Category: Tech

People expect technology to suck

A few jobs ago, I was helping someone with a small tech issue, standing over their shoulder at their computer. The screen was unbelievably dark; I’m not exaggerating when I say it looked to be near 0% brightness.

For all I knew, this person had some vision sensitivity or just a basic personal preference that caused them to set it like this, but just in case, I cautiously asked, “By the way, I noticed your screen seems dark; do you prefer it like that, or would you like it to be brighter?”

I guess it is kind of dark,” they said. I tried some of the buttons on the side of the monitor and found that it had been set to like 5 or 10% brightness. I turned it up to 50% or whatever and they were shocked at how much more easily they were able to see things on it.

It had just never occurred to them that it could be better.

Continue reading “People expect technology to suck”

6 Responses

Game Center switching on tvOS 14: Who’s doing this?

Here’s a small thing that nobody cares about but me, because nobody “games” on the Apple TV:

tvOS 14 promised Game Center switching for when you have multiple Apple TV users, so different users’ progress can be saved and loaded separately. What I didn’t know until running the beta is that games have to opt in to this, so games don’t have it by default.

I would expect that Apple Arcade games would all support this flagship feature of tvOS 14 (insofar as tvOS can have “flagship features”), but none of them that I have seems to support it yet. Are they all just going to drop updates today to support Game Center switching?

If so, that’s kind of crazy and weird last-minute timing. If not, that means Apple’s subscription gaming service won’t support one of the most important gaming features on Apple TV.

Leave a Comment

Nintendo know what they’re doing

On why the Nintendo Switch doesn’t need 4K:

How many people are really looking at the Animal Crossing on their TV and thinking “no thank you, it’s not in 4K” or Paper Mario: The Origami King and dismissing the Switch because the graphics don’t have ray tracing? Literally nobody. Players come to Nintendo for quality IP, innovative titles, and long-lasting gameplay, not graphics.

Raymond Wong, Input

This reminds me of the things Android zealots are always insisting the iPhone has to do, things that no iPhone user actually cares about, because Android zealots are “spec-heads.”

I do wish Nintendo would come out with a “Switch Ultra Lite,” which was similarly inexpensive to the Switch Lite but didn’t have a screen at all and was just a TV console.

Leave a Comment

How to have Siri read articles to you

On a drive recently and wanting to listen to a longform article over BlueTooth, I considered my options.

Apple News has a great new human-read audio service, but only for select articles.

There have been a half dozen human-read news apps that came to (and sometimes went from) the App Store in the last few years, but their library of content is often small — Noa and Listle, to name a couple.

Instapaper and Pocket can “read” articles with generated speech, but the quality of the speech isn’t great.

I remembered the impressive demo of the new Siri voice at the iOS 13 keynote and thought it’d be cool if Siri could read an article to me. I said, “Hey Siri, read this article to me,” with no luck.

But there’s an unobtrusive accessibility setting you can activate that will allow you to trigger Siri reading any web content.

In “Settings > Accessibility > Spoken Content,” turn on “Speak Screen.” Then in “Voices,” download one of the “Siri” voices, which should be better than the default “Samantha.”

Now, when you’re viewing an article in Safari, swipe down with two fingers from the top of the screen, and Siri will start reading the article, even with variable speed. It’s not perfect, but it’s better and even easier than the third-party options I’ve found.

Leave a Comment

Observations on Apple’s “The whole working-from-home thing” video

I love these videos, where Apple showcases its fantasies for what a fully Apple-ified life looks like. (I’m reminded of this Martin Scorcese/Siri commercial from 2012.) I’m also fascinated by production design and the small easter eggs hidden in stuff like this. And I like watching people…be productive? It’s weird I know.

I imagine the purpose is to pull all of Apple’s devices and features out of the abstract and into something resembling a real-life context, so that you can more easily say, “Oh that would make things easier/better/faster/cooler for me.”

So here’s some stuff I noticed:

Continue reading “Observations on Apple’s “The whole working-from-home thing” video”

Leave a Comment

What if the iPad trackpad is for focus, too?

I’ve been thinking about the rumored iPad trackpad lately, and find myself having thoughts along the same lines as Dieter Bohn, namely that adding a cursor to the iPad would be a step backwards. Not only would it inherently invalidate and derail the current path of the touch computing paradigm, it could lead to lazy development of iPad apps that employ “touch targets” that are at too fine a scale for actual touch. Slapping an arrow cursor onto the iPad is a cop out. The addition of mouse support for accessibility is great, for accessibility, and importantly that addition doesn’t mimic a traditional cursor.

Bohn suggests that the trackpad would be useful even if just for text manipulation, but I think it could go further. Multi-finger gestures, of course, for accessing slideover and expose, for instance; but as I heard Federico Viticci point out that there is no “focus engine” in iPadOS as there is in tvOS, it occurred to me that maybe the trackpad could perform this function, too. Apps on the Apple TV can’t respond to touch, of course, so everything is handled with the remote’s touchpad moving focus around. Would this be a useful addition to iPadOS, giving users the ability to “tap” touch targets without removing their hands from the keyboard?

Leave a Comment

If it’s not an RSS feed, it’s not a podcast

Recently a podcast I like “moved to Spotify,” which is the only place it can now be heard. A couple weeks ago I was recommended a podcast that sounded interesting, but it turned out to be exclusive to the Luminary “podcast network.”

These are not podcasts. It’s not a matter of being behind a paywall (though Spotify’s aren’t, as far as I know); subscription fees aren’t antithetical to podcasting (though they may be technically challenging).

A podcast is a text file, an XML or JSON outline, that points a podcast player to a list of episodes. The podcast is indifferent to the thing downloading it, and the player is indifferent to the thing hosting it. Anything else isn’t a podcast — it’s just an audio show.

The term “podcast” has long outgrown its etymology as “something you play on your iPod,” but it’s nevertheless notable that these new “podcasts” cannot even be played on an iPod, other than an iPod Touch with a WiFi connection.

If I can’t listen to it on my iPod Nano, it’s not a podcast.

Leave a Comment

The Problem with Apple as Creator and Curator

I haven’t watched much at all of Apple TV+’s content, so this isn’t about whether their shows are good or not. Hell, they’re winning Emmys after all.

One thing I used to love about the Roku is that it had no incentive to make you watch one thing over another. There was no “Roku store,” so its makers weren’t motivated to put paid content front-and-center in the UI.

I gave that up once I switched to Apple TV, but I knew that, although Apple was incentivized to encourage me to watch things that I could buy or rent through them, at least it wasn’t directing me toward specific things for that reason; Apple doesn’t care whether I rent Barton Fink or Transformers, as long as I rent it from Apple (and their library is extensive).

I love the TV app for its “Up Next” section, reminding me what I want to watch and where I left off. I even like the remaining rows, highlighting content that is either being talked about (recent award winners, for instance, or big shows that are ending soon), or that is positively reviewed, or that is similar to things I’ve expressed interest in in the past. With so much to watch these days, it’s nice to have different ways for content to be surfaced.

On the other hand are Amazon’s and Netflix’s UIs, which lately seem to almost exclusively show you content produced by them, to encourage you to stay in their ecosystems. The “home page” of the Netflix app has got to be one of the most valuable advertising spaces on earth, and they take advantage of that. (See: Birdbox.)

But unfortunately what has tainted the Amazon and Netflix UIs is now a problem on Apple TV, for two reasons: Apple TV Channels and Apple TV+.

Because Apple TV Channels is limited to a small handful of networks — CBS, AMC, HBO, etc. — Apple is strongly incentivized to promote shows from those networks to encourage me to subscribe to them through Apple. And with original content being produced for Apple TV+, they’re also incentivized to recommend their own shows to me, sometimes with an entire row of content in the UI.

This destroys what trust I once had in the content curation. It would be naive to think the recommendations weren’t at all previously motivated by sales, but now when I see an Apple TV+ or CBS show highlighted, I know it’s effectively no different from an ad. They would recommend “The Morning Show” to me whether or not it was good.

I almost wish they had an “editorial department” who curated the contents of the TV app and were not beholden to the other teams at Apple whatsoever.

Leave a Comment