My third annual report from inside WWDC for TechCrunch is finally here.
I very much enjoyed Casey's take on his new "MacBook Adorable":
I was discussing the MacBook with my friend _David Smith. He’s had a MacBook for a while and was debating upgrading to the latest version. Dave said to me something that I think is spot on:
The MacBook is the “old person’s iPad”. The affection I have for it reminds me of what folks like Myke and Federico say about their iPad, but I’m too set in my ways to make the switch.
Thanks to the MacBook, I don’t have to.
Even as an iPad Pro aficionado, I still lust after the MacBook. Its form is incredible.
Over the weekend, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA hosted an event at which John Markoff interviewed members of the original iPhone team, including former SVP of iOS Scott Forstall. I enjoyed both talks, but Forstall's was particularly good—and anticipated.
Forstall's segment begins at the 1h:07m mark. One highlight to me was the anecdote Forstall told about the 99-year-old woman with cataracts and an iPad. The joy with which he relayed that story jibes with things I've heard about Forstall's attitude towards accessibility while he was at Apple. It seems clear Forstall pushed heavily to make iOS accessible to everyone.
At WWDC two weeks ago, Apple introduced its HomePod speaker, the company’s long-awaited competitor to the Amazon Echo and Google Home. (Ostensibly, anyway. Apple’s positioning this product more around “reinventing” home audio.) Apple gave an “ears-on” briefing to a select group of reporters, which included Jason Snell and Jim Dalrymple. Both reported the forthcoming device sounds great while emphasizing it’s unfinished. There’s more to its capability than Apple showed. Like iMac Pro, we got a sneak peek.
Apple says the HomePod will be available in December, and a lot can change in the intervening six months. One area of particular interest to me is, of course, accessibility. The accessibility story of this product will be fascinating to hear—pun intended—as the voice-first paradigm comes with unique accessibility considerations. As with its other products, Apple has almost assuredly considered the HomePod’s accessibility during the design process. What exactly that will entail, however, is unknown at this point.
Which means there are questions, and I have many. Among them:
- Will Siri competently understand my stutter?
- Will Apple’s Made for iPhone hearing aid technology integrate with the HomePod in some way?
- Will iOS 11’s Type to Siri accessibility feature work with HomePod?
- Will the “glowing orb” light on the top of the HomePod be a good visual cue that the device is listening?
- Will HomePod work with Switch Control for users who can’t speak commands or tap a button to interact with it?
I suppose Apple will answer these questions in the months ahead, and presumably the HomePod will have a substantial presence at September's iPhone event after being tinkered with another few months. Until then, I'm left to wonder. Phil Schiller says one of Apple's goals with HomePod is to "rock the house." That's fine… so long as it's done accessibly.
Of the questions I pose, the one most interesting to me concerns Type to Siri. If you, like me, have a speech delay, communicating with Siri can at times be a frustrating experience. This obviously has relevance to HomePod—a huge part of its appeal to me (and others) who stutter will hinge on how well Siri parses our speech. Type to Siri should be a wonderful fallback option on iOS and the Mac, and it’d be equally beneficial if it worked with the HomePod. I don’t know how technically feasible it is, but it would be awesome if I could ask Siri to play Linkin Park’s One More Light or tell me the score of the Giants game via a “text message” in lieu using my voice. Not all the time, but sometimes.
I hope so, but as with most things HomePod, we don’t know yet.
The Outline's William Turton wrote a story on Apple's efforts to combat leaking of new products, which is speaheaded by the company's Global Security team. Turton writes the team is made up of "investigators have previously worked at U.S. intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA), law enforcement agencies like the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service, and in the U.S. military."
It's an interesting piece I guess, but I can't help but chuckle at the irony here. The lede to an article on leaking to the press is itself based on information leaked to the press.
Dan Moren, writing at Six Colors, on his new Apple Pencil:
All in, I’ve been very impressed with the Apple Pencil. It’s exactly the kind of device that we’ve come to expect from Apple—I haven’t spent any time with the much-beloved AirPods, but I imagine that they evoke a very similar feeling. It certainly isn’t a cheap piece of hardware in construction or price, and I imagine that it’s a splurge for most iPad users—especially non-artists like me. But if you’ve been curious about it and you’re in the market for a new iPad Pro, I have to recommend indulging that curiosity, especially with iOS 11 coming down the road. You may find yourself as delighted as I’ve been.
TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino shared a similar sentiment in his 10.5" iPad Pro review:
There is also a massive bonus when it comes to the Pencil. Because it’s sampling 120 times per second, it’s able to make the Pencil appear even smoother, with the tip following the draw point precisely. Apple says that the latency (delay) of the pencil is down to 20 milliseconds, but with the higher refresh and some additional behind-the-scenes predictive magic, it can actually get down as low as a perceived 8ms, which is insane. The Pencil quite simply offers as close to a paper experience as you’ll see on any commercial tablet anywhere.
While I don't use it often, I believe an argument can be made that, on their own merits, the Apple Pencil (and the AirPods) are two of the very best products to come out of Cupertino in recent memory. There's a delightful feeling in using such a familiar tool in familiar ways that make the Pencil-and-iPad combo magical. A few weeks ago, I had to sign and return a PDF in Mail, and I did it all in Markup mode on my iPad with the Pencil. It was fantastic.
Twitter on Thursday released version 7.0 of its Twitter client for iOS, which sports a significant visual overhaul. While it took me some time to get it, I have it now and am very impressed. The entire UI has bolder text and icons, as well as rounded buttons for posting tweets, etc. Everything on screen is super high contrast. It fits in well with what Apple showed off with iOS 11 at WWDC. And, of course, Twitter's dark mode remains, in my opinion, to be the best in the business. My only gripe is I wish the profile view stayed in the tab bar. It'd be nice if you could customize what's down there, a la Tweetbot.
The official Twitter app is often derided by nerds because the company does things to its app that aren't particularly user-friendly, such as implementing an algorithmic timeline and inserting "promoted" tweets. Personally, I'm not bothered by these things so much—it isn't ideal, but as a whole, I think the official app has gotten quite good. It's better in many ways than third-party options, and its accessibility support game is strong. I think most people overlook that aspect.
It wasn't long ago that I was a diehard Tweetbot fan, and never thought I'd come to sing the praises of the official app. But here we are; funny how perspectives change with time.
Alex Webb and Emily Chang for Bloomberg, on Apple's automotive ambitions:
After years toiling away in secret on a car project, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has for the first time elaborated on the company’s plans in the automotive market.
“We’re focusing on autonomous systems,” Cook said in a June 5 interview on Bloomberg Television that amounted to his most detailed comments yet on Apple’s automotive plans. “It’s a core technology that we view as very important.” He likened the effort to “the mother of all AI projects,” saying it’s “probably one of the most difficult AI projects to work on.”
Dan Moren linked to this story on Six Colors, noting:
Apple is a company that doesn’t invest a lot of money and effort—and from all indications, Project Titan is not short on either—into anything that it can’t turn around into some sort of product. And in general that means something that it creates and sells directly to the consumer, not something that it licenses to other companies. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be working on building the underlying technologies first.
Mike Isaac, reporting for the NYT:
Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive, will take a leave of absence from the ride-hailing company, according to an internal email sent to employees.
Mr. Kalanick said he would be taking a leave in order to work on himself and reflect on building a “world class leadership team” for the company. He did not specify how long he will take away from the company.
“The ultimate responsibility, for where we’ve gotten and how we’ve gotten here rests on my shoulders,” Mr. Kalanick wrote in the email. “There is of course much to be proud of but there is much to improve.”
Every day that passes with Uber news is another day I don't regret moving to Lyft.
I was at yesterday’s WWDC keynote and am excited by much of what Apple announced. I’ll have more information specific to accessibility later this week, but for now, I wanted to share my assorted thoughts on some of the things I saw sitting in the audience.
iOS 11 and App Store. Although Apple downplayed it during the presentation, iOS 11 has undergone a fairly substantial redesign. From what I could glean via screenshots and my time with the 10.5” iPad Pro in the hands-on area (more on it later), a bulk of the system apps (e.g., Mail) have adopted the visual style pioneered by Music and Apple News. That is to say, bold, big text headers with more button-y buttons and higher contrast iconography. In terms of visual accessibility, this is a huge win. In particular, the headers will give visually impaired users a more concrete sense of place; this type of cue helps orient someone to a point in an interface—having “All Inboxes” in big, bold font is better than the less obvious paradigm of what exists in iOS 10 currently. It makes navigation easier.
The App Store changes are similarly dramatic. There are thicker, higher contrast buttons (e.g., Get) everywhere in the app. Furthermore, the card-like UI for apps look like it’ll be easier to see app icons. I will find out if the new App Store has pervasive support for Dynamic Type, but I sure hope it does.
The 10.5” iPad Pro. I’m really interested in this new iPad. As I tweeted yesterday, it seems to me to be the “Goldilocks” iPad. It has a big enough screen to fit everything on screen while at the same time being small enough to hold comfortably. I love the 12.9” iPad Pro for the ginormous display, but there’s no getting around the fact it’s a monster physically. I got a chance to briefly handle one in the hands-on area, and came away very impressed. The only thing that I’d miss if I switch from the Biggie Pro is the large virtual keyboard. I like having the space to type on the larger screen, but it’s not mandatory. I’ll need to use the 10.5” Pro to actually judge.
iOS 11 iPad Enhancements. As someone whose primary work machine is an iPad, the new functionality coming in iOS 11 is exciting. The demos were impressive, and I’m looking forward to try out these features. Drag-and-drop, the Dock, and the Files app are all highlights.
ARKit and VR. A couple of years ago, I got a demo of the Oculus Rift. It was interesting, but I wasn’t amazed by it. I didn’t like how the headset completely shielded me from the real world, and much of the content wasn’t very accessible. That said, I passed on the VR demos in the hands-on area yesterday. Conversely, I like that Apple is laying the foundation for its future ambitions with augmented reality. I personally believe AR has more usable potential than VR for accessibility, especially in a navigational context. That said, it’ll be interesting to watch ARKit evolve over time. To me, the inclusion of this framework is similar to the addition of size classes in iOS 8 in 2014, insofar that it hints at Apple’s future product roadmap. (The large-screened iPhone 6/6 Plus were introduced that fall.) ARKit isn’t a novelty item; it has a purpose that we can’t see yet, but Apple obviously does. The APIs exist for a reason.
HomePod. I think I would have preferred “Siri Speaker” be the name for this product, but I understand how “HomePod” ties into Apple’s past with the iPod and music, as well as the EarPods and AirPods branding. The accessibility story of this speaker will be interesting; voice has challenges that need to be accounted for too.
Accessibility in the Hands-On Area. More observation than criticism here. In my experience at Apple events, it seems the Apple staff in the hands-on area aren’t so nimble at fielding accessibility-centric questions. I realize it likely isn’t a focus of the other journalists in the room, but it would be nice to see Apple add another layer of knowledge for reporters like myself who’d be curious right after a presentation. Still, the hands-on time experience is valuable to me, as I find it helps jump-start my brain into thinking more deeply about a product. I’d also like it if the hands-on areas had better lighting. It’d make it easier to get around the room and see the products.
John Paczkowski reports for BuzzFeed on an internal memo that Cook sent to employees about the news this week that President Trump decided to withdraw from the Paris Accord. In the memo, Cook wrote: "I spoke with President Trump on Tuesday and tried to persuade him to keep the U.S. in the agreement. But it wasn’t enough."
Cook followed the memo by tweeting that "Apple is committed to fight climate change and we will never waver."
Jim Dalrymple at The Loop reported this week on the new version of Swift Playgrounds, coming this Monday, June 5. The banner feature is users will gain the ability to connect to Bluetooth devices such as drones and robots. As Jim writes, "you can go through the lessons, just as you would before, but you get to see a robot dance, or a drone fly when you execute the code."
And of course, Apple designed Swift Playgrounds to be fully accessible.
“We made it a priority to make sure it was absolutely accessible to all kids. We partnered with our accessibility team and they were able to do some amazing things—that’s something we’re super proud of,” said Cheryl Thomas, Apple vice president of Software Engineering Operations.
The most recent episode of Inside the Times is a must-listen. Host Susan Lehman talks with The Daily host Michael Barbaro about how the show came to be, how it's produced, and more. It's a great behind-the-scenes look at an exquisite podcast.
The Daily is arguably my absolute favorite podcast, so I greatly enjoyed this.
John Gruber is on board with the idea of adding a pointing device to iOS:
I fully admit this is not a perfect idea. But I do think it would greatly improve the efficiency of text editing on an iPad, and if text editing isn’t an essential task for iPad users, I don’t understand why Apple bothered making the Smart Keyboard in the first place. And, unlike adding touchscreen support to MacOS, adding trackpad support to iOS would not harm anything that is good about the way things already are.
I didn't include in my recent WWDC wishlist article, but to John's point, if iOS is to gain a pointing device, then Apple must add an option to adjust the size of the cursor. On the Mac, I have the mouse pointer set as large as can be. But on iOS, the biggest accessibility pain point I have with editing text is the cursor (and the magnification loupe) is way too small to see comfortably. This has been a problem for me for years; if Apple is to make the iPad more powerful for productivity, then accessibility must be part of the process. I don't doubt the company has considered this, but as someone whose job it is to work with text, a macOS-like solution to adjusting cursor + loupe size would be really great.
For TechCrunch, I wrote a piece about how home automation impacts accessibility.
Ryan Christofel at MacStories has a nice rundown of some useful apps for iMessage that aren't stickers. Discoverability problems aside, there are quite a few iMessage apps that are actually useful. Square Cash is one example mentioned in the story. Personally, I've used the Starbucks app to share a gift card with a friend; it's well done and I was impressed.
Excellent piece by Ashley Parker for The Washington Post on Trump's treatment of staffers in the White House. My read is Trump belittles and berates in his authoritarian way.
This part, however, reads to me like complete bullshit:
“President Trump has a magnetic personality and exudes positive energy, which is infectious to those around him,” Hope Hicks, a White House spokeswoman, said in a statement. “He has an unparalleled ability to communicate with people, whether he is speaking to a room of three or an arena of 30,000. He has built great relationships throughout his life and treats everyone with respect. He is brilliant with a great sense of humor . . . and an amazing ability to make people feel special and aspire to be more than even they thought possible.”
Trump doesn't strike me as a person with a "magnetic personality" that "exudes positive energy." But what do I know? I'm just a snowflake liberal.
Great NYT profile of Gabe Fleisher, a 15-year-old kid reporter, who runs the Wake Up To Politics daily newsletter. As Stuart Emmrich writes, Fleisher has quite a following:
The free newsletter, which he has been writing in some form since he was 8, is a surprisingly sophisticated, well-researched summary of the day’s political news. It counts among its subscribers Gene B. Sperling, contributing editor at The Atlantic; the MSNBC anchor Steve Kornacki; Major Garrett, chief White House correspondent for CBS News; the “Daily Show” correspondent Roy Wood Jr. (who on Twitter called Wake Up “one of the best political newsletters to hit my inbox”); the author Mark Halperin; and Jim VandeHei, the founder of Axios and a founder of Politico — as well as reporters for The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today, many of whom are among Gabe’s nearly 5,000 Twitter followers. (Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, is also a follower.)
This story is the best thing I've read in a while. I subscribed to the newsletter.