Apple’s New Campus

A few of my favorite excerpts from Steven Levy’s tour of Apple’s new campus.

“Jobs discussed the walls he had in mind for the offices: “He knew exactly what timber he wanted, but not just ‘I like oak’ or ‘I like maple.’ He knew it had to be quarter-­cut. It had to be cut in the winter, ideally in January, to have the least amount of sap and sugar content. We were all sitting there, architects with gray hair, going, ‘Holy shit!’”

“At first, we had no idea what Steve was actually talking about with these pods. But he had it all mapped out: a space where you could concentrate one minute and then bump into another group of people in the next,” Behling says.”

“To withstand earthquakes, the Ring is mounted on huge steel base isolators that ensure the building can move up to 4.5 feet in any direction without losing its vital services.”

“The very toughest challenge came from constructing the giant glass sliding doors for the café—they had to extend from the ground to the roof, a full four stories. Each door leaf is about 85 feet by 54 feet. “The only doors I know of in the world that size are on an airplane hangar,” Diller says.”

“It’s not like we’re asking people to be uncomfortable at work,” she says. “We’re asking them to recognize that part of being connected to the outside is knowing what temperature it is. We don’t want you to feel like you’re in a casino. We want you to know what time of day it is, what temperature it is outside. Is the wind really blowing? That was Steve’s original intention, to sort of blur that line between the inside and outside. It sort of wakes up your senses.”

The Perfect MacBook

My MacBook Pro is 3 1/2 years old. It’s the best computer I’ve ever owned. As far as I’m concerned, it’s perfect. So this week I purchased another one, almost exactly like it. (I won’t bore you with the specs) I bought it as a spare but my current machine will become the spare.

I’ve always thought the latest version of the MacBook was better than the one before. Until now. The newest model has a keyboard that just doesn’t feel as good as mine. The Touchpad is bigger than I want or need. And Apple saw fit to do away with the MagSafe connector on the power cord, which kept my box on the table instead of the floor countless times.

M.G. Siegler had similar thoughts a couple of years ago:

“I suspect this new MacBook will be the last laptop I end up buying. Again, that doesn’t mean the MacBook is dying anytime soon, but I believe this will be the pinnacle of the product. We’ll get spec bumps for years to come. But it will be the long, slow fade we just witnessed with the iPod.”

I don’t really fault Apple for this. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that Apple (or any company) succeeded in making The Perfect Laptop. I know, there’s no such thing but let’s say it was 99.99% perfection. And the following year — to meet shareholders expectations — they have to roll out a new model. They’ve got make some changes, right? Isn’t it much more likely those changes will make it worse than better? There’s probably a name for this phenomenon (If You Fuck With It Enough You Will Fuck It Up Syndrome?).

I think this is what happened with their latest MacBook Pro. I’m sure it’s a good laptop and lots of people will buy it and be very happy with it. Just not me.

So now I have two (nearly identical) laptops. One in the bag I take everywhere and one on the closet on hot standby.

Voice-to-text note using Siri via AirPods

I created a note on my iPhone using Siri and voice-to-text. (In a noisy coffee shop). Music is great on the AirPods but my primary reason for the purchase was to see if/how AirPods could change the way I interacted with the iPhone. Using Siri (far from perfect) to read messages and email; create and send messages and email; schedule reminders; etc. Without removing the phone from my pocket. [Video runs 20 sec]

Apple AirPods

I was going to wait a few days before sharing any thoughts on my new Bluetooth headphones but I’ve been so impressed by the initial experience I’m going to share a few first impressions.

  • I thought the regular Apple earbuds sounded fine but the audio quality of the AirPods is noticeably better. A lot better, IMO. Maybe a 25% improvement?
  • Lots of folks complain about how earbuds and the new AirPods feel in their ears. Never a problem for me. I kept them in for an hour two last night and they were so comfortable I forgot they were in. I felt no movement when shaking my head vigorously or jumping up and down. I have no concern about them falling out. I have no doubt I’ll be wearing (?) these more than the wired earbuds.
  • On that point, I was surprised by a new sense of freedom from the wire. (Like I said, this is my first experience with Bluetooth phones) Not having that little wire against my cheeks or snagging on a shirt button changes the experience far more than I would have expected. In a way that I can’t explain, the music feels like it’s in my head, instead of in my ears.
  • Phone calls – Barb says I’m much easier to understand on a call (compared to just talking on the iPhone). I think this might be the result of ambient noise filters built into the system.
  • Voice-to-text works great, even when speaking in lower-than-normal speaking level.

Still trying stuff (Siri commands/inquiries, etc) but these are keepers. Will it fundamentally change how I interact with the technology? To be determined.

Macs are $535 less expensive than PCs

“In 2015, IBM let their employees decide – Windows or Mac. “The goal was to deliver a great employee choice program and strive to achieve the best Mac program,” Previn said. An emerging favorite meant the deployment of 30,000 Macs over the course of the year. But that number has grown. With more employees choosing Mac than ever before, the company now has 90,000 deployed (with only five admins supporting them), making it the largest Mac deployment on earth.”

“But isn’t it expensive, and doesn’t it overload IT? No. IBM found that not only do PCs drive twice the amount of support calls, they’re also three times more expensive. That’s right, depending on the model, IBM is saving anywhere from $273 – $543 per Mac compared to a PC, over a four-year lifespan. “And this reflects the best pricing we’ve ever gotten from Microsoft,” Previn said. Multiply that number by the 100,000+ Macs IBM expects to have deployed by the end of the year, and we’re talking some serious savings.”



I spent some money on headphones back in the 70s. When I started at KBOA in ’72 all they had were these WWII-era Bakelite hockey pucks with a piece of vibrating tin inside.

When I saw my first pair of Sennheiser open-air headphones (in a magazine) I ordered a pair and paid for them myself. And, yes, I took them into the studio for my shift and took them with me when done. They were pretty expensive (for the time) and a bit fragile. But I sounded soooo good in those headphones. More accurately, I could hear what I really sounded like and that was important.

Steve Mays KBOA control room

Fast forward several light years to the first iPods and the famous white earbuds that all serious music buffs hated. I loved them. They sounded fine to me and they fit my ears just fine. I’ve been using them ever since, pretty much every day.

In a few weeks Apple will start selling AirPods ($150) and I’ll buy a pair on Day One. And I might not be the only one. From Business Insider:

12% of U.S. consumers surveyed by Bank of America Merrill Lynch say they intend to purchase AirPods, apparently on the strength of Apple’s marketing, given that few people have actually seen and tried them out. This is a very bullish sign for Apple, says BAML. “12% of the US installed base could lead to up to an incremental $3bn in revenue,” writes the analysts.

“Apple’s marketing” is one explanation. Another might be that people like me have been using Apple earbuds for fifteen years and like them.

Apple Music changing the way I think about music

Not sure I can explain this but let’s give it a shot. Raise your hand if you’re old enough to remember “collecting websites.” This was back in the early days of the web and long before Google made it easy to find your way back to a favorite site. Bookmarks were an important part of your web browser. It wasn’t uncommon to have dozens (hundreds?) of bookmarks. So many you needed a folder structure to keep them all organized. I don’t know many who still maintain such lists. Modern browsers do a pretty good job of keeping up with your favorites sites based on your surfing habits.

I’m seeing a similar evolution in my music listening habits. I still have some playlists I created in iTunes. These are lists of songs I purchased and downloaded. Or, more recently, just downloaded from Apple Music. But I’m finding it increasingly cumbersome to navigate these lists when compared to the way Apple Music connects me to music. Where my playlists are static (the same songs), Apple Music playlists are updated with fresh songs. I don’t know if this is true of all playlists or just some. But the result is a fresher, more dynamic experience. In some ways this feels like listening to a good radio station where the music rotation is the best blend of favorites and new stuff like the favorites. I told you… difficult to explain.

There are some classics I’ll always want to keep close (Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Harvest, Tapestry, etc) but I’m feeling less need to organize and manage “my” (i.e. downloaded) songs. If I’m in the mood for some funk or a Janis Joplin song Apple Music will deliver the good far better than my collection. My downloaded library is finite where Apple Music is infinite but increasingly aware of what I like (or might like).

When the interface becomes invisible

There’s been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth over Apple’s announcement there won’t be a headphone jack in the new iPhone. Eliminating the jack leaves more room inside the device and makes it more water resistant, which makes sense but Frank Swain (New Scientist) thinks there’s more going on here.

“Unlike visual interfaces, which demand your attention, audio provides an ideal interface for pervasive, background connectivity. The end goal is a more immersive type of computing, where the interface itself becomes invisible.”

I talk to my iPhone more and more. Google Now, Siri, text-to-speech. And my device (I just don’t think of it as a ‘phone’ these days) is getting better at “understanding” me and giving me the information I ask for.

But if Apple’s new bluetooth Air Pods work as Mr. Swain thinks they will, they might take us much closer to “a more immersive type of computing, where the interface itself becomes invisible.” Suspend your disbelief for a minute or two and imagine me sitting in my local coffee shop with my Air Pods in my ever-larger ears. I’m listening to Bob Dylan.

Siri: Excuse me, Steve, but you have a message from George Kopp. Would you like for me to read it to you? [George is on a VIP list of people I’ve told Siri I’d like to hear from when I’m doing other stuff]

Me: Yes, please.

Siri: George wants to know if you you’d like to have lunch at the fish place?

Me: Tell him I’d love to. What time?

Siri: I’ll check… George asks if noon is good for you?

Me: Tell him it’s a date.

[Later that morning]

Siri: The new John Sanford novel you pre-ordered on Amazon has shipped. Should arrive this Friday.

Me: Thanks, Siri. Put a link on my calendar to the description of the novel. I can’t recall what this one is about.

Siri: I’ve added a link. If you’d like, I can read you the description now…

Me: Okay. Please do [Siri starts to read the description, I remember, and tell her she can stop]

Siri has a standing order not to contact me between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., unless I get a call from someone on my VIP list. Next morning I pop in one of the AirPods…

Me: Good morning, Siri. What do I have on the calendar for today?

Siri: You’re joking, right? [I’ve programmed Siri to have a sense of humor where she thinks appropriate] Actually, you do have one item. Hattie has an appointment at the vet for her annual shots. 4 p.m.

Me: When was she last at the vet? [Siri has access to my calendar, of course)

Siri: Looks like March 8th of this year. There’s a PDF of the vet’s notes from that visit attached to the appointment on your calendar. Would you like for me to email that to you?

Me: No thanks, I remember now. What’s the big news this morning? [I’ve given Siri a list of topics I’m interested in and she augments that with what I’ve been reading and searching. She reads headlines]

Me: Wow. Can you play the audio (from YouTube clip) of Trump saying he thinks Putin is a great leader?

Siri: Of course. The clip runs 45 seconds.

I could go on (and on) but you get the idea. Before anyone freaks out about Siri… this could Google Now or Amazon Alexa or (fill in the blank). And I’ve given my digital assistant access to all or most of my accounts. (Hey, Siri… when is my VISA bill due?)

Not keen on having a robotic voice buzzing in your ear all day? Chill. It will be as natural and pleasant as any human voice you hear. Even better. [More examples]

Will it seem strange to hear and see people talking quietly to these digital assistants? At first. But it’s pretty common to see people talking via bluetooth devices now. When everyone has and uses this kind of tool, it won’t seem that odd. Remember it would have once seemed strange to see people walking down the street talking on a phone.

No, I don’t think Apple is simply trying to get rid of the little white wire hanging from our ears. This is about a new way of accessing and interacting with all of the information in the world.

Call Recorder for FaceTime

I’ve been searching for a better way to record video chats and found my way back to the eCamm website and Call Recorder for FaceTime. I used Call Recorder years ago but was not aware they had created an app specifically for FaceTime. The app cost $30 and that’s a non-starter for most folks but I’m impressed with this little app. George Kopp and I were both using FaceTime from the desktop but this would have worked fine had he been on his iPhone.

Call Recorder also records audio phone calls. When someone calls my iPhone, I have the option of answering the call on my MacBook (if both are on same wifi network). I can then record the call using this app. Sample below.