Apple’s software problems are worse than flat vs. glossy

Screenshot of i0S icons

Leading up to the expected release of iOS7, there’s been much speculation online about whether or not Apple will adopt a more “flat” design aesthetic for its aging mobile operating system. The company’s skeumorphic, or natural, designs have come under fire from fans and foes alike, who charge it’s overkill now that users are aware of how to use touch interfaces and competitors are rolling out fresher designs.

Screenshot of i0S iconsIt will be interesting to see how iOS7 addresses these challenges (if it does), but I think Apple has a bigger problem on its hands: The company’s mobile software apps themselves are stagnant– not only in design, but more importantly, in functionality and interoperability.

Take a look at the image: It’s a screenshot of my iPhone’s final screen, which contains only two folders: The “Newstand” folder which sits perpetually empty, but Apple won’t let me delete, and then an entire folder titled “Unused”.

Why would I need a folder labeled “Unused”, if I can simply delete apps I no longer want or need? It’s because I can’t delete them – all of the apps (eight total) in my “Unused” folder are there because they’re stock apps provided by Apple as part of i0S6. Forget the fact that it’s spammy to force me to keep apps I don’t want – the real problem is why those apps sit unused in the first place. Quite simply, it’s because they’re outdone by better, faster, and/or more integrated apps provided by third-parties- many of them Apple’s competitors.

  • If I want the weather, I use Yahoo or Weather.com’s fantastic apps, which are both much better in terms of the data they provide and the design they wrap it in.
  • My default iOS calendar is replaced by Sunrise, a largely unknown startup that has nevertheless succeeded in producing a much more useful and integrated calendar than Apple has been able to in the six years since iOS debuted.
  • For Maps, I use Google’s outstanding Google Maps app, which is (subjectively) nicer, but more importantly, significantly more accurate and data-rich.
  • Finally, there’s the browser- arguably the second or third-most-important app on a smartphone after the Twitter or texting apps. Here, Apple’s stock Safari browser app is beaten by Google Chrome, which despite being slower than Safari, still gets the call for me based on having full integration with my bookmarks and browser history on my desktop version of Chrome. Typing URLs is one of the biggest pains on a phone, and Chrome makes that problem virtually non-existent by syncing my history across devices.
  • The list goes on: That list doesn’t even address Compass, Notepad, and Voice Memos, which I’ve used two or three times ever. While Passbook may become interesting in the future, right now it’s a an app that serves no purpose due to its limited options. It’s sad that I can’t just remove it until it becomes interesting to me.

So what can Apple do to ensure that its mobile OS stays the world’s most popular – or at least most-loved?

  • Allow non-standard apps to be set as defaults. This is the #1 must-have feature of any next version of iOS.
  • Allow non-standard apps to be deleted, or at least hidden in some meaningful way. This move would give Apple more insight into how users feel about their native apps; it also provides a clear interface
  • Improve and modernize not just the UI of their OS, but the functionality of the apps as well.

These long-overdue changes don’t signal the “Android-ification” of Apple’s mobile OS- rather, they show that the company slowly losing its lead to Samsung, Google, and whoever’s next should make some obvious enhancements that will make users far happier than any aesthetic trend.

The ending of The Great Gatsby (audio recording)

The Great Gatsby book cover by Flickr user heather.dyan

I never read The Great Gatsby in school, so with the movie coming out, I decided now would be a good time to catch up. I’m glad I did, because I absolutely loved the book – it’s an instant classic for me thanks to the poetry of Fitzgerald’s prose.

Before I returned the book to the library, I recorded a brief snippet of the absolutely fantastic, beautiful, and heartbreaking ending. If you haven’t read the book, I recommend you read it first – if you have, it’s almost definitely worth reading again. In the meantime, here’s the ending:

10 years of blogging at jasonclarke.org

Today marks 10 years since the first blog post on this site. I’ve owned the domain name for about 2 years prior to that – Archive.org lists October 2001 as the first recorded date– but used it mostly as a testing ground until 2003.

When I started this site, it was built on my own homemade content management system, which ran until 2005, when I finally switched over to WordPress. Over 500+ posts, here are a few of my favorites:

In 2003, I recommended people check out ESPN’s up and coming sportswriter Bill Simmons. In 2004, I announced the launch of my book. In 2006, I covered a Maine-centric blogging/media scandal; in 2007, I declared Twitter to be a “fad”. Later in 2007, I got press credentials for a presidential debate.

I’ve covered my home state of Maine’s media and politics, followed the evolution of blogging, and made a lot of lists! Finally, here’s a category that collects my favorite writing over the last 10 years.

Thank you for visting my site these past ten years – I hope you’ll stay tuned for the next 10!

 

Trying out a public revision process

"revision/procrastination" by Flickr user wenday
“revision/procrastination” by Flickr user wenday

With the launch of this latest version of my site (roughly my fifth iteration since 2006), I’m experimenting with two new features I’d love to see on other blogs: a changelog and a roadmap.

Yes, it might seem strange to have these two software and/or enterprise-oriented features on a tiny personal site, but why not? If a changelog can show users the progress of software, why not a website? And the same with a roadmap: It might not matter what’s ahead for this particular blog, but what if bigger sites like ESPN or Zeldman.com published public roadmaps, giving visitors a peek into their plans and their processes?

As a developer, and as a reader, I’d love to see more of these types of transparent peeks into the past and future of websites – both large and small.

Update: Nice! The Verge publishes a Version History.

Why the gdgt+AOL union is a rallying cry for the WordPress community

AOL sign at AOL Music Showcase

In my latest article on WP Daily, I talk about why the recent acquisition of tech site gdgt by AOL’s tech publishing arm might be bad news for WordPress in the enterprise:

I’m suggesting that old, tired, and unfair “WordPress is for traditionally-formatted blogs” trope may still be a factor when online media properties choose their technology platforms.

If that misconception is a factor when enterprises choose platforms, it can be particularly troubling as media companies (such as AOL, Vox, and Buzzfeed before them) choose and promote in-house platforms.

If it’s true – that WordPress is passed over, at least in part, because of the outdated and incorrect notion that it’s too generic and not customizable enough for enterprise – what can we do as developers?

Read the whole thing, and share your take in the comments! Thank you to WP Daily for publishing the article – check them out for all kinds of great news and commentary on WordPress.

 

Local banks should hire a “startup advocate”

Photo "Vault" by Flickr user ostrograd
Photo "Vault" by Flickr user ostrograd
Photo by Flickr user ostrograd

A recent crowdsource-driven funding contest promoted by a local bank in my area got me thinking about how banks in particular can find themselves on the sidelines of the entrepreneurship/startup movement as the costs to starting a business drop and as new and creative fundraising options become available.

One way that banks can become more active participants in the startup communities in their area is by hiring a startup advocate.

What would a startup advocate do?

A startup advocate would provide the bank with a personal, human presence within the startup community, including:

  • Attending local startup meetups;
  • Speaking at local incubators and other programs (similar to the TopGun Maine program I participated in last year) – not as a pitch for the bank, but as a resource for info about the complicated world of funding;
  • Blogging/posting videos/podcasting with an eye on the local startup scene;
  • Be available for “office hours”, where entrepreneurs can call, Skype, or meet for Q&A or just talking;
  • Connect entrepreneurs with other people in their network where appropriate.

Who would make the best startup advocate?

Loosely defined, the role of a startup advocate would be filled by an entrepreneur at heart: Somebody with personal, hands-on experience inside a startup, ideally having co-founded or led one. That person would work for and represent the bank, but they should be known within the community and/or trusted as a personality unto themselves, not just as a mouthpiece for the bank.

It’s about adding value, not advertising.

Besides the obvious resource of capital (short and longer term), banks have other intangibles to offer startups: Advice and connections on the money side of the game can be immensely helpful to people who are more focused on bringing their ideas to life than learning the intricacies of funding.

Hiring a startup advocate whose mission is to actually know, understand, and help startups could be more effective and less costly for banks than simply dumping more money into traditional advertising or transparent gimmicks.

New article on ideas for WordPress themes

Thank you to WP Daily for publishing my article on the scope of WordPress themes: Should we think about new and better ways to make themes fit into the larger site development process? Here’s a snippet:

Traditionally, themes don’t have opinions about the admin area; don’t acknowledge the presence of frequently-used tools (such as default CPT files); and certainly don’t include files that won’t end up living in the theme’s folder. Themes establish a design philosophy for 40% of a live site – what about the other aspects of building a functional, customized site?

Read the full article and share your thoughts!

Angus King for US Senate

Former Maine Governor and Senate hopeful Angus King

Maine is lucky to have six five people running for our open US Senate seat. While Olympia Snowe will be extremely difficult to replace in terms of her stature and impact, two people running have the best chance to follow in her principled footsteps.

Former Governor Angus King has been the front-runner in the race since announcing his candidacy in March, both in terms of poll numbers and contributions. While Mr. King is running as an independent, he’s been consistently coy and curiously vague when asked whether he’ll caucus with Democrats if elected. Ironically, if that worst-case scenario plays out, King may end up being less independent than Republican Olympia Snowe.

Current Maine secretary of state Charlie Summers is a public servant, successful businessperson, and Iraq War veteran. While I consider him qualified and likely to rise to the calling of the office, unfortunately Mr. Summers’ campaign — and it’s many surrogates — have waged a nasty, often times untrue and completely negative campaigned aimed solely at making Mr. King look bad.

Lacking any shred of positive message and offering nothing other than defensive reasons to elect Mr. Summers, his campaign has never shed the pall of a desperate, angry crusade by a major party that appears more concerned with power and control than with carrying on Ms. Snowe’s impressive and honorable legacy.

Like Mr. Summers, Mr. King is an experienced business person and public servant. While Mr. Summers has squandered his impressive record on a soulless campaign, Mr. King has run a positive campaign, largely by himself and supported by his record and vision, without the excessive and aggressive push of party insiders and special interests bent on claiming his seat.

Both candidates earned the right to be considered. Angus King deserves to be our next senator because he has more clearly laid out his vision for following in Olympia Snowe’s footsteps as a leader free of insurmountable debt to a power-hungry major party.

No one politician can, as Mr. King has suggested, “fix” Washington. But if we elect a leader who can remain independent — not just use it as a prop to get elected — that’s a step in the right direction.