Happy 18th birthday, iPod

The iPod is 18 already? Time flies. Here’s the original Apple iPod press release, from 23 October 2001.

Apple presents iPod
“With iPod, Apple has invented a whole new category of digital music player that lets you put your entire music collection in your pocket and listen to it wherever you go,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “With iPod, listening to music will never be the same again.”

Yep, pretty much.

Oct. 23, 2001: Now hear this … The iPod arrives
Apple’s Steve Jobs, who tends to overuse superlatives (“the best ever,” “it’ll put a ding in the universe”), was not far off the mark with the iPod. Despite some conspicuous flaws — a wonky scroll wheel, no Windows compatibility, short battery life and a whopping $400 price tag — this innocuous-looking device was indeed a game-changer.

Mine are still going strong. Well, I guess so, I’ve not fished them out from the back of that drawer for ages.

Apple | The Very 1st iPod Ad (ever) | Circa 2001

Collecting and paying for music

Following on from that post about music formats we’ve loved and lost, here’s news of a unique record collection up for grabs.

For Sale: 40 years of vinyl singles that topped the British charts
Tim Claydon acquired his first vinyl single—“She Loves You,” by the Beatles—in 1963, when he was just three years old. The purchase kicked off a lifetime of voracious vinyl-collecting, and Claydon can still recall the most minute details from that auspicious day in Maldon, in southeastern England. He remembers walking to Woolworths on High Street with his grandmother, and watching the vendor slip the vinyl into its brown paper packaging. “I can even smell it now,” he says, more than half a century later.

If you’re looking for something on cassette that’s a little more avant-garde and experimental, check these out.

Various cassette tapes
A collection of digitized commercial and amateur mixtapes recorded on cassette format, dating over the last 30 years.

music-collections-1

Once upon a time, these physical things, vinyl and cassette tapes, were bought with real, physical money, and a proportion of that money would find its way to the artist. Nowadays, of course, it’s all online and streamy, and the way the money flows is less clear.

Let’s imagine Anna, a fictitious Spotify user, spent the whole of last month only listening to one album by her favourite band. You’d think that all of her $10 subscription for that month would go to that band, right? Well.

Your Spotify and Apple Music subscriptions pay artists you never listen to
They take all of the money generated from users, whether by advertisements or subscriptions, and put in a big pot. They then divide that pot by the total share of streams each artist received. So, if Apple Music gave $100 million of their revenues to artists in a month, and Drake songs accounted 1% of all streams that month, then Drake (and the writers of Drake’s songs) would receive $1 million. Essentially, 1% of Anna’s money is going to Drake.

Nothing’s ever straightforward, is it?

So, farewell then, iTunes

Technology, software, media — none of it stands still. Here’s something that’s been getting a lot of attention from the latest Apple updates.

The rise and fall of iTunes, Apple’s most hated app
The success of iTunes cannot be overstated; it outlived pretty much every other consumer-focused piece of software from its time (here’s to you, Winamp). Windows 10 users would search for iTunes so much in the Windows Store that Microsoft eventually convinced Apple to bring it to the store last year. Over the years, however, Apple’s original philosophy of providing a one-stop shop for all your media became iTunes’ greatest undoing by saddling the app with more and more baggage that’s eaten away at its usability. The world has moved on as ubiquitous connectivity, cloud storage, and streaming media became the norm. iTunes is still around as a legacy app for those who need it. But for everyone else, iTunes is now officially a thing of the past.

I’ve moved away from Apple things now, but back in the day iTunes was such a large part of it all for me, so it was nice to see a screenshot of the old version alongside its less familiar new look.

so-farewell-then-itunes-1

Winamp gets a mention there, which reminded me of this bookmark I’d kept from last year.

Winamp is coming back as an all-in-one music player
First released in 1997, Winamp was a popular freeware media player famous for its utilitarian music playback and its wealth of incredible community-made skins. It was acquired by AOL in 2002, then sold to Radionomy in 2014. The last time Winamp was updated was in 2013, so news that a revival is coming should be welcomed by longtime fans of the app.

Those were the days. We shouldn’t live in the past, though, should we? But before we say goodbye to all that, let me point you to this again.

Breaking up is hard to do

The techlash continues.

Elizabeth Warren proposes breaking up tech giants like Amazon and Facebook
At a rally in Long Island City, the neighborhood that was to be home to a major new Amazon campus, Ms. Warren laid out her proposal calling for regulators who would undo some tech mergers, as well as legislation that would prohibit platforms from both offering a marketplace for commerce and participating in that marketplace.

“We have these giants corporations — do I have to tell that to people in Long Island City? — that think they can roll over everyone,” Ms. Warren told the crowd, drawing applause. She compared Amazon to the dystopian novel “The Hunger Games,” in which those with power force their wishes on the less fortunate.

“I’m sick of freeloading billionaires,” she said.

She’s far from the lone voice on this issue.

Elizabeth Warren is right – we must break up Facebook, Google and Amazon
The current effort is bipartisan. At a Senate hearing I attended last week, the arch-conservative Missouri Republican Josh Hawley asked me, rhetorically: “Is there really any wonder that there is increased pressure for antitrust enforcement activity, for privacy activity when these companies behave in the way that they do?”

Hawley added: “Every day brings some creepy new revelation about these companies’ behaviors. Of course the public is going to want there to be action to defend their rights. It’s only natural.”

House of Lords report calls for digital super-regulator
The chair of the committee, Lord Gilbert of Panteg, called on the government to be less reactive in how it responds to digital risks: “The government should not just be responding to news headlines but looking ahead so that the services that constitute the digital world can be held accountable to an agreed set of principles,” he said.

“Self-regulation by online platforms is clearly failing and the current regulatory framework is out of date. The evidence we heard made a compelling and urgent case for a new approach to regulation. Without intervention, the largest tech companies are likely to gain ever more control of technologies which extract personal data and make decisions affecting people’s lives.”

You can always take matters into your own hands.

Goodbye Big Five
Reporter Kashmir Hill spent six weeks blocking Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple from getting my money, data, and attention, using a custom-built VPN. Here’s what happened.

Needless to say, it didn’t go well.

Just my type

Jesse Simon continues to pay attention to the details of his built environment.

The colours of Berlin: yellow
The colours of Berlin is a new bi-monthly series that will run throughout 2019. Where other posts on this blog have attempted to describe typographic trends and phenomena in Berlin, the entries in this series will focus on a particular colour by presenting a collection of images without additional text. Every city has its full spectrum on display; this is the one that belongs to Berlin.

just-my-type

It’s hard not to feel down about the ugly state of my city, when I compare it with those examples of considered design. So here’s something quirky to lift my mood.

“Something illegible still has something to say”: Eliott Grunewald on his type designs
“I’ve been more interested in display typefaces, for their expressiveness and ‘voices’; like type as an image more than the design of a text typeface,” he tells It’s Nice That. “So I guess, sometimes, it does result in letterings which are formally too intense or even illegible. But something illegible still has something to say, to show or to promote, I don’t feel that even if you cannot read the word, you cannot get anything from it.”

just-my-type-2

And, for a full account of what goes into good typeface design, take a look at this.

Why San Francisco
We got our first glimpse of Apple’s new sans-serif typeface, San Francisco, when the Apple Watch was unveiled in September of 2014—a new typeface designed specifically for legibility at small sizes on a tiny, high-resolution screen. Big news for type nerds and Apple fans alike.

It’s very thorough, and I don’t pretend to understand half of it, but it’s nice to see someone paying such close attention to the details.

Pictures under glass

Following on from yesterday’s post about Joe Clark’s frustrations with various aspects of iPhone interface design (and smartphone design more broadly, I think), here are a few more.

First, Craig Mod on the new iPads — amazing hardware, infuriating software.

Getting the iPad to Pro
The problems begin when you need multiple contexts. For example, you can’t open two documents in the same program side-by-side, allowing you to reference one set of edits, while applying them to a new document. Similarly, it’s frustrating that you can’t open the same document side-by-side. This is a weird use case, but until I couldn’t do it, I didn’t realize how often I did do it on my laptop. The best solution I’ve found is to use two writing apps, copy-and-paste, and open the two apps in split-screen mode.

Daily iPad use is riddled with these sorts of kludgey solutions.

Switching contexts is also cumbersome. If you’re researching in a browser and frequently jumping back and forth between, say, (the actually quite wonderful) Notes.app and Safari, you’ll sometimes find your cursor position lost. The Notes.app document you were just editing fully occasionally resetting to the top of itself. For a long document, this is infuriating and makes every CMD-TAB feel dangerous. It doesn’t always happen, the behavior is unpredictable, making things worse. This interface “brittleness” makes you feel like you’re using an OS in the wrong way.

How we use the OS, the user interface, is key. Here’s Bret Victor on why future visions of interface design are missing a huge trick – our hands are more than just pointy fingers.

A brief rant on the future of interaction design
Go ahead and pick up a book. Open it up to some page. Notice how you know where you are in the book by the distribution of weight in each hand, and the thickness of the page stacks between your fingers. Turn a page, and notice how you would know if you grabbed two pages together, by how they would slip apart when you rub them against each other.

Go ahead and pick up a glass of water. Take a sip. Notice how you know how much water is left, by how the weight shifts in response to you tipping it

Almost every object in the world offers this sort of feedback. It’s so taken for granted that we’re usually not even aware of it. Take a moment to pick up the objects around you. Use them as you normally would, and sense their tactile response — their texture, pliability, temperature; their distribution of weight; their edges, curves, and ridges; how they respond in your hand as you use them.

There’s a reason that our fingertips have some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the body. This is how we experience the world close-up. This is how our tools talk to us. The sense of touch is essential to everything that humans have called “work” for millions of years.

Now, take out your favorite Magical And Revolutionary Technology Device. Use it for a bit. What did you feel? Did it feel glassy? Did it have no connection whatsoever with the task you were performing?

I call this technology Pictures Under Glass. Pictures Under Glass sacrifice all the tactile richness of working with our hands, offering instead a hokey visual facade.

And that was written in 2011. We’ve not got any further.

The YouTube video he links to isn’t there anymore, but this one from Microsoft works just as well.

Stop neglecting the users

This is a great breakdown from Joe Clark — not quite tipping over into a rant — of all the iPhone user interface issues Apple is happily ignoring.

iPhones are hard to use
Observing what are dismissively called “normal people” (or “users”) for more than a decade, the one thing iPhone owners are proud they know how to do is force-quit apps. They also know how to set a ringtone and choose atrocious wallpaper. And that’s it. But they aren’t to blame.

People kind of don’t know that they can swipe up or down from top or bottom of screen. As an example, I certainly almost never see anybody turn wifi on or off that way (it’s almost always through Settings). They certainly don’t know what Control Center and Notification Center are by name. (They also don’t know what their iSight camera is. They don’t know what Springboard is, and shouldn’t have to. But do they know what the home screen is?)

It’s not just an issue with iPhones, I don’t think. It certainly frustrates me too, when I see people struggle unnecessarily with a task on any smartphone, though no fault of their own.

Seniors love iPads, but seniors and unhealthy people in general have a serious pressing need to fill out the Medical ID section (not obvious) in the Health app (also not obvious). Exactly the people who need this function are the least likely to use it. We cannot, and should not, rely on these seniors’ grandkids or caregivers to do it for them.

Fill out these fields and not only could a paramedic, or just a bystander, learn what medical conditions you have if you’re unconscious, they can phone your emergency contacts (and also call an ambulance via 911 or local equivalent).

Ok, I admit that’s something I hadn’t done until reading this. We’re really not making full use of these devices. And Apple (and I’m sure all the others) aren’t really, either.

You really need to tell the phone, and/or Siri, who you are and who your family members are. This involves creating a contact card (what’s that?) for yourself and linking to it. Then all your family members need their own cards, and you have to laboriously specify their relationships to you.

I insist this is not an optional or nice-to-have feature. If you have chest pain, you have to be able to hold the button down and say “Call Charlie” or “Call my wife.” (God help us if Siri asks which Charlie to call.)

Another friend really did have chest pain in a foreign country and it never occurred to him to call anybody. So in fact, Apple, a trillion-dollar corporation, has to put considerably greater resources into telling people how to set up their phones for emergencies so they will actually use those phones then. Again, this means forcing people to do it upon setup and making it exceedingly clear, in writing and in video, what their phones can do for them when they need their phones the most.

This is obvious, when you think about it. I hope someone from Apple reads Joe’s blog.

I’m still quite reluctant to talk to my phone (rather than talk with) but I gave it a go after reading this article, with mixed results. I just wanted to know what was in my calendar later on.

Doing what?

What? Let’s try again.

Doing what?

OK, never mind.

Iconic icons

Via kottke.org, here’s a great write-up of the contribution Susan Kare made to the success of the Macintosh. She started as a typeface designer but is best remembered for much more iconic work.

The sketchbook of Susan Kare, the artist who gave computing a human face
Inspired by the collaborative intelligence of her fellow software designers, Kare stayed on at Apple to craft the navigational elements for Mac’s GUI. Because an application for designing icons on screen hadn’t been coded yet, she went to the University Art supply store in Palo Alto and picked up a $2.50 sketchbook so she could begin playing around with forms and ideas. In the pages of this sketchbook, which hardly anyone but Kare has seen before now, she created the casual prototypes of a new, radically user-friendly face of computing — each square of graph paper representing a pixel on the screen. …

There was an ineffably disarming and safe quality about her designs. Like their self-effacing creator — who still makes a point of surfing in the ocean several mornings a week — they radiated good vibes. To creative innovators in the ’80s who didn’t see themselves as computer geeks, Kare’s icons said: Stop stressing out about technology. Go ahead, dive in!

All these years later and her designs are still seen as culturally significant.

London’s Design Museum announces 2017 exhibition programme
“‘Designed in California’ is the new ‘Made in Italy’. … This ambitious survey brings together political posters, personal computers and self-driving cars but also looks beyond hardware to explore how user interface designers in the Bay Area are shaping some of our most common daily experiences. The exhibition reveals how this culture of design and technology has made us all Californians.”

Problematic face furniture

Ian Bogost from the Atlantic gets to grips with Apple’s wireless ear air bud head phone pod buds. Yes, they’re technically quite remarkable, but if they are as successful and therefore as ubiquitous as expected, they may change how we relate to each other.

Apple’s Airpods are an omen
There are some consequences to this scenario, if it plays out. For one, earbuds will cease to perform any social signaling whatsoever. Today, having one’s earbuds in while talking suggests that you are on a phone call, for example. Having them in while silent is a sign of inner focus—a request for privacy. That’s why bothering someone with earbuds in is such a social faux-pas: They act as a do-not-disturb sign for the body. But if AirPods or similar devices become widespread, those cues will vanish. Everyone will exist in an ambiguous state between public engagement with a room or space and private retreat into devices or media.

In the way that we didn’t realise old style traffic lights melt the snow that falls on them until we moved to LED traffic lights that don’t, I think we’re overlooking a benefit of using your hand to speak into your phone. As well as the visual clues it provides other people, as the article above points out, having your hand to your ear helps to keep your focus inwards, as well as slightly muffling your voice to keep your conversation to yourself. We’re already losing that with people talking into the mic on their earphones, and that’s only going to get worse.

I know I sound like one of those old farts that complain about the kids oversharing on social media, but perhaps this is just an extension of that — loudly oversharing conversations.

face-furniture-2

All as bad as each other?

Rhett Jones from Gizmodo strikes a cautionary note about Apple’s positioning following Facebook’s recent data sharing controversies.

Apple isn’t your friend
In its own deliberate fashion, Apple appears to see a market opportunity in the privacy debate that goes beyond polishing its own image. As headlines blared about Facebook’s latest data-sharing turmoil, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple has been quietly planning to launch a new advertising network for the past year. It’s said to be a re-imagining of its failed iAd network that was shuttered in 2016.

[…]

Generally, more competition is welcome. If Apple is giving Facebook and Google headaches, we say that’s great. But it’s a thorny issue when we’re talking about a few billion-dollar companies exchanging places on the ladder as they strive to be trillion-dollar companies. It’s just not enough for the least bad megacorp to keep the evil ones in check.

Start stopping

We’re into well March but there’s something new-years-resolution-y about a couple of things I’ve been reading recently — less is more / stop grasping the new / focus on what’s important…

Your old gadgets are likely good enough
The TV I watch with my wife when I’m kicking back is close to 12 years old. It pushes out pixels in 1080p. I don’t care about the fact that it doesn’t provide me with the sharpest image or that it’s not as thin as new models are. I love it because my wife and I can cuddle on the couch in front of it and share an experience together. A newer model wouldn’t do much to change that. My smartphone is two years old. It takes decent photos and lets me stay in touch with people. Sometimes I watch a movie on it. I can’t imagine myself saying anything different about this year’s handsets. Would I love an iPhone X? Probably. Do I think that it’s worth forking over $1,000 for? Not for a second. I’ll use it until the wheels fall off because it’s good enough.

Couldn’t agree more. I was prompted to resuscitate our old iPod Classic after reading this from The Verge. I’d forgotten how well designed it was.

My original iPod is a time capsule from 2002
As for me, the moment I plugged my headphones into my freshly charged iPod and listened to music that had lain dormant for the past 16 years, it was like being transported back in time. Nothing had changed. The music sounded as good as it did back then. Some tracks even sounded better on my old iPod than they do on my Google Pixel 2 XL. My iPod may be scratched and dented but it still looks cool as hell and is a joy to use, even if it is just for a short while before its ancient battery gives out. And at least it has a headphone jack.

Our iPod Classic isn’t quite that old (and I found a first generation iPod Shuffle too, which I’d completely forgotten about), but using that again, for the first time in ages, felt great. That click wheel is still a marvellous thing, much more tactile that all this featureless glass-stroking that surrounds us now.

Speaking of which:

It’s not you. Phones are designed to be addicting.
The 3 design elements that make smartphones so hard to put down, explained by Google’s former design ethicist.

If you can get past the use of the word ‘addict’ as a verb or the term ‘design ethicist’, there are some interesting points here about colour theory and user interaction.

And here’s an interview with Tristan Harris, the man behind that video:

How technology is designed to bring out the worst in us
… I say this because addiction with teens, developmentally, it’s not good for them. When you talk about regulation, or we talk about how we’re going to get out of this, the specific things you do is another question. I just want to say that we know there’s a huge public health problem here. We have got to do something, because the current thing that’s happening now is not working.

Pretty pessimistic, really. It sounds intractable. He’s persevering, though:

Center for Humane Technology
Since 2013, we’ve raised awareness of the problem within tech companies and for millions of people through broad media attention, convened top industry executives, and advised political leaders. Building on this start, we are advancing thoughtful solutions to change the system.

Mine at 13 and 16

Old iMacStephen Fry’s written a thing about the Mac turning 30 recently. I like the Jony Ive part:

Sure enough the call came to come to Jobs’s office. “These yours?” Steve asked pointing at some designs of a unibody, transparent blue plastic computer. “Yes,” said the British designer whose name was Jony Ive. “This is the computer we’re going to build and sell this year,” said Jobs. “Nothing else.”

“You do realise that’s how I want it to look?” said Jony. “I mean, the transparent plastic and everything.” “That’s exactly how it’ll look,” Jobs returned.

http://www.stephenfry.com/2014/01/24/mac-at-30

Reading it reminded me that I still have my old orange iMac in the cellar. Long since defunct, it’s sitting there gathering dust with an old iBook that’s also seen better days. I’ve thrown away a number of HP and Dell things in the past, but I just can’t bring myself to get rid of these two characters.

Remembering the Apple Newton’s prophetic failure and lasting impact

“Despite its relatively short life, the Newton and the thinking that went into it still resonates today. Hobbyists still use them. There’s a museum dedicated to it. And more to the point, it still exists in the devices you use today.”

http://www.wired.com/design/2013/08/remembering-the-apple-newtons-prophetic-failure-and-lasting-ideals/

Something very fitting about reading this article on an iPhone. I’ve got an old Handspring Visor PDA and an HP one knocking around somewhere at home – both long since dead though I can’t bring myself to throw them out – but I’ve never had a Newton. Perhaps a trip to eBay is in order.

iPhone > Settings > Delete all distractions

The distraction-free iPhone (or ‘Why I’m happier since I disabled Safari’)
When people see my iPhone they’re like, “My God, man, do you have some kind of crazy phone virus?” It’s got no web browser. No email. No Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook.

A great read for this time of year and I for one am giving this a go. Felt a little odd – and strangely relaxing – to be deleting apps and removing the internet as I read this. Let’s see how long I can last…

My must-have iPhone apps, 2013 edition

http://www.macstories.net/roundups/my-must-have-iphone-apps-2013-edition/

“It’s crazy to think that most of this stuff wasn’t possible just six years ago. Today, we have a device in our pockets that can stream any music we want, take high-res pictures, track our daily steps, watch movies, organize notes, check on weather forecasts, and even edit videos with a 64-bit CPU or run Python scripts.”

I really need to ween myself off these must-have-app list articles. Listicles! They’re feeling more and more irrelevant. Perhaps not so much irrelevant as- just unimportant. To me, anyway.

Privacy, iPads, art student satisfaction

What day is it? It’s Data Privacy Day!
Take a moment and think about what Google knows about you. Correspondence and contacts via email, schedule via calendar, interest via feed reader, purchases via Checkout, and most importantly your day-to-day via search. How do you feel about a single company knowing that much about you? Don’t you want to know how they use all that data and more importantly, how they protect it?

Diagnosing the tablet fever in higher education
Tablet-style computers could be game-changers for colleges, bringing in a new era of classroom collaboration and pushing the adoption of electronic textbooks over a tipping point. Today’s announcement by Apple Inc. of the iPad tablet has education watchers predicting a wave of student purchases, major textbook publishers rejoicing, and at least one college saying it will consider giving them to all incoming students. But wait — it might be time to take a deep breath to let the excitement of the sales pitch fade.

Academics in art and design have drawn up a plan to tackle stubbornly low scores for student satisfaction in the National Student Survey
[D]espite efforts to improve the ratings, art and design still does not perform well in comparison with other subject areas, according to a forthcoming report, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better: The Paradox of NSS Scores for Art and Design. […] The widely held view was that the pedagogy of art and design subjects, where students are encouraged to explore and navigate their own way through projects with support, was poorly served by NSS questions, which were felt to relate more to subjects with a highly timetabled, often lecture-based, structure.