Time to kill the OS X Dock

OS X Dock

Macs with 16GB RAM are becoming more common. That means the average user doesn’t need to quit applications that often anymore, causing the OS X Dock to get cluttered with icons of rarely used apps.

The OS X Dock was introduced in NeXTSTEP and was part of the first beta of OS X 10.0. It was meant to be a way to launch and keep track of active applications. Every time you launch an application, the corresponding icon is added at the end of the Dock, extending its length.

Today the Dock is used as:

  • Application launcher
  • Notification area through badges
  • App switcher
  • An area to park both minimized icons and file/folder shortcuts

Increasingly the Dock suffers from information overload, making it less usable than ever. Apple is likely aware of this fact, as in recent years it has laid out the groundwork for alternative ways to interact with applications without having the need to use it.

Maybe it’s time for Apple to kill the OS X Dock and move on.

The Dock

I came up with this rather radical idea because:

  • The Dock takes space on the screen
  • It doesn’t help much with conveying information
  • The information the Dock can show is limited
  • There are already other more efficient methods to launch, notify and switch between applications.

The tiny dots displayed under the application icons to indicate whether an app is running are becoming less useful as the speed and memory of our Macs increase. Nowadays, Mac users just leave their application running. System resources in our Macs are so plentiful and technologies like Power Nap so advanced, that the average user doesn’t really need to see at a glance if a certain app is running or not. And as I said there are alternative ways to get that info.

The badges displayed in the upper-right corner of Dock’s icons have limited use too. In my experience the only one I look at all is Mail. All the others, such as Twitter, RSS feeds and so on just add clutter and reduce attention span.

Application Launcher

The current primary function of the Dock is to launch applications, but we already have other ways to do so:

  • Launchpad
  • Spotlight

You could argue that you can also launch an application from the Finder. But the Finder itself will increasingly become less used, reserved to power users anyway, so let’s not take it into account in this discussion.

Launchpad

2014 09 01 launchpad

Launchpad is actually a gem of a launcher after you get familiar with it. Pinch the trackpad with the thumb and three fingers and you can see all apps installed on your Mac. In case you don’t find the app icon you want to launch, you can:

  • Swipe with two fingers between screens until you find it
  • Start typing its name to invoke instant search

Try it if you haven’t. Working with Launchpad is fast and user friendly.

Spotlight

Power users have used Spotlight to launch apps for years. In OS X Yosemite it will become even more prominent given its presence at the centre of the screen.

A simple command + space gives you the ability to launch applications, faster than ever and without moving your fingers from the keyboard.

Notifications

Apple has been improving Notification Center since its introduction with Mountain Lion in 2012. In OS X Yosemite, Notification Center is an area of the screen that users will visit more often than ever. The fact that we will be able to customize it by adding extensions can only increase its usefulness.

In my opinion, that is the only place where we should be able to see notifications.

App switcher

In iOS, you can switch between apps by double-clicking the home button. In contrast, OS X gives you two other options beside the Dock:

  • Mission Control
  • Command + tab

Mission Control is a powerful way to switch between desktops and windows belonging to single apps, but it’s not that immediate to see the window you want to switch to (contrary to Exposé. Read about my first reaction in OS X Lion ).

2014 09 01 command tab

That is one of the reasons, power users have also used command + tab to fast-switch between open apps. The big advantage of command + tab is that its graphical representation is easy to understand because you see just a list of app icons in the middle of the screen.

The problem with it is that its key combination is not known by the average user. To make it more usable, Apple could assign a trackpad fingers swipe combination.

I’m thinking of a four finger swipe up. This is not a new idea, as on the iPad you can already invoke the app switcher by swiping your fingers with the same movement.

Conclusions

Apple doesn’t need to kill the Dock immediately, but OS X is mature enough to start looking for alternatives.

This process should be spread over time, in order to educate users on the new way of doing things. That could probably take two to three OS X iterations:

  • In the first iteration (OS X 10.11) Apple could make the Dock invisible by default
  • In a second iteration (OS X 10.12) Apple could disable the Dock by default (as it’s happening to the Dashboard in OS X Yosemite by the way)
  • In the third iteration (OS X 10.13) it could ditch it altogether.

Operating systems change. What’s most important is that they change to improve their usability and make users more efficient. The Dock right now is having problems in both fronts.

You’re using a Steve Jobs product you want it or not

Dr. Drang:

What makes Steve Jobs unique is that he’s been consistently right in his vision of the role of computers in our lives.

From the idea that computers should be for everyone, to the user interface of the original Macintosh, to the iPod, iPhone and then to the iPad, Steve Jobs showed the world of computing the direction to go. 

Most products, even the ones that compete with Apple took inspiration from Jobs’ vision. We cannot think of a smartphone different from an iPhone form factor, or an mp3 player different from an iPod. 

I’ve no doubts that in a few decades students in economics, marketing, engineering and design will study and analyze Steve Jobs’ work as part of their curriculum. 

This article written by Dr. Drang should be the one you read tonight. 

September 9 event will also be about Apple’s vision for the future

John Martellaro writing for MacObserver:

I get the feeling that this event will be so important and will so completely punctuate Apple’s vision for the future (CarPlay, home automation, personal health, retail payments) that we’ll be blown away by the scope of the vision that has come together.

Apple has increasingly spent more time explaining their vision during its special events. Even in 2007, when Steve Jobs announced the iPhone, he talked at length about the decision process behind the iPhone’s form factor, its user interface and operating system.

That is also a solid marketing strategy to sell that vision to customers. It is far more easier to embark on a journey when you are given an explanation than when that vision is shoved down your throat.

If next week Apple announces a wearable device, I expect them to dedicate part of the event explaining their ideas. That part also helps developers and vendors alike to understand where they should concentrate their efforts on.

And yes, I strongly believe that next week we will be blown away.

On taking notes

Today’s post is different. I’ll talk about notes, hand written notes to be precise.

A conversation I had a few days ago with a close friend convinced me that, unlike other people, I am unable to take notes on a computer and then refer to them as actionable items.

Following up on meeting notes saved as text files, Word/Pages documents, Evernote, OneNote and others more esoteric formats is extremely difficult for me. Even worse, I’ve noticed that I have problems transforming those notes in to-do’s.

The method I use is somehow convoluted but it works, at least for me.

Taking notes by hand

For a geek like me, I’m almost ashamed to admit that during meetings and conference calls I always go back to pen and paper.

I do it because:

  • I’m able to synthesize the concept more effectively
  • I can better remember those notes
  • In case of face-to-face meetings, the person in front of me seems more willing to talk.

The third point is quite common. It seems to me that the person across from you during a meeting is more open when you write on paper. In contrast, if you take notes on a laptop you inevitably give the impression of not actively listening to the other person. Writing on a laptop is like putting up a barrier between the two people.

Scanning your hand written notes

You might ask if I ever scan my handwritten notes. The answer is no.

Just as an experiment, try to scan any of your notes. Then look at the PDF files you’ve created. They don’t have the clarity of the original notes, do they?

I am not sure why that happens, but most people I have talked to have had similar disappointing results. It’s likely that by scanning a document you lose part of the information embedded in the hand writing, such as the imperceptible marks left by the pen when you press on the paper.

That information is probably perceived by your eyes. Your brain then links it to the emotional state you were when you wrote that particular sentence. Think of how you hold your pen when you write something important. You probably hold it tighter and press more on the paper. The deeper mark left cannot be transferred to a PDF file.

In my experience, whenever I read any of my old original notes I can clearly feel the emotions I was under while writing a certain sentence. That is why I like to keep them in their original form.

Because of this, throughout the years I’ve been employing a different method to follow up on my notes.

My solution

Whenever I need to take meaningful notes, I follow this process:

  1. Put the laptop to sleep
  2. Concentrate on what the other person is saying and practice active listening
  3. Write down the notes on a white piece of paper using the Bullet Journal method
  4. After the meeting, review the notes and decide what items should be actionable
  5. Summarize the meeting, and save it as a Text/Word/Pages document for future reference
  6. Add the actionable items as to-do’s in OmniFocus. From this moment on, just use OmniFocus and don’t look at the original notes.

This solution is not perfect, and I tweak it from time to time, but it has the advantage of:

  • Giving me a backup of my notes in two separate formats (paper and digital), should one of the two get destroyed/deleted
  • Allowing me to review/summarize/think about the notes taken during, and most important, after the meeting
  • Triggering only essential to-do’s in OmniFocus

I’m a sucker for methods to improve my note taking skills, so I’d like to hear from you. How do you take notes? What advantages and disadvantages have you found in your method?

Another joke

Another joke by John Gruber after hinting that the iWatch was going to be revealed in September:

I’ve been working on a new joke — about NFC and a new secure enclave where you can store your credit cards, so you can pay for things at brick and mortar retail stores just by taking out your iPhone, but only if it’s one of the new iPhones — but no one seems to get my sense of humor.
Follow-up joke: It would be cool, and would make a lot of sense, if the new wearable thing had the same magic payment apparatus.

This gets me excited. Excited because I know that Apple has probably already lined up a number of retailers that will accept the new payment method from the moment the iPhone 6 and iWatch are available. 

This move is typical of Apple, design something, get the agreement of important partners and then build an ecosystem around it. A winner. 

Two years ago I discussed why Apple did not include an NFC chip in the iPhone. It seems that Apple finally believes that the technology is mature, even though I’d kill to know why only now and not back then. Maybe that is because of the ecosystem that Apple had to inevitably build around this payment system. Two years ago the retail industry was not ready for that. 

More interesting it is going to be Phil Schiller’s follow up on what he said in September 2012 (emphasis mine):

It’s not clear that NFC is the solution to any current problem. Passbook does the kinds of things customers need today.

That was two years ago. Passbook is extremely useful for tickets, loyalty cards, and boarding passes, but obviously not suited as any kind of payment. 

Is now the moment for a new payment system? I really hope so.

Interview with Horace Dediu

A recommended interview with one of the few analysts who understands Apple and explains it to the world.

About an hypothetical iWatch:

They are in it because they are trying to make a platform product with a novel user experience and all the power of an ecosystem run on a wrist. It’s as big a problem as getting a phone-sized device to run a touch UI was in 2007. That is the crucial contribution that Apple is making to this next generation of computing. Now you might ask what users are asking for in this segment. The answer is nothing. Nobody is asking for this. As nobody asked for the iPhone (or the Mac or the iPad). It’s a new computer form factor and how it will be used will be determined by the apps written for it. But it will work and be magical out of the box in version 1. This is in contrast to the single purpose or accessory model of wearables we see to date.

Apple’s special event on 9th September

The rumours about a special event on 9th September were true. Apple today sent the press the invitation for a special event to be held at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino. 

The choice for this venue is peculiar. In fact, Apple has only held three events in the Flint Center, used to introduce:

  • The original Mac in 1994
  • The original iMac in 1998
  • The iMac SE in 1999

The first two products were iconic both for Apple and the whole world of computing.

If Apple chose this particular venue we could speculate that we might see something more than just the long rumoured iPhone 6 with 4.7” and 5.5” screens. Something special, something that we will remember forever.

Two things I learnt about the OS X Recovery Partition

I’ve spent the past three days figuring out why I could not see the Recovery Partition in the list of startup disks when booting up my MacBook Air with OS X Mavericks. Silly me, I made a rookie mistake! Let me tell you what I’ve learnt.

The Recovery Partition

This restore partition is automatically created by OS X Lion, Mountain Lion and Mavericks when installing any of these operating systems.

It is mainly used to:

  • Reinstall the operating system in case of problems with the main partition
  • Access Disk Utility in case you need to troubleshoot the system partition where you’ve installed OS X
  • Setup a Firmware Password

For a complete list of features and a starting point for other discussions, check this Apple KB.

Option key at startup time

When you press the Option key at boot up time, you can choose the disk/partition to boot from.

This comes handy when you want to boot from an external hard-drive. A typical scenario for doing so might be because you want to test a new version of OS X.

My mistake was to believe that the Recovery Partition of my MacBook Air was visible in this screen. That is wrong, the Recovery Partition of your internal system disk is invisible from OS X. This can be easily verified in Disk Utility too.

Command + R at startup time

This is the only way to access the Recovery Partition of your system hard disk.

Remember to try this option at least once, to make sure you can access this partition in case of problems.

Also, when you’re in there it’s a good idea to set a Firmware Password. When you do that, reinstalling OS X on your Mac cannot be done without unlocking the firmware.

The most useful and often neglected advantage of having set up a Firmware Password is that if anyone steals your Mac they will not be able to re-install OS X. The smarter thief will try to replace the existing hard-drive with another one that has OS X preinstalled. Even in that case the firmware of your Mac will detect the new hard-drive and prompt you to enter the Firmware Password before booting from that drive. In essence, your Mac becomes a brick, totally unsellable on the black market.

A word of warning: Never forget that password, because only Apple can unlock a Mac protected in that way, and only after providing a valid invoice.

Dropbox revamps storage plans and adds features to its Pro service

Today Dropbox announced these new features to its Pro service:

  • Passwords for shared links create an additional layer of security so only people with the password can access your link.
  • Expirations for shared links safeguard your sensitive files by letting you set how long your links stay up.
  • View-only permissions for shared folders let you pick whether recipients can edit or just view files within your shared folder.
  • Remote wipe lets you delete your Dropbox files from a lost or stolen device while keeping them safely backed up in Dropbox.

This announcement comes together with the simplification of storage plans. For USD 9.99 a month or USD 99.00 a year, all Pro users can now avail of 1TB of storage. 

The feature set is worth the upgrade, but the storage plan is still expensive for whoever needs less than 1TB of storage.

Obviously Dropbox has the metrics that show that only a handful of users are going to store 1TB of storage, hence this announcement masked as a price drop. A quick poll with my friends and colleagues has shown that all of them store way below 100GB of data in Dropbox. All these people will continue to pay USD 99.00.

On the Wall-Huggers Samsung commercial

 

TUAW has posted the best criticism to the Wall-Huggers Samsung commercial:

So, let me get this straight. If I put my amazing Galaxy S5 into ultra power saving mode, I’ll see everything in grayscale, I’ll only be able to run a few apps, mobile data will be turned off when the screen is off, and WiFi and Bluetooth are totally disabled.

Basically ultra power saving mode in the Samsung S5 makes the smartphone a doorstopper or something similar.

You can only run the text messages, phone,  calculator, Google+, ChatON, Memo, Voice Recorder and Clock apps. In addition you can browse the web with Samsung’s own web browser.

How useful can a smartphone be with this app selection? I’m thinking of the few times I ran out of juice on my iPhone and the use case to have a power saving mode, and can’t find it.

TUAW ends the article with:

Gee, I can attach an external battery pack to my iPhone and don’t have to pop the cheap plastic back of my phone to do it…

Indeed.