WWDC Hot Takes

So, a few quick words about the WWDC stuff. I’m not going too mention the WatchOS and tvOS improvements. I love my Watch, but few of the improvements interest me. I do not have one of the new Apple TVs.

High Sierra

A lot of under-the-hood stuff. It feels like Apple is definitely going into a tick-tock release schedule for maOS. This is the “tock” year. I like the better Messages storing across the board. Faces in Photos syncing across devices is nice also. The Safari auto-blocking auto-playing ads, and blocking tracking is nice.

VR is long game, but I felt this year is where Apple worked to shoot down the “Mac can’t do VR” argument. Plus selling an eGPU for $600 is nice. Metal 2 is nice, but not a lot of games I play take advantage of Metal anyway.

iCloud file sharing is a welcome addition as well.

What I was expecting, but didn’t get, was a way to use your iPad Pro as a sort of Wacom tablet.

iOS 11

So, in general the iOS 11 stuff is nice. The iCloud stuff across the board also included iOS. Better Control Panel interface, and the new Camera features are awesome. Camera will now help you take better photos of things like waterfalls. That was a great demo about the setup required for those types of photos. Instead of screwing with aperture and shutter speeds, you just press a button.

However, if what Craig talked about for iOS 11 was it, I was going to start a blog post titled, “Apple to iPad Pro Users: Fuck You.” Another year with no iPad-specific features would have made me walk away from the iPad as a productivity tool.

We got some nice features for iPad users, though. The Dock at the bottom now stores more apps. I can fit 15 apps on my 12.9” iPad. There are also 3 slots to the right of the Dock where the last 3 apps you have launched are stored. Oddly, Apple still has the same icon spacing on the Home screen. I think the Dock is where Apple wants you to store your apps now. It gets a little crowded with a lot of apps. What is nice, is the app order stays the same when you rotate the screen. This does eliminate one of the chief problems I had with the iPad: when I rotated it, my app placement would change. It was messing up my muscle memory. What I am going to do is put my 15 most-used apps on the Dock, and keep the 2nd tier apps in folders on the second screen. That Dock on the bottom is going to take some getting used to, though.

The Dock will be important because Apple finally, finally, made significant changes to the god-awful app switcher. Now, the primary way to bring an app up into Split View is to swipe up at the bottom of the screen to un-hide the Dock,and drag the app up into the workspace. Apple also now remembers your app pairing in something akin to Mission Control. You activate this but sliding up more when you show the Dock. It’s like a two step process: slide up to show the Dock, slide up more to get to Mission Control. You can also drag-and-drop between the two apps. It’s a fairly feature-rich drag-and-drop. You can grab multiple files and drag them into a mail message. It seems like it’s all still within Split View, so that may take a little bit to get used to.

Scanning documents and then signing them is amazing. The biggest problem with any of the scanning apps was getting the crookedness out of the scan was kind of a pain in the ass. The inline marking up across the board was nice. PDF editing in iBooks was interesting. I’m not sure how you’ll get the PDF out of iBooks, but I haven’t tried that.

The Files app is Finder for iOS, but they didn’t call it Finder. I remember a few years ago hoping Apple would create a Documents app to store this stuff in. Now, they have. The Files app will also work with cloud storage providers like OneDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drive once the providers make their app compatible. The Files app works weirdly. I like that you can now have a Favorites area, where you can store oft-used folders and files. I like I can select multiple files. What I don’t like is that a long-standing problem I have had with iOS still exists, and in fact, is worse. When you add something to iCloud Drive via the document picker, it expands every fucking folder on your iCloud Drive. The only thing that made it useable was I could name a folder @something and it would stay at the top of the list. Now, those @something folders are buried in the mess that is the expanded drive. It’s just an useable mess. Also, in the Files app if I select a file and choose move (which brings up that fucking interface), everything but the folder (and sub folders within) the file resides in are grayed out. I have to add the target folder to the Favorites. Dragging the file there copies it, instead of moving it.

The iPad as a Productivity Device

We are getting there, though. I’ve got a longer piece sitting there half-edited about the reasons I ended up buying a MacBook Pro. Most of those reasons remain, but the pain of working on an iPad starting to go away.

The Files app is a big improvement, but it has some pains that need to be overcome. If I navigate down to a Word file in Files to open it, it is opening iThoughts for some reason; not Word. I can copy it to Word, but I can’t right now edit-in-place a Word file in iCloud. Maybe Microsoft will finally embrace interfacing directly with iCloud Drive this year. Even in iOS 10, it is still a weird dance to get Office files in and out of iCloud Drive.

It’s hard to tell right now how the improvements to iOS 11 will help productivity. Drag and Drop right now only works in apps that are part of the iOS 11 beta. It will be nice being able to just store images in a folder and drag them into a presentation rather than pollute my Photos library with them.

The problem is that damn iCloud extension. I can’t believe Apple made it worse. If it ships like that, I just have an even harder time being more productive on iOS. It’s just completely broken. This is something that has plagued iOS since iOS 10 beta 1. If it still persists in iOS 11 beta 1, I have a fear it will never get fixed.

Also I will not be getting the new 10.5″ iPad. I still feel the 12.9″ is the canonical Pro.

Apple and organizational change

There’s one thing about Apple that has been in the back of my mind since WWDC: Apple has done a fantastic job at organizational change in the last year or so. Every organization I’ve worked at has handled change poorly. Either people refuse to accept the change, or the leaders don’t change enough, or, sometimes they change too much.

It’s pretty much a given: Large organizations handle large changes poorly. Look at Blackberry and Microsoft. Both of these companies saw their markets were being disrupted, but still did a piss-poor job at reacting to it.

Apple, on the other hand, is a market leader and on the outside had little need to change how they did things. Yet they did, in some key ways.

Opening up the betas

Up until earlier this year, it was laughable that Apple would ever open up the OS X betas. Yet, starting with a dot release for Mavericks they opened up the betas. Even now, there is a public beta for their new OS, Yosemite. Hopefully, this will clear up some issues like the whole Gmail Mavericks issue.

That said, I don’t think Apple will open up the iOS betas. There are too many risks for key systems. Apple had enough problems with a small subset of users having problems with a failed 8.0.1 update. Imagine if a bad beta got out for an OS Apple isn’t actively supporting.

Opening up iOS

I don’t’ know if iOS 8 extensions and keyboards would have happened if Jobs and Forestall were still with Apple. Part of me can see it happening if Jobs were still alive (he did accept that sometimes Apple needed to change). If Forestall still stayed on after Jobs died, I doubt it.

At WWDC, it was announced that now 3rd party keyboards would be available for iOS, and now apps can talk to each other in a more logical manner without the need for some crazy workarounds.

Gizmodo is off the shit list

Gizmodo got an invite to the September 9 event. This is the same organization that got their hands on a stolen iPhone and told Jobs to shove it. I thought the odds were better I would get an invite to an Apple event before Gizmodo would. Lo and behold, both Gizmodo and Brian Lam got invites. Even with Jobs and Cotton gone, I thought someone at Apple would have a long enough memory to still stick it to them.

Final thoughts

I look at some of the changes other organizations have tried to make and seen how they have failed first hand. That so far, this hasn’t blown up in Apple’s face is remarkable. So far, a few bugs in iOS have given them egg on their face.

Egg is far easier to clean up than shit, though.

ComiXology and the Curious Case of the App Store

I’ve long thought of ComiXology as the Amazon of comic books. It became a truer statement when Amazon bought Comixology a few weeks ago. Andy Ihnatko summed up my inital reaction with this Sun Times post in which he said:

“I’m hoping that this ultimately ends with ComiXology making comics on Kindle better, and not Amazon making ComiXology’s comics … like Kindles.”

This week, Amazon dropped one hammer by removing in app purchases from the ComiXology app. Now, ComiXology behaves exactly like the Kindle app: you have to go outside the app to purchase content.

Some background on the matter at hand

In July 2011, Apple began enforcing in-app purchasing restrictions for e-reading apps. The Kindle, Kobo, and Nook apps released new versions that removed bookstores from their iOS apps. These restrictions said that 30% of any in-app purchase (IAP) went to Apple. Some people viewed this as Apple collecting a rent, similar to the rent a brick-and-mortar store pays. The other end of the spectrum had people feeling like Apple was acting akin the Corleone family, where they simply “didn’t want anything bad to happen to the developers app.” My opinion was that Apple was taking the view that any exception granted opens a can of worms they don’t want to deal with.

Policies work best when they are applied to everyone equally. In this case, everyone is treated equally by Apple. If you offer an IAP, pay Apple 30%. I don’t generally have a problem with this policy but almost three years later it’s still a little jarring when I have to quit the Kindle app and go to Safari to buy an ebook.

In this Tech Hive article Moises Chiullan has this quote from Chip Mosher, ComiXology’s VP Communications & Marketing:

“As we move to complete the acquisition with Amazon, we are shifting to the web-based purchasing model they’ve successfully used with Kindle, which we expect will allow us to strike the best balance between prices, selection and customer experience.”—Chip Mosher, ComiXology

IAPs work for me because it limits the sites that have my credit card and I can buy a couple of gift cards to Amazon or Apple to use as an allowance of sorts. In this case, the balance of customer experience has not tipped in my favor.

Changes to ComiXology

Comics are a somewhat unique form of content to consume. For the most part, comics don’t take as long as say, Game of Thrones, to read a volume of. In my case, I’d buy the first comic in a series and when I got to the end of it, ComiXology nicely told me there were more issues in the series and did I want to purchase it? This was incredibly convenient for me, but perhaps not so convenient for my bank account. The one saving grace is that I don’t generally buy a lot of comics – enough $2.99 purchases and soon you’re taking about real money. In my case right now, about one purchase – but it was certainly nice to have. If it was a series that’s in the middle of its publishing run I could tell Comixology to auto-purchase the new issues.

Now, when you reach the end of a series of which you don’t own the next issue, Comixology simply stops. There’s no clue there are any more issues; not even a hint to go to the ComiXology web site and purchase it. It simply has a button “back to Library.”

I don’t foresee ComiXology’s changes affecting how I buy comics. I’ve always thought long and hard about any comic I buy anyway. Going to a website as opposed to an app isn’t likely to change the amount of comics I purchase. The big problem, though, is ComiXology’s site doesn’t have a lot of search refinements. As a consolation prize for removing IAPs, ComiXology credited everyone’s account with five bucks. I figured I could buy about 5 $.99 comics. I went to the Top Sellers page, but I couldn’t sort by price or average rating. This is something that I’m a little surprised that ComiXology doesn’t offer.

The Apple morality clause

In that same Tech Hive artile, Moises states something that has been on my mind for a while:

ComiXology also found its content running afoul of Apple’s rigid guidelines about what could be sold through the App Store. Take the case of the series Sex Criminals, banned from being sold through the in-app purchase feature on ComiXology, and yet, still available for sale within Apple’s own iBookstore.

Remember that line I had earlier about policies working best when they are applied to everyone equally? This is a case where Apple violates their own policy of acceptable content they hold developers to. It’s absolutely ludicrous for Apple to ban something from a 3rd-party developer’s app while selling it on the Apple store. Note: This fell off my radar screen after it happened and I can’t find out if the decision was ever reversed.

The problem gets even worse. A quick search through the iTunes store yields plenty of erotic fiction, unrated movies, and season one of the Starz show Spartacus, which has the rare scene where there isn’t a decapitation or a naughty bit doing the things that naughty bits do.

There are many things I think Apple does very well, but this is one thing with Apple that drives me nuts. If they don’t want adult content available on their platforms, fine. Just don’t also sell it through your own in-app store.

Is this problem solvable?

In the case of ComiXology, they had two problems: Apple taking a 30% cut and the worry that another comic would run afoul of Apple’s censors.

Apple eliminating (or even reducing) the 30% cut, well, isn’t really going to happen. The issue surrounding most ereaders is that they are middlemen in the distribution chain and the margins probably aren’t there to give Apple a 30% cut. Back to my comment about policies, if Apple created an exeception for resellers you possibly have the problem of a lot of developers trying to get lumped into that. Apple will continue to stick to thier belief that they get 30% of anything bought on an iOS device for consumption on an iOS device. By and large, I don’t have a problem with this. If a game developer releases an expansion for an iPad game, Apple should get their cut.

Apple being the final arbiter of content is a thornier issue. While this is something that I’m not overly fond of, I think I’d like to see what would happen if Apple didn’t curate this content. The mens rooms of truck stops comes to mind.

The best solution is probably the one ComiXology took: decide that paying 30% for the headache of them curating their content was too much.

Now lets just hope Apple doest take away the ability for apps like Amazon and Comixology to download content from outside the app store. I doubt that will ever happen, though.

Thoughts on the stagnation of iPad sales

Apple yesterday announced its Q2 2014 earnings. iPad sales were down almost 3M units from Q2 2013. According to Macworld.com:

Apple sold 16.35 million of the tablets this past quarter, compared to 19.48 million in the second quarter of 2013. Revenues from the iPad fell as well, from $8.7 billion to $7.6 billion. The iPad had a smaller impact on Apple’s revenues, too, accounting for 17 percent of sales, compared to 20 percent last year.

I have some thoughts on why that may have happened.

Last year, Apple announced the iPad Air and the iPad mini with Retina Display. While both have the new A7 chip, of the two I think the iPad mini with Retina Display is the more tempting upgrade if you own a previous gen iPad. This is because the previous mini did not have the retina display, and was a gimped model with a lower-specced processor. The new mini that actually had feature parity with the larger iPad was a nice upgrade.

The 64-bit processor in the new Air (and mini) is a great upgrade, but I don’t think enough people were taxing their iPads to the point they felt needed a faster processor if they already had a retina iPad. I’m not sure there is even enough RAM on the iPad to fully take advantage of the 64-bit chip. It also doesn’t have the Touch ID sensor, either, which could be a factor.

So, I think a lot of the sales are people who  are probably very happy with their iPad 3 or 4. I know I am. I need the iPad with the largest memory, so I’m on a 2–3 year upgrade cycle on my iPad.

Jean-Louis Gassée had a great article called: The iPad is a Tease

Despite the inspiring ads, Apple’s hopes for the iPad overshot what the product can actually deliver. Although there’s a large numbers of iPad-only users, there’s also a substantial population of dual-use customers for whom both tablets and conventional PCs are now part of daily life.

I see the lull in iPad sales as a coming down to reality after unrealistic expectations, a realization that iPads aren’t as ready to replace PCs as many initially hoped.

Gruber has his take here.

We might have overestimated the eventual role of tablets and underestimated the role of phones — and the whole argument is further muddled by the industry-wide move toward 5-inch-ish phone displays.

I’m not sure about this. A larger screen iPhone is certainly appealing to me. It would take place for a lot of the tasks I would consider a mini for, as long as the resolution also increases – I’d like my Kindle documents have more words on the horizontal size.

I wrote earlier this year that 2014 is the year of the iPad for me. That is largely playing out. Rarely does my MacBook Pro leave the house. My next OS X device will be an iMac. As iOS continues to mature, I will be able to put off buying a new Mac as long as this one keeps running. The largest barrier to going iOS all the time is games, and GigaOM’s WordPress install. Other than that, when I leave the house these days, I only need my iPad. I can write, post to this site, surf, read, and even play some games (just not World of Warcraft).

I’m expecting to get another full year out of my iPad 3. By September 2015, this one will be getting long in the tooth and require replacement. I expect that to be why iPad sales are down. Now that the product has matured, there’s no need to upgrade every year.

Impressions of iOS 4.2

So, iOS 4.2 is finally here. This version finally brings all iDevices to the same version and feature level. I hope this parity continues with iOS 5. While iOS 4.2 is an update to every iOS device, I think it’s fair to say this update is more of an iPad than an iPhone update.

Since iOS4’s release this summer, iPads have been stuck running iOS 3.x. So, no multitasking, no folders, no fast app switching. On a device one hopes to use a mobile computing platform, this was a hinderance — especially the multitasking and fast app switching. Now, the iPad can do those things. Sure, it’s not the same multitasking, but it’s a big update.

On a daily basis, my iPad gets tons more use than my iPhone. I use it for e-mail triage, surfing, reference,  video watching, ebook reading and it’s my preferred way of reading RSS. I’ve never quite adopted the multiple display workflow, but my iPad is usually next to my MacBook doing something. Without fast app switching or multitasking, my iPad would often be stuck finishing one task while I wanted to do another.

Take Evernote, for example. My Evernote library is huge, and the main reason I spring for the Premium service is for offline storage on my iPad. I’m in the middle of a few projects where I’m storing research notes into Evernote. I recently dumped about 100mb of PDFs up in there. The subsequent download to Evernote for the iPad was painful. Now, with iOS 4.2, that sync would happen in the background. We’ve been seeing a slew of apps updated for iOS 4.2, so most of my apps now support the new features. I’m thrilled with the update. My iPad feels a ton snappier. I love that folders condensed five screens of apps to two rows.

Game Center, AirPlay and AirPrint I’m less thrilled about. I have never wanted or needed to print from iPad. Even when I’ve travelled, I haven’t had to print out a document since I was in England in 1999.

A while back I stated that almost everything I write in some way passes through the iPad. Recently, that’s changed from “almost everything” to “most things.” I’m writing more how-to instructions and their heavy reliance on screenshots pretty much leaves the iPad out of the running. I do have hopes some day of just grabbing my iPad and a keyboard and heading to Starbucks to see just how an iPad would hold up to a day of writing.

Elements for iPad Updated with Folders, Markdown Support

Two iPad apps that have been very near and dear to my writer’s heart: Elements and PlainText. They are two simple apps, that let me edit plain text files on a Dropbox folder — each app uses its own Dropbox folder, named Elements and Plaintext respectively. I’ve loved both, but PlainText was winning because it supported subfolders in its folder, which Elements lacked before this update.

Another writing tool I often take advantage of is Markdown, a sort of formatting shortcut language created by John Gruber. The lack of native support wasn’t a big deal for me. I already know most of the formatting commands so I could just enter them in by hand and preview them when I exported them.

The Markdown implementation is a little tricky. If you’ve created a file on the iPad, you’ll need to change the extension to .md, .markdown, .mdown or .mdwn. That will activate the Markdown preview button. It doesn’t appear to add any shortcuts for common Markdown elements, like #. It’s too bad since the need to access the secondary or tertiary on-screen keyboards can slow you down. If you are a heavy Markdown user, I recommend the excellent Edito iPad app.

Now that Elements supports both subfolders and Markdown in version 1.5, it just might become my iPad plain text editor of choice

 

Looking back on yesterday's presser

The way I see it, with the iPhone 4 antenna issue is there’s an existing (perceived or otherwise) that the antenna issue is the worst thing to hit the tech market since Windows ME. Apple’s response is needs to hit two key points: what we are going to do about existing users; and what we’re going to do about future models.

Apple’s giving out free cases solves the problem with the existing users. There was no way Apple was going to issue a recall.

Apple was hedgy on the future plans. During the Q&A Jobs said, “we’re keeping an eye on it.” Frankly, I didn’t expect much. The last thing Apple wants to do is get people to wait on a hardware revision.

I get the feeling people were thinking Jobs’s conference was addressed to users. I don’t think it was. This whole presser to me was directed squarely at Wall Street. Even the timing was for Wall Street; it was timed to be over before the market closed.

In full disclosure: I don’t have an iPhone 4. Due to when my contract expires, It’s unlikely I will ever own one — I’ll just get the iPhone 5. My statistical data is from a very small sample set. The two people I have talked with that own an iPhone 4 both have the signal drop issue.

Jobs went out of his way to explain this problem affects all cell phones. I’ve had my iPhone 3GS since March and I’ve never been able to replicate the problem. Once I heard about the problem I’ve gripped my iPhone every way imaginable and can’t make the problem happen.

I tend to believe Apple’s numbers on returns and calls to AppleCare are true, with one caveat — Jobs said 0.55% of all calls to the AppleCare line are about this issue. Now, you can really spin this: does this involve all calls to the AppleCare line, or just the iPhone 4 support line. If Apple is really spinning that number based on all calls to the AppleCare line (i.e. people calling in MacBook issues, etc.), that number affects a larger number than Apple is letting on. Update: Jobs indeed did say 0.55% of iPhone users. Nothing to see here.

Jobs went out of his way to denigrate the tech press. It was pretty clear he holds the tech press with disdain, and I don’t blame him; I hate us as well. The problem with the tech press it this: some site comes out with a half-sourced or patently false story. This story gets grabbed with “so and so is reporting that…” and then a major news site grabs the story, which then gets circulated with “so and so is confirming…” and when you track down the story line, the original story is one that won’t stand up to a basic fact check. Which then leads to “It’s not our fault; we’re bloggers, not journalists.”

I do believe this is issue — for whatever reason — has gotten blown way out of proportion in the press. I do not believe it’s the gigantic problem that it’s being lead to believe. Twenty four hours later, when I ask if I feel the presser was satisfactory, I’m inclined to say yes. Apple was addressing the existing issue. I would not be surprised to see this brought up again during the Apple September iPod Event.