Archive for January 9, 2017

Monday, January 9, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Tell Us Your Mac Automation Stories

Adam C. Engst:

What should we make of Sal leaving? Apple didn’t lay him off specifically, it instead eliminated the position of Product Manager of Automation Technologies. It’s my understanding that multiple groups within Apple wanted to hire Sal afterward, but Apple was under some sort of hiring freeze that prevented him from migrating within the company. So it doesn’t look as though Apple was trying to get rid of Sal personally, which is good. What’s less good is that it would appear that Apple doesn’t see the need for having a position that evangelizes user automation internally.

[…]

Sure, Apple could have plans to replace AppleScript and Automator with super secret magic unicorn technologies, but based purely on what the company has done and said, it’s hard to believe that.

[…]

Even so, it’s obvious to anyone who uses iOS that there is still an important role for automation. I can tell Siri to “Change ‘Floating’ to 8 AM” to adjust the time of my wake-up alarm, but I have no way to automate the five taps necessary to play the audiobook we listen to every night in the Hoopla digital library app. Five wasted taps every night isn’t the end of the world, but if you can’t automate the little stuff, you certainly can’t automate the big stuff.

[…]

If Apple’s seeming indifference toward automation worries you because you rely on scripts, macros, workflows, and more to get your work done quickly, effectively, and accurately, here’s what I’d like you to do. Leave a comment on this article outlining how you depend on Mac automation tools in your job.

Previously: Thank You, Sal.

Update (2017-01-25): Adam C. Engst:

The stories poured in, and you can now read about the amazing things that fellow TidBITS readers have accomplished with AppleScript, Automator, and the many other automation technologies available to Mac users. It’s a lot, so don’t feel the need to do it all at once.

I’ll send these to Apple’s Tim Cook and Craig Federighi as well so they can see just how important automation is to the future of the Mac. And just to bring up how constantly I turn to automation tools, the start of each story below was formatted with a single grep search in BBEdit, saving me at least 10 minutes.

Voice-Based Personal Assistants

Spencer MacDonald:

The Alexa app on iOS is clearly a hybrid app, in fact I would say it is predominately web based. There are a few strange behaviours with navigation (sometimes you press back and it appears to pop an entire web view from the navigation stack, thus you actually go back multiple steps) and it doesn’t use native controls which can be quite jarring at times. The app works, but I’m pleased that besides the initial configuration you don’t have to use it. It does have a nice feature where it shows you all the events you have triggered, and also (rather creepily) allows you to playback the audio from any of your requests that triggered Alexa, which is good for when you ask yourself “Why did it do that?”.

[…]

Obvious I couldn’t review Alexa without making the comparison to the other assistant in my life, Siri. After living with the Echo for a few months, the detection and transcription capabilities of Alexa on the Echo is leaps and bounds ahead of Siri on the iPhone 7. Alexa is also better at answering general questions, like the weather, unit conversion etc. However I feel that Siri’s intents API implementation means that for the few supported domains (8 as of iOS 10), your interactions feel a lot more natural compared to when interacting with a Skill. In short they are both coming at the problem from different directions, Alexa is currently winning but in my opinion that has a lot to do with the hardware.

Ben Thompson (Hacker News):

In short, Amazon is building the operating system of the home — its name is Alexa — and it has all of the qualities of an operating system you might expect[…]

[…]

That leaves the business model, and this is perhaps Amazon’s biggest advantage of all: Google doesn’t really have one for voice, and Apple is for now paying an iPhone and Apple Watch strategy tax; should it build a Siri-device in the future it will likely include a healthy significant profit margin.

Amazon, meanwhile, doesn’t need to make a dime on Alexa, at least not directly: the vast majority of purchases are initiated at home; today that may mean creating a shopping list, but in the future it will mean ordering things for delivery, and for Prime customers the future is already here. Alexa just makes it that much easier, furthering Amazon’s goal of being the logistics provider — and tax collector — for basically everyone and everything.

Dan Moren:

As a happy Amazon Echo user for nearly two years now, you might think I wouldn’t be in the market for any other voice-controlled virtual assistant—and you’d be wrong. Dead wrong.

Upon returning home from my lengthy trip last month, one of the boxes awaiting me contained a Google Home that I’d ordered while abroad.

[…]

The other big comparison point against the Echo is sound quality. I don’t pretend to have an audiophile’s ear, but to me the Google Home sounded like it had a little more bass than the Echo but an overall muddier sound. While it’s definitely superior to the Echo Dot—low bar there—it’s certainly not too hard to find a better-sounding speaker than pretty much anything in this class.

[…]

In any case, voice recognition and synthesis are table stakes for these devices. The real question is whether or not the Google Home has any functionality so compelling that I’ll switch to using it over my Echo. The answer to that, so far, is…not really.

Khoi Vinh:

Alexa is clearly able to understand your commands—and act on them—better than Siri is able to, but it doesn’t feel leagues better. In practice, it’s not uncommon to have to issue commands three, four, five or more times before Alexa understands what you’re trying to say—or until you learn the way Alexa wants you to say it.

[…]

At home we also received an Echo Dot as a present, a product which I think could be a home run. For just US$50, you get everything that the Echo does except for the higher quality speaker (which means Amazon is basically charging you US$130 for the full fledged version’s speaker, when you think about it). At that price point, I could easily imagine having a Dot in each room of the house, which would make for a really powerful system.

[…]

And finally, design. The Google Home comes in a nicer package, is a much nicer form factor, and is just gorgeous. It’s a very handsome expression of impressive technology

Colin Cornaby:

Still finding that Alexa/Echo is horrible for home automation compared to Siri. Rare bright spot for Apple.

Stephen Hackett:

[Echo is] an open platform, meaning developers can write applications — dubbed Skills — that users can enable with just a tap in the Alexa mobile app.

[…]

HomeKit, on the other hand, is a closed system. Apple has a rigorous approval process before allowing a device or service to be listed as a supported partner. From a security standpoint, this is a big win.

rblatz:

People are all up in arms about headphone jacks, USB-C, and dongles. When the real issue is Apple completely missing huge new markets.

Apple had Siri out and was in the lead with voice control, then they wasted it. I never use Siri, she is nearly worthless, but I do use Alexa multiple times a day. Amazon is Leading the voice assistant market, and Google is right on their heels.

Home automation was supposed to get better with HomeKit but arrived basically stalled. They announced all these partners and sold their products at the Apple Store. Then when HomeKit finally was ready none of those products worked with HomeKit.

Steven Levy (via Dan Moren):

“That’s really important,” Schiller says, “and I’m so glad the team years ago set out to create Siri — I think we do more with that conversational interface that anyone else. Personally, I still think the best intelligent assistant is the one that’s with you all the time. Having my iPhone with me as the thing I speak to is better than something stuck in my kitchen or on a wall somewhere.”

Madison Margolin:

Gatebox is new holographic home assistant that’s similar to the Amazon Echo’s Alexa, only more anthropomorphic—and creepier. Made by the Japanese company Vinclu Inc, the device is a transparent, voice-activated cylinder that displays a tiny holographic character named Azuma Hikari (presumably, other characters can be added later). […] It seems designed specifically to appeal to lonely bachelors.

See also: Accidental Tech Podcast, The Talk Show.

Previously: Developing for the Amazon Echo, SiriKit.

Update (2017-01-10): See also: The Talk Show.

Atlassian Acquires Trello

Frederic Lardinois (Hacker News, Slashdot):

Atlassian today announced that it has acquired project management service Trello for $425 million. The vast majority of the transaction is in cash ($360 million), with the remainder being paid out in restricted shares and options. The acquisition is expected to close before March 31, 2017.

This marks Atlassian’s 18th acquisition and, as Atlassian president Jay Simons noted when I talked to him last week, also it largest. Just like with many of Atlassian’s other acquisitions, the company plans to keep both the Trello service and brand alive and current users shouldn’t see any immediate changes.

Michael Pryor (tweet, Joel Spolsky):

More than 19 million users later, Trello is used by everyone from the family planning their next vacation to employees at the largest enterprises in the world. Companies like Google, National Geographic, and even the United Kingdom’s government use Trello daily. Organizations like the United Nations and the Red Cross rely on Trello to accomplish their missions.

[…]

We’re excited about partnering with Atlassian because we both share a philosophy of empowering teams everywhere to work in their own style. We envision a world where hundreds of millions of people collaborate in teams however they like, with their imaginations being the only constraint for what they can accomplish. As part of Atlassian, Trello will be able to leverage investments in R&D that will enhance the product in meaningful ways. Our team will be able to focus on improving the core experience of Trello for all users. We are certain that Atlassian understands the unique and novel reasons why Trello is so successful and well-loved.

Mike Cannon-Brookes:

One of Trello’s strengths is its flexibility. You control how the board looks and operates so you can mold it to how your team works, and track progress in stages that reflect your processes. You can take this flexibility a step further by integrating the tools you already use with Trello as Power-Ups that extend the functionality of the boards to meet your team’s unique needs.

The JIRA family of products will continue providing purpose-built experiences such as JIRA Software, the #1 tool for agile software teams; JIRA Service Desk, a beautifully simple service desk solution for IT and business teams; and JIRA Core for project and process management.

JIRA tools excel at work that benefits from a well-defined, traceable, and repeatable process, whilst Confluence is great for teams creating and collaborating on documents and rich content. Trello perfectly fills a gap between the structured workflows of JIRA and the free-form collaboration of Confluence and will give teams the option to find the right Atlassian tool for the type of work they need to complete. Keep an eye out for integrations between these products in the near future.

Anil Dash (tweet):

Fog Creek and Trello don’t just share cofounders, we share a lot of the same DNA, and we even share the same beautiful office as our NYC headquarters. The same innovative process that resulted in Trello’s invention has yielded Gomix, which we think has the same potential to change the way people work and collaborate and create. And while there are ways we’ll be competing now (we really do think you’ll love FogBugz as an alternative to Jira!) we’re mostly just proud to see our sibling company succeed.

Previously: FogBugz, JIRA, and Wasabi.

Update (2017-01-11): Benjamin F. Wirtz:

For Atlassian, I believe this was exactly the right move. One of the questions that remain is: With that much overlap between their tools, how will a user who has not heard of neither Trello nor JIRA or Service Desk figure out what’s best for them? How will JIRA users decide between JIRA Agile boards and Trello once the products are integrated?

Update (2017-01-25): Mitt Tarasowski (via Hacker News):

Altlassian bought Trello for $425 million not because of its brand or its user base, but because Trello was a big threat to the company’s future.

[…]

While the company’s revenue grew, its product became overly complicated and difficult to maintain. By moving upmarket, Altlassian created a vacuum at lower price points into which competitors with disruptive technologies could enter. This is what Trello did.

Update (2017-03-09): Hiten Shah:

Trello might have become a $1B+ business if it looked like a “system of record” application—the single-source of truth for a company. Imagine if you could use Trello not just to track your marketing funnel, but to move information from your marketing board to your sales pipeline and product roadmap. Instead of having a separate Trello board for each team, you’d have a big board for the entire company.

Trello never became this “system of record.” It was an strong visual metaphor that the competition ultimately copied. Ultimately, the Kanban board was a really cool UX feature, but not a difficult one to replicate.

In SaaS, you don’t win by getting there first or having the best idea. You win by continually solving the problem better. When you build a feature that’s extremely popular or successful, the competition will steal it.

LG Ultrafine 5K Reviews

Colin Cornaby:

I picked up the Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter, and hoped my [2013] MacBook Pro would be able to drive this display.

[…]

There were pretty obvious signs that this wasn’t an Apple product. The display was wrapped in a foil textured sort of wrap instead of the soft paper Apple uses. And the display very unhelpfully came with an Energy Star sticker pre-applied directly on the screen, which was at least easy to peel off. I’ve only bought Apple displays (with a display I borrowed for a gaming PC being the only exception), so the noticeable decline in packaging quality was bittersweet.

[…]

I downloaded SwitchResX which revealed something very interesting about how Apple handles the LG Ultrafine on older Macs. Apple is rendering the screen at 5k, but then downsampling it to 4k and sending it to the display. So my computer acts as if it is attached to a 5k display, even though it can push a 4k image. That’s a really clever enhancement that almost makes this display worth it for older Mac owners. Even with only 4k output, it could be a great drop in replacement for an Apple Thunderbolt Display, with a noticeable increase in image quality and P3 support (with a bit of help from SwitchResX.) Apple has clearly thought about the Apple Thunderbolt Display sized hole that is being left in their lineup for Macs that haven’t rolled over from Thunderbolt 2 yet.

Rene Ritchie:

That’s not to say Apple didn’t have a lot to do with the engineering — everything that makes it work so well with a MacBook Pro using just one Thunderbolt 3 cable. But the outside, what we look at, is nothing like Apple.

There are also compromises here. That gorgeous image and convenient charging all in one cable comes at a price — there’s precious little bandwidth left for other ports and peripherals.

[…]

That asterisk is Apple recommending you not use the LG display as the primary display on a Mac mini or Mac Pro, since it may not light up until after you boot, rendering pre-boot options unusable. Sadness.

[…]

Rumor has it the LG UltraFine 5K display uses the same if not a very similar panel to the iMac with Retina 5K display. To my eyes, though, it isn’t as glossy. That’ll please those who prefer more matte displays. Personally, though, I find the slight difference distracting and would have preferred if LG had finished it to match the MacBook Pro exactly. It’s especially noticeable when looking at both the MacBook Pro and the LG display at an angle.

Robert Gottlieb:

I have to plug in my ethernet to usb-c directly to my laptop to get the full speed out of it. I’m guessing something about the 5 GB connections on the back is limiting it somehow :( I’m thoroughly unimpressed with this monitor now. I do like the display but there are so many inconveniences so far that I’m seriously considering taking it back. But then I’m stuck with: What do I replace it with? Do I adapt a display port to usb-c and use up another port to power my mac with it’s power brick?

Luk Vandal:

If I had to do it again, I’d keep my iMac 5K/rMBP combo and wait a year or 2 until Apple solves USB-C and DisplayPort issues.

Peter Zignego:

It’s almost as if by not controlling the product start to finish Apple is sacrificing quality here.

Previously: MacBook Pro Ethernet Adapter Benchmark.

Update (2017-01-12): Ken Yarmosh:

After just a day of use, we’re planning to return the new LG UltraFine 5K monitors to Apple. Performance issues and poorly designed.

James Dempsey:

Just got told by @AppleSupport to contact LG support about 5K monitor. This was so much better when Apple made the whole widget.

It’s my newly delivered LG 5K display in its little-known ‘Two Pixel Mode’.

Its either this or blank connecting new MBP in clamshell mode.

Max Schoening:

1 out of 5 times plugging in the 5K LG monitor into a MBP throw a kernel panic. 1 out of 8 connected peripherals don’t work.

Ortwin Gentz:

Received my UltraFine 5K display today. Sadly it’s DOA. Works only with Apple Power brick attached and then kernel_task spins up to >100%.

Update (2017-01-25): Adam C. Engst (MacRumors):

TidBITS recently published an ExtraBITS link pointing at a Reddit thread claiming that Apple had removed reviews from the Apple Store page for the LG UltraFine 5K Display (see “Apple Pulls LG UltraFine 5K Display Reviews,” 23 January 2017). We have since learned that Apple never turned reviews on for that product, possibly because it was available only for pre-order for some time before shipping.

Update (2017-07-31): Matej Bukovinski:

Image retention on my LG 5k has gotten severe enough for people to read my Slack conversations on the lock screen for minutes.

Apple Removes LinkedIn App From Russian App Store

Cecilia Kang and Katie Bennerjan (via MacRumors):

Smartphone users in Russia can no longer download the LinkedIn app on iPhone or Android devices, following a similar move in China to block The New York Times app on iPhones.

The demand by Russian authorities to remove LinkedIn in Apple and Google app stores comes weeks after a court blocked the professional networking service for flouting local laws that require internet firms to store data on Russian citizens within the nation’s borders.

[…]

Direct blocking of websites has been done by China, Russia, Turkey and several other nations for years, usually through their state-run internet service providers. But civil rights groups say the pressure authoritarian governments are now placing on Apple and Google is a new wrinkle.

“Apps are the new choke point of free expression,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, who leads a project on open internet tracking at New America.

Previously: Apple Removes New York Times Apps From Chinese App Store.

OPML File Type on Macs

Brent Simmons:

I was fixing a bug in OmniOutliner where it wouldn’t open a file with an uppercase .OPML suffix. I did some digging, and the fix was to register the app as handling the com.apple.news.opml file type.

[…]

OPML — Outline Processor Markup Language — was invented in 2000 by Dave Winer at UserLand Software. It’s not Apple’s format, and the correct file type is org.opml.opml.

I seem to recall a similar issue with a non-standard UTI for Markdown.