Apple Watch: Initial thoughts and observations

John Gruber wrote about his initial thoughts and observations after the Apple Watch was announced. You might have noticed the consecutive Daring Fireball articles. I’m clearing the back log on my reading list.

He shared a quote from Andy Warhol:

“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”—Andy Warhol

And this concept of Coke for everyone applies to Apple:

That’s what the iPhone and iPad are like. There are hundreds of millions of people who have bought these products, and they now own the best phones and tablets in the world. A few years ago at SXSW in Austin, I saw Michael Dell waiting outside a restaurant. The thought that popped into my head: He’s a billionaire, but I know for a fact that I have a better phone than he does. Not everyone can afford an iPhone, not by a long shot, but everyone who can knows they’re getting the best phone in the world.

So what to expect from Apple?

Apple only enters markets where they can be a market leader in quality. They unabashedly claim to make the world’s best computers (portable and desktop), the best phones, the best tablets, and the best MP3 players. The best. Of course not everyone agrees with that. But many of us do, and even those who prefer, say, Lenovo laptops or Google’s Nexus phones and tablets, would agree, if they’re at all reasonable or have any sense of taste, that Apple’s products are in the running for “best”.

The Apple Watch only works for Apple if it is, in some sense, the best watch in the world. Not the best smartwatch. That’s not enough. The best watch, period. The best thing you can wear on your wrist. It doesn’t have to pass that test for everyone. It may well be targeted more at people who’ve stopped wearing or have never worn a watch than at those who love fine mechanical watches. But it has to pass that test for many people.

How does it compare to existing competitors?

My impression of Android Wear is that it’s best thought of as a wrist-worn terminal for your Android phone and for Google’s cloud-based services. An extension for your phone, not a sibling device. Android Wear devices are almost useless other than for telling time when out of Bluetooth range from your phone. I don’t think that’s a device that many people want; it’s a solution in search of a problem. Call me biased if you want, but I think Android Wear is simply the result of the rest of the industry trying to get out in front of Apple, out of fear of how far behind they were when the iPhone dropped in 2007. On the surface, they do look like the same basic thing: small color LCD touchscreens on your wrist. But all Android Wear devices are larger and clunkier than the larger 42mm Apple Watch, and none of them are even close to the smaller 38mm one. Is there anyone who would dispute that Apple Watch is far more appealing to women than any other smartwatch on the market?

About that button:

The most intriguing and notable thing about Apple Watch’s design, to me, is the dedicated communication button below the digital crown. The entire watch is fully operational and navigable using just the digital crown and touchscreen. You can go anywhere and do everything using taps, force presses, or turning and pressing the digital crown. There is no need for that extra button (which, in the unveiling video, Jony Ive described only as “the button below the digital crown”). Add to that the fact that Apple is notorious for minimizing the number of hardware buttons on its devices, and the fact that the existence of that button keeps the crown from being centered, and my attention is piqued. The only explanation is that Apple believes that the communication features triggered by that button are vitally important to how we’ll use the device.

These are just some parts of Gruber’s article that caught my attention. It is a long piece but definitely worth reading the full article if you are interested in the Apple Watch.

We are now in the early parts of early 2015. Exciting times.

Mozilla finally brings Firefox to iOS

John Gruber on Firefox finally being available on iOS.

That it took them until 2014 to bend to practicality — iOS has been growing in popularity worldwide ever since it debuted, and Apple was never going to allow them to use their own rendering engine in an iOS app — epitomizes everything wrong with Mozilla as an organization. I’m all for idealism, but Mozilla has been idealistic to a fault. (Exhibit A: their stance against H.264 video.)

So what made Mozilla change their minds? Mozilla VP Jonathan Nightingale tweeted:

Safari has been shipped with iOS since the first iPhone and Chrome has been iOS since June 2012. Firefox is very late to the party. Even lesser known third party browsers have been out for some time. Dolphin Browser, one of the more popular third party browser, has been out since 2011.

Yahoo’s decline

John Gruber wrote a very good piece on Yahoo’s decline.

I would argue that Yahoo lost its way early. Yahoo was an amazing, awesome resource when it first appeared, as a directory to cool websites. Arguably, the directory to cool websites. It was hard to find the good stuff on the early web, and Yahoo created a map. Their whole reason for being was to serve as a starting point that sent you elsewhere.

Then came portals. The portal strategy was the opposite of the directory strategy — it was about keeping people on Yahoo’s site, instead of sending them elsewhere. It was lucrative for a while, but ran its course. And it turned out that the web quickly became too large, far too large, for a human-curated directory to map more than a fraction of it. The only way to index the web was algorithmically, as a search engine. And one search engine stood head and shoulders above all others: Google.

Yahoo reportedly had an opportunity to buy Google in 2002 for $5 billion. Yahoo, under the leadership of CEO Terry Semel, declined. And that was the end of Yahoo. We all know hindsight is 20/20. There are all sorts of acquisitions that could have been made. But I would argue that acquiring Google in 2002 (if not earlier) was something Yahoo absolutely should have known they needed to do. The portal strategy had played itself out. All they were left with was their original purpose, serving as a starting page for finding what you were looking for on the web.

Buying Google in 2002, at whatever cost, was the only way for Yahoo to return to those roots. Google wasn’t just something shiny and new — it was the best solution to date (even now) to the problem Yahoo was originally created to solve. In a broad sense, buying Google would have been to Yahoo what buying NeXT was to Apple in 1997: an acquisition that returned the parent company to its roots, with superior industry-leading technology and outstanding talent.

This highlights the importance of having a leader who understands the essence of a company, not just what the company does on the surface. Whichever Marissa Mayer might be, it is probably too late to turn things around.

Jenxi’s favourite apps of 2014

The release of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite this year brought the Apple ecosystem closer together. My workflow has evolved through the past year and my app usage has changed as a result. Here are my top ten apps of 2014 in no particular order. The platforms that I use them are listed in the brackets.

1. Slack (iOS/Mac/Web)

Matt and I used to communicate via messaging apps such as iMessage, Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts. It was a mess and keeping track of the different topics was a nightmare. We decided to give Slack a go and it has transformed our communications.

By being able to segregate our conversations into different channels, it helps us easily follow the multiple topics. One feature I really like is the ability to view a list of link shared in a channel. This is important since we are constantly dumping links for each other to consume.

2. VSCO Cam (iOS/Mac)

This is the only camera app you will ever need. I have tried hundreds of camera apps ever since I got my first iPhone back in 2009. The only app that I felt came close was Hipstamatic. I used Hipstamatic a lot but found the skeumorphism too distracting. When I tried VSCO Cam, I was sold and it was not long before I ditched Hipstamatic and most of my camera apps.

3. Instagram (iPhone)

This is the only social network app that gets a space on my home screen. I won’t count VSCO Cam as one. This is an interesting shift in how I engage social media, especially since I deleted Facebook from my phone.

I find Instagram posts requiring me to be less invested. Look at a photo, scroll to the next. Tap to like or comment if I have something to say. As opposed to seeing links on my Facebook news feed and getting sucked in when I open the link. In this sense, Facebook Paper allows me to browse my news feed in a manner more akin to Instagram. The ability to easily share from Facebook Paper to Pocket helped keep me from going down the rabbit hole, since I can save to Pocket instead of reading it the link there and then.

4. PhotoDesk (Mac)

The best app for browsing Instagram on Mac OS X. PhotoDesk, formerly InstaDesk, is a powerful Instagram client. It supports multiple accounts, allows you to sort your feed, lets you like many images with one click, and lists your favourite users and informs you if there are new photos from your favourite users. Power users will appreciate the ability to create comment templates for canned responses.

5. 1Password (iOS/Mac)

The many hacking incidents and password leaks in 2014 show that password security is something not to be taken lightly. The best way to avoid multiple compromises would be to avoid reusing passwords. This is where password managers help make your life easier and your passwords more secure. I have not tried the other alternative password manager. However, my experience with 1Password has been fantastic.

The app can create a unique password for each service and website you use. Since you don’t have to remember the password, you can generate passwords with high entropy. You don’t key in the password as 1Password inserts the password for you, thus circumventing the risk of key loggers.

6. Mail (iOS/Mac)

I used to rely on Sparrow for emails. However, since its demise after bring bought over by Google, I have been searching for a replacement. I tried Mailbox on iOS and it has proven to be useful for powering through my unread items. Airmail is a worthy successor to Sparrow on the Mac. However, due to bugs with Airmail, I switched back to the default Mail app.

The Mail app has improved tremendously since the last time I tried it back on OS X Lion. In fact, it has comfortably become the only email app that I use. The only thing I miss is the ability to sort through Gmail tabs, but the lack of such a feature does not stop me from using it.

7. Reeder (iOS/Mac)

Ever since Reeder was released on iOS, I have been using it to browse my RSS feeds. When Google Reader was closed down by Google, Reeder did not work until it was updated to support other feed syndicators. During that period, I tried options such as Feedly and Digg Reader, but I didn’t like them. When Reeder 2 for iOS was launched, it immediately became the only RSS feed reader on my iPhone and iPad. Reeder 2 for Mac was released a year later, an agonising wait during which I had to rely on other apps.

8. Pocket (iOS/Mac/Web)

Pocket has become such an integral part of my content consumption workflow, and a big aid in improving my productivity and reducing distractions. I save articles and videos to Pocket, instead of opening them to read and end up being distracted. Content from all sources are funnelled into Pocket, be it from emails, Reeder or links my friends share.

9. IFTTT (iOS/Web)

Automation takes repetitive tasks out of our hands and frees up time. IFTTT plays an important role in sharing content across platforms, such as automatically posting my Instagram photo on Twitter as an image.

10. MarsEdit (Mac)

This entry was drafted in MarsEdit. If you are a blogger, or create content for a blogging system, you should consider MarsEdit. It has transformed the way I blog and spurred me on to blog more frequently. I really like how I get live preview of my entries alongside the editor. The preview is configured to pull CSS from my sites so I get to see exactly how the articles would look like as I type. Markdown support is a plus.

Samsung shutters flagship London store amid falling sales

Along with a centrally located Oxford Street shop, this was Samsung’s biggest — and thus most expensive and ostentatious — exhibition space in London. Samsung made a big point of promoting its Experience Stores, making them the destination to get the very first Galaxy S4 and, later, S5 units sold in the UK, but excitement and sales have apparently petered out after a strong start.

Drop in profits seem to be hitting Samsung hard.

Android hardware profits tanked in 2014

Ina Fried wrote on Re/code about Android hardware profits tanking in 2014.

While Android continued to gain market share in the global smartphone market, it saw a significant drop on another key metric: Profits.

Analyst Chetan Sharma estimates that global profits in the Android hardware market for 2014 were down by half from the prior year — the first year that there has been any significant drop.

A lot of that is due to the big drop in profits at Samsung, the largest player in the Android market. China’s Xiaomi gained significant market share, but is only modestly profitable thanks to its slim margins. Meanwhile, other players like Sony and Motorola lost money in their Android-based mobile businesses.

The race to the bottom continues.

Is algebra necessary?

John Gruber wrote about NYT’s ironic dismissal of the relevance of algebra.

Michael Cieply, reporting for the NYT:

“The Interview” generated roughly $15 million in online sales and rentals during its first four days of availability, Sony Pictures said on Sunday.

Sony did not say how much of that total represented $6 digital rentals versus $15 sales. The studio said there were about two million transactions over all.


Apparently, algebra is necessary for New York Times reporters and editors, because if they had a basic grasp of it, they’d understand that Sony revealed the exact split between $6 rentals and $15 sales: 1.67 million rentals ($10 million), 0.33 million sales ($5 million).

Apple sued for false advertising of iPhones

WSJ reported about Apple being sued for false advertising of iPhone storage capacity.

Mann said an iPhone 6 Plus with 16 gigabytes of storage can hold only 12.7 gigabytes of photos, songs, apps and other user data. That is 21% less than the advertised 16 gigabytes of storage. For the 16GB iPhone 6, the available storage is 13 gigabytes, according to the filing.

Anyone remember Microsoft’s Surface Pro?

A company spokesperson has confirmed to The Verge that the 64GB edition of Surface Pro will have 23GB of free storage out of the box. The 128GB model will have 83GB of free storage.

They laughed at the DOJ’s e-book antitrust case against Apple

Philip Elmer-DeWitt wrote for Fortune on the United States Department of Justice’s e-book antitrust case against Apple.

Roger Parloff on the hearing:

“Judges Jacobs and Lohier seemed quite concerned that Judge Cote had used the wrong standard, but Jacobs’s qualms clearly went much further—seeming to question the government’s judgment in ever having brought the case. His problem was that Apple was a new entrant that was bringing competition to a market that had been, until then, dominated by a “monopolist,” Amazon. Judge Jacobs also repeatedly referred to Amazon’s $9.99 pricing policy, whereby it sold books at below the wholesale acquisition cost, as “predatory pricing,” and seemed to suggest that Amazon was obviously using it as a means of maintaining its monopoly dominance.”

In fact, the judges seem to think the wrong company prosecuted:

At times Judge Jacobs came close to suggesting that the government had prosecuted the wrong company. At the very least, he said, a horizontal initiative “used to break the hold of a monopolist” ought not be found to be illegal per se. He likened any collusive conduct on the publishers’ part to “mice getting together to go put a bell on the cat.”

Perhaps the DOJ should consider a case against a company that its power to influence the ebook industry.

When Amazon went to war against punctuation

Graeme Reynolds wrote about how Amazon went to war against punctuation.

Apparently Amazon had received a complaint from a reader about the fact that some of the words in the book were hyphenated. And when they ran an automated spell check against the manuscript they found that over 100 words in the 90,000 word novel contained that dreaded little line. This, apparently “significantly impacts the readability of your book” and, as a result “We have suppressed the book because of the combined impact to customers.”

Graeme responded to Amazon explaining how hyphenated words were perfectly acceptable in English.

This was Amazon’s reply:

Hello Graeme,

Thanks for contacting us and giving me the opportunity to help you. I will be more than glad to assist you with your inquiry.

As quality issues with your book negatively affect the reading experience, we have removed your title from sale until these issues are corrected. Books with serious errors that are not corrected after 60 days will have their product detail pages removed from the website. Your book will still appear in your Bookshelf, and you can update it and resubmit it at any time.

Once you correct hyphenated words, please republish your book and make it available for sale.

This incident is another reminder of the power Amazon has over authors and book publishers. They seem to have no qualms about pulling the plug at their whim over such a minor issue, and end up screwing up the livelihood of authors.