The Samsung Galaxy S6

1 March 2015

Samsung Mobile:

The Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge will be available globally starting from April 10, 2015 with 32/64/128GB storage options available in White Pearl, Black Sapphire, Gold Platinum, Blue Topaz (Galaxy S6 only) and Green Emerald (Galaxy S6 edge only).

Funny how you don’t see anyone complaining about the lack of a 16 GB model.

Tim Cook On Privacy

1 March 2015

The Telegraph:

It is also entirely at odds with the position adopted by David Cameron and most governments around the world, who believe that they need ever-increasing monitoring powers to combat crime and terror, dismissing the concerns of civil libertarians.

Cook disagrees fundamentally. “None of us should accept that the government or a company or anybody should have access to all of our private information. This is a basic human right. We all have a right to privacy. We shouldn’t give it up. We shouldn’t give in to scare-mongering or to people who fundamentally don’t understand the details.”

The debate here is about a new policy of some tech companies, Apple included, that encrypt data in such a way that the decryptions key are only stored locally on user’s devices. Entities like the NSA cannot simply subpoena Apple’s servers to get at data stored in this way, because the unlock codes are in the possession of the user, not on Apple’s servers.

Obviously, governments hate this. This means collecting evidence for things like terrorist plots is now much, much harder and politicians are starting to push back against this type of security.

Personally, I tend to agree with Cook. Apple should not be prevented from offering this level of privacy, simply to enable institutions to detect criminal activity made by a minority of the user base. Threats of terrorism cannot hold back technological development that has far-reaching benefits to society.

That being said, I think Cook will relax this stance, to some degree, in the future. There will come a time when Apple wants to release new products and features that rely on personal data analysis. When this happens, I expect Apple to make everything explicitly opt-in to remain consistent PR-wise.

Google Now Owns The .app TLD

27 February 2015

ICANN:

The mission of the proposed gTLD, .app, is to provide a dedicated domain space for application developers. The term “app” is associated with a wide variety of applications, including mobile applications, web- and browser-based applications, cloud-hosted applications and even desktop applications. Charleston Road Registry expects uses of the gTLD will include a wide variety of uses across all of these types of applications, not limited to any specific platform or provider. The proposed gTLD will enhance consumer choice by providing new availability in the second-level domain space in which application developers can deliver new content and offerings. It also creates new layers of organization on the Internet and signals the kind of content available in the domain.

Honestly, I am uncomfortable with the idea of either Apple or Google owning the .app TLD. In its filing, quoted above, Google pledges that this “won’t be limited to any specific platform” but who really knows what level of control the company is allowed to enforce on the domain.

It may sound like abstract scare-mongering but monetisation of app marketing is a huge business. Google is currently considering paid app placements in the Play Store, for example.

Pebble Time

25 February 2015

Pebble, Kickstarter:

We’re announcing a new watch called Pebble Time with a new timeline interface. Pebble Time features a new color e-paper display and microphone for responding to notifications. No compromises on what you love about Pebble: up to 7 days of battery life, water resistance and customizability. Pebble Time is fully compatible with all 6,500+ existing Pebble apps and watch faces. Three colors available exclusively on Kickstarter. Pebble Time starts shipping in May.

It’s going to retail for $199. When compared against the $349 Apple Watch Sport, I can’t comprehend how this product is compelling for iPhone users. This smartwatch doesn’t ship until May — even if you are unsure about the Apple Watch, you might as well wait until April to compare.

At a software level, the Apple Watch will outclass the Pebble Time in every way. Third-parties cannot integrate with peripherals as closely as Apple can. The Watch has special privileges: it can have a permanent connection with the host iPhone, sending data far beyond the current list of notifications. I foresee features like Handoff are crucial to the smartwatch-phone experience and you will miss them on non-Apple accessories.

On hardware, Pebble has gone in a different direction to Apple. (Small devices require tradeoffs). Rather than OLED, the Time uses a colour eInk display, which can show 64 colours1. This means you could play a NES Super Mario platformer on your wrist, but things like photos are not going to work. This is an interesting decision. Although I question whether users will want to look at their ‘universe of photos’ a la Apple Watch, almost any app notification nowadays benefits from a full colour image. Facebook profile pictures being the obvious example.

In addition, e-paper display refresh rates are lacklustre. The Pebble Time UI has some interesting context transitions, reminiscent of hand-drawn animations. The Clock irregularly transforms into a smaller representation, for instance. It’s a cool effect on the concept videos. However, on the watch itself the frame-rate of this transition is severely impaired by the screen technology. It looks bad.

The e-paper display does mean that the Time has a week of battery life. This sounds awesome, but I really don’t think battery longevity is enough to ‘outperform’ Apple’s efforts. Smartwatches have natural charge cycles. Use in day, charge at night. As a long as a smartwatch can last the waking hours, I don’t think anything beyond that threshold matters2.

Bringing utility to the table is much more important than battery life. The Apple Watch simply does a lot more stuff than the Pebble does. Plus, ostensibly, it looks a lot nicer on your wrist and is available in far superior material finishes.

1 An improvement over the original Pebble, nonetheless, which could display only black and white.

2 Tradeoffs. One day backlit smartwatches will have several day battery life.

Twitter Blames iOS 8 For Regression In Active User Statistics

6 February 2015

Re/code:

Well, one million of those users were people who downloaded iOS 8 and either never reopened Twitter, or forgot their password and couldn’t log back in. The other three million were lost due to Safari’s Reader section, which no longer pings Twitter automatically for content like it did in iOS 7. Users who were counted as active because of this automatic pinging on iOS 7 were then lost when they updated to iOS 8.

Basically, Safari’s Shared Links section made you count as an active Twitter user, even if you never opened the view on iOS 7, as long as you had a Twitter account logged in in Settings. iOS 8 stops Twitter from counting you as an active user because it only fetches when Shared Links is opened. Twitter blames this change for 3 million users ‘leaving’.

However, I don’t think you can say that users have left Twitter because of iOS 8. These users should never have been counted as active, because they really weren’t. The way the Safari app worked before just made them classify as active in Twitter’s analytics. It was over-counting.

The new behaviour is a more accurate representation of how many people actually use the service. The three million weren’t “lost” — they should never have been included in the statistics at all.

Pokemon-Inspired Company Branding

31 January 2015

Pictogram:

Since the Pokémon Corporate Personhood Act of 2015, as spearheaded by Professor OAK, Pokémon became free to start their own companies, mandating the design of Pokémon brand identities.

We were on the forefront of this radical development and designed several visual identities for Pokémon.

Some really cool concepts here. You could probably convince a layman some of the more ridiculous ones are actually logos of real companies. I’m not sure if that’s a comment on the quality of the designs or a indictment of the ludicrous names modern day startups call themselves.

Windows Holographic

21 January 2015

TechCrunch:

Hologram support in Microsoft’s Windows 10 software is universal, just like their new app infrastructure, which means that you can build once and use everywhere. Microsoft also pointed out that they’re working to help make this compatible with all kinds of emerging hardware on that horizon, including Oculus Rift, and Magic Leap – but they also revealed Microsoft HoloLens, a new in-house headset that will be available “within the Windows 10 timeframe.”

HoloLens is completely wireless, and features see-through lenses, spatial sound and advanced sensors. It’s designed to be a self-contained unit, and it has its own custom CPU and new Holographic Processing Unit (HPU) to work. It doesn’t even require a phone or computer to connect to wirelessly to work, and is meant to be completely independent.

The name is misleading. This is goggles-assisted virtual reality.1 Still, nothing wrong with that. Best VR I’ve seen in terms of placing objects in the ‘real world’, despite the limited demos. How can you not get excited about virtual reality Minecraft? The HoloLens eyewear doesn’t look too obtrusive either — think ski goggles. Alas, although not unexpected, no pricing or availability details were announced.

1 Granted, in the indeterminate future, the same frameworks will be able to make actual holograms. It’s disingenuous to advertise it like this is possible today, though.

The New 12 Inch MacBook Air

7 January 2015

9to5Mac:

The upcoming laptop is so thin that Apple employees are said to refer to the device as the “MacBook Stealth” internally. In order to reach that new level of portability, Apple not only slimmed down the trackpad and tweaked the speakers but the ports as well.

The upcoming 12-inch Air has the fewest amount of ports ever on an Apple computer, as can be seen in the rendition above. On the right side is a standard headphone jack and dual-microphones for input and noise-canceling. On the left side is solely the new USB Type-C port. Yes, Apple is currently planning to ditch standard USB ports, the SD Card slot, and even its Thunderbolt and MagSafe charging standards on this new notebook.

This laptop is going to be controversial. ‘Only Apple’ would have the bravado to reduce connectivity to one (new sized) USB port1 and a headphone jack. This isn’t just a boycott of industry standard inputs, which is the naive response from critics, Apple is openly forgoing inclusion of its own patented connectors, like Thunderbolt and MagSafe.

If this laptop ships as described, this is one of the ballsiest things Apple has done for years. Because you will power this thing through the USB port, you literally won’t be able to use an accessory whilst it charges. The rest of the redesign is pretty standard although I was disappointed by the appearance of the base. The speaker holes look ugly in the mockup and the trackpad is too close to the keyboard for my liking.

I may like the look more when I see it for real, so we can wait a bit before getting too angry. There’s no getting away from it. Stripping away all connectivity is a massive statement, especially if Apple kills off the old 11 inch Air when this is released.

1 Which, I bet, a lot of normal folk will confuse with a Lightning connector when this laptop hit shelves. USB Type-C is not common.

Workflow For iOS

3 January 2015

Workflow, App Store:

Workflow is your personal automation tool, enabling you to drag and drop any combination of actions to create powerful workflows.

Workflow includes over 100 actions, including those for Contacts, Calendar, Maps, Music, Photos, Camera, Reminders, Safari, AirDrop, Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, Evernote, and iCloud Documents, to name a few.

I’m not sure what to say about Workflow. iOS places too many constraints on third-party apps for Workflow to ever fully satisfy what I want from an app like this. A forgiving mentality would say that this is the best implementation they could make within the system-imposed limits. I can’t think at that kind of level, though. Personally, I’m left frustrated that the app can only do so much. I don’t care that the reason for the shortcomings is outside of the developer’s control.

The only way an automation app will ever meet my standards is if Apple made it and created a plethora of integration points to enable complex interactions between apps. Given Apple’s lack of attention for Automator on OS X, I doubt that will ever happen.

Workflow caters for a slim slice of the user base that has no ambition of doing more. Frankly, Apple shouldn’t have featured this app in the way that they did. Novices will be lost — the app is too complicated for most people. For those who do understand it, once the novelty wears off, the app will fall into disuse once the walls are hit. A Mac (and/or a set of dedicated iOS apps) is better at all of the tasks Workflow can offer, simple as that. If you don’t have a Mac, then you’ll get lasting value out of Workflow.

Samsung Announces Fanless 12 Inch Laptop

31 December 2014

The Verge:

This Book 9 features Intel’s Broadwell Core M processor, so it won’t get you the blistering power of a Razer Blade or MacBook Pro, it’ll handle most desktop tasks without any real issue. And on the plus side, it’s fanless — something even Apple can’t yet say about its lightest laptop.

I think this announcement confirms that a fanless Retina MacBook Air is going to be a reality. The Samsung Ativ has a ‘Retina’ 2600×1600 display, reaches ultrabook levels of thinness and is indeed fanless, thanks to the Broadwell mobile CPU. Jake March posted that Apple will use an edge-to-edge keyboard design, though, which the Samsung product does not have. Rumours said early 2015 for Apple’s new Air … this ships early 2015 too.

Samsung Closes Stratford Flagship Retail Store

24 December 2014

CNET:

Samsung has closed its high-profile Samsung Experience store in one of Europe’s biggest shopping centres.

“We regret to announce that we will be closing the Samsung Experience Store at Westfield Stratford City at the end of this year”, Samsung told CNET today. Photographs posted on Twitter by visitors to the mall in London show the shop already being dismantled.

Merry Christmas.

Reddit To Distribute 'Notes' To 950,000 Active Members

20 December 2014

Reddit:

reddit recently raised a round of $50 million where the new investors agreed to give back 10% of the shares they bought to the community in the form of a “cryptocurrency” that was to be “backed” by reddit shares. For legal reasons, it is unlikely we will make the cryptocurrency exchangeable for actual shares, since we are not a public company, and therefore it would be illegal to give shares to millions of people. Howevever, we are working on a legal strategy and I’m sure the cryptocurrency will be exchangeable for something of value.

Also, we used the word “cryptocurrency” originally, but a better term is “digital asset”, since in many ways notes will not be like a currency at all. For instance, we are not planning on letting users buy gold with the cryptocurrency (although we haven’t eliminated that possibility).

The asset will be based on blockchain technology. As I have said in many previous reddit comments, we are not committing to any particular protocol at this time, but our preference is either for colored coins or sidechains depending on the winds of the bitcoin world in the coming months (the bitcoin world changes very, very fast, and we want to be certain we pick the best technology).

So, 1/6th of Reddit users will randomly be gifted a ‘digital asset’ that will probably be exchangeable for something of value at some point in the future. Maybe. Reddit tries out some weird stuff.

Viticci On Twitter Apps And Twitter Cards

10 December 2014

MacStories:

Twitter Cards aren’t available to third-party clients over the API, which has forced Tweetbot and Twitterrific to come up with their own custom integrations to display tweet previews for web content. The result is that the timeline shown in these two clients will look different and out of place after you get used to the richness of previews in the Twitter app.

This isn’t completely true. Twitter Cards are implemented through metadata tags in the website source. All the information for cards are described by this information. The Twitter app crawls the linked URL to strip out this info and displays it as a ‘card’.

Whilst the Twitter API won’t expose the formatted data inline, there’s nothing stopping third-parties from crawling URLs themselves and accessing the same information. With a little bit of work, Tweetbot could mirror the ‘cards’ functionality 1:1. Twitter might balk at it but I haven’t seen anyone toe the line yet to find out. I don’t think there is a rule (yet) that prevents it.

The 100

1 December 2014

I was born in space. I’ve never felt the sun on my face, or breathed real air, or floated in the water. None of us have. For three generations, the Ark has kept what’s left of the human race alive. But now, our home is dying and we are the last hope of mankind. One hundred prisoners sent on a desperate mission to the ground. Each of us is here because we broke the law — on the ground there is no law. All we have to do is survive. And we will be tested: by the Earth, by the secrets it hides and, most of all, by each other.

I rarely comment or recommend TV shows, mainly because I’m a very uncool geek … outside of consumer electronics and PC gaming1. I do not appreciate things that most TV fanatics consider core prerequisites of fandom. I don’t care for Star Trek, Star Wars, Lost, Mad Men, Walking Dead or Game of Thrones.

However, I have come to love The 100, pronounced ‘The Hundred’, which airs on the CW network in the US. Being a Brit, I don’t know what else this network does but it apparently has a reputation of airing mediocre teen dramas that care more about the exterior appearances of its cast than its storylines. I can’t comment aside from saying The 100 is not that.

I stumbled on The 100 due to a recommendation from my mum2, as the first series has been syndicated by E4, who will watch anything sci-fi. I was passively watching the TV with her when she showed me an episode off the DVR. I shrugged it off at first as most kids do when their parents tell them something is worth checking out.

I can’t remember the details but one day I was bored so I somehow circled back onto this suggestion, fully expecting it to not satiate my boredom one iota, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I was watching the fifth episode (not beginning with episode 1 shows how little my faith was in my mother’s recommendation) and — in retrospect — I’m glad I did. The middle of the series is where I think the show gets good.

The first episode is a pilot shot well in advance of the rest of the series, so it lacks any real depth. I can summarise the action for you in a sentence. One of the kids gets hit by a spear, a pretty girl gets bit by a giant eel, two boys have a hormonal standoff and another boy (one of the lead characters, Bellamy) starts bullying people around.

As an opener, it’s very uninviting. The only interesting bit is the small glimpse at the friction between members of the Ark, which foreshadows the power struggles that come later in the series. On reflection, it’s nowhere near as bad as my memories but that’s because I am now biased by my investment in the series. I can easily see how new viewers will abandon the show because of the mediocre opening episode.

That’s why I think I’m lucky that I — out of sheer laziness — started in the middle. It turns out Episode 5 is where most people believe the show actually gets good, although I think Episode 4 is sublime.

It’s almost inconceivable that this show goes from a cliche snake bite rescue to a public hanging in four episodes. Spoiler alert: someone gets killed at knifepoint and someone gets brutally bound and hung as a public display of ‘righteousness’. The contrast in character development, intensity and emotional attachment is crazy.

That’s enough digression. Describing The 100 is difficult. At it’s core, it’s a show about making hard choices where no option is all good. This show is about consequences and repercussions. The constraints of low oxygen, limited food and a myriad of unknown threats are merely plot devices that exacerbate the decision making opportunities. All the Grounders, Reapers and Mountain Men offer exciting action sequences but the meat of what makes me come back is the underlying cause and effect.

When people fight, they remain scarred and injured. When they get shot in the spine, the bullet paralyses them in one leg. When a good guy kills people, he goes mentally insane.

This isn’t to say I don’t like the setting. The futuristic nature (97 years in the future, supposedly) enables some pretty visuals and interesting situations. For the first season, it also creates some interesting juxtapositions between the situation on the ground (where technology is very much lacking) and the developed Ark. The Ark is a life of luxury when compared to the carnal survival culture of the people on Earth, but both parties are suffering in different ways.

It’s also worth noting that The 100 is fast-paced. Season 1 has 13 episodes and Season 2 will have 16. Stuff happens fast. Story arcs that I expected to last a series or more were resolved in a matter of episodes. There’s a middle ground between something being overplayed and something being rushed that The 100 executes so perfectly. The show changes drastically with Season 2’s new environments and much larger ecosystem, keeping it fresh. I love it.

The portrayal of romance is too often the weak link for such TV. Once again, The 100 delivers by not falling into the common trap of letting love triangles and jealousy engulf the entire plot. It needs to be included to be realistic: sexual love is part of being a teenager. The show uses the relationships and love interests to cause more conflicts and raise interesting moral questions. For example, Finn courts Clarke from the moment he lands … despite having a long-term girlfriend in Raven on the Ark. However, given the situation of uncertainty and doubts about ever seeing anyone from the Ark again, did Finn really cross a line? Naturally, Raven then crashes to Earth the very next episode to cause some awkward encounters.

In the first season, the story takes place in very few locations: the Ark, the camp, the forest. With Season 2, the world has grown to include many more areas as the characters are split up into several contingents, following the events of the finale. It becomes more complicated as a result, although this should only be a transitory cost.

Crucially, though, the show retains the core elements that define The 100. You soon find out how the Reapers, Grounders and Mountain Men are not so disparate and actually form an interconnected economy. They have scaled up the show from Season 1’s ‘base defence’ vibe elegantly indeed. The additional budget for larger sets and better visual effects are pumping out better stories each week in this new season.

1 Even saying that I’m a ‘PC gamer’ is a stretch. I play a lot of League of Legends and I used to play a lot of Starcraft. That’s my complete gaming portfolio. I’m very fanatical about very few things, across my entire life really.

2 Remember the part about me being an uncool geek?

Writing Aid App Preview Video

13 November 2014

I was lazing about at 1 AM1 so I finally got around to making an app preview video for Writing Aid. Following Apple recommendations, the video is very plain and basic. I demo the tentpole features of the app and end by showing the widget. The background music is from Onj Louis — honestly I picked it primarily because I didn’t want to pay to license something. It’s a decent, albeit generic, backing track.

I felt like uploading the video to YouTube was a smart idea. Obviously, it will be shown in the App Store when version 1.1.4 gets approved.

1 Advice: I’m not a good role model to follow. I should have made this video months ago during daylight hours.

Twitter's New Mission Statement

12 November 2014

Wall Street Journal:

Noto also read out Twitter’s new mission statement, which he admitted was a mouthful: “Reach the largest daily audience in the world by connecting everyone to their world via our information sharing and distribution platform products and be one of the top revenue generating Internet companies in the world.”

“I struggle to read it every time,” Noto said.

Ignoring the weird PR crap and the alarming focus on revenue maximisation, the CTO himself ‘struggles to read it every time’. Isn’t that a good enough sign you should pick something else?

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