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 […]

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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 […]

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How Apple could turn HomePod mini into a delightful and adorable smart display

From Parker Ortolani at 9to5Mac:

Apple’s home strategy has been all over the place, but the company appears to finally have a hit with the HomePod mini. Rumors have been floated about Apple making a HomePod with a display, but word on the street is that the product being tested looks a lot like an iPad mounted to a speaker. Instead of making a Frankenstein product very similar to Google and Amazon’s products, Apple should take the blueprint it’s laid out with HomePod mini and use it as a basis for a unique ambient smart display.

Overall, an interesting take on what a HomePod Mini with a display could look like. From my perspective, I don’t know if it would really move the needle as I’d prefer something to replace what we have in our kitchen right now – a Nest Hub that can display family photos and still do the basic timer / music functions. I briefly touched on this a while back, mentioning something like a “HomePod Video” would be a game-changer for me.

Google Now, Glass, & Wear — The future we lost by making watches miniature phones

From Abner Li, 9to5Google:

What could have been starts with Google Now, a proactive feed that showed the weather, upcoming calendar events, birthdays, commute and travel information, package alerts, movies/concerts you might like, nearby events/places/restaurants, news updates, and much more, including information from third-party apps.

All this was displayed via a powerful card metaphor that showed just the relevant pieces of information. Users had one feed accessible to the left of the main Android homescreen or quickly launched by swiping up from the home button to keep track of their day and see what was next.

You didn’t have to jump into different apps to see upcoming flight details, check email to see when a package was arriving, or open a multitude of first and third-party apps to see your information. In those applications, you’re subjected to different layouts and have to learn different behaviors to access what is fundamentally your information.

Google Now was the high water mark of the “smart assistant” craze that started in the early teens. Since then, we’ve seen both smart home speakers and smart watches move toward more of a “question and answer” approach where you query your device for information or you’re pushed information about your tastes in a “feed” of some kind. I have a number of smart speakers in my house (and I’ve tried Siri, Google and Alexa) but I’ll be honest – I almost never use them becuase they’re a pain in the ass to use and they’re not very smart. At this point I bet 90% of my commands are comprised of adjusting volume, turning on/off a few lights and setting timers. Not exactly an intelligent assitant.

What I wish we saw more of was the Google Now approach – proactive data, notifications and reminders about things going on in your world. The watch is a great place for this because the interruptions can be unobtrusive, customizable and almost always with you. Apple has a Siri watch face that tries to accomplish what Google Now was going for but it feels like a ghost town – no real updates have been made in a long time.

I’m hopeful that increaesd competition in the watch field with Google giving their strategy a reboot will allow for more experimentation and pressure to make both platforms better digital assitants than some speaker could ever be.

WWDC 2021 Wishlist

It’s that time again! Thought I’d throw a quick list together of the top things I wish Apple would do in next software versions at this year’s WWDC. Kind of a grab bag, but thought I’d put a flag in the ground now. Make entire play history available in Apple Music, not just library tracks. […]

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Why the bad iPhone web app experience keeps coming up in Epic v. Apple

From Dieter Bohn at The Verge:

Something keeps coming up at the Epic v. Apple trial as a potential alternative for getting Fortnite on the iPhone: web apps. It’s an intriguing idea, as web apps are able to do surprisingly complex things: just look at a Chromebook or even game streaming services on the iPhone. But potential is far from reality, because the ability for web apps to look, feel, and perform as well as native apps on iOS is severely limited.

Another good breakdown of the issues Apple is trying to have both ways. They’re keeping a tight grip on their App Store and saying that Web Apps are a path forward if you don’t like it, but then they’re making it difficult for folks to actually ship web apps that are truly compelling. In the “best case” scenario for customers and developers, I think a ruling that includes forces Apple to change some of their rules to allow 3rd party browsers could change things greatly. Add to that some of the suggestions I made a while back, and I think a lot of this would go away. A “worst case” scenario is a confusing hellscape of competing app stores, browser ballots and even possibly no default apps on first load. Lets hope cooler heads prevail.

Progress Delayed Is Progress Denied

From The Infrequently Noted blog:

Apple’s iOS browser (Safari) and engine (WebKit) are uniquely under-powered. Consistent delays in the delivery of important features ensure the web can never be a credible alternative to its proprietary tools and App Store.

The author makes a lot of good points about where Webkit lags behind other browsers, and what its strengths are. The main thrust of the argument is that Apple won’t let other browsers onto iOS without being a branded interface wrapping around WebKit and that is harmful to users and the overall Open Web as there is no choice. Further, it puts a dent into Apple’s argument that people can always make a web app if they don’t want to participate in the App Store because the tech isn’t there to fully replace what many native apps do today.

Any time a tech company like Apple is insulated from competition, consumers suffer. iOS needs to open up their app store to alternative browsers as it will force Apple to compete more than they do right now. To their credit, they’ve done the bare minimum recently and allowed a non-Safari browser to be set as default, but they need to go the additional step and allow browsers to use their own engines. Not only would this be a win for the open web, but it would also increase competition and likely force Apple to invest more in their browser engine. There’s a lot they can differentiate on, but I don’t want it to be at the expense of web technologies advancing. I also want WebKit to be the best rendering engine out there because they focus on performance and security over chasing every single API, as that’s an area they can really hang their hat on. I personally feel like Safari on both the Mac and iOS has gotten worse in the past few years from a UX perspective (I’ll save that for another post) but better from a performance perspective. However, it would appear that WebKit as a standards-supporting platform has gotten worse. I hope they can find a good balance between the two.

This assessment can be true and it can also be true that the author is looking at the situation through Google-colored glasses. Google wants to push the web as much as possible because the web is more likely to have ads than an app would, so a more robust, “app-like” web means more opportunities for them to track and target you.

Wish List: Better anti-spam tools for Messages

From Six Colors:

In the war against spam, it often feels like we’re waging an uphill battle. While our email tools have improved and evolved over the last few years, the battlefield has started to shift from our inbox to our phones.

Recently, I’ve ended up on the receiving end of spammy text chains. Usually these are links, texted from a local number, to roughly 20 different phone numbers, many of them within the same area code as my own (or adjacent ones).

I can totally relate to an influx of text spam in the past few months.

I think that in general Apple needs to focus on privacy when it comes to messaging and email. I appreciate the fact that Messages are technically E2E encrypted but things like blocking tracking pixels in the Mail app as well as better contacts privacy settings are high on my wish list. If Apple were able to tell a cohesive story around blocking spam texts and calls, protecting your email privacy and giving you more control over your contacts list at this summer’s WWDC, I’d be thrilled.

The Apple TV’s touchpad swipes and misses at being a good remote

From Chaim Gartenberg at The Verge:

Apple made a remote control that’s an undeniably beautiful piece of hardware. Outside of the Siri Remote, how many TV remotes can claim to actually look good? But the touchpad’s minimalism and misplaced attempt at trying to turn the entire remote into something that it’s not makes it like other failed Apple buttons before it: a stark warning of the dangers of chasing form over function.

The Siri Remote is by far the worst Apple product I own and this article sums up all of the frustrations users feel when using it. The actual Siri functionality is brilliant but it mostly stops there. Swiping around is a pain, they’re easy to lose and when you do find them, odds are you’ll pick it up facing upside down.

I could be wrong, but this sort of design feels like the worst of the Jony Ive era and I’m hopeful that Apple will make amends with the next Apple TV version.