Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for May, 2014

A Tale of Two Apples

Great take on the Apple/Beats deal from Macworld’s Jason Snell:

The evidence is clear: Apple is taking Steve Jobs’s advice to heart and not remaining static in the wake of his death. I have no idea if Apple and Beats will end up being a good match—I’m interested to see if Apple truly embraces music subscriptions, or keeps Beats Music at arm’s length from iTunes. What I’m excited by is the fact that the Beats acquisition is not a move that Apple would have made a few years ago.

One of the common accusations that I’ve heard about Tim Cook is the assumption by some that he’s essentially coasting on the legacy of Steve Jobs. The fact that this deal is completely Cook’s, and one that is so out of character for the company is not, in of itself, an indication that it’s a great deal or anything. But it demonstrates that Cook isn’t scared of doing things that aren’t necessarily in Apple’s typical post-1997 playbook.

Today Is Katie Cotton’s Last Day at Apple

Recode’s Kara Swisher wrote a great profile of her experiences with Katie Cotton, but the most arresting, most powerful part of this piece is said in just three paragraphs:

It was no surprise that some used the opportunity of her exit to drag out their complaints in the kind of strange rage that has been — at least to my mind — oddly emotional and sometimes full of vitriol that would never be directed at a man who was similarly strong.

Consider the various words used to describe her: “Queen of Evil,” “wicked witch,” “cold and distant,” “frigid supremacy,” “queen bee” and, perhaps most obviously misogynistic, “dominatrix.” One time, horror of horrors, she hung up in anger on one reporter, who later took to the comments section of one recent story about her Apple departure and used astonishingly inappropriate words to describe anyone with whom she got along.

I only dwell on this because it’s both sad and disturbing that it’s still okay to talk about a high-ranking woman in this way and make it seem as if it was a cogent and valid commentary on her performance as a professional executive.

Samsung Is Working With Oculus

Ben Gilbert of Engadget:

Rather than having its own screen, Samsung’s VR headset uses your phone directly. It plugs in using an existing port on your phone (think: micro-USB) and becomes the screen. The headset itself has built-in sensors — an accelerometer at the very least — so any motion-tracking functionality is offloaded from your phone’s processor.

This is the part that interests me most. I’ve used a friend’s Oculus Rift a number of times and the one thing that’s made the experience just shy of great is the quality of its display. The high resolution and density of a modern smartphone display would be totally killer in that headset.

The Verge to Automatically Opt Users Into Email Newsletter

Joshua Topolsky:

We’re starting up daily emails to let readers know about the most important, exciting, and interesting articles of the day. These items will be handpicked and curated by our editors to give you a convenient list of the day’s must-read stories, delivered right to your inbox. Because let’s be honest: your inbox is lonely and it’s looking for some special company.

If you’re a forum member or have started a commenter account here at The Verge, you’ll start receiving these emails immediately (the first one will go out on Monday).

It’s not against Vox Media’s terms of service

Your affirmative act of registering, using or logging into the Services constitutes your acceptance signature to these Terms. WE MAY PROVIDE NOTICES TO YOU ELECTRONICALLY (1) VIA E-MAIL IF YOU HAVE PROVIDED US WITH A VALID EMAIL ADDRESS OR (2) BY POSTING THE NOTICE ON A WEBSITE DESIGNATED BY US FOR THIS PURPOSE.

…but it is a dick move. This feels really spammy.

How Google’s New “Right To Be Forgotten” Form Works

Danny Sullivan:

Will everything get removed? No, according to our source — but requests that are complete and make a reasonable explanation of why a listing is irrelevant, outdated or inappropriate in that person’s view should have a good chance of being removed.

Google has already received thousands of requests, it has acknowledged, even before this form has gone up. Our source says that most of these are unlikely to be approved, as they won’t have met the formalized criteria that the form requires, such as ID. But, those people can resubmit using the now formal process.

Overall, each removal will be examined on a case-by-case basis. In the case of rejection, people will be notified and told they can appeal to their country’s data protection agency.

Given that Google is the gateway to the internet for many people, and that they were obligated by an EU court to implement this process, do you think it would be pertinent to know what their criteria is for removal? So far, it’s a big mystery.

The Internet With a Human Face

Maciej Cegłowski is consistently my favourite conference speaker. His latest — which I’m sure you’ve seen because everyone’s linked to this thing except me, but, as of now, it’s everyone — is wonderful. It’s funny, smart, and very human.

Google Maps Mania Is Not Posting About Google Maps Any More

You can’t make this up:

Tomorrow I’m going to feature the very last Google Maps on Google Maps Mania,

The blog now gets 10% of the Google search traffic it did just 18 months ago. With Google attempting to kill off Google Maps Mania it would be like a turkey voting for Christmas for me to continue to promote Google Maps and the Google Maps API.

Call it the “MetaFilter treatment”.

“I’m a Developer. I Can Take It.”

Daniel Jalkut has had a much better experience with Apple’s bug reporting system than Marco Arment, largely because he files way more bug reports: 161 in five years, besting my 151 in four (though my yearly average is still higher; neener neener). But, while Jalkut points out that Arment’s 15 bugs in five years is a pittance, I empathize a little with Arment. Apple’s bug reporting system is frequently a black hole, and that doesn’t necessarily encourage developers to file more bug reports.

I do side with Jalkut in that you will get out of filing bug reports what you put into them. I’ve filed bug reports of dubious immediacy and seriousness1, and I’ve filed reports for things I’m certain are duplicates, if only to “vote” on them.

But I’ve also filed reports which I would assume would be closed immediately as duplicates, only to find that they would be left open and then fixed.2 It’s far from a perfect or ideal system, sometimes it makes me a believer.


  1. “Web Inspector close/detach buttons are too close together”, which is #15748981, Cupertino-area readers. Please fix this. ↩︎

  2. I believe the improved quality of synced photos from iPhoto and Aperture to iOS devices from iOS 4 to 5 is a direct result of a bug I filed in 2011. ↩︎

“Feature” #3598533

It’s not just Apple that has issues with their bug reporting system — Adobe does, too. This is probably my favourite bug report I’ve ever filed:

Title: Automatic updates do not automatically download, install, or update

Problem Description: Despite “automatically download and install updates” having been selected since an older version of Flash Player, updates have always been required to be manually downloaded and installed.

Obvious bug, right? Because Adobe’s bug reporter is public, you can see the response I received:

Thanks very much for your report. I think it’s a good advice and we will consider this suggestion seriously as an enhancement.

As it’s not a bug, I will close it.

Sure enough, its status was changed to “NotABug” and it was unceremoniously closed. To which I replied:

Not to be rude, but how is this not a bug? The radio button clearly states that it should do something which it does not.

And have yet to receive an answer, nearly a year later. This problem still hasn’t been fixed.

“File A Bug”

Marco Arment:

I’ve filed 15 bugs since 2009. Of those:

  • 8 have been marked as duplicates. All but two of the “origin” bugs remain open, despite two actually being fixed. Another two very different feature requests were marked as duplicates of the same origin, and since I can’t see the title of the origin, I have no way to know if either was a mischaracterization.
  • 6 have never received any kind of response and remain open.
  • 1 had Apple request a sample project, which I provided, then got no further response (and is still open).

I have a slightly larger sample size to draw from, but with similar results. Of 151 bugs filed since 2010:

  • 58 have been marked as duplicates;
  • 11 have been marked with “insufficient information” (though many of these are mis-marked and have sufficient information);
  • 10 have been marked as “behaves correctly”;
  • 34 remain open;
  • 38 have been closed for other reasons, or remain open but are not under the “Open” tab of the Bug Reporter.

It’s frustrating to be asked to recreate specific test cases and have very little in the way of followup, or to have the bug unceremoniously closed. The only time I’ve had reasonable dialogue when reporting bugs is during betas, when I will be asked whether an issue has been fixed in the latest version. But for most other software, this is a rarity, and bugs have remained in some kind of limbo for years.

Then again, I’m a designer, and not an engineer. Most of the bugs I’ve filed have been to point out UI design issues or functionality problems. If this is frustrating for me, imagine a developer trying to grapple with an extremely buggy API.

Photo Post-Production on an iPhone

Last night, I went on a photo walk with a couple of friends that I haven’t seen in a while. There’s nothing like wandering around a largely-empty financial core in late evening accompanied by two of the best storytellers I know — it’s inspirational. Even though I brought along my DSLR, one of my favourite photos of the night came from my iPhone. I thought you may be interested in the process behind the image.

Please note that I’m going to use affiliate links for the three apps in my workflow. That’s not the impetus for this post, though — this year’s bills are paid on the site. I personally recommend all of these apps, even if I’m not getting a kickback.

Step One: Original Image

Calgary’s relationship with architecture has been challenging, to put it mildly. As with any city, the focus on quality is dependent on the boom or bust cycle. In recent boom years, projects in the city have been bestowed with awards. Unfortunately, many of the skyscrapers that fill out our dense financial sector were built during booms in eras of bland, disappointing, and ugly architecture. Case in point: the Western Union Building. Built in 1964, it has an exterior that looked old and forlorn by 1966.

There’s something really endearing about its elevator lobby, though. As you might be able to see on Street View, it’s located in a small glass room at the base of the building, set back by a visitor parkling lot. It is truly a relic of the ’60s, complete with vintage Otis elevators, a large fluorescent ceiling grid, and an ashtray (!) right beside the elevator bank.

I took one photo on my DSLR, and two on my iPhone — a normal photo, and then a normal + HDR photo — using the native Camera app. The first iPhone image turned out the best, with decent focus and great exposure.

Original photo

Step Two: Filterstorm Neue

The first thing that needed to go was the reflection of the car beside the ashtray, on the lefthand side of the image. The clone stamp tool in Filterstorm Neue ($3.99) is perfect to take care of that. It’s very forgiving, so using it on a touch screen is pretty easy. I did a pretty quick-and-dirty job of removing the majority of the reflection, as it will be good enough for an Instagram-sized image.

Filterstorm edit

Step Three: SKRWT

I got to use my new favourite app on this image, and it’s way better for it. SKRWT’s ($0.99) lens distortion correction makes this image work. The modernist grid of this crazy lobby demands that the parallel lines are retained, and SKRWT makes it super easy to fix them.

SKRWT edit

Step Four: VSCO Cam

The venerable VSCO Cam (free, with in-app purchases) makes its appearance as the grading and finishing app. I used the H4 preset for a muted, cold feeling, and added some cream to the highlights and a little bit of green to the shadows to accentuate this. A little bit of sharpening and a crop, and it was ready for Instagram (after saving it to the camera roll, of course).

VSCO final edit

One thing that you might notice about this process is that re-saving a JPEG four times noticeably degrades its quality. I hope that iOS 8 brings a way for photo apps, especially, to work together a little better. I’d love to be able to pass a TIFF all the way through this process, as it would prevent a buildup of artifacts.

That being said, I am extremely happy with the result of this process on this particular image. This is one of my favourite photos that I’ve shot recently. I hope this process breakdown can give you a few ideas.

Vesper 2.0 with Sync

The most-requested feature of Vesper is (finally) here: you can now back up your notes to Vesper’s free storage service in the sky. But Vesper is still an iPhone-only app — there’s no iPad or Mac apps, or even a website where you can view your notes. So, while this is potentially a syncing service, it’s more of a backup service. For now.

Update Brent Simmons has confirmed that a Mac app is next. Very exciting.

The ROI of iCloud Photo Storage

Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch:

I’ve been hearing that Apple is working on photo-related announcements for WWDC, and that all of the teams working on Photos, iPhoto and Aperture are finally unified under one group now. Hopefully this means that photos, and iCloud storage, will get some nice face time during the keynote next month. I have no idea if they will for sure, but they should.

This is one of the things I missed in my spitballing article that I certainly hope we see at WWDC.

Spitballing WWDC 2014

For two years in a row now, Apple has spent the first five months of the calendar year hunkered down, working their collective ass off to release new stuff to the world in the second half of the year. Apple’s product year, then, really begins in June, with WWDC. So, what’s in store for WWDC 2014? Well, I’m not Mark Gurman, and I don’t have any insider info aside from what’s been published on the rumour blogs so far. But, as usual, I figured I’d take a stab at guessing what might be released (of course, informed by Gurman), and will score myself after the keynote.

Hardware

Get your wallets ready, everyone: new hardware is almost guaranteed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see updates to the Retina MacBook Pro and iMac lineups. Perhaps a Mac Mini update is also in store — it’s certainly due for one.

I’m less certain of the introduction of a MacBook Air with a Retina display. Aside from the fact that the Air was recently updated, I’m not sure the scales have swung in favour of performance-per-watt yet. Soon, I imagine, but I think WWDC 2014 is too soon. I also think that, because the Air is Apple’s consumer notebook, a revised version may launch alongside OS X 10.10 in the autumn — at least, based on what I think is the focus of OS X (keep reading).

I’m quite certain that category-defining products — like, for instance, a hypothetical wearable Apple product — are also not scheduled for a WWDC launch. And, of course, this is not the venue for a new line of iPhones or iPads — that comes later.

Something that smells somewhat likely (and expensive) is a new Thunderbolt Display. Or, perhaps, a pair of Thunderbolt Displays: one with the existing 2,560 × 1,440-pixel panel, but in something like the new iMac’s thinner enclosure design, and with a laminated display; the other with a 5,120 × 2,880-pixel Retina display, possibly in a similar enclosure and utilizing Thunderbolt 2. It’s been almost exactly ten years since the 30″ Cinema Display launch; think of this as the 2014 version of that: limited compatibility, eye-wateringly expensive, and totally lustworthy. I am hopeful.

Mac OS X 10.10

“Oh ess ten, ten point ten.” It’s a little hard to believe that just four years from now will mark OS X being around for longer than all “classic” Mac OS releases. In that time, its UI has evolved only subtly, year to year, but the compounding effect of these changes has been dramatic. Compare early Aqua to 2013 Aqua.

But, if the rumours are to be believed, OS X is about to receive a major overhaul. According to Mark Gurman of 9to5Mac, OS X 10.10 will be the star of the conference, with changes such as…

… similar toggle designs to iOS 7, sharper window corners, more defined icons across the system, and more white space than the current version.

Meanwhile, Craig Hockenberry is convinced that the system UI font will be changed to Helvetica Neue from the current Lucida Grande. In fact, the Iconfactory is, in general, trying to get ahead of the curve on 10.10.

I don’t know what the product of all of these rumours will be. I think the Iconfactory is being a little presumptuous, and I sincerely doubt the likelihood of anything too similar to the mockups and redesigns kicking around the internet. I’m also hesitant to suggest that iTunes 11 is representative of the visual design direction in which Apple is headed — previous guesses to that effect have been very wrong, largely because iTunes is a very specific kind of app. My guess is that the closest approximation of OS X’s future aesthetic is the Calendar day view: varying weights of Helvetica Neue, varying shades of grey to define heirarchy, and plenty of whitespace. Perhaps mix that with the brighter palette of iOS 7 and I think that’s nudging in the right direction.

In any case, I expect OS X 10.10 to be Apple’s forward-looking OS. OS X so far has been held to the design requirements of years past. It still uses Lucida Grande because it’s more readable on lower-resolution displays. There are plenty of muted colours for accents, because older displays haven’t necessarily been entirely colour-accurate, so richer colours would not look right. Remember: the foundation of OS X’s UI was laid way back in 2000. The hardware of 2014 — high-DPI, (largely) colour-accurate displays, and significantly-higher laptop market share — may heavily influence OS X. That’s also why I think updated MacBook Airs may launch alongside OS X in the autumn — they’re Apple’s consumer notebook, and they might be the perfect way to showcase the way both the software and hardware complement one another.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Siri were to make its way into OS X. Perhaps pressing and holding the Fn keyboard button would bring it up as a panel centre-screen, or something.

I hope for an update to AirDrop, so files could be instantly sent between a Mac and iOS device. I’m entirely unfamiliar with the tech requirements for this, but I’m spitballing here.

I don’t really know what else could be coming to OS X. I’m excited.

iOS 8

After the radical overhaul of iOS 7, you can bet that the iOS 8 update will be seen as comparatively minor, almost entirely regardless of its contents. True, it’s almost certainly not going to see that much in the way of UI changes; likely just little tweaks here and there, and, with any luck, the Game Centre icon will be replaced (or, potentially, removed altogether).

Here’s what Gurman says is in the works:

Over the past few months, I have reported that Apple is working on several different projects for consideration in iOS 8. The list includes a Healthbook application for aggregating various health statistics from App Store apps and third-party medical/fitness devices, an updated Maps app with public transit directions support, a standalone iTunes Radio application to boost usage, VoLTE calling support, TextEdit and Preview apps, and various enhancements across the system.

All intriguing stuff.

The Healthbook fitness-tracking app strikes me as a tentpole feature. The way Gurman has reported it (“[aggregates] various health statistics from App Store apps and third-party medical/fitness devices”) makes it sound like Passbook for health information. The way one adds a gift card or ticket to Passbook may be similar to the way a jog or ride appears on a card.

But, even if you’re a health and fitness nut, you probably don’t use that many different fitness apps. I certainly do not fit into that camp, but Strava goes hand-in-hand with my cycling. Perhaps you use a running app alongside a meal planner or calorie counter. But something about these rumours still feels missing to me.

This is an app that I bet will work best with additional hardware. Perhaps there will be a licensing scheme, like Made for iPhone, for third parties to create hardware products that will work with Healthbook. Perhaps Apple is working on their own hardware.

I think both of these situations are likely, but I also don’t think any wearable Apple hardware will be introduced at WWDC. It doesn’t make sense to me that the contemporary Apple would use a developer conference to introduce such a highly consumer-oriented hardware product.1 Likewise, I not sure Healthbook would be introduced without the hardware, even if parts of the app don’t necessarily require additional hardware. Therefore, I think it’s plausible that Healthbook and related aspects will be a component of the iPhone 6 launch.

One of the standout features from Gurman’s excellent reporting is the rumoured improvement of inter-app communication. This is something that’s long been an iOS sticking point, and I certainly hope it comes to fruition. One of the big challenges with this is the user interface — the way Android handles it shows just how truly difficult this is. Along similar lines, I hope for a way to set default apps. I use Weather Line instead of the default Weather app, and whenever I tap on the forecast in Notification Centre, I’d love for my chosen weather app to be opened.2

One feature I’ve long hoped for is something like Notification Centre’s “Today” view appearing automatically in the morning on the lock screen. I haven’t seen any rumours that something like this is coming, but I’d love it if it were.

As rarely as I use Siri, it would be so great to see an official API for third-party developers. Likewise, it’s so easy to buy stuff on iTunes and the App Store with TouchID that an API for that, too, would be rad.

As for the rumour that broke as I was writing this — “Apple Planning iOS-Controlled Smart Home Automation Platform for WWDC Unveiling” — I don’t know what to make of it. On the one hand, it would be really cool to walk into a room and have lights automatically turn on because your iPhone is in your pocket. On the other hand, it’s kind of specific and peculiar.

Whatever the accuracy of the rumours, I’m very much looking forward to WWDC this year. Maybe Dr. Dre is, too.


  1. I’m talking about the post-Jobs, post-executive-shuffle Apple here. ↩︎

  2. This, of course, highlights one of the great UI challenges for assigning non-standard default apps. While this example is relatively straightforward (open Weather Line instead of Weather), imagine this situation for something like composing a new email address using Mailbox instead of Mail. Does Mailbox get to throw up a sheet somehow? How does that work? ↩︎

SKRWT

If you take a lot of architectural photos on your iPhone, you’ve probably noticed that the wide-angle lens wrecks those critically parallel lines. Well, here’s a brand new app that fixes all kinds of lens distortion. I’ve only been playing around with it for a few minutes, but already I can tell that this will be an essential component of my iPhone photography workflow. It’s super easy to use, yet it produces beautiful, high-quality results. It’s the perfect app for ensuring everything is aligned before you use something like VSCO Cam to colour grade and make larger edits.

On a quick UI note, the app features an infinitely-scrolling lower toolbar. It takes a little bit of getting used to because there isn’t really a single toolbar icon to orientate yourself around. Once you get past that, though, it’s a remarkably efficient way of zipping through all of SKRWT’s different kinds of distortion correctors.

Right now, SKRWT is just $0.99 on the App Store. That’s an affiliate link, so if you’d like an easy way to support my writing while getting a really great app, please feel free to click through.

A Guide to Computer Backups

I mentioned that I was looking into refining my backup strategy yesterday. It just so happens that Brett Howse of AnandTech published a comprehensive article on better computer backups earlier this week. If you’re like me and are a little wary of your existing backup strategy (or, worse, if you’re not backing up your machine at all), this is a pretty good guide to improving your backups.