Archive for Geek Stuff

End Of The Line?

Invitation to the One week from today Apple will hold its probably-last-ever product event at the Infinite Loop campus. By the time the traditional March event rolls around the company will have moved to the new mothership and their swanky new auditorium. 

There isn’t any real mystery as to what next week’s event is all about … this is a refresh across the board of the Macintosh line-up.  Most people will be debating which models will get facelifts and/or speed bumps (I’m pretty sure it will be the iMac on the desktop side and both the MacBook and the MacBook Pro in the portable space) but there is a much better question hanging in the air:  Is this is the end of the line for the MacBook Air?

The signs, I think, point to yes. The new MacBook is every bit as light as the Air, and the Air is really starting to suffer from the lack or a Retina display. A lot of people use their laptop screen as their only household display – they work on it, they watch their shows on it, they play their games on it, they talk to their friends and family on it. When you use a screen all day every day quality becomes paramount.  Once you’ve used the Retina display you really don’t want to go back to anything less, and that alone leaves the Air in a rather awkward space. Add to that it’s position outside the traditional 2 x 2 Apple product grid and I think the writing is on the wall. 

I’ll miss the Air … but I think it’s become a bit of an orphan so maybe this is for the best. We’ll know in a week. 

Shitstorm Wednesday

Things to remember when the inevitable shitstorm breaks this afternoon:

The Analog Audio Jack Is Old And Stupid: Old with a capital “O”. This is literally (yes, literally) the same technology Marconi used. People are going to wail and moan, but these are the same people who wailed and moaned when the serial port and the floppy drive was missing from the iMac. Serial ports were old and stupid. Floppy discs were old and stupid and unreliable. Analog audio jacks are old, stupid, unreliable, and they let water into the device. Fail. The wailing and moaning shouldn’t be about the fact that the thing will be gone, the wailing and moaning should be why it took this long to get rid of the damn thing.

Cords Suck: Cords for earbuds suck even worse. The removal of the audio jack isn’t to get people to plug into the lightning port or to make them buy dongles, it’s to get them to stop plugging in at all. Which is why the new iPhone will come with “good enough” bluetooth earbuds in the box. It’s not about a different plug – it’s about no plug.

Megapixels Don’t Equal Quality: More pixels doesn’t make for a better image – processors, lenses, sensors, and software does. Anyone who complains that other phones have cameras with more pixels is simply advertising to you that they don’t really understand digital photography. Image quality counts. Bigger numbers are just for companies that are more marketing than innovation.

WatchOS 3 Really Does Make The Apple Watch A Whole New Device: There is no technology bump – yet – that justifies a new form factor or outright hardware version of the Apple Watch. But there is software that makes the current one less of a specialty item and more of a digital triage device for the masses. New Apple Watch next year – newly usable Apple Watch this year.

New Macbook Pro Models Are Coming: Wait for it.

The Best Mobile Safari Tip You Will Get This Week

Unless you live in some sort of odd 1998 time bubble, or are inexplicably using Internet Explorer for something other than demonstration how not to write a browser, you probably use browser tabs pretty much all the time. Listen: As positive developments go, browser tabs are right up there with sliced pizza and the polio vaccine.

Being a clever tab user you are probably also familiar with – and beholding to – the “Undo Close Tab” function. As an extension to that familiarity you have probably cursed out Mobile Safari more than a few times for not having the same function. Sure, you can bring up your history and swipe down to the tab you just closed, and hope like hell you didn’t open it three days ago because now it is about 1,437 items down the list, and … stop. Just stop. Calm down. Mobile Safari does have a “reopen closed tabs” function; you just haven’t found it yet.

Let’s do some finding.

First, tap on the “Show Tabs” icon at the bottom of the screen:
Mobile Safari - Show Tabs Button

Then tap and hold the “New Tab” icon at the bottom of the tabs view screen:
Mobile Safari - New Tab Button

Zut alors! C’est magnifique! Fermer la porte! All of your recently closed tabs, ready for tapping.
Mobile Safari - List Of Closed Tabs

Life, as the kids say, is good. You’re welcome.

Coming Soon To The App Store!

SilentSurfr is a different kind of content blocker. It’s doesn’t block ads … instead it blocks the trackers, beacons, and other behind-the-page chicanery that some publishers depend on to monetize their ads at the expense of their readers’ privacy.

SilentSurfr Screenshot

Keep yourself safe from data harvesting, lower your page load times and your mobile data usage, and support publishers and writers that treat you with respect … all for a single low (and one time only) price. No add-ons, no in-app purchases, no subscriptions.

Coming soon …

The Best iCloud Tip You Will Get This Week

If you have multiple devices using iOS and OS X you are probably at least passingly familiar with iCloud Drive. For the most part, it’s entirely seamless – especially from the iOS side, where you don’t even have to think about the thing at all. Open an app, and voila! The list of all the comparable files on your iCloud Drive is there and waiting for you. Save a file, and (at the rest of sounding repetitive) voila! The file is automagically saved to iCloud Drive, no muss, no fuss, no wondering if you put it in the right spot.

Sometimes, however, automagically is not exactly what you want. Once in a great while you might find yourself wanting to be able to take a quick look at the stuff stashed away on your iCloud Drive – figure out if you have a file without opening the associated app, rename files to help keep things obvious with a collaborator, share a file, whatever. If you are sitting at a desktop you can just point your browser to iCloud.com and off you go. But if you are on mobile … are you pooched?

No, of course not. There is a not-overly-secret but also not-entirely-obvious switch in your iOS settings that will reveal the hidden iCloud Drive folder that sits on all of on your iOS devices. It’s three simple steps and totally painless. Ready? Let’s begin.

One: Go to your iOS settings and tap on “iCloud” – it’s in the section below the items that run from “General” to “Privacy”. You will be presented with this screen:
iCloud Settings Screen On iOS
Two: Tap on “iCloud Drive” and you will see a screen like this. Flip the switch labelled “Show on Home Screen” to on:
iCloud Drive Settings Screen
(NOTE: Obviously the master iCloud Drive switch at the top of this screen needs to be set to on as well. I probably don’t have to tell you this.)

Three: That’s it. Done. Return to your home screen(s) and your will see the iCloud Drive icon – it looks like this:
iCloud Drive on iOS Screen
Tap it, and there are all your cloud files, arranged by application. From here you can long-press on any item in a folder to bring up a menu of file operations, or “pop” them with force-touch to see a preview:
iCloud Drive File List
Done and done. Amaze your friends. Boost your productivity. Be cool.

Aerial – A Ridiculously Awesome Open Source Screen Saver

San Francisco Daytime Flyover From Apple TVYou may be aware that the latest generation of Apple TV went on sale yesterday. You may also be aware that the new box features some absolutely eye-popping screen savers – slow-motion hi-def flyovers of locations from around the globe, tuned to your current time of day.

What you might not be particularly aware of is the work of an exceptionally talented Swift programmer named John Coates who has crafted an OS X screensaver that brings these exact same flyovers to your computer desktop. Aerial is free, completely open source, and ready for your downloading pleasure right now. If you have one of the new 4K iMacs, this will blow your mind. If you have any other machine, well, it will still blow your mind, just not as much.

Those 4K iMacs are the bomb.

A couple of notes:

This is written in Swift, so you have to be running at least OS X Mavericks to enjoy it.

It is truly open source so you can use it to learn a little bit about Swift, or – if you are already a Swift guru – you can help contribute to or collaborate on the project.

If you aren’t familiar with GitHub and the downloading and building process here is an easy shortcut: Scroll down on John’s page to the section headed “Download” and then click on the link where it says “Download from GitHub”. Then just unzip the downloaded file, double-click on the file called “Aerial.saver” and allow OS X to install it. After that you can use it like any other OS X screen saver.

Finally, if you are planning on selecting only a few of the choices and would like to see a large (and gorgeous!) preview of all of the different locations and times, head over to Benjamin Mayo’s page for a complete set of views and browse away.

One Tiny Thing About Blackberry

It was almost three years ago that the fine folks in Waterloo decided to open up the Blackberry Messenger platform to other mobile OS players. At the time I wondered what the possible business model was going to be once the dust settled. There were three more-or-less realistic ideas on the table, none of them particularly enticing but at least legitimate possibilities.

Extortive offer to rid BBM of annoying ads.Well. Talk about blindsided … the real answer is “none of the above”, a.k.a. junking up the user experience with ads and then trying to extort users to pay a monthly fee to get rid of them. This is usually the playground of skeezy copy-and-paste game publishers, not legitimate and established technology companies.

It’s unseeming at best. Amateurish at worst. And downright embarrassing either way.

Ugh.

It’s An iPad. And It’s Gigantic. “Pro”, In Fact

Wow. I was so wrong. So staggeringly wrong. Like Tim set out to personally make sure I was the wrongest wrong person ever.

Giant iPad Pro Of Doom

Sheesh.

That iPhone 6S Camera Thing

Yesterday I oh-so-casually mentioned in passing that – as with previous “S” models” – one of the biggest upgrades would be to the camera and imaging system. So big, in fact, that the new camera would really need it’s own posting to do it justice.

Oh, look, a camera post. What were the chances?

So – in no particular order, here’s what the newest generation iPhones will have for the camera geeks in the crowd:

A bigger imaging element. Yay. What this should mean is an increase in low-light sensitivity. One of the longstanding flaws in the iPhone cameras, almost since the word go, is poor (ie: completely terrible) low-light performance. If Apple was smart they would use this new real estate on the imaging element to correct this. However, it looks like the marketing droids got their way and instead it will be wasted on More Megapixels. Sad, really … for anyone with a brain “9 megapixels and awesome low-light performance” is much more enticing than “12 megapixels”. Marketing and brains are concepts that rarely intersect.

4K video. Okay, maybe that new imaging slab isn’t being completely wasted. Combined with the newest A9 processor, it will put legit 4K video – none of this upsampled tomfoolery – in your pocket. That’s pretty swank.

Siri learns that she has a camera. Yep. Siri gets eyes to go with her ears. Will it be as prosaic as “hey, take a picture” or will it be as awesome as “watch this area and tell me when the dog pees on the couch”? I’m guessing the former. I want the latter.

Faster burst mode. That new processing power means that bursts can be even more bursty.

Slower slo-mo. That new processing power means that slow-mo can be even more, er, slowy.

Awesome new editing and production tools. Did I mention that there is a host of new processing power here? I did? Good. You do the math on this one.

Force touch camera integration. Force touch comes to the iOS family this year. Force touch has all sorts of awesome possibilities for camera control … everything from force-press to shortcut to the camera app to force-press to control focus/exposure/what-have-you. Expect to see all of it here.

Printing comes back. Okay, it’s not part of the camera per se, but you can expect to see Apple get back into some sort of photo printing integration. Specifically, the “printing big-ass enlargements on canvas and the like to hang on your wall” … if nothing else, all those Shiny New Megapixels will give some pretty stunning large-format printing options.

There you go. Justice, done. Bring on the megapixels.

September 9th Media Event – Here’s Your Hint

September 8th results from asking Siri to "give us a hint". It's binary code for the ASCII letters that spell out "Gotcha"Tick tock. Time passes, and September 9th is nigh upon us. That means “tomorrow” for you less-prosaic types. Siri is still being entirely stubborn and refusing to give any sort decent hint so – once again – it is left up to me to provide you with a sneak peek at what’s going down at the annual iPhone media event. Casually drop some of these little gems at the water cooler today, and your assorted cronies will think you are a genius tomorrow. You should be able to parlay that into at least a free coffee, and maybe a muffin too … use your powers wisely.

What’s we will be seeing tomorrow:

New iPhones – Say hello to the 6S and the 6S Plus. Like most of the “S” generations, this is mostly a performance and refinement update and – as always – is aimed at people who have hardware from three years ago … in this case the owners of the 5 and 5c. The new hardware will look pretty much exactly like the existing 6 and 6 Plus, albeit with a slightly thicker metal case to deal with handful of morons who think it is a good idea to put a thin aluminum object in their back pocket and then sit on it for three or four hours. What’s inside, however, gets some serious love. The processor is the latest of the A9 family and gives a significant performance boost. Most of that boost will be aimed at improving the camera – so many improvements, in fact, that the “6S as a camera” probably deserves a post all on it’s own. Battery life is a tad better, memory management is more efficient, and the networking hardware gets a semi-overdue overhaul. More interestingly for average users, force-touch and the taptic engine, both cornerstones of the Watch experience, come to the iOS family for the first time. And the screen remains beautiful, untainted by the garish “colours” and horrid saturation issues of OLED. Whew.

iOS 9 – No real guessing games here, since this was announced months ago and everyone already knows the release date. The betas have been out and in testing for almost as long, so everyone knows what’s under the hood as well. The one big thing of note is that Mobile Safari will now accept plug-ins, including potential ad-blockers. You will hear a lot of hue and cry about this, on both sides of the coin, but the fact is that advertisers and publishers have brought this upon themselves. It’s not the ads that people hate, its the poisoned browsing experience caused by all of the monkey business attached to the delivery of those ads. Good riddance.

OS X “El Capitan” – Again, not any actual precognitive powers needed. We’ve had the release date and all the details for quite some time. Most of what is going on here is a “Snow Leopard” under-the-hood kind of update – adding the Metal graphics framework from iOS, a long-list of kernel tweaks for both security and stability, and a bunch of network performance boosts – but there are a couple of notable UI things that are worth mentioning. First, a big change in window and workspace management. You can continue to use and arrange windows the way you always have, or you can start pinning windows to screen-edge lockpoints and work in what is essentially a split-screen mode. Second, the way that virtual desktops are used and managed has been completely overhauled. If you have giving a glance to “Spaces” in the past and decided it wasn’t worth the effort, you would take a look again now. The whole multiple-desktop experience is suddenly fluid and intuitive instead of kludgy and obtuse. Better, you no longer have to dick around with Mission Control if that’s not your cup of tea … just drag a window to the top of the screen and everything opens up. And third, Spotlight gets some long overdue love. Searches are actually global now with results from your data, the ‘net, and what’s in your apps all sharing a single coherent results pane.

Fonts – This might not get a lot of mention tomorrow, but changes to the standard system fonts are interesting from both “a single computing experience” and “the future of the computing marketplace” standpoints. San Francisco now becomes the default system font for western users on all of the platforms. More intriguingly, a shitload of work has gone into tweaking the Ping Fang and Hiragino Sans system fonts, along with a completely overhauled input method for Chinese and Japanese users. If you were wondering about the location of the big growth markets in the computer world, that should give you a pretty good clue.

WatchOS 2.0 – This is a big fat hairy deal. It’s the first step of untethering the Watch from the phone, and launching it as a full stand-alone platform. There is a long way to go, but this is the start. Until now, the Watch is mostly a “triage” device for the associated phone – it keeps your phone in your pocket and your mind on whatever you are really doing, not constantly dealing with personal information flow. For a lot of people, this is already good enough, and that’s fine. But for the future of actual wearable computing, this is an exciting bit of new ground. Also, it probably means that Ned Yost can no longer wear his Watch in the dugout.

Other Watch Bits – Certainly a couple of new cosmetic options for the Xmas buying season – bracelets and bands, mostly, along with a new finish. Also, a raft of new things – cars, home integration devices, services, companies – that will directly support the Watch. Just shiny fluff, mostly.

AppleTV – And, finally, the star of the show. This was supposed to be shown at WWDC and was pulled at the last minute. A lot of people thought that it was because their much-talked-about content deals with the big networks had fallen through. A lot of people were wrong. The next-gen AppleTV was pulled because the interface just wasn’t good enough to pass muster at that time. Apple isn’t worried about the content deals yet … in their mind, that is putting the cart before the horse. What was being sweated was polishing the interface to the point where it stops being a semi-decent media hub and starts being a whole-house touchstone for, well, everything. Apps, games, media, your data libraries … the end-game here is to start the ball rolling on the same sort of infrastructure giant that the iOS family has become. Once you have that sort of mass, the content deals come to you, and not vice versa. It makes sense, and with the new device being rebuilt from the ground up to be interacted with instead of just a dumb pass-through device the strategy has a real shot. The new OS is much more “iOS” than “set top box”, integrates Siri for the first time, and it’s easily the best interface for this sort of device ever. Period. Finis. The wildcard here is the controller – a “smart” controller that does duty as a remote, a navigation tool, and a gaming device. How does that work? Who knows? This is the one deep dark secret that nobody seems to have any dirt on … or if they do, they ain’t talking. How this all comes together is probably going to be the most interesting part of the whole show. Well, that and the tech media’s reaction to the fact that the new device at $199 is going to be at least twice the price of any previous AppleTV release. Horror! Scandal! Shock! Whatever.

What we won’t be seeing tomorrow:

Any sort of iPad announcement. Get a grip, people … that’s an October thing.