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!

Get bent

I’m not sure if bendgate is going to be a real thing or not. The media loves to swoop down on these issues when they pop up because if there’s something other than winning the American public loves, it’s seeing someone else screw up. Of course, other metal phones bend, too. Just as other phones had reception issues if you blocked their antennas with your hand. But those phones don’t have Apple logos on them.

I had an iPhone 5S that bent. It was in my pocket while I was hiking and I took a tumble and landed on it. Even though it was in a LifeProof case, it ended up getting bent. The Apple Store guy said it wasn’t an issue covered under warranty or Apple Care since it was still functional. Luckily, the headphone jack eventually got jacked and I was able to exchange it. I imagine the standard line from Apple will be the same for pocket-bent Sixes.

I don’t have my iPhone 6 yet so I’ll withhold final judgement, but I had already formed the suspicion that Apple’s drive to make the thinnest phone possible had gone too far. I based my thinking on the dubious design decision that gave us the camera bump. I’d rather they made the phone that much thicker in exchange for better battery. Nobody — not one person — outside Apple headquarters has said the 5S was too thick but plenty (like, everyone else) have said a longer battery life would be swell. Jony Ive might rather make a phone thin enough to shave with, but I’d bet most users would trade in a  millimeter or two for a 5-10% increase in battery life (a number I just totally made up — no idea how much extra battery they could have put in there if the phone was thicker). Now, we’re presented with the prospect that the phone is excessively bendy due to its extreme thinness. And this is another smack against the larger size. Of course when you make something too big to fit comfortably in a pocket, there’s going to be issues. Either it’ll dig into you or it’ll give in to the pressure.

I’m a huge fan of Apple design and always have been, but sometimes it seems like they make decisions in favor of aesthetics over how real people will use their devices. Off the top of my head, I think of the beautiful yet rediculously scratch-prone iPod backing and the too easily nicked chamfered edge of the iPhone 5 and 5S.

Design is about trade-offs. That’s one of its core tenets. In this case, I wonder if Apple is too willing to trade durability and practicality for an arbitrary aesthetic. The camera bump is arguably a subjective design choice (though I’d argue back that instability when laying on its back on a flat surface impacts its functionality, if just a little). Durability is not subjective.

It is not unreasonable for a person to think that among the elements tested during the design of their nice new phone was whether or not it would stand up to being used in exactly the way every single person in the world with pockets uses them.

iPhone Day

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iPhone Day 2014 has dawned anew. The eighth annual mass-demonstration of orgasmic consumerism that will result in another unprecedented transference of wealth from millions to just a few.

As usual, there is a large dosage of animus:

It may be my imagination, but this “haters gonna hate” thing seems to ratchet up with each successive launch. What I don’t get is why. Does a large portion of the population ridicule another for standing in line for Rolling Stones tickets? Or to get into a great breakfast spot on a Saturday morning? Or for Transformers 16? OK, maybe for the Transformers.

Bloomberg reported:

At Apple’s store on Fifth Avenue in New York, police officers put up barricades as the line stretched more than 10 blocks and the crowd cheered continuously for the 15 minutes before the phones officially went on sale.

I used to be that guy in line, but I’m not anymore. Maybe it’s because I’m older now (though I’d hate to think so), but I’m content ordering my phone like a civilized person and having it delivered to me, even if that means I’m not one of the first on the planet to post to Facebook from its virgin touchscreen.

I’d wait at the Apple store with hundreds or thousands of others. This is more social event than product launch. You do this to be with your tribe. Not unlike going to a collegiate sporting event. You all get to discuss the phone and the company and how long you’ve been an Apple customer (extra cred awarded for having owned a Mac from the years during Steve’s exile). It’s a warm and comforting thing, really.

Maybe that’s what the haters hate on. They have nothing like this. Their tribe (assuming the vast majority of them are non-Apple users) is significantly weaker. There is no binding energy in their brand affiliation. No embrace of kindred spirits. Perhaps they’re jealous.

To be sure, there must be a large number of people in the Apple Store line who were previously not Apple users. I remember what it was like in 1998 to use a Mac. We were few and very far between. So a large percentage of these cheering fans (and fans they are) must be converts. Know what they say about former smokers being the most virulently anti-smoking people there are? I bet it’s the same for Apple fans. Former Galaxy and Dell users cheer and sit on the cold Fall pavement with as much if not more excitement as someone who’s first Apple product was beige with a built-in screen.

In the last few years I waited, I did so at the AT&T store. There were fewer people and the phones were just the same. I lost the tribal element. These were more goal-oriented business-like folk who wanted to get in and get out and get on. I’d hear the Apple crowd chanting (yes, chanting) at the other end of the mall and feel a little sorry. For myself. For leaving their happy embrace. For being efficient rather than ecstatic.

So today, I’ll look at the throngs of hopeful iPhone buyers sitting in New York or Chicago or Sydney or London while waiting for my AT&T shipping notification email. I miss them. I’m happy for them. But it’s nice not to have to get up hours before dawn and sit in the dark. Alas.

Exactly like that but totally not

Over on Recode — oh, sorry…I mean Re/codeUncle Walt posits that Apple is like a movie studio.

Studios release blockbuster franchise movies every few years, and then try to live off a series of sequels until the next big, successful franchise. We are in the early stages of one such project right now: On May 2, Columbia Pictures will release “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” the first of what may be several sequels to the original 2012 film, that was itself a reboot of an earlier series.

Looked at in this way, your almost-new iPhone 5s and iPad Air are mere sequels, iterations of Apple blockbusters that rocked the world when they first appeared. The same goes for your MacBook Air, which has gone through many changes and improvements since Mr. Jobs theatrically slid it out of a manila envelope in 2008 to show how thin it was.

He uses the word “iteration” there but I think he confuses its meaning with the word “derivative.” Iteration implies methodical incremental improvement which, I think, any casual observer would see has been the case with the iPhone and iPad and pretty much everything Apple makes. Constant improvement. Sometimes not earth-shattering by themselves, but when taken in aggregate, adding up to a pretty big deal.

In contrast, Spider Man reboots are derivative. You are literally retelling the same story with minor changes around the edges which, in itself, is derivative of its comic book source material. It might be better or it might be worse. The only thing you can count on is it will be in some way different. But not. The goal isn’t to improve Spidey, only get you to see him again with another actor’s face (and, let’s be clear, to enable Sony to maintain their license to Marvel’s IP).

Movie sequels almost (almost) always do worse financially than their predecessors. Which Apple “sequel” has sold more poorly than the device it replaced? Also, with a few notable exceptions, qualitatively the originals are better, too (Empire Strikes Back and Godfather II being the most obvious examples I can think of). Movie sequels are often a crass attempt to pull more treasure from a productive hole. See Jaws 2, Poltergeist IIMatrix Reloaded, etc.

I also have to wonder what would qualify as a “game-changer” from Apple? Which game are we looking to change? From a financial aspect, there is no way for Apple to create something that generates the kind of revenue iPhone does. Not unless they branch out into oil production or auto manufacturing.

Apple is solely focused on making great products. Sometimes they change games, sometimes they “merely” make those games better to play. But they don’t make ill-conceived bullshit to give tech writers something to natter on about. Walt, of all people, should know better.

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.