Big Web Show 80: Daring Fireball’s John Gruber

IN EPISODE No. 80 of The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) I interview Daring Fireball author John Gruber about his background in computer programming and journalism; the joy of designing print layouts with QuarkXPress and the transition from print to web; why investors who are angry at Apple have it wrong; why some web standards geeks who once passionately disliked Apple have grown warmer toward the company; and the secret story behind the name, “Daring Fireball.”

Listen to the episode.


Portrait by George Del Barrio

A List Apart Issue No. 367: Apple’s Vexing Viewport

In A List Apart Issue No. 367, Peter-Paul Koch, Lyza Danger Gardner, Luke Wroblewski, and Stephanie Rieger explain why Apple’s new iPad Mini creates a vexing situation for designers and developers who create flexible, multi-device experiences.

Each week, new devices appear with varying screen sizes, pixel densities, input types, and more. As developers and designers, we agree to use standards to mark up, style, and program what we create. Browser makers in turn agree to support those standards and set defaults appropriately, so we can hold up our end of the deal. This agreement has never been more important.

That’s why it hurts when a device or browser maker does something that goes against our agreement—especially when they’re a visible and trusted friend of the web like Apple. Read Vexing Viewports and contribute to the discussion.

This issue of the magazine also marks the departure of Jason Santa Maria as creative director after seven years of brilliant design and support.

Jason’s elegant redesign of A List Apart and its brand in 2005, together with the master stroke of bringing in Kevin Cornell as illustrator, brought the magazine new fame, new readers, and new respect. Over seven great years, his attention to detail, lack of pretension, and cheerful, can-do attitude has made working on ALA a pleasure. Jason was also a key member of the strategic team that envisioned ALA’s upcoming content expansion—about which, more will be revealed when the site relaunches in January.

Jason will continue at ALA as a contributing writer and as designer of A Book Apart (“brief books for people who make websites”), of which he is also a co-founder.

Will the last digital canvas please turn out the lights?

DESIGNERS. WE LOVE CANVASES. It’s what we know. Even the cave wall had predictable, fixed dimensions. On the web, in the past few years, we’ve finally had to acknowledge that the canvas is not fixed, that each user’s canvas is different, and that fixed-width design—while safe and comfortable because it’s what we know—really doesn’t make sense in the world of HTML, and probably never did. We’ve spent the past two or three years rapidly learning (and sharing) new ways of designing.

But while we were unwrapping ourselves from the notion of a fixed canvas on the web, many of us were gleefully tucking into a fixed canvas in Apple’s world of the iPhone and iPad. True, the iPad had more pixels than the original iPhone—an advantage also enjoyed by later iPhone models with their Retina displays. But they shared easily interchanged aspect ratios (4:3 for the iPad and 3:2 for the iphone), enabling designers to design right to the canvas.

Apple’s fixed canvas wasn’t just a designer’s security blanket. It enabled us to craft a certain kind of polished experience right to the device. We laughed (or cried) at the Android with its 500 “standard” breakpoints and counting. Apple had given us a fixed-width sandbox and we built castles in it.

Well, goodbye to all that.

The end of fixed aspect ratios

With the iPhone 5’s switch to a 16:9 aspect ratio, and given the unknown aspect ratio of the upcoming iPad mini, “we’re going to see a big change in a certain type of iOS app—the one designed for the device,” Craig Grannell predicts in today’s reverttosaved.com:

[Veteran developer John] Pickford summed it up by stating his approach would no longer depend heavily on screen shape, and I’ve heard similar from other developers, both of apps and games although especially the latter. In a sense, this could be a good thing—freeing up iOS from the constraints of specific screen shapes opens up developers to whatever Apple throws at them next and should also make apps simpler to port to competing platforms. But it also impacts heavily on those tightly crafted experiences that were designed just for your iPad or just for your iPhone. Having all the action take place only in the very centre of a screen, because a developer cannot guarantee what device you’re using, or, worse, carving out a viewport and surrounding it with a border, could cheapen iOS games and apps in a big way.

Perhaps I’m being pessimistic, but pre-iPhone 5, indies were already feeling the pinch. With that device and perhaps a new, smaller iPad to contend with, the shift towards more fluid and less device-specific apps seems inevitable.—Craig Grannell, iOS screen fragmentation points to a shift in app development

I share Craig’s assessment of what the change in aspect ratios portends for application design. But I believe that designers will rise to the challenge, as we have on the web; and that bright app designers will find ways to design experiences which, even if they are actually flexible behind the scenes, still feel like they were custom crafted for the device in your hand.

Communication Breakdown

REDUNDANT MECHANISMS that fail to communicate with one another can make using Mac OS X Lion more confusing than it should be.

Consider the screenshot shown here. While Apple’s Software Update knows that I have downloaded the latest version of iPhoto (“Your software is up to date”), Apple’s App Store, pulling from a different database, does not know that I have already installed iPhoto. It only knows that a new version is available.

Because the App Store’s left hand doesn’t know what Software Update’s right hand has already downloaded and installed, the App Store flashes a red download alert badge, urging me to download 500MB of Apple software that Apple’s OS has already installed on my Apple machine.

Suppose I don’t bother to check Software Update and verify that the App Store’s “Update” tab is urging me to take a nonsensical action. Suppose I actually go ahead and click “UPDATE” in the App Store’s “Update” tab. What will happen?

The software, all 500 MB of it, will download again, and install itself again. That’s what will happen.

And the cream of the jest? After installing the software again, if I click into the “Purchases” tab of the App Store, the “Purchases” tab will inform me that an iPhoto update is available, and urge me to install it. And if I have been huffing nitrous all day and take Apple’s advice, the 500 MB package will download for a third time and install itself a third time.

And you thought Retina images were tough on bandwidth.


(A friend tells me that Mountain Lion resolves this clustercuss by removing Software Update from the equation. I suspect that those of us still using Lion are receiving unintended anal leakage from UI decisions that make sense in Mountain Lion but are idiotic in Lion. #imisssteve)

Facebook goes native

“IF I WERE advising them on these decisions, I would have had them look at what people actually want from Facebook — fast access to their friends’ photos and posts — and … helped them design an HTML5 web experience that actually works for mobile.”

.net magazine: Facebook iPhone app to go native By Tanya Combrinck on June 28, 2012

Shutting off Compass Calibration in Location Services can stop iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S on iOS5 from sucking battery life and running hot.

I have an iPhone 4 and fwiw, mine was losing 10% per 2 hours and running warm as soon as I upgraded to iOS 5. In my case the culprit was quite easy to track-down. The new OS Location Services has a new sub menu: System Services. These services by default do not show the familiar arrow icon at the top right of the status bar. However, a new setting allows System Services location usage to be displayed. Just as well as in my case (I hasten to add that your mileage might vary) the culprit was ‘Compass Calibration’ which was perpetually holding on to Location Services even through restarts. Switching the blighter off cured the problem. What’s odd is that I have tentatively switched it back on since and it no longer activates Location Services. Very odd, but there’s my tale.

via Troubleshooting a battery-sucking iPhone 4S | Macworld By flyperson 4:48:54 PM PDT Oct 24, 2011

In which I unwittingly befoul an otherwise fitting tribute to the late, great Mr Jobs

“SHARE YOUR MEMORIES of Steve Jobs” read the email from Faith Korpi, producer of the 5by5 network to which I contribute a podcast. I thought she meant memories of actually interacting with the guy. I had one such experience: Steve fired me from a freelance project. That being my only “memory” of Steve Jobs, I responded to the assignment by telling that story.

5by5 created a beautiful audio tribute to Steve Jobs. The other contributors, who understood the assignment correctly, carefully crafted personal tributes to Steve Jobs and his legacy. Listening to this series of heartfelt recollections, you get a sense of the contribution Steve Jobs made to all our lives. The testimonials of my colleagues make me feel awe, wonder, hope, and terrible sadness.

A little over twenty minutes into this love fest for a giant of our time, my little story comes along and quickly sinks like a stone. I didn’t write it out in advance (no time, I was chaperoning my daughter’s second grade field trip) and I didn’t record it in my pristine podcasting studio (same excuse). The gist of it is, Steve Jobs fired me and another guy from a project before we did a lick of work, paid us anyway, and afterwards, for nearly ten years, Apple hardware and software that worked perfectly well for everyone in the world misbehaved for me — as if the aborted project had left me cursed.

Pathetic.

I admire and marvel at Steve Jobs every bit as much as my better spoken, better prepared colleagues. Not only did he understand that computing is about people, not technology; he also had the will to unapologetically demand perfection from the human beings who worked for him. If I live to be one thousandth the creative director he was, I will tell myself, “Well done.”