Posts From February 2012

My thanks to TinyLetter for sponsoring the RSS feed this week.


TinyLetter is the simplest way to send email newsletters. Creating signup forms is a breeze, and TinyLetter even makes it easy to reply to your readers individually. It’s also free.

TinyLetter doesn’t have all the features most email services offer. It’s built for people, not business. Just compose your message, send it to your readers, and find out what they think. That’s all there is to it.

Nicholas Felton’s annual reports are one of those things I look forward to every year. There are still things where the print version is far superior to the digital version, and the Feltron Report is one of them. I just ordered mine, and you should too before the limited-edition print run sells out.

Why a New iOS Home Screen is a Big Deal

In his iOS 6 wish list, Federico Viticci wishes for a new iOS Home screen. Viticci has written about the problem of the iOS Home screen before, concluding that “Apple needs to tear apart the whole concept and rebuild it from the ground up.”

I agree. I think Apple does intend to rebuild the iOS Home screen from the ground up. I also think their intentions for the new Home screen are exciting, ambitious, and will prove to be a big deal.

Not until recently have we felt much of a need for a revamped home screen. Since 2007 iOS has evolved significantly in both its functionality (i.e. multitasking and Notification Center) and in the amount of available apps (thus folders, and multiple Home screens). After five years the Home screen is feeling cramped and outdated.

If I were a betting man, I would wager that the iOS Home screen as we know it today is not Apple’s long-term plan. My hunch is that the Home screen is still the way it is because the long-term ramifications of what it could be are huge.

A reimagined springboard is a prime opportunity for significant innovation. And significant innovation takes time.

Rebuilding the Home screen isn’t just about increasing usability. It is also about innovating at that “front-door interface” of how and where we get to the stuff on our devices (you can hardly do anything on your iPhone without going through the Home screen). Moreover, the ramifications of a reimagined Home screen go beyond iOS. As we are now learning via Lion and Mountain Lion, innovation on iOS is a setting of the stage for innovation on OS X.

During a recent episode of The Talk Show, John Gruber talked about how OS X is stuck with the “Desktop” whether they like it or not. Twenty years ago the Desktop as a folder for quick access to your files and your file system made sense. But that was when people predominantly interacted with files first before launching an app. Apple is now steering people away from the need to interact with the file system. With iCloud, automatic and in-app document saving, and versioning, we are seeing a shift in personal computing where people interact less with files first and more with apps first.

Khoi Vinh recently said:

Right now the most interesting [design] thing happening on the desktop, by far, is Apple’s iOS-ification of OS X. They’re clearly in the process of upending a decades-old paradigm for thinking about desktop software, and whether it’s successful or not is going to be very interesting.

A new iOS Home screen is Apple’s chance to get the “front-door interface” right. When they change the Home screen it’s going to be a big deal, and it will become a core part of iOS for the next decade.

Another reason why a new Home screen is such a big deal is because what Apple does to reimagine it on iOS will impact OS X and the Desktop and Dock (or perhaps the next evolution of Launchpad).

Put another way: I don’t see Apple just stealing ideas from Android and Windows Phone and implementing “live widgets” onto the iOS Home screen. When they update the Home screen they’ll have skated to where the puck is going to be.

Episode 48 of The B&B Podcast is now available. Ben and I talked mostly about Things and OmniFocus.

Brought to you by this month’s fine sponsors: Jumpchart and Doxie Go.

Duncan Davidson:

For TED2012, there’s a pretty big change in the media room. Instead of dozens of MacPros and piles of SATA drives like there have been in the last eight TED events I’ve been part of, the room is full of iMacs and Thunderbolt drives. Lots of Thunderbolt drives.

In its first nine days in the App Store, Clear sold 350,000 copies. Next stop: iPad and Mac apps.

More from Ryan Cash. This time it’s an interview with that pixel pusher over at Tapbots, Mark Jardine.

(Local aside about Mark, his was the first ever Sweet Mac Setup. His pixel rig has changed since May 2009.)

Photographer Aaron Hockley did a side-by-side comparison of Flickr, Facebook, Google+, 500px, and SmugMug.

Ryan Cash shares about the different ways he is using Flickr and 500px, and how Flickr has become his place for photo storage and 500px is his place for showcasing his photography.

Ben Brooks and I talked for a bit about Flickr and 500px on last week’s episode of The B&B Podcast. Ben has switched to 500px and likes it. I plan on staying with Flickr.

I’ve been using Flickr for years, but I don’t use it for the social aspect or for discovering new photos — I simply use it to store my own images. Even that I do sporadically. The screenshots of this new design look great. I’m glad to see things are buzzing over at Flickr HQ.

If the Tesla’s battery ever gets fully discharged not only does the car becomes non-drivable, but the battery becomes completely useless and has to be replaced. A new battery costs $40,000 and isn’t covered by warranty or insurance:

The affected customers probably would have been in a better financial situation if they’d accidentally rolled their Teslas off a cliff, as insurance would generally cover much of those costs.

Yikes!

Tesla says they have countermeasures in place to help prevent this from happening. And, to give context on that price: a Tesla battery is pretty much the size of an engine.

(Via Matt Gemmell.)

Since iCloud is part of Apple’s strategy for the next decade or more how aggressive will they be with building data centers? How long until they have more than Amazon?

About 75 videos with Steve Jobs. From WWDCs to Macworlds to Stanford to All Things D and more. (Via MG Siegler.)

Here’s a direct link to Bill Weir’s special look inside Foxconn that aired last night. The Verge has a bullet-point list of the most interesting facts and information that were shared during the Nightline special.

Update: See also Lex Friedman’s article for Macworld.

The cloud sync service for Things is now in public beta. For those who currently use Things, there is a special beta Mac app that you have to download and you can’t just migrate over your current library and flip on Cloud Syncing for it — you have to start a new database and manually enter in new to-do items that you want to sync via the Things Cloud.

And note that the beta Mac app has quick entry disabled by default. You can enable it however by running this command in Terminal:

defaults write com.culturedcode.things_beta QuickEntryEnabled -bool YES

Brent Simmons points out that according to Macworld’s reviews, RSS support in Mail and Safari are both removed in Mountain Lion.

I still check my RSS feeds on a regular basis — as do many who read this site, I assume — and there is a huge market for good RSS clients. But even still, those who use RSS as a way to follow news are the exception, not the norm. And since you can follow most news sites via Facebook and Twitter, RSS isn’t getting any more popular.

Not to mention, of all those who do use RSS, how many use Mail or Safari to follow their RSS feeds? I don’t know a single person who does.

Dustin Curtis:

Incredibly, despite the mobile device industry experiencing a complete revolution during the past four years, the Android of today is still precisely the operating system Miner described to me in 2008. It has a solid foundation, it can run on a plethora of hardware, it is fully customizable, and the carriers and manufacturers have attempted to differentiate it at the user interface level. It is astonishing to me that Google has held fast to the original vision for the platform considering the poor quality of most Android phones and, far more importantly, most of the apps.

Bill Weir’s report from his 3-day trip to Foxconn (the iFactory):

In a three-golf-cart convoy, both Apple and Foxconn reps took us around to a half dozen production lines in Shenzhen and Chengdu, and there were always five to six people with us as we toured the factories and dorms. But aside from suggesting a visit to the counseling center or canteen, they never steered us to interviews and never interrupted. [...]

Over three days in two cities, “Nightline” spoke with dozens of Foxconn workers, both on and off the factory campuses, both on and off the record. We were encouraged to enter any dorm at any time to gather as much insight as any strange Americans with cameras can. All the while, I kept imagining my own reaction if a Chinese TV crew burst into my home or office and started asking me how much I like my job.

Nobody has ever been inside the factory to report on the Foxconn working conditions and to interview and meet with so many of the factory workers.

I pull out my own iPad to show [line worker, Zhou Xiao Ying] a few pictures of my kid and America and her eyes light up when she touches the screen to swipe another photo into view. She’s never seen a working iPad up close before.

“For all the people in America who buy one of these, what do you want them to know about you?” I ask.

“I want them to know me,” she says. “I want them to know we put a lot of effort in this product so when they use this please use it with care.”

This is Weir’s written prelude to the Nightline special, “iFactory: Inside Apple”, that will air tomorrow night.

Another interview for your Monday-morning reading enjoyment, this time with Ken Case from The Omni Group. The interview is mostly about OmniPlan for iPad, but Ken also shares about other Omni Group apps. I can’t think of any other Mac software company that has so aggressively ported their Mac apps to the iPad and done such a great job with every single iPad app they’ve built.

The Verge interviewed Chris Forsythe, the man behind Growl. Chris shared a bit about the history of Growl, its transition to the Mac App Store, and more.

Dr. Drang:

I tried to use LaunchBar this morning to start up a Messages session. I hit my LB hotkey, Control-Space, and typed “mess,” figuring that Messages would be one of the top hits and that by choosing it from the list, I would teach LaunchBar to select it first. But Messages wasn’t near the top of the list; it wasn’t in the list at all.

I assumed that LaunchBar hadn’t indexed the Applications folder since I installed Messages (even though I have it set up to index every time the contents of the folder changes), so I told it to reindex and tried to launch Messages via “mess” again. Still not in the hit list.

Ditto. Though the extent of my nerdy tech investigating consisted of rebooting my Air to see if that would help (it didn’t).

Episode 47 of The B&B Podcast. Ben and I talk mostly about Mountain Lion and the new Messages beta app. What else would you expect?

Brought to you by this month’s fine sponsors: Jumpchart and Doxie Go.

Chris Bowler on how your dream job can have a negative impact on your work/life balance and keep you from pursuing additional hobbies and being present in your relationships:

When you do what you love, it can often lead to being all that you do. It’s what you think about when you wake up, when you’re in the shower, in the moments of peace and quiet, and as you close your eyes at the end of the day.

Dan Frommer’s Sweet Mac Setup

Who are you, what do you do, etc…?

I’m Dan Frommer, based in Brooklyn NY, but always a Chicagoan at heart.

My main gig since 2005 has been writing about technology news, particularly from a business angle. My most recent project is SplatF.com, a site I started by myself in July, 2011, and hope to be working on forever. Right now it’s a mix of news analysis, reporting, data mining, chart porn, and link aggregation. In the future, who knows what it’s going to turn into. (I’m also, more recently, Editor at Large for a larger tech site called ReadWriteWeb.)

Before that, I helped start a site called Silicon Alley Insider in 2007: A New York-centric tech site that kept growing and morphed into Business Insider, which is now a huge and popular general-purpose news site. I started writing professionally at Forbes, writing about Internet infrastructure and telecom. I’ve also been a part- to full-time web designer since 1995, and I helped work on a few now-defunct Mac sites in the mid-to-late 90s.

What is your current setup?

Dan Frommer's Sweet Mac Setup

I work mostly from a home office in Brooklyn, but I do a fair (and increasing) amount of travel. My main rig is a 2009 quad-core iMac, 27 inches, with an old 24-inch secondary Dell screen (not pictured) that we use to watch videos on from a different angle. I prefer a wired keyboard to wireless (same for mice when I used them) but I’ve gotten used to the Magic Trackpad. My desktop image is an aerial photo of lower Manhattan that I shot out of the window of a plane a few years ago.

I also have a 13-inch MacBook Air for cafes and travel and an old Mac mini hooked up to my TV in the living room. Around the house, I also have a bunch of old Macs collecting dust, including my “Windtunnel” G4 tower (dual-DVD drives!) from 2003 and some old PowerBooks. And an Apple II floppy drive that Steve Wozniak autographed for me.

As far as post-PC living… I have an old iPad 3G, which I’ll be replacing with the new iPad whenever it comes out. And my current smartphone is a factory-unlocked iPhone 4S, which I bought to experiment with overseas SIM cards during my travels this year.

Oh, I also have one of those fake-plastic-grass charging stations, which I mostly use to add some color and life to my desk. Love it.

Why this rig?

I bought the 27-inch iMac soon after they first came out because the screen was just amazing. (It still is.) On most days, it’s still fast enough that I haven’t felt the urge to replace it. Though having the SSD boot drive on my Air has really changed my perception of how quick a Mac should be, so maybe this year I’ll pick up a new iMac with an SSD boot drive, depending on how things go. (I’m in no hurry.)

I started with the 11-inch Air but gave it to my wife after I spent a little time with the 13-inch model. The extra screen size and battery life on the 13-inch is well worth the extra bulk to me, especially considering how light it is relative to my old 13-inch plastic MacBook. The MacBook Air is really the laptop I’ve always wanted but never had: Light enough to take everywhere and not secretly hate it for making my bag heavy. I was so excited about the 12-inch PowerBook G4 when I got it in 2005 but it was always so heavy that I never really took it anywhere. The Air is really magical.

What software do you use and for what do you use it?

I was really into little hacks and automation and shortcut-type stuff in MacOS 8 and 9, but after switching to OS X in 2001, I’ve tried to use as much of a stock install as I can. It’s nice to keep things simple, I think.

Most of my work is in Chrome, using WordPress for SplatF and Movable Type for ReadWriteWeb. I also use TweetDeck almost all day (the old, Adobe AIR version; like it more than the new one so far). I have Photoshop Elements, Fireworks, and Acorn for graphics stuff, but I don’t do much that’s more elaborate than cropping and resizing images, and maybe adding a little text to them. For photos, I mostly use Image Capture and the Finder to organize them. I do a lot of charts for SplatF, and almost all of that is done in Numbers from the Mac App Store. Other than that, I use Adium for IM and Mail for email.

I’m still running Snow Leopard on my main iMac — haven’t felt the need to upgrade — but have Lion on my Air. It’s… okay.

The old Mac software I miss the most was an app called Hotline, which was most popular around 1998-1999. It was a cool mashup of FTP, IRC, and newsgroups, and there was a great community. I spent hundreds of hours on Hotline in high school, and then a lot of time on Carracho, a Hotline successor. But I don’t think any of that stuff still exists.

How does this setup help you do your best creative work?

My main job is to find and sift through endless streams and piles of information, so being able to have 2 or 3 windows open at the same time, large enough to see a bunch of data, is why I love the big iMac so much. At Business Insider, I had a second 24-inch screen open to TweetDeck all day, but I don’t really like multi-screen setups. I’m really big on symmetry. During baseball season, sometimes I’ll prop up my iPad next to me to keep the Cubs game on, because the iOS version of MLB’s stream is better than the Flash-based web version.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

My desk is pretty big, but once I move in a few months I might investigate some sort of hybrid sit-stand system. I really like standing, and feel like a jerk sitting around all day. Other than that, I’d just like to always have the biggest screen that makes sense to have. If Apple made a 42-inch iMac, I’d probably buy one.

I like having separate desktop and laptop computers so that I can leave my desktop on all the time (acting as a home server of sorts) and keep a subset of my data on my laptop. Most of my work is on the web so I don’t really care about syncing.

I’m blown away by how efficient, quick, and quiet Macs are these days. When I was home over the holidays, I booted up my old IIci and my old Performa, and the CPUs were both so big, so heavy, and so loud for the little processing power they provided.

More Sweet Setups

Dan’s setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.

Patrick Lenz proves that running an SSD over Thunderbolt as your main boot drive is as fast, if not faster, than having an internal SSD:

When I had everything wired up to one of the two Thunderbolt ports of my iMac, I fired up the Black Magic Disk Speed Test and got quite satisfactory results of 250MB/s write speed and 480MB/s read speed, respectively. My Late 2010 MacBook Air, by comparison, clocks in at roughly 100MB/s write and 140MB/s read speed on its internal SSD.

Lenz’s Thunderbolt drive also gets faster read/write speeds than my mid-2011 specced-out MacBook Air (which gets speeds of 230MB/s and 210MB/s respectively).

Steven Frank:

Today’s Mountain Lion announcement introduces an important new security feature, called Gatekeeper, in addition to the “sandboxing” feature that premiered in Lion. I’d like to talk a little bit about it, and why it’s important to all Mac users.