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The Safe Area

In choosing the iPhone 8, what I’d miss most of the X are probably the OLED display and Face ID, but those aren’t must-have features for me, either; certainly not worth spending €350 more to have them (I think those €350 would be better spent on an Apple Watch, for example; by adding €50 you could even get a base iPad 5). Overall, I consider the iPhone X an interesting, but transitional and expensive device. I would rather invest on it later on, when the design settles, the UI quirks are ironed out, and it can really be an ‘all screen’ iPhone.

via Riccardo Mori

I really liked Riccardo’s take on the iPhones 8 and X. I’m still going to get a X, for the same reason I install beta software: I like the future, and I want it now.

But he’s not wrong about the 8 being a great phone, and probably the saner choice for any practical person. It’s likely more people will flock to the X, price be damned, but that doesn’t mean they are being rational.

When I look at iPhone X, I think The fourth iteration of this design will be amazing. Much in the way the first iPhone was exciting, but in retrospect was actually a flawed device, I think we’ll look back on iPhone X as a bit ahead of its time.

Over the past week, I’ve heard several people suggest that iPhone 8 is not a big update to 7, while X is a massive leap forward. Really?

Compare the X to the 8 plus: same processor in both phones. Same camera on the back. Same wireless charging capability. Same capacities. The only difference between the two phones, other than outside appearances, are slightly better image stabilization on the X, a better front facing camera on the X, and the better screen.

So the X is way better for selfies.

I know I’m being snarky now, and those things are important. But do these few differences on the X make the 8 only a small update, while the X is a “major leap forward?” I thought I was the one who drinks Apple’s Kool-Aid a little too easily.

People really do judge with their eyes, I suppose.

I do have to wonder as well, why so many people seem obsessed with this edge-to-edge screen concept. It’s important enough for Apple to make a major design tradeoff with the notch, so it’s clearly a big deal to people. But as I’m reworking my apps to behave correctly on the X's screen, what I’m learning quickly is that all four far corners of the screen (the areas that used to be blank “chin” areas) are too inconvenient for thumbs to reach easily. Which means they are lousy for UI interactive elements. Thanks to the notch, and the fact that the phone is no longer 16 x 9, watching video full screen is a poor experience as well. So most of what’s important is going to end up in the “safe” areas—in other words, the exact dimensions of your iPhone 8 screen. Basically, we’re lighting up the edges of the X screen with background color and calling it a revolution.

Is it more immersive? Absolutely. Would Jonny Ive love it if the phone would become just a single block of glass? Absolutely. But we’re not there yet with the X. Not even close. This is a step in that direction, and therefore it is an important device for the company. And I want to be a part of this next evolution as it happens. But I wouldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to pay a premium for Animoji at this point. And I'm certainly not going to try to convince myself that I'm making the smarter choice in buying a X.

This is Safe to Read Before Tuesday

I don’t understand people who like to spoil surprises.

I don’t get angry with them. I don’t tell them how to live, or anything. I just don’t get them.

There have always been leaks surrounding new Apple announcements. This is why sites like MacRumors, 9to5Mac, and AppleInsider exist. There used to be more. There was a time I would read these sites fairly regularly, because most of the time all that was leaked were little tidbits, months in advance, which then got surrounded by a ton of idle speculation. And that was fun, guessing what might end up being announced at the next keynote.

Then there would be those times when something big got leaked, either accidentally, or otherwise, a few weeks or days before the show. We’d know exactly what was coming, and that become less fun for me. It never became the norm, but it would happen from time to time. Enough that the entire practice of speculating became far less interesting to me. I’d rather know nothing than everything.

So I basically stopped reading those sites. Problem solved, right?

I’m not about to tell 9to5Mac not to publish leaked information they are handed. That’s what they do. I don’t even blame sites like MacStories for publishing stories about the leak. They deal in Apple news, and a leak of this magnitude is definitely news. As long as everything is clearly labeled, I can easily choose to not read it. Or I can just not read any Apple sites for a few days.

But then there’s Twitter. And now we have a whole new problem. I don’t follow any rumor sites, so I should be safe. But I’m not, thanks to our friend the retweet.

Turns out, some of my friends on Twitter feel differently about spoilers than I do. And that’s fine. Free planet. Remember the golden rule of Twitter: Never tell anyone how to tweet. The unfollow button is your best friend.

I just don’t want to unfollow everyone I know, if I can avoid it.

At the same time, Twitter isn’t just about tech for me. I want to keep up with other things, like hurricanes, political disasters, and so on. I can’t just not read Twitter at all, the way I can avoid rumor sites.

So no judgements here, Twitter friends. I just ask that before you tweet, take a moment to ask yourself if everyone in your timeline really wants to see what you are about to insert into their timeline. Or better yet, if you see a leak like this, ask yourself if there’s a chance that anyone who really wants to see it hasn’t seen it already. If I were into spoilers, trust me. You’re not enlightening me. It’s fun to think you have the inside scoop on something, but you don’t. You’re only ruining the day of everyone who doesn’t want to see this stuff before Tuesday.

And if you must spoil, consider hashtags. Or open with SPOILER ALERT. Give me something I can muffle or mute. Or open with something that gives me enough info to know this is a spoiler tweet, so I can stop reading before anything is ruined.

Your spoiler-averse friends will thank you for it, I promise. Or, at least, they will be far less likely to silently judge you.

Thirteen

I really didn’t like my mid-2014 13-inch MacBook Pro.

So much so, I’d put it firmly at the bottom of the list of Macs I’ve owned over the years. And that’s a long list, spanning from 1986 to present.

I only bought that Mac because I was a designer making Retina apps for iOS and Mac, and I had no Retina Mac on which to test those apps properly.

And if I’m being totally honest, yeah. I hated not having Retina. From the day I bought my iPhone 4, I wanted every screen in my life to be Retina. There were no perfect Retina Macs in mid-2014 from which to choose, though.

My two Macs just before that were a late 2012 iMac and an 11-inch MacBook Air for portability. I was trying to hold out for a Retina Air, but by 2014, it still seemed like that would be a long way off.1

So I gave up my wonderful 11-inch Air, a machine I really liked, for the clunky 13-inch Pro. In 2014, this was a machine built entirely on compromise. It was slower and didn’t have as good screen real estate as a 15-inch Pro. Meanwhile it was much larger, heavier, and more expensive than the Air.

That combination of compromises made the 13-inch Pro a Goldilocks Mac for many. But not for me. I just saw all of the shortcomings. And especially after the Air, the Pro was a brick in my laptop bag every day that constantly reminded me how much I didn’t like it. It wasn’t even good at being a Retina Machine. The native resolution wasn’t a full quadrupling of the standard 13-inch Pro, so you were left with yet another ugly compromise: get true Retina graphics and have your UI blown up like a children’s book. Or go for higher resolution and accept not quite native rendering.

Needless to say, the following year, when the 12-inch MacBook was announced, I sold my Pro and never looked back.

I say all this because I want to set the stage properly for the evaluation of my newest Mac: The 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro. In many ways, all the same problems still exist for this machine. It’s still a giant bowl of compromises. Still slower than a 15-inch Pro. Still heavier and more expensive than a MacBook. But progress has lessened the impact of most of these compromises, and that has made all the difference to me.

Size

The 13-inch Pro isn’t much bigger than the 12-inch MacBook. In any dimension. This is a real feat of engineering. Given that the 12-inch MacBook is actually smaller than my old 11-inch Air was, having a Pro laptop that is only marginally larger is pretty amazing.

My new Pro actually fits inside my Small Muzetto bag from Waterfield Designs, which I originally purchased to carry around my first iPad. It sticks out a bit at the top, sure. But it fits. If you would have told me in 2010 when I bought that bag that I’d eventually be carrying a laptop in it, I wouldn’t have believed you.

I hear complaints all the time that Apple’s obsession with making laptops thinner is a waste of resources. Frankly, that’s nuts. I can see why some would like to see fatter, faster, larger battery-laden MacBooks alongside the super slim models, but as far as I’m concerned, Apple, you can keep slimming the laptops down. They can never be thin or light enough.

Speaking of lightness: yes, the 13-inch Pro is still heavier than the 12-inch MacBook. And noticeably so. But a 1-pound difference isn’t the end of the world. To put the weight of the 13-inch Pro into perspective: it’s almost the same exact weight as the 13-inch Air. And only a bit more than a half-pound heavier than my old 11-inch Air. You can see why the MacBook Air line is quickly becoming superfluous.

All of this is to say that size and weight are still a factor, but not nearly as much as they were in 2014.

Performance

I’d probably still be using a 12-inch MacBook if it weren’t for Xcode. Everything I do in Photoshop, Illustrator, Sketch—and even my occasional dabbling in Final Cut Pro—I could do quite well on the MacBook. But Xcode on a MacBook, if you are working with a somewhat large project, is a problem. I do more serious work now than I did a few years ago. Build times take longer than they should. Storyboards—even relatively small ones, are glacially slow.

When I had my MacBook, I always had my 2012 iMac to fall back on if I really needed speed. And that machine is still faster than the fastest MacBook Pro available. But once I decided I wanted to consolidate back to just one Mac, it became apparent that the MacBook couldn’t be that Mac.

I briefly considered the 15-inch, to max out the performance possibilities. But at the end of the day, the 15-inch, slimmed down as it may be, is still too heavy and large to be carried around the city daily. The 13 may not be as fast, but it’s fast enough. So far, I have no real complaints about performance. Any Mac can always be faster, of course, but I don’t feel like my 13-inch is slowing me down at all. I purchased the fully loaded model with the fastest and best of everything, to maximize longevity.

Battery

The battery on my 13-inch is great. Unless I’m using Xcode. 2

Seriously, I’m lucky to get more than two hours out of the 13-inch while working in Xcode. I get that developing apps takes a lot of power, but if I’m doing anything else, I can get 4 to 6 hours out of my battery, easy. Xcode very likely could use a little optimization.

I don’t know who these people are who get 9 or 10 hours out of a laptop battery. My iPad gets that kind of battery life. I’ve never seen any laptop get anywhere near the quoted specs. And I lower the screen brightness, etc. All the usual advised methods of squeezing out more life from the battery.

Screen

The screen on the new MacBook Pro is bright and beautiful. I do wish it had more pixels, though. I suppose battery and cost are a big factor for this. But as far as I’m concerned, the 5k iMac is the only true Retina Mac, sporting a full quadrupling of the original 27-inch iMac’s pixel count. I run my 13-inch Pro at the “More Space” resolution of 1680 x 1050. I know, that’s not ideal. Neither is looking at a UI that’s far larger than my perfect near sight requires. 1280 x 800 in 2017 is a bit silly to me. I’ll take the non-native rendering to get the increased screen real estate. Even Apple agrees with me, setting the 13-inch “default” resolution at 1440 x 900, at least. Maybe someday we’ll get MacBooks with more pixels. This is one place where the compromise is still glaring.

Touch Bar

I keep reading articles about the Touch Bar decrying it as half-baked. Too far ahead of its time. Not useful. In the way. And so on. I just don’t agree with any of that sentiment. I absolutely love my Touch Bar, and I wouldn’t consider another Mac that didn’t have one.

Just looking at the way my hands rest on the keyboard, there’s almost no chance I’m going to accidentally tap anything on the Touch Bar. I don’t have this issue.

Not all apps take great advantage of Touch Bar yet. And that’s okay. I already get tons of benefit from it in the apps that do utilize it well. As time goes on, more apps with good Touch Bar design will only add more usefulness to my workflow.

And no. The lack of Touch Bar on the iMac Pro keyboard is not a signal of anything. When Touch Bar was first announced, I suggested it probably wasn’t a great fit for non-portables. It’s a matter of angles and where a dektop keyboard tends to be positioned compared to a laptop. Also, at the moment, Touch Bar is still expensive technology. Even if they don't agree that Touch Bar would be less useful on a desktop leyboard, I can’t see Apple shipping a wireless keyboard with Touch Bar in the near term. It would be $300 or more.

And that, again, is fine. Power users—the only people left with a reason to buy a desktop—seem to be the ones most critical of Touch Bar. They want their function keys. Let them keep them. In time, Touch Bar will be on every laptop, including the MacBook, and thus 90% of all Macs being sold. It’s here to stay.

Keyboard

Much negativity has also been spewed at Apple’s latest keyboard design. I made my case for why I like this keyboard back when I got my 12-inch MacBook. The current generation keys have a bit more resistance, thanks to some extra rubber padding that creates the illusion of more key travel. That took a while to get used to, coming from my earlier MacBook model. But I got used to it fast. All in all, it’s a great keyboard for me, minus the arrow key sizing, which is still stupid. If you like heavy cherry switches, though, you’ll likely completely disagree with me.

Thunderbolt 3

When Apple made the big switch to USB-C on the MacBook and then Thunderbolt 3 on the MacBook Pro, many people got caught up in complaining about dongles and missed the bigger picture.

For starters, USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are not the same thing. They share the same shaped port, but that’s where the similarities end. It’s easy to conflate the two, but it’s important not to. Having USB-C on the MacBook was a bit of an inconvenience. Having Thunderbolt 3 on my Pro is a godsend.3

In the short term, sure, there is lots of confusion, the need for new cables, etc. But over the long term, Thunderbolt 3 is the first external I/O connection that has the potential to be the only connection you need. It’s faster than any external protocol ever has been—by a long shot. Which means we can finally have one universal connector for everything. No more Ethernet, USB, FireWire, DVI, VGA, Audio Jack, S/PDIF, SD Card, and so on, all with their own special cables and specially shaped ports to plug into. One universal standard cable and port could eventually carry any signal in or out of all your computing devices. If it’s not wireless, it’s Thunderbolt. It’s going to be amazing.

Since I’ve bought my MacBook Pro 13-inch, I’ve bought zero dongles. I did buy a few new USB cables with C-style connectors on one end in the short term. More recently, I picked up Other World Computing’s Thunderbolt 3 Dock. This one Dock allows me to plug in 4 external hard drives, Gigabit Ethernet, my Motu 828 Mark II audio interface, and power4, with only one cable going into my Mac. And I have several free ports to spare5 that I’m not using yet.

What’s the big deal, you ask? Laptop docks have been around forever, right? But there’s never been a dock like this. When I come home, I plug one cable into my Mac, and I’m done. When I want to leave, I eject my drives (using an app called Jettison) and unplug that one cable.

It’s as if I'm just plugging in the cable to charge, only I’m getting a ton of I/O along for the ride.

And yes, docks are a stopgap measure, adapting the old technology to the new. Eventually, every device I’m plugging into that dock will accept the same connector, and all we’ll need are Thunderbolt 3 hubs for connecting more than 4 devices to a Mac.

Some have argued that Apple should have also included legacy ports to help ease the transition to Thunderbolt 3. But that’s exactly what Apple did with Thunderbolt 1 and 2, and it led to slow adoption and poor availability of Thunderbolt devices. Adopting the USB-C style port and making it not-optional is a surefire way to give Thunderbolt 3 the kickstart it needs.6

In the meantime, new cables for most of your devices are already available on Amazon for around $7. This is a temporary inconvenience that is easy to overcome, with long-term benefits that are overwhelmingly positive for the industry.

No More MagSafe

The writing was on the wall for MagSafe when the MacBook came out in 2015. People still complain about it, but the fact of the matter is, I like the convenience of being able to plug into power from either side of my MacBook Pro more than I miss MagSafe. Of all the compromises on the MacBook Pro, this one bothers me the least.

Conclusion

The 13-inch MacBook Pro has come a long way, from being the least favorite Mac I’ve ever owned, to one I like very much in a few short iterations. It suffers from all the same compromises, but many of the tradeoffs have been reduced significantly. I can’t call my new Pro my favorite Mac of all time, but it’s certainly pretty high on the list. Just being my first ever Touch Bar Mac is likely to keep it there for a long time to come.

  1. I ended up being half right about that. The 12-inch MacBook would be released less than a year later, but to date there still is no—and probably never will be—a Retina Air. ↩︎
  2. Come to think of it, all my issues seem to revolve around Xcode. Maybe that’s why so many developers bitch and moan about Apple so much these days. It’s not the hardware. It’s Xcode. ↩︎
  3. I have no doubt the MacBook will eventually get Thunderbolt 3 as its one port, rather than USB-C. That will be a huge win for MacBook users, as USB-C is nowhere near as powerful. ↩︎
  4. Worth noting: This dock only has enough power for the 13-inch. If you have the 15-inch MacBook Pro, this will still send charge to your Mac, but much slower. You’d likely want to plug a separate power brick into another one of your ports. ↩︎
  5. One of each remaining: USB-A, SD Card reader, MiniDisplay, Thunderbolt 3, and S/PDIF ↩︎
  6. Don’t just skate to where the puck is going; move the puck to the net yourself. People resist change. I'm glad Apple is around to push the state of the art forward. ↩︎

Ulysses Moves to a Subscription Model

Before getting into details, though, you should know that this switch was neither a quick decision, nor did we take it easily. We have been talking about it for over 2 years now. We’ve had uncountable discussions, and the topic came up at least once every month — yet we always postponed a decision. The sheer complexity and far reach of this change were too intimidating. I am not exaggerating in saying that this was the hardest decision in our whole time as professional software developers. After all, we have a system which currently works — after 14 years we are still around, Ulysses is still “a thing”, it’s even going better than ever before, and there are no immediate signs which hint at a change coming soon.

via Max Seeleman, on Medium

A little birdie told me this change was coming a few months ago, and I’ve been looking forward to seeing how well Ulysses pulled it off. It goes without saying to anyone who reads me regularly that I support this decision 100%, and I was happy to become one of Ulysses’ earliest subscribers yesterday.

Max’s writeup is lengthy, but well worth your time if you are interested in how to explain the benefits of moving to a subscription model.

I’ll confess: I have a very lengthy blog post of my own about the general topic of subscriptions drafted that I will likely never publish, because I couldn’t find a satisfactory way to argue many of the points that Max puts very eloquently in this piece. I’ll elaborate more of my thoughts on this topic in the coming weeks, but I’ll be smart about it this time and break it down into smaller chunks so I can manage to actually post something.

One thing’s for sure, Release Notes attendees are in for a treat when Max takes the stage this October in Chicago.

(written with Ulysses 11)

The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs

Back in 2013, while reviewing one of the ill-fated movies made at the time about the life of Steve Jobs, I suggested that Job’s life lent itself better to a classical 5-act play structure, or even Opera. A 2-hour pop movie about Jobs was simply the wrong format.

Well, someone clearly agreed with me, as the Santa Fe Opera Company has debuted a new Steve Jobs opera with music by Mason Bates and Libretto by Mark Campbell.

Throughout the course of 19 scenes, beginning with the launch of iPhone in 2007, the opera navigates the transformative experiences of Jobs' life, from his days at Reed College to his time with spiritual advisor Kobun Chino Otogawa to the launch of the Apple I.

As can be expected, personal relationships appear to feature prominently in the production. Scene synopses and a cast list show interactions with Steve "Woz" Wozniak, former girlfriend Chrisann Brennan, wife Laurene Powell Jobs and father Paul Jobs. In true opera fashion, Otogawa's ghost makes multiple appearances.

The story itself weaves back and forth between decades, a technique reminiscent of flashbacks in movie making.

"The libretto for 'Steve Jobs' has a very non-linear narrative," Campbell said. "We create a story where he is confronting his own mortality and decides to look at a few places in his past."

(via AppleInsider)

I wish I could make the trip to Santa Fe. Hopefully a production will be done in New York at some point. I’d love to see this, just out of curiosity. At least one reviewer hasn’t been super supportive thus far, but I’d still like to judge it for myself.

The approach sounds very different from the 5-act structure I outlined in my original post about Jobs’ life. The non-linear story sounds very intriguing. At the very least, it delves into what sounds like a much more personal exploration of Jobs than anything we’ve seen so far, which would be nice. Certainly better than any of the pop movies that have attempted to tackle this material.

I still believe, many years from now, when there’s more first-hand source material from friends and family, HBO will make an awesome miniseries about Jobs. Heck, if I was right about the opera…