Apple Reportedly Planning Peer-to-Peer Payment System

Nice scoop by Jason Del Rey at Recode:

The company has recently held discussions with payments industry partners about introducing its own Venmo competitor, according to multiple sources familiar with the talks. The service would allow iPhone owners to send money digitally to other iPhone owners, these people said.

One source familiar with the plans told Recode they expect the company to announce the new service later this year. Another cautioned that an announcement and launch date may not yet be set.

Del Rey also reports Apple is looking to create their own Visa debit cards, which would tie into the peer-to-peer service. The idea is, according to Del Rey, is to give users the ability to "spend money sent to them through the new service, without having to wait for it to clear to their bank account." Users could add the card to the Wallet app and use it at physical retail stores as well.

After having my debit card compromised three times, I got rid of it a few years ago. Apps like Square Cash are great, but they require a debit card to use. Thus, I'd love to see a competitor from Apple. I'd use it, especially if it were integrated with iMessage.

Slack's Diversity Report

Megan Rose Dickey, reporting for TechCrunch:

Tech companies rarely, if ever, include information about how many people with disabilities they employ. Today, Slack is changing things up. According to the company’s latest diversity report, 1.7 percent of its employees identify themselves as having a disability.

As TechCrunch’s Steve O’Hear noted, tech companies are generally hesitant to discuss disabilities. Slack, however, was rather open in its dialogue with O’Hear at the time about including that information in future diversity reports, as long as the company followed legal processes and employees were willing to share it. Good on Slack for following through.

I've long advocated for tech companies to include employees with disabilities in their diversity reports. As I tweeted earlier today, the industry needs to remember people with disabilities matter just as much as women and people of color. We should be included.

'Apple Watch and Disability'

This is a great critique of Apple Watch as an accessibility tool.

Lots of keen insights, but one particularly stands out. On the Breathe app and autism:

While this is intended as an app for meditation, it’s perfect to remind me to “check in” with myself. It is set to go off every half hour, and when it does it is my reminder to spend a minute to re focus myself. What am I doing? What should I be doing? Do I need to look at my planner? Eat or drink something? Am I becoming anxious or upset? If I need to spend a minute to ground myself, I can use the minute meditation the app offers me. If not, I just check in with myself, look at my planner and move on.

On James Comey and the Clinton Email Scandal

Yesterday's (April 24, 2017) episode of The Daily is the best one yet. I'm loving this show, and this episode is a must-listen if you haven't already. (To listen in Overcast, click here.)

'How Apple Won Silicon'

Rene Ritchie, writing for iMore:

Apple's platform technologies team doesn't have to worry about being hobbled or constrained in any way — all they have to do is run iOS and iOS apps faster than anything else on the planet. That's their only customer.

It's hard to overstate just how big of advantage custom silicon is to Apple. I joked on Twitter the other day that the headline of Rene's article could've been "Johny Srouji's team kicks total ass."

Thoughts and Observations on Clips

I'm not someone who shoots video.

Be it Instagram Stories, Periscope, Facebook Live, or even Snapchat, shooting video isn't part of my content creation repertoire. It isn't that I object to video; I'm simply used to sharing still photos. Put another way, I watch video far more than I take it. Indeed, the 12.9” iPad Pro has increasingly become my "television." When I'm not browsing the Web or writing, I spend a ton of time in video-centric apps like YouTube, Netflix, and HBO Now and enjoy myself very much.

The release of Apple's new iOS app, Clips, earlier this month stands to challenge my nascent video-taking endeavors. Clips is all about quickly and easily creating videos that are shareable to a variety of services, notably iMessage. In my time using it, I’ve found Clips to be extremely well done. It’s quirky in places but impressive overall. Clips 1.0 is solid, delivering exactly what Apple is selling. Best of all, Clips is not only fun and easy to use—it’s accessible too.

In lieu of a comprehensive review, what follows are assorted thoughts on Clips. These include functionality, user interface, and especially important to me, accessibility.

Why Clips Exists & What It Does for Me

John Gruber tweeted a perfect description of Clips:

When it was first announced in March, I noticed a lot of people on Twitter proclaim Clips to be Apple’s offensive against Snapchat: an app for creating ephemeral videos replete with filters and the like. Make no mistake, Clips does have a certain Snapchat-like ambiance, what with its collection of filters, title cards, and so on, but I don't believe it's a direct competitor. Instead, I see Clips more akin to iMovie, albeit streamlined. I've seen some pretty creative uses for the app thus far, from how-to videos to hiking journals.

Personally, I have Clips on my iPhone's Home screen because (a) I need to cover it for journalism's sake; and (b) its prime real estate will force me into experimenting with video. For as much as video has eluded me, there's no denying Clips is fun to use. There's a playfulness about it that makes me want to open the app and explore its depths. Clips is well-polished (more on the UI later) and more obvious (to me) than something like Snapchat. Whereas Snapchat's features and layout feel completely alien to me, Clips has a decidedly straightforward feel to it that I grok instantly. This isn't to say the interface is perfect, but that I feel more or less comfortable with Clips is a critical aspect of why the app has appeal. I'm drawn to it because it's approachable.

In practice, the few clips I’ve created so far have been revealing; I am definitely a novice video editor, to say the least. While Clips is fun and easy to pick up, the sheer act of putting together a cool, coherent product has admittedly been somewhat daunting. The biggest learning curve I’ve encountered while testing Clips has been teaching myself the basics of video editing: trimming clips, putting them in a logical order, and adding flourishes like overlays and music. Again, making video isn’t something I’m super familiar with. I’ve had to put myself through a crash course on a subject the majority of YouTubers mastered long ago.

Clips has been my textbook, and I’m learning a lot so far.

On the User Interface

On the whole, Clips’ UI is a win. It’s nice-looking, laid out well, and easy to navigate. And yet, there’s room for improvement.

First, the good.

I love the white-on-dark color scheme. The high contrast, coupled with the size of icons and text, make it easy to spot controls. The big red Record button is especially nice. The effects (Live Titles, title cards, etc) are large and easy to read as well. My favorite, however, are the giant emojis. Whatever private APIs Apple is using here—the share sheet also has custom iMessage buttons for suggested contacts—is wonderful. Like Jason Snell, I wish for iOS’s emoji keyboard to improve; the ginormous emoji picker in Clips is such an improvement over the status quo. I have no problems discerning faces because the emojis are so huge. I wish I had this functionality on the system keyboard today. Maybe in iOS 11. Other niceties include the “X” for removing emoji and speech bubbles, and the way you can move them around by dragging. I also like how you can drag a clip out of the timeline to delete.

Like others, I’ve long wished for iOS to adopt a dark mode; I use it on macOS exclusively. While many third-party apps I use have great dark modes (e.g., Twitter, Ulysses, Overcast), it’d be terrific if Apple supplied one at the OS level. I like to think things like the Apple Watch companion app and now Clips are perhaps harbingers of an eventual system-wide dark mode. While “light modes” don’t necessarily bother me, I almost universally prefer a dark mode, if given the choice. Thus, if the next version of iOS comes with a dark mode, I’d almost certainly switch to it full-time, as I have on the Mac.

Now the bad. There are two things that stand out as irksome.

First, I wish the Help file was more prominent on screen. Right now, you tap the inverted carat and the UI slides down to reveal the ? icon in the top right corner. Accessing Help is easy enough, I suppose, but I would rather it be somewhere on the main view instead of hidden. I reference Help quite often, and it’d be nice to have it more readily available.

Secondly, the way in which you edit Live Titles in Clips is not at all obvious. As the WSJ’s Joanna Stern shows, you have to play a clip, then tap the text to being up the transcription. It’d be nice if there was a little “tool tip” above the text alerting you to the fact you can edit by tapping here. Once you get it, though, it’s no problem. Still, it’s a definite lack of clarity in the UI. Then again, that’s what the Help file is for!

Clips' Accessibility Story

Clips, as with all the software out of One Infinite Loop, is a highly accessible app. As I reported, Clips supports VoiceOver and Switch Control; Luis Perez, an inclusion advocate and accessibility expert, posted a great video in which he demos VoiceOver in Clips. He reports VoiceOver works well in Clips.

Another accessibility feature is something Apple calls Slide to Lock. Designed with users with physical motor impairments in mind, Slide to Lock is a feature whereby a user needn’t physically hold the Record button; instead, sliding to the right “locks” the Record button in a depressed state during recording. I like using the feature out of pure convenience.

While not specifically targeted for accessibility, the Live Titles feature has great potential as an assistive technology in two ways. First, the captions are obviously beneficial to the deaf and hard-of-hearing. FaceTime has made the iPhone very popular with the deaf community, and Live Titles in Clips makes the device even more compelling. For example, a child of a deaf adult could send their parents, say, a birthday greeting, and mom and dad could understand what’s being said because of Live Titles. Secondly, Live Titles is useful as a general purpose captioning system—handy in situations where audio may be inappropriate, the speaker has an accent that may be hard to understand, or to reinforce the audio. As someone who grew up with deaf parents, our TV had a closed-captioning box attached to it. (This was prior to Congress passing the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990, which required manufacturers to build TVs with closed-captioning capability out of the box.) To this day, I enjoy having captioning turned on because I like how reading the text reinforces what’s been said audibly. This bimodal sensory input makes watching TV a more accessible experience to me. This, of course, has relevance to Clips. Live Titles does essentially the same job as captions on a TV.

Outflow

Beautiful iPhone app for tracking subscriptions that I heard about on MacStories.

Like a lot of people, I subscribe to a lot of services—Apple Music, Netflix, HBO Now, etc—and don't really know when stuff is renewing every month. There's a good selection of services to choose from, but you can add your own as well. And there's a Today widget for upcoming renewals, if you're into that functionality. Check it out—$1.99 on the App Store.

Columbia Journalism Review's Q&A with Walt Mossberg

I enjoyed this CJR interview with Mossberg, on "the future of the tech beat."

One highlight is Mossberg's comments on how technology has changed journalism:

I think the good thing that happened to journalism was that thousands of voices of people, who are just as smart as the staff of The New York Times and The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, got a chance… to start their own site, their own blog, their own whatever, and I think that was a great thing. There was crap, but I have to be honest and tell you that, of the 1,700 or 1,800 daily newspapers, a lot of that was crap, too. It wasn’t that all print journalism was excellent and wonderful, and a lot of what was the internet was junk. I think it was sort of similar, except the scale was much bigger. There was a much great number of good blogs, and a much great number of terrible ones. But the good thing was it allowed a lot of smart, good voices that we didn’t have. I don’t think those people made as much. Some of them did, some of them made them into very lucrative businesses. But your average journalist starting a blog couldn’t count on it for a lot of money.

I've said it many times: My niche but important beat wouldn't be possible without the democratization that the internet allows. Covering Apple accessibility as I do would've been impossible during print journalism's heyday.

Revisiting the Nylon Apple Watch Band

In December, I wrote a story about Apple’s nylon Apple Watch band. I was disappointed, saying:

The deal breaker for me with the nylon band is how inaccessible for me to put on by myself. This problem isn’t Apple’s fault; there’s nothing inherently wrong with the band’s design. The problem lies in my less-than-optimal fine-motor skills. The clasp on the nylon band is akin to a class watch buckle, insofar as you thread the band through a loop and pin the buckle into a hole on the band. I wear my Apple Watch on my right wrist, and I went through myriad contortions trying to fasten this band; it took almost 15 frustratingly long and tortuous minutes to get it. My fingers just aren’t nimble enough to manipulate things.

I’ve been somewhat frustrated by the lack of variety in my band collection. Because my fine-motor skills are limited, the only bands that really work for me, accessibility-wise, are the magnetic bands (Milanese and Leather Loops) and the Sport band. They’re both great—I wear the Sport band most of the time, as it’s comfortable and, ahem, sporty—but I’d like a different, more colorful, option. Judging by what I hear from friends and colleagues, Apple’s nylon band is that option.

Except… as I lamented before, it isn’t the most accessible option.

Undeterred, I sought to reassess my feelings about Apple’s nylon band. “There has to be a way to do this,” I said to myself. It’s just too nice and too comfortable to let it forever sit around unused. And I’m extremely pleased to report that I have conquered the nylon band. I can get it on by myself!

My path to victory isn’t entirely smooth sailing—it takes me a couple minutes to do—but once done I feel incredibly triumphant. My method involves having the lug part of the band on the bottom of the watch, which on my wrist is on top. I then use my right thumb to thread the other side of the band through the hole on the lug with my left band. After that, I can tighten and feed the band through the little loop on the band. As I said, the process is still a bit fiddly, but doable with patience and perseverance. This vindication is satisfying because (a) I get to wear a great band; and (b) I gave it another shot.

I was so excited by the nylon band’s newfound accessibility that I bought another one: the new orange one in Apple’s recently refreshed spring collection. While I continue to believe the accessibility of bands is a severely overlooked aspect of the Apple Watch experience, it’s gratifying to know I’ve been able to challenge my previously-held convictions of the nylon (and Sport) bands.

Overall, this is yet another happy ending. I get to add more cool bands to my collection, which enhances my enjoyment of the Apple Watch. To me, this is no small feat because now I get to enjoy the nylon band along with every else. What was once exclusive is now inclusive, accessible, and awesome.

'The Walt Mossberg Brand'

Insightful piece by Ben Thompson, on Mossberg's influential and trailblazing career.

Consumer technology used to be niche, and on the Internet, niche is powerful; now it’s a commodity, and the economics reflect that.

Still, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that Mossberg is just as much of a trailblazer as the companies and products he covered: that writers like myself can build businesses and brands independent of established publications is simply the natural evolution how Mossberg built a brand bigger than the Wall Street Journal, fueled by the Internet and its atomitization of media

Walt Mossberg Announces Retirement

Mossberg is a legit legend in tech journalism. Here's his post at The Verge:

So it seems fitting to me that I’ll be retiring this coming June, almost exactly 47 years later. I’ll be hanging it up shortly after the 2017 edition of the Code Conference, a wonderful event I co-founded in 2003 and which I could never have imagined back then in Detroit.

I didn’t make this decision lightly or hastily or under pressure. It emerged from months of thought and months of talks with my wise wife, my family, and close friends. It wasn’t prompted by my employer or by some dire health diagnosis. It just seems like the right time to step away. I’m ready for something new.

I tweeted this morning about the time I saw Mossberg "up close." I was standing in the press line, waiting for my badge, at last September's iPhone 7 event. I look ahead of me and there he was, back turned in conversation with a crowd of people. I thought about going over to say hello, but didn't. I regret it, because he's someone whom I respect and look up to. What a career he's had.

'Skating to Where the Puck Is.. Aw Crap'

Matt Birchler:

But sometimes skating ahead is riskier, and sometimes you just misjudge where that pesky puck is going to be. The 2013 Mac Pro is a clear example of Apple seeing where they thought the puck would be, but completely missing the mark. They gambled on external Thunderbolt-connected GPUs and other hardware to be a bigger deal than it ended up being. They foresaw a future where software would talk more advantage of multiple GPUs, meanwhile the rest of the industry got really good at making extremely fast single GPUs.

Whether the puck was going somewhere else and Apple was blind, or the puck got deflected and changed course in 2014-2015 is irrelevant, and frankly stretches the metaphor a bit. Apple missed the mark on this one, and their professional users have felt the pain.

Judging by the comments from Schiller and Federighi, it seems clear Apple misplayed the puck.

The Mac Pro Lives

Apple invited a handful of reporters to its Product Realization Lab in Cupertino for what the company called “a small roundtable discussion about the Mac."

Today, stories from those reporters—Daring Fireball's John Gruber, BuzzFeed's John Paczkowski, TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino, Mashable's Lance Ulanoff, and Axios's Ina Fried—hit the proverbial street. The news was big: Apple's working on an all-new Mac Pro, as well as all-new, Apple-branded displays to accompany it. This new machine won't arrive until next year, according to Apple, but it is being worked on.

I don't have much to add to what's already been reported except to say this is great news. I'm not a "professional" user, but for those who are, today's development should be like finding an oasis in the desert. After years of nothing, finally some relief.

In other words, Panzarino put it well:

Apple's Autism Acceptance Month 2017 Initiatives

As I reported on Twitter on Friday, April is Autism Acceptance Month, and Apple is participating in a couple of ways.

First, Apple has created a new app collection in the iOS App Store featuring great apps for people with autism. The apps span a wide range of developmental domains, such as communication, social skills, and fine-motor development. Titles include Proloquo2Go, Keeble, and Assisitive Express. There are games in this collection as well, including Hopster and Injini.

Secondly, Apple is offering two new “field trips” sessions to its retail stores. Using the Skoog music box—an iPad-compatible tactile cube meant to enhance the sensory experience of making music for children with disabilities—these new field trips are designed to allow “teachers and students [to] participate in a creative, collaborative, and memorable learning experience which is inclusive of children with disabilities,” according to Apple. (The Skoog box has a companion app for iPad.)

I covered Apple’s work in acknowledging Autism Awareness Month last year, and am glad to see the company do so again in 2017. As I wrote last year, the autistic community holds a special place in my heart. I’ve mentioned many times that before beginning my career in Apple journalism, my background is in special education and early childhood development. I worked for over a decade as a classroom aide in special day classes for children with special needs. During that time, I worked 9 years with preschool-age children—the majority of whom on the autism spectrum. As such, I was trained in several teaching methodologies designed for autistic children. Hence, AAC apps like the aforementioned Proloquo2go, which is based on a picture-based communication system called PECS, is intimately familiar to me.