For a Bigger iPad to Work, iOS Needs Some Interface Improvements ➝

Jason Snell, writing for Macworld:

I believe that iOS’s future is big–and I mean that literally. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro I’m using to write this article is currently the largest iOS device in existence, but it seems inevitable that Apple will want to size up iOS even more, whether it’s in a 15- or 17-inch mega-tablet, or an even larger desktop iOS device similar to the style of Microsoft’s Surface Studio.

I absolutely agree. If iOS is the future of computing, devices with larger screens are inevitable. And I think Snell offers some great suggestions on how to improve the experience on these larger screens. Although, I think he missed an obvious one — external trackpad support.

Apple’s New Campus Opens to Employees in April ➝

The new campus will be called Apple Park — a possible reference to Xerox PARC, the company that originally developed the modern graphical user interface that inspired the original Macintosh. It’s a great name, far better than any of the alternative suggestions I’ve seen in my Twitter timeline this morning.

And regarding the theater, that has been built alongside this new campus, from Apple’s press release:

Steve would have turned 62 this Friday, February 24. To honor his memory and his enduring influence on Apple and the world, the theater at Apple Park will be named the Steve Jobs Theater. Opening later this year, the entrance to the 1,000-seat auditorium is a 20-foot-tall glass cylinder, 165 feet in diameter, supporting a metallic carbon-fiber roof. The Steve Jobs Theater is situated atop a hill — one of the highest points within Apple Park — overlooking meadows and the main building.

Apple Park will also include a visitor center with an Apple Store and cafe that will be open to the public.

Apple’s New iPad Pro Advertisements ➝

I don’t typically link to Apple commercials anymore, but this new campaign is just delightful. It’s like a cross between their Get a Mac ads and Celebrities Read Mean Tweets.

TwIM ➝

A great new chat app from Project Dent that’s built on top of Twitter’s direct messaging system. It has support for embedded URL previews, 3D Touch shortcuts, and Siri. There’s even a sharing extension that can be used for sending URLs, text, photos, and maps from other applications.

TwIM’s feature-set is incredibly solid for a 1.0 release, but there are still two major features that I’d like to see added in the future — iPad support and a more robust URL scheme that will allow for automation with apps like Workflow.

I have several friends that I’ve met through Twitter and when we chat privately, we do so almost exclusively through Direct Messages. By breaking out Twitter DMs into their own application, TwIM puts those conversations on the same level as iMessages. I wouldn’t be surprised if this app ends up on my first Home Screen within just a few weeks of use.

Google Makes It Slightly Easier to See Real URLs From AMP Pages ➝

John Gruber:

This is what you call a begrudging UI. Google wants you to pass around the AMP URL, not the publisher’s original URL. If they wanted to make it easier to share the original URL, the anchor button would be a direct link to the original URL. No need for a JavaScript popover. You could then just press the anchor button to go to the original, and press and hold for Safari’s contextual menu. And they could just use the word “Link” or “URL” instead of a cryptic icon.

A quick thought: wasn’t the whole point of AMP to shrink page sizes and increase the speed of browsing? If that’s the case, why does Google have to pre-cache these pages at all? Shouldn’t they be fast enough on their own without the help of Google’s servers? Maybe they’re more interested in wrapping webpages in an iframe, inserting a Dickbar, and keeping users in an ecosystem that they have complete control over.

Apple Hires Amazon’s Fire TV Head to Run Apple TV Business ➝

Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. has hired Timothy D. Twerdahl, the former head of Inc.’s Fire TV unit, as a vice president in charge of Apple TV product marketing and shifted the executive who previously held the job to a spot negotiating media content deals. […]

Twerdahl comes to Apple with significant experience in internet-connected TV devices. Prior to his tenure at Amazon, he was an executive at Netflix Inc. and later a vice president in charge of consumer devices at Roku, a streaming video box developer.

The Future of Computing

Álvaro Serrano, in a well-written and reasoned take on the iPad sales situation:

I don’t think there’s anyone left out there complaining that their iPads are not fast enough these days, or that battery life isn’t good enough. Similarly, screens are gorgeous, storage is ample, and wireless connectivity is better than ever. By all accounts, the iPad is a mature product line hardware-wise, and yet it is still very much in its infancy when it comes to software.

Álvaro is a little less enthusiastic about the iPad than I am, but it’s the best piece I’ve read on the topic so far.

If you’re unaware, iPad sales haven’t been so hot lately. They seem to have peaked at the end of 2013 and have been down year-over-year ever since. Many have speculated about why this could be, with theories ranging from Apple’s lack of commitment to the possibility that Apple was wrong about iOS — it might not be the future of computing. I’ve already shared my thoughts on the situation on twitter, but I thought I’d reiterate them here — it might be something I’ll want to point to in the future.

iPad owners don’t buy new iPads because the one they have is just as fast as the day they bought it. By comparison, the Windows PCs that many of these users buy are at their fastest when they’re first setup. I reference Windows users because they represent the vast majority of mainstream computer users and I believe them to be the primary reason for the massive success of the iPad in its early days.

These Windows PCs remain as their owners’ primary machine until they’re practically unusable — simply from years of built-up cruft in the OS. One solution would be to reinstall the operating system to regain that performance, but most people don’t know how to do that. It’s much easier for them to buy a new computer.

This scenario is practically non-existent with iOS. iPads almost always feel just as fast as the day they were purchased. This is also true with iPhones, but they have an entirely different, built-in mechanism that encourages owners to upgrade. Unlike PCs and iPads, many users buy a new iPhone because, as portable devices, they are prone to being dropped and broken — cracked screens, water damage, and the like.

iPad sales are down year-over-year because there’s no inherit mechanism that encourages users to upgrade. The OS and third-party software system is designed to prevent unnecessary cruft — PCs fight a losing battle against a growing list of login items and background tasks — and they’re less likely to be physically damaged because they’re not taken everywhere like an iPhone is.

Perhaps Apple should spend more time building iPad-specific features in an effort to increase sales. I certainly wouldn’t complain about this strategy. I’m strongly in favor of anything that improves the software on my primary machine, but I’m not entirely convinced that it will make much of a difference.

In the tech-centric circles that many of us frequent, new hardware and software features matter, a lot. But I don’t think the mainstream user is convinced to spend hundreds of dollars on a new device just because it connects to a new kind of wireless keyboard or works with a $100 drawing accessory that you have to buy separately.

Mainstream users think of their computers as appliances — they’re purchased for their utility. They are essential, but they aren’t anything to get excited about. And just like appliances, they’re replaced on an as-needed basis. When was the last time someone you know bought a dishwasher before their old one bit the dust? Probably never.

The iPad upgrade cycle might be longer than any other computing device in history. This might look terrible for Apple’s financial department, but it’s a testament to how well-crafted these devices are from both a software and hardware standpoint. The lengthy upgrade cycle lends itself to high customer satisfaction ratings and repeat customers. That’s something Apple should be proud of — a computing device that doesn’t have to be replaced every few years.

The iPad may never be a 15-20 million units per quarter kind of device, like it was in its early days, but that’s okay. As long as Apple continues to invest time and resources into improving the platform, and they’re able to sell enough to support that investment, the iPad could still end up becoming “the future of computing.” Even if unit sales aren’t as tremendously impressive as everyone wants them to be.

Amazon’s Echo Is a Glorified Clock Radio ➝

Alexander Acimen, writing for Quartz:

I can’t imagine that the designers at Amazon would have been thrilled with the minor achievement of having assembled the world’s foremost clock radio when they built the Amazon Echo, a smart home hub that came out in 2015. But what else could they possibly have expected after packing this little device with a prodigious number of useless easter eggs and yet somehow overlooking a glaring, Death Star-level flaw: the Echo uses Bing instead of Google. […]

This reality doesn’t bode well for Alexa, because her response to 95% of basic search queries is “I can’t find the answer to the question I heard.” It is a phrase that Alexa owners are all too familiar with. It is a phrase you hear again, and again, and again, and soon you will feel that time has stopped, and you will never want to look up anything on the internet ever again. There is a reason that the phrase “to google” has universally come to mean looking up on the internet. It is because Google is the most reliable search engine. At best, and Bing looks like an ad pages site posing as a search engine.

There are some kind words about the Echo in the last two paragraphs, but overall, this is a pretty scathing review of the product. Perhaps Siri isn’t the worst voice assistant on the market.

(Via Matt Birchler.)

Linea ➝

A great new sketching app from the folks at Icon Factory. I don’t do much drawing, but lately I’ve been scribbling down my web design ideas. Linea is perfect for this — the interface stays out of my way and lets me focus on the task at hand.

Apple Said to Work on Mac Chip That Would Lessen Intel Role ➝

Mark Gurman and Ian King, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple engineers are planning to offload the Mac’s low-power mode, a feature marketed as “Power Nap,” to the next-generation ARM-based chip. This function allows Mac laptops to retrieve e-mails, install software updates, and synchronize calendar appointments with the display shut and not in use. The feature currently uses little battery life while run on the Intel chip, but the move to ARM would conserve even more power, according to one of the people.

The current ARM-based chip for Macs is independent from the computer’s other components, focusing on the Touch Bar’s functionality itself. The new version in development would go further by connecting to other parts of a Mac’s system, including storage and wireless components, in order to take on the additional responsibilities.

First the Touch Bar and potentially Power Nap in the near-future, how much of the Mac’s functionality will eventually be taken over by ARM chips?

How to Verify Time Machine Backups ➝

We all know the importance of backing up, but I bet very few of us regularly verify that our backups aren’t corrupted. This is a simple, yet essential, step to any good backup system.

Web Design on the iPad

Coda and Web Tools in Split View

About once a year I get the itch to make some changes to Initial Charge’s design. I’m not quite sure what causes this feeling, perhaps it’s simply pent-up creativity that eventually forces itself out through a text editor. Or maybe the handful of growing annoyances with the current design slowly become too much to bear. Either way, this feeling is inevitable.

The last major redesign was the largest design project I had ever completed. I made the move to a responsive, single-column layout that retained many of the design cues that help Initial Charge stand out against a sea of minimally designed WordPress sites. The yellow background for anchor elements, the headings typeset in Georgia, and the overall focus on the body text itself were all present.

One of the main reasons for moving to a single-column layout was because it was the quickest method for obtaining a mobile-friendly design. The web has changed dramatically over the past decade, but the biggest change is the number of handheld devices used for web browsing. I just couldn’t stand to continue publishing on a site that wasn’t enjoyable to view on a smartphone.

But I’ve never been too thrilled about my decision to build a single-column layout. And although the mobile experience was my highest priority, I didn’t like how the site looked in desktop and tablet browsers. There was too much untapped potential in the additional screen real estate.

The current, single-column layout always felt like a cop-out. And unfortunately, that’s because it was. My knowledge of HTML and CSS has always been rudimentary. I could get by making small changes here and there, but I would frequently run into problems that I had an incredibly difficult time trying to solve. Some of the time I could look at the source code of other sites that were achieving a similar effect, figure out how they did it, and implement it here. But a lot of the time, I couldn’t.

This past September, I made the decision to learn more about web design. I signed up for Treehouse and started their Web Design track. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned in just under five months. Don’t get me wrong, I have no expectations of quitting my day job tomorrow and earning a living as a web designer, but perhaps that will be a possibility in the future. All I know is that I’m significantly more comfortable working in HTML and CSS than I used to be and that feels wonderful.

With the knowledge that I’ve acquired from Treehouse, I’ve started work on a new design for Initial Charge. But this time, rather than modifying an existing WordPress theme — as I’ve done with every other iteration — I’m building this one from scratch. I’ve already coded the necessary template files and I’ve started work on the CSS a few days ago.

My expectation is to have a two-column layout for desktop and tablets that gracefully transitions into a single-column when viewed on a smartphone. I hope that I’m able to achieve this while also writing much cleaner code than what the site’s using now (it works, but there’s about eight years of cruft that I’m not going to miss). I don’t have any idea how long this new design will take — I’d prefer to launch it when it’s ready rather than rushing to ship something that’s not quite there yet.

Web Tools’ Presets

But I didn’t just write this piece to tell you about how much I’ve learned from Treehouse or that at some point in the future you can expect a fresh coat of paint. I wanted to share the software and resources I’ve been using to build this new design, entirely on my iPad.

  • Typewolf: A wonderful typography resource by Jeremiah Shoaf. The site features examples of typefaces in the wild and recommendations on font pairings. This is the first place I go when I need to make typesetting decisions on my web projects.
  • iOS Font List: The majority of Initial Charge readers browse the site from an iOS device and it’s important that the typefaces I choose are built into the operating system. This site lists every single font available on iOS and when it was added to the system. Once I find the fonts I’m interested in using, I check to see if they’re available with iOS Font List.
  • View Source: An inexpensive app from Paul Hudson that let’s you view the source code of any website with an action extension. It’s a very simple utility app that I find myself using just about every time I sit down to code.
  • Web Tools: This app, by James Finley, brings three essential web development tools to the iPad — an inspector, a console, and a scalable browser window. This app is genius. It allows you to test your design at any browser width and offers a handful of presets based on the most common Apple devices. Web Tool’s inspector has been invaluable for me as I’ve moved from building the HTML structure to the CSS styles.
  • Coda: This is the real deal. A full-featured text editor from Panic with find and replace, syntax highlighting, local and remote file management, keyboard shortcuts, and more. This is the backbone of my web development workflow on iOS. It’s one of the few, truly desktop-class applications on the platform and I can’t imagine doing this kind of work without it.

My iPad had a role in building the previous design of Initial Charge, but I did the vast majority of the coding on my MacBook Air. For the most part, the iPad simply served as a preview screen.

This time around, I’ve barely touched my MacBook. I spend most of my time with Coda and Web Tools open, side-by-side on my iPad, which is propped up by my Compass. I have Apple’s previous Bluetooth keyboard in front of me alongside my iPhone, a pad of paper, and a pen. This has become my preferred setting for web design work and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Apple’s TV App Has Changed How I Watch Television ➝

Lory Gil, writing for iMore:

With Up Next, I just open the TV app and browse my recently watched content across all of the apps I watch stuff in (except Netflix). Sometimes, I’ll have forgotten that I was watching a show and can pick it up without missing a beat thanks to Up Next.

It’s so much less frustrating and time consuming than having to search around a variety of apps looking for something to watch. I used to spend 15 minutes (or more) looking for something to watch. With Up Next, I spend less time looking for something and more time just watching.

This has been my experience as well. But I would encourage anyone who uses the TV app on Apple TV to try adding it to their top row and reverting to the old home button behavior. The TV app is great, but interacting with the Up Next queue from the home screen’s Top Shelf is far superior than within the app itself. At this point, I only launch the TV app if I want to find something new to watch.

iOS 10.3 Beta Includes ‘Find My AirPods’ Mode for Locating Lost AirPods ➝

Juli Clover, writing for MacRumors:

Find My AirPods adds your AirPods to the “Find My iPhone” app, listing them alongside all other Apple products. In the app, you can tap on the AirPods to cause them to play a little chirping sound that gradually gets louder for location purposes.

After activating the sound, you can choose to have it play solely through the left AirPod or through the right AirPod so you don’t need to listen to chirping if only one of the AirPods is missing.

This is a really neat little feature for AirPods owners.

The Best Apple Watch Stands ➝

These Watch stands are fine, but I have a serious problem with almost every one of them — where do I keep the rest of my bands? The Twelve South TimePorter is the only one to offer a compartment that can be used for this purpose. But the TimePorter is really better as a travel stand and isn’t built out of the kind of materials that I’d want to display on a nightstand or dresser — it looks cheap. I just want someone to build a nice, wooden Watch stand that features a compartment for my collection of bands.

A Deep Dive Into HandBrake and Video Transcoding ➝

I still buy a lot of DVDs and Blu-rays because they’re often the cheapest way to acquire movies — sometimes its even cheaper than renting from iTunes. But that, of course, means that I spend a lot of time ripping and encoding video before I’m able to watch the film in Plex. This piece, by Rob Griffiths, is filled with great information about the presets available in Handbrake and Don Melton’s Video Transcoding. I hadn’t heard of the latter until reading this, but based on the results of his tests, I expect I’ll begin using soon.

On Third Party Android Apps ➝

Matt Birchler:

I’ll spoil the ending right here: Android apps are far behind what is available on iOS. The best Android apps feel like they are on par with iOS apps from 2010. The apps I have been recommended to try out would be laughed out of the room if they were on iOS. Yes, most iPhone apps have either an Android version of themselves or a similar equivalent, but every single one of those Android versions are worse than their iOS counterparts. Every. Single. One.

The problems run deep, as development for Android seems to be basically non-existent. I know that can’t be true, but that’s what it feels like. I’ve been told the best Twitter and RSS reader apps are actually discontinued and have not been updated in years. You heard that right, the best app for Twitter is not even developed anymore. We rightly give Apple shit for having issues with their App Store, but at least any list of “the best XYZ apps” is going to be populated with current apps.

Apple Using New File System in iOS 10.3 Beta ➝

This transition is happening much quicker than I expected, which leaves me excited and a little nervous. On the one hand, I can’t wait to run an operating system that takes advantage of all its features. But on the other hand, this new file system is a pretty substantial under-the-hood change and can cause all kinds of problems if it’s even a little buggy.

Inevitable Sherlocking ➝

David Smith:

This week I’ve been working on a big update to my Apple Watch sleep tracker, Sleep++. While I love the app, it is a bit funny to work on. I am pretty confident that somewhere deep within the Cupertino mothership, Apple is working on their own sleep tracking app for the Apple Watch. […]

In a weird way I’ve just come to peace with this reality and grown to understand that this isn’t something that I should really fear. While the indefinite nature of its arrival certainly gives me a bit of unease, once I accepted that it was inevitable things got much simpler.

This a great attitude to have.

Requiem for the Thunderbolt Display ➝

Nick Heer:

Don’t let me get you down — LG’s 5K display might work just fine for your setup. But it doesn’t seem like an adequate replacement for the Thunderbolt Display. It doesn’t have the same hardware quality as an Apple product, it doesn’t have comparable functionality, and it has an ugly “forehead” to house the camera. Unfortunately, it seems like Apple won’t make a true successor to the Thunderbolt Display because they’re not making displays any longer. For a niche of Mac users, that’s a big loss.

I haven’t purchased a standalone display since I stopped using PCs in 2006. Every display I use is now built into the machine it’s connected to. And although I’m unsure I’ll ever be in the market for a standalone display again, if I was to need such a product, I don’t even know where I’d begin. I always assumed that I could just buy the one Apple makes, but that’s no longer the case. And that stinks.