The End of Man-made Design

In the not-too distant future, Dreamcatcher and other programs like it will design things all on their own. Give Dreamcatcher some criteria, and the design of a workable bike, app, or machine could be ready a few minutes later.

Obviously, if you’re a designer, this news might trouble you. Job security is non-existent if software like Dreamcatcher can really fly. Dan Saffer at Medium:

To many people this is a bleak, grim, oh-shit-there-goes-my-job, future. Which is understandable, because for many people this probably will be the end of their job unless they future-proof themselves. You future-proof yourself by ensuring that the kind of work you do cannot be easily replicated by an algorithm. In design, those skills are insights-gathering, problem framing, and crafting unconventional solutions.

I think that each person’s part to play in the future of design is in a gray area. It seems likely that Dreamcatcher promises more than it can deliver. It might work in some and eventually all applications, but not all for decades to come. It will probably be in beta for much longer than we can anticipate.

In the meantime, designers, keep working hard and smart. You shouldn’t be afraid of ghosts. Continue to learn new skills and satisfy your clients. You don’t need to turn your attention to the competition. You need to keep focused on the end user.

Pebble Watches’ Updates and Price Cuts

The Pebble watches are getting health and fitness software updates, but is it too late for them? Brandon Chester at AnandTech:

To celebrate the Pebble's growth, the watch is also being reduced in price. The original Pebble is being dropped to just $99 / €129 / £99, while the Pebble Steel has been dropped to $199 / €229 / £179. At $250 the Pebble Steel was definitely pricey and had pressure from competing Android Wear devices that can sell for $199 or less. Even at $199 I think the Pebble Steel may be a hard sell due to its limitations compared to other smartwatches, but the superior battery life may be what sways users

I’ve been concerned for Pebble for awhile. I like their watches, even the earlier models that were less refined. But all along, I knew it was just a matter of time before they were obsoleted one way or the other. It might have been any other device to outperform the Pebble, but it turned out to be Apple’s Watch.

The only feature I can see that the Pebble has going for it is the looong battery life. Smart watches like Apple’s are expected to last a day at the most between charges, while the less-smart Pebble for convenience only needs a charge every seven days or so.

Selling the Pebbles for cheaper should help. Who knows if this bold move will be enough?

(Via Stephen Hackett)

What do iOS 8 3rd party keyboards stand for?

On the latest Clockwise podcast, Dan Moren made a great point about third party keyboards for iOS 8. As much as we know iOS for its simplicity and consumer friendliness, it is features like the new keyboards that suggest Apple is opening up to “pro” features that you would not expect the average person to take advantage of.

Third party keyboards are not especially easy to install on Android devices either. iOS and Android suffer a similar cumbersome process to install and setup keyboards. When I stop to consider this, I have to wonder why Apple introduced third party keyboards in the first place. The feature is helpful for the dedicated few who use their iPhones all day long and want to improve their typing performance, but these keyboards are not easy to add or utilize. There is a learning curve to them if you want to take advantage of their supposed benefits. This reminds me of… Hey, wait, this is a very familiar experience. Do you know what I’m referring to? Are you geeky enough that you know that familiar feeling you get every time you attempt to use some new feature and you hit a learning curve?

Why add third party keyboards to iOS in the first place? I think, as with all the features we see added to version 8 that Apple has exhausted most of the potential to satisfy the interests of everyday users. My Dad and sister have all the features they could ever ask for. Will they use new options like the improved Notification Center and Extensions? Do they know how to customize the Share sheet? Will they mess with the sliders for photo enhancement in the Camera app? Will they ever care to?

Now that your girlfriend and cousin John have anything and everything they want their phones to do, Apple has earned the loyalty of a large number of everyday people. The majority of consumers are now happy, so Apple doesn’t need to busy themselves to reach the average guy or girl that waltzes into an Apple Store. For instance, people in general are attracted to the marketing push for iOS Garageband and iMovie, but at the end of the day, they aren’t going to record music or edit together film shorts. But they want to know they could if they ever felt like doing it. Someday. On another note, they are going to use iOS’s Notes, rather than review and compare Evernote to Byword and Drafts to determine which produces the best workflow. Such use cases are for the advanced prosumers, such as the highly-motivated geeks that are some of Apple’s pets, like myself.

Now more so than before, Apple is more or less free to target the growing interests of these few professionals: the nerdy, the developer, and the Apple geek that can’t get enough features to slake their lust for more cool on/off toggles. We are the fringe that are eventually served — after all the simple features are checked off the iOS developers’ lists. Third party keyboards represent the beginning of a wide range of features that most people will not take seriously but will hone and improve our minority use cases. We should expect significantly more features over the next few years that involve significantly more learning curve.

It feels good to connect the dots, and realize that there is a future where Apple is taking care of our edge cases. Let’s just hope the third party keyboards implementation is improved upon, because how they work right now is less than exciting to me. Settings has grown to monolithic proportions, and that’s very bad when you stop to think about it. You know what I mean if you have ever bothered to learn your way around the advanced features of iOS, as the learning curve is ever growing.

We Need Art

Michael Hyatt:

In our pragmatic culture we usually see art as optional. We drill this into kids from an early age. We tell them to be practical and belittle their dreams because we can’t imagine how they’ll make any money pursuing them.

But the truth is, art is indispensable. Art gives us meaning. There are things that cannot be understood with pure reason—like love and beauty, to name two. Art helps us understand our world.

The Darnell clan is comprised of several creative types. We are instrumentalists, songwriters, filmmakers, cartoonists, florists… And because I grew up with art as a way of life, it is very easy to take creativity for granted.

Besides its ability to entertain, art educates, renews our minds, and often sparks creativity of our own in ways we couldn’t account for. Art has a way of making life more interesting and work more fulfilling.

Michael’s recommendations would be very appropriate for someone like my wife: someone who indirectly benefits from intentionally engaging art. Michael’s suggestions:

  1. Cultivate a taste for beauty.
  2. Set art-related goals.
  3. Revisit your childhood hobbies or interests.
  4. Cook, garden, and build stuff.
  5. Make some of your own.

Art fuels our imagination. If you can exercise it like a muscle, you will find susprisingly rich ways to see the world and your work from a fresh perspective.

Retina Display iMacs are Coming Soon

All signs suggest an iMac with a very high resolution display will be released soon. It is thought that these desktops will have what Apple deems ‘Retina Display.’

I have been looking forward to these computers since the first announcement of the Retina display for the iPhone 4, though I would rather have a Thunderbolt Retina Display (what a clunky name) to use with my MacBook Pro before I get another desktop computer.

You can get more details from Jack March and 9 to 5 Mac.

(Via Marco Arment)

Internet Archive of ‘Millions of Historical Images’

Kalev Leetaru interviewed for BBC:

"Stretching half a millennium, it's amazing to see the total range of images and how the portrayals of things have changed over time.

"Most of the images that are in the books are not in any of the art galleries of the world - the original copies have long ago been lost."

The pictures range from 1500 to 1922, when copyright restrictions kick in.

The images are actually quite good. I could easily get lost in the archive on Flickr for hours.

"Type in the telephone, for example, and you can see that all the initial pictures are of businesspeople, and mostly men.

"Then you see it morph into more of a tool to connect families.

"You see another progression with the railroad where in the first images it was all about innovation and progress that was going to change the world, then you see its evolution as it becomes part of everyday life."

It is great to see this resource has come together. For the love of content creation, the world needs more curators like Kalev.

The Bulldog Dart, Harrier, and Hammer

Do you know how to fold together The Bulldog Dart, the Harrier, or the Hammer? If not, you’re in luck, because the picture-by-picture instructions are available in at Art of Manliness (link is the title of this post). They are impressive displays of what you can craft with an 8.5x11.

Since LEGO has been on my mind lately, I started to compare the wonder and pleasure of the two toys. Building paper airplanes and LEGO have a lot in common. They are creative toys that, to play with them, you build something useful along the way. And there’s countless ways to make them. Both are incredibly enjoyable toys made of seemingly everyday materials.

But the one thing that is great about paper is that you can fold together thousands of planes for what one cheap LEGO set costs. So we make a lot of paper airplanes at our house till the little ones learn the value of branded plastic bricks.

How Often Should Writers Read?

Since I was eleven I knew that my dream job would involve writing in some capacity. As of yet, I have only found time to write as a hobby, and as such I like to ask the tough questions while I mull over the writing craft (like the nerd that I am). The one on my mind at the moment: How much time should writers spend reading if they want to be good writers?

It doesn’t matter whether you want to write novels, textbooks, or sites. You will have to read some of the time to research, but do you read for pleasure also? And do you read to hone your own approach to your professional work? For every 30 minutes you write, how many minutes would it help you to read? I would be interested to know if Steven King reads as much as he writes. I would like to think so, but what if he reads more than he writes?

If you write then you most certainly read, or you’re probably a bad writer. Seems obvious enough, but I didn’t figure this out early on. As a youngster, I assumed that I would someday like to be a good writer, yet I thought reading others’ works was boring and tedious. Then, the more I read, the more I understood how complex good writing is. Just to learn the subtleties of the English language, for example:

i before e
except when you
run a feisty heist
on a weird beige
foreign neighbor

I got that from a meme. That’s really good writing though, isn’t it? While making you smile, it clearly states a peculiarity within the English language that we writers wrestle with. The meme is well-written. Someone was able to craft it after cultivating familiarity with English conventions, growing a healthy vocabulary, and understanding how to entertain others through words. Well-rounded amounts of frequent reading often improve these skills.

The written word is, after all, the medium writers are attempting to perform. But to what end? Writers want other people to read. It’s so much easier if the writer has recent personal experience reading because it is a good percentage of what they will do as they write. As you think up the words and type them out, how do you judge them? By reading them, of course. You either read them in your head before they make it into your text editor, or you read what you have typed. And the more you read, the more likely you can identify the good drafts from the bad ones.

Most of what I read I do intentionally to find application to my own writing. Writing and reading are important to make the practice enjoyable, challenging, and routine. If I expect others to enjoy what I have to share, I need to additionally form the practice of digesting their words. After all, it’s so easy to find great reads that others have to offer, why wouldn’t I want to read? It can’t hurt, and it is very likely that what I like to read will rub off on me so my writing style will improve. We writers communicate through a ‘voice’ that’s reminiscent of other writers we enjoy reading. So, if we don’t read, we lack the communicative power of personality-driven communication.

With the more reading you have under your belt, the better you see past the words to their rich meaning. From reading, you begin to see what works for you and what doesn’t. You consciously and subconsciously critique and compare — form opinions on the words you have absorbed. You identify writing styles you wish to avoid and assimilate the feel of the reads you love.

The inexperienced reader sits down to write and the ideas won’t flow through him. He gets writer’s block, so he thinks up misguided treatments for his inability to write. See, the assumption is that writer’s block is formed because a writer lacks inspiration. For this reason, some writers prefer to read to get their head and their heart in the game, but I’ve heard several writers say they do other things: wash dishes, go running, or even watch some television just to name a few of the diversions that are toyed with to boost inspiration.

These are all activities where you might incidentally discover some undigested inspiration, but they don’t directly assist your skill set as a writer. Which is harder for you to find: inspiration or expertise? The latter, I’m sure. Does the coffee roaster get better at his job if he takes time at work to go for a jog or watch TV? Of course not. And the writer will not hone his expertise either if he’s folding laundry or baking a cake.

I think what’s often the case is the writer lacks a meaningful relationship with the art of the written word. They don’t need inspiration from elsewhere. He simply lacks fresh experience with the craft of words on a page. A fresh take on the medium is helpful every day for the professional.

So, if it were up to me to make the call, I would say the writer ought to read almost as much as he writes at the very least. It serves two end goals very well. Primarily, reading fosters your understanding of language and verbal communication. It keeps the garden of your mind well-tended.

And additionally, as a byproduct of reading more than you perhaps consider beneficial, you will find a wide variety of inspiration for your own writing. Go figure, but it comes with added resources fed into your thought life. While you’re absorbing others’ ideas, you will discover opinions, facts, and truths that you haven’t considered before, or haven’t considered recently. Inspiration will bubble up to the top — to the forefront of your consciousness — while the craftsmanship of good writing will linger more heavily in your subconscious.

For these reasons, I try to strike a balance in my own life that I still need to hone and make routine. It should sound crazy to a lot of writers on the web, but I make it my practice to read for as long as I write. This way, I cultivate an ideal: toning my ability to put thoughts into meaningful words, and I find all the inspiration we writers desparately chase.

Thanks for reading.

New iPhone 6 and iOS 8 Camera Controls

The iPhone 6 and Plus have significant upgrades to the forward-facing camera, not to mention the added benefits of iOS 8’s Camera app. I took one look in the app and was surprised by the number of design changes — so many that in part it felt like using a different camera app altogether from iOS 7’s.

Wistia’s article (linked to with the title of this post) has everything you want to know to quickly learn the new controls for professional level photo shoots and video recording sessions. Chris gives steps through exposure control, image stabilization, enhanced autofocus, time-lapse mode, and super slow motion. The short videos and animated GIFs help break it all down, like a good how-to should.

Quick To-do Organization is another online to-do list editor that has a unique approach to make it attractive. Writers should be interested, because is all about writing out your project plans like they are a simple outline in a text file. Only, features highlighting, date/time organization, and other simple methods to contextualize your actions.

It’s online, it has apps on Apple and Android devices, it is free, and’s interface is primarily blue and white. Look into it if your are already shopping around for a task management system.

(Via Josh Johnson)

iPhone Thumb Zones

This simple illustration highlights the areas iPhone users (A) naturally reach across their screens, (B) stretch to reach across their screens, and (C) stretch so far as to cause discomfort in their thumbs to tap or swipe. All things considered, your accuracy tapping in the orange or red is lesser than in the range of green.

Good thing the iPhones 6 feature Reachability. It seems like a half-baked solution at a glance, but in practice I have heard that it works for some. I think the verdict is still out on whether users will adopt Reachability on a wide scale, because we have not had this problem before. And who knows what a better solution looks like? Designers haven’t encountered this problem until now, so revealed solutions are few at the moment.

They that like elegant solutions think it’s about the most unpleasant solution Apple has created in recent memory, but what would an “elegant” solution look like?

iPhone Past to Present Animation

GadgetLove has a beautifully animated GIF of the iPhone. Watch as it transforms the first generation into the 3G, the 3GS, and all the others up through the present iPhone 6. A few models are skipped, most noticeably absent is the 5c, but I think its understandable which made it into the animation and which did not.

The body style of the iPhones 6 has as much in common with the original and 3G models as it does the 4 and 5 models. As much as I like all of the body styles, the look of the 1st generation and the Space Gray 5s appeal to me most. And yet, I would enjoy the 6 a great deal more if it were not for the antenna bands on the back. Personally, I think they look tacky, like the yellow highlight tape on the back of a school bus.

(Via Co.Create)

iPhone 5s, Day 369

While many a tech writer is sharing their personal review of an iPhone 6 or Plus, I want to throw you a curveball: here are my thoughts about the iPhone 5s, based on my first year as a satisfied user of last year’s model.

Several fine reviews of the iPhones 6 have mentioned that the iPhone 5s is still a great device, but not many of them have said why. If you are just now considering a potential upgrade, or moving to the Apple platform for the first time, then I recommend you honestly consider the iPhone 5s as comparable to the iPhones 6. It performs well. It has adapted superbly to iOS 8 — so much so it feels like a significant upgrade just to use the new software features on my elderly phone.

Battery life is something everyone wants to know about. While I experienced battery shortages early on using iOS 7, I haven’t since the earliest updates to iOS 7. For the most part, my iPhone 5s has worked all day long, even under heavy usage to listen to podcasts (or socialize on Twitter) on the weekends while I do chores around the house.

The physical size of the 5s has been my favorite to date. The grip is comfortable in my large hands. I never have trouble typing, tapping, or swiping with one hand or two. Sure, it’s a little cramped to type with two thumbs, but my typing on the small display has improved steadily all the way up to the present.

I’m not even slightly annoyed with the keyboard size anymore, as I think the shortcomings are unavoidable for such a compact interface. And when I don’t feel like typing, I usually have success using dictation.

How well has the 5s aged? Well, comparing my 5s to my last phone, the 4s, I have to say the device has been more satisfactory over a years’ timeframe. I prefer the Space Gray color of the back and sides of the 5s aluminum. It’s thinner and lighter, so I hardly notice the 5s in my pants pocket. The larger screen is comfortable to my eyes. And even the specs of the graphics and processing power are such that I haven’t noticed the 5s slow down with updates, as I had noticed with the 4s.

And perhaps unexpectedly, I hardly noticed a difference between the 4s and 5s screens in practice using the devices, because the added screen real estate of the 5s doesn’t continually draw attention to itself. Point-for-point it is large enough to notice a benefit, but not so large to notice it’s huge for the sake of being huge. One of the drawbacks of the 4s display was that I was continually aware in my subconscious that I wanted a larger screen, which wasn’t available until the 5.

Now, I should note the size of the iPhone display from another perspective. When compared to the iPhones 6 I still prefer the 5s. Like a luddite, do I think it’s inherently superior to the newer, larger displays? No. Only in my use case can I say that I prefer four inches. It is a sensibly-sized window into digital space. I never think to myself wouldn’t it be better if I had 30% more screen because then I would add 30% more bulk onto the device I don’t want to carry in my pocket.

And if the color, contrast, and pixel clarity on the 6 models are superior to the 5s, I don’t yearn for the improvement as of yet. I’m still satisfied with my 40" 720p HD Panasonic television, even though I know 1080p is technically more vivid. I don’t appreciate that level of detail yet. My psyche doesn’t need to be spoiled to that extent.

As for the Touch ID sensor in the Home Button, I couldn’t be happier. It has almost never failed me, and I only input my fingerprints once at the beginning a year ago.

Before, unlocking the iPhone was always a miniature chore, like brushing my teeth or something — I didn’t want to do it, but I felt using the password was very needful. Touch ID solves this problem, and with the added benefits from iOS 8 extensibility, I think that Touch ID is one of the best everyday features of iPhones.

Finally, in regards to the iPhone 5s camera, I have to make a confession. I don’t use the camera half as much as I would like, and when I do, it is usually for home videos of my family. For its purposes, it is excellent and I don’t see the need for more features for my everyday use cases.

It would always be cool to video record a few seconds of my children playing catch in slow motion, but for all of human history, people didn’t have such a feature and they got along okay. Super high slowmo frame rate and the like are fun, but they are not essential to my photography. I’m not a photography hobbyist. All the more power to those who are, but as for me, I think the 5s camera is more than enough to keep me happy for, well, years to come, if it were necessary.

Think of it analogously. The iPhone 5s is to the iPhone 6 as a MacBook Air is to a MacBook Pro. It does everything you want your smart phone to do, even if it doesn’t sport state-of-the-art VoLTE, superduper graphics processing, or the bigger display.

The iPhone 6 and Plus features are impressive and I like them. It is okay to like something and not have it, you know. Ask yourself what do you really want and need at the end of the day? I want the iPhone 5s that keeps on giving.