Apple

Sticking with Apple

It has become trendy to question our allegiance to Apple.

There are certainly times I wonder why I continue to use Apple products. Between a bunch of little things always breaking and my disappointment with the new MacBook Pro I grow frustrated and threaten to leave Apple completely. I become curious about how the other half (or two-thirds, or whatever) live. I like to shake things up now and then, so this all leads to hedging my bets against Apple.

To this end, I’ve been using fewer Mac-only apps, more web apps, and have gone all-in with Emacs and Org Mode. You know, just in case one day I decide to switch to Linux or Windows. In recent months I’ve been this close to buying a fast Linux laptop and an Android phone, just to see how it would feel.

Fact is, that’s crazy talk. I can’t imagine I’d ever actually switch. Avoiding everything that macOS and iOS have to offer, just in case I change my mind some day, seems foolish.

My use of the iPad Pro has increased, and the updates in iOS 11 have cemented that trend. The relatively seamless integration between my Mac and my iPad is pretty compelling.

So, for now I’m clearing my head of any thoughts of switching platforms and will be moving my stuff into my favorite Mac and iOS apps.

For now, those are:

  • TheBrain for managing projects and files and connections
  • DEVONthink for storing everything in an eminently searchable way
  • Things for managing tasks. This one is new, and so far I like the v3 upgrade.
  • Apple Mail for email. At least until I run into too many things I don’t like.
  • BBEdit for text processing and editing
  • Bear for taking notes. I may end up using Apple Notes or nvAlt’s replacement but for now, Bear is pretty great.

My concern is that as great as the above apps are, Org Mode really is the best all-around productivity tool I’ve ever used. I may end up missing it too much to leave out of the rotation, and once it’s back in the rotation, it eats everything else.

I've Canceled My Apple Music Subscription

Ever since my favorite music streaming service, Rdio, was shut down, I’ve been forced to find a replacement. The contenders were Spotify and Apple Music. I’ve never loved Spotify, and iTunes is a mess. I subscribed to both services to see which I prefer.

Today I canceled Apple Music and will continue using Spotify. I’d like to tell you that I have a thoroughly-considered list of reasons, but I don’t. I went with Spotify because that’s what the others on my family plan prefer. Spotify is good enough, so who am I to argue?

One little thing that I do appreciate about Spotify on iOS is that I can simply swipe the cover art to go to the next song. Cover art is the largest single thing in the UI I don’t understand why Apple’s Music app doesn’t use for anything at all. I won’t miss iTunes.

Mailhub and Apple Mail

I’ve been reeling things in lately, software-wise. I’ll write more about that some other time, but I right now I want to share something I’ve found during the process.

MailHub

Mailhub is “a ‘smart’ plug-in for Apple Mail that revolutionises email management”. Sounds great, but I haven’t used Apple Mail in years. I use MailMate, which is a fantastic email client.

Or at least I used to use MailMate.

After reading Dr. Drang’s Back to Apple Mail post, I realized that switching to the stock Apple email app would fit right in with the reel-things-in phase I’m going through. Dr. Drang mentioned Mailhub so I jumped right in.

Mailhub is terrific. It files mail like I’ve always wanted something to file mail. It feels and works like a tool I would have made, if I was able to do such a thing.

After a few days of this I’m quite happy to be using Mailhub and Mail.app.

AirPods are Awesome

I’m not going to write a long review or anything, but I did want to say that I love the new Apple AirPods. They are the most Apple-like new product I’ve used in a long time. After using the AirPods for a few days, one wonders what the hell every Bluetooth headphone maker has been doing for the past decade. I’ll forgive Apple the Siri-only interaction model with this round, but they need to fix that. Otherwise, the entire experience is wonderful.

Apple has (at least historically) been good at eliciting reactions like, “Well, of course this is how it should work!” They’ve done it again with the AirPods.

The Untouched Touch Bar

I don’t use the Touch Bar on my MacBook Pro for anything other than Function keys and Touch ID. I love having Touch ID on a Mac, but man I sure miss having real Function and Escape keys.

Maybe I’ll learn new behavior over time. Maybe there really is a decent use for the Touch Bar. Right now though, I would swap the Touch Bar for actual keys in a heartbeat. Also, still hate the keyboard.

Open Letter to Apple - Dave Pell

Dave Pell:

But I’m a grown-ass man. I’m not some punk you can distract by making me ponder which version of black I want on my next iPhone. I want the same keyboard I’ve been getting the hang of for the last decade. I want the same form-factor. I want what’s coming to me. I want the best consumer computing device ever put on a store’s shelf.

I want a new MacBook Air.

You tell him, Dave.

I’ve had one of the fancy new Touch-Bar-having MacBook Pros for a few weeks and it’s a lovely machine. But, what I’d rather have is a slightly-faster MacBook Air with a Retina display. I want the old keyboard and I want real function keys. I want that razor-sharp leading edge and wonderful taper. Maybe we could compromise on the Touch Bar and just give me Touch ID up there in the corner.

I don’t like that the best computer I’ll ever have is the one I can no longer have.

I would also like a new MacBook Air, please.

Farewell To My Apple Watch - Matt Gemmell

Matt Gemmell

Today, things have changed considerably, and I’m getting rid of my Apple Watch.

It’s nice to see I’m not the only one who overthinks the shit out of changing my mind all the time. I’ve gone through the same cycle and back again about my Apple Watch. I’m currently back in the “I dig it” phase.

Apps I Installed On The 9.7-inch iPad Pro

Whenever I get a new device I set it up “from scratch”. In doing so, I figure I’ll be avoiding all of the cruft and nonsense that accumulates over time. I imagine installing a half-dozen or so non-Apple apps and THAT’S IT!

It never works out that way.

Here are the apps I installed within the first hour of owning the smaller iPad Pro, and the list has grown since then.

  • 1Password
  • GoodNotes
  • Procreate
  • Tweetbot
  • Outlook
  • Ulysses
  • Day One
  • Google Photos
  • DEVONthink To Go
  • Dropbox
  • PDF Expert
  • Quip
  • TextExpander
  • Slack
  • 2Do
  • Drafts
  • Plex
  • Netflix
  • NYTimes

Going Smaller With a New 9.7-inch iPad Pro

When the original iPad Pro was released I bought one right away and I loved it. It was so big and fast that I thought it might replace my laptop for meetings and quick outings.

That didn’t happen. In fact, it fell out of regular use because it was so big. I recently started using the new 13” MacBook Pro, and here they are side-by-side.

It felt like I was using two laptops. Why grab the iPad when the MBP is the same size and way more capable?

Long story short, today I bought the smaller 9.7-inch iPad Pro and I already think it makes much more sense. It augments the MBP instead of competing with it. It’s easier to use with the Pencil because it’s possible to hold in one hand while writing with the other. The big iPad needed a dedicated work surface.

I might even be able to watch movies in bed with it. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro was awesome for watching movies, but it was difficult to hold for extended periods, so I rarely used it for that.

I guess if I really wanted to go all-in with iOS I’d stick with the big iPad, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon, so I’m better off with the MBP for “real” work, and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro for tangential tasks like reading, watching movies, games, drawing, and so on.

My recent switch from an iPhone 6 to a 5 SE suggested that smaller can be better. Going to a smaller iPad Pro confirms it.

Things installed on 2016 MacBook Pro

I get a new laptop every few years. I always start fresh and install everything from scratch. It’s interesting to see what changes and what doesn’t. Most of the things I installed this time are the same as last time. Maybe I really am settling down.

Anyway, here’s what I installed on my new MacBook Pro, in no particular order.

Apps

  • BBEdit
  • iTerm
  • Emacs
  • TextExpander
  • Keyboard Maestro
  • 1Password
  • Dropbox
  • Droplr
  • Skitch
  • Moom
  • Day One
  • Slack
  • Dropzone
  • Reeder
  • Google Chrome
  • Acorn
  • Soulver
  • Alfred
  • TheBrain
  • Tinderbox
  • DEVONthink Pro Office
  • Adobe Creative Suite
  • Microsoft Office
  • Resilio Sync

Command line apps/utilities

  • Oh-My-ZSH
  • MacTex
  • mbsync
  • Git
  • Vim
  • Hugo
  • remind
  • Wyrd
  • Mu/Mu4e
  • gnupg2
  • pass
  • pandoc
  • xapian

MacBook Pro 2016 Keyboard

This should give you an idea how much I dislike the keyboard on the latest MacBook Pro. I have to get used to it, but I don’t have to like it.

And let me say again how much I love the Apple Extended Keyboard II. Still the greatest keyboard ever made.

Charging Apple Things

I defended Apple when they released a mouse that needed to be charged by plugging the cable into the bottom. I said, “It only takes a few moments to charge, so just plug it in and grab a coffee or whatever.” I was wrong, I hate charging the mouse. I blow right by warnings that the batteries are “very low” and always end up with a completely dead mouse at the worst times. Then, instead of plugging it into a sensible location allowing me to continue working, I have to flip it on its side first, and walk away for 10 minutes or so. It drives me nuts.

Mouse

And every time I have to this with the Apple Pencil I just feel stupid.

Pencil

These aren’t improvements.

Touchy

I don’t think the new Touch Bar is going to help me.

Hey Siri

Hey Siri

I’d love for Siri to become more than just a gimmick. For years I’ve anticipated that things would improve real soon now. I’m beginning to think it’s never going to happen.

I still love my Echo, though.

How-To: Disable iOS SpringBoard animations

9to5mac.com:

Up until now, many of the available options for disabling animations relied on jailbreaking. But a new iOS glitch found by a redditor makes it possible to completely get rid of SpringBoard animations until you reboot your iPhone. Watch our step-by-step video walkthrough inside to see how.

Works as advertised. Makes the phone feel faster.

Defending Apple

Late last night I found myself arguing with a guy at the bar about the FBI/Apple hubbub.

I expected to swiftly bury him with an expertly-constructed argument damning the FBI and praising Apple for taking a stand against the continuing erosion of our capital-P Privacy etc. etc.

What happened instead is that I sounded like an anti-government conspiracy theorist with an agenda.

I woke up confused.

Marco On The Apple TV Remote

Marco Arment:

Picking up the remote in any orientation and brushing against any part of it during handling, without physically pushing a button, should never result in accidental input. Picking it up should feel safe.

I hate the new Apple TV remote even more than I hated the old one. I’m the sort of person who likes to hold the remote while watching shows. Not possible with Apple’s too-thin, too-sensitive remote. Marco’s right, it should feel safe. It doesn’t.

The iPad Pro is going to destroy everything I’ve built

I’m angry with my iPad Pro and it hasn’t even arrived.

I’ve spent a great deal of time over the years refining, tearing down, and rebuilding my process for storing files, taking notes, and managing information. Most of the time I feel like everything is in flux and I have no idea how I want to do things. But once in a while, the past few months especially, I feel like I’m finally settling into a groove. Now it’s going to go to shit.

You see, I am a desktop computer guy. iPhones and iPads are primarily for consumption, as all but a few crazy outliers know perfectly well. This means that for actually getting things done, it’s OS X. Anything that runs on OS X works great for me. This includes terminal-based apps. I love my carefully-contrived workflows based on Mutt, Emacs Org Mode, VimWiki, etc. I blog via Hugo using Markdown-formatted text files written with Vim, Emacs, or BBEdit. I spend time in IRC using Weechat. Todos are managed in Org Mode. You get the idea. The computer is where things get done

I’ve had every new iPad since the first version. Never have I considered using one seriously for anything significant. I watch Netflix, read long articles, and occasionally Tweet. There was always a useful separation of concerns and that’s been fine with me.

Along comes the big, beautiful iPad Pro, with its desktop-class performance and giant screen and nifty keyboard. And a Pencil that doesn’t feel like a poor surrogate for my clumsy fingers. Dammit. This is the one that could challenge my stubborn refusal to use an iPad for things that I would normally only do on my laptop. Of course giving up my OS X-only tools means throwing out all of my hard-earned workflow “gains”. Now I’ll have to use apps that work well in both environments and sync nicely. It’s pointy-clicky-tap-pinch-and-zoom land from now on I guess. What about Hazel and Keyboard Maestro and Tmux and the rest? What about my little shell scripts and Applescripts that make things all slick and effortless?

Of course, I realize that it’s not an either/or proposition, but I know me. I’ll spend weeks refactoring my entire system to make room for the new iPad and reluctantly retiring a few beloved tools in the process. It’s bittersweet.

I can’t wait.

I like my Apple Watch but I don’t love it

I own two very nice watches.

Tag Heuer Aquaracer automatic and Apple Watche

Tag Heuer Aquaracer automatic and Apple Watch

The first is a Tag Heuer automatic that I bought six years ago and had, until recently, worn every day. It looks the way a watch is supposed to look, requires no batteries, and is waterproof to 1000 feet (because over-engineering).

The second is an Apple Watch that I bought just a couple of months ago. I’ve worn it almost every day since. It’s the nice, stainless steel version, but with the basic “sport” band. It’s not waterproof but can probably be worn in the shower (I don’t).

I love the Tag. I love its design, construction, feel, everything. I beat on it without fear of scratches or breakage. It should last the rest of my life. And again, it doesn’t require batteries of any kind.

I like the Apple Watch, but I don’t love it. It feels good for the most part. I will probably buy a nicer band at some point, but the actual watch is solid, smooth, and substantial. It doesn’t feel nearly as hardy as the Tag, and I don’t dare wear it near dirt or water.

I don’t like Apple Watch’s square face. A few square-faced watches are attractive to me. Apple’s isn’t one of them. Watches are round, and projecting a round, digital face onto a square device doesn’t help.

Battery life is another issue. The Apple Watch’s battery life is darn good for a smart watch but terrible for a watch I wish to wear every day. If I don’t charge it overnight, I can’t wear it the next day. Blech. In fact, forgetting to charge the Watch has forced me to wear the automatic a few times, each time reminding me how much I like the Tag.

But the Apple Watch is smart. Being smart is, of course, a significant advantage over a simple automatic watch. The problem is, Apple Watch doesn’t work very well. The worst thing is that the face doesn’t always come on when I expect it to, which reduces its value as an actual watch. Twisting my arm around and finally giving up and tapping the face isn’t great. And forget trying to talk on it all Dick Tracy style. That never works well.

Other problems are minor but annoying. One is that apps take too long to launch and connect. I don’t even bother using Runkeeper on the Watch since it’s faster to pull out the phone and launch the app. It shouldn’t be. I have no idea how the Health and Activity apps are supposed to work together. I “start a workout” and walk a couple of brisk miles, but that somehow doesn’t count toward my Activity goal. This makes no sense to me. Dismissing notifications is a hit or miss affair. I force-press to “dismiss all” and sometimes it works, sometimes not.

And after everything, I suspect that the Apple Watch will feel outdated in a year or two. The Tag Heuer is more, ahem, timeless.

There are lots of things I love about the Apple Watch. Having my next appointment and the current temperature right there on the Watch face is great. I love that notifications are now all silent and I can quickly determine whether I need to pull out my phone or not. Always-on fitness and heart rate tracking is nice.

I love the idea and potential of the Apple Watch, but don’t love the actual Watch.

Meet Apple Music + Subtraction.com

Meet Apple Music + Subtraction.com:

The playlists include a whole bunch of stuff I can’t stand, along with a smattering of albums from acts that I’m okay with but not particularly passionate about

That’s odd, because I’ve found the “For You” section to be almost eerily accurate. I can pretty much close my eyes, click anywhere, and hear a song I like.

I too am curious how much Apple Music uses my thousands of iTunes Match songs and purchase history to guide the recommendations. I almost hope they forget most of it or I’ll be hearing Counting Crows or other bands I used to like but now, well, dislike.

Also the “bubbles” were fun and playful and worked like a charm.

Don’t Touch That Dial — Medium

Dave Pell

Apple’s Beats 1 radio station will be the most popular part of its music service. And it will spawn additional stations. And we’ll realize that while it sometimes pays to follow the technology, it can be just as fulfilling to follow the beaten path. And along that path, if you happen to see a few other heads moving to the same beat, all the better. Rock on.

I think this is exactly right. Everyone seems to want to share everything so why not the shared experience of listening to the same thing at the same time as thousands of other people?

Retired the Extended Keyboard II for now

I’m a little sad that I had to stop using the wonderful Extended Keyboard II due to my recent foray into Emacs and Org Mode. The Caps Lock key on Apple’s keyboard physically locks when pressed so it’s not possible to remap the Caps Lock to Control key. Well, it’s possible, but useless.

S’okay, I pulled the Das Keyboard out of the closet and that’s a pretty great keyboard also.

If forced to choose between keeping the Apple Watch or the Amazon Echo, the Watch would have to go.

Switching to Smaller iPhones

Michael Tsai’s collection of people Switching to Smaller iPhones:

Count me in as someone who prefers the shape, size, and feel of an iPhone 5 over the iPhone 6. The 6 is the first phone that I felt had to have a case or I’d drop it. It’s too big and too slippery. I haven’t gone back to a 5S only because the camera on the 6 is really nice. I’m actually hoping they release an iPhone Nano at some point1

  • No, I don’t mean a Watch 

  • The Apple Watch Edition’s Upgrade Dilemma

    Gruber commenting on The Apple Watch Edition’s Upgrade Dilemma:

    The single most frequent question I’ve received this week is how can Apple justify $10,000+ prices for a watch that will be technically outdated in a few years. The simplest answer is that it’s for people who don’t care.

    I suppose there are a small but significant number of people who can afford a $10,000 watch. What I find harder to imagine is that many of those people actually “don’t care” that their $10,000 watch will rapidly become obsolete. If there’s no upgrade path then Apple is selling to a tiny segment of an already small market.

    (Via Daring Fireball)

    Apple IIc

    I found an Apple IIc and monitor in storage so I thought I’d see if it would fire up. It did.

    Apple IIc

    Apple IIc

     

    The IIc uses an internal 5 14 floppy and the only one I could find was “Writer Rabbit” so I popped it in, turned it on and everything, surprisingly, worked. I have no idea what to do with it now, but it seems a shame to put it back into a box in the basement.

    Here’s a quick (1:00-ish) video of Jessica playing the game.

    The Apple Store Experience

    At some point over the past couple of years I began to dread going to the Apple Store. That's a shame, since for a long time I couldn't wait to go there. I'd go just to browse around (and usually end up buying something). It was smooth, clean, relatively quiet, and a completely pleasent experience.

    Now, it's sort of a clusterfuck. They pass me from one associate to another. I stand in one line waiting to stand in another. Today someone basically just pointed me at a computer to "easily take care of that online" then left me to wait for about 20 minutes. I could've done that from my comfy chair at home. I probably should have.

    Safari and Innovation

    [MacNN.com on Safari 4](http://www.macnn.com/reviews/safari-4-first-look-something-borrowed-3.html)

    As is likely self-evident by now, the chief criticism that can be leveled against Safari is its tendency to chase rather than lead. Apple says it’s “leading the way with innovation,” but its actual breakthrough is simply in uniting the better features from a number of different browser into a single package.

    Isn’t that what Apple has always done?

    MacBook Air, Round 2

    Can we all agree right up front that the MacBook Air is the thinnest, sweetest-looking laptop ever conceived by man? Yes? Good. That’s what I think too.

    macbook-air-2-1.jpg

    In addition to its oh-so-sexy look and feel, many geeks claimed that the original Air was plenty fast for every day use. After reading every review and blog post I could find, I bought one back in June. For the first month, I pretended that everything I’d read was true. It wasn’t.

    The original Air was too slow. Even though many of its early problems; core shutdowns, overheating, etc. have been mitigated by firmware updates, the thing just never felt comfortable. Switching between Spaces was choppy. Video playback was sporadic and would sometimes take down the entire machine. Others may not even have noticed these things, but eventually it spoiled the experience.

    I went back to using the MBP and the Air went up for sale.

    Have you seen prices on used Airs? Once Apple released Rev B. (or Version 2.0 or whatever) prices for the original quickly became dismal. I paid $1,799 in June and couldn’t sell it for $1,100 in November. So instead of selling it, I used it around the house. You know what? The form factor really is awesome. It is a damn fine machine. A fine, sluggish, almost-but-not-quite-good-enough machine. Now, if Apple would just make a faster version. Oh wait, they did!

    I wanted to continue using the Air, just not the old one. I wanted desperately to try the new, faster, SSD version. Look at the spec differences between my old Air and the new, top of the line model…

    My Rev. A specs:

    1.6GHz with 800MHz frontside bus

    2GB DDR2 Memory (4MB of Level 2 cache)

    80GB 4200-rpm PATA hard drive

    Integrated Intel GMA X3100 video

    New Rev. B specs:

    1.86 (Penryn) with 1066MHz frontside bus

    2GB DDR3 Memory (6MB of Level 2 cache)

    128GB Solid-state drive

    NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics

    So last week I went and bought one.

    It came in at $2,499. That’s a lot of money for what many would consider a low-spec, niche, feature-poor laptop. I don’t care. I use it for hours every day and it’s much faster than the original. I haven’t seen benchmarks on the new SSD drive, but it feels significantly faster than the old 4200rpm drive. The machine boots in under 30 seconds and launches apps faster than my MBP. That matters. Everything I’ve run on it so far has performed very well.

    I know what you’re thinking, give a week and he’ll be complaining about this one too. You may be right, but I don’t think so. I knew what I was looking for and it’s quite possible I’ve found it. The new MacBook Air does everything I loved about the original, and does it much faster. It’s a keeper.