Apple Maps, China Style

Interesting discovery by Daniel Eran Dilger:

Bizarrely enough, Apple's Maps in China are better than Apple Maps in Europe or the United States. Those improvements are likely to trickle back to the rest of us in enhancements due for iOS 9 and the next OS X (as well as in the navigation maps on Apple Watch).

I too struggle to navigate Hong Kong with Apple Maps. Looks like it's about to get a whole lot better.


Catching Up

A lot's happened since the last update, so we've a bunch of things to catch up on. I spent much of March and April in various parts of Asia, and general busyness levels have made writing hard. I'm going to be writing some quick updates and reflections on a few things over the long weekend, and then we'll see where things go from there. 

I've also taken the opportunity to start rethinking what purpose Futurilla serves, and I want to try a few different things out over the summer. Some of these experiments will inevitably fail, but that's ok. Let's see what sticks. I'll write about some of the ideas in the forthcoming posts.


Amp iPhone Speaker Case

This looks great, and it's just what I've been thinking I want from iPhone accessories: A single specialised function that does something very well and provides the extra power needed. I want a camera grip that includes a battery too. 

While you're at it, make sure you check out the promo video. Great stuff.


Apps are not the Future

This, I think, is spot on.  

From the Watch Face, you are able to see your Glances and notifications. In order to see apps, you have to engage the Digital Crown. This makes it seem pretty obvious that Apple has purposely designed apps not to be front and center like they are on iPhone. Instead, Apple Watch apps are mere repositories where stored information can be pushed to the user in the form of Glances and via Notification Center.

Looking at the Apple Watch walk-throughs myself, it's not hard to see that what initially looked like the Apple Watch's version of Springboard is actually more akin to a kind of Settings screen where you can see the whole "universe" of installed functionality. Apple Watch doesn't want you wasting your time in there Browsing through apps to use them—it wants to alert you to something that needs your attention now or soon, and let you get in and out fast. This is going to take some getting used to for most of us.


The Economic Impact of the iPhone 6


The launch of the popular iPhone 6 by Apple in September 2014 was the biggest, and perhaps the only, positive driver for Hong Kong's retail sector during late 2014. Thanks largely to Apple, retail sales grew better than expected at 3.5%y/y in value terms during September and November 2014, despite the temporary disruption from the 'Occupy Central' demonstration. The sales of iPhone, which are captured in other consumer durable sales, grew on average 60%y/y since September, propelled predominately by the launch of new product.

(Thanks to myapplemenu for the heads-up).


Ringly is a Single Purpose Wearable Device

If they shipped this in a less gender-specific version I'd buy one in a heartbeat. 

Wearable devices are part of a new model of computer networking — what people are calling the personal cloud. The personal cloud will include both general-purpose and single-purpose devices. Apple is pursuing the general-purpose vision with the upcoming Apple Watch. Ringly is pursuing the single-purpose vision. There will be successful companies in both categories.


Succeeding In a Slow Economy

Great advice for creative freelancers, and anyone who sells design:

Work less in a struggling economy? Going on long holidays? You gotta be crazy my friend. Now is the time to push your name out into the market and pull in as much business and as much revenue as you can.

Secondly, it’s important that your product is very valuable. You must do great work. A truly exceptional, useful product is a must. You need to be on a path to mastery in your craft or have already achieved it.

You can not take short cuts to mastery.


Pencil Now in Apple Stores

Fiftythree's lovely bluetooth stylus is now in Apple stores. Here in the UK I noticed they had extensive stocks of all three models last week:

We’re proud to kick off the new year with a special announcement: Pencil is now available at Apple! For the first time ever, see Pencil up close and get it at your local Apple store.

I bought the Pencil (walnut model) when it first shipped on Amazon, and though I paid a fair bit more than it currently costs I haven't regretted it for a moment. Fantastic product.


Close, But No Cigar

Ian Betteridge puts his Law of Headlines into full effect with "Should you swap your Mac and iPad for a Surface Pro 3?". In short he has a lot of good things to say about the new Surface Pro, but:

For me, having two devices makes more sense. Most of the time, I can take the iPad and enjoy the insane battery life, huge range of applications, and easy portability of a tablet. Sometimes, I might want to take my MacBook Pro, and enjoy all the fantastic Mac apps. The number of occasions when I don’t know which device I’m going to need — or when I need both — are much rarer than Microsoft would like to believe.

I know people who want a single device and are prepared to make compromises to achieve that simplicity. For some, that device is a laptop, for some a tablet, for others a large-screen phone. Me? I've never wished my Mac was an iPad, nor my iPad a Mac.


How do you Upgrade the Apple Watch?

On the subject of the soon-to-launch Apple Watch, MacObserver's John Martellaro drops this reality bomb:

When Apple announces a new product, they've been working on it in secret for years. As a result, the obvious questions we ask ourselves between the time the product is announced and when it ships have already been worked out by Apple. And so, it makes little sense to beat up on Apple for things that we dream up as potential problems until the product actually ships.

There's been on-off speculation since we got our first look at the Watch that something like this might be possible. After all, you don't expect your solid gold watch to need replacing every year. Moreover, that new all-in-one S1 package looks remarkably like a separate module. Apple's designed that to be easy to swap out, even if it doesn't intend to let you do it yourself.

Even more interesting in my opinion: Apple will be getting a lot of experience in developing small, sealed packages that bundle all a device's sensors and chips together. Where else is that going to show up over the next few years?


The Camera to Beat

Hot on the heels of the iPhone toppling all-but-one camera brand on Flickr comes this piece on The Verge by Vlad Savov:

The iPhone’s lead as the smartphone to beat has rarely been defined by just one thing. At one point, the biggest advantage was the simplicity and speed of its interface; at another, it was down to the diversity and quality of available apps; and most recently, the iPhone has distinguished itself with the quality of its 8-megapixel camera. Today, the combination of all these things — simple and fast operation, strong optics and image processing, and a wide app ecosystem — is helping people create the best possible images with the least possible hassle.

It's been a while now since the iPhone pretty much replaced all of the my other cameras—I haven't taken either my Canon DSLR or my Ricoh GR Digital 1 out of the house since I bought the iPhone 5s, and the iPhone 6 has made me miss them even less. (Hat-tip to MyAppleMenu for the link).


Innovation is Mostly Hindsight

I was asked yesterday to review part of a project proposal I'm involved in and—for the purposes of the funding application—highlight aspects which might qualify it as innovative. It's not an unusual ask, especially when the funding is meant to go to innovative projects, but it made me think about just how difficult it is to define innovation.

Reading through the proposal a number of different kinds of innovation seem apparent, and I think it's worth enumerating and thinking about them seperately:

1. Pure invention: This is characterised by a high degree of novelty or unexpectedness, though this might not be immediately apparent. Sometimes there are things we just haven't heard of before, and where we don't know if there's prior art. We can probably rid ourselves of quite a few of these simply by doing more research, and shifting the innovation into another category; some examples that remain might actually be bad ideas—novelty for its own sake, as it were. We should probably eliminate those too, unless we're working in a field of pure research. I'm not sure that this approach has much to offer those of us working in design contexts.

2. Extension:  Some of our innovations are really extensions of what's been done before—a kind of dialling up of key aspects of the work. This is often what passes for design iteration, though it's less than all that implies. Much of what passes for consumer product innovation Is just this kind of amplification: faster, thinner, more. Almost every project does at least some of this, 

3. Recontextualisation: Perhaps the most interesting kind of innovation is when something established (and sometimes mundane) in one context suddenly gets relocated into a new space and it just all makes sense. Think failed low-tack glue becoming Post-It-Notes. We're big fans of this over on the Visual Communication Masters course too—it's often what's happening when students are creating what we call new knowledge.

4. Synthesis: You can combine disparate elements and end up with a teasmade, or you can create the iPhone. When it works, when two conceptual frameworks overlay each other and tessellate perfectly, then true magic happens. Very hard to do well, and a quick read of The Design of Everyday Things is all you need to tell you why.

What's apparent from yesterday's exercise in innovation-spotting is just how hard it is to definitively call something innovative, except in hindsight. More often than not we're just pointing out areas with potential for design activity that fits one or more of our categories, and where we hope that innovation—with the application of design, commitment to iterative processes , and more than a little luck—might take hold and flourish.

Unearthing the Early Web

Fascinating web archeology in old VHS cassettes.

In the late aughts, Baio figured out where he might be able to find this historical data. He began collecting instructional VHS tapes about the early web from thrift stores and Amazon's used video section, where he could get them for about a dollar each. With names like Internet Power and Computability they contain plenty of outdated jargon and quaint "gee wiz" attitudes, and were largely aimed at people who had an Internet connection but didn't know what to use it for. Turns out, these videos make up some of the only documentation left of that online era.


Will 2015 be the Year of the Laptop?

On the heels of all the 12" MacBook rumours comes this CES piece from The Verge:

The most significant (and consistent) CES absentee every year is Apple, but even its MacBooks managed to get into the news this week with a leak suggesting there’ll be a leaner and meaner 12-inch MacBook Air coming this year. The key to making that happen, beyond the move to the more efficient Broadwell CPUs, is the newly introduced USB Type-C connector. Shaped like Apple’s own Lightning plug, it’s slim and symmetrical, and it’s going to make it possible to build even thinner laptops than we already have. It’s crazy to think it, but Type-C is the sort of blindingly obvious upgrade in convenience that may push some people over the edge to go and finally upgrade their years-old laptop.

Whether it’s Intel’s chips, Apple’s design chops, or the continuing refinement of Windows machines, you’ll have more reasons to consider buying a new laptop in 2015 than in the previous three years combined. It’s a good time to be in this market, that’s for sure.

Though I use the iPad as my primary computer I think the death of the notebook is a way off. Heck, I've fallen back in love with my iMacs over the last year or so (and could easily see myself getting a retina iMac this year). In truth, all these device formats (and I include the Watch as a potentially useful space) have a place, and we're just beginning to figure out how information and functionality can move between these spaces in meaningful—and comfortable—ways.


Disrupting Meat

Fascinating article on the work done by a new generation of food scientists to eliminate the inefficient process of using animals to turn plants into meat:

Considering the speed of change, the money and smarts being thrown at the problem, and the desperate need, it seems likely that sometime in the next decade, Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods or another rival will perfect vegetarian beef, chicken, and pork that is tastier, healthier, and cheaper than the fast-food versions of the real thing. It will be a textbook case of disruptive technology: overnight, meat will become the coal of 2025—dirty, uncompetitive, outcast. Our grandchildren will look back on our practice of using caged animals to assemble proteins with the same incredulousness that we apply to our ancestors’ habit of slaughtering whales to light their homes.

As someone who was vegan for 18 years—mostly for environmental reasons—I'm convinced we can do a better job of making affordable protein to feed the world. I look forward to trying some of these new attempts.


Designing for the Long Haul

Carlos Gomez might not like what Apple has in mind for the future of the notebook Mac, but he absolutely nails the approach it's taking:

When Apple finds an opportunity to rethink a popular device, they engineer it to the user and use cases three years down the road and wait for the hardware and software to catch up. They’re rarely content in just making a better version of what they already sell. That’s a recipe for being leapfrogged in the marketplace by a younger and less-entrenched company. It’s a story they wrote. I think it’s not too risky to say Apple lives in a perpetual fear of having what they did to Palm and BlackBerry done to them by someone with clear vision and nothing to lose.


Return of the MacBook Air

Over at Six Colors, Jason Snell offers some historical context on the heavily-rumoured 12" MacBook Air:

If Gurman’s reports are accurate, this new model pulls the MacBook Air line away from the MacBook Pro. In fact, it returns the MacBook Air to its roots—as a product full of choices that we consider crazy at first, because they’re out of step with conventional computer design, but that will appeal to a target audience that doesn’t actually care about those de rigueur features.

I owned an original MacBook Air too (the curvy first model, in its second—slightly speedier—revision), and loved it in spite of the inherent design compromises. This was before iTunes Match, before DropBox, before iCloud, and using it as a primary computing device meant making some pretty tricky decisions about what you were going to load up on that pokey SSD. Nevertheless I considered it a no-brainer: I had lugged my laptops around half the globe for the best part of a decade (first a PowerBook G3, then a white iBook, a 12" PowerBook, and finally a brace of Intel MacBooks) and though each delivered a different balance of convenience and functionality, I found myself inexorably moving towards valuing portability over power.

This was of course driven by the changing nature of my own employment (less design and coding, more writing and researching), but also by the dynamics of hardware and software: Moore's Law and Mac OS X seemed almost conspiratorially intent on delivering more functionality for less with each refresh. By the late 2000's it seemed faintly ridiculous to be hauling around the equivalent of a desktop system when all I really needed was a note-taking and communication system. Less than two years after adopting the Air I was well on my way to replacing it with the first iPad.

This same dynamic leads me to agree with Jason Snell: The MacBook Air needs to return to its original position as an outlier, a statement of intent, a herald of things to come. In a couple of revisions the MacBook Pro will be as thin and light as the original Air was back in 2008, and pretty much every notebook manufacturer has a svelte model in its range (though inexplicably I still see people hauling the kinds of kit that make that original Lombard G3 look small). Apple can let the new Air point the way towards the kind of Mac that'll be mainstream in two or three years, and at the same time make the neither-one-thing-nor-the-other hybrid tablet/notebooks look ridiculously clunky and compromised. 

I haven't bought a notebook for myself since the first IPad shipped, but if the 2015 12" Air is all that it's rumoured to be then I could easily see that changing..



Exceptional Cases

I'm not a big fan of phone cases—I'm pretty sure Apple's industrial designers don't design their devices and then hope you'll slap a case on it—but I know that for many people it's either necessitated by the way they need to use and handle their phones, or a part of how they personalise and express themselves.

if I was going to put a permanent case on my iPhone though, this would be it. Seems incredibly thin and elegant, and leaves the iPhone's aesthetic almost untouched. I might just order one to see how they feel.

For those who are interested, I've always carried my iPhones around in an Apple IPod Sock to protect them in my pocket. The iPhone 6 though is just a touch too long to be comfortably squeezed into one, and so I'm using a Knomo Leather Sleeve (in tomato red). I've also just picked up one of these wrap-around sleeves from Dutch company Mujjo, to use when I want to carry my iPhone, bank card, and nothing else.