Categories
Opinion Tech

My thoughts on Squarespace (and other site builders)

Some Squarespace ads have rubbed me the wrong way. Honestly, its a little because it seems to threaten my business, but mostly because the ad-readers write off Web Design altogether (sometimes more subtle than others).I was reminded of this after I read Chris Enns’ post on Paying for Web Design vs Squarespace and it struck a cord with me. After Chris listened to the latest The Talk Show:

Some­thing about the way John Gru­ber & Marco Arment mocked pay­ing money for web design dur­ing a Square­space ad on The Talk Show seemed off. You can lis­ten here at the 1:14 mark.

But after thinking about this for some time, I think these platforms are a good thing not a bad thing for our industry. We need to understand where these tools excel and lack.

Where they excel

There are legitimate reasons to use site builders like Squarespace. They are great tools for companies that have smaller budgets or companies that are just starting up. For companies that can’t afford a custom website, this is a great way to get a web esenseesense.

Where they don’t

Squarespace may give you a design quickly, but there is a ceiling to it. Areas like user experience, content optimization and other things are things that we still have the expertise in and any automated system will not address all of these. Squarespace won’t stop a user from writing a 3000 word “About Us” page, or create a 20 page slider (or any slider for that matter). This is where we come in.

How we can embrace them

Whenever I am having a conversation with a potential client, and a tool like this (or even a WordPress template) is brought up as something they are using, this is how I usually respond (and I swear it doesn’t sound as condescending as this reads):

That is awesome you got a website stood up on your own! Those tools work really well for getting a site up and running. Having a web presence in the vital for your business. Let me know if you want a second set of eyes on it.

If/when this person grows out of this website, or finds they don’t have time to work on their website, you might be the first person they call to take their web presence to the next level. And with a client that has an existing website that is pretty well put together, it makes the next iteration that much easier to build.

Getting back to the ads

I think we can’t be polarizing when forming opinions about site builders. Web Designers can’t write them off entirely as tools that create subpar websites. Ad readers shouldn’t sell them as the silver bullet of web design (Remember who is writing the check for those ads). I appreciate Chris Coyier’s reads when Squarespace was sponsoring ShopTalk. To paraphrase, he thinks these are great for smaller companies that wouldn’t normally pay for your services, but still want a web presence.

Even though these tools seem to threaten our business, that’s ok. It forces us to be better at what we do. It forces us to create better user experiences and design better websites. I just ask podcast ad-readers to not write off Web Design completely.

Categories
Personal Life Tech

Apple Thunderbolt Display: as overpriced as we think?

I’m in the market for a 13″ MacBook Pro over the next month or so. I love the idea of it’s portability, but I’m not sure I could work directly off it every day at my desk. Which brings me to looking for a monitor.

I’m currently using a 27″ non-thunderbolt Cinema Display (which I’ll have to be returning soon), and really enjoy the features of it. So I’d like to continue to have something similar. Here are some of the things I like about the Apple Displays:

  • 2560 x 1440 resolution or better
  • 27″ or better
  • Webcam
  • Speakers
  • 2 plug dock; Thunderbolt and power. (more of a want than need)

I’ve been shopping around, and there are a few monitors that meet some of these parameters.

Dell UltraSharp 27″ (U2713H)

Picture of Dell UltraSharp U2713H-1 Monitor

At first I looked at Dell. The UltraSharp 27″ is comparable to the Apple Display, having 2560 x 1440 resolution with a fairly decent looking case. It has DisplayPort, so I can plug right into ThunderBolt (only carrying display bits). This is a little hard to swallow with a hefty $713 price tag, and this is pretty close to the $999 price of the Apple Cinema.

27″ IPS-Glass Panel Pro LED Monitor #10489

picture of Monoprice 27" IPS-Glass Panel Pro LED Monitor

The next option was much more affordable, coming in at $460 (BTW, thanks to LifeHacker for the recommendation). This monitor also has the great 2560 x 1440 resolution as well as DisplayPort option. A big plus is built in speakers (I’m sure the sound quality isn’t the greatest, but I’m sure it’s better than the speakers in the MacBook Pro). I’m disappointed they didn’t add a webcam (even if its a cheap one) after adding built in speakers.

Apple Thunderbolt Display

Picture of Apple Thunderbolt Display

And now we come to the Apple Thunderbolt display. At $999 (certified refurb $800), this seems like a pretty expensive display on the surface, but let’s break down what it has that other displays don’t:

Webcam

And a pretty good one at that. No need to go buy a separate accessory that will clutter up your desktop, and possibly add another plug to your docking/undocking procedure if you don’t opt for a thunderbolt docking solution.

Speakers

Again, probably not as good as true desktop speakers, but they don’t take any room up on your desk, and don’t clutter up your overall setup.

Thunderbolt Dock

This is very convenient, especially if you are taking your computer on and off your desk a lot. Not a need, but very convenient.

Apple Quality/AppleCare

I’m not sure how much of this is in my head, but I feel like this will just be a better built monitor in general. I shouldn’t ever have to worry about something stupid breaking on it, and if it does, it’s covered under the 3 year AppleCare Protection Plan I’ll get with my laptop.

Is the Apple Thunderbolt Display really that expensive then?

To get a third party monitor to feature parody of a Thunderbolt Display, You’d have to get:

  • Thunderbolt docking solution, $170 from Amazon.
  • Speakers, let’s call it around $50; Pick your poison.
  • Webcam, and for something that’s decent will be around $50 (Amazon Webcams).
  • MagSafe Power supply $80.

How does this compare to a decked out third-party monitor? You’ll essentially need to add $350 to any of the other monitors:

  • Dell with proper accessories: $713 + $350 = $1063
  • Monoprice with proper accessories: $460 + $350 = $810
  • Apple Thunderbolt $999 ($800 refurb, $950 edu)

“But the Thunderbolt Display is so old. I’ll wait for the new one.”

Although the Apple Thunderbolt display was released in September 2011, a rev of this hardware probably won’t happen anytime soon. Rene Ritche at iMore.com explains it best:

The simple answer is that there’s no port that can properly drive 5K yet. The current Thunderbolt 2 ports on the Mac Pro and MacBook Pro use DisplayPort 1.2 and max out at 4K. To drive 5K, we’ll need Thunderbolt 3 and DisplayPort 1.3. That’s coming with Intel’s Skylake platform… which is coming after Intel’s Broadwell platform… which is coming… eventually.

If you really want 5k now, get a 5k iMac. Because Apple controls the interface between the iMac’s logic board and display, they can connect it however they want. They don’t need to use the Thunderbolt interface internally.

One thing that bugs me a bit is the older connections. None of these are deal breakers, but just annoying.

  1. Firewire 800: So I just don’t use it. NBD.
  2. USB 2.0: Would sure be nice if it had 3.0.
  3. MagSafe 1: You have to buy a $10 MagSafe to MagSafe 2 adapter Turns out it comes in the box. More annoying than anything Still annoying it has to be there.

Bottom line

If those $800 refurbished Thunderbolt Displays ever get back in stock, I’m getting that. I had thought about the Monoprice monitor, but again with all of the value-adds of a Thunderbolt display, it doesn’t seem like such a steal anymore.

Update: Refurb came online last night. I will be here sometime next week! There is still one there as of Saturday morning.

Categories
Opinion Tech

A Web Designer’s take iOS and iPhone 6

I’ve read countless reviews of iOS 8 and the new iPhone 6’s, but most, if not all are targeting generic end users. So I’d like to take a look at these new iOS offerings from Web Designer’s perspective.

If you’d like a more technical breakdown of the changes in iOS 8 and the new phones, check out Breaking the Mobile Web. It’s a great read!

Useful extensions and apps

With iOS 8, Apple (finally) added the ability for iOS developers to create app extensions, notification widgets, third party keyboards as well as open up a plethora of other API’s. I thought I’d highlight some of the ones I’ve seen that can make our jobs as web designers a little easier.

Awesome Screenshot for Safari (App Store)

Awesome Screenshot for Safari is a great way to take, crop and annotate screenshots in Safari on iOS. The interface can be clunky when adding text, but overall much better than a vanilla screenshot that says nothing.

Remote Inspector

This is nothing new in iOS 8. It’s actually been in since iOS 6. We all love our web inspectors because it’s so easy to debug front-end code. You can do this (with a Mac running Safari) as long as you are on the same network or are connected to the computer via USB. See this tutorial for more info on how to use it.

View Source (App Store)

Awesome Screenshots [screenshot]
view-source-1

View Source is an extension for viewing  source html of a web page right in Safari (this should really be native in iOS). If you aren’t at your computer with a remote inspector, this a nice way to see the html of a page.

I would really like to see some improving on this extension, including inertia horizontal scrolling, code beautification and linking of external files (such as css and js). But, for now, it’s a great start.

Transmit (App Store)

Just like Diet Coda, this is an “in case of emergency” app. I’m still on the fence about buying this because I’m not an FTP Commando anymore, right? I’m sure I’ll kick myself when, one day, I have to quickly upload a file to a server on the go.

I would encourage you to read the review on MacStories for more detail on the app.

Prompt/Prompt 2 (App Store)

This is a must have app for us, as we are continually SSHing into servers. Again, you aren’t regularly logging in to servers on a phone, but when that server goes down while you are laying on Fort Myers Beach, it’s nice to know you have the control to sudo service nginx restart.

If you don’t own Prompt yet, Prompt 2 should be out any day, so wait for the new and improved version.

Password Vaults and Safari

With the advent of Safari extensions (These should have been there a long time ago), you can now have an app autofill forms in the DOM. Security expert Steve Gibson has recommended LastPass for years, believing it is the most secure option out there. That being said, I’m using 1password because I’m invested in that system, and I feel that my passwords are very secure.

1password and LastPass have seemingly reached feature parody, so I feel you will be happy with whatever choice you make. They both have my favorite feature, shared vaults (LastPass 1password), meaning you can share server creds, WordPress logins, etc with your development team (huge!).

To learn more about password managers, the internet can explain it better than I probably can.

Viewports and pixel densities

The biggest thing that affects us web designers is the bigger phones, which have been around on all other smartphones for some time. Ideally, you’re responsive website should look great at every pixel from 320px to 1200+px, but it’s important to pay a little more attention to these new breakpoints. Here are the viewports for all of the supported iPhones:

Portrait Landscape Pixel Density
iPhone 4/4S 320px 480px 2x
iPhone 5/5S 320px 568px 2x
iPhone 6 375px 667px 2x
iPhone 6+ 414px 736px 3x

As the size of these screens get bigger, it’s much more tolerable for the user to use the phone in landscape mode, so keep an eye on those landscape breakpoints.

If you are using responsive images, you’ll want to create 3x assets to utilize the higher-res screen on the iPhone 6 Plus. The 6 Plus has a 3x pixel density, compared to the 2x pixel density of all the other devices. I haven’t ventured into responsive images yet, as I try to use SVG’s whenever I can on vector graphics.

A small win for the web

One complaint I’m seeing from users (myself included) is that most apps are not “optimized” for the iPhone 6/6+ screens yet. All sites that are using responsive web design worked day one. Let’s not celebrate too much because if native didn’t exist, I wouldn’t be talking about all these cool tools you can use on your phone that make your job easier.

iPhone 6 or 6 Plus?

For those of you who are in the market for a new iPhone, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts when making my purchase decision:

Option 1: Don’t upgrade

If you have a 5S, upgrade is a hard sell, because the price can be hefty.Having iOS 8 and TouchID is enough to make your 5S feel that much better. If you have anything older than a 5S, I think it’s worth upgrading (If you are doing 2 year contracts, you are basically throwing away a year of phone subsidies).

Option 2: iPhone 6

IMHO, it’s the perfect size and this is the phone I went with. As a Web Designer, I’m using tools like Sublime Text, Terminal and Photoshop, so I still can’t do “real work” on my phone (or iPad for that matter), so there wasn’t a compelling reason for me to get the 6 Plus.

Option 3: iPhone 6 Plus

It’s much bigger and you don’t know until you actually hold one. I would visit a store that has both and hold them in your hand. My wife opted for the Plus, and she does like it. If you are trying to justify the purchase, the iPhone 6 Plus has 3x pixel density compared to the normal 2x of the iPhone 6, so you can be testing <picture> elements or srcset on it.

In the end, the phone you pick is a personal decision and there are no blanket answers. Go to an Apple Store and hold them in your hand and see what you think.

Exciting times

This is a really exciting time to be on the web. There is competition in the mobile hardware and OS markets, and we are seeing some really cool things!

But one thing I have learned over the years; don’t get too sucked into the “tech” and rumor-mills. We all want to know what the next big thing Apple or Google is making, but don’t let it consume you. At the end of the day, we make cool stuff on the web and have the power to change the way people interact in the world. The hardware and OS’s are important, but the web is hardware agnostic. Don’t loose site of the open web and it’s core fundamentals.

Categories
Personal Life Tech

A Busy Week…

This last week has been pretty busy for me. Between school, work, and Apple announcements, it’s been a little overwelming.

Things at work have been getting better over this last week. We got out of the dishroom at 8pm on Wednesday. I think we are finally getting the hang of this new dish system, and we are hiring new people.

My classes are getting kinda hectic a bit. My partner has seemed to drop off the face of the earth for my Senior D class. We are creating a company called Vité, a quick service, Italian resturaunt. It should be fun to create a brand identity.

On Tuesday, Steve Jobs was out for a new keynote for an event they called “It’s Showtime!” They ended up announcing a cheaper iPod, an iPod mini-looking Nano, and “The world’s smallest MP3 player,” a new Shuffle.

But one of the big announcements was something Steve called iTV. It is a set top box for your home theatre. It will get your audio, and more importantly video content to your TV and home stereo. The catch is that it will be available at MacWorld in January of ’07.

I’m also planning a trip to CP again. Go figure, huh? Gonna experience Halloweekends for the first time. Matt and I are heading out there October 20th. Should be a good time, and fun to see the Ex-Em-Con crew.