That joke isn’t funny anymore.

Say what you want about the branding but we all laughed at the iPad when we heard that name for the first time too. KitKat may be silly, but what it portends is anything but.

As of right now, we collectively know most of what iOS 7 has to offer. There will probably be something announced on the 10th that we haven’t seen yet, whether it ends up being an addition to the software or a hardware feature that enhances the experience. But the net gain is primarily a visual one. Yes, yes, the physics engine. Yes, the deference to depth and clarity. I’ve been using the beta for weeks now. It’s very good, no doubt about it.

But I want something more. I want more than feel and form. I want a device that enhances the things I do every day. And right now, as excellent as iOS is, I’m not sure it’s enough.

Now when I say this, I’m not implying that Android is, nor Windows Phone, nor anything else. What I am saying is that no one platform is meeting my needs in the way I want. iOS has been a faithful companion for years now, and nothing I’ve touched has come close to approximating its ability to make complex things easy and beautiful. Its sheer breadth of good software is staggering. But the more I watch the changes in Android, the more I realize that iOS is dragging a lot of baggage along with it. Android is moving at a breakneck pace, and that might not be something everyone needs, but it’s the kind of thing that makes the overall landscape for people like me more compelling. And it’s the kind of thing that eventually trickles out to the edges of the userbase and becomes the norm.

Are there experiences on Android that are as singularly beautiful as iOS? by most accounts, probably not. It depends on who you ask, but I’d concede that iOS still has the upper hand when it comes to arresting visual style. But Android’s aesthetic path has been getting less rocky, more unified and more clean. The current base OS is a balanced and reasoned collection of interactions and third party developers have been impressing the hell out of us now for months as well with great apps on Android, some of which are legitimately wonderful.

And there’s something else worth remembering:

“It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

The bottom line is that while there are so many things I’d change about Android right now, it works well. It’s come a long way, and plenty of smart people are not only realizing it, but they’re finding reasons to like it – a lot. The platform is still struggling with so many problems; malware, fragmentation (arguable on iOS, but certainly more pronounced on Android), and a lot of terrible scammy apps. (Although, have you looked at the App Store lately? Not the king’s ransom we’d all like to think it is.) But ignoring it or making fun of it is junior high bullshit. It was easy to tease when it was ugly, but it’s not anymore. It was easy to laugh when only nerds could manage its complexity, but frankly, iOS has gotten more complex, and obviously people are managing to use Android phones somehow.

It makes Apple better to have someone nipping at its heels. If some of my favorite iOS developers – people whose design sense and technical choices I agree with – are looking at this platform more seriously and exploring it, is it still worth laughing at? How many iOS devs need to take a closer look before we drop the rah-rah shit? If you call yourself someone who truly appreciates how something works, and you’re still laughing, it might be time to stop and think about why.

When iOS 7 launches with its current feature set for the next year and KitKat hits, I won’t be laughing. I’ll be watching with great interest. A rising tide, right?

I love the iPad mini.

When it was released, I got an iPad mini for the office for testing. I brought it home, put all my stuff on it to give it a proper test drive, and promptly decided it wasn’t for me. I liked my bigger iPad with its Retina display. I felt that Apple was being disingenuous with its promises of “iPad, concentrated” – it felt more like “iPad, crushed” to me. Sure, it was small and light, but honestly, there were too many trade-offs for my liking. I dismissed it, wiped the mini, put it in the testing pool at work and went on with my life.

Then something else happened. I didn’t go back to my larger iPad. I watched it, evening after evening, sitting on the TV console, fully-charged, ready to perform at a moment’s notice, but I never picked it up. I used the hell out of my phone, because the iPhone 5 is amazing, as we all know. But I didn’t feel like picking up that iPad. Every time I did, it felt so heavy. Like a really pretty manhole cover. Rene and I did a podcast in which he extolled the virtues of the mini, while I defended (theoretically, as it turned out) the need to have a bigger, nicer screen and a little more performance for the kinds of creative apps I was using.

Then it occurred to me: I wasn’t actually creating anything anymore on my iPad. It was, as I said, sitting. I watched and listened as my friends on the internet sang its praises, selling their large iPads, saying things like “it’s the best mobile device I’ve ever used”. I started to feel crazy, like I missed something… had I been too quick to dismiss the device? No, I know what I like, and my gut is usually right about things like this. Then I asked the people in my daily life who had them. Every single person said the same thing: it’s the best iPad they’d ever used.

With this gnawing at me, I couldn’t take it anymore. Deeply conflicted and doubting my own judgment, I ordered one, a white (HUGE departure from my lineage of black) 32gb Verizon mini. I sat back, suddenly relaxed that the decision was made. A weight had been lifted. If I truly didn’t like it, I could always send it back. I was ready to give it another shot.

Then it took two full weeks to arrive.

Agony. Having made the decision, I was ready to begin my new experiment. But I couldn’t. I had to wait and watch as a seemingly prehistoric process unfolded in front of me. I’m so used to Amazon Prime shipping speeds, watching as my mini was manufactured for a week and then stagnating as it trudged around the world was excruciating. It sat in a UPS facility in Kentucky for almost three full days. Doing nothing. I’ve had a 60" HDTV delivered to me from Amazon in less than 24 hours. This was torture. I casually wandered into the Apple store at the mall while my wife and I were shopping, in the hopes that they’d have a model I could grab that would at least be close to what I ordered. I was prepared to be flexible; sure, I would take a black 64gb LTE model. No problem. But nothing. Wi-fi only, everywhere I went. The cellular models were either the hottest sellers, or seriously undermanufactured.

When it finally arrived, I opened it and wept. Not really, but I was so happy to be done refreshing a shipment tracking page, I could have. I got to setting it up, put all my stuff in place, and configured it just so. Paired it with my Logitech Ultrathin (which looks positively gargantuan next to it now). Attached the Smart Cover I ordered while I waited for it to arrive. Began using it, picking it up, making it a part of my routine.

Verdict? I’m a jackass. I learned some things about myself and what I actually value. All the lip service I’d paid the larger display was truly worthless in the end, because I wasn’t even looking at it. The mini? I can’t put it down. It’s so light, I take it from room to room. I’d never done that with the larger iPad. I read more, I play games more, I bang out email, journal entries and draft posts more, simply because it’s there and ready. Everyone said it takes a few days to get used to everything being compressed a little, and it’s true. It’s been a week, though, and I couldn’t imagine going back. I stopped seeing the pixels about two days in, which was about 47.8 hours longer than I’d given it the first time. If only I’d not been so shortsighted.

The lesson for me is not about buying more crap and filling my life with more screens. It’s about not making snap judgments anymore. I find as I get older that I think I’ve got things pretty wired; that I know myself and what I think I like. The truth of the matter is that I’m woefully inflexible in my own mind sometimes, despite my ability to adjust to things in my real life (I just had a kid, trust me, I’m getting pretty awesome at “adjustment”). I have to learn to put aside my preconceived notions about things, and explore my options, because I’ll never know what I’m missing out on if I don’t.

Seems like a grandiose conclusion to draw over a gadget, but the epiphanies that matter the most to us don’t always come down on a bolt of lightning.

App.net | Twitter

The hidden potential of App.net.

I’ve thought a lot about App.net in the past few months, as many of us have I imagine. What started as discontent with the obnoxious corporate machinations that Twitter’s begun to execute spawned a movement to start something different and user-focused as opposed to focused on marketing. I won’t go into the details, because it’s well-documented in about a million other places, but suffice to say, the project got funded, we got an alpha web app and App.net quickly became a geeky subset of Twitter users both curious to try something new and disenchanted with the current state of things elsewhere.

The launch of Netbot kicked the service into high gear for a while and it saw a huge spike in traffic and activity, proving a point many have made, namely that in today’s tech world, to the user, the application is the service. App.net CEO Dalton Caldwell has even said himself that the ‘out of the box’ experience for new users isn’t terrific, and while they’re working to improve that, apps are paving the way and bringing people into the fold. And we watched as Netbot’s influence stabilized and we’ve seen overall ADN conversations trickle off in our feeds. People went back to Twitter, because the conversation keeps happening there due to a massively entrenched network effect that’s undeniable.

Lots has been said about the potential of ADN, and how it really needs to do something special to continue to grow. It won’t beat Twitter at its own game (admittedly, that’s been stated as not a real targeted objective anyway), but it’s got to do… something.

I’m starting to believe all of what we’ve seen is merely prelude to something more. I’ve been bullish on the service since making the decision to back it and I’ve watched it with great interest. I finally got around to listening to the official ADN podcast a few days ago too, and it’s basically Dalton talking about the API development and answering questions from users. The thing is, in hearing him talk about their progress and plans, I’ve started to realize something – two things, actually.

  1. The Twitter-like feed tool we currently see as “App.net” is but one face – the starting point – of a much larger idea
  2. It’s not just about making that tool better – the long play is to build an extensible communication platform not just for Twitter use cases, but for a myriad other outlets

I’d considered other ways in which the service might become valuable, but I’ll admit, I kept coming up short until I heard him talk about their plans. I thought about how it might be used as an external comment platform for blogs, linking threads and conversations back to a post via the service. I could see that being kind of cool, and I think it would definitely (given the price to enter the service) at least preliminarily solve a part of the “commenting problem”. Users willing to pony up some money to be part of a service like this might be less compelled to be dicks on people’s blogs. It’s a long shot, but you can see where I’m headed.

Listening to the podcasts, though, something else became very clear. The private messaging API is going to be the catalyst behind this entire thing. Dalton described how their focus on releasing a capable first iteration of this aspect of the service took great importance as they worked this past few months. He mentioned the concept of the “internet of things” – all the interconnected devices that are filling our lives with notifications and (in some cases) noise. He talked about the immense success platforms like BlackBerry Messenger and WhatsApp have had in the mobile space, and pointed out that no matter how large public messaging is, private messages (SMS and the like) outweigh it by orders of magnitude. He also reinforced the fact that ADN is not rushing to do much of anything – they’ve created a sustainable business model for the time being, focused on user features, and their goal is to continue developing the service, strengthening the hooks to outside applications and enabling developers to create new and interesting things by delivering working code examples with updates to the API.

Most importantly, he mentioned that with his previous company imeem, the final face of the service was drastically different than its first one. As with any software, the users will in large and small ways influence the ongoing development, and discover use cases that the devs hadn’t even considered. This is the core piece that as a market, we’re unable to see yet. We see a Twitter competitor, and one that feels like it’s faltering as Twitter continues to swell its userbase. We see something that we want to succeed, but we’re not seeing the endgame yet. I’m mentally reinvested in the entire idea after listening to him on the podcasts – not because he’s compelling users to foment revolution – but because he’s seeing past the market perception of what the service is supposed to be. It’s only been five months since the blog post that kicked this off, and four since funding. I don’t know many web services that declared victory in any capacity in that timeframe, and it’s worth keeping that in mind.

I highly recommend checking out the podcast if you’re even marginally interested in this at all. It’s changed my thinking; you may discover the same.

Thoughts? App.net | Twitter

How I’m using Dropbox.

Since I talk about Dropbox quite a bit anywhere and everywhere I can, I’m often asked for app recommendations and about the services that I use with it. The beauty of it is that these things can and do change from time to time because so many apps and services plug into Dropbox that there’s always something new to try. So here are some of my uses and apps as of right now.

For starters, I don’t use my OS X home folder for anything, if I can help it. Everything important lives in Dropbox. I can’t move my Library in there, but if I could, I would. If I lost my MBP tomorrow, I could be back up and running 90% of the way just by logging into Dropbox on a new machine. That makes me feel good. Now, onto some more specific things.

1Password: The alpha and omega of all my Dropboxing. 1Password is the single most useful app on any of my systems, and my world lives inside it. Security’s no joke, and 1P makes it easy. Constant updates, communicative and friendly developers and a willingness to always improve make it my number one app, anywhere.

Notes, Reminders: Notes are stored as plain text files and kept in a folder called Notes. I point the awesome Notational Velocity fork nvALT at this folder on the Mac, and whatever app I’m currently using on iOS at it as well. Right now, that happens to be Elements by Second Gear. It’s clean and fast. Reminders are a different beast. Currently I’m back using Appigo’s Todo, which I’d purchased a million years ago, but which has seen some pretty decent updates. My tasks sync in a Dropbox folder and appear on all my devices. This could change by the time you read this, but that’s what’s great about Dropbox. Another one of my favorites is TaskAgent, although it’s more for lists and doesn’t have reminder functions built in. If you just have one list, you might check out Due, which is also great.

Camera Uploads: This is a service that’s now provided directly through the Dropbox app. Before it was offered, I used many different iOS apps to get my camera roll into Dropbox, and I still use one called CameraSync because it uses geofencing to determine when to activate and upload your pics, taking the manual process away entirely. I set it up for the office and my house, and when I go between them, I get a notification that my pics are uploading. It’s like magic. (I also have Photo Stream turned on as a fallback, but I like that they’re also in Dropbox automatically as well, for obvious reasons – Photo Stream has a 1,000 pic/30 day limit).

Byword: My favorite writing app for Mac and iOS. Hook Byword up to your Dropbox, and your works in progress are everywhere. I store them as plain text (.txt) files for portability into other writing apps as well.

Day One: My journal of choice. Byword is for things I intend to put somewhere on the web, Day One is just for me. A gorgeous Mac and iOS app, with tons of features and improvements. If you’re not using this app, you’re seriously missing out on a flagship writing experience. Again, I choose to store the data file in Dropbox, because I want to be able to pull it apart if I feel like it (or need to) and iCloud’s data container doesn’t sit well with me.

Scanner Pro: A great quick utility by Readdle. If I need a PDF of something I’m looking at in the real world, I grab my phone or iPad, take a picture, and Scanner Pro converts it to a great looking PDF and drops it into my Dropbox for me. Easy.

Drafts: Quick capture and instant dumping into a variety of iOS apps. I keep a “Drafts” folder hooked up to Dropbox and have it set to capture text notes that I intend to file away in my large note file. Hazel watches this folder and drops .txt files into the other one for me.

TextExpander: Super time-saver. TextExpander takes snippets of keys you assign and drops giant chunks of text in their place. I keep the settings synced with Dropbox between my systems.

Paper: My favorite sketching app. Although I don’t use Paper all that much, when I do, it exports my journals right into a Dropbox folder. I end up using this to quickly diagram things for clients sometimes. It helps to have a picture to go with what I’m saying, and if we’re all in agreement, I can save it, export it and refer to it when I go to create a formal wireframe document or something like that.

Software: I keep a master repository of all kinds of .dmg files and installers in Dropbox. I’ve been a Pro customer for years, and recently had my storage space doubled to a massive 200gb, so this is even less of a problem now than before. Super convenient when you’re managing multiple systems in an office environment and the Mac App Store isn’t how you plan to do it.

System: I keep a folder called System in my Dropbox, and the purpose of this folder is to preserve app settings and things like that. If I can, I’ll install an app and configure it so that its settings automatically go there, but if not, I can always manually copy/move some things around or set up Hazel rules to duplicate these settings/files. Alfred is a good example of an app that runs out of this folder – all my extensions and tweaks are synced between my Macs into Alfred from here.

What else?…

Sharing: throw things in a Dropbox folder, get a quick link. Better than email for giant files, and usually works ok for everyone.

IFTTT: there’s all manner of cool automated things you can do with IFTTT, a web service that aggregates other web services to do some nerdy heavy lifting for you. I’m currently pulling all my Instagram shots in automatically, as well as Facebook pics I’ve been tagged in. I also have something set up to automatically forward a document from my iPhone to a folder specified by me in Dropbox, but I don’t really find myself using it. Still, it’s cool and it’s just scratching the surface.

iPhoto: I wouldn’t recommend trying to point multiple machines’ iPhoto installs to one library you keep in Dropbox (seems to have issues, YMMV) but if you only have one machine on which you use iPhoto, it’s an easy way to back that giant file up (if you have the space).

I could go on and on. When I record podcasts, they dump directly into a Dropbox folder from Audio Hijack. I keep a folder just to sync stuff between my MBP and my Mac mini server at home if I need to. A different folder to share things with my wife and her MBP. The possibilities are nearly limitless, and growing every day. It’s a fantastically reliable and functional tool I’ve grown to rely on. I’d hate to go back to computing without it.

If you’ve got a great way to use Dropbox, I’d love to hear it.

Twitter | App.net

Android’s baby steps.

A few days ago, Google released a design guide for Android, a much welcomed first step into unifying the platform visually and creating cohesive application interfaces. Android has, over time, come under a lot of fire from visually-centered users and designers for its wildly varying interfaces and disparity among device types and sizes.

But it’s only a first step. Developers need to embrace the new guidelines and conform their designs to the recommended paths. However, there are still lessons for Google to learn as well. We just got a Galaxy Nexus in the office and one of the first things I realized was that the “Menu” button has been removed and replaced with a few squares on the screen within apps like this:

Android 4.0 Dialer

Android 4.0 Gallery

It took me a second to realize that the tiny squares were there, and another to realize that I could tap them to invoke the menu options that in previous versions of Android were at the bottom of the phone with the Home, Back, and Search keys. But the problem for Google is not the size, nor the location of the squares. It’s that squares already mean something else:

ICS Android Devices

Those little squares are ways to get to your apps. So for an inexperienced user, performing an activity within an app, it may appear that you can tap those squares to get your app drawer opened. Granted, the fact that someone will only really confuse this approximately once is not lost on me. But it’s inconsistent. You can’t attempt to strongly coerce an already fractured design platform if the visual metaphors you choose to implement are murky. Would it have been so difficult to choose some other shape to either signify “apps” or “menu”?

That said, the very existence of the guidelines shows that Android is truly maturing as a platform. Some people won’t like it, because it means Google’s exercising more Apple-like control. Some users will welcome it because it means higher-quality experiences across devices. One thing’s for sure: we won’t be debating “open” for much longer if this keeps up, and that’s fine. It was a straw man from the start.