1. Linus Edwards:

    I don’t see an easy way to solve this problem. It seems users have this conflicted nature of wanting both simplicity and complexity, and app developers can’t keep both sides happy.

    A great article and idea from Linus, but I found myself shaking my head by the end, not because I think it’s a bad argument (I don’t, of course) but because I see this “churn” as a blessing rather than a problem.

    It reminds me of something Steve Jobs said in his famous Stanford address:

    Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.

    As it is with life, so it is with software. The cruft of the old is swept away by the new and fresh, “unbruised” as Shakespeare might have said and unburdened by the cares of the past.

    But unlike life, at least unlike human life, software evolves at breakneck speed. The accruing complexity of an app like Castro or an operating system like iOS, is near enough to the mistakes of its forebears to learn from them.

    Simplified writing apps (about which I know a little) tend to add complexity just like any other app does. But not even the most complicated and poorly managed will ever end up with the monstrosity that is Word’s Ribbon Interface. And even though my guess would be that most of Microsoft’s designers hate the Ribbon just as much, they are faced with being the crufty and old. Their customers would never allow even a mild simplification, let alone the steps necessary to make Word into a pleasant user experience. Look no further than Windows 8 (and furthermore 8.1) for your evidence.

    It took the compound complexity of Windows and OS X to spur the development of iOS (and Windows Phone). Designers must follow the branches of the complicated in order to create the essential versions that come later.

     


  2. Just Another Guy

    At the University of Idaho, where I earned my undergraduate degree, there’s a room with two floor-to-ceiling glass-paneled sides. One of its three entrances connects to the Einstein Brothers bagel shop (which in my day was simply a campus cafe called Common Grounds). I spent many afternoons in the glass-paneled room; it has a name, but I always preferred to call it the Quiet Room. There was a no talking policy, no noise at all in fact, except for the baby grand piano in the corner, often played beautifully by an elderly man who stopped by for fifteen minutes or so every couple of days. I never asked his name.

    One day, ensconced in one of the faux-leather chairs, PowerBook in my lap, unfinished literary essay in a long since forgotten version of Word for OS X open behind my web browser, I paged idly through Slashdot or Digg or MacRumors. Glancing up from the screen, I saw a young man making his way across the room towards me.

    "So, you’re a Mac guy?" he asked, but it wasn’t really a question.

    Now, I am not what you might call comfortable in social situations and even more so with a stranger approaching me in my silent sanctuary.

    "Uh, yeah." I tried to smile in the way an affable, approachable Mac user might.

    "Nice, man." He flopped into the chair next to mine, rummaging through a messenger bag (a rarity at the time), finally producing a thin black USB hard drive, the cord wrapped in a snarl around its center. "I got into ‘em because of the music. What about you?"

    I said something about ease of use; at the time I couldn’t say what I know now—that I love hardware and software that pays an unusual amount of attention to details that average users rarely, if ever, notice.

    “We gotta stick together, you know? Check this out,” he continued.

    With a flick of his wrist, he popped open his computer (a white plastic iBook), plugged in the portable drive, and brought up the Finder. Inside were folders and folders of music, easily thousands of songs. He aimed the screen at me. “See anything you like?”

    I did.

    Now it’s important to remember that this was many years ago. My thoughts on pirated music or software have shifted greatly since then, mostly in response to my desire to become someone who makes a portion of their income from content creation. But on that day in the Quiet Room, I was a cheap, naive college student in a bizarrely high-pressure social situation.

    Whether I took the guy up on his offer or not is beside the point. We went on to talk a bit more about the Mac, until we started drawing looks from others in the room. Naturally, I wasn’t the only person who came to this place in order to get away from the noise. Eventually, he packed up his machine and headed out with a wave and a smile.

    To this day I wonder if he would’ve approached me had I been typing away on a Dell or a Sony or a (then IBM) ThinkPad.

    During the summer months I still take classes at the University of Idaho. It’s only a short walk from my house, and the course content still teaches me something new every time. And some days I sit in the Quiet Room in the same chair, wondering if someone were to come through the glass doors with a MacBook under their arm, would they see the Apple logo on my iPad and strike up a conversation? Or, in light of Apple’s recent popularity, would they see not a kindred spirit—another person who gets it—and instead see nothing at all, just a student (a little old for the university scene these days) hunched over a glowing screen, like everybody else.

    Isn’t that what 2003 me wanted? An Apple computer in virtually everyone’s hands, a diminished Microsoft, computers thin and light enough that you’d hardly notice them in a backpack, battery life that lasts all day. It was. But now, instead of being “the Mac guy,” I’m just another guy with a Mac.

    I suppose that’s better.1


    1. My inspiration for this piece comes from this post which appeared at 9to5 Mac. 

     


  3. Satya Nadella:

    In our case, given 39 years of success, it’s more about reinvention. We’ve had great successes, but our future is not about our past success. It’s going to be about whether we will invent things that are really going to drive our future.

    Well, that’s certainly a nice way to begin as Microsoft’s new CEO. It will be interesting to see if this self awareness translates to the products and services that reach their customers. Though I’m not and haven’t been a big Microsoft supporter over the years, I do want to see significant competition for Apple and other tech companies. It’s easy to forget that Apple interested me in the first place because they create amazing things with technology. The more companies doing that, the better.

     


  4. Consider: Unread

    Every few weeks, a well-known indie developer releases a new app. You’ve seen it. Twitter timelines fill with links to reviews or 140-character praises or the grinning confessions of beta testers. They mention each other, and you gape on, thumb hovering above the install button—just a password or fingerprint away from becoming one with the stream.

    The latest in this phenomenon is Unread by Jared Sinclair, an iPhone RSS client of quiet clarity and express purpose.

    "Read, don’t skim," it seems to say. And so went the chorus through the echo chamber to which I now add a reverberation of my own.

    And a touch of criticism. Ok, mostly criticism.

    You’ll see I’ve labeled this post with “consider” rather than my usual, “recommended,” and that’s because I can’t wholeheartedly encourage a purchase just yet. Unread is a good app (maybe even a great one), but it’s not for everyone.

    Unread begins with feed presentation that will be unfamiliar to many longtime Reeder users (like myself) who are accustomed to seeing only the feeds that remain unread. Instead, Unread shows all feeds, even when they have no new items. I found it very off putting at first and am only now, after a few days usage, coming around to the idea of focusing on my unread list at large as opposed to working my way through categories and individual feeds. A few days is probably much longer than the average person would subject themselves to a design difference which causes any amount of friction at all. This may be just such an example.

    Next, read items persist even after they have been marked as such, which further increases the resistance certain users feel when moving through item lists, especially if you prefer to sort by oldest first. Doing so means scrolling through a number of unread items before you reach new material. There’s a setting that remedies this—and which puts an ugly red box around unread counts—but even then, the feature isn’t immediately understandable by its description. I tried it because it was one of the few things I could change. Luckily it did the trick.

    As far as I can tell, there is no option for adding and removing feeds at this time, an unfortunate feature omission when Unread seems to encourage users to reduce their number of subscriptions and focus more on the best sites. Over the last few days, many of the people in my Twitter stream are dropping subs like they were Apple shares after a quarterly report. I’m as much a victim of this behavior as anyone. My list needed pruning, and Unread provides the necessary nudge.

    Further, the app doesn’t include an inline Readability text-only view (by design) which means that on a number of sites, you’ll spend your time in the in-app web browser. That on its own would be fine, but Unread’s web view is kind of a mess. Others won’t say it, but I will. Perhaps Sinclair over-designed or under-designed here, but it’s just not working as is. Pages stay on the browser until a new one takes their place. It’s jarring to be reading about app design, only to tap a link and see the screenshots from the game review I was reading earlier in the day. That experience alone seems counter to the focused, thoughtful reading environment that unread provides most of the time. The web view toolbar is even rougher around the edges. The back and forward buttons, and their neighboring lines (which apparently remind the user of Unread’s gesture navigation), look somehow less polished than the rest of the app and only serve to duplicate the gesture functionality.

    Now of course there are some positives to Unread, and if your internet sources are anything like mine, you know them already. There’s the article list, with its long previews and precise use of white space. Hopefully it’s a bug, but currently the preview does not match the format of the actual site, smashing block quotes up into the intro text on many posts. Above all however, is the full screen reading view, which is light and peacefully focused. Something about the font that Sinclair has chosen just begs to be read. It makes me wish I could custom typeset more apps to match.

    For now, I’m heeding the call of the bloggers and indie developer cheerleading squad that praises the newest app as the one to take the place of “X” on their home screens. But I do so tentatively. I want to like Unread. I really do, and there’s so much of it that I prefer over all other RSS apps. If you’re reading this and haven’t yet decided to pull the trigger on a purchase (I mean, it’s only $2.99 during launch), I don’t know how much help I can be. I will say this: if you like the screenshots of the full screen reading view and the large-preview article list, it won’t be a wasted three bucks. In other words, consider it.

     


  5. Harry McCracken:

    Everyone, in other words, seems to have strong opinions about what Apple should be doing. And a remarkable percentage of the people who share their thoughts state them not as a suggestion or a preference but as an imperative so absolute that ignoring it could plunge the company into crisis.

    I try to do my best to avoid prescribing courses of action for companies. And though that is my intent, I’m sure intrepid archive searchers could find instances where I haven’t qualified my opinions. However (and McCracken does this himself in the article) when giving opinions on technology, it’s difficult not to frame some of it as advice.

    The section I agree with least, though, comes in at the end of the piece. McCracken mentions that Microsoft has recently received a rush of similar must advice and that the company still keeps its head above water. This is true, but it seems that Apple draws this kind of story in anticipation of the company faltering, whereas Microsoft has several measurable places in which the company is already having difficulties.

    Perhaps it’s only my opinion and perspective, but of the two companies, Microsoft seems the better candidate for suggestions on what it should do to remain successful now and in the future than Apple. And above it all, it’s important to remember that the opinions of tech writers (professional and amateur) are of no consequence to these companies, though readerships often show up for just this sort of commentary.