Careful Tech 101: Drag and drop for the iPhone?


Careful Tech 091: Give Screen Time some teeth


Dark mode: better on the iPhone than the Mac?

In the most recent release of iOS, Apple added dark mode, and I’m a fan. At nighttime, dark backgrounds seem less glaring; they’re also less likely to disturb my partner sleeping beside me on the bed.

But I’ve actually taken to “running dark” all the time—day and night—on my iPhone. I spend most of my time indoors, where dark mode is perfectly legible and less distracting than its older, brighter cousin.

I’m not quite as enamored with dark themes on the desktop, though. I think it’s the overlapping windows that give me trouble. In dark mode, I can’t tell apps apart at a glance; they seem less differentiated.

Why is this? For one thing, it’s difficult to paint a shadow (like the one macOS uses to mark the active window) on a background that’s already dark. It doesn’t help that I spend most of my workday in Microsoft Office. Those apps support dark mode, but when it’s turned on, the interfaces are near-identical, dropping their distinctive “light mode” colors for a uniform gray.

Dark mode works on iOS because you don’t really need to tell apps apart by their interface appearance. On the iPhone, you only have one thing open at a time; you’re probably not going to forget what app you’re currently using. Even in the app switcher, the system helpfully pins each app’s icon to its thumbnail, so there’s no mistaking one for another. ◾


Caught between computers

Caught between computersIn terms of computing platforms, I‘ve been set adrift.

On the one hand, I don’t really want to return to Windows. Don’t get me wrong; unlike many Apple converts, I like Microsoft’s OS, and I frequently miss features and workflows from that platform.

But I left Windows for a reason; my favorite apps—OmniFocus, Procreate, Drafts—are exclusive to Apple’s platforms. There are no real equivalents on Windows, and I’m tired of “making do” with half-baked imitations.

On the other hand, it’s not a great time to have shifted to macOS. Yes, it’s true that Apple has suddenly remembered to make new hardware (see the new Air and Mini or the promised Mac Pro). But the software platform has stagnated, the App Store is eerily quiet, and Mac unit sales have declined in eight of the last twelve quarters, year-over-year. Settling in “Mac land” now feels like buying beachfront real estate in an era of rising sea levels—OK for now, but unsustainable in the long-term.

So what about iOS? Might I make “landfall” there? The short answer is, “Not yet.” Yes, the new iPad Pros are amazing kit, and the software has slowly matured. But too many of my workflows depend on a ‘real’ web browser (e.g. administering SharePoint) or ‘real’ Outlook (building pixel-perfect email templates).

Besides, even if I didn’t work in the enterprise, iOS would be a frustrating place to settle. I want legit external screen support, more robust keyboard shortcuts, and easier font installation. Hopefully, these power user features are on their way. But until they arrive, I can’t make permanent camp on iPad Island. ■

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30th anniversary of my Mac indifference

This week, Apple celebrated the Macintosh’s 30th anniversary. Pundits, executives, and fanboys lined up to reminisce online, and the team behind the original Mac’s creation gathered for a birthday bash. Most major media outlets posted nostalgic retrospectives.

I’ll be honest; I don’t get it.

On the one hand, I recognize the Mac’s debut as a watershed moment in the history of personal computing. While Apple didn’t invent the windowed interface or the point-and-click GUI, it refined those concepts and neatly packaged them for mainstream consumers. The Mac helped launch the “PC era” and deserves its fair share of credit.

On the other hand, the Mac never meant much to me personally. Growing up, I certainly used Apple’s computers, but they weren’t Macs. They hailed from the venerable Apple II line. I wasted many recesses playing Oregon Trail on my classroom’s Apple IIe (monochrome-green squirrels, beware!). At home, we treasured our Apple IIgs. When Apple finally killed off the Apple II (in favor of the Mac), I fumed.

Since the Apple II’s ignoble end, I’ve barely touched Cupertino’s desktop OS. Neither my family nor my school could afford Macs. And during my college years, I didn’t own my own PC. Instead, I relied on student computer labs, each packed with Windows machines. When I finally bought my first computer in 2007, the decision wasn’t hard. I had finangled my way into an employee discount from Lenovo; my Soviet-looking ThinkPad cost literally half as much as the equivalent svelte Mac.

Today, I am an Apple user; we’ve owned several generations of iOS devices. But we’ve never made the leap to Mac OS, and at this point a switch seems unlikely. My employer runs Windows exclusively, and I know Microsoft’s desktop OS backwards and forwards. Meanwhile, mobile devices may eventually make the Mac irrelevant; tablets are quickly maturing into viable full-time computing platforms.[1]

Looking back, my Mac-indifference comes down to bad timing. As a two-year-old, I was too young to appreciate the Mac’s 1984 debut. As a grad student, I was too poor to seriously consider a Mac. Now, I’m too invested in non-Mac platforms to justify a switch.

What about you? Does the Mac’s thirtieth anniversary bring back fond memories—or does it make you shrug?

  1. I write most of my blog posts (including this one!) on an iPad.  ↩

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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):