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My Problem With Apple Watch Sleep Tracking

Aug 4, 2022



I’ve been trying out Apple Watch sleep stage tracking over the last few weeks for an article on Cult of Mac. Overall, I think it’s fantastic. Without adding any additional sensors, through a software update alone, everyone with insomnia or sleep apnea can understand their condition better with their Apple Watch.

I don’t need to track my sleep; I just think it’s neat. But I do have one very big problem with it.

Since it so accurately sees when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, it would be great if it could catch you falling back asleep after your alarm goes off. It knows if you’re in deep sleep or core sleep immediately before your alarm, but if you tap to turn off your alarm instead of snooze — and it’s very likely this could happen by mistake, because the screen is so tiny — it just trusts that you’ll wake up.

The Apple Watch even knows when you’re standing up and moving. That’s kinda its whole thing. But like a bar tender carelessly tossing back the car keys to a patron they have personally been serving drinks all night, it just blindly believes you if you tap Turn Off instead of Snooze.

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Interview with Shihab Mehboob, Developer of Aviary

Jul 26, 2022 • Interview



A Twitter client for iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple Watch

Shihab Mehboob has just released the biggest update yet to Aviary, a simple yet powerful Twitter client.

Aviary 2 has been completely rebuilt with a stronger, more reliable foundation. This has enabled a wide swath of new user features and customization options. As before, the interface is native to iOS and strictly follows Apple’s design principles.

Aviary 2 costs either $1.99 per month or $15.49 for a full year (a 40% discount); if subscriptions aren’t your style, you can buy it forever for $49.99 (an ROI of three years, three months). No ads, no suggested tweets from people you don’t follow filling up your timeline, no notification bait, and let me say this one more time for emphasis, no ads? It’s a no-brainer for an app I use every day.

Shihab is a very active developer. It’s not surprising that he’s also very active on Twitter — a good person to follow in the independent developer community. He has also published Vinyls, an Apple Music client designed around listening to albums; Get Sum, a shopping list; Agree, a group voting app; Textcraft, a text formatting tool; Memo, a Time Machine-inspired note-taking app and even more.

Interview

I interviewed Shihab by email in the week leading up to its release.

First and foremost, why a Twitter client?

Twitter is something I’ve been using for over a decade now across a variety of devices and platforms. After seeing what has been possible by Tweetbot, especially in the early days, I’ve always wanted to make my own client that elevates the experience.

Aviary 2 was, as you say, “rebuilt and redesigned from the ground up.” Starting over is not a decision developers take lightly, and this rebuild took half a year. Was this a hard decision to make?

Initially, it was quite a hard decision to make. I was facing various issues with the first version of Aviary that were causing frequent and spontaneous crashes and hangs which I couldn’t seem to resolve. I still had a lot planned for Aviary with features I wanted to add and new API endpoints I wanted to adopt.

Development was struggling, so I made the difficult decision to start from scratch and be more cautious with my development. I adopted new technologies wherever possible, opted to hop abroad the Twitter V2 API early on and tested extensively every step of the way. While it was a difficult decision, the result has been effective and made further development much easier.

Aviary 2 is available as a monthly or yearly subscription or a single lifetime purchase. What brought you to this pricing model?

I find that this model has a spot for everyone whether you’re a casual user, a more seasoned user or someone who’d prefer to own the app outright. The subscriptions also help keep frequent development going and is far more sustainable for me as a developer.

Twitter has been having, let’s say, a rough few months. How confident are you in the future of Twitter as a platform?

Twitter has always had rough times through its life, but it’s always bounced back. I’m confident that it will do the same again. Especially now that they’re a lot more transparent with their users and developers alike.

Do you find credence in the idea that Twitter has great value to society as a public forum, or do you find that a bit idealistic?

I personally find that Twitter provides great value to those that use it as such. It is what you make of it, and entirely depends on who you follow, who you interact with, what you choose to see and engage with. As with any forum, it can end up being an echo chamber, and that chamber is built by yourself.

One of my favorite Aviary features is the ability to share a tweet as a high-quality image. I use this every day to share tweets to people without Twitter accounts or to save tweets to my photo library. Do you, like me, also get sad when you see bad low-resolution screenshots of tweets or Tumblr posts go viral?

100%. I’m really glad that this is one of your favorite features, because it is mine too! I’ve always been kind of sad to see badly cropped or distorted social media images circulating on unrelated sites, and to be able to output content in better ways is a no-brainer.

Making this super easy to do — with a variety of toggles to hide on-screen elements and adjust backgrounds — is a huge plus for anyone that’s particular about the style of content they wish to share.

One of the more unique features is the ability to view media in AR. Are you excited by what Apple is doing with AR?

Very. I’m a huge believer in Apple’s push towards AR and all that comes with it. I suspect that they’ve been laying the groundwork for the past few years in ways that we haven’t even comprehended yet. From AirTags to Spatial Audio, and LiDAR to UWB chips, it’s all smaller pieces of the same larger puzzle.

If anyone can pull off AR in a meaningful and useful way, Apple can.

On a completely unrelated note, do you foresee Aviary running on an AR/VR hardware device sometime in the future?

Yes! Being able to view tweets without having to pull up a physical screen would be a game-changer.

I was really struck by the pace of development in your TestFlight. It feels like a new build arrived every day — and with a lot of new fixes and features every time. What does a day of work look like for you?

I tend to stay very organized and methodical in my development approach. I keep lengthy lists of things to do, things that are in progress, things that are done and any future ideas that would be nice to have. I tend to pick out low-hanging fruit alongside larger, more important tasks for each release so that a wide variety of features can be included in each one.

I’ll often start my day with a cup of tea, coupled with any small UI changes that I spotted the previous day browsing Aviary (and added to my list), then quickly transition to attacking the largest feature I have planned for the day. This often takes up most of my morning.

After lunch, I’ll focus on smaller issues, bug fixes and other additions that would be nice to have. If Twitter had released a new API endpoint the previous day, I’d get the model for that set up and have a play around with that as fast as I could so that I could claim to be the first to have adopted it. Worth bearing in mind that I’m in the UK time zone — almost all tech releases happen in the US timezone, after the end of my workday, so I can only really get to it the next day.

I usually unwind after 5 P.M. with some games, movies or going for a walk.

A fun easter egg in Aviary was a hidden 2048 number swiping game. Now, in Aviary 2, you built in a full-blown chess game — which, I must say, is the most beautifully designed, elegant little chess app I’ve ever seen. What inspired this?

I was inspired by James Thomson’s PCalc! He’s the king of fun easter eggs and I wanted to invoke that same level of awe for my users. I also love delivering more than promised, so this little addition will hopefully put a smile on people’s faces.

Are you a big fan of Chess.app on the Mac?

Yes! Although I do prefer my chess more physical and in the real world. There’s an untold joy in tangible products.

I have to ask: Your previous apps have been made entirely in Swift with UIKit. Have you used any SwiftUI in Aviary 2?

Not really. I have only used SwiftUI for my widgets, because that’s the only way to build them.

Apple boldly stated this year that Swift and SwiftUI is “the best way to build an app.” Independent developers like Marco Arment and Steven Troughton-Smith have been critical of its unreliability and limited utility, with Ethan Lipnik saying, “I couldn’t deliver a good product if it was 100% SwiftUI.”

Where do you stand on this, and what would Apple have to do for you to adopt SwiftUI in more places?

I agree with them. I too personally find SwiftUI too unreliable at the moment to use in a fully-fledged feature-rich app. I think it’s great for standalone screens (settings, in-app purchase, etc.), but wouldn’t dream of building an entire app that relies on it.

It is also constantly evolving and changing with each release, which must make large swaths of your code redundant with each cycle.

I think Apple would have to prove it’s stable, unlikely to make breaking changes every year and have a well-defined set of standard approaches to achieve typical use-cases for me to adopt it in a serious manner. I’d love to use it and get to grips with it more because it seems to be the sole method to adopt new features going forward, but it’s still a few years off before that seems feasible — or at least until it becomes a requirement for Apple’s AR efforts.

Do you have a back pocket, pie-in-the-sky idea for an app you would love to work on if you had unlimited time and resources?

I would love to make a custom dashboard for your day. Something that pulls in your region’s transport data, weather and maps; all your messaging platforms’ texts, media, and data; local toilets, bins, and other amenities; as well as all other useful information that we as humans need, but not yet provided via any global APIs. I think something like that would greatly enhance people’s lives.

What led you to development on the Apple platform?

I’ve always wanted to make things that I could put in people’s hands and see them use. I have always been proud of my work; being able to share that is a great feeling.

With how many people own Apple products, and how vast the App Store is, it seemed like a no-brainer to go down the Apple route. I’m a huge fan of Apple and their software and hardware. Their design sense and attention to detail really resonates with me — I try to follow the same ethos where I can.

What was your first Mac?

An 11-inch MacBook Air with 4GB of RAM! It was mind-blowing at the time. I did all my development on that, but I don’t think I could ever go back to that little RAM and that little screen real-estate ever again.

These days, I seek out the largest screens and largest RAM offerings.

What is your ‘fast and sad’ meal — what you cook when you’re feeling down and need to cook a quick dinner?

Pasta or deep fried food! I love cheese and butter and I’m a glutton for oil. It’s quite bad, but it’s very satisfying.

What will you do to unwind after Aviary 2 launches?

I am going to go on holiday!

Click here to download Aviary:

Thanks to Shihab for the interview. Have a great holiday.

Aviary is not a sponsor of Extra Ordinary. Questions and answers have been edited from their original text for formatting, grammar and accuracy.

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My Top Tip for Apple Developers

Jul 17, 2022



If you start developing apps for iPhone, you will randomly be prompted at some indeterminate time in the future, “Do you trust your computer?” Always tap Trust. No matter what.

This might seem extremely counter intuitive. Surely, you have been told not to trust random dialog boxes, especially ones you don’t expect, especially if you aren’t even at your computer.

But the downsides to tapping Cancel are clear and measurable.

The next time you build your Xcode project, it will not compile. You will not understand why. The error will be bizarre and inscrutable. You will look for typos and you will not find any. You will close the project and open it again. You will quit Xcode and open it again. You will reboot your Mac. You will reboot your iPhone.

Somewhere in the mix, it’ll work again, and you’ll try to remember the last thing you did that made it work, but you will not remember. After reading this, though, you will remember to always tap Trust.

Steve used to quote Arthur C. Clarke and say, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I would like to tweak that: “Any sufficiently advanced code signing is indistinguishable from black magic.”

The Gods work in mysterious ways. They may come to you when you least expect it. Do you trust them?

Always.

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Apple’s WWDC22 Event

Jul 10, 2022 • Apple Event



Writing this piece has taken quite a bit longer than my post-game analysis of prior events. Rather than watch the Keynote from my desk at home as I have for the last twelve years, I was flown to California, led onto the sprawling campus of Apple Park and invited to watch the Keynote in the audience of over a thousand developers in person.

This was all made possible by Cult of Mac. Leander Kahney very generously covered my plane ticket and stay in Sunnyvale. As the only Cult of Mac writer invited to the event, I had a special live blog with a play-by-play of how the event went down and published my full album of photos from the event.

The Keynote

Although iOS was born out of macOS (then called OS X), they significantly diverged over the years. Apple spent a great deal of time and effort in the mid 2010s reuniting the architecture between macOS, iOS and iPadOS.

The Mac renaissance, the totally painless transition from Intel to Apple silicon, the seamless way in which iPad apps can run on the Mac thanks to Catalyst and the breakneck pace at which Apple can introduce features that run identically across all of their major platforms are all thanks, in no small part, to this reunification effort. It was the underlying theme of WWDC last year and that theme continues this year.

If there were a theme for how this affects the user-facing features introduced this year, that would be the year of finally. It feels like Apple took the last year to knock down as many “I just wish that you could…” features all at once.

Let’s dive in.

Developers, developers, developers

The event starts with Tim Cook singing praises over Apple’s efforts to woo developers. Tim highlights the new Developer Center across from Apple Park, their initiatives to teach students around the world and the growing number of registered Apple developers.

One might assume this is a response to the developer community grumbling ever louder about the 15–30% cut Apple takes from all App Store revenue, the growing number of developers questioning whether the App Store needs to be the single source of apps on iPhone and the legal pressure Apple is facing from courts around the world — except for the fact that they start literally every WWDC Keynote like this.

iOS 16

Lock Screen

Changes to iOS start with a radical new Lock Screen.

The backgrounds are smarter. You can have the globe, centered on your location with live cloud coverage; a full-screen animated weather background, like in the Weather app; intelligently-selected photos from your library, filtered in artistic styles with depth effects; and of course, a horrifying emoji kaleidoscope legibility nightmare. They are a great deal of fun to play around with and customize before I ultimately go back to my plain black background.

Notifications now scroll up from the bottom of the screen instead of from the top. Putting notifications on the bottom is simple ergonomics; phones are getting big. By default, they are also on the bottom of the screen so you can see more of the wallpaper. I won’t be using this feature — I immediately changed it to show all notifications, but I appreciate the sentiment on behalf of people who use photo backgrounds (i.e. most people).

In tune with reusing code across platforms, you can populate the Lock Screen with the same complications you can add to Apple Watch. Confusingly, these are called Widgets, even though they’re closely related to Complications, but they are not related whatsoever to the Widgets of the Home Screen. For developers who already have a Watch app with Complications, creating Widgets for the new Lock Screen will be trivial. Other developers might go the other way, seeing the demand and creating a Watch app they had no prior plans for. It’s a win-win for users.

Other people have made this observation, but it seems that these Lock Screen widgets are an example of an iOS software feature laying the groundwork for a new iPhone hardware feature, a phenomenon I’ve documented before. These Widgets are speculated to appear in the always-on display of the iPhone 14 Pro.

Live Activities are a very smart solution to a common problem: push notifications can only push. For activities like tracking a sports game, ordering food delivery or waiting for a ride-sharing app, the most recent information is the only thing that matters. Because notifications can’t replace old notifications, they buzz your phone again and again, building up in a pile.

I’m a little concerned that Live Activities are actually too powerful a solution that might dissuade developers from thinking they need to go so far in their implementation. I think back to Snapchat, which has to send separate notifications for when someone is typing a message and when they send a message. We’ll see how this plays out.

Focus

Focus modes are now much easier to configure and activate. You can tie a Lock Screen to a Focus, and this works both ways: setting a Focus changes your Lock Screen and background; swiping between Lock Screens sets your Focus.

The Focus API is an example to me of Apple giving back their platform advantage. Last year, they introduced a new system-wide feature that only Apple apps have access to, inadvertently giving their built-in apps a leg up on third-party alternatives. This year, they are letting everyone in on Focus modes (and Shared with You, too).

iMessage

I never thought they would do it, but Apple has enabled editing and un-sending iMessages. Of course, it works with a few limits to avoid sticky situations: the recipient can see when a message has been edited or unsent and you can only do it within 15 minutes.

Marking a message as read or unread is also well-thought out: setting it as unread doesn’t get rid of the read receipt, it just puts the notification back on for you; marking a message as read, however, sends a read receipt. Gone are the days of tapping into a thread and immediately swiping back out to clear the notification badges.

It’s much harder to mark a pinned conversation as read or unread, because you have to long-press the icon and tap “Mark as Read/Unread,” a two-step process. Non-pinned messages can be marked with a quick swipe action. Apple doesn’t let you swipe on the icons of pinned messages — even though they already solved this design problem in the Apple News app, which lets you use the same swipe actions on small icon-sized news stories as you have on full-width news stories.

SharePlay

Initiating SharePlay over iMessage instead of FaceTime is a huge improvement — the big, obvious version-two feature. FaceTime can use a lot of network bandwidth on slow internet connections. If you’re then using SharePlay to watch a TV show with a friend, which, I assume, is 95% of the time SharePlay is used, you no longer need a second high-bandwidth video stream to use the feature.

Maps

Multi-stop routes in Maps is yet another finally. You can plan a route with three, four, five or more different destinations. When you’re in the middle of a route, you can add any stop with the full search capabilities, instead of the limited set before. And when you reach a stop, you can pause navigation until you’re ready to leave again.

My only remaining qualm is that at first when you search for your destination and tap “Directions,” there’s not a single-tap way to add a stop to the middle. You have to tap Add Stop, search for it, select it and reorder it to the middle. This makes it harder to add a stop along the way before you start navigating.

iCloud Shared Photo Library

Another finally.

There’s a lot of sticky design problems with a Shared Photo Library. Every picture in everyone’s library is a bad solution. My wife has thousands of random screenshots I don’t want in my library. But going the opposite way, opt-in only, where you have to select every picture you want in the Shared Library, is just as bad. If you require every picture to be shared manually after the fact, you’ll end up right back to square one, where everyone has an incomplete set.

I’ve long thought one potential solution would be a toggle in the Camera: when turned on, every picture you take will be added. Apple, of course, took this one step further: if it detects family members in the picture, or if they’re nearby when the picture is being taken, it’ll automatically add them to the Shared Photo Library.

My next hesitancy was that deletions are shared, too. Does that mean that someone could spitefully delete pictures from a few years ago, and if I don’t catch it within the 30 day window, they would be gone forever? No, because family members are notified when shared photos are deleted.

The day this is released, my wife and I will have a field day going through our libraries, adding everything we want to the shared library.

Safety Check

If you know 10 women, odds are, you know 3 women who have been in an abusive relationship.

Physical safety is of the utmost importance, but it’s not the only tool abusers have at their disposal. Giving people the ability to reset account security, sign out of all other devices and restrict access to Messages and FaceTime all from one screen will make a huge difference. People who are trying to escape a hostile situation don’t want to spend precious time futzing around with passwords on their phone.

Everything else

When you use Dictation from the keyboard, the keyboard stays open so you can quickly switch between typing and speaking. You can quickly double-tap to select a word and speak over it or type over it. Automatic punctuation, in my testing, sometimes gets confused by attaching what would be comma-separated phrases to the wrong sentence, but this will improve over time.

Live Text is easily my favorite feature introduced last year in iOS 15. I’ll eat up new Live Text features faster than a plate of properly-cooked pasta. Live Text in video? Automatic currency and unit conversions? Language translations from the camera? Yes, yes and yes, please.

Visual Look Up can now automatically cut out the subject of a picture so you can paste it somewhere else without the background, like a sticker. I’m not entirely sure why, or what it’s for, but it’ll be useful to someone, I’m sure. I’ve been copying random things out of pictures and throwing them into a note.

Many people are scared about the privacy implications of having your ID or Driver’s License in your phone’s wallet. I can’t blame them. Apple is trying to make sure it’s not just the same level of private and secure, but beyond that. Apps and websites (in theory, whenever this is implemented) won’t need to ask for your exact birthday, they just need to know if you’re old enough. As before, you don’t need to hand any officer your unlocked phone — scanning your ID uses NFC, just like checking out at a store. Whether it works this way in practice or not is yet to be seen. Even at drive-throughs, clerks will still ask to take my phone if I ask to use Apple Pay.

Apple Pay Later is Apple’s entrance into the buy-now-pay-later service. My impression of the established businesses in this market is that of scum and predatory practices. I’m a little disappointed to see Apple enter this market, but I would love to be proven wrong.

Order tracking in Wallet will either be a slow burn that ends up very useful in the long run, or no one will adopt it and it’ll fizzle out. Don’t uninstall your package tracker app yet.

The new Home app is another finally for a lot of people. I don’t use the Home app nor any smart home products because I still rent. Another WWDC attendee showed me the existing Home app, and now I understand what everyone was complaining about. It desperately needed burned down and rebuilt. The new app looks great and I hope to use it some day.

CarPlay

So, this is probably all that will ever come out of Project Titan, right?

Apple previewed a future version of CarPlay that replaces not just the navigation and entertainment functions, but the gauge cluster and all of the car controls.

The statistic they cited is that 98% of new cars have CarPlay and 79% of new car buyers in the US only consider CarPlay-capable vehicles. Reading between the lines, the remaining 2% of new cars and 21% of buyers have got to be Tesla cars and Tesla customers. It’s no surprise, then, that while they say the user interface can be completely reconfigured to accommodate a wide variety of layouts, brands, designs and styles, they prominently featured a layout that mimics the software of the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y.

My immediate question was whether or not, behind the scenes, there’s some new hardware device powering this in the car. Current CarPlay only works if you have an iPhone, because that’s the point: it’s the music and navigation from your phone, but in your car. As quoted from the Keynote, “your iPhone communicates with your vehicle’s real-time systems, in an on-device, privacy-friendly way” to power Future CarPlay, but that doesn’t exclude the possibility that other features are powered by hardware in the car itself.

As noted on the Accidental Tech Podcast, digital car gauges are required to use a real-time operating system. iOS cannot simply switch to being a real-time operating system when it’s on CarPlay; this is a fundamentally different operating system design the entire system needs to be built upon.

The list of brands they’ve partnered with includes:

It’s a little less impressive when you realize that half of the brands shown are sub-brands of others: Ford Motor Company (Ford and Lincoln), Nissan Motor Co. (Nissan, Infiniti, Renault), Volkswagen Group (Porsche, Audi), Honda Motor Company (Honda, Acura), Volvo Cars (Volvo, Polestar) and Jaguar Land Rover (I’ll let you figure this one out).

Cars with Future CarPlay won’t even be announced until late next year, so it could be until the 2025 model year that these cars actually ship.

watchOS 9

The biggest new feature of watchOS this year is the Workout app. It’s remarkable how much Apple is able to pull from a few sensors on a wrist. With machine learning on top of complicated math from the sensors, they are able to determine how high you bounce as you run, the length of your stride and how long your feet are in contact with the ground.

The new workout views are another big change to the Workout app. It’s like a different set of watch faces you can switch between as you’re working out that focus on different goals. One that caught my eye shows different energy zones, so you can see if you’re going too hard or if you need to pick up the pace; another graphs the amount of power you’re generating in Watts — a friendly existential reminder that we are still machines, we just happen to be made of conscious meat.

Racing against your previous best time on a run is one step short of racing against a ghost of yourself in Mario Kart.

Sleep stage tracking is pretty awesome. I never used sleep tracking in watchOS 8 (I don’t have any problems with my sleep), nor do I have any medical reason to track the stages of my sleep, but it’s cool enough that I’ve switched to wearing my Apple Watch overnight so that I can look at the cool graphs. I’m a sucker for cool interactive graphs.

The new watch faces are fun, I guess, but they’re still lacking for me personally. I don’t know exactly what I want, but I’d like a convincing reason to use a watch face other than Modular.

The share sheet is a powerful tool in iOS; I hope it will be a nice addition to watchOS.

Medication tracking might not seem like it needs to be a smart feature. It’s just Reminders but tailored for medication, right? Wrong. Apple’s implementation is thorough. It can warn you if two drugs you take have a combined side effect. You can add a drug by scanning the prescription label with your camera, so you don’t need to worry about fiddling with the settings and getting it right. This will be a big help for a lot of people.

Mac

Apple kicked off the Mac section with some new hardware announcements.

M2

We’re another fifteen or twenty years out from a single seismic shift as big as Intel to M1. So how much can we expect year-to-year? M2 offers some pretty big improvements.

The 16 GB memory ceiling really had to be raised, and now M2 caps out at 24 GB. The memory is faster, too, with a 50% increase in bandwidth. M2 comes with 18% greater CPU performance and a bigger cache, but where it really shines is its 35% performance leap in graphics, 40% faster neural engine and powerful built-in media engine.

All of these improvements are on the same 5 nm process. M3 is rumored to come with a die shrink down to 3 nm, which will be an even bigger leap. Another reason to hold off on buying a new Mac just a bit longer…

MacBook Air

Everyone was anticipating a MacBook Air in the formula of the iMac-to-go. Like what the iBook was to the 1998 iMac, the MacBook Air would be in pastel colors with a white face.

I think Jason Snell put it best: what kills the white borders, ergo the vibrant colors, is the notch in the display. Apple uses black glass on notched displays. This is a small oversight on behalf of everyone speculating the MacBook Air would come in the fun colors, myself included.

The “studio-quality” three-mic array and four-speaker sound system trickles down to the low-tier MacBook Air.

This new MacBook Air does not replace the M1 model; it’s positioned $100 above. I don’t find this the least bit surprising.

First of all, new designs are always more expensive. Apple spends a lot of money on tooling a new unibody design. The cost of setting up a manufacturing line for a completely new computer shape has to get paid for somehow. They could either ignore it and amortize the cost over the lifespan of the product, or they could play it safe by charging a little more for the product when it’s new and trickle the device down to lower pricing tiers over time.

Second, the cost of manufacturing the M1 MacBook Air probably hasn’t gone down. Computer components are more expensive now than they were in November 2020. It’s not as if the M1 MacBook Air was a brand new design when it was introduced that is now cheaper to make; it was already built using cheap parts when it was new. The only alternative to this pricing structure — keeping the M1 MacBook Air at $999, introducing the M2 MacBook Air at $1,099 — would be to drop the M1 MacBook Air, not push it down.

MacBook Amateur Pro

The middle MacBook has long been in a troubled spot. From the base model non-Retina MacBook Pro they sold unchanged from 2012 to 2016, to the MacBook Pro without a Touch Bar they sold during the Touch Bar era, Apple has had a hard time filling in the gap between Air and the real MacBook Pro. Apple struggles with meeting halfway on Pro features.

The M2 MacBook Pro carries over the M1 MacBook Pro design, which carries over the Intel MacBook Pro design, which carries over the Touch Bar, USB-C instead of MagSafe and thicker display bezels.

Although Apple is almost done transitioning every computer to Apple silicon, it’s becoming clear that the transition to new hardware designs across the entire lineup will take even longer. The MiddleBook Pro isn’t ready for its makeover yet. An iMac Pro is still coming… eventually, and the Mac Pro is nowhere to be found.

At least it got M2 at all. The Mac mini, the other M1 Mac unveiled at the November 2020 event, is untouched for now. It looks like they’re holding off on the Mac mini until they can redesign it and include the anticipated M2 Pro chip.

macOS Ventura

What a sexy name.

Stage Manager is a new window mode that organizes your screen for you. You can arrange sets of windows — Notes and Safari; Messages and Mail; Notes, Reminders and Safari; etc. and Stage Manager will keep all of the windows in a set visible on screen. With one click you can switch out which set you have. It’s a bit like single-window mode if you happen to fluent in early Mac OS X history or shrinkydink if you happen to be fluent in internal builds of OS X Leopard from 2006.

I’ve always found it frustrating how Spotlight is inconsistent across platforms. macOS Ventura has a new version of Spotlight more in line with the rich results you can get on iOS and iPadOS.

Safari, thankfully, is one of the apps that has a dedicated team with continuous attention (unlike Mail, which seems to get a new feature once every six years). The Safari and WebKit teams are both very active on Twitter. I don’t understand a fraction of what the web technology team does, but I am nonetheless thankful for the hard work I can only assume they are doing.

PassKeys. They are right in that the transition away from passwords will “be a journey.” When the transition is finally complete, our great grandchildren will really appreciate that.

Apple is trying to make yet another pitch to game developers that gaming on the Mac is totally a thing that can happen. MetalFX upscaling is a clever solution to Apple’s big problem: their displays are too high resolution. Retina displays double the resolution but have four times the number of pixels, so running a game at a high refresh rate at the native Retina resolution is simply out of the question. MetalFX upscaling leverages the Neural Engine (which just got 40% faster with M2) to take some weight off of the GPU and fill in additional frames.

Continuity camera is genuinely mind-bending.

iPadOS 16

The iPadOS section begins with a demo of collaboration features that I found very confusing because the feature isn’t new. I’ve shared documents in Numbers and Pages plenty of times before, and yes, with simultaneous live collaboration. What’s new here is that you can initiate it from the Share sheet and Messages. Neat? I don’t see why that needs to be given such a long segment in the Keynote.

Whereas the Mac struggles to be taken seriously with gaming, the iPad struggles to be taken seriously with finicky features usually left for desktop apps. Apple is making a big pitch to developers to reconsider adding in the little things. Here is the full list, which scrolls by very fast in light-gray-on-white text:

I’ll believe it when you can edit song and album metadata in Music.

Next, we have Stage Manager. This means we have, another finally, freeform app windows on iPad.

Craig explicitly said at the start of this section that the power of the M1 chip and virtual memory swap enable Stage Manager. Despite that, people are mad it is limited to iPads with the M1 chip.

I suspect the biggest hurdle in supporting Stage Manager is that it supports an external 6K display. Displays, especially 6K Retina displays at 60 FPS, are very graphically taxing. It also needs to continue driving the built-in iPad display, which is pretty high resolution on its own, too.

The other big hurdle is the number of apps Stage Manager needs to keep in memory. While Stage Manager supports up to 8 apps on screen at once, it actually has to keep 16 apps in memory so that you can switch between window sets without stuttering.

A commonly cited counterargument is along the lines of, “the Mac has had virtual memory swap for years, even on PowerPC; how does the A12X not support it?” To refute that claim, I challenge anyone to use a Power Mac G4. Those Macs were slow. Much slower than you remember. Even when they were brand-new, running the version of OS X they shipped with, everything lagged a little bit at best. The Mac could get away with that because the interface of a mouse and keyboard are indirect. People have higher standards for their iPhone and iPad; they need to react instantly to your touch. Apple says that only the M1 has the memory bandwidth necessary and I believe them.

The most finally? Weather on iPad.

tvOS 16

[THIS SECTION LEFT INTENTIONALLY BLANK]

Kidding aside, it seems clear that the TV is going back to a hobby for Apple, getting completely snubbed from the Keynote. And there are some pretty cool features, too:

Both of these, if adopted, would be a huge quality-of-life increase.

The Event

This is clearly the model Apple will use for WWDC going forward. They can still get a big crowd in, they can design the event free of traditional convention center restrictions and everyone at home can still watch the Keynote and sessions in the superior prerecorded format. For WWDC23, they might add additional events flowing into Tuesday and I bet they’ll mix in live footage with their prerecorded video. They could have done both of those this year, but I suspect they wanted to play it safe.

For a full album of pictures from the event, check out my post-event gallery on Cult of Mac.

A few remaining details and observations:

And that’s all. I will get back to my regularly scheduled twice-a-month posts here on Extra Ordinary. To all of the lovely people I met at WWDC, I hope to see you again next year.

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Attending WWDC 2022

May 19, 2022



I am very excited to announce that I will be attending Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, WWDC 2022, on June 6 at Apple Park in Cupertino, California.

Traditionally a week-long event in the San Jose Convention Center, WWDC went to an all-online format starting in 2020. Many have said the online format is better, many others have missed the in-person event for meeting up and networking.

This year is even weirder: Apple is hosting “a special all-day experience at Apple Park” with select invited developers and students “to watch the keynote and Platforms State of the Union videos alongside Apple engineers and experts, explore the all-new Developer Center, and so much more.” This appears to be a compromise where everyone can watch sessions and book meetings with engineers online, and (a randomly chosen sample of) the developer community can meet up and network.

There are some outstanding questions that even I, someone attending this event, do not have the answers to, as of today, May 19:

These questions and many others will be answered in my coverage of the in-person event for Cult of Mac. My thoughts on the announcements will be here on Extra Ordinary later that week. Follow my writing on Twitter to stay updated.

What does this mean for next year?

This strikes me as a small-scale test of what Apple plans to do in future years. In 2023, I bet the sessions will continue to be prerecorded and released online. The one-on-one meetings with Apple engineers will, at the very least, continue to be available to everyone remotely. Whether these have the option of taking place in person depends on how long future in-person events will be.

Monday, the day of the Keynote and State of the Union, will play more like a big Apple Event. The full roster of press will be invited, randomly-selected independent developers and students can attend for free, the wider community of developers can pay for a ticket.

The jury is still out on whether I will be a published developer by then.

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Interview with Ethan Lipnik, Developer of Acrylic

May 6, 2022 • Interview



A wallpaper designer for your iPhone, iPad and Mac

Ethan Lipnik has just released Acrylic, a universal app that lets you make gorgeous wallpapers with soft mesh gradients or 3D geometric patterns.

It’s intuitive and easy to use — and easy to lose half an hour playing around with it.

Acrylic costs $1.99 up front. No in-app purchases, no subscriptions. Buy it once and get it on all of your Apple devices.

As icing on the cake, 70% of the proceeds to go the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, a charity dedicated to “protecting gorillas while helping and educating the people who live near them.”

Ethan and I have previously collaborated together. We prototyped an app for iOS, but ultimately decided the third-party APIs we had to use were too expensive to finish our work.

As they say, real artists ship. Ethan, by this standard, is an absolute app-making machine. Acrylic comes after Neptune, a Twitter client; Syndromi, a YouTube client and OpenSesame, a password manager. That’s not to mention the dozens of open-source frameworks, projects and tools Ethan has published on GitHub.

Interview

I interviewed Ethan over the course of a week before Acrylic’s release.

First and foremost, why a wallpaper designer?

I don’t use third-party wallpapers because I like having light mode and dark mode variants. A wallpaper engine for iOS (and even macOS) that can change the wallpaper to something random is awesome.

Steve Troughton-Smith’s Pastel was a huge inspiration for this.

Press coverage and word-of-mouth recommendations are the biggest driver of app sales. With independent apps, a significant portion of the revenue is made right after the launch. You have chosen to donate 70% of proceeds to charity during the precious first month of sales of Acrylic. Why is that?

I don’t make my apps for money. I purposely chose the first month to donate because I want to use the app to help.

What’s special about the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, your charity of choice?

100,000 years ago, there were three other human species living at the same time. Now there’s just us. There are currently five great apes — we may become the last one. It is important to protect apes since they are our closest connection to nature. Gorillas are gentle giants; we need to help them and all the apes.

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund has an A rating on CharityWatch and I truly believe they use every penny they can to help the gorillas.

The price of the app is $1.99 up front with no in-app purchases, subscriptions or features behind a paywall. Picking the right way to monetize a project is a trade-off developers lose a lot of sleep thinking about. Was this an easy decision for Acrylic?

I considered practically every pricing model. I’ve used free, freemium and paid pricing models for my other apps. They all have their pros and cons but for this app I think paid works best. It might change, but right now, the current pricing model works for multiple reasons. I seem to end up making my apps free at some point. It I think the hardest part was deciding how much to donate and for how long.

On your other projects, you have used SwiftUI for a significant portion, if not all of, your user interface. Recently, you’ve been coming around on UIKit. What motivated that shift?

While the codebase is still >50% SwiftUI, I expect my usage of SwiftUI to go down. I started working professionally eight months ago and I had to use UIKit. I learned a lot about some really great APIs like UI​Collection​View​Compositional​Layout and diffable data sources.

I felt I couldn’t deliver a good product if it was 100% SwiftUI. OpenSesame, my most recent app before Acrylic, was 100% SwiftUI but was riddled with issues I couldn’t fix. Working on Neptune 3.0, I really saw what SwiftUI and UIKit can do together. Using SwiftUI as complementary rather than primary helps a lot.

So what parts of the Acrylic user interface are written in SwiftUI, what parts are UIKit, and is there any AppKit in there at all?

I don’t think anything except the project navigator is 100% of either.

I tried using AppKit at first but it really came down to graphics bugs with SceneKit that caused me to use Catalyst. Since I used Catalyst, I needed a strong UIKit foundation since SwiftUI on Catalyst isn’t very good. SwiftUI is still required for some Mac-specific stuff like styled dropdown menus.

The export screen is probably the biggest mix since there’s a UIKit Metal view in a view controller, the buttons are SwiftUI and then it’s wrapped in a view controller.

It ended up being the best version it could be. If I used 100% of either, it’d be a bad experience, and trust me, I tried. SwiftUI will continue being a strong tool in my workflow, but no longer is it the first tool I try.

Many independent developers follow Apple’s lead by closely guarding what they’re working on from the public until it’s ready to ship. Steven Troughton-Smith, you yourself and others in the community have flipped the norm by publicly tweeting the development of your experiments and prototypes from their conception all the way to the App Store. What benefit do you see to this?

For me, the greatest motivator is seeing people enjoy my work. Seeing what works and doesn’t helps a lot with market research. I also find it great for marketing because people can learn about it as I go to build hype.

I do sometimes worry if someone will steal the idea before I finish, which is why there are some projects I don’t talk about publicly. 😉

What can people look forward to in future updates to Acrylic?

I can’t make any promises, but I really want to try out implementing ray tracing into 3D scenes with custom scene creation. Imagine working on a great wallpaper and then you see a switch on the sidebar that says “Ray Tracing.”

I also want to add more options for wallpapers like waves.

Leaning into the wallpaper-specific part of the app could be great, with a “gallery” view — maybe user-submitted wallpapers, or just randomly generated ones based on the color schemes you like.

There’s a lot of places it can go, really depends on if I want/can bring it there.

What do you think you’ll be working on next?

Before Acrylic, all my apps were built out of frustration. I used popular apps and wanted to make a better version, but the question wasn’t “can this be improved,” it was “can I improve this.” It helped me learn a lot, but it became the ultimate ego boost and was a negative way to build apps. I was never adding to it. “Imagine a Twitter client but with a ‘good’ design.” “Imagine a YouTube client but with a ‘more focused’ design.”

Acrylic was my first project built out of pure passion. It felt original. “iOS needs a wallpaper engine and people should easily be able to make good looking wallpapers.”
 


My next app will be my biggest app yet and it’s based on my passion for film making. I’ve been a film fanatic since I was very little, making short films on my portal video camera. It’s time to reenter that art form in the best way I can. I believe it will make a splash for pre-production tools. I can’t speak too much about it now, but I will have more information very soon.

It’s been two years in the making and I’m very happy with how it’s going — a culmination of everything I’ve learned in my 8 years of creating apps, working as a team and delivering a great product.

Isn’t it wild that Acrylic was a free-to-use name on the App Store in 2022?

It makes sense in some ways. It’s not a noun or something even common. I’m sure being in the “Graphics & Design” category also helps, but still. I’ve never gotten a one-word name on the App Store before. I’m very curious to see how SEO (search-engine optimization) goes for it.

It was harder to find a domain name.

Finally, if people want to give even more than 70% of 85% of $1.99 to the Gorilla Fund, where can they go?

Please go to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund website.

Click here to buy Acrylic:

Questions and answers have been edited from their original text for formatting, grammar and accuracy.

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Definition of ReGurmantating

re · gur · man · tat · ing

Apr 26, 2022



noun
the action or activity of shamelessly regurgitating the contents of Mark Gurman’s Power On newsletter, regardless of whether it contains any new information, week after week after week after week.

(British reGurmatating)

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Dilbert’s Home Computer

Even a comically expensive computer from January 2000 is pretty boring now.

Apr 20, 2022



At a time when adult cartoon sitcoms were absolutely blowing up — King of the Hill, South Park, Family Guy and Futurama all debuting between 1997 and 1999 — the Dilbert TV series launched to little fanfare, ultimately lasting just two seasons and thirty episodes.

I have mixed feelings about the series. Some of the humor is still truly excellent. Executive Producer Larry Charles was coming off of his instrumental work on Seinfeld and would go on to produce Curb Your Enthusiasm and Entourage. The voice cast (and guest stars) are stellar. Scott Adams, however, has taken up some truly bizarre political stances that make me glad the series went out when it did.

Dilbert’s Computer

In my personal favorite episode “The Return,” aired February 22, 2000, Dilbert orders a new computer online.

This was a pretty novel experience in the year 2000. Only a few years before, Apple had been outdone by their licensed partner, Power Computing. They were the first to create a totally online build-to-order store that was beating Apple at their own game through a lean supply chain. To make a long story short, Steve Jobs punched back by pulling the plug on the entire licensing program and building Apple’s own online store the next year.

Dilbert’s experience in the episode, of course, goes comically poor as he has his credit card information stolen, receives the wrong order thanks to a negligent delivery person and cannot get in contact with a human capable of processing a return. This much has aged like a fine wine.

What has aged less well is that Dilbert pays $27,000 for a computer described as such:

“It’s got redundant RAID drives, 4 terabits each, 3 millisecond access time; built-in DSL, wireless game ports, flat panel 30-inch monitor…”

“Truly you have ordered the finest home computer known to mankind.”

We can see that Dilbert’s current computer is, funnily enough, a Mac of some kind based on the desktop icons, the menu bar and the Mac OS scrolling sound effect (although the yellow tab-style titlebar screams BeOS).

Could you order such a Mac in January 2000?

The priciest spec Dilbert lists is the four terabit (or, 2× 500 GB) RAID array. Hard drives were $10 per gigabyte in the year 2000, so the storage would be $10,000 — plus $150 for the software to manage it. The most offensive part of this line is that saying “redundant RAID drives” is itself redundant as RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks.

“Access time” is a formerly relevant unit of measurement referring to the disk speed. Calculating access time gets extremely complicated very fast, but in short, a high-end hard drive could feasibly reach 3 ms.

Adding an AirPort card to a Mac cost $99. I’m not sure what the “wireless game ports” Dilbert is referring to are, but wireless USB game controllers existed at the time.

Apple’s only flat panel display at the time was the 15″ Studio Display; they would not make a flat-panel 30″ display until four years later. But one could certainly buy four of them and arrange them in a square for a 30″ experience at a grand total of $8,000.

Add these to the high-end $3,500 Power Mac G4 and we’re only up to $21,749, but that’s before we add in RAM, peripherals and sales tax. It seems pretty likely a computer with these specs from January 2000 could reach $27,000. A+ for accuracy.

What would such a modern Mac cost?

We can easily upgrade to 1 TB of internal storage on even the cheapest Mac for sale today, the $699 Mac mini. Hell, you can even order 1 TB of storage on an iPhone. Flash storage would also prove a hearty upgrade from the spinning disks in his machine.

While we don’t hear Dilbert say how much RAM he ordered, today’s base model Mac far exceeds the maximum amount of RAM one could order on any Mac of the time.

Yes, every Mac comes with Bluetooth for wireless game controllers — and, while we’re at it, internet access.

Of course, as I have covered extensively, a flat panel 30″ monitor can be had for as little as $300.

A Mac mini with these specs adds up to a hardly whopping $1,400, a far cry from $27,000. Not much has changed, though. Today, $27,000 will still get you something that’s obsolete within two years.

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An Enthusiast Car for Hypermiling

Apr 1, 2022



The formula is simple: take a popular vehicle, identify a demographic of car enthusiasts within the customer base and make a special trim level or derivative model to cater to their niche. This new special-purpose model acts as a halo car for the pedestrian model.

Auto manufacturers are not displaying the same such commitment to economy cars for hypermiling, a segment of car enthusiasts that care not about going faster with more but farther with less. Car enthusiasts that compete not on speed but fuel efficiency.

There are many legitimate reasons for this:

  1. Few people want to pay more money for a car that is, in many respects, worse.
  2. It is a small demographic. This could be due in part to a self-fulfilling prophecy; perhaps the demographic is small because it has never been catered to before.
  3. Auto manufacturers believe the market is being served by the advent of good and affordable electric cars. I would argue that no matter the drivetrain—gas, hybrid or electric—there is always room for more energy-efficiency. A gasoline car gets better fuel economy; an electric car gets more range.

Nonetheless, let us imagine a formula auto makers could use to turn a popular sedan into a hypermilers’ enthusiast car.

The Condor

The Condor is named for the large bird. The story here, popularly told by Steve Jobs, is that a condor in flight is the most energy-efficient form of transportation in nature. It is important to note that this isn’t actually true, but it makes for a good marketing story.

The Condor model makes the basic changes that are easy to switch out in a manufacturing line and that consumers expect when comparing trim levels: different tires, different interior materials, different engine options, perhaps even different exterior styling—but tailored for efficiency in mind rather than performance or luxury.

  1. Modeled after the Honda Insight, the tires are small and skinny. The rims are flat with small vents and cast from a lightweight alloy for aerodynamics. Fender skirts cover the rear wheels.
  2. The seats are made of a lightweight spongey material.
  3. The interior trim uses recycled plastics instead of metal and polyester cloth instead of leather.
  4. Rather than add vents for style, decorative elements are removed and creases are rounded out for aerodynamics.
  5. It comes standard with that engine auto-stop feature that is hated by everyone who doesn’t drive a hybrid—and it cannot be turned off.
  6. No sun roof. Sheet metal is lighter than a pane of glass.

The name pairs well as a suffix to many car names: The Honda Accord Condor. The Toyota Camry Condor. The Nissan Altima Condor. The Kia K5 Condor. The Volkswagen Golf Condor.

The California Condor

The California Condor is the extreme version. It is to the Condor as the Subaru WRX STI is to the WRX, the Volkswagen Golf R is to the Golf GTI, the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro is to the Tundra TRD. It pulls no punches.

  1. No air conditioning. The parts are heavy and running it reduces efficiency.
  2. Only the drivers’ window rolls down all the way. The passenger window only rolls down a little bit. The rear windows are totally fixed in place. Rolling down a window increases aerodynamic drag.
  3. No passenger-side mirror. Economy cars from the 1980s didn’t have them as standard, and this is surprisingly still legal.
  4. Many pieces of the interior are removed or changed in the interest of saving weight: no center console, cloth nets instead of door pockets and a glovebox, touchscreen controls instead of buttons on the dashboard.
  5. Carbon-fiber body panels wherever possible.
  6. Only two speakers. Speakers need big, heavy magnets.
  7. No rear seats.
  8. No rear windshield wiper.
  9. Only available in a two-door configuration if one exists.
  10. The name is a sticker, not a badge.

This would obviously be a ludicrous car very few people would buy. But in a world where the Aston Martin Cygnet existed, I think there is room for it.

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The Problem With ‘The Problem With ‘The Problem With Jon Stewart’’

Mar 20, 2022



John Gruber, ‘The Problem With ‘The Problem With Jon Stewart’’:

I watched the first episode and was bored to tears […] not a good sign when the show was in fact only 40 minutes long.

I’m not saying Stewart can or should only do comedy. I like serious issue-based shows, too, but the good ones […] The premiere of *The Problem With Jon Stewart* can only be described as “plodding”.

I broadly agree with Gruber’s assessment of the first three episodes: slower and dryer than other issue-of-the-week shows. Where I disagree is in his framing of The Problem With Jon Stewart as a serious show outside of his former work in comedy. The Problem With Jon Stewart is supposed to be a comedy show; the problem with The Problem With Jon Stewart is that the first few episodes are so unfunny that it hardly registers as comedy.

Out now are three new episodes from a new batch: ‘Stock Market,’ ‘Climate Change’ and ‘Media.’ I have found these significantly more enjoyable so far. They’re closer to figuring out what humor works on the show.

The opening segment with unscripted dialogue in the writers’ room still varies from fun to pointless, but I commend them for putting the backroom writers onscreen. Jon’s solo desk segments are getting a little better every episode as they work out the pacing of the show. The sketches in the middle of the episode are still bad, but no longer unbearably bad. The ‘Most Improved’ award goes to the panel discussion and one-on-one interview segments in the second half for the ‘Stock Market’ episode alone.

Ultimately, if you imagine someone who has only paid for one month of Apple TV+ and they don’t plan to keep it, would The Problem With Jon Stewart make the essential watchlist? No.1 There’s still some work to do.

The Problem With Streaming Television

Streaming television is in a state where dozens of streaming services are launching dozens of shows every month. It’s too competitive to launch a show that isn’t fully baked.

As recently as ten years ago, shows could launch to lukewarm reviews, but by the second or third season, they’ve figured out what the show really is. The TV Tropes list of ‘Live-Action TV’ examples for this phenomenon is over 15,000 words long.

Today, there’s just too much TV to waste time on bad TV.

Footnotes

  1. Ted Lasso, For All Mankind, Severence, Trying, Tiny World.

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