Apple September 2018 Keynote Predictions

As a fun exercise I would like to make some predictions for the 2018 September Apple keynote. There are two rumored machines that should come out.

The new Mac Mini

According to rumors, this machine will be geared towards pro users. As usual, the statement is vague. What pro users? Developers, animators, writers?

Current Mac Minis mainly serve three purposes:

  • home media server
  • “rich man’s raspberry pi”
  • server in a colo

Professionals do not need home media servers, and since Apple does not make a standalone screen it means that the machine will have to be usable headless.

As such it will require Ethernet and power, which makes it possible to do away with all other ports. I expect Apple to offer a low-grade Xeon CPU option in order to allow for ECC ram and at least an option with 32G ram.

Why would Apple do this?

  1. Nobody uses underpowered desktops today.
  2. Apple needs and probably has a similar machine for internal usage.
  3. The work on Xcode automation is useless if one cannot have an affordable Mac server.

The new MacBook Air

I expect Apple to sanitize their offering. Nobody except Apple pundits knows how are the machines named before they enter the Apple store.

I believe that Apple will:

  1. Rename the current MacBook to MacBook Air.
  2. Discontinue the 13″ MacBook Pro without TouchBar.
  3. Introduce a new cheaper 13″ computer called MacBook.

This will make the lightest Mac have the Air moniker. The current MacBook is underpowered for the generic user and the current MacBook Pro without TouchBar is a compromised machine with no market.

CPU and Graphics

For CPU it will have the cheapest Intel 15W CPU Apple can get, with expensive upgrades to CPUs with the same TDP. It will not have a discrete GPU and no TouchBar.

Ports

People buying the Pro computer should be savvy enough to know which dongles to buy and people buying an ultra-light computer do not need peripherals.

However, Apple needs the Average Joe’s MacBook to work for most users today, not in an imaginary future. This means it needs at least one USB port. It does not need thunderbolt. It would be better with an HDMI port and an SD card slot but these are unlikely to be included.

I predict that it will have 2 USB-C ports for power and 1 or 2 USB-A ports (for symmetry).

Keyboard

If Apple wants to make this work they would need to backpedal to the old system. Even the new updated 2018 butterfly keyboard keeps failing. If they make a new body for this machine, it is possible that they would introduce a v4 of the butterfly switch mechanism.

My take on 3D Touch

As the release of new iPhones is approaching, it is time to speculate on new features, or the removal of the old ones. There are rumors that one of the new iPhones will lack 3D Touch capability. To me, this is disturbing as I think that the biggest hindrance in 3D Touch adoption is that it is not omnipresent. Contrary to the opinion that it is broken, I believe that discoverability is a minor issue.

On a desktop interface there are no indicators to show that a particular element can be right-clicked. This is so because:

  1. There are few actions that are only doable by right clicking, mainly thanks to of toolbars and menu bars.
  2. Users intuitively know which elements can be right-clicked.

First point can be resolved by software: I leave it to designers to design a replacement for menus or toolbars that enable advanced functionality which can be then used with 3D Touch. The second point can be solved with users being exposed to 3D Touch all the time. With the current lineup this is a non-starter as it is available on high end phones only—not on the SE, and not on the iPad.

Now is the time for Apple to show if they are invested in 3D Touch or whether it is just a nice-to-have feature.

What happens when you delete ~/.Trash folder on macOS

I have done some stupid stuff and managed to delete the ~/.Trash folder on my Mac. The result was surprising:

To fix this you can type this in the shell:

mkdir ~/.Trash

This is clearly bad user experience. Somebody not knowing how to fix this will just assume that the trash stopped working. Even worse, they might miss the message and just click on Delete.

What should macOS do in this case, is to silently restore the trash folder and keep on humming.

The new RCS standard is just better SMS, and that is a bad thing

Google has managed to herd device manufacturers and telcos to support a new standard for messaging: Rich Communication Services (RCS). In short it is “SMS, but good”, with support for images and other rich media. After gChat, Hangouts, Google+, Meet, Allo or Duo, we can be skeptical on whether it will be adopted.

But I think it will. In order to understand why, let’s look at iMessage. When iMessage launched people already had means to communicate with their families, colleagues and friends: WhatsApp, Skype, Hangouts, Facebook WeChat… SMS usage varied country by country, depending on whether the service was paid per message. RCS will be integrated just like iMessage: when you send a message to a phone which supports RCS, it will be used instead of SMS.

When iMessage was introduced I had sporadic use of SMS and I knew few people with iPhones. But as that number grew, so did the amount of blue bubbles. Feature-wise iMessage was comparable to other platforms. What makes the Messages1 app stand out is that it is present by default and cannot be deleted.

In a similar fashion, the Android Chat will replace SMS. RCS is not a new silo; it is the long needed update to an outdated system.

RCS–the messaging app killer

So many single purpose apps!

Each social network starts with an original idea but in the end the users will stay if it has a compelling messaging component. To build such a service, it is necessary to know your connections. Initially it was possible to borrow the social graph from Twitter and Facebook, but they have closed the pipes. New players piggy-back on the phone’s contact list to create a rudimentary graph of connections that is tied to telephone numbers. This is a great advantage for RCS it already has access to your contact list as it is your new default messaging service.

As people upgrade to RCS, they will discover that they do not need to have Messaging App X for “that one person”. As nobody wants to have a folder full of instant messaging apps, many will be replaced by RCS by erosion. When you replace the application you use for one person by RCS, they have one fewer reasons to use it. As times goes on, only the very large networks will survive.

What is the bad news?

When people left SMS for other services they have got encryption for free. Some services provided end-to-end encryption2, some only at the transport level. With the exception of Signal, few people choose messaging services based on privacy — many do not even know what it means for them.

With RCS, this feature will disappear and many will lose the protection provided by encryption without knowing it. When SMS was created, security was not a thing in personal communication. Anybody who got hold of your phone could suck all of its information.

But our phones did not know everything about us back then. Today, there are lot of actors that would like to get their hands on them sweet messages: criminals, governments and criminal governments.

What can be done?

Nothing. We will see how this will play out but I fear that after RCS is entrenched, many messages will be floating around in plain text. I hope that the current secure services will solve problems that RCS can not, providing a compelling reason to stay off it.


  1. The app used for iMessage and SMS, the equivalent of the future Android Chat. [return]
  2. End to end encrypted messages (Signal, WhatsApp, iMessage), guarantee that nobody, including the platform provider, can read your messages. [return]

Why Does Eventail Have So Many Settings?

In general, I do dislike applications which have many settings. It might be a little bit surprising that Eventail falls into this category. If you look at the whole un-cropped UI it might be a perfect fit for the sword-like iPhone 20.

In design, I try to abide to this rule:

“If you want to add an option, you need to decide on the default value. Once you have chosen the default, keep it and remove the option.”

With Eventail, I have broken this rule in two ways: On top of having many options, Eventail’s defaults are not even what I would recommend people to use.1

The perfect app

eventail-settings

The ultimate goal of Eventail is to be a perfect calendar widget for the masses. As I have argued in my article about e-mail clients: everybody’s definition of perfect is different. As such, I have defined two ground rules about the widget which will stay unbroken.

  • The app uses iOS calendar API, I will not be making any custom clients to manage CalDav or Exchange servers.
  • The app stays a simple and nice to look at widget. There are already a lot of great calendaring apps.

The first rule dictates limits on the features I can implement. For example there is no way I could handle Exchange categories or Google custom event colors in the current iOS (11.3).

The second rule might look at odds with many settings, but it is the widget itself that must stay simple. My stats show that most people who download Eventail launch the application once or twice. This is either because the app is crap, or because they set it up the first time they launch it and stash it in a dump folder. I choose to believe in the second case since this is how I intended people to use the app.

The complexity of settings dissipates after you have customized the widget to suit your needs. Tap and a detailed view opens, tap again and you are back. Two states is all there is. This is why the widget has (unlike other apps) a prominent preview of how will it look on top.

Behind the scenes—options that got axed

Although this means that Eventail will grow in complexity, it will not have all of them, the features.

In the 2.2 version, I have added a thin left border on the events in the default theme. Initially, this was a separate theme because I did not want to get e-mails from people unhappy with the change. In the end I have decided to risk the hit. The new theme is more iOS-like and it makes the choice of the theme simple–just decide whether titles or calendars are more important.

New icons for events were initially optional, there was a fallback to spheres for everything. Again, other applications use spheres all the time, but I wanted the invitations to be distinct. There may be more icons coming for other things. For example would it not be great to see a group of two people when there are just two people in the event?


  1. I have opted for the switch options to be all in the positive tone: “display this,” “enable that”. For the sake of consistency and discoverability, they are all turned on by default. I would recommend to hide the empty days though. [return]

Eventail 2.2

After two months of coding I am pleased to announce a new version of Eventail.

This release brings some new features and a lot of polish into the settings screen.

Eventail Screenshots

The app now has some more personality, the preview is more prominent and looks like a preview too!

Colors

iPhone X users will be, hopefully, delighted by the new Black theme, which gives you a pure black background.

Black Theme

There are some good news for people who organize their life by colors too. A new Vivid color scheme puts accent on the calendar color and makes it easy to navigate through the day if you do a lot of context switching.

Black Theme

Weekends can get their own color too! A subtle background color indicates where the week ends.

Black Theme

Tweaks

The events now have a bold-colored stripe on the left, to highlight the calendar they are in.

Event invitations have distinct icons, it is easy to distinguish between invitations and own events; and also to see the RSVP status at a glance.

New Day View Icons

And more

I have squashed a number of bugs, and worked on the pestering memory issues. In most cases the widget should no longer fail to load, and the troubleshooting options will resolve the rest.

Without further ado, find Eventail on the App Store

Why there is no perfect email application

I have written this thought after listening to the Golden Cortex episode, however I forgot to remove the draft tag on it so it was never published. The latest episode on Triggers and email had made me re-discover it.

There is no perfect e-mail application because everybody has a different definition of perfection. Bland as it might seem, this is what makes it not viable to make an application that would be considered even remotely good by everyone.

Problems such as note taking or shopping list making are simple. Even with large competition, you can take the risk and develop an application that will work in some novel way. However, e-mail is complicated, which means that the application would have to be complex. It would be costly to develop and thus would have to be expensive, reducing the pool of potential clients.

Complex problem will only have good enough1 solutions because making a perfect solution would not be economically viable.


  1. It is important to note that perfection is not additive. If your application has every feature under the sun it means it will be less than desirable to many. [return]

Eventail 2.0

After a few months of development, I am proud to announce a new version of my iOS Calendar Widget App Eventail.

I am really happy how it turned out and invite you to try it, it is free.

Eventail Screenshots

Find Eventail on the App Store

Zoom out any page on mobile Safari

Just now I wanted to publish a new version of my app to testers. This is to be done on the iTunes connect website. I only had my phone, but according to Steve “iOS has full web experience” so this should not be a problem.

However, iTunes connect does not work exactly well on mobile. This is because the zoom level of the page is fixed on the “background” while the dialogs are in front. The result is that the button Submit is inaccessible.

After some amount of looking for a solution I have found several bookmarklets that should unlock the zoom. None of them worked. So I made my own solution.

Bookmark this page in Safari and change its URL to this:

javascript:(function(){document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.zoom =0.5;})()

Then, on a page which has elements outside of the viewport, launch the bookmark from the bookmark menu. The page will be twice as small, but more of it will fit!

10 Laws of UX, digested

After reading the article on 10 Laws of UX and the associated comments on Hacker News, I have decided to try a shot at reformatting the page to a more legible format. In the form of a blog post—because I do not think that every idea on the internet needs its own domain.

I provide my own interpretation of the laws in the titles, they are not in the original article.

1. If a function needs to be accessed often and/or quickly, make the button big

The time to acquire a target is a function of the distance to and size of the target.

– Paul Fitts

Fitt’s Law on Wikipedia

2. Only provide choices when a good default does not exist

The time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices.

– William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman

Hick’s Law on Wikipedia

3. Respect the platform’s conventions and interface guidelines

Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know.

– Jakob Nielsen

Jakob’s Law on Nielsen Norman Group

4. Do not stuff too much detail into a small space

Law of Prägnanz:

People will perceive and interpret ambiguous or complex images as the simplest form possible, because it is the interpretation that requires the least cognitive effort of us.

The Laws of Figure/Ground, Prägnanz, Closure, and Common Fate on Interaction Design

5. Put actions that do similar things together

Law of Proximity:

Objects that are near, or proximate to each other, tend to be grouped together.

N.B.: The recent missile alert fiasco is a good example of why this is important

6. Reduce the number of things your users have to remember

The average person can only keep 7 (plus or minus 2) items in their working memory.

– George Miller

Miller’s Law on Wikipedia

7. Make tasks short, simple and with set deadlines

Any task will inflate until all of the available time is spent.

– Cyril Northcote Parkinson

Parkinson’s Law on Wikipedia

8. Put the important things at the beginning or at the end

Users have a propensity to best remember the first and last items in a series.

Serial Position Effect on Wikipedia

9. Removing features from your product may result in users not being able to achieve some goals

Tesler’s Law, also known as The Law of Conservation of Complexity, states that for any system there is a certain amount of complexity which cannot be reduced.

Larry Tesler’s Law of Conservation of Complexity on Wikipedia

10. Make the most important thing stand out

The Von Restorff effect, also known as The Isolation Effect, predicts that when multiple similar objects are present, the one that differs from the rest is most likely to be remembered.

Von Restorff Effect on Wikipedia

Alternatively: If you want to stand out from competition, find a feature which is always the same and make it different.

Bonus law

Do not put a leading zero on numbers that do not have to be aligned.