AnalogSenses

By ÁLVARO SERRANO

Thoughts On Twitter

October 22, 2014

Twitter has once again been making the rounds on the Internet after they announced a new developer platform for their service. However, far from being a universally acclaimed move, it opened up some old wounds, causing many developers to voice their concern, caution against the excitement and remind people that what Twitter giveth, Twitter taketh away.

Marco Arment, in particular, has been very vocal in his distrust of Twitter the company, and with good reason:

But that’s not the biggest problem — even an anonymous API is shaky ground because it can always change or disappear, like Twitter’s original API did. The problem is still the complete power over an increasingly important communication medium residing in a single company and its single centralized service.

This thought is, I believe, worth additional consideration.

Twitter the service

As a communication tool, Twitter’s meteoric rise to the top of our collective consciousness in just a few years is nothing short of astounding. This popularity is, for the most part, well-deserved: Twitter is remarkably good at enabling real-time coverage of breaking news and emergencies all over the world, to cite but one example. We have never witnessed such a rapid flow of information before. Corrupt governments being thrown out of office, civil wars being waged on the streets… everything happening on this planet is now broadcast live by millions of improvised on-site reporters, and there’s no going back from that.

This incredibly powerful communication tool is, however, a double-edged sword. Without an editorial selection of content, such potential is largely wasted and as a result, we often get an endless stream of cat pictures in our timelines — or in some cases, ahem, dogs.

Perhaps more importantly, without any reasonable way to verify the authenticity of the information being shared, Twitter also enables misinformation at an unprecedented scale: several celebrities are declared dead on a daily basis and the entire Internet mourns them for a few hours at a time, before the rumor is inevitably dispelled by an official source.

Those rumors usually end up fading away as quickly as they came, but sometimes the power of Twitter is wielded by a select few for far more nefarious purposes: to manipulate the truth and even publicly shame and harass other people. The recent #GamerGate controversy is a perfectly good example of a ludicrous debate that’s being actively enabled by Twitter. Thousands of people insulting and harassing women for having the audacity to speak up against one of the most prevalent forms of discrimination in the digital age. If these people didn’t have platforms like Twitter, the debate would’ve been put to bed a long time ago. Or perhaps I have too much faith in people.

Twitter the company

As a company, Twitter suffers from the same issues as most other wildly successful companies: the struggle to keep up with the popularity of their product has affected the way the company is run, with many questionable choices being made. Twitter is not a company that knows where it’s going; they don’t have a clearly-defined DNA that people can easily understand. Twitter is a company that wants to be everything to everybody: it wants to be a great communication tool for the masses, it wants to be an amazing money-making machine for its investors and it wants to be a revolutionary platform for developers. These are all noble goals, except sometimes they happen to conflict with each other and in those times, Twitter has done a very poor job of prioritizing one over the others.

A couple years ago, Twitter positioned itself as an ad-driven business and prioritized that over its developer platform. They changed their public API to enforce severe restrictions on 3rd-party developers, thus considerably limiting the potential of 3rd-party apps to flourish. This was a defensive move by Twitter, to ensure that most people using the service would use their own official apps instead, where they can control the experience.

Now, however, they’re putting some measures in place to try and woo developers back. Except many developers won’t be fooled again. As Marco said, Twitter the company should not be trusted with the future of your business, because they’ve clearly shown in the past that they’re not afraid to screw you over to advance their own agenda. There’s nothing personal about that, mind you — it’s actually a perfectly respectable business strategy — but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that Twitter is an altruistic company.

The future

Twitter has become so ingrained in our lives that it’s easy to think of it as a public service instead of a private company. Many businesses use Twitter in their ad campaigns and even TV stations use it to promote their content and engage their audiences. In short, we are treating it as though we’re entitled to it, as if it were a commodity service that will be around in its present form forever. I fear we may be in for a rude awakening.

Twitter has been tremendously successful, but they owe us nothing. The minute their interests don’t align with ours anymore, they won’t hesitate to change course. Perhaps we would do well to not place such high expectations on them in the first place.

Whenever you build something on top of a service you don’t control, you’re assuming a great deal of risk and uncertainty. 3rd-party developers have already been burned once by changes in Twitter’s policy, and there’s absolutely nothing stopping them from doing it again in the future. If you’re thinking about building a critical part of your business on top of Twitter, you should be prepared to deal with that.

As my favorite Bond character once said:

Always have an escape plan.

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The reviews of the new iPads are out

October 22, 2014

It’s iPad review day, and the usual suspects have all published their reviews. Let’s have a look at what they have to say:

  • John Gruber focuses on the iPad Air 2, calling it “a thorough refresh”, and puts forth an interesting idea: with 2 GB of RAM and perhaps even a 3-core CPU — still unconfirmed — the iPad Air 2 makes a solid case as the best overall iOS device, surpassing the iPhone for the first time in terms of performance. In fact, the Air 2 is even faster than a 3-year-old MacBook Air. That’s nuts.

  • Jim Dalrymple writes about the benefits of Touch ID, not only in terms of convenience, but also for security reasons. He also states that there’s room for both new iPads in his life, since they are optimized for different situations.

  • Nilay Patel reviews the iPad Air 2 for The Verge, and he calls it “a monumental achievement in the field of iterative improvement”. He also criticizes Apple for missing an opportunity to add more tablet-specific features in iOS 8.

  • Walt Mossberg was not impressed with the new iPads, and calls Apple out for not pushing the hardware in several important areas such as display resolution, battery life, etc. In fact, according to his tests, battery life took a noticeable hit on the Air 2 compared to last year’s iPad Air — albeit, to be fair, it’s still comfortably over the advertised 10-hour mark.

These should give you a nice overall feeling for what the new iPads have to offer. If you’re in the market, I encourage you to read through all of them before deciding which one to purchase.

The general consensus seems to be quite similar to my own thoughts: if you already own one of last year’s iPads (the iPad Air or the iPad mini with a Retina Display), there may not be enough improvements here to justify the upgrade. If you’re on an iPad 4 or earlier, tough, then the upgrade is quite significant and you’re pretty much guaranteed to love the new iPads.

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Not For Me | Minimal Mac →

October 21, 2014 |

Patrick Rhone, on why the latest generation of Apple products (both hardware and software) is not for him:

I’ve been around too long and learned from experience that technology has to prove itself. It should make us better. It should solve problems. And, we should consider these things before allowing any new tool into our daily lives. We should ask ourselves if it’s for us.

My 2008 iMac, my 2010 MacBook Pro and my 1972 vinyl record player agree with this.

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Apple releases iOS 8.1 →

October 20, 2014 |

Apple today released iOS 8.1, the newest version of the iOS operating system for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

Jason Snell has a complete list of changes:

The big change is support for Apple Pay on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in the U.S. The Camera Roll is also back, and iCloud Photo Library has been added in beta. There are plenty of other changes, so check out the change notes to see if your favorite bug is being addressed. (And if you want to wait to see if the update does something weird to some people’s phones, no one will blame you.)

You can download and install the update right from your iOS device. And if you run into storage problems, Rene Ritchie has you covered.

Happy updating!

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Flickr announces new iPad app →

October 20, 2014 |

Finally:

Today, we’re extremely excited to announce Flickr for iPad. We’ve heard you loud and clear asking for an official app on Apple’s beautiful, large retina display, which makes it easy and enjoyable to access, organize and share your stunning photos from anywhere. The new Flickr for iPad app will be available globally in eleven languages.

It’s a universal app, so if you have the Flickr iPhone app installed on your iPad — like most sane people — the next time you update it you’ll get the iPad version automatically.

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The new iPads and the Retina iMac

October 17, 2014

Yesterday, among other announcements, Apple introduced the new iPad Air 2, the new iPad mini 3 and upgraded the long-neglected Mac mini. However, the real star of the show was the new iMac with Retina 5K display. What an incredible machine.

Let’s go over each of the new hardware announcements in a bit more detail.

The new iPads

Last year, Apple upgraded the iPad mini and gave it the same internals as the then-flagship iPad Air. Actually, both machines were so similar that it didn’t really make sense to call one of them the flagship. They were, for all practical purposes, the same device in two different sizes.1

This time around, though, things have changed.

(iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3. Photo: Apple)

The iPad Air 2 is a typical year-over-year upgrade from Apple: it is thinner, a bit lighter, it has Touch ID, a much better camera and it’s powered by a faster chip.2 It also got a new laminated display and an anti-reflective coating, which should slightly improve the viewing experience, particularly in brightly lit places.

All in all, the iPad Air 2 is a nice upgrade that should make an already excellent device even more enjoyable to use. It’s not a dramatic improvement over the first-generation iPad Air, though. After all, the Air was already thin enough for most people, myself included. I’ve owned an iPad Air for over 6 months, and not once did I look at it and say to myself: “Gee, I love my iPad, if only it were a bit thinner it would be perfect”. If you already have an Air, I honestly see no compelling reason to upgrade, other than you can spare the money. Anything older, though, and the upgrade is much more compelling.

As a side note, it’s getting harder and harder every year to get excited about a thinner and lighter version of what is essentially the same product. That could be a factor in the sales slump the iPad has suffered this past year. The typical refresh cycle for a tablet seems to be significantly longer than for a phone; 2 or 3-year-old iPads are still being happily used and enjoyed by their owners, who probably don’t feel the same pressure to upgrade as they do with their iPhones. Not to mention that carrier subsidies contribute quite a bit to the phone-upgrade frenzy — spending $200 on a new phone every couple years is much easier to digest than buying a $600 tablet to replace the perfectly good one you already have.

The iPad mini 3 is a very different story, though. If you didn’t buy one last year thinking that this year’s version would be the one to get… well, you were wrong. Sorry about that. Apple took last year’s iPad mini with a Retina Display — now retroactively called iPad mini 2 — added Touch ID, a gold color option and called it a day. The iPad mini 3 is still powered by the same A7 chip as last year’s model, it’s just as thin and light — which, to be fair, is not bad at all — and judging from a picture in this article on iMore, it still has the same narrower color gamut display.

If Apple had replaced the iPad mini 2 with the 3 while maintaining the price, people wouldn’t have much reason to be excited, but the 3 would still make sense as a product. However, Apple decided to keep the iPad mini 2 in the lineup and dropped the price by a hundred bucks. Call me crazy but at $299, the iPad mini 2 seems like a far better deal. Touch ID and a gold color choice, while nice things to have, are not worth $100, in my opinion.

My advice if you’re considering buying the entry-level, $399 iPad mini 3, is to get the $349 32GB iPad mini 2 instead. It’s just a better use of your money: you get twice the storage capacity and you get to save 50 bucks. However, if you do need 64 GB of storage — and many people do — your only option is the iPad mini 3.

Oh, and Apple also decided to keep the original iPad mini and sell it for $249. I can’t even begin to understand why someone would buy it over the iPad mini 2, but there it is. Make of it what you will.

If you’re a fan of the iPad mini form factor, the worst part of yesterday’s event is that Apple all but confirmed its role as a second-class citizen in the iPad lineup. Last year’s refresh now seems like a fluke, and we are left to think that the mini will probably remain one generation behind the Air for the foreseeable future.

The upgraded Mac Mini

Not much to say here, other than the obvious. The Mac mini got a decent upgrade with faster processors and a new starting price of $499. After two years without being upgraded, the smallest member of the Mac family is once again an attractive entry-level option into the OS X ecosystem. Not bad.

Mac mini 2014

(Mac mini. Photo: Apple)

The iMac with Retina 5K display

This is the computer we’ve all been waiting for ever since we saw our first Retina display. For some, that goes as back as the iPhone 4 — for me personally, it was the 4S. It’s such a striking difference that you must see it with your own eyes to really believe it. However, even though Apple has been relentlessly pushing display technology forward for years, a true desktop Retina experience remained elusive, until now.

(iMac with Retina 5K display. Photo: Apple)

I have to say, I’m impressed they could pull it off, and at this price: $2499 for that display alone would be a bargain. Considering it comes with a pretty good computer inside, it feels unreal. Granted, it’s still a lot of money, but if you’ve ever stared at a Retina display, you know it’s worth every penny. I can’t wait to see one of these in person.

iMacs are extraordinarily resilient machines. Mine is from early 2008 and it’s still in perfect working condition. It’s an investment you’ll never regret.

Conclusion

Yesterday’s Apple event wasn’t particularly exciting or jam-packed with incredible announcements, but it marked another step forward for Apple and the maturity of their ecosystem. We’ve finally come to a point where all Apple devices are able to seamlessly communicate and work with each other. From the outside this may look deceptively easy, but it’s the result of many years’ worth of work. It’s a cheesy line, I’ll admit, but it’s absolutely true that only Apple could create an experience as cohesive and solid as this, and we’re only just beginning to realize its potential.

Whether you own a Mac or an iOS device — or both — this is a great time to be an Apple user.


  1. The only real differences last year were that the iPad mini had a slightly slower version of the same processor and a display panel with a narrower color gamut.

  2. Interestingly, Apple chose not to go with its A8 chip — the same one they used in last month’s iPhone 6 and 6 Plus — and instead opted for a different design, dubbed A8X, which is probably a tweaked version of the A8 to improve its graphics performance.

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Sarah Wilson's beautiful pimped bike →

October 17, 2014 |

My bike is the most valuable material possession I own, apart from my couch, if we’re talking from a financial POV. From an attachment POV, my bike is number one by a mile.

I’m attached. The reason is this…it represents a story and a process. Allow me to share the story (it does have a point).

I totally get where she’s coming from. There’s something special about an object with a past life going back decades. It’s a feeling you won’t find on a new bicycle, no matter how much you spend. Classic road bikes from the 70’s or so are incredible feats of craftsmanship. Those things were built to last a lifetime, and many of them are still actively being used every day.

I’d much prefer to put $500 towards restoring a classic, handmade italian frame than spending them on a new bike.

Come to think of it, I actually did. But that’s a story for another day.

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Marco Arment compares the Retina iMac and the Mac Pro (on paper) →

October 17, 2014 |

Marco has an excellent and thorough article on the differences between both models:

The 5K Retina iMac is out, and it looks incredible so far on paper — so incredible that I’m seriously considering selling my new Mac Pro to get the Retina iMac instead. In fact, the case for the Mac Pro for anyone but advanced video editors, 3D modelers, and heavy OpenCL users is now weaker than ever.

I’ve always found the iMac to be a near perfect computer but now it’s getting ridiculous. Even the completely redesigned Mac Pro compares poorly, particularly considering it won’t be getting an external Retina display anytime soon:

It may be possible to use two Thunderbolt 2 cables to power a 5K display, but only if the GPU could treat each port as its own full-bandwidth DisplayPort 1.2 channel, the sum of which represented one logical display, and had the panel using something like MST to combine the two at the other end. But the only Mac with more than one Thunderbolt bus (not port) is the current Mac Pro, and I can’t see today’s Apple shipping an external display that none of their laptops can use.

If you’re in the market for a high-end desktop computer, the Retina iMac looks like a no-brainer.

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Jason Snell's first thoughts about the Apple event →

October 17, 2014 |

Speaking of Jason Snell:

Let’s step through that one again. People will forsake their Mac Pros for this iMac, until there comes a day when a screen like this is available as an external display option for the Mac Pro. For $2500 or less. People who would never have considered buying an iMac will buy this iMac.

I have to say, I agree. I haven’t even seen this iMac yet, and I already want it. A few months ago I said I probably wouldn’t replace my current iMac — a 24-inch Early 2008 model — until it died on me, but an iMac with a Retina display is a whole different animal.

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