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I've just published my first iMessage sticker pack (and App Store app) to the App Store!

Check it out here! If you love them, I'd be very grateful if you shared it with your friends, or left a review. Go spam your friends with cloud stickers!

Back on the Applesauce

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My tech gadgetry history has been a big, sloppy mess this past year. My experience with watches has been particularly fraught:

  • Bought a Moto 360 (1st gen), returned it immediately because it was crap.
  • Bought a Samsung Gear S2, the bands & the development environment I was working in both fell apart rather spectacularly.
  • Bought a Moto 360 (2nd gen), returned that one immediately because it was also crap.
  • Bought a Huawei watch, used it for months until I decided I hated charging watches, and gave up on all "traditional" smartwatches (if something that's only been around for 2 years can even have traditions).
  • Bought a Withings Activité and now it's one of my favorite possessions.

As you might have guessed from the above, I've been using an Android phone for the past year. I couldn't argue with the price of the plans, and Google's Project Fi is a really impressive network around here. However, my circumstances changed and I switched networks, and found myself going back to iOS. Those same circumstances provided the opportunity to get a new notebook, having sold my XPS 13 last year.

So now my laptop and phone are Apple gear, and I hope that I don't end up switching them anytime soon. As such, I put a good deal of thought into my needs for both, and I came up with a couple odd answers. Instead of getting a MacBook Pro and preordering an iPhone 7 like you might expect, I have bought a 12-inch MacBook and the iPhone SE.

The MacBook has plenty of detractors. One port? A super shallow keyboard? A trackpad that doesn't actually click? Am I mad? Maybe, but let's leave that aside. Crucially, none of these things matter for my use, which is as a secondary, portable computer.

I only need to charge it and plug in a mouse, and Bluetooth works fine for the latter. I actually somewhat like the keyboard, probably because my style of typing is mostly slamming my fingers into the keys. The trackpad I'm not a huge fan of, but it's good enough. For these compromises, I get a very small laptop with a beautiful screen. For what I use it for, it's solid.

The iPhone SE I just got yesterday, taking advantage of the most recent price cut on the 64GB model. I'm going from a Nexus 6P, which is iPhone 6 Plus sized. Going from a phablet to a 4-inch screen is a shock... but you get used to that after a day or two. Having a swipey keyboard like GBoard helps a lot with typing, and reducing the text size helps with information density.

The biggest issue is that some apps, mostly newer ones, were not really designed to be shrunk down to the old 4-inch screen size. I've yet to find an app that didn't work, but there are several apps where the buttons and UI chrome take up too much of the view. I also had issues hitting the handy 1Password shortcut buttons on login screens. For the most part, though, I've found it to be a refreshing change to have a phone that I can actually hold and use in one hand, and I still prefer the iPhone 5 design to the current 6/7 generation. The Leica-like look and feel somehow feels more substantial than any of the more modern iOS offerings, and in a sea of iPhones 6/7 and Android copies, the SE and 5-series phones remain unique.

iOS 10 also resolves many of the things I liked Android for. The notification dropdown and the widget pane are now two different swipes, and it makes using both much more enjoyable. HomeKit is awesome for controlling the Hue lights in my apartment, and Night Shift has been long overdue.

Maybe in a year I'll have sold these for whatever new shiny thing catches my eye, but at the moment these tiny gadgets are growing on me.

Apple Laughs at Your Usability Concerns

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I've been perturbed and entertained by the ongoing anti-headphone-jack debate raging in the tech news lately. A quick summary:

If that weren't enough, I have a couple more points for you.

For one (and Andrew mentioned this as well), headphones using Lightning have access to much more than just two channels of audio; they can draw digital data and power too. It's not hard to imagine headphones with integrated sound cards and/or amplifiers drawing power from the phone, nor is it hard to imagine features like surround sound or noise cancellation (without the headset needing its own batteries).

Now, remember that Apple owns Beats as well. Imagine, if you will, Apple announcing that the headphone jack is going away, followed immediately by the introduction of a new range of headphones with new, innovative features competitors can't match without also using the Lightning port. Depending on the features, this may make stereo, analog headphones seem old and outdated to the average user - and this would work to Apple's benefit, perhaps enough so that they'd toss out the analog port to get adoption rates up.

The second point is that Apple has a storied history of making changes that are user-hostile, often for reasons rooted solely in aesthetics. Take the buttonless iPod shuffle, which forced users to control their iPods with voice commands just because it made the iPod itself look pretty. Or to a lesser extent the 6th generation iPod Nano, which at least had a touch screen. Or the latest MacBook, with one port on it because two would make too much sense, and an inferior keyboard caused by saving an extra millimeter or two of thickness that no sane person would have noticed. (But hey, it still has an analog headphone port!)

Taken in that context, the fact that there's actual technical justification for ditching the headphone port aside from "it looks prettier this way" makes me wonder why Apple hasn't tried it already. This is totally something they would do, and they actually have legitimate reasons this time to do so.

And to be clear: I'm no fan of this idea. For all the reasons Nilay mentioned, but also because I like being able to charge my phone and listen to audio at the same time.1 I'm also worried that Apple may give Beats de facto exclusive rights to that port (perhaps by making the process too difficult for third parties to adopt it), which is also something Apple would do. That would be a very sad moment indeed for people who appreciate audio quality - few of whom appreciate Beats.

If there's any glimmer of hope, it's that Apple does thankfully also have a history of walking back some of its more controversial omissions - both of the iPods mentioned above were eventually reverted to their previous forms with physical buttons, for instance. With any luck, they'll eventually settle on the scheme that makes the most sense for both Apple and their users.

  1. You can actually do that today with Lightning - but it involves a Lightning to 30-pin adapter, a 30-pin to USB/analog audio converter, poor quality audio output, and no way to change the volume. That's no way to live.


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I'm not a fan of snobbery.

People will swear that something is "the best" of a category - like pizza, or TV shows, or programming languages. For you personally, that's great, but once you insist that your choice should be everybody's choice, you ignore two fundamental truths: that people have different value systems than you do, and the things that make up those values - taste, disposable income, spare time, nostalgia, etc. - do not stay the same over time. This is what snobbery looks like.1

The most recent Accidental Tech Podcast episode is a spectacular case in point; their arguments about fast food and pizza were an excellent showcase of rejecting other people's tastes and values. Casey seemed to have the right idea, but the overall message from the other two was "Stop eating this garbage you lunatic." I'm sure they said that more for laughs than to try and make Casey confess to crimes against cuisine, but I don't like the implication that ridiculing someone's choices is totally OK.

As with ATP, let's take pizza as an example. The best pizzas I can have right now are my homemade pan pizzas, or pizza from a New York style place nearby - but those are time consuming and/or expensive. However, if I'm short on time or cash, I will often get Little Caesar's hot-and-ready, or a frozen Jack's pizza if I have it in the freezer. When I'm craving pizza, and I don't have time on my hands, those are the best choices possible - and if you want to mock me because they don't have award-winning flavor, then you can bite me, because they are the best decisions I could have made; I damn well know it, and you should too.

Like I said, I'm sure Marco and John were having those arguments all in good fun, but I don't accept that it's OK that someone's choice is wrong because you wouldn't make it yourself. You're basically telling someone that they screwed up, which is bad enough. On top of that, you're probably not even correct, because their situation is not your situation.

Did you hear that PHP is a terrible language? Marco writes most of his stuff in PHP, so he must be totally, totally wrong, and he should never write another line of PHP ever again, right? Yeah, no. It turns out that Marco has solid reasons to stick with it, and in his world it makes a lot of sense to use it for many things. All you would accomplish by saying this is being a jerk.

The best response is to investigate and inform - ask them why they made that ridiculous choice, and offer alternatives. Explain why you wouldn't make that choice, but in a way that doesn't reject their beliefs. Nobody's insulted, and maybe one of you will learn something new about your choices. That is, unless you're debating politics - in which case, you're screwed.

New Star Trek TV Series in 2017

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After far too long, we're going to see a new Star Trek TV series in January 2017. If Reddit is anything to go by 1, the general reaction to this is excitement blended with skepticism, and a dash of offense at having to pay $6/mo to view it through CBS's streaming service. How dare they make you pay for yet another thing?

The way I see it, however, using it to relaunch a streaming service actually gives me hope.

The typical TV show has one mission: to get as many viewers as possible, for as long as possible. This means that as a network, you generally try to keep the show's appeal as broad as possible, and the shows in primetime reflect that. They make choices to bring in new viewers at the expense of the core audience, because the core audience is still going to watch it anyway. They have to like it, but anything more means little to the network.

Star Trek has an entirely different mission, however: it has to effectively sell the entire streaming service. That makes the barrier to entry much higher - you won't get random people dropping by to check it out, and too many who do will decide that it's not worth $72/year. This means that it's not enough to just like the show - you have to love it.

That works against something with broad appeal, in favor of something that really appeals to the core audience. That's practically Star Trek's reason for being - few other shows have such an enormous appeal to those who watch it.

If you need to get more people to buy your streaming service, you need the kind of show that is beloved. That's likely why Amazon paid $250 million to get Jeremy Clarkson and his team when he punched out of Top Gear. I would bet Yahoo bought Community for the same reason, and I would also bet that's why Star Trek is going to this streaming platform.

So why does that give me hope? Because CBS is more incentivized to make it a show that some people love, rather than a show that everybody kind of likes. To do that, they'll be forced to rekindle at least some of the magic of the old Star Trek series. I, for one, will hold out just a little hope that CBS realizes this.

  1. It usually isn't.