Dammit, Apple. You’re Supposed to Be the Ones With Good UI Design.

The grand appeal of using an e-reader is the ability to own a large library of books without adding to the colossal weight of one’s possessions. Ever since I moved away from print books I’ve been able to remove hundreds of pounds of clutter from my apartment and from my life. Storing books digitally has improved my quality of life. That being said, the various e-readers that are out there have an obligation to provide a good user experience, and they do that through design.

In the past I’ve taken Amazon to task for user interface design that I felt was subpar. Since it’s introduction, Kindle for the iPad has gone through numerous updates to its UI, and while still not perfect, it provides a fine balance of text and whitespace. The only reason I don’t use the app regularly is because Kindle doesn’t have continuous scrolling. Enter iBooks, the e-reader app from Apple.

Apple prides itself on the quality of its design. One can see it from the look and feel of Apple’s signature hardware, to the way fonts render in OSX, and everything in between. Which makes this so inexplicable:

ios10ibooks

That is a screenshot of a page in iBooks, with continuous scroll turned on, after an update to iOS 10. The margins to the right and left are too small, leaving the text crowded to the edge of the screen. When using one of the new model iPad Pros, the text is less than an inch from the edge of the device. The width of the text also interferes with the eye’s ability to flow from one line to the next. What happened to all that whitespace that designers value so much? It used to be there. This is a screenshot of the same text taken in iBooks from an iPad running iOS 9:

ios9ibooks

The second screenshot shows a much better use of margins. I know there are charlatans out there who prefer text to be much closer to the edge, but they’re wrong. Luckily, a solution that satisfies most users should not be that difficult for Apple to implement. The Kindle app already has a margin selector in the same menu where a user adjusts fonts and background colors. The settings in iBooks does not. As of right now, the experience in iBooks on the iPad has been degraded by the decision to close the margins. Were Apple to add a margin selector, it would be a vast improvement to the app.

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Apple and McLaren

Financial Times: Apple in talks on McLaren supercars takeover:

Left to right: Eddy Cue sits on the board of Ferrari, Sir Jonathan Ive has fondness for Aston Martin, and Phil Schiller owns a McLaren

Apple has approached McLaren Technology Group, the British supercar engineer and Formula One team owner, about a potential acquisition, in the clearest sign yet that the iPhone maker is seeking to transform the automotive industry.

Whaaaaaat.

I’m envisioning a very, very affordable car.

UPDATE: Nevermind.

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Uncategorized

Jaded and Fickle

Farhad Manjoo doesn’t think Apple is cutting edge anymore:

The absence of a jack is far from the worst shortcoming in Apple’s latest product launch. Instead, it’s a symptom of a deeper issue with the new iPhones, part of a problem that afflicts much of the company’s product lineup: Apple’s aesthetics have grown stale.

Apple has squandered its once-commanding lead in hardware and software design. Though the new iPhones include several new features, including water resistance and upgraded cameras, they look pretty much the same as the old ones. The new Apple Watch does too. And as competitors have borrowed and even begun to surpass Apple’s best designs, what was iconic about the company’s phones, computers, tablets and other products has come to seem generic.

And

It’s not just that a few new Apple products have been plagued with design flaws. The bigger problem is an absence of delight. I recently checked in with several tech-pundit friends for their assessment of Apple’s aesthetic choices. “What was the last Apple design that really dazzled you?” I asked.

This article could have been written 5 years ago. If people keep writing ‘Apple is Doomed’ stories, I suppose there’s a chance they’ll eventually come true.

I’m curious if automobile news sites complain that the Porsche 911 doesn’t delight anymore. That the design is basically the same as was last year and the year before that.

Perhaps the problem isn’t with Apple’s design chops, design chops I feel are still top notch. Perhaps the problem is with Manjoo and people like him. It’s easy to become jaded and fickle. It’s as if people expect (demand?) the things they buy will solve all their problems and constantly delight them in the process.

I think what happened is Manjoo was given a creative writing assignment: Apple presented a great, albeit iterative product lineup, we need you to show us why is was shit. If this was the case, Manjoo was doing a great job until the last two paragraphs:

And while Apple has slowed its design cadence, its rivals have sped up. Last year Samsung remade its lineup of Galaxy smartphones in a new glass-and-metal design that looked practically identical to the iPhone. Then it went further. Over the course of a few months, Samsung put out several design refinements, culminating in the Note 7, a big phone that has been universally praised by critics. With its curved sides and edge-to-edge display, the Note 7 pulls off a neat trick: Though it is physically smaller than Apple’s big phone, it actually has a larger screen. So thanks to clever design, you get more from a smaller thing — exactly the sort of advance we once looked to Apple for.

So Apple’s design prowess is in trouble, but Samsung continues to make smartphones that are practically identical to the iPhone. So this means what? Samsung’s industrial design is superior to Apple’s?

And then comes Manjoo’s final caveat:

An important caveat: Samsung’s software is still bloated, and its reputation for overall build quality took a hit when it announced last week that it would recall and replace the Note 7 because of a battery defect that caused spontaneous explosions. To the extent that making a device that doesn’t explode suggests design expertise, Apple is still ahead of Samsung.

Ok, so Apple continues to break sales records with their phones, has top-rated customer satisfaction but somehow, “The real danger is in Apple’s long-term reputation.” Not Samsung’s reputation because I guess we all know they’re rip-off artists so they get a pass.

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Product, Technology

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‘Less & Better’ Not ‘More & Shitty’

Apple is going to remove abandoned apps from the App Store:

It’s cleaning time in the App Store. Apple sent an email to its developer community indicating that there will be some upcoming changes in the App Store. If an app no longer works or is outdated, it’s going to get removed from the App Store. And it’s about time.

“We are implementing an ongoing process of evaluating apps, removing apps that no longer function as intended, don’t follow current review guidelines, or are outdated,” Apple wrote.

And:

And Apple is not going to stop at abandoned apps. The company will also fight spammy app names. For instance, if you search for “Instagram” on the App Store, one of the first results is an app that is called “[app name] Photo Collage, Picture Editor, Pic Grid, F…” and then it gets cut off.

It’s about time. I’d rather have less & better than more & shitty.

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Product, Technology

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Spotify: “Mom! Apple isn’t playing fairrrrr”

Spotify: Apple is holding up app approval to squash competition:

Like other apps, Spotify had been getting customers to foot the bill for Apple’s App Store billing fees by charging an extra $3 a month. It recently launched a promotion for the second time that gave new users three months of service for a dollar, if they signed up on the web. As you can imagine, that didn’t make Apple too happy, and the company reportedly threatened to pull the app entirely unless Spotify stopped pushing the deal for iPhone owners. It complied with the request, but it also nixed the iTunes billing option in the iOS version which lead to the current dispute.

On one hand, I feel like this ends up hurting happy Spotify and Apple customers. Elizabeth Warren recently accused Apple, Amazon, and Google of anti-competitive practices. This issue with Spotify only adds fuel to the fire.

On the other hand, why should Apple make and exception for Spotify and wave the App Store fee? It seems as though the Google Play store also charges 30% fees like Apple.

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Business

Microsoft: “Our stuff is so valuable, we’re giving it away!”

Microsoft is giving students a free Xbox One with Surface Pro 4 purchases:

Microsoft is tempting students to buy a Surface Pro 4 this week with a new promotion running at its retail stores in the US. The software maker is taking $300 off when students buy a Surface Pro 4 and Xbox One. “So basically a free Xbox One with the purchase of a Surface Pro 4,” says Terry Myerson, head of Windows and devices at Microsoft, in an interview with The Verge. The deal goes live today and will run until August 14th.

Has Apple ever had to give away hundreds of dollars worth of tech to get kids to use it?

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Product, Technology

The Unbearable Heaviness of iTunes

Vlad Savov at The Verge asks how many Apple engineers does it take to fix iTunes?:

In the ranking of unpleasant life experiences, using Apple’s iTunes lies somewhere between filing your taxes and having your wisdom teeth pulled out. It’s not good even at the best of times, but two weeks ago it was downright harmful to one James Pinkstone of Atlanta, who found 122GB of his own musical creations had been deleted by Apple’s renegade software. The response from Cupertino has been swift and decisive, with two engineers being sent out this weekend to diagnose the cause of Pinkstone’s agony and try to fix it.

Excellent fucking question!

The problem with iTunes is that iTunes does waaaaaay too many things now. It manages not just your tunes, but your movies, podcasts, apps, and, if you like, your iPhone/iPad syncing (I rarely use iTunes to sync my iPhone).

Originally, iTunes handled your music, and then syncing your music to your iPod. It’s actually doing the same thing now, only with many more different media types for multiple devices.

Something clearly has to change, whether it’s rebuilding iTunes from the ground up, like they did when they scrapped iPhoto for the new Photos app or breaking iTunes up into discreet applications for different tasks/media types.

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Human Experience

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If you hand over the keys, you hand over the money, control, and responsibility.

Over the weekend The New York Times published a piece, Podcasts Surge, but Producers Fear Apple Isn’t Listening.

Marco Arment, a prominent iOS developer and podcaster, responded:

And if that ill-informed New York Times article is correct in broad strokes, which is a big “if” given how much it got wrong about Apple’s role in podcasting, big podcasters want Apple to add more behavioral data and creepy tracking to the Apple Podcasts app, then share the data with them. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that.

By the way, while I often get pitched on garbage podcast-listening-behavioral-data integrations, I’m never adding such tracking to Overcast. Never. The biggest reason I made a free, mass-market podcast app was so I could take stands like this.

Big podcasters also apparently want Apple to insert itself as a financial intermediary to allow payment for podcasts within Apple’s app. We’ve seen how that goes. Trust me, podcasters, you don’t want that.

It would not only add rules, restrictions, delays, and big commissions, but it would increase Apple’s dominant role in podcasts, push out diversity, give Apple far more control than before, and potentially destroy one of the web’s last open media ecosystems.

I agree with Arment. Be careful what you wish for.

You don’t hear these complaints from less popular, underdog podcasters, like me. I’ve been producing my (sometimes) Weekly Exhaust podcast for over a year with my co-host Bryan, and it’s hard work, but that’s how it goes. Anything worth doing takes hard work. It takes me having to figure out how to market and advertise my podcast to get exposure.

If I hand that responsibility over to Apple I also hand over money that could go in my pocket. I also hand over my relationship with my listeners. I don’t want to do that.

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Podcast

“Siri, replace yourself with Viv.”

For the last four years the creators of Siri have been working on a next generation AI called Viv:

The major difference between Siri and Viv is that the latter is a far more open platform. One of the biggest frustrations with Siri is that it has only a small number of tasks it can complete. For the vast multitude of requests or queries, Siri will default to a generic web search. Viv’s approach is much closer to Amazon’s Alexa or Facebook’s Messenger bots, offering the ability to connect with third party merchants and vendors so that it can execute on requests to purchase good or book reservations. The company’s tagline — intelligence becomes a utility — nicely sums up its goal of powering the conversational AI inside a multitude of gadgets and digital services.

Sounds awesome. I wonder if Apple will just buy Viv like they did Siri or if they’re going to be take Siri to the next level on their own.

There were negative reviews of Amazon’s Alexa when it came out but more and more I’m hearing positive experiences with it (from Apple nerds too).

Update: Here’s a video of Viv in action from TechCrunch Disrupt

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Technology

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Apple Diversity

Apple launched a new page breaking down the diversity across the company:

This kind of reporting and transparency is great, but as CEO Tim Cook admits in his message, there’s a lot more work to be done.

Let’s take a look at the executive board, for instance:

Not many brown people up there. Wait! There’s a black woman VP of HR. Yay!

So yeah, I would agree with Cook. There’s a lot more work to be done.

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Career

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Geez, LG

I remember when tech news sites were mocking Apple when they introduced gold color finishing on iPhones, and then on the ‘new’ MacBook.

Seems the mocking is over as Samsung and LG continue to copy Apple’s product designs.

Check out the web page for LG’s new, ultra-thin laptop, the ‘gram’ (really? the whole product name is lowercase?)

And as David Barker noted on Designer News, they even pasted in a shot from Final Cut Pro on OS X.

And here’s the new MacBook Apple debuted in 2015:

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Product

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