Jony’s Long Goodbye

How could he hope to reinvigorate a workforce stunned and disoriented by the loss of their mercurial, touchy, moody but magnetic leader? The one man band had lost its one man.

But since Jobs’s death Apple’s fortunes have not gone into decline. In fact the growth graph has climbed ever more steeply. The figures are simply incredible.

(via The Telegraph)

Now, why would Stephen Fry start this article reminding us that Jobs leaving Apple wasn’t the end, that in fact the transition to Tim Cook turned out well for Apple?

Just as the February New Yorker article served to introduce us to Richard Howarth, and the Wired piece in April introduced us to Alan Dye[1], all three of these pieces have served as a preparation for the eventual retirement of Jony Ive from Apple. This is one, long, calculated PR move. And it’s being executed flawlessly.

And that shouldn’t surprise us. This is simply what a top-level executive leaving the world’s largest corporation looks like. A person such as Jony Ive can’t just retire from Apple one day. He or she must transition, over the course of a year or more, so as to cushion the impact on the stock price, public perception, etc.

Start by making it look like a “promotion.” Then spend the next several months talking up the accomplishments of his replacements. (I wouldn’t be surprised if we started seeing Howarth and Dye featured in upcoming design videos and/or appearing on stage at Apple keynotes.)

By the time Jony actually leaves Apple (in a year or two, most likely), we’ll all be relatively comfortable with the idea of Richard Howarth and Alan Dye running the design of the company. Just as the vigilant among us knew that Tim Cook was going to handle things just fine once Jobs was gone.

Will some part of that old Apple magic be gone without Jony? Of course. But this is inevitable. Sooner or later, the theory that a company’s culture can outlive its leaders needs to be tested. And tested. And tested yet again.[2]

Meanwhile Jony will spend the rest of his time at Apple extracting himself further and further from the products and diving into the bigger challenges of retail, work environment, and so on. His legacy. His long-term impact. Can you blame him? If you were Jony Ive, would you really want to spend the next six months working on yet another even thinner iPad?

  1. Credit goes to Ben Thompson for the Howarth/Dye insight, from this morning’s member’s-only daily update. If you’re not a member, you should consider it.  ↩

  2. If Apple is still humming along when none of the executive team members from the Jobs era are still around, then we’ll know that the company can truly endure. I suspect it will be.  ↩

Let iPad be iPad

Facing slowing growth for the first time since the iPad’s 2010 debut, Apple is working on several significant software and hardware updates to reinvigorate the tablet over the next year. Apple is developing a dual-app viewing mode, 12-inch iPads codenamed “J98″ and “J99,” as well as support for multi-user logins, according to sources briefed on the plans.

(via 9to5Mac)

Last year, with Universal Storyboards, Apple pushed iPad into being more iPhone-like. (Why build a true custom experience for your iPad app when you can just “stretch” your iPhone app to the full screen of the iPad?) The notion was that more iPhone-only developers would build universal apps if Apple made the process a bit easier. The result was a lot more universal apps, most of which are not better in any substantial way on iPad.

This year, it looks like dual-app viewing and multiple-account support will push iPad in a more Mac-like direction. “If we let people multitask, we’ll get fewer complaints that iPad isn’t a power user’s tool.” Well, yeah, but it’s still going to be an inferior experience to multitasking on a Mac, no matter what Apple does on that front.

I wish Apple would just let iPad be iPad.

At Bombing Brain, we’ve made a not-insignificant amount of money over the past five years developing tools for people who realize that iPad is simply better than a laptop or a phone at very specific, targeted tasks. If Apple would help drive the development of iPad to make it better at those things, I think the product could finally reach its full potential.

As long as we keep ping-ponging between iPhone and Mac, iPad will continue to be stuck in between them, never quite better than one or the other.

I’m not saying multiple account support and dual-app viewing would be a bad thing. They sound like good additions, if done right. But I do hope that Apple has a lot more in store for iPad this year than just making it a little more like using a Mac.

Goodbye, Helvetica

9to5Mac claims that Helvetica Neue is on its way out as Apple’s system font for OS X and iOS.

Helvetica Neue looks pretty crappy with its custom kerning in OS X, especially on non-Retina screens. (Which a majority of Mac users use and will use for years to come.) I don’t know how San Francisco will look on a non-Retina screen, but it would very likely be no worse.

Personally, I never thought standardizing on one font for all of Apple’s platforms was necessary. But if they’re going to do it, better San Francisco—which was designed for the screen, at least—than Helvetica Neue.

Laptop Preferences

The extremely shallow key travel is partly to blame, but so is the keyswitch feel. They’re more like clicky buttons than keyboard keys, feeling almost like the iPhone’s Home button. They don’t engage or actuate — they snap. This makes it harder to modulate downward force while typing on them, especially from your weaker outer fingers.

I can type on the MacBook, but I’d rather not.

(via Marco Arment)

Where was this article when Marco and I were supposed to have an on-stage argument at Úll this year?[1] I basically disagree with every single one of his conclusions in this piece.

I love the keyboard on my new MacBook. I have no issues with the trackpad. The weight and size reduction is well worth any compromises in speed, etc. I’ve written already about how much I like this thing. I’ll even take it a step further and say that I’ve developed an actual affection for the MacBook, the way I have for my Apple Watch. The way I did for many of my early Macs. My first iPod, etc.[2]

I want to find more reasons to use my MacBook. I spend more time in cafés working rather than running home to my big 27-inch iMac screen most weekdays. I’ve even gotten into the habit of doing some late afternoon work in the living room, with the MacBook on my lap as I sit on the couch.

But that’s the thing. This machine is polarizing. It makes perfect sense that someone who has been using a 15-inch Pro for the past few years would have a harder time making the transition. It makes sense that reactions to the keyboard are all over the map.[3] As someone who travels on the New York subway every day, I not surprisingly prioritize the weight and size difference more than others might.

Laptops have matured well past the point where there’s any one machine that could appeal to all of us.

And that’s why I’m glad the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros still exist. Perhaps the one thing I agree with Marco about on the laptop front is that Apple is likely to evolve the Pros closer to this MacBook moving forward, and that is unfortunate. The new MacBook Pro released yesterday is merely a delay in this transition (thanks to Intel), but the MacBook-ification of the Pro line is inevitable. I would prefer that Apple continue to branch out and make varying machines for varying preferences, rather than continue along the path of unification along the entire line. Why not make a thicker MacBook Pro that gets 12 hours of battery life? I’m not going to buy it, but clearly other people would.

Maybe the Apple Watch will be a good influence on Apple in this regard. Perhaps having to cater to different fashion preferences will open Apple’s mind a bit about their technological preferences.[4] But I’m not holding my breath.

  1. Coincidentally, I was actually sitting next to Dave Wiskus having a drink when Marco published this piece. Dave, of course, staged our Úll discussion hoping that the two of us would have a full smack down disagreement session, a sort of Crossfire for tech geeks. But we ended up agreeing on pretty much everything we discussed. If only we had waited a few more weeks. Sorry, Dave.  ↩

  2. Unlike my iPhone 6, which I still actively dislike. I remain convinced that five years from now, the 6 will be considered one of the weakest designs of iPhone, second only to the 3G.  ↩

  3. Read the reactions to the keyboard by Rene Ritchie, David Sparks, and Jason Snell to get the full spectrum between my enthusiasm and Marco’s active disdain. It’s not often you get this much disagreement within our own community over a single feature in an Apple product.  ↩

  4. I’m selfishly hoping for this so I can get a proper 4-inch iPhone screen again, too.  ↩

Different Approaches

Given the attention it started to receive it also became the target of a slew of copycat applications (my thoughts on which I discussed then on Developing Perspective). I wanted to try and make sure that I stayed ahead of these so I began working on another major update to the application that was a bit more thoughtful than the rush-job I’d done for v1.1.


This article from Underscore David Smith makes me so happy for so many reasons. Pedometer++ is an awesome app, and it demonstrates the Underscore methodology perfectly.

  • Read about a new feature that comes from Apple.
  • Think of an idea that takes advantage of that new feature.
  • Write a minimum viable app very quickly and get it on the App Store.
  • Wait and see if it gains any traction.
  • If it does, quickly iterate to fill out its feature set and differentiate from the competition. (If it doesn’t, move on.)
  • Once the app is sufficiently differentiated, don’t just keep adding features for no reason. Work on other things until you see a real opportunity to improve the app, perhaps when another new feature from Apple makes something new possible.[1]

This is so different from what has been my standard approach, and yet it works so well for David. It takes extreme discipline, I imagine, to a) keep the feature set in that initial app very tight so you can get the app out quickly, b) stop fiddling with the app once it’s sufficient, so that you can concentrate on other new ideas, and, of course, c) have the discipline to let the app go if it doesn’t do well. That last one has to be the most challenging.

Another thing that intrigues me about Pedometer++ is the business model. Pedometer++ is completely free to use, with no ads. There are three in-app-purchase options, but they do nothing to the app itself. They simply offer “tip jar” donations in three different amounts. But, and here’s the kicker, the in-app-purchases can be bought more than once. So particularly generous users can actually provide recurring revenue.

So while the app relies solely on the kindness of his users, which sounds insane, it’s actually working out. I imagine the vast majority of his over one million users has never paid David a cent, and yet there must be enough people like me giving him regular tips to make up for it.[2] Since the app is helping so many people strive for a regular exercise goal, perhaps this shouldn’t be so surprising.

If I had come up with the idea for a pedometer app right after the M7 chip was announced, I would have dismissed the idea as unsustainable. First, there were bound to be hundreds of competitors in a matter of weeks. Second, while useful information, a daily step count isn’t solving a problem that costs people money, nor will it make people money. So few would see the value in paying for it.

Far from ignoring these facts, David chose to work around them, first by getting the app out extremely quickly, so that he’d be the first one many people tried, and then by coming up with a business model (free with tips) that got it onto as many phones as possible. He actually made what looked like an unsustainable idea work for him.

This is precisely why I always tell people to avoid the trap of thinking there’s only one way to make a living in software. No matter what other people have done to achieve success, chances are your path is going to require something different. That’s why it’s important to read about as many different approaches as possible and constantly keep an open mind.[3]

Update: It seems Pedometer++ does have ads now. At launch, the app didn’t contain any ads, but as of last fall, new users will see ads until they give at least one tip. Thanks to Paul Brown for the heads up, and to David Smith for the clarification.

  1. Like, perhaps, a new gadget for your wrist that makes for a perfect complement to your iPhone app. The Apple Watch extension for Pedometer++, by the way, is one of the few third-party apps I’ve seen that works really well. Loads super fast, and provides exactly the info I expect. And nothing more.  ↩

  2. As I’ve said on the podcast, I’ve tipped Pedometer++ every few months or so since I started using it. Why wouldn’t I? It’s one of my “1st and 20” apps, one of those chosen few that I actually use daily. How is that not worth $5 every couple of months? Since David seems happy with his income from this app, I imagine I’m not the only one tipping him more than once.  ↩

  3. There’s a good reason why we chose David Smith to be one of our speakers for Release Notes this October. I feel like I still have a lot to learn from him, and so do our guests.