A tribute to Adam Banks

I heard last night that my friend and sometimes colleague Adam Banks had passed away. Maybe a week ago, I swapped some silly tweets with him about PETSCII art. (He and I were both C64 kids.) I last talked with him… I don’t know, but it was too long ago. Time is weird: you seem to have so much of it, and then you have none at all.

But time was something that Adam in his working life could bend like a sorcerer, given how much he could get done on any given day. During his second stint on MacUser, he was a combination of editor and designer that made the magazine truly his; us contributors clung on for the ride, like grinning passengers on an F1 car majestically zigzagging through the grid. The finished article was always brilliant and beautiful — a unique mix of words and visuals that felt like nothing else out there. I was gutted when it closed. I can only imagine how Adam felt.

After that point, Adam and I never regularly worked together again, but we’d communicate often, snarking about tech and chatting about random design and gaming things. I’d frequently dip into his Twitter feed, always full of sagely advice and wise thinking. I keep hoping this has all been a mistake and his Twitter feed will update. It never will.

Adam was a great person and my favourite editor, and I wish it hadn’t been so long since we’d last spoken. The world is a poorer place without him in it. Wherever you are, Adam, I hope you are at peace. Sleep well, my friend.


More tributes from Ian Betteridge, Chris Brennan, Mike Hirschkorn and Carrie Marshall. And here’s the PPA obituary, by Ian Betteridge and Steve Caplin.

November 27, 2020. Read more in: News

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Adobe Photoshop for iPad’s problems are down to hype, value, and not managing expectations

Bloomberg has run the piece Adobe Exec Defends Photoshop for iPad After App Falls Flat, quoting Adobe’s Scott Belsky about the launch. In a series of tweets, Belsky said:

a real-time v1 lesson: you’ve gotta ship an MVP to start the journey, but it will be painful at first. by definition, it won’t please everyone (and if it’s a reimagination of a 30yr old popular/global product, will displease many)

if you try to make everybody happy w/ a v1, you’ll either never ship or make nobody happy. such feats require customer feedback to truly exceed expectations. you must ship and get fellow passionate travelers on board.

He’s right, but the problem is that expectations weren’t managed. Instead, we got a hype train, and suggestions we would get full-fat Photoshop; instead, v1 is a stripped-down release. Belskey says the team decided to “nail perfect PSD support” rather than “just port 30 yrs of stuff (and baggage) on day 1”, which is sensible, except some of that baggage includes taken-for-granted features like layer effects.

Photoshop on iPad also represents a U-turn for Adobe, who’d previously argued people didn’t want this kind of pro-level software on iPad. It now feels like that argument was made because Photoshop didn’t exist. I can’t help wondering how long this app has been in development. Was it around in some form for years, or is it a reaction to Affinity Photo showing that, yes, pro-level creatives really do want this kind of app on iPad?

Affinity Photo itself is another piece of the puzzle, in the sense of the value proposition. If you already pay for Creative Cloud, Photoshop for iPad doesn’t require further outlay. But if you don’t, it’s a tenner a month. By contrast, twice that cost nets you Affinity Photo – with its richer and mature feature-set – forever. (In fact, at the time of writing, Affinity Photo is on sale, in an epic piece of trolling, for the same price as a single month of Photoshop for iPad.)

Despite its flaws, I’m glad Adobe released Photoshop for iPad. It’s something that needed to happen, and further cements the importance of Apple’s device. But it doesn’t surprise me that the response to what we got has been a mixture of anger and disappointment. Adobe must now iterate very quickly, and bring Photoshop towards feature-parity with the desktop version. After all, that’s another thing that Affinity Photo enjoys – the iPad version is not a ‘lesser’ product.

November 8, 2019. Read more in: Apple, Apps, News, Opinions, Technology

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How Apple Arcade is set to upend iOS gaming forever

Apple yesterday revealed the final details about Apple Arcade. The subscription gaming service will arrive on iPhone on 19 September, and then roll out to other Apple devices over the following four weeks. It will cost a fiver a month – and supports Family Sharing.

This has all sorts of ramifications for iOS gaming – and the potential to upend everything on the platform. First, the obvious positive is Apple is now taking gaming seriously. I’m hoping cross-device sync will work well, the games will be mostly worth playing, and that Apple won’t just get bored in a year and shutter the whole thing. (Anyone remember game Center?) But right now, the outlook is good.

Apple has priced this service sensibly. It’ll work on Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and Apple TV. Also, you’ll be able to use MFi, PS4 and Xbox One controllers with many titles, rather than having to grapple with the Siri Remote, or play complex console-style fare using touchscreen controls.

The question is where this leaves pretty much all other gaming on Apple platforms – particularly iOS. At launch, Apple Arcade will have dozens of titles, and over 100 will arrive within “the coming weeks”; Apple is planning to add more titles every month. So for the price of a single premium iOS game each month, you’ll get access to hundreds. Quite how premium games are going to compete – even in the short term – I’ve no idea.

But Apple Arcade will impact on free and freemium titles as well. Apple has stated Apple Arcade titles can have no advertising, and no in-app purchases. Once a player’s immersed in that system, the vast majority of free App Store titles are from a user experience perspective going to range from irritating (ads being periodically thrown in your face) to downright skeevy. Clearly, developers will have to up their game in this regard – or hope that people would rather pay nothing and put up with a terrible UX than venture towards a subscription.

It’s an interesting time for Apple and games, then, and one that is filled with much promise. But it does feel ironic that the one time Apple finally gets interested in games, it may make the rest of the iOS gaming ecosystem even less viable. Here’s hoping it has the opposite effect – acting as a halo that draws more gamers to Apple devices, and finds them venturing from the Arcade tab to the Games one, and exploring the many goodies found within.

September 11, 2019. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, News, Opinions, Technology

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iOS 9.3.2 fixes Game Center, bricks iPad Pros

So iOS 9.3.2 has arrived, in a flurry of news. MacRumors states that some iPad Pros are getting bricked by it (and I’ve heard a few people saying the same about iPhones). As always, back-up your devices prior to upgrading, not only to iCloud but also iTunes.

From a personal standpoint, assuming all my devices don’t get bricked, I’m looking forward to using Game Center again. I’ve been writing about Game Center for a while, and it had been broken for a great many users since the tail end of the iOS 8 cycle last summer. It sprang into life again in the iOS 9.3.2 betas (due, I’m reliably informed, to someone actually working on it rather than Apple essentially ignoring it).

Naturally, then, because Apple cares so much about Game Center and games, the fact iOS 9.3.2 fixes Game Center isn’t even mentioned in the release notes.

May 17, 2016. Read more in: News

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OS X El Capitan and tvOS still a bag of hurt for people with motion sickness and other vestibular disorders

I’m starting to feel like Apple has a vendetta against anyone with a vestibular disorder. Since OS X Lion, we’ve increasingly seen aggressive animations added to Apple’s desktop OS that can trigger dizziness, motion sickness, vertigo and related symptoms. These include slide transitions when moving between full-screen apps, the ‘morphing’ animation to and from full-screen apps, the slide between Launchpad pages, and entry/exit zooms for Mission Control. iOS 7 then introduced similar animations, along with parallax effects that made people ill. And now tvOS has followed suit.

iOS at least helped users, in providing a Reduce Motion option in the Accessibility section within Settings. Within six months, most of the worst animations were possible to replace with non-aggressive crossfades, much to the relief of vestibular disorder sufferers worldwide. But we’ve seen no such progress on OS X, and tvOS recently appeared with a ‘Reduce Motion’ setting so ineffective that it may as well have played a little sniggering noise when activated.

On the desktop, I’ve now, grudgingly, updated my main work Mac to OS X El Capitan. I’m not having fun.

The main reason is El Capitan kills the one remaining workaround I had that enabled me to safely use full-screen apps. System Integrity Protection, while essential to the security of the Mac, more or less kills off applications that inject code into OS X. TotalSpaces2 is one of them. The app was designed to manage desktops in a manner akin to those in OS X 10.6, but, importantly, included settings to customise transitions.

In other words, instead of getting a full-screen slide when switching full-screen apps or spaces, you could get a spinning cube or some other nutty animation. Or, mercifully, you could replace the animation with nothing at all. This is the sole reason I installed TotalSpaces2. No longer was I made dizzy by OS X’s aggressive default animations — something that could leave me groggy and feeling ill for an hour or even until going to sleep at night. And this isn’t just me — such issues are increasingly common, most likely because of the rapid adoption in the use of animation within desktop and mobile operating systems.

Because of Apple’s changes in OS X, I must now choose between the security of my Mac (turn off SIP and TotalSpaces2 will run) and my well-being; and I assume that in the long run, there won’t even be a choice, given that TotalSpaces2 is no longer a viable commercial product. I’ve long hunted for Terminal commands to disable the full-screen app animations in OS X, but it appears none exist. (Launchpad and Mission Control can be stripped of most animation. Commands for spaces were removed in OS X Lion. Reportedly, Apple engineers responded to a bug report by stating there was nothing to fix. This is technically accurate — Terminal commands are not user-facing. But it removed the one remaining avenue for users to tame a part of the OS adversely affecting their health.)

I also recently discovered an issue with window manager Moom, where windows wouldn’t snap, but would instead skid around the display, triggering motion sickness. It turns out other window managers are affected, and the trigger is activating text-to-speech. Just another OS X bug, presumably, but one that results in a very nasty surprise for anyone with a vestibular disorder. (The rough sequence of events: select text; read back text; don’t realise OS X has thrown a wobbly; attempt to snap window; watch it slide across the screen; end up dizzy for the next hour or more.)

The second of those examples is forgivable (and, I hope, will be fixed). It’s a niche and weird bug that likely won’t affect too many people. But the former absolutely isn’t. To be clear, though, I’m not blaming System Integrity Protection, which is necessary. I’m simply blaming Apple for doing almost nothing in OS X to help people with vestibular disorders.

Full-screen slide animations made their debut in OS X Lion, back in 2011. Since then, we’ve had OS X Mountain Lion, OS X Mavericks, OS X Yosemite and OS X El Capitan. In all that time, and all those revisions, there has been precisely one attempt I’m aware of in OS X to assist anyone with vestibular disorders: a Reduce Motion setting being added to the Photos app. It’s, sadly, largely ineffective, however.

This leads me to believe at least one of the following must be true:

  • Apple doesn’t care about people with vestibular disorders. Accessibility increasingly means aiding those with poor/no vision, and occasionally people with hearing and motor issues. It doesn’t, in Apple’s view, mean making its software suitable for everyone.
  • Apple is ignorant of vestibular disorders, despite people like me banging on about them like a broken record for the past four years. It doesn’t have enough relevant in-house knowledge, and so does nothing.
  • Apple is fully aware of these issues, but doesn’t consider them enough of a priority to even add a single Reduce Motion switch to OS X in the fourth major update to its desktop OS since the problems appeared and were flagged. This despite many millions of people having related conditions.

None of these is particularly appealing, and I increasingly feel like I’m screaming into the void. There is, as already noted, an exception: iOS. There, it seems the team has fully taken on board much of the advice people have given and, most importantly, acted on it. iOS 7’s problematic animations were eventually mostly dealt with through Reduce Motion (a few outliers remain), and new features are eventually tamed to the point they’re at least more usable (such as the new app switcher). But elsewhere, Apple’s efforts in this area of accessibility are dismal and the company must do better. Whether it will is another matter — and I’m increasingly getting to the point where I feel like nothing is going to change.


Contact Apple about accessibility issues

To report accessibility problems to Apple, you can email accessibility@apple.com.

Further reading:

Kirk McElhearn has also responded to this article with additions of his own, complaining about issues relating to font size and contrast, and how developers don’t think about accessibility issues nearly enough.

Rob Griffiths posts on Many Tricks about workarounds we figured out for Moom (which may also work with other window managers).

February 4, 2016. Read more in: News

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