Apple’s Mac and HomePod Announcements
Jan 25, 2023 • Apple Event
Last week, Apple unceremoniously dropped a few press releases and a couple video segments clearly cut out of a Keynote video. (Even moreso than before, I am very much stretching the definition of my ‘Apple Event’ tag.)
I made my podcasting debut on The CultCast to talk about these announcements with Erfon Elijah and Lewis Wallace.
Mac mini with M2
This is not just the best value for your money Apple has ever offered in a Mac — the very fastest and latest consumer desktop computer for just $599 — it might be the best value in the entire computer industry. And you can get it for just $499 through the education store, where you need only a .edu email address.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with the rumored redesign that would have evoked the PowerPC Mac mini. Apple’s processor transition playbook is that initial versions with a new chipset reuse the old chassis, but over time, we get the designs Apple wanted to make all along. Like the first MacBook Pro compared to the unibody model, or even more recently, the M1 MacBook Air compared to the M2 MacBook Air. Perhaps a new Mac mini design is coming even later with M3, or Apple thinks the aluminum block design is still sufficient for this computer. If ever there were a computer that didn’t need to change in a chip transition, it’d be the Mac mini.
The M2 is a modest improvement on M1. The cores themselves are only about 12% faster, but there are more cores in every M2 variant such that most tasks using the CPU and GPU are a solid 20% faster. Now built in to the base M2 chip is the media engine for faster video encoding and decoding. The Neural engine is a whopping 40% faster. Don’t overlook this — it powers many of the advanced features these days like visual lookup, cutting objects out of photos and any app using Core ML. I suspect it’ll only become more important over time.
Apple struggled with the Mac mini in the past. The last three Intel versions only came out in 2012, 2014 (with modest improvements at best) and 2018. Now that updating these machines to the latest and greatest is entirely within their own control, and so much of the research and development is amortized across the entire lineup, I think we can expect regular updates to the sidelined Macs.
Mac mini with M2 Pro
This is what I and many others have been waiting for: A mid-range professional desktop running M2 Pro.
Start with the Mac mini, check a few upgrade boxes and you may approach Mac Studio level prices, but you will be prioritizing what you want out of a computer. I don’t need the chip with the highest core count; I want a lot of internal storage space and unified memory first. Ordering the Mac Studio is like buying more ports and a bigger processor out the gate.
The Mac mini is the perfect machine for small video production studios, marketing departments, graphic designers, podcasters, grad students, data scientists and more. Although it isn’t internally expandable, this Mac bears the most functional resemblance to the kind of workhorse PC that gets bought in bulk in offices and schools across the country.
We now have somewhat of an answer as to why the M1 Mac mini was so empty inside: the M2 Pro model features a larger logic board, cooling system and power supply. In a thread on Mastodon with Jason Snell and John Gruber, I was initially skeptical that Apple couldn’t jam an M2 Max chip in there if they really wanted to. After all, they have more room to work with even in the Mac mini than they do in a skinny laptop. The key might be in the power supply — the Mac mini’s is internal; the MacBook Pro’s is on the power cable.
The 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro are updated from M1 Pro and Max to M2 Pro and Max.
‘Spec bump’ is often used derogatorily, but in the era of Apple silicon, it represents a change in product direction. Updates to the hardware aren’t held back because engineers need to come up with a fresh new way to make the computer worse. Whereas in the dark days of the Intel era there were good and bad times to buy a Mac, you could buy a great MacBook Pro last week and an even better MacBook Pro this week.
It is still true in the M2 lineup that you spend at least $700 for the laptop form factor. You can see this for yourself if you compare an identically configured desktop and laptop; in this case, the Mac mini with M2 Pro and 14-inch MacBook Pro. Laptops are more expensive to engineer and come with a built-in display, camera, battery, keyboard and trackpad.
The very next day, we get the surprise announcement of a new HomePod. I’m not entirely sure why.
The original HomePod sold poorly because it was over-engineered and over-priced. It was a good value as far as premium home speaker systems go, but consumers didn’t understand it and didn’t buy it. It took three years to sell through the original production run from 2018.
The new HomePod removes two speakers and two microphones from the original in exchange for a newer chip, different internal design, added temperature and humidity sensors, Thread and Matter support. It’s allegedly cheaper for Apple to manufacture but sold at the same $299 price point the previous model was at for most of its life.
Maybe Apple thinks they can market the new version better, but I don’t have confidence. Aside from its bigness, it has complete feature parity with the HomePod mini, and it costs 3× as much. For the cost of one HomePod, you can buy a stereo pair of HomePod minis in one room and an additional HomePod mini in another room. Instead of one stereo pair of HomePods, you can buy three stereo pairs of HomePod minis for your living room, kitchen and office.
Erfon is adamant that a HomePod sounds well over three times as good as a HomePod mini. He’s probably right. But how is Apple going to convince people of that in a crowded noisy Apple Store? How will they market how much better this one is without indirectly putting down their other $99 speaker?
Apple AR/VR Headset
Mission failed, we’ll get ’em next time.
Email • Mastodon
Quote Tweets On Mastodon Are Pointless
Dec 30, 2022
Among tech enthusiasts, Mastodon is well and truly taking off as the new online water cooler in place of Twitter.
There are a few growing pains — any platform that takes on a huge influx of users will get that. Issues with servers being overloaded, complaints that the platform design cannot support social movements and that the network is less friendly to marginalized people.
One of the chief complaints even among the Mastodon enthusiasts (of which I am one) is the lack of a quote-tweet equivalent feature. If you are not familiar, or if you are reading this in a post-Twitter future, a quote tweet looks like this:
Wack https://t.co/EAtqV94t7d— D. Griffin Jones (@dgriffinj0nes) October 12, 2022
People who follow me will see both the original tweet and my comment, both of which happen to be the same in this case. Compare that to a reply, which looks like this:
I may be thirteen years late, but The Weather Channel’s “The Best of Smooth Jazz” is a really fire album— D. Griffin Jones (@dgriffinj0nes) September 17, 2020
You might be confused what the difference is if you don’t use Twitter a lot. Functionally, they are the same feature: a tweet of mine that is in response to another. The only difference to the end user is in the presentation.
This is why Mastodon doesn’t need quote tweets: Twitter doesn’t even need quote tweets. When people ask for quote tweets, what they actually want is a way to show their reply with the context of the original post on the timeline.
In a way, Mastodon has already laid the groundwork for this. Every post has a variety of visibility options: Public (visible for all), Unlisted (visible for all, but opted-out of discovery features), Followers Only (visible only to your followers) and Mentioned People Only (visible only to people mentioned in the post).
What I propose is that replies add an additional toggle: Show With Context. Enabling this will show both the original post with your reply on your timeline. I think it’s the simplest solution that solves the heart of the problem.
And you know what? If this is my biggest problem with Mastodon, we’re in a pretty good spot. Things could be ever so much worse.
Email • Mastodon • Twitter
Now Writing for Cult of Mac
Dec 20, 2022
As a sequel to a post earlier this year, I have an even more exciting announcement: I am joining Cult of Mac as a full-time writer. I will be continuing my How To articles with occasional news coverage in addition to top tips and weekly videos.
I’m proud that I’ll likely hit my goal of 24 posts this year on Extra Ordinary. Going forward, a lot of what I would otherwise post on this site will probably be written for Cult of Mac, like my rumor roundups, developer interviews and (of course) my complaints.
Add Cult of Mac to your RSS client to get the very best in Apple news, reviews, tips and deals. Follow Everything D. Griffin Jones on Twitter for all of my work.
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How to Mark Favorites in Apple Music
Why? No reason. Literally.Dec 15, 2022
This How To article was rejected by the Cult of Mac editors because it offers no useful or actionable advice and ends as a frustrated rant. Enjoy.
Apple single-handedly dragged the music industry into the 21st century kicking and screaming. The iTunes Music Store completely changed the way people downloaded music… legally, at least. The iPod pushed music into people’s pockets. And since then? Apple Music has fumbled along as a barely viable product that has confused people from its launch to this very day. iOS 16 brings a coveted new feature to the Music app: the ability to mark an artist as a favorite.
If you have a big music library, you might have hundreds of albums and dozens of artists or more. And if you’re anything like me, you listen to a small handful of the same albums 80% of the time. Quicker access to your top artists would be great… if it worked properly.
Read on to see how this broken feature barely works in any capacity and would hardly provide any utility in the off-chance that it did.
Star your favorite bands in Apple Music
To mark an artist as a favorite, open Music.
- From the For You or Listen Now tabs, you can tap on any album and tap on their name under the album title.
- Alternatively, from the Library tab, you can also tap Artists, tap on their name and tap See More by…
- Or, just search by their name in the Search tab.
From the artist page, just tap the star in the top right. Tap the star again to unfavorite them. It’s that simple.
Now, you might wonder — what does marking an artist as a favorite do? I have no idea. As far as I can tell, this does absolutely nothing. This is simply baffling.
According to Apple’s official support documentation, marking a favorite artist adds them to a list you can see on the Listen Now tab. If this is supposed to be a convenient way to access the artists you listen to most, this is far from it because I can’t find it anywhere. I’ve quit the app, I’ve restarted my phone, I’ve scrolled top-to-bottom on that page countless times and I can’t see it.
There is a prominent tile labeled “Favorites Mix,” but this is not the same thing. This is a generated playlist that for me includes a bunch of random songs that are not by my favorite artists. And double checking to make sure is a big pain, because as I mention, there’s nowhere you can see all of your favorites listed. A significant portion of these songs I have rarely ever played.
Even if it is there, it’s evidently so much harder to find than simply going to the Library tab that I will continue to exclusively use the Library tab.
But hey, we can karaoke.
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The Canonical List of All-In-One Macs
Dec 1, 2022
The all-in-one computer has been a staple of the Mac since its inception.
It was the only form factor available until the Macintosh II debuted in 1987. The Macintosh then grew into a large family of (arguably too many) different models — but at any point in time, Apple has offered an all-in-one Mac as a simple home computer for the average consumer.
Here’s the definitive continuity:
- The Macintosh
- The Macintosh 512K
- The Macintosh Plus
- The Macintosh SE and SE/30
- The Macintosh Classic and Classic II
- The Macintosh Color Classic and Color Classic II
- The Macintosh LC 500
- The Power Macintosh 5200, 5400 and 5500
- The iMac G3
- The iMac G4
- The iMac G5
- The Intel iMac
- The Aluminum iMac
- The Unibody iMac
- The Slim iMac
- The Retina iMac
- The Apple Silicon iMac
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Apple’s ‘Take Note’ Announcements
Oct 21, 2022 • Apple Event
Don’t call it an Apple Event. It was a day of unprompted product announcements via press release! We haven’t had one of these since I started writing up summaries for Extra Ordinary. (I didn’t think about that when I made the ‘Apple Event’ tag for these articles. No ragrets.)
No Mac news today — you can read my attempt to manifest the Mac mini I want into existence at Cult of Mac.
Apple TV 4K
The headline feature here is that the prices are significantly lowered. The base model goes from $179 to $129. The upgraded model goes from $199 to $149. The old HD model goes from $149 to discontinued.
The second best feature is that the Siri Remote switches to USB-C. With the European Union inching ever closer to requiring USB-C by 2024, this to me is an indicator that Apple won’t push back. This is an inconsequential peripheral that Apple is switching to the USB-C train far ahead of time.
Storage options also doubled.
It also features HDR10+ and Dolby Atmos — great features for everyone out there who has a really expensive TV with these premium features but bad enough built-in software that someone would want to spend another $129 on an Apple TV. All twelve of them.
Even though I only rated the second generation Apple TV 4K three out of five stars, it is by far the best TV operating system and interface. This market is crowded with terrible products.
Since 2017, the bottom of the iPad line has been held down by the no-adjective iPad at $329. The formula is not unlike the iPhone SE or Apple Watch SE: piece together the cheapest parts from the bin without skimping out on the chip. It uses the original iPad Air-shaped case, a cheap rectangular display, a Home Button and a one- or two-year old A-series chip.
They were able to pull that off four years in a row without raising the price while dripping in new features: support for the first-generation Apple Pencil, the Smart Connector, True Tone and Center Stage.
This was the fleet vehicle iPad if you just want a big iOS canvas and you don’t need any fancy features. The iPad Air bridged the gap with a modern design and modern features; the iPad mini was brought in sync as a smaller size of the Air; the iPad Pro represented the top of the line with all the latest tech for people who get their daily work done on an iPad.
It was only a matter of time before the basic iPad moved on to the small-bezel design, ditching the Home Button and getting its flat-sides makeover. Apple prioritized the wrong features and jumped the gun to get it there.
Sure, it has the modern square design. But the chief benefit of that is compatibility with the second-generation Apple Pencil, which snaps on magnetically and stays permanently charged. Keep it there whenever you’re not using it and you’ll forget it even has a battery inside. With the first-generation Apple Pencil, not only do you not have a place to keep it — not only do you need to plug it into the iPad to charge it — but the iPad doesn’t have a Lightning port, so you need to first plug it into an adapter, then into the USB-C cable dangling off of your iPad.
Sure, it has virtually the same dimensions as the iPad Air, but it isn’t compatible with the same attachable keyboard and trackpad accessory. It needs a completely different one with an extremely confusing name.
These could be forgiven if they were necessary tradeoffs in order to maintain the $329 price point. But they aren’t. The previous iPad 9 is still for sale at $329; the new iPad 10 is priced at $449. If they were willing to raise the price anyways, why not support the good Apple Pencil?
Yes, those components cost money. The original Apple Pencil does not require any hardware in the device itself; the second generation requires magnets and an internal charging component. Why not raise the price a little more? They have already lost on keeping it as the cheapest $329 iPad; selling it at $459 instead of $449 will hardly lose any additional sales, and users get this instead of this.
The new 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models have a drop-in upgrade to the M2. You can use that extra power by crashing Stage Manager up to 15% faster than M1.
The smaller one does not get the mini-LED display of the bigger one and neither of them get the horizontally-mounted camera of the iPad 10.
Today’s iPad announcements introduce more exceptions and asterisks to an iPad lineup that is dangerously close to boiling over.
Apple AR/VR Headset
Mission failed, we’ll get ’em next time.
Email • Twitter
What’s in a Mac app?
That which we call an app by any other operating system…Oct 7, 2022
Why do Mac users care so much about consistency? Jack Wellborn, for Worms and Viruses:
iOS and Android apps always run in full screen. iPadOS apps mostly run in full screen. Even many Windows apps typically run in full screen. Most Mac apps, on the other hand, are typically windowed and expected to share the desktop with other windowed apps.
When surface area is high, the role of the operating system shifts […] to providing a cohesive user experience for all apps.
‘Surface area’ is a great turn of phrase that instantly clarifies Wellborn’s theory. I can believe this as a contributing factor, but I don’t think it’s the full story.
You rarely hear Windows users complain about programs not being “Windows-like”, and there isn’t really any fervent calls for “iOS-like” or “Android-like” apps either, but “Mac-like” (or Mac-assed, if you prefer) is something that exists.
Proof by counter-example: iOS-like apps are definitely a thing.
iOS has a strong convention towards bottom tab bar navigation; each tab can have its own view stack that you can swipe backwards to navigate. Android has long pushed towards “hamburger menu” navigation and the system back button. Apps that reverse that feel very much out of place and ordinary people do notice.
Take Apollo versus Reddit, Aviary versus Twitter, Overcast versus Spotify. Three indie apps that are broadly praised for their respect of the iOS platform versus three apps that are widely panned for breaking its conventions.
Let’s go deeper
There’s an underlying question worth exploring. Why do I feel compelled to maximize everything in Windows, yet cram as many things as I can fit at once on my Mac? I think it comes down to three forces inflicted by the design of each operating system:
Windows has a prominent Maximize button on every window. The Mac, throughout most of its life, used the same button to fit the window to the exact size of its content.
Most Windows programs assign a single window to a single program. This technical limitation had already come back to bite them by Windows 3, where they introduced the window-within-a-window. This lived on for over 20 years in Microsoft Office. The Mac has always separated windows from apps; this pushed people towards the pattern of opening many files across many different windows.
The Windows taskbar was introduced as an omnipresent interface that organized every open window, allowing people to switch between full-screen experiences with a single click. The most comparable interface element of the Mac, the Dock (and the MultiFinder menu that preceded it), is organized by app. Mac OS didn’t have a user interface for picking a specific window amongst every open window until Mission Control in 2011. But if you can see both windows at once, they’re only a single click away.
All of these forces push people towards maximizing everything in Windows and cramming apps side-by-side in macOS.
While some of these forces are no longer present — the green button on the Mac now toggles fullscreen — momentum is slow. The design paradigm of an operating system has knock-on effects on its developers for years.
Just ask Microsoft.
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Top Ten Silliest File Extensions to Pronounce as Words
Sep 30, 2022 • And More
- IPSW: ip-soo
- PDF: pa-doof
- DMG: dimmage
- EXE: eek-see
- PNG: ping!
- HEIF: heef
- BMP: bimp
- MD: mud
- AIF: afe
- AI: AYYYEEE!
And the honorable mention goes to GUID (gwid).
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Apple’s ‘Far Out’ Event
Sep 10, 2022 • Apple Event
I didn’t have the highest of expectations going into this event. I thought we knew everything — and what we knew was a bit boring. But as Jason Snell pointed out, maybe we shouldn’t underestimate the most successful company in the world.
Early prerecorded keynote videos had a bit more fun with the flexibility allowed by the format. This keynote significantly cut down on the fun and silly transitions. Maybe Apple thinks it’s all been played out by now.
Tim Cook began the segment by playing a video featuring letters of people whose lives were saved by their Apple Watch. The scenes are reenacted, featuring the actual people in these stories. Apple Watch rescuing people from imminent death is a note they play with alarming frequency (in increasingly morbid ways) but it’s a message worth pushing. This is a great reason to buy an Apple Watch.
Apple Watch Series 8
Tim Cook introduced Jeff Williams who introduced Diedre Caldbeck who introduced Dr. Sumbil Ahmad Desai who introduced the Apple Watch Series 8. The
two big only changes include a temperature sensor for cycle tracking and a high g-force accelerometer to detect if you’ve been in a car crash.
I find it interesting how the rumor mill got the temperature sensor wrong. Rumors indicated that the sensor would be used to detect signs of a fever but it wouldn’t give you an exact temperature. Instead, it is used for women’s health, combining heart rate data to give improved period predictions and retrospective estimates. It isn’t confident enough to record this data in the ‘Body Temperature’ section of the Health app; it adds a new section called ‘Wrist Temperature.’
Car crash detection works similar to fall detection: if your Apple Watch thinks you need help, you have a few seconds to respond in case of a false positive,1 after which the Apple Watch will automatically call emergency services.
Low Power Mode sounds like something that should have come to the Apple Watch sooner, but considering it doubles Apple’s battery estimation from 18 hours to 36 hours, it must be pulling a lot of strings behind the scenes beyond turning off the always-on display and automatic workout detection. Better late than never.
No changes to the colors this year.
Apple Watch SE
It is a well-internalized fact that as much as the Apple community discusses the interesting Macs like the Mac Studio and the 14″ MacBook Pro, a vast majority of Mac sales are of the cheapest MacBook Air. Yet somehow, I was completely blindsided when hearing 80% of new Apple Watch users buy the SE. It makes perfect sense that the pattern would continue, but the Apple Watch SE is such a forgettable product that it slipped my mind entirely.
And you know what? Now, 80% of new Apple Watch users will be buying a great product. The new SE model carries over a lot of features from the Series 8 at a lower price than before.
Best of all, the Series 3 may finally
die in a hole be put to rest.
Apple Watch Ultra
When these schematics leaked earlier this week, I was totally convinced that the weird shape of the body was only part of the story. I thought there was going to be a rubber case around the metal body to finish the look. Why else would the display and the buttons protrude so far? Surely if this is the Apple Watch that has graduated from the school of hard knocks, you wouldn’t want a big protruding part of the body. Those hard corners will get banged up.
It’s a shame their battery test could only get 36 hours in standard use or 60 hours in what might or might not be Lower Power Mode.2 Apple likes to underestimate battery stamina, but not by much. Yes, just a few paragraphs ago I praised the ordinary Apple Watch Series 8 for achieving 36 hours in Low Power Mode, but the Apple Watch Ultra is their turbo-adventure watch. I think future versions will get these numbers up to a comfortable 48 and 72 hours.
A brief note on color is that they now have yet another name for unadorned bare metal. It used to be Silver. Last year gave us Starlight, which is Silver with a pinch of yellow. The Apple Watch Ultra comes in unadorned bare titanium, which is now deemed Natural.
The new watch bands are really cool.
- The Alpine Loop looks like the lovechild between the Leather Loop and the Sport Loop.
- The Trail Loop is like the aforementioned Sport Loop (their fancy name for a Velcro strap) but it can be tightened after you attach it without pulling it all the way off. I’ve stared at this band for a while and I still have no idea how, precisely, that works.
- The Ocean Band looks like it would feel weird on a naked wrist and I really want to try one on.
I continue to agree with John Gruber that the watch band team is probably the most fun team to work on at Apple.
The Apple Watch Ultra has two GPS bands for greater precision. I can’t wait for this to trickle down to other products by the time I need a new phone and/or watch. I’ve noticed on walks along the local bike path that my watch’s estimation on distance traveled can be off by up to about 10%. It’s especially noticeable when my wife and I go together and have very different statistics for the same walk. On a recent road trip that stopped through Philadelphia I was reminded that this phenomenon affected my phone, too, when Apple Maps placed me totally incorrectly along a busy street corner.
A completely new addition to the Apple Watch user interface is an additional button on the left.3 Unlike the crown and side buttons, this button is open for use in apps and configurable by the user. I’m happy for developers but a little scared this will go the way of 3D Touch:
- The left button is invisible to the user interface in the examples Apple has shown so far. If people don’t know what will happen when they push the button, they won’t push the button and will be scared to push the button in the future.
- This is a feature that’s only available on a single model that will probably only constitute 1–4% of Watch models by a year from now, so you can’t add exclusive features to the button. Otherwise, no one else will be able to use it. And if a feature is available through the display to accommodate everyone else, why do you need the button at all?
I hope I’m wrong here. I think another button would be a good addition to the Apple Watch paradigm. A litmus test for the success of this feature will be whether the Series 9 model next year has a left button.
One last note is that under the display lip, there’s a small plastic band that bears strong resemblance to the antenna bands on the iPhone. But the band doesn’t go all the way around, so the display lip isn’t actually fully separated from the body of the watch, ergo this is not an antenna band. Is it to absorb shock from corner impacts? A detail that the iFixit teardown may or may not reveal.
All in all, Apple has finally figured out the Apple Watch. The story of the Apple Watch thus far goes like so: the first few models, the original through Series 3, lacked focus or direction — let’s throw everything at it and see what people like. From the Series 4 onwards they knew that sports, exercise tracking and notification management were their strengths, leaning into each. Now that the flagship product has matured, they feel confident enough to go all in. They created a special watch face for orienteering and a special app for scuba diving.
This is far from a fashion object. They aren’t going to send a solid gold Apple Watch Ultra to Beyoncé.
AirPods Pro (2nd generation)
Apple plays their AirPods updates very well. Whether it’s intentional or not, it seems like new AirPods come out right around when the AirPods sold at launch lose their battery capacity. They give you plenty of good reasons to upgrade, too. People would feel jipped if they had to spend $250 every three years for the same product.
The pressure-sensitive stems are now touch-sensitive, so you can adjust the volume on your AirPods themselves. I’m curious to see how this works on such a short linear distance. Surely shifting your finger a half inch won’t take it from 0 to 100.
A more powerful H2 chip has more brains for audio processing in noise-cancelling mode. Combined with tighter-engineered internal components, outside noise is twice as quiet. ‘Twice’ doesn’t come up very often in a single-generation product update. Transparency mode is smarter, too, filtering out annoying sounds like construction. The H2 chip increases battery life by about 30% — this doesn’t just increase the lifetime of a single charge; this reduces the wear on the battery over time.
The case has some tricks up its sleeve, too. A built-in speaker can play a tone to help you locate it when it’s lost. It has a built-in U1 chip, so it’s basically an AirTag. You can charge it with a Qi charger, MagSafe puck and now, an Apple Watch puck.4 The case has a loop in the side where you can attach a lanyard.
This new charging case is very emblematic of the new design philosophy at Apple. The original AirPods case was a near-perfect white object. If they could have figured out how to charge the original AirPods case on the Apple Watch puck of the time, they would have, just to remove the Lightning connector from the bottom. It didn’t even have a charging light on the outside. Now it has a button on the back, a charging light, speakers, a Lightning connector and a lanyard loop. And Apple doesn’t even bother making their own lanyard. They know that if they did, they would only be made fun of for it.
iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus
Well, here it is. The story of the mini iPhone comes to a tragic end. I’m happily married, but the mini iPhone feels like the one that got away. I ended up with the iPhone 12 Pro because I couldn’t stomach losing the 2× camera lens. In its place is a phone that is neither easy to use in an average human hand nor takes the best pictures, the iPhone 14 Plus. The ‘Plus’ moniker is fitting, since I had similar disdain for my Plus-sized iPhone.
But it’ll make normal people happy and make Apple a kajillion dollars. Add this to the long list of reasons, but still pretty high up there, of why I am not the CEO of Apple.
Deep Fusion, a process that takes several pictures and combines them for capturing the most detail, is now pushed farther up the image processing pipeline in order to keep images brighter and colors more vibrant.
The front-facing camera has long been a weak part of the camera system for its lack of autofocus, but that ends now. It took twelve years, but hey, better late than never (again).
Action mode is a video mode with powerful stabilization, smoothing out the huge bumps and shakes you can get while running. That this is a special mode and not simply enabled every time you shoot video means there are probably some compromises. I’m curious what those are.
In the United States, the iPhone no longer has a SIM tray. They are switching entirely to eSIM. I switched my phone to eSIM a few months ago — it was as easy as pushing a button and waiting a minute. This will significantly curtail the risk of losing your iPhone since thieves can no longer remove the SIM card of a found phone. Without the SIM tray, more room is left over for bigger cameras or batteries.
But this change only comes to U.S. models. So will there just be an empty part of the phone where the SIM tray would have been? There will still be the tangential benefit of being slightly more waterproof, but until carriers all around the world catch up, we won’t truly reap these benefits.
Emergency SOS via satellite might sound simple. Your phone has radios for talking to cell towers; Apple added one that talks to satellites, right? No. Apple thought everything through here. From compressing text messages to developing a system of pre-filled responses for streamlined communication to setting up relay centers fully staffed with specialists — when they say this was a years-long endeavor, I believe them.
But none of this matters if the feature is hard to find. How will it be activated, from the ‘slide to turn off your iPhone’ screen? Apple is at risk of crowding that screen with options. Maybe it’ll only appear when your phone is out of cell service. Read more in my upcoming story for Cult of Mac where I strand myself in the desert.
iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max
The Dynamic Island is a great feature that is hard to put into words. So here goes: The sensor area has been redesigned, placing the proximity sensor underneath the display, so what was a notch jutting out from the top is now a lozenge cutout floating in the middle. Notifications and ongoing background activities playfully interact with this space, which grows and shrinks. Now, even in the passive state, the sensor area doesn’t feel like missing space, it feels like it’s just waiting for something to happen.
Here’s the word ‘twice’ again. The new display on the iPhone 14 Pro models is twice as bright, up to 2,000 nits. That’s far from the biggest story of the display, but an improvement like that deserves time under the sun, so it makes sense why Apple put this ahead of everything else. Time will tell if it’ll actually be able to hold that level of brightness without shooting back down to half power from the heat that is typically associated with bright sunlight.
Everyone knew this was coming, so here it is: the always-on display. The ProMotion variable display controller of the iPhone 13 couldn’t get down to 1 Hz. Apple deems this necessary so that the always-on display doesn’t drain so much battery life. Surprising to most (but not all) people, your Lock Screen background stays on, too, so you can always see your dog or your kid. A detail found on the website that wasn’t in the keynote: the always-on display is always off when it’s in your pocket.
The A16 Bionic chip uses a new 4 nm process. They’ve lapped Qualcomm four times now, who are still trying to catch up to the A13 from 2019. 50% more memory bandwidth in the GPU won’t go unnoticed, either.
The iPhone 14 Pro models get all the camera improvements above, but wait, there’s more!
The main camera now has a 48 MP quad-pixel sensor that lets in four times more light. It’s 65% larger. Does that mean that you can finally take the horrible impressionist painting pictures like the Galaxy S20? No, it puts it to better use, combining nearby pixels to significantly reduce noise and double low-light performance. You can get better, clearer pictures without switching to Night Mode.
Last year, when Apple switched the telephoto lens from 2× to 3×, I wrote that it was “less practical for day-to-day photography.” It’s too much zoom for taking portraits but not enough zoom if there’s something very far away. Well, since the new camera sensor has four times the resolution, you get the best of both worlds. Apple can crop in the sensor to get back the 2× zoom, still at full resolution.
The ultra wide camera has the hardest job for capturing such a wide field of view, so a 3× improvement in low light performance is certainly welcome.
The iPhone 14 Pro brings the first change to the LED camera flash in a long time, switching from four to nine LEDs. Not that you’ll really need it, what with all of the improvements to low light in every camera.
Most impressive of all, the prices are the same as last year. All across the board. In fact, the Apple Watch SE is cheaper than before.
Apple AR/VR Headset
Mission failed, we’ll get ’em next time.
- I imagine it will be much harder to get a false positive car crash than a false positive fall. ↩
- Apple is weirdly vague on what the name of this feature is for this particular model. ↩
- Called by Graham Bower before it was even rumored. In Connected parlance, that’s a correct Risky Pick! ↩
- The only technology from AirPower that will ever ship. ↩
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What’s Next for Photos.app
Aug 31, 2022
I am still reveling the delight of iCloud Shared Photo Library, new to iOS 16 and macOS Ventura. No more AirDropping my wife pictures from a weekend outing. No more digging for a specific picture only to find out later it was in her library all along.
But there’s still much to be done. As I spend many hours curating my photo library, here are the remaining features on my wishlist.
Easier face tagging
I tag the faces of friends and family members extensively. Not only can I find a specific picture remarkably fast if I know everyone who’s in it, but seeing albums of specific people over the years is a really touching way to connect with the photos I have.
This is an old feature of iPhoto — long before iCloud Photo Library of any kind, long before the modern Photos.app launched in OS X Yosemite.1 Apple ran ads on this feature back in 2009.
A feature of iPhoto that was lost in the switch to Photos was a particular view that let you see every face in your photo library that was untagged and/or unnamed. As it stands, you can still tag faces, search by faces and see every tagged face — but you can’t see every untagged face. For all I know, there could be a great picture of a close friend in my library that’s lost in the mix because it isn’t tagged.
Photos can detect dogs in pictures. You can even search ‘dog’ and see every picture of every dog in all your pictures. It can even detect specific breeds and provide lookup information.
I would love for them to take this one step further and allow me to tag a dog just like I can tag a friend.2 Hell, my dogs are more important to me than most of my friends. Using the search field is far from an exact science — there are a lot of pictures that aren’t correctly classified — so tagging animals would give me a place where I can quickly find every picture of a particular animal.
A fantastic feature is visual search. I can search for ‘computer’ or ‘car’ and get hundreds of results, even the weird ones that hardly resemble computers or cars at all.
Sometimes, a raccoon will appear in a search for a cat, a store will appear in a search for a house or a tripod will appear in a search for a chair. Artificial intelligence is closer to hardly functional than hardly perfect.
I would love to help train the model. Let me long-press on a picture in a search field and reclassify it. This interface already exists for people — if my phone thinks a picture of me is a picture of my brother, I can long-press on it and either change the name or tap “Not this person.”
I would spend even more time happily cleaning up my photo library with any one of these features… maybe it’s a good thing I don’t have it yet.
- Photos.app did not ship with OS X Yosemite — it was delayed until the following March. This sort of off-cycle release of a major feature is commonplace now. Pointer support came with iPadOS 13.4 in March; Unlock iPhone with Apple Watch came with iOS 14.5 in April; Universal Control came with iOS 15.4 in March. But the time, it was considered unusual. ↩
- This was never an official feature, but there was a workaround allowed in iPhoto that Apple later shut the door on in Photos.app. In iPhoto, you could manually add a tag anywhere in a picture. You could simply add a tag on a cat or dog, and with enough consistency, it would automatically detect the animal in other pictures. ↩
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