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Andy Rubin (co-founder of Android) has came out with a new product, the Essential phone. Basically, it's a new phone that runs Android, which is built upon a few beliefs:

  • Devices are your personal property. We won’t force you to have anything on them you don’t want to have.
  • We will always play well with others. Closed ecosystems are divisive and outdated.
  • Premium materials and true craftsmanship shouldn’t be just for the few.
  • Devices shouldn’t become outdated every year. They should evolve with you.
  • Technology should assist you so that you can get on with enjoying your life.
  • Simple is always better.

Going by these principles, it sounds like something I could get behind. But at the minute, that is still in principle. With the physical implementation all that matters in the real world.

If we disregard the fact it runs Android for now (I'm not exactly a big fan), the phone has a few features that will intrigue some people.

Display

The display is the biggest part of the device, and that's what everyone will be drawn to. It follows the theme of slimming the bezel down, which most manufacturers are doing.

The Essential phone has done something a bit strange in my opinion, by expanding the screen further up the device, but leaving a cutout for the front facing camera. You could say this is clever, in that they managed to produce a screen that fits around a camera. Or possibly sneaky, although that's probably not the word I want to use, because it allows them to market it as a bigger screen, although that section won't be used for the main content.

Camera

This then leads into the camera, which is a big focus point for phones nowadays. The front facing camera is 8MP and can even film 4K video, and the rear camera is 13MP and can also film in 4K. I haven't researched too much into the camera specs, but from what I can gather, it will at least sit with phones like the iPhone 7 and the Google Pixel.

Accessories

Another feature of the phone is the ability to connect accessories. It's nothing fundamentally new, as the iPad has the smart connector, and then there's already a ton of Bluetooth accessories. But with the Essential phone, you have two connector pins on the top of the rear or the device, and accessories connect magnetically.

There are currently two accessories on the website, which are the 3D camera, and the charging dock. Two okay accessories in my mind. Sure they look great, but I wouldn't get them.

It is a rather small 3D camera though, and their is an opportunity to make more accessories in the future. Then again, there are always opportunities for more accessories, so too much hope shouldn't be put into this thought.

Final Thoughts

While I don't think this phone will be for everybody, it's another competitor, and that can only be a good thing for the industry.

In principle I like the Essential phone, but I just can't imagine myself switching to Android (this is a deeper problem I'll expand upon in the future). I would of preferred it to run a separate operating system, but I do respect the amount of work that would take to build, not even thinking about the app ecosystem.

However it is a step in the right direction for Android phones, which I believe was started by the Google Pixel. In my mind, android phones were all about quantity, and not necessarily being the best devices. But it's started to take a different course, and it's only for the best.

Find out more about the Essential phone on their website.

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It's nearly halfway through the year already, and I'm surprised to say that apart from the odd accessory, I haven't purchased any new gadgets this year. And the only big things last year was my new MacBook with Touch Bar and an Echo Dot (which I rarely use now).

That probably isn't anything spectacular for most people, but I'm a young lover of technology, and a general fan of most things new and shiny. But with a mix of being a student, and the prolonged life of most devices nowadays, I simply haven't needed to upgrade anything.

But there are a few things that I think may be due an upgrade in the next six months - my Apple Watch and my iPad.

Apple Watch

As I've wrote about before, I'm still using my Series 0 Apple Watch. And while it's providing me with everything I think I need from it, I was slightly tempted to upgrade to the Series 2. So if Apple were to come out with another updated model - the new features, speed increase, and the fact that my current watch screen has had a chip for about a year may push me to upgrade.

So there isn't an immediate requirement for me to upgrade my watch, I think a Series 3 would be time to do so. I've had my current one for quite some time.

iPad

My iPad is another weird one, I'm currently using an iPad Air 2, so it's still a relatively new device. But it's not a pro.

Ever since the Apple Pencil was announced, I really wanted to get one, but this was when my iPad was still pretty new, so I knew I couldn't warrant an upgrade so soon. And the 12.9" iPad Pro was also a thought, but with the "recent" purchase of a new MacBook Pro, I thought that I would simply not use it enough. However, I'm growing into using my iPad more and more everyday, and while I'm not Federico Viticci, CGP Grey, or Matt Gemmel, the iPad is becoming more of an important device in my life.

Usually the need to upgrade a device is because it is no longer fit for purpose. But that doesn't apply to my iPad, and it's mainly because of the software. Sure, Apple makes iOS available on a huge number of previous devices, but I'm talking about apps. I've started using a few apps recently that while have reignited my iPad usage, also reinvigorated my iPad, giving it a new sense of power.

These apps are Workflow, Magic Launcher, 1Password, Ulysses, and Todoist, just to name a few. Granted these apps have been available for a while, but I'm now starting to use them properly. Which has made a lot of difference to the way I see my iPad, and has now led me to understand even more how people have moved fully to iOS. One of the best parts of these apps are the widgets you get to use in the Today view. By seeing more at a glance, and to compile bigger actions together in Workflow/Magic Launcher, it lets you do more by actually doing much less.

Putting all of this in the simplest terms, my iPad has become so much more, and it's leading me to want to use it to do even more of my daily tasks.

What I want in my future iPad is Pencil support, a slightly larger screen than my iPad Air 2, a smart connector for an external keyboard, and general speed improvements. Everything else is down to iOS. And in that regard I'm hoping to see a deeper Siri integration, native drag and drop, and a better way to handle choosing apps in split view.

Other Hardware

Apart from these two apple devices, there's nothing else that I particularly need. I think I'd like to get a Nintendo Switch, but then again I'd probably stop using it quite quickly, as I do with most other games consoles.

Then there's the next iPhone, but for once I don't have a desire to upgrade my phone at all. I'm using a 7 Plus, and it's a mature device that I honestly can't think of many features right now that would push me to upgrade.

Final Thoughts

What I've learned over the last 6 months to a year, is that hardware isn't really ever the issue, software is. Which is what got me in this predicament having a bunch of old devices.

Software nowadays can be an elixir of life for old devices, and as much as hardware manufactures won't like it, they're lasting a lot longer than they used to.

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David Sparks on the missed opportunity of text and screen effects in iOS, and specifically iMessage:

When iOS 10 was first released, I made the argument that to keep these relevant, Apple needed to constantly iterate and update them. If you've ever spent any time with Snapchat, you know what I'm talking about. Snapchat regularly releases new filters and effects that you can apply to your images. They often change seasonally and even for particular holidays. Watching my children and their friends, they all get a kick out of whatever the latest and greatest Snapchat filter is.

I think Apple had a similar opportunity with text and screen effects in iOS messaging. Why not render text with snowflakes during the winter? Why not have a screen effect with flowers blooming in the spring?

I agree with all of the points David makes, and with the recent TV ads and a bigger focus on iMessage stickers, I think they should also work on these effects a bit more. I'm not saying they should go mad, but maybe a seasonal advert, and a few extra effects every now and then would be a massive improvement. Some people don't even know that they exist, so surely just meeting that mark would be beneficial.

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Something I’ve thought of doing before, but never really got around to, is having a break from social media. Jason Kottke spent a week “fasting” from social media:

Last week (approx. May 7-14), I stopped using social media for an entire week. I logged out of all the sites and deleted the apps from my phone. I didn’t so much as peek at Instagram, which is, with Twitter and old-school Flickr, probably my favorite online service of all time. I used Twitter as minimally as I could, for work only.1 I didn’t check in anywhere on Swarm. No Facebook. As much as I could, I didn’t use my phone. I left it at home when I went to the grocery store. I didn’t play any games on it. I left it across the room when I went to bed and when I worked.

The idea of this is very interesting to me, and his findings also made me think about doing something similar myself.

The whole outcome that I got from this piece, was that it’s more about not using a phone, than using social media specifically.

This is one of my favourite parts:

After the week was up, I greedily checked in on Instagram and Facebook to see what I had missed. Nothing much, of course. Since then, I’ve been checking them a bit less. When I am on, I’ve been faving and commenting more in an attempt to be a little more active in connecting. I unfollowed some accounts I realized I didn’t care that much about and followed others I’ve been curious to check out. Swarm I check a lot less, about once a day — there was a lot of FOMO going on when I saw friends checked in at cool places in NYC or on vacations in Europe. And I’m only checking in when I go someplace novel, just to keep a log of where I’ve been…that’s always fun to look back on.

This is something that I regularly experience, albeit very short lived. It normally happens after a holiday abroad, where the use of a phone is diminished. Usually by either the international usage costs, or just because the people that I’d be contacting, were there with me physically.

I’ve started to evaluate my computer usage in general recently, and I think of it as a refining process. Hopefully with things like automation, and better focus on specific tasks will make it easier.

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With iOS 11 days from being announced, you wouldn't expect a great deal of big updates to apps. But Readdle have implemented a feature, that most iOS users have been waiting for - Drag and Drop.

So on their iPad apps - Documents, PDF Expert, Scanner Pro and Spark, you will be able to drag items from one app to another when using Split View.

I don't want to write thousands of words explaining this new feature, because it just wouldn't do it justice. Instead, you can watch Readdles's demo video.

It's truly impressive, and it's what I expect a native drag and drop feature on iOS would look like. Their own implementation would of took a huge amount of work, and they've really made it look seamless. One point I have to make though, is that if Drag and Drop is announced for iOS 11, would this custom implementation be the best way to do it?

But leaving the pessimistic thoughts alone, this is an incredible feature, and makes me want to try out even more of Readdle's apps.

You can read Readdle's announcement on their blog, but if you want to know more details on these updates, and see some more examples, then Federico Viticci has written a great piece at MacStories.