AirPods

Several days ago my daughter and I went to Palo Alto, California on a daddy-daughter outing. First we stopped by Blue Bottle Coffee. I ordered an Americano and she got a hot chocolate. “Too sweet,” was the verdict. The Americano was a little over-extracted  and had more bitterness than what I would have preferred. Expensive and less-than-perfect. While we were waiting, a tall thirty-something man walked by and I noticed his AirPods.

Both left and right ones were in, and both were sticking out — not down like you normally see them in ears — but sticking out about 30 degrees. This otherwise good-looking man looked downright idiotic to me with those goofy-looking things sticking out of his ears. That’s what I thought anyway. But what I really wanted to know was what my daughter thought of the look. I spoke quietly into her ear, “Hey, there are these white wireless earplugs some people wear to listen to music and make phone calls. If you see someone with them on, let me know what you think of them.” She scanned the area and spotted someone wearing his AirPods. These weren’t sticking out.

“They’re weird looking.”

What comes after user-friendly design?

I was going through my RSS feed and came across an article titled “What Comes After User-Friendly Design?” The thought that popped into my mind was, “Are we even good at user-friendly design?”

Are cars user-friendly? Are smartphones user-friendly? Are computers user-friendly? Are vacuum cleaners user-friendly? Are homes user-friendly? Are dishwashers user friendly?

In my world the answers to these questions are no, no, no, no, no, and no. Look around and you’ll see that almost everything is very much user-unfriendly. What do you mean what comes after user-friendly design? We’re not even close to designing user-friendly stuff.

Notch

An irregular notch with slimmer bezels. Or a straight line with thicker bezels. I think I’ll go with the straight line.

I like straight.

All of those sensors to make Face ID work need to be put somewhere around that area where the front-facing camera is located. Apple decided to make the transition to a more secure authentication method, from Touch ID to Face ID, hence the notch. Although I don’t think it was necessarily an either-or decision. Apple could have kept Touch ID and added Face ID.

Imagine thinner but straight bezels on top and on the bottom with both the familiar home button (Touch ID) and the new Face ID. I’d think with the two combined it would be an exponentially more secure authentication method.

But that would have gotten in the way of the slimmer bezel design. I have issues with really slim bezels (read: iPhone 7s) but Apple, along with Samsung, LG, and a bunch of other smartphone brands, seem to think we all want slimmer bezels. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t like thick bezels (read: Sony Xperia XZ Premium). But I don’t want super-thin bezels either, especially on top and on the bottom. What I want are thick-enough bezels to securely and comfortably hold my phone. I think LG and Samsung did the right thing: slightly thicker bezels for the forehead and the chin.

The screens on the V30, the S8, and Note 8 are nice and straight, too. No weird-looking notch. And just because many of us might some day get used to a weird-looking notch doesn’t make the notch not weird looking.

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus look good, but man, no headphone jack though.

Privacy, Security, and Apple

[ TechCrunch / Matthew Panzarino ] Apple is the only company I trust to keep my privacy and security as high a priority as building a great product. That’s because to Apple it’s the same thing. At least that’s how I think about Apple. Is Apple perfect? No. I would have preferred a more secure authentication method: an iPhone 7s with Face ID and Touch ID. But there’s no turning back time; Apple has built the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X. So let’s get on with figuring out what we can about Face ID.

Matthew Panzarino asks questions about Face ID and Craig Federighi answers them:

When it comes to customers — users — Apple gathers absolutely nothing itself. Federighi was very explicit on this point.

“We do not gather customer data when you enroll in Face ID, it stays on your device, we do not send it to the cloud for training data,” he notes.

There is an adaptive feature of Face ID that allows it to continue to recognize your changing face as you change hair styles, grow a beard or have plastic surgery. This adaptation is done completely on device by applying re-training and deep learning in the redesigned Secure Enclave. None of that training or re-training is done in Apple’s cloud. And Apple has stated that it will not give access to that data to anyone, for any price.

Apple couldn’t, even if it was forced to by law enforcement. Your Face ID data is never in Apple’s hands. Face ID data is a mathematical model stored in the Secure Enclave. Your face cannot be reverse-engineered even if Apple or anyone else accessed that mathematical model, not that Apple or anyone else can. The only place where your Face ID exists and will continue to exist is the Secure Enclave in your iPhone X. Until you reset your phone, of course.

What if law enforcement whether at the airport, border crossing, or when you’re taking photos demands you turn over your iPhone? Squeeze. Federighi explains all you have to do is press the volume button — either one — and the power button at the same time. This squeeze disables Face ID and forces you to use your passcode to unlock your iPhone X. As far as US law is concerned law enforcement can force you to unlock your iPhone using your fingerprint and most likely your face, but not your passcode.

Face ID will most likely become the de facto authentication standard for all Apple products. I expect to see most of Apple’s product lines that have an embedded display — iMac, MacBook, iPhone, iPad — to shift toward Face ID. (I think it might be a while for Apple Watch to get it though.) I also have a sneaky suspicion the notch design will be tagging along in all future iPhones and iPads. Thankfully MacBooks and iMacs have big enough top bezels to fit all the sensors required to make Face ID work.

iPhone 7s

Here’s what I would have liked.

Apple announces the iPhone 7s and the iPhone 7s Plus. Almost everything looks the same as the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus, but almost everything has been improved.

Let’s start with the inside. A11 Bionic chip with Neural Engine, M11 motion coprocessor, better f/1.8 12MP camera, etc. — basically all the new innards of the iPhone 8. But with the new TrueDepth camera from the iPhone X; there’s enough room in the fat forehead for all those sensors.

The entire front glass will be black, to hide the TrueDepth camera. Face ID in conjunction with Touch ID would have made the iPhone 7s the most secure, even more secure than the iPhone X. Put your finger on the Touch ID sensor while looking at your iPhone 7s to unlock. This has to happen simultaneously. Touch ID is something millions of us are used to, so building on what we are familiar with by adding Face ID would have been a much smoother UX transition as well as a more secure one.

The display itself would be the same — 4.7-inch Retina HD display for the non-Plus version and the 5.5-inch display for the Plus version — except that it would not be LCD but OLED: Super Retina HD. The displays would be True Tone and HDR would be fully supported.

The back would have been glass, like the iPhone 8 and X, to enable magnetic charging.

This iPhone 7s would have been great.

Disappearing Bezels on Smartphones

When I hold smartphones with very thin bezels — Samsung’s Galaxy S8 is a good example — I feel uncomfortable. It’s not a physical thing. The curved screen and the body feels smooth, a nice feeling. The discomfort is more psychological.

The feeling that I might make the phone do something I didn’t intend to do. That’s the uncomfortable feeling I get when I’m holding a smartphone with very thin bezels. The only surefire way of holding a smartphone like a S8 is to slightly cup my hand, let the smartphone rest in it, while using my pinky to prevent it from sliding down.

If I try to grip the smartphone using my thumb and pointy finger I don’t get a reassuring experiencing. I don’t get the feeling I have a firm hold. I am not sure this expensive thing won’t slide out of my hand if I try to do some things with it. There is simply not enough non-screen bezel to firmly hold on to. There’s none on top, bottom, left, or right. LG’s V30 might have just enough, but I haven’t had the chance to play it with yet.

The bezels on the iPhone X seem a little thicker on the sides (in the portrait orientation) than the S8, but I don’t think there’s enough bezel for me to hold with my pointy finger and thumb; I’m fairly sure I’ll have a similar psychologically uncomfortable experience.

Although I have knocked the design of fat foreheads and chins on modern smartphones — the latest being Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium — I think I’m changing my mind, a little bit. I don’t like huge foreheads and chins, but I do like and want there to be enough so I can get a good grip without worrying I’ll engage something on the touchscreen I didn’t intend to, or drop it. I don’t think there’s an optimal absolute thickness; the thickness of the forehead and chin will depend on how long, thick, and heavy the smartphone is so it will vary among different smartphones. The goal of the forehead and chin is to engender confidence that we can firmly hold the smartphone and that we won’t accidentally touch-engage something we did not intend to.

Yes, software can reduce unintentional touches to some degree but I’ll bet it can’t completely eliminate them. And because of that the uncomfortable feeling will remain, just less and less intensely. This is the reason why I will probably not jump on the iPhone X bandwagon. I want to be able to firmly grip my smartphone knowing I will not unintentionally touch-engage something and that it won’t slip out of my fingers because there’s little to nothing to grip; I want a psychologically comfortable experience, and I’m willing to deal with a little more forehead and a little more chin than the latest and greatest smartphones with ultra-thin bezels.

Tesla Solar Panels

Tesla Solar Panels

Tesla knows how to beautify things. Compare the solar panels in the photo above to some of the other solar panels you see elsewhere, including Solarcity’s own solar panels, and you’ll notice a simpler, less reflective, and a more seamless design. Integrated front skits with no visible mounting hardware make the Tesla solar panels blend into your existing roof a lot better.

The seamless mounting system — the integrated front skirts and no visible mounting hardware — was developed by Zep Solar, which was acquired by Solar City in 2013, which again was merged into Tesla. The mounting system allows for faster module installation, a reduction of installation costs, in addition to making the overall look a lot sleeker.

The 325W solar panels are manufactured by Panasonic exclusively for Tesla at Tesla’s Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, with solar module production expected to commence during Summer 2017. Panasonic’s current 325W solar panels features an efficiency of about 20% and comes with a 25-year power output warranty. Tesla is sure to meet or better that with its own 325W solar panels.

As long as the cost for the solar panels and installation are competitive there’s really no reason not to go with Tesla, especially if you’re considering the Powerwall and a future Tesla car, like the Model 3.

Source: Tesla

Sony Xperia XZ Premium

Sony Xperia XZ Premium

Sony claims the Xperia XZ Premium is the world’s first smartphone with a 4K HDR display. 4K on a 5.5-inch display is technically impressive, but there might be a large negative impact on battery life. HDR? True HDR requires a display with an LED-backlit BLU (the more LEDs the better), or that it be an OLED display. Does the Xperia XZ Premium have an LED-backlit display? Most likely not; the BLU like almost all other non-OLED smartphones is edge-lit. Is it OLED? No. I might be wrong, but the HDR in this case is probably software based.

The overall industrial design of the Xperia XZ Premium is to my liking: a simple but consistent rectangular shape with diamond cut chamfered edges. The only area that needs a bit of improvement is the forehead and the lip; they are too thick. On the other hand I don’t like it too thin because in order to hold it firmly our fingers need some space. I would have forgiven the thick lip if physical or capacitive back, home, and apps buttons were located there, but no they are on the display taking up valuable pixel space. Oh, there is one more niggle: although the camera bump is not as large as the ones found on recent iPhones it’s still there. A camera-bump-less design is a more beautiful design.

Source: Sony

Apple Park

The new 175-acre campus has an official name: Apple Park. More than 12,000 employees will start moving into the building in April; Apple estimates the move-in to take more than six months. The long process will eventually be worth it: employees will be surrounded by curved glass and have plenty of space — 2.8 million square feet — to work.

Apple Park Steve Jobs Theater

Today is Steve Jobs’ 62nd birthday and to honor his memory Apple will be christening the theater at Apple Park as Steve Jobs Theater (photo above). Quite fitting. Steve Jobs Theater is a 1000-seat 165-foot diameter circular auditorium surrounded by curved glass 20 feet tall. Beautiful, but with all that glass, I wonder how earthquake-resistant the buildings are. I hope quite.

Jony Ive:

We have approached the design, engineering and making of our new campus with the same enthusiasm and design principles that characterize our products.

Apple Park was designed in collaboration with Foster + Partners. Here are some tidbits:

  • 5 million square feet of asphalt & concrete was replaced with grassy fields and 9000+ drought-resistant native trees. (I am anxious for pollen-based allergy sufferers.)
  • Entirely powered by 100% renewable energy; its solar roof generates 17 megawatts of electricity. (I’m guessing there’s a bunch of large batteries somewhere, to power the giant building at night.)
  • World’s largest naturally ventilated building, projected to require no heating or air conditioning for nine months of the year. (Air filtration systems, I’m guessing, are fully operational 24/7.)

I cannot fathom the amount of natural and industrial resources required to have built this architectural marvel, but going forward I am relieved Apple Park will drastically decrease its consumption.

Although park is part of its name, Apple Park is mostly limited to Apple employees and those who visit to conduct business there, but an Apple Store and a cafe will be open to the public. I intend to go sample the coffee there as soon as possible.

Source: Apple

Tesla’s Model 3 is a Tipping Point

Tesla Model 3

Before Tesla, electric cars had some deficiencies:

  • There were slow.
  • They weren’t pretty.
  • Their range was severely limited.
  • They took a long time to recharge.

After Tesla’s Roadster, Model S and Model X, electric cars were no longer slow. In fact the Model S P90D, the performance model with dual electric motors, can get to 60 mph in just 2.8 seconds with a “Ludicrous Speed Upgrade”. Only supercars like these are faster (0-60 mph times in seconds):

  • 2010 Pagani Zonda R: 2.6
  • 2014 Ferrari LaFerrari: 2.6
  • 2013 Nissang GT-R NISMO: 2.7
  • 2014 McLaren P1: 2.7
  • 2012 Koenigsegg Agera R: 2.7
  • 2006 Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4: 2.7
  • 2016 Lamborghini Aventador LP750-4 SV: 2.7

There are no ‘normal’ cars that can beat the Model S P90D from 0 to 60 mph. I think we can clearly cross off that electric cars are slow.

There were slow.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yes, but I think most would agree the Roadster, the Model S, and the Model X are prettier than the average car. Most other EVs are still on the ugly side of the spectrum.

There weren’t pretty.

Many electric cars still have limited ranges. Here are some examples, in miles (Source: Plugin Cars):

  • BMW i3: 81
  • Chevrolet Spark EV: 82
  • Fiat 500e: 84
  • Ford Focus Electric: 76
  • Kia Soul EV: 93
  • Mitsubishi i-MiEV: 62
  • Nissan LEAF: 107
  • Smart ForTwo Electric Drive: 68
  • Volkswagen E-Golf: 83

With ranges like these this list of electric cars can only be used sparingly and most likely for local commuting. On colder days the range will decrease quite a bit. But on the list are three three electric cars that have enough range to go from San Jose to San Francisco to Berkeley and back to San Jose, with some battery left over:

  • Chevrolet Bolt: 200
  • Tesla Model S: 265
  • Tesla Model X: 250

Yes, the range can be better — you’ll want a regular gas-powered car to go on long trips without having to stop every 200 miles to refuel — but I think a lot of us can live our daily lives with a 200-mile range car. I think it’s safe to delete the severely limited range deficiency:

Their range was severely limited.

Electric cars took a long time to recharge their batteries. Let’s go back to the list. I’ll put two recharge time: one at 110/120V and the other at 220/240V, both in hours. Most homes in the U.S. have 110/120V, but you can install special 220/240V outlets to charge your electric car.

  • BMW i3 (22 kWh): 18, 3
  • Chevrolet Bolt (60): ??, 9
  • Chevrolet Spark EV (19): 20, 7
  • Fiat 500e (24): 24, 4
  • Ford Focus Electric (23): 20, 3.5
  • Kia Soul EV (27): 24, 5
  • Mitsubishi i-MiEV (16): 22, 6
  • Nissan LEAF (24-30): 21-26, 4-6
  • Smart ForTwo Electric Drive (17.6): 12, 8
  • Volkswagen E-Golf (28): 20, 3.7

Don’t even think about charging your EV with a 110/120V outlet. Install a 220/240V outlet and you’ll save thousands of hours of charge time.

Tesla’s EVs come with a variety of battery capacities. With the 85-kwh battery — a battery much larger than all of the aforementioned EVs — a 220/240V outlet will charge it in about 10 hours. Tesla’s Supercharger can charge it in just one hour. It takes some planning to get to a Supercharger station right when you want to eat lunch or dinner, but 3+ hours of charging time down to just one is a lot of improvement. But if you’re not on a road trip the charging happens while you’re sleeping and by the time you’re ready to head off to work the next morning your EV will be fully charged, assuming you installed a 220/240V outlet. Of course, charging time still takes too long if you compare it to about the 5 minutes it takes to refuel a car with gasoline. Recharge time gets crossed off with a note*: Supercharger or when you’re charging at 220/240V while you sleep.

They took a long time to recharge.*

Fast, pretty, with a long range, and a short charge time. Only Tesla’s Model S and the Model X have all these features. The Chevrolet Bolt has a long range, but fast and pretty it is not. The upcoming Model 3 though is all of that: Tesla announced 0-60 mph times at less than 6 seconds for the base Model 3 model. Not ludicrous fast, but pretty fast for a base model. I’m certain if there was a P90D version of the Model 3 that it would be one of if not the fastest $35,000 car you can buy. The Model 3 is also one more: The Model 3 is affordable at US$35,000. Yes there are affordable EVs on the list, but none that has it all.

They were too expensive.

I believe Tesla’s Model 3 is/will be a tipping point.