Procreate Pocket 

My thanks to Procreate for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote Procreate Pocket, their beautiful, amazing new illustration app for iPhone. It’s from the same team behind the Apple Design Award-winning Procreate for iPad.

I’ve been railing against arguments that iPhones are only for content consumption, not creation for years. Procreate Pocket takes creativity on the iPhone to a new level. It is simply remarkable. The UI is brilliantly simple, but offers a rich set of features. AirDrop and iCloud Drive support make it a pleasure to continue your artwork on your iPad. Procreate Pocket is an amazing app at an amazing price: right now just $2.99. Check out their website for more information and a gorgeous video of Procreate in action.

Fast Company: ‘The Real Story Behind Jeff Bezos’s Fire Phone Debacle and What It Means for Amazon’s Future’ 

It’s a couple of weeks old, but I just now got around to finishing Austin Carr’s detailed and incredibly well-sourced story on the making of Amazon’s Fire Phone. Scathing take on Bezos’s involvement:

And team members simply could not imagine truly useful applications for Dynamic Perspective. As far as anyone could tell, Bezos was in search of the Fire Phone’s version of Siri, a signature feature that could make the device a blockbuster. But what was the point, they wondered, beyond some fun gaming interactions and flashy 3-D lock screens. “In meetings, all Jeff talked about was, ‘3-D, 3-D, 3-D!’ He had this childlike excitement about the feature and no one could understand why,” recalls a former engineering head who worked solely on Dynamic Perspective for years. “We poured surreal amounts of money into it, yet we all thought it had no value for the customer, which was the biggest irony. Whenever anyone asked why we were doing this, the answer was, ‘Because Jeff wants it.’ No one thought the feature justified the cost to the project. No one. Absolutely no one.” […]

According to three sources familiar with the company’s numbers, the Fire Phone sold just tens of thousands of units in the weeks that preceded the company’s radical price cuts. The $170 million write-down confirmed that the launch has been a dud.

I disagree with Carr’s assessment that Fire Phone was doomed from the outset because it didn’t fit within Amazon’s brand. Carr writes:

What makes the Fire Phone a particularly troubling adventure, however, is that Amazon’s CEO seemingly lost track of the essential driver of his company’s brand. It’s understandable that Bezos would want to give Amazon a premium shine, but to focus on a high-end product, instead of the kind of service that has always distinguished the company, proved misguided. “We can’t compete head to head with Apple,” says a high-level source at Lab126. “There is a branding issue: Apple is premium, while our customers want a great product at a great price.”

Brands are the result of products and services, not the other way around. The problem with the Fire Phone is that it’s a shitty phone. That’s it. If Amazon had made a phone with compelling features — an iPhone-caliber phone — it would have done just fine, and Amazon’s brand would have grown. If you set out to make a premium quality phone, you have to deliver a premium quality phone.

Can You Hear Above 16-bit/44.1kHz? 

Dave Hamilton, writing at The Mac Observer:

This difference between 16-bit/44.1kHz audio and anything greater than that has been tested (a lotin double-blind tests) and we have yet to find any human that can reliably notice that difference. Bit depths greater than 16 bits and sample rates above 44.1kHz simply don’t matter as long as the data is converted properly (and our ability to do that conversion has improved substantially since those very first CDs were released at the dawn of the digital music era).

Sounds like snake oil.

On Apple’s Integration of TestFlight 

Supertop (developers of Castro and Unread):

In March last year, after a particularly frustrating few hours dealing with iOS beta device slots, I filed this bug report with Apple. I didn’t realize it at the time, but a solution to this problem was already in motion. In February, Apple had acquired a company called TestFlight. Over the next few months it integrated many of the original TestFlight features into iTunes Connect.

Shortly after iOS 8 was released, Apple opened this new beta testing service to iOS developers. When compared to the previous testing process, it is a major improvement and I am grateful to the team behind it. It is a sign that Apple cares about third party developers and about helping us improve the quality of the software we provide.

(Via Federico Viticci at MacStories.)

Former Microsoft Executive on HoloLens 

James Brightman interviewed former Microsoft executive Peter Molyneux — who worked on the Kinect — on HoloLens:

Molyneux commented, “The bizarre thing is a huge amount of effort and time and money goes into researching the tech, like the Kinect tech and scanning the bodies, and there’s always this one line that hardware manufacturers — whether it be Microsoft or anyone else — say and that’s ‘we can’t wait to see what happens when it gets into the hands of developers.’ Now if Apple had said that when they introduced the iPhone, I don’t think we’d ever end up with the iPhone! What really should happen is that they put a similar amount of money into researching just awesome real world applications that you’ll really use and that work robustly and smoothly and delightfully.

“They should spend as much money doing that rather than just on hardware tech and saying, ‘Okay developers, we’ll leave it to you.’ If you look at the cases where technology has worked well — touch is one of those, and Wii Sports and motion control; Nintendo didn’t introduce motion control until they had Wii Sports. You weren’t just playing a few demos. I just hope that for the Holo stuff that they really choose an application and make that sing.”

Bigger Than Hollywood 

Horace Dediu, on Apple’s having paid $10 billion to App Store developers in 2014:

Put another way, in 2014 iOS app developers earned more than Hollywood did from box office in the US.

Although the totals for Domestic (US) Box Office are not the complete Hollywood revenues picture, Apple’s App Store billings is not the complete App revenue picture either. The Apps economy includes Android and ads and service businesses and custom development. Including all revenues, apps are still likely to be bigger than Hollywood.

Amazing Home-Brew Pac-Man for Atari 2600 

The official 2600 version of Pac-Man was one of the most spectacular failures in video game history: incredibly anticipated, utterly disappointing. The maze was all wrong, the colors were all wrong, Pac-Man didn’t even turn his head up or down — and the sound, good lord the sound was like something you’d play to torture someone. The Ms. Pac-Man sequel largely righted all of these wrongs, and was a pretty good game.

But here, this guy has created an almost impossibly good Atari 2600 version of real Pac-Man. If Atari had shipped this in 1982 instead of the turd they actually released, it would have been a sensation, and I might never have left the house. It’s painstakingly faithful to the coin-op in appearance, gameplay, and most amazingly, sound.

(Via Dave Dribin.)

Yamaha Introduces New Mixer Aimed at Podcasters and Gamers 

Jim Dalrymple:

Usually when I write about Yamaha at NAMM, I’ll talk about new guitars or keyboards, but today the company introduced a new mixer it said was designed specifically for webcasting, podcasting, gaming and music production.

It’s sign of just how popular podcasting and video game recording have gotten that a company like Yamaha would start building hardware for them.

MacBooks Used by the Press at Microsoft’s Windows 10 Event 

How times change. When I first started attending Apple keynote events, around 2006 or so, it struck me that a majority of the media were pecking away on Windows laptops. Now, a majority of the press at Microsoft events are using MacBooks.

(Those seats sure look comfortable. The seats in Apple’s tiny Town Hall are more cramped than coach on an airplane.)

Obsidian 

New from Hoefler and Co.: a decorative typeface with algorithmically defined 3D effects. Gorgeous.

See also: Margaret Rhodes’s story for Wired: “An Ingenious New Typeface Inspired by Old Maps, But Made With Algorithms”.

Microsoft Is Pulling an iMessage With Skype in Windows 10 Messaging App 

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge:

The new Messaging app works by integrating Skype, allowing you to chat to Skype contacts or initiate video / audio calls. All the conversations are synced between PCs, tablets, and phones, and the new app looks like a lightweight version of Skype. It’s also identical to the Messages app on OS X, with the same two-panel interface and circular UI for contact photos. Microsoft has started linking Skype usernames with mobile numbers to make it easier to find friends who are using the service without having to know their user ID. That makes this whole approach a lot more like iMessage, allowing Skype users to chat to friends easily on the service. The main difference is that Skype is cross-platform so you can chat to friends on iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows, and more, while iMessage is limited to Apple’s platforms.

I know that iMessage syncing is one of those “functional high ground” issues some people are still seeing, but for me, it’s been working great. Seamless hand-off and continuation of conversations across devices. Seems like a no-brainer for Microsoft to go this route with Skype and Windows 10.

Not sure how Google can follow it, with Android being so beholden to the whims of carriers in the mass market.

BlackBerry CEO John Chen Advocates for ‘App Neutrality’ 

BlackBerry CEO John Chen:

Unfortunately, not all content and applications providers have embraced openness and neutrality. Unlike BlackBerry, which allows iPhone users to download and use our BBM service, Apple does not allow BlackBerry or Android users to download Apple’s iMessage messaging service. Netflix, which has forcefully advocated for carrier neutrality, has discriminated against BlackBerry customers by refusing to make its streaming movie service available to them. Many other applications providers similarly offer service only to iPhone and Android users. This dynamic has created a two-tiered wireless broadband ecosystem, in which iPhone and Android users are able to access far more content and applications than customers using devices running other operating systems. These are precisely the sort of discriminatory practices that neutrality advocates have criticized at the carrier level.

Therefore, neutrality must be mandated at the application and content layer if we truly want a free, open and non-discriminatory internet. All wireless broadband customers must have the ability to access any lawful applications and content they choose, and applications/content providers must be prohibited from discriminating based on the customer’s mobile operating system.

So Apple should be forced to build a version of iMessage for BlackBerry (and, presumably, Android and Windows Phone), and Netflix should be forced to stream movies to BlackBerrys. Good luck with that.

The Web Back-End That Handled Kim Kardashian’s Back-End 

Remember that thing with the nude photos of Kim Kardashian in Paper magazine a few weeks ago? Ends up long-time friend of the Internet Greg Knauss is the guy who engineered their server setup to handle the influx of tens of millions of page views. Paul Ford:

Hosting that butt is an impressive feat. You can’t just put Kim Kardashian nudes on the Internet and walk away — that would be like putting up a tent in the middle of a hurricane. Your web server would melt. You need to plan.

The Return of the Remaindered Links (Sort Of) 

Jason Kottke:

Sites like Reddit, Digg, and Hacker News and services like Facebook and Twitter are so much faster than this one man band… trying to keep pace is like racing an F1 car on roller skates.

Michael Tsai’s Roundup of Commentary on Apple’s Software Quality 

This month’s debate, collected in one place. I thought I’d read it all, but there were a few interesting pieces Tsai links to here that I hadn’t seen.

Rewatching How Microsoft Sold Us on the Kinect 

Ben Kuchera, writing for Polygon:

We’re not saying the HoloLens is just smoke and mirrors, it’s just worth taking a step back and realizing that what they’re showing right now is a huge leap from any technology that has existed before. How the hardware will eventually work in our homes, and at what price, are still open questions. Also, heck, it could be smoke and mirrors.

The Difference Between Microsoft and Apple 

Dan Frommer:

There, executives showed off what seems like Microsoft’s big bet — or at least one of its many bets — on the future of computing: HoloLens, a virtual reality headset that responds to hand gestures and voice controls. It looks technically impressive, and Microsoft’s demo went about as smoothly as something like this could have. This could become a big deal someday.

But it’s hard to get over how strange someone looks using it. And it’s hard to imagine Apple doing something like this any time soon, whether or not it’s the future of computing.

Microsoft hasn’t given up on phones and tablets, not by a long shot — a big chunk of today’s event was about all the new Windows 10 features for phones and tablets. But HoloLens (and Surface Hub — a huge 84-inch 4K touchscreen) are the right idea: trying to find the next big thing.

From the DF Archive: The Type of Companies That Publish Future Concept Videos 

HoloLens is a big step in the right direction for Microsoft: an attempt to wow us with an actual product, not a concept design. I suspect it’s Microsoft’s cultural affinity for pie-in-the-sky concept videos that led them to oversell HoloLens’s graphical fidelity in their product intro video.

Microsoft HoloLens 

Impressive announcement from Microsoft today — a set of goggles that projects 3D rendered images into your field of vision. No pricing or shipping date announced, but CEO Satya Nadella claimed it would ship “in the Windows 10 timeframe”, whatever that means.

A few thoughts:

  • HoloLens is like the anti-Glass. Google proposed Glass as something you’d wear everywhere, making you look weird and creepy. HoloLens is clearly something you’ll only wear in private, while working or playing. And, by virtue of being so much bigger and obtrusive, HoloLens is far more powerful and capable.

  • Microsoft’s two-minute product intro video is a cheat. Compare the fidelity and precision of the projected elements in the product video with the video of the actual on stage demo. Let me be clear: the actual demo is very cool, and I would love to try this out. But it’s nowhere near as cool as the downright Minority Report-quality effects they show in the product video. Under-promise and over-deliver is the way to introduce new technology.

Today’s Announcements From Microsoft: HoloLens, Surface Hub, a Smarter Cortana, Universal Apps 

Lori Grunin, writing for CNet:

Microsoft is now viewing Windows as a service, one that it wants “people to love on a daily basis,” and frames its goal as not building apps but creating “harmonizing experiences.” Touting its new open development strategy, the company’s representatives spent some time thanking the 1.7 million members of its Windows Insiders program for their feedback.

We were expecting — nay, hoping! — good news about price. And Windows 10 will be free, for some. During the first year after Windows 10 ships, Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 users get a free upgrade, as will Windows Phone 8.1 users. Microsoft also claims that it won’t cut off Windows 10 support — support will last for the life of the device.

There was all sorts of pie-in-sky banana pants stuff at the end of the event, but making Windows 10 free of charge is a big deal. Post-Ballmer Microsoft is indeed a new Microsoft.

The End of Trickle-Down Technology 

Ben Thompson on how the phone market has upended conventional wisdom about how technology expands in the market:

If indeed Apple has broken through with conservatives, this has powerful implications for all kinds of companies: smartphones are the tip of the spear when it comes to the spread of technology into every part of society, and what Apple may be demonstrating is that there is real money to be made amongst late adopters if the user experience is demonstrably superior. To be sure, Apple’s powerful brand and reputation is hard to replicate, but the iPhone’s continued success offers hope that customers will pay for true differentiation, not trickle-down technology.

The Onion: ‘Unsold Google Glass Units to Be Donated to Assholes in Africa’ 

The Onion:

“We are committed to positively impacting the lives of poverty-stricken smug pricks by distributing the surplus inventory of Google Glass to self-important fucks throughout sub-Saharan Africa,” a statement released by the company read in part, adding that the program will provide the optical head-mounted technology, as well as professional training sessions, to destitute communities of conceited dicks from Sierra Leone, to Somalia, to Botswana.

Due 2.0 

Four years ago I wrote a short entry about a then-new iPhone reminder app called Due. I’ve been using it ever since — I don’t think a day’s gone by since then that Due hasn’t been on my first home screen. The all-new 2.0 update is an improvement in every way, both functionally, cosmetically, and audibly (it has a bunch of new alert sounds to choose from). Interesting pricing scheme too: Due costs $5 for new users. Existing users get the new version for free, but have to pay $3 to unlock all the new features. A bargain for something so thoughtful and well-made.

See also:

Audio Hijack 3 

Gorgeous new interface in this major update to Rogue Amoeba’s venerable audio recording app. This is one of the best takes on Yosemite-style design I’ve seen.

See also: Jason Snell’s take on the app and interview with Paul Kafasis.

Apple, the Camera Company 

Vlad Savov, writing for The Verge:

For a show overrun with various visions of smart drones and smarter homes for the future, the present of CES was remarkably uniform. I saw more iPhones in the hands of CES attendees than I did Android phones across the countless exhibitor booths. From the biggest keynote event to the smallest stall on the show floor, everything was being documented with Apple’s latest smartphone, and it all looked so irritatingly easy. I don’t want an iPhone, but dammit, I want the effortlessness of the iPhone’s camera.

I’ve been spending time with a new Moto X this month, and the camera is definitely one of the sore points. It’s not about image quality, but the overall camera experience. Jumping over to the Android side of the fence shows you just how far ahead Apple is in this regard.

‘In Hindsight, I Think Everything I’ve Made Stinks’ 

Terrific interview with Loren Brichter at Objc.io:

So for a goal, I’ll just say “build tools to make us more enlightened.” I mean “enlightened” in a Carl Sagan sense, where we are the universe trying to understand itself. And we’ve long hit the limit of what we can think with our naked brain, so we need to augment it in some way with mind tools. But the tools right now are so complicated that it takes all your mental energy just to try and “hold” them, so you have nothing left to actually do something interesting. Or at least they’re too complicated for me. I’m not that smart.

Personally, I’m tired of the trivial app stuff, and the App Store isn’t conducive to anything more interesting. I think the next big thing in software will happen outside of it.

Jason Snell on CarPlay 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

So is CarPlay worth it? Right now, I’d have to say no. I’m encouraged by the potential here, but it feels slow and seems buggy. Though I’ve got this Pioneer CarPlay unit right here, I’m not planning on installing it in my car… at least, not yet. An Apple-designed interface in my dashboard sounds like a great idea, but until there are more third-party apps — and until third-party apps actually work well — maybe it’s just as well that CarPlay devices are still few and far between.

If You See That ‘If You See a Stylus, They Blew It’ Quote, They Blew It 

The Macalope, on people making hay over Steve Jobs’s 2010 “If you see a stylus, they blew it” quote and rumors that Apple is going to unveil an optional iPad stylus:

In 2010 following the launch of the iPad, Steve Jobs famously said “if you see a stylus, they blew it.” His comment targeted earlier tablet products that relied on styluses for input as opposed to focusing on finger input.

True! And guess what? He was right. If you need a stylus for the general operation of a tablet, it’s junk. Is a stylus good to have in certain use cases? Oh, guess what again, that’s a different question.

Expect this to come up about a thousand times if Apple really does unveil a stylus.

Ming-Chi Kuo Predicts 12.9-Inch iPad to Ship With an Optional Stylus 

Eric Slivka, reporting for MacRumors:

KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is back with another report outlining his belief that Apple will launch a stylus as an optional accessory for the company’s rumored 12.9-inch “iPad Pro”. With the new iPad’s larger screen, it will likely prove popular with enterprise and creative users who tend to have more need for a stylus and Kuo believes Apple will fill that need with an in-house solution. […]

Kuo believes the stylus will be an optional accessory rather than included standard with the new iPad, as the relatively expensive stylus would drive the base cost of the iPad too high.

Worth noting because Kuo has a remarkable track record — I don’t think anyone has better sources in the Asian supply chain.

The Verge Leaks Their Own Super Bowl Ad 

Estimated cost for a 30-second spot: $4 million.

The spot feels generic to me, like 30 seconds of stock video footage, and oddly, doesn’t even include The Verge’s logo. If you’re going to drop all that money on a Super Bowl ad, I say run an ad that people will remember.

Update: The NYT reports that it’s an attention ploy:

The Verge, a technology website owned by the online media company Vox, said on Tuesday that it would be airing a Super Bowl advertisement, before revealing that it would in fact be spending just $700 on a regional spot in Helena, Mont.

Great job getting everyone to watch a crummy milquetoast commercial.

Good Timing 

Andy Boxall:

Less than a month ago, I purchased Google Glass. What I didn’t realize was that as a “Glass Explorer,” my journey of discovery would be a relatively short one. Google has announced it’s to stop selling Glass to the general public — which presumably foreshadows an end in support — and will concentrate on a new, as yet unseen version of Glass.

Buying Google Glass a month ago should have triggered a trap door under Boxall’s chair.

Another One Bites the Dust: MacUser U.K. Closes 

Are there any mass-market Mac magazines still printing?

BiteMyApple.co 

My thanks to BiteMyApple for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. BiteMyApple is a retail website offering a wide range of accessories for the iPad, iPhone, and other Apple devices — every one of which is a successful Kickstarter project. It’s a fascinating premise for a store, and a great selection of elegant well-designed products.

Back to the Nimitz 

Speaking of the classic Mac era, Zac Bir has rediscovered the joy of the greatest keyboard ever made, the Apple Extended Keyboard II:

I quickly came to the realization that the Model M and the CODE were right out. The Model M because of its 101-key layout. I didn’t want to have to do too much training to figure out where and how I’d fit in an affordance for the Option key, and the CODE, while ostensibly supporting a Mac layout via DIP switches, felt a little bit like capitulating to a default-Windows-world. I quite like the WASD v2 with the available Mac layout (and I encourage you to play with their online keyboard designer. Colored keycaps! Fonts! Layouts!), but the price was a bit off-putting. I looked (very) briefly at the Unicomp, and quickly closed my browser tab. The aesthetics left more than a little to be desired. So I found myself back in the 90’s, looking for an Apple Extended Keyboard II. After reading an article about making your own USB adapter for the AEKII, the bug was planted, and the deal was sealed.

Building your own USB-ADB adapter isn’t necessary, of course — I’ve been using a Griffin iMate ever since Macs went to USB. What’s funny is that the translucent Bondi Blue iMate now looks more dated than the AEKII.

About Boxes From Vintage Mac Applications 

Nice collection from Riccardo Mori. One of the gems: a prerelease beta of ResEdit that solicits bug reports by postal mail.

Paul Thurrott Launches New Site 

Paul Thurrott:

Hi, I’m Paul Thurrott. You may remember me from such web sites as Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows and Windows IT Pro, and from podcasts like Windows Weekly and What the Tech. And with that Simpsons reference out of the way, I’d like to welcome you to my new web site, thurrott.com. If you enjoyed the goings-on at the SuperSite, you’re going to feel right at home here.

Here’s Thurrott saying goodbye to SuperSite for Windows, which he founded by himself 16 years ago:

Sixteen and a half years ago, I hopped on a plane in Phoenix and headed off to a Windows NT 5.0 Reviewer’s Workshop in Seattle. Little did I know that this event would forever change my life: It led to the creation of what I thought would be a one-off web site first called the Windows NT 5.0 SuperSite, which of course then grew into something much bigger. But today, I’m saying goodbye to the SuperSite and heading off on a new adventure.

Déjà Vu All Over Again 

Ars Technica back in 2004, looking like Ars Technica, “Apple to Slow Down the Pace on Mac OS X”:

Tevanian conceded that Apple’s current annual upgrade schedule “is not a sustainable rate. But you’ll still see us going really fast,” he said [and] rebutted comments that Apple had alienated some of its customers with the rapid pace of Mac OS X upgrades.

Overcast’s 2014 Sales Numbers 

Marco Arment:

Nobody ever wants to talk about money.

But current and prospective indie app developers could really use more information on the subject. […]

I’ve decided that the potential educational and market-research benefits to others of adding Overcast to the mix will be greater than the risk of people thinking I’m an asshole for doing so. I hope this is helpful to anyone researching the indie iOS market or thinking about entering it.

The best news is that slight uptick on his revenue curve at the end of the year. That’s a sign of sustainability.

Monument Valley in Numbers 

Fascinating look at the download and revenue numbers for Ustwogames’s fantastic game, Monument Valley. iOS positively dominates Android in terms of sales and revenue.

Touché, Xiaomi 

Ben Thompson noted Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun mocking the iPhone 6’s camera bump during his introduction of the bump-less Mi Note. Ouch. (The Mi Note is 6.95mm thick; the iPhone 6 Plus is 7.1mm thick.)

I’d wager a handsome sum the iPhone 6 Plus takes better photos than the Mi Note, but it’s rare for Apple to leave an opening like this for design mockery.

See Also: Thompson’s full live event coverage.


Siri Improvements

I’ve noticed over the past year that Siri is getting faster — both at parsing spoken input and returning results. I use iOS’s voice-to-text dictation feature on a near-daily basis, and it’s especially noticeable there. I’ve been using a Moto X running Android 5.0 the past few weeks, so today I did a side-by-side comparison between Siri and Android’s Google Voice Search, asking both the simple question, “What temperature is it outside?” Both phones were on the same Wi-Fi network. Siri was consistently as fast or faster. I made a video that shows them in pretty much a dead heat.

My point here isn’t “Siri is better than Google Voice Search”, or even “Siri is as good as Google Voice Search”. Once you get past the superficial level, they’re different enough that it’s hard to make a blanket one-is-better-than-the-other comparison. I’d even agree that Google Voice Search is better at many complex queries, and, further, that “What’s the temperature?” is a very simple question.

But: it’s a question I ask Siri almost every day, before I get dressed, especially during winter. I want to know whether it’s going to be just plain cold, or really fucking cold. When Siri debuted in 2011, it was often (usually?) relatively slow to parse your spoken input, and slow to return results. Your mileage may vary, but for me that just isn’t true any longer. Siri has also gotten much, much better while on cellular networks. Part of that is surely that LTE networks are maturing, but I suspect part of it is Apple’s doing as well.

Nor is my point about which service presents the information in a more attractive or useful layout. My point here is simply this: Siri is noticeably faster than it used to be. Even just a year ago, I don’t think Siri could have held its own with Google Voice Search pulling information like the current temperature or sports scores, but today, it does. Apple has clearly gotten much better at something everyone agreed was a serious weakness. Two years later, I don’t think “Google is getting better at design faster than Apple is getting better at web services” feels true any more.

Notes:

  • After I posted that video to Twitter, DF reader Steven Op de beeck made an overlay showing his results in Belgium. Outstanding Siri performance.

  • Here’s a Storify collection of just about every response to my “Just me, or is Siri getting a lot faster?” tweet.

  • My 2010 piece for Macworld, “This Is How Apple Rolls”, on the company’s pattern of steady, iterative year-over-year improvements to its products, seems apt.

  • I think this is a case that shows how important first impressions are. Quite a few of the responses I got on Twitter were along the lines of, “I don’t know, I gave up on Siri years ago.” No product or feature is ever perfect when it debuts. Quite the opposite, brand-new products/features usually debut needing numerous obvious improvements. But, ideally, they should debut on the right side of the “good enough to engender affection” line. The original iPhone had no third-party apps, EDGE networking, and lacked copy-and-paste. But we loved it. Siri, I think it’s clear in hindsight, debuted on the wrong side of that line. It’s harder to change a negative perception than it is to create a positive one from a blank slate.

  • Lastly, a rather obvious but important observation: Improvements to Siri across the board — reducing latency, improving accuracy, increasing utility — are essential to the success of Apple Watch. And — given the previous note on first impressions — it’s pretty important that Siri integration on Apple Watch work well right from the start. Apple will find itself in a deep hole if voice dictation via Apple Watch gets saddled with an “Egg Freckles”/”Eat up Martha” reputation. 


Apple and Eras of Flux

Dr. Drang, in an excellent piece on l’affaire Functional High Ground:

I think a lot of us have lost our spirit, and that’s a problem for Apple. Apple may not think so — its financial statements would argue that it’s in great shape — but it’s being buoyed by an excellent run of hardware releases and a certain amount of inertia. Eventually, though, it runs the risk of becoming another Microsoft, with users who do more complaining than praising. When a company’s best users lose their spirit, it loses their leverage.

Every company’s downfall is different. Microsoft didn’t have a major update to 2001’s Windows XP until 2006’s Windows Vista, which was rejected by its customers. The “fix”, Windows 7, didn’t ship until 2009. I can’t help but wonder whether Apple’s recent focus on annual significant-but-not-hubristic (read: Longhorn) updates to Mac OS X is an attempt to do the opposite of what Microsoft did to lose its edge with Windows. The annual schedule keeps OS X from stagnating, and keeps Apple from biting off way more than it can chew, leading to a years-long death march that never actually ships. (See also: Copland and Pink from Apple’s own history.)

But in avoiding the problems of stagnation and hubris, it feels like Apple has run into a different problem: nothing ever feels settled and stable. If the pattern Apple has established the last two years holds, by the time the loose screws get tightened in iOS 8 and OS X 10.10, we’ll be getting developer betas of iOS 9 and OS X 10.11 at WWDC. And as Guy English has keenly remarked numerous times, the annual schedule means that by now — that is, January — a lot of engineering talent in Cupertino is being directed to next year’s OS releases, leaving less talent on the task of tightening the remaining loose screws in last year’s.

Apple’s decade-ago development schedule for OS X now seems downright leisurely.1 10.0 was a glorified public alpha — more of a proof of concept than a usable OS. 10.1 followed just a few months later in September 2001. 10.2 shipped in August 2002, 10.3 in October 2003, and 10.4 (Tiger) slowed things down by not shipping until April 2005. That schedule was close to annual, but in those years, Apple was just picking low-hanging fruit. Mac OS X was incomplete, inconsistent, and slow when it debuted. Those first few years were about making it more complete, consistent, and fast. It’s fair to say, in hindsight, that 10.4 Tiger was the first good release of Mac OS X, the first one that truly delivered on the promise of a union between Mac OS and NeXTStep.

And then 10.5 (Leopard) didn’t ship until October 2007, after having been promised for June of that year. That was the time Apple issued a decidedly Jobsian “Hotnews” post acknowledging that Leopard — which even if it had shipped on time would have appeared more than two years after 10.4 — would be delayed an additional four months because Apple had pulled engineering resources to work on the original iPhone release.

It was then another two years before we got 10.6 (Snow Leopard), which Apple proudly marketed as having no new features. That’s not true, of course — Snow Leopard had plenty of new features, including significant new technologies like Grand Central Dispatch, Apple’s solution to parallel computing. But it really was true that Snow Leopard didn’t introduce many new user-facing features. It was exactly what Apple billed it as: a shoring up of the OS’s technical foundations. It was then another two years before the release of 10.7 (Lion) in June 2011.

So from April 2005 through June 2011, Apple released only three major updates to Mac OS X, one of which had “no new features”. Again: an almost leisurely pace by recent standards. But this led to criticism that Apple only cared about iOS. Predictions that Apple would soon enough abandon the Mac were common.

It’s a hard balance to strike. When Mac OS X releases were roughly biannual, we complained that Apple was neglecting it. Now that the releases are annual, we’re complaining that they’re going too fast.


Guy English, earlier this week, regarding Marco Arment’s argument that “We don’t need major OS releases every year”:

Sure, it’s a pain in the ass for us at times. But “we don’t” is starting to echo through the people for whom iOS devices were a revelation. These devices made people believe in the magic of technology again. Now? I hear a lot about planned obsolescence and buggy software.

“No! I know these people and I swear that’s not at all their intent!”

That really only goes so far.

The worst thing is that it’s seldom anything big, onerous or serious. It’s just weird little things that don’t work that add up to create the impression that “computers” are incomprehensible.

I don’t regret upgrading from iOS 7 to 8, or from Mac OS X 10.9 to 10.10. I definitely don’t want to switch to Android or Windows. But I’d like to think that a year from now, I’ll be running new versions of iOS and OS X that don’t do much more than what today’s versions do — instead, that they just do those same things more reliably and consistently.

My hope is that the reliability issues we are seeing in iOS and Mac OS X in recent releases are largely the inevitable result of Apple going through numerous transitions simultaneously. Extensions, XPC, iCloud Drive, Continuity — these things require coordination between all three of Apple’s platforms (mobile, desktop, cloud). That what we’ve been seeing the last few years is this decade’s equivalent of the first few years of Mac OS X — rapid development and flux that precedes an era of relative stability and a slower pace of change. Let iPhone, iPad, and Mac settle in — and let the rapid change and flux flow through Apple Watch, CarPlay, a new Apple TV, and whatever else comes next. 


  1. iOS has always been on an annual schedule, with .0 major releases accompanying each new iPhone generation, but even there, some of those iOS releases weren’t very ambitious in terms of new features. Apple was busy picking low-hanging fruit — iOS 3’s biggest feature was Cut/Copy/Paste. (Seriously, we went two years without Cut/Copy/Paste — crazy, right?) 


On Charging the Purported USB-Only MacBook

Tons of feedback from readers regarding how a USB-only MacBook might charge. I’ve collected a bunch of them from Twitter here. Among the recurring ideas:

  • iPads don’t have MagSafe, and generally aren’t used while charging, so maybe this new MacBook is supposed to work like an iPad, unplugged. Possible, I suppose, but I think this train of logic would lead one to argue that Apple should stop making MacBooks and everyone should just use iPads. The whole point of MacBooks and iPads being separate devices with completely different form factors is that people use them for different tasks, and in different environments. iPads are usually held in hand,1 lessening the need for MagSafe protection. Plus, even if this new MacBook has absolutely staggering battery life, if people can plug it in while using it, they will, at least sometimes, which means MagSafe trip protection would still be useful.

    Note too that iPads come with Lightning cables that are only 3 feet long. MacBooks come with very long cables. If this new MacBook ships without MagSafe of any kind, perhaps the cable is only 3 feet long, iPad-style, reducing the chances that you even could position it in a way that the cable could be tripped over. That’d sure be frustrating for anyone who leaves the house with an uncharged MacBook, though.

  • Maybe it’ll still have MagSafe, but somewhere else on the cable. A lot of readers suggested that the MagSafe connector could move to the AC adapter, or that you’d use a MagSafe-to-USB-Type-C dongle. Requiring a dongle would be gross (and easily lost). I’m not sure what to think of a MagSafe connector on the AC adapter, but something along these lines seems like the most likely answer.

  • Apple Watch-style inductive charging. That’s a great idea, but I’m not aware of any inductive technology that carries sufficient current to power something as big as a laptop. If any company could bring such technology to market this year, it’d be Apple, but I’ll believe it when I see it. But also: where would this connect on the MacBook? If it’s on the bottom, wouldn’t it prop up the whole laptop at an angle? The sides are too thin. That leaves the back of the display, like maybe it’d connect on the Apple logo. That strikes me as ungainly.2 


  1. Yes, I know, many people use hardware keyboards and prop their iPads laptop-style on a table or desk for writing, but I think it’s fair to say most iPad usage is hand-held. 

  2. Speaking of Apple Watch-like technology, Mark Gurman, in his report on this purported new MacBook, also claimed that its trackpad no longer physically clicks. If that’s true, I can’t help but wonder if they’re introducing “taptic” feedback. Apple has always prided itself on the quality of its trackpads — they’re the best in the industry, by a long shot. iOS touchscreens don’t have any physical feedback, but they do have *visual* feedback when you tap and drag. And on the Mac, *clicking* and *tapping* are two different things. I can’t help but think you’d want some sort of physical feedback — and if it doesn’t actually click, that means haptic feedback. 


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