Prediction: Apple will make monitors again, and the base will be a wireless iPhone charger

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If you’ve ever spent time in front of an Apple Thunderbolt display, then you probably know how tempting it is to rest your phone on the stand. And if you’re paying attention to iPhone rumors, then you know that the next iPhone will likely support wireless (inductive) charging. So why wouldn’t Apple capitalize on their customers’ habits by making a new 5K monitor with wireless charging built into the base?

I know the rumor is that Apple is out of the monitor business, but I don’t buy it. First of all, I can’t imagine Apple being content with allowing customers to spend all day every day staring at a logo that isn’t an Apple. And second, as evidenced by LG’s recent technical problems with their 5K monitors, I also can’t imagine Apple permanently handing over such an important part of the customer experience to third parties who might not execute as well as Apple.

I strongly believe that Apple’s partnership with LG is a stopgap measure — a way to cobble together a reasonable but temporary 5K solution to support the launch of the new MacBook Pro. But once the new iPhones are ready to be announced, I think we will discover that Apple has been working on both brand new 5K monitors, and brand new iMacs, in tandem.

Apple’s new 5K monitors won’t necessarily be about directly generating huge profits for the company. Rather, they will be about contributing to the Apple ecosystem — or to borrow a metaphor from Amazon, adding energy to the Apple flywheel. Just like iPhone customers can augment their overall Apple experience by wearing an Apple Watch, and just like Apple Watches can augment the Mac experience by unlocking computers, and just like Continuity augments the experience of using an iPhone and a Mac together, customers will be able to augment both their MacBook and their iPhone experiences by using a single USB Type-C cable to connect a beautiful, extremely bright, wide-color 5K monitor, and to wirelessly charge their new iPhones at the same time.

When trying to peer into Apple’s future from the outside, it’s important to note that they are in the business of inventing the future. That doesn’t mean inventing disparate devices; it means inventing constellations of devices, and connecting all those dots through seamless, wireless services. When Apple removed the headphone jack from the iPhone 7, they didn’t leave it up to third parties to provide bluetooth audio solutions. They did it themselves with both AirPods and with new Beats products to make sure it was done right (they even augmented bluetooth technology with their own W1 chip). And now that Apple has removed almost all the ports from their MacBooks, I can’t imagine they’re going to leave it entirely up to third parties to build out the USB Type-C ecosystem. When it comes to the experiences that really matter (like your Mac’s primary visual interface), Apple will take it upon themselves to do it right.

While I have your attention, I’ll make a few other bold, unsubstantiated predictions:

  • Other Apple peripherals (mouse, trackpad, keyboard, standalone Touch Bar) will eventually be wirelessly charged, as well.
  • You’ll be able to charge the Apple Watch (along with your peripherals) on your monitor stand.
  • And the big one: the next iPhone won’t be called the iPhone 8. I think Apple is going to reset the version number by calling the next new phone they release the Apple Phone.

Everything there is to know about texting from the desktop (and why it’s so much easier on iOS than Android)

pc_messaging_640It’s happened to all of us. While sitting in front of our ultra-powerful, multi-thousand-dollar laptops, we’ve reached for our phones to send or read a text.

Think about that for a second: instead of applying the veritable supercomputers in front of us to the task of transmitting a few bits-worth of emoji — machines, incidentally, with obscene connectivity, full keyboards, mice/trackpads, and excellent spell checking — we’ve opted instead to pick up a phone, biometrically unlock it, open a messaging app, and risk autocorrect humiliation while laboriously tapping out a dispatch with less efficiency than a nineteenth-century telegraph operator. Then: lock phone, set down, complete approximately twenty additional seconds of work, and repeat.

For some of us desktop texters, such onerous workflows are a thing of the past — anecdotes to be passed down to our children and grandchildren in futile attempts to make them appreciate the extravagance of modern life. But for others, the loathsome cycle is seemingly unbreakable.

If you bask in the privilege of texting from both your desktop and your phone interchangeably, chances are you are an iOS and Mac user who has discovered the brilliance of Apple’s Continuity. Or you’ve allowed yourself to be subjugated by a more closed and proprietary messaging platform like Facebook Messenger. A few of you might even be Android users who cling to the false hope of Google Voice, or who have sworn lifelong allegiance to Nexus devices for the privilege of testing Project Fi.

What follows are all the ways I know of to text from both your desktop and your phone, along with the pros and cons of each approach. If you are already intimately familiar with the problem and you’re just here for a solution, skip ahead to the “Apple Messages” section and go from there. But if terms like “text” and “iMessage” sound to you like distinctions without differences, you might want to start with the glossary below.

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The New MacBook’s Lack of Ports is Actually a Feature

new_macbooksNot being much of a tablet fan, I prefer to sit at the kitchen table or on the couch with a laptop. But both of my laptops—a 15″ MacBook Pro, and a 2015 Razer Blade—are so thoroughly connected to peripherals at this point (external monitors, speakers, USB audio interfaces, mechanical keyboards, an Oculus Rift, etc.) that I find I often don’t feel like going through the trouble of liberating them. But that wasn’t always the case. Before I got the Razer Blade, my personal machine was a MacBook Air, and I made it a point to almost never connect it to anything so that it was always ready to be taken anywhere I needed it.

The new MacBooks are obviously optimized for portability which, in my experience, is not all that compatible with a myriad of ports and cables. But a computer that encourages the use of wireless peripherals is a laptop that will almost always be within reach.

If you need to edit images, mix audio, encode video, play games, or compile a massive code base—and if you need to do so while in the field—then the new MacBook is obviously not for you (personally, I’d recommend a new 13″ MacBook Pro Retina). But if you already have either a desktop, or even a high-end laptop that you treat as a desktop, you might find an ultra-portable laptop that’s always ready to be opened, packed, or passed to a friend to be surprisingly practical.

I also think Apple occasionally creates products whose primary purpose is to force the future’s hand. I have one of the very first MacBook Pros with a Retina display, and at the time I got it back in 2012, I really didn’t think it was ready for widespread adoption. But three years later, I wouldn’t even consider buying a laptop without a high-density display—Mac or PC. Something tells me that in another three years, cables will be much less acceptable than they are today, and not without a sense of irony, we will look back on the new MacBook as one of the harbingers of a far more convenient paradigm of computing.

Macro Photographs of a MacBook Pro Retina Display

The other day, I noticed my Canon 7D with a 100mm macro lens on it sitting right beside my MacBook Pro with a Retina display, so I decided to see what 220 pixels per inch looks like blown up. The photographs below compare the same icons and text on a Retina display versus the display on an 11″ MacBook Air.

Click on any of the images to see it at twice the size (note that the images are 1,000 pixels wide and 220 PPI, so they look awesome on a retina display, but they may also take a few seconds to load).

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Text on an 11″ MacBook Air.

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Text on a MBP Retina. Much sharper.

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The Mail.app icon on a standard display.

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The Mail.app icon on a retina display. If your monitor is clean and you look really closely, you can see a few dead pixels.

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A close-up of the Mail.app icon on a standard display.

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A close-up of the Mail.app icon on a retina display.

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The menu bar on a retina display. Notice how the updated icons look great, and those that haven’t been updated yet look like crap. Unfortunately, this is what most of the internet looks like (with the exception of text, which looks great).

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The dreaded ghosting issue. You can also see several pixels misbehaving in this photo (top center).

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The one curious exception to text looking almost universally better on the retina display is the Twitter application. For some reason, the text looks as bad as the scaled-up profile pictures.

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Free Advice: Apple Should Start Manufacturing in the US

Here’s some free advice for Apple and other technology companies: start moving some of your manufacturing to the US. Buy up some plants and factories in places like Detroit, and start using them to manufacture things like iPhones, iPads, touch screens, memory chips, CPUs, and laptops.

I know it would be expensive, and I know they would lose money — at least initially. But here are the advantages:

  • First and foremost, Americans need jobs. Although we are technically largely out of the latest recession, the economic reality is that there are still way too many unemployed Americans (and things are likely to get worse with so much uncertainty in the Middle East and Japan). On the one hand, devices like the Kinect are setting world records for sales and there are huge lines for the iPad 2, but on the other hand, the unemployment rate is still far higher than it should be. Why not put Americans to work building the same devices we stand in line for?
  • Manufacturing needs to return to the US at some point — why not now? I’m convinced that the day will come when the US will be forced to start doing more manufacturing on its own soil. Yes, the economy has become truly global, but that doesn’t mean competition between countries goes away. I believe there are advantages to a nation being able to manufacture the products its citizens rely on.
  • Imagine the goodwill. We all know that Apple makes great devices, but imagine the goodwill and press that Apple could get from selling great devices that are not only responsibly manufactured and responsibly recycled, but were also partially or entirely manufactured in the US. In addition to just "Designed by Apple in California," Apple could also boast "Made in America."
  • Apple could exert even more control over their products. Apple already controls a great deal of the life cycle of their products from the design all the way through the retail experience, but they don’t control the manufacturing process very well. Products are frequently leaked, and I know for a fact that components are sold on the black market (I’ve bought them in order to do at-home iPhone repairs). I suspect there is also a fair amount of IP that gets leaked when products and product designs are so far out of Apple’s control. By moving manufacturing to their own factories in the US, Apple could do a much better job of containing and controlling information, intellectual property, and even the hardware itself.

I’m not naive enough to think that this is a serious possibility since the return is probably too uncertain and too far off for a public company to take seriously. However, if Apple and other technology companies really want to change the world, there are more profound ways of doing it than just slick devices and marketing hype.

Review of the New Apple TV

apple_tvI recently got rid of my Verizon FiOS television service (a topic for another post), so when Apple announced the new Apple TV, I ordered one straightaway. At $99, I felt like I had nothing to lose.

I’ve only been using it for a few days, but so far, I’m very happy with it. We’ve used it almost exclusively for Netflix streaming, and to confirm what Steve Jobs said during Apple’s press event, the Apple TV is probably the best Netflix steaming client. As far an I’m concerned, if I only use it for Netflix and for browsing my Flickr stream, it was well worth the $99.

We haven’t “rented” anything yet, and I’m not sure I’ll get into the habit of paying 99¢ for a single viewing of a television show, but I’m not ready to discount the business model yet. Although it still doesn’t feel quite right, I think it might actually make sense. I only watch a handful of television shows, so even if I pay 99¢ for every one of them, I’ll still be way ahead of where I was with FiOS. And most importantly, I’d only be paying for the content I watch rather than the thousands of hours of programming that I don’t watch which, in my opinion, is the biggest problem with the traditional television subscription model.

I will probably pay a movie now and then, however as Netflix streaming becomes more comprehensive (which I assume it will), there will less of a need to pay per film. That said, I do think $3.99 is a reasonable price for low-end HD content, so I’m not opposed to the occasional movie rental.

I don’t know how successful the Apple TV will be, but I do know that I want to support new business models around media. I’m perfectly willing to buy content, and in fact, I think it’s important to back business models you believe in by buying into them, but the models simply have to make sense, and they have to represent good values. Apple TV certainly isn’t 100% there yet, but in my opinion, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Things I really like about the Apple TV:

  • Very compact. As usual, Apple really knew what it was doing when it designed this thing. It sits next to my PS3, and is next to invisible. Adding an Apple TV to your collection of consoles and set-top boxes will not require you to rearrange your entire component cabinet. It doesn’t even have a power brick, so it won’t add much to the jungle of cords and cables behind your screen.
  • Great remote. Aside from the battery (see below), I really like the Apple TV remote. Apple knows that the remote is the part of the device that you interface with, so it feels very high-quality and works well.
  • Great UI. Traditional television service providers have always had something against simple and intuitive user interfaces. Once again, Apple to the rescue.
  • Very responsive. My old Verizon FiOS set-top box was buggy, slow, and unstable. Although the Apple TV’s software isn’t flawless (see below), it’s far more robust and responsive than the FiOS box I just sent back to Verizon. It’s also far faster and more robust than the OS and applications built into my Sony Bravia. (Sometimes I wonder why Sony even bothered.)
  • Built-in WiFi. To get my TV online (it has built-in services like Netflix streaming, Amazon on-demand, etc.), I had to set up a wireless bridge which cost extra money, time (in configuration), and precious space. The Apple TV is basically self-sufficient, as devices today should be.
  • No Netflix activation. For some reason, when I set up Netflix streaming on other clients (like my PS3 or my Sony Bravia), I had to go through a horrible registration/activation process which required having a computer nearby, creating an account with Sony, copying codes and URLs back and forth, etc. Every time I set up a new device, I always wonder why I can’t just enter my Netflix credentials and be done with it. That’s exactly how it works on the Apple TV. I’m pretty certain Apple wouldn’t have shipped a device with the same experience you have to go through activating something like a PlayStation.
  • It’s cheap. At $99, there’s almost no reason not to try it. If you’re a Netflix user, you have absolutely nothing to lose.

Some issues to watch out for:

  • It doesn’t come with an HDMI cable. I know Apple likes small packaging, and I know they were trying to keep the price down, but I was disappointed that I had to poach an HDMI cable off another device. Replacing it will add at least another $20 to the price of the Apple TV — a cost which I think it’s fair to call “hidden.”
  • The remote is great (nice and simple, and very high-quality), but it uses a CR2032 button cell battery. I just recently got every toy, remote, sensor, and peripheral in the house using rechargeable batteries, and now I have to worry about keeping a CR2032 handy (since you can’t use the Apple TV without it, you don’t want to wait until the battery actually dies to buy a replacement). I’d like to see a rechargeable option, like PS3 controllers.
  • The Apple TV remote also controls the MacBook I keep near my TV and use primarily as a stereo. This isn’t horrible since I mostly use the Remote application to control iTunes, but I did have to stop the Apple TV setup process to disable the remote on my MacBook. If this happens to you, open System Preferences, then go into Security, and check the “Disable remote control infrared receiver” box.
  • I’ve gotten a couple of errors claiming that my HDMI cable doesn’t support HDCP (a digital copy protection protocol) which made the Apple TV inoperable. After rebooting, it worked fine. I imagine this is a bug that will be fixed in a future software upgrade, and really nothing to worry about.

Review of the Apple Magic Trackpad

I know there have been a lot of posts and reviews of Apple’s new Magic Trackpad already, but most of them lack one critical element: actual experience with it. After using Apple’s newest pointing device exclusively for two weeks straight both at work and at home, here are my impressions:

Pros:

  • Very large surface — much larger than the trackpad built into your MacBook.
  • Great click action. Clicking works through the rubber feet on the bottom and feels great. Just like with the built-in trackpad on my MacBooks, sometimes I tap and sometimes I click.
  • Good gesture support. I’m a big believer in gesture and touch-based computing (which is only in its infancy), and the Magic Trackpad is definitely a step in the right direction.
  • Good battery life. I use rechargeable batteries for my mice, remotes, and other devices (the Energizer Family Battery Charger rather than Apple’s), so I don’t worry about having to replace batteries, but I also don’t want to have to do it weekly. I’ve been using two Magic Trackpads extensively for two weeks, and the batteries are still strong.
  • Integrates nicely with Mac keyboards. The size and shape make it a natural extension of your Apple bluetooth keyboard. I use a USB keyboard (fewer batteries to have to keep charged), but it still integrates well. (Note that if you prefer “tap to click,” keyboard integration can also be a con as noted below.)
  • Looks brilliant. As we’ve come to expect from Apple, the design is great. And unlike some other Apple devices I’ve used in the past, functionality wasn’t sacrificed for aesthetics.

Cons:

  • When too close to your keyboard (its form factor suggests that it should be positioned as a keyboard extension), it’s way too easy to inadvertently tap which means your cursor jumps away from where you’re typing. For this reason alone, I experimented with turning off “tap to click,” but eventually ended up just moving the trackpad further away.
  • No USB version. Although the battery life seems good, I would have probably bought a USB version for $10 or $20 less if it had been an option. I actually find USB peripherals more convenient since you don’t have to keep batteries in the charger at all times and in your bag when you travel.
  • Still not as precise as a mouse. Of course, this isn’t really the fault of the Magic Trackpad itself. In my experience, this is simply the nature of trackpads. They’re excellent for when you don’t have a mouse, and I’m happy to use one all day or even for several days in a row while on the road, however eventually, you start to realize that you’re just slightly less productive than you are with a mouse.

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Conclusion:

I’ve gone back to using the Magic Mouse (by far the best mouse Apple has ever made, and probably my favorite mouse of all time — if you’re not convinced, read my review) for most things simply because I’m more accurate with it which means I’m more productive. However, I’ve also incorporated the Magic Trackpad into my workspace, as well (along with my Hexbug Nano). I use the mouse as my primary pointing device, and I use the trackpad for gestures and for scrolling. Maybe I’ll experiment with having one on either side of the keyboard at some point so that I look like I’m piloting a macha rather than just moving a pointer.

In general, I really like the new Magic Trackpad, and I’m glad to see Apple move us one step closer to touch-based computing. But don’t put your Magic Mouse up on eBay just yet.

Great Example of How Apple Understands Consumers

I was watching something like Community or Modern Family the other night when I saw two commercials that really struck me: one for the iPhone, and one for the Droid. The juxtaposition seemed like a very simple illustration of a point I’ve been trying to make lately which is that Apple is one of the few technology companies that really understands consumers. In other words, probably more than any other technology company, Apple makes products for everyday people rather than for the geeks who design and build them.

Hence all the control Apple insists upon. Geeks like freedom and openness when it comes to technology while most people just want something to work. By carefully controlling the hardware and the software, as well as the retail and support experiences, Apple can give customers exactly what they want: simplicity and elegance.

Google cares about the web. Microsoft cares about software platforms. Apple cares about good experiences. That’s their only prejudice. They will pursue almost any technology whether it’s web-based, installed, mobile, set-top, or otherwise if it makes the power of technology accessible to consumers.

I don’t think most people care about multi-tasking or application approval processes. They just want a device to be easy and fun. I think the two commercials below illustrate which company understands that better:

Review of the Magic Mouse

I’ve been pretty critical of Apple’s mice over the years, primarily due to Apple’s refusal to embrace the right mouse button. Technically, this changed with the Mighty Mouse in 2005, though I never found the right-click to work particularly well on all four (two wired, two Bluetooth) that I had over the years. Hence my skepticism when Apple announced yet another attempt at the device that they themselves were responsible for introducing to the computing mainstream with the Apple Macintosh all the way back in 1984.

What intrigued me about the Magic Mouse initially was the gesture support. I’ve been doing a lot of work with gestures in Adobe AIR 2 and I’d started using my MacBook’s multi-touch trackpad full-time in order to really try to incorporate gestures into my workflow. The Magic Mouse seemed like a good way to keep using (some) gestures while having the advantages of an external pointing device.

Enough background. On to the facts:

What’s good about the Magic Mouse:

  • Right-click support finally works great. I don’t think I’ve had any missed right-clicks yet (which happened probably 20% of the time with the Mighty Mouse).
  • Swiping also works great. I adapted to the swipe gesture instantly. It’s entirely intuitive, and works exactly like it should. And it works with all applications (at least all I’ve tried it with), and not just Apple apps (in other words, the momentum effect is implemented at the OS level, so it works everywhere).
  • The movement is very smooth. It seems to glide better than the Mighty Mouse, and better than my Logitech optical mouse (though it might just be that it hasn’t had time to accumulate dust and lint yet).

What’s not good about the Magic Mouse:

  • It’s not very ergonomic. I find it a bit on the small side and not as comfortable to use for long periods of time as my Logitech. Although the gestures are very practical and usable, the shape of the mouse is not. I think Apple focused just a little too much on the aesthetics of this device and not enough on the functionality. (Even the old Mighty Mouse is slightly more comfortable for me to use, though not nearly as fun.)
  • It’s all white. I happen to be a frequent hand-washer, so I’ve never had a problem with my keyboards or trackpads getting dirty, but before you buy a Magic Mouse, look down at your computer. If your laptop, keyboard, or mouse has accumulated grime from petting the dog, reading the newspaper, or eating sandwiches, consider getting a good black Logitech optical mouse rather than the pure white Magic Mouse.
  • Price. $69 + tax is a lot to drop on a mouse. I wanted to buy two — one for home, and one for the office — but I didn’t want to spend all that money. I was also hoping to buy a corded USB version, but as of right now, the only version available is the Bluetooth model. In general, I prefer USB mice because they are cheaper, and I don’t have to worry about battery life (I switched to rechargeable batteries a while back, but it’s still much easier just to plug in and forget about it).

I can’t really recommend or advise against the Magic Mouse. I’ll keep using mine on one computer, but I don’t think I’m going to make a special effort to replace all my mice with Magic Mice. Now if Apple came out with an ergonomic USB version, I would happily retire all my Logitech mice to the plastic hardware bin in the basement, but that time has not yet come. I actually think it’s more likely that Logitech will incorporate gesture support and deliver the options that many of us want.

The Apple tablet can save comic books

As I was reading V for Vendetta the other night, it occurred to me that if this Apple tablet device is real, it could reinvigorate comics and graphic novels even more than all the recent film adaptations. Imagine reading Watchmen and other graphic novels on a big, bright, interactive screen, and having new issues of comics automatically and wirelessly delivered (like newspapers on your Amazon Kindle). Imagine zooming in on panels, listening to voice-overs, and reading comments left by other readers.

Hopefully both Apple and the comic book industry are pursuing this opportunity without any of the obsolete preconceptions of traditional media. I believe if this is done right, the Apple tablet can revolutionize comics every bit as much as the iPod revolutionized digital music.

Although the last thing the internet needs are more rumors of what Apple is going to release, while I'm on the topic, I might as well present my predictions:

  • 10" – 13" multi-touch screen.
  • iPhone OS.
  • App Store, naturally (which, as a side note, I expect to come to the desktop eventually).
  • Focus on music, video, magazines, newspapers, hopefully comics, web browsing, and gaming (both 3D and simple virtual multi-player board games).
  • Nice "page-flip" animations and gestures to make you feel like you're reading physical media.
  • Wireless delivery, probably through Verizon rather than AT&T.
  • On-screen keyboard and voice commands.
  • No optical media, and perhaps no way to connect a keyboard (after all, Apple can't allow it to replace your MacBook).
  • Remote control for your iTV, perhaps.
  • Accelerometer, GPS, and camera (although these could come as upgrades in later models).
  • 64GB of storage capacity (must be bigger than the iPod Touch, but not so big that they can't sell you higher-capacity models in the future).
  • Non-removable battery (naturally — now that they've gotten away with it, why go back?).
  • Name: the Apple iPad.
  • Price: $800.

Anything I left out?