Jony Ive

Always with the raw & fresh perspective on Apple, John Gruber gives his take on Jony Ive leaving Apple:

I think Tim Cook is a great CEO and Jeff Williams is a great COO. But who’s in charge of product design now? There is no new chief design officer, which, really, is what Steve Jobs always was. From a product standpoint, the post-Jobs era at Apple has been the Jony Ive era, not the Tim Cook era. That’s not a knock on Tim Cook. To his credit, Tim Cook has never pretended to be a product guy, which is exactly the hubris that John Sculley succumbed to back in the early ’90s, leading to the Newton being launched far before it was ready and the Macintosh platform languishing.

My gut sense for years has been that Ive without Jobs has been like McCartney without Lennon. Or Lennon without McCartney — take whichever analogical pairing you prefer. My point here is only that the fruit of their collaborations were, seemingly magically, far greater than the sums of the duos’ talents and tastes.

It’s too soon to know anything. As Gruber mentions, Apple’s product roadmap stretches at least 5 years into the future, and in that time Apple will figure out a replacement that makes sense. Or they won’t. Who knows. I don’t.

…and then I read John Siracusa’s tweet and I can’t un-see it:

Folks who wanted someone to be fired over the butterfly keyboard: happy now?

He’s 100% right. OK, at least 50% right.

Up until 2016 did you ever have reason to doubt the integrity of your MacBook’s keyboard? I’ve been buying Macs since 2000 and I never had a reason to doubt them. My current laptop is a 2015 MacBook Pro, the one with the flawless keyboard.

Steve Jobs had an ego the size of California and he could be a salty motherfucker, but he would admit to a fuck-up if he had to. He did it (begrudgingly) in 2010 in response to the antenna issues in the iPhone 4, otherwise known as “Antennagate”.

As Gruber mentions, Ive no longer has a Lennon to his McCartney, so we never got an apology.

It is interesting that the ‘solution’ to the iPhnoe 4 antenna issue was a plastic bumper to cover the edges of the device and the ‘solution’ to the MacBook Pro butterfly keyboard was a silicon membrane covering the individual key mechanisms. Covering up the problems versus fixing them.

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Product

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Fun Interface

John Gruber on the upcoming iOS 13 and what bothers him with the “post-iOS 7” UI:

I don’t know why, but one of those things has been bugging me a lot in recent months: the drab gray color that indicates tapdown state for list items and buttons. Putting aside skeuomorphic textures like woodgrain and leather and the 3D-vs.-flat debate, the utter drabness of tapdown states is just a bad idea. I didn’t like it when iOS 7 debuted, and I like it even less 6 years later.

In classic iOS, when you tapped down on list items or buttons, they’d instantly light up in vibrant color. The standard color was a bright cheerful blue. In iOS 7 through 12, the tapdown state is the color of dirty dishwater.

I agree with Gruber to an extent.

I remember how weird iOS 7 felt when it came out. It was the first major iOS update after Scott Forstall left Apple and Jony Ive took ownership of iOS. Readability was shitty (it used a lot of Helvetica 35 Thin) and there was poor foreground/background contrast in Control Center with greys and whites. It felt like a print designer was designing their first RGB interface. It also didn’t feel fun. Love skeuomorphism or hate it, iOS, up to version 6 felt fun (I hate to break to the the skeuomorphism haters, but iOS still a lot uses skeuomorphism, but that’s for another post).

Fast forward to today and I think iOS 12 feels much more fun. There are more rounded corners (and bigger radii on those corners), and animations have more easing to them. Transitions are not as robotically linear as they used to be.

This isn’t to say there’s not room to improve iOS and make make it more fun.

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There’s a first for everything.

John Gruber on the MacBook keyboards:

I consider these keyboards the worst products in Apple history. MacBooks should have the best keyboards in the industry; instead they’re the worst. They’re doing lasting harm to the reputation of the MacBook brand.

I just started a new job and normally I get excited because that means I get a brand-new MacBook Pro.

This is the first time in my 19 years as a graphic designer I’m not looking forward to getting a new machine.

And that sucks.

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Product

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Design Anorexia

iFixIt’s Kyle Wiens wrote a scathing and eye-opening piece on the Macbook Pro Keyboard fiasco:

Thin may be in, but it has tradeoffs. Ask any Touch Bar owner if they would trade a tenth of a millimeter for a more reliable keyboard. No one who has followed this Apple support document instructing them to shake their laptop at a 75 degree angle and spray their keyboard with air in a precise zig-zag pattern will quibble over a slightly thicker design.

This is design anorexia: making a product slimmer and slimmer at the cost of usefulness, functionality, serviceability, and the environment.

A repairable pro laptop is not an unreasonable ask. Apple has a history of great keyboards—they know how to make them. There are very successful laptop manufacturers who consistently earn 10/10 on our repairability scale. Apple fans are already making noise about the dearth of new Macs, especially upgradable options for professionals. Fortunately, Apple seems to be listening with their new warranty program.

I’ve been aware of the keyboard problem in the latest version of the Macbooks since last year, so I’ve known to steer clear of them and stick with my Mid-2015 Macbook Pro.

Aside from the dust problem, I know from riding the Apple Shuttle for an entire year in 2017 that these keyboards are also annoyingly loud. When a coworker told me she couldn’t stand it when her husband was working on his Macbook in the same room as her, I thought she was clearly being dramatic. It couldn’t be that bad.

I was wrong, it could be that bad.

It makes me sad to see certain Apple products as something to avoid (opposed to my iPhone X which is amazing). What’s naive to do, though, is jump on the This-would-have-never-happened-when-Steve-Jobs-was-alive bandwagon. Antennagate happened under Steve, as did MobileMe.

I think Apple is suffering from the hubris a $900 billion company exudes that continues to be the most imitated in the tech industry, so it’s taking more cold water in their faces to course correct when a product is broken. But the sky is not falling and Apple is not doomed. As Kyle notes, Apple knows how to make great keyboards.

The only thing we can do now is wait and see what comes next.

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App Store Editorial Design

Khoi Vinh on the caliber of editorial design in Apple’s App Store:

Apple’s dramatically redesigned App Store got a decent amount of attention when it debuted last year with iOS 11, but its unique success as a hybrid of product design and editorial design has gone little noticed since. That’s a shame, because it’s a huge breakthrough.

I myself paid it scant attention until one day this past winter when I realized that the company was commissioning original illustration to accompany its new format. If you check the App Store front page a few times a week, you’ll see a quietly remarkable display of unique art alongside unique stories about apps, games and “content” (movies, TV shows, comics, etc.). To be clear: this isn’t work lifted from the marketing materials created by app publishers. It’s drawings, paintings, photographs, collages and/or animations that have been created expressly for the App Store.

I don’t launch the App Store app very often, but Vinh is right. The art direction and illustrations are solid.

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Art Direction

“I trust Apple a lot less.”

I got my iPhone’s battery replaced, and I’m angry Apple didn’t tell me to sooner:

Two weeks ago, I went to an Apple Store and had a new battery put in my iPhone 6S. The very next day, I realized how unusable my old battery had been making my phone.

The repair restored functionality that had been seeping away so slowly I hadn’t really registered the loss. Apps now load when I tap them, not when they feel like it. The keyboard doesn’t freeze when I try to reply to emails in Outlook. My phone no longer clings to its charging cable like it’s a hospital drip, and the battery itself has stopped taking surprise nosedives from 40 percent charge down to zero when I have the temerity to go outside in the cold. (Yes, cold weather kills batteries.) The trust is back in my relationship with my phone, but as a result, I trust Apple a lot less.

I’m angry too.

As an admitted fan of Apple I won’t lie, this is bullshit. I’ve always known, always, that performance degraded on my previous iPhones when I upgraded to the latest version of iOS. I didn’t need an official statement from Apple or any other company to confirm or deny my suspicions.

And now here we are getting new, discounted batteries from Apple.

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Business, Technology

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Apple Offers iPhone Battery Replacements

Apple apologizes for iPhone slowdown drama, will offer $29 battery replacements for a year:

Apple just published a letter to customers apologizing for the “misunderstanding” around older iPhones being slowed down, following its recent admission that it was, in fact, slowing down older phones in order to compensate for degrading batteries. “We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down,” says the company. “We apologize.”

Apple says in its letter that batteries are “consumable components,” and is offering anyone with an iPhone 6 or later a battery replacement for $29 starting in late January through December 2018 — a discount of $50 from the usual replacement cost. Apple’s also promising to add features to iOS that provide more information about the battery health in early 2018, so that users are aware of when their batteries are no longer capable of supporting maximum phone performance.

It’s bullshit Apple had to be called out this, but they’ve apologized and offered a reasonably priced solution.

I just upgraded from an iPhone 6 Plus to an iPhone X, but I think it’s still worth it to replace the battery on my 6 Plus.

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Microsoft zigs, while Apple zags

Microsoft Has Stopped Manufacturing The Kinect:

Manufacturing of the Kinect has shut down. Originally created for the Xbox 360, Microsoft’s watershed depth camera and voice recognition microphone sold ~35 million units since its debut in 2010, but Microsoft will no longer produce it when retailers sell off their existing stock. The company will continue to support Kinect for customers on Xbox, but ongoing developer tools remain unclear. Microsoft shared the news with Co.Design in exclusive interviews with Alex Kipman, creator of the Kinect, and Matthew Lapsen, GM of Xbox Devices Marketing.

I find it a funny coincidence that Microsoft shuts down Kinect right when Apple is releasing an iPhone which has what is essentially a minaturized Kinect in it for 3D facial recognition.

Microsoft has a tendency to zig in the wrong direction while Apple zags in the right direction.

The other big zig-zag example that comes to mind is multitouch. When Apple got it’s hands on multitouch, it made the iPhone and iPad. When Microsoft got their hands on multitouch, they made the Surface.

No, not the tablet we know today, I’m talking about the big-ass table.

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Product, Technology

The App Store

Back in June, Horace Dediu took a look at 9 years of numbers for the App Store:

The App Store is almost 9 years old. In that time it has generated about $100 billion in revenues, of which about $70 billion has been passed on to developers and $30 billion was kept by Apple. It’s very likely that running the App Store for 9 years did not cost $30 billion so, if it were an independent “business unit” it would probably have been and still be quite profitable.

But Apple does not run “business units” with separate Profit and Loss statements. The App Store is a part of Services which is an amalgamation of non-hardware sources of revenues but that does not mean it’s a business. The purpose of Services isn’t to turn a profit or define its value through some metric of financial performance.

The purpose of Services is to make the experience for the Apple user better. The combination of good experiences allows Apple to be perceived as a valuable brand and that allows it to obtain consistently above-average profitability through pricing power. I like to emphasize that the iPhone at over $600 in average price is more than twice the average price of all the other smartphones and captures over 90% of all available profits.

The fact that Apple doesn’t have business units is important and it’s what makes the company so hard for analysts to define and for competitors to compete with.

At the end of the day, yes, Apple is a company that manufactures physical gadgets but like Dediu points out, if you take away software or services from the equation, Apple falls apart.

It’s all connected.

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Business, Technology

HomePod – More Than a Speaker + Siri

Over in the r/apple subreddit, u/Arve highlights an interesting thread in the r/audiophile subreddit concerning what’s under the hood in Apple’s new Siri-enabled HomePod:

There is one comment from that thread I’d like to highlight:

  1. They’re using some form of dynamic modeling, and likely also current sensing that allows them to have a p-p excursion of 20 mm in a 4″ driver. This is completely unheard of in the home market. You can read an introduction to the topic here. The practical upshot is that that 4″ driver can go louder than larger drivers, and with significantly less distortion. It’s also stuff you typically find in speakers with five-figure price tags (The Beolab 90 does this, and I also suspect that the Kii Three does). It’s a quantum leap over what a typical passive speaker does, and you don’t really even find it in higher-end powered speakers
  2. The speaker uses six integrated beamforming microphones to probe the room dimensions, and alter its output so it sounds its best wherever it is placed in the room. It’ll know how large the room is, and where in the room it is placed.
  3. The room correction applied after probing its own position isn’t simplistic DSP of frequency response, as the speaker has seven drivers that are used to create a beamforming speaker array,. so they can direct specific sound in specific directions. The only other speakers that do this is the Beolab 90, and Lexicon SL-1. The Beolab 90 is $85,000/pair, and no price tag is set for the Lexicon, but the expectation in the industry is “astronomical”.

Lots of people online are calling it overpriced because they think Apple just slapped a bunch of speakers in a circular configuration and added Siri, but the engineering behind it is extremely audiophile niche stuff. And it does this all automatically with no acoustical set up or technical know how. And even if you are obsessive about your existing tuned audio set up, just think of how much better enthusiast stuff will become once this kind of technology becomes the accepted mainstream baseline for speakers.

So Apple has included a technology in HomePod only found in $85K speakers.

Details like this make the differences between Apple and Amazon crystal clear.

The fact that both HomePod and Echo both have integrated AI assistants is where the comparisons end. The purpose of the Echo is to make it easier to order more things from Amazon. Apple has nothing analogous to Amazon’s megastore, so it needs to be something more than a “good enough” speaker you can order shit from.

via Twitter

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Apple’s $1 Billion US Manufacturing Boost

Apple just promised to give US manufacturing a $1 billion boost:

Apple CEO Tim Cook said that his company will start a $1 billion fund to promote advanced manufacturing jobs in the United States.

“We’re announcing it today. So you’re the first person I’m telling,” Cook told “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer on Wednesday. “Well, not the first person because we’ve talked to a company that we’re going to invest in already,” he said, adding that Apple will announce the first investment later in May.

The fund comes as President Donald Trump has made bringing back manufacturing jobs a big part of his agenda, and it fits into Apple’s larger effort to create jobs across its spectrum, from its own employees to app developers to its suppliers.

This is potentially good news.

I know very little about business and manufacturing, but I do know there’s a difference between starting a fund and paying directly for the creation of manufacturing plants which employ people.

I believe Tim Cook to be genuine in his intentions so let’s just see what happens.

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Business, Career

They call it a dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.*

Over at The Verge, Dan Seifert has a interesting look into Samsung and their goals behind the new S8:

“We have a dream to overcome Apple.”

With that simple, obvious statement, the air was sucked out of the large conference room in Samsung’s Suwon, South Korea, headquarters before the company even had a chance to show me the device I flew halfway across the world to see. It’s not often that you hear someone at Samsung actually verbalize the unsaid motivation for many of the company’s products — most executives won’t even mention Apple by name. Yet here was the company’s vice president of product strategy just blurting it out to a small group of journalists.

It seems marketshare isn’t always enough and doesn’t always make you feel like the best. It was only in Q4 2016 that Apple regained the #1 spot in market share. Before this past Q4 Samsung had been the reigning champ.

One of the S8’s flagship features is their new AI ‘bright sidekick’, Bixby:

It’s a smart play: Samsung knows it can’t compete with Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and others when it comes to raw machine learning power and putting vast amounts of information at your fingertips, so it’s using Bixby to solve a simpler task, one that those companies have largely ignored. Bixby isn’t going to try to be the everything-assistant. Instead, it will be that “bright sidekick” that complements those other services. It’s a new user interface, not a new way to ask how tall the Eiffel Tower is.

Wow, less capable than Siri and ‘Ok, Google’. Sounds like a must-have feature!

Seifert had a nagging thought that quelled his optimism for the S8:

As I watched brand-new S8 phones get bolted together on Samsung’s new production line in the Gumi factory, it was obvious that the company has a plan for designing great hardware in the wake of the Note 7 fiasco. But as much as I knew that the devices coming off that factory line would have amazing hardware and eye-catching design, I couldn’t escape a nagging thought.

I realized that there’s a thing that many pro users do when they get their hands on a new Samsung smartphone: they immediately disable as many of Samsung’s own apps and services as possible and replace them with Google’s versions. The appreciation for Samsung’s design and hardware rarely extends to its software efforts.

Samsung makes Android phones, so the only way (outside of hardware) they can distinguish themselves from all the other Android phone makers is to make a unique software experience and people are disabling their software features.

Ouch.

Good luck with that dream, Samsung.

*the title of this piece was borrowed from George Carlin

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