Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for June, 2012

iCloud Transition Update for Yojimbo

Rich Siegel of Bare Bones Software:

Please note that with the release of the new version, Yojimbo will only be available in the Mac App Store. This is because Apple has decided that any applications that use iCloud for sync may only be distributed through the Mac App Store. Therefore, customers who have bought Yojimbo directly from us and wish to use iCloud to sync data will have to purchase a new version of Yojimbo from the Mac App Store.

The Mac App Store makes these transitions quite rough for developers and users alike. Andy Ihnatko has some thoughts on that:

The knock-forward list of problems here is a long one. My initial “what’s the harm?” reaction to the App Store’s requirements was based on the idea that a developer could still sell their apps outside of the Store if he or she wanted to. My attitude has changed. iCloud is just one example of a larger (and kind of nasty) problem: Apple is making the newest and most desirable features of the OS exclusively available to App Store software. How does that encourage developers to create the best apps possible?

Of course, iCloud syncing is a feature that is only used in some apps, and only for some features. But it means that the version of Coda 2 you buy in the App Store is slightly different than the one you buy directly from Panic.

There Is No Winner

Rebecca J. Rosen, for The Atlantic:

Over the weekend sprinters Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh finished so closely — both coming in at 11.068 seconds — that no amount of high-speed photography (the cameras shoot 3,000 frames per second) can discern who placed third and who came in fourth. There are three spots on the US Olympic team for this event.

Insane. This is the first known instance of a perfect tie with modern recording equipment in any sport.

Google Updates Gmail iOS App

Is it now more than a UIKit wrapper around the mobile website? Nope.

The official Gmail client for iOS has been updated today with support for Notification Center, meaning you can now configure the app to display banners, alerts, and lock screen previews of your latest emails. Google has also enabled persistent logins within the app, promising that sessions will no longer expire and users won’t need to frequently enter account credentials to access their inbox.

Why would anyone use this over the default Mail app, or Sparrow?

Designing for Destruction

It’s been two entire weeks since Apple’s WWDC kickoff keynote, and therefore two weeks since the new MacBook Pro with Retina display [sic] was launched. Reviews have begun to trickle out since then, and the overwhelming consensus seems to indicate that the display is amazing, and that it’s a ridiculously powerful machine, and that the screen is so incredible that everyone wants to lick it (no, really!), and something something display. Seriously — that display.

But, as with all products, it isn’t perfect, and compromises had to be made. That’s how design works. In the new MacBook Pro, the RAM and battery cannot be upgraded post-purchase, and that has some people truly offended. The largest group of detractors seems to consider this outrageous because they actually do upgrade their own RAM and frequently swap out batteries. They refuse to buy the product on these grounds, and that’s absolutely fair. If you actually change your battery on a regular basis, this is not the product for you.

A smaller group projects this into a bigger picture, and wants to know what reflection this is on our society. Kyle Wiens, for example:

We have consistently voted for hardware that’s thinner rather than upgradeable. But we have to draw a line in the sand somewhere. Our purchasing decisions are telling Apple that we’re happy to buy computers and watch them die on schedule. When we choose a short-lived laptop over a more robust model that’s a quarter of an inch thicker, what does that say about our values?

Assuming the premise is correct (the rest of the piece is rather lacking in facts), it’s a good question: what does this say about our values?

Khoi Vihn is also concerned with this 1:

Several times a year, Apple rolls out hardware products that are, in terms of pure design smarts and innovation, leagues beyond what their competitors are capable of. Their machines are more beautiful, better built and, admittedly, longer-lasting than just about any other high tech hardware out there. But if the durability of, say, a Dell laptop is two or three years, and if Apple’s hardware improves on that two or even three times, it’s still not doing that much better than the mean. What would be really impressive is an iPod or iPhone that lasts for decades.

I respect Khoi Vihn a lot, but I think his argument is weak. Nobody wants an iPod that lasts for decades. Vihn points this out in his next paragraph:

[W]e don’t really want hardware that’s capable of lasting more than two or three years. By the time a laptop reaches its third birthday, most of us start thinking about its replacement.

This is the way we live and consume goods now. As a side-effect of the rapid progress of technology, we seek to upgrade after a relatively short period of time, historically speaking. The argument seems to be that we should reduce this temptation as much as possible, and that Apple and other companies should emphasize upgradability and future-proofing as a product strategy. This argument will fail every time.

The vast majority of people have never held a stick of RAM in their lives, and probably have no idea why the OS X hard drive icon looks the way it does. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. People are busy with their careers and raising their kids. The “correct” solution would be to educate everyone in the internals of technology, and give them a basic understanding of how to upgrade their machine. But as the sales figures for the iPad and MacBook Air demonstrate, most consumers don’t have an interest in doing so. Most people just want their email without any fuss.

The pragmatic approach, then, is to mitigate the damages of a rapid consumption market. In the past twenty years or so, the education for an industrial design student has changed. The past curriculum concerned the so-called “cradle-to-grave” philosophy — a consideration of how the product gets made, used, and disposed of. This education has changed into a “cradle-to-cradle” strategy, with students now taught to consider how the product will be deconstructed and those materials made into new products.

This is the design philosophy that is best for the foreseeable future as the market has evolved. Apple could make an iPhone that lasts for ten years, but there wouldn’t be a point because almost nobody will use a ten year-old iPhone. A more appropriate solution is to make the iPhone work wonderfully for three years, and then make it incredibly easy to disassemble into individual components so it can be recycled. To the best of my knowledge, this is the strategy they have embraced.

The reason Kyle Wiens is upset probably isn’t because of his dire concern for the earth. If it was, he would have written this post instead. No, the reason he’s concerned is because it impacts his business. While the Wired article mentions that he is the CEO of iFixIt, and that iFixIt provides repair guides, it does not mention that the website also sells parts.

Some people will, no doubt, be dismayed by a computer that is not future-proof. But the vast majority of professionals I know do not use old gear, and most of the people I know don’t want to change their own RAM. It’s not just good for Apple’s bottom line; this design philosophy makes sense for the industry as a whole, less a tiny percentage.


  1. Vihn’s argument, as he clarifies in his follow up post, is more about the aesthetics of technology products as they age: “[devices can] be built so that they acquire an emotionally appealing patina as they age, increasing their desirability if only to a select few.” I would argue that this is a matter of personal preference. The patina on a first-generation iPod might not be like aged silver, but it’s not ugly. ↩︎

Alan Turing at 100

David Leavitt reflects on Alan Turing in a comment piece for the Washington Post:

For Alan Turing’s many admirers, the centenary of his birth on Saturday is an occasion for both celebration and mourning. Here, after all, is the architect of the modern computer, the code-breaker whose ingenuity ensured an Allied victory in World War II and the father of artificial intelligence. Yet Turing was also a victim of a pernicious and paranoid strain of sexual hypocrisy in 20th-century England. Nor, in the 21st, has the victimization wholly ceased.

Today, we remember Turing for what would have been his hundredth birthday. We remember him for his substantial contributions in technology, but we must not forget the circumstances of his last years and death.

Incorrect, Try Again

Mary Branscombe:

ClearType is Microsoft’s font smoothing system which uses the fourth pixel that every screen has in every Red Green Blue pixel group to paint the edges of characters more accurately on screen, so ClearType displays seem to be screens designed to make that work better.

Nope.

The Surface and the iPad

Jim Dalrymple, writing for TechPinions:

From what I’ve seen, it seems to me that Microsoft is trying to do a similar type of dance with the Surface that it did with previous tablets. The company is trying to convince consumers that this device can be a computer and a tablet at the same time. Based on the sales of the iPad, I’m not sure that’s what consumers really want.

Microsoft’s done the tablet/full PC combo before and it has failed. Either the Surface will continue that losing streak, or they’ll be on the cutting edge. I predict the former.

Predicting the Next Mac Desktops

Marco Arment speculates on the answers to the questions everyone is asking:

Why did Apple just release new MacBook Airs, MacBook Pros, and a Retina MacBook Pro, but no new iMacs or Mac Pros? And why are the iMacs probably being updated this year while the Mac Pro update won’t happen for 12–18 months?

I think everyone wants a ridiculously high-resolution 27″ display, but as Arment notes, it requires more bandwidth than is currently available from any display connector.

Flipboard for iOS Updated

[T]he new version of Flipboard on iOS includes Google+ and YouTube video integration. Now, updates from your Google+ stream and circles can appear in a magazine-like layout.

Oh, good. This gives me the opportunity to not care about Google+ in one more way than was possible yesterday.

App Store Launches in 32 New Countries

The full list of new App Store countries includes: Albania, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Fiji, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritania, Federated States of Micronesia, Mongolia, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Palau, Papua New Guinea, São Tomé and Príncipe, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe.

Good news for the literally tens of iPhone customers in Burkina Faso, where Apple doesn’t even have a localized version of their website.

What a Difference Five Years Makes

RIM (now ex-)CEO Mike Lazaridis, in November 2007:

“Try typing a web key on a touch screen on an iPhone, that’s a real challenge. You cannot see what you type.”

Ah, and now?

The first BlackBerry device running Research In Motion Ltd.’s new operating software will not have a physical keyboard, only a touch-screen one.

The BlackBerry 10 software will be offered on devices with physical keyboards in the future, but RIM spokeswomen Rebecca Freiburger declined to say when. RIM is expected to start selling BlackBerry 10 touch-screen devices this year.

What a difference five years, and a 92% decrease in the price of your company’s shares makes.

PS: I still haven’t a clue what he meant by “web key” in that quote. Some things do not change after five years.

Zaprudering the Microsoft Surface Intro

John Moltz:

About 14:00 he says “Movies and entertainment look great as well.” Tap. Tap. “Hang on a sec.” Tap. Swipe. Tap. Tap. “Excuse me just a second.” Then he goes and gets another Surface from under a table.

Trotting back with the new one, he returns to his point. “Surface works great for movies and entertainment as well.”

No doubt.

All of the presenters seemed to have trouble with the left-edge swipe, which is supposed to bring up a task switcher of some kind. There were lots of these little problems throughout, leading Chairman Gruber to comment:

Some will argue that I’m simply spoiled by Apple’s on-stage polish, but Monday’s Microsoft event struck me as rushed and severely under-rehearsed.

Apple’s product announcements are, of course, well-rehearsed and superlatively executed, even when introducing something as relatively mundane as a new iPod. Shouldn’t Microsoft’s event be even more rehearsed, given the significance of this product?

“Two-Sided Conversation”

Trever Johns, of Google’s Android team:

[W]e’re adding the ability for Google Play developers to respond to reviews from the Google Play Android Developer Console. Developers can gather additional information, provide guidance, and — perhaps most importantly — let users know when their feature requests have been implemented.

This is a pretty smart feature, and one I hope Apple will copy.