Scott Forstall Breaks His Silence

  • 1 min read

This week saw Scott Forstall finally speak in public for the first time regarding his time at Apple since his departure in 2012. Forstall, formerly VP for iOS software at Apple, chose to open up about his time working on the original iPhone, as well as share some great anecdotes about life working with Steve Jobs. I was fortunate enough to obtain tickets for the event at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View and highly recommend watching the live recording. The moderator, John Markoff, does an exceptional job interviewing both Forstall other Apple engineers over the course of the evening.

Many of the anecdotes shared have never previously been revealed in public. One of these I particularly enjoyed that hasn’t been shared as widely was when Forstall described a near death illness he endured during his time at Apple. He spoke of how Jobs would visit him every day in the hospital, a compassionate side to the man that Forstall argues was rarely known in the media. In telling the story, he mentions asking Jobs how he was able to gain access to the secure wing of the hospital in which he was staying. Jobs replied that if anyone tried to stop him, he would threaten to dedicate a wing of the hospital - the perks of billionaire friends I guess!

I also really enjoyed Forstall’s recounting of the first time AT&T executives finally got to see the phone they had agreed such exclusive terms over, mere weeks before the public announcement at the keynote in 2007. It’s easy to forget that one of the iPhone’s most enormous achievements was to break the stranglehold over handset design and features that the carriers had enjoyed before Apple refused to play the game by their rules. It always astounds me Apple even negotiated a share of the line rental as part of the deal.

Markoff did great work getting Forstall to be comfortable and open up in front of the crowd. If anything, the night ended much too early: by the end of Forstall’s hour on stage he was clearly just starting to get really warmed up and I felt would have happily continued answering questions for much longer.

"He just sat there with his sword out every time…"

  • 1 min read

To recap the Tony Fadell quote controversy:

Brian Merchant:

The iPod phone was losing support. The executives debated which project to pursue, but Phil Schiller, Apple’s head of marketing, had an answer: Neither. He wanted a keyboard with hard buttons…

He “just sat there with his sword out every time, going, ‘No, we’ve got to have a hard keyboard. No. Hard keyboard.’ And he wouldn’t listen to reason as all of us were like, ‘No, this works now, Phil.’ And he’d say, ‘You gotta have a hard keyboard!’ ” Fadell says.

Schiller responds:

Not true. Don’t believe everything you read…

Fadell tries to walk the original quote back:

I respect @pschiller as a colleague & friend. The story about him is not true. Have asked writer to correct the record.

Brian Merchant says original Fadell quote is on tape:

“So I wasn’t in the room at Apple 10, 15 years ago when this would have happened,” says Merchant, who has the exchange on tape. “But this is a quote verbatim as Tony Fadell who was in the room told it to me. He told me this quote in such detail and he gave such a vivid account, and I had no reason to believe it was untrue.”

Merchant says the controversy has “blown him away.”

Man, that Tony Fadell chap sure likes to attract controversy. It was always striking to me, as an owner of some Nest products, the speed at which Nest implemented new features immediately following his departure as CEO there. Perhaps these features were in the pipeline before he left, but stories like this one continue to leave an odd impression of the man in general.

The allegation at the centre of this latest tempest in a teapot is whether Phil Schiller argued in favor of the original iPhone having a physical keyboard or not. Someone at Apple, Phil or otherwise, surely must have made this argument at some point during the development process. I think there’s no shame in arguing this point prior to 2007 - touch screen keyboards really had sucked right up to the iPhone, with most similar PDA style devices electing to use some flavor of hand writing recognition or physical keyboards as their primary text input method.

Building the Ultimate Cloud Plex Server

  • 5 min read

Recently Amazon announced they were retiring their unlimited cloud drive storage plan from Amazon Drive, replacing it with a one terabyte tier. This is arguably in no small part down to the rising popularity of the topic of this post, building a Plex server in the cloud.

For those unfamiliar, Plex is a media server that effectively allows you to build your own private Netflix. You point Plex at a bunch of video files, it automatically scrapes artwork and metadata for them and lets you access them via a Netflix style web interface. Similarly, native clients for pretty much all mobile devices and TV streaming boxes exist, allowing you to get a great sofa experience.

Plex is traditionally installed on a computer in your own home, or if you are feeling fancy, a NAS box with Plex support. This has sucked historically for several reasons:

  • I have to leave a computer of some kind running 24/7 in my house.
  • I have to waste my relatively limited broadband downloading fresh content.
  • I have to spend lots of money on hard drives.

This latter point, that of buying hard drives, really irritates me. The huge file sizes inherent when dealing with video mean using spinning dinosaur drives rather than SSDs. As we all know, it is just a question of when, not if, the spinning drive fails. If you are sensible, this means RAID or similar to protect your data from disk failures, which in turn means buying even more hard drives.

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Live Podcasts from WWDC

  • 5 min read

This year I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to see two of my favorite podcasts live: The Talk Show and Accidental Tech Podcast. The former is hosted by well known Apple ‘pundit’ John Gruber, the later by the trio of John Siracusa, Casey Liss and Marco Arment. Both live shows covered the large number of announcements from Apple’s WWDC keynote.

One of the interesting trends in the wider technology community in recent times has been the slow migration of well known tech writers from using blogs as their primary medium to running their own podcast shows. A great example has been that of Daring Fireball, John Gruber’s widely read technology blog that eventually spawned the Talk Show podcast. Gruber himself alluded to this trend during the live recording, explaining his original ambition had been to be a newspaper columnist rather than a broadcaster. While his blog allowed him to largely achieve his columnist goals, he has increasingly become best known for his podcasting. The trio running the Accidental Tech Podcast have followed similar paths; John Siracusa and Marco Arment in particular now appear to rarely publish new written content.

In both cases the excitement for the show was palpable among many WWDC attendees. Both shows had large queues to get in reaching down the block, many of those queuing wearing the official t-shirts of the shows.

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Hello World…

  • 1 min read

Another year, another attempt at blogging more often. With WWDC arriving shortly, I decided to revisit trying to write more regularly. Whilst I don’t expect any kind of audience, it’s always nice to get one’s thoughts in order by writing them down. It’s also given me an excellent excuse to try Jekyll for running this site.

Why Jekyll?

Previous blogging efforts by myself have always ended in failure, largely because I frequently end up writing my own awful content management system, rather than try an ‘off the shelf’ solution. This time, I’ve decided to choose my stack carefully to avoid as much development and maintenance overhead as I can. Jekyll fits that bill for a number of reasons.

Jekyll is different from my previous efforts in that its a static site generator; there is no database interactions to deal with. All blog entries live as plain old Markdown files on the server. This makes the authoring process really nice - anything with access to the Git repository for the site can quickly author some new content - lending itself well to easy blogging from latops, phones and tablets.

Jekyll is relatively lightweight, and only makes a handful of simple assumptions about the structure of a website. This simplicity is a real win versus using a much heavier framework like Wordpress for a personal blog. That it generates a bunch of static HTML makes it very simple to host on a cheap VPS instance. The stack is ultimately little more than the static site files, Nginx for hosting and Letsencrypt for free and automatically renewing SSL certificates.

Why not a blogging platform?

I’ve been inspired by much of the writing in the tech community over the years on the topic of “owning your own identity” online. John Gruber’s recent post “Fuck Facebook” deals with similar questions. With this in mind, I wanted to avoid large online platforms like medium.com. Whilst these undoubtedly have less setup friction and costs, the longer term implications of using these services is less clear. There’s undoubtedly a romance to the original notion of the web as a loosely knit collection of independent information source inter-linking to one another. I’d like for this blog to continue in the spirit of the open web, rather than rely on the success of a third party platform.