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Baby Steps

Friday, 11 September 2015

I’m taking the first step into iOS development.

A huge dream of mine is to make cool apps. I’ve dabbled in iOS app development before. I made a few apps based on tutorials, but it was never anything serious.

Last June during WWDC, I looked at the student scholarship page once again.

I could have been there.

I want to be there.

Looking through those pages, I’m feeling a pang of regret. I could have been there — I could have tried, had I started seriously learning a year ago.

The scholarship is available for any student, but to be honest, I want to be in there before I’m 18. But there’s no chance of me getting in there if I don’t start.

Today, instead of setting another goal I won’t complete, I’m publicly promising that I will learn iOS before next June. I’ll do that by learning a bit every day, looking at tutorials, trying it out myself, and taking the plunge. I’ve only got a few years left of being in high school, and I don’t want to spend them wishing I’d spent a few hours here and there learning how to make apps.

Every day, I want to spend at least an hour learning iOS. Today, it’s September 11. The deadline for the WWDC student scholarship will probably be April 25. That’s 227 days, or 7 months, 14 days.

That should be enough time to at least start cracking.

iCloud Storage Pricing Tiers Drop Again

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Today at Apple’s Special Event held in the Bill Graham Civic Center, Phil Schiller announced that iCloud pricing tiers had dropped again, and now, they’re really competitive.

5GB is still free, but for just $0.99 per month, you can get 50GB of storage. 200GB will see you back $2.99, and a whole terabyte of iCloud storage is only $9.99. This is great competitive pricing, but the free storage is still a little low compared to 15GB for Google Drive.

The iPad Pro: The Future of Mobile Computing

IPadPro Pencil Lifestyle1 PRINT
Today at Apple’s Special Event held in the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, Apple announced iPad Pro, alongside a brand-new Apple TV and new iPhones.

The iPad Pro is a 12.9-inch sized version of the original 9.7-inch iPad, with double the CPU performance, and brand-new accessories that help make the iPad Pro a productivity and creativity powerhouse.

Firstly, the display has been revamped to take full use of the amazing 13-inch screen. The screen resolution is 2732 by 2048 pixels, making the iPad Pro’s display great for immersive experience such as games and videos, but also content creation, such as drawing, video-editing (to some extent), and writing. Despite the large size, the iPad Pro is only 6.9 millimeters thick, and with a display of that size, a lot of processing power is used. To keep the iPad in check, the display uses variable refresh rates to distinguish between static content — sites, books (which run at 30fps) — and videos and games, which need more power to run, and looks best at 60fps. A powerful, 64-bit desktop class A9X chip allows for performance better than most PCs in the industry, according to Apple, while still keeping battery life to 10 hours.

The iPad Pro’s real power comes not only with its size, but also the accessories that come with it. The Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard are iPad Pro-specific accessories that are designed to assist both professionals and hobbyists alike in their trade: the Apple Pencil is designed for use by both artists and enterprise users, for which a whole new multitasking system was invented to allow for distinction between finger presses and those from the Apple Pencil. The display can also detect angle and pressure. Due to this, when sketching, apps can sense pressure applied by the Pencil to draw darker and broader lines, and also add shading based on the angle the Pencil is used at. While more advanced perhaps for use by artists and creative professionals, the Apple Pencil can also be sued by enterprise users as a markup input device — the Mail app supports annotations with the Apple Pen, a feature that can be supported by developers in their own apps. The Apple Pencil also has reduced latency — the time between the user drawing a line and when the system renders it due to an advanced prediction system introduced in iOS 9.

The Apple Pencil also has a lightning connector, and must be charged by connecting to the iPad.

The Keyboard case is a full-sized case for the iPad with a built-in fabric keyboard, with keys based on the butterfly key design that came with the MacBook in March, and is resistant to both water and stains. The Smart Keyboard has a new ‘Smart Connector’ that allows both power and data to be transferred both ways.

The Apple Pencil is sold for $99, and the Smart Keyboard for $169.

The iPad Pro also comes with four speakers on both sides, Touch ID, and an 8MP camera.

The real power of the iPad Pro comes in the software multitasking features that arrive with iOS 9: Slide Over, which allows users to slide over apps from the side to quickly check for updates, Split View, a powerful feature that allows to apps to run side-by-side, and Picture-in-Picture for videos and FaceTime calls that detach from their apps and can float on top of others.

The real power of the iPad Pro is in the built-in hardware, software multi-tasking features, and the accessories that help make it easy to both consume and create on the iPad.

The iPad Pro starts at $799 for a 32GB model and will be available in November.

This Is the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus

IPhone6s 2Up HeroFish PR PRINT
Today at Apple’s Special Event held in the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, Apple announced the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, featuring new updates and improvements such as 3D Touch, Live Photos, 4K video recording support, a 12-megapixel camera, and improved performance.

3D Touch is billed as a new feature that’s essentially an expansion of the Force Touch features that were introduced with the Apple Watch and MacBook. 3D Touch senses two different levels of pressure, which allow the user to perform two actions: Peek, and Press.

In supported apps like Mail and Messages, applying pressure on the screen can preview message content and perform actions to it without opening a new view, while adding more pressure ‘pops’ the peeked content into the original, full view. Content that can be ‘peeked’ are web pages, Maps directions, flights, and images.

Another feature of 3D Touch is Quick Actions, which are shortcuts users can access by pressing app icons in the home screen, as Mark Gurman revealed earlier for 9to5Mac. For example, users can press the Phone app icon to easily call favorite contacts, or press the Camera icon to quickly take selfies, record videos, or just a simple photo.

3D Touch also allows for advanced gestures, for example pressing and dragging moves the keyboard’s cursor to select text easily, and swipe easily from the left edge to swipe back to the last-used app. The feature also allows for pressure-sensitive input, for example in the new Notes app.

Live Photos is a joyful feature that can help make pictures appear more lively. By default, when users take photos, the camera also takes shots before and after the shot to create a GIF-like animation when the image is pressed. These images can also be set as ‘dynamic’ lock screen wallpapers.

The iPhone 6s also has an improved camera, now receiving a bump from the previous 8MP to 12. This also means that the video recorder will be able to shoot 30fps 4K video, and 60fps 1080p. The front-facing FaceTime HD camera is now 5MP, allowing for clearer selfies, as well as the addition of “flash” — essentially, the screen lights up to give the impression of flash photography, similar to Snapchat’s implementation of the feature.

Behind the scenes, the iPhone 6s has a new A9 chip, which Apple describes can handle “gaming console-class” graphics performance, and a 70% faster CPU, and a 90% faster GPU. Touch ID is also twice as fast.

The iPhone 6s comes in one additional finish — the rose gold option, bringing the tally up to four choices of finish — space gray, silver, gold, and rose gold, with a slightly pinkish hue.

The iPhone 6s comes in two sizes: the 6s and the 6s Plus. The 6s starts at $199, and the 6s Plus $299 for the 16GB storage sizes. Preorders start on September 12, and order ship on September 25.

An additional option is available for US retail customers. The iPhone Upgrade program allows customers to get a new iPhone annually with AppleCare+ warranty for $32.41 per month. This is available only to US customers of AT&T, Sprint, Verizon or T-Mobile.

iOS 9 & watchOS 2 Launch on September 16

Apple has announced the final release date for iOS 9 and watchOS 2 in today’s Apple event in San Francisco — Wednesday, September 16.

The update will be available for iPhone 4s and up, iPad 2/mini and above, and iPod touch 5th-generation and up.

The update includes iPad multi-tasking features, proactive assistant and intelligence, as well as improvements to built-in apps.

The Golden Master seed has also been uploaded to the Developer portal.

‘Hey Siri’: My Thoughts on Today’s Jam-Packed Apple Event

Today’s Apple event will probably be the busiest of any of the past few Apple events, including June’s 160-minute presentation at WWDC.

What does everyone expect Apple will talk about?

At this moment, we’ve got:

  1. iPhone 6s and 6s Plus — there doesn’t seem to be any news regarding the 6c.
  2. A completely reinvented Apple TV. Featuring a new UI, new hardware, and a better remote, and most importantly, a whole new platform.
  3. Apple Watch. I expect that, since iOS 9 (and its GM) will be demoed today with the iPhones, there’s no reason not to expect the same to happen with the Apple Watch, especially since, as Gruber points out, it’s heading into its first holiday quarter.
  4. iPad Pro. We’ve gotten really chock-full already. I’m standing by two events this fall.

Now, the nature and tone of the past few events — starting with last year’s September event, with so much to talk about, events have become more and more rushed — remember when Tim Cook used to give you an update on Apple Retail, sales, App Store revenue, etc.? Well, all that’s gone, saved most likely for press releases and the stock earnings calls they hold separately.

Here’s what I expect, in terms of timing.

Within ten minutes of the event starting, we’ll get introduced to the iPhones 6s and 6s Plus. Tim Cook will introduce the event, and start off with iPhone — he’ll most likely play an introductory video, then hand it off to Phil Schiller to explain the new features/improvements/enhancements. Something I definitely expect will be a Force Touch demonstration with an app — maybe it’s a graphics app like Pixelmator or perhaps a game, but I think the game aspect will be reserved for the Apple TV. I expect the iPhone segment of the keynote to last around half an hour to forty-five minutes, including demonstrations. We’ll also definitely see it make an appearance during the demos for other products — most likely to show off the integration between the Apple Watch (with watchOS 2).

Apple Event, Act II: Apple Watch. Other than the purported new bands, I don’t expect Apple to add anything new on the accessories/hardware side, but I expect a full-blown demonstration involving iPhone 6s, Apple Watch, and watchOS 2 — this segment of the keynote will perhaps last about twenty to thirty minutes, since there’s not that much material to go through. One thing to expect: showing off third-party complications, perhaps with HomeKit integration. I don’t think a third-party developer will present it though.

‘One more thing’, part one: iPad Pro. An Apple Watch-esque presentation for today. That means an introduction, with a quick demo involving Apple Pen, the Force Touch display, and third-party apps that suit the Pro. Perhaps half an hour, but I don’t expect it to be thorough in the least. I think an October event is still in the running, where the Pro will be explained in depth, like the March event was for the Apple Watch. The October event will probably also have updates to OS X and Macs, and regular normal-sized iPad refreshes. As for today: I think the iPad Pro will be introduced, demoed for a while, but nothing that’s too in-depth. I could be wrong.

‘One more thing’, part two: Apple TV. I expect a normal, complete presentation. That means the initial introduction, perhaps in video form, presented by Tim Cook, with cameos from industry executives — perhaps from HBO or some other media company, as well as game developers that the Apple TV will have some ties to. This part of the presentation will take at least an hour, with the product introduction to, well, everything, as well as demonstrations from Apple about the UI and experience, gaming from leading game developers, apparently Periscope, as well as ‘Hollywood people’. I expect this to be the main segment of the entire event.

Looking at this summary, the whole event looks to exceed two and a half hours at most, so I doubt there’s enough time for anything beyond that that isn’t a must. An October event must happen.

Safari 9’s Pinned Tabs

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Safari's new Pinned Tab feature.
Among the many new features OS X El Capitan brings to Safari is the pinned tabs feature, a feature that has slowly been added to other browsers. In OS X Snowsemite, this feature has been brought to Safari.

When you pin a tab by dragging it over to the left of the window, the tab title shrinks and displays only a favicon1 of the site. Behind the scenes, that tab is marked as a ‘priority’ site — it fetches new data in the background continuously, so sites like Twitter and Facebook can refresh in the background so you see new content every time you visit it.

Another benefit of keeping a pinned tab is that you can’t accidentally close it — I can’t count the number of times I’ve left a podcast open in Overcast’s web client2 and accidentally CMD-W‘ed the tab. If you try and close a pinned tab, Safari shifts focus to the closest unpinned tab, so you can’t accidentally close your most important sites. Of course, you can still CMD-Q — quitting still terminates Safari. But when you reopen Safari, pinned tabs remain open, even if you have Safari set to open a new window on a new start. If you pin a tab, it will remain pinned until you unpin it by dragging it back to the right, converting it back into a normal, unprivileged tab.

Pinned tabs are perfect for any sites that needs to continuously fetch new data, and for sites which provide multimedia content you need open in the background — Twitter, Facebook, Overcast, YouTube are all good examples of sites you’d want to pin. Even sites you regularly visit or need open — for example your Google Drive files, or your work intranet (if they still use those).

  1. Well, it’s not exactly a favicon — the website creator has to provide an SVG of the site favicon to be used for pinned tabs. I’ve done it for this site. El Capitan testers can pin this site to show the pinned tab icon for this site. 
  2. Because there doesn’t seem to be a decent OS X podcast app around. Seriously, OS X developers, what is up? 

Why I Use WordPress

Saturday, 5 September 2015

I consider myself to be a web developer and designer. I also write on the side, but that’s quickly changing as I’ve developed into a better writer who can (hopefully) communicate my thoughts more clearly. Writing is something I hope to do more and more in the future, and there’s something about it that I love. But that’s a story for another time.

When I started this site back in November, I didn’t know what CMS I’d be using. I’ve been working with the web for the past few years, so I knew all the services — Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, and WordPress. Once I’d gotten the domain and hosting stuff done, it was up to me to find a CMS I wanted to use.

Rather than going around throwing my time and money around to services after a quick Google search, I decided to make a criteria of what a CMS should do for me.

Firstly, it had to be free. Call me cheap, a penny pincher, and say what you will, but I’m a student, and ideally, I wouldn’t like to spend a whole bunch of money on a blog back then I considered an experiment. I didn’t even know if I wanted to blog back then, to be honest.

Second, it had to have some kind of community around it I could lean back on for support. That means forums, support pages, documentation, and all that great stuff that any popular CMS would have.

Third, I should be able to do what I want with it. It should be unrestrictive. If I want to go around editing core files, or change the installed software on my server, I should be able to. I’m a developer, and I want to be able to change the look of my site without having to rely on ‘themes’.

Let’s narrow down the options.

What’s free:
WordPress. A popular option at that time, and there’s an important distinction to be made between Automattic’s service and the original, open-source
Static blogging platforms. We’ve all heard of these at some point. Stuff like Jekyll and Pelican.
– Of course, Tumblr. A somewhat easy choice — it’s easy to ‘reblog’ and add comments for linked posts1.

What’s free and has a great community:

What’s free and has a great community and is power-user friendly:

Over time, I’ve learned what WordPress(.org) has to offer, and quite frankly, I love it. I know a lot of others don’t like it, but it works for me, requires little effort, is free, and gives me full control over what I want to do.

And that’s what I want2.

  1. Although they’ve recently changed what traditional ‘blockquotes’ looked like to favor what probably 99% of Tumblr uses. 
  2. Squarespace is a second popular choice among a lot of other bloggers in this space. I’ve checked it out, and I like it too — it’s simple and does everything for you, but power users can change a lot too. It does require a monthly subscription though, and I hate the way it handles pagination. 

A Week with Field Notes

Saturday, 22 August 2015

My first Field Notes memo book, Pitch Black with dot-grid pages.

I had a rocky relationship with analog tools. You know, pen and paper. My pens always ran out of ink, looked hideous, and were always odd to use. My paper easily tore, wasn’t durable, and often creased and tore within an hour of being in my bag or pocket.

And that’s why I switched to the reliability and comfort of digital tools so long ago. I can write my notes in Drafts, save articles easily to Instapaper and sites to Evernote. It was painless, always integrated, and easy to get into a routine. I don’t need to replace my keyboard every two weeks. I don’t need to reinstall Drafts every month because I run out of notes I can store.

As I’ve become more and more ingrained in this circle of geeks, writers, and aficionados, it’s hard not to have exposure to the tools others like me use. I keep hearing about some kind of notebook everyone likes, or a pen that’s become a staple in everyone’s drawers. I mostly tuned that stuff out. I knew how unsustainable pen and paper was, right? As a millennial1, I thought back to the pre-high school days when I had to write everything out. The pain in my hand, the ink splotches everywhere I had to wash out, the ripped pages.

I was happy with my workflow involving notes in Drafts, mind maps in MindNode, and ‘stuff’ in Evernote.

Recently, however, Chris Gonzales of Tools & Toys wrote a guide to the best analog writing tools, featuring pens like the Uni-ball Signo DX (which I am now a proud owner of), and paper like Field Notes.

Here’s what Gonzales wrote about Field Notes:

An obvious choice to some, but one worth mentioning all the same. Field Notes are our go-to memo books. At 3.5″ x 5.5″, the standard editions are perfect for stashing in your back pocket, and they come in your choice of grid, ruled, or plain paper.

What could be so obvious about Field Notes? Sure, they looked good, but what could be so enamoring about them that every writer and designer in the geek world would buy them at a heartbeat?

I decided to find out. And one week in, I’m in love.

Gear: – Field Notes Pitch Black. – Uniball Signo DX 0.38 Blue/Black

A photo posted by Zaid Syed (@syedzq) on

Long story short, I found a shop that sells Field Notes memo books in Hong Kong. Field Notes sells multiple editions of their memo books, the default choice being the Kraft three-pack of either graph, ruled, or plain. I preferred the dot-grid style, subtle enough to be used like plain paper, but also helpful to use as ruled paper for text, not to mention plotting graphs (which I rarely use). The dot-grid style was part of a set of limited edition books.

A friendly store manager helped me find the edition I wanted: the Pitch Black memo book, with the dot-grid style paper. I brought it home, eager to test it out.

At first, I was surprised by its size: when I read it would fit in my pocket, I didn’t know it was that small — my hand nearly covered it, and I worried if I’d be able to squash my writing into it, as I had fairly large handwriting.

Turns out, I didn’t have that much to worry about.

In order to make full use of a modern, yet flexible analog system, I used a mashup of the Bullet Journal format and Patrick Rhone’s dash-plus markup system for tasks. Armed with my trusty Uni-ball Signo DX, and a fool-proof system for keeping my (analog) tasks organized, I was ready to go all-in on Field Notes.

The first thing I loved about my Field Notes memo book was its design. It was beautiful, simple, yet functional, too. I love the cover with the words “Field Notes” set in striking all-caps Futura. It’s clear these books were made by designers. The color of the Pitch Black edition is great too. The color is perfect — not too black, slightly faded, and the rounded edges make it even more satisfying from a purely aesthetic viewpoint. The only drawback is how it’s hard to write your personal information on the inside flap, unless you use a white or silver ink. Apart from that, the Pitch Black edition is a masterpiece, embracing the individuality and expression of the color black — hell, even the staples are black.
Field notes cover 2

The paper is wonderful too. At its root, Field Notes paper is durable, held together by strong staples, with a handsome French Blacktop cover. After carrying around a book for a few days in my side pocket (I use it too much to resign it to my back pocked), all I’ve gotten so far are a few slight creases in the cover, which gives off a pretty cool antiquated look to it. The dot-grid paper is amazing — it’s thick enough so it won’t tear, the gray dot-grid is subtle enough to disappear when you’re making use of the full page, but always visible when writing. Another welcome ‘feature’ — the paper does not let ink from the other pages show through.

My initial doubts about size have now subsided: it’s perfect for the pocket, and I can take it out anytime I want without having to reshuffle everything in there. My only qualm is how my Uni-ball Signo DX’s clip is too small to fit all forty-eight pages (front and back) between, unlike the Pilot G-2, but that’s the Signo’s problem. Another positive side effect of the dot-grid is how easy it is to ignore it; instead of squashing my large handwriting between lines, I can write between every two lines instead.

The portability of the notebook has helped me find a new workflow for task management. I was initially unsure of how I’d manage to enter tasks into both OmniFocus and my Bullet Journal/Dash-plus system. Now, I enter tasks into my Field Notes, which is (shockingly) more accessible than entering a task in the (pretty terrible) OmniFocus iOS app, which I used only for checking off to-dos from the Today view extension anyway. For example, in class, I write down any assignments into my running Field Notes daily log, then shift in any tasks into OmniFocus later when I’m at my desk.

Only a week in, Field Notes has helped me maximize my productivity and has brought me back to the freedom of analog tools2. If you love well-designed, quality products, there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t get some Field Notes. Ditch the terrible notebooks you can buy at the corner stationary shop. If you actually care about what you write, you need Field Notes. At $9.95, it’s a no-brainer.

  1. Born in 2000. Exact. 
  2. I’m free on paper, I’m constricted to text and emoji in Drafts. 

“If You See a Stylus, They Blew It”

Friday, 14 August 2015

These words were famously said by Steve Jobs back at Macworld, January 9, 2007. Jobs was describing the multi-touch input that was (and still is) the primary interface to the iPhone.

Before moving on to introduce the multi-touch technology, Steve went on a mini-rant about how fiddly styluses were1. “You have to get ‘em, and put ‘em away, and you lose ‘em. *Yuck*. Nobody wants a stylus.”

It’s been eight years since Macworld 2007, and nobody’s ready yet to move on. Every time a rumor comes along mentioning a stylus, someone always mentions that Steve Jobs have would never approved of it — whether it was the original iPad, or the iPhone 6 Plus, every single time a new report comes out about Apple making a stylus, people are quick to point out how much Steve Jobs hated styluses, eight years ago.

And I agree with Steve Jobs. Styluses as touch input tools are a terrible idea, especially for a 3.5-inch screen in 2007. Sure, they have a smaller tip and are more “accurate”. But software touch targets are larger now, and using our fingers for touch input is natural, and much more intuitive than using a stylus. But for the larger screens of today, styluses are much more useful, just in a different way.

“Nobody Wants a Stylus”

Whether you like it or not, times — and with it, screen sizes — have changed. With larger screens, people do more with their iPhones, ranging from playing games to taking notes for their business meetings.

Styluses have changed, too, or at least what they are used for. Back in the pre-iPhone days, they shipped with the Palm smartphones so that users’ grubby fingers wouldn’t leave smudges all over the terrible resistive screen. Let’s just say it wasn’t the best experience to use your fingers.

These days, people are using styluses for very different things. Drawing, sketching, note-taking, designing, prototyping. These make much more sense on larger screens.

With iOS 9’s official release coming up soon, more and more people are looking at the iPad’s advanced new features and are seriously considering switching to it for work, especially with the expected 12.9-inch “iPad Pro” (which allegedly will ship with a stylus).

The argument that styluses are redundant today is invalid; a lot of people will find styluses useful, whether for writing, taking notes, sketching or making art on their tablets. It’s not hard to imagine a creative director at a marketing firm making a mind map on an iPad Pro with a stylus, or an executive at a Fortune 500 company taking notes at a meeting.

A lot has changed since 2007, from the way we use our devices to how we interact with them. Styluses aren’t the same — as people find new ways to use these tools, I believe that styluses do have a future, even beyond multinational Korean companies.

  1. Styli? Styluses?