The BirchTree Podcast #42: Tech I’m thankful for this year

A quick look back on some of the tech that I am thankful to have this year.

My thanks to MDM Deals for sponsoring BirchTree this week! MDM Deals helps you find fantastic deals on fantastic apps & movies. As a particularly fantastic deal, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is on sale for $9.99 today and would make for a good family film this holiday week.

What is a computer?

I saw the below two videos today and they both really struck me by how these videos are evangelizing different products, but they’re saying the exact same thing: computers ain’t what they used to be.

I think smartphones have done more damage to the PC industry than was originally obvious. I firmly believe that smartphones are the new PC, and I think it’s hard to argue they’re not. Look at this slide from Apple’s 2001 MacWorld presentation:

At the time the PC was the “digital hub” of your entire life. All the tech you used funneled through this device so your camera, PDA, music player, and more all literally plugged into your PC and the PC did stuff with that content.

In 2017 it’s pretty hard to argue that the entire slide above can be replaced by the smartphone in your pocket. Not only have smartphones replaced the cameras, music players, and task managers above, they have also become where we edit and publish that content to the world. You don’t take a picture on you’re phone and then say “I can’t wait to get home so I can download and edit this before I share it with my friends.” No, you take a picture, edit it right on your phone, and post it to literally any person you know or website in existence. To do anything else these days feels like madness. That is one example, but I think it holds true for many, many other tasks that we do every day.

What this has done is leave the PC in an ever-shrinking part of people’s lives. Arguments for the continued dominance of the PC have been reduced to “you need it for sharing documents” or “you can’t do development on iOS or Android.” While these arguments are still accurate for many (most?) people, the argument has gotten smaller and more specific over time. Not too long ago the phrase “you can’t do real work on an iPad” was thrown around a lot, but as more people have shown that they totally can do their work on iPads, the PC defenders have had to become more specific in their criticisms. The trend towards eliminating things iOS and Android devices can’t do is marching on and there’s no reason to think it will stop.

And not only are people changing their workflows in ways that make PCs less relevant, but iOS and Android are making changes to fill the gaps that are still there. iOS 11 specifically did a lot to make multitasking on the iPad more capable. iOS 11 also added a full freaking file browser that creates a standardized interface for managing honest-to-goodness files! Files! Again in iOS, app extensions have laid the groundwork for apps to natively enhance other apps (see photo extensions for the potential here), tearing down the “apps are a silo” reputation these new operating systems have gotten over the years.

If the smartphone is the new PC, then the iOS/Android/Chrome OS tablets and convertibles are their large screen companions. Look at the picture of my desk at the top of this post: the iPad sits in front of my laptop. The laptop is 2 years newer and has far more power, but frankly I find the software on the iPad to be more compelling and more consistent with the things I run on my smartphone. It’s a more natural extension of my phone and that’s a good thing. The Mac is essential for Xcode, web development, video editing, and Photoshop, but that’s not a terribly long list, and it’s also a list of things most people don’t do1.

PCs will exist for a long time, and I have no doubt that they will remain relevant for many people, but it continues to become more and more clear that the future is not macOS or Windows, it’s iOS and Android. I’ve made this assertion many times, but it’s good to be reminded of it from time to time.

  1. Yes, yes, everyone has a few things they do that are niche, but I feel like I and my developer friends fall into a niche that is especially hard for iOS and Android to satisfy. 

Pixel Buds and Google’s own reality distortion field

Reviews for Google’s Pixel Buds hit the web this week and the reviews are actually pretty middling. People seem to like the sound quality and pairing process1, but they’re less enthused about the charging case and translation feature.

So if reviewers are not fawning over the Pixel Buds, what is this article about? Check out the Engadget review below and listen to how he frames the Pixel Buds compared to the AirPods:

And I have to say I like Google’s approach. If the AirPods are all about convenience, then Pixel Buds are all about getting stuff done.

That framing sounds like it was taken from Google marketing page for the Buds, and is not the reviewer’s own conclusion based on the functionality in the headphones. Seriously, watch the rest of the review and tell me what makes the Pixel Buds so much better at getting stuff done than the AirPods.

I’m genuinely wondering because the only arguments I could see being made are that the translation feature is hugely useful or that Google Assistant is so much better than Siri that Siri doesn’t even count as a voice assistant.

Other than that, Pixel Buds are basically the same as AirPods in every way. They both have easy pairing methods, both have 5 hours of battery life and have a case that will add 24 hours of charge, and both share the same $159 price point. So please tell me what makes the Pixel Buds a better productivity device than AirPods. I’d also make the argument that the things that the AirPods do for “convenience” are actually just a long list of things the AirPods seem to do better.

P.S. This description of the Google Translate feature from Gizmodo really makes the feature sound like it’s made a good product worse.

I did get the translation feature to work, by the way, and it’s just as confusing as everything else about the Pixel Buds. You’d think that you could just tap the right earbud and ask Google to translate what you’re hearing, but it’s more complicated than that. You do have to tap the earbud and ask Google to translate, but then you have to open up the Google Translate app and hold your phone in front of your foreign language-speaking friend. And, of course, your phone must be a Google Pixel or Pixel 2.


  1. Although unlike AirPods, Pixel Buds don’t sync with multiple devices without resending, which sounds like a pain. 

Just how fast is “faster wireless charging” in iOS 11.2?

NOTE: Samsung’s “Fast Charge” charging pad does not have any hard numbers I can find that indicates how much power it will provide. The below findings display a notable change from previous testing of wireless charging I’ve done. I’ll update this article if I can get more information on the tech specs of this charging pad.

iOS 11.2 is currently in beta, and will be released to all iPhone and iPad users in the coming weeks, and one of the key features for iPhone 8/8 Plus/X owners is accelerated wireless charging. Previously, all wireless charging was limited to 5W, but this update will raise that limit to 7.5W. That’s a 50% increase in power on paper, but I had to know what the real world difference was.

As you can see from the graph above, the difference between wireless charging on my “fast charge” Samsung charging pad was slight. There is definitely a difference here, and if you’re already using wireless charging (and your pad supports it), then this is an undeniable win. However, if you were hoping that this would make wireless charging catch up to wired then you’re going to be very disappointed.

Over the 2 hour test, the iPhone 8 Plus went from zero to 47%. It charged at an incredibly consistent 4% per 10 minutes. Previously I got up to 40% with this same charger after 2 hours, which is a 17% improvement in wireless charging speed. While this is indeed an increase, it’s not the sort of increase that’s going to get you from “wireless charging is too slow” to “I love wireless charging!”. If you have 2 hours to change your phone and there is a 7% difference in the change level, I don’t think that’s a huge deal. Especially when you compare 30 minutes on the charger, I saw literally no change in performance, as it took 30 minutes for the phone to reach 11% charge.

Wired charging remains the fastest way to charge the iPhone in 2017, and it’s not even close. It’s popular to hate on the charger in the box, butthe stock iPhone charger gets the iPhone 8 Plus to 79% in 2 hours (68% faster) and up to 21% at the 30 minute mark (91% faster). That’s a pretty striking difference, and if speed is of the essence, it’s a much better way to get topped up fast.

Things get silly when we look at the true fast charging option that Apple has for the new iPhones. The 29W power brick1 and a USB-C to Lightning cable charges the iPhone 8 Plus to 100% in 2 hours (112% faster) and the difference is even more striking at the 30 minute point where this gets the phone to 43% (391% faster).

There is absolutely a place for wireless charging and I personally use it all the time. My bedside charger is this Samsung wireless charging pad, and I have a phone stand on my desk at work that charges the phone throughout the day. In both of those situations, trickle charging my phone is totally fine. My phone is always at 100% when I wake up and 100% when I get off of work. But if my phone was at 1% and I was about to get on a plane in 15 minutes, there’s no way I’d use wireless. 15 minutes on a wireless charging pad will get me to 6% and the fast charger will get me to 23%.

So by all means, update your phone to iOS 11.2 when it’s available and enjoy your wireless chargers, but don’t think that “faster” wireless charging on an iPhone is anywhere near what we normally mean by “fast charging.”

  1. The one that comes with the MacBook. 

The BirchTree Podcast #41: Third party software on Android

It’s still terrible, even through the operating system itself has gotten better over the years. Here’s the list I mention in the episode of apps I have not been able to replace yet.

  • Apple News
  • Files
  • Reddit
  • OmniFocus
  • HomeKit
  • Ulysses
  • Mic
  • Scanbot Never mind, Scanbot exists for Android!
  • Television Time
  • Tweetbot
  • Deliveries
  • Annotable
  • Workflow
  • Transmit
  • Feedbin Notifier
  • Ferrite

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