Mike Becky

The Magic Is Gone

I remember around ten years ago, whenever I was near an Apple Store, I just had to go. If I was visiting family in Pittsburgh, I had to visit the Apple Store. If I was around Syracuse, if I was in Philadelphia, wherever. If there was an Apple Store nearby, I had to take the time to visit, even if just for a little bit.

From my earliest days with Apple products, in 2004, I’ve always been 2-3 hours from the nearest Apple Store.

But the products felt so cool during that era. The idea of having a half an hour or so with the entire lineup was too much to pass up.

I’d check out every MacBook they offered and chat with my wife (then girlfriend) about which one struck the right balance for my needs. I’d check out the Mac Mini, each iMac, and the Mac Pro and have an internal debate about which one I’d buy if money was no object. Even after leaving the store, I’d spend the rest of the day thinking about my dream setup.

I’d check out the latest iPods, iPads, iPhone, and browse through all of the accessories. Sometimes I’d leave with something — a new pair of headphones, a power adapter, or the like — and sometimes I’d leave completely empty handed.

Today, though, I can’t remember the last time I even went to an Apple Store. It was probably before 2020 and it was more than likely because I actually needed to go there for something. The last time I made a point to go to the Apple Store just to browse was probably a year or two prior.

The magic of Apple’s retail stores is gone.

Part of that is because Apple products are a bit more accessible in my area now. I can go to my local Target or Walmart and toy around with the Apple Watch, iPhone, and iPads on display. If I want to check out a new Mac, the local Best Buy carries a good portion of those.

But even more so, Apple’s products aren’t really exciting to me anymore. Most of what they release is a relatively minor iteration over the previous version. Sometimes with, what feels like, downgrades compared to the previous model. I’m looking at you, Action Button.

“But what about the Vision Pro”, you’re invariably asking? Well, that product isn’t appealing to me in the slightest. I have no interest in augmented or virtual reality. I consider it to be more akin to 3D television or motion controls in games. Neither of those will necessarily go away entirely — they will rise and fall in popularity over time, but they’ll never be the predominant medium or even a major player.

Maybe I’ll eat my words, but I don’t expect the Vision Pro or any other AR/VR computing product to ever be much more than a novelty device.

Outside of the lack of excitement for Apple’s new products, though, there are obviously other factors that have an impact.

I’m at a different part of my life now than I was ten years ago. My wife and I have started a family, I have a great job, and with that comes a bit more disposable income and a lot less free time. I can often just buy products that I would have, previously, had to save for.

And the lack of time means that I’m unable to obsess over all of the little details of an announcement. Or read through every line of the product pages and press releases. All of the things that built excitement for actually getting my hands on the products.

All of this isn’t a bad thing, of course. There are the clear benefits of spending time with family instead of caring so much about the products of a former computer company.

I think the lack of excitement in folks like me represents an opportunity for another company to build something truly neat. To get people excited and start making waves in the consumer electronics industry.

Valve’s Steam Deck and the recent explosion of retro emulation handhelds from Retroid, Anbernic, and others immediately comes to mind. There’s a lot to be excited about in that market.

But I’m hoping for something bigger. Something that will give me the same feeling I got from Apple in the late 2000s. The type of feeling that will have me going out of my way to spend a few minutes with a new product in a retail store.

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Action Button as Game Launcher

Game Launcher shortcut with Minecraft and Steam Link

Since receiving my iPhone 15 Pro this past fall, I have been racking my brain trying to figure out how to make the Action Button feel useful to me.

Up until recently, I’ve felt like it was a massive step backward when compared to the simple silence switch that the iPhone has featured since the original launched in 2007. The switch was nice because you could interact with it by feel. If you’re at a movie theater or some other live event and needed to make sure your phone wouldn’t randomly make noises, disturbing everyone else, you could check the switch with your iPhone still in your pocket.

This isn’t something that has ever worked for me with the Action Button. With it set to toggle Silent Mode, my experience usually goes something like this:

  • Press the Action Button.
  • Feel the haptic feedback.
  • Try and remember what that specific haptic feedback means.
  • Probably press the Action Button another one or two times so that you can feel the difference between the two types of haptic feedback.
  • Ultimately take your iPhone out of your pocket to make sure it’s set the way you wanted.

Despite my discovery of a useful Action Button shortcut, I still think that the above situation is such a mess that I’d rather just have the silencer switch back. But even if Apple decides to bring back the switch, I’m stuck with the Action Button for at least another year-and-a-half. I might as well make the most of it.

Game Launcher Example Shortcut

I’m now using the Action Button as a dedicated game launcher. But it doesn’t just display a menu, listing the games (and emulators) on my device, and launch the one I select. Instead, it always opens the game or emulator that I most recently played and I have the option to display a menu to launch something else.

I’m accomplishing this with Toolbox Pro, which offers Global Variable actions. Each time I launch a game or emulator using this shortcut, the name of that application will be saved to a Global Variable and the next time I run my game launcher, it will automatically launch the game saved in that variable.

As for the menu to launch something else, that will only display if I want it to. I’m accomplishing this by checking the device’s volume at the beginning of the shortcut and then checking it again two seconds after the Global Variable app is launched. If the volume is different upon that second check, the menu will display.

The way it works in practice is, I press the Action Button, the most recent game opens. If I’d like to play something else, I have a two second window to press either of the two volume buttons. If I do, I’ll get a menu that lists the other games and emulators on my device and I can choose one to launch.

Then, the next time I run the shortcut by pressing the Action Button, the most recently launched game/emulator will open first.

This setup does require you to update the shortcut whenever you add or remove a game from your device and the shortcut itself is going to be unique to you and the collection of games you play. But I’ve put together an example shortcut showing how it works, that you can adapt to your setup.

The example shortcut is just setup to open Minecraft and Steam Link because those are the only games that I have on my device that aren’t sideloaded through AltStore. But again, the method that I’m using can be adapted to launch any number of games on your device. You’ll just need to update the If action that checks the Global Variables and opens the initial app, as well as the Menu action that displays a list of and launches the other games.

I’m hoping the example shortcut will do the trick, but if you decide to set this up for yourself and run into any trouble, feel free to reach out and I’d be happy to help with all that I can.

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