On Apple’s Nostalgia

This morning Apple announced a new photo book chronicling roughly the past 20 years of Apple's designs. It is dedicated to the memory of Steve Jobs. I've seen some folks on Twitter taking umbrage with that dedication, noting that Steve Jobs was adament to not dwell on the past.

I enjoyed Stephen Hackett's thoughts on Apple being nostalgic:

The point is that while nostalgia was not part of Jobs’ DNA, it has resurfaced in Apple’s. The company is changing, and part of that includes things like this new book.

Some find it troubling or uncomfortable, but I don’t think it is. A photo book of Macs and iPhones isn’t what is keeping Apple from releasing a Mac Pro. A promo video including the iBook G3 didn’t force the company to remove MagSafe from its new notebooks.

Apple can continue to push ahead, even as it allows itself the occasional glance in the rearview mirror. The company has an amazing history, and it’s okay to be proud of it.

It is absolutely okay for Apple to be proud of its history. I'll go a step further and say that in the post-Jobs Apple, it is necessary for Apple to remember the roots established by Steve Jobs.

This wasnt necessary when Steve was with us. He was present to continue driving the vision — his vision — of Apple. Steve is gone. If Apple doesn't take moments to look back and remember that vision, then Apple may lose its way.

As long as the of today and the Apple of tomorrow continues to glance back at its roots, I think it will stay true to course.

Iconfactory's Spooky Sticker Packs

Halloween has always been a favorite festivity of mine. My parents would go all-out for Halloween parties for me and my friends when I was a kid. I loved dressing up, gathering up a horde of candy, and going to local science museum which transformed into a haunted house every year. Halloween carries a lot of traditions for me.

One tradition I have come to appreciate over the years is when The Iconfactory dresses up its website to celebrate the spookiest of holidays. This year the gang has gone further by dressing up iMessage with a trick-or-treat bucket’s worth of Spooky Sticker Packs.

Ravenswood, Macabre, & Spook On

First up are Ravenswood, Macabre, & Spook On. These packs feature ghastly portraits from Ravenswood Manor, familiar faces of this frightening holiday, and spooky stickers that are eerily realistic with their peeled edges.

All three packs are 99¢ when purchased separately, or $1.99 when purchased in a bundle. As of this writing, the bundle was still in review with iTunes.

BoneHeadz

Have you ever wondered what lies beneath the yellow skin of the smiley emojis? BoneHeadz goes beneath the surface to reveal the horrors and hilarity underneath! This pack makes no bones about it and can be yours for 99¢.

Hack-O-Lantern

As I mentioned before, I love traditions around this time of year and there isn’t a tradition more well known than carving a Jack-O-Lantern. It is something my family does every year and it is a fond memory of carving out a pumpkin with my mom.

I don’t always get to see mom around Halloween, and now we can have fun long distance with Hack-O-Lantern. It’s easy as pumpkin pie to do: pick a pumpkin and get hacking with various carvings and accessories. Scooping out the guts of an innocent pumpkin will run $1.99, which is cheaper than going to the pumpkin patch.

Lore

I think I’ve saved the best for last. One of my favorite podcasts the past year or so has been Lore. Each episode is thrilling and draws you in deep right before…the end, mwahaha! Seriously, though, Lore is amazing and you should listen to it. The Iconfactory and Lore have teamed up for hunt of the peculiar with a special Lore sticker pack. The artwork is amazing and fits right in with the podcast, so be sure to get this pack for $1.99…before it gets you.

Wallpapers

Each of these sticker packs comes with an wallpaper for your iPhone. To get the wallpaper, scroll down in the sticker pack and tap the pack’s name, then Save Wallpaper. These wallpapers are the perfect decorations for your home screen.

Vanishing Like the Invisible Man

It’s worth noting that most of these sticker packs are limited editions. When October is gone, they will no longer be available to purchase. That said, when you purchase them, you can use them year-round, as they’ll still be available on your device and for re-downloading.

BoneHeadz and Lore will be "sticking" around all year long.

The Iconfactory is making all sorts of amazing Stickers for iMessage, so be sure to grab these limited edition packs, and check out their other packs, as well.

Further Spitballing on Pairing Over Lightning

John Gruber, spitballing on what wireless headphones from Apple may look like in the charging and pairing department:

Spitball: What if Apple is planning on Bluetooth earbuds that include a Lightning jack, like the Pencil? Plug them in to the device you want to pair them with, click “Pair”, and you’re done. Easy to charge, too.

It's worth noting Apple has done this with more than the Pencil. The new Magic Keyboard, Magic Trackpad 2, and Magic Mouse 2 all pair to a Mac, and charge, via a USB to Lightning cable.

Further, I wonder if such headphones would have a female Lightning port on them, rather than male, so they could pair to a Mac via Lightning like the keyboard, trackpad, and mouse do. The solution for pairing on iPhone and iPad may be a cable with male Lightning ports on both ends.

Either way, I think pairing to a device over a cabled connection is far more elegant than doing it via Bluetooth settings.

Iconfactory's 20 Years of Pushing Pixels

Iconfactory is easily one of my favorite companies in the Apple community. And today they are celebrating 20 years of honing a hobby into a craft.

I have used a lot of their apps over the years and still do today. Twitterrific is my go-to Twitter client. xScope is godsend when you need precision designing a site or graphic. Their new app BitCam is just plain fun, and today they launched Exify, which looks like a great tool for serious photographers.

Some of their now-retired apps that are still near and dear to my heart are CandyBar, Ramp Champ, Astronut, and Frenzic.

And beyond their apps, they have made an impact on the technology community as a whole with their impeccable icon design services. Even if you don't know of The Iconfactory I guarantee you'll recognize their work. They made the iconography for Windows XP and the emoji for both Twitter and Facebook Messenger.

I have long admired the work of the fine folks at The Iconfactory, and wish them another successful 20 years.

¶ Instagram’s New Colors

About 6 months after iOS 7’s release, I started to roll my eyes when an app would be updated and its icon still looked like it belonged on iOS 6. With Instagram, my eyes did a lot of rolling. For years.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday Instagram updated its iconic (har har) icon. And the reaction from the Internet was, as one would expect with such a drastic change, visceral. Some loved it, and most really did not.

My initial reaction was actually quite pleasant. It’s a daring departure for Instagram, but I like the approach. It’s fresh. Nonetheless, I thought I’d let my thoughts marinate overnight to have more than a 30-second knee-jerk reaction. And you know what?

I still like the icon. It looks at home on iOS. It’s not blue like so many other icons. It stands out on my home screen. I like it.

As a quick aside, Buzzfeed applied Instagram’s new gradient color to other company logos. Most of them look pretty good. I especially like it with Starbucks and Coca-Cola.

The icon isn’t the only change, though. The app itself has effectively been rid of color aside from the photos. While I wonder if the pendulum swung a bit too far on this, I don’t mind the change. The focus is really on the photos, and they really pop now. I imagine some hints of color in the interface will make their way back with time.

Overall, I am really digging the visual refresh in Instagram. The only way this update could have been better in my eyes is if Instagram added an iPad version.

40 Years of Apple

Today is Apple's 40th anniversary. That's right, the company got its start on April 1, 1976. It's no joke. Apple has had an amazing history.

Apple has been a part of my life for 25 years. I have so many fond memories of playing Swashbuckler and Spy's Demise on my Grandpa's Apple II, while sitting on his lap. And that Mac Classic my folks brought home in 1990. And how the first photo of my son that I shared with family and friends was taken and sent with the iPhone 3G I bought just days before.

I really enjoyed this video featuring journalist Walt Mossberg, as he recalls some great stories he's had over the years about Apple and its products.

Here's to the crazy ones.

Apple's Classic Hotrod

I have yet to use the new iPhone SE, which was released today, but everything about it sounds like a winner in my book for many folks. I always loved the design of the iPhone 5 and 5s, and the SE uses that with most of the guts of the latest and greatest iPhone 6s. So far I've recommended it to a few friends who are either considering their first smartphone or finally upgrading from an iPhone 5.

I read a couple reviews and so far my favorite has been Jim Dalrymple's.

Look at the iPhone SE like this.

Pick your favorite classic car. An old Corvette or Mustang—whatever your favorite car is. That design will always be classic, no matter what has happened in the automobile industry in the last 40 years, those 1960s designs will always be classic.

Now, take that classic car design and replace the engine, drive train, and everything else you can think of. What do you have? A hotrod. An incredible classic design with the most advanced technology that you could put in it.

That is the iPhone SE. A classic design with a lot of the newest and greatest technology.

The iPhone SE is Apple’s classic hotrod.

I've always been a latest & greatest kind of person myself, but I certainly can appreciate a timeless classic.

Liam

At today's event, Apple revealed some new products and software updates, but also spent a significant amount of time talking about their journey to run the company on 100% renewable resources.

As part of that they showed off their efforts in recycling older products with an innovative, iPhone-murdering robot named Liam.

It's like WALL•E meets Skynet.

Constraints Matter

I recently wrote about the value of brevity in regards to being respectful of a reader's or listener's attention, and also how brevity can help me write a bit more frequently as I often overthink things and go on for far too long.

So let's get to the point, shall we? Yesterday, my friend Aaron Mahnke tweeted a few things pointed at those of us using a ceiling word count for some writing. Thankfully, he elaborated a bit more in a blog post.

Writers love to count their words, and that’s a good thing. Let’s just get that onto the table right away.

Fair enough.

Writers count words to measure how far they’ve walked into a story. But here’s the catch: word count isn’t the end goal.

I agree with the first sentence, and somewhat agree with the second, depending on how it is viewed. It's not so cut and dry for me.

Some people, though, think it’s more important to prioritize brevity over clarity and art. […] They believe that the shorter the piece the better it is, that somehow using less words makes the work more admirable and praiseworthy. And they’re wrong.

I can see his side, but I think Aaron is being a bit one-sided here. Brevity can serve a purpose toward fostering clarity and art. I am wanting to embrace brevity more because I know embracing constraints can foster growth and maturity.

Let's look at it another way. I own two cameras. A Canon EOS 40D with a few lenses, and my iPhone 6. I used to take the 40D everywhere and try to take neat shots with it. But I fiddled too much with its various options and, more importantly, I didn't understand how light worked. I jumped in with the higher end of the photography spectrum (at least on a consumer level) and didn't have an understanding of the basics.

As the iPhone's camera kept getting better, I started leaving the 40D at home more. With the iPhone 5 I was leaving the 40D at home a lot. And by the iPhone 6 it even stopped coming along for trips. Why? Because as the iPhone's camera got better, I started using it more, despite the fact it has a ton of constraints.

Having those limitations forced me to think a bit more creatively, a bit more out of the box. I had to really start thinking about how light worked because I couldn't just adjust the aperture or shutter speed or ISO. I take better pictures because constraints left me no choice but to become observant and learn.

And let me tell you, I have had it said to me by plenty of photographers who really know their craft that "a phone camera is just a toy camera" and "that phone camera can't be used to take a good picture." But we all know that's a bunch of bulldonkey.

I mean, look at the beautiful things an iPhone can photograph.

When you write under the pretense that shorter is better, you trade art and care for economy and mathematics.

I wholeheartedly disagree with this statement. Shorter can be better, if you use it to hone the skill of art and care. Brevity does not inherently strive for economy and mathematics.

A writer should write the words necessary to tell their story — no more and no less — and then edit and craft them to fully represent the material.

I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. When I set out to write something with the intentional constraint of brevity, I keep an eye on the word count. I have a target I want to hit. I want to keep that particular writing in the ballpark of something brief. But if the topic requires more, I'm prepared to eschew brevity to complete the thought (as I've clearly done here).

Counting words has nothing to do with that whatsoever.

Word count isn’t a quality of good writing.

Again, this is not cut and dry, black and white, or mutually exclusive. Word count can and does influence writing, both poor writing and excellent writing. Working within constraints forces and fosters creativity.

Constraints matter.

¶ Ulysses 2.5

When I get the urge to write something I either reach for the closest instrument I can or, if available, the one that provides the most comfort. My iPhone is almost always with me and I'll write there if I must, though I much prefer my iPad when lounging in a recliner or my Mac if at a table or desk. Maybe I'm a bit overly particular, but I prefer my writing environment of choice to be as similar as possible across my three devices. This is one reason I love Day One for journaling and why I loved Byword for most anything else.

Yes, I said loved. Past tense.

There are a number of reasons why my beloved Byword fell out of favor with me. The frustrations were mainly with iOS. It started to feel buggy, and sync often bogged down the app, or ended with conflicted copies of files. In short, it became unreliable.

Now, I don't mean to disparage Byword. It will always hold a special place for me. But sentiment isn't something that should keep a tool around of it is no longer working well. It is ultimately only a tool.

Enter Ulysses. I bought Ulysses for Mac some time ago and experimented with it a bit, but I never committed as the story on iOS was only for iPad, and I often start my ideas on iPhone. It felt like an incomplete tool for my writing process.

Of course, hints and rumors have circulated for a while that The Soulmen, the makers of Ulysses, were working on an iPhone version. When they announced a beta, I quickly signed up, and, thankfully, was quickly accepted.

To put it briefly, Ulysses has captured my heart and the words pouring from it.

The Experience

The best apps are the ones that offer an experience. They have a story to tell when you use them, and that story is expressed consistently on each device. Ulysses is such an app. It aims to encourage writing. It has all the tools one could want whether you are jotting a note or penning the next great novel.

Ulysses is powerful when it comes to organizing your writing. First up is the Library, where you create groups, sub-groups, add icons to groups for context, and more. The Library is as sparse or detailed as you want it to be. I use several overarching groups to separate writing for this site, work, and a few other things. Under each of those I typically have some sub-groups for additional context, such as Drafts and Published in my group for Full City Press.

Once you delve into a group you have the Sheet List. Think of Sheets as separate documents. Like a sheet of paper, it is a blank canvas. It doesn't need to have a title or a file name. It just needs words.

Once you create or select a sheet you're in the Editor. This is where the magic happens, and the true joy of writing with Ulysses is found. The Editor is clean, putting your words first. But it also places every tool you'd want within reach, kind of like Batman's utility belt. You can add keywords, set a writing goal, add a note, or even an image via the attachments sidebar. I make use of the writing goals to ensure I don't go overboard on words, and I love using notes to drop links I want to reference without mucking up my main text. I could see a novelist keeping notes about a scene or characters there, as well.

The best part is Ulysses is familiar whether you use it on a Mac, an iPad, an iPhone, or any combination of the three. Every tool you use on one device is found on another, in a sensible place for the size of screen being used.

Write. Anything. Anywhere.

I love the Ulysses’ slogan of Write. Anything. Anywhere. For the 2.5 release The Soulmen focused on the anywhere aspect of it. Bringing Ulysses to the iPhone is easily the capstone feature of this release. As I mentioned earlier, most of my writing starts on my iPhone while I am out and about. An idea hits me and I quickly jot it down, usually with a working title and attaching some notes to capture my general stream of thought. If the occasion permits, I may even tap out the first paragraph or two right there on my iPhone.

Ulysses, by default, leverages Markdown for styling text, which I have long held is the markup language every writer should learn and use. The various symbols you use for Markdown are easily accessible on a hardware keyboard, but can be a bit of a chore when using the on-screen keyboard on iOS. Ulysses again keeps the tools you need close by with the Shortcut Buttons that reside with the iOS keyboard.

Shortcuts are separated into three categories:

  1. Blocks: Headings, Lists, Quotes, Comments, and the like.
  2. Inline styling: Strong emphasis, regular emphasis, links, and more.
  3. Special characters: All the special characters you could shake a stick at.

Ulysses keeps all of these a single tap away while writing, instead of having to toggle the keyboard to symbols and maybe tap and hold on a key to reveal further options, as one would normally need to do things. These are located right in the QuickType Bar on the standard iPad keyboard, and are elegantly placed just above the keyboard on iPhone.

It is astounding how much attention to detail there is to keeping you focused on writing and not worrying about where things are at. Ulysses simply steps out of your way when writing while keeping any tools you may need within reach. To make another superhero reference, Ulysses is the Jarvis to your Tony Stark.

Keeping It All Together

Ulysses can be the one-stop shop for all your writing if you want it to be. It keeps everything organized. And when you use it on more than one device it also keeps everything in sync. Ulysses does this all through iCloud, and requires zero setup. It really just works.

Now, iCloud sometimes gets dirty looks when it comes to sync. Those aren't unwarranted as iCloud has definitely had quirks in the past. That said, I can't say I have had any trouble with iCloud sync in Ulysses. It has indicators in the Sheet List to show whether a particular sheet is uploading or downloading, and everything has always come across on all my devices. I don't even think about it. Ulysses has proven trustworthy that when I close it on one device, my work is there when I open it on another device.

Get to Writing

You don't need a fancy text editor to write. You can use paper, you can use TextEdit, Pages, or any number of tools. Ulysses is not needed for you to write or to write well. I don't think The Soulmen would disagree with that.

That said, when you set out to accomplish something, the caliber of the tool you use matters. There's a tremendous difference between using a generic tool and a precision instrument. Ulysses is the latter. It is designed to make a difference in your writing by taking care of all the things that typically steal away your attention while trying to focus on your writing. While it cannot create focus for you — that part is up to you — it does not create distraction.

Ulysses is the tool I whole-heartedly recommend to serious writers. Whether you write poetry, short stories, reviews, quips, thought pieces, or novels, Ulysses can handle it.

Write. Anything. Anywhere.


Ulysses is available on the iOS App Store as a Universal app for iPad and iPhone for $19.99. The Soulmen told me that price will be going up soon, so now is a great time to buy it. The Mac version of Ulysses is available on the Mac App Store for $44.99.

These apps are worth every penny, and I applaud The Soulmen for pricing them to be sustainable so Ulysses can continue to be the best writing tool for ages to come.