We are holding a sale on our iOS education and Mac media apps with deals of up to 50% off. Titles include the fun new Jungle Picnic, Quick Math, the award-winning RipIt, and Tagalicious. Available for a limited time only, don’t miss out!
Thanks to Shiny Things & The Little App Factory for sponsoring the Marco.org RSS feed this week.
Andrew Sullivan is taking The Dish independent, funding it with a paywall1, and going ad-free (at the beginning, at least):
Here’s the core principle: we want to create a place where readers - and readers alone - sustain the site. No bigger media companies will be subsidizing us; no venture capital will be sought to cushion our transition (unless my savings count as venture capital); and, most critically, no advertising will be getting in the way.
The decision on advertising was the hardest, because obviously it provides a vital revenue stream for almost all media products.
Ads for web content are usually considered a requirement — almost nobody operates a blog or news site profitably without them. Generally, a site can make much more money selling ads than charging readers for access because advertisers are willing to pay more than most audiences, among other reasons.
The bigger challenge of staying ad-free is that the audience generally doesn’t mind ads when implemented tastefully. I launched The Magazine ad-free, but hardly anyone has noticed. I’m definitely leaving money on the table — I don’t like double-dipping, but most people are happy to pay for services that also include ads. And given the choice to pay for ad-less content or get that same content for free with ads, most people will choose the free option.
And The Magazine is on iOS, where payments are very easy and people are accustomed to paying. On the web, it’s much harder and less common. It could be a significant challenge for a web-only publication with a paywall and nontrivial costs (like any full-time staff) to remain ad-free.
The New York Times internally has a fantastic euphemism for “paywall” that I can’t remember. “Paywalls” have a negative connotation because they fail or frustrate readers so often, but I don’t think the Times needs to obfuscate their new, most important business model — it’s working. ↩
And for the past year, Google has automatically created a Google+ profile page for anyone who has signed up for a Google account—even just to sign up for Gmail. …
The impetus for such integration comes from the top: Google Chief Executive Larry Page has sought more aggressive measures to get people to use Google+, two people familiar with the matter say. The CEO about a year ago pushed the idea of requiring Google users to sign on to their Google+ accounts even just to view reviews of businesses, the people say. …
Google executives say more integration is coming. “Google+ is Google. And the entry points to Google+ are many, and the integrations are more every day,” says Vice President Bradley Horowitz.
Just as marketshare isn’t everything, the number of users on a free service can often give misleading impressions of activity, influence, relevance, and user loyalty.
In Google+’s case, I do believe them that they have 500 millionaccounts, but that’s about half as many as Facebook. Does anyone believe for a second that Google+ has half of any other important metric as Facebook?
Creating a Facebook account is deliberate. Very few people have accidentally joined. Conversely, most people know whether they have a Facebook account or not.
But Google’s increasingly desperate push to cram Google+ down everyone’s throats hasn’t made Google+ any more relevant. It has only resulted in a lot of confused Google-account owners who inadvertently “upgraded” to Google+ while trying to do something else on a Google property, and who don’t even realize that they have this account on this social network that none of their friends use even though they all accidentally have accounts on it.
Max Rudberg on “minimal” app designs that rely on non-obvious gestures:
These apps have chosen to reduce details to achieve a minimal UI, but in the process the UI has also become harder to use. Unfortunately a UI walkthrough is quite an inelegant way to explain the core functionality of an app. It can be a frustrating obstacle before you can dive into an app, and you have to remember all of those new ways of using it once you get in.
The most important design goal for most apps should be that they’re usable. And then, further down the list — maybe second, maybe tenth, depending — should be attractiveness or adherence to a particular aesthetic.
Some aesthetics play nicely with usability, but minimalism can be very challenging. In Build and Analyze 100, I discussed my goal of not having a settings screen in The Magazine 1.0, how that goal forced me to make worse design decisions in other areas, and that relenting and adding a settings screen in 1.1 resulted in a better overall design. I had let an aesthetic choice take precedence over usability and practicality, and the app was much better after I got my priorities straight.
The argument is more complex for Clear, an app Rudberg cites. A major part of Clear’s visual appeal and explosive success was its extremely sparse interface. Had Clear opted for a few more visual accents and controls to increase usability, it may not have been noticeable enough among the hundreds of other iOS to-do apps to sell more than a few thousand copies.
By the time I arrived at Allegheny College in 2000, I had known I wanted to be a computer scientist for years, and was hoping that I picked the right school to achieve my goals. After just one class with Dr. Bob Cupper, I knew my education was in very good hands.
I took every class of his that I could, and each was invaluable. While I had many great professors, his classes laid the most fundamental groundwork and taught me the most important lessons for my career.
When he hosted the students for a dinner at his home each year, he imparted different but still invaluable lessons, including the incredible sound quality of electrostatic speakers and the rich, even heat of radiant floors. (It should be obvious at this point why Dr. Cupper and I got along so well.) In fact, my wife and I installed a hydronic radiant floor in my renovated home-office last year because I remembered his. He said it was the best kind of heat, and he was right.
Dr. Cupper was a teacher, advisor, role model, and friend to me and so many others.
I’m very sad to learn that he passed away a few days ago. I offer my most sincere condolences to his family, friends, and former students for their loss.
Tucked away under the pile of everything else in life, I always planned to visit Allegheny, stop into Cup’s office, and say hello. Tell him how much I appreciated what he taught me. Show him what I’ve done since then. But it never happened, because I never got around to making that trip. It’s a sobering reminder that it’s never too early to show your appreciation for what someone has taught you.
Our baby, Adam, was born 8 months ago. We’ve had a lot of help along the way from some useful baby products, but it’s often hard to find the right ones. Everyone’s always asking us for recommendations, so here’s a big list of our favorites.
Adam in his Chicco “car”, enjoying a pear in his Munchkin net. The “M” is aftermarket.
Naturepedic changing pad: It has no chemical smell when it’s new, the cover isn’t “crunchy”-sounding, and it’s a bit longer than standard changing pads but still fits standard covers (barely). It’s contoured on all four sides, so the baby really sits in it, especially when they’re very young. It’s expensive, but it’s great.
OXO wipes dispenser: Highly recommended. It offers true one-handed operation, and it’s heavy enough to pull wipes from without lifting off the table or falling over. It’s also extremely easy to refill. And when you’re reaching for another wipe when trying to change a wiggly baby, you’ll never get a stuck one. These all matter more than you might think.
Nosefrida Snotsucker: It fits in the baby’s nose without us having to worry about going in too far. When he was very young, he didn’t mind it at all. It’s much easier to clean out than the bulb suckers, and replacement parts are available if needed.
Motorola MBP36 baby monitor: We tried the fancy Withings monitor that showed the video on our iPhones, but it was unreliable, inserted a significant delay, and would freeze the stream for minutes at a time without warning or notice — exactly what you don’t want from your baby monitor. We switched to this cheaper, standalone Motorola monitor and love it: it has a huge color screen, decent battery life (especially when you turn off the screen and just listen to the audio), night vision, temperature monitoring, and useful motorized panning so you can keep track of babies who move around their cribs a lot. The audio-level lights are also nice so you easily notice increased noise levels even with the volume set reasonably low. And having the monitor be separate from our iPhones is actually a benefit: you can keep it somewhere central instead of in your pocket, and it doesn’t drain your phone’s battery. Highly recommended.
Miracle Blanket: The baby is very secure and can’t get out, and it’s nice that this blanket doesn’t use loud, annoying Velcro to fasten. The foot pocket is great, and much better at keeping the baby’s feet in than a normal rectangular blanket.
You’ll need lots of receiving blankets, such as Carter’s or whatever you find in the baby stores. They’re all about the same sizes and come in multi-packs. You’ll use them for nearly everything, but they become less useful as the baby gets older than about 6 months. They’re a bit too small to be swaddlers past infancy, though.
Aden + Anais swaddling blankets: Don’t be scared off by the price: they’re completely worth it, and aren’t just regular receiving blankets. Their larger size makes them more versatile, and the muslin is stretchy so you can get a tighter wrap when swaddling. We’ve used them as swaddlers, receiving blankets, draw blankets, regular blankets, nursing cloths, and nursing covers. Regular receiving blankets are softer and more general-purpose, though, so you do need both — but these are better at certain things.
Closet organizer rings: These are very useful in organizing the baby’s clothes by age and size, so you can easily find outfits that the baby will fit into at any given age. Arranging by size makes it much easier than a typical adult method of arranging by clothing type.
Philips Avent Soothie pacifier: If you use pacifiers, buy multiple packs (maybe 6 or 8 pacifiers to start). Our baby likes these much more than the others we tried. There’s no hard or sharp plastic at the base, he can hold them more easily, and now that he’s starting to teethe, he loves turning it around and chewing on it from all angles. It’s also easy to stick on one of your fingers as you’re holding other things or babies. As a novelty bonus, you can look through it and see inside the baby’s mouth during use. Slight con: they bounce and can roll quite far if dropped, and will always find a way to land under the couch or dog.
Booginhead PaciGrip pacifier holder: Absolutely required. You can clip a pacifier right to the baby’s blanket, clothing, or car seat. You’ll be washing pacifiers all day if you don’t have a couple of these.
Skip Hop play mat (various “friends” available): Teaches the baby early to grab and look at objects. Later on, he can sit up and reach for things. You can also detach the built-in toys and add your own for variety. We were on the fence about getting one of these, but we’re glad we did: it’s a great everyday amusement, and helps a lot with development of various skills. It folds nicely for travel or storage.
SoftSpot play mat and your choice of cover: Pairs well with the Skip Hop play mat as an additional cushioning layer underneath it, and can also be used alone. Similar thickness and feel as a gym mat: we felt safer with the baby on this than on any other surface when he started sitting up, tipping over, and crawling. It also folds easily for travel or storage, and we frequently get compliments on it.
Babyganics foam dish soap: Love it, and the foam-pump dispenser is very convenient. We keep a separate sponge for the baby items for extra cleanliness and protection. Big refill bottles are also available.
Sassy bottle brush: You definitely need a bottle brush, but we’re not sure you need this one. It fits well into the small breast-pump bottles, which is a must. But the flip-out nipple brush breaks off easily. We didn’t use the soap reservoir because we used the Babyganics pump-foam soap instead.
Medela quick-steam bags: We started using these very late in our baby’s breastfeeding, and were just doing 10-minute boils on all of the pump parts and bottles every time, which became very time-consuming (and used a lot of water and stove gas). When we finally tried these microwaveable steam bags on a trip, we were pleasantly surprised how well they worked and how much faster and easier they were than boiling.
Boon Grass drying rack: We also get frequent compliments on this. It’s a surprisingly useful drying rack for bottles, breast-pump parts, pacifiers, and other small things that need to be washed a lot. We used ours for drying the pump parts after boiling sterilizations to keep them separate from our regular kitchen rack. Add a couple of optional flowers (don’t boil them, we warped one) to hold more, especially bottle nipples and collars. For a more depressing option, it’s also available in “winter” gray-white with dead trees.
Milkies Milk-Saver: Yes, it looks ridiculous, and you’ll feel like a chump paying over $25 for a piece of plastic. But it really does work, and can capture about an ounce of milk from the inactive breast per feeding or pumping that would otherwise just get wasted in a cloth or pad. But don’t bend over or lie down before you empty it, or it will spill out. We wish we bought it sooner.
Dutailier Sleigh glider: It’s very comfortable, and it’s perfectly designed for nursing mothers. It has great head and neck support, it’s easy to recline or reach items in the side pockets without disturbing the baby, and the rocking ottoman lets you rock with your feet up.
BabyBjörn Miracle carrier: Highly recommended. We have four other simpler carriers, including the Moby Wrap, but the Björn is by far the best and most useful. It’s especially useful because both parents can easily use it and it’s the fastest to get the baby in and out of. It also expands to grow with the baby, they can face either way (in when very young, out when more curious and easily bored), and it has excellent back support for the carrying parent. It’s great to free up your arms around the house, and it can also be used instead of a stroller on outings. We’ve used ours more than any stroller.
Graco SnugRider car-seat wheels: Converts your car seat into a basic stroller. Highly recommended. We thought we wouldn’t need it at first since we have a fancy Bugaboo Chameleon stroller, but the Bugaboo is very large and barely fits in the trunks of our cars, so we mostly use it around our neighborhood instead of bringing it in the car everywhere. This inexpensive car-seat-wheels attachment is much smaller, folds into a manageable shape, and is just as good for basic outings. You can also keep the baby sleeping in the car seat and transport between the car and the wheels easily. And if you’re bringing the baby into a store or restaurant, this is much more compact than a big pram-style infant stroller.
Brica car mirror: Extremely useful with rear-facing car seats so the driver and front passenger can see the baby.
Chicco walker (the baby’s “car”): Highly recommended, although it’s best if you have a lot of hard-floor area. We’ve had him in it from 4 months (as soon as his feet could barely touch the ground) because he kept wanting to stand up. It’s extremely freeing for parents: you can put him in the walker and he’ll follow you around the house on his own while you can do anything else with your arms. It builds leg strength, coordination, and walking skills, and it’s remarkably safe: rubber pads on the bottom stop it immediately and firmly, like skiing onto a patch of grass, if any wheel goes off the edge of a step. It’s easy to clean, and the “activity” module detaches so it can be used as a tray for basic feeding (although you’ll hurt your back by bending over too much if you always feed your baby in it). By 6 months, our baby was extremely good at “driving”, easily completing 3-point turns and freeing himself from getting stuck on carpets, and we were able to keep him entertained by hanging toys from doorknobs and the couch as “baby traps”. Also, fair warning: you’ll get little dents on all of your furniture legs about an inch above the floor.
OXO high chair: Looks nice, not overly tacky or plasticky. It’s extremely sturdy, easy to get the baby in and out of, and very easy to clean (recommended cleaner), and versatile enough to grow with the baby. It’s expensive, but after testing the others in stores, we liked the look, feel, and quality of the OXO far more. One word of caution: When evaulating these in a store, they aren’t always fully tightened or assembled properly. The first one we saw was rickety and wobbly, but the properly-built ones are rock-solid. We’ve had ours assembled for 8 months and it hasn’t even needed to be re-tightened.
Inglesina portable high chair: Great, and necessary, if you’re away from home for long enough that you’ll need to put non-milk food in your baby. Extremely useful for traveling, since it folds flat into a built-in pouch. So far, it’s been able to attach very securely to every table we’ve tried. Keep it in your car. There’s no head support, so it’s only appropriate for babies that can sit up on their own — ours started using it at 6 months.
OXO spoons: They’re very easy to hold and have an ideal angle and shape for feeding a baby, unlike most standard-shaped baby spoons. They scrape the inside of food jars very well, like a plastic spatula. (They also effectively scrape the misses off the baby’s face, like a baby squeegee.) And the handle end is rounded plastic, rather than metal, so it’s less scary if the baby gets a hold of the spoon and starts playing with it. We started out with regular baby spoons, but once we tried the OXOs, we never went back.
Munchkin Fresh Food Feeder: Highly recommended. Our current favorite baby item, this lets the baby easily eat fresh cut fruit without pureeing first, and keeps him entertained for a while as he works on it. He’ll happily sit through an entire adult lunch or dinner at the table with this. We’ve successfully put pear, apple, banana, and mango pieces in it, but pears work best because they’re so juicy and soft. He had no trouble figuring it out the first time, it’s very easy for him to hold, and he sometimes uses the handle end as a teether. (Warning: Your baby may attempt to share this with your dog, or wipe sticky fruit juice all over any nearby surface.)
Petit Collage memory book: It’s very simple to fill out, so it doesn’t take a lot of time away from being a busy new parent. It guides you into specific details rather than just having tons of blank pages. Also comes with a little box with a drawer for small keepsakes such as hospital tags. The art style is also more modern than many others.
Diapers.com: Great delivery service for anything they sell, with free, very fast shipping. We’ve had very few problems, and for the few orders that have arrived damaged or late, they’ve gone above and beyond, offering fast replacements and even additional credit for the trouble. It’s easy to call and talk to a human if you need service, and they’re very friendly and professional. We also recommended them for the other items they sell, such as pet food, household cleaners and soaps, and toiletries — exactly the items that Amazon usually sucks for.
If you have any questions about what we liked and didn’t like about these or any other baby products, you can email Tiff and she’ll be happy to help.
I’m taking the ads off The Brief and switching to a membership model. Rest assured that, whether you pay or not, the daily news updates will always be free of charge in any format. Becoming a member will help support The Brief, help me offer useful extras, and ensure I can afford to run it indefinitely.
The Brief is a great daily summary of tech news (like Evening Edition for tech). If you like it, you can support it for a reasonable $3 per month.
Check the Weather is a criticallyacclaimed weather app for iPhone & iPad. Check the Weather is designed from the ground up to provide fast, clear and beautiful weather reports. Rather than squashing features into a crowded interface, Check the Weather provides a streamlined dashboard with easy access to advanced forecast details. Available on the App Store.
Thanks to Check the Weather for sponsoring the Marco.org RSS feed this week.
Great investigative story By Kevin Drum in Mother Jones:
Put all this together and you have an astonishing body of evidence. We now have studies at the international level, the national level, the state level, the city level, and even the individual level. Groups of children have been followed from the womb to adulthood, and higher childhood blood lead levels are consistently associated with higher adult arrest rates for violent crimes. All of these studies tell the same story: Gasoline lead is responsible for a good share of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century.
Highly recommended, and it’s much better supported than the Freakonomics theory on the same decades-long crime trend. Via The Feature.
Apple Inc. has cut its component orders for the iPhone 5 due to weaker-than-expected demand, people familiar with the situation said Monday, indicating sales of the latest smartphone haven’t been as strong as previously anticipated.
Apple’s orders for iPhone 5 screens for the January-March quarter, for example, have dropped to roughly half of what the company had previously planned to order, the people said.
The Cupertino, Calif., company has also cut orders for components other than screens, according to one of the people.
Apple notified the suppliers of the order cut last month, the people said.
(Don’t worry if you hit the paywall — that’s the only interesting part. The rest is promotion for Samsung.)
It’s certainly possible, but a few things about this are fishy.
The information being reported is only that component orders have been cut from their previous levels. “What the company had previously planned to order” and “due to weaker-than-expected demand” both sound like speculation based on the component-order cut.
A component-order cut big enough to be reported like this could be the result of a huge error in Tim Cook’s otherwise ruthlessly efficient supply-chain management for the flagship model of Apple’s most profitable product. That would indeed be big news, but it sounds unlikely given Cook’s track record. There are at least two other potential explanations: seasonal adjustments after the iPhone 5 launch and the holiday season, or preparation for a sooner-than-expected “iPhone 5S” launch, which has been rumored for the spring.
But the biggest reason this smells wrong to me is the timing. Apple’s stock has been depressed for a few months, and many analysts (and much common sense) suggests that it’s probably very underpriced considering Apple’s financials. This news has sent it down another 3% today alone, and it will probably fall further over the next few days.
But next week, Apple reports its earnings for the quarter that included the iPhone 5’s release and the holidays. Most reasonable predictions suggest that it’s going to be very good news. As with good quarterly-earnings reports in the past, the stock could shoot up, and anyone who bought a bunch of it recently at a steep discount could make a lot of money.
This vague, unsourced, mostly speculative article could truly be a sign of a serious misstep at Apple. Or it could be a highly profitable stock manipulation. If I had to guess, I’d bet on the latter, but we’ll have a better idea next Wednesday.
Disclosure: I own shares of Apple stock, and this is not investment advice. In fact, my track record with trading individual stocks has been mostly mediocre, so I’m not qualified whatsoever to tell anyone when to buy or sell them.
So here is our logic to being patient. It is threefold:
Apple had an enormous amount of call options speculation related to its Summer surge
A huge share of this was calls with a strike of around the current price of $550 and higher that expire January 19 2013
The institutional money managers that wrote those call options and bought common stock to cover will make a lot of money if a) those options expire worthless, and then b) Apple runs after that expiration date
I don’t understand the financial details in most of the article, but I do understand the central point: it looks like there’s a lot of money to be made by specifically keeping Apple’s share price low until a few days before the next earnings call.
(Via Loren Brichter. Disclosure, again: I own shares of Apple stock, and this is not investment advice.)
Most of my investments are managed — mutual funds, etc. — but I do have a relatively small investment account that I buy a few individual stocks with, mostly Apple when I think it’s cheap. (I bought some today.)
I’ve managed not to lose money, but I probably haven’t made enough to be worth the time and stress of managing these stock positions myself. I’m considering getting myself out of the individual-stock business. It’s more apparent over time that this is a huge game run by an oligarchy with infinite resources, little oversight, and no consequences, and I’m gambling blindly, hoping to piggyback coincidentally on a giant’s massive wins.
I can’t help but think that individuals like me are better off not playing the game, and that my actual work is more worthy of the attention I give those stocks.
Couchbase Server is an open-source NoSQL document-oriented database optimized for the needs of interactive applications. Web application developers and operators like Couchbase Server for its easy scalability, consistent high performance, always-on 24×365 capabilities, and flexible data model for easy development.
Companies like AOL, Cisco, Concur, LinkedIn, Orbitz, Salesforce.com, Shuffle Master, Zynga and hundreds of others around the world use Couchbase Server for their interactive web and mobile applications. Download it today and make something awesome!
Thanks to Couchbase for sponsoring the Marco.org RSS feed this week.
His version. His reaction. This isn’t an instance of two different musicians covering the same song with some coincidental similarites — Coulton’s version introduced a lot of variations from the original, and Glee’s copied every single one, note for note, word for word.
And it’s not like they ripped off someone nobody likes, like Intellectual Ventures or Todd Akin. This is Jonathan Coulton. He’s one of the most beloved geeks on the internet. It would have been safer to rip off Mother Teresa.
Casey Liss, John Siracusa, and I are doing a new casual car podcast, and here’s its first episode. It might be a miniseries — we’re planning on doing about 8 episodes, and then we’ll decide if we have anything left to talk about.
Unlike most car podcasts, we’re not focusing on cutting-edge news, horsepower, or racing. Instead, it’s what you’d expect from hearing three computer nerds talk about past and present cars. In typical fashion, episode 1 contains me talking about researching to find exactly the right car, Casey defending his series of white cars, and Siracusa telling us what’s wrong with everything.
The difference in attitude and focus from other shows informed our name choice. Most car podcasts have names that try to sound fast, powerful, aggressive, or mechanical. Ours is called Neutral.
I’ve noticed a very clear trend among tech sites I read: Android fans are unusually quick to fill the comment box with rage on articles that mention anything positive about Apple or its products. The reverse — Apple fans leaving angry comments on pro-Android articles — is almost completely absent from the sites I’ve seen, including sites like The Verge that have many readers in both camps.
Recently, I wrote about a mediocre experience at a Microsoft Store and my tepid impression of the Surface, and I saw the same effect coming from die-hard Microsoft fans responding via email and Twitter: not just counterarguments, but seemingly deep-seated anger.
The anger from Microsoft and Android fans at anything pro-Apple usually has undertones of disbelief and frustration, as if to say, “I can’t believe I have to say this again. Why don’t you get it? What’s wrong with you people?”
But I never see Microsoft fans attacking Android fans, or vice versa. And the rise of anti-Apple anger has risen dramatically as Apple has been so successful in recent years.
What is it about Apple and its success that makes people so angry?
The Apple attitude
Most people don’t care about technology choices as much as we do. Maybe they’re too busy to spend more than an hour choosing a phone. Maybe they just have other things they’d rather spend time thinking about.
They perform minimal research, they’re more swayed by prices and sales, and they’re more susceptible to being railroaded by retail salespeople. They get their gadget or computer home, start using it, and suffer mild to severe irritation with it for a few years until the cycle repeats.
Most of these people aren’t posting angry comments on The Verge.
Some of them once considered an Apple product. Some of them may have even asked around about it. And some of them might have asked one of us about, for instance, the iPhone.
And we told them, “It’s great! That phone you’re using now is a piece of crap. Go out right now and get an iPhone! It’s only $200.”
Some stopped at that point, quietly put off by the suggestion that they previously made a poor buying choice, and that they can and should casually drop a significant sum of money on a nonessential gadget that may require a more expensive monthly plan than their current phone.
Some actually went out and got an iPhone. It worked out well for most of them, but some hit snags. Maybe they wanted to play videos in a format that the iPhone doesn’t support. Maybe it didn’t interact properly with their corporate email or calendar server. Maybe their old phone had an important app or feature that isn’t available on the iPhone.
Apple’s products are opinionated. They say, “We know what’s best for you. Here it is. Oh, that thing you want to do? We won’t let you do that because it would suck. Trust us. If you don’t like it, there’s the door.”
“But I need that.”
“No, you don’t. Here, try this partial workaround or alternative solution instead. It Just Works!”
“I tried that. It didn’t work.”
“…It’ll probably be fixed in the next version. Maybe it’s because of iCloud. Oh, that’s weird. I’ve never seen that before. Try clearing everything out and starting over.”
Apple’s products say “no” a lot. No, you can’t have that hardware keyboard or removable battery. No, you can’t install that app. No, you can’t have that feature.
These are usually compromises to improve the products in other ways. But if that missing app or feature is important to you, it’s easy to be put off by Apple’s refusal to deliver it, especially since it’s done in such an opinionated manner, as if to say, “Not only do we not offer that, but nobody should need that.”
As Apple has grown, so has the number of people who have fallen on the wrong end of its opinionated product design. It leaves so many markets, features, and needs unaddressed that many users are effectively forced into alternatives.
And two alternatives offer to please everyone.
The wild Northwest
Android and Windows share a common selling point: they give users and manufacturers (and, for Android, cellular carriers) much more control over their platforms and devices than Apple would ever permit. When Apple’s choices or attitude show someone the door, a buyer usually ends up here.
Microsoft also has a huge advantage with Windows: a lot of people actually need the Windows versions of the Office suite, or other Windows-only applications, to do their jobs. Boot Camp, Parallels, and Fusion are clunky, complicated,1 and expensive2 solutions for people who need to run Windows apps. Those people should usually just buy Windows PCs.
And a good portion of geeks care strongly about areas in which Apple is less “open” than its competitors. Apple’s opinionated design restricts its customers, usually because Apple believes that the result of being more permissive would be worse overall, including increased risks of security exploits, malware, and manual system maintenance. Generally, Apple tries to protect users from complexity, side effects, and technical ugliness of their choices, but they’re also always looking out for Apple’s own interests first. It’s a benevolent dictatorship.
Where Apple says “You can’t do that because we think that would suck,” Microsoft and Android usually say, “You can do whatever you want, even if it sucks.” They give users more control with endless possibilities to create problems, and it’s up to the users to tolerate or fix any resulting problems themselves. Google and Microsoft are platform libertarians: you’re generally free to do much more, but you’re on your own when it breaks.
Our technology choices reflect our values. People willing to yield some control to Apple for their needs are more likely to enjoy the benefits that Apple’s products bring by exerting that control. But people who don’t like being told what to do — people who believe they know what’s best for them, want full control over everything, and are willing to accept the resulting responsibilities — will be more comfortable with the alternatives.
The philosophical differences between these approaches, and the frequent failure to understand both viewpoints, are the roots of anti-Apple anger.
As we see too often in politics, people fail to empathize with those with different needs or priorities than their own.
It’s much easier to get defensive and try to discredit the other side, which is at the root of “fanboy” accusations. Apple fans accuse Windows and Android users of being crass plebeians, and in turn are accused of being uncritical (“faithful”) sheep blinded by marketing and seeking status symbols.
The apparent asymmetry in angry comments is likely because the Apple-fan attitude of aloofness keeps most Apple fans away from dedicated Android and Windows sites and articles, whereas the anti-Apple attitude probably drives many people on that side to try to “rescue” or convince Apple fans that they’re blind or idiotic.
Apple’s recent success also exacerbates anti-Apple frustration. The computing industry clearly favored Windows’ libertarian-like policy for two decades as Apple languished and inexpensive Microsoft Windows PCs dominated the industry. But, in the last few years, the tides have shifted dramatically as PCs have lost some ground to Macs, and iOS and other “closed” smartphone and tablet platforms have succeeded. Nobody likes to think that their side is “losing,” especially after it was winning for so long.
But neither side is absolutely correct for everyone: just as there’s no universally correct political philosophy, users of every platform have good reasons to choose it.
The Windows and Android communities need to better understand why so many of us choose Apple, and the Apple community needs to better understand the large market of people who can’t or won’t.
For most users, a virtual machine or a separate boot partition are confusing concepts and big hassles. ↩
When Windows is purchased legally for this use, it costs at least $85, plus the cost of the virtualization software if desired: Parallels Desktop is $80 and VMWare Fusion is $50. ↩
Tonx provides you with the best coffee beans, in your home, right when you need them. With their team of coffee industry veterans, Tonx sources the highest quality beans from top producers around the world. They nail the roast and ship within 24 hours so you never worry about having fresh beans in your kitchen, cubicle, or batcave.
Tonx also has excellent customer service — they’re available any time to troubleshoot your brewing or help select gear.
David Hepworth, someone who’s actually qualified to write about magazines, unlike me:
The thing I find interesting about The Magazine is it doesn’t try to be exciting. It doesn’t see it as part of its job. … It’s very niche at the moment, as these things tend to be. Its mix is the kind of thing that would appeal to a novel-reading nerd: a piece trying to encourage Americans to drink tea, another describing the experience of watching the Tour De France at close quarters, something about the pitfalls of self-publishing, something else about one’s elderly father telling you how he met your mother. It’s not GQ. On the other hand, it’s not Reader’s Digest either. In fact, it’s full of the kind of pieces that a commissioning editor would reject with the regretful words, “if it were up to me…”
Between Instapaper, The Magazine, and this site, I’ve done a lot of experimenting with different typefaces and styles to try to optimize for readability.1 And I’ve found surprisingly few universal rules — my choices always depend on screen size, pixel density, text size, and background color.
In my anecdotal experimentation, serifs are more readable in some contexts, and sans-serifs are more readable in others. I like Lyon Text (serif) on Retina iPad, Elena (serif) on iPad Mini, and Ideal Sans on iPhone. I don’t like dark backgrounds with light text anywhere except on iPhone, and only with sans-serifs.
And Instapaper’s customers choose a wide variety of typefaces and settings. Elena (serif) is the most popular font among people who ever change it, but Proxima Nova (sans) is often in second place. Tisa (serif) is very popular on iPhone, where I don’t care for serifs as much. And Android renders fonts so “differently2” that almost no good iOS or Mac font choices yield good results.
A typeface’s readability is about far more than just one cosmetic attribute.
Am I being too optimistic? Perhaps. It’s actually a lot easier to be optimistic with Apple’s stock below $500 per share. Just a few months ago analysts were guessing when Apple would be valued at a trillion dollars. Apple could do no wrong. That clearly wasn’t correct, but neither is it the case that today Apple can do no right.
An interesting take after Apple’s recordbreaking financials disappointed so many by casting doubt on future growth.
In episode 2 of our car podcast: neighbor driveway politics, John Siracusa’s retirement plan, budgeting for expensive cars and the social perceptions of owning one, how Zipcar got me addicted to BMWs, “Tiptronic”-like manual modes in automatic transmissions, and modern dual-clutch transmissions (DCTs).
Sponsored by Squarespace: Use code NEUTRAL1 at checkout for 10% off.
Coulton’s willingness to speak up and enlist the support of his online audience also prompted other artists to come forward, claiming that their song arrangements had been lifted wholesale by Glee for songs aired on the show and sold for profit on iTunes.
It’s a shame that the producers of a show so known for promoting goodwill and underdog victory have repeatedly, blatantly ripped off independent musicians wholesale, with unreasonably cold hostility and implicit public denial.
Fans of Glee should be disgusted at how the show is actually produced, and the entire cast, crew, and production staff of Glee should be ashamed that their work is now tarnished with such low-class, unnecessary, willful theft.
If you work on Glee and have any dignity whatsoever, there are only two classy moves you can make in response: push the right people to get this fixed, or quit.
But given that this appears to be a repeated pattern by the show, I’m not holding my breath that anything will happen. It’s apparently made by classless, spineless assholes.
It’s a cover of Glee’s cover of my cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s song, which is to say it’s EXACTLY THE SAME as my original version. I’m releasing this under the same Harry Fox license I used for the 2005 release, so Mix will get all the royalties due to him. I’ll donate the proceeds from all sales that happen between now and the end of February to two charities: The VH1 Save the Music Foundation, and The It Gets Better Project.
If you’re new to his work and are looking for a good entry point, I’m a big fan of his 2009 live album as well, which includes the live version of his Baby Got Back arrangement and many of his hits.
Those cute steam-blowing animals are the wrong kind, and suck. If you can see steam or “cool mist” coming out of a humidifier, it’s the wrong kind, and you’ll wake up to wet walls, dripping windows, and an eventual mildew problem.
The Honeywell is still serving its role on the main floor, humidifying most of the house. But it can’t reach the upstairs bedrooms with closed doors very well. The little Venta now lives in the baby’s room, and we’re considering getting another for our bedroom.
My conclusions about the Venta still stand: it’s awfully expensive up front, and it can’t effectively humidify a large room. But I’ve come to appreciate its extreme quietness for bedrooms, and it’s much easier to clean: you can put most of its parts, including the “filter” disk and lower shell, in the dishwasher with a bit of vinegar to clean them extremely effectively. By comparison, cleaning the Honeywell is more manual and time-consuming.
The Venta uses a $22 bottle of water treatment per season or so, and that’s it. (They offer a “cleaning” solution, but it doesn’t work nearly as well as a dishwasher with 10 cents of white vinegar.)
So while the Venta’s operating costs are about $22 per season plus electricity, the Honeywell’s can easily reach $100.1 With the Venta’s easier cleaning as well, I’m much happier with it after a year than I was up front, but I still wish it had a higher output for its price. (There’s a larger LW45 model that I haven’t tried.)
If it weren’t for the Honeywell, the majority of my house wouldn’t be humidified. I’m glad I have both, but if I had to pick one, I’d pick the Honeywell and just leave the bedroom doors open.
But if I only wanted to humidify one room — say, if I was out of the house most of the day and only humidified my bedroom, or if I had a studio apartment — I’d go with a Venta.
Both increase if your air is dirtier than average — for instance, last year, when our house was being renovated, I had to change their filters and solution almost every week. But at least the crap they pulled from the air wasn’t going into our lungs.) ↩
Hasbro’s classic game UPWORDS is now available for iOS from indie developers Lonely Star Software.
UPWORDS adds another dimension to crossword board games. Build words by playing letters across, down and stacked atop existing letters. This unique game play allows you to change existing words into new words. The higher you the stack, the higher you score. If you love word games, give UPWORDS a try.
A company spokesperson has confirmed to The Verge that the 64GB edition of Surface Pro will have 23GB of free storage out of the box. The 128GB model will have 83GB of free storage. It appears that the Windows 8 install, built-in apps, and a recovery partition will make up the 41GB total on the base Surface Pro model.
Computers, tablets, and smartphones have always had less usable space than their advertised storage capacities because of preinstalled software.
If your computer’s “1 TB” hard drive has 50 GB of preinstalled software and unusable space, you still have 95% of its space for user storage, which is hard to complain about. But advertising a “64 GB” Surface Pro that only has 35% of its space available to the user is a very different story.
This is deceptive enough advertising that the FTC should consider taking action. As tablets become more computer-like and mobile OSes get larger, this is only going to get worse.
Everyone should play by the same rules. A proposal: storage capacities referenced or implied1 in the names or advertisements for personal computers, tablets, and smartphones should not exceed the amount of space available for end-user installation of third-party2 applications and data, after enough software has been installed to enable all commonly advertised functionality.3
With today’s OSes, iPads could advertise capacities no larger than 12, 28, 60, and 124 GB and the Surface Pros could be named 23 and 83 GB.
If those numbers don’t sound as good, or the manufacturers don’t leave themselves any room for OS-update expansion without changing the names of their products mid-cycle, that’s their problem to solve, not ours.
To prevent manufacturers from getting around this by dropping the “GB” and just using model numbers that imply a size, e.g. the “iPad 32” and “iPad 64”. ↩
To prevent manufacturers from cheating by shipping devices with minimal OS installs that require additional downloads to get functionality that almost every user would want or expect to be there already. ↩
To prevent, for example, Microsoft from excluding the size of Office from the Surface or Apple excluding the size of iBooks from iOS devices. ↩
The most interesting part of this is to speculate on why Apple might soon release an update to a low-profile product that was last updated only 10 months ago and doesn’t usually receive frequent updates.
It looks like a minor update: all we know is that it has a new model identifier (“AppleTV3,2”) very close to the current one and is slightly smaller. I bet it’ll be a bit cheaper, but that’s not reason enough for a new model already.
But remember, this runs low-end iOS hardware. The second-gen ran an A4 SOC and the third-gen runs a single-core-binned A5. My guess: the new model will be a low-volume prototype for a new, cheaper SOC (or cheaper manufacturing process on an existing one) to be used later in iOS devices, much like the iPad2,4 was a prototype for 32nm HKMG manufacturing later used in much higher volume with the A6 and A6X.
If this new Apple TV is released with a CPU and manufacturing technology we’ve seen before, my theory is wrong and it’s more minor than I expected. Or maybe it’ll be the first Apple SOC to be manufactured by TSMC instead of Samsung, which is still interesting but less so.
But if it has a CPU or SOC we haven’t seen before, I bet it’s going into something more important soon, and it will be worth considering what that might be.
Update: Brian Klug at AnandTech believes it’s an A5X, the big, hot, inelegant SOC from the iPad 3. That would certainly be an odd fit for my theories — the A5X is pretty terrible at everything except being the only option that could drive a Retina iPad screen with reasonable GPU performance in early 2012. That’s the last design I’d expect to be used in any new products, especially something as small, cheap, and low-powered as an Apple TV.
If anyone else had deduced that it would be an A5X, I’d assume they were nuts. AnandTech’s great at this sort of sleuthing, though. But since the A5X would be such an awful fit for the Apple TV, my money’s still against it.
Update: I should note that S5L8945 is the original 45nm Samsung produced A5X, S5L8947 is the A5XR2 that is in this unannounced Apple TV. Note that previously the A5 underwent a similar plus 2 offset, from S5L8940 (A5) to S5L8942 (A5R2) which changed process geometry from 45nm to 32nm HK-MG at Samsung. It’s possible we’re also looking at a process node change with the A5X to A5XR2 here.
I couldn’t believe that Apple would use the iPad 3’s A5X in anything again since it was huge, hot, power-inefficient, and too slow for CPU-bound operations on Retina iPad pixel volume.
A process-shrunk A5X probably won’t contain faster CPUs, but it would be smaller, cooler, and more efficient.
It’s obvious, in retrospect, what this is probably for: the Retina iPad Mini.
The A5X has the bare minimum power required to drive a Retina iPad screen with reasonable GPU performance, it’s probably cheaper to produce than the A6X, and it’s slower than the higher-margin 10” iPads so many people will still buy them.
If this turns out to be correct, I’ll be disappointed as a developer — I hate supporting the A5X in Instapaper because some of my animation computations run so slowly on it. But as a user, if a process shrink can make the A5X fit elegantly into an iPad Mini, a Retina model is much closer than I originally thought, almost certainly able to come out this year.1 And that will probably be an awesome device.
I’ll bet someone a sandwich that a Retina iPad Mini comes out this fall or earlier, and uses a process-shrunk A5X.
I’ve always believed that the first Mini wasn’t Retina primarily because of performance and power concerns, not because Retina LCD panels were too expensive. ↩
A great episode this week: Car bras, resale value of deluxe trims and luxury features, lease basics, AWD vs. RWD in the snow, and our answers to a homework question: What car available today, new or used, is the best value for general ownership?
Sponsored by Squarespace: Use code NEUTRAL1 at checkout for 10% off.
So far, I’m betting on an A5X-powered Retina iPad Mini by this fall. While I’m making semi-crazy predictions about future iOS products so I can look back on this in a year and probably feel like an idiot for being so wrong, here’s one more.
The recently rumored, larger-screened “iPhone Math”, or more likely “iPhone Plus”, is plausible as an additional model (not a replacement) alongside the 4” iPhone. And there’s a good chance that it would have a 4.94”, 16:9 screen.
The theory is easy to understand: perform John Gruber’s Mini-predicting math backwards. The iPad Mini uses iPhone 3GS-density screens at iPad resolution. What if an iPhone Plus used Retina iPad screens with iPhone 5 resolution, keeping the rest of the design sized like an iPhone 5?
Its 640 × 1136, 264 DPI screen would measure 4.94” diagonally, and it would look roughly like this next to an iPhone 5:
(Please pardon the flaws caused by my amateur Photoshop skills.)
It looks a bit crazy, but it’s not that implausible. To see it at scale:
By keeping the pixel dimensions the same as the iPhone 5, no app changes would be necessary. While the larger screen would hinder one-handed use, two-handed use would actually be easier because the touch targets would all be larger, and UIKit’s standard metrics and controls still work well at that physical size.
Here’s how it would look in Apple’s lineup:
Why would Apple release this?
First and foremost, there’s significant demand for larger-screened phones. As much as we make fun of the Galaxy Note, it sells surprisingly well, especially outside of the United States. Other large Android phones sell very well almost everywhere.
The iPhone has lost a significant number of sales by buyers either wanting a larger screen or being drawn to how much better the large screens look in stores. Here’s how this theoretical iPhone Plus looks next to the large-screened competition:
From left: iPhone 5, Galaxy S III, iPhone Plus mockup, Galaxy Note II.
Now, imagine that lineup without the iPhone Plus mockup. That’s how the shelf looks today when a buyer goes into a phone store. See the problem?
An iPhone Plus almost as big as a Galaxy Note isn’t ideal for many people, but it doesn’t need to be quite that large to accommodate a 4.94” screen. It’s clear that other manufacturers have found designs and techniques to make larger-screened phones require smaller bezels. Apple could achieve similar results and shrink the “forehead” and “chin” even further, limited primarily by the size of the Home button and the desire to keep the forehead and chin equal height.
A 4.94”-screened iPhone doesn’t sound too ridiculous these days.
Buyers wanting a small phone or better one-handed operation could still buy a 4” iPhone, and people who want a large screen would finally have an iPhone as an option.