Monthly archives of “December 2014

Windows Phone

Worth-reading refection on the stagnation of Windows Phone and its app ecosystem from The Verge:

I’ve always been slightly frustrated at the lack of Windows Phone apps, but as the gaps have been gradually filled, a new frustration has emerged: dead apps. Developers might be creating more and more Windows Phone apps, but the top ones are often left untouched with few updates or new features. That’s a big problem for apps like Twitter that are regularly updated on iOS and Android with features that never make it to Windows Phone. My frustration boiled over during the World Cup this year, as Twitter lit up with people talking about the matches. I felt left out using the official Windows Phone Twitter app because it didn’t have a special World Cup section that curated great and entertaining tweets, or country flags for hashtags.

It’s a real shame. I’ve always liked Windows Phone and felt it deserved wildly more success than it got. I’ve never owned one but always really wanted to; there’s a crispness and an elegance to the OS, and a terrific balance both between control and customisability, and between productivity and playfulness, that I flat-out adore.

Although for many people checking off Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Skype and WhatsApp is likely all the third party app diversity they need, I’d reach for the same examples as Tom Warren does when complaining about the moribund ecosystem – Dark Sky and Citymapper. (I’d throw in Tweetbot too, of course.) These are astonishingly good apps, apps that take highly chaotic and complex systems and present them in a clear, directly actionable way.

It always struck me – from a position of ignorance, on the sidelines – that Microsoft could have, in the early days, just simply bought success for Windows Phone. Huge bounties for developers, free licensing of the OS, massive campaigns, breaks and incentives for carriers and retailers – it’s done some of these, but never, it seems, with enough commitment or at sufficient scale. It’s like the company didn’t think the mobile market was a prize worth fighting for.

Success, of course, can be defined in many ways – Apple, for example, seems perfectly happy to count revenue share in the smartphone market rather than market share, and that’s understandable – but it’s hard to imagine Microsoft, especially Microsoft, defining Windows Phone’s situation now as a success. And the time when it could have just bought success is probably past for this round.

Update: When I posted this to Facebook, my old editor Ian Betteridge made a typically astute comment: “The thing to remember is that Microsoft had also been clobbered by the DoJ and EU for things like tying, bundling, etc. Windows Phone is basically what you get when a company which got used to being able to throw its weight around suddenly can no longer do so.” I wonder how explicitly that’s true or whether it just permeated the culture at such a fundamental level that it coloured everyone’s attitude to growth and opportunities without them even realising it?

Apple eMate in a café

On finding and protecting the things you like to do (and what to do next)

I’m having a terrific time writing and doing photography for my Think Retro column at Macworld. My latest is on how computers, austere and anodyne today, used to be much chirpier – literally.

The thing I always forget I love till I pick up my eMate again is the noises it makes. As you use the stylus to select things on the screen, little confirmatory noises sound, and the joyous thing is that they’re not the same sound. The effect, as you tap about the screen to format a document and send it by fax, say, is that you get a cheery burble of “beek,” “bik,” “bok” rather than the same “click,” “click,” “click” as you’d expect on other systems. It’s emblematic of a much more human, much friendlier approach to operating systems than any other I can think of.

You can read the whole thing at

It’s a funny thing; life seems inevitably and inexorably to lead to the present when you look back at it, but you had no idea where it was heading at the time. I just used to like old Apple stuff, and so bought it if it was cheap and I wanted it – with the result that now even I’m surprised by how much stuff I have from which I can draw for Think Retro.

Today, then, I have a regular writing gig sharing an enthusiasm with others who seem to be enjoying it. I’ve always struggled to know what I want to do with my career, and you often hear the advice that you should identify the things you enjoy doing, then work out how you can turn them into a job. I suspect I rejected that at some subconscious level for two reasons. First, it seemed too easy; surely a job was a necessary evil to be endured? It should be arduous; it’s called ‘work’. Worse, I had come to dislike the Confucian quote ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’ because experience suggested to me there was no surer way to leech the delight out of a hobby than to bury it under a thick layer of work apparatus and office life.

I think I probably got it wrong – thrice. I was slow to recognise the things I actually enjoyed doing, had a deep-seated and unhealthy attitude to work, and needed to get much, much better at translating my curiosity and aptitude for a broad range of subjects into money. Let’s see if I can get better at learning from my mistakes in 2015.

Handy cards to (never ever, because you’re British) give out to people who are using leaf blowers

I had a little rant on Twitter this morning, which is the accepted use of Twitter.

Happily, all my terribly astute followers agreed with me, which lead to the below – as salutary a lesson as you could wish for on the dangers of surrounding yourself with yes-men.

Clearly, I’m never actually going to print these out and give them to people – I’m British; I cope with frustrations by making ostensibly witty comments and by writing passive-agressive blog posts – but should you wish to, here’s a handy PDF:

Download Leaf Blower cards


Rename Markdown text files to .txt

I write in plain text – have done for years; clean, agnostic, robust, ‘future-proof’ – and latterly I’ve started using basic Markdown formatting commands. I primarily use iA Writer Pro currently, though I like Realmac Software’s new Typed app and Metaclassy’s Byword.

One tiny problem with most Markdown apps for me is that while the files they create are plain .txt files, they prefer an .md – or, in the case of iA Writer Pro’s idiosyncratic workflow system, .note, .write, .edit, and .read – extension, which understandably can lead to a few perplexed emails from editors when they double-click to open copy I’ve submitted to them and their Mac or PC reports it doesn’t know what to do with it.

It’s a simple matter of replacing whatever file extension the document has with ‘.txt’, but to save me or them the time, I made a tiny app in Automator whose sole job it is to do that; it lives in my Finder Toolbar so it’s there wherever I am in the Finder (without cluttering my Dock) and all I have to do is drop the file on it before emailing it off to my editor.

This is how you create it after choosing Application from the new document picker:

Rename to .txt grab

Or you can grab mine, which I’ve applied a default text document icon to:

Download Rename to .txt app

➚ Think Retro: The craziest-looking keyboard Apple ever made

Fun piece to write for Macworld, on the Apple Adjustable Keyboard, ergonomics and touch typing:

Apple Adjustable keyboard

So few of us type “properly” these days that you might never have done this before, and you’ll notice that while your arms stretch towards the keyboard at about 45 degrees, your hands have to splay outwards uncomfortably. This can lead to some terrible carpal tunnel syndrome, severely damaging your hands. Ergonomic keyboards, then, attempt to solve this by allowing you to rest your fingers on the home keys while keeping your wrists straight.

Taking that photo was a challenge for a works-on-his-own freelancer! Pile of books, iPhone resting on top held in place with Blu-Tack, timer.

➚ What will it take for the Chromebook to go mainstream? Google to want it to

My latest column for TechRadar, on why the Chromebook still isn’t a hit with consumers.

Few people will have heard of Chromebooks, fewer still will be aware what a Chromebook is, even fewer than that will have the reason and motivation to find out why they might want one, and fewest of all will have the knowledge and gumption then to buy one after a pubescent youth in a branded polo shirt tells them they should probably just stick to Windows.

Pleasingly high standard of comments too. Do read the bottom half of the internet on this occasion.