Plantronics sent me this headphone to review, and it’s a stunning value.
It’s not perfect, especially if you’re sensitive to strong treble, and it’s pretty bulky for the category. But it’s the first Bluetooth headphone I’ve found that offers a great overall package — great sound, great comfort, and pretty good physical controls — for less than $400.
(Way less — it’s currently $140, or $250 with an audio-focused Bluetooth USB dongle for computer use.)
Quitter automatically hides or quits distracting apps after periods of inactivity. I’ve found it tremendously helpful to my work efficiency to hide Slack and quit Tweetbot after 10 minutes.
(Tip: Keep them out of your Dock, too, so when they’re not running, their icons aren’t even visible.)
Quitter is available right here, for free and will likely never be in the Mac App Store due to, among other reasons, its inability to be sandboxed. (Believe me, I tried.) So in addition to the utility it provides, it’s also a learning experience for me to dip my toe into both Mac development and distributing software directly.
In the last few Overcast releases, I’ve been optimizing the sync protocol and decreasing the burden of each sync to both sides (my servers and your iPhones). In 2.5.2, we’ll reap some of the benefits with the first version of what I’ve been informally calling “quicksync”.
In short, syncing Overcast between multiple devices — say, an iPhone and an iPad — is now much faster and more accurate, making multi-device usage much more practical and compelling.
Lots of Overcast customers (including me) often play through their iPhone’s built-in speaker (hence the iPhone-speaker optimization in 2.5). With quicksync, I’m now using an old iPad as a semi-stationary Overcast speaker in the kitchen without any issues,1 saving a lot of my phone’s battery and producing much higher maximum volumes.
I’m controlling some of the timing server-side, and can increase or decrease the sync frequencies and coalescing delays dynamically without issuing an app update. I’ve started out the parameters somewhat conservatively, and if everyone’s devices and the servers hold up well to it (which I expect), I’ll slowly ramp up the speeds over the next few weeks.
If I did everything right, you shouldn’t even notice quicksync — multi-device use will just work better.
Except one sync bug that I discovered a few days ago, after 2.5.2 went into App Store review: podcasts started on device A but finished and deleted on device B occasionally show up again with device A’s last-played state. Sorry about that — working on it. ↩︎
Great article by Josh Centers that starts with the simple question, “Where are the Apple TV apps?”, and thoroughly explores Apple’s product and developer issues in order to answer it.1
The new Apple TV is decent, but not great — exactly what I’d say about the Apple Watch, the other new Apple platform launched last year. Both are far better than last year’s high-profile service launch, Apple Music, and not nearly as good as the revisions to core hardware lines, like the iPad Pro and iPhone 6S.
I’d say Apple TV, Apple Watch, and Apple Music all suffer from the same issues facing many Apple products today:
Visual design taking too much priority over working well.
Ship dates seeming more important than shipped product quality.
Insufficient resources as Apple spreads itself very thinly, leading to important feature omissions, quality problems, and neglect.
Increased difficulty for developers to succeed, resulting in stagnation of existing platforms and low adoption of new ones.
To summarize it in one word: hubris.
Including a quote from me about whether I’m planning Overcast for Apple TV. In short: I’m not currently working on it due to insufficient demand, but may do it in the future. ↩︎
This Apple Music horror story is making the rounds today. It sounds like either a severe user error or a severe bug, and there’s no way to know which it is, but regardless, this aside is good advice:
For about ten years, I’ve been warning people, “Hang onto your media. One day, you won’t buy a movie. You’ll buy the right to watch a movie, and that movie will be served to you. If the companies serving the movie don’t want you to see it, or they want to change something, they will have the power to do so. They can alter history, and they can make you keep paying for things that you formerly could have bought. Information will be a utility rather than a possession. Even information that you yourself have created will require unending, recurring payments just to access.”
This New York Times article gets a lot wrong, and both podcast listeners and podcast producers should be clear on Apple’s actual role in podcasting today and what, exactly, big producers are asking for.
Podcasts work nothing like the App Store, and we’re all better off making sure they never head down that road.
Podcasts still work like old-school blogs:
Each podcast can be hosted anywhere and completely owned and controlled by its producer.
Podcast-player apps periodically check each subscribed podcast’s RSS feed, and when a new episode is published, they fetch the audio file directly from the producer’s site or host.
Monetization and analytics are completely up to the podcasters.
Some podcasts have their own custom listening apps that provide their creators with more data and monetization opportunities.
It’s completely decentralized, free, fair, open, and uncontrollable by any single entity, as long as the ecosystem of podcast-player apps remains diverse enough that no app can dictate arbitrary terms to publishers (the way Facebook now effectively controls the web publishing industry).1
Apple holds two large roles in podcasting today that should threaten its health, but haven’t yet:
The biggest player app: Apple’s built-in iOS Podcasts app is the biggest podcast player in the world by a wide margin, holding roughly 60–70% marketshare.
The biggest podcast directory: The iTunes Store’s Podcasts directory is the only one that matters, and being listed there is essential for podcasts to be easily found when searching in most apps.
Critically, despite having these large roles, Apple never locked out other players, dictated almost any terms to podcasters,2 or inserted themselves as an intermediary beyond the directory stage.
Like most of the iTunes Store, the podcast functionality has been almost completely unchanged since its introduction over a decade ago. And unlike the rest of the Store, we’re all better off if it stays this way.
Apple’s directory gives podcast players the direct RSS feed of podcasts found there, and then the players just fetch directly from the publisher’s feeds from that point forward. Apple is no longer a party to any activity after the search unless you’re using Apple’s player app.
There’s nothing stopping anyone else from making their own directory (a few have), and any good podcast player will let users bypass directories and subscribe to any podcast in the world by pasting in its URL.
Apple’s editorial features are unparalleled in the industry. I don’t know of anyone who applies more human curation to podcasts than Apple.
The algorithmic “top” charts, as far as podcasters have been able to piece together, are based primarily (or solely) on the rate of new subscriptions to a podcast in Apple Podcasts for iOS and iTunes for Mac.
Subscriptions happening in other apps have no effect on Apple’s promotional charts because, as long as this remains decentralized and open, Apple has no way of knowing about them.
Apple’s Podcasts app for iOS is fine, but not great, leaving the door wide open for better apps like mine. (Seriously, it’s much better, and it’s free. Trying to succeed in the App Store in 2016 is neither the time nor the place for modesty.)
Apple’s app has only a few integrations and privileges that third-party apps can’t match, and they’re of ever-decreasing relevance. They haven’t locked down the player market at all.
Ignoring for the moment that “podcasters” in news articles usually means “a handful of the largest producers, a friend or two of the reporter, and a press release from The Midroll, who collectively believe they represent all podcasters, despite only being the mass-market tip of the iceberg, as if CBS represented all of television or Business Insider represented all of blogging,” and this article is no exception, what these podcasters are asking for is the same tool web publishers have used and abused to death over the last decade to systematically ruin web content nearly everywhere:
Podcasts are just MP3s. Podcast players are just MP3 players, not platforms to execute arbitrary code from publishers. Publishers can see which IP addresses are downloading the MP3s, which can give them a rough idea of audience size, their approximate locations, and which apps they use. That’s about it.
They can’t know exactly who you are, whether you searched for a new refrigerator yesterday, whether you listened to the ads in their podcasts, or even whether you listened to it at all after downloading it.3
Big publishers think this is barbaric. I think it’s beautiful.
Big publishers think this is holding back the medium. I think it protects the medium.
And if that ill-informed New York Times article is correct in broad strokes, which is a big “if” given how much it got wrong about Apple’s role in podcasting, big podcasters want Apple to add more behavioral data and creepy tracking to the Apple Podcasts app, then share the data with them. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that.
By the way, while I often get pitched on garbage podcast-listening-behavioral-data integrations, I’m never adding such tracking to Overcast. Never. The biggest reason I made a free, mass-market podcast app was so I could take stands like this.
Big podcasters also apparently want Apple to insert itself as a financial intermediary to allow payment for podcasts within Apple’s app. We’ve seen how that goes. Trust me, podcasters, you don’t want that.
It would not only add rules, restrictions, delays, and big commissions, but it would increase Apple’s dominant role in podcasts, push out diversity, give Apple far more control than before, and potentially destroy one of the web’s last open media ecosystems.
Podcasting has been growing steadily for over a decade and extends far beyond the top handful of public-radio shows. Their needs are not everyone’s needs, they don’t represent everyone, and many podcasters would not consider their goals an “advancement” of the medium.
Apple has only ever used its dominant position benevolently and benignly so far, and as the medium has diversified, Apple’s role has shrunk. The last thing podcasters need is for Apple to increase its role and dominance.
And the last thing we all need is for the “data” economy to destroy another medium.
Companies running completely proprietary podcast platforms so far, trying to lock it down for themselves: Stitcher, TuneIn, Spotify, Google. (I haven’t checked in a while: has everyone finally stopped believing Google gives a damn about being “open”?) ↩︎
Beyond prohibiting pornographic podcasts in their directory and loosely encouraging publishers to properly use the “Explicit” tag. ↩︎
Unless you listen with the podcast publisher’s own app, in which case they can be just as creepy as on the web, if not more so. But as long as the open, RSS-based ecosystem of podcast players remains dominant, including Apple Podcasts, virtually nobody can afford to lock down their podcasts to only be playable from their own app. ↩︎
For private use, you no longer pay based on how many private repositories you need — you can use as many as you want for the lowest previous plan’s price ($7/month), and business users pay more for other abilities that individuals aren’t likely to need.
Some businesses will presumably need to pay more now, but it’s perfect for me, an individual with a bunch of private repositories, some public ones, and some with contributors (both public and private). I’m now saving $5/month with no more repository limit.
Credit to GitHub for the smoothest transition I’ve ever seen, too: I went in to enroll myself on the new plan, and not only had they already updated me to it, but I’d also been credited for the price difference from my last annual prepayment.
Layers runs parallel to the first few days of WWDC in San Francisco with a focus on design and tech culture instead of code. It has a very similar vibe and size to the now-defunct Çingleton conference, much like a smaller Úll: a well-run, single-track conference with short, interesting talks that’s small enough that everyone can socialize.
I went last year and greatly enjoyed it — it’s run by people who go to a lot of conferences and know what makes a good one. The only reason I’m not going again this year is that I got a WWDC ticket.
If you’ll be in San Francisco that week without a WWDC ticket, I highly suggest you consider this. They gave me a discount code you can use for $50 off a ticket: use code MOSCONEBOXLUNCH to be reminded of what you’re missing as you eat the far better food at Layers.
Being the U.S. President is a multifaceted, incredibly important, unimaginably difficult job that places huge demands on temperament, judgment, foresight, resiliency, and diplomacy (both domestically and internationally). Politics aside, that’s the real job. All day, every day.
I don’t agree with all of Barack Obama’s politics, words, or decisions, but he has performed extremely well at actually doing the job every day for nearly eight years.
That’s far more important than minor political differences. Given the choice between someone who can actually do the everyday job well whose politics I don’t agree with, or a complete buffoon who tells me what I want to hear, I’m better off with the former, whether I know it or not.
And this is why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton this fall. I’m not her biggest fan, but she’s the only major candidate this year who I believe will do the actual job well — and probably very well.
* * *
Tim Cook has been under a lot of scrutiny and received a lot of criticism recently, much of which is warranted.
Being the CEO of one of the world’s biggest, highest profile, most scrutinized, and most important publicly-traded companies is a multifaceted, incredibly important, unimaginably difficult job that places huge demands on temperament, judgment, foresight, resiliency, and diplomacy (both publicly and privately).
Cook excels at doing the job. And while he’s not always doing everything exactly the way I’d like, I can’t help but agree with Apple’s former CEO, who also wasn’t perfect, that Cook is the best person for the job today.
Before the iPhone, RIM’s BlackBerry was the king of smartphones. They seemed unstoppable, because by most accounts, they were the best and most successful at what most smartphones were for at the time: email and phone calls.
When the iPhone came out, the BlackBerry continued to do well for a little while. But the iPhone had completely changed the game — it changed what smartphones were for, from basic business-focused email devices to entire consumer personal computers with desktop-class operating systems and rich app ecosystems.
The BlackBerry’s success came to an end not because RIM started releasing worse smartphones, but because the new job of the smartphone shifted almost entirely outside of their capabilities, and it was too late to catch up. RIM hadn’t spent years building a world-class operating system, or a staff full of great designers, or expertise in mass production of luxury-quality consumer electronics, or amazing APIs and developer tools, or an app store with millions of users with credit cards already on file, or all of the other major assets that Apple had developed over a decade (or longer) that enabled the iPhone.
No new initiative, management change, or acquisition in 2007 could’ve saved the BlackBerry. It was too late, and the gulf was too wide.
Today, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are placing large bets on advanced AI, ubiquitous assistants, and voice interfaces, hoping that these will become the next thing that our devices are for.
If they’re right — and that’s a big “if” — I’m worried for Apple.
Today, Apple’s being led properly day-to-day and doing very well overall. But if the landscape shifts to prioritize those big-data AI services, Apple will find itself in a similar position as BlackBerry did almost a decade ago: what they’re able to do, despite being very good at it, won’t be enough anymore, and they won’t be able to catch up.
Amazon, Facebook, and Google — especially Google — have all invested heavily in big-data web services and AI for many years, prioritizing them highly, iterating and advancing them constantly, accumulating relevant data, developing effective algorithms, and attracting, developing, and retaining tons of specialized talent.
Saying Apple is “bad at services” in general isn’t accurate — they’re very good at services that move data around in relatively straightforward ways at a very large scale, such as iMessage, push notifications, and the majority of iCloud.
Where Apple suffers is big-data services and AI, such as search, relevance, classification, and complex natural-language queries.1 Apple can do rudimentary versions of all of those, but their competitors — again, especially Google — are far ahead of them, and the gap is only widening.
And Apple is showing worryingly few signs of meaningful improvement or investment in these areas. Apple’s apparent inaction shows that they’re content with their services’ quality, management, performance, advancement, and talent acquisition and retention. And they may be right — they may be fine.
But if Google’s right, there’s no quick fix. It won’t be enough to buy Siri’s creators again or partner with Yelp for another few years. If Apple needs strong AI and big-data services in the next decade to remain competitive, they need to have already been developing that talent and those assets, in-house, extensively, for years. They need to be a big-data-services company. Their big-data AI services need to be far better, smarter, and more reliable than they are.
And I just don’t see that happening. Becoming a major big-data AI services company doesn’t happen completely in secret and suddenly get released to the world, completed, in a keynote. It’s a massive undertaking, spanning many years, many people, and a lot of noticeable interaction with the world. It’s easier to conceal the development of an entire car than a major presence in AI and services.
Google is extremely well-placed for where they think the puck is going. They could be wrong — these AI services could be a socially awkward fad like Google Glass or a tonedeaf annoyance like Clippy. Google launches a lot of weird, geeky, technologically impressive things that go nowhere.
If Google is wrong, and computing continues to be defined by a tightly controlled grid of siloed apps that you poke a thousand times a day on a smooth rectangle of manufacturing excellence, Apple is fine. They’re doing a great job of what computing is today, and what it will probably continue to be for a long time.
But if Google is right, that’s a big problem for Apple.
This was originally titled “Avoiding BlackBerry’s fate”, but I changed it to better reflect my angle of “If this happens, it’s bad,” rather than “This is what will definitely happen.”
“Privacy” isn’t a very good excuse. It’s possible to build tons of useful services and smarts by just using public data, like the web, mapping databases, business directories, etc., without any access to or involvement from the user’s private data. Even more enhanced functionality can be done with the limited set of personal data that Siri already uses, such as location and contacts. Google and others do these sorts of non-creepy or less-creepy services far better than Apple, too — not just the creepy ones. ↩︎
I didn’t want an attention-grabbing design, but I’m not boring enough to wear a blank hat. (And I’m really boring.)
Normal people wear hats displaying the logos of the sports teams or companies or places they care about. But I don’t care about sports, I don’t feel that strongly about New York, and I don’t like most companies enough to be a billboard for them on my head.
So I had to ask myself: What do I really, truly care about that would be appropriate on a hat?
Apple? Sure. But I’ve already gone through two Apple hats.
The internet? Well, we have a love/hate relationship.
Time and time again, we’ve been told that the company is working on making things better for targets of harassment. What we see, however, are half-baked enhancements designed to make the service more appealing to advertisers and attempts at enticing new users. Many people have suggested changes they could implement to curb abuse. For example, Randi Lee Harper’s list of suggestions from earlier this year is still on-point.
Back problems were making it hard for me to use my nice messenger bags, but I rarely find backpacks attractive. The Staad is one of the few I’ve found that’s so nice that I no longer even consider a messenger bag.
My Staad is over two years old now — Chocolate Leather on Black Ballistic in the larger “Stout” size, which I’d still call a small backpack — and I still love it.