Last week, I put out a few guesses on what Apple would announce at their “Spring Loaded” event. Now that it’s done, I thought it was only fair to keep myself honest on how I did. And reader, the scores aren’t pretty.
App Tracking Transparency Update 👎
I was sure there’d be some mention of this. And whilst they made a number of references to privacy as always, they didn’t directly address this upcoming change. In fact, they didn’t even discuss iOS 14.5, which was also pretty surprising. Not even in one of the Spec slides. So a strong fail on this prediction.
iOS 14.5 drops 🤔
I’m tempted to give myself a “fair” on this. Whilst they didn’t discuss iOS 14.5 or the release date, they did follow up after the event to announce that iOS 14.5 would drop “next week”, which is about what I expected, I just figured they’d say it during the event.
iPad Pro refresh ✅
iPad Pro definitely got the refresh people expected, and featured heavily in the event, getting ~20 minutes of the hour long event. Upgrading the processor to M1 and the thunderbolt port keeps it as a viable competitor to the MacBook Air as your everyday computing device.
The Center Stage feature is very reminiscent of the experience on a Facebook Portal. If Apple managed to put this into a more picture frame like form factor, I think they’d have a winning device. The privacy of Apple, the convenience of FaceTime and access to your photos on iCloud makes for a really compelling offering. But back to the iPad Pro.
As with the latest iPhone, they pushed 5G as a flagship feature. Honestly I’ve never gotten the appeal of 5G on iPad. You’d always have your iPhone nearby as a hotspot, so why give your carrier more money for the same overall bandwidth?
3rd Gen Pencil 👎
No dressing this up, the Pencil barely got a reference.
Nothing about new laptops / desktops 🤔
Ok ok, I’m definitely being generous not hard failing myself on this one. The new M1 iMac got almost as much time as the iPad Pro, but in my defense, they didn’t announce a new M Series chip, they just stuck it in an (admittedly massively redesigned) iMac.
I think almost as standout as the iMac itself, is the presence of Touch ID on an external device. I won’t be swapping out my mechanical keyboard any time soon, but this does feel overdue. One thing to note before you buy though, this only works when the keyboard is paired with an Apple Silicon device, so if you’ve got an Intel powered machine, best to keep your money for now.
Honestly, whilst many folks I know are eager to open their wallets for the new 24in iMac, I’ll keep my money for now, because you (a) can’t use it as an external display for a MacBook, and (b) I want desktops to be more like 27/30in. Plus a lot of things you’d expect by default, like gigabit ethernet and 16GB of RAM, are optional extras that will move away from the $1300 price point.
I do like the industrial design to be fair, although like others, I think I would have sacrificed some of the thinness to get rid of the “chin” underneath the display. Imagine your desktop basically looking like a 27in iPad Pro. Glorious.
Apple TV ✅
As was widely reported, Apple TV got a new remote and a couple of hardware updates, primarily the A12 chip from the iPhone line, and a cute gimmick that will adjust the color output based on a test you run with your iPhone. The output thing is a great example of the kind of thing Apple excels at when you’re totally bought into the Apple ecosystem, but honestly, since it can’t adjust your actual TV settings, it feels like it won’t get used much and will be silently dropped in a few versions.
Of note, they’ve finally enabled Siri on Apple TV in more countries, including my own.
I’m still a bit surprised don’t dive right in and make an entire TV set given how much knowledge they have on displays, but who knows what we’ll see in the future. Clearly I’m no Apple savant based on this event!
The one thing they did announce, and gave a significantly larger portion of time to than the other smaller launches, was a date for season two of Ted Lasso. Honestly, I enjoy Ted Lasso so much, I’d pay the annual fee for Apple TV+ just to watch it.
Finally. Open up my wallet and take my money Tim. These will rapidly replace the Tile on my keyring, because I am forever losing my keys, even during the pandemic. It does feel a little nickel and dime to make the keyring portion an added extra on something that’s already, let’s face it, not exactly cheap for what it is, but such is the way with Apple. Once global travel becomes a thing again, I’ll probably stick them on my luggage too.
At the top of the last post, I said “I don’t intend for this to be an Apple watching blog”, and that’s probably for the best, because even being generous, I only got three out of seven totally correct, with two somewhat hand waving “maybes”.
I’m a big fan of Apple, and whilst I don’t intend for this to be an Apple watching blog, I’ve challenged myself to write more, and the upcoming Apple event is what’s been playing out on podcasts and in my feeds this week. So without further ado, here’s my predictions.
App Tracking Transparency Update
When I was working on iOS at Facebook, I remember having the sense that we had a reasonably cordial relationship with Apple and the App Store team. We’d respectfully disagree on various things, but always managed to get releases out the door at the end of the day. I’m guessing that relationship is significantly chillier today despite the symbiotic relationship they share.
The source of that chilliness is the coming updates to the use of the IDFA, or the “App Tracking Transparency Framework”. Much ink has been spilled discussing the Cold War of words between Apple and Facebook over this. Both have fairly entrenched positions, so a rapid escalation when this feature finally rolls would seem inevitable.
This Tuesday gives Apple one last chance to set out their stall before release to solidify the narrative that both companies have been fighting to control since the feature was announced. I imagine it will end up with Apple using OS defaults to steer the future of online advertising in a way that suits them best. That’s not to say it’s a user hostile feature by any means, but it’s naive to assume they don’t have financial skin in the game. Long ago they chose to make the vast majority of their revenue from selling hardware and services. What’s surprising to me is that (what I assume) the bulk of developers of their App Store developer community have chosen an alternative stream - advertising and this move is going to have a serious impact on that revenue. I don’t envy their Developer Relations team having to deal with the fallout.
Back to the biggest players in the room though and the nuclear option here is Facebook pulling their family of apps from the App Store. Whilst that might have been a credible threat a few years ago, their brand has been so damaged in the last number of years that I can’t see Zuck playing that card as Tim Cook would inevitably call his bluff. And it would be 100% a bluff.
iOS 14.5 drops
From what I’ve heard, this beta has been extremely stable, so it feels like they’ve been waiting for this event to release it and the opportunity it gives them to explain some decisions they’ve made - like the one above.
As for what features we’ll see, it’s a point release, so I can’t imagine anything too massive unless it’s needed to support the new hardware I believe in coming.
Whilst it might feel a little late given the rollout of vaccines and with it the winding down of COVID-19 behaviors in some major Apple markets, I believe mask wearing in Europe and to some extent America will become as commonplace as it is in the likes of Singapore, Japan and other Asian countries where it’s the socially accepted practice to wear a mask when you’re feeling sick, which is both a good thing and long overdue.
With that in mind, getting around the inherent restrictions in Face ID seems prudent and I’m looking forward to using it.
iPad Pro refresh
I’ve been using an iPad Pro as my primary personal computing device since 2019 and honestly it’s a fantastic piece of hardware. But given the chips they’re shipping in the MacBook Air and iPhone 12, this traditionally powerful device is starting to lag behind. Last year’s inclusion of LIDAR and a spec bump definitely felt iterative, akin to the “S” releases of iPhone.
The rumour mill suggests we can expect a new processor on par with the M1, improvements to the camera, and a more powerful USB-C connector.
3rd Gen Pencil
I honestly don’t know what they could add to the Pencil beyond turning it around to activate an eraser mode, but the artwork and tag line for the event instantly makes me think of the Pencil.
That, combined with the likelihood of an iPad Pro refresh makes it seem likely to me they’ll do something with the Pencil. Wacom styluses have included a spring loaded nib, so maybe it’s that.
Nothing about new laptops / desktops
Everyone who watches Apple is salivating at the idea of M2 / M1X devices, especially a 16in MacBook Pro with four ports and the ability to drive multiple external displays, but I think it’s too soon. If there is any mention of the Apple Silicon M series, it will be to talk about what a success it’s been, but in the absence of new hardware to announce, that feels unlikely.
There’s a lot of chatter about new TV hardware, even a rumour of a Portal-like device, which would be massive.
One other thing I’m keen to hear about is Apple TV+. If they’ve more original content with the quality of Ted Lasso or For All Mankind coming, that’s going to be very interesting.
One more thing…AirTags
This product has been widely leaked and commented upon, and predicting it feels like “even a stopped clock is right twice a day”, but I really want these to ship. I’ve been using Tile on my keyring for years now, but the system is limited by the size of the Tile network, so an Apple powered device would close this gap shut.
My gut says they’ll lead by talking about the various manufacturers who have joined the Find My network in the last few weeks, before finally unveiling their own version. If it was Steve Jobs, I would have predicted he’d reveal them by pulling a keyring from his pocket, but that doesn’t feel like Tim Cook’s style.
When I worked at Facebook in the early days, we used to talk a lot about what would be “the new Facebook”, because if we didn’t become the “new Facebook”, there was a hundred YC startups that surely would. There was a definite sense of urgency around shipping new code.
This sense of urgency is, in my opinion, the true meaning of “Move Fast and Break Things”. It wasn’t about carelessness and disregard for users, although sometimes it did unfortunately manifest that way. Instead it was about accepting a certain amount of risk you’d break something in return for the perceived upside of forward momentum, because with so many companies wanting to be the next Facebook, if we weren’t moving forwards, we were moving backwards.
Obviously that hasn’t yet come to pass in the truest sense of the Facebook being toppled as a company, but the sentiment still rings true, regardless of what your product is. It’s kind of like what Reid Hoffman says.
If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late
When I hear that phrase, what comes to me is this - What you build will never be perfect. You can spend an eternity on polish. In fact, it can drag down your whole organization. It’s infinitely better to ship what you have and iterate. Obviously there’s a quality bar to meet depending on your product. A pacemaker has a higher bar, than say, an app to connect people for dating. But as much as possible, all your processes should bias to releasing what you have at that moment.
The cost of iteration
For software, the cost of iteration has never been lower. Infra as a service, feature flags, CI/CD as a service, and much more have created an environment that enables increasing faster development cycles.
As an example, these days when bad code is committed to a code base, it’s sometimes quicker and easier to fail forward than it is to revert. When you’re dealing with a primarily server based piece of software, you can keep rolling deploys and get a fix out much easier than the days of floppy disks and gold master CDs, so you have an inherently lower risk profile, and as an industry, we should be leaning into that, not getting ever more cautious.
Feedback fuels the best products in the world
The reason you should be doing this is because feedback is the lifeblood of a good product. Ship the smallest possible unit, get feedback, iterate. Repeat.
As you iterate, you’re refining, you’re improving, you’re getting closer to something that solves a need for your users.
Move a pixel, nudge a button, publish a blog post, knock a few ms off a load time by sorting a collection differently. Whatever releasing means to you, be doing it.
Iteration as a super power
If, like me, you work as a Developer Advocate, then encouraging Product Managers to incorporate feedback from the community and getting other engineers to push that code into the hands of that same community in order to get more feedback should be a critical effort of your team. You and your community are direct benefactors of the historically low cost of iteration in modern software, so use it as a super power to deliver an ever improving platform for the developers you serve.
Much to my own surprise, a number of people have been asking me lately how they should approach working in Developer Relations. After listening to the excellent Twitter Spaces Panel the other day, I was inspired to write down some of my thoughts on how people can refine the craft of working with their Developer Community. I hope this advice is as valuable for someone considering moving into DevRel as it is for a seasoned practitioner.
It’s important to say though, this is less me prescribing the perfect formula of being a Developer Advocate / Community Manager / pick your DevRel title, and more about what works for me, because I am far from perfect at this and have actively been trying to improve what I do. In fact, the mere writing of this is part of my process, which leads me to my first suggestion.
Create more content
What this looks like for you depends on the medium you feel most comfortable with. Some people like to write blog posts or books, others want to stream on twitch or pre-record a presentation. And some people want to churn out sample code. Whatever works. What’s important is building a better creative muscle.
Think of it like getting healthy through running. It doesn’t matter how long you run, it’s about lacing up, getting out there and forming a habit. In this case, the habit is content creation.
For me, the easiest thing tends to be written pieces. Every time I have an idea for some content, I immediately take out my phone and write it down. I’ll revisit and refine it until I have the bones of something to work with, then I’ll publish.
So write a bit, don’t worry about word count or over refining it. Just write something and share it. Next time you can write a bit more. And the time after that, and the time after that, and so on.
Soon you’ll find yourself writing/recording so much that you’re needing to edit it down, and isn’t that a great position to be in?
I believe that in order to succeed in Developer Relations, you might not need a formal software education, but you do need to have a thirst for learning. You should be trying out new technologies regularly, even if they’re not 100% related to the platform you work with.
It can sometimes be difficult to find the time to do this. The things on your to-do list are like a gas, they’ll expand to fill the amount of time you give them. So don’t give them all of your time. Consciously make time for learning.
This doesn’t always mean doing it in your spare time. Work life balance is vital, especially once we get back to a world of traveling for events. This is professional development, and if your organization doesn’t give you time to learn, then honestly, if you can, you should start looking for one that will.
As much as you can afford to, be generous with your time and your knowledge. People are genuinely curious and a big part of DevRel is sharing what you know.
Sometimes it’ll be about what it is that you do, sometimes it’ll be someone asking for advice about how to succeed on your platform. Sometimes people will just want to pitch you an idea for feedback. Whatever it is, make the time. Grab that coffee, give that talk, hop on that zoom.
If you make time for the various communities that you work with, then they’re more likely return that generosity when you come calling.
Be developer zero
You should constantly be putting yourself in the shoes of your community by building against the platform you work on. Before a new feature sees the light of day on your platform, your team should have built against it.
This isn’t a formal QA process. QA is an incredibly specific field with many excellent practitioners, and DevRel shouldn’t be one of them. This is about getting a feel for the feature and the APIs it exposes. Do the patterns feel right? Does the contract make sense? Is it all intuitive? These are the questions you’re trying to answer.
Perhaps most importantly for your community, you’ll be better placed to help them see the benefits of a feature if you’ve used it yourself and understand its quirks. Plus you can open source the code when you’re done and you’ve seeded the library of sample code for that feature.
Work closely with Product Managers
When I talk about being Developer Zero and the kinds of questions you should be asking when trying a new feature, what I’m really trying to give you is a list of things you should be talking to the relevant Product Manager about. Your relationship with Product Managers will be key to how effectively you can advocate for the views of the developers you serve, so cultivate them.
Ultimately, the relationship you have with your PMs will depend on your organization, but I think ideally you want to get to a place whereby PMs are actively seeking out your feedback as early as possible in the design stage of a feature. Be their trusted partner. Don’t ring their bell for every single piece of feedback. Watch for patterns in the community and surface them.
My final piece of advice is this - Be empathic with those in your community. Assume their best intent. They want to learn - after all, they raise bugs and suggest features because they share your passion for the platform you have the privilege of working on.
What seems incredibly obvious to you may well have been blocking them for hours/days/weeks.
Besides - some of the best insights I’ve learned about the products I work on have always come from the community. They offer a perspective that an insider won’t always have.
Just remember, while you may have answered the same question a million times, this is their first time asking you, and if they’re asking you, then it’s important to them. Respect that and respect them, it’s the least they deserve.
I’ll be upfront and say that I’m probably not the best at living up to these traits. And I’m not sure that anyone is 100% at all of them. Ultimately the best we can ever do is strive to improve, and that’s what I’m trying to do. I hope you feel like you’re improving too.
Tech companies do a fantastic job on their career sites of talking about all the amazing perks they offer. Free food as far as the eye can see, the latest hardware and eye-popping salaries. But at the best companies, the real perk is something else.
The older I get, the more I realise the real perk I derived from working at Facebook wasn’t the money, the benefits, the amazing facilities or even the fantastic product I had the privilege of working on.
The thing that was truly incredible was the caliber of people who I could call my co-workers. I got to regularly hear from the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Mike Schroepfer, Chris Cox and Sheryl Sandberg.
And those are just the people who are widely known. There were countless others at all levels who are some of the most intelligent people I have ever known.
Sheryl’s commencement address to UC Berkeley is impressive viewed by itself, but is ordinary in the sense that she brought the same level of passion and insight every time I heard her speak, whether to a small group or a large crowd. I’m lucky to have heard her speak on so many occasions.
I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that, when you’re evaluating opportunities at a company, especially early on in your career, be sure to look beyond what’s in your contract.
Salary, benefits, perks etc are important and should of course be a part of your decision, but focus more on the product or service, and the people who have already chosen to be involved with the company. The lessons you will learn from being surrounded by smart people and leaders in their field will stay with you long after you have finished your last free meal or spent your final paycheque from that company.