On the New MacBook

I’ve been using the new MacBook as a personal travel laptop for the last month or so. I’ve been coding and writing blog posts with it and I wanted to share my experiences.

If you care about these sorts of things, I’m sure you’ve read countless reviews of the device. So I won’t try to cover everything. Instead, I’ll hit on a few specific things that matter to me.1

This thing is liiiiight

So, I bought this sort of on a whim. I had to travel quite a bit recently, internationally and with a lot of luggage already2. I’m working on an app for myself, and using that to learn Swift. I couldn’t justify the weight of a second laptop in my carryon, so I couldn’t/didn’t want to bring my own MacBook Pro in addition to my work laptop.3

For this scenario – a second, lightweight companion laptop – this thing is perfect. Far better than an iPad with a keyboard, because it runs OS X, and light enough that it’s like carrying a book. I hardly notice the extra weight. It’s just awesome.

Yes, the keyboard is weird (trackpad, too)

The keyboard is a polarizing feature. Reviewers seem to love it or hate it. I love it. It does take some getting used to, but once I did, I am able to type on it as fast as I can on my MacBook Pro. Switching between the two keyboards is my biggest problem. I make a few more mistakes when I first get on the Macbook, but it goes away quickly.

The bigger problem for me is that the keyboard layout is actually subtly different. Arrow keys and the Fn keys are the big ones for me. I still haven’t figured out the arrow keys, and still stumble around on those regularly. Thankfully I tend to code in things with Vi keybindings, so it doesn’t mess me up as often as it could.

For what it’s worth, I typed up the Mobile in India blog post on my MacBook (and this post, too).

The trackpad is similarly uncanny valley-ish, but more easily ignored. I sometimes tend to crash down on the trackpad to click it (trying to stop the screensaver from kicking in, for example), but since it doesn’t give, the haptic feedback illusion breaks since it doesn’t match the force with which I hit the trackpad.

Performance is merely OK

The Intel Core M processor used in the laptop is Intel’s attempt to build a tablet/hybrid processor. The processor also limits the amount of RAM. It’s OK for most things, but the laptop does struggle with anything that’s pushing a lot of data around. Overall, I see the beachball a lot more than I ever do on my MacBook Pro.4

That said, I run Xcode, I compile apps, and for the smaller applications I’m working on, it’s fine.

On the other hand, for writing blog posts, emails, and that sort of thing… this thing is PERFECT. I love it so much that I reach for it now when I want to sit down to write. The small screen minimizes the temptation to have distractions visible, and the retina screen makes reading type easy on the eyes.

Should you get it?

Depends. If you prioritize weight over performance, this is perfect. In any other scenario, the MacBook Air or the 13” MacBook Pro is a better choice.

For the developers, this cannot be a primary development laptop, but you can get away with Xcode or Atom or the like running with little trouble. Expect build times to be a lot longer than whatever you’re used to.

Bottom line: I love it, glad I took a chance on it.


  1. Two reviews that I’ll highlight, in case you missed them: Marco Arment’s review (he hated it) and Rene Ritchie’s review.

  2. Ex-pat living note: when you travel back to your home country, it’s expected (neighbors will mock you otherwise) that you maximize your return luggage allowance with everyday luxuries that you can’t buy easily here in India. For example, my last trip I had a suitcase full of baby stuff from our attic, many boxes of mac & cheese, maple syrup, and Clif Bars.

  3. Yes, I like carrying a separate laptop for personal things. I’m always hacking on personal apps and ideas, and I do all my writing on personal gear so I don’t cross the streams. Work is work. Personal is personal.

    I recognize this is like the ultimate first world, self-inflicted problem.

  4. I also installed El Capitan on this, so performance has dropped a little as I’d expect with with a beta OS and working in a beta Xcode

Some Observations on the Mobile Market in India

Living in India has given me a new perspective on a lot of things. Professionally, I’m constantly learning a lot just by seeing how differently people use their phones, and how different the market and ecosystem around mobile is here.

Intex? Karbonn? Spice Mobile? Oppo?

The biggest eye opener has been seeing the number of India-focused brands here in the smartphone market.

In the US, there are global brands like Apple, Samsung, HTC, Motorola, and LG and then a spread of other smaller brands. Here’s IDC’s list of the top smartphone vendors in India last year:

  1. Samsung
  2. Micromax
  3. Intex
  4. Lava
  5. Xiaomi

The market is also full of up & comers like Spice Mobile, and Karbonn, & other Chinese manufacturers like Oppo among many others I probably haven’t heard of.

Windows Phone is still a factor here, and I do still see Blackberrys from time-to-time, though they don’t rank in any public market reports I can see.

And feature phones – J2ME, basic phones… still big in India, too.

I’m Developing Android First

Most of the smartphones sold in India run Android. Android has a 90+% market share in India. Nothing else really is worth talking about, when you’re talking about smartphones.

So, while I personally am a dedicated iOS user, professionally in India, our teams think Android first. This is not the case for our US development teams, where both platforms have roughly equal priority and resources.

In the U.S., Fred Wilson’s 2010 call for Android first was bad advice then (and probably still is now), but the realities of emerging markets like India means doing exactly that. It’s literally the only game in town that matters.

Price is King, But Technology Matters

India is a price sensitive market. Obvious, right? But what I’ve found living here and talking to coworkers is that it isn’t just price that matters, but affordable value. From Ben Thompson’s excellent blog, Stratechery, talking about Xiaomi’s (and others’) rapidly growing customer base in India & China:

These customers are not conservative, or even pragmatists: they are enthusiasts and visionaries who simply don’t have very much money. The proper way to reach them, then, is not to sell them trickle-down technology: they will see right through that, and dismiss it out of hand. Rather, the solution to is develop new business models – indeed, in the case of Xiaomi, a new company – that is built from the ground-up to serve their specific needs.

This, too, is a powerful opportunity: there are far, far more potential customers in developing countries than there are in developed ones, but just because they don’t have much money does not mean they are technological laggards. Indeed, many of these customers are even more advanced when it comes to being mobile first because of the lack of a PC legacy, and they will embrace a brand that lets them live on the cutting edge.

Specs and feature bullets are still huge here, and not just because so many people in India work in the technology sector.

Android is Different Here

That central point, that people want tech but simply can’t afford the flagship devices, means that manufacturers need to find creative ways to manage cost while still offering an overall solid device. This creates subtle differences in user experience that go beyond the speed or feel of the device.

For example, Rs. 10,000 (~$160) is a common marketing cutoff for “inexpensive” smartphones (all phones are sold unlocked and contract free here).1

So, I decided to pick up a Micromax Canvas A1, which cost me about Rs. 4800 (~$75) fully unlocked, got a SIM for it, and have been using it as my ‘free time’ phone when I don’t need work email or iMessage.

It’s not a bad device – performance is fine – and because it’s an Android One device, it runs the latest version of Android. It does have some limitations that impact how we need to develop apps.

First, it’s a 3G phone – no LTE or HSPA+ etc. Even though LTE is coming online here in the cities, the state of the networks, plagued by inconsistent coverage, make this a less significant limitation. App developers already need to think about bandwidth as a precious resource. I’m used to seeing my iPhone on 2G/Edge networks regularly, and I’m not alone judging from our user reports.

The bigger surprise was the limited internal storage. I always found Android fans’ focus on SD card slots odd, but now that I’m running a phone with just 2 Gigs of internal flash memory, I suddenly understand. I went to download an app yesterday and got an error that I was out of space. And all I had on the phone were about 10 reasonably sized apps (the biggest was Facebook, at 150 MB(!). Android does let you move apps and some data to the SD card, so moving apps (when you can2) is the only way to continue installing new apps without deleting other apps.

There are even more subtle issues, some of which are detailed in this blog post at NextBigWhat. It’s a good summary of some of the challenges if you want to target the broadest swath of Indian mobile users.

Of course, you do get what you pay for. While things like Twitter and Facebook run fine, the screen isn’t as nice as the flagship phones. My main gripe, though? The horribly inferior camera.

Photo taken on my Canvas A1:

Canvas A1 Sidewalk Shot

Photo taken on my iPhone 6:

iPhone 6 Sidewalk Shot

No contest, IMHO.

I’m still learning a lot about India, and writing software for Indians (and the world outside the U.S. more broadly – Cricket, rugby, & F1 are global sports). We’re getting close to a few new releases at work, so I’m sure I’ll have more to learn and share soon. And there’s still other things – missed call marketing, the SMS market in India 3, and so much more.


  1. Contrast that to a flagship Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, which runs for about Rs. 53,000 (~$833), or an 64GB iPhone 6 which runs around Rs. 56,000 (~$880), though on sale at Amazon for Rs. 43,499 (~$684.49) right now.

  2. So, I have an SD card installed, but not all apps allow themselves to be moved to the card (it’s a developer choice to allow this). Why wouldn’t apps allow this? Because moving to the SD card disables things like the app’s widgets. So… you need to focus on app distribution size, then you have to think about the user experience when the app is on the SD card, and parts of your app just stop working. Bottom line: not convinced SD cards are that useful, and rumor has it that Google is moving away from them anyway…

  3. Every company seems to send free text messages for everything. Seriously.

OK, I’m convinced… Must have headphones for heavy travelers

I can’t believe I’m recommending this, being a Bose-hater for most of my adult life, but the Bose QuietComfort 25 Headphones are now my favorite travel accessory. Overpriced, yes. Average-ish sound quality, sure. But the noise canceling is uncanny. Flip the switch and the silence is surprising. Unlike most other noise canceling headphones I’ve tried, these don’t give me a headache. I’ve used them on a few long haul flights at this point (17-20 hours in the air each trip) and they’re comfortable enough that I sleep with them on.

The Sony noise canceling headphones I used to own would give me a headache on a cross country flight. They were so annoying (and others I tried so poor at canceling noise), that I switched entirely to passive noise cancelation, using IEMs that just blocked sound.

That worked well enough, but on these long flights, enough noise gets through that my music needs to be loud enough that the music ends up giving me a headache after 5-6 hours in the air.

So, consider me a convert. If you have to fly as much as I have had to recently, these are worth the investment.

They work really well in the office, too. I’ll still use my PSB M4U 1 there, because the sound quality is better and I have an office with a door. :)

Moov: Fitness coaching, not just tracking

41WGe2Sns+L._SL250_We’re flooded with fitness oriented wearable devices from the step/activity trackers like the Fitbit and Up to smartwatches like, of course, the Apple Watch. Some phones even have dedicated activity tracking chips.

The sad reality, though, is that most of devices are basically the same. They do step tracking. A few add some extra dimensions of motion capture, or have some additional functionality like sleep tracking, or online tools for food tracking. They’re all about quantifying your day and they’re mostly passive companions. You may get a short vibration when you hit some goals, but that’s kind of it.

There are exceptions, and one of them is Moov. A few years back, I preordered it based on a tweet from a friend and one feature I hadn’t seen before: it pairs with dedicated smartphone apps to provide live feedback during workouts.

So far, they have dedicated apps for Running/Walking, for Cardio Boxing, Swimming, and the trendy 7-minute workout (with Cycling on the way).

I’ve been using the Running app as I come back from my shin splints injury. As I run, the app provides feedback on my balance, stride frequency, and posture, making sure I’m landing without too much force or jarring of my leg. So far, the runs feel better on my legs when using the app, and it’s been good about keeping me from running to fast or too aggressively (it talks to you to stay within a certain stride frequency). It’s simple, but very useful.

I also tried the 7-minute workout app for the first time today. The workout is based on the workout the NY Times covered in The Scientific 7-minute workout. It’s not the exact same workout, instead using a simpler set of exercises with multiple reps. It did feel good this morning – the muscles I don’t workout regularly were slightly sore, and the app’s feedback and rep counter worked well.

Every time I use this device, I’m impressed. I’m surprised it doesn’t get more buzz, to be honest. It’s way more useful than any other fitness tracker I’ve tried. Totally recommended.

An iPad, a Mac, and a Twitch.tv

I found myself watching some players on Twitch.tv this weekend playing Vainglory. It’s pretty much the only game I play these days and has been for months.

This was the first time that I could remember actually watching Twitch streams naturally – not checking it out because it was in the news or whatever. I actually found it helpful to my gameplay, and it was mildly entertaining. Most of you are probably rolling your eyes now, but you can kind of think of this like watching the Golf Channel. If you’re a golfer, you’ll watch because it makes you better. If you’re not a golfer, it’s the most boring thing on your TV.

That’s a big part of Twitch – hanging out, learning from, and socializing with people who take a specific game (or gaming) as seriously as you do.

What’s interesting about Vainglory is that it’s an iOS game. On Twitch, a big part of the experience is watching people play the game. So, they’re streaming live from their iPad (usually with other video, e.g. a webcam looking at them) on screen too.

So, the question is how people stream from the iPad. Today, I snuck in an hour here and there to try and get it setup.

I was prepared to write a nice post with sample videos and screenshots of how I was able to successfully stream and record Vainglory from my iPad, but sadly none of the attempts were good enough to share.

At this point, my conclusion is that streaming from an iPad using a Mac is frustrating and unnecessarily complicated. It involves installing a device driver from Github (to capture audio), running either an Airplay server or routing video through Quicktime, and installing a broadcasting app that’s sparse on the on-boarding.

I gather that the situation is lot better on the Windows side of the world, but I’m amazed that Twitch is so popular considering how barebones the streaming software options are. Even the Windows options, while better, look to involve a few steps.

I’m surprised Twitch doesn’t invest directly in the stream creation experience. They do get Twitch support embedded directly in specific games – that seems to be their avenue of choice – but those integrations tend to be very specific to each game and lack the features that make the good Twitch streams interesting (PIP, the ability for player voiceovers, etc).

On the upside, I learned that Quicktime Player can record video (including sound) off of an iOS device with nothing more than the lightning cable that comes with the device. That’s going to come in handy.

Practicing RC flying with a simulator

One of my recent obsessions has been RC flying. So far, I’ve played with relatively cheap quadcopters and helicopters, but I’ve managed to crash every single one enough times to end up with a pile of damaged copters. So, I basically gave up on the hobby thinking I didn’t have the time (or budget) to really get into it. I felt like I either needed to spend to get an advanced quadcopter that auto-leveled and could correct for novice piloting, or really dedicate more time than I had to do the fly, crash, repair, charge cycle required to practice.

Recently, though, I discovered the world of foam board RC planes. These are planes built from cheap – like under $5 cheap – foam board using either custom plans or downloaded plans over the internet. Pre-made kits for the body of the planes can be found from places like Flite Test for under $40. These kits contain pre-cut or pre-scored foam board and the hardware required to connect to your electronics and servos. Flite Test has a great series of ‘swappable’ designs that make it easy to share batteries and electronics between several planes.

I found out about this via one of Flite Test’s videos featuring planes modeled after characters from Planes: Fire & Rescue, which happens to be my son’s current movie obsession. The models are amazing, and when they mentioned foam board, I had to see what it would take to build one with my son.

As I was trying to figure out if I could build one of these with my son, I discovered that I can now buy hardware that lets me practice RC flying using a flight simulator with a real RC transmitter. So, I could actually practice flying without all the crash, repair, charge steps in between flights.

I finally snuck in an hour to set this up at home and the results were awesome:

Aerofly RC 7 10th flight from sujal shah on Vimeo.

It’s hard to tell from the video, but I’m flying a simple RC plane in the simulator using a transmitter wirelessly. The sim is focused on RC flying, which is a little different than a typical flight simulator. The big difference is that the sim simulates operating the plane from the ground, not from inside the cockpit. This lets me practice the hardest aspect of this for me, which is maintaining an understanding of the spatial orientation of the plane and my controls. In other words, when the plane is flying toward me, I need to remember that pushing right on the stick will make the plane turn toward my left (because it’s facing me). That’s really hard for me, especially with my cheap quadcopters where identifying the “front” is tricky in flight.

That’s all the gear I needed to do this:

The connection process is pretty simple. Make sure the receiver is paired to your transmitter before you start connecting everything up. Then, the basic wiring pattern is the Single Line Converter (SLC) connects the receiver to the USB adapter on the computer side. Just connect channels 1-6 on the SLC (or as many channels as your equipment has) to the same channel output on the receiver using the included cables. The slot labeled S on the SLC should be connected to the USB adapter. Then just plug the USB adapter into the computer and fire up Aerofly. It will detect the USB connection and walk you through the setup process. It was pretty painless, though I recommend reading the instructions that come with the Ikarus stuff (for example, pay attention to connect + pin to + pin, – pin to – pin, etc. between the SLC and the receiver – the instructions contain the diagrams you need to make sure this is done right).

There were some gotchas in my particular setup: the Orange receiver doesn’t label the pins by channel number, but they turned out to be in order. Next, the Spektrum’s channel 6 isn’t in use by default. Aerofly likes all the channels to be calibrated, so I had to figure out how to enable that channel on my transmitter so I could finish the calibration without a warning message (it is a harmless error, but I was being picky).

Once that was done, I was able to get a plane up in the air, which I promptly crashed. I was thrilled, though, and am now just trying to do a simple racetrack around the airfield and then land. So far, I haven’t succeeded. :)

My favorite iPhone case

For the last two years, I didn’t use a case for my iPhone. I really love the look of the 5 & 5S, and didn’t want anything to cover it up. Of course, by the end of the year, the screens had dozens of fine (and one or two not-so-fine) scratches. Really annoying.

So, for the iPhone 6, I decided I’d keep an eye out for a case that I could live with. A few weeks ago, I ran across an ad for the Twelve South SurfacePad (Amazon link). It looked perfect: a minimalist case that looks great and could help simplify my wallet (a separate mission I’m focused on before our move to India).

I bought and received the case last week directly from Twelve South. So far, it’s been great. I’ve included a few photos below. It’s easily the best case I’ve seen for the iPhone 6.

The case attaches to the back of the iPhone using a special adhesive that can be reattached multiple times. It took a few tries to get it attached squarely.1 It feels secure.

I love having my license and primary credit card with the phone. I can basically lock my wallet up when I’m traveling, and I rarely need to pull it out otherwise.

It also looks great, and it seems like the leather is breaking in as Twelve South indicates in the booklet they include with the case.

There are two drawbacks with this case. First, the cover can be awkward in two situations. When taking photos, the cover needs to dangle or get folded in the stand mode so that it doesn’t block the lens. When trying to use the phone one handed or as a phone, the case needs to be flipped around to the back (think of the smart cover on the iPad), which makes me slightly nervous about having the cards exposed. They are quite snug in their slots, but as the leather softens, I worry about the slots loosening up. Hopefully the cards will stay securely in their slots.

The second drawback has to do with combining a wallet with the phone. This weekend, for example, I had to use my card outside at a parking kiosk. It was raining, so getting to my primary credit card meant pulling my phone out and exposing it to the elements. Manageable, but not ideal.

Those are both tradeoffs I can live with, though. I really love this case. It looks gorgeous and functions well for me. Recommended.

I included some photos below of the case on my iPhone 6. (photos taken with a Google Nexus 6).

New iPhone case: SurfacePad for iPhone 6

Front of the SurfacePad

New iPhone case: SurfacePad for iPhone 6

Back of the SurfacePad

New iPhone case: SurfacePad for iPhone 6

Inside of the SurfacePad


  1. Truth be told, it’s still not perfectly square, which I only noticed when taking the pictures. OCD sufferers, take note. :)

Watch Thoughts

The Apple Watch had very few surprises. It was, as these things tend to go, a reasonable and well designed entry into the watch space. Like the iPad before it, it does enough to make it interesting, but really draws its strength from the surrounding ecosystem, built on the ridiculous popularity of the iPhone.

I do wish they had tried something a little more radical: lose the screen. My ideal Apple Watch based on what they’ve announced so far:

  • Apple Pay
  • All the fitness sensors, including the pulse sensor
  • bluetooth
  • Taptic haptic feedback
  • some customization

I really don’t care about the touchscreen and or the digital crown. I don’t want to read notifications or look at maps or touch message people. I have a phone, which will have a larger screen than ever before. I have no idea why I’d look at a maps app on my watch. Consider me unconvinced about the overall utility of smart watches in general.

But a secure payment wristband combined with fitness sensors and non-visual feedback/output (think Taptic)… I’m in. Bet the battery life would be awesome, too.

Path & Apple

It’s a single source, and I have no idea if it will happen, but I’m probably the only person I know that’s happy about Apple possibly buying Path.

My family uses Path as a very effective private-ish social network for our extended family. It’s the default place for kid photos, quick family broadcasts (“flight landed, at the hotel”), and other things where, quite frankly, we don’t want to share with out entire social network. The app is beautiful, well made, and fully featured. Heck, it even has private chat & stickers.

The only concern I have about Path, the company, is their somewhat iffy policies around privacy and data access. They’re nowhere near as bad as Facebook, but they clearly fall from the same tree. They’ve had a few privacy scuffles.

That’s what makes an Apple acquisition so enticing. Apple’s stance on privacy basically eliminates my only concern with them, and takes away Path’s monetization problems (and thus any motivation to sell our data in any way).

So, from my standpoint – I really hope this deal happens. It would be great for users, and Apple will get a fully featured social network they can wire into iOS to improve iCloud sharing.

What I’m Looking for from Apple Tomorrow

Like everyone else, I’m curious to see if the leaks have nailed the updated iPhones and what the wearable gadget looks like, and what new capabilities are in both that we haven’t expected. I’m also pretty sure that this won’t be the most important info from tomorrow’s announcements.

I always go back to the original iPhone announcement when I try and think about evaluating what matters from these sorts of product announcements. By far, the most important details of the new iPhone were mobile Safari coupled with an unlimited data plan at a reasonable-ish price. We got a new capability (real Internet on a mobile device!) with the means to use it without friction.

So, tomorrow, if Apple announces a mobile payment solution, for example, the key will be scoping the limitations around its use1. If it’s like Google Wallet (“hey, we’ll figure out where you can use it… some day”), then it’s obviously useless. Apple solves business problems when they ship features.

Also worth linking to my earlier post about why I hate the smart watch rumors I’ve heard so far.

Can’t wait for the announcements tomorrow.


  1. And there will be limitations. The original iPhone only had 2G, only ran on AT&T, and had limited enterprise integration. Ultimately, those didn’t matter for adoption in the first year, and were soon remedied in subsequent iterations. So, a lot of tomorrow will be figuring out if the limitations matter, and why. So far, Apple has a good track with this, especially for their highest priority project at any moment.