Author Archive

One Year of Command-Z

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

One year ago, I decided I wanted to contribute something more substantial to the community than just tweets or stupid quips. I can’t believe what I’m about to write, but it’s already been a year since I started this blog as a platform to communicate my own thoughts on technology, design, and media.

In this time, not only have I developed a tiny following of readers, but I’ve also had the opportunity to improve my own writing, and get acquainted with the nuances and practices in this community of technology bloggers that have helped me improve my own writing. By writing regularly, I’ve become better at voicing my thoughts in a way that I find engaging yet concise.

So far this year, I’ve written 320 posts (including link posts, and this one). That’s on average, 0.88 posts a day, a number I’m proud of. Of those 20 posts, 42 are substantial articles that I’ve worked hard on, while the rest are posts that serve only the purpose of linking to others’ work and to add on thoughts. It’s not a ratio I’m proud of, but I’d like to see this improve in the future1.

In addition to this blog, I’ve also launched other projects: Yellow Signal on Medium, a review blog that isn’t as regular, but is a collection of app reviews and interviews with interesting people. Also, I’m launching a podcast in the near future that I hope will give listeners an interesting perspective on technology from a student’s perspective.

It’s only been one year, but I would say it’s a success: not in terms of metrics, but in terms of my own personal growth as a writer. Next year, I aim to focus on more substantial writing: while quantity may be a metric others are more interested in, my interests lie in quality. I don’t want to write ‘often’, I want to write well. Next year, even if the aforementioned numbers don’t increase, I want to write content that people actually enjoy.

  1. In fact, I’ve cut down on link posts after reading Joe Caiati’s excellent post arguing that newer blogs should not try to emulate Daring Fireball today, but rather to focus on writing more substantial pieces. 

Preliminary Thoughts on the iPad Pro: A High School Student’s Perspective

Thursday, 12 November 2015

The reviews are out, and the iPad Pro is now shipping. We’ve seen the 6,000-word long review from MacStories (as we’ve come to expect, really). We’ve seen interviews with Apple executives about the new device. We’ve also seen PC enthusiasts scoff at the idea of a tablet (however powerful) replacing the long-beloved laptop. It’s clear that the iPad Pro is a controversial device. To many, it’s Apple simply making a bigger iPad. To others, it shows a clear path of where mobile computing is gravitating toward. In many ways, the expansion of mobile computing is now headed straight at two key markets: enterprise, and creatives.

Apple is branching out into business. Last year, they partnered with IBM in an interesting partnership that saw Apple become much more relevant in the enterprise sector. With the iPad Pro, Apple is taking full aim at business professionals. When the iPad first came out, many tried it out as their only computing device. That was a failed experience for these people. Apple’s software wasn’t developed enough to take advantage of the extra screen real estate. The technology and the interface wasn’t yet there to introduce new ways of interacting with mobile devices. Now, with the release of iOS 9 this fall (the most important update to iOS for the iPad since its invention), combined with the power and size of the iPad Pro, Apple is reintroducing the tablet as a PC alternative. And a very strong one, at that. With more power than ever, bundled with the world’s most advanced operating system, it’s easy to see why.

Apple also made a big deal to attract creatives too. Even their marketing strategy seems to point toward artists and designers. Their main iPad Pro page calls the device a “canvas”. Apps shown off include GarageBand, iMovie, UMake, and the many Adobe apps that now support iPad Pro. The Pencil is shown on their website exclusively for sketching and other artistic indulges, even neglecting PDF annotations that business professionals might use it for. The 12.9” screen is absolutely gorgeous and I’d love to doodle on that thing. I’m not so sure about whether I’d like to create UI design mockups or do WordPress development in Coda yet, but I’m sure there’s some friction to overcome to fully transition over from a desktop environment over to this lovely aluminum slab.

There is, I think, another category of potential customers Apple should be targeting (but haven’t), and that’s education. I study in a relatively high-end high school for international students in Hong Kong, and in place currently exists a 1:1 personal laptop deployment program. The first three years of high school education focuses on a core curriculum which doesn’t involve a lot of high tech. Most of my pre-GCSE days were spent in apps that exist on iOS today: Google Drive, Microsoft’s Office Suite and a web browser made up 90% of our technology usage in class. Once you go up a few years, classes become more specialized, as electives such as Media Studies (which involves a practical film-making aspect) and Textiles are thrown in the mix. These classes, as you can imagine, involves the usage of more sophisticated programs, but for the majority of students, a powerful tablet like the iPad Pro is sufficient for the demands of a rigorous high school curriculum1. Features such as Slide Over and Split View bring basic window management that existed on OS X and other desktop operating systems to iOS, which is the highest level of complexity in an operating system most students require to be comfortable. Since the majority of classes in the higher years only require a web browser and an office productivity suite2, the iPad Pro looks like a promising candidate for the future of classroom computing.

  1. Not for me, though. For my needs, which involve use of professional video-editing software (no, iMovie does not cut it), I still need a professional laptop. I write this on a top-of-the-line 15” MacBook Pro that often runs the Adobe CC suite and Xcode. 
  2. With the exception of the occasional launch of iMovie. 


Monday, 2 November 2015

I’ll have to stop writing for a while now because things are getting busy at school. I’m going into my GCSE years and I need to prioritize my studies before my own hobbies (although I hate to call this that). I’m not happy with making this decision but I need to do this in order to focus on my own future. As CGP Grey outlines in his own post, it seems like taking a break to focus on something more important seems right.

While I won’t update this site for a while (perhaps a couple months), you can still find me and my terrible jokes, quips, and incorrect commentary on technology on Twitter.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Manson Reece writes a wonderful piece on his blog:

It’s March 2009, the height of SXSW in Austin before the conference gets too big for itself. I’m hanging out downtown with tech folks from a blogging startup, having dinner and beers before we head to the party they’re putting on. The CTO, one of the first employees at the company, is talking about Memcache servers and MySQL scaling, and I’m hanging on every word. I love this stuff. […]

We walk over to the party venue. It’s bigger and more crowded than he thought it would be. Their company has really taken off, growing well beyond the early days when it was just him and the founder trying to build something new. And it’s at this point that he turns to me and asks a question that brings us back to iOS development:

“So what do you think of my app, Instapaper?”

In answer to Marco Arment, at that time the CTO of Tumblr, I mutter something about liking it, but I haven’t really gotten it into my workflow yet. Hopefully whatever I said was encouraging. In subsequent years, of course, Instapaper would be one of my favorite apps.

This is such a strong piece. The main point Manton is trying to get across is that developers shouldn’t be jealous of another, but rather, inspired by them.

I’ll never accept the implied negativity in the “that’s fine for Marco” argument. I’ll never accept that we should be jealous of another developer’s success instead of inspired by it to do our best work.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Adam Popescu scored a great chat with Ev Williams for The Verge, where Williams discusses Medium’s future, how it’s worked compared to the original vision, and how writers and readers can connect through Medium. The part that sticks out to me is this bit about the hole the Medium fills in social media:

I started Medium with the intention that there’s a better way to support quality ideas, thinking, stories we don’t yet have on the internet. Social media filled a gap that we didn’t know existed before, and Twitter and its followers so-to-speak have created a layer of real-time information that is extremely powerful. But that doesn’t suffice to help explain our world, or drive deeper understanding and connection. The web itself wasn’t meeting that need to its full potential. That’s why we created Medium.

I did feel like Medium solved a lot of problems we had before 2012. While some simply don’t ‘get’ it, I think it’s a great way for people to express themselves. It’s a great platform that allows socializes longform text. A lot of people still love building up a blog, writing consistently until you attract readers — like myself. But I think a lot more people will gravitate toward Medium to get their voice heard today — it’s because it’s easier to surface content in the network that Medium has created for people who want to get heard.

YouTube Red

Thursday, 22 October 2015

The Verge got an interesting exclusive look at YouTube Red. For $9.99 a month, YouTube users get the video-sharing platform ad-free, along with the option to download videos for offline use.

I have a few thoughts on this. Firstly, there’s this:

On the face of it, YouTube’s new ad-free subscription service seems like an existential threat to the advertisers the service has spent a decade courting. Kyncl, ever the salesman, argues that Red could boost creator earnings without cannibalizing the ad business. “We believe in the advertising business. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the content on YouTube will be free, as it always has been,” he explained. “So the world that all of our advertising partners are used to remains alive and well and [watch time]continues to grow at an astonishing 60 percent year over year. There is nothing we are taking away from there, merely adding onto it.”

Does that “adding on” involve a more aggressive ad push for regular users?

I also find it terrible that as the world’s most popular music streaming platform (yes, a lot of people still search up songs on YouTube), they’re making ‘background play’ — your audio continuing when you leave the app on mobile devices — a paid feature. It shouldn’t be a way for them to make money, it’s simply being a good citizen of the ecosystem.

Also, YouTube Originals:

YouTube Originals pair stars who were born on the platform with top talent from film and television. “What we realized is that in many cases, content creators on YouTube have worked on a shoestring budget for many years, and have built super fan bases basically on zero budgets,” says Kyncl. “In order to scale up, it takes a different kind of enterprise, a different kind of skill set; there is [a] story-telling skill set, there is showrunning, etc.” In the near future, PewDiePie will be matched with the producer of The Walking Dead to make a scripted horror series very different from his one-man vlogs. YouTube Originals is also helping to produce and promote a documentary about the world tour of comedian Lilly Singh.

This is an ingenious idea. The main advantage in terms of content that YouTube’s got going for them that other media streaming services don’t have is the talent, and we’re not talking Hollywood actors. It’s the “YouTubers” who put their videos on YouTube, and amass millions of subscribers. The internet has allowed a revolution to come into play. Do you visit Vogue or Racked for keeping up-to-date with fashion trends, or do you check that fashion blogger’s Instagram?

Especially with today’s generation moving to YouTube for more and more content, those who love these personalities, but are unsatisfied with the production quality of some of these videos (such as myself) are being served by YouTube Originals. Let’s face it — you don’t watch PewDiePie for breathtaking cinematography, do you? Pairing YouTube creators with people who can do high-quality production can make YouTube the king of television. We’re seeing a massive reorganization in online video, and it’s safe to say that maybe within five years, cable TV as we know it will be gone, forever an artifact to remain in old people’s televisions. It’s an exciting future.

Sadly, YouTube is using its position as the online video juggernaut to strong-arm creators into accepting the YouTube Red’s subscription deal. Any creator that doesn’t accept the deal will find their content invisible to the public on both ad-free and ad-supported tiers. Even if they hold the future of video in their hands, it’ll be interesting to see how Google’s — sorry, Alphabet’s — monopoly affects creators everywhere.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Matt Bircher rounded up some of his favorite apps with 3D Touch. I don’t own an iPhone 6s, so I wouldn’t know how well they work, but it’s fascinating to gain an insight into how 3D Touch is being used by different developers for different use cases.

It’s a great piece well worth a read, with some brilliant high quality images showing off the 3D Touch implementations. I especially love Overcast’s implementation.

Students of the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam, Germany have created some gorgeous mockups of iTunes, broken up into little pieces of software. While the choices of apps are dubious (there’s one just for listening to albums), the UI choices of these students are invigorating.

Just look at this one, called “Simplay”“.
Despite the font choice of SF Compact (which I doubt was intentional), the user interface looks like a much better version of iTunes’ MiniPlayer.

iTunes is bloated. If I could break up iTunes into smaller but much better designed apps (both functionally and aesthetically), I’d pick these:

  • Just one app that serves as a control panel for iOS. That means an app you can manage software updates with, as well as sync content such as music and videos to. With the new focus as the ‘cloud’ as the content hub, it won’t be as popular as other apps, for sure, but power users might enjoy having something like this around.

  • One app for music. Call it Apple Music, but stress the difference between downloaded and streamable content.

  • One app for movies and TV shows. Just a navigation bar, showing two buttons for movies, and TV shows, and segmented buttons for your library, “For You”, and Search.

  • One app for podcasts. It’s about time we got a decent podcast player for OS X.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Stephen Hackett published a great, in-depth look at the new Notes app for iOS and OS X, released with the latest iteration of both OSes. I’ve been using Evernote as my ‘everything box’ for the past year or so, but I’ve come to hate the service1 for its constant prompts to upgrade, the often terrible user experience, and the general sluggishness of the service over the past few months, which is why I’ve been delighted with Apple’s updates to the Notes app.

First of all, sync has been rock solid in my experience. New notes and edits show up on my other devices within moments. All content is saved offline automatically, and with the app’s extension, its easy to save content from anywhere in iOS or OS X.

Yes, unlike most of iCloud, sync is actually really good, and much better than Evernote’s in my experience. I thoroughly enjoy the quick syncing between notes from iOS to OS X, and vice versa.

One of my favorite features is the new multimedia support, and the link/content previews.

Being able to mix content types is nice. Often, my notes are part text, part outline, coupled with a photo or screenshot of some type. Notes handles all this really well, and the application has a view in which you can see all attachments, across folders and notes for quick access. This is present on both the Mac and iOS apps, and I already really like it.

I don’t understand why the drawing tools aren’t available on OS X, though. By far my biggest complaint is the still-awful UI with the faux-notepad lettering. This has got to go.

The new app still sports a textured background, and its text still has a slight shadow to it. It’s gross and makes the text a little harder to read than I’d like. The Mac app’s default font size is too small and there’s no way to bump it up across all notes.

See also:
– The Notes section of Federico Viticci’s massive iOS 9 review thoroughly looks at the changes in Apple’s Notes app in iOS.
Larry Salibra’s excellent migration tool from moving from Evernote to Apple Notes.

  1. The oft-quoted ‘Work Chat’ feature has had me in stitches for a while. 

Thoughts on the Patronage Model Debate

Thursday, 15 October 2015

This afternoon I was horrified when I opened up Twitter and saw this:

That’s a Twitter conversation between two people I deeply respect. Marco Arment, one of my favorite podcasters, developers, and writers, and Samantha Bielefeld, one of my favorite new writers on the scene, whose writing I’ve talked about in the past.

The debate seems to be about Marco’s new pricing model for Overcast 2, which offers its excellent features for absolutely free, with an optional patronage model for people who want to support Overcast’s development. Some people have spoken out, saying that the patronage model would only be sustainable for Marco, because he’s a millionaire, countering Marco’s own point (emphasis mine):

Similar reasoning as last year guided me on this year’s model:
I’m not doing anything that other developers can’t do.
• Nobody is entitled to keep their market share, including me. It’s a constant battle to get and keep customers in a crowded market, and I need to ensure that I don’t fall behind.
• My previous headlining features are being implemented by more competitors, and this will only increase over time.
Yesterday, Samantha Bielefeld took this further with her own piece, the cleverly-titled “The Elephant in the Room”, in which she makes some astute points, some of which I agree with, some of which I don’t.

Without diving into the politics of the situation too much, I think Marco disagrees with her piece because he thinks it attacks the work he had to do to get where he is, while Samantha doesn’t agree with how Marco thinks the patronage model is possible for any independent developer. What I don’t understand, though, is why Marco decided to respond negatively to people who just wanted to voice their opinion without doing it in a harmful way. Regardless, onto my own thoughts on the issue at hand.

I find it very harsh to say that only Marco can do it because he is a millionaire. To me, that kind of statement misses the point, and almost devalues the work he’s done until now. His 80,000 followers or influence didn’t just happen because he’s Marco, it’s because he built that up over the years by providing good value, whether it’s through his apps, projects, writing, or podcasting. When he says that the patronage model is something that other developers can do too, he’s not saying they’ll make all the money back overnight. It’s taken Marco years to build up money to the point where he’s at, and his point is that anyone can do it, it’ll just take longer.

Going free is still a pretty big gamble for independent developers, and I still believe that Bielefeld’s main point is true: Marco enjoys some advantage, but it’s because he’s put work into building a brand and worked hard to get where he’s at to become so respected.

On the whole, I think independent developers who are just starting out shouldn’t be experimenting with things like this anyway. I don’t think Marco enjoys a privilege — he’s built his own brand and business over the years to the point that he can afford to do this. I’m pretty sure other larger independent developers who have done this — Tapbots, Flexibits, and yes, even Supertop and Shifty Jelly can still get similar results from their fans — Shifty Jelly has diehard Android supporters, and Supertop has many fans, including me.

But at the end of the day, I think Bielefeld is somewhat correct, in that, Marco’s thoughts on the patronage model isn’t a realistic choice for the majority of indie developers out there who either make a niche app, or have apps that aren’t as celebrated by their respective platforms.

UPDATE: @BuildingTwenty has pointed out to me that Supertop aren’t doing as well as I thought with tips in Unread. I still stand by my original thoughts that patronage isn’t for most independent developers, but rather for established ones who have experience and the fanbase who are willing to support them. Granted, one of Overcast’s main competition probably isn’t up to it…yet.

UPDATE 2: (11/26/15) This week’s events have made me very disappointed in ‘Bielefeld’. I realize that even though this person’s criticisms are fair, I can’t continue to stand behind this person who has violated the trust of so many of their readers. This post no longer represents my views today, but I’m keeping this around in the archive for honesty’s sake.

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