All posts by Stephen Darlington

Dongles

When I got my new MacBook it wasn’t complete. I sat it down on my desk and nothing would connect.

I tried to plug in my monitor, but I needed a dongle to connect to my DVI monitor. My FireWire external hard-drive needed an adapter. I had to get a card reader as my camera takes CompactFlash cards. Even my USB hub needed replacing because my new computer came with a newer, faster USB standard.

This wasn’t last week and this wasn’t a 2016 MacBook Pro. This was in 2011 when I replaced by Core2 Duo MacBook with a MacBook Pro 15″. Different monitor port. FireWire 800 rather than FireWire 400. The USB ports upgraded to USB 2.

This is why I am mystified that, a week after Apple’s event, people are still complaining that they might have to buy some dongles when they upgrade. I have to buy a few adapters every time I buy a new computer.

Am I saying that I love to carry round a bag of adapters (and lose them)? No, of course not. But I do love carrying around a computer that doesn’t have all the legacy crap that most Windows laptops still have. A colleague got a new laptop last month and it had a VGA port (first launched in 1987) that he’ll almost certainly never use!

In a short time we’ll have Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C peripherals and everything will be much better. This is the price we pay for being trailblazers but I, for one, think it’s worth it.

1000

According to WordPress, this is my one thousandth post here. I’m not sure how (or whether) I should celebrate this occasion but thought it was worth noting.

ZX81.org.uk has been around in one form or another since 1999. It’s survived the dot com boom and bust, it made it through the financial crisis and austerity. It’s been my “home” for longer than any physical location. It’s outlasted six employers (excluding myself, when I was self-employed) and I’ve had it longer than I’ve known my wife or had children.

Time constraints mean that I don’t post here as often as I used to so who knows how long the next thousand will take to write…?

The Short-Sighted Game

I’m sure that you’ve read Fast Company article about Apple playing the long game. It’s fascinating and, despite the deliberately click-bait title I’ve used here, I think it’s generally true for Apple.

However, there is one area where they don’t get things right. Here’s where I think Cook does it again:

“When you look at most of the solutions, whether it’s devices, or things coming up out of Big Pharma, first and foremost, they are done to get the reimbursement [from an insurance provider]. Not thinking about what helps the patient. So if you don’t care about reimbursement, which we have the privilege of doing, that may even make the smartphone market look small.”

The problem I see here the pure USA-first vision. Big Pharma is big all over the world, but there are only a few places where the insurance providers have such a great stake in heath care.

It’s easy to get stuck in a US, or even Silicon Valley, bubble, not realising that the rest of the world works differently. This time it’s health care. Last time it was thinking that everyone uses swipe credit cards.

These are great markets in America, meanwhile a billion Indians are having a hard time getting an Apple product and the Chinese are putting up obstacles. A company the size of Apple can’t afford to think only in terms of opportunites in the US. Clearly isn’t not going to fail with this attitude but it could limit its future growth.

iOS 10

As I wrote before, iOS 10 is an odd release to talk about before it’s  generally available. Like iOS 8 — but unlike iOS 7 — almost all the good stuff is hidden in APIs, for use by developers. Which means that it’s probably going to be a nice update, but until apps are available it’s difficult to tell.

That’s not to say that there’s nothing interesting visible. Here are a few things that struck me.

  • You get used to the the “lift to show the lock screen” feature on the 6s very quickly. It really is hard to go back to actually pressing a button to see notifications. I know, this is totally a first world problem
  • Visual changes are subtle but mostly an improvement. I’ve not measured it but it feels that some of the animations are quick which helps overall
  • “Share…” button when you long press a link in Mail. This makes sorting through iOS Dev Weekly (among others) so much easier
  • Notifications really are much richer though we’ll only see the full benefit when apps are updated. Messages is almost worth it alone but makes other notifications all the more annoying as they just open the app
  • Updates to the Music app are great. They even fixed the “add to next” / “add to up next” bug
  • The updates to Messages really requires everyone to be on iOS 10. Messages look weird on iOS 9 and lower. For example, if you ‘like’ the message “Hello”, the older OS sees it as “Liked ‘Hello'”. Which, needless to say, is confusing

The final thing that I wanted to mention, is that after using iOS 10 on my main device for a few weeks, work gave my an iPhone SE which came with iOS 9. It immediately felt weird and I missed lots of stuff I’d barely noticed getting used to.

Maybe that’s the best proof of the pudding. It may not be dramatic but I miss it when it’s gone.

Underwhelming by design

There have been lots of articles like “iOS 10 chooses renovation over innovation” since Apple’s WWDC keynote in June.

I think they reflect the fact that when you download the first beta and put it on your old phone — because you’re too cowardly to put it on the handset you use every day — iOS 10 is slightly underwhelming. The first time you look at the home screen you see… pretty much no differences from iOS 9. So you launch Maps and see they moved the search bar to the bottom of the screen. You tap Messages and see some new icons at the bottom. But Mail looks the same. Safari seems to be unchanged.

This isn’t like iOS 7. Not every inch of the screen is different. This is more like iOS 8 where the promise is in the new APIs. And the problem with new APIs? You see nothing with the first beta. There are literally no apps that use them. Most developers don’t even have ideas of how to use them yet.

When I played with the iOS 8 betas, it just appeared to be like iOS 7 with a few fixes and the odd thing moved around. No biggie. As soon as it came out of beta and apps that used extensions became available there was no going back.

So, sure, maybe this isn’t innovation but I’m pretty confident that it’s much more substantial than just rennovation. The new APIs will prompt some interesting new ideas that you’ll be able to see in September. Be patient. Sometimes innovation is in the things you don’t see.

This post originally appeared on Medium.

And another another thing…

I can’t make up my mind about “And Another Thing…,” Eoin Colfer’s book, which is the sixth Hitchhikers novel, the first not written by Douglas Adams.

On the one hand I wanted to give it a fair chance, try to judge it on its merits rather than simply as a H2G2 book not by Adams. On the other, it’s clearly not by Douglas Adams. It has the same characters. It’s clearly by someone who is a Hitchhiker fan and some things — like the names of places and things — feel spot on.

But the story itself doesn’t quite work for me. It feels like… just a story. Which is a weird criticism, but bear with me.

Especially later in his career, Adams liked to combine his interest in technology, science and religion in his writing and that is what I think is lacking from “And Another Thing…” It’s not that it’s bad, just that it’s ordinary.

With the caveat that I’ve never written a novel and that there’s a long way from a simple idea to a complete manuscript, I hubristically like to think that I would have taken a different approach.

There could be some fun to be had around the “infinity” of Earths that the Vogons destroyed at the end of “Mostly Harmless.” Because, if an infinite number of Earths have been vaporised, there are still an infinite number left. The concept of “infinity” is bizarre enough to have both truth and humour. There’s definitely some potential playing with Hilbert’s hotel. Can you imagine an infinitely large hotel where all the guests have an ego the size of Zaphod Beeblebrox’s? Or Arthur trying to find a room in a full hotel? Marvin would probably be quite depressed about the whole thing.

Anyway, it’s not a fully baked idea, and it’s certainly not a complete story, but the concept feels more Adamsian than what actually happens in the book. The rest is left as an exercise for the reader…

This post originally appeared on Medium.