Continuity's 2012 hardware cutoff

OS X Yosemite has been out for many months now, but I hadn't tried to use a couple of its new 'Continuity' features - namely, Handoff and Instant Hotspot - until recently.

I say "tried to" because I couldn't actually use either of those features on my mid-2011 Mac mini. I turned on my iPhone's bluetooth (which I usually keep off), connected it to my Mac, and because I knew my Mac had Bluetooth LE-compatible hardware, I assumed it would work.

Not so much. And why? I think because of this:


The above is taken from David Dudok de Wit's GitHub page for his "Continuity Activation Tool", which enables Continuity features on older Macs that aren't officially supported by Apple.

Notice two incompatible models in particular; the mid-2011 Mac mini and MacBook Air. With the help of this simple utility, both of these Macs can use all of Continuity's features without any additional dongles because they already have the requisite hardware. It only takes a flip of a yes/no switch in the system's configuration to allow the magic to happen.

So why not make those two models compatible? You could speculate that there are some weird bugs that crop up on the 2011 hardware (which I would re-speculate isn't the case, or wouldn't be insurmountable), but my best guess is that it:

A) wouldn't make for as clean a cut (it's easier to say "every Mac since 2012 is compatible") and
B) Apple decided to use Continuity as an incentive for users to upgrade from their older 3+ year-old hardware

I don't like either of these reasons. Maybe my Windows upbringing has warped my perception of how long hardware should last, but three years seems too early to start withholding compatible features and nudging people to think about upgrading - especially when those users already have the necessary hardware built into their system.

I know that Apple and Microsoft are very different companies with very different approaches, but I still can't help from being a bit surprised by the chart above. 3 years (or two hardware iterations, whichever comes first) seems to be when Apple will start to subtly encourage Mac users to upgrade to the latest hardware, technical compatibility be darned.

I honestly don't even care enough about Handoff to install the utility - I just find it helpful to know that Apple thinks my Mac is ready to be replaced.

It's not, but I get the hint.

How to disable the "Switch person" button in Chrome


The Chrome team started rolling this out last month. It adds a button with your first name to the top-right corner for easy profile-switching.

Since I'm the only user of my computer this extra button is totally useless to me. Here's how to disable it.

1) Paste chrome://flags/#enable-new-avatar-menu into Chrome's URL bar and hit Enter
2) At the top, set "Enable the new avatar menu" to "Disabled"


3) Click "Relaunch Now" at the bottom of the window

First impression of the Surface Pro 3


Last week my Dad got a 128GB, Core i5 Surface Pro 3, and of course I had to play around with it before I head back to Tufts for my last semester.

Here are some quick thoughts.

The Cover


It literally stinks beyond compare

This caught me completely off guard. It's by far the worst smelling piece of technology I've ever smelled. It's typical for gadgets to have a unique out-of-factory smell to them, but the Surface cover emits a gas that's probably poisonous. Maybe it's the glue or the dye or something. Whatever it is, the cover assembly line should include an "airing out" stage prior to packaging.

The smell has mostly gone away after being open for a few days, but it's not exactly a great first impression.

Buying the cover separately makes sense, but still feels odd

You open the box up and there's plenty of space for a cover, but there isn't one. I knew this, of course, but it's an accessory that's so integral to the Surface's productivity claims that it really feels like it should be included, SKU count be darned.

The trackpad is only passable

For occasional navigation I think it's fine, but it's too small and too finicky to be comparable to a MacBook. Swipe gestures also seem to be disabled out of the box, which frankly doesn't surprise me.

After years of using a ThinkPad trackpoint (the red nubbin) my brother has gotten used to, and actually prefers, the trackpad of the Lenovo Yoga. I don't think anyone could like or really get used to the Surface's trackpad in the same way.

The keys aren't half bad, although they take getting used to

I could type pretty darn quick after getting used to the travel of the keys and the spacing between them. I didn't do a speed test, but I was probably within 20 wpm of my speed on an external Apple keyboard (which was 82 wpm in 2012).

The brightness keys are misleading

The two brightness keys control the backlight of the keyboard - not the actual screen of the Surface. I don't really see why switching between a few levels of key brightness is important; they should control the screen instead.

(There's a keyboard shortcut to change the screen brightness, but it's very obscure and involves hitting the delete key, which makes no sense)

It's missing a second magnet

The magnet that props the keyboard up is clever and works pretty well. A second, slightly weaker magnet to hold the cover in place when it's closed would've been appreciated though. It's not pleasant to have to worry about it.

The Surface


The kickstand is a good idea

The Surface Pro 3's kickstand beats the iPad's Smart Cover, hands down. That wasn't true of the Surface 1 or 2, but with the 3 Microsoft finally nailed it by allowing it to swing 150 degrees.

Although the kickstand feels a bit wobbly at certain angles if you wiggle it back and forth, when it's resting on a table or your lap it feels far more stable than the magnetic Smart Cover does. For people who use their iPads almost exclusively in laptop-like modes with specialized cases, the Surface should feel pretty awesome. I know Microsoft's emphasis on the kickstand seems a bit silly, but it isn't.

The kickstand isn't just useful in productive poses either; lounging on the couch with it on your knees also feels great (again, better than an iPad). I spent over an hour whipping my RSS feeds into shape in total comfort.

Typing without the cover on your lap is fine ergonomically, but software holds me back

As someone who's totally used to the iPad's digital keyboard, I was never really interested in using the Surface with the keyboard attached on my lap (as advertised): I wanted to know if it was as good as my iPad on my lap. The answer is a frustrating 'almost'.

Although the Surface's kickstand allows it to get to the same position as an iPad with a Smart Cover, it begins to slide down to the lowest position when you type on it with an average amount of force. The lowest position is pretty good ergonomically anyway, but then you run into the second problem: the autocorrect and key spacing of the Windows keyboard (especially on a 12" screen) isn't as good as iOS. Maybe I'm missing something and I just need to give it more time, but that's my initial impression. I'm not sure I could reach my same 70+ wpm with it.

The display kicks butt, until you run into blurry windows

Many desktop apps and even a bunch of Windows' system dialogues look super blurry at the Surface's 2160x1440 resolution. Even very popular programs like Steam still haven't been optimized for high DPI screens on Windows, and that's unfortunate.

That said, everything else about the screen is great. Text is sharp, images look great, and colors look really nice even off-angle.

It's also big enough for two people to share when sitting side-by-side, which is pretty unique. As I read through articles on one side of the screen, my Dad could watch a YouTube video on the second half without a problem. Because of the smart way Microsoft has implemented multitouch, we could interact with our halves of the screen independently without messing up one another. It's pretty awesome, and although it's only 12" it feels bigger because it's closer to your hands and face than a laptop.


The kickstand combined with the great screen make the Surface Pro 3 really stand out. I don't think Apple's rumored iPad Pro will include a kickstand, but I think a 12"+ screen is a safe bet. It's the perfect size for multitasking.

It's powerful enough graphically for Starcraft and Portal

Again, I didn't have a lot of time to play with the Surface, but I did quickly install Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm and the original Portal to see if they were playable. They were - especially at the lowest graphical settings, and Portal was fine even with almost everything at max.

The more annoying thing about using the Surface Pro 3 is that...

A second USB port would really come in handy.


If you're using a wired mouse or a Logitech dongle (which I still think is dumb) and you want to attach a USB key, then you're out of luck. You'll either have to suffer through using the trackpad or tap your way through Windows Explorer (which isn't totally horrible) to transfer your files.

Maybe the smaller footprint of USB Type-C will make it easier for Microsoft to add a second USB port in the next Surface. I know the recent MacBook Air rumors have everyone discussing whether or not one USB port is enough, but for Windows users at least I think the answer is a pretty solid "No."

The Software

Internet Explorer is still terrible

I was shocked to discover that Chrome is a better browser for touch than desktop IE. For example, tapping on the address bar in Chrome automatically brings up the keyboard so you can type an address and hit Enter, just as you'd expect. IE doesn't do that. It puts the cursor in the address bar, but then expects you to open up the keyboard manually by tapping its icon in the taskbar. Totally dumb.

The Windows Store seems to be stagnant

A lot of digital ink has been typed about the Windows Phone store having a dearth of high-quality, regularly-updated apps. The same seems to be true for Windows, but fewer people have said anything about it.

From what I can tell, the Top 100 apps in the store are pretty much what the Top 100 list looked like back when Windows 8 first came out. Fruit Ninja, Facebook, Netflix, etc. The boring stuff you'd expect, except nothing from Google. Most notably: no YouTube.

If Windows 10 becomes as popular as Windows 7 maybe that'll change, but as of right now only a few apps are really making the case for the Modern UI - like Nextgen Reader, which is probably the best desktop RSS reader available.

Windows is lean, mean, fast and compatible

Although I now spend most of my time using OS X because of the design-oriented apps I use, I still have a lot of respect for Windows. It runs like butter on machines with only 4GB of RAM, it handles program crashes better than OS X, and Windows 8.1 installed on a decade-old computer can magically bring it back to a usable state.

Despite the Surface Pro 3's spec compromises, it still feels good to use, and it'll probably feel just as good in 3, 4, or maybe even more years. The world of Macs and OS X isn't like that at all, from what I can tell.


Snapped multitasking is powerful, and a big differentiator

For the first few years after the iPad was released, we rationalized its lack of multi-window multitasking by asserting that, in a twisted kind of way, the iPad's insistence on doing one thing at a time was actually a good thing. It helped us focus solely on writing, reading, or consuming tweets, and helped stem information overload by slowing us down... or something.

That's mostly bull, and I think the iPad's slowed growth is at least partially due to the fact that our (larger) phones are increasingly better devices for single-app, consumption-oriented tasks. Writing, creating or otherwise "working" often requires jumping into and out of multiple apps either for reference or to do certain tasks, and iOS on a tablet isn't great at that. iOS 8's extensions are a good start, but they're not the solution to every problem; splitscreen multitasking is now a must-have for me in a tablet.

Yes, multi-window management via touch is a tricky thing to implement. Windows' swipe-from-the-top implementation works well enough, but it's admittedly obscured by its use of off-screen gestures. Apple's solution will likely be more understandable and easier to use, but one thing's for sure: I won't consider getting another iPad until it's implemented.

The rumored iPad Pro makes a lot of sense to me.

Final Thought


Despite the dumb Microsoftian mistakes like a horrendous-smelling keyboard and nonsensical brightness controls, I really like the Surface Pro 3. If I were to buy a Windows PC right now this would be it, despite its seemingly-awkward form factor and uncertain future.

A lighter Surface Pro 4 with a Core M processor and fanless design would be great, of course, but the fundamentals of what I think laptops/next-gen tablets will eventually be like are already here in the Pro 3.

A beautiful touchscreen, a detachable keyboard, and the power & capability of a full-fledged PC in a single device. I'm a fan.