Screen sighs: why 16:9 shouldn’t always be the way

The Guardian criticises the iPad Air 2’s display, due to Apple using what the reviewer refers to in the verdict as a “square screen”. Of course, the screen isn’t actually square, but it’s squarer than the bulk of those used by its rivals. Apple, since the original iPad, has provided a tablet with a 4:3 aspect ratio, somewhat aping the printed page. By contrast, most competing tablets have primarily been designed for landscape orientation, in 16:9, common for movies.

If nothing else, this showcases assumptions regarding intentions for the devices themselves. Android tablets have been more geared towards movie and TV consumption, whereas iPads ‘compromised’ that use-case in order to provide a device with wider scope. I explore this further in a piece for Stuff, which examines Google’s new Nexus displays, the tablet now following Apple’s lead.

The short of that is about versatility. 16:9 leaves little room in landscape for content when using the virtual keyboard; in portrait it’s often unsatisfying for reading, because the viewport is so narrow. (Oddly, the Guardian reviewer calls out the iPad for having black bars at the side of comic books, despite those blank spaces being perfectly good for placing your thumbs and flipping pages, without covering content; by contrast, tablets closer to 9:16 aspect ratios in portrait may have black bars at the top and bottom, which the reviewer had a go at the iPad for regarding video.)

Of course, the best aspect ratio for you depends entirely on what you’re doing with a device, and if you only want TV on the go, then having a device with a screen ratio similar to a telly’s makes sense; however, if you want a device suitable for a much wider range of tasks, 16:9 isn’t the smartest move, something Apple knew all along, something Google’s now embracing, and something Microsoft’s also figured out with its new Surface Pro tablets, which use a 3:2 aspect.

October 23, 2014. Read more in: Apple, Technology

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The app-makers on the iPhone 6, iOS 8 and Apple Watch

Hardware is nothing without software. The original iPhone was a perfectly nice device, but it wasn’t until the App Store that its true potential was unleashed. Similarly, Android might have the weight of numbers on its side, but it doesn’t have many of the best apps and games—they tend to come to iOS first.

It was with this in mind that I set about wondering what Apple’s latest releases would mean for the app ecosystem. In a feature for Stuff TV, I interview a number of developers (including Neven Mrgan, James Thomson, Brianna Wu and Gedeon Maheux), in order to explore how the iPhone 6, iOS 8 and Apple Watch might mean for the future of the apps and games you know and love.

September 26, 2014. Read more in: Apple, Technology

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Tech companies don’t deserve respect for doing stupid things

The Next Web on Twitter’s major timeline update:

Twitter deserves our begrudging respect for its willingness to rethink the most basic building blocks of its service: tweets and timelines. Over the past year, Twitter has reordered your timeline with a new conversation UI and added images to a text-only medium. In the long-term, expanding the definition of your timeline is what’s best for Twitter as a mainstream platform, but doing so will upset hardcore users along the way.

Twitter doesn’t deserve our respect; respect is earned. When it comes to online services, respect is earned for doing things that improve a service for the users, rather than purely for the company that’s running it. It’s hard to imagine semi-random tweets dumped in timelines being cheered about on the streets. Precisely no-one I know likes the equivalent happening on Facebook, and so why assume Twitter will be any different?

Adverts: fine. Expanding tweets to link to content: fair enough. Adding stuff you never asked for in the first place: no. Respect? No bloody way.

August 20, 2014. Read more in: Opinions, Technology

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What the hell is wrong with Twitter?

Twitter is a simple service. The basic idea is you follow accounts you’re interested in, and people who like your posts (tweets) follow you. Due to its origins being based around SMS, each tweet is restricted to 140 characters, forcing brevity.

The problem with Twitter is it’s never made piles of cash, and it’s clear those in command have been enviously glancing at Facebook for a long time now. This has led to changes in the way Twitter operates, some of which have been merely irksome but understandable (inline ads), and a few of which have actually been beneficial (expanded tweets, providing inline previews for linked content).

Today’s change regarding the Twitter timeline goes a step too far, though:

Additionally, when we identify a Tweet, an account to follow, or other content that’s popular or relevant, we may add it to your timeline. This means you will sometimes see Tweets from accounts you don’t follow. We select each Tweet using a variety of signals, including how popular it is and how people in your network are interacting with it. Our goal is to make your home timeline even more relevant and interesting.

In other words, your timeline is no longer just manually curated. This breaks a fundamental contract with the user and totally changes the basic premiss of Twitter. In essence, Twitter just became Facebook — just with shorter posts.

I’m sure Twitter will argue this change benefits the user, in delivering them more content they might be interested in, but it’s also poor user experience to dump content into someone’s timeline that they didn’t request. In the short term, you can get around this by using third-party Twitter clients or bookmark/default to a Twitter list, but I imagine the former won’t exist for much longer and the latter will continue to be buried deep within Twitter’s options.

But, hey, at least you’ll see that tweet from someone you’ve never had contact with, about something you probably don’t care about, right?

August 20, 2014. Read more in: Opinions, Technology

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Living your life through a lens and missing being in the moment

My latest piece for Stuff.tv is Your smartphone can capture experiences to watch forever, but they shouldn’t be the experience. It was inspired in part by hearing my unborn child’s heartbeat on a hospital visit, being totally in that moment, and then being fortunate enough to record the sound for posterity.

Too often, though, I see people documenting their own lives without actually living them. People spend gigs watching their device screens rather than the event in front of them. Elsewhere, countless photographs end up in digital archives that are never again visited, while the original moment was compromised by the very act of recording it.

Naturally, I’m not suggesting we all stop using smartphones to record things, as I make clear in the article; but as technology becomes increasingly interwoven in our lives, I do hope people will start to question exactly when they should record something—and also whether it really needs recording at all.

June 25, 2014. Read more in: Technology

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