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kottke.org posts about Apple

The Chinese black market iPhone trade

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2014

Casey Neistat visited several Apple Stores in NYC on the eve of the iPhone 6 launch to observe the folks standing in line. He found that many of those in line, particularly right in the front, were Chinese resellers.

The iPhone 6 won’t be available in China for several months, so a lively and lucrative black market has sprung up. The video shows several typical transactions: two phones (the maximum allowed per person) are purchased with cash and then the people sell those phones to men who presumably have them shipped to China for resale.

I remember last year, when the iPhone 5s came out, there was always a line of mostly Asian people outside the Soho store in the morning, even months after the launch. (via @fromedome)

Erotic poetry about the iPhone 6

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2014

This is glorious: an erotic poem by Chris Plante constructed from snippets of iPhone 6 reviews.

I have really big hands
Would be an understatement.
This is quite helpful.
When the tips of your fingers are grasping on for dear life,
Your fingers need to secure a firm grip.
I can still wrap my fingers around
Well…
More of everything.

No lines from John Gruber’s review, but Linus Edwards made a short poem just from that one:

Makes itself felt in your pants pocket.
Ah, but then there’s The Bulge.
I definitely appreciate the stronger vibrator.

(via @sippey)

Steve Jobs unveils the iWatch

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2014

Steve Jobs Keynote

The analysis of the weak parts of Apple’s recent introduction of the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch at the beginning of this piece is good, but the real gem is the complete reworking of the presentation as Steve Jobs might have approached it.

Jobs: It’s not easy being an engineer at Apple. (Laughs) How do you take the world’s best phone and make it even better? (Cheers)

When we first launched the iPhone back in 2007, we didn’t anticipate the central role it plays today-how it would touch every part of our lives. (Cheers)

Seven years later, our iPhones are the window to our world. Through this window I see my wife and kids. I see my friends, take care of work, and relax.

If this window is so important, what if we made it a little bigger?

(Steve holds out his hand and starts separating his fingers as if he’s stretching an iPhone)

(Once they get really far, he grins and quickly pushes them back together)

Jobs: But not too big! (Audience chuckles) You still want to be able to hold it in one hand and fit it inside your pocket.

Our team of smart engineers have come up with the perfect size.

The heartfelt folksiness is pitch perfect. And the whole thing about the iWatch is amazing:

Jobs: The iWatch comes with a special sensor that detects your heartbeat. In addition to linking to Apple Health, it does something very special.

Something very dear to me.

I’d like to see how my daughter is doing. Instead of sending her a text, what can I do? I press this button twice, and… (Heartbeats echo in the auditorium)

You can’t see it, but my watch is vibrating to her heartbeat. I can close my eyes and know that my daughter is alive, living her life halfway around the globe.

Not sure if Jobs would have approached it this way, but it made me actually want to get an Apple Watch. (via @arainert)

Steve Jobs learned to play well with others

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 06, 2014

Peter Sims writes about an under-appreciated aspect of Steve Jobs’ success: he “was a superb collaborator with the people who he respected and trusted”.

[Ed] Catmull, now president of both Pixar as well as Walt Disney Animation (a position Catmull has held since Disney acquired Pixar for $7.4 billion in 2006), was Jobs’ longest-running colleague, a working relationship that spanned 26 years. Catmull dedicates a chapter of his superb recent book Creativity, Inc. to what it was like to work with Jobs. Catmull, who has the least overt ego of any senior executive I’ve ever met, saw Jobs mature enormously over time, especially in the development of personal empathy and humility.

In fact, Catmull, sees Jobs’ life as having taken a classic Hero’s Journey arc.

From his widely-reported immature and often arrogant youth, Jobs by all accounts appeared to develop into a far more empathetic human being and wise leader. But that personal transformation would not have happened without what leadership scholar Warren Bennis described as “crucibles” — those personal crises and setback experiences that shape us much like “medieval alchemists used in their attempts to turn base metals into gold” — and, that allow for personal and leadership metamorphosis.

The “far more” qualifier in front of “empathetic” is necessary when speaking of Jobs’ transformation. I think what he developed could probably be referred to as a ruthless empathy, employed much like another other tool in the service of building great companies and making great products.

RIP Aperture and iPhoto

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2014

Apple is stopping development of Aperture and iPhoto in favor of its new Photos app.

“With the introduction of the new Photos app and iCloud Photo Library, enabling you to safely store all of your photos in iCloud and access them from anywhere, there will be no new development of Aperture,” said Apple in a statement provided to The Loop. “When Photos for OS X ships next year, users will be able to migrate their existing Aperture libraries to Photos for OS.”

I wonder if the Photos app will be geared at all towards semi-pro/pro photographers or if they’ve permanently ceded that market to Lightroom.

Something only Apple can do

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2014

An instant classic John Gruber post about the sort of company Apple is right now and how it compares in that regard to its four main competitors: Google, Samsung, Microsoft, and Amazon. The post is also about how Apple is now firmly a Tim Cook joint, and the company is better for it.

When Cook succeeded Jobs, the question we all asked was more or less binary: Would Apple decline without Steve Jobs? What seems to have gone largely unconsidered is whether Apple would thrive with Cook at the helm, achieving things the company wasn’t able to do under the leadership of the autocratic and mercurial Jobs.

Jobs was a great CEO for leading Apple to become big. But Cook is a great CEO for leading Apple now that it is big, to allow the company to take advantage of its size and success. Matt Drance said it, and so will I: What we saw last week at WWDC 2014 would not have happened under Steve Jobs.

This is not to say Apple is better off without Steve Jobs. But I do think it’s becoming clear that the company, today, might be better off with Tim Cook as CEO. If Jobs were still with us, his ideal role today might be that of an eminence grise, muse and partner to Jony Ive in the design of new products, and of course public presenter extraordinaire. Chairman of the board, with Cook as CEO, running the company much as he actually is today.

This bit on the commoditization of hardware, and Apple’s spectacularly successful fight against it, got me thinking about current events. Here’s Gruber again:

Apple’s device-centric approach provides them with control. There’s a long-standing and perhaps everlasting belief in the computer industry that hardware is destined for commoditization. At their cores, Microsoft and Google were founded on that belief - and they succeeded handsomely. Microsoft’s Windows empire was built atop commodity PC hardware. Google’s search empire was built atop web browsers running on any and all computers. (Google also made a huge bet on commodity hardware for their incredible back-end infrastructure. Google’s infrastructure is both massive and massively redundant - thousands and thousands of cheap hardware servers running custom software designed such that failure of individual machines is completely expected.)

This is probably the central axiom of the Church of Market Share - if hardware is destined for commoditization, then the only thing that matters is maximizing the share of devices running your OS (Microsoft) or using your online services (Google).

The entirety of Apple’s post-NeXT reunification success has been in defiance of that belief - that commoditization is inevitable, but won’t necessarily consume the entire market. It started with the iMac, and the notion that the design of computer hardware mattered. It carried through to the iPod, which faced predictions of imminent decline in the face of commodity music players all the way until it was cannibalized by the iPhone.

And here’s David Galbraith tweeting about the seemingly unrelated training that London taxi drivers receive, a comment no doubt spurred by the European taxi strikes last week, protesting Uber’s move into Europe:

Didn’t realize London taxi drivers still have to spend years learning routes. That’s just asking to be disrupted http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxicabs_of_the_United_Kingdom#The_Knowledge

Here’s the relevant bit from Wikipedia about The Knowledge:

It is the world’s most demanding training course for taxicab drivers, and applicants will usually need at least twelve ‘appearances’ (attempts at the final test), after preparation averaging 34 months, to pass the examination.

Uber, in this scenario, is attempting to be Microsoft in the 1980s and early 90s. They’re implementing their software layer (the Uber service) on commodity hardware, which includes not only iPhones & Android phones, mass-produced cars of any type, and GPS systems but also, and crucially, the drivers themselves. Uber is betting that a bunch of off-the-shelf hardware, “ordinary” drivers, and their self-service easy-pay dispatch system will provide similar (or even better) results than a fleet of taxi drivers each with three years of training and years of experience. It is unclear to me what the taxi drivers can do in this situation to emulate the Apple of 1997 in making that commoditization irrelevant to their business prospects. Although when it comes to London in particular, Uber may have miscalculated: in a recent comparison at rush hour, an Uber cab took almost three times as long and was 64% more expensive than a black cab.

Apple Design Awards 2014

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2014

Apple Design Awards 2014

Apple recently announced their annual design awards for 2014. Some nice work there.

Early Apple prototypes

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2014

From a book by Hartmut Esslinger, a collection of photographs of prototypes his company Frog Design worked on for Apple Computer.

Apple prototype

The portables and phones are especially interesting.

Marketing by Beats By Dre

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2014

This short profile of Beats By Dre contains many nuggets of marketing wisdom.

When developing the first Beats headphones, Iovine would lay out various prototypes in his Interscope offices and then poll everyone who came to see him. “It was this incredible parade of the world’s great artists,” says Wood. “M.I.A. or Pharrell Williams or Gwen Stefani or Will.i.am would come around, and I’d ask them, ‘What do you think of this one? What about this? What about that?’ ” says Iovine. “It’s not a numbers thing. I go to people with great taste.” As he and Dre prepared to launch the final version of Beats, Iovine sent a pair to another world-famous guy: LeBron James. Iovine had been hanging out in the editing room with James’s friend and business partner Maverick Carter during the development of a documentary on the basketball star. “Mav called me back and says, ‘LeBron wants 15.’ ” Iovine sent them, and they turned up on the ears of every member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic basketball team when they arrived in Shanghai. “Now that’s marketing,” says Iovine.

It’s easy to see why Apple might want to buy them. See also With Beats, Apple buys the unobtainable: street cred, Why Apple Wants Beats, Why Apple’s Beats buy is genius, and Apple’s Beats Deal Is All About Bringing Music Mogul Jimmy Iovine On Board. Iovine is the new Steve Jobs, basically. *ducks*

Rare interview with Jony Ive

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2014

John Arlidge scores a very rare sit-down interview with Apple design chief Jony Ive for Time magazine.

He spent “months and months and months” working out the exact shape of the stand of the desktop iMac computer because “it’s very hard to design something that you almost do not see because it just seems so obvious, natural and inevitable”. When he has finished a product, even one as fresh and iconic as the white headphones that came with the first iPod, he is haunted by the idea: could I have done it better? “It’s an affliction designers are cursed with,” Ive frowns.

It was an affliction he shared with Jobs, although he seemed to apply it to everything, with — almost — funny consequences. Ive recalls traveling with Jobs. “We’d get to the hotel where we were going, we’d check in and I’d go up to my room. I’d leave my bags by the door. I wouldn’t unpack. I’d go and sit on the bed and wait for the inevitable call from Steve: ‘Hey Jony, this hotel sucks. let’s go.’”

Would have preferred more of the actual interview — lots of biographical filler in this to make it accessible for the general public — but there are good bits here and there.

Macintosh ad with Hunter S. Thompson

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2014

What the what?! Hunter S. Thompson was in an Apple Macintosh commercial? Check it out:

)

(via @brillhart)

The slow-motion political race to build tiny stars on Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2014

Raffi Khatchadourian’s long piece on the construction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is at once fascinating (for science reasons) and depressing (for political/bureaucratic reasons). Fusion reactors hold incredible promise:

But if it is truly possible to bottle up a star, and to do so economically, the technology could solve the world’s energy problems for the next thirty million years, and help save the planet from environmental catastrophe. Hydrogen, a primordial element, is the most abundant atom in the universe, a potential fuel that poses little risk of scarcity. Eventually, physicists hope, commercial reactors modelled on iter will be built, too-generating terawatts of power with no carbon, virtually no pollution, and scant radioactive waste. The reactor would run on no more than seawater and lithium. It would never melt down. It would realize a yearning, as old as the story of Prometheus, to bring the light of the heavens to Earth, and bend it to humanity’s will. iter, in Latin, means “the way.”

But ITER is a collaborative effort between 35 different countries, which means the project is political, slow, and expensive.

For the machine’s creators, this process-sparking and controlling a self-sustaining synthetic star-will be the culmination of decades of preparation, billions of dollars’ worth of investment, and immeasurable ingenuity, misdirection, recalibration, infighting, heartache, and ridicule. Few engineering feats can compare, in scale, in technical complexity, in ambition or hubris. Even the iter organization, a makeshift scientific United Nations, assembled eight years ago to construct the machine, is unprecedented. Thirty-five countries, representing more than half the world’s population, are invested in the project, which is so complex to finance that it requires its own currency: the iter Unit of Account.

No one knows iter’s true cost, which may be incalculable, but estimates have been rising steadily, and a conservative figure rests at twenty billion dollars — a sum that makes iter the most expensive scientific instrument on Earth.

I wonder what the project would look like if, say, Google or Apple were to take the reins instead. In that context, it’s only $20 billion to build a tiny Sun on the Earth. Facebook just paid $19 billion for WhatsApp, Apple has a whopping $158.8 billion in cash, and Google & Microsoft both have more than $50 billion in cash. Google in particular, which is making a self-driving car and has been buying up robots by the company-full recently, might want their own tiny star.

But back to reality, the circumstances of ITER’s international construction consortium reminded me of the building of The Machine in Carl Sagan’s Contact. In the book, the countries of the world work together to make a machine of unknown function from plans beamed to them from an alien intelligence, which results in the development of several new lucrative life-enhancing technologies and generally unites humanity. In Sagan’s view, that’s the power of science. Hopefully the ITER can work through its difficulties to achieve something similar.

Microsoft: new CEO, new company?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2014

Microsoft has a new CEO, Satya Nadella — birthplace: Hyderabad, India; hobbies: cricket, poetry. Here’s a nice succinct piece by John Gruber on Microsoft’s past, present, and future.

“A computer on every desk and in every home” was incredible foresight for 1977. It carried Microsoft for 25 years of growth. But once that goal was achieved, I don’t think they knew where to go. They were like the dog that caught the car. They spent a lot of time and energy on TV. Not just with Xbox, which is alive and well today (albeit not a significant source of income), but with other ideas that did not pan out, like “media center PCs” and the joint ownership of “MSNBC”, which was originally imagined as a sort of cable news network, website, dessert, and floor wax rolled into one.

No surprise: Gruber writes about Microsoft as well as he does about Apple.

The Apple-ness of the Macintosh

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2014

On Daring Fireball, John Gruber reflects on the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh by noting what seems particularly Apple-like about the Mac.

The second aspect of the original Mac that stands out today as Apple-like is putting just enough whimsy into the experience. Most famously, the smiling Mac you saw as the system booted. Had anyone prior even considered a smiling computer? But fundamental to the genius of the smiling Mac is that it didn’t come across as silly or corny. Friendly and fun: yes. Goofy: no. Getting that right required that most Apple-y of talents: taste.

And he’s spot on in that second footnote about the lack of whimsy in iOS 7. There’s nothing funny about those Settings and Safari icons.

Eau de MacBook Pro

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2014

A “scent solutions” company called Air Aroma made a Macbook Pro unboxing smell for an art exhibition in Melbourne last year.

To replicate the smell a brand new unopened Apple was sent to our fragrance lab in France. From there, professional perfume makers used the scents they observed unboxing the new Apple computer to source fragrance samples. On completion the laptop was sent back to Australia, travelling nearly 50,000kms and returned to our clients together with scent of an Apple Macbook Pro.

(via @buzz)

The Macintosh is 30 years old today

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2014

Apple is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh with a special subsite.

Incredible that the Mac is still around; the 90s were a dire time for Apple and it’s amazing to see the current fantastic iMacs and Macbooks that came after some epically bad mid-90s machines. Here’s Steve Jobs introducing the original Mac in 1984 (a snippet of the full introduction video):

Steven Levy writes about covering the introduction of the Mac for Rolling Stone.

First, I met the machine. From the instant the woman running the demo switched on that strange-looking contraption (inspired in part by the Cuisinart food processor), I knew the Macintosh would change millions of lives, including my own. To understand that, you must realize how much 1984 really was not like 2014. Until that point, personal computers were locked in an esoteric realm of codes and commands. They looked unfriendly, with the letters of text growing in sickly phosphorescence. Even the simplest tasks required memorizing the proper intonations, then executing several exacting steps.

But the Macintosh was friendly. It opened with a smile. Words appeared with the clarity of text on a printed page - and for the first time, ordinary people had the power to format text as professional printers did. Selecting and moving text was made dramatically easier by the then-quaint mouse accompanying the keyboard. You could draw on it. This humble shoebox-sized machine had a simplicity that instantly empowered you.

Here’s the piece Levy wrote for Rolling Stone.

If you have had any prior experience with personal computers, what you might expect to see is some sort of opaque code, called a “prompt,” consisting of phosphorescent green or white letters on a murky background. What you see with Macintosh is the Finder. On a pleasant, light background (you can later change the background to any of a number of patterns, if you like), little pictures called “icons” appear, representing choices available to you. A word-processing program might be represented by a pen, while the program that lets you draw pictures might have a paintbrush icon. A file would represent stored documents - book reports, letters, legal briefs and so forth. To see a particular file, you’d move the mouse, which would, in turn, move the cursor to the file you wanted. You’d tap a button on the mouse twice, and the contents of the file would appear on the screen: dark on light, just like a piece of paper.

Levy has also appended a never-seen-before transcript of his interview with Steve Jobs onto the Kindle version of Insanely Great, a book Levy wrote about the Mac.

Dave Winer participated on a panel of developers on launch day.

The rollout on January 24th was like a college graduation ceremony. There were the fratboys, the insiders, the football players, and developers played a role too. We praised their product, their achievement, and they showed off our work. Apple took a serious stake in the success of software on their platform. They also had strong opinions about how our software should work, which in hindsight were almost all good ideas. The idea of user interface standards were at the time controversial. Today, you’ll get no argument from me. It’s better to have one way to do things, than have two or more, no matter how much better the new ones are.

That day, I was on a panel of developers, talking to the press about the new machine. We were all gushing, all excited to be there. I still get goosebumps thinking about it today.

MacOS System 1.1 emulator. (via @gruber)

iFixit did a teardown of the 128K Macintosh.

Jason Snell interviewed several Apple execs about the 30th anniversary for MacWorld. (via df)

What’s clear when you talk to Apple’s executives is that the company believes that people don’t have to choose between a laptop, a tablet, and a smartphone. Instead, Apple believes that every one of its products has particular strengths for particular tasks, and that people should be able to switch among them with ease. This is why the Mac is still relevant, 30 years on-because sometimes a device with a keyboard and a trackpad is the best tool for the job.

“It’s not an either/or,” Schiller said. “It’s a world where you’re going to have a phone, a tablet, a computer, you don’t have to choose. And so what’s more important is how you seamlessly move between them all…. It’s not like this is a laptop person and that’s a tablet person. It doesn’t have to be that way.”

Snell previously interviewed Steve Jobs on the 20th anniversary of the Mac, which includes an essay that Jobs wrote for the very first issue of Macworld in 1984:

The Macintosh is the future of Apple Computer. And it’s being done by a bunch of people who are incredibly talented but who in most organizations would be working three levels below the impact of the decisions they’re making in the organization. It’s one of those things that you know won’t last forever. The group might stay together maybe for one more iteration of the product, and then they’ll go their separate ways. For a very special moment, all of us have come together to make this new product. We feel this may be the best thing we’ll ever do with our lives.

Here’s a look inside that first MacWorld issue.

As always, Folklore.org is an amazing source for stories about the Mac told by the folks who were there.

Susan Kare designed the icons, the interface elements, and fonts for the original Macintosh. Have a look at her Apple portfolio or buy some prints of the original Mac icons.

Stephen Fry recounts his experience with the Mac, including the little tidbit that he and Douglas Adams bought the first two Macs in Europe (as far as he knows).

I like to claim that I bought the second Macintosh computer ever sold in Europe in that January, 30 years ago. My friend and hero Douglas Adams was in the queue ahead of me. For all I know someone somewhere had bought one ten minutes earlier, but these were the first two that the only shop selling them in London had in stock on the 24th January 1984, so I’m sticking to my story.

Review of the Mac in the NY Times from 1984.

The Next Web has an interview with Daniel Kottke (no relation) and Randy Wigginton on programming the original Mac.

TNW: When you look at today’s Macs, as well as the iPhone and the iPad, do you see how it traces back to that original genesis?

Randy: It was more of a philosophy - let’s bring the theoretical into now - and the focus was on the user, not on the programmer. Before then it had always been let’s make it so programmers can do stuff and produce programs.

Here, it was all about the user, and the programmers had to work their asses off to make it easy for the user to do what they wanted. It was the principle of least surprise. We never wanted [the Macintosh] to do something that people were shocked at. These are things that we just take for granted now. The whole undo paradigm? It didn’t exist before that.

Like Daniel says, it’s definitely the case that there were academic and business places with similar technology, but they had never attempted to reach a mass market.

Daniel: I’m just struck by the parallel now, thinking about what the Mac did. The paradigm before the Mac in terms of Apple products was command-line commands in the Apple II and the Apple III. In the open source world of Linux, I’m messing around with Raspberry Pis now, and it terrifies me, because I think, “This is not ready for the consumer,” but then I think about Android, which is built on top of Linux. So the Macintosh did for the Apple II paradigm what Android has done for Linux.

A week after Jobs unveiled the Mac at the Apple shareholders meeting, he did the whole thing again at a meeting of the Boston Computer Society. Time has the recently unearthed video of the event.

Recording the lived-in moment

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2013

There was a bit of handwringing over the Apple video I posted yesterdaythis Forbes piece was a typical take.

I caught it on TV last night, and I couldn’t disagree more. It’s called “Misunderstood,” as in misunderstood teenager. I found it depressing, upsetting, and a sad commentary on our social-, video- and image-obsessed culture. The goal, of course, was to market the wonder of the iPhone using the element of surprise: show a seemingly slacker teen disengaged from the goings-on of family life, his eyeballs glued to his iPhone-save for very fleeting moments-suddenly reveals to stunned family members a touching video he’d made of their Christmas merriment. That he’d been creating all day.

The problem is that while he was creating, he wasn’t really living the day, he was a mere voyeur during it. The message? Life is better through video. Don’t live life, tape it.

I admit I do this as much as anyone. We all love to photograph and record the activities and people we love. But lately I’ve been going to bed at night with that nagging feeling that I hadn’t lived enough and had spent too much time focused on a device. Seriously. Are we happy that this year’s Thanksgiving and Hanukkah was Instagram’s busiest ever? This commercial glorified that reality. And I don’t think it is a positive message.

John Dickerson reminds us you can live in the moment and capture it.

In “Why I Write,” Joan Didion explains, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” Hey, we’re all little Joan Didions! Well, not exactly, but if my theory sounds grandiose, go back to look at things you wrote a few years ago, if you can. When I look at the notes I’ve stopped to write in those books, entire worlds come back at me. “Watching the squirming foot of the resident during the circumcision,” I wrote while my son went through the procedure. I hadn’t thought about that moment since it happened, but that image of the nervous young doctor put me right back on the threshold of the small operating room 11 years ago. The set list from the Bob Dylan show at Madison Square Garden in November 2001 reminds me of my visit that day to ground zero. I’d forgotten that George Plimpton nearly ran me over riding down 54th Street on a bicycle. My wife’s malapropisms dot the books (“Hang up the towel,” “Breathing down my throat,” “Stick his neck out on a limb for me”). I recalled each dinner where they were minted, how we laughed over them and how she has the equanimity not to care.

Everything in moderation.

Apple’s best advertisement ever?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2013

So, there’s the famous 1984 Super Bowl commercial for the Macintosh. There was the Think Different campaign. And the Mac vs. PC ads. But I think Apple’s newest effort, Misunderstood, is perhaps their best ad ever:

Or maybe I’m the biggest sap in the world…either way, I’m totally crying at work.

ps. But of course, that can’t be the best Apple advertisement ever because that title will always and forever be taken by a drunk Jeff Goldblum extolling the virtues of the iMac’s internet capabilities:

Great, now I’m crying from laughing at work.

The birth of the iPhone

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 27, 2013

iPod phone

On Medium, an excerpt of Leander Kahney’s book on Jony Ive about how the iPhone came to be developed at Apple.

Excited by Kerr’s explanation of what a sophisticated touch interface could do, the team members started to brainstorm the kinds of hardware they might build with it.

The most obvious idea was a touchscreen Mac. Instead of a keyboard and mouse, users could tap on the screen of the computer to control it. One of the designers suggested a touchscreen controller that functioned as an alternate to a keyboard and mouse, a sort of virtual keyboard with soft keys.

As Satzger remembered, “We asked, How do we take a tablet, which has been around for a while, and do something more with it? Touch is one thing, but multitouch was new. You could swipe to turn a page, as opposed to finding a button on the screen that would allow you turn the page. Instead of trying to find a button to make operations, we could turn a page just like a newspaper.”

Jony in particular had always had a deep appreciation for the tactile nature of computing; he had put handles on several of his early machines specifically to encourage touching. But here was an opportunity to make the ultimate tactile device. No more keyboard, mouse, pen, or even a click wheel-the user would touch the actual interface with his or her fingers. What could be more intimate?

How Apple makes their high-precision computing machines

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2013

Even by Apple standards, the video showing how the new Mac Pro is made is a great little piece of cinema. Product designer Greg Koenig does some forensic analysis on the video and opens the curtain a bit on what manufacturing techniques Apple is using.

What makes Apple fascinating is not that they are using some wiz-bang alien technologies to make things — even here in Portland, Oregon, all the technologies Apple shows in this video are in-practice across numerous local factories. What makes Apple unique is that they perform their manufacturing with remarkable precision and on a scale that is simply astonishing, using techniques typically reserved for the aerospace or medical device industries.

(via ★interesting-links)

CloudPaint

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2013

CloudPaint

CloudPaint is a fully operational online version of the original MacPaint released with the Macintosh in 1984. The source code for version 1.3 of MacPaint is available from the Computer History Museum.

Part of the untold iPhone story

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2013

In what appears to be an excerpt from Fred Vogelstein’s new book on the Apple/Google mobile rivalry, a piece from the NY Times Magazine on how the iPhone went from conception to launch. That the Macworld keynote/demo of the phone went off so well is amazing and probably even a bit lucky.

The iPhone could play a section of a song or a video, but it couldn’t play an entire clip reliably without crashing. It worked fine if you sent an e-mail and then surfed the Web. If you did those things in reverse, however, it might not. Hours of trial and error had helped the iPhone team develop what engineers called “the golden path,” a specific set of tasks, performed in a specific way and order, that made the phone look as if it worked.

But even when Jobs stayed on the golden path, all manner of last-minute workarounds were required to make the iPhone functional. On announcement day, the software that ran Grignon’s radios still had bugs. So, too, did the software that managed the iPhone’s memory. And no one knew whether the extra electronics Jobs demanded the demo phones include would make these problems worse.

Here’s video of Jobs’ presentation that day:

Computers are for people

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 27, 2013

The Kottke post I probably think about most often is 2009’s “One-handed computing with the iPhone.” It just has all these perfectly rounded sentences in it, like this one:

A portable networked computing and gaming device that can be easily operated with one hand can be used in a surprising variety of situations.

Try to take the adjectives and adverbs out of that sentence. (Strunk and White say to “write with nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs.” Strunk and White are often surprisingly stupid.)

But try adding any more adjectives or adverbs. Try adding in or taking away any of the clauses. Try writing a better sentence that describes the same thing. (This is also known as Mohammed’s “produce a better surah” Test.) Try to misunderstand what the sentence means. I’m a professional writer. So is Jason. I appreciate this stuff.

There’s also a lot of structural and emotional variety in this post. The author gets mad. He makes jokes. But mostly, he observes. He studies. He empathizes.

People carry things. Coffee, shopping bags, books, bags, babies, small dogs, hot dogs, water bottles, coats, etc. It’s nice to be able to not put all that crap down just to quickly Google for the closest public restroom (aka Starbucks).

It is very occasionally necessary to use the iPhone while driving. No, not for checking your stock portfolio, you asshole. For directions. Glance quickly and keep your thoughts on the road ahead.

My wife spends about five hours a day breastfeeding our daughter and has only one hand available for non-feeding activities. That hand is frequently occupied by her iPhone; it helps her keep abreast (hey’o!) of current events, stay connected with pals through Twitter & email, track feeding/sleeping/diaper changing times, keep notes (she plans meals and grocery “shops” at 3am), and alert her layabout husband via SMS to come and get the damned baby already.

I liked “layabout husband” so much when I read it, I started referring to Jason as “noted layabout Jason Kottke.” At a certain point, I forgot where the phrase came from.

But read that last paragraph again. You can’t read that description of Meg and not think of it every time you’re doing any of the things she does in that sentence: every time you have to have to carry a bag and use your phone, every time you have to open a door and use your phone, every time you don’t have to use your phone while walking down the street but you do it anyways, because you can, and the fact that you can now means that you have to.

I think about it every time I cover a new gadget and companies start touting its hands-free features; how it’s added a new voice interface; how its new keyboard algorithm makes it easier to correct for typos. People didn’t really use to market that sort of thing. But companies started to notice that these were the features their customers liked best.

I also thought about it when I read these tweets Meg wrote, just yesterday and this morning, about how the newer iPhone’s longer screen borks its one-handed functionality.

I have enormous man-hands, and I still think that the trend toward enormous screen sizes on smartphones stinks. Not only is it harder to use a phone with one hand, it’s harder to fit a phone in a pants pocket, and a long, thin phone is more likely to tip over and get knocked off a table or shelf.

Markets are gonna market, and specs are gonna spec, but it often feels like companies are forgetting that computers are for people, first. And people have bodies, those bodies have limitations, and all of us have limitations in specific situations.

We’re all disabled sometimes. If I turn off the lights in your room, you can’t see. If I fill the room with enough noise, you can’t hear. If your hands are full, you can’t use them to do anything else.

But as Sara Hendren writes, “all technology is assistive technology.” When it’s working right, technology helps people of every ability overcome these limitations. It doesn’t throw us back into the world of assumptions that expects us all to be fully capable all of the time.

That’s not what good technology does. That’s not what good design does. That’s what assholes do.

I think often about Jason’s post on one-handed computing because I’m in the story. He wrote it for his wife, and he wrote it for me. I’d badly broken my right arm in an accident, snapping my radius in half and shooting it out of my body. Emergency room doctors stabilized my arm, then surgeons took the fibula from my left leg and used it to create a graft to replace my missing arm bone.

I’d broken my right leg, too, and sustained a concussion. With both legs unstable, I was stuck in a bed most days, and even when I could start putting weight on my left leg again, I couldn’t climb in or out of bed to get into a wheelchair without help. I’m over six feet tall and I weigh about 300 pounds, so most nurses and orderlies were out of luck helping me. I couldn’t type. I couldn’t use the bathroom. I had hallucinations from the pain medicine. I was extremely fucked up.

Another victim of the accident was my Blackberry, my first-ever smartphone, which I bought just before I finally got my PhD. (I revealed this once in a 2010 post for Wired. Commenters called for my head, saying anyone whose first smartphone was bought in 2009 had no business writing for a gadget blog. “I’m sorry,” I told them. “I spent my twenties learning things, not buying things.”)

After I was discharged from the hospital, I spent money I didn’t have to get an iPhone 3G, which was my phone for the next three years. It was mailed to me at the rehab institute where I learned how to walk again. And it changed everything for me. Even with my left hand, I could tweet, send emails, browse the web. I could even read books again — even print books weren’t as easy as the iPhone.

And then I read Jason’s post about one-handed computing. And I thought and thought and thought.

I started blogging again. I even started my own community blog about the future of reading. The next year, that led to some articles for Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic.

I was back home by then. My injuries had cost me my postdoctoral fellowship and a second crack at the academic job market. But I was able to audition for and win an entry-level job writing for Wired the same week that I did my first stint guest-hosting for Kottke.

And I swore to myself that I would never forget: technology is for people.

Anyways, the accident that broke my arm in half was four years ago today.

It was on Jason’s birthday. He was 36 then; I was 29. His son was two, almost exactly the same age as my son, his brand new baby daughter less than a week old.

It was all so very long ago. It was the beginning of the rest of my life.

If you ask me why Jason Kottke is important to me, it’s because in 2005, he found my little Blogspot blog when it only had a couple dozen readers and started linking to it. It’s because his idea of “Liberal Arts 2.0” led to a book I made with friends, some of whom went off to make extraordinary things of their own. (We offered to let Jason write the forward; characteristically, he declined.)

Then Jason became my friend. Every so often, he gives me the keys to this place he’s built — home to the best audience on the internet — and lets me write about things I care about. And because of all of that, I got a second chance — me, with all of my flaws and frailties, my misdeeds and mistakes.

But really Jason is important to me because Jason is always writing about how technology is for human beings. He doesn’t bang gavels and rattle sabres and shout “TECHNOLOGY IS FOR HUMAN BEINGS!” That’s partly because Jason is not a gavel-banging, sabre-rattling sort of person. But it’s mostly because it wouldn’t occur to him to talk about it in any other way. It’s so obvious.

The thing that tech companies forget — that journalists forget, that Wall Street never knew, that commenters who root for tech companies like sports fans for their teams could never formulate — that technology is for people — is obvious to Jason. Technology is for us. All of us. People who carry things.

People. Us. These stupid, stubborn, spectacular machines made of meat and electricity, friends and laughter, genes and dreams.

Happy birthday, Jason. Here’s to the next forty years of Kottke.org.

The game of shopping

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2013

Ms. Fobes, who lives in Raymore, Mo., plans meals around discounts offered at the grocery store and always checks coupon apps on her cellphone before buying clothes. When, a little over a year ago, J. C. Penney stopped promoting sales and offering coupons and instead made a big deal about its “everyday” low prices, Ms. Fobes stopped shopping there. It wasn’t that she thought the prices were bad, she said. She just wasn’t having any fun.

“It may be a decent deal to buy that item for $5,” said Ms. Fobes, who runs Penny Pinchin’ Mom, a blog about couponing strategies. “But for someone like me, who’s always looking for a sale or a coupon — seeing that something is marked down 20 percent off, then being able to hand over the coupon to save, it just entices me,” she said. “It’s a rush.”

That’s from an article in the NY Times about J.C. Penney’s recent overhaul by Ron Johnson, who sought to apply his Apple Store experience to the mid-range department chain. Being the sort of person who a) doesn’t like to shop, and b) doesn’t want any nonsense when I do need to shop, I don’t often think about shopping as a game. But it clearly is a game for some. As we don’t spend so much time on the savana anymore, the hunting of bargains and the gathering of sale items is about as primal as we get these days, aside from Halo and Call of Duty. But not every shopping experience is the same type of game. And maybe that’s where Johnson slipped up. The Apple Store game is more aspirational: buying the best products for reasonable prices and feeling part of a place & company that’s so minimalist, simple, smart, and cool. Maybe Penneys shoppers didn’t want to play that game…not at Penneys anyway.

Apple’s halo car

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2013

I really enjoyed this piece by John Siracusa about why Apple should continue to make a high-end personal computer (like the Mac Pro) even though it’s not a big seller or hugely profitable. Basically, the Mac Pro is Apple’s halo car:

In the automobile industry, there’s what’s known as a “halo car.” Though you may not know the term, you surely know a few examples. The Corvette is GM’s halo car. Chrysler has the Viper.

The vast, vast majority of people who buy a Chrysler car get something other than a Viper. The same goes for GM buyers and the Corvette. These cars are expensive to develop and maintain. Due to the low sales volumes, most halo cars do not make money for car makers. When Chrysler was recovering from bankruptcy in 2010, it considered selling the Viper product line.

But car companies continue to make halo cars in part because they are great cars, or at least have the potential to be great cars, and when a car company stops caring about making great cars, they lose their identity and credibility…with consumers, with employees, with investors, and with competitors. Halo cars are the difference between being a car company and being a company that sells cars.

Normally I’m not a big fan of advice like “do what big car companies do”, but what Siracusa’s piece demontrates is one of the things that’s problematic about data: there are important things about business and success that you can’t measure. And I would go so far as to say that these unmeasurables are the most important things, the stuff that makes or breaks a business or product or, hell, even a relationship, stuff that you just can’t measure quantitatively, no matter how Big your Data is. (via df)

Dell to go private

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2013

In 1997, Dell Computer CEO Michael Dell famously said of Apple:

I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.

Today, Michael Dell is part of a consortium giving the money back to the shareholders and taking Dell Inc. private.

Under the terms of the deal, the buyers’ consortium, which also includes Microsoft, will pay $13.65 a share in cash. That is roughly 25 percent above where Dell’s stock traded before word emerged of the negotiations of its sale.

Michael S. Dell will contribute his stake of roughly 14 percent toward the transaction, and will contribute additional cash through his private investment firm, MSD Capital. Silver Lake is expected to contribute about $1 billion in cash, while Microsoft will loan an additional $2 billion.

Lego Macintosh

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 04, 2013

The Lego Stephen Hawking is still number one, but this Lego Macintosh is pretty great.

Lego Mac

Built by Chris McVeigh. Rumor has it he will be offering the plans for this one as well as a limited number of kits. Prints of the photo are available now.

Apple CFO Jerry Seinfeld: “What’s the deal with our stock price?”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2013

Apple reported their Q4 2012 financial results yesterday and here’s what Apple CFO Jerry Seinfeld had to say about it.

OK, I need to wrap this up. But first, raise your hand if you use a computer. That’s what I thought. Have you tried doing anything without a computer lately? It’s impossible. You want money from the bank? ATM computer. You want gas for your car? Pump computer. You looking for a news story explaining why your shares dropped 5% even though our gross margin was over 40%? Computer computer.

Apple CEO George Costanza, who is also CEO and chairman of Vandelay Industries, added, “George is getting upset!”

The best tablet: the iPad mini

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2012

The staff at Wirecutter say the iPad mini is the best tablet out there.

The iPad mini is the best tablet to get and lets be honest, it’s way better than the full sized iPad for nearly everyone. I’d even go so far as to say that the full sized iPad is plain obscene after using the mini.

I’m embarrassed to say this because I’ve been part of the problem by not talking enough about the heft. But the truth is that we’ve all been overlooking the iPad’s weight because everything else was good about it. It’s not anyone’s fault-it’s physics and trade offs that make a 10-inch tablet weigh this much when its made of these materials with a battery life this long. It was the best tablet for most, because it was the only one to get with iOS and its amazing library of apps and great hardware. But I can’t say the heft is ok anymore. You didn’t hold it like a magazine, which is the dream of a tablet, because it weighed as much as coffee tablet book or a small telephone book. You can agree or disagree, but it’s indisputable that the mini is a better hold because you don’t have to grip it like a steering wheel or like an underpowered circus strongman. And what good is a mobile gadget if its hard to carry and hold?

After using one for just under a week now, I completely agree. When it gets a retina screen in the next iteration or two, it’ll be perfect. (via @robinsloan)

Google Maps for iOS

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2012

Your Apple Maps nightmare is over. Google has (finally!) released an iOS app for Google Maps.