Good Reads for July, 2016

Every month, we’ll be bringing you a selection of vehemently vetted, if slightly longer, reads about the wonderful world of Apple. Sometimes they’ll be interviews with former Apple employees, discussion around how Apple’s user interface is changing (some say for the worse), or odes to a device long lost in amongst a billion iPhone sales. Bring your own Instapaper account, because this is Good Reads.

  • Over at The Macro, Craig Cannon interviews Apple employee numero uno, Bill Fernandez. In a series that focuses on early employees at tech companies, Fernandez tells the story of how he became the first employee after Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Mark Makkula incorporated the company. “Startups” weren’t really a thing back in the days when Apple was in its infancy, and just like Jobs, Fernandez was laid off from Apple only to rejoin the Mac team in the early 1980s.

Well, I definitely wanted to work with them. You know, I had worked with Woz and Jobs on projects for years and they were two of my closest friends and we got along well together. And sure, it was great working with my friends. It was also great having the opportunity for us to build our own computer, so yeah. It was great. I just thought, “Let’s go build our own computers. This is awesome.”

  • Depending on who you ask, we’ve already reached peak app. With more apps that most people can poke a stick at, very few new apps do enough better or justify switching from something you’ve used for years now. Some interesting commentary from AppleInsider says the impending death of apps is compounded by App Store issues such as a lack of discoverability or ways for apps to rise above the fold. But if native apps are dead, what’s next? Speculation says messaging might be, whether that’s in the form of people talking to each other or people talking to bots.

A new media narrative is unfolding, replete with statistics all seeking to provide evidence that Apple’s success with native apps is over. There’s no clear agreement on what exactly will take over—Chat Bots, Voice Assistants, the Web, Augmented Reality or some new and unknown successor—but it is clear that the loser must be Apple. It has to be, because it’s desperately needed by Apple’s rivals.

  • What must be a purely hypothetical piece at TechCrunch postulates about Apple’s plan to kill online advertising. It sounds far-fetched — Apple going up against Google, the king of online advertising and search, in a battle more akin to an an incredibly complex game of chess than two sumo wrestlers — but the four steps of Apple Pay on the web, single sign-on across Apple’s ecosystems, Siri voice searches, and control of the web experience via Safari are all accomplished easily enough, which surely means world dominance isn’t too much further behind.

Apple’s strategy isn’t a big overnight win. It’s a slow squeeze or blockade that hopes to stifle, frustrate and distract Google. The biggest impact on Google is limiting their growth by minimizing their ability to hold their massive margins for searches within the Apple ecosystem. Limiting Google’s growth affects their ability to look as attractive to public markets which, beyond the financial implications, hurts their capacity to attract and retain the best talent.

  • July must have been the month for posts in a series, because the first in a series of posts looking at the decline of the OS X interface tells us about how OS X El Capitan has dropped the ball when it comes to having a usable user interface. Nicholas Howard writes that the OS X UI of today eschews metaphorical icons in favour of “unexpressive, meaningless abstraction”. And note that we’re not just talking about the almost complete removal of skeuomorphism, but even down to simplifications that serve no real purpose.

In the same way, and in step with its phone-bound sibling, iOS 7, Yosemite saw the transition from the metaphorical icon of the retired iPhoto to the unexpressive, meaningless abstraction that is the new Photos icon. Yosemite also borrowed the new Game Center icon from iOS 7, with its colored bubbles that have a dubious connection to anything. The Safari icon became an abstracted compass in place of the old literal depiction of one. Even the less literal of the previous icons saw more two-dimensional replacements.

  • While we’re remembering about the time that OS X had pinstripes and aqua-coloured window buttons, let’s not forget the venerable iPod classic. An ode to the portable music player that really kicked off Apple’s success with the Mac and later the iPhone explores how the “limited” storage and lack of a constant internet connection means it’s somehow the better choice when all you want to do is listen to music. Discontinued since 2014, the iPod classic will remain an icon of an era where streaming wasn’t even a thing. Lindsay Zoladz of The Ringer takes us on a trip down memory lane.

In the tech world, everything is moving toward multifunctionality. This shift, in some sense, is physically liberating: If your smartphone can play music and send/receive phone calls and texts (get you a phone that can do both), what’s an iPod but one more device weighing down your bag? At the same time, this shift makes immersive, distraction-free listening feel, more and more, like a thing of the past.

Start the discussion at talk.appletalk.com.au