Graham Spencer and the MacStories team:

Just like we have in the past few years, we like to find those little gems that come with every brand new version of iOS. So in this post, you’ll find dozens and dozens of tips, tricks, and details of iOS 8 that we’ve collected throughout the summer since the first beta release of iOS 8.

Tons of awesome little tricks, like how you can swipe to close Safari iCloud tabs on other devices. I’ve tried to do that a million times since iOS 7.

Stephen Hackett, writing on The Sweet Setup:

With iOS 8 — which is being released today — Apple has re-invented many things about the OS that powers the iPhone and iPad. Limitations which have long shaped the very nature of the OS and what apps can do have been lifted. Apps and their data are far more accessible while still staying just as secure. And though default apps for certain tasks still can’t be set, with iOS 8, using third-party apps is faster and easier than ever.

If you like great software, it’s an exciting day today. I’ll be doing most of my work over on The Sweet Setup where me and the crew will be highlighting today’s most noteworthy new apps and app updates.

Tuesday, September 16

This week’s setup interview is with Sruili Loewy, who sums up nicely why I prefer a laptop as my primary Mac:

I love the versatility of the MacBook Pro. I can take it with me wherever I need to go or dock it on my desk and still have the same amount of computing power.

That, and keeping two machines in sync is still a pain in the behind.

Monday, September 15

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My thanks to Smile for again sponsoring the RSS feed this week.

On Apple’s New iPhone and Watch

The live stream aside, this week’s Apple event was great. Now, I know these press events aren’t technically meant to be entertainment — they are mostly meant to be informational — but, Apple has always prided themselves in putting on a good show with these events. As a performance — as a “show” — the WWDC keynote was far more fun I thought. Today’s even was great in its own way.

Tim Cook was in rare form on stage. He had a blast showing off the Fallon / Timberlake commercials; he was super excited to show the Apple Pay demo video — so much so that he showed it twice in a row; he was awkwardly giddy at the end when he and Bono announced the free U2 album on iTunes.

Cook was more relaxed — almost giddy at times — compared to past keynotes. He was wearing his heart on his sleeve more than normal. Not a lot, but it was certainly noticeable.

My hunch is that Cook’s excitement had to do mostly with the Apple Watch.

Perhaps Tim Cook had a deeper hands-on role with the development and vision for this device than any other Apple product. As CEO, all the Apple products are like Tim’s kids. And ask any parent, you can’t pick one kid as being your favorite. But, with the Apple Watch being the first major new product in a new category to ship during his tenure as CEO, perhaps Tim Cook is more sentimental about this product release and announcement than others before it.

That said, here are a few miscellaneous thoughts and observations about the event and the cool new products we’ll all be waiting in line to buy.

The Live Stream Fail

It was an epic failure for the first 25 minutes. All around the world the Apple site was up and down, the live stream was failing, and when it was on, you could hear Chinese overdubs — you could hear both Phil Schiller and a translator talking simultaneously.

At just about 30 minutes into the event, the live stream started working again. But Apple introduced the iPhone so quickly — it was announced within the first 10 minutes of the show — that by the time the live stream was back up, Phil Schiller was almost on to talking about pricing.

The iPhone 6

The days of secrecy are long gone. We had rumor sites with full models of the iPhone 6 — we knew what it would look like. And we knew there would be two sizes: a 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch.

I haven’t had any actual hands-on time with either iPhone, but I did print out a paper mockup of each phone to get an idea of what the dimensions actually look like and how they compare to my current iPhone 5s. Yes, this sounds goofy, but based on the paper mockups I printed out, the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 doesn’t seem unreasonably large.

I am a person who prefers a smaller phone. I also spend far too much time each day using my iPhone, and so I appreciate any and all additional screen real estate that doesn’t come at the cost of physical usability. For me, I want to be able to easily pocket my phone and be able to easily hold it. The 4.7-inch seems to meet all those criteria.

Remember how freaked out we were about a 4-inch iPhone? How “perfect” the 3.5 inch screen was? And how nervous we were about a hypothetical 4-inch phone hindering us from being able to tap on every pixel and easily use the phone with one hand? It took a little getting used to, but everyone I know quickly acclimated to the iPhone 5/s. It is noticeably thinner and lighter than the iPhone 4/s, which helped, and once we got used to the additional screen space, the 3.5-inch screen of the phones of yesteryear felt stubby and cramped.

I suspect that is exactly how it will bode for those of us upgrading to the 4.7-inch iPhone 6. The new iPhone 6 is significantly thinner than the current generation, and with its curved edges will not feel too big. Just like the iPhone 5 compared to the iPhone 4, the iPhone 6 is mostly just taller. Though in this case it’s not only taller. It is also just a little bit wider.

In a month from now, those whom have upgraded will be acclimated, and when they look at the “small” 4-inch screen on the iPhone 5 they will wonder how they ever got any tweeting done in such a crowded pixel space.

The question is, of course, if Apple is going to stop here? How big will the smallest iPhone get? How long will the iPhone lineup consist of 4-, 4.7-, and 5.5-inch phones? Will 5.5 one day become the new smallest size? I hope not, but who knows?

The mobile phone market has asked for bigger phones and Apple has responded. Because not only does Apple want to make the best phone on the planet, they also want to sell as many of them as possible. This strikes me as a pragmatic move on Apple’s part — this time they have skated to where the puck is. Instead of holding their ground that their first design decision was the right decision forever, they are willing to make concessions to serve what the market wants. And the market wants freaking huge phones.

After the keynote was over, I asked on Twitter what size iPhone people were going to get. The replies were split almost right down the middle — a lot of people want the 5.5-inch iPhone. And I think it’s going to prove a huge success. Though it doesn’t appeal to me, those who do get one I bet will rave about it. Sort of like all those folks who got iPad minis when everyone else was holding on to their full-size iPad because “you can’t do real work on an iPad mini.” Well, I bet most of those who buy a 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus will never go back.

That Protruding Camera Lens

Kinda ugly right? Kinda “not like Apple,” right? Well, I think this is a place where Apple has shown their hand at just how motivated they are to keep progressing the camera technology in their phones. Their engineering team has made a phone so thin that they physically can’t pack the lens and sensor into it.

Remember with the iPad 3 and how it was slightly thicker and heavier than the iPad 2? It had to be in order to accommodate the bigger battery that was powering the Retina display. Apple had to choose between a device that was as thin and light as its predecessor, or one that had good battery life. They chose battery life.

With the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, they’ve chosen to make the camera as good as they can make it, even if it causes the lens to slightly protrude. As much as Apple is known for their design and good taste, let it never be said that they will chose form over function when it comes to the most important features.

One More thing…

When Tim Cook announced the Apple Watch (it’s going to take me a while to stop saying “iWatch”) he was grinning ear to ear. As I mentioned above, his excitement and giddiness were palpable.

Cook said how Apple loves to make new products. They love to make technology more personal. This could have been a place to show the slide with the street signs showing where technology and the liberal arts intersect.

Cook said he was excited to announce an entirely new product. That it will redefine what people expect from its category.

He then cued the video that revealed the Apple Watch.

After the reveal, he came back out on stage. His shirt sleeves rolled up with a white Apple Watch Sport on his wrist. And he gave a few fist pumps into the air. The room was cheering and Tim Cook was genuinely excited and happy.

As Cook began to talk about the Watch, he called it the most personal device Apple has ever created. “We set out to create the best watch in the world,” he said. And then he gave the four main bullet points of what makes it so great:

  • Precise (keeps time to +/- 50 milliseconds)
  • Customizable (sizes, bands, metals)
  • New way to connect and communicate directly from your wrist
  • Comprehensive health and fitness device

The Watch, of course, does so much more. It can be a remote for your Apple TV, it can show you notifications that are coming in on your phone, you can start reading an email on your watch and then “hand off” that email to your phone to reply, you can use it as a viewfinder for your iPhone’s camera, there’s a Walkie Talkie feature, and more.

But the core functionality of what Apple is shouting from the rooftops is 4-fold: precision, personality, communication, and health. I want to talk briefly about the latter two.

Communicate directly from your wrist

Communication is critical. We want more than just a remote control for our iPhones, we want something that can function like a miniature phone. This has been the promise of all the smart watches that have come before: view incoming notifications, control your phone, save the world. But they’ve been underwhelming because they are difficult to operate and don’t actually make things easier than just pulling our phone out of our pocket.

The Apple watch has some clever features from iOS 8, such as the intuitive reply buttons where it can guess what your reply will be to certain text messages. And there is Siri — you can dictate to your Watch for sending messages. And then there is this other way that the Watch lets you communicate with others (who also have a Watch).

Bring up a contact and you can send them small drawings, morse-code, and even your own heartbeat. There is a purity and childlikeness to this watch-only communication method that I am absolutely intrigued by. As a user, I think it’s clever and beautiful. And from a marketing standpoint, it’s also a brilliant way to encourage people to buy a few watches and give them to their friends. I know that if I buy one, I’ll probably buy two — one for me and one for my wife.

Comprehensive health and fitness device

The health and fitness features will be, I think, the Watch’s “killer app.”

For one, there is a huge market for this. The small wearable device that tracks our movement. Well, the Apple Watch does so much more than just track our movement.

They say that a big part of what separates lifelong athletes from casual exercisers is those willing to do the same workout day after day after day. Well, a big foundation that helps with keeping the motivation to stay healthy and fit is to have tangible short- and long-term goals as well as the encouragement and cheers of your peers.

The Apple Watch seeks to aid these in a new and unique way. Of course, it tracks our activity and movement, but it can also monitor the intensity of our activity. And it sets goals for us, such as to stand for at least one minute every hour. And then it communicates with our iPhone to provide reports and give us reminders about staying active and what our progress is. The data collected by the M8 processor, the pedometer, and the GPS of our phone and watch, combined with the fitness apps, combined with Health Kit, make for an impressive and comprehensive toolset for the average person to be more informed about their personal health.

Not only is that a popular thing right now, but it’s also a good thing. They say people watch an average of 5 hours of TV every day. Many of us work desk jobs and we sit in front of a computer for many hours at a time.

I live in Kansas City, Missouri and we are ranked as one of the most unhealthy states in America. We are also the BBQ capitol of the world, so…

But my point is, many of us are sitting down most of the time and we don’t get outside nor do we go to the gym. And if we did want to begin getting in shape, where do we even start?

While Apple can’t answer that question, they can make some significant innovations that will not only raise people’s awareness of their own health and activity, but it will also, hopefully, give them some tools and motivation to do something about it.

And for those who are already active, now perhaps there is a device that will help them with their goals and also be fun and delightful to use.

Wednesday, September 10

Programming note: this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly is being published early because I’ll be out of town for XOXO festival in Portland.

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On this week’s show I talk about (what else!?) the hot new gadgets announced yesterday by Apple. Topics include how big the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are compared to the iPhone 5; questions about how helpful Apple Pay will actually be; and considerations on how compelling the new Apple Watch is and what role Tim Cook had in its development.

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Tuesday, September 9

Print this PDF (if you even own a printer), cut out the drawings, and boom — you have a true-to-size paper model of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

I’ll be getting the 4.7-inch iPhone, and honestly, I don’t think the size increase is going to be a bitter pill. My hunch is that it will be as easy to get used to as it was when we went from 3.5-inch screens to 4-inch screens (the rounded edges and thinner form factor will sure help with that). And in a few months from now, we’ll look at an iPhone 5 and think how small the screen is and we’ll wonder how we ever managed to check Twitter.

The 5.5-inch iPhone? Well, that’s a whole other ballpark.

We are all shooting in the dark regarding what this wearable thing is going to look like and what it will do. Assuming it even exists, what will make it compelling to a lot of people? Why did Apple make it? Who are they selling it to? How will fit in to the Apple ecosystem?

Maybe it’s because people who buy giant iPhones will want a satellite device that shows them their incoming messages. But I don’t think so. That’s been done before and so far it’s proven to be not very compelling. I think the iWatch just might be a little bit head-tilting and a little bit eyebrow-raising.

John Gruber writes:

But there will be something, or several somethings, that will cause it to be misunderstood by those who are only able to frame new creations in the context of what came before them. Apple’s watch won’t fit in an existing mold. It won’t be a phone on your wrist. It won’t be a watch as we know it. We already have excellent phones. We already have excellent watches. For the Apple watch to be worth creating, it must be excellent at something else.

The first iPod was compelling because it did one thing well. And for a decade it continued to do that one thing well with pretty much the only iterations being to the hardware’s form factor and capabilities. Will the “iWatch” be in a similar vein? Deceptively simple while excelling at one thing in particular?

Max Child’s idea for an iWatch that’s an “‘insanely great’ wearable running computer” sounds compelling and interesting to me. I began running a few months ago, and so yes, I’m still a noobie at it, but I also have been on enough runs to know how helpful and yet simultaneously frustrating the iPhone is as a running companion device.

Apple’s wearable may be hyper-focused on running and exercise, or perhaps it will be something different. But either way, it will likely be controversial as a lot of people call out all the missed opportunities Apple didn’t take with this first-generation product.

Good, friendly advice.

The big event starts at 10am Pacific. Aside from being at the Flint Center itself, the best place to watch today’s Special Event is from the couch. If you’ve got an Apple TV, tune in to the Apple Events channel.

The live stream will also be available online so you can watch from your computer or iPad.

There will also be several liveblogs. The teams at Macworld and at The Verge both do an excellent job.

Monday, September 8

Federico Viticci got a sneak peek at something amazing:

The core aspect of Transmit for iOS 8 will be its share extension, which will enable users to upload files using a custom Transmit interface from any app. Once enabled in the system share sheet, Transmit will appear as a sharing option for images, documents, voice memos, and any other file that can be shared; with a single tap on the share sheet’s icon, Transmit’s UI will come up (requiring Touch ID authentication if enabled) with the app’s full feature set to navigate across folders, connect to servers, and see connection history. Considering the old limitations of iOS for inter-app communication and file management, using the Transmit extension feels like a major breakthrough and exactly the kind of experience that the app was meant to be on an iPhone and iPad.

Over on The Sweet Setup, we spent about six months examining and using a whole bunch of the best and most popular Mac budgeting apps. This was a difficult review to write because everyone has different needs for their finances and budgeting, and everyone has different preferences and approaches to how they manage their money.

In the end, we think iBank 5 is the best option out there. Of course, YNAB is also excellent. Check out the review, if only for the hero image — it’s literally the money shot.

Welcome to the wood-fired revolution.

Uuni 2 is the definitive tool for your garden or outdoor kitchen this fall. At fraction of the cost of a traditional wood-fired oven, and with it’s compact size, it blows the competition straight out of the water.

This is how it works:

  1. Light it up, and it’s ready to cook in 10 minutes
  2. Prepare your home-made pizza, and put it in your Uuni
  3. Your delicious wood-fired pizza is ready in just 2 minutes

And it’s not just for pizza — you can cook all sorts of foods with it. Have a look on our website for examples of wood-fired foods we’ve made with it.

Order yours this week, and use the discount code ‘thesweetsetup’ to get $20 off your Uuni 2.

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

Friday, September 5

In our always-connected world, I think it’s getting more and more difficult to manage our work/life/digital boundaries. In this week’s episode of my podcast, The Weekly Briefly, I discuss this topic and what I think some paths to a solution are.

Sponsored by:

Thursday, September 4

My friend and co-worker, Stephen Hackett, is sponsoring a month-long fundraising drive for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Stephen is one of the good guys in our little community of the Web. And his son, Josiah, has received millions of dollars worth of care and aid at no charge to his family.

What a gift and a blessing St. Jude is to the Hackett family. Needless to say, they are an excellent cause to give to.

Stephen’s goal is a mere $6,000. We can give far more than that. My wife and I donated, and we hope you will, too.

Here in Kansas City there’s an IKEA opening up next Wednesday, and just yesterday everyone in town got an IKEA catalog in the mail. Pretty incredible (and impressive, I think) that the majority of the staged rooms and layouts in that catalog are actually 3D renderings.

Part of the reason is they do this is that it’s easier (especially when it comes to kitchens). From his CGSociety interview with Kirsty Parkin, Martin Enthed, the IT Manager for IKEA, said:

The most expensive and complicated things we have to create and shoot are kitchens. From both an environmental and time point of view, we don’t want to have to ship in all those white-goods from everywhere, shoot them and then ship them all back again. And unfortunately, kitchens are one of those rooms that differ very much depending on where you are in the world. A kitchen in the US will look very different to a kitchen in Japan, for example, or in Germany. So you need lots of different layouts in order to localise the kitchen area in brochures. Very early on we created around 200 CG exchanges versions for 50 photographed kitchens in 2008, with the products we had – and I think everyone began to understand the real possibilities.

I wonder if Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, and others do something similar. If not, are they thinking about it?

This is an excellent tip. It’s how I make space on my iPhone. It’s also the only time I ever plug my device in to my Mac.

The latest update to LaunchBar has a pretty great new feature called Staging:

Staging is a technique that allows you to create multiple selections in LaunchBar and to act on all of these items at once.

A Few Thoughts on the New Olympus E-PL7 Camera and the Olympus Micro Four Thirds Landscape in General

About a week ago, Olympus announced the E-PL7 camera. It’s available for pre-order now at $600 for the body only and will ship around the end of the month.

Reading the press releases and several of the pre-release reviews, ’tis clear that the E-PL7 is a significant step up from the E-PL5. The latter is a camera which I have long considered to be one of the best-kept secrets of the Micro Four Thirds lineup — it was cheap, small, and packed a lot of punch.

However, after shooting with my E-PL5 for over a year, I upgraded to the E-M10. My upgrade choice was driven primarily by my want for a manual control dial. The rest of the features of the E-M10 (view finder, better image stabilization, wi-fi, et al.) were just icing on the cake at the time, but they have proven to be invaluable.

The improvements in the new E-PL7 are almost exactly in answer to the very same reasons I upgraded to the E-M10 six months ago. In fact, the E-PL7 is such a step up from the E-PL5 that it’s now comparable to the O-MD lineup in terms of image capabilities and in terms of and what features it offers to the user.

The hallmark features of the E-PL7 include:

  • Wi-Fi
  • 3-Axis in-body image stabilization
  • TruPic 7 image processor that debut in the flagship E-M1 camera
  • A manual control dial
  • Improved auto-focus
  • New camera body design with more retro and more metal
  • Selfie-friendly viewfinder (no, seriously)
  • And there is also what looks to be an improvement to the 4-direction control nob on the back of the camera. The spin-dial on the E-PL5 turned out to be a joke over time and actually has become sometimes unusable on my camera body. Getting rid of the spinning part and just doing buttons is a good move.

Aside from Selfie Mode, the E-M10 has all these same hallmark features. And, as I mentioned above, the E-M10 was an extremely worthwhile upgrade from the E-PL5. But that’s where I wonder about the the value of the E-PL7. It’s just $100 cheaper than the E-M10, but for that $100 you get the built-in electronic view finder, twice as many custom dials and function buttons, and an arguably more handsome camera with a better grip and better build quality.

My point being, as awesome as the E-PL7 looks when compared to its younger sibling, I don’t know that it’s a no-brainer of a purchase. It’s terribly close in price to the E-M10, and the slight savings of $100 means you’re not getting things I think are easily worth that $100 (especially once you’re up in that price range already).

The Olympus Micro Four Thirds Landscape in General

There are three lines of camera bodies that Olympus is actively producing right now: The O-MD, the PEN, and the PEN Lite. And from these we have the E-Mn, the E-Pn, and the E-PLn respectively.

The OM-D line is the flagship / pro line. It currently consists of the E-M1, E-M5, and E-M10. These cameras get the latest and greatest technical improvements first, and then those advancements trickle down into the other lines.

Unlike the OM-D line, the PEN and PEN Lite lines have just one “main” or “active” camera body at a time. Right now those ar the E-P5 and E-PL7 respectively. It seems the PEN Lite cameras get the O-MD’s features first, and then they are put into the PEN family afterwards.

It’s getting to the point where all of the Olympus cameras are on a level playing field with one another in terms of their core capabilities to take great images.

All of their latest cameras have (nearly) identical sensors and processors. Which means, at the end of the day, they are all equally capable of capturing the same images.

And so, it’s what’s outside the camera that counts. Which features are important to you? What’s your budget? Which camera looks the coolest to you?

  • The E-PL5: If you want the cheapest you can possibly get, then I’d still recommend go with an E-PL5 still. There were some major advancements to sensors and processors in the E-PL5, and it’s not worth the money you’d save to get anything that preceded it.

  • The E-PL7: If you want the smallest you can get and aren’t super concerned about price, get the E-PL7 It’s just barely bigger than the E-PL5, but its improvements are significant and will be worth it.

  • The E-M10: If you want the most compact pro-level, the E-M10 is great. It is just a bit bigger than the E-PL7 and is only $100 more expensive. Yet it comes with some excellent professional-grade features that you’ll be glad you have if you plan on being even remotely serious with your photography habit.

  • The E-M1: If you want the most bells and whistles, the E-M1 is the flagship model.

For me, I’m extremely happy with the E-M10. It’s the right balance of being a small size while offering the additional pro-level features. But more on that once I wrap up my E-M10 review.

Wednesday, September 3

The folks at Lynda produced an excellent short documentary on Jeffrey Zeldman and his vital role in Web standards and design.

Tuesday, September 2

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My thanks to Droplr for sponsoring the site this week. Long-time readers of this site will know I’m a huge fan of Droplr and that it is one of my most-used Mac utility apps. Highly recommended.

Speaking of intentional iPhone Home screens, Jake Knapp made his iPhone as “dumb” as possible last year and it’s going quite well:

I wanted to get control, but I didn’t want to give up my iPhone altogether. I loved having Google Maps and Uber and Find Friends and an amazing camera.

So I decided to try an experiment. I disabled Safari. I deleted my mail account. I uninstalled every app I couldn’t handle. I thought I’d try it for a week.

This week’s interview is with Norwegian student, Eivind Hjertnes:

My home screen is organised a little bit differently than what I see most other people do. The only apps I have are the apps I use all the time or need to access very fast.

I like to think that my iPhone’s first Home screen is organized much like Eivind’s — that the apps on my Home screen are the ones I actually use regularly. But part of me wonders if I’m just so used to my Home screen apps that these are actually only the apps I think I use every day.

For fun, I’ve been taking a screenshot of my iPhone’s Home screen on the first of every month. I started doing this back in March 2013. Below is my iPhone’s first Home screen as of March 1, 2013, and next to it is my Home screen as of yesterday. As you can see, only three apps are swapped out and most apps are still in the same place. The biggest changes are to the aesthetics of the iOS Springboard and icons.

iPhone Home screens

Friday, August 29

For this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly, I’m just coming back from 2 weeks away in Colorado and Louisiana. And so, before getting back into the daily swing of things I wanted to have a more fun, geeky episode talking about a few things that are awesome and are related to what I’m working on now.

Sponsored By:

Last Year in Football (Part III): This Summer’s World Cup

Hello, again. This is Shawn’s cousin, Nate, continuing to guest post while Shawn is away. Some of you may remember me from the last time I wrote some guest posts. This time around I’m doing a mini-series on recent events in soccer. Or as 2 billion people call it, football.

Welcome to “Last Year in Football”. Below is part III. You can catch up here: Part I and Part II.

If you have any feedback or comments about these football articles, you can email me here.

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Expectations for an exciting World Cup this summer were running high in the months prior. Cups in South America have traditionally been more infused with the free-flowing spirit of the football of that continent, if not also the gamesmanship thereof.

Going into the tournament, I was thinking along the following lines:

Looking Likely

The title holders and, dare I say, heavy favorites, were Spain. Having won the last three major tournaments that they entered (European Champions of 2008 and 2012, and World Cup Champions of 2010), it seemed foolhardy to pick against the title holders. With the controversial late addition of the deadly Diego Costa (Brazilian-born but Spanish nationalized) to the Spanish roster, the Spanish side only looked stronger. The warning signs were there, however. Prior to 2008, the Spaniards had never lacked for talent, only for sharp goalscoring and confidence. What they finally added in 2008 was a pair of red-hot strikers in David Villa and Fernando Torres, and a big dose of swagger. When their strikers started to age and/or cool off, and teams started to learn how to deal with their possession-heavy style of play, Spain stopped running up the scores but held onto their confidence and won a lot of games by close margins. Could Diego Costa be the injection of liveliness that Spain’s game had been missing in the goal-scoring third of the field?

Brazil had had a great warm-up tournament in 2013, the Confederations Cup: not particularly prestigious but still fun. Brazil stormed through the opposition in style, and it was a coming-out party of sorts for a young star named Neymar. However, Brazil’s performances in friendly matches in 2014 had been suspect, with Neymar looking increasingly alone in a dull offense. Betting against a host nation is always an easy way to look foolish, though.

Argentina is home to the little maestro Lionel Messi. No one ever wants to come out and say that Lionel Messi won’t win, because there’s the possibility that he’ll score 4 and make you eat a big slice of humble pie. The inner child of every football fan is always alive to the possibility of Messi dribbling six players and scoring, and with the World Cup taking place on South American soil, every team native to the continent gets the home team treatment when they aren’t playing Brazil. Although Messi hasn’t performed as insanely well for Argentina as he does for Barcelona, he’s still world-class for them. The question was whether Argentina could provide enough quality elsewhere to complement his mighty left foot.

Perennials

England, Italy, and France weren’t making any toes tingle before the tournament, but they’ve shown they can always be a threat. France were particularly impressive, if only by contrast with their previous World Cup squad which had failed so dismally in South Africa. 2010 runners-up Holland were also again putting a lot of quality on the pitch, and to our delight had been placed in a group with the previous winner Spain, meaning that a replay of the previous final was going to take place in the opening days of the tournament.

Germany, of course, always has technical ability in spades and usually goes deep into tournaments.

The South American factor

The aforementioned South American boost put a nice shine on already quality teams like Uruguay and Chile, and even added some gloss to other nearby teams like Colombia and Mexico.

The pot was bubbling over, and everyone was ready to eat! So what happened?

Brazil exploded out of the gate looking . . . mediocre. With a questionable penalty call necessary for their first win, at least we got a statement of intent from Neymar, with a brilliant goal from nothing.

The tournament felt like it really got started on the next day, with the replay of the 2010 Championship game between Spain and Holland. Spain scored first, again on a dubious penalty, and were bossing possession as usual. Then, just before half-time . . . magic from the Flying Dutchman Van Persie. It was a real shocker and it felt afterward like the blow that kicked open the door to one of the most memorable group stages in World Cup history. In the second half Holland scored four more goals as chins all over the world sagged to the floor in collective disbelief.

“Ok,” we thought, “Spain lost their first game at the last World Cup. They can pick up the pieces.” Apparently Chile didn’t get the memo and unceremoniously dumped the holders out of the Cup in their next game. The weirdest part was that it felt kind of like a relief. Diego Costa had played like a man with a ball and chain strapped to one ankle; he was obviously not fully recovered from the injuries that had kept him from playing in the Champions League final. With David Villa relegated to a substitute role for reasons I’m not sure anyone could articulate, and Spain’s other strikers proving ineffective, I didn’t want to see another tournament of 89 minutes of sideways passing with the odd half-chance mixed in. Out with the old, in with the new.

What else did we get to see in the Group Stage besides goals galore? A young Colombian firebrand named James Rodriguez making his presence known. The United States playing legimately good soccer in spurts, and finally overcoming their bogeyman Ghana. Mexico getting systematically robbed and still making it through. Cristiano Ronaldo looking mostly average (hehe). Germany looking terrifying and then bleh and then dominant. Luis Suarez continuing his sterling run of form. Messi finally scoring in bunches in a World Cup, and Argentina actually looking a complete team (their defense has been suspect in recent, uh, decades). Crowd darlings Costa Rica overachieving their way out of their group. The young studs of France winning with style, including what would have been one of the goals of the tournament scored while the referee was blowing his whistle to end the match.

And the goals. Did I mention the goals? So many goals. It was a joy to see attacking football prevail over the defensive style that had perhaps characterized the last couple major tournaments.

Once the smoke had cleared, we saw the following shocking list of teams going home after just three games: England, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Russia. Wow!

Once we got into the knockout rounds, we had more 1-0 scorelines and penalty shootouts than I would have liked, but don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and all that, yeah? Again we had great sporting moments: Tim Howard’s incredible performance against Belgium, this ridiculous Messi pass that I could watch all day, a volley from Rodriguez that I could watch all year, heartbreak for Mexico against Holland after a wonderful Cup-long display of heart and talent.

And not-so-great moments as well: the biting from Luis Suarez. The terrible foul on Neymar that cracked his vertebrae and ruled him out of the remaining games, and the infamous subsequent 7-1 mauling of Brazil by Germany (who could probably have scored more). For that matter, the ugly spirit that Brazil themselves showed against Chile and Colombia.

Finally we get down to two teams: Germany and Argentina. After the group stage it looked like Argentina were sound but not yet great, but surprisingly, their defense was the backbone of the team. Mascherano had shown that a concussion is actually a performance enhancing drug against Holland. Angel Di Maria, while not even at his personal best, probably outperformed Messi in the knockout games by sheer volume of output. Germany, of course, looked like the favorite after demolishing the hosts. I was a little afraid that they would repeat the performance, having seen Argentina out of the previous two World Cups.

What I didn’t expect was for Argentina’s attacking talent to carve out three clear chances and miss them all! One for Higuain, one for Messi, and one for . . . the other guy. Germany dominated the second half but couldn’t find a way through. Then finally, deep in extra time, just as we’re all resigning ourselves to penalty kicks, comes a wonderful goal worthy of winning the World Cup.

The pundits on TV talked about Germany through the tournament in colorless terms, like “clinical”, “precise”, “ruthless”, which I thought was uncharitable and a bit biased, albeit technically accurate. If England had played like Germany they would have been “open” and “free-flowing”; Brazil would have been “creative”; Spain would have gotten “it’s a joy to see their renewed energy”, etc. Germany were all of those things and fully deserved their eventual win.

I thought this World Cup was probably the best of my lifetime, certainly the best of the ones I’ve watched. It probably won’t go down as being “great”, because Germany were the only team that looked like a great team, and a great final needs two great teams to bring the best out of each other. But as a spectacle it was absolutely riveting, and it had so many great dramatic elements: villains, new heroes, overachieving underdogs, epic collapses from dynastic teams, and don’t forget about the buckets and buckets of goals.

Here’s my wishlist of 5 things I’d like have to have seen at the World Cup:

  1. Brazil knocked out by Chile. Then we’d get to see Chile vs Colombia, and the winner of that game vs Germany. I thought Brazil were too negative and Neymar was the only bright spot.
  2. A fully fit Diego Costa. I think Spain will be a force to be reckoned with again very soon with a fit Costa and a coach willing to cut Torres. That said, I thought it was insulting to Spain’s other strikers that Costa kept getting starts when he wasn’t up to par.
  3. Radamel Falcao fit and playing for Colombia. Colombia played out of their minds with just Rodriguez, how good could they have been with Falcao on the field?
  4. Suarez keeping his teeth in his mouth where they belong. He robbed us of his presence against Colombia and I like watching the guy play.
  5. The US holding on for the win against Portugal. If the US can top their group by drawing against Germany, that game looks a lot different, and we might get to play Algeria (whom we beat at the last World Cup) instead of Belgium. Why did the US play so well for so long and then turn off for thirty seconds at the end?
  6. (I cheated) One more attacking player in great form for Argentina, preferably an attacking midfielder to feed Messi.

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What were your favorite moments or wishlist items from the 2014 World Cup? Let me know and I’ll drop them into the last column of the series, coming soon!

Tuesday, August 26

Our latest app review and recommendation over on The Sweet Setup is for VPN clients. Aside from rolling your own, there are basically two main players in the VPN space for iOS and OSX: Cloak and TunnelBear. We prefer the former because it’s quite a bit easier to use even though it’s a bit more expensive than the latter.

Erik Spiekermann:

Every craft requires attention to detail. Whether you’re build­ing a bicy­cle, an engine, a table, a song, a type­face or a page: the details are not the details, they make the design. Con­cepts don’t have to be pixel-perfect, and even the fussi­est project starts with a rough sketch. But build­ing some­thing that will be used by other peo­ple, be they dri­vers, rid­ers, read­ers, lis­ten­ers – users every­where, it needs to be built as well as can be. Unless you are obsessed by what you’re doing, you will not be doing it well enough. Typog­ra­phy appears to require a lot of detail, but so does music, cook­ing, car­pen­try, not to men­tion brain surgery. Some­times only the experts know the dif­fer­ence, but if you want to be an expert at what you’re mak­ing, you will only be happy with the result when you’ve given it every­thing you have.

Tapes lets you share a recording of your screen in an instant—press ⇧⌘2, select an area you want to capture and press it again when you’re done. Tapes will immediately put a shareable link in your clipboard, all while the video is uploading in the background. Each tape can be up to 3 minutes long (your recipients will thank you) and you can record up to 60 minutes each month. Your videos are kept forever in the best possible quality. Tapes costs $9.99 — pay once and save time for every long email you would’ve sent without every having to pay again.

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My thanks to Tapes for sponsoring the RSS feed this week. It’s a very well-done implementation on a very simple idea: that sometimes we want to share a screencast and not just a screenshot. Tapes is one of those apps that does one thing and does it very well. Just $10 in the Mac App Store.

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