Tag Archives: apple

Apple apologists

The hardest transition for fans of Apple Computer from the 1990s is realizing that Apple no longer needs us to defend the company. If I’m sometimes critical of Apple, both here and on Core Intuition, it’s because they’re the largest tech company in the world.

I will always hold Apple to a very high standard of excellence. They’ve earned it. When airline flight attendants tell passengers to turn their Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones off along with the usual warnings about oxygen masks and life vests, we shrug and laugh because it’s Samsung. From Apple, we expect higher quality and attention to detail, not shortcuts.

Steve Jobs has been gone for 5 years, but the spirit of building insanely great products is well-rooted at Apple. Apple employees are doing incredible, passionate work.

And yet the company itself hardly resembles the struggling computer maker of 20 years ago. Apple is a giant corporation now. Unlike its employees, who have the best intentions, giant corporations are by default selfish, arrogant, and rarely courageous.

Apple does a lot of good for the world. I doubt there’s another company even approaching Apple’s size that does as much, from renewable energy to safer materials to workplace diversity. But that good doesn’t absolve them of criticism.

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.

Paid search and App Store profit

Reacting to a Bloomberg article about Apple adding paid search results in the App Store, John Gruber writes:

This sounds like a terrible idea. The one and only thing Apple should do with App Store search is make it more accurate. They don’t need to squeeze any more money from it. More accurate, reliable App Store search would help users and help good developers.

The Bloomberg article almost makes it sound like there’s a 100-person team working on paid search. I doubt that’s true. More likely, there’s a team working on several improvements to the App Store, including better search.

Daniel Jalkut is also very skeptical:

It’s hard to see how paid placement would consistently benefit either Apple or its direct customers. It’s unlikely that paid listings would be used to highlight apps that are in line with Apple’s other goals for the store.

He rightly points out that making money from the App Store is Apple’s secondary goal. It’s more important to have an ecosystem of apps that make the iPhone itself indispensable. As I argued in a blog post in 2011 about free apps and distribution, I don’t think the App Store should be a source of significant profit for Apple at all.

And if we’re keeping score with old posts where I write not what Apple should do but what I wish they’d do, see “I hope iAd fails” from 2010. iAd is shutting down in June.

I just can’t believe Apple would prioritize paid search over all the other App Store feature requests that developers have. So I prefer to ignore the paid search rumor and instead take away from this article just the good news: Apple has a new team focused on improving the App Store.

Patience and impatience in the tech industry

There’s a great line from an iPad Pro article by Ben Brooks, where he’s discussing how Steve Jobs was always conscious of shipping only Apple’s best work:

The key difference between Gates and Jobs isn’t the vision, it’s the patience, or if you prefer the unwillingness to ship something which isn’t great.

I’ve been thinking about the time just before the iPad was announced. We didn’t know what form it would take, how much it would cost, or even what OS it would run. At the time, I even wanted it to run Mac OS X. From one of my blog posts in 2008:

The primary market for a Mac tablet is the millions of people who look at the Wacom Cintiq and drool. An Apple tablet has to run full Mac OS X because it has to run Photoshop, Acorn, and Painter.

It’s easy in hindsight to say how wrong I was, that of course it should run iOS. And today I’d agree; iOS 9 on the iPad is great. But I thought a tablet would be particularly good for artists, and basing it on the Mac would be the only way to hit the ground running with a stylus and mature graphics software.

That brings us back to patience, and how Apple rolls and iterates. It has taken 6 years from the original iPad introduction to the iPad Pros we have today that fulfill what I had hoped a tablet could be. Was it worth the wait? Yes. But that’s a long time, and a more impatient company might’ve taken a different path to get here, and they wouldn’t have been wrong.

I’m not actually thinking about Microsoft here, but Amazon. Amazon is so impatient not just with hardware development but everything else that even overnight delivery for their customers isn’t fast enough.

When I pre-ordered the Amazon Echo on a whim a year ago, I’m not sure that Amazon really had any idea what they were doing, whether it would flop or succeed, or if anyone would understand it. A year later, they own the market for this kind of device and it’s spread by word of mouth because the product is good. If Apple ever makes an Echo competitor it will be years from now and only because someone else proved the idea first.

Patience is good, and I’m glad that Apple has a great balance between innovating on brand new products and perfecting existing concepts. But I’m also glad that not every company is as patient as Apple. I think the industry makes better progress when some companies aren’t afraid to ship something half-baked too early.

Apple event non-product focus

Dan Moren writes for Six Colors about the structure for the 1-hour Apple event today, of which only about half the time was spent on new products:

“If the Apple-FBI fight isn’t yet about public opinion, it probably will be if the matter ends up going to Congress. So it’s no surprise that Tim Cook is going to use his bully pulpit to push Apple’s track record on the welfare of its customers and the world at large, rather than how many products it’s sold and how much money it’s made.”

I’d like to see this continue at future events. Leave the record sales numbers for the finance call, and instead focus on what good Apple is doing because they are big, not just how they are big. Even though I own some Apple stock, I do not personally care that much about the precise magnitude of iPhone shipments this quarter.

As for the new products, nothing to complain about. Since the $10,000 Apple Watch Edition didn’t get a $50-dollar price drop like the Apple Watch Sport did, guess I’ll skip that purchase and get an iPhone SE instead.

iPhone 5SE

Mark Gurman reveals at 9to5Mac that the new phone I’ve been waiting for will be called the 5SE:

“The ‘se’ suffix has been described in two ways by Apple employees: as a ‘special edition’ variation of the vintage 4-inch iPhone screen size and as an ‘enhanced’ version of the iPhone 5s. Indeed, the upcoming ‘5se’ features a design similar to 2013’s flagship but upgraded internals, software, and hardware features that blend the old design with modern technologies from the past two iPhone upgrades.”

Seems odd to keep the “5” name for a phone that more closely resembles the iPhone 6/6S except for size. But I don’t really care what it’s called. This phone matches my expectations or exceeds them. Fantastic that it even supports Live Photos.

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.

A8 or A9 for the iPhone 6C

I’ve talked about my hope for a new 4-inch iPhone several times on Core Intuition, and a few times on this weblog, like here and here. The rumors keep growing, and Stephen Hackett has written out his thoughts on a potential iPhone 6C:

“The easy assumption is that the 6C would replace the aging 5S as the free-or-very-cheap option, but the recurring rumor of the 6C being powered by the A9 makes me think this may slide in roughly where the iPhone 6/6 Plus currently sits in the lineup.”

I’d love to see an A9, but I’m not counting on it. I think an A8 is fine too, mostly matching the internals of the latest iPod Touch. This wouldn’t be competitive with the iPhone 6S but it would still be a great upgrade from the iPhone 5S, which is the primary phone for anyone (like me) who still clings to the 4-inch design.

The larger 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch designs will remain the top of the line iPhones for years to come. The 6C doesn’t need to change that; it’s not a peer to the larger phones. It just needs to clean up all the money Apple’s left on the table from customers who want a smaller phone. I’ll buy one right away.

Timetable episode 5

I just published episode 5 of my new short-format podcast, Timetable. I’m having a lot of fun with this. Producing an episode that’s only 5 minutes long means I can experiment without investing too much time.

As I was listening to some other podcasts this week talk about the Twitter news, it occurred to me how important it is to have a good mix of podcasts, just as it is with blogging. Many of the most popular Apple-related podcasts hit the same news stories each week and have nearly the same opinion. Don’t get me wrong; I listen to a bunch of them and they’re great. But it’s a reminder to me that for Timetable, and especially for Core Intuition, not to be afraid of having a more contrarian role when it’s appropriate.

There’s nothing controversial in the latest episode of Timetable, though. Just me talking about getting some stamps to finally send out stickers.

Phil Schiller and the App Store

Apple announced some leadership changes today, including that Phil Schiller will now lead the App Store on Apple’s various platforms:

“With added responsibility for the App Store, Phil Schiller will focus on strategies to extend the ecosystem Apple customers have come to love when using their iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch and Apple TV. Phil now leads nearly all developer-related functions at Apple, in addition to his other marketing responsibilities including Worldwide Product Marketing, international marketing, education and business marketing.”

You may remember that Phil Schiller has gotten involved in controversial App Store rejections in the past, going back to 2009. See this post from Daring Fireball about Ninjawords, and another article at Techcrunch by MG Siegler.

On recent episodes of Core Intuition, and in a blog post, I’ve argued that Apple can’t just make small improvements to the Mac App Store anymore. The time for slow iteration is over; now they have to make big changes to get developers back. I’d like to believe that putting Phil in charge is exactly that kind of first big step.

Update: Less optimistically, though, there was this post in 2012 from Rogue Amoeba.

Accelerated Mobile Pages from Google

The project technical overview for AMP has the goals and basic info. In a nutshell, the new format encourages a return to more bare-bones HTML, with some added functionality for common web patterns. On the balance between bloated ad platforms and user experience:

“Embedding an ad or analytics often implies giving up control of what eventually happens to a site because they can typically inject any JavaScript they want into pages. AMP HTML does not allow this. We realize that both ads and analytics are an important element of monetization on the web, and so we need to support them: our goal is to realign monetization with great user experience.”

Instead, “tracking pixels” are used for analytics. These should be easily skipped by ad blockers, but apps that support AMP will need to use a custom web view anyway, where ad blockers on iOS aren’t allowed. This may continue to limit the appeal of Safari View Controller.

Wired covers the announcement and describes how AMP might be integrated into Twitter and other native apps:

“One surprise beneficiary of AMP may be Twitter. While it’s not a publisher per se, it’s becoming an increasingly important player in news, most recently with the launch of its Moments feature, which makes news easier to follow on Twitter by organizing Tweets in a chronological, coherent timeline. Now, Twitter will automatically load any articles that are compatible with AMP as AMP files, meaning they will benefit from the same speed inside the Twitter app.”

There’s more on GitHub. On the surface this seems like a more open approach than Facebook Instant Articles or maybe even Apple News Format (which is finally public). That WordPress is supporting AMP is a good sign.

Gravity and the App Store

Dan Moren, writing at Six Colors about the rejected app Gravity:

“Really, what Apple needs is a small group within the App Store review team to flag apps that are pushing the envelope in smart, respectful ways; work with those apps’ developers; and present overall recommendations to App Store leadership—perhaps even reporting directly to Eddy Cue.”

I love this idea. It would both minimize unfair app rejections and help innovative apps bubble up to the featured sections in the App Store.

Scott Knaster visits the Steve Jobs movie office

Scott Knaster blogged about his day advising the crew of the new Steve Jobs movie:

“Every room had things taped up on the walls. Giant blown up pictures of the different events they were going to re-create. One entire wall was nothing but ancient Mac error messages. Another was photos of buildings where different Apple events happened. One wall had pictures from the Internet of random Apple employees from the ’80s.”

Apple seems intent on downplaying this movie as inaccurate and unfair to Steve, but it’s not supposed to be a documentary. It’s promising that they asked Scott Knaster for help getting some of the everyday details right. I’m really looking forward to it.

Peace for the web

I haven’t paid too much attention to ad blocking until this week, even though I had been running the iOS 9 beta since WWDC. Several content blockers were released yesterday, like Marco Arment’s new app Peace. Marco writes:

“You won’t believe how fast browsing the web can be without the bloated, privacy-invading junk that too many publishers force on you without your knowledge or consent.”

Today, Nilay Patel has an essay framing the issue as a fight between Apple, Google, and Facebook, with the web as a casualty:

“And with iOS 9 and content blockers, what you’re seeing is Apple’s attempt to fully drive the knife into Google’s revenue platform. iOS 9 includes a refined search that auto-suggests content and that can search inside apps, pulling content away from Google and users away from the web, it allows users to block ads, and it offers publishers salvation in the form of Apple News, inside of which Apple will happily display (unblockable!) ads, and even sell them on publishers’ behalf for just a 30 percent cut.”

I’m conflicted on this. I hate ads, and I think good publishers can adapt, but I’m also concerned that some progress we’ve made in native apps and user experience could be offset by steps back in open platforms. The health of the open web is more important than any one company, including Apple.

I think it’s a bust

The movie Draft Day doesn’t really have any business being good, but somehow it is anyway. I don’t even like football that much — who has time for it when there’s basketball? — but I’ve now seen this movie several times and love it. The movie actually gets better instead of worse on multiple viewings.

It also has a number of memorable lines. One of them is this, said by Kevin Costner’s character about the college football star who everyone thinks is the next greatest thing: “I think he’s a bust.” Five simple words that undo all momentum.

And unfortunately that’s still how I feel about Swift. I’m following Brent’s blog posts about learning Swift and I’m trying to come to terms with whether to adopt the language, and I finally got it. I already have a capable quarterback in Objective-C, and I’m not ready to rebuild my roster yet, risking everything on a young language with so much promise but less real-world success.

No matter how much Swift has improved, no matter how much everyone fawns over it, I still can’t shake the feeling that it’s a hype that someone else’s team needs. For me, it won’t end up solving the problems I have when building apps. For me, it’s a bust.

WWDC 2015, basketball, and cartoons

Throughout the week I posted about WWDC to my microblog, but I thought I’d write a longer post with the week’s narrative. It’s useful to have these to refer to in the future when all the WWDCs blur together and I’ve forgotten which event was which. Where it adds any details I’ll link to a few of the shorter posts.

So let’s go back to Sunday morning a week ago when I arrived in San Francisco, ticketless but ready to learn and meet up with friends. What a great day. First burritos and coffee in the Mission, then to Oakland for the NBA finals, game 2. I had signed up on the Golden State Warriors mailing list a couple weeks earlier to get in on the pre-sale tickets. Excepting the nearby San Antonio Spurs, I’m almost never going to just coincidentally be in the same city as an NBA finals game. I couldn’t let that chance slip by.

Golden State Warriors

And it was an amazing game. Outwardly I was rooting for the Warriors — high fives to fans when the team came back to force overtime, wearing my new yellow shirt they gave everyone at the game. But inwardly I was also marveling at LeBron’s dominance and happy to see the series tied up. I want to see this thing go to 7 games.

Monday was the keynote and later the Cartoon Art Museum / NeXT fundraiser, with beautiful art on the wall from one of my favorite films this year, Song of the Sea. Tuesday I tried to catch up on some code at Sightglass Coffee, watch sessions at WeWork, and installed the iOS 9 beta on my retina iPad Mini. In the evening on this day and others there were parties, though I only attended a few.

The Talk Show

The Talk Show live with guest Phil Schiller was a great surprise. I’m so happy for John and his success. Developers who have only known Daring Fireball after it was already fairly popular may need this important reminder: John Gruber started a dozen years ago with a blog that no one read, just like the rest of us, and this week he conducted the best interview of a senior Apple executive I’ve ever seen. If you think it’s enough to just throw random quips to Twitter, it’s not enough. Blogging is still the best way to build an audience. (Don’t miss Marco’s post about the event and what it means for the new Apple.)

I have very little to complain to Apple about this year. Maybe the keynote was a little long, but the topics they hit and the new user features and APIs were exactly right. I’ve got Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan installed and will require it for my next Mac app.

Golden State Bridge

Toward the middle of the week I wasn’t feeling particularly great — not sick, but not really upbeat enough to get excited about new APIs. I escaped the city for the afternoon on Wednesday, visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum and then walking down to Crissy Field toward the Golden Gate Bridge. I stretched my arms out wide to catch the wind and felt refreshed in a way that the stagnant weather back in Austin this time of year can’t hope to provide. I remember this tweet from 2012 and it’s always true again, year after year.

Thursday morning I caught a session at AltConf before heading to the airport. Flights were delayed out of SFO because of fog, so it was 3 hours waiting in San Francisco, and another 3 hours waiting in Phoenix after a missed connection. But it’s all good. WWDC was a little weird for me — not because of anything Apple did, just because I was a little wistful, and distracted by email and non-WWDC happenings too.

Nevertheless I’m inspired by the week. The success of both AltConf and now Layers, not to mention all the other smaller events and keynote watch parties, point to a very strong WWDC for years to come.

True cost of the Apple Watch

Kirk McElhearn writes (via Thomas Brand) that when you include the cost of buying an iPhone, the actual cost of the Apple Watch is $900 or more:

“That’s $349 for the cheapest Apple Watch – the Sport model – and $549 for the cheapest iPhone (the 5s; I don’t count the 5c, because it’s too limited). This is the unlocked price for the iPhone, of course; you can get one cheaper if you commit to a contract.”

While I generally agree with the sentiment, I have to take issue with his dismissal of the 5C, which I’ve been using as my primary phone for over a year now. I’m an iPhone developer, so if it’s good enough for me it seems adequate for regular users who just want to use the Apple Watch. In fact, the opposite of Kirk’s argument is actually true: pairing an Apple Watch with the 5C makes the phone less limited than before by adding Apple Pay to it.

The 5C unlocked is $450, which drops the total price with watch to $800. And really, it’s a non-issue, since nearly everyone excited about the watch already has an iPhone.

When Apple shipped the first iPod, it required a Mac. Later they supported Windows, and today the iPod Touch is completely untethered and requires no computer. I expect we’ll see a similar transition with the watch becoming increasingly more useful as a standalone device, but there’s no rush to get there.

Jordan Breeding

Last week at NSDrinking we had one of our biggest turnouts yet. At one point, we’re talking about programming jobs, meetups, and Apple, and Jordan Breeding was mentioned. Not in the context of having passed away, but just in remembering something he had said or done. A stranger listening to the conversation would have no idea that Jordan wasn’t still a member of the community.

This struck me as exactly right. I think anyone would would want to be remembered as who they were, not how they left us.

Like many in our developer community, I’ve thought about Jordan Breeding at certain moments over the last couple months. Patrick Burleson shared a story about his close friend:

“For those that knew Jordan, they know that he was a incredibly generous and caring person. He did so many things for so many people, it’s a wonder he ever got anything else done.”

Episode 135 of the iDeveloper podcast opened with a segment remembering Jordan. Scotty and John did a great job of capturing what he meant to the community. Scotty says:

“Everybody has said really the same things about him. Firstly, how clever he was. He was an incredibly intelligent person. But secondly, how generous and humble he was with that intelligence, and how he shared with people. He always made you feel like you could be better, and do better, and was always having a laugh about things.”

Guy English also dedicated episode 60 of the Debug podcast to Jordan. On his blog he writes:

“Good guy. I didn’t know him well but he always struck me as someone I’d like to get to know better. I lost out on that and too many others did too. Those who knew him universally loved him.”

Kyle Richter worked with Jordan and had this to say, echoing Patrick’s quote above about how Jordan went out of his way for other people:

“We were having dinner with some friends in California and my iPhone was acting up. Jordan volunteered to break away from the pack and come to the Apple Store with me. You rarely get to pick your last time with a friend, my last time with Jordan was him fighting with the Apple Store staff on my behalf. That was Jordan, even with everything he was going through he never thought of himself first.”

And finally, a collection of tweets via John Gruber. You know when reading any of these that Jordan will be remembered for a long time. He accomplished a great deal and went far, quickly, and that progress is a personal inspiration whenever I consider accelerating the change in my own career. Carpe diem.

Criticizing Apple

Marco Arment reacts to the idea that he’s withholding criticism:

“As anyone who’s read my site and listened to our podcast for a while would know, I criticize Apple all the time. A developer’s view of their computing platform and software distribution partner is like any developer’s view of their programming language of choice: if you don’t think there are any major shortcomings, you just don’t know it well enough yet.”

This is all true, but I also think there’s something unique about Apple: we expect greatness in everything they do. It wouldn’t be the same Apple we love if we brushed complaints aside when the company falls short. And as Marco points out, Apple employees aren’t scared of negative feedback, because they want to build great products too.

A number of years ago I was sick of programming and went back to school to study art and life drawing. Maybe more than anything else, I came away with a new appreciation for self-criticism, and accepting the critiques of others. Because that’s how you get better. Until you can see what’s wrong — your drawing sucks and your iOS app is slow and buggy — you have no hope to improve.

The key in both art and technology is to understand the difference between constructive criticism and just complaining. Marco’s original post was about calling out Apple on lower quality standards in the hope that they could focus and get better. Many of the “me too” posts that followed were from Apple haters who were looking for page views and couldn’t care less if Apple quality improved.

Daniel Jalkut writes that it’s about how we react to criticism that matters:

“This is what happens when well-formed criticism meets the ears of a confident, competent individual: the facts are taken to heart and studied, perhaps grudgingly. But upon reflection and determination that there was merit in the complaint, respect for the source of the provocation goes through the roof.”

I’ve been working on an essay about the Apple Watch Edition and why I think it’s wrong for Apple. I do worry a little about putting out a controversial, half-baked opinion. And yet, I’ve seen no one else make my argument against the Edition in the meantime. If I want Apple to live up to the very high standard I hold them to, I can’t withhold my opinion on the direction of the company, regardless of whether that opinion will be warmly received.

Very busy (and the watch)

Yesterday this weblog turned 13 years old. I don’t usually miss the anniversary; it’s a nice time to reflect on what I’m writing about here. But I’ve been incredibly busy this year, working on a range of things from real work to side projects to family stuff.

Over the weekend I also helped out at the annual STAPLE! comics show in Austin. This is always a great time to check out what independent artists are up to, and as usual I came away inspired to get back into drawing.

I’ll have a longer write-up about yesterday’s Apple event soon. I have a very negative opinion about the $10k Apple Watch Edition — not because it’s expensive, but because of what focusing on the super rich says about Apple’s priorities. Daniel and I talked about this at length on Core Intuition episode 174 a couple weeks ago.

Overall the event was great, though. I’m looking forward to pre-ordering a watch and getting into development. Leaning toward the 42mm Sport, with blue band and an extra classic buckle.