Apple Watch and continuous computing →

May 21, 2015 |

Ben Thompson:

Indeed, for now I think it likely that one of Apple’s oldest and most cherished skills — it’s ability to make beautiful, desirable objects — will make the Watch exactly what Tim Cook promised: another tentpole product that rivals the Mac, the iPod, the iPad, and even the iPhone. Framed as nothing more than A Watch that Does Stuff — and that you actually don’t mind wearing — Apple will rightly sell enough to kick-start a world that gets just a little bit smarter and little bit better when it knows who and where we are.

I think Ben’s right on the money here. The entire piece is full of clever, insightful analysis, as usual.

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Spotify Connect lets you decide which device plays your music and which one controls it →

May 21, 2015 |

This is admittedly an old-ish feature — apparently it’s been around for over a year — but I had no idea it existed. Spotify Connect lets you play your music on any of your devices, and control it from any other device. The way it works is really simple: from any device you’re using to interact with the app, you get to choose which one of your other devices will actually play your music.

And it does work, like a charm. As a matter of fact, I’m using it right now to play the new Thelonious Monk collection between my iMac and my iPad. The iMac controls playback and the iPad, which is plugged into my home’s HiFi sound system, plays the music. And unlike AirPlay, I can still play all kinds of other sounds locally on my iMac.

That by itself is pretty cool, but the best part is that I found out about it completely by chance — or, rather, by clever design. Spotify allows you to play your music on only one device at a time, and I was already playing music on my iMac. When I launched the Spotify app on my iPad to switch devices, I was greeted by a dialog offering me to continue playing the iMac’s music. I just touched yes and my music immediately started playing on the iPad, right from where the iMac left off. No lag, no buffering delay, nothing. It really couldn’t have been any simpler.

This is what great software design is all about. New features should not only be easy to use, they should be easy to discover. In this case, I did everything in my power not to discover Spotify Connect — by not reading anything about the app and not playing around with the interface after every update — and the feature still ended up making itself known to me. That’s great design, and it is awesome.

It has also saved me quite a bit of money, by the way. For the past few weeks I’d been this close to buying an AirPort Express just so that I could stream music from my iMac to my stereo, but now I don’t think I’ll be needing it.

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The Best of Thelonious Monk →

May 21, 2015 |

Richard Brody, writing at The New Yorker:

A treasure chest of jazz is being rereleased this week: “The Complete Riverside Recordings” of Thelonious Monk, a fifteen-disk set of his recording sessions, in the studio and live, for that seminal label. Spanning the period between 1955 and 1961, it’s the core of his recorded legacy. The set contains the disks of his that I return to most often, and it shows off a wide range of his art. For me, it’s the most essential trove of Monk’s recordings that exists. Most of the recordings in the set are available separately, as the albums on which they were originally released, but having them together in chronological order tells a musical story that is as much about Monk as it is about the musical times.

The entire collection is available on Spotify, and I’ve been listening to it all day. What an awesome discovery.

After just a few hours with it, I am so buying this. I could get the MP3 edition, but that would defeat the purpose. Call me old fashioned, but this is a set to be enjoyed in physical form. I only wish the vinyl edition had been rereleased as well.

If you’re as crazy about this sort of thing as I am, Amazon has the 15 CD Box Set in stock right now. I’d hurry if I were you, because they’re going to go fast.

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Josh Ginter visits Vancouver →

May 20, 2015 |

Josh Ginter spent May Long Weekend in Vancouver, and he’s created a stunning photo-story to tell us all about it:

It didn’t take long for Jaclyn and I to realize how much we love the city of Vancouver. The city is clean, new, temperate, considerate, and immaculate. Vancouver has an entirely different personality, an entirely different character than New York City or Paris or Rome. There is nothing old about Vancouver. It’s a city willing to embrace the ever-evolving way of human life, both as a cosmopolitan city and as a habitat for millions of people.

Sounds like my kind of place, and Josh’s gorgeous photography has made me all the more eager to visit.

As a side note, I really love travel photo-stories like this one, and I’d love to see it become a more extended practice on the Internet. Not only are they entertaining, informative and a fantastic creative exercise, they actually push you get out and take more photos every day and when all is said and done, they are an amazing way to remember every trip.

Creating stories like these may just be the excuse many of us need to travel more often and take our cameras with us for the ride, which is a huge win by itself in my book.

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The new MacBook is Apple fixing the past

May 20, 2015

Last night, Marco Arment published a great piece on why he’s not very enthusiastic about the MacBook “One” after using it:

The MacBook just looks and feels like the obvious, no-brainer choice for a small Mac. That’s why people buy it. That’s why I bought it. I loved it before I bought it. I love looking at it and picking it up.

I just hate using it.

I hate typing on it, I hate the trackpad, it’s slower than I expected, the screen is noticeably blurry from non-native scaling to get reasonable screen space, and I don’t even find it very comfortable to use in my lap because it’s too small.

I hate returning things, but I’m returning this.

His take on the device was very interesting to read. Marco is definitely not your typical Apple customer, but it goes to show that with the new MacBook, as with any technology purchase, your mileage may vary.

In recent years, many Apple products have become substantially harder to understand without any actual hands-on experience. That is in no small part because in that time, Apple’s design goals have slowly but steadily shifted towards creating more personal, more intimate devices. When you stray away from the specs path, it ceases to be a numbers game and becomes an emotional purchase, based entirely on personal preference instead of performance or any other quantifiable metrics.

Apple products have always had an emotional, personal side to them that makes them appealing beyond their spec-sheets, but usually the two sides had been close to being in perfect balance.1 However, for a while now we’ve been seeing that balance shifting towards the emotional side. No other Apple product makes that shift more apparent than the new MacBook, not even the Apple Watch.2

The iPhone has gotten thinner and lighter every year and so has the iPad, but both devices have also gotten faster and more capable with each new generation. The MacBook represents the opposite side of this trend: a device that’s gotten slower and less capable as it’s gotten thinner and lighter. In that way, its only real precedent is the original 2008 MacBook Air.

Unlike the 2008 Air though, the new MacBook not only compromises in terms of performance, but also in areas that are not traditionally evaluated by specs, and that is perhaps a bit more worrying. Features like the keyboard and trackpad, which are inherently defined by how they feel. The fact that the new keyboard has near unanimously been considered worse than its predecessor is a sign that Apple may have taken things a bit too far with the new MacBook.

This shift may end up being a long-term trend, or it may be just a tick — a mere sign that Apple is experimenting to find a new balance — to be inevitably followed by a tock. There is ample room for Apple to improve or even radically change the new MacBook, much like they did with the original MacBook Air.

But if I’m being honest, I wouldn’t bet on it.

The original 2008 Air represented an ambitious bet that ultimately proved unsuccessful: it arrived ahead of its time, before the technology was available to support its vision. It was a terribly compromised machine in many non-trivial ways, and the 2010 redesign was not just a new generation, it was Apple backtracking and refocusing the device as a general-purpose computer for everyone. In fact, the redesigned Air went on to become arguably the least compromised laptop in the lineup for the majority of consumers.3

This time around though, the technology is there, if only just so. That makes me think the MacBook will continue to adhere to its current design philosophy, at least for the foreseeable future. This is not Apple trying something new after all, this is Apple doubling-down on the vision that drove them to create the original MacBook Air. Seven years later, they’re finally ready to get it right.

Are we?

  1. With only a few exceptions along the way, the most notable among which is the original 2008 MacBook Air. But more on that later.

  2. If only because we have no design precedent for it. Apple Watch is a product created entirely within the new Apple, free from all past restrictions and preconceptions. The MacBook, on the other hand, is showing the way forward for other existing Apple products to follow.

  3. It achieved almost the perfect balance of performance and portability and became the most popular model in the lineup. For most people, it was the one to get until the arrival of the Retina MacBook Pros.

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Dan Moren’s essential travel tech →

May 20, 2015 |

Dan Moren, writing at Six Colors:

On the one hand, as this is a mostly a leisure trip, I want to pack light. The goal is not to be head down in technology most of the time, but to enjoy my trip. That means almost certainly foregoing my MacBook. But at the same time, we can’t wholly escape tech these days—nor should we, given how handy it can be when traveling. So here’s a rundown of what I’m probably taking along.

I’m a sucker for these articles. Dan’s piece includes very sound recommendations on what to take with you, and what to leave behind.

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The untold story of ILM →

May 20, 2015 |

What an amazing story by Alex French and Howie Kahn for Wired, with photography by Dan Winters. Industrial Light & Magic is one of the most iconic companies in movie-making history, and it all started because George Lucas wanted to make a space movie:

As the young director had conceived it, Star Wars was a film that literally couldn’t be made; the technology required to bring the movie’s universe to visual life simply didn’t exist. Eventually 20th Century Fox gave Lucas $25,000 to finish his screenplay—and then, after he garnered a Best Picture Oscar nomination for American Graffiti, green-lit the production of Adventures of Luke Starkiller, as Taken From the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars. However, the studio no longer had a special effects department, so Lucas was on his own. He would adapt, and handily: He not only helped invent a new generation of special effects but launched a legendary company that would change the course of the movie business.

Come to think of it, there’s probably no better origin story than that. Take your time to savor this piece, along with the accompanying images. It is epic in every way.

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The MacBook review over at Tools & Toys →

May 20, 2015 |

Awesome review by Nate Barham. I really like that his review is mostly not about the MacBook itself, but why it makes sense, and why it needs to exist:

It is a computer for there rather than here in that if you are always here, then Apple’s lineup likely contains a better machine for you: one that emphasizes power, or screen real estate, or a multitude of ports, or price. But the MacBook is not for here — it is meant to be taken with you: to the bus stations, the parks, the coffee shops, the next-door offices, the weekend cabins and hotel rooms. When you go there, it is meant to go with you, and to hardly be noticed when you do.

And boy, are those pictures gorgeous.

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The reciprocal rule in photography, explained →

May 19, 2015 |

Great, informative article by Nasim Mansurov over at Photography Life:

Due to the fact that we as humans cannot be completely still, particularly when hand-holding an object like a camera, the movements caused by our bodies can cause camera shake and introduce blur to images. The basic premise of the reciprocal rule is that the shutter speed of your camera should be at least the reciprocal of the effective focal length of the lens. If you are confused by what this means, don’t worry – it is really easy to understand once you see it in an example.

Really useful and practical advice. I found the Auto ISO section to be particularly interesting, as I had always wondered how the optimum ISO was determined when using this feature.

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Panasonic announces new Lumix G7 Micro Four Thirds camera →

May 18, 2015 |

It looks like Fuji is not the only company with big news today, with Panasonic also officially announcing their new Lumix DMC-G7 Micro Four Thirds camera.

Just like the Fuji X-T10, this Panasonic starts at a hair under $800, which places it squarely in serious amateur territory and in direct competition with the aforementioned Fuji camera, as well as with the Olympus OM-D E-M10, which debuted at $699 but is now being sold dirt-cheap on Amazon for $449 body only.

The biggest features of the new G7 camera are, of course, 4K video recording at up to 30 fps and a very handy new mode called 4K Photo, which allows you to select individual frames of any prerecorded 4K video footage, resulting in 8 MP still images. This means you effectively get an 8 MP, 30 fps burst rate, which should ensure you always get the perfect shot. It also includes an electronic shutter option, capable of going up to 1/16,000th of a second.

Physically, the new G7 feels like a carbon copy of the Olympus OM-D E-M1, albeit only cosmetically. Unfortunately, it doesn’t include nearly as many features and its build quality isn’t quite up to the same standard, but that’s understandable.

A bit more disappointing is the fact that this new Lumix camera still fails to address the two biggest long-standing issues I have with most Panasonic bodies:

  • Still no In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS). Given how much praise the Olympus IBIS technology has received, you’d think Panasonic would take note but alas, not yet. Granted, most Panasonic-designed Micro Four Thirds lenses have IS built in, but the last few Olympus cameras have clearly proven that building IS in the camera body is clearly the best way to go in terms of performance and overall long-term cost of building a system.

  • No weather-sealing. Perhaps it’s too much to ask of an entry-level camera but still, it would have been a welcome addition.

Now, if the E-M10 was still being sold for $699, I’d perhaps understand wanting to purchase this new G7 instead, especially if you shoot a lot of video. There’s no doubt the Panasonic camera is the one to get for video, but I’m having quite a bit of trouble thinking of any other good reasons to buy it. And when you factor in the current price of the E-M10 well, the situation doesn’t get any better for the G7.

Honestly, with that kind of a price difference I’m not sure what to think of the G7. If you’re primarily a stills shooter, the E-M10 strikes me as a much better value, offering nearly everything the G7 does — except the electronic shutter and the 4K capabilities — for a little over half the money. Since I have no interest in 4K video or stills, that $350 difference is a pretty hefty premium to pay for an electronic shutter, if you ask me. And this is without mentioning the excellent 3-axis IBIS of the E-M10, which is incredibly useful in everyday shooting.

The landscape in the Micro Four Thirds system right now is incredibly interesting. On one hand, Olympus is making killer bodies every year, and now they’re kicking it up a notch with their PRO line of lenses. On the other hand, Panasonic has released several optical gems in the past few years, like the Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 and the Summilux 25mm f/1.4. I find it incredibly funny that one company seems to excel at making awesome prime lenses and the other at making awesome bodies.

If I had to choose today, I’d definitely go with an Olympus body and if money was no object, I’d take a serious look at those Panasonic primes, especially if you’re into fast glass. And if you’re more of a zoom person, the Olympus PRO lenses are definitely a no-brainer. Of course, your mileage may vary. In any case, at the end of the day having two major companies pushing each other and pushing the system forward can only be good for customers.

The Panasonic Lumix G7 will be released on June 15, 2015 for $797.99 body only. If you feel like it could be you cup of tea, you can preorder it on Amazon.

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