The BirchTree Podcast #65: I’m Back on Android, Baby!

I moved my SIM card back to the Pixel 2 yesterday and I’m going to try and do a full month on Android. There’s not intention of writing anything specific about the differences between iOS and Android this time, so I am curious to see if using Android in a non-critical mindset changes how I feel about it. I don’t think it will, but I feel like I need to give it a fair shake again.

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Going Back to Android for a Bit

I debated whether to post this on April Fool’s Day or not, but hey, the timelines just so happen to line up 🤷🏻‍♂️

I’m going to pop my SIM card back into my Pixel 2 for a while. I’m doing so this time without the pressure of having to write a review, which is how I normally use Android. I’m curious of one thing in particular:

Will using Android outside of the hype of a new operating system and new hardware, as well as without the need to think critically about the OS make me have different feelings towards it.

There is a good chance my feelings will be exactly the same, but I’m a little curious if using and Android device without the intention of tracking its benefits and opportunities compared to iOS will lead to different result1.

The good news is I’ll still have my iPhone around and my LTE Apple Watch will still be able receive notifications and send messages as needed.

  1. For clarity, that result was mostly that Android is okay, but I personally hate it. 

On a Round Apple Watch

I am on the record saying I think a round Apple Watch is both not needed and not a great idea unless Apple makes substantial changes to the entire watchOS interface. But there are some people who think this is the most important change Apple could possibly make and it would help sales dramatically.

In light of this, I asked my wife1 and several friends and family members (outside of my wife, none of them own an Apple Watch) on their thoughts on Apple releasing a round model.

My wife’s response: I would have not interest in trading in my current one for a round model. How the hell would I read texts and do everything else on it? I’d take a better one, but I hope they keep the square version around.

Collecting everyone else’s response basically amounted to:

  1. The shape has nothing to do with why I don’t own one.
  2. Round only made sense for analog watches, not digital. The Apple Watch should embrace what it is.
  3. The Apple Watch shape is becoming iconic. It’s an asset, not a hindrance.

This is a sample size of 4, but these are all relatively normal people who don’t read tech sites but still like technology. I don’t meant to imply they are representative of the world at large, but I thought it was an interesting couple of data points.

  1. Who’s sneaking on this site more and more these days 😛 

It’s Time to Look at RSS Again

RSS Readers Are Due for a Comeback: Feedly, The Old Reader, Inoreader | WIRED

Anyone weary of black-box algorithms controlling what you see online at least has a respite, one that’s been there all along but has often gone ignored. Tired of Twitter? Facebook fatigued? It’s time to head back to RSS.

Brian Barrett makes a compelling argument for why RSS is still a valuable tool in 2018 to read the news you want to see. Many people moved their news consumption to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook year ago, but I never went along. I was “old school” and stuck with RSS (and Apple News for more general news).

Now that social networks have become (depending on who you are) toxic hellscapes of humanity’s worst instincts, that seems like a pretty terrible place to also be your main news source.

No one personally attacks me in my RSS feeds like they can in my Twitter timeline.

I don’t get just the stories an algorithm thinks I need to see like I do on Facebook.

My social and news updates are not intertwined, causing me to have to phase switch every single post in my feed as I go from friends’ updates to news stories.

A dumb feed is not right for everyone, and services like Apple News and Feedly do a good job of showing you your feeds while also attempting to surface the most important content first. But that said, I think there is value in separating your social feeds from your news feeds, and RSS is a great way to do that.

If you are on iOS, then I suggest using Fiery Feeds, Reeder, or Unread as your local app, and Feedly, Inoreader, or Feedbin as your syncing service.

If you’re on Android, then Newsfold is the best RSS app by a mile and it supports Feedly and Inoreader. All other RSS apps are pretty junky, so I don’t recommend any of them.

Apple and Education with Bradley Chambers

As I try to understand this market better, I’m currently finding it more helpful to ask questions and listen to what people have to say, rather than charge in and confidently make wild guesses about what Apple is doing right and wrong.

I previously asked my wife, a high school teacher, for her throughts and today Bradley Chambers was nice enough to answer a few of my questions as well.

What do you think about the pricing of the new iPad for schools? $299 is still more than some Chromebooks, but does it last longer? Will it have better performance?

Bradley: It’s unchanged from the 5th generation last year, so I don’t think the pricing matters a lot. A lot of this will depend on how the devices are being used. Battery is the obvious thing to go, but there are tons of variables. I think there might be a perception Chromebooks are cheaper, so perhaps students don’t take care of them. We’ve gotten to a point with iPads that even the least powerful one on the market is plenty of power for the majority of people

How long do schools hold onto hardware? I assume most schools don’t buy all new tablets/laptops every year. Related, do you have an idea of how many years you could get out of a new iPad vs a lower-priced Chromebook?

Bradley: We typically do either a 3 or 4 year lease. Again, it’s going to depend on how rough students are on them, how much they are used.

What do you think of the form factor of iPads in education environments? Is a keyboard basically an essential add on?

Bradley: It really depends on the use case. For report writing, yes. There are tons of other apps where a keyboard is pointless. It really just depends on what each class/teacher/school is using them.

Do you think a laptop running iOS at the same price point as an iPad + keyboard case ($399-ish) would be more appealing to schools?

Bradley: I don’t. Apple’s long term problems have more to do with overall services stack than anything else. The iPad made such a strong push into schools in 2011 because it was 1/2 the price of a MacBook. Now, $499 seems like a huge hurdle price point wise

Apple is addressing some software shortcomings with the new Schoolwork app this summer, but what do you think their biggest software/service opportunity is after that?

Bradley: The Schoolwork app is like fixing damaged floors before you fix the leak. I wrote about this a little bit more over at 9to5Mac.

In the piece he mentions in that last question, he has this line that stuck with me:

Renweb handles my student data (and offers a learning management system). G-Suite (Google) handles all of our email and document management. Right now Apple only provides the devices and the App Store for those devices, but not many of the services I need. Apple hypes that its all in on education. I want Apple to allow me to be all in on them.

Apple doesn’t have to own every software market, but the integration of hardware and software is kind of Apple’s thing, so it’s not good is educators are feeling a disconnect between the two. The more people I talk to and read about this stuff seem to have few concerns with Apple’s hardware offerings. $299 for an iPad is pretty good and the flexibility a tablet gets you is really convenient, but Apple needs to own more of the software stack if they want to move the needle in this market.