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kottke.org posts about Apple

AirPods, an Augmented-Reality Wearable Computer

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2019

For Real Life magazine, Drew Austin writes about wireless headphones and their potential effect on the public sphere if many people start wearing them. The bit that particularly caught my eye was the subtitle of the piece:

Wireless headphones are augmented reality devices.

And further down the page:

Much as phones have enabled and concretized the always-on nature of everyday life, introducing the constant interpenetration of physical and digital space to individual experience, wireless earbuds facilitate a deeper integration, an “always in” existence that we need never interrupt by looking down at a screen. Their aural interface means we don’t have to awkwardly switch attention back and forth between IRL and a screen as though the two are starkly separated. Instead, we can seem to occupy both seamlessly, an experience that other augmented-reality devices, like Google Glass, have promised with varying degrees of success.

I bought some AirPods several months ago thinking I was getting wireless headphones, but very quickly realized they were actually an augmented-reality wearable computer. In my media diet post from May, I called them “the first real VR/AR device that feels seamless”. Like regular wired earbuds or even over-the-ear Bluetooth headphones, AirPods provide an audio track layered over the real world, but they’re so light and let just the right amount of ambient sound in that you barely notice you’re wearing them — it just sounds like whatever you’re listening to is playing in your head, automagically. It feels, at least to me, like a totally different and far more immersive experience. Wearable computing still seems like a futuristic thing a few years away, but with AirPods and the Apple Watch, it’s solidly here right now.

P.S. In Dan Hon’s latest newsletter, he writes:

Given current phone/camera trends (or, I should say, current camera/phone trends), the Star Trek: TNG combadge is unrealistic because by the 24th century it’d be more like 99.9998% camera and 0.0002% phone.

The natural ancestor of the combadge seems more like AirPods than the iPhone. But the likelihood of AirPods 6.0 having a tiny camera embedded in it for, say, the facial recognition of whoever you’re speaking with (a la Miranda Priestly’s assistants in The Devil Wears Prada) or text-to-speech for whatever you’re looking at (signs, books, menus) seems quite high.

Three Takes on Jony Ive Leaving Apple

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 28, 2019

The first is by John Gruber at Daring Fireball:

Ive is, to state the obvious, preternaturally talented. But in the post-Jobs era, with all of Apple design, hardware and software, under his control, we’ve seen the software design decline and the hardware go wonky. I don’t know the inside story, but it certainly seems like a good bet that MacBook keyboard fiasco we’re still in the midst of is the direct result of Jony Ive’s obsession with device thinness and minimalism. Today’s MacBooks are worse computers but more beautiful devices than the ones they replaced. Is that directly attributable to Jony Ive? With these keyboards in particular, I believe the answer is yes….

It makes me queasy to see that Apple’s chief designers are now reporting to operations. This makes no more sense to me than having them report to the LLVM compiler team in the Xcode group. Again, nothing against Jeff Williams, nothing against the LLVM team, but someone needs to be in charge of design for Apple to be Apple and I can’t see how that comes from operations. I don’t think that “chief design officer” should have been a one-off title created just for Jony Ive. Not just for Apple, but especially at Apple, it should be a permanent C-level title. I don’t think Ive ever should have been put in control of software design, but at least he is a designer.

I don’t worry that Apple is in trouble because Jony Ive is leaving; I worry that Apple is in trouble because he’s not being replaced.

Stratechery’s Ben Thompson argues that Apple is simply too big now to have a single tastemaker in charge:

Apple sold 278,000 iMacs its first full quarter on the market, 125,000 iPods its first full quarter on the market, and 1,119,000 iPhones its first full quarter on the market. Today Apple sells the same number of iPhones approximately every 11, 5, and 45 hours respectively. That requires a staggering amount of coordination between industrial design, manufacturing design, and operations. It simply isn’t feasible to have any one of these disciplines dictate to the others.

And yet, I understand Gruber’s angst. It is precisely that sort of dictatorship, first and foremost in the person of Steve Jobs, that made Apple, Apple. Again, though, I think Ive is in part a cautionary tale: he did his best work under Jobs, while the last few years have been more fraught from a design perspective; if Ive was not entirely up to the task of being the ultimate arbiter of all things Apple, who can be?

That is why the conclusion I had after WWDC feels more applicable than ever: it is less that Jony Ive is leaving Apple, and more that Apple, for better or worse, and also by necessity, has left Jony Ive and the entire era that he represented. So it goes.

At Vice, Jason Koebler argues against Ive’s design approach altogether:

[H]istory will not be kind to Ive, to Apple, or to their design choices. While the company popularized the smartphone and minimalistic, sleek, gadget design, it also did things like create brand new screws designed to keep consumers from repairing their iPhones.

Under Ive, Apple began gluing down batteries inside laptops and smartphones (rather than screwing them down) to shave off a fraction of a millimeter at the expense of repairability and sustainability.

It redesigned MacBook Pro keyboards with mechanisms that are, again, a fraction of a millimeter thinner, but that are easily defeated by dust and crumbs (the computer I am typing on right now—which is six months old—has a busted spacebar and ‘r’ key). These keyboards are not easily repairable, even by Apple, and many MacBook Pros have to be completely replaced due to a single key breaking. The iPhone 6 Plus had a design flaw that led to its touch screen spontaneously breaking—it then told consumers there was no problem for months before ultimately creating a repair program. Meanwhile, Apple’s own internal tests showed those flaws. He designed AirPods, which feature an unreplaceable battery that must be physically destroyed in order to open.

Ive’s Apple has been one in which consumers have been endlessly encouraged to buy new stuff and get rid of the old. The loser is the environment, and the winner is Apple’s bottom line. Apple has become famous for its design, and Ive has become famous, too. Let’s hope the next great consumer electronics designer is nothing like him.

If these three agree on nothing else, let their arguments show one thing: even Apple’s biggest fans really hate the past few generations of MacBook keyboards. I feel like I hated them (and had endemic problems with mine) before it was cool.

Papercraft Computers

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2018

Papercraft Electronics

Papercraft Electronics

Papercraft Electronics

Rocky Bergen makes paper models of vintage electronics and computing gear. And here’s the cool bit…you can download the plans to print and fold your own: Apple II, Conion C-100F boom box, Nintendo GameCube, and Commodore 64.

Apple on the “radical” use of humans to edit the news

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Oct 25, 2018

This is an interesting look at how Apple News approaches curating their product, which reaches 90 million people. Unlike other algorithm-focused Silicon Valley giants, Apple uses human editors to surface news stories. They layer those hand-picked stories, some of which will get a million views each, with trending and topic-based stories via algorithm.

Apple (surprisingly) gave access to their News editor in chief, Lauren Kern, who weighs accuracy above speed.

Ms. Kern criticized the argument that algorithms are the sole way to avoid prejudice because bias can be baked into the algorithm’s code, such as whether it labels news organizations liberal or conservative. She argued that humans — with all their biases — are the only way to avoid bias.

“We’re so much more subtly following the news cycle and what’s important,” she said. “That’s really the only legitimate way to do it at this point.”

To further her point:

When Apple in June unveiled a special section on the midterm elections, it highlighted Fox News and Vox as partners. Apple said there are as many people reading traditionally left-leaning publications as traditionally right-leaning publications on Apple News.

The piece goes further into the business side and raises the question of whether Apple News can, as it aims, help save journalism. While newsrooms are seeing a bump in traffic from Apple News, significant now that Facebook has changed how their algorithm surfaces publishers, the question remains of whether such a closed platform will grow media revenues enough to make a difference.

There are hints of what is to come:

There are ambitious plans for the product. Apple lets publishers run ads in its app and it helps some sign up new subscribers, taking a 30 percent cut of the revenue. Soon, the company aims to bundle access to dozens of magazines in its app for a flat monthly fee, sort of like Netflix for news, according to people familiar with the plans, who declined to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. Apple also hopes to package access to a few daily-news publications, like The Times, The Post and The Wall Street Journal, into the app, the people said.

Perhaps this is all related to the press event Apple is hosting in Brooklyn next week?

The winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2018

The winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards

The winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards

Culled from thousands of entrants from more than 140 countries around the world, here are the winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards. What’s really interesting is that many of the winners were not shot on iPhone 8 or iPhone X but with iPhone 7s and 6s and even 5s. That’s a good reminder of Clayton Cubitt’s three step guide to photography: “01: be interesting. 02: find interesting people. 03: find interesting places. Nothing about cameras.”

That said, the increase in photo quality from the first contest in 2008, just a year after the iPhone launched, is welcome. The initial iPhone had just a 2 megapixel camera with a mediocre lens while the iPhone X packs a 12 megapixel resolution and an incredible lens.

Photos above by Huapeng Zhao and Alexandre Weber.

“I have a secret. My father is Steve Jobs.”

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2018

Vanity Fair has an excerpt of Small Fry, a memoir by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, the oldest daughter of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who named an early computer after her. Jobs notoriously denied paternity from the moment of Brennan-Jobs’ birth.

Then, in 1980, the district attorney of San Mateo County, California, sued my father for child-support payments. My father responded by denying paternity, swearing in a deposition that he was sterile and naming another man he said was my father.

I was required to take a DNA test. The tests were new then, and when the results came back, they gave the odds that we were related as the highest the instruments could measure at the time: 94.4 percent. The court required my father to cover welfare back payments, child-support payments of $385 per month, which he increased to $500, and medical insurance until I was 18. The case was finalized on December 8, 1980, with my father’s lawyers insistent to close. Four days later Apple went public and overnight my father was worth more than $200 million.

But before that, just after the court case was finalized, my father came to visit me once at our house in Menlo Park, where we had rented a detached studio. It was the first time I’d seen him since I’d been a newborn in Oregon.

“You know who I am?” he asked. He flipped his hair out of his eyes.

I was three years old; I didn’t.

“I’m your father.” (“Like he was Darth Vader,” my mother said later, when she told me the story.)

“I’m one of the most important people you will ever know,” he said.

The original Mac OS Control Panel done in cross-stitch

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2018

Mac OS Control Panel Cross Stitch

iOS programmer Glenda Adams made a cross-stitch embroidery of the original Control Panel for the Macintosh. Lots of parallels between designing cross-stitch patterns and pixel drawings & fonts. For instance, check out designer Susan Kare’s drawings for some of the original Mac OS icons and compare them to cross-stitch patterns. (P.S. Check out that date…)

See also this Lego Macintosh.

Divine Discontent

posted by Patrick Tanguay   May 03, 2018

The always pertinent Ben Thompson considers Apple and Amazon (plus Facebook and Google) and how they each focus on customers. He starts by wondering which of these companies has the best chance at hitting the one trillion market cap first. Focusing on the first two, he offers this interesting comparison.

I mean it when I say these companies are the complete opposite: Apple sells products it makes; Amazon sells products made by anyone and everyone. Apple brags about focus; Amazon calls itself “The Everything Store.” Apple is a product company that struggles at services; Amazon is a services company that struggles at product. Apple has the highest margins and profits in the world; Amazon brags that other’s margin is their opportunity, and until recently, barely registered any profits at all. And, underlying all of this, Apple is an extreme example of a functional organization, and Amazon an extreme example of a divisional one.

Two very different business operating in very different ways.

Both, taken together, are a reminder that there is no one right organizational structure, product focus, or development cycle: what matters is that they all fit together, with a business model to match. That is where Apple and Amazon are arguable more alike than not: both are incredibly aligned in all aspects of their business. What makes them truly similar, though, is the end goal of that alignment: the customer experience.

I’ll skip over much of his section on disruption and Clayton Christensen but if you don’t already know about his take on the matter, have a look at his thorough analysis of Apple vs the disruption theory. Basically, the theory doesn’t account for user experience and Apple manages to not overshoot the price customers want to pay because it understands the value its superior user experience provides.

Apple seems to have mostly saturated the high end, slowly adding switchers even as existing iPhone users hold on to their phones longer; what is not happening, though, is what disruption predicts: Apple isn’t losing customers to low-cost competitors for having “overshot” and overpriced its phones. It seems my thesis was right: a superior experience can never be too good — or perhaps I didn’t go far enough. (Emphasis mine.)

Thompson then looks at Amazon’s focus on custom experience, including an important aspect which Bezos explained in his most recent letter to shareholders.

One thing I love about customers is that they are divinely discontent. Their expectations are never static — they go up. It’s human nature. We didn’t ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied. People have a voracious appetite for a better way, and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary’. […] (Emphasis mine.)

What is amazing today is table stakes tomorrow, and, perhaps surprisingly, that makes for a tremendous business opportunity: if your company is predicated on delivering the best possible experience for consumers, then your company will never achieve its goal.

By focusing on user experience, Amazon is constantly aiming higher and never overshooting what customers want to pay, thus making itself very hard to disrupt.

He closes with Facebook and Google who are focused on advertisers, which makes them less (end)user focused and less popular.

Both, though, are disadvantaged to an extent because their means of making money operate orthogonally to a great user experience; both are protected by the fact would-be competitors inevitably have the same business model.

Luxurious irony

posted by Patrick Tanguay   May 01, 2018

Apple has been making a number of moves towards becoming more of a luxury and lifestyle brand (including hires from fashion mainstays like Yves Saint Laurent, and Burberry), as well as advancing its various media projects, like the recent purchase of Texture, the digital magazine distributor, in what many see as plans to be the Netflix of magazines. And then in this piece at The Guardian on those same media advances, comes this:

Rumors have even circulated that Apple is looking to buy parts or all of the troubled magazine publisher Condé Nast, a move that would further its push, initiated with the Apple Watch, to become a luxury fashion accessory, lifestyle and content brand.

So Apple might be buying Condé Nast, publishers of… Wired. Remember this from 1997? Oh, the irony.

Wired June 1997 - Pray

(Via @cfd and @9to5Mac.)

Spike Jonze is very good at making ads

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 06, 2018

Huh, weird. Spike Jonze made a video of me in my living room last night.

I’m fully here for FKA Twigs being the face of dancing your way out of depression.

Gorgeous 50-megapixel panoramas shot on an iPhone at 20,000 feet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2018

Laforet Iphone Pano

Laforet Iphone Pano

Laforet Iphone Pano

Over on his Instagram account, photographer Vincent Laforet is sharing some 50-megapixel panoramic photos he shot for Apple. He strapped an iPhone 7 to the bottom of a Learjet, set it on Pano mode, and flew it over various landscapes at a height of 20,000 feet. Here’s the first one.

For 7 consecutive days I will be posting a series of 50+ Megapixel Panoramic Photographs shot on an @apple iPhone 7, from the belly of a LearJet from 20,000 feet above the earth.

We set the standard Camera App to “Pano” Mode and flew for 2-7 minutes at 220+ Knots on a perfectly straight line and we witnessed the iPhone effectively paint the landscape like a roller brush. It produced a stunningly high quality image that I’d never before seen before from any smartphone!

Laforet also shot a video from some of those same flights using a RED camera in 8K resolution.

Watch this on as big a screen as you can in 4K. Wonderful.

In tech and media, you can’t remain neutral on a moving train

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 28, 2017

In his review (finally!) of the iPhone X, John Gruber begins with a zoomed out view of how computer platforms face an adapt-or-die choice.

The more popular a computer platform becomes, the more of a bind in which it inevitably finds itself. A platform is only “finished” when it is abandoned. It needs to evolve to remain relevant, but it’s difficult to change in unfamiliar ways without angering the base of active users. Adding new features on top of the familiar foundation only gets you so far — eventually things grow too complex, especially when what’s needed now is in conflict with a design decision that made sense a decade (or more) prior.

I’d argue this applies equally well to cultural & scientific paradigms, media, companies, technology, and politics. And people too. Who you were in your 20s and the decisions you made for that person often don’t work that well for that same person at 40…which can make long-term relationships difficult to navigate.

It also applies to this here website. I’ve talked before about the changing landscape of web-based media from a revenue perspective, which is why I started the membership initiative.

As I hinted at in the announcement post, the industry-wide drop in revenue from display advertising was beginning to affect kottke.org and just a few months later, the site’s largest source of revenue (ads via The Deck) went from “hey, I can make a living at this!” to zero. Then Amazon slashed their affiliate percentages, resulting in a 30-50% drop for some sites in the network. I found a new ad network partner (with greatly reduced revenue) and my Amazon affiliate revenue didn’t fall as much as that of other sites, but together, those revenue sources would no longer be enough to support my full-time activities on the site.

But I’ve also been thinking a lot about how the information published here is delivered. I love the web and websites and believe the blog format is the best for the type of thing I want to communicate. But fewer and fewer people actually go to websites. I largely don’t. You can follow kottke.org on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and via RSS, but fewer people are using newsreaders and Facebook et al are trying their best to decrease visibility of sites like mine unless I pay up or constantly publish.1

So I’ve been considering other ways of producing content that don’t involve this website. (An experiment along those lines will be launching very soon…although if you’re reading the members-only newsletter, you already know all about it.) But I also know that if you’re reading this, you are likely reading it on the web, as intended, and likely for 8-10 years or more…my loyal base of active readers who I don’t want to alienate. But as Gruber says above, it’s a sticky wicket…adapt or die. kottke.org is a blog, but that’s only a means to an end: sharing information and ideas with other people. How do I continue to do that, stay true to a format that I & my loyal readers love, but also not end up like a vaudevillian in the 1940s, hoofing it on some dusty stage with no one in the audience while the movie houses are packed? All I can say for sure is that kottke.org is very much not “finished”. Stay tuned!

P.S. It’s perhaps not the perfect metaphor in this case, but the thing that always pops into my head when thinking about changing on the go is this clip from Mr. Bean. He’s late for the dentist and has to get ready in his tiny car. The whole thing is great, but the particularly relevant bit starts at ~3:30.

  1. Social media is disproportionally shitty for small media businesses that prioritize quality over quantity. It’s Walmart gutting small town downtowns all over again.

Visualizing things that happen every second around the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2017

Every Second Mcdonalds

Every Second is a site that keeps track of various things that happen around the world by the second. For instance:

McDonald’s sells ~75 burgers, serves 810 customers, and makes about $800 every second of the day.

On Facebook, each second brings 52,000 new likes, 8500 new comments, and $261 in profit.

Apple sells 6.5 iPhones and handles 460,000 iMessages every second.

In 2016, Taylor Swift earned about $5 every second of the year. (via @daveg)

Some early thoughts on iPhone X

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 06, 2017

I got an iPhone X on Friday and have been using it all weekend. Here are some of my initial thoughts about it, some of which will likely change after more use and reflection. As an hors d’oeuvre, Apple’s guided tour of iPhone X’s new features and capabilities:

In some ways, the setup process has been streamlined. Soon after turning on the iPhone X, it asked to use my nearby iPhone 7 to transfer its settings. The verification step for this used a cool swirling blue pattern on the X that I had to view with my old phone’s camera…the iTunes visualizer is finally coming in handy.

In other ways, the setup process could still use some work. Anticipating afternoon delivery of the X, I’d backed up my iPhone 7 that morning. When it came time to set up the X using that backup, it failed…iTunes said the backup was not compatible. It didn’t specify why but I had a hunch: my 7 had iOS 11.1 installed but the X had an earlier version installed. I upgraded the X and the backup worked. Less savvy users are going to be completely lost here and Apple should fix it.

The X is slightly thicker and heavier than the 7. With the larger screen area, the iPhone is no longer a one-handed device for me in many situations. This might be a dealbreaker for me.

Haven’t used the “wireless” charging yet. Just added this $25 charging pad to my shopping cart though, so I’ll get to try it out in a couple of days.

Animoji is the “Ewoks in Return of the Jedi” feature of the iPhone X. After the novelty wears off, approximately no one will use it.

I don’t like the notch. It looks idiotic. I’ll probably get used to it. I don’t care for the display’s rounded corners either. If you look at the apps that have been updated for the X, many of them don’t make use of the bottom 1/4” of the display because of the rounded corners. I feel like there’s an optical dissonance happening where I see the edge-to-edge display and think, “wow, massive display” but really the bottom slice of the screen and the two weird bunny ears at the top are not actually that useful. (Pls don’t email me about the utility of the bunny ears for the time, network, & battery display and the tradeoffs involving the camera placement, etc. “You’ve gotta put those somewhere!” I am aware.) Call me old-fashioned, but I want all my screens to be rectangles with square corners.

Face ID works great for me. I had a week of stubble on my face for the initial scan and it still worked after I shaved. It worked with glasses on. (My Ray-Ban sunglasses: no.) It worked with a baseball cap on. It worked in the dark…like a really dark room. It worked in a dark room with my glasses on. It worked with my head rested on my hand with pretty much half my face covered (this one surprised me when I realized what had just happened).

Thank god the home button is gone. So far, Face ID + swiping up is a superior interaction 99% of the time. It’s quicker and you don’t have to think about it. App switching is super simple now…just swipe left/right on the bottom of the screen. Relearning the new Home-less Siri, screenshot, and power-off interactions isn’t that hard.

A note on Face ID security, from Apple’s Face ID Security Guide:

The probability that a random person the population could look at your iPhone X and unlock it using Face ID is approximately 1 in 1,000,000 (versus 1 in 50,000 for Touch ID).

I hadn’t read about the 1 in 50,000 for Touch ID…that seems really high.

The TrueDepth camera is fun for taking new kinds of selfies. (I wonder…can someone take that video and make an animatronic face that can be used to break into my phone?)

Everything on this phone happens instantly…or somehow faster than instantly. It would be fun to use the first iPhone (which seemed really fast at the time) just to compare how blazing this this really is. And I wonder…will the X feel as slow in 10 years as that first phone feels today? It doesn’t seem as though it could get much faster…

The OLED screen is beautiful. I mainly use my phone to read Twitter and my email, so I’m not sure I need this beautiful new screen, but damn your tweets look good!

The camera quality remains the key advantage of the iPhone…they’re just so far ahead of everyone else here.

Update: The reviewers at DxOMark disagree with me on the camera quality. They place the Google Pixel 2 ahead of the iPhone X for image quality and a few other Android phones aren’t far behind.

Apple’s diseconomies of scale and the next iPhone

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2017

Apple is the biggest company in the world and they sell one of history’s most successful consumer products. As the total human population of Earth becomes a limiting factor in the iPhone’s continued sales growth (see also Facebook), they are perhaps running into problems designing a desirable product that they need to produce 200 million times over the course of a year.

This is one of those areas where Apple may be the victim of its own success. The iPhone is so popular a product that Apple can’t include any technology or source any part if it can’t be made more than 200 million times a year. If the supplier of a cutting-edge part Apple wants can only provide the company with 50 million per year, it simply can’t be used in the iPhone. Apple sells too many, too fast.

A Daring Fireball reader put it this way:

People commonly think that scale is an unambiguously good thing in production, but the tremendous scale at which Apple operates shows this not to be the case. Annual iPhone production is so large that Apple is likely experiencing diseconomies of scale, a phenomenon one doesn’t often hear about. What significant, break-through technology can a company practically introduce to 300 million new devices in a year?

Diseconomies of scale is a real thing, btw. John Gruber has been arguing that Apple’s way around this is to produce a more expensive iPhone ($1000-1200) with exceptional components and features that the company simply can’t produce at a scale of 200 million/year. Rene Ritchie describes this iPhone++ strategy as “bringing tomorrow’s iPhone to market today”. Gruber compares it to the Honda Prelude, quoting from the Edmunds description of the car:

Honda established itself in America with the Civic and Accord — both good, solid but basic cars. But big profits in the automotive world don’t come from basic cars that sell for commodity prices. Those profits come from cars that get consumers so excited that they’ll pay a premium price just to have one. The Prelude was Honda’s first attempt at an exciting car.

The Prelude was Honda’s technological leading edge. Features that are now expected from Honda, like the double-wishbone suspension under the Accord, fuel injection, and VTEC electronic variable valve timing system showed up first on the Prelude before migrating across the Honda line (though VTEC first showed up on the 1990 Acura NSX).

Keen observations all around and it will be interesting to see if Apple can benefit from this strategy.

If you can’t explain something in simple terms, you don’t understand it

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2017

Feynman Blackboard

In the early 1960s, Richard Feynman gave a series of undergraduate lectures that were collected into a book called the Feynman Lectures on Physics. Absent from the book was a lecture Feynman gave on planetary motion, but a later finding of the notes enabled David Goodstein, a colleague of Feynman’s, to write a book about it: Feynman’s Lost Lecture. From an excerpt of the book published in a 1996 issue of Caltech’s Engineering & Science magazine:

Feynman was a truly great teacher. He prided himself on being able to devise ways to explain even the most profound ideas to beginning students. Once, I said to him, “Dick, explain to me, so that I can understand it, why spin one-half particles obey Fermi-Dirac statistics.” Sizing up his audience perfectly, Feynman said, “I’ll prepare a freshman lecture on it.” But he came back a few days later to say, “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t reduce it to the freshman level. That means we don’t really understand it.”

John Gruber writes the simple explanations are the goal at Apple as well:

Engineers are expected to be able to explain a complex technology or product in simple, easily-understood terms not because the executive needs it explained simply to understand it, but as proof that the engineer understands it completely.

Feynman was well known for simple explanations of scientific concepts that result a in deeper understanding of the subject matter: e.g. see Feynman explaining how fire is stored sunshine, rubber bands, how trains go around curves, and magnets. Critically, he’s also not shy about admitting when he doesn’t understand something…or, alternately, when scientists as a group don’t understand something. There’s the spin anecdote above and of his explanation of magnets, he says:

I really can’t do a good job, any job, of explaining magnetic force in terms of something else you’re more familiar with, because I don’t understand it in terms of anything else you’re more familiar with.

Feynman was also quoted as saying:

I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.

Pretty interesting thing to hear from a guy who won a Nobel Prize for explaining quantum mechanics better than anyone ever had before. Even when he died in 1988 at the end of a long and fruitful careeer, a note at the top of his blackboard read:

What I cannot create, I do not understand.

Building an iPhone from scratch

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2017

Scotty Allen built a working iPhone 6S from scratch using parts bought in the electronics markets of Shenzhen, China.

I built a like-new(but really refurbished) iPhone 6S 16GB entirely from parts I bought in the public cell phone parts markets in Huaqiangbei. And it works!

I’ve been fascinated by the cell phone parts markets in Shenzhen, China for a while. I’d walked through them a bunch of times, but I still didn’t understand basic things, like how they were organized or who was buying all these parts and what they were doing with them.

So when someone mentioned they wondered if you could build a working smartphone from parts in the markets, I jumped at the chance to really dive in and understand how everything works.

It is kind of amazing that he ends up with a fully functional iPhone, complete with a box with charger, headphones, etc. The era of transistor radio kits is not quiiiite dead yet. (via bb)

Update: Allen also modified his iPhone 7 to include a dedicated headphone jack.

Getting Apple scoops with this one weird blog

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2017

John Gruber has good news for hardcore Mac users: Apple is releasing a completely redesigned Mac Pro next year and new iMacs with pro-level specs this year. Intriguing, but I’m more interested in how this news was delivered:

There are only nine people at the table. Phil Schiller, Craig Federighi, and John Ternus (vice president, hardware engineering — in charge of Mac hardware) are there to speak for Apple. Bill Evans from Apple PR is there to set the ground rules and run the clock. (We had 90 minutes.) The other five are writers who were invited for what was billed as “a small roundtable discussion about the Mac”: Matthew Panzarino, Lance Ulanoff, Ina Fried, John Paczkowski, and yours truly.

Gruber runs a one-person independent blog that he started as a hobby and now he’s one of five people on the planet that the largest company in the world invites in for an unprecedented preview of new Mac hardware. (And I would argue he’s perhaps the only one invited who would be viewed as indispensable — you could see the others swapped out for Mossberg or Pogue or Swisher or Manjoo, but not Gruber.) That’s incredible and inspiring. It may be the twilight of the independent blogger, but Gruber continues to show how a small-but-obsessive site can do things no one else can.

Update: A pal just alerted me that Daring Fireball is having difficulty serving pages, something that usually only happens to sites DF features. “Is this the first self-fireballing in Gruber’s history?” (via @djacobs)

Watch a near-pristine Apple I boot up and run a program

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2017

Glenn and Shannon Dellimore own at least two original Apple I computers built in 1976 by Steve Wozniak, Dan Kottke, and Steve Jobs. The couple recently purchased one of the computers at auction for $365,000 and then lent it to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum for an exhibition. The hand-built machine is in such good condition that they were able to boot it up and run a simple program.

The superlative rarity of an Apple-1 in this condition is corroborated by this machine’s early history.The owner, Tom Romkey, owned the “Personal Computer Store” in Florida, and was certified as an Apple level 1 technician in 1981. One day, a customer came into his shop and traded in his Apple-1 computer for a brand new NCR Personal Computer. The customer had only used the Apple-1 once or twice, and Mr. Romkey set it on a shelf, and did not touch it again.

The Apple I was the first modern personal computer: the whole thing fit on just one board and used the familiar keyboard/monitor input and output.

By early 1976, Steve Wozniak had completed his 6502-based computer and would display enhancements or modifications at the bi-weekly Homebrew Computer Club meetings. Steve Jobs was a 21 year old friend of Wozniak’s and also a visitor at the Homebrew club. He had worked with Wozniak in the past (together they designed the arcade game “Breakout” for Atari) and was very interested in his computer. During the design process Jobs made suggestions that helped shape the final product, such as the use of the newer dynamic RAMs instead of older, more expensive static RAMs. He suggested to Wozniak that they get some printed circuit boards made for the computer and sell it at the club for people to assemble themselves. They pooled their financial resources together to have PC boards made, and on April 1st, 1976 they officially formed the Apple Computer Company. Jobs had recently worked at an organic apple orchard, and liked the name because “he thought of the apple as the perfect fruit — it has a high nutritional content, it comes in a nice package, it doesn’t damage easily — and he wanted Apple to be the perfect company. Besides, they couldn’t come up with a better name.”

In other words, Woz invented the Apple computer, but Jobs invented Apple Computer. Here’s a longer video of another working Apple I:

This one is also in great condition, although it’s been restored and some of the original parts have been replaced. If you’d like to play around with your own Apple I without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars at an auction, I would recommend buying a replica kit or trying out this emulator written in Javascript. (thx, chris)

How blind people use iPhones with VoiceOver

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2017

In a short video and accompanying article, David Pogue profiles a little known but highly useful iOS feature called VoiceOver, which helps visually impaired people do anything and everything on their iPhones.

A few years ago, backstage at a conference, I spotted a blind woman using her phone. The phone was speaking everything her finger touched on the screen, allowing her to tear through her apps. My jaw hit the floor. After years of practice, she had cranked the voice’s speed so high, I couldn’t understand a word it was saying.

And here’s the kicker: She could do all of this with the screen turned off. Her phone’s battery lasted forever.

It’s possible that people using VoiceOver to control their phones are more efficient at many tasks than those who use the default interface.

This was very cool: “If I’m in my office and put my headphones on, I’m hearing the phone call and I’m hearing what VoiceOver is saying, all through the headphones. But the person on the other end cannot hear any of the VoiceOver stuff. You don’t know what I’m reading, what I’m doing. I can do all these complicated things without you hearing it. That’s what’s really incredible. If you and I were working together on a three-way call, and you were to text me, ‘Let’s wrap this up’ or ‘Don’t bring that up on this call’-I would know, but the other guy wouldn’t hear it.

Joe showed me how he takes photos. As he holds up the iPhone, VoiceOver tells him what he’s seeing: “One face. Centered. Focus lock,” and so on. Later, as he’s reviewing his photos in the Camera Roll, VoiceOver once again tells him what he’s looking at: “One face; slightly blurry.”

See also how blind people use Instagram and iPhone: a revolutionary device for the blind.

The myth of Apple’s great design

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2017

In the Atlantic, Ian Bogost takes on the accepted view that Apple has great design, calling it “the biggest myth in technology today”.

At base, such a claim seems preposterous. In 1977, the Apple II made the microcomputer useful and affordable. In 1984, the Macintosh made the computer more usable by the everyperson thanks to the graphical user interface. In 2001, the iPod fit a music library in a pocket. In 2007, the iPhone made computing portable (and obsessive).

But if Apple designs at its best when attending closely to details like those revealed in the construction of its spaceship headquarters, then presumably the details of its products would stand out as worthy precedents. Yet, when this premise is tested, it comes up wanting. In truth, Apple’s products hide a shambles of bad design under the perfection of sleek exteriors.

While I find this piece to be hyperbolic, it hints at where Apple’s design is weakest. Apple is great at designing products but less good at designing the connections between these products and the rest of the world.1 iPhones, iPods, and iPads are great, but you have to go through iTunes to manage their contents. As Bogost notes, the power cords and chargers for their products are often bulky and awkward…you can’t even charge the newest iPhone using the newest Macbook Pro without a separate adapter. Who makes all the apps that people want to use on their iPhones to chat/connect/flirt/collaborate with their loved ones? Facebook, Snap, Google, Slack…not Apple, who initially wasn’t even going to provide a way for 3rd parties to build apps for the iPhone. Almost every attempt by Apple to build services to connect people — remember Ping?! — has failed. Even iCloud, which promised to unite all Apple devices into one fluid ecosystem, was plagued for years with reliability problems and still isn’t as good as Dropbox. How devices, apps, and people interconnect are far more important now than in 1977, 1984, and even 2007, when the iPhone was introduced, and Apple could stand to focus more of their design energy on that experience.

  1. Another way of saying this is when it comes to design trade-offs, Apple prioritizes the integrity of the device over other considerations.

The 10th anniversary of the iPhone

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2017

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the iPhone.

In the ten years since, iPhone has enriched the lives of people around the world with over one billion units sold. It quickly grew into a revolutionary platform for hardware, software and services integration, and inspired new products, including iPad and Apple Watch, along with millions of apps that have become essential to people’s daily lives.

You can watch Steve Jobs introduce the iPhone during the MacWorld 2007 keynote in the video above; it’s one of the best technology demos ever. Here’s my liveblog of the keynote, my thoughts from a couple of days later, and my review after getting an iPhone in June. (I also constructed a cardboard version of the phone to see how the size compared to my then-current mobile phone.)

I guess we know why iPod development has seemed a little sluggish lately. When the Zune came out two months ago, it was thought that maybe Apple was falling behind, coasting on the fumes of an aging product line, and not innovating in the portable music player space anymore. I think the iPhone puts this discussion on the back burner for now. And the Zune? The supposed iPod-killer’s bullet ricocheted off of the iPhone’s smooth buttonless interface and is heading back in the wrong direction. Rest in peace, my gentle brown friend.

It’s difficult to overstate the impact of the iPhone on the world. In just 10 short years, smartphones have completely and irreversibly changed how a large part of humanity communicates and is quickly changing how the rest will. And that all started with the iPhone. As I noted at the time, you could see a product like this coming but Apple put it all together in a way that became the blueprint, for better and for worse, for every device and mobile application that followed. Not bad for a computer that didn’t have copy/paste when it launched.

Amazon Go and “Just Walk Out” shopping

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2016

Amazon Go grocery stores will let you walk in by swiping an app, grab whatever you need, and just walk right out the door again.

Our checkout-free shopping experience is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Our Just Walk Out technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the store. Shortly after, we’ll charge your Amazon account and send you a receipt.

I guess that makes these self-shopping stores? Lame jokes aside, this is a pretty cool idea. Not entirely revolutionary though…Apple’s EasyPay service has allowed shoppers to self-checkout with the Apple Store app since 2011. I used the self-checkout at an Apple Store once and it felt *really* weird, like I was shoplifting. New commercial transactions are always tricky. Things like one-click ordering, contactless payments (e.g. Apple Pay), and Uber-style payments feel strange at first, but you get used to them after awhile. Something like Square’s odd “put it on Jack” system — where instead of swiping a card or scanning a QR code on an app, you need to negotiate with a person about who you are — don’t catch on. It’ll be interesting to see where something like Amazon Go falls on that spectrum.

Update: This is an IBM commercial from the 90s that showed Just Walk Out shopping.

(via @stiegjon)

Update: The first Amazon Go store finally opened in January 2018. Here’s a look at the store and how it works.

The Human Family

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2016

A new commercial from Apple pairs photos & videos shot on iPhone 6 with a poem from Maya Angelou called Human Family.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

You can hear Angelou recite the entire poem here:

Interview with Susan Kare

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2016

Alex Ronan interviewed legendary designer Susan Kare for Lenny. Cross-stitch prepared her for designing pixel icons and fonts for the Mac:

Also, I did have limited experience designing for grids from working on craft projects such as tiled ashtrays and cross-stitch embroidery kits.

The secret to success: take risks, work hard, and get lucky

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 05, 2016

Tech investor Fred Wilson recently gave the commencement address for the very first graduating class at the Academy For Software Engineering. In it, he shared the secret to his success:

So with that, I am here to tell you that the secret to success in your career comes down to three things, take risks, work hard, and get lucky.

I essentially1 agree with Wilson here. Earlier today I was listening to the latest episode of the Recode Media podcast where Peter Kafka’s guest was Daring Fireball’s John Gruber. Gruber recounted how he got started blogging about Apple and eventually turned it into a very successful business. I’ve heard the story before and it conforms nicely to Wilson’s path to success.

1. Take risks. Gruber bet heavily on three things for Daring Fireball: Apple, blogs, and (later) podcasts. None looked that impressive from a business standpoint when his bets were made. In 2002 when he started writing DF, Apple was still an underdog computer company whose partisans had mostly stuck with the company through its lean years of offering products that weren’t competing well and which didn’t exemplify the ideals of the Apple of yore. The iPod had just come out a year earlier and the life- industry- company-changing iPhone was years in the future. But Gruber never viewed Apple as an underdog…to him it was a legendary company in the world poised for future greatness. Professional blogs were just starting to be a thing back then as well, and it was far from certain that you might be able to earn even a partial living from them, especially on your own. And when he started his Talk Show podcast in 2007, podcasting was still largely a hobbyist endeavor. Sure, you could make some money doing it, but 9 years on, there’s big money to be had for the most popular shows. Three risky bets that paid off.

2. Work hard. Tens of thousands of posts and hundreds of hours of podcasts over the past 13+ years, yeah, I think that covers it. Gruber has put in the necessary ass-in-chair time.

3. Get lucky. There’s a lot of luck sprinkled around the success of DF, but perhaps the biggest break Gruber got was Apple’s decision to open up the iOS App Store to outside developers. Suddenly, you had all of these developers, startups, established software companies, and venture capitalists pouring money into the development and promotion of iOS apps. So these companies had money and needed somewhere to advertise their apps, a place where they could be sure all of the most influential and rabid Apple aficionados would see their message. Daring Fireball was the obvious place and the site’s RSS sponsorships were the perfect format.

  1. Although I would assign a much larger role to luck than he might. Being born white and male in the US in the late 20th century is a massive advantage that is often brushed under the carpet in such discussions. “Take risks” can be literally dangerous in an institutionally racist/sexist/classist system.

Documentary on Dieter Rams

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2016

Gary Hustwit, director of Helvetica and Objectified, is directing a movie on legendary product designer Dieter Rams. Here’s the Kickstarter campaign.

This Kickstarter campaign will fund the film and also help to preserve Dieter’s incredible design archive for the future. There’s a trove of drawings, photographs, and other material spanning Dieter’s fifty plus years of work, and it needs to be properly conserved.

To that end, we’re working with the Dieter and Ingeborg Rams Foundation to help them catalog, digitize, and save these documents. The public has never seen most of this material, and we intend to share some of these discoveries with our backers during the process of making the film.

Rams’ designs have influenced an entire generation of designers, including one Jony Ive from a small company called Apple.

Weird 80s font convergence

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2016

Just learned/realized that the old logos for Reebok, Apple, and Trapper Keeper all use the same typeface, Motter Tektura.

Motter Tektura

Motter Tektura

Motter Tektura

(via @pieratt)

Apple Inc. turns 40

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2016

Apple turns 40 years old next week on April 1. To celebrate in their typical “don’t dwell on the past but whoa look at all the cool stuff we’ve done” fashion, Apple debuted a 40-second commercial at an event earlier this week featuring 40 significant things from the company’s history. Stephen Hackett annotated each of things in the video.

April 1, 1976: Apple Computer, Inc. is founded.
The Happy Mac used to greet you as your machine booted up. It got replaced way back in 2002.
iMac: The computer that saved Apple.
The iPod mini made music fashionable and the iPod nano made it colorful.
Multi-Touch: If you see a stylus, they blew it!
Touch ID: Unlock your device with just your fingerprint.

Hackett also notes only a handful of products from the non-Jobs era Apple are featured. (via df)

Update: Former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassée wrote about Apple’s 40th. I liked these two paragraphs:

Apple 2.0 began in late 1996 when Jobs managed what turned out to be a reverse acquisition of Apple. We owe much gratitude to then-CEO Gil Amelio who unwittingly saved the company hiring Steve to “advise” him. Jobs’ advice? Show Amelio the door and install himself as “interim” CEO. Jobs then made an historic deal with Bill Gates which gave him time to let his team of NeXT engineers completely rebuild the Mac OS on a modern Unix foundation. Steve also rummaged through the company and found Jony Ive who gave us the colorful iMacs, the first of a series of admired designs.

What followed is recognized as the most striking turnaround story in any industry, one that has been misunderstood and pronounced as doomed at almost every turn. The list of Jobs’ “mistakes” includes killing the Macintosh clone program by canceling Mac OS licenses; getting rid of floppies and, later, CD/DVD-ROMs (mostly); entering the crowded MP3 player field; introducing iTunes and the micropayment system; the overpriced, underpowered $500 iPhone; the stylus-free iPad (ahem)…

Update: To mark the anniversary, Apple flew a pirate flag over their headquarters in honor of the original Macintosh team.

The building looked pretty much like every other Apple building, so we wanted to do something to make it look like we belonged there. Steve Capps, the heroic programmer who had switched over from the Lisa team just in time for the January retreat, had a flash of inspiration: if the Mac team was a band of pirates, the building should fly a pirate flag.

A few days before we moved into the new building, Capps bought some black cloth and sewed it into a flag. He asked Susan Kare to paint a big skull and crossbones in white at the center. The final touch was the requisite eye-patch, rendered by a large, rainbow-colored Apple logo decal. We wanted to have the flag flying over the building early Monday morning, the first day of occupancy, so the plan was to install it late Sunday evening.

An appreciation of Tekserve

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2016

Dwell has a short feature on Tekserve, a beloved Manhattan technology store and Apple service shop.

But think about that: you can walk in, take a ticket (like at the deli counter), and then talk to a live person, someone knowledgeable who will give you diagnostics right on the spot and provide you with options. We have a 30-year history of working with the Apple community, so we really know our stuff. Our community trusts us-that’s why we maintain an 80 percent repeat customer rate.

In November, after many stubborn months of using my Macbook Air as a desk-bound device because the battery was so bad that accidentally kicking out the power cord would shut the whole thing down,1 I took it in to Tekserve. I’d somehow never been there before, even though friends had raved about it. The store immediately reminded me of the computer stores of my youth, when you could actually tinker with the guts of these machines. Today’s technology shops, like the Apple Store, are so antiseptic that you barely even think about how the computers work, which I guess is part of the appeal for both company and patron.

Anyway, I took my laptop in there around midday on a Thursday, they quoted me a lower-than-I-expected price for the battery replacement, and told me it’d probably be read by the end of Friday or possibly, if they were super busy, by first thing Monday. I got an email about 3 hours later saying it was ready. Great service. If you need service on your Apple products — they are an “authorized Apple Premiere Partner” which means they honor warranties, AppleCare, etc. — you should definitely check Tekserve out.

  1. More like Macbook Ground, am I right? … Hello?