I Have No Idea What Apple Is Doing Anymore

I'm just going to out and say it - I have literally no idea what Apple is doing anymore.

Four days ago, Apple unveiled it's newest item, the latest and greatest iteration in its MacBook Pro lineup, and sure, while it's definitely gorgeous, there's something strange lurking beneath the surface, and that's that Apple no longer has a unified, cohesive design language or product message.

What's strange is that there's nothing meaningfully wrong with what Apple announced. A lighter, thinner, and more powerful laptop is always great. Moving towards the UCB-C standard is a solid idea, and knowing how the entire industry likes to chase and out-Apple Apple, hopefully this will mean wide spread adoption. The Touch Bar I think is an amazing idea, because aside from the f5, f6, esc, and prt scrn keys, I never use the function keys.

What's strange is that aside from people still using really old machines, I genuinely don't know who the new MacBook is for. For the longest time, I'd tell people to wait and not buy a new MacBook, because there surely was going to be a massive refresh. The last one was the addition of a retina display some four years ago, and since then, the "refreshes" have just been improved processor speeds and new chips. My girlfriend, for instance, has a MacBook Pro from 2008, and if it wasn't literally about to die on her, I don't think she'd feel the need to replace it so soon.

6 out of the 7 Mac line products that Apple sells are listed as DON'T BUY. 

6 out of the 7 Mac line products that Apple sells are listed as DON'T BUY. 

Going through everything Apple announced, it just feels like a whole lot of nothing. The Touch Bar is a really great example of this. Microsoft is letting you touch the screen and interact with the entire display. Apple is instead making you look down at your keyboard to interact with your display. Again, I think the Touch Bar will be genuinely useful, because like Steve Jobs said of phone with physical keyboards back in 2007, sometimes we need something to dynamically change based on the current use case scenario. The row of function keys is definitely outdated, but again, was the Touch Bar really the best implementation of this idea? I'm not so sure.

Then we have the device itself. The Pro used to be the best version of what Apple wanted to showcase to the world, for professionals (artists and business people alike) who have big requirements to get stuff done. Now you have to choose between the Pro, the Pro, and the Pro.

Which one is for Pros? I'm confused.

Which one is for Pros? I'm confused.

The thing with this is that MacBook Air is essentially dead. There haven't been any meaningful updates to it in 385 days. And now there are two 13" MacBook Pros, but they couldn't be any more different. One has the Touch Bar, and one doesn't. One has four USB-C ports, and one only has two. Why not just call the non-Touch Bar model the MacBook Air to alleviate confusion? It's specs are actually worse than it's Touch Bar enabled brother, and is more in line with what previous MacBook Air users wanted in a laptop. But no, that would be too easy, because Apple itself considers the new line of Pros as competitors to it's old like of Airs shows that they're not really Pro laptops anymore.

The event itself left a lot of loose ends, which is very unlike Apple. For instance, back in September, when Apple announced the iPhone 7, they made a bold claim that the standard 3.5mm headphone jack that we all know and love were dead, because the future is wireless and not having wires is superior to having wires. If this is truly the case, then why did they include a 3.5mm headphone jack in the new line of MacBook Pros? Even worse, Apple delayed their wireless earbuds that they promised would change your world.

From there, the questions become even more insane.

Why isn't there a Lightning to USB-C cable to connect your iPhone to your new MacBook Pro? Why can't you plug in the included Lightning headphones that come in the box with the iPhone 7 into the new MacBook Pro? Why did Apple tout how great the Touch Bar is for messaging, but didn't even port most if not all of the new iMessage features to macOS? Why do we have to carry two sets of headphones now? How do you charge your Lightning Cable Mouse? Why remove the HDMI port, which is still a popular standard? Why remove the SD card slot? Are HDMI and SD Cards also a dead technology? If so, where's Apple's future proof answer to replace these now seemingly decrepit technologies?

It just works.

It just works.

What's worse than all of this is why it took Apple so long to get to this point? For so long now I've been telling people to wait, and even now, I can't actually recommend the MacBook without including its many many caveats. You could just as easily buy a 2012 MacBook right now and not see any meaningful difference, and therein lies the problem. The company waited four years, but didn't deliver any real future value other than it's new and this is right around the time that people are going to want to upgrade to a newer model.

Apple 2010: There's an app for that.
Apple 2016: There's an adapter for that.

What's frustrating is that Apple used to push products into the market that would change the way people thought. The iPod and iPhone were truly game changing devices, and rather than making us carry more stuff in our pockets, they reduced it to a one device for all. Now, they have different standards for their different products. Lightning on mobile and USB-C on desktop, and no way to communicate between the two outside of dongles.

Courage

Courage

To me, it seems that Apple had this event to remind people that yes, it does actually care about the Mac and not just its primary money maker, the iPhone, but they only care about it when it's convenient. Look at Mac Pro. The last time that was updated was 1,048 days ago. That, much like the MacBook Air, is dead in the water, meaning that the only Pro-grade machine worth buying from Apple is the new MacBook Pro, and even then, that's a hard sell. Even more telling is that six out of the seven Mac line products that Apple sells are listed as Don't Buy on the MacRumours Buyer's Guide.

It's not just that. Even Apple's own naming schemes are all out of whack. You have the MacBook, the MacBook Air, the MacBook Pro, the Mac Pro, the Mac Mini, the iPad Mini, the iPad Air, the iPad Pro, the iPad Pro 9.7", the iPhone and iPhone Plus. It's all over the place with no sense of product cohesion anymore. 

Earlier in the week, I wrote about how I was excited for this new era of the Mac vs. PC war. Both sides are bringing their industrial design A game (and with that exorbitant prices), but it seems now that Apple and Microsoft have switched places. Apple is now the giant monolith unwilling to take meaningful risks, ad Microsoft the scrappy underdog out-Apple'ing Apple.

For a company that prides itself on a singular ecosystem, and thinking of an end to end experience, or continuity if you will, Apple really has lost its way. 

#madebygoogle 2016

Three years ago, we saw the first real hardware effort on the part of Google in the form of the 2013 Chromebook Pixel. It was crazy expensive, but it was never meant to be a commercial success. The Chromebook Pixel was meant to show what could happen if Google got serious about its own hardware, and man, did it generate serious hype.

Three years later, we're seeing that idea come into fruition. Earlier today, Google held it's much anticipated #madebygoogle event, and they debuted some of the most compelling pieces of hardware I've seen to date.

Let's start off with their successor to the long running line of Nexus devices, the

Pixel Phone

Google finally announced it's much leaked Pixel Phone. It's built by HTC, but you wouldn't know it, as the only branding on the back is the Google G logo, to indicate that it's a Google built phone. What makes this different is that on older Nexus devices, alongside the Nexus logo, you'd see the hardware manufacturer's logo right next to it, so you'd know that LG, Huawei, or Samsung had built it for Google. With the Pixel, it's straight Google.

Hardware wise, it looks fine. Strikingly similar to the iPhone in many regards, but fine nonetheless. Unlike the Nexus 5X and 6P from last year, which had differing internal specs, the Pixel has the exact same specifications no matter which size you go for. The only difference between the 5" and 5.5" models is the size of the battery, which come in at 2,770mAh and 3,450mAh respectively.

The Pixel phones are interesting for a couple of reasons. First is that they're offering Pixel users exclusive features, like unlimited storage at full resolution on Google Photos. No other phone has that, but that's probably because Google is saying that this is the highest rated camera on any phone - ever.

One thing to note is that Google also announced that they have no plans for future Nexus devices. While materially, it's hard to see what differentiates the Pixel line from the previous Nexus line, it makes sense. Pixel may not offer any crazy new hardware, but it's the software that allows it to stand out from the crowd, and that's what Google is banking on. Hardware has plateaued over the last few years, but software is the real value, and is still going strong.

Speaking of software being the real value, the Pixel is also the first device out with the successor to Google Now and Google Now on Tap - Google Assistant. What's surprsing to me is that it's basically the same Assistant that's found in Allo, but without any of the extraneous chat capabilities, which to me, makes it far more useful and compelling. I'm not sure what Google was thinking with Allo, but it seems like it's more or less a dead product now. 

Google Assistant & Google Home

This was probably the one part of today's event that got me the most excited. Amazon was the first to really nail a home voice controlled assistant, but Google's Home to me seems far more useful, since it's tied directly to my Google account and services that I use.

Home as a piece of hardware is extremely beautiful, and that's something that you can thank Rick Osterloh (former President of Motorola, now head of Google's hardware division) for. He's brought some of the best hardware design to the table in this event, and accompanied it with really compelling software.

Google's Home runs Google's Assistant software. If you've ever seen or used an Amazon Alexa, you'll already be familiar with it. However, Home seems to be better an recognizing contextual information. For instance, on stage, they demoed it by saying, play that Shakira song from Zootopia, and it immediately knew what Rishi Chandra was talking about. That's something that even the Echo can't do yet.

Home is also a Chromecast receiver, meaning that you can yell it to play something on YouTube, and have it play on your TV immediately. That'd be really useful if you're doing something with your hands, and want to show someone something, but can't, because you know, you're hands are occupied.

Assistant on the other hand, is a different beast entirely. It's basically taking the already powerful Google Now system, and super charging it. If you've used it inside Allo, you already know how it works, but now, instead of getting Now on Tap whenever you long press the home button, you get Assistant. It's equal parts Google Now, and equal parts Siri, but infinitely more useful and powerful. You've got a chat system that you can type into, and it's also voice controlled. The best part is that it's open to third party apps, so things like Wikipedia and Open Table can plug right into it to give you instant results.

Daydream View VR

It's a VR headset made my Google, using the Daydream platform that was announced back in may during #io16. It's built by Google, and it looks really premium, and oddly very comfy to wear. The first phone to support this will be, surprise surprise, the Pixel Phone. 

Chromecast Ultra

The Chromecast Ultra is like every other Chromecast, but the Chrome browser logo has been replaced with the Google G logo, and it now supports 4K, which is cool. Again, not much here has changed all that mushc.

Google WiFi

There's not much to say about this, other than it's Google's successor to the wildly popular and useful OnHub platform. It's more than a simple rebranding too. Here, watch their introduction video to see what it can do.

Final Thoughts

I only have three issues with the Pixel. The first is that for it's price, which is matched dollar-for-dollar with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, it's not water proof/resistant. On cheaper priced Nexus devices, that would be okay, but for a new flagship in 2016, that's completely unacceptable, especially if Google wants to compete against Apple and Samsung. The second is the price, which is going to turn so many people away. Google at one point used to have incredibly affordable hardware, but no longer it seems. The starting prices of the Pixel line are a solid $200 more expensive than last years Nexus 5X and 6P were. Companies like OnePlus have proven that you can have amazing hardware at an affordable price, but it seems like Google doesn't seem to agree. Third is that if Google wants to price the Pixel phones the same as the iPhone, then they need to guarantee 3-4 years worth of updates like Apple does. Currently, a Nexus device is only guaranteed 2 years of support and even then, that might not actually happen. The Nexus 5 is eft running Android 6.0, and who knows what will happen to the Nexus 5X and 6P now that the Pixel line has taken over.

While the Pixel phone looks great on paper (despite its obvious flaws listed above), the real standouts were Google WiFi, Home, and Assistant. Google is betting big on AI. They're whole move is for them to make the same hardware as everyone else, but do AI better than anyone else. And it's totally going to work.

The Pixel is the start of Google's grand reunification under one hardware and software brand. No more side hussles and confusing product names. Google is going all in on their biggest asset and brand value - their name. And it's about damn time. With the Pixel, and the massive marketing push behind it, Google is betting that it can be on par with both Samsung and Apple, and with it's Assistant constantly learning about you and improving upon it's AI, Google is going to win where others seem to be flailing around. And now just on your phone, but inside your home too.

To put this into perspective, imagine that your LG, or Sony, or Huawei, or Samsung. Your brand, especially in Samsung's case, has literally just exploded. Your OS vendor is now making it's own hardware, with it's own integrated payments, VR, and Assistant systems, all the while you're betting that your proprietary offerings will be what saves you. Even with WiFi and Assistant, Google is not only targeting Apple, but it's also seriously undercutting both Amazon and Eero.

If this wasn't Google dropping a mic, then I don't know what is. Either way, I'm seriously stoked.


Here are the Canadian prices for everything listed above:

Daydream View VR - $99
Google WiFi Single/3-Pack - $170/$395 (Estimated)
Google Home - $170 (Estimated)
Pixel/Pixel XL 32/128 GB - $1,028/$1,158 & $1,178/$1,308 outright (contract pricing unavailable*)
Chromecast Ultra - $90

*The Pixel and Pixel XL are priced exactly the same as the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, so expect their 2 year contract prices to also be the exact same on all the carriers.

Google Spaces: Wave, with none of the splash

Google just released a new app platform, Spaces. It's their latest attempt at social, and is very much like Google Wave mashed together with Slack, but with none of the functionality. 

Google Hangouts Group Messaging Plus All Access

Google Hangouts Group Messaging Plus All Access

When Wave died, 99% of it's features (which were way ahead of their time) got adapted into Gmail, Hangouts, Google+ Communities, & Drive. The thing is that Spaces feels really limited right now. Sure, you can do stuff within a Space, but it's limited to just Search, YouTube, & IMs. I can't drop a Drive file into a Space, which is what I want to do more than anything else, really. Just drop a Drive file, and have it automatically give sharing persmissions to anyone in that particular Space. It's essentially Pinterest for small groups, and as a Slack competitor, it fails in that regard. 

What Google should have done with Spaces is bake it into Hangouts. WhatsApp already has groups that allows sharing of images, YouTube links, and more importantly, documents. Yet, without a trace of self-awareness, Google actually wrote on the Spaces website, "getting friends into the same app can be challenging," which is why we have Hangouts, Gmail, Drive, WhatsApp, iMessage, Facebook Messenger and Slack. Who needs one more app that does more of the same stuff, only in this case, not.

Spaces is certainly interesting, but right now it feels wholly unfinished, but hopefully it will get some feature updates shortly after ‪#‎io16‬. I'm just hoping that Google doesn't kill this product off in two years time, because it does seem to have a lot of potential, but the last time I said that, we were given Hangouts, and we all know how well that went.


You can also read this over at my Medium or Facebook.

On Podcasts, the Future of Audio

Every day, I commute half an hour to work, and another half an hour back home. During those thirty minutes inside my car, I'm simultaneously alone, but surrounded by some of my closest friends. This may sound strange, but bear with me, I'll explain.

Back in the mid-aughts, around 2006-07, while I was still in high school, my brother was a student at the UofT Mississauga campus. For a while, he worked with their on campus radio station, CFRE, and one day, he brought home an .mp3 file of an interview CFRE had with one of our favourite bands, Moneen. I must have listened to that interview hundreds of times, devouring the words and their live acoustic renditions of some of the more popular songs. At the time, I didn't know two things. The first being why I loved listening to that interview so much, and the second being that that was my first exposure to what would soon become one of my favourite things in life - podcasts.

If I'm being entirely honest, I'm still not 100% sure as to what draws me into listening to podcasts. I think it's a combination of being able to passively listen in on incredibly interesting conversations about politics, technology and design while also being able to learn more about the things that interest me. But that's not where podcasts end, rather, where they begin.

Podcasts are more about the art of story telling, and in the last three years, it's been going through something of a renaissance. From new titles like Serial, that spawn discussions about the weekly updates (and subsequent discussions on those discussions) to Welcome to Night Vale, which is a sort of meta-podcast about a radio show taking place in a fictional mid-western town where all sorts of strange things happen, to Radiotopia, anchored by the incredible 99% Invisible, which is all about design in the modern world. Each of these podcasts brings something incredibly unique to the table, and every day people spends hours upon hours consuming and listening to these shows, and many others, from fantasy football to terraforming Mars.

Hello, my name is Tapas, and I have an addiction to podcasts

Hello, my name is Tapas, and I have an addiction to podcasts

The interesting thing though is that podcasting isn't new by any stretch of the imagination. It's been around for decades as talk radio, but only now is it really making noise. The reason for this is that I think it's now far more accessible. Anyone can find a show that they like and subscribe. You no longer have to tune in at a specific time and sit in your car or by a physical radio to listen. Instead, you can set up notifications, have the show you like to auto-download, and listen at your own pace. It's the audio version of video-on-demand, and it's fantastic.

The second reason as to why I think podcasts are booming now it's that it's such a personal and intimate experience. It doesn't matter where you are when you're listening - a car, train, bus, or walking down the street - you feel like you're sitting with these people inside your ears and like you're actually participating in that conversation in that exact moment. That's something you don't get with television or games. Sure, those two mediums may be more visceral, but they're not nearly as tangible. 

There have been many times when I've been driving home from work late at night, only to see other drivers around me staring at me as they pass me looking utterly confused and scared because I'm laughing to myself. What they don't know is that in that moment, Chuck Nice (from StarTalk Radio) just cracked a hilarious joke and he, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and I are all sharing a laugh - together.

I've been listening to podcasts for the last four or so years, and in that time, I've managed to get my friends into them as well. Sometimes we listen to the same, and others not at all, but that's okay. And that's the brilliance of podcasting, it really does bring people together around topics you'd never think anyone else would ever share with you. It reminds me of Google's new advertising tagline for their Android OS platform - "Be together, not the same."

So, for as long as the people behind my favourite podcasts and radio shows like Radiolab, 99% Invisible, Welcome to Night Vale and Song Exploder keep producing amazing content, I'm going to keep listening and supporting them, because that's what friends do.

How Tesla Turned Me Into a "Car Guy"

Back in 2004, when I was in the eighth grade, Sony launched their first portable gaming device, the PSP. I was so stoked at the time, because compared to what Nintendo had to offer, the PSP seemed amazing. The power of a PS2 in the palm of your hand? Where do I sign up?!

One of the first games that I bought for my brand new PSP was something called Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition. Up until this point, I had never owned a racing game. Sure, I was familiar with them, having played Mario Kart, Cruisin' USA and Diddy Kong Racing, but I had never actually owned one. Needless to say, I was hooked. I knew very little about the whole world of cars, and the subsequent market of aftermarket parts and mods, but Midnight Club was a game that really stuck with me.

I recently found my PSP, and it still had my copy of Midnight Club inside of it, so I fired it up, and drove around for a little while aimlessly. The controls were still incredibly tight, and it felt great. Then I went into my garage, to see what other cars I had. A 2003 Chrysler 300C, a 1957 Chevy Bel-Air, and Lotus Elise. Quickly going over their stats and parts I realized something two things. One, I still know very little when it comes to cars, and two, that I despite having loved this racing game, I still don't really care about cars.

I think both of those stem from the fact that when I was growing up, my family only had one car, and that was a thoroughly un-sexy minivan. It never spoke to me in the same way that other technology did. I never could understand how some of my friends could pop open the hood of their car and ogle at the engine for hours. I never got into all the parts, and how the connected and worked together. To this day, even after buying my own car, I still tend to think of automobiles as magic metal boxes strapped onto four wheels powered by exploding dinosaur juices.

And that's how it's been for me. Sure, I can appreciate an antique, like a '57 Chevy Bel-Air, or a '55 Ford Thunderbird (those tailfins though, hnnng), but beyond the sheer aesthetics of the vehicles, I have no interest in them. Recently, that changed because of one company in particular. 

Tesla Motors.

I've written about Tesla, and its CEO Elon Musk, in the past, and my love for him and the company only grows with every announcement. That's not the entire story though. Musk, and his company, Tesla, have done something that I never thought possible - they got me to care about cars, more importantly, electric vehicles. Having studied Environmental Politics in university, and being a 100% out-of-the-closet confirmed nerd, Tesla and Musk speak to me in the same way that Midnight Club 3 for the PSP spoke to me - it lets me nerd out in a way I normally wouldn't be able to. And this is primarily due to the fact that Tesla functions as a tech company that just so happens to be in the business of making cars.

The thing with Tesla is that the cars they make are more than just cars. They're the future of the entire automobile industry, a multi-billion dollar bet that is beginning to prove successful. Tesla is the future of technology, taking a tried and trued design philosophy, and improving upon it. Tesla's vehicles are the first truly modern cars that have me excited. Oooh, Bugatti has a new car that can go like super fast. Yeah, that's great and all, but it's not practical. It's not the car that I know is within my reach. It's not the car that I'll be able to know how it works inside and out. It's not a car that gets me excited for the future.

When Musk announced the long awaited $35,000 Model 3, I told my dad that my next car is going to be a Tesla made car. That's the first time he and I ever really discussed cars, because up until recently, I didn't care. He told me to wait until EV technology matured, and while I tend to agree with him, in this case, I can't wait. I want to help play a part in making that future a reality now. I want to help lead an environmentally conscious life in an affordable manner. I want to be able to vote with my wallet in a way that will help impact the industry in a positive, meaningful manner. But more than any of that, I want to be able to look at my car, and know exactly how it works, from the software being used to the hardware powering it. And right now, as I look at my car outside my window, parked in my driveway covered in snow, I feel none of that hopeful anticipation. All I see is a magical metal box, strapped onto four wheels powered by exploding dinosaur juices, and not the future.

Tired of Technology

Just a quick warning: this is going to be more of a rant than one of my more traditional posts. It's been something that I've been thinking over for some time now, and I really just wanted to get it off my chest.


I've always been a fan of technology. If it has a power button, then it was fair game for me to tinker around with. However, lately, I've been feeling particularly fatigued with the world of tech. It's simultaneously overwhelming and underwhelming. That may sound paradoxical, but let me explain.

In 2007. when Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone, it was nothing short of a world changing device on the same level as the computer mouse. It completely revolutionized the way that we, as consumers, look at our phones and pocketable devices. Fast forward eight years to 2015, and Tim Cook unveils the Apple Watch, and calls the digital crown the next mouse, or iPod click-wheel. It's was a bold statement that could never have possibly lived up to the hype. Eight months later, and anyone I've talked to has said that 1. they forget that the digital crown even exists and 2. that they don't know what to use the Apple Watch for. I don't know if Apple even know the actual use-case for the Apple Watch, and the same can be said of almost every single other tech giant making smart watches. There's no clear direction, and the direct consequence is that I'm not seeing many Apple Watches in the wild. 

In the previous decade, the aughts, most consumer technology conventions, from CES to MWC, felt extremely exciting. Every year, big companies would come out and showcase their latest and greatest. This year we had Samsung showcase a fridge with a 21.5" touchscreen slapped on to the front of it. A smart fridge. That is the best that Samsung thought they could do? Sony, on the other hand has a press event where they went up on stage to talk about how they had nothing new to offer, except for handicams, which haven't been used since the early aughts. 

And this is where we currently are - a valley, inbetween the end of one explosive decade, and on the verge of entering a brand new one. But, for right now, companies are trying to do much, and accomplishing very little. Every tech giant is investing in VR, and The Internet of Things (hence Samsung's smart fridge), but nothing is compelling. They're throwing out product after product, not guaranteeing any form of update system, just to iterate as fast as possible to be the first one to really make a splash.

Looking at Samsung again, since 2013, they've released seven smart watches, the previous versions of which have been all but abandoned. And the problem is that companies like Samsung are pushing for The Internet of Things as hard as they can, because living in an ever more connected world seems super appealing. Who wouldn't want their toaster to start toasting bread in the morning from the comfort of their bed? More automation means less work, right? No. Not unless you buy into one company, and one company only, because every company wants to be The Internet of Things, but only if they get to use their own proprietary systems that can't communicate with anything else outside of their stack.

The worst part is that every single one of these companies demand that every 12 months we ditch our current devices for their updates models. We all know about this planned obsolescence, yet we still buy into it year after year, which is why companies like Apple are allowed to charge $1000 for a phone. And it's the same tactic that universities are using - forcing students to spend even more money that they simply do not have because they updated the textbooks with one or two minor changes. It's the same material with a new cover, and all it does is generate nothing but waste and resentment. 

There's just too much going on, with very little impact. I'm being overwhelmed by just how underwhelming and stagnant technology has become over the last year or so. Don't get me wrong, I am extremely excited for what the future holds. Driverless cars, and more automation; city-mapping and fewer smart fridges. But for now, I'm just so damn tired.