Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for January 31st, 2013

The Theoretical iPad Mini With Retina Display

This is a biggie, which is odd, considering it’s a rumour regarding a physically small component of one product called “Mini”, and another that’s just a hobby.

Two days ago, Engadget discovered FCC documents which show a slightly smaller version of the Apple TV dubbed “3,2”. The current Apple TV carries the “3,1” internal moniker, which means that this is a small revision. Aside from the slightly smaller case, Brian Klug of Anandtech believes that this is a (relatively) low-output test platform for a die-shrunk version of the kludgey A5X chip found in the third-generation iPad.

Marco Arment is on fire lately. Not only is he smacking Microsoft around, but he’s predicting Apple processor upgrades. Again. He doesn’t think the A5X would be a good match for a product with such a small thermal envelope as the Apple TV:

That would certainly be an odd fit for my theories — the A5X is pretty terrible at everything except being the only option that could drive a Retina iPad screen with reasonable GPU performance in early 2012. That’s the last design I’d expect to be used in any new products, especially something as small, cheap, and low-powered as an Apple TV.

Just yesterday, however, Arment changed his mind:

I couldn’t believe that Apple would use the iPad 3’s A5X in anything again since it was huge, hot, power-inefficient, and too slow for CPU-bound operations on Retina iPad pixel volume. […]

It’s obvious, in retrospect, what this is probably for: the Retina iPad Mini.

Smart theory, and I’d put money on it (not money; just, like, ten bucks). A low-volume product to test drive a new processor which is the bare minimum for running a 2,048 × 1,536 display.

But Stephen Hackett isn’t buying this rumour, for the same reason I’ve long pondered:

So, unless a die-shrunk A5X is drastically different than the A6X when it comes to power consumption, could Apple put it in an iPad mini and not make the iPad mini way thicker?

That’s going to be a tight squeeze. A smaller process would create a chip with lower power consumption, but by how much is a good question. According to Anandtech, the battery life of the iPad 2,4 (the one with the 32 nm A5 chip) is about 16% better than the 45 nm iPad 2. In a spitballing sort of way, that means that the battery in a Retina iPad Mini could be 16% smaller (35.7 watt-hours) to get comparable battery life to the Retina iPad. Of course, that estimation is based on a different chip and doesn’t factor in other hardware differences (IGZO?).

Hackett also mentions the big marketing question:

Would Apple ship the iPad mini with a noticeably higher PPI than its flagship tablet? How could it spin that on stage or in a press release?

This is something I’ve wondered as well. I think that the Retina brand offers Apple a way to sell products with different pixel densities in a simple way. They’ll put the pixel density on the spec page, of course, but to say that each has a “Retina display” is an elegant way to market them.

How Long

Great track from How to Destroy Angels, and an appropriately depressing video by Shynola. The full-length album is out in March, and I’ll be preordering it.

Why I Don’t Stream My Music: A Somewhat Specific Set of Qualifications

Long-time readers of Wired magazine will recognize (with some sentimentality) their “wired/tired/expired” lists at the beginning of each issue. Happily, they ressurected the format for their year-end list. But — judging by the number of “expired” things I like and use — it’s a bittersweet reunion. I am perpetually the person who jumps on trends and ideas as they hit their close. Take their classification of music services, for example:

Wired Streaming Music

Tired Cloud-based Storage

Expired iTunes

My beloved iTunes collection is “expired”? And it’s out-hipped by some upstart streaming services like Spotify and Rdio? Geddafuggouttahere.

I’ve mentioned previously that I don’t see these services as replacements for a local library. I still think that’s true; however, I, admittedly, have somewhat specific requirements. Spotify and Rdio probably work really well for people who see music as a transient background interest. But I’m difficult and picky, and music is extremely important to me.

My moderate-sized library is largely encoded (via iTunes LAME) as V0 MP3s. It’s a high-quality variable bitrate format, which usually sounds as good as 320 kbps MP3 files, but with a siginificant reduction in the file size, especially important when spread across the entire library. I feel it’s the optimal balance between file size and quality, especially since there isn’t an iPhone or iPod which holds over 300 GB of music. A few important albums are encoded as Apple lossless files as well, and music from the iTunes Store is obviously in a 256 kbps AAC format.

My music is sent through a Bang & Olufsen Beomaster 2400 amplifier, to a set of bookshelf speakers. It’s not the simplest setup in the world, nor is it the highest quality one, but it makes a huge difference in the quality of the sound that reaches my ear.

Contrast that to Rdio, for example, which encodes their library largely as MP3s with a bitrate of 192 kbps.1 That’s not bad, but it’s noticeably worse on songs with punchier basslines or jangly trebles. Cymbal crashes, in particular, betray the heavy compression artifacts of that format.

Spotify chooses the inferior2 Ogg Vorbis format to stream their files. By default, those files use a 160 kbps bitrate, but premium users can opt to use a 320 kbps stream instead. The latter is a good option to have, and sounds very good. But 160 kbps is simply too low. Compare, for example, the bass line and high-hat hits on Parliament’s “Night of the Thumpasorus People” between Spotify and iTunes. The latter is noticeably better-defined than the former. You can run a similar comparison yourself with Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” or Rage Against the Machine’s “Take the Power Back”.

There are other issues besides audio quality to retain a local library of music, which may or may not apply to you. Spotify isn’t even available in Canada (let’s keep my account there between you, me, and my friends list on the service). Rdio is available in my country, but vast swathes of their library are only available in short, low-quality3 previews, including albums from artists like Led Zeppelin and Nine Inch Nails.

There are some albums that won’t ever be available at all on these services, too. Phish, John Mayer, and Nine Inch Nails fans will miss their live concert bootlegs if they rely on a streaming service. And rare early pressings, such as the Robert Ludwig-mastered version of “Led Zeppelin II”, will only be found on enthusiast and collector websites unless one is willing to shell out nearly a hundred dollars for a copy.

Finally, relying on a streaming service puts you at the whim of your internet connection, their server status, and their licensing deals. If you own your library, you can add whatever you want to it, back it up, and use it anywhere.

Rdio and Spotify have their place, but it isn’t a primary one. It supplements a local library in a meaningful way. When I hear about a new artist or album, I’ll check it out on either service first. But I won’t gamble with leaving my future enjoyment of that album in their hands.

  1. They don’t admit to this bitrate publically, but some snooping in Web Inspector shows that the site streams a file called full-192.mp3 which, yes, has a bitrate of 192 kbps. ↩︎

  2. Despite the clamoring of many in the open source community, MP3 files simply sound better at higher bitrates. While Vorbis has native metadata support and multichannel audio (and sounds broadly equivalent to MP3s at lower bitrates), the fact of the matter is that high bitrate MP3 files are superior to high bitrate Vorbis files in terms of audio quality, file size, and player compatibility. ↩︎

  3. A piddling 96 kbps MP3 file. ↩︎

A Snark Peek at Camera+ 4

Of all the apps on my iPhone, Camera+ still has the best changelog notes. Their blog is full of the same tongue-in-cheek snark:

The first thing you’ll notice is that we’ve killed-off the viewfinder. The viewfinder is an antiquated concept and we’re trying to get with the times here.

The second thing you’ll notice is that the shutter button has also been retired. It just doesn’t get any simpler. But how do you actually take photos? Our innovative shake to shoot system is the answer to that. We’re still tweaking this as pics are coming out a bit blurry, but that’s a minor detail compared to the elegance of the feature.

SurfacePad for iPhone

You know those flip covers that Samsung puts on their phones as of late? I’ve long wanted one for my iPhone, and Twelve South has released a product with a similar style built for the two most recent generations of iPhone. This looks really, really slick.