Rumination No. 43: Why I Still Use Twitter

Over the past few years, alongside the controversy that has plagued Facebook, Twitter has also received its fair share of criticism. From enabling cyber-bullying to being Donald Trump’s global megaphone of choice, it is often regarded as a toxic hell-stew or ‘dumpster fire’, as numerous American tech podcasters like to say.

Other than the major issues of online abuse, fake news and propaganda, Twitter has also taken away functionality from some of the third-party clients that made the service popular on mobile in the first place. Notable examples include Twitterrific and Tweetbot.

I constantly review my own use social media platforms nowadays, given how distracting they can be. Whilst at university, I reached my social-media-usage zenith with 25 accounts on different services. This was largely due to the encouragement to experiment with various services during my communications degree. I certainly didn’t use all of them constantly and some of them did shut down over time. Others I deleted due to privacy concerns or because they were useless.

My ultimate social-media-usage review occurred last year when I finally deleted my Facebook and Instagram profiles, shifting my personal social media presence to Micro.blog with my site Feld Notes. In addition, Lounge Ruminator solves the problem of having a place to write longer-form content. These two sites are all that I really need.

Still, my Twitter account lives on and I continue to use it. If I have the two most (personally) meaningful spaces possible to record my thoughts and communicate with others, why do I still engage with the platform?

There are two simple answers to this question.

The first is that despite all of Twitter’s issues, the site is still the best place to connect with world news and issues, beyond your immediate circle of friends. Twitter is a space that is almost entirely unrestricted, which is simultaneously its greatest strength and greatest weakness. I prefer Micro.blog as a platform because it is much cleaner in its presentation, it leads to more genuine conversation and you have more control of your content. Twitter, however, continues to be the place where you ‘See what’s happening in the world right now’. Whether it’s fellow tech enthusiasts or some important contacts or friends, they tend to be on Twitter.

The second reason, which is really the more powerful one for me, is that I can still use Twitterrific as my preferred client. Whilst it now has zero access to the polling features or instant push notifications that are reserved for the official app, it still offers an ad-free experience, a customisable interface and a chronological timeline. These are much more enticing features to me.

There is also a level of of fit and finish in Twitterrific that just isn’t present in the official Twitter app. I can choose my own custom icon, I can move buttons, I can change typefaces and I can even choose different colour themes. The Iconfactory, which makes Twitterrific, is so dedicated to the design of its apps that it even hides whimsical elements in parts of the interface. One of the best examples that I can give you is what happens when you click on Ollie the bird’s face in the ‘About Box’ of the Mac version. (I have further thoughts on ‘About Boxes’ if you’re interested.)

Sure, this is useless but it makes using Twitter fun in a way that the company has sadly been unable to do by itself. This kind of whimsy is also a hallmark of great Mac apps. (Not to mention, Twitter pulled its Mac app and is only set to return now that Project Catalyst has made it easier for the company to do so… lazy).

Last year, I almost deleted my Twitter account when I made the big shift to Micro.blog, inspired by Casey Liss’s mini-speech about the platform on Accidental Tech Podcast. I decided to stay because of The Iconfactory and the features that it continues to add to its already fantastic cross-platform app.

If Twitter continues to strip APIs and features from third-party developers, then reason number one may not be enough of a justification for me to stay.

The Conversation: With cryptocurrency launch, Facebook sets its path toward becoming an independent nation

Writing at The Conversation, author Jennifer Grygiel of Syracuse University contributed this fantastic article about Facebook’s announcement of its new cryptocurrency, Libra.

This is a particularly powerful section:

Facebook’s entrance into the financial industry is a threat to democracies and their citizens around the world, on the same scale as disinformation and information warfare, which also depend on social media for their effectiveness.

It may be hard for world leaders to understand that this is an emergency, as they cannot see the virtual powers aligning against them. But they must huddle quickly to ensure they have – and keep – the power to protect their people from technology companies’ greed.

Grygiel goes on to describe how Zuckerberg is essentially building something similar to the Roman Empire, with a central bank, currency and himself as the corporate dictator.

Ever since reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, I wondered what would come after the nation state. As our world becomes increasingly globalised, do we really face a future of megastates? It seems like we do, however we haven’t really considered the possibility that such nations won’t be national in the traditional sense. What if this dystopian future of surveillance—which is already upon us in many ways—actually gives birth to a new type of nation: the ‘corpornation’? Indeed, will we start to see ‘corpornational’ wars between Facebook and the likes of Google, Amazon and WeChat in the future?

This may sound ridiculous but people around the world are increasingly losing their belief in traditional institutions and political systems. The leaders of the future may be corporate rather than parliamentary.

My advice is simple: delete your Facebook account. Be a part of the open Web instead.

Rumination No. 42: Handmaid’s Tale Fashion

One trend that I’ve noticed increasingly—with a minor level of concern—is the sale of outfits that match the colour scheme of The Handmaid’s Tale. If you haven’t seen it before, stop reading this and start watching it. In the programme, handmaids are forced to wear bright, red cloaks that symbolise their fertility and wives (their infertile female superiors) wear a distinctive shade of blue-green.

This trend exploded during last year’s second season but this time around, it’s back in full force. Interestingly, the colours are now being presented next to each other and even together on racks! I can’t quite see how this could be a coincidence. Check out the example from Coles’s ‘Mix’ section below.

No colour or particular combination of colours must be avoided necessarily, however I feel that it’s in somewhat poor taste for supermarkets and fashion retailers to offer women’s fashion that is inspired by a fictitious, totalitarian Christian-fundamentalist state that robs women of choice and freedom.

Couple this with the recent controversy of Kylie Jenner’s recent Handmaid’s Tale-themed party and you have to wonder: do people appreciate their privilege or are they really just blind consumers, hungry for their next like on Instagram?

Rumination No. 41: Someone Else Will Take Care of It

Look up the word ‘courtesy’ in the Oxford English dictionary and you’ll find the following definition:

The showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behaviour towards others.

Sadly, when it comes to customers, many seem to have almost no concept of courtesy. I saw a horrid example of this recently at an outdoor café setting on Alfred Street in Sydney, as a family left this table behind, covered in takeaway materials.

There is a clear difference between dining in and having takeaway. (I wrote about this in one of my other recent ruminations.) Quite simply, if your drinking vessel, cutlery and other items are not disposable, it’s safe to assume that you can leave everything there and it will be cleared by a staff member. If your items are disposable or recyclable, then you should show the common courtesy of tidying up after yourself.

The nincompoops who got up from this table and left had no intention of cleaning up. When I noticed this, I turned to them and said directly, ‘There are plenty of bins around. Are you going to clean all of that up?’. No joke, I was met with a blank expression—zero response—and they just walked away. We were surrounded by bins and there was no excuse to leave this behind.

There is a risk that my public commentary will one day see me landed in hospital; I often call out tossers and people who don’t wear helmets when riding bikes. I encourage you to do the same, when it is safe and appropriate.

At the risk of sounding downright socialist, this form of café littering is pure evidence of the flawed capitalist idea that the customer is always right. Guess what: they’re not.

Rumination No. 40: Flat White Physics

Some time ago, on the popular ABC TV programme Gruen, the panel analysed the coffee industry and how its advertising has become more dramatic and ridiculous.

One aspect of coffee advertising that they covered is the dramatic nature of the crema. With each passing year, drops of coffee seem to become bigger and more pronounced as they collide with the crema.

After another recent trip to Aldi, I think that it’s now safe to say that coffee is defying the very laws of physics on coffee-machine packaging too.

Continuing Gruen’s work, I thought that we should have a quick look at it.

What on Earth is happening here? Rather than coffee falling into the glass, it’s now being sucked up into the air, perhaps by a passing UFO.

In this case, the perspective is all weird and the glass seems to be on a totally different angle from the neighbouring (and curiously undersized) milk frother. Not to mention, how is the milk being poured so aggressively at that odd angle without spilling, particularly when the vessel is almost full?

Has your coffee ever accomplished such acrobatic feats? Watch your barista the next time that you buy one and see what happens. Don’t be seduced by this deceptive imagery.

Riceboy Sleeps Live in Sydney

Last night, along with my sister, I had the privilege of seeing Jónsi and Alex Somers perform their ambient album Riceboy Sleeps for the first time at the Sydney Opera House. The album was released in 2009 and the performance was part of a tenth-anniversary celebration tour, which coincided with Vivid Sydney.

For the live performance, Jónsi and Alex were accompanied onstage by a 21-piece orchestra, a 12-member choir and conductor Robert Ames in the Concert Hall.

To be clear, I never thought that I would have the opportunity to hear this music live. Both musicians have various other musical projects and so much time had passed since its release.

They certainly did not disappoint. Aside from a brief, quiet introduction to the show and a minor break after the opening segment—their All Animals EP—the entire instrumental album was played from start to finish with no spoken interruption.

The orchestral arrangement was absolutely beautiful, with Jónsi and Alex contributing electric and bass guitar (and the signature cello bow) for particular pieces. The percussionist was particularly fascinating to watch, as he stood at the side of the stage and swapped between xylophone, bubble wrap, wobbleboard and a bag of metal items to add extra motifs and character to the music. I had always wondered what had been used to create certain unusual sounds on the album.

There’s no real way to explain this music live other than to say that it seems like music that almost barely exists. Whilst similar to the post-rock catalogue of Sigur Rós, Jónsi and Alex have put together a live show that is somehow both ethereal and deeply resonating. Low strings and bass lines drive the emotion and fill the room, whilst higher-pitched, ephemeral elements twinkle and flicker, almost like a candle that’s about to go out.

One of the highlights, in my opinion, was the song Indian Summer, which opened with piano by Jónsi and escalated gradually into a full orchestral piece with his signature falsetto—an altogether awesome sound.

At the conclusion of the show, Jónsi, Alex and the accompanying musicians received a well-deserved standing ovation. It was one of the most astoundingly beautiful performances that I have ever seen.

As we exited the building, suddenly surrounded by the noise and spectators of Vivid, I couldn’t help but think about how time and space had melted in the theatre. They really transported us to another place.

Challenging Three Apple Myths

Image source: Apple (2019)
Image source: Apple (2019)

People love stories. Most of all, people love myths: stories that boil things down to their simplest form, regardless of their basis in actual fact. There’s good and evil, right and wrong, winner and loser. Myths often persist despite strong evidence to the contrary.

For many years now, I would argue that three myths about Apple have taken hold, all deployed against the company by the tech press for clicks. Apple is by no means a perfect company but unfortunately, many of its fans have come to accept these myths and the short-term thinking that underlies them. In some cases, we even start to see a kind of factional fandom, where Mac users persecute iPad users for their preference and vice versa.

At last week’s WWDC 2019, I believe that we witnessed a momentous turning point in Apple’s history: a single moment in corporate communications that challenged the greatest myths about the company. In the following sections, I wish to address each of these myths and how they have been dispelled in the Tim Cook era.

Myth No. 1: Apple Can’t Do Services Well

Ask anyone what Apple does best and they’re likely to answer with hardware. For years, Apple has been famous for its attention to detail: whether the diamond-chamfered edges of iPhone 5S; the fluid, intuitive design of iPod’s click wheel; or the use of curvature continuity in the design of various products, such as Apple TV and Mac mini.

Of course, software has always been the second thing to come to mind, whether it be macOS, iOS or apps such as iPhoto and iMovie HD, which helped to usher in the digital hub of the early 2000s.

Despite the crucial role that services have had in Apple’s playbook for years, they have never been fully understood. Consider the iTunes Store, App Store, iCloud and iMessage: these are massive Internet undertakings that have come to form the basis of an unfathomably huge global ecosystem of products and ecommerce.

To my mind, the argument that Apple can’t do services well was cemented in people’s minds by the failure of iCloud’s predecessor, MobileMe. Plagued by synchronisation flaws for mail, contacts and calendars, anti-fans and devoted fans alike felt that this was evidence for Apple’s services myth. No matter how hard the company tried, it just couldn’t weave its hardware magic on Internet services.

With the App Store and iCloud, Apple really began to dispel this myth, tying together millions (then billions) of mobile devices.

More recently, in March this year, Apple also held its first ever services-focused event. This was a big move that showed Apple’s willingness not only to appeal to different (less techy) audiences, but also the company’s courage to communicate beyond its bread and butter of hardware and software. I wrote about this event at the time and you can read more about it here.

At WWDC 2019, I believe that Apple finally proved that it can do services well and communicate about them effectively. The WWDC keynote is arguably the hardest communications piece that Apple has in any given year, as it must not only address a room of thousands of third-party developers, but also millions of customers through the live stream, all of whom have varying interests, experience and understanding of the company.

With Tim Cook’s opening piece about services and the segue into tvOS, Apple showed that it understands the equal part that services now play in its offerings. Hardware is what made Apple famous, software is what keeps the die-hard fans in the ecosystem and services are the new glue that attracts and keeps new users in its fold.

iCloud, the App Store and Apple ID showed that Apple could create successful services. The March event showed that they could announce more. The WWDC 2019 keynote showed that they could plan new Music, Podcasts and TV apps to make them a tangible reality on their oldest platform. With services now on billions of devices around the world, Apple has proven itself as a services company.

MobileMe was over 10 years ago and Apple and its followers should now consider the services myth dead.

Myth No. 2: Apple Is Doomed without Steve Jobs

This is perhaps the most quoted myth and with good reason—Jobs left once before and Apple almost collapsed. With his return in 1997, the world witnessed arguably the most unbelievable comeback story in the history of business. Apple was the underdog but by thinking different, it rose to become the ultimate tech giant. Again, people love stories and this is a simple one to follow.

Jobs died in October 2011 and despite considerable evidence to the contrary, users, anti-fans and the business and tech press believed only one thing: Apple was doomed without him. Cook had covered Jobs during his medical leave before and not long after taking over, clearly expressed his intention to take Apple further and address major issues such as privacy and the environment. There was Apple University too, a training programme intended to carry on Jobs’s values, yet many still didn’t believe that the company could be as successful under Cook.

Even with Apple University, Jobs reportedly told Apple’s senior management that in his future absence, he did not wish for the company to be paralysed by the thought of, ‘What would Steve do?’. In the years since his death, we have seen (in random order):

  • the release of Swift;
  • the biggest corporate push into augmented reality;
  • the most vocal corporate promotion of user privacy;
  • soaring iPhone profits;
  • the reboot of iPad sales growth;
  • the introduction of an entirely new platform in the form of Apple Watch, which is now the world’s most popular watch;
  • an answer to Spotify with Apple Music and the reintroduction of the white earbuds (AirPods) as a global auditory status symbol;
  • the creation of one of the world’s most popular (yet arguably hidden) social networks in the form of iMessage; and
  • Apple’s achievement as the world’s first trillion-dollar company.

WWDC 2019 showed us that Apple continues to think differently without Steve. With the introduction of the new Mac Pro during the opening keynote, for example, Apple displayed two important things: its ability to apologise and ability to change its mind.

Back at the Mac round table in 2017, Apple explained the failure of its 2013 ‘trash can’ Mac Pro, apologised to its pro customers and committed to making a computer that, until that point, had been all but replaced with the all-in-one iMac Pro. Jobs was (in)famous for changing his mind—think iPod Video—and with the new Mac Pro, Apple also changed its entire pro strategy after listening to customers. Despite many saying that Apple had no interest in ever returning to the pro market, it has made a truly modular computer with upgradeable parts and brilliant display that even the most optimistic fans did not think was possible.

Furthermore, on the privacy angle, at WWDC 2019 Apple announced ‘Sign in with Apple’ and a new, offline location feature under the ‘Find My’ app and service. In a global Internet industry where tech giants have profited from the harvesting, sharing and exploitation of user data, Apple has shown that it’s determined to do the opposite. The iPhone might have been its cash cow for some time but with its diversification of products and services, Apple is finding ways to grow its cash pile whilst respecting the data of its customers.

For the last eight years since Jobs’s passing, despite missteps such as Apple Maps, the earlier de-emphasis of the Mac and everyone’s favourite (cough) laptop keyboard, the company has shown that it is willing to listen to customers and is not doomed without him.

Myth No. 3: Apple Can’t Walk and Chew Gum at the Same Time

During Macworld 2000, as part of the introduction of Mac OS X, Steve Jobs outlined Apple’s intention to implement a ‘single-OS strategy’. You can see it in the video below, with his mention of the strategy 30 seconds into the presentation.

This was a pivotal moment in Apple’s history. Mac OS X was described as a system that would take Apple through the next 20 years. Leaving behind years of wasted time and efforts across a confusing product line, Jobs’s strategy was to offer appealing products in a simplified Four Quadrant product grid, with OS X at the core of the digital hub experience.

This served the company well but over the years, the myth took hold that Apple was incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. Apple could never scale its obsessive hardware and software design to the masses without compromise and it certainly couldn’t juggle multiple platforms. Any additional platforms, product or strategies would take the company astray and repeat the disaster of the 1990s.

At WWDC 2019, we saw the final proof that this myth is utterly incorrect. At breakneck speed, Apple made numerous major announcements across all of its platforms, including macOS, iOS, tvOS, watchOS, audioOS (as part of iOS) and even the entirely new and rebranded iPadOS. This doesn’t even get into the amazing work that was done with SwiftUI.

With iPadOS and Project Catalyst particularly—Apple’s effort to bring iPad software to the Mac and vice versa—Apple has shown that it is willing to redefine its own idea of computing on tablets and the Mac and throw out the single-OS strategy. This strategy, whilst useful at the time of Jobs’s return, is now outdated. Instead, we see a world of varying devices, all designed with different form factors, users and contexts in mind. Although it has had great success in its cloud services for the enterprise, Microsoft has inherited the single-OS strategy, attempting to shoehorn the same operating system into devices of varying sizes, without the elegant size-classes or appropriately shaped buttons for each case. This is a consequence of having missed the mobile revolution.

In the place of the single-OS strategy, which was once necessary for survival, Apple has opted for a multiple-platform strategy, all unified by the same code base. By giving developers easier, faster tools and a more consistent development experience for each OS, Apple can now build an even more compelling ecosystem for its varied global user base.

Returning to the point of long-term thinking in the second section, all of these OS efforts have taken an extraordinary amount of time to develop. Moreover, they rely on Swift, one of Apple’s most groundbreaking recent announcements, even to be possible.

Long described as a big company with start-up-style thinking and business practices, Apple has brought together a multitude of working parts over years of development to usher in what is essentially the post-NeXT era. Indeed, Mac OS X has served Apple for around 20 years as Jobs predicted, even as the basis for development on iOS, the company’s most successful platform. We are now moving into a time when Catalyst and SwiftUI will radically transform the way that we think about and use our devices, as well as the experiences that Apple can offer.

The fact that Apple was able to coordinate teams across hardware, software and services to announce simultaneously all of these developments at the WWDC 2019 keynote is simply astounding. Consider the third and final myth officially busted.

One More Thing…

WWDC 2019 instilled more confidence in the Apple developer community perhaps more than any conference before it. Finally, Apple’s years of fruitful labour have been put on show. There’s so much to look forward to as developers tinker with Apple’s newest tools.

As we quickly approach a new decade and inevitably look back at Apple’s explosive change and success in the 2010s, I have no doubt that a new, unexpected myth will begin to spread:

Apple is doomed without Tim Cook.