Tag Archives: iOS

Apple unveils CarPlay — hopefully cars are about to get smart

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Apple finally unveiled more of its plans to bring iOS into the car with what it is now calling CarPlay.

CarPlay will allow iPhone users to plug their iPhones directly into a car and use iOS to control their cars navigation and radio, while also providing hands-free calling and texting support. What is exciting about this isn’t what you can do with it, but rather that it comes from a company that develops some of the best software and user interfaces anywhere in the world. Car navigation and entertainment systems are notoriously bad, and the fancy ones with touchscreens and GPSes are usually over-priced messes.

Users will also be using the same apps in the car that they have on their phones. This will give users less to learn and make the experience more seamless. The idea of having a separate digital life for the car never made any sense, and car makers aren’t good at writing consumer software.

Smartphones are powerful personal computers with lots of wireless radios. In the past that power sat idle while users were forced to use poorly implemented systems by car manufacturers.

What are the advantages of this over getting one of the many navigation and entertainment options already available directly by car manufactures?

  • Always have what you need — Our phones are our personal assistants. They are truly personal computers. We have them loaded up with our favorite apps and our preferences. Why have a totally separate solution for the car? Why not plug in a device that already has everything you need right on it? Your music. You maps with your favorite places already in it. Your contacts. It just makes sense to have one device that you can always have on you.
  • Voice, touch or knob control — CarPlay gives you Siri voice control in the car. Very few cars have voice control, and the ones that do don’t have very good voice control. You’ll be able to send text messages with your voice, control your audio apps and control your navigation and more with just your voice. This may be the first good hands-free technology to go into cars. But CarPlay cars will also come with touchscreens, a natural fit for iOS and the apps that will integrate into CarPlay. Most cars, even if they have a touchscreen, still have knob fallbacks for temperature and audio, and these knobs will work with CarPlay. Users will be given a variety of ways to control what they are doing, and the different input methods will fit in nicely depending on if a driver is stopped or moving (or has a passenger).
  • Maps are constantly updated, improved and have real-time data — Navigation systems in cars are notoriously poor because they go out of date over time, and they aren’t connected to real-time data — both because of a lack of a data connection. CarPlay will give you navigation with real-time traffic data and alternative routes. It will also give you the ability to find restaurants and other landmarks, something that many dedicated GPSes already do, but these will again be updated. What’s the point of having a list of restaurants and coffee shops from seven years ago? Apple Maps has Yelp integration, which is very handy for finding good restaurants, the hours of restaurants and even telling you if a restaurant is still in business.
  • Radio is dead — CarPlay will allow you to control your favorite audio apps. While you can currently hook up an iPhone to a car stereo through an auxiliary input, that makes controlling the audio very difficult and at times dangerous. Now you’ll be able to control your favorite audio apps in a much more native and seamless way in the car. I’m looking forward to being able to natively control Spotify, Downcast and Audible in the car. Cars are probably the only thing keeping FM radio on life support, and that’s only because streaming audio hasn’t been integrated well into cars. That’s about to change in a big way.

The devil will be in the details, however. Apple will have to deliver a level of stability and reliability that they haven’t with their recent operating system software. iOS 7 was launched almost six months ago, and it’s still buggy. We’re all desperately waiting for the iOS 7.1 update to refine the OS and tackle some major bugs.

OS X Mavericks is getting more refined, but it too could use some more work. The difference here is that an occasional app crash or even system crash isn’t a huge issue with a smartphone or even a PC, but it would be a big deal if it happened in the middle of driving a car.  Apple will need to deliver a level of refinement and stability for CarPly that they haven’t with some of their other software.

Here is Volvo’s video introducing CarPlay for their cars.

The quality of Apple Maps is also a concern. It has improved considerably since launch, and it’s reputation is probably no longer deserved, but it does lag behind Google Maps — at least in car-based navigation. I prefer Apple Maps on foot, but Apple CarPlay is all about the car.

Apple needs to make a big commitment to making their maps app as good as any mapping solution out there. Beyond that, it would be nice to allow third-party maps apps work as well. Not just Google Maps, but specialized navigation apps for when you’re visiting a national park, for instance, or maps that provide guided tours of cities.

Apple is allowing a variety of music and podcast apps to work through CarPlay, so I have hope that we’ll see additional navigation options in the future. And maybe CarPlay is another sign that Apple is taking mapping seriously.

With an expanding family and an aging car, I’ll be looking to get a new car within the next few years. Any car that doesn’t support CarPlay (and without a several-thousand dollar upgrade) will automatically be off my list. I’m tired of driving dumb cars that have bad navigation systems and even worse audio options.

Let’s make cars smarter.

Episode 100: The looming living room wars

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Episode 100 is here.

I don’t think either of us envisioned making it to 100 episodes. But thanks to our listeners, we have pulled through and delivered 100 episodes, and show no signs of slowing down.

We prepared to talk about technology in the classroom, but our early-show banter turned into an episode about a new Apple TV, apps in the living room and video games. A new Apple TV is coming soon, and we think it could really shake up the living room.

Are you ready to start downloading apps straight to your TV? Can a new Apple TV be the spiritual successor to the Wii when it comes to expanding the audience of video game players?

But Sony and Microsoft want to own the living room too. The Xbox One can control your cable box, has tons of streaming services, has world-class games, can do Skype from your couch and more. It’s actually a very compelling product for non-hardcore gamers, but Microsoft, and Sony with the PS4, have not done a good marketing and communication job with their new boxes.

My Mom and Dad won’t be swayed by vide-game centric commercials that focus on first-person shooters. But the TV, movie and Skype capabilities of the Xbox One? That’s something they would use a lot.

Listen to this week’s show:


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Snow notes:

Microsoft should split Windows into two separate OSes


This is Windows 8’s Metro mode. It literally doesn’t have windows anymore.

Microsoft is trying to walk back some of the polarizing aspects of Windows 8 with updates to the OS, but the real issue is the fundamental mistake of trying to make one OS that can run on traditional desktops and laptops, while also running on tablets and smartphones.

Microsoft needs to split Windows into two separate OSes. Windows 9 should look and feel like Windows 7 with new features and refinements. Forget Windows 8 and 8.1 entirely.

The Metro mode (the entire look on Windows smartphones) should be spun off into its own OS without the Windows name. It doesn’t have to be called Metro, but Microsoft needs to come up with a fresh name for its mobile OS.

I use Windows 8 every day at work. It’s not that bad as some would have you believe, but I like it less than Windows 7. Shouldn’t every release be more enjoyable and better? I consider Windows 7 to be the best version of Windows ever. It has a pretty clean windowing UI, it’s stable and secure and generally just works.

Windows 7 is an OS that really appeals to Microsoft’s core audience. Why mess with it?

I have my Windows 8 machine set to boot straight to desktop mode, and I have the start menu back; so it’s pretty similar to using Windows 7. But every now and then you accidentally open up an app or file in Metro mode, and it’s a really disorienting experience when one of my monitors is in metro mode and the other is in desktop mode. It really is one of the worst and most inexcusable computing experiences you can have today.

The core issue of Windows 8 is that it tries to merge two pretty good UI concepts together, and in the process makes both worse. I like Metro as a tablet and phone UI. I like the Windows 7 UI for desktop computing. It’s when you have to use Metro on a desktop or Windows 7 windowing on a tablet that it all goes to hell.

This is a pretty nice phone UI. I would not want to use this on my dual-monitor desktop in my office.

This is a pretty nice phone UI. I would not want to use this on my dual-monitor desktop in my office.

Microsoft has a new CEO. He doesn’t have to save face like Steve Ballmer might have tried to. He can simply say that Windows 8 was a mistake , and we’re going in a different direction.

The time is now to end this failed experiment to create one OS to rule them all.  Make Windows 9 the best traditional Windows it can be. Aim it at businesses and people who want to use the same OS they use at work at home. Focus on networking and cloud support (integrate OneDrive even further into the OS as a major selling point), improving multithreaded support (make it easier for developers to harness 4-12 and more core computers) and improving the file system.

The UI concepts of Windows 7 are pretty good. You can iterate on the UI and add new features like Apple does with OS X, but there is no reason to get away from windowing for desktop computing. It’s a conceptual model that works well, particularly for power users and work that benefits from multiple-monitors and multitasking.

Microsoft should then spin off Metro into its own OS without the Windows name, while still using the Windows kernel. This is what Apple does with iOS, and it works very well. Apple executives have recently come out and said that merging iOS and OS X into one OS would be a waste of time.

The needs of a user vary drastically by context. When someone is trying to edit two spreadsheets side by side his needs are very different then when they are trying to get directions while walking around a city. There is no reason to believe that tablets will replace laptops, so why not an OS that assumes that?

I use OS X at home, and think Mavericks is what Microsoft should be aiming for, not Windows 8. Mavericks is the best desktop OS I’ve ever used, and, while I really like iOS, I wouldn’t want to use iOS on my desktop computer.

Apple has shown Microsoft the path forward. Make the best desktop OS with windows you can. Make the best mobile OS without windows you can.

It’s that simple.

Episode 97: Mac OS El Camino (30 years of the Macintosh)


We discuss 30 years of the Macintosh and what the Macintosh has meant to computing and  to us.

We also discuss if iOS and OS X will eventually become one OS. The Mac is stronger than ever today, and you can see a lot of the original Macintosh in today’s Macs. But will the 50th-year celebration still show that same linage?

Will the Mac be around in 20 years? Would we be where we are today if Apple had gone under in the 90s?

We also start off the show with a discussion about Google Glass and sex.

Listen to this week’s show:


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Show notes:


Episode 60: 2013 tech predictions part 2

Is this the future of iOS?

Is this the future of iOS?

We’re following up our first 2013 tech predictions episode to bring you more predictions.

With the changes that Apple made in its executive ranks, we think we’re going to see some changes to iOS this year. That’s one of our predictions, and we have much more.

Listen to this week’s episode:


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Analysis: Scott Forstall and retail chief John Browett out at Apple


Did not expect to see this coming.

Well, John Browett I saw coming. His tenure as the head of Apple retail has been very tumultuous and there have been a lot of complaints in the less-than-a-year that he headed it up. He didn’t get what made Apple retail stores unique, and didn’t really have experience running a luxury brand. He tried to turn Apple’s retail stores into a nickle-and-dime operation, when the real allure was in the upscale, laid back experience mixed with great service.

Scott Forstall is much bigger news. He’s been with Steve Jobs and his companies ever since he graduated from Stanford. He started with NeXT and came over when Apple purchased NeXT. He was instrumental in bringing the NeXT core and APIs over to Mac OS and was the person who wanted Apple to adapt OS X for iOS instead of using Linux.

Forstall was Jobs’s right-hand software man. But Steve is no longer with us, and changes are afoot.

The press release doesn’t say one positive thing about Forstall. He was pushed out. Word on the street is that it’s related to Siri and Apple’s new Maps app. Both weren’t overly polished and remain buggy to this day.

Maybe Forstall also left because the company has changed so much in the past five years. Apple is primarily the world’s largest mobile company. But being a mobile company is so much me than just a mobile operating system; it’s also doing Web services, hardware and integration in larger ecosystems.

So what does this mean for Apple?

  • Skeuomorphism is out at Apple — Jobs and Forstall were the big skeomorphism guys in Apple. Neither is around anymore. Expect to no longer see user interfaces that try to mimic real-world objects.
  • The Jony Ive-ing of Apple’s UI/UX — Apple says that Ive will, “provide leadership and direction for Human Interface (HI) across the company in addition to his role as the leader of Industrial Design.” I’d expect to see the modern, clean lines of Ive’s design aesthetic being applied to iOS and OS X. The mobile OS that fits that description the best is Microsoft’s Windows 8 Metro UI. I expect to see less embellishment, cleaner lines and less faux textures. I also expect to see Apple’s UIs complimenting Apple’s hardware even better. But Ive is a hardware guy, and user experience and user design is really about how something works, not how it looks. But since mobile device design is so much about the marriage between hardware and software, doesn’t it make sense for one guy and his team to head up both?
  • Silos being torn down — That seems to be the big message from today’s announcement. In addition to Ive handling hardware and software design, Senior Vice President, Mac Software Engineering Craig Federighi is now in charge of both iOS and OS X. Could this mean that they one day become one OS that works on both touchscreen and mouse and keyboard computing systems? Perhaps. In the short term, I think this means we’ll be seeing iOS and OS X sharing even more technology and looking more similar (which has been the big push with Lion and Mountain Lion). Did it really make sense for two different people to control Apple’s operating systems? It makes sense for one person to have the ultimate say over both and to have both teams work together.
  • A more mobile focused company — Bob Mansfield stepped down as senior vice president of hardware engineering, but stayed on as a senior vice president of nothing. Originally the move was announced as a retirement, and maybe it was supposed to be, but Mansfield is staying on as the new senior vice president for technologies, a new group at Apple in charge of all wireless teams across the company, including semiconductor teams. Apple has made a big play with semiconductor technology with the A4 and A5, but the A6 is really a custom piece of hardware that differentiates Apple from competitors.
  • iOS will see some big changes — Forstall lead the team that created the best mobile OS in the world. He has laid the foundation for a very successful future for iOS and Apple. But some people feel that iOS has become conservative. iOS has clung to the successful SpringBoard home screen focused on apps since the original iPhone, while competitors have begun integrating more information and services into home screens. Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 and 8 in particular offer home screens that are more flexible and powerful. A lot of people really like the simplicity of SpringBoard, but it was a design for much less powerful devices. It was the original design. The iPhone 5 is many times me powerful than the original iPhone. I think it’s likely we’ll see bigger changes in the jump from iOS 6 to 7 than we saw from iOS 5 to 6. This doesn’t mean that SpringBoard is going away, but iOS 6 was a very iterative change over iOS 5, and this space is so young that there are big gains to still be made.

Goodbye Sparrow

Goodbye Sparrow.

Sparrow was, and still is, the best email app I have ever used. It’s user interface is clean, simple and very intuitive. It makes email faster and me enjoyable.

It’s everything that you could want in a desktop or mobile email app. Sadly, Sparrow was just acquired by Google. This was more of a acqui-hire than a real acquisition.

Google just wants the talented Sparrow team; it doesn’t really want the wonderful iPhone and Mac App that the company has created. Google has never really cared that much about putting out really strong products on anything other than Android.

I have some hope for this acquisition. The Sparrow team has clearly been thinking hard about how to make email more efficient, particularly on mobile platforms. The knowledge and design that went into Sparrow could be brought over to Gmail.com and mobile Gmail clients.

The best case scenario is that Sparrow gets renamed Gmail and that the Sparrow experience gets brought to more platforms. Worst case scenario would be Google just using the new team to help make Gmail.com better, while continuing to ignore native desktop and mobile experiences, particularly on iOS.

Google has put more thought and care into the Android Gmail experience than the iOS one and doesn’t have an app on any other mobile platform. I’d hate for them to acquire the best iOS Gmail client and then just kill it and go back to delivering a sub-par Gmail experience for iOS users.

Sparrow will still be available and minor updates will continue to roll out. But don’t expect new features for Sparrow clients, and that long-anticipated iPad client will never see the light of day. The Verge reports that this acquisition was largely about making the Gmail experience better and more attractive for everyone:

Our sources also noted that Google isn’t ruling out native Gmail clients for platforms beyond iOS and Android, and emphasized that Google wants to bring polish, “beauty,” and ease of use to all of its Gmail experiences across platforms (a suggestion that a native client for Mac and PC might be in the offing). Sparrow, apparently, is a way to get there.

I’m all for that. I’ve been a Gmail user for seven years, and while the underlying service and engineering keep getting better, the user interface has stagnated and is too keyboard focused. Sparrow for iOS really brought a big touch focus and had a lot of great gestures and UI flourishes that made tearing through email really fast.

Every Gmail experience from the website to native apps could benefit from the work that Sparrow has done. The Gmail team’s engineering work combined with the Sparrow team’s UI/UX work could be a beautiful thing. It’s an incredible marriage of tech and art.

I hope, however, this doesn’t mean the end of high quality native Gmail experiences. While gmail.com does provide a good email solution that works across platforms (and that is better than Outlook, Apple’s Mail app and Thunderbird), it’s not nearly as good as a really forward thinking native app like Sparrow.

Sparrow came about because Google neglected the desktop experience and the iOS experience. I hope they don’t take this new talent and continue down that path. Google needs to take native app experiences more seriously.

The Web is great, but it’s not the end all, be all, especially something like mobile email. Sparrow’s legacy deserves more than just the Web. Sparrow should be about making gmail.com better and making more and better native apps.

Sparrow, you will be missed. Hopefully this will not have all been in vain.

“The file system management is just gonna be an app for pros and consumers aren’t gonna need to use it”

Ole Begemann has a great find about Steve Jobs thoughts on file systems:

in every user interface study we’ve ever done […], [we found] it’s pretty easy to learn how to use these things ‘til you hit the file system and then the learning curve goes vertical. So you ask yourself, why is the file system the face of the OS? Wouldn’t it be better if there was a better way to find stuff?

Now, e-mail, there’s always been a better way to find stuff. You don’t keep your e-mail on your file system, right? The app manages it. And that was the breakthrough, as an example, in iTunes. You don’t keep your music in the file system, that would be crazy. You keep it in this app that knows about music and knows how to find things in lots of different ways. Same with photos: we’ve got an app that knows all about photos. And these apps manage their own file storage. […]

And eventually, the file system management is just gonna be an app for pros and consumers aren’t gonna need to use it.

What Steve is describing is how iOS works, and how people will be able to use OS X Mountain Lion. For power users, the file system is great, but for your average computer users, it just makes everything more complicated. You would be surprised with how many people don’t really know how to manage a file system.

And if you don’t know how to use and manage a file system, you’re not getting the most out of your computer, you’re misplacing files and you are probably unhappy frequently with your computer. Or you become one of those people who stores everything on the desktop, because, hey, that’s at least one spot that you know how to reach. Of course, your desktop then becomes so cluttered that it’s useless for storing files.

There are limitations to the iOS model (how do multiple apps access and work with the same file?), but it is a system that works very well for novice users. An iPad is much easier to pick up and use than a Mac or PC, and a large part of that is how much easier it is to manage files.

Episode 39: Do you really want to be polling a bunch of weirdos?

Fring update push notification

We discuss the value, or lack there of, of push notifications.

Are push notifications making us more and less productive? Do we need better ways to manage push notifications?

We also discuss political polling and the difference between polling landline and cell phone users.

I apologize for Jeremy’s audio quality. I blame his Internet connection (although it could be mine, but don’t tell him).

Listen to this week’s show:


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Show notes:

On discoverability and power users

Rands in Repose has a post comparing learning how to play the popular game Portal to learning how to use Photoshop.

One of them requires no manual and the other a lifetime to master (or a lifetime of looking up how to do things again):

The plethora of online Photoshop tutorials demonstrate its power and its flexibility, but I believe they also demonstrate its poor design. Think about it like this: what if each time you plunked down in front of World of Warcraft, you had to spend an hour trying to remember, wait, how do I play this?

Great design makes learning frictionless. The brilliance of the iPhone and iPad is how little time you spend learning. Designers’ livelihood is based on how quickly and cleverly they can introduce to and teach a user how a particular tool works in a particular universe. In one universe, you sport a handheld Portal gun that cleverly allows you to interrupt physics. In a slightly different universe, you have this tool called a cloning stamp that empowers you to sample and copy any part of a photo.

Computers and software aren’t new. There should be a certain amount of intuitiveness and discoverability to software. If experienced computer users constantly find themselves frustrated with your software, the issue probably lies with you.

However, sometimes non-discoverable gestures and commands make us more productive. I don’t think the mark of great design is always how little time it takes to learn how to use something. Some things inherently take time to master and learn.

Anyone who knows how to drive a manual transmission can tell you that driving an automatic is certainly easier to do and more discoverable. Any idiot can figure out to put the transmission into the D for drive position.

A manual transmission offers a much higher level of control over a car. It gives the driver more feedback, and is more pleasurable to use.  But the learning curve is much steeper.

I would never say, however, that driving an automatic transmission is a superior experience. It’s simply the easier route. The thing is, eventually you figure out how to drive a manual transmission really well and you start to do things that you simply can’t do with an automatic transmission.

Computers aren’t cars, however, and there has to be a balance between being able to pick up a piece of software and quickly use it and being able to do powerful things with it. Simple hotkeys like control-c and control-v aren’t discoverable, but they are invaluable to those of us who work with text for a living.

I could not imagine using a windowing operating system without hotkeys, which make us more productive and faster, while putting less strain on our bodies. The beauty of a modern windowing OS such as Windows 7 or OS X Lion is that there are multiple ways to get tasks done.

Anyone can move a mouse around, click on things and fumble there way through a computer. Others learn the hotkeys and install programs like Alfred that help get even more done with the keyboard.

The iPad has taken ease-of-use and discoverability to a whole new level. An iPad makes using a Mac feel like using an IBM PC from the 1980s. The big challenge for the iPad and other tablets is find ways to mix in power-user features that help make experienced computer users more productive.

The iPad supports gestures like the four-finger swipe to go between apps that is faster than the standard switching model. There is also the hand-close swipe to get back to the homescreen. I would expect to see more of these gestures that help power users move around faster. This video of a proposed way to highlight and select text on an iPad is the perfect example of a feature that shouldn’t replace the default text selection behavior but would really aid power users.

Getting back to the post in question, I find Photoshop too much for my needs. The program has too many features, costs too much money and feels too bloated to me (I can’t stand how long it takes to load compared to newer graphics editing programs). I’m perfectly happy using Pixelmator for my graphic design needs. It’s much cheaper, runs much faster and is easy to use for the tasks that I need to accomplish.

The biggest knock on Pixelmator and similar apps is that they try too much to be like Photoshop. The more they distance themselves from Photoshop and find ways to make graphic design easier, the better. If people want a Photoshop experience, they’ll for the real thing.

The tension between discoverability and powers users is not going away any time soon. With easier to use and more-locked down devices, that tension is only growing.