Your biggest strength

I remember growing up and doing everything I could possibly do to fit in. As a child and a teenager, being normal is the goal. You don’t want people to talk about you as if you’re some sort of weirdo, after all, right? So you were the same clothes as everyone else, you listen to the same music and watch the same movies as everyone else, and you generally behave like you think any average, unassuming kid your age would.

Maybe you weren’t like that, but I definitely was. I was horrified of being singled out for anything so I put all of my effort into being just another cog in the machine.

But a wonderful thing happens when you get older; you realize that the things that make you unique are actually the best things about you. I don’t have any profound explanation as to why this realization eventually hits you, but it does, and it’s liberating.

I started to succeed at work once I started doing things that made me stand out. I have certain skills and certain opinions that are not shared by anyone else at my former and current jobs, and leaning into those things has only helped me distinguish myself more than I would have had I simply gone in and done the things I was asked to do. I started new initiatives and created things that had never been considered before, and doing so brought me more success than trying to color inside the lines ever did.

I also saw this in my web projects. BirchTree has taken off in the past year or so not because I’ve emulated Gruber or Viticci better, but because I’ve found my own voice and I write about things that genuinely interest me. Show me one tech blog that writes more about the Apple Watch than I do. Additionally, it turns out I have an eye for smartphone wallpapers, and they get spread around more than I ever expected.

Just consider this as you go through life. You don’t have to be the most outgoing (and believe me, I’m not) or the absolute smartest person in the world to make waves, you just have to lean into the things that make you special. Figure out what that is as early as you can, and go with it. You won’t regret it.

Android O Wallpapers

Android O was just announced by Google yesterday, and they didn’t have the good sense to release any wallpapers based on their logo for the latest version of their mobile OS. So, as has become my habit, I made some for them. These are based on the new OS’s logo as shown on their developer website which I have also recreated it in high resolution (2000×2000) so you can use it in as well.

There are quite a few variations in this collection, so in order to keep this page manageable, I have my 2 favorites of each version here but the rest can be downloaded from the links below.


Version One

Download all 16 variants here (868kb ZIP).

Version 2

Download all 8 variants here (961kb ZIP).

Is Android O as aggressively boring a release as it seems?

Android O was announced and released to developers in beta form today, and I was very excited to see what was in this new major update. I live half in the Android word as well, so anything new and wonderful for Android is good for me too, so I really want to see something great coming out of Google.

What we got today initially seemed like the most boring update to one of the most important computing platforms in the world. Let’s take a quick look at some of the additions to Android.

Battery life is better, but for real this time…maybe

The headline feature of this release is better battery management. Yes, the headline feature of this OS is “I know we say we fixed the battery life every year, but this time we’re really serious, trust us!” This is after Google introduced Doze 2.0 in Nougat and Doze in Marshmallow, and battery life on Android is still less impressive than it is on iOS. My iPhone 7 Plus has a 2,900 mAh battery which would get it laughed out of the room compared to the other 5.5 inch phones on the maret. Meanwhile the regular iPhone 7 has a 1,960 mAh battery, which is simply unheard of in 2017, and gets better battery life than just about any phone out there. But I digress.

While previous version of Android made tools available to developers to make their apps behave better in terms of battery, it seems Google is getting more aggressive with this release and will now have system rules in place to proactively start cutting off apps that are not playing nice with background processes. The optimist in me says this will work better than any changes they’ve made before. The pessimist in me thinks this will be as inept as their previous attempts to wrangle in battery issues. And the realist in me knows that people will be figuring out how to turn these rules off so their favorite battery sucking apps can continue to go nuts in the background.

This is also where I note that this is how Apple has handled multitasking in iOS since iOS 4 in 2010.

Notification channels

I’m a little unclear how this feature works exactly, but it seems to have to do with letting users set notification settings for multiple, similar apps all at once. Google did do good work in Android Nougat to allow each app’s notifications to be grouped together (again, requiring the developer to implement this, so most apps don’t do this), so anything that makes that system better sounds good with me.

I do have to say that the fact that I don’t even quite understand the second biggest update to the system does not bode well for this release.

Picture-in-picture and autofill APIs, oh my!

Android O will allow videos in certain apps to play in a window over other apps. Think of an iPad, and then think of it’s PIP mode, and you’ve got it 👍

Meanwhile the autofill API will allow developers of password managers to no longer ask you to enable accessibility access in your system settings anymore. The behavior seems to be mostly the same, just without asking you to turn on a setting that you never quite knew what it did. This seems like a win for developers who enabled something by hacking around the system.

Adaptive icons

Icons in Android O will be displayed in multiple shapes and sizes, and after reading the developer docs, they also will be made out of 2 layers to enable more interesting animations. Essentially there will be one background and one foreground layer, so your logo can sit on top of the background and the two can move around in different ways.

If that doesn’t make sense, here’s Google’s example:

I actually think this is really cool, and continues the Material Design idea that Google began a few years ago in a nice way.

Better keyboard-only navigation

This is also a really nice one, and is something I would like to see Apple adapt in some way as well. Basically, the upcoming availability of Android apps on Chrome OS means that people will need to interact with apps without a touch screen, and navigating a UI with the keyboard is important to making that a reality.

iOS does this to an extent with apps being able to create shortcuts to do tasks, and the system doing a good job of making almost all system functions accessible via the keyboard. But Android O takes it a step further by allowing you to tab your way through buttons and touch targets in an app and using them with just the keybaord. This is honestly quite similar to what iOS has with its accessibility features, but iOS does not allow you to use a keyboard to navigate this interface.

And the rest

The rest is just little stuff, such as adding new audio codecs for better sound quality over Bluetooth, Java updates, and wide color gamut for apps, and a few more little things. There’s not much of note there, so we’ll just more right along.

Overall – yawn

Overall, this release of Android looks to be the most boring we’ve seen in a long, long time. I was honestly quite shocked with how little new things were in this release. As someone who thinks Android has a lot of work that needs to be done to make it a better operating system, this feature list is disappointingly anemic.

Although I guess when a grand total of 2.8% of Android users are even on the latest version of Android, what does this release even matter in 2017? The biggest set of Android users are currently running Lollipop which came out in 2014. By that math, this Android O beta is a preview of where the platform will be in 2020, so look forward to that.

Mass Effect: Andromeda iPhone Wallpapers

Mass Effect: Andromeda comes out next week and it will hopefully be yet another excellent entry into the Mass Effect series. To celebrate this release, as is customary on this site, I’ve created a pair of Mass Effect wallpapers for your smartphone that will bring the Mass Effect hype to your pocket. They’re in 4k as always, enjoy!

Why can’t Google keep a low-selling phone in stock?

As much as Google wants us to think that it’s a hardware company that can keep up with the likes of Samsung and Apple, their actual market performance indicates the opposite. The company has been dabbling with hardware for a few years now, with Chromecast being their first big success, but now Google Home and Google WiFi are new entrants into the ring, and time will tell how well they do in the long run. But the hardware that really matters, and the hardware that seems to be the most iPhone-esque, is the Google Pixel.

Initial reviews were quite positive on the phone, with some on the Android community saying it was even better hardware than the iPhone. I don’t think it is, but people can have their own taste and opinions. I actually would like to get my hands on a Pixel to get the best Android experience possible.

But here’s the thing: I can’t buy a Pixel today even if I wanted to.

If I took $850 of my hard-earned dollars into a Best Buy or Google’s own online store, I can not walk out with the Pixel of my choosing. In fact, according to the only Pixel I can buy today is the 32GB small model in black from Best Buy. Great, that’s not the one I really want, but it’ll do, right? Well, it’s available, but it’s the Verizon model, which I can’t use on T-Mobile. Shit.

No problem, surely this third party site is wrong and there are some more models available from Google’s own store.

Seriously Google, what the fuck is going on? The Pixel was released in October 2016, which was 5 months ago. 5 months after launch and I can’t even put money down to have one shipped to me in a couple weeks, instead I have to add my name to a waitlist and they’ll let me know when my model is in stock…maybe.

Meanwhile, that impossible to find Jet Black iPhone 7 Plus that everyone was trying to get last September? Yeah, I can get it shipped and delivered in 2 days.

Or even better, I can walk into my local Apple Store and get one tonight if I want.

And it’s not like I’m writing this article at a particular hour of the day where Google just doesn’t have them in stock and it will all be better tomorrow. Oh no, this has been going on forever. The 128GB Pixel XL model in white is what I really want, and it hasn’t been in stock from Google since November 30, 2016! Other models have better dates for last being in stock, but Google is having massive issues keeping this phone in stock. The Verge complained about this back in January and the situation has not improved since then.

Morgan Stanley projected the Pixel line to sell 5-6 million units by end of calendar year 2017, or 400,000 phones per month on average. Meanwhile Apple sold 212 million iPhones in 2016, or 17 million per month. In other words, Google is completely unable to satisfy the needs of 2.2% as many customers as Apple.

It’s one thing to be able to make one good thing, but it’s a whole other to make 200+ million of a great thing every year and make sure anyone can get one within 48 hours at just about any point.

I will continue to complain about Apple bizarrely not being able to make AirPods fast enough, but their ability to keep all of their other products in stock at incredible scale is something we often take for granted.