Commentary

Apple's Lightning and wireless headphone story

I enjoy some of the carnival that happens in the days and weeks before an Apple keynote event. The part that I enjoy most is fantasizing about what the future might hold.

I don't particularly enjoy the leaks of parts and cases or shaky-cam photos of parts. I also don't really like speculating about whether any of the news is real or fake.This is in the same way that I don't like opening my Christmas presents before Christmas morning. 

This year has been particularly interesting with all the rumours around the removal of the headphone jack from the iPhone.

So, here are my predictions:

  • the headphone jack on the iPhone will disappear
  • Lightning headphone (EarPods) will come in the box
  • a Lightning-to-3.5mm adaptor will come in the box this year (and maybe next year because of the 2-year replacement cycle for phones)
  • the two-piece wireless headset (AirPods) does not exist

For most of the past few months, the noise has been getting louder about the removal of the headphone jack. Also, for most of the past few months I was thinking that it was unlikely that Apple would be bold enough to actually remove it. 

However, Apple is good at creating controlled leaks to kill any stories that they don't want told. For this reason, I'm starting to come around to believing the idea that the headphone jack is toast.

To me this is an interesting development where the drawbacks are seriously overblown by scare stories in the media.

Here's why I don't think it's a big deal:

  • the iPhone comes with headphones in the box so everyone will be able to listen to music on day one.
  • 95%+ of iPhone users will use the supplied headphones.
  • I think that it is very likely that a Lightning-to-3.5mm adaptor will come in the box this year to get ahead of the PR about the removal of the port.

The media will be all over the removal of the headphone jack for one reason: writing hysterical,  controversial, ALLCAPS, click-bait articles about Apple sells papers and gets clicks. This doesn't mean that the general Apple-buying public will actually care or that it is a big deal.  

That leaves the question of what strategy Apple will be pushing. Are they going with Lightning headphones? Are they going with wireless? Is it a combined strategy of Lightning and wireless? Or is it something else entirely?

I'm thinking that Apple are just going with Lightning headphones. Lightning headphones in the box are almost a certainty.

However many rumour sites think that a combined strategy of wireless and Lightning headphones is more likely. This doesn't quite seem right to me. There are many rumours about "AirPods". These would be individual single-ear Bluetooth headphones.

With any amount of thought, I'm can't see how something like the AirPod is practical. There are at least three good reasons why these in-ear lice would be an awful user experience:

  • the ear-louse is tiny with an equally tiny battery, and consequently a tiny battery life
  • the short battery life also means that they will constantly need charging. Both of them. Probably daily.
  • the ear-louse is tiny and easy to lose. You need two of them to provide a good user experience and one of them is bound to get lost.

As a company, Apple likes to make small, yet significantly changes on a regular basis. Always moving forward. Slowly yet constantly.  Apple also likes to solve difficult problems in an elegant way. USB was better than pre-USB (ADB, serial, floppy drives, etc). Touch screens are better than keyboards. Retina is better than pre-Retina.

Removing the headphone jack is arguably a small yet significant change, and also argubly an elegant solution. It might not be better today but likely will be better in a couple of years once more products support it. This is just like the way that the move to USB took a while for the advantages to become real. 

Two separate "AirPods" is not an elegant solution or a step forward, more like wishful thinking.

I will be interested to see if Apple does have a wireless headphone solution. Most of their advances in headphones recently have been pushed by Beats rather than Apple so the release of a wireless headset would be a change in strategy.

The only part where my thoughts on Apple's wireless strategy don't quite make sense is with the Apple Watch. The Watch was released with Bluetooth and the ability to play music from the Watch while out walking or running without a phone. This had always seemed a little awkward to me, especially since neither Apple nor Beats sell wireless headphones that are lightweight enough use while exercising. Maybe, despite my doubts, there is something coming.

Personally, I have been using wireless headphones for about 7 years. I started out with the Nokia BH-905, until I wore them out. They were a good compact size (being on-ear rather than over-the-ear headphones) with pretty good noise-cancelling. They were great when I was living in London and travelling on the tube every day. 

This year I replaced them with some Sony MDR-ZX770BN headphones (why such long model numbers, Sony?). I'm not that keen on the large over-the-ear style, the noise-cancelling isn't as good as the Nokia and they feel a bit cheap and plasticky. However, there isn't much choice in headphones that are both Bluetooth and noise-cancelling, which is my preference, and my budget doesn't quite stretch to the Bose QC35's (or was it the 25's?).

There is no way that I would go back to wired headphones. It's amazing how freeing the lack of wires is. Wireless is the future for headphones, as it has been for phones, computers, networking, etc.

The removal of the headphone port is the first step on the wireless journey. Is Apple going to take any other steps on that journey this week too?

 

Brexiteers have taken over the asylum

I’m in shock right now. 

The United Kingdom has just voted itself out after 43 years of EU membership. That’s longer than I’ve been alive. 

I feel like this really shows the poor state of politics in many countries today. We can vote for whoever we like but both major parties are basically the same and the politicians just do what they want anyway. 

The first-past-the-post Westminster system used in Britain (and the highly gerrymandered version used in the United States), provides definitive results and stable government. What it doesn’t provide is a government that anyone actually wants. 

It appears to more and more people that the general public have no control over politicians, with corporate money and Rupert Murdoch rigging the election and the mainstream media being corrupt and lying. Or at least that’s what many people think, whether it is true or not. In these days of spin doctors and PR gurus, politicians work for themselves and their own interest and not for us. 

This is the political environment that has brought about the rise of Donald Trump and it’s the environment that has allowed the British EU referendum to succeed.

Following the end of the Second World War, the citizens of many Western countries enjoyed in a shared prosperity caused by modernisation, post-industrialisation and globalisation. Trade and travel have become easier and the European Union has significantly helped with that, in Europe and globally. 

On the down-side, globalisation has also caused many businesses to close or re-locate overseas. Politicians have embraced globalisation, as they are right to do because there are many benefits to it. But recent prosperity has not been shared. 

I lived in London until 2012 and at the time there was growing unrest about the state of the economy and the direction the country was heading. I was in a well-paid job and would have struggled to buy a house. A close friend was close to bankruptcy in a decent graduate job. This is not shared prosperity. 

I accept that times have changed and factory workers and shop workers are valued less than fifty years ago. 

But a government needs to do the best for the country and also do the best for its people. These are not necessarily the same thing. The majority of the people need to be brought along for the ride. This EU referendum is the culmination of years of governments not looking out for all their people and the poor being left behind. 

This is also a failure of the inevitability of Europe’s “ever-closer union”. Whether ever-closer political and economic union was real or imagined, it has some responsibility here for this election result. It feels to many European citizens that they have no control over the future of the European Union. I wouldn’t be surprised if these result could be replicated in other European countries. 

The fallout from this currently is that the Pound has fallen by over 10% overnight. Stock markets around the world are down. Lots of uncertainty is ahead, and regular people willingly voted for it. 

This all feels like a huge conspiracy that has been created for us. But we have walked in to it. The country won’t govern itself but by opting out of politics until the disaffected outnumber the rest, we have allowed this to happen.  

[It's a bit late and the article above probably doesn't make much sense. The conspiracies listed above aren't really things that I believe but if enough people believe them then aren't they half true, anyway. Just like Father Christmas.]

Get out and vote but maybe more importantly, get off the keyboard and do something in the world more than just posting on Twitter or Facebook and putting a tick in a box once every few years.

Top Gear fans: Nostalgic for before political correctness took over

Last week Top Gear returned to television screens worldwide after an unscheduled refresh.  

I'm sure that anyone who has made it this far through the article already knows what happened: controversial host Jeremy Clarkson lost his job after a "fracas" with a producer and his co-hosts left the show in support. 

Over the past fourteen years, Top Gear became one of the most successful shows ever from the BBC. As part of the success, Clarkson became one of the most loved and loathed figures on British television. Sort of like a Nigel Farage who you might actually want to have a beer with. 

Inevitably, the show has been widely criticised upon its return with a new cast. Given the number of people claiming they were going to hate it before a single scene was even filmed, let alone broadcast, that isn't a surprise.

To me all of this just feels childish. The school bully got sent to the headmaster's office and expelled from school. And now school's just not the same. 

I'm unsure what exactly caused Clarkson to be fired because I wasn't there. None of us were. But, in most workplaces violence would almost certainly warrant dismissal. Probably instantly. And this was far from the first time he had been in trouble with his employers. 

Listening to some people it feels like the BBC cancelled Christmas, and Easter. But they only fired someone who didn't really want his job anymore.

Personally, I feel like the best days of the old Top Gear were already in the past. I remember sitting through the Vietnam special and wondering what the point of it was. It was like being on a lads weekend without the benefit of being drunk or leaving home. More and more episodes would go past without any gold at all.  

Top Gear had become the Daily Mail of television shows. How great would Britain be if the E-Type was still in production and the sun hadn't set on the British Empire?  How much better was life when we could call foreigners by racist names? When we could go to the pub and drive home drunk? When there were none of those annoying bike lanes or speed cameras? Ah, nostalgia, how I miss you!

Top Gear had become a picture of a bygone era that never really existed. Not in my lifetime, at least. And now it has gone, replaced by something else that may or may not recapture that glory. 

In 2002, Clarkson's Top Gear took more than a couple of episodes to find its feet. And this series will too. We might even look back in a few years and miss LeBlanc and Evans as much as Clarkson, but only if they make it their own and stop being compared to the past.

Justice for the 96. Why did they have to wait so long?

I'm not in Britain but was born in a Commonwealth country where the British news was important to us. Their triumph was our triumph. Their tragedy was our tragedy. 

In April 1989, news came through of the Hillsborough stadium disaster. 96 people lost their lives after over-crowding in part of the ground at an FA Cup semi-final match. This is one of a small number of man-made disasters that I remember well from my youth. The others were things like Chernobyl and the Space Shuttle Challenger and terrorist acts such as the Lockerbie bombing.

Compared to these other disasters, Hillsborough felt entirely avoidable and mundane: how do fans go to a football match and not come home alive? It could easily happen anywhere. Yet it doesn't.

As with many disasters, it's not necessarily anything big that sets events in motion that cause the loss of life. Instead it's lots of little things.

Large crowds of ticket-holders still outside the ground at kickoff, anxious to see the game. A gate opened to help relieve pressure of the crowd. A door that is the quickest access to the terraces is left open. An inexperienced police commander in charge on the day. Stadiums with high fences between sections and the playing field to reduce problems with violence. The poor and out-dated design of the stadium.

Without all of these factors happening together this disaster would not have happened. Disasters do happen though. We plan in order to avoid them, we learn from them when they do and we try to ensure that they don't happen in future.

Instead, in this case, the police concocted a story where they were blameless and the crush was caused by unruly, drunken fans. This is shameful and even worse is that the process has taken twenty seven years to reach its current point. Twenty seven years!

It is not uncommon for police to mould a story to suit their own ends. This behaviour doesn't help anyone. But in addition to the police there were many, many other issues on that day. 

Hopefully as many lessons can be learned from the aftermath of this disaster as were learned from the original disaster itself. 

Death in the sky: drone killings aren't ok

This article about the US drone program was published a few days ago, by someone who claims to be a target of the program and additionally claims to have witnessed various mis-targeted attacks that have killed other family members and bystanders. 

The drone program has always sat rather uncomfortably with me. To US voters and lawmakers, it appears to be a case of out-of-sight, out-of-mind. This is simply not acceptable. 

This should should called out for what it is: extra-judicial execution with an unacceptably high risk of collateral damage. 

There are two scenarios to imagine that might help to understand how unacceptable this program is. 

How about this for a possible scenario. In an attempt to control the war on drugs the US government, in co-operation with the Mexican government starts a drone execution program. You driving through a poor neighbourhood, approaching some traffic lights. The lights turn orange, and you think to yourself, do I run the lights or stop?

You stop at the lights and see the Cadillac Escalade (stereotypical, I know amirite?) that you had been following explode after being hit by a missile. Take that war on drugs! Shrapnel scatters everywhere with a few pedestrians falling down injured. Well, at least it was for a good cause. Think all all the potential drug deaths that have been saved.

Surely the US government wouldn't do anything that wasn't carefully planned and executed. The evidence seems to say otherwise

Now, let's assume that this sort of attack is acceptable to you. These are clearly drugs dealers and potential terrorists, . And maybe a few by-standers and family members. No big deal.

Now consider some other countries out there. Think about Russia. Think about China. Think about Israel. This drone technology can't be that hard to create. Surely if the United States has it, other countries can have them too. 

If the United States if using them as a great long-distance problem solver, what's to stop Russia doing the same from across the ocean. Bye bye Mossack Fonseca offices. See you later Entebbe airport

Use of the drone as a panacea is creating the situation where the unacceptable has become acceptable. 

Refreshing an iPad 2, but wanting an iPad Pro

On the day that the new 9.7" iPad Pro is released to the public, I'm a little sad to admit that I'm still the owner of an iPad 2.

I queued up outside the Apple Store in Covent Garden, London on 25 March 2011 to buy it. The queue was too long for me but I did come back the next day to purchase it. So, it had its fifth birthday just a few days ago.

At the time I was excited by the new device. It was the future in my hands. There was a bit of a reality check when I realised that I could have bought a laptop with Windows for less than the price of an iPad but I was still happy with the decision.

But, if a five year old computer is sad, a five year old iPad is even sadder.

A new iPad is getting pretty tempting. iPad performance has probably improved ten-fold in those five years. The screen is significantly better and the device is smaller and lighter. 

But the reality is that once you add in the cost of a smart cover and maybe also a Pencil or even the keyboard cover, the cost is getting pretty close to the cost of a MacBook Pro (the retina one of course, not the 2012 vintage spinning drive version). This is an expensive device, especially since arguably a third device isn't really necessary. It's a convenience not a necessity. 

So, I'm hanging on to the old iPad 2 at least for a little longer.

Despite the introduction here, the iPad 2 has not really been performing admirably for me for a long time. Performance has slowly been deteriorating. This has been going on for so long that I can't even remember when it started. Was it iOS 8? Or maybe iOS 7? Maybe even before then? I can't even remember. But it was definitely before iOS 9. 

Whenever it was, it seemed worse with iOS 9.3. With each new update I notice a performance difference. It's either slightly worse or slightly better, which will cause me to either curse or celebrate. This time it was much worse.

With all the recent discussion around problems in Safari in iOS 9.3, and how they are possibly caused by Universal Links, I thought I would try something new and drastic. 

Yesterday, I completely wiped my iPad and started again.

As I am writing this, I have installed 8 apps on the iPad: Facebook, Twitter, Tweetbot, Reeder, YouTube, YouTube Creator Studio, Dropbox and 1Password. I expect that I'll add a few more apps in the next few days but it has been working pretty well so far.

I haven't even set up mail, turned on iCloud Photo Library or synced my music yet but that will probably happen too. I have used 1.1GB out of 56GB. 

Performance has significantly improved and I've had hardly any crashes. It's still slow and doesn't have enough memory to hold more than two or three Safari tabs. But it's an improvement, and it's cheaper than a shiny new iPad Pro. I hadn't expected that it would make a difference but it has. A huge difference.

it now runs at tortoise speed rather than glacier speed. Much better.

I don't expect that the old iPad 2 will see its sixth birthday, but it is pretty good that it has lasted as long as it has and  has a bit more spring in its step.

The Future is Apps

For years everything ran on the web. Companies and commerce would set up a stall on the internet to inform customers and sell their wares.

Slowly the web is giving way to mobile phone apps. 

The mobile phone is widely used across the globe, with most phones using one of two major operating systems. Mobile phones apps are arguably easier to develop for and more reliable than developing for the web.

As a result, a growing number of interactions are happening with mobile phone apps. This isn’t new but has been growing for a number of years.

In my daily life, the first thing I will do in the morning is pull out my iPad and open the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube apps. Each of these apps provides a more responsive and interactive experience than the naked web. 

I still use the web for many news sites although often Twitter or an RSS app will be used in place of the news sites.

My most recent experience of the move to mobile apps was using YouTube’s Creator Studio app. Getting YouTube analytics isn’t easy on the iPhone because typing “youtube.com/analytics” in  Safari causes the YouTube app to open. A minor failure. Now with using the Creator Studio app, I have easy access to YouTube analytics with a much better user experience than using a mobile web page.

Apps are the future and on mobile devices with small screens HTML and the web won’t be missed.

Will Apple have fixed my problems in OS X 10.11.2 and iOS 9.2? Probably not.

Apple has released what appear to be their usual bumper update, by releasing Mac OS X 10.11.2, iOS 9.2 and WatchOS 2.1 today. 

I've had a few annoying problems with Apple's software recently so I thought that I would list the issues here in the hope that some of them might have been resolved. But I'm guessing it is just wishful thinking that these might have been resolved (and Betteridge's law obviously applies too).

The current problems I'm experiencing are:

  • Airdrop: if there was ever a case of software over-promising and under-delivering, it is AirDrop. If I'm trying to send a file, URL or something else across the room AirDrop should be the solution. Instead, the list of devices is usually blank and AirDrop is rendered useless.
  • iCloud backup: Most of these problems started for me during the iOS 9 beta period but some might pre-date that. I've got so many problems here that I don't know where to start. Maybe a sub-list of the problems:
    • All of my devices should be backed-up by iCloud, no matter how much space it requires. By default, Apple give 5GB of space for free. Apple should provide enough space for all of my devices. I have paid hundreds of dollars each for the devices but Apple are going to nickel and dime me a over a few GBs of backup space.
    • The size of iCloud backups is not calculated correctly. When I look at the iCloud settings on a device (iPhone or iPad), I will be told that the next backup size is "0 bytes". This is clearly not true.
    • The size of my iCloud backups has grown over time and is now much bigger than the sum of the parts.The backup for my iPad is 6GB and the iPhone is 4GB. I've got no idea how that size has been determined because the breakdown of the backup that is shown on the device only seems to add to about 1GB for each device.
    • In frustration, I deleted the iCloud backups for all my devices and hoped to recreate them at a later date. iCloud now tells me that I am still using 1GB of iCloud for backups, even though I have no backups remaining.
  • Apple Mail on OS X: not a major problem but Apple Mail tells me I have 2000 unread emails. I only have 1200. The iCloud account sometimes thinks that I have 810 unread emails when in fact I have none because I don't really use the icloud.com account for email.

The release notes for the updates mention almost none of these problems. AirDrop was addressed but it has been addressed in the past and usually solves nothing.

Just in case you are wondering, I haven't raised any of these issues as bugs with Apple. Maybe I should, especially considering how much of a problem iCloud backup has been for me. 

I'm not really hopeful of any sort of improvement but maybe one day I'll get a pleasant surprise and be able to shorten this list.

Update: I deleted the iCloud backups and tried to create the backup for my iPad again. This took 4 days to complete and instead of being 1.0 GB as estimated, it was 10.9 GB. That's a pretty big failure. I'll try the iPhone backup soon and hope for better results.

Squarespace crashes are so annoying

I’m not a regular writer here but I do try to write fairly regularly. One major problem I am having at the moment is the stability of the Squarespace web editor. 

I will write for about 5 minutes and the web page that I am using for the editor will crash. This seems to be an incompatibility between Squarespace and Safari but it is happening so often that it really is unusable. 

The Squarespace editor is a complicated bit of code and does amazing things given the limitations of web browsers. 

But a web app needs to be stable. It has taken a long time for me to trust the reliability of complex web apps and Squarespace is failing very badly at the moment.

The iPad Pro: don't read the comments

My first rule of the internet is to never read the comments, although I break that rule more often than not. Occasionally comments can be insightful and interesting, but usually they are just reactionary and not well thought out.

Recently while reading reviews of the new iPad Pro I made the mistake of reading the comments. I’m going to share that experience with you.

The overwhelming reaction in the comments was “I don’t get it. Why not simply use a MacBook Air?” or “If it ran OS X I would buy it”.

To my mind, these comments show a real lack of imagination. As Henry Ford might have said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would said faster horses”. I believe that a competent user of an iPad should be as efficient for many tasks as a competent user of a laptop or desktop computer. This will obviously not be the case for all users all of the time.

These seem to be the same sort of opinions that accompanied the release of the original iPad in 2010.

At present the iPad handles web browsing as well, or better, than a laptop. Email, word processing and spreadsheets are possible, using Microsoft Office or Apple’s iWork apps, especially with the help of a Bluetooth keyboard. Even photo editing is possible with the camera connection kit (remember that?) or iCloud Photo Library, although the limited storage space and lack of expandability might hamper that for some users.

I’m currently writing this article with a MacBook Pro, external monitor, keyboard and mouse. I could be just as efficient writing this same article with a keyboard and an iPad or iPad Pro. This obviously doesn’t apply to all tasks. A laptop might be better for some individual tasks, an iPad better for others. That advantage is just as likely to come from the available software as from the device form-factor.

Most of all MacOS has a windowing system and a file system, where I can group files from different applications in projects according to my needs.”

This is the universal refrain of the internet commenter. “I don’t understand why someone would like this, therefore it must be awful. And useless. And lame”.

The request for a file system and windows is widespread but to me it seems almost as necessary as demanding a purple computer. It’s useful but not the only solution.

There is demand for a file system because the user apparently wants to get work done and can see no other way. But the decades old idea of a file system is more and more something that gets in the way of work, even if you don’t realise it yet.

I find that I have so many files on my computer that traversing the directory structure is something that I do infrequently. When I’m looking for a particular file I will either search for it using system-wide search or find it in the list of recent files. A file system is something that helps to get work done but isn’t necessary if it’s replaced by something better. Arguably, the iPad file system hasn’t really replaced it with something better yet, but for many users it is good enough.

Apple has tried to hide some of the complexity of files, even on Mac OS. iTunes, Photos, Mail and many other Mac applications hide the complexity by using either packages) or libraries where the individual files are hidden away.

This is part of their solution. Users don’t need files, they just concentrate on work, while letting the files take care of themselves. It may not work in all cases but there are fewer exceptions.

is there is anything in IOS that handles citations and plugs into latex and Office? Sufficient to say, IOS has a LONG way to go even for college-level applications.

At the time of its release, I saw the original iPad as a revolutionary device and not just a big iPod Touch. I didn’t buy the original version but I did queue up on day 1 when the iPad 2 was announced. I don’t regret that decision.

I don’t see the new iPad Pro as revolutionary in the same way that I saw the original iPad as revolutionary. However, the original iPad was an exciting new device waiting for the software to make it outstanding. That’s definitely the case today with the iPad Pro.

There might not be iPad-based solutions for some particular specific problem today. For me that’s iOS development (Xcode) and video-editing (Final Cut Pro). That doesn’t mean there won’t be solutions tomorrow.

The iPad Pro hardware is a blank slate, waiting for developers to solve new and old problems with it. We’re in a software era and it is naive think that your particular problem can’t be solved by software.

iPad Pro conundrum

The iPad Pro was released last week, along with a whole bunch of cautiously positive reviews.

My impression from these reviews is that the hardware is solid but the software needs work. This includes tweaks required to iOS specifically for the iPad Pro as well as third-party software needing to take advantage of the larger screen.

Apple is a company that makes premium devices, and sells them for premium prices. The average selling price for generic computers is somewhere in the region of US$550 (I had links to back this up but lost them when my text editor crashed). Apple only sells one computer that is even close to that price level and Apple's average selling price for computers is about $1200. More than double the average for the market as a whole.

Until now, a tablet has usually been a computer with fewer input methods, reduced functionality and reduced performance when compared with a laptop or desktop. As a result of these compromises and restrictions I would normally expect a tablet to be cheaper than a computer. It is slower and less useful in many circumstances, although it does have the benefit of being more portable and touch-first.

The iPad Pro turns this usual calculus upside-down. The screen resolution is higher than on any of the portable Macs. The performance and even the size is comparable with many of the full-blown Macs. But so is the price.

The 128GB Wi-Fi iPad Pro comes in at $949, but if you want to add in the keyboard cover and the pencil then you’re looking at paying just over $1200. For a tablet. That’s the price of a premium laptop, not just a premium tablet.

With that sort of pricing strategy, for many buyers the iPad may become the computer, rather than just a device that sits between the phone and the computer in size.

At $500 for an iPad a consumer might reasonably buy both as laptop and an iPad. At $1000+ that same consumer might decide just to own an iPad Pro.

This move towards the iPad Pro as the only “desktop” device won’t necessarily happen quickly but might be more obvious after a couple of iterations over the next couple of years as it become more powerful and useful. A good take on this is Horace Dediu’s video review.

If I didn’t need to use Xcode and Final Cut Pro, I’d certainly be tempted to try and move full-time from a laptop to an iPad Pro.

Internet commenters will survive the nuclear apocalypse. And then tell us it wasn't so bad.

There are a number of articles that bring out the ire of internet commenters. It would be hard to write an exhaustive list.

Any thing to do with feminism is one particular target. It’s all about ethics in … something.

Driving is another good one. Everyone else on the road is a bad driver, except the person writing the comment, obviously. And don’t even get them started on cyclists.

There are countless other topics that will cause people to express many, many strongly held opinions.

One example of strongly held opinions seems to be electric cars. Recently, the New Zealand government announced that the contract to supply cars used to transport MPs and ministers would again be given to BMW.

The Green Party put out a press release saying that the government should have considered the use of the Tesla Model S for this tender process. There are a number of problems with considering the Tesla for supply in New Zealand, primarily that Tesla isn’t even officially sold in the country.

Despite these very real challenges with the practicalities, I personally think the press release from the Green Party had some merit. The government should be leading the way in adopting green technology, even at some additional cost as long as that cost is minor and justifiable.

We’re probably not ready for Tesla to transport MPs just yet but maybe in the near future.

I read through the article and agreed with many of the points, and then I got to reading the comments.

It seems as if the commenters are questioning the sanity of anyone who would even consider an electric vehicle as a viable alternative to the internal combustion engine. Anyone who voiced an opinion in support of the electric car was voted down for being a crazy leftie green.

The most frequently raised issue, obviously, was the range of the batteries. A Tesla Model S will apparently travel about 400 km (250 miles) on a fully charged battery. This may be a problem for a number of users of the vehicles but you would think that the range was 40 km rather than 400 after reading the comments.

It’s unclear what the usage patterns for these cars would be and whether it is practical to live with a 400 km range in all circumstances for transporting MPs. It’s possible that it’s not. Considering the widespread use of hybrid cars by taxi drivers, there is obviously some merit in exploring other options.

When I think about my car usage, which I accept is wholly different from a government limousine, most days I would drive less than 100 km, occasionally going as far as 200 km. Sometimes I will leave town on a longer trip but that might be a couple of times a year as anything further than that will be by plane.

Range anxiety seems to be an entirely overblown concept that might be a problem only very rarely for many drivers.

24-hour media and the broken breaking news cycle

I've been a little disappointed with the quality of articles on two different topics that I have read this week. In my mind this comes from wanting to be first to publish and first to get page views.

This week Volkswagen caused a lot of trouble for themselves by admitting that they have been cheating on emissions tests. Unfortunately most of the articles on this topic that I read were a jumbled mess. There was a recall. Except there isn't one yet. There was cheating... but how? Every article I saw was light on facts or anything else I would want to know. I'm still unclear on what the story here is.

There isn't a lot of information that I want to know about the Volkswagen issue but almost every article I've seen has failed to answer my questions. They're probably not that difficult to answer but require work. And the 24-hour news cycle doesn't reward work. It rewards re-writing press releases and packaging tweets as news.

Apparently the Volkswagen cars knew when their emissions were being tested, but I want to know how the car knew. Seems like it should be a simple question to answer. Give me more depth than I'm currently getting. Please! I saw one article that mentioned that a garage will turn off the crash protection systems when doing emissions testing and the car uses that along with other information to change the emission settings. Or is it just that the wheels aren't turning, or the car isn't moving? Someone must know.

I also want to know what the change in the emissions system means. How can the engine software change the composition of the emissions? I haven't seen a good answer for that except for articles that describe AdBlue and the urea injection process. Except it appears that the engines affected here don't use AdBlue.

Lots of words written across the media but they so often seem to be churnalism rather than actual journalism.

The other news story that seems light on detail is about the price hike of Daraprim (better NYT link), manufactured by Turing Pharmaceuticals. There are many outraged headlines about a drug that is being increased from $US13.50 per pill to $US750.

This seems outrageous but without further information, how is the reader supposed to fully understand this?

My first question about this issue is why can't this drug simply be substituted by generics? This is a 62 year old drug which presumably should be outside patent protection by now. Presumably there are generic drugs that can be used instead of paying many times the original price. I haven't found a single article that describes to me why this can't happen. Is it a problem with the FDA or hospitals or where? Is this a problem only within the United States or is it international? I have seen no answers anywhere.

These two news stories highlight to me the failure of the 24-hour news cycle to inform the public. And surely if the media aren't informing the public then they aren't doing their job.

 

I'm back on deck after my WWDC jaunt

My last post here was after the first day of WWDC. I wrote a little bit about how there was nothing really new from Apple in the WWDC announcements. 

Since then, I have sat through 4 more days of the conference, learnt a lot and met many great people. I've also gone for a quick trip to Las Vegas where the temperature was over 40℃ (104℉). This is much hotter than any human should have to bear on a regular basis but it did provide a useful way of getting to the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. Both were amazing places to visit. I'm now back sitting at my desk, with icy cold rain outside and I'm wondering if my trip really happened or if it was just a dream.

Anyway, I walked into the conference on the Tuesday morning after writing my original summary of the keynote and realised a number of things. 

Firstly, WWDC is a developer conference. Very little of what was announced is going to affect actual consumers, in the near future. Sure, iOS 9, Mac OS X 10.11.el.capitan and watchOS 2 are all coming out in a few months and consumers will benefit from those, but how many of the millions of iOS and Mac users really care about that? Although, saying that, I'm often surprised how many normal people know about various obscure features of iOS that I wouldn't expect them to even know about.

Secondly, there is a lot going on the first day at WWDC, with the two-hour keynote in the morning, followed by the two-hour State of the Union presentation in the afternoon. No matter how much of the information you can take in, there are many other things that you miss. Tuesday was a lot like that for me. 

Thirdly, it's really easy to get caught up in the WWDC bubble and the SF tech bubble. During the conference, the Apple watch was everywhere. I'm sure that if I were to go to Google I/O or the Microsoft Build conference, I would see Android Wear devices or Microsoft Surfaces everywhere, even though it's not like that in the real world too. 

Compared to Apple developers, people in the real world don't really care about Apple Watch. Not yet, at least. Maybe never. During the conference it felt like every other person I met had an Apple Watch. Even people from countries where it's not on sale yet. People were excited about the product and excited by the opportunities. 

After leaving the conference, I had two experiences that made me realise I had been in a conference bubble. I was out to dinner on the Friday after the conference with seven people, none of whom had been at the conference. At the table not a single person was wearing an Apple Watch. This was back to reality

The next day, I was in a taxi in Las Vegas and the taxi driver was asking me about the Apple Watch. He couldn't understand why anyone would pay hundreds of dollars to have notifications appear on the wrist. He had a good point. 

Now that I'm out of the conference it'll be interesting to see where Apple goes over the next few months.

This post has got rather long and I'm trying to wrap it up but there are several technologies and features that I need to write about before wrapping up.

Apple Music looks interesting and is coming at the end of June. Apple has a lot of marketing clout and hundreds of millions of customer credit card numbers in their database so they could easily acquire millions of subscribers to this service. Their offering is especially compelling because of the cheap family plan, and it will put a lot of pressure on other music services. It will also be interesting to see whether Connect can be more successful than Ping was a few years ago.

The News app on iOS is a bit of an unknown at this stage. I think it could be really interesting in terms of news discovery but we'll have to wait and see how it works in the real world. I've used Flipboard in the past but haven't touched it for at least a couple of years because it didn't give me much that I already couldn't get from the web, and didn't help with discovery in the way that I would like.This looks like a good advance on Newsstand but we'll have to wait until it's released to see what it's like.

The search features of iOS look very, very interesting. If you are interested, watch this WWDC video of the session on the search APIs. It is only apparent now, how much iOS apps were missing search. I think that this could make a huge change for iOS user by opening search on the device to include the whole internet, even when users don't have an app installed. This could be great for both developers and users. This means that a company like airbnb can expose all their rooms via the search APIs by allowing Apple to crawl their website. These rooms will be available for search by users, whether or not they have the airbnb app installed. Watch this space.

I've got more that I could write here about iPad multi-tasking features, Metal and incredible graphical performance improvements, and Swift but I've written more than enough for now. I try to keep most of the posts here to about half a page and this has got way beyond that.

Normal service has now resumed.

My WWDC experiences

I'm usually pretty good at travelling but have been hit pretty hard by jet lag on this trip. I arrived in San Francisco on Saturday and barely slept on either of the first two nights. It's now Tuesday morning and this is the first time that I've actually felt fully functional. 

On Monday morning, I was awake pretty early and got into the line for the keynote before 7am. As far as I can tell, everyone who attends will fit into the keynote room but queuing up is just part of the experience. It was good fun, I met a few nice people, and I might even go earlier if I make it to the conference again another year. 

I came away with two major impressions from the keynote.  Firstly, the rumour sites are pretty effective now and there was very little announced that hadn't already come to light already. The biggest cheer of the day seemed to be for the open sourcing of Swift but I couldn't tell if that was because it was a big deal or because it was unexpected. Probably a bit of both. 

My second impression was that the theme for the keynote might easily have been "Cupertino, start your photocopiers". This is probably a harsh assessment, but there were so many announcements where I thought that the feature announced was very similar to things announced by Microsoft, Google, Pebble, Flipboard, Spotify, or even MySpace. 

There is a new feature where you can easily move a window to fill the left or right half of the screen. WIndows has had that for a few years now and it a little overdue on OS X. The News app felt a bit like Apple's version of Flipboard. The time travel feature on the Apple Watch felt like the recently announced Pebble Time (although I expect Apple probably this feature in the pipeline before the Pebble announcement). There were a number of features that were straight out of Android. 

There were countless features like these where I thought they were very similar to features from other companies. I guess this is what happens in tech as there are only a few ways to design many user-facing features. 

This use of features from other companies was acknowledged during the keynote by Craig Federighi where several times he sarcastically said "look at all that innovation". That usually got a good laugh from the crowd.

WWDC is a developer conference so it wasn't surprising that there were many new features for them. I need to look through a lot of the documentation but the search and Siri integration both look promising. The developer-centric nature of the conference means that features that are important to consumers aren't necessarily announced at WWDC because of the long lead time before release. Those sorts of features are usually held back until the iPhone or iPad events later in the year. 

That's probably all I can mange to write at the moment. Will try to write a little more about Apple Music later in the week. 

IHS, the Apple Watch and churnalism

If you read up on IHS from their web page, what you find there doesn't make any sense. It's 100% marketing PR-speak. They are "the leading global source of critical information, insight and analytics, providing the most complete and trusted data and expertise to businesses and governments around the world". Or translated in English they are "blah, blah, something, blah, blah, blah."

Whenever there is a new Apple product, they seek out free publicity by providing a breakdown of what the new device costs.

This breakdown provides very little value to anyone other than IHS. Apple-haters say that this is an example of how much Apple rips their customers off. Apple-lovers say that it doesn't take account of all the costs. Everyone else just sees it and moves on.

Twenty years ago, I could've seen IHS doing a breakdown on the new Windows 95 and saying that it only contains a 5¢ compact disc so Microsoft must be raking the money in.

The latest analysis from IHS about the cost of the Apple Watch components has been reported far and wide. It provides cheap content for newspapers and web publications through churnalism but provides no value at all to the reader.

UK election coverage happening right now

I lived in London for about 7 years of my life and take quite an interest in British politics despite no longer living there. Polling booths closed in the UK almost 6 hours ago and the counting of votes is continuing. 

This is shaping up to be the most interesting and possibly closest election in a long time. Results are starting to come in with results declared in about 22% of constituencies at present. It's going to be a long night of counting. I'm pretty that in the last British election there wasn't really an obvious result until about 7am, or maybe even later. It's a slow process. 

If you are following the events at all, the best place I am finding at the moment for coverage is Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight live blog which they are regularly updating with comment and an expected final outcome. They are currently complaining about the inaccuracy of polls which with our modern lifestyle is possibly not surprising. 

The election coverage overall has highlighted to me that the first-past-the-post voting system used in the UK might be past its use-by date. With the rise of easy and fast communication, along with transport and calculation devices, the case for a proportional system is easily made. 

The first-part-the-post system increases the likelihood of a two-party system developing and providing a stable parliamentary majority. It is also easy to tally the votes on election night as each constituency can come up with their tally and announce the candidate on the night (or very early the next morning as is the case in the UK).

However, there are several reasons why it's outdated.

Firstly, modern technology means that counting up a proportional election is no longer difficult. Votes are counted, counts are sent to a national office, results are release. 

Also, despite voting for a candidate in a constituency, voters are really electing a party. Votes don't often differ from the party line and the bulk of policy is set by the party. Parties have become stronger over time, Yet the two major parties don't represent the views of many voters. Whatever constituency you live in, it makes sense to vote for one of the two strongest candidates in your area. Voting for anyone else means that your vote is wasted. Completely wasted.

At the last UK election, the Liberal Democrat party got 23% of the vote but only 8.8% of the seats. Considering their performance since the election, many consider it a blessing that they didn't get more seats. Other minor parties get minimal votes because there is no point. Despite that, UKIP is currently getting 10% of the vote but is likely to get maybe 1 seat. No matter what you think of UKIP's policies, they should be getting significantly more representation in parliament based on these numbers.

That's all I've got to say on the election at present. At least it's better than the US elections where a handful of voters in Iowa and Florida, plus occasionally some judges get to decide who the president is.

Is it worth developing for the App Store?

I was going to write an article about how there is no money in selling apps on the app store. The inspiration for this was a blog post about Redacted for Mac, where the author described his sales figures for the first day. 

The sales figures were much lower than I might have expected for an app to be ranked number 8 in the US app store. I went out for a run and thought about how it makes sense that companies like King would release apps like Candy Crush as free-to-play with in-app purchase. 

I thought about the authors of Overcast and Manual releasing their sales figures which were thousands of dollars per day in the first month, before falling off to hundred of dollars per day. 

How was it possible that someone ranked that highly in the app store would only make $300 on the first day? It didn't make any sense.

Then when I got home and started to write the article, I saw that Redacted was actually a Mac app and not an iOS app. Ah. That changes everything. 

This brought back thoughts about developers moving away from the Mac App Store because of sandbox restrictions. I thought about myself: when I'm looking for apps, very few of them are actually on the Mac App Store now. 

I also thought about the number of Mac apps that I actually buy. After setting up my Mac, I now have most of the apps that I want. I'm current trying to find $300 to buy Final Cut Pro but don't expect I'll be buying any other Mac apps for a while. I'm buying way more apps on the iPhone than on the Mac.

So, in summary, it probably is worth developing for iOS or Android if you're one of the most popular downloads. The business case for the Mac App Store is much less clear. 

The Button

I'm currently intrigued by the button, a social experiment launched by Reddit a few weeks ago.

If you haven't heard of it, the button is attached to a timer counting down from 60 seconds. Each Reddit user may press the button only once, after which the timer resets to 60 seconds.. After pressing the button, the user will receive a coloured flair badge showing the value of the timer when they pressed the button. Simple. 

There is more information on the announcement post or in this Washington Post article

It strikes me as a very interesting experiment in a number of ways. Firstly, it's sort of a variant of the prisoners' dilemma that everyone can play at home. I would like to see what happens when the timer gets to zero but the scarcity of the profile flair means that one of the many reddit users out there will press the button.

Also, the flair has no value other than it's scarcity, yet there is still a desire for the rarer types of flair. There are a significant number of people who have stopped the timer at 59 or 60 seconds but that could just be because of internet latency. There are currently very users who have waited longer than 30 seconds to press the button. 

Finally, as there become fewer and fewer non-pressers, it will become more and more common to receive rarer colours. Even today, 15 days since the launch, I'm seeing the timer below 50 seconds way more often than just a couple of days ago.

As it says on the Reddit page: "We can’t tell you what to do from here on out. The choice is yours." The concept is brilliant in its simplicity.

Full disclosure: I do have a reddit account but don't use it often. I haven't pressed the button. Yet.

Please let me discriminate. It's religious freedom

The internet has lit up over the past few days about the "religious freedom" bill that was signed into law in Indiana this week. This is a bill that allows discrimination against gay and lesbian people because of religion. Haters gonna be allowed to hate. Update: seems it might really be aimed at denying contraception to women through the Affordable Healthcare Act but the ability to discriminate against gays might be a useful side effect for supporters. 

I'm not terribly religious in my adult life although I was brought up in a Catholic household so this post contains more religious stuff than I'm really comfortable with.

If you are religious then in my opinion, it should be about two things: your relationship with your God, and your relationship with your community. These should both be positive relationships. Your religious practice (or lack of it) should not negatively affect other people. Your non-religious acts should also not negatively affect others.

The negative effects of religion occur way too often. ISIS. Boko Haram. Al-Shabaab. Westboro Baptist Church. The War on (Muslim) Terror. Israel and Palestine. Northern Ireland. I'm sure there are thousands more examples where religion has a negative effect on society at large or where religion is used as a tool to facilitate existing hatred.

This religious freedom law is another example of allowing religion to have a negative effect on society. It creates division in society. I might hate gays and not want to serve them pizza but what stops me hating Muslims or black people or women and refusing to serve them pizza too. Where does it end?

My biggest problem with the law is that it just seems un-Christian. I have no Bible quotes to claim whether homosexuality is right or wrong: I don't really care. If there is anything that you want to do and it doesn't affect me then why should I care?

I've never read the Bible but I thought I should find Bible quotes of my own. This is what I came up with (Matthew 22:39):

Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'

This is the first and greatest commandment.

And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'

This sums up how I believe everyone should live their lives (except the God part, should you choose that). It's really summed up as: 

Or even:

This is a pretty good way to live your life, with or without religion.

Yet, this religious freedom bill allows others to treat you differently because their religion dictates it. Discrimination is not how I should be treating others and any religion that mandates discrimination should not be given the legal right to do so.