Good Reads for June, 2018

Every month, we’ll be bringing you a handful of very valid, if slightly longer, reads about the wonderful world of Apple. Sometimes these will be stories about little-known teams within Apple, discussion about the part design plays in both Apple’s products and others, or yet another post on using an iPad Pro as your primary computing device. All I know is, bring your own Instapaper account, because this is Good Reads.

  • Like many of us, Paul Stamatiou had used tablets before. And just like many of us, he never really got into them, finding their utility to be constrained — not quite as mobile as a phone, or as useful as a laptop. But after a few months using Apple’s largest tablet, he’s come to really enjoy the hardware and the software combination of an iPad Pro running iOS 11 — while multitasking features like Split View let you view more than one thing at a time, the iPad’s strengths lie in how effortless it becomes to focus on one particular task.

Even with all this new multitasking functionality, there’s one thing that still feels different compared to using a desktop OS. Doing anything on the iPad Pro is a focused experience. There’s no way to accidentally multitask. It’s a conscious effort you have to make. And even if you have two apps open in Split View, they’re taking over the entire screen and there’s nothing else that can distract you. No other apps partially in view in the background, no badged or bouncing apps in the dock trying to get your attention.

  • Fast Company Design tells us about the legendary Apple research group that came up with ground-breaking new ideas and technology. Apple’s Advanced Technology Group had just one mission: to create things that didn’t necessarily need to be separate products in their own right, but instead stuff that could be used as smaller parts of a whole. For a period of about ten years, the ATG came up with such ideas like HyperCard, QuickTime, Data Detectors, and they even had their own version of macOS Mojave’s stacks back in 1992 called “Piles”.

[Piles] extended the desktop metaphor even further by allowing users to organize their files in stacks of papers, images, or videos, leaving folders for more permanent archival purposes–just like real life. These manual piles were drawn in an isometric perspective and looked slightly disheveled, just like the real thing, and to develop a way look through them, the ATG studied the way people browsed paper files in real office settings.

  • Over at The Atlantic, Ian Bogost argues Apple’s AirPods are the latest product to change society. Bogost writes that everyone is already used to having earbuds in most of the time, and by virtue of their design making them nearly invisible, AirPods will soon change established social cues that indicate whether you’re on a call, listening to music (or drowning out the hum of an open-plan office), or eavesdropping in on a conversation using the upcoming Live Listen feature in iOS 12.

The AirPods free you from the earbud cable without requiring the bulk of headphones. Feeling that sensation made me shiver to realize how yoked I had really been to the smartphone. Not just by the compulsion of use, but in the physical connection to it by thin, white wire. The AirPods retain the familiar color and shape for which Apple has been known, so it really does feel the same, minus the cord. This small change could have a profound effect.

  • Early in June, Wired published a feature on Sal Soghoian, better known as the original champion of automation on the Mac. Their profile of Soghoian tells us about his humble beginnings writing AppleScripts to perform simple reformatting tasks, which led to him getting hired at Apple, where he would go onto work on Automator, despite getting no bites initially. Automator was eventually shown off on-stage at WWDC 2004, launching as part of Mac OS X Tiger in 2005, and even though Soghoian no longer works at Apple, we’ll likely be feeling his effects for a long time to come.

What [AppleScript] really needed was a simple graphical interface. Soghoian started mapping out an application that traded lines of code for buttons and icons. Users could use this simple tool on the Mac desktop to make scripts with a couple clicks of the mouse—much easier than writing out full phrases. He called the program Automator, and once it was built, he started pitching it to anyone at Apple who would listen. Nobody was biting.

  • It’s 2018 now, and software is everywhere. Apple’s own HomePod, a wireless home speaker, runs a pared-down version of iOS on custom silicon that lets it analyse the room it sits in for better sound, even though it bears no physical resemblance to anything in particular. Ross Floate calls these objects that give zero clues about what they do from their looks “un-things”, and as it turns out, un-things are everywhere. Floate then goes on to compare and contrast the design of products from tech companies like Apple to the design of companies like Ikea, who are doing something different with their designs. What happens if design isn’t just what it looks like, or even what it does, but how it makes you feel?

The HomePod is an un-thing. Unless it is connected to electricity and performing a task, it delivers no visual cues as to what the hell it is, or it does. Is it a vase? Does it purify the air somehow? Is it realigning my chakras through the power of hope? It’s impossible to ascertain without instruction because there are no visual or tactile affordances in its design. Unless you already know what it is, it isn’t anything.

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