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.

Using Day One to scratch that 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 […]

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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.

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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From Federico Viticci at MacStories:

Let me cut to the chase: I don’t think iOS and iPadOS 15 are massive updates like iOS and iPadOS 13 or 14 were. There are dozens of interesting new features in both updates, but none of them feels “obvious” to demonstrate to average users like, say, dark mode and iPad multiwindow in iOS and iPadOS 13 or Home Screen widgets in last year’s iOS 14. And, for the most part, I think that’s fine. The wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented every year, and the pandemic happened for everyone – Apple engineers included.

In many ways, iOS and iPadOS 15 remind me of iOS 10 and 12: they’re updates that build upon the foundation set by their predecessors, bringing welcome consumer additions that, while not earth-shattering, contribute to making iOS more mature, intelligent, and deeply integrated with Apple’s ecosystem.

As always, a great overview from Viticci. The thing that stuck out to me the most is his detailed breakdown of Safari on iOS and iPadOS. I’m still looking for a review that speaks in glowing terms about the UX tradeoffs made for these releases. As Federico says in the article:

So I have to ask: is it worth sacrificing everything else in the name of an address bar at the bottom?

I’ve been a Firefox user on the desktop for a while now, but have used Safari on iOS up to now. I’ve tried out Safari 15 on my Mac (you can download the Safari Technology Preview to check it our for yourself), and I can’t get into the changes on the nav bar. It’s a constant hunt to find the tabs you want because they’re always moving around and many of the things I use from the toolbar are now hidden behind an extra click. The past couple of years Apple has been on a quest to banish as much UI behind 3 dot menus, and it makes using their software more difficult to use. This seems to be in service of better aesthics over user experience. The idea of “elevating the content” is all well and good, but not if the rest of the UX suffers as a result. It doesn’t need to be an either/or proposition.

This release might push me to using a 3rd party browser on all of my devices. It looks that bad. I really hope they see the feedback and learn from it, becuase it’s overwhelmingly bad. I was really excited about the idea of true browser extensions on iOS/iPadOS but I’m not sure it’s worth the tradeoffs.

Three Weeks with iOS and iPadOS 15: Foundational Updates

From Federico Viticci at MacStories:

Let me cut to the chase: I don’t think iOS and iPadOS 15 are massive updates like iOS and iPadOS 13 or 14 were. There are dozens of interesting new features in both updates, but none of them feels “obvious” to demonstrate to average users like, say, dark mode and iPad multiwindow in iOS and iPadOS 13 or Home Screen widgets in last year’s iOS 14. And, for the most part, I think that’s fine. The wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented every year, and the pandemic happened for everyone – Apple engineers included.

In many ways, iOS and iPadOS 15 remind me of iOS 10 and 12: they’re updates that build upon the foundation set by their predecessors, bringing welcome consumer additions that, while not earth-shattering, contribute to making iOS more mature, intelligent, and deeply integrated with Apple’s ecosystem.

As always, a great overview from Viticci. The thing that stuck out to me the most is his detailed breakdown of Safari on iOS and iPadOS. I’m still looking for a review that speaks in glowing terms about the UX tradeoffs made for these releases. As Federico says in the article:

So I have to ask: is it worth sacrificing everything else in the name of an address bar at the bottom?

I’ve been a Firefox user on the desktop for a while now, but have used Safari on iOS up to now. I’ve tried out Safari 15 on my Mac (you can download the Safari Technology Preview to check it our for yourself), and I can’t get into the changes on the nav bar. It’s a constant hunt to find the tabs you want because they’re always moving around and many of the things I use from the toolbar are now hidden behind an extra click. The past couple of years Apple has been on a quest to banish as much UI behind 3 dot menus, and it makes using their software more difficult to use. This seems to be in service of better aesthics over user experience. The idea of “elevating the content” is all well and good, but not if the rest of the UX suffers as a result. It doesn’t need to be an either/or proposition.

This release might push me to using a 3rd party browser on all of my devices. It looks that bad. I really hope they see the feedback and learn from it, becuase it’s overwhelmingly bad. I was really excited about the idea of true browser extensions on iOS/iPadOS but I’m not sure it’s worth the tradeoffs.

Yesterday, alongside all of the iOS/iPadOS/tvOS/watchOS releases, Apple released Safari 14 for the Mac. The headline features are under the hood performance, tons of privacy enhancements, better tab management, tab start page improvements, site translation, and WebExtension API support. These are all great and so far I’m quite pleased with the features I’ve run across.

However, I really hope there’s a way to disable the blue tinted extension icons for 3rd party extensions. This is extremely distracting:

Maybe this is only on Catalina and it looks much more at home on Big Sur. But I’ve been scouring Twitter for a plist hack to get these all back to one color with no luck so far.

Safari 14 Extension Icons

Yesterday, alongside all of the iOS/iPadOS/tvOS/watchOS releases, Apple released Safari 14 for the Mac. The headline features are under the hood performance, tons of privacy enhancements, better tab management, tab start page improvements, site translation, and WebExtension API support. These are all great and so far I’m quite pleased with the features I’ve run across. […]

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From Carlos Fenollosa:

This computer is bittersweet.

I’m happy that I can finally perform tasks which were severely limited on my previous laptop. But this has nothing to do with the design of the product, it is just due to the fact that the internals are more modern.

Maybe loving your work tools is a privilege that only computer nerds have. Do taxi drivers love their cars? Do baristas love their coffee machines? Do gardeners love their leaf blowers? Do surgeons love their scalpels?

A comprehensive review with lots to love about the new machine, but the lows are low. While the performance, speakers, screen and build quality are exceptional as always, he points out a lot of issues with the ports, software, and the webcam quality’s complete lack of progress in the past 7 years. I’ve also heard a number of different versions of this quote over the years:

I would have paid extra money to not have a touchbar on my macbook.

I think that on balance, people are just more negative about technology these days but it’s also worth pointing out that our expectations are higher now as we depend on these devices for our livelihoods more than we did a decade ago. I appreciate experimentation and pushing the boundaries of tech but most Apple customers would prefer “it just works” to “thin, light, experimentation”.

Seven years later, I bought a new Macbook. For the first time, I don’t love it

From Carlos Fenollosa:

This computer is bittersweet.

I’m happy that I can finally perform tasks which were severely limited on my previous laptop. But this has nothing to do with the design of the product, it is just due to the fact that the internals are more modern.

Maybe loving your work tools is a privilege that only computer nerds have. Do taxi drivers love their cars? Do baristas love their coffee machines? Do gardeners love their leaf blowers? Do surgeons love their scalpels?

A comprehensive review with lots to love about the new machine, but the lows are low. While the performance, speakers, screen and build quality are exceptional as always, he points out a lot of issues with the ports, software, and the webcam quality’s complete lack of progress in the past 7 years. I’ve also heard a number of different versions of this quote over the years:

I would have paid extra money to not have a touchbar on my macbook.

I think that on balance, people are just more negative about technology these days but it’s also worth pointing out that our expectations are higher now as we depend on these devices for our livelihoods more than we did a decade ago. I appreciate experimentation and pushing the boundaries of tech but most Apple customers would prefer “it just works” to “thin, light, experimentation”.

I was surprised to see that Music fixes were rolled into the new MacOS 10.15.2 release that came out this week. While I’m pleased to see that they’re iterating on the “new” app and taking customer feedback into consideration, I’m wondering why Apple isn’t shipping releases like these incrementally. Frankly, the same could be said for a lot of their applications.

With the fairly well-documented iOS 13 and Catalina update quality issues still fresh in mind, the company really needs to both focus on the quality of their overall platforms and the way in which they release software. One arrow in their quiver could be shipping updates to the core OS separate from apps unless required by new hardware changes. Does it add additional QA burden to test multiple permutations of software/OS combos? Yeah, it does. But when OS releases are tied to hardware releases at times it can be helpful to approach the rest of their software rollouts incrementally rather than shipping everything at once.

There’s no good reason that Music on MacOS or iOS can’t ship with smaller UX enhancements separate from an OS release. Same goes for Mail, Safari, etc.

“Big Bang” releases vs. incremental value

I was surprised to see that Music fixes were rolled into the new MacOS 10.15.2 release that came out this week. While I’m pleased to see that they’re iterating on the “new” app and taking customer feedback into consideration, I’m wondering why Apple isn’t shipping releases like these incrementally. Frankly, the same could be said […]

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About 6 months ago, Google announced a slew of consumer-grade products geared squarely at Apple and Amazon. At the event, they presented the Home, the Pixel, and Google WiFi and they all caught my eye for different reasons. I’m intrigued by the concept of mesh networking rather than throwing a router in one corner of the house, I’ve also had my eye on the connected home being controlled by voice, and I’ve been waiting for a truly premium heir to the Nexus line of phones to see if it was really worth making the switch (again).  I alluded to this in a recent post about my slow breakup with the Apple ecosystem, but I’ve been slowly making purchasing decisions based on what works best for me and my family, not what works best just with Apple stuff. A few examples of this is Todoist instead of OmniFocus, Spotify instead of Apple Music, Roku Streaming Sticks instead of Apple TV, and so on. At this point I’m heavily invested in Apple hardware (MacBook Pro, iPhone, Apple Watch) but from an ecosystem angle I’m pretty well spread out amongst a number of services. So, what was it like to try out Google’s latest and greatest?

Google Home

I’ve been interested in a connected home setup for some time but wasn’t sold on the Amazon Echo given the price point and lack of integration with the way I listen to music at home – we have a number of Chromecast Audios hooked up to speakers throughout the home as well as Chromecasts on our TVs. When the demo of the Google Home was shown at the 2016 I/O, (although some of the functionality isn’t baked in yet) I was definitely interested if the price was right. When they were announced at $129 each, that was all I needed to know.

I immediately bought 2 Homes – one for our kitchen and one for our bedroom. We use these things constantly for tasks as simple as setting timers and controlling our Nest thermostats but also for things like controlling multi-room audio, getting general trivia and weather from the web, and turning lights on and off. The voice recognition works very well, even when music or TV audio are playing, and it gets my commands right a vast majority of the time. We’ve gotten into the habit of using it pretty frequently when in the kitchen or getting ready for work. It’s really been a joy to use, and the capabilities are improving every week.

That said, it’s got a long way to go before it can truly challenge the Echo on the number of features it has. But for me, I wanted something that looked good in our house and has the potential of being smarter over time with a company like Google backing it. The thing that really sold me was the integration with Chromecasts – instead of buying a Sonos system in our house we saved $2k by just hooking up existing speakers to Chromecasts. I also play a lot of podcasts throughout the house, which I love do to on the weekends. It’s been freeing to have the ability to have smart home products from multiple vendors that all work together. Sometimes it’s not as easy as just logging into your iCloud account, but you have more choices.

A few things I hope make their way into the Home is the ability to queue music better, multi account functionality (so my wife and I could each do Google account specific stuff), the ability to send messages, and a way to have voice feedback set to one level and media set to another. If you’re looking to get into voice controlled assistants or even just want something to play music on, this is a great option at $129.

Google Pixel XL

I also took the plunge on a 128gb Pixel XL. I had 14 days to return it, so I figured I’d give it an honest look to see if the battery life, camera, OS features and build quality made it worth it to switch.

The short answer is that the Google Pixel XL better than my iPhone 6s Plus in nearly every measurable way. Now I know that isn’t the fairest comparison as the 6s Plus was released in September 2015 and the Pixel XL shipped last November but the only real unfair comparison there would be camera quality and performance. That said, I’m floored with how great Android 7.0 is now compared to iOS 10 and how fantastic the camera is on the Pixel.

The longer answer is a bit more complicated.

Build and screen quality of the Pixel were on par with the iPhone – it’s nothing flashy, with similar bezels to the current Apple offerings, but it’s fine. I don’t mind the fingerprint sensor being on the back, but I do think it’s faster for me to have it on the front. It can be annoying to have to unlock with your PIN when your phone is laying flat on the desk for sure, but it’s not the end of the world. The saving grace for this difference is that Android lets you set trusted unlock locations and connections so you aren’t forced to use the fingerprint sensor constantly. Android has a concept of a “Smart Lock” that allows you to set trusted locations, devices, voices and more to allow you to not require a pin or fingerprint if you’re paired to your car’s Bluetooth, or you’re at home.

The actual feel of the hardware is great, to the point where I don’t need a case. Battery life is a tough one – the standby time of the Pixel was fantastic compared to my current phone but was slightly worse on days where I’d be heavily using the screen. I never struggled to get through the day but I was constantly in the 30% range by the end of the day, compared to maybe 40–50% range with my 6s Plus. Fast charging makes up for any issues here though, as a good 20–30 minutes can get you from 30% to 85% easily. Knowing that’s an option removes any possible battery anxiety.

The camera is the best phone camera I’ve ever used, and the ‘smart burst’ functionality of the phone means that you always get a really good shot when dealing with quick moving targets like a kid or two. I already use Google Photos as a backup for my photo library, so getting free ‘for life’ storage for anything shot from the Pixel XL is something Apple should be doing for iPhones.

On the software side, I firmly believe that Android is now better than iOS for my needs. The way notifications work and are grouped, the organization of the home screens, the default keyboard and overall UX make my time on my phone much more pleasurable. Things have evolved to the point where visually I like the look and feel of Android as well from a color, animation and layout perspective. Little things add up, too. Persistent notifications for chat conversations and media playback mean it’s very easy to switch contexts. After using Android for a few weeks, it feels like everything in iOS takes a few extra taps to accomplish. The app ecosystem really isn’t a problem anymore, either. There are a few apps here and there that I’ll miss from iOS (Day One, Reeder, Fantastical and Pennies come to mind) but it’s not a deal breaker like it was for me 3 years ago.

Other than the above mentioned apps above, the biggest things I missed from iOS was a good messaging solution (iMessage is so amazing and I have no idea why Google can’t find a way to merge Allo, Hangouts and SMS into a unified ‘thing’) and iCloud photo sharing (but I could still do this from my computer so no huge loss). The biggest gripes I had with Android and the Pixel mostly related to missing my watch being integrated (time to start shopping for an Android Wear device!), Average battery life under heavy use, having to use Pushbullet to get text notifications on my work computer (which is a great service, just not as nice as a native app like Messages on the Mac), and the location/volume of the one speaker on the bottom. Lift to wake also wasn’t super reliable in my experience, which is amazing on iOS.

Having a phone with a voice assistant that responds well, is more open (creating tasks in Todoist was dead simple), and gives good contextual answers is really a game changer. I found myself using voice for a ton in the past few months because of the Google Home and always disappointed by Siri. Having a seamless system that truly works everywhere is fantastic.

As an aside, not having notifications on my wrists for messages and other important apps was a big negative. Next time I go for an Android device I’ll have to get a smart watch as well.

As the 2 weeks came to a close I started thinking hard about if this phone or any phone is worth the $4–500 I’d have to spend to buy it (after selling my current iPhone to recoup some costs). I think that answer is no, but I am sad to move back to iOS and return the Pixel XL. Other than some battery gripes it’s really better in every way. So, in the short term I’m happy enough with my iPhone 6s Plus and iOS in general to not invest $900 on a new phone with new hardware less than 6 months out. If I were buying a new phone today I’d get the Pixel XL and I can recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone looking for a new phone. I’m going to have an eye on Google I/O, WWDC and the fall hardware announcements from each company with an even sharper eye than ever before. If I were a betting man, when it comes time to replace my current iPhone I’ll be buying the Pixel XL 2 or whatever it’s called unless Apple really wows me with their hardware and software. The things Apple needs to do with iOS 11 and the next iPhone aren’t out of reach, but I’m not super confident they’ll deliver.

At a higher level, it’s fascinating to me how well Google has gotten at walking and chewing gum. I’ve been using more and more of their services and with most of their hardware offerings looking so good, it’s not too hard to imagine a scenario where the only Apple products I own in a year will be my 3 year old MacBook Pro.

Google Home & Pixel XL

About 6 months ago, Google announced a slew of consumer-grade products geared squarely at Apple and Amazon. At the event, they presented the Home, the Pixel, and Google WiFi and they all caught my eye for different reasons. I’m intrigued by the concept of mesh networking rather than throwing a router in one corner of […]

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Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a very interesting trend in the personal technology space. A pretty big shift has occurred – with Apple slowly becoming less reliable, less intuitive, and less interesting (to me) and Google has slowly become better designed, more thoughtful, and better at addressing consumer’s needs.

The race between Apple and Google has always been centered around who can shore up their weaknesses faster – Google needed to ‘get’ design and have a cohesive consumer strategy and Apple needed to ‘get’ cloud infrastructure and have ‘good enough’ AI to keep up with the competition. I feel like Google not only has ‘gotten’ design, I think they actually have a better designed, more thoughtful UI right now. While I’m not quite ready to switch from my iPhone quite yet, I do find myself using a ton of Google’s apps and services in my daily life, further weakening my dependence on Apple going forward. I use Google Photos, Keep, Docs, Maps and Inbox over their Apple counterparts for a few reasons. First, they’re cross platform and work on iOS, Android, Mac or Windows without a hitch. Second, they are updated more frequently and are ‘smarter’ for the most part than the versions from Apple. Finally, I trust them to actually work. Apple lost the ‘it just works‘ battle when computing moved to the cloud, and (this shouldn’t come as a surprise) Google has a huge leg up here.

But it’s not just software. I never really set out to do make any huge switch myself but over the past year or so, I’ve moved away from hardware that ties into the the Apple ecosystem and have instead sought out or accidentally ended up using something more cross platform. Over time, it’s become easier and easier to find better alternatives and I’ve been a lot happier as a result. Last year we had a situation where we needed to come up with a way to watch movies in our home and we ended up buying a Synology and Chromecasts for our TV sets to stream all of our ripped DVDs + Blu Rays. Using our phones as remotes has actually proven to work quite well, and in hindsight I’m super thankful I didn’t go the route of setting up a Mac Mini as a home PC instead. Further, I’ve abandoned iTunes & Apple Music for a combo of Spotify, Chromecast Audio and the occasional Google Play Music use. I love how seamlessly the Spotify + Chromecast Audio setup works in our house – you can control what music is playing from anything that has Spotify installed on it, you can control a multi-room setup for a fraction of the cost of Sonos + Apple Music, and I just like the way that the Spotify service works over what Apple has to offer right now. Add into the mix upcoming Google Home voice integration (I’ve preordered 2 of them) and things get even more interesting.

One could argue that Apple is just the king of the hill in a way that they weren’t 10 years ago so of course they’re a bit more boring now. And let’s face it – the product line is more varied, more complicated, and has a user base an order of magnitude larger than it had a decade back as well. Google or any other tech company isn’t exactly perfect, either. I get all that, but I feel more and more like I’m making compromises when using Apple stuff, and I find myself rolling my eyes at Apple apologists and bloggers more than ever these days. Their mission, the products they make, and my needs are diverging. Honestly it kind of bums me out to say that, but it’s true.

I still have my 1st gen Apple Watch and wear it almost daily. I really like the fitness and alerts side of it, but declined to update to the next version for now. I do like the direction Apple is going with their watch but I just don’t think it’s good enough for me to drop another 3-500 dollars. I got rid of my iPad Mini a few months ago and haven’t missed it a bit. I have a generation old iPhone and won’t be upgrading for a while, if at all, to another iPhone. I’m not even sure how current my Macbook Pro is, but I’m 100% content with it and don’t really see a need to upgrade for a while.

Unfortunately, the iOS 10 and watchOS 3 updates that came out recently have made my desire to get out of the Apple ecosystem grow. Battery life is now an issue on both of my devices and I can’t say that I like the changes that were brought to iOS 10 even if battery life wasn’t an issue. 3D touch means that discoverability is lower, it takes more work to get through to just through tasks that are way easier on Android. Overall, I find a lot of tasks take longer for me in iOS land, and the hardware design advantages Apple once had are starting to deteriorate (the new Samsung 7 and 7 edge look amazing, as does the Pixel). Apple still makes amazing hardware, but I’m not sure that it’s enough to make the compromises that I feel I have to make by opting into an Apple-only ecosystem.

This isn’t all to say that I’m going to sell all of my Apple stuff tomorrow and start using Windows and Android or something like that (especially the Windows part). Instead, I have my personal tech eggs in multiple baskets more than ever before. Apple stuff works quite well when you buy in 100% to their ecosystem but as soon as you use that one app or device that doesn’t fit their way, things have a tendency to fall apart pretty quickly. On the other side of that, simply choosing to use whatever tool is the best has my ‘risk’ spread out in a way that I’m much happier with. I think that when the next Pixel phones come out next year, there’s a very good chance I could switch to Android instead of getting an iPhone 7s or whatever they’re called. 10 years after the iPhone was announced, it’s possible I’ve gone full circle to being only a Mac user again when it comes to my investment in the Apple ecosystem.

That said, if we had a time machine and could check out my blog posts from the next 12-18 months, I think they’d look a little something like this. Or this, depending.

The slow breakup

Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a very interesting trend in the personal technology space. A pretty big shift has occurred – with Apple slowly becoming less reliable, less intuitive, and less interesting (to me) and Google has slowly become better designed, more thoughtful, and better at addressing consumer’s needs. The race between Apple and […]

Continue reading →
Google I/O has come and gone, so now it’s time for Apple to have their annual developer conference.  I feel like most of the areas for innovation isn’t at the OS level anymore, it’s with services and apps as part of the OS. Unfortunately for Apple that isn’t really their strong suit. With that in mind, here are the things I think Apple might do this year to catch up in areas that they are lagging (and a few things that just bug me about my favorite OSes).

iOS 10

  • Hide stock apps. This may also introduce an opportunity to make default apps as they’d need to account for scenarios that tried to open Mail but it was hidden.
  • Siri API to allow users to perform custom actions via voice
  • Smart grouping of events in photos app
  • Roll out transit for more cities (Ahem, Atlanta)
  • Better 3rd party keyboard support. Currently it can randomly stop working or revert to the default.
  • Add a swipe-style keyboard
  • 3D Touch to clear all notifications from the pull down notification center
  • Allow me to close all Safari tabs easily (3d touch?)
  • Granular cell data use, much like battery section. Let me see daily / weekly data use per app & overall
  • Better “now playing” integration on home screen & in mission control. Allow 3rd parties to add actions like iTunes currently has. I’d love to be able to add a song to my library with one tap, or star a podcast in overcast.
  • A ‘Car mode’ similar to what Google announced at I/O – optionally allowing me to launch a CarPlay type UI when driving to minimize distractions and ease in tasks like navigation, calls and texts.
  • Proactive, travel history, workout & health data should be able to be backed up to iCloud or your computer separately so you don’t lose that information when moving to a new iPhone.

Mac OS X 12

  • Add Siri to OS X.
  • Siri API to allow users to perform custom actions via voice
  • Photos app should sync faces & do a better job of guessing who a person is.
  • Photos app should auto create albums like Google Photos does
  • Brand new iTunes / Apple Music split. Let me do all the things iTunes currently does in iTunes and split Apple music into a new place for my cloud needs.
  • More progress on dark mode
  • iCloud sync status in the menu bar

watchOS 3

  • Simplify the interface – swipe down for notifications and swipe up to view recently opened apps.
  • Get rid of honeycomb app launcher and make something more usable.
  • Allow users to set what the contacts button does (launch app, change watch face, etc). I’d love to have the button open up runkeeper or OmniFocus.
  • 3rd party watch faces
  • Location-based watch faces. I’d love to have a work and home face that automatically changes when I enter a geofenced area.
  • Speed. No idea if it’s even possible but the fact that the apps are so slow is a killer
  • Make Siri faster. I currently don’t even bother because it’s so slow. And seemingly has gotten worse over time (although I think it’s actually that my 6s Plus is that much better)
  • Wrist flick sensitivity settings. Id be willing to sacrifice some battery life to have my watch be a little more sensitive to my wrist movements.
  • Auto detect when I’m running
  • Make it easier for devs (Spotify, Overcast) to put audio on the device. I’d love to be able to listen to either of those apps without my phone.

Misc software

  • Apple News: make tab bar persistent at bottom to more easily get home
  • Apple Music: all of this.
  • Contacts app is super sluggish as of the most recent OS. Hope they clear that up.
 

WWDC 2016 Wishlist

Google I/O has come and gone, so now it’s time for Apple to have their annual developer conference.  I feel like most of the areas for innovation isn’t at the OS level anymore, it’s with services and apps as part of the OS. Unfortunately for Apple that isn’t really their strong suit. With that in […]

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A few months ago, I posted my initial review of the Apple Watch after using it for a few weeks. It’s been nearly 9 months since I’ve had the watch and I thought I’d give a follow up based on what I’ve learned after using it daily.

The hardware

While aesthetically I think the hardware is one of the stronger parts of the Apple Watch, the underpowered processor is by far the biggest thing holding it back. One issue that has begun to frustrate me is the fact that the Taptic engine is a little underpowered, and it seems to be getting less powerful over time. It’s very rare, but I do miss taps on my wrist occasionally. I tend to only allow notifications for texts, calls and a few other things, so it’s important to actually get those notifications when they come in.

Battery life is mostly fine – I’ve never even hit 10% battery in one day of use, and over the course of one weekend I was able to make the watch last by turning on airplane mode for most of the time and finally going to power reserve. I’d love a situation where the watch could last for 2–3 days of normal use but it’s not a deal breaker as it currently stands.

In the same vein of things that could be better but aren’t show stoppers, I think that an always-on display would be great – the wrist flick motion works pretty well but it’s just not flawless. There are tons of times during the day where I legitimately just want to check the time but instead have to some convoluted arm flick to see the time.

I hope that in the future, more and better sensors are added to the device. Realistically, a focus on making the thing just load what you expect it to in a reasonable time frame is all I ask for.

The software

A lot of the promise of the Apple Watch falls short with the overly-complicated watchOS software. This hasn’t changed in watchOS 2 – while some changes were made, the overall way the system works still relies on you to browse a series of ‘complications’, ‘glances’ or a nearly impossible to use view of all of your apps. I use complications a lot (OmniFocus, Dark Sky, Calendar and the Activity rings all are super useful) but the apps aren’t even a consideration to me 99% of the time.

I wish Apple (and by extension, app makers) would think of software on the watch as powerful, actionable notifications that allow me to quickly act on information as it comes in if I see fit. A great example of this sort of power is the Outlook app on the watch – not only does Outlook do some Google Inbox-esque priority mail filtering to only show you important emails, but it also allows you to archive, mark as read, reply and more quickly from the watch when you do get a notification about an important email. I can’t see many scenarios where I’d be using my watch to actually scan all of my emails but I love getting important notifications I can quickly do something (or not) about.

The way that Google handles their interaction model actually makes way more sense to me, as I’m in it more for notifications and quick interactions rather than lightweight apps that aren’t all that easy to get to. I’d much prefer it if Apple were to focus on making the notification layer more useful while de-prioritizing apps and even glances, really.

Speaking of glances, I hate the way you have to scroll back and forth to get to glances. It makes having more than 2 or 3 impractical (which is one reason I only use Now Playing, iPhone Battery, OmniFocus and Shazam). Instead, how cool would it be if swiping up to get to glances it would act normally but there would also be an icon in one of the corners that zoomed you ‘out’ to a circular view of your glances much like the contacts view. You’d be 2 taps away from any glance. Even better, I wish you could change what the contacts button did, so it could either view contacts or glances. This is the thing I think that Apple could and should do with watchOS 3.

Overall, I find myself using fewer and fewer of the 3rd party apps on my watch but the core functionality of the watch is still fantastic to me. I love having a step counter on me at all times, the ability to get notifications regardless of my phone’s location within the house, and a quick way to do small tasks (send texts, set reminders, etc) via Siri.

A few other things I love and hate

Am I the only person who takes way too many accidental screenshots on my watch? When the watch gets low on your wrist, bending your hand ‘up’ forces the crown and the other button to press your hand at the same time, triggering a screenshot.

I’ve used the watch for walking directions a few times and it’s really fantastic to get the taps when it’s time to make a turn. I hope that with iOS 10 + watchOS 3 that Apple Maps continues to improve so I can start using it more often. Currently, I just don’t trust it that much over Google Maps.

A few other things I wish could change about the platform:

  • Change the ‘contacts’ button on the side to do other things (quick launch an app, load a complications overview, etc)
  • Complications are choppy when swiping between. Wish it were easier to get to any complication as opposed to swiping from start to finish.
  • Hope that watchOS 3 allows Overcast and Spotify to keep media on the watch so I don’t have to run w/ my iPhone
  • The Workout app should have basic interval timer.
  • I’ve started switching to Apple Defaults more, interested to see if that sticks through iOS 10s release. For now, that’s Contacts & Maps away from Fantastical and Google Maps.

Overall – there’s potential, but I’m souring on the watch

In short, I think that the Apple Watch is a very nicely built, somewhat stylish device that does a few things pretty well, but I’m not sure what the future holds for the future of the platform. I think that it may or may not turn out to be a huge new category but instead a really nice accessory that’s great for fitness, notifications and a few voice activated commands. If Apple would listen to my advice it would be to improve the battery, bulk up the processor, strip the OS down and make Siri work more regularly. It’s still an amazing way to get a lot of great functionality out of your phone without having to actually dig it out of your pocket, or feel like you have to carry it everywhere you go. For me, there’s a ton of value there, even if it only ever did notifications / dictation / basic complications.

Overall, if my excitement level and satisfaction was an 8/10 a few months ago when I got the thing, it’s more like a 6 or 7/10 now. I’m still happy with the device but I’ve actually found myself limiting the use to the things it’s actually good at, and not trying to force new functionality on it. If Apple were to find a way to simplify the interface, speed it up, and make the Siri integration truly special I think the watch would be something I would wholeheartedly recommend. I’ll be very curious to see what Apple has in store for current Watch owners as well as the future of the hardware this summer and fall.

Apple Watch, Revisited

A few months ago, I posted my initial review of the Apple Watch after using it for a few weeks. It’s been nearly 9 months since I’ve had the watch and I thought I’d give a follow up based on what I’ve learned after using it daily. The hardware While aesthetically I think the hardware […]

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