Finding Bluetooth Devices with an iPhone

I was sent this article by Jeff Gamet about finding a lost Fitbit using your iPhone by my friend Stephen, and, while I don't use a Fitbit, I thought it'd be interesting to try the recommended app for my Jawbone UP24. Jeff used BTLExplorer, a free app, to measure the signal strength of the Fitbit tracker and find it using his iPhone, but I didn't like the outdated UI shown in the screenshot, so I went looking for similar apps on the App Store.

As it turns out, there are a lot of free apps to find BLE devices on the App Store. I ended up installing three of them, but I'm fairly certain you'd be fine with just one.

Bluetooth Smart Scanner shows device names, RSSI, and it can play sounds as it scans for nearby Bluetooth devices. It's got a pretty basic iOS 7 design, it gets the job done, and I like the sound option.

LightBlue is similar to Bluetooth Smart Scanner, but it has a nicer interface with signal bars and lighter typography. It doesn't have sounds.

BLE Discovery shows the same stats, but it comes with the ability to display a real-time graph for RSSI dBm and a three-second rolling average. You can tell it's working by walking around a device you're tracking and seeing the lines rise to “Strong signal” as you get closer.

This quick experiment taught me that there's an abundance of BLE trackers on the App Store and that Jeff's method works. To test the apps, I asked my girlfriend to hide my Jawbone UP24 while I was in the kitchen; when I walked into our bedroom, I started looking at numbers on the screen, which kept getting higher as I got closer to our dog. She had hidden the UP24 under a cushion the dog was sleeping on; he wasn't pleased about my request to get up because I needed my fitness tracker back.


Integrating Women Into the Apple Community

Brianna Wu, writing for Macworld last week:

But it’s very hard for me to reconcile this consumer-facing Apple with the development company that put no women on stage this year for either the 2014 Worldwide Developers Conference keynote or the more-technical State of the Union. It’s difficult to connect this Apple I know and trust with the endless sea of white, male faces I saw at Yerba Buena Gardens during this year’s WWDC Bash. Women buy Apple products. We develop on Apple hardware. But we’re still not yet well-represented in Apple’s developer community.

We, as a community, need to keep talking about this and then act on it, because the future needs to be better. Also from Brianna's article:

Getting women into entrepreneurial positions is also critical. My own company, Giant Spacekat, has quickly risen as a powerful voice for women in game development. Not only am I in a position of industry credibility, I’m able to speak to my experiences, to hire women and advocate for other women. There need to be more Giant Spacekats in the industry.


Apple’s Diversity Stats and Message

Tim Cook, writing on Apple's Diversity webpage in regard to newly-published stats:

Apple is committed to transparency, which is why we are publishing statistics about the race and gender makeup of our company. Let me say up front: As CEO, I’m not satisfied with the numbers on this page. They’re not new to us, and we’ve been working hard for quite some time to improve them. We are making progress, and we’re committed to being as innovative in advancing diversity as we are in developing our products.

A short film is available here. See also: inclusion inspires innovation.


Jean-Louis Gassée on App Store Curation

Jean-Louis Gassée, in his open letter to Tim Cook:

Instead of using algorithms to sort and promote the apps that you permit on your shelves, why not assign a small group of adepts to create and shepherd an App Store Guide, with sections such as Productivity, Photography, Education, and so on. Within each section, this team of respected but unnamed (and so “ungiftable”) critics will review the best-in-class apps. Moreover, they’ll offer seasoned opinions on must-have features, UI aesthetics, and tips and tricks. A weekly newsletter will identify notable new titles, respond to counter-opinions, perhaps present a developer profile, footnote the occasional errata and mea culpa…

Good points, and not the first time Gassée has used the Michelin guide as an example of the human curation that could improve the App Store's recommendations.

Gassée doesn't mention the upcoming Explore section of the iOS 8 App Store, and I believe that is going to provide an interesting mix of the classic category-based organization with curation through sub-categories and editorial picks for specific “app types”.

Unsurprisingly, Explore is going to replace Near Me in the middle tab of the App Store app for iOS 8: Near Me will be integrated into Explore, and it will likely extend as part of a new system to advertise apps relevant to your location on the Lock screen. Free of the limited scope of Near Me, Explore will enable the App Store team to offer a full-blown index of app categories that are easily accessible from a dedicated view.

It is my understanding that Explore will feature a mix of the curated app collections Apple has been building for the past couple of years and new filters for app types. Starting with the basic list of App Store categories, you’ll be able to drill down into more specific sub-categories with multiple levels of depth, such as “Music > DJs” or “Productivity > Task Management > GTD”.

While Apple may not be considering a full-blown, standalone App Store Guide as a regular publication, iOS 8's Explore section is showing encouraging signs of new curation efforts that account for the incredible variety of the App Store's catalogue, but it remains to be seen whether customers will take the time to explore the Explore section.


Apple Debuts New ‘Your Verse’ iPad Adverts

Earlier today Apple posted two more iPad ads as part of their ongoing 'Your Verse' series. These latest two ads feature Detroit community activist Jason Hall and the Beijing-based electropop musicians of Yaoband. The 'Your Verse' series of ads tell stories about how different people use their iPad in their own unique ways, not only through a 30-second ad, but also through dedicated webpages that tell their stories in more detail.

Part of the 'Your Verse' webpages are dedicated to highlighting the apps used frequently by those featured in the ad. For Jason Hall that includes Prezi, Penultimate and Phoster.

It began simply enough. Just 10 friends on a Monday night ride. Soon it was 20. Then 30. In its second year, the ride grew from 130 to 300 cyclists in two weeks. As the numbers increased, Hall turned to his iPad and made it the command center for all things Slow Roll. “We use it for everything we do, from mapping to communicating to ordering new T-shirts,” he says.

For Yaoband they use iMaschine to capture various sounds that they use in their performances, whilst also using iMusic Studio and iMPC.

Inspired by the pulse of life in modern China, they started by capturing audio samples with iPad and turning them into progressive beats. Nothing was sacred as they flowed in and out of musical genres, mixing electronica with rock, rap, and traditional Chinese songs. “We were just like scientists in a lab, trying many formulas,” says Peter. “Every single song was a surprise, because it was always better than I imagined.”

You can view the full ads below, or view them on the 'Your Verse' pages for Yaoband and Jason Hall.

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Inside Apple’s Internal Training Program

In “What Makes Apple, Apple,” another course that Mr. Nelson occasionally teaches, he showed a slide of the remote control for the Google TV, said an employee who took the class last year. The remote has 78 buttons. Then, the employee said, Mr. Nelson displayed a photo of the Apple TV remote, a thin piece of metal with just three buttons.

How did Apple’s designers decide on three buttons? They started out with an idea, Mr. Nelson explained, and debated until they had just what was needed — a button to play and pause a video, a button to select something to watch, and another to go to the main menu.

Update: In the original article I said that the Apple employees spoke "off the record" to Chen, this was a mistake and I apologise unreservedly for that.

Brian Chen of The New York Times has perhaps the most detailed look at Apple University to date after speaking to three Apple employees who agreed to speak about it, on the condition of anonymity. The entire article is fascinating and definitely deserves a read, but for those of you who aren't familiar with Apple University, it is Apple's internal training program. The program was started by Steve Jobs in an effort to embed Apple's style of decision making into the company's culture - as was revealed in Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography:

In order to institutionalize the lessons that he and his team were learning, Jobs started an in-house center called Apple University. He hired Joel Podolny, who was dean of the Yale School of Management, to compile a series of case studies analyzing important decisions the company had made, including the switch to the Intel microprocessor and the decision to open the Apple Stores. Top executives spent time teaching the cases to new employees, so that the Apple style of decision making would be embedded in the culture.


Recommending Music on Spotify with Deep Learning

This summer, I’m interning at Spotify in New York City, where I’m working on content-based music recommendation using convolutional neural networks. In this post, I’ll explain my approach and show some preliminary results.

A fascinating post by Sander Dieleman explaining how he designed a deep neural network to provide music recommendations based on Spotify data. It's a technical read, but there are Spotify player widgets to listen to songs picked up by the network, which is capable of learning specific pitches, chords, sounds, and other factors such as Chinese voices. Dieleman says that hopefully some of these audio-based recommendations will go into A/B testing soon, with a focus on recommending new music that isn't generally picked up by traditional recommendation engines. Impressive.


Four Years in Apple’s Ecosystem

An interesting and well documented experiment by The Typist: a visualization of four years of purchases on the iTunes Store, and particularly the App Store. I can't imagine the amount of effort that went into this (sifting through 90 emails, recalculating prices based on past currency conversions, etc.), but I hope I'll have the patience to do the same someday.

The Typist makes a great point about iOS games:

So what does that mean for games? Of the 34 that I’ve purchased, only 5 games — worth $18 — are currently installed on either of my iOS devices. Of the $111.66 that I’ve spent, $93.71 worth of games are on neither of my devices. Almost 84% of the money I’ve spent on games is now in the cloud.

Does that mean I wouldn’t have bought any or most of them? Not necessarily: That would be like not going to the movies because you pay $12 for 120 minutes that you can’t “reuse”. Most forms of entertainment are ephemeral by nature.

Unlike console games, I can't remember any old iOS game that I intentionally redownloaded to play it again like I do for, say, Nintendo or Squaresoft classics. Maybe it's just me, or maybe it's the nature of mobile games. Also worth considering: old iOS games that don't work properly on current versions of the OS, that don't have Retina assets, or that rely on third-party services no longer in existence (the last one is a problem common to console games, too).


Pinterest Launches Messaging Feature

In an update released yesterday on the App Store, Pinterest rolled out a messaging feature that allows people to share pins privately and have discussions around them.

Casey Newton has a good overview:

Starting today, the company is rolling out messages on Android, iOS, and the web. Like Facebook’s “chat heads,” recent messages pop up to the left of the feed as bubbles with your friends’ faces. You’ll find the others under the pin icon where notifications pop up. Just click the ‘+’ icon, type in the name of a friend on Pinterest, and you can send a pin or a standalone message. The impressive thing about Pinterest messages is that the pins you send within the app retain all the functionality of a pin you see anywhere else on the site. Anything you can do with a pin on Pinterest’s web site, you can do inside a message: pin it to a board of your own, send it to another friend, or click the ‘heart’ to add it to your list of favorites. You can even drag a pin from the site into a message.

Pinterest is the only social network that I'm genuinely excited about lately. I've been using Pinterest a lot in the past few months, and it strikes me as a company that knows what people want and how they really use the service. Everything about it is friendly, comfortable, and practical; the fact that I can talk about Pinterest with my “normal” friends without getting the blank stares I receive for Twitter also helps.