Watch WWDC for Technology Futures

Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference is this morning, and so I’m annoyed by all the people who are wrong on the internet. 😉

The mainstream press, and even some of the tech press (and certainly the financial press) never seem to know what to think of the news from WWDC. The tendency is to think of it as a product announcement event, even though product announcements at WWDC happen only occasionally.

WWDC is the richest look at Apple’s long-term plans that we ever see. As much as individual new products are picked apart and analyzed, the best information about Apple’s plans and the general direction of their technologies and products comes at WWDC.

This is a show for Developers. Most Developers are chomping at the bit to find out what new features and systems will be in this year’s new software, including Apple’s major operating systems (iOS, MacOS, et. al.), and languages and tools (Swift, Xcode, SwiftUI, ARKit, et. al.). Developers want to start building!

But many of us also watch closely for directional signals on what’s coming in the future. For example, Apple’s Memoji are cute animated avatars that you can design and decorate. They are cute and fun, but many people thought them silly and even useless. But developers saw the directional signal: Apple’s deep integration commitment for Augmented Reality. Apple’s commitment to privacy has been on display year after year at WWDC. And although we couldn’t really know it for sure at the time, Apple’s Metal framework for graphics presaged the move to Apple Silicon.

Apple’s just wrapping up the transition to using its own processors, Arm-based Apple Silicon, across all products. The last major product family to get Apple Silicon, Mac Pro, will be coming out soon – possibly being announced at WWDC today.

Both SwiftUI and ARKit are high on my list for expected improvements. They have both been developing in some interesting ways the last couple years and are also both “unfinished” in ways that are both frustrating and intriguing.

The pace is sometimes frustrating. Holes in capabilities (and bugs!) can be maddening. But it’s still remarkable the progress made over a few years.

Apple Design Awards 2022

Every year, Apple celebrates brilliant app and game design with the Apple Design Awards. It’s a huge honor to be a finalist or selected as an Apple Design Award winner.

I love this event because it celebrates the best of the independent software world. Many of the recipients of the awards are small teams or even individual developers. It’s so fun to see the creativity and beauty of these apps. You can check out the finalist at Apple’s Design Awards Page. The awards ceremony will be Monday, June 6th at 5pm (Pacific) and will be streamed online at that page linked above.

Have a look at all the finalists and you’re sure to find something you love. I already knew of several but was delighted to learn about (Not Boring) Habits, and Gibbon: Beyond the Trees. And I’m so happy to see Halide Mark II in the finalists list.

Have a look for yourself and find something that tickles you!

Hacking with Swift – a great learning resource

I’ve been following Paul Hudson’s work for a few years now, and I’m also a very happy subscriber to his Hacking with Swift+ program. Paul provides great learning resources, many of them for free. If you want to get started learning Swift (and SwiftUI), I recommend 100 Days of SwiftUI, his free learning program. He also has a UIKit version, at 100 Days of Swift.

But right now, around WWDC2022, he’s also running specials on his books and bundles, for 50% off.

https://www.hackingwithswift.com/offers

I have enjoyed and learned a lot from his books, and own all of his bundles. It’s amazing how he keeps updating the various books. I really don’t know how he does it all. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to meet him and thank him personally at (or around) WWDC this year.

Being There

There is a new retrospective book about Apple that’s just out, “After Steve: how Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul“, by Tripp Mickle. It sounds like a good book with some good stories. But many Apple followers are pointing out the flaws in the narrative. It seems the author doesn’t really “get” Apple.

But Apple is a weird company. Their business model, organization structure and decision-making confound many people in the business And while the author has some great first-hand accounts of what went on, it’s not the same as Being There.

If you want a good sense of how the story-telling can go right, I recommend “Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs“, by Ken Kocienda. A big part of the reason this is a better book is because this author “was there”. Ken was Principle Engineer of iPhone Software at Apple, and specifically the DRI (Directly Responsible Individual) for the original iPhone keyboard. This story is from an earlier period, when Steve Jobs was still alive, but what’s important is that the narrative he presents of how things worked, and why, runs well with everything long followers of Apple understand about the company.

But Being There doesn’t solve everything. You still get differing perspectives. I’ve been in Silicon Valley a long time, and like most people here I have my own experiences of Being There. But when I talk to colleagues about “the good old days”, is remarkable how differently we remember some things. And I’m not talking about memories fading with time. We were looking at events from different perspectives, and with different information (and biases, and understanding), so we came away with our own differing narratives of how things worked, and why.

So I don’t judge this new book about Apple based on a simple question of whether the author got the story fully right. The question is whether it adds something valuable to the story. From the reviews, I think it’s worth a shot, so I’ll be picking the book up.

Learning Swift andSwiftUI

This is a great time to get started learning Swift and SwiftUI. The language and tools have matured to a very usable state, and there are some excellent learning resources out there.

I’ve been learning Swift and SwiftUI for a bit now and I’m getting fairly proficient. During this journey I’ve taken several online courses and bought quite a few books. Most of these were very well done and I’m glad to have supported their creators in some small way. But a few really stand out.

Big bonus for the 2021 Holiday season, these folks are all having Black Friday or Holiday sales. See each site for details.

Hacking with Swift is a website by Paul Hudson that teaches Swift and SwiftUI. His free course 100 Days of SwiftUI is excellent. If you like his style (and his dogs!), he also has some paid options that are very much worth the money – several books and an excellent online membership called Hacking with Swift+ (https://www.hackingwithswift.com/plus) Paul keeps creating new lessons and updating old ones and I subscribe so that I can have access to all of it. (Plus I like supporting Paul’s fine work!)

The books that have really made a difference for my deeper understanding of Swift and SwiftUI are all written by Daniel Steinberg at Dim Sum Thinking (https://dimsumthinking.com). I first met Daniel some years ago at a technical conference where he gave a short talk. I was immediately impressed with his teaching style and the way he brings to life the underlying structure and logic of the programming language and related libraries and tools. His books and lectures go beyond simple “how-to” to teach how things work and why. You can find his brilliant books, including a full bundle of them, and his videos and other work at https://editorscut.com, and he sells his books as eBooks at Gumroadhttps://editorscut.gumroad.com

If you are coming from a Design Background, or if you are like me and are very much NOT a designer, then you’ll get a lot of value from the courses at Design+Code – https://designcode.io. Meng and Stephanie are great instructors! Their courses are first-rate, and you can get started for free. I especially love the visual, hands-on teaching method. Also, if you join there are design tools and other extras.

There are so many other wonderful books and courses out there, you can simply poke around and find something to your liking. I feel guilty not listing all those that I know. But the most important thing is to start. Pick a course, free or paid, and get rolling. Try to do a little every day and you’ll make quick progress. And don’t forget to have fun!

Are You Susceptible?

One of the problems we face is that it’s easy to get people to agree with the premise that social media manipulates people, but difficult to get them to believe that they, personally, are being manipulated.

“You’re converting people’s lives into digital models. Collecting all the data the leave out in the world, and using that to both forecast their behavior and to manipulate them.” – Roger McNamee

The manipulation is generally very subtle. But a small effect, repeated and built over thousands of interactions, can develop into substantial changes in behavior, and in beliefs.

This all seems pretty innocuous when it’s a laundry soap advertiser trying to get you to switch to their brand. But various kinds of bad actors have also used these tools very effectively.

These bad actors don’t need to reach everyone. They only need to find those who are susceptible to their manipulation. Then they turn the screws to get what they want.

You should wait to install MacOS Catalina

 

There is a lot of really great stuff in Apple’s new macOS release, Catalina (macOS 10.15).

But there is also a lot changed that can cause problems.

I strongly recommend you wait until the first major update (likely macOS 10.15.1) before upgrading to macOS Catalina.

If you do decide to upgrade to Catalina, be sure to take all the usual extra precautions, especially to make a full image backup of your main boot drive. Right now, my recommendation is Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) which has a new version available that works with Catalina. (SuperDuper, my other long-time favorite, has not yet (as of this writing on October 8th, 2019) released a version that works with Catalina.) 

The makers of CCC have written a great blog post, which also explains a bit about what is changed in Catalina that makes it complicated to support and why having a fully bootable backup is essential for safety. (tl;dr – it’s the only way to go BACK to Mojave.)

https://bombich.com/blog/2019/10/07/cloning-catalina-carbon-copy-cloner

I always recommend maintaining a fully bootable backup that’s updated on a regular basis, but before this Catalina upgrade, it really is absolutely essential. 

 

For a full review of macOS Catalina, check out MacStories: 

https://www.macstories.net/news/macos-catalina-the-macstories-review/

Celebrating the Public Domain

Today I’m in San Francisco at The Internet Archive, where they are hosting a “Grand Re-opening of the Public Domain.”

The main stage program is being live-streamed on the YouTube Channel of the Internet Archive:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=IoATBk-3yn8

In this time of uncertainty, confusion, and division, it’s wonderful to be celebrating creativity and history here today.

Finding Optimism in the Tech Industry

Until a few years ago, the tech world, and especially the computer systems and software industries, were full of imagination and inspiration. A computer was a ‘bicycle for the mind’ 1, and the internet a ‘town square for the global village’ 2.

Now, instead, we have growth at any cost and an advertising-driven business model that invades our lives and manipulates us to click again for that next dopamine rush.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I’m hoping, and even betting, that this is a aberration, a temporary derailing of our progress.

Technology itself is not the answer. As always, all progress will come from talented and creative people. But to turn this around takes the right kinds of values, and development of a different kind of vision for a technological future.

Look Where You Want to Go

I’m a skier, and even though my arthritic right knee doesn’t let me take on the mountain like I used to, skiing is still deep inside me. When I was first learning about mindfulness and meditation, I recognized the peaceful focus described by Jon Kabat Zinn and Alan Watts in my solo tracks on steep slopes through the trees. It’s “the zone,” but not in the constrained and restricted mode that sports often evoke, but in an open, free, and spacious awareness. Skiing the trees is different from running gates for time. The perfection is creative. The pathfinding is artistry. It’s a dance.

One thing you don’t do when skiing through the trees is look at the trees. You look at the gaps between the trees — you look where you want to go, not at what you want to avoid. You look beyond the immediate gap in front of you. You see, all at once, all the shapes and possibilities down the whole mountain. You don’t take a direct route, but choose creatively for fun; for variety and for expression.

For years now, the world of Silicon Valley has been dominated by a focus on growth, which brings with it an implied strategy of free products supported by advertising, driving problematic tactics to maximize engagement. Engagement. That’s the term of art for what might also be called click addiction.

Google’s unofficial motto, “Don’t be Evil” always struck me as lacking. They are saying, “Don’t hit the tree.” There is an opportunity they have to refine that to focus on building something good, rather than avoiding something bad. There’s no creative energy developed from “don’t hit the tree.”

Google’s official mission statement is better: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” But I’d be more impressed if it answered a human question of “why.” But even here they fall down. Look at YouTube, a place where the rabbit hole of video after video will take one to darker and more outrageous places. Maybe if they had some more human focus on improving the world, they would find some way to surface better material on YouTube. Maybe.

Who do You Choose to Be?

When Tim Cook says that “he wouldn’t be in this situation,” he a referring to Facebook but also commenting on this whole ecosystem. Facebook, of course, has well-documented problems as their targeted advertising tools have be used by bad actors to foment division and crank up the rage. But it’s not that different elsewhere. A whole industry exists to glean information about us from our every interaction and then drop targeted advertising in front of us wherever we go online. All of this creates problems for vulnerable individuals and groups to be sure, but also for society as a whole. Tim Cook wouldn’t be in this situation because the business he runs, Apple, doesn’t operate to maximize engagement or even to monopolize a market. The business strategy you choose has consequences.

The key, I think, is to build and generate capability in people. Help them to better do work that’s important. Or at least help them to more easily do the neccessary work so that they can focus more of their energy on the important stuff. Help people be creative. Help people build a community. Help people collaborate. Help people understand and solve difficult problems.

For Facebook, for Twitter, for Google and their subsidiary YouTube, and probably for Uber and others, this may be the only way for them to survive long-term. This may seem a silly thing to say when these are among the top companies in the world. But each of these companies thrive when people use them, and one barrier to people using them is the trust gap that’s developing.

Outrage and division can only work as an engagement driver for so long, before people tire of it and withdraw. I’m already advising friends and family to improve their online experience by blocking purveyors of outrage and by turning off notifications for all but the most necessary updates. But these simple steps of self-defense may not be enough.

I propose that the only way for these companies to fix this trust gap is to refocus on serving the needs of people and communities. For some it may already be too late.

But I also think that just as some of the most creative and useful advances on the internet came out of the years following the collapse of the first Internet Bubble, frustration with today’s algorithmic advertising wasteland and its outrage-driven engagement algorithms is generating fascinating work on privacy and security and new tools and new models for communities and advocacy. In these, if not in the big tech companies, I find some optimism.