Twitter Moments: Still on the Fence

A few weeks ago, Twitter added a new section to their app and website.  Called “Moments,” it’s designed to be a place to keep up with things happening in the world.  Moments includes everything from political news to entertainment to internet trends.  The idea is that Twitter pulls together interesting tweets on a topic.  It’s meant to be a way of sorting through all the noise on Twitter and discovering good content.  If it’s coverage of a live event, you can “follow” it, and tweets will show up in your timeline just for the duration of the event.  Sounds cool.  However, my experience has been mixed.

Let’s start with the good.  After the attacks on Paris last weekend, Twitter had a moment showing the responses to that.  It was cool, and I genuinely feel like it helped inform me about what happened.  So after using Moments last weekend, I decided that I liked it and I would try to keep up with it.  And that’s where my interest began to wane.  When there isn’t a major breaking news story going on, Twitter Moments are kind of… boring.

At least the ones meant to be serious news are.  There are plenty of other silly ones – usually under the “Fun” tab – that are still, well fun.  Things like the trending hashtag #IWouldSleepMoreBut (spoiler: college and Netflix are prime offenders).  And some of the news stories are interesting, even if they’re not groundbreaking.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Twitter Moments needs to decide what it wants to be.  I thought it was pretty good for breaking news, but the problem is there isn’t always news breaking.  When that’s the case, it can just be a fun distraction to kill a few minutes while waiting on the bus.  I think it’d be cool if they had a Breaking News section that was truly only for breaking news.  What I mean is that a lot of the time, this would just be empty.  And that’s ok.  What I want them to do is to differentiate between keeping up with stuff that’s happening and just goofing off.  What I don’t like is them having a breaking news section that sometimes has breaking news and other times just has lame filler.  ••


Why I Enjoy Apple News So Much

Last week when I announced that Staring at Phones is now available on Apple News, I mentioned how much I like the service.  But I didn’t really say why.  This week, I’m going to go into more detail about how I’m now using Apple News as my primary news reader.  When I was thinking about how to describe why I like Apple News so much, I started thinking about what makes it better than other services I’ve tried.  So I’m going to do this as a comparison, listing other news consumption/RSS feed apps and saying why Apple News is better.

Probably the app I used for the longest amount of time as a reader was WordPress.  WordPress is still the best way to read blogs that are hosted by WordPress, because you can like and comment right there in the same app.  Because of this, I’m still using the WordPress app for the few WordPress blogs I follow.  However, I’ve stopped using WordPress as a general RSS reader, because I like Apple News’ layout better.  Apple News uses a grid layout, with stories taking up different amounts of space based on headlines, images, and so on.  This is in direct contrast to WordPress’ single column of posts.  I like Apple’s grid better because it makes it easier to browse and surf through stories, picking out the ones I’m most interested in.

I’ve never used Flipboard extensively, but it’s actually very similar to Apple News.  You follow specific blogs and general topics, and it gives you a grid-layout “magazine” of articles.  The thing that bugged me most about Flipboard was that it showed the articles in pages that you “flip” through, instead of in a scroll line.  For some reason I prefer scrolling, I guess it lets me see the context of each article, and how many more there are above and below it.  Also, as far as I can tell, Flipboard’s articles are endless.  This is nice if you have a lot of time on your hands, but I prefer to just scroll through what’s there and be done.

For awhile there, I used a rather unconventional way to follow blogs: I set up IFTTT recipes for each one that took every post and put it in Pocket.  Pocket isn’t really meant to be a place where articles come in from blogs, it’s meant to be a place where you put things you found other places but want to come back to.  Because of this, it’s not ideal as a reader, since articles sit there until you delete them, so stories start to pile up.  However, sometimes I wanted articles to wait until I could get to them, so that could be nice.  Fortunately, Apple News has a “Saved” section for just that.  I just wish that you could add articles you found elsewhere, say, on Twitter, to this section.  Personally, I think Apple should just make the Apple News Saved section and the Safari reading list one and the same, but maybe that’s just me.

There’s just one question left: what kind of content am I following on Apple News? Well, for traditional “news”, I’m really enjoying the content from Vox.  It’s not too partisan, and the stories are really varied, instead of being all politics.  As for Apple related stories, Six Colors is my go-to blog.  I’ve tried adding other RSS feeds to Apple News with mixed results; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  Fortunately, 99% of blogs I follow are either on WordPress or Apple News, so between those two, I’m pretty happy with the way I’ve got things set up right now.  ••

Staring at Phones is now on Apple News!

Hi everyone!

Well it took four weeks for Apple to approve me, but the Staring at Phones blog is now officially on Apple News!

What is Apple News? It’s that new app that showed up on your iPhone or iPad when you installed iOS 9.  It’s a place to get news – about all kinds of topics – from traditional news outlets as well as blogs.  You can follow a certain account (or “channel”) as well as different topics.  After a month of using it, I really enjoy it.  You can be sure I’ll go into more detail on that in a future post.

But anyway, Apple News is now the latest way to keep up to date with everything Staring at Phones!  You can check out this link here to see my channel (yes, you have to click the link on your iOS 9 device).  Searching “Staring at Phones” doesn’t bring anything up yet, but I’m assuming that will start working soon.*  You can see that I’ve divided my channel into three sub-categories (in addition to “All”), which reflect the new way I’m organizing content here on WordPress as well.  First is “Apple.”  I didn’t start this to be an Apple blog, but that’s where the majority of my interests are, so it naturally happened that a good bit of what I write about is Apple related.  You can find it all under this tab.  Next is “App Reviews,” for the review I do at the beginning of each month.  After that is the “Misc.” tab, which basically means “Everything Else.”  Although I’ve got an Apple slant these days, I still like to cover random things in the technology industry, so I’ve got all that content in this tab.  Now here’s the embarrassing part: right now those tabs aren’t working.  I don’t know why; I know the RSS feeds I gave Apple are working, so I’m just hoping that, again, this will start working soon.  I’ll keep you posted.**

So check it out!  Apple News is joining the many ways to follow this blog, right along side WordPress, email, RSS, and Twitter, and I’m excited to keep pushing Staring at Phones into the future.  Thanks so much for reading!  ••

*Update 10/23/15: Staring at Phones does indeed now come up in Apple News search!

**Last week’s story about Tesla is now filed under the Misc. tab, so it seems those subheadings work, but they’ll only grab content published after I gave them to Apple News.  So those headings should be filling up with posts soon!

5C, 5S, 5 inch?

Will Apple release an iPhone with a larger screen?  The short answer is: You’ll find out this September (or maybe next September).  However, there are many people out there already placing their bets as to Apple’s next big iPhone innovation.

I personally like the iPhone at its current size.  I think it’s easy enough to read, yet still fits in your pocket easily.  However, I could see myself using a slightly bigger iPhone.  The old iPhones (1st Gen, 3G, 3GS, 4, and 4S) all had a screen that measured 3.5″ diagonally.  The newer iPhones (5, 5C, and 5S) have a 4″ screen.  I think this increase was an enormous improvement.  The added vertical space allows you to see more items in a list when holding the phone vertically (read: most of the time), and also gives the screen a 16:9 aspect ratio.  This means that the screen has a shape the same as a widescreen TV, instead of an intermediate ratio between widescreen and fullscreen like the old iPhones had.

As to what the increased size will be, I doubt Apple will make their screen as large as some phones out there (the ones that make you look like you’re holding a small tablet up to your face when you make a call).  However, I could see Apple making a 5″ iPhone 6, along side other 4″ models.

Another thing to consider is that changing the screen size comes with challenges for app developers.  Before the iPhone 5, iOS developers didn’t have to worry about different screen sizes the way Android developers have to – all iPhones were the exact same size.  The iPhone 5 made things more complicated, however, and a larger iPhone 6 will certainly make things more complicated still.  Recently, Apple has been encouraging developers to begin using “auto-layout,” a development feature that can automatically readjust the placement of controls on the screen to fit different sized screens.  I see this move by Apple as a major implication that Apple is planning a bigger iPhone.

So in conclusion, my prediction is that Apple will release a new iPhone with a larger screen.  However, like all Apple rumors, we won’t really know until it’s official.  Now would somebody please tell that to the people holding out for an iTV?  ••