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“Stop rooting for brands.”

Stop rooting for brands. Root for competition.

Joshua Topolsky, The Verge, via Twitter.

Apple fans should hope that Windows 8 tablets sell like mad. Android nerds should cheer when a hot new app debuts exclusively for iOS. Microsoft nuts (they do exist!) ought to celebrate if the iPad cannibalizes PC sales. The products, ecosystems, and devices we love will only get better if other products, ecosystems, and devices force them to.

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A taller iPhone: ergonomically problematic?

In recent weeks, rumors of an iPhone with a larger screen have resurfaced. A forum post on the Verge, subtly substantiated by Apple insider John Gruber, imagined how Apple could increase the device’s screen size without expanding its actual footprint. By sliding the earpiece up and shrinking down the home button, Apple could pack in more vertical pixels, transforming the iPhone’s screen from a squat 3:2 to something nearer 16:9.

Now, I’m all for a larger iPhone screen. The current version does feel small. But this particular idea has its problems.

My own misgivings have to do with button ergonomics. The current iPhone’s home button is already tricky to press, particularly when the device is held with one hand. If I grip the phone securely, my thumb can’t reach the home button. I’m forced to shimmy the iPhone “up” my grip, balancing it on my index finger. While my thumb stretches, I lose its stabilizing anchor point. The combined effect? It feels as if the phone wants to flip over my fingers and tumble to the ground.

And what if, as the rumors suggest, the home button gets smaller and slides further down to accommodate a taller screen size? Well, in short, a things get worse:

  • First, as the home button moves down, hitting it comfortably will mean holding the iPhone even higher in my hand. More weight will hang out into the air, making the device less stable.
  • Second, a smaller home button would be a harder target to hit. My thumb would take longer to find the button. This would leave the phone unanchored (and vulnerable to drops) for longer stretches of time.
  • Third, shifting the home button downward would mean that my thumb presses down slightly closer to the device’s bottom edge. As with a lever or see-saw, moving the contact point away from the fulcrum results in more movement. It’s tough to maintain a firm grip on a moving object.[1]
  • Finally, with the home button relocated near the phone’s bottom, there’s a greater chance that my thumb will unexpectedly slip off the edge. Suddenly, I’ve lost that anchor point completely. My reflexes might not fire quickly enough to tighten my grip—and prevent the phone from flipping backwards, out of my hand.

  1. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the home button is notorious for wearing out. As the phone ages, only overly-firm, exaggerated presses register with the OS. These heavier taps make the phone shift and shimmy even more.  ↩

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iPad ergonomics

iPad ergonomics
Top half courtesy of Safety & Health, University of Western Australia. Via Sciblogs. Bottom half courtesy Peter Belanger/Macworld.

As the iPad cannibalizes the traditional PC market, more knowledge workers are relying on Apple’s tablet for getting things done. One unfortunate side effect of a tablet-based workstation? Deplorable ergonomics.

Most ergonomic guides recommend you mount your monitor at (or just below) eye level. That’s tough to do with iPad docks currently available.

On the other hand, you could argue that the iPad is ergonomically superior to laptops. With the iPad, it’s at least theoretically possible to raise the screen higher (even if few people do it). A laptop locks the screen at keyboard height.

culture internet technology Uncategorized

Retraction: This American Life explains why they regret airing Mike Daisey’s (fictionalized) monologue

The original episode featured Daisey’s first-hand account of deplorable conditions at the factories of Apple’s Chinese suppliers.

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Instapaper crosses the “tricky line”

My read-later service of choice, Instapaper, recently added a signature feature: multi-page stitching. When activated on articles split into separate pages, Instapaper will now fetch all the content and splice it together for you. Very handy!

The addition represents an about-face for Marco Arment, Instapaper’s developer. As he wrote last July,

Nearly all of Instapaper’s competitors… offer automatic multi-page fetching and stitching into one long page. To date, I’ve intentionally not offered this feature on Instapaper. I’ll seek out publicly available “single page” links and automatically fetch those instead, but I don’t create a single-page view that doesn’t otherwise exist publicly on a publisher’s site.

I’ve been torn about this for a while, since I’m losing business to competitors because of it. It’s a risky move for me to even talk about it like this. But I feel like multi-page stitching is a tricky line to cross, and for the time being, I don’t feel comfortable crossing it.

Marco Arment, “Saving John Siracusa’s massive Lion review to Instapaper”

Why does (or did) Marco consider multi-page stitching a “tricky line”? My guess: it undermines (or, at least, side-steps) many online publications’ business models. Ads get stripped out and go entirely unseen by the reader. Sites that make single-page articles a premium feature (e.g. Ars Technica) lose out on potential subscribers.

Whatever Marco’s reasons for toeing the “tricky line,” he crossed that line on Thursday. He unveiled a brand new version of Instapaper’s page-saving bookmarklet–one that fetches, then stitches together multi-page articles.

The change’s timing was interesting. Earlier that same day, Readability (arguably Instapaper’s main competitor) released their own long-awaited iOS app. A few hours later, Instapaper integrated stitching, one of Readability’s marquee features. It seems unlikely that the near-simultaneous releases were coincidental.

Readability has enjoyed massive attention these last few days. Apple featured it as “App of the Week.” Its stylish typography and attractive font options have earned admiration from the designer crowd. Perhaps most importantly (and unlike Instapaper), Readability is completely free. Did Marco counter the Readability hype by adding a long-hoped-for feature to Instapaper? Did Readability’s encroachment into the App Store prompt Marco to finally “cross the line”?

Readability is Apple’s featured iPhone app this week.

On yesterday’s Build and Analyze podcast, Marco addressed the situation. He shared candidly about the challenges of “competing with free.” He recounted how his history with Readability’s developers left him feeling screwed. Surprisingly, however, Marco didn’t mention his change of heart on multi-page stitching.

Instead, Marco lambasted his competitors for stealing features from his own app. “I am very concerned with appearing like a copycat myself, even though they pretty much copied my whole product,” he said. He then went on to assert that “The fonts [in Readability] are pretty much the only major thing their app does that I would want to ‘steal’.” This seems disingenuous to me, considering the recent addition of multi-page stitching to Instapaper.

Again, I’m a happy Instapaper user. And I enjoy Marco’s blog and podcast. But I’d love to hear a bit more from him about two issues:

  1. Why “cross the line” now? Was the addition of multi-page stitching a nod to pragmatism? Has the competition grown too fierce to leave it out—even if publishers resent the lost ad views? Even if it makes Marco feel uncomfortable?
  2. Did Instapaper copy multi-page stitching from its competitors? If this doesn’t count as copying, why not?

UPDATE: Marco responded on Twitter (the tweet below is part 2 of 3):


UPDATE 2: My follow up (and his reply):

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iPad monism, ThinkPad dualism.

Apple’s iPad.

For decades, there was a stark, definite division between physical objects and consumer electronics. Physical objects (couches and books and food) were sturdy and touchable and straightforward and simple. The computer was obtuse, button-infested, and brimming with circuitry.

Apple’s iPad blurs that line, camouflaging its complexity beneath a real world object: a glass-fronted aluminum tray. Like your coffee table or rug, it’s sturdy and touchable and straightforward and simple. No bramble of cables, no rows of keys, and no modal workstation required. For the first time (Apple claims) a single device can unite your computing and your living. In short, the design is monistic.

Dualistic designs reject this philosophy, holding apart the human and the technological. Computers are computers. Sure, you can hide their circuits with gloss and glass. But they remain peripheral to the most fundamental human experiences: movement, emotion, food, love.

The ThinkPad: buttons, buttons everywhere.

The quintessential dualistic design–the venerable ThinkPad laptop–embodies such separation. It refuses to collapse your digital life into your real life (or vice versa). It’s a machine, bold and unapologetic, a black matte brick bristling with buttons and ports and blinking lights. The lines here are Soviet, martial, polygonal, industrial. The ThinkPad exposes its complexity and refuses to integrate seamlessly into your day-to-day world. In short, the design is dualistic.

Photos courtesy of Adrian S. Jones, inUse Consulting, and Mario Sánchez Prada.

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Apple iOS 4.1 release steals Google’s thunder.

Talk about timing. At the very instant Google was announcing a major revamp of its premiere product, Apple rolled out an update of its own.


Now this could be coincidental.

But maybe Apple saw an opportunity here–a chance to steal press from its chief rival in the smartphone space. After all, relations between the two companies haven’t exactly been friendly as of late.