The similarity of differences.

Google held its annual I/O conference recently, and unveiled some extremely interesting developments for the year to come. Focused ever more heavily on data processing and machine learning, its AI initiatives are being inserted into many of their products, and creating some new ones in the process.

One of the most notable new additions is Google’s Assistant, which replaces the Google Now functionality. Available throughout Android and new products like Google Home, Assistant will use context to present you with relevant information across many apps and services, allowing users to have a more fluid conversation with their devices, using the natural language patterns they’d ordinarily use talking to people as opposed to specific syntax queries.

Quite honestly, it’s very impressive stuff. I watched the I/O keynote in its entirety this week when I found some time, and I was blown away by some of the things Google is doing, right now, today.

I know a lot of people who enjoy it and use it daily, but for me, Siri has been inconsistent at best, and infuriating at worst. I can attempt the same, simple operations on different days and get wildly different results. Features have been added over the past few years, and on paper, it looks terrific. In reality, it is a crapshoot as to whether or not the small task I need to perform will actually get done in any possible way that would be faster than me using my phone manually. Using it on the Apple Watch is an abject nightmare. Your experience with it might have been nothing but unicorns prancing through fields of wishes and dreams, but it’s a broken system as far as I’m concerned.

Consistency is a huge part of good user experience. If, as a user, I have doubt, or reservations of any kind that the thing I need to do isn’t going to happen the way I expect or want it to, that creates friction. Friction eventually erodes trust, and without trust, I cease to be able to do the things I want in the way I want them done. I’ll find another way.

Siri has long struggled to mature under Apple’s development since the technology was acquired several years ago. I’m sure there are many, many good people working on it, and it pains me to feel the way I do and say these things, but it is simply not something I enjoy using–or use at all for that matter, anymore. There’s been quite a bit of talk lately about Apple’s ability to deliver compellingly (and consistently) in this new, shifting, data-driven landscape. Now famously having taken a stance in favor of localizing personal data to the device and protecting it in every way possible (a stance I am quite fond of), lots of questions as to whether or not the company is even prepared to meet this challenge–one that Google has been tackling for many years now–have arisen.

So back to Google.

They’re pushing forward with machine learning, using massive amounts of collected data–data that Apple has said it won’t take and doesn’t want–to create entirely new user experiences. The more it works, the smarter it gets. In the aggregate, all this data and use strengthens the product and allows users to do more things. It’s not an app, it’s an entire layer within the OS, working around what you’re doing with your device, affording you additional skills and options.

Earlier this week, prior to watching the keynote, I was having a conversation with some friends in Slack. Using my high-level glances at what Google was doing, and without really thinking too deeply into it, I said the following:

AI/bots may or may not be the future of computing. But data analysis and the kind of power Google has with those capabilities most definitely is.

That’s where Apple can’t catch up. This isn’t about phones. This is about what software is becoming and where the things we do with software go.

And I talked at length about why I thought this was true. I wasn’t spouting apocalyptic proclamations about Apple; they could set fire to piles of money today, every day for months, and still be in better shape than almost any other company on Earth. But I did express some real concern for the platform I enjoy and prefer not being able to keep up, and how the tradeoffs Apple is making to keep users safe (good) could potentially preclude it from delivering more compelling and timely experiences that people will come to expect from their devices (not so good).

Then I watched the keynote.

What became apparent to me, seeing everything myself and hearing the Google presenters talk about the technology, was that Google and Apple aren’t even competing in the same space anymore. Both companies are engaged in selling mobile devices, but they’re coming at personal technology from such different perspectives, they’re almost not even comparable. A few years ago, it seemed like the companies were at odds on the same field. But they’re not even playing the same sport.

If we’re going to distill it down to a focused, philosophical difference, I think it might look like this.

Apple’s world centers on hardware. It designs and builds amazing and transformative devices. Software is paired with hardware, and the integration points are tight, able to take advantage of hardware optimizations and tuning in crazy ways. Apple’s general perspective today on data is that they don’t want to know certain things, and want to obfuscate others. It’s a very individual-centered and -minded approach.

Google is all about that data. It eschewed hardware for its mobile OS initially, insisting that other companies provide it, following the Microsoft model of the recent past. It’s edged toward unifying software and hardware in a way similar to what Apple does, but doesn’t seem to be interested in pursuing that to its logical end. Hardware is a vehicle for software and data, passing in and out.

Apple and Google, in the eyes of the general public and many tech bloggers, have been at war for many years, and in vague terms, both companies sell fancy mobile phones. But the implications of those businesses are so far beyond the face value of what we see. And what I’ve realized is that they aren’t zero-sum or mutually exclusive. What I’ve come to understand is that the more the two companies seem to have been battling, the more the individual directions of each company become unassailably concrete.

Let’s use healthcare as an example, since that’s been the focus of segments in both companies’ recent presentations.

Apple: ResearchKit and CareKit. Centered around individuals, reporting personal data. Assembling tons of it, and allowing for better personal follow through on long-term treatment, and more individualized reporting for research purposes. Gathering of this data is done through traditional channels, but by allowing users to have agency in these processes, Apple affords people the ability to contribute to a large data set, but safely remain an identifiable component variable.

Google: machine learning to aggregate data against the treatment of extremely difficult ailments (diabetic retinopathy was the example presented in the keynote). Very few doctors can detect it accurately, and it’s very hard to do right/well. And this small number of doctors can’t be everywhere at once. But put enough data into a machine and it can pattern match the very intricate details–perhaps better than people, and everywhere at once (since people can only be in one place at a time). Throw incomprehensible amounts of information at an enormous amount of computing power and basically brute-force a treatment protocol that functions better than humans ever could.

Two fundamentally different approaches, two similar goals.

It’s a very interesting and important time in personal technology. Data moves through our lives like air. We want to protect it (some of us, anyway), but we want the value that sharing it can provide us. We want the future we were promised in our childhoods, but the changes we find occurring around us can be discomforting. This kind of change is everywhere, and it continues to move like perpetual motion, unstoppable. It’s beautiful and frightening. But it is inevitable.

I’m delighted that Apple wants to protect my information and is loudly standing up to the degradation of that idea in public and within the legal system. They may even be able to pull off the things I’m hoping for, without the compromises I’m looking to avoid. I’m also really excited to see what Google can actually do to advance the entire industry and provide new ways of solving serious problems. I think there are a lot of ways that these two approaches can exist together, in complementary layers, that can give us more of the future we’d hoped for. I’ve been becoming increasingly jaded about technology in the past few years, but I feel like I’ve been shown possibilities this week that may set me back in the other direction. Of course, there’s still time for things to go horribly awry.

The world will create a narrative of opposition because our nature is to set forces against one another. I no longer see this as a competition. And along with things like VR (which I have become obsessed with, in terms of non-gaming applications), for the first time in a while, I have real hope for things beyond my whatever my next phone might be.

That feels really good.

Collateral damage.

Generally, by the time iOS beta 3 or 4 rolls out, I can’t help myself and throw it on my carry phone. But I haven’t had time to play this summer. It’s been a particularly busy few months and I needed to make sure my primary phone was as stable as it could be. As such, I’ve been pining away to play with the new Notes app that Apple debuted at WWDC this June. It looks like a tremendous update to one of the built-in apps that could actually change the way I currently use my devices. I’m not alone in these sentiments; I know many other folks in the tech space who are begrudgingly admitting that it’s pretty cool.

Since I’ve been keeping my devices as standard as possible too, I’ve been using Notes between OS X and iOS, even in its current form. I’ve found it to be a useful scratch pad and short-term landing area for little bits of text that don’t even merit creating a new .txt and saving somewhere. And they do sync between devices pretty well (for the most part).

On Wednesday, I’m excited to finally update my devices to iOS 9 and get all the cool stuff I’ve been hearing about, like any other normal user. But something occurred to me yesterday.

When I update my mobile devices, El Capitan is still two weeks away from shipping. Which means that my workflow breaks. If I didn’t have the foresight to think about the disparity in ship dates and extrapolate that one extra step, I’d have been caught scratching my head on Wednesday afternoon as I update and keep working through my day. Like any other normal user.

This isn’t good. For me, or for anyone. But sadly it’s become the norm. Marketing pressure and ship dates trump user experience more and more. Working in software, I understand a great deal more than the average person about how this process takes place and how you don’t always get to make the decisions you want to about the fate of your users when external pressures start exerting force on the business. I know that releasing both mobile and desktop OS updates in the same day is insanity, and I wouldn’t expect that. I know that two dedicated groups of people, working hard to ensure they hit their dates have made every effort they possibly can to make my experience a good one. I know that with the advancements in both operating systems, no decision–no matter how small–is a simple one.

But I’m the end user. It shouldn’t have to matter to me, and it’s not my problem. However, it’s become my problem. What if I don’t want to upgrade to 10.11? What if I can’t? What if my laptop is company-issued and there are no immediate plans to upgrade the OS? My stuff is broken, and I get a big shrug from the company to which I trusted my data. (Which of course, is a much more nuanced and complicated discussion for another time.)

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Apple did this last year with the transition to iCloud Drive. It caused more than a little confusion for both users and developers. But this isn’t just an Apple thing either. Many companies are breaking implicit promises with their users to further push their products into the future, and leaving confusion and doubt in place of a feeling of consistency as people use these products. Apple, of course, has the momentum to carry it forward, and we’ll all forget about this, the way we mostly did when Yosemite shipped and the iCloud Drive transition wasn’t such a big deal anymore. And I fully realize that writing this much because my notes stop syncing (temporarily) seems like absolute overkill. But I spend a lot of my time trying to come up with creative solutions for users so people enjoy the software we produce. I try to solve problems so they don’t have to. It’s the right thing to do. Tim Cook from WWDC 2014:

Apple engineers platforms, devices, and services together. We do this so that we can create a seamless experience for our users that is unparalleled in the industry. This is something only Apple can do.

Software updates have always been risky. I’ve been using computers since I was about five years old, and I know this. I understand it at a level most people don’t. But at this point, with the way software has reshaped our lives, I shouldn’t have to. It’s disappointing that even a company like Apple, so proud of its experiences across hardware and software and delivering the best to its users still falters on these kinds of things. This’ll all blow over. I know that. But it’s a troubling trend, and I don’t have to like it.


PS: It was pointed out to me that iCloud.com will sync/display Notes after the iOS 9 transition. Given the state of the site as an afterthought in almost everything Apple does, I’m not surprised it didn’t occur to me. This will certainly suffice in the time between upgrades, but I wouldn’t have immediately thought about it if someone didn’t point it out. And considering any regular user of iOS probably doesn’t even know that iCloud.com exists as a destination, neither will they.

Apple Music and ownership.

There’s been a ton of discussion about the technical differences between iCloud Music Library and iTunes Match, since Apple is keeping both products around (at least for the time being). The core issue seems to lie with the way tracks are delivered back to you from the cloud depending on how and when you uploaded them.

iTunes Match (iTM) provides a storage locker and retrieval service that delivered DRM-free tracks back to you on demand. iCloud Music Library (iCML), as part of Apple Music, based on its pricing structure, appears to be delivering DRM-wrapped tracks when requested for offline access. This is an obvious move on Apple’s part, as it doesn’t make sense for you to download and keep DRM-free versions of tracks you didn’t actually buy for all time, the way it allowed you to “upgrade” your low-quality rips with iTunes Match. However, if you go all in on iCML and upload your entire catalog, dropping iTM, if you don’t keep local copies of those tracks, when you go to re-download them, you will receive DRM-wrapped versions. Which… will cease to work (as I understand it) should you cancel your Apple Music subscription.

Kind of a crappy solution. But crappier is the fact that it’s not exactly clear how and when this happens unless you really think about it. Keeping a local copy seems to be a safe play, though, and this whole thing only seems to become problematic if you have no local copy to fall back to.

What I’ve chosen to do (and I assume this will be ok for me) is:

  • Keep my local full library copy (already uploaded to Match and stored in iCloud) at home, on a NAS, attached to a Mac mini, and backed up in a bunch of places. This library will no longer be synced/uploaded with any Apple cloud service.
  • I have a full library copy in iCloud now, which I assume will remain as long as I continue the Apple Music subscription (which I plan to). I’m assuming this because I’ve completely disconnected that Mac mini and signed out of iCloud, and all my music is still showing up through Apple Music, having enabled Music Library.
  • I plan to cancel Match this September, which will remove my ability to re-download DRM-free versions of my music, but it’s a non-issue since I have multiple safe, offline copies anyway.
  • If I buy new music (unlikely since I don’t buy much to begin with anymore, and with AM, I can listen to whatever I want) it will automatically be available in iCloud.
  • I will then download the purchased music through iTunes on that “safe” Mac mini and store it in that offline local library.

This way, as long as I maintain my Apple Music subscription, I have a full library copy in iCloud along with everything else. If I cancel, I have the ability to re-upload a known good copy from my archive, at any time, to any service. Hell, I could even run a server again at home if I feel like it, which I did for years.

This stuff is crazy confusing, and it’s unsurprising Apple isn’t making a fuss about it. They’d probably love for it not to be so labyrinthine, but music licensing is nothing if not arcane. The safe play seems to be pretty simple: don’t delete your local library if you can help it. Stick a good copy on a hard drive somewhere and forget about it if you have to. But hang onto it in at least one good way, just in case, and have fun with the new goods.

Like anything else relating to computers, backing up your stuff always pays off.

Apple, privacy, encryption, and trust.

Matthew Panzarino has a great piece up at TechCrunch covering Tim Cook’s recent speech on the topics of encryption and privacy and Apple’s place in the discussion. It’s worth a read if only for some of the Southern subtweet-style smackdowns (alliteration power up!) he lays at the feet of other companies storing and using consumer data. Apple has in the past year taken its previously quiet stance on consumer data privacy to the front lines of its marketing in an effort to hold it up as a differentiator against the current trend of free services that are offered with the hidden cost of absorbing users’ personal information, and Cook in particular has become a vocal proponent of this initiative.

Philosophically, I agree with this. Tactically, the only security you can truly trust is the security you put in place yourself, and manage end-to-end. Realistically, Apple’s position is a middle ground I’m willing to accept in order to live the technological life I’ve grown to enjoy. I understand that the tradeoff I’m accepting is that I trust the company to make the right choices regarding the data I (and my family) share with it. If Apple decides to change direction in the future, I have some hard decisions to make. But for right now, this choice seems clear.

Apple’s business model is selling hardware. This is a fairly common and accepted fact. We pay money for shiny things, and it takes our money and gives us the shiny things. In simple terms, that is how the company became the financial juggernaut it is. Its cloud storage is free to start, but if you want to use it in any meaningful way, you need to pay for it. Again, you pay a fee and it provides a service. It would be naive to assume that the company isn’t collecting some of the data you provide. All companies do this for a variety of reasons. It would also be naive to assume that because the stated goal of protecting customer data is a primary focus, that it will always remain so into the future, and for all time, and is impenetrable to outside forces.

But all security–at a pragmatic and not utopian level–is a compromise between convenience and protection. At this point in the market and in my personal life, Apple’s promise is one I can get behind. I don’t wholly trust any corporate entity (or anything bigger than individual people, for that matter). Any data that you capture, share, or otherwise transmit over a network you don’t control and between servers you don’t manage should always be assumed to be public. If that sounds ridiculous, think about it for a second and then think about it some more in light of everything that’s happened in our world in the past few years. For a normal individual, the compromise Apple is proposing is sufficient to enjoy the technological advances we have at our disposal without losing too much sleep over it.

Trust is something that human beings grant when we want something in return. Apple wants our money, and is willing to leverage our trust as a motivator to continue running a successful business beyond simply offering shiny things. As long as the fundamental balance it provides remains intact, and it does not willingly choose to violate the trust we place in it for any reason, it remains the best of all options for me, and for many others.

First impressions on Apple Watch.

I’ve been very busy lately, so I’ve been detached from a lot of the discussion surrounding the Apple Watch. This has actually been an interesting scenario for me, since I’m usually soaking in information by the time a new Apple product reaches me, but it’s left me with a feeling of being a bit of a blank slate this time around. I’ve been able to approach the Watch with fresh eyes for the most part, experiencing it in as close to a normal fashion as possible.

As such, I didn’t read everything I could find in advance. I didn’t watch walkthroughs, I didn’t read a single review. I got my Watch late yesterday evening, and finally sat down with it after the day’s events had wrapped up. Slowly, methodically, and for the first time with almost no background knowledge on the device save for what I saw in the keynotes, I opened the box and began exploring.

It goes without saying that this is an entirely new interaction design that will almost certainly confuse people out of the gate. I say this as someone deeply entrenched in the thinking behind software interfaces–it’s not terribly intuitive when you first lay eyes on it. Which is not to say it’s bad/wrong/doomed/etc., merely that it’s different enough from the iOS conventions so many people are familiar with, that there’s a definite learning curve. I think in-person sessions may go a long way to alleviate those adjustments, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of those happening at Apple Stores over the coming months.

Say what you want, it’s extremely polished for a 1.0 product. Coming from a Pebble Steel, this feels like a quantum leap forward. The ability to interact bidirectionally is fantastic, and changes the utility of having a small computer mounted to your arm at all times. I’ve already delighted in dropping quick reminders or text replies, and then immediately returning to the task at hand.

I’m still uncertain as to the overall connections between apps, glances, and notifications. I understand what each is for, but moving between them doesn’t feel clear to me yet. I’m beginning to see why some apps only need to be a glance, whereas other apps have no reason to use a glance and just need to be on there somewhere. I’m fairly certain that these will become more useful and refined now that developers have hardware in hand. As with the original iPad, you do the best you can in the vacuum of the simulator and hope for the best to hit launch day. Cheers to anyone who pulled it off, because there are some great implementations already, and they’ll only get better.

I’m a righty; I wear my watch on my left hand. The first thing I did was flip the body and reorient the Digital Crown. It feels far more comfortable on the lower left, as you don’t need to contort your right hand to manipulate it when you need to access it. Scrolling it is a little tougher in this position, but that’s an action I haven’t seen a need for (yet) apart from gazing at the UI as it shrinks and grows. It’s a nice trick, and I’m sure someone will manage to find some utility for it, but it seems superfluous to me for now. Tapping and swiping feels much better.

That said, tapping and swiping isn’t super easy. Touch targets are sometimes extremely small, and the slight delays involved in transmitting controls back and forth to the phone–as brief as they are–sometimes leads to a disjointed feeling within parts of the UI. It’s a 1.0 thing, sure to be alleviated as the OS matures and developers’ comfort with it grows, but it’s noticeable now. There will undoubtedly be many things that still feel faster to accomplish by picking up your phone, and that’s fine.

Which brings me to my final point: this device is so not a replacement for your phone. It’s a satellite, a small, intelligent drone dispatched to move with you when your phone is pocketed, on a table somewhere else, or otherwise out of reach. As a user, set your expectations accordingly, and as a developer, understand that you absolutely don’t need to build a multi-level navigational stack to accomplish what you think you need to. Isolate a core set of tasks, refine them, and present them in the simplest way possible. Make what you send to this device as concise as possible. Your users will appreciate the value in the tightened experience, and you’ll save yourself some headaches in this early incarnation of the Watch OS. As capable as it is, it’s glaringly evident that it’s only a stepping stone to something more right now; adjust your targets accordingly.

Overall, after only a few hours with it, I can safely say I really like it. I have some serious reservations about specific design choices within the OS (creepy Mummenschanz emoji being a big one), and I’m not sold on some of the purported interaction choices yet. But I grew to like the Pebble, having been a longtime fan of traditional watches and a serious smartwatch skeptic prior to that. This is a fantastic extension of iOS with incredible potential for the future. It’s not the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a really cool first step and that’s how the most interesting things always start.

The case for a chunky Apple Watch.

I’m officially looking forward to the release of the Apple Watch. I’ve been dabbling with a Pebble Steel since late last year, and now, the experiment having proved valuable, I’m totally ready to take the practice of wearing a smart device to the next level.

One of the hallmarks of Apple device updates is the relentless march to unyielding thinness. We’ve all seen it, and it’s unavoidable. The current crop of iOS devices are almost impossibly thin, and I’m sure the following refresh cycle after the next “S” update will melt our brains even further. This week on ATP the notion of the Apple Watch getting thinner as it progresses was brought up as part of the conversation surrounding upgrades and future iterations of the hardware. And in that moment, something truly horrifying spread across my mind.

I absolutely do not want a thinner Apple Watch. In fact, depending on how I feel about this initial hardware offering, there’s a chance I may even want a bigger one.

I am a chunky watch fan. I like big metal watches, and I have a nice little collection of Casio G-Shocks and other sport watches. I’m a surfer, and I like my stuff to be fairly rugged, with the exception of the one or two watches I’d call my “fancy lad” varieties. (Even still, we’re talking about a nice Fossil or something, not a Submariner.) Like everyone else, I eyeballed the sizing of the two models once they appeared on the store, and there was no doubt in my mind that 42mm was the size for me. I heard Myke mention on Connected that he’d heard the 42mm was about the same size as the Pebble Steel that he and I both currently sport, and I looked at my wrist and smiled. I’d be fine if it was even a little bigger, as the watch I bought most recently prior to the Steel was an enormous blue-grey G-Shock that was borderline silly for my modest avian wrists, but I still love it.

I have never liked thin, flat watches. They felt lacking to me. No matter how nice or cool looking they might be, I detest their presence on my arm. They have no place in my world, and I shun them. Shun. Chunk is life. Long live chunk.

But here’s the thing: Apple doesn’t like big and chunky. It stands to reason that the only rationale behind the current case size of the watch is that they needed that much room for components. Based on the company’s track record, a safe bet would be to assume that each successive model will get thinner and more svelte. Which is, admittedly, right up someone’s alley. Probably a lot of someones, if I’m being honest. But I also know I’m not alone in my love of big watches. There’s a big, wonderful world full of people who want small assault vehicles on their wrists.

So the question becomes: is this a typical Apple device that follows the same slimming pattern, or does the mere fact that it is an entirely new class of hardware based strongly in personal fashion set it apart? Will Apple cater to the aesthetic desires of both types of people? Will thinnies get their metal potato chip eventually while I am able to buy a tiny internet-connected Hummer if I so desire? I’m emboldened by the variety of options available at this initial launch, which makes me think that Apple has already considered something like this. I also know that if they haven’t, and the device follows the typical pattern, my first-gen watch will eventually (sooner than later, I’m sure) become woefully behind the times technologically as well as in terms of basic watch performance (battery).

As such, I am all in for right now. This watch is the right size for me, right now, and I expect to like it a hell of a lot. I mean, I like the Pebble enough, and it’s essentially a digital Post-It note right now. I’m sure the Apple Watch will be terrific. But will it remain my awesome chunky friend, or turn into a skinny friend who can’t stop talking about all the weight he/she lost even though you know all about it, and the truth of the matter is they were more fun when he/she didn’t care about weight so much?

I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

03-15-2015, 2:15 PM Rene makes a good point (he usually does) in saying Apple will want “lighter” and thinner is a factor of that. My feeling is that if this is positioned not as a device we carry, but one we wear, in watches, “heavier” often indicates a higher standard of quality. Lightweight watches that aren’t specifically purpose-based (i.e. lighter for a reason, or sport models) often can feel “cheap” to someone used to something with more heft. Again, the question is: what kind of device does Apple believe it is producing–a consumer electronic, or a fashion appliance?

Omniscience and oblivion.

Recently I was asked about where I think user experience is headed. After giving it some thought, I was able to distill my idea about it down to a fairly concise dichotomy. Obviously it centers on mobile computing, and the two most interesting parts of it (to me) are:

  1. Presenting information to the user in a contextually relevant way without much (if any) external interaction on his/her part
  2. Increasing security and/or ensuring that the loop for transactional activities is closed, in the face of continued compromises of sensitive financial information

There are two products that exemplify these goals in the market right now, supplied by two companies whose philosophies couldn’t be more divergent, but yet are intertwined: Google Now and Apple Pay. Let’s get one thing out of the way quickly–this is not going to be a “who’s better” post. It’s simply an examination of two different approaches to solving two big problems for users. The biggest difference being the diametrically opposed underpinnings of how the two technologies work.

Google Now’s promise is that if you hook your life into Google’s services, the massive intelligence behind those services will parse as much as possible from what you provide and surface information to you at the most relevant times possible, without you even having to lift a finger. Apple Pay creates a bubble of security around each purchase that you conduct with it, allowing for unique financial transactions, hiding your identity and information from merchants and potential data theft. Both are amazing in their own ways, and both edge ever closer to the fuzzy, nostalgic ideals that the World’s Fairs of yesteryear told us the future would bring.

The difference is that one service wants to know every single thing it possibly can about you to build a world of information around your activities, and the other wants to purposefully know as little as possible about you so that it can obfuscate the sensitive information that passes between two parties during a financial transaction.

I’m enthralled by both of these worlds, but to date, I’ve only embraced one of them. As we continue into the future, and more of our personal information–even the most innocuous bits–exist on the servers of other companies, I become wary of how and when it will be used. I’m not kept up at night thinking about it, but I’m still far more comfortable using Apple Pay for a purchase than dumping everything about myself into Google so I can find out if my flight is late, or how long it will take me to get home. Those examples are rather trite, but it illustrates my point: the two aspects of software that I’ve outlined are both insanely cool and interesting to me, but the overall value I can derive today is far higher with Apple Pay. More importantly, I’m left wondering how I can enjoy the benefits of something like Google Now without sacrificing my feelings about my data. I just don’t know if it’s possible, and I may change my mind about how I feel down the road.

I’ve been fascinated with technology throughout my entire life. It’s a source of creativity and consternation. Amazement and horror. It always has been and always will be a series of trade-offs and opposing forces. I think as we try to solve more of our problems in these new ways, the two ends of the spectrum get pulled closer together, and I’m not sure how that makes me feel. I’m along for the ride, though, until I pull the ripcord and go live on a beach in blissful, ignorant solitude. Until then, my fingerprint is my passport. Verify me.

If you see a stylus, there’s probably a good reason.

I was catching up on things this morning and saw this post on Daring Fireball regarding the impending flood of told-you-so tech pundits loudly proclaiming that Apple “blew it” because they might include a stylus with the still-hypothetical iPad Pro that might be coming. It occurred to me that a lot of tech writing, like every other facet of humanity, sees only black and white, ignoring any and all shades of grey interpolated between those two fixed points. Surprising, I know.

But this isn’t about defending Apple’s choices. This is about something that we as a culture have done and will continue to do. We say things, write things, and do things that are irrevocably bound to us, carved in time, for later examinations to throw back at us, disregarding the context of what we did entirely. Words are disassembled and used as weapons. Meaning and intent are disregarded or reframed in a revisionist history that suits a new agenda.

When Steve Jobs famously made that comment— the “if you see a stylus, they blew it” one—it’s pretty clear that he was talking about the general use cases involving touch screens and human interaction. I think at this point, years later, we can all agree that in many ways, this was the right direction to follow. It’s hard to imagine a world where we didn’t touch all the screens around us with our fingers. But that of course doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for a refinement of those interactions, a subset, in which certain users see value in employing a specific tool to do a specific job.

Reading that comment broadly as “a stylus is always a bad idea” is tantamount to the shortsighted letter-of-the-law interpretations we see every day in politics, religion, and any other human pursuit that we feel passionate about where we point to something from the past and apply it to a current situation. Context, understanding, timeframe, and intent are all valuable variables that need to be applied to these ideas to better see the point someone tried to make. This isn’t a technological fallibility; it’s a fundamentally human problem.

Latching on to the core of an single statement in its most literal sense prevents us from growing bigger and better ideas. It’s exhausting to see a bold step forward turn into fodder for the most inane and recursive discussions possible. To come back to the comment specifically, even if Apple decided “hey, you know what… maybe we were wrong about the stylus thing” it would likely be because it took the idea, observed how the world applied it and made a judgment call. It wouldn’t have followed the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law.

I personally couldn’t be more excited about the potential a more powerful and advanced iPad might bring. That product line needs a shot of adrenaline. It’s been relegated to gorgeous, inspiring commercials and good intentions, but it hasn’t grown the way a lot of us had hoped. If there’s a stylus, great. The device probably needs it.

Apple is a business, and it makes products people want to buy. Steve was notorious for changing his mind, as anyone who’s even studied Apple casually can tell you. Shifting gears is how the company made it this far. Don’t assume for a second that anything that’s ever been said is gospel. That’s just not how progress works.

Thinner, lighter, gone.

Although I purchased last year’s iPad Air and was perfectly content with it, I found myself in an Apple Store yesterday, purchasing the iPad Air 2. Part of it was that I wanted an excuse to use Apple Pay, and groceries weren’t exciting enough. But the other part was that after I held the updated device, I couldn’t leave without it.

When it was announced last week, the incremental changes in weight and size seemed almost negligible to me as I read about them. We’re talking grams and millimeters. Tiny, insignificant adjustments to the body of the device. How different could it possibly be?

Put the two devices side by side, and it becomes glaringly apparent. Not to mention the ridiculous internals this new model has. Plenty of people have voiced opinions along the lines of “I’d rather have a little more battery than a thinner device, why is Apple so obsessed with this?” and it got me thinking about exactly what that means. Clearly Apple feels that current battery life is reasonable and is willing to make other changes to the physical nature of the device to optimize in other dimensions. But why? Why the relentless march to thinner and lighter?

I think it’s because Apple doesn’t want us to notice that we’re holding chunks of metal and glass. We should think about these devices as extensions of ourselves and the closer the company can come to making them nearly weightless (in relative terms), the better. In the same way that you get dressed in the morning and feel your clothes but quickly adjust and your body stops sending those input signals, your devices should follow similar paths. If Apple can create a device that is so comfortable to use that it’s forgotten as it’s held because it’s so unimaginably thin and light–while still maintaining the performance users come to generally expect without decrement–it’s going to do it.

Eventually battery technology and wireless radios will advance to the point that our concerns about charging will be obviated. In the meantime, Apple will create devices that continue to advance the technical bottom line while somewhat disappearing in terms of our nerve endings’ perceptions. And while two days ago I couldn’t have cared less, holding the Air 2 now, I realize how quietly significant that goal is.