit of adding up – until you suddenly find yourself shelling out more than £50 a month on entertainment. All of which begs the obvious question: which streaming service gets you the most bang for your buck? Interestingly

Apple’s cowardly surrender to the mob

A few weeks ago, more than 2,000 employees of Apple Inc. signed a petition that led to the sacking of a clever and capable tech engineer, Antonio García Martínez. García Martínez was fired for sexism — not because he behaved badly towards any women, but because of a passage in a book he wrote five years ago. The book was Chaos Monkeys, an exposé of the Silicon Valley scene, and here’s the offending sentence: ‘Most women in the Bay Area are soft and weak, cosseted and naive despite their claims of worldliness, and generally full of shit… but the reality is, come the epidemic plague or a foreign invasion, they’d

Who’s really to blame for the Post Office scandal?

The alleged frauds for which the Post Office prosecuted no fewer than 736 of its sub-postmasters has turned out in almost all cases to be the result of faults in a computer system called Horizon which Post Office managers and the system’s supplier, Fujitsu of Japan, were reluctant to acknowledge. That’s the short summary of a miscarriage of justice which also looks like a case of mismanagement to the point of delusion: how could anyone believe a copy-cat crime wave on this scale was sweeping through a cohort of small businesspeople generally seen as the most upstanding of local citizens? And if that wasn’t the belief, the only other explanation

The coronavirus app was always doomed to fail

For months now, the British public has been told there’s only one way to resume normal life: a successful virus-tracing scheme. Early on in the pandemic, the UK decided to go its own way in this area, rejecting Apple and Google’s established, decentralised app model by trying to launch its own one. NHSX would create a centralised app that funnels contact details to public health officials once somebody reported their symptoms via their phone. Bad for privacy, good for knowing exactly where infection rates were spiking in something close to real-time. Hailed as a soon-to-be ‘world beating’ app by the Prime Minister, it was launched on the Isle of Wight in

I admit it – I’m a smartphone addict

I am often extremely dismissive of people immersed in their smartphones. I tut at the mole-ish pedestrians who step out into the traffic, faces uplit and shocked when a car goes by. Last week, in a toddler playgroup, I actually hissed at some poor father. We were in the middle of ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’, with actions, when he got stuck in an iPhone trance. There he stood amid the marching midgets swiping from text messages to email to Twitter and back again. It was when he tapped on the bus times app that I snapped. Well, what a hypocrite I am. And how is it that I’ve

The record bull run must end soon. So is it time for a return to gold?

All good things must come to an end, including summer holidays and bull markets. The bull run in US shares that began in the aftermath of the financial crisis in March 2009 has now officially passed the previous record of 3,452 more-up-than-down days from October 1990 to March 2000. This time round, the S&P500 index of US stocks has risen by more than 300 per cent — and that rise has continued throughout Donald Trump’s reign, despite his trade war threats and other follies. But it has not been reflected in major European markets, which have drifted sideways, and has been increasingly sustained by a small number of top tech

Hugo Rifkind

Are Apple disrupting the tax system?

Reading this week about the European Commission’s verdict that Apple should pay €13 billion in back taxes to Ireland (even though Ireland doesn’t want it), I was reminded of Steve Jobs’s famous, if possibly apocryphal, excuse for being unkeen on charitable giving. According to a pair of his friends interviewed by the New York Times in 2011, Jobs always felt he could better serve the world by keeping the cash and expanding his company. As excuses go, it’s a good one, not least because it may even have been true. Embedded within there, though, you’ll find a glimpse of the worldview which makes these tech behemoths all but ungovernable. Tax

Apple’s Irish tax bill is bad news for free-market liberals

So the European Commission has today released its much-delayed iTax. This time, it’s not an Apple innovation but a ruling ordering Ireland to claw back €13bn in back tax from Apple – a record penalty and one that the company and Ireland have both vowed to appeal. The Commission announced its decision in a typically terse ruling, in which they chuck rotten fruit at Ireland’s low corporate-tax environment. But whilst every one is talking about tax, this fracas between the EC and Ireland over Apple’s bill—what we here locally might call a ballyhoo—actually has less to do with one of the two inevitabilities of life, and much to do with the Commission’s Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager. Vestager could barely

What does the future look like for Apple?

In case you missed it,  Apple’s market capitalisation has now hit the $1trillion mark – something which is as mind boggling as it was inevitable. Everyone with a newswire, Twitter feed and website seems to have latched onto the milestone. You’d have thought they’d all successfully predicted this event on 1 April 1976, when the company was founded. But the question now is whether the valuation has made a fool of all of us? According to Mike Ingram, Chief Market Strategist at WH Ireland, ‘In just over a decade Apple has transformed itself from a niche tech company for nerds to a global consumer goods powerhouse. While it currently deserves its


For many years The Spectator employed a television reviewer who did not own a colour television. Now they have decided to go one better and have asked me to write a piece to mark the tenth anniversary of the iPhone. I have never owned an iPhone. (In the metropolitan media world I inhabit, this is tantamount to putting on your CV that you ‘enjoy line dancing, child pornography and collecting Nazi memorabilia’). But, even though I’m a diehard Android fan, I still cannot help paying attention to every single thing Apple does and says. I don’t think this happens in reverse. I doubt Apple owners pay any attention to the

The iPhone X could be a feelgood deal

Am I ready to shell out £1,000 for an iPhone X with its exciting new ‘Face ID’ feature? Of course not. Readers may recall I was keen to take several tech-steps back to the retro Nokia 3310 that was relaunched in March — but when I finally plucked up courage to take my unloved iPhone 3 to what turned out to be a Carphone Warehouse inside a Currys PC World on the York bypass, I was so hypnotised by the sales patter that I swiftly lost my willpower. Within moments I had given so much personal data that the salesman (as he acknowledged with a thin smile) could have emptied

A tale of two Valleys

Silicon Valley looks like a cross between Milton Keynes and the set of the Stepford Wives. Row after row of ordinary houses and picket fences, clustered in villages notable only for the mega-companies they serve: Menlo Park (Facebook), Cupertino (Apple) or Mountain View (Google). There’s the odd charm, but it’s generally clean, sterile, young, overpriced. Life here, they say, is five years ahead of everywhere else. Well, if that’s the case, I’ve seen the future and it is a bit disturbing. The surface ordinariness of the Valley hides a deep utopianism. In the late 1960s San Francisco was the home of both hippie counterculture and the early computer communities. Both

The joys of the Nokia 3310

I’m eager to order a Nokia 3310, the classic mobile phone of the millennium that was relaunched this week. The original was famed for its simple functions, unbreakable casing and ultra-long battery life; my earlier 3210 was just as good. I lost it on a coach trip 15 years ago and haven’t been truly happy since, having never learned to love my iPhone. But what’s more interesting about this revival is what it tells us about the turbulent evolution of the mobile device market, as well as the curious history of Nokia itself. Nokia is Finland’s contribution to corporate parable. Having started in 1865 as a smalltown wood-pulp mill, it diversified

Instant gratification

Instant photography already existed long before Edwin Land, the ingenious inventor and founder of Polaroid, went for a walk with his daughter in Santa Fe in 1943. ‘Why can’t I see the pictures now?’ she asked her father on the way home. But the photographic systems available at that time were really just ‘experimental portable darkrooms’ rather than truly ‘instant cameras’. Only a few hours after his daughter’s question, Land got hold of a patent lawyer and by Christmas the first test versions of ‘Polaroids’ had been developed in the lab. Land was an incredible visionary. He was not just researching an innovative film system. He was on the hunt

Flaming phones

Is that a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 in your pocket, or are your pants on fire? The Korean manufacturer has halted sales of its latest smartphone and advised anyone already an owner to switch off immediately, lest the thing’s battery explodes — as one did on a Southwest Airlines flight in the US, forcing the plane to be evacuated. Meanwhile flights to Seoul are packed with crisis-management PR people — all carrying Apple iPhone 7s, sales of which are soaring at Samsung’s expense, or awaiting delivery of the rival Google Pixel device, due this month. Also set to gain is Huawei, the mysteriously rising giant of Chinese electronics. Exciting times

Dear God, am I going to start liking Ed Balls?

What the hell is going on with Ed Balls? Back in the horrible doldrums of the last Labour government, he was the most reliable total bastard around. There was Gordon Brown himself, of course, throwing phones at people and using his special sinister voice when he spoke about children, and Damian McBride, who had a reputation for being the nastiest spin-doctor there ever was, although he only ever texted me twice and actually quite nicely. Balls, though, was the spirit animal who tied the whole thing together. So many years later, it is almost impossible to convey how weary and stale that government was by the end. How it seemed

A rotten windfall

It’s strange that, even now, the Brexit vote is routinely referred to as an expression of anger or frustration — as if the most easily baffled half of the population had voted in response to forces they could not understand. In fact, the result of the 23 June referendum seems to look wiser with every week that has passed. Of course, leaving has its risks. But 52 per cent of voters judged that a greater one lay in staying in a European Union that is changing all the time — and invariably for the worse. The British vision of the world — of free trade, friendly competition and respect for