The Art and Science of a Mac Menu Bar App

Zach Hamed takes a look at menu bar apps and compares 15 of the most popular ones.

Ask any Mac power user about their menubar and you’ll get a different list of 5-10 must-have applications and utilities that boost productivity. The menubar is the mission control of a user’s computer, giving them an at-a-glance view of stats and apps that are important to them.

I suppose I’m the exception to the rule, I prefer applications that don’t have a presence in the menu bar and refuse to use an app that doesn’t allow me to turn the menu bar icon off.

On the MacBook Air that I’m using to type this, my menu bar icons are as follows:

  1. Volume
  2. Wi-Fi
  3. Battery, with percentage indicator
  4. Clock
  5. Spotlight
  6. Notification Center

I don’t have any third-party menu bar icons and have even removed some of the system-defaults — Time Machine and Bluetooth. If I want quick access to an application or setting I’d rather use Alfred than access it with my mouse in the menu bar.

NFL Now Launches on Apple TV

From NFL Communications:

The National Football League today announced that NFL Now has launched on Apple TV, providing fans free access to the NFL’s massive video content library through the Apple TV platform. NFL Now on Apple TV provides access to game highlights, original content from NFL Media and 32 NFL clubs, live press conferences, and shows and video from the NFL Films vault. NFL Now also delivers the most-personalized NFL viewing experience anywhere, providing a one-of-a-kind video stream based on each fan’s favorite NFL teams, players and NFL.com Fantasy rosters and viewing preferences over time.

I have many family members that I can imagine would be very interested in a service like this. They follow their NFL team all year and would make great use out of a service like this.

But for those of you that are like me, it’s just another icon to hide from my Apple TV’s home screen.

App Store Curation

Jean-Louis Gassée in an open letter to Tim Cook:

Instead of using algorithms to sort and promote the apps that you permit on your shelves, why not assign a small group of adepts to create and shepherd an App Store Guide, with sections such as Productivity, Photography, Education, and so on. Within each section, this team of respected but unnamed (and so “ungiftable”) critics will review the best-in-class apps. Moreover, they’ll offer seasoned opinions on must-have features, UI aesthetics, and tips and tricks. A weekly newsletter will identify notable new titles, respond to counter-opinions, perhaps present a developer profile, footnote the occasional errata and mea culpa.

This would certainly help drive innovation in the iOS developer community and slow the constant churn towards the bottom that many have started noticing as of late. Or at the very least it would do a better job than the App Store continuing as it has been with “top lists” being the primary way that users find new apps.

A Better Queue

I’ve been sitting on this link in Fever’s saved list for about a month and haven’t had much of an opportunity to try it out. But, with what little time I’ve spent on the site it seems to be quite useful at digging up great movies on Netflix.

(Via TechCrunch.)

Inside Apple’s Internal Training Program

The New York Times profiles Apple University — Apple’s internal training program — designed to teach employees about Apple’s business culture and history.

Apple’s Intel Problem

Stephen Hackett on Apple’s potential move away from Intel toward ARM-based processors for their Macs:

In short, Apple’s ARM-based A7 isn’t a good choice for a MacBook Air at this point. While I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility for Apple to ship a slower notebook if the tradeoffs were right, but that current performance gap isn’t enough to justify the possible gain in Cupertino’s beloved performance per watt metric.

Apple is reliant on Intel delivering processors in a timely manner. Intel’s Broadwell processor delays are very likely impacting Apple’s release plans for Macs. It’s one thing for their to be delays of a few months, but these new Intel chips were originally set to enter production in late 2013. Now the processors that Apple is assumed to have plans for might not be ready until July 2015. That’s a far cry from what anyone would consider “reasonable delays.”

But, what strikes me about this recent news is how quickly tech reporters have jumped on this idea that Apple would switch to ARM-based processors rather than use Intel’s x86 chips.

Stephen Hackett does a great job laying out some of the reasons Apple is unlikely to switch in his aforelinked piece on 512 Pixels. But, why would Apple switch from Intel to ARM-based processors when they could switch to AMD? I certainly don’t think either switch is going to happen — at least not in the near-term. But, AMD seems like a much more likely candidate to supply chips to Apple than Apple making a switch to an entirely different architecture for their Macs.

Not only would Apple avoid all of the headaches associated with making another major switch in processor technologies, but they’d be able to work with an underdog with something to prove. And, Apple would have a lot more room to bully AMD around than they currently do with Intel.

I certainly don’t have any room to talk when it comes to the performance differences between AMD and Intel processors (that’s a topic for 18-year-old me during the days when AMD was eating Intel’s lunch in performance and Intel’s chips were pushing 4GHz clock speeds). But, I certainly find the notion of Apple switching from Intel to AMD far more believable than Apple moving to ARM processors for their Macs.

App Rot and the State of iOS Development

Marco Arment:

Quality, sustainability, and updates are almost irrelevant to App Store success and usually aren’t rewarded as much as we think they should be, and that’s mostly the fault of Apple’s lazy reliance on top lists instead of more editorial selections and better search.

The state of iOS app development isn’t great, and it’s hard to say that it’s moving in the right direction. I’m hoping that prominent members of the development community publicly discussing these problems will encourage Apple to make necessary changes in order to fix them.

A Candid Look at Unread’s First Year

Jared Sinclair shares his experience selling his RSS reader — Unread — including sales numbers and words of advice to anyone looking to sell an iOS app in the App Store.

Samsung to End Plasma TV Production

Nilay Patel:

The death of plasma is an incredible success story for LCD technology, but it’s also a sad reminder that disruption doesn’t always meant the best products win: no LCD TV has ever looked as good as the best plasma TVs. Just go down the list: Pioneer’s Kuro plasmas were so amazing that CNET still uses them as a review reference years after they were discontinued in 2008. Pioneer couldn’t make any money and sold the Kuro technology to Panasonic, whose high-end plasmas were widely considered the best until late last year, when the company stopped making them in favor of LCDs. (The remaining stock is in high demand; used 55-inch sets are selling for $3,000 and up on Amazon six months later.)

I’ve owned an LCD television for about eight years and although it was the best I could afford at the time (back when 42-inch HDTVs were around $1500) I always expected that at some point I would upgrade to a plasma television.

Now my options are dwindling, and I don’t expect I’ll be able to plunk down the cash for a new television any time soon. It’s sad that plasma is dying while it remains the best technology for picture quality, but I suppose all the misinformation about burn-in and the need to “refill the plasma” was just too much for the technology to overcome.

Apple Adds iTunes Extras Support to Apple TV

Just under four years after the second generation Apple TV was released, Apple has finally added support for iTunes Extras. I can’t imagine what took them so long — especially considering the original Apple TV already supported Extras — but I guess late is better than never.

Interestingly my girlfriend discovered the feature without knowing of its release. She sat down to watch a Harry Potter movie before I came home from work and discovered that the extra features were available. She spent the next half hour watching behind the scenes extras on the making of the movie.

I can’t say that iTunes Extras will ever convince me to purchase a movie on iTunes, but it’s certainly a nice value-add for movies I’ve already purchased or might purchase in the future.

The Official Swift Blog

The Swift Team:

This new blog will bring you a behind-the-scenes look into the design of the Swift language by the engineers who created it, in addition to the latest news and hints to turn you into a productive Swift programmer.

A little disappointed that they chose to use “blog” rather than “weblog,” but I suppose I’m one of the few holdouts.

Apple clearly thinks that Swift is the future of programming for their platforms and this is another step in the right direction towards convincing developers to adopt it.

Trust in Your Imagination and Instinct

Ron Johnson has a wonderful conversation at Stanford in which he talks about getting his start in retail, working with Steve Jobs, and his time at JCPenney.

App: The Human Story

Speaking of how apps are made, here’s a new documentary about the people behind the apps by Jake Schumacher and Jedidiah Hurt. With 23 days left for the Kickstarter they’re nearly half way to their goal of $100,000 for the film.

A lot of well-known personalities in the application development community are involved, including John Gruber, Marco Arment, Adam Lisagor, Lisa Bettany, and many more. I can’t wait to see how the finished film turns out.

How are Apps Made?

Craig Mod:

The more you question the more you can refine. The more you can refine, the more potential for delight. And if not to delight — through knowledge or navigation or entertainment or communication — then why make? Why toil?

The Internet’s Own Boy

Before heading out to watch a local fireworks display, I decided to watch the Aaron Swartz documentary that was released last week. I heavily recommend it to anyone and everyone.

The documentary is available to rent and buy through the aforelinked TakePart webpage. But as it is licensed under Creative Commons, it is also available to stream and download from the Internet Archive.

Seven Years of iPhone

Ben Brooks:

I’ve owned every iPhone since then, and I still have them all. My original iPhone is gone, but we still have Erin’s original iPhone. All the iPhones still get used everyday except that old original phone.

I remember calling my mother the night before the iPhone launch to get her advice about whether or not I should spend $599 on a cell phone. I should have expected her response — “you’re going to buy it anyway, might as well get it on the first day” (paraphrasing, of course, it has been seven years).

I ended up at my local Cingular store at 11:00am and waited in line seven hours to buy my first iPhone. I’ve purchased an iPhone every other year since then and don’t expect that habit to change for many years to come.

New Channels Added to Apple TV

ABC News, AOL On, Willow, and PBS Kids.

The Verge Details the Honeywell Lyric Thermostat

Honeywell’s answer to the Nest thermostat looks very good. For Honeywell’s sake I hope it didn’t take too long for them to make it to market.

‘Too slow to really get anything done.’

Michael Mulvey points out the problems with The Verge’s product reviews.

Amazon Fire Phone

Amazon’s newly announced smartphone, starting at $199 and shipping on July 25. It’s biggest landmark feature being 3D head tracking that Amazon’s calling “Dynamic Perspective” that allows you to look around object on the screen by tilting your head or the screen. It’s a neat piece of technology, but I don’t think any of the implementations are that compelling. I don’t see anything about Dynamic Perspective that makes me want to use it.

Also, I find it very difficult to look at a product/link scanning feature without thinking of CueCat. And, we all know how that ended.

Split-Screen App Mode Shown in Video

It seems odd and I’m not sure how well it would interact with some application’s gestures. It seems like there could be conflicts that would cause confusion.

Amazon Launches Prime Music Service

Peter Kafka, reporting for Re/code:

Because many of the details of Prime Music have been previously reported (BuzzFeed already noted that the service won’t have songs from major labels until they’ve been out for six months; the New York Times and the New York Post have already noted that the service won’t include anything at all from Universal Music Group, the world’s biggest music label) there isn’t a lot more to say.

How Apple TV Might Disrupt Console Gaming

John Gruber on a possible Apple TV with games:

I think there’ll be just one model, $99 (or even less). The only upsell for gaming would be optional controllers […]

Games are just apps. There’s no more reason to make a games/no-games split with Apple TV than there is to make an apps/no-apps distinction with the iPhone.

I think the Apple TV will remain at $99 and there will be just one model. Apple will sell gaming controllers separately for $29-49 and I expect developers would be able to develop multiplayer games giving Apple the opportunity to sell multiple controllers to each Apple TV owner.

The only question that I still have is whether Apple would decide to sell a bundled version of the Apple TV that came with one controller at a reduced price (and by reduced price I mean the bundle would cost less than the combined price of one Apple TV and one game controller). I think that Apple would manage to upsell a lot more buyers this way, but I don’t think they would like to introduce the frustration that would occur when a buyer of an unbundled Apple TV comes back in the store to purchase a controller.

Why should someone who decides they want to play games later on be “punished” by having to pay a higher price than someone who knew they wanted gaming at the initial purchase?

Kidpost

Neat new service that’s now available as a public beta. It aims to solve the problem of sharing photos with friends and family that don’t have Instagram or Facebook accounts.

Once you’re signed up you simply add the hashtag #kidpost to photos you’d like shared. Once per day the Kidpost service will send an email to your chosen loved ones so they can see all of the hashtagged photos you’ve recently shared.

(Via Shawn Blanc.)

Nintendo Announces ‘Mario Maker’

Nintendo is releasing a Mario Bros. level creator game. There was no release date or pricing announcement, but whenever it hits shelves I’m sure it’s going to sell a lot of consoles.