Musings

AirPods for podcasts

I use headphones with my iPhone a lot. Mainly I listen to podcasts and I listen to a lot of them. And when I say a lot I mean it. To the extent that regular wired headphones would rarely last me for more than 6 months. Of course, that all is predicated on the pattern and, shall I say, environment of my use of the headphones. Most of the time I have my iPhone in the left pocket of my jeans. The wire then goes from the pocket underneath my shirt to earpieces that are either in my ears or hanging on the wires.

 The EarPods when not in use

The EarPods when not in use

With all that I would listen to podcasts while walking, sitting, standing, skating, riding a bike or a train and so on. Always with my phone in my pocket and headphones connected to it. I prefer the headphones to be light and to allow me to be at least partially aware of my surroundings. Therefore all of the headphones I used were earbuds and in all those years I’ve gone through fair share of them. In recent times they were mostly Apple’s EarPods and Panasonic RP-TCM125 ErgoFits (recommended by The Wirecutter). Knowing that headphones will only serve me as long, I did not even bother with anything fancy. If I recall correctly, the longest I had headphones in service was my first pair of TCM125, which lasted for about 10 months. The anti-record goes to noname earbuds, which gave up after just 3 weeks.

All the headphone failures were wires broken here or there because of the way I used then. You can imagine my excitement, when I finally got my hands on a pair of Apple AirPods. I’ve now spent more than two weeks with AirPods in my usual work-life balancing mode. So I’m ready to share my impressions.

As always, there good things and there bad things. (Remember, I’m talking about my experiences in how I use headphones.)

Things I like

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No wires is great! (Who would have thought!) I don’t have to wire/re-wire myself each time I change clothes and can continue listening while doing that.

When at home I do not have to have the phone on me to listen to podcasts. With the caveat that I have to strategically place the iPhone to make sure Bluetooth "covers" my entire apartment.

This one may seem weird, but with AirPods it became easier for me to spontaneously watch a YouTube video. With headphones wire running under my shirt I had to either tolerate an awkward pose trying to place the iPhone such that I can see the video and still have headphones connected, or unwire myself (and then re-wire after watching the video), which is also awkward.

Switching the AirPods between the iPhone, iPad and MacBook is no more difficult that connecting/dis-connecting via the 3.5mm jack.

Things I don’t like

Surprisingly, the lack of wires also makes certain things less convenient for me.

It is really difficult to put AirPods away, when I suddenly need to talk to other people. Before I would just quickly pull the earpieces from the ears and let them hang on their wires. AirPods need either a safe pocket, which I don’t think I have, or both hands to put them into the case.

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Putting AirPods on is also a problem. With headphones hanging under my chin they were always fractions of the second away from being used when, for example, a call comes in. With AirPods I either have to have them in all the time, which I don’t like, or forego using them in certain situations. Forget about taking a call, when you are driving and AirPods are in the case in your pocket.

I realize that both of these issues come from my feeling uncomfortable having earpieces in when I’m not using them and when I talk with other people. But this is the way I am.

Curiously enough, I still feel anxiety when I lean over something that can cause a loss or irreversible damage to AirPods if they fall out – think of a balcony on a high floor or a sink in the bathroom.

And Siri

The only thing I use Siri for is making calls. With wired headphones I would long-press the mic button, wait for Siri’s “I’m ready” tone, say “Call Sasha” and wait while the call to my wife is connected.

Currently double-tap on my AirPods is set to play/pause for both of them1. This is because from the “wired days” I’m used to pausing podcasts with mic button before I remove the earpieces. I understand that with ear detection (what a name for a feature!) I do not have to pause the playback myself, but it will take some getting used to. Anyway, in my current configuration there is no good way to activate Siri other than yell “Hey Siri!” and hope that it will hear me on the phone in my pocket2. I think it has worked once. But, you know, as I’m writing this I’m thinking that I should go and make double-tap activate Siri and leave my wired past behind.

 After a few weeks AirPods already can use some cleaning...

After a few weeks AirPods already can use some cleaning...

Overall, I’m quite happy with my new headphones situation. I only hope in my new AirPods there is no analogue of wire that will break in 6 months 🙈


1 I sometimes use only one earpiece and having different setting for L and R would be impractical.

2 Apple said to be upgrading AirPods with 'Hey Siri' later in 2018

Chromebooks and iPads

When I put together my thoughts about the death of netbooks I caught myself repeating the word underpowered more than probably allowed by the style guides. What’s interesting is that transition from underpowered devices to underserved users can explain why certain things happened and what the future might have for us.

Why Underpowered Netbooks Failed, but iPad Did Not?

Let’s return back to 2010, the time when netbooks blossomed enjoying 34 million units in worldwide sales last year and analysts drawing all but wonderful future for this class of devices. This was also the year, when iPad was introduced. Remember it?

iPad 1
iPad 1

1st generation iPad with 1GHz CPU and only 256Mb of RAM did not look that much impressive compared to an average netbook of that time equipped with 1.6 GHz CPU with as much as 1GB of RAM. How then could it have happened that 2010 was also a year when netbooks decline started and less powerful and more expensive iPads began their victorious march?

The reason for this turnover is that for netbooks insufficient overall performance translated into underserved users, but Apple managed to avoid this trap and instead created customer delight. And if there is a single explanation of how that happened it is in the word “apps”. Netbook users were given underpowered general purpose hardware to run traditional desktop applications on top of general purpose operating system and were lead to believe that they would be able to do that with the level of comfort they were used to with their heavy laptops. In retrospect it is easy (many things are easier in retrospect) to see why that would not fly, and why users would not like the sub par experience and would search for alternatives: tablets and later ultrabooks.

With custom operating system and, more importantly, apps iPad is able to provide superior experience on substantially less powerful hardware. It was only possible because both OS and the apps were carefully crafted to take most out of the underlying platform and not give the false promise that traditional software would work ok. Netbooks did not have any of that and initial “specification excitement”[1] turned into mediocre daily experience.

So What About Chromebooks?

Chromebook, just like the iPad, does not pretend to be “just what you are used to, but better in some ways”. From day one its was marketed and seen as something different. Of course, the fact that Chromebooks have all the familiar laptop shape adds to the confusion, but we can be sure that people who get them do not simply go after cheaper general purpose PC laptops.

Chrome Web Store - Offline Apps
Chrome Web Store - Offline Apps

Another area where difference helps is applications. Because of the fact that the platform decidedly does not run applications from earlier era, developers are forced to create new applications, which specifically target the new device. Applications that cater for the strengths of the platform and workaround it’s weaknesses are what gives Chromebooks and Chrome OS at least a fighting chance against others for the future consumer computing.


  1. That’s when you get excited about something after reading the specs, but before actually using it.  ↩

Netbooks: come and gone?

For the last week I've been meaning to write about the death of netbooks. But as I tried to pull my thoughts together it was difficult to come to some sort of overarching conclusion.

My wife have been [almost] happily using netbook for more than 2 years now, but her complaints about unresponsiveness, when she opens more than several tabs in Firefox, seem to grow every day. Still she does not want to change it for a far superior (performance wise) 15" Dell as she likes the form factor and the fact that she does not have to be on power leash most of the time. As for me, I definitely liked the price when I bought it and looking back I do not see anything which would have given same return on investment. Why is that?

Throughout the history of portable computers we always wanted 4 things

  • powerful
  • lightweight
  • longer battery life
  • inexpensive

Traditional laptops gravitated towards kind of powerful and relatively inexpensive and that was what was needed to have a "mobile office" and be able to easily setup a workplace, when you moved between locations. But times changed. As free WiFi in public places started becoming a norm, getting power for your laptop right where you needed became more problematic hence emphasizing drawback of short battery life. Also carrying around 3 kilos was not exactly the most pleasant exercise for a more mobile yet always connected lifestyle.

Netbooks were (yep, it is "were" not "are" since powerhouses of netbooks wave Asus and Acer stopped production on January 1, 2013) an interesting experiment to meet changing demands of a modern computer user. Cheap, lightweight yet underpowered computers with relatively long life on battery looked like a promising way into the future of mobile computing.

While the bet on mobility was right for netbooks the compromise on the performance went too far. Now many of those who need a mobile laptop would rather pay the price for a more powerful ultrabook or MacBook Air, and those who value mobility above all would opt-in for iPad.

We could have declared the death of netbooks as a class right here, but let's take a look at Amazon's best selling laptops:

Amazon's best selling laptops on January 7, 2013

From hardware standpoint Chromebook is still a netbook and it remains to be seen whether it drag the idea of relatively underpowered, inexpensive cheap mobile computer into the future.

Sharing, sharing, sharing

Why Instagram Is So Popular: Quality, Audience, & Constraints

Those little switches. Using the APIs from Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and other services, Instagram lets you share from one single screen. Brilliant. I had never seen photo-sharing across services stripped down so simply before.

The keywords are: sharing and simple.

Some Thoughts on Manipulation

Recently I've got a question from a colleague: "Have you had a situation when somebody was trying to manipulate you  or your behavior? What can be the best way to stop/resist this sort of attitude? Stop any interaction with the person?" From my perspective manipulation, generally, has to aspects to it:

  1. Other person wants you to do something (which is not necessarily a bad thing).
  2. She wants to make you do it in a sort of "covert" way, which I would generally call a bad thing in professional environment.

When it comes to response to manipulation, all things being equal, I would have a conversation with a person saying something along the lines of "Hey, I've noticed that you try to trick me into something and don't like you doing that. If you need something from me, let's discuss, but don't try to trick me."

This kind of feedback serves two purposes: (a) letting other party know that you've noticed manipulation and don't like it (who does?); (b) showing a better way to do business with you. If a case is not helpless, this should help.

What do you do when somebody tries to manipulate you?

The world is flat (and small)

Several years ago on one presentation I said that world became really small: to any place where you might be interested in visiting on business you can get within 24 hours. Sometimes you do not even need to get there, because world is not only small it is also flat as Thomas Friedman described in his books. Here is great video of his lecture in Yale:

Positives of negative New Year's resolutions

By this time most of us (at least those who care to make our lives better) have made their New Year’s resolutions. From what I hear here and there most of these resolutions are around new things which you are going to do this year:

  • work out regularly
  • read more books
  • spend more time with family
  • improve foreign language skills
  • etc.

As you see all of these resolutions are about new things in your life, they are about doing things you did not do before. However, there is another popular resolution, which is, in a sense, exactly opposite:

  • quitting smoking

This resolution is about not doing something, thus creating a room for new things in your life. Indeed, ten 5 minute smoking breaks give you 50 extra minutes each day, when you get rid of this bad habit. Extra bucks that you save on not buying cigarettes give you additional opportunities to do something meaningful to you and those around you. And this is not mentioning your health and wellbeing. At the end this negative resolution creates additional time and resources capacity you need so much to act on your positive resolutions.

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I believe that each positive New Year’s resolution should be complimented by a negative one, which will make it possible to do what you resolved to do.

If last year you spend substantial amount of time fixing and reworking what your subordinates did, you need to resolve to stop doing that and instead focus on improving their skills to avoid those reworks in the first place.

If last year you engaged in many activities simply because somebody asked you and technically you can do that (and, between us, do well), you need to stop doing that and make your own conscious decisions about what you do and what you don’t.

We only have 24 hours a day and we always use them up. Each day. In order to start doing something, you need to take time from something else. Unfortunately, we can not create time out of nowhere.