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Small Companies Can’t Play by Apple’s Rules

Haje Jan Kamps, writing for TechCrunch:

Walking into my first ever meeting with a structural packaging designer, I started rooting around in my bag before exclaiming, “This is the sort of thing I want!” She leaned forward in her chair, delighted to have a customer with a strong guide, then groaned audibly when she saw what I had placed on the table: the packaging from my new iPhone.

“You can have anything you want,” she countered, “but if you want your packaging to look and feel like Apple’s, you’ll have to increase the unit cost for your packaging by 10x.”

Packaging is just one example — there are dozens — of why Apple is a rank outlier in almost every way. Or, put differently: Using the Cupertino-based company as your template for how to build a startup is not a great idea.

Kamps' piece is a fascinating exploration into why it's not so easy to follow Apple's lead – and why, in many cases, a company shouldn't even try. Some of the benefits that come with having a quarter-trillion dollars in the bank, and manufacturing products at massive scale, are completely unattainable for nearly every other company in the world.


Connected, Episode 184: They Perfected It, Mum

WWDC is announced, Apple acquires a digital magazine service, and Myke and Federico discuss some ‘iOS Little Wonders’, because Stephen is away.

On this week's Connected, we talked at length about Apple's acquisition of Texture and what it might mean for the future of Apple News. You can listen here.

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Leaving the “Series 0” Apple Watch Behind

I’ve been keeping an eye on the adoption of the Apple Watch Series 3 since its introduction last fall. From a development perspective the Series 3 is a delight to work with. It is fast, capable and LTE allows a wide variety of new applications (for example, the podcast support I added to Workouts++).

This stands in contrast to the challenges of working with the Series 0 (or Apple Watch (1st generation) as Apple would call it). It is just slow and honestly a bit painful to develop for. Even basic things like deploying your application to the watch can take uncomfortably long amounts of time. In daily use the Series 0 is probably “good enough” for many customers, especially with the speed/stability improvements added in watchOS 4, but as a developer I can’t wait until I no longer have to support it.

Which is why I’ve been watching the Apple Watch adoption curve within my apps (specifically Pedometer++ for this analysis) quite carefully. My personal hope is that this summer when we get watchOS 5 it will drop support for the Series 0 and free Apple to really push forward on what is possible for developers. But in order for that wish to be realistic I imagine Apple will need the daily use of those first watches to have died down significantly.

These are fascinating numbers about the adoption of different Apple Watch models by David Smith, who makes some of the best apps for the platform.

I've been wondering about when Apple could drop support for the original Apple Watch in new versions of watchOS. For context, the original iPhone, launched in 2007, couldn't be updated to iOS 4 in 2010, three years later. The Apple Watch will have its official third anniversary next month. I suppose that Apple Watch owners hold onto their devices for longer, but if old hardware is stifling innovation for the developer community who wants to push Watch apps forward (as much as that is possible with the current tools), then maybe it is time for Apple to move on.


New Google Maps APIs Empowering Game Developers to Create Premium AR Experiences

Andrew Webster, writing for The Verge:

There’s been a wave of location-based mobile games announced recently, based on everything from The Walking Dead to Jurassic World. It turns out these games have more in common than just timing: they’re all powered by Google Maps. Today Google is announcing that it’s opening up its ubiquitous mapping platform to allow game developers to more easily create real-world games. The next Pokémon Go might finally be on the way.

Gaining access to a real-time mapping source like Google Maps is huge for developers, but the additional tools that go along with Google's newly announced game platform take that a step further. Google is also launching a Unity SDK to tie into its mapping data, and enabling gameplay experiences to be built around specific locations or location types.

Developers can do things like choose particular kinds of buildings or locations — say, all stores or restaurants — and transform each one. A fantasy realm could turn all hotels into restorative inns, for instance, or anything else.

This sounds like it could be a huge boon to the mobile game market, particularly when combined with tools like Apple's ARKit. Yes, it means we'll probably get tired of all the games trying to replicate Pokémon GO's success, but these new developer tools will also likely enable some truly immersive, exciting gaming experiences.

Google created a video that shows off just a glimpse of what's possible with its new Maps APIs.


AppStories, Episode 46 – App Culture: Health, Fitness, and Quantified Self Apps

On this week's episode of AppStories, we look back at where health, fitness, and quantified self apps have been, where they’re going, and how hardware and software advancements are changing the way we track and gain insights about our health and fitness.

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Apple Adds USB-C Connectors and Lightning to 3.5mm Output Cables to MFi Specification

Apple’s MFi licensing program, which allows accessory makers to manufacture Apple-certified products that are compatible with iPhones, iPads, and iPods, has been updated to allow accessory makers to create licensed devices that feature USB-C connectors. According to a report by 9to5Mac, the connectors cannot be used for passthrough charging or syncing of iOS devices, but will allow battery packs, speakers, and other accessories to be charged using the USB-C cables included with compatible Macs and from third parties. The specification does not include USB-C to Lightning cables, which are only available from Apple and are necessary to fast-charge iPhones and iPads.

The Lightning to 3.5mm output cable specification allows accessory makers to make cables to route the output of a Lightning port to a 3.5mm headphone jack input. This was only possible previously by chaining Apple’s Lightning to 3.5mm input adapter with a male-to-male 3.5mm cable. With the new specification, accessory makers will be able to reduce that setup to a single cable that will work with devices like speakers that include a 3.5mm input.


Siri Struggles with Commands Handled by the Original 2010 App

Nick Heer at Pixel Envy tested how well 2018 Siri performs commands given to the voice assistant in a 2010 demo video. The video takes Siri, which started as a stand-alone, third-party app, through a series of requests like ‘I’d like a romantic place for Italian food near my office.’ Just a couple of months after the video was published, Siri was acquired by Apple and the team behind it, including the video’s narrator, Tom Gruber, began integrating Siri into iOS.

That was eight years ago. Inspired by a tweet, Heer tested how well Siri performs when given the same commands today. As Heer acknowledges, the results will vary depending on your location, and the test is by no means comprehensive, but Siri's performance is an eye-opener nonetheless.

What’s clear to me is that the Siri of eight years ago was, in some circumstances, more capable than the Siri of today. That could simply be because the demo video was created in Silicon Valley, and things tend to perform better there than almost anywhere else. But it’s been eight years since that was created, and over seven since Siri was integrated into the iPhone. One would think that it should be at least as capable as it was when Apple bought it.

Eight years is an eternity in the tech world. Siri has been fairly criticized recently for gaps in the domains it supports and their balkanization across different platforms, but Heer’s tests are a reminder that Siri still has plenty of room for improvement in how it handles existing domains too. Of course, Siri can do things in 2018 that it couldn’t in 2010, but it still struggles with requests that require an understanding of contexts like location or the user’s last command.

Voice controlled assistants have become a highly competitive space. Apple was one of the first to recognize their potential with its purchase of Siri, but the company has allowed competitors like Amazon and Google catch up and pass it in many respects. The issues with Siri aren’t new, but that’s the heart of the problem. Given the current competitive landscape, 2018 feels like a crucial year for Apple to sort out Siri’s long-standing limitations.