1. Recommended - Begin

    The last few days have seen quite a few posts unrelated to tech. When you’re publishing a book, that tends to happen. But, as it turns out, one of the tools I’ve been using during that process needs and deserves to be recognized.

    About a month ago, on a recommendation from Ben Brooks and at a sale price, I picked up Begin. Now, I have todo apps—probably too many of them. There are apps that work great for location-based reminders, apps that I downloaded years ago that have long since languished, Apple’s own reminders app, brilliantly designed list apps that just aren’t for me, and on and on. So why start with Begin?

    Number one is always the same: I like exploring new designs and writing about them. Number two is that I was deep in the publication process, a project that could benefit from its own set of reminders and todos, so I went for it.

    I already had a makeshift list in Scrivener. I just needed to port it over, and I was ready to go. Here’s how the experiment has worked out.

    Begin is great for specific, day-to-day todos. There’s one list. It has fields for today and tomorrow (and an uncompleted section hiding below the main screen). You can complete, delay until tomorrow, restore uncompleted items, and delete. And that’s pretty much it. It’s incredibly simple. And there, Begin shines. I needed a running list that I would address every day and throughout the day, for just one project. For that, Begin is almost perfect.

    Some apps deal with priorities on todo items, Begin’s way of managing that is by filing it in Today or Tomorrow and then allowing the user to drag and drop the order. There are no heat maps, no tiers to worry about, and no due date/times.

    Now, on the subject of due times, Begin again excels. The app provides a daily reminder system which sends a push notification at the same, user-defined time. If it is your preference, you can set a “last chance” notification for the app, upping the forced interruptions to a whopping two. I love this feature. For my ordinary reminders, such a system would be terrible. In fact, almost the entire point of regular reminders, for me, is to be notified at specific times throughout the day that I should be doing something that I was likely to forget.

    Begin sees its list (rightly) in a different way. There are things that need doing today, and you’ll be reminded of those at the start of your day (or your decided time). From there, it’s your responsibility to return to the app and check those items off as the day goes on. If you so choose, you get the second reminder before you leave the office or after lunch (or again, whatever time you predetermine).

    It’s refreshing to see an app that works hard to control the amount of times it interrupts the user throughout the day. And for an app that is strongest when users are focusing on a single project, the lack of buzzing distractions will hopefully keep users on task more often and for longer periods. I know it has for me.

    You can download Begin for yourself on the App Store. It’s free with a $0.99 in-app purchase (each) for extended features and bonus themes.


  2. Guy English, a guy with some actual game industry experience, on Apple’s new graphics API:

    Metal and the investment Apple’s made in its development and support shows that the company’s now taking gaming very seriously, indeed.

    I hope he’s right. It’s no secret that I’ve been a big supporter of iOS gaming since the beginning. And while casual gaming is great, and keeps iOS in the gaming picture, the more traditionally graphics-intensive titles are what Metal is going to boost the most.

    One of my favorites, Republique, runs on Unity, so I’m hoping for some Metal magic in upcoming episodes. A guy can hope, can’t he?


  3. The Wrist

    After listening to a recent episode of The Talk Show in which John Gruber and Dave Wiskus discussed the potential future for an iWatch, I started wondering what has pushed the general consensus this far to begin with. We know from sources that Apple has been working with wearable devices and that one of the natural places to start is the wrist. But that’s more or less all we know.

    Then, shortly after Gruber and Wiskus, Casey Liss posted some thoughts addressing an angle similar to my line of thinking. Apple’s products, especially in new markets, tend to bring the baseline features that the audience expects, designed in particular Apple style, with something extra added that very few people anticipate. The iPhone is the mother of all examples for this strategy (see The Prompt’s excellent dissection of the original keynote for more details than most could ever want). There were so many features that completely surprised huge segments of the audience. Things like accelerometer rotation, proximity detection, Mac OS X, that scrolling, and on and on.

    The iPad had many of the same features as the iPhone, which was the expected part of the announcement. The surprise? The price, for one. But it wasn’t only that. The presenters spent a large portion of the keynote demonstrating how this little slate of aluminum and glass could accomplish productivity tasks in an intuitive way (though they dropped the ball on text-selection and document management). Very few Apple watchers foresaw a (truly) ten-hour tablet that not only ran iOS but did so with an eye on instigating the post-PC movement and did that starting at $500.

    I could continue with examples from across the Apple history board (iPod, iTunes, TiBook, iMac, OS X, Cylindrical Mac Pro), but the two iOS devices give us enough to understand the picture as it stands today for wearables, and the seemingly inevitable iWatch. Apple’s greatest hits do something surprising, and their primary use cases tend to be different from the expected. The iPhone is for most people clearly not a phone but a tiny computer with a calls feature. The iPad is a great media device with the potential to replace the primary computer of those who don’t require advanced features (I personally have several friends and family members who only use iPads while their PC’s gather dust) all at the price of a Windows laptop. So how does a wearable fit this picture?

    To come to any reasonable conclusion, we have to ask what this device will be for? It’s unlikely to replace the smartphone. UI and current interaction technology preclude this. Our fingers are too big, voice is too inaccurate and distracting to others, and a physical control (think modern day click-wheel) would seem dated regardless of functionality. However, if it doesn’t replace the smartphone, what does it do? The Android solution is that these things are little notification buzzers that dangle from your arm, making glances at incoming information quicker and easier.

    This could be the center of a good product if the notifications carried more weight than those on current smartphones. Imagine a screen (LCD or a more static technology) that only showed the most important of your notifications. Our phones have dozens (sometimes hundreds) of notifications that build up over the course of the day. Do we need to look at all of them? No. Do we tend to look at all of them? No. In that case, it stands to reason that surfacing important notifications on a wearable would make sense (think missing a flight, an important meeting, or an insulin shot rather than something like your most recent @ reply on Twitter). Unfortunately, the software and human reality of choosing what is important is an incredibly difficult problem to solve. Unless this is Apple’s surprise, it seems that technology precludes wearables as critical notifications devices.

    One of my examples—and with HealthKit, the example that’s on many minds these days—concerns monitoring health, fitness, and medical information. Sensors to do such monitoring are either too invasive or too sensitive to be reliable all day on a wrist device. It isn’t out of the question (in fact, I would be surprised if Apple released a wearable that didn’t address health in some way) but true medical monitoring is better left to the pros, at least as the tech stands today.

    If it isn’t notifications and it isn’t health, then what is it that this new device will do or allow us to do that isn’t blatantly obvious? Payments could certainly be easier on a device that is already out and accessible. Though few of us need to shave a couple seconds off a notification check, many have felt the pressure of fiddling with our phones in line at a coffee shop. It’s a bit like being the guy who pays cash in those credit card commercials. And though one usually has to reach into a pocket for a credit card, there’s no unlocking, fingerprinting, app finding, navigating, and so on with a card. Between some of Apple’s new proximity features and a wearable, the payment process could be smoothed considerably.

    Or, perhaps the device is passive, hanging there from your wrist “listening” for a number of factors that could aid your smartphone or tablet or Mac to show useful data later. If so, it stands to reason that price would again (as with the iPad) need to be a major factor. For a passive device with no outward dazzle to be successful, customers would need to impulse buy it in addition to their new phones, tablets, etc.

    In any case, the Android version of a smartwatch looks less and less like something Apple would bring to market. Even so, there’s a lot of noise around Apple and wearables in general, this post included. For those who like to speculate, and there are a great many of us, the most interesting question is not what Apple’s wearable will do but what Apple’s wearable will do that we don’t expect?


  4. Great piece from Jared Sinclair on the state of electronic health care records and its relation to Apple’s WWDC HealthKit announcements. From the article:

    The reality of EHR usage is that – even as late as 2009 – fifty percent of US hospitals were only only halfway electronic. Most just converted the easy stuff to electronic records, like lab results. Less than one percent (!) of them had completely moved beyond paper records. Many still had no electronic records at all.

    Yet another rrason the spotlight of the public eye should be cast upon healthcare. How can we expect to have a high-quality modern healthcare system when the industry itself seems so resistant to something as seemingly simple (from the outside) as keeping records in digital form where other hospitals and physicians can see and update them quickly and easily. Isn’t this just the sort of serious, world-changing problem that technology is supposed to solve?


  5. Surface the Third

    I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of Microsoft’s Surface. Sure, it seems a bit too divided, a bit too “I can just have everything, can’t I?” But despite its obvious conceptual shortcomings, a device that is all things to all people has an appeal.

    On more than one occasion I’ve talked about using the iPad for work, writing in particular. I see it as the future of computing and if Apple plays their cards right, the primary non-smartphone computing platform.

    After the introduction of the surface Pro 3, discussions arose around the announcement and a piece by Ben Thompson in which he calls for the end of the Surface line.

    Even in my clearly Apple-biased view, this makes little sense from a product and marketing standpoint even while it makes a great deal of sense on a profit to loss basis.

    Microsoft fell behind when the internet first showed signs of growing into what it has now become, and it bought and crushed its way back into the space. It fell behind again when Vista was a flop, but most spectacularly with the smartphone. They were caught flat-footed (as was everyone) but weren’t able to force their way back to power. And though Windows Phone isn’t dead, it sure doesn’t look all that promising.

    With the Surface, Microsoft has the potential to be ahead of the curve. They’re doing taking a different tact with tablets, zigging when everyone else is doing a variation on Apple’s zag.

    If there is a future in which the primary work device is a tablet with a desktop operating system, then the Surface could give Microsoft the edge they’ve long needed. They’re thinking differently (yeah, I know) though we’ll have to wait and see whether it’s different good or different not so good.