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Your host’s longer, more inspired posts. Typically topics range from reviews you won’t trust to music you won’t like to politics you won’t support.


WWDC 2014 Liveblog

Tune in for live commentary on the WWDC 2014 keynote. 10 AM pacific, 1 PM eastern. No need to refresh the page!

WWDC 2014

That’s it, folks. Solid WWDC. Can’t wait to try this stuff.

No hardware; no Apple TV update. I guess we’ll keep waiting.

And hell yeah I’m putting it on my only phone.

It’s time for the wrap-up. iOS 8 looks amazing. Beta today, can’t wait to try it.

Swift apps can be submitted on day one of Yosemite and iOS 8.

Now we know what all of those unnamed sessions are and those banners upstairs.

Was that a boom mic in the shot?

I wish I knew more about this.

I don’t know what this stuff means but developers are cheering!

“The language is called Swift. And it totally rules.”

Objective-C without the C.

John Siracusa is wetting himself right now.

New version of Xcode.

Updates to SpriteKit. Again I don’t care, seriously. SceneKit. Ok.

At this point the games developers can make are cool but restricted mostly by the device. Why aren’t these on Apple TV? Because Apple is dragging their heels.

Tim: “What are gaming.”

So tedium. Such boring. Wow.

(We’re not related.)

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

Game demos. I hope we aren’t about to see game developers on stage. I hate that so more.

Metal: much improved access for games to the CPU and GPU. A lot of stuff I don’t understand ok.

CloudKit: free cloud assets for server side development. Way beyond iCloud. Going over these fast since press doesn’t really care.

Seems like there’ll need to be a common app for this.

HomeKit: common network protocol for home automation devices. Big “fuck you!” to Nest right now. Siri integration.

Photo library/camera APIs.

Works how you’d imagine.

Touch ID API.

Swype coming to iOS.

Third party keyboards… Was not expecting that.

How are users going to handle extensions?

Widgets look pretty cool, but definitely the possibility of uglifying the UI.

Weather information is now provided by The Weather Channel, according to Notification Center.

VSCO filters can be applied in Photos via their own UI. Really cool.

This is very cool.

Apps can appear on other’s share sheets. Bing can translate Safari pages. Third parties can put their widgets in Notification Center.

Extensibility: apps can offer services to other apps.

Craig’s back up. 4,00 new APIs.

Biggest release of the SDK since the launch of the App Store.

TestFlight built into the store.

Video previews.

Bundle sales.

New features for the store: Nearby changed to explore. Curation for the store. Better search. Faster search with continuing scroll. Editor’s Choice logo on search results.

300,000,000 visitors to the store every week. 75,000,000,000 downloads.

1.2 million apps in the store.

Tim coming back for the developer portion of iOS 8.

Siri: Faster voice recognition, Shazam, and “Hey Siri” when it’s plugged in.

Not free, but much cheaper storage options. I’ll finally upgrade I suppose. Still, not really cool, Apple.

At this point they really have to give us more storage. On the web too. Full res, original format.

But it looks like Apple really is solving the photo problem… next year.

Hopefully a beta soon. I want.

“We’re working on a grounds up photo solution for the Mac, shipping early next year.” :/

He keeps saying “iCloud Photo Library”. Surely this is a Mac thing too and surely we’re getting more storage.

“It’s really awesome.”

Pretty advanced editing features. Whither iPhoto?

Totally called the new wallpaper business aren’t you impressed?

Search in photos for location, time, and albums. More editing options in Photos.

iCloud Photo Library. Is this coming to Mac? Was John Gruber right?

Photos + iCloud. Sounds like unlimited Photo Stream.

So that’s how that works.

Up to six family members who share the same credit card…

With Family Sharing you can get at your family member’s purchases.

Helping parents everywhere stalk their children.

Family units on iOS, so you can easily share things between your family members.

Integration with the Mayo Clinic for blood pressure and other perimeters to catch health issues. Pretty cool but probably going to start small.

HealthKit provides a single place for applications to contribute data about your health. Health is the corresponding application where you can monitor everything about you. Third parties can access (with your permission) data about your health.

Health. Here it comes.

Oooh per-message S/MIME!!! (I don’t know what that is.)

I really don’t care about these features so…

98% of Fortune 500 companies use iOS. “And we’re gonna get the last two.”

Enterprise. Blegh.

Edits are saved to the original files so you don’t end up with duplicates.

iCloud Drive. You can now open files from other apps via the iCloud document picker. Thank god.

Messages looks great. All needed improvements.

If you get an audio message on your lock screen, you can listen to it by just putting your phone to your ear. Reply the same way.

He mentioned a “self-destruct” feature for attachments. Hopefully that alleviates those storage problems.

Videos play back in-line. More hair jokes ha ha.

Ooh sassy response.

Middle aged white dudes, every body.

Joz with a classic duck face, folks.

I was hoping QuickType would be Swype-style input… Damn.

Good-bye Find My Friends? I don’t think we’ll miss it.

Send voice and video messages very quickly.

You can change the name of group threads, turn of notifications for a thread or leave it, and add or remove people from it. You can share location with people in the thread. You can view all of the attachments in a nice view.

Messages is the most frequently used app on iOS.

SMS and phone calls on your iPad.

Continuity between iOS devices.

All that learning is local to the device. Private private private.

QuickType adapts to the message you’re sending, depending on what the rest of the conversation is like.

“QuickType” offers suggestions for what it thinks you’re typing.

Same Spotlight suggestions in Safari on iOS.

The same things you can do in Yosemite. App Store search, points of interest in maps, wikipedia entries, news, songs on the store, movies. Again, basically a textual Siri.

Spotlight. Yes.

But finally the iPad is getting features the iPhone can’t do. Mail looks great.

Contacts in multitasking is weird…

Facebook has actionable notifications, so it’s open to third parties.

“Bad Blood” by Bastille again.

Mail is getting more Mailbox-y.

iPad Safari gets Yosemite’s tab view and sidebar.

Your most frequently interacted-with contacts are in the multitasking area?

Works for calendar events, emails (I’m assuming) and works on the lock screen.

You can now reply to message notifications !!!

No more Missed in Notification Center.

“I missed you guys.”

End user features first. Here comes Craig again.

The excitement is building…

Giant release. Two stories: great end-user features and incredible developer features.

iOS 8. “We are not standing still.”

“toxic hellstew”. Tim doesn’t like Android.

Over a third of Android customers are running a version of Android 4 years old.

Android: 9% on KitKat.

iOS 7 is on 89% of devices.

He said “customer sat” again.

“Customer sat”. There it is. That was on the bingo card, right?

“Nearly half of our customers in China in the past six months switched from Android to iPhone.”

Digs on Android right now. Ok.

130 million iOS buyers were new to Apple this past year.

800 million iOS devices. 100 million iPod touches. 200 million iPads. 500 million iPhones. That’s half a billion.

Next up: iOS. Tim Cook’s back up.

I think the X in the logo is thinner this year.

Public beta program, but not happening today.

Coming in the fall. Free. Duh.

Available to developers today.

I’m hoping iCloud drive means we’re getting more storage for free…

That’s Yosemite. Yosemite is amazing.

This is mad awkward.

“We all want to welcome you to Apple.”

“Hey how you doin’ this is Dre.”

Calling Dr. Dre…

Continuity is amazing. I hope it works.

You can make calls from your Mac too.

Phone calls on your Mac, through your phone. Caller ID on your Mac. Holy shit that’s great.

SMS: texting on your Mac via your phone. “Green bubble friends” with “inferior devices”. They “insist on sending us messages”.

Even if your phone is across the room!

If you’re away from a network and your phone is nearby, your Mac will prompt you to set up a hotspot.

“Handoff”. “If you want to pick up where you left off on your Mac…” an icon appears on your iPad of the app you were working in. Swipe up to immediately get to it. Works for emails you’re writing.

AirDrop between OS X and iOS. Finally.

Continuity. “We believe you should be able to use the right device for the moment.” Yesssssss.

End of Demo. Craig’s back. “How about that parallel programming joke.” No just stop.

“I hope the rope is multithreaded.” ha ha

Markup isn’t very different from Preview annotations, just in the Mail app. meh.

Playing it smooth though…

Safari just crashed.

Spotlight suggestions in Safari look great. Spotlight is the killer feature of Yosemite.

We still have dots under running applications in the dock.

Safari remains way ahead of competition. Demo time.

HTML5 premium video, works with Netflix without need for Silverlight. 2 hours + more battery life than with Silverlight.

Separate private windows like Chrome.

Tab view that gives you grid of tabs, grouped by website.

RSS reading is back in Safari under Shared Links.

Safari: favorite bar under smart search field like iOS 7. Spotlight suggestions in Safari.

Annotations called “Markup” on emails.

Large email attachments via MailDrop. Basically uploads attachments to iCloud and emails a link instead of emailing the attachment.

For iOS.

iCloud document picker…

Technically this already worked but it was a hack. Just making that public.

You can now access your iCloud documents from apps (iOS and Mac) in Finder. And you can store all of your own files there.

!!!

Next: iCloud Drive.

Craig is going really fast. Seems like they have a lot to get through.

Basically a textual Siri. Would be great if this is on iOS too.

Spotlight looks really amazing. Going to change how you use your Mac every day.

Conversions in Spotlight.

“You haven’t had chili by the campfire until you’ve tried it with one of Jony’s custom made aluminium forks. It’s the diamond cut chamfered edges.”

No more black textured shit in Reminders.

Sports scores widget.

Notification Center goes over the desktop now, like iOS.

Nice default widgets. World clocks. Whither Dashboard?

Mentions of seeing wallpaper behind title bars reminiscent of… Vista. Heh.

My laptop looks like shit right now.

Third party apps are going to look like shit until they’re updated.

Demo time.

Internet searches. News feeds, maps, movies. Very Siri-like.

Inline preview for document search.

Spotlight: in the middle, like other launchers…

There’s a calculator widget, for example.

Updates to Notification Center: dark translucent like iOS. Today view from iOS. No Missed (hmm!). You can extend today view with widgets from third party apps.

Messages finally looks good.

Dark mode is sexy!

Dark mode!

Helvetica!!!

All new icons. Very pretty. “Check out that trash can. That is a gorgeous trash can.”

Translucency.

Everything has been refined.

Very iOS 7.

This is pretty.

Helvetica. Not all circles for icons.

Video time.

Showing original Aqua.

New interface. Big enhancement to our most popular apps. And “Continuity”.

Check one off the predictions list, folks.

Using Futura in the presentation. Making jokes about OS X names. Oxnard? Rancho Cucamongga? Weed? No no no no. Yosemite.

Craig Federighi coming up to talk about the next version of OS X.

“Need I say more?”

“You may wonder how that compares to Windows.” Windows 8, a year older than Mavericks, is on 14% of Windows PCs.

Over 50% of installed base on Mavericks. Fastest adoption of any PC operating system ever.

40 million copies of Mavericks installed. Most of a single release ever.

80 million Macs.

“Let’s start with the Mac.”

“It’s so huge we’ve dedicated an entire section of the presentation to this.”

“You’re going to see the mother of all releases for developers.”

9 million registered developers. Up 50% over last year.

I’m 19 and I’ve done nothing!

“A special shout out to the student scholarship winners. They worked really hard to get here. Our youngest developer in the audience here today is 13.”

“This is a milestone year for this conference. It is the 25th year for this conference. It started in 1990 when a bunch of developers gathered together to talk about System 7.”

“From all of Apple: thank you very much.”

And here comes Tim Cook, to much applause.

A little girl to developers: “You inspire me so much.”

“What you really have is an intersection of technology and art.” There it is, folks.

“You open up an app and you open up a possibility.”

Now a kid with an artificial hand. Uses an app to do more and better things with it. That’s pretty cool. “I’m a fan of being different.”

These are choice quotes, folks.

“I gravitate toward very melancholy and painful songs.”

New Yorker: “I play solitaire, and of course I always win.”

“The best app of all time… has to be… Tinder.”

“I think these apps are essential to bring change to what’s going on in the ocean.”

Duckface.

Now average people are talking about the apps they can’t live without.

“That magic is a part of the app world.”

“I really don’t know what a developer looks like, but the apps they make let’s us do amazing things.”

Starting with a video, average people describing developers.

We’ve got a rights notice on screen.

“A Sky Full of Stars” by Coldplay.

“The Wire” by Haim.

“Pompeii” by Bastille.

“Lazaretto” by Jack White.

The Apple TV channel is live!

Just under an hour away from getting started!

WWDC 2014 Predictions/Wishlist

WWDC starts tomorrow. Like last year, there’s an overall sense of mystery going in. We expect OS X to get redesigned, but we don’t know how far Apple will go. Last year no one guessed iOS 7 would diverge so fully from the past. Likewise, this year the argument goes that because OS X has windowed, overlapping applications, a complete change will be ugly until every app is updated to the new look. Surely, a change as drastic as iOS 7 won’t fly. Thing is, I don’t think Jony cares. And don’t call me Shirley. Are Mr. Ive and Mr. Cook going to let third party developer resentment hold them back from their “ideal” Mac OS? Nope.

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park. Image courtesy of the National Park Service.

Let’s get down to predictions. Here’s what I expect to be announced tomororow:

Here are three things you might have heard rumored but I don’t expect to hear about tomorrow:

Finally, here are the things I’m crossing my fingers for (but aren’t likely):

That’s all I got. I think there will be more, maybe something new about the Beats acquisition, and hopefully new hardware, but I really don’t know. I don’t think anybody does, and that’s great. Last year’s WWDC was the most exciting Apple keynote since January 2010. I love not knowing.

For fun, I’ll be liveblogging the keynote this year. No, I won’t be in San Francisco but I’ll be on my couch in front of my Apple TV pretending I’m in San Francisco, and really that’s almost as good. That’ll go up tomorrow a few hours before the keynote starts, so if you’re around you can tune in.


  1. I kid, I kid. ↩︎

  2. How much of this is me wanting to avoid upgrade fever all summer? 50% at least. ↩︎

Six Years a Mac

My older sister imprinted two important philosophies on me growing up: liberalism and Appleism. I grew up in a fiercely Republican, lower-middle class home and Apple products were few in far between. My wealthy grandfather favored the Windows world and so all of the hand-me-down laptops I received through grade school were shitty Compaq and Toshiba XP machines. Remember when external slide-in wireless cards were a thing? If you’ve been an Apple user all your life, you probably don’t, you lucky sons-of-bitches. Still I loved them and spent every afternoon on them, getting involved pretty seriously with some early 2000’s internet communities I’m too embarrassed now to call out by name.

In 2005 my sister asked for and received a white iPod video for Christmas. A very casual listener of music myself, I asked for some no-name multimedia viewer that vaguely resembled a PSP; it held about fifteen songs and could theoretically play video and games, though I never figured out either. I remember many car rides and plane rides to and from my dad’s over the next year or so listening to my sister’s iPod through rubber-necked Belkin headphone splitter, and when she would demo for me how the software worked I remember being impressed yet having no desire to own one.

Fast forward another Christmas and I was begging for an iPod. It came used off eBay, the exact model my sister got a year early: 30GB white. I loaded it with mostly my sister’s music collection and spent hours listening to it and playing Parachute and watching whatever free videos were available on iTunes. I even got in to podcasts for the first time, the venerable Mugglecast and Pottercast to stay up on all the movie five news.

The May after that Christmas my sister graduated high school and was given as a present a plastic white MacBook. I watched her unbox it and set it up, and listened to her tout the benefits of the Mac over Windows as my grandfather grumbled and suggested she load bootcamp and XP. An impressionable sixth grader, I accepted everything my sister said as absolute fact and if anyone asked which I preferred I would proudly say that Macs were better and I would have one if I could afford it.

The summer after she graduated my family moved to Massachusetts and my last Windows laptop stopped working. Its replacement came in a 6 year old Dual-USB G3 iBook from my grandma, running OS X Jaguar. Out of date in every regard, and yet it was the best computer I had ever owned. At the time, I did not think it very remarkable. I was often frustrated by the lack of software available for it and I could not store much of my music collection on its tiny 10 GB hard drive. Still, it worked just as it had when it was new, cranking away at 450 MHz and rendering the web just as well as any Windows PC I ever owned. Only after I moved on to a newer Windows 7 machine (out of necessity for something newer) did I appreciate just how good that machine was. It was the only computer I’ve ever owned that was not replaced because it broke. It still works fine, actually, now on Tiger and spending most of its days at the bottom of a trunk at my mom’s house, but it does boot and work perfectly. The iBook, more than the iPod I owned before it, truly introduced me to Apple and spurned my love for their products.

Thirty years ago Steve Jobs introduced the first Macintosh and completely changed the computer industry; six years ago I got my first Macintosh and I was started onto the journey toward total Apple immersion. I’ve now owned four iPods, two iPads, I’m on my second iPhone and my second and third Macs, and I run a blog dedicated heavily to coverage of Apple.

False Start

I consider myself a casual Apple historian, in that I am a big fan of Apple’s work and through that interest I have learned a fair amount about their past. It is with much interest that I purchased Leander Khaney’s Jony Ive, a biography of Apple’s famed lead designer. A month ago, I linked to an excerpt about the beginnings of the first iPhone. It is quite good and had me excited to read the rest of the book. Unfortunately (but not unexpectedly) this was the best portion of the book by far.

I was not turned off by the entire book1. The beginning, which talks about Ive’s education and work before Apple is informative, telling a story I doubt many are familiar with. Khaney’s descriptions of Ive’s early work at Apple were also enjoyable, covering the development of the Newton, the Twentieth Anniversay Mac, and the iMac. Part of me wonders, however, if these sections were more enjoyable only because I am less familiar with those product’s stories already. If I knew more about them, would I have found as many faults with Khaney’s writing as I did with the newer products that I am familiar with?

Jony Ive by Leander Khaney
Jony Ive would not like how this book looks.

The book is entirely effusive about Jony Ive, to the point of being annoying. The hockey puck mouse that shipped with the original iMac is only gently derided, and Ive’s tendency to supplant form over function is likewise given a pass. This gushing attitude hits its high in the final chapter, where credit for the success of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad is seemingly given entirely to Ive:

The iPod was a product of Jony’s simplification philosophy. It could have been just another complex MP3 player, but instead he turned it into the iconic gadget that set the design cues for later mobile devices. Two more delightful innovations, the iPhone and the iPad, were products of thinking differently, of creative engineering at work in rational problem solving on many levels.

Khaney repeatedly gives total credit for these products to Ive, which is ridiculous. Even the subtitle of the book is “The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products”. Not some of Apple’s greatest products, not a genius: he is the genius behind all of Apple’s greatest products. Ridiculous. All of the products Ive has worked on at Apple have been the result of massive team efforts of which Ive was only a single part. In many cases he was pivotal, but he was not the only pivotal person.

Regarding the iPod, Khaney even acknowledges that Ive did not have nearly as much control as with later devices. Khaney says that the idea for it came from Rubinstein (SVP of Hardware) and Fadell (Ruby’s understudy), the scroll wheel interface came from Schiller, and that Ive was only told about the project when they handed him the components of a finished unit and asked him to wrap it up in a pretty case.

The struggle between designer and engineer comes up a lot in the book. During Steve Jobs’s first reign at Apple, particularly in regards to the creation of the original Macintosh, design led engineering. Following Jobs’s departure, engineering took over and designers were forced to build pretty boxes around whatever engineering sent their way. When Jobs returned, things flipped back: designers came up with a product, and the engineers had to meet the constraints of the design. Understanding that, you’ve grasped a majority of what Khaney says about design in Jony Ive. That struggle is brought up so many times throughout the biography that I got irritated while reading whenever Khaney indicated he was about to go off on that tangent again.

Even more frustrating was when Khaney would spout things that were incorrect and/or idiotic. Again from the last chapter we get this nugget:

Before he died, Jobs revealed the degree to which he empowered Jony inside the company. “He has more operational power than anyone else at Apple except me,” Jobs said. “There’s no one who can tell him what to do, or to butt out. That’s the way I set it up.”

Jobs didn’t explain exactly what he meant. According to Apple’s organization chart, Jony reports to Cook; yet, according to Jobs, Cook can’t tell him what to do.

Khaney, you’ve left out one important detail: Steve Jobs is dead. Tim Cook is CEO, and he can absolutely tell Jony Ive what Jony Ive can and can’t do at Apple. Whether or not it would be wise of Tim Cook constrain Ive is a different question, but the notion that he can’t just because Steve Jobs said so is absurd.

In his chapter on the iPad, Khaney says:

In March 2012, Apple followed up with the third-generation iPad, which added a high-density retina display, a faster chip and better cameras. In October of the same year, the fourth-generation iPad was launched with a much faster processor and cell connection, as well as a tiny lightning connector to replace the original thirty-pin connector…

Two things. First, the third-generation iPad added LTE networking, not the fourth. This is a small mistake, but it’s embarassing. These little details are the easiest to research and get correct, and we’re trusting this man to have done extensive research into a very secretive company. If he can’t get the small, public, obvious facts right how are we supposed to trust the rest of it? Second, that paragraph contains the only mention of the lightning connector, the design of which is an important recent design that, as John Gruber put it, “epitomizes what makes Apple Apple”. Did Ive have nothing to do with it? In this book we’re led to think so.

This biography leaves out a lot that I wanted to know. iOS 7, arguably the most important product Ive has worked on since the first iPhone, is covered only briefly at the very end. It is generally summarized and lauded2 without any detail behind the events besides letting us know that Scott Forstall was actually fired, despite what Apple PR claiming he stepped down. Yeah, we already knew that. I wanted new information, not the same stories I’ve seen in the news for the past year. It’s hard to completely fault Khaney for this since all of it is so recent; it’s difficult to find sources for anything inside Apple, and probably impossible to get any behind-the-scenes accounts from the past year.

We can fault Khaney, however, for spending so much time off the topic of Jony Ive the man. There is much discussion of Steve Jobs, who was very important to Ive but not unfamiliar to anyone reading this biography. In fact, most who read Jony Ive will have read Walter Isaacson’s official biography of Steve Jobs, a text that Khaney cites numerous times. Later, there is far too much discussion on Apple’s stock prices and the post-Steve Jobs era of Apple. I picked up this book because I wanted to learn about Jony Ive and his design process and the stories behind my favorite Ive designs, not to hear someone else predict the future of Apple. In his final paragraph, Khaney actually calls on Jony Ive to reinvent Apple’s design language. Apparently it’s become “predictable”. You know, I was just thinking about how everyone more or less predicted exactly how iOS 7 would look.

All of this, to me, points to the unmistakable fact that this biography is premature. The products that Khaney goes in-depth on are older and less interesting. Ive is far from done and I hope his best work is still ahead of him. At the very least, his best work is his current work, and we won’t learn the stories behind these products for several more years, maybe a decade. Only then could we get a proper biography. You can safely ignore this one.


  1. Actually, the book itself is sort of gross-looking. The line-spacing is too tall and the text is set in an unappealing serif (the apostrophes and quotation marks are particularly unsettling) with headings in Avenir Next. Sans-serifs should never be used in printed books. In the case of Jony Ive, the use of the sans-serif combined with weird gray lozenges and pullquotes at the beginning of each chapter (see here) give the impression that this book belongs in an elementary school classroom. It’s an odd, almost intangible effect but I was not the only one who noticed it. I somehow doubt Jony Ive would be happy with his biography looking like this. ↩︎

  2. Khaney spends one paragraph noting iOS 7’s dedication to typography through the use of Helvetica Neue. He does not specify Helvetica Neue Light, and his writing indicates that he has no idea Helvetica Neue has been the system font on iOS since it went retina↩︎

The Meaning of Life, Part I

The Importance of Doubt

We believe certain things. We believe in knowledge. We believe in importance. We believe what we do in this world matters and we believe that other people are important and what they do matters, too. We accept these intangibles because if we do not there is nothing else.


Few of us ask questions beyond the superficial. Those who do we call “philosophers” and we revere them (though often not until long after they have parted us). While anyone can question, philosophers possess one special skill that enables them to think more critically: the acceptance of doubt. Most fear doubt; fear of doubt is ruin.

Most bloody wars in history have had at the root of their cause religion. Religion is bred from doubt; it is born out of fear of the unknown. Over the thousands of years of human intelligence, the fear of the unknown has forced the creation of myths to explain away what we cannot any other way. Those who fear the unknown fear death. It is impossible to know what if anything happens after death, so religions have manufactured promises of life surviving the destruction of the earthly body. No lasting culture on earth has ever accepted that when humans die, all the evidence says nothing happens. Heaven and hell are notions created and written down by living humans with the same knowledge you or I have of the after-life: none. Through repetition, they are concepts that most of the world accepts blindly.

The modern philosopher Thomas Nagel says in What Does It All Mean? that we cannot be absolutely sure of anything: “If you think about it, the inside of your mind is the only thing you can be absolutely sure of.” How can we be sure anything is real? What is “real”, anyway? How do we know that everything going on around us, the entire world and every one in it, isn’t all in our head? These questions have no answer. There is nothing we can be sure of; certainty does not exist; that’s terrifying. Perhaps nothing I have ever done, do, or will do matters.

Ultimately, the search for certainty is useless. You can idle for your entire life and make nothing of your perceived time on this planet and no one will be able to convince you that you are apart of anything worth wasting. Certainty is impossible, so to move on to more important matters we must accept doubt in the way of things and renounce this blind faith in unreferenced answers. There is only one thing worth convincing ourselves of: that what we do here on earth is the only thing we know; if anything matters, it is this.

Immortality in a Mortal World

As humans we are struck with this concept that life is somehow important. There is little evidence for that. The universe has existed for 14,000,000,000 years and humans have inhabited the Earth for fewer than 0.0002% of them. The idea that anything any one of us has ever done has had even the slightest impact on anything further away than our Moon is laughable. The dinosaur dynasty lasted for over 135,000,000 years but what have they left behind? Fossils? Birds? Virtually nothing. Their only legacy is the oil we use to power our cars that in turn pollutes the Earth’s atmosphere. Not much to aspire to. Even if we do manage another 134,800,000 years, are we destined to be but a casual mystery to whatever species usurps us? It is a disconcerting reality that as we learn more of the universe, our own existence feels increasingly insignificant. But that belief, that life is important… It does not fade.


We remember past figures for their accomplishments. King Narmer, Otto von Bismarck, Abraham Lincoln: we remember these people because they marked history. It is reasonable then to assume that if we do important things and change the world, we will be remembered also. Steve Jobs once said of death:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life.

Immortality through reverence and remembrance is a real, observable phenomenon and the only meaning we can assure ourselves we can achieve.

Sit idle if you want and I cannot say for sure you’re wasting anything. But I will narrow the scope of my universe; to a human being that will live about 80 years, 200,000 of them feels like a pretty long time. I will never possess the ability to affect the universe as a whole, but I can surely affect the other humans here with me. I will ignore reality; I will muddle the facts because if I do not, I am nothing. “There’s no point,” wrote Nagel. “It wouldn’t matter if I didn’t exist at all, or if I didn’t care about anything. But I do. That’s all there is to it.”

Enjoy the Little Things

“Is Fortune’s presence dear to thee if she cannot be trusted to stay, and though she will bring sorrow when she is gone?”
— Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy


Fortune, good or bad, is transient. And that being the case, is there any point to finding Fortune’s good graces? The impression from Boethius is no. “True happiness” is fulfillment. It is found through wisdom and knowledge which cannot (at least, cannot easily) be taken away, as Fortune can. Fulfillment gives one importance and reverence in life, which can make one eternal. I am enrolled in the most prestigious and expensive university I was accepted to because I know a college education is an important step toward fulfillment. I come from a lower-middle-class family with little extra money to spend on college, and I did not impress enough in high school to get anything better than a partial scholarship. I cannot afford to be here. I am scheduled to pay off this semester with considerable interest by 2042. Yet here I am. I should be on the right track. But I am not happy.

Every week I have a “bad” day: a day when it gets to me the extent to which I am in-over-my-head. I have long imagined a Wall, a barrier to success brought on by my ability to meet the A-grade expectation in high school without putting forth any effort. I am not totally devoid of drive, but certainly I lack it in the worst way wherever I lack interest. At some point I think I will be put in a situation where I cannot meet expectations without putting forth the effort I have witnessed peers pour into schoolwork in the past. When I finally am, I worry that I will simply fail. The Wall is one of my greatest anxieties, third only to equity and loneliness.

Will I be able to feed myself next week? What about over the holidays when the dining halls are closed? As much as I would love to say that money is not important, and that we can be happy without it, in truth I know that there is a certain level of wealth that is paramount to being happy. No one is content in poverty. I do not long for riches, but I long for Enough. Until I can take a friend out for a nice lunch spur-of-the-moment and foot the bill without concern, I do not have Enough.

I have struggled with friendship since sophomore-level high school. While I have consistently had one or two best friends, I have struggled with finding groups of friends large enough that I can associate with people that I like on a daily basis. I have always been particular in choosing friends, which has helped me to achieve a small group that I can already assert as life-long. But my particularity has run to by greatest fear: that of being Alone. Whether I am in my dorm room with only my laptop or in a coffee shop with strangers, if I am not with people I can joke around with, I am Alone. My “bad” days consistently line up with those that I spend a majority of Alone.

These anxieties: hitting the Wall, having Enough, being Alone, they each eat at me every day despite my adherence to the path toward fulfillment. Because of this I stress the importance of Fortune. Life is a mix of good and bad; the good does not make up for the bad but likewise the bad does not spoil the good. Despite its transience, good Fortune is important to a happy life because fulfillment takes a very long time. Along the way there are many toils and without little, fleeting, happy moments I could not cope. This is why I treated my friends to a Broadway show I could not afford, it is why I joined the quidditch team, and it is why I spend so much of my money on first dates.

Scattered Thoughts on Apple’s October 22 Event

Most of my predictions came true, with a few good exceptions: the Retina iPad mini comes in 128 GB flavors and has the A7, Mavericks is free, and we did get new versions of iLife and iWork for OS X, also free.

There were disappointments as well. The lack of a gold color option will disappoint some, but I’d say Apple knows what they’re doing. While gold is pulled off on the relatively small iPhone 5S, it probably looked bad on the larger metal canvas of an iPad. The Apple TV wasn’t updated with an iOS 7-y interface, which only makes me think Apple has something bigger planned for television still later this fall.

As for my wildcard, the 12-inch iPad, it isn’t surprising that nothing came of that but it is interesting that the new full-size iPad is called “iPad Air”. Some might say that Apple just can’t figure out how to name iPads1 but maybe, just maybe this means an “iPad Pro” is coming before this cycle is done. Might that iPad Pro have a 12-inch screen? Who knows.


The event was relatively boring. Nothing that came out of it was particularly surprising, as has been the case with most Apple events over the past 2-3 years. The lone exception being WWDC earlier this year, which was the most exciting Apple event since the iPad unveiling in 2010. The presentors, as Marco Arment points out, even seemed a little bored with what they were demoing. No individual item announced Tuesday would have warrented an event all its own, but it was just convienent to announce them all at one time in one place. Apple’s been slowly moving to an all-fall announcement schedule, which makes financial sense but is still a bit dissapointing. I miss the iPad-in-the-spring, iPhone-in-the-summer, Macs-and-iPods-in-the-fall years.


Does Apple have anything left for 2013? I certainly hope so. The iWatch doesn’t seem likely, but the Apple TV is still in need of a refresh and an upgrade.


  1. iPad > iPad 2 > The new iPad > iPad (fourth-generation) > iPad Air. Yeah, I’d say those people are right. ↩︎

More to Cover

We have an event in a few hours, so let’s talk predictions.

iPads: The current iPad mini will drop from $329 to $299. It’ll come in silver, Space Gray, and maybe gold. A new, retina iPad mini with an A6(X?) will come in at $399 in the same colors. The full-size iPad will have a new, mini-style casing and start at $499. 16 GB, 32 GB, 64 GB for the Minis and 16, 32, 64, 128 for the full-size. The full-size will get a hinge-less Smart Cover like the mini’s.

Macs: The Macs that haven’t been upgraded to Haswell (Mac mini, MacBook Pro) will be. I don’t expect anything other than spec updates for the Retina Pros. Maybe we’ll get a 90-degree MagSafe 2 charger. The Mac Pro will be mentioned, possible with pricing and surely with a ship date. I’m guessing December.

iOS: I would expect the Apple TV to get a 7-style UI, since it has so few graphical resources to begin with. Frankly, I’m surprised it didn’t happen last month. New versions of the remaining non-7-ified Apple apps will ship: iWork, iLife, Find My Friends, Find My iPhone, Remote. 7.1 or 7.0.3 will ship with bug fixes (please fix the Control Center-when-keyboard-showing bug, pretty please) and iCloud Keychain to go along with Mavericks…

OS X: Mavericks will ship, either today or in one week. $10. Since Apple asked developers to start submitting Mavericks-ready apps last week, I’m leaning toward a release this afternoon. (Sorry, John). Here’s hoping for new versions of iWork and iLife, but the odds don’t seem great.

Wildcard: The invitation says “we have a lot more to cover”, and here’s my wild-ass guess as to what that could mean: a 12-inch iPad with a 12-inch Smart Cover.

Set Theory of Relationship Design

It was a Saturday morning and I was seated on a bench in the park opposite a girl I’d been stealing glances at for fifteen minutes. I had no idea who she was, but she was reading and I was thinking.

You have a finite but vast set of potential life-mates. These people share your interests and your sense of humor; you get along well with them and they’re easy to talk to. Any one of them could be someone you fall in love with, but most of them aren’t. You’ll never meet most of them, but so far you’ve met many of them even if you haven’t realized it. For so many things in a row must go right for you to end up with one of them that when it finally happens it feels predestined. The truth is destiny is bullshit; there is no single person you’re waiting for.

In high school our set of potential mates was limited to the like-aged people we are in contact with. For most of us, this was only fellow high school students. Some others’ sets might have included people in extracurriculars, but for the most part we dated those within our high school. This presented an interesting conundrum, since the people we were interested in dating were also the people we saw almost every single day of our lives. To make peace between these facts, we spent energy and time getting acquainted with people before we went out with them. In high school, this strategy made sense. Time was of little concern. Few had anything truly pressing to get on with, and if you didn’t ask that cute girl out today well, she’d be there tomorrow. Leaving a trail of failed one- or two-date relationships would get messy quickly; awkward encounters with former suitors would be common and unavoidable. For a few lucky couples, the high school strategy worked. They found people within their sets and all the parts that had to go right went right; that’s well and that’s good.

Outside of high school, such a strategy is insane. Personally I have moved from a high school with 2,000 students to a university with 50,000 in a city with 70 colleges. If there were just 25 potential mates for me in high school, there should be over 600 just at NYU. That number ignores the millions of people who live in New York City and don’t attend NYU and it ignores that NYU students — intelligent and driven students, I would like to think — will have more aligned interests in general to mine than the people I was randomly thrown into high school with. And yet, 600 is still more people than any one person could date in a lifetime.

So we must adapt a new strategy. The game’s no longer about vetting every potential date, it’s about betting that that girl you can’t take your eyes off in the park is in your set. I got off the bench, sat next to her, and asked her out.

iOS 7: The Defomicron Review

iOS 7 is here. Tim Cook called it “the biggest change to iOS since the introduction of the iPhone” at WWDC, and he wasn’t exaggerating. This is an enormous release, and we have a lot to cover. The big thing is of course the new design. It’s a dramatic departure from not only iOS of the past but from anything Apple’s done before. The new design is most important, but it is far from the only change. If 7 looked exactly like 6, it would still be a substantial release. In an alternate universe, that’s the case. If Tim Cook had stepped outside and seen his shadow, we might’ve had 12 more months of “rich Corinthian leather”. We might’ve groaned, but in the end, we’d have been content. As it is, Tim didn’t see his shadow; Apple didn’t stand still.

Table of Contents

Installation

Before we go any further, let’s get you up and running on 7. If you’ve got a device with iOS 6, it’s pretty easy: Settings > General > Software Update. If you’re into it (I am), you can download it directly from Apple and do a clean install with an option-click in iTunes. If you’re lazy, at some point you’ll get a notification on your iPhone or iPad and with the tap of one button, iOS 7 will install. That’s how most of the world will be updated to this release, and that’s going to be interesting. While it is a great release, it is different and many average users are sure to be more than a little confused.


Design

In 2007, when the public first got eyes on iOS (back then, “iPhone OS”), its interface looked modern. The gloss- and gradient-heavy toolbars were carried over from the desktop OSes of the day, and from a certain point-of-view they made even more sense on the touchscreen device. If the controls were meant to be manipulated by our fingers, photo-realism made sense.

Fast forward six years and that same gloss and grad galore looks outdated, gratuitous even, to our trained eyes. The idea that elements that we interact with using our fingers need to look real is now obsolete. As John Gruber quipped when predicting iOS 7’s design changes: “the training wheels can come off”.

The Philosophy of iOS 7 Design

Jony Ive, the Brit behind Apple’s hardware for the past decade and a half led the design charge on iOS 7. As far as we know, this past year has been his first designing software. It appears that first year has been dedicated exclusively to redesigning Apple’s most important operating system. When we examine the design decisions made in iOS 7, it is clear that this is not merely a cosmetic rejuvenation. There’s little arbitrary about the decisions that have been made, with almost all of the changes stemming from shifts in the fundamental, core philosophies, that drive the operating system’s development.

Apple got a lot of things right with the original iPhone, and that includes the interface. A lot of this philosophy of depth can be found even then, in 1.0. The original Mobile Safari provided a similar cards interface to switch back and forth between open web pages. It is remarkable even now, after this massive redesign, how much has been maintained from the 1.0. iOS is still familiar, and that’s important.

Depth

The first of which is depth. Increasingly common in our industry is the proliferation and exultation of so-called “flat” design. Windows Phone is the prime example of this philosophy, with it’s total lack of gradients, sparse color, and focus on large and handsome typography. Before we saw iOS 7, we speculated that Apple would remove the gradients and gloss to “flatten” the interface. That prediction came true, but totally misrepresents iOS 7.

Before we can understand the difference between “flat” and iOS 7, we must understand the purpose of the gratuitous textures from versions past. The answer is, somewhat obviously, to show highlights and shadows. To show “depth”. And I mean “depth”, in quotations, because the effect amounts to fake 3D — the illusion of three dimensions on a flat phone.

If iOS 7 had done away with those highlights and shadows, then surely it is “flat”? Logical, but wrong. iOS 7 does depth differently; instead of textures, it uses layers. At the very bottom is the familiar home screen. The app icons exist one plane above, and tapping one zooms in on it, filling the screen with the app. Double tap the home button, and you can see all of the running apps that exist above the home screen. Swipe up from the bottom or down from the top, and Control Center or Notification Center slide over the top.

Lightness

After using iOS 7 full time now all summer, the first thing I notice when looking back at iOS 6 is how dark everything was. This phenomenon is seen even more drastically when running apps designed for iOS 6 on iOS 7. TweetBot, an application I have loved, has been useless to me all summer. It’s so out of place on 7 I can’t bear to look at it.

With the exception of a few utilities, all of Apple’s iOS 7 apps are white with black text and single accent color. That sounds boring when you read it, but so far I it isn’t. I expect most third party developers adopting iOS 7 conventions to move to mostly white themes. In time, I know the standard visual style will start to look boring and designers of third party applications will begin to experiment with variations on the new theme, as happened with the original 2.0 SDK. But the overall lightening effect is, I think, here to stay. Using iOS 7 is immediately refreshing. You didn’t notice the weight of heavy iOS apps creeping onto your shoulders these past years, but you’ll notice when it’s gone.

Clarity

In its implementation, clarity is the most questionable of Apple’s stated goals for iOS 7. In many cases, this has resulted in the use of text labels instead of glyphs for controls. While these are certainly more clear to the first time user, through repeated use ideograms are better representations than labels.

The perfect mix would give text labels to lesser used controls that people won’t be trained to instinctively hit and glyphs to all of the other ones, with a few exceptions. If a control has a particularly obvious or universally accepted glyph that goes along with it, such as a toothed gear for settings, it should be used. Further, if a text label is particularly lengthy in any localization, an icon is probably a good idea. With iOS supporting dozens of languages, this is a big issue for Apple.
The most troubling case of a failure to walk this line correctly is in the Music app. The shuffle and repeat controls have been turned to text. Those glyphs have been with us through generations of iPods even before iOS was a thing. At this point, they’re universally accepted. Really, shouldn’t Apple be more proud of that accomplishment?

Physics

Delight in design is sometimes intangible, but essential. A large improvement to the delight factor in iOS 7 comes in a rethinking of how animated transitions are handled. In the past, these animations have been hard-coded to emulate real world physics as closely as possible. Rather than continue the tedious trend of faking physics through bitmapped animations, Apple has chosen to build in a physics engine. The engine (accessible by all developers through UIKit) allows for the easy creation of animated transitions between states, and affirms that all of these animations will be consistent in their definitions of gravity and other forces.

The physics engine also provides the backend to allow for the manipulation of almost any screen element in ways that are entirely useless, but so so fun. But I’ll get to that into that later.

Content-First

When it comes to third party development, this will be the tenant of iOS 7 design that we’ll see broken the most often. In 7, Apple is calling for developers to deprecate the UI chrome in favor of the content, and some developers are upset. For awhile now the interface has been a canvas for some to show off their Photoshop skills. Throwing out that practice will be tough, but I think eventually users will demand it in such numbers that developers will be forced to comply.

It’s honestly just better. When I’m looking at Twitter, I don’t want to be mesmerized (read: distracted) by the amount of work that went into creating the background for the toolbar. I want to read tweets. I want to share tweets. I want to tweet. I want all of these actions to be intuitive and simple, and I really don’t care that the designer spent three days getting the right texture on the toolbar. This is not to say that meticulousness in design is out the door. Certainly, I still want my iOS apps to be beautiful. One need only look at Apple’s Weather app to see an example of an app that follows this new strategy but is in incredibly beautiful.

This is a new approach to app design, for sure, but Apple has so far done an admirable job of following their own advice. All of the built-in apps have been rewritten to follow this strategy, though even some of Apple’s apps get sidetracked on their way to this goal. It is clear from using them that this is the right way forward.

Skeuomorphism

Before we get any further into this discussion, we must clarify that there are two types of skeuomorphism. The first is almost unanimously considered bad, and it’s the use of textures that resemble real world objects. That’s the felt and wood table of the iOS 6 Game Center and the “rich Corinthian leather” of Find My Friends and Calendar. And there’s the second, which is almost always labeled good, and it’s the use of real-world metaphors to enhance the usability of an interface. This reaches all the way back to the original Macintosh, with its “desktop” and “folders” that represented real world desktops and folders.

While you’ll hear otherwise, iOS 7 is not devoid of any skeuomorphism. In the first sense, tiny elements of the “bad” skeuomorphism have slipped by the watchful gaze of Ive’s eye. In the second, or “good” sense, skeuomorphism has actually been greatly enhanced and its grasp widened.

The Objectification and Gameification of the Interface

Due to the switch from bitmapped to physics-driven animations, more of the operating system can be manipulated like physical objects. This is most evident in the parallax effect between different layers of the OS. Tilting and shifting the phone can move different layers of the interface to different levels of exaggeration. On the home screen, both the wallpaper and the app icons move when the phone is tilted in effect called “parallax”. The icons move more dramatically to give the appearance that they exist on a different plane nearer to your eye. If you look close enough, you can make out that notification badges exist on an even nearer plane. The effect is the same with modal popovers. Tilting the phone will move the dialogs relative to whatever is behind it. And the same for the Control and Notification Centers.

I am still, three months into it, finding myself playing with parts of the interface, finding amusement in just the way it works. It’s a similar behavioral pattern to the unbending of a paper clip or a cat that can’t stop flapping the corner of a piece of paper. We play with it because we can, because we are bored, because our minds are concentrating intently somewhere else. You’ll find in playing with the OS that it behaves the way it should. The physics engine is in effect everywhere and it shows. It’s entirely brilliant.

The Weather App

The new Weather app is one of my favorites, and it’s very skeuomorphic. Gone is the cards metaphor from iOS 6 and the past, in its place is a fluid plane that can be swiped horizontally to view the weather data of different cities. As you do, the background display of the current weather seamlessly morphs into the next city. Pinch in to zoom out to the overview, where you can add and delete locations, reorder them, and switch between fahrenheit and celsius.

The data view for each location is gorgeous. It’s set against a background of high resolution, animated renderings of the current weather. The data is clear and shows everything you need: highs and lows, hourly breakdowns, and the current temperature. Additionally, tapping the current temperature to view humidity, percent chance of rain, wind velocity, and the heat index (interestingly sometimes it is called “Heat index” and sometimes it is labeled “Feels like”).

It’s a really nice app, but you might notice that it is visually similar to another popular weather app: Yahoo Weather. It really is. Enough that I’m sure there was some collaboration between Apple and Yahoo on the design. The glyphs, layout, and features are all so aligned, it couldn’t have been an accident. I haven’t heard any whispers of a lawsuit, so for now I call it a “collaboration”.

Rough Edges

With any sweeping redesign, you can expect rough edges in iOS 7. When it’s considered just how sweeping of a change 7 is, it’s remarkable how few of these rough edges exist. I’ve been using this OS full time since June 11, and I want to call out every single degradation from iOS 6. But the list isn’t very long.

Letterpress: iOS 7’s Brushed Metal

This little bastard. For some reason, Jony Ive decided that those odd skeuomorphic textures we familiarized with in iOS 6 deserved one holdout on 7. And so we have the letterpress visual style. Two of Apple’s apps, Notes and Reminders, utilize this look, and Apple promotes it as a visual style that third party developers should consider for their own applications. While I call it the brushed metal of iOS 7 in the snarky header above, I really hope developers are smarter this go around.

It’s a nice enough looking approximation of that fancy heavyweight paper stock that letterpress is traditionally performed on. Whoever created the texture should be praised for their graphical talent. Text in this visual style has the effect of looking debossed and it’s very pretty. The whole thing clashes terrible with the rest of the visual direction of 7. but it is directly opposed to the goal of “content-first”. This is all bling for the sake of bling.

Icon Design

I happen to like every single one of iOS 7’s default icons better than their iOS 6 counterparts. Few would be so kind as I. The iconset has been called everything from “ugly” to “plain” to “wrong”. (Two of those I can see the argument for. The other is nonsense.) The most important thing to remember about these icons is that they’re moving in the right direction. Apple was not conservative. Overzealous… maybe. They threw out pretense and approached icon design from a new angle. While some of them miss (Newsstand, Safari), they will be iterated on toward something great.

Apple could’ve stuck with the iconset from iOS 6. They could have stuck with the same designs and just removed the gloss. They could have left the same shapes and made them entirely flat. Those would have been easy options, but Apple instead redid the every single icon starting with a blank slate. Some of them developed very similarly to their older counterparts (Clock, Mail). The direction we’re seeing with them is toward a new perfection, while the old set was getting stale. These icons will be adjusted as the new interface matures. But the direction is better. If you don’t believe me, just try look back to the old Safari icon. Yikes.

(This isn’t a complaint, but it doesn’t really fit anywhere else, so here goes. Regarding the new icon shape, which some say is called a “super ellipse”: I think it’s much improved over the bland roundrect, if a bit hard for developers to recreate for the purposes of creating borders on their icons. Perhaps that’s a good thing, though. I don’t think anyone would complain if we lost the convention of giving games gold-bordered app icons.)

Contrast

Let’s bash on the Notes app some more, shall we? It’s never been a precipice of design, with is retina-searing yellow memo pad of old and the oh-so-beautiful Market Felt typeface. Both are gone in iOS 7, but have been replaced with two new devils. The letterpress stylization mentioned earlier, and a severe lack of contrast. In all their infinite wisdom, the iOS design team decided that the accent color for Notes should be… yellow. Yellow on white. The cardinal sin of readability. It’s so bad, it’s hard to believe it isn’t a joke. Maybe it was. Maybe the conversation went something like this:

Jony Ive: “Let’s design the notes app. It’s been pretty horrid in the past, so let’s buck the trend.”
Intern: “Let’s make it look like real paper.”
Designer: “Yeah, OK. And we’ll make all the labels yellow on white.”
Jony: “That’s brilliant, let’s do it.”
Designer: “Wait what?”

It’s really horrible. There’s no excuse for it. The accent is yellow because memo pads are yellow? No. Shut up. This isn’t a memo pad. How many people even remember memo pads? The only memo pads I’ve seen in the past five years have been digitalizations of them on Apple products. Make it blue, make it red, make it brown, I don’t care. Just not yellow.

To a lesser extent, the issue of contrast persists throughout iOS 7. In most cases, it’s due to the use of an overly thin font with a color that’s just a little bit too light. The abundance of white in the system is a good thing, but it does mean the palette of contrasting, readable colors will need to be a tone darker. Ive and his team got a little too caught up in the lightening and brightening of the interface, and the loss of contrast is just one of the temporary entrails. Give it a year, and if it isn’t fixed in 8, then we can really start screaming.

Game Center Like WTF Guys You’re Making This Harder Than It Is

To keep on the trend of calling out specific apps, let’s talk for a minute about Game Center. It’s almost too perfect an illustration of Apple’s lackadaisical approach to gaming that Game Center has always been such a strange child. Before, it was an ugly mix of glossy wood and green felt. Now it’s glossy 3D bubbles. It clashes violently with the aesthetic of iOS 7.

Apple seems to think that they need to do something special for Game Center, perhaps to show that no, really, we are committed to gaming. Well, listen guys. We understand that gaming isn’t your forte. We know that you’re trying, and honestly it would be much better if you stop treating gamers like they need extra special treatment and just gave Game Center the same standard iOS look that you gave to all your other apps.

There. I said it.


End User Improvements

Too often in redesigns, drilling down far enough into the new interface will reveal bits left untouched, forgotten, swept under the carpet. iOS 7 isn’t like that. Every single built-in application and every single interaction the user can have with the OS has been reskinned and often rethought. It’s very impressive, and such a change, such an undertaking, is certainly worth disecting in minute detail.

Springboard

Springboard has existed for all of iOS’s existence as more or less the same thing: a grid of icons. Along the way we got Spotlight search, home screen wallpapers, and folders, but the metaphor hasn’t changed. That’s a good thing though. As the most basic interaction with the OS, it is important that it remain familiar. Beyond that, I don’t think it has yet grown stale which is a pretty good indicator that Apple got it right the first time around.

Like the touch interface itself, the Springboard feels like such an obvious truth of UI design, and thoughtless calls for it to be replaced are ridiculous. iOS 7 brings the most dramatic graphical change to Springboard ever, but it fortunately remains largely the same. Icons are a different shape, spotlight is in a different location, but it’s all still there and familiar.

Folders

I still remember a time before iOS had folders. Back then, I organized my apps into categorized pages. I had a page for Apple apps, a page for news apps, a page for games, a page for utilities, and so on. Folders as they’ve existed since iOS 4 have been somewhat limited, but still proved an invaluable aid in home screen management. My Springboard dropped from five or six pages pre-iOS 4 to consistently two afterward. Folders in iOS 7 are a massive improvement, and having only one page of apps is entirely feasible.

iOS 7 folders are like mini springboards within Springboard. While limited to a three by three grid, folders now have multiple pages (up to 14, or 126 apps per folder) that you can swipe between. Jiggly-mode lets you organize your apps however you like, just as you can with home screens. The best part? No longer do we have to suffer with folder icons that misrepresent the content. Previously, folder icons showed a 3x3 grid while the folder itself contained a 4x3 or 4x4 grid. Not a huge deal, by jarring if you ever noticed it.

Folders are also gorgeous. Continuing the de-linenification of iOS, folder backgrounds are now frosted glass in appearance, similar to the dock. The color of the glass is affected by where the folder resides on your home screen. When you tap a folder and it zooms in to fill the screen (a delightful animation), the background zooms slightly with it, and the frosted glass adjusts to show what’s now behind the folder. Curiously, the label for the folder moves from the bottom to the top when zoomed in. There’s no explanation for this, other than it’s been overlooked.

Spotlight

Spotlight has moved from the left most Springboard screen to above your home screen. To access it, swipe down on any of your home screens. This is essentially no more than a cosmetic change, though it does have the one hindrance of discoverability. When Spotlight existed to the far left, there was an additional dot next your page dots that, if you looked closely, was actually a tiny magnifying glass. This little glyph told the user that, even when you’ve returned to your main home screen, there’s still another page to the left.

There’s no way to discover that Spotlight now resides above your app icons, you just have to figure it out (lucky I’m here, eh?), but I don’t think that’ll be too much of a problem. Spotlight is not one of iOS’s most popular features, and it’s mostly meant for the power user (many who will be reading reviews like mine) with lots of data stored his or her phone. Plus, the new Spotlight locations has the added benefit of being accessible from any home screen.

Multitasking

“Multitasking” really refers to two connected yet distinct aspects of iOS. The first of which is the app switcher, the interface that’s brought up by two quick taps of the home button, which allows the user to quickly switch between running (or state-frozen) applications. The second is the set of API’s that developers can utilize to make their applications run tasks in the background, while the user is doing something else or even nothing at all on the phone. iOS 7 brings massive improvements to both parts, but I’ll get to the second one later on.

The multitasking UI has been completely redone and is now a near carbon copy of the multitasking interface from WebOS. I imagine that (as with Notification Center), Apple spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to do a multitasking interface (notification system) that was different and better than WebOS’s (Android’s). In the end, they had to admit that someone else figured it out before them, suck it up, and copy it. As I was glad that we finally got Notification Center in iOS 5, I’m very glad that Apple decided that statute of limitations on copying an interface was up and gave us a cards multitasking UI.

(Some have pointed out that before WebOS came out with their cards-based multitasking interface, Safari on iPhone had cards to cycle between pages. I’d still dgive credit to Palm for this one.)

In use, the cards interface is just as great as the Palm user told us. Often when I need to switch back to an app for reference, I just open the multitasking UI and look at the screencap of it. For instance, when I am composing a linked list item for this blog, I often get through my commentary only to have forgotten the author’s name (or how to spell it). I can double tap the home button, look at the screenshot of Safari, and tap back into Poster with the name, without ever having to go into Safari to get it. This, which can occur multiple times per day, is an awesome convenience that drastically reduces time spent in your workflows.

Closing apps is also much easier. Just like WebOS before it, swiping up on an app’s “card” quits that app. Since this is iOS, you shouldn’t really ever have to do that, but not all apps are perfect and if one does go rogue, it’s good to know that functionality still exists. (Also nice to know: you can quit multiple apps at once — up to three — by placing a finger on each of them and swiping up in one motion. That’s mostly useless but it should work that way and it does. It’s all in the details.)

Notification Center

Notification Center has been split into three panels: “Today”, “All”, and “Missed”. These panels (though it isn’t hinted at anywhere in the interface) can be swiped between. In the new Today view, you can see an agenda for the day ahead. Reminders, calendar appointments, and birthdays can be displayed alongside a weather forecast. It’s the equivalent of the President’s morning wakeup call. (I can imagine a future version of iOS that, once you’ve silenced your morning alarm, has Siri read you all of the information it has on the day ahead.) By far my favorite addition is the day and date. For too long I’ve been frustrated whenever I cannot remember the date and have to find my first home screen and the calendar icon (or, even more often, lock the phone to see the lock screen). In iOS 7, I can swipe into Notification center and there it is.

Beneath the forecast there is a nod to Yahoo for providing the weather data. This is an odd inclusion for part of an interface that is so prominently and often displayed to the user. Surely Yahoo is not in a position to stronghold Apple into putting it there. It reminds me of iOS 6.1 when the network indicator changed to “4G” for AT&T’s HSPA+ network. It’s never nice to see Apple conceding to powers perceived higher.

The remaining panels, “All” and “Missed”, display your notifications as Notification Center has always done. Many will ask what the different is, and I am here to tell you that I have no idea. From what I can tell, the only different is that notifications in “All” are grouped by app and those in “Missed” are chronological. Why? I have no idea, as this isn’t indicated by their labels. Is it not the nature of notifications that they are things we’ve missed?

Many will also note the lack of sharing buttons in Notification Center. In iOS 5 we got a “Tweet” button that allowed for easily publishing new tweets. iOS 6 expanded this to Facebook status messages, and OS X Mavericks (due this fall) adds the ability to compose a new iMessage. But all of these buttons are absent in iOS 7. I found them useful and miss them, and I think they are a surprising omission.

Control Center

Swipe down from the top of any screen and get Notification Center. Now, swipe up from the bottom anywhere and you’ll get Control Center. Control Center, though a widely requested addition, feels like something we would never get on iOS. At least, never on non-jailbroken iOS. If you’ve ever experimented with jailbreaking, you probably installed something with similar function. Like home screen wallpapers before it, the first time you see it and the first few times you use it, you might feel dirty like you’ve done something to your phone that can’t be forgiven. That feelings wears off, and it quickly becomes another part of your daily iOS workflow. It’s remarkable just how often I find myself using Control Center. Occasionally the iOS 7 beta would bug out and Control Center wouldn’t work and it was infuriating. I cannot imaging going back to any OS that doesn’t provide the same functionality. Like copy and paste, multitasking, and LTE data speeds, regression is liable to drive anyone to insanity.

Safari

The original killer app. The first true mobile browser is further cemented as the best browser available on the phone. While I won’t tease you with any “Safari seems snappier” jokes (whoops), I’ll tell you that you’ll never want to use pre-7 Mobile Safari again. This release isn’t about speed (it’s no slouch, though). The browser interface, or “chrome” as goes the jargon, is the focus of it; it’s been totally redone and is far superior.

Full screen mode, originally an option only in landscape mode, is no longer a choice. Start scrolling, and the toolbars shrink away. Tap anywhere while the page is still, and they’re back. In portrait mode, the top toolbar never fully disappears. When you start scrolling, it shrinks to fill as little vertical space as possible while still displaying your status items and the base URL of the page you’re visiting. Inline with “content-first”, the data you want to see remains in view while the buttons and tools you don’t need fade away.

Speaking of the top toolbar, the URL and search fields have finally been unified, trailing a year behind the unification on OS X, and many years behind Chrome. The “omnibar”, as many call it, is such an obvious interface to the browser that it’s shameful it took so long for Apple to implement it. The excuse I came up with last year was that Apple would have to add an additional row to the keyboard to accommodate punctuation necessary for URL’s and the space bar, necessary for entering search queries. The solution Apple’s come up with, having small punctuation buttons flanking the space bar, is such an obvious move that Apple really has no excuse for taking so long on this. “Finally” is completely apt. Finally. Finally.

The bookmarks pane has been redone how I’d hoped it would be last year. As with the iPad version, we now have three tabs within the bookmarks menu: Bookmarks, Reading List, and Shared Links. Logically, this make a lot more sense than having “folders” within your bookmarks for Reading List and iCloud Tabs — but wait, I didn’t say iCloud Tabs was one of the tabs, did I? It isn’t, because it’s also been moved to a far more logical place in the interface. When you open the new tab view (a somewhat gratuitous 3D effect similar to Windows Vista’s AeroTab) and scroll all the way to the bottom, you’ll find a list of all the tabs open on any instance of Safari on any of your machines.

Back to the bookmarks pane. What is Shared Links? Shared Links parses your Twitter and (strangely) LinkedIn accounts for links shared by your comrades, and collects them into a stream to be tapped through. It works as described, though in my experience I haven’t found it very useful. When I want to see what my Twitter friends are up to, I open my Twitter app, not Safari. At least, I suppose, it isn’t intrusive. I wouldn’t be surprised if this disappears in a further release.

One more thing about bookmarks: finally, Safari on iPhone has found a proper positioning for the bookmarks bar. When a new Safari tab is opened, underneath the omnibar are all of your bookmarks bar bookmarks, presented as a grid of their apple-touch-icon (the icon that’s used if you add a web page to your home screen, which apparently you can still do). Ah, you say, but what if one of your bookmarks doesn’t have an apple-touch-icon? The Mobile Safari team foresaw that inevitability, and if that comes up, Safari will parse the site’s favicon for the most common color and create an icon with the Safari logo to represent the web page. It actually looks very nice.

The browser continues to be iOS’s most polished app. Every year I find myself more enamored with Mobile Safari.

Music

Last year the music app got its first interface refresh since 2007. Its toolbars turned white and its gradients were reduced, similar to the refreshes we saw to the interfaces for the stores. You’d be forgiven, a year ago, for thinking that might be the direction iOS design was heading. With new leadership, that brief portal into the future was cut off. iOS 7’s music app contains few changes (and one big one, which I’ll talk about in a moment) outside the redone interface.

Coverflow is gone, as we should have expected. In its place is a grid of album artwork that looks a whole lot more modern and works a hell of a lot better. Instead of three visual albums, we can see fifteen. Tapping on one zooms in a pops up a tracklist, and it is actually a great way to browse your collection. Cover Flow was flashy (though it didn’t age well), but it was not as usable as Steve Jobs would have liked. I believe that was one of those things Steve Jobs pushed for and never wanted to see the demise off.

Music’s accent color is a delightful pinkish red. The icons across the bottom toolbar have all been redone in the iOS 7 style and they are among my favorites. The iTunes Radio icon, in particular, is so intricately detailed (just look at the antenna) but also simple… I’m in love with that one.

(One Apple fan suggested that the Music app would have been better if the accent color changed based on the album artwork of the song playing, akin to the album view in iTunes 11. This has even been achieved in the recently released Pocket Casts 4. I agree completely. From the mockups he created, it looks really great and only further emphasizes the “content-first” strategy. I hope Apple steals that idea wholesale.)

iTunes Radio

For years now, we’ve been speculating on what Apple would do to compete with Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, and others. Finally, in 2013, we have the answer and it’s called iTunes Radio. Accessible via iOS, OS X, and Apple TV, iTunes Radio is a Pandora-like service that provides customizable (and curated) stations that play songs that sound nice together. For some, this might come as a disappointment. It’s an entirely different model than Spotify or Rdio, which deprecate ownership of music files, and instead acts purely as a music discovery service. Many were expecting Apple to enter that market.

I don’t find iTunes Radio all that surprising. Apple operates the largest music store in the world, let us remember, and it would indeed be surprising if Apple threw this model out in exchange for a streaming anti-ownership model. Retrospectively it is clear Apple was never going to build a Spotify-like service. It wouldn’t make good business sense, not after a decade of building relationships with record labels based on $.99 song sales. “What’s good for Apple will always supersede what’s good for users,” some will begrudgingly state. That’s true, but iTunes Radio isn’t bad for users. In no way is it a subpar service to Rdio or Spotify, it just fits a different model, and it’s a model I (and hopefully many others) prefer. Ownership. If you stop paying your Spotify membership dues, you lose all of the music you’ve accumulated into your “library”. If I switch away from iTunes, all my music files are still my music files. Many say Rdio is “the future”, but truthfully it isn’t superior in philosophy or application; it’s just different, made possible by the future.

In my experience, iTunes Radio performs really well. Whatever engine Apple’s using to power their “songs that sound nice together” feature works. My use of Pandora trailed off as their own S.T.S.N.T. engine ran into its shortcomings. After a couple hours of listening, its queue would get increasingly off track and increasingly worse. Not to mention their obnoxious advertisements.

(Speaking of advertisements, iTunes Radio is indeed ad-supported though I, as an iTunes Match subscriber, have not been subjected to them. I hope and suspect that Apple can strike the right balance with its radio ads. One thing it’s got going for it: it doesn’t hurt Apple’s bottom line if they don’t make enormous profits off the service.)

Messages

A large portion of my iPhone use is in the Messages app. I am in the fortunate position that most of the people I communicate with on a daily basis have Apple products and use iMessage, so almost all of my communication goes through Messages on my Mac or iPhone. That said, the refreshed UI in Messages on iOS had the potential to totally disrupt my day. Fortunately, all of the UI decisions Jony Ive’s team made were good, and Messages is a more powerful and convenient app than ever.

Let’s start with timestamps. This was a feature I wanted and knew would be trivial for Apple to implement, but I didn’t think it something they would bother to implement. I am glad to be wrong. Swiping a conversation to the left reveals the hidden data, for every message sent or received. Apple took the time to do this properly. Before 7, timestamps would appear every fifteen minutes or at the beginning of intervals longer than fifteen minutes, and they’d flow into the stream with the rest of the messages. Clearly redundant, those are now gone. Now if you take a break from texting your buddy for longer than fifteen minutes, you get a slightly thicker margin between the messages. This is subtle and effective. You’ll notice it if you’re looking for it, but you won’t if you aren’t. Exceptional.

In the message thread, the old practice of scrolling to the top to view the call or FaceTime buttons has been replaced with a “Contact” button on the toolbar. Tapping it reveals buttons for calling or viewing more details about the contact. It’s a subtle change but especially effective coupled with Messages’ new behavior of loading older messages automatically when scrolled to the top.

In group messages, encircled contact photos accompany each message sent to you so they can be more easily differentiated. While not every one of your contacts will have an attached photo, you may feel the urge to add them when you start using iOS 7 (this is made a lot easier with Twitter and Facebook contact integration). Turns out, photos are a lot quicker for discerning who sent a message than having to read a name label (which are still there, by the way, for those of you with contacts who for legal reasons cannot be captured on film).

Mail

Until OS X Lion revitalized the OS X Mail app, I considered iOS Mail the best email client in the world. Even after OS X Mail, it comes in at a close second. The simplicity of the thing is profound, and iOS 7 Mail continues that. Borrowing from Mailbox, the much-lauded Gmail app released earlier this year for iOS, you can now swipe a message from the list view and not only find the option to trash it, but also to move it to a folder, mark it as read/unread, or flag it as important or spam.

Another improvement comes from better support for multiple accounts. Previously, in order to drill down into the folder structure of a specific account, you had to back out of the unified inbox, scroll down, and tap into each account individually. With iOS 7, you can customize the display of the main accounts screen and stick their most-used folders to the top. While it doesn’t entirely solve the back, back, back problem that Mail suffers, it helps.

As an app that is presents a lot of content in the form of text to the user, iOS 7’s renewed focus on excellent typography truly shines. It’s a hard thing to communicate with words, but in looking at the screens it’s so obvious that a lot of time was put into getting the sizes, spacing, and line-heights just right for every single display.

Phone, FaceTime, & Contacts

The Phone app and the FaceTime app are now two separate apps. Because, uh… Well, remember when Apple split the iPhone’s iPod app into two separate Music and Video apps in order to match how it was done on the iPod touch and iPad? It’s like that. Now there’s a FaceTime app like there is on the iPod touch and iPad. Well, I say it’s like that, but truthfully it isn’t like that at all. Truthfully, it’s just really stupid. Here’s why.

When the iPod app was split into Music and Videos, it made sense. Those are two clearly different things, enjoyed separately and no one has ever gone into the Video app looking to listen to music or, vice versa, gone into the Music to watch Harry Potter. Splitting them into separate containers cut off the relations. FaceTime and Phone, though, those are both methods for calling someone. It makes sense for them to be contained within a single app, for, you know, calling. It gets worse.

The Phone app, as its included in iOS 7, provides all of the functionality that it did in iOS 6. What I’m saying is, you can still initiate FaceTime calls from the Phone app. And your FaceTime call record shows up in the “Recents” tab. So what, you ask, is the purpose of the FaceTime app? It has none. None at all. If you open it, you can see all of your contacts and even initiate voice calls. Yes, you heard right. You can initiate voice calls from the FaceTime app. Admittedly, your recent voice calls don’t show up in the FaceTime app but… wait, hold on, no excuses. This is totally dumb. You’ll remember this is the same Apple that’s included the Contacts app as a separate application to the Phone app on their iPhones for years. What functionality does the Contacts app provide over the contacts tab in Phone (and now FaceTime)? That’s right: none.

(OK, I’m being harsh. The FaceTime app has one cool feature that might explain its existence on the phone entirely. When you open it and browse through your list of recent calls, favorite, or contacts, you’ll notice that behind the list view and blurred is your face, because the background is actually the live image taken from the front-facing camera. Cool, but… ultimately still dumb. And some part of me is nervous whenever I open that app because I feel like that’s a complete waste of resources. It’s the same part of me that unplugs my laptop as soon as it’s done charging even though that isn’t really a problem anymore.)

Maps

The Maps app has changed little since last year. When you open it for the first time on iOS 7, it will be plenty familiar to you. The iOS 7 look has been painted on top, the lower right page curl has been replaced by an info button, and (for all of you who were clamoring for it) a full screen mode has been added. That’s fine, though. What’s most important and what’s been most controversial is the data, and from what I can tell, it has improved a lot in the past twelve months. The only way to truly test that is to use it, and use it a lot. Complaints about Apple’s mapping data have become increasingly sparse, so I think it is getting better. That said, I have still note multiple times in the past months when Apple Maps have brought me to the wrong location or, most often, very near the right location but not exactly.

(A few months ago it was reported that Apple had bought the mapping firms Locationary and HopStop. Locationary is a Wikipedia-style location database and HopStop, as many of you know, is a very popular and very good app for transit directions. While neither of these acquisitions made their mark on iOS 7, they show that Apple is dedicated to further improving maps. Having recently moved to New York, I’m looking forward to what the HopStop acquisition can bring to the Apple Maps.)

Navigation

My favorite bit of skeuomorphic texture in all of iOS was in the navigation functionality added last year in iOS 6. In case you’ve forgotten, your directions were presented to you on beautifully rendered road signs. Those road signs were intricately detailed, right down to the dithered green background. It was entirely appropriate, which is why it worked so well. The metaphor was exact, mimicking the common road sign to present its digital road signs.

So take it with heart when I say that iOS 7’s navigation surpasses it. There’s nothing special about the interface, the toolbars are the same standard elements found across the board. One of Apple’s stated goals with iOS 7 was to deemphasize the interface to put the focus on the content. On a navigation screen, which has so much content (moving map, distance to next waypoint, estimated time to and off arrival, number of miles remaining, and current road) this philosophy is really able to shine.

It isn’t all good news. 7 adds nearly zero new features to navigation, and not because it is feature complete. I’m surprised, because Apple’s navigation is only a year old, that there is so little that’s changed. Improvements should have started the day after iOS 6 shipped. I’m still shocked that we don’t have speed limit information on the display. This isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have. Once you’ve used a navigation system that incorporates speed limit data into its display, it’s incredibly frustrating to go back.

Photos & Camera

Both the Photos and Camera apps have been totally redone for iOS 7. Both are, in this writer’s opinion, massive upgrades. Let’s start with the Camera app. Apple has shown since the introduction of the iPhone 4 that they are dedicated to making the iPhone the best camera phone on the planet. They’ve continued that tradition through this year with the recently announced 5S and through iOS 7.

Live filters are perhaps the most exciting addition. Similar to those popularized in Instagram, iOS 7’s filters provide several nice ways to embellish a photograph before, or (and this is the cool part) while the photo is being taken. Live filters can be quickly switched in an out by tapping the filter button in the lower right corner of the screen. After photos have been composed, these filters can even be removed or swapped for another you like better.

Also building off of Instagram hype is the ability to shoot square-framed photographs. This is built right into the new mechanism for switching between shooting modes. Simple swipe across the photo preview to access Video capture, Photo capture, Square capture, or Panorama capture. The rest of the controls will be familiar to anyone who has used an iPhone camera before, though the UI has of course been updated to reflect iOS 7 style.

Photos

Photos, which sports one of the more handsome iOS 7 icons, introduces new automatic photo management features. Photos are grouped into “collections” based on time and location, so that all of your photos from your vacation in New Orleans are neatly grouped together. These can be zoomed out to further grouping all the way to year views, and in any of these views tapping and scrubbing over thumbnails presents larger previews of the photos within.

In the “Albums” tab you can find the interface we’re all familiar with: separate albums synced via iPhoto, created on the device itself, and your camera roll. Unfortunately, screenshots are still grouped together with photographs and videos still aren’t synced via Photo Stream. This writer would love to see Apple introduce something a more advanced and cloud-integrated photo management system (he’d even pay for it), but it seems we’ll have to wait at least one more year.

Utilities

The iPhone has always shipped with a few necessary but simple applications, and over the years Apple’s added more. In iOS 7, all of these received interface refreshes inline with the new design philosophies. As a whole, these apps have been darkened with a focus on black background and white type. They stand in contrast to the majority of other apps, which are general white and light in color and tone. This differentiation serves effectively to denote them as simple utilities. These aren’t the apps you’ll use every day, for any extended amount of time, or because you actively seek them out. But you’ll need them, and they’ll be waiting for you.

Calculator

The Calculator app receives a visual refresh inline with the other utilities. Darker, more ahem… utilitarian. It looks great, but it hasn’t been given any new features. This may come as a disappointment to users of Soulver, or Calca, or PCalc, but I think for its purpose it is just fine. It’s the default calculator, included because you can’t have a phone without one, and it is meant (though yes, it does contain scientific functions) for simple math that’s a little too complex to do mentally. It’s feature complete; if anything, too complicated.

But iOS 7 does bring one major improvement to Calculator, and that’s through the shortcut to it in Control Center. I’m not sure where the Calculator app is kept on my phone. In a folder somewhere, I’m sure, but I don’t have to think about that anymore. Swipe into Control Center, tap the calculator icon, and it opens, awaiting my calculatory needs. It’s just the sort of feature that benefits from an easily-accessible shortcut. In fact, if Apple removed the calculator app entirely and turned it into a popover accessible via Control Center, I don’t think anyone would complain.

Compass

Remember the last time you had fun with a compass? The one and only time was probably the first time you ever used a compass. Back then you couldn’t fathom what was going on, and most likely assumed witchcraft kept the red arrow pointed north. I bet you miss that. Well, Apple’s redone Compass utility may just transport you back (and not just because you don’t know how an electronic compass works). For me, it was certainly the first time I’ve felt delight with a compass in a long time.

The first thing you’ll notice is that calibration as you’ve known it on every single smartphone thus far is out the window. That’s right: next time you pull out your phone to locate true north, you won’t have to shamefully stuff it back into your pocket to avoid the embarrassment of flinging the phone around in a wild eight pattern to calibrate the sensor. In iOS 7, you’re presented with a circle, and it’s your job to turn the circle white by tilting the phone this way and that. It’s like game, and the prize for completion is a functioning compass. It’s brilliant design. Then you might look down and see the familiar page dots, and you’ll wonder, “What’s on page two of a compass?”. I’ll tell you: it’s a level, and it works great. The center displays the current angle of your phone as a comparison to perfectly horizontal or perfectly vertical, and when you get very very close to either of those models, the whole display turns green. I have found way too much joy in playing with it at my desk.

Goodbye Angry Birds, Compass is all I need.

Stocks

I think we’re all a little surprised that Stocks has stuck around this long. While useful, Stocks isn’t an app that every soul has a use for. On the original iPhone, it made sense for Apple to include little widgety apps because the phone as a whole didn’t do very much. Now, there are plenty of apps for keeping up with the stock market in the store. There’s little reason for Apple to keep around this inessential app as default and unremovable. The app itself has zero new functionality, and even the layout is more or less identical to what we’ve seen in all prior versions of iOS. It is a beautiful, for sure. Perhaps some will find a use for it while they await their favored stock market tracker to become iOS 7-ready.

Clock

Live icon. That’s all you need to know. It’s great. Almost entirely useless, but great. Other than that, the Clock app hasn’t changed much. Yes, naturally, the interface is entirely new, and it is one of the more handsome iOS 7 apps. Typography is front and center, with lots of data represented by words and numbers. Interestingly, you can see in the clock’s app one of the few alterations Apple has made to Helvetica Neue: round colons. It’s a tiny thing but it does look nicer than square, at least blown up to this size.

Voice Memos

Voice Memos used to be an ugly unintuitive bastard. In iOS 7, it’s now a beautiful unintuitive bastard. It was always difficult to figure out how to switch between your past memos and the recording screen, and the distinction in iOS 7 is even more convoluted.

If I tap an item in my list of memos, the screen slides up to reveal my full list. But how do I get back to the recording screen? Do I swipe down? Tap Edit? Press the record button? It’s apparently the last one, but I really don’t understand why it isn’t a swipe down. When you first launch the app, 3/4 of the screen is dominated by timeline of your next recording (yes, the one you haven’t taken yet), and when you press the record button it begins to fill up. But even after you’ve recorded, there’s no way to swipe through the timeline. To fast forward or rewind or even play your message, you have to tap “Done”, name your new note, and then tap it in the list view and tap play. The entire interface is stupid. It looks great (and it has one of the best looking icons in the entire new set) but at the massive expense of working in any way that you’d expect.


The Apple Social Network

Last year when I reviewed iOS 6, I wrote about Apple’s social network. No, not Ping. Remember Ping, Apple’s failed music-oriented Twitter rip-off that was built into iTunes and used by nobody? Back then, everyone was screaming at Apple to “get social” because they clearly didn’t “get social”. After Ping’s failure, the casual observer would think Apple gave up on “getting social”. Cleverly, Apple has been building a different kind of social network, one that fits entirely into their vertically-oriented business. Instead of a common service, Apple’s network is built on a network of common devices.

Social Integration

In iOS 5 Apple gave us our first dose of social integration when it baked Twitter sharing into any action sheet where it made sense. Facebook and Yelp followed in iOS 6, and this year we’ve got two more: Flickr and Vimeo. The sharesheet gets crowded if you’ve got all of them enabled, but luckily they’ll only appear if you’re logged into them in Settings. These social integrations are the fattest red herring distracting us from Apple’s own social network. Surely a company looking to lock its customers into a network of their own wouldn’t integrate other services. But Apple recognizes that they can’t never disrupt the established players. They’re not so arrogant to think that they can replace Facebook. Ahem.

By integrating these other services deeply into the OS, Apple appeases its customers that use these services, locking those customers into using the Apple device, regardless of which photo sharing service they prefer. I expect these integrations to continue every year. (Maybe with mid-cycle updates as well. With filters and more advanced editing features built in to iOS 7 photos, I’d love to see Instagram sharing built right into the sharesheet.)

But, you say, what about iMessage and FaceTime? Aren’t these cases where Apple entered established markets with their own service? Yes, because Apple identified these markets as ones they could succeed in (and they have).

iMessage & FaceTime

It started with FaceTime in the iPhone 4. At the time, Apple didn’t know what they were on the path to creating. The strategy of a ‘social network of devices’ probably hadn’t been born yet. Famously on stage at WWDC 2010, Steve Jobs announced that FaceTime would be developed into an open standard. That never happened, and I don’t think it ever will. So why not integrate Skype? Apple likes to own their services, of course, but that doesn’t fit entirely with the strategy I discussed above. The success of FaceTime might honestly have been a happy accident.

A year later, iMessage shipped with iOS 5 and we got a truly disruptive evolution of SMS texting. Chat of course has existed since the IRC boards of old. Apple competes here with Google and Facebook and AOL and a host of others, but because they could integrate the service directly into the Messages app on every single iPhone, Apple knew they could best all the others. In a stunning move, they completely bypassed the carrier’s control of texting, enticing customers with a free and superior service to the expensive world of SMS. This time around, Apple made no illusions of openness. By this point, they’d probably figured out what course they were on. Those of us that latched onto iMessage were locked into iOS devices.

Three years after FaceTime shipped, we now have FaceTime audio. True voice-over-IP telephony service baked into every iPhone sold. Again, Apple is bypassing the carrier’s old lock-in on voice calling without so much as a curt nod. All the iPod touch needs to become a full-fledged smartphone is a cellular data connection.

Photo Streams

Last year, Apple introduced shared Photo Streams. While there are many different ways to share photos, they are all specialized in one way or another. 500px is for showcasing your very best shots with a community of professional photographers. Flickr is for discussing your best shots with your friends. Instagram is Twitter for photo sharing. Shared Photo streams fills another niche, by allowing you to share collections of photos with friends and families. You can give the grandparents all the latest pictures of the new baby, or collect all the photos your friends took on the recent trip to New Orleans into one place. It’s similar to Facebook’s photo galleries, but a more dedicated, integrated, and ultimately more social service.

AirDrop

In iOS 7, we see Apple’s biggest social push yet. Featured prominently on every sharesheet is the button for AirDrop. Introduced way back in 2010 in OS X Lion, AirDrop was originally for sharing files quickly between Macs on the same wireless network. Finally in iOS 7 it has come to iPhones and iPads, with basically the same function but between iOS devices. Tap on the button to share a photo or document or webpage (or whatever else), tap a contact, and (once the other user confirms the transaction) the file is on its way.

Bump and the bump rip-off baked into Samsung’s Galaxy phones have provided similar file sharing for awhile, of course, but AirDrop is a much more elegant solution. I really don’t want to have to touch my phone with whoever I’m sharing with. A button works just fine.

Infuriatingly and nonsensically, AirDrop doesn’t work between iOS devices and Macs. When I heard that AirDrop was coming to iOS, I thought it would finally solve the problem of “how do I get this thing to where I want to work on it”. There are many theories for why, including the way in which AirDrop on iOS uses WiFi and Bluetooth for peer-to-peer connections, but I call bullshit. It’s 2013, and I still email myself regularly to get files where I want them. Like an animal. Come on, Apple.

iWork for iCloud

While this isn’t a feature of iOS 7 (at least not yet), Apple did release a beta of iWork for iCloud earlier this summer. Some of you will remember Apple’s previous take on cloud productivity apps with iWork.com, but iWork for iCloud is a new approach. Like Google Docs on steroids, Keynote, Pages, and Numbers documents can now be edited using full-featured and gorgeous web apps. This isn’t the place to elaborate, but they are seriously impressive.

What’s more interesting is the social (or at least sharing) propositions of iWork for iCloud. Apple has promised new versions of iWork for iOS and OS X (both of which are currently long-in-the-tooth) for later this year, and I’d be surprised if they don’t integrate tightly with iWork for iCloud. I envision being able to share and collaborate on iWork documents with anyone else on the web, with changes pushed immediately not only to the web version of a document, but the local versions on all my devices. Collaboration, in real time across the internet, within native applications.

If you’re thinking that sounds a lot like Google Docs, you’d be right. But more or less that’s what I want. Google Docs, but made by Apple so that it is integrated with my native (and superior) apps.

When It All Comes Together

So far Apple’s social network is a rather loose conglomeration of services. At least it seems that way. We must remember though that Apple’s end goal isn’t to lock us into any particular service, as long as the services we are locked into are on Apple devices. As the network continues to be enhanced and come together, we probably won’t notice. It’ll be gradual. As long as Apple continues to build the best devices and the best OS on the market, it won’t matter. The lock-in shouldn’t hurt us, and the integration will be a boon. If we are ever to leave Apple behind, most of our data should be in other services. We’ll just have to find another phone maker that’s built those services in as well as Apple has.


Developer Improvements

It’s time now, if you’ve made it through all of that, to look behind the curtain at some improvements Apple has made for developers. I haven’t covered everything, but I’ve tried to touch on some of the things I found most important. If you’re a developer, you will know about most of these already. What follows are brief descriptions of API improvements that I believe will really impact what users get out of their phones.

Backgrounding

By the time multitasking arrived in iOS 4, users were sorely missing it. Android had been bragging about its ability to stream Pandora in the background for months, and we were jealous. The limited multitasking iOS 4 gave us was a great compromise that kept iPhone battery life the best in the industry and introduced greater usability for third party audio, navigation, and calling.

Three years was a long wait, but Apple’s finally got around to expanding on those multitasking API’s. In a surprising turn, they’ve actually opened them up quite a bit. All of the improvements are good and needed, but somehow they don’t feel like enhancements I ever thought Apple would allow. I can’t really say “good on them” for that, but thank goodness.

Background Fetch

First, the big one: background updates. Previously available in limited capacity and only for Newsstand apps, now all applications have the ability to download data when they aren’t running. Developers configure their applications for background updates and set an interval for how quickly after their app leaves the foreground it asks to be updated. This interval can be as long or as short as the developer wishes, however iOS makes no promises to follow it exactly.

iOS 7 smartly coalesces background fetches and aligns them to times when the device is already up and doing something. If the user pulls out his/her phone to check the time, iOS will need to start up and in that time it will wake up third party apps that have requested background time. This method minimizes battery drain in a system that, left unchecked (in say… Android) would mutilate battery hours. When a device’s battery is low, updates are further apart, as the OS works to keep the device going for as long as possible.

In an attempt to be even smarter about it, iOS 7 will attempt to learn the habits of the user. If you wake up every morning and open the Weather app, iOS will soon start to allow Weather to update in the background right before it expects you to open it. In practice, this might not be effective but for a couple uses. I open Reeder, Twitterific, and Felix at about 7:00 every morning, so I expect iOS to start updating those a few minutes before 7. Beyond mornings, my use is sporadic and I expect that’s true for most users. Still, it’s valiant of Apple to put such effort behind backgrounding to get it to eek the least juice possible while still giving developers powerful API’s.

If an app does manage to go rogue, force-quitting from the App Switcher will remove an app’s ability to get refreshed in the background, at least until is relaunched. Additionally, there’s a new page in Settings that allows the user to toggle background app refreshes on and off individually for each app that’s requested it.

Background refreshes will be notes in the App Switcher. This is handy for Twitter and email applications and the like, presumably because users will see the new content loaded into them when flicking through the App Switcher. This feature is accomplished by having the app create a new snapshot whenever it finished a background refresh. For saved-state apps, this snapshot becomes the new screenshots seen in App Switcher. (This is the same snapshot that saved-state apps will briefly flash when they are reopened, before they can show the live screen.)

With background fetch, Apple has given a lot more freedom than developers have come to expect from multitasking API’s. That’s good and bad. Good, because good developers will be able to utilize it and our feed readers, ADN clients, and Instapapers will be much better apps. Bad, because it’ll be easy for bad developer to abuse it. That’s mostly good, I think, and Apple’s done a lot to keep it from getting out of hand.

Remote Notifications

The second new multitasking API in iOS 7 is an enhancement of the veritable push notification: Remote Notifications. In fact, they aren’t entirely new. Newsstand apps have had access to a very similar API for almost two years, but in iOS 7 access has been granted to all.

Previously, push notifications were siloed and solitary. Developers could send them to devices but that was about it. When a user swiped a new notification from their lock screen, the developer’s app would open and only then would the new content load. iOS 7 reorders the process.

Now, a developer can optionally have their app hold the new push notification until the new content is loaded. If a Twitter app, for example, receives a push notification that its user has been @mentioned, the app can load that new tweet before sending the notification on to the user. This way, when the user taps or swipes the notification and the app opens, the tweet they were mentioned in is waiting for them.

A second form of these notifications is the “silent” notification. These skip the step of notifying the user. iOS received a push notification from the developer’s server and wakes up the app to deliver the message. The app is given a few seconds to run in the background, on the pretense that the push notification most likely contains instructions to start a download of some content.

Silent notifications are rate limited. Whereas visible notifications are expected to be controlled by the user (if a user finds an app is over-notifying, he/she can easily turn off or limit them), silent notifications will be invisible to the user and so the OS takes it upon itself to set the number that come through.

Developers aren’t limited by the number of silent notifications they can send to a user, however Apple’s push servers will stop apps attempting to send what it sees as too many (Apple says 1 or 2 per hour is OK), hold on to the notifications, and then send them in batches at a rate it sees fit. If the content being called via silent notifications is critical, it’s advisable that developers limit themselves so as to not run into these inhibitions.

You’ll have noticed that silent notifications and background fetch serve the same purpose: updating an app’s content without the user’s knowledge or intent. They both have their advantages, though. Silent notifications work best for content that is critical or sporadic. If your app doesn’t know exactly when its content will be updates (with say, email), a silent notification works best because it will notify the app as close as possible to when new content is made availalble, and it will only wake up the app to download content when new content is available. Contrasted, Background Fetch works best for content that is updated at regulary intervals or very frequently. Twitter streams, for example, will be best updated with Background Fetch since new content will be arriving constantly and the app can retrieve it in batches. (Twitter mentions and DM would fit into the silent category, though, as mentioned earlier.)

Background Transfer Service

The third and final new multitasking API in iOS 7 is meant for large file transfers, and that’s Background Transfer. Background Transfer is one universal download/upload queue for all third party apps.

In the past, apps were afforded about 10 minutes after they left the foreground to complete and upload or download operations, and these were managed by the app itself. iOS 7 removes this time limit and shifts management to the OS. If an app needs content uploaded or downloaded, it enqueues it using the Background Transfer API and iOS handles the rest, delivering the content (or receipt of upload) when it’s done.

Transfers can be unqueued from the foreground or the background, and therein lies Background Transfer’s biggest limitation: a subset of transfers are labeled “discretionary”, which means they will only be downloaded over WiFI. While transfers initiated by a foreground app can optionall be tagged discretionary, all background enqueues are labeled discretionary. It would make more sense for the deference to WiFi being owed to the size of a download/upload, or perhaps to restrict each app to 50 MB per day or week of cellular data use.

Since iOS is managing the entire queue, updates can be coalesced for performance. iOS will minimize the energy hit by performing updates simultaneously and when the device is already awake and performing some other task. This does introduce a further limitation of these API’s, though it’s one that I think developers will have to live with: there’s no guarantee that new content will be available in any expected timeframe. This is simply a side effect of Apple’s efforts to reduce battery drain, and I don’t expect it to change in the foreseeable future.

The old background task API is still around, and can still be useful for applications that need to complete one last save or modification on a task when they unexpectedly leave the foreground. However, the time limit on task completion has been reduced drastically to only a few seconds. It it therefore necessary for developers to switch all of their big transfers over to the new system and limit the use of task completion to only the very quickest of “finishing up” tasks.

Guidelines

It’ll benefit all apps on a given system if developers do their best to optimize their background tasks. The fewer resources used, the more resources available for all to use. Apple thinks they’ve done their part in this bargain, but it’ll still be on developers to ensure these new API’s are implemented correctly and used responsibly. Note that that doesn’t necessitate very limited use; just be smart about.

Since more apps than ever will be allowed to run full-fledge in the background, it’s wise to revisit some general advise. The responsible developer will ensure that unnecessary parts of their app (say, the rendering engine in a game) are turned off in the background. They’ll minimize the amount of IO and the number of transfers needed by coalescing beyond what Apple can control. Apple seems to finally be ceding to the demands of developers here, and it’d be wise not to abuse what they’ve given us.

There’s also a toggle in Settings (and eventually an API to check the status of this setting) to allow the user to turn off background refresh for any app they wish. Use these API’s irresponsibly and expect to see your background privileges stripped.

The Snapshot

One more thing on backgrounding, and it’s a small one. The snapshot, the screenshot that is stored when an app enters the background, is now being used a lot more frequently. When a saved-state app is reopened, instead of the default.png iOS will load the snapshot. This provides a much less jarring and more seamless flow into using an app that is no longer running in the background but has saved its position for you for next time.

Text Kit

Text Kit is a new API layer built on top of Core Text. Core Text, as some of know, is a powerful but complicated API layer. Excepting only the most enterprising developers, access to the Core Text API’s used to be filtered through WebKit. In previous versions of iOS, UIWebView was a developer’s best option for building an interface with beautiful typography. 7 deprecates those techniques, with all rendered text converted to Text Kit.

If we go back to iOS 7’s core philosophies, you’ll remember that one of them is typography. Since the original Macintosh, typography has been essentially important to Apple. Text Kit advances that by providing tools that allow developers to easily create layouts with beautiful typography. The important decisions that go into typesetting have been made for developers, and knowledge of typography is no longer an essential skill.

Text can now easily be placed in columns and paginated. Rich text support is now integrated at the API level, available for all applications to read and write. The developer now has finite control over the break points when text is truncated. These are complicated issues, but so ubiquitous that it makes sense for implementation to be handled at the OS level. Less ubiquitous but cool: wrapping text around arbitrary shapes (think about the demo Apple loves to show with every new release of Pages) is now accomplished with only a few lines of text. The ease of use with which advanced techniques can now be implemented will surely push the standard for third party app typography.

My favorite addition: kerning and ligatures is now system wide and on by default. These tiny details are clearly the “right” thing to do but aren’t for all intents and purposes “necessary”. It’s not something the user will see. It’s the piece of wood on the back of the dresser. Few will notice, but if you have any passion for your work, you can’t be satisfied with it any other way.

Dynamic Type

By far the most exciting aspect of Text Kit is Dynamic Type. Remember how I said typographic decisions are now handled by Apple? This is how developers utilize Apple’s expertise.

Dynamic Type provides a series of professionally-designed, hand-tuned, and optimized type styles. These styles have been tweaked to look great for every font and font size built into the OS. Each includes styles for body text, headings, subheadings, footers, and captions. These styles are easily applied to any string of text via a drop down menu in Interface Builder.

Choosing different typefaces is trivial, requiring only a single call compared to the several needed to build new typefaces in iOS 6. With Symbolic Traits, developers can select bold or italic variations of a font or adjust line- and letter- spacing. Even though Apple has made a lot of decisions in Text Kit, control is ultimately up to the developer, if he/she wants to assume the role.

The “dynamic” part of Dynamic Type comes into play with a font size slider in Settings. Adjusting it adjusts the font size of all apps utilizing Dynamic Type. This includes all of Apple’s built-in applications, which have all been rewritten to utilize Type Kit and Dynamic Type. Developers will have to explicitly support this this aspect of Dynamic Type (called “preferredContentSizeChanged”). It’s easy, though, and because users will quickly begin to expect support in all of the apps they use, I predict most app developers will quickly get on board.

Dynamic Type in many situations will eliminate the need for app developers to support changing the default font size in their apps. While apps meant for reading (Kindle, Instapaper) might want to keep these around, RSS and email applications will be able to remove these settings that can clutter their UI. Apple has recognized a control that most apps need and implemented it through a systemwide setting, which I think is much better. It’s consistent.

In all likelihood, that hook won’t be necessary. Dynamic Type is such an enormous advancement in application typography that I expect every application that uses type (basically every app that isn’t a game) to implement it.

iCloud

iCloud took a lot of shit last year, most of it warranted. Apple would have had you believe that iCloud was the future of file systems. Unlike Maps, their PR campaign for iCloud never shifted from “it’s amazing” and “it just works”, even though it wasn’t and didn’t. Which is remarkable, because iCloud has been a much bigger failure than Maps. The key difference being the domain of the failure. Maps failed for end users, iCloud failed for developers. The end user aspects (email, mostly) have worked pretty well, but the developer API’s have been neglected. Apple treats their developers well, but ultimately end users are more important for their business.

So while I hesitate to label anything “what is should have been a year ago”, with iCloud, I’m just hoping that it is what it should have been a year ago (or even two). The message to developers has been that it is, and that developers who’ve been burned in the past should try again. But who knows. Who knows if developers will want to, and only if they do will we find out if Apple’s improvements to iCloud live up to their claims.

Core Data

Apple’s big push with Core Data this years is that they’ve drastically reduced the work developers must do to integrate its API’s into their apps. Previously, Core Data provided little more than a synced datastore, tied to each iCloud account and walled off for each app to use in its sandbox. Going forward, new API’s will enable Core Data to take on a lot more.

The iCloud API’s will now handle the fallback datastore, or the local copy of a user’s app data that is used before a connection to iCloud is established, or when it is entirely unavailable. It was previously up to the developer to create and store this local copy, and then to handle the tradeoff and application of changes when the iCloud connection is established. In iOS 7, the fallback store and iCloud store look almost identical to the app, and both the store of the local copy and tradeoff will be handled by iCloud.

iCloud will now handle multiple accounts and account switching. Apple used to provide little guidance on what app developers should do if the device’s iCloud account is deleted or changed. Going forward, this swap will be handled by iCloud. When iCloud sees that the account has changed, it will publish any local changes from the old account to iCloud, delete the old account’s persistent store from the device, and swap in the store for the new account.


For a bit of perspective, it was only 11 months ago that Tim Cook fired Scott Forstall. In less than a year, Jony Ive and Craig Federighi’s design and development teams have totally reshaped iOS, in appearance and vision. It would have been a heck of a lot easier for them to slap the new features and API’s onto iOS 6 and call it a day, to shelve the interface replacement for just one more year.

In many ways iOS 7 is the first thing post-Steve Jobs Apple has done that Steve Jobs wouldn’t have done. Now, I have a lot of personal regard for Steve, so make of this what you will. But I honestly believe that, had Steve Jobs been able to see iOS 7, he would have recognized how much better it is. Or, more likely, he’d have cursed the designers out the room and come back the next day claiming it was his idea all along.

So I Hear There’s an Event Tomorrow

A realistic predictions list:

Unfortunately, and as has been the case for the past few years, we know pretty much everything about tomorrow’s event today. WWDC 2013 really was the best, don’t you think?

A Eulogy for 2D Animation

Ironically, it’s been John Lasseter who’s championed 2D animation within Disney. Since Lasseter became the Chief Creative Officer at Walt Disney Animation Studios, they’ve released two traditionally-animated films to critical acclaim: 2009’s The Princess and the Frog and 2011’s Winnie the Pooh. Unfortunately, they weren’t financial successes, and CEO Bob Iger has no plans to continue the program. The bottom line: CGI films are making more money.

Cinderella’s Castle Set Against a Blue Sky

The past century taught us to expect more of Disney. From the Apple-like attention to detail in their early animated films to their equally detail-oriented theme parks, Disney built a corporate identity that didn’t look all that corporate. The Disney we love isn’t focused on profits, it’s focused on art.

That Disney still exists, but only in one private division: Pixar. I’m not harping on CGI films at all. I love Pixar. Thanks to Pixar, quality animation continued into the computer age. Computer animation can be just as beautiful as hand-drawn, traditional films. But is anyone arguing that Wreck-It Ralph is superior to The Princess and the Frog? I don’t think so.

Pixar has its strengths, and it sticks to them. Brave wasn’t its best effort and Cars 2 didn’t do so well commercially, but that isn’t going to stop them from pushing on with their craft. Pixar (like Apple, hmm) is a company with a culture based on the quality and artistry of their product, and not on making money. Revenue is secondary, needed only to finance the next piece.

It’s fine if Disney wants to experiment. Experimentation is good! But it should be done for artistic reasons, not monetary, and not if it leaves your core culture in tatters. Wreck-It Ralph and Tangled are great films, but Disney need not abandon their roots. It makes good business sense, but it rejects their values. Here I’ve been harboring under this idea that good business sense isn’t Disney’s top priority. Maybe I’m deluded.

There’s still artistic value left in traditional animation, and Disney has traditionally been the only consistent purveyor of the form. It burns me to see this company I’ve respected, and whose products I’ve cherished, abandon the medium and values I associated with it.

Civil Footnotes 1.3

Civil Footnotes 1.3 is out with only two minor fixes1. First, and I’d like to thank user Greg Sullivan for this, two PHP errors have been corrected. While neither error prevented the proper function of Civil, I’m all about code validation.

Second, I’ve made a decision regarding duplicate footnotes. As intended, Civil Footnotes was originally supposed to consolidate multiple footnotes if the notes were identical. That seemed logical, but unfortunately it was a challenge to get working (and in fact I never got it working). In 1.3, duplicate footnotes are created as multiple and separate footnotes. I think this is actually a better solution.

First, it is much simpler, so it shouldn’t result in any strange behavior or cause any bugs. Second, it makes more sense because each individual footnote can only link back to one reference number in the text. If identical notes are consolidated, the backlink can only point to one of the references in the text. Not the best from a usability standpoint.

This update is as always recommended for all users of Civil Footnotes, and can be downloaded directly from its project page or the WordPress plugin directory. Or if you’re smart, you’ll just update through the admin interface.


  1. It works fine in WordPress 3.6, and all previous versions of it do, too. ↩︎

The Apple Alarm Clock

In June, I speculated on the future of Apple TV, and that was fun. I thought to myself gee, this speculating thing is fun, I should do it again sometime. So let’s talk about clocks.

More specifically, the bedside clocks meant for rousing non-morning people in the morning. The most disruptive thing that’s happened to the alarm clock industry was probably the smartphone. I and (I presume) many others have switched full-time to using our smartphones as our only alarms. It’s terribly convenient to open the Clock app on my iPhone to quickly toggle an alarm on or off or readjust the going off of one.

(The best part is the ability to adjust my alarms when I’m out and about. There’s a German word for the anxiety felt when One’s out of the house and unforeseen events force the adjustment of the time One must wake the next morning, and One must force Oneself to remember to adjust One’s alarm accordingly when One gets home, because One remembers the last time this happened, when One forgot to adjust One’s alarm, and One remembers the hatred One felt toward Oneself that following morning when One woke up two hours too late.

I don’t know what it is, but I’m sure it exists. One, you poor bastard.)

Thing is though, a smartphone is a terrible alarm clock. Smartphones are designed to be carried with you wherever you go, to sit in your pocket until called upon. They’re meant to be held, so they are thin and light. They’re meant to do everything, so they have minimal physical buttons.

They’re not meant to sit on your nightstand for all the hours of their existence, dutifully displaying the time, all the while bottling up their desire for attention, only to let loose in the one daily moment they’re called upon. They’re not meant to be chucked across the room in anger at the realization that One stayed up way too late last night. They’re not meant to have the snooze button punched as One decides to risk it and doze for another 10-er.

Such is the purpose of the alarm clock.

The Dream Machine Next to a Dream Machine
The nightstand is no place for a smartphone.

With that in mind, I made the decision to switch back to using a dedicated alarm clock and — to my chagrin — I discovered that alarm clocks haven’t progressed at all past iPhone docks. The best you can do (and what I’ve settled on) is a $15 Sony Dream Machine1. It’s pathetic, really.

What if Apple isn’t going to disrupt the watch industry after all? What if, instead, they’re going to change the way the entire world wakes up in the morning? (OK, they’re not, but keep reading.)

If we could combine the benefits of the the smartphone alarm and the dedicated alarm clock, well wouldn’t that be dandy. We could. Next year, what if iOS’s Clock app has an API that broadcasts its alarm settings over WiFi. Alongside this new API, Apple releases a well-designed alarm clock accessory, the “iWake”. iWake plugs into a wall outlet and connects to your home WiFi network through AirPort Utility on your Mac or iPhone. Jony Ive heads its design, and we get a revival of the classic Dieter Rams/Dietrich Lubs DN 40. iWake has a single button on top (and it is one seriously great feeling button); press it once for snooze or long press it to silence the alarm for good. iWake is made of polycarbonate, and comes in a multitude of bright spring colors.

With the Clock app on your phone (or iPad, or the dashboard widget on your Mac, which now sync via iCloud), you can adjust your alarms and tell your iWake which ones to go off for. If you’re out and about and you find out you’ll need to wake up early tomorrow, open the Clock app on your phone, set the alarm and that information is automatically pushed to iCloud and then to iWake. Tomorrow morning, your alarm goes off without you giving it a second thought. Goodbye, mystery German word.

I want iWake three years ago. The technology is there but no one is doing it. While I’d love for it to come out of Apple, I realize they probably have bigger things going on. So why not someone else? This shouldn’t be too hard to do and do right. You don’t even need that Clock API I talked about to make it work, just write your own app.

Well, what are you waiting for? I have somewhere to be tomorrow, get to it!


  1. Which has actually been discontinued, but you can still pick them up at Walgreen’s, so there you go. ↩︎

Casual Indeed

When the wealthiest author in the world, the author of a series of books that sold over 400,000,000 copies, a series of books that spurned the most successful film franchise of all time, releases her first out-of-franchise followup, it is expectedly a big deal.

The Casual Vacancy on a Red Chair

It is unexpected that that followup is an idle political novel about a pastoral English village. No one could have predicted The Casual Vacancy. It’s true that we didn’t know really what to expect, but at the least I and others probably thought her next book would land to similar praise and adoration as her others. As I read through it, I constantly was waiting for something big to happen. My expectation of a “Rowling” novel was bent by the fantastic adventures of Harry and friends. Unfortunately I could not appreciate Vacancy for the earth-bounded story it is. I found myself guilty of the thing I’ve poked fun at so often. As so many have lambasted Apple for not delivering earth-shattering revolutionary products at every single event, I was heartbreakingly disappointed with Rowling for not delivering another smash hit.

Stylistically, Vacancy is exquisite. I mustn’t have realized it, as I grew up alongside the Harry Potter novels, reading each of them in turn as they came out, but Rowling’s writing has really matured. Comparing Vacancy to Philosopher’s Stone, the quality of the writing has gone from great to lust-worthy. Don’t get me wrong, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is one of my favorite novels, and the writing is great. Vacancy is just that much better.

To use a specific example, this was my first encounter with extended parentheticals, and I love them. Syntactically, they are super effective delineating a passage (often a long passage) that breaks from the set narrative. Whether it be a flashback, an extended description, or other diatribe, it is made clear that this little bit (right here) is separated. Of course they wouldn’t be so effective if they weren’t placed with the utmost care. J.K.’s shows an amazing aptitude for placing them exactly where they ought to be, providing clarifications and deviations at exactly the times they are needed and never when they would disrupt any of the import, climactic business going on. I could continue attempting to explain exactly why they’re so delightful, but honestly it would be much easier if you read the book and discovered for yourself.

In this novel, for the first time in her writing career, Rowling experiments with out-of-sequence, Pulp Fiction-y storytelling. Throughout the first part of the novel, the point-of-view shifts between different characters and different moments in the timeline of their lives. As we’ve come to expect from Rowling, the backstories are richly detailed. Often tidbits from their background are revealed through those extended parentheticals. The impression given is that Rowling has spent many months in the village of Pagford researching all of the intricate details of every single one of her invented characters. She must have volumes of notes in equivalent detail to those she created for the Harry Potter universe, but with every detail of Pagford jotted.

(I like to imagine that the Harry Potter series, The Casual Vacancy, and the Cormoran Strike series all take place on the same alternate Earth. Actually, I prefer to imagine that it isn’t an alternate Earth at all.)

Fortunately since I read it I’ve had many months1 to reflect. Over time my opinion of it has grown fonder, and my disappointment has waned. The Casual Vacancy is a read not meant to keep you up into the wee hours turning pages. The characters aren’t remarkable. They are human. Humans are boring. They are relatable. Muggles. When you can accept all of that, it’s a lot easier to praise its delights.

I was initially disappointed but this novel isn’t disappointing. It can be difficult to accept that your favorite fantasy author isn’t actually a “fantasy author”, but it’s a good thing. Limiting J.K. Rowling’s talents to one genre wouldn’t be any fun at all. The Casual Vacancy is a superb example of the kind of novel I wouldn’t usually read.

A detective novel, though… that’s something I could get into.


  1. Including the four months it’s been since I promised this review↩︎

I Don’t Need to Sleep

I’m belted into the window seat and the sun’s going down. My flight was delayed on the tarmac for two hours but that doesn’t upset me. What was already going to be a late bed time has been pushed back further. I have to be at work early tomorrow. But that doesn’t upset me. I am upset, though. I’m upset because my favorite place in the world is behind me and two months of longing is in front.

For years now I’ve had the idea that I’d live in Manhattan. When I was a high school sophomore the idea sounded nice, but distant. It was exciting but I wasn’t anxious about it. When I applied to colleges, I didn’t seek schools for English and Political Science. I saught schools in New York. I made the enormous mistake of visiting before I heard back, so when I returned home all I could think about was how upset I’d be if I didn’t get in. I did. The idea was becoming more real. Grades, AP exams, and graduation kept me distracted and the waiting didn’t hurt.

For the past year I’ve known this is where I want to spend the next four years of my life. Now, with sixty days until I move in, New York feels farther away than ever.

It was this latest trip that did me in. When Daddy Warbucks and Annie broke into “NYC” during my first Broadway show, I wanted to cry. In the observation room on the 102nd story of the Empire State Building last night, the idea that I’d call this magnificient city home hit hard. On the steps of Tiffany and Co. on Fifth Avenue, pastry in hand, immitating Audrey Hepburn… It was romantic. Sixty tedious days as an ITO intern at a car dealership contractor in west central Texas separate me from a life in my favorite city.

The Island of Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry

I’m belted into the window seat and the sun has set. I’m begging the pilot to turn around.

Considered Opinions on iOS 7’s New Direction

I’ve been running iOS 7 on my only iPhone for about two weeks. It’s very different I’ve avoided writing about it because it is a big change, and in order for me to write reasonably about it, the initial shock needed to wear away.

What’s most important to realize about iOS 7 is what hasn’t changed. We still slide left-to-right to unlock. We still have a grid of icons. Applications still consume the entire screen. All the controls we’re used to are still in the same place. Despite the totally new look, iOS 7 is still familiar. While it looks totally different, we still know how to use it. So will your grandmother. Brace for the inevitable initial outcry from those who hate any change, but understand that it’ll fade away as it does whenever Facebook redesigns the timeline.

Gradient-heavy toolbars have given way to “flat” translucent bars that give a sense of depth by letting content flow beneath them (albeit heavily blurred). The new toolbars aren’t as beautiful in screenshots or ad material, but in practice they fade into the background and allow the content to shine through. Which is how it should be. While there’s always been a delight in opening a new app and finding a hand-crafted, beautifully-textured interface, the appeal wears thin after use. I don’t find myself remarking on the artitistic value of TweetBot after a couple days of use. iOS 7 apps will be forced to compete on how they display content, not on beautiful pixel art.

Buttons in iOS 7 have lost their borders. Whether you like the borderless aesthetic or not, it’s important to note the utility of these buttons has not changed. Borderless buttons aren’t new. We’ve been using them on the web for decades, and in Mobile Safari for six years. The appearance of a button has two goals: to differentiate itself as a tappable object and to convey what will happen when it is activated. The new buttons approach these goals differently. Glossy 3D pixel drawing of buttons with at times confusing glyphs have been replaced with text labels differentiated by color. Approached differently, but met just as well.

Apple has been big on animations since the first version of OS X. This fixation carried over into the first versions of iOS, and version 7 extends animations across the board by integrating physics and particle engines and transforming screen elements into objects that interact with each other. All of that sounds overwhelming, but trust me when I say that the animations in iOS 7 are delightful. The only complaint I have with them is speed. They aren’t laggy, but I get the impressions that the engineers and designers behind them were a bit too proud, and wanted to everyone to see every single frame. This is one area that I think will change before iOS 7 ships this fall.

The use of Helvetica Neue Ultralight, while handsome, is overdone in iOS 7. It looks great in advertisements, but in daily use as a body font, it can be difficult to read. Light variants, like bolds, should be uses sparingly for emphasis. I think this will be fixed, though probably before this fall. The light typeface speaks to one of iOS 7’s unspoken goals: to be lighter, freer. The light typeface furthers this message, and Apple’s designers got carried away (as they’ve done with pinstripes and brushed metal prior).

Apple went too far elsewhere. In particular, icons. Overall I like them. Yes, yes I know, there went all of my credibility as a designer1. I like each individual icon better than its iOS 6-and-before counterpart. Even Safari. The icon set is simplified and vibrant. Apple erred on the side of too much simplification and too much vibrance, and I love that. These are not conservative or restrained changes. Apple went all out. My least favorite icons are the ones with pure white backgrounds. Safari, Newsstand, and Game Center feel unfinished. It’s important to remember that all of these icons will be iterated upon going forward. Design is a process.


The entire OS will be iterated upon. If you imagine the design of iOS on a pendulum, iOS 6 and before were firmly to one side of center. With 7, the pendulum has swung all the way across equilibrium and up the other side. Overall, it is closer to the center, the ideal. It’ll take more iterations to get there, but Apple will.

It would have been easier if iOS 7 looked more or less like iOS 6. If iOS 7 looked just like iOS 6 Apple would still sell hundreds of millions of devices this year. There was no need or obligation for iOS 7 to look totally different. They did it anyway. Not because they had to, but because they knew it was the way forward.

Saying I’m “proud” of Apple is lazy but I struggle find a more appropriate word. Others have said that WWDC 2013 felt like the first post-Steve Jobs keynote. iOS 7 is the first departure from Jobs-era Apple, and it’s the first big leap for Tim Cook’s Apple2. iOS 7 is a statement by Tim Cook. Steve is gone, and it’s time to move on. This is moving on.

iOS 7 is unlike anything Apple has done before, yet entirely Apple-like.


  1. Or a guy with opinions of designers. ↩︎

  2. One could argue that Scott Forstall’s ouster and Jony Ive’s promotion was the first leap, but really these are two effects of the same decision. ↩︎

Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens

The first computer I remember loving was my 12-inch “second generation “dual-USB” iBook.

I owned many computers before it, hand-me-downs from an eccentric grandfather. All of them ran Windows XP, often poorly. When the last of them crapped out, I was given the iBook. This was in 2007, and by then the machine was going on six. It too was recycled, this time from my schoolteacher grandmother. It was my first experience with a Mac, and it was great.

If I was handed an equivalent machine today, I’d probably toss it. Back then, I dealt with the quirks that come with owning an aged, outdated machine because I didn’t know any better. It had a 10 gigabyte hard drive and a PowerPC processor whose speed was measured in megahertz. The ethernet port demanded constant upward pressure to maintain a connection1. If you dared to alter the position of the hinge, the backlight would eek revenge and shut off. To adjust the angle of the display, you had to put the machine to sleep, make your adjustments, and wake it back up again. My iBook’s idiosyncrasies were nothing if not infuriating.

But god dammit, those details didn’t matter. That machine was reliable. Every single day I trusted it to boot up and run Firefox and AIM2 and TextEdit and every single day it did. I was involved with a couple internet communities (far too deeply than I care to admit) and my iBook was my only method of connection. And it did. I’ve never since used an Apple product for so close to its intended use. I was uninhibited by the computer and its components, and I just used the damn thing.


With college coming this fall, a laptop was at the top of my shopping list. When the MacBook Air was updated two weeks ago, I made a purchase. I’ve been using it for a week now, and it’s great. It’s the best computer I’ve owned. In so much of it I see my punchy little iBook.

I’m savvier now, but I find myself just as uninterested now in the specifications and details of my laptop as I was then. Rest assured, the storage is measured in triple digits and the clock speed in gigahertz. Many laptops on the market are boasting about their super high-resolution touchscreen displays. The Air might seem archaic in comparison. Its screen is small and low-resolution. It isn’t even and IPS panel. As with my iBook six years ago, these details don’t matter.

The Thine Edge of the MacBook Air

My machine is reliable and solid. It runs the best operating system in the world. It runs all of the apps I need, and runs them well. Most importantly, it gets out of the way and allows to me do my best creative work. That’s the essence of every thing Apple makes. Six years ago I missed this remarkable distinction of Apple products. Now I’m fully aware.

While the 2013 iteration of the MacBook Air isn’t too different from the last, and though it might not match up in a checklist comparison to other Windows notebooks on the market, it is the best computer I have ever owned. Perhaps the best in the world.


  1. Mine was not AirPort equipped. ↩︎

  2. Those were cool once. ↩︎

How Apple Wins the Next Console War

It’s popular to speculate on where Apple is going with television. Universally these predictions are always wrong. They ramp up right before a big Apple event, the event comes and goes, and Apple neglects to even mention television. It would be foolish, then, for a sensible commentator such as I to take a turn. So here goes.

If you’d asked me a couple years ago what I thought Apple was going to do with television, I would have said something along the lines of a TiVo, but with Apple software so it wouldn’t be slow and irritating to use. I would have surmised that Apple would partner with a single cable provider in the United States and provide a tightly integrated experience combining DVR functionality and internet programming. But that’s entirely misguided.

Thing is, the little black box called Apple TV is Apple’s television strategy. When Steve Jobs announced “one more hobby” at the 2010 iPod event, he wasn’t announcing a stopgap before the real deal. This was it. This is it. Most people (myself included) missed it.

We’re accustomed to Apple entering a market and dramatically changing it. Macintosh. iPod. iPhone. iPad. Apple TV didn’t. It isn’t so different from other internet streaming devices we can connect to our televisions. Most of these have been available long before Apple TV, and Apple TV wasn’t dramatically different or better than any of them. We glanced past it and decided Apple’s grand television er… vision had to be still in the labs.

I don’t think Apple would keep this thing around for two and a half years if it wasn’t their ultimate plan1. In 2010, Apple unveiled a refined, core product that lacked in features but made up for it by working really, really well. As they are wont to do.

Those of us who own these little black boxes love ‘em. And it continues to get better. Services are added consistently every few months, and today we have a device that streams from the majority of services we want. Those we don’t have will come in time2.

But what’s next? Apps. Many of us were hoping for an SDK at WWDC. Obviously that didn’t happen, and in retrospect it’s clear why: Apple didn’t have time. In case you missed it, iOS 7 was a huge undertaking, and accomplishing it in 6 months meant pulling engineers away from other projects.

But some of the stuff announced as a part of iOS 7 at WWDC hint at the future of Apple TV. In particular: game controllers. Under the MFi3 program, Apple will be licensing the manufacture of official, standard game controllers with a common control set that game developers can easily support.

When iOS 7 ships in the fall, a companion build will drop for Apple TV. I expect it to include game controller support. And I expect to drop with it an SDK.

With the iPod touch, Apple accidentally dominated the handheld gaming market. Neither they no Nintendo could have predicted it, but it happened. iPod touch was affordable, the interface was exciting, the games were addictive, and it did a hell of a lot more than play games. Since and as a result, Apple has embraced games with Game Center and dozens of related API’s. The technical merits of those API’s notwithstanding, the shear volume of Apple customers out there demands that millions are using Game Center, and developers are writing for it.

Apple TV will accidentally (though less accidentally than in the case of the iPod touch) dominate the console gaming market. The OS update that brings the App Store to the TV will bring Game Center as well. Games will be the top the store’s charts4. More advanced, console-quality games will follow, but the beauty of the situation is that those aren’t even necessary.

The Wii unquestionably won the last console generation. It outsold the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. It didn’t win because of its outstanding graphics performance or its high-quality games. In fact, most “gamers” passed it on for more “serious” consoles. The Wii won because it was affordable and because it was fun for non-“gamers”. People who’d never considered a game console before snapped them up. It was the first mass-market game console.

The story will be the same with Apple TV. Normal people will flock to the fun and addictive games we’ve grown to love on iOS. And they’ll flock to its price. The Xbox One is $499. The PlayStation 4 is $399. The Wii U is $299. The Apple TV is $200 cheaper than the least expensive next-generation console. Obviously the discrepancy is explained away entirely by hardware, but that’s moot.

This fall there’ll be a new Apple TV5. It’ll retain the affordable-for-all might-as-well-buy-two price point. It will run a new version of iOS with an App Store and Game Center. Older black box Apple TV’s will update to this new version. It will have support for a multitude of third party game controllers in all shapes, sizes, and price points (it might even come bundled with one or two). This holiday season, Apple will sell a shit-ton of them.

If Sony or Xbox or Nintendo were going for marketshare this round, they totally missed the point of the Wii’s success.


  1. The first generation Apple TV stuck around for three years so feel free to ignore everything I’m about to say. ↩︎

  2. Yes, even Amazon Instant Video. ↩︎

  3. “Made for i(Pod/Phone/Pad)”. ↩︎

  4. As they already are on touchscreen devices. ↩︎

  5. This is of course a prediction… ↩︎

WWDC 2013

I haven’t been as excited for an Apple event as I am for tomorrow since January 26, 2010. There really haven’t been any leaks concerning tomorrow’s keynote, and that’s really awesome. It should be a surprise for all of us. At the end of it, we’ll either be really disappointed or really, really excited. I’m betting, hoping, whatever on the latter.

With my track record, you’d be forgiven for expecting a “Predictions Post”, but not this time. This time I’d like to talk about my modest hopes for the WWDC keynote tomorrow. The list that follows is ordered from top to bottom in increasing likeliness.

In all honesty, most of these will probably be wrong. What I’d love even more than every single one of my wishes coming true would be for Apple to unveil insanely great products I couldn’t even dream of.


  1. 11” MacBook Air with Retina display, anyone? ↩︎

Fixing the iTunes Dashboard Widget

The iTunes Dashboard Widget, packaged with OS X from Tiger to Snow Leopard, is a personal favorite of mine. You can imagine, then, that I was pretty upset when it broke in a tiny-but-annoying manner with iTunes 11.0.3, resulting in the time counter blowing way off the edge of the widget.

Naturally, I set about fixing it. It was really easy, and I’d like to share the fix with you. If you’re technically minded, read on to see exactly how I fixed it and how you can, too. If you aren’t (or you’re just lazy), you can download the fixed widget here.

  1. Locate the widget in your Library/Widgets directory.
  2. Secondary click the widget to reveal package contents.
  3. Open iTunes.js and scroll to line 184.
  4. Change
    secs = currentPosition % 60;
    

    to

    secs = Math.round(currentPosition % 60);
    
  5. Save and run killall Dock in the Terminal, and you’re all set!

Will the Last Person to Leave Please Turn Out the Lights

This morning I sat the AP Macroeconomics exam. A hundred and thirty minutes of bubbling, graphing, and writing. Then I went home. High school’s over for me now. Sure, there’s still graduation and such. But it’s over. Really really over.

Looking back, I’ve come a long way. Literally, I started school in Tennessee and continued through Colorado, Massachussetts, Georgia, and sunny Florida. Figuratively… well, I guess I’d say I’m more pretentious and opinionated than ever. Growth!

To be fair, school isn’t entirely over. There’s college. This fall I’m moving to Manhattan to attend New York University. I’m nervous. I’m anxious about moving out and taking on debt and such. But I’m excited, and I’ve never been excited for school before. Well, not since Kindergarten. Anxiously I awaited first grade. I couldn’t wait to have homework.

Modern Vampires

Last year when Jukebox the Ghost released their third album, Safe Travels, I was critical of it for getting too serious at a detriment to the fun and upbeat style I loved about them. I posited a theory of “third album syndrome” and wondered if Vampire Weekend could escape it. Turns out they could. Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend’s third effort, is out now. I’ve been listening to it for a week now, and it’s my favorite album of all time.

Modern Vampires is a continuation of the technological experimentation first pushed with 2010’s Contra. Auto tune, pitch-shifting, and echoes all play a part in the first single off the album, “Diane Young”. It’s modern, in that it is available to the band only through computers, but it sounds and feels completely natural. It’s so tastefully done you don’t recognize it as techno. It’s just good punk rock.

Modern Vampires of the City on Vinyl

Modern Vampires pushes also the clever lyrics and wordplay we’ve come to expect of Vampire Weekend. “Leave me to myself / Lead me to my cell” is a particular favorite, off “Everlasting Arms”. “Hannah Hunt” is brimmed with eloquent lyrics: “A gardener told me some plants move but I could not believe it / Til me and Hannah Hunt saw crawling vines and weeping willows / As we made our way from Providence to Phoenix”.

“Hannah Hunt” is my favorite track off the album, and I think Vampire Weekend’s best track to date. It, like all of the songs on Modern Vampires, has been ceaselessly iterated upon. Nuances catch your attention the third, fourth, and eighth times you listen to it (and you will). When Ezra Koenig sings “In Santa Barbara…” the guitar shifts to a tropical sound and you can hear the lapping waves of the ocean in the background. It may sound cheasy reading about it, but trust me, it is beautiful. “Hannah Hunt” is a soft track for two and a half minutes, and then five drum beats bring it into the most equisite ninety seconds of songmaking I’ve ever heard.

All of the songs give of this aura of development and iteration. It is clear that the Vampires have been relentless pursued perfection on this record. Each song is handcrafted and stands on its own. At the same time, they are together cohesive and tell a story. Said Rostam Batmanglij (guitar, keyboard, and backup vocals) in a recent interview:

I think we realized there’s no easy way to arrive at having twelve songs that you’re very proud of. There’s no shortcuts that can be taken. You just have to write and write and write and rewrite and revise. Hopefully that’s what we’ll always do. We’ll always be as hard on ourselves as we were on this record.

If I had one major criticism of Vampire’s debut, it would be that the tracks were too individual. Individually great, yes, but as a whole it eas clear the album was a collection of singles. Contra swung perhaps too far in the other direction; the songs didn’t stand quite so well on their own. Modern Vampires of the City is right in the middle. It’s best listened to as a whole, straight through, but you can shuffle it into your other music as you please. I don’t imagine you’ll want to listen to anything else, though. At least for a while.

Waiting three years for Modern Vampires sucked, no doubt. But if this is what Vampire Weekend can deliver with three years of work, then bring on 2016.

Civil Footnotes 1.2

The second update we all thought would never come is here. Civil Footnotes 2.1 is out, with support for the start attribute for the ordered list. Add <!--startnum=#--> replacing ‘#’ with a digit and your footnotes will start with that number. Careful observers will note this is exactly the same as WP-Footnotes. Hm.

This is handy for paginated posts, which I would never do but apparently at least one user of this plugin does, so there you go. This update is non-essential if you never plan on using this feature, though WordPress will probably get so annoying with its update notifications that you’ll give in anyway.

You can grab the update right here or on the project page. Or WordPress will ask you for me.

—Your Host

(For those of you wondering about the lack of updates on here, it’s for two reasons: one, not much is happening in our industry right now and two, I’ve got a lot of school stuff going on lately and for a couple weeks more. High school’s almost over but, alas, not over yet. Don’t worry, I have a sizable Instapaper queue and more great content is coming.)

The Lonely Island

At the time of writing, I have 87 friends on Facebook. That’s too many. Facebook is different from Twitter in that you’re encouraged (and it makes sense) to befriend only those people whom you’re actually friends with. It’s in the name of the action, really: “follow” vs. “friend”1. Are there really 87 people that’d I’d consider friends? Are there really 87 people that I care enough about to want to know how they spent their Friday night? Doubtful. I’m not antisocial, I’m realistic. While every individual’s optimal “friend” count will vary, it’s unlikely you have as many close relationships as your Facebook page would indicate.

I’m not saying you have to speak with your Facebook friends every day. Not even every month. It is essential, however, that have some minimum level of closeness with them2. Otherwise, the service is all-but useless. If every time you login to Facebook, there’s a hundred new items in your newsfeed, you aren’t going to read all of that. Even if I was friends with the most interesting people in the universe, I wouldn’t read all of that. By opening our definition of and exaggerating the list of people we call “friend”, we are rendering the Facebook service useless to ourselves. What was meant to be a service to help us connect with friends when not together morphs into an irritating stream of crap we don’t care about.

The First Step is Acceptance

As I stated at the beginning of this essay, I’m prey to “friending” non-friends as well. Why do we do it? Why do we accept every friend request that comes our way, and why do we obsessively page through Facebook’s suggestions looking for new friends? Is it a status item, to proclaim how many friends you have on Facebook as if you deserve a medal? I think so. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t heard kids brag about the number of “friends” they have. OK. So an artificially-high number makes us feel better about ourselves.

My stepmother has nearly 1,400 “friends” on Facebook. No, really. Right now you’re thinking she’s super cool, right? I’m sure she knows all of those people. I’m sure she wants to know what every one of those 1,389 people had for dinner. I’m sure she’d be happy to have each of those people over for dinner tomorrow night. Just sure of it. Now that artificially-high number makes us question her3. But she’s so popular! She has lots of friends, she must be so friendly. I want to be just like her. That’s what we’re all thinking, right? No? Oh, then let’s keep reading.

“But I would never brag about that,” we say. “Other people, though, they do and if they see I only have sixty friends they’ll think less of us.” Fair point. Well, not really. Who gives a shit? If we prescribe to that, than we’re no better than the “other people”. Look, anyone lowly enough to troll Facebook seeking people with low “friend” counts to build themselves up does not deserve your attention. You’re a above that. You’re a “go-getter”, or some other inspirational shit. You’re outside climbing mountains while that guy’s inside checking his AOL account for Target coupons. You don’t need to be ashamed of your number, you should be proud. A low number is a symbol of a healthy human being, I swear to it.

If we’ve accepted that Facebook is for our actual, honest-to-god, “IRL” friends, we’ve accepted an enormous “friend” count doesn’t reflect anything good, and we’ve accepted that you don’t care what “they” think. What are we to do about it?

The Test

We’re going to purge.

Remember that “minimum” I was telling you about? The threshold of closeness for which we should feel toward someone in order to establish a connection on Facebook? While you’re certainly free to decide that for yourself, I’ve devised a simple (if difficult and lengthy to explain) test we can do quickly in our heads as we scroll through our “friends” list, trigger fingers poised over the “unfriend” button.

OK, let’s get started. You’re laying on the couch (do people really do that?), I’m sitting in the expensive leather chair. Don’t worry, this session won’t cost you too much. I’ll need you to picture yourself on a deserted island. Deserted, but you are not alone. Imagine you were en route to some exotic locale, perhaps on a top-secret mission for M, and your plane has gone down. Every one has survived (let’s not get too dark) but you are all very much alone and fear that rescue could take weeks. It was a standard airline flight, though, so the passengers and crew are a bunch of random people you’ve never met before4. Random, all except for one. You had no idea they were on the flight, but that one person is (stepping back to reality now) the person you’re considering for approval for or dismissal from your friends list.

Here’s the test: do you approach that person? Is he/she the first person you rush to help? There are a hundred and fifty people on that island, and you aren’t going to be bonding with all of them. Are you and that person going to help each other to survive? If the answer is to all of the above yes, that person stays on your list. If the answer is no, they’re gone.

The Locust Swarm

This test, I understand, sounds ridiculous. It’s an absurd situation that (hopefully) we’ll never find ourselves in. But it is useful, I think, and a pretty accurate way to determine if our potential candidate is worthy. The question is: is our relationship with the candidate close enough that we’d band together in a sea of strangers? With some, the decision is easy. Our best friends, our boy- or girlfriends: no-brainers. Our sisters, our brothers, our moms and dads: easy-peasy. There are no-brainers on both sides of the test, of course. I probably wouldn’t need to run my stepmother through the test if she ever sent me a request.

For the cases right in the middle, though, that’s where this test is useful. That guy from your chemistry class junior year, the one who sat in front of you for half the year and without fail asked you to borrow a pencil every single day? He probably won’t make the list. The girl who had to sit behind him for the other half of the year, the one you exchanged sympathies with at the lunch table? She probably makes it. The test is effective in weeding out people who irritate us, but isn’t so exclusive that amicable people we’ve acquainted with and enjoy the company of get cut.

As you descend your friends list, if you’re like I was the first time and you have a lot of “friends”, you’ll be cutting out a lot. The first couple are hard, but it gets easier. The people we’re cutting are people who won’t notice they’ve been defriended, and if they do notice, they won’t care. If we extrapolate, they’re really being done a favor. If they do not belong on our list, we don’t belong on theirs.

It’s worth mentioning this the test isn’t strictly for purging. We should use it whenever a new friend request comes in, and we should be sparring with your sending of requests. I, for instance, don’t send any. That’s pretentious of me, I realize, but I can live with it. As I said at the start, I have too many friends on Facebook. I’ve used the test before5 and I’ll do it again. I’ll be the first to admit it’s easy to let a few less-than-stellar candidates slip through the net, but it’s just as easy to boot them.

Keeping your internet life in order can be time-consuming, but keeping it in order is one less stressor that you’ll have to deal with. Find a strategy. Follow it. Rinse. Repeat.


  1. While Facebook did institute “following” as an alternative to “friending” awhile ago, you’d be forgiven for not knowing about it until now. ↩︎

  2. We’ll talk about defining that minimum is a bit later. ↩︎

  3. Don’t, really. ↩︎

  4. Some of them probably “friends” of my stepmother. ↩︎

  5. If you’d like to see the test in action, send me a Facebook request. Get denied. It’ll be fun and motivational. ↩︎

Kind Plunder

Fed up with the gross advertising featured prominently on the galaxy’s most resilient torrent search engine, I wrote a plugin to hide them. I call it “Kind Plunder”, and you can learn a bit more and download it over in the Projects area. Or if you know what you’re doing, you can download it right here.

Happy plundering!
—Your Host

The “Burden”, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tax

On May 6, the Senate will vote on a bill that would require online vendors to collect sales tax. The actual tax would be determined based on where the item is being shipped. So if you live in New Hampshire, when you buy online, you won’t have to pay sales tax, exactly as you would in a brick-and-mortar store in your neighborhood. And if you live in Florida, you’ll have to pay a 7% tax on items you buy online. Again, exactly as you would in a physical store in your town. Easy, logical. So naturally, many are up in arms about it.

This week, I got an email from Ebay. An email, note, that I received despite having unsubscribed from every correspondence Ebay auto-subscribes you to when you join1. The email was asking me to rally behind them in fighting Congress on this bill. It called on me to help out the small business. “Small”. The bill in question requires online merchants who bring in at least $1 million annually to start collecting sales tax. Ebay wants that number raised to $10 million. “Small”.

Ebay wants me to support the unfair advantage that online retailers have enjoyed for the past twenty years. It grinds my gears whenever American citizens attempt to avoid taxes they are capable of paying. So “No!”, Ebay, I will not join you in saying “No!” to Congress.

Amazon, a company who has for the longest time avoided sales tax by running the company and building warehouses in sales-tax-free states, supports the bill. Kristina Peterson, reporting for the Wall Street Journal:

Though the Seattle-based online retailing giant has clashed with several individual states this year over efforts to gather sales tax, Amazon supports “an even-handed federal framework for state sales tax collection,” Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president for global public policy, said at Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing.

Good on you, Amazon. That stand is both controversial and forward-looking, and they deserve admiration for taking it. I understand completely why they’ve avoided sales tax thus far: it was the only way to be competitive. This legislation is way overdue, and Amazon recognizes that. It truly levels the playing field. Online merchants won’t be pressured to set up shop in New Hampshire. They can go wherever. Brick-and-morter stores won’t have to live in fear of the artificially low prices of their online counterparts. Not to mention the billions of dollars in tax revenue that’s been left on the table.

It’s popular, as this bill makes its way through Congress, to say that it will “make your whole life a lot more expensive”. I guess we’ll just overlook the fact that most of us are paying sales tax on most of our daily purchases? Cool. And really, what difference does it make? We’ve been enjoying tax-free internet purchases for two decades now, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.

Another says that “big business and big government are uniting to pursue their mutual interest in sticking it to the little guy”. It’s been awhile since I considered 1,000,000 “little”. Dammit, I hate conservative media.

It’s pretty simple: this bill will give physical and digital merchants equal footing, and that’s what our government is supposed to facilitate in our government. I get that you aren’t looking forward to paying a tad more for your online purchases, but selfishness won’t build a successful society.


  1. Not cool, Ebay. ↩︎

WWXIX

And now, a sonnet.

Duke Franz went foul in year one nine one four:
Gavrilo Princip saw him striding by,
He pulled a gun and shot him dead, did mourn.
“No!” said the North, murderer meant to die,

And then it ensued: two times two-three, one:
Russia, Germany, the French, the U.K.,
The war to end others; one no one won.
It took the last, the woe’d U.S. of A.

At four times ten, Kaiser said enough: end.
In ten plus one, all around: Paris, France,
The world set it busy, a world to mend,
War is fin: the streets awake, all a-dance.

One evil dead, another born in med…
In two times ten, the man to be self-fed.

Civil Footnotes 1.1

The next (and probably final) release of Civil Footnotes is here. The changes are minimal, so I’ll just list them:

I’d recommend that all current users of Civil Footnotes upgrade to 1.1, if only for that last one. Version 1.0 will not generate valid HTML, and though modern browsers will fill in that missing </p>, if you’re like me not having perfectly valid HTML will bug the crap out of you.

You can download 1.1 at the WordPress Plugin Directory or using the direct link. If you have 1.0 installed, WordPress should prompt you to upgrade within the next couple hours, if it hasn’t already.

—Your Host

The Impossible Task of Covering Apple

A few choice passages from Rob “Dumbass” Enderle’s latest piece “The Impossible Task of Fixing Apple”:

Steve Jobs was an iconic leader but he wasn’t known for sharing and was deathly afraid of someone being hired to replace him. He almost was fired again in the early 2000’s for messing with his stock options and this likely made him even more paranoid.

Steve Jobs, the man behind the Macintosh, the man a desperate Gil Amelio hired back into the company in 1997, and the man who in the past fifteen years alone facilitated the creation of the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad, was fearful of losing his job.

Yes. Of course.

…it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Jobs didn’t really share much of his secret sauce for success with anyone, including Cook.

Steve Jobs, whose meticulous attention to detail is world renown, refused to let his COO in on how the company was successful. Apple was, as Steve himself professed, his greatest creation, so of course he wouldn’t want it to carry on in his absence.

Rob is, as we all know, a close personal friend of Mr. Tim Cook. Rob was there to console Tim in the times he only needed a shoulder to cry on. Reportedly, Tim went on and on about how Steve was “a big ol’ jerk” and never shared his secret sauce.

[Cook] came from Compaq and there is nothing, other than his time as COO at Apple, which connects his background to a premium brand.

“Other”.

If you don’t fix Apple’s board before Cook is replaced, and unless Apple starts to recover soon he is toast, the next CEO will likely be worse. The screwy thing? This will likely force a replacement of the board but the now less qualified CEO will have a huge vote and likely pack the board with folks that support them.

Tim Cook has to be fired. The board has to be replaced. The next CEO is going to suck, too. Apple is doomed. You’re right, Mr. Enderle, it is impossible to fix Apple. Pay no attention to the quarterly results behind the curtain.

If we want companies like Apple to be around and thrive, somehow we need to find a way to assure the quality of their boards because, if we can’t, they won’t.

It’s up to us to fix Apple. You, me, and Rob Enderle, and all those shareholders who are getting $100 billion in dividend payments over the next two-and-a-half years. Hop to it.

Civil Footnotes

Today I released my first WordPress plugin, Civil Footnotes. It is a modified version of Simon Elvery’s excellent WP-Footnotes. While I was busy changing the code of that plugin, I realized that others might like the changes I made. I cleaned up the code I changed, deleted a hundred or so unnecessary lines from Elvery’s plugin, and am releasing it today into the wild.

Among the changes I made to the plugin:

Everything else you’d like to know is located in the new projects section of the website. While I don’t see this plugin being widely-adopted, I am proud of my first foray into the plugin arena.

—Your Host

Simple

This January I switched from Bank of America to Simple. Simple is an “e-bank”, and what I mean by that is they don’t have physical branches. What that means for their customers is that there’s no tellers to aid you through withdrawals or deposits. Personally, I had already been using ATM’s for all of my interactions with my bank, so an online-only bank was just fine. Besides, e-banks have one distinct advantage: a real incentive to make their online presence great.

This is where Simple excels far beyond any of their competitors, online or otherwise. They’ve already been likened to Apple, and I’d agree.

The Card

It starts with the card. Have you ever seen a better looking debit card? It is simple1 and beautiful. There are no unnecessary colors or artwork. A small logo and card data; that’s all that’s there and all you need. Just compare it to my old card and you’ll see. All cards should be this pretty. Because it isn’t flashy, it won’t call attention to itself (which is smart), except when you hand it to a cashier (“What is that?”).

A minor nitpick: the numbers on the card are the same plain white, and that is sometimes troublesome when entering card information online. For the most part, it’s a nonissue. Simple claims that the numberes blending in is a safety feature. To that end I say meh. If someone’s close enough to read the numbers off my card, it’s probably because they just swiped2 it.

The App

Moving on, we have Simple’s iPhone app3. Having used Bank of America’s iOS apps for three years, I can tell you Simple’s are in a league their own. The interface is thought out and intuitive. In lieu of blue gradients, Simple has chosen to texture the interface widgets. Sometimes, this idea gets out of hand, but in Simple’s case it is just gorgeous. The icon, too, is just wonderful.

The featureset is powerful (and growing). You can check your “Safe-to-Spend” amount, see what your saving, view and add metadata to transactions, deposit checks, schedule bills and other payments, and locate ATM’s4.

I’d like to detail one feature: photo check deposits. Most banks now have them, and they’re generally terrible experiences. With Simple, they took a little longer than most but did it so much better. You take a photo of your check, and within two days it is credited to your acccount. Is that as fast as an ATM? Nope. But that’s a minor drawback for an all-around superior banking experience.

I didn’t think I’d ever enjoy using a banking app. It’s gotta get over a huge barrier, after all: reminding me how poor I am. Simple’s done it. There’s no going back.

The Site

Simple’s website is another masterpiece. Combining the standard stream of transactions with some excellent analytical data, Simple has produced a modern banking website that’s enjoyable to look at as much as it is to use.

The more you peruse the site, the more tiny details you pick up on that Simple’s considered. One of my favorites is how Simple quickly learns which day your paychecks arrive on and then averages them to let you know how much you should be expecting and when. It’ll then use that data to build graphs showing how much your spending on each paycheck. It is all very useful and helpful.

My favorite feature, however, is Goals. With Simple, the concept of having separate checking and savings accounts is gone. Instead, we have a singular account (that does accumulate interest) and Goals. Goals allow you to take money from your “Safe-to-Spend” amount and place it into a digital shoebox for spending later. It can be a fixed amount, or Simple can take a bit each day toward a “goal”. It’s ingenius; I can’t believe no one else was doing this.

Let’s back up for a moment: I’ve mentioned “Safe-to-Spend” a couple times now. What’s that, you ask? “Safe-to-Spend” is Simple jargon for the amount of money it’s OK for you to spend right now. Your disposable income. “Safe-to-Spend” takes your available balance and removes any payments you have scheduled, money you have in goals, and pending transactions. It’s genius and, again, I can’t believe it’s the first time I’ve seen it.

The Wrap-Up

The best moment I’ve had with Simple so far happened at my local Apple Store. I had stopped in to purchase an extra Lightning cable, and when I handed my card to the blueshirt he asked how I liked Simple. I told him it was great, and he told me he was still waiting on his invite, and so I sent him one, right there in the Apple Store.

Simple is an fresh take on the traditional checking account. Who would have guessed that people would be jonesing for an invite to a bank? I always though people hated banks. Simple is great. Its founders are dedicated to building the absolute best banking experience. It’s getting better all the time. If you’re interested, you can follow along with its development on their blog.


  1. Go figure. ↩︎

  2. Pun absolutely intended. ↩︎

  3. They’re on Android, too, and I’m sure that’s great. ↩︎

  4. There are over 40,000 free ATM’s nationwide. ↩︎

iCloud and the Scope of Apple’s True Problem

iCloud’s been taking a beating lately. Ellis Hamburger kicked it off at The Verge, calling out the service for failing on Steve Jobs’s numerous promises for it:

Many veteran developers have learned their lesson and given up on iCloud’s Core Data syncing entirely. “Ultimately, when we looked at iCloud + Core Data for [our app], it was a total no-go as nothing would have worked,” said one best-selling iPhone and Mac developer. “Some issues with iCloud Core Data are theoretically unsolvable (stemming from the fact that you’ve put an object model on top of a distributed data store) and others are just plain bugs in the implementation,” he said.

Apple’s message was clear in 2010: iCloud is functional, easy, and awesome. That hasn’t been the case. Calling iCloud’s API’s for developers “buggy” is understating it. In many cases, Core Data syncing just doesn’t work. There’s no positive take on it: it’s ridiculously bad and it’s ridiculous that Apple hasn’t done anything about it.

Syncing alternatives exist, but none of them live up to the goals iCloud set out to achieve nearly two years ago: creating a seamless syncing solution that “just works” without logging in or setting up anything … “As much as I like Dropbox both personally and for Elements, I want to support iCloud because it’s one less barrier to entry for customers who don’t have or don’t want a Dropbox account just to sync files,” Elements app developer Justin Williams told me.

Developers want to use it. They’re begging Apple to be able to use it. It’s clear that Apple bit off more than they could chew. Apple promised developers the world and delivered an inhospitable morass. If that sounds familiar, you might be remembering the maps debacle from last year.

When Scott Forstall demoed the new maps app for us at WWDC and in the fall for the iPhone 5 launch, he lauded it as superior in every way to Google. It wasn’t. That mislead quite possibly led to Forstall’s ouster, but in comparison the maps debacle pails to the iCloud problem.

Is Apple’s maps data inferior to Google’s? Sure, in some cases. But the new maps have been usable from day one and have improved rapidly. iCloud has been around for twice as long, and it isn’t getting better.

To be clear, there are some parts of iCloud that have been very good. A good example is iCloud Backup. For the first time in technological history, regular humans are performing backups, in most cases every single day. In my experience, backing up and then restoring from iCloud has been flawless. It’s clear that Apple has some talent in server services. Of course, then there’s a catch: the free allotment of iCloud storage is a paltry 5 GB. While that may due for those of use who regularly move our photos and video to our computers, that’s not the majority case. It is far too easy to run through 5 GB; regular peopel won’t upgrade; iCloud Backup is useless.

And so it goes. All of iCloud’s services are at best half-baked. Thinking on it, a lot of Apple’s new stuff has left a lot to be desired. Joe Cieplinski saw this and blogged about it:

If the pattern used to be “release, then iterate, iterate, iterate,” it seems like Apple is not giving itself enough time for the “iterate” part of that process. It’s being pressured to move on to the next thing. And that leaves us with a lot of half-baked products and a ton of unrealized potential.

Joe thinks Apple should take a pause from the “new, new, new” cause that was particularly evident last year and fix all the cruft that rapid development cycle brought with it. I agree.

If Apple took the year and worked on half of its existing prodcuts rather than trying to introduce new ones, they’d be doing themselves and us a much bigger favor. If they spent the year fixing the unbelievably sloppy bugs that still exist in iOS and Mountain Lion (I’m talking boneheadedly simple things like drag and drop on the Mac), rather than bringing five new half-baked apps like Podcasts to the platform, our phones and our laptops would be better at surprising and delighting us.

Apple was once the king of great, stabile software. Remember Snow Leopard? Apple actually advertised that it had “no new features”. The entire goal of Snow Leopard was backend optimization and cruft-cleanup. That was an Apple that was focused on delivering the very best software and hardware. The Apple we’ve seen of late has been far too focused on out-doing their competitors on feature lists. Instead of thinking different, Apple’s been playing their game.

Apple’s focus has shifted away from great, stabile software. Joe points out that their resources are probably spread thin. To that I say: Apple, you’re rich, hire more resources. I’m confident that Apple can shift back, and I’m also sure that there are a lot of people at Apple that want to. Perhaps in a few months I’ll think myself silly for fretting it. I can hope, even, that if Tim Cook read this article he’d laugh at the dramatic irony.

Metamicron Part III: Everything Else

RSS

Defomicron has a new RSS feed. Last year I struggled with getting the feed to update quickly with Google Reader. I thought I had found a solution when I switched to FeedBurner, but then Google announced that service had run its course. I switched away from it, the feed went down, and I never bothered to fix it. Yeah… sorry about that.

I’m sort of thankful all of that happened, actually, because it forced me to buckle down and really figure out this RSS thing. Most importantly: the feed works now. Please resubscribe in your favorite feed reader with the following URL: https://defomicron.net/feed.

To those familiar with things, yes, that is the default WordPress RSS 2.0 feed. It validates as such. However, I am also running a few clever functions to modify the feed to my needs.

First, I am modifying the RSS link of Link posts to point to the link in question, just as it works on the site and just as most popular blogs in this sphere handle their RSS feeds. Second, I appended a permalink in the form of the familiar hash to the end of every single entry. And finally, I added Vias where Vias are due. In the end, you get exactly the same content whether you read Defomicron in an RSS reader or on the website. That’s how I wanted it.

URL’s and Redirects

As a part of the future-proofing, I went ahead and bought defomicron.com. It simply redirects to the .net1, because that is of course the preferred URL.

Caching

I used to cache the site using WordPress plugins, but no more. For one thing, they are irritating to use. For another, I figure if I ever get enough traffic to this site to bog down my server, I’ll have some source of revenue coming in to afford an upgraded server. Most importantly, though, is that most caching plugins just don’t work with HTTPS.

Image Posting

Finally, a new feature: image posts. I played around last year with posting images to the site inline with text, but I was never happy with it. With the redesign, I have implemented Cabel Sasser’s wonderful (if a bit dated) FancyZoom. It uses JavaScript2 and is incredibly fast. It is not, however, Retina-ready or necessarily “optimized” for mobile. But it works, and for my very occasional image-serving needs, that’ll do. You can see it in action in this post from a few weeks back.

Wrap Up

That’s the new Defomicron. I hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I enjoyed the construction of it. More importantly, I love it.

—Your Host

(Read Part I and Part II)


  1. I also own and redirect pagfordparishcouncil.co.uk, the domain for the fictional website from J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, the review for which is forthcoming. ↩︎

  2. If you found a browser that doesn’t support JavaScript, don’t read my website. ↩︎

The iPhone 5

Word on the street is I’m a little late with this review. Sorry about that. To answer the most pressing question: yes, the iPhone 5 is not only the best iPhone ever made, it is the best phone ever made. Period.

Last year I got my first iPhone, a 4S, and this week I upgraded that device to a 5. While I loved my 4S (still do), I am amazed by how much better the 5 is. Apple took the previous best phone ever and made every part better.

The aluminum body is stronger, lighter, and feels better in the hand. The Apple logo and legal copy on the rear of the phone are now much more subtle and beautiful. The buttons and ringer/silent switch all feel excellent. The earpiece (now with noise cancellation) sounds fantastic. The phone is exceptionally thin.

The iPhone 5 Leans on a Coke

The new display is beautiful and obviously better once used. I had doubts, before I used one, about the height being awkward, but it isn’t. There’s no going back1. Speaking of no going back, LTE is wonderful. With few bars on AT&T, I consistently get 5 Mbps down and with full bars, I’ve seen as high as 63 Mbps.

And battery life is actually improved over the 4S. When I go to bed at night, the 5 has about 30% of its juice left. That’s with 6 hours of usage, which a week ago would have killed my 4S. I don’t know how Apple added so much, made the phone smaller, and got battery life. But I’m glad they did.

OK, praise over: I have two caveats. First, while the taller is screen is awesome, I wish the physical height of the device had remained the same. Conceptually, you could fit a 4-inch screen on a phone the size of a 4/4S. Now, I am sure Apple wouldn’t have been able to make all of that fit, but I’d love to see the next form factor return to the physical height of the 4/4S.

Number two: the headphone port. It’s been relocated to the bottom in a seemingly arbitrary move. I assume this had to do with fitting everything in the device, and it isn’t a major annoyance but: prior to the 5, I never once even thought about the location of the headphone port. Now, though, I think about it every time a 3.5mm jack gets in the way of my typing.

The iPhone 5 is a huge upgrade over the 4S. I recommend to any one that can justify it to upgrade (if you haven’t already).


  1. Apple added exactly the number of pixels necessary to add exactly one row of app icons to the home screen, turning the aspect ratio to exactly 16:9. That worked out so perfectly that I’m inclined to believe this was planned from the beginning. ↩︎

Metamicron Part II: Security and the Future

Metamicron is a series of articles about Defomicron. It’s very meta. If you haven’t already, read Part I.

HTTPS

Before I turned on the new design, I quietly enabled HTTPS, or HTTP Secure. HTTPS does two things: first, it ensures you, dear reader, that you are indeed connected to defomicron.net and not some low-life spoofing me; second, it encrypts all data sent between your computer and my server using a complex 2048-bit key. This prevents anyone with sinister intent from peeking at the traffic between your computer and my site, even if they have your WiFi password1.

Banks and social networks, and pretty much every login form you’ll encounter on the internet, have been using HTTPS for awhile now. In theory, that sounds great. All the data you want private is encrypted, so you’re safe, right? Right? Unfortunately, there is no such thing as an unbreakable encryption. There are steps we can take, sure, but we cannot assure ourselves of absolute safety. If one is dedicated enough (and with requisite resource), one can hack anything.

So here’s the rub: if we turn HTTPS on only for private stuff, we are effecively labeling which connections would be worthwhile for hackers to break into. Sure, it’ll be a challenge. But the payoff has a far greater likelihood of substantiality. By turning on HTTPS here, I am keeping your data just a little bit safer. While there is nothing you’d like to hide being sent between my server and your machine, hopefully we can confuse the seedier among us as to which connections are truly sensitive. If you’d like to read more about this theory, please read Tim Bray’s excellent article on the subject (which turned me on to it in the first place).

In the future, I think it will be standard for every website to use SSL. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in five years, our browsers warn us against visiting any site without a certificate. This is the second theme I tried to follow with the new Defomicron: future proofing.

I have also turned on HSTS2, which further protects you by informing your browser to always use the HTTPS connection when accessing Defomicron, even if someone unpleasant were to trick it otherwise.

Fonts

I have moved away from webfonts, mostly because they are a bandwidth hog. From now on, Defomicron will display in Gill Sans (if you have it installed), or Times New Roman if you don’t3.

Image Posting

While I’ve experimented with image-posting before, ultimately I’ve decided that posting images inline with the text on the homepage of Defomicron simple doesn’t look nice. I’ve now switched to Cabel Sasser’s excellent (and free for private use) FancyZoom. I plan to start using it regularly.

URL’s and Redirects

I purchased defomicron.com, and it now redirects to the .net. Just a little bit more future proof.

(Read Part I and Part III)


  1. More likely, when you’re connecting through a public access point. ↩︎

  2. That’s “HTTPS Strict Transport Security”, or “Hypertext Transport Protocol Strict Transport Security”; that’s right, an acronym within an acronym. ↩︎

  3. All internet-capable devices Apple sells come with Gill Sans preinstalled. ↩︎

The Benefits of Living Within the Apple Ecosystem

For the past week, I’ve been using (and loving) my new Magic Trackpad. This evening, I completed my peripheral upgrade by adding an Apple Wireless Keyboard and, for good measure, Battery Charger. Since September, I’ve been using my Mac mini with a Microsoft bluetooth keyboard1 and a no-name bluetooth mouse. Other than not being able to take advantage of Mountain Lion’s multi-touch functionality, I didn’t think there were any issues with the setup.

About a week ago, however, I decided to reward myself with a Magic Trackpad, so that I could finally take advantage of gestures. My desktop experience has been revolutionized. Scrolling is fantastic. Backpedaling through Safari is fantastic. Switching between screens is fantastic. Gestures, however, is not why my experience has been revolutionized.

Since September, every time I left the desk for more than five minutes, my keyboard and mouse would go to sleep. Upon return, I’d furiously click at them for fifteen seconds, waiting for them to reestablish a bluetooth connection. It was a small thing, but looking back it was incredibly frustrating. None the wiser, however, I dealt with it thinking all bluetooth accessories worked this way.

Back to the Trackpad. Turns out, despite it sleeping like any other bluetooth device out-of-use, the Magic Trackpad never actually loses the connection. It works instantly, every time, no matter how long I leave it idle. It was this factor that led me to purchase the keyboard so quickly after. Truth be told, I don’t know if I had cheap bluetooth devices before or if this is truly a benefit of Apple’s gear. What I do know, however, is that the Magic Trackpad of last week and the Wireless Keyboard of tonight work perfectly, every time, whenever I need them.

(A small note on the Battery Charger: it’s a small, insignificant thing you wouldn’t expect Apple to make and sell. And yet, I can immediately tell that the quality of its build far usurps any other charger on the market. Most importantly, it isn’t even costly. Apple’s Battery Charger is priced equally among its peers2. It makes me wish Apple made more random-and-small consumer gadgets.)


  1. A gift, I swear. ↩︎

  2. Chiefly the Sanyo Eneloop, which the Apple battery is a licensed clone of, and which is regarded in the industry as the best. ↩︎

Metamicron Part I: Responsive and Retina-Ready

Two months ago, I created an empty folder in my themes directory called “Responsicron”. I had been itching to redesign the website ever since I completed the first design over a year ago. There was not a lot of thought behind last year’s design. When I sat down to write the theme, the first thought I had was a cross, and I rolled with it. Considering it was my first excursion into CSS or HTML, I am frankly surprised it went so well.

Over the past year, Defomicron has slowly evolved. At one point, I trashed the whole CSS file and rewrote it from scratch. I added support for webfonts, added quotations posts, and at some point along the way completely mangled my RSS feed. I also learned a heck of a lot. When I sat down to think over a redesign, the project quickly grew beyond a new theme. Now, while the experience is fresh in my mind the design fresh on your eyes, I’ll talk about the process. I’ll try to be as interesting as possible.

First things first, what do we call this? Is it a 2.0? While the new theme’s version number is 1.0, this is Defomicron’s fourth new look. Swiss Cross1, my old theme, was on 2.1 when retired. Including two themes from Defomicron’s time at Tumblr truly convolutes things, so let’s be simple, possibly illogical, but simple, and just call it Defomicron. Sound good? Good.

The Fifth Desk

Defomicron is responsive. The layout now adjusts itself for desktop, tablet, and mobile browsers. If you are reading this on the desktop, drag one of the corners and watch the site magically2 adapt to different sizes. While the desktop version of the site is the best looking, Defomicron was designed first for phones and provides an ideal reading experience, with proper font sizes and margins and such, on smaller screens. Zooming is no longer necessary to read from your iOS devices.

A theme I tried to follow during this redesign was doing things “properly”. Before responsive design, making a mobile site meant having a separate site like “mobile.defomicron.net” or “m.defomicron.net”. Even when that was the best way to do it, it never seemed like the way it should be done. Reponsive, however, is exactly how it should be done. The same webpage, the same HTML, reformatted to fit your screen.

Defomicron is properly retina-ready as well. Previously, I had made my site “retina” by uploading a giant version of the logo and scaling it down in HTML. While that works OK, it wastes bandwidth and causes some pixelation on some older devices. Now, the logo dynamically switches between 1x and 2x resources depending on your device’s display density. To accomplish this, I created an empty <div> container in my header and set the background image in CSS to the logo. This allows the use of media queries to change the resource image based on pixel density. In the future, I am sure there will be better ways to serve retina images, right now this is the best method.

The site’s favicon has also been updated as per John Gruber’s excellent tutorial. Previously I had been using a 32x32px favicon and scaling it down for non-Retina.

(As with all great epics, Metamicron is split into two three parts to build suspense and antagonize my small readership. (Read Part II and Part III)


  1. Incorrectly titled, as it actually resembled an English flag. ↩︎

  2. OK, OK, it uses media queries. You don’t let me have any fun. ↩︎

5 Clues iTunes 11 Leaves for iOS 7

iTunes 11 hit yesterday, after two months of waiting and one month of delays. While the underlying code may not have changed very much, visually, iTunes has received a complete makeover. I think it’s a winner, and the new interface elements give us a small picture of some of the things we can expect from iOS 7 next fall:

  1. In the default view for music, the user is presented with grid of album covers, and when clicked each album will expand in the style of springboard folders. The new Remote app for iPad mimics this behavior and I would be shocked if iOS 7 doesn’t bring this behavior to the iPad’s music app. It is so much cleaner than the present method, which pops up a modal window just like iOS 3.2 on the original iPad. Additionally, this interface would be welcomed in the iPad’s Video app, which itself feels dated and is, dare I say, ugly.
  2. Playlist creation is simplified, if a little hard to discover. Click and drag a song to the right side of the window and iTunes will give you the option to add it to a current playlist or start a new one. This would be perfect on the iPad.
  3. Cover Flow, which originated in iTunes, is gone. Did anyone ever like Cover Flow1? If I had to guess, I’d say Steve did. I would like and expect to see Cover Flow slowly vanish from the rest of Apple’s systems.
  4. And there’s Up Next, by far my favorite addition to iTunes 11. Up Next lets you put a song in a queue (or even push it to the front of the queue) of songs that will play next. When that queue runs out, iTunes will go back to playing whatever it was before, whether that be an album or a playlist or a shuffle. Of this I am most sure, that Up Next will make it into iOS 7 for both the iPhone and iPad next year2. Up Next marks the first dramatic change and improvement iTunes’s made to my music listening.
  5. Finally, MiniPlayer. Call it a wildcard, but I’d love to see something more aligned to the new MiniPlayer come to iOS. Currently, iOS places basic music controls in the multitasking bar. This widget mirrors the functionality of the old iTunes MiniPlayer with play, pause, and skip controls. iTunes 11 adds the ability to search your library and add songs to Up Next right from the MiniPlayer. These features greatly improve the music listening experience while multitasking on your Mac, and they’d be a gem on your iDevices.

  1. Seriously, when was the last time you used it, even on an iPhone? ↩︎

  2. If I’m wrong, it’ll be because Up Next is slipped into version 6.x. ↩︎

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming to Bring You This Important Message

Tomorrow, we have to re-elect Barack Obama to a second term as President of the United States. The success of our country depends upon it.

UPDATE: Thank you.

‘A Little More’ Post-Predictions Post

Wildcard:

Unfortunately it is $329 and called iPad mini. I don’t know where iTunes 11 was; the website still says October and we’ve yet to see even a developer build.

I Have ‘A Little More’ Predictions for You

Apple tomorrow will hold its first special event since all the way back in last month. Here’s what I expect them to release:

Wildcard:

EarPods: Better Late Than Never

While most blogs probably have their hands on iPhone 5, I’ll talk about something a little more within my means: EarPods. Audiophiles will want to skip this review.

I first got my eyes on EarPods when I linked to a leak out of Vietnam. I was pretty certain that leak was legitimate, and at the time I said so because of a rule I came up with all by myself. Let’s call it ‘Defomicron’s 1st Law’: if purported Apple product makes current Apple product look like outdated pile of poo, then purported product is probably authentic. In the case of EarPods, this is certainly true.

I never hated Apple’s old earphones; I was not in the camp that claimed they had unforgivably terribly audio quality or were a child of Satan. I’ve owned several pairs of Apple’s earphones, and can say that since 2001 they have definitely improved in sound quality and durability. Calling each step along the way gradual, however, might be overstating it. EarPods are orders of magnitude greater than any earphone Apple’s ever created, including the $39-turned-$79 in-ear models.

EarPods on the Pier

For the first time in a $30 pair of buds, I can hear bass. Not teenager-in-a-Honda-at-the-stoplight bass, mind you, but bass that enriches the music in the way it was meant to. If you’ve been hearing your music through an older pair for a while as I have, you might have forgotten by now that ‘Oxford Comma’ isn’t supposed to sound like it’s being drummed on aluminum pie pans, but trust me when I say you won’t want to go back. According to Apple, slits in the bud and step of the EarPod allow for the acoustic chamber to breath and give us that bass. I can independently confirm that if you cover a slit, audio quality degrades instantly.

Apple says they spent three years developing the EarPods, and I believe them. For one thing, Apple has kept the old design way too long. For another, EarPods really are that good. The new shape both looks straight out of 2001, and fits much better1. Despite the body being entirely made of hard plastic, I find them very comfortable. I can leave EarPods in for hours at a time without any semblance of ear strain, a feat unrivaled, in my case, by any other bud.

While I can’t comment on long term longevity, I will affirm that EarPods look like they’re going to outlast their predecessors, if only for the absence of the rubber rings that tended to fall off. Since an EarPod is made entirely of plastic, there doesn’t appear to be a weak point in the bud itself. On the cable side of things, Apple has added a second sleeve wherever it connects with another piece. Hopefully this additional insulation will prevent the cable from tearing as it has suffered from for years. EarPods certainly seem poised for the test of time.

The new remote control is heavenly. It has been lengthened and widened, and the buttons given a much more satisfying click. Around back, gone is the microphone grill. Instead, we get a glyph that I find rather awkward. As it turns out, the microphone grill on older earphones was a placebo, meant to comfort those of us who just aren’t quite comfortable speaking into something that isn’t mesh. That’s a roundabout way of saying that audio quality is the same as or better than before, even without creature comforts. Oh, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a future refresh of EarPods removed the microphone glyph altogether.

It would be wrong of me to detail my experience with EarPods without revealing the one weakness I’ve found, so here it is: a lot of my earbud usage is on a bicycle, which has consistently been a week point for them. Apple’s old earphones, while usable, were distorted by wind interference and struggled to make themselves heard over the noise. EarPods are, if anything, worse. The microphone works just fine on a bicycle, even for Siri. So there’s that.

EarPods are a marked improvement over all of its predecessors. I think it signifies a rededication at Apple to doing every little bit right. As with the Lightning connector, Apple is looking at each individual aspect of their creations and making it the best it can be. Are EarPods the greatest earbuds that have ever been made? Naturally not. But they are the best $30 buds you can get.


  1. Notably, my sample pool is two. ↩︎

iOS 6

iOS 6 is here. You’ve been waiting a long while for it. I, on the other hand, was impatient and have been running the developer betas for months now. The answer to the question “should I upgrade” is a pretty simple one: yes. iOS 61 is the best version to date of your favorite mobile operating system. It can be described by a host of superlatives. But let’s skip the generalities, shall we?

The Great Google Purge

When the iPhone shipped in 2007, Apple and Google were on vastly different terms. Eric Schmidt, then CEO of Google, was on Apple’s board of directors and was even invited up on stage at MacWorld to talk about the two companies’ partnership. When the iPhone shipped, it included three of Google’s most important services: Maps, YouTube, and of course search.

But time change; it’s now 2012, and the Apple/Google friendship is long since over. While Google remains the default search engine in Mobile Safari, YouTube and Maps got the axe. The YouTube app, the one that’s been there since the beginning, the one that pushed for HTML5 video on the web, is gone. The Maps app is still there, but the backend has been replaced with Apple’s own. No matter what either company has to say about the situation, the message is clear: neither wants to rely on the other.

Regarding YouTube, Apple has officially stated that their licensing deal with Google ran out, and the app had to go. Whether the failure to continue that licensing deal was on Apple or Google is unknown. While some will steadfastly choose to blame whichever they hate more, the fact is we don’t know, probably won’t ever know, and there were clear motivations for both sides not to extend the contract.

Google has released their own take on the YouTube application to the App Store. While it is a significant improvement in terms of usability2 over Apple’s app, well… I hope you like ads.

With Maps, Apple had clear competitive reasons for switching their Maps database; number one being feature parity with Android’s Google Maps app. Apple has been waiting to cut Google Maps support for some time now. On July 7, 2009, Apple acquired Placebase, who specialized in mapping software. In 2010, Apple added Poly9, a company that created web-based map software. And in 2011, Apple bought C3 Technologies, a 3D mapping firm. Now, three years into the effort, we finally see the fruits of those acquisitions. iOS 6 brings an entirely new Maps application with an Apple-developed backend.

Vector-Based Mapping

Google’s maps in iOS versions 1-5 was rendered with bitmapped images at various zoom levels. On slower connections, this often resulted in pixelated images and blurry text while waiting for the next zoom level to load. With Apple’s new maps, text and map data are rendered individually and as vectors. Zooming in and out is now results in clear images whatever your data speed, and huge, fully-zoomable areas (in some cases up to 50 square miles) can be cached for offline use.

As with text, points-of-interest are now rendered in a separate layer, and for the first time in iOS, they are tappable. With the old Maps, you could zoom in on a shopping center and see a few stores, but you couldn’t tap on any of them to bring up additional information3. With the new Maps, tap on any point-of-interest and up pops the same data sheet you use to only get from searching.

Navigation

Ever since the introduction of the App Store, third party navigation apps have represented a considerable faction of the market. All of those apps just got Sherlocked. Apple has built their own navigation solution4, and it is a beauty. More importantly, it is integrated right into Maps and works as well as any of the other solutions on the market. It’s a one-hit K.O. to third parties.

Improvements to Safari

My favorite improvement Apple’s made to Safari is the removal of the alert that used to pop up whenever your iOS device had trouble connecting to a server. In iOS 6, Mobile Safari presents the user with an white page with a Safari graphic and a message explaining the problem. Much more user-friendly, much less in your face. Thank you, Apple.

Bookmarks Menu

The bookmarks popover on iPad is much improved. Previously, Reading List and History apeared as folders within your bookmarks hierarchy. Now, you get three tabs on the bottom of the popover, one each for Bookmarks, History, and Reading List. This makes much more sense, as History and Reading List are specially apart from the bookmarks system. Frustratingly and confusingly, the iPhone keeps the old way of doing things5.

iCloud Tabs

The best addition to Safari is iCloud Tabs. Like extensions and the omnibox, Safari has lagged behind others on syncing. iOS 6 paired with OS X Mountain Lion rectifies that with what Apple is calling iCloud Tabs. In this humble writer’s opinion, it is the best implementation of syncing to date.

Visible as a toolbar button the Mac and iPad, and as a folder in the iPhone’s bookmarks menu, iCloud Tabs presents itself as a list of web pages open on any Apple device logged in with your iCloud account. Tapping any of them works just as a bookmark and loads the page. Simple and intuitive, but most importantly with anything that syncs: it works. No setup required.

So the next time you find yourself looking up dinner recipes on your Mac and you leave for the grocery store without writing down a list of ingrediants, pull out your iPhone and load up the same page you have open at home on your Mac. Boom.

User Interface

Dating way back to the original iPhone and iOS (back then it was called iPhone OS) 1, you’ve had glossy blue toolbars and poignant vertical pinstrip backgrounds. Early on, all of Apple’s apps and most early third party apps used this theme. In the past couple years, however, developers and Apple-alike have been experimenting with different colors and textures for the toolbars. With iOS 6, Apple has acknowledged that gloss and pinstripes have lost favor among designers, and they’ve update all the stock UIKit widgets.

Changes to UIKit

Gloss is officially deprecated. Stock toolbars are now an appeasing gradient of blue that makes the old toolbars look dated and ugly. Seriously, use iOS 6 for a week and then try going back. Additionally, pintripes are beginning to fade away. Literally, pinstriped are now muted and dispersed in such a way that they don’t actually annoy me just for being there anymore.

While a unified interface was a big theme for Apple in 2007, five years later the trends have changed and diversification is in. The new stores introduce a black theme, the refreshed Music app brings a white variation, and the new Maps app for iPhone brings an iPad-style silver theme.

All the new themes are nice on the eyes, but leave me wondering whether Apple will pick one for the future of iOS’s interface or if the move is for an indefinite diversified GUI.

That Status Bar

The job of the status bar has always been to deliver a few essential bits of information at all time to the user. On a phone, that means signal strength indication, the time, and battery level. Although the status bar needs to be omnipresent, it should also disappear into the background when you don’t need it.

In previous versionsof iOS, there have been two status bar types: a light gray bar with colorful ideograms and black bar with monochrome ideograms. In iOS 6, the gray bar has been replaced by a chameleon bar that changes color based on and individual app’s navigation bar. This is done by sampling the bottom row of pixels from the navigation bar and averaging them, as demonstrated by developer Simon Blommegård.

It’s your host’s opinion, the status bar should be as non-intrusive as possible: when you need it, it should be obvious and clear, but when you don’t it should disappear. In the past, developers have had three options, the best of which was the black bar with gray glyphs. On black iPhones, this bar did a fine job of staying out of the way because it blended in with the device’s bezel. On iPhones with white bezels, however, it didn’t do so well. The chameleon bar takes a different approach by blending into the app itself instead of the bezel of the phone, eliminating the importance of bezel color. It is now safe to dye your iPhone pink.

That Gorgeous Settings Icon that I Never Realized Looked So Terrible Until I Saw How Good It Should Have Been From the Start

If you are reading this on an iPad or iPhone running iOS 6, then you’ve already noticed the new Settings icon. And you probably don’t need me to tell you that it is gorgeous. If you want my advice, avoid looking at the old icon for you rest of your life.

The Dock…

In 2007, OS X Leopard gave us a new, 3D-ified dock to the Mac. Some loved it and some hated it. Regardless, just this year Mountain Lion shipped with a gorgeous brushed aluminum dock that makes the Leopard dock look silly and downright stupid by comparison6. iOS, which got the Leopard dock when version 4 shipped in 2010, didn’t get updated to the new dock. If iOS 6.0.1 doesn’t rectify this situation, I’ll be pissed. If 6.1 doesn’t, I’ll probably switch to Android.

Everything Else

Here are some shorts that don’t fit in the other sections.

The New Stores

The App Store, the iTunes Store, the iBookstore, the Podcasts catalog, and the iTunes U catalog have all gained a refreshed, unified interface. While the functionality of these stores remains the same, the darker and richer color scheme definitely presents a more pleasing experience. The window chrome is now black and the bottom toolbar sports a new look with each item divided by a vertical line.

On the iPhone, each store presents a series of banners at the top, advertising for new and noteworthy apps, albums, books, or podcasts. On the iPad, these banners present in a cover-flow. On both devices, the banners can be flicked through and tapped on to reveal additional and purchasing information. On the iPad, tapping on album artwork, an app icon, or a book cover no longer jumps you to a separate page within the app with additional information. Instead, an overlay pops up with all that good stuff and purchasing options. This is similar to the way tapping on albums has always been in the iPad Music app, though notably without the flipping animation.

In my experience, the new stores seem more stable than their predecessors. Signing into accounts is much more likely to work on the first time, and buttons seem much more responsive (something the iTunes and App Stores have fought with for a long time). Best of all, tabbing back to a search now brings you back to where you had scrolled, instead of jumping you back to the top.

Unfortunately, “more stable” does not translate to “stable”. All of the stores are still rendered in HTML instead of native Cocoa, a practice even Facebook finally gave up. That means that the weird one-off glitches that we’ve been accustomed to over the years are still there, lurking behind every curve. On top of that, Apple has revamped search to take advantage of their Chomp acquisition from February, and while I personally don’t hate the new user interface, search results appear to be even less relevant than before. A search for “Twitter” brings up Instagram, and SpaceEffect FX, and Sky Burger within the top ten hits. Hopefully Apple can work that out soon, and hey, since it’s all a glorified web interface it will be really easy for them to push out those updates. So there’s that.

Passbook

There has been an increasing desire among gadget people and minimalists to have smartphones replace wallets for credit cards and other necessary cards you carry with you. While the other side is investing in near-field communications technology, Apple has been a bit more conservative with Passbook. The Passbook app shows up on the first home screen for new iPhone owners, but there’s a fear in me that it will be the Newstand of iOS 6. That is, a headline feature pushed by Apple that quickly gets relegated to the last folder on your eleventh home screen. I’m going to try to remain optimistic.

When you open Passbook, you are presented with a list of your “cards” which can be anything from gift cards to event passes to plane tickets. Anything that can be accomplished with a barcode can be accomplished with Passbook. While I haven’t been able to use it for anything real, I’ve played with the app quite a bit and I have to say it feels like the future. Everything Apple could have done with the app is there: it is attractive, it is incredibly easy for companies to make cards and deploy them, and cards can be updates on-the-fly with push.

Passbook’s success, then, will come down to who Apple can strike up partnerships with at the beginning. If they could get a few big names like Virgin America, Starbucks, and Ticketmaster on board, then maybe the idea of using an iPhone for such things will stick and then everyone else will be forced to support it. If, however, Apple can’t lock in anyone at the beginning, I foresee Passbook relegated to a slow and drawn-out death on my last home screen until something better comes along.

Shared Photo Streams

Photo Stream was announced last year as one of the means for cutting the tie between the iPhone and the PC. It allowed for instantaneous transferring of photos between your iPhone, your iPad, and your Mac. When you take a photo with either iDevice, it is instantly pushed to the other two devices. iOS 6 allows for the creation of curated Photo Streams that can then be shared to all of your friends.

This can be done in one or both of two ways: if you share a photo stream with someone running iOS 6, it’ll appear in a list of Photo Streams on that person’s iPhone, iPod touch and/or iPad. Alternatively, you can share public iCloud.com URL that will show every photo in the Stream in a nicely-laid out fashion.

Combined with Find My Friends and Facebook/Twitter integration, I think we are beginning to see the coming-together of Apple’s social network. There’s is not one that relies on a common location that everyone must go to catch up, but instead a social web of several different applications and networks with a different commonality: iPhone/iPad/iPod touch ownership7.

Panorama

The LG dumbphone I from four years ago had a panorama mode. I could take three widescreen photos and lace them together, but I had to line up each image by myself, putting such a difficult task in the hands of a human really isn’t a good idea. For that reason, I’m not surprised that a native panorama mode in iOS took so long. It is an easy thing to do, but it is a difficult thing to do right. That said, there is a healthy market of panorama apps on the Store, including great one like (my personal favorite) 360 Panorama. I confess, however, that after installing iOS 6, I have deleted all panorama apps from my phone. Panorama mode in iOS 6 is that good.

It’s been an open secret for awhile now that Apple has been working on a panorama mode for the iPhone. Hackers found it and were able to enable it in iOS 5.1, but back then it didn’t work all that well and no one questioned why it wasn’t available in the final release. Now though it works beautifully and as it should. Drag your phone across a landscape and iOS 6 takes care of it all: taking the photos, lining them up, and stitching them together into 28 megapixel stills. For the most part, the pictures turn out great.

The Phone App

The Phone app has received it’s most notable improvements since its introduction with the original iPhone. Borrowing from the lock screen Camera slider, when a new call comes in a phone slider now resides next to the answer and decline button/slide to answer slider. Swiping up on it reveals a list of options for declining the call, including sending a text to the caller or reminding you to call them back later.

The second improvement, or change really, is for the ‘real last century’ folks. The dialer has got a fresh new coat of white paint. I can’t really imagine any reason for the change other than some designer thought it looked nicer this way. I agree.

Facebook Integration

Last year, Apple added native Twitter integration to the entire OS. iOS 6 adds to this with Facebook sharing in all the same places. Additionally, Notification Center has gained a new widget with buttons to quickly tweet or post to Facebook. While it takes a week or so to get used to updating your social status from Notification Center, it really is very handy.

iPhone 5 Features

iOS 6 includes support for the brand new iPhone 5 and its taller screen. Apps that have been created with standard UIKit widgets will automatically stretch to fit the new dimensions, just like how stock widgets automatically scaled up to fit Retina resolutions back in 2010.

Games and other apps with completely custom interface will require more developer attention to get to look right on the new phone. Until then, apps for old iPhones will be letterboxed like a widescreen movie on a fullscreen TV, with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. I expect most developers to support for the new screen within a couple months.

Interestingly, Apple hasn’t announced any big iPhone 5-only software features. In the past, new iPhones have received not just new hardware but also new software features that would never see the light of day on older phones. This year, the iOS 6 is bringing the 4S very nearly up-to-par with the 5, and perhaps reducing incentives for you to upgrade. But then again, those of us who will upgrade each and every year probably aren’t thinking about one new software feature. I doubt Apple will lose sales over this.

Conclusion and a Big Fat Asterisk

While I won’t try to claim I touched on every detail of iOS 6, I think I hit many of its highlights. So my review of iOS 6 ends here, a few features short. But what fun would it be if you could stop here?


  1. Internally codenamed “Sundance” after the Sundance ski resort in Sundance, Utah. ↩︎

  2. The icon lacks, shall we say, vision. ↩︎

  3. Nothing is more frustrating then when your search didn’t present the result you had already found. ↩︎

  4. With a surprisingly long list of friends↩︎

  5. My best guess is that Apple didn’t know how to reconcile having a tabbed toolbar on a slide up pane that originated from a button on another toolbar. Look, I said it was my best guess, I didn’t say it was a good excuse. ↩︎

  6. I said aluminum, not brushed metal, and trust me when I say there is a huge difference. ↩︎

  7. That being said, I’d love to see Apple buy Twitter, hire Loren Brichter to build the native application for it, and then leave it alone. ↩︎

Post ‘It’s Almost Here’ Predictions Post

I didn’t guess so well this time. I was banking on Apple going iPhone/Macs in September and iPad mini/iPods in October, so I suppose I had those mixed. You can’t win them all.

Everything Apple announced today look great, and I can’t wait to get my hands on them. I’m also secretly hoping iTunes 11 is more than the visual overhaul they’ve shown us thus far. This is going to be a great holiday season for Apple.


  1. This remains to be seen. ↩︎

‘It’s Almost Here’

I did pretty well last time I tried on of these. Let’s see how I do this time:

And this time I’ve got two wildcards to get your mouth watering:

In Which We Examine Andrew Sorkin’s ‘Apple Shopping List’

Andrew Sorkin, writing for the New York Times:

Question: What would you do if you had $117 billion?

That’s the challenge facing Tim Cook, Apple’s chief, whose company’s cash hoard keeps growing — by about $1 billion a week.

He could hold onto it. He could increase Apple’s dividend, which he instituted this year for the first time.

Or he could spend it.

Oh boy. These posts always go so well.

This is the one no-brainer on the list. Nuance, based in Burlington, Mass., provides much of the speech recognition technology behind Apple’s Siri and dictation functions.

Frankly, I’m surprised Apple hasn’t already bought Nuance. With such a pivotal role in Apple’s marque features this year, it’s shocking that they are licensing dictation software. Nuance is without doubt the best at speech-to-text, and if Apple wants to secure that for their platform, acquisition, not a partnership, is necessary. The fact is that Apple doesn’t want anyone else (read: Google and Microsoft) to match Siri, and if Nuance is out there to be played with, others will jump at it.

Consider this a one-two punch. Apple should buy the social media companies Twitter and Path.

Um, no. And here’s why:

If Apple were to stir together Twitter, Path and its own Photo Stream service — and leveraged all the data it has collected about its users over the years (while mindful of privacy issues) — the company would have quite a product that would keep consumers hooked.

Thing is, Apple isn’t in the business of trying to learn every little detail of their customer’s lives, and it’s in everyone’s best interest that it remains that way. Apple sells devices that we love to happy consumers, it doesn’t sell happy consumers to advertisers we hate.

Research in Motion: Yes, this one may be a head-scratcher, considering that the iPhone seems to have eaten RIM’s BlackBerry for breakfast — and lunch.

No.

Everyone is talking about the mobile wallet. Square, started by the Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, has created a unique new electronic payment system though iPhones and iPads.

If Apple wants a mobile payment service of their own (and signs point to yes), they’ll build one. And it certainly won’t have a dongle that plugs into the audio jack. There’s nothing about Square that Apple couldn’t easily replicate and improve upon on their own.

With a stock market value of $13.5 billion, Sprint can be purchased for a song. Apple could easily spend four times more than that — say, $50 billion — to build out the Sprint network and turn it into a showcase for the next generation mobile technology.

Here’s the problem: if Apple is going to spend $65 billion dollars on a cellular network, they aren’t gonna buy Sprint’s. They’ll build their own, and they’ll do it better than anyone else. The instant Apple buys Sprint, AT&T and Verizon will drop the iPhone and Apple will lose millions of customers. It won’t happen. Trust me.

1 for 6. Not too bad, considering most of these speculation posts are insane. Let me add a couple more companies I think Apple really should consider purchasing: Tom Tom, OpenStreetMap, and the plethora of other services Apple is relying upon for map data. If Apple’s smart, and I think they are, they know that they need these sources under lock and key if they want to remain competitive.

If Apple starts buying anyone big, expect them to be services that they are already relying upon. Those are the services that Apple has to worry about, not Twitter or Path, who are relying upon Apple.

Defomicron 1.5

As my regular readers1 will have noticed, Defomicron has been going through some changes recently. The first thing you’ll notice is the change I’m probably most excited about: web fonts. The body font has been replaced by “PT Sans”, a typeface originally designed for Cyrillic text that nevertheless does a beautiful job displaying English. Header text has been replaced by the slab-serif “Kreon”, a typeface with just the right amount of fun in it. Finally, I have web-font-ized the “Futura” in the title, and now it’ll appear consistent on all systems. I think these fonts make Defomicron even more beautiful then it already was. I hope you like them, too.

The second change you’ll notice is the introduction of quotation posts. Quotation posts are meant to emphasize short, interesting or witty quotes and as such appear in large type to draw your interest to them. This format has been done many times before, but I’ll give credit for my inspiration to The Brooks Review’s “Quote of the Day” posts. In addition to appearing on the main page and in the RSS feed, quotation posts have been given a special section in the archive, alongside “Editor’s Picks”.

There are also many smaller updates, including the removal link posts from the archive. The archive page is now much more manageable with fewer and more important items listed. Additionally, the exact time and date of each post (links, articles, and quotations) is now located on the permalink. Finally, many server side, admin features have been introduced that make my job a heck of a lot easier.

I hope you enjoy Defomicron 1.5 as much as I enjoyed coding it.

—Your Host


  1. Erm. ↩︎

On iOS 6’s Omnibox Omission

A few people have been talking lately about Mobile Safari lacking an omnibox in iOS 6, despite the equivalent desktop Safari (coming in Mountain Lion) finally getting the feature pioneered by Google’s Chrome. At first I also thought it mysterious, but in processing it, I think that Apple has good reason for this “omission”.

One of the things Steve Jobs emphasized in his 2007 MacWorld keynote was the iPhone’s dynamic soft keyboard. When the user needs to enter a phone number, the keyboard is a number pad. When the user needs to enter an email address, the keyboard sprouts ‘@’ and ‘.com’ keys. And when the user doesn’t need the keyboard at all, it disappears.

So in Mobile Safari, when a user taps on the domain field, up pops a keyboard with specialized keys (period, forward slash, TLD) in lieu of the spacebar. This makes sense, as URLs don’t contain spaces but often have periods and forward slashes, and always have a TLD. But when the user taps on the search field, the standard iOS keyboard appears to fulfill all space-ful and .com-less Boolean desires.

If these two fields were unified, which keyboard would be presented to the user? The omnibox works on the desktop where there’s a physical, fixed keyboard. On a touchscreen, with the standard iOS keyboard behaviors, the omnibox doesn’t work. Chrome for iOS solved this by adding a row to the top of the standard keyboard with URL-specific keys. That may sound ideal, but in practice that extra row is kludgy and inelegant. Adding an extra row is common practice among text editors, but even there I’m not fond of it.

Further, whereas on the desktop switching between the two fields involves hitting the tab key or moving the mouse, on a touchscreen the user has to tap a field either way. Having a singular field really doesn’t speed anything up for the user.

The omission of the omnibox in Mobile Safari isn’t so much of an omission as it is a feature. Based on the standard behavior of iOS and the good design sense of Apple’s designers, I think it was a conscious decision on their part. I think—and I think Apple would agree—using two fields results in a better user experience than an omnibox could offer.

Grasping at Straws

Did Republicans ever call the healthcare reform bill a tax before Chief Justice Roberts used it as reasoning for its consitutionality? Because this week it seems like their new favorite word. Tax, tax, tax, is all you’ll hear on “Fox and Friends”.

It makes no difference if the healthcare bill is a tax or not. It’s mandatory healthcare, and if you choose not to comply with the law, you get fined. That’s not a tax increase. Calling it a tax increase would be like calling a parking ticket a tax increase. Those who can’t pay for health insurance won’t have to, but those who can and choose not to, those that impose a burden upon our society, are going to have to pay.

It’s odd to me that Republicans don’t seem to have a problem with car insurance, despite it having almost an identical policy. In order to drive in America, Americans must pay to insure their car. If they don’t, they aren’t allowed to drive. Hmm.

Republicans are grasping at straws and ignoring the facts. They’re scrambling for every negatively-connotated buzzword they can and vomiting it up on Fox News. They’ve done this forever. It’s completely moronic. Fox’s slogan says they’re “Fair and Balanced” and yet their hosts openly trash President Obama, calling him a socialist, a communist, and a Marxist. Newflash: he’s none of the three.

The facts are thus: socialized healthcare (which, by the way, is not what “Obamacare” is, despite what they’ll have you believe) would be good for America. Every other industrialized nation on Earth has it, and a lot of them are doing a hell of a lot better than us. Are Americans really so stubborn as to believe that whatever we’ve done in the past is the absolute best way forward? Are we so stubborn that we’re going to stick with a ruined system until we plummet into the ground?

In 2008, Americans recognized that the current system wasn’t working and voted on the ideals of “Hope” and “Change”. But then the conservative scared them with that dirty little word: socialism. Ever since, they’ve voted against hope and change, and then been pissed off when neither happen. Here’s a news ticker for you: when you change your mind halfway through a Presidency and vote in an opposing Congress, absolutely nothing will get done.

But Republicans don’t care about those facts. Actually, they don’t care about facts, period. They call Obama the “worst President ever” and ignore the fact that our economy — the economy that was plunged into recession during the reign of our last, and very convervative, President — has steadily improved since January 2009. They ignore the fact that the reason we aren’t out of the Middle East yet is because President Bush sent us there in the first place… on a wild goose chase, to boot.

Republicans are more interested in taking stabs at the liberals then they are in making America better. I’m not calling Obama our savior, I’m not even saying he’s a great President. But he is not the worst President we’ve ever had.

Grow up, conservatives. Grow up, constituents. Stop drinking the Fox News koolaid and listen.

Third Album Syndrome

Safe Travels, Jukebox the Ghost’s newest album, is out this month. I’ve finally got the chance to give it a listen, and I’m sad to report that Jukebox has fallen ill to what I’ll call “Third Album Syndrome”.

The album, their third, lacks the upbeat, happy that hooked me into Jukebox about a year ago. With Let Live and Let Ghosts and Everything Under the Sun, Jukebox crafted a masterpiece that I can listen to on repeat for hours and never tire of. The only other band that’s captured me in such a way is Vampire Weekend. I’ve actually drawn several comparisons between the two groups: in both cases, the first album contained many great singles that are fantastic to listen to on their own. Both band’s sophomore albums contained more mature tracks and more cohesive albums that are enjoyed best when listen to as a whole. And with both bands, their songs (at least on a surface level) talked about inconsequential topics (commas, UFOs) that might be a bit obscure, but — importantly — aren’t whiny, bitchy, or moany.

Safe Travels, on the other hand, is definitively serious. I’m not necessarily even referring to the lyrics, but to the songs in general. There’s a certain moodiness and angst to the entire album1 that makes it a much less fun to listen to, and Jukebox the Ghost’s fun was one of its best attributes. “Everybody Knows”, the twelfth track from Safe Travels is the notable exception and my favorite track from the album. It manages to capture some of the magic of “Schizophrenia” and “Hold It In”. So there’s hope.

A Plucked Guitar String

This is a blind and probably ignorant/arrogant assumption, but I get the impression that young (or maybe just small) bands think that at a certain point they need to “get serious” with their music. The problem is that their Hakuna Matata-nature2 is what we fell in love with in the first place, and if you change that, what do you have left? That’s what I call “Third Album Syndrome”, and I hope Jukebox can come back from it.

Perhaps I haven’t given this album enough time, and perhaps my opinion will change like it did with Contra. I still love Jukebox’s non-standard instrumentation and Ben Thornewill’s vocals, but I am concerned for album number four, and worried about Vampire Weekend’s third.


  1. I have no idea how to write about music. ↩︎

  2. Seriously, not a damn clue. ↩︎

Toodles, Google

I don’t like Google. I don’t want that to be a secret. That distaste hasn’t existed forever.

For years Google has been my friend. I was one of those people who almost never used the address bar in my browser. I typed whatever I was looking for into the Google search bar, even if I was looking for Facebook or YouTube.

When Gmail came out, I jumped on it. It was, and probably still is, the best webmail client out there. I wrote tens of thousands of emails — literally; my email account alone reached over 5GB of data — on Gmail.com. I was one of those people that kept “Beta” tag even after Google finally removed it from the logo. I was one of those people that tried Buzz. And Wave. And +.

For lack of a better term, I was a bona fide Googler.

Then Google began to unravel. The last twelve months’ headlines have been dominated by privacy scandals and search degradation. One need look no further than Search Plus Your World. When these first stories began to hit, I brushed them off. I wouldn’t hear any of it. Google was awesome, I couldn’t possibly be true, could it?

Then I discovered a little Google utility called Dashboard. On one single webpage, Google has brought together every single bit of information it’s collected about you over the years. It’s a lot. It’s stuff I didn’t remember doing; it’s stuff i wouldnt want public; most of it is stuff I can’t delete.

That right there was enough for me. I was done with Google.

Here’s the problem: Google’s business model isn’t built to please me. I’m not the customer, I’m the product. Advertisers are their customers. They’re selling me. Sure, doing so allows them to give me profesionally-built applications for free. But you know what? I don’t care. Charge me. I’ll take paid over shady any day of the week.

That day, I committed to eliminating Google from my Internet life. That’s not as easy as it sounds. My policy was soon ammended with an “as much as possible”.

I pulled all my 5GB of email messages down from Gmail’s servers and migrated to Apple’s iCloud. I downloaded my YouTube videos to my harddrive. I cleared my Web History and everything else that Google would allow, and then deleted my account.

There were a few Google services that I unfortunately still required, so I did have to create new account. I use that account only for Reader and YouTube, so I can only hope that I have limited Google’s grasp on me just a little bit.

Not for a second do I believe that Google actually deleted all of my data. I’m sure it’s still up their, harbored cozily in Big Brother’s cloud. Plus, I know I made a bunch of other Google accounts that I’ve since forgotten about, and I’m sure each of them has little snippets of me being broadcasted.

Honestly, I wish I’d never signed up with Google in the first place. I was naive. It’s too late for me. I’ve done all I can, but I still don’t feel safe.

The Little Things

Some small things I’ve noticed about all the new software released today:

Want a tip? Open your RSS reader of choice, right-click on your technology folder, and hit “mark all as read”. The pundits (read: nimrods) will be screaming about what a let down the new iPad is for at least a week, but trust me: they’re going to sell a lot.

Post-Predictions Post

Predictions:

Wildcard:

12/14 ain’t bad.


  1. Technically, the new iPad does use Siri, but I know everyone else will disagree. ↩︎

  2. I’m glad I was wrong. ↩︎

We Have Something You Really Have to See. And Touch.

My first-ever predictions post. Let’s go:

Wildcard:

These come from “sources” “familiar” with the matter.

Hey Apple, It’s Time to Get Serious About Stability

Apple has rolled out some serious software innovations over the past two years:

It’s been a big couple of years. Along they way, there have been bugs. Right now there are a lot of them. Some are catastrophic. Apple has long been known for their extremely stable and iterative software enhancements, but lately it has seemed they are more focused on expanding the feature set than stabilizing the old stuff.

To me, that sounds like Android.

For as long as I can remember, Apple’s culture has been one of iterative and stable upgrades, and while I believe they hang on to that today, I think Apple runs the risk of losing it. I understand that they want to innovate in big ways and keep up with their competitors. Perhaps that innovative spirit is taking some focus and some resources off of debugging. That’s a reason, though, and not an excuse.

If I had to speculate, I’d say that Steve Jobs’s dramatic health decline from 2008-2011 is the main cause for this. He knew he was running out of time, and I’m guessing he decided to do as many new things as possible to get the Apple ecosystem to where he envisioned it. Undoubtedly, he left some detailed plans for Tim and the rest of the gang. It was a magnificent achievement, especially when you consider that this man already had 55 years of magnificent achievements under his belt. He never stopped. As Steve said in his 2005 Stanford commencement address:

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Apple has $98 billion in their pocket. They are the largest corporation in the world. They could buy The Walt Disney Company outright, if they wanted. Something tells me it wouldn’t hurt their bottom line much to put a dozen guys on the assignment of bug-fixing permanently.

Muckraker Economics

Tomorrow night, NBC will air iFactory, Nightline’s look into Foxconn’s factories. It seems fit that I’d take now to voice my opinions on the issue.

To be clear, the conditions at Foxconn are horrible and inexcusable. But it isn’t Apple’s fault, and it isn’t as if they’re the only ones taking advantage of cheap Chinese labor: Amazon, Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft all use Foxconn. But Apple’s the one getting all of the attention for the tragedies at Foxconn. It may not be unwarranted, but it’s unfair.

The problem is thus: Americans love to applaud products “Made in the USA” and rag on those “Made in China”, but the fact is that American labor is more expensive, which means American products are more expensive. We say we want products made within our borders, but who’s going to pay $1499 for an iPad when an identical one can be had for $499?

Frugal Americans are going to buy the less expensive one, because that’s just the way we are, and truthfully we couldn’t care less if a product is made in our home nation, as long as we get a good deal. It just sounds good to slap an obnoxious “Buy American” bumper sticker on the back of your Italian Dodge Ram1.

Apple isn’t going to triple their prices, because no one will buy their products. If no one buys their products, then America doesn’t have Apple. And Apple is doing amazing things for America. They’re the most valuable publicly-traded company in the world, and they’re still growing. Do you think that money isn’t being injected into our economy?


  1. Message to American car manufacturers: instead of trying to sell me a car because it was built where I’m from, how about building a car I want to buy? ↩︎

Surprising

All of the above are still in business.

Observations on Mac OS X Mountain Lion

Skeuomorphism is here to stay. Five years ago, one of the big features of features of Leopard was a unified UI: rid of Aqua themes, pro themes, and brushed metal. Snow Leopard continued that trend, and then Lion broke it with faux-leather Address Book and iCal. Today, Mountain Lion adds Reminders, Notes, and Game Center to the leather trend. People tend to think it’s terrible and publicly scream about it, but I don’t mind it so much. I’m probably nuts.

iCal is now Calendar and iChat is now Messages. I’m not sad to see these iMonikers start to disappear. iCal was a terrible name, period. Address Book was renamed Contacts, and System Preferences is now Settings, but those changes are less interesting.

Safari 5.2 adds a unified address/search bar. My theory on the delay of a Safari “omnibar” is that Apple looked at Chrome and thought, “We can do better than that!” and it took them until now to realize that actually they couldn’t, and they should probably just put it in already. I don’t care, I’m just glad that it’s finally here. Count on it appearing in iOS 6.

Notification Center for the Mac was inevitable. I privately predicted it way back in June. Sorry, Growl.

The new accounts settings pane is a godsend. iOS has always had a simple interface for adding email, contacts, and calendar accounts, and Lion Mail brought that to the desktop. Mountain Lion adds support for Flickr and Twitter, among others, baked right into Settings. This is excellent.

Notes and reminders are removed from Mail and Calendar, which is way over do (especially for notes).

Notes raises a few questions for me. The new Mac version has explicit support for inline images and rich text. But the iPhone and iPad apps don’t, and in Apple’s screenshots it seems like that content is simply stripped. Hopefully that won’t create syncing errors where images disappear when pushed back and forth between iPhones and iMacs. Alternatively, iOS 5.1 or 6 could add support for these features.

Messages is how IM should have been done years ago.

Gatekeeper is an awesome security feature for the vast majority of Mac users, and for power users, it’s a one-time toggle to turn it off. I know people are going to fuss and whine about it, but really there’s no reason to.

Mountain Lion adds two new icons to the dock that aren’t blue and glossy1. The glowing blue running indicators are still on by default. That’s interesting, because in the Lion betas they were off by default, and in the public release they were turned back on. Apparently, Apple still doesn’t think they’ve reached the point with frozen states and resuming to justify it.

For complete coverage of all of the changes coming in OS X Mountain Lion, I suggest MacWorld.


  1. The Messages icon, unfortunately, is. At least it isn’t an orb. ↩︎

Welcome to Defomicron

This is Defomicron. Welcome.

I hope you like what you’ve seen so far. Over the coming months and years, I plan to bring you interesting and analytical content and commentary on Apple and the rest of the technology world. Enjoy.

—Your Host

‘PC’

Hello, I’m a Mac.

And I’m a PC.

Those familiar words headlined the “Get A Mac” ad campaign, one of Apple’s most memorable and most-parodied. Those ads popularized the misnomer of referring to Wintels as “PCs” and Macintoshes as “Macs”. People developed the idea that Macs weren’t PCs, even though by definition they are and were. For that, I hate the term “PC”. It’s had so many meanings over the years that it’s evolved into a convoluted and ambiguous mess.

The latest debate over PCs has been whether or not the iPad should be classified as one. Wait a second — so we’ve gone from Macs being totally different than PCs to Apple’s crowning achievement, the iPad, being steadfastly defended as one by its biggest fans. Well I’ll tell you right now: the iPad is not a PC.

Yes, the iPad is personal. Yes, the iPad is a computer. It is a personal computer, but it is not a PC. Put another way, all PCs are personal computers, but not all personal computers are PCs. A PC has a keyboard, a monitor, and a mouse or trackpad (or nub). An iPad is meant to be used with exactly one of those things. A PC has a big hard drive and lots of RAM and is open to all kinds of software and hardware. An iPad has a small flash drive, minimal RAM, and is famously closed.

Here’s the biggest hole in the “iPad as a PC” argument: if you’re going to say that the iPad should be classified a PC, then how can you say that the iPhone shouldn’t? You can’t. The iPad and the iPhone have much more in common than the iPad and PCs. They run the same operating system, are controlled via the same means, and do pretty much all the same things. But it sounds absurd to label a cell phone as a PC. That’s because it is.

The iPhone is not a PC, it’s a smartphone. Similarly, the iPad is not a PC, it’s a tablet — not a “Tablet PC”, mind you, but a completely separate, two-year-old category of device. It’s hard for us to think of the iPad being in a distinct category because the category is so tiny. As Marco Arment said fourteen months ago: “There really isn’t much of a tablet market. There’s an iPad market.”

Does that mean that the iPad can’t replace a PC? Absolutely not. Does that mean that the PC industry has nothing to worry about? Hell no. The iPad will and has in fact already begun to replace PCs, but that’s the key: it’s replacing PCs, it isn’t becoming one. Jobs himself said at the D8 conference almost two years ago, “I think PCs are going to be like trucks. Less people will need them, and this is going to make some people uneasy.” Clearly he did not mean that iPads are going to be like trucks and less people are going to need them. He sets a clear distinction between PCs and iPads. PCs are on their way out, and iPads are on their way in.

PCs are the devices of yesteryear; tablets are the devices of tomorrow. The iPad is the future, and it isn’t going to up and become the past. I think Steve Jobs would be ashamed of all those calling the iPad a PC. With the iPhone and later the iPad, he wasn’t aiming to reinvent the “PC”, he was aiming to revolutionize “personal computing”. He did.

The Controversy Surrounding Path; iOS’s Address Book API

Earlier this week, Path got caught up in controversy when it was discovered that its iPhone app was uploading each user’s entire address book to Path’s servers. Today, they set things right with a public apology and an announcement that they’d deleted all of the data and released an updated version of the app that explicitly asks the user if Path can use the contact database. This was without a doubt the right move for them, but it is a result of a larger issue.

I’m shocked that Apple allowed this in the first place. Applications are given, if they so choose, full access to any iPhone’s contacts database without any user interaction whatsoever. The behavior never has to be authorized, and cannot be turned off. This isn’t the first time it’s come up, either. I, for one, won’t be contented until Apple fixes their policy and requires user authorization for address book access.

Location Services is exactly how I imagine this would work. Each app that wants access to a user’s contacts would prompt once in-app, and then control would be diverted to a switch inside Settings. A “Contact Services” menu would let the user see which apps have accessed (or are accessing) his/her contacts and turn off that access either on an app-to-app basis or all together.

It’s surprises me that this behavior has gone unchanged by Apple for almost four years now, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it was actually an oversight. Hopefully the blog coverage Path has brought to the issue will get the ball rolling inside Apple, whose fix is well past due. Unfortunately, the tech press seems more interested in the bad decision making done at Path than in the shortcomings at Apple. That’s a first.

The Perils of Proprietary Formats, or: Why IM Sucks

Apple recently released iBooks Author, a Mac application used to create rich and interactive .ibooks files for consumption in iBooks on the iPad. The .ibooks file format is based on the open ePub format, but is very different and very incompatible. Files created with iBooks Author will not render in anything but iBooks for iPad.

Which got me thinking. I thought about some widely-used messaging protocols: email, SMS, and instant message. Email and SMS are open standards. Devices made by Apple, Dell, and Samsung can run email software by Mozilla, Windows, and Google, and email messages sent with any of combination thereof can be received and viewed on the others, and vice versa. SMS is pretty much the same: different phone makers build different phones for different networks, but all of them exchange SMS messages between all the rest with ease. That’s what makes SMS the most widely-used messaging standard in America and email the de facto standard for all web registration services.

But IM is different. If Person A has an AIM account and wants to talk to Person B on Yahoo Messenger, he/she can’t. Person A has to create a Yahoo account or Person B has to create an AIM account. Sure, there are great multi-protocol applications out there, but this is a workaround. Instant Messaging is fundamentally broken by the fact that there is no universal standard1. While it enjoys success amongst mostly-heavy Internet users, it has never and will never become universal.

While I don’t disagree with Apple’s decision to build their own CSS commands into .ibooks, seeing as there’s no way to build such interactive eBooks with ePub 3, I still believe there’s something to be learned from the world of messaging.


  1. Apple’s iMessage, while being proprietary and not universal, cleverly breaks this pattern by working without any prior user action. ↩︎