AirPods complaints

Let me get this out of the way: Apple’s AirPods are good. They pair seamlessly, sound at least as good as their wired equivalents, and are fun to use. From what I’ve read, no other company offers truly wireless earbuds anywhere near as good as these. And “truly wireless” matters; I love that I don’t snag my headphones on every doorknob. It’s nice that I don’t have to snake a cable through my many layers when prepping for a cold-weather run.

But I have my quibbles:

  • Control issues. Nerds have fretted about the AirPods’ lack of playback / volume controls since Apple’s initial announcement back in September. After ten days using them, it’s clear to me: using Siri for this is annoying. Two examples:

    First, skipping podcast ads[1] with the AirPods is a chore. I can command Siri to jump ahead two minutes, but playback does not restart automatically afterwards. I then have to invoke Siri again and say “Play.” In other words, it takes two separate double-tap gestures, two spoken phrases, and at least ten seconds to complete this simple task. With the wired EarPods, accomplishing the same thing took literally two seconds.

    Second, this shouldn’t happen:

    Sir is dumb.
    C’mon, Siri.

    Yes, I have a “Ray” in my address book. But Siri has to get smarter than that.

  • If you own an Apple Watch, you can control playback and volume there instead of via Siri. But that has its own challenges; Apple has made it difficult to get at the “Now Playing” screen from inside other Watch apps—especially if you’re on the move. You must tap the side button and scroll to the “Now Playing” view before you can skip around or adjust the volume. Again, this is a downgrade compared to the wired earbuds, where the process was simple: tap, tap, done.
  • The “double-tap-for-Siri” gesture isn’t as reliable as I had hoped. One morning, I repeated the invocation three times before Siri chirped up. Another day, while out running, Siri wouldn’t respond no matter how hard I tapped. Only re-pairing the AirPods fixed the issue and enabled the double-tap gesture again.
  • When listening to the Airpods, I find myself unsure what to do with the sleek little AirPod carrying case. Should it live in my pocket? In my bag? What about when I’m running—should the case come with me? With the wired EarPods, the device was a single, connected unit and thus easier to keep track of. Now, I have three separate dinguses to track, and I’m just not sure how to do it efficiently.
  • Relatedly, I spent over an hour the other night hunting for the AirPods case. The smooth little pebble had slid out of my pocket while I was sitting and fallen onto the floor. The old EarPods, by virtue of being a rubbery tangle of wires, never did this. I wish the AirPods case were less glossy and more grippy.
  • AirPods owners have noticed that the case seems to lose charge constantly—even after the earbuds have been topped off. I’ve seen this, too. Regardless of how much (or little) I use them, the AirPods case needs a recharge at least every two days.
  • The AirPods’ sound quality is decent—at least as good as the stock earbuds that came with my iPhone. But they do produce some noticeable low-level static—a buzzing whine that I can hear distinctly in a quiet room. It’s not enough to bother me, but I’m aware of it when the environment around me is silent.

Again, AirPods are delightful in many ways. They’re an impressive technological achievement. But in introducing new conveniences, Apple has also eliminated some familiar, critical benefits of the old tech. This give-and-take makes me hesitate to recommend the AirPods. For $160, your experience will be both better and worse than using the free EarPods that came with your iPhone.

But as a proof-of-concept, the AirPods’ potential is clear. If Apple can pare down the price[2] and sand off the rough edges—particularly by adding physical playback and volume controls—AirPods v2 would be a no-brainer purchase for many iPhone owners.


  1. Don’t judge me. I can only hear about Squarespace so many times.  ↩

  2. $99 sounds good, doesn’t it?  ↩

Microsoft’s Surface Studio 

Microsoft ruled nerd Twitter this afternoon.

Panos Panay, who runs Microsoft’s hardware team, has earned a reputation as the “M. Night Shyamalan” of tech presenters; there’s always a twist. Last year, the Surface Book’s detachable screen wasn’t unveiled until halfway through his explanation. This year, Panay introduced the Studio as an industrial-looking iMac competitor, then pivoted and revealed how the machine converts into a digital creator’s easel, controlled via touch, pen and an intriguing new accessory called the Surface Dial.

I could quibble (the event ran a half-hour too long), but it’s hard not to be impressed with the device and its carefully-orchestrated introduction. In the video above, when the music paused and the artist placed the Dial on the screen, my jaw dropped. I felt it in a visceral way.

Others seem to agree; Microsoft ruled nerd Twitter this afternoon.

New blog theme

Leave Wordpress development to the experts.

I’ve switched up my WordPress theme, opting for a barely-customized version of the platform’s most recent default, Twenty Sixteen.

A few reasons for the change:

  1. I’d rather leave theme development to the experts. I don’t have the time or interest to maintain a custom theme or to leverage the latest WordPress features.
  2. I’ve been drawing more lately, and I wanted a theme that could showcase comics and illustrations. Twenty Sixteen’s robust post format support fits the bill.
  3. My previous theme (my own adaptation of Independent Publisher) lost its charm in recent months. My decision to limit the front page to post excerpts (rather than full posts) proved ill-advised.

I’ll continue tweaking my Twenty Sixteen child theme; better formatting for link posts and a snazzier main header are both on my to-do list. But I hope to avoid custom changes that would require ongoing maintenance.

A better iPad lap stand

There are 1,001 different iPad stand designs out there already. But few of them work well on the lap.

Yes, there are already 1,001 tablet stands out there, ranging from $5 cardboard easels to aluminum docks that cost nearly $200. But very few existing models work well on the lap. Either they’re fixed at limited, inconvenient viewing angles (e.g. Apple’s Smart Cover), or they’re too narrow to span the gap between your thighs (a la my beloved Satetchi R1).

Here are the key features of my proposed alternative:

  1. This stand offers a place to rest your keyboard—but does not include the keyboard itself. Although I liked the BrydgeAir keyboard dock while I had it, I don’t like plunking down $100+ for an accessory that may not be compatible with future iPad models. This stand invites the user to add his favorite Bluetooth keyboard rather than rely on a proprietary port or form factor.
  2. The BrydgeAir keyboard dock inspired the drawing’s hinge design. These pivoting arms grip the iPad across its widest bezels, so that its screen remains unobscured. They’re rimmed with a rubbery material to prevent scratches on the iPad’s screen. They allow the iPad to be removed quickly (unlike bulky keyboard cases). The hinges rotate 180 degrees, allowing the user to lock in her preferred viewing angle. And these arms would ideally slide sideways along a channel or rail, so that the stand could be used with smaller tablets—or with the iPad Pro in portrait orientation.
  3. Because the iPad Pro is fairly heavy, the base would probably require some counterweight to prevent the assembly from toppling over. Admittedly, this would make the lap stand less portable. The anchor weights could be extra batteries—to charge the iPad on the go. But that would add complexity, inflate the cost, and (most critically) impact the stand’s longevity (since batteries lose their capacity over time). Better to embed some other dense material near the stand’s front edge in order to counterbalance the iPad itself.

There are probably engineering concerns that make this design impractical, and the market for 12.9″ iPad accessories may be too small to justify much experimentation from third-party manufacturers.

But something like this stand would go a long way towards making the iPad Pro a true laptop replacement—i.e. by letting it perch on my app.

Tilt Brush 

‘Tilt Brush lets you paint in 3D space with virtual reality.’

Painting from a new perspective: Tilt Brush lets you paint in 3D space with virtual reality. Your room is your canvas. Your palette is your imagination. The possibilities are endless.

VR grows more interesting by the day; it’s encouraging to see the medium do more than port first-person shooters.

For example, this VR painting app (launching with the HTC Vive headset) is intriguing for both artists and art-lovers. Imagine stepping into a comic book or viewing a portrait from your preferred, alternative angle.

Be sure to check out the demo videos.

UPDATE: Watch Glen Keane play with Tilt Brush. Keane helped animate several classic Disney films (e.g. The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast)