When Steve Jobs predicted our predicament 30 years ago…
“We also can’t change our geographic organization very fast. As a matter of fact, even slower than the management one — we can’t be moving people around the country every week. But we can change an electronic organization — *snaps* — like that. And what’s starting to happen is as we start to link these computers together with sophisticated networks and great user interfaces, we’re starting to be able to create clusters of people working on a common task — literally in 15 minutes worth of set up. And these 15 people can work together extremely efficienctly no matter where they are geographically, and no matter who they work for hierarchically. And these organizations can live for as long as they’re needed and then vanish. And we’re finding that we can reorganize our companies electronically very rapidly. And that’s the only type of organization that can begin to keep pace with the changing business conditions.”
This isn’t a quote from last week, or last month, as we all deal with the realities of remote work in our unfortunate epidemic. This is a quote from — checks date — 30 years ago. And no less than Steve Jobs said it.
He was making the case for NeXT, the company he founded after his initial exit from Apple. While Apple made personal computers, he argued that NeXT was making “interpersonal computers” — that is, computers which were networked together in a way to allow people to collaborate.¹ Personal computers were about you interacting with the machine. Interpersonal computers were about you interacting with others via the machine.
This was a time before most people knew what the internet was — let alone were using it — of course. And while that network made the high level of Jobs’ vision possible years ago, the specifics of what he’s talking about with remote work and organizations are only now being fully realized.
The truth is that I actually saved this clip a year and a half ago, when Garry Tan shared it on Twitter.² At the time, it seemed to capture what many people were seeing taking off with regard to remote work. Fast forward to 2020 and this is no longer a trend, it’s reality.
“And I believe that this collaborative model has existed in higher education for a long time. But we’re starting to see it applied into the commercial world as well. And this is going to be the third major revolution that these desktop computers provide. Is revolutionizing human-to-human communication and group work. We call it ‘interpersonal computing’.”
Fascinating that Jobs calls out this trend for desktop computers specifically. This was, of course, long before he and Apple revolutionizedcomputing with the iPhone. And yet the desktop (and well, laptop) machines are still key to this remote work reality even now. The tools have gotten infinitely better — Slack, Zoom, etc — but we’re still largely sitting at desks, using them during the work day. It’s just crazy how prescient this is for where we are right now.³
I’m on the last day of my trial for Hey, the new email service from the Basecamp team. I’m debating whether or not to pay for it, so I thought I’d jot down my thoughts to help me process.
At first, I didn’t really like Hey. It felt too heavy-handed and a bit too garish on the design side, for my taste. But I’ve gotten into it a bit more in the past week or so, probably because I started forwarding an old Gmail address here, and it has made me realize just how much junk I get in my inbox on a regular basis.
And that’s actually what I’ve come to like about Hey. it forces me to think differently about email. Why do I keep these things in my inbox to respond to later when I know damn well I’m never going to? Why do I just accept blind emails sent from the dark and treat them as if they’re something to which I need to respond? Because of etiquette? Please, we’re far beyond that in 2020. Or we should be, but we’re not.
Part of it is the way email was set up. Anyone can send you one as long as they know your address. And back when such volume was low, you were expected to respond. Hell, you may have even enjoyed it. I know I did! But times have changed, to put it mildly. And now not only do many people know your email now thanks to Google and other tools, thousands of bots and lists and other more nefarious things do as well. Now is not the time to be polite.
That’s why I appreciate Hey’s “Screener” feature. It forces you to make a decision: should this person/account be able to send you email? Yes or no? (Yes, with some granularity on where it should go if you grant access.)
In some ways, I’ve been manually doing this process for years. I use Gmail filters liberally to filter things out of my inbox the moment they hit it. Instead, much of my email is auto-archived, which I do mainly because of Gmail’s “unlimited” storage (which is more “limited” by the day, as I have to keep upping my storage amount — though that’s mainly due to Google Photos, which is well worth it!). I want to be able to search my entire email history with Gmail, and I often do. This is useful.
Still, that’s hardly a great front-end for actually using email on a daily basis. Gmail is more of my email catch-all, so maybe it is time for another type of service to actually do email.
The other core element of Hey that I like is the idea of “Reply Later” which, at least on the desktop (and iPad!), gives you an interface to pound through a bunch of emails you’ve saved up quickly. This is what I tend to naturally do with email anyway — “Focus & Reply” has a nice ring to it — though others are different and insist on responding to anything they’re going to respond to right away.
I also like the “Set Aside” area, which is similar in theory to something like ‘Starred’ or ‘Flagged’ in other email services, but again, I appreciate the idea of getting those out of your actual inbox and putting them somewhere else to come back to later.
At first, I was going through my “Imbox” (yeah, a little too cute for my taste) and trying to delete anything I was done with. But that’s a little too cumbersome here. So instead, I now just let it flow down to the “Previously Seen” area, which I think is fine. I like being able to label certain things I need to group together (which you can also do in Gmail, of course) as well as add sticky notes to some emails for glanceable context (though it’s a little confusing that there’s this and a ‘note-to-self’ feature within threads).
“The Feed” is a nice idea for newsletters and other types of emails which are less emails in the traditional sense and more information vessels. To be honest, I haven’t gotten into using it that much yet. This is another thing I was already doing manually with email (well automatically with Gmail filters, which I set up manually). I filter all newsletters into their own “Newsletters” folder, so it’s the same basic idea. Though I think I actually prefer my folder for this versus a scrollable feed for all the newsletters expanded to show initial content and context.
“Paper Trail” makes sense for receipts and the like. But again, I’ll probably keep those going to Gmail so they’re all saved and searchable.
“Clips” — a sort of clipboard to store little snippets from email is brilliant.
My biggest gripe with Hey has actually been speed. By removing all the legacy cruft of Gmail and other older email services, and making native iOS and Mac apps, you’d think it would be insanely fast. But I’m experiencing a lot of loading times on my end for simple things, like opening the compose window or clicking on “The Feed”. Hopefully these are just typical scaling issues…
So, you see, there are things I like. And things I don’t. And things I’m already doing. In many ways, I wish all email clients just did what Hey is doing with “The Screener” if for no other reason to break the mentality that email is something you owe a response to. It would help shift it from opt-out to opt-in.
Still, reading this over I think Hey has piqued my interest enough and gotten me to think a bit differently about email where I’m going to pay up for the year. It’s not cheap at $99/year (or more for a 2-letter or 3-letter address) but even Apple kerfuffle aside, I appreciate what they’re trying to do here.
¹ So much so that I actually have a major life goal built around it: I’ll know I’ve truly succeeded in life when I no longer have to check email on a regular basis. I’m not kidding, this is honestly an aspiration I have. To get to that point. One day…
Some Thoughts on Hey was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
A funny thing happened on the way to an a-la-carte cable offering. That funny thing is that we’re right back at the cable bundle. And it’s not funny.
I speak, of course, of the news today that YouTube TV is raising their prices.¹ They’ve done this before, and they’ll undoubtedly do it again. But there’s something about this jump — from $49.99 to $64.99 — that feels more significant this time. Perhaps it’s as simple as the large 30% price increase here. But I think it also has to do with the breach of the $50 threshold. It feels like we’re at the point now where people are fully questioning if this is, in fact, a better deal than cable, after all.
The answer, of course, is that it’s complicated. But certainly, you could sign up for a cable package tomorrow, likely bundled with internet, that would give you most of the channels YouTube TV is offering, and some other ones, for a cheaper price (for the TV part of the equation — which matters because many of us are already paying the cable providers for internet now anyway).²
To YouTube’s credit — and I’ve been a happy subscriber and user since day one — they have a compelling offering. Channels aside — I’ll get to that in a second — the Cloud DVR is the key in my usage. You can tell the service what you want to record and it will find those things and record them. It sounds simple because it is simple.
For example, I decided I wanted to record the English Premiere League recently because well, it’s the only major sport that’s back in a real way.³ With a few clicks, I can now record not just one game, not just one team, but the entire league. You set it and forget it, and watch when you can or not at all. You don’t worry about storage or other limits.⁴ It works on the web, on the iPhone, on the iPad, Apple TV, etc; it’s well done.⁵
Because I also recently got Hulu (by way of Disney’s own bundle), I was looking into their live TV offering to see if it made sense to switch. Long story short: YouTube TV does indeed seem like the better offering, perhaps even with this price hike (their marketing actually feels fair and accurate).
Okay, with all of that out of the way… Fuck, I’m annoyed.
The email on the change hit my inbox today. It starts out well enough, with a thank you for subscribing and noting YouTube TV’s high level accomplishments after three years in business. Then they dive into what is at first framed as good news:
Today we are also adding more of ViacomCBS’s family of channels to YouTube TV, which includes 8 of your favorites: BET, CMT, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Network, TV Land, and VH1.
7 to 15 year old me would have been more excited about all of this. But yay, I guess? Of course, the very next graph is the nut kick:
To continue delivering the best content and service possible, we’re also updating our price for new and existing members to $64.99/month.
Having these paragraphs back-to-back is actually quite perfect. Because it highlights the real key here. I don’t actually want any of these Viacom channels. Not a single one. Yet I can’t say “no thank you” and keep my current deal.
And actually, going back to first principles, let’s think about what we all really want here. Reality aside — we’ll get to that — what I would want from YouTube TV or any of these services is the following:
I sign up for a service. I pick the individual channels I want. I’m told how much this will cost. I pay how much this will cost.
It’s so simple. And yet this is impossible to do because the powers-that-be (meaning, the studios/content owners/etc) don’t want us to have nice things. Well, they do, as long as they’re their nice things. And as long as you take all of their nice things. Even the ones you don’t want. This is what ruined cable, and it’s what’s ruining the services that have replaced cable.
Why get and pay for the 5 channels you want when you can get 50 channels and pay 10x the price? Okay, that’s a little unfair, the economics of the bundle make it such that it’s not 10x the price — but it’s some multiple that is extremely annoying mainly because I have no choice in the matter.⁶
That’s what I’ve never understood about the people who were so quick to point out that the cable bundle was actually a good deal. Sure! But that’s not the real issue here. The real issue here is choice. Again, I have no choice in the matter if I want that “good deal” or not.⁷
Thank you sir, may I have another channel? It’s bullshit.
While we can’t have my true pie-in-the-sky a-la-carte dream scenario above, we can’t even settle for something slightly worse but still much better. Say: sign up for a service, pick two packs of five channels, get quoted a price, and pay the price. It is all or nothing.
I know Sling and others have tried different tiered offerings (I know because I’ve tried all of these services at various points). Their blue package and orange package and what not. But they’re so humorously convoluted that they’re almost worthless as a “choice”. And again, I know it’s not their fault, it’s all they can do if they want to offer the content.
It increasingly feels like we need an outsider to come in and change this status quo, much like Spotify did with music. Big tech clearly has the means, but perhaps not the will? In a way, Netflix has done this, at first by repackaging shows and disintermediating the idea of “channels”. And now by creating their own content which makes us increasingly forget about those channels over on “television” in the first place. Still… sports!⁹
So we’re left in this really weird place where the streaming television services are getting worse over time even as they add more content. And it’s because they’re adding more content! Because we have no choice in the matter.
I was happier when I was paying $35/month for YouTube TV a few years back even though they offered far fewer channels than they offer right now. Because I don’t actually want those other channels. And I know that some people do, but they probably don’t want others that I do want. Yet we all have to get them all and pay full price for the convenience.
It’s all just so disappointing. Because with the move to streaming, many of us thought — naively, as it turns out — that perhaps the great unbundling would lead to change. While the services themselves are better in terms of cloud storage, device usage, ease of cancellation, and a few other factors, content remains king. And the king has not been dethroned. And while he may have unbundled for a bit, he’s now here, right in front of us, all bundled up again.
Look, am I going to unsubscribe from YouTube TV because of this price hike? No. Am I disappointed because this is not the future of TV that I wanted? Yes.
¹ Here’s where I’ll disclose that the fund where I’m a partner, GV, is a sister company under Alphabet to YouTube-parent Google. These opinions are my own, as you can hopefully tell in good and bad ways!
⁴ There is a 9 month storage limitation for recorded shows.
⁵ The Apple TV YouTube TV app does leave some things to be desired… But it works! It’s mainly UI and UX quibbles.
⁶ And yes, I recognize that without a bundle, the cost of individual channels would rise substantially. Given the low number of channels I would want, I’m okay with that. I know others would not be, which is undoubtedly why we’re heading back towards the bundle!
⁷ And here’s a good counter on the element on choice in bundles (and bundles in general, by Shishir Mehrotra, who incidentally used to work at YouTube — now the CEO of Coda), though I don’t think it applies to this YouTube TV example in particular. Because what I want to choose is actually what I already chose, but now I have no option to choose to stay with that choice…
Look, I get it. At this point, probably most people reading this have a handful, if not dozens, of power adapters laying around their house thanks in no small part to multiple iPhone purchases throughout the years.¹ That said, there exist people beyond those that read such posts. Wild, I know. And I think it’s wrong to assume that everyone is just like you or I. And whereas with headphones, you could still use the device without that accessory, without power, you can’t do much.
That’s the key in my mind here: Apple is (presumably) about to start selling a device — by far their most popular device and business — that no longer works right out of the box. To use the iPhone after that initial charge runs out, it will be BYOC (bring your own charger) or PUTC (pay up to charge).
Let’s be clear, assuming this rumor is true, Apple is undoubtedly not going to talk about this change when talking about the new iPhones in the fall. But they will have to let word trickle out one way or another for their side of the story. And that side will inevitably be that they’re doing this because environmentally, it’s the right thing to do. This will eliminate an enormous amount of eco-waste. Also, it will reduce the packaging footprint of the iPhone, which means that they’ll be able to ship the devices in a more ecologically sound way. And again, did they mention that most people already have a way to charge such devices? If not, they’ll mention it again.
None of those points are false, but let’s be honest here, that’s not why Apple is doing this. Here’s the breakdown in terms of order of importance as I see it:
1) Margins. The next iPhone’s margins are going to be under assault due to the ‘5G’ components, amongst other new technology. And COVID has altered the supply chain immensely. The charger may not seem like a huge margin savings, but it adds up in aggregate. Also, there’s up-sell opportunities galore with the new faster charging bricks — or, even better, Apple’s inevitably still-forthcoming wireless charging solution.²
2) Shipping. You know what else adds up in aggregate? Shipping these units from China. If Apple can make these boxes more svelte, they’ll pack more in. This helps the environment, in a way, but it helps the bottom line even more.
3) Transitions. The next iPhone — the one after this one — is already rumored to forgo wired charging entirely. If that’s the case, it may make some sense to move people beyond the notion of including a wired charger in the iPhone box now. Force more customers to get ready for the wireless charging revolution.
4) Environment. This is on the list. But it’s the last item on the list. Not the first item on the list.
I know that all sounds cynical, but come on, that is clearly what is happening here. It’s not all point number one, but it’s a combination of all four points with the first one being the most important in terms of deciding what to do here. They could have made this change at any point over the past few years with the same rationale. Yet they’re doing it this year.
Again, I’m sitting here shitting on a decision that is a rumor. But the source (which is a second source, no less) would seem to be credible enough that this is likely going to happen. And so maybe there’s still a chance to affect the outcome. Not within the boxes themselves — that ship has undoubtedly already sailed, even if the shipping containers haven’t yet — but perhaps there’s an opportunity to offer a power brick as a free add-on for those who want/need one at the time of an iPhone purchase.
Because again, it’s pretty dumb to sell a product without the means to actually be able to fully use it out of the box. And yet that’s exactly what Apple — a company which prides itself on that out-of-the-box experience — is doing here.
¹ And yes, for years, Apple included the dinky 5W ones that take forever to charge the phone. And yes, the other rumor is that the 5W chargers are going away entirely, to be replaced by a 20W charger, which itself replaces the more robust 18W charger as well. Assuming the price of the 18W holds (not a sure thing), the power brick will be $29.
Google Photos can now remind us what it was like to travel
Years and years ago, I recall being on a plane, staring out the window,¹ and dreaming up a service that would allow me to quickly record anywhere I’ve been in the world to look back upon later. A sort of automated travel diary or DVR that would offer up nostalgia as a service. This sounds quaint now. Little did I realize that smartphone location tracking would make such data commonplace, but in some ways dystopian.
Still, I never quite found the perfect service for what I wanted. Foursquare was undoubtedly the closest — and it’s why to this day I still check-in on its consumer successor, Swarm. People ask why: I have a decade of travel memories in there! Other services have popped in and out of existence with elements of this as well: Fog of the World, Timehop, Gowalla.
Then Google Maps started doing this, which makes sense. And it works quite well. But again, to some this is creepy as it’s not what the product was built for or the main reason people use it. Most people use Maps to figure out where to go, not to remember where they’ve been. And so the front-end isn’t ideal.
I think Google Photos may have just made such an ideal product.²
With their latest update today, the product rolled out a map view which looks like almost exactly what I’ve been looking for. Visually, it offers up a cool heatmap of where you’ve been — but unlike Maps, the data isn’t populated by your precise movements, it’s from the photos you’ve taken. I like this as a sort of opt-in layer — and, of course, this is also not meant to be a social networking feature, this data is meant for me. For memories.
Instagram long ago had a similar map element which I loved. I used to use it to zoom in and out of the world, reminiscing about travel. In fact, one of the original things I loved about Instagram was how it let you geotag photos (using Foursquare data, before they ruined it for a bit with the move to Facebook). It was sort of a Panoramio done at scale. Then they killed that feature off (you can still geotag, but there’s no real map view). And again, I’m not sure it was exactly right for a social network anyway — or at least not one with the graph of Instagram.
Snap is a more interesting case study on how to do these social maps right. Because the network is more tightly correlated to your close (or at least actual) friends, people seem to be more comfortable sharing their whereabouts. Of course, that service, built on top of Zenly, is more predicated around real time. What I want is nostalgia.
In that regard, Apple’s Photos app perhaps has come the closest. But it’s buried in Albums -> People & Places -> Places. And it’s a bit literal. I believe Google Photos just leaped it by making it a first-class feature.³
We increasingly use our cameras for everything. Family. Receipts. Remembering where we parked. Connecting the location dots to further solidify these memories makes all the sense in the world. And productizing that in map form is brilliant. Just what I’ve been looking for. Especially in an age where travel is a distant memory.
It takes a lot of restraint not to use an “it goes to 11” joke in the headline. It apparently takes even more restraint to not use it in the lede. So here we are.
But seriously, buried in their onslaught of news today, Apple snuck ina quick screen (during the ARM Mac demo) detailing that macOS “Big Sur” is technically macOS 11.0. Yes, after fifteen 10s, it finally… well, you know.
I think it works. Visually, Apple is calling this the biggest update to macOS since it shipped way back when as OS X. And clearly the ARM transition is another key moment for the platform and software, as Tim Cook alluded to. Power PC. OS X. Intel. Now ARM, with macOS 11 to boot, quite literally.
And that’s interesting because while Apple keeps saying all the right things about the Mac and iPad being different devices with different purposes, their actions suggest otherwise. The software now looks the same. The hardware increasingly looks the same. They’re about to run on the same chips. They’ll be able to run the same apps.¹ So…
Anyway, I know this is sort of a religious argument within the Apple community. Again, I just think their actions speak louder than their words here. Do we all think MacBooks and iPads will be two different devices in 10 years? Yesterday, I still may have said ‘yes”. Today, I’m not so sure…
Some other thoughts on WWDC 2020
The new iOS widgets look great. Yes, they’re long overdue, but I’m happy to have them, finally. As someone who charts their iPhone homescreen quite closely, this is obviously going to be one of the biggest changes to iOS from a pure usage perspective well, ever.
The video showcasing the widgets is fun — though also a bit nerve wracking? Why so much emphasis on the shaking! I’m a little worried about this in general as I actually find myself getting worse at “jiggle mode” over time, rather than better at it. And now it’s more important than ever!
The ‘Today’ area looks great with the new widgets. Much cleaner.
I found it a little odd how much time Craig Federighi took to walk through the new picture-in-picture functionality. Looks nice, but it also existed in some form before. I’m just not sure how much it needed top-billing here with iOS 14 in an event that was just shy of two hours?
The new Siri stuff looks pretty good — nice to see how it’s more out of your face. The key, as always, will be how Siri itself performs. Apple keeps promising the moon and delivering something more akin to a small boulder. And that’s putting it nicely.
The ‘Translate’ app looks great. Very clear, very Apple. Can’t wait to see/hear how it compares to Google’s offering, which is excellent, of course.
The Messages updates seem solid. All fairly obvious things, but will make the app more useful. I wish there was a more ephemeral option, perhaps in line with Apple’s privacy and security stance?
Maps, again looks nice, but we’ll see how it compares to Google Maps. I keep testing it out from time to time over years now, and I always end up back at Google, which seems to realize I don’t mean London, Ontario, when searching for ‘London’. The EV routing bit was fun — of course no mention of a certain category leader in EV… Same with the digital key thing.
If the App Store is 12 years old, App Clips is something Apple clearly should have been doing about 11 years ago. Again, better late than never, I suppose. The way they framed it almost makes it seem more as Apple Pay and especially ‘Login with Apple’ lead gen?
iPad OS 14
First and foremost, I’m glad Apple didn’t try to do an ‘iOS 14’ & ‘iPad OS 2’ juxtaposition or some nonsense. Keep it simple. iPad OS 14 really is iOS 14 with a few design tweaks here and there. That was clear by the presentation which highlighted iOS 14 features more than anything inherently iPad-focused. Sidebars, I guess? Yay, sidebars!
Still no sign of Instagram for iPad. I seriously think that alone would have brought the virtual house down. Alas… sidebars! (Okay, Apple Pencil “Scribble” sounds cool too.)
The only thing that matters is automatic switching between devices. I will use this multiple times a day. I worry that there’s a high likelihood of this being easier said than done. And if it fails to work, it’s one of those things that will annoy me more than not having it. But we’ll see. Or hear. Or not hear, I guess!
(Yeah, “Spatial Audio” sounds cool too — but will have to hear it to know for sure.)
“Face Sharing” is the key here — which, odd name aside, is something I’ve long wanted. I basically switch between two watch faces on my Apple Watch, even though there are many complications I would get a lot of use out of. I just never set aside the time to figure out the best new configurations. I’m more than happy to outsource this to others.
Sleep detection is a welcome addition as well, as I’m someone who has “hacked” this for years by turning on “Theater Mode” when going to bed so my slightest movement didn’t ignite the beacons of Gondor multiple times a night.
Hand washing detection. Very timely, of course. Very Apple.
All the new privacy stuff sounds good. It’s something where we likely won’t know the impact until it’s out in the wild. The idea of “upgrading” your account to ‘Sign In with Apple’ seems like it will be controversial, depending on how Apple rolls it out…
I definitely appreciate having the indicator light when camera/microphone is on. Way too many hot mics/cams in the age of Zoom… (I hope it looks better than it first appeared — off-center?)
I’ll be honest, I just can never get excited about any of this Home stuff. It’s probably because I’ve never bothered to set anything up beyond a HomePod and a few Eeros. I feel like this should interest me more but just doesn’t for whatever reason.
Apple TV gets multi-user support, though that’s still nowhere to be found on the iPad… Apple TV+’s Foundation show is very much my jam though. Lee Pace! Please be good, please be good, please be good.
macOS Big Sur
We covered the b11g points above. Though I did enjoy the Jony Ive-esque walkthrough video by VP of Human Interface Alan Dye. No British accent. No “a-lew-min-e-um”. But still, a nice voice.
Like seemingly everyone else, I haven’t been the biggest fan of the Catalyst Mac apps, but I am happy Messages is getting that treatment, simply because while it works 100% of the time on iOS, it works something closer to 50% of the time on macOS, in my experience. It just seemed too left in the iChat past. So here’s hoping this version is better. And I would say the same thing about Mail — which works great on iOS, but is truly awful on the Mac, even though they’ve claimed to rebuild it at least a dozen times now. No word on if this version is Catalyzed (it seems like it’s not?) but it has seemingly been rebuilt once again. JUST MAKE IT WORK LIKE THE iOS VERSION.
The new Safari looks great. Favicons done correctly, finally. And another stab at extensions — seemingly admitting their first few stabs didn’t really work, so now they’ll work with other browsers’. I just really hope these new features don’t bloat up and slow down Safari to the point where it runs like Chrome. Which is to say, hot and battery intensive. The talking points suggest it won’t, but again, we’ll see.
Apple clearly went out of their way not to say either “ARM” or the name of the chip they’ll use in their first “Apple Silicon” Macs. But I appreciated how much time they spent trying to convince us that this would be a “whole new level of performance”. I was surprised the other day by the rumor that the MacBook Pro (and iMac) would be the first machines to get the new chips because I had assumed they’d start “small” and work their way up to the Pros. But it may in fact be the opposite, and today makes it clear that Apple feels very confident in their ability to pull this off.
I enjoyed the Johny Srouji bit. It felt fittingly technical, yet not overly so. He built up a good tick-tock of Apple’s chip development up until today. Apple should be proud of this work and effort. Truly. I even enjoyed that Srouji was in an IT closet? In the Cerebro room, no less.
Federighi’s reveal that an ARM Mac was the demo unit for all the Big Sur features thus far was a nice touch. The Word and Excel demos? Less impressive. Not because they looked bad, just because, well, I’d sure hope a Mac using any processor could run Word. But we get it, Apple wants to showcase these machines are already getting there with the day-to-day stuff you need.
Photoshop was more impressive. Final Cut Pro, even more so. But the proof will be in the dev kits.² Well, presumably.
Running iOS apps on the device? Boom. (No mention of how the touch-to-mouse backward translation will work but… one thing at a time, I guess.)
The presentation itself was… fine? Honestly, it seemed two clicks too cute for my taste. All the silly “handing off” the speaking baton and zooming across the virtual Apple Campus. I honestly thought Snap’s approach for how to do these types of events virtually was more elegant. Apple’s even looked more artificial because it was trying to look more real? It looked like people presenting on a spaceship because, well, that’s what Apple’s campus looks like! The Apple Watch part in the gym and the Apple Silicon portion in the “undisclosed location” were a bit better. The mood lighting during the privacy part was…weird. Apple seemingly chose to highlight the eerily empty Steve Jobs Theater in the intro as it was Cook’s backdrop, which was an odd choice. Though it got a bit better when he took a seat on the stool to talk about the tragedies happening around the country.
Cook, in my opinion, is at his best at delivering that kind of message. He’s less good, I think, at the big picture product stuff. That’s why Craig Federighi is so key to Apple right now (well, beyond the actual work he does, of course). He’s a natural at this. Different than Steve Jobs, dad jokes and all, but still good. And you can see the dichotomy on display during the ARM portion when Cook tries to zoom out to talk about the Mac’s “three major transitions”. “And now it’s time for a huge leap forward for the Mac.” It just sounds a bit flat. No one can reasonably ask for a Steve Jobs performance here, but I do think someone like Federighi would deliver this message better.
This is indeed a massive shift for Apple. It puts them more in control of their entire stack than they’ve ever been. As an operations guy, you know that matters to Cook. Still, there’s something to be said about conveying that enthusiasm. Cook just isn’t great at it.
Anyway, these are all nits. The keynote was good because the announcements were good. They were, for the most part, important. I’m excited to use all of the new software. I’m excited to see where Apple can take the hardware when unchained from Intel. And I’m most excited to see what developers do with all of this stuff.³
To me, it boils down to this: how confident was Cook in all that was announced today? So confident that he busted out “courage” in his closing remarks. That truly takes courage.
It’s time for Apple to re-write and re-think the App Store rules. Because it’s 2020, not 2010.
When the Lord had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, he gave Steve Jobs the two tablets of the App Store Testimony, tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.
Given Apple’s recent statements and more importantly, their recent actions, you’d think the above actually happened. That God himself wrote the App Store rules and guidelines and handed them down to Steve Jobs, who in turn spread the knowledge throughout the land of Apple, never to be questioned.
On Twitter, I used The Constitution analogy. I think it works too — perhaps even better, because regardless of your religious beliefs, everyone acknowledges that the documents which helped form our nation were written by human beings. And they were written in a very different time for a very different world. We still largely hold these as truths, but they’ve been amended over time. And many would suggest they should be amended further. And they will be, over time.
But it takes a lot of time because, well, politics. These are the laws that guide and govern our nation. As a private enterprise, Apple can unilaterally change their own rules — those of the App Store — as they wish. And I wish they would. Because the increasingly arbitrary handling and tweaking of their rules without acknowledging some other, obvious truths is ripping their community apart.
Again, the App Store rules are not written in stone. And even if they were, Apple should feel free to cast them down from the mountaintop, shattering them into a million pieces, to come up with new ones. They were written in a different time. For a different world.
Yes, the App Store is only twelve years old. In the grand scheme of things, that is nothing. But in the age of technology, that’s ancient history. For all the ruckus Hey, a new email service, is causing this week, it’s fun to look back at the press release announcing the “iPhone 2.0 Software Beta”, which highlights such groundbreaking functionality as:
In addition to these new iPhone network and security features, the beta iPhone 2.0 software provides several new Mail features such as the ability to view PowerPoint attachments, in addition to Word and Excel, as well as the ability to mass delete and move email messages.
Move email messages! On your phone! I joke, but this was a big deal at the time. As was the addition of Exchange. That’s mobile in 2008 in a nutshell. When the App Store launched, there were no in-app payments. Netflix was still primarily delivering DVDs by mail. Spotify launched later that year.
Without question, Apple has helped these and thousands of other companies flourish thanks to the App Store. Businesses have been created out of the cloud in thin air. But Apple has flourished too.
The 70–30 split, are the economics of this working out the way that you had said when we last spoke, which is that you might make some money, but you don’t expect it to be a big source of profits?
Yeah. It’s just like iTunes.
Even with the huge popularity of this, you don’t…
No. It costs money to run it. Those free apps cost money to store and to deliver wirelessly. The paid apps cost money, too. They have to pay for some of the free apps. We don’t expect this to be a big profit generator. We expect it to add value to the iPhone. We’ll sell more iPhones because of it.
And, as cynical as it may sound, that may indeed be the answer as to why Apple doesn’t want to change the rules. The App Store is so important now, that it would fundamentally alter a big part of their business equation.
But again, go back to the beginning. To Steve Jobs. The goal was never for the App Store to be a massive business for Apple. It’s great that it has become that. But it was to move iPhones. The rules should be revisited and rewritten to acknowledge these new goals and this new world.
There is so much back-and-forth about the Hey situation, the Spotify situation, the Netflix situation, Rakuten, Epic Games, Facebook, the list goes on and it will continue to go on. Until Apple re-writes the App Store rules from a decade ago for our 2020 reality. And if they don’t, they may be forced to, regardless, by the folks that are beholden to the aforementioned Constitution.
To beat the dead horse: the App Store guidelines and policies were created for the world as it was a decade ago. The world is not as it was a decade ago. Apple should create new guidelines and policies for the world as it is now. It may not be that easy, but it really is that simple.
The App Store Commandments was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
Will the ‘Hey’ fiasco finally tear down Apple’s in-app wall?
Okay, part two of this. Because I really don’t want to be doing email right now. But I’m perfectly happy to write about email!
The second story today was more ridiculous. Yesterday, you may have read about Hey, a new email product from the folks behind Basecamp. It looks interesting. I’m not sure it’s for me exactly, but I appreciate any and all efforts to solve this problem. I definitely want to try it out. Consider this my blatant plea for an invite.
Anyway, today Hey was back in the news for a different reason: Apple decided to block an update they submitted after determining that they were circumventing the App Store’s in-app payment rules. …I’m sorry, let me re-state that… After determining they were circumventing the App Store’s utterly arcane and potentially anti-competitive in-app payment rules. This isn’t even a controversial statement at this point, basically everyoneis saying it.
In order to get into the App Store, Apple wants Hey to offer their service as an in-app payment. And yeah, sure, in-app purchases are nice and seamless. As an end-user, I’d like that too. The problem is the rub: with in-app purchases, Apple takes a 30% cut out of transactions. This is something they’ve been doing for a dozen years now, and many businesses have thrived in this world. Including, of course, Apple. Mostly, perhaps, Apple.
But just in case you haven’t been outside in a while — which you haven’t, because no one has — 2020 is a pretty different world than 2008. Pandemics aside, Apple can no longer with a straight face say that the 30% cut from apps, originally stated to help Apple keep the lights on and run the App Store break-even, is warranted.
I’m not saying Apple shouldn’t get a cut. They absolutely should. They are offering a service and they should be compensated for that service. What they need is an entirely new rule book around how they get compensated. One that is not so black and white. One for the 2020 world of mobile not the 2008 one.
Yes, yes, Apple has cut the 30% rate to 15% for second year subscriptions. That’s not nearly enough. There needs to be far more granularity in the model, given all the different types of models and businesses they’re supporting. And they clearly know that as they already have all these seemingly arbitrary rules around these cuts if the business happens to be large enough. It’s time to go deep with going granular.
Further, it’s beyond time to allow services to let their customers sign up and pay for a service as they wish. I’m fine with Apple saying you need to offer in-app payments (assuming the cut is right, per above) as long as they don’t prohibit you from signing up other ways. Like, say, with Hey directly. Right there. From the sign up page in the app. Apple should compete by offering the most seamless sign up, not by putting up a barrier (or full-on wall) around all other options.
Anyway, it feels like the winds are changing. This Hey situation is interesting in that it’s timely — the week before WWDC — but it’s hardly the first time Apple has over-reached here. And with each passing year, the sleights seem more out of touch with reality. This situation feels like a perfect front end to the back end movement of anti-trust investigations on these matters being asked for by Spotify and also just today, Rakuten.
Hard to see how Apple bobs and weaves from such a one-two punch in this environment. I suspect the 30% cut morphs and the in-app requirement is altered sooner rather than later. The writing has been on the wall, and I appreciate that it may now be most clear in the form of an email app.
Yet I found email — that is, the topic of email — top of mind today while reading a couple stories in the news. And so here I am writing this now to avoid writing email.
First, Google rolled out an update to their Gmail app for iOS and Android that has their Meet (read: the sixth and current branding of their video chat service) product baked into Gmail itself.¹ It seems… fine. I mean, I worry about the payload required to bake this into a mobile app. And it’s honestly not great. But I worry more about the insanely large buttons they shoved into Google Calendar when all we want to use is Zoom.
I really hope they don’t actually roll this out. With email on mobile devices, I’ve found that screen real estate is the single most important aspect. Well, maybe second, actually. Speed would be first. And again, shoving Meet into Gmail’s already quite full mouth…
Look, we get it. Zoom is a nearly $70B company at this point. And Google has a Zoom-like product that they’d really, really like to remind you of. Of course, if you were the inventors of Zoom, you would have… you get the picture. Meet is fine. It’s great that it’s free, for now. But it should be more than fine for people to not only discover it for themselves, but to want to use it without it being shoved in their faces. Like Google Photos. That is a legitimately great product, that a ton of people use even though it’s not shoved into Gmail.
And it may even make sense to have Meet wedged into some sidebar of Gmail on the desktop, where screen real estate is less at a premium and productivity “suites” are more the norm. Then again, this has been the case with Chat, formerly Hangouts,² yet it’s now a bloated mess of a product because a chat product should be svelte. Speed. Speed. Speed. Speed. You shove other stuff in, people revolt. And you end up taking the other stuff out. Just bring back Gchat. Or Google Talk. Or whatever the first version was. The simple one.
Snap’s Partner Summit set a new digital conference bar
This morning I attended a technology conference. That in and of itself is not interesting, I’ve attended hundreds of those. And while it was a virtual one,that’s also not the interesting angle here as we’re now months into that being the norm, unfortunately. What made this one stand out was that it was both virtual and actually good.
I’m speaking, of course, about the Snap Partner Summit which the company hosted exclusively online today to talk about their latest and greatest. And while I did have a badge for the event, that was more for show — quite literally — to share and help get the word out, it seems. The event was open to all because it was a one-way street. All you could do was watch.
Again, that was a good thing. It was a presentation, not some sort of faux interactive thing. And the aspect that struck me most was the quality of said presentation. Even though I was there — well, here, but you know what I mean — watching it on my computer, it still had the feel of a keynote to which all others are held. Which is to say, an Apple keynote.
But again, in this virtual environment, I actually think it was better than an Apple keynote, because of killer production value mixed with their use of one of Snap’s core competencies: AR. All of the virtual flourishes swirling around the presenters didn’t feel tacky, or worse, silly. It felt natural. It felt right.
From the ASMR opening that beautifully morphed a sun into the Summit’s logo to the pull back to reveal CEO Evan Spiegel taking the “stage” on a virtual beach surrounded by presentation screens. Reading that sentence again, it sounds like the corniest, most new age, bullshit thing imaginable.
But it worked! It really worked. They had multiple camera angles. It was beautifully choreographed. Video tee-ups segued into videos. Videos faded back into the virtual stage. The content kicked off with undoubtedly the hardest topics imaginable: the COVID-19 lockdowns and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, but it somehow all worked.
Too many of these virtual presentations are an attempt to cram a presentation not meant to be virtual into a digital box. See also: Sony’s PlayStation 5 event which “took place” just a few hours later. It wasn’t bad, per se. But it wasn’t at the level of Snap’s.
Apple, because of their history with such events, will presumably have a far greater audience for their keynote. And they have experience with filming these things in order to share later (and, in recent years, live). Are they simply going to do the keynote as if they were doing it in front of an audience? Or, like Snap, are they going to use the opportunity to show off some of their AR prowess?
It will be different. Tim Cook won’t be able to play for claps. Craig Federighi won’t be able to play for dad joke laughs. Phil Schiller won’t be able to play for gasps. So do they keep it tight and moving? Do we finally dispel with the half-dozen-too-many demos? Do we come in under two hours? Snap’s 52-minute keynote today felt downright refreshing.
Anyway, color me impressed by Snap’s Summit today. If we truly are in a world where large gatherings are forever altered, I think they’ve shown a way to do this type of thing. My hot-take wondering if Snap can turn digital event organization into a business was only half in jest. It was that good.
The only weird thing — and it was truly bizarre — you couldn’t watch the event on Snapchat.
Virtual Insanity was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
I’m sitting here, poolside, writing this on my iPad. It’s great. And a big part of why it’s great is because it doesn’t feel like I’m using a computer. If I was sitting here using my laptop, I’d be in a decidedly less good mood. And a big reason why all of this is possible is ARM.
That is, because of the ARM architecture,¹ Apple has been able to make chips more than powerful enough to do everything I need to do on a device like the iPad (and the iPhone, for that matter). And I find myself thinking about this right now as today we seemingly got the clearest signal yet that we’re on the cusp of ARM-based Macs.
Apple’s chip-development group, led by Johny Srouji, decided to make the switch after Intel’s annual chip performance gains slowed. Apple engineers worried that sticking to Intel’s road map would delay or derail some future Macs, according to people familiar with the effort.
Inside Apple, tests of new Macs with the Arm-based chips have shown sizable improvements over Intel-powered versions, specifically in graphics performance and apps using artificial intelligence, the people said. Apple’s processors are also more power-efficient than Intel’s, which may mean thinner and lighter Mac laptops in the future.
While Apple is not going to be able to come out and directly throw Intel under the bus (though Steve Jobs may have!), the implications will be clear enough. This is going to be a huge embarrassment for Intel. They had literally one job to do, and they couldn’t do it for one of their most important clients. And actually, it’s the second time they couldn’t do it — hello, modems. And if you consider the entire swing-and-miss on mobile processors in general, that’s three strikes. That last one the kind where you spin around and fall on your ass and get laughed off the playing field.
I’m excited to see where Apple can take the Mac with a new central nervous system. Certainly, an all-day tiny MacBook will be exciting. But I wonder if they can’t think bigger too. You know, unlike Intel.
I was thinking about what to do here, and I stumbled upon a name based off the fact that the Roman numeral for 500 is, of course, ‘D’. Hopefully I don’t have to explain this further.
Anyway, no plans to stop my other newsletter, 5ish, which has a more concrete purpose — well, sort of — of sharing 5 or so links. But I have been trying to come up with a way to write more informally and casually. So perhaps the best way to do that is to send this on a somewhat regular cadence to — checks subscriber number — 10,000 or so of you. Gulp.
Feel free to unsubscribe 🙂 My feelings will certainly not be hurt, but then they will also not be shared!
Dishing It Out was originally published in 500ish on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.