The Macalope

The Macalope is my favorite: 

Really, with everything that’s going on in technology now, complaining about the social effect of losing headphone cables seems like questioning the key in which the band on the Titanic was playing as the ship went down.

“C Major? Really? You’re gonna… no, that’s fine. Whatever. But, for the record, ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ is best in G and I would rather drown than hear it in C Major. So, good timing, I guess.”

A Head Start

I love using Siri, but 70% of the time I'm in a setting where it would be awkward to invoke her because of the social situation I'm in (whether with friends, or at work), so I end up just writing things down instead. It's weird to blurt out things like "Hey Siri, remind me to send out the TPS reports when I get to work tomorrow" at the precise moment the thought comes to you.

Hint: it has something to do with these.

Hint: it has something to do with these.

Here's an elegant solution that, frankly, I'm surprised is not a reality yet: whispering. You heard me right (no pun intended). A personal assistant should be able to understand you even when you speak inaudibly to those around you. How can that possibly be technically feasible you ask? Well there's a piece of the puzzle I'm leaving out because I'd prefer to demonstrate it instead. Try the following exercise:

  1. Right now, whisper something to yourself in a low enough voice that someone standing 3 feet away from you wouldn't be able to hear you.
  2. Ok great, now do the exact same thing only put your fingers in your ears. Aha! You can hear it fairly clearly now!

As demonstrated above, through the use of in-ear Bluetooth headphones like Apple's AirPods, inaudible command recognition should be easy to achieve within the next several years (if it isn't already possible). Consider the following: these headphones are pressed into your ear canal, and should have reasonable access to the same vibrations that your ear has, if not more so because of it's large surface area and the potential inclusion of small directional microphones.

Implementation-wise, after stating your command, Siri could then confirm what you said through those same headphones (and obviously no one would hear the confirmation either). We wouldn't even have to learn a new behavior: we whisper to ourselves constantly when we're trying to think of the right words, or when we read back what we've written (even with people around us).

Whichever personal assistant can take advantage of this method will be head and shoulders above ones that do not, even if other aspects of their function are inferior, because you'd actually use it.

San Francisco

San Francisco (SF) is Apple's new standard typeface, and a clear derivation of the ubiquitous Helvetica. They use it in everything from macOS to watchOS and on promotional materials and the web. I didn't realize it until just a few moments ago (though I probably should have): you can download the font from Apple, here. Below is a sample.

The most obvious changes to me are the circular versus square dots on letters like 'i', and the straightening of the capital letter 'R' versus the iconic curved leg in Helvetica. It also comes in many more weights than even Helvetica Neue. Go check it out.

San Francisco above, and Helvetica Neue below / How similar these two are is quite a testament to the design perfection of Helvetica (it's been around since 1957).

The Orchestra

The last line of the below fictitious exchange written by Aaron Sorkin for the [trailer of the] movie Steve Jobs, is so perfect:

Steve Wozniak: "What do you do? You're not an engineer. You're not a designer. You can't put a hammer to a nail. I built the circuit board! The graphical interface was stolen! So how come ten times in a day I read Steve Jobs is a genius? What do you do?"

Steve Jobs: "Musicians play their instruments. I play the orchestra."

If your impression of Jobs was that he was an egomaniac, the line fits. If your impression of him was that he was a genius with an innate ability to bring out the best in others, the line fits. If you thought that he did it all for himself, or instead all for his craft, the line fits.

Beyond that it exposes a part of the physics of civilization-building; some of us contribute at lower or higher layers of abstraction (some 'play instruments', and some 'direct those who play their instruments'). What seems to matter more than the height of the layer of abstraction we each operate in though, is how perfectly we operate within our layer—and at least there I think there's probably no debate: Jobs vehemently and unapologetically both defined and fulfilled his role in this life.

In Defense of The 'Notch'

Below on the left is the new bezel design of the iPhone X. On the right I filled in the areas on either side of what's been named the 'notch' (the area at the top which houses the cameras and FaceID sensors). If the iPhone X had come out with the design on the right, there would probably be a lot less criticism of Apple's design team. I personally believe the existing design is better however, for the following reasons:


The design on the left can look exactly like the one on the right if you turn those pixels to black (since the iPhone X has a first-ever-in-an-iPhone OLED display, black pixels don't radiate any light). I have not seen the iPhone X in person, but I'm assuming the blacks are so deep that the illusion would be quite convincing (this must be how it achieves its 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio). If you started with the full forehead design on the right however, you can't achieve the look on the left (because it would be manufactured with nothing there). In the existing design, the software gets to switch back and forth between these configurations, depending on the use case. 

Even though the pixel area on either side of the notch is quite small, it seems disproportionally able to create the illusion of a larger screen (look at the image above once more).

Furthermore, Apple did something clever by making the areas on either side of the notch perform different swipe-down functions, something that would have been more difficult to achieve without them.

The iPhone X design is also slightly better at providing a reference point, both for identifying what orientation the phone should be held in, and also where to look so that FaceID can determine whether you're giving it your 'attention' (the technology will not unlock your phone unless it can tell you're actively looking at it).

The more nuanced criticism of the 'notch' design lies more in the fact that Apple itself seems to be advising app developers to always display the notch and to have applications work around it in sometimes-jarring ways. While that criticism is valid, I would say that—if problematic—the guidelines can still change, whereas shipped hardware cannot.