Fleets and laptops

I don’t understand Fleets.

I don’t mean this to make me sound out-of-touch. I understand what they are perfectly, though if you’re not on top of the tech press you may have missed it, so to recap: Twitter has launched a product it’s been trialling in Brazil for almost a year now, called Fleets.

The name is awful – think “fleeting” meets “tweet”, I guess – but the product is worse. It’s, well, Snapchat Stories on Twitter. Users can decide to post a tweet to their timeline, as normal, or they can post a fleet to their flimeline (not its real name): if they do the latter, then they compose their fleet as normal, before posting it to a little bubble at the top of their screen, where it will live for the next 24 hours. Meanwhile, all your friends’ fleets live in their bubbles at the top of your timeline, and you can click through them as you see fit.

All of that is over complex, of course, because if you’ve used Snapchat Stories, or the more popular version plagiarised by Instagram, you’ll recognise it immediately. It’s stories, on Twitter, with a stupid name.

But the thing I don’t understand is, well, why?

Twitter is a fundamentally different product from Instagram or Snapchat. Unlike Instagram, its primary use-case is emphatically in-the-moment, even for users who haven’t turned off the company’s algorithmic timeline. An Instagram user’s profile is a carefully curated version of themselves, all but begging to be scrolled back through; a Twitter profile page is a chaotic mess of posts that make little sense outside the context in which they were sent. And Twitter is even less like Snapchat: the service isn’t a one-to-one communication platform begging for a centralised feed, it’s the exact opposite.

Which is to say that the reasons why Stories worked on those two platforms just don’t seem to apply to Twitter. What is the content that lives in a Fleet versus a Tweet? When would you want to post the former, and when the latter? When would you like to read the former, and when the latter?

The obvious answer for Why Fleets Exist is that Twitter has reached the Facebook stage of its life, where new product ideas come from simply looking at what competitors are doing and cloning that. Fleets is a Stories clone; the company’s audio conversation feature that it’s also trialling is a clubhouse clone; fine. Twitter’s not the first company to just clone successful products without thinking about how they fit in a wider strategy and it won’t be the last.

What’s frustrating is that Twitter does actually have a good argument for why it’s making Fleets, though, which is to offer people a way to use its product ephemerally.

The company has noticed, that is, the sheer regularity of stories about people who struggle when older tweets are brought up out of context. It’s almost a rite of passage now for anyone entering the public eye: search through their tweets, find things which look bad, force them to defend or apologise for context-free snippets, move on. Worse, Twitter will also have noticed the people who don’t tweet because of that: those who have decided the entire platform is too risky, or who have reverted to a bland corporate voice, or just don’t tweet as much.

Fleets, then, are Twitter’s answer to that problem. It’s front and centre in the company’s marketing for the feature, leading on “those tweets that make you pause”. 

But they’re an awful answer. They do nothing to solve the problem of tweetsbecoming toxic, require a whole different interaction model, and, well, quite clearly only exist because of Stories.

Meanwhile, the obvious answer to the problem – the ability to set timers for some tweets to autodelete after a certain period of time, as is possible with most major chat apps these days – has been ignored. I can’t get a straight answer from the company as to why, though I wonder if it’s got something to do with the fear that its valuable archive would disappear. 

It’s particularly frustrating because this isn’t, for me, a hypothetical: I know that feature would be good, because I do it anyway, with third party apps which clear older tweets from my timeline. But because those apps aren’t officially supported, I’m left without the granularity I’d prefer, which Twitter could trivially implement itself (personally, for instance, I’d love to have different timers on public tweets versus replies, and I’d love the ability to flag some tweets to never be deleted).

Oh well. Never let it be said that Twitter understands why people use Twitter.

Laptops

The new Apple laptops are exciting. I know, that’s dorky as hell, but seriously: I think we might be seeing a fundamental reshaping of the PC market happening in front of us.

I’m talking, here, about the three new products that Apple revealed last week, and is shipping from Friday: the new MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and Mac Mini. All three are physically identical – or near as I can see – to the devices they’re replacing, but the hardware design isn’t the point. Instead, it’s all about the inside.

Tech specs aren’t normally something that gets me hot under the collar. Most consumer electronics, these days, have an upgrade cycle which is healthily boring. This year’s is a bit faster than last years, a bit faster again than the year before’s, and so on. It’s the sort of gradual improvement that is common across sectors and topics – the same sort of gradual improvement that leads to people complaining that newspapers never write about positive news. Getting a little bit better every year isn’t news, sadly, and so we learn to just accept these improvements.

But the new Apple laptops are different. The company, after years of threats, has finally decided to drop Intel as a partner, shifting to using its own in-house chips – already powering iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and the like – in its laptops and, eventually, desktop computers.

It’s a bold change. Without getting too into the weeds, Apple’s chips work very differently to those that Intel makes, and so developers will have to rewrite their software or take a performance hit until they do.

But what we didn’t expect, until reviews started being published on Tuesday, was that that hit would be almost irrelevant – because the new chips are so much faster that they still beat Apple’s older laptops.

The new Mac Mini is beating the old Mac Pro on some speed tests; the cheapest MacBook Air is comfortably matching Apple’s fastest previous laptop, the beast of a 16” MacBook Pro, in others. And all three of the new devices are using the company’s new M1 chip – built not for speed but for power consumption and heat output. The company doubtless has faster chips to launch down the line, and within the next two years it hopes to even switch its Mac Pros over to the new architecture.

So why is this exciting? Because it’s been years since computers have had this sort of year-on-year improvement, and it suddenly opens up interesting new possibilities for what the future of the platform looks like. What does the next MacBook Air look like, when Apple’s able to redesign the whole machine around these new capabilities? What happens to the iMac when a tiny chip can power a screen that size? What abilities do professionals find at their fingertips when this sort of improvement eventually hits the top end?

I don’t know, and I’m looking forward to finding out.