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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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iOS creates a competition hostile environment

Below is a screenshot of the sheet you see on YouTube for iOS when tapping on a link in a video’s description.

They invoke this custom sheet because, like Google, Apple has created iOS to be competition hostile to other browser vendors like Mozilla, Opera, Microsoft, etc.

Tapping on a link should open your default browser, not provide you choices to download the developer’s other apps. I’m guessing the Safari option on this sheet is there because Apple wouldn’t approve the app otherwise.

But why should Google write the YouTube app any differently? If Apple can be competition hostile, why can’t they?

Early in iOS’s history I understood why Apple limited the browser, mail, maps, and calendar options to only their own apps. It made sense. The integration with the OS was just too deep and the OS didn’t have enough APIs to make a good user experience. But, today, on a platform that is into its second decade of existence, with features like deep links, extensions, services, SiriKit, etc. there is likely very little excuse any more not to allow users to choose their own default apps.

How can we force Apple to change this?

Jonnie Hallman on burn out

Jonnie Hallman, who created Cushion and a bunch of cool stuff you’ve probably seen, burned out building his start up:

Then, on Cushion’s 5-year anniversary, I experienced my first panic attack.

Read his post for the full story. But the entire post resonates so much with me because with Plain I (and Kyle, my co-founder) experienced many of the same emotions.

Burn out is real. Creating and running a start up isn’t for everyone. It isn’t for me – I know that now. While I may be capable and knowledgeable enough about the “how” I’m just not suited for it emotionally. I take things far too hard. Put too much on myself. And I wig out.

His jumping to Stripe is just like what I’ve done. I’ve found a home at Jujama where I have some of the same basic things I love about being an entrepreneur (autonomy, small team, flexible hours, remote office) but enough stability to keep me sane and – most – weekends my computer is off.

Congrats to him for recognizing that he needs to make a change and doing so even if seemingly painful. He finishes his post with a note that I’d like to finish this one with.

Note: If you overwork yourself and feel like you’re burning out, stop what you’re doing and find stability—whatever you’re working on isn’t worth your health. Don’t feel the need to “hustle” because some people glorify it. Doing good work while living a healthy life is much more respectable.

Microsoft invests $1B in OpenAI

Microsoft on the investment of a cool $1B in OpenAI:

The companies will focus on building a computational platform in Azure of unprecedented scale, which will train and run increasingly advanced AI models, include hardware technologies that build on Microsoft’s supercomputing technology, and adhere to the two companies’ shared principles on ethics and trust. This will create the foundation for advancements in AI to be implemented in a safe, secure and trustworthy way and is a critical reason the companies chose to partner together.

Don’t let the name OpenAI fool you, as there is no word from either company on whether their efforts will be open sourced.

However, OpenAI does publish a charter to which they say they hold.

Either way, it seems to align with Satya’s Microsoft that believes in empowering people to do their work and in doing it ethically and morally.

Nice partnership.

On a Microsoft Surface Phone

Zac Bowden:

It’s fair to say that in 2019, Microsoft is “all-in” on the Android platform thanks to its efforts like the Microsoft Launcher, Edge, and Office, all first-class experiences on Android smartphones around the world.

I’m glad Bowden wrote this post. I’ve been wanting to.

Longtime readers of my blog will know that I liked Windows Phone very much. I bought a Lumia for testing and immediately fell in love with the device and OS. If only it had apps! It was the only thing holding it back.

Today, if Microsoft decided to do what Bowden is suggesting, that wouldn’t be an issue. Android has tons of apps. And so many of Microsoft’s own apps are already first-class citizens on Android (as well as built to be cross platform from the ground up).

Bowden points out Launcher, Edge, and Office as Microsoft’s strongest efforts on Android. But that isn’t all of them. Your Phone, which he mentions later in his post, is also a big piece. Not to mention OneDrive, Skype, and a myriad of apps. They are all very good experiences on Android already.

Bowden says…

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people internally at Microsoft thinking about this very idea right now, weighing up whether it’s worth trying. Does Microsoft want to put money into researching and developing a new smartphone, while also maintaining its own Android ROM, updates, and paying Google for a Play Store license?

This is a given. They have already been doing this for years. Microsoft R&D is one of the largest, most expensive R&D departments in the world. Has been for decades. They shed off billions of dollars per year in R&D. And they aren’t slowing down.

Also, do you think Panos Panay hasn’t already prototyped 10 or 20 or 50 different designs of Surface Phone by now? Of course he has!

One other area I will disagree with Bowden. He writes:

This isn’t a bad thing, but an Android smartphone wouldn’t be the worst idea Microsoft has ever had, especially if it keeps expectations low and doesn’t make any huge bets on it.

Microsoft was recently valued as the most valuable company to ever exist on planet earth. (Alongside Amazon and Apple.) Keep expectations low? Don’t make a huge bet?

Steve Jobs passed away 10 years ago. Jony Ive is leaving Apple. Huawei has regulatory issues I can’t even dream of. Samsung’s devices are months behind on Android updates and one of their recent models exploded in people’s hands. And Google’s Pixel has yet to have a foothold.

I say Microsoft should swing for the fences. They should come out with Windows Phone again, base it on Android, call it a Surface Phone and set expectations at Panos Panay levels. That is; pumped.

React is an ecosystem

Jonathan Snook, on his learning curve when joining a new organization that uses React:

When people talk about learning React, I think that React, in and of itself, is relatively easy to understand. At least, I felt it was. I have components. I have JSX. I hit some hiccups with required keys or making sure I was wrapping child elements properly. But overall, I felt like I grasped it well enough.

Throw in everything else at the same time, though, and things get confusing because it’s hard at first to recognize what belongs to what. “Oh, this is Redux. That is React. That other thing is lodash. Got it.”

Most of the time React is merely a piece of an app’s overall puzzle. There are so many other pieces that make up the entire thing it can be an overwhelming experience.

I’m not new to building apps. In fact, the vast majority of my life I’ve been building apps. But learning React this year has been one of the more haphazard experiences of my career. It is not straightforward.

It isn’t that I think React itself is poorly made or documented. In fact, out of the box you can spin up a simple Hello World React app about as quickly as any other technology. But, as my boy Snook points out, it never ends there. Any somewhat mature app built on React has many, many other parts to learn.

He points most of them out in his blog post but I’ll reiterate here some of the things I personally see that could be overwhelming to people jumping in…

  • Build routines
  • Servers
  • State managers
  • Component hierarchies
  • JavaScript specifications
  • Myriad JavaScript packages (such as design libraries)
  • JavaScript style guides (naming and positioning of things)
  • CSS pre-processors (like SASS)

Any one or all of these things could potentially be new to a web developer coming into React. And, equally so, an app developer.

The only way to avoid being overwhelmed would be to take one bit at a time. Understand that what you’re looking at isn’t a single thing but a collection of many new things and that each of them will become natural to you over time. If your team is large enough, perhaps there are pieces you won’t need to worry too much about. But if not, you’re essentially diving into the “full stack” and will eventually become familiar with that entire thing.

I will say, lastly, that it has been very fun. React sort of combines the things I like about building apps with, say, Swift (typing, “stricter” rules, reusable bits) and the things I like about building things for the web (HTML, CSS, app runs on literally everything).

Libra (the new cryptocurrency) must-reads

So Facebook, among others, announced a new cryptocurrency and blockchain called Libra. You’ve likely already seen the headlines. But perhaps you’re wondering what it means, what makes Libra any different than, say, Bitcoin, or perhaps you have other questions.

I did too. So I’ve rounded up a few links that helped me gain some perspective on this announcement. As with all things crypto, it is fascinating to see all of this play out.

Libra White Paper:

We believe that collaborating and innovating with the financial sector, including regulators and experts across a variety of industries, is the only way to ensure that a sustainable, secure and trusted framework underpins this new system. And this approach can deliver a giant leap forward toward a lower-cost, more accessible, more connected global financial system.

This white paper lays out the problem, the proposed solution, and even a roadmap for the future of the currency/payments system. It reads well-enough and it a good place to start.

Wired’s article on this announcement:

The Libra Association will consist at first of up to 100 founding members including Facebook, each of which will invest at least $10 million to fund the association’s operations, and receive interest earned off the reserve. (Libra’s NGO members are exempted from the investment requirement.) Each member will be empowered to operate a node on the blockchain, and have a voice in determining changes to its code and managing the reserve.

As reporters are good at, the Wired piece distills the main points of the effort as well as provides context around the crypto-market in general. Adds some flavor to the entire thing.

Ben Thompson’s excellent take:

The best way to understand Libra, then, is as a sort of distributed ledger that is a compromise between a fully public blockchain and an internal database […] This means that the overall system is much more efficient than Bitcoin, while the necessary level of trust is spread out to multiple entities, not one single company…

At this point, I’d call Libra a pseudo-distributed blockchain backed cryptocoin. Rather than network nodes being managed by anyone they are managed by “qualified” entities. And so is the underlying software.

This is yet-another-option in the crypto-market. Something sort of like other coins but different enough that it deserves to exist. Hardliner crypto peeps may take offense to any amount of oversight on something like a cryptocoin but it is bound to occur. This won’t be the last cryptocoin/payments system you see created that has institutional backing and oversight. In fact, it isn’t the first. See JPM Coin from JP Morgan.

Again, I’m fascinated by this space and I will continue to watch as the markets, coins, payment systems, blockchains, and companies spearheading this new territory evolve.

Riva-Melissa Tez on making things

Riva-Melissa Tez, who recently joined Intel, on making things:

Lastly, one of my concerns of our generation is that we’re talking too much and not building enough, partially spurred on by the immediate reward mechanisms of social media. We seem to think we can all invest in or inspire hypothetical others into building the futures that we want. This was one of the hardest takeaways from my 20s because I fell for this too. If you’re looking for a thing to exist and you can’t find it, it might not be because there’s not enough X or Y, it might simply be that the person you’re looking to build it is, and always has been, actually yourself.

100.

/via Patrick Collison on Twitter.

Those who share, receive (or, how to get noticed or get work)

I touched on this topic in 2017 in How do you get work?. But let me just pull one sentence from that post:

The clear way to get work is to share work.

The same thing goes for getting “noticed” if that is something you want or need. You have to put things out into the world, and keep doing so, in order to be noticed, build an audience, or have opportunities come your way.

I have two recent, but altogether very different, examples that come to mind.

One is David Sikabwe. On Twitter he shared a rap he wrote for Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon. It has blown up on Twitter and, if you read through his recent tweets as of this writing, you will see he has a flood of attention from some very, very big names. He also has some people sharing new works using his work.

He mentions that he wrote the piece 1 year ago and he had it in his Notes app and simply didn’t share it. Would it have been as big of a hit if he had shared it a year ago? Who knows? But, the point is that he did share and it did get attention and now there is a big possibility this young talent finds his break into the industry (if that is what he wants).

The second example is Timothy Smith with Kickstarting Bokeh (which I previously mentioned). Two years ago he wrote on his blog about his experience being interviewed for a job and ultimately not getting it and feeling self-doubt. In that post he ended it with this:

I’m done letting these insecurities win. I’m done trying to get validation that I shouldn’t need. I’m me and I’m awesome.

And guess what? Now he is putting something out into the world. Giving it a shot. And it is being noticed. Manton Reece mentioned it. He was interviewed on Micro Monday, Ashley Baxter mentioned it, DPReview mentioned it, Jeffrey Zeldman mentioned it, and on and on.

These two examples are just the latest proof that if you put stuff out into the world you will receive attention or work if you are seeking it. It may take time. Sometimes even a long time. But it will never, ever happen if you do not share.

I’m calling it, Satya Nadella is Microsoft’s best CEO ever

Me, in September 2017:

I have the feeling we’re going to look back at Nadella as one of the best CEOs in the history of tech.

We’ll see how this bold prediction pans out but I’m ready to call Satya Nadella the best CEO in Microsoft’s history.

Microsoft reported a record-setting Q1. They are killing it in the cloud. But they are also doing very well in many other areas.

While I do think this performance speaks to Nadella being Microsoft’s best CEO it isn’t my only reason for saying so.

Microsoft now feels like it has an ethos I can get behind. While it may have had one under Gates or Ballmer it wasn’t a very attractive one to me. It now feels as though the company has a bright vision for the future not an overly technical (Gates) or competitive (Ballmer) one. Satya appears to care about customers in ways his predecessors didn’t.

Here are some things I’ve had the time to write about Satya (if I was a full-time blogger I would have written far, far more).

Me, in April 2016:

He’s only been in the CEO chair for a little while but I believe he has a vision for the future of the world and of Microsoft that is based on his core beliefs far more than his predecessor. I welcome it. And I like him.

Me, in April 2017:

Today, Microsoft is on the lips of nearly every developer I talk to. And the conversations are about building products using Microsoft hardware and software.

Relatedly, in May 2017:

I have no idea if I’ll ever be a full time Windows user or not. My lock-in on Mac may last another decade or two and by then who knows if I’ll even own a computer as we think of them today.

I’ve now been full-time on Windows 10 for over a year. And while I miss my Mac sometimes (but not all the time) I think this speaks volumes.

Me, later in May 2017:

Overall, I continue to be super impressed with Microsoft under Satya Nadella. Seems I’m not alone.

Me, in March 2018:

I’ve written a lot about Windows 10 here on my blog. It, along with WSL, Azure, Visual Studio, Xamarin, HoloLens and people like Satya and Panos have me extremely bullish on Microsoft. More than I’ve been since the 90s.

June 2018, when MSFT bought Github:

If you’ve been reading my blog for the last few years you’ll know that I’m rather bullish on what Satya Nadella has been doing within Microsoft. Today’s Microsoft is one that embraces open source, contributes heavily to it, allows developers to use any language and platform, etc.

and…

Keep watching, I think we’re going to be seeing a Microsoft that none of us would have ever thought possible just a few short years ago.

Reid Hoffman in June 2018:

Under Satya Nadella’s leadership, Microsoft has re-invigorated itself with an exploratory, future-oriented, and developer-focused mindset.

I named Microsoft best company in 2018:

In my opinion, Microsoft has been firing on all cylinders for nearly the entirety of Satya Nadella’s lead.


To sum up, Microsoft:

  • is setting financial records each quarter
  • is growing their customer base on products they’ve had for decades
  • is arguably contributing to open source as much or more than any other company
  • has one of the best, if not the best cloud services suite available
  • is manufacturing the best hardware available for Windows computers
  • is leading the way in nascent fields such as AR, ML, AI, IOT

I don’t know how long I’ll be a full-time Windows 10 user. This year’s WWDC will likely have a significant bearing on that. However, to have seen this run and been some small part of it has been fascinating. And I’m still surprised that Microsoft is even a choice for me since it wasn’t for nearly two decades. I’ll continue to watch closely.

My interpretations of announcements by Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter

Apple pre-announcing something: “We’re excited to get this in customer’s hands late next year”. My interpretation: “We never pre-announce things. Why are we doing this? We’re terrible at it. In fact, we make fun of other companies for doing it! Steve Jobs would never allow this! (mostly) We must be doing this because some group of people is really angry with us. Oh, and this product will likely never ship and we’ll tell you about it after the market closes on a Friday”

Apple reassuring their customer base of an upcoming update (read: late in whatever next year is) to a beloved product by a small set of people: “We love the Mac”. My interpretation: “Crickts.” (E key didn’t work)

Apple announcing something that is available today: “We think our customers will love it. Available today. $PremiumPrice”. My interpretation: “Yes, other companies have tried to build this. Yes, our’s is much better in nearly every way. We’ve perfected it. And it is made of diamond and leather and unobtainium. Hence the price. Enjoy.”

Facebook, calling a mea culpa: “We didn’t intend for this to happen. And it happened only to # of users.” My interpretation: “We totally intended for this to happen. We just didn’t intend to get caught. But I don’t know why because we ALWAYS get caught. Oh, and it actually happened to many multiples of # of users. You’ll find that out in a few days.”

Facebook announcing something: “We are connecting people all over the world.” My interpretation: “Our massive drones are really to collect even more information about people than we already collect and sell to that information to people we say we won’t sell information to. Oh, and to misinform people about just about every topic possible.”

Google announcing something: “Here is our brand new cloud-based service that is free to use” My interpretation: “Here is our thing. We consider it beta but it is actually pretty good. Go ahead and use it. Fall in love with it. The moment you come to depend on it we’ll shut it down because we only make money on Google Ads. But you knew that and you fell for it anyway!”

Bonus: Microsoft, announcing a new cloud-based service. “Containers! Buzzword acronym, buzzword seamless integration acronym, buzzword, Kubernetes Docker.” My interpretation: “There are organizations in the world that pay Microsoft incredible amounts of money to license Windows on sub-par hardware, to use Windows Server to manage web applications and services that use far too much RAM, and to use Azure (which is actually quite amazing) to do literally anything they ask it to do.”

Bonus: Twitter announcing a much needed feature. Wait, Twitter hasn’t built any much needed features since 2008.