Archive for August 15, 2015

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Finding iPad’s Future

Neil Cybart (via John Gruber):

A product that carries so much brand relevancy that it still represents the entire tablet market now finds itself the leader of a category that has lost all momentum as other product categories marginalize the tablet form factor. Although Apple is still selling more than 10 million iPads per quarter, there is something about the iPad that just doesn’t sit right with me. We have gotten to the point that the status quo will likely lead to the iPad and the modern-day tablet becoming irrelevant over time. A new direction for iPad is needed based on a fundamental rethink of tablet computing.


A quick look at iPad and tablet shipment data would show that things have gotten bad in recent quarters. However, in reality, things are much worse than quarterly shipment data would suggest. The seasonality found in the tablet segment makes it difficult to see these long-term problems. A much better way at understanding what has been taking place is to look at the year-over-year change in shipments on a trailing 12-month (TTM) basis, highlighted in Exhibit 1. This smoothing effect highlights that the iPad and tablet have been on the decline for years and things continue to worsen with the overall tablet market hitting negative territory for the first time. All momentum has been lost.


Many didn’t see it, but tablets were quickly turning into content consumption devices where price was a leading purchase decision.

We now find ourselves with a tablet market where Apple and Samsung are losing share to "Others," which is represented by dozens of firms selling mostly generic tablets used to consume media, depicted in Exhibit 2.


The iPad market is in trouble and if there are no changes made to the lineup, Peak iPad is on the table. Peak iPad is a simple concept driven by the belief that underlining structural changes to the tablet market would result in the iPad losing most of its value propositions, leading to a permeant decline in sales. For example, Peak iPod is alive and well as even though Apple is still selling iPods, the product category will never reach record quarterly sales. Meanwhile, while some argued that we had seen Peak Mac, we instead were just in a sales slump that quickly reversed itself with a revamped product line. The Mac’s value propositions were still alive and well. In a world where smartphones are getting larger and laptops are getting smaller, the Peak iPad theory is starting to look more likely as time goes on.

Lukas Mathis:

The PC market relies on upgrade sales. The plastic spoon market relies on upgrade sales. The pants market relies on upgrade sales. But a device as young as the iPad should not be relying on upgrade sales to this degree. If Apple thinks that the iPad’s sales are falling because of a long upgrade cycle, the implication is that the iPad has already reached a large portion of all people it’s ever going to reach.


Better hardware would help, but I think it’s very important to acknowledge that the thing standing in the way of productive work on the iPad is not its hardware. It’s iOS.

iOS is a cumbersome system for even reasonably complex productive tasks.


Fixing this problem does not mean «giving access to the file system.» When I say that Apple needs to fix document management, people sometimes assume that I’m saying that they should bring something like the Finder to iOS. I’m not. The Finder approach to file management is broken. It was designed for a time when people had a tiny number of apps, and almost no storage space. That time doesn’t exist anymore, and neither should the Finder.

I think this last part is wrong. When the iPad was released, the jury was still out. After eight years of iOS, we’ve seen that no one has figured out a good alternative to the filesystem. iCloud and iOS seem to be converging on a design that is less capable and possibly more complicated for non-basic uses. Meanwhile, the Mac has gained iCloud Drive, sandboxing, and rootless, which offer many of iOS’s simplicity and safety advantages without (in theory) compromising functionality.

Of course, the Finder does have problems. But something like the Finder—as an icon on the home screen, rather than the home screen itself, like on the Mac—would straightforwardly solve a lot of iOS’s current document management problems. And, tucked away as an icon that many people wouldn’t need, it wouldn’t cause much trouble.

Update (2015-08-20): Jason Snell:

I think we’re all down on the iPad because we got too excited about it to begin with, and the hangover hasn’t faded yet.


I suspect the iPad’s initial sales were so good that Apple was fooled into thinking it didn’t need to improve the iPad—which is a mistake that the company may be paying for now. But Apple sure seems to be paying attention to it now!

Update (2015-08-31): See also Accidental Tech Podcast #132.

The Developer’s MacBook

Rob Rhyne:

The keyboard is terrible. The keyboard on the MacBook is probably the most divisive hardware decision Apple has made this year. Some love it, others hate it. To be honest, I’m ambivalent after using it for a few months. I recommend you try it in a store before buying it. It’s a subjective decision, but here are a few facts regarding the keyboard:


As I mentioned earlier, it’s the MacBook’s lack of screen real estate that poses the greatest challenge for development and design work. […] You want to consider a few basic principles when trying to reclaim screen real estate.


In general the MacBook’s single port is a non-issue. Battery life is so consistently long, it feels foreign when you have to plug it in. However, the new USB-C does pose a dilemma for mobile developers: you need an adaptor to connect your iOS devices. That’s a bummer, having yet another adaptor to carry in your bag. I decided to combine a smaller Lightning cable with the single USB-C to USB adapter for smaller option.

I recently tried the new MacBook at an Apple Store. The Retina display is great, as expected. The keyboard was as bad as I feared. I might be able to get used to it, but I doubt I would ever like it. The trackpad was fine. The computer is thin, but it did not feel like a significant improvement over my 11-inch MacBook Air. So the keyboard seems like a poor tradeoff.

Meanwhile, Tj Luoma:

After three weeks with the new MacBook, I can easily declare it as my favorite Mac, and none of the details that left some of the tech press wailing and gnashing their teeth have actually been a problem.

He links to the Anker USB-C to 3-Port USB 3.0 Hub with Ethernet Adapter for USB Type-C Devices, which looks promising, although there’s no way to charge the Mac when it’s in use, and I wonder how many bus-powered devices it could handle. An alternative to get power and Ethernet at the same time would be Apple’s USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter combined with its (non-gigabit) USB Ethernet Adapter. But then you would no longer have a USB port to connect an iOS device or camera.

It seems like what’s needed, short of a second USB-C port, is a USB-C hub that can plug in to both charge the MacBook and power the USB 3 ports. I have seen powered hubs, but none that can charge, too.

Update (2015-08-19): Paul Haddad:

Still no good 3rd party USB-C hubs + charging. Found this, but seems like it pass-through charges at 5V/2.4A, yuck.

Dispatch Async to Main Queue and Modal Windows

Kirby Turner:

Instead of dispatching the completion() to the main queue, I call it directly from the background thread. In the completion block itself, I decide how to get the code should run in the main thread. If my window isn’t modal, then I can use dispatch_async(dispatch_get_main_queue(), ^{}). But if my window is modal, which just happens to be the case for the app I’m working on, then I use -performSelectorOnMainThread:withObject:waitUntilDone:.

Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace

Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld:

However, more than 100 current and former Amazonians — members of the leadership team, human resources executives, marketers, retail specialists and engineers who worked on projects from the Kindle to grocery delivery to the recent mobile phone launch — described how they tried to reconcile the sometimes-punishing aspects of their workplace with what many called its thrilling power to create.

In interviews, some said they thrived at Amazon precisely because it pushed them past what they thought were their limits.


Of all of his management notions, perhaps the most distinctive is his belief that harmony is often overvalued in the workplace — that it can stifle honest critique and encourage polite praise for flawed ideas. Instead, Amazonians are instructed to “disagree and commit” (No. 13) — to rip into colleagues’ ideas, with feedback that can be blunt to the point of painful, before lining up behind a decision.

“We always want to arrive at the right answer,” said Tony Galbato, vice president for human resources, in an email statement. “It would certainly be much easier and socially cohesive to just compromise and not debate, but that may lead to the wrong decision.”


Ms. Willet’s co-workers strafed her through the Anytime Feedback Tool, the widget in the company directory that allows employees to send praise or criticism about colleagues to management. […] Because team members are ranked, and those at the bottom eliminated every year, it is in everyone’s interest to outperform everyone else.

Craig Berman, an Amazon spokesman, said the tool was just another way to provide feedback, like sending an email or walking into a manager’s office. Most comments, he said, are positive.

However, many workers called it a river of intrigue and scheming. They described making quiet pacts with colleagues to bury the same person at once, or to praise one another lavishly.


Resources are sometimes hoarded. That includes promising job candidates, who are especially precious at a company with a high number of open positions. To get new team members, one veteran said, sometimes “you drown someone in the deep end of the pool,” then take his or her subordinates.


Those departures are not a failure of the system, many current and former employees say, but rather the logical conclusion: mass intake of new workers, who help the Amazon machine spin and then wear out, leaving the most committed Amazonians to survive.

Update (2015-08-16): Discussion on (via John Gordon).

Nick Heer:

Privately snitching on colleagues is childish, and there’s an employee ranking system in place that’s awfully similar to Microsoft’s stack ranking system. But perhaps most shocking is the erosion of a balance between work and life.


The scariest thing about this article is the number of responses I’ve seen that say something along the lines of “it’s not just Amazon; you’ll probably hear similar stories from employees at other companies”.

Tim Bray:

First: I haven’t seen that stuff Kantor and Streitfeld write about. Not saying that never did happen, or isn’t happening somewhere, just that I haven’t seen it. Second: The similarities between Amazon and Google vastly out weigh the differences.

Update (2015-08-17): Michael O. Church (via David Magda):

Google, Yahoo, and Amazon have one thing in common with, probably, the majority of large, ethically-challenged software companies. They use stack-ranking, also known as top-grading, also known as rank-and-yank. By top-level mandate, some pre-ordained percentage of employees must fail. A much larger contingent of employees face the stigma of being labelled below-average or average, which not only blocks promotion but makes internal mobility difficult. Stack ranking is a nasty game that executives play against their own employees, forcing them to stab each other in the back.


In general, I think the way to go is to create guilds like Hollywood’s actors’ and writers’ guilds, which avoid interfering with meritocracy with seniority systems or compensation ceilings, but establish minimum terms of work, and provide representation and support in case of unfair treatment by management.

Nick Ciubotariu (comments: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5):

Amazon is a big company, and gets referenced often. I’ve read many articles that describe us. Some are more accurate than others. Sadly, this isn’t one of them. This particular article, has so many inaccuracies (some clearly deliberate), that, as an Amazonian, and a proud one at that, I feel compelled to respond.


There is no “culling of the staff” annually. That’s just not true.

David Streitfeld and Jodi Kantor:

Over all, The Times interviewed over 100 current and former Amazon employees, including many who spoke on the record and some who requested anonymity because they had signed agreements saying they would not speak to the press.

Mr. Bezos urged his 180,000 employees to give the Times article “a careful read” but said it “doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day.”


Like many of the Amazon employees quoted in The Times article, Mr. Ciubotariu describes strengths of the workplace, including focus on customers and innovation. However, some of his assertions were incorrect, including a statement that the company does not cull employees on an annual basis. An Amazon spokesman previously confirmed that the company seeks to manage out a certain percentage of its work force every year; the size of the goal varies from year to year.

Update (2015-08-18): A Former Amazonian (via Jamie Zawinski):

The most horrifying moment of my employment at Amazon was the time I was using the toilet and a coworker began talking from the stall next to me. He asked me why I had not responded to his very pressing email. I closed my eyes and pretended this wasn’t happening. What email could be so important that it could not wait five minutes for me to use the bathroom? He began tapping on the wall between our stalls, asking why I wouldn’t respond, as if inter-stall conversation should be a totally normal, not disgusting means of communication.

He became more specific about what he needed—referencing a project I’d never heard of, nor would I ever have involvement in—and I realized he had misidentified me from my shoes.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

But the bottom line is that culture is what culture does. Culture isn’t what you intend it to be. It’s not what you hope or aspire for it to be. It’s what you do. There’s no way to discredit, deflect, or diffuse that basic truth.

Update (2015-08-20): Dave Winer:

I’m always leery of such obvious appeal to emotion. He made his grandmother cry. He must be a bad person. But he was just a kid. What’s significant is not what the 10-year-old Bezos said and did, he wasn’t running Amazon, rather what the adult Bezos said, which the Times left out of the story.

Update (2015-10-19): Nick Heer:

The “admission of fraud” refers to Bo Olson, who provided the quote that Carney deems “sensationalistic”. The PR team at Amazon decided to discredit his quote today by opening his employee file publicly to a claim that he was accused of fraud while at the company.


It’s hard to believe Carney, given that he is a PR guy at Amazon, and is therefore inclined to protect the interests of a public company. It’s also hard to believe that the Times would not correct such an egregious error.

Update (2015-10-22): Ben Thompson:

Carney responded to Baquet’s response here.


What is exciting about the Amazon story is that, at least according to Baquet, it came from embracing the nichification of The New York Times.