Twitter co-founder Ev Williams wants developers to come back

Twitter co-founder Ev Williams wants developers to come back:

Williams also suggested that it was time for Twitter to look for new ways to connect with software developers and to take another stab at making Twitter a platform. Twitter  famously went to war with developers several years ago when it restricted developers’ access to the API that allowed developers to grab Twitter data for their own use.

This is a very good thing if it actually comes to pass.  While I like what Twitter has been doing lately with their native iOS app, their Mac and iPad apps are horribly out of date.  I’m a Tweetbot user on the Mac and waffle between Tweetbot and Twitterrific on iOS, but would love to see even more innovation in the Twitter app space.  Right now, developers’ hands are tied.

Safari and the User Centric Web

If you haven’t been keeping up with this small-scale drama, Nolan Lawson wrote an article about a week ago about how Safari is falling behind other browser vendors.  This led to a pretty large outcry from the Apple faithful (which, honestly, I typically consider myself part of) and finally a slight backtrack from the author.

I think his biggest mistake was saying “Safari” rather than “WebKit” in the title.  If you do web development for a living you know that Chrome/Blink is the best platform for building cutting-edge stuff on the web and Webkit is starting to lag behind.  There are probably tons of reasons why Google forked Webkit in 2013, but Blink has raced ahead of Webkit’s abilities – and Apple’s yearly release cycle of developer-facing features has a lot to do with that.  3 or 4 years ago it was unheard of to have to apply polyfills to account for any issues in Safari – I mean, polyfills were for IE, right? – but these days I do find a handful of bugs cropping up during our QA process that I’ve had to remedy in my personal default browser.

The rebuttals from the Apple faithful were kind of comical, trying to pit Google’s Chrome against Safari in an effort to say Safari is focused on privacy and battery/performance (it is, and that’s why I love it), but those two things don’t have to exist independent on one another. I applaud the Safari team for a lot of the new user facing features they’ve rolled out recently (some of the new features of El Capitan in particular look really nice), but I’m sure even they would admit the WebKit team and the Safari UI teams are focusing on different agendas and release cycles.  If the author had kept to talking about WebKit instead of ‘Safari’ proper, I bet a lot of the fairly uninformed Apple bloggers would have stayed on the sidelines.

All that said, I do hope that Apple picks up their slack on the rendering engine front – if they want to make Safari’s user facing changes part of their yearly OS updates, that’s fine with me but the rendering engine fixes should roll out more frequently and in greater overall volume.  I love Chrome’s rendering engine, dev tools, and their update cycle/philosophy.  But I hate the UI and battery impact with a passion.  I doubt we’ll see the ability to set new default browsers on iOS anytime soon, so I hope I can stay in the ‘Safari ecosystem’ , but that requires quicker integration of new web technologies, involvement in the web dev community, and I’m not sure Apple wants to do those things.

 

Initial Apple Music Impressions

apple-music-logo

On June 30th at around 10am, the switch was flipped on the iOS 8.4 upgrade that contained the new Apple Music app and about an hour later, Beats 1 went live on the new streaming service. Overall, it’s been a fairly smooth launch from what I gather, and I’ve had a chance to kick the tires on most of the service to report my initial findings. This is by no means a full review, but I thought it might be helpful for people a bit less obsessed than I am with music and especially streaming music services.

What is Apple Music?

Like Rdio, Spotify, Google Music and others, Apple Music is a streaming music service that allows users to pay $9.99 a month for the ability to stream any song, on demand, from the nearly 30 million songs in their catalog. In short, you’re renting the ability to play any song or album, when you want it. On mobile devices, users can download and ‘save’ songs, albums or playlists so that they don’t use up their mobile bandwidth. While Apple Music is pretty run of the mill when it comes to this part of their service, they offer a few components that aren’t Earth shattering on their own, but the little differences add up to make something pretty compelling.

iTunes Match is dead, long live iCloud Music Library

Apple has had this kinda-sorta cloud music solution called iTunes Match for a while now. Basically, you pay $25/year and iTunes will scan your library, matching the tracks that you own with those in the cloud, and will upload tracks you own that may not be in the iTunes Store catalog. Conceptually, it is pretty solid and I’ve used it on and off over the past few years. You can sync playlists between devices and access all your music on any Apple device you own. However, sync wasn’t always reliable or fast. But for the price it was a pretty good value all things considered.

With Apple Music, we now have the iCloud Music Library, which is pretty much the same thing as Match.

Curation & For You

for-you

The thing I loved about Beats Music when I gave it a shot last year was the way they curated playlists based on moods, history or influences and recommended them to you based on what you listened to.

And they were really, really good.

I was amazed by how spot on the albums and playlists were, and it was the one service I used that solved the ‘what should I listen to right now?’ problem. Well, the same feature is in Apple Music – the more music you add to your library or love, the better the suggestions will get over time. This is presented in the ‘For You’ section of Apple Music as a series of cards that let you choose from playlists or albums that they think you might like. Over time, these recommendations get really accurate, and I’m always finding something new to listen to (or rediscovering old albums I haven’t heard in a while).

Beats 1

Apple-Beats-1-logo

You could argue Apple helped kill the radio with iTunes and the iPod but they’re now trying to bring the patient back to life with Beats 1.  Basically, it’s an always-on internet streaming station featuring a few prominent tastemakers / DJs as well as shows featuring popular artists that rotate out every few months.  Folks like Elton John, Q-Tip, Drake, and Josh Homme all have shows once a week amongst others.  It goes along with the other ‘curation’ attempts Apple is making to differentiate itself, and after giving it a go for a few days, I’m way more impressed with it than I thought I’d be.

Connect

This is kind of like a Twitter/Instagram style service that artists can use to connect with fans. You can allow Apple Music to auto-follow artists in your collection so I’ve already seen a few dozen posts from artists and they range from useless to actually really interesting. Trent Reznor posted some old NIN instrumental tracks that were really awesome to hear and I also saw some cool concert photos.

Screenshot 2015-07-02 10.37.50

You can imagine this part of the service will either die on the vine or become something much, much bigger over time. I could see this becoming a way to learn about upcoming shows, selling merchandise and promoting other things artists are doing. Further, I could see Apple getting into the ticketing game if Connect takes off. It’s not too far fetched to imagine a scenario in which an artist you follow due to saving one of their albums alerts you to a concert in your area via Connect, and you then use Apple Pay to purchase tickets. The pass is automatically added to passbook, a calendar entry is made on your phone for the event with directions, and you can share you’re going with one tap on Facebook or Twitter, with a link to the same post you saw embedded. Pretty slick if you’re the concert going type, and most of the ingredients are already in place.

The Good

I had high hopes that Apple would keep smart playlists around and they actually outdid what I was hoping for.

Not only are smart playlists still retained in the form they were prior to Apple Music’s launch, they actually give you the ability to integrate anything that is added to your library from the streaming tracks you are ‘renting’ as well. There is a new value for the iCloud Status meta property – Apple Music. This means songs you own and songs you’re renting can co-mingle in playlists and even smart playlists. Once they’re part of your iCloud Music Library, you are able to work with them just like any other track. This also makes it fairly easy to manage which tracks you have added from Apple Music, and which ones you own:

Screenshot 2015-07-02 10.38.10

For someone like me, this is huge. I like to make playlists based on how often I listen to music or sort by songs I’ve rated highly, etc. Being able to have the music I own and the music from a streaming service comingle like this is perfect.

I wasn’t expecting to say this, but Beats 1 is way better than I thought it would be. I figured it’d be a total gimmick – and it still may fall flat as the novelty wears off – but there’s something about that communal experience of listening to music you know thousands of others are also enjoying at the same time. It wouldn’t be worth a damn if the music wasn’t good, though, and the segments I have listened to so far have been really, really good. Not always the exact type of music I’d dig up myself but I’m enjoying it a lot so far, especially while at work.

I’ll be curious to see how things mature long term with Beats 1 – do they fill out the roster with more and more shows or do they splinter into a few different stations. Either way, consider me very pleasantly surprised that Radio On The Internet is actually kinda compelling.

The Bad

One thing I’ve seen some people talk about is issues with tracks having DRM on them if you are using the Match portion of the service. Definitely worth backing up your library if you’re going to make the jump. Another stupid thing I blame the music industry for is the fact that you can’t stream Beats 1 to multiple speakers from iTunes.

I feel like those issues are, on some level, out of Apple’s hands and I only hold them responsible for poor communication. However, there are some serious UX issues that hopefully can be resolved in time for iTunes 13 and iOS 9, but I’m not holding my breath. The on-boarding process is especially cumbersome, and while I was already used to the way the Beats ‘blob’ thing worked, I kind of hated it already. The software on both platforms is fairly confusing at first to even myself, who I’d consider a veteran of iTunes and Music on the Mac.

A lot of folks are talking about how this is Apple’s chance to rethink things now that the dust of the launch is settling, and I agree 110%. Conceptually, they nailed it, but the user experience can be cumbersome.

For example, did you know you can ‘love’ anything, regardless of it you have it in your library or not? But, once it’s in your library you can both love/not love a track and also rate it 1–5 stars?  I think Apple needs to pick a path and go with it.

It’s also not possible at this time to add songs that aren’t in your library to a playlist.  Let’s say I’m trying to make a playlist of songs for the beach or for the holidays and I want to add some songs I don’t really want cluttering up my Library.  For now, tough luck.  This is a two-step process of adding songs to the library and then adding those songs to a playlist I create.

When I am listening to a radio station, it’s unclear if pressing the ‘love’ button loves the station or the song. It sometimes persists through the entire radio session.

It can be difficult on the desktop to find an artist’s page and just queue up an album of theirs. If I find an album I want to preview before adding to my library, I’m out of luck. I can either press the play button and immediately hear it, or I have to click on the little ‘…’ icon, add the music to my library, go back to ‘My Music’ and then add the album to ‘up next’. Spotify’s UX on this sort of quick discovery is way better, as I’m able to simply right click on anything and ‘add to queue’.

Apple seems to be struggling to make iTunes work for people who want to buy their music and those who just want a pure streaming experience. When I’m looking at an artist in my collection and I click on ‘view more from this artist’, I’m taken to the store. As a streaming customer, I’d expect to be taken to a list of all of the tracks in Apple Music, and maybe a link or section at the bottom of tracks or albums I can purchase. Definitely a difficult problem to solve, but this is a UX challenge I hope Apple sits back and addresses for iTunes 13 and Music for iOS 9.

In short, I think that Apple’s concept of ‘My Music’ is both very powerful and very confusing. The fact that once a track is in your library it’s just like any other song is pretty awesome. It means you could in theory add more info for a track, rate them, add them to smart playlists and more. However, the downside is that it limits adding songs that you don’t have in your library to a playlist, like in most other streaming services (even Beats Music). Most of these issues don’t apply to the iOS versions of the app, but it’s a bummer that iTunes is such a mess (still).

There are also a number of nitpicky bugs that are to be expected from what is essentially a massive scale launch of a 1.0 product. I don’t expect perfection at launch but I do expect they’ll get cleaned up soon.

  • Some of the albums that I have in my collection do not show up as such when I look at a song from a playlist or other medium.
  • On the desktop, that damn ‘disconnected cloud’ icon is the bane of my existence. I usually just have to restart iTunes from time to time to get it to connect reliably. This has been a problem for me sporadically since the Match days, so who knows if it’ll clear up.
  • The Beats 1 station always has the ‘loved’ state. I mean, I do like Beats 1 but not every song…
  • Adding songs to my library from radio stations has been spotty for me. I was out for a walk tonight and heard a few songs I really liked on Beats 1. I pulled out my phone, clicked the ‘add to library’ button, verified that it was added via the checkbox dialog, and put the phone back up. The next day, the tracks weren’t in my library. Bummer.

‘Easy’ fixes

Some of the fixes I really hope that make their way into a future product are as follows:

  • Swiping left and right on a playlist or while listening to an album should skip to the next/previous track
  • Double tapping on the icons at the bottom of the iOS app should jump you to the top of the list that you’re viewing.
  • When you click the ‘back’ button on the Mac, I wish it would take you to the exact spot you were viewing instead of back to the top. Persistent state is way easier to nail nowadays, I know this.
  • When you’re listening to a song on Beats 1, a Radio station or a playlist, I wish you could directly add the song to your playlist & that would also add the song to your library in one action.
  • Make it easier to correct issues with ‘Matched’ music. Google Music nails this, as you can upload your own track to replace one that is incorrect, add your own artwork or edit metadata and it actually makes its way through the system.
  • Make it easier to mass clear downloaded tracks/albums/playlists and make it clearer what’s happening.
  • I should be able to right click on anything and add it to ‘up next’ in a consistent, reliable manner.  Whether it’s an album, a song or a playlist the behavior should always be there an always work.

Overall Impression

Apple could have done a better job explaining the service to users as well as taking this moment to simplify much like they did with Photos and iWork previously. I understand it’s a very fine line to walk but this was their 1.0 moment to really streamline what the service does as well as better explain/articulate things. There has been a lot of confusion about how the Match service works, as well as Home Sharing changes that have surprised people.

I guess I don’t get why they had to launch this summer – they could have taken their time and announced this when they were really ready. I suppose iOS 9 was the marker they wanted to be live by, but they must have decided to deal with whatever growing pains there were going to be.

Most of my complaints are with the fairly poor job that was done thinking about user experience on the Mac and communicating a lot of the differences between Match, Apple Music and Beats Music. From a software perspective, the iPad and iPhone versions are outstanding in most every way.

That said, Apple Music is conceptually the service I’ve been waiting for since I started using Rdio back in 2009. Apple really nailed almost everything I asked for in this blog post, and I anticipate things to get ironed out over the next year. Apple has the best curation/discovery tools, Beats 1 is way more compelling than I thought, they kept their Match service and integrated it, and even allowed Smart Playlists to work with their streaming music. It’s not perfect, but so far I think this is the service I’ve been waiting for.  I’ve already cancelled my Spotify subscription and I can’t really envision a scenario that has me going back.

Once I’ve had a month or two with the service I’ll dig deeper and report back.

A quick Apple Music scorecard

Recently, I posted my wish list of what I’d like to see in Apple Music before the WWDC announcement and while I’m really excited overall, I do still have some questions.  Here’s a few bulleted thoughts based on what we know right now.

Things I’m excited about

  • They nailed the ‘architecture’ question I had. You can mix and match your own tracks with the streaming library, similar to how Google Play Music handles things.
  • It looks like the Beats model of being able to like or dislike any song is intact – I love this model, as you can really train the service to offer up things tailored to your taste.

Things I’m not sure about

  • Are play counts tracked in a way that I can see?
  • What about ratings? It looks like you can ‘heart’ tracks based on this screen grab, but I’m not sure how that applies to the music I own. Are 4/5 stars converted to a heart, 1/2 converted to a heart with a cross through it?
  • Can we make smart playlists at all anymore? Are they only applied to our music?

Can’t wait for 6/30.

The Apple Watch

About 2 weeks ago, my wife handed me a box that contained a 42mm stainless steel Apple Watch w/ a black Sport Band. It was an early Father’s Day / 5 year Anniversary combo gift, but it had showed up about 2 weeks early and she knew there was no way my impulsive self would have been able to function knowing that box was somewhere in our house. So, thanks to her generosity I’ve had a few weeks now to put things through their paces and report my initial impressions.

But first, I wanted to back up to what my expectations of the Apple Watch are to provide some context to my thoughts. After the keynote in September of 2014, I was excited about the future of wearable tech and definitely thought that the actual hardware looked fantastic. However, I wanted to see it in person before making any decision.

What I was looking for in the Apple Watch

The things I’m looking for in a device like the Apple Watch, roughly in the following order:

  1. Fitness
  2. Use my phone at home less
  3. ‘Fashion’
  4. Apps

In the past 6 months, I have started running 5 days a week, and combined with watching what I eat I’ve lost over 25lbs. I want to keep that going – 15 more pounds to go!, and I’m the sort of guy that needs data to keep me motivated. I was previously using a combination of my iPhone and a FitBit, but I wanted something a bit nicer to track distance run, heart rate, steps walked during the day, etc. I’ve been relying on Apple’s HealthKit to be the glue that holds together apps like MyFitnessPal, Runkeeper and Pedometer++ to give me an overall picture of how much I’m active, how much I eat, and how my runs are going. Finding something more portable than an iPhone and more powerful than a FitBit sounded like a good reason to try the Apple Watch on its own. Add to that the motivational features like reminders to get up and move, goals that change over time and ‘badges’ for sticking to a workout regimen and I was sold.

Additionally, I’m a bit addicted to having my phone on me when at home or at work. I wanted to find a way to break that tether a bit and thought a device like the Apple Watch would allow me to leave my phone behind while I’m not out and about. Being able to see and respond to simple texts and see/dismiss notifications from my wrist seemed very appealing to me, and I was hopeful this would reduce my dependency on an iPhone while at home.

I’ve also just wanted a new watch. My wife bought me a watch as a wedding gift but it’s a bit too dressy for daily wear. I wanted something that could counter that for daily use and also add some of the above benefits.

Finally, I was at least somewhat interested to see what the first generation apps on the Watch looked like. I had pretty low expectations given the early reviews and the architecture behind the WatchKit apps (essentially, the ‘apps’ are nothing more than projections of UI from your phone to your watch via bluetooth. Any data, computations or new views would have to make a round trip from your phone to your watch. I expected this to be slow and generally useless for most tasks). I think that the future of apps on the Watch is exciting but didn’t expect a lot for 1.0.

My first two weeks

The first few days I found myself tinkering with everything – watch faces, apps, notifications and settings – for the better part of the day. I nearly killed the battery every day because of this, but I never got to 0%. That definitely impressed me, as most folks were fearful of what would happen in real-life use. Once I started to ‘forget’ about the watch on my wrist a bit more, average battery life was at about 40–50% at the end of the day (a day for me starts around 7am and ends around 11pm, with a 30 minute run 5 days a week).

I’ve had to re-train myself to use Siri more often, but now that I’m getting into that habit, dictation is fantastic. I was mowing the lawn recently and was able to respond to a few messages from my mom while the mower was going. I just had to turn away and speak very close to the watch, and my messages were transcribed perfectly. Totally dorky, but I felt like I was living in the future. I’m responding to texts, setting calendar alerts, asking for directions and issuing lots of other commands very frequently with the watch and it works very well.

A few odds and ends:

  • It took me a few weeks to get used to the UI – it’s so easy to think of the Watch as a tiny iPhone but it really is a whole different paradigm.
  • The Apple Watch app on the iPhone is (other than the icon) pretty well done and makes managing the device a breeze.
  • My kingdom for a systemwide concept of VIPs. I would love to only show notifications via text or email from folks I really care about.
  • The watch face brightness level can be turned down to the lowest setting and is still great even in direct light. I’d imagine it helps with battery life but I haven’t really seen a difference yet.
  • I used my Watch to buy from a vending machine, as a boarding pass at the airport and to make a few purchases at stores. Compared to the reaction I get with my phone, people think I’m a spy from the future (and probably kind of a dork too)

Fitness

The fitness tracking is great – subtle reminders to get up to move around and the visible ‘fitness circles’ on the watch face keep your activity front of mind.  I love how easy it is to start and stop a workout from your wrist, as well as control your music.  Right now, I still run with my phone in my pocket for podcasts but I’ve also taken the watch for a spin on its own to see how things work when it is unpaired.

I’ve been very happy with the workout app on the watch as it gives you glance able info about your run/walk/bike ride but also tracks heart rate very accurately as well as calories burned.  I do wish it handled intervals like runkeeper, but for now I’m just glancing to check my pace from time to time. I’ve also done a few runs using the runkeeper app on the watch and it works quite well if you’re doing interval training.  The downside is that it’s reliant on the phone so if you want to be as minimal as possible while running that’s a problem.

Overall I am very happy with the workout features and it feels like Apple is walking the walk on making this a great device for people looking to take more control of their personal fitness. The workout app on the iPhone gives a great overview of how you are doing and tracks the ‘awards’ you unlock as well.  Very polished app, and another one in that new ‘dark’ theme. Hmm…

Putting my phone down

I look at my phone way less often than I did pre-Watch. When I’m at home now, I tend to leave my phone on the table on whichever floor I’m on instead of keeping it in my pocket most of the time. When I get things like texts, notifications or emails I can now quickly look down and see if it is important and either respond or get back to playing with my son. The same applies for when I’m at work and want to quickly see when/where my next meeting is or what the weather is going to be like if I’m about to step out of the office. The reason that this sort of thing is important to me is that I have the awful habit of getting ‘sucked in’ when I pull out my phone to do something fairly innocent like checking the weather and end up screwing around on Twitter for 20 minutes. Removing these huge distractions gives you tons of time back to focus on things like doing puzzles with your 2 year old, paying attention in a meeting, having a conversation with your wife, or simply improving your phone’s battery life.

To the last point, my iPhone’s battery life is much better since I’ve settled into a rhythm. I look at my phone way less now. By setting important notifications to come to my wrist, the two OCD things I’ve done in the past (checking the time and seeing if I have any new notifications) don’t require taking the phone out of my pocket. By not picking up my device and turning the screen on so often, I’m noticing I end the day with about 45–55% left, where previously I was in the 30% range. There was one glitch on the 3rd day that I owned the Watch, however – I had to unpair/repair when I noticed an issue with the iPhone’s battery life. In short, something was causing the phone to never go into ‘idle’ mode and was trying to keep a constant connection with the watch, causing the battery on both devices to drop pretty significantly. After a fresh re-pairing, I’m noticing great battery life on both the phone and the watch.

It does seem like driving with my watch wrist (left) is causing some battery drain. I guess it’s turning the screen on more than I notice, which is dropping the juice considerably.

Fashion

I tried on a handful of models in the store before deciding this was something I wanted, but that’s only a few minutes in a store. After wearing the 42mm stainless model for a few weeks, I do like the way it looks on my wrist. It’s a great size, it’s not too heavy and the Sport Band is super comfortable. I plan on getting a leather or nylon strap pretty soon to replace the Sport Band as my ‘daily’ band and using the Sport for working out, but even the default looks pretty good (at a distance it looks like leather, honestly). I’m very happy with the way this looks and since I plan on owning this model for the next few years (my goal is to own it until it’s obsoleted by a software update or when proper GPS is added, whichever is later) I’m hoping the stainless will age well.

The Apps

As stated above, I wasn’t super optimistic about the 1.0 Apple Watch landscape going in for a few reasons. I was fearful that a lot of the developers were rushing to have their apps available on day 1 at the expense of using the device and then designing/building an app. Further, the technical limits of WatchKit 1.0 had me pretty lukewarm on the whole idea. If the whole point of a smartwatch is quick, 3–5 second interactions, I’m not sure super laggy interfaces and latent data transmission via bluetooth is really going to lend itself to a great experience.

Unfortunately, my fears were mostly spot on. A huge chunk of watch Apps are mostly useless. It should be noted that ‘glances’ are a bit better – these are the data sources you get from swiping up from the bottom of the screen. I use the following glances: Settings, Battery, Power (for iPhone), Now Playing, Heartbeat, Activity, OmniFocus, Pennies, Calendar, Weather, NYTimes, Maps. All of these provide quick bits of data or singular actionable buttons that are mostly a pleasure to use. I barely touch the actual apps at this point, though.

Great Apps:

  • Overcast
  • Fantastical
  • Twitterrific
  • Pennies
  • Most stock apple ones.

Not So Great Apps

Most of them. Almost any app that needs data from my phone struggles to deliver it in a timely fashion unless the phone is very close by. I’m hoping watchOS 2 addresses this with native apps and better wifi networking.

The future with watchOS 2.0

A lot of the issues I have right now are performance based and I’m really hopeful that watchOS 2.0 squashes a lot of those. Custom complications, time travel and native apps alone are huge updates and I can’t wait to try them out. It’ll be interesting to see how long each generation is supported – are they going to try to position Watches as longer term investments or just another consumer device you should upgrade every few years? I’m not hopeful it’ll be sold/marketed any differently but it’ll be interesting to see how the next few rounds of software and hardware releases unfold.

So, is it worth it?

To me, the biggest selling points when folks ask me “do you like it?” is that I genuinely feel more motivated to be active because of the Apple Watch, and I have noticed a significant drop in the amount of time I’m just staring at my phone. As the watch starts to ‘disappear’ and become less of a novelty in your life, the more value it actually brings to your day to day life. That’s a huge value proposition, and one that Apple has struggled to make in my opinion. I get it – selling a thing that makes one of their other things used less seems like a bad pitch, not to mention admitting how addictive smartphones can be. I can’t stress how much I value not having to worry about missing a notification but still being able to set my phone aside.

In short, the apps kind of suck and probably will continue to do so until watchOS 2 is released. Data transfer of info to glances and apps can be glacially slow at times. Sometimes the watch won’t wake up unless you master a fairly demonstrative wrist flick gesture. The UI can be confusing at first. The lack of custom complications make some of the watch faces kind of useless.

And yet I love this thing. It’s totally a 1.0 product but I am very happy that I got one, and can’t wait to see where things go from here.

I think that anyone who is fairly invested in the Apple ecosystem and wants something akin to a FitBit but is willing to pay a bit more should look at the Apple Watch very seriously. For $350/$400 you can get something that is extremely well built – without hesitation, I think this is the nicest Apple device I’ve ever owned – and gives you tons of fitness possibilities. You can mostly ignore the apps for now and still have something worth owning for the price, and I think the usefulness of these types of devices is going to skyrocket over the next 6–12 months. Investing in the stainless or gold versions are a bit riskier given how quickly this sort of tech turns over, but I think that anyone who is somewhat tech savvy and physically active would benefit greatly from owning an Apple Watch.

My ‘Apple Music’ Wish List

In the next few weeks Apple is set to announce a slew of updates to iOS and OS X. Most rumors indicate that we’ll see a lot of small improvements with every corner of the Apple ecosystem, but I’m looking most forward to the impending announcement of the new Apple / Beats product that should rival Spotify, Beats, and Google Music.

How I listen to music

First, I thought I’d talk for a moment about how I enjoy music as I think that will flavor my wish list. I’m a subscriber to Spotify and iTunes Match, using both about equally depending on context and they both do a lot of things really well and miss out on some others. I enjoy music in one of 4 main places: during my roughly 1 hour commute to and from work from my iPhone, during my workday at my desk on my Mac, while running on my iPhone (and one day my Apple Watch!) and at home, typically played throughout the house on multiple speakers via Airplay & my Mac. It’s important to me to be able to use a remote app on either my phone or my watch to control music while around the house.

The way I listen to music is typically one of three “modes”: discovery, (re)discovery, and ‘hits’.

At a high level, discovery for me means using something like Spotify or iTunes Radio to find new music based on things I already listen to. I do this at work a lot of the time – I’ll pick a Radio station or playlist and find some new artists this way.

Rediscovery is using the Smart Playlist feature in iTunes to serve up my favorites that I might not have listened to in a while. I’m kind of obsessive about metadata and Smart Playlists in iTunes, and this pays off when I can call up a playlist based on some pretty specific criteria.

Smart playlist
Yes, I realize how insane this is.

‘Hits’ means either using Spotify/iTunes Radio or Smart Playlists to serve up music I know I’m a fan of. This is great for running or driving around. Again, I make use of Smart Playlists to play a specific curated playlist.

The perfect iTunes+Beats concept

With Apple buying Beats last year, the writing was on the wall for a streaming service making its way into iTunes. Simply put, I want to have iTunes as my one-stop shop for music discovery, re-discovery and personal curation. I want to be able to solve the ‘what do I listen to’ problem that I currently have with Spotify, and have the ability to combine music I own with music I discover. Jumping between ecosystems places a mental burden on me to remember where a certain album or song lives.

So, how do we get to this magical land?

Conceptually, steal what Google Music does

Conceptually this service should work like Google Music, where users can upload/match their own music but also subscribe to a streaming service to supplement their ‘owned’ music with ‘streaming’ music. This should be transparent to the end user once tracks are matched. In fact, the reasons I don’t use Google Music are mainly the lack of a good Remote system not named Sonos and the lack of a desktop application to speak of. They nailed the music management part of the streaming puzzle.

However, Apple Music needs to take that concept but retain some of their core features.

Don’t ruin what makes iTunes great (smart playlists, metadata, remote)

The core of what I want already exists within iTunes, and I hope that Apple doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater as they did with a refresh of their iWork apps. Smart Playlists are the backbone of what makes iTunes great and help me deal with a fairly large library of music. I realize that adding a streaming service and a match service together isn’t easy but Google’s approach to me is great. Take that, add the ability to make smart playlists based on some basic metadata, and you’re cooking. I personally only rely on metadata like last played date, date added, play counts, and ratings to create most of my smart playlists and if they are lost at the expense of adding a streaming service, I might as well use Spotify or even Google Music.

Further, retain iTunes Radio and give users the option to add songs to their library or purchase them outright. Serve up recommendations similar to how Beats currently works, offering albums or curated playlists to aid in discovery. The important thing is to still make my music – regardless of if I got it from the new streaming service or it’s music that I own – the focal point instead of pushing playlists and other ‘features’ on me the way that Spotify is moving these days.

Fix what makes iTunes awful (slow Match updating, bloated apps)

iTunes Match is conceptually a very great service but it rarely works as flawlessly as I’d hope. The update times are hard to predict so things like play counts, metadata changes or new music additions take time to filter down to every device. I realize this is potentially a very complicated issue and know it’s super difficult to solve, but I’d love to see some speed/reliability improvements here above all else.

Ditch ‘The Sentence’ feature from Beats. Let iTunes Radio take the place of this poorly thought out feature.

Better ‘New Music Tuesday’ section

I like the way that a few services handle ‘New Music Tuesday’ but nobody does it perfectly. Rdio comes the closest, offering up a list of all of the new albums available, and even notifying you in the menubar of the application if any artist you have in your collection has a new album out. I feel that sort of automation combined with the curation angle that Apple and Beats both take, breaking out genres and featuring the top new music, would go a long way to helping users not only find new popular music but also keep up with the artists that they already love. If rumors are true, allowing users to follow artists seems like this could be Apple adding in the automated notification feature. However, I hope they go on step further and allow you to be notified if any artist in your library has a new album/song out.

Add toggle within iOS app for offline only tracks

Something that has bugged me for a while is the way Music on the iPhone works – you have to leave the Music application and go to system settings just to toggle whether the app shows all of your music or only the music you had downloaded to your device. All of the other major players do this really well, and fortunately Apple has already added this in the iOS 8.4 beta. There is a toggle to show all of your music or only downloaded music.

Finally.

Handoff support

Pretty simple – I’d like to be able to get home after my commute and hand off what I’m listening to over to iTunes to seamlessly continue rocking out. If I’m listening to a playlist or an album, that should be able to be easily continued on iTunes, my iOS device, or even my watch if possible.

Just work well

That’s all! Simple, right? Most of the things I’m asking for aren’t rocket science, it’s just an issue with all of the competitors doing most of the things I want, but not all of them. Apple has the ability to knock one out of the park next month and finally build the perfect system for the way I listen to music. I hope they can make it happen.

Bulletin Shutting Down

Sad but it had to happen. We were too late to the RSS ‘gold rush’ after the Google Reader announcement. I’m still proud of what Michael and I were able to build but there are so many great alternatives that are backed by an infinitely larger userbase than Bulletin’s.

I have some ideas rattling around for a possible re-launch of the service one day, but nothing is planned at this time.

getbulletin:

Bulletin.io will be shutting down in early 2016. New registrations have been closed, and existing accounts have been put into complimentary mode. No additional subscriptions will be collected.

Thanks to all of our customers for your support these few years.
– Michael & Daniel

Back to the iPhone 6

So, my two month experiment with the iPhone 6 Plus has come to an end.

As it turns out, I use my phone one handed way more than I thought, and the Plus made that way too difficult. Further, I kept waiting for that moment where the phone didn’t feel like I was carrying a small book in my pocket, but it never happened. I constantly was running into situations where I needed to use the phone with one hand and found it nearly impossible to do so without doing some serious finger gymnastics.

I’m not sure if it’s just me but I also feel like some of the software is much buggier on the 6 Plus. That could be chalked up to iOS devs at Apple possibly not using / testing the Plus as much as the 6, or just a bad luck of the draw for me. I got lots of random Springboard reboots, a buggier camera, slower scrolling (this could be attributed to the extra number of pixels the Plus has to push with the same RAM as the 6), and odd behaviors with rotation. Nothing major but enough to be another reason to ‘trade down’ to the 6 again.

I’m definitely going to miss the battery life, which really is the biggest gain in going to the Plus from the normal iPhone 6. It was pretty rare for me to end my day under 50% battery life – now I’ll have to be a little more careful, but in practice I don’t think it will be much of an issue. It’s pretty rare I’m away from a charger long enough to really make something like 20% battery life worth the tradeoff.

One funny side effect is that the 4.7 inch iPhone feels downright cozy in my hands now. Feels good to be back.

Time to upgrade …?

My home iMac is getting comically slow and I think it’s time to either sell it before the hard drive dies or pay the price to upgrade to SSD. I’ve been considering a handful of options to get a machine that doesn’t take 10 minute to fully start up and they break out in the following series of flawed options. Before I get to those, let me break down what I actually do on my Mac these days, because it’s not a ton.

  • Acts as a ‘poor man’s NAS’, serving up music for use with Airplay around the house and streaming movies that I have ripped to our Apple TVs.
  • Web development and light Photoshop / Sketch work
  • Novice iOS development
  • Family photo management
  • iMovie use a few times a year
  • Playing 5+ year old games from time to time
  • Web surfing, banking, social media … standard consumery stuff

Nothing too taxing, really. I tend to keep a computer for 4-5 years though, so I want something that will last but not cost an arm and a leg. With that said, here are the options I’m looking at currently:

Buy a 13 inch MacBook Air (approx $1700)

I actually have a MacBook Air at work (current gen, i7, 8gb RAM) and it’s a great machine and does everything that I need it to. However, nothing is perfect.

Whatever I buy, I’ll need to stick with for the next 4-5 years. Do I really want to go retina-less with a new computer? Honestly, if the air had a retina display I’d pull the trigger here and be done with it. Also, buying a laptop as a ‘desktop replacement’ means a desk full of cluttered wires, dongles and such. Additionally, to get anything close to the 27" of real estate I’m used to will require the purchase of another monitor. Dual displays are a crappy soultion in my mind.

Buy a 13 inch MacBook Pro (approx $2200)

A MacBook Pro has almost all of the pros and cons that the Air have, but the added benefit of an even faster machine, a retina display, and the new trackpad. Still, these features come with a price tag of about $600. The biggest con here is definitely the price, as otherwise it is the most ‘future ready’ machine of the options I’m thinking about. I just don’t use my home computer very much these days.

Buy a top of the line Mac Mini (approx $1600 + monitor)

This makes the list of options simply because it checks the “always on, home server” angle that I like about my iMac. Nearly every review I’ve read of the new Mac Minis seem to think it’s basically one elaborate joke from the folks in Cupertino, as the benchmarks perform worse than a 2+ year old Mac Mini for a lot of tests. I’d still have to buy a new monitor, which means any of the ‘new computer’ options will require a new monitor. However, this specific option would require it on day one. Good monitors in the 24-27" range typically will set you back around $300-500, so this ‘cheap’ computer is no longer very cheap.

All that said, I like the idea of a small, quiet, power efficient machine that will probably be more than enough for what I do (web development and basic computing tasks) for quite some time. And it doesn’t clutter / complicate things the way a laptop does.

Replace the old hard drive in my iMac with a SSD (approx $500)

This Samsung 850 EVO drive gets good reviews and is stupid cheap right now. Now, swapping out a drive on an iMac isn’t easy, so I’d need to get this OWC kit to do it, but I’m still upgrading for under $400, and that should last me for quite some time as long as the screen or any other crucial part doesn’t fail me.

The 2011 iMacs have a SATA II controller, not a SATA III controller, which means even upgrading to one of these fancy new drives will only net half the speed promised. Throw in the lack of more modern bluetooth versions and this option isn’t perfect either, given the cost. It’s now or never to sell this thing if I want to do it now.

So, where does that leave us?

Not really sure, honestly. I feel like the MacBook Air is a fine computer today, but it’s saddled with already ‘older’ tech that won’t age very well. The Pro is definitely more future ready but it comes at a price that I’m not sure I really want to pay. The Mac Mini is unfortunately hobbled and would require an immediate investment in a monitor, which drives up the actual cost of the machine. And upgrading my iMac is a band-aid that could very well be $500+ down the tubes when something else dies on it in the next year or so.

I might just do nothing and buy a new computer when the iMac blows up.