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By Jared White

Pygmy Nuthatch
  • The WWDC Pro

    Apple’s annual goodies extravaganza for 2017 has concluded, and what an action-packed presentation we were given. There’s plenty of fodder for conversations in the months ahead. Right now though, I want to focus on something that was clearly the top message from Apple for this year’s developer-focused event:

    Pro customers are getting pro hardware and pro features.

    And it’s about f’ing time.

    Let’s start with the new pro desktops. No, the reimagined Mac Pro we are all eagerly awaiting is still on the horizon, but in the meantime, there’s a lot to love about the refreshed iMac product line. The latest CPUs from Intel, coupled with big improvements in GPU selection and performance. Impressive gains in display quality as well (which is really something as the iMac 4K and 5K displays already looked amazing). It’s also exciting to see USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 arrive for the iMacs. What’s really surprising are some nice price drops: you can now enter the world of the 21” Retina iMac and get a seriously beefy machine for under $1500. Generally, all you would expect to see in iMac updates are present. But wait, there’s more!

    The iMac Pro. Now let me start off by saying there’s no way I’ll be able to afford one of these things. It starts at $4,999 for Pete’s sake. That being said, boy do I want this. It looks stunning: the space grey finish on not only the iMac itself but also the matching keyboard and mouse/trackpad looks (as several Apple executives emphasized) truly badass. But besides the eye-catching industrial design, the internals are blowaway impressive. I won’t go into all the specific details, but essentially they took the all-in-one form factor of the iMac and somehow managed to cram 2017-era Mac Pro-level tech into it, making it an absolute beast of a computer. I’m not exactly sure who needs 128GB of RAM (no, that’s not a typo), but if you do, you’ll be a happy camper.

    Moving right along, we also got refreshed internals across the board for Apple’s entire laptop lineup. New Kaby Lake CPUs for all models of the MacBook Pro, beefed up MacBooks, and even the all-but-forgotten MacBook Air got a speed bump. Sadly, there’s still no 32GB RAM option for the MacBook Pro, so that remains a point of contention. It’s hard to say when Apple will enable that capability. Still, to see updates to the MacBook Pro relatively soon after the last big update, along with all the other laptop updates, is a welcome sign that Apple’s willing to step up the pace on pushing out new Mac hardware.

    (No new Mac mini though? Really?)

    Rounding out the pro hardware story is not one, but two new iPad Pros that, combined with a seriously awesome OS upgrade, make the iPad far more compelling as a true high-end computer for pro users. For the first time, the big 12.9” iPad Pro and the smaller one (but no longer quite as small at a svelte 10.5” size) have feature parity. Both have gorgeous True Tone displays. Both have fantastic cameras pulled from the iPhone 7. Both have support for fast charging. And, of course, both have the latest generation A10X processors with significantly faster graphics capabilities. Generally, the only real reason to choose one or the other will be down to screen size and weight.

    Speaking of screen size, I am totally stoked to see that slightly larger form factor for the mainstream iPad Pro. I love my 9.7” iPad Pro, but at the same time I often feel just a little bit cramped when using it. However, I don’t really want the large 12.9” size, as one of the things I love about using an iPad is that it is compact and lightweight and easy to shlep around. With the 10.5” model remaining compact and lightweight, yet providing a pretty decent increase in screen real estate, it’s clearly hitting a new sweet spot that should serve Apple and its customers well for the foreseeable future. It also helps to further differentiate the iPad Pro lineup from the low-cost, suffix-less iPad.

    But the iPad story for pro users doesn’t stop there. If all we got this year for iPads was new hardware, it’d be an intriguing but ultimately disappointing state of affairs, because what so many pro users have been clamoring for are major improvements to the OS. iOS 9 introduced some welcome features for the iPad, namely split-view multitasking, but iOS 10 brought virtually nothing of interest specifically to the iPad. The question for 2017 has been: will the iPad finally break away from the orbit of the iPhone and come into its own as a serious pro computing platform? And Apple’s answer to that question is a resounding Yes.

    iOS 11 makes the iPad truly rock. For the first time, it has a real and coherent system for file management. We actually get a Finder—ahem, a Files app that provides deep access to files across a variety of cloud storage solutions as well as (gasp!) local files. Furthermore, this interface can also be integrated directly into apps, making loading and save files far easier and more in line with the workflows pros are familiar with on the Mac.

    But what really makes Files a stunning enhancement to the iOS experience is the appearance of Drag ‘n’ Drop. Sure, you can drag stuff from one app in Split View to the other—images, text, and so forth—but that’s what you would expect with a basic implementation of drag ‘n’ drop. Apple could have stopped there, but what they did with the inclusion of Files is almost magical. You can navigate to a folder in Files, tap and hold to start dragging a file, and then tap additional files to add to the pile, and then drag those files to other apps in the Dock (yes, there’s now a Mac-like Dock for the iPad) or even other apps running in the background via the new Mission Control-style multitasking switcher. And if that weren’t cool enough, because of the capabilities of the multi-touch display, you can actually be dragging a bunch of stuff with one finger while using one or more other fingers to manipulate the state of apps, like bringing up a new message composer in Mail, or finding the right album in Photos.

    It’s hard to overstate just how big of a deal this is. The one-two punch of Files and Drag ‘n’ Drop make sending data across apps on the iPad dramatically more efficient and far more comfortable for demanding pro workflows. In addition, the introduction of the Dock, the insanely better multitasking interface, and the way Split View combinations of multiple apps preserve their positions within the list of available multitasking options, make for an iPad system experience that actually feels like you’re using a beefy pro-oriented computer.

    I’m sure there are still edge cases where certain professionals with certain needs will have reason to state that iOS 11 doesn’t solve their problems and they still require a Mac to get their work done. And, obviously, some of these new OS-level features do require developer support, which means we must hope that developers jump on making iOS 11-related improvements to their iPad apps quickly. But I think it’s safe to say that the “real professionals can’t use an iPad” story just doesn’t seem very convincing anymore across a number of verticals. If you’re a software developer, yes, it’s true that you still need a Mac. But if you’re a knowledge worker, writer, designer, legal professional, musician, podcaster, medical professional, or work in one of many other industries, the reason to use an iPad just became much clearer.

    Bottom line: Apple cares about professional users. With all of the hardware and software updates Apple announced today (and I didn’t even yet mention the new macOS High Sierra version with APFS support, Metal 2, and other performance-related enhancements), it’s blindingly obvious that Apple is deeply concerned that it is meeting the needs of its pro customers—and that includes Mac users as well as iPad users. Will certain pros still have room to gripe about one oversight or another? Sure. But the claim that, as a whole, Apple is a consumer-oriented company and pros are an afterthought simply isn’t true anymore. Microsoft, Dell, and other companies who have been trying to capitalize on the perceived image that Apple is abandoning its pro userbase will have to work a lot harder now to convince Mac/iPad users to make the switch. The window for a PC renaissance is closing fast.

    And that’s good news for those of us who never really doubted that Apple wants—nay, needs a healthy and vibrant pro userbase. As long as Apple keeps up its current momentum into 2018, the future of the Mac and the iPad for professional customers is a strong one.

    Tuesday, June 6, 2017
  • JSON Feed: Now Supported

    XML has not been a popular data interchange format on the web for some time now. All the cool kids are using JSON. And for good reason — it’s far more readable and much easier to work with than XML. Yet the standard feed format for blogs and news sites for ages has continued to be RSS (and to a lesser extent Atom), a dated and somewhat unwieldy format that is only in use because of its far-reaching support.

    Thankfully, some intrepid souls well-known in the world of news readers have banded together to launch the new JSON Feed format. It’s supported by a fast-growing number of news readers, and the geek community is adding JSON feeds to its sites at a rapid clip. Now, so have I!

    This is exciting stuff. At the risk of sounding like one of those dudes that always says “hey, I thought of that before too!”, I did think of that before too. I was playing around with a format proposal I called RJS (Readable JSON Syndication), and it was obviously inspired by the design of RSS:

    {
      "channel": {
        "title": "Jared White",
        "source_url": "http://jaredwhite.com"
      },
      "sections": [{
        "title": "Essays and more",
        "entries": [
          {
            "title": "Top Questions About Stuff",
            "subtitle": "Blab blah blah",
            "excerpt": "I am an excerpt and lots of stuff",
            "full_body": "I am an excerpt and lots of stuff and also a full body",
            "authors": [{"name": "Jared White", "social_urls": [{"service": "Twitter","url": "..."}]}],
            "published_at": "ISODate",
            "canonical_url": "http://jaredwhite.com/foo",
            "images": [{"size":"thumbnail","url":"..."},{"size":"cover","url":"..."}]
          }
        ]
      }]
    }
    

    Needless to say, I don’t have the industry cred that Brent Simmons and co. do, so it’s much better that they were the ones to publish a new format spec. My hat’s off to them, and I hope people continue to champion JSON Feed so we can finally say goodbye to RSS/Atom/XML!

    Monday, May 29, 2017
  • Go Beyond Timeboxing with Spaceboxing

    As a freelancer, I’ve long been a huge fan of timeboxing as a technique of managing workflows and creating a rewarding and productive schedule. But one thing I’ve noticed with that approach is you can grow dissatisfied with the routine.

    You know what I’m talking about. That feeling that you’re just doing the same sequence of things over and over again. You enter your home office or cowork space and get a sense of déjà vu. While there is be a certain degree of comfort in having the same routine each day, for more adventurous souls the monotony can become palpable.

    What I’ve started to to do with my schedule is not just break up each day into timeboxes but also spaceboxes. Ever hear of the spacetime continuum? (That thing Doc Brown always tell us to protect?) Well that’s exactly what I’m referring to. Just as a timebox is a scheduled change of the type of work you’re doing, a spacebox is a scheduled change of place in the course of a day’s business.

    Maybe you need to dedicate four hours to work on a particular client project. Rather than spend all four hours at your desk, take a pause in the middle and bring your work at your favorite coffee shop. Or perhaps you start off your day by driving to a cowork space in an adjacent town for the morning and then come back to your regular office in the afternoon.

    Even if I plan to work solidly at my desk for several hours, I try to get up and go for a fifteen minute walk every hour or two at most. On my walks I try to vary my routine even then. Don’t just walk down the same street every time because it’s the obvious path. Mix things up!

    There’s an art to a great work schedule. Play your days like Jazz. Improvise in the mix of a creative structure so you avoid that sense of monotony.

    This can even extend to the most simple things like eating lunch. Plan on getting lunch from a wider variety of places. Try new foods you haven’t been interested in before. Maybe you don’t even have lunch at the normal time…have a big brunch and then an afternoon snack instead.

    It’s not bad to have a regular routine. To a certain extent, having an improvised day is actually scary! It means more stress and more chance of not getting the work done that you intend to do. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about intentionally and deliberately scheduling your days in advance to incorporate “planned improvisation” and flexibility of routine. You’re not bucking the system to try something different. You’re building something different into the system at the start.

    And if you’re really lucky, you can schedule timeboxes and spaceboxes during the week that don’t even have to be work projects/billable hours! I absolutely love this quote by Matt Gemmell:

    “Somehow, you’ve earned the fantastic modern convenience of working from your own home (or office): it’s the dream! It’s OK to enjoy it a bit. Those leisure breaks and walks I mentioned are just the beginning. It’s fine to schedule a half-day off for the launch of that new game, or take advantage of cheap daytime movie tickets once in a while. Otherwise, why bother at all?” Matt Gemmell

    So go forth and build a bit of adventure into your day. As a “free agent” you have the freedom to orchestrate when and where you work. Take advantage of that freedom. I’m definitely grateful for it!

    Friday, April 28, 2017
  • Looking Ahead to WWDC and iOS 11

    It’s that time of year again when Apple fans eagerly look forward to the panoply of goodies that will be offered at the Worldwide Developers Conference, taking place in San Jose, CA in June.

    Here’s what I personally find interesting this go around: when I contemplate the future of macOS, or iOS on the iPhone, I can hardly think of anything that I’m really hoping for. The Mac is a mature platform, and as macOS is such a powerful workhorse already, I feel like the desire for new features comes down to tiny things like the recent addition of Night Shift (which I’m a huge fan of). Regarding the iPhone, my 7 Plus is simply an incredible device with both hardware and software working together seamlessly in a way only Apple can deliver. For the most part, I don’t have any complaints.

    Which brings us to the iPad. Listen, I love my 9.7” iPad Pro (which I have mentioned numerous times here on Pygmy Nuthatch), but I agree with pretty much every Apple commentator out there that iOS on the iPad needs some major love. We haven’t seen any pro-level features come to iOS/iPad since the introduction of split-view multitasking back in iOS 9. For a product that Apple claims is the future of personal computing, the pace of progress has been surprisingly slow as of late.

    When thinking about what would allow me to use my iPad a lot more for the professional tasks I still use a Mac for, here are a few main suggestions:

    • Better multitasking. The split-view side application switcher works in a pinch, but it’s really not a very good experience overall. I’d much prefer a homescreen-style grid of icons (with my favorites pinned) I can use to switch to an app on the side. In addition, I would like to see some way to save “combos” of apps and switch between those (sort of like Spaces on the Mac) — so for example, I could have Ulysses and Twitter open in one combo, and then switch to Numbers and Safari in another.
    • Floating windows. I’m not asking that iOS go full-bore Mac here and adopt anything-goes windows, but I would like to see a way to pull an app out of split-view and have it float anywhere on the screen. Picture-in-picture videos already allow for this type of interaction, and I’d love to be able to do that sort of thing with a utility like a calculator, or a photo viewer, etc.
    • Terminal. Now we’re getting a little far out, but I would absolutely love to have a secure, sandboxed Unix environment I could drop into and run Ruby scripts, web servers, databases, and other command-line software. If such a thing were possible, I could do real web development directly on my iPad and not be forced to switch over to my Mac. I’m already able to get some work done occasionally using code editors and Git repo apps, but without any local servers running, my options to test code changes are limited.
    • External display. If iOS is truly going to evolve into a pro OS for pro users on pro hardware, Apple is going to need to figure out how to translate the iOS experience to external displays. I would love to be able to plug a 27” monitor into my iPad Pro and get a larger view of all my apps. The challenge here of course is how do you interact with those apps? iOS doesn’t have the concept of a mouse cursor because everything is a touchscreen. Perhaps when the iPad has an external display connected to it, there’s some way to use the iPad itself as a fancy touchscreen “trackpad” of sorts to navigate the interface on the external display.

    So there you have it: my top requests in descending order of likelihood for new iPad Pro hardware and iOS 11 functionality. We’ll see Apple has up its sleeve come June. Hopefully they’ve not been sitting on their hands and are cooking up some cool surprises to wow us all.

    Tuesday, April 18, 2017
  • Love Hate Relationship with Social Media

    I’ve been pretty active on social media (namely Facebook and Twitter) for a number of years now, but my consistency from a “content marketing” perspective has never been very good. When I have something new to share, such as a blog post, a magazine issue, a record, etc., I typically share that once, and then I usually forget to share that ever again.

    Most of the social media tools out there that let you manage multiple social accounts and pre-schedule posts don’t really help. I’m just not disciplined enough to sit down for an hour or two and write out hundreds of Facebook posts/Twitter tweets and schedule them out for weeks at a time. I’d much rather be creating the actual content I want to share than simply talk about it.

    So I’m on the lookout for a good tool to help keep my social channels updated on a regular basis by reposting past stuff to pad the times when I’m not posing something new. This is a common strategy all big “brands” take (and frankly some of them post way too frequently for my liking), and since it’s statistically proven that when you post something most of your followers won’t actually see it, I know I need to get disciplined about this. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Edgar so I’m going to try that first, but hopefully there are a few others out there to compare. If you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear about them!

    Friday, April 14, 2017
  • Trellis Magazine: What is Minimalism?

    In addition to blogging here at Pygmy Nuthatch, I also publish an online magazine called Trellis. Each monthly issue focuses on one or two topics that are thought-provoking and provide an in-depth look at cultural trends. It’s written from a Christian faith-based perspective, but also with a slant towards progressive voices and an intent to appeal to secular readers.

    In the April issue, I’ve written about the increasingly mainstream “minimalism” movement and the way it’s come to provide a compelling counter-narrative to the typical consumerist American lifestyle.

    Proponents of the minimalist lifestyle will throw out phrases like “live a more intentional life” or “keep only those things which spark joy” — but what does that even mean? Are we all living unintentional lives? Are we keeping things in our homes or offices that don’t bring us any joy?

    Well, as I go on to explain, that’s actually what many of us are doing all the time.

    The consumerist, mass-produced, disposable culture we live in is so pervasive, so all-encompassing, that we seldom take a pause and ask ourselves why we’ve bought into it so heavily. Minimalism begs us to start asking the right questions.

    Minimalism is even creeping into the business world—James Altucher being one of the better-known examples. Of course, no discussion of business and minimalism is complete without mention of the ultimate minimalist-driven entrepreneur, a man who was way ahead of his time: Steve Jobs.

    Link: What is Minimalism?

    Wednesday, April 12, 2017