Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for January, 2017

The Wrong Future

Marco Arment:

What if the iPad isn’t the future of computing?

What if, like so much in technology, it’s mostly just additive, rather than largely replacing PCs and Macs, and furthermore had a cooling-fad effect as initial enthusiasm wore off and customers came to this conclusion?

On the flip side of that coin, what if Apple treated the iPad as the future of computing, instead of upscaling iPhone features to fit the iPad’s display, or hardly paying attention to it for an entire year? Would customers respond to an earnest attempt?

There are, undeniably, those who use the iPad to replace their desktops and notebooks. My parents almost exclusively use their iPads — I know this because every email I get from them includes the default signature. On the other end of that spectrum, Federico Viticci has set up his iPad Pro with a concoction of scripts and workflows that truly allows him to have virtually abandoned his Mac. And, yes, there are industries where the iPad excels.

Yet, all of that feels empty when the iPad isn’t given the kind of treatment and attention one might expect would be lavished upon the “future of computing”.

Apple’s Q1 2017 Results

Apple PR:

Apple today announced financial results for its fiscal 2017 first quarter ended December 31, 2016. The Company posted all-time record quarterly revenue of $78.4 billion and all-time record quarterly earnings per diluted share of $3.36. These results compare to revenue of $75.9 billion and earnings per diluted share of $3.28 in the year-ago quarter. International sales accounted for 64 percent of the quarter’s revenue.

“We’re thrilled to report that our holiday quarter results generated Apple’s highest quarterly revenue ever, and broke multiple records along the way. We sold more iPhones than ever before and set all-time revenue records for iPhone, Services, Mac and Apple Watch,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “Revenue from Services grew strongly over last year, led by record customer activity on the App Store, and we are very excited about the products in our pipeline.”

Federico Viticci of MacStories is, as usual, leading the coverage, and Jason Snell of Six Colors has some additional live commentary.

A few notes:

  • Impressively, for a 33-year-old business, the Mac set an all-time revenue record. However, unit sales are effectively flat year-over-year. The ASP on the new MacBook Pros is likely much higher year-over-year.

  • The iPad continued its downward trajectory in both sales and units. This is the first holiday quarter where revenue from the growing “services” category eclipsed iPad revenue. The only major update to the iPad lineup occurred in March of 2016 with the introduction of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

  • Though they’re still not breaking out the numbers, Tim Cook said that the Apple Watch had a supply-exceeding quarter. Anecdotally, I see a fair number of people wearing one every morning on the C-Train. I would be surprised if they ever disclose raw sales figures, but I also think that it’s shaping up to be a stealth hit. By contrast, FitBit had a down quarter year-over-year.

It’s a return-to-growth quarter, but not across the board. I sincerely hope that there’s a lot more for the iPad and the Mac this year.

Contrary to popular belief, though, the lack of a headphone jack on the iPhones 7 certainly didn’t hurt: 78.3 million of the damn things were sold in three months. Apple is slowly creeping towards a million a day. Wild.

Update: One reason this was such a record-breaking quarter is because it was fourteen weeks long, not the more typical thirteen. In terms of weekly averages, the quarter is generally weaker than Q1 2016.

Silicon Valley’s Responses to Trump’s Immigration Executive Orders

Casey Newton, the Verge:

Silicon Valley CEOs entered the debate over President Donald Trump’s immigration policy this weekend, offering criticisms of the seven-country immigration ban and in some cases outlining plans to support the employees it affects. The responses range in tone from mild rebuke to stern denunciation, reflecting both the varying personal opinions of the CEOs and their individual willingness to risk retribution from the federal government.

This is a crisis. I’ve been watching this story unfold since Friday afternoon and I can’t think of anything of greater importance than overturning sweeping and illegal executive orders that run against everything Americans have been told to stand for, and to be the model for the world. The responses from Silicon Valley CEOs have generally been weak arguments that preserve their business interests, rather than standing up against clear moral and ethical indignation.

So, who has been standing up? Amongst others, the tens of thousands of Americans who spent their weekend protesting these executive orders, lawyers supporting those detained at the border, and the ACLU, which filed and won a lawsuit in New York to overturn the deportation requirements of Trump’s orders. If you are able, you can make a monthly contribution to the ACLU to keep taking legal action.

Mac Sales Declined Nearly 10% Last Year

After over a decade of near-constant growth that went against the PC industry’s decline, 2016 was a down year in terms of absolute sales and sales relative to Apple’s primary competitors. Turns out that people don’t want year-old computers.

LG’s UltraFine 5K Display Can Exhibit Issues When Placed Near a Wireless Router

Heads-up, LG UltraFine 5K owners: if you’re seeing strange video quality issues, try moving your display farther away from your wireless router. Zac Hall of 9to5Mac explains:

Right out of the box, UltraFine 5K Display was hardly usable as it would consistently disconnect and even freeze my MacBook Pro which made it unusable for work on Thursday and Friday. Connecting it to my MacBook Pro consistently resulted in needing to reboot my machine to continue working.

[…]

Support responded by recommending I use the monitor away from a router as they can cause performance issues with this monitor.

I’ve never heard of this affecting the 27-inch Retina iMac, the panel of which is likely shared with the UltraFine display. My guess is that LG’s display is inadequately shielded, and the resulting problems could be a deal breaker for anyone living in a smaller apartment or working in an office with an inflexible layout.

Update: The reviews of this display aren’t good, with some users reporting issues with their wireless keyboards, various video problems, and lots of kernel panics. For a thousand-dollar display ostensibly designed in tandem with Apple, that’s pretty dreadful.

Worse still is that support is via LG, not Apple, so you can’t simply bring this display into your local Apple Store.

Apple’s New ‘Shot on iPhone’ Campaign

I really like these campaigns; they show off one of the iPhone’s greatest assets. Of note, the accompanying download doesn’t include the original photos, instead opting to use resized 30 megapixel versions. I would have loved to see how these photos looked at their original sizes.

‘Rogue’ Twitter Accounts and Confirmation Bias

Jesse Singal, New York magazine:

By now, a few outlets, including Vice, have criticized the lack of verification. But less attention has been paid to the sharing dynamic that has helped these accounts blow up in the first place. People who share these accounts and their tweets desperately want it to be the case that some brave government staffers are tweeting their resistance to the Trump agenda. Because they want it to be true, they don’t bother to ask the questions they would ask if the information didn’t confirm their political biases — they retweet and like and share in a way they simply wouldn’t in other cases.

On Jailbreaking the Apple Watch

Michael Rockwell:

The jailbreak community was a treasure trove of ideas for Apple in the early days of the iPhone. Without this vibrant community building unsanctioned apps, the App Store may never have been developed at all. The jailbreak community was the first to develop Wi-Fi syncing, multitasking, custom wallpapers, home screen folders, and even copy and paste.

This leaves me wondering what a jailbreak community could do for the Watch.

I’m not sure Rockwell frames this exactly right; while the jailbreak community was the first to implement these features, they were also on Apple’s “to do” list. Implementations of copy and paste, for instance, were pretty janky during the jailbreak era; the version that launched officially with iPhone OS 3 was an instant hit.

But I think the sentiment is largely on the nose. Jailbreaking the iPhone allowed developers and enterprising users to mess around with their dream list of features. Some of them — systemwide custom font settings, for example — will never be an official part of iOS, but I’m sure that these experiments helped Apple figure out what works within the constraints of the system. As Apple has solidified the narrative around the Watch as a fitness-oriented device, I’m not sure it needs a jailbreak, but the results could be prescient of future WatchOS versions.

A Picture of Samsung’s Forthcoming Galaxy S8

Curiously — and contra earlier rumours — the Galaxy S8 pictured at VentureBeat shows a headphone jack running along the bottom. Evan Blass:

Lastly, the pressure-sensitive input technology known as force touch is finally coming to the Galaxy brand, with the lower part of the display supposedly capable of distinguishing between different types of screen presses. Apple first included a similar technology on 2015’s iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.

This is sloppy. “Force Touch” is what Apple calls the pressure-sensitive touch components of the Apple Watch’s display and their trackpads. “3D Touch” is the name Apple uses for the displays of the iPhones 6S and 7, as it has additional levels of sensitivity. Though Apple doesn’t have a trademark on “Force Touch”, neither term appears to be a generic name.1


  1. Though, curiously enough, a company called NextInput developed some similar-sounding technologies called “ForceTouch” and “3D ForceTouch”. NextInput isn’t on Apple’s supplier list (PDF). ↩︎

Ajit Pai Will Head the FCC and Likely Kill Net Neutrality

Brian Feldman, New York magazine:

The net-neutrality debate is about whether one class of private entities, ISPs, should be regulated in order to allow millions of other private entities, users and businesses operating online, to operate freely. Pretty much everyone agrees that they should — except for the ISPs … and Ajit Pai. Pai even wrote a 67-page(!) dissent when the order was adopted. Even Google and Facebook support the principle, in part because they often buy up the smaller startups that flourish on an unfettered internet. Imagine an internet where, rather than buying Instagram for $1 billion, Facebook instead paid for a fast lane and forced Instagram out by other means.

We already use one social network for seeing short-form messages from faraway friends, a different website for getting irritated by real-life friends, and a single app for posting small pictures from our phones. There’s one major analytics package that most popular websites use, one place most of us visit to find other websites, and one online store we use.

The consolidation of the web’s major services has happened, but it doesn’t have to be like this into eternity as long as every website has an equal chance. Pai wants to gut net neutrality and create a pay-to-play model. I can’t think of anything worse for the future of the web.

MacOS 10.12.4 Sherlocks F.lux, Adds Jaundice Mode

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

According to Apple, the update includes a new Night Shift mode that automatically shifts the display color to the warmer end of the spectrum after night, offering Mac users an alternative to F.lux. Night Shift has been available on iOS devices since iOS 9.3.

Just in time for a spray-tanned presidency, too.

I know some of you probably think I’m being deliberately obtuse, but I tried F.lux for a month several years ago and the only difference I noticed was that I doubted my onscreen colours all the time. I removed it, re-calibrated that display, and didn’t try anything similar until Night Shift was released in iOS 9.3. I had the same reaction to that as well. Neither one made any change to how I fall asleep.

But, if F.lux and Night Shift work for you, this news might make you happy.

iOS 10.3 Upgrades the File System to APFS

Perhaps the most wide-reaching change in iOS 10.3 is an upgrade to Apple’s new file system format. When it was introduced at WWDC last year, Apple said that they’d be rolling it out beginning in early 2017, so this is right on track. It’s curious, though, that they’d choose to launch such a significant change in their most popular product line. Once again, Ars Technica’S Andrew Cunningham explains it best:

It’s an approach that makes sense; there are way more iDevices than Macs out there, which would increase the number of affected users if anything goes wrong. But iOS doesn’t give users direct control of the file system or of their devices’ partition maps, so it’s a reasonably safe, controlled environment. Macs can have a wider variety of partition and file system setups, increasing the likelihood that some edge case will throw things off.

For what it’s worth, iOS 10.3 installed without a hitch on my iPhone. I haven’t yet tried creating an APFS partition on my Mac.

Apple.com Switching to San Francisco Font

Myriad and San Francisco don’t really go together. So, after Apple’s operating systems, product packaging, keynote slides, and ad campaigns all switched to using San Francisco fully, it’s about time that the website followed suit.

Curiously, it’s not universally applied across the site. After you get past the top-level pages and start digging around a little, gaps begin to appear. The recently-updated Apple Watch and iPhone 7 pages are all San Francisco all the time, but the newer MacBook Pro page still mixes Myriad and San Francisco. The iPhone SE page got the San Francisco treatment, while the iPad Pro — of which the 9.7-inch variant was announced at the same event as the SE — is set entirely in Myriad. The iPad Mini 2 purchasing page, meanwhile, showcase the old online store design.

If you wanted to read perhaps a little too much into this, you might consider the state of each product’s section indicative of the product’s lifecycle. The iPhone pages won’t be updated any time soon, so they all get the newer typographic treatments. The iPad and Mac sections are likely to be updated soon with entirely new products, and will receive the new typography then. The iPad Mini 2, meanwhile, will probably be discontinued.

Apple Releases the First Beta of iOS 10.3

My friends in Slack notified me that iOS 10.3 had been released while I was in the middle of nowhere, so I’m sure you’re all aware of the highlights. As with past iOS x.3 releases, this is likely to be the final push for this major version of iOS before the release of iOS 11. So, it makes sense that it comes with some pretty big changes.

Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica:

For starters, it adds AirPods to Find My iPhone to make them easier to find if you lose them, which, given how small they are, is bound to happen to AirPod owners eventually.

Cunningham points to an assortment of additional user-facing updates, like being able to schedule rides with Siri for a future time instead of immediately, CarPlay improvements, and enhancements to HomeKit.

There are also, of course, some great new developer APIs. Two in particular intrigue me: an app review prompt, and changeable app icons. Jim Dalrymple explains the first:

When you are prompted to leave a review, customers will stay inside the app, where the rating or review can be left for the developer. It’s easier for customers and the developers still get their reviews.

Apple is also limiting the amount of times developers can ask customers for reviews. Developers will only be able to bring up the review dialog three times a year. If a customer has rated the app, they will not be prompted again. If a customer has dismissed the review prompt three times, they will not be asked to review the app for another year.

Best of all, according to John Gruber, developers won’t be able to work around these limitations in the future by using a third-party app review prompt:

The new APIs will be eventually be the only sanctioned way for an iOS app to prompt for an App Store review, but Apple has no timeline for when they’ll start enforcing it. Existing apps won’t have to change their behavior or adopt these APIs right from the start.

Everyone knows how irritating it is to be prompted to review an app, but developers also know that it works, even if it’s clunky. It’s good to see an officially-sanctioned solution.

And, yeah, developers can now set a different icon for their app without issuing an update. When the icon changes, it will display a confirmation so that users will know what to look for. Beyond obvious aesthetic updates, I’m struggling to see a use case for this. It’s not a bad thing; I’m just intrigued by the introduction of this API and what it might mean.

iOS 10.3 also lacks a few rumoured features. Cunningham, again:

According to the list of features Apple told us about, iOS 10.3 doesn’t include a fair number of features that the rumor mill has previously suggested it would include. There’s no mention of the vaguely described “theater mode” that was making the rounds last month, nor have any changes been made to iPad or Apple Pencil-specific features as some early rumors suggested. iOS 10 hasn’t been as good for the iPad as iOS 9 was, and basic things like the Split View and app switching UIs could stand to be refined; there’s also still not a public version of the multi-user feature that Apple started testing in classrooms in iOS 9.3. Any big iPad-specific features will need to wait for iOS 11, at the earliest.

After a lacklustre year for iPad users, I anticipate iOS 11 will be a big release. There’s a lot to be done for that platform.

Update: “Theatre Mode” will apparently make an appearance in WatchOS 3.2.

What’s Left Unanswered After Samsung’s Battery Investigation

Geoffrey Fowler and Joanna Stern, Wall Street Journal (paywalled, but you probably know how to get around that):

Samsung is on an apology tour for the gobsmacking screwup that led to two successive recalls of the Note 7. In interviews with us, Samsung’s mobile chief, DJ Koh, and other executives shared stacks of testing photos, results of its investigation and its plans to improve quality control.

[…]

At this point, we grade those efforts a C. Samsung was clearly serious about investigating the issue with the help of independent experts, but its explanation sometimes left us scratching our heads. While it has developed a new 8-point battery check for future phones, we don’t have a clear sense of whether these tests will raise the bar on safety, or simply catch Samsung up to other premium smartphone makers.

Of Samsung’s supposedly new tests, two — charging and discharging the phone, and simulating real-world usage — seem like the kinds of tests that I would hope all phone manufacturers run.

For what it’s worth, Apple elected not to comment on Fowler and Stern’s article.

Google’s Communication Breakdown

Let me tell you a brief story, in excerpts, of the evolution of Google’s communications apps, starting with a quote from Google employee Nikhyl Singhal in May 2013:

Hangouts is designed to be the future of Google Voice, and making/receiving phone calls is just the beginning. Future versions of Hangouts will integrate Google Voice more seamlessly.

Here’s Ron Amadeo, reporting for Ars Technica in October 2013:

The most long-awaited (and leaked) feature, SMS integration, will finally go live sometime today. Just like iMessage on iOS, Hangouts will seamlessly integrate both kinds of text communication into a single app and choose the appropriate service based on contact availability. Google Voice, Google’s portable phone number and SMS service, was not mentioned, so it sounds like those users will have to wait longer for support.

At this point, one app — Hangouts — supports SMS and proprietary messaging protocols, and allows for voice calls as well. Sounds great.

Fast forward to May 2015, with Kellen Barranger of Droid Life wondering why Google launched a new Messenger app:

After digging around in Google’s Project Fi support site last night, I think we now know why Google created their own Messenger app – Hangouts just isn’t ready for prime time yet when it comes to SMS, MMS, and group messaging. In fact, Google recommends Messenger over Hangouts.

The exact wording from Project Fi support is, “For now, we recommend using Messenger as the default SMS app. There are a few features, like group messaging, that aren’t supported in Hangouts yet.” So there you have it. Messenger lives because it’s actually pretty good at dealing with texting of all kinds, while Hangouts, after all these years, still isn’t.

Okay, so we’re back to two separate apps: Messenger should be used for SMS, while Hangouts should be used for Hangouts and Google Voice messages, and voice and video calls. This much was confirmed when, in January 2016, Google discontinued SMS support in Hangouts.

And now, today, Google has decided to update Google Voice for the first time in five years. Its visual language has been updated to match Google’s “Material” aesthetic, and they’ve improved conversation threading.

But here’s where it gets weird. Jan Jedrzejowicz on Google’s product blog:

Going forward, we’ll provide new updates and features to the Google Voice apps. If you currently use Hangouts for your Google Voice communication, there’s no need to change to the new apps, but you might want to try them out as we continue to bring new improvements.

Last year, Google introduced two new apps — Allo and Duo — to sit in the stable alongside their other messaging and communications efforts. Casey Newton, the Verge:

Three years ago, Google set out to fix its chaotic messaging strategy with a single app. This summer, getting the full Google messaging experience will mean downloading as many as four apps: Hangouts, Allo, Duo, and Google Messenger, for sending SMS messages on Android. Maybe inside Google that feels like the future. From the outside, it doesn’t look much like progress.

With the re-addition of Google Voice, that makes five apps that Android users are encouraged to have to cover their Google messaging bases. That’s almost comical.

Tidal May Have Inflated Its Subscription Numbers

Anna Washenko, for Radio & Internet News:

Tidal is facing allegations that it has inflated subscriber numbers. Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv claimed that it has obtained internal reports that show Tidal only had 350,000 subscribers in September 2015. That same month, owner Jay-Z had tweeted that Tidal was “1,000,000 people and counting.” The publication also said that in March 2016, Tidal had 1.2 million activated accounts and 850,000 subscribers, even though it announced publicly that it had 3 million subscribers. Tidal has not issued a comment yet about the claims.

For comparison, Apple Music has twenty million paying subscribers and Spotify has over forty million. It’s not looking good for Tidal. Also of note: I can’t find any information on the number of Pono Music subscribers, but their homepage has been “under constructionsince July.

Hands-On Impressions of the Leica M10

Leica just launched their replacement for the M9, and it looks like a worthy entry in their illustrious history of rangefinders. I really like the sound of the new ISO hardware dial, as described by Kevin Raber of Luminous Landscape:

The ISO dial is new. It is nice to have the ISO dial on top of the camera. You lift the dial, turn it to your selection, and push it back down. In other words, it won’t be possible to change this setting by accident. I do wish the dial was a bit bigger. You have to pinch the dial to lift it up. The way the dial is positioned, there is very little space, which is inconvenient if you have large fingers (like me). Once again, this was a hard setting to change with cold fingers. Leica should have thought twice before sending me out on one of the coldest days in NYC. You can change the ISO using the menu, which seemed to be easier at times.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with using the menus, but I’ve found that having hardware controls available keeps you in the moment. I generally have ISO set to automatic and use the hardware shutter speed and aperture dials on my camera, but there are times when I really want to be able to set the ISO. A physical control sounds like a worthy addition.

Barney Britton of DP Review was brave enough to take his review model to a rock show and the results look great. His impressions:

For all that, I’ve never really enjoyed the digital M-series models. The M8’s APS-H sensor felt like a compromise, and both that camera and the full-frame M9 always felt a little bloated, their shutters a bit too loud, their images a bit too noisy. Things got better – the Typ 240 and Typ 262 are very good cameras, and the Monochroms are fun – but neither they nor their predecessors ever really truly felt like a continuation of the classic film models. Leica claims that adding a movie mode to the Typ 240 was in response to demand from its customers, but the idea of shooting video on a rangefinder always seemed a bit silly to me.

The M10 can’t shoot video – let’s just get that out of the way. If you really need video in an M-series body, the Typ 240 is still available.

Personally, as you might be able to tell, I like the M10 a lot more than the Typ 240 and 262. There’s no single major change which makes all the difference, but rather a raft of little tweaks which add up to (in my opinion) a more attractive product than the the digital Ms which came before it.

At nearly $6,000 USD for the body alone, plus over $5,000 for an appropriate lens, the M10 is eye-wateringly expensive. But if you’re comfortable with that kind of outlay, it looks like it delivers in spades.

Google Contributor Has Been Shut Down Without a Replacement

Remember Google Contributor? It was a U.S.-only service where you could pay Google to remove their ads, with the money being distributed to the ad-supported websites you visited. Well, like so many of Google’s pet projects, it’s dead.

Andrew Martonik, Android Central:

After announcing back in December that its pay-to-remove-ads product would be replaced with something new come January, Google swiftly and abruptly shut down the service in a less-than-graceful manor. Now, it’s completely dead.

[…]

Despite claiming that Contributor would be replaced with something entirely new, we haven’t heard a peep. At this point it seems as though whatever may replace Contributor will more than likely have a new name, otherwise this whole process of shutting everything down would seem like a bit of unnecessary work. But then again, perhaps that’s a bit of foreshadowing that nothing, in fact, will replace Contributor.

Contributor wasn’t widely promoted and was never expanded beyond the United States. I wouldn’t hold your breath for a new version.

Apple Releases iOS UI Templates for Photoshop and Sketch

It has only taken nine years since the release of the iPhone OS 2.0 SDK for Apple to offer an official PSD file for mockup purposes, but it’s here, at last.

There’s a lot in this package: individual UI elements like toolbars and keyboards, blank app UIs, the iOS colour palette, and a copy of the San Francisco typeface. Some parts of this are rather familiar — San Francisco and the app icon template were both previously provided for download — but unlike the first release of the official app icon template, I’m not seeing any obvious discrepancies between these resources and the real iOS interface.