Morning Coffee, issue #14

September 12, 2015

What a crazy week. As if an Apple keynote wasn’t enough of a post-vacation jolt, we also got other announcements in the photographic department, as well as plenty of interesting news for those not so tech-inclined.

Let’s get to it.

Issue #14: Apple, Apple, Apple, and a bit of something else

The undisputed star of the week was of course the Apple event, with plenty of new product announcements. If you’re interested, I shared my own thoughts on the matter a couple days ago, and throughout this issue I will be sharing several other takes on it that I thought were particularly insightful, or entertaining to read. Enjoy.

Notebook: Apple’s newest product announcements | Jason Snell →

Jason’s take is usually among the first I look for after an Apple event. Part of why is, of course, the fact that he’s actually been there in person, so he always has plenty of interesting comments from his hands-on experience with the new products. But the biggest reason is simply that over time, I’ve noticed that Jason’s opinion is usually pretty close to my own take on things, so I’ve grown to implicitly trust his judgement more than perhaps any other writer’s. Here’s what he had to say about the new iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard:

The Smart Keyboard seems great for what it is, which is a keyboard so small and thin that you can carry it with you everywhere and use it as a screen protector. The keys move, a little, and it’s a comfort to feel real key caps. Whether or not I’d buy one would depend on whether I found myself wishing for a physical keyboard all the time, or whether it was a rare enough need that I’d be better off using the software keyboard and bringing out a Bluetooth keyboard when things got serious.

It’s a good thing that he sort-of-likes typing on it, but just as I thought, actually buying one is far from an obvious choice. Check out Jason’s more in-depth thoughts on the Smart Keyboard in his hands-on piece for Macworld.

Brief thoughts and observations regarding today’s ‘Hey Siri’ Apple event | John Gruber →

Gruber’s take is another obligatory one. Besides his thoughts on the products themselves, he also goes a little bit into the organization of the event, and Apple’s possible motives to forego their usual 2-events strategy of years past in favor of this year’s single-event approach:

My guess is that one event, in early September, is going to be the new normal. I gather that Apple has decided that putting all of its wood behind one fall event arrow, even if it means that they have to cut worthy products from getting any stage time, is better than spreading themselves too thin with two events in short succession.

This does seem like a plausible explanation, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens next year.

From products to platforms | Ben Thompson →

Ben Thompson also penned a great piece on the Apple event over at his always-excellent Stratechery website. His point, and I take it, is that while Apple is great at building awesome products, their track record is a lot more spotty when it comes to building successful and sustainable platforms that 3rd party developers can rely on to make a living:

My contention, though, is that when it comes to the iPad Apple’s product development hammer is not enough. Cook described the iPad as “A simple multi-touch piece of glass that instantly transforms into virtually anything that you want it to be”; the transformation of glass is what happens when you open an app. One moment your iPad is a music studio, the next a canvas, the next a spreadsheet, the next a game. The vast majority of these apps, though, are made by 3rd-party developers, which means, by extension, 3rd-party developers are even more important to the success of the iPad than Apple is: Apple provides the glass, developers provide the experience.

That, then, means that Cook’s conclusion that Apple could best improve the iPad by making a new product isn’t quite right: Apple could best improve the iPad by making it a better platform for developers. Specifically, being a great platform for developers is about more than having a well-developed SDK, or an App Store: what is most important is ensuring that said developers have access to sustainable business models that justify building the sort of complicated apps that transform the iPad’s glass into something indispensable.

The future of the company is tied to its ability to create a cohesive ecosystem that users keep wanting to use, and developers keep wanting to build apps for. Apple has long excelled in the former, but their real test lies in the latter.

Initial thoughts on iPad Pro | Fraser Speirs →

Fraser Speirs also shared some very interesting thoughts on the iPad Pro this week. I particularly liked a section he aptly titled “The Microsoft Angle”:

In the intervening time, I’ve often said that I basically want “a Microsoft Surface just not made by Microsoft or running any Microsoft software”.

What I wanted was Apple to adopt something like the Surface strategy. In saying that, I don’t mean I want Apple to take Mac OS X and jam it into a tablet. What I want is for Apple to make an iPad that can be my only computer.

A few commentators have been complaining that the iPad Pro with its fabric-covered keyboard case is just the Apple Surface. If so, great! Kind of amusing, though, that the best Office-for-touch experience will probably be Office for iOS running on an iPad.

Apple: You’ve seen it all before, and nothing else like it | Joshua Topolsky →

Of course, not all Apple-related pieces published this week were going to be great, even if they appear on a publication as prestigious as The New Yorker. This piece by Joshua Topolsky strikes me as little more than a rehash of the same Apple-related tropes we’ve heard time and time again over the years. You’ve read it all before. According to Topolsky, Apple doesn’t really invent anything, they “just” execute better than anybody else:

Mind you, this is not a new skill that Apple has acquired. In fact, some of the company’s biggest hits were simply a rethink or tweak of an old idea or two. The iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player, and Apple certainly didn’t create the first smartphone. The company also didn’t invent the first tablet, and when it introduced its new one this week, the main selling point was that Apple had enlarged an object that it had recently shrunk.

“Simply a rethink or tweak of an old idea or two”. At some point — long before a company grows to become the most valuable company in the world — such over-simplifications are just lazy.

Fixing Twitter | Dustin Curtis →

OK, time to move on to other non-Apple stuff. In this thought-provoking piece, Dustin Curtis offers some advice on how Twitter could dramatically improve their service:

Second–and this one is obvious to almost everyone–Twitter needs to focus on realtime events. When I open Twitter during a major debate in the US, or when a bomb has exploded in Bangkok, there should be a huge fucking banner at the top that says “follow this breaking event.” It shouldn’t just search for a hashtag–it should use intelligent algorithms to show me all of the relevant content about that event. It should be the place you go to learn about what is happening in the world right now. When something major happens in the world/your country/your city, you should be trained to immediately and automatically think, “open Twitter to get updates.” This is so obvious to me that I wonder what Twitter’s product team has been doing—are they over-designing a solution to this? It’s so simple. 90% of the UI and 80% of the search functionality is already in the app.

Stephen Colbert, the Late Night Hope | Dave Itzkoff →

This was a great profile on Stephen Colbert over at The New York Times. Via Chris Gonzales’ unmissable ‘Quality Linkage’ Friday column over at Tools & Toys.

Siracusa on toasters | Casey Liss →

Just like it says on the tin. Wonderful.

Miyamoto on World 1-1: How Nintendo made Mario’s most iconic level | Eurogamer →

This amazing video walkthrough with Mario’s creator Shigeru Miyamoto gives you the inside scoop on how one of the most iconic video-games ever was designed. Priceless.

Outstanding service | Joe Posnanski →

Great piece by Posnanski for NBC Sports. He makes the case that Roger Federer’s serve is the best tennis has ever seen. I know it sounds silly, but before you jump to any conclusions, read through the entire piece. Here’s a relevant excerpt:

Federer serves the way Greg Maddux used to pitch, mixing speeds and spins, bouncing one high, skidding one low, never hinting at what is coming next. No one has ever coaxed an opponent to lean the wrong way more often than Federer. I actually have a theory about this; I think there is something magical about Federer’s toss. He leans forward, bounces the ball two or three times, looks up and tosses the ball. And – maybe this is just my imagination – the ball seems to hang in the air for an instant longer than anyone else’s toss. His toss defies gravity. It just seems to dangle there, as if waiting for the returner to make the first move. Then, and only then, Federer unleashes.

But maybe you would prefer hard numbers: Federer has won 57 percent of his SECOND serves in his career, the highest percentage of anyone in the last quarter century. His second serve is as much of a wonder as his first; he makes it dance.

And, as mentioned, Federer only seems to be getting better. This year his record in his service games is 588-44 – he’s won an astonishing 93 percent of the time, the highest percentage of his career and the highest in the world.

This, to me, is the thing that puts him just a tick ahead of Sampras – his serve continues to dominate the world. By this age, Sampras was two-years retired.

In other news, Federer and Djokovic will meet once again tomorrow in the US Open final. It will be the 42nd career meeting between them, and the second time they meet in a Grand Slam final this season, after Djokovic won the Wimbledon final back in July. If Federer wins this one, it will be his 18th Grand Slam title.

Paul Stamatiou’s camera gear | Paul Stamatiou →

Paul’s blog is one of my favorite sites, and the photo-stories of his travels are always breathtaking. He’s had a gear page for a while now, where he describes his entire setup for taking, processing and storing pictures. This week Paul updated the page to include his new Sony A7R II, as well as a new design and lots of incredibly nerdy details. I love it.

Leica Q review: thoughts and sample images | Alex Cornell →

Just like Paul, Alex Cornell also has a knack for taking awesome pictures during his frequent world-wandering escapades. This time around, he took the new Leica Q with him to Mallorca and Barcelona. I’m not a big fan of the Leica Q, but even I have to admit than in Alex’s hands, the camera is capable of producing some really amazing imagery.

Zeiss Loxia 50/2 review | Viktor Pavlovic →

Continuing with my dangerous research on the Zeiss Loxia lenses for the Sony A7-series cameras, this incredible review of the Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar by Viktor Pavlovic has everything one could possibly want, including tons of pictures and a super useful comparison with both the Sony FE 55mm f/1.8 Sonnar that I own, and the legendary Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar for the Leica M-system. Absolutely top-notch stuff.

Summer - Disney World | Erin Brooks →

The Brooks family spent a few days in Disney World, and Erin did an amazing job of capturing those magical moments. Lots of beautiful pictures of a beautiful family, and a perfect way to bring this issue to a close.


As you’ve seen, Apple-related pieces have all but dominated the week in terms of headlines, but also in terms of in-depth thought and analysis pieces. I greatly enjoy reading these types of articles, and it’s always a fun game to see how different people interpret the same announcements so very differently.

As for the rest of stuff that’s been going on, it’s also been a pretty interesting week. I particularly enjoyed getting back to writing more, after spending the majority of my time over the past few weeks taking care of seemingly urgent matters that had kept me away from the keyboard. It feels great to get back into a productive rhythm, and I hope I can keep it up for a few more weeks, at the very least.

Photography-wise, my thoughts keep coming back to the Zeiss Loxia lenses for some reason. I just don’t understand them, and that makes me very curious to try one and see for myself what all the fuss is about. So far I have no plans to buy one, but the more I read about them, the more fascinated I become with their value proposition — or lack thereof.

I get the romantic notion of using and even preferring manual-focus lenses. After all, people have been happily using manual lenses for decades on all kinds of cameras, so there’s definitely a market for them. Heck, there’s even a market for $10,000 manual lenses, as the Leica Noctilux proves. And the Otus lenses by Zeiss are no slouches, either.

However, all those outrageously expensive pieces of glass seem to bring something else to the table. In the case of the Noctilux, it’s its unsurpassed f/0.95 speed, whereas the Otus lenses bring a level of sharpness and optical perfection that nothing else can touch, especially wide open. To some, those factors justify the extra cost, especially if you’re a working photographer whose livelihood depends on owning and using the best possible gear. I get all that.

The Loxias, on the other hand, don’t seem to offer any of those extra qualities to justify their hefty price tag. Sure, at $1,300 for the 35mm, we’re talking about another category entirely, but that’s still quite a bit of money for a lens that, at f/2, isn’t particularly fast, blisteringly sharp or impressively well-corrected. It is, simply, a very good all-around lens, but it doesn’t set the standard on any of those metrics. I don’t know that that’s enough of a value proposition to warrant such a commanding price.

And yet, I keep reading reviews of people who just love them to death. I suppose, if your reference is the price of Leica M glass, or even Zeiss’ own DSLR lenses — which are also manual-focus only — then the Loxias are actually quite competitive in price. If, as some people suggest, the Loxia 50mm’s performance is roughly on par with the Leica 50mm f/2 APO Summicron, a lens that is roughly ten times more expensive, then the numbers begin to tell a very different story.

At the end of the day, I suppose it all comes down to how comfortable you are shooting with a manual lens. If you have a strong preference for them and are used to paying those kinds of prices for your glass, then the Loxias will probably look like a bargain to you. But if you’re not particularly crazy about manual focus or don’t want to give up the extra piece of mind that having autofocus provides, you’ll probably remain largely uninterested.

Me? Right now, I’m torn, which is usually not a good sign for my wallet. We’ll see.

Speaking of lenses, I’ve been using the Sony FE 55mm f/1.8 lens more and more over these past few days and so far, my initial impressions seem to be holding up pretty well. I really, really enjoy shooting with this piece of glass.

I’ve used it, together with my 24-70mm zoom, to create my second photo essay which, if the schedule holds, should be published this week. It’s about one of my favorite places in Madrid: a food market that’s recently been renovated and now doubles as a popular hangout place. Look for it on Tools & Toys this upcoming Thursday. For now, I’ll leave you with a couple images as a teaser.

And on that note, we’ve reached the end of another Morning Coffee issue. Thanks for reading and, of course, have a wonderful weekend.