Gus Mueller on Extra Intuition

Manton and I just published the second episode of our members-only Extra Intuition podcast: I Know it was 15 Years Ago. We’re joined by Gus Mueller of Flying Meat to chat about … whatever comes up! Many thanks to Gus for taking the time to do the show.

It’s fun to have a chance to deviate from the usual format of Core Intuition. In some ways it’s more relaxed, like the show was in the early days. We are looking forward to mixing it up with interviews and other conversations that we don’t think are as suitable to the main show.

Our first episode, We Did Meet in Person features our recollections of meeting each other and starting to podcast together.

Core Intuition Membership

Today Manton and I released the 300th episode of Core Intuition. We published the first episode on May 30, 2008, and every episode since has been completely free for our listeners. Starting with Episode 301, that’s … going to stay completely the same. Except…

Core Intuition is now offering a membership program. We have been lucky over the past several years to have the financial support of many great sponsors, but we also want our enthusiastic listeners to have the option of supporting us directly. In the long term, we don’t know if we can count on our sponsorship luck to continue indefinitely, and would like to be able to continue doing the show regardless of how those fortunes shift.

We think that many of our listeners would support us without an incentive, but what’s the fun in that? That’s why we decided to start a second podcast, exclusively for members. Extra Intuition will feature extra discussions, interviews, and frankly, we’re not sure what. We’re just excited to have an outlet for some of the stuff we want to talk about, but doesn’t exactly fit the format of the main show.

Our first episode of Extra Intuition is already live, and it features a discussion about the early days of our friendship, and how we decided to start Core Intuition. If that sounds intriguing, please consider becoming a member so you can check out the show!

Sandbox Transparency

Apple’s sandboxing technology provides a mechanism for developers to specify “entitlements” that an app needs in order to provide functionality that users want. For example, on the Mac, an app can specify the entitlements to “print” and to “make network requests.” This system of granular privilege designation is a great baseline both for developers, to avoid accidentally overstepping intended bounds, and for users, to protect against apps intentionally or accidentally causing harm.

One of the biggest problems with Apple’s approach to sandboxing is that the accountability component has been left entirely to Apple itself. Developers are held accountable for the specific entitlements they request only when they distribute software through the iOS or Mac App Stores. In the review process, Apple may determine that a specific entitlement requested from an app is inappropriate for that app’s domain, and demand that the developer remove the entitlement before being approved. Or, in rare cases, they may approve an entitlement that other developers are not typically granted.

Yesterday, Gizmodo reported that Uber had been granted an entitlement for their iOS app that allowed them to capture an image of an iPhone’s screen at any time, even when the Uber app was not the active app on the phone. This is a big deal, because users don’t typically expect than an iPhone app that is not active might have the ability to eavesdrop on anything they are doing.

I have long felt that the sandboxing infrastructure on both iOS and Mac should be used to more accurately convey to users specifically what the apps they install are capable of doing. Currently the sandboxing system is used primarily to identify to Apple what a specific app’s privileges are. The requested entitlements are used to inform Apple’s decision to approve or reject an app, but the specific list of entitlements is not easily available to users, whose security is actually on the line.

I think the next step for sandboxing, on both iOS and the Mac, is to expose the list of entitlements that apps possess, in a way that is reasonably understandable to all users, and even more open to scrutiny by power users. Any user who is wary of an app should be able to examine its entitlements so that any unusual privileges can be evaluated. With this level of transparency, you can bet that Uber’s ability to arbitrarily record the screen would have been revealed much earlier.

Being more transparent with entitlements would also pave the way for overcoming an unfortunate side-effect of sandboxing: the elimination of whole classes of power-user level apps. If users were empowered to know what the privileges of an app are, through a combination of user prompting and an interface for inspecting entitlements, then it would be reasonable to grant more indulgent entitlements to developers.

Mac apps such as TextExpander essentially became unqualified for the Mac App Store with the advent of sandboxing, because they require access to system services such as monitoring the user’s keyboard input, in order to provide valuable macro text substitution. If entitlements were transparent across the board, and users were consistently informed about the extent of an application’s capabilities, it would empower users to make more reasonable decisions about the software they run. It would empower them to allow apps like TextExpander that are currently disallowed by the App Store’s sandboxing policies, and to reject apps like Uber that may be unexpectedly allowed to capture footage of users’ activity even while running other apps.

The Watch is a Phone

Since Apple announced that the Apple Watch Series 3 would be offered with an LTE option, a significant amount of collective energy has been spent scrutinizing the various pricing plans offered by telecom companies around the world.

Because I live in the United States I will focus on the de facto standard $10/month pricing that AT&T and Verizon have both announced. Depending on who you ask, this charge is either completely reasonable, or a complete rip-off. It may be a little of each.

Arguments for the rip-off point out that most US plans come with a fixed amount of data, and the extra $10/month doesn’t buy you any extra data. The charge is merely for the privilege of connecting directly to the provider’s wireless network from a Watch.

Arguments for reasonableness concede that there is an infrastructural cost to supporting another whole device on the network. Even if the data and phone number are shared, a new standalone device exists in the world, and it demands to be catered to by the network’s services.

I am not excited about LTE on my Watch, but I decided to buy an LTE edition anyway. Because Verizon is offering three months of free service as part of a sale promotion, I also decided I will give ubiquitous Watch connectivity a shot. Who knows? Maybe I’ll love it.

One thing that caught my eye during the checkout process was the fact that my Apple Watch has already been assigned a phone number of its own. Even though it will be configured in Verizon’s system to share my phone’s phone number, their process for activating and supporting devices on their network apparently requires assigning them a phone number. I don’t know if this is true of all carriers worldwide, or if this is a peculiarity of American systems, or of Verizon in particular.

In any case, I thought it was interesting that my Watch will have its own phone number, even if it goes unused. Longer term, I could see merit in configuring Watches to be the only device for a phone number. For example, a work phone at a company that communicates primarily by voice might be satisfied to equip their employees with a Watch and a pair of headphones.

I also think the fact my Watch will have its own phone number increases the justification for charging a nominal monthly fee. For as long as any Apple Watch is on Verizon’s network, a full-fledged US phone number will be “off the market,” so to speak. In most respects that matter to Verizon, the Apple Watch is not an add-on accessory to the iPhone that happens to want independent access to the network. The Watch is a phone.

Apple Watch Series 3

When Apple introduced the Apple Watch three years ago, orders were almost immediately backordered. Apple made a special offer to developers, granting us the opportunity to order a 42mm Sport edition with a blue strap, with minimal delay. I jumped at the chance and have been wearing the same “Series 0” ever since.

I’ve come to appreciate Apple Watch for all the ways it extends my iPhone: less intrusive notifications, casual Siri access, and effortless Apple Pay. I also appreciate the fitness monitoring, and have switched to using it as my exclusive running watch, in spite of its lack of GPS. It’s a pretty darned good debut product, and it has served me well.

That said, I dropped and cracked the screen over a year ago. With repair costs approaching the cost of replacement, I have long thought that I would hold out for the next big update before buying a new one. As I watched Apple introduce the Apple Watch Series 3 during their event last week, I knew that the time had come to upgrade.

Selecting a replacement has been more difficult than I expected. I always slightly regretted not getting the smaller, 38mm version of the watch, but I think I will err on the side of fat-fingered tappability and stick with 42mm. A harder decision has been choosing between the LTE Cellular version of the Watch, and the slightly cheaper WiFi/GPS-only model.

I thought it would be easy, because I don’t care about LTE. Or at least, I don’t think I do. Since I got in the habit of running with a belt, I’m accustomed to having my iPhone with me all the time. This ever-so-slight encumbrance has brought with it two unexpected benefits: I feel safer, knowing that I can always (in most locales) make an emergency phone call, and I feel empowered to take photos mid-run when something particularly interesting catches my eye. This has come in handy when jogging in foreign countries, through nature, or when I want to capture a selfie while running in a New England blizzard.

The LTE Watch certainly would provide the same emergency calling comfort, but am I willing to give up access to a camera for the freedom from wearing a running belt? I suspect not.

Nonetheless, I’ve decided to go for the LTE edition. Why? For one thing, apart from the option to add a cellular plan, the LTE models also feature twice the storage. I tend to err on the side of extra capacity, so even if LTE were not an option, I would probably choose to pay $70 for this alone.

Sweetening the deal, Apple offers configurations with the LTE models that are not available with the GPS version. After reading Serenity Caldwell’s iMore article about the merits of the Sport Loop, I’m convinced I’ll want to give this a try. Choosing the LTE model means I can preconfigure the Watch with it, instead of paying extra for the Sport Loop, and getting another rubber Sport Band that I’ll never use. (I’ve been loyal to the Nylon Band since they were introduced.)

In short, even if I never use the LTE functionality, the LTE model is the right choice for me. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up trying the cellular access, and it will be a big hit. Maybe I’ll cast my running belt aside, and not worry about lost photo-taking opportunities. Maybe LTE on my wrist will be a revelation, and I’ll laugh at myself for ever having doubted its usefulness. Maybe I’ll come around.

The only downside is that gaudy red crown.

Update: If you’re in the US and a Verizon customer, they’re offering to waive the activation fee and give 3 months of free service, but only if you buy the Apple Watch from them. Their site is a mess but you can get at most of the models here. Good news is their ship date for the model I chose is a few weeks ahead of Apple’s!

Multilingual Completion

At times I’ve been frustrated that when I’m trying to type a Spanish word on my iPhone, I’m only offered completions in English. For example, if I wanted to type the Spanish word for ostrich, avestruz:

NewImage

It finally occurred to me that I could add a Spanish keyboard to my Keyboard settings:

IMG 2574

Now, when I’m in an app or on a web site where I’m likely to type in Spanish, I can easily change the keyboard and get Spanish-language completions.

It gets better: if a second-language keyboard such as Spanish is merely enabled, it affects the keyboard completion behavior such that completions from either your first or second language is included. Here I am typing “aves” in the English keyboard, but completion is smart enough to infer that I’m looking for “avestruz”:

IMG 2575

I had hoped that iOS’s willingness to cross language barriers might also apply to Siri dictation, but alas no. “All these truths” is the closest it can muster when I speak “avestruz”:

IMG 2570

However, having the Spanish keyboard at hand means I can quickly switch keyboards and dictate as expected:

IMG 2572

If you find yourself frequently typing a foreign-language word and hoping for some help from your phone, be sure to install a keyboard for the language so that iOS knows you’re interested in its suggestions!

$40 Box Lunch

I’ve been hearing all about how the famously atrocious (though some beg to differ) box lunches served at WWDC for the past several years probably cost about $40 each. The discussion on the Accidental Tech Podcast is based on a 2010 article, cited by David Carlton on Twitter, in which the Game Developer Conference organizer Meggan Scavio explains that she would offer a $200 cheaper ticket for folks who wanted to opt out of lunch.

Conventional wisdom suggests that in venues like Moscone West, companies like Apple are forced to use the in-house caterers, and thus required to put up not only with the quality of the food that is offered, but with the price as well. I decided to do some shallow digging, and confirmed that Moscone West does in fact forbid exhibitors from bringing in their own food and drink. In fact the Catering FAQ for the exclusive caterer, Savor SMG, consists of just one question:

May we bring in our own food and beverage booth give-aways? i.e., espresso, candy bars, bottled water?

Savor SMG is the exclusive provider of all food and beverage for the Moscone Center and is pleased to be able to work with all requests. Please contact your Catering Exhibitor Sales Manager for all requests.

As for the price, is it really $40? Savor SMG’s 2017 menu confirms that the price is in the right ballpark. The “Executive Box Lunch” is $39.25 and sounds about like what I remember from WWDC:

Four compartment. Includes compostable service. 25 guest minimum.
Sandwich, wrap or entrée salad includes a choice of side salad, dessert and fruit.
To accompany your box lunches, we suggest adding assorted soft drinks and bottled water.

Soft drinks and water are not included. A 22% service fee, as well as sales tax (almost 10%), are also added to the price. So that $39.25 box lunch comes to around $52 before beverages. On Accidental Tech Podcast they suggested it was probably more than $40 by now, and it sounds like they are right.

Want to really lose your lunch? Each bottled water is $5.25, coming to $7.00 after service and taxes. And Marco’s long lost Strawberry C Monster Odwalla (“Assorted Juices”) would set Apple back around $8 a bottle. Add it all up and it’s not hard to imagine meals and snacks coming to $100 a day, or $500 for the week, per person. Nearly a third of the $1600 WWDC admission fee likely pays for food.

In San Jose, Apple will be free from the rigorous Moscone West catering restrictions, but will have to contend with another exclusive caterer in TeamSanJose. They also add a flat 22% service fee, as well as sales tax (8.75%). I don’t know how their box lunches compare, but the good news is the “Gourmet Box Lunch” comes in at only $22.00. “Mineral Waters, Soft Drinks, Juices and Bottled Water” are all a mere $4.50 each. These savings multiplied over 5000 or more staff and attendees should work out to a substantial savings for Apple.

S is for Sandboxed

Today Microsoft announced their forthcoming Windows 10 S operating system which is being framed, by the press at least, as a competitor to Google’s Chrome OS.

Notably, Windows 10 S will only allow users to install applications from the Windows Store. As with Apple’s app stores, Windows Store applications are “sandboxed” to prevent them from accessing data from other applications on a device. While sandboxing is seen by many as a welcome security protection, it also rules out many types applications that require more sophisticated interaction with user data across multiple applications.

Users who want or need to install applications from outside the Windows Store will be able to pay $50 to sidegrade to Windows 10 Pro. I use the word sidegrade specifically because, as Business Insider quotes, Microsoft “can’t guarantee you’ll get the improved battery life and performance” that they promise with Windows 10 S.

The $50 charge to escape the Windows Store doesn’t sit right with John Gruber:

But charging $50 for this feels like a shakedown. Imagine if Apple charged $50 to toggle the setting in the Security pane of System Prefs to allow the use of apps from outside the App Store.

On the face of it, I agree with this reaction. If you look at the $50 strictly as a fee to “unlock” an otherwise more powerful Windows 10 S machine, it does feel like a shakedown. But my reading of the $50 offer is much more dramatic than a simple “unlocking.” Users who choose to pay the $50 will also be opting in to a substantially different operating system. One with different battery usage, performance metrics, and perhaps other feature deviations from the default Windows 10 S software that Microsoft recommends for these devices. You get, and lose, what you pay for.

Another alluring aspect to the Windows 10 S lineup is that the most affordable computers will sell for as little as $189. While my understanding is that these computers are licensed, and not manufactured by Microsoft, I wonder if the cutthroat pricing represents a compromise on Microsoft’s part. To allow for computers this cheap, the OEM price for Windows 10 S must be effectively $0. Separately, Microsoft is offering the operating system as a free update to schools that want to update older Windows computers.

A $0 operating system that stands to earn ongoing Windows Store sales commissions is a slightly different proposition than one that enables users to install software from third party sources. With no other option, most users are bound to purchase something from the Windows Store, generating a modest profit for Microsoft. The $50 price for upgrading to Windows 10 Pro could be the amount of money that Microsoft deems necessary to cover its losses, on average, for effectively licensing its software for free to owners of millions of computers on which it will otherwise make no profit.

Social Networks are a Feature

Apple’s pre-announcement of Clips reminds me of Steve Jobs’s infamous quip to Dropbox CEO Drew Houston. From a 2011 Forbes feature:

Jobs smiled warmly as he told them he was going after their market. “He said we were a feature, not a product,” says Houston.

I’ve heard many dismiss Clips as too little, too late. A blatant attempt by Apple to weasel into the crowded market for quirky photo and video sharing apps. As a 41-year-old, I’m not sure I completely understand this field, but it appears to be dominated by Snapchat, while Facebook seems desperate to catch up and surpass them.

Where does that leave Apple? In punditry circles, the company is almost as well-known for their repeated failure to spark a fire in social networking as they are known for their successes in building highly desirable hardware and software products. Yes, products. Apple loves products, and is good at building them.

Despite constant criticism, Apple controls a pretty huge, relatively smooth-operating social network. The Apple ID single-sign-on infrastructure powers a host of social services including photo sharing, friend finding, document collaboration, shared calendars and reminders, and peripheral services such as Apple Pay that seem poised to make the leap to social when the company sees fit.

But “Apple ID” is not a catchy name for a social network, and despite its popularity among the Mac and iOS faithful, Apple makes little attempt to meaningfully bridge the gap with people who are tied into Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Weibo, whatever. These networks are enormously popular not only because users enjoy their features but because they are accessible from all popular hardware platforms. They facilitate interplatform friendship.

For a variety of reasons, the features afforded to Apple ID account-holders do not seem likely to attract non-Apple customers away from other social networks. So if Apple can’t beat ’em? Join ’em. Or rather, make it easy for Apple’s customers to participate at once in Apple-ID-powered services, and with outside social networks.

It started to appear that Apple had ceded “the social network” to other companies when they added standard share functionality to iOS and Mac. Virtually any text, image, or video on these platforms can be efficiently shared to Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, or any of an unlimited number of apps installed on the device that implement support for working with the media in question. If Apple had ambitions of becoming the dominant social network for sharing any of these types of content, they would probably not be so generous in facilitating this integration with their competitors.

I think Apple wisely considers their role, as the maker of personal computers and mobile devices, as empowering users to achieve specific goals in life. Apple empowers its users to write school papers, organize photos, record a jam session, check email, surf the web, work with a spreadsheet, play games, and yes, to connect with friends and family through a variety of social networks.

To this end, any time Apple might have spent building out their own social network is better spent investing in tools that maximize users’ enjoyment of the social networks they already belong to. Rather than obsessing over the venue in which social interactions occur, Apple can profit by equipping its users to be more expressive, wherever they may roam.

If I may stretch the venue metaphor for social networks, imagine you are invited to a huge gala event. Thousands of attendees are anticipated to meet up for an epic night of dining, drinking, and social revelry. Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter are dying to rent the venue, cater the snacks, and serve the drinks. All things that set the tone for where, and how, people will interact. Apple is content to sell the suit, dress, or whatever, that empowers 30% of attendees to look and feel their best.

Clips falls naturally into Apple’s long history of software that is designed to enhance the creative productivity of its customers. GarageBand empowers users to share their musicality with anybody, on any platform, who can play an audio file. Photos and iMovie do the same for visual creative works. And now Clips, recognizing the unique appeal of combining film, photography, visual effects, text, and emoji overlays, seeks to do the very same thing with a twist on the format.

Few of us wake up every morning “excited to social network.” Yet we turn to services like Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat to connect with friends and strangers. We’re excited to use the chat, image sharing, file transfer, and collaboration tools that add value to the stark, cold network. Many of these tools are built and shipped by the makers of the network, while others are supplied by third parties.

Apple’s Clips appears to be a canonical example of adding value to social networks from the outside. Regardless of whether you meet your friends on Facebook, Twitter, or a network that I have never heard of, Apple is glad to have you use and app like Clips to make your experience more fulfilling and fun. Clips is the latest of many products, from Apple and from others, that empowers you to express yourself uniquely. The social network you choose to do that on is merely a feature that connects you with friends and family.

Paper Airplane Icons

A friend who is running the latest beta of Microsoft’s Outlook 2016 for Mac shared a screenshot of the app’s sidebar icons:

PaperAirplane

The paper airplane used for “Sent” really jumped out at me, and I felt compelled to re-evaluate how common, and for how long, the metaphor has been used to represent a “sent email” in apps.

It seems obvious the metaphor is supposed to relate sending an email to the storybook notion of passing a note in class. Write your note on the paper, fold it into an airplane shape, launch it across the classroom, and hope against hope that you avoid the teacher’s gaze, aren’t ratted out by a classmate, and that you execute a perfect delivery so it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Come to think of it, maybe this isn’t an icon that inspires confidence of a safe delivery. Nonetheless, I think it’s a pretty cute metaphor.

The app I most associate with paper airplane icons is the Mac’s built in Mail app. Apple uses a mix of metaphors in the app, including a postage stamp for the app’s main icon:

Apple Mail app icon.

and physical envelopes in the icons for some of its preferences:

Image of toolbar icons in Mail Preferences featuring physical envelopes

But when it comes to drafting and sending mail? It’s all about the planes. Notice how they even leverage the playful symbolism to represent a draft message with a paper folding diagram:

Image of Mail.app sidebar icons.

I was curious to know if another email app used paper airplanes to represent drafts before Apple Mail did. I went out Googling and found all manner of representations, usually employing the paper envelope, or another snail-mail related symbol. None of them, except Apple Mail, uses a paper airplane.

So my modest research suggests that the use of a paper airplane was a pretty novel bit of design. Was it an Apple innovation, or did it debut in some prior app I haven’t been able to track down? Is Microsoft’s adoption of the symbol the next step towards making paper airplane icons the universal symbol of sent mail? I kind of hope so!

Accessible Resistance

Accessibility in software refers to the noble ambition of ensuring that software is usable by as diverse a user base as possible. To that end, software is made more accessible by adapting to a variety of physical or cognitive impairments that may affect any individual user.

In the United States and other countries, there is an ugly trend towards supporting politicians who don’t believe that people from diverse backgrounds, or with specific impairments, should be accommodated by society as a whole.

Many developers are looking for concrete ways to fight these politicians who don’t value diversity and inclusion. One small thing we can all do to push back, to resist, is to ensure our own apps are as accessible as possible.

During my many years as an indie Mac developer, I have often prioritized accessibility in my apps. I have heard from many MarsEdit users, particularly those with vision difficulties, who tell me its accessibility makes it a better alternative to many other blogging solutions.

I am gratified to hear about the ways I have gotten accessibility right, but I am still not satisfied that I have done enough. There are nuances of MarsEdit’s accessibility that can yet be improved, while some of my other apps, such as Black Ink, are still hardly accessible at all.

If you are a Mac or iOS developer who is committed to improving the accessibility of your app, a great place to start is with the WWDC 2016 What’s New In Accessibility session. Apple is always enhancing the variety of accessible features that are built in to iOS, macOS, tvOS, and yes!, even watchOS.

Spend a half hour watching this video, and start getting up to speed with how you will enhance the accessibility of your app. No matter where you live in the world, you can be a strident voice for inclusion by declaring, through your actions in Xcode, that your software is designed to be used by everyone.