Chrome Becoming a Password Manager on iOS

The beta version of Google Chrome for iOS recently gained the ability to act as a password manager. This is going to be huge.

For lots of people, Chrome is the place they store their passwords and payment details. While people like me (and probably you) like 1Password or LastPass for this, there are tons of people who just use their browser's storage, and looking at web statistics, most of those people are doing that in Chrome.

The problem forever, and the reason people like me use a third party manager, is that those credentials couldn't be used anywhere besides Chrome. Once they can, that will mean Chrome has a free, cross platoform password manager that millions of iOS users are already bought in on. I think if Google has a good on-boarding that tells people how to activate this when it releases to everyone, it's going to be a big win for them and for users.

Anecdotally, I love 1Password, and use it on all my devices. My wife has a vault as well, but for the life of me I can't get her to use it. Even though it should be easy to use and because if she did use it, then she'd be able to quickly find passwords for my accounts if she needed to get into one of them, she doesn't like to use it because it's more work and "Chrome just works already." She's going to use this feature right away.

I Never Have to Accidentally Quit Safari Again (using Keyboard Maestro)

I Never Have to Accidentally Quit Safari Again (using Keyboard Maestro)

I know Mac die-hards hate the relatively new Chrome (and Edge) behavior where you have to hold down the CMD+Q command to actually quit the app, but I actually love it. I don't want this for every app, but it can really save your bacon in a browser.

The problem is a combination of my fat fingers and the fact that the shortucts to close a window and to quit a whole app are right next to each other, and if you miss the W, hitting the Q can be bad.

I've been using Safari as my work browser again for a few weeks (used Edge before, which I love, but I wanted to try out the new Safari), and I've accidentally quit the app during multiple video calls, making me awkwardly scramble back into the meeting and apologizing for disappearing for a few seconds. It's not the end of the world, but it never happened to me when Edge's protection was in place.

The Keyboard Maestro macro is shown below and is remarkable simple, and while it's not quite as integrated into Safari as I'd like, it gets the job done.

And this is what it looks like in action:

Finally, Keyboard Maestro pro tip here: you can click the gear icon the the top right of the alert action and go into the timeout settings. I set this to time out after 2 seconds, which means I can quickly confirm the action if I want (the GIF shows a mouse, but hitting Enter/Return on the keyboard works too), but it disappears almost right away if I didn't mean to do it.

Update: I took it for granted that everyone knew how to make a KM rule that only applied to a specific app. To do this, you need to make a new "group" in the app and call it something like "Safari". Then you can say all macros inside that group only trigger when a specific app (or apps) is in the foreground.

Netflix and Xbox Game Pass: Are They the Same Thing?

Netflix and Xbox Game Pass: Are They the Same Thing?

Microsoft announced they are releasing their Project xCloud as a new feature in Xbox Game Pass on September 15. This will be available on Android, but not iOS (for now, at least). While I don't want to get into whether Apple should allow this or not, I did want to address the "how is this different from Netflix?" question I've seen thrown out a lot.

Not that it needs an introduction, but Netflix is a subscription service that gives you access to a large library of video content. You pay a monthly fee to Netflix (via their website, not via IAP) and that gives you access to everything they produce, past, present, and future. When  a new movie or show is added to Netflix, it doesn't require them to update their app because the content lives online.

Xbox Game Pass is a monthly subscription service that you pay for, and it gives you access to play a bunch of games for free on your Xbox or PC today, and in a month it will allow you to stream those games to an Android phone or tablet. The games are physically stored in the cloud and they are streamed to your local device. Like Netflix, as Microsoft adds or removes content, no app updates will be required because of course, nothing is running on the local device.

To my eyes, these are the same thing. You're paying a subscription fee to a third party, that party provides a list of content to the user that's streamed to their device, and that content is dynamic and changes over time.

It's unclear to me how in-app purchases will work with these streamed games. Currently, Game Pass users get most base games for free, but you can pay for expansions to get more content for those games. Also, as far as I know, there are no consumable IAPs in Game Pass games the likes of something like Candy Crush that we have on mobile (if I'm wrong here, let me know what games do it so I can update this article). But even if this carries over the streamed games, how is this different from Disney+ allowing you to pay $30 to add Mulan to your library?

I guess this is a "change my mind" post because I'm really failing to understand how Game Pass is any different from Netflix or Disney+ besides being newer.

On another note, Stadia is brought up as well, but I think Stadia is a different situation. Unlike Game Pass, Stadia makes you buy your own games and then only those games are available on your account. You get the occasional free game, but I think this is a very different business model, so it's not as clear as I think Game Pass is.

I Feel Like a Chump

Google discontinues Pixel 4 after less than a year - 9to5Google

Google confirmed to us that it has discontinued the Pixel 4 line. It will no longer be sold on the Google Store, though it will be available from other retailers while supplies last. The company reiterates that the phones will receive OS and monthly security updates until October 2022.

The Pixel 4 launched just over 9 months ago and Google has discontinued it. Combine this with the $200-off sales they were having for the phone a month after it was released, and the constant sales after that, and frankly, I feel like a chump for buying this phone when it was new at $800.

I’m not your average user, of course, and having the phone at launch was important for my coverage of the phone, but the consumer side of me is honestly a bit miffed. They emphasize that Pixel 4 owners will still get the 3 years of OS updates they were promised, which is good, but nothing says “we have no faith in this phone” than discontinuing it months before your successor hits the market.

Lift Your Head Out of the River

One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is how to best consume the news. We live in a time of excess when it comes to news sources and while this is great in many ways, it’s also undeniably dangerous. False news stories crop up all the time, and any idiot with a login can post a thread to Twitter that will get tons of retweets, not because it’s true, but because it validate’s people’s worldview.

The last 4 years have been exhausting because it feels like news is happening all the time. Our Idiot in Chief thrives on this constant news cycle and we can’t look away, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated the problem. Many of us wake up and the first thing we do is go to Twitter to see what bad things happened while we were sleeping. We listen to daily podcasts that tell us what’s going on over breakfast. We load our favorite news site throughout the day to see what’s happening as we work. We watch cable news at night to get the spin on the day’s news we want to hear.

We have our heads submerged in the river of news all day long. What I am trying to do better at, and I hope you consider too, is to lift your head out of the river.

This metaphor isn’t perfect, so bear with me, but I worry that spending all your time in the constant stream of news and opinion pieces makes you lose sight of the bigger picture. You can learn a lot about a river by being inside it, but you can’t know everything. Sure, you can see each little fish in there and get some micro-level details on what’s going on, but you can’t see where it’s going, what other things could impact it downstream, or the simple beauty of the river. And if the take the metaphor more literally, you’ll literally drown if you never come up for air.

So what do I mean by lifting your head out of the river? Ignore the news entirely?

I don’t think ignoring the news is the right thing to do. We need to be informed, of course, but we don’t need to pay attention to every single detail of what’s happening all the time. Instead of being obsessed with learning things as they happen and then of course taking to social media to give your hot take that you definitely will never regret, maybe only consume the news once per day. Hell, maybe go a couple days without taking in any real time news!

News is not ephemeral, it will be there when you come back. And real news will stand the test of time, while conspiracy theories, faked videos, and inaccurate tweets will not. If you give the news literally a day to shake itself out, you’ll be consuming better news.

Here are my tips that I’m trying to follow to help get my head out of the river, and only dunk it back in sometimes.

  1. You have to get off Twitter and Facebook. I don’t use Facebook, but Twitter is where I talk to a wonderful community to tech enthusiasts like myself and I don’t want to give that up. Instead, I’ve muted certain words to make my timeline less political. Things still get through, but with words like Trump, Democrat, Republican, fake news, Clinton, etc, I’ve been able to clean up a lot of it and focus more on the fun parts of Twitter.
  2. Turn off breaking news alerts. I got these from the New York Times until a few days ago, and while they were useful, they were also exhausting. In Hey, I’ve simply toggled those to The Feed and then I check them whenever I want to, but I don’t get notified and they don’t appear in my inbox. Most news apps have an option like this, so turn it off if you can.
  3. Don’t watch cable news. Without getting too political here, cable news is not a good way to get your news, especially if you watch an overtly partisan network. This gets you not only hot takes on the day’s news for hours every night, it also gets you talking heads who are only there to get a good sound bite in, not actually discuss the news. If there is any disagreement, you can be sure it won’t be a productive conversation or that anyone will change their minds.
  4. Most of all, you need to spend a little time on the news and then move on to other stuff in your life. You can check the news on Twitter, you can read those news alerts, and you can listen to that daily news podcast, but I would really encourage you to time box your news intake and favor news that’s written after the dust settles rather than things that were said in the moment and may not stand up to scrutiny. Also, favor experts, not bloggers/YouTubers with a platform but no subject matter expertise. Once you’ve caught up, go on with your life.

I don’t want your takeaway to be that I think being less informed is good for you or that it’s good for our world. I’m saying that by trying to be hyper-informed, we’re actually less informed, are more likely to consume and amplify bad reporting, are less able to make good judgements about what’s happening, and slip into a depression as we feel helpless to do anything about things except tweet our anger at the world.

I also don’t suggest this is a cure for our partisanship or that this will make it so that you change political ideologies, I’m just saying that whatever your political leanings, taking a break from the constant news intake is almost certainly going to make you happier.

Widgets on the iPad

The Case for Better iPad Widgets - Jeff Perry

I immediately thought that this was some kind of bug, surely Apple has this planned for the iPad as well right? Wrong. Craig Federighi explained on the podcast Waveform that widgets for the iPad will continue to be constrained.

I had the same reaction after installing the iPadOS 14 beta on my iPad Pro back in June. They never showed it in the keynote, but surely if you can full your iPhone home screen with widgets, you can do the some on the iPad, right? It has more room, and it's honestly where we expected this to come first, but it didn't (not this year, at least).

The widget situation on the iPad is slightly different from last year, but it's effectively the same: widgets sit on the left side of your main home screen and you can swipe up to see more of them. This is nice for sure, but it was nice last year, and it does feel a bit like iPad users got the short end of the stick for this awesome new feature.

I'm sure this was a matter of priorities and making the needed changes to the home screen to accomodate widgets just had to get deferred until later. I'd be really surprised if iPadOS 15 ships with the same widget situation as today.

Thoughts on the New Pixel 4a

Thoughts on the New Pixel 4a

Google unveiled the Pixel 4a yesterday, their successor to last year's budget-phone champ, the Pixel 3a. I happened to like that phone very much, and had this to say about it at the time:

I think that the Pixel 3a has immediately made it hard for me to recommend anyone looking for a midrange phone look at anything else right now. If your budget is $400 then this is a no-brainer, and even if you’re willing to spend a little more and you bring the OnePlus 7 Pro into play, I think this phone will hold its own very well for a lot of people.

Just like last year, Google is back at it with the 4a, which feels very much like the successor you expected it to be. Google made the same choices they made last year, leaning into making the camera experience amazing, and compromising in materials and performance.

While the 3a had the exact same camera hardware and software as the flagship 3 and 3 XL, the 4a is actually a bit of a downgrade this year. It shares the same main sensor as the Pixel 4/4 XL, but it lacks the 2x telephoto lens. This is a sad omission, but it's not the end of the world. You still get the same great processing that you get from the flagship line, and I'm sure photos will just look great from this phone.

I'm actually impressed with the build quality this year, too. Last year's phone was definitely not "premium" but it felt good in the hand and certainly did not feel "cheap". I don't have it in hand to tell for sure, but the materials look at least as good as last year, and the screen got a solid upgrade. There's far less bezel than even on the Pixel 4, and the hole punch camera is something I disliked initially when I had it on the Galaxy S10e, but I've come to like it more over time.

There's a bigger battery than than the Pixel 4, which I very much appreciate. Coupled with a lower energy processor and this thing should get solid battery life, just like last year's model (again, can't say for sure, but the math works and early reviews seem to indicate this is indeed the case).

And then there's performance, which is the thread they had to leave a little short to hit the price point. It's a little slower than the OnePlus Nord which is not shipping in the US, but that's pretty encouraging. This ain't going to be a top-tier phone for benchmarks, but for lighter users it's going to be perfectly capable, at least for a year or two.

That's all I can really say for now. I'd love to get my hands on one of these, but since I've already got a Pixel 4, I don't have a good reason to buy one for myself. Instead, I'd recommend Michael Fisher's impressions as a solid overview.

Why Things 3 is my Favorite GTD Task Manager

Why Things 3 is my Favorite GTD Task Manager

Alright, I think this is the video I've been drifting towards for a few weeks now on A Better Computer. After doing videos on:

I finally said, "to hell with it!" and made a video that explains why Things is the app I prefer for task management. I hope you enjoy it!

Topics covered include:

0:00 - Intro‌‌

0:20 - Disclaimers‌‌

0:48 - Pricing‌‌

1:27 - Design‌‌

2:26 - Syncing with Things Cloud‌‌

2:47 - No Due Times‌‌

4:30 - My One Complaint‌‌

4:54 - The Today View‌‌

5:34 - All the Small Things‌‌

6:05 - Conclusion

Using Things to Track Great Gift Ideas Throughout the Year

I figured out this trick last fall when I was really jumping back into Things in a big way, and it made the holiday season much easier for me. I now know what I can put on a list for my parents, as well as personalized gift ideas that come up throughout the year for the people I'm closest to.

If Not 30%, What? 4 Ideas on How to Improve App Store Pricing

So I’ve spent a while explaining why I think the 30% cut Apple takes on every sale made on the App Store is not the way it should work in 2020. To summarize:

  1. I looked at how taking your own payments is way cheaper than 30%
  2. I talked about the benefits of a direct customer relationship
  3. I asked why 30% is the hill some want to die on
  4. I explained why not every Apple service must turn a profit

So how about I stop my complaining and suggest a solution, right? Well, let’s do that now.

Also, assuming this doesn’t spur a ton of other conversations on topic I haven’t even considered, I hope this can be the cherry on top of this thread on BirchTree.

Idea 1: Just Lower the Rate

A few years ago Apple decided to ease developer tensions by dropping the rate they took from recurring subscriptions from 30% to 15% after the first year. they clearly have set a precedent that App Store pricing can change, so the simplest solution here would be to have Apple say something like:

A few years ago we started giving developers more money for each subscription after the first year. We’ve seen a boom in subscription services since then and we love being able to support the developers that make Apple’s platforms what they are today. We’re pleased to announce that as of today, we’re giving that higher rate to all apps on the App Store. This will help more developers achieve their dreams of building a business, and continues Apple’s tradition of creating jobs through our platforms.

Especially in the middle of a global pandemic, Apple saying “we’re doing fine, and we’re giving every developer selling products on our App Store a 21% pay raise,” who is going to argue with that?

Idea 2: Let Merchants Choose to Take Payment Outside the App Store

Even make it so that they can’t show the payment form in the app, make them go to the web like Netflix makes you do today, but make it acceptable across the board. This will allow merchants to decide whether they want to pay the 30% and get the benefits of the App Store’s payment processing, or if they want to pay way less and manage it a little more manually.

Merchants would need to see if it was worth it to save money on payments at the risk of losing conversion numbers on people who don’t want to pay on the web. If the App Store really is as much a draw to customers as well, then merchants will choose the 30% cut since it actually makes them more money. That’s how markets are supposed to work, right?

Idea 3: Tiered Pricing

30% of a $1 sale isn’t incredibly horrible. After all, payment processing often has a fixed + percentage fee, so you may pay something like 10-15% of that sale to run it on your own, so 30% isn’t that much more. But on a $100 sale it’s a whole different story.

Maybe there could be a system where merchants get:

  • $0.99-4.99: 70%
  • $5-9.99: 80%
  • $10-$49.99: 85%
  • $50+: 90%

These numbers are all back-of-napkin suggestions, so they could be tweaked to whatever makes the most sense, but this would help the devs who are getting the rawest deal (aka those selling premium software) get a fairer shake. Also, we all know that microtransactions in games make up a ton of App Store revenue, so with those being mostly in the lower dollar amount ranges, Apple’s not giving much of that revenue with this change.

Idea 4: The First 1,000 Sales are Free (or Reduced)

This is done video games (like the Unreal Engine) and coincidentally also in payments, but Apple could have a system where you pay your $99/year to publish your app, and then you don’t pay a penny more unless you sell over X units per year. Maybe that’s 1,000, maybe it’s 10,000, but there would be some cut off where you would go from paying either nothing or a very small portion of each sale to Apple, but once you hit the big time, that percentage would go up to the standard rate.

This would benefit smaller indies who really need every penny to stay float, but it would make no difference to the bigger players, so while it would make some people in our community happy, it would do nothing for the Netflixes, Spotifys, and Amazons of the world.

Takeaway

I’m a product person, not a business person, so take this all with a grain of salt. This series of posts has been an attempt to add some context to the debate about App Store pricing (especially around independent payment processing, which I am an expert in), and today I tried to come up with solutions that accomplished a few things:

  1. Got more money into merchants/developers’ hands
  2. Ensured the App Store stayed a billion dollar plus business for Apple
  3. Ease the tensions between merchants and Apple

If you have your own ideas for how Apple could ease the tensions between them and the merchants running businesses on their platform, then I’d love to hear them! Hit me up on Twitter or write your own blog post and shoot me the link!