Tim Cook Shows Courage on Encryption

John Gruber:

Tim Cook is right, and encryption and privacy experts are all on his side, but where are the other leaders of major U.S. companies? Where is Larry Page? Satya Nadella? Mark Zuckerberg? Jack Dorsey?

Apple is the only major tech company publicly defending unbreakable encryption against intrusive surveillance. Tim Cook is against designing in special backdoors for law enforcement.

[ The Intercept ] Jenna McLaughlin:

Apple CEO Tim Cook lashed out at the high-level delegation of Obama administration officials who came calling on tech leaders in San Jose last week, criticizing the White House for a lack of leadership and asking the administration to issue a strong public statement defending the use of unbreakable encryption.

Is it not common sense to conclude if backdoors are designed into encryption systems for law enforcement, those same backdoors will eventually get hacked by those who don’t give a damn about the law? Then you’ll end up with an encryption system that is virtually useless. Us regular folks will be the only ones to lose out.

Samsung Fixes Upside-Down S Pen Issue on Galaxy Note 5

[ Android Central ] Alex Dobie:

“Samsung can confirm that the Note5 internal S Pen mechanism has been changed to avoid the issue caused by inserting the S Pen incorrectly,” A Samsung spokesperson told Android Central. “As always, we recommend following proper instructions for storing the S Pen.”

In Samsung Galaxy Note 5: S Pen Warning! I quoted Samsung’s warning: if you put the S Pen stylus into the Note 5 the wrong way you can damage the stylus and the Note 5. I also noted it as a terrible user experience design. How did the product designers, user experience designers, etc. at Samsung think it a good design to allow the stylus to be inserted the wrong way? And if you do you might damage the stylus and the phone? And then warn the user? Absolutely absurd. I’m glad Samsung is fixing the problem, but it should never have been designed that way from the beginning.

Golden Handcuffs: Glamorous Tech Company Perks & Brutal Work

[ The Economist ]

Tech firms that offer lavish perks to their staff do not do so out of the goodness of their hearts. They offer them because they expect people to work so hard that they will not have time for such mundane things as buying lunch or popping to the dry-cleaners. As Gerald Ledford of the University of Southern California’s business school puts it, they are “golden handcuffs” to keep people at their desks. Some of the most extravagant perks are illusions: “take as much holiday as you like” may really mean “take as little as possible, and as much as you dare.”

Last month I finished my UX/UI Design bootcamp apprenticeship at Bloc.io. For the last few weeks I’ve been finishing up my portfolio and now I am ready to look for jobs.

I’d love to work at Google, Microsoft, or Apple. But I have heard through friends who have worked there and who currently do that these companies can easily become the entirety of your life. You work your eight hours, come home, and then work some more. If you interface with Asia, your work restarts at 5pm. You are always working. I don’t want that. Work is an important part of my life, but I want to spend the majority of my life with my wife and my children, not my coworkers.

Free food? Yes! But if that means others will frown at me for “wasting time” by going outside the campus to eat lunch with a friend? No thanks. Unlimited vacation? Now that sounds too good to be true, and I bet it is. I’m going to be checking out how much vacation everyone else is taking or has taken — not much at all probably — and not veer too much from that. There’s no way I’ll be taking month-long vacations because there’s no way I’ll be able to get all the work done.

At the end of the day I need to make a decision: will I spend my time and energy running after money, success, material wealth, etc. or will I seek something else more valuable? In Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus warns: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I will choose to invest in heavenly treasures.

Which company is a good place to do UX/UI design work when you value work-life balance? Let me know.

Standing Desks May Help Your Brain Work Better

[ Ars Technica ] Beth Mole:

Following 27 high school freshman over one school year, researchers found that using a standing desk generally improved the kids’ neurocognitive test scores by seven to 14 percent. The tests, given both at the beginning and end of the school year, evaluated cognitive processes such as reasoning and working memory.

Nothing to lose. And just in time: a $25 (+$10 shipping & handling) portable standing desk called Oristand.

The Oristand is as simple as can be; you don’t need to assemble anything and for about 100% of users a manual is not necessary. The Oristand is made with industrial-grade cardboard — 100% recyclable — making it both light and strong. The origami-style design makes the Oristand fold flat when you’re not using it: when you want to give your back a little break from standing.

$35 to help my brain work better? Ordered!

Dell UltraSharp UP3017Q: 30″ 4K OLED Monitor

[ Dell ] Finally, we are getting large OLED monitors. This OLED monitor from Dell is 30 inches and sports a pixel format of 3840×2160 called Ultra HD or UHD or 4K or a combination of the three. Dell states a contrast ratio of 400,000:1, but that’s because testing equipment can’t register anything higher, according to AnandTech. Black on an OLED display has zero brightness; the ratio of something and zero is, I think, infinity. Here are some tech specs:

  • Video Connection: mini DisplayPort, HDMI, USB Type-C (power, video, and data)
  • Color Space: 100% AdobeRGB, 97.8% DCI-P3
  • Colors: 1.07 billion (10-bit)

OLED response times are an order of magnitude faster than LCD and in the case of this monitor it is 0.1 ms. Gamers as well as anyone who loves watching sports on their monitors should start saving up as soon as possible. This 30-inch 4K OLED monitor will be available on March 31 and, according to Engadget, will set you back a cool US$5000.

Apple Store 2.0

The Apple Store. I like visiting Apple Stores even if Apple hasn’t announced anything new. I like the experience. The bright, clean, simple interior design. To be more specific the natural color of the simple but bold tables (smaller Apple Stores like the one above don’t have tables in the middle), the symmetrically aligned lighting in the ceiling. the six-to-a-table display of iPhones and Macs so you can comfortably take them for a spin, etc. I’m sure there are many other less obvious reasons that make visiting an Apple Store pleasant, but one thing is clear: millions like visiting Apple Stores. But that doesn’t mean the experience can’t be improved.

I’m not an architect nor am I an interior designer, but I am a UX designer. I try to make logical sense of what I am feeling, especially as the result of seeing something. One area of the Apple Store experience I’d like to focus on are the glass walls. Apple loves to use glass, big ones. I’m sure you know this already, but it is worth sharing again: Apple spent a lot of money replacing the glass panels at its Fifth Avenue cubed store. The original design used 90 glass panels; Apple replaced them with 15 larger ones, for a simpler more seamless visual experience. (Source: TNW)

Glass is probably the most minimalistic material to use as a wall: there is a wall, but it is almost invisible. The experience of looking at or through a large glass wall is refreshing, freeing. I like that experience.

Apple does marketing right, most of the time, and makes good use of all that glass. I remember when Apple used a bunch of colorful balls to showcase the colorfulness of the iPhone 5c. Check out 9to5 Mac to see what I’m talking about. By the way I think the iPhone 5c embodies Apple’s focus on simplicity the best among all the iPhones. Just look at how many broken lines there are. There are no antenna lines. The plastic body is seamless. The white one with a completely black front face enveloped by white is the best in my opinion. Anyway, just thought I’d reminisce a bit. Back to Apple marketing: Apple makes good use of all that glass. When I look at those installations I can’t but think there must be a better experience that showcases Apple’s focus on simplicity and elegance.

Allow me to share an idea: transparent digital glass. This idea isn’t new. Search on YouTube and you’ll find a lot of examples, but many have non-transparent structure behind them. I don’t think Apple would go for that kind of visual experience. Instead search for transparent OLED. Now imagine the glass walls being replaced with transparent — actually it’s 80-90%+ transparency — high-resolution OLED display walls.

Go back to those transparent display glass examples on YouTube and you’ll find many if not all of them overdo it. All of them blast you with big bold blinking text, fast animations, etc. That’s not my style nor is it Apple’s. Several weeks ago I visited the Apple Store at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, California. When you enter the store a huge display wall greets you. I believe Apple used a bunch of Christie MicroTiles for that display. The resolution isn’t that great, but what was great was how the content was shown: large photos of Apple’s products slowly animated across the large screen. Those animated photos gave you time to soak in all the little design details. That’s the type of marketing pieces I’m thinking of for the transparent OLED display walls: slow-moving, amazingly detailed, photos of Apple’s products. You can see a very simple example below (without the slow-moving part):

I don’t exactly know when such large transparent OLED displays will become affordable — not that Apple can’t afford whatever it wants — but such an installation at Apple Stores would bring a more cohesive experience with the rest of the store: technology that is simply and elegantly designed to have a positive impact on your life.

iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case

[ Apple ] The iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case is curious looking, because Apple unlike almost all the other objects it designs chose to put function (how it feels in your hands) over looks (the hump is ugly). Perhaps Apple should have applied a tiny amount of this function-over-looks way of designing a product onto the iPhone 6s: add back a little bit of thickness, eliminate the camera bulge, and improve battery life. The overall experience would have been more Apple-esque than an iPhone 6s with a Smart Battery Case. That being said, the iPhone 6 and 6s is the first iPhone that looks better in a case, just not the Smart Battery Case, which makes it look worse.

iPhone 7: No 3.5-mm Audio Jack?

[ Fast Company ] Mark Sullivan:

Apple’s next big phone — presumably called the iPhone 7 — will come without a 3.5mm headphone jack, will be noticeably thinner, will very likely support wireless charging and be waterproof, a source with knowledge of the company’s plans tells Fast Company.

As has been rumored, our source confirms that the new phone will rely on its Lightning cable port for sound output to wired headphones. That port has been used for power and data transfer in recent iPhones. Users can also use wireless headphones.

Getting rid of the 5.25-inch floppy in favor of the 3.5-inch version makes sense, because the entire industry was going that direction. Apple went faster than the industry, but it was going in the same direction. The same thing happened with the 3.35-inch floppy drive in favor of CD-ROM drives. Apple is doing it again by getting rid of optical drives on its machines one by one. This makes sense because the whole world is moving away from optical media to digital. But the 3.5-mm audio jack?

Are there any indications audio connections are shifting from 3.5-mm wired to Lightning? No. Wireless audio will continue to develop and I think the two will co-exist for a while, but Lightning-connected headphones?

If Apple does end up with an iPhone without a 3.5-mm audio jack, I think Apple will have resurrected one of its Achilles’ heel: not moving ahead, but moving away, from industry standards. For example, Apple started with Motorola CPUs and then to IBM CPUs. Both niche, compared to Intel. The rewritable optical drive on the NeXT Cube is another example. Not ahead, but way out there. Apple would be doing the same thing with the iPhone if it thinks Lightning will be a better audio connector than what the rest of the world uses, and will continue to use for a long while.

If Apple wanted to bet on a single connectivity standard may I recommend USB-C. USB-C for data, for power, for audio, and for video. That makes sense to me. On the other hand, getting rid of the 3.5-mm audio connection makes little sense if any.

What’s Wrong With Samsung Mobile?

[ Reuters ] Jeremy Wagstaff and Se Young Lee:

What’s needed, according to Chang Sea-jin, a business professor at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, is strong backing for a push into software and services from Samsung Group heir apparent Jay Y. Lee.

Korea, generally speaking, is a patriarchal and hierarchical society; that culture is deeply seeded at the country’s chaebols. And because of this top-down culture someone at the top can greatly change the fortunes of a company, for better or for worse. If for example there was a Korean version of Steve Jobs at Samsung the company would have a solid future. Unfortunately there is only one Steve Jobs, but no one like Steve Jobs will become the CEO of a chaebol any time soon. Heir apparent? At a publicly traded global company? Could you imagine one of Steve Jobs’s children groomed to become heir apparent to Apple? You get to the top by getting in line and staying in line. Actually I’m wrong, unless you’re family or closely related, you don’t get to the top no matter what. And that’s the problem.

Moto 360 Sport

[ Ars Technical ] Valentina Palladino:

Unless you’re a hardcore Moto fan, there isn’t a strong enough reason to buy the Moto 360 Sport over other dedicated fitness watches, especially when many of them are more comprehensive and less expensive at the same time.

Recently I’ve been thinking a smartwatch or fitness band might be something that can help me get more fit, and be less reliant on my smartphone. The Moto 360 Sport is better than the non-Sport version for fitness, but seems to be a bit expensive for the limited things it can do.

I understand technical capability is not the only measurement of value for high-tech gear, but a smartwatch is by definition something that is smarter than your average watch. Telling time is a given — you look at it and it should show you the time — but other capabilities we expect are for it to capture biometric data such as heart rate, activity data such as distance walked, environmental data such as temperature, and allow you to easily and quickly triage emails, instant messages, and other types communications. The good ones will have an operating system that makes it easy for developers to create apps that integrate and analyze all that data to present information that helps you make better decisions.