Apple In The Big Apple

Last week we received the news I, and many other iPad fans, had been waiting for. The expetected iPad Pro (and maybe Mac) event was a go! On Tuesday, 30th October, at 2pm (U.K. time) the team at Apple will take to the stage of the (very glamourous looking) Howard Gilman Opera House in New York City (specifically Brooklyn) to showcase some of their latest products. The iPad was noticably absent from the iPhone event in September, so it’s pretty much a given we’ll be seeing this refresh at this event. The event invites were sent with the tagline:
‘There’s more in the making’
Alongside this, the team at Apple created some amazing looking custom Apple logo designs which, presumably, were created on iPads. I’m sure we’ll hear more about this on the day, but here are some of my personal favourites: 7e2cbd5f-ba18-4e99-af81-f8e36013d12f   If you wanted to check out all 371 custom icons Apple created, someone has created a Git repository to house them all. This is well worth checking out. Prior to seeing that the October event had been confirmed, I started to have some doubts it was actually coming. I felt that very little had been leaked, so far, for this to be an imminent event. Sincet then, however, I’ve realised that there is actually quite a lot out there that seems to have propogated quite widely, and I assume will come to be true. So, what do we think we know so far? What are the obvious things we’re likely to see:

iPad Pro refresh

Firstly, updated iPad Pro’s not only seem to be a given, they are likely the reason this event isn’t just a press release. Rumours of an 11″ version of the iPad Pro has been doing the rounds for some time now, so my guess would be that we’ll see the 10.5″ replaced with a device with the same footprint, but with a larger screen, but also another device that does the opposite, namely keeps the 12.9″ screen size, but reduces the body / footprint down to make the device a bit more managable. To allow for this to happen, Apple are clearly going to need to ‘do an iPhone X’ and remove the home button, add Face ID and then also reduce the bezels as much as possible. The 10.5″ iPad Pro already reduced the side bezels quite considerably, but the ‘forehead’ and ‘chin’ still have a lot of shaving potential. As you can see from the renders below, courtesy of 9to5Mac these devices could potentially look pretty fantastic. 9to5mac Renders Along with this fantastic new look, you can be sure there will be the usual bumps to the spec sheet, such as the use of a new A12X chip, to the already high powered beauties.

A new port?

Another rumour that has been floating around for a while now is that the iPad Pro line will drop the Lightning connector, for USB-C, to move the iPad Pro away from the iPhone line, and in line with recent Mac models. This gained quite a bit of attention, with many praising this as a huge step for the iPad Pro to move into ‘real computer’ territory (though it’s there for me already, but that’s a story for another day). I have to be honest and say that I don’t really understand how this makes that much difference. I already connect my iPad Pro 10.5″ to a 4K display, and it’s not the fact that the device isn’t pushing 4K content to the monitor that’s the issue. It’s the fact that, unless I’m playing a film, the iPad display is still letterboxed in the middle of the screen (due to the unusual 4:3 aspect ratio), and it’s also still just a mirror of what the iPad screen is showing. Driving the 4K monitor is a small step in the right direction, I guess, but there will need to be fundamental iOS changes before this adds any tangible benefits. It sounds like Springboard updates will be coming in iOS 13, after being pushed back from iOS 12 earlier in the year, so this might be far too many things to add in a single release. The way things have been going, however, after limited iPad focused updates in iOS 12, it would seem logical that iOS 13 would include the next big leap for the iPad. To me, I expect the iPad Pro updates to be 99% on the hardware side, with any real software developments happening with iOS 13. Apple will often lay the hardware foundations first, ready for new software developments to catch up and I don’t expect this to vary from this trend.

Throw away all of your accessories

If the rumour is true about a switch to USB-C, along with whispers of the Smart Connector also going (or at least moving) it’s likely we’re all going to have to get all new accessories to go along with our new devices. An Apple Pencil v2, that connects the same way the Logitech Crayon currently works is likely, as is a new Smart Keyboard, though as far as I’ve seen not a single thing has leaked on that particular front. I’ve worked my way through many keyboards for my iPad Pro, but I always come back to the Smart Keyboard. I really love it, so I’m intrigued by what a revision to this may look like. It’s possible that Apple will just refresh this to add compatability with the new connector type / location, and I’m not sure what I’d change beyond this really, but I’m interested in seeing what happens on this front.

Location, Location, Location

The last time Apple went outside of their campus for an event was back in March, for their Education focused event. This was held in Lane Tech College Prep High School, in Chicago. In this case, the venue tied in perfectly with the reason for the event. Will the October event, in an Opera House, follow suit? I assume we wont see Eddie Cue belting out Nessun Dorma as Scott and I theorised in the latest episode of Pocket Sized Podcast (shameless pun intended), so what may this mean? Apple has been positioning the iPad Pro line, as the name suggests, as Pro hardware. Apple already has some professional grade software that has, to date, be the domain of the Mac. Logic Pro X is a professionally focused music recording and editing tool which may well be the first candidate to be transitioned to the iPad Pro line. As Scott put it, again in the latest episode of PSP, it’s perhaps time for Apple to put it’s money (and it’s apps) where it’s mouth is and bring some truly ‘Pro’ apps to the iPad Pro.

Something, Something Mac

I’m not even going to pretend to know anything about what may be coming on the Mac front. Having moved to iOS as my main OS back in 2011 / 2012 I’ve not followed Mac developments at all. It’s now so far out of my area of knowledge I wont even patronise any readers with a rehash of what has been written elsewhere. I can’t add my own thoughts or commentary to it, so I’d rather just refrain from commenting. What I will say, however, is that while not for me, the Mac line is still a very important area for many people, and my beloved iPad Pro would be devoid of any apps without it, so I hope the Mac people get whatever it is they need to help keep this area fresh, exciting and more importantly, usable for them. All in all, I’m beyond excited for what we’ll see come 30th October. My wallet, on the other hand, is dreading what expense it will have to endure, a month before Christmas, but it’ll be fine! I’ll be watching the event live, along with millions of others, and will be sure to share my thoughts on what I see via the TheDent.net, the companion podcast and, also, via another podcast that will, for now, remain nameless.

Are You The Product?

As the big technology companies we know and love today continue to grow, there are fewer and fewer facets of their businesses and models to differentiate them. Almost all of the huge technology companies today harvest us for our personal data (both knowingly and sometimes even unknowingly to help fund, and enhance, their offerings.

These companies will often give you a service or feature for free, though they are very rarely really free. Just because you don’t physically pay for something, it doesn’t mean it’s free, however. Companies like Google and Facebook have a need to collect, share and monetise the data you’re giving them, to better sell ads, which is how they ultimately make their money. You are not a customer to Google or Facebook, you are a commodity. You pay for the use of all of Google’s services by providing them with a ‘data currency’. Much like I cannot dictate to Apple what they spend the money I have given them for my iPhone on, I also cannot dictate where Google spends my ‘data currency’.

For many people, this is both obvious, and completely acceptable. For most, the return you get from Facebook or Google is well worth the cost you pay, in terms of privacy and control of your personal information. This is, of course, a completely valid way to do things, and I’m not here to tell anyone otherwise. I’ve been a heavy user of Google for many years now, though I am trying to find alternatives to many of my use cases, so I can take back control of my data a little.

The point of this article isn’t to convince anyone that they shouldn’t use data harvesting services, it’s more a Public Service Announcement that there are alternatives out there which are completely viable. While Facebook and Google are at one end of the spectrum, Apple has positioned itself well and truly at the other end. I have, clearly, very much brought into the Apple ecosystem and find myself sharing many of the same beliefs and viewpoints when it comes to how my data is used. If you want to read into Apple’s own stance on privacy across their devices and services they have a fantastic micro site which I would highly recommend running through. They clearly take this very seriously.

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Finding Alternatives

Many of the services we use today, for the various things we do one the web, are so engrained into our brains, and even muscle memory, that it’s difficult to even consider using something else. When someone says they are going to look something up online they don’t say ‘I’m going to go and look that up online’ they say ‘I’ll just go and Google that’. It’s become second nature, so it’s easy to see why people often won’t even consider alternatives, or even know where to look. The list below, and the rest of this article, is just an informational piece about what else is out there, that will respect your desire for privacy, but that will also help you to be productive online. Take from it what you will.

Search Engine

Even for people that don’t generally use Google services, it’s often hard to escape Google as a search engine. As mentioned above Google is search for many people. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of alternatives out there. Seeing as this is an article about privacy, however, there is really only one recommendation I can make, and that’s DuckDuckGo. While this search engine is near enough the least used of the major players trailing Google, it’s seen some massive growth recently. It was a big spike a few years ago when Apple added them to its list of built in search engines in iOS and again, more recently, following some high profile privacy issues from Facebook et al. I’ve been using DuckDuckGo on and off over the years, and it’s really grown a lot better over this time. It’s my default on iOS now, and the occasions I have to fall back to Google are few and far between. DuckDuckGo doesn’t track users, it doesn’t show you ads and it’s got a few interesting unique features. To save taking up too much space and time here, I’d recommend checking out their About page which has a lot of great information.

Maps / Navigation

As an iOS user, you don’t have to look very far for a Google Maps alternative. Apple Maps launched with iOS 6, way back in 2012 and, whilst it took a lot of heat at the time, this also has been steadily improving over time. Lane guidance has been added recently and Apple are in the middle of a huge redesign operation. I’ve been using Apple Maps as my default navigation and mapping system for a year or so now and it’s been very good in my experience. The navigation side of it is slowly improving as well, with ETA accuracy now getting very good. If you haven’t used it for a while I would recommend checking it out.

There’s more to Maps than just navigation, however. The Google timeline can be very helpful or interesting to some people. This feature shows you all the places you’ve visited, thanks to the 24/7 tracking Google can do of you, and your phone. If you want this information, but you don’t particularly want Google (or others) having it also, you’re in luck. I recently discovered a small little app called Visits. Visits tracks your location throughout the day and presents a local copy of this in the app. You can then simply browse through your timeline whenever you want.

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You can edit each location to give it a custom name, also, which is a nice touch. The developer stresses that your data is your own, and that privacy is very important to them. You can only trust this so far, I guess, but it seems legit and it’s a nice, streamlined way of getting some interesting metadata in your life.

Photo Storage

Google Photos is a service which is pretty hard to beat. As long as you’re happy with some quality degradation, you can store as much as you want in Google Photos. Not only that, but Google’s algorithms will parse your photos and put them into albums, or even add some automatic editing effects. Why would Google give you such a robust system for free? Well, once again, this is far from free, in many ways. You can get away without paying a penny, but this cache of millions of people’s photos must be an absolute goldmine for feeding Google’s AI / Machine Learning juggernaut. While, presumably, no real humans are pouring over these images, Google’s AI system most certainly is.

As with Maps, iOS users again don’t have to go far to find a powerful, alternative to Google Photos. iCloud Photos / Photo Library allows iOS (and macOS) users to store as many photos as they like (storage space permitting of course, unlike Google’s free tier). With Apple’s offering, however, you’re again a customer, not a ‘data cow’, ready for milking. So, while there is a cost associated (once you’ve used up your meagre free 5GB) you remain in control of your content. Apple does recommend some tweaks, or will create smart albums (called Moments) everything is handled on device.

What can’t be replaced … yet?

What’s pretty self evident from the above is that, for the most part, not only are there great third party alternatives to many Google / Facebook / other data gathering companies products, there are also great first party ones too. The iWork suite can replace Google Docs and Sheets. iCloud Drive can handily take on Google Drive and Maps is getting there when compared to Google Maps. There are, however, certain products or services that seem to have no real counterpart whatsoever.

YouTube has a complete monopoly on ‘home made’ video content. Your best bet in this case is to use YouTube logged out, though this does still allow for a modicum of tracking. Many tracking companies use some pretty sophisticated ‘digital fingerprinting’ these days which aim to match your data across services you’re logged into, with those you’re not, by analysing behaviour and even the IP of the device you’re logged into. There really is no escaping it.

The market is crying out for a viable alternative to YouTube, though it’s a service that, I would imagine, is never going to get a privacy focused version. No one is going to pay for a YouTube competitor at this point, and I can’t see how else you could fund something like that without it, without resorting to ads. This is one you’re likely stuck with I’m afraid.

Beyond this, it’s clear that we have a lot of options in what services we use, if we want to have privacy at the forefront of what we do. It’s also clear, sadly, that Apple are one of the few major tech companies that, on the face of it at least, are really taking this seriously and giving their customers the power to control this. It seems that, by using iOS / macOS, which I assume you do if you’re here, you’ve already taken one of the biggest steps you can to ensuring you’re the customer not a commodity.

🎙 13: Making A Dent

After a short hiatus, my solo podcast is now back up and running and episode 13 is available today. 

This week I spend a bit of time discuss the name change (the podcast was previously called Upload), the Google Pixel event and then a little bit about Splatoon 2!

You can find direct links to the feed for various popular iOS clients, should you need them, right HERE.

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.