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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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A review of the Google Pixel 2 XL and Android 8.1 by a longtime iPhone user

After 10 years of using iOS as my primary mobile platform I’ve decided to give Android more than just a casual try. This post is my review both of the Google Pixel 2 XL and Android 8.1 as well as a few comparisons I’ve drawn between iOS and Android ecosystems. I’ve been an Apple fan for decades. But I’ve tried to be as unbiased as possible and truly allow my feelings of day-to-day use dictate my review. I’ve owned the Pixel 2 XL for over a month so I’m hoping that my first reactions have subsided.

The Google Pixel 2 XL

I love this phone.

I’d been thinking about trying out an Android-powered phone for a few months but I think what pushed me over the edge was how many YouTubers rated the Pixel 2 so highly. Many tech reviewers have the privilege of getting their hands on dozens of phones. Which phone comes out on top (or very close) of most of their lists? The Pixel 2 XL.

I switched to the Pixel 2 XL from an iPhone 7 Plus. The iPhone 7 Plus was a great phone — easily my favorite camera system in an iPhone — but not as comfortable in the hand as the iPhone SE. For a sense of how much I liked the iPhone SE you can read what I wrote here.

By going from an iPhone 7 Plus to a Pixel 2 XL I upgraded the camera system in a number of ways. Front-facing portrait mode is far more important and useful in daily use than I could have imagined. I think Apple has missed an opportunity on the front-facing camera for years. It is likely used more often by younger people and yet the hardware and software driving the forward-facing camera is always superior on iPhones. With the Pixel 2 XL both cameras are fantastic and both offer the same software features.

Photo: A rather terrible photo of the Pixel 2 XL’s ambient display. Notice the icons.

The Pixel 2 XL has a few features that are not available on next-generation iPhones, namely; a lightning fast fingerprint sensor, squeezable sides, screen that wakes with a gentle double-tap, an ambient display with clock and gentle notifications, and “what’s playing” feature (showing you what music is currently playing) that is always on.

My phone is my primary camera. On hikes, walking downtown between meetings, or traveling – I like to be quick so I don’t miss any moments. With the iPhone 7 Plus I was like Bruce Lee with nunchucks. If I spotted a fleet-footed while on a hike I could likely capture it. After a few weeks with the Pixel 2 XL I’m beginning to feel my muscles learning the new gestures and maneuvers to get my groove back. One feature that makes this even better than iPhone 7 Plus is being able to double-tap the power button to invoke the camera app of my choice on the phone.

The Google Assistant is a primary feature of this phone. I’ve always wanted to try a different assistant than Siri but Apple simply does not allow you to do so on iOS. You can download the Google Assistant app but it is a neutered experience. iOS does not give third-party apps the control they need to be useful and there is no way to invoke the assistant easily.

On the Pixel 2 XL I have several ways to invoke the Google Assistant. I can squeeze the sides and nearly instantly I can begin making my request. I can say “OK Google” at any time and, again instantly make my request. And I do mean instant, unlike Siri, there is no pause needed between “OK Google” and my request. With Siri I need to wait for the “ding” sound. And lastly, I can long-press the home button to invoke the assistant.

The Google Assistant’s  results are much better than Siri. It gets my query correct the majority of the time. I don’t know what my success rate with Siri is but I would say it is less than 50%. I got so fed up with Siri that I only used it to ask for the weather each morning. With the Pixel 2 XL I’m using the Google Assistant multiple times per day. And, I use it for things that aren’t even possible on iOS like turning down my screen brightness, turning on or off my flashlight, taking a picture, etc.

I charge the Pixel 2 XL at night while I sleep and I routinely plug it in with greater than 50% battery life. I have changed no settings on the phone to extend the battery life. In fact, I’ve turned on the ambient display and “what’s playing” features which warn you that it will use more power. In my use, even with the “always on” features turned on, I have no issue at all with battery life. I also appreciate that it charges with USB-C. I can plug it directly into my MacBook Pro, no dongle.

To sum up, the Pixel 2 XL hardware is as good as the iPhone 7 Plus (and likely the 8) and has a better front-facing camera system, more options, and the squeeze feature.

Android 8.1

I bought the Pixel 2 XL within days of Android 8.1 shipping. Coming from 10 years of iOS, and the very limited number of user preferences it affords, using Android has been really fun. If I was a new user I could leave all the defaults as they are and be happy. However, I’ve enjoyed the number of options Android has.

One of the complaints about Apple I’ve heard the most is that they make too many choices for the user. My rebuttal to that has always been “Yes, but they make good choices”. However, two things have changed in recent years.

First, Apple is making worse choices. I know this is subjective but more and more I’m convinced that Apple’s choices are becoming more anti-competitive than they are user-focused. I can understand limiting some of the user preferences in iOS for the first few years to allow the platform to become rock solid, then slowly add more features and settings. But iOS is over 10 years old and there are a few options that Apple has, in my opinion, criminally omitted from iOS like being able to set default browser, email client, maps app, and assistant.

Second, the resources of these mobile devices are beginning to compete with the speed and storage of slim laptops. The devices beg to be used heavily, for work, and for play. I would say for many people their primary “computer” is their phone. So we are entering an era where it becomes a work horse for people. Steve Jobs thought we’d always have pickup trucks (desktops or laptops) while also owning cars (mobile devices). Well, I believe these mobile devices are beginning to become very pickup truck-like for many. And, let’s face it, a huge number of pick-up truck owners don’t even need them. They just like the look. This mean that the mobile OSes must also become work horses. And that means more options, better compatibility, and power user features.

This is a very long winded way of saying that I wanted to take back more control of my OS and Android allows me to do that. I can tweak Android in far more ways than I expected – even down to choosing a different launcher. Microsoft has one, there is another popular one called Lawnchair (cute name), and dozens of others. These change the device in both subtle and dramatic ways to become whatever the user needs. It makes so much sense. Imagine a launcher built specifically for young students?

To sum up, Android gives users far more control over their devices than iOS.

How Android is better than iOS

Photo: Notice how app folders appear directly below your tap, not in the center of the screen.

  • Powerful notifications – On the ambient display there is a subtle icon letting me know there is a notification for an app. In the status bar that icon is on the left-hand side. Pulling down gives me actionable, and “snoozable” items to deal with. You really need to play with it to understand. iOS’s notifications are clay tablets in comparison.
  • Do not disturb – I’ve found Android’s do not disturb preferences to be far more sane than iOS. Apps do not continue to beg me to turn on notifications. DND turns on when I go to bed, and turns off when I wake up. It turns on while I’m driving (something Android has had long before iOS). It can also be turned on by turning my volume down one click more than just “off”. It is a brilliant feature that is useful for theaters. Also, DND watches your calendar, if you’re “Busy” it turns on DND. At first I thought this would be overbearing, but in fact, it is incredibly thoughtful and sane.
  • An always available back button – iOS 7 brought a “back” button to the top left of the OS. But this is a terrible place for it. Android has an always available back button on the bottom left (bottom right on Samsung I think). It doesn’t just bring you back to the previous app but back in every context. It remembers exactly where you were last and takes you there. When I pick up my iPad I’m always reaching for this back button now.
  • App size – Android apps, and certainly updates, appear to be tiny when compared to their behemoth iOS siblings. Some daily use apps are less than 5Mb on Android. I’d love to take the time to do a true 1-to-1 comparison. My gut says the differences are substantial.
  • Device compatibility – I can plug my phone into my MacBook or Windows 10 PC and see the files on it. It almost seems absurd that Apple never created a similar sandbox approach like this to be able to store files or access files created on the device. This comes in very handy.
  • Home screen reachability – icons on your home screen can be placed anywhere you prefer. Naturally they are on the bottom of the screen because that is where your thumb rests. A feature that I’d bet will be in iOS 13 but that Apple stubbornly hasn’t brought to iOS yet.
  • Widgets – widgets aren’t for everyone. Some of them are poorly designed. But there are a few that are unobtrusive and simply make sense. In the screenshot of my home screen above you can see two in use – one for calendar and one for weather. But many apps ship with widgets that you can place on any home screen panel. I’ve seen others that have note taking apps on their own panel. They just swipe and start typing. It is pretty nice.
  • New app icons – When a new app is installed you can choose to have the icon be placed on your home screen or not. I’ve chosen for all apps to go into the app drawer and keep my home screen tidy. I love this option.
  • Folders open under your tap – This is a subtle thing. When I tap on a folder on my home screen it expands directly in place where the tap happened. It doesn’t open in the center of the screen. And, the app folder is only as big as it needs to be depending on the number of apps in it.
  • Split-screen apps – I’ve used this more than I thought I would. I’ve used it for note taking in certain circumstances but also for phone conferences. I can have my email open and my phone app open to type in the 8 digit pin that I received.

How iOS is better than Android

There are a few things that iOS clearly beats Android on and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point them out. Here are a few that I’ve found that I notice in day-to-day use.

  • Smooth scrolling – iOS really does scroll like butter. I don’t know what Apple does that Android engineers can’t (or don’t, or won’t) but the scrolling on Android isn’t nearly as buttery smooth as iOS. The gap has closed considerably in recent updates but there is still a long way to go.
  • Cursor movement and text selection – I wouldn’t say that iOS great at this, but it is better than Android for me so far. I also feel like this might be a muscle memory issue. I’d like to see Google bring some of iOS’s keyboard dragging features to Android. I’m getting better every day though.
  • Scroll to top – On any list in iOS (say, your contacts list) you can scroll to the top with a single tap on the status bar. Unless I’m missing something, and I’ve asked a few Android users, this simply doesn’t exist on Android. So if you scroll way, way down on your contacts list and you want to get back to the top you have to flick a million times like an animal. Please, if I’m missing something write in.
  • Safari’s Reading List feature – Even with Unmark (which I use daily) I still used Safari’s Reading List every day. Google has, inexplicably, added a “reading list” to Chrome for iOS but on no other platforms. Perhaps they did this to compete with Safari on mobile platforms but why not have it sync with desktop Chrome? Anyway, Google can quickly get on this please because I neeeeeed it.
  • Dictionary lookup – On iOS you can long press any word and get its definition. Because my vocabulary is as deep as a kiddy pool I use this feature a lot. I’ve installed a third-party app that does this on Android but it should be built-in.

So far I’m very happy with my choice to give Android a try. I’ll be using the Pixel 2 XL and Android for the rest of 2018  and plan to reassess where both platforms are at that point.

An interview with Manton Reece of Micro.blog

I have fond memories of the very early days of WordPress (when it had just been forked from b2/cafelog), of Twitter, of Brightkite, of App.net, of Mastodon… just to name a few. The early days of any platform or so important to what they will become. They are the most fun to watch.

The early days of any platform can be frustrating too. Services sometimes go down, features aren’t released as quickly as you’d like, and small bugs can hamper your workflow.

I liken it to watching art be created. It can be a bit messy, it can sometimes confuse you, but when you see the final product you have the privilege of knowing how the platform got to that final state.

Yesterday I volleyed back and forth via email with Manton Reece, the founder and creator of Micro.blog. Micro.blog is in that same relatively early stage where new features are released with regularity, where the community is growing steadily, and where the users have the strongest voice.

He kindly answered a few questions. But here are a few highlights that I plucked from his answers:

  • Micro.blog is both an aggregator of blog posts and a blog/site hosting platform
  • Features on Micro.blog are rolled out slowly on purpose, to be sure they won’t disrupt the principles behind the service. And they often come from what users are already doing on the platform.
  • Native support for audio and podcasts are already part of the plan
  • Many users that use the hosting feature use their Micro.blog-powered site as their primary web site
  • Community support members for curation, help, etc. will be the primary area the team will grow, outweighing engineering

Here is the interview and his responses in their entirety.

First, thank you for making Micro.blog. For me personally it is surfacing some excellent independent microbloggers that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. Now that Micro.blog is open to the public, is there anything that you see happening on the platform, either now or during the beta period, that has surprised or delighted you?

Thanks for being part of the Micro.blog community! I’ve loved how people not only embrace the platform, but in many cases get back to writing at an old blog that they had accidentally neglected, or get inspired to start up a new microblog at their own domain name. So many beautiful photos have been posted, which we like to highlight in the Discover section, and the tone of conversations has remained thoughtful and respectful even as the platform has grown.

I’m also happy to see that many Micro.blog users have warmed up to some of the early decisions we made to not copy every feature from other popular social networks. For example, not showing follower counts or worrying about how many likes a post has received.

People seem to really enjoy the new emoji-based topics we introduced recently, to collect posts about books or music or sports. Little experiments like these are a reaction to what the community is already doing. The best thing we can do is build features that support what people are posting about — to encourage the kind of posts that make Micro.blog a nice place to be — and then see which of those features resonates.

Have you been surprised at all by the number of photos that people are posting? Or, did you always think that Micro.blog would be a great place for people to share photos? And, do you think you’ll see audio or video shared more on Micro.blog in the future?

I’ve always thought photo-blogging would be a perfect fit for Micro.blog, and we’ve tried to build good support for it in the iOS app, such as having built-in photo filters. Many people are frustrated with Twitter and Instagram and want to post photos to their own web site again. But I was still happily surprised to see so many photos. There was also some help from the community, such as Doug Lane running a 7-day photo challenge.

Our plan was to start with photos, with good photo hosting, and then expand to natively support audio and podcasts. After that, video. I think video can quickly become kind of overwhelming and busy when shown in a timeline — especially with auto-playing video, which we don’t want to do. So I’m comfortable expanding this support fairly slowly to make sure we get it right.

I see Micro.blog as two parts: 1. A community of syndicated microblog posts that are populated by people’s independent web sites using RSS or JSON feeds. And, 2. A blogging platform that allows you to create a simple blog (with an emphasis on microblogging). Is this the right way to look at Micro.blog now and into the future? And if so, why tackle both problems rather than simply #1?

That’s the right way to think about it. What I found while developing Micro.blog is that just building a more open social network-like platform wasn’t enough. If we wanted to encourage people to blog more, we needed to make blogging itself much easier. The best way to do that is to also offer to host someone’s blog for them directly on Micro.blog.

Blogs hosted on Micro.blog started with an emphasis on microblogging, but they have improved significantly since we initially launched, and now offer many features competitive with other dedicated blog hosts. There are Micro.blog users who have their full web site hosted by Micro.blog because it’s just more convenient.

This second part of Micro.blog is also very important to grow the service as a business. I want to run Micro.blog for decades to come. The only way to do that — to pay for all the servers and other supporting services — is for Micro.blog to be profitable. Since we never want to show ads, offering paid plans such as blog hosting is a great way to go.

Would you be willing to share any interesting stats? Some that I’d personally be interested in tracking would be the most number of posts in an hour, the greatest number of signups in a day, stats like that.

And as a follow-up: As the platform (meaning the software, hardware, underlying services, backup routines, databases, etc.) become more complex surely you’ll need to expand from being the two-person team Micro.blog is currently. What position do you think the next full or part-time team member of Micro.blog will fill?

I don’t currently have many stats to share. We have been so busy improving the platform that we haven’t built anything to track things like spikes in the number of posts. There is a 500-user limit on new registrations per day. When we opened it up to the public, the limit was just 100 which was reached pretty quickly as people would share a link to their friends.

There are so many areas that we could use a larger team for, like system administration and planning how to scale the platform. As you noted, the first person to join Micro.blog was Jean MacDonald, our community manager. I hope that the community will continue to grow such that we’ll need additional curators to help manage features like the Discover section.

Facebook recently announced they were hiring 10,000 moderators, and I know Twitter has a large staff as well. I expect one mistake that these larger social networks made early on was hiring too many programmers, and not enough curators. For Micro.blog we always want people who can interact with the community and stay ahead of any issues.

Discover has already seen a few iterations. First, it was a simple list of users. Then it expanded to include photos posted by the community. After that, a human-curated list of posts was added. And now, hashtag-like emoji’s allow you to find posts on topics like books, music, and football. Did I miss anything? This must be a fun part of Micro.blog to tweak and see how the community responds. I know I’ve found it to be very fun to have open a few times during the day. Can you share a little about how posts end up in the Discover tab? Who is making those selections and what are the next steps?

I feel like the current iteration of Discover is by far the best yet. There were a couple problems with just featuring a list of users. You can only feature so many users, so we randomly selected users to show from the featured list. Those users would get a lot of attention but unless we continually update the list, it might not be enough people to fill your timeline with interesting posts if you just pick a few people to follow. The list got stale quickly as new people were joining the platform.

Now, throughout the day we skim through posts and replies and put them in Discover. This is a better reflection of the activity on the platform. It’s not all posts, but it’s a good snapshot of the kind of things people are posting about. It looks good and isn’t overwhelming. It’s a great way to find new users who just joined Micro.blog, too.

Emoji topics are a little different. Whenever Micro.blog sees a new post, it checks it for emoji and adds it to a collection. If an inappropriate post shows up, we can just remove it from the collection without effecting anything else about that post or user on Micro.blog. There are a limited number of emoji, which keeps everything simple. I don’t think it will get out of control like Twitter hashtag search results often do.

One aspect I’ve always loved about microblogging was that it could be consumed and participated with in realtime. A few examples that come to mind are backchannels for live TV events like awards shows, or for conferences and meetups, etc. Is this something the Micro.blog team thinks about much? Are there any apps, features, or other considerations that would be made specifically to foster realtime interactions for things like this?

I agree this is a natural fit for indie microblogging. Something like live sports might not appeal to everyone, so it would be useful for both tuning into those feeds or filtering them out. Over the weekend, we put the football emoji in the Discover section for people who were posting about the NFL playoffs, as a simple experiment for making current topics more discoverable.

There are myriad other things we could talk about like Pins, third-party applications, indieweb building blocks like Webmention, and the all new Micro.blog logo and app icon. Is there anything you’d wish to highlight? If so, please do. And lastly, what is something you wished I asked but didn’t that maybe you’d like to make sure people reading this interview know (feel free to allow this to be nothing)?

The third-party ecosystem and larger IndieWeb community are both really important. There are several third-party apps for Micro.blog in development now, for iOS and Android. When I was designing the Micro.blog API, I based it on JSON Feed, Micropub, and other common APIs so that third-party Micro.blog apps could also be adapted for other platforms. And likewise, Micro.blog benefits from many existing IndieWeb tools and open source software like WordPress. The more we can push forward the user experience for indie microblogging, making blogging more approachable, the stronger the open web will be.

Thanks Colin! It was great to have a chance to share some of our thoughts behind Micro.blog.

Thanks to Manton for taking the time to write thoughtful responses. If you haven’t yet given Micro.blog a try head on over to there and give it a whirl. You could very well make an impact on the type of place it becomes.

You can follow Manton on Micro.blog at @manton. And I’m @cdevroe.

App icon design, one size does not fit all

Yesterday I reposted Becky Hansmeyer’s vent about having to create multiple icon sizes for her app. I feel her pain. I recently completed an app for both iOS and Android and so I had to create just over 1,000,000 icon sizes. At least it felt like it.

So, like her, I too would like Xcode to create all of the sizes I need from a single larger file.

The issue with this though, which I’m certain Becky knows but she still just wants things to be easier anyway (so do I), is that one size does not fit all in icon design. Each size needs to be considered individually – especially with complex icons.

To quote the venerable Dave Shea from 2007:

One of the more deceptively time-consuming things you’ll do when creating an icon is producing out size variations. If you require a single icon in more than one size, the time you spend designing the first size is only about two thirds of the work you’ll end up doing; the other third lies in tweaking it for different dimensions.

As the size of the icon gets smaller details get lost and so the designer needs to begin removing elements, increasing stroke widths, and the padding around the elements within the icon.

It is why I designed the Summit icon (which I plan to write about in the coming weeks) to be so utterly simple that it will scale without very many tweaks as the icon reduces in size.

As you can see the icon changes very little from large to small. I remove the gradient, tighten one or two things, but that is it. So I’m able to use a Photoshop template that automatically creates every single size from a single Object – and then remove the gradient from the smaller sizes, and then finally increase the spacing at the smallest sizes.

So far this has worked well in my testing on my devices. I still have more I’d like to do with the icon but it will have to do until I get a new beta out. I haven’t shipped a beta in months because I’m rebuilding Summit for both Android and iOS, as well as have a few other irons in the fire.

 

 

Best of 2017 as told by me

To create this list I sat down and wrote from the top of my head the things I could remember being awesome in 2017. The list isn’t exhaustive. It is just what made an impression on me as being “the best” in each category.

Best Blog: fuzzy notepad

Evee consistently writes well-researched, readable, diatribes on topics that could otherwise be boring yet are fascinating and I hang on every word. Here are a few posts from 2017 to get you started:

Best blog redesign: Colin Walker

When I awarded this to Jason Santa Maria so many years ago it was due to his use of color, contrast, typography. But design isn’t limited to how something looks but also how it works. Colin Walker has spend much of 2017 tweaking his blog’s features in subtle ways to work just the way he wants it to. I’m sure he’ll continue to fiddle with it throughout 2018 but I think we can all learn from Colin’s iterative approach. Keep tweaking.

Best new (to me) blog: Brand New

I’ve known about Brand New for a long time and have stumbled across a post or two over the years. But this year I’ve been pushing myself to learn more visual design and one way was to subscribe to more blogs like this. I find these posts, and the community, to be an excellent resource.

Best service: Spotify

This year I’ve used both Apple Music and Google Play Music to see if I could move away from Spotify. Spotify is in a league all its own, the other two don’t even compare well. Spotify’s machine learning robots just do an amazing job at surfacing music that I would like. It is so good it is eery.

Notable mention: Google Photos. I’ve switch from Apple iCloud Photo Library to Google Photos and I’m consistently being surprised by how much better it is.

Best book: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This was a tough call. I read some pretty great books this year. But the one that keeps coming up in conversations, the one I’m sharing the most is Ready Player One. I think it is the sci-fi novel that I read this year that most feels like it could happen within a few years.

Notable mention: The Wright Brothers by David McCullough and Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.

Best productivity tool: Bullet Journal

Bullet Journaling has made the biggest impact to my productivity and cognitive load than any other app, technique, or method this year. My “version” is slightly different than the default but I’m loving it.

Notable mention: Trello.

Best phone: Google Pixel 2 XL

I’m cobbling together my notes for a “review” of the Pixel 2 XL in the coming weeks but I can say, unequivocally, it is the best phone of the year. For me. I know the Samsung Galaxy Note8 made many people’s list and of course the iPhone X deserves a mention – but for the price, the quality of the hardware, and the software the Pixel 2 XL is an easy winner for me.

Before I get email, know that I have an iPhone X (Eliza’s phone) and I’ve tried the Samsung models. For me it came down to the camera system (which is actually better than the iPhone X in everything but the second lens), the software (Android 8.1 – Samsung is way behind) and the price. The iPhone X will be better next year and, hopefully, iOS 12 will be much, much better than iOS 11. But, as of today, Google is killing it.

One other side note: Google as a personal assistant is so much better than Siri it is jarring. I may have used Siri a few times per month in the past but today I use Google about 10 times per day with nearly zero mistakes.

Notable mention: Samsung Galaxy Note8, iPhone X.

Best podcast: The West Wing Weekly

If you’re not a fan of The West Wing this choice may not land with you at all. So, for you I would suggest Song Exploder. If you haven’t yet listened to TWWW I suggest starting at the beginning and also watching The West Wing along the way.

Notable mention: Song Exploder / Tim Ferriss.

Best platform: Instagram

When I deleted my social media accounts and didn’t even look at them for a few months the one I missed the most was Instagram. The platform continues to be one of the best and they continue to add great new features all the time while somehow keeping the app’s history in tact. The day may come when they add a feature that is terrible but so far they’ve done pretty well.

Side note: The algorithmic timeline almost pushed this one out for me. It is nearly inexcusable that this isn’t optional. I sincerely hope they find a way to allow users this option this year.

Notable mention: Micro.blog.

Best browser: Firefox Quantum

Perhaps this should be “most improved browser”? Quantum is a great name for the strides Mozilla has made with Firefox. They continue to improve the browser.

Oddly, Firefox is not my “daily driver”. I am using Chrome due to my switch to Android. (I’m ecstatic that I now can choose a default browser) I may, though, give Firefox a try across the board again soon.

Notable mention: Safari for turning off auto-play videos and ad tracking by default.

Best app: Apollo for Reddit for iOS

Though I’m now using Android I have to list Apollo as the best app. If you ever kill time by looking at Reddit (which I do a few times per week) I have to suggest you try this app. It is so well made you’ll wish it’s developer made every app you use.

Notable mention: Snapseed and Google PhotoScan (search App Stores).

Best code editor: Visual Studio Code

VS Code has improved a lot over the last year and has now overtaking Atom as my default text editor and code editor for all projects. While I still build native apps in Visual Studio most of my web work and text editing happens in VS Code.

The shared workspaces are the big feature for me this year. I can combine several code repositories into a single workspace and use Spotlight to launch all code related to a particular project in less than a second. It also has git and terminal integrated so I’m usually able to do all of my work in a single window.

Notable mention: Atom, Visual Studio for Mac.

Best YouTube channel: First We Feast

Specifically, Hot Ones. First We Feast has an interview show called Hot Ones that I just discovered this year and I can’t get enough of it.

Notable mention: MKBHD

Those are all of the categories I wanted to feature this year. Again, I simply pull this list together from the top of my head. Just like all years I saw so many amazing things it’d be very hard to create a real list. I suggest following my blog for all of 2018 because whenever I see something worth linking to I do so.

There are, however, some other companies, people, and products that I think deserve a shout-out. Here they are in no particular order: SpaceX, Khalid, Tom Hanks’ lost gloves tweets, The Last Jedi hype, Chris Stapleton, Joe Rogan’s Powerful JRE Podcast, Amazon Kindle and library loans, letgo, Google Maps, OK Google, Logitech MX Master 2S, USB-C, cast iron pans, Amazon Prime.

See you next year.

 

 

SPARK Talks at the NEPA Tech meet up in December 2017

SPARK Talks are, by definition, Short, Provocative, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Knowledgeable talks that are loosely timed, on a specific topic (more or less), and allow many presentations to be given at an event. I had never heard of them prior to this month’s NEPA Tech meet up organized by John George.

SPARK Talks remind me of Lightning Talks or Ignite. I have been to a few Ignite events – some where very early like this one 10 years ago. The thing I appreciate most about this style of presentation is that many in attendance can be part of the program. In fact, at this particular meet up nearly every single attendee was able to take a few minutes and describe themselves, something they’re currently working on, or a topic of their choice.

Photo: Ted giving his presentation on Rust.

In all there were 15 presenters. I quickly jotted them down as they happened. I didn’t get full names or all of their web sites, but at least I captured something. Here are the presenters and their topics:

  1. John – spoke about becoming an independent developer
  2. Jared – discussed his ambitions of working in real estate
  3. George – described use IoT in industrial industries
  4. Ryan – talked of learning more about computers, the web, to better do his job
  5. Kevin – discussed some of the WhatNow! journey
  6. Beth – spoke of her passion for the environment
  7. Colin (me) – spoke about not getting hung up on decision making, just start
  8. Jason – discussed some of the projects Sho Technology Solutions is working on
  9. Ted – talked about the advantages of Rust
  10. Anthonyeducated us on the xAPI
  11. Chris – discussed some of the challenges and next-steps for NEPA Fiber
  12. Danny – showed us a video demo of Kraken Board Sports latest product
  13. Mark – rallied the attendees to contribute to NEPA Tech
  14. Den – discussed his self-taught history of becoming a front-end developer
  15. Gary – discussed eating odd things for his YouTube channel

As you can see the topics were all over the map which helped to keep the evening interesting and the shortness of the presentations moved the event along nicely. I believe NEPA Tech will do events like this again in the future. If so, be sure to contribute. Most of these were fairly unscripted talks so don’t be hesitant.

Thanks to John George for organizing this month’s event. Onto 2018.

Universal Apple apps

Mark Gurman, for Bloomberg:

Starting as early as next year, software developers will be able to design a single application that works with a touchscreen or mouse and trackpad depending on whether it’s running on the iPhone and iPad operating system or on Mac hardware, according to people familiar with the matter.

Remember the many times I’ve written that I wish Apple would combine iOS and macOS into a single operating system that simply adjusts based on the device it is running on? That isn’t what this is, but it is still a great step in the right direction.

Me, a little over a year ago, regarding the Surface Book with Performance Base:

I’ve long written on this blog that I believe Microsoft’s vision of one operating system for both contexts is better than Apple’s two-OS approach. John disagrees with me on this. And I don’t know that there is a right or wrong answer but there certainly is a preference. My preference is to keep my “power user” stuff at my fingertips for when I need them but to hide them when I don’t. The Surface Book does this.

When I was testing a Surface Book for a time I had what I felt is the best of both worlds. I came into my office, docked on a large monitor, and got to work. When I wanted to be mobile and work out of a coffee shop, I could be and everything came with me. Then, when I wanted to read on the couch I could undock the screen and use it like a Surface. Windows 10 would adjust to whichever context I was in. It was either optimized for keyboard / mouse input or for touch.

I still believe this is the correct approach. And we’re starting to see more of it. Look also at Samsung’s DeX that allows a phone to plug into a display and give you a slightly different interface, drag-and-drop, etc. for getting your work done. There are countless number of professionals where this type of setup would not only work well – but it would be ideal and less expensive or confusing than having disparate devices.

This proposed strategy for Apple, that Gurman says he has insider information on, isn’t the same path that Microsoft is taking. It isn’t one device and it isn’t one operating system either. Gurman isn’t saying that Apple is going to release a single OS for all devices but rather that the app binaries will run on multiple devices and operating systems. It is more akin to Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform. Many Windows UWP apps and games can run on Surface tablets, PCs, and Xboxes. This is amazing. I’m sure Microsoft users love it. Wouldn’t it be cool if Apple allowed the same app to run on Macs, iPhones, and Apple TVs? Wouldn’t that also allow many great iOS apps to suddenly be useful on macOS? I can think of many iOS-only apps I’d love to have on my Mac.

I welcome this if it happens.

I feel like these approaches are just stops along the road to a unified device that runs a single operating system and can work in many contexts. In some ways, it is the largest advantage that Augmented Reality will bring to the professional workplace. Put on your glasses and work however you’d like. Small window. Huge window. On a 3D object. Or on Mustafar with Tie-fighters flying overhead.

Until then, I’d love an iPhone 7 Plus-sized device that ran a single operating system that “worked like” iOS while on-the-go, and that I could plug into a large monitor and give me full macOS experience. That, for me, would be ideal. Until AR is ready.

No, you cannot simply pay me for a link

Hi. You emailed me. Likely more than once. So I’ve sent you this URL to let you know that no, you cannot pay me for placing a link in an existing article that you somehow found on my site.

It would be totally different if you wanted me to review a product, collaborate on some content, or sponsor some of my other projects like Summit, The Watercolor Gallery, or my upcoming YouTube channel. But, no, you want me to randomly throw a link in an old blog post because it ranks well on Google. And that, to me, seems icky.

Please remove me from any and all of your future lists of unsolicited emails of this nature. Unless, after reading this, you’re going to change your approach and do something much more fun and authentic like the above. In that case, my rates will likely be in the few thousands of dollars to get started.

Thank you,

Colin

Please don’t try to explain Bitcoin at parties (unless you know what you’re talking about)

Unless you’re drinking your flat whites under a rock, you’re likely seeing a lot of news about Bitcoin, it’s current exchange rate against the US Dollar, blockchain and it’s various applications, etc. You might even be getting sick of hearing about it (or, perhaps you’re sitting there earning hundreds or thousands of dollars per day from it). Either way, I must make one request of you, dear reader…

Please do not spread misinformation about blockchain and cryptocurrency. If someone asks you about these things and you don’t know, say so. They won’t think less of you. Explain to them that you too are interested in these things but that you still need to do more research before you’re willing to explain it to them. They’ll even respect you for being honest. Don’t make it up based on a few headlines or tweets you’ve read. If you are going to try to explain these things to people, especially youth, please dive in and get a deep understanding of some of these more complex technologies before you begin explaining them.

I think I’ve caught myself a few times, in recent conversation, going just a little bit further than my own knowledge and regretting it. I feel I have a fair understanding but I’m nowhere near qualified to teach on the subject. Which is why I’m bringing it up here on my blog. Fortunately, most of the conversations I’ve had about these things are with people that are also devouring every bit of information they can about it – and so I don’t think I pointed them in an incorrect direction. But I think we (the nerds among us) can easily misinform others if we begin to describe blockchain and crypto at parties.

So don’t try. Unless you know what you’re talking about.

Attending Venture Idol 2017 at Ben Franklin TechVentures

In 2007 I visited the area where Ben Franklin TechVentures is now. I was there for an interview with the then CEO of Viddler, Rob Sandie, to see about working there full time. At the time, Viddler was housed in Jordan Hall – a one-story building next to the now incredible Ben Franklin TechVentures complex. It wasn’t until many months later we moved Viddler out of the closet-like space in Jordan Hall and into the future-feeling building next door.

That memory pales in comparison to what exists there today.

I make mention of this fact because the feeling one gets when walking into Ben Franklin TechVentures is that the work that goes on in this building is new, exciting, and is the future of technology in our area. I personally want schools, libraries, incubators, and town squares to feel as though they are leading us into the future. Where the work that I do is raised to meet the expectation of the environment. I feel that Ben Franklin TechVentures does that.

In August when I presented at the local meet up I loved seeing the new wing being constructed. This month that wing was completed and this year’s Venture Idol 2017 event was in it.

But building’s aren’t everything. The community is of even more import. And the community is strong.

This year’s Venture Idol was the best attended year yet and, as Fred Beste (the emcee for the event) pointed out, everyone had a chair for the first time. He’s seen BFTV’s growth and he was as excited as I was to see where it is today.

The presentations by the three finalists were great. Mark Keith and I remarked how polished each presentation was. In my mind there were two presentations that were clearly the best; Channel Ape (from Scranton woot woot!) and Give Gab. Both had impressive results, tight presentations, and a roadmap that made sense. At the end of the night Channel Ape took home the victory.

Photo: Mike Averto, CEO Channel Ape, preparing for presentation.

Yes, it is a big of a jaunt from Scranton to Bethlehem. But it has been worth it every single time I’ve done it over the last 10+ years. I’m looking forward to seeing the sort of growth that region has been enjoying happening in our area too. It is only a matter of time.

Speaking at the 2017 tecBRIDGE Entreprenuerial Institute

Photo credit: Mandy Pennington on Twitter.

On Friday I had the privilege to host two sessions at the 2017 tecBRIDGE Entrepreneurial Institute Conference at Marywood University. The event was very well attended (I’d say nearly  200 people, but I don’t know for sure). The speakers and panels were engaging, interesting, and the number of people that remained until the last minute of the event was evidence of that.

My session was titled Social Media Metrics that Matter. I didn’t choose the title but I enjoyed the topic. The audience was mainly students focusing on being future business owners and also local businesses and organizations in our area. I can tell from the feedback that the subject matter was welcome.

The way I laid out my outline was to bring everyone in the room up-to-speed with common metrics that can be tracked on social networks. We spoke about how each of those metrics impacts the business, the content, the page. Then, we used a few example businesses to determine which of the metrics each of them should track and why.

It was a good exercise, even for me, and I hope those that attended each of my two sessions got something out of it.