Thoughts on the upcoming Apple event on 7th September

Jim Dalrymple, The Loop (via. John Gruber), Apple on Monday send out an invitation for a special event to be held on September 7 at 10:00 am. This year’s event will be held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, California. Bill Graham is where Apple introduced the iPad Pro and Apple TV last year. I’ll be watching this event with a vested interest—I’ve been waiting for the Apple Watch 2 since months. I am buying Watch 2 the day it releases in India. A lot of products are nearing their refresh cycle this month (assuming a traditional 1-year lifetime). The iPhone and—I still need to cross my fingers just in case—the Apple Watch 2 will be announced at the event. That leaves the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, the Apple TV and the Macs in need for a refresh. Out of the three, the Mac is the oldest of the lot and perhaps even needs a mention. My guess is the new Macs — or at least one, enough to tout the new technical innovations and redesign—would be announced. Maybe something like 2013’s Mac Pro reveal? This will also, possibly, set the stage for the rumoured 5K Retina display. I spend my days before an Apple event re-watching all previous Apple events. It’s appetising, somehow. Last year’s September event meant a big deal to me because I’d decided on buying the iPhone 6S as long as it wasn’t a total turd. But the iPhone 6S was an upgrade from my iPhone 5C. This year, the Watch is an entirely new category for me — one that I’ve been looking forward to since a long while. I’m excited! I hope the wait is worth while. Also: If I were buying an iPhone this year, that dark black/piano black colour is gorgeous.

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Acer’s Predator 21 X announced

Vlad Savov and James Vincent, The Verge: Acer’s new Predator 21 X is a monster. Not only have this machine’s designers put a curved 21-inch display on a laptop for the first time ever, they’ve also gone and given it two GeForce GTX 1080 GPUs as well. Add in five cooling fans, a 7th-generation Intel Core K-series processor, and space for as much as four terabytes of SSD storage, and you have a laptop that’s beyond obscene. Unveiling the 21 X at IFA in Berlin today, Acer acknowledges that this laptop is more of a proof of engineering acumen than any sort of “big seller” retail product. Each Predator 21 X will be made to order, starting in January of next year (which is how Acer can advertise today that it will have an Intel CPU that technically hasn’t yet been announced). No big deal. New Macs will be out by then, am I right?

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Project Ara reportedly cancelled

Sam Byford, The Verge: Google has “suspended” work on Project Ara, the initiative to build a phone with interchangeable modules for various components like cameras and batteries, according to Reuters and Recode. […] Although Project Ara has always seemed a dubious commercial prospect, the news is surprising if only because Google made a renewed effort to push the modular concept at its I/O conference earlier this year, promising a developer version for fall and a consumer release for 2017. Doesn’t surprise me. Google Glass had a better chance of making it than a modular smartphone—arguably the antithesis of why the smartphone is as revolutionary a product as it is.

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A vague prediction on sales of the upcoming iPhone(s)

This year’s slump in iPhone sales has been an extensive talking point. But a lot of people — including me — subscribe to the idea that pent-up demand for the bigger sized iPhones last year caused the unusual rise (and fall) of sales. Essentially, the number of iPhones 6 sold were higher than Apple expected, which could be explained by customers waiting it out for ‘the bigger iPhone Apple releases next year’ in 2013-2014 when Apple announced the iPhone 5S. Unusually high sales last year meant a comparative slump in sales this year. I think that is what could happen this year too. People are already talking — quite enthusiastically — about next year’s radically overhauled iPhone. Bloomberg reports next year’s iPhone will do away with the home-button. As I see it, that’s pretty much an existential change, at least in theory. Combine enthusiasm for 2017’s iPhone with an inkling of a lack thereof for this year’s iPhone (assuming the general public may not take well to a ‘basically same design for the third year’) and — in the case of removing the headphone jack, assuming that happens this year — outright ‘hostility’, and it isn’t tough to see some people wanting to wait for 2017’s iPhone. The narrative may be something like, ‘It’ll be an all-new design and audio accessories will be more widespread’. I hope this doesn’t happen and I’m sure Apple sees this problem and is going to pitch us an iPhone with multi-dimensional innovations and a story that justifies removing the headphone-port1. But if it does, and customers choose to wait another year for the redesigned iPhone, 2017 will see a lot of graphs pointing up again. I am of the opinion that most new products announced in September — Watch 2 included — are going to support a proprietary wireless standard. It completely makes sense, solves problems across multiple platforms, and, frankly, it’s about time. ↩︎

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Collect your thoughts

Brent Simmons, Dave Wiskus, and John Gruber that’s the order in which their names appear in Vesper’s credits page — the creators of Vesper. Brent announced on the day-before-yesterday that Vesper is shutting down. Vesper was — is, at the time of writing — a note-taking app unlike its peers. In an age of filing and formatting, Vesper made up for lack of bullet-point-worthy features with extensive precision and attention to detail. You noticed this in the typeface, the blend of colours, and the subtle animations that exist simply to facilitate your experience and gently carry you along. My experience with Vesper wasn’t all sunshine and roses. When I installed the app, I couldn’t create an account and emailing for support wasn’t any help. No account meant no syncing. Vesper just sat there on one of my home-screens, buried — perhaps — in one of my folders. A month or so later, I gave it a go again. This time I created an account and syncing was enabled. What now? Vesper didn’t support split-screen multi-tasking or formatting etc. so I couldn’t use it to write articles. Apple’s Notes already served as the place where I jotted down scrap information I may need later. Vesper, instead, became a place where I penned abstract thoughts — some idea I had while reflecting on the book I just read, the kind of thoughts that run through your head when you’re gazing at lush green mountains or staring at a starry night sky; thoughts that demanded the use of beautiful typography and gentle retracted care. Sounds pedantic, but it worked for me. I’ve written only a handful of notes in Vesper and it’s still buried in one of my folders. But every time I open it, I feel nice. That’s the reason Vesper commanded the price it did. I don’t know why Vesper is ending — John’s complete post-mortem is still pending as I write this article — but I think there’s a clue in Brent’s blog-post. The first few lines read, ’This is the first time I’ve ever shut down an app. In the past I’ve sold my apps…’. Vesper is probably too close to its creators’ hearts to have it run by another organisation. I know it would be for me, if I’d made it. On that credits page, all the way at the bottom, is a recipe for a Vesper. Someday I’ll make one for myself — shaken, not stirred — and I’ll make a note about it. Farewell.

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Ming-Chi Kuo suggests a 10.5-inch iPad is coming next year

Eric Slivka (via. John Gruber) writes for MacRumors on Ming-Chi Kuo’s report that a 10.5″ iPad might be released in 2017. I don’t know about the 10.5″ size specifically but the 9.7″ iPad Air 2 is too small for me to be able to type comfortably at a stretch. The 12.9″ Pro is too big and bulky — it loses most of the portability and the ready-to-take-a-note property of the 9.7″ Pro. A 12.9″ Pro with the thickness of the 9.7″ Pro, I suppose, would be the best of both worlds (assuming no new screen sizes).  

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Apple enables carrier billing in Switzerland and Taiwan

Jon Russell, TechCrunch: Carrier billing is an important option for users who either don’t own a credit card or don’t want to tie their plastic to their Apple account. It’s particularly strategic in emerging markets, where credit card ownership is very low. Google, for example, added carrier billing in India this summer, opening the potential for millions Android phone owners to buy mobile content for the first time. I didn’t know carrier billing came to Android phones in India. The idea seems intuitive though — buy a $1 app and have the dollar billed against your phone-bill. I recently saw a shop openning under my house that primarily deals in mobile repairs and — specifically — mobile recharges (for pre-paid SIM cards). I thought to myself, ’Why does the owner think this is a viable business in a day when such recharges are done on-line?’. On second thought, I realised, ‘This guy knows more about this line of business than I do. If he didn’t think there were customers that would still like to have their pre-paid balance recharged the old-fashioned way (the shopkeeper asks you to enter your phone number into their phone and you tell them the amount you want recharged1), he wouldn’t have opened the shop.’ In considering Apple’s chances of bringing carrier billing to India, the question arises: Is there enough to be gained in sales of online goods to justify the extra work (especially considering India doesn’t have an actual iBooks Store, the iTunes’ movies collection is crippled and TV Shows just aren’t available)? Sounds eerie as I type it; the irony isn’t unnoticed. ↩︎

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Block a blocker blocker

Facebook announced a couple of days ago that it would be circumventing ad-blockers and serve ads on their website for the desktop. Adblock Plus has found a way to block Facebook’s blocking of their ads. From their blog post (via. The Loop): We promised that the open source community would have a solution very soon, and, frankly, they’ve beaten even our own expectations. Here’s the thing: Blocking ads is not a solution, it’s a fix — a temporary hack. Facebook’s move of disabling ad-blockers isn’t a solution and neither is finding a way to disable Facebook’s workaround. It’s just a cat-and-mouse game. Solving the fundamental problems with ads — opt-in personalisation, transparency of personalisation parameters, better aesthetics, being light-weight, and clear demarcation, to name a few — is the only way to bring rationality to this space. The ‘Who’s the better blocker in town?’ contest perhaps focuses too much on now instead of the long-term. (AdBlock Plus, and others, are apparently pushing for creating better ads according to a New York Times article.) An aside: I came across Udacity — an institute that provides online courses — through an ad served by The Deck. I got my current job as an iOS developer through Udacity’s iOS development course. It’s a little ironic that the ad that had the most profound effect on my life doesn’t even track you around the web.

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Upcoming MacBook Pro would likely have TouchID embedded in the power button

Mitchel Broussard, MacRumours: If placed in the power button, the fingerprint sensor would allow users to wake the MacBook Pro and authenticate its security in one touch, similar to waking up an iPhone by pressing the Home button while simultaneously activating Touch ID. When I first heard of TouchID coming to the Mac(Book), I argued the trackpad is the ergonomic place to house the sensor. If it’s embedded in the power button, I sure hope it’s the second generation TouchID — the one present in the iPhones 6S. Unlocking your MacBook should be as ‘too fast’ as the iPHones 6S; the alternative — unlocking the MacBook by pressing the power button and holding your finger there for a bit — sounds tedious. The reason I write ‘Book’ in parentheses in the paragraph above is because I wonder what happens to the iMac (or the Mac Pro or — fingers crossed — the Mac Mini)? Is TouchID placed on the power button on the iMac? Or is it part of a refreshed Magic Keyboard? (I wouldn’t bet on it since the Magic Keyboard is fairly new. If Apple knew a Magic Keyboard-with-TouchID is eminent, they would’ve probably waited it out.) If so, could I just buy a Magic Keyboard-with-TouchID to work with my current Retina MacBook Pro?

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NYT: ‘The Opressive Gospel of ‘Minimalism’’

Kyle Chayka, writing for The New York Times on the practice of minimalism, has a great score of perspective. The article talks about minimalism as a way of living and as the design and technology world thinks of it. An example of the minimalist lifestyle: Altucher explains that he gave up his permanent home, life goals and negative emotions. He threw away his college diploma, which had been gathering dust in storage. (“I don’t hold onto all the things society tells me to hold onto.”) He now carries nothing but a bag of clothes and a backpack containing a computer, an iPad and a smartphone. “I have zero other possessions,” he writes, and thanks to this, he has found peace as a wandering techno-ascetic — Silicon Valley’s version of Zen monkhood. Minimalism was popularised as an insult in 1965 — the lack of art in your work was looked down upon. However it clearly isn’t received with negative connotations in contemporary works; some explanation: “Minimalism can return you to this basic state where you’re perceiving purely,” says David Raskin, a professor of contemporary art history at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “Less is more because you strip away the familiar,” opening an opportunity to see the world without preconceptions. The objects might look mundane, but rather than the plain metal box on the floor, it’s the stark sensory experience the object incites that is the art, no previous knowledge necessary. The artist opens a radical infinity of possibilities. “Minimalism in the 1960s was very much along the lines of taking LSD,” says Miguel de Baca, an associate professor of art history at Lake Forest College. (Minimalism and LSD — reminds me of a singular institution.) The article then goes to argue that for some, minimalism might simply be a form of perversion. I want to return to the practicing minimalism in creativity and, later, to Apple’s products; my theory: removing details from your creative endeavour, limiting axes along which its properties are viewed, perceived, and judged gives you a heightened capacity of targeting your attention to detail. The premise is simple: given limited attention, a higher attention to detail can be achieved by reducing elements that can demand attention. I can construct this sentence, provide it with some structure, or I can embellish it with abstract and subjective properties with the hope of elating said subjective perception. The NYT article features an image of a green pea on a marble-white plate set on a yellow surface — minimalism. You instantly see how well-centred the pea is, the texture of the plate is instantly apparent. It seems familiar even when you see it the first time. It’s neat, it doesn’t make you think any further than it has to, you understand how the image is meant to complement (and possibly mock) the practice of minimalism and it rewards your understanding — I know I’m overusing the word — instantly. This is probably one of the reasons Apple favours minimalism. But to call Apple’s design minimal wouldn’t do it justice. The absence of clutter isn’t minimalism — the omission of details. The absence of clutter is order. Jony Ive articulates this point excellently when introducing iOS 7: I think there is a profound and enduring beauty in simplicity, in clarity, in efficiency. True simplicity is derived from so much more than just the absence of clutter and ornamentation. It’s about bringing order to complexity. Apple favours minimalism but its design isn’t just minimal. Elements are hidden, not removed. Think about Safari for iOS — it’s a complex app and yet, at its best, all controls recede away and what you’re left with (apart from the content) is just the name of the website. Concluding my thoughts, the article does reference Apple through Jobs: In Silicon Valley, the minimalism fetish can perhaps be traced back to Steve Jobs’s famously austere 1980s apartment (he sat on the floor) and the attendant simplicity of Apple products. Pare down, and you, too, could run a $700 billion company.

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The New Yoker: The rise of artificial unintelligence

Ian Frazier in an excellent article from The New Yorker magazine ’Something in the air’: No, damn it! I am a human being! Our species does poorly thought-out things, and we must not take a back seat to any machine on that. Remember when I saw Bev at the Shelbys’ New Year’s Eve party and blurted out, in front of everybody, “Bev, how fabulous! You’re pregnant!,” when she had only put on a lot of weight? I defy any mere mass of circuitry to duplicate this deeply human feat. As I recalled the horror on Bev’s face, and on everybody else’s, my entire body contorted in a wince of shame and—I’ll be honest—a certain species-specific pride. Top that, techno-wizards! Other un-smart stunts came back to me: No computer will ever amass enough mainframe cluelessness to cut a big patch from the pair of bluejeans that it is mending rather than from the old bluejeans that it uses for patches. Nor will it ever finish filling out its income-tax return and then mail it, along with the check for the I.R.S., to a distant relative it hasn’t seen in years. You need to be a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood creature to achieve such things. I calmed myself down, proceeded to the platform, got on the wrong train, and did not notice my mistake until Trenton. The train back to Penn Station would not leave for another hour and a half. I never expect to be as smart as a computer, but, by God, I can be dumber. A hard rain began to fall, and I left the station so I could practice not knowing enough to come in out of it. You should treat yourself with a subscription to The New Yorker.

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Nicholas Windsor Howard: The Apple Goes Mushy

Nicholas wrote a well-articulated piece titled ‘The Apple Goes Mushy Part I: OS X’s Interface Decline (Introduction)’ (via. The Loop) that critiques the present OS X1 design. There are a lot of points here to back the criticisms, instead of blandly throwing about the ‘…wouldn’t have happened if Jobs was around’ dialog. It’s definitely worth a read. While reading, I tried really hard to think of reasons why these points don’t hold, how there’s maybe just that one sliver that’s hiding behind the cracks that Nicholas missed out on, something that justifies Apple’s sacrifice of design in favour of a pleasing aesthetic. I couldn’t. Everything is well-argued and backed with solid examples. But perhaps there’s a draw here — one in Apple’s favour. Apple’s message of yore — pre-iPhone, when their sales were low — was ‘Our computers are easy for anyone to use.’, fit for attracting new (usually Windows) customers to the Mac. Maybe now it’s shifted to ‘Our computers are instantly familiar and easy to use’, appealing instead to users of Apple products (usually an iPhone) and retaining existing Mac customers. Nicholas says of the removal of color throughout OS X: They have greyscaled other, more obscure parts of OS X to harmful effect, and seemingly no one has mentioned these design changes. I intend to do so. Note the color removal on the delete button (which should probably depict a trash can and not a “cancel” symbol, but alas…) in the Image Capture utility: I use Image Capture regularly and find myself fumbling for the delete button ever since Apple turned it from red to grey. Why did they suck the color away? And I wonder again why the color vanished from almost every sidebar in the system: besides Finder, iTunes, iPhoto (before the new Photos application existed), Mail, and Contacts (back when Apple called it Address Book) have all succumbed to wan insanity. The Menu Bar selections in Final Cut Pro X highlight grey, not blue, when your cursor hovers over them. The majority of system applications greet you with vast canvases of nondescript white. Buttons are white. The Menu Bar is white. The Dock application labels are white. The cumulative effect is exactly the same as almost all popular interface designs today: everything is a stark, harsh, flat, alienating plane of white. I haven’t used OS X pre-Yosemite so I don’t have a practical grasp of the situation. Nicholas doesn’t bring up the Safari UI in the entirety of his piece. But to make my point, I intend to do so. (Safari is probably the most colorless app I’ve used on OS X; every control is a shade of grey.) It’s true Safari’s UI could be perplexing to a first-timer. It’s visually minimal, perhaps a little too much. But I think Apple knows this. Because while it may be tough for the new-comer, it’s extremely rewarding for the veteran. Due to the pervasive gray, Safari is minimal, it’s unobtrusive. As Jony Ive says, it recedes to give way to your content. If The Times of India has a shitty design/aesthetic, it’s Times of India’s fault. If The New Yorker seems to you like the aesthetic equivalent of charming grace and you can’t help but revisit it over and over, it’s The New Yorker’s fault. Safari is just your old friend who got you there and deftly stepped side — appearing again only when you need it to. Again, I can’t be absolutely certain about this but it may just be that Apple is trading in a lean learning curve for a loyal, rewarding user experience, beneficial in the long-run. I haven’t referred to OS X as macOS throughout my article because the narrative is about OS X El Capitan and prior releases, not macOS Sierra. ↩︎

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Video’s importance was a shared theme in this week’s quarterly earnings report

A lot of big numbers were talked about this week. The billionth iPhone was sold; Dave Pell jokes: ‘Drug cartels wish they had a product that addictive’. Other numbers were by companies on their quarterly financial reports. Among each narrative was a shared theme — one of considering video as a medium of prime importance. The following are a few excerpts from come New York Times articles. Amazon: Amazon plans to nearly double its spending on digital video during the second half of the year as it expands the offerings of its Netflix-like streaming service, he said. Twitter: “We’ve become a video-centric platform,” Adam Bain, Twitter’s chief operating officer, said in the company’s conference call on Tuesday. “It is now the No. 1 ad format in terms of revenue on Twitter.” Facebook: “We see a world where video is first, with video at the heart of all of our apps and services,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said in a conference call with investors. The only company that didn’t talk about video in relation with its growth (the company that already has probably the most lucrative video ads business) is Google: Mr. Pichai’s lengthy prepared remarks took a long-term perspective, focusing on the importance of machine learning — software that adjusts to the user’s experience. It will be, he promised, the source of the next great innovations after the switch to mobile runs its course. What’s the upshot — the general consensus — here I wonder? Video is more engaging than static written-form visually supplemented by images? I don’t think so. (Jason Kottke has a great piece on this topic.) I don’t have a definitive answer, maybe some spontaneous theories but nothing worth penning down.

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’The Typography of ‘Stranger Things’’

Sarah Gless: The Stranger Things title sequence is pure, unadulterated typographic porn. With television shows opting for more elaborate title sequences (think GOT and True Detective), the opening of Stranger Things is refreshingly simple. It trims the fat and shows only what is necessary to set the mood. More importantly, it proves a lesson I’ve learned time and time again as a designer: you can do a lot with type. […] The Stranger Things logo probably looks strangely familiar, taking you back to an era when Stephen King reigned supreme. The show’s creators, Matt and Ross Duffer, directly cite King as the inspiration behind the show’s logo, having sent copies of King’s novels to Imaginary Forces, the creative studio behind the title sequence. I kid you not, when I saw Stranger Things’ preview image on Netflix, I thought it was a TV series based on some Stephen King book I was unaware of. Sure, part of it was the fact that the cover itself — minus the title — has an uncanny similarity with a Stephen King plot, but that typeface carries it a long way; perhaps even pays homage to King. The unspoken effect of an appropriate font is absolutely wonderful. (Coincidentally, I’m currently reading Misery by Stephen King. It’s an old edition, I managed to get my hands on it at a bookfair. The cover looks quite like the ones featured in the article.)

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NYTimes: ‘Facebook Profit Nearly Triples on Mobile Ad Sales and New Users’

Mike Issac, The New York Times: Facebook said sales totaled $6.44 billion for the quarter, up 59 percent from a year ago, while profit almost tripled to $2.06 billion. The rise was driven by strong mobile ad sales, as well as a steady ascent in its number of users. Facebook now counts 1.71 billion monthly active users, up 15 percent from a year ago. And in a sign of how indispensable the social network is to people, the amount of money the company can squeeze from each user globally jumped to $3.82, up from $2.76 a year earlier. Those are very impressive numbers, especially considering ‘the next billion users’ is generally a steeper hill to climb.

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