Category: design

Initial iPhone 6 Plus impressions

Initial iPhone 6 Plus impressions

Make no mistake; I don’t actually have my 6 Plus yet. But I went out of my way to try and get one early in line Friday morning. When I found out for sure that the store wouldn’t have the stock to accommodate my order, it was only half an hour before they opened their doors. I decided to stick around and get my hands on the demo 6 Plus as a sanity check.

The manager was kind enough to take this pic of the phone (and my ass and my ill-conceived skinny jeans, but let’s stay focused). He also let me put the demo model in my purse so I could make sure it fit in the internal pockets. Even with the annoying security dongle thingy, it was very helpful to get to do this. And I decided there’s nothing to worry about, size-wise.

My use case

I have super severe tennis elbow in both arms. This means that I’ve gotten used to mostly typing two-handed since halfway through my usage of the very first iPhone, when my RSI injury occurred. It’s annoying, but I’m way faster and more accurate when I use two hands anyway. Yes, I do occasionally poke around one-handed, but that’s totally when I drop my phone or introduce typos or what have you. For me, “significant” one-handed use (like furious text entry) has long been a bad habit I needed to quit.

As for storing the device, I’m a lady who usually carries a purse. Even if the purse pockets that seem to be dedicated for cell phones are too small to accommodate a 6 Plus (not as problematic in recent purses), there’s usually this other larger zippered pocket opposite the “cell phone and pens” side. The 6 Plus fits (always in portrait, sometimes in landscape) in this zippered pocket in all my existing bags. My main concern is actually minor scratching/screen damage from touching said zipper, since I’m not sure any reputable screen protectors have shipped yet. In past years I’ve been inconsistent about screen protector usage, but I’d plan on using one specifically because the 6 Plus’s size means it’s more likely to knock into internal purse hardware.

I had no trouble fitting the 6 Plus poorly into my back pocket. I don’t tend to deliberately carry my iPhone in most pants pockets; front pockets are annoying for me (and often too small in lady pants, sigh) and back pockets have always looked weird and felt like a potential security risk (from pickpocketing to accidental toilet dropping). Back pocketing my iPhone has always felt like something ill advised, like a bad habit I wanted to quit. A larger form factor will force me to quit being lazy about securing my giant, expensive, blingy mini computer, you know?

The phone itself

The camera bulge is barely noticeable. I mean, sure, it’s more obvious than before, but it’s no big deal. Quit whining, tech Twitter. :) It’s NOTHING like the giant bulge on, say, a Nokia Lumia, and the pics do seem stellar. (Didn’t get to test the OIS in a low light setting, but it seemed even better than my 5s, as was expected.)

The screen is lovely. Didn’t notice anything janky with older apps, but everything on the phone appeared to be a special demo version so I doubt they had them loaded with shitty scaled-up apps. (Fun note; there was a copy of Threes on the demo phones! Nice plug, right? Pardon my terrible surreptitious pic.)

IMG_9299

The body style may be reminiscent of the original iPhone, but the 6 Plus’s external build quality feels nowhere near as nice as the first iPhone. The glass has a weird curved edge where it meets the body (can you kinda see its reflection in this awkwardly snapped shot?) and it actually seems to cheapen the whole look; it makes the screen seem like it’s made of plastic to me. The metal on the back isn’t as great as that first gen iPhone; again, it feels oddly plasticky, like when they try to trick you into thinking an appliance is stainless steel with a shitty layer of bullshit that inevitably peels within weeks. The buttons don’t have the same feel of incredibly sturdy and expensive materials. This phone feels great, don’t get me wrong, but I’m clearly super nostalgic for v1 of this thing, and the 6 Plus doesn’t really scratch that itch in person.

Oh, and Gruber is totally right! It’s super, duper weird to have that sleep-wake button on the side. That’s seriously going to mess with me, haha. I’ll fail to silence calls speedily for at least a month after I get it. I’m annoyed I didn’t also test the stronger vibrate motor that Gruber mentioned, but I forgot in my hurry to not block other customers who were actually going to buy something that day.

The gold is surprisingly tacky looking. Specifically, the whitish plastic accents on the back of the 6 Plus look terrible with that champagney gold. I had no space gray (also known as “gray”) model against which to compare, but I feel like black plastic accents will be subtler. It was like the white ones were sort of transluscent, which felt like a mismatch with the design vibe the rest of the device was going for. And of course, with black I’ll get the better contrast to make the screen look even better. (I still wish that the gold and black model Siracusa once theorized about existed; I’d totes get that.)

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 2.57.38 PMEdited to add: this helpful view on Target’s website actually shows me that the back of the Space Gray model still has ugly whitish translucent plastic on the back. I still think I’m going with this model, though, which I definitely wouldn’t have decided sight unseen.

The ordering process

I was at an out of town wedding during the night preorders went live, so I wasn’t timely about it. When I got home later that night, I tried placing a pre-order (at maybe 12:30 PM) and it was a train wreck via every Apple channel.

After some dogged research, I determined that the issue seemed to be that AT&T had a rule that they would only let me preorder and have it shipped to the address associated with my wireless account. An AT&T rep later confirmed this; they don’t permit ANY in-store pickup preorders. This seems insane to me since their competition clearly does permit in-store pickup preordering—and their shipping estimates even half an hour after launch were several weeks out. Such a crappy customer experience, and that seemingly random rule    is so poorly communicated to both customers and AT&T/Apple employees. (It took three escalations to get a clear answer.)

Anyway, I decided to try my luck at waiting in line, partly because I thought it might be kind of entertaining. (I’ve been an iPhoner on alternating years since the first gen, and I’ve never once waited in line.) So I got up at 4 and drove to my local Apple Store… where some 300 folks were already camping out. A confusing awkward encounter with an ex Apple retail employee (he thought he knew me, I thought I knew him, we were both wrong) convinced me to try my luck waiting in the nearby AT&T line instead. I did, and it  wound up being much more friendly and low volume. (Didn’t actually get me a phone though; d’oh!)

As we waited, I wound up explaining a bunch of AT&T features and options to many people in line, as well as loaning out pens for these stupid survey checklist things the employees handed out. It was a little hilarious. Their “Next” gimmick to get you to pay buttloads was very poorly understood. I also hadn’t realized that they would let you pay full retail price to avoid a two-year contract lock-in; I think that option is new for them. Us old time iPhoners theorized that AT&T would eventually cut the unlimited data plan into which many of us were grandfathered; if/when they do, I will probably jump ship since I find them to be an unpleasant carrier in so many ways.

I had actually looked into switching our household to another carrier  last year for my 5s purchase. I was deterred from T-Mobile by many reports of lesser network coverage in rural areas where friends and family live; I was reluctant to consider Verizon because they didn’t used to allow voice and data usage at the same time. (I haaaate talking on the phone without being able to multitask in email or with navigation on.) Verizon now seems to have solved that, but I’m not sure it’s worth bothering since they’re another “expensive” carrier. Still, if I do get kicked out of AT&T’s remaining $30/person unlimited data tier, I fully expect to jump ship somewhere.

After all this kerfluffle, I think we plan to order my 6 Plus at the same time as a new MacBook for Grant sometime next week, so we can finance it interest free. By the way, if you’ve never considered Apple’s financing option via Barclay, I highly recommend taking a look at it—most laptop purchases by people with decent credit will yield either 12 or 18 months of no interest, which is ample time to pay it off via reasonable monthly payments with no extra expense (unless you’re buying the $10k Mac Pro. And actually, I kinda wonder how this will work with gold ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ models, ya know? Hm.)

Obviously, don’t be cavalier about opening up lines of credit, especially if you’re trying to qualify for something bigger like a home loan—but I love this option and I’m glad to use it every couple years or so. The Barclay reps will even help you figure out the exact payment amount necessary to perfectly zero out at the end of the term.

So I won’t actually *get* my 6 Plus for several weeks, unless I manage to snag one at a store and decide to just pony up for it. Which I might. We’ll see. I’ll be in NYC soon; maybe I’ll buy one at the 5th Ave flagship store and then immediately get mugged before I’ve set up Touch ID.

Oh, and that reminds me: when I was chatting with a guy at Target after failing to buy one there, he said the 6 Plus is even bigger than [insert name of giant Android phone whose name I forget] and that that Android thing was his most commonly returned item because “it’s just way too big.” To him and his whiny customers, I say this: suck it up and get a purse! <3

Apparently, I care a lot about swag

Apparently, I care a lot about swag

Tina Roth Eisenberg (aka SwissMiss) recently asked her readership about swag, on Twitter and her blog.

I was surprised by the strength and length of my opinions on the subject in the comments. I think it’s due to the fact that, while I’m a hippie about our earth and a minimalist design snob in theory about possessions, I’m a complete sucker for free stuff. So rather than rail against swag as wasteful, I think companies can strive to make it awesome in all the right ways:

Useful or solves a problem.

The only swag I’ve ever enjoyed is stuff that’s well made and useful even if you wouldn’t think to buy it. I’ve seen several customized Field Notes notebooks; those are amazing. Expos like Penny Arcade often have people giving away enormous sturdy reusable bags for people to cart around their swag in—I like that model of being helpful and solving a problem. I’ve also received custom etched pint glasses that bore the logo of a fictional pub in the game I was working on; that was cool. I much prefer a glass I can pour beer into over a poster or a stuffed animal.

Be careful, though—most of us have an excess of cheap free water bottles and mugs and commuter coffee cups and such. I feel like you’ve got to make sure your useful product is actually better made than the industry average if you want people to appreciate it and use it—which of course you should, because why else are you creating it? So no cheap BPA-laden leaky water bottles. Make it count with quality materials and an attractive base design.

Fancy pens never lose.

Everyone needs a pen, right? I mean, at some point in life. Pharmaceutical companies make the BEST free pens, with gimmicky weird tricks when you click them or twist them, etc. They always have playful design even if the playful element is pointless—and they’re usually well-made pens, sometimes in metal and usually refillable. I had a student in Mexico City who was a psychiatrist specializing in ADHD; he used to save up pens for me from ADHD drug makers because they so delighted me. Little tricks like if you clicked them the colored dots exposed under the brushed aluminum would change from gray (sad?) to yellow and orange (happy?) and such. It was delightful to have a toy embedded in a pen. (Doesn’t hurt that it was a really nice well-made pen with good heft, a metal body, and smooth ink flow.)

Legal services/conferences follow closely behind in Pen Swag Awards—my favorite pens to this date are ones from ten years ago when my law student roommate snagged me Lexis Nexus pens with integrated tape flags, and even this one pen that has a light in the nib for taking notes in a darkened room during a presentation. (Annoying to your neighbors, perhaps, but I’m still a sucker for a gimmicky pen.) They’re again well crafted, ergonomic, and they usually pack some kind of extra-useful feature beyond that of a standard pen. Can’t lose being useful.

Quality materials that show good taste.

I also love swag made from lovely materials—a Korean video game conference yielded a pen made of bent wood veneer. So cool. I’ve gotten swag made of glass or wood or even concrete once or twice; interesting high-quality materials set you apart.

And of course, a decent sense of aesthetics matters. This is more subjective to define, but I usually see decent overlap between people who choose natural materials and people who have an excellent product design aesthetic. And natural materials can sometimes even elevate mundane items, IMO.

Make it a true gift with minimal branding.

I also think it’s thoughtful and respectful when your swag’s branding is minimal. It’s more “generous” and less “transparent and borderline desperate marketing attempt.” I think more kindly of a company if they just made me something cool but didn’t force their company name down my throat in the process, you know? It also allows for a longer tail.

For example, a business card holder is nice conference swag, but it’s more likely to be used at OTHER conferences if it doesn’t say ADOBE in huge letters on the back. A small mark in the corner is more in keeping with the theoretically generous gesture of giving someone a free little gift, if you ask me.

One exception is when the overall look is custom, even though the branding is minimal—XOXOFest gave out awesome hot pink Field Notes notebooks; when I see someone else writing in one of those I basically know we share the Secret Code of XOXO. (Full disclosure; I was not an official attendee but I was in town visiting with folks who attended. They gave me pity notebooks, I suppose, haha.) Recognizable traits like that are OK if you pulled off good taste and subtlety in the actual brand name being stamped somewhere.

Everyone hates pointless cheap tchochkes.

Stuff like buttons, patches, glasses, keychains, and cheap plastic cups or tchotchkes are what I think it’s best to avoid. Those are all ugly and disposable feeling; they just seem like an utter waste. You’re better off doing nothing than spending money on crap.

No paper products.

Any paper products (fliers, brochures etc.) are an even graver utter no-no. It’s like you missed the memo about what swag is supposed to be, and it’s purely harmful to the environment without the redeeming “fun” factor of swag as a gift-like object.

My only exception to this was in Tokyo, advertisers often gave out packs of toilet paper with ads printed on the outside, because many public toilets there don’t have paper available. I never actually wound up using it, but I respected that idea and count this as more “useful/problem-solving” than “paper product” in my mind.

Don’t overspend

I’ve never actually been to the kind of event that gives away crazy spendy swag like free iPads or headphones or battery cases, but I see a bunch of mixed/disappointed reactions from people on the receiving end of higher-end swag. It feels wasteful; the gesture of having spent $200 per person on bulk Microsoft Surface pricing is crazy. People start thinking, “Couldn’t they have just lowered the ticket price, or let me at least pick my specs, or donated this to charity, or ___?” It’s such a personal thing, choosing what tech we spend hundreds of dollars on. When someone else makes that call for you (and engraves it to diminish potential resale value, heh) it just feels, I don’t know, like that generosity is misplaced and telegraphs poor judgment.

Maybe I just know a bunch of ingrates, but I think everyone would agree that it seems like the money could have been put to better use. So if you offer something pricey, make it also a problem-solver—like Tina’s commenter Daniel who said his company gives out mobile battery packs because people are always stressing about battery life at conferences. THAT is the right idea!

Design getting in the way of content

Design getting in the way of content

I’ve had a recent epiphany about website design. I’m blown away by how much I’ve fought usability in order to shoehorn in certain design quirks or trends or ideas that were utterly out of sync with the goal of delivering a useful and easy to navigate website. I’m hanging my head in CSS shame here.

Anyway, don’t freak out. New site coming soon, which will involve a new look. It might go through a few new looks. It’s still me, though! <3

Design lessons from narwhals

Design lessons from narwhals

This is a whale tale. It’s a father-daughter story. It’s also a lesson about a design job gone wrong. It was inspired by a recent blog post from Seth Godin, soliciting a narwhal logo for the Krypton College project he started. (You can see the logo they ended up with here.)

When I was in second grade, my class studied whales. We each got to pick a specific whale to specialize in, but we also studied whales in general. We took some really cool field trips to areas where we were supposed to see orca whale pods that never actually materialized—but we had loads of fun, and we played with jellyfish and tidepool crabs and generally managed to still learn a lot. Much of which I still remember, if you feel like quizzing me!

My whale was the coveted narwhal—coveted of course because of its similarity to a unicorn. In case you were wondering, most second-grade girls LOVE unicorns. (Heck, the boys probably liked ’em too, but I was the big Unicorn Whale Winner that year.) I was SO STOKED! I think I liked narwhals EVEN BETTER than unicorns!

 

Image: Unicorn Free by Amy Hoy
Image: Unicorn Free by Amy Hoy

On one of our educational field trips, we went into a whale-watching museum gift shop. There was this cool little toy of a curvy orca impaled with a dowel, who could be spun along this track of two pieces of wood. You’d spin the dowel and the little orca would somersault in flip after flip; it was delightful, kind of like a Pacific Northwest executive toy for a desk, you know? (I’ve tried and tried to find an example to show you, but it’s elusive.)

I of course wanted one, but in a narwhal instead of an orca, duh. I wanted this badly, despite my not considering the factors a) that the narwhal was much longer proportionally, especially when you included its horn; and b) that in fact the cool toy-rendered spinny motion was not a natural behavior for either species of whale. No matter; I wanted a spinny narwhal toy, and my father was a hobbyist woodworker who was delighted to potentially grant his daughter’s wish. So Dad and I set about making our own narwhal version of this toy.

Well, first of all, I failed to articulate that the orca toy had been painted, so all of its black and white detail showed. The narwhal isn’t nearly as high contrast or recognizable in its markings as the orca is, but I still probably envisioned a dappled gray end result with a stained ivory tusk. Instead we did the whole thing in some sort of soft wood, with a walnut stain effect. It turned out lovely, but eight-year-old me was probably confused as to why it didn’t look more like the toy I had remembered and (to my mind) faithfully described.

 

A real narwhal.
Credit: Save the Narwhals

Second of all, there was no internet. This was in the late 80s, and we couldn’t just Google up a narwhal’s dimensions. So I think we either winged it, or *maybe* dug around trying to find a relevant National Geographic before winging it. Some sort of Encyclopedia Britannica or Commodore 64 action may have been involved as well. In the end, the narwhal we produced had a tusk that was much shorter than a faithfully realistic narwhal model’s would have to be. I don’t think I even noticed this as a kid, but I can’t help noticing it now, haha.

Lastly, I thought I had described the orca toy’s spinning and flipping and catapulting well—in hindsight, its motions were actually more like that of a seal than of any whale family member I’ve seen in action. But anyway, it spun. Like, all the way around, somersault style. Multiple times from one push. It spun from either the rightmost point on the tracks all the way to the left, or vice versa if you flipped the toy around, and it completed MANY revolutions in that distance with minimal user effort; this was greatly satisfying. We, ah, we may have miscalculated that part. (I’m guessing I didn’t fully articulate the spinning nature, nor did I pipe up authoritatively during the manufacturing process when I realized that there was no way this non-curved narwhal with its lengthy tusk was going to be able to spin around on its own competently.)

Our end product was a gorgeous walnut-stained narwhal with a short tusk, straight body, and tracks that could accommodate only a faint rocking back and forth motion. Furthermore, we failed to take into account the balance of the whole narwhal’s body, so its head leans forward significantly when at rest. (The orca is pointless to compare to here since its shape was totally different, but I believe my young self would want the balance to be even or slightly favoring the head, if she had to give up on the spinny action. Just a hunch. Because, you see, the head comes up for air. I was weirdly kid-logical even at eight.)

Interestingly, Dad actually added in a few improvements. That textured detailing on the horn was pretty painstaking, I’m betting. That’s true to form and outside the scope of my original vision/request. And see how he used a router to round out the edges of all but the tail and fin spots? That gives the whole thing more depth and dimension than I had envisioned; the orca I was modeling my request after was more 2-D. It was flat on both sides and maybe a centimeter and half thick in the middle. None of the edges were rounded like this; any dimension on the orca came from paint rather than actual texture or form.

My little narwhal

I absolutely treasure my adorable little narwhal model now, and I’ve had it on display in every home I’ve lived in as an adult. It (he, I think) gets lots of compliments. But I still think it’s an amusing window into how the design process can go very wrong. (Note that I’m not a designer at all, and neither is my dad; I’m just amused to ponder this as a Pretend Case Study.) I want to make clear that I don’t intend to take away from the awesome work of my wonderful father, whose generosity and joy in creating cool woodworking items lives on. But let’s put on our Design Hats break down where we went wrong if this had been an official modern adult design transaction.

1) I failed to articulate my needs. I wanted some very specific elements to be included, like paint and functional motion, but I didn’t specify them, and my dad as a non-designer didn’t know how to ask questions that would draw out a complete spec. He worked with the vague picture I painted and he created a mental picture from scratch based on my youthful ramblings.

2) We failed to adequately research. Between the two of us, we probably could have come up with some data point indicating that the narwhal’s tusk would have to be n percentage of its body length; we then could have figured out how much space it needed to clear in order to turn an orca-like revolution.

3) I didn’t speak up or halt the presses when I saw things going wrong. This is assuming I even saw things going wrong or had any ability whatsoever to compute this; really, I have no recollection. I was eight. But I think I could tell that it was shaping up differently than my mind’s eye when I saw Dad at work. (I would watch and learn as he created things.)

4) We both allowed design assumptions to be made, without checking in. Dad actually did something much more elegant than the orca; he rounded the edges of all but the tail on our narwhal. This is way more sophisticated and realistic-looking than the more 2-D orca toy which inspired the project. But he also assumed stain was fine, he assumed the dowel placement didn’t matter, and he assumed the piece was more for display than for toy-like use (I think). I assumed he could read my mind.

These are all interesting problems that I imagine actual design professionals face. I myself am learning to define my intentions, articulate them better, and check in more regularly when I hire creative vendors for my online dating coaching company. What say you, Actual Design Professionals? Have you run into anything like this with a grown-up client?

Virginia vs. Minimally Minimal

Virginia vs. Minimally Minimal

A blogger I love, Andrew Kim, recently reviewed a couple mobile phones. Andrew is a very different person than I am. I’m design-picky, for sure, but I’m far more obsessed with pragmatism, ergonomics, and comfort than with aesthetics, minimalism, and polish. We have different careers and backstories that inform our different values, and I’m WAY less savvy about photography than he is. I’ve been reading his blog (thanks to Grant) for a couple years, and I find his tech reviews the most fascinating of all his content, because I’ve never read anyone whose love of design tips the scales so heavily. I respect it even if I don’t get it.

Image sourceAndrew recently reviewed the Nokia Lumia 1020, and he praised it highly. VERY highly. Especially the photography. So I was very eager to check out one of these devices. 1 A few weeks ago, when some strangers at a nighttime event asked me to take a pic of them using their Nokia Lumia 1020, I was stoked to check it out.

My impression of that phone was colored by Andrew’s glowing review, and I was immediately disappointed. I was surprised by how heavy yet cheap the chassis felt. That camera bump was AWFUL. The gal who owned the phone kept explaining to me that you touch anywhere on the screen to take a pic, which I understood but I guess I seemed like I didn’t get it as I spent too long analyzing her phone, because I was inspecting the device and I think she was like ‘WTF is wrong with this chick,’ haha. So: press anywhere. Nice feature! 2

But the pics SUCKED; or rather, the ones I could see sucked. The phone took forever to actually shoot after my press, and it kept jumping around in regards to focus and lighting and color while it was trying to shoot. After this awkward jumpy delay cycle, the shots it ended on each time were distinctly green-tinged and didn’t look all that high res at all. Maybe the Nokia’s screen just isn’t as amazing as Apple’s retina screen, because the exported Nokia pics Andrew posts in his 5s review definitely look higher-res and crisper. This was not at all apparent on the device’s screen. They were grainy, greenish, barely-in-focus shots that took several seconds for the phone to render. It felt incredibly backwards and laggy and shoddy given that Andrew set my expectations sky-high. Granted, this is one low-light, biased encounter. But still.

Yet when I see the output from Andrew’s shooting, the Nokia fares indisputably better when it comes to graininess (definitely) and focus (I think). In his iPhone 5s review, Andrew shows a number of side by sides, which I’m not posting here outright because I feel like he’s the kind of blogger who would strongly prefer that I not do so, even if I linked back to him. You’ll just have to go read his full post. He does point out that, while the iPhone 5s seems to incorrectly over-warm shots when the flash is used, the Lumia 1020 seems to over-cool them so neither choice is perfect. But I’ll be damned if nearly every Lumia shot doesn’t look better the way he presents them (his captions indicate the settings).

I wish I could follow up with those Night Market stranger girls and ask to see the output of those photos, you know, the enormous high-res versions that I’m pretty sure you have to use a cable to transfer off your phone. That would be, pardon the pun, ilLUMI(a)nating. (I’m so sorry. Please feel free to remove me from your RSS reader.) But I can’t; all I can say is that for much more casual photographers like myself, the 5s felt like a more natural photography experience.

I’d love to toy around with a Nokia Lumia 1020 more. Heck, I’d love to have a shoot-off with Andrew himself, though I’m sure he has many more interesting social and press-ish requests. As a lazy photographer consumer, I’ve been obsessed with having a great camera on my phone for many years now, because it drastically affects the number and the quality of photos I take. (I was one of those people who came home from a vacation with nothing to show until about the 3GS.) I’ve never had a natural talent or affinity for photography, but I sure feel more competent with a powerful cell phone in my purse or pocket. I can totally see gravitating to whatever hardware has the best camera in a decade, when all operating systems are totally different than the current weirdly forked Apple/Android/Windows marketplace. That’s what it feels like Andrew was doing, but prematurely, since the market in my eyes is still so much more favorable to Apple customers.

Andrew makes a very good point about how emotional we get in relation to our phones:

Phones are fascinating. They live closer to our body than any other device other than the watch. And if your job doesn’t involve working on a PC, you probably use it more than any other “computer”. Because of our intimate relationship to these glowing bricks, we seem to become very emotional about what device we chose. I don’t think I’ve gotten more dramatic responses than when I praised Windows Phone or bought an iPhone 5S.

I’m not declaring war between platforms or saying that one approach is superior to the other. Android, iOS, and Windows Phone all have their strengths and weaknesses. We seem to get carried away trying to pick a singular winner. To be honest, it really doesn’t matter what you – or I – use at the end of the day. It’s just a window into services or information you’re looking for.

He’s so right. I wouldn’t be moved to write this long-ass post or deeply examine a stranger’s device if these things weren’t increasingly important in our lives, you know? There are fewer more vitriolic debates amongst the tech geeks these days. It’s no longer “I’m a Mac; I’m a PC;” it’s all about the respective choices in our pockets (or, in the case of Glass or that watch, worn on our bodies).

In parting, I’ll point out that Andrew is annoyed by a few aspects of the iPhone 5s leather case, but he doesn’t seem bothered by any of the same frustrations that bother me. As I said before; very different perspectives. I agree that the 5s battery life is surprisingly meh, but I use the CRAP out of that thing so I’m hardly surprised.

 

  1. I had briefly played with some hTC Windows phone when a sidewalk spammer approached me to demo one. (That’s what I call them. They’re probably called Foot Traffic Ambassadors or something.) This sidewalker (?) showed me a demo last year when the operating system first came out. I was really interested in many of the features, such as Local Scout, but I was frustrated that whatever she showed me was unsurprisingly a demo and not really on par with the operating system in the wild. This poor girl was super duper helpful; I told her straight out that I was wildly hostile to most sidewalk marketing people, that I was a die-hard iPhoner, and that I was a picky as hell software tester about to ask her a bunch of frustrating questions. She was totally game.
  2. It’s worth mentioning that it wasn’t in any way likely that I’d accidentally take the shot; something about the Nokia’s bezel prevented this.
iPhone 5s and accessories

iPhone 5s and accessories

I got my iPhone 5s, and I LOVE it. (Space Gray, 32 GB, ordered via AT&T because the Apple Store hated me at preorder o’clock.) 1AT&T did a good job with all this; surprisingly, much better than Apple. 2 I was debating getting a larger hard drive, because I love having a massive music library on there and never having to think about space management when I shoot HD video or what have you. But after some research we decided to stick with AT&T as our carrier, and as such, we’re grandfathered into an unlimited data plan. So I decided I can rely more on streaming services. 3

As soon as I knew I had a phone en route, I went ahead ordered the yellow leather case and an extra two-meter Lightning cable from Apple. 4 I forgot to pay for fancy shipping (as I usually do when a slower but free option is available), so I just recently got this package. I’m glad I have them, but I have seriously mixed feelings about this case.

Just as I feared, the headphone jack takes you back to iPhone 1 days when nothing fits in because the hole is too deep. (Har har; go make the That’s What She Said joke and come back when you’re done.) I do still have some headphoney accessories designed to work with my original iPhone, but the vast majority are now defunct because they’re much more cheaply manufactured than Apple’s cables. 5

The headphone stuff is annoying on its own, but gets worse when coupled with Lightning cable aperture issues. Because that hole is also too small. I’m mostly OK with only buying Lightning cables that have a smallish aperture from now on. But how, HOW could apple design their Lightning adapter at 30-pin width, and then make a case that doesn’t accommodate said adapter? Argh! Because the leather case is incredibly difficult to remove (and who wants to constantly have to remove a case anyway), this is very irritating to me given our plethora of 30-pin items. I’m going to have to find some janky-ass third-party Lightning adaptor with a small enough girth (shut up) to work with them, or suck it up and spend a lot on new Lightning cables. 6 And as my Internet Pal Keith pointed out, the opening is too small for even non-30-pin choices. I’ve long thought Amazon Basics cables were WAY too bulky, but this still sucks:


Anyway, aperture frustrations aside, here are some not particularly well sorted hardware and accessory musings:

  • I hate how the bottom headphone holes are asymmetrical to make room for the headphone jack. Yes, I realize I’m insane. But it’s ugly, you know? And that much more obvious with the leather case.
  • The whole jack on the bottom thing takes a while to get used to, coming from a 4S! I don’t have strong feelings about this, but I certainly haven’t adjusted yet.
  • So does the TouchID sensor. I mostly remember to use it now, but gosh do I wish it worked from a sleep state.
  • I keep running into circumstances that still require me to enter my full AppleID password. Bummer! I thought I’d be freer of that. It feels like I still have to enter my AppleID password like 50% of the time. I need a less-mobile-keyboard-annoying password, I guess.
  • I’m sad to report that I don’t see a huge difference in the allegedly warm amber flash. I need to try it out on more humans instead of just cats, though.
  • Burst mode is FANTASTIC. But don’t you dare import into iPhoto before you remembered to clear a burst! I wish there were an iPhoto prompt about this. Maybe in Mavericks, but I doubt it.
  • Again, I know I’m insane, but it irks me that the inside of the camera aperture is black plastic, whereas the Lightning and headphone jack openings are just that crappy same-color yellow plasticky sealant. It’s inconsistent looking and less cleanly applied and yes I already said I know I’m insane. Look, you knew what you were getting into reading this. It doesn’t look “Apple,” OK?
  • The yellow leather case is a much greener yellow than anticipated. It looks positively chartreuse compared to my more goldenrod-colored lamps in my office. Looks greener than the yellow 5c too, though I haven’t compared in person.
  • The leather feels lovely and seems to hold up well to dirt/scuffing despite not being all that shiny or glossy a finish.
  • The top button is *significantly* harder to depress, but I’m hoping this softens up over time. The volume buttons are fine. The NY Times Symphony Scandal switch still feels easy enough for me to access, though Grant was annoyed by it being harder for him to get at. I’m not bothered.
  • I really, really like how the entire face is completely naked in this case.
  • I tried a Titan screen protector and I want to set it on fire.
  • Apparently Apple didn’t really plan ahead with the 5s dock. Read the comments about how it obscures the Home Button and how the jack doesn’t work for calls.
  • Despite all this kvetching, I really do like the leather case and plan to keep it. I just wish it felt better planned.

 

 

  1.  I went to bed, forgetting it was preorder night, and woke up with a start and scared my pal Jean who was kind enough to host me while I was in Portland pretending to be at XOXOfest. Jean sympathised and calmed me down after Apple said it hated me, and she helped me figure out what were reasonable choices to make (i.e. don’t go get in a line in the cold, dummy; just order it online via AT&T and wait a COUPLE days. You’ll hardly be the only one. Jean is so smart. And it’s amazingly helpful to have  a buddy in that frenzied moment!)

    So that’s how that all went. Let’s see how this works, embedding tweets in footnotes.

  2. The order went through, their site functioned as intended at midnight (unlike Apple’s confusingly punitive error, heh) and the phone got to me WAY sooner than their original estimate of mid-October. (I received it the Monday after the preorder.) Of COURSE I only articulate this thought after I receive the damn thing, but I must say, we should really be thankful of all the logistics-level workers who pitch in every time around, from China right on through to US warehouses and delivery services. It must be such an absolute pain in the ass clusterf*ck every damn year. I hope people get overtime pay AND a free iPhone for their hustle.
  3. Especially since I spent that extra hundred bucks on AppleCare(+?) this time around instead, as it now covers accidental shatterings. I considered getting gold, but it mattered more to me that my phone get here sooner, especially since I always planned to slap a case on it anyhow. (I’m a menace so the AppleCare and the case are just non-negotiables for me.) And I’ve missed having a black screen surround.
  4. I like the extra length for awkward coffee shop outlets; very glad you can get that first-party now. Was this also available for Apple brand 30-pin cables and I just never noticed?
  5. Apple brand cables always last me a good couple years, even if they look like this at the end. Seriously, part of why I’m so whiny about all this noise is that the multiple ten-dollar solutions I’m going to buy to make this new case work are going to crap out after about a month of light-to-medium usage. Happens every time. And I haven’t found a single “high-end” third-party provider to solve this. Yet I keep thinking it’s worthwhile to order cheap-ass Hong Kongian cables on Amazon; go figure.
  6. In browsing Amazon options, I see many comments noting that third-party Lightning cables don’t work with iOS 7 which seems bonkers but what do I know. So shop carefully.
My Apple announcement annoyances

My Apple announcement annoyances

Last week was the Apple announcement about iPhones, as we all know. I lazily covered the coverage with a couple Internet pals here and here, in case you feel like watching a lot of awkward banter and dead air. :) One week after the Apple shebang, here’s where I’m at:

I don’t give a crap about the 5c. I get that the strategy is theoretically interesting to many, but I just don’t care how it affects Apple’s business. I take a pretty narrow view on Apple stuff; I care about how it affects me directly. I want the newest fastest thing whenever it’s upgrade time, and my 4S has been frightfully slow lately so there’s no way I’d go up only one processor tier when I have the option of going up two tiers.

Edited: I had originally posited here that the 5c was potentially pricier than it seemed because the back couldn’t be swapped out easily like its predecessors, so you had to factor in the cost of going through Apple’s expensive repair path if you scratched up the camera lense as I am prone to doing. However, Friendly Internet Helpers have since pointed out that this easy back panel swap-out actually hasn’t been around since the 4S. My bad. (It IS possible with a 5; it’s just a pain in the ass.)

-I will be getting a 5s the second I can hop online and pre-order one. After much deliberation, House Roberts is sticking with overpriced AT&T as our carrier, but we will drop text messaging from our plan after the comp period I wheedled them into is over. I looked into switching to T-Mobile but I’m just not convinced the coverage is sufficient. 1 I’m still debating 32GB or 64GB, because I love having a massive music and podcast library and I mistrust streaming and cloud services, but realistically I haven’t been all that pinched for space on my 32GB 4S (or its 32GB 3GS predecessor), and on the one hand what’s a hundred bucks for two years of hard drive freedom but on the other hand why not save it. I’m also deliberating gold or black, because I dig the gold in theory (and amusement), but I can’t ignore the dings on my white 4S nor John Siracusa’s sage point that a white surround means the screen white will never be as brilliant seeming as when it’s next to a black surround. (Feel free to weigh in on either of these minor remaining decisions if you think you can sway me; Decision Time looms!) It’s a little bit of a bummer that the pre-order time is during the XOXOfest party. I’m not invited, but I still plan to be in Portland networking and hanging out with friends, so I hope everyone considers it socially acceptable for an entire bar/room full of people to stop mid-sentence and fire up the Apple Store app, haha.

-I only really care about the new camera. I mean, I’m pleased by the fingerprint stuff, and 64-bit seems just snappy to me for development down the road, but I don’t really care about that stuff. No, what I’m stoked about is the camera. The warmer flash color, the burst mode, and the increased stabilization are all going to be AMAZING for my business, in which I often take random shots of clients for their online dating profiles. I do work with a professional photographer sometimes, but some clients are too cheap or busy to schedule a photography add-on with her, and besides I snap pics of friend-clients all the time for free. (I’m no pro, but I know what you need to look great in an online dating context. Subscribe to my newsletter if you wish to also have this knowledge.) I also just snap casual vanity pics of myself, my husband, my cat, and whatever I find pretty (or ugly) for social media purposes, especially with the advent of The Cover Image. 2 (Oh, but I don’t care about slow-motion video, although go nuts if that’s your thing.)

-I’m quite frustrated the 4S is still on the market. Wanna know why? Because I want more STUFF. I’m a huge fan of third-party accessories—car chargers, pretty docks, speakers, etc. I love when we stay in hotels that have little clock radios that we can plug our iPhones into. And for MANY years now, the 30-pin connection has been standard. When I bought my 2006 Scion xA brand new, you could get an iPod connectivity option that worked with the iPhone and as far as I know still does. I was too cheap for that, but I’d do it now… except the marketplace is not adapting to the Lightning, er, adaptor. I still see so much crap out there that’s 30-pin-only. And as long as the 4S remains the free with contract option, I don’t think designers and manufacturers are sufficiently motivated by market pressure to update. There are still people who will buy that crap, especially if it’s discounted. But I LOVE accessories, and I look forward to when the new Lightning standard is fully adopted and we can all get on board with a more diverse marketplace of compatible accessories. (They still need to kill off the iPad 2, and I expect them to do that in October so I’m annoyed that the 4S is still a little old-tech thorn in my digital side.) Maybe I’m wrong; maybe lots of awesomesauce Lightning accessories are finally going to flood the market. But I don’t think so. I think the 4S has to die its death (presumably next year) before we see a real accessory Renaissance, and well, that annoys me.

The iPhone 5c with a case.-I mistrust first-party cases. The 5c-designed case seems pretty, but I really hate the stupid ill-designed peekaboo holes placement. Irksome. The leather 5s case looks lovely, and I might pick one up, but I’m concerned that an Apple-designed case will not have a sizable enough headphone aperture for non-Apple headphones, which will be an Original iPhone type problem. (Every model since then has done away with the recessed headphone jack, but I found that, with a case on, my 3GS and 4S often couldn’t accommodate non-apple headphones. And the overpriced recessed adapters available at the time were, predictably, utter crap.) Because of the headphone aperture issue, I mistrust these cases, until I can get my actual hands on one and try it out with headphone cables that I probably will never have on hand when I’m out shopping. (I will be in Portland on Preorder Day so maybe I’ll pick one up tax free if the lines aren’t too insane and just return it if it sucks, sigh.) That one Apple iPad case with the back on it was such an overwhelming failure that I am skeptical about Apple suiting up their own equipment properly. (Don’t get me started on how there’s no first-party car charger or screen protector.) I also hated those iPhone 4 bumpers. I dunno. I don’t think cases are their strong suit.

-I’m stoked to be in the club. I’ve been an iPhone owner from the first gen, and Grant and I have traded models ever since. (I had first, I bought him 3G, I got 3GS, he got 4, I got 4S, he got 5.) Despite my long iPhone user history, I’ve never actually had the shiny new thing on the same day as everyone else. I’m pretty stoked! I’m much more of an Apple nerd and tech nerd in general than I ever was before, so it’ll be fantastic to be on the same wavelength as all the other overly picky entitled tech whiners. Wooooo!

-I’m not done whining. Now that we’ve gotten the phone we all wanted, I am desperate for a retina iPad Mini and an updated Thunderbolt display in the skinny new iMac chassis. Hurry up, Apple! 

-One final whine: 5c and 5s? Not 5C and 5S? REALLY? Steve Jobs would never I mean just

It’s not just me. Maybe hire someone to whip up a goddamn style guide. Heck, I’ll do it for free.

  1. I like GSM better than CDMA for dull I won’t go into here, so I was never considering other technologies. Ask me if you really wanna know why.
  2. Sigh. I hate cover images. I already feel stressed out by the prospect of having to come up with multiple different avatars and, you know, content. I can never come up with anything polished and cute and unique enough for multiple cover images across all the many different profiles I have, both personal and business. A sexier camera does make this task easier. Yay!
TV above the fireplace

TV above the fireplace

Ever since flat screen TVs took over the old cathode ray tube models, people have been mounting them on the wall, causing the earth’s interior design community to have a collective cow. Wall-mounting is so practical, though! It saves valuable floor and furniture space since TVs no longer have to rest atop a bulky media cabinet, eating up precious living room real estate. 1 When we toured a zillion homes before settling on this one, we saw living rooms with no TV or a wall-mounted TV, often above the fireplace, and an increasing number of finished basement dens with the “big” non-wall-mounted TV. People are changing the way they use their homes and view their TVs, and I think interior design is foolish to resist this shift. 2

We subsisted mainly on the projector in our finished den for two years, but then we sucked it up and bought a living room TV, mainly for parties and entertaining. We’re SO GLAD we did; we spend way more time on the main floor of our house now, enjoying natural light and sunsets and open windows while still being able to consume the media we love. I kind of can’t believe we waited this long; having a TV upstairs has really made us happier homeowners, and everything about our upstairs living room feels friendlier and more welcoming now. A TV also helps us figure out better furniture placement, and it just generally dictates how the room is used. And we spend more Couple Time there, since now we can play co-op games in the same space without me feeling like I have to slink down to the basement-cave. 3

After researching the right tech, size, price point, and features, we got our TV at Best Buy and paid them to mount it above our (functional, brick, wood-burning) fireplace.4 I know hanging a TV above a fireplace is a design sin to many, but it really is the only space that makes sense in our living room. I styled it in with a bunch of little knick-nacks that help hide all the cords and that blend it in a bit. We eventually hope to get hard-wired sconces flanking it, but given how pricey the rewiring and drywall is, for now we’re happy to just suck it up and use these lamps I got at a consignment shop. 5

This may sound insane, but aside from thinking ahead about how many HDMI ports we would actually need (answer: more than two, eventually) here’s my only TV purchasing regret: I actually am constantly bothered by the uneven bezel width around our LG model, and I wish we’d paid the several hundred dollars more for a similar Samsung choice that had a thin but even bezel all the way around. I realize that’s not a logically sound way to spend money, and that no one but me and Grant will ever notice or care about this, but it bugs me and next time around I think I’ll lobby him for the better industrial design aesthetic. 6

A larger shot of our TV and surrounding elements.

You can see my TV and fireplace here as they relate to the rest of the room—our front door is to the left, with only the storm door closed right now, and then a big blah but functional table/shelving unit house our DVR and consoles to the right. Beyond that is a corner window obscured by an enormous cat tree I promised not to move until Trumpy kicks the kitty bucket someday. I hate that black cabinet, but we needed something for the DVR and XBox 360, and this was $20 at our local thrift store. It’s solid, it already had a hole in the back for cords, and I don’t care if humidity or moisture from my plants screws up the already crappy finish.

Since we don’t really have a proper foyer/entry area, the spot just past the front door is where we put the mirror that used to be above the mantel. This works really well to have a sort of “check yourself” area before leaving the house. And while the TV above the fireplace isn’t perfect, I think/hope I worked it in OK. You don’t see it at all when you first walk in, because it’s behind you. Many clients don’t even notice that we have a TV until they leave, if at all.

A picture of my TV, styled in with antiques and other decorative objects.

The other day when I was rearranging the knick-nacks to add in some new antiques, I realized we are like the opposite of the Islamic design principle of aniconism. We have SO MUCH flora and fauna! Let’s see, there’s a brass owl, a ceramic rabbit, a steel larch tree, a glass hedgehog, a porcelain cow, a crochet cat, a jade dragon, a brass apple bell, and a ceramic foo dog. And that’s just the ones I can obviously identify in this photo. Plus there are subtler things like the floral pattern on one of my Voluspa candles, a ceramic vase that looks like a weird seed pod, and a viney pattern to the photo frame. And behind the Kinect upon which the kitty rests, there are some glass birds and some floral cream and sugar porcelains just to make it not look weird and bare back there. We are veritably obsessed with nature at House Roberts.

I also keep thinking maybe I should blend the TV in better by painting the fireplace bricks a dark gray or black. Ever since we bought the place I’ve been uncertain what to do with the fireplace. Redoing anything with actual stone/masonry seems insanely expensive and pointless since trends cycle back around and we may end up hating something new and wanting to go back to this original 1947 brick and wood look, ya know? Plus, while I dislike the terra cotta floor tiles, they do blend in pretty subtly and I don’t mind the actual brick or the wood mantel now. I maintain Pinterest boards for both TV disguises and fireplaces, and I keep thinking about what I could do to snazz this up, but I haven’t been inspired to inject change into this particular area of our home. I think I’ll wait and see how things look once we get our lovely gray Farrow & Ball paint up on the walls before we go too crazy! My dream fireplace would be in a marble like Carrara, but not too mod and not too traditional, and probably something with a little tan or gold veining in it too to tie in with all our warm wood floors and trim. I just don’t see it being worth the expenditure when this one feels fine enough to me, and we have loads of more functional and urgent updates like windows and a deck.

Anyway, the whole reason I bothered putting these ramblings into a blog post was because Jenny of Little Green Notebook posted about how she’s putting her TV above her fireplace. The woman is a professional interior designer, with a massive blog following, so clearly she’s got hecka great taste. If she can do it, so can we! :)

  1. This presents new challenges, though, since most of the “smart” TVs out there aren’t all that smart yet, so we still have to connect one or more bulky devices to our TVs with annoying unsightly cables. At least devices like the Apple TV are small enough to be worked into a typical mantel; not so with consoles like an XBox or with most physical disk readers. I expect this to change over the next five to ten years, removing the need for any media cabinet at all eventually. But it’s a slow process and it’s expensive to adopt all the new tech.
  2. I also think a TV hung up high is subtler than one shoved in a corner looming at you. And we don’t find the viewing angle at all troublesome, ergonomically; if anything, I think it encourages better posture/neck angles, and is easier to view when lying down on a couch.
  3. I get so sick of the misguided “Kill Your TV” mantra I received as a kid; TV is so much smarter and sharper and higher quality than it ever has been. After all, we’re watching incredibly creative projects like LOST and Breaking Bad and Orphan Black and Archer, not Hoarders Who Horde or The Real Housewives of Shut Up Already. (And lest ye feel judged, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with watching that stuff, it just doesn’t speak to me at all. And I don’t really get TV as a zoning out mechanism for the most part, because I prefer to zone out in other ways. But whatever works, man! Quit whining about killing TV and go find some super high quality program that captures YOUR interests!)

    Also, we can entertain our friends better. Whether you admit it or not, cartoons and games are GREAT for calming a fussy kid, and now that we have a TV with a couple gaming consoles hooked up in our living room, we can capture the attention of babies on up to five year olds who would otherwise find it boring when we tried to interact with their parents. I assume our TV will come in handy when we have kids of our own, too. ;)

  4. This was a complicated, stupid, expensive process, fraught with insanely ineffective bureaucracy BS and numerous hidden fees. I managed to get them to knock off a couple hundred bucks for being such incredible nitwits about the whole thing, but I urge you to not do what I did. I’m not very handy or confident when it comes to big structurally dependent projects like this, but I would absolutely DIY this process if I had to do it over again. If you DO hire it out, save every single receipt and get written quotes with names and employee numbers for every single aspect of the process if you have a big box retailer do it, and tell them you want the wood-only installment but you want the team to bring masonry tools just in case, and that you’ll pay for the masonry upcharge at that time if and only if it’s truly necessary. Also, insist on waiving any kind of consultation appointments. It’s a totally unnecessary upcharge, like gold-plated USB cables.
  5. I paid more than those lamps were worth to get modern drum shades put on them at my local lamp shop, because I can just never find ready-made lamp shades that look anywhere near as nice as the hand-made ones do. I consider this expense totally worth it. If you have a lamp whose shade is irking you, I urge you to visit your local lamp store and look into this. They tried on multiple harps until they found the right one, and they adjusted everything perfectly so everything sits at just the right height, lighting up the room but not blinding anyone with an inadvertent glimpse of exposed bulb.
  6. I literally still haven’t bought a single humidifier because none of them look like this.