Monthly Archives: January 2016

New SSD for the iMac

In the most recent Six Colors subscriber magazine, Jason Snell talks about adding an SSD to his Mac Mini home server. It got me thinking about finally upgrading our old family iMac (late 2009!) to give it a little more life, so I ordered a new SSD for it today.

A side note about email newsletters: I subscribe to several, and while I love reading them, I can’t help but think that this great content should be on the web instead. Perhaps a copy of the newsletter text could be subscriber-only on the web just for the first 3-4 months after it has been published, and then open up to everyone. Ben Brooks has some more thoughts from the skeptical side of the newsletter debate.

Back to the iMac. The new SSD cost more than I was expecting ($200 + $50 tools), so I think it will serve mostly as a fun exercise in taking apart computers with my son rather than a great upgrade value. A brand new Mac Mini is still only $500, for example. But because nearly everyone in the family already has their own MacBook, or wants one, doesn’t seem practical to buy a new shared desktop computer.

That app rejection resolved itself very quickly. In the time it took to record a podcast and leave a comment in the Resolution Center, the app got a second look by review and is now approved. Thanks Apple! Hopefully minor updates before launch won’t trip anything up.

→ 2016/01/22 3:04 pm

New app rejected because I have paid web subscriptions but don’t use IAP. Sigh. Thought I would be safe if I never linked to the web site.

→ 2016/01/22 8:24 am

iPad thoughts for 2016

Over the holidays, or while on any vacation, I usually use iOS more often than my Mac. It’s easier to quickly catch up on email or fun stuff like Instagram without getting too pulled away from what matters: spending time with family and friends. So as I use iOS, I’ve been thinking about what might make the iPad better.

Last year Jared Sinclair blogged about some of the problems with the iPad, with ideas for “saving” it. The most interesting of these was his suggestion of a “Gatekeeper for iOS”, where iOS apps could easily be side-loaded onto iOS without Apple’s approval:

“These apps would be just as secure as apps published on the App Store. I recommend that Gatekeeper iOS apps be subject to the same API restrictions, privacy permissions, and sandboxing as apps distributed on the iOS App Store”

Daniel and I discussed this on Core Intuition episode 207. We acknowledged that as great as it would be, this compromise of Gatekeeper apps being subject to API restrictions might not be possible. The whole point of Gatekeeper is to leave Apple out of the distribution process, so there would be no place to impose such restrictions except at the API level. Still, I’d welcome any kind of side-loading.

Most Mac developers have wanted a Gatekeeper-like solution for iOS since the very beginning of the iPhone. Back in 2011, I wrote a post about Apple’s 30% cut and the lack of side-loading for iOS:

“Apple’s tight control over iOS has always been troubling. If there’s no way to install an app on the device without Apple’s approval, then Apple can make or break any business that builds for the platform. It’s an added risk for the thousands of tiny development shops for which the iPhone and iPad are otherwise perfect.”

But side-loading isn’t really holding back the iPad. What’s holding it back is the slow pace of progress in UI improvements. For example, the home screen remains virtually unchanged since iOS 3, and on the iPad Pro the classic grid of large app icons looks more like the Simple Finder than a way to manage and launch productivity apps.

More key areas of the UI need to take inspiration from iPad multitasking. While split-view and slide-over aren’t perfect, they’re something. Likewise for iOS extensions, which were such a step forward that we were willing to overlook the UI clunkiness. These new features helped Fraser Speirs switch to an iPad Pro full time:

“The introduction of multitasking in iOS 9 has made a significant difference to the way I work on iOS. I don’t need to rehearse the actual features here but suffice to say that I now find iOS extremely easy to get almost any task done.”

I’d like to see Apple experiment more. To not be afraid to try something new with the UI and ship it, as long as they still follow up and refine it.

Here’s a great feature idea to take multitasking further, from Stephen Hackett’s iOS wishlist:

“I’d like Apple to work on some way to share text and images between apps that are side-by-side. If I’m working in a text editor, I’d like to send a selected portion right into Slack, without having to worry about a share extension or dropping back to copy and paste to get the job done.”

Nilay Patel, in a 2015 wrap-up for The Verge, wrote that Apple has been setting the groundwork for new platforms, and that this year they will have to iterate and improve on what they’ve started. He sees the iPad Pro in particular as a step forward without a clear defining feature:

“There’s a chance we’ll all be using huge iPads as our primary computers one day, but to get there the iPad Pro has to do something so much better than a MacBook that all the things it does worse seem irrelevant. What is that thing?”

That missing “thing” is clear to me: the Apple Pencil is the best stylus that has ever been made for a device — tablet, desktop, or standalone display. It’s so good that I assumed I would sell my retina iPad Mini and use the iPad Pro exclusively.

That hasn’t happened. I realized when making the choice of which iPad to take downtown the other week that the Mini is still my favorite size. I hope as part of the next phase to Apple’s iPad platform that the Pencil makes it down to the rest of the iPads. It’s important that developers can count on the common availability of the stylus, just as we can count on multitasking and app extensions to set the pace of UI progress for the platform.

Deployed my new cross-posting code, with better links and smart truncation. Making this post too long for Twitter just as another final test. So far, working pretty well to continue my microblog posting workflow, then handling replies on Twitter.

→ 2016/01/21 12:40 pm

Finally trying Ulysses

I’m finally trying Ulysses. After posting about how I write blog drafts, a reader pointed out that Justnotes for Mac isn’t actively maintained anymore. I think Ulysses will make a nice replacement, both for my Dropbox folder of 1000+ notes, and also for longer, more structured writing I want to do.

Ryan Irelan uses that structure to organize courses for Mijingo:

“Each course is also a Collection inside of the courses collection, in which I have separate sheets for each section of the course (or even broken down into multiple sheets per section depending on the length)”

Ben Brooks is also trying to consolidate from the iOS 9 Notes app and others to just using Ulysses:

“This was my pain point, I often just simply forgot where I jotted something down. I don’t typically make tasks out of articles I am writing, so I remember what is what by looking in Ulysses, and if it isn’t in Ulysses I won’t go searching for it. Notes was the most convenient place to write, but also a bit of a black hole for writing.”

I can already tell that Ulysses is a great app. Looking forward to the upcoming universal version with support for the iPad Pro, too.

Not happy with IFTTT for cross-posting, because of poor truncation and obscured links. Working on a new custom solution.

→ 2016/01/20 4:00 pm

Ignoring follower counts

I’ve said before that there’s something about the 140-character limit that brings out both the best and worst in people. Nick Harris hints at this while writing about taking a break from Twitter:

“But largely ignoring the Twitter Noise Machine – particularly when my timeline becomes the Twitter Hate Machine – is going to be good for me.”

He also talks about the obsession with stats and follower counts, which Brent Simmons picks up on and carries further:

“I did have Google Analytics for a few months in 2014 when I was doing sponsorships. I spent too much time looking at the numbers and trying to make them go up. But no amount of going-up is ever satisfying: I just wanted more.”

When designing my new microblogging platform, I made a conscious decision to not even show follower counts. You can get the followers from the API, but I didn’t want to have the numbers right in your face when viewing someone’s profile. It’s too easy for us to make a judgement based on how many followers they have, and so miss out on whatever they have to say.

Sound Off and AlterConf

When I blogged about Brent Simmons’s list of women bloggers, I said that we need more diversity in what we read. That will naturally lead to more diversity in other areas, such as conferences.

But not everyone can easily get access to conferences or take advantage of everything they offer. Sound Off is trying to help with that, through efforts like funding for sign language interpreters, child care, and scholarships. Gus Mueller, also with a quote from Brent, says it well:

“Sound Off has some very worthy, and very realistic goals. And as Brent Simmons says, people of the future will look back and judge us for how well or poorly we expanded our tribe.”

And Ashley Nelson-Hornstein adds this:

“Sharing the sentiment that it’s important to create more opportunities for marginalized people in technology is great. Retweeting the voices of the marginalized to amplify them to your networks is fantastic. But the best way to drive change is with dollars and cents.”

I’m a little late linking to Sound Off, but it’s a good cause that needs our support. You can learn more here.

Had to run to the dentist right after posting to my blog, so now catching up on some Twitter replies. Thanks everyone! Fun experiment so far.

→ 2016/01/19 9:49 am

Here’s a Twitter feed

Whenever someone says “I don’t read RSS”, I actually hear “I don’t read Manton’s blog”. I could give plenty of reasons why they’re missing out by ignoring RSS — it’s still the best way to keep up with bloggers you like who aren’t linked or retweeted often enough to bubble up on Twitter — but some people won’t be convinced.

Over three years ago I stopped posting to Twitter. I know it was the right move on principle because there was a real cost in exposure, with fewer people actively keeping up with what I’ve been working on. As I’ve said before: it wouldn’t mean anything if it didn’t cost me anything.

And yet, many people get their news from Twitter. Since I started microblogging on my own site, I’ve had time to reflect on the role of indie microblogging and cross-posting. I think the IndieWebCamp has it right: publish on your own site, syndicate elsewhere. I wrote more back in July about cross-posting.

Most importantly, as I work on a microblog publishing platform of my own, how can I develop a solid cross-posting feature if I don’t actively use it myself? I’ve recommended IFTTT to beta testers, but only by using it myself can I know where the gaps in functionality are.

So I’ve been experimenting. All of my posts now go out to the Twitter account @manton2. This was an account I created 6 years ago for testing. Except for a few of the first tweets, I’ve cleared out the test content and given it a new life.

It’s worth noting some advantages and disadvantages to this:

  • I can write at my domain name and own my content, but have it automatically sent to Twitter for folks who are there. Unlike how I’ve been treating these cross-posts to App.net, I’m not sure whether I will stay engaged and answer replies on Twitter. We’ll see.
  • Most of my microblog posts are around 200 characters. These will get truncated on Twitter, with a link back to my site. Full essays get a nicer title and link. I’ll continue to improve this.
  • I’m effectively starting over with zero followers, compared to the 5000 followers I left @manton with. I have no plans to resume using my original account, though. Think of the “2” in @manton2 as a reminder that this is a mirror of my posts, and an imperfect one.

You can follow @manton2 on Twitter. Thanks for reading.

Lightweight universal apps

When the iPad first shipped, many developers embraced completely separate apps for iPhone and iPad. The argument was that they were different platforms and deserved special design attention (and separate revenue). I never bought this argument, and eventually — with the iPhone 6 Plus and multiple screen sizes — everyone agreed that it just made more sense to use universal apps.

At the same time, there’s a parallel argument that an app on the iPad shouldn’t just be a “scaled up” version of the iPhone. That if you can’t invest the time to do a universal app properly, don’t bother.

The redesigned Twitter iOS app was a great example of this. It was widely mocked for it’s poor use of space on the iPad.

With the iPad Pro and widespread iPad multitasking, I think this changes again. An iPad app that is designed exactly the same as its iPhone version is still very useful in slide-over and split screen. In fact, for many “iPad” apps I use every day on the iPad Pro, I use them in their compact layout more often than full screen.

My next app was designed for the iPhone. I spent some time trying to rework it with split views for the iPad Pro, but I just can’t justify the work right now to finish that effort. I’m going to ship it as a “lightweight” universal app anyway, though, so that it’s available in slide-over. To me, that’s a worthwhile compromise, significantly better than no offering on the iPad at all.

Submitted a new app to Apple for review this morning. Not sure when it will be released yet, but felt like it would be good to get it through the App Store review process just so that it’s ready.

→ 2016/01/17 8:27 am

iAd setback

I was confused at first by Apple’s iAd announcement to developers. I read it as iAd completely shutting down, but apparently it’s just the “app network”. Still, it’s a welcome setback for those of us who were never fans of iAd.

John Gruber doesn’t think Apple’s heart is really in it:

“When iAd launched, its biggest advocate among Apple’s leadership was Scott Forstall. In some ways I’m surprised it took this long for them to pull the plug. After Forstall, I don’t think anyone’s heart was in this.”

I agree. Back in 2010, I said that I hope iAd fails. It seemed at odds with Apple’s focus as a product company, not to mention hypocritical for a company with ad-blocking APIs. Apple and third-party developers should be united in encouraging users to pay for apps; iAd is a distraction from that.

Silos as shortcuts

As a follow-up on Twitter and links, I want to point to this great post from Rian Van Der Merwe about platform silos as “shortcuts”:

“The point is that publishing on Medium and Twitter and Facebook gives you an immediate shortcut to a huge audience, but of course those companies’ interests are in themselves, not in building your audience, so it’s very easy for them to change things around in a way that totally screws you over (remember Zynga? Yeah, me either).”

My current thinking on Medium is that it’s a shortcut to building an audience for a single post, but doesn’t really help build a true audience. In other words, you will get more exposure, and maybe one of your posts will be lucky enough to be recommended and included in Medium’s daily email, but after someone finds it they aren’t as likely to read your other posts and subscribe to your entire site.

We can’t talk about silos like Twitter and Medium without talking about cross-posting. Noah Read says:

“While it is relatively easy to post to a blog, syndicating that content to Twitter, Facebook, or Medium still requires additional configuration, which many users won’t do. I think it would be in blogging software’s interest to make these POSSE features a standard part of their core product. In order for the open web to not lose ground, ironically they will need to play nicer with closed platforms than they are likely to receive in return.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this too. For beta users of my new product, I’ve been telling people to use IFTTT to wire up cross-posting to Twitter. But that’s another step that will be confusing to people — an opportunity to lose interest and give up. Cross-posting should be a core feature.

Core Intuition 215

On this week’s Core Intuition, Daniel and I start with a recap of Daniel’s time at the tvOS Tech Talk in New York City. More from the show notes:

“Daniel and Manton reflect on their experience at the Apple TV tech talks, brainstorm app category ideas for Apple TV, and discuss the use of Twitter for customer support and how a 10K text limit might impact that. They also talk about Apple’s iOS 9.3 preview, rumors of a new iPhone 4-inch model, and speculate whether WWDC would ever move from Moscone in SF.”

It’s not too early to start planning for WWDC. Hotel pricing is a major issue this year, and I have a feeling people will be more scattered around the city than usual.