Kindle Paperwhite First Impressions

I know I’m extremely late to the Kindle party, but I finally made it.

On Prime Day last week, I saw that Amazon was selling the Paperwhite for $80 and decided I would grab one. I’ve had it for about a week now, but haven’t had much time with it due to other things going on at home recently. I took it with me on BART yesterday on a trip across the bay to visit family, and so far I am very impressed by the device. It’s pretty great.

The book I’m reading is John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood, which chronicles the rise and fall of Theranos and its founder, Elizabeth Holmes. I’d seen nothing but rave reviews for the book, so I figured it would be a good first book. As I write this, I’m three chapters in and loving it so far.

Here are some assorted thoughts on the Paperwhite thus far.

Size & Weight. The Paperwhite is much smaller and lighter than I expected, but I like it. It’s easy to hold and throw into my backpack. I got the black model, which is nice looking and well made, but the bezels make it look old. I have no insight into Amazon’s industrial design process, but I would love a Paperwhite with no bezels at all, kind of like how Apple got rid of the “forehead and chin” of the iPhone X.

The E-ink Display. The Paperwhite’s screen is great—text is sharp and easy to see at maximum brightness. As someone with low vision, I was curious to see how my eyes would acclimate to a different screen technology. In my brief time with my Paperwhite, I’ve had no issues with glare or eye fatigue.

The User Interface. I’ve found the Paperwhite’s touchscreen to be surprisingly responsive; I haven’t noticed any significant lag when tapping. The controls are thoughtfully laid out too. I like Amazon’s font choices and the slider for adjusting screen brightness and text size. As for page-turning, I don’t mind tapping the screen to go back and forth. I like the feeling of touching the screen and it does something; it’s natural.

Accessibility. Amazon has a slew of accessibility features for its products, including a screen reader, magnifier, text options, and more. For the Paperwhite, their VoiceView screen reader is supported, as are text options like font size and line spacing. If I discover more functionality, I will report back.

Overall, I’m enjoying the Paperwhite very much. I now see why Kindles are so popular. The Paperwhite is, in Alton Brown parlance, a unitasker—but the one thing it does, it excels at. There is a serenity about the device that is appealing; I don’t feel distracted or tempted to reach for my iPhone. I can focus on the reading experience in a way that’s more difficult on my iPad. Different devices for different things, but still. I’m happy I decided to finally take the plunge into Kindleland.

‘How the iPhone and App Store Have Redefined Accessible Software’

My friends and colleagues at MacStories have been running a week-long event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the opening of the App Store. I was honored to be asked to contribute a story for it, and my piece ran on Wednesday. The Cliff’s Notes version: The App Store has quite literally given the disabled community access to the world.

Apple Merges Machine Learning, Siri Teams

Matthew Panzarino, reporting for TechCrunch:

Apple is creating a new AI/ML team that brings together its Core ML and Siri teams under one leader in John Giannandrea.

Apple confirmed this morning that the combined Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning team, which houses Siri, will be led by the recent hire, who came to Apple this year after an eight-year stint at Google, where he led the Machine Intelligence, Research and Search teams. Before that he founded Metaweb Technologies and Tellme.

The internal structures of the Siri and Core ML teams will remain the same, but they will now answer to Giannandrea. Apple’s internal structure means that the teams will likely remain integrated across the org as they’re wedded to various projects, including developer tools, mapping, Core OS and more. ML is everywhere, basically.

As Panzarino notes, this move makes a ton of sense for many reasons.

‘The Science of Saving the Declaration of Independence’

Joe Pappalardo, writing for Popular Mechanics:

The official declaration of America’s independence from Britain may be dated July 4, 1776, but the story of the Thomas Jefferson's hallowed document really begins two weeks later. On July 19, the Continental Congress ordered a scribe, Pennsylvania State House clerk Timothy Matlack, to write the words on a piece of parchment big enough for everyone to read—and with room for signatures.

Since then, the Declaration of Independence has had a fairly rough time. A forensic analysis of the document shows some rough handling, damaging displays, and even a mysterious handprint. Understanding why it looks the way that it does — much more faded and battered than the U.S. Constitution or The Bill of Rights — is a romp through the history of printing, preservation, and patriotism.

This was a fascinating read; it’s astounding how old documents like this survive.

(via The Loop)

'The Democratization of Communication'

AssistiveWare founder and CEO David Niemeijer wrote a terrific piece on Medium on how the App Store has revolutionized access for AAC devices. He writes, in part:

We saw an opportunity to democratize access to AAC. Our aim was to deliver AAC on a consumer device at a price within reach of those who did not have access to funding. In April 2009, we released Proloquo2Go, the first full-featured symbol-based AAC app on iOS. Combined with an iPod touch and a speaker case, total cost was below US$ 500.

We were a small company based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. We did not have a network of sales reps or a department to help with funding requests. The App Store provided us with access to a worldwide market. Within a year, we reached 40 countries and sold over 4,000 licenses, of which the vast majority were in the US.

This article ties in perfectly with yesterday's press release from Apple.

The Absurdity of Eating Competitions As 'Sport'

Great 2012 piece by Michele Catalano for the now-defunct American McCarver:

When did eating your weight in nitrates and meat-by products become a sport?

[...]

What does bother me about the whole IFOCE (yes, competitive eaters have their own federation) is that the people who partake in this stuff take themselves so seriously as to refer to themselves as athletes. Eating is not a sport. A competition, sure, but it’s not a sport, in much the same way that high school dance squads are not a sport. Yet ESPN wants you to believe they are, just so they can fill their programming slots with something besides paid advertisements from companies wanting to sell you souvenir coins imprinted with the number of your favorite NASCAR driver. Pounding back food, whether it be hot dogs or burgers or burritos or ice cream, is not a sport. Yes, it takes training and determination and discipline, but so does being a car bomber, and no one considers that a competitive sport.

Relevant today because Joey Chestnut won another Nathan's hot dog-eating contest.

More Health Insurers Adopt Apple's Health Records Feature

Michael Potuck at 9to5 Mac reports on more health insurance companies who have adopted Apple's Health Records API, which allows users to view their health record on their iPhone. Potuck writes there are now 65 participating providers and users will start reaping the benefits of the functionality this fall—this is currently included in the iOS 12 betas, now open to the public.

This feature is exciting from an accessibility perspective. I'm a Kaiser Permanente member, and my health records are stored online when I log into Kaiser's website. The information is available, but it isn't very accessible. The interface isn't exactly user-friendly and my recordfs are presented in relatively small fonts, which makes them hard to find and hard to read. Hence, you can imagine why this Health Records feature is exciting from an accessibility standpoint. Should Kaiser ever bring it to Northern California members—it's available only to Oregon and Washington residents now—then I could use the accessibility features on iOS to make accessing my records more accessible. That's no small feat, especially considering many didabled people have complex health records they need to keep tabs on. The combination of Apple's API and iOS's accessibility features should, in theory, make this much easier and more convenient for them, and for me.

Apple's Rebuilt Maps

TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino dropped a surprise 🔥 scoop this morning: Apple is overhauling its Maps app. According to his report, he spoke with Eddy Cue and "over a dozen" engineers on Apple's Maps team. Apple also let him ride in one of its Maps vans.

On the vans, Panzarino writes:

In addition to a beefed up GPS rig on the roof, four LiDAR arrays mounted at the corners and 8 cameras shooting overlapping high-resolution images – there’s also the standard physical measuring tool attached to a rear wheel that allows for precise tracking of distance and image capture. In the rear there is a surprising lack of bulky equipment. Instead, it’s a straightforward Mac Pro bolted to the floor, attached to an array of solid state drives for storage. A single USB cable routes up to the dashboard where the actual mapping capture software runs on an iPad.

[...]

When the images and data are captured, they are then encrypted on the fly immediately and recorded on to the SSDs. Once full, the SSDs are pulled out, replaced and packed into a case which is delivered to Apple’s data center where a suite of software eliminates private information like faces, license plates and other info from the images. From the moment of capture to the moment they’re sanitized, they are encrypted with one key in the van and the other key in the data center. Technicians and software that are part of its mapping efforts down the pipeline from there never see unsanitized data.

The new Maps will be included in the next iOS 12 beta and will be limited at first to the San Francisco Bay Area.

John Gruber on IGTV

John posted this item to Daring Fireball a few days ago, and I agree with his take on IGTV.

As I tweeted, reading his comments got me thinking about how I've really fallen out of love with Instagram. I still use it fairly regularly, but the ads and the algorthimic timeline, among other "features," have sullied the experience for me. I'll be 37 come September, and I admittedly feel old and curmudgeonly about this—it feels like the service has been skewing towards a younger audience (teen-to-20s) for some time now. In my usage, I follow a few hard rules that hearken back to the "good ol' days": I only post a single photo at a time, I never use Stories, and I do not share memes or screenshots (anymore). Oh, and my account is private; Instagram has always felt more personal to me than something like Twitter, which for me is an essential work tool for me (sharing and networking). For better or worse, this setup works for me and i'm sticking to it.

On New AirPods

Mark Gurman and Debby Wu, writing for Bloomberg:

The Cupertino, California-based company is working on new AirPods with noise-cancellation and water resistance, the people said. Apple is trying to increase the range that AirPods can work away from an iPhone or iPad, one of the people said. You won’t be swimming in them though: The water resistance is mainly to protect against rain and perspiration, the people said.

Slated for 2019, the earbuds will likely cost more than the existing $159 pair, and that could push Apple to segment the product line like it does with iPhones, one of the people said. Apple is also working on a wireless charging case that’s compatible with the upcoming AirPower charger.

The company has also internally discussed adding biometric sensors to future AirPods, like a heart-rate monitor, to expand its health-related hardware offerings beyond the Apple Watch, another person said. The current AirPods will be refreshed later this year with a new chip and support for hands-free Siri activation, Bloomberg News reported.

My set of AirPods are still going strong. So delightful and so quintessentially Apple.