Apple, Accessibility, and Innovation

Apple and the i-word: Accessibility as Innovation

Great piece here by Steven Aquino on Apple’s dedication to improving the accessibility features of its products.

Purely by dint of being what they are, accessibility features are probably useless[1] for the overwhelming majority of iOS users, but can be make-or-break for some. It’s nice to see that Apple still cares and devotes its – rather precious, given the way it operates – resources to making sure that its products remain easy to use and enjoy for one and all despite going through rapid cycles of iteration and redesigns.

It is rather sad, though, that even though we live in a world that’s being eaten by software, our conceptions of “real innovation” are limited to hardware. Not just plain-old hardware too; all we seem to care for is a new product category . Sure, we all lust might over Touch ID and the 64-bit A7 chip on the iPhone 5s, and how the iPad Air maintains the remarkable battery life of it’s predecessors while not skimping at all on power and retaining that gorgeous display, but the blogosphere and pundits still rabidly clamour for new product categories, not settling for anything else.

Innovation can take various forms. Innovation can be found in business models, input methods, software, and so on and so forth. As it stands now, ‘innovation’ might as well mean ‘money-maker’. This needs to change.

1: With the notable exception of Assistive Touch, which I anecdotally see many people using so as to not wear out their devices’ home buttons.

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Is Yahoo even worth trying to save?

Is Yahoo even worth trying to save?

Yahoo does not have the best technology, nor the best content. Yahoo does not have the best users, nor the most. Yahoo is close to irrelevant on mobile – the future of computing – and has flubbed every effort to be social.

Yahoo is the Detroit of web properties. Once big, once thriving, it helped create a future it can never be part of.

Nice take on Yahoo by Brian S Hall at Techpinions.

Ever since Marissa Mayer took over as CEO at Yahoo, every move they have made is getting levels of attention from the press otherwise reserved only for the reigning giants of the industry, such as Microsoft, Google, and Apple. Startup acquisitions, product relaunches, new products – heck, even a logo redesign – have all been discussed at length by technology media, and received as signs of the stirring of a comatose titan…but why?

Much of this might have to do with the misattribution of the causality of success, and laying all the blame of failure or success in the hands of one person. Horace Dediu of Asymco spoke about this on the 94th episode of the Critical Path podcast, entitled ‘The Limits of Executive Power’, which was recorded right after Steve Ballmer resigned/ was fired from Microsoft. Here’s a blog post by him on the same. Here’s the part of the article which I feel delivers the gist of the point relevant here:

[A company] is composed of people, processes and priorities. And nothing else. The CEO is but one person, admittedly one with a high degree of authority. However, that authority is not unlimited. A change of leadership in a company may have some impact on a larger set of people, at least in the short term, but the bulk of existing resources, institutionalized processes, and priorities set by customers and cash flows limit what any one person can do.

It seems that we now believe in Yahoo because we believe in Marissa Mayer – but can one executive in such a massive company even have such control over the entire organization? Steve Jobs after his historical return to power at Apple back in 1997 is the only one that comes to mind who, in recent times, has demonstrated the level of control that such a comeback would require.

Here’s another interesting tidbit from the Techpinions piece:

Yahoo’s present valuation is about $40 billion. Analysts estimate that Yahoo’s stake in Alibaba is worth about $36 billion, maybe more. Meaning, Yahoo as the world understands it is worth $4 billion.

Think of that. Yahoo mail, weather, finance…Flickr, Katie Couric, fantasy sports, David Pogue, display advertising…and every other Yahoo service and property – oh, and Tumblr – is worth no more than one SnapChat, and less than half a Dropbox.

In football terms, that pegs Yahoo at just under 30 Gareth Bales.

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Why Nest really is Google’s new smart home division

Why Nest really is Google’s new smart home division

The Verge: Where do you and [co-founder] Matt [Rogers] report? What’s your relationship with Google?
Tony Fadell: I report directly to Larry [Page] and Matt reports directly to me.

That information is huge—of Google’s 40,000+ employees, only a special handful directly report to Larry Page. The ones we know of are Alan Eustance, head of Knowledge (Search and Google Now); Sridhar Ramaswamy and Susan Wojcicki, who jointly head Advertising and Commerce; Salar Kamangar, head of YouTube and Video; Sundar Pichai, head of Android, Chrome & Apps; and Vic Gundotra, head of Social (Google+). Numerous reports peg these people as members of the fabled “L Team”—Larry Page’s inner circle. Each person is a Senior Vice President in charge of a major product division at Google, and all are plainly laid out on Google’s Management Team page as “senior management.”

Extremely well thought-out piece by Ron Amadeo on Ars Technica, about why the implications of Google’s Nest acquisition might be a bit larger than most are assuming.

That one unsuspecting answer from Nilay Patel’s interview of Tony Fadell really managed to convey more than pretty much all of the other articles speculating about Google’s ambition with Nest put together did.

It comes to my mind here that Marrisa Mayer’s exclusion from the aforementioned L-Team[1] was one of the biggest and most obvious signals of Marissa Mayer’s career at Google losing momentum.

Google has lived through the launch and tremendous success of the iPhone and iPad, which silo-ed Google and thus points that it could collect data from to just a handful of apps. Just last year, Apple made conditions even worse by evicting most of Google off of stock iOS, even sticking with their objectively inferior Maps data so as to not have to rely on Google’s.

And catching up to these devices by making its own software and partnering with ODMs surely has been reaped rewards over time, but it wasn’t an easy or short journey. The Galaxy SII (2011) was the first proper Android-based iPhone alternative in my opinion. The Nexus 7 (2012/13) iterations make a good argument for Android tablets too, but are the only ones even remotely close to any iPad. The full-sized iPad Air has virtually no competition in its category, as does the iPod touch, a vital device in terms of how much it lowers the barrier to entry.

That Google might have bought Nest so as to have a hardware wing (and brand, more importantly) ready for battle should Apple and/or Microsoft decide to move ahead with their own visions of the connected home doesn’t seem that surprising then.

It would be interesting, however, to see if Google uses Nest’s products and brands as a way to directly compete with Apple in unfamiliar territory, or if they’ll subsidize the hardware and use it as just another way to add more and more data to the Google vaults. I, for one, am in the camp that’s hoping that it’s not the latter.

1: I wouldn’t recommend opening that link on a mobile device, at least without a mobilizer. It’s been known to crash browsers.

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Alex Guyot’s ultimate guide to Drafts

Alex Guyot’s ultimate guide to Drafts

For those unfamiliar with it, Drafts is one of the most powerful automation apps for iOS. It allows you to input text or URLs and do pretty much anything with it, using URL schemes and the x-callback-URL specification, which was created by the same person who made Drafts, Greg Pierce.

The premise of the app is lightning quick note-taking. It’s not a full blown text editor – heck, it doesn’t even do folders. All you get on launching the app is a distraction free interface into which you just type. You can send it to a variety of destinations – iMessage, WhatsApp, Dropbox, Evernote, Byword, and many, many other places - immediately or even save it for later. I like to think of it as the digital equivalent of a post-it notes. The app’s site asks you to “Try it in your dock for a week, you won’t regret it!”. I did. It still is in my dock.

However, creating URL schemes with Drafts isn’t really as easy as manipulating text with it. Or at least it wasn’t. Back in August last year, Alex Guyot, who then used to write the now retired ‘The Axx’ and it’s rather spectacular Action Page, and ‘Unapologetic’ now tweeted that he was almost done writing his 6,000 word Drafts tutorial. This was right around the time that I had gotten into Drafts, and despite about a half-year’s worth of time that I had spent using Launch Center Pro - another fantastic iOS automation app that also lives on my dock – before that, was feeling very helpless and was almost always unsuccessful while trying to create URL schemes that actually worked.

However, he went quiet about it soon. I thought that maybe the project had gotten sidetracked for some reason, and forgot about it after a while.

But as it turns out, all this while, he was working in collaboration with Federico Viticci of MacStories to finish up his ultimate guide - potentially because of one of my tweets - and it’s here now!

Drafts is a really powerful tool, and it’s amazing to now have a way to help beginners understand it and use it to its fullest potential, akin to what Viticci’s 24,000+ word monster piece from last year that crashed browsers all across the internet was for Editorial. It feels really nice to see the article being published right at MacStories, which seems to have become the unofficial de facto place for iOS automation and URL scheme coverage. I’ve now got my fingers crossed for a similar guide for Launch Center Pro too!

My congratulations to Alex on the big break, and hopefully we’ll see more of his work on MacStories now.

I highly recommend that you give the article a read and take Drafts out for a spin. It really has the potential to change the way you use your iPhone or iPad.

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Revival (Updated)

This blog wasn’t very active in 2013. I made a total of two posts, one of which was a wishlist which was wholly unfulfilled, and the other a total dud prediction.

As I was going through my drafts folder for my routine semester end cleaning, I found a ton of, well, drafts in it. While most of them were just a couple paragraphs of observation on the matter, I did find a couple of really nice gems hidden in there. Publishable ones at that, or at least more so than the last one that I did.

When I’d started blogging back in 2012, I had a news blog, in which I covered the biggest happenings in tech. That was a little bit too much for me, and began to affect my studies too. So when I started this one last year, I pledged to go the other way round and never ever right about news at all, and focus entirely on op-eds. That approach had it’s own set of problems, though. I became increasingly picky as to what I let on, and gradually, with the pace picking up after my second piece bombed, procrastination took over. This isn’t something entirely new to me too.

As a certain wise man has said, the best way to look at a problem really is in retrospect.

So this year, I’ve decided to blend my two earlier approaches with a dab of something new: A quota, to publish at least 100 original articles throughout the year, working out to two a week on average. Expect the first of these as soon as the next few days.

At the same time, I plan on linking to more pieces I like from now on too. Hopefully, this path is something that I manage to continue on, and produce some good content for you enjoy and ponder upon.

Thanks for the patience with my instability,


Update (19:59 IST, January 4, 2014): Late last night, at about a half past one, TechCrunch ran this story, reporting the acquisition of SnappyLabs by Apple. This is a piece of news that I have greatly anticipated for quite some time now – I published my original thoughts on SnappyCam exactly 5 months ago to the day. Aside from the implications of this for future and current iPhones, since the magic of SnappyCam is entirely in the software, knowing that half of all my posts last year wasn’t really a “total dud” is a great burden to finally get off of my shoulders. I’d also like to congratulate John Papandriopoulos on the big news. I now expect even greater things from future iPhone cameras.

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