‘The Notebook Everyone Loves’

Apple yesterday posted a new ad for the MacBook Air, “Stickers”:

I liked this ad — surprising that (a) Apple actually made a new MacBook commercial; and (b) that Apple used all the third-party imagery. Also notable is the appearance (albeit brief) of the classic, six-color Apple logo.

In terms of analysis, Matt Panazarino at TechCrunch and John Gruber at Daring Fireball have good, similarly-aligned takes on the ad.

‘Finding Your Fanatics’

Shawn Blanc, on finding your audience and how your audience finds you:

Your brand is also important. I’m not talking about logo marks here, I’m talking about your reputation. How do people perceive you (as professional or amateur; friendly or angsty; humble or self-centered; etc.)? What topic or subject people do people connect to you (design, development, typography, photography, etc.)?

Your content and your brand are summed up as being what you make and who you are. This is true for the individual, the small business, and the large corporation. And over time the two become deeply intertwined. What you make represents who you are, and who you are fuels what you make. Your brand and your content become one and the same.

This passage speaks volumes to me.

At the risk of sounding arrogant and self-serving, I’ve worked really hard to make a name for myself in the Apple press, by simply sharing my experiences on a topic that I’m intimately familiar with. My “brand” — this site, my freelancing, and my podcast — has grown a lot over the last several weeks, and continues its upward trajectory. I’m very proud of my work, and I’m glad to bring attention and expertise to a topic (Accessibility on iOS) that deserves more of the spotlight.

‘Looks By Dr. Dre’

Khoi Vinh, commenting on the fashionable aspect of Beats headphones:

If you take a look at Beats’ headphones product catalog, it looks a lot closer to, say, the Nixon watches catalog than any catalog of technology products. Beats’ headphones, like Nixon’s watches, are oriented such that the primary selection criteria are looks and style; you’ve got to wade through those before you decide which model you want. By contrast, on Apple’s site, you’ve got to choose your model before you can choose your style—or, put another way, you choose what you want it do, first, and then you get to choose what you want it to look like.

These differences reflect fundamentally distinct ways of thinking about products, or more importantly, fundamentally distinct ways of thinking about what customers want. One path leads to a company that makes technology that (they hope) consumers will find to be fashionable; the other path leads to a company that makes fashionable goods powered by technology. Apple acquired Beats because it hopes that its future will look more like the latter than the former.

I was in Target last night, and noticed the Beats display in the electronics section is positioned near Apple stuff (e.g., iPads, iPods). I don’t see this as coincidental — both brands evoke status and style, and consumers know it. Thus, it’s unsurprising to hear that Apple plans to operate Beats as an independent subsidiary, at least for the foreseeable future. It makes sense, given Beats immense brand credibility with people.

(via John Gruber)

‘Kara Swisher Is Silicon Valley’s Most Feared and Well-Liked Journalist’

Benjamin Wallace profiles Kara Swisher for New York Magazine:

The combination of access and toughness has made Swisher a preeminent arbiter of status in a Silicon Valley where constant turmoil is taken as a sign of innovation and vitality. She isn’t exactly Bob Woodward, soberly transcribing the as-he-thought-it aphorisms of Washington potentates, nor is she Hollywood’s Nikki Finke, holed up in her secret lair and firing off incendiary, career-vaporizing emails. Instead, she might be the Valley’s Walter Lippmann, who occupied a nexus of journalist, counselor, and kingmaker in a mid-century D.C. being remade by the arrival of a new imperial Establishment.

People like talking to Swisher. She’s both direct and playful, and I heard several stories of her personal generosity. She gives good text. “I am a big proponent of being in touch with everyone even when I do not have a story to ask about,” Swisher told me. “Most reporters are so transactional, rather than strategic.” Swisher emceed Sandberg’s fund-raiser for (now-disgraced) Cambodian activist Somaly Mam. She has served as the Valley’s update provider, via video interviews, on Brett Bullington, an investor who suffered a traumatic brain injury. As much as the Valley sees her as a reporter and a conference host, they know her as a connector (and, with the launch of Re/code, as a fellow entrepreneur). In Vanity Fair’s 2012 “New Establishment” portfolio, in a photograph illustrating “The Rise of Women in Silicon Valley,” Swisher was one of six, sitting beside YouTube chief Susan Wojcicki. “People are afraid of her, and they trust her,” Barry Diller says. “That’s not an everyday combination.”

Interesting read; I’ve been a fan of Swisher’s work for awhile: first for AllThingsD, now at Re/code.

Thoughts on Overcast 1.0

Since getting into podcasts a few years ago, I’ve used pretty much every podcast client there is on iOS. My client of choice has been Pocket Casts — a sentiment echoed by my friends at The Sweet Setup. Pocket Casts is deep and full-featured, and while I don’t consider myself a “power listener” — always in want of granular controls and the like — the app has done well by me for quite some time.

It was during this time that Marco Arment announced Overcast, his new podcast app for iPhone. The app went live on the App Store today, and I couldn’t be happier or more excited for Marco. Late last month, I received an email from him out of the blue, asking me if I’d be interested in joining the beta team so as to help test for accessibility (VoiceOver, in particular). Though I haven’t used the app for very long, Overcast has earned a permanent place on my iPhone’s Home screen — it’s designed in typical Armentian fashion (read: exquisite) and very accessibility-friendly.

The focus of this review will be on accessibility in two areas: visual design and VoiceOver.

* * *


In my writing, I’ve long championed the idea of “accessibility as design”, whereby app developers and user interface designers take into consideration the disabled when building their apps. I don’t necessarily mean incorporating dedicated Accessibility features — although that’s certainly part of it —- rather, I mean sensibly designing in such a way that interface elements are clear: buttons, labels, typography, etc. Unread, the RSS client for iOS, by Jared Sinclair, is a good example of this. Not only does VoiceOver work flawlessly, but buttons and labels are decipherable and the typography is splendid. Put another way, Unread’s clean, focused look is appealing not only to fully-abled users, but to users with visual impairments as well. This is due to the fact that Jared, as Unread’s creator, recognizes and empathizes with the disabled, and wishes to help us.

Like Jared, Marco is empathetic towards the accessibility community, and tries his best to accommodate disabled users who use his apps by including technologies like VoiceOver. This sentiment is apparent throughout Overcast, where, as Jared does with Unread, Marco’s clean design sensibilities and attention to VoiceOver makes the podcast client very appealing, at least to this low vision reviewer.

My favorite thing about the app (the gorgeous icon aside) is, interestingly enough, the orange. The color is pervasive throughout the app, and really lends itself to easily identifying interface elements. The orange pops off the white backdrop, which results in huge benefits in terms of contrast. Overcast is decidedly and rightfully iOS 7-y in its look, and while I’m (still) not fond of many of Apple’s design decisions, the orange color scheme works really well for my eyes in terms of distinguishing between the app’s content and its navigational controls.

The greatest example of this is the playback controls on the Now Playing screen. They are gigantic and orange and gloriously easy to see and tap. It’s a usability win because (a) I don’t have to strain my eyes attempting to locate the playback controls; and (b) that the buttons are so gigantic means the tap targets are also gigantic, which ultimately means I needn’t worry about mistakenly tapping or missing a button altogether. The moment I laid eyes on these buttons, I smiled, because I knew they were going to work great, and was so happy to see someone do something different here.

If there’s one complaint that I have about Overcast’s UI, it’s that the font size is a bit too small to be comfortable. I find myself struggling at times, squinting to be able to read show notes or whatever, and it definitely puts a damper on an otherwise splendid experience. It would be great if, in a future update, Overcast would add support for Large Dynamic Type, or at least add a font size slider to Settings.


Full disclosure: VoiceOver is not a feature that I use on a daily basis, but I am familiar with it and am confident in critiquing its use, as is the case here with Overcast.

In all honesty, there isn’t much to elaborate on in this section of the review. In my testing, I’ve found VoiceOver to work extremely well in announcing the labels of buttons and so forth. Everything I selected in the app read just fine, and I was generally pleased with how it worked. VoiceOver is somewhat tricky to get right because it requires developers to correctly label an app’s controls so that VoiceOver can read them correctly. In short: Marco did a great job with VO, and regular users of it will notice.


Despite the fact that this review is focused on Overcast’s accessibility merit, being the design snob that I am, I can’t help but talk about the little touches of the app. These things aren’t so much functional as they are delightful, and they definitely add to the app’s ambience and experience.

First, the Now Playing screen includes an animated waveform that moves as an episode is playing. Again, I’m unsure of its practical use case, but I enjoy it immensely for the eye candy alone. Oftentimes, I’ll just gaze admiringly at the waveform while listening to a show.

Secondly, this was pointed out by my pal Jonathan Hoover on Twitter. When you select the “Unlock Everything” option to access the in-app purchase for extra functionality, the there’s a tiny radio tower icon within the padlock icon. It’s too small for my naked eye to notice on my own, but I smiled when I saw Jon mention it.

* * *

As I said in the beginning, Overcast has overtaken Pocket Cast’s spot on my iPhone’s Home screen. As someone who listens to podcasts regularly while on the go —- either on the bus or BART or on foot — I’m happy to have found an app that is not only aesthetically pleasing but fits well with my spartan podcast-listening needs.

Overcast gets two thumbs up from me. If you like podcasts, check it out.

‘Apple Has Done More For Accessibility Than Any Other Company’

Mark A. Riccobono, NFB president, clarifies the organization’s position in wake of Reuters’s story:

I thought the chatter around the resolution would fade away until some media reports made inaccurate assertions about the resolution, its content, and what actions the NFB will take to carry it out. Many of these inaccurate assertions have been fueled by a provocative and poorly reported article from the Reuters news service, linked here only for reference. Reuters has already been forced to correct the article because it reported, inaccurately, that the National Federation of the Blind once brought suit against Apple, Inc. This never happened, although a demand letter was sent regarding the accessibility of iTunes and iTunes U, and the Massachusetts Attorney General opened an investigation. Those actions resulted in a voluntary agreement with Apple that was a significant step in getting us the accessibility we experience today.

Let me start by laying out some background for the resolution. In the wake of its commitment to making iTunes and iTunes U accessible to blind users, Apple has gone far beyond the scope of that original agreement and made the vast majority of its products accessible to the blind. It has done so by incorporating VoiceOver, a powerful screen reader, into the majority of its products, including its Mac computers, the Apple iPhone and iPad, and Apple TV. The native apps on these devices are accessible, and Apple has set forth developer guidelines that allow third-party apps to be made accessible. Many of the 1.2 million (and counting) apps available in the iOS app store have a high degree of accessibility for blind users. Many more, however, are not. In addition, a recurring problem is that when apps are updated to new versions, blind users find that accessibility has been compromised, either deliberately or accidentally. With no way to revert to a previous version of the app, the blind user must simply hope that the developer rectifies the problem quickly. No one seriously disputes that these problems cause blind iPhone users a great deal of frustration, and that they sometimes result in real threats to a blind person’s education, productivity, or employment. Smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices are increasingly replacing desktop computers in educational and employment settings, making access to apps intended for such devices not merely convenient but often essential.

The National Federation of the Blind has been struggling with how to address these problems for years. Apple has done more for accessibility than any other company to date, and we have duly recognized this by presenting the company with at least two awards (including our annual Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award) and publicly praising it whenever the opportunity arises. We do not want to needlessly antagonize a company that has been such an outstanding accessibility champion. Nevertheless, inaccessible apps continue to proliferate, and blind users cannot update the apps on their iPhones without anxiety.

Good to see the NFB step up, not only to denounce the article but to affirm their stance.

‘The Pretty Birds Got Smashed, and Then They Got Smashed’

Adam Rogers for Wired, “Animals Who Drink and the People Who Cut Them Open”:

The first thing Kinde noticed in the birds was damage, bits of bleeding and bruising to the muscles. No surprise—they’d run into buildings. In most of the birds, the liver had also burst, another hallmark of collision. But it was the throat that took Kinde by surprise. Cut open, the esophagus of each was packed with tiny red berries. “And then we go down to the stomach, the gizzard, and it’s engorged, too,” Kinde says. That’s not weird by itself; cedar waxwings are frugivores. They live mostly on fruit. But it started Kinde thinking. “The immediate cause of death in these birds was trauma,” he says. “But why?”

Kinde sent samples of the birds’ tissue for the usual tests—heavy metals like mercury and arsenic, organophosphate pesticides, West Nile virus, avian influenza, bacterial infection. And he hit the books. Cedar waxwings sometimes get disoriented because of heat, but only at a certain time of year, so that wasn’t the answer. The fruit, though, was interesting. They were from an invasive ornamental pepper tree that grows clusters of bright red berries, inducing animals like cedar waxwings to eat them and spread the seeds via droppings. When the fruit ripens and animals don’t get to it right away, yeast moves in. Pepper fruit can ferment right on the tree.

So next Kinde sent the intestinal contents of one of his birds out for an ethanol screen. He got a major hit—226 parts per million. “It was much, much higher than the amount of alcohol that would make a person intoxicated” Kinde says. Cedar waxwings get anywhere from 85 to 100 percent of their calories from fruit, and the pepper berries seemed to be the only thing available to them. Kinde concluded that the birds were stuffing themselves on fermented berries and trying to fly while intoxicated. Disoriented, they’d fly right into a building.

Interesting read; I’m fascinated by nature stuff.

On Going Home Again

Dave Zirin for The Nation, on what it means that LeBron is going back to Cleveland:

[F]or me, the idea that James would return to Cleveland, no matter how much of a train wreck of a franchise it had become, seemed preordained, even obvious, to anyone paying attention to his off-court persona. First of all, LeBron James is the most “meta”, self-aware, consciously cinematic athlete we have ever seen. If Michael Jordan was the superstar of his own blockbuster movie, LeBron has always aspired to be actor, producer, and director. Every step he takes has one eye on posterity. “The Decision” of 2010, when LeBron “took [his] talents to South Beach”, which brought him the rings that he craved but left hurt feelings and bad vibes in its wake, did not fit the script that LeBron James had already written in his own mind. If LeBron sees himself as Martin Scorsese, The Decision was his Bringing Out the Dead. By coming home to possibly bring a sports championship to the city of Cleveland for the first time since 1964, LeBron James can make Goodfellas. He can produce and direct his own magnum opus even -perhaps especially – if it means an ending where he’s eating egg noodles and ketchup.

Securing a title for Cleveland would establish a legend far greater than winning multiple championships in Miami. Dragging a snake-bitten city to the heights of the sports world and smashing on all of the Modellian ill-karma in his path, would establish a narrative singularly his own. Choosing to return to Cleveland, a city that has lost almost a fifth of its population over the last two decades, makes him a prospective folk hero.


By going back to Cleveland, LeBron is embracing his power as someone transformative, someone who could be, without cliché or Nike branding, more than an athlete. By making all the haters, from Dan Gilbert to the fans who burned his jersey, to the vicious media voices, sob in gratitude over his return, he is making this about more than just his own redemption, but theirs as well. Even by insisting on maximum money and not succumbing to the owner-friendly media-driven narrative that stars should accept less “for the good of the team”, he is doing right by young players currently getting hosed by a boss-friendly collective bargaining agreement. It may take some time to make it all work in Cleveland, but by shouldering the burden of a city’s collective damaged psyche and demonstrating the power to rebuild the most burned of bridges, LeBron is going for folk-hero status. He is attempting to produce the ultimate movie of his athletic life. Succeed or fail, it will be a collective thrill to see him try to write the final act. In other words, he’s already won.

See also: Bill Simmons’s splendid piece for Grantland on LeBron-to-the-Cavs.

On Economic Inequality in America

Katrina vanden Heuvel, writing for The Nation:

By implying that there is a disconnect between inequality and opportunity, (many, not all) Democrats ignore the fact that opportunity cannot be provided as long as the economic and financial system is so unequal. Some, like Senator Elizabeth Warren, intuitively understand this. After all, she first came to Washington to battle a system that has long been rigged against the middle class, where working families’ voices get overpowered by well-funded lobbyists who hold elected officials by the pocket. By creating an artificial division between inequality and opportunity, we turn a blind eye to this rampant unfairness that helped the 1 percent ascend to their economic perches in the first place.

We also accept the built-in unfairness of the system as, simply, the way things are. Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, labels this flawed way of thinking “passive-voice populism.” We assume that the ups and downs of the American middle class are as natural and as out-of-our-hands as the ebb and flow of the tides: economic inequality as an act of god. But, Borosage writes, “inequality didn’t just happen to us. It wasn’t inevitable. Just as the broad middle class was constructed brick by brick after World War II, the decline of that middle class was constructed policy-by-policy, step-by-step over the last three decades.” Or, as Warren Buffett famously said in 2011, “[T]here’s been class warfare going on for the last twenty years, and my class has won. We’re the ones that have gotten our tax rates reduced dramatically.”

If we want to really create “opportunity” within our system, then we need to change the system. We need more than, as Borosage wrote today, “rhetorical pablum about lifting the middle class.” A solution, he continues, “will involve taking on the rigged game and changing the rules. And that inevitably will require curbing Wall Street, taxing the wealthy and making vital public investments, closing the tax havens and dodges of the multinationals, requiring the Federal Reserve to favor a full employment economy for workers rather than an austerity regime for bankers, and much more.”

But, capitalism! Free market! The American Way!

LeBron: ‘I’m Coming Home’

King James himself, in a statement on SI.com:

When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.


But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.

What does this mean? Josh Centers nailed it, I think.