Apple TV 4K & Siri Remote (2nd generation) Review
Jun 7, 2021
If you are looking for a TV computer, you have dozens of choices ranging from set-top boxes to HDMI dongles to TVs themselves.
If you don’t want your TV computer to have its hardware cost subsidized by the sale of your personal analytics, you have but one choice: the Apple TV 4K.
It is sufficient. I rate it 3⁄5 stars.
Apple’s Platform Advantage
May 7, 2021
From Daring Fireball, Apple and the Built-In Advantage1:
The basic idea is evergreen, and is in no way specific to Apple. Smaller companies make products that build upon, or fill gaps within, platforms from larger companies. The best of those ideas — ideas that truly would be better “built in”, eventually do get built in. The small innovators need to adapt or die (or get acquired, and become the built-in version).
If you have a good idea for a third-party product on a big platform, you need to expect that the platform maker will eventually use your idea. If they don’t, maybe it wasn’t that good an idea in the first place. If they do, you should be ready to keep your product viable by going further than the platform maker is willing to go.
John Gruber’s take, distilled, reads to me that Apple will build into its platform whatever it sees fit as a feature that would work better if it were offered out of the box from Apple over a third party. Third party developers can build on top of that platform whatever apps they may, but they must not get too comfortable or stop innovating, as they risk Apple building their own implementation into the next software update. Apple’s implementation will be baked into the operating system in a way third party developers cannot emulate, so developers should do their best to compete with features, instead.
This perspective is what justifies an anti-trust complaint
Back up for a moment and consider a question that has been brushed over: Why would a feature work better built in to Apple’s own software? Your phone is simply an app console, so—barring the fact that Apple’s apps come preinstalled—Maps, Safari, Camera, Find My, etc. should be equal players against anything from the App Store, right?
That is not how it plays out.
Exhibit A: Maps
For many years, Apple Maps was an objectively less accurate map of the world, its streets and its businesses than Google Maps. Conceding this, I used Apple Maps anyways because Apple Maps was integrated into iOS in a way Google Maps was (and still is) totally unable to compete with.
Begin navigation in Apple Maps and the map takes over your lock screen. Just tap the screen and you can see the directions exactly as they appear when the phone is unlocked. It only takes a cursory glance at Apple’s Platform Security white paper to realize how weird this. It is so obvious Apple cares deeply about quarantining apps to their sandbox—yet this is an app view that is allowed to run exactly the same as it normally does when the device is unauthenticated.
Hell would freeze over before Apple would ever allow, say, Facebook to take over the lock screen of your iPhone as freely as they let the Maps team.
Even the notifications take a leap above what is possible for developers. Ordinary notifications are designed to be noticeable enough when you are focused on the screen, but easy to ignore or swipe away. Maps notifications take on a big, high contrast, impossible-to-ignore design.
Obviously it should be this way—you don’t want turn-by-turn directions to be easy to miss. Apple does not have to make their product worse to make it fair; they should allow their competition the same affordances they give themselves. Let Google Maps and Waze have big notifications and a lock screen display, too.
Exhibit B: Camera
Camera moved into the most prime of iOS real estate in 2011 when a camera shortcut was added to the lock screen and once again two years later when it was one of four immutable buttons in Control Center.
Imagine how much of a leg up third-party camera apps like Halide would have if users were able to switch the camera shortcut for a different app.
Exhibit C: FaceTime
Despite offering CallKit for voice calls, FaceTime remains the exclusive beneficiary of this rich video call interface. No dice for Skype, Snapchat, Microsoft Teams nor Zoom.
The point here is that Apple does not treat Maps, Camera or FaceTime as though they are simply another app for your app console. Apple has created an unfair playing field not by including their apps on their phones by default, but by preventing third-party apps from implementing the same basic features as their own.
Hardware and software, and their adopted younger brother, services
“People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.”
– Alan Kay
– Steve Jobs
Apple’s mantra throughout all of Steve Jobs’ Apple was their sweet mix of hardware and software, the two tenets of great product design. Under Tim Cook’s Apple, they have built up services as the third tenet2.
Unless you are too big to ignore, third-party services lose 30% of their revenue to get placed on the App Store. Effectively, Apple is allowing its team to run a 350m race instead of a 500m race because it owns the track and field.
Spotify must operate their iOS platform with 70% of the revenue where Apple Music gets 100%. Netflix removed payments through the App Store so they could get their full revenue, pushing users through a confusing set of web pages in order to sign up for a subscription, whereas Apple TV+ can advertise itself from the TV app preinstalled on iOS while giving Apple 100% all along.
Apple is proud to tout whenever they’ve crossed a new milestone for how much money they have paid out to developers. If you take 3⁄7 of that number, do you arrive at the break-even cost of maintaining the App Store data centers and processing payments? I would bet my house that it’s not even close.
The definitive antitrust complaint of the technology industry3, United States v. Microsoft Corporation, seems like child’s play in 2021. Internet Explorer was developed and put on sale on 1995 and shipped as a built-in program with Windows 98. Internet Explorer soon gained extra features outside of the HTML specifications, so other browsers like Opera and Netscape Navigator had to choose between following web standards or playing catch-up.
That’s all it took.
While there are platform benefits to making your own web browser, Microsoft did directly profit from Internet Explorer—in fact, they lost money by including it for free after selling it as a standalone product between 1995 and 1998.
Contrast that with Apple’s services. Their built-in apps also extend beyond the feature set available to everyone else, preventing them from working with an even playing field. Apple’s paid services give them 100% of their revenue while their competitors must operate on a slimmer margin because Apple takes the revenue of their direct competitors, too.
What can they do?
Apple, likely reading the room, is on the right path, allowing for third-party web browsers, mail clients and music players4 to be set as defaults. The process to be approved is rigorous and strict. They don’t want people setting their default web browser to a poorly-implemented app that crashes when people open URLs from Calendar or a thinly-veiled data collection nightmare that scans your photo library when you upload a picture.
Apple could—and, if they want to maintain their position as judge and jury for their own App Store, should—make iOS 15 all about empowering their developers.
Oh, and while they’re at it, maybe they can beef up their documentation, too.
- Which is, itself, a response to Marques Brownlee’s Apple vs The Paradox of Choice. ↩
- Which, under Steve Jobs, did not always make for great products. ↩
- The definitive antitrust complaint of the technology industry so far. ↩
- Kinda. ↩
Apple’s ‘Spring Forward’ Event
Apr 21, 2021
Apple’s chip transition playbook this time around seems to be to upgrade all the consumer-grade products first. They want us comparing the M1 to Intel rather than the M1 to a theoretical Pro-grade M1X. The biggest indicator of this is that for products that are exclusively consumer-grade (the MacBook Air and the entry-level MacBook Pro), the M1 version has replaced the Intel version, but for products that straddle the line (the Mac Mini and the iMac) only the lower-tier variants have been released—you can still buy an Intel Mac Mini.
The iMac itself looks truly excellent. This is plainly and obviously a computer that could not exist with an Intel chip.
The white bezel seems shocking, but in the broader history of the iMac, it’s far from unusual. The iMac G3, iMac G4, iMac G5 and original Intel iMac all had white bezels. It speaks to how long the iMac has remained stagnant that black bezels seem default despite representing itself in only one design.
A limitation of the design is that the headphone jack had to be moved; the computer is thinner than a headphone jack is long. Apple moved it to the left side. I would have preferred the port on the bottom, preferably in the middle. Headphones with a standard length cable may be pulled tight connecting to the left edge on such a sizable display.
As I mentioned when this was rumored, this is the first Mac on the canonical list of all-in-one desktop Macs (Macintosh, Macintosh 512k, Macintosh Plus, Macintosh Classic, Macintosh Color Classic, Macintosh LC 500 series, Performa 5x00, Power Macintosh G3 All-In-One, iMac) not to have the Apple logo on the front. I’m OK with this. It’s not as egregious as when they took out the boot chime.
Apple continues to pack more and more horsepower into their go kart that, perplexingly, they refuse to certify as street-legal; today, they swapped in a full-blown Honda engine.
By that, I mean that the iPad Pro continues to be the pinnacle of their mobile hardware in terms of power and engineering, even moreso with the M1 chip, yet they refuse to give it the software capabilities it deserves.
They’re talking the big talk with their marketing imagery, showing it plugged into a Pro Display XDR and with external storage devices, but they need to walk the walk. The windowing system is convoluted and confusing. Apple has none of their own Pro apps available. I expect big things from iPadOS this WWDC.
Apple TV 4K
It’s a shame the Apple TV 4K only got the A12 instead of the newer A14—especially considering how infrequently they update this hardware. But as Steve Jobs would put it, the A12 is, after all, a ‘screamer.’
The new Siri Remote looks nice, but I’ll reserve judgement until I can try it myself. It doesn’t seem to have a built-in U1 chip; that seems like it would have been a killer feature. After all, in the same exact event, introducing the AirTag, Apple made a joke about all the things getting lost in the couch. Which brings me to…
For a device that’s been so heavily rumored and leaked, there wasn’t that much left to impress with. It’s a little tracker thing with a U1 chip that you can find really easily if you have an iPhone that also has a U1 chip. The two big unknowns were still pleasant surprises: a $29 price tag and a user-replaceable battery.
This makes Tile’s class-action lawsuit seem trivial. Apple has opened up the Find My system to third parties (never mind the fact that no one is using it, but just to add insult to injury, they’ve out-designed them with a cheaper and better product.
Purple iPhone 12 & iPhone 12 mini
The iPhone 12 colors, in my opinion, aren’t as good as the iPhone 12 Pro colors. Blue and Red are too harsh (and I would prefer if Black had silver bands, a la the iPhone 4). Green and Purple are now, obviously, the two best colors. If I could do it all over again, I would probably get an iPhone 12 mini in Purple.
Would I say I was a fan of the color purple before Tuesday? Probably not. Do I own literally anything purple? Not to my recollection. But, does the Purple iPhone 12 mini look adorable and fun? Absolutely.
A Brief Review Of Dan Brown’s “Angels & Demons”
Mar 31, 2021
Dan Brown’s “Angels & Demons” is what 50 Shades of Gray is for the straight, white, college-educated male: a book where the protagonist is a straight, white, college-educated male who saves the day and solves religion with the help of his smart male colleague and a hot woman.
I give this book 3 out of 5 stars.
The Joe Biden Doombot
Feb 28, 2021
As President Joe Biden’s inauguration approached, I was dreading the flood of speculative articles that would be churned out—the pessimistic fear-mongering articles about all the dramatic changes to our country Joe Biden will push through.
In anticipation (and in parody) of this, I decided to do the work for them. After selecting a random, insignificant tenant of society, why go to the work of speculating when and how Joe Biden will bring such a thing to an end? No need to connect the dots. Let’s just spitball ideas, one after another.
That was the Joe Biden Doombot
Once an hour, the Joe Biden Doombot would throw out the next radical, unbelievable change to our great nation.
Some of them were funny:
Joe Biden Will End Promotions
Joe Biden Will End Subtitles
Joe Biden Will End Meetings
Joe Biden Will End Zombies
Joe Biden Will End Ostriches
Some of them were a little on the nose:
Joe Biden Will End Crimes
Joe Biden Will End Premiums
Joe Biden Will End Bankruptcies
Joe Biden Will End Freedoms
Most of them were nonsense:
Joe Biden Will End Fonts
Joe Biden Will End References
Joe Biden Will End Stops
The entire Python script
import time import tweepy import random from pluralizer import Pluralizer def sign_in(): auth = tweepy.OAuthHandler('REDACTED', 'REDACTED') auth.set_access_token('REDACTED', 'REDACTED') return tweepy.API(auth, wait_on_rate_limit = True, wait_on_rate_limit_notify = True) def main(): api = sign_in() pluralizer = Pluralizer() with open('List.txt') as list: nouns = list.read().splitlines() while(True): api.update_status('Joe Biden Will End ' + pluralizer.plural(random.choice(nouns)).capitalize()) time.sleep(3600) main()
Tweepy handles the Twitter API. A noun from Desi Quintans’s Great Noun List is picked at random, it’s pluralized with this simple pluralizer function and tweeted out once an hour.
Something didn’t feel quite right
The swath of negativity I was bracing for never came. The sweeping, radical executive orders he pushed through on his first week—14 of them—were welcome changes supported by most of the country. As it turns out, even a month in, everybody really likes Joe Biden.
The Joe Biden Doombot was ended. From it arose the Joe Biden Hopebot. Basically the same as before, but with its frown turned upside-down. The Joe Biden Hopebot ignores the cries from the voices we have heard all too much of. The next four years aren’t about them.
Give it a follow on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JoeBidenHopebot
On Rumors Of The 2021 Macs
Jan 18, 2021
This is a very special time for Apple’s product lineup.
They are, so far, following their playbook on how to complete a processor transition. Part One of their transition to Apple Silicon is over: they have announced their first computers without Intel chips, starting with the most popular products1, with the same design as their Intel counterparts.
According to the rumors, 2021 will bring Phase Two: Bring Apple Silicon to more products in the lineup, introducing brand-new designs that were previously not possible2.
From MingChi Kuo:
The new chassis design is said to feature squared-off sides in both the top and bottom halves of the machine […] along with more built-in IO ports that mean most users will not need to purchase additional dongles
The MacBook Pro has, since 2008, featured flat sides that taper above and below, a trick to appear slimmer than it really is. In terms of iOS device shapes, this is most similar to the original iPad. Apple Silicon could allow them to make a notebook as thin as it ever has to be.
The line about ports sure is bizarrely phrased.
The new laptops are planned to come in two screen sizes, a 14-inch model […] and a 16-inch version
Apple is also planning to step up the displays in its new MacBook Pros with brighter, higher-contrast panels A major change to the new computers will be how they charge. […] the company is now bringing back MagSafe In developing its next set of Mac laptops, Apple has also tested versions that remove the Touch Bar from its laptop keyboards.
Improvements to displays are always welcome. They are already the very best in the industry, pushing the limits of what you can get out of an LED panel. MacBook Pros sold today already have the P3 wide color gamut. Could technology from the Pro Display XDR trickle down to a prosumer notebook? Perhaps the 10-bit color depth. Considering the graphical prowess of the M1, and assuming whatever processor coming to these MacBook Pros is even more powerful, there would be plenty of headroom for a higher screen refresh rate—if not 120 Hz, perhaps 90 Hz.
As convenient as MagSafe is for notebook computers, I would be disappointed if Apple diverged from yet another industry charging standard, especially a standard they have been using since 2016. People like having the same cable charge all their things. People like how the ports on both sides of their MacBook Pro means they can plug it in from the left or right depending on where they are. I think it would be a net functional loss.
I missed the Touch Bar train with my 2015 MacBook Pro. I will be a little disappointed if it is true that Apple would rather remove it than double down on improving it. Its biggest problems amongst reviewers include the removal of the Escape key, which has been fixed; the display is not always-on, which could be fixed if it adopted the same technology used in the Apple Watch; and the software doesn’t take advantage of its full potential, which they obviously have the power to change. Understandably, third-party support is lacking, but that should not be a death wish—imagine if they redesigned the Touch Bar does to mirror Control Center. Every switch or slider in Control Center is a button on the Touch Bar, and it’s always on.
At least if the Touch Bar is gone I won’t feel like I’m missing out when I buy a desktop Mac.
Basically a footnote in the same Bloomberg article:
Apple is also planning a redesigned MacBook Air, but that is not expected to be released until long after the next MacBook Pros.
The MacBook Air, being their best-selling Mac, is the most important to take slow steps forward on. Give it Apple silicon, but in the same case, so as not to spook the general public. Let the other Macs get flashy new designs first. Don’t do anything drastic (…again).
Also from Bloomberg:
Apple is also working on a pair of new Mac Pro desktop computers, its priciest Mac machines that don’t come with a screen included, the people said. One version is a direct update to the current Mac Pro and will continue to use the same design as the version launched in 2019. Apple has discussed continuing to use Intel processors for that model rather than moving to its own chips.
The second version, however, will use Apple’s own processors and be less than half the size of the current Mac Pro.
I thought, after the iMac updated in August, Apple would be done introducing new Intel Macs—their announcement of the chip transition in the summer would have been the end of Intel, except for one more Mac left in the production pipeline two months out. But of all Macs, the Mac Pro would certainly be the most likely to receive one last Intel update. Intel’s Xeons update behind all their i3, i5, i7 and i9 lineup. Second, the Mac Pro’s audience of industry professionals bought into the Mac Pro as a long-term modular platform with independently upgradable parts, so Apple should provide for them at least one parts upgrade.
More intriguing than that is the prospect of the Mac Pro getting an Apple Silicon update. They may have finally made the right chip architecture to make the miniature desktop Pro Mac they’ve tried and failed miserably at not once but twice. Of course the Apple silicon version of the Mac Pro would be half the size—not out of novelty, not as a special one-off—when you take out the giant array of fans, because it doesn’t need as much cooling; take out the MPX modules, because Apple silicon doesn’t support AMD graphics cards; and take out the memory slots, because all the memory is built into the chip itself; that case will be awfully empty. You don’t need to engineer it to be small, it becomes a smaller machine of its own volition. Fingers crossed this simplified production with fewer parts will lower the cost within grasp of a prosumer like myself.
Continued from above:
The new models will slim down the thick black borders around the screen and do away with the sizable metal chin area in favor of a design similar to Apple’s Pro Display XDR monitor. These iMacs will have a flat back, moving away from the curved rear of the current iMac.
The design from 2012 was only a redesign to the back half—the face of the iMac has been identical since 2009 and similar since 2007. I wouldn’t be surprised if the smaller bezels mean the Apple logo is absent from the face of the iMac. If true, it would be the first iMac (nay, the first all-in-one desktop Macintosh) without it.
Amateur Display XDR
As part of its revived Mac desktop efforts, Apple has started early development of a lower-priced external monitor to sell alongside the Pro Display XDR.
The cheaper monitor would feature a screen geared more for consumer than professional use and wouldn’t have the brightness and contrast ratio of the top-tier offering.
All they have to do to make people like me happy is take the same exact same display panel that goes in the Retina 5K iMac and put it in a smaller case without the computer inside it. They could even sell it for the exact same price as a Retina 5K iMac and it would still be a good value (…but don’t get any ideas). Sign me up.
- And the Mac Mini. ↩
- As a prospective Mac buyer sometime this year or next, I have been following these rumors with very close attention. ↩
What Could The Apple Car Be?
Dec 30, 2020
It is common knowledge that Apple has been running Project Titan for an Apple-designed car. Allegedly, it was so outrageously expensive they totally gave up and started over from scratch. There’s endless speculation about when it may, if ever, see the light of day.
I would like to offer, among all the aimless speculation as to when it may be announced, some aimless speculation as to what it could be like. What could they have done to drive up the cost so embarrassingly high?
The Apple Car is certainly designed around a battery-electric drivetrain. Perhaps their original concept had a gas engine—after all, Jony Ive is a known car enthusiast—but today, it wouldn’t make sense. Would they buy engines from another company? So much for vertical integration. Would they design an engine from the ground up? Expensive, not to mention it’s yesterday’s technology—but worst of all, not headline-grabbing. Adding to this are rumors they once tried to buy Tesla, the definitive electric car company.
Apple wouldn’t settle for anything less than a ludicrous amount of range with the latest in battery technology. This is probably the biggest contributor to their alleged high price.
There’s no doubt the same company that designs an over-engineered smart speaker twice as expensive as the competition—with virtually no changes to its voice assistant (the sole method of direct interaction)—would also design an exquisite sound system for their car.
Speakers in every door? Check. Speakers that pop up out of the dashboard? Not quite—how about speakers built into the dashboard beneath precision laser-cut holes? Check. Speakers in the headrests? Check. Does the sound system dynamically cancel out the road noise based on speed and texture? Absolutely. Does it also incorporate the transparency mode from AirPods Pro and Max to boost the sound of surrounding pedestrians, sirens, trains and honking? Of course.
Does it have an aux jack? Obviously not. What are you trying to plug in, an Android phone? No, it’s only compatible with wireless CarPlay. You must be at least Bluetooth-rich to listen to music. Which, you probably are, if you’re sitting inside an Apple Car.
Apple has two approaches to coloring aluminum. It goes without saying the body of the car will be aluminum, their favorite metal. Consumer products get all six colors plus light and dark gray; ‘Pro’ products get unadorned anodized aluminum, and if they’re generous, the choice of slightly darker anodized aluminum. It would be awesome if the car came in bare bead-blasted aluminum. Car companies don’t generally do that, in part to hide the fact that bumpers are usually plastic—and I don’t think Apple would use plastic bumpers. Speaking of which…
I’m not here to speculate even as broadly as to the shape of the car. I don’t see Apple as the sort of company to make an electric car mimicking a gas car, a la the early Model S, nor something weird and stubby like the BMW i3. The strongest connection I can draw is that former Apple designer and close colleague of Jony Ive, Marc Newson, once designed the Ford 021C. While I don’t think the Apple Car would be a subcompact, it may give a few clues as to their starting point. After all, the Apple Watch Sport Band bears a striking resemblance to the Ikepod Horizon Watch’s band.
Whatever form it takes, I know this much: expect virtually no panel gaps, because it will not be built from separate body panels. If Volkswagen can do it in the 60s with the Karmann Ghia, Apple can do it too.
Apple has dabbled in leather before, but since the Apple Watch they’ve really grown to love it, for better or worse. Is it possible Apple would dare put cloth seats in their crown jewel? Of course not. It would have to be leather. Choices of saddle brown, midnight blue, storm gray, all the fan favorites. Personally, I think the best choice of material is wool, as used in the Toyota Century. It’s the softest, it doesn’t get hot or cold like leather and it’s more environmentally friendly.
The dashboard would also be aluminum. I imagine the liberal use of metal and leather as seen in the Spyker C8 crossed with the minimalism of a Tesla Model 3.
It’s hard to imagine Apple doing anything other than the Tesla approach: Big center display, not much else.
Unlike Tesla, Apple may be generous enough to give its users a physical volume dial. There’s some precedent—they put a physical volume dial on the AirPods Max, and as of 2020, they still have not removed the volume buttons from the iPhone where they totally could if they wanted to.
The user interface would have some family resemblance to CarPlay with a beefier, bigger, roomier user interface; this would be on at least a 12″ display, not the measly 6″ screens most CarPlay units have. Take what you get with CarPlay but add an app (and hopefully, a dashboard widget!) for climate control.
Quirks and features
The cool new thing to do is to have your phone be the car key. Using the U1 chip that is getting added to all their new mobile devices, a technology that can transmit highly precise location information to other devices within a small proximity, Apple will be able to implement this better than anyone else.
The roof is one fixed all-glass panel. People like having sunroofs, but no one really likes opening them. It’s loud and windy. Besides, a sunroof over the front seats means you have to have a metal roof over the rear seats. In modern luxury cars, you can even have a glass roof that tints itself to be opaque at the push of a button.
I seriously doubt Apple would go out of their way to make room for interior storage spaces. Door pockets? No way. A big, cavernous opening in the center console? I doubt there’ll even be a center console. Cup holders? Probably just the legal bare minimum of two in the front, and if we’re lucky, another two in the back.
Have you noticed that all the rumors suggest one model—‘The Apple Car’? If they don’t intend to make a whole lineup, does the singular Apple Car come in the form of a sedan, coupé, SUV, or even a minivan? I suspect somewhere in the middle. Imagine a four-door car low to the ground like a sedan yet almost tall enough to qualify as an SUV, like the Rolls Royce Phantom.
You buy it online. But where do you pick it up? You don’t. The car is fully autonomous, so it drives itself over to your house. Like a dog finding its way home.
Hidden In Plain Sight—A History of iOS Foreshadowing iPhone
Nov 30, 2020
For the first four years of the iPhone’s life, the hardware and software were announced together in the summer. Starting with iOS 5’s announcement in July and the iPhone 4s announcement in October of 2011, we got a sneak peek of the software before the hardware was announced.
This cycle of software in the summer and hardware in the fall has led to an interesting pattern—some traces of the evolving hardware are left out in the open for all to see in the software. Questionable software design decisions suddenly make sense in the context of the new phone. Let’s take a look at some of these examples.1
iOS 6 Auto Layout preparing for new sizes
With the ever-growing roster of iOS and iPadOS devices nowadays, it’s hard to believe that the iPhone went from its announcement in early 2007 all the way up to the announcement of the iPhone 5 in late 2012 with the same 3.5″ display size. The iPhone 4 doubled the number of pixels, but without any scaling—it was the same rectangle with a sharper image.
The alarm bell rang when iOS 6 brought Auto Layout on iOS3. When arranging buttons and UI elements for an app, one can specify where exactly on the screen it should go—an easy and safe way to build an app if you know it’ll be running on 3.5″ displays. Auto Layout let developers arrange buttons and UI elements with constraints—this far away from the edge of the screen, this far away from that button, halfway centered between the bottom of this titlebar and the top of the toolbar, always at least 50 points away from this box, etc. The idea is that you write this code once and your app magically scales to different sizes without arranging the buttons for every situation.
In the fall, to absolutely no one’s surprise, the iPhone broke free of its 3.5″ prison to the magical world of 4.0″. The display got taller for the first time. To make it easier on developers, it kept the same display width, but added height. Luckily, absolutely everyone had adopted Auto Layout over the summer and no one complained.
iOS 7 and the iPhone 5s
The new camera UI made room for new camera features
The iOS 6 camera app was remarkably simple. In terms of capture modes, there are two: picture and video. This allowed the UI to get away with offering a simple toggle switch.
The upcoming iPhone 5s, to be introduced in the fall, would add slow motion video for the first time. A scrolling modal wheel reminiscent of a Nikon camera took the place of the simple switch. Panorama, hidden inside a menu in iOS 6, was now easier to access as another mode on the wheel alongside Photo and Video.
Swipe to unlock?
Arguably one of the most iconic UI elements of early iOS was “swipe to unlock” on the Lock Screen. iOS 7 distilled this element from a big grey arrow to a simple line of glowing text. With the Touch ID sensor on the iPhone 5s, you no longer had to swipe-to-unlock at all, allowing one to unlock with a press of the Home button.
iOS 9 app switcher designed around 3D Touch
The app switcher in iOS 7 and 8 featured previews of the app with their icons below. It was highly functional—you could flick your thumb across the small icons to quickly scroll left-to-right, or drag across the app previews to scroll one-at-a-time.
Curiously, the multitasking view introduced in iOS 9 scrolls the opposite direction, right-to-left. The bigger app snapshots fill more of the screen with the most recent app sliding in from the left edge. The redesign provides the visual metaphor that all your apps are hiding behind the current one like a stack of cards, and you’re flicking over to the next one.
This all made sense in the fall of 2015 when Apple unveiled the iPhone 6s with 3D Touch. It was adopted universally by some proactive indie developers, but, sadly, never got much attention from many of the top-charting apps. Apple implemented it system-wide to set a good example. When force touching the left edge of the device, you could swipe your thumb over to switch to the next app in the stack. The new look for the app switcher, where apps slide in from the left, was designed around this feature.
iOS 11 accommodating the all-screen iPhone X
Control Center may have gone through a few different looks since its introduction in iOS 7, but the central idea of a glass panel you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to invoke was a constant. That was not compatible with the upcoming iPhone X, which would use the swipe-up gesture to dismiss the current app. Since Control Center would be invoked from the bottom edge on Home Button-iPhones and from the top right corner on the iPhone X, Apple needed a design that would make sense for both gestures.
Control Center was freed from its panel to occupy the entire screen. If it is invoked with a swipe-up gesture, as it is on iPhones without a Home Button, the controls are bottom-justified. On the iPhone X, where you pull down from the top-right, the controls are top-justified. The free-floating design accommodates both gestures—and gives it room to grow should users choose to add more buttons.
Labels removed from the dock
When Apple gave the iPhone X display rounded corners, they simply could not resist giving the Dock rounded corners that nestle inside them, with the icons arranged perfectly inside it. This concentric symmetry just wouldn’t have the same effect if the app labels appeared below them.
Smaller cellular signal icon
The cellular signal icon in iOS 7–9 (borrowed from an early iPhone prototype) uses five circles instead of the more familiar bars. While debatably more aesthetically pleasing, the icon is simply too wide to fit into the small icon area of the iPhone X.
The iPhone X simplified the process of unlocking the phone. No longer is authenticating the phone a step one has to consciously take—you don’t have to type in a passcode, you don’t have to press your finger on a TouchID sensor—just look at it and it’s unlocked.
In order to polish this design as much as possible, Apple sanded down the arbitrary difference between the Lock Screen and Notification Center. After all, both places show your notifications and widgets.
iOS 13 context menus replacing 3D Touch features
3D Touch, as continued from above, did not take the world by a storm as Apple may have hoped. Never mind that it’s a gesture with no visible indicator of where it works—it wasn’t adopted universally enough for users to expect it to work. Compare this to apps that don’t implement swipe-to-go-back, which stick out like a sore thumb.
Apple, unwilling to give up the functionality it afforded them, ironed 3D Touch together with the long-press gesture as a means of creating the context menu. That way, when the iPhones 11 and 11 Pro shipped without the pressure sensors necessary for 3D Touch to work4, the context menu was spun as a more versatile UI element for developers to use, in addition to bringing feature parity to iPads (now christened with iPadOS).
- In researching this story, I reached out to my fellow2 esteemed and honorable Apple tech writers: John Gruber, Casey Liss, Stephen Hackett, Joanna Stern, John Voorhees, Federico Viticci, Dan Moren, Jason Snell and John Siracusa. ↩
- I am not an esteemed nor honorable Apple tech writer. ↩
- Thanks to Casey Liss for the tip on Auto-Layout in iOS 6. ↩
- The iPhone XR shipped without 3D Touch a year earlier alongside iOS 12 but was not their flagship iPhone at the time, which is why I consider it a feature removal of 2019, not 2018. It evolved into the iPhones 11, which were. ↩
Which Is The Smallest Phone With The Best Camera, iPhone 12 mini or iPhone 12 Pro?
Nov 7, 2020
Say you, like me, want the best camera in the smallest phone. Which do you get? Obviously, the iPhone 12 mini is the smaller phone and the iPhone 12 Pro has the better camera1. The tragic omission of a hypothetical iPhone 12 Pro mini from the lineup dictates people like you and me choose between the phone that is as mini as we want and the camera that is as great as we want.
The iPhone 12 mini has nearly all the same features of the iPhone 12 Pro, which is great for people who want a small phone, but disappointing for people who want the decision to be easily made for them. There should be an obvious my-best-choice and an obvious that’s-not-for-me. Weirdly, of the Steve Jobs-era of Apple, I miss most how he reduced choice. You didn’t choose an iPhone size; Steve decided that they should be just-so-big, and that was how all of them were. But I digress.
Is the iPhone 12 mini’s camera good enough for me to sleep well at night knowing I took good-enough-pictures? Will the pictures on the iPhone 12 Pro be better enough to justify its larger size? Let us explore.
iPhone 12 mini, you have the floor
I was prepared to be disappointed by the features omitted from the iPhone 12 mini before I watched the announcement. When the segment ended, however, I was convinced it was the phone for me.
Both phones have mmWave 5G. Both phones have the same 1× and 0.5× lens. Both phones have a Ceramic Shield on the front glass for 4× better shatter resistance. Both phones have the same OLED display2. Both phones have, on the 1× lens, a 28% larger ƒ/2.4 aperture. Both phones feature Smart HDR 3 for better visual range in high-contrast lighting. Both phones bring the same high dynamic range to video recording. Both phones record Dolby Vision HDR3. On the other side, neither phone has a 120 Hz ProMotion display.
It is so delightfully small
After four years with the iPhone 7 Plus, I have dreams at night where I imagine reaching to the top of the screen with one thumb to press a button or to pull down Notification Center without shimmying the phone around in my hand. I type a text message in a hurry, and in my dream, I don’t have to activate the small one-handed keyboard because the phone is narrow enough as is. I awake from these dreams to the sound of the alarm coming from my iPhone 7 Plus, groggily reach for it to silence the noise and fumble with its incredible size and weight, no doubt worsened by its slippery aluminum body and rounded corners.
Weight is just as important as size. The iPhone 12 mini is the same weight as the original iPhone at just 135 grams. It has a light-weight aluminum frame and a grippy glass back panel. The iPhone 12 Pro is hardly any lighter than the iPhone 7 Plus thanks to its stainless steel body and hardly any easier to handle thanks to its slippery frosted glass finish on the back.
A downside to the materials difference is that the iPhone 12 isn’t as shiny as the iPhone 12 Pro. This influenced my decision making more than I care to admit.
iPhone 12 Pro, your rebuttal
The 2× lens
It is what I sold my soul for when I opted for the iPhone 7 Plus over the iPhone 7, and once again, it is what is tempting me away from the iPhone 12 mini. I created a Smart Album on my Mac to show me all the pictures I have taken with the 2× lens to see if I really use it as much as I think I do. Running the numbers, I use the 2× lens at least4 20% of the time. Am I really OK with not being able to take 1 in every 5 photos?
That’s not where the differences end
I was prepared to give up the 2× lens. I had time to come to terms with that since it was leaked five months in advance, but that’s not the whole story. The LiDAR Scanner—while I may only rarely use it for AR—is used by the camera for autofocus. As a result, autofocus on the iPhone 12 Pro is 6× faster. When recording video, the subject never goes out of focus because the iPhone is always acutely aware of how far away it is from the camera. The iPhone 12 Pro is also able to combine Portrait Mode with Night Mode to take low-light portraits. The iPhone 12 Pro has an extra 2 GB of memory for Apple ProRAW—allowing you to non-destructively edit and fine-tune the computational magic that goes on behind the scenes when you take a photo.
And the preorder goes too…
The smallest phone with the best camera is the iPhone 12 Pro. The nail in the coffin was when I thought about how it’s not just the >20% of all pictures I would lose. Every picture and video I take where the subject is slightly out of focus, I would wonder if the LiDAR Scanner would have helped. Every indoor Portrait Mode photo I take in the late evening that doesn’t come out good enough, I would wonder if Portrait Night Mode should have been used. Every time I think a picture is a little too dark or a little too saturated and use the built-in photo editor, I would wonder if I would be able to edit it a little better if it were shot with Apple ProRAW.
After all, it’s not that much bigger of a phone. The display is over half an inch larger, sure—but considering the weird aspect ratios the displays are these days, it only adds up to 7.3 mm of extra width. Sure, if I’m texting with one hand, I have to stretch my thumb a little bit to tap the Send button. And yes, I occasionally invoke Reachability to tap buttons on the very top of the screen.
But damn, is it shiny.
- Yes, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has the best camera, with a motion-stabilized sensor and an 87% larger sensor. It's bigness is simply too much. It shares physical dimensions with my outgoing iPhone 7 Plus, which I believe is too big for human consumption. ↩
- Theoretically, the iPhone 12 Pro is rated for a slightly brighter display in terms of sustained brightness. As John Gruber pointed out on The Talk Show, they aren't actually different components—Apple just takes the displays that are manufactured better that test higher and puts them in the iPhones 12 Pro and uses the remaining displays in the iPhones 12. It's likely an iPhone 12 mini won't be noticeably dimmer than an iPhone 12 Pro at all. ↩
- The iPhone 12 Pro records in Dolby Vision HDR at 60 fps compared to 30 fps. Generally, I only record in 30 fps, so this may not be an issue for me. ↩
- I suspect the number of times I tap the 2× button is actually much higher. The iPhone 7 Plus 2× lens has an ƒ/2.8 aperture with relatively poor low-light performance. When you take a picture with the 2× lens and the iPhone determines it would be too grainy, it secretly uses the 1× lens and crops it in so it looks like 2×. These aren't counted in my Smart Album, so I suspect the number of times I want to take a 2× photo is closer to 40%—it doesn't take a very dim room for it to take the picture with the 1× lens instead of the 2× lens. ↩
Boneless Chicken Wings Are Better
Oct 3, 2020
From ‘Launching Extra Ordinary’:
Extra Ordinary—a blog about software, technology and more.
File this one under ‘more.’
Chicken wing enthusiasts may frequently deride boneless chicken wings. I strongly believe they are a superior food for the following reasons:
- They are easier to eat.
- Many wing restaurants sell wings by mass. When you order bone-in wings you are paying for less chicken. A significant portion of the mass is inedible.
- Boneless chicken wings have less tendons, muscles and fat.
This is my response to their common criticisms of what I consider a superior food.
Boneless chicken wings are just big saucy chicken nuggets.
First of all, no, chicken nuggets have inferior breading and highly processed meat. Second, even if this were the case, who ever wanted to add bones to chicken nuggets?
Boneless chicken wings cost more.
As stated earlier, a pound of boneless chicken wings contains more edible chicken than a pound of bone-in chicken wings because there aren’t any bones.
Boneless chicken wings are more processed.
This varies by restaurant. At Buffalo Wild Wings? Sure, their wings are noticeably processed. At Wings Over? I disagree. Their boneless wings have the texture and consistency of a regular chicken breast that has been battered and fried. If it is processed meat, it is certainly processed to a low degree.
Tweet at me why I’m wrong.
End-Of-Life Review, iPhone 7 Plus
Sep 25, 2020
Closing in on four years ago I bought the then-new iPhone 7 Plus. It is the longest I have ever had a smartphone1. Granted, this should be expected; smartphones are maturing so we should expect to keep them for longer and longer periods of time. If the pattern were to continue, the phone I buy this fall should last until fall 2025.
So what is it like spending four years with the iPhone 7 Plus? Let’s see how the headline marketing features from its announcement hold up.
The iPhone 7 Plus is too big for me, and with a case, holding it one handed becomes a challenge. I have dropped this phone an order of magnitude often than every previous iPhone simply because of its unwieldy size and weight. I have decidedly average hands but my hands feel strained if I hold it in the same position for too long. I acknowledge this is a completely self-inflicted wound—I could have had the regular iPhone 7 at the expense of a worse camera system—so I will refrain from deriding it on this point any more.
The contours around the edge of the phone are rounded. This has always been my least favorite iOS device shape through its association with the iPod Touch. In the formative years of the growing iOS family, the early 2010s, the iPhone had square edges, the iPod Touch had rounded edges and the iPad had pointed edges2. The rounded edge design has always felt cheap to me for this reason.
Overall, the details of this model refine upon the earlier versions of the type, the iPhones 6 and 6s. The camera bump is smoothed out into a continuous surface, no longer a separate element from the rear panel. The speakers and microphone are symmetrical thanks to the absence of the headphone jack (which the iPhone X and up regress on, interrupting the microphone with an antenna line). The antenna lines are more integrated into the design than before with better color matching and an improved shape. These are pleasantries that make an otherwise dull design feel nicer.
After three months of deliberating between Black and Jet Black finishes, I went with Black. I really love the Jet Black. The finish makes the phone appear as if it’s a single slice of glass, but I acknowledge that with all the scuffs and scratches I have on every corner of my phone, mine would not look nearly as sleek and polished as those I envy. Nonetheless, the Black is still attractive, and the finish has proven to stand up to many years of abuse—a far cry from the reports of finish chipping off iPhone 5 models.
The sole reason I suffered through a phone I considered too big for human ergonomics for such a long time is because of the then-new dual camera system.
Photos taken with the 1× wide-angle lens are rarely grainy, even in sub-par indoor lighting. The optical image stabilization (OIS) does a spectacular job eliminating camera shake. OIS doesn’t just make for more stable video; it helps keep photos in focus, too. This is especially important for Live Photos—the small snippets of video taken around pictures. All of this takes an incredible amount of processing power; in order to make the Live Photos feature work, the iPhone is continuously capturing video from the moment you open the camera. When you take a picture, the iPhone keeps about a second and a half of the video before and after the moment you pressed the button. Photos taken with this lens look great and the details upon zooming in hold up very well. This is the first iPhone camera that can take pictures high enough in quality to look good blown up on a wall.
Photos taken with the 2× telephoto lens are lower in quality but not poor. Images from this lens look much more natural to my eyes. There’s less ‘fish eye’ distortion for objects close to the camera around the edges. Because this lens has a smaller aperture it requires significantly more environmental lighting. If the lighting is insufficient it will take the picture with the 1× lens and crop the photo inwards. If it’s ever an edge case—late afternoon with the sun going down, indoors with only a few lights on—you can check if it’s really using the 2× lens by covering the 1× lens with a finger. Having the choice to take more professional-looking pictures with its narrow field-of-view at the tap of a button is a truly excellent feature3.
What you can enable when you have both of these cameras together is Portrait Mode. It’s commonplace among smartphones by now, so I’ll explain it only briefly: it’s a photo effect where the subject of the photo is clear in the foreground with a blurry background. When it used properly, it looks fantastic. Unfortunately it works under fragile circumstances. It can fall flat when there’s not enough light, the subject is a little too close or a little too far, the background isn’t distinct from the subject, there’s some extraneous object in the foreground that isn’t blurred out correctly, the subject has stray hairs, or if there’s a gap in arm or through glasses that isn’t blurred at all. It’s really great when it works, but it’s not very clearly explained to the user what it’s for or how to take one correctly.
There’s a front-facing camera too. It’s okay.
The Home button improvements from the iPhones 7 and 7 Plus are a classic example of the problems Apple loves to solve: Take something people feel neutral about and make it better in a way that makes the old way feel terrible and bad.
The Home button is not a button. It is a button-shaped impression in the glass that simulates a click when you press it. It’s absolutely unreal. In another classic Apple move, they add one more thing: you can adjust the button pressure. Do you want to press it hard with a lot of resistance or do you want to press it lightly with little?
This is the best the Home button has ever been. It feels like the final, inevitable stage in its evolution. But this is no longer 2016; the rest of the world has moved on. The suite of interface gestures built around the Home button—click once to go home, click twice to switch apps, hold for Siri, click three times for accessibility—feel clunky and slow. But this Home button-not-really-even-a-button will continue to faux-click for you, happily, forever, never wearing out.
AirPods are a different product, not strictly a feature of the iPhone, but AirPods still fit into this story. They were launched alongside the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus as what Apple wants you to use in place of the removed headphone jack.
I was never among the people outraged by the decision to remove the headphone jack, even when it was rumored ahead of the fact. There were a lot of theories why: Did they remove it because they needed the space for the dual camera setup? No, they still had space, it’s even possible to add a headphone jack to a production iPhone. Was it because they wanted to improve waterproofing? I don’t buy that either because the headphone jack is almost completely insulated by design; water is more likely to enter through the speakers or the seams in the display and buttons and those already had rubber gaskets around them since the iPhone 6s. We in 2020 have the benefit of hindsight. We can say it’s probably because Apple knew they had to remove the headphone jack in next year’s iPhone X, but they didn’t want the story journalists wrote about their completely redesigned fancy new expensive phone to be all about the missing headphone jack. They removed it a year early so that the iPhone 7 would take the fall and the story surrounding the exciting new iPhone X could be all about how new and exciting the iPhone X is.
I can’t say I miss the headphone jack anyways. If you have AirPods, then you already know that they’re a much better product than the wired earbuds ever could be. If you don’t, then you still get a pair of earbuds that plug in the Lightning port instead. If you understandably don’t like Apple’s wired earbuds, then you get an adapter in the box, too. They give you all the tools they can offer to make it a seamless transition.
It’s the last paragraph in the AirPods section of the review, so I suppose I should actually review the AirPods. AirPods are a rare example of a brand-new product that answers every design choice correctly from the start. As a product, their design is simply too advanced for modern day battery technology—the tiny batteries inside them degrade with moderate use after just a year and a half.
An adage about Ford cars is that the engine will outlive everything else. A blessing and a curse, it leaves you in a rusted shell with no AC, torn seats, a cracked and broken interior, questionable exhaust and twice-replaced sound system. You just can’t replace the car because it still runs fine4. The same thing happens to an iPhone when you keep it for four years. The speakers are barely audible. Every six months I go through a scare where the phone won’t charge, I clean out the Lightning port with a toothpick and pull several clumps of pocket lint out. Every corner is dented in some way or another, but you wouldn’t notice because it’s hidden beneath in a case that is also torn on every corner. The case hasn’t been taken off in at least a year; I wouldn’t dare risk it as it is holding together a large crack in the screen.
But the engine still runs. Blazingly fast. We are long past the days where every upgrade is a night-and-day performance shift5, regardless of whether you upgrade every year or every three. It is not unreasonable for me to expect my next phone to last me at least five years.
So how do I rate the iPhone 7 Plus? It was the best smartphone in 2016. It is without a doubt the best smartphone I’ve owned. Despite this, it is my least favorite. It is sufficient for performing the tasks asked of it, but I don’t find joy in using such a large phone. The design does not inspire. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to October.
- For those that are curious, here is my smartphone history: iPhone 4, July 2011; iPhone 5s, December 2013; iPhone 7 Plus, December 2016. ↩
- I’ve always thought an iPhone with pointed edges like the iPad would be an interesting design. ↩
- If you're keeping track, you know by now that I a) dislike big phones, and b) love the wide angle lens/telephoto lens camera setup. If rumors are to be believed, what do I do in the fall if the new iPhone lineup includes a desirably sized 5.4″ iPhone with a 0.5× lens instead of a 2× lens? I have no idea. Maybe I'll spend another three months deliberating over this, too. ↩
- Based on a true story. ↩
- Well, at least on this side of the pond. ↩
iOS Devices By Shape
Sep 20, 2020
This reference graphic shows every profile used across iOS devices—the silhouette of the bottom side. The renderings are not to scale—iPhones range in size from 3.5″ to 6.5″ displays, iPads from 7.9″ to 12.9″ displays. This illustrates the usage of different corner stylings over the years. Minor changes are grouped together such as the protruding glass on the iPhones 4 and 4s, the ‘diamond-cut chamfered edge’ that is cut into the iPhones 5, 5s and SE and the slight corner radius on the iPhone 5c.
Going in, I had no idea the chamfered-edge-rounded design would be the longest list. I’ve never owned any of those devices.
If you are attentive you will have noticed some series of devices have version numbers in parenthesis and some do not. iPhones all have their version numbers as part of their name—they are marketed as iPhone 4, 5, 6, etc. iPads are on-and-off: their marketing names start from iPad, iPad 2, the new iPad, iPad with Retina display, and from there they diverge into iPad Air and iPad (again). If the series begins with a version-named product I list them without parenthesis.
Apple Keynote Bingo, September 2020
Sep 13, 2020
Apple’s “Time Flies” event is less than two days away. I decided to bring back Apple Keynote Bingo.
It’s been a few years since the last one so most of these squares are all-new to reflect the evolving executive team and presentation style. On the left, we have the trail of products that have been heavily rumored that have yet to see the light of day: AirTags, the iPhones 12 and AirPower. A number of new squares were added to reflect the last virtual event: a serious opening monologue, Tim Cook alone on stage and an aerial tour of Apple Park. Greg Jozwiak is the new SVP of Worldwide Marketing and thus his odd taste in patterned shirts has replaced Phil Schiller’s square. Apple TV+ is close to celebrating its first anniversary, so I fully expect them to play some Season 2 trailers for their biggest shows that were absent from WWDC—The Morning Show and See.
Some of the safer squares on the board: everybody knows new iPads and Apple Watches are coming (the event is called ‘Time Flies’ for crying out loud). Their fancy new Apple Store inside a glass orb floating in the ocean deserves a great cinematic introduction video. They are always glad to give an environmental report card on their products so I anticipate a segment on that. Finally, their Apple One services bundle has been leaked by Apple themselves, so it would definitely be odd not to have some news there.
Print one out and play along.
Sep 12, 2020
I am launching a YouTube channel called Wikireadia. Every episode I narrate a Wikipedia article top to bottom.
For a few years now I’ve been fascinated by automated media. Of all things, this was inspired by The Weather Channel. The more I thought about it the weirder it became in my head that there was a segment on television—Local on the 8s—that is entirely computer generated. Fittingly, the first episode is about WeatherStar, the computer that creates each segment.
Wikireadia is designed to resemble automated media. The longer the project continues, the more hours of content there will be that is information distilled and presented in as dry a format as possible. All collected information available on a topic is relayed by a voice. Despite this, Wikireadia is something that cannot exist in its current degree of quality as computer-generated media; the medium chosen dictates a human has to be recorded.
This is Phase 1 of Wikireadia: Reading an article of my choosing beginning to end. Of course, I have to mention the excellent music composed by Will Davenport that will introduce and conclude every episode. This won’t be the only place you’ll hear it. Wikireadia is a devilishly simple concept for a YouTube channel that I’m amazed hasn’t been taken seriously yet—aren’t those the best ideas?
You can find it here:
Breaking Up With Google
Sep 10, 2020
Mark my words: I am going to rid myself of all my personal Google accounts. As an advocate for digital privacy, I intend to walk the walk as much as I talk the talk.
Why? Google is a data company, not a services company. The difference is where their money comes from: services companies monetize use of their software. Google’s consumer services are free to use. While it’s true they make money from licensing its software to businesses and enterprise users, this is not even close to profitable enough to support their entire business model—the biggest slice of their revenue pie is and always has been monetizing use of your data to advertisers. Why should I care? This itself deserves its own write-up, so I will instead leave you with this for now and move on.
This is my game plan for how I will replace the services I use.
This is the biggest example of ‘easier-said-than-done’. The solution is simple and obvious: just get another email service; there are plenty. Actually making the move is a little more complicated. I’ve had the same personal email address for 14 years. It’s the address upon which almost every service I use is listed as the primary point of contact. It’s the address all my friends and family have.
The replacement is not going to be another lesser-of-two-evils free email service that will snoop just as much as Gmail does (Yahoo, AOL, etc.). I’m going to create email addresses using this domain, @dgriffinjones.com, hosted by Runbox1. I considered hosting my own email server because I would not be limited in storage space, I could create as many email addresses as I desire with no additional cost and I can be reasonably certain I will not sell my own user data to third-party advertising companies—until I pictured a nightmare Catch-22 scenario wherein my hacked-together self-hosted system stops working and I would be unable to sign into or authenticate any accounts to resolve the problem without a functioning email address. It seems going with a third party service is a necessary evil for security’s sake and as far as I can tell, Runbox is not an especially evil company.
In order to transfer every online service I have ever signed up for with my Gmail account I will take a long trip down Keychain Access, my password manager, sign into all of them one-by-one and switch the primary email to my new one. I will still have to keep my Gmail account for a little while before I can comfortably close the account. If there is some online service that isn’t listed in Keychain Access, how would I know to change it? If I close my account and find out later that one of these has slipped under the radar, I may just have to cut my losses.
I hope that I can comfortably close my Gmail account by this same time in 2021.
I use YouTube unlike most people, but here that is to my advantage. I have the subscriptions page bookmarked so that I see what the creators I follow post and nothing else. I don’t go to the Home page to browse the algorithmically chosen content unless I run out of subscriptions when I’m really, really bored.
The internet has had a solution to this specific problem for years: RSS. YouTube actually has a built-in method for converting your subscriptions to RSS2. This feature is only available through the old subscription manager, not the new one, which makes me think this feature may be deprecated soon. If you are at all interested in this, you should do it while you can. I will import my subscriptions to a folder on NetNewsWire, my RSS reader of choice, and use it as a way of staying up to date on the creators I follow without a Google account. NetNewsWire will give me a linear list of all the published videos from the creators I would be subscribed to that will open in Safari or the YouTube app.
On my Mac I’ll use YouTube signed out through Safari. On my iPhone, I’ll uninstall and reinstall the YouTube app to clear all the user data3. I’ll use a VPN too for good measure.
Google Drive is perhaps the hardest service to replace. I can convert all of my Google Docs, Sheets and Slides documents into Pages, Numbers and Keynote documents on iCloud Drive, but I have a lot of personal projects shared with my friends and family that don’t use any of the alternative file sharing services. I honestly don’t have a solution for this one yet. If I write back here in a year about how I haven’t been able to cut all the cords, I bet it’ll be because of Google Drive.
I haven’t used Google Chrome as my everyday web browser for many years, but occasionally there comes a website which renders better in Chrome than Safari. I have been using Microsoft Edge in its place to fulfill this niche purpose. Edge and Chrome share the same Chromium code base, which uses the same Blink rendering engine, so websites should look exactly the same in Edge as they do Chrome4. This should be the easiest transition to accomplish considering I made it months ago when Edge was made available5.
- I use Apple Maps, iCloud Photo Library and FaceTime instead of Google Maps, Google Photos and Hangouts anyways.
- The forthcoming Translate app for iOS will replace Google Translate come fall.
- I will use a separate web browser from the one I use for day-to-day browsing when I need to sign into the Google account assigned to me by my employer.
After I migrate my accounts and live under the new system for a while I’ll write a follow-up post letting you know how it works out and whether I recommend this. Add www.dgriffinjones.com to your RSS reader or follow me on Twitter to stay up to date.
- This may merit its own article in the future. I am going with Runbox for having the least outrageous storage plan pricing, end-to-end encryption, long company history and support for IMAP. ↩
- Go to this Subscription Manager page, scroll down to Export Subscriptions and import this file into an RSS reader like NetNewsWire. ↩
- While I prefer using the native iOS video player as seen in Safari, the video quality is limited to 720p. This is unacceptable. ↩
- Theoretically this should also be the case for Safari since Blink is itself based on Safari’s WebKit, but they have gone their separate ways as Google continues to add more Chrome-exclusive features outside the web standards. ↩
- I would have liked to link to a memorable strip of Sherman’s Lagoon where the punchline that the best way to feel accomplished when writing a to-do list is to write down something you’ve already done and immediately cross it off. Alas, Sherman’s Lagoon does not have a searchable index of all their historical comics. ↩
Why Start A Blog In 2020?
Sep 5, 2020
What am I doing here?
It’s 2020. The era of widespread blogging has long since passed, yet here we are. In my first article / column / piece (still looking for any other term to use in place of blog post) I will preemptively answer the question that most people who care about how I spend my time are inevitably thinking: why?
Own your place on the internet.
I was always warned that I should be careful about the information I post on the internet. “Nothing is ever deleted once it’s online. It’ll be there forever.” As it turns out, that’s an overstated fear. Just ask the 38 million websites hosted on GeoCities or the ever-growing cemetery of former Google products. Services and businesses that we perceive as titans holding up entire subcultures of the Internet as we know it can (and have) crumbled.
Under that context, I think it is important for one with an online presence to make sure any audience they build is platform-agnostic. You don’t want politics or shifty business practices pulling your livelihood out from under your feet overnight. Just ask the 200 million active users of Vine. Extra Ordinary may be comparable to an overlooked hotdog stand in the middle of Manhattan, but it is mine. I have built it to be as stable as possible for my budget. I can be reasonably sure the President of the United States will not pursue legal action in the interest of shutting down Extra Ordinary.
If you’re curious, this site is currently hosted through GitHub. GitHub has been around for a (relatively) long time and the Microsoft acquisition gives me some peace of mind it will not disappear overnight. Should that happen, I could just as easily plug a spare computer into my router and host it independently—I’m not kidding myself, it’s not like I’ll be getting too much traffic to keep up.
Why do humans communicate? To transmit ideas from one to another. What does the mathematical ideal form of this look like? All knowledge of a subject is shared across all humans concerned. Every question you answer, everything you learn, everything you hear gets us closer to that point.
This is an exact parallel to entropy. This is the concept that every chemical reaction, every heat exchange, every action you take costs some form of energy that cannot effectively be recaptured without using even more energy. Give a glass of ice water enough time, and you have a cup of water with uniform energy. Wait even longer, and it’ll be same temperature as the room. If processes like this continue everywhere, forever (and research shows that the universe will probably continue for quite a bit longer), things don’t look good for the universe—it will probably end as a perfectly uniform field of energy.
Information can be modeled on entropy. For example, the group could be as small as you and three friends; when you all decide on one place to meet up, information entropy has been achieved: the information is distributed everywhere it needs to.
Maybe one person will read Extra Ordinary; maybe every human on Earth. Statistically it will be somewhere between those. Regardless, everyone who reads Extra Ordinary will contribute to the distribution of my ideas. By the time you’ve processed what you’re reading, it’s already too late. It’s in your head now. I guess I’m just evil like that.
Because I have to.
From Sarah Allen’s The Inspired Writer vs. the Real Writer:
I believe that I write because I am driven to do so—driven by a will to write. By “will,” I mean a kind of purposefulness, propensity, diligence, and determination.
My feeble attempt at describing this blog is so far, “A blog about technology, software and more.” This isn’t entirely accurate. If I were to describe it more precisely I would say that this blog is a medium through which I can think critically about the thoughts I have bouncing around in my head; formalize and refine them; and publish them1. ‘Technology, software and more’ is generally what they are about.
Sarah Allen writes because she is driven to do so. I write because I am driven to distribute ideas.
- That doesn't make for a catchy tagline. ↩
Launching Extra Ordinary
Aug 15, 2020
Today, I am launching Extra Ordinary—a blog about technology, software and more.