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Tuesday
Nov012011

The Verge launches, at long last!

The new home of technology journalists Joshua Topolsky (who also has his own column in the Washington Post), Nilay Patel, and Paul Miller launched early this morning.  It's been under wraps since its announcement this past spring, when the inseperable trio of dapper gadgeteers fled the burning ship of Engadget after its purchase by the content-farming, media-banalizing AOL.  Teaming up with SB Nation, an online media network known for its sports coverage (of all things), they vowed to create a new home for their fans that was bigger, more advanced, more beautiful, and just all around better than any other technology news coverage site out there.

I think it's fair to say that they've done just that.  The social media integration seems so far to be unlike anything I've ever seen anywhere else (such as tweeting individual forum posts), and the layout of the homepage is rich and elegantly curated, and refreshingly app-like.  A webshow is in the making, and with Josh's sharp eye and wry wit, Nilay's uncontrolled laughter and litigious expertise, and Paul's goofiness and unabashed optimism, it's likely to be enormously entertaining.

So go ahead, create your own profile, and make the most of this awesome and ambitious new project by some of the coolest and most forward-thinking journalist/geeks around!

(And hopefully this post doesn't ironically canabalize my already meager readership...)

 

theverge.com

Thursday
Oct062011

Visionary Steve Jobs dies at age 56

Waves of shock and grief rippled across the world yesterday after the announcement that Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple, had quietly passed away.  A visionary artist and genius engineer, Jobs' name has become synomonmous with astute inspiration, intense dedication, raw ambition, and an inability to settle for anything less than the absolute best.  He was a seer of products so refined and flawlessly crafted that they have become a source of daily joy for those who use them, and have ushered in an information revolution that has enlightened, informed, consoled, and empowered all of society – the world is a better place because of him, and the indelible impact he made has redefined the technology industry as well as the definition of what it means to be a forward-thinking and innovative company.

Headlines all across the media today are dedicated to the man who not only introduced to the world iPods and iPhones, but also helped birth the modern graphical user-interface that we all use today.

Sunday
Jul242011

Mac OS X Lion: An overview

Just a few clicks (and about 30 mins install time) away...

Yet another big cat has descended from Apple's elusive mountaintop laboratory, eager to spread its wisdom, to further empower users, to lighten their burden, and ultimately move the industry forward.  Considering its bold and rather wild nature, one thing is for certain: this lion's got courage, and a lot of it.  Apple CEO Steve Jobs has used the words "revolutionary" and "game-changer" quite a few times to describe Apple's products – in the case of Lion, the changes it brings to the table are indeed quite profound (their implications even more so).

With Mac OS X Lion, Apple has sought to take what the company had learned from the realm of mobile (iOS) and figure out ways in which to implement those same UI-dynamics into the traditional desktop/laptop user interface. Steve Jobs has himself described Lion as simply a first step, a mere precursor to a radical rethinking of interfacing with computers.  It seems as though the iOS elements inherent in Lion are just a first step toward an ultimate marriage of iOS and OS X (some are saying in a very near future where nearly all computing is done via touchscreen – that I don't know about).  Jobs has also said that for the past 10 years he's been trying to get rid of the entire file system that we've been using for decades.  This in mind, applications like iTunes, iPhoto, and iMovie, along with OS X Lion's Versions all allude to Apple's daring vision of a brave new world in computing devoid of any trace of the traditional file system we've grown to see as an unquestionable and self-evident characteristic of any operating system.

All conjecture aside, one thing is for certain: Mac OS X Lion is perhaps one of the most substantial Mac OS releases in many, many years.  Containing 250+ new features, the new iteration of OS X is literally brimming with refinements and shortcuts.  My aim is to outline the fundamental UI changes and highlight the features which stand out most to me as an avid Mac user.

One of the key features of Lion is the ability of applications to go full-screen, wrapping themselves across the entire screen from corner to corner – no menu bar, no dock, and no scroll bars (in fact the entire OS has gotten rid of the once-intrusive permanent scroll bar system, opting instead for an appearing/disappearing bar, mimicking iOS).  Full-screen mode makes browsing your Mail inbox or iTunes library quite a bit more enjoyable, weeding out other visual distractions and making use of the entirety of your screen's realestate.  I myself was not sure that full-screen mode could be anything more than a gimmick or an erraneous assumption on Apple's part that users secretly wish for their desktop OS to reflect the single-task format of iOS on the iPad and iPhone.  But upon using it for the first time, I found that it simply clicked and felt natural.

Up until now, the prevailing logic of scrolling has been to scroll the navigation bar – that is, scrolling upwards moves the content upwards.  However Apple has taken touchscrolling from iOS, where you are literallly pushing the content up or down, and integrated it into OS X Lion.  It's what is known as "natural scrolling" as opposed to the predominant inverted-scrolling.  Although Lion comes defaulted with natural scrolling, it can be turned off in System Preferences.  A bit like driving on the opposite side of the road than you're used to (say in a foreign country), initially the experience can be jarring, but once you've done it for a few days it begins to makes sense.

Mission Control is the hybrid of what was previously Exposé and Spaces.  An upwards three-finger gesture brings up this new navigation platform of all open windows, full-screen apps, and desktops (what were once Spaces).  The lower majority of the screen is dedicated to open windows within the current (or last opened) desktop.  The top bar displays all open full-screen applications (dashboard is by default it's own full-screen app, however this can be disabled) and desktops.  Moving the cursor to the top right brings up a "+" tab for created a new desktop.  All of these changes are a joy to use, and make me feel like I have gained more control over my workflow than I previously thought possible.  Mission Control has made the rarely-used Spaces something not clunky and awkward, but instead natural, inuitive, and unobtrusively ever-present.

View of Mission Control, a "birds-eye view" of everything happening on your Mac – desktops/full-screen apps at the top, current desktop below.

Launchpad – very sexy.

The other major addition to the OS is Launchpad.  The idea is to display all of your applications in a grid-organized tapestry of icons, 2-finger swiping left and right carries you to other pages of apps.  To get there simply 4-finger pinch on the trackpad (unpinch with 4 fingers to exit).  Just like in iOS, applications in Launchpad can be organized to your liking, folders and all.

Resume is another great feature that seems almost obvious after you've learned about it.  This feature allow your Mac to remember exactly what windows you had open, what you were viewing (even where your cursor was located), etc., before you logged out or shut down your computer.  This way you can go right back to what you were doing beforehand without having to remember everything you were doing.  Auto Save is just that – OS X Lion automatically saves documents as your typing/editing them.  Result: no more loss of progress because you forgot to save.  Versions takes this logic a step further – now you are able to flip through (à la Time Machine) previous autosaves, meaning you can get back text/media that was previously edited out.  Giving the user further control is the ability to lock a document (stopping autosaving), or break off in a new direction in the form of a new document ("Duplicate"), or in Apple's words "...creates a copy of your document and places it next to the original. So you can start a fresh version using the original as a template."

Airdrop enables the user to wirelessly share files with any nearby Apple device – be it your iPhone or your friend's MacBook Air, and there needn't be a WiFi network.  Also new to the scene is Reading List, Apple's own take on the likes of Instapaper and Read Later.  However instead of saving offline versions of added webpages' text, Reading List merely acts as a queu of bookmarks of which you want to eventually read.

On top of these major additions and alterations, it seems as though every nook and cranny of OS X has been put under the microscope – every day so far I find some delightful new refinement or tweak.

Additional notable features include:

  • numerous aesthetic refinements (such as entirely new buttons, including more subtle exit/min/max buttons)
  • a word-prediction system (less obstrusive than the one in iOS)
  • a more fleshed out word-correction system
  • a new downloads system (now a drop-down list next to the search bar in Safari, from which items can be directly clicked, dragged, and dropped)
  • stacked search results in Spotlight, Finder, and Mail (among perhaps others)
  • Quick Look animated .gif playback (one of my personal favorites)
  • Mail now threads emails into conversations (like on the iPad and iPhone)
  • a brand new Address Book app that is far more easy/enjoyable to use
  • See the full listing.

List of new multi-touch gestures:

  • 3-finger gesture up: Brings up Mission Control (swipe again or click on negative space to go back).
  • 3-finger gesture left/right: Swipe through full-screen apps and desktops (works in Mission Control too).
  • 4-finger pinch: Brings up Launchpad. 4-finger un-pinch (or clicking on negative space) takes you out – it also spreads out a cluster of app windows on your current desktop in Mission Control. 
  • 2-finger swipe left-right: Backward/Forward in Safari (replacing the old 3-finger swipe).

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In you're interested in a full review, check out Paul Miller's from This is my next (soon to be The Verge).  But if his article doesn't satiate your techie curiosity, John Siracusa of Ars Technica has written a beautiful and fascinating piece disecting every last minute detail of the new OS (including highlighting Apple history and the most esoteric changes in the new OS' aesthetics).  The review is 45,000+ words long, and includes a full table of contents from which to navigate.  Definetely not for the light-hearted, but well worth checking out.

Mac OS X Lion review (by Paul Miller)

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: the Ars Technica review (by John Siracusa)

Sunday
Jul172011

An introduction to Google+

Perhaps you've heard of the new social network by the internet's biggest name, Google.  Still in beta form, the company's latest project has amassed 10+ million users already, and some are considering it a viable alternative to Facebook.  While still too early to come to any substantial verdict as to either network's superiority, I think it's quite evident that Google+ is the search giant's direct answer to Facebook.  As you may already know, tensions between the top two sites on the net are high, with each boldly encroaching upon the territory of the other (earlier this year Facebook's ugly smear-campaign against Google was uncovered, signaling just how desperate the situation between the two has gotten).

Google+ (however arid relations may have between the two dot.com titans) seemed to come out of nowhere, not unlike Twitter in 2006 (to which my initial reaction, shared by many others, was one of sheer bewilderment).  Twitter it seemed, served no purpose but to sound off bits about the most mundane and banal events in a one's daily life.  But what Twitter ended up becoming was not just a stream of status updates by friends, but instead a means to follow people you don't know and have never met.  The format of a 140 character-limit birthed an era of modern haikus, mentions, and hashtags, eventually becoming an ever-evolving culture in and of itself.  Somehow the same tidbit meant something entirely different when followed up with a clever hashtag – it seemed that what many initially saw as the bane of the service was instead proving to be the source of its charm and allure.  Twitter grew to become a window on the lives of people more accomplished or interesting than yourself, as well as a means of collaboration and mutual inspiration and enrichment.

I have to admit, at first I wasn't sure how Google+ was going to get off the ground.  Given the heated competition between Google and Facebook at the moment, Google+ initially seemed to be an act of desperation more than anything else.  Creating a new social network in a Facebook/Twitter dominated climate seems extremely bold on Google's part. However I'm beginning to realize that Google+ provides a refreshing new way to communicate and collaborate, functioning much like a fleshed out and more intimate Twitter, a more curated and sophisticated Facebook... a customizable stream/blog for each segment of your social and personal life – a veritable hybrid (and evolution) of all that we currently call social networking.

Circles presents a fundamental change in the organization of contacts – whereas Facebook's friend system is essentially indiscriminate, grouping everyone under the umbrella of 'friend', Google+ presupposes that the people in your life comprise different circles, each representing unique pieces of your social life.  Quite a few of your Facebook friends are probably uncles, long-lost high school classmates, acquaintances one added out of a sense of obligation, co-workers, etc., and so the same circle of friends who you'd like to share this article with may have no interest in the new vegan cupcake mix you found on your favorite vegan blog. Circles takes away the anxiety of re-designating friends into the categories the way that Facebook's lists, if we decide to use them, requires us to do.

Sparks lets you keep up to date on the latest trending stories on whatever topic you wish – simply add a new term (i.e. visual arts, social media, vegan recipes, China's economy, etc.) and it will remain in the sidebar for quick access.  The articles it pulls up can be quickly shared with the circles of your choice (or made public for all users).  In a similar vein there is +1, Google's answer to Facebook's sharing utility "Like", which adds another layer of personalization to the user experience.  +1 manages also to socialize once remotes corners of the web – instead reading an article and forgetting it, you can opt to +1 it, adding it to a list in your Google+ profile (available for all to see), and further refining Google's search analytics to cater to your interests.  If you care to share something you've come across, you can easily share it with the Circles of your choosing, in a form not unlike Facebook's streaming wall posts.

Hangouts serves as the service's video-chatting utility, in which you start a Hangout with any given Circle of 'friends', and as others in that Circle come online, they can freely join in on the conversation (or rather, "hang out").  Huddle is a similar feature, except it's only accessible via mobile phone (as of this article the iPhone app has yet to be released) and is restricted to text messaging.  While these features alone are nothing groundbreaking, they do add a further element of spontaneity and connectivity to Google's new social network.

Google+'s (along with +1's) aim will be to make the entire web a more connected and personalized place, and social networking a far more collaborative (and thus interesting, dynamic, and enriched) experience.  As more users join, participate in conversations, share articles, +1 their favorite content, create sparks, "hang out", and so on, the community will become richer, more dynamic and alive, and the sleeping beast (that is, Google+'s potential) shall rear its head...

...the way we interface with the internet may very well be forever changed – again.

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The inarticulate (and slightly obnoxious/humorous) promo video released by Google:

(love the turtle btw)

The official Google+ demo/promo YouTube playlist:

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLF3DFB800F05F551A

Wednesday
Jul132011

Google: What do you love?

Cute, but the search results, although neatly curated into various categories, often become ridiculous (one assuming that you may wish to call someone about your search for more information). I'm very glad Google is around to dabble in so many wonderful experimental projects, but without heavy revision I don't think this one's going to receive much more than a cursory glance by most end users.

side note: I love that they reference troll 2 in this promotional video – a little wink and nod to the early adopters who propagate new tools like this, bringing them into the mainstream.