The Week In Tweets

Twitter Tuesday – The Week’s Tweets

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Let’s Talk About Apple

Watching the Apple MacBookPro (MBP) announcement the other day, I could not help but get the feeling of a struggling, quiet desperation coming from the Apple leadership team making the presentation. I wasn’t in the room but the vibe of the room and the presentation felt desperate and flat to me. The details and advancements that were discussed during the presentation seemed like natural, next-level evolutions of the Apple product lines – the only thing that was really interesting was the TouchBar on the MBP – everything else…meh. Maybe the industry is so used to Apple’s high standards that it is taken for granted. Maybe we need to look past the giddy Apple fanboys vigorously defending Apple’s decisions and take a really critical look at the shit show that is all the different dongles and cables that are needed across the product lines and how they are expecting Apple customers to adjust and adapt to the confusion. Here is a quick hot take on different items that were announced.

Apple TV

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They integrated Minecraft. Sure, Minecraft is still a thing, but is it really? Wasn’t that relevant like 3 years ago?

Steve Jobs said before he died that he had ‘solved’ TV. Granted that’s a bold statement – that is now 4 years old – and all they could deliver is an app called TV that enables universal search. And don’t get me started on Siri – Google Assistant anyone? 5 year head start and they’ve been lapped by Amazon and Google? You could tell that the woman doing the demo was speaking in a deliberate tone, praying that Siri understood what she said. Having the TV app on other iOS devices is definitely a good addition and that is an interesting addition and opportunity for TV viewers.

MacBookPros

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For context, the day before this event, Microsoft announced the stunningly cool looking Surface Studio desktop computer. The human interaction of the Surface Dial on the ultra thin and gorgeous screen looks fantastic. Apple countered that with “the thinnest MBP EVER” – gee what a surprise. And it has an all metal design! It has the “best and biggest track pad that [Apple] has ever made.” None of this is a big deal. It is bordering on technology and change for change’s sake.

The TouchBar at the top of the keyboard is a really interesting feature however to me, it seems to be something that will take people a long time to adapt to. I think it’s potential is high – especially in terms of security and it’s ability to read fingerprints. But hey, at least it organizes my Emoji.

The MBP looks like a gorgeous machine and I am taking absolutely nothing away from the brilliant Engineering and design that went into it. Yet, as Apple was explaining the capabilities of the TouchBar, speaking with quiet reverence of how you can use both hands when using the MBP, all I thought about was how quaint the Apple demo was compared to the amazing interaction of Microsoft’s Surface Dial.

Dongles & Wires

So let me get this straight – Apple gets rid of the headphone jack in the iPhone for an accelerometer, so the customer has to buy and use unique headphones that ONLY work with the iPhone (because of the Lightning connector). Then Apple doesn’t include the Lightning port on the MBP, but DOES include a headphone jack. So the customer has to use a different set of headphones or the dreaded ‘dongle’ to listen to music on the MBP. In fact, it looks like the customer will need to purchase several dongles to adapt to the different connectors you could be using.

In Closing

It is unrealistic to expect a company – yes, even Apple – to develop a groundbreaking product, on the scale of the iPhone, every year (or even every two years for that matter). There are only so many opportunities that present themselves like what was in front of Apple in 2005-7 when they developed iPhone. It is, however, realistic to expect the same level of innovation that they believe they are delivering, and I’m starting to feel that the gulf is widening between the innovation Apple believes it is delivering compared to that of their competition.

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Memories from Wrigley

I would run outside to the small, fenced in yard behind our house in Boston and look to the right. I would see a bright glow in the sky and felt the comfort of knowing the Red Sox were home. And then, there would be this faint rumble of a roar – the crowd was happy – and that meant Dewey Evans got a hit, or Jim Ed cranked one over the Green Monster. Growing up a mere 15 minute walk from the baseball shrine that is Fenway Park can skew a baseball fan’s perspective towards a certain baseball team. So while my blind loyalty continues to be for my hometown Red Sox, it has not distorted my perspective on what I think is the best baseball experience you can ever experience – watching a game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. It is as much about the experience in the stadium as it is the atmosphere around the stadium. It is so unique, so Chicago, and so awesome!

Wrigley is tucked away on the North Side of Chicago, on a square block that is bordered by Sheffield, Addison, Clark, and Waveland. Unlike any other baseball stadium that is still standing, Wrigley looks as though it was dropped in the middle of a Chicago residential neighborhood. Fenway is somewhat similar in this regard, as it is awkwardly wedged between Lansdowne Street and Yawkey Way. But Fenway’s immediate neighborhood has, until recently, had a very industrial sort of feel to it. It had it’s charm and made the Fenway experience amazing and unique, but it has never had the coziness of Wrigleyville. But what stadium ever has, other than Wrigley?

With this year’s Cubs team making the World Series for the first time in 71 years – giving them a shot at a World Series title that has eluded their franchise since 1908 – I thought I would share a few experiences from my visits to Wrigley:

Breaking The Seal

Many moons ago, I decided to move to Chicago because I just needed a break from NYC and the East Coast. After finding an apartment on the North Side (Pine Grove Avenue), I packed up the U-Haul and took off for the midwest. I had never been to Wrigley Field at that point in my life but I knew that would change quickly. After finally arriving in Chicago with that loaded U-Haul, I happened to check the Cubs schedule and wouldn’t you know it, they were home that day. So without even bothering to unload the U-Haul that had my few worldly possessions, I went straight to Wrigley Field to catch the Cubs game. As I walked up Clark Avenue, the anticipation of going to Wrigley was high and the crowd of baseball fans started to grow. And then, as I walked past the “Cubby Bear”, the sight of the facade of Wrigley exploded in front of me…there, in the middle of the neighborhood of stores, townhouses, and city streets stood this stadium that looked like the perfect neighbor. I was hoping the pixelated marquee would read “Save Ferris”. There was a large crowd of fans mingling around the outside of the stadium and after soaking in what was in front of my eyes, I found my way to the ticket office. I bought the best ticket I could buy and with giddy excitement, passed through the gate into Wrigley. The main concourse was buzzing with fans – I was soaking it all in – and as I looked to my right, I could see the sun beating down through the stairwells to the stadium. As I ascended those stairwells to find my seat, the inside of the stadium started to come into view and all I remember was the blinding green of the Wrigley grass, the green bleachers in the distance, and the green ivy on the outfield walls. It was so green! I don’t remember who won. I do remember seeing Harry Carey sing “Take Me Out To the Ballgame” during the 7th Inning stretch. I remember stubbornly staying until the game was over because it was such a soothing, comforting baseball experience.

Beer Here!

Many months after my first visit to Wrigley, I had some friends from college visit me in Chicago for a weekend. All of us were very big fans of baseball, so inevitably, going to Wrigley was a high priority. We ended up getting some really great tickets on the lower level of the stadium along the 1st base line in short Right Field. They were amazing seats. We had already knocked down a few frosty ones before the game started and as we settled into our seats, we flagged down the nearest beer vendor. And this is why Wrigley is so awesome. The beer vendor that we found looked like he just walked in from a beach in Southern California. He had long hair, a pair of wrap around Oakley sunglasses, and was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. And he was slinging Old Style beer! He loaded us up and departed. The game moved along and we were enjoying our beverages, and like he had a stopwatch personalized to our pace of drinking, our “Surfer Beer Dude” was always there, ready with re-fills at just the right time. It was uncanny and, honestly, pretty impressive. Needless to say, we were four very happy baseball fans by the time the game was over.

It Ain’t Over Until It’s Over

Back in 2008, my wife and I went out to Chicago to visit the city and to also go to the Farnsworth House in suburban Chicago. That Friday when we arrived, we went to catch a Cubs game at Wrigley. The weather was beautiful at the start but it quickly deteriorated and some crazy rain blew through the North Side. When the rain started, the Cubs were losing by some obscene number of runs – 8 or 9 at least. The general sentiment was that the game was a lost cause. After the rain had passed and the game started up again, and my wife and I considered leaving but we decided to stick it out. And so glad that we did! The Cubs came back and won the game with a furious comeback that could only happen at Wrigley when the wind is blowing out.

Wrigley is also an important place in that it is the place where my wife and I went several times when we were first dating. It is a special place and it is a venue that every person – sports fan or not, baseball fan or not – needs to visit to just enjoy the Wrigley experience!

Twitter Tuesday – The Week’s Tweets

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Unscientific Headphone Research

I was on the NYC Subway last night heading home from work (Downtown E Train) and was listening to a tech oriented podcast that was discussing the recent decision by Apple to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7. The discussion made me think about what sort of impact Apple’s decision may have on customer behavior relative to their headphones, and what headphones people use. How many people really go out and purchase different headphones? How many people say ‘screw it’ and just use the free ‘in the box’ Apple earbuds?

So I started to look around at the folks in the train car – a pretty solidly random collection of people. I’m going to say there were somewhere around 150 people in the car and of that total, maybe 30-40 people were wearing headphones (roughly 20%). And of those 30-40 people, at least 15 (~10% of the total and ~50% of the people wearing headphones) were rocking out using the white Apple issued headphones.

So this says to me that in this random sample of people, a solid 50% of people using headphones in this train car were not picky enough with the quality of the audio produced by their headphones to go with anything other than the less-than-elete free, hard plastic, non-maliable, non-noise reducing/cancelling Apple EarBuds that come with every iPhone.

And when you then extend that out to the new iPhone 7, you could make a stretch assumption that in a similarly random sample of people, probably more people would use the free Apple EarPods with the Lightning connector because they came in the iPhone box and they are locked into using the Lighting headphones due to the iPhone 7’s lack of a headphone jack. These people would not be that up in arms about the lack of a headphone jack because of similar behavior when there WAS a traditional headphone jack. A good chunk of them would simply say “Fuck it, why bother with better quality audio and great noise cancelling technology from someone like Bose when I can listen to the rumbling of a NYC subway and the noise of the guy chomping on a burrito, drone out the sound of ‘Arcade Fire’.” Let’s just use these Apple issued Lightning EarPods (that are basically the old, free headphones with a Lightning connector) that sound like tin cans in your ear.

An observation. Hardly scientific, but an observation none the less.

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Interstellar

Scientific researchers have discovered a new planet that is orbiting a star – called Proxima Centauri – which are both very close to “our” Sun (in relative astrology measurements). Proxima Centauri is a star that coexists with another star located in the heavily studied Alpha Centauri star system. And this new planet – Proxima b – is orbiting Proxima Centauri.

What makes the discovery so cool is it appears that Proxima b has the type of climate that could support life. It has a climate that is extremely similar to the climate here on Earth, mainly because Proxima b is located within the ‘habitable zone’ that surrounds it’s star (Proxima Centauri). This is very similar to how Earth is in the ‘habitable zone’ that surrounds our star – the Sun.

Given the fact that Proxima b is within the habitable zone of its star, meaning liquid water could exist on the surface, it may also be the closest possible home for life outside of our solar system, the researchers said. Because of its location, the researchers hope that it provides an opportunity to “attempt further characterization via ongoing searches by direct imaging and high-resolution spectroscopy in the next decades, and possibly robotic exploration in the coming centuries.”

This next paragraph reads like something out of the movie “Real Genius“, where it’s minimizing in an uber-scientific way the “short” distance between Earth and Proxima b

Proxima b is a mere 4.2 light-years away from our solar system, or 266,000 times the distance between the Earth and the sun, which are 92.96 million miles apart. Previous rocky exoplanet discoveries, like those orbiting ultracool red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1, were described as close at 40 light-years away.

Being that it is only a mere 4.2 light years away, it’s only fitting that Elon Musk get moving on a Space X roadtrip to this planet.

Source: CNN

iPhone Sounds Stuck In The Past

I happened upon an article on The Verge recently that spoke to the broken process hassle of adding a ringtone to the iPhone and how in 2016, experiences like this make the iPhone feel like it’s stuck in 2008.

I am going to document the process that, in 2016, I went through to get my preferred ringtone on an iPhone. It is a story of complaints and gripes, yes, but it is also a story about why Apple’s philosophy about how it thinks the “future of computing” should work keeps making the mistakes of the past. It’s not just process, it’s layers and layers of politics.

This article could not be more accurate, however I don’t think it goes far enough. Just as big an issue as what Dieter Bohn outlines on The Verge is how other UX elements like customizing ‘audio alerts’ for iOS Apps and Notifications is just as broken.

Let’s look at the Alert experience for communication apps – E-mail, Messaging, Notifications and Alerts, etc. Depending on the app, the experience falls into one of two experiences: You are beholden to what the app has chosen as it’s default Alert sound (with rarely any option to change it) or, iOS ‘assigns’ the “Text Tone” alert to all similar communications apps by default. So if you have different communications apps such as two email apps (Gmail and Apple Mail for example), or several chat apps (What’s App, Google Hangouts, Telegram, iMessage, etc.), things become problematic pretty quickly, as you are not able to audibly discern which type of message you are receiving when you phone is in your pocket, bag or wherever.

Yes, you can choose which alert sound you want to assign to email (or text alerts) in iOS’s ‘Sound Settings’, but it is a global setting. And you can assign I prefer to use the Gmail and the Google Inbox apps for my email and have buried Apple Mail in the proverbial “Other” iOS folder on my phone (that’s a whole other issue but thankfully Apple is addressing that). Unfortunately, in this very common scenario, you are not able to customize the Alert sounds assigned to each of these apps. I have to live with whatever the app publisher has defined.
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This becomes an issue because I’m not able to audibly differentiate between a Notification from someone I follow on Twitter vs an Email via the Gmail app. Within the Twitter app, you have the ability to receive alerts when certain people/handles you follow send out a Tweet. Since this is set up as an ‘Alert’ in iOS’s Sound settings, whenever I receive one of these ‘Tweet alerts’, it too has the same audible Alert tone as Text messages or many other ‘Alerts’ from other apps, so there is no way to know from the sound which alert just came through. You have to look at the phone to see if the alert is from Twitter, IFTTT, or whatever service you use. Thankfully, Google Inbox has updated their alert sound to a very nice but subtle tone so I am able to use that to know that an email has arrived (In turn, I shut down the Gmail app’s alerts all together).

In many ways, the ‘Alert’ experience and the ringtone experience documented in The Verge are metaphors for Apple’s legacy of controlling the full end-to-end experience. This approach has obviously proven successful for them but at the same time, they need to really think through where they can strike a balance in their approach. Android goes to the complete other extreme, where you can customize too much of it’s experience, and I think that becomes too overwhelming to even the most advanced users. That also brings in too many opportunities for errors and big issues and from that perspective, Apple’s hard line controls are a huge benefit to them and the customer.

Apple has an interesting opportunity to relax subtle but important elements of iOS, and re-work some of their legacy User Interaction experiences to give it’s users/customers enough control to customize the phone to their lifestyle while still providing the controls needed to ensure the essence of the iOS experience is not compromised.

Source: Why the iPhone sometimes feels stuck in the past | The Verge

Twitter Tuesday – The Week’s Tweets

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The Sadness of the Suburban City

Over the past 20-25 years, cities around the world have been under assault from the “Starbucks Effect”. You know what that is…when you are in a city on the other side of the country or the world, and all you see are generic Starbucks Coffee shops on every corner. It makes you wonder why you even took the trip? The serendipity of discovery in a new city has yielded to the presence of the multi-national franchised brand. Years ago, going to a different city (here in the States or Internationally) enabled you to truly soak in the unique flavor and atmosphere of that region. Without a doubt, that experience is still present around the world, yet it is discernibly muted when there is a Starbucks on “every” corner, and popular brands everywhere else.

Media outlets like the NY Times have written about how a pillar of British culture, the local pub, is being impacted and becoming (gasp) an endangered species (be sure to read the reader comments). I’m heading to London later in the year, for the first time in more than 15 years, and I’m worried about what I’m going to find there. When the NY Times is writing about it, you know it’s a thing, while frequent visitors to worldwide cities know that this is just a piece of a much bigger transformation.

When I traveled to Paris and Amsterdam in 2014, what stunned me was not the prevalence of US brands in those cities (Starbucks, McDonald’s, etc) but how packed they were with French and Dutch customers! I mean, here we were in Paris, the city that practically invented the sidewalk cafΓ©, and yet the franchised, vapid, American Starbucks Coffee (sacrebleu!) was packed. Parisians, who have such legendary disdain for America’s lack of culture, seem ready willing and able to fully embrace these American brands (Let’s not lose sight of that irony).

This is not even an International transformation either. Today’s NYC is a shell of it’s gritty, former self. I regularly, and ironically, refer to it as “The Mall of America” due to the prevalence of so many brands and franchises that you find in the strip mall landscape of suburban America. The truly unique elements of what made NYC so special (how many folks under 25 know how big a deal CBGB’s was?) have been rapidly eroding. At least McSorley’s is still around!

The irony of all of this is that when a country, city, town, neighborhood does want to keep hold of it’s independence, keep it’s unique cutlure intact and forge it’s own path (see: Britain, Brexit), the world freaks out because of the financialization of the Global economy. To be clear, I don’t think Britain leaving the EU is the right thing to do, but my broader point is that the desire of cities, countries, and neighborhoods to keep control of their own path is up against some monumental headwinds.

Clearly, we are living in a vast multi-national world today that is much different than it was 20, even 10 years ago, and it is one that continues to evolve rapidly – train has left the station, the toothpaste is out of the tube, so to speak. That is something we should all welcome and embrace. But with all that is changing, let’s not lose sight of those true, unique attributes of a neighborhood that make it special!

Image and ‘motivating article’ via the NYTimes.com

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Tesla Is Crushing It – No (April Fools) Joke

For all of Elon Musk’s ambition to re-invent the automobile through his bleeding edge electric car company Tesla, the knock has always been that the pricing for his existing models have been way too high for the average consumer – and yes, at $100K+ a pop, that is not a price tag that is going to go over well anywhere save San Francisco, NYC, LA and several international cities.  That all changed today with Tesla’s launch of it’s $35K Model 3, which has generated around 200,000 orders in roughly 24 hours and has produced lines outside of Tesla stores that rival Apple launches (as Re/Code put it – h/t).

As has been well documeted, there is ample environmental change happening around us and the introduction of accessible, affordable electronic cars is a small but important step in the right direction.  To be clear, it’s not the end of the ‘warming’ problems facing us (and I’m not nearly smart enough to take that on).  All I’m saying is that what Tesla is doing, and how they are introducing a relatively affordable all electric vehicle, is an important milestone.  Let’s hope that the principals of “Moore’s Law” applies to electric vehicles and the pricing and innovation can continue to improve and lead to longer driving times (past the ~200 mile distance capabilities of the Model 3) and lower prices all around.

Twitter Tuesday – The Week’s Tweets

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Smells Like Team Spirit

In honor of the impending start of the annual craziness that is the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament, I rounded out my collection of computer/device wallpapers & backgrounds by adding several teams that recently qualified for this year’s Tournament.

So head on over to my NCAA Wallpapers page and download a desktop background/wallpaper to show off your team spirit on your computer, iPad, iPhone or whatever device you use.

So if you need to show off your colors in support of the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, we have a background for you. Tennessee-Chattanooga Mocs? Yup. My collection already had many of the teams that made this year’s tournament, plus many more that did not make it to “the Dance” this year.

And if College Basketball is not your thing, there are several other collections to choose from including European Soccer, English Soccer, and all the major American Sports leagues.

Twitter Tuesday – The Week’s Tweets