Designing Apple Watch faces on the iPad

If you’ve been on Twitter over the the last week or so you may have seen an explosion of Tweets from various developers sharing some new Apple Watch face designs.

It all came about after prolific iOS botherer (I hate the term spelunker for some reason), Steve Troughton-Smith, created an Xcode project, utilising SpriteKit, which can simulate custom Watch faces. The key term here for me is simulate, however. These are not real Watch faces in the classic sense. These are basic apps that’s only function is to display a Watch face. I know this seems like a petty distinction, but it’s an important one. Once you’ve used Xcode to side load the apps onto your Watch, the nice custom face will only display as long as that app is open. If you open something else, or if you set your Watch to not keep the last open app active indefinitely, you’ll be back to whatever real Watch face you had active.

While these faces are fun, they are not the (long overdue) real custom Watch faces many Apple Watch fans have been asking for. They are, as said, still getting a lot of traction online and it seems many developers are having a great time creating some really interesting designs.

I’ve been watching (pun not intended) this transpire via Twitter, from a distance, not really caring that much about it. That changed today, however, when Steve Troughton-Smith once again tweeted something very interesting:

As soon as someone mentions ‘iPad‘ my ears instantly prick up, so I’m quite excited to download the Playgrounds Book from Steve’s GitHub Page this evening and have a play with this. It wont be possible to put these onto an actual Watch, which is a bit disappointing (and greatly reduces the usefulness of this to be fair), but it’ll still be fun to have a play around with. I’m no developer or designer, but if I come up with anything interesting looking I’ll be sure to share.

 

Get A ‘Real’ Camera

This post is a follow-up / addition to a post written a couple of weeks ago, called The Best Camera …. Feel free to check that article out beforehand, for a little more context).

I love photography. I love looking at beautiful works of art, on sites such as Instagram or EyeEm . On occasion, I also very much enjoy trying my hand at photography myself. While I may not be very good at it , it doesn’t stop me enjoying it. It’s my hobby.

According to Dictionary.com, the word hobby is defined as:

An activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation.

Keep this in mind, it’ll be important later.

The last real camera I owned was a Canon EOS 500D . While, even at the time, it was not the newest, most powerful or generally impressive of devices, it did an admirable job, and it made me feel like a real photographer while I used it. The thing is, quite often, I found my time with the camera neither pleasurable or relaxing, so could my time using the camera really be called a hobby? My main issues with using it are as follows:

  • Any time I took the camera out had to be a planned trip, generally specifically designed to use the camera. I had to make sure it’s somewhere I can go to with a bag , or where I had time or the ability to stop and change lenses etc. and it had to be somewhere worth going so I can get some decent shots.

  • The Canon camera wasn’t huge, or particularly heavy, but it does need careful handling, to avoid bumps or dust. Heck, it feels like you could do some sort of damage to a SLR with a stern glance.

  • Most images you see in magazines or newspapers have been edited. The best photos on 500px and similar sites have been edited also. So, even after parts 1 and 2 above have been taken care of, there is still a general need to do some kind of post-processing. The images need to be uploaded to a computer (or iPad in my case), copied into Lightroom (or similar), edited and then finally shared. Again, more of a chore than anything else.

A big part of photography is the composition, which can still very much be learnt whilst using an iPhone. An image doesn’t have to be 100+ megapixels in size, or pin sharp with perfect composition to be a work of art. As Ansel Adams once said:

There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.

I often share an iPhone image to Twitter, or other social media sites, only to be greeted by the words: ‘If only you took your proper camera.’ I’m always a little thrown by this statement. Not because I’m particularly upset or concerned by the comment, but, I guess, I just don’t get it. There seems to be a feeling around that the camera makes the photo, not the photographer. The following image, taken with an iPhone, by the very talented Kim Hankskamp illustrates my point perfectly:

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Image by Kim Hankskamp (http://kimhanskamp.tumblr.com)

Kim’s image was awarded 1st place in the ‘People’ category in the 2013 iPhone Photography Awards, and is extremely reminiscent of a well known image of Sharbat Gula, a young Afghan girl. The image was taken by National Geographic Society photographer Steve McCurry and is undoubtedly a work of art. The image was taken in 1984, so the chances are the original negative wasn’t amazingly high resolution, yet it’s quality cannot be denied. The same can be said, in my opinion, about iPhone images. If the composition of the shot is to your liking, then the image is art. Whether anyone but you likes it is not the point at all.

My 3rd point, mentioned above, when discussing the aspects of SLR photography that frustrated me a little, was the editing required to get the most of the images. Another thing I love about iPhone photography is just how easy it is to get some very decent editing done, and these days there are some truly amazing, ‘desktop quality’ editors out there. My main workhorse is the app Darkroom which is an extremely powerful RAW editor for iPhone (there isn’t currently an iPad counterpart unfortunately). This article would be an epic to put War and Peace to shame if I listed all of the great Photo Editing options you have available to you right from the device you’re shooting from. Believe me when I say you will not be disappointed with the vast majority of the options available to you.

The camera doesn’t take the photo, the photographer does. I’m not particularly good at taking pictures with an iPhone or an SLR, but I know which one I enjoy more as a hobby. My ‘eye’ needs to be improved, there’s no question in that. This is, again, something that I can do just as well with an iPhone as I can any other, more specialist equipment. This is, of course, only my humble opinion, and the point of this article isn’t to try and convince anyone in one direction or another, though as always it’s fantastic that we have choices.

Am I less of a photographer because I use an iPhone? Quite possibly, at least in some measurements, but I can safely say that if the iPhone (or any other smartphone I may choose, don’t email me …) wasn’t such a powerful, capable camera, among many other things, I wouldn’t be a photographer (I use this term very loosely, by the way. I appreciate I am amateur to the nth degree) at all. I would not have literally tens of thousands of photos of my daughter growing up, which I treasure, or some other more traditional photos that I’m extremely proud of.

🖥 An Introduction to Drag & Drop on iOS

About a week ago, someone from the Pocket Sized Podcast Slack group mentioned that he’d like Scott and I to talk about Drag & Drop on iOS. We ran out of time in the episode after this request came up, unfortunately.

In order to make amends, and also to give me an excuse to have a play with a new app (Luma Fusion) I recorded a short tutorial / walkthrough of how to use Drag & Drop and shared it privately with the group. Now that I’ve launched this blog, however, I thought I may as well publish it here also.

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re already familiar with Drag & Drop, but I saw this video as more something you’d perhaps share with a less tech savvy family member.

All in all, it’s a lighthearted first stab at a tutorial with some, interesting shall we say, editing via Luma Fusion on iOS, let me know your thoughts.

Better Folders with Shortcuts

A few weeks ago, David Sparks posted an interesting article over on his blog about a Siri Shortcuts Homescreen. The basic premise of the article was about how David had replaced the apps on his home screen with just Shortcuts actions. This was done by creating various Shortcut Shortcuts (is that what you call them?) and then simply adding them to the home screen with custom names and glyphs. David created a video detailing his setup, if you want to explore this further.

I thought this was a super interesting idea, but also incredibly limited if you use this to simply launch apps which you could launch far quicker via invoking Spotlight search and finding your app there. The idea of fully replacing my home screen with Shortcuts didn’t strike me as something I’d like to do.

After running through the video, however, it struck me that this method could be used, sparingly, to replace the tired home screen folder implementation that we’ve had on iOS for years now. I’ve always avoided having folders on my main home screen, for whatever reasons, so this seemed like an ideal workaround. I could, essentially, avoid the need for folders, but also retain / gain an ability to have more apps accessible from my home screen.

I can now, for example, quickly launch my ‘Entertainment’ Shortcut to get access to music, podcasts, books, audiobooks, or games etc. The flow below, for example, launches some options to listen to some things (an audiobook in  Books in this example).

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This action does, of course, jump into Shortcuts while it runs through each step, allowing you to choose options from a menu, so it’s not a hugely elegant solution. This still looks far better than the now dated and ugly home screen folders, however.

Creating a Shortcut like this yourself is incredibly easy, should you want to. You just need to use the ‘Choose from Menu’ action in Shortcuts to setup your initial selection. As you do this, each option you create will create sub sections below, which you can then populate with various ‘Open app’ actions, or even nest another ‘Choose from Menu’.

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You can download my example to use as
a base, if that sounds easier, though it is only really made up of the 2 actions mentioned above.

Shortcuts continues to be one of my favourite apps / features in iOS to date, and this simple solution to a long running problem is another example of its versatility.

The Best Camera …

Episode 294 of The Accidental Tech Podcast featured a question from a listener that really piqued my interest. Listener Matt Taylor asked:

Should I buy an XS for the camera or a $1,000 ‘actual’ camera. Use case: we have a new born

The emphasis was my own, but this was one of the key parts of the question for me. On the show, 2/3 of the presenters (John and Casey) suggested, quite unequivocally, that the real camera was the only real way forward and that there would be nothing but regrets if this wasn’t the choice taken. Marco, on the other hand, went the other way. I’m not writing this article to argue any of these guys were wrong, but I do feel quite strongly about what I personally would both suggest, and have experienced, so I wanted to at least share my thoughts. To me, the answer to this question is, without a doubt, go for the XS (though any smartphone with a good camera would also win my vote). I should caveat this article at this point to say that I’m writing this as a parent, of a young child, so much of what I’m going to say is to specifically address the part the listener said about having a new born. I should say, however, that even without this fact the iPhone would still get my vote.

For me, having an iPhone as a primary camera brings with it a multitude of benefits. A real camera will always win in terms of the physical quality of image, but will lose out in other, very important ways, which I will detail below.

Convenience

There’s a saying (coined by Chase Jarvis, and also the name of his book, that says:

The best camera is the one you have with you

This is a statement I believe wholeheartedly. For me, and for many, people, this is generally a smartphone (and quite often an iPhone) and while the pure quality of a photo from an SLR or even a micro 4/3 will undoubtedly be better, there is far more to making a good photograph than just pure binary qualities.

I would guess (based on zero facts!) that 99% of the photographs taken in the world each day are taken by amateur photographers. For these people, the key part of the photograph is the memory and feeling it conveys when you look at it later, not the number of megapixels in the image, or how well exposed it is. There has been untold moments in my life when I’ve grabbed my phone from pocket to take a quick picture of something happening completely unplanned or unexpected. A picture that I’d never have been in a position to take if I had to unpack a large, unwieldy camera from a backpack or the like.

Without going into too much detail, the birth of my daughter wasn’t the smoothest of times, and her first week of life took place in an intensive care ward (she was, and is, all fine though thank goodness). It was at this time that I took one of the most important pictures I’ve ever taken.

Now, this picture isn’t good from a technical standpoint, but the emotion it provided at the time when I could share it with my wife and family to show them the new member of the family was doing well is absolutely priceless and it’s something I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to get with a real camera. This I just one example of the benefits I’ve seen to having a thin device that’s always charged and in my pocket, ready when I am.

Live Photos

Live Photos were introduced to the iPhone range with the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus range. From the moment this feature was introduced I was in love. Apple should call this the ‘parent mode’ because it feels just perfect with people with kids. Children are, as you’d imagine, often fast moving and / or unwilling (or able) to sit still for more than 5 seconds at a time, so the chances of capturing a really nice picture (with an SLR or and iPhone) are quite low. This is were Live Photo’s have, again just for me, come into their own. The result of a Live Photo are three fold. Firstly, obviously, you get the photo you were after. Secondly, you get a great little video clip either side of the main photo to get some insight into what was happening at the time. The cherry on the cake is then also the sound clip that accompanies this which instantly adds 100% more context and vibrancy to scene you were taking a picture of. I, again, have many photos that technically don’t look very good, but thanks to Live Photo’s I still have access to some audio, at the least, which makes a dull picture once again become priceless.

Storage

This isn’t the most exciting point, so I won’t labour it too much, but the Integration between iOS and the iCloud Photo Library infrastructure makes managing and maintaining a possibly large photo database such a breeze. Yes, you have to pay for it, but what don’t you have to pay for these days that’s worth having?

All in all, as long as you care about the subject matter, any photos you take, regardless of the device that takes them, will always be important to you. If, however, you think you have your hands full with a newborn, you just wait. Having hands, bag space, and time free for taking real photos will only get harder and harder from here.

Anyone reading this article will continue to use whether phone or device they want (and so you should!)-, but for me my iPhone is my best friend when it comes to compiling some amazing memories of my single ride around this carousel we call life.

🔗 iPhone XS Camera Deep Dive

iPhone XS: Why It’s A Whole New Camera – Halide

As it stands today, if you shoot RAW with an iPhone XS, you need to go manual and under-expose. Otherwise you’ll end up with RAWs worse than Smart HDR JPEGs. All third-party camera apps are affected. Bizarrely, RAW files from the iPhone X are better than those from the iPhone XS.

This article, written by one of the team behind the fantastic Halide iPhone camera app, is a fascinating, and very well researched, deep dive into the ‘all new’ camera system found in the iPhone XS / Max.

Everyone that uses the iPhone XS camera have noticed something different about it, but reading this has really helped me understand the power (and limitations) of this fantastic camera.

As you may have seen by my recent posts (shared from Instagram I’ve been using the iPhone XS Max camera a lot recently, and I’ve got to say that I’m loving it!

Why ‘Crystal Skulls’ Isn’t The Worst Indy Film

Before I get into this inane argument I just need to note that I actually wrote this post a few years ago on Medium. I’m re-writing it now for a few reasons. Firstly, because no one really read it when I posted it the first time, but mainly I wan to start consolidating some of this earlier stuff here in a more permanent location. If, by some miracle, you’ve read this before, know that I am at least plagiarising myself.

The following argument is something I thought about after the release of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull in 2008. It is the reason why I don’t think Crystal Skull is the worst Indiana Jones film.

Firstly, I should clarify what I mean by ‘worst’. After Crystal Skull’s release it was heavily critisised by cinema-goers and the critics alike. Most of these people had a point. Harrison Ford is a little too old and Shia LaBeouf a little too much of a jerk. All of these points, and more, I agree with. The hero of the story survives a nuclear explosion by hiding in a fridge for Christs sake. How can this not be the worst film of the lot?

The main point that was picked up was that the extra terrestrial theme ruins this film. This, however, I cannot agree with. This theme, in fact, fits perfectly into the style of the films. To me, it’s Temple of Doom that sticks out like a sore thumb, but more on that later.

The Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade where set in 1936 and 1938 respectively. During this time the world was sitting back, relaxing, whilst watching Hitler and his Nazi party quickly growing in power and clearly making moves to expand their influence.

This was one of the biggest things on the mind of people in this era and led to events that will never be forgotten.

Now, before this post gets even more like a history lesson, and a boring one at that, I’ll just say that it’s now believed (if there was ever doubt) that Hitler was completely off his rocker and not only believed in the occult and the validity of Biblical artefacts, he actively sought them out.

That is why, for Indiana Jones, the hunt for the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders and The Holy Grail in Crusade made perfect sense.

It is along these lines where my reasoning for Crystal Skull not being as bad, plot wise, that many think. If the ’30s and ’40s were the time of fearing Fascism and Hitler’s bids to find occult artefacts, the 1950s, when Crystal Skulls was set, was all about aliens!

In July 1947, in Roswell, New Mexico, reports began to filter around the world about a UFO being recovered after a supposed crash. Over the coming years the US, and the world, went alien crazy. In a way, aliens, and Soviets of course, became the Nazis of the ’50s.

This is why, to me, aliens (and the Soviets) are the perfect ‘force’ for Indiana Jones to face when the franchise moved into a different era. Indiana Jones was always supposed to be a modern retelling of the classic ‘pulp’ action books of the past so it makes perfect sense for him to face off against the biggest threat and influence on popular culture at the time.

This also, in a way, goes a little towards explaining the old ‘hide in a fridge to avoid nuclear explosion death’ thing. With this included we see our hero defeat the Soviets, aliens and nuclear weaponry, the big fears and fascinations of the time, in one fell swoop!

I’ve missed one haven’t I? Ah of course, Temple of Doom … When did the world fear blood drinking, monkey brain eating, Indian chaps? Oh yeah I know … NEVER!

This is why, to cut a long story short (too late) while Temple of Doom is my favourite Indiana Jones film, it is also the ‘worst’ in terms of context and relevance.

What do you think? Make sense or should I have left this argument back in 2008?