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My Falling Out with Apple

Why I switched to Android and Linux after more than a decade of using Apple products.

Wed 01 October 2014

My unreserved message to anyone with decent money and few demands is and has been that Apple devices will be the most reliable, easiest to use, and most durable computers on the market.

I've used a Mac as my primary computer for eleven years and an iPhone as my primary phone for about seven years. I loved them. Yet I've recently switched from an iPhone and a Mac to an Android phone and a Linux PC. Why did I switch?

It was only a small bit about cost. Let me tell you the full story.

Kyoto, Japan. September, 2014.

How my iPhone died

The battery life on my iPhone 5S was totally unacceptible. I bought it used in Thailand from someone who seemed reputable, but the phone completely bricked after two days of working normally.

There was no Apple store in Thailand, and none of the certified resellers would fix my phone, so I had a new battery put in. I was shocked that the phone only had a 1500 mAh battery. Even after having a new battery installed it only lasted two to three hours between charges and discharged itself rapidly even in airplane mode. I kept the phone plugged into an external battery at all times.

I bought a mini Lightning cable in Thailand to make it easier to charge the phone in my pocket and was disgusted when the iPhone refused to charge from an "unauthorized" cable. When I got to Beijing I tried to buy the cheapest short Lightning cable that the Apple store offered, but it was almost $40. It wasn't worth cutting a day off my trip to charge the phone in my pocket.

When I got to New York I immediately took my phone to an Apple Store. At the Apple Store the Genius couldn't get iPhone battery diagnostic software running over the slow store WiFi (words the Genius actually used). The report ran on my phone, but the file was too big to transfer1.

The Genius didn't seem to believe my claims that the phone had battery issues, but agreed to charge me $270 for an out of warranty replacement. He said I could try coming in another day when the WiFi was faster so that they could diagnose my battery issues. I needed a working phone and agreed to pay the fee on the spot, but Apple insisted on replacing it with a special international model iPhone 5S that wasn't in stock. By the time the new phone arrived I was already on a flight out of the country.

Tokyo, Japan. September, 2014.

Buying Android

Heading to the airport for a flight to India, I couldn't bring myself to buy another iPhone for $650 when a perfectly suitable Android phone with a comparable camera, a larger and higher resolution screen and longer battery life could be bought for half of the cost. So I picked up an LG G2 for around $350 at B&H in New York. The phone has worked out great, and it is good enough to replace a phone, a point and shoot camera, a Kindle, and a tablet.

Android is not as nice to use as iOS, but it's very close. The main distinction I can see is that Android largely competes on functionality instead of visual design. The functionality is remarkable and the visual design is adequate. I actually like the break from some of the overly visually designed but less functional iPhone apps. It can be nice to feel like you're looking at a computer and not a piece of art.

Practically, I like Android's launcher far more than the iPhone. I don't like how iOS forces every app into a space on the home screen. I have a lot of apps and my iPhone got cluttered. I also like how Android allows deep linking into Dropbox and Gmail folders from the home screen. Those shortcuts make it way easier to keep my photo portfolio and reference emails quickly available. Both Android and iOS force useless apps into their software, but only Android lets me completely hide them from view.

I also find that Android's access to the filesystem and inter-app data sharing make it a much more useful OS for general tasks than iOS. Android feels more like a full computer in my pocket, whereas in iOS data is siloed between apps. Apps for iOS can really only share data through the cloud, and that really sucks over a 5k/sec internet connection. Android apps do a better job collaborating without using the Internet a crutch.

In practical use the LG G2 is closer to an iPhone 6 than an iPhone 5S. It has a bigger, higher resolution screen than the iPhone 6 in a case that's smaller in all dimensons but thickness (which is close). It has an optically stabilized camera and phenomenal battery life. It lasts all day for me, and I normally charge phones twice. I love it.

Buying a PC

Similar issues recently came up for me with laptops. I keep most of my gear on my back at all times, and was growing tired of lugging around a 1.6 kilogram 13 inch Retina Macbook Pro. The only appreciably lighter Mac is the 11 inch Air which has an unusably bad screen and only weighs 500 grams less. Having switched to Android I was also frustrated that Mac laptops refused to charge my phone at more than 0.5 amps. A Mac will charge an iPhone quickly, but seems to spitefully limit the current it gives Android phones.

It turns out that for the same cost as a 13 inch Macbook Pro I can buy an equivalent laptop from NEC that's half the weight of the MacBook (795 grams). It has the same resolution, a faster processor, and about 5-7 hours of battery life. It's lighter than the Macbook Pro and both Macbook Airs, with a much beautiful matee screen at a far higher resolution than any Macbook Air. I remain blown away by how light this NEC laptop is — it feels like holding an empty plastic case. All Apple laptops, even the 11 inch Air, feel like bricks now.

The computer I'm talking about is a NEC Lavie, only sold in Japan, and introduced to me by Tynan's gear list. I decided to seek it out when I got to Japan and found that it was cheap enough to buy and resell in the US for a profit. So I bought one and carried it for two weeks and fell in love. My bag feels a lot better carrying 800 fewer grams of weight with the NEC, not carrying a separate USB phone charger, and not carrying Apple's heavy 65 watt power brick.

I've been using the NEC LaVie full time for a week and like it enough to keep it. The screen is gorgeous, the keyboard is fine, and the trackpad is a little annoying but bearable. The weight is phenomenal. I can't rationalize going back to a heavier and worse-screen Macbook Air now, or a Macbook Pro that's twice the weight with an annoying glossy screen and no ability to charge my phone.

On Linux

My NEC computer came with Japanese language Windows 8.1. Windows looks really good now, and I actually like the Windows 8.1 interface, but Linux has gotten good as well. I know how to use Linux and trust it much more than I trust Windows, so I installed Linux Mint on this machine.

I used a lot of Mac software and most of it was beautiful and highly functional, but if any time is a good one to experiment with new machine setups it's while I'm working for myself.

The Mac software I miss the most is Lightroom (which I run in a Windows 7 VM) and OmniFocus. Linux is a bit rough around the edges, particularly in it's support for retina screens, but over time I've tweaked my setup so that it's not much different than what I had on the Mac. I used Linux for five years in high school and was already comfortable with it when I made the switch. I find that I just spend about twice as much time in the terminal on Linux as I did on the Mac. I think I'm 80% as productive and will approach 100% in a few weeks.

I've found good alternatives for Notational Velocity (NvPy), Byword (UberWriter), and Safari (I'm using Firefox and Chromium). I'm still digging for a great replacement for Sparrow and a way to run Adobe Lightroom without a virtual machine.

Apple Annoyances

With that story out of the way, a few things have come up with Apple that I now find very frustrating. These were easy to rationalize when I used and could easily afford Apple products, now I see them in a different light. Let me talk about those.

  • Lightning cables. If you lose one or break it on the road they cost $29-$40 to replace. It's hard to find a legitimate one and if you use a "counterfeit" your iPhone refuses to charge, which is bullshit. Mico USB cables cost $2 everywhere and charge every Android phone.
  • My used iPhone was most likely dying early because it had counterfeit parts. I think that if Apple is smart enough to make a charging cable warn me about counterfeit parts they can be smart enough to make the phone know when it's guts have gone bad. It should be possible to diagnose a used iPhone for hardware issues before buying it.
  • Apple (spitefully?) doesn't let other devices charge at full speed from their laptops. MacBooks charge iPhones even when they are sleeping and charge them at about 2 amps. They refuse to charge Android phones at more than 0.5 amps, and often refuse to charge them when sleeping. It's really frustrating that a computer I pay Apple more than $1,000 for can't charge something as fast as a $300 PC.
  • Apple computers no longer come with matte screens. I forgot how good they look. My God.

Kyoto, Japan. September, 2014.

Final Notes of a Switcher

Apple lets product lines stagnate until they can fully redesign them. I'd love a MacBook Air update, but can't wait another six months until Intel's Broadwell chips come out to have a usable light computer. The 13 inch MacBook Air is embarrassingly heavy compared to PC alternatives and it's screen has been out of date for at least two years.

Part of the reason I've switched, as mentioned above, is that I've got less money now to buy Apple devices. Their base model laptops are well priced compared to competitors, but their top of the line machines are much higher priced. Apple's phones are about twice the price of similar phones from competitors. The alternatives have become too high quality and inexpensive to ignore.

A last reason that I switched is that it's kind of cool. I like using, testing, and giving feedback on Linux software. Much of the world deserves to have free operating systems, hardware that they control, and well designed software to use every day. If I can help Linux grow as a user and a tester that's kind of a cool way to use my time. Maybe I'll jump in as a developer too.

#permalink


  1. Apple should fix this. Even better, they could offer a way to diagnose your own hardware issues remotely. 


I Don't Think Anyone Wanted This

Why does all content on social networks start to look the same?

Thu 25 September 2014

I've been working on some writing for a while about social networks and software design. It's longer stuff, and every time I put it together I decide to hold off on posting just a bit longer to get the argument clear without offending too many people.

However there is a trend I'd like to point out, mostly in response to this piece by Dave Winer which I saw linked from Brent Simmons:

"It's all become way too frenetic. Too much noise. Everything is an ad. No one reads anything. It's just a segue, a cue. Cut to commercial. I'm here! Listen! Hear me!" - Dave Winer

I think we're seeing some aspects of market failure in social software, specifically as mentioned by Dave Winer above with Facebook.

Here are a couple observations. I focus on Facebook, but it applies to any feedback based social network. I am seeing the same kinds of problems with Medium, Instagram, and to a lesser extent Twitter. Each just has different dynamics.

  1. Short and atomic content on Facebook does the best, especially things that are positive or highly controversial.
  2. People are really good at solving for problems. We've all realized that short and atomic content does best and that's what we tend to post.
  3. Facebook is not designed as a great reading environment, the UI is far too distracting. This encourages content to get shorter and easier to consume before we rush off to do something else.
  4. The longer and more meaningful content doesn't do as well on Facebook as the short stuff. We feel this, and so we only post something longer if it really means a lot to us to send the message out.
  5. If you don't log into Facebook for a while the experience can be overwhelming. News Feed will try to show you the most interesting content, but the most interesting content is often the most vacuous content. It's the empty bragging or complaining.

From the perspective of someone who logs in only a few times per day Facebook is totally overwhelming. I want to be on there, I want to be part of the conversation, but I rarely come away feeling great about myself.

I don't think anyone wanted to design a system that contains a bunch of atomic lightweight content. I think everyone wants to fix it, but I see the same problems with Medium, Instagram, Twitter and every other social network.

  • The best content on Medium makes a bold, likely unrealistic claim and shows emotional vulnerability.
  • The links we're most likely to click contain a number of items and a hard to believe fact.
  • Blog articles tend to be written for SEO, not existing readers.
  • Instagram photos of coffee, sunsets, and female bodies do well. Nothing hanging in the Met Museum would get 1,000 likes on Instagram.

Each social network has an optimal format which gets the most engagement. Over time people will solve for that format and all content will begin to look the same.

Are we stuck with this forever? I doubt it. Social networks evolve. Every minor change in the interface will move the optimal content.

I think the best solution might be some randomization in content distribution. Make it hard for people to figure out how to game the system and you'll gain greater content diversity.

A random picture of Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. I just did this to make the link preview look better.

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Possibly The Best Strap for a Leica M

Review of the Artisan and Artist E25R

Wed 24 September 2014

When travelling I have three positions where I use a camera: hung over my neck and shoulder for storage, hung over my neck ready to shoot, or with the strap wrapped around my wrist for easy access.

Most straps, including my previous leather strap, are fairly hard to adjust between lengths to move betwen these positions. When I come to Japan I like to visit the amazing array of camera stores here and look at what's new. I came across this Artisan and Artist strap, tried it out, and then bought one and used it for two weeks.

After two weeks of shooting I'm very happy with the Artisan and Artist ACAM E25R. The strap fills the fairly simple requirements I had: it's easy to adjust and make longer, won't come off the camera, and has a system for keeping the camera from scratches.

It’s easy to make shorter and longer. This strap is designed so that you just stick your thumb into a large ring on the strap and pull up or down to adjust the strap. It’s the easiest adjustment on any strap, camera or otherwise, that I’ve ever used.

Some images of the adjustment system. The large ring is what you pull up or down to adjust.

It won’t come off the camera. Unlike the Leica carry strap the E25R uses keyring style connectors mount solidly to the strap and the camera body.

Finally, and this isn't too important to me, it has a leather guard which goes between the camera body and the strap. As a result it probably won't mar the camera1.

Here's how it connects to the camera. The only downside I can think of is that if you'll have a hard time taking this off if you decide to just use a hand strap for the day.

I think that this strap is better than the default Leica carry strap because it’s much easier to adjust and less likely to fall off. The Leica strap has a strange design with metal hooks that separate from the strap. Often I'd look down at the strap and realize that one end was about to come loose. So if I carry a camera with the default Leica strap I generally tape off the ends to keep it from coming apart.

#permalink


  1. One reviewer on Amazon says the leather is coarse enough to take paint off of his camera. I think it should be fine on a Leica which has enamel and not regular paint. The Fuji x-series cameras I've owned in the past would have more issues. The X100s and XPro-1 have paint, not enamel, and it's very easy to scratch. I cover the body of the camera with electrical or gaffer tape to keep the paint safe. 


Having a Story — Why We Buy

Marketing stories and how they promote the narcissism of minor differences.

Mon 22 September 2014

I realized years ago that every big decision I make in life benefits when it has a clear story. I’ll often agonize over something that a part of me wants to do until I can make it clear to my whole self why I’m doing it.

I decided to travel because I was getting old, I decided to take pictures because it’s the easiest creative outlet to learn, and I decided to come to Japan because the people are so polite that I can learn from them. This pattern: “I decided to do X because of Y,” is fairly universal among me and many other people I know.

Without the story, I can go back and forth on decisions. But with a good story comes an easy decision and I reinforce that story in my mind until it feels like fact.

When I talk with people about purchasing decisions they also often have similar stories. Android phone buyers will tell you that they chose Android because it’s cheaper, because it doesn’t require so many proprietary sacrifices, or because they wanted a bigger screen. Similarly iPhone buyers tell their own stories: better cameras, longer battery life, more cohesive software. The decision to use Android or iOS is one of the most polarizing topics of our time.

We develop stories for other products we buy. We buy a Prius because it’s fuel efficient and we care about the environments, a Tahoe because we like to go to the mountains, or an Audi because we wanted a safe luxury car that isn’t a BMW.

Most of the time these stories don’t even need to be true. They often fit directly with the marketing message from the companies who sell the product. It’s true that Apple phones tend to have better cameras, Android phones tend to have bigger screens, and the Prius tends to be the most fuel efficient car you can buy. These companies are probably thrilled when we rationalize and promote a purchase using the same line they used to get us to buy it.

The stories are also largely bullshit: any flagship Android phone is at most two generations behind Apple on its camera, sometimes extra pixels or screen size aren’t actually more useful, and buying almost any used car is better for the environment than buying a Prius.

In thinking about this I’ve decided to be a bit more careful with the stories I tell myself, and to recognize that many of them are just stories. They are ways for me to rationalize a choice and to convince myself that it’s the right one, but they often focus on a very tiny detail and ignore the rest of the picture.

One of my favorite things that Merlin Mann talks about is the “narcissism of minor differences.” An example is that where I grew up in Virginia, Ford and Chevy guys both drive trucks, but you’ll have a hard time getting them in the same room. Similarly Android and iPhone users can get into passionate arguments where it seems like the aren’t even hearing what the other person is saying — or that they live in totally different realities populated by different facts.

Looking down from space, Ford and Chevy guys both really like trucks, and Android and iPhone users both really like smartphones. They have a lot more in common than they have different from each other, but they can also hate each other far more than any alien might think reasonable for such similar people.

These stories we tell ourselves: “my phone is better because it has the best camera,” or “my truck can haul more,” are mostly lies. They ignore the 95% similarities.

I’m going to make an effort not to let technology choices or any other stories I’ve fed myself about the way I interpret the world cloud my judgment in the future. It won’t be easy, and it sneaks up a the times I least expect it, but it’s one of the most insidious aspects of consumer society that I’d like to get rid of.

#permalink


Japan is Stimulating

Mon 22 September 2014

After six months in Southeast Asia, Japan is stimulating. Very stimulating. Having previously thought that Japan was a relaxing country I wasn’t at all prepared for how I’d react to fast Internet, hard beds, and an incredible feeling of safety.

How did I react? I had a lot of trouble sleeping more than five hours for my first few nights in Japan. It’s an exciting place to be. Even though Kyoto shuts down around 10pm there’s no risk in going out for a walk late at night and seeing the town. In Cambodia I’d be settled in for the night already by 10pm, a bit weary of any characters wandering the street so late. Here there is no worry.

I accidentally left 500 yen (about $5) outside and came back an hour later to find it still on there chair where it fell from my pockets. A friend told me he saw a man get on the subway, look down at a 1,000 yen note on his chair and just move it aside. Picking up found money doesn’t even count as stealing in the United States, but I think people in Japan are either so caring or so concerned about being arrested that they would never do it.

The other thing I didn’t expect about Japan is that the electronics stores are like being at CES. All varieties of products you’d rarely see outside of a specialty retailer in the United States are readily available here. Basic everyday electronics stores have a wide variety of specialty cameras, high resolution displays, whole aisles of bluetooth keyboards, mice, camera bags, straps, and camera tripods. I took the chance to scope out all sorts of products I’ve wanted to see in person for a while. I bought a few new things that I’ll talk about on here eventually, but not too many.

After not sleeping well for almost a week I changed plans and booked rooms in my two favorite Kyoto hostels for a total of six nights with the intent of just chilling out and relaxing. I knew it would get boring by the end, and it did. At the end of the deliberate six day pause I was very ready to hit the road again. I’m now on the bullet train headed from Kyoto to Tokyo to spend a few nights near Ueno station exploring the big city. It’s truly a wonderful feeling to be back on the road even after such a short pause.

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