Thursday, November 12

The New Apple TV

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I pre-ordered an Apple TV as soon as Apple began accepting orders and, yes, I paid extra for release day delivery.

Here are some quick thoughts after a few days of messing around with it:

Siri: Siri on Apple TV isn’t perfect or comprehensive yet, but it is pretty close to great. Search is awesome, asking about weather, sports scores, and stocks is nifty and useful, and playback tricks like “go back or skip ahead x seconds” and “what did he say” have already passed the inflection point from gimmick to standard usage pattern in my house. We’ve legitimately used “what did he say” several times while watching a quiet scene in a movie or TV show; and when the 10-second skip/go back feature on the standard touch interface doesn’t cut it, we use the Siri command “go back/skip ahead blank seconds” for more precise movement. Macworld has a great list of all the things Siri can do on the new Apple TV.

Siri / Touchpad Remote: I love the new remote. I do sometimes inadvertantly initiate scrubbing but I’d personally rather have that over what we previously had. I still use my Fire TV occasionally (primarily for Amazon Prime content) and I miss the touchpad interface when I do. Navigation feels more convenient with the added buttons, though it does take a bit of effort to acclimate and remember what is there and where. Understandable and probably almost unavoidable. There are some shortcuts that are nice, so take a moment to learn some of those. Like the rest of the tech press, I’m disappointed that the Apple TV Remote apps on iOS and Apple Watch weren’t upgraded to support the new Apple TV. Hopefully that is coming. I can live with only having the new remote, though, so it’s certainly not something that’s preventing me from enjoying the overall experience.

Apps: The App Store gets the nod for Most Important Underwhelming feature of the new Apple TV. Why? Because apps are old news both to smartphone users and owners of other streaming boxes (I see you Fire TV, Chromecast, and Roku). But. BUT. While all of those platforms are perfectly capable, I think it’s only fair to tip your hat to the depth and breadth of Apple’s App Store, their developer tools and, most importantly, the creativity of the vastly diverse stable of developers already entrenched in Apple’s ecosystem1. If there is a future beyond the existing TV paradigm, I agree with Apple that it is in Apps.

Setup: The magical setup mostly worked for me – I did eventually have to enter my iTunes password and my 3 year old does like to play with the remote so I haven’t relaxed the password requirement for purchases yet. Adding an option to use an iPhone with Touch ID to authenticate purchases initiated in the TV would be awesome. I also had moments of uncertainy during the setup process about whether everything was working correctly – it was and did setup as easily as advertised, I just didn’t always know it was working, so the feedback loop could be better. Signing in to non-Apple apps is a pain, but for most users this is a process that shouldn’t be required frequently so it’s mostly bearable2.

Connectivity: New – a USB-C port for “diagnostics only”. Gone – optical audio out; which was a problem for me and my older TV. Solution? I bought a new TV.

Verdict: If you’ve been holding out for this new Apple TV, it is well worth it to make the plunge now, even at the higher price point. If you have an Apple TV right now, especially a 3rd generation, and you’re mostly happy with it, there’s probably not a compelling reason for you to upgrade unless any or all of the following is true:

  1. You’ve been dying to play Alto’s Adventure (or any other great iOS game that is compatible with Apple TV) on your big screen TV.
  2. You are very intrigued by the promise of Apps on your TV.
  3. It is worth $150-$200 to have a remote that doesn’t require line-of-sight (IR) to operate your Apple TV (if I was on the fence, this probably would have been enough to tip me over).
  4. You are a Siri pro on iOS devices and you’re eager to have the same experience with your TV.
  1. Michael Rockwell covers this point exquisitely in his guest post for Samantha Bielefeld.

  2. Or not, if your experience was anything like Jason Snell’s.

Wednesday, November 11

Inbox by Gmail to Add ‘Smart Reply’

Cam Bunton reporting for 9to5mac:

In its blog post about the update, Google explains how the technology works, stating that as the email comes in, one network encodes the email by consuming the words one at a time and then produces a vector, or list of numbers. This vector essentially captures the message of what the email means. A second network then uses this ‘thought vector’ and creates a grammatically correct reply one word at a time. To the user, it should feel fast, intuitive and natural.

Wow. Such incredible AI work they do in Mountain View (or wherever). I’m not totally creeped out by this feature, yet, but I have this sinking feeling that I should be.

TechCrunch: The iPad Pro And The Death Of A Metaphor

I love this reference to Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood buried in Matthew Panzarino’s iPad Pro review:

My battery typically lasts around 2 days on WiFi with some sketching, watching Daniel of House Tiger with my daughter and doing some typing and browsing in split-screen.

Sunday, October 25

Every So Often App Reviews: Tweetbot 4, Paper by Fifty Three, Clicker, Wildcard, and Just Press Record

I buy and download a fair number of iOS apps, but I rarely take the time to post reviews and recommendations. Consider this my attempt to occasionally rectify that. Here is the start of my Every So Often app reviews.

Tweetbot 4

If you want to incite a digital riot in tech circles then look no further than the paid app upgrade. The iOS and App Store platforms revolutionized application development and distribution in both positive and negative ways. One of the negative results is the much-documented difficulties with building a sustainable business model in the rapid race to the bottom strategy of App Store pricing and absence of an officially supported upgrade pricing model. Tapbots, the company headed up by Paul Haddad and Mark Jardine, know this struggle all too well. It’s a running Twitter joke for Haddad every time Tapbots prepares to release a new version of their marquee apps into the wild.

The most recent episode involves Tweetbot 4. I’m a faithful Tweetbot user since Tweetbot 2, having even gone so far as gifting Tweetbot 3 to a friend of mine who was suffering Twitter through the company’s often languishing official app. What this knowledge reveals about me is that I’ve now paid for Tweetbot four times (including the gift purchase) and I still think I’ve underpaid. Using Twitter is not a requirement for my job or any other aspect of my life but it is one of my favorite pastimes and so I’m willing to pay a little bit to make that experience as enjoyable as possible. I’m not even a souped up Twitter power user, so I don’t necessarily benefit from all the great features that Tweetbot offers. I just find their interface and app interaction decisions quite agreeable with my own tastes and brief forays into other apps left me longing to go back to my comfort app.

Setting aesthetics aside for a moment, why should you buy Tweetbot? Here are the features I think that just about any Twitter user device might find useful from Tweetbot (this is basically my hand-picked selection from the feature list on Tweetbot’s website):

  • Mute People, Keywords, Tweet Sources on your Timeline, Lists, and Search Results
  • Support for Multiple Twitter Accounts1
  • View/Add/Edit/Subscribe to Lists
  • View Tweet Statistics and Account Activity
  • Gestures for Quick Access to Common Tasks
  • Excellent support for 3rd Party Services
  • Night Mode for Low-Light Reading (I keep mine in night mode all the time)

Paper by FiftyThree

I’m way way late to the game on Paper (though I’ve been using Paper by Facebook exclusively since it arrived) but I actually have a pretty good reason – I’m terrible at drawing anything. Perhaps recognizing the niche characterization of their product (and the increasingly cavalier use of their product’s name) FiftyThree recently updated Paper by giving it some features that greatly increases its utility for non-artists. More specifically they added diagraming, note-taking and photo spotlighting features that make it a fantastic application for quickly capturing ideas with stunning visual richness that aims to make “back of the napkin” days obsolete. The upgrade is, of course, a very strong effort to prop up their other business as the manufacturer of Pencil, a Bluetooth enhanced stylus for smartphones.

I love the new drawing tools in the app and the photo spotlight feature is a great idea that I know I’ll use more and more. I’ve seen it in other apps but it is nice to have it here in Paper with the other helpful diagraming and drawing tools. After devoting some time familiarizing myself with the tools, I started thinking about the different applications and analog tools that this could replace for me. I recently completed a couple of closet renovations and I was able to use Paper to communicate through mock ups of what I wanted with our vendor. I’ve also used Paper to develop layouts for web pages and as a scratch pad for quick calculations and ephemeral notes needed when developing websites. Yes, Paper by FiftyThree is turning into a replacement for lowercase p paper for me.


This free app from The Iconfactory is a neat idea – it’s basically a tally/counter app that gives you a tap via Apple Watch every time you increment the counter. If you have an Apple Watch I think this is a must have if for nothing more than a great way to demo taps/notifications on the watch. There isn’t a great way to do this built into the watch which is curious because to me that’s basically the knockout feature of the watch. I love me some Taptic notifications.

And yes, I do launch Clicker from time to time just so can give myself a tap. I think I need more friends.


A few weeks ago, my wife asked me how I stay up to date with the news, specifically if there was a particular app that I use. I don’t remember if she was really interested more in local news or not but at the time I was trying out SmartNews. More recently, after featured their redesign in a daily update, I turned to Wildcard for it’s unique visual style and card-based news capsules.

Just Press Record

Just Press Record is that rare app that manages to combine a very simple idea with just-enough design and an easy to use interface while also filling a need that many might never suspect they have. In fact, when you boil down Just Press Record into its most basic pieces, it makes you wonder why Apple’s own built-in Voice Memo app isn’t as well-executed as this.

To put it simply, Just Press Record is Voice Memo but with a simpler UI, iCloud syncing support, and versions for Mac and Apple Watch. Most perplexing to me is the absence of iCloud support for Voice Memo; even if you assume that one need not record or sync from Mac to iPhone, you might at least find it somewhat helpful to offer a sync and play app for the Mac that receives files from the iPhone. And while I never in a million years would have imagined that I would go all Dick Tracy and spend much time talking to my watch, between Siri, Just Press Record, and an occasional phone call or two, I talk to my watch all the time. So if you see some strange guy walking around holding his wrist up to his mouth it’s either a spy or me.

  1. Twitterific offers a unified timeline, much like most email clients/apps now offer a unified inbox. This would definitely be a time saver but I actually prefer the compartmentalization of my timelines. It’s why I have separate accounts to begin with.  ↩
Thursday, October 22


“Having a following doesn’t just make patronage work, or let you take creative risks in product monetisation; it’s also a responsibility.”
Sunday, October 11

Overcast 2: The Best Gets Better

Marco Arment earlier this week, announcing the release of Overcast 2.0:

After a year of work, Overcast 2 is now available as a free update for everyone. It’s mostly a major under-the-hood improvement, with relatively few user-facing changes. But they’re pretty good, I think.

And now, all features are free, and I’m trying a new business model.

Streaming, per-podcast storage details, and chapter support are the highlights of this release. For supported podcast feeds with show notes links, the chapter navigation even includes the show note link related to the current discussion. As always, just incredible attention to detail from Arment. And best of all, the entire app is completely free. So if you’re into podcasts at all, go download Overcast and give it a try. I think you’re going to love it.

If it becomes one of your essential apps like it has for me, consider becoming a patron so you can support an independent developer and so Marco can continue his great work on this app and whatever future apps may come.

Sunday, October 04

Matt Gemmell’s ‘Negotiations’

Matt Gemmell’s post on the ad blocking controversy should be required reading for any and all parties entering the discussion:

In order to work out why people are angry about blockers – beyond the simple reality that people are taking their content for free, and bypassing their means of compensation – we have to look to the think-pieces sprouting daily that try to introduce a moral element to the issue. The moral angle says that ad-blocking is in some sense wrong, and is akin (and tantamount) to theft. Theft is probably morally wrong in most circumstances, thus we have our conclusion.

But that’s some intellectual sleight of hand.

It may be correct for you, if you agree with the assumptions it makes, but it’s still a crooked argument for not addressing those assumptions. So let’s briefly do that. The two main assumptions being made are of implicit contract, and of implicit consent. And they’re big ones.

Friday, October 02

Block & Save

A new developer API included in the latest release of iOS (iOS 9) provides a quick & easy way for developers to implement content blockers, specifically to block web-based advertising and tracking. I am not opposed to all advertising or even tracking1, but mobile advertising has reached ridiculous levels of ridiculous. As it turns out, installing and using ad blockers might not just save you some annoyance, it could potentially save you time and money2.

Before he decided to pull it, I purchased and installed Marco Arment’s Peace app. I recommend you install and use an ad blocker as well. Ben Brooks put together a multi-part review of some of the most popular ad blocker apps so far, so check out his recommendations.

One more important note: after you install the app, you’ll need to take some additional steps to activate the content blocking in mobile Safari, so be sure to follow the steps outlined by the app you install. Trust me, it is well worth the effort.

P.S. While you’re messing around with iOS 9, you may also want to consider disabling Wi-Fi Assist if you don’t have a high capacity mobile data plan.

  1. I’m sparing you the nuance of this debate because it will lead to intense and unnecessary rambling.  ↩

  2. It’s worth pointing out that ad blockers generally block tracking scripts/cookies and custom web fonts, which typically slow down web page load times. This site uses a custom web font, so I apologize if things look a little strange after you install an ad blocker. I’ll get to work on finding a more graceful fallback. ↩

Apple Watch Charging Clip

Having trouble keeping the magnetic charger attached to your Apple Watch while charging on the go? Well here’s a clever solution from Tom Gerhardt and Dan Provost over at Studio Neat. Even better than the idea itself is the story behind it.

Tuesday, September 22


“The truth is that advertising isn’t going away. Where the advertising money is spent ebbs and flows to various places, but like matter itself, it never quite seems to be created nor destroyed. It just moves around.”