Rendering Engine Diversity on iOS

Last week, some interesting news broke about Google and Mozilla prepping versions of their iOS browsers to use their own rendering engines rather than simply being a wrapper around Webkit, Apple’s rendering engine. If you aren’t familiar, iOS has rules that prevent browser makers like Google and Mozilla from embedding the engine that handles layout and features in their browsers. Instead, they have to use the one that Apple provides, which is called Webkit and is the engine that powers Safari. This means that the only real reason to use Chrome over Safari is the UI or features like bookmark and password sync, but other web technology differences are non-existent.

This has gotten Apple into hot water in recent years, as the overwhelming popularity of the iPad and iPhone gives Apple the power to dictate a ton about how the “mobile web” looks and acts. One imagines this possible change on Apple’s part is due to anticipated antitrust rulings & legislation against Apple mounting. Given that, it might behoove Apple to get ahead of the issue and simply relax restrictions, but either way it would appear the dam might be breaking soon.

According to Statcounter, Chrome commands about 65% of the browser market share on the desktop and mobile. One arguing in favor of allowing other rendering engines would say that there likely won’t be much of a difference in adoption numbers if Blink and Gecko are allowed to run natively on iOS, but there’s a lot to unpack about the pros and cons of such a move.

What are some of the pros of rendering engine diversity?

If Apple does this (regardless of why they do it), there are definite advantages to having more competition on iOS.

It’s likely that allowing other rendering engines onto iOS would increase competition in the market and lead to better quality and more innovative solutions. Apple has done a better job in the past few years – the Interop initiative has borne a lot of fruit for all of the major browser makers, and I’m hopeful that continues. Still, knowing Chrome or Firefox could add more pressure for Apple to up their game across the board would lead to a lot of innovation on the platform. Webkit is actually a good rendering engine in most ways but it falls short when it comes to some of the features Progressive Web Apps need. This pressure would likely force WebKit to adopt those features as well.

Users would have a greater choice of rendering engines and be able to choose one that best suits their needs. Folks could choose to use Chrome, Firefox, Arc (seriously, check out Arc) or something else if the features make more sense for them, and competitors could compete on more than just adding a few features on top of the rendering engine they are handed. In addition, this choice could lead to extensions finally making their way to non-Safari browsers on mobile. Having native 1Password integration on mobile is a game-changer and I wouldn’t entertain switching on mobile until things like that and a solid ad-blocker are available on other browsers.

This is likely wishful thinking based on what I see on the Mac (Safari runs circles around Chrome and Firefox when it coems to battery life and performance), but rendering engines may offer better performance and more efficient use of system resources than the Webkit engine, resulting in a smoother user experience. Different rendering engines may have better compatibility with different types of websites and web applications, improving the overall browsing experience. In general, many sites work best on Chrome and having fallback options when something isn’t working in Safari would be a fantastic experience for users on iPhones and iPads.

If done right, there’s a great chance we could see tons of innovation in the mobile browser space. In my opinion, Safari on iOS is a really solid browser but Apple’s incentives to prioritize some web standards (cough, PWAs, cough) might not align with their business interests (App Store and their 30% cut). Having true competition will mean that Apple will be forced to focus on the entire spectrum so that developers don’t go “Chrome only”, thus sidelining Safari on mobile platforms completely.

Are there any cons?

There are definitely cons, but the biggest one is the potential decline of WebKit as a first-class citizen. Organizations often can’t or won’t be bothered to have a testing strategy around multiple browsers, but instead choose to support the dominant browser (Chrome). Once a certain marketshare threshold gets crossed, developers and businesses will treat Gecko and Webkit like second class citizens. I don’t agree with the strategy, but locking users into Webkit/Safari on iOS & iPadOS does ensure a floor of market percentage that can’t be taken away. I do believe that a variety of standards-comptabile rendering engines should exist to keep each other in check, but creating an artificial monolopy isn’t the way to accomplish that. There are a few other risks:

Allowing other rendering engines onto iOS could potentially introduce new security vulnerabilities and make the platform less secure. Different rendering engines may have different standards for rendering web content, which could lead to compatibility issues and broken websites for users. Even if Apple does open up, I’d imagine we’ll see entitlements introduced to only allow some companies to ship their own browsers.

Also, the introduction of different rendering engines could lead to fragmentation of the platform and make it more difficult for developers to create consistent experiences across different devices. There’s also the risk that allowing other rendering engines onto iOS could decrease the control that Apple has over the platform and potentially result in a less consistent and user-friendly experience.

The biggest risk for Apple is WebKit’s decline, but that assumes they do nothing to compete. If they open things up and also invest in their platform, I’m confident engineers will continue to build toward standards and Safari/WebKit will be fine.

What do I hope happens

As a Safari user, I really hope to see increaesd competition as it should make Apple’s browser better but also gives power users an off-ramp if they need more functionality. Yes, there is a risk to opening up to allow other engines but I personally think it’s worth it. The gravity of a default experience will still draw the vast majority of iOS users to Safari and as a result force most companies to still support WebKit. The increased competition, however, should be a good thing for all consumers.

There’s a great series on browser choice on iOS that’s worth a read. I commented on this a few years ago and I still believe the same thing. Alex Russel can be correct but also have a perspective that’s very Google-centric as well. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle.

To Safari’s credit, Webkit has been getting a ton of investment in the past 12-18 months. I admire the Safari and Firefox teams’ focus on privacy and want them to remain as a counterweight to Google and their desire to use “standards” as an argument to push their own vision for the web on all of us. Funny how it typically involves us spending more time using the web and giving up our data in the process.

This year’s WWDC will be very interesting, as I’d imagine if we’re going to hear about changes to Apple’s browser policies, that’ll be the time they’ll roll out.

The Electric Vehicle Boom Is Bad News For Tesla

From Jesus Diaz, Fast Company:

After a decade of being the only game in town, Tesla is entering a new era of the EV wars, which started in earnest in 2022 but will only intensify in 2023. Tesla still dominates the EV market in the U.S. today, but its lead has consistently dropped—and is expected to quickly dwindle—as legacy automakers roll out their own electric models.

Tesla’s rise to fame has been nothing short of impressive, but in a competitive market like the automotive industry their regression to the mean was inevitable. As a Tesla Model 3 LR owner, I can say that while I am happy with my car, I wouldn’t buy a Tesla for my next vehicle.

The early decision to start from the top and working your way down the price ladder was something that set them apart and helped drive the “cool” factor despite the car not being premium in ways folks paying $60–100k for a car would normally expect. They used the early dominance to build a charging network that is still unrivaled, and the battery life for their long range models is still better than most of the competition. The ongoing software update model aligned with consumer expectations in the iPhone era and was fairly unique in the indsutry. Combine that with Musk’s larger that life personality (and expectations about self driving that he’s been promising since 2014), the company earned a lot of fans (myself included!) for accelerating the move away from ICE vehicles by making something cool, approachable and futuristic. But the cracks that have always existed are much more apparent now that the rest of the indsutry is getting into the game.

Teslas are notorious for questionable build quality, which is not at the level of other $50–70k cars that I’ve driven. Personally, I haven’t had many issues on my end but I’ve experienced a few unsatisfying noises from time to time, the feel of closing doors and windows isn’t satisfying, and I wish the road noise was a bit quieter. Additionally, the company’s insistence on cramming everything into one touchscreen is a weak point, and their insistence on building every single app for their touchscreen in-house means they’re always playing catch up when it comes to other infotainment systems. Tesla’s refusal to integrate with Carplay and Android Auto, likely due to their view of those platforms as competitors, is super frustrating. And then, there’s the elephant in the room – Elon Musk. While his outspoken nature and leadership of Tesla and SpaceX was once seen as a competitive advantage, it has now become a distraction.

While Tesla’s Full Self Driving (FSD) technology has been highly anticipated for a decade now, I don’t believe anyone will be able to deliver on it within the next 15–20 years. FSD is at level 2 or 3 out of 5 right now, and haven’t made a ton of progress. The standard “Autopilot” feature, which is basically variable cruise control and lane assistance, is quite good for level 1. Highway driving on long road trips is way better with this tech. But the rest of it? Way too many edge cases for me to be interested in trying out. Like most software, that last 20% is hard to iron out, but in this case we’re dealing with 500k beta testers playing with human life. No thanks.

To keep a market share close to what they have now, Tesla needs to scale up, fix the quality issues they have and convince nearly every current Tesla owner to buy a second vehicle when they’re ready to buy. They also can’t rely on consumers paying premium prices for EVs forever. Delivering on a true mass-market EV in the $30k range will help them maintain a lead. Oh, and crack Level 4–5 autonomy to differentiate themselves from the rest of the market. Hard to see that happening with all of the great options coming out from established automakers.

It’s far easier for traditional automakers to figure out how to transition their fleet from ICE to EV than it is for Tesla to become a big automaker and solve for all of the small but significant headwinds they’re facing. That doesn’t mean Tesla is going out of business or doomed to fail. What it does mean is that capitalizing on the first mover advantage in an industry without strong network effects is hard to do for long. I don’t think many automakers could have maintained Tesla’s lead for long, but it seems like Musk and Tesla are squandering it even more quickly.

Bonus reading: https://www.wired.com/story/teslas-problems-elon-musk-twitter/

Twitter and 3rd Party Apps

From Mitchell Clark, the Verge:

Elon Musk just decided to throw all of that away. Twitter has abruptly cut itself off from that stream of ideas — the stream that produced its apps, some of its most popular features, and much of its core identity. Even if he backtracks, why would developers spend their best ideas on a company that’s burned them so badly?

Twitter was always unique in that they are one of the only social media platforms to allow 3rd-party clients to essentially re-create the entire platform’s experience. Looking back at how much those early apps made the experience what it is today is really worth celebrating, even if we knew it wouldn’t last forever. Given the fact that they never were able to push ads into those timelines, it’s no wonder that eventually they would shut Twitterrific, Tweetbot and others down.

Look! Another Post About Twitter!

Twitter is a dumpster fire

If you’ve been living under a rock over the past 6 months, you might not be aware of the fact that Twitter is under new ownership. By most measures, it doesn’t seem to be going great. Elon Musk has taken a sledgehammer to the service since he acquired it in October, and my “wait and see” approach has turned to a “can’t look away because the train wreck is so epic” one.  Watching Elon drive Twitter into the ditch with his Free Speech Maximalism™ that’s really just shooting from the hip on every decision about content moderation, product strategy and public relations has gotten really tiresome. In fact, I hate writing about it. As a Tesla owner, I really want him to focus more on that company as shareholders seem to be revolting over his lack of attention to his cash cow. The amount of damage he’s done to his reputation and to that of his companies is pretty historic.

I’ve lurked on Twitter for a while and gotten value out of following journalists and indie developers. I’ve discovered a lot of interesting folks to follow and heard voices I likely wouldn’t have heard otherwise along the way. For me, the biggest value I get from Twitter is following a few topics: Apple/tech news, Liverpool FC, FSU/College football, and Atlanta United. I don’t post a lot, but I have cultivated sets of lists for each of those main topics that I keep up with during sporting events or big Apple news cycles. But when the company is run by a scumbag who emboldens some of the worst folks on the web and he enables policies that encourage disinformation and hate to spread, it’s hard to justify the value I do get out of the site vs supporting the societal ills Twitter magnifies.

A lot of the Apple folks have started to leave or post very infrequently but the rest, not so much. So reducing my use of Twitter does mean that I’ll be missing out on some of that commentary when watching sports or keeping up with the news. However, once you stop counting on it, it’s funny how quickly you realize you’re not getting as much value as you think you are.

What I’m doing now

I’ve deleted all of my tweets, locked my account and logged out everywhere, including deleting apps on my phone, tablet and computer. I have an account on Mastodon and check it every day or so, but I’m not posting a ton over there, either. Using a service that helps you find folks who have linked to their new homes from their Twitter profile, I’ve followed most of the people I did on Twitter but my urges to post a pretty few and far between. When I do post, engagement is higher on Mastodon vs Twitter! It definitely feels like the early days of Twitter in that way.

I’m also doubling down on RSS. I’ve used Reeder for a long time to follow a lot of the sites that I enjoy, but now I’m also following about a half dozen folks from Mastodon on there as well. It’s very easy to simply append .rss to the end of a user’s Mastodon profile and then you have a feed you can follow.

Finally, I’m going to think more about posting here with more frequency. I haven’t really touched the visual layout of the site in a long time and it’s likely I’m missing out on a lot of the visual goodies that WordPress 6.x offers. I might check out some templates and iterate on those. My hunch is that will inspire me to write a little bit more.

What I’m realizing about my professed love for Twitter

Despite the fact that I have fond memories of Early Twitter™ and derive some value out of the lists I mentioned earlier, breaking away from Twitter and spending time on Mastodon has revealed the truth most of us already know….

I don’t really need any of these sites in my life. It’s not worth it.

There are better places to get most of the info I need without wasting as much time (Techmeme, the Athletic, etc). The time I have spent on Mastodon has been fine, and I intend to keep an account over there, but I don’t see myself spending a lot of time or energy on it. Spending more time reading and writing and less time scrolling through pithy comments and performative outrage is a huge win.

Will I delete my account?

About 2 years ago, I deleted my Facebook account and haven’t missed a beat. I also still have a LinkedIn and Instagram account, although I mostly lurk. However, Twitter has always been the social media site that I’ve had the strongest love/hate relationship with. I want it to succeed but I also think most of my positive sentiment is for an era where it felt more like the “early web” and that ain’t coming back no matter who owns the service. I’m not going to delete my account but I also can’t see myself using it again for quite some time.

Using Day One to Scratch my Timehop Itch

Over the past few years I’ve tried to curtail my use of social media. I’ve unfollowed a ton of accounts on Instagram and Twitter, deleted my Facebook account, and mostly lurk in general. I’ve also deleted all of my old posts – I know that stuff is still searchable for Twitter if you are so inclined but at least by default it’s not hanging out there.

But I’m still a person who enjoys looking back at what I was doing and thinking retrospectively. When I was a heavier user of social, Timehop notifications were something I always looked forward to and got a lot of joy out of.

What I’ve done instead is committed to posting daily in Day One. I’ve been using the app for about 10 years now but have really leaned into it in the past 3 years. My daily posts don’t have to be anything super deep or insightful, but just document what’s going on in my life or what’s in my head. The app has a really neat daily prompt feature that you can enable that will either simply say “hey remember to post”, or even tee up a post idea for you to get started with. You can create templates and tag posts to help for future discoverability as well. I also have configured a monthly retrospective notification that reminds me to reflect on my job, relationship, family life and more.

Once you start writing daily, you become more mindful of the world around you. When I don’t have anything super important going on day-to-day my fallback daily post is typically a gratitude reflection. Spending even 5 minutes thinking about what happened that day that I’m grateful for brings me immediate peace and balance but it’s also beneficial when I review them years in the future. And obviously, since it’s private and only I can read the posts, I can cover way more ground that I ever could posting on social and reviewing in Timehop.

For every day that you have a post from the same day in the past, you can get a notification to review all of those posts. I really enjoy going back through simple moments as well as family vacations I’ve taken. I try to capture the little moments that stood out from those days and they bring me a lot of joy. As a parent, I know my time with my kids is so precious and being able to reflect on those as they grow up is priceless.

I think there’s still a place for social media in your life if you are doing it right, but these days it’s pretty rare that I want to go there first. Obviously, writing on your own website has a similar “yelling into the void” aspect that something like Twitter does, but I like the pace of blogging compared to something like Twitter for the most part. I also realize I just spent a few hundred words telling you that journaling can be beneficial, but if you’re like me and get tremendous value from “looking back”, a digital journaling service like Day One will bring tremendous value to your life.

Apple Music has betrayed its most loyal listeners

From Jason Snell at Macworld:

So this is where we are: Apple’s decision to put things that are not songs amid its collections of songs have made Apple Music’s curated playlists and algorithmic radio stations substantially worse. And at the same time, the Music app has proven utterly unable to help people who don’t want their music mixed in with promos and happy talk.

The way forward for Apple Music is simple: Turn off the ads and promos until your app is capable of letting us opt out from hearing them. But until then, if you insist on foisting this not-music on us, I curse you to an eternity of listening to nothing but the Kars for Kids jingle. You heard me.

I really hope we get the option to disable this type of content in stations and playlists. I haven’t encountered any of this so far but it’s a slippery slope to Apple Music becoming what Spotify is – an app focused on engagement instead of music.

Rediscovering the Mac

From Federico Viticci at MacStories:

The new MacBook Pro with M1 Max is an incredible machine that takes pride in being a computer built for people who want versatility. This computer has a clear identity; you can tell it was designed by people who love the Mac for people who had grown dissatisfied with the Mac over the past few years. This machine is a love letter to win back those users. Everything about the new MacBook Pro – from the screen and battery life to the keyboard and ports and its raw performance – is a testament to how fundamental Apple silicon is and will be for the future of Apple’s computers. If you’re a longtime Mac user, there’s never been a better time to fall in love with the Mac all over again than right now. Apple silicon is the perfect comeback story for Apple’s Mac lineup.

This is a great article, written by someone who has been “the iPad guy” for the past few years. I appreciate the way he walked through what he loves about the iPad and iPadOS and how the Mac gives him options to do things the way he wants to. There’s a lot of good links to tools he’s using and wishes for what the iPad could be if it adopted some of the things that make a Mac great so I recommend giving it a look even if you’re already a seasoned Mac user.

I recently upgraded from a 2018 Macbook Pro with it’s hot, battery sucking CPU, sub-par keyboard, lack of ports and touchbar to a new 16″ Macbook Pro and it has really rekindled my appreciation of the Mac as well. I have an iPad Pro that I use a lot around the house and like Viticci wish I could do even more with it. But at a certain point I think we have to accept the fact that letting each device class be true to itself is actually the best way to work in the Apple ecosystem.

Which Apple apps or services are truly great?

I was recently reading this article about how Apple’s services are often creaky, slow and feel half assed and it got me thinking: for any given app or service, what is the best in breed for that area? I’ll skip some smaller utilities and such, and focus more on the core apps and services.

Apple Maps

Do I use it? Sometimes
What is the best? Google Maps
Why? The gap has closed significantly, with Apple Maps actually being better in many ways (turn by turn UI, overall UX, speed), but still lagging in search results and POI info like how busy the location is, and the list functionality is not on par with what you can do with Google. Also, bike mapping & overall global rollout is lagging. Ask me again in a year or two, though. Apple is catching up, fast.

Safari

Do I use it? Sometimes. Almost all of the time on mobile, rarely on desktop
What is the best? Google Chrome on desktop, Safari on iOS (only because of extensions)
Why? I want to like Safari, I really do. But it just feels so fiddly sometimes. Questionable UX decisions on desktop and mobile, tabs are flushed from memory too frequently, the extension model (downloading an app just to have an extension), relatively slow development / lack of focus on modern web app features all make it hard to really love it. I use Safari on iOS only because it’s the only way to use extensions on those platforms. I’ve been impressed with the recent investment in improving Webkit so I’m hopeful the apps will get further spit and polish so I can stop using Chrome or Brave while at work. Philosophically, I don’t want to support a monolithic rendering engine world and I do appreciate Apple’s stance on privacy.

Notes

Do I use it? Yes
What is the best? Unclear, it depends
Why? Notes is great as a simple note taking app with a few sneaky-pro features like sharing, locked notes and tagging. It does everything I need, and they tend to improve it incrementally over time. There are small details I hope to see improved like rich links when pasting in URLs, more themeing options and linking notes for more power-user types but I’m really happy with Notes.

Mail

Do I use it? Yes on iOS/iPad, no on desktop
What is the best? Depends – Gmail app, Spark, Outlook
Why? Mail is simple and does what I need but it’s missing nearly every modern mail client feature. That’s probably okay for most people and I’ve never really cared enough to stick with any of the 3rd party clients. I use Fastmail for my personal email and Gmail for work, so I tend to use the stock app on my devices and the webapps on my laptop.

Calendar

Do I use it? No
What is the best? Fantastical
Why? Calendar is fine, but doesn’t do much beyond the basics. Fantastical isn’t cheap but even the free version looks and functions better than Apple’s Calendar app. Better integration with video calls and more intuitive calendar views on mobile would make them a better match for Fantastical but right now it’s not really close. But for non-business users who only have a few calendar events here or there it’s really a great app.

Messages

Do I use it? Yes
What is the best? Probably Whatsapp
Why? Messages is pretty solid but I think the gold standard is Whatsapp. It’s a top 3 or so service though and I think people are generally happy with the features and functionality. I wish they’d adopt RCS, make group texting a bit more intuitive

Reminders

Do I use it? No
What is the best? Things
Why? Reminders is fine for most people and it has been improving over time. Lots of new features have come out in the past few years to make is a good option for many people (shared lists, tagging, smart views and more). I use Things but that’s mostly because I have so many projects going on at work that I need to organize. If that wasn’t a concern I could see myself using Reminders. I really appreciate the fact that they use an open API that any app can plug into, and hope they continue to expand that over time. I also hope we see a defaults preference for Siri one day where when I say “Remind me to..” it would just dump the request into my app of choice.

Books

Do I use it? 75% of the time
What is the best? The Kindle app offers a better ecosystem but Books is a better app.
Why? This one is complicated. Books is a better app in most ways. It feels good to use, is fast, has lots of neat features like reading goals and has a generally good UX. The Kindle app feels clunkier but boasts a better ecosystem. It also struggles with IAP due to Apple’s rules. I tend to look for the best deal on eBooks and all things being equal, will choose Books.

Photos

Do I use it? Sometimes
What is the best? Google Photos
Why? I use photos as my defacto library and use iCloud Photo Sync along with a few shared albums to send photos of my kids to family, but tend to use Google Photos as the front end as it’s faster, has more layout options, the slideshows/memories features are better and sharing is cross platform. Photos is a really great service on both platforms, I just think Google Photos is one of Google’s best products.

FaceTime

Do I use it? Yes
What is the best? Zoom
Why? Zoom is cross platform. I know FaceTime has the basic web link functionality now, but until they release a full fledged app and more filtering options, I think Zoom is the best for both professional and personal use.

Podcasts

Do I use it? No
What is the best? Overcast, Pocket Casts and Castro are all better.
Why? The one thing I like about Apple’s podcasts app is the recommendation engine, so they score points there. It suggests one-off episodes you might like and that is super helpful for discovery. Overcast, Pocket Casts and Castro are all infinitely better from an organization, performance and UX perspective, though. This is one app that I feel like is getting slightly worse over time and unfortunately they’re letting Spotify take over as a result.

Home

Do I use it? Yes, mainly via Control Center on iOS
What is the best? Home
Why? Fortunately, the Home app is mostly a frontend for the HomeKit APIs so there are other apps that can do most of the things other than Control Center integration. I’m hopeful we see that area open up to 3rd party developers so I could use Home or HomeWidget more frequently. Both of those apps have better, more customizable UIs and allow you to prioritize info the way that you prefer for your home.

Music

Do I use it? Yes
What is the best? Apple Music
Why? This one might rankle a few feathers but for me, Apple Music is the best but only barely. I’ve written about this in the past, but the album-focused nature of Music along with the APIs that allow amazing apps like Albums, Marvis Pro and Soor to exist means it’s the best for me. Add to that the great but flawed control center integration and controlling music in my home is easier w/ Apple Music and Sonos / HomePods. However, Music is slow, kind of poorly laid out, and is super creaky from decades of tech debt from the old iTunes store. I don’t know how you fix this other than a total rewrite on the Mac.

Fitness

Do I use it? Yes
What is the best? Peloton? Depends, but I think this app is really good.
Why? I use the Fitness service from time to time and I think it’s likely their best service right now, especially given how relatively young it still is. The fitness app does a good job of tracking workouts, the videos and integration with the watch is great, and it motivates me to work out more frequently. We also subscribe to Peloton so I use that service for biking but otherwise it’s Fitness for me.

News

Do I use it? Yes
What is the best? Toss up between Flipboard, Google News and Apple News depending on your needs
Why? I wrote about this a while back, but I think people dunk on Apple News for some strange reasons. I really like the audio stories and magazines portions of the “plus” service, and the actual news feed does a good job of learning what type of stuff you read and offering up similar topics from time to time. My biggest complaints are the browsing experience for magazines and audio stories is kind of clunky, it’s hard to organize topics you follow, the Mac app isn’t great, and I wish you weren’t so locked into the app for reading stories but could instead bounce out to the webpage when possible. Flipboard and Google News are also great services, and I use those as well.

TV

Do I use it? Yes
What is the best? It’s kind of a category of it’s own…
Why? There’s a lot to love and a lot to hate about this app. I love the ‘up next’ queue but unfortunately you’re at the whim of services and apps on if that’s integrated. But it’s nice having a way to quickly add shows or movies to my queue from the universal search UI. I wish there were a dedicated widget just for that purpose. Being able to be notified when new shows, movies or sporting events are happening is pretty awesome. The app itself is kind of a mess. It’s about a dozen or so infinitely side-scrolling lists that don’t make a ton of sense when browsing. It’d be cool to see the APIs for “up next” to be opened up so we could see some 3rd party clients take a stab at it, and I hope Netflix and other major services use the queue in the future.

Arcade / Game Center

Do I use it? Yes
What is the best? No real competition here
Why? It’s the best because nothing else really does what they’re doing. However, the fact that the Arcade apps are tucked inside of a tab on the App store is kind of strange. What I’d love to see is a standalone app that has special parental controls that allow you to freely download any game with certain ratings so I could essentially hand my kids an iPad, have them open up the Arcade app, and they can play whatever they want as long as it’s within a certain age range. I’d also love to see Arcades-game-specific data management rules. For instance, any game that hasn’t been played in x number of days could be offloaded to save space. In addition, the app could have better integration with Game Center, which could show more info about games your friends are playing, achievements you’ve unlocked, etc. Apple Arcade is actually a great service that I’ve grown to appreciate as my kids have gotten older and can play more of the offerings but the way to get to them is super clunky. So this one is tricky, much like the TV app. Nobody else does it so they’re technically “the best”, but I don’t feel like they’re doing that great of a job, either.

Wrapping up

So I think my conclusion is in line with the linked article from Benjamin Mayo. Apple’s apps and services are fine, with a few really solid showings for that 80% of users they’re trying to satisfy. However, many of my complaints aren’t about lack of functionality. It’s more about bad UX, slow interfaces or creaky tech debt. For a company that sweats every millimeter on the hardware side, I expect more on the software side. If they can’t or won’t address those concerns I hope they at least move down a path of adding more APIs that allow 3rd parties to address those needs. Apple doesn’t need to build every app or service that I use, but when they have a unique position that they’ve created and then don’t deliver, that’s a problem.

My worry is that all of the EU and US regulation that seems to be gaining traction is going to force the company to take their eyes off of the ball even further over the coming years and users of iOS and Android are going to see limited innovation as engineers on those platform scurry to build experiences that match the new laws coming out.

Albums 4.4 Released

Albums 4.4 was released this week, and it’s another feature-packed one. The 2 biggest additions for me is the ability to rate songs from within the app and the last.fm history import. The last.fm import in particular is awesome, as it gives the app the ability to build up a list of albums you have played but aren’t in your library as well as build up a historical “top albums played” in years prior to you using the app. As you may know, the way Apple Music tracks plays is simply incrementing play counts by 1, so frequency of listens is hard to do without a custom database. Fortunately, Albums does just that, and now it can backfill previous album listens along with the way it already tracks listening frequency.

Over the past few years Albums has become one of my most-used apps and I’ve really enjoyed seeing all of the love and attention Adam Linder has put into the app. I wrote about this a little while ago, but for me the ability to work through albums and see stats on what I’ve listened to and when has really made Apple Music that much better of a service to me. I rediscover music I haven’t heard in a long time as well as get insight into my listening habits in a way I haven’t been able to in other apps/services.

Albums is free for most of the functionality, and a $0.99/mo subscription for all of the bells and whistles.

WWDC 2022 Wishlist

Almost every year, I post a list of things I hope that Apple announces this year from the software side. Here is last year’s list, and I’ll be porting over a ton of the wishes from last year once again with the knowledge that they’re likely not going to happen this time, either. Without further delay, my top 40 requests:

iOS / iPadOS

  • Improve notifications by adding a notification history, easier actions and smarter prioritization. Clearing a notification should clear the badge.
  • Allow users to have more control over blocking images in email. For example, people in my contacts should be exempt.
  • Allow 3rd party rendering engines for web browsers. I want to see Chrome and Firefox push Apple to make Safari better.  Barring that, what about extensions in 3rd party browsers?
  • Find a way to manage spam texts and calls. They mostly fixed calls with the “Silence Unknown Callers”, but texts are still a big issue. It’s become really bad in the past year and I feel like Apple isn’t even trying here.
  • Allow apps to integrate with control center. Could you imagine all of the amazing Shortcuts and app actions you could see there if Apple provided an API for it?
  • “Tracker blocker” API similar to content blockers. We should have something like little snitch for iOS.
  • Better grouping options for Airplay2 devices. I have a ton of speakers & TVs and scrolling through that list is unwieldy. 
  • Allow me to set more defaults for reminders, maps, notes, etc.
  • Photos widget: I hate the change to the music-driven slideshow. I’ve replaced the widget with a Google Photos one.

iPadOS-specific

  • External monitor support on iPadOS. Like, REAL external support. Maybe you could run more than just 2 apps at a time in this setup?
  • Make use of the “status bar” on iPadOS. Notification icons? Menubar options?
  • Global keyboard shortcuts – preferably user-configurable. I’d love to wire up Shortcuts to keyboard commands.
  • Make a better Lock Screen that rolls in notification updates as well as possibly widgets.
  • Key repeat settings for iPadOS. I hate how long it takes to backspace through things.
  • Better multitasking on iPadOS. What they did last year was an improvement to be sure, but I hope to see further refinements in this area to make it easier to jump between apps.

WatchOS

  • Improve the Siri watch face. I like the idea of cards popping up but I wonder if it’d make more sense to just have a type of complication you can show on ANY face to be a Siri suggestion?
  • It’s time for a stand-alone watch with apps to match. Expand on the family setup mode from a few years ago.

Apple Music

  • SPEED. Make everything from search to loading to scrolling on the Mac faster. It’s by far my biggest complaint about the service.
  • Collaborative playlists
  • Allow widgets to do some simple actions like play/pause of audio.
  • Better play count sync between devices. This seems to be super inconsistent and makes smart playlists hard to rely on
  • Allow users to create smart playlists on iOS devices
  • Genius playlists. I love the “daily mix” feature that Spotify has, and the radio station Apple provides is very good. However, I’d love to see it segmented out to multiple genres based on my history/taste.
  • Fix UX issues (better playlist grouping options, more condensed playlist list view, fewer items behind swipes/3 dots)

Apple News

  • Auto mark as read after finishing bookmarked News article
  • Improve the queue for audio stories so that it’s easier to bulk manage and triage the list of audio stories.

Siri

  • Siri should handle more commands without an internet connection when possible. Last year was a huge improvement but there’s a long way to go.
  • More robust Shortcuts actions for media playback at home. I’d love a shortcut that could adjust my home speakers volume to a set level and play a playlist on all of the speakers.
  • Siri needs “continued conversations” on all platforms like Alexa and Assistant.
  • Similarly, Siri needs to be able to combine commands “turn on the lights AND set a timer for 30 minutes”.

HomeKit

  • A redesigned Home app that’s a bit more useful. Better automations, easier to navigate and more information dense.
  • Timers set on one HomePod should be controllable from any HomePod as well as notify all HomePods if the timer isn’t turned off at the source.
  • Allow me to create “named groups” of speakers to start music to. Currently it’s limited to floors or rooms, which can be a bit tedious to invoke via Siri.

Safari

  • Rethink the tab groups. Make them all viewable from the main tab bar similar to how Chrome handles theirs. Currently it’s tucked away in the sidebar or in the dropdown and harder to get to.
  • Allow content blockers to work across any webview.
  • Better tab persistence, especially on iPadOS. So much RAM, and tabs just feel flimsy.
  • PWA improvements to allow people to create PWAs for certain types of apps that don’t really need to go into the App Store. Would be great for the web community but also for their antitrust case.
  • Extension updates shouldn’t force me to restart my browser.

iCloud

  • Selective sync. I don’t want to sync all of my personal documents to my work computer, but do want to stay logged into iCloud and leverage the cloud sync functionality.