The iPhone is old as shit

And I’ve never been more excited about it

Original iPhone after 3 years of abuse (photo credit)

The iPhone is 10 years old this week, and in that time Apple has sold more than 1,000,000,000(!) of them. Over the last decade its gains in hardware and software have far surpassed anyone’s expectations, and actually, it’s now my only computer.

After seeing a zillion retrospectives on this 10th anniversary, I was reluctant to pen one myself, but, as when it was released, my experience has been a bit different than most, and I felt compelled to jot down something.

As I went about writing this I pored over my hypertext.net archives to help refresh my recollection of how I felt after this little piece of magic was revealed and started embedding itself in every facet of my life, both personally and professionally (and holy shit did I write a ton about it). (My initial thoughts on the original iPhone, after telling everyone I wasn’t going to buy one.)

The best computer is the one you have with you

Maybe the craziest thing about the original iPhone is that none of its features were unique to it. In fact, even its combination of features wasn’t unique to it. There, of course, were “smart” phones long before the iPhone, some of which were actually pretty cool. In April 2007 I wrote:

Save the interface, iPhone v1.0 isn’t bringing anything wholly novel to the mobile space. However, it is causing consumers to think differently about what they should expect from the computer in their pocket. You kind of have to think long-term here, years down the road when your “mobile phone” is your wallet, the keys to your car and house, the…you get the idea. Apple is going to get its foot in the door (and its hands gripped on consumers’ heartstrings) with all of the fluffy, shiny chrome in iPhone v1.0, but this is just the hook into the untapped cash cow that will be mobile computing.

Raising the expectations of what a pocket computer could be probably has been the iPhone’s greatest gift to the world. Every pocket computer now is a thin rectangle of glass and plastic/metal, and is interfaced with via touch…and we expect it to do everything.

Was this inevitable? Of course. But for Apple though, I’m not sure we would be half as far along as we are now.

The transition wasn’t easy and the homogeneity was hard to swallow

I owned approximately 50(!) mobile phones before the iPhone came along. I’ve been obsessed with them since buying my first in 1998 — a Nokia 6120 — and every few months from then until 2007 I bought a new one. Whatever the latest and greatest was, I had to have it. In July 2007 I wrote:

The best part about Apple making mobile phones is that I no longer have to scour the earth looking for the “new hotness” and then hope that it’s unlocked, uses GSM, and costs less than $1000. The worst part about Apple making mobile phones is that I’ll now be the rule instead of the exception (and I think part of me kind of enjoyed being the exception).

I’m no longer going to be told, as I once was by some law school friends, that I should just “fly to Singapore and wait at the end of an assembly line.” I’m now just going to be in the Apple line with everyone else.

I used nearly every iteration of the various mobile operating systems that existed from 1998 to 2007, including Series 60, Symbian, PalmOS, Windows CE, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry OS, etc., and for a while I really missed playing with and testing them as they added this or that feature.

But gradually that changed as the mobile OS world fractured wildly and then eventually consolidated into just two real players, and the iPhone’s indispensability in my life continued to grow with each new release. The tradeoff has been more than worth it — I love the iPhone and can’t imagine my life without it.

Apple gives a shit about security and privacy

I’m a privacy nut, and I don’t think it’s controversial to say that Apple is far and away the privacy leader with respect to mobile hardware and operating systems. As this thing has burrowed ever deeper into our personal lives, I think Apple has done a fantastic job of balancing utility and security. I trust them.

I still hate the name

I’ve disliked the name since the first time I heard it, and over the years it only comes across as more and more anachronistic. What do you do the least on your pocket computer? My guess is talk on the phone. I literally never use the phone. I’d prefer almost anything to “iPhone”; hell, I’d even be OK with “iPod,” and since the iPod is dead, I don’t see why this couldn’t happen. (Yes, I realize they’ll never change the name.)

I was wrong about the AirPods

Sort of

Let’s be honest, Apple headphones suck. They always have. I can’t remember the last time I even removed them from the iPhone box. It’s probably been nine years. Seriously — every time I sold my phone it surprised the buyer that the headphones were still wrapped up.

Mostly because of this, when the AirPods were announced I ignored them completely. Wireless, in-ear headphones? Shitty sound quality? Welcome to 2012. No thanks.

Well, it seems a lot of my assumptions were wrong. Maybe not wrong, but the sheer usefulness of these things was hard to grok fully without actually wearing them for a while.

Fit

They fit me perfectly. I can run, vigorously shake my head “no” (you know, for work), and generally just move about without them so much as reminding me they’re in my ears.

I think fit is going to be the single biggest factor in determining whether you like them or not. If they don’t fit well, you’re going to hate them and say they’re silly. If they do fit well, you’re going to want them.

Convenience

Honestly, it’s off the charts. I have some nits about invoking Siri, and the inability to change volume tangibly, but otherwise the experience is just amazing.

Their utilitarian qualities are legion: super tiny (including the smaller-than-you’re-expecting charging case), great battery life, magnets(!), fast-charging, etc. The design pragmatism and utility of these things really is difficult to capture in words.

And the W1 chip? Incredible. It shouldn’t even be called “pairing” anymore. They’re simply…connected.

A low bar for sound quality, but those mics tho

If you’re expecting to be blown away by the sound quality of these things you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I’m told they sound better than the EarPods, but let’s be honest, that bar is comically low.

Point is, buy these to get stuff done and interact with your phone, not to shut your eyes while blasting Frank Ocean’s Blonde. Do I listen to music on them? Of course. All the damn time, and in places where I never would have before (e.g., the bathroom), but it sounds mostly like ass.

The mics on the other hand are sick. In fact, they’re kind of mind-blowing. Reminds me a bit of how I felt after buying the very first Jawbone Bluetooth headset. I’m impressed.

Price

$160? I know many are balking at the cost, but honestly it seems like a steal after using them for a couple of weeks. I have a pair of Bose QC35s ($350), which I absolutely swear by when I want to drown out the world, especially on planes. I also have a pair of JH Audio JH16s ($1500), which, despite their unmatched performance, I don’t use too often these days because, you know, wires.

Anyway, I don’t feel $160 is unreasonable for the amazing (amount of) tech that’s packed into these things.

Conclusion

Apple got the AirPods right. They’re some kind of magic. Buy them — you won’t regret it (unless, of course, they don’t fit 😬).

The books I read in 2016

Below is a list of the books I managed to power through in 2016, and below that is a list of the books I’ve either just bought or am currently reading. Yes, it’s all a little out of control, but hey, that’s me.

The big theme/obsession this time around (in addition to the usual science-heavy stuff) was serial killers (😳), or rather the “why” behind what compels them. Like modern-day religious belief, psychopathy fascinates the hell out of me, and once you start down that true-crime rabbit hole, it’s near impossible to climb out.

✭✭✭✭✭

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In the queue

The iPhone 7 Plus is my only computer

OK, that’s not entirely true — my non-work MacBook Pro is an amazing machine for backing up my pocket computer.

Yes, I’m being sardonic, but not entirely. I really don’t use the MBP for much of anything these days, and frankly, I’m not sure I’ll ever buy another “big” machine. (I’ve actually gone a couple months without so much as touching the MBP.)

I have a high-profile job at a high-profile company and need to use my work MBP (nearly) every day, but I’m at the point now where I’m averaging 8–12 hours a day on my pocket computer (thanks Moment!), and jump onto the MBP only when absolutely necessary.

I’ve long wanted to get to this point, and being (mostly) here now feels pretty damn good.

Much of what makes this possible is that I can delegate in one way or another most of what I think of, and can get away with being extremely terse in my emails. At this stage of my career my day-to-day job requires minimal work-product; if I was coding all day, designing websites, or researching, I probably wouldn’t be able to leverage my pocket computer the way I do, but I wouldn’t want to either.

The latest Macs

For almost 15 years I’ve pre-ordered every MacBook (Pro) and Mac Pro Apple announced, and have never not watched the keynotes or read voraciously every “hot take.”

The new machines that were launched a couple of weeks ago did absolutely nothing for me. And I do mean nothing. I didn’t watch the keynote, read nothing about them other than the hardware specs, and perhaps most tellingly, laughed at the idea of the Touch Bar.

Relatedly, my fully spec’d work MBP is long overdue for an upgrade (according to our IT policy), but I can’t even be bothered. For what purpose? I can reply to email and read documents only so quickly, and I can’t even add more RAM. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

RAW photos

If you know anything about me you know that photography may be my biggest passion these days. For a long time iOS couldn’t handle the RAW output from my “real” cameras, but now with iOS 10, Snapseed, and the SD-to-Lightning adapter, it’s totally doable. It’s not quite a breeze yet, but the process isn’t terrible either.

I love knowing that I can shoot freely with my Leica Q (or Fuji X-T1), ingest the photos into my pocket computer, post-process them there, and finally publish them to Instagram…all without touching a “real” computer.

Also, with support for wide color gamut I no longer feel guilty doing all of my post-processing (and a lot of my actual shooting) with the pocket computer.

Fuck hardware buttons

The removal of the home button on the iPhone 7 couldn’t have been more welcomed by me. It’s well known (in the tiny circles that give a shit) that I’ve had some, uh, issues with the home button over the years, and have been quick to have Apple replace multiple phones in one sitting.

I love this new home “button” — it’s solid and the feedback is consistent no matter how hard or where you press on it. Plus, you can choose how hard it needs to be pressed to activate it.

This faux-mechanical stuff needs to come to the rest of the phone. There are three buttons and a switch remaining, and they of course are prone to failure and manufacturing defects too. It’s infuriating when you have to return a pocket computer because a power/volume button doesn’t click properly. How many of these buttons have they made now? 30–40 billion? Why aren’t they perfect 99.9% of the time? (That said, kudos to Apple: they never don’t let me walk out with a new machine, and I can be…picky.)

The selfish and romanticized truth is that I want just a sheet of glass, and we’re getting close!

iPads Pro

I’ve owned both of them, and both are incredible machines. I currently have the smaller of the two, but haven’t turned it on in months (and obviously need to sell it soon) . The reason for this effectively is the same as what I said above regarding my MBP — I simply don’t have much use for it these days.

Kindle Oasis for books, pocket computer for everything else. ✌🏼

Peak prediction, peak human?

On Twitter and here I’ve mentioned a few times that I think “science fiction” has become kind of a meaningless term — if we can think of something, we likely can achieve it. (Go ahead, try to come up with something that you think we won’t be able to realize…eventually. I’ll wait. 🙂)

The last few years I’ve been fond of saying that there really is no such thing as science fiction any more. It seems to me the term will soon become an anachronism harkening back to a time when humans (or our robot heirs) couldn’t bring every idea to fruition.

Yes, there are exceptions. Yes, there are things we don’t yet understand. Yes, I think there are things we’ll never understand; the machines — created by the machines that we create — most certainly will take the reins before we can fully unlock the universe. But, on the whole, there are few nuts we humans haven’t been able to crack, or otherwise won’t be able to soon.

Maybe at its edges the AI singularity is simply the inability for us to predict our future…at which point we will begin to struggle to maintain our dominance on Earth (and potentially other planets). It’s a completely insane time to be the organic kings of this spinning rock we call home. Enjoy it while it lasts.

It’s not enough to be busy anymore

It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about? – Henry David Thoreau

We’re all busy, and increasingly so — all of us. Some (much) more than others, obviously, but busy is the new normal, and (as long as humans are at the top of the food chain) there’s no going back. Increasingly this “busyness” is becoming decoupled from mere subsistence, and it’s not totally clear yet what it will mean when this already taut connection breaks completely.

Even when AIs are doing all of our work, and the fortunate among us effectively don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do, we’ll still have to find ways to sate our starving brains, which have been primed over millions of years to need all kinds of sensory input, and all of the time.

If white space makes you uncomfortable now, how are you going to deal when that’s all there is?

For much of my life I thought if I just remained busy I’d be successful, and “lucky” for me it never really felt like I had a choice. Busy learning. Busy writing. Busy seeking out knowledge. Busy creating. Curiosity has always been a staple of my being — I was never not doing.

Being hyper-productive and driven has served me exceptionally well professionally, but it’s also been a total drain. Compulsions — even those as seemingly benign as learning — don’t usually feel like a choice, and the pressure to chip away at them can be suffocating.

It’s more than a little crazy (and sad) that if you graphed homo sapiensintellectual output over time it would rise quickly and to the right, and then…automation and AI…and then nothing? What’s the answer? How do we keep ourselves busy in the future? How do we make anything that matters? VR? Drugs?

Idiocracy is on the march, and may end up being the new normal until the machines figure out what, if anything, we can do for them. We need to crack this if we think we’re at all special in view of our technological creations.

What I expect from a modern news reader

Or, how to not annoy an information junkie

I’ve come to expect a certain number of “core” features when it comes to my precious feed-reading rituals, and if any of them is missing from an app I probably won’t use it for very long.

When reading through the below list please keep in mind that 100% of my feed consumption is via iOS devices, and because of that I’m just not too concerned with the desktop/mobile browser experience. That said, most of the things listed below should apply to those surfaces as well. Also, these features mostly are concerned with user-facing clients and not backend systems and services, so I’m not getting into syncing or anything else like that — plumbing is table stakes.

I’m fully aware that some of these may seem a bit trivial, especially when considered individually, but when taken together over hundreds of feeds ingested every day, they make for an incredibly powerful — and efficient — skimming/consumption experience.

  • Mark-as-read-on-scroll (in a multi-item view) I’m always surprised when this is missing. It’s especially handy for high-volume feeds, where without it you’d have to scroll through every unread item before being able to move on to the next feed/folder, because only then would you feel comfortable marking the feed/folder as read.
  • Offer multiple ways of moving to the next unread item When viewing a particular item, moving to the next item should always be possible by swiping up when at the end of the item. Additionally, an on-screen control for this sort of thing can be especially useful when dealing with full-content items, where, in the case of “long” items, getting to the next one may require a lot of scrolling before being able to transition to it using the swipe-up gesture.
  • Ability to turn off animations Animations can be pretty, and delightful, but when experienced hundreds of times a day they can start to feel “heavy” and inefficient; sometimes it makes more sense to just turn them off completely. This should be configurable.
  • Act on feed items without having to jump into them Here I’m referring mainly to the ability to save an item to a “read later” service while scrolling through a multi-item list. Often as you’re scrolling through a list of feed items you can tell whether an item is something you want to act on without having to actually jump into it. In Newsify, for example, if I want to save something to Pocket while scrolling through a list, I simply long-tap the item (no matter the layout mode) and it gets shuttled along.
  • Save internal links to a “read later” service How often are you reading an article and want to save to a “read later” service a link you come across within that article? Most clients offer the ability to act on the link via the system-wide iOS dingus, but only a few let you send the link directly to your “read later” service of choice. If the “read later” option isn’t available, I usually have to open the link in Safari, and then use a bookmarklet/extension to send it to the service I want. That’s crazy, and about 10 steps too many.
  • Show thumbnail images if available I realize some people don’t like thumbnails in their feed readers (especially given the propensity for some writers to add images to their articles that don’t necessarily inform the reader, because they know articles with images tend to get more views), and want to see only the title and maybe a line or two of preview text, but I find my skimming usually is much faster when thumbnails are shown; it’s much easier for me to determine at a glance whether the article is something I want to see more of. This is especially true for particular feeds; for example, I have a feed that’s focused on car news, and because of thumbnails I can blaze through its unread items very quickly.
  • Offer multiple layout modes There usually are two that are most important: a list view where each item is presented in a uniform size (including length of title, number of preview lines, etc.); and a newspaper-style view where the width (and sometimes height) of the “box” in which an item is presented can vary based on, for example, whether that item has any images associated with it, etc. This should be configurable (and, ideally, on a folder-by-folder and feed-by-feed basis).
  • Show only feeds and folders with unread items This one seems so obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many apps out there force you to scroll through your entire list of feeds/folders, despite there being something new in just a few of them. Silly. Hide that shit.
  • Show oldest items first Again, another thing that you’d think couldn’t be more obvious. I want to view articles in the order they’re published, not the reverse.
  • Never require mark-all-as-read confirmation Ever. Just don’t do it.
  • Show read/unread progress when inside a feed or folder There are certain feeds or folders of feeds that I always run through item-by-item (e.g., my folder of individual bloggers), and it’s nice to know how far along I am in the list while in the process of going through it (e.g., display “3 / 8 articles read” above the current article).
  • Offer options when finishing a feed or folder of feeds Some clients jump right into the next unread feed or folder, others bring you back to the main list of feeds/folders. This should be configurable.
  • Customizable “Services” menu The client should support as many services as is practicable, and the user should be able to choose which of those appears in the services menu.
  • Switch easily to a web-based view 99% of the time I’m fine with being shown a “sanitized”, uniform, content-only version of an item’s corresponding web page, but it should be very easy to view the page “natively” in an in-app browser. Which of these to show by default (i.e., sanitized or in-app browser) should be configurable (and, ideally, on a feed-by-feed basis).
  • Filtering at the item level Frankly, I think this is something that should come with anything you use to consume any type of content, but it rarely does. In fact, I’m not aware of any major RSS app (for iOS) that lets you hide some of your feed items based on constraints you specify. For years I used Yahoo! Pipes for this sort of thing, and while it was a little clunky, it worked really well…but Yahoo killed that a coupe of years ago. (I’m aware that Feed Wrangler offers filters, though I don’t think at this point they’re too robust (e.g., no regex, etc.). I’m keeping my eye on this.)
  • Site/author attribution in folder view When looking at more than a single feed at once (e.g., when viewing a folder’s worth of items), it’s nice to be able to see which site and/or author a particular item belongs to, because that information might ultimately determine whether you want to take further action on that item. Same goes for multi-author sites.
  • Prefetch all the things All feed images should be downloaded when syncing, and not when an item is opened. The last thing you want to do when jumping into a feed item is have to wait for an image to load; do this a hundred times in a row and you’ll understand how truly maddening it can be. There should be an option to turn this off if using a connection other than WiFi, but otherwise you should be slurping down everything at sync time.

So, what do I use?

Newsify, on both iPhone and iPad. I’ve been using it for years without issue, and it’s updated fairly often. It talks to Feedly (through which I manage my RSS feeds) without a hitch, and does all of the things listed above and more (except item-level filtering). As mentioned, I basically just don’t do news reading on the desktop anymore, but in a pinch, Feedly’s site is perfectly usable.

What happens when evolution finally has a purpose?

For the entirety of life on earth — some 4,000,000,000 years — evolution has pushed everything forward…blindly. Literally. No rhyme, no reason. Just random mutations that sometimes benefited their carriers, sometimes were deleterious, but mostly were of no consequence whatever.

We now know evolution was less a competition, and more a cooperative expression of accidentally mutually-beneficial creativity. Novelty propels species.

We’re going to get to the point where we can (easily, cheaply, and accurately) engineer the evolution of our own species. When this happens the process no longer will be aimless, but by definition the exact opposite. What does it mean when you can predict everything about the coupling of a particular sperm and egg? When you can “reach in” and alter it to suit your desires?

Precision gene editing is coming, and over time no disease or otherwise undesirable trait will be immune. The queue of “fixes” is as long as the diseases and flaws of which we’re aware. The ultimate goal likely will be to enable us to thrive on currently inhospitable planets, but in the nearer-term the curing of diseases and the enhancement of our abilities will remain paramount — and who will get to determine and define these goals? Does safety govern? Ideology? Religion? Progeny IQ?

Maybe we’ll be able to control this in a way soon enough that will allow us to extend our usefulness in the eyes of the emergent machines? Maybe all of this converges on a race of über-humans who’ve no interest in procreating with others who are “less than”; maybe carnal desires won’t matter as we can intervene post-conception, but pre-birth?

It’s crazy to think about, but after nearly 4,000,000,000,000 years of haphazardness, we’re developing tools to inject our knowledge and desires into the evolutionary process that produced all of us. You can bet it’s going to get…weird.

And when machines start to practice natural selection in ways both orders of magnitude more frequently than humans, and systematically instead of randomly, things are going to get…weirder still. A human-created Cambrian explosion may not be too far off.

The compulsion

YOLO, for real

Like many people, I struggle with my legacy. What will I leave humanity? I’ve been successful in nearly every sense of the word, but I hardly ever feel successful. I’ve always just put my head down and banged shit out. So what? There’s never been any other option for me.

Some of that is mental illness. Some of it is escapism. Some of it is fear. All of it is grit.

I think if I leave a dent in the universe at all, it will have to do with artificial intelligence. How? I’m not quite sure yet, but I can’t come up with anything else that would matter in the least and so I’m hanging my hat on that. No pressure.

Is my purpose to read the entire internet and a thousand books and assimilate all of that knowledge into something that helps other humans (or our successors) advance something?

Is my purpose to make and share beautiful photos? Is it to make people laugh? Is it to help others be all they can be? Is it to engineer stuff? Is it to code? Is it to teach adults how to read? Is it to have opinions on a particulary potent style of beer?

It’s impossible to quantify “success” when you think about life at this all-encompassing scale, and if you zoom out just a little further it’s as if you never existed at all. What a shitty paradox.

We’re close to a point where the impossibly slow, random, ladder of evolution simply ceases to matter. We’ll be able to give human evolution purpose, reason…an active goal. Is the ultimate measure of success having a hand in that? Making something that eventually displaces humans?