November 26, 2014
It was the middle of March that I began my first Baron Fig notebook. About 255 days later, I’ve now hit the end of its 192 pages. About one page every 32 hours.
I ordered the Dot Grid, of course. As water tends to flow downward, I tend to choose black when buying gadgets, devices, and cars and I choose grid when buying notebooks.
The design of a Baron Fig notebook itself is full of character. The yellow ribbon and the grey cloth cover are both unique and friendly. The binding is of the upmost quality. And the notebook is sized to the exact dimensions of an iPad mini. Making it an ideal analog sidekick to the mostly-digital worker.
There are flaws to the notebook. For example, the cover doesn’t lay flat when closed. And I had to take a lighter to tend of the ribbon because it was fraying. Yet, after 9 months of use, these flaws are not points of frustration. Rather, they’ve become endearing shortcomings. Much like the flaws found in ourselves and in our friends — these are no longer flaws, they are quirks we’ve come to love.
I’ve owned and used many different journals and notebooks over the years. I have a growing collection of Field Notes which I don’t even use, but love to collect. My first foray into the world of “GTD” was my own version of a Hipster PDA (remember the Hipster PDA?). Mine was a pocket-sized Moleskine, with a few sticky-notes for tabs.
The Baron Fig may be my favorite notebook I’ve ever used. If I’m at my desk, it’s at my desk. I’ve taken it with me on many trips this year — traveling to WWDC in San Francisco; a family vacation to Colorado in August; Portland for XOXO; Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And it’s been to just about every (good) coffee shop in the greater Kansas City area.
As may be evident with my aforementioned collection of mint-condition Field Notes, I often self-sabotage my own notebook usage. A brand new notebook is too nice to be used. Paper is so full of character. It’s tactile. Real. Fragile. Permanent and impermanent at the same time. It just begs to be used for something awesome. And I never feel that my silly ideas and temporary to-do lists qualify. But if not those, then what?
My Baron Fig and I made a pact. I would use it for the most mundane, menial, impermanent things I could think of. And if I ruined this book by filling it with nothing of consequence, then I would order another to sit on the shelf and collect dust as it waited patiently for something more historic and epic.
But the truth is, when it comes to using our everyday notebooks, quality is found in quantity; meaning in the mundane.
As I thumb through the pages of my spent Baron Fig, the early pages reveal tasks both accomplished and unacomplished. The very first to-do item is a reminder to buy a screen protector for my then-new Olympus E-M10 (something I never did get around to doing until many months later). A few pages further I find my review notes for the Flickr iPhone app which came out in March.
Further in I continue to find scattered notes, ideas, and sketches for the big update to Delight is in the Details that I shipped a few months ago. I also find outlines for reviews I was working on and have since published, notes for the book I’m writing now, budgeting math, and more.
Since I started this notebook, my wife and I celebrated our 9-year anniversary as well as each of our birthdays; my youngest son turned one; a huge re-design to Tools & Toys was concieved, built, and launched; and I wrote and shipped a significant update to my book, Delight is in the Details.
The two biggest trends found in my notebook are regarding my daily tasks and my podcasts. I often write down the talking points and outlines for my Shawn Today and The Weekly Briefly podcasts. And the vast majority of pages are filled with my daily action items and schedule.
According to my own handwriting, it was on May 6 that I adopted a much more analog approach to my tasks and routine. It was then that I began writing down my “big three” projects for the day along with any additional admin tasks, and then scheduling time for those things to get done during the day. For most days from May until October I did this. I would sit down with OmniFocus on my iPad and I would review through the items which were due, and I’d transfer things out of OmniFocus and in to my Baron Fig.
I’ve slowly moved away from this routine over the past month or so since I re-vamped my usage of OmniFocus to make better use of due dates and flags. However, there is something awesome about having 255 days worth of crossed-off to-do items, notes, and the like. And the fear of losing this ability to flip back through the pages is one thing that keeps me tethered to the analog.
As interesting as all of the text in this notebook is, aside from what’s written down on the most recent 8 or 9 pages, I’m not sure if anything is still needed. My Baron Fig is has 192 some odd pages of nothing in particular. And yet, in aggregate, it’s everything. In here are the footprints of my life from the Spring to the Fall of 2014.
Comparing the old notebook to the new one, I am impressed with how well it has worn. There are a few scuffs and stains on the old cover, but it’s not dramatic.
As I open up my new notebook, the binding cracks and stretches. It’s now ready to get to work. This new one will probably see me through to next summer, sometime around my 34th birthday. What will be done between now and then?
Tuesday, November 25
This week I’m publishing an early episode of The Weekly Briefly because it’s Thanksgiving week. On today’s show I talk about the glories and the perils of running your own business. Why showing up every day is important for building an audience. Why trust and transparency are important for keeping an audience. And why doing our best creative work has very little to do with the tools we use, and quite a bit to do with knowing where our best creative work is born.
Monday, November 24
It’s Thanksgiving week, and my book, Delight is in the Details, is on sale for 25-percent off.
For you, hopefully the holiday season will include a little bit of down time to do some extra reading as well as some time to think about new ideas and projects you want to tackle the upcoming year. Also, perhaps you’ve got a road trip and the need for something great to listen to.
Which is why Delight is in the Details is on sale this week. You can read it on your Kindle, iPad, or Computer; between the audio book and the interviews, there is 7 hours of audio; and the whole book and interview series is geared toward doing our best creative work.
If you’ve been on the fence about picking up a copy, now’s a great time.
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My thanks to TOM BIHN for sponsoring the site this week. They’ve got an incredible array of laptop bags, travel bags, backpacks, and more. Need something simple and low-profile to carry your iPad and a notebook? Check out the Cafe Bag. Need something handsome and rugged that you cantravel with? They’ve got you covered there, too.
Owen Williams (via The Tech Block):
When trimming down your notifications, ask yourself these questions: Am I willing to let this interrupt me at any given moment during my day? Is this information critical to my life?
Glancing in my iPhone’s system settings at the apps which I’ve granted permission to send me push notifications, I see a lot listed in there. However, most of them don’t actually send any push notifications. The notifications I do get on a regular basis are:
- ESPN: Injury / projection updates for my Fantasy Foobtall league
- Email: Emails from my VIP list (which is just my CPA and my wife)
- Twitter DMs
- Slack mentions and direct messages
- Flickr comments
- Dark Sky weather updates
- Calendar alerts
- Reminders: (time / location)
- Deliveries: when a delivery status changes
- Overcast: new podcast episodes are available
- Circa: breaking news alerts
- The Magazine: new issues available
I’ve decided to turn off notifications for Overcast, Deliveries, The Magazine, and Flickr.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’d wager that most of you have a pretty conservative approach to push notifications as well. But what I just realized after reading Owen’s article and then thinking about what push notifications I have on, is that there’s a difference between needing to be informed of something and wanting to be informed.
With notifications from Overcast, Deliveries, and Flickr — yeah, it’s great to know when a new podcast episode is available or to know that my recent order is on the truck for delivery, but those are also bits of information that I seek out on my own anyway. And so the push notification is superfluous.
This week’s setup interview is with Faith Korpi, writer, ballet teacher, and co-host of the IRL Talk Podcast. I loved this bit at the end of Faith’s interview:
Well, my ideal setup would be a tree house high up in a tree guarded by panda bears. There’d be a desk with an old tangerine iMac that I’d use exclusively for writing and another desk with a new iMac that I’d use for recording and video editing. It’d be the only tree house in the world with Google Fiber and my internet speed would make you weep tears of joy.
Friday, November 21
On this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly, I talk about hiring help and how it should be seen as an investment.
I share about the people I’ve hired to help me with Tools & Toys and The Sweet Setup, how I found them, and why I brought them on. I also discuss knowing when it’s the right time to hire help, and how you can get out of the way so that the people you’ve brought on are empowered to do their best work.
Over on the Sweet Setup we compared Delivery Tracking Apps. Just in time for the holidays!
Many of us have been using Deliveries for years and it’s still the best one out there (though there are some other great options as well).
I’m an Amazon Prime member, and so I get a lot of stuff shipped from Amazon. (What’s that? We’re out of organic coconut oil? Just get it off Amazon. It’s cheaper than driving to the store, and it’ll be here in 2 days and we aren’t going shopping again until next week.) Anyway, one of the best things about Deliveries is how it can connect with Amazon to auto-import your shipments. Also, you can forward emails to the Junecloud server and it can grab the tracking number out of the email. Really cool.
Thursday, November 20
Just a reminder to those of you in the Kansas City area: tomorrow (Friday) morning I’ll be speaking at this month’s Coffee & Design meet-up. It’s free, and it’ll be fun. You should come.
Update: A huge thanks to all of you who came out. It went great.
An excellent review:
[T]he most impressive thing about the iPad Air 2 is not its screen or its thinness or its camera, though those are all quite lovely. It’s the speed, and the extra RAM. Using the iPad Air 2 while flipping around from app to app feels like an entirely upgraded experience from performing the same tasks on my iPad mini 2. You learn to blot out the time you spend waiting for apps to open and Safari tabs to reload, but once you spend time on a device that doesn’t need to take those pauses, they become obvious. Painfully obvious.
I wish the iPad mini 3 featured all these same improvements, but it doesn’t.
[W]hen I look at the power that Apple’s dropped into the iPad Air 2, I’m convinced that the use of iPads as everyday tools will just keep on growing. These devices are in their infancy; the iPad has existed for less than five years, and is now on its sixth generation. They’ve come a long way, and in some ways the software hasn’t really kept up with the hardware.
Wednesday, November 19
Josh Ginter wrote an excellent review of a seemingly mundane product: a laptop stand.
The Rain Design mStand hoists your laptop up to a height that promotes better posture and viewing angles. Combine excellent utility with a solid aluminum design that matches the aesthetic of your MacBook Pro, and you’ve got yourself one of the best laptop stands you can buy.
Over the years of doing the Sweet Mac Setup interviews (both the original series here, and the new ones over on The Sweet Setup), I’ve seen this stand being used by a lot of folks. In fact, it was in the very first Sweet Mac Setup interview ever with Mark Jardine.
Great for ergonomics and also great if you use your laptop with an external display but don’t want to do clamshell mode.
Speaking of Spotlight add-ons, Nate Parrott has a workaround/hack/plugin system that extends the functionality of Spotlight in Yosemite to include Wolfram Alpha searches, weather reports, and more.
Via Federico Viticci, who stumbled across a few bugs when using it:
I got similar results with weather and Wolfram Alpha integration, although also I stumbled across bugs as Parrott cautioned in the release notes. Weather correctly fetched my location, but Wolfram Alpha didn’t accept the (theoretically supported) “wa” command and some queries just didn’t work. And, obviously, being this a rough hack that’s not officially supported by Apple, memory consumption of the Flashlight plugin occasionally went through the roof with hundreds of MBs reported in Activity Monitor.
Here’s a clever way to increase the functionality of Spotlight in Yosemite. Sam Soffes and Louie Mantia wrote 7 simple applications: Screen Saver, Empty Trash, Lock, Log Out, Sleep, Restart, and Shut Down. You drop the apps into your Applications folder and then you can “launch” them via Spotlight.
Most of you (all of you?) probably know that these sorts of actions work out right of the box with LaunchBar and Alfred. But Yosemite brought many cool new features to Spotlight that make it a more compelling quick launcher than it was in previous versions of OS X.
Tuesday, November 18
Time flies when you’re having fun.
Apple took a clever approach to handling the extremely constrained power environment of the Watch (at least initially). To start with 3rd Party apps will run in a split mode. The Watch itself handling the UI parts of the app with an iPhone based app extension doing all the heavy lifting and computation. This is architected in such a way as to enhance interactivity (it isn’t just a streamed movie) while still keeping the Watch components very lightweight.
Good news for battery life, yes. And also, this may answer the question about how often Apple expects you to upgrade your watch. If the heavy lifting and computation of Watch apps is all done by our iPhones, it means the Watch itself serves more or less as a (very smart) second screen — a wirelessly-connected external monitor, so to speak. And so, perhaps the reasonably-useful shelf life of an Apple Watch could be several years.
Exciting Apple news of the day is that WatchKit is out. After reading through the HIG and watching the Getting Started video, I’m simultaneously more excited and less interested about Apple Watch than I was before.
I mean, of course I’m excited about the Watch. The UI is unlike anything else out there right now, and there are going to be some really great apps and some really useful ways to use the device.
And yet it’s quotes like this one from Kevin Systrom that describe exactly what I don’t want in a watch:
Apple Watch allows us to make the Instagram experience even more intimate and in the moment. With actionable notifications you can see and instantly like a photo or react with an emoji. The Instagram news and watch list allows you to see your friends’ latest photos, follow new accounts and get a real-time view of your likes and comments.
Truth is, a lot of folks are going to love to have real-time notifications on their wrist related to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Just not me. But so what? There are going to be many brilliant use-cases and apps for the Apple Watch that don’t require turning it into the world’s most personal distraction device.
Related: Federico Viticci is compiling a list of interesting and helpful tweets about WatchKit and the HIG.
Monday, November 17
TextExpander touch from Smile saves you time and effort by expanding short abbreviations into frequently-used text.
Whether it’s a simple email signature or several paragraphs of a standard response, you’ll love how easy it is to use TextExpander to avoid typing the same thing over and over.
With the new TextExpander touch 3 on iOS 8, there’s a TextExpander custom keyboard so that you can expand abbreviations in all your apps on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.
Over 60 apps offer enhanced TextExpander support, including Byword, Day One, Drafts, Fantastical, Launch Center Pro, OmniFocus, OmniOutliner, and more.
See the TextExpander touch custom keyboard in this great video from David Sparks.
TextExpander touch is available on the App Store.
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My thanks to Smile for again sponsoring the site this week. TextExpander and TextExpander Touch are among the first apps I install on a new Mac and iOS Device. And with the new TextExpander Touch app on iOS 8, they’ve got a custom keyboard you can use so *all your TextExpander snippets work in any app you want. So great.*
And, speaking of awesome interviews, Álvaro Serrano knocks it out of the park with his Mac/iPhone/iPad interview on The Sweet Setup this week. Tons of nerdy details and tons of fantastic photographs.
I’ve been using a Baron Fig Dot Grid Confidant since March 16 of this year, and I think it’s one of the best journal notebooks I’ve ever used. The size is perfect, and the paper and dot-grid design are just superb.
So, over on Tools & Toys, I interviewed Joey and Adam — the guys behind Baron Fig. And my good friend, Jorge Quinteros, was able to swing by the Baron Fig office to take some photos of their workspace.
Friday, November 14
On this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly, I talk about how distraction and resistance are universal things we all face when trying to get things done. I believe it’s important to know what to focus on, to be good at working through distractions, and reduce to the essentials when it comes to projects and our environment. But it’s also possible (if not easy) to obsess so much on Focus that we’re not even getting things done because we’re too concerned about minimizing and stuff.
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November 13, 2014
Waking up this morning turned out to be a little bit like Christmas. At long last, VSCO Cam has a native iPad app.
Ever since I upgraded to the Olympus E-M10 earlier this year, the iPhone’s VSCO Cam app has become an excellent way to edit my photos when I’m traveling. It’s not exactly ideal compared to importing a batch of images onto my Mac and editing them in Lightroom. But for sharing one or two images here and there, it’s great.
For the past year, VSCO Cam has been the “missing” iPad app for me. When I travel, I often take just my iPad as my “main PC”. And I’ve always wished there was a way to use VSCO to edit my images on the iPad instead of on my phone. I think the VSCO photo filters are second to none. I use them in Lightroom on my Mac, and I have the VSCO Cam app on my iPhone’s first Home screen. Aside from my lenses and my own eye, VSCO is one of the most important aspects to my photography workflow and style.
All that said, I’ve written below some of my first impressions of the new VSCO Cam app for iPad and what’s good and bad about the app.
Also, I bought one of Apple’s Lighting to SD Card readers so I could directly import my photos to the iPad instead of using my Camera’s wi-fi connection. I’ll explain the process of each, but in short, the latter is quick and easy for one or two images at a time, while the former is better when importing many photos to the iPad.
The E-M10’s Wi-Fi connection and the Olympus iOS App
Though not exactly cumbersome, neither is it delightful to import more than just a few images to the iPad using the Olympus Wi-Fi connection and the Olympus iOS app. The process looks like this:
- Turn on Wi-Fi on the Olympus E-M10
- Launch the iPad Settings app and join the Olympus’ Wi-Fi network
- Open the Olympus Share app
- Chose to import photos
- Browse the photo viewer to find a photo you want to import
- Tap on that photo
- Wait for the photo to load
- Tap the “Share” Icon and chose to save to Camera Roll
- Once the photo has been saved to the Camera Roll, the Olympus app asks you if you want to turn off the camera. Tap no if you want to keep importing more photos.
- Go back to the photo viewing gallery and repeat steps 5-9 for each photo you want to ad.
- When you’re done, the photos you’ve imported will be in the Camera Roll as well as an album called “Olympus”.
I’ve been using this process on my iPhone since February of this year. It works great for weekend trips and times that I just want to import and share a few photos before I get back to my Mac.
Moreover, I’m grateful the E-M10 has Wi-Fi because the Lightning to SD Card dongle doesn’t work with the iPhone (no, really). And so the Olympus importing workflow is the only way to get photos directly from my camera onto my iPhone.
Long have I wished for an iPad-centric workflow. For one, the larger screen of the iPad far better suited to photo editing. Moreover, for extended trips, I’ve always wanted to be able to edit a dozen or more photographs and then send them out to the relevant friends and family. But importing them one at a time and then editing them on my iPhone just never felt appealing.
But, now there is VSCO Cam for the iPad. Combined with the Lighting to SD Card Camera Reader, my wish may have been granted. Is it all I ever hoped for? I don’t know — I’ll find out at Christmas when I go back to Colorado for the holidays and leave my Mac behind. But in the meantime, here are my first impressions of using the adapter to import photos and using VSCO Cam on the iPad to edit them. This is how I spent my afternoon.
How the Lightning to SD Card Reader works
Unsurprisingly simple, but not exactly quick.
- When you plug in the adapter with an SD card in it, the Photos app instantly launches and you are taken to the Import tab.
- The iPad then loads up all the images that on the card so you can preview their thumbnails. This took my iPad mini literally almost one second per photo. So, if you’ve got hundreds of images on the card, it will take several minutes before the Import tab is ready to go.
- You can then tap on any of the photos you want to save to your iPad, and those thumbnails will get marked with a little blue checkmark circle.
- The Import button is dangerously close to the Delete button, be careful when you are ready to import your selection.
- You can then chose to import all the photos on the card, or just import the ones you’ve selected.
- Once imported, you get the option of deleting those images from the SD card, which is nice. But I’ll keep them for now, thanks.
Something else I like about importing to the iPad from the SD Card reader is that iOS remembers which photos I’ve imported already. And so, if I’m importing just a few images now, next time I go to import photos from that same card, I won’t be forgetful about which ones I already brought in.
However, there are two things I don’t like about this process.
- It loads the images from oldest to newest. So if you plug in the SD card to import a few images you just took, you have to wait for the whole card full of images to load before you can select the most recent images.
- You can’t enlarge the images to view them in full-screen before importing — you have to import them based on the merit of their thumbnail view alone.
Once imported, the photos get saved in the default Camera Roll and photo stream albums. From there you launch the VSCO Cam app, and add them to your VSCO Cam Library at which point you can edit them on the iPad. Wouldn’t it be great if the VSCO Cam app could see the SD Card and I could add directly to my VSCO Library? Ah well
VSCO Cam for iPad
The VSCO Cam app for iPad is great. Just like the iPhone app, VSCO on the iPad is free and the filters it comes with out of the box are fantastic. And the design of the app makes it feel like a first-class citizen on the iPad, as it should.
The layout of the iPad interface is different than the iPhone’s. The filter selection and editing tools are on the left and right sides, instead of on the bottom. Holding the iPad in landscape orientation with both hands is the best way. This way you can operate the app somewhat like a game — using your thumbs to navigate the controls on both the left and right sides as you move around the app, editing images, uploading them, etc.
With this update, your VSCO Cam Library now syncs across devices. You can tell if a photo is synced by the double-circle icon in an image’s top right corner.
And, not only do the images themselves sync, so too do the edits you’ve made. But! Not only do the edited images sync, it’s the non-destructive edits. Meaning, you can edit an image on your iPad, save it, sync it, open it up on the iPhone, and revert it back to the original version. Slick.
There are, however, a few things I’d love to see added to the app:
Right now, there is no way to apply the same edits to a batch of photos. Not only does the larger screen of the iPad make it more friendly to editing photos, it also makes it more of a go-to device for editing a lot of photos. The way I edit in Lightroom is that when I’ve got a batch of images all from the same event, I edit one to get just right and then I synchronize those edits to the group of photos. It’d be awesome to have that same functionality in VSCO Cam.
And, curiously, there is not yet a share extension for iOS 8. This is unfortunate. It means you can’t make VSCO edits to your photos without first importing them into the VSCO Cam Library. In my link to VSCO Cam this morning, I commented on the lack of the share extension saying that who knows if the omission of the share extension is due to technical hurdles or if it’s a philosophical move.
The VSCO Cam app is much more than just a photo editing app — it’s an entire photo platform. It’s clear that VSCO Cam wants to be your one-stop shop for all your mobile photography needs: from the camera, to the photo library, to the best editing software, to their own Instagram-esque publishing platform (Grid), and their own photo-centric blogging platform (Journal). What’s awesome is that VSCO Cam does all of these things with aplomb. Their in-app camera is excellent, their Library is easy to navigate and it syncs seamlessly, their editing tools are second to none, and their Grid and Journal platforms are polished and well used. But not everyone wants to use all of these tools. Some folks just want to snap a photo from their iPhone’s Lock screen, apply a one-tap filter, and then share it on Facebook. It would be unfortunate if VSCO Cam was holding back on their implementation of an iOS Extension for political and philosophical reason.
However, considering the fact VSCO Cam was highlighted during the iOS 8 introduction at WWDC, something tells me their missing extension share sheet is due to a technical hurdle, and eventually it’ll make its way out.
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All in all, I’m so glad to have a native VSCO Cam app for my iPad. Though it’s not a life-changing revolution to my photography workflow, it certainly is something I’ll be using.
And now it has me curious if we’ll see VSCO Cam for Mac some day. I mean, we know that VSCO’s bread and butter is their Lightroom presets. Why not roll those presets into a stand-alone Mac app that they sell? And now that they’ve got the Library syncing, it’d be a piece of cake for the photos you take on your iPhone and/or iPad to sync to the VSCO Cam app on the Mac.
Thursday, November 13
Great work by Bradley Chambers:
With the growth of social media, video games, and streaming services, many people are finding they don’t use their cable subscription enough to justify the continued expense. We get our news, entertainment, movies, and TV shows through other channels now. This guide is about getting the right gear to make a smooth transition away from cable or satellite into cheaper alternatives.
“Cord cutting” is the term people use when they refer to cutting off their cable or satellite subscription. Most do it to save money — TV subscription pricing alone has continued to tick higher year after year.
Hooray! The new 4.0 version of VSCO Cam brings support for the bigger iPhones and — finally — iPads. And your presets and library photos sync between multiple devices. It’s a great update.
The only thing missing is support for extensions in iOS 8. Curious if that is a technical hurdle they haven’t yet overcome, or if it’s a philosophical move. Perhaps there’s no extension support because VSCO Cam wants to be your one-stop shop for everything photos — your camera, photo library, editing software, Instagram-esque publishing platform (Grid), and photo-centric blogging platform (Journal).
Monday, November 10
You’re a writer. You’re a blogger. You demand the best tools for the job and yet there’s so much “bloatware” out there that has totally forgotten what a writer truly needs.
We haven’t forgotten and we’ve created a surprisingly-powerful yet simple hyper-focused writing and publishing app just for you. We hope you fall in love with writing and consequently share more of those amazing must-read narratives with the world.
Say “Hi” to the last desktop publishing client that you’ll ever need: Desk.
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My thanks to Desk for sponsoring the site this week.
This week’s sweet setup interview is with the inimitable Fraser Spears. Fraser shares about his Mac, iPhone, and iPad setups and how he uses each one.
The Air 2’s body is thinner and lighter to hold, the laminated screen is jawdropping to look at, and the triple-core processor and added RAM are lightning fast. Oh, and Touch ID. And a new camera.
This update is far more significant than I originally thought.
Friday, November 7
On this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly I talk about the just-announced Amazon Echo. What can you use this first version for? How cool and practical will it actually be? What are some seemingly-glaring omissions in Echo’s functionality? Are devices that just listen for us to talk to them the future? How does an always-on, always-listening device like the Echo help us to “unplug”?