ADN shutting down in March — A love letter and a rant

Yesterday evening, while checking my App.Net (ADN) timeline, I learnt that on 14 march 2017 ADN will shut down. Yes, the common reaction outside of ADN has been, What? Is ADN still around? Why yes, and I’ve been a proud, active user since subscribing in November 2012. Although I was aware that the day may come (ADN has been in ‘maintenance mode’ since May 2014), nevertheless I am very sad about the shutdown.

When ADN launched in 2012, I had my share of scepticism. Like others, I superficially viewed ADN as a sort of Twitter alternative. Many were unhappy with Twitter at the time, but I wasn’t, so I could very well have ignored ADN. I know that the service was more ambitious and aimed to offer many more interesting features that went beyond the social superstructure, but still — and despite my being fine with the experience I was having on Twitter — I decided to give it a try and signed up. I chose to pay monthly, so that if the first months weren’t satisfactory, I could leave and be done with it. But after a few weeks something clicked. I was loving the place. I thought the first interactions and mutual follows would involve people I knew (and knew me) from Twitter; instead I was welcomed by others I didn’t know from anywhere. A sense of ‘community in the making’ was quite palpable.

And things only got better from there. I’m speaking about my experience, of course. ADN felt like the early days of Twitter, possibly even better. A basic feature like having 256 characters available in a post, instead of Twitter’s 140, turned out to make a huge difference. Conversations lasted longer, got deeper, and with longer posts, people could explain themselves in a much better way than the average quipping in Twitter’s exchanges. Private messages, too, could be longer (2048 characters). The whole atmosphere was different than Twitter’s. To me, it felt more like certain close-knit forums or mailing lists or user groups driven by people who share the same passions, willing to help and have a conversation. I felt a level of camaraderie and ‘tight ship’ I never really experienced on Twitter. ADN felt like a place where people paid attention and cared, not a social network where basically everyone shouts and spills sarcasm from their pedestal, broadcasting themselves more than having a real two-way conversation, like on Twitter (with exceptions, sure, but I have to generalise here, you understand).

Perhaps it was easier, given the small scale of the ADN user base, but another aspect of ADN that positively impressed me was its self-policing. Spam on ADN never became an issue (thanks to the fact that there weren’t free accounts, at least at the beginning); the few people who engaged in questionable behaviours were soon marginalised (if I remember well). In short, morons on ADN didn’t last long. On Twitter, on the other hand…

I have loved the ADN community these past four years, and I’ve done my best to support it. Since I’m not a developer, I haven’t been able to contribute to it in an operative/creative way, but (a) I kept paying for the service monthly instead of annually, so that I could give ADN a little bit of extra money; and (b) I’ve been purchasing and using most ADN clients and related apps over time as a way of showing my support and saying thank you to the various developers who invested their time and energies to provide different ADN-based solutions.

I’m presently too irked to sit down and analyse what went wrong, but one thing that has always annoyed me during ADN’s run was a certain generalised defeatism in how ADN was viewed and treated on the outside, undoubtedly fuelled by the lukewarm reaction and commentary of many prominent tech pundits. Their scepticism didn’t help ADN at all, and it has eventually become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When ADN went in maintenance mode in 2014, in App.Net is not over, I wrote:

…And their attitude doesn’t help, either. Mind you, I’m not saying they’re wrong (they’re not). I’m just saying that their contributions — promptly popping up little after Dalton Caldwell’s announcement — are limited to being negative remarks, an occasion to reiterate their criticism towards App.net, but offer very little in the constructive department. Telling their readers See, I told you App.net was doomed only emphasises the perception of how doomed App.net is, instead of spreading a message like Look, App.net is facing a critical moment. Mistakes were made but it’s a platform that deserves support, which is certainly a more helpful attitude. Because, let’s be honest, if you’re not on App.net but you trust the opinion of Gruber, Arment, and the like, would you want to join after reading their commentary?

Everyone, of course, is entitled to express their opinion and criticism, yet I can’t help but feeling that this kind of attitude is wrong and a bit unfair.

[…]

Yes, maybe over time App.net has lost some of the initial focus; maybe it lacked a strong campaign to invite people to join the platform, either as users or developers, but I also think that many people (prominent pundits included) made the terrible mistake of viewing App.net and Twitter as an either/or proposition. Joining App.net didn’t — and doesn’t — necessarily mean leaving Twitter behind. They could have taken the opportunity offered by App.net to expand their network and extend their reach, instead of trying to replicate their Twitter experience. (For what it’s worth, it’s what I did. I’m both on Twitter and App.net and try to actively participate in both networks. I appreciate differences and what ultimately matters is people and where the conversations are.)

It’s interesting how everyone seems to complain about Twitter (and Facebook) on a daily basis, wishing for a better product, a better network, a better and less abusive place, but no one or very few people really gave ADN a chance — ADN, which has been a better network and offered a better experience the entire time. It’s a bit disheartening to see just how ADN could have thrived had people been more supporting, shown more commitment, been less cheapskates, and so forth. Sure, ADN wasn’t perfect, but again, it’s interesting to see how, at the first sign of things not going 100% well, everything immediately translated into a failure, which in turn generated more talk about how ADN was doomed, which in turn drove more users to abandon the platform, in a sad and stupid chain reaction. While many, too many users are willing to put up with how bad Twitter has become because, uh, they don’t want to compromise the great exposure it gives them? And similarly, too many users are willing to put up with all the shit that comes with Facebook because they have apparently no other way of keeping in touch with their friends or following the news. Really, I find it hard to understand the Twitter and Facebook complainers who never quit the networks they seem to loathe so much. It’s like witnessing people in an abusive relationship or (not) dealing with substance addiction.

And yet, despite not being an engineer or software developer, I don’t think building an alternative is that difficult. The collective brain power and skills of a small percentage of the people I follow would be enough.

I’m hoping that in these two last months of ADN activity, something new, a new project, a new initiative, even a temporary place, will come up. Something big and interesting enough to keep the last group of hardcore ADN users together, avoiding a social network diaspora. I have accepted an invitation to join 10Centuries, just in case, and pnut is another effort worth mentioning.

I’m also keeping an eye on Manton Reece’s latest initiative. Micro.blog looks like an interesting and well thought-out project, whose spirit doesn’t seem very different from ADN’s. Reece is one of the ‘good guys’ and is respected by the Circle of Cool and Influential Pundits, and that certainly is going to be a good push towards success. Snark aside, I do hope Micro.blog succeeds and becomes another great place as ADN has been.

My sincerest thanks to Dalton Caldwell, Bryan Berg, and everyone who contributed to make ADN such a great network. Thank you to everyone I’ve met there, for the conversations, discussions, pieces of advice, humour, support, and attention.

Category Tech Life Tags ,

Talking about the iPhone, in 2006

The other day I received an email from Thomas, someone I had met back in 2004 at a meetup with other vintage Mac users and collectors. I hadn’t heard from him in a while, and after the usual “How are things going?” and “Long time no hear” introductions, he told me: After reading online about the iPhone’s tenth anniversary, I was reminded of our email exchanges in late 2006. Do you remember when I asked you for some predictions?? With hindsight, I think you were on the right track!

I had almost forgotten about this. So I went digging in my email archives and finally found this little gem. At the time I used to write more via email and on mailing lists. (Thomas was among those who insisted I should blog more and talk about Mac and technology publicly, on the Web. Good thing I listened.)

In November 2006, Thomas contacted me and asked my opinion about that possibly upcoming new mobile phone from Apple. This is the screenshot of my response to him. The text is small, so I’ve also copied and pasted it below. It turns out that my ‘long shot’ about a touch-based interface for the iPhone wasn’t so out there as I thought.

IPhone email 2006


 

On 20 November 2006, Thomas S. wrote:

Hey Rick, sooo… What’s your take on the rumored Apple cellphone? Will it look like an iPod but cooler? Will it be like a PDA with pen input, like a mini-Newton? And what about the o.s.? Maybe what they’re using for the iPod is good enough? Dunno… As for the cost, well, we all know it’s not gonna be cheap!! Still, I’m sure Apple will come out with something that’ll make people talk A LOT!! What do you think? Exciting times ahead…

My reply:

Heh. Predicting an entirely new Apple product is not an easy task, and I’ve been wrong before (for ex., I remember being stubbornly sure they would not release an iPod with video, given the iPod’s small screen). But let’s see:

  • I think it has to be small like a regular iPod. I saw silly mockups on the web; there even was a guy who imagined the new Apple phone to open and close like a flip phone in the style of the Motorola RAZR, but I’m not convinced. Design-wise, it has to look like an ‘iPod evolved’ if you know what I mean.
  • The operating system and the user interface are the other two aspects that got me thinking a lot as well… I mean, an iPod-like touchwheel could make sense, but a menu-oriented navigation doesn’t scale very well. I guess this new “iPhone” (or whatever Apple decides to call it) will feature at least some applications and utilities like my humble SonyEriccson or even like other smartphones like Palm’s. And navigating through a series of applications using menus and a clickwheel doesn’t look very intuitive to me. Who knows, maybe Apple will use some sort of mini-trackpad to move around the UI. I certainly am not holding my breath for any kind of pen input — Jobs doesn’t strike me as being fond of the Newton.
  • This is a long shot, but I remember reading about a patent filed by Apple at the beginning of this year, titled Touch-sensitive electronic apparatus for media applications and methods. This led to speculations about Apple making a touch-based Mac or tablet… but what if they’re going to try with the phone first? (BTW I can send you the link to that patent if you’re interested.)
  • Speaking of the Newton, a modernised NewtonOS would be cool as the new phone’s OS, with icons and applications, and powerful flexibility under the hood.
  • In general, I think Apple is going to showcase a device with a simple, effective design, something sleek and elegant, taking clear inspiration from the iPod design and form factor, but at the same time pushing things further. If it has buttons or visible moving parts, they’ll be reduced to the minimum possible (I say, forget swappable batteries, and flimsy battery doors on the back). The interface, whatever it will be, it’ll be something equally intuitive to use, easy to navigate. I bet a lot of people will look at it and think: how come no one else thought about this before?
  • I know, I’m being a bit vague here, but this is a tough guessing game. For example, I still have no idea what Apple is going to use as CPU and GPU. The new phone will certainly need more processing power than an iPod, but they can’t exactly stick an Intel processor in such a small device. As for the storage, I seriously doubt they’ll put, say, a 30 or 60GB hard disk inside, like on the iPod. Flash storage saves battery and is lighter, though forget such capacities!

Well, as you can see I get carried away easily on these topics. Apologies for my verbosity. Thanks for writing and for valuing my opinions.


 

In retrospect, as claim chowder goes, it wasn’t so bad after all.

Category Tech Life Tags , , , ,

People and resources added to my reading list in 2016

About a year ago, when talking about what/who I periodically read online, I wrote:

When it comes to the list of resources I check on a daily basis, in 2015 there have been more subtractions than additions. Nothing in particular triggered this clean-up and reorganisation of my RSS feeds, but in retrospect I can say that it was a consequence of different factors, including:

  • The need to read more physical books and ‘offline stuff’;
  • A perceived decrease in quality of a few resources I used to follow;
  • More time devoted to my writing and the production of original content (fiction and non-fiction), leaving less time to keep up with the once-manageable reading list.

This trend persisted throughout 2016 as well, driving me to drop even more feeds, and to add very few new ones. Several blogs, and most tech news websites have been demoted to being checked every now and then, instead of having their updates delivered via feed subscription. The main reasons for such demotion are:

  • For individual blogs — (a) Authors getting progressively focussed (read: obsessed) on specific subjects I don’t particularly care about. (b) Articles devolving into linked lists or podcast episode announcements, for podcasts I don’t even follow, so no interest there. (c) All of the above, in a couple of cases. (d) It’s a technicality, but I had to remove a couple of blogs whose authors, perhaps to boost the direct visits to their sites, decided to truncate their RSS feeds to a point that keeping them in my reader was useless. I can understand their reasons for choosing truncated feeds, but Christ, at least don’t also truncate the first article paragraph mid-sentence!
  • For tech websites — Their sheer article output (hello Macworld, hello iMore). I was spending more time marking things as read than reading articles. This kind of feed management was becoming a chore, and not worth the time and the trouble.

Podcasts

I’m still subscribed to the same podcasts as last year, but the two I manage to keep up with the most are Covered with Harry C. Marks, and Release Notes with Joe Cieplinski and Charles Perry.

I have occasionally listened to a few episodes of other podcasts. Worth mentioning are:

Tech blogs

As I said, the list of new entries is rather short — only three new additions in 2016:

  • Hey Cupertino — by Patrick Dean. It focusses mostly on reviews of iOS apps, but there are also other articles and general commentary. I really like Patrick’s review style: each review is detailed, well written, and accompanied by meaningful screenshots. One immediately notices how Patrick decides to review an app only after having extensively used it on his device. This means his reviews are generally less superficial, and his recommendations are always worth checking.
  • Mac Kung Fu — by Keir Thomas. It’s mostly tips and tricks for Mac OS, iOS, Apple TV, Apple Watch, etc. Keir is a competent power user and writer. There’s always something to discover, even if you’re an experienced Mac or iOS user, and Keir often manages to surprise you. I think it’s worth adding Mac Kung Fu to your feeds. [Note: the website doesn’t load if you’re using some kind of ad blocker. Consider supporting Keir by whitelisting his site.]
  • Revert to Saved — by Craig Grannell. Main subjects, as helpfully suggested by the masthead itself, are technology, Apple, gaming and design. What I love about Craig’s style is that it’s concise and to-the-point. He contributes regularly to other sites too, such as Stuff, MacFormat, TechRadar, Macworld UK and TapSmart. Like Patrick Dean above, Craig is also a great app reviewer.

Photography

Like 2015, 2016 was a great year photography-wise for me. My film camera collection expanded a bit more, thanks to a few more acquisitions but also gifts, and I’ve enjoyed shooting mostly film as usual. Still, I decided to get a DSLR too, for experimentation’s sake for the most part. Being on a relatively tight budget and not needing anything state-of-the-art, I opted for a vintage semi-professional Nikon body, the 11-year-old D200. Unsurprisingly, I’ve been using it with a film photographer’s approach, which in my case means shooting slowly and thoughtfully, using mostly manual focus prime lenses instead of favouring big AF zooms.

But I’m digressing.

When I was researching Nikon equipment (both digital and analogue), I found these places to be truly helpful:

  • byThom Sites — Thom Hogan’s portal. Thom is a professional photographer and has written countless reviews and guide books on Nikon cameras and lenses. I’d trust his advice implicitly. I even contacted him directly a couple of times to ask for clarification and he responded with astounding promptness, considering how busy he must be on a regular basis.
  • This database of Nikon lenses, maintained by Roland [I couldn’t find his last name anywhere, sorry], has been quite handy while looking for manual focus lenses on eBay, to check year of manufacture and other lens characteristics. Terrific resource.
  • Nico Van Dijk’s Nikon site. It has nice photos and lots of interesting information.
  • Through the F-Mount — by Jürgen Becker. The articles section features many lens reviews, tips & tricks, etc.
  • Lens Survey and subjective evaluations — by professional nature photographer Bjørn Rørslett. This is a sub-section of the legacy naturfotograf.com site, which is now Nikon Gear. If you want to read detailed evaluations of many MF and AF Nikon lenses, you should definitely check the links at the bottom of the page. I chose to look for two specific lenses for my cameras thanks to this resource.
  • Nikkor is an amazing resource (available in English and Japanese) if you’re interested in the history of Nikon lenses. I’ve enjoyed its The Thousand and One Nights section, a growing collection of historical chapters written by Haruo Sato and Kouichi Ohshita, each dedicated to a single lens, explaining its design and development.

If, instead, you’re researching manual focus Konica cameras, there’s basically one resource you ought to add to your bookmarks: Andreas Buhl’s Konica SLR System 1960-1987 website (in English and German).

Similarly, a reference website for all Pentacon/Praktica cameras is Mike’s Praktica Collection. It’s a bit of a labyrinth to navigate — and the 1990s look and feel doesn’t help — but it covers all Praktica models with detailed data sheets and information. Useful if, for instance, you want to know whether a particular Praktica model used to be powered by an old mercury battery or it accepts newer silver-oxide or alkaline button cells.

Then there are a few places I found while looking for information on different vintage film cameras, websites that are usually maintained by collectors and enthusiasts who also write brief reviews of their equipment. The following are worth a mention:

  • The Camera Site — by Reijo Lauro
  • Simon Hawketts’ Photo Blog. Detailed reviews and test photos of many vintage cameras (check the Camera Index page for a direct access to the reviews), not to mention various tips for camera repairs. You’ll find many reviews of Minolta, Miranda, Olympus, Pentax, Praktica and Ricoh cameras among others.
  • The Favourite Cameras section of Gary Seronik’s Film Advance blog.
  • I probably already mentioned this, but despite not being actively maintained anymore, I still find Alfred Klomp’s Camera Page an interesting read, especially with regard to Russian film cameras.

As for general photography blogs and suchlike, here are some special mentions:

  • Silverbased — by Ross Orr. Ross doesn’t update it very often, but his blog is definitely a keeper for several interesting articles in its archives. Tips on which vintage cameras to search for and which to avoid, DIY solutions, etc. Do visit and explore.
  • Dave Lawrence Photography — Dave is a friend and a terrific photographer. His personal photography blog is always an interesting read.
  • Women and Dreams — by Ashley Pomeroy. This was a revelation, and a blog I actually added to my RSS feeds. I discovered Ashley Pomeroy through a mention on Lewis Collard’s site. I was instantly blown away by Ashley’s writing style and his photography. But calling his Women and Dreams a photography blog is rather limiting. As you’ll find out by reading a few posts, Ashley loves to digress, and many articles aren’t directly about photography at all. He may talk about music, cinema, or video games (his recent article on Half-Life 2 is astounding, by the way). A post that’s supposed to be a ‘Photoshop tutorial’ is actually… something else. Ashley is witty and quirky, and his style is something you either love or hate. I happen to love it. If you don’t care for his blog, you can find more of his photos on Flickr.

Finally, for quickly looking up information on cameras, a great resource has been Camera-Wiki.org. In my opinion it’s much better than Camerapedia, easier to navigate, especially because it’s not drowned in advertisements. If you find Camera Wiki useful as well, please consider making a donation to help it survive.

Addendum — If you’re into vintage film cameras or if you’re starting to explore the world of film photography just now and you’re looking for camera manuals, before getting ripped off by certain websites offering you a PDF download at a price (sometimes ridiculous prices, too), please stop by Camera Manual Library, by Mike Buktus. He has done a terrific work over the years and scanned dozens of camera manuals, and offers them as free downloadable PDF files (or you just can read them in the browser). If you find them useful, please support Mike by sending a donation.

A note about websites with ad-blocker blockers

I’m not against ads, and I understand that plenty of websites need them to stay afloat. That said, I also believe a lot of websites utterly disrespect their readers by not being very discriminating with the ads they choose to display (and their underlying technology). Thus, my current policy is to use ad blockers and anti-trackers (thanks Ad Block, Ghostery, uBlock Origin, and Better) and to occasionally whitelist sites and blogs showing ads in responsible (code-wise) and tasteful (display-wise) ways.

 

Allow ads. Not.

However, in recent times, an increasing number of big sites which usually employ plenty of intrusive ads, instead of working to ameliorate the issue, have decided to implement ‘ad-blocker blockers’; that is, if you visit them, and they detect you have installed an ad blocker in your browser, they won’t display their content. They will ask you to disable your ad blocker(s). Well, I will not do that. I will, instead, stop visiting your site altogether, and I’ll tell other people to do the same.

My RSS management

Unchanged from last year. To recap: on my main MacBook Pro I’m still using Reeder, while I keep older versions of NetNewsWire on my PowerPC Macs (version 3.2.15 under Mac OS X Leopard, and 3.1.7 under Mac OS X Tiger). On iOS, my RSS reader of choice is still Unread. Unread is also my absolute favourite iOS app with regard to gesture-based navigation. It’s really good and well-designed. A special mention goes to Feed Hawk by John Brayton, a very useful iOS tool to quickly add a website’s RSS feed to your reader of choice. My nano-review of Feed Hawk is here.

I think that’s all for 2016.

Past articles

In reverse chronological order:

Category Tech Life Tags , ,

Trajectories

I have a hard time believing it, but for the sake of argument, let’s say the Mac has reached the end of the line. Let’s say there’s little room left to innovate on the hardware side, and just room for small refinements and life-support maintenance on the software side. Let’s say Apple is not entirely wrong in choosing to neglect the Mac. Let’s say iOS is really the future and the right bet.

How is iOS supposed to evolve to become as mature and versatile a platform as the Mac?

If how iOS has evolved until now is of any indication, the trajectory points towards the addition of Mac-like features and behaviours to the operating system. For example, iPads have become better tools for doing ‘serious work’ by adding more (and more useful) keyboard shortcuts, and by improving app multitasking with features like Slide Over, Split View, and Picture in Picture.

I may be wrong about this but my theory is that, in order for iOS to become more powerful and versatile, its user interface and user interaction are bound to get progressively more complex. The need may arise to increase the number of specialised, iPad-only features, features that would make little sense on the iPhone’s smaller footprint, or for the way people use iPhones versus iPads.

Current iOS power users, proficient tech people who have mastered the art of picking the right apps and perfecting workflows, would certainly be happier if iOS allowed for more built-in flexibility and interoperability, so as to make such workflows (mostly reliant on third-party apps) even smoother. They certainly wouldn’t mind the added complexity of the user interface/interaction.

Brief aside: I’m speaking of ‘complexity’ in relative terms. Think, for example, how iOS 7 was more complex than iOS 4, and how iOS 10 is more complex than iOS 7. It’s a complexity derived from the addition of features, gestures, layers of interaction.

There’s an observation that has stuck with me, something an acquaintance wrote me some time ago. I talked about his experience in this article. He said (emphasis mine): I can learn to become efficient on the iPad more or less to the point where I am now with Macs and PCs […] but at the same time I wonder why I should bother. […] My impression is that to switch to iPad-only, I have to take three steps back in order to make one step forward, while I just can keep moving forward by staying on the Mac. I may be totally wrong, but it doesn’t really feel like ‘progress’, this re-learning of workflows to maybe one day be as efficient and productive as I already am now.

I realise there are people today who experience iOS first, and maybe Mac OS later, or even not at all. The afore-quoted observation may not apply to them, but I think it’s still valid for a great number of people out there.

Suppose Mac OS is demoted to ‘hobby status’ inside Apple, and that iOS receives all the attention from now on. What is iOS’s trajectory going to be? How is it going to evolve? One of iOS’s major strengths is the hardware-software integration, which is perhaps even more cohesive than the Mac’s. If the future is iOS-first or iOS-only in Apple’s plans, it is necessary that new iOS devices appear at a certain point. Devices that need to be more sophisticated, maybe with bigger displays or with hardware capabilities that let them interface with external displays and peripherals. Solutions will have to be implemented to provide a seamless experience for the user if or when these hypothetical desktop-oriented iOS devices appear. If touch remains the only input method in iOS, how can the user interface and the user interaction be kept ‘simple’ when future iOS devices need to connect and interact with other peripherals? The relatively straightforward scenario where a future iOS tablet or laptop hybrid connects to an external display to do more than just desktop mirroring begets all kinds of user experience considerations. To make just one example — Does the main device display essentially become a touchpad and the OS interface gets transferred to the external display, and will there be some sort of pointer to manipulate the UI in this configuration?

When I walk down this hypothetical path, what I see in iOS’s trajectory, more than sheer innovation, is a reinvention of the wheel. iOS was born as a simpler, streamlined version of Mac OS X; its multi-touch interface was ingenious and groundbreaking when applied to a smartphone and (similarly, but less strikingly) to a tablet; to then evolve — through a series of iterations and feature creep — into… Mac OS X?

Perhaps I’m exaggerating, perhaps I’m just following a pet theory I have and am blinded by confirmation bias, but when I look at possible trajectories for iOS, all I see is a not-fully-mature operating system that, year after year, version after version, is approaching a point the ‘old’ Mac OS X reached a while ago. Innovation in the iOS platform is mostly hardware-driven, in my opinion. Oversimplifying a bit, the software part is a touch-based container for apps. In iOS’s software and user interface, the innovative bit happened at the beginning: simplicity through a series of well-designed, easily predictable touch gestures. Henceforth, it has been an accumulation of features, new gestures, new layers to interact with. The system has maintained a certain degree of intuitiveness, but many new features and gestures are truly intuitive mostly to long-time iOS users. Discoverability is still an issue for people who are not tech-savvy.

What I’m trying to argue here is that — if we zoom out a bit and consider the big picture — the revolution in personal computing brought by iOS feels (to me) more like a reinvention of the wheel [1] than a tangible progression. iOS has made some things simpler for a wider number of people, and that’s really nice, but for now this purported ‘Post-PC era’ is (to me) still rough and somewhat disappointing. If I understood Steve Jobs’s vision, the ‘Post-PC era’ should be a time where iPhones and iPads can be valid solutions to accomplish most tasks in a mobile-driven scenario, instead of having to bring traditional computers everywhere, but where traditional computers — and especially the Mac — still have a place to take care of all the complex tasks they excel at.

Instead, what I’m feeling when I consider how Apple is currently treating the Mac (both the hardware and the software), is a different take on the jobsian Post-PC era of ‘cars’ and ‘trucks’. It’s a take where the traditional computer and its operating system are dumbed down and made progressively less relevant to push a platform that is still not equipped to fully stand on its own. A Post-PC era where we should eventually get rid of traditional computers to switch to devices and an operating system that will have to behave more like traditional computers to provide a similar level of versatility. And we will have gone through the effort to reach a similar level of productivity as we have now on the Mac because…? Because iOS is nicer and feels fresher? And for how long will iOS keep feeling nicer and fresher? Is there something more in iOS’s trajectory than iteratively better iPhones and iPads?


Related reading: The Mac is just as compelling

 


  • 1. An undeniably cool one, but still. ↩︎

 

Category Software Tags , , , ,

Notes from a short trip

One

There is a man sitting at a small round table in the Starbucks at Valencia airport this early morning. Remnants of what must have been his breakfast are pushed aside, and he’s busy checking stuff on an iPad. The iPad is propped up thanks to some sort of smart cover (non-Apple), and he’s using a third-party Bluetooth keyboard to type things every now and then. He doesn’t look like a novice user, yet he doesn’t strike me as being particularly comfortable operating the device. At times he’s unsure whether to use the keyboard’s arrow keys or raise his hand towards the iPad screen and just move around by using his fingers to scroll and swipe. He hops from one app to another, then back again. He looks more impatient now. He grumbles and frowns.

He has some sort of eureka moment. He grabs the iPad and puts it in portrait orientation. Whatever it is he’s working on, it seems to read better in portrait orientation, but now he can’t prop up the iPad like before, because its cover only allows for comfortable positioning in landscape orientation. He takes some bestseller from his messenger bag and tries to use it as a stand, but without much success. He then holds the iPad with one hand and types with the other using the virtual keyboard, but he’s clearly more uncomfortable than before. Begrudgingly, he repositions the iPad horizontally and reverts to the previous setup. He sighs and checks his iPhone.

I like to do some people watching, every now and then, especially when it involves the use of tech products I read about every day and use myself. My vantage point is excellent for inconspicuously watching what this man is doing, while not invading his privacy, because I can’t see (and I’m not interested in) what exactly he’s doing on his iPad, but I can see how he’s doing it. Again, he looks like someone who knows how to use an iPad, but nonetheless his actions do not convey that he’s enjoying it much. The interaction with the device lacks fluidity. If this is ‘the future,’ I really hope the present will last just a while longer.

Two

I’m travelling light, since I’ll be staying away just for one week. Yet, I need my primary iPhone, a secondary iPhone with my Italian number, and a third iPhone I will use with yet another SIM, because the data plan in that SIM is the most generous and convenient. I’ll have to work, since I’ve previously communicated my availability, so I’ll have to bring my MacBook Pro. What about my iPad? It would be a ‘nice to have too’ option, but a Mac, an iPad, and three iPhones are just a bit too much and certainly don’t qualify as ‘travelling light’, so I decide that the iPad is staying home. Will I miss it? I don’t know. It’s not my main device, but it’s also more than just a satellite in my setup.

After two days away, I realise I don’t miss it. Sure, bringing it with me instead of the MacBook Pro would have made for an even lighter travelling, but apart from the fact that I couldn’t have used it for work, I would have had to make a couple of adjustments I’m not sure I was willing to do. Storage is still an enormous advantage when you have your Mac with you. My MacBook Pro is equipped with a 240 GB SSD and a 500 GB hard drive. While I was away I could enjoy watching movies and shows I’d previously ripped or transferred to the Mac without worrying about running out of available space. If I had brought only the iPad with me, I would have had to delete games and other apps I probably wouldn’t need on my trip, to hopefully make space for those 9-10 GB of media I wanted to watch.

But then another problem would have emerged: I wouldn’t have had enough space on the iPad to also transfer the photos taken with my DSLR. Yes, I could have purchased more iCloud space… to then enjoy the transfer of several megabytes on a cellular network with 3G speeds on a good day. No, thanks. Much better a Mac with lots of local storage space, a fast-enough USB 2.0 connection speed, and no hassles whatsoever. I’ll gladly carry 1.6 kilograms more on my shoulders if it spares me the time I’d waste trying to free up space on the iPad. For content I’d move away from the iPad just a few days later anyway. Sometimes, comfort goes beyond just how much a device weighs.

Three

In one day, I’ve taken a plane, two busses, a train, plus several underground trains while in Milan. I’ve passed through several crowded — and sometimes cramped — spaces. You can’t imagine how glad I was to wear wired earphones and not, say, a pair of AirPods. Getting off the train at Duomo station, a guy bumped into me so hard, both my earbuds dropped off. Being wired, I was able to put them back in quickly. Then there were places where the background noise was, in passing, too loud for me to keep listening to music: it was easy to just give the earphones’ cables a gentle pull and let the earbuds hang and my ears rest, to then resume the listening a bit later, in quieter places. I didn’t have to worry about where to put the AirPods when not using them. Sure, I could have temporarily stored them in my coat pocket. Or just paused the music and kept them both in my ears. Maybe mine are old habits, but I found my good old wired earphones to be too practical in these kinds of situations, and I never found myself wishing for wireless alternatives — as incredible as that might sound to some of you dear readers.

Four

I’m getting back. On the train to Pisa, I decide to review some stuff and maybe write something related to my work-in-progress science fiction novel Low Fidelity. I take out the MacBook Pro. I open it on my lap. I find the right angle for the display to avoid stray reflections. I still miss the antiglare displays of a few years back. Mac OS X finishes booting and I’m presented with the same apps and windows I was using before shutting the Mac down. I write, read, check what I wanted to check. I hop from one app to another, from one virtual desktop to another, and then back again. My hands are firmly in place on the keyboard. My movements are minimal and measured. Sometimes I need to use the trackpad, but it’s right there below the keyboard. I’m comfortable. I feel in control of the interface before me. I don’t have to navigate it by gesturing like a conductor. I don’t feel the need to reach for something to tap on the MacBook Pro’s display, and I ask myself why some people would want a Mac laptop with a touchscreen. I may not be a fan of the latest MacBook Pros, but I’m really glad Apple still has a clear idea of how interfaces should behave on different kinds of devices.

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