Tech

Facebook Approaches Misinformation in the Most Facebook Way Possible

Facebook, in a series of tweets (funny how that works), defends their decision to let blatant misinformation remain on their website:

Facebook is just gutless.

  • They act so high and mighty as if they care, when really they're just protecting their targeted ads business.
  • They think they're like a public space, when really they're more like a shopping center letting some lunatic with a megaphone disturb shoppers and feed lies to their children. It’s entirely within the rights of Facebook, a private company, to give these guys the boot.
  • Whoever gets to run this account gets to sleep at night while I just got a measly 3 hours going into a 13-hour day.

Vestaboard: Analog Made Digital

via Vestaboard

via Vestaboard

Found this really cool product via Jason Kottke. Though it looks awfully familiar

Vestaboard is a nice re-imagination of the split-flap display that can be programmed using a smartphone. It can also receive Wi-Fi to update itself automatically and connect to Amazon Echo and Google Home.

If I were to own one, I’d offload a lot of my news consumption onto it – headlines, at least. That’s a big “if” though – it costs a whopping $1850.

Thoughts on Apple Slowing Down Devices

Slow Down 2.png

– 5 minutes –

I thought that this was a big enough thing that I’d break my silence on here, especially since it’s something that personally impacts me and my device usage. I’ve also found myself in casual conversations with friends regarding this.

The general conclusion derived from this whole fiasco is really feeding into the often-believed notion that Apple builds in something called “planned obsolescence” into their devices, in which Apple intentionally shortens the lifespan of devices by somehow impairing usability so that customers will feel the need to upgrade to a newer model of the device they’re using.

This, to me, is as easy a notion to debunk as it is to believe. The issue of Apple prioritizing profits and margins is one thing – and I personally believe that it is very much a thing – but it’s been so often conflated with the issue of Apple devices not lasting as long as they’re desired to last, and that seems to be coming to a head now.

Apple elaborates that their reason for slowing down devices, particularly iPhones, is to preserve battery life. I believe this to be true, and the reason is simple – it’s the same reason why I believe planned obsolescence is a myth. It’s in Apple's interest to have the usability of iPhones last a long time, not the opposite.

According to Apple themselves in the letter I just linked to:

 

We’ve always wanted our customers to be able to use their iPhones as long as possible. We’re proud that Apple products are known for their durability, and for holding their value longer than our competitors’ devices.

 

I don’t think the single most profitable product in the history of the world would’ve found its success in being systematically made unusable. People buy iPhones because they’re good products – because they’re of good use – and people vote with their purchases. If people’s needs are no longer satisfied by a product, they’ll look at alternatives. If the alternatives don’t meet their needs – device lifespan being a criterion – then they’ll stick to buying iPhones.

I might come off reductionist in my thinking, but at the very least, it’s unlikely that there are any hidden motives here. Apple’s business model has always been that straightforward.

 

Now, this isn’t to say that bad decisions haven’t been made. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Apple’s problem is a communication problem. The problem is two-fold in that,

  1. if this had been communicated at all in the first place, the consumer and media backlash would at least be controllable; and

  2. if they’d made their initial statement clear and made their initial solution better for customers ($79 for a battery replacement is untenable), I think there might have been a chance at saving face.

Now Apple finds itself in a spot they're rarely in. In my experience, I’ve always found there to be a subset of people who’ve latched onto beliefs that Apple does x, y, and z to wring every last dollar out of customers besides using high profit margins. For example, in the 00’s, there was a sizable number people frustrated at Apple not making batteries removable.

The beliefs are conceivable to some extent, but now there’s a whole lot of people going to be part of that subset after this debacle. How big it’ll be, time will tell. I don’t think a lot of iPhone users are going to be jumping ship, but I think repeat purchasers are going to have a bit more buyer’s remorse knowing Apple, whether for better or for worse, might be doing something behind the scenes they don’t know about.

Google Unveils the Pixel 2

I can’t help but gush about the industrial design of these phones. The accented sleep/wake button is very charming. All the visual elements seem well-proportioned. Love the colors. The marketing material is fun and light, and it does a good job showing off the phone’s many good angles.

One thing that really struck me that was actually also a feature in the previous Pixel was the unlimited cloud storage for photos. I forgot how big of a USP that was last year, and now a year later, they bring it up again. While it goes to show how little the competition cared about it to begin with, it makes the concept of paid cloud storage – *cough* iCloud – a bit embarrassing, doesn’t it?

AirPods – Seven Months Later

I’ve accumulated several thoughts on AirPods since I reviewed them, and now I have enough to consolidate them into a post.

Minor connection problems

The connection seems to have gotten worse, although not so much worse that I’d stop using them – it’s still far from getting to that point. It’s just that every once in a while I’ll catch myself waiting for the chime for a long while, 15 seconds at least. Updating to iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra didn’t slow things down further, though, so that’s not an issue.

The experience is not quite seamless anymore – maybe I just got used to it – but they’re still great.

Ubiquity

A year since their unveiling, I’m just starting to see them in the wild. I recently had this one commute to and from school, during which I saw three people wearing AirPods.

They’re catching on, albeit slowly. They didn’t look stupid either, which was somewhat reassuring, although again, maybe that’s just cause I’ve gotten used to it.

Durability

In my initial review, I assured that functional damage is nothing to worry about. I don’t know whether or not a few bumps affected the aforementioned connection problems, but besides that, they still work very well.

DSC05966.jpg

However, because they’re just plastic, and because they’re objects for everyday use, expect wear and tear. Thankfully, I think the AirPods age fairly well. The AirPods themselves don’t show scratches unless inspected very closely, and though the case definitely shows its damage, it’s got a good kind of wear on it.  The inscription hasn’t faded away. The stainless steel hinge shows the least damage – I can detect only 3 scratches at the moment. (Having been okay with carrying around a white iPhone 5c without a case for three years also helps.)

Keeping them clean

Yeah, you read that right. Having to keep these things clean is not something I expected to do.

There are a lot of nooks in the case for dirt to nestle in, and the dirt will very much stay there until you do something about it. Rubbing it away with a cotton bud or toothpick should do the trick, but it’s still annoying to have to do it all. That’s one point for wired earphones, I guess.

Samsung's Design Language for the Galaxy S8

 
Samsung isn’t known for its UI design, but the company is now trying to change that, and boost its brand, with a signature interface style that debuted on its new S8 phone. To design it, Samsung called in the heavyweights: the New York-based design firm Pentagram. The firm worked closely with Samsung’s own UX Group 1 within its UX Innovation Team to not only design the overall interface, but establish a design language that Samsung could use in other products.
 

I think the S8 is a beautiful phone, the first from Samsung that I actually like the design of. With Apple’s own take on the edge-to-edge form factor in the iPhone X just around the corner, I think the S8 is still solid competition, at least aesthetically.

Only problem is that the software looks like typical Android. This bit completely rubbed me the wrong way:

 
While Samsung phones typically rely on standard Android UI, the company wanted to differentiate itself with its interface for the S8 as a way of strengthening its overall brand. In comparison to the chunky, colorful design of Android, the S8’s interface is sleeker and more abstract–part of the company’s efforts to make the phone look elegant and timeless.
 

Firstly, the only way the UI looks anything different from standard Android are the line breaks in the iconography, which itself seems more like an artful choice than an intuitive one.

Secondly, I’m not seeing much sleekness or abstraction here – maybe I have to actually use the device and see the UI animations to see some of it – nor am I seeing how this is less colorful than standard Android. One of the icons is literally a color wheel.

The rest of the article doesn’t really elaborate on any design choices apart from aesthetic ones, which is a shame, cause even as similar as it is to standard Android, it looks to be an improvement from Samsung software of yesteryear. Looks easier to navigate, at least.

All-in-all, the S8 seems like a decent phone. I can commend it for helping bring the smartphone some of its futuristic luster back. But I don't think the OS will be making Samsung any more known for UI design at all.

Thoughts on Apple's iPhone X Event

via Mashable

via Mashable

– 8 minutes –

The Steve Jobs Theater

Heck of a building. I’ve always been a fan of the aesthetic Apple’s created with Foster + Partners in retail over the years, and it’s great to see it tastefully and consistently applied here.

This Mashable article does a good job at unraveling the details of the space. The elevator is particularly impressive – the fact that it corkscrews is one thing, but it also does a good job obscuring anything unsightly, keeping in line with the theater’s minimal aesthetic, which I’d imagine was a challenge.

The building is as good an example as any of Apple’s attention to detail. If for some reason you still don’t understand why I’m obsessed with this company, take a look at that article.

 

The Steve Jobs tribute

Speaking of tasteful, I don’t know anyone who could’ve asked for a better opening tribute. (Well… maybe one.) The quote from the tribute was nothing I’ve ever heard before, which was a nice surprise. It was also a good way for the company to reaffirm to everyone that they have no intention of changing who they are at their core. (Pun intended.)

 

via Apple

via Apple

The industrial design of the new iPhones

There’s no question in my mind that these are the best iPhone designs to date.

Glass backs have made their triumphant return. Function-wise, I’d imagine the better grip is welcome. But it’s also just extremely visually appealing.

I remember being more bullish on the round-edge form factor than most when they made their debut with the 6 iPhones – something about the curves screamed space age to me. Three iterations on the design later, I’m glad they continued in that direction cause these are jaw-droppingly gorgeous and I struggle to see how they can be made to look any better. Kudos (and good luck) Apple.

My only problem is that the new design is so freaking good, it might immediately antiquate previous models’ designs (the 6/6s camera bumps already look comical in my mind), perhaps bar the Jet Black iPhone 7. I’ll have to see it for myself to confirm.

I should also note that the gold model finally looks good. I almost want it.

 

via Apple

via Apple

The notch

Now, onto the biggest point of contention with the new iPhone X design… long story short, I’m in Camp Show-The-Notch-Only-When-It-Doesn’t-Create-UI-Compromises.

Long story long, my feelings towards the notch seem to change on a case-by-case basis, from what I’ve seen so far at least. For example, video playback seems to deal with the notch pretty well, in that you can obscure it by double-tapping the screen, while Safari adds grotesque white bars on either side in landscape mode. (Not that the notch has to be completely hidden to look acceptable.)

I think generally speaking, I’m with John Gruber on how I feel about the notch:

 
My objection (again, after admittedly only spending 10-15 minutes with an iPhone X in hand) remains that Apple could embrace the notch on the lock and home screens, allowing for this new iconic silhouette, without embracing it all the time.
 

For the iPhone X design to become iconic, the notch – a key visual feature – should be embraced to some extent.

 

“Ten” vs. “ex”

Here’s what I think should be the biggest point of contention with the iPhone X: that the X is pronounced “ten” and not “ex”. This is what offends me. It’s so incredibly stupid.

Firstly, people are absolutely going to be calling this the “iPhone ex”. Why? Because in today’s world, that’s what X is to everyone in English-speaking countries – X as a Roman numeral is almost totally obscure in comparison. You’d think Apple would’ve learned their lesson with “Mac OS X” being pronounced “OS ex” for all those years… now, not only is it back, but the naming convention is under the brightest of spotlights for everyone to see: on the flagship iPhone.

Secondly, what does X as “ten” even denote? The 10th iPhone? It’s the 14th by my count, including the 5c, SE, and the new 8 iPhones. Maybe the 10th anniversary of the iPhone? Most probably, but it’s still a tad uncharacteristic of Apple to make reference to a product’s age, let alone in the very name of the product.

Lastly, what are they naming future iPhones? If they went with X as “ex”, they could still number subsequent models X2, X3, etc. – whether or not they’d actually do that is a matter of taste. But it being X as “ten”, that can’t be the case at all. The only logical outcome, at least in the mid-long term, is that they’d ditch the numbers completely.

 

via Apple

via Apple

The red dot on the Watch crown

I honestly don’t know which of these things I’m more mad about.

I take it that the dot’s purpose is to be an accent to the watch body. While I find the dot too large, I think the dot does that job well, even with the gold models.

The problem is that the watch strap already does that job, and if the strap you want to put on doesn’t look good with that big red clown nose, tough luck.

 

via Apple

via Apple

The Smartphone Mark II

I refuse to end on a sour note – not when there’s this amazing new iPhone X form factor to gush about.

Developer and podcaster Marco Arment touched on the significance of the new design:

 
This is the new shape of the iPhone. As long as the notch is clearly present and of approximately these proportions, it’s unique, simple, and recognizable.

It’s probably not going to significantly change for a long time, and Apple needs to make sure that the entire world recognizes it as well as we could recognize previous iPhones…

Apple just completely changed the fundamental shape of the most important, most successful, and most recognizable tech product that the world has ever seen.
 

Apple defined the form factor of the smartphone with the first iPhone, and have largely kept it consistent, until now.

Discussions regarding who was first to edge-to-edge aside, it’s Apple that moves the needle. The iPhone X form factor could be the smartphone as we’ll now know it to be.

Designing the Smartphone for the Smartphone Generation

A few weeks ago I came across this distressing article, written by psychology professor Jean M. Twenge for The Atlantic, about the impact of the smartphone on the current generation of users – one that has little to no recollection of life before the iPhone.

I implore you deeply to read this article in full. It summarizes her body of research into the matter, spanning decades (she drew comparisons between today’s and previous generations), and observations she took regarding things like socialization and parental interaction, to more pressing issues like depression and suicide.

Throughout the article, she emphasizes how convinced she is of the causal relationship between smartphone usage and behavior in young children and teens. She’s also evidently unnerved by how stark these changes in behavior are. She elaborates:

 
Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it…

The more I pored over yearly surveys of teen attitudes and behaviors, and the more I talked with young people like Athena, the clearer it became that theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media.
 

Another pressing observation:

 
The advent of the smartphone and its cousin the tablet was followed quickly by hand-wringing about the deleterious effects of “screen time.” But the impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated…
 

It might take hindsight – probably from as far as decades into the future – to have that sort of appreciation, or at least for these changes to be universally acknowledged. But I think these changes are so prevalent that it’s not even necessary anymore. Look around any public space and you might see that notorious red dot on the bottom of someone’s phone screen. Even simply understanding what a smartphone is – an ultra-accessible, ultra-fast portal to all the world’s information, right in the palm of your hand – makes it apparent how regular usage of the device is conducive to such behaviors.

It got me thinking that smartphone companies should have some sort of social responsibility to design future updates to phones with these considerations in mind – perhaps even having these at the forefront of the decision-making processes.

Remembering the iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle

Apple has silently discontinued the iPod nano and shuffle.

Stephen Hackett for 512 Pixels:

 
The iPod world has ended not with a bang, but with a whimper, as apple.com/ipod now redirects to apple.com/ipod-touch. Both of the smaller music players were there just a few days ago...

This, of course, should not be a surprise to anyone. The iPod nano was last updated in September 2012, when it gained a weird iOS 6-like interface without actually running iOS 6.

The story of the Shuffle is even sadder. The tiny music player was last revised in September 2010. Out of the two, however, I figured the Nano would go first. The Shuffle — with its built-in clip and easy-to-use controls — is great for running and biking.
 

The life cycles of these two products have been such great stories.

The first nano was such a drastic miniaturisation of the iPod mini that came before it that I couldn’t believe it at first. The only other time I was swept away by such a reduction of size and weight in an Apple product line was with the iPhone, from the 4s to the 5. The nano only kept decreasing in size since then.

Although the nano more notably changed in form between product generations. It became somewhat of a test bed for the ID team at Apple. It was smushed, then narrowed, then smushed again, then narrowed again in what would be its final incarnation.

The nano experienced a lot of firsts, too. It was the first iPod to receive a camera. I had a friend with that model and I remember being amazed that a device that small could have a camera. The 6th-gen nano – and all its tacky third-party wrist-straps – was the Apple Watch before the Apple Watch.

Even as it underwent these big changes on a pretty regular basis, it continued to sell well. It also managed to retain what made it an iPod, in that you couldn’t mistake it for being anything other than an iPod. In fact, you could say it defined the iPod. That can’t be said for a lot of other Apple product lines.

The shuffle was a different story – in a way, it’s the opposite story. The shuffle didn’t change form and function all the much. It went from being elongated and looking more like the first nano to just being a click-wheel. Then it went to being elongated again and received VoiceOver, then it went back to the click-wheel design it’s most known for.

Okay, maybe it did change a bunch… but from what I’ve seen, it was the smaller click-wheel shuffles that were the most popular. I could swear I’ve never seen either of the elongated designs in the wild, so to speak. I think it attests to, more than anything, the popularity of the click-wheel interaction method. (Also, the buttons were great to fidget with. It was the fidget cube before the fidget cube.)

As the nano veered further and further from analog controls, the shuffle remained the iPod that kept its original vision alive – a portable device that simply played your music. The shuffle’s limited function made it the counterbalance to the ambition of the nano within the iPod lineup. It makes it all the more unfortunate they were phased out at the same time.

Anker: A Case Study for Quality

Nick Statt profiles the mobile accessories company Anker for The Verge. As someone who dreams to set up a consumer electronics firm one day, this was an encouraging and exciting read.

Of course, given that it’s somewhat hastily written as Verge articles tend to be, something rubbed me the wrong way:

 
It may be surprising that Apple sat idly as the accessory market ballooned around it; it took the company years to develop its own battery case for the iPhone to compete with Mophie. But Apple has always favored high margins on premium products, even the cables and earbuds it sells in the Apple Store.
 

The Verge continues to misunderstand Apple. Up to this point in the article, battery cases weren’t mentioned, and what makes cases different from standard packs is that there’s greater opportunity for first-party integration there, given that it’s meant to be used while attached to the phone for extend periods of time. I think Apple saw and capitalized on that opportunity with their battery case. With making a battery case came also the opportunity to solve this design problem: making it feel better in the hand, which they seemed to have solved with the shape of their case.

All of the major problems with battery packs mentioned beforehand that Anker took on were all technological. Nothing Anker achieved seems like an opportunity Apple really missed. I know it’s exciting to imagine Apple making affordable battery cases that charge fast and work well, but for better or worse, that’s just not Apple. For the most part, they haven’t and wouldn’t sell a product that they think didn’t deserve its premium, and the battery pack form factor doesn’t have enough friction points for them to address, unless they had focused on just the tech like Anker did.

That said, Anker and Apple can co-exist and sell their own things — what a concept, right? 

On a lighter note:

 
Silicon Valley is full of breathless mission statements designed to inspire and justify the power and influence of technology, like Apple’s famous “think different” slogan, and Google’s ominous and now defunct “don’t be evil” mantra. Facebook, back in 2012, celebrated its billion-user milestone with an ad comparing the social network to chairs, bridges, and even nations.

Anker has never aspired to such grand ambitions. “At Anker, we can’t exactly help you unwind,” the company admits on its Amazon sellers page. Instead, Anker takes a more straightforward approach by solving the inevitable problems technology creates. “Say goodbye to first-world tech woes like oppressive low batteries and limited ports,” the page says. “Say hello to an easier, smarter life.”
 

Silicon Valley always has its sights set decades into the future, which I think necessitates companies like Anker to solve the problems we have now, even the small, seemingly inconsequential ones like how to keep our phones alive for the day and have it be a pleasant experience. Quality still sells.