Last December, on the second day I owned my AirPods, while brushing my teeth I reached up to dry my face, and knocked one of them out of my ear. Bathrooms are a pretty hazardous place for electronics at the best of times. Naturally, fate ordained that, as it fell helplessly through the air, my brand-new left AirPod would be guided on a trajectory which led it perfectly, inexorably, into the toilet.
Plop. It didn’t even touch the sides. Just straight into the water (which was mercifully untainted, for a toilet anyway). I looked around to see what I already knew, and stared frozen for what felt like an eternity.
Then my mind went into overdrive: annoyance, frustration, planning what to do next. All in a split second. I had to do it, I had to reach in and get it out. Next thing I know, I’m rinsing it under the tap. It went against every instinct, but it was already soaked, and I’d rather it die from clean water than toilet water. My mind wandered to a fate worse than death: the AirPod, surviving without a cleansing rinse, forever tainted - me, afraid of wetting it again for fear of pushing my luck.
So then came the drying. I towelled it off. Used paper towels to dry every nook and cranny as best I could. Then sat to dry for a what felt like an eternity, before the moment of truth. I put it back in my ear and waited—
It was perfect, and almost a year later both AirPods are still good as new. Aside from some scuffs on the case, there’s pretty much no wear and tear, despite plenty of drops and near-constant usage. In the past I probably went through a pair of earphones every six-nine months1; one bud would inevitably go quiet, due to a fault at either the 3.5mm jack, the inline remote, or at the connection to the bud itself. But with AirPods, no cables means virtually no points of failure. Their (apparent) water resistance helps, too.
Battery life is as good as ever, in my regular usage I pretty much never notice the AirPods charging. Usually they find their way back into the case for at least a little while every few hours, and I just plug the case in when I notice the light turn red.
Coming from in-ear earphones, I was a bit disappointed to give up the level of sound isolation they offer. Though I’ve become a bit of a convert; for most use cases I prefer the greater situational awareness of open-backed earphones.
The double-tap gestures have become totally second nature to me now. I’m glad of the ability in iOS 11 to set separate ones for each ear, and with the new ‘Now Playing’ card on the watch there’s handy access to volume control.
There’s one issue I’ve had lately, seemingly since iOS 11 and High Sierra, which is that device switching seems jankier than it used to be. I’ve had some failures when switching devices, which practically never happened before. Often it’ll be when switching to or from my Mac, and I’ll see a never-ending spinner on an iOS device while it tries to connect. A few times they’ve disappeared from the audio interface list altogether, requiring my phone or iPad to be restarted before they show again. Hopefully that’ll improve as iOS 11 matures.
There are a few little things that would be nice to see in second-gen AirPods:
- They could be a little louder. For quiet music or podcasts, they’re noticeably lower volume than EarPods or other wired earphones.
- Lower audio latency would be nice; keyboard clicks or realtime audio feedback are noticeably delayed compared with wired earphones.
- Semi-related to previous point, the ability to use Siri without dropping to a lower bit rate audio stream would be nice.
- Finally, as much as I’ve grown to like the open backed style, I’d totally buy another pair if there was an in-ear variant.
Having paid what was a lot of money to my teenage self for Apple’s In-Ear Earphones, when they broke I actually transplanted the buds from them onto the cords from other donor earphones... I did it probably five or six times over as many years, but finally stopped using them about four years ago. They still work just fine, though, and they never failed at my solder connections. ↩
Improving the Touch Bar
Among serious Mac users, the Touch Bar seems to be one of the more controversial moves Apple has made in recent years. The most common critique I’ve seen is that it simply lacks utility — that there still aren’t enough apps which provide compelling functionality for it. Harsher criticisms have called for it to be gotten rid of altogether, or at least for a high-end MacBook Pro which retains the row of function keys that it replaced. I think there’s a lot that could be done to improve the Touch Bar for its hypothetical second generation, though, at least in terms of the hardware complaints.
I don’t own a Touch Bar MacBook Pro myself, though my brother does so I’ve used one quite a bit. I like it, but I don’t feel like I’m missing out on that much with my non-Touch Bar 2014 model, and there’s a distinctly unpleasant lack of tactility when using the Touch Bar. I’d sum it up by saying it just doesn’t feel like a part of the keyboard, which it seemingly aims to. Perhaps the main reason for this is that you can’t really touch type on it (no pun intended...), you have to look where you’re placing your finger, because actions trigger as soon as it makes contact.
So how could it be improved? Well, I think Apple already has precisely the tools for the job — 3D Touch and the Taptic Engine.
The Force Touch Bar
The idea is simple: the Touch Bar should do nothing when just touched, and only trigger a function when the user presses harder.2 There could be some nice haptic feedback to match: a click like the iPhone 7/8 home button, or the Force Touch Trackpad. Running a finger along the ‘Force Touch Bar’ could also trigger little haptic taps as you cross the threshold from one button into another.3 and that would at least go some way towards approximating the tactility of a real keyboard. It might even, if it were good enough, allow navigation by touch alone. For more dynamic content, like sliders, it could obviously fall back to touch-and-drag behaviours, and haptic feedback would augment those over the current version.
A second-gen Touch Bar like this seems relatively easy to implement; it’d require only the addition of technology Apple is already producing in enormous quantity for the iPhone. Sure, it would be a change from the current interaction model, but when considering the huge changes watchOS has undergone in its first couple of years, and the relatively few Mac models which include a Touch Bar, I don’t see that being a stopping block. Of course this doesn’t directly address the other complaint I referenced in the introduction, the lack of compelling functionality. Though, I think the core value proposition of the Touch Bar - dynamic keyboard buttons - is sound, and compelling functionality is more likely to come if the hardware is there to match.
Being both fed up of and annoyed at WordPress, last week I decided to rewrite this site from scratch. If you can read this, it means that wasn't a (completely) foolish decision.
It's been a fun evening project - it's the first full-featured site I've made from scratch. I've implemented most of the features I used in WordPress, but without all the unnecessary cruft that it also includes, so it should load fairly quickly on slow connections or lower-specced devices.
I've written it using HTML5, PHP and MySQL. With the exception of Parsedown, which I'm using to parse Markdown, it's entirely my own code running things.
It should fit nicely on all screen sizes, but if you spot any places where it has problems, let me know. All my previous posts should still be there, at the same links, but if you happen to come across a dead link anywhere, I'd appreciate it if you let me know about that too.
I may do a more detailed write-up about it soon, but for now I need to get back to the work I was supposed to be doing when I did this...
I've just launched a new app! It's called Déjà, and it's a quiz game with a twist. The basic gist is that instead of answering the question you see on-screen, you have to answer the previous one. It's a good memory challenge, and I hope strikes the fun-infuriating balance well. It's also pretty hilarious to watch someone play it.
If you fancy giving it a shot, you can download it here: http://playdeja.com. Or you can click here to go straight to the App Store page.
I'm always keen to hear thoughts and feedback, so do give me a buzz if you enjoy it!
On the most recent episode of The Talk Show, John Gruber mentioned his desire for a trackpad to feature on the next version of Apple's Smart Keyboard. A while back I had an idea for how such a thing might work, without requiring the addition of a laptop-style trackpad area. My idea is analogous to 'trackpad mode' on the iOS software keyboard (accessed via two fingers on the iPad, or via 3D Touch on the iPhone).
The keys on the Smart Keyboard are very low profile, so it's easy for one's fingers to glide over them. With this in mind, why not make the entire top surface of the keyboard touch sensitive, then use it in the same way as the software keyboard? All that's needed is a way to toggle trackpad mode, and I think this is a perfect opportunity to ditch the 'caps lock' key, and replace it with a 'trackpad mode' key, which can be held down while using one's other finger to move the cursor.
There are a few reasons why I think this approach would be better than a discrete trackpad. First, it requires no extra space, nor any major changes to the current design. Second, as mentioned above, it maintains gesture parity with the current trackpad mode on iOS. Third, it removes the expectation of a system-wide, mouse-style pointer, which I think a laptop-style trackpad would create. I think this is a significant consideration; a more precise pointing device would be really useful on iOS for more than just text entry, but I don't expect this to come in the form of a mouse pointer. Thus, I think avoiding the suggestion of one altogether would lead to less confusion. With my proposed method, pro users who need this functionality won't take long to become aware of it, and users who don't need it won't have what they may perceive as a half-broken laptop trackpad present at all times.
Click the title link to see a video mocking up what this might look like.
Explaining the setup I use for syncing and backing up large volumes of data.
Reflecting on a year on the App Store, how much I've earned from it, and what factors affected it.