Touching

Seven years ago I wrote this over at Macworld:

The use of iOS devices has prompted us to expect screens to be responsive… While other vendors shipped touchscreen computers first, Apple is the company that could ship them right. … [Its] approach, assuming this particular rumor actually materializes, will have to reinvent user interaction on the desktop.

I, of course, had no idea how Apple might do that, but I knew from using Windows-based touchscreen devices that you can’t just slap a touch screen on a mouse-and-pointer-driven interface and call it good. With Windows 8, Microsoft had bolted a touch-based interface over top of the traditional one. Windows 10 improved on that, but its improvements were mostly focused on making the desktop experience better, fixing the things they messed up in Windows 8, not so much improving the touch experience.

The basic problem is that fingers are less precise than pointers. You can compensate for this by making all your touch targets huge, but that really screws up your interface for desktop use; large, clunky interface elements aren’t a solution. You could have the device work in two different modes, but mode switching is just another band aid and is only designed for tablets that dock to keyboards, not laptops.

What’s an operating system designer to do?

When you look at how Apple implemented cursor support in iPadOS, you get an idea: make it smarter. Over at Six Colors, Jason Snell sums up the WWDC session on Design for the iPadOS Pointer.

…the iPadOS designers focused on a pointer with “adaptive precision,” that could switch contexts (and shapes) to become more precise when necessary.

He concludes:

After watching the session, I have to be honest: I fully expect Apple to bring an adapted version of the iPad’s approach to pointers to macOS in a future release.

He’s not specifically suggesting there will be touch-input Macs coming, but making the operating system smarter — giving it the ability to make some assumptions about imprecise inputs and ask you “Is this what you wanted?” — is the kind of change I can now 100 percent say I was thinking of seven years ago when I had no idea what would happen. That was it. Totally.

I don’t know if touch-input is coming to the Mac (beyond the Touch Bar). But all the pieces needed for it are certainly coming together. So why not?

» Microsoft closing almost all retail stores

This is the smart thing to do as opening them in the first place was just another quixotic effort by Steve Ballmer to show that Microsoft could be successful at anything Apple could be successful at. They can’t and that’s fine.

I do enjoy their PR headline: “Microsoft Store announces new approach to retail.” The new approach: not doing retail.

» Apple reportedly re-closing stores

Mark Gurman on Twitter:

Apple says it is re-closing 11 stores across Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arizona amid Covid-19 spikes.

This doesn’t seem to be reflected on Apple’s Store List page yet as some stores in these states do show they’re closed but in Florida, for example, all of the stores still say they’re open.

Regardless, infection rates are rising again. The U.S. has been an abject failure at handling this virus. And it didn’t need to be this way.

» ‘Microsoft’s robot editor confuses mixed-race Little Mix singers’

With all that is going on, it’s understandable if you missed the news last week that Microsoft fired most of its human news editors and replaced them with an AI. As dystopian as that sounds, just wait, because now that the AI has screwed up by publishing the wrong image of a mixed-race performer, the remaining human editors have been asked to watch for the Guardian piece on the screw-up and delete it manually because the AI might think it’s of interest to MSN readers.

“We fired your human coworkers and replaced them with a robot. Your job now is to cover up for the robot’s mistakes.”

» ‘Reflecting on the Color of My Skin’

Marques Brownlee:

Not only is racism not acceptable, but we have to actively work against it.

He also makes a very important point about supporting black creators on YouTube: simply subscribing to a YouTube channel and then not watching or engaging with the content, does not help the creator because it flags to the algorithm that there’s a problem.

» ‘CES will be held in-person in Las Vegas next year’

What could go wrong?

» ‘Corporations tweet support for Black Lives Matter. Their FEC filings tell a different story.’

Amazon and Google have each given over $350,000 to politicians rated “F” by the NAACP. Apple, while it has been known to make anti-democratic decisions and provide photo opportunities for racist politicians, does not have a political action committee. And somehow it manages to get by.

» ‘Apple confirms iOS 13.5.1 security update patches vulnerability, breaking unc0ver jailbreak’

The insecure party is over.

It’s hard to judge the relative security of Apple’s operating systems from news reports of vulnerabilities. Certain sites (cough Forbes cough) portray them in a vacuum with headlines such as “Apple just gave iOS users a reason to leave”.

Where would they go? Android? Is it any better? It doesn’t seem like it.

Definitely demand better releases from Apple and Google and Microsoft. But don’t pretend that a particular bug is going to drive people from a platform.

As Wired was reporting it could take weeks to fix this bug, it taking a little over a week is a relief.

» Ding-dong

Amazon released the following statement yesterday on Twitter:

The inequitable and brutal treatment of Black people in our country must stop.

Together we stand in solidarity with the Black community — our employees, customers, and partners — in the fight against systemic racism and injustice.

This would be the same Amazon that has partnered with hundreds of law enforcement agencies to provide them with video from its Ring doorbells. So, you will not be surprised to learn that the tweet was met with a bit of derision.

» ‘SC sees 20 coronavirus deaths in one day, largest single day increase yet’

Meanwhile in Alabama:

Alabama saw its largest single-day increase in new COVID-19 cases Monday, according to the state, as daily case counts continue an upward trend and hospitals across the state report increasing hospitalizations.

Two weeks ago Apple reopened stores in certain states: some that had managed to keep coronovirus outbreaks down, some that were improving, and others, like South Carolina and Alabama, that had no business opening back up.

Apple is fortunately being cautious by restricting traffic to storefront and curbside service.