Apple's Quest to Kill the Dongle

Apple's impressive adapter line-up. Consider this their Most Wanted List.

Apple's impressive adapter line-up. Consider this their Most Wanted List.

Abdel Ibrahim at AppAdvice had an interesting take on what could be Apple's view of the future of dongles:

With the introduction of the new MacBook Pro, Apple has made it clear that it believes that USB-C is the future. Not only are they saying it’s the future for external peripherals like monitors, and external hard drives, but they’ve also abandoned Magsafe, the company’s beloved charging port, in favor of it.

But what most people aren’t realizing is that while Apple is making a record number of dongles and adapters, what they’re doing is trying to kill them off.

He makes a compelling argument. In short, Apple is trying to unify the ports on their Mac lineup. Outside of the MacBook Air and previous generation MacBook Pros, all of Apple's newest notebook models contain USB-C and only USB-C ports. (Yes, I'm ignoring the headphone jack; Apple ignored it on the iPhone 7, so I think I can safely do so here.)

While, in the short term, it might require people to buy adapters and dongles to connect things like SD cards and existing USB peripherals, it also is moving Apple's line to a single, and quite versatile, port. 

If we widen our view, Apple's quest to kill the dongle has been happening for a while. Most recently, Apple's removal of the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 means wireless headphones are a more valuable option. But those headphones would work on more than just the iPhone. And to connect to anything else, you don't need a certain cable or port.

Going back further, Apple's removal of the ethernet port on the previous MacBook Pro models could also be seen as this intention. Wireless is how the majority of users connect their notebooks, even in a work environment. But while wireless was a capable alternative for ethernet in 2012, USB-C was still too early to replace everything else. But in 2016, it's capable of doing it all.

Many may complain about the design of the new MacBook Pro, but I would argue that this is one of the target designs they had wanted to do for many years. And in the end, it'll only be a temporary pain point. 

My take on the leaked MacBook Pro image

You'd think Apple would hold back some things from their OS updates. This is straight from macOS Sierra's 10.12.1 update.

Some thoughts:

  • The model would appear to be a 13-inch MacBook Pro, yet it shows speakers no the sides. If the MacBook Pros are to have a smaller footprint, then the keyboard is likely to shrink. My guess is it's using the same keyboard found in the MacBook. This leaves room for the speakers.
  • Touch ID coming to the Mac is a great move. But how is it being implemented? Apple has been adamant about security on their iOS devices, which is why the Secure Enclave is so important. To include Touch ID on the Mac, Apple is likely also including a secure chip, possibly the same Secure Enclave found in the iPhone 7. 
  • As rumored, the function keys are gone. In their place seems to be an OLED touch bar. Some say it'll be running on an ARM chip, with comparisons being that of integrating an iOS device into the Mac. How much access will developers get to this? And will someone hack it to run UIKit?
  • Speaking of Touch ID, it is a dedicated part of the touch bar. Note the outline on the far right, similar to the ring around the home button on iOS devices.

While this takes away some of the magic of the Apple event on Thursday, I am excited to hear more about these Macs and what else is new and improved in them. If Apple is okay adding new chips to support the touch bar, are there other hardware improvements, even more custom silicon, worth mentioning?

3D Touch - The Future of Apple's Interfaces

In 2014, Apple announced the Apple Watch. While many were expecting a shrunken iPhone on your wrist, Apple instead focused on a new experience. The Digital Crown, for instance, let users scroll their content without blocking most of the screen with their finger. To add further interactivity to apps, they also introduced something new: Force Touch.

In 2015, Apple added Force touch to the Mac lineup with the new MacBook, updated MacBook Pros, and the new Magic Trackpad 2. Later that year, the iPhone 6s was launched with a Force Touch capable display, branded on iOS devices as 3D Touch.

On each platform, the concept of Force Touch or 3D Touch acts a bit differently. For instance, with watchOS, Force Touch is really a required element to provide more interactive options without sacrificing screen space. On the Mac, default implementation seems to duplicate 3-finger taps while providing a few useful improvements, such as making use of the Taptic engine to provide feedback to the user's finger.

Home screen shortcuts introduced in iOS 9

Home screen shortcuts introduced in iOS 9

On iOS, at least with iOS 9, the introduction of 3D Touch seemed like a gimmick to some. Live Photos required 3D Touch to move, yet can be activated by a long press on older devices. On the home screen, a hard press shows app shortcuts. And the concept of peeking and popping into content lets user quickly glance at information before committing to loading a certain view.

On Android, some said that the idea of detecting pressure on the screen was an old concept. Yet, looking at what was introduced early in the Android SDK showed those functions to be based more on the size of the tap than the actual pressure. In other words, it wasn't truly making use of a pressure sensitive display.

That's not to say that no Android device has a pressure sensitive display. Huawei beat the iPhone 6s to market with the Mate S and its pressure sensitive display. Yet, despite launch in 2015, we have yet to see many major flagship Android devices come with that feature. Even the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy Note 7 devices this year fail to include that functionality.

Following the introduction of the iPhone 6s, word began to spread of Android manufacturers coming out with their own displays. The recently released Android N was said to include support for their own implementation of 3D Touch, but the feature has now been reportedly moved to a maintenance update to the OS. Do Google, Samsung, and other Android manufacturers just think this is a useless gimmick?

3D Touch in iOS 10 enable app widgets to be previewed

3D Touch in iOS 10 enable app widgets to be previewed

If we look at Apple, however, we see a different picture. iOS 10 seems made for 3D Touch. The lock screen experience, and notifications in particular, truly benefit from 3D Touch. Having been running the iOS 10 developer beta on my iPhone 6s, I can say that my use of 3D Touch has greatly improved over iOS 9. In fact, when I switch to a non-3D Touch device, such as my iPad Air 2 or an iPhone 6 Plus used for app testing at work, I find myself trying to hard press the screen to perform certain actions.

While the implementation isn't complete on the Mac, I fully suspect Apple will be making further use of Force/3D Touch on all of its devices. In fact, I would be surprised if this year's iPad updates didn't include some level of 3D Touch. And the rumored MacBook Pro update? It'll definitely have a Force Trackpad. But in the coming months and years, I'd suspect Apple will add more 3D interactions to macOS.

All of this shows something that Apple excels at: taking their control of the hardware and software of the iPhone to make a unique experience. If Android supports pressure touch in the future, not all manufacturers will. It'll introduce another level of fragmentation to their ecosystem. Yet, for Apple, adding this capability to their line is no trouble at all, and I'm convinced that the use of 3D Touch will only improve with each generation of Apple's operating systems from now on.

Twitter considering 10,000 character limit for Tweets

Kurt Wagner at Re/code:

Twitter is building a new feature that will allow users to tweet things longer than the traditional 140-character limit, and the company is targeting a launch date toward the end of Q1, according to multiple sources familiar with the company’s plans. Twitter is currently considering a 10,000 character limit, according to these sources. That’s the same character limit the company uses for its Direct Messages product, so it isn’t a complete surprise.

I can see this happening in one of two ways.

  1. Twitter adds support for creating notes. Notes would be attached to tweets in the same way that photos and videos can be attached to tweets now.
  2. Twitter truly changes the structure of a tweet to allow 10,000 characters of text per tweet.

I'm expecting Twitter to go with option #1. This seems like a natural evolution of the platform and adds in new abilities while keeping the basic structure and function of Twitter intact.

This also gives Twitter a new set of information to index and search. Instead of having to take a screenshot of text to share it, users can write a note and share it directly with their followers. Whether this would have an impact on sites like Medium or not I don't know. 

If Twitter went with option #2, then I think we'd be seeing the start of a fundamental shift with Twitter. Twitter has always set itself apart as a microblogging platform. Sharing short, text-sized messages is what it is known for. This limit has required people to be creative in order to express themselves at times.

But if Twitter truly increases the tweet size itself to 10,000 characters, you likely need to include support for editing tweets. No one wants to write thousands of characters of text, make a typo, and then be unable to fix it once posted. 

At that point, why doesn't Twitter start intelligently showing us tweets they think interest us (or ads that someone has paid to show us)? Once you start down the Facebook path, will it forever dominate your destiny? I'm hoping Twitter won't set foot on that path at all.

Thankfully, a tweet from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey gives me hope that option #1 is the path they will take.

Source: Re/code

The Junk Drawer Problem

Ever since Apple introduced folders in iOS 4, it’s been possible for users to hide away unused apps in a single location. But while people could just delete most apps, Apple builds in apps into iOS that can’t be deleted at all. And each year, with each iOS release, the number of unremovable apps increases.

It is nice to hear that Apple is working on it. But in a way, we might already be seeing what they’re going to do

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