Glass, a New Photo-Sharing App

15th August 2021

If you haven’t heard, there’s a new photo-sharing app called Glass. It’s an iPhone-only (unfortunately) app, designed for photographers to share photography, get feedback, and of course, to enjoy others photos too. They specifically say that it is not designed to replace Instagram, which I definitely find comforting.

Instead, Glass is a paid subscription-based app[1] for photographers. While I’m sure most people would enjoy the minimalistic interface, and how the focus is really placed on the photos, there’s a ton of things that are obviously geared more towards photographers showing off their work and receiving feedback from the community, rather than the average person sharing selfies[2].

There’s support for P3 colour gamut, EXIF information for each photo, and a lack of “likes”. The only interaction that you can have on a photo is a comment. And the only interaction you can have with a fellow photographer, is to follow them.

This leads me to my favourite aspect of the app, the simplistic nature of how the app works fundamentally. There are four “tabs”[3] at the bottom of the app, each of them showing a different screen. There’s the purest form of a reverse chronological timeline that can exist, which just shows a stream of photos from the photographers that you follow. Then there’s the discover/search/community tab, which is essentially how you discover or search for photographers. And the last two are your profile, which shows your own photos in a list, and also your notifications, which can only consist of two things: follows, and comments.

Obviously, the app won’t appeal to all people, given that it requires a subscription fee, but I think that will be beneficial for the community.

At the same time, since there is a regular fee being paid, users (including myself) will be expecting a certain level of updates and a few extra niceties that you won’t get with something like Instagram. The next things I personally would like to see in Glass would be an iPad app, a way to view your profile/photos on the web, and also a way to categorise your photos/account to help improve discoverability.

You can find me and my photos on Glass at @christopher.

  1. $4.99 per month, $49.99 per year ($29.99 per year at launch). ↩︎

  2. Not that selfies are bad, just a different market. ↩︎

  3. Well, not quite tabs, but essentially that's what they can be treated as. ↩︎

A New Found Appreciation for Control

13th August 2021

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed something change within myself, regarding my opinions on technology, and my preferences on what I’m willing to put up with.

For quite some time now, I’ve been a die-hard Apple user. I use a Mac, iPad, and iPhone at home, and also a Mac at work. My life is pretty much in Apple’s ecosystem. There’s a lot of pros and cons to that, some of which I wrote about in my piece: How Do I Know if the Grass Is Greener?, and also touched on when I was thinking about consuming media in Thinking Out Loud: What Is It To Be in Control of the Media That You Consume.

Most of those thought processes stem from the fact that before I used an Apple device, I was really into PCs, whether it was building them, seeing the latest technology, or just tinkering with them. But after I switched to a Mac, it felt like it wasn’t a device for tinkering, rather it was an off-the-shelf product that you used to get things done.

I don’t mean this to be an attack on Apple products, or just to be purely negative about them, because I think they’re some of the best technology products that exist today. But just like every other product, they come with their own pros and cons.

For example, I think that macOS is a better operating system than Windows in a usability sense, design, and overall cohesion with the Apple ecosystem. And the same also applies to iOS and iPadOS. However, there are times when I’ve felt like I’ve been wrapped in cotton wool, instead of having real control of my devices. That’s led to my recent thinking on Android phones, and imagining if I could ever make the switch.

These thoughts have been going around my head for a while, and one phrase came to mind yesterday that seems to sum up my overall opinion on technology: “I don’t want nice, I want control”.  And whether or not this is the reality, I’ve always felt like the Apple world offers more niceties and a cohesive experience throughout all of their products, and not exactly one that offers an abundance of control to its users.

All of this has led me to very recently (a few days ago), purchasing a PC. I’ll write about that on my blog in more detail soon, but it’s a Windows PC, relatively cheap, which I built myself, and I’m now having some fun playing World of Warcraft at the max settings with a seemingly lack of struggle.

I don’t know if this makes me part of the “PC Master Race” or if I’m actually going to be doing more things in Windows than playing games. But one thing I’m going to be doing from now on is to keep an open mind about technology. Somehow I went from being interesting in technology and computing as a whole to then thinking Apple products are the only ones worth thinking about. Whereas I’m now starting to realise that products are contextual. And that the quality of a product is contextual, to the use case, users familiarity, price, what downsides a user is willing to put up with, etc.

Maybe this just means that I’m now an Apple user with a gaming PC, or maybe it’s the start of a wider appreciation for technology. I guess I’ll just have to find out.

Thinking Out Loud: What Is It To Be in Control of the Media That You Consume

28th July 2021

When one of these services or your subscription ends, your access to your media ends instantly.

After reading a recent article on The Atlantic, “What Will Happen to My Music Library When Spotify Dies?”, by Joe Pinsker (via Pixel Envy), I started to think about what is it to own your music.

I’ve been subscribed to various streaming services in the past such as Apple Music, Spotify, and Rdio. And with some basic maths, I can work out that if I’ve been streaming music for around 10 years (at least), and you put a rough average of £8 as a monthly fee (counting in some small discounts along the way), then that would mean a total of £960 spent on temporary access to music.

I don’t mean to create any hysteria by that figure, as it’s been over a ten year period, and I’ve no doubt enjoyed listening to the music. But I wonder how much it would have cost if I had to purchase every song that I listened to in that period. I currently have around 3,000 songs added to my Apple Music library, and I’ve surely listened to countless other songs as well. So it sounds like I’ve got my money's worth. But I’m still suddenly left with nothing if this service goes away.

It’s certainly an interesting thing to ponder. Because on one hand, music streaming platforms give you access to their vast collections of songs and you can listen to them on practically every computer possible. But on the other, at no point do you own this media, you are merely paying for the privilege to have temporary access to someone else’s music.

When I think about ownership of media, I start to think about the music I’ve streamed, but also the books, audiobooks, tv shows, and movies that I’ve purchased digitally over the years.

And while I theoretically can access this media forever, these purchases exist solely in Apple’s ecosystem. There’s still something that I need to maintain to access my purchases. For without myself owning and using a device that can access the movies I’ve purchased from iTunes, these purchases are worthless. This means that they do not result in ownership, like purchasing a CD, instead what you own is access to this content on platforms that the distributor deems suitable.

One example is buying a movie. If you purchase a physical copy of a movie on DVD, then you are free to watch that DVD on any DVD player, or you can even transfer the movie to your computer into a digital file and have even more freedom. But if for example, you purchase a movie in the iTunes Store, then you have no control over the copy that you purchased. Sure, you can watch it on platforms that have access to your iTunes purchases. But what if for some reason, you lose access to your iTunes account? You can’t export the movie files, you can’t burn them to a disc, and there would be no way for you to access your purchases on any new device either.

Then again, is any of this actually a problem? The reason I purchase movies is to watch them multiple times. I really don’t care about the ownership aspect, I just want the privilege of on-demand access to the content that I like.

It also applies to music. It doesn’t matter whether or not I have control of the raw files, what I care about is being able to listen to my favourite songs whenever I want.

So maybe I don’t need to rush off and start my own personal media collection, as the balance of access to vast collections of content compared to the relative costs are currently working in my favour.

In the end, it comes down to personal preference. As always.

However, after this little thought experiment, instead of realising that streaming services are bad and that I need to “own” everything I consume — which is what I thought would happen — it’s led me to believe that the bigger problem lies right in the middle of streaming content and owning content. In the places where you are required to pay the premium of long-term ownership, but do not have total control over your personal copies.

Because yes, while using streaming services, you do only have temporary access to content. But at least that is reflected in the price that you pay. Just as you would pay more for a physical copy of a movie or album because you are paying for the control and ownership.

Therefore, while I’m not planning on quitting streamin services, I may stop purchasing media from stores such as iTunes, and instead, opt for a physical copy (usually that the same or lower price) which I then control and can store digitally if I so wish.

Some More Thoughts on the State of Safari

27th July 2021

I wrote a tweet a few hours ago, explaining what I think Apple should do with Safari:

With the amount of tampering that Apple have done with the new Safari design in the betas, I think it would be wise for the whole redesign to be postponed for a later point release.
That way they can spend more time getting feedback instead of rushing small tweaks.


However, since Twitter isn’t exactly the best place for anything except quick opinions and hot takes, I thought I’d go into a bit more detail here on my blog.

My thinking is that because the changes to Safari on all platforms have received such widespread criticism (with varying degrees) and that Apple has been constantly tweaking (mildly) Safari during the beta process, then it should be clear that it is not going to be widely appreciated when released to the public.

Sure, enthusiasts will always care that bit more than the average user, but the complaints that I have and that I have seen, aren’t about insignificant details, but about the fundamental usability. And you’d expect with the number of users that will eventually be using the next version of iPadOS, and iOS, and macOS, then that has the potential to cause a lot of negativity and frustration simply because Apple wanted to redesign the built-in browser.

I’m somewhat of the opinion that Apple should take a tad more risk in their designs and try some new things now and then. But then again, making the built-in web browser less usable for potentially hundreds of millions of users isn’t a good move. No matter how much “courage” you have.

I think it’s only fair to include here that at the start of the beta, I was open to a new Safari design. I think the tab groups are a good idea, the tab bar looked a bit fresher on iPadOS and macOS, and the address bar was moved to the bottom of the screen on the iPhone, making it easier to reach.

But as I used it more on all platforms, I started to spot the weaknesses. The (initial) tab design on macOS and iPadOS didn’t work well with more than 5/6 tabs (although this has been slightly improved), the address bar on the iPhone regularly got in the way of content, and there’s been the apparent massacre of buttons within Safari on all platforms. In the latest round of betas, a few buttons have returned, but overall I believe that this version of Safari is not fit for purpose.

So in my opinion, I believe the wisest thing for Apple to do would be to either revert the major design changes or at least have it as an opt-in setting for people to choose. That way, they can receive more constructive feedback, spend some real time rethinking the design, and delivering a better version of Safari in a point release.

My ideal solution would be for Safari to keep some of the new features, like the tab groups, Quick Notes, the tab overview, and possibly even the new address bar on macOS. But the new floating address bar in iOS, the tab bar in iPadOS and macOS, and the sparseness of buttons should be at most an alternative and not the default option for all users.

I’m not saying that Safari should never be changed, but it shouldn’t be changed for the sake of it. This design has been proved to already be a bad move, and I don’t believe that mailing small tweaks here and there are going to fix the major flaws.

How Do I Know if the Grass Is Greener?

24th July 2021

For the past couple days I've been thinking about getting an Android phone. Not because I want to "make the switch", but becuase I've had an iPhone for over 10 years. And while I think the iPhone is a good phone, how do I really know that I don't love Android even more if I've never tried?

That, and because I think Android 12 looks really nice with the new Material You design.

And while iOS has recently gained widgets on the Home Screen, the design has largely stayed the same. Maybe that’s just a negative perspective, but after 10 years it can seem a tad boring.

But that’s when I start to think about the Apple ecosystem. How I’ve slowly built up a collection of movies, books, music, and apps that purely exist in this world. Add that to the various Apple devices I own, that each add their own weight to the locked-in feeling.

So it’s not like I’m ever going to make some major switch without truly thinking about it. But when I really think about how much I feel locked-in, I think back to my younger self, and my feelings towards technology back then. I liked the look of Apple products, but I mainly liked having endless control of my computer, I tinkered a lot, I broke things a lot, and I actually learned quite a bit along the way.

In general I preferred to be an opinionated user, rather than having an opinionated computer telling me what I could do.

While I’m not going all out attack on Apple — I use and enjoy many Apple products — but sometimes I get tired about the lock-in feeling, and start to think what it’s like on the other side.

And if I’m being truly honest, I think the best looking smartphones are the Google Pixels that come in white/black combinations, with my favourite being the Pixel 2 XL. That might sound pretty weird coming from an iPhone owner and app developer.

Maybe I need to come to terms with things and either settle for the closed ecosystem, or venture out and try new things. Because by being fully immersed in the Apple ecosystem, I’m saying to myself that I want every decision regarding my personal computing, whether it be the mobile computer, laptop computer, or the computer on my wrist, to be dependant on the ideals and decisions of one company.

The MagSafe Battery Pack

14th July 2021

Apple has just released the product that I think we've all been expecting ever since the recent addition of MagSafe in the recent iPhone lineup. It's a product that simply makes sense.

As you may expect, it's by no means the biggest battery pack you can get for your iPhone, with the capacity standing at 1460mAh, and it's not clear what this will mean in terms of actual extra use time. However, when you compare it to the iPhone 12 battery capacities, you can probably get a rough estimate:

  • iPhone 12 mini capacity: 2227 mAh
  • iPhone 12/12 Pro capacity: 2815 mAh
  • iPhone 12 Pro Max capacity: 3687 mAh

So maybe if you've got a 12 or 12 Pro you can expect somewhere near 50% extra battery life? I'd be fine with that. But I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Regarding charging speed, the battery pack can charge an iPhone with up to 5W of power when not plugged in, and up to 15W when plugged into a 20W or higher power source. 5W is the typical rate for a standard wireless charger, so there's no fast charging on the go. However, the benefit of MagSafe is that it simply attaches to the back of the device, so it's not as inconvenient to use online attaching it via a cable to a battery pack.

I can see this as the perfect solution for a travel charger. As when you're out and about, you have an extra punch of battery to get you through the day, but also the battery pack can serve as a wireless charger when plugged in. So I guess in that case, it's two products in one.

Another interesting part of this battery pack is that it can also be charged by the iPhone. So if you need to use a cable directly with your iPhone for whatever reason, your iPhone will then use reverse charging to charge the battery pack. This functionality was reported to possibly exist in the latest iPhones last year, but this is the first I've heard of it being used.

I'll wait until we hear more about the real-world capacity tests, and also when I'm able to travel a bit more, but it certainly looks like something I'm going to end up buying.

Check out the MagSafe Battery Pack on the Apple Store.

Weeds are Subjective

13th July 2021

Most people probably understand the concept of a weed - something that grows where you don’t want it to grow.

Well, maybe I’m odd for this, but this concept has been in my head for many years.

Mainly because of gardening reasons, but I also think my thinking can also be applied to more real-life scenarios. I’ll try to explain.

To start, here is the definition of a “weed” from the Cambridge Dictionary:

any wild plant that grows in an unwanted place, especially in a garden or field where it prevents the cultivated plants from growing freely

Seems simple enough. Things that appear where you don’t want them to appear.

Except throughout my life, I’ve noticed that here in the UK, “weeds” seem to be a fixed list of plants that people apparently don’t like on their lawn. So really they’re just native plants that sometimes spread relatively easy.

My problem is that the common meaning is seemingly a static list, rather than being subjective to the scenario. For example, in a small garden, you probably won’t want Japanese knotweed growing, as it’s an invasive species that can quickly overtake an area and is difficult to control.

However, I’ve never understood that dandelions, a small plant that produces yellow flowers, looks pretty nice, and is actually edible while also containing quite a few vitamins, is commonly classed as a weed. Whereas the daisy is exempt from the same criticism, even though it is too a small flowering plant that can appear in lawns and spreads relatively easily.

The only thing this has done for me is to further reaffirm my belief that weeds are subjective. But more importantly, that sometimes commonly held opinions (or definitions in this case) might not always apply to you.

For example, when reading a product review, whether it’s an app or a computer, it’s important to remember that a weed to them might not necessarily be a weed to you. So you need to take into consideration any biases that the reviewer might hold themselves, before applying their findings to your situation.

You could also apply to analogy to the common question of whether an iPad can replace your computer. Too many times, the fundamental parts of peoples arguments are what an iPad can do and what a “real computer” can do. And instead, the focus should be on three things:

  • What can an iPad do?
  • What do I want to do?
  • What weeds am I willing to deal with to use an iPad?

You can apply these three things to a lot of decisions, and make them a bit more generic:

  • What capabilities does X have?
  • What actions do I want to perform?
  • What am I willing to put up to perform Y on X?

Often it’s easy to see someone’s posts on social media and to try and apply their experiences and outcomes to your own life, but it’s important to remember subjectivity. And that their decisions could be based on beliefs that are different to your own, and that they may be willing to put up with a different level of “weeds” than you.

Racial Abuse on Social Media

12th July 2021

So about last night. England lost the Euro 2020 final to Italy. That was hard to take.

But what was worse than the loss, was the racial abuse that some young black English players received after the game. The primary targets were the 3rd, 4th, and 5th penalty takers, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka, who are 23, 21, and 19 years old. Each of them had the courage to step up and take a penalty in a final when the entire country was watching them.

Whatever happened, happened, and Italy beat England 3-2 on penalties.

But what immediately followed were streams of racial abuse on those three players social media accounts. Most of them posted by freshly created accounts, that were created solely to abuse young players that were representing their countries at a major tournament.

And for as many arguments I see and hear about football players “taking the knee” before games, most of them based on being against the BLM organisation itself, and either not agreeing with their politician stances, or just insisting that politics should remain out of sport. Last night was a clear example of why footballers feel that they need to continue with the symbol. Whether or not the gesture is aimed at supporting the BLM organisation itself or a symbol against racism, it’s very much clear that racism well and truly exists within a group of football fans that quickly turn on players after a bad result.

It’s very easy to jump to the opinion that social media accounts should require some form of identification, to try and deter the level of abuse that occurs every day on the platforms. I’m torn because there are a lot of downsides to no longer having anonymity online, but when things like this happen, I start to think is the price that we need to pay? Because something needs to change.

Several organisations and high-profile people have already released statements condemning the abuse, but I’m not sure if they will actually be effective at stopping it from happening again. Sure, it will offer a level of support to the players, but something needs to be implemented so that it’s not that easy to post racial abuse on social networks.

Maybe some will say this is against some kind of free speech rule, but are social media companies not capable of not allowing racist comments to be made? Instead of relying on their reporting tools after such remarks have been posted.

I can only hope that the press that will no doubt be created because of the recent abuse will force the social media companies to start thinking about what else they can do to prevent it from happening in the future.

World’s Most Expensive Houseplant Sells in New Zealand

Moss and Fog:

Houseplants garner a lot of love these days, especially when more people work from home, and put extra effort into making their homes look beautiful. Houseplants can now be ordered online, arriving in curated kits to give your home just the look you’d like

But some people get really into houseplants, spending big money for that especially rare specimen.

This rare white variegated Rhaphidophora Tetrasperma sold in New Zealand on a bidding site for $19,297, making it the most expensive known sale for a houseplant.

As much as I like plants (there’s 17 currently in my office), I’m pretty sure this is a tad too much.

Trying Out a New Email App, Big Mail

8th July 2021

I’ve been experimenting with email again over the past week. This time it was trying out the new email app, Big Mail.

I won’t do a full product review, but I just wanted to write about my own experience with the app, where it excelled, and also where it also fell behind.

So, if you haven’t heard about Big Mail, the shortest description that I can give is that it tries to combine a great reading experience, with a screening tool similar to Hey, and the automatic sorting features of SaneBox, into a universal mail app.

It sounds like an incredible app in theory. But I’ll be upfront, in its current state, Big Mail is not the mail app for me. Let me explain.

First things first, I really like the design of Big Mail, on all platforms. And I totally get the idea of having a place for discovering new emails, separate places for newsletters, purchases, etc. and an email screener is handy to block unwanted email.

I currently pay for SaneBox (which I disabled during this experiment), so I definitely think I’m in the target audience for this app. But I’ve felt that the sorting in Big Mail isn’t that proactive and that I’ve had to assign categories to emails as they come into my inbox. This organisation is supposed to be “intelligent” and “automatic”, and maybe it is working as intended, or possibly it requires me to kick off some base data for the AI to kick in? Either way, it feels like I’m doing way too much manual sorting for it to be useful. SaneBox has possibly affected me in this regard because it’s worked so well for me, but it just doesn’t feel like it’s doing enough.

As for the reading experience, I’ve found that to be pretty good. I especially like the little touches such as the little accent colours and format when reading newsletters. There’s a decent amount of things you can do to an email, there are things like reply later, sort into a category, always ignore, starring an email, and the expected ones that all other clients support.

The major issues I have with Big Mail, except for the automatic sorting, is actually what I feel should be classified as basic functionality that you would expect in all email clients.

Here’s a list of some of those features that I expect in all email clients:

  • Ability to perform actions on multiple emails at once.
  • Keyboard shortcuts for basic email actions: delete, reply, forward, etc.
  • Access to your folders.
  • Swipe actions to quickly perform basic actions.
  • Drag and drop functionality to move emails into categories/folders.

The problem is, none of those features are available in Big Mail.

As much as some parts of the app I like and enjoy using, if the foundations aren’t there, then I simply can’t use it. So, I’m going back to Apple Mail on all of my devices for now.

I’ve still got hope that Big Mail can turn into a great product, and they seem to be listening to feedback already (It launched without an archive feature for one). So hopefully I can come back to it in the future and give it another go because there’s definitely potential.