Pride and Body Dysmorphia

John Paul Brammer, Slate

I never really learned how to comfortably take up space. Living in a fat body for half of my life conditioned me to perceive my presence as an infringement of sorts, one that warranted apology. Pride, a time that encourages us to be more unapologetic than ever, is no exception. In fact, amidst the skin and the sex and the celebrations of physicality, it’s a time when my discomfort with my body is at an all time high, a yearly progress report on how far I haven’t come.

I read this article on Saturday as Pride weekend was kicking off in Toronto, and it hit me hard. I had a rough evening one night last week, fighting my own insecurities about fitting in with the gay community. John Paul’s piece helped me process what I was feeling. I ended up having a wonderful Pride weekend celebrating with a great group of friends, feeling more like I fit in than I have in a while.

Thank you for being honest and brave in your writing, John Paul.

The slow progression of the iPad

Dr. Drang posted a great piece comparing the early years of the Mac to the iPad, and this passage really struck me:

What’s surprising to me is how slow iPad software has advanced in the seven years since its introduction. I’ve always thought of the iPad as the apotheosis of Steve Jobs’s conception of what a computer should be, what the Mac would have been in 1984 if the hardware were available.

The original iPad was introduced in April 2010, about a year and a half before Steve Jobs passed away in October 2011. That means the vast majority of the iPad’s life on the market has been overseen by CEO Tim Cook, and I can’t help but wonder if the iPad’s trajectory would have been different under Steve? Did Steve have a vision for the iPad that would have pushed it further, faster?

I love my MacBook Pro and my iPad Pro, but like many nerds I wish the iPad ran a more capable operating system. The iPad Pro’s are super powerful machines hamstrung by the smartphone software they run. I hope the iPad’s continued sales slump convinces Apple that it’s time to do more. It’s time for the iPad to have its own version of iOS with tablet-specific features, yearly updates and focus. If Tim Cook and Apple are so bullish on the iPad, it’s time to put their money where their mouth is.

Nintendo Switch is for Die-Hard Nintendo Fans

Chris Kohler, Wired:

With Switch, Nintendo is focusing on what, for lack of a better term, one might call “Nintendo gamers”—die-hard aficionados of its franchises who also enjoy games in a similar vein, like Japanese role-playing games, puzzle games, and retro-styled games. From all appearances, so far it’s been a full-court press to scoop up this particular flavor of gamer.

This is such a smart move. Nintendo knows that casual gamers are moving away from dedicated gaming hardware, so they're aiming to appeal to and win-back their hardcore audience, many of whom felt underserved by the Wii U. The more die-hards Nintendo can attract and impress with the Switch, the more people they'll have to talk about and show off the Switch to their friends and family.

I'm also curious to see how many "hardcore" console gamers – those who already own a PlayStation or Xbox – are unable to resist the allure of playing console titles like Skyrim on a handheld. I already know a few.

Thoughts on the Nintendo Switch Presentation

I’m starting to switch my feelings about Nintendo.

Terrible puns are fun, and they were prevalent at Nintendo’s Switch Presentation on Thursday, January 12th. I stayed up until 11pm Eastern to watch the stream live from Tokyo, which for me is super late to be up because I’m 24 on the outside but 74 on the inside. The following morning I was up and out the door by 6:30am so I could line up at EB Games to secure my preorder. I intended to write up my thoughts on the event and the Switch itself sooner, but I’ve been busy sleeping.

Nintendo CEO Tatsumi Kimishima opened the event by announcing the details we’ve all been waiting for: the Nintendo Switch will launch globally in just 7 weeks on March 3, 2017 for $299 USD ($399 CAD). That’s exactly the price I was expecting, which I think is fair and justified. It’s true that you can buy a more powerful PS4 or Xbox One for cheaper than $299 right now, but they’ve been around longer, have become less expensive to produce, and don’t provide the portable functionality of the Switch. Though the Switch is less powerful graphically than Sony and Microsoft’s consoles, you’re paying for the engineering and technology that makes the Switch playable on-the-go. And if you consider how much tech has gone into the removable Joy-Con controllers, the $299 price is even further justified. It’s too bad that weak currencies in Europe and Canada right now make the system more expensive outside of Japan and the United States.

As Nintendo continued to reveal more information about the Switch, I got a similar vibe as I did watching Sony’s original PS4 unveiling: Nintendo is doing a lot right. The Switch will be region-free, allowing gamers to import and play game cards from anywhere in the world. The Switch will offer a paid online service, giving subscribers a free NES or SNES game to play each month and incentivizing Nintendo to continue improving upon and offering new online play features for their paying customers. The Switch charges via. a standard USB-C connector rather than a proprietary port. The Switch is integrated with a suite of smartphone apps for online features such as voice chat, and managing the console’s Parental Controls. The UI of the Switch is simple and modern, and the lack of non-gaming features and apps shows Nintendo’s sharp focus on providing a great gaming experience. I had wondered if Nintendo would add additional features to the Switch OS in the future, but seeing as the system’s voice chat and Parental Controls will be handled through smartphone apps, it seems Nintendo have chosen not to compete with those devices by offering a web browser, or apps like Netflix and Miiverse on the Switch. Smart.

One of the biggest upsides to the Switch is that it is the most traditional of Nintendo’s recent consoles, despite its many unique gameplay configurations. The Wii introduced motion as its primary control method, while the Wii U required developers to create a dual-screen experience for their games. By contrast, the Switch’s proposition is simple: make games that work with this set of physical buttons and gamers will be able to play your game at home or on-the-go. Developers can entirely ignore the touchscreen or motion controls packed into the Switch but their games will still work in any of its configurations, and won’t feel out of place as they would have on the Wii or Wii U.

We also got some confirmed hardware specs for the Nintendo Switch, with which I have no complaints:

  • 6.2″ 720p capacitive touchscreen (240ppi)
  • 1080p output to TV when docked
  • 32GB storage, microSD support up to 2TB
  • 2.5 to 6 hours of battery life
  • USB-C charging
  • 802.11ac WiFi

I’m extremely impressed with how much tech Nintendo has packed into the Joy-Con controllers. Each Joy-Con features its own battery so it works disconnected from the main console, plus gyroscopic motion controls, HD rumble, and a full set of buttons and triggers. In addition, the Joy-Con R also includes an IR sensor on the bottom and an NFC reader for Amiibo. These are way more than simple plastic controllers: the Joy-Con are Nintendo’s new Wii Remotes and I bet they’ll live on past this first version of the Switch. I’m glad to see Nintendo releasing the Joy-Con in fun neon red and blue colours, though personally I’m holding out for a green set. My only concern with the Joy-Con is how many different little accessories they can connect too – they slide into the Switch itself, the Joy-Con Grip, the Joy-Con wrist straps with added shoulder buttons, and of course there’s a steering wheel accessory. It’s a lot of different little pieces, which I worry could get confusing for some users.

I remain impressed with the concept and hardware of the Nintendo Switch, but the current slate of games has left me a bit concerned. I’m thrilled that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be a day one launch title, but when it’s the only launch title worth buying it’s hard not to be disappointed. Granted, the original Nintendo DS only launched with 8 games – headlined by Super Mario 64 DS – and we all know how that turned out, so I may be overreacting to the Switch’s small slate of 12 games in its first month.

Besides Zelda, which continues to look incredible, Nintendo announced some great first-party titles for Switch’s first year:

  • Super Mario Odyssey will launch Holiday 2017 and looks like the sequel to the Galaxy series we’ve all been waiting for. I’m not sure how I feel about Mario running around a city populated by accurately-proportioned humans, but it appears the theme of Odyssey may be revisiting locations and characters from many of Mario’s earlier adventures: New Donk City seems to be inspired by Mario’s very first game, Donkey Kong, while another level features the same radishes from Super Mario Bros. 2. Hmm. I loved the Super Mario Galaxy series, and felt the Wii U’s Super Mario 3D World left a lot to be desired, so I can’t wait for the next true 3D Mario game this winter!
  • Mario Kart 8 Deluxe launches April 28th. It’s the definitive version of Mario Kart 8, and includes all of the DLC from the original game as well as new characters, tracks, and a revamped Battle Mode. Sure it’s a port, but now it’s portable. Looking forward to playing the best Mario Kart game ever made. Again.
  • Splatoon 2 will be my first experience with Nintendo’s new IP; I never played the Wii U version. It looks fun, and I assume it will have an online mode which should guarantee plenty of replay value and multiplayer fun.
  • 1, 2, Switch is this console’s Wii Sports. It’s a multiplayer party game that highlights everything the Joy-Con can do. The emphasis on not looking at the screen is interesting, but I’ll pass on this one. Unless it becomes a huge hit and I need something to play with the family, or I could wait for Mario Party 173.
  • ARMS is another new IP for Switch, a boxing game in which your character has long extendable arms. Another attempt to highlight the Joy-Con, it features fun and colourful character design but it appears to lack much depth.

I’m not super interested in any of the third-party games right now. Most of them are ports of years old console games, such as Skylanders Imaginators, Skyrim, and Rayman Legends. Apparently people are super jazzed to play Skyrim again on a portable, but I’m hoping we see some new third-party games at E3. Minecraft is on the list for sometime this year as well, which is huge for the youths, but already available on pretty much every other game console or smart device.

As for the future, I’m dying to know if Pokémon Stars is real and coming to Switch, and credible reports claim that Super Smash Bros., Pikmin, Mario Maker, and Mother 3 are on their way too. Beyond Good & Evil 2 is rumoured to be a Switch timed-exclusive, Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy is expected, and a Mario and Rabbids RPG from Ubisoft is reportedly in development. There’s clearly plenty of great games in the works for Switch, so I’m looking forward to E3 and the next few Nintendo Direct presentations.

Overall I’m really excited for the Nintendo Switch. I’m not interested in predicting whether or not it will succeed in the market. I hope it does. Despite Nintendo’s insistence that the Switch is a home console first-and-foremost, technologically it’s a handheld with TV output. Nintendo has always been really good at handheld, and I hope that by combining their handheld and home console into one device, they’re able to focus on making the best games they can for the Switch. I’m excited to see more and to finally get my Nintendo Switch on March 3rd.

Apple AirPods review

Two years ago I decided I was done with wired earbuds. I was tired of the wires getting tangled in my bag or getting caught on something and unceremoniously yanked from my ears. I jumped into the world of Bluetooth headphones with the Jaybird BlueBuds X – sporty earbuds connected by a wire. I loved the convenience and freedom of the Jaybirds, and have been using Bluetooth earbuds and headphones exclusively ever since. Unfortunately my Jaybirds fell victim to the washing machine earlier this year, by which time the tech world was buzzing with rumours about completely wireless earbuds from Apple. It should come as no surprise that I was practically salivating when the AirPods were unveiled back in September.

I finally got my hands on a pair of AirPods last Monday, December 19th, and they were absolutely worth the wait.

Apple’s W1 chip provides the AirPods (and the latest Beats headphones) with the simplest pairing method of any Bluetooth earbuds: hold the AirPods in their case next to your iPhone, pop open the lid, and tap the big “Connect” button that slides up from the bottom of the screen. That’s it. At the same time, iCloud will pair your AirPods with your iPad and Mac, too. Pairing the AirPods is simple, intuitive, and works exactly as advertised. That said, despite the “magic” baked into the mysterious W1 chip, the AirPods still rely on Bluetooth to function, which is far from a perfect technology. I have experienced a few audio drops and crackles, though never for more than a second. On a few occasions, I hit play and sound starts playing through one AirPod before the other, but they sync up a split-second later. I haven’t yet succeeded in getting the AirPods to connect to my Mac, but the Bluetooth on my aging 2012 MacBook Pro has always been a little temperamental. All told, the AirPods work as best as Bluetooth earbuds can, and even better when pairing and switching devices thanks to the W1.

The “one-size-fits-all” design of the wired EarPods carries over to the AirPods. To the human eye, there is no discernible difference in the size or shape of the AirPods compared to the EarPods. If the wired EarPods have trouble staying in your ears, or you find them uncomfortable to wear, the same will probably be true of the AirPods. I was surprised to find that the AirPods fit my ears pretty well. I attribute this to the AirPods being slightly heftier than the EarPods, and the lack of a cord constantly tugging down on the buds. However, I wouldn’t exactly describe the AirPods as having a secure fit; the Left AirPod definitely fits me more snugly than the Right AirPod, but both have a very “airy” fit. I’m used to wearing in-ear earbuds with rubber tips on the ends, which form a comfortable seal inside my ears. By contrast, the AirPods perch softly on the outside of my ear canals, pushing sound inward. That does make the AirPods comfortable in the sense that after a while you forget they’re even in your ears, however I find the secure, snug fit of rubber in-ear buds to be more comfortable. I’m also pleased to report that despite my best efforts the AirPods have never fallen out of my ears on their own. I’ve worn them on buses, streetcars, and subways, outside in the bustling winter wind, while cooking dinner, and while cleaning my apartment, and they’ve remained perched in my ears through it all. Still, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Apple might eventually decide to make an in-ear version of the AirPods. It’s a shame that third-party rubber tips and wings will prevent the AirPods from fitting in their perfectly-moulded case.

My daily listening habits consist of about 75% podcasts and 25% music, but for both I’ve found the AirPods sound perfectly fine. Better than expected, in fact. It’s been a long time since I’ve worn and used wired EarPods, but when comparing the two I find the AirPods actually sound better; they’ve got more noticeable bass than the EarPods. If you use the EarPods that came with your iPhone you’ll be perfectly satisfied with the sound produced by the AirPods. If you’re an audiophile, you likely own an expensive pair of headphones already and shouldn’t even bother with the AirPods. To me the AirPods sound great for Bluetooth earbuds; slightly better than the Jaybird BlueBuds I owned for years, and on-par with my Beats Solo3. My only complaint about sound quality is that the AirPods provide practically no noise cancellation due to their fit. That’s been a problem for me when even max volume is drowned out by noisy subways or loud Toronto streets, and it has me considering where the AirPods are most appropriate to use. I may switch to my Beats when out-and-about, and wear my AirPods at home and at the office.

The other big downside to the AirPods is the loss of the inline Remote, more affectionately known as the “clicker”. The AirPods offer a single physical interaction: a double-tap to invoke Siri, or play/pause audio (your choice in Settings). Other than that, there’s no way to adjust volume or skip backward/forward without using your iPhone, Apple Watch, or asking Siri. Nobody wants to ask Siri to “turn up the volume” in public. Furthermore, Siri can’t adjust volume or skip tracks without an internet connection, for whatever reason, meaning voice-commands are unavailable on an underground subway for example. I’ve found the lack of physical controls on the AirPods to be an inconvenience, but not a deal-breaker. Apple could introduce additional tap options for the AirPods through a future software update, and I hope future hardware revisions might make the AirPods touch-sensitive so you could adjust volume by sliding up and down on the stems.

I’ve managed to have a few phone calls using the AirPods – one while walking outside through downtown Toronto – and both callers have had no trouble hearing me. Double-tapping either AirPod will answer or hang-up a call.

Battery life has been no concern so far, thanks to the charging case keeping each AirPod topped up when not in use. You can check the battery life of the AirPods with the iOS Battery widget or by opening the case next to your phone. The case itself is brilliant, with a satisfying metal hinge and magnets that suck the AirPods properly into place to charge. My favourite feature is that the AirPods automatically turn on when you take them out of the case, and turn off when you put them in the case. Every other pair of Bluetooth earbuds I’ve owned needed to be turned off manually, and if I yanked them out and forgot, they’d stay connected and slowly drain battery. It’s delightful not having to think about that with the AirPods.

Owning wireless earbuds has changed my life, and the complete wireless freedom the AirPods provide has taken that one step further. I love not having a cord connecting my ears to my pocket, and with the AirPods I don’t even have a cord between my ears. The tech industry is jumping on wireless audio, meaning we’ll only see further improvements to sound quality, connectivity, and form factor over the next few years.

For a first generation product, Apple has built something really great with the AirPods, a gadget that feels all at once simple and extremely futuristic. I watched a friend of mine open and try his AirPods for the first time, and saw his eyes light up when he removed one from his ear and the music paused. That’s the kind of surprise and delight we’ve come to expect from Apple products, which has been sorely lacking over the last few years. If you’re interested in trying wireless earbuds, the AirPods are reasonably, competitively priced and I highly recommend them. Try them on at an Apple Store first, if you can.

Shigeru Miyamoto talks Super Mario Run and working with Apple

John Davison, Glixel:

Probably the that easiest thing to point to is the fact that Apple, like Nintendo, is a company that thinks about how people will use their products. We design things to be usable by a very broad range of people. They put a lot of effort into the interface and making the product simple to use, and that's very consistent with Nintendo. I think Apple also likes to do things differently and take a different approach. In the early days when computers were very complicated things, computer companies were purposely presenting them in ways that made them seem very complicated. Then you had Apple who came along with their very simple and colorful logo and it all had more of a fun feel to it.

This passage really opened my eyes to how similar Apple and Nintendo really are. Both companies concern themselves with designing the best products they can for their users, which doesn't always mean the most powerful or technologically advanced products. Both companies take risks that some view as gimmicks or trade-offs. Both companies have had massive successes and very public failures. Both companies are wildly valuable despite critics predicting their demise. If Nintendo is someday forced to exit the hardware business, I'm starting to visualize a very successful future for their characters on Apple devices.

Check out the full interview; Miyamoto always provides great insight into Nintendo, and this piece reveals a lot about the development of Super Mario Run and how Nintendo's partnership with Apple came about.

Netflix finally enables offline downloads on iOS and Android

Eddy Wu, Netflix:

While many members enjoy watching Netflix at home, we’ve often heard they also want to continue their Stranger Things binge while on airplanes and other places where Internet is expensive or limited. Just click the download button on the details page for a film or TV series and you can watch it later without an internet connection.

Not much to say besides, “It’s about time!” Netflix always said they would never enable offline downloads, so it’s nice to see them change their minds. Offline downloads not only makes Netflix more competitive to Amazon Prime Video and iTunes, it should also make their product more appealing in countries where internet access is limited or slow.

I took a quick look through the Netflix shows and movies that are available for offline download in Canada; there are a ton of options already. There are a lot of Netflix originals available, though some of my favourites – Gilmore Girls, the Marvel shows, and Grace & Frankie – aren’t there yet. I expect the offline catalogue to grow quickly over the coming weeks and months. Great timing from Netflix on this too, right before holiday travel time for many people.

Twitter is trying to fight their abuse problem

Twitter announced new tools today to help fight harassment and abuse on their platform, including a feature to mute keywords, phrases, and entire conversations, and easier reporting tools. However, this is the most important update:

And finally, on enforcement, we've retrained all of our support teams on our policies, including special sessions on cultural and historical contextualization of hateful conduct, and implemented an ongoing refresher program. We've also improved our internal tools and systems in order to deal more effectively with this conduct when it's reported to us. Our goal is a faster and more transparent process.

Tools have never been the biggest roadblock to dealing with abuse on Twitter. It was shocking the number of times people would report clearly abusive users or tweets, only to be told the case was reviewed and Twitter found no problem. Clearly there was something wrong on the support end at Twitter, so it's important they make sure their staff are properly educated and equipped to do their jobs. Reminding everyone of the specifics policies, and laying down a new mandate, should go a long way to solving some of their issues. I hope this sticks.

A letter to today’s young people

Marco Arment:

Whether they vote that way or not, far more Americans believe in progressive, liberal, inclusive views than regressive, aggressive, conservative ones.
Young people know this better than anyone, because young people are overwhelmingly liberal, even more than older people. That’s not because you’re inexperienced — it’s because you’re right.

The next four years will be hard for a lot of people in the United States, and their friends around the world. People will get hurt. Progress will be reversed. But humanity is resilient. The right side will fight, and the right side will win again.

Thanks for writing this, Marco.

The Verge hands-on with “ridiculously fun” Snapchat Spectacles

Bryan Bishop, The Verge:

What’s it actually like to record and watch snaps recorded with Spectacles? Here’s the great news: both are incredibly fun, and will only become more so as people get used to how they should actually use Spectacles. Given that Spectacles are sunglasses — and relatively unobtrusive ones at that — there’s nothing distracting or odd about having them on in the first place. And capturing is so dead simple it lets you grab moments without even having the chance to overthink or plan. It promotes a kind of spontaneous, in-the-moment capture that the ritual of grabbing a phone and launching an app really can’t match.

Near-instant capture of spontaneous moments, in a fun and approachable package – that's the genius of Spectacles that Google missed completely with Glass. Spectacles even fix the one problem that Google never addressed with Glass: circling the camera in bright yellow so it stands out, and putting a glowing light on the front so people know when you're recording.

I'm not the biggest Snapchat user, but I'm itching to try a pair of Spectacles for myself. I love the very-fitting ephemeral retail strategy Snap have adopted for the Spectacles launch, which has succeeded in drumming up all the hype, although with the holiday season in full swing I can't help but wonder why Spectacles aren't available to buy online. These would be the absolute hottest Christmas item. Maybe supply just isn't there right now. Regardless, I'm certain this is merely the beginning of Snap's hardware ambitions. Mark my words: Spectacles will be huge, and I expect them in different sizes and colours sooner rather than later.