51 iOS 9 Apps That Support Universal Links (updated Dec 19th)

As I describe here, seamlessness is a killer feature of iOS 9, and Universal Links are one of the best experiences of seamlessness: click a simple URL link, in Mail, Messages, Safari, etc.—and BOOM you're looking at the content or feature right inside the native app.

A long list of apps have already launched that take advantage of two of iOS 9's Search APIs (NSUserActivity and CoreSpotlight). These APIs which expose the apps' content, features, and navigation points when the user searches in iOS 9—not only in Spotlight searches but also within Safari. Examples include IMDB, 1Password, and Dropbox. 

A growing number of apps are supporting iOS 9's third search API, known as Web Markup, which makes seamless Universal Links possible. For apps whose content is also available on the web (think Airbnb), Universal Links allow standard http / https web URLs to open directly in the app on iOS 9 with no delay and no jarring intermediate steps (like passing through Safari on the way). 

Implementing Web Markup and Universal Links is taking app makers a little longer than other iOS 9 updates, because there are two moving parts instead of just one: both the app and the website need to be updated. On the website side, it's not a massive change—there's no need for wholesale changes to web content—but it does require sysadmin attention, including SSL signing of the "apple-app-site-association" file.

Anyway, I'm excited to see the list keep expanding as more apps roll out their updates. The list below shows what I've found so far, and I'll keep updating this post as I find more.

In the list below, the example Universal Links should, on an iOS 9 device with the associated app installed, open directly in-app. (I recently discovered that there's apparently an iOS 9 / Universal Links bug that can bite if you had an app installed before upgrading to iOS 9—this proved to be the case with my Dropbox installation, where Universal Links began working after I deleted and reinstalled the Dropbox app.)

Universal-Link-Aware iOS 9 App/Websites as of 19 Dec 2015

  1. Yelp: app, app-site-association file, example Universal Link
  2. Amazon: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  3. Pinterest: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  4. OpenTable: app, app-site-association file, example Universal Link
  5. The Guardian: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  6. Flipboard: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  7. Citymapper: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  8. Resy: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  9. Houzz: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  10. Chairish: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  11. Foursquare: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  12. B&H Photo: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  13. Join.me: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  14. Twitter: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  15. Dropbox: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  16. Quip: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  17. Estately: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  18. Top10: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  19. Airbnb: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  20. Art Authority: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  21. Periscope:  appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  22. Google Maps: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  23. Medium: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  24. Storehouse: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  25. Timeline.com: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  26. Overcast: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  27. Swarm: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  28. Kayak: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  29. ibotta: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  30. Yummly: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  31. Flickr: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  32. Jet.com: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  33. Shazam: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  34. IMDb: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  35. NYTimes.com: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  36. TripAdvisor.com: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  37. LinkedIn: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  38. Spotify: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  39. SoundCloud: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  40. Groupon: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  41. Kickstarter: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  42. Songkick: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  43. Bandsintown.com: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  44. Livingsocial: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  45. StubHub: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  46. SeatGeek: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  47. Khan Academy: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  48. Facet: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  49. Findery: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  50. Vevo: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link
  51. Etsy: appapp-site-association file, example Universal Link

Apps That May Support Universal Links Soon

In my quest to find new apps that support Universal Links, I frequently run into the case where app makers have an apple-app-site-association file on their web presence, but the app isn't working yet with Universal Links. In other cases, the developer has announced via release notes, etc. that they support Universal Links but the app doesn't actually work yet (e.g., Zillow, Ticketmaster).

My Universal Link validation process is as follows:

  1. Using Apple's validation tool, confirm that the app's web presence has an apple-app-site-association file deployed, and check what URL patterns the app should support.
  2. Paste a valid URL into Messages or Notes.
  3. On an iOS device with the app installed, long-press the Universal Link URL and see if the app has correctly registered itself to handle the URL. If so, the popup will show an option to open the link in the app:
  4. Verify that the app correctly opens the Universal Link. I've seen cases where the app immediately forwards the request on to Safari, or fails to open the specified content.

Below is a list of such work-in-process cases, which I'm hoping are apps that should see Universal Link support soon. Unless otherwise noted, the app maker already has an apple-app-site-association file deployed on their web presence but the app isn't working yet.

  • Netflix
  • Zillow: Announced but not functional.
  • Ticketmaster: Announced but not functional.
  • Instagram
  • Tumblr
  • Shazam
  • Vine
  • Viator
  • BuzzFeed
  • Glassdoor.com: URLs from the website do "open" directly in the app, but instead of opening the linked content, the app simply opens in its prior state, such as the last search run. 
  • RentTheRunway
  • Vimeo
  • Zappos
  • Hotwire.com
  • AllModern.com
  • ebay: Their app-site-association file is clearly in a testing-only mode at this point.
  • Afar.com: Links go to the app, but app doesn't show the linked content ...
  • ChefsFeed.com
  • Instacart

Built-in Magic Pseudo Universal Link Apps

Some of Apple's own apps, and a few 3rd-party apps, support Universal Linking behavior (open URLs direct in the app) but through iOS-level magic instead of the official Universal Links mechanism. Behavior is slightly different than with real Universal Links: for example, no Open In "[app name]" choice gets displayed in a long-press popover. Among the apps in this category:

Music Discovery in Apple Music: My Top 3 Techniques

I can understand Jim Dalrymple's pain around Apple Music.  I know music enthusiasts like Jim with massive, carefully-curated libraries that they care deeply about. I'm a different animal, though, and the flaws that drive Jim bonkers don't bother me so much.

My library is small, 2,685 tracks; but more importantly, my musical tastes are in constant flux, mutating virus-like from one month to the next. I don't care all that much about my historical music library, because I really don't like a lot of the music in it any more! Even my 5-star playlist is too stale to tolerate. So however heinous Apple Music's library curation capabilities are, they don't bother me much.

For me, discovery is the top priority; and there, Apple Music is really delivering. Below are the three discovery techniques I use most often. What makes discovery successful, though, is the quality of human curation that Apple Music is giving me easy access to.

1. "Radio" Tab, Zane Lowe Playlists

Beats 1 is Apple Music's worldwide radio station and Zane Lowe its most influential DJ and music-picker. Beats 1 in general, and Lowe in particular, have a philosophy of just playing great music, independent of genre classifications and music label influence. 

Every week or so, I'll navigate to Apple Music / Radio / Beats 1 / Beats 1 Anchors / Zane Lowe / Playlists, and work my way through several recent playlists. I do my best to keep a completely open mind, listening to every song for at least a minute even if it's from a genre that is foreign to me (e.g., hip-hop). 

2. "New" Tab

The New tab is where Apple Music surfaces all things new, exciting, and hot. New releases, artists, playlists, top songs and albums, special features like "Best of 2015" playlists. New by default shows all genres, but also gives you to select a specific genre.

Here my process is to browse through the various lists, both at the all-genres level and within my (current!) home genre of Alternative, again listening for at least a minute as open-mindedly as possible. 

3. "For You" Tab

For You includes human-curated playlists like "Intro to The Chemical Brothers" and "Drake: No. 1 Rap Songs," along with album recommendations, all based on my behavior and explicit likes and dislikes. The curated playlists are great: I've even spot-checked them by listening to "Intro to ..." playlists for artists I know well and they're spot-on. Here I find myself immersed in specific artists, a different experience from the quick sampling I do under Radio and New.

How Good Is Discovery in Apple Music?

All new except Adele ...

All new except Adele ...

I started using Apple Music on June 30th, and as of December 14th, I've added 180 new songs from 100 new artists.

For me, there's a special psychology around a streaming music service. Since all music is available to me, it's not too critical that I get all the songs I like into My Music. Instead, I add (a) new artists that I like so I can come back and find more of their music later, and (b) songs that I really love, so that For You can better represent what I like. So for assessing the success of music discovery in Apple Music, the new artist count is by far the most important measure.

How good is 100 artists / 180 songs in a little over five months? While I don't have great data on my pre- Apple Music era, I'm guessing that I discovered no more than one new artist every couple of weeks. With Apple Music, I'm seeing discovery rates 8X higher. And I'm definitely having more fun listening that I have for a long time. 

Why iPad Pro Will Accelerate Apple's Charge into the Enterprise

Apple is in the midst of a multi-year, multi-pronged charge into the enterprise. With iPad Pro arriving imminently, Apple will gain its most powerful enterprise offering yet. More than any iOS device to date, the iPad Pro is a highly-capable professional productivity tool. From where I sit, I'm betting that a significant and growing percentage of Pro sales will be into the enterprise, and that these incremental sales will be key in rekindling growth in the iPad product line.

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10 Reasons I'm Excited About the New Apple TV

Apple introduced the new Apple TV at their Hey Siri event on September 9th, and at the end of the Apple TV segment, Eddie Cue announced late October availability.  So far we haven't heard any further details, but I'm incredibly excited about this thing, and since it is October now, I thought I'd write up a Top 10 about what's stoking my excitement.

(Update: You can now order the new Apple TV with delivery dates starting October 30th.)

10. 3D Images / Useful Parallax

3D images, technically multi-layer images that enable the parallax effect, are an integral part of the reimagined Apple TV experience. iOS has supported the parallax effect for a while (on the lock screen, for example) but there it was a bit of a gimmick. On Apple TV, 3D images are a signaling mechanism to highlight what you've selected with the touch surface. Check out Jen Folse's demo:


9. What Did She Say?

Siri voice commands on the new Apple TV are capable of so many useful things, but this is probably my favorite: if you miss what a character just said in your favorite TV show or movie, you can ask Siri, "What did she just say?" and Apple TV will back up 15 seconds, and then temporarily enable closed captions—so you see in text right on the screen what you missed! Amazing, check it out:

8. Apple Music

On my iOS devices and my Mac, I get a full-strength Apple Music experience. But my two second-generation Apple TVs are cut off from all that goodness, so I've very excited that the new Apple TV has a full-strength Apple Music experience. In my opinion, it's even better than iOS. Check it out:


7. Cinematic Screen Savers

Apple actually went out and filmed gorgeous, exclusive-to-Apple-TV slow-motion HD video to use as the new Apple TV's screen savers. They even adapt to your time of day. This is truly breathtaking cinematography:

(Update: at least temporarily, you can view all of the Cinematic Screen Savers here.)

6. New "Home" Button on Remote

The new Siri Remote adds a Home button, which takes you all they way back to the Apple TV home screen, no matter where you start. The new remote still has a Menu button, which does what it always has, taking you back a level. There's a subtle and important difference in the Menu button behavior, though: apps retain their level state, so if for example you return to the Movies app after having jumped to Home, you'll be exactly where you were—browsing documentaries, say—when you return. Also, if you double-press home, you get a multitasking view where you can easily switch between apps. Very nice!

5. Remote Over Bluetooth

The old Apple TV remote used traditional line-of-site infrared technology, meaning that the remote only worked when you could actually see the little black Apple TV box. With the new Apple TV, feel free to hide that black box deep in your electronics cabinet, because the Siri Remote talks over Bluetooth.


4. Universal Search

On today's Apple TV, I often have to slog my way from one content app to another (Movies, HBO Go, Netflix, etc.) to find a particular title. With the new Apple TV's Universal Search, I can search for content across all the major sources—iTunes, Netflix, HBU, Hulu, and Showtime—with a single search. The search results show me exactly which sources have the title I'm after. Awesome! 


3. Apps and App Store

The new Apple TV has a fast A8 chip and its own iOS-like high-powered operating system, tvOS—all to support full-bore apps and a full-scale App Store. Apple TV apps are a game-changer, and not just for games. Chad Evans' demo of the MLB At Bat app shows what's possible—just incredible:


2. Siri Remote Voice Control

I'd can only imagine that Apple invested tens of thousands of effort-hours getting Siri to work so seamlessly through the Siri Remote, and to provide such an incredibly useful voice repertoire. Jen Folse shows it well:


1. Siri Remote Touch Control

In a recent episode of Horace Dediu's Critical Path podcast, he made a great point: the Siri Remote is the first-ever "thumb-touch" interface. Before the new Apple TV, touch interfaces have been all about using our pointing fingers to navigate around. Again, I can only wonder at the tens of thousands of hours that it had to take to get this so right, so perfect. 

iOS 9's Killer Feature? Seamlessness.

I attended WWDC in June and have spent many hours since watching and re-watching WWDC session videos. I've had iOS 9 betas running since June and last week I cut over to iOS 9 and watchOS 2 on all my primary devices. Along this journey, I think I've identified iOS 9's killer feature, the one thing that changes everything and will have impact for years to come—seamlessness.

Haven't heard of it? Well, that's because seamlessness isn't actually a specific iOS 9 feature. Rather, it's the result of a multitude of iOS 9 and Apple infrastructure capabilities that mesh together to provide a groundbreaking new experience.

Apple showed us an interesting chart at WWDC: iOS users spend 86% of their time in apps, versus only 14% on the web. Seamlessness is all about unlocking that 86%: the content and features that live within apps, along with how we interact with them. Seamlessness is also about shattering the barriers, web-to-app and app-to-app, that have limited awareness and effectiveness up to now.

Craig Federighi presenting iOS 9 search at WWDC15

Craig Federighi presenting iOS 9 search at WWDC15

Apple has taken smaller steps towards seamlessness in the past, including custom URL schemes and most recently iOS 8's Handoff feature. But iOS 9 takes us far, far beyond, meshing a wide range of local and cloud features to deliver a new, cohesive app-plus-web experience.

Craig Federighi shows off deep linking and Return to Search button

Craig Federighi shows off deep linking and Return to Search button

From a user's perspective, the wonder of seamlessness surfaces mainly in search and navigation. In both Safari and Spotlight search, my search results now represent the content and features of my apps. Search results are richly formatted and directly actionable: one touch deep-links me directly to the specific app content (say, an Airbnb listing or Yummly recipe) or feature (such as the Steps feature in Apple's Health app) that search found for me. I'm also given a return link, "Back to Search," that brings me directly back to search results. So as a user, I get a simple, web-like search experience, but for content and features living inside my apps that until now have been locked away inside the walls of the app.

Although this search experience is simple for the user, there's an incredible array of technology and infrastructure hiding beneath the surface to make this all happen seamlessly. Apple provides three separate search APIs for developers in iOS 9: one to index app content, another to follow the flow of user activity within the app, and a third to map web content to its in-app equivalent. All three APIs are essential to get the kind of seamlessness that we're seeing in iOS 9. Likewise, to deliver highly relevant search results and enable discovery of new apps and app features, Apple maintains two separate search indexes: a private on-device index and a public cloud index. If I'm searching for a good recipe for fish, the search results I see from Yummly are influenced not only by my own content and interactions, but also based on what other Yummy users have done and found. I might even get a recommendation for the New York Times recipe app if that app has a popular salmon recipe. Apple manages all of this while carefully preserving user privacy, using techniques like "zero knowledge proof" when moving private behavioral data into the cloud. 

Deep app linking is fundamental to both search and navigation in iOS 9. Through the new search APIs, app developers expose important content, features, and navigation points inside their apps, and enable the app to open immediately to any of these deep link destinations. (And also get back, thanks to ubiquitous "Back to ..." buttons.) And besides exposing "where can I go within this app," deep link destinations also enable iOS to capture a running stream of "where am I now in this app," similar to a browser's history of pages visited. The new search APIs also enable the developer to richly describe each deep link destination, with detailed descriptions, thumbnail images, keywords and even domain-specific data like prices and ratings. So iOS 9 now has a treasure trove of information to leverage in delivering a rich, seamless search and navigation experience. 

But what about the web? And what about interacting and sharing with others who might not have the same set of apps I do? So often, content and functionality that exists inside an app also exists on the web—consider Twitter, Airbnb, and tons of other cases. Is there a way to extend seamlessness beyond my mobile device and encompass the web and sharing?

It turns out that the answer is yes. iOS 9 introduces a new form of web-compatible deep link URL known as Universal Links. The URLs themselves are nothing new, and actually that's the point: these are normal http or https URLs that point to normal web pages. The Universal Link magic happens when the app developer / website owner informs Apple, through a combination of app entitlements and web server content, that this website's URLs map to deep link destinations within their app. Anywhere that iOS 9 encounters a Universal Link—be in Safari or Mail or Messages or another app—it can open that link directly in the app. If the app isn't installed, then iOS 9 gracefully falls back to opening the URL in Safari. Links to tweets, recipes, Airbnb listings, LinkedIn profiles—all can now open directly and seamlessly in their native apps. Website owners can even mark up their Universal Link-associated web pages with descriptive metadata such as thumbnail images, ratings, and review counts, which then surface as rich, actionable Safari or Spotlight results. And again, behind this simple user experience is a major infrastructure investment. To make this all work, Apple has actually built its own web crawler, Applebot, to maintain a huge and rapidly-growing cloud repository of every deep app link on the web and its associated metadata. (I'm tracking a growing list apps that support Universal Links here.)

App developers have an added incentive to invest in implementing iOS 9's new search and deep linking features: discoverability. Given a high relevance match, Safari and Spotlight search will return app search results even for apps that aren't yet installed. The example used at WWDC was a search for "sprained ankle," which returned app results to relevant content within several medical reference apps, based on other users having found that content useful. Developers will want to get their iOS 9 updates rolled out ASAP, since every user interaction helps populate Apple's cloud index and increase app discoverability. The result can be exposure to millions of new potential customers. 

One final note: although iOS 9 arrives today, seamlessness in its full glory will take time. Developers need to update their apps and websites, and then it will take time for Apple's cloud index to populate and reach critical mass. I'm guessing two to three months before seamlessness is really rocking. 

See also: a running list of apps that support Universal Links.


Le Mans, Unabridged

Race time, 2:57 AM on Sunday June 14th, the middle of the night, pitch black pierced by laser headlights. 13 hours, 3 minutes to go. My time-shifted reality time is 7:37 AM June 23rd, a full nine days after les 24 Heures du Mans has finished. I'm actively ducking my normal news feeds, especially Zite, trying to avoid spoilers. After almost 11 hours of racing, the leading Audi and Porsche LMP1 cars are just seconds apart, trading the lead with every pit stop. 

LMP1 stands for Le Mans Prototype Class 1, the fastest of the four Le Mans racing classes. The top LMP1 cars are capable of circling the long, winding 8.47 miles of the Le Mans circuit in less than 3:20, with top speeds over 210 MPH. For my money, LMP1s are the most amazing racing machines on the face of the earth.

The Le Mans circuit

The Le Mans circuit

Know that I'm a serious Formula 1 fan. I love F1 cars, their amazing speed (even faster than LMP1s), the technology they represent. I love the carefully sculpted F1 racing format, with its three-round qualifying on Saturday followed by an intense Sunday race. I love the drama of F1's long 18-race season, with drivers and teams fighting it out over nine months for individual and team championship titles. Formula 1 is my favorite racing series.

My favorite single race, though, is the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Hands-down, no contest. Le Mans is a season's worth of racing compressed into a single race. Cars that finish these brutal 24 hours will never race again—the punishment is so heavy that even the most robust components, down to the chassis itself, are beat up, worn out, no longer race-worthy. Le Mans demands a three-driver rotation, and even then drivers are pushed to the point of physical exhaustion and dehydration. Pit crews and garage mechanics face their own marathon: besides rapidly rendering 24 hours of fuel-and-tire stops, they must be prepared to diagnose and fix even the most seriously broken cars, under the highest-intensity, the-clock-is-ticking circumstances. Race engineers like Audi's Leena Gade might have the toughest job of all, because unlike drivers, they're on duty for all 24 hours. This is 24 hours of racing insanity.

Le Mans cars are likewise in a class of their own. Even the commoners of Le Mans—the Porsche 911 RSRs and Ferrari 458 Italia GT2s of the GTE classes—are sexy beasts that wind up with a sound like a turbojet on the long Mulsanne Straight and would turn heads on any road in the world. The LMP1s are the pinnacle, though, truly the sexiest cars on the face of the earth, especially as they fly through a difficult corner sequence like the sinuous Porsche Curves, moving so fast it seems like you're fast-forwarding the video. As sports car prototypes, LMP1s have beautifully enclosed bodywork and jet-aircraft-style cockpits. The LMP1 look is sleek spaceship, a vast contrast to the aero-deformed, exposed-wheel F1 car.

2015 Audi R18 e-tron quattro

2015 Audi R18 e-tron quattro

Racing technology a big part of the appeal for me. I love Formula 1 for its tech, but here again, Le Mans and LMP1s rule the roost. The three top LMP1 teams—Audi, Porsche, and Toyota—all use hybrid technology. Audi's hybrid power isn't battery-based, though: the R18 e-tron quattro instead uses a flywheel accumulator which spins up during braking, storing up to 700K Joules of energy and delivering an extra 272 horsepower on demand. Audi has likewise innovated on its internal combustion engine: starting in 2006, Audi made an unprecedented switch to diesel power. Besides delivering amazing performance and fuel economy, the diesel powerplant is incredibly quiet; the loudest noise you'll hear on the in-car feed is the flywheel spinning up, with engine noise just a low background throb. Using such unconventional power sources, Audi has been dominant at Le Mans, winning 10 of the last 11 years.

Porsche is the most famous name in Le Mans racing, a name that had been absent from prototypes for 16 years until their return last year with the 919 Hybrid. The 919 is a more conventional hybrid pairing than Audi's, with a turbocharged 2.0 liter V4 gasoline engine complemented by a lithium ion battery system. Conventional or not, the 919 is a powerful rocketship capable of cranking out almost 1,000 HP, significantly more than Audi's combined 840 HP and enough to easily win this year's LMP1 pole. But Les Mans is endurance racing at its most fundamental, and despite the Porsche's power advantage and qualifying pace, it was Audi who started this year's Le Mans as heavy favorites, having handily beaten the 919s in two key up to Le Mans. It normally takes years for a new team to master Le Mans' triple requirements: speed, reliability, and teamwork. 2015 was just Porsche's second year, so winning seemed highly unlikely. 

2015 Porsche 919 Hybrid

2015 Porsche 919 Hybrid

Race time, Sunday morning 3:50 AM. 12 hours 10 minutes to go. Time-shifted time, 8:41 PM on June 25th, dusk in Winnetka, 11 days and change after the finish. It's shaping up to be a great race, perhaps as exciting as the classic Audi - Peugeot duels of 2006-2011. Porsche's #19 car has pulled out a slight lead, enough to remain in front event after pit stops, although in a 24 hour race this is the thinnest of margins, one that could evaporate with the slightest mishap such as a punctured tire. 

And yes, I've really watched it all, 11 hours and 50 minutes of racing, transitioning from bright afternoon sunshine, through the fading light of a beautiful evening, and now into the dark lonely hours past midnight. The race is not even halfway over, and already I've committed more viewing hours than an entire season of Game of Thrones. By the time I'm done, I'll have watched 24 full hours, time-shifted to fit my spare viewing hours, over an elapsed period of 18 days, all the while staying clear of my usual racing news sources in an attempt to avoid spoilers. 

That's a serious commitment of time and focus. A similar commitment, applied to cross-country driving, will get me from Winnetka to Taos, New Mexico, including a side trip to Alliance, Nebraska to visit that automative wonder of the world, Carhenge. What motivates me to watch a single sporting event, a single race, for 24 full hours? 

Watching Le Mans unabridged is sublime and memorable, in the same way that taking a cross-country journey in the company of great friends is sublime and memorable. It's not a quick-fix adrenaline rush like the best of Formula 1 races. It's not a quick anything. Instead, it's a 24-hour stream of small wonderful moments, enjoyed in the company of good friends. Headlights coming on in the beautiful dusk, the screech of an Audi's tires as it threads the Porsche Curves, chaos in a GTE garage after an unfortunate meeting with an Armco guardrail, the one-of-a-kind growl of the Corvette C7.R's 5.5 liter V8, the intense focus of an LMP1 driver cranking out sub-3:20 laps in the pitch black of 3:00 AM. For me, the Le Mans experience can't be condensed; try to grasp the "good parts" and you lose the whole essence of the thing. 

919 Hybrid owns the night

919 Hybrid owns the night

Race time, Sunday, 6:44 AM, almost 15 hours into the race.  It's getting light. 9 hours 16 minutes to go. Porsche's #19 car has stretched its lead over the #7 Audi to a pit-stop-adjusted 50 seconds, still a tight margin at Le Mans but definitely a concern to Audi. There's an interesting Formula 1 connection to the #19 Porsche: German Nico Hülkenberg, an active F1 driver for Force India, is one of #19's co-drivers. Hülkenberg is a Le Mans rookie, as is his Kiwi teammate Earl Bamber. Their third co-driver Nick Tandy has raced Le Mans twice before, but in the GTE Pro class, two large steps below LMP1. It's a surprise to see #19 leading the Porsches, let alone the race.

For almost 15 hours I've enjoyed traveling in the company of my good Le Mans friends. Endurance racing in general, and Le Mans in particular, has the informal feel of "Hey, let's do something insane! Screw it, let's drive for 24 hours straight and see who can go the farthest!" It's less like a formal contest and more like an all-night crazy-fest. And I get to be an integral part of the craziness: my role is to watch insanely—all 24 hours—two full seasons of The Wire. 

Among those I'm intimately connected with are the head crazies, the drivers. Le Mans' deep camera coverage brings me right inside their world for 24 hours, whether they're two hours into a four-hour stint in their LMP1 cockpit or dozing in the garage. In the tightly-produced Formula 1 format, my exposure to the drivers is carefully scripted, with handlers always hovering nearby. In F1, the closest you'll come to an informal moment is immediately after the race, when the top three finishers relax and rehydrate before the podium ceremony.

At Le Mans, in contrast, informality reigns. 24 hours is long time, and even if tight production and careful scripting were desired (they don't seem to be), it would be prohibitively expensive to do. Also, because Le Mans drivers are part of a 3-person team, they're actually driving just 1/3rd of the time. The 2015 edition of Le Mans had 56 cars, meaning 174 drivers. So at any particular point during the race, 116 drivers are not driving, but instead are hanging out around the garage, watching the race just like me, maybe grabbing some food and a couple hours of sleep, but mostly hanging out. Oh look, there's André Lotterer from the #7 Audi, relaxing in the garage with his mechanics, watching the race feed and his car's telemetry data. Wow, there's Patrick Dempsey, yes, that Patrick Dempsey, who just finished his stint in the #77 GTE Am car. Casual, unscripted interviews are happening continuously. One of my favorites this year was with Anthony "Ant" Davidson, co-driver of the #1 Toyota TS040 Hybrid. Toyota Racing was a top contender in 2014, winning the World Endurance Championship, but in 2015 Porsche and Audi both pulled significantly ahead. Davidson was fresh out of the #1 Toyota, having just crashed twice on a single lap as he desperately tried to match the pace of the leaders. He was devastated, brutally honest about his mistakes, and apologetic to his fans and team. The time lost for repairs ended any hopes Toyota had for a top finish. No handlers, no scripts, up close and personal.

Race time 12:49 PM, a bit over 3 hours to go. For me watching in Winnetka, it's dinner time on July 2nd, 18 days later. Both the race and my time-shifted viewing are entering their final push. The drivers who take over now will bring their cars home.

Finish at Le Mans occurs when (a) the official Rolex 24 hour race clock finally counts down to 00:00:00, and (b) your car crosses the finish line, having completed its last 8+ mile lap in six minutes or less. Even if your car runs for 23 hours and 55 minutes, if you fail to cross the finish line, or are limping along at slower than a six minute pace, you are completely disqualified, expunged, shunned, purged from the classification list as if you had never entered. 

The iconic Rolex race clock at Le Mans

The iconic Rolex race clock at Le Mans

About four hours ago, disaster befell Audi's lead #7 car: the rear engine cover broke loose and shredded, resulting in engine damage and a lengthy garage visit. This gave the #19 Porsche a more comfortable one-lap lead. Since then, the Audis have continued to suffer reliability problems and even a drive-through penalty for "disrespecting the slow zone." Porsche's cars have meanwhile been rock-solid and now hold the top two spots, with #17 up to second place.

The Le Mans race commentators are another big part of my communal crazy-fest. It's an hilarious, chaotic, ever-shifting cast of characters, with new voices suddenly appearing as their predecessors hit the wall of exhaustion and slip away for food and sleep. They're enthusiastic and knowledgeable, many being former Le Mans drivers, people who can speak from personal experience about what it's like to be in the car during Happy Hour, the golden hour just after daybreak when the track surface is rubbered in and sticky, and the cool air maximizes engine performance. They talk me through amazing laps, horrifying crashes, miraculous pit work, amateurish moves by amateur drivers, and hilarious moments ("André Lotterer there, taking on a banana.") I feast on insider trivia—which teams have the best hospitality catering, what particular drivers choose to eat during the race (in one horrifying case, curried hot dogs).

Best of all, they share about Le Mans, the Grand Lady that even the world's best drivers can never take for granted. Like life, Le Mans is fundamentally about endurance, about taking hits and getting beat up and getting it started again and limping back to the pits and intense recovery work and speed tape and surviving and finishing. It's about yellow flags and safety cars and getting a lap down and getting back in the groove and unlapping yourself and retaking the lead when it's the other driver's turn for misfortune. 

Race time 3:53 PM, less than eight minutes remaining, time-shifted to 9:09 PM July 2nd in Winnetka. Nico Hülkenberg is back at the wheel of the #19 Porsche and has an almost-comfortable one lap lead over his Porsche #17 sister car, two laps ahead of the #7 Audi. 

Hülkenberg is still flying, to the great discomfort of his team, who try to reel him in over the radio, "Nico, you can take it a lot more easy, repeat, you can take it a lot more easy." If Nico can hold it together for the last eight minutes, he'll become the first active Formula 1 driver to win Le Mans since Johnny Herbert in 1991.

Heartbreak after 23+ hours for the #98 Aston Martin

Heartbreak after 23+ hours for the #98 Aston Martin

The Audi garage is subdued. The unbelievable does still happen at Le Mans—just minutes earlier, in the GTE Am class, the #98 Aston Martin, running with a full two-lap advantage, crashed out of the race, handing the lead and eventual win to the #72 SMP Ferrari. But the Audi team senses that, with just minutes to go, and two Porsche 919s running fast and reliable well up the road, 2015 won't bring another miracle win. Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Audi Director of Motorsport, walks over to the Porsche garage and offers congratulations.

Race time, a bit past 4:00 PM. The official Rolex 24 hour race clock has counted down past 00:00:00. Nico Hülkenberg has finally slowed down a bit and convoyed up with the #17 sister Porsche to cross the finish line together. 

Another historic, magical Le Mans is in the books. Best consumed unabridged.

Apple Watch: Silent Awareness

The Ring/Silent switch on my iPhone is perpetually set to Silent. Mine might be a minority opinion, but I detest the noise of an unmuted phone—the blaring ringtones, the bleeps, bloops and chirps announcing texts, emails and tweets. I opt for silence—or at least as much silence as can be had when the motor-driven vibration unit inside my phone is noisy enough to summon a crowd of Living Dead zombies.

Before Apple Watch arrived, my semi-silent iPhone setup had the Ring/Silent switch set to Silent, vibration on for incoming calls and alerts, and manually-enabled Do Not Disturb for times when loud vibration was unacceptable. Although it delivered a limited degree of quiet, this setup had a serious drawback: tons of missed calls and notifications. I regularly missed my phone's alerts altogether, and even more often, sensed an alert but was unwilling or unable to do more than twitch irritably as I was vibra-poked. If success entails noticing an incoming alert and then taking informed, appropriate action, I'd estimate my pre-Watch success rate at about 20%.

What's behind this abysmal success rate? Location, location, location. Where's my phone? Jammed in a vibration-damping pocket, locked, screen hidden, inaccessible without an awkward, multi-step effort. Where are my eyes, my senses? Otherwise engaged. Where's my mind? Elsewhere.

It's no wonder that I so often fail to register my phone's vibratory cries for attention. Even when a vibration does break through and tickle my consciousness, my reptillian brain is the first responder. The lizard-brain delivers lightweight situational advice, and does it quickly. Lizard-brain's good advice, though, often leads directly to the failure scenario.

Not a good place to drop your phone.

Not a good place to drop your phone.

Let's say I'm crossing the Franklin Street Bridge over the Chicago River and get a call. Here's how lizard-brain is likely to see things:


Failure: even though I felt the alert, I make an uninformed decision to not take a call. (It's successful from lizard-brain's perspective, however: neither my body nor my phone ended up in the river.)

Or let's say I'm sitting on the couch next to my napping daughter and a call comes in:. Here's the lizard mindstream:


Failure: another uninformed decision to not take a call, spastic phone groping, and a significant noise intrusion.

The in-pocket phone is invisible and, blind groping aside, unactionable. To see and act, I must unpocket and unlock, a stop-everything, step-aside, devote-all-attention effort. To unpocket, I must swap out the lightweight lizard-brain daemon and load in heavyweight Higher Consciousness. In so many situations, as in the above examples, unpocketing is at best unattractive and at worst infeasible. This was my world, pre-Watch.

Apple Watch delivers the silence I've been seeking (details below), but more critically catapults my aware-responsive rate from 20% to 80%.  Behind this improvement is again location, location, location. Where's my Watch? On my wrist, unsheathed, unlocked, a subsecond gesture away from screenlit, direct-connected to my nervous system through that most basic and powerful sensory input, tactile touch. Where are my eyes, my senses, my mind? That's no longer a concern, because Apple Watch cooperates with the reptilian mind, asking only a tiny slice of mental processing power and speaking the direct language of touch through its Taptic Engine. 

New call and alert settings with Apple Watch in the mix.

New call and alert settings with Apple Watch in the mix.

In my Watch + iPhone alerting setup, my iPhone is set to Silent/No Vibrate, and thus completely cedes all alerting to Apple Watch. My Watch is configured to be sound-effect-free, using only Taptic and visible alerting. In contrast to the phone's snarling vibratory alerts, Taptic alerts are inaudible, and in practice I've found them to be so good at getting my attention that added sound effects are unnecessary. Taptic's silent operation also eliminates my need for manually-set Do Not Disturb: Taptic is safely discrete in all situations. 

Let's rejoin lizard-brain and reexamine the two scenarios. Crossing the Franklin Street Bridge over the Chicago River:

I step to one side. 
I carefully unpocket my phone. 
I touch the green bar to pick up call on phone.
I continue my call with John.

Success: I'm aware, responsive, safe.

Incoming call on Apple Watch: send to voicemail or answer.

Incoming call on Apple Watch: send to voicemail or answer.


Sleeping daughter:


Success: I'm aware, informed, appropriate.

Watch on wrist, my days are a continuous stream of scenarios like these. Case in point: as I've been revising this paragraph, I've quickly and discetely dealt with two incoming calls (one step-away-and-call-back, one send-to-voicemail), several texts, and one new voicemail notification. All successfully.

My wife doesn't yet realize how badly she wants an Apple Watch, but I'm pretty sure that she'd benefit even more than I have. Beth is also a fan of quiet and discrete, so like me, she keeps her phone switched to Silent. But in her case, that setting is largely irrelevant, because she rarely carries her phone—or even a purse with her phone. As a result, Beth's reachability rate is maybe 5%—when our older kids need to reach her, they often call or text me instead. 

Recently it dawned on me that Apple Watch had a Wi-Fi radio in addition to Bluetooth, and that Apple had to be doing something useful with that extra radio, or else it wouldn't be in there. I dug into the question online, did some experiments of my own, and made a very interesting discovery. Regardless of physical proximity, if Apple Watch and iPhone are on the same Wi-Fi network, they stay connected. And being connected, Watch can do all its usual connected tricks, including all of the aware-and-responsive scenarios we've examined in this post.

Apple Watch connected to iPhone. Over Wi-Fi, that can span an entire house.

Apple Watch connected to iPhone. Over Wi-Fi, that can span an entire house.


I realized that I'd been thinking of the Watch as fully functional only within fairly close proximity to my phone. But Wi-Fi range is basically our entire house! Beth could leave her iPhone charging upstairs, and with an Apple Watch on her wrist, remain fully connected, aware, and responsive throughout the house. Another location challenge, gracefully handled by Apple Watch.

Way back in May 2013, Tim Cook said in a Wall Street Journal AllThingsD interview, "I think the wrist is interesting. The wrist is natural." Yep. Location, location, location.

Just a note of appreciation for a number of deeply-reasoned Apple Watch articles recently, which provided inspiration for mine.


A Day to Remember

I was in England on business—some sort of software event in London, the details long since faded and obscured. But this day, this day ... the memories surge back, filling out in technicolor as I write and research, a kind of archaeological dig through both memories and the vast web of resources now at my fingertips about the people, places, and things we encountered this day. 

It was early June 1987, and I was fortunate in that my wife was able to make the trip with me. Beth was eight months pregnant with our first child, Jennifer, who expressed pre-natal delight at the novelty of air travel with kicks and backflips. We had only a handful of extra days for sightseeing; just time enough, really, for a single destination.

That destination wasn't difficult to choose. Beth and I had both fallen in love with Yorkshire second hand, via James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small, which describes the author's life as a country vet in the Yorkshire Dales. Beth asked around and discovered that James Herriot was the pen name of Alf Wight, a working vet who still maintained a surgery in the village of Thirsk up in the moor country of North Yorkshire.  So we set off to explore Yorkshire and find the land of All Creatures Great and Small.

The book and the man

The book and the man

We spent a day in southern Yorkshire, thoroughly enjoying the city of York. I had been carefully instructed by a British friend that, while in Yorkshire, I must sample the Old Peculier Ale. I was further instructed that under no circumstance should I settle for Old Peculier served in a bottle; I was instead to find a pub that had the beverage on tap direct from the keg. There was a method to this madness: Old Peculier was (and apparently still is) shipped in oak casks, which contribute significantly to its flavor. I followed my directions carefully, located the Spread Eagle Pub, which had among its varied offerings Old Peculier tapped straight from the oaken keg, and gave it a thorough sampling. Without a doubt, this was the best beer I've ever had, then or since. 

Theakstons, makers of Old Peculier, are proud of their custom-made casks

Theakstons, makers of Old Peculier, are proud of their custom-made casks

The next morning we headed for Thirsk. We asked around and finally located a sign that announced the veterinary surgery of James Alfred Wight, OBE, complete with a vehicle out front containing a pair of muddy, knee-height farm boots, which we of course decided had to be Alf's. We were tempted to knock on the door, but in the end decided not to make tourist fools out of ourselves, figuring that Mr. Wight might not welcome this kind of intrusion on his place of business. We contented ourselves with visiting the bookstore across the street, buying a couple of hardcover editions of the Herriot books "from the source" so to speak. With our Alf Wight stalking completed, we decided to head out and explore the countryside. 

We steered east out of Thirsk on the A170, and before long entered the North York Moors National Park. Soon Sutton Bank appeared in front of us: a striking, 978' tall cliff, fracturing the countryside for miles to the north and south, edging the great plateau that encompasses the North York Moors. As A170 approached the cliff, we began to see warning signs: Dangerous Grade Ahead. And they weren't kidding: the Sutton Bank hill has an incredible 25% grade, with a tight hairpin turn halfway up thrown in for good measure; the locals keep a running count of major accidents on this stretch of road. I was uncomfortable enough driving on flat roads, thanks to the right-seated driving and left-handed manual shifting. Somehow, though, with palms sweating heavily,  I managed to coax the tiny rental to the top of the Bank without ending up over the cliff, Beth sitting beside me white-faced. Once up, the views were stunning, looking out over the vast green checkerboard of the Vales of York and Mowbray. I am reminded of driving the road from San Francisco through the Sierra foothills into Yosemite valley: both drives invoke sheer terror, followed by—assuming one survives—incredible bliss. Both are places I cherish and intend to revisit.

Warning sign for Sutton Bank grade on the A170

Warning sign for Sutton Bank grade on the A170

Less than a mile past the top of the Sutton Bank grade, the A170 intersects High Town Bank Road and there we noticed a sign: Yorkshire Gliding Club. I had flown gliders during my mid teens; or more accurately, a particular kind of glider: the venerable, forgiving, stodgy Schweizer 2-33 two-seat trainer. 

Schweizer 2-33 trainer

Schweizer 2-33 trainer

I was curious to see what this Yorkshire club might be like, especially given its location perched on the edge of Sutton Bank. So we followed the signs and ended up at a cluster of buildings: the clubhouse and several aircraft hangars. Off in the distance we could see activity on the grass flying field: people, gliders, a tow plane. Beth and I were debating whether we would be welcomed or chased off if we dared walk onto the field, until I noticed a sign in the window of the clubhouse: "Glider Rides, £20." Our concerns immediately evaporated: we were now potential customers rather than trespassers.

Sign for the Yorkshire Gliding Club. If memory serves, the sign was different in 1987. © Copyright Pauline E and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

Sign for the Yorkshire Gliding Club. If memory serves, the sign was different in 1987. © Copyright Pauline E and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

So we walked out onto the field and I soon realized that the Yorkshire Gliding Club was in a whole different league from the Mansfield, Ohio club where I had learned. Sutton Bank's high cliffs face directly into the prevailing westerly winds, generating fantastic ridge soaring conditions: with even a moderate west wind, glider pilots can soar aloft for hours at a time. The Club's flying machines were as world-class as its location: sleek, glossy white, state-of-the-art craft built of fiberglass, a far cry from the chunky fabric-and-dented-aluminum 2-33 trainers I had cut my teeth on. Still, I assumed that these gorgeous white rocket ships belonged to well-heeled private owners, and that they'd wheel out something more like the 2-33 for £20 demo riders.

When I asked, though, we were directed over to a beautiful white T-tailed two-seater, an ultra-performance Schleicher ASK-21. Holy shit. At this point, my attitude towards taking a glider ride shifted from "toying with the idea" to "please please please can I take a glider ride please please" .... Now, Beth didn't really share my excitement about the gliders. She loved Yorkshire and Sutton Bank but gliders, not so much. I graciously offered that she could take a ride too, which earned me a glare: as if Beth would want to strap eight-months-pregnant into the front seat of a sailplane. She was fine, though, with me taking a ride. Little did she know.

A beautiful ASK-21 in flight

A beautiful ASK-21 in flight

I paid my £20 and they paired me with a club pilot for my 20-minute ride. We talked a little, I explained that I had a bit of not-so-recent gliding experience, and finally he said something like, "Cheerio then, let's get going. There's your parachute; do you know how to put it on?"  

I'd never worn a parachute before—hell, I'd never even seen a parachute close up. Like most normal airplanes, my simple old Schweizer 2-33 trainer didn't require one. The elegant, high-performance ASK-21, on the other hand, was certified for aerobatics, and by U.K. (and U.S.) law, all passengers must wear chutes. So there I was, with my extensively pregnant wife looking on, struggling to fit on a parachute before taking off in a great white shark of an aerobatic glider. Beth was becoming less amused by the moment.

The winds this particular day were not the usual westerlies, but instead blew from the north, meaning we'd miss out on the beneficial ridge updrafts off the Sutton Bank cliffs. So it was shaping up as a quick-up, quick-down flight, 20 minutes if we were lucky. I finally got suited up and buckled in to the front seat of the ASK-21, waved to Beth as they lowered the clear canopy, and we were ready for takeoff. Helpers snapped on the tow rope, a 200' polypropylene rope that in turn connects to the towplane, a small but muscularly-engined plane engineer for launching gliders. A few hand signals and the towplane began to move, with our helper running along holding our wingtip until we had enough speed to fly the wings. Off we went down the grass strip, the ASK-21 lifting off quickly powered by its huge wing, trailing the towplane in a gradual climb.

ASK-21 ready for towing

ASK-21 ready for towing

It didn't take long to reach the release height of 2,000 feet. The tow release process is carefully choreographed and well understood by every glider and tow pilot: the glider pilot pulls the release lever, the tow rope pops off with a loud bang, the glider makes a climbing 90 degree to the right, the towplane a descending turns 90 degrees to the left. For us, release should have begun a steady descent back to the field, given the lack of ridge lift and cold temperatures. But almost immediately, we flew into a strong thermal updraft, a column of rising air caused by ground heating, a common phenomonon on hot days but unusual on such a chilly day.  There it was, though, and strong: the variometer was showing 3-4 meters/second lift. The pilot circled to stay in the lift column and we were climbing, quickly. 

On that particular day, the bases of the cumulus clouds were around 5,000 feet, and the thermal we circled inside stayed unusually strong all the way up. As we came closer and closer to the cloud base, the pilot began to frantically power up the directional gyro required for instrument flight—that is, for us to fly blind inside the cloud. But it takes several minutes for a directional gyro to spin up and stabilize, and we were already starting to penetrate the cloud base. The average life expectancy of non-instrument-rated pilots who fly into clouds has been calculated as 178 seconds; I'm guessing that instrument-rated pilots without their instruments don't fare too much better. So my pilot wisely decided it was time to "get out of Dodge." He dove down, out of the cloud and away from the thermal lift.

Vintage ASK-21 instrument panel. Mine would have had a few additional (IFR) instruments.

Vintage ASK-21 instrument panel. Mine would have had a few additional (IFR) instruments.

So here we were, at almost 5,000 feet altitude, about 15 minutes into a 20-minute ride. How to burn 5,000 feet of altitude in five minutes? The next thing I heard was the pilot asking, "Do you like aerobatics?" Well, I didn't really know, because the old Schweizer 2-33 definitely didn't do aerobatics, but it sounded like fun, so I answered "Sure!" Today's older, wiser Jack might have paused to consider the effect these aerobatics might have on his wife, waiting 5,000 feet below and already nervous because her husband—wearing a goddamn parachute—had flown off and almost disappeared into the bottom of a cloud. 

He proceeded to point the nose of the ASK-21 at the ground at what felt like a near-vertical angle as I floated weightless, held in place by my seat harness, He let the speed build to the plane's top speed of 151 knots as we hurdled at the ground. At the last second, he pulled back on the stick, and I was melted into the seat as he turned speed back into altitude again, pulling up into a near-vertical climb until the glider lost forward speed and entered a stall. He then kicked the rudder hard left to initiate a stall turn, and the 21 spun 180 degrees until it was again pointing straight down, accelerating to max speed until the next zoom into another vertical pull-up. We must have repeated this exhilarating maneuver three or four times until we burned off our 5,000' of excess energy and set up in the landing pattern.

ASK-21 aerobatics including the Stall Turn, from ASK-21 Flight Manual

ASK-21 aerobatics including the Stall Turn, from ASK-21 Flight Manual

Now let's take a minute to look again at these events from Beth's perspective. Here she is, eight months pregnant and 3,700 miles away from home. Her fool of a husband has dragged her to a glider port, strapped on a parachute, disappeared into a cloud—and now here he is again, diving towards the ground at 174 MPH, zooming back up, twisting around, hurtling back down, over and over. I have to think that Jennifer was at high risk of being born in Sutton Bank, Yorkshire rather than Cincinnati, Ohio. Amazingly, though, Beth seemed to stay pretty calm through all of this. I stepped from that incredible ASK-21, shrugged out of the parachute harness, and zombie-walked over to her on shaky overexcited legs. Outwardly at least, Beth was the calm one.

This magical day delivered one last treat. After the adrenaline rush of the day, we were both exhausted and ravenously hungry, so we pulled into a cozy pub not far down the A170. Here we had a chance to enjoy a classic of pub cuisine: the Grilled Cheese & Onion sandwich.  It's basically a grilled cheese with a thin slice of caramelized onion cooked right in the middle of the melted cheese. Amazingly tasty and the ultimate adrenaline antidote.

Grilled Cheese & Onion. Photo from http://ohmyveggies.com/

Grilled Cheese & Onion. Photo from http://ohmyveggies.com/

So ended the Day to Remember. Or at least my memory of it. Writing this, I feel a strong yearning to return to the Yorkshire Dales.