Refreshed software at the upcoming Mac event

I don’t think it’s a stretch to call today’s Town Hall event the ‘Mac event’ considering all the leaks and the ‘hello, again’ wording on the press invites. But among all the talk about new Macs, somewhere, there are hints at refreshed (Pro) software being announced at the event too. First, a tweet from Mark Gurman:

A Final Cut Pro website was invited to next week’s Apple event. So yes, a big day for video editors.

And second, from Luca Maestri–Apple’s CFO–during the quarterly earnings report (emphasis mine):

[…]and we’ll have some exciting news to share with current and future Mac owners very soon.

Pro software running on a refreshed MacBook Pro would speak to the power of the new hardware but it would be a complete package—so to speak—when running on new pro hardware; draw your inferences.

(Luca’s comment on sharing exciting news with current Mac owners may also be interpreted as, new Macs make for a great upgrade.)

On a side-note: The leaks of the MacBook Pro from MacRumours’ images—if accurate—have the same ‘MacBook Pro’ label below the screen, facing you, as on the Retina MacBook. I find that label very displeasing.

CORRECTION: Luca Maestri, not Tim Cook as I previously stated, made the comment on exciting news for Mac owners.

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Third replacement Note 7 catches fire this week

Jordan Golson, The Verge:

Another replacement Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has caught fire, bringing the total to three this week alone. This one was owned by Michael Klering of Nicholasville, Kentucky. He told WKYT that he woke up at 4AM to find his bedroom filled with smoke and his phone on fire.

Making fun of Samsung when their first batch of phones were catching fire seemed wrong. This problem could’ve struck any company—although Samsung possibly backed themselves into this position because of a rushed release, wanting to capitalise on a ‘dull iPhone’—so it isn’t fair to add salt to the injury. But Samsung turning a blind eye towards the replacement Note 7s is inexcusable. It’s reached to a point where American carriers are taking matters into their own hands.

Additionally, I feel like there must be other cases around the world where Note 7s caught fire; they’re just going unreported.

I haven’t seen a single Note 7 advertisement here in India. The two people I know who’ve been on a a flight recently told me their respective airlines asked all passengers to turn off their Note 7s.

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Assorted thoughts on the Airpods

Much ado has been made about Apple’s Airpods and all of it can be summed up under two broad categories: Form and function, and pricing.

Here’s my thoughts on the Airpods filed under the same groups.

Form and function

  • A lot of people complain about the lack of playback controls on the Airpods—a play/pause trigger, at the very least. I probably would too since it’s just one action that is used to simply toggle state (play if paused, pause if playing) so it seems like a trivial demand. All you can do though is double-tap to trigger Siri.
    Maybe Apple adds play/pause to the Airpods in the future (I have my reservations) but or now, I wanted to understand Apple’s decision for going with just one action.Let’s work our way backwards:
    a) Tap-and-hold wouldn’t work because the Airpods don’t actually detect a tap the way the iPhone’s screen does. It’s accelerometer picks up on the tap-tap movement to trigger Siri. Surely tap-hold could be implemented, but I doubt it would be as accurate.
    b) You can’t trigger play/pause with a single tap since you’ll end up triggering play/pause whenever you even graze the Airpod (think about the times you adjust an Airpod in your ear).
    c) A triple-tap just seems complicated. Think of how many times you’d be telling someone ‘oh you triggered Siri since you didn’t tap fast enough’. On a device with a single input method (one you can’t even see when it’s in operation), this can get frustrating if it’s reoccurring.
    (At this point, you’re obviously thinking of the button on the wired Earpods. If I call a triple-tap complicated, surely the Earpods’ press-press-press and press-press-hold actions run circles around the Airpods? Yes, but Apple doesn’t need you to be sold on the Earpods the way it does on the Airpods. If you’re frustrated with the button on the Earpods, you pull out your iPhone to complete your task; if you’re frustrated with the Airpods’ tap-tap-slap-whack, you’re might end up getting frustrated and giving up on using Apple’s second wearable platform…and then resorting to using your iPhone anyway).
    d) Why not just include a button on the Airpods? You might as well be asking for the next version of iOS to support Flash.

    Alternatively, a double-tap has a very high rate of detection (given that it’s the only action), Siri can lead you to play/pause anyway—at the expense of some comfort to a user who is accustomed to a dedicated play/pause action and—this is key and the reason I have reservations Apple will add a dedicated action for play/pause—including a play/pause action is archaic. When you see sci-fi movies, you don’t see humans pressing a play button to start playing music, they just bark at the always-listening AI. (Let me throw this out there: I think Apple would remove the tap-tap once the Airpods have sufficient battery to support an always-listening Siri.)

  • If you look back to when the Airpods were just a rumour, one of people’s complaints was that they’d have yet another thing to charge. Again, a valid concern, but what matters then is how Apple helps mitigate that pain-point and I think the Airpods handle the mitigation very well. The genius of the Airpods design is that the intent of ‘putting them away’ implicitly implies the Airpods are being charged, since you instinctively reach out to put them back in the case (where they start charging). People listening at long stretches—in a flight, let’s say—aren’t inclined to take their Airpods off frequently but day-to-day usage won’t have you listening to more than 3-4 hours at a stretch. People often listen to their audio-content in breaks. When you’re done, you are inclined to want to keep them back in the case owing to their miniature size. Additionally, you can charge the Airpods’ case while listening to your audio-content. The Airpods are inclined to reduce low-battery grievances design.
  • Owning yet another accessory that you have to charge is added burden whichever way you put it. But knowing that all of them charge via. a single cable cushions the pain a bit. I carry my Mac, my iPhone, and an old pair of Bluetooth headphones to work every day; the headphones require me to carry a micro-USB cable along with the iPhone’s Lightning cable. If I used Airpods, I’d leave yet another wire behind.
  • You’ve heard by now that iOS 10 extends the system to various parts of the OS and third parties can take advantage of that. With Airpods (and the Watch, previously) they’re doing the same for the iPhone’s concept itself.


  • $159 is expensive territory for headphones—let’s just get that out of the way. But I think the percieved expensiveness is driven by the fact that the Airpods are being compared to the wired Earpods they ‘replace’ not to other Bluetooth headphones. Bose’s Bluetooth headphones are considerably more expensive than $159 and what the Airpods lack in sound-quality, they make up for in ease of pairing and—crucially—a better Bluetooth-listening experience. What good are your expensive, awesome-sounding Bose headphones if the connection to your phone is flaky and unreliable?
  • A lot of people think the Airpods are a money grab. I think if that were Apple’s goal, they would’ve tied them in with some form of exclusivity with the new(er) iPhones. The Airpods run with iPhones launched as old as 2012.
  • Lastly, I agree with a lot of what Gruber says in his recent episodes of The Talk Show. Specifically, that Apple is selling the Airpods at a bare-minimum profit margin. I think Apple would have really loved to ship the Airpods in the box but they can’t because the production cost is considerably high. You can’t preach the ‘wireless is the future’ message and include wired headphones with your flagship product; and you can bet Apple knows that.

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Realm announces realtime syncing

The RealmTeam:

Today, we’re launching the Realm Mobile Platform, a new offering that integrates our fully open-source (see below!) client-side database for iOS and Android with new server-side technology providing realtime synchronization, conflict resolution, and reactive event handling. The new platform makes it easy for mobile developers to create apps with difficult-to-build features like realtime collaboration, messaging, offline-first experiences, and more.

Our Android developer and I run our company’s apps on top of Realm’s database1. This is great news for apps that need cross-platform (or simply cross-device) synchronisation.

CloudKit handles storage and sync across multiple iOS devices. From what I’ve understood from Realm’s article, their service only manages the syncing—you give up the storage in going cross-platform. And, as I mentioned in the footnote, Realm is far better at being a simple database than CoreData—at least for a beginner like me.

  1. Look, I’m sure CoreData has tremendous value as you start picking the onion’s layers apart in need of a deeper, precise functionality but Realm is far more manageable for a basic database. ↩︎

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DisplayMate, on the iPhone 7: Best LCD display

Joe Rossignol, MacRumors:

DisplayMate Technologies has declared iPhone 7 has the "best LCD display" it has ever tested, calling it "truly impressive" and a "major upgrade" over the iPhone 6 based on a series of advanced viewing tests and measurements.

Remember the rumours about Apple shifting towards an OLED screen with the iPhone 7? I don’t doubt the idea of Apple choosing and OLED screen in future iPhones (yet another rumour points to Samsung making an OLED display for the 2017 iPhone) because OLED lets the phone’s display blend-in and become ‘one’ with the rest of the phone as it does on Apple Watch — ‘…you can’t determine a boundary between the physical object and the software’. (Probably no more of those ugly black lines around the iPhone’s display either)
It’s fascinating that in all likelihood, Apple’s OLED display is going to be equal to or better than the iPhone 7’s LCD display.

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The iPhone release date in India

Each year new Apple products are featured on the Indian page with a Coming Soon label (or no label at all) alongside1. This time it reads ‘Available 7 October’—for both, iPhone 7 and Watch Series 2 making it the fastest release in India ever. I’d like to take it as a good sign and say it’s a part of Apple’s continued efforts in pushing into India but I don’t think that’s the only reason. I think it’s more so because Apple is able to crank out iPhones faster than before, that they’re getting better at the manufacturing process. (Jet Black iPhones being the exception.)

You still can’t preorder iPhones from Apple online in India since Apple doesn’t sell directly here. Online sellers have had pre-orders in the past but the quickest way to have yourself a new iPhone is by booking it at one of Apple’s partnering stores. I pre-booked my iPhone 6S last year and stood in the line (barely twenty-thirty people, nothing compared to the ones in the West) at midnight. This year, I’ll be doing that for the Apple Watch Series Two.

Interestingly, October 7th is a week off the third quarter. When Apple announces iPhone sales for Q3—if they announce it—those numbers won’t include Indian sales.
(Maybe that works towards Apple’s favour because Indian vendors offer heavy discounts on consumer electronics during Diwali—one of India’s biggest festivals—scheduled this year at the end of October. That is the period, I assume, non-enthusiasts will flock towards considering a purchase.)

  1. I looked through and the iPhone 6S is the only prominent example I could find. The iPad Pro, for example, launched alongside the iPhone 6S and had a ‘Coming Soon’ label along with it. ↩︎

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The potential of a dual-camera system in the iPhone 7 Plus

I’ve been seeing tweets that imply the dual-camera system on the iPhone 7-plus would be great for 3D-photography and possibly add to a VR system at some point in the future. Ever since, I’ve wanted to read more about how the dual-camera system would help usher in 3D and I came across this blog-post by Shutterstock’s CEO Jon Oringer that sheds some light on the matter:

A flat lens right in front of a sensor (like a typical camera phone lens) doesn’t optically produce [Depth Of Field]. Today’s camera phones don’t have the ability to measure distance, so they can’t digitally re-create the DOF drama that a conventional lens does on its own. This next photo is more like one taken with a camera phone: Most of the image is in focus and there is little depth or drama to the image.

Just as our two eyes work together to detect depth, two lenses do the same. By using the disparity of pixels between two lenses, the camera processor can figure out how far away parts of the image are. […]

The magic is how software takes information from the two lenses and processes it into an image. Between the extra data collected from this new hardware, and the advancement of machine vision technology, the new iPhone camera is going to be incredible. Depth of Field is one of the last features necessary to complete the full migration from handheld camera to camera phone. Soon both amateur and professional photographers will only need to carry their mobile devices.

Let me illustrate what I’ve understood with an example: Say there are two poles in front of you, one a foot away and another ten feet away. In a dual-camera system, one camera can approximate the (relative) distance of the pole a foot away from you and the other can do the same for the one that’s ten feet away from you. The first camera (the one that has a shorter focus) focuses on the first pole and so it must be closer, implying the second is farther—verified by the fact that the second camera can easily focus on it.

Now, if you were to place poles between these two poles, each at a distance of one foot from each other, realising how far each pole is is only a question of picking up on how in-focus or out-of-focus that pole is when seen from both cameras. (Allow me to cook up some random, arbitrary numbers here) A pole that is 90% out-of-focus on the first—near-focused—camera and 10% out of focus is the second camera is the second-furthest pole.
In a single-camera system you could only measure the fact that an object is 10% out of focus. Whether that means the object is (the equivalent distance of 10%) further away from you or nearer to you wouldn’t be as easy to determine1. This, in effect, gives you the ability to measure in the third dimension (Length and breadth and now depth).

Again, this is an over-simplified illustration of what I’ve understood. I could be wrong—I’m not very well familiar with the academics of optics. I’d be happy to correct any bit that I got wrong.

(Back in 2011, HTC released a phone called HTC Evo 3D that had a dual-camera system and allowed you to capture a 3D image and view that image on its auto-stereoscopic display. I suppose it was a clunky experience; it never really took off.)

  1. Perhaps you could by calculating the time light takes to bounce off an object—further the distance longer the light takes to reach the camera. I assume this is how the LED-assisted focus systems such as L.G.’s G3 work.
    Also note that Google’s camera app used to figure out the relative distance of objects through a single camera system too but you needed to move the camera around your object as you would for a panorama. ↩︎

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Pictures showcased by the iPhones 7

The new iPhones made a big leap in camera performance this year, as is the case every year. This time, among the feature list is the addition of a DCI-P3 compliant camera and display.

As per custom, Apple showcased some images in their original state to show off the camera’s prowess and I think I noticed some similarities in the photos.

You can go have a look at the photos on Apple’s website. Each photo is, generally, highlighting one of two properties—great photos in low-light and pronounced colour in the image; sometimes even a mixture of the two. But to me the absolute stunning photos are the ones where the colour is rich, there’s a healthy variation and a lot of mix-and-match of it. (Have a look at the image of the fair in this BuzzFeed article too.) I think DCI-P3 is playing a large part here1 and these pictures were taken to leverage the new color space. Perhaps what makes these images look brilliant is the fact that one’s eyes are able to pick up on and distinguish between the various colours in these pictures and in the process appreciate the nuance of colour.

If that is the case, the difference in iPhones 6S and iPhones 7 cameras would be less apparent in a bland shot that doesn’t have a lot of color variations in the image when compared to—let’s say—a photograph of a rich landscape.

I can’t be completely sure about my reasoning of course since I don’t have a side-by-side comparison, I haven’t seen the phones in person, and I am viewing these pictures on a display that doesn’t support DCI-P3 but I am quite confident these pictures were chosen with the new color spec in mind.

  1. Of course there’s a lot of work by the other components in the camera system here–the ISP, the sensors etc. ↩︎

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Kinda Irish but maybe not

The best coverage I’ve seen on Apple’s Irish tax debacle comes (I am restraining myself from using an ‘of course’) from The New Yorker $:

People in the know—there aren’t many—simply call it A.O.I., short for Apple Operations International. And this version of Apple is much harder to pin down; it’s something like a quantum corporation whose very nature depends on who is observing it. A.O.I. is, in one sense, huge, among the largest companies that ever existed, with more than two hundred billion dollars in assets. It is also as small as a company can be, with no physical address and no employees. Phillip Bullock, the head of tax operations for Apple, told a U.S. Senate committee in 2013 that “A.O.I. is incorporated in Ireland; thus, under U.S. law it is not tax resident in the U.S.” That seemed clear enough until his next sentence. “A.O.I. is also not tax resident in Ireland because it does not meet the fact-specific residency requirements of Irish law.” It’s Irish, according to American law; not Irish, according to the Irish. A.O.I., in fact, does not legally exist anywhere, even as it takes in much of the profits from Apple sales outside of the United States.

You should go read the article while it’s still relevant. Come 7th and removing the headphone jack will be the talk of the town.

  • The article may be pay-walled. ↩︎

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Thoughts on the upcoming Apple event on 7th September

Jim Dalrymple, The Loop (via. John Gruber),

Apple on Monday send out an invitation for a special event to be held on September 7 at 10:00 am. This year’s event will be held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, California.

Bill Graham is where Apple introduced the iPad Pro and Apple TV last year.

I’ll be watching this event with a vested interest—I’ve been waiting for the Apple Watch 2 since months. I am buying Watch 2 the day it releases in India.

A lot of products are nearing their refresh cycle this month (assuming a traditional 1-year lifetime). The iPhone and—I still need to cross my fingers just in case—the Apple Watch 2 will be announced at the event. That leaves the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, the Apple TV and the Macs in need for a refresh. Out of the three, the Mac is the oldest of the lot and perhaps even needs a mention. My guess is the new Macs — or at least one, enough to tout the new technical innovations and redesign—would be announced. Maybe something like 2013’s Mac Pro reveal?
This will also, possibly, set the stage for the rumoured 5K Retina display.

I spend my days before an Apple event re-watching all previous Apple events. It’s appetising, somehow. Last year’s September event meant a big deal to me because I’d decided on buying the iPhone 6S as long as it wasn’t a total turd. But the iPhone 6S was an upgrade from my iPhone 5C. This year, the Watch is an entirely new category for me — one that I’ve been looking forward to since a long while. I’m excited! I hope the wait is worth while.

Also: If I were buying an iPhone this year, that dark black/piano black colour is gorgeous.

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Acer’s Predator 21 X announced

Vlad Savov and James Vincent, The Verge:

Acer’s new Predator 21 X is a monster. Not only have this machine’s designers put a curved 21-inch display on a laptop for the first time ever, they’ve also gone and given it two GeForce GTX 1080 GPUs as well. Add in five cooling fans, a 7th-generation Intel Core K-series processor, and space for as much as four terabytes of SSD storage, and you have a laptop that’s beyond obscene.

Unveiling the 21 X at IFA in Berlin today, Acer acknowledges that this laptop is more of a proof of engineering acumen than any sort of “big seller” retail product. Each Predator 21 X will be made to order, starting in January of next year (which is how Acer can advertise today that it will have an Intel CPU that technically hasn’t yet been announced).

No big deal. New Macs will be out by then, am I right?

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Project Ara reportedly cancelled

Sam Byford, The Verge:

Google has “suspended” work on Project Ara, the initiative to build a phone with interchangeable modules for various components like cameras and batteries, according to Reuters and Recode. […]

Although Project Ara has always seemed a dubious commercial prospect, the news is surprising if only because Google made a renewed effort to push the modular concept at its I/O conference earlier this year, promising a developer version for fall and a consumer release for 2017.

Doesn’t surprise me. Google Glass had a better chance of making it than a modular smartphone—arguably the antithesis of why the smartphone is as revolutionary a product as it is.

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A vague prediction on sales of the upcoming iPhone(s)

This year’s slump in iPhone sales has been an extensive talking point. But a lot of people — including me — subscribe to the idea that pent-up demand for the bigger sized iPhones last year caused the unusual rise (and fall) of sales. Essentially, the number of iPhones 6 sold were higher than Apple expected, which could be explained by customers waiting it out for ‘the bigger iPhone Apple releases next year’ in 2013-2014 when Apple announced the iPhone 5S.
Unusually high sales last year meant a comparative slump in sales this year.

I think that is what could happen this year too. People are already talking — quite enthusiastically — about next year’s radically overhauled iPhone. Bloomberg reports next year’s iPhone will do away with the home-button. As I see it, that’s pretty much an existential change, at least in theory.

Combine enthusiasm for 2017’s iPhone with an inkling of a lack thereof for this year’s iPhone (assuming the general public may not take well to a ‘basically same design for the third year’) and — in the case of removing the headphone jack, assuming that happens this year — outright ‘hostility’, and it isn’t tough to see some people wanting to wait for 2017’s iPhone. The narrative may be something like, ‘It’ll be an all-new design and audio accessories will be more widespread’.

I hope this doesn’t happen and I’m sure Apple sees this problem and is going to pitch us an iPhone with multi-dimensional innovations and a story that justifies removing the headphone-port1. But if it does, and customers choose to wait another year for the redesigned iPhone, 2017 will see a lot of graphs pointing up again.

  1. I am of the opinion that most new products announced in September — Watch 2 included — are going to support a proprietary wireless standard. It completely makes sense, solves problems across multiple platforms, and, frankly, it’s about time. ↩︎

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Collect your thoughts

Brent Simmons, Dave Wiskus, and John Gruber that’s the order in which their names appear in Vesper’s credits page — the creators of Vesper.
Brent announced on the day-before-yesterday that Vesper is shutting down.

Vesper was — is, at the time of writing — a note-taking app unlike its peers. In an age of filing and formatting, Vesper made up for lack of bullet-point-worthy features with extensive precision and attention to detail. You noticed this in the typeface, the blend of colours, and the subtle animations that exist simply to facilitate your experience and gently carry you along.

My experience with Vesper wasn’t all sunshine and roses. When I installed the app, I couldn’t create an account and emailing for support wasn’t any help. No account meant no syncing. Vesper just sat there on one of my home-screens, buried — perhaps — in one of my folders.

A month or so later, I gave it a go again. This time I created an account and syncing was enabled. What now? Vesper didn’t support split-screen multi-tasking or formatting etc. so I couldn’t use it to write articles. Apple’s Notes already served as the place where I jotted down scrap information I may need later. Vesper, instead, became a place where I penned abstract thoughts — some idea I had while reflecting on the book I just read, the kind of thoughts that run through your head when you’re gazing at lush green mountains or staring at a starry night sky; thoughts that demanded the use of beautiful typography and gentle retracted care.

Sounds pedantic, but it worked for me. I’ve written only a handful of notes in Vesper and it’s still buried in one of my folders. But every time I open it, I feel nice. That’s the reason Vesper commanded the price it did.

I don’t know why Vesper is ending — John’s complete post-mortem is still pending as I write this article — but I think there’s a clue in Brent’s blog-post. The first few lines read, ’This is the first time I’ve ever shut down an app. In the past I’ve sold my apps…’.

Vesper is probably too close to its creators’ hearts to have it run by another organisation. I know it would be for me, if I’d made it.

On that credits page, all the way at the bottom, is a recipe for a Vesper. Someday I’ll make one for myself — shaken, not stirred — and I’ll make a note about it.

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