Ditching jack

I’m starting to buy the logic of ditching the 3.5 mm traditional headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and using the single lightning port for headphones instead. I’m not saying I’d have voted to do it, but there’s at least a defensible argument to be made.

Before I get into that, though, let’s just stop and marvel at the totally tone-deaf claim by Phil Schiller that dropping the port was an act of “courage.” Not only is that borderline offensive in a world where real people are doing real courageous acts every day, saying it in that venue and with that attitude does nothing but perpetuate every negative stereotype of Apple being run by elite, out-of-touch individuals with an over-inflated sense of their own importance. It will end up immortalized along with “you’re holding it wrong” atop the list of inartful Apple quotes. It’s far worse than “you’re holding it wrong” because that comment was off the cuff and arguably misconstrued while “courage” was written into a presentation that’s been weeks or months in the making. It was intentional. And it was just plain dumb. Like, a flinch-when-you-hear-it kind of dumb.

Anyway, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to how I use my iPhone since the rumors started getting serious about the headphone jack going away. The design of anything (from a phone to a car to a camera app), is about tradeoffs. And those tradeoffs are about balancing the possible against use case scenarios. As in, what does the designer think the user of the product will need it to do and how is any given use case prioritized over others? In my personal experience, over the past several months, the number of times I needed to listen to my phone over its headphone jack and charge it at the same time have been zero. That was surprising to me, but it’s true. Most of the time, I listen to my phone over Bluetooth. At home, in the car, at work. Either Bluetooth or Sonos via wifi. When I use headphones, it’s in scenarios when I wouldn’t be charging it anyway (shopping, exercising, etc.). So, for me, losing the ability to charge and use headphones at the same time is will lead to essentially no impact whatsoever to my enjoyment of the product.

My bet is, I’m not unique. My bet is Apple knows exactly how many users are like me. Not a company to live and die based on focus groups, they nonetheless are very much aware of how people are using their stuff. This is probably not the very earliest time they could have dumped the jack, but it’s the earliest time they could do it where the majority of their customers wouldn’t be radically inconvenienced.

Phil said in an email to a customer that there’s a $39 fix for those who are in need of using headphones while charging. It’s the Lightning Dock. It’s probably the case that most of the use cases for needing both ports at once outside an automobile involve a stationary fixed position like sitting at a desk or laying in bed. In those cases, the dock is a good solution. I can see the need for sitting somewhere where a dock doesn’t work, like a plane or on a train, when one would want to listen to their phone and plug it into a charger at the same time. I bet in a matter of weeks (if not sooner) there will at least be announcements of if not actual releases of external battery chargers with headphones jacks on them.

The car is interesting since older models don’t have Bluetooth and are a great place to top off a charge while listening through the speakers while driving around. That’s done with a cheap cassette adapter that plugs into the headphone jack. Those folks, too, have an option, though, in that there are Bluetooth versions of cassette adapters on the market already and they’re also pretty darn cheap (under $20).

Many will lament having expensive headphones that now will require a dongle to use. I get that. I’m in the same boat. How much of a bummer that is depends a lot on what the dongle is like. Does it bend easily? Does it stay on the headphones well? Well enough that leaving them together all the time is no big deal? But the bigger question from a product design standpoint is what am I getting in exchange for this inconvenience? Here’s my list based on their presentation:

  • Longer-lasting battery. The iPhone 7’s battery lasts, on average, two hours longer than the iPhone 6s, according to Apple. Some of that is probably optimization in iOS 10, but I’m guessing a bit more space for extra ions is also contributory.
  • Non-mechanical Home button. This is a big deal in that the Home button is used, like, a zillion times on my iPhone and is often the component to fail if something does. iPhone 7 has a taptic Home button like the new MacBook’s trackpad. It’s solid. No clicker. It just feels like it clicks. The room they needed for that taptic engine is at least partially where the headphone jack used to be.
  • Water and dust resistance. No hole for a Home button or headphone jack means no access points for water and dust. This is a major new feature for the phone and one Apple is heavily promoting. It is the case that other smartphone manufacturers have made water resistance phones with headphone jacks but it’s also possible Apple’s phone is more resistant for not having that port. I don’t know for sure.

They also added a much better camera, a brighter more colorful display, and stereo speakers. None of those are in the vicinity of the headphone jack, but every open space in that case is utilized so a gain on one end probably means more space for something else in another spot.

Apple will always (always always) choose the pain of transition over holding on to “the way things have always been done” if the tradeoffs are good enough in their estimation. Apple is usually really good at timing these transitions so that the benefit of the transition makes sense to consumers once they see it in action. That list is long and goes all the way back to dropping the SCSI interface, the ADB port, or the floppy drive.

People are really pissed about this though. I’ve never seen more shitshows being thrown on social media from people I know, let alone the press, over any other decision Apple has ever made. I’m not entirely certain this will be one of those things people get over in the near term, but I do think that the idea of losing the port is more troubling to people than not having it will ultimately end up being.

What I do know is the Apple haters out there will hate Apple all that much more if, in six months, this kerfuffle goes the way of “antennagate” (i.e., nowhere). Chances are, that’s what will happen. Folks will grumble and upgrade when they need to anyway and then forget what they were complaining about once they adapt. Whatever the case, Apple should focus on selling the logic of the move and not invoking bullshit platitudes.

But yeah. Not saying I would have ditched the jack.

Cont blocked

iOS 9 introduced the option of blocking web ads and tracking scripts in Safari and a lot of the internet lost its shit. Moral introspection ensued as blocking plug-ins shot to the top of the App Store charts.

I work in digital marketing so I do get that Apple’s move here threatens to severely knock my universe out of balance, but I also acknowledge that the world of online advertising has become actively hostile to those for whom the ads are intended. Bloated pages suck down mobile user’s metered bandwidth and waste their time loading, not to mention the “ads” that automatically redirect site visitors to app stores or other destinations and those that block page content or so crowd it out that it’s hard to find, let alone read. Publishers have allowed advertisers to absolutely ruin the web experience in too many cases in exchange for the few shekels they get in return. The question isn’t why has Apple allowed this to happen, the question is what took so long?

Apple, of course, makes next to nothing from advertising (iAds aside which are of negligible import to anyone). Their business model is based on hardware revenue and those sales are founded on exceptional consumer experience and today’s online advertising model does nothing but erode that. It’s in Apple’s interest to allow its consumers this kind of control. Simple as that.

Of course, publishers need money to publish. The rush towards ad blocking doesn’t spell the end to an ad-based model, it spells the end of the crazy bullshit model that’s evolved organically and unchecked. We as consumers either have to pay sites to read them or we have to let them show us ads (or maybe a little of both). Expecting the web to be delivered free of any charge is totally unrealistic and ultimately unethical. 

The top-selling iOS blocker, Crystal, is now allowing what they call “acceptable ads” from marketers who pay for the privilege safe passage through their filter. They’re teaming with Eyeo, the company behind the browser plug-in AdBlock Plus, and using their database of more than 700 advertisers who meet Eyeo’s criteria. I put it on my phone the day iOS 9 dropped and my recollection is it was free at that time, but it’s currently 99¢. So Crystal is trying to profit from both ends of the pipeline while Eyeo only does so from the advertisers. Since Crystal didn’t say anything about this possibility when it launched, a lot of people are pissed. 

In theory, I think this is the right path for those of us who know that there must be some exchange of value in order to maintain a thriving content model on the web. If the ad industry won’t or can’t abide by acceptable, self-imposed guidelines, then I suppose it’s not unexpected that others like Eyeo would do it for them and that consumers would pick which model they like best. As I said, I don’t think this spells the end of the “free web.” I think it spells the end of the version we have now. Or, at least, the beginning of the end. It’ll be rough sailing for some smaller sites and I expect a lot of them will fade away. But the status quo is not acceptable (and it’s only getting worse). 

A not insignificant shelter in the storm of consumer’s ad-blocking fury on iOS is the niggling detail that content blockers only work in Safari. They don’t apply to web views within apps. That means if you click a link in Facebook or any other app that opens that URL without switching over to Safari (using something called WebKit, the default behavior of most apps on iOS), then the content blocker isn’t engaged. In keeping an eye on my own behavior, I see that the vast majority of my web visits happen outside Safari. Probably north of 80%. Until such time that Apple extends ad blocking functionality to these WebKit sessions, the real impact won’t be felt. But if/when that does happen, shit’s gonna get real.

Whiny Mashable

Mashable posted “9 Worst Things About iOS 8” and I was stupid enough to click on it.

1. Massive to download
If you already have iOS 8 (and upgraded from iOS 7), you likely know how huge the update was to download. While the file itself only occupies about 1.2GB of storage, the download requires you to have up to 5.7GB of free storage on your phone. In response, people deleted pictures, apps and music to make room for the iOS. The good news, however, is that there’s a workaround, if you don’t have iOS 8 yet: Sync your iPhone or iPad to the computer and download iOS 8 directly from there. This won’t suck up any space on your device, and you can manually transfer the new software back to your device.

This isn’t significantly worse than when 7 dropped and is part and parcel with upgrading any computing device. A pain to be sure, but you don’t have to upgrade. The upsides to having a device you never have to plug into a computer to use are far more numerous than this inconvenience.

2. QuickType
Apple has a new built-in keyboard now with predictive text, giving you word suggestions before you type anything (based on what’s previously written). Although some people love the feature, othersdo not — often, the predictive suggestions aren’t at all on point. But for the first time, Apple is allowing iOS users to download better keyboard options from third-party developers, like Swype, SwiftKey and Fleksy, so all hope isn’t lost for a smarter keyboard experience.

So turn it the fuck off. One setting. Bang.

Jesus.

3. Key contacts
On one hand, it’s nice to know you can double-tap the home button and see a carousel of all the people you’ve recently messaged with at the top of the screen. But it highlights contacts you might not want others to know about, too. For example, if you’ve deleted a conversation you recently had with an ex (and you don’t want to broadcast this to anyone looking over your shoulder), their name will still display. To remove this feature, visit Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Show in App Switcher and switch it of Off.

So turn it the fuck off. One setting (WHICH YOU INCLUDED). Bang.

Jesus.

4. iCloud Drive
iCloud Drive is perhaps the biggest fail of iOS 8. If you’re not running OS X Yosemite on your Mac — and you’re probably not, unless you’re participating in the public beta program — iCloud Drive will cut off your apps from syncing with older (iOS 7/OS X 10.9 and earlier) devices. Whatever you do, don’t enable iCloud Drive when updating iOS 8 until all your devices are compatible. Here’s more on why to avoid iCloud Drive on iOS 8 for now.

An unfortunate byproduct of device launch dates not syncing with software release dates. Annoying for the moment, but will be so damned cool when Yosemite drops.

5. Unavailable HealthKit
One of the most-buzzed new features is the Health app, the company’s first major step into the health and fitness space. While Apple has been calling on developers to connect their apps and data to its hub, you can’t download HealthKit-enabled apps from the Apple App Store just yet — the launch has been delayed for a few weeks. This means the Health app is currently empty on the home screen, without any explanation on what it is and how to use it. It’s a missed opportunity from Apple not to roll it out to users out of the gate.

You’re bitching about something that didn’t exist before iOS 8 not being ready on the very day iOS 8 was released? Sure, a minor disappointment, but since I hadn’t integrated HealthKit into my first world lifestyle, it’s hardly skin off my nose.

Jesus.

6. Camera Roll Change
Apple mysteriously removed its default Camera Roll album, which has caused a bit of panic (many first assume their photos have been deleted). Although it’s more difficult to locate and organize your iOS pictures, they should be all there. Now, you’ll see albums for Recently Added, Panoramas, Videos, Bursts, and Recently Deleted— along with albums created by third-party apps such as Instagram. Pictures taken more than a month ago are stored in the Collections folder, within the Photos app.

So turn the new layout the fuck off. One setting. Bang.

Jesus.

7. Deleted Photos
When you delete photos on iOS 8, they’re not actually erased yet. The new Recently Deleted folder holds them for up to 30 days before trashing them for good. This could be a good thing for those who accidentally delete photos they want to recover, but in most cases, it’s just an extra step to get a photo off of your phone.

I guarantee you the vast majority of people would look at this as a good thing. Stop whining about shit that’s not broken just because it’s different.

Jesus.

8. App Weirdness
Some apps have had a bumpy ride post-update. Twitter, for example, moved the Drafts folder, and some users reported that their tweet drafts disappeared.

Third-party’s app bugs are Apple’s fault? And you can only come up with one example?

Jesus.

9. Glitchy Family Sharing
Apple’s new Family Sharing program has its upsides: you can share purchases from iTunes, iBooks and the App Store without sharing accounts. But there are limitations. Whenever you download something new, it notifies everyone in the group — and the same goes when others go on a downloading frenzy. It’s convenient but not private.

SO DON’T USE IT.

Jesus!

Random Facebook Paper thoughts

Facebook dropped its new iPhone newsreading app Paper yesterday and it’s getting universally positive reviews. And for good reason. It’s lovely. Some random things that have occurred to me as I’ve used it.

  • The interface is going to change mobile apps. It is almost entirely without chrome (as in, buttons and menus and such). All the navigation and interaction is done with swipes and gestures. This is not new. Other iPhone apps have established this kind of interface before, but none with the potential impact of Paper as Facebook has hundreds of millions of mobile users. The mechanisms set by Paper could easily become a new standard for other apps.
  • Which wouldn’t be a bad thing since they’ve been thoughtfully devised. After only a few seconds, I found myself intuitively getting how Paper worked. That hasn’t always been the case for other apps using gestures for interaction. After an extended Paper session, I found myself trying to use the “swipe down to close” gesture to get out of a folder in iOS. It just makes sense.
  • Wither most recent? Paper seems to have the “top stories” feed view hard-coded into it. I think that’s bad news for frequent Facebook users (like yours truly). I’ve found that “top stories” rehashes things I’ve already seen or are out of date. For example, in the last 12 hours or so, I’ve noticed the large images above the news feed stories seem to be stuck. I keep seeing the same post by George Takai and one by another friend, both from yesterday. Same goes for the stories in the feed. Too much repetition and stale stuff when I know there are new things to see that aren’t there. The algorithm is either stupid or there’s a caching issue. In any event, I much prefer “most recent” but haven’t found a way to make that happen. More bad news for those of us who want more control over how we view our feeds.
  • Speaking of that big image above the feed, Paper cycles through a number of stories and pictures there but doesn’t seem to allow a way to navigate among them. The dots that usually indicate more “slides” in a “stack” actually indicate more curated feeds. So, if you swipe to the side, you get the next feed stack, not the next slide in the current stack. It doesn’t make sense and is an odd and glaring UI misstep in an otherwise lovely experience.
  • With regard to the other curated feeds, I’d like to be able to pick and choose which sources show up there or even make my own. Imagine being able to make a Tech feed made up only of pages you’ve already chosen to follow on Facebook. Maybe another that’s just high school friends. That would be pretty sweet. Hopefully, we’ll see that in future releases.
  • Releasing it as a stand-alone second option to the existing Facebook app (probably the single most popular mobile app in the world) is likely a smart move, but strikes me as very un-Apple-like. Also not very Zuckerberg-like. Typically, they seem to shove new approaches and views down their users’ throats with the suggestion to “trust us.” Not sure if this indicates a tempering of that attitude or just a healthy helping of corporate caution. Nor if it’s a good thing or bad.
  • No, there are no ads, but we all know they’re coming so please don’t whine about it when they show up.

Paper seems to be a logical and natural step in the progression of Facebook. The site and its apps are more and more becoming how many people get their news and find things to see and read on the web (which is exactly what Facebook wants, of course). I don’t think this is just another way to view Facebook or is a “Flipboard killer.” It’s the future of the platform.

Siege this

The New York Times Magazine is out with a piece documenting the development and unveiling of the original iPhone (coinciding, I presume, with the second anniversary of Steve Job’s death). I’d like to say that overall it’s a great piece, but I can’t since I had to stop reading it at the tenth paragraph. I suppose I’ll get back to finishing it after I write this post.

Up until the tenth paragraph (and the three that follow), it’s really awesome stuff. I totally get off on these behind-the-scenes kind of long reads, regardless of the company or product they’re covering. It’s fascinating to see how different companies and different personalities birth products. This account seemed just as compelling right before the author veered off into the land of unfounded popular opinion.

And yet Apple today is under siege.

Oh, god. Really? The most profitable electronics manufacture in the world? Under siege? Every company in the civilized world would like to be as under siege as Apple.

From the moment in late 2007 that Google unveiled Android — and its own plan to dominate the world of mobile phones and other mobile devices — Google hasn’t just tried to compete with the iPhone; it has succeeded in competing with the iPhone.

Just because another company has found a way to compete in the same marketplace doesn’t mean you’re “under siege.” Is Ford under siege by Toyota? Or McDonald’s by Wendy’s? Last I heard, they’re all doing well. But not as well as Apple, the assumed siege victim here. Why must Apple have north of a 70% marketshare to be deemed as succeeding? What other company is held to this standard?

Android has exploded in popularity since it took hold in 2010. Its share of the global smartphone market is approaching 80 percent, while Apple’s has fallen below 20 percent.

Which means nothing, really. Note that Google makes more money from their apps and services on iOS than they do on their own platform. Note that, in fact, the company that’s really found a way to compete with Apple is not Google as much as it’s Samsung. And when I say “compete” I mean “mindlessly copy.” But whatever. It works for them. They and Apple are literally making all the money in the smartphone marketplace.

The better comparison for Apple is the often-made example of BMW. Tiny marketshare; Lots of mindshare and profits. Companies that make premium products are not often (if ever) the ones that make the most of those kinds of products.

A similar trend is under way with iPads: in 2010 the iPad had about 90 percent of the tablet market; now more than 60 percent of the tablets sold run Android.

How many Android tablets do you see in the wild compared to iPads? I know they’re selling a lot of these things, but to whom? Where are they being used? Are they basically zero margin, low-end products? Or, as in the case of Amazon’s Kindles, just low-margin storefronts? Remember, Apple doesn’t work for marketshare. They work for profit share. In that regard, they’re killing it.

What worries Apple fans most of all is not knowing where the company is headed.

This “fan” didn’t know where they were headed under Jobs, either.

When Jobs died in October 2011, the prevailing question wasn’t whether Tim Cook could succeed him, but whether anyone could. When Jobs ran Apple, the company was an innovation machine, churning out revolutionary products every three to five years. He told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, that he had another breakthrough coming — a revolution in TV. But under Cook, nothing has materialized, and the lack of confidence among investors is palpable.

The presumption regarding the TV product is that the content owners can’t figure out terms that would let Apple have access to their shows that Apple wouldn’t be a fool to accept. These are the insightful and innovative head cases like those running CBS and Comcast. Having a platform that works is not the same as having a product absent the content it needs to be relevant. Unlike other companies, Apple doesn’t release half-baked concepts into the marketplace and expect people to buy them.

With regard to investors, I’d suggest they never understood why Apple was successful in the first place, so I wouldn’t read too much into their confidence issues now. Except that I have a substantial (for me) position in AAPL, of course.

Apple product announcements used to routinely send its stock soaring.

That’s just totally false. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Expectations have, since the iMac’s introduction, always been totally unrealistic. When they don’t announce anti-gravity solar-powered bread slicing iPods, the stock slides. Every time.

When Cook presented the latest smartphones in September, the iPhone 5c and the iPhone 5s, Apple’s stock fell 10 percent.

Right. Like I said…

A year ago the company’s stock price was at $702 a share, making Apple the world’s most valuable corporation. Today, it’s down more than 25 percent from that peak.

Keep in mind the stock went up to $702 under Tim Cook’s watch, not Jobs’.

Comparing anyone with Steve Jobs is unfair.

Of course it is, but you’ll do it anyway.

To me, this little foray into the land of crappy insights and apparent inability to fact-check (i.e., use Google) reads like an editor falling into a kind of false equivalency trap. The story was perhaps too positive toward the company or Jobs. It didn’t fit the lazy media narrative regarding Apple. These couple of paragraphs read like a last minute, ham-handed insertion to “toughen up” the piece. Too bad. It makes me question the accuracy of everything that follows.

150

One hundred and fifty. That’s approximately how many days away we are from iPhone 5 (assuming Apple sticks to it’s mid-summer refresh scedule), yet as mainstream a website as CNN.com (via Mashable) is already posting “rumor round-up” stories.

Crazy.

The tone of the story (reported there and elsewhere) is that Apple will be making changes to the iPhone in order to somehow squash the raging bull of Android sales. I don’t think that’s quite right. I think Apple makes products they think will sell like crazy and very purposefully doesn’t fixate on the competition. I’m not saying nobody over there thinks about market share, but it’s not the way they measure success. Apple likes to be insanely profitably and insanely great. Market share’s for show-offs.

So anyway, here are the new features the new Jesus Phone will supposedly have:

  • A higher megapixel camera. Maybe. The iPhone already has a kick-ass camera. Megapixels aren’t everything. The lens and processing software are arguably more important than the size of the image being recorded. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more MPs in the next phone, but not because Apple’s playing a “who’s got the best specs” game.
  • Larger screens. Again, maybe. There was a rumor a little while back that the iPhone would be losing it’s home button, but I think Gruber nailed it. I don’t expect that button to be going anywhere. So, if the screen’s physically bigger, it will not get that way by stealing space away from the phone’s “chin”. It’s possible they’d steal space from it’s “forehead”, but it seems to me that the screen would still need the same number of physical pixels as the current screen (only larger). One of the things that makes the iPhone easy to develop for is that it’s screen comes in two sizes: 640 x 960 for iPhone 4 and exactly half that (320 x 480) for all the others. It seems to me they wouldn’t want to introduce a third size not based on those proportions. Besides, the Retina Display is not even a year old and massively beautiful. Seems early for a big shake-up around the screen.
  • Slide-out keyboard. No. I think Jobs would have to be way more than just on medical leave for that to happen. He’d have to be stone-cold dead and five years buried. Plus, Jonathan Ive would have to have been kidnapped by Chechen rebels and held in a mountain top lair. I just can’t see this happening ever.

There’s also a rumor of a smaller “iPhone nano” floating out there again. Not sure about that. Seems to me the icons and other chrome on the current phone is about as small is it can get and still be useable. Unless they’re dreaming up a non-app phone, like an iPod nano with a phone attached as opposed to what we have now which is like an iPod Touch with a phone. Not sure moving away from the App Store ecosystem is a direction they’re likely to go. Also smells too much like a feature phone.

I guess we’ll know in about 150 days (assuming one doesn’t show up in bar first).

A slice of Apple’s pie

Today, Apple finally announced their subscription model. As with other transactions in which Apple is the middle-man, they’re requiring a healthy chunk of the resulting revenue:

“Our philosophy is simple—when Apple brings a new subscriber to the app, Apple earns a 30 percent share; when the publisher brings an existing or new subscriber to the app, the publisher keeps 100 percent and Apple earns nothing,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “All we require is that, if a publisher is making a subscription offer outside of the app, the same (or better) offer be made inside the app, so that customers can easily subscribe with one-click right in the app. We believe that this innovative subscription service will provide publishers with a brand new opportunity to expand digital access to their content onto the iPad, iPod touch and iPhone, delighting both new and existing subscribers.”

I think that’s emminently reasonable. Apple’s iOS is, after all, a very large and generally self-contained ecosystem that’s already made many, many people rich (I’m looking at you, angry red bird). The potential to sell to these consumers is proven. And Apple isn’t calling this a “transaction fee” or in any other way sugar-coating it. It’s an access fee. The toll for the road. You, as the developer or the content creator or whatever, would not have access to the roughly 160 million iOS devices (and their owners) had Apple not created them.

I’m sure a lot of people will look at these terms and thing they’re onerous, but nobody has to play by them. Publishers could always create web apps to deliver content. But then they’d be bypassing the App Store and all those people who habitually use it to find new things to keep their fingers and eyes occupied. Or, they could focus on Android and their subscription payment option (as soon as it’s developed, anyway).

In the mean time, I look forward to seeing what content creators do with this new lease on life. The New York Times, in particular, seems well positioned to make itself in to a new kind of news delivery service that could dominate marshmallowy players like CNN and Fox.