Jony Ive Becomes 'Chief Design Officer' At Apple, Howarth And Dye Lead Industrial And UI Design

26 May 2015

Tim Cook, via 9to5Mac:

Design is one of the most important ways we communicate with our customers, and our reputation for world-class design differentiates Apple from every other company in the world. As Chief Design Officer, Jony will remain responsible for all of our design, focusing entirely on current design projects, new ideas and future initiatives. On July 1, he will hand off his day-to-day managerial responsibilities of ID and UI to Richard Howarth, our new vice president of Industrial Design, and Alan Dye, our new vice president of User Interface Design.

The Telegraph describes Ive’s change of position as a ‘promotion’. Ive was already the most influential person at Apple aside from Cook and his personality doesn’t exactly prescribe the need for a better title: Ive doesn’t really seem like a guy wanting an ego boost.

Dropping the PR spin, this is a reorganisation so Ive can back off from daily operations and do whatever he wants, “more travelling” included. Whenever he has a splash of inspiration or a new direction to explore, he can go back to the Cupertino studio. I think the writing is on the wall that he will retire in a few years.

I don’t know much about Dye and Howarth but they can’t be idiots. Dye came across well in the recent Apple Watch interviews and if Apple Watch UI is driven by Dye, then relinquishing Ive from that role a bit can only be a good thing for Apple software. Also note that Howarth’s appointment continues to put Brits at the top of Apple’s industrial design department.

Reflecting On University

24 May 2015

Unless something crazy happens, I did my last ever academic exam on Wednesday wrapping up three years of an Economics degree. I’m posting these thoughts with some immediacy so I can’t get accused of my opinion being poisoned by my final grade (which I find out in mid June).

Before attending York, I was extremely pro-university attendance. It seemed like the unequivocal best thing to do for anyone who was competent enough to pass. With my brother now thinking about his further education plans, I’ve been forced to honestly review my own experiences. And being honest, I can’t effusively endorse it like I could.

Part of the problem is me. I chose Economics because I was good at it at A Level and in 2012 I was looking at a career in finance. Nowadays, I get endless questions why I didn’t do a degree in Computer Science and in hindsight that’s probably the better choice. At the time, though, it didn’t make any sense. Although my apps were doing okay, it wasn’t anywhere near a sustainable level. It wasn’t until February 2013, when Cloudier launched, that my iOS contracting took off in a meaningful way. By then, it was too late to change — I was already half way into first year of my Economics course. As my iOS work continued to grow, my future thinking diverged away from finance.

The problem is university, at least in the UK, is inflexible. In the US, there’s a ‘major-minor’ system which lets you dabble and move between things. Although I still liked Economics as a subject, some of my personal motivation dissipated. I was too ignorant to realise I couldn’t predict the future and that my interests were not fixed in stone. I don’t think my case is uncommon. Doing one subject intensively just leads you to want to do other stuff with the rest of your time. When those hobbies become viable career prospects, its only natural. With the UK system, if you have a change of heart, you can either drop-out completely or start over with a new degree from year 1.

University would better serve students if there was more choice and variety in what you could learn. One subject only feels old-fashioned. I would also feel happier about the whole experience if first year didn’t exist. Calling degrees a ‘three year course’ is false advertising. First year is largely a repeat of content learnt at A Level taught by lecturers who would much rather not be teaching remedial economics. Many people can pass year one without doing any revision (and, in many cases, without turning up to lectures) because it is so trivial. This is exemplified by the fact first year marks don’t count at all towards your final degree classification. It really feels like filler content and a waste of time.

Considering the amount of money students pay to attend, you would at least think that the university would get the exams right. Wrong. Over half of the twenty exams I took over the last three years had errors. Not just typos or small printing errors, but serious structural problems that often made questions impossible to answer. A classic example was when a maths test referred to a printed table of data that simply wasn’t printed on the paper.

Aside from errors, the entire uni exams situation is a mess. Assessment is supposedly standardised by university policy. In reality, modules come down to the whims of the lecturer. Marking is opaque and seemingly arbitrary. Some modules offer past papers with answers, some modules offer past papers without answers, other’s offer no past papers at all.

An open secret is that lecturers can’t be bothered to make new questions every year so they reuse (almost) the same papers every year. This laziness is probably why many don’t like releasing last year’s questions. As such, passing exams becomes more about optimising the system and learning answers by rote than actually understanding the subject. Much to my disappointment, remembering stuff is still the number one skill people need to succeed at school. If you want to actually learn stuff, you don’t need to go to university.

A Level and GCSE exams are regulated by central exam boards. University exams should have similar control. It’s hard to explain just how ridiculous some of the answers expected of students are. Rather than set thought-provoking novel exam questions, I am convinced lecturers opt instead to make obtuse mark schemes that organically filter students performance into nice statistical bell curves. As modules have no outside regulation, it also makes it impossible to compare degrees across universities. A degree in two different universities are not equivalent. There is no way to truthfully compare their value. If I ever get into position where I am hiring workers, I won’t filter on grade classification as so many companies do. It’s not a fair assessment of ability.

Exam regulation is part of overall levels of teaching standards. Not all, not the majority, but a good portion of lecturers I had were just not good. There are bad and good teachers at school too but the spectrum is way more exaggerated at university. Lecturers primary role is research, not lecturing. I don’t know what teaching training they have to pass to run a module but it doesn’t work. Some lecturers are just straight up awful at actually teaching anything. Lecturers offer office hours every week where you go and talk to them about stuff. The best offices hours are from the best lecturers (naturally) so you are still kinda screwed for the modules with bad staff.

The worst bit is seminars. My seminars across the three years were ran almost entirely by PHD students. If lecturers do get teaching training, it’s abundantly clear that PHD students get none. Seminars could be great (small group lessons) if they were ran by competent people. Instead, you do a problem set in preparation for the seminar and then the seminar tutor goes through the answers. The few seminars that were taught by lecturers were useful as they could explain concepts and solution techniques. In general, I went to seminars because I had to — missing seminars leads to intervention — not because I deemed them that helpful.

Still, is university all bad? No. It’s okay. For one thing, if you want to start a decent career in Britain you need a degree. Whether I think university teaches anything of value is irrelevant. Beyond that, although teaching is patchy, there is benefit in an instructor telling you what to read and what to learn. Lecture notes greatly reduce the technical nature of source material so that it is actually understandable. After all, if university offered me nothing at all, I would have dropped out.

If governments regulated university in the same vein as compulsory education, standards would be forced to be way higher. Ultimately, I think a good way to sum up my feelings is that my favourite parts of uni have nothing to do with the actual institution. The social elements are great and being around nice people every day is what keeps you going. I had gone in thinking the central teaching parts would be of higher quality. I leave underwhelmed on that front.

Please be aware that all of the above is based on the experiences of one person at one university taking one degree. Maybe other places are different and I was unlucky. Maybe you get what you put in and put more into other things, hence liking that more and liking uni less. Anecdotally, everything seems very similar.

Apple Watch's Annoyingly Aggressive Screen Sleep Behaviour

20 May 2015

Zac Hall:

I do wish there was a method (or even setting) that would allow the watch face to stay active for longer periods of time. Even the stop watch goes to sleep after 20 or so seconds without being engaged. Sometimes it’s handy if not necessary to be able to stare at your watch and see the time pass. To do this with Apple Watch, you need to tap the display or rotate the crown every 10 seconds or so.

iOS apps are allowed to disable ‘idle timers’ contextually, so that the screen does not Auto Lock at an inconvenient time. Video apps do this, for example, so you don’t have to to keep tapping the screen to stop the iPhone from dimming whilst watching a movie.

Apple Watch apps need to have a similar concept. Obviously third-party apps are gimped in ways far beyond the screen turning off too early but this request applies to Apple’s apps too. Timer is the prime example.

Start a ten minute timer. Check the timer. Wait a couple of minutes. Glance back at the timer. The Watch is back on the Home Screen. Get angry.

The Timer app should be able to tell the system that a critical activity is happening so the Watch knows not to sleep. On wrist raise, I should still be in the Timer app — not kicked back to the clock face. It’s a huge inconvenience for any important activity that lasts more than 17 seconds, which is how long the Apple Watch will wait for user interaction events before sleeping. Naturally, if a timer isn’t currently running then the Timer app doesn’t need to assert such privileges.

The Remote, Maps and Workout apps already work like this. They have elevated system privileges that take precedence over the clock face whilst in use. Maps and Workout are particularly good citizens, only overriding the clock face when navigation or a workout is in progress. Apple needs to make this behaviour universal across the OS, where contextually appropriate of course.

Apple Already Violates The Apple Watch Human Interface Guidelines Regarding Force Touch

5 May 2015

Apple Developer:

Firm presses on the Apple Watch display cause the current screen’s menu (if any) to appear. A menu can display up to four relevant actions for the current screen without taking away space from your interface.

Include a menu when the current screen has relevant actions. Menus are optional. If no menu is present, the system plays an animation when the wearer presses firmly on the display.

The HIG is a set of guidelines, not strict rules. Third-party developers cannot change what happens when you Force Touch the display as it is confined by WatchKit to the typical menu but some of Apple’s apps already violate the published documentation. For the most part, the Apple Watch UI is very consistent but there are exceptions.

For example, if you Force Touch on the Watch display when selecting an animated emoji in Messages, it changes the colour of the emoji. Similarly, Force Touch on the clock face to bring up a gallery of alternate faces. This is arguably still a ‘menu’ but it is very different to the circular button overlay menu as described by the HIG. These special cases are not addressed in the guidelines, unfortunately. It will be interesting to see whether the native SDK (due sometime later in the year) will include the ability to override the default Force Touch behaviour.

HBO No Longer Sending Out Review DVDs To Limit Leaks

4 May 2015


After years of mailing out DVDs to critics and journalists, HBO is shifting to a streaming-only policy for advance reviews of its programming.

The move had already been in the works but was accelerated by last month’s leak of the “Game of Thrones” season five opener, which made its way on to online piracy sites from an advance DVD screener.

Streaming video sounds equally susceptible to being copied and redistributed. Game of Thrones is so huge I think leaks are inevitable, unfortunately.

Swapping Out Apple Watch Bands

4 May 2015

Michael Steeber, 9to5Mac:

remove the band, simply press and hold one of the buttons on the back of the watch while sliding the band itself out of the slot. To reattach the band, slide it back into place.

I wish there was an audible click to signify that you’ve successfully locked your band back into place. Currently, the band just stops moving at a certain point, and you have to assume that it’s locked in place. The process doesn’t instill a lot of confidence. Installing any of the bands which use metal connectors is also a little nerve-racking. I don’t really care for the metal-on-metal feeling of sliding the connector in place.

I haven’t tried removing the band from my watch yet, partly because I don’t have a secondary band to swap out and partly because the watch and the band feel like a singular unit. Even though they are designed for customisation, they feel very integrated. Apple has trained me for the last five years (maybe more) to not fiddle with the hardware they produce. I don’t want to detach my Sport band because it is uncomfortable, it feels like the wrong thing to do.

In fact, when I showed the watch to my dad, it didn’t cross his mind that the watchband is independent from the body. His preconception, validated by every other Apple product in recent history, is that Apple products are not to be tampered with. Although I haven’t popped the band out, I do know that it is possible. I bet a good portion of Apple Watch owners never realise that they can change the strap.1

1 Apple Watch Sport comes with another band size in the box, so maybe this last comment only applies to the gold and steel models.

Boeing 787 Planes Fail After 248 Days Of Being Powered On

1 May 2015

The Guardian:

The plane’s electrical generators fall into a failsafe mode if kept continuously powered on for 248 days. The 787 has four such main generator-control units that, if powered on at the same time, could fail simultaneously and cause a complete electrical shutdown.

Due to what appears to be an integer overflow bug, pilots will lose control of the planes after 248 days of being continuously powered on. The fix, literally, is to turn it off and on again before the 248 day mark hits. Typical of big-business timescales, Boeing are aware of the problem but the software fix won’t be released until the fourth quarter of the year.

Many Small Things

1 May 2015

I’ve had the Apple Watch for a week now, literally. Although a few quick software updates will drastically improve the device, I think I’ve come to terms with how the product fits into my life for the foreseeable future.

It’s not a necessity. It just isn’t. Even if it becomes an iPhone independent product, which I think is inevitable, its form factor limits its essentialness.1 Many tasks are too complicated to ever be feasible on wrist-sized displays. There may come a day when interacting with computers does not need physical input, maybe through some kind of technological telepathy, but that is really far off. As long as devices need displays, the watch will always be a companion product.

This means that the Apple Watch fills in niche roles in your life. Checking Twitter whilst on the sofa waiting for the kettle to boil. Replying to texts whilst you walk down the street. Controlling wireless music playlist in the kitchen whilst preparing dinner. Getting notified its about to rain when chilling in the park.

Enjoying the Watch revolves around finding enough of these small conveniences to justify keeping it strapped it to your wrist. These use-cases aren’t immediately obvious but I’ve found loads of these opportunities spring up in my week’s testing. As the product becomes more capable, more parts of my life will benefit in small ways. Once the watch can help do many small things for many people, it will become ingrained into society like the smartphone has.

I’ve seen a lot of analysis state that the Watch is about Glances and Complications rather than apps. I think that is a misguided line of thinking. The apps have a reason to exist and will become better at fulfilling that role once they don’t suck (which probably means a native SDK, although I have pondered whether a ‘better’ WatchKit SDK would suffice). You swap between the different features of the Watch as is required by the current task.

The watch face is part of this story too. A lot of the clock face customisation options offered is about personality and aesthetic customisation but there is some consideration of utility as well. Users with particularly busy schedules are going to lean towards using the Modular face with dense information display, for example.

Buying the Watch today requires a leap of faith. You have to believe that it will help you because it isn’t evident from Apple’s marketing or by playing with the device in the store. The fitness stuff is by far the easiest way to sell the Apple Watch 1.0. Through both the Workout and Activity apps, the Watch offers some very comprehensive fitness tracking. It’s not that you couldn’t go for a run before, but now that action is made better by wearing the Watch. It is a subtle but crucial distinction.

The other elements of the Watch are less tangible and much harder to explain. I don’t how Apple is going to be able to convey the feeling of frequent usefulness I expressed above in far fewer words to the general public at retail. Thankfully, as I don’t work in Apple sales, that’s not my problem to solve. What I do know is that I took a blind stab and bought the Watch sight unseen, albeit with a 14-day returns policy as insurance. A week later, I don’t want to take it off.

1 Surprisingly, that’s not a made up word.

More BBC Radio Employees Going To Apple

30 April 2015

Music Business Worldwide:

If Apple lands Yeates, it will perhaps be the most interesting new hire of all: he’s the exec largely responsible for orchestrating Radio 1’s up-and-coming talent programme, BBC Introducing.

“There’s no denying that there’s something of an exodus to Apple from Radio 1 right now,” a well-placed BBC source told MBW.

It is times like this when the vast reach of Apple can really be appreciated — an American technology company is causing a mass departure from a British radio station.1 Also note that Apple’s new music thing must either be really compelling and interesting to encourage these employees to defect or Apple is offering large financial incentives to switch over.

I don’t know how much BBC Radio employees get paid but I can easily see how a private company (especially one as large as Apple) can outbid the paycheques offered by a government-funded national radio station.

1 As an amusing coincidence, I was on BBC Radio on Friday.

Jony Ive And Marc Newson Vogue Fashion Conference Interview

25 April 2015


Since its announcement last September and subsequent release earlier this month, it is safe to say that the Apple Watch has caused less of a stir and more of a tidal wave, straddling the fashion and technology industries like no other product before it. So who better to open the inaugural Condé Nast International Luxury Conference – fittingly staged in Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance – than man of the hour Jony Ive, senior vice president of design at Apple. Joined onstage by one of his most revered contemporaries and friends, designer Marc Newson, who helped to create the Apple adornment, Ive explained to the conference’s host, Suzy Menkes, how the company’s approach to 21st-century luxury compares with traditional luxury as we know it.

My prejudices about the fashion world made me expect this interview to be a dull slog. I was very wrong. Menkes asks bold questions that the typical tech interviewers who get access to Apple executives, almost all of which are Apple PR shills, don’t dare ask. She asks Ive questions he clearly wasn’t prepared for: ‘People, in this audience in fact, are worried that Apple is eating at our luxury world. You are now competing with fine jewellery. What do you say to that?’.

I’m paraphrasing — watch the video to see it in context — but what a great question.

My BBC Radio 5 Live Interview About Apple Watch

25 April 2015

The host, Nolan, sounds oppressively harsh but I don’t think he is playing devil’s advocate to provoke conversation on his show. His opinion is the same stance a lot of general public take when the first see the Watch. Shaking off the initial impression that the Watch is pointless and unnecessary is difficult, because in many was it is exactly that. It isn’t an essential gadget like an iPhone is.

The logistics of radio are interesting. I was asked to join the show at about 2pm over email. A screener assistant called me soon afterwards to get some thoughts off-air. I assume he was checking that I was actually going to be able to say something of interest on the real show. We exchange phone numbers and Skype information, as I had told him I have a professional mic (which I normally use for podcasting).

Then, at about 11:23, two minutes before Nolan introduces the Watch segment, the producer dials me in to the show. I had setup the Skype mic but I shouldn’t have bothered. They completely ignored the Skype arrangements and called my mobile number, which was supposed to be the fallback option.

When I pick up the call, the producer asks me if I can hear the other end of the line. I have no idea what would happen if I didn’t answer immediately or if something went wrong. There wasn’t any time allocated for problem-solving.

The first time I actually spoke to Nolan was live on the air. Once he says goodbye at the end of the segment I hang up the phone and that’s it. For BBC Radio, this must be standard practice but for me it was alien and a bit disconcerting. When I podcast, it takes ten minutes to verify if Skype is actually working.

Apple Posts Final Three Apple Watch Guided Tours

23 April 2015


Apple Pay: Pay quickly and securely. And setup is simple.

Activity: Track your daily activity and stay motivated to sit less, move more and get some exercise.

Workout: See metrics like distance, pace or speed, calories burned, and heart rate during workouts.

Ignoring the ridiculousness that it took Apple the day before the Watch ships to complete these videos, the Apple Pay video is really cool. The Watch plays this animation as your preferred bank card appears, with light glare reflecting off the surface. It’s also timed with a slick 3D transform.

The Activity and Workout apps also look well done, with a logical navigation structure and cute accompanying animations to guide the user along. One oddity I did notice, though, is that at the end of a workout Apple Watch specifically asks the user if they want to Save or Discard the workout record. I’m not sure why this intermediary step exists — workouts should just be saved automatically without user intervention.

Apple Giving Custom Sport Band Colours To Some Celebrities

18 April 2015


Earlier today, images emerged of a red Sport band, and now Apple appears to be showing off several more exclusive Sport bands at tonight’s event in Italy. An image posted to Instagram shows dark blue, light pink, red, and yellow Sport bands. All of these colors were previously unreleased by Apple and never before seen.

I don’t mind that celebrities are getting free watches but I am annoyed that they are being given the choice of colours that aren’t available for general purchase. Some of the ‘exclusive’ sport colours look really nice and it is frustrating that I am barred from buying them because I am not a high-profile person.

KGI Estimates 2.3 Million Apple Watch Preorders

16 April 2015


In a new report from KGI’s Ming-Chi Kuo, the usually accurate analyst estimates that global pre-orders for the Apple Watch will top 2.3 million units through May. A report earlier this week claimed that Apple Watch first day pre-orders were at almost 1 million units.

Further breaking it down by specific model, Kuo estimates that the Sport model of the Apple Watch accounted for 85 percent of pre-orders, while the Apple Watch accounted for 15 percent, and the Edition less than 1 percent.

At least according to KGI’s Ming-Chi Kuo, who I tend to regard as reputable, the orders were overwhelmingly stacked towards Sport models. Although the Sport was always going to be the predominant model, 85% of orders is domineering with a practically monopolistic control of demand.

Another interesting point is that, under consideration of the raw financials, the stainless steel Apple Watch had the smallest effect on Apple’s bottom line. Even at just 1%, the Edition’s high profit margins will mean that the returns from this collection will exceed the profits from the Apple Watch models, which made up 15% of sales. Similarly, the Sport watches should exceed profits of the stainless models due to the volume shipped.

If the trends continue, the collection which shares its name with the product itself, Apple Watch, will be the most unyielding for Apple financially.

ICAAN Concerned About .sucks Domain Name

11 April 2015


On March 27, one of ICANN’s advisory panels, the Intellectual Property Constituency, sent a letter to the organization asking it to step in and stop Vox Populi’s “predatory, exploitive and coercive” practices.

“ICANN is the sole entity in the world charged with the orderly introduction of new gTLDs in a secure, reliable and predictable manner,” president of the panel Gregory Shatan wrote. “If ICANN is unwilling or unable to put a halt to this, then who is?”

ICANN has since sent letters requesting an evaluation from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US and the Office of Consumer Affairs in Canada, where Vox Populi is based––a rare course of action.

The main issue here for me is that the .sucks TLD vendor is charging significantly higher fees ($2500 per year) for businesses to secure registered trademarks. It is clearly trying to exploit the fear businesses have about ‘hate domains’ springing up using the .sucks suffix. If the vendor charged the same fee to companies as they do individuals, I wouldn’t have any problem with it.

Apple Watch Lets You Add A Time Offset To The Clock

11 April 2015


In Watch OS, Apple has included the ability to manually adjust the time displayed on the watch face of your device.

Apple notes, however, that only the information displayed on your clock face is affected by adjusting the time via this setting. All notifications and alerts will still come in at the correct time. With this feature, users are simply moving displayed time ahead of the actual time in one minute intervals.

Apple Watch has some weird edge-case features. A thousand no’s for every yes was applied loosely here. It’s not necessarily bad but it is different to previous Apple product releases.

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