An Interesting Connection of Sleepy Apple Bugs

I love being on the cutting edge of technology. At least, I use to. I’m not so sure I do anymore.

It’s hard to say if this is the consequence of growing up or the result of technology never quite living up to the perfection it is hyped under.

Today my annoyance is iOS 8, “the biggest iOS release ever.” As Apple touts, it has “exciting new apps with capabilities that were never possible before.”

I can only assume, quite critically, that these capabilities include having the emoticon keyboard pop-up as default instead of the third-party one I installed. I dragged the new keyboard to the top of the preference list, I mean, I’ve had multiple built-in keyboards activated for years without issue. Apple claimed 8.0.2 would fix that issue, but it didn’t.

There doesn’t seem to be any documentation on Apple’s site, but I’ve noticed that several of my apps will occasionally refuse to load and I will stare at a white screen or mostly white screen long enough to forget which app I just tried to open. Granted, I will take the blame for having such short memory retention, and to Apple’s credit, I am inclined to believe this actually is a feature I’ll wonder how I ever did without.

This sentiment is certainly nothing original, progress is measured in new features not in bug fixes.

Which leads me to two articles I ran across this week.

A blog post by Rusty called It Just Works did a fantastic job of summing up the same sentiments that I have.

“Tim Cook keeps telling us that ‘Only Apple’ could do the amazing things it does. I just wish that Apple would slow down their breakneck pace and spend the time required to build stable software that their hardware so desperately needs. The yearly release cycles of OS X, iOS, iPhone & iPad are resulting in too many things seeing the light of day that aren’t finished yet. Perhaps the world wouldn’t let them, perhaps the expectations are now too high, but I’d kill for Snow iOS 8 and Snow Yosemite next year. I’m fairly confident I’m not alone in that feeling.”

Now any major OS release is going to have some problems, that should go without saying. I hesitate to say that this latest update contains more bugs than iOS7, but it does feel that things haven’t gotten any easier for me.

Business Insider recently ran an article titled ‘These People Are Nuts': 2 Former Managers Reveal What Working For Apple Is Really Like. The article cites the Debug 47 podcast, and links to a partial transcript of the interview.

In the article the former Apple managers talk about the high pressure work environment and the long day s and short nights that went along with it. I’m curious how much of this mentality trickles down to the engineers and developers working on the different projects as well.

When the original Macintosh was being created the story is told that the team made t-shirts that said “90 hours a week and loving it!” In general developers and people interested in technology are often portrayed as hard working people who value solving problems over sleep regularly. If this is really how the company is working on the inside, I’m not really surprised that there are such obvious bugs and mistakes. Actually, I’m a little surprised there are not more.

That said, Apple sets their own release schedule. A company built on the principle of “Think Different” has no requirement to release a new phone OS at the same time every year. When your product is being pre-ordered by 4 million people, it’s hard to say if that is more or less incentive to make sure everything works correctly right out of the box. For sure, Apple has a reputation for making good stuff, but if there are 4 million people willing to buy your product no questions asked, maybe good enough is good enough.

More telling, at least to me, is how giddy and excited everyone seems on stage at the recent Apple Events. I’d like to think that everyone going up on stage has been up for 36 hours and took a 15 minute shower in coffee shortly before going on stage.

In light of all of this, it feels a little naive of me to hope that the next version of iOS or even Yosemite will be more polished, but hope springs eternal. Here’s to new technology.


An “Off-base” Perspective on the Apple Watch

This week I talked about the Apple Watch on This One Podcast ((For what it’s worth This One Podcast isn’t a new show and I’m comfortable making inaccurate or outrageous claims in that setting just to see if I can get a reaction from some of the few people I know who occasionally listen to the show.)) and shortly afterwards was contacted on twitter and told,

You guys are so off-base with the watch, especially on price… – @mknepprath

He provided a link to Gruber’s Apple Watch: Initial Thoughts and Observations blog post, as if this would refute everything we said on the show or at least set us straight. (It didn’t as far as I’m concerned and I’m not entirely sure how we were “off-base” in our discussion, but I thought I would use this opportunity to clarify my position.)

As usual Gruber makes a good and well reasoned argument for his case, something he’s known for in the blogging world. I agree with most of his predictions, but there’s something he doesn’t directly address in his article.

Expectations.

Yes, Gruber mentions several times how the tech industry is going to flip-out when they find out the real watch prices or see the higher than expected sales numbers. I’ve had the same thoughts, but the amount of negative or dismissive talk on the subject is certainly telling.

The Apple Watch announcement was very different than the Apple announcements of late, because it completely defied expectations. “Everyone” expected Apple to take on the smart watch market, go head-to-head with the fitbit, the Moto, Google Glass, all these other wearables, at least I did. Instead, Apple has taken on the entire watch industry. As Gruber said, Apple doesn’t go into a market unless they think they can own it.

This is a complete departure from how most people are viewing Apple these days. Apple is the company that makes really good phones, the company that makes really thin laptops, the company that makes easy to use tablets. Apple is known for making technology accessible, but never at the cost of sacrificing quality. Rumors of the Apple Watch undoubtedly conjured images of a future where wearable tech was affordable for everyone.

For $349 the Apple Watch is an amazing piece of technology. The more time I have to think about it, the more it sounds like the $400 mark is probably the sweat spot for a device like this. Honestly, how can they afford to put that much stuff into something so small and charge so little? The amount of tech Apple is able to cram into this little thing is astounding and really makes me wonder what iPhone 7 is going to look like, now that the engineers at Apple have a chance to play with all this cool new tech and forced to work on an even smaller scale.

Personally, I think the Apple Watch is going to do amazing, but I’m also a little sad because I don’t think it’s for me. I don’t know that I have many friends who will be getting one of these, at least not to begin with.

When going into a big Apple announcement, I’m hoping for Apple to have created something that solves a problem for me. Sometimes I’m even hoping that they have fixed a problem I didn’t even know about yet. The Apple Watch, at least right now, is just really cool tech. There are people who will undoubtedly never know how they lived without one, but at this initial stage it’s a luxury item.

I am very interested to see what approach Apple takes with the watch over the next few years. One of the more interesting points Gruber talks about is the longevity of the Apple Watch. Mobile technology is advancing at an extremely rapid pace right now but watch technology has been pretty well explored over the last few centuries. Watches are not meant to be replaced once a year, top of the line watches are meant to last for years if not forever. The tech industry expects Apple to start coming out with a new Watch every year. Already journalists and bloggers are saying “wait for version 2.0!” Computer circuitry and rechargeable batteries have a life span of three to five years. Knowing Apple’s affinity for non-replaceable batteries, I’m curious to know what their plan is for high end watches.

Why I’m Not Off Base

There’s a tendency, especially with Apple technology, to see people write “this product doesn’t do what I want it to do and so it is doomed to fail and no one should buy it” pieces. This is patently ridiculous because it ignores the fact that everyone has different needs, wants, and desires. My view on the Apple Watch has been consistent from day one, you can even ask Bob Martens about my reaction as we watched the keynote together.

The Apple Watch is an amazing piece of technology, but from the limited stuff we know about it right now, it’s not for me. At least not yet. I’ve said several times that I really wish it was something I could use, I really wish it was something I think I could afford, but it’s not. Not yet. This isn’t a problem with the watch. I can go to any department store and find a hundred different toys, pieces of clothing, or prepackaged food that aren’t for me. I could talk for hours about why a Ralph Lauren sofa isn’t a good fit for my living room, but that doesn’t mean I think they make crappy furniture or that they should be priced like Ikea.

All of my conversations about the Apple Watch have been personally oriented. I also think there is a fair amount of humor in the fact that Apple released the Apple Watch right alongside new phones with larger screens. As Jonas joked during the podcast:

There’s no middle ground anymore. This is basically Apple admitting to being the Sith. They only deal in extremes.

Just because I don’t think the ROI on an Apple Watch is quite there for me, doesn’t mean I won’t change my mind in the future. Part of the issue right now is that details about functionality and features are rather scarce. I would be surprised if future features or updates don’t pique my interest, maybe even before the thing hits store shelves.

A Note On Timing

I don’t think Apple should have announced the Apple Watch right now but I think that they had to. I would have probably waited until the watch was nearly ready to ship and a lot of other stuff was nailed down, the demos in the keynote focused on a lot of eye candy rather than useful features.

Yet there are a number of good reasons to announce the watch now.

It’s pretty obvious that Apple wanted (needed?) to beat the rumors on this one. They had to announce now or something would have leaked. I think they also needed to give people time to digest the information. As a consumer I have half a year to think about this product before it hits the shelves. That gives me plenty of time to trudge through the seven stages of grief and start saving up for one.

 

Alright. Your turn. Tell me why I’m wrong.


Sorting Screws

Screwed
photo credit: apeofjungle

 

There’s something very cathartic about sorting screws.

I was at an art lecture by William Bukowski and he said something I have heard others say, but something really made it stick with me this time.

“I’ve always said artists are kinda like, there’s something slightly off with artists, generally. Think of the artists you know and think about that. They are compelled to do something, to put themselves out there that normal people don’t want to do, you know? Think of a guy like Robin Williams, his performance, same thing. A normal person doesn’t do it. Maybe a normal person doesn’t paint or dance or sculpt or act, but the people who do feel compelled, we have to do this, it isn’t really a choice.” – William Bukowski, Sept 4, 2014

For the past year or so I’ve been making a conscious effort to spend less time playing video games. (Hang with me here, this is all connected.) It really hasn’t be difficult, I have a lot of other stuff I want to do and I get a lot of enjoyment from these other things, so I really just have to remind myself that I have other stuff to do and I’m good to go.

Yet, I still find myself gravitating toward certain games, activities, if you will. Lately I’ve allowed myself some time with MiniMetro. Conceptually, the game is really more just route optimization and pattern recognition. Arguably, it’s more math and problem solving than a “game” but I find it to be a fun challenge. Similarly, I’ve found myself playing a tower defense game on my iPhone (GeoDefense).

Games like these are challenging but have a very low barrier to entry.

In Getting Things Done by David Allen one of the contexts he encourages you to track is your energy level. If you have a lot of energy you can take on a challenging task. When your energy level is low, you take on a low energy task. This type of optimization allows you to “be productive” even when you don’t “feel productive,” but I think there’s more to it than this.

I have very little artistic talent when it comes to drawing or painting. I’ve never done much of it and it’s not something that calls out to me to pursue. At the same time, I am very compelled to do stuff, to create things, to solve problems. Even when I am tired, my brain wants to play. It wants to be distracted by problems. My brain doesn’t care if it’s trying to get little shapes to their appropriate train stations or preventing geometric objects from reaching their goal. It just wants something to crunch on, even if it doesn’t have the energy to do a higher level task.

Which circles back to sorting screws. There’s something very cathartic about sorting screws. It would not be a terribly exciting or fulfilling occupation, but occasionally it can be quite satisfying. It’s more than just bringing order to something that was chaotic, though that is undoubtedly part of the appeal. No, it’s more about puzzle solving, in some ways it is a puzzle. Monotonously sorting through pieces until you find a piece that looks like another piece.

Which brings me back to Bukowski’s quote. It’s not just artists who are compelled to do stuff. We are all compelled to do stuff, it’s just that we all have different abilities and we all find different ways to fulfill that need within us. You don’t have to argue over ‘what constitutes art’ to realize that everyone is looking for the type of satisfaction (or fulfillment) that artists are able to achieve by painting.

This isn’t necessarily something we’re conscious of, or something we think about in these terms very often.

Granted, we could discuss the cost-benefit or ROI values for alternative activities. I would be willing to entertain the concept that watching movies, reading books, or playing video games are just as valid as making art, woodworking, or gardening, at least in the sense that they are all means of passing the time. There’s certainly something to be said about having something to show for the time you put into the activity, but plants die, sculptures break, and paintings sit in store rooms, unseen.

Please do not think I’m advocating for the validity of people who do nothing but play video games or watch youtube. I certainly have a greater respect for people who create over people who simply enjoy to consume. But people who are creatively compelled do not always understand why other people are not. Similarly, people who are not talented artistically or have not yet discovered or developed their talents may be looking for a means to achieve that same sensation.

Are you compelled to be creative? What activities bring you satisfaction? Do you benefit from time watching TV or do you reluctantly turn it off feeling regretful that you’ve lost another chunk of productive time?


Aesthetics vs Usability

It’s really hard to write about a program’s features without falling into the “this doesn’t work for me, so it shouldn’t work for anyone” trap. Yet the feature set of a program used by millions of people is often determined by a small number of developers. Users are often at their mercy.

CTRL-ALT-DEL This.

Ultimately, if a program or an app doesn’t do what you need it to do or doesn’t have a feature you desire, the solution is to find a different app or program that fits your needs.

I will always advocate that people find the tools that work best to do the things they need to do. This process is not without headache and friction. It takes time to find and test new programs, it takes money to purchase the apps, and there’s always a risk that the app or feature will go away. (RIP CSSEdit.)

While many developers work like gardeners, carefully tending their app, watering it regularly and planting new features, carefully tending them as they mature, Apple approaches their codebase with chainsaw in hand and whiskey on their breath.

PointersI live in the nice little niche of the Apple ecosystem where I use certain features just enough that I notice when they go missing. Most of the technical world is unheedful of these changes and the kindred spirits I find complaining on the Apple Forums are met with the rolling of eyes and unhelpful remarks by people who can’t imagine anyone would find that feature useful.

For what it’s worth, Apple takes great pride in their aesthetics and I adore them for it. Their hardware is impeccably designed. It’s sleek, it’s clean, it’s minimalist. It’s just the type of thing I’m looking for when I have an empty spot on my desk that I need to spend two grand to fill.

Apple tries very hard to pass off their aesthetics as interface design. They want their sterile interfaces to be seen as the most user friendly design ever created. They even have a set of Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) but Apple will never put usability before design.

This attitude creates two different problems. The first is that a lot of cool and useful features are hidden and not initially intuitive. Take the iPhone keyboard for example. There are a number of hidden characters, including vowels with accents and umlauts, which can be accessed by tapping and holding on certain keys. It makes sense when it’s explained, but it’s not intuitive because that’s not typically how buttons work.

The second problem is that a lot of cool and useful features tend to disappear over time. The transition fro Quicktime 7 to Quicktime X lost a number of helpful options.1 The update of Pages from version 4 to version 5 felt more like reverting to version 1.0 than a step forward for a good word processor.2 And let’s not forget the “update” to labels in OSX 10.9.

On one hand I would like to think that perhaps there is a good (or technical) why certain features don’t exist. Maybe something with the code doesn’t allow for certain things to happen. But it’s hard to believe that when the feature existed before.

My personal pet peeve is Preview. There’s no change log (that I know of) for Preview, so it’s hard to tell when some of these things disappeared, let alone why, but at the current rate of change in a few more years the program probably won’t even be able to view jpegs.3 In Preview’s original incarnation there was a little “play” button so you could watch gif images animate. That one went away pretty quickly and was replaced by the ability to see every frame individually. For a while you could also open multiple images with Preview and loop them as a full screen slideshow. Oddly enough, the loop feature is now gone, though the slideshow feature is still there. It just plays through all your images until it gets to the last one and then stops.

The omission that grinds my gears the most is that of the hand tool. About the same time Apple released their Trackpad, they took the hand tool out of Preview. The hand tool is practically universal when it comes to image apps and invaluable when working with images that are larger than your screen. Presumably if you have a trackpad you don’t need the hand tool because you can use the two finger swipe to scroll in any direction.

Though, let’s be honest, when hasn’t Apple been screwing over people who like to use mice?

25 Years of Apple Mouse Evolution
Pick your poison. You want a one button mouse or a five button mouse that looks like a one button mouse? Photo credit: raneko

 

Unfortunately, there’s no real solution for these issues. A company with $150 billion in cash reserves is not terribly concerned about one individual user who writes like a bitter and paranoid old man.

The ultimate effect is that users like me are forced to rely on more and more third party apps that do the little things we rely on. (Which is doubly weird because Apple keeps purchasing small single objective companies and incorporating features into the OS.) A secondary effect is that users become wary of updating and the appeal of new features is outweighed by the worry that old ones might go away.

In no way do I try to single out Apple here. Google too has been taking massive steps backwards in the name of progress. Extremely useful features are missing from the new maps app and the ability to do practical things smoothly is continually replaced by shiny trinkets which don’t add anything besides eye candy.

Solution? I don’t have one. The people in charge of making decisions aren’t asking me and “new shiny useless” is the selling point these days. So I’m just going to keep trudging along hoping beyond hope that the things I use will continue to exist.


  1. Open as image sequence, anyone? 

  2. If you’re looking for a list of complaints: https://discussions.apple.com/thread/5468056 

  3. Not that anyone in the future will want to look at jpegs. 


Final Cut X Pro on FAT32

Point of reference for anyone using FCPX in an environment where users may not be entirely tech savvy. You need  to format your hard drives to Mac OS Journaled or exFAT.

Final Cut Pro X will allow you to edit projects off of external drives formatted as FAT32. If you are only saving your project to the drive and not importing media, this shouldn’t be an issue.

What many users don’t understand is that FAT32 has a file size limitation of 4GBs.

Most project files are probably safe and can live on a drive like that without issue. But media files from HD cameras tend to be bigger, especially if FCPX is converting them to ProRes422.

Final Cut doesn’t know how to handle Fat32 drives (yet). It tries to copy the data over, but when the file is too big for the drive, it resorts to using an alias. When this happens, the original media disappears into the ether.

The distressing part is that there are currently no warnings, popups, or other feedback for the user. Commands simply do not do what you expect them to do. Leaving the user very confused as to why it isn’t working now when it was working before.

Rule of thumb: always copy project within Final Cut, don’t move it. That way, if things go wrong you can try again.

Easy Fix: To relink media files in a library if the media files still live in another library, just choose “relink” from the file menu and select the location as the other library. (You may want to use the “consolidate” command after the files are relinked so that everything lives on the same drive.)

Neat, even if it seems unsafe: It’s possible to continue to edit in FCPX while a project is copying from one drive to another. This might be one benefit of Apple choosing to auto-save and removing the “save” command from the menu.


Imagining Something Different

Over the past few weeks I have lamented the unnecessary requirement to sign up for accounts in order to use apps and the inconsiderate overuse of alerts and push notifications, specifically on iOS. Yet, these are arguably side effects of the fundamental problems that come with application development.

Most applications could be defined as a tool to do a specific thing in a specific way. (Talking mainly about non-game apps here.) This generalized concept is great. It allows for multiple applications which have similar outcomes, yet different processes. Thats why we have Mail.app, CloudMagic, Gmail, Mailbox, Mail+… etc. There’s almost always an app that works the way do.

I would classify this as First Tier Functionality. The fundamental design is what the app does, each app has a workflow that emphasizes a specific feature or option.

Most apps also have what I will call Second Tier Functionality. While the first tier dictates how you sort or respond to your email, the second tier would be the add-ons that help fill in the checkboxes on the features page. Social networking, cloud syncing, ability to export. All things that you could theoretically live without, but could offer some benefits to certain users.

The deeper problem is that these features are not always segregated in the mind of the application creator.

Case Study

Lets look at a case study. The Bible app from LifeChurch.tv, is one of the best Bible Reading apps in the app store, and rightly so. It offers a wide range of first and second tier features. Here’s a brief rundown:

First Tier Features:

  • Choose from hundreds of Bible Version in over 400 languages
  • Get access to many of the most popular versions of the Bible
  • Download versions for offline access
  • Listen to audio Bibles
  • Access devotional and reading plans
  • Search for passages
  • Highlight and write notes

Second Tier Features:

  • Connect with your friends
  • Track your friends progress as they read
  • Comment and share thoughts with contacts as you read
  • Share verses on social networks
  • Publish notes

Reading through the description and feature checklist on the app description everything mentioned falls into one of two categories: personal use and social use.

The fundamental difference here is that the social features are not required to find usefulness in the app. I’m not saying they aren’t useful, only that they are optional. They are certainly nice add-ons, but there will be a lot of people who probably won’t use them.

So where’s the problem?

The problem is that some apps nag users about secondary tier features. The Bible app will occasionally give me a push notification telling me that I should add my friends because that will make my experience better and more fun.

Now, there are two reasons why a user won’t use a feature. Either they don’t know about it or they don’t want to use it. If the user knows about a feature and has decided not to use it, a push notification telling them about it is akin to an unsolicited ad, showing up on the lock screen of your phone.

You can’t presume that everyone who uses an app will want to take advantage of everything the app has to offer. (Unless an app does exactly one thing, which… is not what we are talking about.) What fraction of the population uses every feature MS Word offers on a daily basis?

Dropbox is guilty of this as well. How many times do I have to tell it not to import my photos when I plug in my camera or not to upload my screenshots when I capture something on my computer? (Answer: more than once, which is too many times.)

This is a problem that plagues the technology industry. Apple, Google, Facebook, even Amazon. These companies are notorious for forcing new features on users or taking away useful ones without notice or explanations. Finder labels. Google Plus. Auto play video in timelines. Add-on items. Need I go on?

Developers need to be aware that not everyone who uses their app will use all the features. It seems like it should be common sense, but these things still crop up.

I get the sense that people in the tech world dream about a utopian future where all tech works seamlessly together and we all get to fly around the universe in the USS Enterprise. You know what Star Trek didn’t have? Pop-up alerts.

After Teleporting down to a planet:

You just transported to Omicron Ceti III, check in now to earn the “This Side of Paradise” Badge. Be sure to share with your friends!

In the middle of a space battle:

We noticed you haven’t posted an update in a while. Tell your friends what you are up to!

After being imprisoned by the Borg:

Check out what happened on your professional network!

 

(Side note. You could probably do a pretty good Star Trek Parody swapping out the tech from the 1960s with tech from the 2010s and come out with a decent comedy. Though it would be tedious to watch because they would never get anything done because they don’t have an IT department to fix the inevitable problems.)