Category Archives: Technology

Siri is in the wrong game

While writing about the limited SiriKit support in the upcoming HomePod, Stephen Hackett points out one of the biggest problems with Siri:

While I’m glad to see some progress here, I think that it is time Siri become much more cloud-centric. Alexa and Google Assistant can do the same set of tasks across devices, while Siri still remains very device-centric. Apple has its reasons for this, but its approach could lead to a less-than-ideal user experience.

I agree. See my previous blog posts on wanting a more open voice platform and Siri’s slow pace of change.

We all know that Apple’s strengths are in design and having incredibly high standards. We love Apple’s attention to detail. When Apple competes directly with other products, these strengths always produce better products. Apple wins.

The problem for Siri is that Apple’s competition with Amazon and Google isn’t on a level playing field. Siri won’t “catch up” to Alexa because the architectures are fundamentally different, with SiriKit locked to the device while Alexa expands quickly to new products and thousands of extensible skills in the cloud.

Every week, Alexa gets better. Apple’s usual strengths won’t help them stay competitive because Siri isn’t even in the same game.

iPhone 8 review, X pre-orders

Jason Snell mentioned on this week’s Upgrade that he had found a way to frame his iPhone 8 review, and today he posted it. Where most iPhone 8 reviews last month seemed overshadowed by the upcoming iPhone X, I think Jason’s review may have benefited from a little distance from the September Apple event.

It also reminded me about the missing headphone jack, which in the excitement of the pre-orders I had forgotten about. Sigh. From the review:

These upgraders also get to experience for the first time what the rest of us had to come to terms with a year ago: A one-way ticket to Dongletown, courtesy of a Lightning-to-headphone-jack adapter required by the removal of the headphone jack.

And on wireless charging, which I’m equally skeptical about:

Inductive charging is slower than USB charging, so if I’m trying to top up my battery before heading out, I’ll invariably prefer plugging in a Lightning cable. Dropping the phone on top of the small circle of the charging pad so that it’s properly aligned for the charge—the phone indicates that it’s charging and a small light appears on the charger base—is not really any less difficult in terms of mental focus than plugging in a Lightning cable.

As Daniel and I have discussed at several points on Core Intuition, I think Apple really gambled on splitting the product line between the 8 and X, and the pronunciation fumbles only add to the confusion and perception that the 8 isn’t a cutting-edge product. It’s at once the best phone in the world and old news.

It remains to be seen whether this split will impact sales. I’ll be watching for the quarterly results and Ben Thompson’s take.

Meanwhile, I’ve stuck to my first impression that it’s time for me to have a phone with the best cameras again. That means the iPhone X. I’ll miss the size of the iPhone SE, but now that my iPhone X pre-order is wrapped up, I’m looking forward to trying something new, and hoping that it captures a little of that first-generation iPhone feeling, when we knew we were holding a bit of the future.

Updated to High Sierra

I installed 10.13 High Sierra today. It takes a long time, presumably because of the file system conversion. Make sure to block out a couple of hours.

Stephen Hackett has a full review. One of the most interesting features to me is Safari’s new ability to automatically enable Reader Mode when viewing certain web sites you configure:

Safari’s stripped-down view is learning some new tricks. The feature can be set to automatically engage, displaying text, images and video in a clean format, leaving ads and funky layouts behind.

Speaking of Stephen, his kids are running the Kids Marathon to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. You can read about it and make a donation here.

iPhone 8 standards

So many great iPhone 8 and iOS 11 reviews out today. My favorite aside has to be the headphone jack mini-rant in Nilay Patel’s The Verge review:

And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that there’s no headphone jack, which is still routinely annoying on every phone that omits it. Apple’s own headphone dongle is one of the lowest-rated products on the Apple Store, with just 1.5 stars. It’s been a year, and the Lightning audio ecosystem is still extremely immature.

When I was at STAPLE! last week I bought a t-shirt from an artist who had to enter credit cards into the Square app manually because he had lost his Lightning dongle for the Square reader. Minor inconvenience, and fixed with an extra $9 purchase from the Apple Store, but nevertheless a real compatibility issue that will never go away.

We’ll eventually get used to this. Many people already have, thanks to the AirPods. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t the wrong decision, though. (I’m happy to give Apple full credit when they embrace a standard, like Qi charging or USB-C.)

Face ID confidence

Some people are concerned that replacing Touch ID with Face ID is a design compromise. While I rarely give Apple the benefit of the doubt when they scrap an existing standard, like the headphone jack, this new Face ID skepticism seems premature. John Gruber writes:

There is clearly skepticism out there about Face ID. Some people think Face ID is going to suck, and a lot of people are flat-out assuming that they’re going to miss Touch ID. We saw the same thing with Touch ID when it was announced, and the skeptics were very wrong. I haven’t used it personally, but I am pretty sure already that the skeptics are going to be wrong about Face ID too.

With Touch ID, there are some obvious limitations that we just accept. For example, of course Touch ID doesn’t work with gloves on. How could it? But with Face ID, the technology is so advanced that we have no basis for judging when it should or shouldn’t work, so I think we’re going to expect it to work all the time.

For Face ID to be successful it has to be delightful, like a magic trick. The threat to magic is inconsistency. One glitch and the illusion is ruined forever, and you never believe in it again.

I’m not worried about Face ID. I’m not even worried about the notch, which is a compromise. Apple seems very confident in both Face ID and the iPhone X. Not confidence from hubris. Not feigned confidence, justified as courage. They actually believe they’ve got a winner, and so do I.

Waiting for the iPhone X

Michael Gartenberg writing for Six Colors about the iPhone X:

It’s arguably the most beautiful product ever made by Apple and the jewel in Apple’s crown. The aesthetics must be seen to be appreciated. This is something Apple competitors aren’t even close to. If the iPhone 8 raises the bar, iPhone X raises the bar so high it can’t be seen. This is, quite simply, the best smartphone money can buy.

High praise. Apple had me at the cameras, but I’m relieved that the design of the phone itself is so great. On Core Intuition last week I had worried that if the design fell short (or Apple did something clunky like put a Touch ID sensor on the back) that I’d have second thoughts.

This is the first iPhone in years that many people are going to stand in line for. It might not be priced high enough.

Gizmodo on RSS

David Nield of Gizmodo has a sort of re-introduction to RSS, with an overview on why it’s more useful than ever:

One of the main reasons RSS is so beloved of news gatherers is that it catches everything a site publishes—not just the articles that have proved popular with other users, not just the articles from today, not just the articles that happened to be tweeted out while you were actually staring at Twitter. Everything.

Obviously I’m a fan of RSS. Micro.blog has great support for it throughout the platform. But even though I subscribe to hundreds of feeds, I even caught myself recently loading a few favorite news sites manually instead of using the feeds. Doesn’t hurt to be reminded that there’s a better way.

Considering the iPhone Pro

The iPhone SE was an incredible value when it first shipped — a perfect balance of size, great camera, and nearly-flawless design. I still love mine. It’s arguably the best overall phone Apple has ever made.

The iPhone SE likely won’t see an update until next spring. At that point, the camera that was competitive at launch will be 2 generations behind. This isn’t a surprise; we knew this was coming. It’s just the more I see the photos from Traci’s iPhone 7 Plus camera, the more I’m pulled back to the cutting edge. The dual-camera approach is a major step forward.

Apple will announce new iPhones in a couple of weeks. Unless the design of the high-end “pro” version is a disaster, I plan to go for it.

iPhone introduction felt impossible

John Gruber remembers what it was like watching the iPhone announcement:

Apple had amazing product introductions before the iPhone, and it’s had a few good ones after. But the iPhone was the only product introduction I’ve ever experienced that felt impossible. Apple couldn’t have shrunk Mac OS X — a Unix-based workstation OS, including the Cocoa frameworks — to a point where it could run on a cell phone. Scrolling couldn’t be that smooth and fluid. A touchscreen — especially one in a phone — couldn’t be so responsive.

I felt the same way. Even the day I brought the iPhone home, I wasn’t sure that it was actually going to work. I was ready to be unsurprised if it turned out to be unstable — crashing often or overheating. It was stunning how good it was. It absolutely felt like a phone from the future.

One thing I had forgotten about from 10 years ago was the activation process, which was definitely not from the future. It was rooted in the past, connecting to iTunes like an iPod. Here are some of my tweets from that day, showing the long delay between picking up the iPhone from the store and actually using it, plus my last-minute decision to even wait in line:

6:34am: Good morning iPhone Day! Weather forecast in Austin for today: 40% chance of showers and storms.

10:15am: It’s only 10am but already realized I need to go to Plan B. Bribe friends already in line to use their 2nd iPhone purchase.

11:09am: Change of plans. Heading to the Apple Store now to join in the line-waiting fun. Will it be too late?

12:26pm: I expected rain, but that seems unlikely. It’s hot like a real Austin summer here in the iPhone line.

2:32pm: Hanging out in The Line with Jeremy of Barton Springs Software and @damon. Apple Store is closed. Had some lunch and a Starbucks soy latte.

4:03pm: 2 hours left. We can redeem our free Starbucks coffee coupons now. Excited! (About the iPhone. Not the coffee.)

6:30pm: Got my iPhone.

7:35pm: Activation will have to wait. Ratatouille.

8:18pm: Movies all sold out. Pre-activation dinner at Kerby Lane instead.

9:53pm: Activation took less than a minute. Also, no plan choice. Just $20 added on to what I already pay, I guess.

11:56pm: @danielpunkass Wait, what? You can make calls on it? (But seriously, you’re right. It’s a computer first and a phone second.)

Apparently I waited in line most of the day. I remember it only being a few hours. I also love how trivial these tweets seem. A big reason to have a microblog is because even the most mundane posts today carry extra significant years later.

MarsEdit 4 and microblogs

Great to see Daniel Jalkut announce a public beta of MarsEdit 4. There are a lot of new features in this version, but the one that I love the most actually might seem minor. It’s just a short line in Daniel’s announcement, under WordPress-specific enhancements:

Post Format support

For anyone using WordPress for microblogging, this is a big deal. It means you can post with the “status” post format for your short posts. It’s a really convenient way to post to a WordPress microblog from a Mac. (And of course, you can use MarsEdit to post directly to a Micro.blog-hosted blog as well.)

Preview of Sunlit 2.0

A few years ago, Jon Hays and I built an app for photos called Sunlit, powered by the App.net API. We evolved it to work with other services, like Flickr and Instagram, but as App.net faded away we could never justify the investment to rewrite significant parts of the app to bring it forward and keep it relevant. It also wasn’t clear what the app should do if we were to modernize it. So we let the app sit in the App Store, kind of neglected, and even discussed removing it from sale.

As I rolled out Micro.blog to Kickstarter backers, Jon dusted off the Sunlit project and experimented with something that should’ve been obvious to us earlier: Sunlit should post to blogs. And more than that, it should work well with microblogs and IndieWeb standards. It should become a great app for photoblogging. The new version of Sunlit can post photos to Micro.blog, WordPress, or any site that supports the Micropub API.

To play nicely with microblogs, we introduced a new post type in the app for single photos. For longer posts, you can still collect multiple photos together, add text, and post them as a story directly to your blog. There’s also a brand new editing interface with filters and advanced adjustments:

screenshots

Jon has put a bunch of work into this while I focus on Micro.blog. Sunlit 2.0 is already feature complete and in beta testing now. We expect to ship it sometime this summer.

The algorithm has ruined Facebook

Dave Winer writes today about how because of the way the Facebook news feed works, sometimes you never seem to hear from friends again because they’re demoted by the algorithm. Your friends are posting, but you never see what they’re saying. Also:

For other people you are a missing person. You being the person who dutifully informs all your Facebook friends of what’s going on in your life. You, the friend they never seem to think of. No surprise they’re not thinking of you. The Algorithm decided you don’t count.

If you want to see this in action, visit Facebook in a web browser and see what it shows you. Don’t scroll or click anything, just wait a few seconds and hit reload. Then hit reload again. And again. Each time you’re presented with a completely different view of what’s important. It’s unusable.

10.5-inch iPad Pro resolution

Federico Viticci reviews the new 10.5-inch iPad Pro at MacStories. On the screen size:

While some had assumed that Apple would take the same 2732 x 2048 display of the 12.9” iPad Pro and condense it to a smaller size, the company has introduced a new resolution in the iOS device matrix – a decision, I think, made to hit 264ppi on a 10.5” panel while retaining UI elements that are large and comfortable to tap. Cramming the large iPad’s display in this model might have resulted in a richer multitasking experience at an even smaller scale, but I believe touch usability would have suffered.

I assumed until reading Federico’s review that when my 12.9-inch iPad Pro was ready for an upgrade, I’d downsize to the new 10.5-inch. That no longer seems like a good choice. While my MacBook Pro is getting repaired this week, I’m using the 12.9 as my exclusive computer. The extra resolution in split view is really great. I don’t think I’d want to give that up.

More on Twitter’s 10 years

Stephen Hackett marked his 10th anniversary of using Twitter by writing about how great Twitter has been for connecting people. Of course, the company’s problems are also well known:

The company itself seems to struggle in getting even basic decisions right. I often joke that Twitter may be doomed, but I don’t say it in pure jest.

He made a similar joke on Connected 133 that Twitter will be gone in 5 years. I think it’s a toss-up. But one thing I’m pretty sure about: the hate tweets and harassment problems can’t be fixed by waving a magic wand. They are fundamental and must be planned for at the beginning.

More on algorithms and UI

Ben Thompson’s daily update email today covers fake news and algorithms. It’s a great post, although a little disheartening in the way that most coverage of filter bubbles and the election tend to be. One line in the closing paragraph:

Algorithms have consequences, particularly when giving answers to those actually searching for the truth.

It mirrors something I wrote in January about algorithms and curation:

Software has consequences. How it’s designed informs what behavior it encourages. If it’s built without thought to these consequences, it will succeed only by accident.

Quick posting via retweets on Twitter and re-sharing on Facebook contributes to the spread of fake news. As the New York Times article Ben links to says, fake news is “designed to attract social shares and web traffic”. Bad news stories with dramatic headlines can spread more quickly than they would if everyone posted an original comment with their link.

It’s too easy to click a retweet button without thinking. Fake news is as much a user experience and design problem as it is an algorithmic problem.

Twitterrific Phoenix on Kickstarter

I use Twitter much differently than most people. I haven’t returned to my @manton account in over 4 years, and instead I cross-post all my blog posts to @manton2. I reply and like tweets when I get mentions, but I don’t actually follow anyone.

But despite this weird use of Twitter, I follow the company closely and still maintain the Tweet Marker timeline syncing API. So I’m excited to see Iconfactory launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund new work on Twitterrific for Mac.

I’ve backed the project. It’s a good opportunity to support one of the pioneers of Twitter development.

Humans and algorithms

I’ve been following Seth Godin and reading his books for many years, but recently two of his statements caught my attention. The first is an older video episode with Gary Vaynerchuk, where Seth talks about why he has no presence on social media except automatic cross-posting of his blog posts.

The second is equally relevant to what I’ve been thinking about with Micro.blog. Seth says that we’ve surrendered control over how our software works to algorithms instead of human decision-makers who can take responsibility for mistakes. It’s too easy to blame the computer:

That person who just got stopped on her way to an airplane—the woman who gets stopped every time she flies—the TSA says it’s the algorithm doing it. But someone wrote that code.

Algorithms are a shortcut. They should give us more leverage to go further, faster, not dictate where we go.

The social web is now permeated with algorithms. Today, Twitter again promoted what’s trending higher up in their app. That may be a step in the wrong direction. Trends can sometimes surface the better parts of Twitter, but they’re also an invitation to view the worst possible tweets you’ll ever see.

Let’s not be afraid to add curation by humans. That’s not an admission of failure. It’s an acknowledgement that algorithms are imperfect.

Software has consequences. How it’s designed informs what behavior it encourages. If it’s built without thought to these consequences, it will succeed only by accident. For 2017, one of my goals is to slow down and be more deliberate about features that can have this kind of impact.

Microblogging community on Slack

Since I launched on Kickstarter, backers have asked if there should be a Slack community to discuss Micro.blog and related microblogging topics. I wasn’t sure. I know some people are already in multiple Slack groups, including the excellent IndieWebCamp IRC/Slack, and I also didn’t want to distract from any posts that should happen in the open on blogs.

Some discussion just fits better in chat, though. There’s an emerging community of indie microbloggers. Having a place to share tips, tools, and ask questions about Micro.blog just makes sense.

I’m experimenting with the Slack channel now, and I’ll be opening it to all Kickstarter backers next week. If you’ve backed the project before Monday, expect a backers-only project update with information on how to join.

App.net is shutting down

Dalton Caldwell and Bryan Berg announced the official shutdown of App.net today:

In May of 2014, App.net entered maintenance mode. At that time we made the difficult decision to put App.net into autopilot mode in an effort to preserve funds and to give it ample time to bake. Since then every dollar App.net has charged has gone towards paying for the hosting and services needed to keep the site running. Unfortunately, revenue has consistently diminished over the past 2+ years, and we have been unable to return the service to active development.

As I wrote about just last week, the founders of App.net deserve our thanks for trying something very difficult and succeeding beyond what anyone expected. I’m still amazed at everything they were able to do.

So, what now? I believe the next step for the open web and Twitter-like services is indie microblogging.

Dropbox, iCloud, and GitHub on the iPad

Federico Viticci has another fantastic long-form essay, this time about using the iPad Pro for a year. It’s the story of his iPad workflow plus mini reviews of each app that make using the iPad as a primary computer possible.

I haven’t finished reading the whole thing yet, but I’ve been paying particular attention to the theme of file management. I use Dropbox for my most important files — documents, notes, and photos — because I want them synced everywhere and accessible in an obvious, transparent way. iCloud is too opaque and app-specific.

Federico covers this conflict early in the essay with a list of iCloud downsides:

iOS apps like Documents and Workflow can’t access or display the contents of other apps’ folders. This prevents the existence of a full-featured iCloud Drive file manager that offers functionalities Apple doesn’t want to build in their iCloud Drive app. There should be an API to allow third-party apps to gain access to the entire contents of your iCloud Drive filesystem, just like there are APIs for photo and music access.

I’ll be happily surprised if Apple ever adds such an API. It seems unlikely. And if that’s true, it means iCloud will be permanently crippled compared to Dropbox.

The trend to new iCloud-first apps like Ulysses and Bear is fine. It doesn’t appeal to me, though. I use Ulysses on the Mac because I can sync with Dropbox. There are so many Dropbox-capable iOS text editors that I feel confident using my current favorite and switching whenever I want.

Federico also describes using GitHub and the iPad app Working Copy for collaborative editing:

Working Copy’s diff support has been a boon for how we edit Markdown and collaborate on articles. We can keep track of every edit and comment in a centralized location without creating duplicates. Working Copy makes it easy to follow the evolution of a document through multiple commits; every writer can chime in with their own suggestions and Working Copy will handle file merging and conflict resolution thanks to GitHub.

GitHub is useful for much more than code. I personally love the simplicity of Gists and GitHub Pages. It’s great to see how MacStories can use GitHub for editing articles, too.