AirPods are smartish

Next year is going to be interesting. I’m hoping to save up enough to buy a Vision Pro and experience a new world of audio and visual. Until then, I get the sense (and hear from those who have tried it) that AirPods are the first true dip into an augmented reality world; at least for the masses. I’ve thought about writing this post a handful of times in the past week, but kept thinking it wasn’t worth the energy. A recent discussion on Connected convinced me that I’m not the only one.

I’ve owned a handful of AirPods at this point, and the AirPods Pro 2 are nothing short of amazing. If they died today I’d immediately grab my original Pros and put them on, then drive to the nearest Walmart to buy another pair. They’re that good.

I can limit the world around me while I work, listen to a podcast while running, use them for video calls and music, and generally augment my audio experience however I want. For someone who works at a computer much of the day this is a joy. There’s little chance I’d ever go back to a world without these.

The noise cancelling is so good that I can keep the volume lower, which is a plus for my ears; where louder sounds tend to feel overwhelming. Given that these sit in my ears for hours on end, I’ve even limited how high they can go on the decibels, out of concern for my ears in my older years.

When Apple announced Adaptive audio and Conversational Awareness at WWDC I was more excited about these features than any other updates for Apple hardware (the hardware I own at least). Then I tried them.

Here’s the thing about active noise cancellation (ANC). It’s amazing. It changes how I perceive the world. It turns a miserable airplane ride into something a little less horrid. It quiets everything at a co-working space, and even dims the yells of happy children right outside my office. I love AirPods, and the ANC part of it is fantastic.

AirPods Pros 2 are a massive improvement over their predecessors; with one weird exception where the devices themselves are sensitive to touch, so laying on my side on a pillow, or brushing a finger against them “feels” off. But that aside, I use these exclusively and my originals sit in my closet.

So, with that context, I was extremely excited to test out the new features in the beta. I tried them, and even told my wife that they’d make conversation easier since my device would now understand we were talking and automatically adjust the audio for it.

It’s not good enough.

Within a few days I disabled both features entirely and went back to my normal AirPods modes. The conversational awareness triggered at times when I didn’t want it, and the adaptive audio felt finicky. It wasn’t reliable enough. I couldn’t trust that it would just work and behave in the way that my brain expected.

I thought I’d write more about it, but it just feels off and not worth shifting from the already amazing experience I have now.

Maybe things will improve in future software and hardware updates, but for now I’m back to toggling between Transparency Mode and Noise Cancellation mode; and frankly that’s enough. I either pull out my AirPods when I need to talk to someone, or switch to Transparency mode if I’m expecting a quick response.

That aside, I’m excited to see how Apple continues to push these into the future. I’ll instantly buy a new generation, which has me wondering about the new USB-C announcement last week.

Not so smart app defaults

I loved reading Michal’s take on tools, and how so much of it tends toward the defaults offered by Apple. 

I’ve talked about this at length with my friend, Saadi recently, and again appreciate his desire to focus on default system apps first. 

My take is a little different. 

There’s a spectrum of following the flow of what an app offers, the decisions it makes for you, and finding an app you can bend to your own preferences. Picking a default app leans in the direction of following the flow of the app. That’s a good thing I think! So often we have decision overload in our lives. Picking up an app, getting your stuff done, and moving on, is perfect for most of what we do.


I can’t quite make it work for some of my apps. I spend most of my waking hours on a screen of some sort or another. I’m not necessarily a power user, but I do spend a lot of time with various productivity apps. If something doesn’t work how I expect it’s hard for me to just accept the app’s limitation.

I’ll pick the standout examples.

Google Calendar versus Apple’s Calendar app

I’ve tried to switch to Apple Calendar numerous times. I want to use it so badly, if for no other reason than to have events show up in a timely fashion on my Apple Watch. But on the phone I think in week views, and Apple’s solution to it just doesn’t cut it for me. On the Mac it’s a little better, but then I run into sync issues. I have a work calendar running on a Gmail account, my personal gmail, my personal domain email, and all my Apple devices. The best way I’ve found to setup all that is through Google Calendar. 

Mail vs HEY

I can’t use Apple’s mail app. 

I tried years ago and it just did not work with the way my brain functions. For one, search is horrendous, and for another I don’t like the way it sorts mail. I used Gmail for years, going all the way back to 2004 with a beta account. I loved how it worked. Search was perfect, and archiving matched my brain’s desire for inbox zero. When HEY.com came out I gave it a chance and have loved it ever since. Filtering emails away from the inbox toward other areas, and screening out unwanted emails is a killer feature. 

If other email providers adopt this I could be compelled to switch; but I love the calmness of my inbox being a place I have control over. 

With that said, HEY’s search feature is pretty bad. So bad in fact that I set aside emails I think I’ll need later. 

Things 3 vs Reminders

Apple’s Reminders app has come a long way. It is a decent app that helps keep track of lists. But it’s not a great app for planning out my day.

While I use calendar events for anything that connects me to another person, I use Things 3 as a cheat sheet for what I need to get done today, tonight, and tomorrow. Reminders doesn’t have an elegant way for me to easily shift between those two ways of thinking.

That, along with the fantastic integration on iPhone widgets and Apple Watch, make this an app I just can’t go without. 

Bear vs Notes

This is one area where I’m not so sure anymore. A year ago I wouldn’t have considered Apple Notes. Bear Notes has been my app of choice for all note taking for 5+ years. But with their recent update they’ve changed a lot of the features I’m used to, and made the experience worse (for me at least). I started testing Apple Notes again and was surprised at how great it is. Other than missing markdown, it’s a solid app. I might actually switch to this for all my notes going forward. 

My Wanderlust

I look forward to Apple events. 

It’s a fun time of year for me where I can imagine how new hardware and software will improve my life in small or large ways. In some ways this feels silly to talk about, unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But I find delight in it and give myself permission to geek out. 

Today’s Apple event was no exception. This time, though, I did something different. Two friends and I got together and recorded a podcast to talk about our initial thoughts and reactions to the podcast. We may publish it someday, we may not. It’s an upcoming project in the works. Still, it was fun to have a place to share. I found myself looking forward to recording the podcast. Normally I wait for my favorite shows to drop their episodes. That won’t change, but this time around I held off looking at any reactions until I’d shared mine. I like this. 

Here’s a summary of some of the things we discussed on the podcast, along with my gut reactions. 

Apple Watch Series 9

I love the pink color. It’s really well done, at least from what I can tell in the video. I’m excited to see it in person. I wouldn’t wear a pink watch myself, but it looks amazing. 

The new S9 chip feels huge inside of the device. I haven’t checked yet, but I was surprised at its size. Seems like a moderate spec bump. 

For on-device Siri I’m hopeful. Siri to this day has been a disappointment for me. It never performs as well as I hope, and I’ve ended up disabling it on all my devices. I will probably skip this update as well, but I recognize the value of having Siri available even when you’re offline. 

Name drop to share contacts looks cool. I might try this at a convention next time I’m meeting new people. Other than that I don’t see it being used often enough to develop a habit. 

The ultra wide band iPhone finder is a useful feature. I’ve loved having a better way to find my AirPods, and having it for the phone from my watch will be useful. 

2000 nits feels like a lot. Brightness outside is always a challenge, so bring on the nits. 

My favorite feature, and the one that feels like the standout, is the double tap action. At least a few times a day I need to change something on my audio, whether pausing a podcast or song or answering a phone call. Being able to control that action without pressing any glass—or worse yet trying to use my voice—sounds amazing.

I really enjoyed the environmental video with Octavia Spencer. She killed it. In fact, everyone in the ad nailed their roles. From Tim Cook’s humorous hesitation to Lisa Jackson going toe-to-toe with Mother Earth, each person played their part and as my friend Saadia called out, the ad could easily have trended toward cringey but pulled it off well. 

I was surprised that in removing leather from across Apple’s product line they chose not to replace it with it vegan leather option. I was expecting that, but given their environmental angle I wonder if alternate leather options are just as bad. The FineWoven options look good, and I’d like to try one to see how they feel and hold up over time. They’re different, and I applaud the effort. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2

A solid upgrade. 3000 nits is so much. I think that will make a legitimate difference outside when trying to read the screen. I don’t see a compelling reason to upgrade compared to the Series 9, but that was true last year as well. 

My main reason to get an Ultra comes down to battery and the large screen. I’m interested, but not sure the increased cost justifies the price difference. 

Apple Watch SE

I appreciate that they dropped the price to $249. I’m considering getting one for my son. 

iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus

Love the pink! Nice colors across the line.

Everything has a dynamic island now. That’s good! I hope this will bring more attention to developing for this area of the screen. I couldn’t tell but I think Flighty got a callout for the airline app. I need to try that!

Next generation portraits is an amazing update. I won’t have to remember which mode to choose ahead of time. I’ve been playing with cinematic mode over the last year and love being able to change the focal points in editing. Doing that with photos is a great addition. 

Find my via Satellite is such a great addition to Satellite SOS. While the former is something I can see using with family on occasion, the latter I hope to never need. 

I’ve been thinking about USB-C, and I’m guessing it will be a welcome change; eventually. It’s a massive shift for the average iPhone buyer. Many don’t have other USB-C devices laying around. When I shared with a non-tech friend after the event she gave an eye roll to the cord change. 

iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max

This piece is already getting longer than I intended, so I’ll cut to the main points that interest me. 

I like having titanium. A lighter phone will be a welcome change. The new cameras look legit and I’m excited to try them. 

The biggest update though? I was surprised to see spatial videos! I want to capture these types of videos of my kids while they’re still small, even though I can’t actually view them yet on any medium. This alone warrants an upgrade. 


As to what I’ll buy—I’m guessing I’ll get an Apple Watch Series 9, hand down my Series 8 to my wife. For my phone I have a 14 Pro, but I think we’ll get an iPhone 15 Pro Max for my wife, since she hasn’t upgraded in three years. 

Podcast intro sounds

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts over the years, and as an exercise I wanted to collect the intro sounds from some of my favorites. This is for my own purpose as I try to figure out what I want my podcasts to sound like in their intros (fractional.fm for now, and more coming), and it may be helpful to others. Please note that the quality of these is very low, as I was more interested in the sound than any specific recording quality.

Accidental Tech Podcast


Cup of Tech




Mac Power Users

Magic Rays of Light


Reconcilable Differences

Sharp Tech


The Rebound


Thinking with an iPad

I use a MacBook Pro and iPad every single day for work. Both devices have become critical to what I do as a designer and creative person. Several years ago I tried to make the iPad my primary device for everything design related. It didn’t work. It forced me to make too many tradeoffs and find workarounds for simple tasks. 

Things have settled though, and I now have a workflow that feels about as perfect as I could imagine. I work on a laptop for communication, high-fidelity design work, and just about everything else. 

But when it comes time to think, where I need to process the user experience of an app, think through a tough visual challenge, for connect chaotic pieces together, I always turn to the iPad. 

Over the years I’ve written about the various iPad apps for sketching: Miro, Paper, Linea Sketch, Adobe’s products, Procreate, etc. Each have their uses, and I’ve tried all of them and a dozen other options. With each app I’m looking for the closest thing to a piece of paper and pencil. Now, in the last year, Freeform has become my favorite app by far. Despite some [challenges] I’ve had with it, I can’t imagine using anything else now.

Thinking, for me, doesn’t happen in an app like Figma. Instead, I have to use my hand and a stylus to process through something. An iPad with Freeform is a perfect expression of that. After I’ve figured out the actual layout of something, I can then open an app like Figma and fuss with interface elements.

To go along with that I’ve also wrestled with iPad sizes. I currently own an iPad Pro 12.9″ and an iPad mini. While I bought the mini for travel, and setup the larger iPad on an Elevation Lab stand for my desk, I turned more and more to the mini. Now I’m 100% on the mini. There’s just something special about holding a tiny tablet in one hand and sketching with the other. It’s as close to a notepad as I could imagine, and it’s perfect. 

If you haven’t experimented with this, I highly recommend it. Any iPad will do, but training myself to think first by hand has helped me become a better designer.