(You're reading all posts by Leander Kahney)

About Leander Kahney

Leander Kahney Leander Kahney is the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac. He is the NYT bestselling author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products; Inside Steve’s Brain; Cult of Mac; and Cult of iPod. Leander has written for Wired, MacWeek, Scientific American, and The Guardian in London. Follow Leander on Twitter @lkahney and Facebook.

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Did Feud With Jony Ive Keep Tony Fadell From Returning To Apple?

Google's acquisition of Nest will allow the company to monitor you in your home, some say.

Google’s acquisition of Nest will allow the company to monitor you in your home, some say.

The big intrigue in the tech world today is why Google bought Nest Labs for $3.2 billion and Apple didn’t.

A lot of the speculation is paranoid: Google wants to track everyone offline as well as online, and Nest’s thermostat and smoke alarms give the Googleplex motion sensors right in peoples’ homes.

But wouldn’t Apple be a more natural fit for the home-automation startup? Nest was co-founded by two former Apple staffers, Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers. Fadell was one the fathers of the iPod — a key hardware engineer who led the music player’s development over 17 generations. Rogers was one of Fadell’s top lieutenants.

With great design and easy interfaces, Nest’s combination of hardware and internet software services makes its products very Apple-like. And as home automation is poised to take off (thanks largely to the iPhone and iPad), Apple is surely interested in this potentially huge market.

So why didn’t Apple didn’t pick up the company? Maybe it’s because Jony Ive, Apple’s head designer, was responsible for getting Tony Fadell pushed out of Cupertino.

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Thanks To iPhone, The Revolution In Home Automation Is Nigh! (No Really, This Time It is) [CES 2014]

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Nexia’s Matt McGroven says his company’s app makes home automation appealing to consumers, not geeks, and soon we’ll all be controlling our homes from iPhone screens.

CES 2014 bug LAS VEGAS — We’ve heard the same story for years: the revolution in home automation is just around the corner! And yet, despite the hype, it still hasn’t arrived. But talk to vendors at CES, and they say it finally is just around the corner — thanks to the iPhone.

The iPhone finally gives ordinary consumers a bunch of good reasons to automate their homes, beyond the geeky thrill of turning on the sprinklers from the couch. For example, it can alleviate the universal anxiety of worrying about the stove when away on vacation. Paired with a connected-range (there are several on show here at CES), your iPhone can you tell you if the oven is on, and then let you switch it off.

The best evidence that home automation has arrived is that the nation’s home builders are finally including home automation technology in many new homes as standard. Lennar Homes, the third biggest home builder in the US, is making home automation standard in more than 20,0000 new homes this year, said Matt McGroven, marketing leader of Nexia, a San Francisco-based home automation company.

Nexia makes an app that works in conjunction with a Home Bridge ($60 on Amazon) and service ($9 a month). With 70% of users on iOS, Nexia controls a wide range of automated products, from nannycams to lighting, locks, thermostats, and dozens of others.

“You can do a bunch of cool and genuinely useful things,” he said.

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The Fastest-Charging iPhone Battery Packs In The West? [CES 2014]

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MyCharge president Jim Dara demonstrates the new Talk & Charge battery pack for the iPhone 5 line. Instead of attaching it to your iPhone, you just hold it next to it, which makes it easy to use with just about any iPhone case.

CES 2014 bug LAS VEGAS — The simplest solution is always the best. Take external battery packs for your iPhone, which are sometimes hard to use when you’re actually talking on the phone. Either you have to remove your case to snap in a battery case, or you have a long cord dangling to an external pack in your pocket.

MyCharge’s clever Talk & Charge ($100) is a slim external battery pack that works with any and every iPhone case on the market because it doesn’t physically attach to your iPhone; you just hold it against the back of your iPhone while talking, like an electronics sandwich. Simple.

It’s almost the same size and shape as an iPhone 5s or 5c. It boasts a 3000mAh battery (good for more than two full iPhone 5 charges) and a Lightning cable built right in, so you’ll never forget your charging cable again. It’s a nice touch.

In fact, I think all of MyCharge’s wares are thoughtfully designed. The tech is pretty good too. According to the company, they are the fastest chargers on the market. Check out their well-designed charging bricks:

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Is The TrewGrip Keyboard Really The Evolution Of Typing? [CES 2014]

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CES 2014 bug LAS VEGAS, CES 2014 – At the big “CES Unveiled” press event on Sunday night, one of the biggest draws was the TrewGrip keyboard; a funky Bluetooth keyboard for smartphones and tablets with the keys on the back of the device.

The company’s reps were mobbed by curious journalists, jockeying each other to get a better a look at the keyboard that claims to be “the evolution of typing.”

Designed for typists on the go, like healthcare professionals making hospital rounds, the TrewGrip is a unique reverse keyboard with a full set of QWERTY keys on the back.

Using it requires retraining and takes a week or more to master, but at the booth, company reps were tapping out 60-80 words a minute. Not as fast as many touch-typists on a regular keyboard, but a lot faster than pecking away on a glass screen.

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Publisher’s Letter: The Quantified Self

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A few years ago I bought a cycle computer to help me train for the Death Ride, a single-day, 130-mile bicycle ride through California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. It was a top-of-the-line GPS-equipped device from Garmin. It had digital maps and turn-by-turn directions and every feature under the sun. It measured speed and performance, including things like cadence (pedaling speed) and climbing rate.

I bought it mostly to use with a heart-rate monitor, which fellow riders advised me to use to modulate my effort. If you keep your heart below a certain threshold, you can pretty much ride all day. All the other members on the team (The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program. Fantastic, btw) had the same high-end models. We all had different bikes, but the same Garmin computer.

At first I didn’t much care for most of the measurements it took. But as I got fitter, I got faster, and I started to look at my average speed over those long-distance training rides, which were often 100 miles or more. Every week the average speed crept up, even though the rides got longer and harder.

Oddly, because I wasn’t expecting it, that one simple number proved to be a huge motivator. Every weekend I’d look forward to a 120-mile ride through the hills of the Bay Area just so I could add 1 or 2 MPH to my average speed.

Proselytizers of digital fitness gadgets pitch the “quantified self” as the best way to take control of your health; know thyself through your data.

I’m not an A-Type personality by any means, someone who sets goals and measures my performance. I’m the opposite, in fact. I mostly avoid all the numbers in my life — my bank balance, the traffic to the Cult of Mac website, sales of my books. Because if the numbers aren’t good, I get depressed and I can’t function for a day or two. Better to avoid the numbers altogether.

I’ve suffered from depression since I was a kid. It’s not a big deal, but once a month or so I need to withdraw for a couple of days. It’s a physical thing, regular as clockwork. As I’ve grown older, a couple of days can sometimes stretch into several days, and sometimes, very rarely, into weeks.

For me, the best cure for depression is exercise. It doesn’t actually cure depression, because I can’t exercise when I’m into the deep blue. I can’t force myself to do it. But it does keep it at bay. If I exercise regularly, it don’t get depressed as often. Trouble is, work and life too often get in the way.

More recently, I’ve started wearing a Jawbone Up wristband, which I bought mostly out of curiosity. I had the idea I’d use it to get fit, but I really didn’t like it at first. I was exercising only sporadically, and the graphs just showed how sedentary I was. They were clear, graphic representations of chronic inactivity. I was flatlining. Again, instead of motivating me to get off the couch, I simply stopped looking at it.

Then I started running regularly at the gym. I uploaded the Jawbone once a week or so, but didn’t pay it much mind. But again, as I slowly got faster and better at running, I started to pay more attention to the data. The graphs would show a huge spike of activity in the day when I exercised, making me feel slightly guilty, even anxious, on the days that I didn’t.

The feedback started to become a motivator. It wasn’t the main motivator — that was the running itself. I started to look forward to the run. The graph at the end of the day was just the icing on the cake.

Walt Mossberg’s Goodbye WSJ Column Is Full of Apple Devices

Walt Mossberg’s Goodbye WSJ Column Is Full of Apple Devices

Walt Mossberg and Steve Jobs at the D conference.

After 22 years at the Wall Street Journal reviewing technology, columnist Walt Mossberg is moving on. In his final column, Mossberg picks the 12 devices that had the most impact over the years.

“I chose these 12 because each changed the course of digital history by influencing the products and services that followed, or by changing the way people lived and worked,” Mossberg writes.

One company completely dominates the list. Guess which one it is (and what devices he chose)?

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Woah! Check Out The Beautiful Curved Front At Apple’s Refurbished Stonestown Store

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Photo by Jeffrey Lam

UPDATE: There’s no glass on the front of the Stonestown store. Earlier reports indicated the store was fronted by glass, but it’s actually wide open. It has a big metal gate that is closed at night. “Comes right out of the walls. Pretty nifty,” says one shopper who visited the store.

Apple just reopened its retail store at San Francisco’s Stonestown mall, and just check it out. It’s one long piece of curved glass. spectacular!

Here’s another shot:

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Tim Cook: How The Klan, MLK and Bobby Kennedy Shaped Me

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While accepting a lifetime achievement award from Auburn University, his alma mater, Apple CEO Tim Cook told of how The Ku Klux Klan, Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy shaped his passion for human rights and equality. “Growing up in Alabama in the 1960s, I saw the devastating impacts of discrimination,” Cook said in New York on December 10th. “Remarkable people were denied opportunities and treated without basic human dignity solely because of the color of their skin.”

He recalled childhood memories of watching crosses burn on neighbors’ lawns in Alabama. “This image was permanently imprinted in my brain and it would change my life forever,” Cook said. “For me the cross burning was a symbol of ignorance, of hatred, and a fear of anyone different than the majority. I could never understand it, and I knew then that America’s and Alabama’s history would always be scarred by the hatred that it represented.”

You can watch the full speech below the fold:

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Who Wants a Video Tour of Apple’s Secret Design Studio?

Apple's secretive Industrial Design Studio is on the ground floor of Infinite Loop II, one of the main buildings of Apple's Cupertino campus.

Apple’s secretive Industrial Design studio is on the ground floor of Infinite Loop II, one of the main buildings at Apple’s Cupertino HQ.

Ever wanted to take a tour of Apple’s secret Industrial Design studio in Cupertino? Now you can — a virtual one, anyway — just for writing a review of my new book about Jony Ive. It doesn’t even have to be a good review!

Located on the ground floor of Infinite Loop II behind frosted glass windows, the industrial design studio is where Ive and his team of design elves cook up Apple’s awesome products.

Few have been inside — even some of Apple’s own executives haven’t seen it. Rumor has it that the former head of iOS, Scott Forstall, wasn’t allowed inside, even when he was developing the iPhone’s operating system. Only one published photograph has ever been taken inside the studio. And no, Blue Peter and the Objectified documentary weren’t filmed there, contrary to popular opinion.

Now you can take a tour. I had a 3-D model of the studio created, based on detailed descriptions and diagrams by former designers who worked inside. I used it to create a video tour of the studio, showing the layout and explaining how everything works. I think the video turned out great, and here’s how you get a sneak peek.

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Publisher’s Letter

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The worst gift I ever gave was the time that I presented my father with a doormat for Christmas.

In my defense, he was impossible to buy for and I had already tried everything. Robes. Records. Books. In total desperation on Christmas Eve, I noticed that his doormat was all frayed and coming apart.  This struck me as a genius idea. Practical. Useful. Not one more piece of junk cluttering up his life. It seems to me that gift giving is too often about buying more stuff for people who don’t need it; here was an opportunity to give him something he would use every day and actually needed. kahney

It seemed like an inspired purchase until he opened it up. There was the family reunited on Christmas morning, staring at a crappy doormat. Dad was unimpressed. Then my brothers started cracking up. It quickly became a family joke: my gift to him was the worst Christmas gift of all time. It was too late to resurrect my reputation for that year and many years after, despite all my thoughtful presents.

I didn’t start out as a bad gift giver. When we were kids, my brothers and I used to spend a lot of time making stuff for our parents. We went through an Origami phase that folded in the thoughtful with the handmade:  I remember laboring over a box for my mom to keep her jewelry in, for example. And of course, my parents would make a big fuss over our handiwork, like parents do.  Then, as you grow up, you end up being lazier about choosing presents. You lose touch with your parents and sometimes the other people in your life. You don’t know what they’re interested in or really need.

Gift giving can become a meaningless routine — the worst gifts to my mind are the really generic ones. Like a tie rack or electric wine bottle opener. You know, basically anything for sale in the SkyMall designed to placate that loved one you forgot about while traveling. These are the inexcusable gadgets that don’t work better than the no-tech versions, plus the batteries die, they require space on the counter, etc. And, let’s face it: you cannot really improve on a corkscrew. (How many wine bottles do you open on a daily basis, anyway?) That’s the kind of  default gift you fall back on because it costs a little more, it’s designed as a “gift item,” and when you don’t know what else to get someone, you buy it.

Enter the 2013 Cult of Mac Gift Guide. We’ve picked out the stuff that is genuinely useful, that will add some value to your iDevices and those of your loved ones. Charlie Sorrel, our reviews editor, is captaining the effort. All year round, he wades through thousands of press releases and has a great eye for striking gadget paydirt with things you really want and need to own. Plus you can bet that he’s seen every iPhone handlebar accessory and pedalled them all out, too, with an eye to keeping your wallet half full, which never hurts.

What’s on my list? This year, my mom got her very first iPhone. (A gold one!) So I’ll be looking out for something useful for her; she’s a typical retiree who takes a lot of pictures but is used to be taking them with a regular camera.

Spoiler alert: she definitely won’t receiving an iDoormat.