Twitter threads, a stupid reinvention of the blog post

Twitter, as poorly managed and designed as it is, does stem for an interesting and useful idea : broadcasting concise, short-lived messages. As it grew as a social network, the need to occasionally send longer messages has become more important. Users had conventions to do that, be it tagging (yet another feature that started as a user convention before being actually implemented), using “1/n… 2/n” markers, replying to themselves (also a feature that started as a user convention…), some third party clients implemented their own features (like Tweetbot’s stories), but Twitter finally implemented this feature called “threads”. And now everyone is using it.

So now we have a social network spending significant amount of ressources to implement a feature that lets its user publish text, in amounts longer than 280 characters (140 when the feature was implemented). Something an Apple ][ running a BBS software back in the 80’s could do.

Discussing how technology for its own sake can result in over-engineered solutions for non-existing problems has already been done more than enough. Let’s however consider some of the inconveniences of Twitter threads, so that hopefully people might reconsider and turn to other proven technologies (like, you know, blogs ?) to publish anything longer than a tweet.

Twitter threads are :

– hard to write. You can’t write properly when you’re constrained by breaking up your sentences in chunks of 280 characters.

– hard to read. No user interface makes them readable. In your regular tweet list, they are interspersed with other unrelated tweets. In a user’s tweet list, they are still shown you as separated chunks. The simple fact that some people found it necessary to create a web site specialized in presenting twitter threads in a readable form should be enough to demonstrate that.

– near impossible to find, or retrieve afterwards. Remember that cool thread you read about this hot topic ? Wanna read it again, or show it to someone else ? Try googling it, see how that works for you.

Blog posts have none of these problems. When you want to do a thread, please just do both yourself and your readers a favor and a write a blog post, or a Facebook note, or anything that lets you present text in a coherent, readable form, like computers are meant to do, and tweet the URL to it. There are dozens of websites allowing you to do that, Twitter is not one of them.

Thoughts on WWDC 2017

Trying to be a bit faster this time 🙂

So here goes… I started watching the keynote expecting it to be rather boring and without any really important announcements. When the keynote ended, I acknowledged how wrong I had been. And I even watched the State of the Union presentation later in the night (to US readers, I live in France, 9 hours ahead of Pacific Time). Lots of very cool stuff was announced, here are the ones which were among my interests :

– the iMac Pro : I’m still using my Mac Pro bought in February 2008. Never before had I used the same machine for so long, and it’s still holding up quite well. I could even update it to Sierra thanks to http://dosdude1.com/sierrapatch.html . I was waiting for a new version of the Mac Pro to come up, but that iMac Pro would be a real bargain for me, given the high quality display which would be my photographer needs.

I understood better the renewed interest from Apple to its comatose Pro line when I saw the iOS 11 features for iPad : Drag’n Drop, files, better split screen… this is bringing the iPad even closer to a regular PC. So, PCs (more specifically Macs) need to distinguish themselves more from the iPad, which simply means becoming more powerful. To reuse Steve Jobs’ car/truck metaphor, the Mac needs to become a bigger truck.

About dev tools : finally we have decent refactoring in Xcode. It took long enough, I expected it would happen quickly since Swift was introduced because it’s more strongly-typed than Objective C, and that makes refactoring somewhat easier. But since the feature also works for Objective C, C and C++, I’m probably wrong. I suppose they waited for Swift to be stable enough to go ahead, or the refactoring was part of the full rewrite of the source editor (another good thing).

CoreML and ARKit are just awesome. Like with SceneKit and SpriteKit I’m trying to devise some project that would give me a reason to use them. Although with CoreML I have one already : automated tagging of photos. When photographing concerts, I almost ritually that pictures of stage details like the song list taped on the floor, the pedal boards, or the guitarist’s hand on his guitar neck, or more generally hands over instruments. I sometimes make an effort to add the appropriate tag on these images, but it’s a real chore, and I’m sure an automated tagging tool would be able to automagically do it after being trained on a few images.

About Photos.app : it’s nice that it’s adding new edit tools (curves, here) making it slowly on par with Aperture in that regard, but it’s still not able to serve the needs of even a semi-pro photographer like I am. No metadata handling, library management is basically non-existent… May be they still secretly plan to incrementally add features until it reaches the same level of functionality as Aperture but I doubt that’s even feasible from a usability point of view. It’s still a shame that Mac photographers are stuck with Lightroom’s poor UI.

Finally, this post by Steven Sinofsky is quite insightful about all of Apple’s announcements this year.

The sad state of pro photo editing apps on macOS

As I started to write this post, I had a backlog of a few hundreds of unprocessed 5DmarkIV raw files, and couldn’t find a decent solution to edit them. For a while I used raw/jpeg pairs as a coping solution, and hoped that Apple would update the Digital Raw support for macOS El Capitan to support the Canon 5DmarkIV. They still haven’t, it’s apparently integrated in macOS as of Sierra (which my 2008 Mac Pro can’t run). I tried editing them with Aperture on my Macbook Pro (running Sierra), and it still can’t open them. I guess something changed in Core Image that makes Aperture unable to use the newly supported raw format in Sierra.

I knew I could switch to Lightroom, but I’m very partial against Adobe (due to Flash, mostly), and it had left me with a bad impression when I tested it a few years ago. Good features, but ugly UI. So I went on a tour to look for alternatives, and really couldn’t find any satisfying one. I finally bought Lightroom (standalone version, don’t care much for Creative Cloud subscription), and though I still don’t like the UI very much (visually), after working with it for a while I have to admit it’s by far the best solution for pro-level photo editing on macOS. Which is a bit of a shame…

So, to detail what I was looking for in a photo editing app. There are three main features : actual photo retouching, photo editing (ie ranking and sorting through keep/reject shots), and library management. Let’s list what is currently available.

macOS Photos

Actually not far from being a decent library management tool, except for poor handling of multiple libraries (really essential for raw work – uploading all your raws in the Cloud after a photo shoot is simply not a viable solution). For editing, it could do but barely – no ranking, only a ‘love’ toggle. This is compensated by fairly good browsing. For retouching, even though its capabilities are extensible through plugins, you can’t easily toggle on/off the changes you’re making, nor see them conveniently listed. The “global” cursors (“Light”, “Color”, “Black and white”) are a good idea and can yield good results fairly quickly.

A common mention for the two apps that follow (Capture One, ON1 Photo Raw). They are all cross-platform, and as a result they all have ugly-looking UIs that, on a Mac, stand out like an old scarecrow maculated with bird dejections planted on a lavender field in Provence.

Phase One’s Capture One

If you look at the demos, the editing capabilities are very impressive, and no doubt the company has a solid experience in image processing. What they don’t have, however, is any notion of User Experience and User Friendliness. What really turned me away was that, when opening any of my 5DmarkII photos, some cropping was applied to cut out the margins. I couldn’t find a way to disable this in the app, nor any explanation why. Through a fair bit of googling I managed to find why : by default, the app is “clever” and applies distortion correction according to your lens. OK, that nice, but that really shouldn’t be applied by default and without any explanation. And it should be obvious to toggle off. Generally, you care more about what’s in the frame than any kind of distorsion. Off to the trash can.

ON1 Photo Raw

It’s main claim is that it’s fast, opening raw files instantly. It is fast, and speed for opening raw files is adequate but not spectacular. A look at the binary shows that it’s built on Qt, and while I can attest it’s as good a crossplatform library as it gets, it’s never going to produce UIs performing and behaving as well as a native one on macOS. As a good example of this, it doesn’t support trackpad two-finger scrolling. To navigate around an image (probably among the most common things you’re going to do), you have to click-drag. That’s just embarrassing. They’ll probably have to code for this, while they’d get if for free with a frickin’ NSScrollView. Add one more example of why I think cross-platform UIs are a false promise and a bad idea.

However it does show proper photo editing capabilities, and mostly does away with library management in that it’s deferring it to the filesystem (i.e. folders), although it’s capable on indexing folders for quicker data retrieval.

One good thing to note is that, I had bought the pre-release, really tried working with it only after the actual release, and only then asked for a refund, which was given immediately. They seem to be a very dynamic and capable team, which is probably one macOS/Swift training class away from writing top notch macOS apps.

Luminar

A native app, Luminar has a very nice (albeit still perfectible) UI. It’s strictly a photo retouching app, no editing or library management. The main problem right now is its slowness at opening raw files (it uses libRaw instead of macOS’s native raw decoder, and ends up being 10x slower that Aperture on the same 5DmarkII raw). Having complained to their customer support about this (which is quite responsive and friendly), I’ve been told the devs are looking at this. Given the rest of the app is quite well done, I trust they can fix this eventually. That said, they’ll have to look at the overall processing speed, because the lag between moving a filter slider and seeing the effect is really quite noticeable.

Affinity Photo

Also a native app, Affinity Photo is in the same category as Luminar (photo retouching only). It’s extremely powerful, but the UI is way too complicated for simple adjustments. I feel it tries to be both a Photoshop-like and a Lightroom like, which creates confusion : one lets you alter a photo as a graphic editor does, through punctual changes from a set of tools, the other runs your image through a pipeline of “effects” (for lack of a better word), each of which you can tune and see the results as you change their parameters (like with Aperture). Re-editing adjustments is not obvious (double-click on the corresponding layer, and then not on the layer name which takes the largest part of its representation). I couldn’t find a simple way to rotate an image, for instance.
Affinity Photo is really the big tool you’ll get out if you need very elaborate manipulation on an image. It’s a good complement to an app like Aperture/Lightroom, but not a standalone solution. Affinity told me as a reply to an email that they are working on a Digital Asset Management app. Given the quality of their work, I’m quite curious to see it.

Lightroom

: as I said, I had kept a poor opinion about it. But after working with it to post-process a couple of shoots, I have to say it’s impressively well designed, as far as being an effective tool for photographers. I still dislike the UI appearance, which looks outdated and out of place compared to today’s macOS, but from a workflow standpoint, it’s really well done. Basic features like choosing between picks/rejects, crop/straighten, exposure and color adjustment are very well organized and let you go through your set of images quite easily. It does support trackpad gestures (zooming is a bit quirky, though), and crop/rotate in particular is much better than in Aperture. Another very cool feature is being able to directly alter the histogram – take a zone (shadows, middle, highlights…) and adjust it through left/right drag, and there you have it.
The library management side is interesting. The library and folders mirror the filesystem (which Aperture totally hides), and it defaults to storing raws outside of the library (called a catalog), which is what you’ll want most of the time. So, moving a library folder will move the actual filesystem folder underneath. This is less flexible than Aperture but considerably simpler and easier to manage in the long run. One downside is that filters (on metadata, not image processing) are not as good as in Aperture.

So there it is, I’m moving to Lightroom. I still think it’s a shame that Apple killed Aperture and departed the domain of pro photography, they really had a strong advantage there, and Lightroom feels like an good replacement, but a bit clumsy on the side. For now, it will do.

Overdue batch of Apple-related thoughts

I procrastinated on my usual post-WWDC thoughts post, and now there’s been a couple more keynotes (iPhone/Apple Watch, and MacBook), so I figured this might be as good a time as any.

To start with, I really like Apple’s current “do good” streak. The long segment about privacy and the environment opening the March 2016 keynote. The short movie about diversity among developers during the WWDC keynote, thoroughly shattering the stereotype of the developper is a joy to watch. And the part about accessibility at the beginning of yesterday’s one (October 2016) echoed with Apple’s ideals of transforming lives. Yeah, it’s not just a marketing ploy, they really are dead serious about this.

From WWDC, two things I wanted to mention. First, how they reworked and reoriented watchOS to put the emphasis on the health and fitness, and giving up on the fashion and “deeply personal” side of it. The 2nd button used to be dedicated to this latter functionality, and in the past year I’ve worn my Apple Watch daily, I don’t recall ever actually using it. As, I believe, most Apple Watch owners. So Apple recognized their mistake, and used it to invoke a much more useful app dock instead. Good move. Second, a strong highlight of Swift on the server. Having anticipated that ever since Swift was first introduced, I’m happy about it.

About getting rid of the audio jack on the iPhone, they really could have done without the whole “courage” speech. I figure they thought of it as a defense against inevitable criticism, but it was a bit ridiculous, and is now used to make fun of them. Even more now that the new MacBooks still have an audio jack, but no lightning port. This breaks the nice ecosystem cohesion that would let you plug your iPhone’s earphones in your MacBook and have the remote work just as on your iPhone.

So, those new MacBooks… Yes, the Touch Bar is really nice (I wonder if it will be available in a refresh of the Magic Keyboard), but that’s about the only positive thing I find about them. I’m part of the crowd for which expandability (RAM and HD) and capacity is more important than thinness or lightness (and the same applies to desktop Macs). Regarding processing power, the overall opinion about them is they could be much better if they were using Intel’s most current generation. Given that it seems obvious now that Macs will eventually move to ARM CPUs, I keep hoping that all this feet-dragging is because Intel is weighing them down compared to what they’d want to do. But for now, between these MacBooks and the ongoing lack of desktop upgrades, I’ll add my voice to the overall disappointed reaction to yesterday’s keynote. Right now, no Mac really suit my needs, which were fulfilled by the 2008 MacPro. I’d also be very disappointed if they would abandon the current (well, so to speak) 2013 MacPro, it’s a beautiful machine, which deserves more attention. Of course we can reasonably expect iMacs refreshes in the coming months, but if it’s more of the same meh-specs & low upgradability, it will be another let down.

EDIT Nov 28, 2016 : Since then there’s been a whole lot of articles explaining the reasons behind the various limitations (RAM, CPU…) of the new Macbooks : Daring Fireball, MacDaddy, and an interview by Phil Schiller himself (which means Apple took the criticisms seriously). Another interesting take is that USB-C ports open a lot of interesting possibilities. As in some previous cases (floppy drive, USB, CD ROM), Apple is just a bit ahead of the market here (and therefore helping to move it forward) and when the accessories are all updated, these all-USB-C set of ports will be seen as obvious. I’ve also tried the Touch Bar, which confirmed my initial impression that it’s a really clever addition to a keyboard.

Swift, open and serving

When I started to learn Swift right after WWDC 2014, one of my first consideration was that the language had a much wider applicability than Objective C. In particular, Swift seemed to be very suitable for server-side programming, a field which Apple has no interest in and almost never had, at least with regard to its products (except for the defunct WebObjects framework). So that was a bit puzzling, if Swift was meant as a replacement for ObjC, why opening this potential, or how to exploit it ? Then in WWDC 2015, it was announced that Swift would go Open Source later on. So it did on the 3rd of December, 2015, and not in a shy way. GitHub , dedicated website, mailing lists… the works. If Apple wasn’t behind this you’d think it was a good old community-originating OSS project.

With the opensourcing of Swift was a Linux port (still no Windows one, but that should arrive before long). And now the scene is complete… As of this writing, here are the server-related Swift projects I’ve come across :

That’s quite a few already, but I’ve kept the big one for last : https://github.com/IBM-Swift/Kitura

I recall 15 years ago hearing about how “IBM has gone Java crazy”. It would be ironic if IBM would again get crazy about a language initially meant for UI programming but blossoming on the server side. At the very least they are putting some serious resources behind this, this is not a side project.

Now I really wish a Swift/based CMS will emerge, as my long-standing poor impression of WordPress has recently been confirmed by the finding of multiple backdoors in my own website, which were used to send spam. I haven’t been careful enough with security, not updating WordPress often enough or opening too many permissions so that it would update without errors, but all this should be easier and less error-prone. And a compiled language with no “eval” statement would be much harder to exploit. If I had more free time I’d start working on a Swift-based drop-in WordPress replacement. Forget about the themes, just exploiting the posts and comments DB would be enough. The hard part would be HTML generation, but I’d settle for plain and boring pages (which my current theme is) for not having to worry so much about security.

In any case, Swift’s future looks quite interesting.

Thoughts on WWDC 2015

Well, it’s that time of the year again. So…

It was definitely a “Snow Leopard / Mountain Lion” time. Not much as far as end-user feature go : if features like the mouse cursor being enlarged if you jiggle it or swipes on messages in Mail.app get stage time during the keynote, it really means you don’t have much to show at all. But, likely a lot of fixes and refinements under the hood, as early feedback on El Capitan’s first beta would indicate (I’m not running it yet). Less so with iOS 9, though.

Swift 2 : again more refinement (I like the new error handling), but the big announcement is of course that it goes Open Source. I said last year that I expected Swift to play a role on the server side at some point, as it was clearly more suitable for this that Objective C (yes, I know WebObjects was initially written in Objective C). Now I’m even more certain of that. I’m not sure if this effort will come from Apple, right now I’d say probably not, but given that they are getting better on the server side, it’s possible that they would want to take advantage of Swift to build their own solution, possibly inspired from WebObjects https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WebObjects.

Also, there were a bunch of Swift-related sessions, quite technical, which I very much recommend :

Protocol-Oriented Programming in Swift
Building Better Apps with Value Types in Swift
Swift in Practice
Improving your existing apps with Swift

which really shows how serious Apple is about Swift (surprisingly I still see some people having doubts on that), and the depth of the language itself.

Photos.app editing extensions : that one didn’t get any stage time except for a mention on one of the slides, but it does have my full interest. It means Photos.app becomes much closer to being a suitable replacement for Aperture. The only thing that would be missing is a better library management : having only global timeline and albums won’t really cut it, neither will the lack of rating and flagging images. You also need to be able to transfer images from one library to another. But as far as editing goes, it’s looking pretty good.

watchOS : I haven’t looked at it yet, just acknowledging it’s existence. Cool.

side note : I’ve had an Apple Watch for a month now, and I really like it. I reached the same conclusion as most others have, it’s not a life changing device as the iPhone can be (though for some it can be), but it’s a very nice complement, hugely convenient. The quietness it brings in removing the need to compulsively check for your iPhone is, ironically, invaluable. I expect native apps to open it further in interesting ways, though.

Apple Music : Right before the keynote I had attended the MIDEM in Cannes, which featured Sony’s CEO “pre-announce” of Apple Music. Having a rough idea of the music industry’s stance toward Apple’s new service (they have great expectations for it), I knew that this “one more thing” was not for the devs in the audience, who quite expectedly found it rather dull and out of place. Still, the service looks quite interesting, reasonably priced, and I might get a subscription, even though I already own (legally, mind you) more music than I can listen to. What I’m also curious about is how it will fare compared to existing competitors. Many have noted that it flies against Steve Job’s poor opinion of music subscription services. On that regard, I think it tells more about how much the music industry has changed, and how music itself is consumed differently, than how Apple is yet again trying to do something right that everybody else has gotten wrong. The current state of the music streaming business shows that several players in that field have gotten it right already, or at least well enough.

Photos.app from an Aperture user’s perspective

So I’ve updated to 10.10.3 and checked out Photos.app. There’s been quite a few reviews of it already, but I still feel like writing down some quick thoughts about it.

The downsides :

If you’re a pro or semi-pro photographer using Aperture, stick with it for now. As it is, Photos will not be a suitable replacement. The main area it’s lacking in is photo management : rating, flagging (those two are replaced by keywords when migrating from Aperture) and elaborated library structure (folders, projects, being able to store originals locally rather than on iCloud). It’s also lacking in retouching, the main missing features being tool brushes and curves. I don’t think I’ve seen a way to quickly apply a set of changes to several photos at once.

Possible future perspectives :

If Photos.app keeps on evolving like the Office apps (Pages, Numbers, Keynote), It’s likely it will gain some of these missing features eventually, the question being when and to what extent. Regarding the ability to store originals locally rather than on iCloud, Photos.app has a “consolidate” feature which, as far as I understand, is meant only to consolidate a converted Aperture library which had referenced originals. On one hand I’d say it’s likely that Apple will add the opposite feature at some point, on the other it might be complicated to integrate given the application’s design and the apparent goal of keeping it simple enough for casual photographers. But I’d be really surprised if Apple was completely giving up on the pro photographer market.

What does make Photos.app very interesting, though, are the photo editing features, even though they aren’t as complete as in Aperture. The controls are much better organized (Aperture is quite old-fashioned in that regard), and are also much more responsive (and I do mean much more). The cropping and straightening tools, in particular, are a lot more convenient to use. Most of all, the idea of “combined” settings (light, color, black and white) works quite well and speeds up the retouching process. In that aspect, even without the tool brushes and curves, I wish I could use Photos.app to handle further photo works.

In conclusion, for now I’m sticking with Aperture, hoping that Photos will keep on adding features and become a suitable replacement. I’m not sure this will ever be the case, and if it is it will take a long while. In the meantime, Lightroom can try and get a less ugly UI.

The coalescence of data-based culture

There’s been a debate in France last year about a law that prevents online book shops (i.e. mostly Amazon) from discounting their prices too much. This is clearly intended to ensure that traditional brick & mortar bookshops don’t disappear because they can’t withstand that kind of competition. Of course every libertarian railed against this meddling of the Government against the will of the Free Market. I’d like to explain here why I think this law is a good thing, and to reframe that in a more general problem : audience data has become the only criteria which drives culture, and this is turning it into a sterile endless rehash of the existent.

A couple of decades ago, if you wanted to buy a music record, you’d go to a record store. At that time, there still were quite a few of those. Since then, they’ve been killed by very large record stores (FNAC and Virgin in France, Tower Records in the US) and big malls like Carrefour or Walmart who sell only a few very popular records at a very low price. And now those large record stores are in turn being killed by Amazon and online music services like Spotify. What the record market lost with those record shops is a very good curation layer that was constantly listening to new stuff and would promote it to their customers whenever they liked it. That’s how many artists emerged, against the market trends that were current at their time. Contrast to what we have now, where the music landscape has a high turn-over of artists who don’t have time to establish themselves before vanishing from sight, and yet the musical landscape remains fairly stable, as most artists sound like many other.

This is the simple consequence of the fact that all record companies now only follow the sales or listening data they get from the market to determine their next move. And the recent arrival of big data providers like Amazon or Shazam make this only more pronounced. The data point to a short set of music types that people tend to prefer, so that’s what music majors provide, rarely risking to deviate from that guideline. In turn, people are mostly exposed to only this same set of types, which of course increases their popularity, and you’ve got your feedback loop. It’s the same as what a “top 10” listing displayed on a front page will do.

So the result is a big cultural precipitate, a race toward what the data says people with an ever-shrinking musical landscape will like, with no one to stir the pot, keep things fluid and breaking lumps. From Amazon’s algorithmic recommendations to what the music industry itself promotes, everything tends to put people in a cultural bubble from which they stand very little chance to pierce through. But since humans are easily bored creatures, they tend to lose their interest, and there you have one of the reasons why music is losing its cultural importance.

This is partially counter-balanced by the availability of a huge amount of music on the Net, but there’s no one to guide you through it. You can follow recommendations from friends and families, but there’s no one with an actual in-depth knowledge of musical culture who’s able to tell you “try this, it’s completely different from what you listen to, but it’s important”.

Likewise, this now applies to TV as well, as cable, satellite and on-demand video services can give tons of very precise consumer data.

You may have seen the movie “Mondovino”, a very interesting documentary about the wine-making industry. Wine is probably among the most territorially-based product, you literally drink what a very specific piece of land has produced, each with its own traits due to the soil, the vine, how the grapes are processed, and overall the technique of the wine maker. Yet, this variety of tastes is disappearing, because every wine-maker is trying to get a high mark in the most prominent wine guide, which means every one is trying to achieve the same “most popular” taste.

Finally, I wonder if this phenomenon also applies to politics : following market data, media becomes polarized, in turn people’s mindset become polarized as well, and then so do politics in general because politicians essentially cater to a specific audience which they study through polls.

To conclude, this is one (yet another) case where blindly following the Market is profitable in the short term but destructive in the long term. You need to maintain a layer of people whose job is to be attuned to a given branch of culture and who will have some amount of influence to promote really new stuff. Algorithms won’t replace that anytime soon. If one does, it’s likely to pass the Turing Test as a side feature.

Yet another bunch of Apple-related thoughts

iPhone 6 and 6 plus : what’s interesting about this is that iPhones with a larger screen were an open possibility since 2012, when autolayout was first introduced on iOS. It took another iteration in 2013 to get the tools right (not as much autolayout itself as how Xcode was handling it), and then yet another this year when size classes were unveiled at WWDC 14. So, Apple has been working on not only larger size iPhones but on enabling app devs to create coherent UIs on different display sizes for the past 3 years now. That’s the kind of long-term thinking and attention to details you expect from them.

Apple Pay : yet another extension of Apple’s ecosystem, and a pretty impressive one. As I said in my previous post, it’s really about Apple’s ecosystem. There are only so many cool products you can invent (really, what’s next ? TV ? OK, then what ? Cameras ? Cars ? Apple has covered most of the IT end-user sector already) and at some point the market will saturate with the ones you have and they lose their “wow” factor. That the iPhone 6 presentation was quickly gotten over with during the September 2014 keynote is a testimony of how the iPhone is now a relatively mundane product.

Apple Watch : it looks like a cool toy, I doubt I’d get one given that I’ve stopped wearing watches just about when I got my first iPhone (as have many smartphone owners I bet), but at the moment it’s quite interesting in the question it raises. First, it has a very prominent social feature (dedicated button to a list of friends) which, at the moment, is interesting only if many of your friends are also wearing Apple Watches. That may be a pretty tough bet. Second, what will be the upgrade cycle ? If, as rumored, the “edition” model’s price is in the $5k range, then it’s not possible that a new model will be released each year. You don’t upgrade a $5k watch every year, or every 2 year, you pass it on to your heirs. It’s not a computer, it’s a very personal object. So that’s where it gets tricky : I can understand that the CPU/memory specs are not very important, it can only be used for short interactions and glances, there’s little point in beefing up the hardware inside. So far so good. But it’s very likely that it could get thinner, so how and when will Apple introduce a new model ? Given the technical challenges it’s unlikely to be before a couple of years. However, the big issue is the battery. No matter what, the battery has to be serviceable, especially if it has to be charged daily. A device meant to be kept for several years with a very tiny battery with a capacity of 1 day or less won’t be an easy combination. John Gruber explains it all better here.

Beats acquisition : that was unexpected, but given the recent news about iTunes sales decreasing while subscription services profits are on the rise, it gets pretty obvious. An other interesting clue is in this interview of Jimmy Iovine when he talks about the importance of curation (17:20 mark). Tim Cook said how impressed he was by the quality of Beats’ playlists, and that’s typically the kind of service that Apple is supposed to provide : simplify the clutter, and guiding your choice (if not making it for you). Also, it turns out that music listening habits are changing. Contrary to what Steve Jobs said years ago when the iTunes Store was launched, people no longer care so much about actually owning their music (especially young ones who’ve grown up with music available on the Net). Having it all on subscription-based services is enough, what defines them are playlists, not CDs on a shelf. And as far I can see, if you’re under 30 or so, the album is dead. It’s become an middle-aged thing.

Swift : I’ve been using the language regularly almost ever since it was released. My initial enthusiasm was tempered by the low quality of the first releases (and the quality not consistently improving), but it’s nonetheless a very cool language. I’ve yet to find a feature I really dislike, and it took a little while but I’m grokking optionals and find them pretty well thought out. The real kick is in learning a new language and finding yourself increasingly proficient with it, flowing with it rather than stumbling around. I can’t really learn a language for its own sake, I have to do something actually useful with it, I won’t pick up fancy languages like Haskell or Scala on a whim. So I don’t get that feeling too often, and it’s nice to experience it again :).

Thoughts on WWDC 2014

Well I really don’t blog that much, do I. Anyway, a few thoughts about the whole thing.

First and foremost : as Matt Drance said, “this wouldn’t have happened with Steve Jobs”.

Joshua Topolsky said that he felt Apple had grown out of mourning Jobs’s passing. I disagree, they have moved to a different stance toward openness. Jobs was known to be against letting the customer alter the design and behavior of their products. He was against extension slots in the Apple II, against 3rd party apps in the iPhone. I doubt there’s a chance he’d have approved 3rd party keyboards in iOS for instance. Extensions, may be, but I wouldn’t bet on it either. So what we see now is Tim Cook doing as Steve said he should : not doing what Steve would have done, but doing what’s right. The new openness is also visible in the very relaxed NDAs (if any) going with the beta versions of iOS 8 and OS X 10.10, and the public beta program for the latter.

Other than openness, there’s also the integration : Apple showed coherent updates for both OS X and iOS, in that the transition between one environment to another is made much easier. Continuity is a pretty big deal, more than it would seem. It shows how Apple’s main product isn’t the iPhone or the Mac, it is the Apple ecosystem.

Swift : by the time Craig Federighi started talking about Objective C and how it had served well for so long, the keynote was already more than any dev could have ever hoped for. It was pretty clear how he was going but I think everybody had a hard time believing it. My initial reaction to the language itself was pretty enthusiastic, it looks pretty darn promising. However I haven’t had enough time to seriously practice it yet, so perhaps the shortcomings many others are talking about will annoy me too eventually. So far the best article I’ve seen about it is this one by Rainer Brockerhoff. Swift is bound to irritate almost everyone, as it apparently aims to do more than what ObjC is good at, which is mainly application development. That means doing some compromises, and breaking many an old entrenched habit, like being more strict toward typing. While it means that Swift is likely to be in some ways less convenient than ObjC for desktop and mobile app development, it also means it could be quite good on the server side. At the moment, this doesn’t really fit into Apple’s business lines, but I wouldn’t bet against Swift ever being used on the sending side of an http connection.

Finally, since this is my other topic of interest, photos : what does the new app that was announced to replace iPhoto mean for Aperture ? When the Mac Pro was announced, there were some mentions of a new version tailored for the little black beast, but if so it still hasn’t been released, and it’s clear that Aperture lacks the same level of care other “Pro” apps currently have. I doubt they would replace both iPhoto and Aperture with one single app, but I wouldn’t deem it completely impossible either. Let’s wait and see…

update 28/06/2014 : well, that was quick – they did just that.  Apple confirmed it was stopping the development of Aperture. The new Photos.app will be able to read librairies from Aperture, and will offer pro-level features. The main worry is that Photos won’t offer the same functionality level as Aperture, but if iOS Photos is any indicator, it should at least be more extensible than Aperture (which was really poor on that regard). I also have a hard time thinking that Apple would put the massive amount of image processing skills that they have to offer only a barebones photo app.