Tag Archives: 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.  ↩

Thoughts on the New MacBook

Many reviews have already been written about the MacBook by people far more qualified than I, making a comprehensive review by me pointless. But I did have a few thoughts over the past few days that I wanted to share [1].

The New Keyboard:

Lots of debate on short throw vs. long throw. My approach to typing is much like my approach to any musical instrument. If I want to play fast, I need economy of motion. The less distance my fingers need to travel, the faster I can play. That’s physics. Typing is no different. If you’re used to pounding on Cherry switches, though, you’re probably going to disagree. That’s okay. We’re allowed to disagree on this.

Based on what many reviews suggested, and my own experience typing at the Apple Store for a few minutes, I thought it would take me a day or two to get used to the new keyboard. In reality, it took seconds.[2]

Because of the lower height of the keys, and the fact that they are sufficiently recessed into the unibody, this is the first laptop I’ve ever owned that doesn’t have the nasty habit of leaving keyboard-shaped grease stains all over my screen whenever I close it. I can’t tell you how significant an improvement this is. There’s virtually no grease on my screen, and that’s without putting a cloth over the keyboard when I close the lid. As someone who has been a laptop user since 1996, I’m practically weeping with joy over this. I’ve been cleaning that grease off of various screens regularly for years, and now I don’t need to worry about it nearly as much. Future of the notebook, indeed.

Backlighting is not just nicer, but significantly nicer. Having each key illuminated with its own source results in far less light leak around the keys, which makes the keyboard far less distracting in low-light situations. Combine that with the improved font (San Francisco) on the new larger keys, and you get a far better low-light experience using this machine.[3] It’s almost as if the text on the keys isn’t artificially lit up, but rather just happens to be visible in the dark.

My only issue with the keyboard is the arrow key situation. Specifically, the “up” key is pretty hard to find by feel alone. That’s a bummer.

Space Gray

I’m usually a plain old silver kind of guy. For whatever reason, I usually like the silver iPhone, the silver iPad, etc. The whole Darth Vader thing never appealed to me. (I even ordered the silver steel link bracelet for my Apple Watch.) But when the Space Gray MacBook was announced, I thought, “What the hell. Might as well do something different for a change.”

I think if I had seen the MacBook in person before ordering it I would have chickened out and gone for the regular aluminum color. That’s not to say that I’m regretting ordering the Space Gray. But I would recommend people have a look in person before ordering.

The gold was a non-starter for me. I think it looks nice enough, but I can’t have all that yellow reflectivity hitting my eyes as I’m trying to choose colors in Photoshop.

I couldn’t put my finger on what it was about the Space Gray that I don’t love, until my colleague Tim said it for me. He said it reminded him of one of his old PC laptops before he became a Mac convert.

Now, I’ve never owned a PC, but I immediately understood what he was talking about. This MacBook is way too pretty to be a PC, but we’ve been looking at aluminum Macs for so long that any Mac laptop that isn’t that specific shade of silver just doesn’t look like a Mac. At first glance, it looks like a PC that’s trying to be a Mac. I suspect that will change over time as we get more and more models in this color.

Meanwhile, having a Space Gray Mac does make me want to use Dark Mode in OS X for the first time. And it makes me wish all that much more that Dark Mode were a true dark UI, not just a change in menubar and Dock. (Hopefully, Apple will consider enhancing Dark Mode to include the entire UI in a future OS X release.)

And, oh my, does this darker Space Gray ever show fingerprints. Not just on the non-illuminated logo on the lid (Which is an absolute fingerprint magnet) but the entire body of the machine. (The keyboard, too, even shows prints far more than the other laptops.) So while I’m cleaning my screen far less often, I’m wiping down the rest of the machine on a regular basis now. (One step forward…)

USB-C

I understand that Apple wants to keep making licensing money on Lightning accessories, but having the diminutive USB-C connector and Lightning coexist seems silly. I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually iOS devices just go USB-C. Maybe not this year or next, but eventually, it would make sense.

The one port thing has been talked about to death. It’s not much of a factor for me and my workflow, but I’m sure it’ll be a nuisance from time to time. My guess is it’s a temporary situation with this first model.

As far as losing MagSafe goes: yeah, definitely a step back. It’s obvious why it had to happen, though. This MacBook is far too light for MagSafe to have worked well, anyway. It would be hard to imagine that even a redesigned “MagSafe 3” connector for this machine wouldn’t have either disconnected too easily and become annoying, or too hard to save your laptop from a trip over the cable. And adding a magnet connector to the universal USB-C standard really wouldn’t work for other USB peripherals. USB-C is a snug fit, so that cable isn’t coming out unless you want it to.

Give it time, and USB-C will be everywhere, so the adapters and such are another temporary issue. There are already some good options on Amazon.

The biggest annoyance for me, actually, regarding this new universal port: The lack of an LED to indicate when the MacBook is charging. Obviously, this couldn’t be incorporated into the cable, as it makes no sense for other USB-C peripherals. But just a little light laser etched into the side of the MacBook case near the port would have been very handy. The MacBook does play a sound when you plug in the power, but only if the machine is not on mute. (My Macs are always on mute.) Not being 100% sure that the machine is charging is the sort of thing that drives a nerd like me nuts.[4]

The Lid and Hinge

Opening the new MacBook, you can tell they got much closer to nailing the balance in the resistance of the lid vs. other Mac laptops. It opens fairly easily with one hand, and you don’t have to hold down the bottom of the laptop to keep it from popping up and then slamming back down onto the table as you open it.

The metal hinge (as opposed to the old black plastic) also adds to the fit and finish of this machine. The Unibody construction just keeps getting more and more solid, and Apple just keeps getting better at mass producing gadgets with increased levels of polish.

Size

Don’t let the 12-inch screen fool you. This machine is smaller than the 11-inch Air in almost every dimension, including the most important one: width. It fits better into my portable Muzetto bag than my Air ever did. Once Apple can get the price down on these machines, neither model of the Air will need to stick around.

Speed

This is another one of those things that is mostly a matter of opinion and workflow. My biggest fear in replacing my 13-inch MacBook Pro with this machine was the apparent step back in terms of performance. Having used it for a few days, though, I can say that my fears were overblown. This MacBook has yet to feel “slow” at any point since I’ve started using it. Even with Xcode (albeit with my relatively simple iOS apps) the machine performs such that I don’t notice any sort of decrease in speed. I keep the display at the “More Space” 1440 x 900 setting, so I’m getting more real estate than I did with my old 11-inch MacBook Air, too. I’d say that if you’re working with an Air right now, there’s no reason to worry about performance when switching to the MacBook. Migrating from the 13-inch Pro, of course, is another matter. Again, it depends on what you want to do with your laptop.

The fact that I’m not really noticing a difference in my day-to-day use, though, is a testament to just how little processor speed means for most people nowadays. Maybe I don’t push my laptop nearly as hard as I do my iMac, but I do more processor-intensive stuff than the average person by a long shot.

I did get the build-to-order 1.3 GHz option, though. So this is as fast as the MacBook can currently go. I don’t imagine it’s that much faster than the base 1.1 or the mid-range 1.2, but getting the Turbo Boost up to 2.9 may make some difference.

I’m sure when I do some video work in Final Cut Pro I’m going to notice the difference much more. But for UI design in Photoshop, working on web sites in Coda, Keynote, the Omni Apps, etc.—all the things I tend to do in coffee shops on my laptop instead of on my iMac at home, the decrease in size and weight easily trumps the performance tradeoff in my mind. The same way it did when I first switched from a 15-inch MacBook Pro to an 11-inch MacBook Air many years back.

Overall

Here’s the thing about this MacBook: I’m drawn to it. I don’t know if it’s the small size of the thing that just makes it more lovable, but I’m already finding more excuses to use this machine than I ever did with my 13-inch MacBook Pro. Nothing against the folks who love the sweet spot that the 13-inch offers in size and weight to performance ratio, but I just never became fond of using that machine the entire time I owned it. The MacBook is as close as Apple has ever come to making the right laptop for me. What I thought I wanted more than anything a year ago was a MacBook Air 11-inch with a Retina display. But this is so much better than that. I can’t wait to see how this new machine evolves over the next few iterations.


  1. I’m not saying that no one else has written about any of these things. I’ve just been getting lots of questions from people about my reactions to this machine, so I thought I’d offer some of my own perspective.  ↩

  2. I think my trouble with typing at the Apple Store was the low tables they use there. Puts the keyboard at a terrible angle for someone my height. Any keyboard would be hard for me to use in that environment.  ↩

  3. Those of you who know me know that low-light is my preferred work environment, so this qualifies as a big deal to me. I want Apple to make a wireless Bluetooth version of this keyboard immediately, so I can use it with my iMac.  ↩

  4. Ditto for the non-illuminated Apple Logo on the lid which makes it impossible to know if the machine has actually gone into sleep mode when you close it. You know the old adage about the refrigerator light? Same thing here.  ↩

Good Old-Fashioned Marketing

You can’t swing a dead cat today without hitting any number of (at least a dozen so far) reviews of Flexibits new version of their popular calendaring app…

That’s what the Loop’s Shawn King had to say about the release of Fantastical 2 from Flexibits today. He’s not wrong. My Twitter stream is also full of Flexibits today.

And that’s exactly why I always watch Michael Simmons very closely when he’s launching a new product. The guy never fails to get great press coverage. And it’s not by chance.

Having spent some time chatting with Michael on different occasions over the years, one thing is clear: He knows how to make you feel like he values your opinion. Even if he were faking that (and I don’t suspect he is), it’s a remarkable skill. Most of us suck at even pretending to care what other people think. But Michael has a natural enthusiasm for his work, and he wants you to feel it, too. And he really does want to know what you think.

Now, multiply his chats with me by the dozens of other people he must have similar chats with, and you start to see that he’s investing an incredible amount of time—pre-launch—to getting other people invested in his products. To gather feedback, listen to suggestions, and, of course, fix bugs. By the time the launch happens, you can’t help but be rooting for him. And, as a result, you end up tweeting, blogging, pitching in with the promotion yourself.

It’s brilliant. And it obviously works. But only because it’s genuine. And only because he’s willing to put in that time. That incredible amount of time. Not coding. Not designing. (That’s all getting done, too.) But good old-fashioned marketing.

Notice I haven’t even mentioned anything about the quality of Fantastical 2? It’s, of course, an amazingly good app. Took away my final few reasons to ever want to launch the built-in Calendar app. But you know that already, if you’ve read any one of those dozens of reviews out there.

But at the same time, I could easily see an app this great sitting on the store shelves, getting ignored, if it weren’t being marketed properly by an experienced expert. As Shawn King might say, You can’t swing a dead cat on any day without hitting an app that is incredibly well crafted, yet a complete financial failure.

If you’re out there building great products, don’t short-change their chances of success. Start caring about promotion. The best products deserve it.

Investing in Your Apps

John Saddington on the first 63 days of selling his blogging app Desk:

The bottom-line, though, is that it means that it is quite possible to “make it” as an indie developer and eek out an income that is substantive and worthwhile. I hope this report, if anything, gives some encouragement to all of those that are interested in seriously (or semi-seriously) pursuing an independent app that creates great value for users and customers.

You won’t get rich off of it (maybe, but… that’s pipe-dream stuff) but you can make a living and with a little creativity and a lot of luck you can make it work. It does work and now I know this first-hand in an intensely-personal way. I am so very, very blessed. The thought of making, on average, ~$500 a day via an app that I love is really stinkin’ cool.

But it doesn’t mean that I’ll be quitting my “day job” any time soon. This is because I really like the pace at which I’ve created for Desk and the very modest growth that I’m experienced is just the right amount of growth that I can personally handle and that I am interested in experiencing.

Desk generated $65,654.85 of revenue in 63 days. Many of us would be very happy with that level of success. Note, however, that he’s not not taking the app full-time, and he’s happy to continue with slow and steady growth.

Lest you think Apple featuring Desk as one of the Best Apps of 2014 led to all this revenue, read Saddington’s entire piece to see how he actually managed to make it happen. It’s a very active strategy that goes way beyond sitting back and waiting for Apple to do his work for him.

For instance, although the app made $65k, he spent $28k in ads and marketing materials. Let that sink in for a while. He invested almost half his revenue back into the product in the form of advertising dollars and other marketing efforts. How many of us are doing anything close to that?

One area in which I’m always ready to admit I’m weak is advertising. I’m basically clueless about this entire arena, especially when it comes to apps. But I’ve been taking notes from Saddington’s recent posts:[1]

  • He didn’t buy one ad. He placed several ads in various different places.[2]
  • He doesn’t need thousands of sales to make it worth the investment. Desk is a productivity tool, not a 99-cent casual app.[3]
  • He advertised with well-known bloggers. Makes sense, since he’s selling blogging software. I doubt a Daring Fireball ad would do Teleprompt+ as much good. But are there influential indie film blogs that would be effective for us? Probably.
  • Not all ads are created equal. The Daring Fireball ad cost him a lot more than the others, but it also had a much larger impact. Like any other product, you get what you pay for with advertising.
  • He didn’t take out an ad expecting to make his money back immediately. Ads have long-term effects you can’t measure with a simple equation. (This is what makes advertising difficult to stomach for engineers.) An ad you purchase today might get you a sale three months from now. You’re raising awareness. It’s not something you try once, decide it doesn’t work, and then drop.[4]

I’m not suggesting everyone needs to set aside a giant advertising budget to succeed. But it sure looks like it helps.

It’s too early to tell what the long-term picture is for Desk, but if you look at the sales charts, Desk doesn’t look like one of those apps that will make the bulk of its money at launch. Yes, there are spikes, but there’s also growth after the spikes. Putting some money back into advertising is already paying off and should continue to do so in the long run. I’m willing to bet Saddington’s marketing skill is going to help Desk settle into a nice steady monthly revenue over the next year. As momentum picks up and word of mouth starts taking off more, the percentage of revenue he needs to reinvest to keep the momentum going should be reduced. I hope he reports back in at the end of this year to let us know how it pans out.

It’s also worth noting that Desk gets a lot of marketing (at the cost of the creator’s time, rather than money) in addition to paid advertising. Saddington blogs frequently, has a regular email newsletter, and releases short videos quite often. All of which are full of great advice for indies. Highly recommended.


  1. Not just this Year in Review piece, but also his excellent Does Sponsoring Daring Fireball Actually Work? A must-read.  ↩

  2. Ever wonder why Squarespace advertises on so many podcasts at once? They know the same people listen to ATP and The Talk Show. But four people you trust recommending a product to you are far more effective than one.  ↩

  3. Some might look at that and say that ads aren’t a good idea for their cheap apps. I say it’s a good reason not to make cheap apps.  ↩

  4. Obviously, it’s not easy to risk large chunks of money this way. One ad for Daring Fireball cost Saddington $10k. That’s a lot of money to put into one spot for a small indie. The fact that Desk is a part-time business helps make these investments a little easier, I imagine. Which is why I think he’s keeping it that way for now. Try not to pay your bills with a new app’s revenue for as long as you can, in other words.  ↩