For Apple and others, flexibility is the vital component to the future happiness of workers

A tale in three parts:

  • Apple states as of September that employees will be back to the office at least three days per week, and will get the option of two additional remote-work weeks per year (The Verge)
  • Apple employees respond, asking Apple to be more flexible and account for individuals who might want to work from home on a permanent basis (The Verge)
  • Daring Fireball writes a surprisingly callous response, slamming the Apple employee letter and inferring those people “aren’t a good fit for Apple”

I’ve primarily worked for home for 20 years now. It has pros and cons. I’ve been fortunate to be there for most of the big moments in my child’s life, not least her first steps. If I’d been on a 9–5, I’d have missed those—and so much more. But I also recognise that for some people, being around others in an office environment is how they thrive. Also, some jobs can only be done in that way.

However, many jobs can be performed well in a distributed team environment. Apple itself has shown that, in all the many things it’s achieved during a pandemic. At this point, my take—as someone who is very aware of being in a fairly privileged position—is that flexibility is the way forward.

The Daring Fireball take is, for me, colossally bad. From a pure commentary standpoint, it’s distasteful for an individual working however they like to hand-wave away requests for flexibility from people who have discovered how they can do revolutionary work and not miss out on things like family moments (while avoiding soul-sapping commutes).

But the same is true in reverse. Some people thrive on in-person interaction. So denying that (as some other companies are looking to do) is equally problematic. Companies will have to figure out new ways of working that are flexible and smart enough to cater for alternate ways of thinking.

For Apple specifically, the company used to say ‘think different’. It could leverage that approach and lead a new way of how major corporations work rather than being so prescriptive. And while Apple shifting to three days in/two days out is a big cultural shift, it has an opportunity to do more. If your company has been by every measure a massive success during the pandemic, then it has space to be more radical, not less, regarding workers.

June 5, 2021. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Changing my mind on Apple Arcade’s range of games

I’ve broadly been a fan of Apple Arcade since the start. Some gamers got sniffy about it, arguing it didn’t include ‘proper’ games or a pile of AAA hits. That missed the point: Apple Arcade was meant to be something different, not another me-too service. Thing is, I missed the point myself a bit as well.

My Stuff article on the best Apple Arcade games lists titles that personally clicked with me, but in introducing Apple Arcade to my daughter, the manner in which I’m approaching and thinking about the service has shifted.

My daughter has used mobile Apple devices since before she could talk. She could navigate an iPod touch at 18 months. Safe to say, she’s familiar with this stuff. These days, she has her own iPad, which she uses almost daily—for a limited amount of time. It’s stuffed full of games and educational apps. She loves it.

One thing, though, is she’s never been keen on games with risk. There are exceptions: she’ll happily play two-player retro games with me. Broadly, though, she dislikes arcade fare on the iPad (with the notable exception of Super Phantom Cat 2, for reasons I’ve never quite been able to figure out).

She likes comfort and repetition when playing games (and also watching TV) and so stuck with a lot of kiddie games she’s now outgrown. Yet she blazed through Hidden Folks (intentionally deleting her progress several times to start again) and happily plays Dissembler and Threes! So I got thinking… what about Apple Arcade?

I dumped a ton of games on to her iPad and kind of left her to it. She’s working her way through Monument Valley. She’s got quite far in What The Golf? Mini Metro has had a few launches. Farm It! has gone down well. I’m glad I figured out that this service could provide new gaming opportunities for her—new things to try; new challenges to solve. It also opened my eyes to a certain diversity of approach within Apple Arcade that I’d not fully considered before.

A lot of gamers—myself included—were (and, indeed, are) quite sniffy about certain choices Apple made. I still think some Apple Arcade games are objectively poor. But it’s interesting to see a few cute ‘grind’ games in the mix, since those tend to align with exploitative freemium loot boxes and related horrors.

Ultimately, these games sort of are freemium games without the hideous business model. But you know what? My kid is really enjoying Farm It! She’s having fun. BUT. There are no ads. There’s no IAP. It’s safe from the crap we so often see elsewhere. And it showcases that Apple Arcade is a service intentionally designed to be for everyone. Even today, that seems quite rare in gaming and can only be a good thing. I wish I’d figured that out sooner.

May 21, 2021. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, Opinions

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The iPad Air further cements the need for iPads to fully support external displays

Now the iPad Air has USB-C out, Apple’s seeming reluctance regarding full external display support for iPad is increasingly baffling. Surely the ideal should be to position the iPad as a fully modular device that promotes strong ergonomics? Most apps are designed to be responsive anyway, and so would automatically scale/resize for an external display.

The Magic Keyboard is superb in many ways. That you can detach the iPad in under a second beats every other iPad keyboard I’ve used, most of which force you to shove the iPad itself into a case. But. It still only turns your iPad into a ‘laptop’, not a desktop.

Laptop form-factors are ergonomic disasters—as I outlined in Working from home? Then set things up properly before you knacker your back and hands. They are like not-great office chairs: fine for short-form work, but terrible if you use them all day, every day. If Apple really does see iPad as the future, that future should enable you to fully use that device with an external display.

Right now, you can of course connect your iPad to big screens, and use external keyboards, trackpads and mice. But the iPad’s aspect ratio remains. So you end up with massive black borders left and right of the app you’re using. It seems such an obvious thing to fix—but when will it be fixed?

September 16, 2020. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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Lack of external display support leaves iPad Pro second best to the Mac

And Apple should do a DeX with iPhone too


Last year, I griped that the iPad is an ergonomic disaster for traditional computing work, and needs full pointer support right now. Surprisingly, Apple responded to such complaints by reinventing the pointer system for its tablet. We didn’t even have to wait until iPadOS 14 later this year—it came as a late update to iPadOS 13. People were thrilled. They noted that now, finally, the iPad was a ‘proper’ computer. Only, it still falls short in one key way.

At the very top of my wish-list for WWDC 2020—and I wasn’t alone—was full external display support for iPad. Right now, you can hook your tablet up to an external display, and one of two things happens. With a handful of apps, the external display becomes a presentation screen, for example providing full-screen playback for work within a video editor. Mostly, the iPad display is mirrored, leaving ugly black bars left and right on your 600-buck 4K display.

This is nonsensical. Given that iPad now has desktop-grade input, it should have desktop-grade display support. Being able to transform iPad into a laptop and instantly back to a tablet when using Apple’s fancy new keyboard is only two thirds of the modular computing dream. It should also be possible to use the iPad in a desktop-like manner.

I know what some will say in response to this: get a Mac. Sure, I get it. But why get a Mac, when Apple has for years been pushing iPad as a ‘proper’ computer? Why get a Mac, when iPad has desktop-grade software that would work wonderfully on an external display? Why get a Mac, when an iPad is your primary computer? And purely from an ergonomics and health perspective, Apple should surely be promoting a means to have people use iPads in a manner that’s beneficial for their general wellbeing, rather than encouraging them to hunch over a sort-of laptop?

My hope is that there’s “one more thing” to iPadOS 14 and that Apple springs a surprise on us this autumn—although I’m not holding my breath. My fear is the company is hampering iPad a little to nudge people towards Macs. But then even if iPad gets this feature, it won’t be enough. I’d like to see a future where iPhone, too, gets full external display support.

You might think that’s a step too far, but a recent Samsung device loan showed me the way. DeX is flawed and too often a sub-optimal experience. Yet there was something amazing about hooking a phone up to an HDMI display and just getting on with work. It showed a future where a pocket computer is your only computer. Apple already has all of the pieces to make this a reality—and in a superior manner.

Perhaps it’s too soon, but that certainly isn’t the case for iPad. 2020 is the year Apple should usher in full modular computing for its touchscreen tablet; but 2021 is the year it should do the same for the iPhone.

 

July 2, 2020. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Why WWDC 2020 going online-only may be a good thing

Apple has announced WWDC 2020 will be online-only. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The global health situation made it broadly impossible for Apple to continue with its standard format.

There will doubtless be people who are upset about this change— not least old-hands. I have only been fortunate to attend WWDC once — last year — but even that single experience made it obvious that the buzz extended well beyond the keynote. A big chunk of San Jose was awash with developers, excited at the prospect of talking directly with engineers, and attending superb sessions outlining the latest Apple technologies.

Attempting to replicate this format online will be tricky — not least that direct engagement with Apple engineers. However, Apple in its WWDC 2020 announcement press release also noted its global developer community has more than 23 million registered developers in more than 155 countries and regions.

WWDC 2019 was packed, but it obviously wasn’t that packed. Getting a ticket is essentially a lottery, and those applying are a filtered group: people who have the means (time; money) to travel to the US, and attend the event.

For the general public, probably not a lot will change. Apple will announce a bunch of new stuff at a keynote, and they’ll get the opportunity to play with shiny new toys when the public betas rock up. For some journalists, there will be a change — being present somewhere always provides you with a different viewpoint. But, frankly, we’ll cope. For the developers, though, this year’s WWDC could prove transformative, if Apple manages to truly democratise the event, and ushers in a culture of more equality throughout the wider developer community.

March 13, 2020. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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