When software speaks its mind (sort of)

While I was slightly tweaking the CSS of this website — published via Blot — I stumbled upon a set of pages on the website written by its creator, David Merfield. Called Notes, these are not the typical pages you find on websites for services such as Blot, but rather on a personal blog. A few exemples:

There is a distinct SAAS-aesthetic. I don’t like it and I don’t want Blot to be associated with it. This aesthetic is infantile — it uses emojis and animated GIFs. It worships Steve Jobs and Walt Disney. It is obsessed with growth.

Why is the price $4 rather than $3.99 a month? I don’t like the look of prices that end in .99. It always struck me as a cheap trick. The number is messier too. Why use five glyphs if we can get away with two?

I firmly believe that when you design a webpage, you should start with a paragraph of text and work outwards.

My screen is small enough as it is, I do not want it further reduced by sticky headers and footers, by forms cajoling me into signing up for a newsletter. None of these improve the reading experience and only irritate me.

And my favourite bit:

I dislike when the page takes a long time to load.

The whole set of pages is great to read, and really makes me a prouder Blot user. Add to this the fantastic documentation available for users and developers, and of course the service itself, and you end up with a solution I cannot recommend enough if you own or want a blog or a personal website.

Uninstalling apps

Once or twice a year, I get this irresistible urge to uninstall apps from my devices. Apps that I don’t use very often, apps that can be replaced by websites easily, apps that I don’t need all the time, and so on.

Yesterday, I did just that on my iPhone and I now only have four third-party apps installed from the App Store.

On my Mac, the cleanup happened a few weeks ago, and I only have five apps outside of the default Mac apps.1

The result of this minimal approach to using apps is not only a certain peace of mind, but a much more focused use of my devices. Blogging apps? Only on the Mac. Messaging app? Only on the phone. News apps? Websites are good enough. That cool photo editing app that I bought a few months ago but never use? I’ll reinstall it the day I really need it.2

In total, I only use seven different apps across all my devices (I only use the default apps on my Apple Watch):3

  1. 1Password (Mac & iPhone): I can’t get rid of it. Not only it is a fantastic app, but it would be a pain to move all my passwords to iCloud Keychain. Besides, even if I managed to uninstall this app, I’d still need another app like Authy to replace it, just for the one-time passwords required for 2FA.
  2. Wipr (Mac & iPhone): My new go-to content blocker for Safari. I am not a big fan of the principle of ad blocking, but browsing the web is just not bearable without one. I remember a time when it used to be easier, but it seems that this is not the case anymore. I also tried Ka-block and Magic Lasso, but they both seemed to make my phone run very hot from time to time, so I recently switched to Wipr. So far so good.4
  3. StopTheMadness (Mac): Another must-have tool to improve the web browsing experience, or rather to make it like it’s supposed to be.
  4. Drafts (Mac): My go-to writing app, perfectly tuned for my publishing-with-Blot workflow.
  5. Dropbox (Mac): needed for publishing blog post. For Drafts and Dropbox, I don’t really need the iPhone apps: almost never write on my phone, and the occasional typo can wait until I come back to my desk.
  6. Banxo, my bank app (iPhone): this app is very bad and very slow, but logging on the website every time I need to check my bank account is such a pain that I prefer to keep the app around. For now.5
  7. WhatsApp (iPhone): Almost all my friends and family use WhatsApp and there is basically no way around it, unless I want to become the annoying — but right — anti-Facebook guy forcing people to use SMS and be excluded from all the group chats.

Bear in mind that in a few days or weeks from now I may or may not reinstall twenty more apps and make this article completely irrelevant, but this is the beauty of the game.

  1. More recently, I uninstalled the excellent NetNewsWire RSS reader app and use Feeder on the web, which really is enough for my needs.

  2. By the way, do we know if App Clips are a thing or not yet?

  3. Not counting my work PC on Windows 10 obviously.

  4. I also used DuckDuckGo’s great content-blocker on the Mac, but for some reason on the iPhone it becomes a full on browser, not a content-blocker like it is on the Mac. I find this rather unnecessary since you can already have DuckDuckGo as the default search engine on Safari, and the tracker blocking feature could work as just a content-blocker add-on.

  5. This app is so bad, that I consider getting another bank just for that reason.

A ranking of all 118 sweaters seen on Twin Peaks

This article by Maggie Lange — published almost six years ago on The Cut — is exactly what the title says: a ranking of all 118 sweaters seen on the show Twin Peaks.

Twin Peaks may open with a nude body wrapped in cellophane, but everyone knows that the show’s real stars are the sweaters. The series is an absolute cavalcade of cozy knitwear, each piece more comfy and creepy looking than the last.

Sometimes the internet is just delightful. My fave must be number 16: I would love to have one like this for the winter.

Looking back at my short list of Apple wishes from April

Yours truly about the classic Apple charging cable material, back in April, while listing what I wanted the company to adopt:

I don’t know who likes this white rubbery material, but I find it outdated, not durable, and it seems to pick up way too much dust. Apple certainly can do better in this department, they proved it by including a very nice braided cable in the Mac Pro box.

In this article I wished for three things: better cable material, a subscription bundle, and two-factor authentification.1

Tim Hardwick, writing last week at MacRumors:

Rumors suggest Apple’s upcoming iPhone 12 models will ship with a new Lightning to USB-C cable that includes a braided fabric design.

About damn time.

If the cable rumours turn out to be true, then the first two items on my April list would be old news before the end of the year. Indeed, Apple just announced new Apple One subscription plans.

The third item on the list however, two-factor authentification, should not have been mentioned, because I was mistaken: It turns out Sign in with Apple already includes 2FA, just not in the format I am used to.2 On Apple website:

Security is built in to Sign in with Apple with two-factor authentication. If you use an Apple device, you can sign in and re-authenticate with Face ID or Touch ID anytime.

This means that all my wishes could be fully granted after only six months of waiting. That’s a pretty good outcome isn’t it?

  1. Like I said in the article, my wish list of course doesn’t end here,” but these were the three main things.

  2. I am used to pasting the one-time passwords — or OTP — in a separate field after logging in. What Apple does is just asking you to authenticate using FaceID or TouchID, which feels much more natural, especially on the iPhone where FaceID is completely effortless (if you don’t wear a mask that is): you just keep looking at your screen, which you’re already doing anyway, and you’re good to go.

Nobody seems to give a crap about Google’s monopoly on search, not even Google

Quick summary of the situation, from the Choice Screen webpage on the Android website:

On August 2, 2019, following the European Commission’s July 2018 Android decision, Google announced that it would implement a choice screen for general search providers on all new Android phones and tablets shipped into the European Economic Area (EEA) where the Google Search app is pre-installed. This updated Help Center article describes a modified choice screen design that was developed in consultation with the European Commission.

The choice screen will appear during initial device setup and will feature multiple search providers, including Google. An illustrative version of the choice screen follows. Providers may vary by country. […]

Eligible search providers will need to fill out an application form and can bid for inclusion based on an auction. The auction process is explained in greater detail below.

Considering how much this farce has been covered already, I will not repeat what everybody knows. Instead I will just point out how Google announced the result of the auctions on the Android website: four sentences, two footnotes, a table listing the winners” per country, a title that reads do-not-give-a-shit, and that’s it.

Also, I don’t think I have ever heard of — check notes — PrivacyWall and info.com. What are they?’, you may ask: they are search engines apparently, and they are the only two search engine options offered to Android users in France that are not Google or Bing. And yes, in case you’re wondering, Bing is still around. Ecosia, DuckDuckGo, barely appear on the list.

If anything, this whole thing will reinforce Google’s monopoly on search. Users will see this choice screen’ and think: OK, so two shady things I don’t know, Bing (laughs), and yep, Google. Why would they even ask me to choose?”

It’s like asking kids who have only ever watched the movie Ratatouille if they want to watch Ratatouille again, or another movie from this list: Pixels (even the kids would know it sucks), The Hunchback of Notre Dame II: The Secret of the Bell (you’re lucky if the kids even know about the first one), and The Beastmaster.

Samsung commits to deliver three years of Android updates for its phones

Michael Simon, writing for PCWorld:

When Samsung launched the Galaxy Note 20 earlier this month, the biggest surprise wasn’t the faster screen, smoother S Pen, or more powerful processor. It was the promise of three generations” of Android updates, a first for the company.

Now Samsung is expanding that guarantee to even more phones. While the company originally said the guarantee would only apply to its highest-end S, N, and Z series devices starting with the S10,” Samsung has added its latest A-series phones to that list, so the Galaxy A51 and A71 will be sure to get Android 13 when it arrives in 2022.

This is very good news for owners of recent Samsung smartphones, and for future customers. When it comes to Android updates, Samsung now has the same promise than Google with its Pixel phones: 3 years of updates. Outside of the cameras, this guarantee is one of Google’s most important selling points when it comes to Pixel phones1, so this announcement from Samsung will definitely matter, especially for the very successful A-series.

From a distance, it seems that Samsung is embracing its commitment to Android — on phones as least — as well as its relationship with Microsoft. Outside of the obvious technical perks of working closely with the two giant American companies, you may wonder: Why now? Why not last year?”

I believe this commitment to Google Android is a new marketing tool in the Android smartphone world, dominated by Chinese manufacturers, where Huawei, after its breakup” with Google, is now struggling to convince buyers outside of China that buying a Huawei phones is OK when it comes to future software updates, and availability of apps without access to the Play Store.

Samsung, after seeing its marketshare slowly getting eaten by Chinese companies like Huawei, BBK2, Xiaomi, and others, now has the advantage of being able to tell its customers: with us, you don’t have to worry,” and I believe this is a tremendous advantage for Samsung outside of China, where Samsung is barely existing anyway.

  1. On the Pixel 4a webpage, it appear as one of the four main key selling points.

  2. Oppo, OnePlus, Vivo, Realme.

“The canary in the coal mine about the corrupting power of the App Store”

Brilliant analysis on the App Store situation, in the light of the Epic’s lawsuit, from Ben Thompson:

This lawsuit is also a reminder that Apple has a lot to lose. While the most likely outcome is an Apple victory […] every decision the company makes that favors only itself, and not society generally, is an invitation to examine just how important the iPhone is to, well, everything.

Indeed, this is the most frustrating aspect of this debate: Apple consistently acts like a company peeved it is not getting its fair share, somehow ignoring the fact it is worth nearly $2 trillion precisely because the iPhone matters more than anything.

This whole lawsuit and App Store situation is much more complicated than it seems on the surface, yet Thompson once again manages to explain the situation very well, while making his observations crystal clear and well documented; subscribing to Stratechery was hands down one of the best decisions I’ve made in 2020.1

I don’t know how this whole thing will end, but I’m pretty sure none of it would have happened if Apple — anticipating how the ways people consume digital goods would change2 — had lowered its percentage of commission from 30% to, say 5% for in-app purchases, 8% for subscriptions (0% for the first payment, and 3% after the 1st year), and something south of 15% for regular app purchases.

  1. Especially now that there is an additional podcast to go with it.

  2. short version: from buying individual apps/songs/movies, to subscribing monthly to all kind of services (Netflix, Apple Music, Microsoft Office, etc.)

Point of entry, browser tech, and advertising: Google pretty much owns the web

Alan Gibson, in a short but astute blog post about how Google more or less owns the web as its own platform:

Chrome’s ability to dictate web standards will only get stronger over time. Safari and Firefox have been able to apply some shame to Chrome on things like disabling third-party cookies, but soon it’ll just be Apple left with a voice.

But Google doesn’t even need Chrome to dictate standards since it controls the Web’s front door. AMP, a technology no one asked for, is now on over 70% of all marketing websites for no other reason than Google said so.

I think on the contrary a lot of publishers asked for something like AMP. They had terrible and slow websites, no time or ressource to work on a new one, and Google gave them a simple solution on a gold platter: use our technology and it will help you get more traffic from mobile devices,” an offer they couldn’t refuse really. This dependance on Google, both for traffic, technology, and money, cannot be good for media but here we are.

This blog post also reminded me of the existence of this excellent tweet.

Microsoft Surface Duo first impressions: first-gen device, immature vision

Nick Summers, writing for Engadget:

Microsoft’s first Android phone has two 5.6-inch screens that combine into one larger 8.1-inch PixelSense Fusion display. It’s all held together by a revolutionary 360-degree hinge” that we’re praying keeps out debris a little better than Samsung’s first Galaxy Fold. We already know that the device will be 4.8mm thick in its unfolded form. According to Microsoft, that’ll make it the thinnest mobile device on the market,” though of course it won’t be quite as sleek when it’s folded (thereby making it roughly 9.6mm thick) in your pocket or bag.

A few years from now, I may read again these lines below and think: Oh my, I was so wrong.” It would not be the first time. It is a possibility, but I’m quite confident that it won’t be the case. I’ve spent a lot of time today trying to find a good hot take on the new Microsoft Surface Duo: a column that would make me question my doubts, open my mind on the possibilities, and contradict my initial impressions.

This device looks like a prototype, and I believe it should not have been introduced like this in 2020, let alone being launched in September. I think Microsoft knows it, and if there is any indication that they don’t really care, is how they managed to screw up the launch itself. Like I said, I’ve read a dozen of takes on the Duo, from journalists who were at the press event, and I’ve not seen one really worth quoting here more than the others, even those written by experts I truly admire and respect, as if this product was uninspiring (and I think it is).

Microsoft shared a vision in which dual-screen mobile devices have a certain role; not sure if they believe it will be a crucial role, but a role nonetheless. And they introduced this half-baked device to show their commitment to this vision: a very expensive, underpowered tablet — and an Android one at that — that can be folded in half, and can be used as a phone, if the word phone” means anything at all besides it has a data connection and fit in your pockets.”

I know the hardware is not the main story here (how can it be right?1), but I’m far from being convinced by the video presentation. I truly believe that Microsoft would consider me as part of its key target audience for this product, and yet, nothing I see excites me, and nothing I watched made me project into a future where these devices are anything more than what were the two-in-one laptops once were (they were supposed to be the next big thing eight years ago.2)

Either Microsoft is terrible at selling its vision and its new hardware (I mean, the iPad Magic Keyboard is so much more inspiring than this and it is just a keyboard), either this vision and this device form factor suck, or I’m already too old to understand anything new with technology. One of the three possibilities, where I only have 33% chance of being wrong I guess? I mean LGs vision was more exciting than this.

I get it that Microsoft wants to brings something new to the table. They were late for the first few rounds of orders of the mobile revolution which started thirteen years ago, and now they want a seat next to the others. In the early hours of Android, people thought phablets were ridiculous, yet it helped Android gain precious marketshare points when it mattered to convince developper teams to create apps for a platform. Maybe these dual-screen things will succeed like phablets once did, as a niche product were Microsoft can be the reference? Maybe.

Maybe Microsoft is hoping that this device will improve its image as an innovating company? Maybe the whole point of this device is to bring some excitement among the bored Microsoft teams?

One thing is certain though: imagine for one second if Samsung, Google, or Apple unveiled this product, and unveiled it like Microsoft did. Imagine the torrents of crap they would face from the public, from the investors, and from the media. Sure, the hinge looks cool, and this is thin, and sort of new. But this doesn’t translate into a desirable consumer product in my opinion. Last year I expected that the clever 360° hinge, instead of the foldable screen, would allow Microsoft to bring down the price of newly revealed foldables, and make them more durable, but for this price, I’d rather buy an iPad Air plus a very nice smartphone to go with it, and some wireless headphones while I’m at it.

There is this Steve Jobs’s quote that I really like, and I fear that the Surface Duo concept fits right in:

You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology, you can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it. […] What incredible benefits can we give to the customer? Where can we take the customer? Not starting with let’s sit down with the engineers and figure out what awesome technology we have, and then how we’re gonna market that.”

Update: I eventually read a hot take that goes beyond the risk-free superficial observations, in this one from Malik Om where we mostly agree about the Duo:

If not for working stiffs/old farts like me, who is the ideal buyer for this product? I am not sure if Surface Duo addresses the younger generation (aka the next generation of computing consumers.)

So, I am going to go out on a limb, but in a year from now, no one will confuse Surface Duo as a product that changed everything.

The more I think about the Duo, the more I think of it as a vanity project.

  1. Seriously, how do you type on this thing when you hold it opened as a book? Do you fold it screens-out and type like you would on a phone, or do you turn it sideways? And also, this quote from the Chief Product Officer, Panos Panay, really tells you everything you need to know about Microsoft’s commitment on this hardware: Cameras will get better with or without us.”

  2. Some 2-in-1 laptops can be great laptops, the Microsoft Surface Pro for instance, but I don’t know anybody who uses one of those as merely anything else than a regular laptop with a touch screen. Not the tablet/laptop combo once promised.

Back to busyness

Today, I came across this interesting blog post by Carl Barenbrug, titled Saved Time. He writes:

In recent months, you might have found yourself with an abundance of time that has come to you unexpectedly. Time saved by working from home instead of commuting. A pared down social life instead of filling up your calendar with events. Fewer commitments. Less chaos. But how are you spending all this saved time? With all this time you have back, as temporary as it may be, will you choose to spend it on things that are truly important to you?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the last couple of days: the lockdown in France, the end of it, the new rules, the new behaviours: How did I spend my saved time?

During the first few weeks of lockdown, mid-March to end of April, I have been very busy. My work days were full1, the wife and I took the time to cook a lot of delicious meals, I watched a lot of new shows and movies I hadn’t seen before, and I tweaked a lot of things on this blog. We could hear all the birds sing in the air-pollution-free Paris, and Twitter felt exciting again. Times were in many ways interesting, and lockdown felt a little like an adventure. A sad, boring, dull adventure, but an adventure nonetheless.

The only true casualties among my habits were music and podcasts. Without a commute to wear my earphones, I felt that time — one hour per day — was actually taken away from me, rather that given back. Not that I enjoyed commuting everyday in the Parisian métro, but I think podcasts in particular were designed for this moment of the day, in length, format, concept. Without commute, podcasts feel like pretentious on-demand radio don’t they?

Since May, the interesting part of this abnormal situation has vanished. The related sense of adventure too. During this new normal period, I became less and less productive. My work load was the same, but my energy levels were empty at the end of the day and I stopped writing, stopped reading. I only watched things I’ve already seen before, looking for comfort and reassuring familiarities.

As the lockdown ended, and we were able to walk around again, I could finally listen to music again properly. Not new music, but the music I missed the most, the music I was already familiar with. I didn’t miss podcasts so much. Meanwhile, traffic jams were back in Paris, we couldn’t hear the birds from our windows anymore, and Twitter felt like an empty space again.

Today, I look at all the books I didn’t read. I browse through all the shows I didn’t watch, and I haven’t opened my podcast app in weeks. I subscribed to Skillshare back in March thinking it would be a good use of my extra time: I haven’t watched one minute of it.

What did I do with all this time given to me this year? Like Carl writes:

There’s no correct way to spend your time. Or more specifically—free time. You might choose to read, write, exercise, explore nature, volunteer, watch TV, listen to music, listen to podcasts, learn about topics that interest you, cook, clean, repair things, build things, or maybe you choose to slow down and simply do nothing.

Exactly. I did nothing special, but I don’t feel like this time was wasted at all. All this saved time was not spent right away on something else, but saved for later, sort of.2

2020 has gave me a lot of time to do things, but it also has given me a chance to not do things, it has given me the opportunity to think, and in many ways it gave me space to know myself better.

While doing nothing, I never felt so busy.

  1. Since March, I’ve been working from home, and I will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

  2. Unlike money, time cannot be saved for later, it has to be spent right away. So much for the Time is money bullcrap.

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