Jason Snell Talks iMac with Colleen Novielli on ‘Upgrade’

On the latest episode of Relay FM’s Upgrade, co-host Jason Snell opened the podcast by interviewing Apple’s iMac Product Manager, Colleen Novielli. Released just today, the interview lines up with the company’s much-anticipated release of new iMacs.

Jason did a fantastic job interviewing Colleen, balancing enthusiasm, historical reference and more difficult questions, such as the matter of Apple’s ongoing offering of spinning hard disks and Fusion Drives in certain iMac models. Colleen was engaging and her passion for the iMac was evident. Personally, I enjoyed listening to her Mac ‘origin story’, if you want to put it that way. (No one should be made to use a PC at work, but more on that in the episode…)

Being more specific, there are two major points that excited me about the interview.

The first thing is the steadily increasing number of appearances in indie shows by Apple employees. Some other recent examples include the following:

What this tells us is that for all of its secrecy, Apple has now realised the value of speaking more directly with its engaged fanbase. Where do many of these enthusiasts congregate? They’re listening to podcasts. Giving Apple employees (of various levels) the opportunity to share their experiences and shared product vision is very important; it introduces a diverse set of new faces who can humanise the company and reassure users that they’re being heard. Along with the provision of new analytical tools for podcasts and the promotion of recording at events like WWDC, I hope that this means we will see even more effort from Apple in communicating with its users.

The second point that excited me was the evidence of a continued interest in desktop computing from Apple. These days, people are understandably much more focused on platforms like iOS and watchOS, however the core of Apple’s identity and history has long been macOS. On a more technical level, at this point in time there is still no way to develop iOS and watchOS apps without Xcode on the Mac. The most engaged users are creative professionals, developers and desktop publishers who turn to Mac for the very best in desktop power and design. There are more creativity and productivity apps than ever for iPad and iPad Pro, but there’s still more to be done in that space.

On a personal level, I love my iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad and Apple TV… but I was raised on the Mac. At the age of five, my appreciation for computing was formed by the classic Mac OS on my family’s Power Macintosh. I absolutely loved it.

Moving into the Mac OS X era, my family bought the first Intel-based iMac in 2006. I had used iMac G3s and G4s before, however this reimagining of the iMac’s all-in-one design was simply breathtaking. The idea of having the entire display built behind an LCD panel was magical at the time. Let’s not forget that this basic form factor lives on in the current models. (As a point of fun, this design first appeared in the G5 version of the computer, which aired in this hilarious intro video with The Black Eyed Peas.)

As Jason and Colleen discussed in the episode, the iMac has gone from being the digital hub or our lives to one part of a broader ecosystem. In my mind, this does not diminish the iMac’s place in Apple’s line-up… it focuses it. Desktop Macs, whether the Mac mini, iMac, iMac Pro or yet-to-be-unveiled Mac Pro now have the licence to be the more powerful, niche devices that they need to be in 2019 and beyond.

Whilst the world looks to new computing platforms that are based on input methods like touch and augmented reality, the indirect GUI with a mouse and keyboard still has its place and there are so many exciting things yet to come. Mojave gave us a glimpse of this last year with the internally named project ‘Marzipan’, which is rumoured to be revealed fully this year. The idea of tying together iOS and macOS into a simpler, more consistent environment for developers is an exciting one and if executed properly, will breathe new life into Apple’s desktop machines.

We have never lived in a more exciting time as Apple product users. I can’t wait to see what’s ahead for the company’s platforms at WWDC 2019.

Daily Rumination No. 13: Key Leadership ‘Learnings’ of Collaborative Synergy and Digital Disruption #AI #blockchain

All social media have their advantages and disadvantages. Facebook and Instagram are great ways to keep up with people in your life… but they also decimate your online privacy. Twitter offers an efficient feed for following the latest news and trends… but has a habit of encouraging right-wing, extremist garbage. YouTube hosts the world’s most extensive video library… but has algorithmically enabled online child predators through its comment system.

I could go on and on, however I wish to discuss a less controversial network in more detail: LinkedIn. Like the aforementioned others, it has its advantages. The network provides powerful tools for job-seekers to apply for roles that suit their skills. It also enables recruiters to reach larger numbers of candidates in a more personal way. I use the network each day in my role and it is genuinely useful for sharing stories and promoting jobs.

With these advantages, however, comes a gigantic heap of daily annoyance. I’m not just talking about advertisements; I’m talking about a seemingly infinite stream of empty, meaningless content from puffed-up, narcissistic business types who all dream of being the next Steve Jobs. I have a newsflash for these people: Steve Jobs did not become Steve Jobs by desperately tracking clicks on LinkedIn… he did it by actually working.

For some time, this content has come in the form of ‘broetry’. ‘Broems’ are LinkedIn posts that usually contain some sort of inspiring story about growth, recruitment or career success by some enlightened corporate professional, however they’re typed line by line with large gaps, forcing you to expand and commit to the post. You can learn more about them here.

Nowadays, I see many more posts in the form of cheesy leadership and quotation memes, which act as cover images for clickbait articles. Some quotes are attributed and others just look like a rush job for the sake of having an attention-grabbing image the feed. Of course, many of them are accompanied by excessive hashtags to hit keywords and attract attention. In the case of really long hashtags without title case, this leads to accessibility issues.

In my spare time, I have collected a range of screenshots of such content in my LinkedIn feed. I actively dislike or report all of them and yet they still appear. Here are some examples, with the profile names of each LinkedIn user omitted.

Funnily enough, this image and its linked article had very little to say.

There’s nothing like boosting someone’s self-esteem with financial terms.

Of course, Steve Jobs had to make an appearance. It’s kind of this user to have highlighted the important bit, however, I’m sure that Steve would have been most displeased with the use of the Windows typeface Calibri.

Richard Branson’s a very popular subject and this is the meme that I see the most frequently.

Here’s another one… nothing like a truism!

Sometimes he looks like Jesus but essentially tells you to lie to others for your own gain.

I’m not sure what Jon Stewart has to do with business networking but #hashtag and #morehashtags.

Inevitably, we start to see memes about what the difference between a manager and a leader is. #inspiring

Now this is a beautiful message but let’s be honest that titles, positions and flowcharts are all that really interest these people.

Apparently, bosses are completely incapable of forming the lip movements to utter plural first-person pronouns.

This is just common sense; otherwise your restrooms will never be cleaned.

It doesn’t matter how kind you are—apparently the cost of raising a child in Australia (until the age of 17) is $297,600, so this user should check their figures.

What about the ones that say ‘pull’?

Sandra survived The Net and Speed, so she knows what she’s talking about.

I implore anyone who posts such images to stop. LinkedIn can be a genuinely interesting place and powerful tool when it’s used properly. This just turns it into an office-obsessed Facebook.

For those who don’t do this, you can help too. Don’t click on them, don’t like them and certainly don’t comment on them. That’s what they want you to do.

Daily Rumination No. 11: iPhone Feng Shui

Nerds seem to be in a permanent state of restlessness when it comes to iPhone home screens and I’m no exception. As the most personal device that we own (besides Apple Watch, of course), the iPhone is a kind of expression for our identities.

How do you organise your screen? Should icons be arranged alphabetically, by colour or by category?

How do you feel about custom icons for third-party apps?

What is your attitude to folders?

Should you use the stock Podcasts app or a third-party one?

Wallpaper or no wallpaper?

Full grid or spaces left over?

Do you shun icons with white backgrounds or borders?

You could go on forever with such questions. The only thing that’s for certain is that the arrangement will change again, in favour of different styles or new apps. I’m forever tweaking and moving things based on what I think looks the best, is most accessible for my thumb or in whatever way I think will influence healthy smartphone usage. Remove social media apps to abstain or leave them to challenge my will power?

I can seriously go back through my iCloud Photo Library and see old screenshots of how my iPhone’s home screen once looked. It’s amusing to see what was important at the time, how the icons have changed and how our screen resolutions have exploded.

So, for the purposes of history and my own personal amusement when I end up changing everything again next week, here is my current home screen…

I’ve opted for no wallpaper, as I like the way that the original iPhone look makes the icons pop. Also, whilst I once questioned the use of websites added as icons to the springboard, it is quite nice to jump straight into a preferred blog or news service without having to browse another menu or set of bookmarks.

Let’s see how long mine lasts this way…

Now ask yourself: if you’re not constantly rearranging your home screen for optimum usability and virtual attractiveness, are you really living?

Daily Rumination No. 10: Teeming with Issues

In many ways, it’s easier to work now than ever before, particularly if you’re out of the office. We’re spoilt with increasingly diverse and customisable devices and powerful, digital communication channels such as iMessage, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, Slack and so on.

The same way that email and other apps were supposed to lead to the utopian paperless office (yeah, not sure about that), these new channels were supposed to replace email. That hasn’t really happened either, at least not yet.

At work, I use Microsoft 365 with my colleagues to ensure that all of our shared files and conversations are kept in sync. Although I’ve always been a Mac zealot, I’ve generally been impressed with the way that Microsoft has tied together Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Skype into a comprehensive online suite that works on a range of platforms. You can open things just about anywhere.

The really useful element, however, is Microsoft Teams. As a kind of front-end for SharePoint, this desktop and mobile app offers a space for team collaboration and discussion, one-on-one and group chats and also file browsing and editing. It really is a compelling replacement for email in an internal setting, as you can send links in chats to various documents and leave comments within the file system, rather than sending multiple versions back and forth as attachments.

Still, Microsoft lacks taste and common sense in its design when it comes to the file system interface. I hear numerous Apple-focused podcasters complain about the Files app on iOS but really, that feels like a considered piece of art when contrasted with Teams.

Here’s a screenshot of a file list in Teams…

Other than a column that shows the names of the creators, which I have cropped out, this is what you get in the app when you want to browse files. There is no image-preview function like Quick Look in macOS, there is no way to change the list view to an icon or thumbnail and rather than display thumbnails next to each file, you are presented with a useless, generic icon that reminds you that they’re pictures. Thanks, scoop.

In addition, if you click or tap on a file in the list, it fills the screen with the image but does not support arrow-key or swipe input to flick between files. The process is simply to open then exit, open then exit.

There isn’t even multiple-window support on the desktop! You can’t open chat, teams or file views as separate spaces to work on more than one of these interfaces at once. If this is supposed to be the way that you collaborate with your team on a daily basis, they’ve made it as narrow as possible, so that multitasking is almost unfeasible.

Arguably, whilst Teams is the same for macOS, using this file system is arguably much better on a Mac, away from the app. Whilst the saving and synchronising of files is unreliable when integrated in the Windows Explorer, it’s super-easy to include it in the Mac’s Finder. Once added, almost like you would with iCloud Drive or Dropbox, the SharePoint folder can even be added as a folder or stack to the dock, connecting to the system and opening all files in their relevant apps, with autosaving on by default.

I find it utterly baffling that Microsoft continues to offer a better experience on platforms like iOS and macOS than it does on Windows. I’m not sure of the exact cause, however, I believe that macOS as a system is simply more reliable and facilitates a smoother, more integrated experience for third parties as well.

The Paris Review: ‘Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction’

Whilst scrolling through Twitterrific on my iPhone recently, I stumbled upon the article Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction by Mairead Small Staid. The article is fantastic.

Based on Sven Birkerts’ work The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, the article details the ways in which long- and short-form writing (i.e. print vs. digital) not only affect the way that we read but also how we understand ourselves and the passing of time. As a person who works in digital communications, I certainly feel the inner conflict of having to engage with lots of short-form content but often wishing to sit down with a longer text like a book.

One part of Staid’s article particularly resonated with me:

I was born in 1988, two years before the development of HTML. I didn’t have a computer at home until middle school, didn’t have a cell phone until I was eighteen. I remember the pained beeping of a dial-up connection, if only faintly. Facebook launched as I finished up high school, and Twitter as I entered college. The golden hours of my childhood aligned perfectly with the fading light of a pre-internet world; I know intimately that such a world existed, and had its advantages.

Whilst I am a few years younger than Staid, I feel like my childhood also fell into a kind of in-between period. I was born in 1992 and my first computer was my family’s Power Macintosh, so I was born and raised in a time when the Internet was certainly present. I also remember the agony of waiting for webpages to load, with the dial-up modem blinking frantically in the corner.

There was no computer in my pocket or on my wrist; the only computer to which I had regular access was on a desk in the study. This highly specific physical context for computer use afforded time for me to explore other things and most importantly, read books.

Last year, I deleted my Facebook account, shut down other profiles, reduced the number of people whom I follow on Twitter and committed to writing and reading longer texts more often. This includes reading books and making an effort to maintain my Daily Ruminations here on Lounge Ruminator. They’re not super-long but they are certainly wordier than normal social media posts.

When I look at my own use of devices, I feel motivated to limit it because I remember a time when reading a computer was kind of like reading a book—you had to go to a different room and set the time aside from others.

If we want to declutter our digital lives and pick up a book, we need to do this consciously. Screen Time in iOS 12 is a great tool for this and if used properly, it can inform you about how you’re using apps and services and whether you need to cut back.

I love my iPhone and Apple Watch but I have significantly reduced the number of app notifications that I can receive. This has made a difference and I plan to continue improving my digital habits.

Daily Rumination No. 3: Many Thanks

These days in Australia, when café owners and waitstaff approach you at your table with your coffee order, they often say ‘thank you’ before they’ve even set them down or you’ve had the chance to thank them for the beverages. Shouldn’t the patron be saying ‘thank you’ in this moment, or is this a confirmation of the staff’s gratefulness for the patron’s decision to order from the establishment? This is after the five instances of thanking during the transaction at the counter, passing money and receipts back and forth.

It feels like we’re still in some sort of post-colonial, über-British vortex of meaningless courtesy. Let’s all say ‘thanks’ once and move on.