Suite and sour

· 3 minute read

(After trying to shine on a light on some inconsistencies of Apple’s doing, it seems only fair to give Google the same treatment.)

Like most of you (I presume), I’ve used Gmail for many years. In an industry where products can too often feel fleeting or unreliable, I can’t remember a time when I previously felt the need to question this decision.

My email addresses uses a custom domain (e.g. you@yourdomain.com). The only way to accomplish this while using Gmail is to create what Google calls a G Suite account1. Despite clearly being meant for businesses, Google’s marketing materials don’t really give a reason as to why you shouldn’t use G Suite for personal email.

What is the difference between G Suite and Google’s free apps? With G Suite, you’ll receive a number of additional business-grade services not included with Google’s free consumer apps. These services include: custom business email @yourcompany, twice the amount of cloud storage across Gmail and Drive, 24/7 phone and email support, 99.9% guaranteed uptime on business email, interoperability with Microsoft Outlook, additional security options like two-step authentication and SSO, and administrative controls for user accounts.

Sounds great! And in practice, everything will mostly just work the way that you’d expect it to, until it doesn’t, and you hit one of G Suite’s many inexplicable limitations.

In this particular case, I was trying out YouTube TV and was surprised to learn that I couldn’t invite my wife unless I first switched to using a regular Gmail account. This wasn’t a huge inconvenience: I do have a regular account, I don’t particularly care which of the two is associated with YouTube TV, and I hadn’t thus far invested much time into setting YouTube TV up. But this could’ve very easily been quite painful. And what else can’t G Suite accounts do?

One such answer was have their email and calendar made accessible to Google Home – presumably, one of that device’s biggest selling points.

This was eventually fixed, but this trend still strikes me as fairly troubling. Imagine spending years investing in Google’s ecosystem only to learn that your account is a second-class citizen because you decided quite some time ago that you wanted to use a custom domain for your email. In the case of Google Home, you could’ve potentially worked around email access specifically by setting up forwarding rules2, but other products (e.g. Google Calendar) lack such forwarding mechanisms3. It’s great that this particular limitation seems to have only been temporary, but what will the next (seemingly arbitrary) limitation be, and will that one ever be remedied? Being sufficiently dug-into G Suite, I can’t help but feel pretty stuck.

As two of Google’s newest products, you’d think that Google Home and YouTube TV would be encumbered by comparatively few legacy restrictions. If G Suite accounts aren’t a priority today, it’s hard to feel confident that they’ll be adequately supported in the future.

Google should remove these restrictions from G Suite accounts, such that anyone already using a custom domain for personal email can do so without any roadblocks. Additionally, if Google really wants G Suite accounts to be for business purposes only, they should make it such that regular Gmail accounts can support custom domains, and improve their marketing copy to make all of this abundantly clear before anyone makes the wrong decision as to where their data should reside.

Thanks to Brian Donohue for providing feedback on this post.

  1. Formerly known as a “Google Apps” 

  2. Export all of your existing email, import it into a regular Gmail account, set up email forwarding from the G Suite account to the regular account, ad nauseam. Don’t get me wrong, this would be a massive headache, but it at least seems theoretically doable. 

  3. To my knowledge. I haven’t researched this extensively. 

An aspirational home screen for 2018

· 3 minute read

It’s1 the start of a new year, and thus a good opportunity to think about how the next 365 days can improve upon their predecessors. I’ve spent a inordinate amount of time in recent months considering how the software in my life can can be more of a means and less of an end, and as such have am starting 2018 with the following:

For many years, my home screen reflected the apps that I used the most, a self-fulfilling prophecy if there ever was one. I used Tweetbot so much that it seemed to very obviously deserve a spot in my dock, guaranteeing that I’d continue to use it a ton without considering whether or not that was actually the intention. Instead, I’m now trying what I hope will be prescriptive of the habits I want to engrain2 – most of them offline as opposed to online – rather than descriptive of my status quo.

Tweetbot hasn’t only been removed from my dock and home screen3, but from my phone altogether. I first replaced it with the official Twitter app, an app that I find less enjoyable to the point where I figured it’d help me kick the habit, but it didn’t, and as such Twitter is also gone (in favor of Nuzzel and TwiM4). Same with email; once badged and in the dock, but now buried in a folder without any such adornments or permissions.

I have a real love-hate relationship with Twitter. It has – at times – brought me immense joy, knowledge, and offline friendships that I value dearly to this day. I truly consider it to be my most important professional network. Conversely, I’ve found it to be a time-suck that I’m drawn to like no other. And it’s important to me that I change that.

The blessing and curse of the modern mobile operating system – depending on your self-control – is that your phone can take on any form you’d like: a machine for Twitter and games, a tool that encourages an active and present lifestyle, or in most cases, something in between. Without a right answer, the best that I think you can do is to make sure that you’re consciously deciding.

  1. Well, it was. 

  2. Meditation being perhaps the boldest example of this. I’ve not meditated prior to this year, and don’t necessarily intend to make it a regular part of my routine. But I know I want to do it more than I have in the past, and putting it front and center is the best way I can think of to accomplish that. Even if only on occasion. 

  3. Please don’t misunderstand this as anything but the most effusive of praise for Tweetbot, both as a longtime customer but also as a software developer who very frequently finds their mastery of the craft maddeningly jealousy-producing. 

  4. I still use Mobile Safari to visit twitter.com more often than I wish I did, but it’s an improvement that I’ll take for now. 

Many Siris

· 4 minute read

Most of the criticism that I read about Siri – especially when comparing and contrasting to Alexa or the Google Assistant – seems to focus primarily on speed and/or reliability. While these are perfectly valid vectors of criticism, it’s easy to foresee how Apple could improve on both of these fronts. A more worrisome flaw, to me, is that there is not one Siri after all. There are many.

When talking to Siri on my iPhone, she has a certain set of capabilities. These differ if I talk to Siri on my Mac. When talking to Siri through my AirPods, she’ll assume whatever functionality she’d otherwise have on the device that they’re currently paired with. Siri on my Apple Watch can take certain actions when untethered, but different ones when my iPhone happens to be in range. Siri on my Apple TV has a different set of skills altogether, and now, the HomePod will add yet another Siri to the family.

Apple introduced SiriKit – the long-awaited SDK that finally gave developers the ability to have their own third-party apps invoked via Siri – at WWDC 2016. While many were disappointed by the limited number of application domains1 supported at launch, my own disappointment stemmed from learning that SiriKit “extensions” would run client-side – needing to be bundled alongside a traditional iOS application – instead of as separate server-side software.

If the Lyft app is installed on your iPhone, you can ask Phone Siri to order you a car. But you can’t ask Mac Siri to do the same, because she doesn’t know what Lyft is. Compare and contrast this with the SDKs for Alexa and the Google Assistant – they each run third-party software server-side, such that installing the Lyft Alexa “skill” once gives Alexa the ability to summon a ride regardless of if you’re talking to her on an Echo in your bedroom, a different Echo in your living room, or via the Alexa app on your phone. Similarly, you can ask the Google Assistant on one device to start playing a YouTube video through another (e.g. a Chromecast). iPhone Siri doesn’t have this kind of relationship with the Apple TV, regrettably; you’d have to ask Apple TV Siri herself.

The decision to bundle SiriKit extensions as client-side components of standard iOS applications wasn’t a surprising decision – effectively all of Apple’s developer SDKs are client-side as opposed to server-side. But I can’t help feel that perpetuating this approach with Siri is needlessly making Apple’s voice assistant uphill battle even steeper.

It’s no easy task for a voice assistant to win over new users in 2018, despite them all having improved quite a great deal in recent years. These assistants can be delightful and freeing when they work well, but when they don’t, they have a tendency to make users feel embarrassed and frustrated in a way that GUI software rarely does. If one of your first voice experiences doesn’t go the way you expected it to – especially in front of other people – who could blame you for reverting back to more comfortable methods of interaction2? Already facing this fundamental challenge, Apple is not doing themselves any favors by layering on the additional cognitive overhead of a heavily fragmented Siri experience.

Apple should allow SiriKit extensions to be developed separately from iOS or OS X applications, and they should run on Apple’s servers in such a way that any instance of Siri running on any can device invoke them uniformly. Despite a squandered first-to-market opportunity, it’s certainly not too late for Siri to fend off the competition and endear herself to a large-enough percentage of Apple’s user base. The powers of defaults are strong3. Removing the doubt and uncertainty caused by the many different Siris is an obvious step forward, and one that I hope Apple takes sooner rather than later.

  1. Audio/video calling, messaging, payments, photo library search, and ride hailing. More have since been added. 

  2. And perhaps not giving the assistant another try in the future, when it ostensibly may have improved. 

  3. See: Apple Maps, Apple Music