Hi, friends! Welcome back to issue No. 2 of Installer, your guide to all the best and Verge-iest stuff in the world. Thanks so much to everyone who’s been emailing, commenting, sending feedback, and telling me what you want to see in this series going forward. I love chatting with you all about what you’re building, what you’re binge-watching, and everything else.
Two housekeeping things: first, a bunch of you told me you didn’t like the whole “(link)” thing, both for aesthetic and accessibility reasons. Fair and fair! So we’re just scrapping it. From now on, it’ll be simpler: I’ll bold the most important link – the direct link to the thing we’re talking about — and regular link everything else. Thanks to everyone who emailed and commented, especially the ones who were nice about it. We’re all learning every day over here, folks.
I also heard from a few folks that last week’s issue was a little Apple-centric. I agree, for what it’s worth, but it’s a tricky problem to solve! It’s just the unfortunate truth that most cool things launch on iOS and Mac before they come to Android and Windows. But also, I’m forever biased toward cross-platform stuff, and when I can, I’ll try and make sure to keep things even. And if you find a cool thing for a platform I’m not covering enough, send it my way!
Oh, and to all of you who asked for an RSS feed: it’s coming. Soon. So soon. Plus we have some other fun ideas about how you can subscribe to Installer. But seriously, so soon.
Anyway, I promised no long preambles, so let’s get to it. This week I’ve been reading up on the fight for the future of the Internet Archive, planning my life in the Amie calendar app, playing too much Laya’s Horizon, trying to figure out how to make extreme pogo-sticking my next career, and trying to get a bunch of work done before I completely disappear into Madden NFL 24 for the next few months. And this week I have some podcast listening for your weekend errands, a new AI app to try, and a set of speakers that are totally absurd and totally wonderful. Let’s go.
(Again, the best part of Installer is your ideas and tips. What do you want to know more about? What awesome tricks do you know that everyone else should? What app should everyone be using? Tell me everything: email@example.com. And if you know someone else who might enjoy Installer, forward it to them and tell them to subscribe here.)
Some of the best new stuff on the internet, and in the world, this week.
- “The Internet Dilemma” from Radiolab: One of the better 30-minute summations of the Section 230 fight you’re ever going to hear, I think. It makes pretty convincing arguments for both sides, which is exactly why the fight over 230 is so messy, and it lands in about the right place. (If you haven’t heard it before, the Radiolab episode about the launch of a new cryptocurrency is one of my favorite tech stories ever.)
- “The Doomsday AI Scenario in Hollywood from The Town: Speaking of good pods to listen to this weekend! The Town is one of my favorite shows about the business of entertainment, and I loved this deep dive with Justine Bateman into what exactly AI might do to Hollywood. It’s a bit fatalistic in spots, I think? But it’s fascinating.
- Nokia G310 5G: I don’t know if this is going to be a great phone, but it feels like an important one. It’s a nice-looking $186 midrange phone, but it’s made with user repair explicitly in mind. You can swap in more storage, a new battery, and more. The US doesn’t have a lot of phones like this, and here’s hoping it becomes a trend.
- The Keen utility knife: The folks at Studio Neat have long made some of my favorite tools and accessories – the Glif phone stand lived in my bag for years — and its newest project is a small, handsome utility knife. At $120 retail (or $95 on Kickstarter), it’s pretty expensive, but the Studio Neat stuff tends to be worth the price.
- Perplexity AI 2.0: AI chatbots are a dime a dozen at this point, but I’ve always liked the way Perplexity handles citing its sources and delivering information — it’s a good mix of answers and links for lots of questions. The 2.0 update is basically just a redesign, but hey, it’s a good redesign!
- Blue Beetle: My main goal for the weekend is to get to a theater to see Blue Beetle, which sounds like a slightly by-the-numbers but still very fun and silly superhero flick.
- 8BitDo Micro controller: Trust me, a teeny-tiny game controller is exactly the smartphone accessory you need in your life. I think I still prefer the Lite model, which has joysticks, but this one is $25, weighs basically nothing, and will make all your 2D games a little more fun to play.
- Supreme Soundsticks: The Harman / Kardon Soundsticks have been around for 23 years, and I think they’re still the best-looking desk speakers on the planet. I am, uh, quite confident that the Supreme collab ones will cost more than the standard $300 price for the Soundsticks 4. But that red, y’all. THAT RED.
- The Zen Magsafe Charger Stand: Maisy Leigh has long been one of my favorite desk setup and productivity YouTubers, and I really dig the colorful, decidedly un-gadgety charging stand she created. Maisy’s video about the product development process is also definitely worth a watch.
Alex Winter knows video. He’s been a well-known actor for decades and has directed everything from an Ice Cube music video to a documentary about the deep web. So just before he and I hung up after finishing a Vergecast chat about his new doc, The YouTube Effect, I asked him to tell me a few of his favorite tech docs. Here’s what he rattled off.
- HyperNormalisation. “The whole Adam Curtis series of stuff, really, in terms of a modern examination of tech. HyperNormalisation is probably the gold standard.”
- The Great Hack. “It’s a very important documentary that did its job very well. Cambridge Analytica is one of the most important stories in modern times.”
- Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World. “[Werner] Herzog’s documentary is kind of bananas. Don’t watch it expecting to come away understanding the internet better, but it’s very entertaining.”
- Citizenfour. “Just a really, really great doc about [Edward] Snowden.”
- Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. “It’s not obviously a tech doc, but it really begins to show you how companies, even if they start with the best intentions, get really off course. And how a few people can really make a bad impact on society.”
- 2001: A Space Odyssey. “Not a documentary! But it’s, like, the great movie about algorithms being bad for you.”
This week was the 25th anniversary of the iMac going on sale, and Jason Snell — a longtime tech reporter, the former editor-in-chief of Macworld, current proprietor of Six Colors, and one of the smartest people I know on all things Apple — wrote a terrific piece for The Verge about how the iMac changed Apple’s fate forever. Curious to see what Jason’s Apple life was like 25 years later, I asked him to share his current setup.
Here’s Jason’s homescreen, plus the apps he uses and why:
The phone: iPhone 14 Pro Max
The apps: iRobot (robot vacuums are not exactly “set it and forget it”), Mail, Fantastical (instead of Apple’s calendar), Messages, Phone, Maps, Carrot Weather (instead of Apple’s stock Weather app), Photos, Settings, Notes (which I use for all sorts of things like prep for podcasts), AnyList (our shared shopping list), MLB (Go Giants!), Music, Camera, Discord (where my members-only communities are for Six Colors and The Incomparable). In the dock: Overcast (podcasts), ReadKit (RSS reader), Safari, Slack.
The wallpaper: A nature photo, this one’s from Hawaii. I think this one’s from Maui, so sending all the good vibes in the world out to the people of Lāhainā and the rest of the island.
As usual, I also asked Jason to share a few things he’s into right now. Here’s what he said:
- Season 2 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds just wrapped up on Paramount Plus, and I couldn’t be more amazed that they’ve captured the spirit of the original Star Trek while making something that’s fun and modern and welcoming to viewers who didn’t grow up with Star Trek like I did.
- My friend Scott McNulty recommended the Barker & Llewelyn series of mystery novels by Will Thomas, and I immediately devoured Some Danger Involved and To Kingdom Come, the first two books in that series. I always enjoyed the idea of Sherlock Holmes but found the writing just antiquated enough to make them hard to get into. These are Holmes-esque stories written in a modern voice, featuring a detective and sidekick who are still quirky but not in the Holmes and Watson way. There are 14 books in this series and counting, so I’ve got lots of mystery enjoyment ahead of me.
- 402 episodes later, I’m still obsessed with The Flop House podcast in which two former Daily Show writers and their handsome bartender pal watch bad movies and then talk about them. The rapport between the three guys is magical. During the WGA strike, they’re reaching back to some “classic” older movies, like Troll 2 and The Net. It’s still my favorite podcast of all time and reduces me to tears on a regular basis. While on a driving vacation around New Zealand, my wife and I had to pull over because we were laughing so hard we couldn’t see the road. I highly recommend The Flop House Animated for some of their greatest hits.
Here’s what the Installer community is into this week. I want to know what you’re into right now as well! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your recommendations for anything and everything, and we’ll feature some of our favorites here every week.
“I’ve used Tripsy in the past, but I much prefer Wanderlog because of its ability to plan a group trip while still being crossplatform.” – Michael
“Reading List for Safari is so disappointing. There’s no organization (folders) and you can’t tag pages you save to keep the stuff that’s similar together. I purchased the GoodLinks app and love the functionality it offers. It even has its own ‘reader’ mode like you get in Safari! It’s a paid app, but Safari users might just enjoy saving articles more for using it!” – Chris
“My suggestion is an app called Bring! It’s a grocery list app that allows your household to add items to a shared list, with cute little icons to boot. You can send notifications to others who are members of that list that you’re about to go shopping or that you’ve added items to the list as well.” – Aaron
“I bought a low-end robot vacuum cleaner (the Eufy Clean G40+) on Prime Day a few weeks ago. And as someone with very hairy cats, it’s been absolutely life-changing. I spent years thinking these gadgets weren’t any better than our old Henry Hoover, but they’re really great. We run it every day and it keeps the floor so clean. It seems like nowadays, even a low-end model like this Eufy (an Anker sub-brand) are pretty good.” – Richard
“This recommendation came from your sister site Polygon. It’s written by the ladies who created, wrote and starred in The Katering Show, a short YouTube series about an intolerable foodie and a food intolerant. They’re Australian and raunchy and hilarious, and their new show Deadloch on Amazon Prime is no exception.” – Sean
“I’d like to recommend Craft. I moved to it after many (increasingly unhappy) years with Evernote, and after a bunch of months, I’m a convert. It’s got room to grow, but it’s fantastic, and I feel it doesn’t get the attention that some of the others get (like Notion and Bear). I hope you’ll consider giving it a look!” – Bruce
Look, I get it: AI-generated songs are a massively complicated issue, with huge ramifications for both the business and the art of music. And yet, I cannot overstate how deep down the rabbit hole of “AI Taylor Swift covers of songs you know but that real Taylor Swift never covered” YouTube I have gone. And you can do this with almost any popular artist! It’s wild! (AI Frank Sinatra covering Lady Gaga is truly the collab of the century.) I almost don’t want to tell you how many times I’ve listened to AI Taylor Swift and AI Ed Sheeran covering Paramore’s “Misery Business.” The future is super weird, y’all.
See you next week!