Justin Duke

A month with the AirPods

I bought them, you see, despite my better instincts.

I already had BlueTooth earphones that worked (albeit not well).

I already had a pair of Bose over-the-ears that are perfect for day-to-day work and for noisy situations, like planes and crowded coffeeshops.

And my army of EarPods (or, perhaps, EarPods knockoffs — I purchased five of them for like $50, with the understanding that I’d lose or break a pair every month or so) was still fine, though its ranks were slowly dwindling.

But I’d been seeing more and more AirPods in the wild, and decided to get a pair.

The good parts:

  • To get the most important thing out of the way first: it is such a marked experience improvement over Bluetooth headphones that I can never go back. It is magic. I pop the little tic-tacs into my ear, I hear a nice little “boop!” noise, and I’m connected. No futzing around with pairings or Bluetooth settings. Even switching from my iPhone to my iPad or MacBook (and vice-versa) is an order of magnitude easier than on BlueTooth.
  • The comfort and sound levels are pretty comparable with EarPods. If that’s good (like it is for me: when I’m listening to stuff on them it’s usually an audiobook/podcast, so fidelity isn’t a huge deal), then, well, good.
  • The case is really nice. There’s something so pleasantly polished about it, and it’s small enough that you can toss it in your jeans pocket or messenger bag and not think twice.

The bad parts:

  • They look dumb. Like, really dumb. Their continued (and strengthened) popularity has not assuaged this at all for me.
  • The battery life is determinedly subpar, especially compared to other bluetooth headphones I’ve used. I’ve drained the entire thing in the morning and then even if I remembered to charge the battery case, I have to go without using them for a chunk of time in order to charge them.
  • The things are incredibly tiny and if you are a clumsy or forgetful dude like me, you will drop and misplace them. It is legitimately a wonder that I still have my AirPods.
  • The lack of physical controls is annoying. Having to use my phone to skip forward a song 1 or toggle the volume is bad.

Anyway. The AirPods are the most performant, practical headphones I’ve ever used. They make it incredibly easy to jump from morning chores to working out at the gym to video chatting. They’re goofy as hell, but that (and the $150) is a price I’m willing to pay to not have to futz with Bluetooth.


Not The Keynote You're Looking For

I hate to be in the position of defending Apple evangelists, but there have been a lot of weird takes about the Apple leaks the past few days. Here’s one:

I think the comparison between Star Wars and Apple products is particularly apt because, well, Star Wars isn’t “commercial art”: it’s a meticulously managed piece of intellectual property. It isn’t a singular artistic vision: its the culmination of hundreds of stakeholders, producers, focus testers, and marketers. So much so that the director of a Star Wars movie just got replaced, like a poorly-performing engineering manager:

Lucasfilm and Colin Trevorrow have mutually chosen to part ways on Star Wars: Episode IX. Colin has been a wonderful collaborator throughout the development process but we have all come to the conclusion that our visions for the project differ. We wish Colin the best and will be sharing more information about the film soon.

The primary goal of a Star Wars movie is to entice audiences to engage more in the Star Wars universe: to create buzz, to purchase merchandise, to consume more Star Wars media. It accomplishes this by putting out an entertaining, easily consumable, but unchallenging product. (And, sure, sometimes it gets a little derivative.)

The primary goal of an Apple keynote is to entice the audience to engage more in the Apple universe: to create buzz, to purchase products, to consume more Apple media. It accomplishes this by putting out interesting (albeit comically self-indulgent) marketing material. (And sure, sometimes it gets a little derivative.)

I think it’s weird and unambiguously bad to complain that tech journalists are doing their jobs: of course they’re going to report on the leaks and of course they should report on the leaks.

I also think it’s weird to pretend that Apple fans are any different than Star Wars fans or Marvel fans or of any wildly successful franchise.

There are a lot of things to criticize about Apple, and even Apple fandom. But the act of just being excited about the new shiny things is, I think, harmless and honestly kind of lovely. There’s something so earnest about the idea of people being so excited to watch the keynote and see how their technology is going to evolve.

(For what it’s worth, I watch the Star Wars movies because I love big ol’ adventures, and I watch the Apple keynotes because I am a tremendous nerd. And I think complaining about spoilers is dumb.)


iPad Things

As is tradition, it’s the time of year where folks have hot takes on iPads and the ~ future of computing ~. Here’s one from Joshua Topolsky:

This year’s spin on the age-old debate comes from iOS 11’s heavy emphasis on iPads and productivity. Most of the changes in iOS 11 seem great; none of them seem to address the existential issues that most folks talk about when they talk about the issues of productive work on the iPad.

I wrote about my experience with the iPad Pro last year, and I mostly stand by my conclusions. In particular, this passage rings truer than ever:

Still, though, I feel good using the iPad. “Delight” is the buzzword of the day when it comes to technology, and the iPad Pro doesn’t quite delight me: but sitting in a coffeeshop and using it to read or write gives me a vital sense of clarity and focus. This is important: as we drown ourselves in apps, in engagements, in vertices of various graphs, feelings of clarity and focus are rarer and more fleeting than ever before.

Using the iPad (or, perhaps more accurately, using iOS) feels absolutely frictionless. The iPad Pro, which I now use for reading, writing, and emails, albeit rarely, never confuses or surprises or angers me. It performs exactly as expected, unlike my MacBook Pro (which, despite its power and complexity, will randomly behave in bizarre and unexpected ways.)

Moreover, I think I’m just kinda bored of the narrative that the iPad has to replace the laptop or else it’s a failure. My iPad does iPad things really well! I love using it!

Maybe that’s not reason enough for market analysts, but it’s reason enough for me to continue owning mine.


Use a surfboard

Over the holidays, this tweet was making the rounds: When you overhear people complaining that their tools are the root cause of failure send them this video of Kelly Slater on a table. pic.twitter.com/0Mw1CByeUy — Jesse Hanley (@jessethanley) December 28, 2016 First off: watch the video! It’s pretty neat! Kelly Slater is one of the best surfers in the world. Don’t take it from me, take it from Wikipedia:
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A month with the new MacBook

I have been using the new MacBook Pro (fifteen inches, in what I guess is space gray?) for about a month. It’s my primary laptop now. Below are some thoughts I have on it. They are in no particular order, but I tried to cover all the main talking points: keyboard Touch Bar Touch ID the internals ports battery price I’m going to lead with the conclusion, because it’s a very boring one in contrast with a lot of the hyperbole that invariably gets thrown Apple’s way:
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Small tools

Technological gravitas is at an all time high. So many new startups and apps try to be revolutionary, promising dramatic lifestyle changes or mindblowing productivity gains. This is mostly marketing — but products exist as a reflection of their marketing. This kind of positioning is offputting. I’m not in a place where I particularly want my workflow or day-to-day interactions to be upheaved. I’ve settled into a comfortable and productive relationship with the technology I use, albeit one with a couple unsmooth edges.
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A month with the iPad Pro

I thought about writing this blog post on my iPad Pro. I’m not — I’m writing it on the same place I write everything else, my MacBook Pro. But I could, theoretically, write it on the iPad. It would take me a little more time to actually type – the keyboard is uncomfortable but not unpleasant. But I would definitely be more focused; even now, I’ve written like forty words and switched out of my writing app of choice five times – three times to Twitter, once to email, and once to Spotify.
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Why podcasts feel good

I think they are part of a constructive and fascinating conversation that has, by and large, a relentless positivity, a sense of wonder, to it. That’s something woefully missing from a lot of corners of the internet, and in disliking podcasts I genuinely feel like I’m missing out on several fronts: parts of friendships, cultural currency, being a little more well-versed in the world. Nick Disabato So I got into podcasts.
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Two weeks with the Amazon Echo

(Obvious disclaimer goes here: I work at Amazon but not on the Echo team or any team that remotely touches this product. I’m writing this as a nerd consumer, not as an employee of Amazon.) After buying an Apple Watch (which didn’t turn out great), I bought an Echo. I’ve had it for two weeks. I think it’s really great. It doesn’t do much, but it does what it does very well.
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Two weeks with the Apple Watch

Guy walks into a doctor’s office. “Doc,” he says, “I’ve got an issue. I used to urinate two or three times a day and that was it. Now, I can’t hold my bladder for more than an hour. Can you take a look at me?” The doctor looks him over. He gives him a physical, a blood test, and a tox screen. “Aha!” the doctor exclaims. “I have a solution.
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