Stuff I Love
7 Things This Week, 2021-12-26
A weekly list of things I found interesting, posted on Sundays. Sometimes themed, often not.
This week I’ve got a triad of Apple Music-related stories, and some other neat tidbits from around the internet.
Anyways, I decided to actually write Tim Cook directly, for the fun of it. I put together a fairly lengthy and well-written (if I may say so myself) email, in which I described how I’m a long time Apple fan, but that I thought the music app has provided a subpar experience for years, which is disappointing for a company that usually releases such great products. If you want to get an idea of some of the points I brought up, I covered a lot of the stuff from this popular thread that I posted here a while back. I focused on three broad areas where the app/service falls short - technical performance, design, and missing features.
Well, fast forward a few weeks and I got an email and voicemail from someone in Tim Cook’s office who told me she wants to chat on the phone because Tim actually saw my email, personally read it, and forwarded it to people in engineering and on the product design team for Apple Music. She said she’d like to set up a call with me, so of course I jumped at the chance. We chatted on the phone a few days later, and she told me that Apple took my email seriously and may potentially implement some of my suggestions, although she obviously couldn’t promise anything or tell me anything about future plans, as that’s all confidential, and Apple is a super secret company, as we all know.
What a thrill! I’ll choose to see the good in this story that anyone can actually break through to the CEO of one of the most influential companies in the world and inspire real change. I’ll be interested to see how the Music app shapes up over the next year. Speaking of which…
Apple on Thursday released the first beta of macOS Monterey 12.2 just a few days after the release of macOS 12.1 to all users. While the company didn’t provide any release notes for today’s update, it seems that Apple is finally rebuilding the Apple Music app as a full native macOS app.
As first noted by Luming Yin on Twitter, Apple Music in macOS 12.2 beta now uses AppKit — which is macOS’ native interface framework. 9to5Mac was able to confirm based on macOS code that the Music app is now using JET, which is a technology created by Apple to turn web content into native apps.
Could it be that the Music team has made a lightning-fast turnaround based on Dave’s call to Tim’s office? Perhaps the plan was already in motion, but it does seem awfully coincidental, doesn’t it?
Here are some of those ideas that Dave pitched to Apple, but expanded upon and public to the internet:
Smart Playlists/filters. Apple Music is still missing a Smart Playlist/filter system to sort through your Library and find the music you want. Apple keeps throwing curated playlists at us, but no matter how many “Here’s a playlist based on a mood or activity or time of day that our Apple curator put together” type playlists that Apple provides, they will never be a substitute for the user actually being able to set his own criteria to determine the music he wants to listen to. Curation is no substitute for smart filters. So many other first party Apple apps have introduced tag/filter systems, like Reminders, Notes, and Apple Maps. Even Fitness and the Apple Store app have a filter feature (see above images). Apple Music needs something similar.
Too much focus on curation. The entire app is far too heavily focused on curation. 4 of the 5 main tabs are about curated content — ‘Listen Now’, ‘Browse’, ‘Radio’, and now even the ‘Search’ tab are all about “Here’s music we want you to listen to”. Only the Library tab is about the user’s own preferences, and that tab has gotten very little attention from Apple over the years. As a result, the whole app feels like it was built for content providers, not for end users. It feels like a collection of billboards advertising content at you. Curation is good, but in the right place. Apple Music has not found the right balance. Curation should be a feature, not the entire basis of the app’s design.
Permanency. To expound on point #2 in the ‘Technicals’ section earlier, the matching problems result in a constant feeling of your library being ephemeral and inconsistent. The streaming ecosystem feels like it exists in a quantum state, where things just appear and disappear out of existence. Albums get split up. A song you downloaded from an album gets matched back to a single or greatest hits album. The ‘Show Complete Album’ feature often brings you to a compilation. Music you’ve downloaded gets greyed out and removed. And so on. Your library never feels like it’s on solid ground. Perhaps a solution to the matching problems would be to introduce a manual component to the process, where the user can confirm/deny the correctness of a match and submit errors, similar to how the error-reporting system works in Apple Maps. The fact is that even though this is a streaming service we pay for monthly, music we download should have a feeling of permanency. Just because we’re renting our stuff monthly doesn’t mean we don’t want to maintain collections of that rented stuff.
There are some big ideas here. It almost feels ungrateful to ask for such riches.
The real win of home automation is eliminating cognitive distractions. When it’s time for dinner, it’s time to eat—the food is hot, one of us is likely already sitting down, and it’s disruptive if the other person has to traipse around the house, shutting off lights. Similarly, when we want to watch TV, getting all the lights set right wastes time and distracts from the focus of the activity. These might be self-imposed distractions—we could just leave all the lights on unnecessarily—but they’re no less annoying than unwanted notifications or spam phone calls. It’s quite similar to using Keyboard Maestro to automate a repetitive task on your Mac to save time and mental energy.
Adam Engst makes a strong argument for automating with HomeKit and Siri when it seems the general discourse is that Apple’s assistance still leaves much to be desired. But I have to agree with Adam. While Siri isn’t perfect, the ability to speak a command and have things happen without breaking my stride or pulling out a device is magical. If you haven’t yet dabbled with HomeKit devices, I will encourage you to get a smart outlet and dabble away.
While you’re waiting for your new outlet to arrive, read up on how Adam figured out specific use cases around his home. I’m intrigued by the bed warmer, myself.
Birds Aren’t Real members have also become a political force. Many often join up with counterprotesters and actual conspiracy theorists to de-escalate tensions and delegitimize the people they are marching alongside with irreverent chants.
I’ve seen a smattering of Bird Aren’t Real propaganda over the last few months and wondered what it was all about. Delegitimatizing and satirizing crazy conspiracy theories may be unorthodox, but it feels like a good move. Totally worth a read.
[Update 2021-12-30: Removed part of the blockquote that did not accurately represent my interest in the group.]
Engineers on the ground will remotely orchestrate a complex sequence of deployments in the hours and days immediately after the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. This animation shows the nominal sequence for these deployments.
Humankind took a giant leap forward yesterday with our successful Christmas launch of the JWST. With it, we’ll be able to look further and farther back than ever before, nearly back to the birth of the universe. There’s still a lot that needs to go right for it to be functional, including unfurling correctly. This animation shows what we hope will happen as it sets itself upon its million-mile journey.
The Verge has had great coverage on the launch and what it means for scientific discovery.
In the last century, 85% of the world’s oyster reefs have vanished. And we’re only recently beginning to understand what that’s cost us: While they don’t look incredibly appealing from the shore, oysters are vital to bays and waterways around the world. A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water every day. And over time, oysters form incredible reef structures that double as habitats for various species of fish, crabs, and other animals. In their absence, our coastlines have suffered.
Now, several projects from New York to the Gulf of Mexico and Bangladesh are aiming to bring the oysters back. Because not only are oysters vital ecosystems; they can also protect us from the rising oceans by acting as breakwaters, deflecting waves before they hit the shore. It won’t stop the seas from rising - but embracing living shorelines could help protect us from what’s to come.
I shouldn’t be surprised, but I had no idea how functional oysters are!