Posts Filed Under Articles


Discourse

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

discourse
After literally months of work, I’m finally ready to launch a project I’ve been working on: Discourse, an interview podcast about the story behind influential people.

I discovered podcasts three years ago, and have continued to be fascinated by the various formats and styles of podcasts that are possible within this medium, whether they’re interview podcasts like The Tim Ferriss Show, fascinating storytelling like Lore, game shows like Ciquizza, or the ubiquitous general discussion podcast, there is no shortage of shapes and sizes podcasts can take. It’s the former two formats I became interested in: interviews, and storytelling. While they tend to remain separate formats, what would a podcast look like if it tried to combine both? That’s what I’m trying to do in Discourse.

In late August, I recorded the first episode, in which I interviewed Jeremy Rossmann, MIT drop-out and the founder of Make School, a college alternative for software developers, but I finished editing in late September as I learned the ins and outs of podcast editing and marketing. Since then, I’ve stared at the finished .mp3 file sitting on my desktop, asking myself when I was going the take the next step and release it into the wild. Well, I guess the guilt got to me, so here we are.

You can listen to episode 1 of Discourse now on iTunes or Overcast. Discourse does not have any sponsors at the moment. If you’d like to support the show, you can sign up to be a patron on Patreon, where you can send in your own (approved) questions to pre-announced guests for as little as $5 per month.

I’d like to thank my family, Harshil Shah, Matt Birchler, Michael Rockwell, and Aniket Sharma for their feedback and support.



The iPhone SE

Sunday, 27 March 2016

The iPhone SE
When the iPhone 5s launched in September of 2013, it was, for a lot of people, a less exciting launch than that of the iPhone 5 the year before. A tock product of Apple’s tick-tock iPhone release cycle, it was, by definition, an iteration of the phone the year before. Externally, the lauded design remained largely the same, with the exception of the “space gray” hue that replaced the “slate” of the iPhone 5, and the first in Apple’s obsessive fascination with the color gold. The new colors were, understandably, not spectacular enough for a lot of people. The Register’s headline, two days after launch read “Apple, you’re BORING us to death”. CNET, back then still relevant in the technology blogosphere, proclaimed “We live in boring times”.

As with any tock release, Apple focused more on the little things that make the device a better product from an experience viewpoint. Internally, the introduction of the 64-bit chip, while taken for granted today, was a huge deal: it literally brought forth a new era for the mobile phone industry, and made the iPhone more than just a smartphone: desktop-class hardware made the 5s more capable than ever, and kickstarted an app revolution that brought CPU-intensive applications and games, such as Pixelmator and Vainglory, to a mobile phone for the first time. I’m still amazed at how good the Pixelmator app is for image-editing and graphic design on-the-go.

Two and a half years later, the 5s is a bit long in the tooth. Safari purges webpages from memory, apps crash randomly from time to time. As time wears on, I turn more settings off in the interest of saving both battery and CPU usage. As iOS became more advanced and demanding, even for a 64-bit chip and a gigabyte of RAM, the 5s became less capable. Most people annoyed by the sluggish performance of their phones moved on and upgraded to the newer series of iPhones, which had their own design quirks, such as the long-ridiculed camera bulge, and slippery design, not helped by the larger sizes the iPhones 6 and 6s came in. Sure enough, a lot of people missed the older design: the smaller size that fit perfectly in their hands, the square edges that didn’t invite accidents…

It seems like Apple hasn’t ignored this small minority of four-inch fanatics: last Monday, in line with recent rumors, Apple returned a four-inch handset to their iPhone line: this time not as a smaller iPhone 6s, as most people predicted, but rather as a special 2016 update to a three-year-old phone design: the iPhone SE.

And, if you disregard the critics, it’s a very appealing device for almost everyone, coupling an excellent design that never really should have changed with modern hardware components borrowed off last September’s iPhone 6s. It’s pretty damn close to perfection: equipped with a 12MP camera capable of 4K video recording and Live Photos, the 6s’ A9/M9 duo, LTE and Wi-Fi updates, and, yes, even 2 GB of RAM. The only thing it’s missing is 3D Touch—while understandable, given Apple’s firm stance that the SE is a great phone for people “new to iPhone”—it’s still sore for fans of smaller phones who want the best of both worlds.

The iPhone SE poses a dilemma for a lot of people: would you rather buy a 2016 edition of the iPhone 5s, or wait six months for the iPhone 7, potentially another generation where thin and light trumps function and usability?

Even if you do go for the SE, it’s an excellent choice—but what’s the catch? When Tim Cook introduced the iPhone 5c—the colorful, “unapologetically plastic” line of iPhones—alongside the 5s in 2013 as a low-cost competitor to cheap Android phones, it didn’t do very well, and, lo and behold, it was ultimately killed. The SE seems like the spiritual successor to the 5c in many ways: it’s less than two-thirds the price of the iPhone 6s, it’s clearly targeted to people who’re new to iPhones or phones in general: kids. And it’s clear, even if it’s going to stay around, that, judging from the measly 16 and 64 GB the SE retails at, it’s never going to be a serious competitor to the iPhone 7, whatever that may be.



Command-Z Favorites: 2015

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Cmd z favorites
2015 has been a spectacular year indeed. This year has been one of the busiest yet for Apple, who have expanded their product reach to a whole new level with the intimate companion the Apple Watch tries to be, as well as relaunching the Apple TV with a promising (yet underdeveloped) focus on apps as the next way of interacting with your TV. iOS 9 builds upon last year’s opportunities for developers to open up their apps to the system with Spotlight Search extensions, as well as adding advanced iPad multitasking, opening the doors for the iPad Pro to become the computer of the future for many of today’s students.

2015 has also been a big year for entertainment. Podcasts are growing in popularity as Serial returns for a second season, and Relay FM concludes its first year as an independent podcast network. Pixar released Inside Out, a film so great I may forgive them for Cars 2, and my all-time favorite sci-fi movie franchise (you can guess which) has returned with a movie so great, I watched it twice, making me forget the crapshoot that were the prequels.

So what did I feel were the most noteworthy in tech, apps, productivity, and entertainment this year?

Best Tech Product

This year was a mostly quiet one for the rest of the tech industry as Apple released new hardware one after the other: the MacBook, Apple Watch, the iPhones 6s, a new Apple TV, 4K iMacs, iPad Pro, and a lot of accessories. While I only purchased one of the above, this did mean a lot of going to the local Apple Store to try out the aforementioned hardware. There was very little I did purchase that wasn’t an Apple product (much less those which I liked).

  1. Apple Watch: This is one purchase I am really happy with. Having purchased the product rather late (in mid-October), I hadn’t had as long to use it as much as the others, but so far, it has become something I wear everyday, thanks to how much it has changed how I run the day. Third-party complications from my favorite apps help me check my next calendar event (Fantastical), which buses I need to get on to get there (Citymapper) and, when I’m on vacation, which gate my plane is at (App in the Air). Fitness features and health data help give me an overall view of my life right now, and allows me to look at all of this in the Health app on my iPhone. All these reasons make the Apple Watch the best tech product I’ve bought in 2015.
  2. AirPort Time Capsule: We received a Time Capsule over the holidays, and I’m really happy with it. I’m using it as a Wi-Fi base station, a wireless backup system, and kinda-sorta like a NAS. It’s a great product. Not cheap, but definitely something I recommend.
  3. Fitbit Charge HR. I’m kind of cheating here, but this was the year of wearables here in Hong Kong. While the Apple Watch did okay, Fitbit products really took off. Now, both my parents have the Charge HR, and it’s a pretty solid product. From what I’ve seen, it’s around or slightly more accurate than the Apple Watch in terms of fitness data, and has a great app that doesn’t play nice with Apple’s own, but displays information in a dashboard much better than the iOS Health app.

Best iOS App

I really went all-in on apps by independent developers this year, especially when it came to iOS. Apps by independent developers tend to be more personal and they respect their users more. Here are the top three iOS apps I’ve used of the year.

  1. Tweetbot 4. Tapbots have caught some flak for making Tweetbot 4 a new app, which is completely unwarranted for the work Tapbots have put in to version 4 of their now universal iOS app. Tweetbot is something I use everyday, and the changes they’ve made in version 4 most definitely warrant the $10.
  2. 1Password. I dived into 1Password at the start of the year, and now it’s become and irreplaceable facet of my digital life. The iOS app is not as good as the OS X app, but it’s still worthy of making this list.
  3. Spark. Spark is the newest email client to come out this year, and is in many ways the spiritual successor of the Mailbox, which was ‘sunsetted’ late last year by Dropbox. It’s a solid email client, but is yet to have an iPad and Mac app.

Best Apple Watch App

I’ve worn my Apple Watch for about three months now, and I only use a handful of third-party apps. These are:

  1. Citymapper. The hands-down best Apple Watch app yet, Citymapper’s excellent integration with the watch face thanks to third-party complications are a joy to use. I get notifications when I’m approaching my bus stop, an ETA, and what bus to take, where based on my current journey. I wholeheartedly recommend Citymapper if it’s available in your area.
  2. Fantastical. I mainly use Fantastical through the complication, and it’s so great that Apple ripped off them in watchOS 2 with an update to the Calendar app.
  3. Overcast. It’s the only podcast app with an Apple Watch extension, but it’s not great, either. It’s only on the list because a) I actually use it, and b) I use it a lot.

Best OS X App

  1. Fantastical 2. This year, Flexibits released Fantastical 2 for OS X, which I use every day. Read the Yellow Signal review here.
  2. Reeder. Reeder 3 launched this year, and had a fresh new UI to complement the new look OS X Yosemite introduced to Apple’s desktop operating system. It’s a solid update to the best RSS reader for OS X today, and even supports read-it-later services as a provider.
  3. 2Do. After Federico Viticci wrote about his newfound love for 2Do in his manifest to the app on MacStories, I new I had to try it. I used OmniFocus prior, but 2Do clicked with me in a way that OmniFocus never had, to my surprise. After migrating all my lists and tasks over, I use it every day.

Best Film

In 2015, I saw fewer films than ever before, on account of a busier academic year. I did manage to catch up on some of the better films of the year, and even saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens before all of America had (even while having purchased tickets just day before). Having seen fewer films, I probably did well not to waste my time with some of the downright crap that I had watched in theaters last year.

  1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, of course. This movie did almost everything right. It captured the nostalgia of the original series perfectly, the cast had great chemistry and had two great lead characters — I had no qualms whatsoever about the casting, and the only flaw was the slightly similar storyline to that of Star Wars (1977).
  2. The Martian. I was in the midst of the book when the movie came out. I wasn’t too bothered about which one I enjoyed first — the book was pretty great, but from what I could tell, the movie was good too. Matt Damon’s character was perfect for the character he plays in the book, and the movie was a pretty good adaptation of Weir’s novel. It’s my second-favorite film of the year.
  3. Inside Out. It’s a Pixar movie, and pretty much obligatory viewing for anyone. Initially, I wasn’t as sure how Pixar would pull off such an abstract concept, but I was thrilled when I watched it — it truly wins a place amongst the other Pixar movies I loved (with the exception of Cars 2 and perhaps Brave).

Best Podcast

2015 was the year of podcasts for me, as I delved into the diverse and now even more mature world of oral storytelling and discussion. 2015 also brought new podcasts. Here are my favorite:

  1. Hello Internet. Hands-down the best podcast I’ve ever heard, I’m shocked I’ve only started listening this year. I know I’m cheating since this podcast has been out since 2014, but it’s still too good not to include. Brady Haran and CGP Grey discuss professional (educational) YouTubing, productivity, and by now, everything under the sun, too. Grey has interesting opinions (sorry, language teachers), and Brady asks him tough questions about these opinions. I’m still making my way through it, but this show is awesome.
  2. Cortex. A podcast with Myke Hurley and CGP Grey? What’s next, gun control?! Cortex discusses Grey’s productivity and work as a professional YouTuber, and has just the right balance of the technology discussion we’re familiar with Relay FM shows, and the invigorating discussions from Hello Internet
  3. Ctrl-Walt-Delete. A new show by The Verge, Nilay Patel and the Walt Mossberg team up and discuss technology. Come for the discussions, stay for the throwbacks. Walt has some great experiences he discusses on the show. A great episode is the discussion on Steve Jobs, and the many movies he’s inspired.

These are my top picks for 2015, a great year for tech, apps, entertainment, and podcasts. 2016 looks set to be a bigger year with the advent of VR, perhaps the year podcasts become mainstream (again?), and iOS 10.



The Facebook Conundrum

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

I read all kinds of technology articles in my spare time, ranging from those produced by independent writers to large technology columns by journalists with years of experience behind them. I love reading about technology, but there’s one area in which many writers, no matter their experience or education can write truly accurately, and that’s when they discuss technology usage by today’s teenagers.

In this piece, I’d like to shed some (more?) light on how we teenagers use Facebook today. I don’t mean to paint all teenagers with a single brush, but I can base this article on my own experiences and that of my peers.

First of all, let me make this clear: I hate Facebook. As I outlined last month in this tweetstorm, I detest their platform, but I can’t help but deny that it’s become so central to the Internet and to our online relationships. Like many, I use Twitter for news and as a way to read the opinions of strangers I respect, and to share my own. I use Facebook to connect to people I actually know; and that’s my friends and family.

Let’s start with what we still use Facebook for. The main reason most of use Facebook is Messenger; that’s the reason I joined and the reason I still hang on. For many of us involved in projects, small businesses, and other small teams, Facebook Messenger is an essential communication tool. The school newspaper head team comprises of five people, including myself. The utility of Slack isn’t beneficial to a small team like ours, but the larger event-planning committees I’m part of use Slack 1.

Facebook Messenger is also (of course) used for personal reasons. Everyone knows that Snapchat has become more prevalent, but their chat functionality is lackluster, whereas Facebook’s is well-established. If you want to connect to someone — anyone in your network of friends — you use Facebook’s Messenger.

Now for the platform itself: Many of my non-Twitter friends use News Feed as an equivalent to Twitter’s timeline. It’s an algorithmically-curated feed, a mish-mash of content from your friends to pages you like. That includes status updates, ‘news’, freebooted videos, and clickbait articles. And Facebook wants to be the content aggregator of the web…

While this feed generated by robots sounds like a disaster to timeline completionists like myself, no one really minds. While I don’t use News Feed, many of my peers do, and for the same reason I peruse Twitter: it’s still a way to find content from the web when you’re bored, and it’s curated from your friends, pages you’ve liked, and ads, just like Twitter. Let’s just say a lot of people scroll through their News Feeds in class.

The social aspect of Facebook is becoming less and less relevant to much of us these days. When Facebook used to be a way of seeing what your friends are doing, it’s now become less interesting, what with all the grandmas posting recipes and BuzzFeed listicles popping up.

Snapchat is popular because it’s content you actually enjoy. Snapchat doesn’t push unwanted content to you with a News Feed, but by letting you choose what you want to see at all through Stories categorized by your friends, and people you choose to follow. Ultimately, there’s no sense that your feed is becoming too broad and uninteresting. While other reasons are cited (the self-destructing messages, the constrained medium), it’s ultimately that Snapchat is a new platform where monetization, ads2, and the general crumminess of other platforms hasn’t come yet3.


  1. Everyone loves Slack, but it can become a hassle for a smaller team to check Slack. In a team of five, nearly every message is relevant enough to not be applicable to Slack’s “channels” ideology, but in a large team with various divisions (like our school TEDx event), using Slack makes so much more sense. 
  2. Yes, I know all about sponsored stories and all that. Still not as annoying as Facebook. 
  3. Ironically, I don’t use Snapchat anymore. Everyone else loves it, but I don’t find it very useful. 


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. 


Hiatus

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.



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.



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.



Sleep++

Friday, 25 September 2015

Sleep++
David Smith is a fantastic developer who creates some of the apps I use everyday. I use Pedometer++, the fantastic step tracker available on iPhone since iOS 8 and iPhone 5S. It leveraged iOS 8’s HealthKit, and the various motion tracking capabilities of the iPhone 5S, and Smith managed to make a great product over the course of one summer.

And that’s not all. In the same period of time, he also made a third-party keyboard for emojis, one that had a much better interface than Apple’s, and was faster and slicker to use. So it’s not a surprise that Apple sherlocked him with the release of iOS 8.3.

This time, it’s with watchOS 2’s native apps (with access to the various hardware features of Apple Watch) and third-party complications that Smith has mastered to create a great app. It’s called Sleep++, and it’s a great sleep-tracking app for Apple Watch.

This (understandably) might turn a few heads at first. Tim Cook said a while back that you’ll need to charge it every night. But David Smith has come up with a way to, yes, wear Apple Watch 24/7. Here’s how David does it:

The TL/DR is to charge your Apple Watch in the morning while you get ready for your day (take a shower, get dressed, etc) and then again in the evening while you get ready for bed (brush teeth, put on pajamas, etc). Then put your Apple Watch in Airplane Mode while you sleep.

You should read the whole piece, but that’s the gist of it. I’ve been trying out Sleep++ and this method since I got my Apple Watch on Tuesday, and I can say it’s quite solid. Smith says in his piece that he only uses only about 50% of the full charge in a day. Since I first got my Watch, I’ve been using the hell out of it, even installing apps while out and about. Because of this, I usually end the day with about 15-25%. Obviously, this means I have to charge it for longer before I go to sleep, but that’s not really an issue for me, yet.

The Sleep++ Apple Watch app.

The Sleep++ Apple Watch app.

I put my Watch in Airplane Mode, and in the usually six or so hours I sleep, I get pretty good (simple) feedback. Dark blue periods in Sleep++ are times when you’re sleeping well, and the light blue breaks in between are ‘restless’ periods in sleep.

The data is simple and easy to glance, but it can be expanded to give more information. The design is simple, and not what you’d call ‘beautiful’, but it’s like any Underscore v1 product: fast and functional, and I expect David Smith is already working on a new update with more to come.

Sleep++ is free on the App Store, but you should support its development by removing ads for just $2.