We’ve already paid $billions

Barry Collins has written a piece for Expert Reviews on Björk’s reluctance to release her new music on Spotify. She says it simply doesn’t feel right to essentially give away something you’ve spent years working on. It’s a point of view that aligns with my own, and while revenue from streaming services is better than nothing, there are plenty of reports online that showcase how little bands and artists actually receive from the likes of Spotify.

Naturally, Spotify itself was bullish in response. CEO Daniel Ek argued:

We’ve already paid more than $2 billion in royalties to the music industry and if that money is not flowing to the creative community in a timely and transparent way, that’s a big problem

So it’s the fault of the labels in not getting money to artists, apparently. But what stood out to me more is the figure. Apple plays this trick too: talk about the BILLIONS that have been paid out, but entirely remove the context. A billion sounds like a lot when you’re talking about US dollars, Sterling or Euros. To the individual, a billion is a lot. But when that amount is divided up among every artist or developer on a service, across the entire amount of time the service has been running, a swift bit of maths leads you to a very different conclusion.

March 2, 2015. Read more in: Opinions, Technology

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Access all areas — why even Apple needs to rethink regarding accessibility

The recent Flipboard discussion and my ongoing issues with OS X Yosemite and accessibility brought to mind a piece I wrote for the dearly departed MacUser last year. It’s still very relevant (sadly), in part relating to major accessibility issues I’ve been writing to Apple’s accessibility team about since 2012, and so I’m republishing it here.


Apple might be a tech champion when it comes to accessibility, but it still has blind spots and a propensity to frustrate by using accessibility settings as a fix for contentious design

Perhaps the most laudable goal throughout Apple’s history has been a desire to make its products accessible to everyone who wants to use them. A combination of technological leaps and advancements in understanding wider user needs has resulted in astonishing accessibility controls lurking at the heart of OS X and iOS. Chances are, if you’ve poor vision, hearing or motor control, you’ll still be able to use Apple’s products. Given that you interact with an iPhone by pawing at a pane of glass, it’s quite something you can do so even if you’re unable to see the interface.

But for all of Apple’s success in terms of accessibility, the company still has work to do. It stubbornly retains an odd and frustrating tendency to erect barriers that make the going tougher than it needs to be for many users. It’s unclear why this is the case, but recent changes to iOS and OS X suggest a combination of ignorance and arrogance.

With iOS, Apple created a mobile operating system second-to-none when it comes to accessibility. A quick glance at relevant options in the Settings app compared to the equivalents in vanilla Android show just how far ahead Apple is. And yet when iOS 7 appeared, many users found it made them feel sick and dizzy, because of excessive zooming and swiping animations that could not be disabled; others complained of headaches, due to the brighter, starker interface.

On OS X, similar balance/motion concerns have existed since OS X Lion, and elsewhere the ‘iOSification’ of OS X has introduced further problems: ditching scroll bar arrows has made things tough for some people with motor issues; the upcoming OS X Yosemite includes transparency that dramatically reduces contrast for many interface components, bringing to mind ‘trendy’ (i.e. unreadable) grey-on-grey early-2000s web design; and several updated apps boast toolbars with tiny hit areas, meaning they can only be dragged if you have the dexterity to precisely aim and grab.

But perhaps the most disturbing trend is Apple’s inclination to seemingly use accessibility settings as a kind of band-aid for questionable and divisive design decisions. Not happy about iOS using a spindly font? Change that in accessibility! Hate the fact you can barely read menu items in OS X Yosemite’s dark mode? Change that in accessibility! And so on.

It’s hard to argue Apple should adjust the default state of everything that could potentially reduce accessibility. The swooping, zoomy nature of iOS 7 provides a sense of place if it doesn’t make you throw up, and Yosemite’s revamp has generally gone down very well (at least with anyone who’s forgotten about Mac users laughing at Windows Vista’s transparency seven years ago).

However, if Apple won’t make smarter design decisions and avoid giving into the temptation to sometimes push the shiny over the usable, it should make the means to adjust irksome pain-points more readily available and not bury them in a System Preferences pane or Settings section relatively few people are aware of. For remaining issues, Apple must be faster to address concerns. It’s great iOS now boasts a ‘Reduce Motion’ option, but unacceptable OS X doesn’t after several major revisions, nor properly old-school scroll-bars for those who truly need them.

If accessibility is a checklist, Apple still ticks more boxes than most, but the list is huge, and some of Apple’s nagging reminders date back to 2011. It’s time ‘access for all’ really meant that, especially when the changes would barely affect the majority yet improve the OS X and iOS experience for many thousands of people beyond measure.

February 18, 2015. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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When Flipboard flipped its accessibility switch to none

Faruk Ateş was one of several designers to tear into the new Flipboard website, which throws accessibility under the bus, in order to offer a more fluid app-like experience online. On Daring Fireball, John Gruber essentially defended the move:

I’ve been a proponent of accessibility for as long as I can remember. It does not follow, however, that what Flipboard chose to do is wrong.

It is true that Flipboard’s engineering decisions prioritize animation and scrolling performance above accessibility. That’s no secret — the title of their how-we-build-this post was “60 FPS on the Mobile Web”. It does not mean they don’t care about accessibility. My understanding is that accessibility is coming — they’re working on it, but it isn’t ready yet.

John’s a smart guy, but I think he’s got this wrong. Accessibility shouldn’t be something a company ‘works on’, trying to figure out how to retro-fit it to a flashy new solution. It should just exist from day one. It’s absurd that Flipboard, a tool for reading, is now no more accessible to blind people than a Flash website would have once been. That’s not progress — that’s regression.

February 18, 2015. Read more in: Design, Opinions, Technology

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So long and thanks for all the fish, MacUser UK

MacUser UK is to close. Gutted isn’t really the word for how I’m feeling right now about this news, so I can only imagine what editor Adam Banks must feel like.

MacUser was one of the first titles to commission me when I started writing for a living, and I’ve bought it on and off since the mid-1990s. When Adam took over again a few years ago, he very rapidly transformed the magazine into something else—a technology title that dared to be different, in a manner echoing Apple.

Within the pages of MacUser, you’d not find a great deal of templated fare, and sometimes not even a great deal of content directly about the Mac. What you would find was interesting opinion and analysis about technology, brilliant insight into design and creativity, and in-depth features on all kinds of creative fare. All this was wrapped up in stunning design and layout work that let the content breathe and positively begged you to explore every page.

In short, MacUser felt like a magazine created for me.

It’s terrible to think that just one more edition will drop through the letterbox and then that’s it—no more MacUser. The publishing world just feels wrong without it.

January 16, 2015. Read more in: Magazines

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UK government increases hypocrisy rating to 11

Inevitably, the UK government is now demanding snooping powers after the recent Paris attacks. The hypocrisy never fails to boggle the mind when it comes to technology and British people in power. They’ll slam ‘regimes’ for heavily censoring the internet while simultaneously arguing the internet should be censored by default in the UK; and now the argument is that the government should be able to access everyone’s digital communications, potentially stopping the use of anything it can’t access, despite the same government having previously criticised other countries for doing much the same thing.

Of course, our government and our police would never use these powers for anything other than good, right? (And it’s doubly baffling to see Labour doing what opposition parties do right now and opposing the government, regardless of what it’s saying. Labour’s history is peppered with ramming through similar legislation, and so I don’t believe for a second a majority Labour government in 2015 wouldn’t put into place similarly intrusive legislation.)

Still, it’s more ammo for election campaigns as we barrel towards May. Politicians must be seen to be doing something. Even better if it supposedly protects people from harm, even if the reality is rather different. Probably best if we ignore the fact more data isn’t terribly helpful if algorithms cannot rapidly extract critical information. And also probably best to ignore the Met placing journalists under close surveillance for, well, reasons.

January 13, 2015. Read more in: Politics, Technology

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