This Is Why Daddy Drinks

At Shifty Jelly we love anything new and shiny. So it was no surprise that when Galaxy S6 pre-orders went live, we ordered one. The intention was to get one for testing, because it’s always good to have the phones on hand that people use and the Galaxy series of devices are always top of the list. What happened in the week that followed shocked even me. Before I continue though, consider this a trigger warning. If you hate Samsung devices you might not like the rest of this post.

I’m going to start with one word to describe how I feel about the S6: ‘shock’. Now I’m going to use two words with a joining word: ‘disbelief and shame’. Long story short, and believe you me this is very hard to write…I…like…this phone. You could even say I like like it. For a bit of context I’ve hated every Galaxy phone that existed with the exception of the S2. I’ve hated them for so many reasons: hardware, software, marketing and prevalence. It’s the line of phones that made me sad because it’s the ones everyone was buying, but they often represented the worst possible Android experience you could have.

With the above in mind, I was sure I was going to hate the S6 as well. I mean after all, is it actually believable that Samsung could make a great phone and restrain themselves enough not to junk it up with bloatware? So when this gaudy box arrived in the office I felt my predisposition to hating Samsung was well placed. I mean just look at it:

IMG_20150410_111029222_HDR

Philip and I joked about who would have to carry this phone around. It was a hilarious moment in Shifty Jelly history, believe me. Then I opened it and turned it on. The first thing that struck me was the build quality. It’s really good. The next thing that struck me was the screen. It’s amazing. Bright, super high density (far higher than the iPhone and Moto X I’m used to) and so beautiful. Then I was struck by the speed…this thing is fast…like really fast. Then I took a few test photos, and damned if they didn’t look better than all the same photos I was taking with my iPhone 6. In short I had a ‘huh?’ moment. Was it possible this was a good phone? Naaaah.

For a laugh I copied the setup I have on my Moto X so that I had all the same apps in the same places on the S6. I also installed Google Now Launcher and the Google Keyboard because I wasn’t a fan of the Samsung launcher or keyboard. Then I figured I should probably just use it for a bit, maybe a day. No need to put my sim card in it, just you know, pull it out every now and again.

Well, fast forward to a week later and here I am with my sim card in the phone, and my Moto X sitting at my desk at work feeling neglected. I contend that this was purely accidental. It pretty much…ummm…fell in there on its own and got stuck. Yeah that’s it, stuck! And would you believe now…yeah ok. Yes, I’m ashamed to say, I actually like a Samsung product. Compared to my beloved Moto X and often used iPhone it has a better screen, better camera, better almost everything. I feel so bad leaving my Moto X, sitting there in our cold office all night, while this new hot thing rides around in my pocket. I also feel terrible for liking a phone made by Samsung. And this kids, is why daddy drinks…

Watch This Space

The embargo date on Apple Watch reviews has clearly lifted, and they are everywhere. My personal favourite is the one at The Verge. It’s hard to say until I hold one, but it definitely seems like Apple has put in a solid effort for a version 1.0. I still predict these will sell in far greater numbers than Android Wear, because lets face it: Apple know how to sell products. Google’s “Let’s release it the second it’s ready and get user feedback” approach is cute, maybe even admirable, but it’s not a good way to launch anything.

Anyone that says the numbers will be ‘disappointing’ or ‘low’ is in for a bad time. That said I do have a few concerns:

  • The glance to look at the time action. Most reviewers seem to comment that it can take a few moments for the screen to turn on, and occasionally it doesn’t turn on at all. I had this exact experience with my Moto 360, and as odd as it might sound, it quickly became annoying. It probably only failed about 1 in 20 attempts, but those quickly add up. Watches like the LG G Watch R that have the ability to have always on, OLED screens are a much nicer experience. Basically when you’re not looking at it, Android Wear goes into ‘ambient’ mode. In this mode you can still clearly read the time and any notifications you might have without needing to wake up the watch. Once you’ve had a watch that does that, you won’t be able to go back. I’d bet that the second or third generation of Apple Watch comes with a similar feature. All that’s really required to enable it are some SDK changes and slightly better battery life. The LG watch I mentioned still has more battery life with this mode on, than the Apple Watch without it.
  • Battery life. Yes, yes, I know! “It’s fine, I can just charge it every night!”. I bet you think that’s ok, trust me, it gets annoying. Again the Moto 360 has very similar battery life, once you’ve had a watch that lasts even just 2 days (which the latest batch of Wear watches manage), you’ll realise just how much of a difference that makes. All it takes is one long night out, or staying over a friends house, or just playing with the thing too much and suddenly you have a dead weight on your wrist.
  • Watch apps that run on your phone. This part concerns me the most. On Android Wear apps run on your watch, and for the most part they are snappy and very flexible in what they can display and do. I’m concerned about Apple’s ‘template’ approach to watch app design, and how responsive that will be over a bluetooth connection.

After reading that, you might think I’m ‘negative’ or ‘down’ on the Apple Watch. You might even be thinking that I’m suggesting Android Wear is the superior platform. I’m not. I honestly think that Apple has the marketing muscle to ensure that developers rush to the Apple Watch and make really interesting things for it. This in turn will make the Apple Watch a far more interesting platform (in the short term at least). So I’m definitely bullish on it, I’m just gun shy about buying the first version. I suspect that version 2 of the watch will be something that ages far better and lives far longer.

Oh who am I kidding? I love new gadgets, I’ll be here in under 10 hours time refreshing the Apple Store if you need me…

Sweet 16

You’re 16. You’re in school. You’re sitting in class. You have a crush on another student — you’ve fallen hard. You can’t stop thinking about them. You suspect the feelings are mutual — but you don’t know. You’re afraid to just come right out and ask, verbally — afraid of the crushing weight of rejection. But you both wear an Apple Watch. So you take a flyer and send a few taps. And you wait. Nothing in response. Dammit. Why are you so stupid? Whoa — a few taps are sent in return, along with a hand-drawn smiley face. You send more taps. You receive more taps back. This is it. You send your heartbeat. It is racing, thumping. Your crush sends their heartbeat back.

You’re flirting. Not through words. Not through speech. Physically flirting, by touch. And you’re not even in the same classroom. Maybe you don’t even go to the same school.

Daring Fireball “The Apple Watch”

Translation: My name is John Gruber and I’m high as a fucking kite.

Or how it might actually go down…

You’re 16. You’re in school. You’re sitting in class. You have a crush on another student — you’ve fallen hard. You can’t stop thinking about them. You suspect the feelings are mutual — but you don’t know. You’re afraid to just come right out and ask, verbally — afraid of the crushing weight of rejection. But you both wear an Apple Watch. So you take a flyer and…no wait…you have no idea what their iMessage ID is or how to contact them. There’s also the fact that neither of you have an Apple Watch, because they are so damn expensive. You go back to day dreaming about becoming a Youtube star, at which point you’ll be able to buy both of you a watch! Then they’ll surely give you their iMessage ID! Then you can send them some taps! “Yeah that’s right I tapped them so hard” is what you’ll tell your…

…your dreaming is rudely interrupted by your teacher. She’s asking you for an answer to a question you’re almost certain you didn’t hear. Is this real life? Everybody is laughing at you.

ResearchKit and Open Source

As part of their March 9th event, Apple introduced a new framework called ‘ResearchKit’. I’ve read a lot of glowing articles about it since, but one thing really bothered me. A lot of these articles sight it being ‘open source’ as proof that this is something truly altruistic that Cupertino is working on for the social good. I’ve talked to a lot of people since the launch, and the problem is no one seems to know exactly what parts of it are open source, or even what it does. Are the 5 iOS apps built to date open source? Is the data in an open format? Is it the server part that’s open source?

Let’s start with the question “Have Apple developed an open format for exchanging medical data between apps and servers?”. The answer lies in a technical overview document Apple published here:

Keep in mind that ResearchKit currently doesn’t include:

  • A defined data format for how ResearchKit structured data is serialized. All ResearchKit objects support NSSecureCoding, and sample code exists outside the framework for serializing them to JSON.

For the non-technical among us, that’s a no. Apple hasn’t defined a standard format, but they may in the future.

So what about the server infrastructure required to receive and store ResearchKit data? That also appears to be a no. On Apple’s future todo list is “Secure communication mechanisms between your app and your server”. Even that suggests that you’ll still need your own server. This article seems to suggest that in its current form ‘Sage Bionetworks’ is running some of the servers for data collection, on the Amazon AWS platform. Is the code they are writing open source, or are they one of many collection providers that can be used? The answer to that seems unclear.

So what about the 5 apps written to date, are they open source? I couldn’t find an answer to that one, but the same technical document referenced above does outline a bit about how you build a ResearchKit app:

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 11.03.32 am

This seems to indicate that ResearchKit, just like most other iOS frameworks is a set of tools for building an iOS app that simplifies some of the things you’d need to do to collect patient data. The intention of open sourcing this part of it seems to be to encourage developers to build modules for it which would all be iOS only as well. Apple states as much in their technical document:

…developers are encouraged to build new modules and share them with the community

So, currently at least, there’s no open source server components, no open format for exchanging data and an iOS only open source framework that Apple want developers to build modules for. Don’t get me wrong, this still sounds like a huge step forward for medical research data collection. What it doesn’t sound like though is Apple’s altruistic gift to the world from which they receive no benefits. They benefit by selling more iPhones, either directly to researchers or through positive marketing associated with this endeavour. That’s not a bad reason to do something, especially if you’re a company, but it does mean ResearchKit might not be the cross-platform neutral playground that the term ‘open source’ conjures up.

Fear of Apple

There is an unfortunate climate of fear in the software community today.

– http://www.elischiff.com/blog/2015/3/24/fear-of-apple

As harsh as this article sounds in places, it’s a fascinating read. I agree with almost all of it. You can bet that it’s causing all sorts of private discussions among developers around the world. I seriously doubt you’ll see those discussions happening much in the open though. They’ll be confined to Twitter DMs, iMessages and private Slack channels. It’s one of those odd instances where if you don’t see this article widely distributed, you’ll know it hit a bit too close to home.

Google Play Starts Reviewing Apps

“We started reviewing all apps and games before they’re published – it’s rolled out 100%…And developers haven’t noticed the change.”

– Purnima Kochikar, Director of Business Development for Google Play

File this one under “things I never thought I’d see in my lifetime”. I don’t know how I feel about this yet. The Apple review process is an insane PITA for developers to deal with, so all I can hope is that Google doesn’t follow their lead.

[episodes count] == 2

Episode 1 of Topical is out (links: web, Pocket Casts). This brings our total to 2, because hey, we’re programmers and that’s how we roll.

Our plan is to release a new episode once a week, on Friday. If you’re in America that’s probably Thursday for you, because you don’t live in the future like we do. It’s ironic, after explaining in episode 0 about how we weren’t just going to be talking about tech that we did, but rest assured the next episode is something else entirely.

Our hope is that we can make a show that doesn’t attract partisan support. We want Apple people, Google people…and hey…even People people! Whether we get there or not is anyones guess. In the meantime it’s been fun reading the various feedback we’ve received so far.