‘M1 Mac Users Report Excessive SSD Usage’

From 9to5 Mac:

Some advanced users have been reporting an overuse of the SSD for writing and reading data on the newly-released Macs with M1, Apple’s first computer chip based on ARM architecture. The issue could eventually affect the lifespan of the internal SSD used in M1 Macs — not to mention the machine itself.

My betting is on this being a bug in the software being used to measure SSD usage (a utility called smartmontools that can be installed via Homebrew). SSD usage seems like something that should be pretty easy to automate testing for, and so for this to be a bug would be a major omission from Apple’s test suite. Not impossible of course.

Botched Cosmetic Surgery

Riccardo Mori has written a thoroughly enjoyable critique of the the latest macOS user interface design. This passage in particular made me laugh:

The Mac’s user interface is undergoing plastic surgery by the hand of surgeons who have studied on iOS books. The result is pretty much the same as when you see a favourite celebrity after a procedure. They look ‘younger’ but there’s also something weird about their appearance. Their traits have changed a bit. In certain cases you almost fail to recognise the person at first glance.

I’ve not upgraded my aging 2013 MacBook Air just yet, but I’ve experienced Big Sur when briefly using my girlfriend’s laptop. I agree there is something that feels slightly ‘off’ about the new design. Even small details, like the fact that the new control centre glyph looks like a set of miniature switches – which are a UI components themselves. Whether the new UI will grown on me as iOS 7’s did (I was an iOS 6 holdout for many months) will depend on how much Apple refine the new look over the coming months a years, as they did with iOS. Perhaps my theory will one day hold true, that Big Sur’s big surprise is that it will support touch screens after all.

My fondest memories of Mac OS X was probably Puma. This was a free updated related after 10.0’s abysmal stability and performance problems. I remember picking it up for free from John Lewis. (In lieu of an Apple Store – there were none in the UK at the time – they were the one of the few places to get such things.) Back then Mac OS X seemed like a new frontier in user interface design. Here is what 16 year old me’s desktop looked like in 2002:

Squashing Services Into Apps

The Fitness app in 2016 vs 2021

Lee asks Are Apple ruining user experience to promote their own services? – While using the Fitness app earlier today it occurred to me that the answer is most definitely yes! The current incarnation of the Fitness app (formally known as Activity) now squashes in Activity History, current day, workout lists, awards, and the recently added trends functionality into a single tab. Only Sharing and their brand new premium service, Fitness+ get their own tab, and the cynic in me thinks even Sharing is only there because it helps sell Apple Watches to friends and family.

Really, Fitness+ should be its own app, but that would make it easy to delete and forget about. Instead, Apple who were once leaders in user interface design (so much that they call it human interface), are using an entire tab (one whole third of the total tabs) to show a service many people (I’d wager most) won’t use. The original app was a joy to use, but the latest one just feels crowded. I hope Apple can find a way to promote services without lowering their famous user experience standards.

Moderating Directories, Not Podcasts

Great article over on The Verge, but I have one small issue with it:

Asking it [Apple] to remove a show from its directory is like asking it to make a specific webpage inaccessible in Safari — is that something people want? Podcasting has, so far, avoided crowning one platform as king, meaning anyone, both on the creator and business side, can enter the space and possibly find success in it. That’s what makes podcasting great, even if it requires unclear answers on moderation.

The web browser analogy is close – podcasts are just audio files uploaded to web servers – but there’s a key difference. Apple (or any company) deciding to not include a podcast in its directory is not the same as blocking its URL outright. It is more akin to Google not showing certain web pages in its search results (which it does all the time, especially in the EU). This is very different to your browser refusing to load a particular web address because the browser maker has decided it doesn’t think you should see the content.

Likewise, in the Apple’s Podcasts app, you can either search a directory to find a show, or enter its feed URL manually. (Any app that doesn’t support adding feeds manually is arguably not a podcast app – I’m looking at you Spotify.) Adding a podcast by URL is how most paid podcasts work, and is the podcast equivalent of typing https://nodejs.org instead of Googling NodeJS.

For better or worse I can see Apple expanding its moderation role for its podcast directory, but just as with the web, eager listeners will always be able to find shows from some other source and enter the URL manually. This is an inherent strength of podcasting, which unlike Twitter and YouTube, is not subject to the same algorithmic recommendation spirals.

The BBC Is Using It’s Own ‘Dot BBC’ Domain

The BBC has started using its own custom Top Level Domain (TLD). The entire BBC Online offering is available at https://the.bbc. Many large corporations such as Apple and T.K. Maxx own their own TLD, which were rumoured to cost around $185,000.

Currently the site doesn’t seem to have officially switched as some components such as video and sign-in appear to be broken, and the site’s canonical URL is still set to use the old domain. However the fact that someone has configured the new one along with its own TLS certificate might be a sign that the Beeb is thinking of switching from their iconic bbc.co.uk address.

I suspect for many Internet users of a certain age, the web address http://www.bbc.co.uk was one of the very first they diligently typed into their computer back in the late nineties. The BBC’s use of .co.uk paved the way for this TLD to become the de facto for UK-based companies. To switch now may well commence the beginning of the end for .co.uk being the standard for companies in the UK. While not every company can afford the fee for their own TLD, there are now many others, from .mortgage to .furniture to choose from. The problem is few well-known brands actually use them. Perhaps this might change soon.

For me there is something about newer TLDs that make them less likely to stand out as web site addresses. If I saw weather.bbc or visit.london written somewhere, I wouldn’t necessarily think to visit them in a web browser, whereas anything ending in .com or .co.uk etc. is obviously a web address.

Working From Home in a Small Apartment

You don’t need to spend lots to be productive.

My girlfriend and I are currently trying to move to a bigger house, but with a global pandemic it has been a slow process. Hence we are currently both working from our 1 bedroom flat and are likely to continue this way for the next few months. Both our jobs involve lots of online calls, and so after a many weeks sitting uncomfortably at opposite ends of the dining room table I decided there must be a better way. For 5′ 11″ me the table was uncomfortable, even if my shorter girlfriend felt it was fine for her. Really though, being within earshot each other all day was starting to grate on us both. With her piano taking up a sizeable chunk of our living room, there was no space for a desk anywhere else.

So over the past few weeks I set about making the working day more productive and ergonomic. Astonishingly, for about £70 I was able to get a foldable desk and laptop stand from Amazon.

While there are lots of foldable desks available online, many of them are either too wide or didn’t have the depth required for comfortable typing. Eventually I found one that has enough space for the laptop stand, keyboard and all-important wrist rest. These, along with my company issued Dell XPS 9500 and existing Apple Magic Keyboard, Microsoft ergonomic mouse and basic office chair have helped increase my productivity and comfort no end. (I recommended the programme Magic Utilities for getting Apple’s Magic Keyboard to work with Windows.) I set the desk up in the corridor, and at the end of the day, I simply fold away the desk and the space is regained.

Hopefully once we’ve moved I will be able to have a nicer desk and multiple monitor setup, but for now this inexpensive solution that cost a little over £70 (and would work with a cheap £10 keyboard and mouse if you don’t already have them) has been a valuable pandemic investment. Contrast this with the narrative from some tech podcasters and bloggers who would have you think that you need to spend lots of money to be productive. You really don’t.

Making Siri Timers More Timely

I can be a perfectionist when it comes to software, and one thing that bugs me when using Siri timers is the fact that the time taken for Siri to understand me is added on to the timer duration.

Frequently I will start a timer using the “Hey Siri” wake word, either using my Apple Watch or iPhone. Depending on where I am in the house and general WiFi signal, the time it takes for Siri to respond can range from a few seconds to 10 or more.

From the time between saying “Hey Siri” and completing the sentence “Set a timer for 5 minutes.” the device will upload the audio to a server, which will use a set of speech-to-text machine learning models to predict the words said. It will then use a natural language model to classify this text into an intent, deriving meaning from the sentence.

In many cases, this results in my 5 minute timer not going off 5 minutes after I decided I wanted to start a timer, but 5 minutes and 7 seconds after.

It doesn’t have to be this way however. The device presumably knows the exact time it successfully detected a “Hey Siri” command (a complex set of systems in their own right), and so it could simply deduct this from the requested timer duration. If Siri takes 7 seconds to figure out what I meant, then my 5 minute timer becomes a 4 minutes and 53 seconds timer.

A small request, but if any company could pay attention to small features like this, it’s Apple.

A New Age of Web Censorship?

Opinions are understandably mixed as to whether it was right for Twitter, Facebook et al. to remove Donald Trump’s various accounts from their servers. Amazon blocking access to the prominent alternative Parler, which was welcoming Trump and his followers with open arms was also questionable. There is a genuine debate to be had about whether this all amounts to censorship, or is simply businesses wanting to restrict illegal or unsavoury content.

Since the days of Geocities I remember it being common for web hosts to have clauses in their Terms of Service that prohibit certain content. In fact, here is a snippet from the Geocities TOS in 2000:

You agree to not use the Service to: a. upload, post, email, transmit or otherwise make available any Content that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, tortious, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libelous[sic], invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable;

Geocities, 2000

Put simply, Donald Trump would have been banned from Geocities too. Of course AWS is a far cry from Geocities, and in 2021 the online world is far more entangled with the offline that it was in the year 2000. However, I still think important to understand that web hosts not wanting to host certain content is nothing new.

This is where the concept of Net Neutrality is important. While I think it’s fine for AWS to not want to host certain content, it would be a sad day for the Internet if ISPs could choose not to carry traffic for sites they find objectionable.

What Is a Console?

Is a console…?

I was recently listening to John Gruber and Rene Ritchie speaking on an episode of The Talk Show. They both make the argument that by calling an iOS device a console, it somehow justifies Apple’s position that the only way to load software onto it should be via their App Store. Have a listen. While I have a huge amount of respect for both John and Rene, I think this is a poor take. John even admitted that this was probably his most controversial take of 2020, and I’m not surprised.

Let’s have a look at the definition of the word “console” from the Oxford American English Dictionary, courtesy of Apple’s own dictionary app:

As you can see, none of these definitions bring to mind a device that anyone could sincerely claim encapsulates an iPad or an iPhone. The definition of a console is not “A locked-down computing device.”

Definitions aside, there is a point to be made that many people seem to find it acceptable that games consoles are closed ecosystems but have a problem when it comes to smartphones and tablets.

I believe this disparity is for two reasons:

  1. Games console hardware is subsidised by charging more for software. There’s a reason games consoles are more popular than gaming PCs, yet PC games have traditionally been sold at cheaper prices than their console counterparts. Many more people can afford to buy the latest Xbox because it is likely sold at cost, or even as a loss-lead. The manufacturer will hope to make up for lost profit by selling games later on. (See razor-blade economics.) While this method of selling a product is frustrating in the case of printers and ink cartridges, it turns out that many people don’t mind when they get a high performance gaming computer as part of the bargain. My bet is that because buying games is something you opt into, rather than being forced into, you don’t feel so cheated by having to pay a premium for the software. (Unlike razors and ink cartridges, you never feel like you need to buy a new game to keep your games console working.) Apple on the other hand makes enormous amounts of margin on each device sale and takes a cut of all software sold through the store. It may be legal and it may be in the spirit of capitalism, but that doesn’t mean it won’t rub customers the wrong way.
  2. Apple has long marketed iOS devices as being more than mere handsets or consoles. As long ago as 2016, Apple’s then marketing chief Phil Schiller noted that there was a huge market for the iPad in people switching from old Windows PCs. In a 2017 iPad advertisement they used the slogan “What is a computer?”. Inferring that the iPad, while not looking like a traditional laptop, is in fact a powerful computer. In one scene a boy is sat outside on his iPad when his mum asks What are you doing on your computer? The boy replies by asking What’s a computer? He does not say Actually Mum it’s a console, not a computer. Even The Verge wrote the headline in 2018 Apple really wants you to think the iPad Pro is a computer. More recent commercials have used wordplay such as Your next computer is not a computer. When introducing the iPhone in 2007, Steve Jobs noted that it ran OS X with “desktop class” software and that Safari could show the full web, not the “baby Internet”. Contrary to what Ritchie said on The Talk Show, Steve Jobs absolutely did not introduce the iPhone as a console. (A search of 2007 iPhone keynote transcript for the word returns zero results*.) Over the years, Apple has set the expectation that iOS devices should be on par with real computers, and for many, that means freedom to install software from any source you want.

While I’m not advocating Apple open up their devices to software from anywhere, I do think it’s right that the pros and cons are properly framed. There are benefits just as there are drawbacks. My view is that for the iPad in particular to evolve, it must be a device in which you can not only play the latest chart topping game, but also make the next one.

* Update 11/01/2021: My mistake. Steve Jobs did actually mention games consoles during the 2007 iPhone keynote alongside digital cameras, MP3 Players and PCs. He talks about their comparative worldwide unit sales. What’s interesting is that all of the product categories in the chart he shows (below) have in 2021 either been entirely replaced, or replaced in-part by iOS devices, except arguably the PC. Regardless, it’s clear he is in no way calling the iPhone a console.