Photo ‘Management’ on Windows

I’m a Mac user in the unfortunate position of having to use Windows at work. I know… first-world problem. It’s not entirely painful but there are still things to this day that are either clunkier or purely non-existent on Windows, which are just plain simple on the Mac.

Amongst other topics, John Gruber recently discussed the Mac and iOS Photos app with Jason Snell on The Talk Show. This discussion, along with a link on his site to a tweet about the inconsistent UI experience on modern Windows 10, reminded me of one of my pet peeves of working with the system: photo management and editing.

Something that Mac users take for granted is the fact that an app like Photos (and iPhoto before that) has been there to handle your entire photo library, album creation and image adjustments. If you want, you can invest in additional apps such as Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, Affinity Photo or Pixelmator to kick things up a notch. On Windows 10, you’re still left with the default method that has existed for years: storing your photos in manually named folders in Windows Explorer. To get anything as robust as Photos that also syncs (or beyond for pros), you really have to invest in third-party software. Paint and Paint 3D certainly don’t cut it and the only thing that Microsoft has really added to improve the experience is an app called (wait for it)… Photos.

Whilst you can create your own ‘collections’ and ‘albums’ in the newer Photos app for Windows, it doesn’t act like Apple’s own Photos for Mac. You need to create an album by choosing preexisting files or folders in Windows Explorer. Talk about clunky…

If you want to open an individual photo for viewing or editing in Photos (to actually make changes, which Windows Photo Viewer can’t do), the experience is horrible. In fact, it’s not immediately obvious even for people who have a long history with Windows.

On the Mac, if you wish to open a file in a different application from usual, you would right-click on a photo on your desktop or in the Finder to select ‘Open with’ then select the app that you wish to use. On Windows, this process is essentially the same, however the Photos app is not present under ‘Open with’; instead, it has its own designated option under ‘Edit with Photos’. See below… it would be easy to miss if your Windows user muscle memory guides you to the ‘Open with’ menu item.

I couldn’t fit it easily in the mark-up but there’s even another separate ‘Edit with Paint 3D’ option! Why not ‘Edit with > Paint 3D, Photos’ etc.?!

In my experience, the extra frustrating thing is that clicking on the ‘Edit with Photos’ option rarely opens the photo the first time. It almost always requires a second click to open. I’m not sure if this bug is specific to me but it remains annoying.

Furthermore, the menu ribbon at the top of the screen is inconsistent with other Windows apps such as Word and Outlook, with saving functions moved to the bottom-right of the screen. Depending on your viewing context or level in the application, a ribbon-like interface will appear. This supports the general argument of why the Mac’s menu bar is so powerful—it’s obvious and permanently on the screen, regardless of where you are in any given app. Windows continues to play peekaboo with various functions.

You’ll notice that the options are ‘Save’ and ‘Save a Copy’. This means that the app doesn’t support the same kind of non-destructive editing that the Mac’s Photos app does. If you save the file, your image edits are applied to the file and you won’t be able to backtrack or undo anything when you reopen it. If you save it as a copy, you will have a (potentially) unnecessary duplicate. Again, this is the problem of not having a default library that handles this for you. You have to manage these things in folders by yourself.

If you’re a Mac user who thinks that Apple’s software is sometimes a little inconsistent these days, just be thankful that you don’t have to deal with this. Microsoft might have added a new sheen in Windows 10, however there is always something old, broken or plain wrong to be found a little under the surface.

Apple and Google Smartphone Branding

Apple is by no means perfect but if there’s one thing that they know more than any other company, it’s effective branding.

Take the following examples of Google and Apple advertising on Oxford Street in Sydney. It was difficult to take the photos from street level but I think that they still illustrate the point that I wish to make.

The above ad for the Google Pixel 3 is something of an oddity, with the handset being presented as an ice-cream. I’m not quite sure of what they’re trying to achieve here. Perhaps by showing the Pixel 3 as half of an ice-cream, it’s a subtle message that the phone is cool in a stylistic or figurative sense. Regardless of the intention, the choice of light pink against an only partially displayed white phone means that you actually pay more attention to the ice-cream half. Given Google’s history of generally selling Nexus and Pixel phones to tech enthusiasts, I would argue that there is an assumption that mainstream users will recognise and understand the Google branding with only the ‘G’ being displayed. I think that this is a mistake.

I could spend a lot of time talking about Apple’s choice to use the letter ‘X’ as the Roman numeral for 10 in its branding, which may or may not be a branding error, however that’s well and truly set in stone now. Most enthusiasts know to say ‘ten’ like in the days of Mac OS X but many others simply pronounce it as the letter.

Focusing on the ad, we see a much more effective design here. Both the iPhone Xs and Xs Max are displayed here and are aligned cleverly not only to make the colour droplet wallpapers match up, but also to show people that there are two sizes from which to choose. In addition, the heavy use of black throughout the image and far-extending wallpapers clearly send the message to passers-by that these are virtually edge-to-edge displays.

These days, Apple obviously has such enormous brand power that it can express meaning and style in the most minimalist of images. Google really seems to be shipping improved hardware these days (particular camera modules) but the company doesn’t have the same background in hardware design and branding as it does in search. It is an advertising company though, so surely that should mean something here.

What does Google want its phones to be and what message does it want to send? Apple expresses this clearly with its use of premium materials and its annual Shot on iPhone campaigns. Other than purely wanting to provide a stock alternative to the Android juggernaut that is Samsung, it’s evident to me that Google hasn’t really come up with a clear reason to communicate why consumers should buy its hardware.

The New York Times: ‘As Facebook Raised a Privacy Wall, It Carved an Opening for Tech Giants’

Facebook is now beyond a joke. Following its enormous Cambridge Analytica scandal (and numerous other major missteps), The New York Times has uncovered yet more privacy breaches by the company. More specifically, Facebook shared users’ personal data with other major business partners and tech firms, all of which were exempted from its normal privacy restrictions.

The publication shares how it discovered all of this:

The New York Times interviewed more than 60 people, including former employees of Facebook and its partners, former government officials and privacy advocates.

The Times also reviewed more than 270 pages of Facebook’s internal documents and performed technical tests and analysis to monitor what information was being passed between Facebook and partner devices and websites.

Some of the companies that are mentioned in this article claim that they were unaware that they were given access to such personal data, whilst those that admit they were aware claim the data was used ‘appropriately’. Regardless, Facebook should never have done this.

I deleted my Facebook account some time ago and my life is much richer for it.

Read the article here. It’s long but stick with it; if you finish it and still think that it’s worth keeping your account, then I’m not sure what it would take to convince you.

Australia’s So-called ‘Assistance and Access’ Act

Very recently, the Australian Government passed what it called the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act. This overly complex and euphemistic title represents a piece of legislation that poses a significant threat to Australian data security and the economy.

Governments around the world insist that encryption hinders their efforts in dealing criminals and terrorist plots, due to the encryption of instant messaging apps. The creation of backdoors in apps and operating systems not only destroys innocent users’ privacy, it also threatens the integrity of systems upon which even government tools are built. Back in August, The Conversation explained:

the bill allows the Director-General of Security or the chief officer of an interception agency to compel a provider to do an unlimited range of acts or things. That could mean anything from removing security measures to deleting messages or collecting extra data. Providers will also be required to conceal any action taken covertly by law enforcement.

There are huge concerns about what this means for the security of businesses and how international companies interact with and work in Australia. One example that popped up in my Twitter feed was a blog post on the issue from Canadian company AgileBits Inc. I’m a huge fan and regular user of its app, 1Password, which provides a secure vault for passwords, logins, card information and various membership details and notes. How is this kept secure? You create a complex master password that protects all of your other information and encryption does the rest.

AgileBits Inc’s blog post dealt with its concerns about doing business with and hiring people from Australia. I doubt that the Australian Government really considered this and how Australia will be able to interact with the app economy in the future. Here’s an excerpt:

We do not, at this point, know whether it will be necessary or useful to place extra monitoring on people working for 1Password who may be subject to Australian laws. Our existing security and privacy design and internal controls may well be sufficient without adding additional controls on our people in Australia. Nor do we yet know to what extent we should consider Australian nationality in hiring decisions. It may be a long time before any such internal policies and practices go into place, if they ever do, but these are discussions we have been forced to have.

The more that I hear about the issue, the clearer it is to me that the Australian Government does not understand the implications of its decisions, despite arguments from major tech companies, app developers and other specialists in the field. We truly live in an era of dismissal (and even hatred) of experts.

Read the full blog post by AgileBits Inc here.

Walkie-Talkie on Apple Watch

I’ve been a fan of Apple Watch since it was first announced back in 2014. With each subsequent model and version of watchOS, there have been numerous new features that have enhanced the experience of wearing a computer on your wrist.

Some of the most notable changes over the past few years have been the addition of native support for third-party apps, cellular connectivity, enhanced health-tracking (e.g. accessibility, ECG and fall-detection) and of course, the overhaul of the user interface, bringing the Dock, Control Centre and more.

What I love the most about the Apple Watch is the fact that it frees me from my phone. I’ve left my phone on silent for years now and appreciate the taps on my wrist whenever important notifications arrive.

Now using the Series 4 with watchOS 5, I have found one of the most profound improvements to be Walkie-Talkie. When Apple announced it as a new feature earlier this year, it was mainly with a sense of humour and fun, as the first use case that was shown was two kids in a backyard at night for a sleepover, joking back and forth with the app between two tents.

Whilst it certainly is fun, I use it as a serious feature almost every day with my wife, Natasha. We still make phone and FaceTime Audio calls with each other and naturally use iMessage, however, there are certain cases when Walkie-Talkie is best. We use it when we need to know each other that we’re leaving work, late, stopping somewhere on the way for groceries, have a quick question to ask or even if we need something across the house (to save ourselves from yelling).

For those who haven’t used Walkie-Talkie, it’s not the same as sending audio files that require manual playback through iMessage. Instead, it sends an audio file that plays live on the other person’s watch, if only with a slight delay. This gives the feeling of a true Walkie-Talkie, as if you’re conversing with the person in-person.

Simply press and hold the big ‘TALK’ button whilst speaking!
Simply press and hold the big ‘TALK’ button whilst speaking!

Naturally, there are contexts where this would be downright inappropriate or wouldn’t make sense, particularly if you keep it on high volume. This is because the other person’s voice springs out spontaneously if you keep your status on ‘available’. Therefore, Walkie-Talkie is most useful when you only permit your most important contacts to become favourites in the app.

Taking a step back, when Apple unveiled the first Apple Watch, it touted the device not only as a tool for activity and health, but one for enhanced personal communication. Whereas wrist-taps, Messages, Scribble and other messaging apps and features have certainly made communication more convenient on Apple Watch, Walkie-Talkie is perhaps the first function to make you feel even more connected and really personal. Remember the favourite contacts list that hid behind a press of the Digital Crown in watchOS 1? It has been gone for some time and Walkie-Talkie feels like the app where your favourites truly belong. Now, five OS updates in, I’m even more excited about Apple Watch and what it means for communication.

iPad Pro as Your Everyday Computer

Some Background

I’ve been a committed Mac user since I was five years old, with my family’s first Power Macintosh 6500 in 1997. From classic Mac OS through to modern-day macOS, Cupertino’s take on the desktop interface has always worked for me.

My mental model of computing is built around the Mac but in recent times, I’ve moved much of my everyday computing to my 10.5-inch iPad Pro. My earliest experiences with iPad (aside from playing around with others’ models from 2010), was when I could afford the third-generation iPad in 2012. I absolutely loved it and certainly appreciated its status as an ‘in-between’ device, as Jobs sold it: more capable than a smartphone but more portable than a laptop.

The Mac is still the hub for my heavier content, such as original iCloud Photo Library files and HD iTunes downloads, however, the iPad now serves as the device that I pick up first to edit photos, create documents, watch online video, complete emails and other creative tasks.

The Home Screen

To frame my thoughts on using iPad Pro, I thought that it would be interesting to run through my first home screen. The apps that make up this space—particularly the dock—determine how you use the device. My home screen is below, followed by a list of apps (with links to those from third parties).

Dock

Three Other Visible (Suggested) Apps in the Dock

The Rest of the Home Screen

The Wallpaper

The ‘Why’

I could go on forever about why I use certain apps and place them on the first home screen but we don’t have all day. I could talk about how useful the Affinity apps are (despite my seriously amateur artistic status) or how great it is to read with Books. Not to mention, Shortcuts is really powerful, but I’ve got nothing on the famous Federico Viticci. Instead, reflecting on my move to spending most of my time on the iPad Pro, I thought it would be better to highlight five of the more interesting third-party apps on iOS that have transformed the way that I think and go about computing.

One of the apps that I use the most on my iPad Pro is Twitterrific. In recent years, Twitter has received more and more criticism for its handling of online abuse, fake news and bots. I don’t see any of this when I use Twitterrific, as it offers powerful muting, muffling and most importantly, no ads. The ability to customise the interface with themes, colours and icon shapes is also fantastic and the app respects the recommended two-column interface that works so well on iPads. Altogether, Twitterrfic turns Twitter into a pleasant online space for me and I use its Twitter list function heavily to follow news and blogs that I don’t want to see in my normal feed. It’s also great to have to the side in split view.

Whilst Twitter is my main link to new and the outside worl), Icro for Micro.blog has radically shifted the way that I think about microblogging and sharing updates online. Icro on the iPad Pro offers a simple interface for posting images and sharing quick thoughts, with what can only be regarded as a very engaged and genuine user base, who are generally over the foolishness and narcissism on Facebook. I’ve met a number of interesting people using on Icro on my iPad Pro, whom I wouldn’t have met elsewhere.

Moving on, Ulysses on iOS has changed the way that I think about writing. In fact, I’m wrote this blog post with it. My idea of documents has always been the traditional model of creating individual files, all of which are accessible from a shared file system like the Finder on macOS. Ulysses focuses on a more stripped-back writing environment, based on Markdown XL, with a dark theme, unobtrusive user interface and grouped projects with ‘sheets’ that replace individual documents. With the ability to set writing goals, tag sheets and post directly to sites, it has enabled me to focus more on my writing and use the iPad Pro with less friction. Most importantly, because of its ease of use and minimalism, I’m more motivated to write.

Staying on the topic of text, Day One is one of those apps that can really enhance your computing experience… if you commit to it. As a journaling app, it offers powerful tagging and media capabilities like Ulysses, along with the ability to create multiple journals for different purposes, such as holidays, for example. I was very inconsistent with my use of Day One in earlier days but with the addition of the Smart Keyboard on iPad Pro, two items that are now always with me, writing a long-term journal is now much less of a chore. Tie that in with split view and drag-and-drop, and you suddenly have an easy way to integrate photos, videos, links and other information that’s relevant to your chronicle of the day.

Last of all, this may be the most unexpected choice: V for Wikipedia. Without a doubt, Wikipedia is one of the most revolutionary tools of the digital age, giving people access to abundant information no matter where they are. That being said, Wikipedia makes a lot of sense on the desktop but hasn’t always been super-nice to use on smartphones and tablets. There’s often a lot of scrolling to be done. V for Wikipedia is one of a number of third-party Wikipedia clients that presents the site in a way that is easier and more digestible on portable devices. This app is undoubtedly the nicest and offers quick chapter navigation, bookmarking, search, beautiful type and an engaging and dynamic front page that shows the most read Wikipedia articles on any given day.

Furthermore, V for Wikipedia shows the most searched items in your area, if you grant it access to your location. The thing that is most significant about this app is the feeling that it gives you as you use it. It transforms the site into a reading experience and makes you want to keep discovering new content. In essence, it takes what is an endless database of web articles and makes it seem like a well-designed and modern Britannica or Encarta. When I use this app, it takes me back to the sense of discovery that I had when I was in primary school, using Encyclopedia Encarta on CD-ROM.

What’s a Computer?

Shifting now, this brings me to the major point argument about computing on iOS. Many say that it needs to compete with a laptop and that it fails in doing so. Of course, there are areas where iOS falls down, such as connection to peripherals such as external drives. To me, this is a redundant argument. When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad back in 2010, he clearly pitched it as an in-between device that combines the best of consumption and production into a portable package. Since then, it has changed to address the feedback and needs of pro(sumer)s who want something more. Given its original design purpose relatively short history in contrast to the Mac, people just need to be patient. The platform will continue to mature.

What is profound about iPad Pro (and iOS more broadly) is how the form factor enables a new type of computing. Stripping away the need for a desk and pointing devices, at least up until now, has given us completely different apps and contexts for computing. The Apple Pencil is the perfect example of a tool that works beautifully with the iPad Pro, but would gel with a Mac.

I will always love the Mac and see no immediate reason to stop using it. It’s powerful, it’s versatile and it’s nostalgic. The difference is that the vast majority of what I need to do on a computer is now addressed by iPad Pro. It has a keyboard when I need it to have one.

All of this is precisely why I avoid saying that the iPad Pro is my main computer. It’s impossible really to define what ‘main’ means for all users, as I check my Apple Watch more than any other device with wrist-turns all the day, overall I spend the most time on my iPhone and I use the Mac as my content storage hub. I choose to say everyday computer instead, as it’s the large-screen device that I use for the majority of my more taxing functions.

iPad Pro is both a computer and not a computer. It is yet another choice in a broad range of devices and I can’t wait to see where Apple takes it in the coming years.

The Problem with Follower Counts

Recode recently published this interesting article: ‘Twitter co-founder Ev Williams says in retrospect that showing how many followers you have wasn’t ‘healthy’’. It covers some intriguing comments that Twitter co-founder Ev Williams made about the effects of showing how many followers each user has. Here’s the key point:

“I think showing follower counts was probably ultimately detrimental,” Williams said at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal. “It really put in your face that the game was popularity.”

To me, Twitter has always obviously been about news and instantaneous communication. Instead, it has become yet another hub for trolls, fake news and harassment. The article goes on to discuss how follower counts, whilst viewed negatively now, were a major driver for Twitter’s early success and publicity.

Overall, the argument reminds me of a fantastic point that was made by creator of Micro.blog, Manton Reece. The site offers a friendly, engaging microblogging platform for people who are completely over the lunacy and bullying that is present on the major social networks. Besides costing a mere $5 per month to have your own hosted blog site, the real attraction is that there are no likes or follower counts. You can see who you follow but not who follows you. Not to mention, the lack of likes means that if you want to engage with someone, you actually have to reply to them. Manton set out his mission with further details here.

I joined because of a recommendation on Accident Tech Podcast by co-host Casey Liss, who was uncertain about his usage of Twitter, which he acknowledged has been instrumental in fuelling online narcissism and an upheaval in global politics. I still use Twitter happily but decided to reassess how I use it and other similar social media sites. I now post almost nothing to Instagram and I have focused my own following list on Twitter to those in whom I really have interest. It also helps in being able actually to read all of the content that you follow, rather than having an endlessly scrolling feed. I now use Micro.blog instead as a hub for quick thoughts, personal experiences and photos (the last of which I once posted to Instagram).

Sure, Micro.blog isn’t perfect and harassment can still exist there, however, the focus on genuine interaction combined with human content curation (no algorithms) and a payment plan means that users are generally much more engaged and also noticeably friendlier.

If you’re sick of the turmoil that’s often caused by follower counts, likes and excessive hashtags, check out Micro.blog. You own your content, so if you dislike it, you can export your posts and simply take them elsewhere.