Chasing the impossible with Daniel Jalkut Fri, 21 Aug 2015 18:31:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Surviving The Work Week At Home Fri, 21 Aug 2015 18:29:13 +0000 I was honored when Serenity Caldwell of iMore asked me to contribute a column to The Network. I was racking my brain to come up with a topic for the article, but I found inspiration in my MarsEdit drafts folder, with an article I had loosely speculated writing, but never followed up on. The article went live at iMore today: “How to survive working at home“.

My working title for the article was “Surviving the Work Week at Home,” but they changed it at iMore, probably for the better! I’m a sucker for the passive voice.

The staff at iMore also added helpful headings, and restructured paragraphs where I had simply rambled on. I love the freedom of writing fast and loose for my own blogs, but it’s a nice break to collaborate with a publication that will add the finishing touches to one’s writing to bring it to a higher level.

Thanks to Serenity and the entire team at iMore for helping me get my article polished up, and for sharing it with your audience!

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Microsoft WinObjC Thu, 06 Aug 2015 18:18:46 +0000 Microsoft appears to be following through on its promise to provide resources to iOS developers that facilitate the porting of apps to Windows.

The project, identified by the code name “Islandwood” earlier this year, has been renamed to Windows Bridge for iOS, and the company is making the source code available.

I had a surprisingly hard time finding the GitHub sources for the project. No news on Microsoft’s developer home page, nor on the Interoperability Bridges blog (oops, not updated since January, 2014). I even searched Microsoft’s GitHub repositories but couldn’t find anything matching “windows bridge ios” or variations.

Finally, I searched Twitter for related news until I found a link to a story that actually linked to the GitHub project.

The project’s famiilar name is WinObjC. And yes, it is on GitHub.

Update: If I knew The Verge’s format a bit better I might have noticed they credit the source, Microsoft’s own Windows blog, which in fact links to the GitHub project and includes the WinObjC.

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Six In One Thu, 23 Jul 2015 22:26:25 +0000 Craig Hockenberry’s “Half-Assed” calls out the disparity between Apple’s Mac and iOS App Stores with respect to app analytics, limiting customer reviews from beta OS releases, and support for beta testing with TestFlight:

Mac developers have never had access to TestFlight, either internally or externally. It’s “coming soon”, and until that day comes, there’s no way to test apps that use the iCloud servers. Which sucks for both the developer and the customer.

For years, I’ve harbored my own resentments about the way Apple seems to treat the Mac App Store as a second-class citizen. One point that has nagged at me since the Mac App Store launched five years ago is the lack of effort Apple makes in promoting these products through social networks. For years, the @AppStore account has been extremely active promoting iOS apps to its huge (now 3.8 Million people!) audience. It’s obviously a priority for Apple to promote the iOS App Store, and their Twitter account does a great job of it.

But there is no Twitter account for the Mac App Store, and the @AppStore account has nearly never mentioned Mac software. (Go ahead, do an advanced Twitter search for “from:AppStore mac“). Around four years ago at WWDC, I asked a group of App Store affiliated engineers what they made of this. They all looked at me blankly, paused, looked at each other blankly, paused, and then shrugged as if to say “Huh, I wonder why we don’t promote the Mac App Store?” I don’t know either! But they were all in a much better position than I to find out or push for a change. Evidently, that hasn’t happened.

The neglect makes sense on one hand: iOS and now watchOS are the new hotness, the platforms that represent the fastest and most culturally significant growth for Apple. They sell the most devices, generate the most revenue, and create the biggest headlines, worldwide. It still makes sense for Apple to prioritize the iOS App Store, but it’s a shame they haven’t done more over the past five years to integrate the systems that power the stores so that benefits to developers for one platform’s store would automatically benefit the developers for the other.

On the other hand, let’s acknowledge that the disparity is not all roses for iOS and weeds for the Mac. iOS developers continue to face obstacles for which we have long enjoyed simple solutions for on the Mac. As Craig points out, we can’t ship a useful beta testing app that fully exercises all of Apple’s locked down services such as iCloud, but what can we do? We can ship arbitrary binaries to an unlimited number of people, who can install and run those apps on whatever devices they choose. How do you like them, ahem, Apples?

And what about the absurd steps iOS developers must take in order to stay up to date with beta releases of the OS? Either they commit themselves to running guaranteed buggy and possibly unusable versions of the OS on their machine “machines,” or else they spend extra money on devices whose only purpose will be to act as testbeds for the risky new OS. Want to maintain backwards compatibility? Better keep multiple iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads, of varying generations handy, but be careful not to update them to a newer OS, as there’s no going back.

On the Mac, we enjoy the ability to erase and reinstall whatever version of the OS we choose, whenever we choose. Furthermore, we can maintain parallel installations of the same or different versions of the OS, on easily switchable partitions of the same disk. Even in the context of a single OS install, we enjoy the ability to test varying user scenarios by configuring test accounts and “Fast-User Switching” between them from the comfort of our Mac’s menu bar. Heck, we can even virtualize whole Macs thanks to VMware, Parallels and VirtualBox. When it comes to testing various configurations affordably and expeditiously, it’s the iOS developers who should be crying to Apple that their priorities are skewed.

I guess it’s lucky the Mac was around for so many years before the dawn of iOS, it’s had time to accumulate many developer-empowering features. Although Apple’s priorities with respect to development resources and marketing seem to be focused on iOS today, we enjoy many privileges on the Mac that I doubt iOS developers will ever see. And to top this off with a bit of true optimism for the future: the weird thing is, Apple keeps improving OS X. I’m sometimes surprised by the amount of attention Apple continues to give to the OS given its apparent relative lack of importance. But I guess Apple is well and truly stocked with a bunch of Mac softies, after all.

There’s a ton of totally vexing behavior that seems to be ill-spirited towards Mac developers, but also a ton that seems to hold iOS developers in low regard. I think this speaks to the likely truth that Apple is, more than anything, under-staffed and not well situated to deploy solutions to both platforms in tandem. It truly is a case of six in one, a half-dozen in the other. But wouldn’t it be great if iOS and Mac developers could each enjoy the benefits of all twelve? I’ll hold out hope that one day Apple will unlock the secret of organizing their efforts so that developers on all their platforms can benefit more or less equally from the technologies the company provides.

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Full Time Indie Mon, 20 Jul 2015 17:50:07 +0000 My friend Manton Reece and I have been podcasting for more than seven years. Our show, Core Intuition, has always been dedicated to the topic of “indie” software development, particularly for the Mac and iOS platforms.

From the start, I have been a “full time indie,” in that I have held no regular job, while Manton has been a “part-time indie”: fully employed while also shipping a stunning quantity and variety of apps and web services. I guess I’m better at quitting jobs, while Manton is better at shipping new apps. But I’ve known for a long time that Manton aspired to go full-time, so for most of these past seven years I’ve nagged at him: “did you quit your job yet?”

Last week, he finally did.

Obviously I can’t fault him for taking so long. Going indie is a huge risk and, as countless others have testified, there is no guarantee of success. The App Store model provides an unprecedented opportunity to sell software easily, but the limitations enforced by Apple and the increasing expectation that software should be free or cheap make it less obvious how to eke out a living doing so.

Too many folks who strive to become full-time indies do it the dumb way: quitting their job first, hoping the sudden jolt will motivate them to come up with a successful strategy for earning a living. This undoubtedly works in some cases, but it’s tantamount to jumping out of a plane and hoping you just happen to be wearing a parachute, or that the ocean just happens to be 30 feet below.

Manton is approaching this the smarter way: jumping out of a plane, sure, but doing so equipped with a whole host of equipment. He’s spent the past seven years and more honing his skills with software development, while diversifying his income through his products, our podcast sponsorships, and our Cocoa job listings site. Given Manton’s stated plans to combine all of this with a bit of paid consulting work to bridge the gap, I’m confident he’ll make a smooth landing.

Many congratulations to Manton on the culmination of a long-sought-after and long-worked-at goal. I’m excited to see how things work out for him in the weeks, months, and years to come.

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Mobile Is A Fad Tue, 16 Jun 2015 15:17:30 +0000 Christopher Mims of the Wall Street Journal published a story this week with the sensational headline “Why Apple Should Kill Off the Mac.” In it, Mims argues that Apple doesn’t have the resources to focus on the Mac, which is clearly less important to the company than its growing lineup of mobile devices.

Long-time, Mac-savvy journalist Glenn Fleishman couldn’t resist rebutting the argument for Macworld. His take boils down to the Mac remaining too vital a part of Apple’s spiritual core, and it being important to Apple to control the devices used for the very development work that makes the other devices so valuable.

John Gruber unleashed his coveted “Jackass of the Week” award for Sims, dismissing the argument as nonsensical, and proclaiming “the end of the Mac is not in sight.”

The assumption that mobile devices will rise to the occasion of obsoleting desktop computers has run rampant for years. I responded to the sentiment nearly five years ago in a Macworld article: “Why I’m Sticking with the Mac.” The Mac is a general-purpose computer, which makes it a little boring in some respects, but its role as the hub for many customers’ computing needs remains valuable. “Apple’s strength on the desktop permits it to take risks with other products,” I wrote in 2010, and I believe that remains true today.

One sensational headline deserves another, so let’s get to mine: “Mobile is a Fad.” Why have people been so convinced, for years, that mobile is the future, while desktop computers are on the way out? What if mobile devices only fill the variety of temporary needs that arise from how we live today?

Product genres proliferate because they meet a need. In the 1970s when oil supplies were scarce, tiny economy cars began to dominate the market. It probably seemed reasonable at the time to assume that gas-guzzling trucks and off-road vehicles were on the way out, yet as soon as the world became flush with cheap oil again, car sizes ballooned and fuel economy plummeted. For many the demand for utility and power, even in the absence of justifiable need, outshines the specialized economy of smaller cars.

Why are people so excited about mobile? Because they go places. What if people stopped going places? Mobile devices are a godsend for people who are expected to wake up every morning, commute to work, run a variety of errands, and possibly stop for a drink with friends on the way home, expecting the battery life on their pocket and wrist-bound devices to stay at least above 20%.

In the future, your errands will all be handled by a low-paid army of Postmates and Taskrabbits. Your friends, geographically distributed around the world, will be selected from among the group of loyal comrades that chooses to live in your virtual reality: Facebook or Google. And you won’t ever be found rushing out the door at dawn, unless you’ve just woken from a nightmare flashback to the days before everybody worked from home. And now that we’re all at home most of the time, we might as well use powerful, multi-purpose computers with full-sized tactile keyboards. We deserve it.

Hopefully that’s all far-fetched, but I indulge in the dystopian fantasy to draw focus on my contention that neither the proliferation of mobile devices nor the extinction of desktop computers is a foregone conclusion. Each of the computing devices Apple in particular sells today, from the tank-like Mac Pro to the butterfly-light Apple Watch, has its own unique set of advantages and compromises. Most likely, the vast majority of us will find uses for several or all of these classes of products, as we engage in the aspects of our lives that favor either mobility or stability.

Years from now, I suppose it’s possible desktop computers will become obsolete, supplanted by mobile devices. But given the unpredictability of progress, I suspect we’ll look back at both classes of computing devices and chuckle about how silly it all seemed, before the advent of ______. On a long enough time scale, everything is a fad.

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Apple News And The Open Web Mon, 15 Jun 2015 04:44:42 +0000 People love to poke fun at Apple for its purported failure to achieve anything of lasting value in the realms of the cloud or social media. Essentially: anything that connects people to a centralized system for storing and sharing information with each other? Apple’s not good at that. Or at least that’s what people say.

Apple has fallen short or outright failed with many projects, including Mobile Me and Ping, which serve as poster children for people who claim they will remain forever helpless with this whole class of technologies. Personally when I hear this criticism, I’m inclined to remind people that for example the massive number of iOS and Mac users who communicate daily over iMessage are technically part of a massive social network that connects them through Apple’s centralized servers and permits the storage of, and sharing of, information between people. If you were to concede that iMessage is a social network, then it’s a pretty impressive one.

But I grant that in key ways, Apple falls short when compared to social giants such as Facebook or Twitter. These companies see value less in the types of private communications that take place via iMessage, and more in the public, or at least loosely bounded communications that take place between individuals and groups of followers. Subscribers, if you will. This massive quantity of communication, and the tendency towards sharing it publicly to potentially millions of viewers, seems well-suited to companies whose viability is rooted in advertising on a massive scale.

I’m a huge fan of Twitter, but one of the things that continues to bug me is that I don’t feel as though I own any of my content there. Sure, I can now request and download a complete archive of my Twitter posts, and a variety of solutions make it easy to automatically accumulate a copy, or even post live replicas of my posts to other services. But the canonical home for my posts to Twitter is … Twitter. When you multiply this fact out over the hundreds of millions of Twitter users, you have a situation that is very good for Twitter, but in my humble opinion, not so great for each and every one of us users.

As the developer of a popular blogging Application for the Mac, it should be obvious that I value blogging. I think there is something special about the ability we have gained as a global community to sit down at a computer, tablet, or phone, and peck out the words that attempt to express our thoughts, sharing them with the world through this gift (coincidence?) of history sometimes referred to as The Open Web. In a nutshell: the Open Web enables free distribution of content in a manner that can’t be completely curtailed by centralized authorities such as governments, militaries, or multi-national companies who happen to run social networks.

Twitter for example is as a company that controls the storage and distribution of each and every one of the messages we post to it. If they decided tomorrow that my use of the service does not meet their standards, my content could be eliminated from the system with the metaphorical flip of a switch. They also maintain tight control over access to the information they do distribute. Years ago, they famously clamped down on 3rd party developers, severely limiting the ways in which existing apps could connect end-users to the company’s services, all but eliminating the possibility that new “full service” Twitter clients would be developed.

What does all of this have to do with Apple and its famous inability to run a viable social network? At WWDC 2015, held last week in San Francisco, Apple announced the Apple News app for iOS 9: essentially an app that will make it easy for 3rd party content providers to serve rich “magazine style” content to all iOS users. Already they have a host of big publishing names on board including Condé Nast, the New York Times, and Bloomberg.

This all sounds great for big publishing, but how does this serve “the rest of us,” and what does it have to do with the “Open Web”? It will all come down to how stringently Apple limits access to small publishers who wish to get their content into the app. Judging from initial overtures, I’m inclined to think that most publishers will be welcome to participate. Currently, if you log in with your iCloud account and click through the sign-up process, it indicates that you can enroll as either a company or individual. I am tentatively optimistic that this blog, your blog, and the vast majority of blogs you read and enjoy will be welcome to publish content through Apple’s News app.

Great, another closed system over which a huge company lords absolute control, and can cut off access to unwanted content at the drop of a hat? No. Because the content doesn’t live on Apple’s servers. This is a key distinction in my mind. Apple’s News App serves primarily not as a source of information, but as an amplifier of it. Podcasting makes a great comparison, and is especially apt considering the extent to which Apple deserves credit for popularizing and faciliating the early growth of podcasting as a platform for free expression.

Approximately 0% of the podcasts available to the massive installed base of Apple’s customers are actually hosted on Apple’s servers. Yet a huge number of podcast content providers thrive because of the distribution mechanism, the amplifier, that Apple provides by way of the Podcasts section of its iTunes store, and the Podcasts app on its iOS devices. If Apple decides on a whim to rank a particular podcast lower in the charts, or even to outright remove it from the iTunes directory? It’s definitely bad news for the show, but it’s not a death knell. The content lives on, access to it remains unfettered for those who seek it, and alternative clients for accessing the content are not “permitted,” because they don’t need to be. They are allowed to exist by default, because of the very nature of the web.

I already said I’m moderately bummed out by my relationship to Twitter because of the sense of lost ownership of my content. That feeling is exacerbated by my knowledge that eschewing Twitter, publishing my shorter, quippy, conversational thoughts to a private server of my own devising, would result in connecting to fewer people. To me, that’s the point of tweeting, the point of blogging, and the point of podcasting: to connect with people.

People who used to write prolifically on long-form blogs are facing a similar conundrum with the rise of services such as Medium, which aim for and seem to deliver on the goal of connecting writers with larger audiences of people. Why keep writing for your own, completely owned and controlled site, if contributing your content to a centralized authority such as Medium will yield more feedback, gratitude, and criticism than publishing on your own site?

I’m optimistic that Apple’s News app will be a strike against centralized services such as Medium, Twitter, and Facebook. A strike against signing over content to a 3rd party mediator for the sake of a greater chance at connecting to an audience. Apple may not be the world’s best technology company when it comes to either storing data or building a social network around it, but they are damned good at building a captive audience of delighted users who trust the company to provide access to a variety of 3rd party content.

Whether it’s music, apps, podcasts, or, coming very soon, syndicated blog content, you’d have to be a fool not to try to get your work into their customer-facing channels. In the case of podcasts, and as it seems with “News,” doing so means providing a feed that points to content you own and which you store on your server. If Apple turns out to be a jerk about it? We can count on other apps and services rising to consume the content in a comparable or improved manner. That’s the way the web works.

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OS X El Capitan Mon, 15 Jun 2015 03:25:59 +0000 Thanks to a tweet from Michael Steeber, I learned that I have the dubious honor of having been the first person to tweet the literal phrase “OS X El Capitan”, which happens to be the name of of Apple’s forthcoming OS X 10.11 operating system.

I did some research of my own and believe this claim is true. I don’t think this is some great victory or proof of my insightfulness, but I do admit to thinking it’s at least moderately cool.

Out of curiosity, I used Twitter’s now-awesome advanced search to zero in on the day when I first tweeted the phrase, June 19, 2013. This must have been in the aftermath of WWDC 2013, shortly after Apple had debuted its new OS naming strategy, after places that are distinctly Californian. People were joking about future code names like OS X Sacramento, OS X Carmel, or gasp!, OS X San Jose. I thought these were all poor choices because they would not be evocative of the spirit of California in the same visceral way that Mavericks was:

I quickly followed with a quip about using OS X El Capitan:

Though to be honest I don’t remember exactly what grammatical pedantry I was alluding to. What’s (not really) important is that I was the first to use the phrase, two years before Apple announced the name of the OS.

And while I’m patting myself on the back, let me give a shout out to Mark Hachman, who while similarly throwing out possible names for future OS releases, managed to make the first ever reference to “OS X Yosemite”:

Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, tweet early and often.

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WWDC Video Downloader Wed, 10 Jun 2015 21:52:44 +0000 It’s great that Apple has, for years now, made videos of most WWDC content available free of charge on the web. A problem arises though, when you realize that you want to quickly check the content of some specific session, only to realize you are either offline, on a slow internet connection, or just don’t have the time or patience to connect to Apple and download the video.

I’ve found it useful to use Olivier HO-A-CHUCK’s wwdc-downloader script, which he has recently updated for the 2015 URL conventions.

Essentially you just download the script to a disk with a ton of free space, run it, and you’re left with a permanent archive of all the videos and PDFs from a given year’s WWDC.

I’ll be waiting until I get home to run this script, since by then all of the videos should be available, and I’ll have easy access to that aforementioned big hard drive. It’s great though that he has updated it so promptly this year.

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Keeping Up With WWDC Wed, 10 Jun 2015 21:00:57 +0000 Each year, WWDC kicks off with a keynote address chock full of the company’s tentpole announcements for the coming year. I always find it difficult to keep in mind even these, ahem, key points. But it gets “worse” as the day goes on, and then as the week goes on, as nuanced announcements are indicated by revelations in the Platforms State of the Union, and the extensive, in-depth sessions that fill out the remaining days of the week.

It’s all too much. Exciting, but still, too much.

Fortunately, master information compilers like Michael Tsai swoop in to help organize links to the most significant download points and technical summaries, as well as pertinent pages from non-Apple sources such as one explaining the process for using VMware to create a standalone test version of OS X El Capitan.

Michael Tsai: WWDC 2015 Links.

Michael’s blog continues to serve as a great argument for the value of RSS and blogging. Subscribing to it is a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of a great number of pertinent issues to Mac and iOS developers, both during WWDC week and a throughout the year.

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Whose Phone Is This? Fri, 22 May 2015 17:36:23 +0000 On the latest episode of Core Intuition, my co-host Manton Reece described the experience his wife had of leaving her iPhone behind on an airplane, only to have the airline thankfully announce over the airport loudspeakers that the phone had been found.

When they returned to claim it, they asked how they had been able to determine the name of the owner from the locked phone? The answer? They “just asked Siri whose phone it was.”

Apparently this is common knowledge to the airline employees, and to no doubt countless iPhone users, but it was news to Manton and me. You can try it yourself: if you have an iPhone, and have set a contact card as “My Info” in Siri’s preferences, lock your phone and then ask Siri: “Whose phone is this?”

On the face of it, it seems like a great feature. Who wouldn’t want to empower the well-intentioned finder of one’s lost phone to make an effort of returning it?

The problem to my mind is not that Siri shares my name and contact information, but that it goes a step further, showing not only my main telephone number, but my physical address, all my telephone numbers, email addresses, as well as my AIM, Twitter, and Facebook accounts. It also happily provides my birthdate, the names of my wife, mom, dad, brother, heck, the names of any person I have assigned a relationship to.

When my friend Dan Moren gave me a ride to Çingleton last year, we killed time in the car playing with Siri’s abundant personalization features. Anybody with access to my locked phone will soon learn that Dan is in fact more than just a friend to me:

Screen capture showing personal details revealed via Siri

Of course, you don’t have to share all this information with whatever stranger manages to pick up your phone. Simply disable Siri access from the lock screen, and nobody will be able to access your private information using it. Of course, this means no airline employee who finds your phone tucked between the seats will be able to easily return your phone to you, either.

Alternatively, you could change the information on your “My Info” contact card. For example I could add an entry “Daniel Minimal” to my Contacts list, and only include a telephone number or email address. The problem here is much of Siri’s usefulness (as we discussed on the podcast) is rooted in it knowing specific details about you. Requests such as “give me directions home,” “call my mom,” or heck, “text my sweet, sweet ride to Montréal,” will fall upon deaf ears if you don’t include this information in the card that you associate with Siri’s “My Info.”

Depending on how paranoid you are about what happens when a stranger gets ahold of your phone, you might read this and decide to do nothing, to delete all the personal information from your “Me” contact card, or to forbid Siri from being accessed when the phone is locked. Personally, I don’t think any of these solutions is ideal. I’d like to be able to ask Siri to share some of my personal information from the lock screen, to increase the odds of my lost phone being returned. But I’d like to draw the line somewhere reasonable, without having to share every last detail about myself with the stranger who is holding the device.

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Off By One Half Tue, 19 May 2015 18:52:43 +0000 A friend was complaining that his wrist size falls more naturally between two size holes on his Apple Watch sport band. The holes are spaced so closely together that they don’t really give you an option of improvising an extra hole.

To increase the odds of a good fit, Apple includes two “holey” band segments with the Sport product: one for “Small/Medium” and one for “Medium/Large”. The natural result of this for many of us is that we get to choose which of the band segments to use. If you’re a “medium” then you’re likely using one of the last four holes on the smaller band, or the first four holes on the larger one:

Small, medium and large watchband holes on Apple Sport band.

I thought it would have been a supremely “Apple thing” to do if the holes that overlap, at the medium-sized positions, were carefully offset such that they were in fact half-sizes on one band in relation to the other. So, I drew lines through each of the holes’ (rough) centers, to see where the lines correlate on the opposing band segment:

Apple Watch Sport band hole alignment

Putting aside my imperfect placement of the watch bands on the floor, this is pretty interesting! Maybe not precise enough to indicate Apple intentionally designed it this way, but it’s convenient that the holes line up offset from one another. If your wrist size lands in the “medium” zone on the Sport band, switching from the “Medium/Large” to the “Small/Medium,” or vice-versa, could be just the adjustment to help fine-tune the grip of the watch to your wrist.

Update May 20, 2015: Jörg Schwieder on Twitter offered an insight that I hadn’t considered: the way the holes line up linearly on the floor is not a sufficient comparison because, in the case of the longer strap, the excess overlap that then slides under the counterstrap narrows the overall diameter of the band, such that it squeezes slightly tighter on your wrist.

I’m not sure if this exactly counteracts the size discrepancy of the hole placement. It’s possible the discrepancy was itself an intentional design to counteract this phenomenon. In any case, if you try to switch up from a small band to a larger band, and it feels a little snug yet, you might try trimming (egad!) the long end of the strap so that it creates less volume under the band when you tuck it away.

Another sizing hack this brings to mind is that, if you find something comfortable to glue to the underside of the non-hole half of the band, you would effectively increase the volume and tighten up an otherwise loose fit.

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