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kottke.org posts about iPhone

Apple’s diseconomies of scale and the next iPhone

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2017

Apple is the biggest company in the world and they sell one of history’s most successful consumer products. As the total human population of Earth becomes a limiting factor in the iPhone’s continued sales growth (see also Facebook), they are perhaps running into problems designing a desirable product that they need to produce 200 million times over the course of a year.

This is one of those areas where Apple may be the victim of its own success. The iPhone is so popular a product that Apple can’t include any technology or source any part if it can’t be made more than 200 million times a year. If the supplier of a cutting-edge part Apple wants can only provide the company with 50 million per year, it simply can’t be used in the iPhone. Apple sells too many, too fast.

A Daring Fireball reader put it this way:

People commonly think that scale is an unambiguously good thing in production, but the tremendous scale at which Apple operates shows this not to be the case. Annual iPhone production is so large that Apple is likely experiencing diseconomies of scale, a phenomenon one doesn’t often hear about. What significant, break-through technology can a company practically introduce to 300 million new devices in a year?

Diseconomies of scale is a real thing, btw. John Gruber has been arguing that Apple’s way around this is to produce a more expensive iPhone ($1000-1200) with exceptional components and features that the company simply can’t produce at a scale of 200 million/year. Rene Ritchie describes this iPhone++ strategy as “bringing tomorrow’s iPhone to market today”. Gruber compares it to the Honda Prelude, quoting from the Edmunds description of the car:

Honda established itself in America with the Civic and Accord — both good, solid but basic cars. But big profits in the automotive world don’t come from basic cars that sell for commodity prices. Those profits come from cars that get consumers so excited that they’ll pay a premium price just to have one. The Prelude was Honda’s first attempt at an exciting car.

The Prelude was Honda’s technological leading edge. Features that are now expected from Honda, like the double-wishbone suspension under the Accord, fuel injection, and VTEC electronic variable valve timing system showed up first on the Prelude before migrating across the Honda line (though VTEC first showed up on the 1990 Acura NSX).

Keen observations all around and it will be interesting to see if Apple can benefit from this strategy.

Building an iPhone from scratch

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2017

Scotty Allen built a working iPhone 6S from scratch using parts bought in the electronics markets of Shenzhen, China.

I built a like-new(but really refurbished) iPhone 6S 16GB entirely from parts I bought in the public cell phone parts markets in Huaqiangbei. And it works!

I’ve been fascinated by the cell phone parts markets in Shenzhen, China for a while. I’d walked through them a bunch of times, but I still didn’t understand basic things, like how they were organized or who was buying all these parts and what they were doing with them.

So when someone mentioned they wondered if you could build a working smartphone from parts in the markets, I jumped at the chance to really dive in and understand how everything works.

It is kind of amazing that he ends up with a fully functional iPhone, complete with a box with charger, headphones, etc. The era of transistor radio kits is not quiiiite dead yet. (via bb)

How blind people use iPhones with VoiceOver

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2017

In a short video and accompanying article, David Pogue profiles a little known but highly useful iOS feature called VoiceOver, which helps visually impaired people do anything and everything on their iPhones.

A few years ago, backstage at a conference, I spotted a blind woman using her phone. The phone was speaking everything her finger touched on the screen, allowing her to tear through her apps. My jaw hit the floor. After years of practice, she had cranked the voice’s speed so high, I couldn’t understand a word it was saying.

And here’s the kicker: She could do all of this with the screen turned off. Her phone’s battery lasted forever.

It’s possible that people using VoiceOver to control their phones are more efficient at many tasks than those who use the default interface.

This was very cool: “If I’m in my office and put my headphones on, I’m hearing the phone call and I’m hearing what VoiceOver is saying, all through the headphones. But the person on the other end cannot hear any of the VoiceOver stuff. You don’t know what I’m reading, what I’m doing. I can do all these complicated things without you hearing it. That’s what’s really incredible. If you and I were working together on a three-way call, and you were to text me, ‘Let’s wrap this up’ or ‘Don’t bring that up on this call’-I would know, but the other guy wouldn’t hear it.

Joe showed me how he takes photos. As he holds up the iPhone, VoiceOver tells him what he’s seeing: “One face. Centered. Focus lock,” and so on. Later, as he’s reviewing his photos in the Camera Roll, VoiceOver once again tells him what he’s looking at: “One face; slightly blurry.”

See also how blind people use Instagram and iPhone: a revolutionary device for the blind.

Steve Reich is calling

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 07, 2017

Oh, this is just a little brilliant. Steve Reich is a composer famous for his experimentation with musical looping and phasing. His 1967 piece Piano Phase featured a pair of pianists repetitively performing the same piece at two slightly different tempos, forming a continually evolving musical round. Seth Kranzler took this idea and made a Reich-like piece with two iPhones ringing at slightly different tempos. Here’s a video of the effect in action:

Man, this is nerdy on so many levels and I am here for it.

Update: Here’s a couple more tracks along the same lines: the drum fill from In the Air Tonight and the Amen break.

(via @frank_chimero)

The 10th anniversary of the iPhone

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2017

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the iPhone.

In the ten years since, iPhone has enriched the lives of people around the world with over one billion units sold. It quickly grew into a revolutionary platform for hardware, software and services integration, and inspired new products, including iPad and Apple Watch, along with millions of apps that have become essential to people’s daily lives.

You can watch Steve Jobs introduce the iPhone during the MacWorld 2007 keynote in the video above; it’s one of the best technology demos ever. Here’s my liveblog of the keynote, my thoughts from a couple of days later, and my review after getting an iPhone in June. (I also constructed a cardboard version of the phone to see how the size compared to my then-current mobile phone.)

I guess we know why iPod development has seemed a little sluggish lately. When the Zune came out two months ago, it was thought that maybe Apple was falling behind, coasting on the fumes of an aging product line, and not innovating in the portable music player space anymore. I think the iPhone puts this discussion on the back burner for now. And the Zune? The supposed iPod-killer’s bullet ricocheted off of the iPhone’s smooth buttonless interface and is heading back in the wrong direction. Rest in peace, my gentle brown friend.

It’s difficult to overstate the impact of the iPhone on the world. In just 10 short years, smartphones have completely and irreversibly changed how a large part of humanity communicates and is quickly changing how the rest will. And that all started with the iPhone. As I noted at the time, you could see a product like this coming but Apple put it all together in a way that became the blueprint, for better and for worse, for every device and mobile application that followed. Not bad for a computer that didn’t have copy/paste when it launched.

How people respond to life-changing inventions

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2015

Near the end of a piece by Morgan Housel called Innovation Isn’t Dead, appears “the typical path of how people respond to life-changing inventions”:

1. I’ve never heard of it.
2. I’ve heard of it but don’t understand it.
3. I understand it, but I don’t see how it’s useful.
4. I see how it could be fun for rich people, but not me.
5. I use it, but it’s just a toy.
6. It’s becoming more useful for me.
7. I use it all the time.
8. I could not imagine life without it.
9. Seriously, people lived without it?

That’s about right. I can only recall a couple of instances where I’ve skipped from step 1 to step 8 or 9: when I first used the Web1 and when Jobs introduced the iPhone at MacWorld. Everything else — Google, HD TV, Twitter, personal computers, streaming music services, wifi, laptops, Instagram, mobile phones — went through most of the 9 phases. (via @cdixon)

  1. Not the Internet, the Web. I used the Internet before I used the Web (Usenet, FTP, and Gopher mostly) and I never got the “OMG this is going to change everything” vibe I got after using the Web for five minutes.

The voice of Siri explains the art of voiceover

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2015

On Vox, Phil Edwards has a feature on Susan Bennett, the voice of Siri, and how the art of voiceover is changing in the digital world.

Siri needs to be able to say just about everything in the English language, and that took a lot of hard work.

“I recorded four hours a day, five days a week for the month of July,” Bennett says. For a voice actor, that workload causes a lot of strain. “That’s a long time to be talking constantly. Consequently, you get tired.”

The original Siri “was to sound otherworldly and have a dry sense of humor,” Bennett says. She added that to her take on the character, even as she focused on staying consistent and clear.

How the iPhone surprised and then crushed the Blackberry

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2015

The full story is behind a paywall,1 but the WSJ’s The Inside Story of How the iPhone Crippled BlackBerry is kind of amazing. The piece is an excerpt from Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry.

The next day Mr. Lazaridis grabbed his co-CEO Jim Balsillie at the office and pulled him in front of a computer.

“Jim, I want you to watch this,” he said, pointing to a webcast of the iPhone unveiling. “They put a full Web browser on that thing. The carriers aren’t letting us put a full browser on our products.”

Mr. Balsillie’s first thought was RIM was losing AT&T as a customer. “Apple’s got a better deal,” Mr. Balsillie said. “We were never allowed that. The U.S. market is going to be tougher.”

“These guys are really, really good,” Mr. Lazaridis replied. “This is different.”

“It’s OK — we’ll be fine,” Mr. Balsillie responded.

RIM’s chiefs didn’t give much additional thought to Apple’s iPhone for months. “It wasn’t a threat to RIM’s core business,” says Mr. Lazaridis’s top lieutenant, Larry Conlee. “It wasn’t secure. It had rapid battery drain and a lousy [digital] keyboard.”

“RIM’s chiefs didn’t give much additional thought to Apple’s iPhone for months.”

“RIM’s chiefs didn’t give much additional thought to Apple’s iPhone for months.”

“RIM’s chiefs didn’t give much additional thought to Apple’s iPhone for months.”

Oof. (via @craigmod)

  1. You know how to circumvent the WSJ’s paywall, right? You paste the title of the piece — in this case, The Inside Story of How the iPhone Crippled BlackBerry — into Google and click on the story from the search results or in Google News. Boom, instant access.

Your iPhone is tracking you like Lester Freamon from The Wire

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2015

Freq Locations

Since iOS 7 came out in 2013, your iPhone’s Location Services has included a little-known feature called Frequent Locations, which keeps very detailed track of every distinct location you visit. How detailed? This, precisely, was when I was in my apartment over a three-day period last month:

Freq Locations

All told, my phone recorded all 33 different locations I’ve visited in NYC since April 15, including 84 visits to my apartment and 54 visits to my office, down to the minute and a ~130-foot radius. The feature is on by default if you’ve got Location Services switched on, so you can find your information by opening the Settings app and going to Privacy > Location Services > System Services (at the bottom) > Frequent Locations. You can also turn the feature off if you wish.

Apple says the feature is used to learn your favorite places and the data is kept only on the phone:

Your iPhone will keep track of places you have recently been, as well as how often and when you visited them, in order to learn places that are significant to you. This data is kept solely on your device and won’t be sent to Apple without your consent. It will be used to provide you with personalized services, such as predictive traffic routing.

It’s likely that Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and the NSA (until recently) are collecting this same sort of data about you regardless of what sort of phone you use, except that these organizations do not share Apple’s public commitment to privacy. (via @dunstan)

The salad days of coin hunting

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2015

Roger Pasquier hunts for coins on NYC sidewalks and keeps track of how much he finds. He discovered an odd consequence of everyone having a smartphone: people don’t pick up change on the sidewalk anymore.

From 1987 to 2006, he averaged about fifty-eight dollars a year. Then Apple introduced the iPhone, and millions of potential competitors started to stare at their screens rather than at the sidewalks. Since 2007, Pasquier has averaged just over ninety-five dollars a year.

I know, I know, that’s anecdotal and correlation != causation and whatever, but that’s an interesting theory.

Patrick Bateman business card iPhone case

posted by Susannah Breslin   Mar 17, 2015

If you’ve seen “American Psycho,” you’ll likely remember the scene where Patrick Bateman and his peers pull out their business cards like Old West gunfighters pulled out their firearms. Now you can have Bateman’s card — “That’s bone. And the lettering is something called Silian Rail.” — in the form of an iPhone case.

patrick-bateman-phone-case.jpg

As for Silian Rail, according to IMDb:

This is not a real font, the name was invented by Bret Easton Ellis for the novel. In the film, the actual font seen on the business card is Garamond Classico SC.

You can watch the full scene here. (via The Cut)

Shot on iPhone 6

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2015

For their new ad campaign, Apple gathered some photos that people had taken with their iPhones and are featuring them on their website and on billboards. Here are a few I found particularly engaging.

Apple iPhone 6

Apple iPhone 6

Apple iPhone 6

Apple iPhone 6

Apple iPhone 6

I’ve said it before and it’s just getting more obvious: the iPhone is the best camera in the world.

Update: Apple has added a section for films shot on iPhone 6.

The Chinese black market iPhone trade

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2014

Casey Neistat visited several Apple Stores in NYC on the eve of the iPhone 6 launch to observe the folks standing in line. He found that many of those in line, particularly right in the front, were Chinese resellers.

The iPhone 6 won’t be available in China for several months, so a lively and lucrative black market has sprung up. The video shows several typical transactions: two phones (the maximum allowed per person) are purchased with cash and then the people sell those phones to men who presumably have them shipped to China for resale.

I remember last year, when the iPhone 5s came out, there was always a line of mostly Asian people outside the Soho store in the morning, even months after the launch. (via @fromedome)

Erotic poetry about the iPhone 6

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2014

This is glorious: an erotic poem by Chris Plante constructed from snippets of iPhone 6 reviews.

I have really big hands
Would be an understatement.
This is quite helpful.
When the tips of your fingers are grasping on for dear life,
Your fingers need to secure a firm grip.
I can still wrap my fingers around
Well…
More of everything.

No lines from John Gruber’s review, but Linus Edwards made a short poem just from that one:

Makes itself felt in your pants pocket.
Ah, but then there’s The Bulge.
I definitely appreciate the stronger vibrator.

(via @sippey)

Steve Jobs unveils the iWatch

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2014

Steve Jobs Keynote

The analysis of the weak parts of Apple’s recent introduction of the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch at the beginning of this piece is good, but the real gem is the complete reworking of the presentation as Steve Jobs might have approached it.

Jobs: It’s not easy being an engineer at Apple. (Laughs) How do you take the world’s best phone and make it even better? (Cheers)

When we first launched the iPhone back in 2007, we didn’t anticipate the central role it plays today-how it would touch every part of our lives. (Cheers)

Seven years later, our iPhones are the window to our world. Through this window I see my wife and kids. I see my friends, take care of work, and relax.

If this window is so important, what if we made it a little bigger?

(Steve holds out his hand and starts separating his fingers as if he’s stretching an iPhone)

(Once they get really far, he grins and quickly pushes them back together)

Jobs: But not too big! (Audience chuckles) You still want to be able to hold it in one hand and fit it inside your pocket.

Our team of smart engineers have come up with the perfect size.

The heartfelt folksiness is pitch perfect. And the whole thing about the iWatch is amazing:

Jobs: The iWatch comes with a special sensor that detects your heartbeat. In addition to linking to Apple Health, it does something very special.

Something very dear to me.

I’d like to see how my daughter is doing. Instead of sending her a text, what can I do? I press this button twice, and… (Heartbeats echo in the auditorium)

You can’t see it, but my watch is vibrating to her heartbeat. I can close my eyes and know that my daughter is alive, living her life halfway around the globe.

Not sure if Jobs would have approached it this way, but it made me actually want to get an Apple Watch. (via @arainert)

2014 iPhone trade-in guide

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2014

Apple just announced the iPhone 6 and for the first time, I’m seriously thinking about upgrading my phone before my contract is up. A company called Statista recently surveyed several companies who buy old iPhones. It looks like the best place to sell your old iPhone is Amazon: they’re offering Amazon gift cards in the $300-400 range for good-condition iPhone 5s.

iPhone 5 resale

Glyde offers slightly less for iPhones than Amazon, but they’ll give you cash (although withdrawals take 3-5 business days). You can also try your luck on eBay or Craigslist…I’ve heard you can get a bit more because you’re selling direct but you have to deal with buyers and potential scams and whatnot.

The 2014 iPhone Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2014

The IPPAWARDS has been judging an iPhone photography competition since 2007 and they recently announced the winners of their 2014 competition.

IPPAWARDS 2014

IPPAWARDS 2014

Impressive stuff. I’ve been saying recently that the iPhone 5s is the best camera in the world. Looking back on the 2008 winners, it becomes apparent how much more comfortable photographers have become wielding this increasingly powerful device. (via the verge)

Goodbye cameras, hello networked lenses

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2014

Craig Mod, writing for the New Yorker, says goodbye to cameras as photography transitions to the use of “networked lenses”.

After two and a half years, the GF1 was replaced by the slightly improved Panasonic GX1, which I brought on the six-day Kumano Kodo hike in October. During the trip, I alternated between shooting with it and an iPhone 5. After importing the results into Lightroom, Adobe’s photo-development software, it was difficult to distinguish the GX1’s photos from the iPhone 5’s. (That’s not even the latest iPhone; Austin Mann’s superlative results make it clear that the iPhone 5S operates on an even higher level.) Of course, zooming in and poking around the photos revealed differences: the iPhone 5 doesn’t capture as much highlight detail as the GX1, or handle low light as well, or withstand intense editing, such as drastic changes in exposure. But it seems clear that in a couple of years, with an iPhone 6S in our pockets, it will be nearly impossible to justify taking a dedicated camera on trips like the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage.

And indeed, the mid-tier Japanese camera makers (Panasonic, Fujifilm and Olympus) are struggling to find their way in the networked lens era. A few years ago, I wrote a post called “Your company? There’s an app for that.” about how smartphones were not only going to make certain devices obsolete, but drive entire companies and industries out of business. This bit, about cameras, seems almost quaint now:

Point and shoot camera — While not as full-featured as something like a PowerShot, the camera on the iPhone 3GS has a 3-megapxiel lens with both auto and manual focus, shoots in low-light, does macro, and can shoot video. Plus, it’s easy to instantly publish your photos online using the iPhone’s networking capabilities and automatically tag your photos with your location.

The best camera is the one you have with you the one with built-in posting to Facebook.

The birth of the iPhone

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 27, 2013

iPod phone

On Medium, an excerpt of Leander Kahney’s book on Jony Ive about how the iPhone came to be developed at Apple.

Excited by Kerr’s explanation of what a sophisticated touch interface could do, the team members started to brainstorm the kinds of hardware they might build with it.

The most obvious idea was a touchscreen Mac. Instead of a keyboard and mouse, users could tap on the screen of the computer to control it. One of the designers suggested a touchscreen controller that functioned as an alternate to a keyboard and mouse, a sort of virtual keyboard with soft keys.

As Satzger remembered, “We asked, How do we take a tablet, which has been around for a while, and do something more with it? Touch is one thing, but multitouch was new. You could swipe to turn a page, as opposed to finding a button on the screen that would allow you turn the page. Instead of trying to find a button to make operations, we could turn a page just like a newspaper.”

Jony in particular had always had a deep appreciation for the tactile nature of computing; he had put handles on several of his early machines specifically to encourage touching. But here was an opportunity to make the ultimate tactile device. No more keyboard, mouse, pen, or even a click wheel-the user would touch the actual interface with his or her fingers. What could be more intimate?

Turn your iPhone into a microscope

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2013

With $10 and a little elbow grease, you can turn your iPhone into a really nice digital microscope capable of 175x magnification, allowing you to take photos of plant cells:

iPhone microscope photo

Here’s how you do it:

(via ★interesting)

Part of the untold iPhone story

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2013

In what appears to be an excerpt from Fred Vogelstein’s new book on the Apple/Google mobile rivalry, a piece from the NY Times Magazine on how the iPhone went from conception to launch. That the Macworld keynote/demo of the phone went off so well is amazing and probably even a bit lucky.

The iPhone could play a section of a song or a video, but it couldn’t play an entire clip reliably without crashing. It worked fine if you sent an e-mail and then surfed the Web. If you did those things in reverse, however, it might not. Hours of trial and error had helped the iPhone team develop what engineers called “the golden path,” a specific set of tasks, performed in a specific way and order, that made the phone look as if it worked.

But even when Jobs stayed on the golden path, all manner of last-minute workarounds were required to make the iPhone functional. On announcement day, the software that ran Grignon’s radios still had bugs. So, too, did the software that managed the iPhone’s memory. And no one knew whether the extra electronics Jobs demanded the demo phones include would make these problems worse.

Here’s video of Jobs’ presentation that day:

Computers are for people

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 27, 2013

The Kottke post I probably think about most often is 2009’s “One-handed computing with the iPhone.” It just has all these perfectly rounded sentences in it, like this one:

A portable networked computing and gaming device that can be easily operated with one hand can be used in a surprising variety of situations.

Try to take the adjectives and adverbs out of that sentence. (Strunk and White say to “write with nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs. Strunk and White are often surprisingly stupid.)

But try adding any more adjectives or adverbs. Try adding in or taking away any of the clauses. Try writing a better sentence that describes the same thing. (This is also known as Mohammed’s “produce a better surah” Test.) Try to misunderstand what the sentence means. I’m a professional writer. So is Jason. I appreciate this stuff.

There’s also a lot of structural and emotional variety in this post. The author gets mad. He makes jokes. But mostly, he observes. He studies. He empathizes.

People carry things. Coffee, shopping bags, books, bags, babies, small dogs, hot dogs, water bottles, coats, etc. It’s nice to be able to not put all that crap down just to quickly Google for the closest public restroom (aka Starbucks).

It is very occasionally necessary to use the iPhone while driving. No, not for checking your stock portfolio, you asshole. For directions. Glance quickly and keep your thoughts on the road ahead.

My wife spends about five hours a day breastfeeding our daughter and has only one hand available for non-feeding activities. That hand is frequently occupied by her iPhone; it helps her keep abreast (hey’o!) of current events, stay connected with pals through Twitter & email, track feeding/sleeping/diaper changing times, keep notes (she plans meals and grocery “shops” at 3am), and alert her layabout husband via SMS to come and get the damned baby already.

I liked “layabout husband” so much when I read it, I started referring to Jason as “noted layabout Jason Kottke.” At a certain point, I forgot where the phrase came from.

But read that last paragraph again. You can’t read that description of Meg and not think of it every time you’re doing any of the things she does in that sentence: every time you have to have to carry a bag and use your phone, every time you have to open a door and use your phone, every time you don’t have to use your phone while walking down the street but you do it anyways, because you can, and the fact that you can now means that you have to.

I think about it every time I cover a new gadget and companies start touting its hands-free features; how it’s added a new voice interface; how its new keyboard algorithm makes it easier to correct for typos. People didn’t really use to market that sort of thing. But companies started to notice that these were the features their customers liked best.

I also thought about it when I read these tweets Meg wrote, just yesterday and this morning, about how the newer iPhone’s longer screen borks its one-handed functionality.

I have enormous man-hands, and I still think that the trend toward enormous screen sizes on smartphones stinks. Not only is it harder to use a phone with one hand, it’s harder to fit a phone in a pants pocket, and a long, thin phone is more likely to tip over and get knocked off a table or shelf.

Markets are gonna market, and specs are gonna spec, but it often feels like companies are forgetting that computers are for people, first. And people have bodies, those bodies have limitations, and all of us have limitations in specific situations.

We’re all disabled sometimes. If I turn off the lights in your room, you can’t see. If I fill the room with enough noise, you can’t hear. If your hands are full, you can’t use them to do anything else.

But as Sara Hendren writes, “all technology is assistive technology.” When it’s working right, technology helps people of every ability overcome these limitations. It doesn’t throw us back into the world of assumptions that expects us all to be fully capable all of the time.

That’s not what good technology does. That’s not what good design does. That’s what assholes do.

I think often about Jason’s post on one-handed computing because I’m in the story. He wrote it for his wife, and he wrote it for me. I’d badly broken my right arm in an accident, snapping my radius in half and shooting it out of my body. Emergency room doctors stabilized my arm, then surgeons took the fibula from my left leg and used it to create a graft to replace my missing arm bone.

I’d broken my right leg, too, and sustained a concussion. With both legs unstable, I was stuck in a bed most days, and even when I could start putting weight on my left leg again, I couldn’t climb in or out of bed to get into a wheelchair without help. I’m over six feet tall and I weigh about 300 pounds, so most nurses and orderlies were out of luck helping me. I couldn’t type. I couldn’t use the bathroom. I had hallucinations from the pain medicine. I was extremely fucked up.

Another victim of the accident was my Blackberry, my first-ever smartphone, which I bought just before I finally got my PhD. (I revealed this once in a 2010 post for Wired. Commenters called for my head, saying anyone whose first smartphone was bought in 2009 had no business writing for a gadget blog. “I’m sorry,” I told them. “I spent my twenties learning things, not buying things.”)

After I was discharged from the hospital, I spent money I didn’t have to get an iPhone 3G, which was my phone for the next three years. It was mailed to me at the rehab institute where I learned how to walk again. And it changed everything for me. Even with my left hand, I could tweet, send emails, browse the web. I could even read books again — even print books weren’t as easy as the iPhone.

And then I read Jason’s post about one-handed computing. And I thought and thought and thought.

I started blogging again. I even started my own community blog about the future of reading. The next year, that led to some articles for Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic.

I was back home by then. My injuries had cost me my postdoctoral fellowship and a second crack at the academic job market. But I was able to audition for and win an entry-level job writing for Wired the same week that I did my first stint guest-hosting for Kottke.

And I swore to myself that I would never forget: technology is for people.

Anyways, the accident that broke my arm in half was four years ago today.

It was on Jason’s birthday. He was 36 then; I was 29. His son was two, almost exactly the same age as my son, his brand new baby daughter less than a week old.

It was all so very long ago. It was the beginning of the rest of my life.

If you ask me why Jason Kottke is important to me, it’s because in 2005, he found my little Blogspot blog when it only had a couple dozen readers and started linking to it. It’s because his idea of “Liberal Arts 2.0” led to a book I made with friends, some of whom went off to make extraordinary things of their own. (We offered to let Jason write the forward; characteristically, he declined.)

Then Jason became my friend. Every so often, he gives me the keys to this place he’s built — home to the best audience on the internet — and lets me write about things I care about. And because of all of that, I got a second chance — me, with all of my flaws and frailties, my misdeeds and mistakes.

But really Jason is important to me because Jason is always writing about how technology is for human beings. He doesn’t bang gavels and rattle sabres and shout “TECHNOLOGY IS FOR HUMAN BEINGS!” That’s partly because Jason is not a gavel-banging, sabre-rattling sort of person. But it’s mostly because it wouldn’t occur to him to talk about it in any other way. It’s so obvious.

The thing that tech companies forget — that journalists forget, that Wall Street never knew, that commenters who root for tech companies like sports fans for their teams could never formulate — that technology is for people — is obvious to Jason. Technology is for us. All of us. People who carry things.

People. Us. These stupid, stubborn, spectacular machines made of meat and electricity, friends and laughter, genes and dreams.

Happy birthday, Jason. Here’s to the next forty years of Kottke.org.

My voice is my passport. Verify me.

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2013

Soon, new iPhone owners will be able to use a fingerprint to access a phone or buy something on iTunes. Apple’s introduction of this fingerprint technology adds a nice layer of security and a bit of convenience for those whose fingers are too tired to type in a four-digit password. But soon, we will be interacting with a lot more devices that have no screens, and biometrics will be the logical way to secure our data. Companies have already developed ways to identify you, from your fingerprints to your heartbeat. And while these methods certainly seem more effective than simple (and often easy-to-hack) passwords, it’s a little worrisome that we’ll essentially be sharing even more personal data, right down to our person. In order to give us the promise of more security, companies will want to know even more about us. It feels like we’ve passed a point of no return. So much about us is stored in the cloud (our finances, our communication, our social lives) that we can’t turn back. The only way to protect what you’ve shared so far is to share some more. Protect your data with a password. Protect the password with some secret, personal questions. Protect all of that with your fingerprint or your heartbeat. Before long, you’ll have to give a DNA swab to access a collection photos you took yourself. It’s a trend worth watching. The last decade was about sharing. The next decade will be about protecting.

iPhone 6 Infinity

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2013

Apple fan fiction is more popular than ever and usually takes the form of mockups of designs for new products and alternate designs for existing products. There’s been a recent burst of creative energy unleashed on Dribbble around the idea of an iPhone with a screen that wraps completely around the device (or at least down around the sides). Claudio Guglieri seems to have accidentally started it with this mockup of an RSS reader he’s working on:

Iphone 6 Infinity

Fabio Basile dubbed it iPhone 6 Infinity and made a Photoshop template that others could use to make further mockups. More mockups from them and others followed: Side Screen, another Photoshop template, a wrap-around social app, an alternate lock screen, and these subtle side indicators.

Iphone 6 Infinity

Leaving aside for the moment the issue of how a touchscreen device that’s all screen would function while being held, the visual effect is pretty cool.

Stupid calculations

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2013

From a new site called Stupid Calculations, here’s what an iPhone consisting of all the iPhone displays ever built would look like plopped down in the midst of Manhattan. Behold the Monophone:

Monophone

I also enjoyed this dicussion of what a distribution of actual cash from Yahoo to Tumblr would be like.

What if Marissa preferred instead to thumb off hundred-dollar bills into an ecstatic crowd of Tumblr owners? Using the stack of hundreds kept handy around the house, I conducted a test that worked out to a rate of 90 bills per minute. It could certainly go faster, but it’s important to make a little flourish with each flick, a self-satisfied grin spread across the face. 90 bills per minute x $100= $9000. $1.1 billion / $9000 per minute = 122,222 minutes or 2037 hours or 84.87 continuous, no-bathroom, no-sleep days.

And what will she be getting for all this generosity? In addition to the office, it buys 175 Six Million Dollar Men; with 175 employees as of May, the acquisition works out to $6,285,714 per employee. That’s $41,904 per pound in livestock terms (175 employees @ an average of 150 lbs= 26,250 lbs total).

Wanting to be liked

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2013

This interview with a 14-year-old girl about how she uses her iPhone and social media is almost equal parts fascinating and terrifying. Some choice quotes:

“I’ll wake up in the morning and go on Facebook just … because,” Casey says. “It’s not like I want to or I don’t. I just go on it. I’m, like, forced to. I don’t know why. I need to. Facebook takes up my whole life.”

“I bring [my iPhone] everywhere. I have to be holding it,” Casey says. “It’s like OCD — I have to have it with me. And I check it a lot.”

Not having an iPhone can be social suicide, notes Casey. One of her friends found herself effectively exiled from their circle for six months because her parents dawdled in upgrading her to an iPhone. Without it, she had no access to the iMessage group chat, where it seemed all their shared plans were being made.

“She wasn’t in the group chat, so we stopped being friends with her,” Casey says. “Not because we didn’t like her, but we just weren’t in contact with her.”

The most important and stress-inducing statistic of all is the number of “likes” she gets when she posts a new Facebook profile picture — followed closely by how many “likes” her friends’ photos receive. Casey’s most recent profile photo received 117 “likes” and 56 comments from her friends, 19 of which they posted within a minute of Casey switching her photo, and all of which Casey “liked” personally.

“If you don’t get 100 ‘likes,’ you make other people share it so you get 100,” she explains. “Or else you just get upset. Everyone wants to get the most ‘likes.’ It’s like a popularity contest.”

“If I’m not watching TV, I’m on my phone. If I’m not on my phone, I’m on my computer. If I’m not doing any of those things, what am I supposed to do?” Casey says.

Josh Miller asked his 15-year-old sister about social media trends. That was six months ago, so everything has probably already changed, but it’s still an interesting read. (via digg)

How blind people use Instagram

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2013

Tommy Edison shows how he uses Instagram on the iPhone.

So we’ll just take a picture of the crew. Why I’m holding the thing up to my face like I can look through the thing is beyond me, but here we go.

His Instagram feed is available here. (via ★precipice)

What if Apple launched iPhone 5 on Kickstarter?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2012

If Apple launched the iPhone 5 on Kickstarter, it would have been the first $1 billion campaign:

iPhone 5 on Kickstarter

$1.7 billion in sales for a weekend…not bad. I got the rough first-weekend sales numbers from Asymco and fudged the rest.

iPhone in CSS3

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2012

iPhone CSS3

Is it real or is it CSS3? Amazingly, the above image was made entirely in HTML and CSS3 by Dylan Hudson. (via ★interesting)

The iPhone: maybe the best thing for the blind since Braille

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2012

For some visually impaired folks, the iPhone has been nothing short of revolutionary.

For the visually impaired community, the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 seemed at first like a disaster — the standard-bearer of a new generation of smartphones was based on touch screens that had no physical differentiation. It was a flat piece of glass. But soon enough, word started to spread: The iPhone came with a built-in accessibility feature. Still, members of the community were hesitant.

But no more. For its fans and advocates in the visually-impaired community, the iPhone has turned out to be one of the most revolutionary developments since the invention of Braille. That the iPhone and its world of apps have transformed the lives of its visually impaired users may seem counter-intuitive — but their impact is striking.

See also Austin Seraphin’s account of the first week he spent using an iPhone.

The other night, however, a very amazing thing happened. I downloaded an app called Color Identifier. It uses the iPhone’s camera, and speaks names of colors. It must use a table, because each color has an identifier made up of 6 hexadecimal digits. This puts the total at 16777216 colors, and I believe it. Some of them have very surreal names, such as Atomic Orange, Cosmic, Hippie Green, Opium, and Black-White. These names in combination with what feels like a rise in serotonin levels makes for a very psychedelic experience.

I have never experienced this before in my life. I can see some light and color, but just in blurs, and objects don’t really have a color, just light sources. When I first tried it at three o’clock in the morning, I couldn’t figure out why it just reported black. After realizing that the screen curtain also disables the camera, I turned it off, but it still have very dark colors. Then I remembered that you actually need light to see, and it probably couldn’t see much at night. I thought about light sources, and my interview I did for Get Lamp. First, I saw one of my beautiful salt lamps in its various shades of orange, another with its pink and rose colors, and the third kind in glowing pink and red.. I felt stunned.

(via NextDraft)