Allen Pike on Chrome’s new option to hide URLs entirely, which I assume will be the default within a few months:
Perhaps URLs are just destined to be an implementation detail that the next generation of users won’t even know exists. Maybe I was crazy to think that URLs were a permanent part of our culture. Still, I’ll miss the damn things.
This change is probably a decent usability choice. It’s certainly self-serving, in that it’s clearly the best thing for Google: conceptually, you are no longer using the web. You are using Google full-time. The distinction between Google and everything else is blurred even further than it already was. As a developer and web enthusiast, this makes me sad.
But realistically, this is conceptually how most people use web browsers anyway, and it’s been this way for a long time. They’re just codifying this sad reality into the interface.
I’m interested to see if this makes phishing security better or worse, whether EV SSL certificates will be more necessary to be taken seriously, and what it does to the demand for premium domain names. If I were a domain-name squatter, broker, or reseller, between the flood of new TLDs and this, I’d be nervous.
In order to avoid losing its place atop organizations, design must deliver results. Designers must also accept that if they don’t, they’re not actually designing well; in technology, at least, the subjective artistry of design is mirrored by the objective finality of use data. A “great” design which produces bad outcomes — low engagement, little utility, few downloads, indifference on the part of the target market — should be regarded as a failure.
Young people are growing up on the mobile phone as their primary computing device, which has fundamentally changed the way they use and think about the internet. Tablets are simply unnecessary for them, because the mobile phone doesn’t offer a degraded internet experience, like it does for adults: it is the internet experience.
I don’t think tablets will ever disappear, but for mass-market use, they’re going to keep getting squeezed from both sides: larger-screened phones and smaller, lighter laptops. The percentage of people whose primary computing device is a tablet may have already peaked.
Over the next few years, I suspect an increasing number of people will choose not to replace old tablets, instead just choosing to use their phones for everything (and computers, if they have and need them). Ironically, this is exactly what tablets did to PCs.
Michael “Rands” Lopp on the stress of presenting at a conference:
I’m a stranger to most people in the audience. Yes, they don’t want me to fail, but the reason they don’t want me to fail is that’s them up there. Ever been to a big concert? When the band is the stage, are you worried they’re going to fail? Nope. A speaking venue is different: they chose to attend this particular conference to hear a particular story, and you were chosen to be that storyteller.
The good news is that the renewal rate was high enough for App.net to be profitable and self-sustaining on a forward basis. …
The bad news is that the renewal rate was not high enough for us to have sufficient budget for full-time employees. After carefully considering a few different options, we are making the difficult decision to no longer employ any salaried employees, including founders. … Additionally, as part of our efforts to ensure App.net is generating positive cash flow, we are winding down the Developer Incentive Program.
They’re putting on a good face, but it sure sounds like it’s over. It now has no full-time staff, very little money, and even less motivation for developers to write apps for it — and that’s just after the first major renewal period. Now that it’s pretty clear that the future is dim, it’s likely that even more people will abandon the service before the next renewal.
I would have loved to be proven wrong on my pessimisticpredictions and criticism of their scattershot product direction. They’re good people. But I just don’t see a fundamentally social platform, even with a bunch of other features on top of it, getting a usefully large audience to succeed “on a forward basis” rather than “winding down” without being mostly free and having explosive growth from the start — especially when competing with similar, massive, free services.
I’m more than a little disappointed that fellow developers didn’t get the power of the App.net API. Does Sunlitlook like a Twitter app? Give me a break. App.net is hands down the best API of its kind.
It’s not that we didn’t “get” the power of their API.
Requiring the App.net API in our app meant requiring all of our users to have App.net accounts. App.net launched almost 2 years ago as only a paid service — free accounts with open registration were only available for the past year. Trying to get all of your app’s customers to pay you anything for your app, then pay App.net $36 per year for something they don’t understand or care about, is a tall order.1
The high paywall and minimal initial differentiation from Twitter stunted its initial growth, so then it became an API of all different sorts. That’s fine, but now it’s a proprietary API doing some things like Twitter, some things like Facebook, some things like Dropbox, some things like Kickstarter, and maybe someday some things like Stripe… except with none of the users of those services, and only for users with App.net accounts — a userbase that never grew to a large enough number to matter.
Building an app on someone else’s API, rather than making your own, is a huge risk: it usually only pays off if the service provides a huge existing userbase and hard-to-duplicate functionality. App.net never offered either. They started out facing the typical social-network chicken-and-egg problem, put a huge paywall in front to prevent any growth, and tried to alleviate that by adding more chicken-and-egg problems to their offerings.
It was always a weak proposition for developers.
As much as App.net wanted to be — and eventually was — much more than a Twitter clone, it got the vast majority of its initial funding, enthusiasm, and developer support from people’s anger at Twitter’s dickification. But internet outrage doesn’t last long. Since App.net never became the new primary place where our friends all hung out, most of us never left Twitter — we all just accept that they’re dicks now, and we forgot about App.net.
The now-dead Developer Incentive Program was created to address this exact problem, but from what I’ve been told, it never brought in a lot of money even for popular apps. The pool of App.net users has always just been too small. ↩︎
Now you can just select some text and choose the “Highlight” option to save those great quotes you find while reading.
In true Instapaper fashion, your highlights are seamlessly synced across all of your devices. We’ve also added the option for you to post your highlights automatically to your linked accounts. It’s disabled by default, but if you turn it on, you can do nifty things like automatically Tweet your highlights, or post them to a Tumblr blog, or drop them into Evernote.
This is awesome. Highlighting was the biggest Instapaper feature that I never even tried to tackle, despite tons of requests — it’s a surprisingly hard problem since text on the web isn’t static. (Try to find out what happens if a Kindle book is updated and you’ve made some highlights.)
Selling to Betaworks was definitely the right decision.
Every time you’d reach for Calculator for quick math or create a small spreadsheet to play with some variables, go to Soulver instead. I can’t possibly express how useful this is. If Soulver’s not running, I’m not working.
On last week’s podcast, we discussed why people love Beats headphones despite their sound being so undesirable to audiophiles. Since then, people keep asking me the same question: “What should I get instead?”
Different headphones suit different needs. A great model for working all day at your desk won’t be a great choice for portability, and vice versa. People also have different sound preferences: one person’s clarity is another’s harshness; one’s warmth is another’s muddiness; your “ample” bass might be overpowering to me.
These days, there are many great “desk” headphones that are huge, closed (sealed from the outside world), comfortable for long listening, very affordable, don’t need a separate amp, but might have long and unwieldy cables and don’t fold very small. You’ve seen this list — the Sony (Wirecutter), a Sennheiser or two, the Audio-Technica, the Beyerdynamic, and the AKG are usually on it. They’re great for keeping in one spot and listening for hours in noisy environments (like most offices), and bringing on occasional flights. But they’re definitely too big to walk around with, and might be a bit unwieldy on planes (especially those with coiled cords).
Note: I’m intentionally omitting all open-backed headphones from this article since their sound leakage — especially outward — makes them impractical at best and extremely rude to use around other people, on planes, or on mass transit.1 I’ve also omitted earbuds and in-ear-monitors (IEMs, or “canalphones”) because I can’t wear them without pain, so I can’t really judge them fairly.
Anyway, for portable use, priorities are different. Practicality trumps everything:
If you fly often, you might want great active noise cancellation above all else.
Portable headphones must be compact and foldable. The smaller, the better.
Being able to pause or seek with an iPhone clicker, or even take a phone call, makes a huge difference for almost all use except when plugged into a computer and working at a desk. Many headphones don’t have clickers, and not every clicker is good. Once you’re accustomed to having one, it really sucks not to.
Durability is pushed to the limit in portables, especially at the cable’s ends. A replaceable cable is a huge bonus.
Portables shouldn’t need an extra amp, ruling out most high-impedance headphones.
Comfort is paramount. A great-sounding pair of headphones isn’t very useful if they’re uncomfortable to wear for the duration you’ll typically want.
Fashion matters. You can look like a space alien alone at home, but if you’re going to be walking around in public, you probably want a more compact, subtle look.
I haven’t tried every headphone on the market — far from it (much to my chagrin). But among those I’ve tried, there are some clear winners, and a handful of models I haven’t tried seem worth consideration since they’ve gotten so much acclaim.
Smallest, for maximum portability
I’ve only found one headphone that nails this: the Sennheiser PX 200-II i ($70). It’s my favorite portable set so far for two reasons: it’s the only one I’ve found that folds into a compact pretzel shape, and it has a good iPhone clicker. It’s also a good value.
But it has relatively poor sound quality — fine for podcasts, but not great for music. There’s also a major durability issue: I’ve lost three of them — one about every 18 months — to what I suspect are internal frays in the thin, non-replaceable cable. And its tiny on-ear design, which makes it so portable, also makes it uncomfortable after about an hour.
It’s great for commuting, walking the dog, or doing household chores, but poor for long listening and sound quality.
Midsized “on-ear” designs, but still portable
These sound much better than ultra-compact models, but since they’re still resting on the ear (rather than around it), they’re usually not comfortable for very long periods. They don’t fold very small, but can often still fit in a large jacket pocket.
V-Moda XS ($200): Very strong reviews, with a clicker, removable cable (a rarity in this size class), and an inward fold. My XS will arrive in a few days — I’m hoping it can become my new walking headphone, although I know it won’t fold nearly as small as the PX 200-II i. Update: Full review.
Beyerdynamic DT-1350 ($200): Strong reviews, but no clicker, and the cable’s not replaceable. Knowing how much I love Beyerdynamic’s detailed sound, if this had an iPhone clicker, I’d definitely get it.
B&W P5 ($300): Decent sound quality, but you’re paying more for the luxury brand than the sound. I also found it resonated loudly with every step while walking, and had to return mine. But a lot of people love these.
Over-ear designs, portable only with a bag or case
These are “portable” in the sense that you can bring them on a plane, but you can’t just go somewhere with a jacket and have anywhere to put them except on your head. But their larger, around-ear designs are much more comfortable for long listening, so they can double as desk headphones.
Bose SoundTrue Around-Ear ($180): Decent comfort and better sound quality than the On-Ear sister model, but not great. It’s pretty cheap-feeling for Bose, but it is the cheapest model in this category.
PSB M4U 1 ($300): I bought these on The Wirecutter’s strong recommendation. They’re very modern: seemingly good construction, very comfortable, and practical, with a small, removable cable that can plug into either side. But the clicker is awful (and just one button), and the sound quality doesn’t sound like $300. It has weak treble and lacks detail, as if you’re listening through a thin pillow. The DT-770 (32-ohm) sounds far more detailed and costs $100 less, although it lacks the removable cable and (bad) clicker.
NAD VISO HP50 ($300): By the same designer as the PSB M4U 1, these are getting rave reviews. They appear to have much of the M4U’s practicality, a proper 3-button clicker, and similar but more refined sound at the same price — in fact, based on what I’ve read, I don’t think there’s any reason to choose the M4U over these, but I haven’t tried them yet. I was tempted to buy a pair, but I’m afraid the sound will be too close to the M4U’s and therefore not to my liking.
Sennheiser Momentum ($300): I only got to try these for a minute, and they didn’t fit me well and didn’t impress me with sound. They’re slightly too small to actually fit around many people’s ears. But a lot of people like them, so they’re worthy of consideration. They have a removable cable (finally, Sennheiser!) and a great iPhone clicker, but they don’t fold at all.
V-Moda M100 ($300): Another crowd favorite. They look practical: removable cable, iPhone clicker, some folding.
AKG K551 ($330): iPhone clicker, with Bluetooth and noise-canceling versions available. But it seems like a $100 premium over the K550 just for that iPhone clicker.
Bose QuietComfort QC-15 ($300, Wirecutter’s pick): If noise-canceling is your most important factor, just stop now and get these. They sound decent, not great, but have the best noise-canceling engine and world-class comfort.
B&O H6 ($400): Possibly the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn. Unfortunately, they sound strange, with nicely detailed midrange but a severe lack of bass. And for about the same price, I could get the still-very-comfortable, better-sounding (but clickerless and non-folding) T70p when it’s on sale.
B&W P7 ($400): These have a lot of fans, but I wasn’t crazy about them. Like the B&O H6 and the smaller P5, you’re paying much more for the luxurious design than the sound quality. I think the H6 beats the P7 on both, but that’s mostly a personal fashion choice.
What did I miss?
If you want an open headphone anyway: Grado if you have little money and a high tolerance for pain, DT-880 otherwise, and T90 if you can afford it.
The T90 has shockingly good sound that competes very well against many headphones that cost more than twice as much, including the venerable HD 800 (which I now use as my main home listening set because I have a headphone problem), and it can be easily driven by an iPhone or computer without another amp. ↩︎
A depressing look at the ad-funded web today, and what it’s like to depend completely on Google for your business. Google owns the ad-driven web: their search brings all of your pageviews, and their ads bring all of your income. You’re just along for the ride, hoping to stay in Google’s good graces — an arbitrary, unreliable, undocumented metric that changes constantly. (Google’s only “open” with the trivial, unprofitable parts of their business. Search and ads are closed, proprietary, and opaque in every possible way.)
Matt Haughey and company are good people who won’t do crappy things to make more money (or try to regain fallen income). But if you look at the position this puts publishers in — downsize or shut down, or fill your site with more intrusive, crappier, sleazier ads — it’s no wonder the web is full of garbage from people with lower standards.
People wonder why I’m so skeptical of Google and careful not to rely on them for too much. This is why: they’re in this unassailable position of absolute monopoly power for such a massive part of web publishing because too many people aren’t so skeptical.
It’s ridiculous, but it works well.1 I also love that his solution to jitters is to make coffee.
For me, I’m not sure if it’s worth carrying all of this stuff rather than tolerating crap coffee when traveling or just bringing a few fancy tea bags. But maybe I haven’t felt the need as much because I just invite myself over to Underscore’s room to make coffee at conferences.
So I guess the solution is to only attend the same conferences, and stay in the same hotel, as Underscore.
Although I have the Hario Mini grinder and wouldn’t recommend it — it takes forever and a lot of cranking to grind 12 grams to AeroPress fineness. Underscore’s wider Skerton is much faster. ↩︎
I really thought I’d like the V-Moda XS headphones.
Last week, I argued that for portable headphones, sound quality takes a back seat to practicality. I knew the XS wouldn’t be as small as my favorite portable set, and I knew it wouldn’t sound as good as many full-sized models, but its reviews have been stellar as something in the middle.
Design and Size
When they arrived, I found the design a bit off-putting, mostly from all of the exposed screws.1
They’re much larger than I expected, and they’re very heavy for their size — at 195g, they’re slightly heavier than the larger Sennheiser Momentum and Bose QC-15.
The earcups don’t rotate to fold flat like many models. Instead, they swing upward and click into the headband cavity. This lets you fold them into a fairly small “ball”, but it won’t fit in most jacket pockets, and it’ll be awkward in small bags.
Here’s how they compare to some other portable headphones, plus a full-size set for perspective. The V-Modas are in the middle:
Same headphones, folded. See why I like the Sennheiser PX line?
Tired, fluffy dog for scale, in case you also have one to compare against.
Most small headphones are on-ear designs: their earpads rest directly on the ears. Larger models can use over-ear earpads that form circles around ears, resting on your head instead. Over-ear designs are usually much more comfortable, especially for long spans, and isolate better. And generally, the lighter the headphone, the more comfortable it can be.
The XS is an on-ear design, but it’s a very large one — possibly the largest I’ve seen, and almost certainly the heaviest.
The earpads concentrate their pressure in a thin outline ring on each ear. With most comfortable headphones, you can quickly forget that you’re wearing them. With the XS, I can never forget, and I never stop feeling that pressure outline on my ears.
I find them very uncomfortable after a few minutes.
The XS is socketed, so the cable is replaceable and can be inserted into either side — a big win for practicality and longevity.
The cable is orange. Fun.
But it’s also too thick and too stiff, which makes it annoying to maneuver. The diagonal plug is strange, bringing the worst of both worlds: most of the awkwardness of a right-angle plug, with most of the protrusion of a straight plug.
The clicker is only one-button, and it’s a separate module further down from the microphone at roughly breast level when worn. Since it’s so far from the usual neck-level placement, I can’t access the clicker if I tuck the cable under a shirt or jacket.
Since it’s replaceable, I could just buy another cable from someone else. But who? Good replacements with a 3-button iPhone clicker are hard to find, most are either terrible or stupidly expensive, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll fit through another model’s narrow socket-surround. A replaceable cable is mostly only useful to replace with the same one from the manufacturer if yours breaks or fails.
Bass is a bit too strong and imprecise, and often gets boomy enough to mask other details. Upper treble is weak, making everything sound slightly muffled and muddy. But neither are extreme enough to be fatal, and neither are uncommon in small, closed headphones. You can get better-sounding closed headphones at this price, but they’re going to be much larger.
Overall, the XS sounds very good for its size. I’m impressed with its sound.
But it’s a strange size that brings the worst aspects of on-ear and over-ear together. It’s almost the size, weight, and price of a small over-ear model, so it misses much of the portability and practicality of many smaller on-ears. Its mediocre cable reduces the practicality even further, and its design is… “polarizing”.
For me, the biggest problem is simply comfort. I can almost still feel the hexagonal earpad outline pressed into my ears.
Ultimately, I decided to return the XS.
I also ordered directly from V-Moda so I could get free custom-printed Overcast side plates, which looked much better in theory than in reality — the black screws and almost-gold color look pretty tacky in person. ↩︎
The Dropbox-Markdown-notes-editor market exploded over a few years, but seems to have flamed out and died down recently. Once Vesper has a Mac app to sync with, I bet it has a good chance of taking over that role, in a new way and with some new abilities, for a lot of people.
Next week at WWDC, we’re likely to hear a familiar response to many requests: “File a bug.”
I’ve had countless Apple employees tell me over the years that filing bug reports is the most effective way to get actual bugs fixed and “vote” for new API features. (It’s also the only way that most people have.)
I’ve filed 15 bugs since 2009. Of those:
8 have been marked as duplicates. All but two of the “origin” bugs remain open, despite two actually being fixed. Another two very different feature requests were marked as duplicates of the same origin, and since I can’t see the title of the origin, I have no way to know if either was a mischaracterization.
6 have never received any kind of response and remain open.
1 had Apple request a sample project, which I provided, then got no further response (and is still open).
We file radars and we’re lucky to hear back about them. The majority of radars are either left untouched or marked as duplicates of other radars we cannot see. We may get a request for more information from engineering, but sometimes it is for irrelevant information or information already given in the original report. All this makes us feel like our radars make little difference. And this is important as our time is valuable.
From our point of view, there’s little reason to file bugs. Filing a good bug report takes a lot of testing and time, and it seems like Apple just disregards most of them. Of the few that get any response at all, it’s almost always a useless response or the obvious result of a careless engineer trying to clear out the bug backlog with as little work as possible.
With these results, what reason do we have to spend any time filing bugs?
Apple’s employees present a nice story: Apple cares! File a report! It matters! And I believe that those individuals truly believe that. The system works by the time it gets to them. And in the aggregate, they do need our bug reports.
But actions speak louder than words, and Apple’s actions tell a different story to the vast majority of developers who actually bother filing bugs.
Their abysmal communication and responsiveness, with most of the responses indicating carelessness or apathy, tells each individual developer, “Don’t bother filing that. Nothing will happen. It’s a waste of your time. We don’t care.”
If we developers want Apple’s platforms to work as well as they can, the sad and short truth of the matter is we have to report bugs. If you’ve only reported 15 bugs over 6 years, as Marco has, I’m afraid to say that you haven’t done enough.
Yes that’s right kids, you just need to try harder to get daddy to love you. He really does, he just doesn’t show it much. And yes his actions often suggest that he doesn’t even know you exist, but you know, you gotta keep trying!
Five hours later, still with no response, I called up the Developer Telephone Support line to check on the status. Now, Apple has amazing phone support: no menu of options, no waiting on hold. You call and are immediately connected to a real live human being who seems to genuinely care about your problem. But their spectacular responsiveness is matched only by their complete inability to actually solve your problem. I’ve called them once before and had the same experience: they’re truly, terribly sorry (and I believe them!), but they just don’t have the authority to do anything about it. Not only couldn’t they get a technical support person on the line, they couldn’t even contact them. They couldn’t even check on the status of our ticket!
We will remain open, but starting in July, we will only host Mule Design employee shows. Let’s Make Mistakes, David McCreath’s wonderful It Might Get Personal, Mike Essl and Ed Casey’s Issues, and Erika Hall and Gabe Levine’s Running From the Law will remain. But we will go back to doing it for fun. We will not sell sponsorships.
This comes shortly after their biggest show went independent. (Don’t worry, there’s no drama there.)
Podcast networks are a lot like blog networks. (Remember them?) When the medium is young and everything’s difficult, it helps to band together with a large entity to pool resources on tools, hosting, ad sales, and staffing.1
But as the medium and technology mature and hosting costs drop, being in a network becomes far less necessary and compelling, and it increasingly makes sense for people to go independent. The glory days of podcast networks are behind us.
Contrary to popular belief, and much like blog networks, podcast networks don’t do much for “exposure”. Great shows usually get discovered regardless of where they are, and successful networks don’t save mediocre or limited-appeal shows. ↩︎