Review of the 2021 MacBook Pro
Continuing the philosophy of true desktop power on the go, just like its predecessor, the 1989 Macintosh PortableNov 10, 2021
We’d all like to forget the 2016-era MacBook Pros, so in this review, I’m just going to pretend they didn’t happen.
Stephen Hackett’s review of the 2021 MacBook Pro is framed around the idea that the 2021 MacBook Pro is not a successor to the 2016–2020 model, but the 2012–2015 model.
In my review, I will take Hackett’s idea to the illogical extreme. I posit the 2021 MacBook Pro returns to the philosophy of uncompromised desktop performance last seen only on the Macintosh Portable from 1989.1
Continuing the philosophy
The Macintosh Portable, Apple’s first foray into portable computing, was designed around the unwavering constraint that it must be equally as capable as the desktop Macintosh. Jean-Louis Gassée was so unwilling to compromise on this vision that the Macintosh Portable—compared to the Macintosh SE—offered twice the clock speed on the same 68000 processor, included a larger display by nearly an inch and shipped with a hard drive stock on the base model. You get all of these niceties in a package that is almost 6% lighter than the 17 lb. desktop Macintosh and at only 187% of the cost!
The PowerBooks that followed were disappointing to say the least. In the vapid and vain pursuit of thinness and lightness, the PowerBook 170 nixes the lead-acid battery; it features only a 68030 processor instead of the 68040 available on the Quadra 700; the desktop arrangement of the track ball on either side of the keyboard is haphazardly rearranged in a bizarre layout where the trackball is beneath the keyboard. All of these compromises are made only to save an insignificant nine pounds of weight and 1.8″ of thickness.
The 2021 MacBook Pro lineup continues the thinking of Apple’s best product visionary, Jean-Louis Gassée. The last remnants of Apple’s worst-ever decision makers, Steve Jobs and Jony Ive,2 are finally gone. Once again, the portable computers surpass their desktop brethren in power and capability.
The M1 Max is the culmination of Apple’s all-important chip transition to their own silicon from the Motorola 68k-series chips. Macs of this era suffered from heat management problems, forcing Apple to reverse their decision to ship the original Macintosh without a fan, adding one in the Macintosh SE and all subsequent models.
While the new MacBook Pro has a fan, the power efficiency of Apple silicon is such that you never hear it in daily use. The most performance you will ever need is just enough to not hear a fan.
The new MacBook Pro is a real let down in design. Apple is losing their artistic mojo of making beautiful appliances. One look at the new MacBook Pro and I see that it is clearly designed for function over form.
The Macintosh Portable was designed by the biggest name in industrial design: frog. The design language, called Snow White, defines the eggshell color, the flat angular shape and the super-cool looking prominent vents.
While the Macintosh Portable was only able to affix a 4:3 display panel in its widescreen lid, it surpassed the standard 9″ 512 × 384 display common on the Macintosh with an expansive and roomy 9.8″ 640 × 480 panel. Unlike the PowerBook that followed it, the MacBook Pro stretches its display to fill the entire widescreen space rather than shrink the computer to fit the squarer panel.
The MacBook Pro display is now physically rounded on top rather than rounded in software.
These new displays are now in color, which nice, I suppose, if you’re into that sort of thing. The System 6.0.8 operating system doesn’t make extensive use of color anyways—the only app I use that would take advantage of this is MacPaint. It’s specified clearly in the new Human Interface Guidelines that “[Developers] should design [their applications] first in black and white […] Color shouldn’t be the only thing that distinguishes two objects.” If you need a color display, this is a pleasant upgrade; I would personally settle for a cheaper model without a color display if I had the choice.
Ports and connectors
Everyone is talking about the ports on the new MacBook Pro.
Unfortunately the Apple Desktop Bus, SCSI and two serial ports are replaced by only three Thunderbolt 4 ports. If you expect to use your existing ADB Mouse, external 40 MB hard drive, LaserWriter printer and AppleTalk network on your new MacBook Pro, you will quickly run out of ports.
It still has a headphone jack, a sound upgrade from the 8-bit mono output with a more powerful ADC and support for high-impedance headphones.
The new MacBook Pro has a fancy new magnetic power connector. I’m not sure why they call it MagSafe 3 when we have obviously never had MagSafe 1 or 2. The claim here is that pulling the power cord won’t pull the computer off the table. How typical of Apple, designing solutions for problems they create for themselves. I tried tugging the power cable on my 16 lb. Macintosh Portable and it didn’t budge.
The dedicated display connector changes from HDI to HDMI. I don’t know what HDMI is but it can’t be that much better since it’s only one more letter.
The lead-acid battery in my Macintosh Portable got me up to 12 hours of battery life if I ran it without the backlight. The new MacBook Pro bumps this up by a few hours, even with the backlight on the entire time. This is thanks to novel lithium-ion battery technology which packs a solid punch in a small amount of space and weight.
Photographers are rejoicing at the addition of the SD card slot. In order to import your pictures on the Macintosh Portable, one had to develop a roll of camera film, buy a scanner and scan in your prints.
One can also take pictures on the MacBook Pro directly. The digital camera built into the lid handily outperforms the most expensive and only digital camera on sale in 1989, the Fujifilm Fujix DS-X.
Journalists are raving about the function keys on the keyboard of the MacBook Pro. Frankly, what are they, and why does the Macintosh need them? Apple has done nothing to improve the function keys since adding them. I might go back to my Macintosh Portable until I can get a MacBook Pro without function keys.
Follow for more
Add Extra Ordinary to your RSS reader or Twitter client of choice to get next week’s post: Can the iPad mini finally replace my Apple Newton MessagePad 2100?3
- I do not actually own a Macintosh Portable nor a 2021 MacBook Pro. This is not a serious review. ↩
- Typing this sentence caused physical pain in my stomach. ↩
- This line is actually the most truthful in the entire review. I use a Newton MessagePad for my D&D character sheets. ↩
Reply on Twitter
Design Problems With Face ID on the Mac
Oct 25, 2021
People have been asking for Face ID on the Mac ever since its debut on the iPhone X in 2017. I’m not surprised it still has yet to come to the Mac, even after every Mac in the lineup has since been redesigned. There are three design problems with Face ID that Apple has yet to solve for the Mac.
The dot projector
According to the iPhone X announcement keynote, Face ID doesn’t just use a camera image of your face. It also uses a flood illuminator, infrared sensor and, crucially, a dot projector to make a 3D map of your face.
The dot projector uses “over 30,000 dots.” Think of it like a 3D image with a resolution of 160 × 200—that’s 32,000 pixels. For reference, this is what a portrait at 160 × 200 looks like, taken at the distance I hold my phone from my face:
Now, compare that to a picture taken from the point of view of my Mac at my desk, cropped to match the size of my face in the image above:
The dot projector becomes significantly less precise at a farther distance. This is why Face ID only works within about 18″ your face. It’s good enough because your phone is designed to be held in your hand. The iPhone doesn’t need to support the wide variety of distances and angles people sit at their desks, but a Mac will.
Apple could simply train their neural stack to account for this with no change to the hardware, but I do not believe they would accept an implementation of Face ID that is half as accurate as the iPhone.
The display panel
The display of the MacBook Pro is thinner than every iOS device by a huge margin. In fact, since the first retina MacBook Pro, there is no separate display panel inside the lid; the aluminum lid is the back panel of the display. The iPad Pro is 0.23 inches thin compared to the MacBook Pro display at 0.13 inches—that’s 43% thinner. While I could not find the exact depth of the Face ID sensor array component, according to this picture from the iFixit teardown of the iPhone 11, the component appears to be too thick to fit inside the MacBook Pro display.
This component doesn’t just have to be thinner than the 0.13 inch-thick-display, it has to fit between the glass and the aluminum of the display.
The dot projector accuracy and component size are both hardware problems that could, in theory, be overcome with intense engineering resources to design a more robust sensor array in a thinner package. There is still one issue that is a matter of design: consent.
You must place your finger on the Touch ID sensor to authenticate with Touch ID every time. Authentication and consent are the same step; you place your finger on the sensor, it checks if it is your finger.
Making sure your face looks like your face is largely an involuntary action, so Face ID needs an additional step to make sure you consent. Otherwise, a malicious app could ask the system for access to the password keychain or other sensitive files, wait for a Face ID dialog and instantly accept with no input from the user.
Would an on-screen button or a standard system dialog that accepts hitting the Return key be secure enough? On the iPhone, after Face ID has successfully authenticated, Apple asks for your consent by asking the user to double-click the one button developers cannot control: the side button. They could very well do this on the Mac by adding a special button to the keyboard that only the Secure Enclave can access—but does that sound familiar? We would arrive at a system that works exactly like Touch ID but with more expensive engineering and parts.
This doesn’t mean Face ID won’t happen
These are not impossible design challenges to overcome. In fact, I bet Apple already has a big, ugly prototype Mac with Face ID working in a lab somewhere in an Apple Park basement.
Researching how to make Face ID work on the Mac will make Face ID better and more secure on the iPhone by proxy—smaller components make more room for bigger camera hardware and a smaller sensor area. If or when Face ID ships on a Mac is a matter of improving the technology, miniaturizing it and then engineering a method of manufacturing the components without adding a significant cost to the product.
Good thing the only company that has the ability to do this happens to be the richest company in the world.
Reply on Twitter
Apple’s ‘Unleashed’ Event
Oct 22, 2021 • Apple Event
Apple kicked off the event announcing human-curated playlists coming to Apple Music. When every platform has algorithmically-generated and curated playlists based on prior listening activity, playlists actually created by humans become a stand-out feature.
Apple Music Voice Plan
Apple Music Voice plan is a new lower price tier to Apple Music at just $5/month compared to $10. You can access the entire Apple Music catalog by asking for Siri to play it for you but you cannot build a personal music library nor manually create playlists.
It sounds, at first, like a bizarre and arbitrary limitation—especially to anyone who knows how frustrating it is to ask Siri to play a specific version of a song, or really any song that is slightly obscure, or really any song, album or band name that isn’t entirely English words.
It makes perfect sense for a niche use case: shops, businesses or offices who sit a speaker on a table and want some ambient music. People want to be able to shout at the speaker and request a genre or mood; they don’t need to build a downloaded personal music library. I don’t blame people for misunderstanding the Voice plan as an artificial limitation for their lowest price tier; its primary use case should have been explicitly stated.
The HomePod mini now comes in three new colors: yellow, orange and blue. Their new color strategy saga continues to confuse. These colors are vibrant like the iMac instead of so-subtle-you-can-literally-barely-notice-it like the iPad mini. The colors are implemented very well. It’s not just the outermost fabric; the lower layer of fabric, the surface glass, the buttons and the woven cable are all colored.
If I had the choice, I would have added purple or green instead of orange. If they pick three colors rather than the full six (plus black and white) they need to pick three colors that will work with the most color schemes. A room you could put an orange HomePod mini in could probably also work with a yellow one. There’s a lot of overlap. Purple or green would cover more different styles.
A fine update that will bring Spatial Audio to the masses. MagSafe support is nice but I’m not sure how many people who don’t know about this will discover it.
A brief note on staging
Where is the physical home set? They’ve been using it since the introduction of the HomePod mini in October 2020. Apple Park is huge and empty, so does the set have its own spot in a big empty room? Do they tear it down and rebuild it for each event? Does it have a room in Apple Studios, Apple’s in-house production company? For that matter, does Apple Studios actually have a separate location?
M1 Pro & M1 Max
Compared to M1, the M1 Pro has double the RAM (32 GB), half the efficiency cores (2) but double the performance cores (10) in the CPU and double the GPU cores (16). This leads to 3x faster memory, 70% faster processing and 2x faster graphics. M1 Max doubles the memory (64 GB) and the GPU cores (32) again.
Considering the M1 Max CPU isn’t that big of a leap over the base M1 CPU (10 cores versus 7) they clearly think their CPUs are powerful enough as is. I agree with them. The only marks against the M1—limited graphics performance, only one external Thunderbolt display—are both easily solved by scaling the GPU. These are excellent powerhouses.
I truly cannot wait to see what they can do in the desktop form factor where power consumption is less of a concern. Apple, remarkably, included a chart in the keynote that literally shows a PC laptop as outperforming the M1 Max—but at three times the power consumption. As pointed out on the Accidental Tech Podcast, that PC gets a measly three hours of battery life. Imagine what would happen if one of these chips were given, say, a desktop power supply and a gigantic cooling system.
This all-new MacBook Pro is what everyone has been asking for and what everyone has already raved and written about: the function keys, HDMI port, SD card slot and MagSafe are all back.
The new design is not square on top and bottom like the iPhone and iPad, but square on top and rounded below like the titanium PowerBook G4. While I have not seen these in person, this feels like another win for practical design. The thicker, chunkier body and its powerful cooling system is what enables the M1 Max to run on these machines. It’s the right tradeoff, which is why it is surprising.
M1 Max is available on both sizes, 14″ and 16″. This is not historically the case. As far back as my 2015 MacBook Pro (and this trend began even farther before) if you wanted a discrete GPU, you had to get the bigger model.
Pro hardware features continue to get pro-er. Trickle-down technology from the Pro Display XDR include a significantly brighter mini LED panel with billions of colors. From the iPad and iPhone, it now has ProMotion with a 24–120 Hz variable refresh rate and a taller edge-to-edge display. Two additional speakers will give a richer, rounded sound; the audio jack is more powerful as well, supporting professional high-impedance headphones.
Half-height arrow keys continue from the last Intel model. This makes their choice of full-height arrow keys on the M1 iMac even more perplexing. Is this how Apple differentiates Amateur vs. Pro in their future? Was the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID design locked-in and approved before they decided to change the arrow keys on the MacBook Pro? Only time will tell when a redesigned-for-Apple silicon MacBook Air is unveiled.
While the area surrounding the keyboard is now double-anodized in pitch black, the rest of the computer is still only available in silver and space gray. The entire computer in pitch black would be very expensive, which is probably why they aren’t doing it, even if it would look
incredible fucking badass.
They saved their biggest naming convention, ‘Max,’ for something that won’t be their most powerful chip. What do they call the future Jade 2C- and 4C-derived chips, M1 Pro Max and M1 Pro Max XDR? Do they simply say that such a Mac has two and four M1 Max chips? Don’t bet on Apple using a predictable naming convention.
That’s all, folks
My savings account can rest easy for another few months because no other Macs were announced. This could speak to how COVID and the chip shortage has affected even Apple’s supply chain. They are pulling every lever available to them to make sure the iPhone, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are unaffected as possible. The Apple Watch Series 7 and new iPad mini still released on time, but with a shorter initial supply and longer shipping times.
I bet they were planning on their “two year transition” from Intel to Apple silicon to take 12 or 18 months, just as Steve declared their transition from PowerPC to Intel would take 30 months but only took 13. At this rate, it may actually take the full two years originally scheduled.
Have I mentioned that I’m excited for a new iMac Pro and Mac mini?
Apple Watch Series 3, End-of-Life Review
Oct 12, 2021 • End-of-Life Review
In 2017, the Apple Watch Series 3 was first released unto the world. This is only the second entry in my end-of-life review series and I have already hit a snag with the format: four years later and it is still being released unto the world. The premise of this series is to serve as a longer-term review than what the constraints of tech journalism allow, offering a retrospective look at how the latest generation products of several years ago may work today. But this is a review of a current product.
Weirdness aside, here is a rundown of the headline marketing features of the Apple Watch Series 3 from its release.
Nothing ships feature-complete. Every version-one product—hardware or software—typically ships without a few obvious features. Even if it’s a really obvious feature people will complain about, you have to draw the line somewhere, decide enough is enough and ship something. Real artists ship.
Apple has shown time and time again that if you sell people well enough on the premise—notifications and health tracking on your wrist—they don’t sweat the details. Just like people still loved the iPhone because they could see it was a platform for the future, even if it was a platform that didn’t have cut, copy and paste on day one.
Cellular was the obvious next feature of the Apple Watch. A device that makes and takes calls should be able to do it all on its own. It’s no surprise there was an unreleased prototype Apple Watch Series 2 with cellular—I’m sure they were experimenting with this on the original, too.
It’s rarer that an obvious-next-step feature everyone is asking for turns out to not matter that much. The ability to make calls without a phone is hardly a life-saving feature when people have their phone within Bluetooth and Wi-Fi range 99% of their lives anyways, even if it makes for an awesome demo.
There are three costs to the cellular model:
- The literal monetary cost of $10 per month ($120 per year) most carriers charge for an add-on device and the $100 upgrade to an LTE model.
- The big red dot on the crown.
- The reduced battery life.
If any two of those are hard to stomach, I do not recommend a cellular model. This mostly still holds true today: the red dot is now a red ring; while some gains were made in battery life, the always-on display seemingly ate them back up; and of course, cell carriers are still charging $120 a year.
For a device as functionally narrow as the Apple Watch, battery life and processor speed are so closely intertwined that they tell the same story—performance. A trade-off engineers make between speed and endurance.
The S3 chip in the Series 3 is dual-core, an Apple Watch first. For better or worse, this brings the performance from unreasonably slow all the way down to barely tolerable. Four years later and it is painfully clear the Series 3 is unsuitable for watchOS 8. Tapping a message thread, checking off an item in Reminders, opening the Mail app—performing basic functions will make the device completely unresponsive for a few seconds either with a loading spinner on the screen if you’re lucky, or, no visual feedback at all as the display sits frozen.
The benefit to the sluggish performance is obvious: while it can’t do very much, it can do that all day. It takes an unusually long and active day to even receive a warning that battery life is getting low.
The smallest acceptable amount of battery life is one days’ worth, whatever that may be. It can be plugged in every night as a routine. It takes at least three days’ worth of battery life to break free of the charge-nightly routine. Anything less and the mental overhead of paying attention to the battery isn’t worth the small cost of putting it on the charger at night.
Perhaps one day a future Apple Watch will reach its peak of functionality well enough to become a charge-weekly device. Until then, it is comfortable in the charge-daily category, which is honestly impressive for a device as small and old as it is.
The design of the Apple Watch has been tweaked since the Series 3 to be rounder but is largely unchanged, despite the rumors otherwise. As I wrote earlier:
I, for one, am glad the edges are still rounded and not completely flat a la the iPhone 12. Flat edges are easier to catch on corners and surfaces. All of the scuffs on my watch are right on the bend of the glass—were the watch flat on the edges, these minor impacts may have dinged a straight line corner.
Colors and materials
The Apple Watch Edition in ceramic looks gorgeous, as does its matching two-tone Sport Band. I much prefer it over the Titanium. While I didn’t have the $1,000+ to spend then and certainly still don’t now, the ceramic cases diversified the lineup.
For a brief period, it seemed as though Apple had a coordinated plan for colors. The Series 3 aluminum colors were Apple’s standard aluminum colors of the time: silver, gray, gold and rose gold. Their accessory colors had a few constants as well: Midnight Blue, Saddle Brown and Charcoal Gray were available across several band styles and several iPhone and iPad cases.
By the time of the Series 3, they began adding slightly different versions of the same color. Just to pick on blue as an example, they added Cosmos Blue, Blue Cobalt and Dark Teal. In your head, without looking up those colors, do they sound different to you? I have a hard time imagining someone distressed at the notion that Midnight Blue is not as saturated of a blue as they want, relieved upon finding Blue Cobalt. If such a person existed, surely they would want a matching Blue Cobalt iPhone case, but Apple only made a Cosmos Blue case that year.
The color trouble would only continue to cook over time. Seriously now, what’s the deal with Starlight? Neutral silver unadorned aluminum has been a staple of the Apple product lineup for nearly 20 years. The color czar at Apple must be playing a petty chaotic-evil game, adding a fleck of yellow into their neutral silver, slightly ruining all the neutral silver bands.
What is undoubtedly an improvement compared to 2017 is that any Apple Watch can be ordered with any band—a necessary hurdle to cross in order to be able to offer Solo Loops, which come in dozens of colors and nine sizes.
The Solo Loop: the no-buckle watch band, brought to you by the folks behind the no-button mouse.
The band options have only continued to diversify. While the Leather Loop is now the Leather Link and the Classic Buckle watches are no more, Apple has not slowed down with more radically different band styles—like the aforementioned Solo Loop, available in braided yarn, for some reason. The watch band team must be a fun group to work with.
Apple has been burned too many times by the public reaction when they change the charging cable on the MacBooks and the one time they changed to the Lightning port on the iPhone to ever change the band connector on the Apple Watch. Apple seems to understand how deeply they are locked into this particular design—bands are completely backwards- and forwards-compatible even after changing the shape of the size of the case twice.
Every phone is measured against the iPhone. Every pair of wireless ear buds are measured against AirPods. Other smart watches aren’t cross-shopped against the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch is simply the best, without a doubt, far and away, hands down. Whatever the latest Apple Watch is, that is the best smartwatch you can buy for your iPhone.
Yet, for some ungodly reason, Apple believes it is acceptable to continue selling Series 3 models brand new in October 2021. Four years later. Meeting the $200 price point is more important to them than selling a good product. The performance is bad. The software update experience is infuriating. I would love to see Tim Cook’s customer satisfaction rating for people buying a Series 3 in 2021.
This was once an excellent Apple Watch. Now it is an ugly sore that remains a product in Apple’s lineup.
Apple’s ‘California Streaming’ Event
Sep 19, 2021 • Apple Event
Rather than take place in various scenic locations around Apple Park, the event takes place in various scenic places around California; a subtle reminder of the weird place we are in where Apple has delayed their return to work in Apple Park but many other places are safe to visit while fully vaccinated. And that intro music was awesome.
The new no-adjective iPad, while not as exciting a product to consumers, is an important product to keep current as it is their bottom-dollar education and business device. It is telling that this iPad and the MacBook Air are regularly the only products that have their Education pricing called out on stage.
The refreshed iPad mini finally clarifies the iPad lineup. Before this event it was unclear where Apple wanted the iPad mini. Now there is the iPad Pro with all the latest and most expensive features for those who want the most iPad can offer; iPad Air and iPad mini represent the middle tier of optimizing features for price, now at two sizes; the aforementioned iPad is assembled from the cheaper parts bin for those who ‘just need an iPad.’ In a world where Apple has infinite resources to explore every permutation of every product, we would have an iPad Pro mini as well.1
I, for one, am glad the edges are still rounded and not completely flat a la the iPhone 12. Flat edges are easier to catch on corners and surfaces. All of the scuffs on my watch are right on the bend of the glass—were the watch flat on the edges, these minor impacts may have dinged a straight line corner.
I was initially disappointed in the lack of new watch faces in watchOS 8 as presented at WWDC, but now we know why: the new faces are exclusive to the new model.2 My heart goes out to the people with Series 4–6 watches with no new faces and no on-screen keyboard despite the awfully minor difference between the two.3
Oh, and what’s the deal with the color Starlight?
It is immensely disappointing that Apple is still selling Series 3. Apple should be better than that. The whole reason they refuse to sell cheaper Macs is that they refuse to make a cheap Mac. They even, allegedly, reaffirmed this thinking by nixing a low-cost Apple TV hardware device. Why, then, are they OK with selling a bad Apple Watch?
I challenge the people who made this decision to live with an Apple Watch Series 3 for a few months. Try going to the grocery store using Reminders on a Series 3 as your shopping list and tell me it is OK to sell an Apple device new that lags by three seconds to check off an item after tapping the screen. Tell me it is OK to sell an Apple device new that runs out of storage space so fast you have to unpair it with its iPhone to install a single software update. There is no way this experience is worth $200.
Branching out to more different types of workouts like pilates and meditation is nice.
Group Workouts is a very natural extension of the original service. I feel like it should have had a little more than a passing mention, but considering SharePlay isn’t a launch feature this fall, it makes sense why they brushed past it.
While Apple is doing a stellar job as always with a highly representative and racially diverse cast of hosts, I am surprised by the lack of diversity among body shapes and sizes. When every trainer is slim and fit, people with different physical characteristics can feel intimidated or excluded.
iPhone 13 and 13 mini
The diagonal camera arrangement, in rumors, seemed like an arbitrary change to me. However, staggering their layout gives them room for much larger sensors—with Sensor Shift—while still creating room for a larger battery. It is almost a shame they could not fit LiDAR in there, but it makes sense to prioritize other camera improvements first.
I am very sad at the impending loss of the mini iPhone. The only time they called out the iPhone 13 mini was when they were remarking on how impressive it is that they oh-so-generously gave it the same camera features and improved battery life as the iPhone 13.
The red and blue colors are great improvements over last years’ not-quite-red and too-much-blue. Pink is a surprisingly pleasant color too, but I feel as though the light purple was taken away too soon. And seriously, what’s the deal with Starlight?
iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max
ProMotion is the biggest single leap in display technology since Retina. Sure, displays have been getting brighter, more accurate and higher contrast, but true you-have-it-or-you-don’t display technologies are getting rarer as displays are getting more perfect. I cannot wait to see it.
The cameras are now significantly thicker. The big change here is the democratization of last year’s features. More features are enabled on more lenses—and that’s more exciting than it sounds. Both phones gets sensor-shift optical image stabilization. Night mode portraits are now on the Telephoto lens. The Ultra Wide lens now has an ƒ/1.8 aperture with macro photography and slow motion video; hopefully, next year, the no-adjective iPhones will get the same features, as the Ultra Wide lens is the weakest link in their camera system.
One surprising regression is the Telephoto lens. I use it about as often, if not more than, the Wide lens for pictures that matter. Switching from a 2× to a 3× zoom makes it less practical as a lens for day-to-day photography. Another significant change is from ƒ/2.0 to ƒ/2.8, significantly reducing the amount of light it can capture. This is a change that makes me glad to have upgraded last year.
Sierra Blue is a brilliant color.
A weird set of trade-offs were made in order to create Cinematic video mode. It will “anticipate when a prominent new subject is about to enter the scene and automatically shift focus when they do,” which sounds like something that could be a hardware feature of the auto-focus function in the ordinary Video mode. But because Cinematic mode also must be able to “change the focus or adjust the blur after shooting,” all of the blurring and depth-of-field effects have to be simulated in software.
While they have made great progress on their software since the debut of Portrait Mode in 2016, software can only do so much. Even on Apple’s own example video, which represents an absolute best-case demo for the feature, pay attention to the left side where the leather jacket elbow meets the chair and you will see flickering on the edge where it isn’t sure what to blur and what to keep in focus. As another consequence of being a software feature, Cinematic video mode is limited to 1080p30 rather than 4K60 in order to process the full frame in real time.
All this is to say that I would really like a more powerful autofocus function in the regular Video mode. Give me the same face and object detection features. After I tap to focus on a point, allow me to tap again to return to autofocus. I would not need to be able to adjust the focus after recording if I had more control over the autofocus while recording. The tradeoffs in resolution, frame rate and blur quality do not seem worth it to me.
A highlight of their weird example short film is the use of Apple Garamond in the title cards.
One more thing
The new MagSafe Wallet compatible with the Find My network is brilliant. What a great feature.
The fact that it does not work with the Clear Case specifically is downright perplexing.4 MagSafe has three jobs: attach magnetically, charge the device (if applicable) and transmit some extra data like when an accessory is attached or detached. The MagSafe Battery Pack is compatible with the Clear Case, and that has to transmit extra information like the battery charge level—so clearly the Clear Case does not inhibit this signal. What is it about the combination of the Wallet and Clear Case that doesn’t work?
From now on, the story they tell about the A-series chips is always going to be bigger than the impact it has on the iPhone and iPad. Everyone is going to be extrapolating their claims to fit it into the story of the M-series chips on the Mac (and iPad Pro). Sure, the M1 made a big splash last year, but more important than their giant leap is their next step forward.
Since Apple made no direct comparisons of the A15 to the A14, I and many others were worried it would not be a substantial—or even incremental—improvement. How tragic would it be that after switching the Mac to Apple silicon they are unable to keep their competitive edge?
Now that the dust has settled, it seems as though the A15 actually is a lot faster. And graphics are a hell of a lot faster. Why did Apple not just say so? They work in mysterious ways.
- And an iPhone Pro mini. ↩
- This could be another example of software changes predating hardware—or in this case, an absence of software changes? ↩
- And to Kosta Eleftheriou, who is the latest to be Sherlocked in perhaps the most egregious example yet. Let me just drop this right here. ↩
- For the record, I don't find the visible magnets on the Clear Case ugly. I like how the circle perfectly frames the Apple on the back and I like how it reminds me of a floppy disk. ↩
Brief Reviews Of (Nearly) Every Mac Pointing Device
Aug 15, 2021
The Macintosh Mouse looks like it would be an uncomfortable mess, but you would be wrong. You are not intended to lay two fingers across the top as you would a PC mouse—pay attention to their marketing imagery and you will notice they all cradle the mouse with four fingers with their pointer centered on the button. That’s not just a perfectly choreographed marketing image; I catch myself holding this mouse exactly like that. It subverts itself of being a box with slightly tapered sides, rounded corners and a chamfered surface on top (that, of course, matches the proportions of the keyboard and the face of the Macintosh). It is only docked a point for its mushy click.
I rate it 4⁄5 stars.
Apple Desktop Bus Mouse
The Apple Desktop Bus Mouse is slimmer yet no less angular. It is no longer a mouse one wraps their whole hand around but is comfortable to hold nonetheless. Clicking the button is a firm and defined click! as it should be. This mouse also, obviously, marks the introduction of the excellent ADB port—allowing one to plug the mouse into the keyboard, a trick that gives the cable more distance without adding length.
I rate it 5⁄5 stars.
Apple Desktop Bus Mouse II
The overlooked Apple Desktop Bus Mouse II offers a more conventional rounded egg shape. It continues to buck the trend of PS/2 mice with its perfect left-to-right symmetry, which makes it equally accessible to the left-handed. It is easier to click since the entire upper 40% of the mouse surface is the button itself. In these ways, the ADB Mouse II is a hint of design choices to come many years later. This mouse marks the evolution away from the Snow White design language into an era of ergonomic shapes that bulge and wave.
I rate it 5⁄5 stars.
Late 90s Trackpad
The trackpad used by the later PowerBook G3 and original iBook G3 comes in two styles—illusion of luxury or fun. Hiding underneath the dressing is, fundamentally, the same part. The PowerBook comes coated in bulging black as if to mimic the stuffed black leather briefcase it is designed to slip inside. The iBook variant is unapologetically plastic, inviting you to play with its button highlighted in blue or orange. Boiling away this veneer is what led us to today’s plethora of sterile, bare aluminum MacBooks.
Anyways, the trackpad is fine. I give it 3⁄5 stars.
Apple USB Mouse
The USB Mouse is unjustly maligned—but only by a little. The criticism is valid: its perfect round shape means that it can spin around in your hand and you can lose orientation. The cord is the perfect length to plug into the right side USB port of the matching iMac keyboard, which makes it slightly too short for the iBook with its sole USB port on the left. Later mice, as the one in my collection, fix this with a small notch on the top of the button; a simple USB extension cord can add length.1 While some poor decisions were made, it is far from a failure of a product—the button click has an unrivaled stellar springiness and the materials feel excellent in the hand.
It balances out to 3⁄5 stars.
Early 2000s Trackpad
The trackpad as introduced on the white iBook G3 and PowerBook G4 (and continued through all non-unibody MacBooks) feature a significantly larger touch surface. The button also grows, occupying about 35% of the surface area. Later models introduce multitouch gestures, the true saving grace of trackpads that has kept them from feeling like a compromise laptops must endure. It’s remarkable how these trackpads that debuted 20 years ago are just a few revisions away from where they are today.
These trackpads climb up to 4⁄5 stars.
Apple Pro Mouse
The Apple Pro Mouse is striking. It is a pure unbroken clear bubble. You can see the ‘mouse’ part of the mouse inside, but you cannot touch it. It is sized just perfectly to wrap your hand around. Press down anywhere on the surface and the entire bubble clicks down. Unfortunately, the click is a little awkward—over time, it develops a crunchy feeling.
I rate it 4⁄5 stars.
Apple Mighty Mouse
If you have ever used a PC laptop from the 2000s, then you know their trackpads are always garbage. They’re tiny, they’re twitchy and the buttons are terrible; it feels like they intentionally pick the loudest button click mechanism available so that one is incentivized to tap the trackpad to click instead. Tap-to-click has always felt like a PC thing. Even on the aforementioned 90s PowerBooks where one has the option of enabling tap-to-click, I use the button. It has always felt Mac-like. That is what makes the Apple Mighty Mouse so egregiously offensive. They have the audacity to completely remove the click and force us to tap on a mouse. That, and the trackball is inexplicably tiny.2
I give it 2⁄5 stars.
The Magic Trackpad and its equivalent on unibody MacBooks is the trackpad every PC laptop wants to be when they grow up. It is frictionless glass that you can use all day long. You don’t need to ‘perform’ the multitouch gestures; confidently swipe your fingers around its expansive surface in your lazy, imperfect human ways and it will interpret it correctly. Every time. The only inconvenience is the ‘diving board’ click mechanism; it is hinged at the back so it is harder to click the middle of the surface than the bottom.
It is the gold standard at 5⁄5 stars.
I find myself constantly revisiting and abandoning the Magic Mouse. It is as good of a mouse with trackpad-like multitouch as I can imagine Apple would make. The problem is that I can imagine a better mouse Apple would not make—it would be bigger and thicker so I could hold it with my whole hand rather than brace it with my fingertips. It would support both swiping up or down with two fingers to activate Mission Control or Exposé rather than picking just one of them to activate with a two-finger tap. They have had two revisions to add Force Touch and they still have not.3
I give it 4⁄5 stars, but I am sending it home with “Not working to potential” on its report card.
Magic Trackpad 2
How does one improve upon perfection? The Magic Trackpad 2, also introduced on the Retina MacBook Air and the very last 2015 MacBook Pro, ascends beyond its simple mechanical constraints. It is not a button. It is better than a physical button could be. I know it’s a trick of haptics, but I cannot see through it. This emperor is wearing the most beautiful clothes in the world. Force Touch to preview a file with Quick Look, rename a file in Finder, preview a link in Safari or define a word anywhere there is selectable text is my favorite addition to the Mac paradigm since Mission Control.
It earns a perfect 5⁄5 stars.
Pointing Devices Absent
A small handful of devices are absent from this list. First is the trackball on the Macintosh Portable, which I desperately want to try. The big button beneath it is mechanically the same as a keyboard key. The second is the trackball on the early PowerBook models—all of my Macs from this era are desktops. Finally, the combination keyboard/trackpad on the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh is also worth mentioning as a bizarre one-off design out of my reach.
- Another home remedy is the iCatch, a snap-on adapter that bulks up the mouse to a more conventional shape. ↩
- For some reason, the Mighty Mouse was on sale until 2017. ↩
- There is also a lot of criticism over the placement of the Lightning port as one must turn the mouse upside down to plug it in. I intentionally did not list this among things I would change about the mouse. The battery lasts so long that it only needs fully charged once a month, so it is hardly an inconvenience. Moving the port to the top or bottom would ruin the symmetry of the design. ↩
Apple Announces iCloud Photo Scanning
Aug 6, 2021
Apple, from 9to5Mac:
Before an image is stored in iCloud Photos, an on-device matching process is performed for that image against the unreadable set of known CSAM hashes. This matching process is powered by a cryptographic technology called private set intersection, which determines if there is a match without revealing the result. Private set intersection (PSI) allows Apple to learn if an image hash matches the known CSAM image hashes, without learning anything about image hashes that do not match. PSI also prevents the user from learning whether there was a match.
For the children.
They made a system wherein they can potentially find and catch sexual predators in a way that does not require them to have an open door to spy on everyone’s photo libraries. I would bet my car that Google’s approach to the same problem will be server-side, but you knew already that I don’t very much like Google.
Credit where credit is due—I know just enough about computer science to understand that cryptography is extraordinarily complex. Apple’s on-device approach is way more complicated than it has to be. It would be so much easier to create a scheduled script to search through every photo in their data centers without telling anyone this is happening without all of this complicated private set intersection and image hashing, but Apple does not want that tool to exist.
I suspect they are implementing this system on their own terms in their own way that respects the privacy of their users because Apple is scared of the US government legislating their way into requiring Apple to build a system that does not.
All things considered, I would rather this system not exist in the first place. Finding sexual abuse material is a noble cause, no doubt. But if a certain administration were still in power, it would not be far-fetched to say they would want Apple to expand this program with less noble intentions.
Brief Reviews Of (Nearly) Every Mac Keyboard
Jul 31, 2021
The original Macintosh keyboard is by far the loudest of the bunch and one of the best to type on. Each key press is not a click nor a clack, but a powerful thunk. That echoes. The case is chunkier than it needs to be in the interest of matching the beveled design of the Macintosh and its mouse. The keys are springy and activate only when fully bottomed out. The Macintosh Plus version, which I have, adds a number pad and arrow keys (albeit not in a T-shape)1.
I rate it 5⁄5 stars.
Apple Desktop Bus Keyboard
The Apple Desktop Bus Keyboard2 is first to include a power button, the Snow White design and the ADB port, three welcome additions. The lower key travel makes sustained typing a little easier. The mechanism has a very cleanly defined click, although it feels more brittle than premium.
I rate it 4⁄5 stars.
Apple Standard Keyboard
The more modern key switches and plain design of the Apple Standard Keyboard merely strip down what made the earlier keyboards exciting. Boil away the quirks of the Macintosh Keyboard and you have a keyboard that is neither old enough to be fun nor modern enough to be easy to use.
An unenthusiastic 3⁄5 stars.
Apple Keyboard II
The Apple Keyboard II is not a win-some-lose-some situation as with the Apple Standard Keyboard; it’s mostly just lose. Give it mushy keys and worse key caps in exchange for a slimmer bezel. Hooray.
I rate it 2⁄5 stars.
Apple Extended Keyboard
The legendary Apple Extended Keyboard. The Alps switches are simply superb. Not too loud, not too jarring, not too mushy, not too harsh, not too deep, not too shallow. This is the Goldilocks keyboard. The Extended Keyboard II replaces the flip-down feet for a lever that can adjust to the exact angle you want.
Bulky by modern standards, but not enough to take it down from a perfect 5⁄5 stars.
The AppleDesign Keyboard is a cheap cost-cutting imitation of the Extended Keyboard. It doesn’t even have an embedded Apple logo, just its silhouette punched into the mold of plastic. The symbolism that Apple was only a shadow of its former self in the mid-90s could not be any clearer.
I rate it 2⁄5 stars.
G3 Notebook Keyboard
Used on the iBook and PowerBook models of the time, the keys are well-sculpted and pleasantly textured. With two fiddly little tabs between the function keys, it can be flipped down to access some internal components, like the AirPort card. It leaves the keyboard a little wobbly in the middle since it is not as structurally sound. Unfortunately, later examples on the white iBook use a different type of adhesive that yellows and develops a bad smell over time.
I rate it 3⁄5 stars.
Released alongside the G4 and G5 Macs, the Apple Keyboard epitomizes form-over-function among the desktop keyboards as the butterfly keyboard does for notebooks. The clear plastic era of Apple’s industrial design created gorgeous objects—the keys are suspended in the air. It’s a shame they feel like they’re sitting on a mushy sponge.
I rate it 2⁄5 stars.
G4 Notebook Keyboard
Used in the PowerBook G4 and early MacBook Pro. The materials changed from a hard plastic to the softest, nicest plastic keycaps I have ever felt. Combine this with their slightly sculpted form and you have the most comfortable keyboard of the bunch. While most keys are slightly concave, the arrow keys are convex to make them stand out further. With a softer key press than the G3 notebook keyboard, this is the gold standard for notebook typing.
It earns 5⁄5 stars.
From 2007 to 2016, this keyboard design reigned supreme across all Macs. The flat black keycaps are more attractive and higher contrast, for sure, but at the expense of usability.
I rate it 4⁄5 stars.
The Butterfly Keyboard, introduced on the MacBook and later brought to the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air of the later 2010s, has nothing going for it. The keys are so stupidly shallow that it is barely any better than typing on glass. Apple marketed the key caps as larger and closer together as though that is supposed to offer some sort of benefit, but I find it challenging to touch type if I can’t feel the gap between the keys—a kinesthetic indicator of the orientation of the keyboard beneath your fingers. The full-height arrow keys are terrible. But worst of all, it utterly fails at a keyboard’s ultimate goal of reliably typing letters. At least the OLPC XO has a terrible keyboard for a good reason; if you so much as introduce the Butterfly Keyboard into a dusty room it will break.
It deserves only 1⁄5 stars.
Intel Magic Keyboard
On their way out the door of the Intel era, Apple has successfully made an unremarkable keyboard.
I rate it 4⁄5 stars.
Absent from this series are the pre-G3 PowerBook notebook keyboards, the Apple USB Keyboard and Apple Pro Keyboard sold alongside the iMac G3 and the new Magic Keyboard with Touch ID sold alongside the Apple silicon iMac.
UPDATE (8/4/2021): I was reminded of the Apple Adjustable Keyboard, also absent. Looks mighty fragile, no wonder they’re so expensive on eBay in working condition3.
UPDATE (8/15/2021): I, and seemingly all of my readers, have also forgotten to mention the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh with its bizarre combination keyboard/trackpad.
- A keyboard released today would have points docked for nonstandard arrow key layouts, incorrectly sized and positioned modifier keys and a missing function row because computers today demand them. The original Macintosh operating system does not require these things. If it did, it would have points taken off for including superfluous keys. ↩
- Though technically released alongside the Apple IIGS, this keyboard is fully Mac-compatible. ↩
- The NeXT keyboards don’t count on this list, but I’ll tell you what—if anyone sends me a working NeXT computer, I’ll review it. Although, categorically, I would sooner add the Newton keyboard to this particular list than that. ↩
Apple TV 4K & Siri Remote (2nd generation) Review
Jun 7, 2021
If you are looking for a TV computer, you have dozens of choices ranging from set-top boxes to HDMI dongles to TVs themselves.
If you don’t want your TV computer to have its hardware cost subsidized by the sale of your personal analytics, you have but one choice: the Apple TV 4K.
It is sufficient. I rate it 3⁄5 stars.
Apple’s Platform Advantage
May 7, 2021
From Daring Fireball, Apple and the Built-In Advantage1:
The basic idea is evergreen, and is in no way specific to Apple. Smaller companies make products that build upon, or fill gaps within, platforms from larger companies. The best of those ideas — ideas that truly would be better “built in”, eventually do get built in. The small innovators need to adapt or die (or get acquired, and become the built-in version).
If you have a good idea for a third-party product on a big platform, you need to expect that the platform maker will eventually use your idea. If they don’t, maybe it wasn’t that good an idea in the first place. If they do, you should be ready to keep your product viable by going further than the platform maker is willing to go.
John Gruber’s take, distilled, reads to me that Apple will build into its platform whatever it sees fit as a feature that would work better if it were offered out of the box from Apple over a third party. Third party developers can build on top of that platform whatever apps they may, but they must not get too comfortable or stop innovating, as they risk Apple building their own implementation into the next software update. Apple’s implementation will be baked into the operating system in a way third party developers cannot emulate, so developers should do their best to compete with features, instead.
This perspective is what justifies an anti-trust complaint
Back up for a moment and consider a question that has been brushed over: Why would a feature work better built in to Apple’s own software? Your phone is simply an app console, so—barring the fact that Apple’s apps come preinstalled—Maps, Safari, Camera, Find My, etc. should be equal players against anything from the App Store, right?
That is not how it plays out.
Exhibit A: Maps
For many years, Apple Maps was an objectively less accurate map of the world, its streets and its businesses than Google Maps. Conceding this, I used Apple Maps anyways because Apple Maps was integrated into iOS in a way Google Maps was (and still is) totally unable to compete with.
Begin navigation in Apple Maps and the map takes over your lock screen. Just tap the screen and you can see the directions exactly as they appear when the phone is unlocked. It only takes a cursory glance at Apple’s Platform Security white paper to realize how weird this. It is so obvious Apple cares deeply about quarantining apps to their sandbox—yet this is an app view that is allowed to run exactly the same as it normally does when the device is unauthenticated.
Hell would freeze over before Apple would ever allow, say, Facebook to take over the lock screen of your iPhone as freely as they let the Maps team.
Even the notifications take a leap above what is possible for developers. Ordinary notifications are designed to be noticeable enough when you are focused on the screen, but easy to ignore or swipe away. Maps notifications take on a big, high contrast, impossible-to-ignore design.
Obviously it should be this way—you don’t want turn-by-turn directions to be easy to miss. Apple does not have to make their product worse to make it fair; they should allow their competition the same affordances they give themselves. Let Google Maps and Waze have big notifications and a lock screen display, too.
Exhibit B: Camera
Camera moved into the most prime of iOS real estate in 2011 when a camera shortcut was added to the lock screen and once again two years later when it was one of four immutable buttons in Control Center.
Imagine how much of a leg up third-party camera apps like Halide would have if users were able to switch the camera shortcut for a different app.
Exhibit C: FaceTime
Despite offering CallKit for voice calls, FaceTime remains the exclusive beneficiary of this rich video call interface. No dice for Skype, Snapchat, Microsoft Teams nor Zoom.
The point here is that Apple does not treat Maps, Camera or FaceTime as though they are simply another app for your app console. Apple has created an unfair playing field not by including their apps on their phones by default, but by preventing third-party apps from implementing the same basic features as their own.
Hardware and software, and their adopted younger brother, services
“People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.”
– Alan Kay
– Steve Jobs
Apple’s mantra throughout all of Steve Jobs’ Apple was their sweet mix of hardware and software, the two tenets of great product design. Under Tim Cook’s Apple, they have built up services as the third tenet2.
Unless you are too big to ignore, third-party services lose 30% of their revenue to get placed on the App Store. Effectively, Apple is allowing its team to run a 350m race instead of a 500m race because it owns the track and field.
Spotify must operate their iOS platform with 70% of the revenue where Apple Music gets 100%. Netflix removed payments through the App Store so they could get their full revenue, pushing users through a confusing set of web pages in order to sign up for a subscription, whereas Apple TV+ can advertise itself from the TV app preinstalled on iOS while giving Apple 100% all along.
Apple is proud to tout whenever they’ve crossed a new milestone for how much money they have paid out to developers. If you take 3⁄7 of that number, do you arrive at the break-even cost of maintaining the App Store data centers and processing payments? I would bet my house that it’s not even close.
The definitive antitrust complaint of the technology industry3, United States v. Microsoft Corporation, seems like child’s play in 2021. Internet Explorer was developed and put on sale on 1995 and shipped as a built-in program with Windows 98. Internet Explorer soon gained extra features outside of the HTML specifications, so other browsers like Opera and Netscape Navigator had to choose between following web standards or playing catch-up.
That’s all it took.
While there are platform benefits to making your own web browser, Microsoft did directly profit from Internet Explorer—in fact, they lost money by including it for free after selling it as a standalone product between 1995 and 1998.
Contrast that with Apple’s services. Their built-in apps also extend beyond the feature set available to everyone else, preventing them from working with an even playing field. Apple’s paid services give them 100% of their revenue while their competitors must operate on a slimmer margin because Apple takes the revenue of their direct competitors, too.
What can they do?
Apple, likely reading the room, is on the right path, allowing for third-party web browsers, mail clients and music players4 to be set as defaults. The process to be approved is rigorous and strict. They don’t want people setting their default web browser to a poorly-implemented app that crashes when people open URLs from Calendar or a thinly-veiled data collection nightmare that scans your photo library when you upload a picture.
Apple could—and, if they want to maintain their position as judge and jury for their own App Store, should—make iOS 15 all about empowering their developers.
Oh, and while they’re at it, maybe they can beef up their documentation, too.
- Which is, itself, a response to Marques Brownlee’s Apple vs The Paradox of Choice. ↩
- Which, under Steve Jobs, did not always make for great products. ↩
- The definitive antitrust complaint of the technology industry so far. ↩
- Kinda. ↩
Apple’s ‘Spring Forward’ Event
Apr 21, 2021 • Apple Event
Apple’s chip transition playbook this time around seems to be to upgrade all the consumer-grade products first. They want us comparing the M1 to Intel rather than the M1 to a theoretical Pro-grade M1X. The biggest indicator of this is that for products that are exclusively consumer-grade (the MacBook Air and the entry-level MacBook Pro), the M1 version has replaced the Intel version, but for products that straddle the line (the Mac Mini and the iMac) only the lower-tier variants have been released—you can still buy an Intel Mac Mini.
The iMac itself looks truly excellent. This is plainly and obviously a computer that could not exist with an Intel chip.
The white bezel seems shocking, but in the broader history of the iMac, it’s far from unusual. The iMac G3, iMac G4, iMac G5 and original Intel iMac all had white bezels. It speaks to how long the iMac has remained stagnant that black bezels seem default despite representing itself in only one design.
A limitation of the design is that the headphone jack had to be moved; the computer is thinner than a headphone jack is long. Apple moved it to the left side. I would have preferred the port on the bottom, preferably in the middle. Headphones with a standard length cable may be pulled tight connecting to the left edge on such a sizable display.
As I mentioned when this was rumored, this is the first Mac on the canonical list of all-in-one desktop Macs (Macintosh, Macintosh 512k, Macintosh Plus, Macintosh Classic, Macintosh Color Classic, Macintosh LC 500 series, Performa 5x00, Power Macintosh G3 All-In-One, iMac) not to have the Apple logo on the front. I’m OK with this. It’s not as egregious as when they took out the boot chime.
Apple continues to pack more and more horsepower into their go kart that, perplexingly, they refuse to certify as street-legal; today, they swapped in a full-blown Honda engine.
By that, I mean that the iPad Pro continues to be the pinnacle of their mobile hardware in terms of power and engineering, even moreso with the M1 chip, yet they refuse to give it the software capabilities it deserves.
They’re talking the big talk with their marketing imagery, showing it plugged into a Pro Display XDR and with external storage devices, but they need to walk the walk. The windowing system is convoluted and confusing. Apple has none of their own Pro apps available. I expect big things from iPadOS this WWDC.
Apple TV 4K
It’s a shame the Apple TV 4K only got the A12 instead of the newer A14—especially considering how infrequently they update this hardware. But as Steve Jobs would put it, the A12 is, after all, a ‘screamer.’
The new Siri Remote looks nice, but I’ll reserve judgement until I can try it myself. It doesn’t seem to have a built-in U1 chip; that seems like it would have been a killer feature. After all, in the same exact event, introducing the AirTag, Apple made a joke about all the things getting lost in the couch. Which brings me to…
For a device that’s been so heavily rumored and leaked, there wasn’t that much left to impress with. It’s a little tracker thing with a U1 chip that you can find really easily if you have an iPhone that also has a U1 chip. The two big unknowns were still pleasant surprises: a $29 price tag and a user-replaceable battery.
This makes Tile’s class-action lawsuit seem trivial. Apple has opened up the Find My system to third parties (never mind the fact that no one is using it, but just to add insult to injury, they’ve out-designed them with a cheaper and better product.
Purple iPhone 12 & iPhone 12 mini
The iPhone 12 colors, in my opinion, aren’t as good as the iPhone 12 Pro colors. Blue and Red are too harsh (and I would prefer if Black had silver bands, a la the iPhone 4). Green and Purple are now, obviously, the two best colors. If I could do it all over again, I would probably get an iPhone 12 mini in Purple.
Would I say I was a fan of the color purple before Tuesday? Probably not. Do I own literally anything purple? Not to my recollection. But, does the Purple iPhone 12 mini look adorable and fun? Absolutely.
A Brief Review Of Dan Brown’s “Angels & Demons”
Mar 31, 2021
Dan Brown’s “Angels & Demons” is what 50 Shades of Gray is for the straight, white, college-educated male: a book where the protagonist is a straight, white, college-educated male who saves the day and solves religion with the help of his smart male colleague and a hot woman.
I give this book 3 out of 5 stars.
The Joe Biden Doombot
Feb 28, 2021
As President Joe Biden’s inauguration approached, I was dreading the flood of speculative articles that would be churned out—the pessimistic fear-mongering articles about all the dramatic changes to our country Joe Biden will push through.
In anticipation (and in parody) of this, I decided to do the work for them. After selecting a random, insignificant tenant of society, why go to the work of speculating when and how Joe Biden will bring such a thing to an end? No need to connect the dots. Let’s just spitball ideas, one after another.
That was the Joe Biden Doombot
Once an hour, the Joe Biden Doombot would throw out the next radical, unbelievable change to our great nation.
Some of them were funny:
Joe Biden Will End Promotions
Joe Biden Will End Subtitles
Joe Biden Will End Meetings
Joe Biden Will End Zombies
Joe Biden Will End Ostriches
Some of them were a little on the nose:
Joe Biden Will End Crimes
Joe Biden Will End Premiums
Joe Biden Will End Bankruptcies
Joe Biden Will End Freedoms
Most of them were nonsense:
Joe Biden Will End Fonts
Joe Biden Will End References
Joe Biden Will End Stops
The entire Python script
import time import tweepy import random from pluralizer import Pluralizer def sign_in(): auth = tweepy.OAuthHandler('REDACTED', 'REDACTED') auth.set_access_token('REDACTED', 'REDACTED') return tweepy.API(auth, wait_on_rate_limit = True, wait_on_rate_limit_notify = True) def main(): api = sign_in() pluralizer = Pluralizer() with open('List.txt') as list: nouns = list.read().splitlines() while(True): api.update_status('Joe Biden Will End ' + pluralizer.plural(random.choice(nouns)).capitalize()) time.sleep(3600) main()
Tweepy handles the Twitter API. A noun from Desi Quintans’s Great Noun List is picked at random, it’s pluralized with this simple pluralizer function and tweeted out once an hour.
Something didn’t feel quite right
The swath of negativity I was bracing for never came. The sweeping, radical executive orders he pushed through on his first week—14 of them—were welcome changes supported by most of the country. As it turns out, even a month in, everybody really likes Joe Biden.
The Joe Biden Doombot was ended. From it arose the Joe Biden Hopebot. Basically the same as before, but with its frown turned upside-down. The Joe Biden Hopebot ignores the cries from the voices we have heard all too much of. The next four years aren’t about them.
Give it a follow on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JoeBidenHopebot
On Rumors Of The 2021 Macs
Jan 18, 2021
This is a very special time for Apple’s product lineup.
They are, so far, following their playbook on how to complete a processor transition. Part One of their transition to Apple Silicon is over: they have announced their first computers without Intel chips, starting with the most popular products1, with the same design as their Intel counterparts.
According to the rumors, 2021 will bring Phase Two: Bring Apple Silicon to more products in the lineup, introducing brand-new designs that were previously not possible2.
From MingChi Kuo:
The new chassis design is said to feature squared-off sides in both the top and bottom halves of the machine […] along with more built-in IO ports that mean most users will not need to purchase additional dongles
The MacBook Pro has, since 2008, featured flat sides that taper above and below, a trick to appear slimmer than it really is. In terms of iOS device shapes, this is most similar to the original iPad. Apple Silicon could allow them to make a notebook as thin as it ever has to be.
The line about ports sure is bizarrely phrased.
The new laptops are planned to come in two screen sizes, a 14-inch model […] and a 16-inch version
Apple is also planning to step up the displays in its new MacBook Pros with brighter, higher-contrast panels A major change to the new computers will be how they charge. […] the company is now bringing back MagSafe In developing its next set of Mac laptops, Apple has also tested versions that remove the Touch Bar from its laptop keyboards.
Improvements to displays are always welcome. They are already the very best in the industry, pushing the limits of what you can get out of an LED panel. MacBook Pros sold today already have the P3 wide color gamut. Could technology from the Pro Display XDR trickle down to a prosumer notebook? Perhaps the 10-bit color depth. Considering the graphical prowess of the M1, and assuming whatever processor coming to these MacBook Pros is even more powerful, there would be plenty of headroom for a higher screen refresh rate—if not 120 Hz, perhaps 90 Hz.
As convenient as MagSafe is for notebook computers, I would be disappointed if Apple diverged from yet another industry charging standard, especially a standard they have been using since 2016. People like having the same cable charge all their things. People like how the ports on both sides of their MacBook Pro means they can plug it in from the left or right depending on where they are. I think it would be a net functional loss.
I missed the Touch Bar train with my 2015 MacBook Pro. I will be a little disappointed if it is true that Apple would rather remove it than double down on improving it. Its biggest problems amongst reviewers include the removal of the Escape key, which has been fixed; the display is not always-on, which could be fixed if it adopted the same technology used in the Apple Watch; and the software doesn’t take advantage of its full potential, which they obviously have the power to change. Understandably, third-party support is lacking, but that should not be a death wish—imagine if they redesigned the Touch Bar does to mirror Control Center. Every switch or slider in Control Center is a button on the Touch Bar, and it’s always on.
At least if the Touch Bar is gone I won’t feel like I’m missing out when I buy a desktop Mac.
Basically a footnote in the same Bloomberg article:
Apple is also planning a redesigned MacBook Air, but that is not expected to be released until long after the next MacBook Pros.
The MacBook Air, being their best-selling Mac, is the most important to take slow steps forward on. Give it Apple silicon, but in the same case, so as not to spook the general public. Let the other Macs get flashy new designs first. Don’t do anything drastic (…again).
Also from Bloomberg:
Apple is also working on a pair of new Mac Pro desktop computers, its priciest Mac machines that don’t come with a screen included, the people said. One version is a direct update to the current Mac Pro and will continue to use the same design as the version launched in 2019. Apple has discussed continuing to use Intel processors for that model rather than moving to its own chips.
The second version, however, will use Apple’s own processors and be less than half the size of the current Mac Pro.
I thought, after the iMac updated in August, Apple would be done introducing new Intel Macs—their announcement of the chip transition in the summer would have been the end of Intel, except for one more Mac left in the production pipeline two months out. But of all Macs, the Mac Pro would certainly be the most likely to receive one last Intel update. Intel’s Xeons update behind all their i3, i5, i7 and i9 lineup. Second, the Mac Pro’s audience of industry professionals bought into the Mac Pro as a long-term modular platform with independently upgradable parts, so Apple should provide for them at least one parts upgrade.
More intriguing than that is the prospect of the Mac Pro getting an Apple Silicon update. They may have finally made the right chip architecture to make the miniature desktop Pro Mac they’ve tried and failed miserably at not once but twice. Of course the Apple silicon version of the Mac Pro would be half the size—not out of novelty, not as a special one-off—when you take out the giant array of fans, because it doesn’t need as much cooling; take out the MPX modules, because Apple silicon doesn’t support AMD graphics cards; and take out the memory slots, because all the memory is built into the chip itself; that case will be awfully empty. You don’t need to engineer it to be small, it becomes a smaller machine of its own volition. Fingers crossed this simplified production with fewer parts will lower the cost within grasp of a prosumer like myself.
Continued from above:
The new models will slim down the thick black borders around the screen and do away with the sizable metal chin area in favor of a design similar to Apple’s Pro Display XDR monitor. These iMacs will have a flat back, moving away from the curved rear of the current iMac.
The design from 2012 was only a redesign to the back half—the face of the iMac has been identical since 2009 and similar since 2007. I wouldn’t be surprised if the smaller bezels mean the Apple logo is absent from the face of the iMac. If true, it would be the first iMac (nay, the first all-in-one desktop Macintosh) without it.
Amateur Display XDR
As part of its revived Mac desktop efforts, Apple has started early development of a lower-priced external monitor to sell alongside the Pro Display XDR.
The cheaper monitor would feature a screen geared more for consumer than professional use and wouldn’t have the brightness and contrast ratio of the top-tier offering.
All they have to do to make people like me happy is take the same exact same display panel that goes in the Retina 5K iMac and put it in a smaller case without the computer inside it. They could even sell it for the exact same price as a Retina 5K iMac and it would still be a good value (…but don’t get any ideas). Sign me up.
- And the Mac Mini. ↩
- As a prospective Mac buyer sometime this year or next, I have been following these rumors with very close attention. ↩
What Could The Apple Car Be?
Dec 30, 2020
It is common knowledge that Apple has been running Project Titan for an Apple-designed car. Allegedly, it was so outrageously expensive they totally gave up and started over from scratch. There’s endless speculation about when it may, if ever, see the light of day.
I would like to offer, among all the aimless speculation as to when it may be announced, some aimless speculation as to what it could be like. What could they have done to drive up the cost so embarrassingly high?
The Apple Car is certainly designed around a battery-electric drivetrain. Perhaps their original concept had a gas engine—after all, Jony Ive is a known car enthusiast—but today, it wouldn’t make sense. Would they buy engines from another company? So much for vertical integration. Would they design an engine from the ground up? Expensive, not to mention it’s yesterday’s technology—but worst of all, not headline-grabbing. Adding to this are rumors they once tried to buy Tesla, the definitive electric car company.
Apple wouldn’t settle for anything less than a ludicrous amount of range with the latest in battery technology. This is probably the biggest contributor to their alleged high price.
There’s no doubt the same company that designs an over-engineered smart speaker twice as expensive as the competition—with virtually no changes to its voice assistant (the sole method of direct interaction)—would also design an exquisite sound system for their car.
Speakers in every door? Check. Speakers that pop up out of the dashboard? Not quite—how about speakers built into the dashboard beneath precision laser-cut holes? Check. Speakers in the headrests? Check. Does the sound system dynamically cancel out the road noise based on speed and texture? Absolutely. Does it also incorporate the transparency mode from AirPods Pro and Max to boost the sound of surrounding pedestrians, sirens, trains and honking? Of course.
Does it have an aux jack? Obviously not. What are you trying to plug in, an Android phone? No, it’s only compatible with wireless CarPlay. You must be at least Bluetooth-rich to listen to music. Which, you probably are, if you’re sitting inside an Apple Car.
Apple has two approaches to coloring aluminum. It goes without saying the body of the car will be aluminum, their favorite metal. Consumer products get all six colors plus light and dark gray; ‘Pro’ products get unadorned anodized aluminum, and if they’re generous, the choice of slightly darker anodized aluminum. It would be awesome if the car came in bare bead-blasted aluminum. Car companies don’t generally do that, in part to hide the fact that bumpers are usually plastic—and I don’t think Apple would use plastic bumpers. Speaking of which…
I’m not here to speculate even as broadly as to the shape of the car. I don’t see Apple as the sort of company to make an electric car mimicking a gas car, a la the early Model S, nor something weird and stubby like the BMW i3. The strongest connection I can draw is that former Apple designer and close colleague of Jony Ive, Marc Newson, once designed the Ford 021C. While I don’t think the Apple Car would be a subcompact, it may give a few clues as to their starting point. After all, the Apple Watch Sport Band bears a striking resemblance to the Ikepod Horizon Watch’s band.
Whatever form it takes, I know this much: expect virtually no panel gaps, because it will not be built from separate body panels. If Volkswagen can do it in the 60s with the Karmann Ghia, Apple can do it too.
Apple has dabbled in leather before, but since the Apple Watch they’ve really grown to love it, for better or worse. Is it possible Apple would dare put cloth seats in their crown jewel? Of course not. It would have to be leather. Choices of saddle brown, midnight blue, storm gray, all the fan favorites. Personally, I think the best choice of material is wool, as used in the Toyota Century. It’s the softest, it doesn’t get hot or cold like leather and it’s more environmentally friendly.
The dashboard would also be aluminum. I imagine the liberal use of metal and leather as seen in the Spyker C8 crossed with the minimalism of a Tesla Model 3.
It’s hard to imagine Apple doing anything other than the Tesla approach: Big center display, not much else.
Unlike Tesla, Apple may be generous enough to give its users a physical volume dial. There’s some precedent—they put a physical volume dial on the AirPods Max, and as of 2020, they still have not removed the volume buttons from the iPhone where they totally could if they wanted to.
The user interface would have some family resemblance to CarPlay with a beefier, bigger, roomier user interface; this would be on at least a 12″ display, not the measly 6″ screens most CarPlay units have. Take what you get with CarPlay but add an app (and hopefully, a dashboard widget!) for climate control.
Quirks and features
The cool new thing to do is to have your phone be the car key. Using the U1 chip that is getting added to all their new mobile devices, a technology that can transmit highly precise location information to other devices within a small proximity, Apple will be able to implement this better than anyone else.
The roof is one fixed all-glass panel. People like having sunroofs, but no one really likes opening them. It’s loud and windy. Besides, a sunroof over the front seats means you have to have a metal roof over the rear seats. In modern luxury cars, you can even have a glass roof that tints itself to be opaque at the push of a button.
I seriously doubt Apple would go out of their way to make room for interior storage spaces. Door pockets? No way. A big, cavernous opening in the center console? I doubt there’ll even be a center console. Cup holders? Probably just the legal bare minimum of two in the front, and if we’re lucky, another two in the back.
Have you noticed that all the rumors suggest one model—‘The Apple Car’? If they don’t intend to make a whole lineup, does the singular Apple Car come in the form of a sedan, coupé, SUV, or even a minivan? I suspect somewhere in the middle. Imagine a four-door car low to the ground like a sedan yet almost tall enough to qualify as an SUV, like the Rolls Royce Phantom.
You buy it online. But where do you pick it up? You don’t. The car is fully autonomous, so it drives itself over to your house. Like a dog finding its way home.
Hidden In Plain Sight—A History of iOS Foreshadowing iPhone
Nov 30, 2020
For the first four years of the iPhone’s life, the hardware and software were announced together in the summer. Starting with iOS 5’s announcement in July and the iPhone 4s announcement in October of 2011, we got a sneak peek of the software before the hardware was announced.
This cycle of software in the summer and hardware in the fall has led to an interesting pattern—some traces of the evolving hardware are left out in the open for all to see in the software. Questionable software design decisions suddenly make sense in the context of the new phone. Let’s take a look at some of these examples.1
iOS 6 Auto Layout preparing for new sizes
With the ever-growing roster of iOS and iPadOS devices nowadays, it’s hard to believe that the iPhone went from its announcement in early 2007 all the way up to the announcement of the iPhone 5 in late 2012 with the same 3.5″ display size. The iPhone 4 doubled the number of pixels, but without any scaling—it was the same rectangle with a sharper image.
The alarm bell rang when iOS 6 brought Auto Layout on iOS3. When arranging buttons and UI elements for an app, one can specify where exactly on the screen it should go—an easy and safe way to build an app if you know it’ll be running on 3.5″ displays. Auto Layout let developers arrange buttons and UI elements with constraints—this far away from the edge of the screen, this far away from that button, halfway centered between the bottom of this titlebar and the top of the toolbar, always at least 50 points away from this box, etc. The idea is that you write this code once and your app magically scales to different sizes without arranging the buttons for every situation.
In the fall, to absolutely no one’s surprise, the iPhone broke free of its 3.5″ prison to the magical world of 4.0″. The display got taller for the first time. To make it easier on developers, it kept the same display width, but added height. Luckily, absolutely everyone had adopted Auto Layout over the summer and no one complained.
iOS 7 and the iPhone 5s
The new camera UI made room for new camera features
The iOS 6 camera app was remarkably simple. In terms of capture modes, there are two: picture and video. This allowed the UI to get away with offering a simple toggle switch.
The upcoming iPhone 5s, to be introduced in the fall, would add slow motion video for the first time. A scrolling modal wheel reminiscent of a Nikon camera took the place of the simple switch. Panorama, hidden inside a menu in iOS 6, was now easier to access as another mode on the wheel alongside Photo and Video.
Swipe to unlock?
Arguably one of the most iconic UI elements of early iOS was “swipe to unlock” on the Lock Screen. iOS 7 distilled this element from a big grey arrow to a simple line of glowing text. With the Touch ID sensor on the iPhone 5s, you no longer had to swipe-to-unlock at all, allowing one to unlock with a press of the Home button.
iOS 9 app switcher designed around 3D Touch
The app switcher in iOS 7 and 8 featured previews of the app with their icons below. It was highly functional—you could flick your thumb across the small icons to quickly scroll left-to-right, or drag across the app previews to scroll one-at-a-time.
Curiously, the multitasking view introduced in iOS 9 scrolls the opposite direction, right-to-left. The bigger app snapshots fill more of the screen with the most recent app sliding in from the left edge. The redesign provides the visual metaphor that all your apps are hiding behind the current one like a stack of cards, and you’re flicking over to the next one.
This all made sense in the fall of 2015 when Apple unveiled the iPhone 6s with 3D Touch. It was adopted universally by some proactive indie developers, but, sadly, never got much attention from many of the top-charting apps. Apple implemented it system-wide to set a good example. When force touching the left edge of the device, you could swipe your thumb over to switch to the next app in the stack. The new look for the app switcher, where apps slide in from the left, was designed around this feature.
iOS 11 accommodating the all-screen iPhone X
Control Center may have gone through a few different looks since its introduction in iOS 7, but the central idea of a glass panel you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to invoke was a constant. That was not compatible with the upcoming iPhone X, which would use the swipe-up gesture to dismiss the current app. Since Control Center would be invoked from the bottom edge on Home Button-iPhones and from the top right corner on the iPhone X, Apple needed a design that would make sense for both gestures.
Control Center was freed from its panel to occupy the entire screen. If it is invoked with a swipe-up gesture, as it is on iPhones without a Home Button, the controls are bottom-justified. On the iPhone X, where you pull down from the top-right, the controls are top-justified. The free-floating design accommodates both gestures—and gives it room to grow should users choose to add more buttons.
Labels removed from the dock
When Apple gave the iPhone X display rounded corners, they simply could not resist giving the Dock rounded corners that nestle inside them, with the icons arranged perfectly inside it. This concentric symmetry just wouldn’t have the same effect if the app labels appeared below them.
Smaller cellular signal icon
The cellular signal icon in iOS 7–9 (borrowed from an early iPhone prototype) uses five circles instead of the more familiar bars. While debatably more aesthetically pleasing, the icon is simply too wide to fit into the small icon area of the iPhone X.
The iPhone X simplified the process of unlocking the phone. No longer is authenticating the phone a step one has to consciously take—you don’t have to type in a passcode, you don’t have to press your finger on a TouchID sensor—just look at it and it’s unlocked.
In order to polish this design as much as possible, Apple sanded down the arbitrary difference between the Lock Screen and Notification Center. After all, both places show your notifications and widgets.
iOS 13 context menus replacing 3D Touch features
3D Touch, as continued from above, did not take the world by a storm as Apple may have hoped. Never mind that it’s a gesture with no visible indicator of where it works—it wasn’t adopted universally enough for users to expect it to work. Compare this to apps that don’t implement swipe-to-go-back, which stick out like a sore thumb.
Apple, unwilling to give up the functionality it afforded them, ironed 3D Touch together with the long-press gesture as a means of creating the context menu. That way, when the iPhones 11 and 11 Pro shipped without the pressure sensors necessary for 3D Touch to work4, the context menu was spun as a more versatile UI element for developers to use, in addition to bringing feature parity to iPads (now christened with iPadOS).
- In researching this story, I reached out to my fellow2 esteemed and honorable Apple tech writers: John Gruber, Casey Liss, Stephen Hackett, Joanna Stern, John Voorhees, Federico Viticci, Dan Moren, Jason Snell and John Siracusa. ↩
- I am not an esteemed nor honorable Apple tech writer. ↩
- Thanks to Casey Liss for the tip on Auto-Layout in iOS 6. ↩
- The iPhone XR shipped without 3D Touch a year earlier alongside iOS 12 but was not their flagship iPhone at the time, which is why I consider it a feature removal of 2019, not 2018. It evolved into the iPhones 11, which were. ↩
Which Is The Smallest Phone With The Best Camera, iPhone 12 mini or iPhone 12 Pro?
Nov 7, 2020
Say you, like me, want the best camera in the smallest phone. Which do you get? Obviously, the iPhone 12 mini is the smaller phone and the iPhone 12 Pro has the better camera1. The tragic omission of a hypothetical iPhone 12 Pro mini from the lineup dictates people like you and me choose between the phone that is as mini as we want and the camera that is as great as we want.
The iPhone 12 mini has nearly all the same features of the iPhone 12 Pro, which is great for people who want a small phone, but disappointing for people who want the decision to be easily made for them. There should be an obvious my-best-choice and an obvious that’s-not-for-me. Weirdly, of the Steve Jobs-era of Apple, I miss most how he reduced choice. You didn’t choose an iPhone size; Steve decided that they should be just-so-big, and that was how all of them were. But I digress.
Is the iPhone 12 mini’s camera good enough for me to sleep well at night knowing I took good-enough-pictures? Will the pictures on the iPhone 12 Pro be better enough to justify its larger size? Let us explore.
iPhone 12 mini, you have the floor
I was prepared to be disappointed by the features omitted from the iPhone 12 mini before I watched the announcement. When the segment ended, however, I was convinced it was the phone for me.
Both phones have mmWave 5G. Both phones have the same 1× and 0.5× lens. Both phones have a Ceramic Shield on the front glass for 4× better shatter resistance. Both phones have the same OLED display2. Both phones have, on the 1× lens, a 28% larger ƒ/2.4 aperture. Both phones feature Smart HDR 3 for better visual range in high-contrast lighting. Both phones bring the same high dynamic range to video recording. Both phones record Dolby Vision HDR3. On the other side, neither phone has a 120 Hz ProMotion display.
It is so delightfully small
After four years with the iPhone 7 Plus, I have dreams at night where I imagine reaching to the top of the screen with one thumb to press a button or to pull down Notification Center without shimmying the phone around in my hand. I type a text message in a hurry, and in my dream, I don’t have to activate the small one-handed keyboard because the phone is narrow enough as is. I awake from these dreams to the sound of the alarm coming from my iPhone 7 Plus, groggily reach for it to silence the noise and fumble with its incredible size and weight, no doubt worsened by its slippery aluminum body and rounded corners.
Weight is just as important as size. The iPhone 12 mini is the same weight as the original iPhone at just 135 grams. It has a light-weight aluminum frame and a grippy glass back panel. The iPhone 12 Pro is hardly any lighter than the iPhone 7 Plus thanks to its stainless steel body and hardly any easier to handle thanks to its slippery frosted glass finish on the back.
A downside to the materials difference is that the iPhone 12 isn’t as shiny as the iPhone 12 Pro. This influenced my decision making more than I care to admit.
iPhone 12 Pro, your rebuttal
The 2× lens
It is what I sold my soul for when I opted for the iPhone 7 Plus over the iPhone 7, and once again, it is what is tempting me away from the iPhone 12 mini. I created a Smart Album on my Mac to show me all the pictures I have taken with the 2× lens to see if I really use it as much as I think I do. Running the numbers, I use the 2× lens at least4 20% of the time. Am I really OK with not being able to take 1 in every 5 photos?
That’s not where the differences end
I was prepared to give up the 2× lens. I had time to come to terms with that since it was leaked five months in advance, but that’s not the whole story. The LiDAR Scanner—while I may only rarely use it for AR—is used by the camera for autofocus. As a result, autofocus on the iPhone 12 Pro is 6× faster. When recording video, the subject never goes out of focus because the iPhone is always acutely aware of how far away it is from the camera. The iPhone 12 Pro is also able to combine Portrait Mode with Night Mode to take low-light portraits. The iPhone 12 Pro has an extra 2 GB of memory for Apple ProRAW—allowing you to non-destructively edit and fine-tune the computational magic that goes on behind the scenes when you take a photo.
And the preorder goes too…
The smallest phone with the best camera is the iPhone 12 Pro. The nail in the coffin was when I thought about how it’s not just the >20% of all pictures I would lose. Every picture and video I take where the subject is slightly out of focus, I would wonder if the LiDAR Scanner would have helped. Every indoor Portrait Mode photo I take in the late evening that doesn’t come out good enough, I would wonder if Portrait Night Mode should have been used. Every time I think a picture is a little too dark or a little too saturated and use the built-in photo editor, I would wonder if I would be able to edit it a little better if it were shot with Apple ProRAW.
After all, it’s not that much bigger of a phone. The display is over half an inch larger, sure—but considering the weird aspect ratios the displays are these days, it only adds up to 7.3 mm of extra width. Sure, if I’m texting with one hand, I have to stretch my thumb a little bit to tap the Send button. And yes, I occasionally invoke Reachability to tap buttons on the very top of the screen.
But damn, is it shiny.
- Yes, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has the best camera, with a motion-stabilized sensor and an 87% larger sensor. It's bigness is simply too much. It shares physical dimensions with my outgoing iPhone 7 Plus, which I believe is too big for human consumption. ↩
- Theoretically, the iPhone 12 Pro is rated for a slightly brighter display in terms of sustained brightness. As John Gruber pointed out on The Talk Show, they aren't actually different components—Apple just takes the displays that are manufactured better that test higher and puts them in the iPhones 12 Pro and uses the remaining displays in the iPhones 12. It's likely an iPhone 12 mini won't be noticeably dimmer than an iPhone 12 Pro at all. ↩
- The iPhone 12 Pro records in Dolby Vision HDR at 60 fps compared to 30 fps. Generally, I only record in 30 fps, so this may not be an issue for me. ↩
- I suspect the number of times I tap the 2× button is actually much higher. The iPhone 7 Plus 2× lens has an ƒ/2.8 aperture with relatively poor low-light performance. When you take a picture with the 2× lens and the iPhone determines it would be too grainy, it secretly uses the 1× lens and crops it in so it looks like 2×. These aren't counted in my Smart Album, so I suspect the number of times I want to take a 2× photo is closer to 40%—it doesn't take a very dim room for it to take the picture with the 1× lens instead of the 2× lens. ↩
Boneless Chicken Wings Are Better
Oct 3, 2020
From ‘Launching Extra Ordinary’:
Extra Ordinary—a blog about software, technology and more.
File this one under ‘more.’
Chicken wing enthusiasts may frequently deride boneless chicken wings. I strongly believe they are a superior food for the following reasons:
- They are easier to eat.
- Many wing restaurants sell wings by mass. When you order bone-in wings you are paying for less chicken. A significant portion of the mass is inedible.
- Boneless chicken wings have less tendons, muscles and fat.
This is my response to their common criticisms of what I consider a superior food.
Boneless chicken wings are just big saucy chicken nuggets.
First of all, no, chicken nuggets have inferior breading and highly processed meat. Second, even if this were the case, who ever wanted to add bones to chicken nuggets?
Boneless chicken wings cost more.
As stated earlier, a pound of boneless chicken wings contains more edible chicken than a pound of bone-in chicken wings because there aren’t any bones.
Boneless chicken wings are more processed.
This varies by restaurant. At Buffalo Wild Wings? Sure, their wings are noticeably processed. At Wings Over? I disagree. Their boneless wings have the texture and consistency of a regular chicken breast that has been battered and fried. If it is processed meat, it is certainly processed to a low degree.
Tweet at me why I’m wrong.
End-Of-Life Review, iPhone 7 Plus
Sep 25, 2020 • End-of-Life Review
Closing in on four years ago I bought the then-new iPhone 7 Plus. It is the longest I have ever had a smartphone1. Granted, this should be expected; smartphones are maturing so we should expect to keep them for longer and longer periods of time. If the pattern were to continue, the phone I buy this fall should last until fall 2025.
So what is it like spending four years with the iPhone 7 Plus? Let’s see how the headline marketing features from its announcement hold up.
The iPhone 7 Plus is too big for me, and with a case, holding it one handed becomes a challenge. I have dropped this phone an order of magnitude often than every previous iPhone simply because of its unwieldy size and weight. I have decidedly average hands but my hands feel strained if I hold it in the same position for too long. I acknowledge this is a completely self-inflicted wound—I could have had the regular iPhone 7 at the expense of a worse camera system—so I will refrain from deriding it on this point any more.
The contours around the edge of the phone are rounded. This has always been my least favorite iOS device shape through its association with the iPod Touch. In the formative years of the growing iOS family, the early 2010s, the iPhone had square edges, the iPod Touch had rounded edges and the iPad had pointed edges2. The rounded edge design has always felt cheap to me for this reason.
Overall, the details of this model refine upon the earlier versions of the type, the iPhones 6 and 6s. The camera bump is smoothed out into a continuous surface, no longer a separate element from the rear panel. The speakers and microphone are symmetrical thanks to the absence of the headphone jack (which the iPhone X and up regress on, interrupting the microphone with an antenna line). The antenna lines are more integrated into the design than before with better color matching and an improved shape. These are pleasantries that make an otherwise dull design feel nicer.
After three months of deliberating between Black and Jet Black finishes, I went with Black. I really love the Jet Black. The finish makes the phone appear as if it’s a single slice of glass, but I acknowledge that with all the scuffs and scratches I have on every corner of my phone, mine would not look nearly as sleek and polished as those I envy. Nonetheless, the Black is still attractive, and the finish has proven to stand up to many years of abuse—a far cry from the reports of finish chipping off iPhone 5 models.
The sole reason I suffered through a phone I considered too big for human ergonomics for such a long time is because of the then-new dual camera system.
Photos taken with the 1× wide-angle lens are rarely grainy, even in sub-par indoor lighting. The optical image stabilization (OIS) does a spectacular job eliminating camera shake. OIS doesn’t just make for more stable video; it helps keep photos in focus, too. This is especially important for Live Photos—the small snippets of video taken around pictures. All of this takes an incredible amount of processing power; in order to make the Live Photos feature work, the iPhone is continuously capturing video from the moment you open the camera. When you take a picture, the iPhone keeps about a second and a half of the video before and after the moment you pressed the button. Photos taken with this lens look great and the details upon zooming in hold up very well. This is the first iPhone camera that can take pictures high enough in quality to look good blown up on a wall.
Photos taken with the 2× telephoto lens are lower in quality but not poor. Images from this lens look much more natural to my eyes. There’s less ‘fish eye’ distortion for objects close to the camera around the edges. Because this lens has a smaller aperture it requires significantly more environmental lighting. If the lighting is insufficient it will take the picture with the 1× lens and crop the photo inwards. If it’s ever an edge case—late afternoon with the sun going down, indoors with only a few lights on—you can check if it’s really using the 2× lens by covering the 1× lens with a finger. Having the choice to take more professional-looking pictures with its narrow field-of-view at the tap of a button is a truly excellent feature3.
What you can enable when you have both of these cameras together is Portrait Mode. It’s commonplace among smartphones by now, so I’ll explain it only briefly: it’s a photo effect where the subject of the photo is clear in the foreground with a blurry background. When it used properly, it looks fantastic. Unfortunately it works under fragile circumstances. It can fall flat when there’s not enough light, the subject is a little too close or a little too far, the background isn’t distinct from the subject, there’s some extraneous object in the foreground that isn’t blurred out correctly, the subject has stray hairs, or if there’s a gap in arm or through glasses that isn’t blurred at all. It’s really great when it works, but it’s not very clearly explained to the user what it’s for or how to take one correctly.
There’s a front-facing camera too. It’s okay.
The Home button improvements from the iPhones 7 and 7 Plus are a classic example of the problems Apple loves to solve: Take something people feel neutral about and make it better in a way that makes the old way feel terrible and bad.
The Home button is not a button. It is a button-shaped impression in the glass that simulates a click when you press it. It’s absolutely unreal. In another classic Apple move, they add one more thing: you can adjust the button pressure. Do you want to press it hard with a lot of resistance or do you want to press it lightly with little?
This is the best the Home button has ever been. It feels like the final, inevitable stage in its evolution. But this is no longer 2016; the rest of the world has moved on. The suite of interface gestures built around the Home button—click once to go home, click twice to switch apps, hold for Siri, click three times for accessibility—feel clunky and slow. But this Home button-not-really-even-a-button will continue to faux-click for you, happily, forever, never wearing out.
AirPods are a different product, not strictly a feature of the iPhone, but AirPods still fit into this story. They were launched alongside the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus as what Apple wants you to use in place of the removed headphone jack.
I was never among the people outraged by the decision to remove the headphone jack, even when it was rumored ahead of the fact. There were a lot of theories why: Did they remove it because they needed the space for the dual camera setup? No, they still had space, it’s even possible to add a headphone jack to a production iPhone. Was it because they wanted to improve waterproofing? I don’t buy that either because the headphone jack is almost completely insulated by design; water is more likely to enter through the speakers or the seams in the display and buttons and those already had rubber gaskets around them since the iPhone 6s. We in 2020 have the benefit of hindsight. We can say it’s probably because Apple knew they had to remove the headphone jack in next year’s iPhone X, but they didn’t want the story journalists wrote about their completely redesigned fancy new expensive phone to be all about the missing headphone jack. They removed it a year early so that the iPhone 7 would take the fall and the story surrounding the exciting new iPhone X could be all about how new and exciting the iPhone X is.
I can’t say I miss the headphone jack anyways. If you have AirPods, then you already know that they’re a much better product than the wired earbuds ever could be. If you don’t, then you still get a pair of earbuds that plug in the Lightning port instead. If you understandably don’t like Apple’s wired earbuds, then you get an adapter in the box, too. They give you all the tools they can offer to make it a seamless transition.
It’s the last paragraph in the AirPods section of the review, so I suppose I should actually review the AirPods. AirPods are a rare example of a brand-new product that answers every design choice correctly from the start. As a product, their design is simply too advanced for modern day battery technology—the tiny batteries inside them degrade with moderate use after just a year and a half.
An adage about Ford cars is that the engine will outlive everything else. A blessing and a curse, it leaves you in a rusted shell with no AC, torn seats, a cracked and broken interior, questionable exhaust and twice-replaced sound system. You just can’t replace the car because it still runs fine4. The same thing happens to an iPhone when you keep it for four years. The speakers are barely audible. Every six months I go through a scare where the phone won’t charge, I clean out the Lightning port with a toothpick and pull several clumps of pocket lint out. Every corner is dented in some way or another, but you wouldn’t notice because it’s hidden beneath in a case that is also torn on every corner. The case hasn’t been taken off in at least a year; I wouldn’t dare risk it as it is holding together a large crack in the screen.
But the engine still runs. Blazingly fast. We are long past the days where every upgrade is a night-and-day performance shift5, regardless of whether you upgrade every year or every three. It is not unreasonable for me to expect my next phone to last me at least five years.
So how do I rate the iPhone 7 Plus? It was the best smartphone in 2016. It is without a doubt the best smartphone I’ve owned. Despite this, it is my least favorite. It is sufficient for performing the tasks asked of it, but I don’t find joy in using such a large phone. The design does not inspire. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to October.
- For those that are curious, here is my smartphone history: iPhone 4, July 2011; iPhone 5s, December 2013; iPhone 7 Plus, December 2016. ↩
- I’ve always thought an iPhone with pointed edges like the iPad would be an interesting design. ↩
- If you're keeping track, you know by now that I a) dislike big phones, and b) love the wide angle lens/telephoto lens camera setup. If rumors are to be believed, what do I do in the fall if the new iPhone lineup includes a desirably sized 5.4″ iPhone with a 0.5× lens instead of a 2× lens? I have no idea. Maybe I'll spend another three months deliberating over this, too. ↩
- Based on a true story. ↩
- Well, at least on this side of the pond. ↩
iOS Devices By Shape
Sep 20, 2020
This reference graphic shows every profile used across iOS devices—the silhouette of the bottom side. The renderings are not to scale—iPhones range in size from 3.5″ to 6.5″ displays, iPads from 7.9″ to 12.9″ displays. This illustrates the usage of different corner stylings over the years. Minor changes are grouped together such as the protruding glass on the iPhones 4 and 4s, the ‘diamond-cut chamfered edge’ that is cut into the iPhones 5, 5s and SE and the slight corner radius on the iPhone 5c.
Going in, I had no idea the chamfered-edge-rounded design would be the longest list. I’ve never owned any of those devices.
If you are attentive you will have noticed some series of devices have version numbers in parenthesis and some do not. iPhones all have their version numbers as part of their name—they are marketed as iPhone 4, 5, 6, etc. iPads are on-and-off: their marketing names start from iPad, iPad 2, the new iPad, iPad with Retina display, and from there they diverge into iPad Air and iPad (again). If the series begins with a version-named product I list them without parenthesis.
Apple Keynote Bingo, September 2020
Sep 13, 2020
Apple’s “Time Flies” event is less than two days away. I decided to bring back Apple Keynote Bingo.
It’s been a few years since the last one so most of these squares are all-new to reflect the evolving executive team and presentation style. On the left, we have the trail of products that have been heavily rumored that have yet to see the light of day: AirTags, the iPhones 12 and AirPower. A number of new squares were added to reflect the last virtual event: a serious opening monologue, Tim Cook alone on stage and an aerial tour of Apple Park. Greg Jozwiak is the new SVP of Worldwide Marketing and thus his odd taste in patterned shirts has replaced Phil Schiller’s square. Apple TV+ is close to celebrating its first anniversary, so I fully expect them to play some Season 2 trailers for their biggest shows that were absent from WWDC—The Morning Show and See.
Some of the safer squares on the board: everybody knows new iPads and Apple Watches are coming (the event is called ‘Time Flies’ for crying out loud). Their fancy new Apple Store inside a glass orb floating in the ocean deserves a great cinematic introduction video. They are always glad to give an environmental report card on their products so I anticipate a segment on that. Finally, their Apple One services bundle has been leaked by Apple themselves, so it would definitely be odd not to have some news there.
Print one out and play along.
Sep 12, 2020
I am launching a YouTube channel called Wikireadia. Every episode I narrate a Wikipedia article top to bottom.
For a few years now I’ve been fascinated by automated media. Of all things, this was inspired by The Weather Channel. The more I thought about it the weirder it became in my head that there was a segment on television—Local on the 8s—that is entirely computer generated. Fittingly, the first episode is about WeatherStar, the computer that creates each segment.
Wikireadia is designed to resemble automated media. The longer the project continues, the more hours of content there will be that is information distilled and presented in as dry a format as possible. All collected information available on a topic is relayed by a voice. Despite this, Wikireadia is something that cannot exist in its current degree of quality as computer-generated media; the medium chosen dictates a human has to be recorded.
This is Phase 1 of Wikireadia: Reading an article of my choosing beginning to end. Of course, I have to mention the excellent music composed by Will Davenport that will introduce and conclude every episode. This won’t be the only place you’ll hear it. Wikireadia is a devilishly simple concept for a YouTube channel that I’m amazed hasn’t been taken seriously yet—aren’t those the best ideas?
You can find it here:
Breaking Up With Google
Sep 10, 2020
Mark my words: I am going to rid myself of all my personal Google accounts. As an advocate for digital privacy, I intend to walk the walk as much as I talk the talk.
Why? Google is a data company, not a services company. The difference is where their money comes from: services companies monetize use of their software. Google’s consumer services are free to use. While it’s true they make money from licensing its software to businesses and enterprise users, this is not even close to profitable enough to support their entire business model—the biggest slice of their revenue pie is and always has been monetizing use of your data to advertisers. Why should I care? This itself deserves its own write-up, so I will instead leave you with this for now and move on.
This is my game plan for how I will replace the services I use.
This is the biggest example of ‘easier-said-than-done’. The solution is simple and obvious: just get another email service; there are plenty. Actually making the move is a little more complicated. I’ve had the same personal email address for 14 years. It’s the address upon which almost every service I use is listed as the primary point of contact. It’s the address all my friends and family have.
The replacement is not going to be another lesser-of-two-evils free email service that will snoop just as much as Gmail does (Yahoo, AOL, etc.). I’m going to create email addresses using this domain, @dgriffinjones.com, hosted by Runbox1. I considered hosting my own email server because I would not be limited in storage space, I could create as many email addresses as I desire with no additional cost and I can be reasonably certain I will not sell my own user data to third-party advertising companies—until I pictured a nightmare Catch-22 scenario wherein my hacked-together self-hosted system stops working and I would be unable to sign into or authenticate any accounts to resolve the problem without a functioning email address. It seems going with a third party service is a necessary evil for security’s sake and as far as I can tell, Runbox is not an especially evil company.
In order to transfer every online service I have ever signed up for with my Gmail account I will take a long trip down Keychain Access, my password manager, sign into all of them one-by-one and switch the primary email to my new one. I will still have to keep my Gmail account for a little while before I can comfortably close the account. If there is some online service that isn’t listed in Keychain Access, how would I know to change it? If I close my account and find out later that one of these has slipped under the radar, I may just have to cut my losses.
I hope that I can comfortably close my Gmail account by this same time in 2021.
I use YouTube unlike most people, but here that is to my advantage. I have the subscriptions page bookmarked so that I see what the creators I follow post and nothing else. I don’t go to the Home page to browse the algorithmically chosen content unless I run out of subscriptions when I’m really, really bored.
The internet has had a solution to this specific problem for years: RSS. YouTube actually has a built-in method for converting your subscriptions to RSS2. This feature is only available through the old subscription manager, not the new one, which makes me think this feature may be deprecated soon. If you are at all interested in this, you should do it while you can. I will import my subscriptions to a folder on NetNewsWire, my RSS reader of choice, and use it as a way of staying up to date on the creators I follow without a Google account. NetNewsWire will give me a linear list of all the published videos from the creators I would be subscribed to that will open in Safari or the YouTube app.
On my Mac I’ll use YouTube signed out through Safari. On my iPhone, I’ll uninstall and reinstall the YouTube app to clear all the user data3. I’ll use a VPN too for good measure.
Google Drive is perhaps the hardest service to replace. I can convert all of my Google Docs, Sheets and Slides documents into Pages, Numbers and Keynote documents on iCloud Drive, but I have a lot of personal projects shared with my friends and family that don’t use any of the alternative file sharing services. I honestly don’t have a solution for this one yet. If I write back here in a year about how I haven’t been able to cut all the cords, I bet it’ll be because of Google Drive.
I haven’t used Google Chrome as my everyday web browser for many years, but occasionally there comes a website which renders better in Chrome than Safari. I have been using Microsoft Edge in its place to fulfill this niche purpose. Edge and Chrome share the same Chromium code base, which uses the same Blink rendering engine, so websites should look exactly the same in Edge as they do Chrome4. This should be the easiest transition to accomplish considering I made it months ago when Edge was made available5.
- I use Apple Maps, iCloud Photo Library and FaceTime instead of Google Maps, Google Photos and Hangouts anyways.
- The forthcoming Translate app for iOS will replace Google Translate come fall.
- I will use a separate web browser from the one I use for day-to-day browsing when I need to sign into the Google account assigned to me by my employer.
After I migrate my accounts and live under the new system for a while I’ll write a follow-up post letting you know how it works out and whether I recommend this. Add www.dgriffinjones.com to your RSS reader or follow me on Twitter to stay up to date.
- This may merit its own article in the future. I am going with Runbox for having the least outrageous storage plan pricing, end-to-end encryption, long company history and support for IMAP. ↩
- Go to this Subscription Manager page, scroll down to Export Subscriptions and import this file into an RSS reader like NetNewsWire. ↩
- While I prefer using the native iOS video player as seen in Safari, the video quality is limited to 720p. This is unacceptable. ↩
- Theoretically this should also be the case for Safari since Blink is itself based on Safari’s WebKit, but they have gone their separate ways as Google continues to add more Chrome-exclusive features outside the web standards. ↩
- I would have liked to link to a memorable strip of Sherman’s Lagoon where the punchline that the best way to feel accomplished when writing a to-do list is to write down something you’ve already done and immediately cross it off. Alas, Sherman’s Lagoon does not have a searchable index of all their historical comics. ↩
Why Start A Blog In 2020?
Sep 5, 2020
What am I doing here?
It’s 2020. The era of widespread blogging has long since passed, yet here we are. In my first article / column / piece (still looking for any other term to use in place of blog post) I will preemptively answer the question that most people who care about how I spend my time are inevitably thinking: why?
Own your place on the internet.
I was always warned that I should be careful about the information I post on the internet. “Nothing is ever deleted once it’s online. It’ll be there forever.” As it turns out, that’s an overstated fear. Just ask the 38 million websites hosted on GeoCities or the ever-growing cemetery of former Google products. Services and businesses that we perceive as titans holding up entire subcultures of the Internet as we know it can (and have) crumbled.
Under that context, I think it is important for one with an online presence to make sure any audience they build is platform-agnostic. You don’t want politics or shifty business practices pulling your livelihood out from under your feet overnight. Just ask the 200 million active users of Vine. Extra Ordinary may be comparable to an overlooked hotdog stand in the middle of Manhattan, but it is mine. I have built it to be as stable as possible for my budget. I can be reasonably sure the President of the United States will not pursue legal action in the interest of shutting down Extra Ordinary.
If you’re curious, this site is currently hosted through GitHub. GitHub has been around for a (relatively) long time and the Microsoft acquisition gives me some peace of mind it will not disappear overnight. Should that happen, I could just as easily plug a spare computer into my router and host it independently—I’m not kidding myself, it’s not like I’ll be getting too much traffic to keep up.
Why do humans communicate? To transmit ideas from one to another. What does the mathematical ideal form of this look like? All knowledge of a subject is shared across all humans concerned. Every question you answer, everything you learn, everything you hear gets us closer to that point.
This is an exact parallel to entropy. This is the concept that every chemical reaction, every heat exchange, every action you take costs some form of energy that cannot effectively be recaptured without using even more energy. Give a glass of ice water enough time, and you have a cup of water with uniform energy. Wait even longer, and it’ll be same temperature as the room. If processes like this continue everywhere, forever (and research shows that the universe will probably continue for quite a bit longer), things don’t look good for the universe—it will probably end as a perfectly uniform field of energy.
Information can be modeled on entropy. For example, the group could be as small as you and three friends; when you all decide on one place to meet up, information entropy has been achieved: the information is distributed everywhere it needs to.
Maybe one person will read Extra Ordinary; maybe every human on Earth. Statistically it will be somewhere between those. Regardless, everyone who reads Extra Ordinary will contribute to the distribution of my ideas. By the time you’ve processed what you’re reading, it’s already too late. It’s in your head now. I guess I’m just evil like that.
Because I have to.
From Sarah Allen’s The Inspired Writer vs. the Real Writer:
I believe that I write because I am driven to do so—driven by a will to write. By “will,” I mean a kind of purposefulness, propensity, diligence, and determination.
My feeble attempt at describing this blog is so far, “A blog about technology, software and more.” This isn’t entirely accurate. If I were to describe it more precisely I would say that this blog is a medium through which I can think critically about the thoughts I have bouncing around in my head; formalize and refine them; and publish them1. ‘Technology, software and more’ is generally what they are about.
Sarah Allen writes because she is driven to do so. I write because I am driven to distribute ideas.
- That doesn't make for a catchy tagline. ↩
Launching Extra Ordinary
Aug 15, 2020
Today, I am launching Extra Ordinary—a blog about technology, software and more.