Wednesday, 28 June 2017
Tom Warren’s review for The Verge of the new iPad Pro and iOS 11 beta is headlined “iOS 11 on an iPad Pro Still Won’t Replace Your Laptop”. Exactly in line with my piece yesterday, that “your” should be a “my”.
Warren has some on-point criticism about the finickiness of iOS 11’s drag-from-the-dock behavior for setting up multiple on-screen apps on the iPad — his review is worth reading for that segment alone. But then he adds:
Sure, you can ignore these gestures if you want, just like
thousands of Windows and Mac users ignore keyboard shortcuts they
don’t know about. The problem Apple faces here is that it’s trying
to convince everyone that a touch interface is just as productive
as using a keyboard and mouse.
Again, Apple is not trying to convince everyone to replace a traditional Mac or PC with an iPad. Apple executives say that the Mac has a bright and long future because they really do think the Mac has a bright and long future. Any review of the iPad and iOS 11 from the perspective of whether it can replace a MacBook for everyone is going to completely miss what is better about the iPad and why.
In the 80s and well into the 90s there were non-stop debates about whether GUI interfaces like the Mac and Windows were “better than” command line interfaces.1 The argument was never settled, but we don’t even use the acronym “GUI” anymore. It wasn’t settled because the argument didn’t really make sense. GUIs were better for most people for most tasks and the command line remains for the things it is best at. The analogy isn’t perfect because the post-OS X Mac has both a great GUI and a great command line, but the iOS-vs.-Mac-for-work argument will be “settled” similarly: we’ll just stop talking about it a decade from now, years after many (maybe even most) people are using iPads and iPad-like devices for their computer-based work.
Imagine a review of the Mac SE/30 in 1989 that instead of focusing on all the things that were great about it — both the things that were great about the Mac ever since 1984 and especially the tremendous improvement in performance and user-interface snappiness that the SE/30 brought to the board — focused instead on the things that were still faster or better on DOS, like games or being able to write batch files. That’s what these “iPad Pro Still Can’t Replace Your Laptop” reviews feel like to me. ★
Tuesday, 27 June 2017
Joshua Topolsky pretty much trashed the iPad Pro in a series of tweets last night:
Couple of tweets about the new iPad and iOS 11. It is inferior to
a laptop in almost every way, unless you like to draw.
If you think you can replace you laptop with this setup: you
cannot. Imagine a computer, but everything works worse than
you expect. […]
But this doesn’t COME CLOSE to replacing your laptop, even for
simple things you do, like email. AND one other thing. Apple’s
keyboard cover is a fucking atrocity. A terrible piece of
hardware. Awkward to use, poor as a cover. Okay in a pinch if you
need something LIKE a keyboard.
I agree with almost every single word in Topolsky’s thread — but I also think he’s completely wrong.
Here’s what I mean. Me, personally, I find a MacBook way better for almost every single thing I do that I consider work. Let’s define that as everything I do where, if I were using an iPad Pro, I would connect it to the Smart Keyboard and prop it up in laptop form. I much prefer MacOS for my conceptual interface with my work and I much prefer a MacBook Pro’s hardware for my physical interface.
But people like me and Topolsky — and millions of others — are the reason why Apple continues to work on MacOS and make new MacBook hardware. I can say without hesitation that the iPad Pro is not the work device for me. I can also say without hesitation that the iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard is the work device for millions of other people.
A MacBook is better in some ways; an iPad is better in others. For some of us, our personal preferences fall strongly in one direction or the other. “Imagine a computer, but everything works worse than you expect” is no more fair as criticism of the iPad than a statement like “Imagine an iPad but everything is more complicated and there’s always a jumble of dozens of overlapping windows cluttering the screen” would be as criticism of the Mac.
What I wrote back in December 2010 remains as true today as then:
The central conceit of the iPad is that it’s a portable computer
that does less — and because it does less, what it does do, it
does better, more simply, and more elegantly. Apple can only begin
phasing out the Mac if and when iOS expands to allow us to do
everything we can do on the Mac. It’s the heaviness of the Mac
that allows iOS to remain light. ★
Bloomberg Is Really Shitting the Bed Lately ★
Bloomberg caused a huge stir (Hertz stock shot to a two-year high on the “news”) with this report yesterday by Alex Webb and David Welch:
Apple Inc. is leasing a small fleet of cars from Hertz Global
Holdings Inc. to test self-driving technology, an agreement
that echoes a larger deal between competitors Alphabet Inc. and
Avis Budget Group Inc. Hertz shares soared the most in almost
A few hours later CNBC uncovered the scope of this lease:
Sources familiar with the situation told CNBC that Apple is
leasing six cars from a Hertz subsidiary for autonomous software
Six whole cars!
And then Apple confirmed to CNBC that the company is simply leasing six cars, and there is no partnership with Hertz.
The Alphabet/Avis deal is a genuine partnership, involving over 600 vehicles. There is no “echo” of that partnership in Apple’s having leased six cars.
European Commission Fines Google €2.42 Billion for Abuse of Web Search Monopoly ★
The European Commission:
The European Commission has fined Google €2.42 billion for
breaching EU antitrust rules. Google has abused its market
dominance as a search engine by giving an illegal advantage to
another Google product, its comparison shopping service.
The company must now end the conduct within 90 days or face
penalty payments of up to 5% of the average daily worldwide
turnover of Alphabet, Google’s parent company.
The euro and dollar remain roughly in balance — that’s about $2.7 billion today. My guess is Google just shrugs this off, pays the fine, and goes right back to promoting its own stuff in search results. (E.g. they favor their own local business listings over, say, Yelp’s.)
Holy crap, that’s what it should be like normally. For reference
it took 12,000 ms (12 seconds) and 4000 KB (4 MB) to load with
A lot of images are lazy loaded, and so don’t work, getting
replaced with funky loading icons. But hey ho, I can still read
Again I say: the web would be better off if browsers had never added support for scripting. Every site on the web would load in under a second.
WWDC 2017’s Accessibility News ★
Steven Aquino, writing for TechCrunch:
Enhanced Dynamic Type. As mentioned at the outset, Apple has put
in a lot of work to optimize how Dynamic Type handles itself at
its largest sizes. New this year are options for even larger sizes
that smartly adapt to various user interfaces. The Dynamic Type
API, available for third-party developers to hook up to their
apps, has been updated to take advantage of this new capability.
I can’t say enough good things about Dynamic Type — and that’s before the improvements in iOS 11. I need text to be a click or two bigger than the default size on my iPhone. What I love about Dynamic Type is that it doesn’t look like a special “big type for bad eyes” mode. It just looks normal, but with larger type. You don’t have to give up the aesthetic satisfaction of having everything look just right in order to have larger type that you can read.
Jean-Louis Gassée: ‘Apple Culture After Ten Years of iPhone’ ★
Let’s see if we can bring these unimaginable quantities into a
During the most recent Xmas quarter, Apple sold slightly fewer
than 80 million iPhones, about 900,000 a day. Obligingly, a day
has 86,400 seconds, so we round up to 90,000 to get a production
yield of ten iPhones per second.
But producing a phone isn’t instantaneous, it isn’t like the click
of the shutter in a high-speed camera. Let’s assume that it takes
about 15 minutes (rounded up to 1,000 seconds) to assemble a
single iPhone. How many parallel production pipes need to
accumulate ten phones a second? 1,000 divided by 1/10
equals… 10,000! Ten thousand parallel pipes in order to output ten
phones per second.
We can juggle the numbers, but it’s still difficult to comprehend
the scale and complexity of the iPhone production machine, to
build a reliable mental representation.
Did the unimaginable iPhone production process change Apple?
With numbers so large, how could it not?
I find it very hard to comprehend the scope of the iPhone’s scale.
Kill Sticky Headers (a.k.a. Dickbars) Bookmarklet ★
Brilliantly simple bookmarklet by Alisdair McDiarmid:
There is currently a trend for using sticky headers on websites.
There’s even a sticky header web
I hate sticky headers. I want to kill sticky headers.
So I made this bookmarklet.
If you hate dickbars like I do, you should install this bookmarklet. Works great on both desktop and mobile. Here’s how it works:
The bookmarklet just finds all fixed-position elements on the
page, and removes them. This might remove the navigation, but if
you need it back, just hit refresh. That’s why I created a
bookmarklet and not a custom user-stylesheet or browser plugin:
this is the simplest way to solve the problem.
Dickbars Don’t Work ★
Josh Clark, back in March:
Hey, please, under no circumstances should you pin social buttons
to the top or bottom of mobile screens. In an effort to try to
boost mobile use of share buttons, About.com experimented with
fixing them to screen bottom and separately to screen top, so that
the buttons were always visible when scrolling. While this did
modestly increase share-button usage, it also caused overall
session engagement to go down.
You read that right: adding a locked toolbar to the small-screen
experience shortened sessions and reduced page views. The very
small increase in share-button usage was far outweighed by reduced
site usage. (I can’t explain why this is the case, but I’ve seen
it elsewhere with locked toolbars, too. They chase small-screen
Read the whole article. First, Clark’s advice is based on actual results, not just opinion and hunches (like mine). Second, he doesn’t advise against ever showing custom sharing buttons — but he does say only to show them to visitors coming from social media referrals. And but even then, don’t put them in fixed position dickbars.
As for why dickbars actually decrease site usage, I think the answer is obvious: when people see user-hostile fixed position bars at the top and/or bottom of their display, especially on phones, they’re annoyed, and the easiest way to eliminate the annoyance is to close the fucking tab and move on to something that isn’t annoying.
The Talk Show: ‘I Do Like Throwing a Baby’ ★
New episode of America’s favorite 3-star podcast, with special guest John Moltz. Topics include more follow-up from WWDC 2017, the iPad Pro models and ProMotion, Scott Forstall’s interview with John Markoff regarding the 10-year anniversary of the original iPhone, the ongoing shitshow at Uber, quick thoughts on the Nintendo Switch, and more. Also: guess which John enjoys throwing babies into the air.
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Virgin Mobile Partners With Apple to Go iPhone-Only With $1 Service ★
Josh Centers, writing for TidBITS on Virgin Mobile’s intriguing decision to go iPhone-only:
Pundits have long suspected that two roadblocks stood in the way
of Apple becoming a carrier: the infrastructure is incredibly
expensive, even if you lease it from the larger carriers, and
Apple could limit the iPhone business if it were to compete with
the major carriers.
But Apple has sidestepped those concerns by essentially taking
over a carrier (actually a carrier-owned MVNO — Mobile Virtual
Network Operator) without acquiring it. Apple may not own Virgin
Mobile, but Virgin Mobile is now utterly dependent on Apple and
will benefit through promotion in Apple Stores.
We shouldn’t read too much into this deal, but at the very least
it’s unusual to see a company like Virgin Mobile going all-in on
the iPhone. And it might point toward Apple dipping its toe into
the MVNO business.
Virgin Mobile is owned by Sprint (and thus uses Sprint’s back-end), and in my experience Sprint is the worst of the U.S. carriers, so this is not a panacea. But it is intriguing.
The Verge: ‘Apple’s AR Is Closer to Reality Than Google’s’ ★
Two great examples via the very fun Made With ARKit Twitter account: here and here.
Rene Ritchie’s First Look at the iOS 11 Public Beta ★
Rene Ritchie has a comprehensive look at the just-released public beta of iOS 11. Romain Dillet has a good preview at TechCrunch too. The gist of both previews: it’s the “I hope Apple truly focuses on the iPad this year” release of iOS that we’ve been waiting for.
I’ve been using the developer betas on my 10.5-inch iPad Pro review unit and a spare iPhone. I’m willing to wait to install iOS 11 on my primary iPhone, but at this point, bugs be damned, I wouldn’t want to use an iPad running iOS 10.3. It’s stable enough, and the benefits of the great new features for iPad far outweigh the downsides of the beta (which, in addition to crashing bugs, include questionable battery life).
Amazon’s New Echo Show Is Very Cool and a Little Creepy ★
Mat Honan, writing for BuzzFeed:
It has this wild new feature called Drop In. Drop In lets you give
people permission to automatically connect with your device.
Here’s how it works. Let’s say my father has activated Drop In for
me on his Echo Show. All I have to do is say, “Alexa, drop in on
Dad.” It then turns on the microphone and camera on my father’s
device and starts broadcasting that to me. For the several seconds
of the call, my father’s video screen would appear fogged over.
But then there he’ll be. And to be clear: This happens even if he
doesn’t answer. Unless he declines the call, audibly or by tapping
on the screen, it goes through. It just starts. Hello, you look
Honestly, I haven’t figured out what to think about this yet. But,
I know what to think of this: No fucking way do I want this.
Update: I’ve already gotten a few reader responses arguing that this feature could be great for an Echo Show in the home of an elderly relative. You visit and set it up in their house, explain to them what it does, and then you can check in with them without their needing to do anything at all. I can see that. You can think of it as the digital equivalent of having a set of keys to someone’s house — something you’d only grant to a deeply trusted friend or loved one.
Verizon to Block Email Addresses From Rival Carriers From Logging Into Yahoo or Tumblr Accounts ★
From a Tumblr help document euphemistically titled “Heads-Up for AT&T Customers”:
Starting on June 30, 2017, att.net customers will no longer be
able to log in to their Yahoo and Tumblr accounts through email
addresses with the following domains: att.net, ameritech.net,
bellsouth.net, flash.net, nvbell.net, pacbell.net, prodigy.net,
sbcglobal.net, snet.net, swbell.net, and wans.net.
The sheer egregiousness of this is outrageous on its face, but it’s even worse when you consider that Tumblr, when it was independent, was a champion for net neutrality.
Update: TechCrunch says it’s just a deal expiring, not spite:
As part of the new corporate merger of Yahoo and Aol under the
Oath brand, it looks like Yahoo accounts will no longer be
accessible through AT&T email addresses (or those of any A&T
The move provoked some uproar among net neutrality advocates, but
it seems to be less about creating walled gardens and more about
cleaning up prior commitments and pre-existing partnerships.
While there is a level of inconvenience for AT&T customers, this
is less about net neutrality and more about unwinding those
I still say fuck Verizon and their stance on net neutrality.
Trump’s Lies, the Definitive List ★
Copiously documented and perfectly presented. Looked striking in the print edition, too.
How to Build Smaller Apps ★
Popular social networking apps are over 400 megs. With weekly
releases, over one year you’ll download twenty gigs of data.
Since we launched Halide, the most unexpected compliment we’ve
heard is about its size. At 11 megs, we’ll push less data in one
year than a social network pushes in a single update.
“So you aren’t using Swift,” asked a friend. After all, Swift
bundles its standard libraries into your app, bloating its size.
Halide is almost entirely Swift. How did we do it? Let’s start
with the technical bits.
His conclusion is spot-on:
There really is one weird trick to lose size: focus on your customers.
Bad App Citizens ★
This got me thinking — as a user who has a lot of apps
installed, how much bandwidth does my phone use to keep my apps
One Friday I turned off auto-update for apps and let the update
queue build up for a week. The results shocked me.
It’s getting to the point where most apps can’t be updated over cellular because they’re all over 100 MB. This is madness.
Update: Many readers have written to argue that the listed sizes in the App Store aren’t what you actually download when updating an app, thanks to app thinning and other features. OK, but even with app thinning and delta updates these apps are still way too big as downloads and take up way too much storage on devices.
More Than 1,000 Uber Employees Ask for Travis Kalanick to Return ★
Dan Primack, reporting for Axios:
More than one thousand current Uber employees have signed a letter
to the company’s board of directors, asking for the return of
deposed CEO Travis Kalanick “in an operational role.” One of its
venture capital investors also is chiming in, with a similar
Not surprising to me at all — Uber was made in Kalanick’s image.
Kara Swisher: ‘Susan Fowler Proved That One Person Can Make a Difference’ ★
It was Lao Tzu who said that “the journey of a thousand miles
begins with a single step.”
In the case of complete and utter change reeling through Uber
right now — culminating in the resignation of its once
untouchable CEO Travis Kalanick — it turns out that it began with
one of the most epic blog posts to be written about what happens
when a hot company becomes hostage to its increasingly
dysfunctional and toxic behaviors.
It was clear from the moment you read the 3,000-word post by
former engineer Susan Fowler about her time at the car-hailing
company that nothing was going to be the same. Titled simply,
“Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber,” the
essay deftly and surgically laid out the map that the media and
others would use to prove to its out-to-lunch board and waffling
investors that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick had to go.
The truth and courage are a powerful combination.
Gizmodo Investigation Exposes Websites Collecting Form Data Before You Hit ‘Submit’ ★
Great investigative work by Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu for Gizmodo:
During a recent investigation into how a drug-trial recruitment
company called Acurian Health tracks down people who look online
for information about their medical conditions, we discovered
NaviStone’s code on sites run by Acurian, Quicken Loans, a
continuing education center, a clothing store for plus-sized
sites were transmitting information from people as soon as they
typed or auto-filled it into an online form. That way, the company
would have it even if those people immediately changed their minds
and closed the page. […]
We decided to test how the code works by pretending to shop on
sites that use it and then browsing away without finalizing the
purchase. Three sites — hardware site Rockler.com, gift site
CollectionsEtc.com, and clothing site BostonProper.com — sent us
emails about items we’d left in our shopping carts using the email
addresses we’d typed onto the site but had not formally submitted.
Although Gizmodo was able to see the email address information
being sent to Navistone, the company said that it was not
responsible for those emails.
They weren’t responsible for sending the emails, but they were responsible for the email addresses being sent to those websites in the first place. Sending form data surreptitiously is morally wrong, and everyone knows it.
Uber’s Biggest Problem: Its Business Model ★
Christopher Mims, in his column for The Wall Street Journal:
But even when it steers through that thicket of crises, Uber will
have to come to grips with a fundamental vulnerability that is
increasingly apparent in the company’s business model. Uber may be
great at technology, but unlike the businesses of Google,
Facebook, Apple or Amazon, technology hasn’t proven to be a
significant barrier to new entrants in ride-sharing. Across the
globe, Uber has dozens of competitors, and in many markets they
have grabbed the lion’s share of the ride-sharing market.
Even if Uber fixes all of its current problems, it’s increasingly
unlikely that it can live up to the inflated expectations that
come with the nearly $70 billion valuation that have made it the
world’s most valuable startup. There are barbarians at Uber’s
gate, and it’s sorely in need of a moat.
This is why they’re pursuing self-driving technology so aggressively. There’s simply no way that Uber is worth $70 billion without some sort of exclusive technical advantage. That’s the interesting flip side to Kalanick’s ouster — I’m not sure who would want the job.
Chris Lattner on His Stint at Tesla ★
Chris Lattner has updated his resume with his accomplishments at Tesla. Unsurprisingly, it sounds like he got a lot done in just five months — including, ironically, addressing an engineering talent retention problem.
Inside Travis Kalanick’s Resignation ★
Mike Isaac, reporting for The New York Times:
Travis Kalanick’s final hours as Uber’s chief executive played out
in a private room in a downtown Chicago hotel on Tuesday.
There, Mr. Kalanick, who was on a trip to interview executive
candidates for Uber, was paid a surprise visit. Two venture
capitalists — Matt Cohler and Peter Fenton of the Silicon Valley
firm Benchmark, which is one of Uber’s biggest shareholders —
presented Mr. Kalanick with a list of demands, including his
resignation before the end of the day. The letter was from five of
Uber’s major investors, including Benchmark and the mutual fund
giant Fidelity Investments. […]
By the end of the day, after hours of haggling and arguing, that
course was clear: Mr. Kalanick agreed to step down as Uber’s chief
Truly great reporting from Isaac, including the fact that even during his brief “leave of absence”, he wasn’t really absent at all:
In reality, Mr. Kalanick had little intention of staying away from
his company. Almost immediately after announcing the leave of
absence, he worked the phones to push out Mr. Bonderman for making
the sexist comment onstage at an Uber employee meeting. With the
two increasingly at odds, Mr. Kalanick sent out a flurry of texts,
phone calls and emails to his allies to pressure Mr. Bonderman to
step down from Uber’s board. Hours later, Mr. Bonderman did.
Narrative Maps for ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Books ★
Sarah Laskow, writing for Atlas Obscura:
The last installment of the original “Choose Your Own Adventure”
series came out in 1998, but since 2004, Chooseco, founded by
one of the series’ original authors, R.A. Montgomery, has been
republishing classic volumes, as well as new riffs on the form of
interactive fiction that seemed ubiquitous in the 1980s and ’90s.
The new editions also carry an additional feature — maps of the
hidden structure of each book.
Just looking at the maps included in the article, it’s interesting how wildly varying in complexity these stories were. See also: Christian Swinehart’s color-coded graphical representations of these books.
John Markoff’s Interview With Scott Forstall and Members of the Original iPhone Team ★
The Computer History Museum (now on YouTube):
Museum Historian John Markoff moderates a discussion with former
iPhone team members Hugo Fiennes, Nitin Ganatra and Scott Herz,
followed by a conversation with Scott Forstall.
Forstall was great. It’s hard to believe he’s been out of Apple and out of the limelight for 5 years — watching him on stage with Markoff it feels like he never left.
Monday, 19 June 2017
Medium seems to continue to grow in popularity as a publishing platform, and as it does, I’m growing more and more frustrated by their on-screen “engagement” turds. Every Medium site displays an on-screen “sharing” bar that covers the actual content I want to read. This is particularly annoying on the phone, where screen real estate is most precious. Now on iOS they’ve added an “Open in App” button that literally makes the last 1-2 lines of content on screen unreadable. To me these things are as distracting as having someone wave their hand in front of my face while I try to read.
Here’s an annotated screenshot (and threaded rant) I posted to Twitter while trying to read Steven Sinofksy’s WWDC 2017 trip report on my iPad Pro review unit last week.
Safari already has a built-in Sharing button. It has all the options for sharing I need. And as I scroll the page, it disappears so that I can see as much text on screen as possible. Safari is designed to be reader-friendly, as it should be. But it’s trivial to get that Sharing button back when I want it – just tap the bottom of the screen and there it is. Easy.
This is now a very common design pattern for mobile web layouts. Medium is far from alone. It’s getting hard to find a news site that doesn’t put a persistent sharing dickbar down there.
TechCrunch’s waste of space deserves special mention, for having a persistent navbar at the top and a persistent ad, in addition to their sharing dickbar.
I’m sure “engagement” does register higher with these sharing dickbars, but I suspect a big part of that is because of accidental taps. And even so, what is more important, readability or “engagement”? Medium wants to be about readability but that’s hard to square with this dickbar, and especially hard to square with the “Open in App” button floating above it.
iOS also has a standard way to prompt users to install the app version of a website — Smart App Banners. And it’s user-dismissible.
For any piece over a page long, I read Medium pieces with Safari’s Reader Mode. Medium is supposed to be a reader-optimized layout by default. It should be one of the sites where you’re never even tempted to switch to Reader Mode.
I’m frustrated by this design pattern everywhere I see it. But I’m especially disappointed by Medium’s adoption of it. I don’t expect better from most websites. I do expect better from Medium.
I don’t expect to break through to the SEO shitheads running the asylums at most of these publications, but Medium is supposed to be good. When people click a URL and see that it’s a Medium site, their reaction should be “Oh, good, a Medium site — this will be nice to read.” Right now it’s gotten to the point where when people realize an article is on Medium, they think, “Oh, crap, it’s on Medium.” ★