Category Archives: Technology

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.

Apple Maps adds ChargePoint

A few of years ago we took a vacation to New York City and Montreal. We were taking the subway so often, I switched to Google Maps for its transit directions. I’ve been using Google Maps exclusively ever since.

Until now, there were very few reasons to go back to Apple Maps. Apple has been playing catch-up. Why use a product that is only adding features from a competitor, but not anything new?

This week Apple rolled out a unique feature that’s interesting to me: ChargePoint integration to find charging locations for electric cars. Ryan Christoffel covers it at MacStories:

Having spent several years building partnerships to ensure its data won’t lead any drivers astray, Apple has more recently been able to focus on integrating data that’s less important, but still quite useful. A few months ago we saw the company team up with Parkopedia to improve parking data, and now charging stations are a natural next step.

I rarely need this — and the ChargePoint app itself has more detail, such as how many spots are actually available — but I’m excited about it as a new feature. I hope that it represents a fundamental improvement across the maps platform. I’m putting Apple Maps back on my home screen for a while.

Twitter at 10 years

It was 2008 in Chicago, the C4 conference was wrapping up and I shared a cab to the airport with Alex Payne, who built the first Twitter API. I was so excited about the potential for the platform that I probably had a dozen ideas for Twitter apps. Alex and I sat at a cafe at the airport, waiting for our respective flights, and talked about the future.

Years passed. I did build and ship a few Twitter apps, including the popular Tweet Marker sync API. But I also grew disillusioned. I took a break from using Twitter.

Alex had left the company and Twitter was much different from a business and leadership perspective by the time the rest of the world started paying attention. Thousands of employees worked at Twitter. How many of them had experienced the early days of following friends’ tweets via SMS, when the service seemed genuinely new and important? The future had arrived but it was full of hashtags.

This year — with rumors of Twitter being acquired, with fake news and the election, with online harassment — many people have written about the future of Twitter. I’ve been paying attention again, experimenting with cross-posting. I missed the 10th anniversary of when I joined Twitter in July 2006, but not the date of my first tweet a few months later.

10 years is a good milestone to reflect on. I want to highlight a few posts I’ve read recently, and then wrap things up at the end.

What I like about this article by Faruk AteĹź is that he gives a sense of the major changes Twitter has gone through, most of which were difficult to fully understand at the time. On the change with @-replies:

The second thing is that when they started hiding @-replies to people you don’t follow, they stripped the user experience of a vital ingredient for civility: peer transparency. The tone of discourse changed much for the worse over time, following that new behavior of the timeline. Before the rollout, all your friends would see if you behaved like a jerk to someone; after the rollout that was no longer the case. It removed the natural consequences of bad behavior, thereby encouraging people to reap the benefits of such bad behavior much more frequently.

This is a theme across many posts, that we didn’t realize what all these changes were adding up to. I have some related thoughts about Instagram and another post on why today’s social networks are broken.

Next, Sarah Frier writes for Bloomberg about how Twitter leadership is losing faith in Jack Dorsey. That despite new features such as live video, Twitter failed to ship other development efforts and fell behind competitors:

Advertisers see potential in the company’s live video strategy, but they’re also being wooed by photo- and video-sharing app Snapchat, and Facebook’s Instagram, which has recently become more advertiser-friendly. At the time of Twitter’s 2013 initial public offering, those services weren’t close competitors. Now they both have larger daily audiences than Twitter.

As long as Jack Dorsey has 2 jobs, it will be easy to blame him for being unfocused. I don’t know if that’s fair. But when streaming live football gets so much attention, there do appear to be competing visions at Twitter.

Twitter is too expensive to acquire. It’s also too flawed for a company like Disney to take a risk on. So instead there was another round of layoffs. From Kurt Wagner at Recode:

Last year, Twitter also cut 300 jobs shortly after Jack Dorsey took on the CEO role full-time. (Or part-time, given that he’s also running Square.) The current feeling among those close to the company is that Twitter is simply too bloated, and pays too much in stock-based compensation for a company that’s still not profitable.

There are no guarantees for an unprofitable company. The only certain thing is that something will change.

Back to Alex Payne. He wrote a post 6 years ago about his time at Twitter, and his unsuccessful attempt to convince coworkers to decentralize Twitter. It holds up very well:

Decentralization isn’t just a better architecture, it’s an architecture that resists censorship and the corrupting influences of capital and marketing. At the very least, decentralization would make tweeting as fundamental and irrevocable a part of the Internet as email.

It used to be impossible to imagine that Twitter could fail. And today, it’s still unlikely to vanish or even change much overnight. But the web will be better if we assume that Twitter is a lost cause. From the 10-year view, it’s clear that Twitter has already changed.

Acquisition rumors come and go, although they seem more real this time, and we’re reminded that few web sites last forever. It’s time to prepare for a web without Twitter.

Talkshow.im archives

Shutting down a web site correctly isn’t easy. When Talkshow announced they were closing, I was surprised. Six months is a limited time to launch, get traction, and then wind down. But I was glad that they’d let any show be exported as an archive.

The archives aren’t available for very long. If you hosted a show on Talkshow, you have until December 1st to download it.

I downloaded a couple to see how Talkshow handled it. Just in case no one else grabs them, I’m copying them here: Pop Life episode 5 with Anil Dash and guest John Gruber, and the Six Colors live coverage for Apple’s September 7th event. I had Instapaper-ed both of these to read later anyway.

The archive itself is a simple .zip file with HTML, CSS, and user profile images. In the Finder it looks like this:

Talkshow.im Finder screenshot

This self-contained structure makes it very easy to re-share somewhere else. Credit to Talkshow for keeping this simple. But it also strikes me as so easy to keep hosting as static files, I wonder why Talkshow doesn’t keep the archives available indefinitely, which would preserve any existing links to these shows from the web.

Fixing AMP

When I first wrote about Accelerated Mobile Pages, there wasn’t a true implementation. Now we see how Google is rolling this out, and it has problems. John Gruber uses Ars Technica as an example:

On desktop browsers, these URLs do get redirected to Ars’s website. But on mobile they don’t. Share from one mobile device to another and nobody ever leaves google.com. Why would any website turn their entire mobile audience — a majority share of their total audience, for many sites today — over to Google?

Maybe this is inherent in how AMP works, and we should have predicted it. If Google’s AMP implementation must run in browsers, will there always be a layer of JavaScript and custom URLs that hide the original web site?

I’d prefer if Google added AMP support directly to Chrome. While it would be a much more limited rollout, it would feel more natural, with fewer drawbacks for publishers.

Competing news platform Apple News isn’t problem-free either. The apple.news:// shared links also add a redirect, with inconsistent behavior since not all platforms and countries even support Apple News. Apple News is an RSS reader that’s designed like a closed platform.

I want the web to be faster. Breaking links should not be part of the solution.

Indie publishing is about control

Andy Baio redesigned his blog recently and argued that blogs still matter because of ownership and control. Of course, I agree. And though it may seem far off, there’s no guarantee that Twitter will outlast our own blogs. Andy writes:

Twitter, itself, may be acquired and changed in some terrible way. It’s not hard to imagine a post-Verizon Yahoo selling off Tumblr. Medium keeps pivoting, trying to find a successful revenue model. There’s no guarantee any of these platforms will be around in their current state in a year, let alone ten years from now.

Ben Brooks followed up:

Having my own site gives me complete control to do whatever I want, whenever I want, however I want. I don’t understand why people ever want it any other way.

Words are powerful. Especially right now, why let anyone else have control over the format of our words and how they spread? Having a blog is a statement: our writing exists apart from the whim of an algorithmic news feed.

Today’s social networks are broken

Brent Simmons has left Twitter, frustrated with the diminishing value of the service, Twitter’s inability to deal with harassment, and more:

And then it was part of the system that helped elect a fascist President. This tipped it over for me: it’s no longer worth my participation. The shitheads can have it.

Facebook has also been in the news for its role in letting fake news spread. Ben Thompson has a long essay this week on it:

I get why top-down solutions are tempting: fake news and filter bubbles are in front of our face, and wouldn’t it be better if Facebook fixed them? The problem is the assumption that whoever wields that top-down power will just so happen to have the same views I do. What, though, if they don’t?

Maybe. Though while we should debate how to balance Facebook’s enormous power, there should be a parallel effort to move away from the centralized publishing model that gave Facebook that power.

Facebook has confused itself into thinking it is the whole internet, and so the principles of a free press that apply to the open web, also must apply to Facebook. No. While Facebook has a great responsibility to do the right thing, because they are so big, Facebook is just a web site.

I want Facebook to improve. I want Twitter to improve. But I can do very little to effect change at those companies, and some problems are so fundamental as to be essentially unfixable. The web wasn’t supposed to be like this, with all the power and all the writing concentrated into so few sites.

It’s time for a new social network that brings discoverability and community without the baggage of an ad-driven network that must grow to a billion users. A social network that embraces the open web, and freedom of expression, while preserving a clean timeline that can’t be interrupted by harassment.

Not just one new social network. I hope that many developers will work on products that encourage independent publishing again.

It’s going to take time to build. That’s why I started working on Micro.blog 2 years ago. I’ve made great progress, but I’ve also drifted, unfocused, uncommitted to finishing it, as if I knew something was missing.

Something was missing. The election results have made that clear. I was thinking big, but not big enough. The way forward must include both a decentralized publishing platform and the tools to encourage a safe community.

If you’d like to know when the beta is finally ready, please subscribe to the announce list. Thank you. Update: Edited to reflect the new name for Micro.blog.

USB-C vs. the headphone jack

I have no problems with USB-C on the new MacBook Pro. It will be a small headache at the beginning, for sure. But because it’s a standard there’s no long-term compatibility risk the way there is with removing the 3.5mm headphone jack.

More on that below. First, Marco Arment doesn’t think using USB-C exclusively is very practical in a pro laptop:

A pro laptop released today should definitely have USB-C ports — mostly USB-C ports, even — but it should also have at least one USB-A port.

John Gruber responds that Apple’s strategy is to speed up adoption:

They design for the future, and in doing so, they bring the future here faster. In the alternate universe where the new MacBook Pros ship with one USB-A port, the transition to ubiquitous USB-C peripherals and cables will happen at least a little slower.

I agree with that. But then he closes with this:

I’m not saying Marco is wrong. I’m just saying Apple’s not wrong either. It’s the same trade-off with the iPhone 7 headphone jack.

I don’t think it’s the same at all. It’s a convenient narrative to group together both the migration away from USB-A and the one away from 3.5mm headphones. There are important differences, though.

USB-C is a standard that is already used in many devices from different vendors. It will become universal. The immediate replacement for the 3.5mm headphone jack on the iPhone 7 is the Lightning EarPods which come in the box. Lightning is a proprietary cable that will never be used in non-Apple phones, and in fact is not even used on Macs.

You can argue that more and more people will use Bluetooth headphones, but I doubt they will be as common as wired headphones for many years, and there’s no guarantee that an all-wireless future will ever arrive. There is a very clear migration from USB-A to USB-C. The move to Lightning headphones and Bluetooth is much more complicated and not directly comparable.

Mixed feelings about the iPhone 7 future

Federico Viticci published a great review of the iPhone 7 for MacStories last week. He opened with this:

After nearly two years spent using a 5.5-inch iPhone, I’m accustomed to not having a compact phone anymore. The iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus have reshaped my iPhone experience for a simple reason: they give me more of the most important device in my life.

Followed by the main theme of his review:

In many ways, the iPhone 7 feels like a portable computer from the future – only in a tangible, practical way that is here with us today.

I’ll admit to some jealousy of Federico’s iOS-only lifestyle. Apple’s mobile OS is fun to use in part because of its simplicity and in part because of its inherent mobility.

If I could only choose one computing device — one phone, no tablets, no Macs — I would get an iPhone 7 Plus. The largest phone would make for a great mini tablet, nice for photography, writing, and the web. Maybe when I retire from living in Xcode and Objective-C, I’ll daydream about traveling the country with a backpack and iPhone 7 Plus, never tied to my desk again.

But in the meantime, I’m fortunate that I can have a Mac and a few iOS devices. When I go to a conference, I take the iPad Mini and big iPad Pro along with my phone. Because I have those larger devices available, I always want the convenience of carrying the smallest phone when I’m not sitting down to work. The weight and feel of the iPhone SE is perfect.

There’s a point in Federico Viticci’s review where he covers the headphone jack controversy. He hints at a common justification I’ve heard for some of Apple’s decisions, and I think it’s kind of a defeatist attitude that is worth commenting on:

You and I might wax philosophical about the beauty of RSS, HTML, MP4, and USB, but millions of people only demand easy tech and engaging social apps.

Federico is right, but this fact is exactly why those of us who are passionate about open standards must make a strong case for them. We can’t leave such important decisions only in the hands of big corporations and fickle customers. It’s our responsibility to write about what we believe is best for the web and best for the tech industry.

Apple’s control over app hosting

High-profile app rejections aren’t as common as they once were, so it’s even more shocking when an entire developer account is banned from the App Store. Dash from Kapeli ran into this after trying to migrate an account:

Today I called them and they confirmed my account migration went through and that everything is okay as far as they can tell. A few hours ago I received a “Notice of Termination” email, saying that my account was terminated due to fraudulent conduct.

Brent Simmons writes about the lack of transparency and minimal appeal process:

While this is legal, and within Apple’s rights, it’s not what we’ve come to expect from a moral judicial system. No matter what the context, we expect that the accused see the evidence against them, we expect avenues for appeal to be made available, and we expect proportional penalties.

I hope this misunderstanding with Dash will be cleared up soon. But issues like this will never completely go away until Apple separates app distribution from curation. As long as there is a centralized, tightly-controlled system for installing iOS apps, mistakes will happen.

Imagine instead if the App Store worked more like the web. Google dominates search, but they can’t shut down your web site. If you try to game the system, Google can remove you from search and limit your exposure. Likewise, developers should be able to distribute iOS apps with minimal involvement from Apple, yet apps that haven’t passed formal review won’t be searchable without a direct link, won’t ever be featured, and won’t show up in the top 100 lists.

A more open system for app distribution would cleanly solve several problems with the App Store. Apple would be more free to remove clutter from search results without necessarily purging apps from the store. And there would be a natural temporary consequence for suspected fraudulent behavior: simply demote the app, delisting it from search and featured collections.

Apple should focus on highlighting the best apps within a system that lets the app review team make occasional mistakes. There shouldn’t be such an easy toggle that wipes out an indie developer’s business.

Real work on the iPad

I only took iOS devices with me to Indianapolis last week for Release Notes. My iPad Pro with smart keyboard, for writing and podcasting; an older iPad Mini, for reading on the plane; and of course my iPhone SE.

A couple of months ago, Dan Counsell wrote about the iPad as a poor choice for everyday work:

I know a lot of journalists use the iPad full time, and that’s fine. The reason they can use it full time is that typing text has very low system requirements. However as soon as you need to move files from one app to another or unzip a document the iPad starts to make your life more complicated.

Part of the issue is that out of the box, the iPad can’t do everything that a Mac can do. The iPad needs apps. As Ben Brooks wrote about Dan’s ZIP file example:

It would be great if iOS expanded zip extraction as a built in tool, but it doesn’t, and yet a tool to do unzip is easily found, safe, and free.

iOS doesn’t have the Mac’s Finder. I could actually see a third-party iOS app centered on file management first, instead of just as an extra feature on top of text documents or photos — an app that blended a little of document providers, iCloud Drive, and app launching. Kind of in the spirit of the Finder-replacement PathFinder.

There are iOS apps to do pretty much anything. What often makes iOS slower to use is there’s less glue between apps and documents than on the Mac. No drag and drop between apps on iOS. Fewer keyboard shortcuts.

I love how Workflow sidestepped these issues with automation. I use a workflow for posting Instagram photos to my own blog. And Federico Viticci uses Workflow extensively. In a recent Club MacStories newsletter he shared how he used Scrivener and Workflow to write and prepare his iOS 10 review.

Another simple workflow I’ve used is to convert a podcast to MP3 from Ferrite. Every episode of Timetable was recorded on the iPhone or iPad. At WWDC, I edited Core Intuition on the iPad with the help of Ferrite and the web app Auphonic, which Jason Snell has also written about:

I was able to export and upload The Incomparable while sitting at a comfortable table in an Ashland pub, drinking their beer and using their free Wi-Fi. Auphonic did the rest, re-encoding the file as an MP3, tagging it properly, and uploading the result to both my Libsyn account and to The Incomparable’s FTP server.

When I was visiting a new coffee shop every day for 30 days, I loved taking the iPad with me because it was a lightweight, focused writing environment. With the right apps and workflows, it’s a fun computer to work on. I didn’t miss my Mac while traveling last week, and I expect iOS to serve me well on future trips.

Paying for iCloud storage

Dan Moren had an article at Macworld last week about the price for iCloud storage. Most iPhone users quickly run out of space for a backup, but they don’t use iTunes either because iCloud is just much simpler:

Apple’s philosophy is about making its products seamless and easy to use. Encouraging people to use iCloud backup is, in most cases, smoother and simpler than having to back-up to a computer.

It was 5 years ago that Steve Jobs introduced iCloud and talked about demoting the computer from the central hub:

Keeping these devices in sync is driving us crazy. So, we’ve got a great solution for this problem. And we think this solution is our next big insight, which is we’re going to demote the PC and the Mac to just be a device. Just like an iPhone, an iPad, or an iPod Touch. And we’re going to move the digital hub — the center of your digital life — into the cloud.

I use iCloud backup exclusively, with only the occasional manual iTunes backup when I know I’m going to immediately restore from it, such as when upgrading to a new iPhone. I expect most new iPhone users rarely sync with iTunes, relegating iTunes to a playback app for their iTunes rentals and Apple Music subscription, but not much else.

That’s certainly the case for my family, at least. After some lost photos recently, I told the kids I would bump their allowance by $1 to cover everyone having at least 50 GB of iCloud storage. No more excuses.

Maybe it should be free, as Dan Moren argues above. Or maybe Apple could encourage upgrades by bundling extra iCloud storage with Apple Music and other popular services. But even today, at 99 cents, it’s a small price to pay for cloud backup that you never have to think about.

App Store cleanup

I’m in favor of Apple’s upcoming app store cleanup, as long as they err on the side of keeping an app in the store if it isn’t clearly broken or abandoned. They should start slow with the obvious cases: crashing on launch, not updated for retina or even 4-inch screens. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit that could be programmatically swept through.

David Smith wrote about this kind of App Store cleanup over 3 years ago, arguing that Apple could do a lot without getting into the subjective quality of an app:

Instead, I think Apple would be well served to adopt objective measures for quality or at least freshness to improve the overall quality of the Store. Adopting such a policy wouldn’t fundamentally change the situation for developers; every app they submit already has to be approved. All that this would do is apply some of those same required criteria to the app on an ongoing basis.

John Voorhees picked up on the urgency of Apple’s new policy for an article at MacStories:

We are well past the time when the number of apps served as meaningful bragging rights for Apple keynotes. The directness in tone and relatively short time frame given to developers to make changes to apps sends a clear message – Apple is serious about cleaning up the App Store.

It remains a challenge to preserve the part of our culture that is captured in old apps. I wish Apple could aggressively curate the App Store and allow old apps to be archived and available. But that’s far from an Apple priority. For now, it’s right to present the best possible user experience for App Store customers.

Lightning headphones in the box

John Gruber has an article outlining the 5 (or 6) most likely options for what headphones Apple should include with the new Lightning-only iPhone. His hope is on wireless:

My hope is that they ship wireless ear buds. When Apple eliminates ports, they tend to do so in favor of wireless technology. Pushing wireless as the default would solve the problem of listening to audio while charging the device, too.

Maybe. I’m not in any hurry to see a Bluetooth-dominated headphone world, and I’m not sure Apple Support is either. Wired headphones work every single time you plug them in.

As Gruber points out, wireless headphones are also an upsell opportunity. While cheap Bluetooth headphones can be found, Apple’s Beats are $100 more expensive for wireless. Seems like this extra cost would unnecessarily eat into their margins.

Of course, I have no idea what Apple will do. I just know what I think they should do.

Apple should include Lightning ear buds in the box, and an adapter for older headphones. I don’t expect they will do this forever — the first year would be enough. But this small gesture of including an adapter would mostly erase the negative reviews and user frustration for Apple’s biggest repeat customers: not me, because I intend to keep my iPhone SE for a while, but for everyone who buys a new iPhone each year.

Removing the 3.5mm headphone jack will be the first time Apple has removed a major feature on the iPhone. They can spin Lightning as an improvement all they want; customers with existing headphones will be annoyed. Including an adapter would minimize the inconvenience at launch, without locking Apple in to any long-term technical compromise.

Core Intuition’s 8 years and overselling WWDC

It’s 2 weeks before WWDC, which means it was also 8 years ago that we published the first episode of Core Intuition. At WWDC that year, Apple showed off iPhone OS 2.0, MobileMe, and the iPhone 3G. The yearly cycle of improvements to the OS and hardware don’t look much different today, but Apple keeps rolling, and so the total changes since 2008 are massive.

For as many years as I’ve been out to San Francisco for WWDC (and to San Jose before then), each year I have fewer expectations for the conference itself. Some years I don’t even bother guessing or dreaming about new features — I have no pressing needs, no critical missing APIs, no questions to ask Apple engineers in the labs — and I’m happily surprised by whatever Apple gives us.

This year is a little different. It’s the first year that I can remember since the Mac OS X 10.0 and 10.1 releases where an Apple platform needed significant performance improvements to be usable for anyone except early adopters. The first couple versions of Apple Watch were ambitious on features, but now it’s time to do the less glamorous work of making the platform fast. I hope watchOS 3.0 will be the same kind of milestone that Mac OS X 10.2 was in that regard. (And like Mac OS X, I hope it can be done mostly in new software.)

Back to WWDC the conference. I’m still thinking about the interesting venue change for Monday to the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

In the discussion on Core Intuition 229 last month, I kept coming back to the idea that this change has to be about growing the conference to allow more developers. Since more people show up on Monday (press and business folks, for example, who have less interest in the technical sessions or labs), you could have a bigger space on Monday and then oversell the conference as a whole, knowing that some ticket holders wouldn’t be around later in the week back at Moscone West.

Maybe that creates more problems than it solves because of packed rooms and long lines to get into sessions, though. Now that I’ve had a while to think about it, it seems unlikely that Apple would risk making the conference worse just to squeeze in another 500 developers.

Could there be some creative layouts in Moscone West that Apple hasn’t tried yet? There are so many downsides to changing the venue that I want to believe it’s part of addressing the biggest issue with the conference: most people don’t win the ticket lottery.

There’s still the problem of hotels. Linking to my post about not giving up on WWDC, John Gruber singled out Airbnb as a bad solution, since there just aren’t that many rooms available. That’s true. And even worse, potential last-minute cancellations make Airbnb less reliable. Where I said Airbnb, I should have just said “cheaper hotel”.

(Alex Cash also has tips for saving money at WWDC. Casey Liss has a good post about rising hotel prices.)

Nevertheless, I know some developers are using Airbnb this year, and I’d like to try it next year for a change of pace and scenery away from the conference. With the convenience of Uber, the risk of settling for a place farther away seems low.

And finally, I’ve enjoyed many recent podcasts about WWDC. Two highlights: Under the Radar episode 24, where Marco Arment and David Smith share their thoughts on whether to attend the conference; and Thoroughly Considered 12, about not just WWDC but the value of attending or exhibiting at conferences as a company.

Wanting an open voice assistant platform

I’ve owned an Amazon Echo since it first shipped and it’s great. I also use Siri and like it, though I use it less often for the kind of random questions I might ask Alexa. But after watching yesterday’s Google I/O keynote, I can’t help but feel that eventually Google is going to be far ahead of Amazon and Apple in this space.

Here’s John Gruber writing at Daring Fireball about the keynote:

Google is clearly the best at this voice-driven assistant stuff. Pichai claimed that in their own competitive analysis, Google Assistant is “an order of magnitude” ahead of competing assistants (read: Siri and Alexa). That sounds about right.

The problem with a voice assistant is that the better it gets, the more you want it to do. You continue to ask it more complicated questions, pushing at the limits of the assistant’s capabilities.

Only Google has the expertise in web services and the massive amount of data to keep going beyond basic questions. I expect both Siri and Alexa will hit brick walls that Google will get past, especially in conversational queries that let the user drill down below the most popular, superficial facts.

That is, unless Apple can open up Siri. Not just plugging in new trigger keywords like Alexa’s “skills” API (which would be a good start), but maybe a complete way to extend Siri with third-party code that feels seamless to the user. Surfacing voice-enabled apps automatically through natural queries might be on the same scale of app discoverability as we saw when the App Store launched.

As Ben Thompson lays out well in today’s essay, Google faces a different internet than the open web on which they built their search engine. The default for all these new platforms — from Facebook to Siri to the App Store — is to be closed. There’s a narrow window, right now, for someone to take the lead on creating an open voice assistant standard built on the open web.