Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for June, 2014

Exactly What a Good Computer Should Be

Kirk McElhearn recently picked up a Mac Pro and he’s been using it for a few days:

The Mac Pro has done exactly what a good computer should: it has made itself unobtrusive. I don’t hear it, and it doesn’t slow me down. It’s a shame one has to spend the kind of money this computer costs to get those features, and I hope that, one day, all computers will be like this.

This is what I feel when I’m using my MacBook Air. It may be a couple of years old now, and not nearly as zippy as the Mac Pro, but it doesn’t slow me down. I often forget I’m using it because it’s so unobtrusive and quiet. It’s sublime.

Facebook Doesn’t Understand the Fuss About Its Emotion Manipulation Study

Kashmir Hill, Forbes:

When I signed up for 23andMe — a genetic testing service — it asked if I was willing to be part of “23andWe,” which would allow my genetic material to be part of research studies. I had to affirmatively check a box to say I was okay with that. As I suggested when I wrote about this yesterday, I think Facebook should have something similar. While many users may already expect and be willing to have their behavior studied — and while that may be warranted with “research” being one of the 9,045 words in the data use policy — they don’t expect that Facebook will actively manipulate their environment in order to see how they react. That’s a new level of experimentation, turning Facebook from a fishbowl into a petri dish, and it’s why people are flipping out about this.

Agreed. Regardless of Facebook including “research” as one of thousands of words in their terms of use policy, an explicit checkbox allowing the use of this information for academic research purposes would both comfort users, and likely meet the standards for informed consent, thereby making the data collection more legitimate.

Let’s Talk About Market Segmentation Vis-a-Vis iPhone Storage Wait Where Are You Going Really It’s Interesting I Promise

Rene Ritchie, iMore:

Years and years of storage based segmentation has shown Apple that $100 increments based on storage capacity is a model the market can and will bear. Scratch that — the market will reward with astronomical amounts of money. That doesn’t make it right or wrong, sane or insane, comforting or maddening. It just makes it what it is. And Apple likely won’t change it unless and until we all agree on something better.

I was among many when I wondered if the $50 price increments for increased storage in the tweaked iPod Touch lineup foreshadows a similar change to the iPhone and iPad lines. Ritchie makes a solid case as to why it likely won’t unless there’s another way to compel people to choose between the models.

The only thing I can think of is a change to the physical sizes of the device. The rumour mill says that Apple’s working on iPhones of 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch display sizes, or something like that. Perhaps Apple keeps the 4-inch model around as the “base” model, and those two become the mid- and top-tier models, respectively?

I’m just spitballing, though.

Facebook’s Mood Manipulation Experiment

This story was first broken by Sophie Weiner of Animal:

Using an algorithm that can recognize negative or positive words, the researchers were able to comb through NewsFeeds without actually viewing any text that may have been protected under users’ privacy settings. “As such, it was consistent with Facebook’s Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research,” the study’s authors wrote. That’s right: You consented to be randomly selected for this kind of research when you signed up for Facebook. Might want to check out that User Policy again.

James Grimmelmann, Professor of Law at the University of Maryland, on the ethical and legal implications of this study:

A stronger reason is that even when Facebook manipulates our News Feeds to sell us things, it is supposed—legally and ethically—to meet certain minimal standards. Anything on Facebook that is actually an ad is labelled as such (even if not always clearly.) This study failed even that test, and for a particularly unappealing research goal: We wanted to see if we could make you feel bad without you noticing. We succeeded.

So, this study is legally dubious, ethically bankrupt, and made a bunch of people miserable without telling them. But what else would you expect from Facebook, you “dumb fuck”? (And, yet, here I am with Facebook open in another tab.)

Apple Stops Development of Aperture

Jim Dalrymple:

Apple introduced a new Photos app during its Worldwide Developers Conference that will become the new platform for the company. As part of the transition, Apple told me today that they will no longer be developing its professional photography application, Aperture.

[…]

The new Photos app will also replace iPhoto, giving users a more seamless experience on Apple devices.

Shit.

I mean, the new Photos app is really impressive, but it’s not Aperture. It absolutely looks like a valid replacement for iPhoto, but not Aperture. I could switch to Lightroom, but I hate its editing workflow.

Shit.

Spokesdouche

Let’s talk about Robin Thicke. Actually, I’m sure you want to talk about wearable tech devices; conveniently, we can talk about both at the same time because Samsung made Thicke their spokesdouche for the Galaxy Note 3 and the Galaxy Gear combo. First order of business: does Thicke actually use a Galaxy Note? Uh, nope.

With that out of the way, let’s forget about the horrible scrolling on the promo site and chat about this one ad. Three women in a convertible are stopped at a light and singing along to “Blurred Lines”, when Thicke pulls up beside them. They take a couple of photos, then he asks for their phone and writes down a number for a “music video casting call”. Given that “Blurred Lines” is a song about how confused Thicke is by the concept of consent and that the video features full nudity (NSFW, obviously), do you get the feeling that this, as an ad concept, is somewhat tone deaf?

(Thanks, Jonas Wisser.)

Mike Daisey Is Feeling Himself

The Verge’s Adrianne Jeffries reviewed the newest monologue from Mike Daisey — infamous for being a root cause of This American Life’s sole retraction:

There seems to be the germ of an interesting idea there, but like the rest of the parts about women, Daisey had the right vocabulary and no thesis. Throughout the show, he tosses out perfunctory lines like “50 percent of you are treated like shit,” and “I am sexist. I see it too often,” and “I can’t even imagine what it is like to be Hillary Clinton,” and “That’s patriarchy!” In the end, “Yes This Man” turned out to be a perfect title for an hour of introspective riffing. Just don’t expect much else.

Ouch.

Apple Tweaks iPod Touch Lineup

The most intriguing thing about this new lineup is the pricing, which now increases in $50 increments. It’d be neat if that carries over to the rest of the iOS device lineup.

Introducing the New Gmail API

Eric DeFriez of Google:

For a while now, many of you have been asking for a better way to access data to build apps that integrate with Gmail. While IMAP is great at what it was designed for (connecting email clients to email servers in a standard way), it wasn’t really designed to do all of the cool things that you have been working on, which is why this week at Google I/O, we’re launching the beta of the new Gmail API.

Google’s Gmail API documentation says that it “should not be used to replace IMAP for full-fledged email client access”, but my question is “for how long?”. If a greater number of people use IMAP clients to access Gmail, fewer ads are seen. If fewer people use IMAP, Google has a shrinking reason to keep supporting it.

Everything You Need to Know About Google’s I/O Keynote

I joked a little about this on Twitter but, really, I’m not surprised to see both platforms converging. iOS comes from a philosophy of adding features slowly and trying to do it well from the start — the copy and paste UI hasn’t changed since it was introduced, for example, but it took three full versions to get such “basic” functionality. Android comes from the school of adding as much as possible, and then refining as many of them as possible over time.

In iOS 8, Apple is adding interactive notifications and a much more extensible experience. Meanwhile, Android “L” (Lollipop?) has a completely reconsidered design language and lock screen notifications similar to iOS. It’s therefore no surprise, in my mind, that there’s some convergence happening.

There’s even a common theme this year at Apple’s and Google’s developer conferences: continuity. With iOS 8 and Yosemite, Apple has a vision of customers completing tasks on the right device for the right occasion, with smooth transitions; so, too, does Google, with Android everywhere. But there’s a noticeable difference in execution between their two strategies: Google is using the same OS everywhere with the same user interface design principles. You’ll even be able to run Android apps on a Chromebook, for example, but why would you want to run software designed for touch on a largely keyboard-and-mouse system?1

But, contrary to what you may think, I’m not necessarily knocking Google’s strategy. I’m interested in seeing how it pans out. It’s obviously far too early to tell, as these are developer betas and previews, but quite a lot of what was announced today feels a little underbaked. It may simply need more time for this strategy to be fully fleshed out.

As for the presentation itself, it was long — over two and a half hours — and felt even longer. Presenters were interrupted by protesters on two separate occasions, and someone at Google decided to run the code debug demo over two hours into the presentation. Really tiring.

Now, Apple and Google have both laid out their product strategies for the next year or so. It’s showtime.


  1. Yes, the Chromebook Pixel has a touchscreen, but how many people do you think bought one? ↩︎

Google TV Turns On at I/O

Nilay Patel:

As expected, Google just announced Google TV at I/O. There’s four billion TV viewers worldwide, making it the biggest market in the world, and Google’s after it in a big way — it’s a $70 billion ad market in the US alone, after all. According to Google, “video should be consumed on the biggest, best, and brightest screen in your house, and that’s the TV.” The idea is to merge the web and TV without compromising on either the web experience or the video experience, with a focus on discovery and personalization.

About time they launched this thing; it’s been rumoured for so long and I wa— hang on a minute. Keep talking, Patel:

Since it’s Android, there’s a version of Android Market — any app that doesn’t require phone hardware can run on Google TV. There will also be a Google TV-specific Android SDK launching in “early” 2011, along with the Android Market for Google TV.

Huh? What’s the date line on this thing?

4 YEARS AGO

Oh.

Uhm, my mistake. How embarrassing.

Ryan Lawler of TechCrunch:

Contrary to reports, Android TV isn’t a set-top box like Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV, but a software system that will be embedded into the smart TVs and other devices from third-party OEMs.

[…]

Android TV will play movies and TV shows, and users will be able to control it via mobiles phones and tablets. Google Engineering Director Dave Burke showed off how the system works to enable search and navigation either via text or voice.

This is, like, the same thing.

Material Design

Google is launching a new design language at today’s I/O, but the spec sheet has already been posted online. They’re referring to this as “Material Design”, and it’s an evolution of their existing “white cards” style that you’ve probably seen across their main app portfolio. Google wants you to think of it like “active paper”.

This is a language that’s defined by typography, grids, and animation. The type is still all Roboto all the time, but it has been updated — it now has a bunch of different weights and, best of all, it loses the Helvetica ripoff leg on the R. The grids are just as essential to making things look strong when the interface is so sparse.

The animations in Material are huge for Android. It’s a platform that has felt sometimes static, and other times like the animations are entirely arbitrary. The guide Google has provided should encourage developers to make meaningful, high-quality animations between elements and screens. Combine that with dynamically-rendered lighting, and you can bet this is going to feel like a much higher quality platform.

It’s refreshing to see this focus on a consistent interface design from Google. It’s a little odd to see them want to make it entirely consistent — they claim that this design language works universally on every device from phones to desktop web UIs. They’re also claiming that the animations that are integral to this design language will run at sixty frames-per-second, even on the web. That’s impressive.

I’m looking forward to seeing the products of this design language in practice. Like iOS 7, this is one of those interfaces that, I bet, must be seen and used in person to really understand. Good stuff.

…And I Know My Rights, So You Gonna Need a Warrant for That

Lawrence Hurley, Reuters:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that police officers usually need a warrant before they can search an arrested suspect’s cellphone, a major decision in favor of privacy rights at a time of increasing concern over government encroachment in digital communications.

Any ruling otherwise would be completely boneheaded.

iWatch Thoughts

Yours truly, on the weekend:

I don’t doubt that there are uses for wearable devices. All the wearables I’ve seen so far fall into two categories: pure fitness devices, and secondary notification screens. The former are more focused, easier to understand, and feel more valuable as a result. Is it any wonder that the latter category hasn’t really taken off, but fitness wearables are pretty popular?

It’s relieving to hear that all around smart guy Jean-Louis Gassée has similar thoughts, in much more granular and considered detail:

The iWatch hubbub could be nothing more than a sort of seasonal virus, but this time there’s a difference.

At the WWDC three weeks ago, Apple previewed HealthKit, a toolkit iOS developers can use to build health and fitness related applications. HealthKit is a component of the iOS 8 release that Apple plans to ship this fall in conjunction with the newest iDevices. As an example of what developers will be able to do with HealthKit, Apple previewed Health, an application that gives you “an easy-to-read dashboard of your health and fitness data.”

The rumor that Quanta will soon begin “mass production” of the iWatch — the perfect vehicle for health-and-fitness apps — just became a bit more tantalizing… but there are still a number of questions that are left unanswered.

Gassée also touches on forecasts of sales. I highly doubt that this will approach iPhone levels of sales; perhaps even iPad levels are overestimates. Lots of smoke; no fire. Yet?

Inside Out

Kyle Buchanan, Vulture:

After delivering its first female-led film with 2012’s Brave, Pixar brass came down to Los Angeles last night to preview their big title for next year, Inside Out, which is completely princess-free. It takes place in the mind of a little girl named Riley, but she’s not exactly the lead; instead, thanks to the ingenuity of Pixar, Riley is more like the setting.

The film’s real protagonist is Joy (voiced by an effervescent Amy Poehler), one of five emotions who steer Riley through life via a control center in her mind that’s akin to the bridge from the Starship Enterprise. Joy and her cohorts — including Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) — all work together to keep Riley emotionally balanced, and for the first 11 years of her life, the primary influencer is Joy, as evidenced by Riley’s sunny demeanor.

I’m really looking forward to this.

Starting Anew

New Apple SVP of Retail, Angela Ahrendts writing on, of all places, LinkedIn:

My father used to always say, “Ask questions, don’t make assumptions.” Questions invite conversations, stimulate thinking, break down barriers, create positive energy and show your willingness to understand and learn. Questions show humility, acknowledgement and respect for the past, and give you greater insights into both the business and individuals.

How to Resolve Apple Maps Data Errors

Just follow these simple steps to resolve data errors in Apple Maps:

  1. Notice a ridiculous error — say, for example, a train station that was disused and demolished a year and a half before Apple launched Maps.
  2. Try reporting the error from within Maps. If a lot of people report this error, it may be fixed. But if you, as I, live in a city with a population smaller than that of Tokyo, Hong Kong, London, New York, or San Francisco, this may not help.
  3. Assuming the error remains despite reporting it occasionally for a year, additional steps may be required.
  4. Start a weblog and get various articles linked to from Daring Fireball, Macworld, and others.
  5. Wait until you’ve built up a moderate Cupertino-area readership.
  6. Complain about the mapping error.
  7. Get some attention.
  8. Wait for a week.
  9. Rejoice upon finding out that said mapping error has been resolved.

Rinse, repeat.

Update: Or, perhaps, it was you, dear reader.

“Glanceable” Android Wear

Liz Stinson, Wired:

Android Wear’s banner claim is that its interface will free us from the time sucking grid of icons on our smartphones. Instead, the interface will be glanceable; requiring users to engage far less time and attention to get the information they’re looking for.

I wonder if Google will stand behind this claim in a similar way to Microsoft’s “Smoked by Windows Phone” competitions. I just tried a few of the things on my iPhone that are purportedly made faster by a wearable device — checking the weather, upcoming transit times, next calendar appointment, and so forth — and I spent no more than five seconds on even the longest task (checking transit times involved unlocking my phone, opening Transit, and waiting for it to load). I imagine this could be even quicker on an Android phone that has a well-learned Google Now.

I don’t doubt that there are uses for wearable devices. All the wearables I’ve seen so far fall into two categories: pure fitness devices, and secondary notification screens. The former are more focused, easier to understand, and feel more valuable as a result. Is it any wonder that the latter category hasn’t really taken off, but fitness wearables are pretty popular?

Meta: Small Mobile Improvements

If you’re someone who browses this site via your iPhone, you may have noticed a few changes I’ve rolled out over the past couple of months or so. Today, I (finally) made the sidebar menu visible on mobile. I hope this makes your time with me just a little nicer.