Mac

Stache for Mac and iOS

Stache is new Mac app that allows you to bookmark and archive entire webpages, á la Pinboard. Rather than displaying as a simple list of links, Stache takes a more visual approach by attaching a screenshot to each bookmark.

It syncs over iCloud with its iOS companion app, which has no archiving abilites but does share the Mac app's "visual bookmark" design, bookmarklet/URL scheme support, and full-content search. Although I have no need to switch away from Pinboard, Stache certainly makes for an interesting alternative.

Stache is available on the Mac App Store for an introductory price of $7 (normally $10) and as a Universal app on the iOS App Store for $2.

Mavericks Miscellany

Now that Mac OS X Mavericks is available, there are some things I recommend reading to get up-to-speed:

Apple's October 2013 Keynote

Apple just wrapped up an event that was loaded with new product announcements. I won't bother going into insane detail since the big-name blogs will have it covered, but here's a quick rundown on what was talked about.

Software

The biggest news here is that OS X Mavericks, the iWork suite, and the iLife suite have all been made free (the caveat being that iWork and iLife are only free for newly-purchased devices from this point on) and they're all available for download today. Mavericks will also work on devices dating all the way back to 2007, which I think is pretty cool.

The iWork and iLife apps have been totally redesigned across the board, with new features throughout.

iWork:

  • Full file compatibility across all Mac and iOS devices.
  • Pages has way better text-formatting tools than before.
  • Numbers has interactive charts. For example, you can see your expenses animated over some amount of time.
  • Keynote seems to be the biggest update, with new effects, animations, and transitions, with old transitions being updated with better physics. There's also real-time iCloud collaboration for your presentations now.

iLife:

  • iPhoto now lets you create and order photobooks on the iPad, a feature that previously was only available for the Mac.
  • iMovie now includes a feature called "iMovie Theater", which is a nice-looking collection of all your videos and clips in one place. Reminds me of a media center-type interface.
  • GarageBand on iOS now supports up to 16 tracks (up from 8) and lets you add customizable "drummer tracks" that are recordings of actual session drummers that can automatically play over the song you've created. Projects now sync over iCloud as well.

Hardware

Hardware was really the juiciest part of today's keynote. Along with the iPhone 5s/5c, Apple has now refreshed nearly their entire hardware lineup ahead of the Christmas season (excluding iMacs and cinema displays, basically).

The Retina MacBook Pros have been updated to be more powerful, and yet cheaper to purchase. The 13" model is now $1299 (down from $1499) and the 15" model is $1999 (down from $2199).

The new Mac Pro that will be available in December and starts at $2999, making it the most expensive ashtray I've ever seen. All kidding aside though, it does have some neat features:

  • Fastest processor and memory of any Mac ever
  • Dual-workstation GPUs (a first for Macs)
  • All storage is flash-based — no more spinning HDDs
  • Thunderbolt 2 ports
  • 4K video support, and for multiple displays
  • 70% less energy consumption than the previous Mac Pro
  • It's somehow as quiet as a Mac mini

Now, the new iPads were the most exciting announcement for me personally. Rather than calling the new full-size model 'iPad 5', they went with 'iPad Air', and they're releasing an iPad mini with Retina display!

A quick rundown:

iPad Air:

  • Thinner, lighter, and more powerful.
  • Bezel is 43% smaller.
  • 7.5mm thick, which is 20% thinner than the iPad 4.
  • Only weights 1lb, down from 1.4lb.
  • Reduced battery size, yet same battery life as before (10 hours).
  • A7 chip and M7 coprocessor (same as iPhone 5s).
  • Support for even more LTE bands, meaning better connectivity.
  • Available in two colors: silver/white and space gray/black.
  • Available at $499 (non-LTE) and $629 (LTE), and starts shipping Nov 1.
  • iPad 2 still available as a lower-cost full-size model at $399.

iPad mini:

  • Retina display!
  • A7 chip, but no mention of M7 that I can recall. (UPDATE: I've been informed by my buddy Nate that it does indeed have an M7 chip.)
  • 10-hour battery life.
  • Thinner than a pencil (as shown in a great video that I imagine will be available online soon)
  • Priced at $399 (no LTE) and $529 (with LTE).
  • New Smart Covers ($39) and new leather cases ($79). Both are available in Product (RED) in addition to the standard colors.
  • The non-Retina iPad mini is still available, and has been lowered from $329 to $299.

Overall, this was a huge announcement by Apple. This holiday season is sure to be exciting for a lot of people.

'Making the NetNewsWire 4 App Icon'

nnw-4-icon.jpg

John Marstall, designer for Black Pixel, details the steps that went into the design of NetNewsWire 4's new app icon, the beta of which I linked to on Tools & Toys the other day:

“With the release of NetNewsWire 4 Public Beta, we wanted to overhaul and modernize NetNewsWire’s app icon as much as the rest of the app. We didn’t throw out everything — the color scheme and satellite metaphor stayed — but the design is completely new.”

I love how much thought and care went into the design (and it certainly doesn't hurt that they're sticking with the astronomy theme).

Using What's Already There

Chris Bowler:

“My confidence and trust in free services is at an all time low. [...] So in the arena of read-it-later services, I've been thinking about options where I would be considered the customer.

I realized that one company that I do trust, for whom I am the customer, offers such a service. But it's one I never gave any consideration since it launched, I suppose because I was already enjoying some other service at the time. This company is Apple and the tool is Reading List.

Chris makes some excellent points in this piece. I will remain an avid Instapaper user for the foreseeable future, but if the service were to ever shut down, I would probably give Reading List a shot over something like Pocket.

Trying to Make the iPad Something It's Not

Earlier today, I tweeted in response Ted Landau's Macworld piece, Why the iPad Still Can't Be a True Mac Replacement:

"I think the problem here is that they're trying to shoehorn a desktop workflow into a place where it doesn't fit."

I'd like to expand on that thought a bit.

In his piece, Mr. Landau lists several things the iPad would need to have–or do differently–before it could become a serious competitor to the Mac:

  • Some kind of backup solution
  • A visible file system, however basic
  • Ability to hook up more peripherals
  • Better typing capabilities (this one feels a bit unexplained; he doesn't specify exactly what it is he's looking for)
  • Multiple-window management

Do I think these are terrible ideas? No, not particularly. On one hand, I'm sure they would benefit certain people looking to use the iPad as their main workhorse. But on the other hand, I think these sorts of "needs" stem from old ways of thinking.

I understand why somebody would desire these features. The desktop metaphor has been an integral part of personal computing for nearly 30 years now, and it's simply what people are used to. Still, that doesn't mean we should think about shoehorning desktop-like features into the iPad.

The iPad was never intended to compete with the Mac anyway. Why would Apple undercut their own product line like that? It's possible that they see it as a transitional device that will gradually encourage migration away from the Mac and onto the Next Big Thing, but for now it's more of a complementary companion device than a conflicting one.

Of course, the iPad is certainly powerful enough act as someone's only computer if needed, but not so feature-robust that Mac lovers should be worried about their favorite computer disappearing from the Apple lineup anytime soon.

I do think that the whole desktop metaphor, one where we must manage multiple windows and external devices, is slowly on its way out. Kids growing up with iPads aren't going to care about these things in the future. Nobody is going to call for multiple windows on-screen. But still, all of that is probably a LONG way off. And by that point, there will probably be another couple of huge paradigm shifts that we haven't even imagined yet.

For now, I see the Mac and iPad sticking around together for a while. And that's perfectly okay.

Overhauling My Tech Life

This morning, Shawn Blanc provided a handy Mac media server setup guide that I think is worth checking out. This particular quote at the end struck a chord with me though:

"See? For some of us, all we need to for an iOS-only workflow is a Mac at home doing the heavy lifting."

For several months now, my wife and I have been saving up some money on the side so that we can do an overhaul on our home tech situation, and an iOS-workflow is actually something I've been considering.

Some Background

Each of us owns an iPhone 4S, but we have no Macs or iPads at the moment. This may come as a surprise to some of you considering the content of this blog and the fact that I used to work for Apple, but it's not really something I've wanted to make a big deal of on the blog.

If you look back through the archives, you'll notice that I talk about iOS a lot, but not so much the really nerdy Mac stuff that I'd love to sink my teeth into. I've also had to come up with some Windows workarounds for my Tools and Toys writing workflow in the meantime, which is a bit of a pain.

All of this is going to change soon, which I couldn't be more excited about.

Current Setup

Here's what I'm working with right now:

  • At my full-time job, we only use Windows 7 Dell desktops. This happens to be where I get most of my writing work done at the moment.
  • At home, my wife has a Windows 7 laptop that is servicable, but it tends to overheat and gets bogged down easily.
  • My own laptop completely died over a year ago and we've never had a desktop, so whenever I'm writing at home I'm either on my iPhone or her laptop. Blech.

Decisions, Decisions

We know for sure that we want to set up an office area at home with a 21.5" iMac (probably not the newest slim model but the one prior, since she occasionally requires an optical drive for burning CDs), but for our respective mobile purposes we're still undecided on whether to get MacBooks or use iPad+keyboard setups.

If we've got an always-on iMac powering things at home, we could feasibly do the iPad thing and have no problems at all. She doesn't care about getting into the nerdy stuff, and most of my usage will probably be reading and writing, so really it just comes down to how much I want to tinker with scripts and stuff on the go.

At this point she's leaning toward getting an iPad 4 regardless of what I do, but I'm still deciding between:

  • 13" MacBook Pro (non-Retina, because it's too expensive otherwise)
  • 13" MacBook Air
  • iPad 4
  • iPad mini

If I opt for either iPad, there are further decisions to make, such as what keyboard to use. I've heard great things about using an Apple wireless keyboard along with the Incase Origami Workstation, but there are lots of great iPad-specific keyboard cases to choose from as well. There's also a case to be made for waiting until a Retina iPad mini is announced later this year (as is rumored) before I make a final decision.

Perhaps I'm just thinking about this stuff too hard, but this is a seriously huge expense for us and I do not take it lightly. Any recommendations are more than welcome here.

On Dropbox and iCloud

Ben Brooks:

"Dropbox is a power user tool/service/feature — a damned good one — just not something the average user is going to leverage in the way that others do. iCloud is a consumer level feature. It’s good enough for power users if they are willing to relinquish control and trust Apple, but mostly it’s a drop-dead simple solution for everyone."

[...]

"In that light I truly believe that Dropbox is the past and not the future of cloud based file storage. Managing files is just not something that a user should need to do any longer."

I think Ben is onto something here, but I have reservations about this idea going around that Apple will build iCloud up to the point that nobody needs a service like Dropbox anymore. People have been saying the same thing about other Apple services for years.

Safari's Reading List, Podcasts.app, iOS camera improvements, Apple Maps, iMessage...these are all products that were expected to put entire swaths of 3rd-party services out of business, but it hasn't panned out that way because Apple isn't trying to cater to the same niche markets as those services. They want to reach the broadest possible audience, a tactic that works very well for them, but there will always be a group of people that demands more features and greater control than Apple likes to provide.

I think a key word Ben used in his piece is "trust". Users have to trust that their data is safe with another company, knowing that they have absolutely no way of interfacing with any of it outside of specific apps. iA Writer, an example used by Ben as a fully self-contained solution, could go out of business someday. What happens to that data? Does Apple allow you to export it for use in other apps?

Of course one could say the same about Dropbox, but at least those files exist in a place where you can see them, such as your computer. They're easily copied/pasted elsewhere, and can be backed up in the manner of your choosing. Most users may not care about this, but the aforementioned group of demanding power users will always care about it.

If Apple is really going to put Dropbox out of business, they'll need to allow users more direct control over their files, and that's simply not going to happen. One of the big selling points of iCloud is that it does away with all that muss and fuss.

iCloud and Dropbox are simply two products for two different crowds, and that's okay. There's plenty of room for both to exist.

iTunes 11 "Simplicity"

Lukas Mathis analyzes the new iTunes design:

"You can’t make a complex application simple by adding a veneer of simplicity on top of it. in fact, that will just add to the confusion, because now you’re sending the user misleading signals about what’s really going on. Apple promised a «dramatically simplified new interface». They were right; the interface does look more simple. Unfortunately, this just makes the rest of iTunes all the much worse."

Stephen Hackett linked to that same piece, adding this:

"Even after a couple of weeks of daily use, I’m still uncomfortable in the new iTunes."

I agree with both of them. I've been playing around with iTunes 11 for a couple days, and it's been one of the least enjoyable experiences I've ever had with the app. As someone whose history with iTunes has mainly taken place on Windows PCs rather than a Mac, that's saying something.

I'm lucky since I rarely need to use iTunes anymore now that I'm reliant on streaming services like Spotify, Netflix, and Hulu, but I sympathize with anyone who has bought most—if not all—of their content from iTunes.

'The (Un)Obviousness of iCloud'

Chris Bowler:

For the past couple of years, I’ve slowly added various settings to my iPhone and iPad; settings like backing up to iCloud and the syncing of purchases. I never paid a lot of attention to these changes — they simply made sense. When I walked back in my head, I realized that my last two computer upgrades did not involve syncing my iPhone and iPad.

iCloud had made that step unnecessary.

Like him, I've been surprised by how much use I've gotten out of iCloud. I'm not about to switch to it wholesale from Dropbox or anything, but the little things like bookmarks, reminders, contacts, and notes being synced between devices make a big difference.

It's also nice to have the peace of mind that if I ever have to restore my iPhone, all of my apps, documents and even keyboard shortcuts can easily be synced right back to the device, all over the air. Or if my phone gets stolen, I can possibly remotely pinpoint its location with the Find My iPhone service. So cool.