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Crossy Remote

One of the things that confuses me about the lack of a Remote app for iOS that’s compatible with the 4th generation Apple TV is that 3rd parties can make their own iOS remote controls that work inside their own tvOS apps. Take Crossy Road, for example. You start the game on the TV, and after a series of non-obvious steps you get the iOS app to see the tvOS app game and function like a second controller. You don’t see a mirrored screen, or anything, but gestures and taps work as if you had another Siri Remote to play the game.

So if these frameworks exist, and existed before the September event when Crossy Road developers demoed it on stage, then why no Remote app? Why leave it to third parties to build their own remote functionality into their tvOS and iOS games?

I have no answer, but there doesn’t appear to be a technical limitation holding it back. I also find the common excuse that Apple hasn’t had enough time to implement such a feature implausible since it’s easy for third parties to implement per app.

Tim Cook even mentioned he used his Apple Watch to control his Apple TV (3rd generation) during the watch unveiling in 2014. Seems like it hurts the Watch to remove functionality from that device.

Is it an intentional omission because they don’t want people using a Remote app instead of the Siri Remote? That’s strange since it won’t hurt device sales. You can only use one Siri Remote per TV, and each TV comes bundled with one remote. It wouldn’t hurt accessory sales under those conditions unless we’re supposed to be buying game controllers, but then why let games build in their own controls?

Maybe it’s coming, maybe it isn’t, in this great, unfinished rush that is the Apple TV product launch. For now, it goes in my stack of questions.

2015-11-09 15:00:00

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Negative Criticism

I received a lot of feedback from people that they enjoyed hearing me on Upgrade last Monday, and appreciate my subsequent blog post about my experiences, and thoughts, surrounding the Apple TV. I’m grateful for that feedback. Apple’s film/TV efforts are of paramount interest to me. I really do want them to do well in this space, and I’m personally invested in their ecosystem.

However, there’s been another vein of feedback, mostly regarding Tweets where I share quick thoughts, that I’m too negative. I dismissed that feedback, and then had doubts about what I had said, and typed. I’ve reconsidered everything, –also taking in other podcasts and reviews, and I’ve gone back to my initial conclusion. My criticisms are valid.

As I’ve repeatedly said: I like the new Apple TV, and it is better than the old Apple TV, but that is not what I’m measuring it against. I’m measuring it against the time since the last Apple TV iteration. I’m measuring the completeness of the platform. I’m comparing it against other devices and services on the market. Add to that that many of the comments and criticisms are all very similar and I’m being perfectly reasonable.

There is one area though where I could have been clearer in communicating though; D-pad vs. touchpad remotes. I’ll try to break that down again:

  • The entire interface is made to work with either a D-pad or a touchpad. All of it.
  • Any other TV remote, Universal remote, or compatible game controller with a D-pad can be used.
  • D-pads allow exact precision for certain things like entering text, or making a selection on a grid.
  • The touchpad is better at scrubbing, and allows for certain interface effects like pivoting tiles, and parallax in the tiles.
  • A replacement Siri Remote is $80.
  • At $160, or $200, a large percentage of the cost appears to be tied up in this remote. (We don’t know the material costs, or margins, but the retail value of these two things is known.)
  • Other than scrubbing, and parallax effects, is it worth the added cost to the device?

To some that’s negative. That’s been repeated back to me as if I want the old aluminum stick. I don’t, it’s a pragmatic thought excercise. They didn’t go far enough distinguishing its function so a D-pad could not be used, but they felt it was better than the touchpad and worth the expense.

As for the symmetry? Everyone agrees. Even people that are “positive” feel like it was a mistake.

The buttons? The most “positive” podcast episode about the new Apple TV, The Talk Show (with Adam Lisagor) was even named after how they wish there was a way to distinguish the buttons by touch.

As a game controller? No one likes, or recommends, playing games on the remote versus third-party controllers. There are a few people on Twitter that say it’s good, but then say they use a game controller anyway. In that case, it’s perfectly valid to question why Apple thought it was suitable to do so with the remote, and why there is no first-party game controller. It’s not negativity. (Also saying you’re not really planning on playing any games with it in your review doesn’t excuse any of this, it just doesn’t personally impact you.)

Apple decided to release the device, as it is, on a schedule they selected, with the R&D they chose. They said the future of TV is apps. It is far too generous to merely compare it to the old Apple TV and say it’s better than that one. (A device they are still happy to sell!) Ask yourself why they did what they did for every feature you see, or don’t see. Some things seemingly have no logical answer, like Bluetooth keyboard support, where it could be anything from a lack of development time (unacceptable answer), or an intentional omission to prevent word processor apps. I even saw someone suggest it was a security issue, which is the kind of excuse that doesn’t stand up to basic scrutiny.

I also feel as if I need to disclaim where my criticism is directed. It’s directed at the abstract entity of Apple, and the key executives that approve the product. I am not writing about device shortcomings to make the engineers and designers feel bad. I’ve worked on many film and TV shows and I know that criticism of the film is not criticism of my work on the film. Nor do projects I’ve worked on deserve glowing reviews based on how much effort I put in. If that were the case, I would have only worked on films, and TV shows, that bowed to rave reviews. So no, it is not ever a personal critique of the people putting blood sweat and tears in.

I know that the project will continue to improve. That no matter what you may think of the Apple TV, or the remote, or the App Store, or game controllers – we can all agree improvements will at least start to happen. Let’s just all be honest that it needs improvement, and not all of it is a software tweak.

2015-11-08 21:45:00

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Apple TV

Anyone that reads this blog knows that I have some passionate feelings about Apple’s media ecosystem. Seems pretty natural, since I work in media, and I quite like Apple. This does lead me to be critical when I see some shortcomings. If you just want to feel happy, and smile, then read my overall summary here, and no further: I like it. I do not love it. I wouldn’t draw a little heart next to it. We are not sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. The device would benefit greatly from some more work. I also would only recommend the device to people that own a previous generation Apple TV, or earlier. I am not going to buy one for everyone I know, or tell them to do so.

(Rolls up sleeves)

OK then.


This was not the most elegant release of an Apple product ever. They announced that it would be available in October in September. Then, at the end of October, it was available for order on that last Monday in the U.S. Free shipping would get you the device as early as Monday, November 2nd. Paying extra could get it to you on the 30th of October. In store availability was listed as “Coming Soon”. Fearing that meant the supply was constrained, I picked the free shipping option. I typically prefer to pick up in store because I work long hours and don’t like the thought of a box sitting around for many hours on a weekday.

Of course, Wednesday there were rumors that stores would have the devices on Friday, the 30th. This is sooner than my estimated shipping time. I could not cancel my order because it was in a stage referred to as “preparing for shipment”. I contacted customer support, and there was nothing they could do. It would be shipped, and delivered, and then I could return it if I wanted. Knowing this, I went to Century City Mall’s Apple Store and bought an Apple TV Saturday, October 31st. Happy Halloween. The sales process in the store was smooth and pleasant. I was not offered an HDMI cable, but didn’t need one. I planned to return the shipping device.

This is pretty far from a graceful product launch. It just shows up Monday. No availability for stores is listed, and then by that Friday, it’s available in stores before it’s shipped for people that might have bought on Monday. Crummy.

Even more annoying is that as I write this, that delivery TV unit was marked as “delivered” by the company Apple contracted with, OnTrac, and is nowhere to be found. That’s my fault for putting any faith in getting something delivered when I’m not home (first time in 10 years anything’s gone missing). I really should have waited and not ordered at all on that Monday. I was too excited to have one, and now I’m out $163 — unless it turns out it’s been misplaced. (OnTrac wouldn’t return my calls or email, and I had to send a public-shaming tweet on Twitter before a representative got in touch. They let me know that I can’t deal with them, I have to call a special number for Apple and talk to them.)

UPDATE: This shipping situation was resolved.

Initial Setup

When connected to your TV, and to power, the Apple TV prompts you to get started with the install process. You’re offered the opportunity to load data from your nearby phone to assist with the setup process. As Jason Snell, Myke Hurley, and I all detailed on Upgrade 61, this process is a bit of a mixed bag. The Bluetooth setup didn’t work at all for Myke. The setup worked for Jason Snell and I. Also, when I moved my new Apple TV from my boyfriend’s apartment to my apartment it wasn’t automatically on my WiFi network. I’m guessing it only copies WiFi credentials from your iPhone, but I listened to Dan Benjamin say that it worked for him when he took his from his office to his home. I’m not sure why that worked for him and not for me, but I would need more data, and I’m fresh out of WiFi locations and TVs.

There’s no mechanism to trigger the pairing again, from what I could tell, other than a device reset, I assume. The only reason this is even worth mentioning is because it is an absolutely terrible experience to type passwords on the Apple TV. The whole alphabet on a row, and a narrow touchpad, lead to a lot of frustration as you try not to overshoot or undershoot letters. Unlike previous Apple TV devices, this is the only way to enter text.

What’s in the Baaaahhhhhhhcccksss?

As Myke opined on the episode of Upgrade I was on, the new TV doesn’t include an Haytch-DMI cable. Jason Snell relayed a story that he was asked if he had a cable by the Apple Employee he picked up his device from. The employee I collected my device from made no such offering/warning. It didn’t take me by surprise of course, because… well I wouldn’t be writing these blog posts if it took me by surprise. Myke was concerned that many people would assume the cable would be included. If you do need one, get Amazon Basics, or Monoprice, or whatever. No rose-gold-plated HDMI cables for me.

Apple does include a Lightning cable, which they charge a pretty penny for when you buy one by itself, so it’s not like they’re worried about the expense of a cable. Also, I have a lot of Lightning cables at this point, and I’m willing to bet all Apple TV customers do. The remote even comes with a charge, which is the only reason to use the cable. Since there are minor variations in HDMI cables, it seems like it would be better to include that and exclude the lightning cable for a comparable cost.

Remote Possibilities

The one thing I had wondered about for many months was whether or not the Apple TV would support an updated version of the Remote iOS app. Then all the press reviews started to come in, and the app is not supported, much to my chagrin. When I talked to Jason Snell on Upgrade, I was surprised to learn that he had asked about this back at the first product announcement and had been told by an Apple representative that it would not be supported at all. Not a “maybe” or a “later” but a “no”.

The new Apple TV also dropped support for Bluetooth keyboards.

I feel like this is an enormous mistake. The process of text entry is like sliding your thumb back and forth over the width of a ruler. This makes no sense to me given the number of times that you can enter text during the setup process. Even after a successful Bluetooth pairing, you’re still entering iCloud and iTunes account passwords (almost always the same) and at some point you’ll be prompted to either enter your CCV number from the credit card associated with your iTunes account, or to use iTunes on a computer to update your payment info. Jason Snell experienced the later and detailed it a bit on Upgrade, and in a post for his site.

It was far easier to enter passwords using the old Remote app for iOS. I didn’t even like the Remote app but I’m even less in-like with not having one at all.

Not only that, but the capabilities of the Siri Remote match those of most iPhones — in fact most iPhones surpass them. One particular area that most modern iPhones excel is in securing your identity and verifying your purchases. The TV doesn’t care one lick about that. Even when they know that entering the password over and over is annoying, the solution is “ask every time”, “ask once every 15 minutes”, and “do not ask again”. Which is not a secure solution when you think about what people are going to select after having to deal with entering passwords through the setup process.

Also consider the number of people that will be using the device in a household.


The new remote comes with many of the sensors the iPhone has. It even has a touch sensor that uses glass. Although the touch sensor is more like a very tiny trackpad than a screen. Very tiny.

I feel like they aren’t of much use. You see, tvOS doesn’t use them for anything other than the parallax effects. That’s it. The rest is all for games apps, which are terrible to play with Apple’s remote. I’ve been told that the games are better with third party game controllers, but that’s not what the TV ships with, and Apple doesn’t offer their own.

Sensitive Issues

The touchpad calibration seems slightly off for me. I’ve tried the options for adjusting the touchpad sensitivity in Settings, but even at it’s highest sensitivity, I frequently skip one past, and go one short. It’s not as precise as a directional pad — a D-Pad.

Confusingly, the whole Apple TV interface works with the previous generation remote, or with a universal remote of your choosing. That makes it feel like there’s even less of a reason for all the fanciness of the remote. A part of me wonders if it would have been better to target a lower price point by using a directional remote with a microphone. A substantial portion of the device’s expense seems to be tied up there. Offload the gaming experience to a real controller, since I think the remote is an absolutely terrible game controller in every game I’ve played.

Disney Infinity 3.0 - Battle for Yavin, is available for the device, and it was something Phil Schiller was very excited about at the product launch. However, this is the worst game I tested. The remote needs to be held sideways, and it’s far too small for that. It’s like I’m trying to hold a doll-sized teacup and saucer to play a game. The buttons also don’t have the right responsiveness for a game controller in this configuration, and the touchpad is, again, too small.

Siri Pros and Khans

Siri has functioned much better on the TV than I had assumed it would. Most queries, and commands, work as expected. I don’t like to use it to command the TV, but that might be because I’m not used to talking to the remote. The few cases that seem to trip it up have to do with words that sound the same. Unfortunately, when I asked for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Siri transcribed it as “Star Trek two the wrath of con”. No results, of course, because no movie is named that. Unfortunately, it’s not smart enough to use context to resolve a situation like that. Jason Snell had some similar experiences when he was looking for something with a very generic name, Spy.

It’s worked for every actor, and character, I could think to test so far. It’s also nice that you can phrase your command to only return Netflix results. I knew that Netflix would be in Universal Search but I am elated that it can be used as a filter for searching.

This works as advertised. Netflix is returned first for any titles where it’s present, over iTunes, which isn’t free. A really positive experience. One strange thing is that when your Universal Search result loads a movie up, you get a screen that is very similar to the iTunes store screen, only with the icons for other services in a bar below the description. I wish that the search results were distinguished a little differently from the store pages, or that the store pages just were the same as the search result pages.

App Store

One of the nice things about setting up the fourth generation Apple TV over the previous one, is that you’re left in complete control over what you want to have on the home screen. No more cricket channel! You do need to open the App Store and start populating the screen with all the usual suspects though. Netflix, YouTube, Hulu (if you’re into that sort of thing) etc. Broadcasters also have apps, and the App Store team has highlighted all the major things you would want. You do need to do a bit of initial downloading, but most of the media apps are relatively small compared to the games.

For people just starting out, I recommend going to the Purchased Apps section of the App Store. Many of the iOS apps for media companies will have tvOS support. Same for games. This is a quick way to get all the things you’ve already bought elsewhere. It won’t remember passwords, or authorizations, or anything, so you have to go back through and do that for every app that requires one, on every device you own.

Most of that activation consists of going to a URL on your computer, or iOS device, and entering a short code that the TV gives you. There’s some wrangling with service providers for some apps. Cord Cutters and Cord Nevers will find this really frustrating because there isn’t any warning in the app store that you’ll need a cable, or satellite, subscription for many of these. Even the broadcasters that you can pick up using an antenna put their content behind walls, and they do it differently, and for different kinds of content. NBC has a section in their app where they make it clear you can watch some programs below without needing to be signed in to anything. Some. The CBS app is useless without a CBS All Access subscription.

When you start to add up all the content subscriptions, it gets quite expensive. You know what would be great? A single sign-on through Apple that gave the apps the appropriate authorization and let you just watch TV. That would be swell. I am assuming that when Apple launches their OTT, it will basically just be that. However, with the way the TV is right now, it might be a service you log into in every app individually still and then authorize your account on another device…

Sharing is Caring

Apple has launched a new platform, in 2015, and it has no social component. Sure, you’re signed in to Game Center through your Apple ID, and you’ll see a little message notification in the upper-right corner welcoming you when launch a game, but that’s it. There’s no Game Center interface or app. It just makes a note of your game progress which you can see on other platforms.

While it’s fun to joke that a Twitter client would be terrible, the ability to share a link to what you’re doing in an app, or a link to an app, or piece of media, would be a huge improvement. There’s no concept of sharing services at all. Remember, this is 2015.


I’ve had some peculiar things happen with AirPlay. The parentheses problem is still on the device, which is super annoying, and sometimes when your AirPlay connection drops, you’re greeted to multiple Apple TV instances to pick from. The other issue is that while I was listening to audio in Overcast, AirPlayed to my TV from my iPhone, and I opened the Photos app on my iPhone, Overcast stopped playing and my Photos app was mirrored to the TV. I have AirPlay mirroring off. I left photos, hit play in Overcast, set one of the two Apple TV instances as my source and waited for it to start playing again. Same thing. Mirroring was off when I was outside the Photos app, but once it was launched, it overrode my setting and mirrored my photos. I also tested with the Music app on the phone. With that I got long pauses in playback, but they would pick back up again.

Anyway, this is not so good.


Just go read the thing I wrote about this before. Same. I think it’s awkward that the iPhone records in UHD, and they’re making a big deal about the iMac Retina displays (not 4k UHD). Also it’s a marketing tool for Amazon and Roku to use against Apple. Other than that? Inconsequential.

No Backup

One of the really strange omissions for a device built on top of iOS is that there is no way to back up the device at all. Not to iTunes, nor to iCloud. This didn’t even dawn on me until most of the way through the week. You can’t restore your device from a saved state at all. Your purchases are all intact, but that’s not the same thing. Hopefully they roll something out, and certainly before next year (maybe?), when people upgrade devices.

The Future

The device feels very unfinished. Surprising, given the amount of time between the last model and this one. Rumors are that the team working on it stopped and it sat there while Apple tried to work with outside parties. Then they gave up and had to resume. Apple picked when to ship this device though, just like every other thing they make.

There’s also the issue of “Starting at $69” — that’s not true. Selling the other Apple TV is bizarre. It functions as a cheap media streamer but it has no direct relationship with the current TV. On a recent episode of the Clockwise podcast, Anže Tomic asked the panelists why there wasn’t a cheapo streaming dongle like the Chromecast, or Fire TV Stick. There was an ensuing discussion and Jason Snell coined “AirPlay Express” which I will use to refer to whatever they replace the $69 unit with. I do not think it’s a good experience to continue to sell the old one, and I don’t think it’s acceptable to retire it and leave a $159 price umbrella for the competition. Maybe an entry level device couldn’t play games, or came preloaded with streaming apps?

I do have some hopes for the future, like a unified content strategy, single sign-on experience, picture-in-picture, and some sort of guide view that displays all the live streaming media from installed apps. Oh, and Touch ID…

Last November, Dan Moren wrote on SixColors that his wishlist item for the next Apple TV was Siri integration. I saw Dan’s post and argued that it would be better to have Touch ID integration. Well everything’s coming up Morenhouse! The Siri integration is there, and Touch ID is not. Good thing no one hates entering passwords, because the new Apple TV certainly doesn’t make you enter passwords. OH WAIT IT TOTALLY DOES. Maybe next time, you will all clap louder at my ideas.

It’s pretty typical of Apple Product launches to already talk about what we want to see in the next one, so I didn’t want to bring this up on Upgrade and derail us.

2015-11-04 08:30:00

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Defocused on the Incomparable Network

The podcast Dan Sturm and I do has joined The Incomparable’s network of shows this week. A while back Jason Snell had suggested that our show would be a good fit with what they do, and I took that as a huge compliment because I have always admired the shows that he produces over there. From the main “The Incomparable” which started it all, to the spin-offs, and sub-spin-offs that populate the site. There’s a little something for everyone. That includes us now too.

For anyone unfamiliar with our show, but somehow reading this blog (How? Why?) I’ll briefly explain the podcast. Dan has a background in directing commercial projects, and VFX compositing. He has strong opinions, and he hates space.

I have a degree in computer animation (chillax, it’s a BFA and I’m not even a good animator) and I’ve worked for 10 years doing lighting and compositing (told you I wasn’t a good animator). I have different opinions, and I love space.

Together we spend as little time talking about the industry we work in as possible, and most of the time talking nonsense about movies we watch.

What kind of movies? I would describe the assortment as “eclectic”. Everything from modern action movies, to 80s comedy, to 80s action, to 90s comedy, to… Hmm. Maybe it’s not that eclectic.

New listeners might enjoy the episodes with guests they’re familiar with:

And since it’s October again, there’s all the Halloween (ish) themed stuff from last year:

Ghostbusters II was just recorded, so expect more spoooooooky stuff this month.

Also, my love of The Incomparable Radio Theater specials (the series wasn’t out yet) inspired me to write the fake award show episode. That’s a terrible place to start as a first time listener, but Dan spent like 40,000 hours editing it, so I want to demonstrate that our audio podcast isn’t just about our pretty looks.

Long Time Listeners

We (Dan) updated the show art for the new network bug, and Greg Knauss imported all of our episodes and setup the redirects. Since Dan ran the original site, and owns the domain, he got to do all the real work. (Like usual, I am a parasite. (But I did composite together that Zeppelin gif! (That’s the kind of thing a parasite would point out.)))

Oh, and if anyone needs to transform some podcast files1 from “ep#-YYYY-MM-DD-v###.mp3” to “defocused#.mp3”:

import glob
import os

src = glob.glob("*.mp3")

for s in src:
    os.rename(src, (src.split("-")[0].replace("ep", "defocused") + ".mp3")

Dan and I work pretty hard on this hobby of ours, and we have worked on it for over a year. The show is still going to be run the same, and still just as bad/good as ever.

The announcement went live when I had a work deadline so I basically just faved things as they came in. I do really appreciate all the feedback from listeners, and I know Dan does too. I also appreciate all the work Dan, Greg, and Jason Snell put in to get Defocused rolling.

  1. This section is for Dr. Drang.

  2. 2015-10-16 00:00:00

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4.0666K Retina iMac

The 4K iMac came out. When this resolution was originally mentioned in the rumors, I was a little confused. 4096 x 2304 is not what all the TV people call 4K, or even what the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus shoot. That 4K is the UHD resolution of 3840×2160. Apple doesn’t ship any display, on any device, that is 3840x2160.

We all watch scaled video, all the time, and that’s no sin. But it would be nice if Apple would ship something that was 1:1. If you watch “4K” video on your “4K” iMac, every pixel is being resampled to scale up by 1.0666.

I am excited about the updates to the range of colors that can be displayed. From Jason Snell’s review for Macworld:

Apple says that the display in this 4K iMac, as well as the revision to the 5K iMac that was announced the same day, offers an expanded color space. Thanks to new red-green phosphor LEDs, the displays can display a wider range of red and green light than before, allowing them to display 25 percent more colors.

In a demo at Apple, I was able to detect subtle differences. The new displays can offer more color detail and more vibrancy than the display on the older 5K iMac models. I’m a little red-green color blind, and even I could detect the differences. If you work in graphics or video, you’ll probably be happy to have access to a display that’s capable of displaying 99 percent of the P3 color space.

P3 is DCI-P3, which… Well, go read this, and then this.

2015-10-13 09:30:00

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I Once Was in Maps, but Now I'm Found

I was very excited about Apple Maps when the rumors surrounding its launch circulated in 2012. The Google contract for map data was going to expire but the company that deeply respects its customers would have something amazing. I cautiously updated my iPad (3) to iOS 6 to test it out, and didn’t update my iPhone 4 to iOS 6 until the following January, when the Google Maps app was available. There’s no denying how bad it was, because Tim Cook even wrote a statement apologizing for it.

I keep testing out Apple Maps every few months to see what’s happening with it – Usually when major updates are announced, or when some tech-pod-blog-ocaster mentions a positive experience. I would like to be pleasantly surprised, and then remove Google Maps. They are a company that specializes in personalized ad tracking, and here I am, shoving my location in their face.

Instead, here we are, three years later. Still working around Siri, and working around apps that integrate Apple Maps (like Yelp), and copying and pasting addresses in to Google Maps.

Works for Me

When I have discussed my issues with Apple Maps in the past I’ve received feedback that was not entirely helpful. Informing me about how well Apple Maps works in places I am not has done very little to improve how Apple Maps works here.

Telling me that I can report issues from inside the Maps app is something I already know, and have talked about in the past. It is safe to assume I have reported the complaints detailed below. Expressing my disappointment is not mutually exclusive to reporting issues. They’ve spent three years working on Maps, and made a big song and dance number about it at WWDC in June. I am not being overly critical of some just-launched beta from a startup.

However, I must apologize for ignoring the earnest advice to move somewhere else. I’m sure if I moved somewhere my job wasn’t then the quality of a maps and directions app would be unimpeachable.

Location, Location, Location?

There have been several improvements to location data both in the map view itself, and from the various iOS features which hook in to apps. Certainly this is much better than when the service launched with multiple, conflicting addresses for locations, and conflicting Yelp reviews. Even last year, when I bought my iPhone 6 with iOS 8, the location data was still pretty wonky. One particular test I conducted was asking for directions to “City Hall”.

The Maps app now correctly lists the city hall for the city I’m in right now (Los Angeles) as the first suggestion when I type the query, and follows it up with the other halls that are closer to me, but not the city hall of the city I’m in. For some inexplicable reason, “City Hall” in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is still listed as a suggestion. At least it is no longer the primary result.

However, if I hit “search” without selecting one of the suggestions, I receive “City Hall, London”. Not to spoil any surprises, but if you click the little car icon for driving directions the app will regretfully inform you that it could not determine a route.

Confusingly, when I ask Siri for directions to city hall, I am presented with a list of locations that’s completely different from those suggestions the Maps app generates, and one of them is a gospel hall.

I don’t understand why these results are all different. Even if it’s struggling with the generic term, it should have the same struggle everywhere.

What about “Downtown LA”?

No, Apple Maps. I can’t even.

On a more positive note: Someone at Apple accepted one of the many reports I’ve been sending about my apartment address. I check every six to eight months, so I’m not exactly sure when they fixed my address. I no longer need to get route guidance to my neighbors’ buildings, and I can use Siri commands like, “Give me directions home”. This is a very exciting development for me.

The other location improvements have less significance to me, but I do still miss Google’s Street View. If you tap on an address that has no Yelp data you get a spartan, white page with a slowly rotating satellite view of the street, which is useless.

Categories for nearby locations are very nice, and I haven’t come across anything miscategorized, but I have a nit to pick about it all being radial to your location, and you can’t build a route. This is tricky, I know, but gas stations along my commute are more helpful than a radial cluster of pins from wherever I am along that commute. Waze has these sorts of features, but I had poor performance from their app and removed it in frustration. It would be nice if Siri could leverage the categories, and the route I’m on, as if it was some kind of virtual assistant.

LA Transit

(Update: I took Apple’s announcement at WWDC that iOS 9 would have transit support in LA to mean it would be included when iOS 9 launched. According to a page buried on Apple’s site, they have not rolled out Los Angeles support yet.)

Transit directions are of academic interest to me, but I have no real ability to test them other than trying a few random queries. While Apple has made arrangements for public transit data in LA, it seems to be very incomplete. No bus routes are available when I conducted some searches on the Westside. I also conducted a search from Culver City to the Los Angeles Convention Center, which should have shown me the Expo Line light rail route, but instead I got the same error as the buses. “Transit directions are not available between these locations. View routing apps.” I can select the installed Google Maps app and I’m presented with the Expo Line. It doesn’t even flinch. Maybe there are some routes that function in LA, since Apple listed LA as a city they would have this data for, but I can’t think of any.

Perceived Slowness

Since the Apple Maps app was introduced, the slow, whimsical animations have bugged the crap out of me. You don’t always see them, sometimes it just snaps directly to the relevant view. Other times it involves a lot of slow pans and zooms. I don’t need to see all of North America while the app slowly zooms in to where I am. I am pretty aware of where North America is in relation to me.

3D also seems to add some processing weight to the situation, which I don’t really need. Building height is one of those metrics they got from their aerial mapping that’s neat in demos, but doesn’t serve any purpose in the real world.

The flyover stuff… I mean, I guess it’s cool? But I don’t use it. It’s always in Apple’s marketing, but why? It doesn’t help you do anything. And it still has weird spots that … I just don’t know why this is a marketable feature.


It’s important to keep your eyes on the road. Glancing at certain elements of your console for vital info is a necessity. Using thin weights for the display of information in a navigation app is just dumb. At a glance, you can see the number of miles to your next turn, or decimal value thereof, and an icon representing the kind of turn you will need to execute. White bars float over streets, but you can’t read them, and the street you’re turning on to is so tiny and waif-like that it might as well not be there. A thicker weight is used for the time, but again, a small size makes it hard to read clearly in a split second. Things also wouldn’t need to be so small if they weren’t all crammed in the top bar.

Even the icon for the turn you need to execute can be comically wrong.

Google Maps does a much better job at communicating at information at a glance. The top shows you an icon for the turn you need to make, as well as icons for lane guidance, and the name of the street you are approaching, instead of putting the emphasis on the number of miles you’re traveling to the turn. An estimate for the remaining time to travel is also available in large, thick numbers across the bottom of the display.

Google also changes aspects of the display based on traffic information, but more on that in the next section.


One of the things I’ve found puzzling about the design of the Apple Maps interface is that you can see traffic, and travel estimates supposedly influenced by traffic, in the route overview, but no traffic information is provided when turn-by-turn is on. All the roads are tranquil, neutral tones, and a serene blue path flows before you. It’s as if you’re in a kayak, on a river, being gently pulled along by the flow of water.

That’s not true, of course, because why would there be that much water in Los Angeles?

At heavy intersections, like Highland Ave. and Franklin Ave., you see no information about the flow of traffic in any direction. Instead of blue, you should see the streets run red with the blood of the Traffic God. Woe betide thee that commute on his most sacred of poorly designed intersections!

Tonight, Apple Maps routed me down Cahuenga to Highland. That sent me past the large, somewhat famous, amphitheater known as The Hollywood Bowl. Not a big deal, unless there’s an event at The Bowl. Guess what? There was an event! Van Halen! There were orange, safety cones and traffic cops directing at intersections. Apple Maps just herp-derped me through that. The only difference in the display was the estimated arrival time slowly ticking upward as I crawled.

On exactly one occasion I had Apple Maps present me with a yellow bar across the top, and Siri’s voice notified me that there was a delay due to an accident. (No alternate routing was provided on this occasion.) Waze has a leg up on Apple and Google when it comes to accident notifications. You even get notified about which lane the accident is in. Google sources some Waze data, but isn’t as specific. On the 101 N last night there was a very sudden slowdown, without warning, at a time of night when there shouldn’t be traffic at all. I waited patiently for Apple Maps to let me know what it was, and Apple Maps was oblivious to it. There was apparently a car accident that closed two lanes, and the car was being loaded on to a flatbed truck, so it wasn’t recent. Why Apple Maps kept silent about it, I don’t know.

Google Maps, in contrast, indicates traffic in several places. When cars are moving slowly, the road is red, as well as the estimated travel time. It serves as an appropriate cue that Google knows the street I’m on is slow, and thus I trust that Google is correctly monitoring the flow of cars. When Apple Maps has an unchanging interface, and an estimated arrival time that keeps ticking up, I have no sense that they understand the clusterfuck I’m stuck in. It’s not that Google Maps clears traffic, but it reassures you that it knows of it.

Google also provides alternate route suggestions as traffic conditions change. Sometimes there’s a prompt for a different route that will save X number of minutes. If I don’t accept the change, then I putter along on the current route. Far more often, I see the little gray paths with estimates of how many minutes faster, or slower, the route is.

I must ding Google for those little gray routes though. Often times the minute-by-minute fluctuations of traffic change on those paths so they are not always improvements. Also, Google’s app will occasionally lay several of the route suggestions on top of each other. For instance, you might be on Melrose, and the original path is to make a left at Highland, you see a suggestion to stay on Melrose and it will be 3 minutes faster. You tap it, and get a slower route. Zoom out and you’ll see that there were two routes it was suggesting that coincided at Melrose, so you got a route, but not the fast one you thought you were seeing. Why this behavior has persisted is beyond me, but it’s been there since they put these branching suggestions in.


Lane guidance is a feature present in Google Maps, but not found in Apple Maps. I find it invaluable when I am traveling in a congested area and unfamiliar with where turn lanes, or exits, will split and join. Some exit lanes might quickly expand in to three lanes with turns in different directions, and Google Maps will tell you which ones you can be in, or even that you will be fine in the lane you’re already in. It’s a comfort, but not a requirement. If you miss a turn, or can’t get to an exit lane, then any map app will reroute you. It’s just nice to reduce the rerouting.

It’s not flawless though, and Apple could learn from Google’s mistakes if they ever implement this feature. Google notifies you of the lane arrangement as it will be when you need to change lanes, not in terms of the lane arrangement you’re currently in.

An irritating example of this is traveling through Downtown LA. The Google Maps issue is that the number of lanes on the 110, heading toward Santa Monica, changes rapidly. You’ll be notified to get in the exit lane to merge from the 110 to the 10 around the 7th avenue exit. If you immediately maneuver to the lane, in the freeway as you currently see it, then you’re in the wrong spot. Two more lanes will merge on to the right of you before you get off, and Google Maps was including those lanes in the guidance it gave when they weren’t there. Ugh.

It took me a bit to wrap my head around the way this guidance gets delivered, but I still prefer it to Apple Maps, which cheerfully asks you to exit right, sometimes with little warning.

Apple Maps also seems blithely unaware of where special turn lanes start and stop, unlike Google. On a major roadway, it is not unusual to have a left turn lane start a significant distance from an intersection, and feature a solid, white line to deter people from making last minute lane changes. When making a turn from Santa Monica Blvd. to Beverly Glen Blvd., Apple Maps verbally alerted me to make a left after it was no longer legal to do so.

I have it on good authority that the vans Apple is driving around have lidar, and that lidar can be used for figuring out lanes. The more light will bounce off the reflective paint than off of anything else, even reflective cars. They might just be throwing away all that data and using the lidar to make really neat, really useless flyovers, but I hope they are using it to determine lanes.

Until We Cross Paths Again

I’m not even remotely on the fence about this decision. I am very disappointed because it would be the most convenient, OS-integrated, privacy-focused application for me to use. I simply value efficiency too much to rely on it in high-traffic LA. I hope it continues to improve, and that they continue to build in features that help it better estimate, and communicate, road conditions, and provide me with an interface that demonstrates that.

2015-10-05 00:45:00

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Your Apple Music Trial Membership is Almost Up

That was the headline of an email that Apple sent to me yesterday. I checked around with a few people and Apple doesn’t send a similar reminder to people to remind them that they have auto-renew on. Not that it’s the worst thing in the world, but I got a little chuckle out of it.

I turned off auto-renew back when I discovered the ways in which iCloud Music Library was broken for me. I figured I would see how things went with updates and the Radar ticket that was open.

It’s September 30th and while several updates to iOS have been released (and god knows how they version whatever’s on the server backend) I still don’t have a functional iCloud Music Library. My Queen albums are still jacked, and my playlists created before joining Apple Music still spontaneously — and simultaneously — combust. They did close my Radar ticket as a duplicate, so I suppose that counts for something.

Someone might think that it’s sort of silly to obsess over a few broken things. I have access to all the Queen catalog in Apple Music, even if it isn’t ordered and rated the way I had it. I could rebuild all my playlists, manually, as totally new ones. It isn’t impossible to do these things, I’d probably loose many hours, but it would probably work. Probably being a key word there.

There are all the other problems I was having with the interface, Connect, For You, Beats One, and discoverability. So it’s not like it was perfect for me.

Since I never spent $9.99 a month on music to begin with (monthly average is several dollars lower), and it basically doesn’t make my life any better, then it makes no sense for me.

The part that does make me a little annoyed is that I’m not sure how things are going to shape up for non-Apple-Music subscribers in the future. When major iOS revisions come out, are the engineers even going to check and make sure non-iCloud music syncing works? Will they make sure widgets draw correctly? Will purchasing music in the iTunes Store iOS app get buggy and weird (I mean, worse than now, obvi.) I may be back to using Apple Music if the balance of frustration, and neglect, tips the other way. It’s not like I’m switching to Android.

Your Music may vary.

2015-09-30 08:15:00

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The Apple TV Countdown

I am on vacation and haven’t been writing about all the TV stuff I would ordinarily have been. I have kept an eye on Twitter, and read an article here and there. Apologies for not listening to all the podcasts, and reading all the things, but there are a couple words I would like to arrange before the event.


The most surprising part of this is the rumored focus on gaming. I had guessed early on that TVKit would more likely be for creating media apps than for games (this still might be the case, and GameKit could be expanded to include the TV functions, but that’s splitting hairs). The noise makes it seem very likely that there will be several games demos. Mea culpa.

There is some strange trepidation in the tweets I’ve read from people who are serious about games, along with some outright denial, and defensive posturing, over whether or not Apple “can” and “should” do anything games related. I have to assume these reactions are mostly tied to fears gamers have over people that aren’t serious about games entering the game space. Whether that’s Apple as a company, or common folk buying an Apple TV to play games. I’m just going to outright dismiss those concerns. Almost nothing Apple demos on stage, game wise, ever really turns into anything huge. Developers usually find fun games to make much later. Infinity Blade, and cherry blossoms, and fish, etc. Humorously, Apple occasionally ropes EA into showing off some garbage. I assume they feel it helps lend credibility to their game demos.

None of that has ever inhibited people from playing games on iOS devices, or served as much of a prediction about how games would work even a few months after hardware and software releases.

People coming down hard on whether or not the Apple TV will work as a games console should read this terrible piece in Variety where the writer discounts Apple’s abilities because there is no OTT service to prove how serious Apple is about content. That kind of writing is mostly how all the gamers writing about Apple read to me. (That might be an extreme example since that Variety piece is just so bad.)

It’s worth circling back to the video content discussion, and that Variety piece, because it’s worth highlighting how myopic it is.

Launching a box without a new content service offering doesn’t surprise me at all, given that I’ve been arguing that for months. (Seriously, Tim, get in touch.)

I still expect third party apps for content streaming services to be demoed at the event. Perhaps a mention of HBO subscriptions? It is inevitable that someone will demonstrate something sports related. MLB runs many of the streaming services for other companies (including non-sports HBO, as well as other sports like the NFL). I don’t much care for sports, but they are undeniably a significant force, especially when it comes to adopting new technology. So while there’s no OTT with ESPN bundled with local broadcast affiliates, there will likely be something.

I don’t know if Apple will demonstrate anything for international customers at the event as I’m not sure how global the initial device launch is.


Why launch without every little thing? Why not wait forever for OTT? Because selling devices that can use an OTT service later makes for great leverage in the neverending negotiations. The networks and studios have no real deadline to adopt Apple’s terms. No urgency. They will continue their slow, downward spiral because it still seems like the most stable option to them.

Chicken and egg. There aren’t enough Apple TV customers to make Apple’s OTT terms worthwhile, and you can’t sell Apple TV’s that only offer non-existent OTT as a selling feature. You offer gaming and other media apps, sell the Apple TVs, then you have enough customers to make OTT worthwhile.

4K Video

I had already guessed there would be no 4K video way back when because there simply isn’t the inventory of available UHD remasters, and studios would likely demand increased prices. I do expect an eventual shift in the iTunes Store, just not now.

The next iPhone recording “4K” video presents an awkward little dance since the TV won’t have 4K playback, and nothing Apple makes actually has 1:1 pixels with UHD. Even the theoretical 4K iMac would scale the video up. All other models, beside the 4K and 5K iMacs will scale the video down. Including home movies played back on the new Apple TV.


I appear to also be wrong about Siri. Many moons ago, Dan Moren wrote a piece for Six Colors about his wish for Siri on the Apple TV. I was, of course, uncharacteristically pessimistic about Siri, and wrote how I’d rather have a remote with Touch ID. Guess I owe Dan Moren a drink or something? Or pistols at dawn? I can never remember which.

The event, which will transpire before anyone probably reads this, will surely be interesting.

Event Space

Did it occur to anyone that the space is so big because offering hands-on TV demos takes a lot of room? Especially TV demos with Siri which necessitate some level of noise control? The place is probably full of little rooms with TVs.

I wonder what TV panel Apple will have on display? I doubt it will be Samsung. It would be pretty funny if they went through a lot of trouble to obscure the manufacturers with some black tape. Hehe.

2015-09-09 02:00:00

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Media Stocks Tank After Analyst Says TV Business is Broken ►

Mathew Ingram writing for Fortune:

Disney (DIS -1.18%) alone lost 6% of its value, ending at its lowest level in six months, and has now lost more than $30 billion in market cap in a little over two weeks. Time Warner (TWX -1.62%) was also down about 5%, to its lowest level in 2015, and 21st Century Fox (FOX -2.65%) was down a little over 4%. CBS (CBS -2.04%) and Discovery Communications (DISCA -0.81%) were both down by about 5%, and Viacom (VIA -0.95%) dropped by more than 6%.

The stocks recovered a little bit today but they’re all still down.

The analyst comment that set this all off:

“The market is now valuing U.S. ad-supported TV businesses as structurally impaired assets,” Juenger said. “We believe this is fair and warranted, because: a) we believe TV advertising is undeniably in secular decline; and b) affiliate fees are now also being put at increased risk. When an industry is undergoing a massive structural upheaval, one major revenue stream is already impaired — and now there are signs the second one may be as well — investors won’t wait for final conclusive evidence to reevaluate how much they are willing to pay for the existing status quo cash flow streams.”

In plain English: ad sales are going down, and fees collected from satellite and cable subscribers are declining. It really isn’t so jarring if you’ve been paying attention to media reporting. The media reporters just usually frame it as slight downward trends. Wall Street frames non-growth as death. Those guys are so fun.

As Mathew notes, Netflix and Google are also down. He speculates that “The Market” has taken it’s anger out on all media. Those guys should sacrifice a small animal, or something.

2015-08-21 22:15:00

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Studios Gamble on Untested Directors for Big Movies With Mixed Results ►

Josh Rottenberg wrote a piece for the Los Angeles Times comparing Colin Trevorrow to Josh Trank. The first few paragraphs make it read like it really is about the two of them, but then the piece goes in a more interesting direction and speculates about why studios want someone inexperienced for these big tent-pole productions.

Both directors were caught up in a trend that has gathered steam in recent years, as studios have been increasingly looking to untested directors to helm high-stakes tent-pole movies. Most recently, in June Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios hired Jon Watts to take over the “Spider-Man” franchise on the strength of his minimalist thriller “Cop Car,” which Watts shot in his rural Colorado hometown for just $800,000.

Sony did something similar already, when they hired Marc Webb to direct the Amazing Spider-Man reboot, and brought him back for the sequel. Sort of a mixed bag there. If you scroll down to the bottom of the LAT piece there’s a “Nine young directors who’ve made the leap from small films to blockbuster projects” list that even highlights Marc Webb in spite of the text above discussing the new fresh-face being brought in for the Spider-Man franchise.

So many factors but one that doesn’t typically get brought up is the fact that many films are made after the footage has been shot. The old joke “we’ll fix it in post” is something everyone’s heard before.

“The studio executives and marketers want to control the movie so badly, they don’t want a visionary director,” says one high-ranking talent agent. “They want to basically make the movie themselves. So much of it is made in CGI now anyway that you can fix it if it’s messed up, so they can get away with a lot more mistakes. And they don’t really care about deep performances from the actors — that’s not really what they’re looking for.”

I can’t speak to this from any tentpoles I’ve personally worked on, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that this is a possible explanation for entrusting unknown directors. Re-editing sequences, flopping plates, stitching two plates together, omits, reshoots, and completely animated shots that can be tweaked until 1 month before release.

Colin notes that he didn’t experience that on Jurassic World but Trank, in his deleted tweet, does lay the blame at the feet of studio meddling. It’s possible the executives at one studio don’t intervene like they do at another, or that they only step in if they (the suits) perceive a problem. (Whether it’s warranted or not.)

As an audience member, I frequently wonder how a studio went along with a director’s impulses, but I also condemn a studio interferring with the artistic intent and making a movie by committee. It’s kind of hard to reconcile these opposing views.

The article even touches on gender for a bit. Noting that inexperienced men are getting these offers, and there doesn’t seem to be the same happening for women. Colin chimed in with a theory that the many women are turning down the opportunities offered to them — LAT highlights Ava DuVernay turning down Black Panther. I’m not sure that I would really focus on her turning that down as an example that women just don’t want these jobs.

In any event, it’s worth thinking about what’s in Rottenberg’s article.

2015-08-20 01:00:00

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