by Jason Snell & friends

The Incomparable 221: ‘Do the Hand-Wavy Thing’ ↦

The Incomparable

This week on my pop-culture podcast The Incomparable, we wrap up the latest season of “Doctor Who,” which concluded a couple of weeks back. My guests are Glenn Fleishman, Erika Ensign, Dan Moren, and David J. Loehr. There’s also some bonus material.

This week The Incomparable is sponsored by:

  • Target Acquired by Touchten Games - Visit touchten.com/geek to pledge, type I’m a geek in the comments after pledging, and get a discount toward Manami Matsumae’s CD!

  • “Catch Me Up” by William Shatner - Help the captain empower a million people to try new things by backing his Kickstarter, and choose from some cool rewards!

  • Harry’s - The official razor partner of Movember. Great shaving supplies for men. Use code SNELL at checkout of your first purchase for $5 off.

Also posted in the past week on The Incomparable network:

And I’d be remiss in not mentioning that some nifty Random Trek t-shirts are for sale at Cotton Bureau for a limited time!


Sponsor: Drafts 4 ↦

Drafts

This week Six Colors has been sponsored by Drafts by Agile Tortoise. At first glance Drafts looks like yet another iOS note-taker or text editor, but it’s so much more, and the new Drafts 4 takes it to a whole new level.

In Drafts, text comes first. When you open the app, you get a new, blank draft—ready to receive your text input. Don’t fiddle with names or tags or anything like that, and jump straight to the most important thing—getting your words down.

Once your words are down, Drafts goes to work for you. You can send that text to social media, save it (or prepend/append it) to a file on a cloud-storage site, or pass it on to a third-party app such as OmniFocus or Fantastical. Drafts can use its own multi-step actions as well as the power of JavaScript to perform complex tasks in a single tap.

Want to know more? You can read David Sparks’s review, or the five-mouse Macworld review, or the MacStories review.

Drafts 4 is available on the App Store for $9.99. Thanks so much to Agile Tortoise and Drafts for sponsoring Six Colors this week.


Ads via the DeckAds via the Deck


Amazon Fire TV Stick review

Fire TV and Fire TV Stick

It’s come to my attention that I may have a problem. And that problem is: not enough HDMI ports.

Right now, connected to my TV are an Apple TV, an Xbox 360, a Mac mini, and an Amazon Fire TV. If you’re wondering, the answer is yes: I do find myself saying a little prayer every time I plug something else into the power strip back there.

I also had a Chromecast up until I left it in a hotel room last month. My new TV, purchased in August, has all those handy smart TV features. And yet, for some inconceivable reason, I still ordered an Amazon Fire TV Stick when they were announced a few weeks back. (It didn’t hurt that it was on sale for $20 for Amazon Prime members like myself.)

Basically, I buy video-streaming devices with slightly less devotion than Scott McNulty buys Kindles.

Continue Reading "Amazon Fire TV Stick review"


So what, who cares? ↦

Allow me to suggest something a friend of mine is doing. Lisa Schmeiser, who appears regularly on a few of the podcasts I host or produce, is doing an email newsletter called So What, Who Cares?. It’s really great.

In her day job, Lisa is a tech-media newsletter maven, and she’s thought a lot about what makes a good newsletter. Newsletters as a medium seemed old and tired for a long time, mostly because most of them were link dumps used as crass traffic drivers. But a new generation of voicey newsletters has hit the scene—Dave Pell’s NextDraft is a great one—and Lisa’s unique take on news and pop culture is an enjoyable read every night before I go to bed or every morning when I’m making tea and breakfast.

As Lisa describes the newsletter:

What is news or pop culture without context? Every day, I’ll point out three to five things that you might like to know, explaining why they matter (So what?) and who they affect (Who cares?).

You can check out the archive of past newsletters before deciding if you want to subscribe.


Adobe streams Photoshop to Chromebooks

A Chromebook running Photoshop.
Photoshop (for Windows) streams to a Chromebook.

Back in September I mentioned that Adobe was going to get Photoshop running on Chromebooks. At the time, I was hopeful that this meant actual Photoshop code was running on those (generally) low-cost laptops.

This week I got a demo of Photoshop running inside Chrome, and while it was really interesting, some of my assumptions were faulty. It turns out that when Adobe says Photoshop is a “streaming app,” they mean it—it’s much more like screen sharing than native software. Photoshop runs remotely on a Windows-based server, and video of the app’s interface streams to the Chrome browser.

Adobe insists that performance is good, even on low-speed network connections. Files can be opened and saved to a Chrome user’s Google Drive, and it’s the full version of Photoshop that’s running. Though you might think of an app that’s really just streamed video as being laggy and slow, Adobe says that’s not true—and on some slow Chromebooks, the performance of Photoshop can actually be faster than it would running it locally, because the server’s got a lot more power than the chromebook.

Right now this is a pilot program targeting educational markets, both K-12 and higher education. According to the Adobe representatives I talked to, higher-ed adoption has been “tremendous,” and they’re now considering how this program might be used more broadly across the education market.

I’m not sure whether this sort of approach to software is the future of computing or just a very strange side street, but there are a lot of non-traditional aspects to this approach: Chromebooks rather than Macs or PCs, streaming video rather than onboard executable code, and even Adobe’s approaches to subscription-based software licensing factor in.

The server side stuff is technically impressive. This approach required the creation of a special version of Chrome Remote Desktop and an adapted version of the Google Drive desktop client on the server side, and a new Chrome App Remoting API on the client side. Presumably the work Adobe and Google have done here will allow this sort of approach to be replicated with other streaming apps in the future.

As for my hopes that this was a sign that Chromebooks might become more versatile in the future? I suppose that’s true—just not in the way I originally expected.


Wish List: Handoff for iTunes and Music

Music and iTunes

iOS 8 and Yosemite’s Handoff feature is pretty cool: Start writing an email on your iPhone, for example, and you can seamlessly pick it up on your Mac. But of all the activities that support this feature, there’s one pretty glaring exception.

Music.

Music, as Apple is so fond of telling us, is part of the company’s DNA. But despite its development of iTunes Radio and recent acquisition of Beats Music, the basic ways in which we listen to music haven’t really changed since the earliest days of the iOS—or even the iPod.

Remember that very first iPod ad? Sure, it looks inexpert and dated compared to today’s carefully-crafted, almost formulaic Apple tone: the shaky camera, the cheesy dancing, the glimpses of the Aqua interface on OS X. But the “plot” of the commercial is still an everyday occurrence for many: you’re listening to a song on your Mac when you have to leave the house. And, if you’re anything like me, there are few things more annoying than stopping a song mid-play. Great, now I have a guaranteed earworm for the rest of the day.

Of course, you could queue up the same song on your iPhone, fast forward to the same place in the track, pause it on your Mac, then press play on your iOS device. Just the kind of delightfully smooth experience we’ve come to expect from Apple, right?

For a while it seemed like a third-party app called Seamless (not to be confused with the food-delivery service) had solved this problem, using a iOS app paired with a Mac helper app. But it seems to be gone from the App Store, so it’s back to the manually-adjusting-playback-position gig.

But why not Handoff? Like any of the other apps it supports, Handoff should just pop up a Music app icon in your iOS device’s lock screen or the iTunes icon in your Mac’s Dock; slide or click on that, and your audio should just keep playing where you left off. (The Podcasts app could take advantage of the same feature, though it’s at least supposed to sync playback position between devices automatically via iCloud.)

Granted, it wouldn’t work in every case—for those who sync only a portion of their music to their iOS devices, for example, or cases where you stream music but don’t have an Internet connection—but it seems like it could bring a nice, Apple-like touch to the music-listening experience for many users.

Maybe Apple’s got something up their sleeves in the music department; rumors, after all, have Beats Music becoming part of Apple’s default iOS apps. I’m hopeful that such a venture might also include supporting Handoff for Music and iTunes, so that we may all continue our jams uninterrupted, no matter where we go.


The sad state of state plates ↦

California License Plate

A couple of times a year my family piles in the car and we drive to Phoenix to visit my mom. That’s a lot of road time. And while iPads make the journey a little less boring for the kids, we do a lot of staring out at the road and entertaining ourselves by, among other things, spotting license plates from various states. (Even in the west, where states are few and far between, you’d be surprised about how many out-of-state plates you can find on the freeway if you look closely.)

In any event, all this plate-watching has taught me that there are a lot of crappy license-plate designs out there. First, there are the boring designs—California’s is especially a snooze. And then there are the inexplicable website addresses, appended… why exactly? California plates have a “dmv.ca.gov” on them, apparently to remind you where you got your license plate. Florida’s, on the other hand, don’t even say Florida. They say “MyFlorida.com.” I’m not kidding.

In any event, John Brownlee profiled the State Plates Project for Fast Co.Design:

For the State Plates Project, Lawrence approached designers from every state, and challenged them to redesign their automobile tags according to classier design principles. “It was important to me that the designer was passionate about the state they were working on,” he says.

I’m sure there are designers who work for state governments and have not yet had all the passion ground out of them. But you will not be surprised to discover that when you give designers free rein to make cool license-plate designs, they make cool license-plate designs.


Clockwise 63: ‘Uber, what’s up with it?’ ↦

Clockwise Podcast

Clockwise is a weekly podcast that goes well with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme—it’s never longer than 30 minutes.

This week’s episode features guests Jacqui Cheng (The Wirecutter) and Glenn Fleishman (The Magazine) joining me and my co-host Dan Moren. We talk about Apple’s future plans for Beats, what’s up with Uber’s bad behavior, the Apple Watch with a couple of months perspective, and the future of consumer encryption.

Clockwise is sponsored this week by:

  • Catch Me Up is the new book from William Shatner that seeks to empower a million people. Visit kickstarter.com and search for “Catch Me Up.”

Apple may include Beats app in iOS ↦

Apple may be concocting a bigger presence for Beats Music, according to reports like this one from The New York Times’s Brian X. Chen and Ben Sisario:

Apple plans to include its Beats music service in future versions of iOS, its mobile software system for iPhones and iPads, according to people briefed on the plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plans were not yet official.

This makes sense—from a business perspective, anyway. When you lay out $3 billion for an investment like Beats, which has a vastly lower subscription base than major competitors like Spotify, you’re going to drive it home with the biggest hammer you have at your disposal. And putting it on every iOS device is an instant installed base in the tens of millions.

Still, as many have pointed out, this is making the rounds just a couple months after Apple took serious flack for force-feeding everyone a U2 album. You’d think Apple would want to consider very carefully before retreading that same path—especially for a service that users are presumably going to have to pay for.

(Hell, I’ve got more than a few friends who are super angry that they can’t get rid of stock apps like, well, Stocks. And Notes. And Newsstand. So, more apps people can’t delete for services that they’ll probably never use is bound to go over like a lead balloon for more than a few folks.)

Admittedly, it’s still early days in the Apple-Beats relationship, so we obviously haven’t seen the fully armed and operational implementation of Apple’s plans. Cupertino needs to figure out exactly what it wants out of Beats and how that meshes with its existing offerings, like the iTunes Store, iTunes Radio, and iTunes Match. That’s a continuum of different music options, but right now the uneven pricing and branding makes it hard to figure out which is the right one to pick. (My bet on the latter? “iTunes Beats” has a certain ring to it.)


iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air

Apple released a new iPad this fall. Maybe you’ve heard about it? It’s the iPad Air 2, and of course it’s the best iPad ever, because the new iPad is always the best iPad ever. But the iPad Air 2 is better in ways other than the usual thinner-and-lighter metrics: In some unexpected ways, the iPad Air points toward a future of iOS power and productivity that hasn’t existed up until now.

Continue Reading "iPad Air 2 review"


There’s no such thing as a Get lunch (or app)

App Store Get image

Apple today has apparently done a giant search-and-replace on the App Store to replace the word FREE with the word GET. This is apparently related to an EU ruling that it’s misleading to call apps with in-app purchases “free”.

That’s fine—I don’t mind the clarity. But GET isn’t a price, it’s a call to action. Calls to action work great on buttons, but in listings like the ones in the image I’ve posted to the right, the word GET is appearing in a description field. Which is why it reads like someone went through the App Store and just did a search-and-replace.

Perhaps omitting the text entirely from free Get apps would be a better approach here? (Also, can the software that runs the App Store not differentiate between apps that are truly free and apps that are “free” with in-app purchases, and treat them differently?)

In any event, let this be a lesson to us all: Freedom isn’t free. It requires an in-app purchase.

(Update: Apple has now fixed the display of GET text in places that aren’t actually purchase buttons.)


The science of not believing science ↦

This is a fascinating piece by Chris Mooney about how using factual assertions does not, in fact, change people’s minds.

December 21 arrived without incident…. How would people so emotionally invested in a belief system react, now that it had been soundly refuted? At first, the group struggled for an explanation. But then rationalization set in. A new message arrived, announcing that they’d all been spared at the last minute. Festinger summarized the extraterrestrials’ new pronouncement: “The little group, sitting all night long, had spread so much light that God had saved the world from destruction.” Their willingness to believe in the prophecy had saved Earth from the prophecy!

From a 1950s doomsday cult to global-warning deniers and antivaxxers, we believe what we want to believe. Science is, in many ways, a struggle to overcome our own personal biases and allow the truth to shine through.

[via Adam Engst]


Twitter search archive contains every tweet ever ↦

At the All Things D conference in 2011, Twitter’s Dick Costolo suggested that it was unlikely that Twitter would provide access to its enormous archive of tweets. I was disappointed.

Then in late 2012 Twitter allowed users to download their personal Twitter archives, which was a great step forward.

And now, as reported by Federico Viticci at MacStories, Twitter has opened up its entire archive.

Right now, old tweets can be found in search by switching to the All tab of the Twitter app, and Twitter supports a basic syntax to filter down tweets for users and dates. I was able to use two different search operators for usernames and dates:

  • from:username - load all tweets sent from a user;
  • since:2009-04-20 until:2009-04-21 - load tweets from specific days.

Good news! All the tweets are available! Bad news! All your embarrassing old tweets are available!


What you need to know about WatchKit ↦

Serenity Caldwell used to excel at these sorts of stories at Macworld, and she’s picked up right where she left off now that she’s at iMore: A clear distillation of what Apple rolled out to developers today with WatchKit.


Developers get Apple Watch peek ↦

Today Apple released Apple Watch information for developers, so they can use WatchKit to build connections between their iOS apps and the Apple Watch in advance of its release next year.

A lot of this stuff is quite technical, but if you want to get an idea how the first iteration of the Apple Watch will work, it’s worth a read, especially the Human Interface Guidelines.

Also worth noting: This first go-round for developers won’t let them build fully native apps—that’s coming later next year. However, as (underscore) David Smith writes, the initial capabilities are more impressive than he had expected.


Upgrade 10: ‘Podcasting, It’s Great!’ ↦

Upgrade Podcast

This week on the tech podcast that can’t decide how to pronounce “Hover” or spell “mustache”, we address some very important Taylor Swift follow-up, discuss why podcasting is back (again), and talk App Store pricing, in the wake of Monument Valley and Space Age.

This week, Upgrade is sponsored by:


Putting podcasting over the top

What’s on my Overcast playlist right now.

There’s a lot of talk about podcasting these days, mostly because big names from public radio are doing interesting new things with the medium, and people who write for major media outlets tend to listen to public radio. All of a sudden, thanks to the imprimatur of big media, podcasting is apparently back. Even though all the tech geeks have been listening to podcasts for years now, and it’s been growing as a medium all this time.

Still, as a huge fan of the medium (you may have noticed), I’m happy that more attention is being paid to it. A rising tide lifts all boats—and this stamp of approval from mainstream media will reach future podcast listeners and future podcast advertisers alike. It’s a good thing.

Media outlets aren’t the only ones suddenly paying attention to podcasting. Today Ingrid Lunden at TechCrunch reports that Spotify’s app includes hidden references to podcasting features. This follows the purchase of podcast service Stitcher by Spotify competitor Deezer last month.

More importantly for Spotify, Deezer gave me smart explanation of why podcasting was interesting: Deezer is making a big move to do more with in-car services, and podcasts and talk radio are especially popular in that setting. It could be that Spotify, which also has a number of connected car integrations in place, is thinking along the same lines.

Podcasts are replacing the radio for tech savvy car commuters, and once less savvy commuters are exposed to podcasting I suspect they’ll do the same. I’m not entirely convinced that Spotify is the best vehicle for this, but someone’s going to crack it. As Marco Arment wrote yesterday, it may take some time:

Smartphone podcast apps and Bluetooth audio in cars have both helped substantially, but both have also been slow, steady progressions that are nowhere near complete. No smartphone app has caused a massive number of new listeners to suddenly flood to podcasts, and people don’t upgrade their cars frequently enough for any automotive media features to cause market booms. A lot of people still listen to podcasts in iTunes, and a lot of cars still don’t have Bluetooth audio. We’ll get there, but it takes a while.

If one of the biggest concentrations of podcast listenership is in the car, then the difficulty of connecting podcasts to cars becomes the biggest barrier to the success of the medium. Car tech has traditionally been terrible, thanks to the weird dance between automakers and their equipment suppliers—but that’s starting to change, mostly thanks to Google and Apple. The new Android Auto and CarPlay features allow most new smartphones to project a simplified version of their interfaces onto the screens of compatible car-entertainment devices.

Yes, as Marco points out, this will take years to trickle down to most cars, but it will. It makes too much sense to let the likes of Google and Apple drive these entertainment systems with the much better hardware and software that’s in the pocket of almost every driver.

While I think there’s a huge opportunity to bring the podcast medium to a broader collection of listeners—if I were to do a tech startup, it would probably be something related to this—I’m not convinced that the Spotifys of the world are the right companies to do it. Spotify’s brand is about music, not talk. It’s also unclear what Spotify’s terms would be, and as someone who thinks Stitcher’s terms are really crappy, that’s a serious concern.

No, the company that could do the most to make podcasting a success is Apple. Apple’s got the biggest directory of podcasts on the planet at iTunes and the two most popular podcast-listening apps (Podcasts and iTunes). In the mid-2000s, Apple tried to make podcasting the next big thing, and the world wasn’t ready. Apple’s commitment to podcasting dramatically receded after that—remember when GarageBand was for podcasting?—but with iOS 8 it added Podcasts as a default app, so maybe the tide is turning.

It’s great that podcasting is having a moment in the spotlight. Maybe this is the right time for Apple and other tech companies to forget about the false-start of 2005 and bring this amazing medium to the masses. I’m pretty sure they’re going to love it.

[Hat tip to Federico, Stephen, and Casey.]


The Incomparable 220: ‘Authentic Cop Mustache’ ↦

The Incomparable

This week on my pop-culture podcast The Incomparable, we wade into the world of webcomics, discussing the explosion of sequential art on the Internet and our very favorite webcomics. If you don’t spend hours and hours reading comics after listening to this episode, we haven’t done our jobs. There’s also some bonus material.

This week The Incomparable is sponsored by:

  • Casper — Premium mattresses for a fraction of the price, delivered straight to your door. Use code INCOMPARABLE for $50 off.

  • Lynda.com — Great online video courses, from the experts. Visit lynda.com/incomparable for a free 10-day all-access trial.

Also posted in the past week on The Incomparable network:


Sponsor: Kifi ↦

This week Six Colors is sponsored by Kifi, a remarkable new way to organize, discover, and share knowledge.

Here’s how it works: keep the pages that matter to you into Kifi, where you can organize them in your own libraries so you never lose track of them. You can create Kifi libraries for anything—articles you want to read, things you want to buy, videos that inspire you, or useful resources you’d like to share with other people. I’ve been using Kifi this week, and created a couple of libraries: Apple and general geekery and sports. You can follow these libraries on Kifi and you will be able to see new content any time I add it.

The items you keep, and everything in the libraries that you follow, is fully indexed and searchable right in Google thanks to Kifi’s Chrome and Firefox extensions. And you can always recall the content you need on the go using their iPhone and Android apps.

Kifi also delivers a feed of recommendations to you daily. The more content you keep and libraries that you follow, the smarter Kifi becomes at recommending content to you.

Learn more and try it free. And thanks to Kifi for sponsoring the site.


The Forgotten Shores of App Store pricing

Monument Valley’s Forgotten Shores expansion pack came out this week, a $2 in-app purchase that added eight new levels to the $4 game’s original ten. And not long after, the complaints—in the form of one-star app reviews—began to pour in. Plenty of people, including your correspondent, clucked their disappointment that people would write overwrought complaints about not getting the fruits of developer Ustwo’s labor for free.

But amid the Twitter counter-outrage, a few people were quietly making an unpopular point: This story isn’t just about ungrateful masses not appreciating the work that developers do. It’s about the expectations (misguided or not) of App Store customers.

Continue Reading "The Forgotten Shores of App Store pricing"


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