Accidental Tech Podcast: That Big Ring Underground Somewhere in Europe →
Apple TV vs. Fire TV and Roku, ARM Mac rumors, and weighing Twitter’s usefulness against its abuse.
I’m Marco Arment: a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.
Apple TV vs. Fire TV and Roku, ARM Mac rumors, and weighing Twitter’s usefulness against its abuse.
I love that people did this to honor a great patriot of our country, and I’m neither surprised nor offended that it was removed. I can’t fault the city staffers for doing their jobs.
But the truly Orwellian part that just gives me the chills and makes me ashamed to live in New York was that the city employees covered it with a tarp for a while before it could be removed.
What were they so afraid of? People being reminded of Edward Snowden’s existence? That’s truly cowardly and un-American. Or at least, it’s against the ideals that I thought America held dearly, which it keeps proving me wrong about.
Speaking of Edward Snowden, this is a must-watch.
After months of ignoring Myke Hurley telling us that the iPhone 6 Plus was great, a bunch of my friends have all tried it recently, and many have converted. See these podcasts:
And these blog posts:
I finally tried the 6 Plus myself as well, having recently taken two trips to the British Isles in the span of a few weeks. I wanted to get a local SIM, and my only unlocked iPhones were my old 5S and the 6 Plus I bought for development and testing that has sat mostly idle for months. I didn’t want the 5S’ worse camera and smaller battery, so I chose the 6 Plus.
The results surprised me.
This combination makes the 6 Plus unexpectedly awesome for traveling. The battery is so large that you can effectively use GPS and cellular data as much as you want. And you’ll want the best camera available to capture and share photos with all of that battery power, GPS, and data.
I didn’t bring an iPad at all on the trips I spent with the 6 Plus, and I didn’t miss it. There wasn’t a single time when I thought, “I wish I had been carrying 2 pounds worth of an iPad and its accessories all this time so I could do X on a larger screen right now.” (To be fair, I hardly use iPads anymore regardless.)
Being accustomed to the iPhone 6, the 6 Plus doesn’t feel as huge as it did when it first launched and we were all accustomed to the 4-inch iPhone 5/5S. It stopped feeling huge in my hands within the first few hours of use.
The 6 Plus is indeed worse than the 6 for one-handed use, but not by nearly as much as I expected — both are poorly suited to it.
The 6 Plus also shares the 6’s unfortunate sleep/wake-button placement opposite the volume-up button, which I presume is a victory of visual symmetry over usability. Many months into ownership, I still sometimes accidentally hit both buttons.
Grip is about the same, too. Both lack side-grippability and feel precariously slippery when used without a case, even though I’ve never needed a case for any previous iPhones. The case-edge design (on both models) is so poor that I was very uncomfortable using the iPhone 6 until I got Apple’s leather case a few weeks later. Unsurprisingly, I have the exact same opinion about the 6 Plus: it’s too slippery without a case, but feels great with the Apple leather case.
A common theme among other reviews is that the 6 Plus is a “different kind of device” that inspires a different usage pattern, more like a tiny iPad than a large iPhone, with more two-handed and/or landscape-orientation usage. I haven’t found this to be the case. Maybe that’s because I’ve never been a heavy iPad user, but the 6 Plus doesn’t feel like an iPad or a new kind of device at all to me — it just feels like a huge iPhone.
In fact, the iPad-crossover enhancements mostly annoy me, and I’d disable them if I could. The iPad-style treatment of split-view apps and slide-up modal views in landscape orientation feels cramped and hacky at best — it just feels like a too-small iPad, rather than a too-large iPhone. I’m also constantly rotating the home screen unintentionally, requiring me to use portrait lock regularly for the first time.
Having expected huge downsides in grip and one-handed use that simply didn’t materialize, the 6 Plus’ benefits have been almost “free” over the 6. The only significant downside has been the 6 Plus’ physical dimensions.
The biggest problem I’ve hit is that it just feels uncomfortably huge and awkward in my pocket more often than the 6 (which did have this issue sometimes as well, but not as often), and it’s clumsier to insert and remove from pockets.
At first, I didn’t think its pocket size was a problem. But I’ve found myself often taking it out and putting it on the desk or table in front of me, which I’ve never regularly done before. It also feels uncomfortable in my pocket if I’m moving around a lot, and I find myself always trying to slide it to the side of my leg instead of the front.
Overall, the 6 Plus is a major compromise, and it never lets you forget that — but so is the 6.
The 6 Plus’ battery life is the biggest advantage to me by far. While that’s a nice (and mostly unadvertised) bonus for the 6 Plus, it’s also a condemnation of the iPhone 6 and Apple’s apparent belief across iPhones, iPads, and Macs that battery life is good enough already and doesn’t need significant improvement.
Apple’s obsession with thinness as the top design priority, spending most of the technical progress that accumulates over time on size reduction rather than increased battery life, is also likely to blame for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus’ worst design flaw: their slippery sides, which exacerbate their unsuitability for one-handed use. (The tolerable but unfortunate camera bulge is another victim of thinness-above-all-else design priorities.)
Having used an iPhone 6 full-time from its launch until these 6 Plus experiments over the last few weeks, I can confidently say that neither phone is extremely well-designed. Both have nontrivial and completely avoidable flaws. But the 6 Plus has bigger advantages over the other phones, while the 6 seems to sit in a mediocre middle ground.
CGP Grey summarized the difference well in the aforelinked Hello Internet episode: “I am more and more convinced that the iPhone 6 is the phone for nobody; it’s the in-between phone that has all of the disadvantages of both [the 5S and 6 Plus]”.
An iPhone 6 thick enough to have 50% more battery capacity would be a better overall iPhone than the 6 or 6 Plus. The increased thickness required for the battery would likely be more grippable and more usable without a case, and would even eliminate the camera bulge. It would be a bit heavier, but I don’t know a single iPhone 6 owner who wouldn’t accept that trade-off.1
Apple chose not to offer such a device. Instead, today’s iPhone lineup requires that you choose:
I wish we didn’t need to make this choice. But given the options we have, I can see why so many of us are choosing the 6 Plus.
The 6’s relative mediocrity is probably why so many of us are looking around and trying the 6 Plus — which shares many of the same design flaws, but provides more substantial advantages. I’d still rather use an iPhone 6 than a non-iPhone, and the larger screen and better camera have spoiled me enough that I don’t want to go back to the 5S, but I don’t think anyone will look back fondly on the iPhone 6 in a few years. Ultimately, beyond any particular feature concerns or battery capacities, I hope the next iPhone doesn’t have as many physical design and usability flaws as the 6 series.
In the meantime, I might stick with the 6 Plus. It’s probably easier to buy pants with bigger pockets than to convince Apple that a bigger battery is a more welcome improvement on the next mid-sized iPhone than an extra millimeter of thinness.
Third-party iPhone batteries and battery-cases can approximate this ideal device, but only poorly. Battery packs are great for travel but extremely clunky for daily use. Battery cases are better, but even the thinnest cases require much more bulk to deliver a given battery capacity than simply building it into the phone. And personally, I find them all hideous in pocketability, operation, and appearance. ↩︎
When Casey Liss posted about his switch to DuckDuckGo last month, I switched to it myself and didn’t tell anyone so I could give it an honest try. My principles are only diverging further from Google’s over time, and I feel a bit defeated whenever I turn to them for anything anymore, so I attacked my primary dependence head-on: web search.
In my experience so far, DuckDuckGo’s search is good enough the vast majority of the time. Sometimes, its results are even better than Google’s, and they’re rarely much worse.
The best thing they offer is the
!g prefix to direct any given search to Google — but not because Google’s results are better. Being able to quickly try an unhelpful DuckDuckGo search on Google almost always returns equally unhelpful Google results, confirming that the results I got from DuckDuckGo are crappy because web search just sucks these days.
It’s an antidote to grass-is-always-greener syndrome: you immediately see the mediocrity you’re missing and stop doubting your choice.
Apple Watch reviews and picks, and get your modern web design off of our lawn.
The Apple Watch Sport is perfectly fine. I don’t look at it and feel proud that I’m wearing it, but it seems like a good product, and it’s going to sell incredibly well.
The steel Watch is great. I was afraid it’d be too flashy and too heavy, but it’s neither. It makes me happy but doesn’t feel ostentatious.
The Sport band is comfortable at first but got too sweaty for me, and wasn’t very attractive. I also found it very annoying and cumbersome to attach — it seems designed for people with three hands. But if you’re getting a Sport combo to keep costs reasonable, it’ll be good enough, even if you can’t afford a third hand.
The Leather Loop, my original top pick, was disappointing. Due to the embedded magnets, it feels like hard plastic, not soft leather. I also found it annoying to attach and adjust because the links get caught on the loop-back ring.
The Milanese Loop, my preorder, is decent, but not quite what I expected. The mesh is much smaller in real life than it looks in the photos, so it ends up looking and feeling more like silver fabric than woven metal. It’s easier to attach and adjust than the Leather Loop because it doesn’t have discrete segments, but it still took me a few adjustments each time to get the right fit.
I’d been ruling out the leather Classic Buckle because it seemed so primitive and low-end compared to the other options, but it was the most comfortable band on me. It’s much softer than the magnet-infused Leather Loop, and while it won’t win any fashion awards, it doesn’t look bad — just neutral. Attachment is neither cumbersome nor convenient — it works exactly like every other watchband like it. It’s completely forgettable, in mostly good ways.
The Link Bracelet was surprisingly comfortable — definitely more comfortable than the rigid Leather Loop, possibly due to its smoother edges, and maybe even more comfortable than the Milanese. It has by far the fastest and easiest attachment and release, and has my highly desired feature of maintaining its set size between attachments. (Remember, you’re going to be taking the Apple Watch off and putting it on a lot.) I’m unsure of the appearance — I feel like I might be 20 years too young to wear it.
The black Link Bracelet and black steel Watch were almost really cool, but ultimately disappointingly colored. In the brightly-lit glass display table, they look almost tungsten-colored, but in the store’s normal lighting for the try-on, they just looked black. The color reminded me of the black iPhone 5 (not the lighter Space Gray on the 5S) — it reads as black, not dark gray. It’s so dark that it barely looks metallic anymore, losing most of its luster and looking flat and drab. If it was actually a tungsten-like color, it would have been my favorite overall by far, but it’s not.
And the new MacBook is absolutely amazing, revolutionary, and mind-blowing… until you need to use the keyboard for something.
Whenever anyone asks me about a popular movie, they’re flabbergasted that I haven’t seen it. You’d think they’d learn to just assume I’ve seen nothing, but they haven’t yet.
In an effort to accelerate that, here’s a list of the Academy Award Best Picture nominees and top 10 highest-grossing films for the last 15 years. My “I’ve seen it” ratio starts bad and only gets worse over time. Had I not seen most of the Pixar movies because I have a kid, it would be even worse. (My ratio was pretty good before 2000 because I was in high school and had nothing else to do.)
Key: Seen it, Haven’t seen it
Some displays with resolutions higher than 4K require two DisplayPort cables to connect the display at full resolution. With OS X Yosemite v10.10.3 or later, the Dell UP2715K 27-inch 5K display is supported on the following Mac computers:
- Mac Pro (Late 2013)
- iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014)
Before, the only way to get a 5K display on a Mac was to either get the 5K iMac (the route I chose, and haven’t regretted for a second) or put a GTX 980 into an old tower Mac Pro and jump through some hoops and hacks to get it to work. Native, hack-free Mac external-display support was limited to 4K.
Now, owners of the new Mac Pro can finally have a 5K display… for $2500 (the base price of the entire 5K iMac). And it has to be a Dell, whose monitors usually have good panels but ugly casings and inconsistent controls. But if I still had a Mac Pro and had no interest in the 5K iMac, I’d jump on this option.
That said, since selling my Mac Pro and getting the 5K iMac last fall, I’ve had zero regrets. It’s just as fast as the Mac Pro in my usage (and about 25% faster at single-threaded tasks), and it has the best display I’ve ever seen on any device — it even makes the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro look muddy and primitive by comparison. And while its fan becomes audible under a long, sustained, heavy CPU load (which wasn’t the case with the always-inaudible Mac Pro), that hardly ever happens for me in practice unless I’m encoding a video or batch-processing hundreds of photos.
Watch minutia, WWDC tickets, and John ends his series of OS X reviews.
And we’re selling T-shirts again for a limited time — order now if you want one this year, from three distinct collections. (I got the gold one.)
Others have said it better than I can: I’m going to miss these legendary reviews. It’s the end of an era, and the next OS X release won’t feel the same.
But maybe, just maybe, the John Siracusa OS X reviews had to die for a new filesystem to be born.
I’ve never seen anything quite like Glide, and I think it’s going to be huge.
The best way I can explain it is that Glide is to apps as Squarespace is to websites: it lets you build a lot of common app types (especially content, informational, and portfolio apps), with very little effort or expertise, and yields stunning results.
Many of you have already used at least one Glide-powered app without realizing it. I’ve used a handful so far, and they’re all impressive. It’s going to be a big deal for small publishers who can’t afford or don’t need full custom app development. A lot of clients will just make the apps themselves, but this could also become a massively useful tool for the consulting market to make better apps more quickly.
If I were an iOS consultant, I’d get on this bandwagon early.
(Chris Harris is also a friend and just a ridiculously nice guy with seemingly infinite energy and enthusiasm. Whatever gets him going in the morning, I’ll have one of those, please. These are the kind of people whose work you want to keep an eye on.)
In AnandTech’s great review of the MacBook One,1 the extensive battery-testing graphs were a bit depressing to me — not because of the MacBook’s results, which were roughly what I expected, but because of the relatively stagnant battery-life range covered by Apple’s laptop line.
As batteries and components advance, device designers are able to spend those advancements increasing battery life at a given size and weight, or they can keep battery life in the same range and just make the batteries (and therefore the devices) smaller and lighter. In recent years, Apple has chosen the latter almost every time.
The relentless expenditure of technical progress on ever-diminishing thinness and lightness gains rather than battery life strongly suggests that Apple considers battery life good enough across its major product lines. The result is a homogeneous battery-life range across the lineup.
But, especially if you’re not interested in the aging MacBook Air line and only consider the Retina models (once you go Retina, you never go back), those battery graphs make it clear that battery life isn’t good enough across the board yet to stop pushing it forward as much as possible — especially if your use is closer to the “Heavy Workload” test, which I’d hardly describe as an unusual or truly heavy computational load (web browsing, downloading a large file, and playing a movie in the background), under which no Apple laptop lasted more than 6 hours and no Retina model exceeded 5.
These only truly offer “all-day battery life” if you do very light work all day, and don’t work the long hours typical of today’s disturbingly ubiquitous workaholism-glorifying culture in tech companies… such as Apple.
Design is about making difficult decisions and trade-offs. Longer battery lives would make some of the products thicker and heavier, and not everyone would accept that trade-off. But today, everyone who wants an Apple product needs to accept the opposite: thinness and lightness that some of us didn’t need, at the expense of battery life that many of us could’ve really used.
And the larger-screened MacBook Pros that do have large batteries also come with much more power-hungry CPUs, negating the battery-life difference. The 15-inch MacBook Pro, with the largest battery and ostensibly Apple’s best laptop, has only mediocre battery life, due in part to its larger screen but more because of its quad-core CPUs and (mostly) dual-GPU configurations.2
Imagine some of the options we could have if Apple made a few outliers for people who really wanted them:
These would be less newsworthy and dramatic than the thin-and-light gains on the other products, but a lot of customers would absolutely love them. The “iPhone Extended” and the “13-inch MacBook” could plausibly become the best-sellers in their respective lineups, and I know a lot of people who would jump at the chance to buy one of those 15- or 17-inch options.
It’s great that Apple pushes thin-and-light boundaries so aggressively on many of their products, but I wish it wouldn’t be the only choice they offer on all of their products.
My temporary pet name of “the new MacBook”, since it famously only has one USB port, until its actual name of “MacBook” generally unambiguously refers to this product line. ↩︎
The base model of the current 15-inch has only the Intel integrated GPU, an option that Apple has made available in some 15-inch generations. I wish my 2012 model had that option. Discrete mobile GPUs run hot and expensively fail often, and the dual-GPU setup in the 15-inch line is often buggy and causes significantly worse battery life when using certain common apps — most notably including Chrome. If I were buying a new 15-inch laptop today, I’d definitely get the Intel-GPU-only base model. ↩︎
NAS backups, battery life, WWDC ticketing, the new Photos app, and Casey’s terrible mistake.
I’ll be honest: When I first saw that they were making a Watch app, I thought, “Why? Who’s going to read articles on their watch?” Fortunately, that’s not what this is.
Since the addition of text-to-speech, Instapaper is also an audio app. And it keeps perfectly in sync with the reading interface on the phone in case you want to switch back and forth between audio and text. Nice.
App Camp for Girls is such a great cause doing such great (and badly needed) work that it’s a no-brainer to support them by buying a 99-cent app.
The app is currently ranked #1 in Entertainment and #46 in Top Paid Apps. Let’s see how far we can push that rank up.