Editorial

Trying the ‘Viticci Method’ AirPods Pro Modification

I’ve been a big fan of the AirPods since they launched and, being a self confessed Apple fan boy I could resist the AirPods Pro when they launched last year. I’d never tried headphones / earbuds with noise cancelling technology in them before, so I was really blown away with their performance, despite having a few reservations in relation to their overall comfort levels.

Fast forward a few weeks, however, and I noticed the performance of the noise cancellation and Transparency starting to wane. The once snug fit started to feel a bit loose, and quickly ended up feeling like they were going to fall out. Any sensible person would have tried to take them back to Apple and stick with their perfectly good 2nd generation normal AirPods. I, on the other hand, am clearly not all that sensible, so I decided to try the Viticci Method to try modifying them. To be fair, Federico says in his review that he also got the idea from someone else, but ’The Viticci Method’ sounds much better than ’Random Forum Poster Method’, so we’ll go with that.

You can read all about how to actually do this via Viticci’s article, so I wont go into that there, but I saw a lot of interest from people when I mentioned I’d tried this on Twitter, so I thought I’d share a bit of feedback.

Firstly, getting hold of the Symbio Eartips wasn’t the easiest. There seems to be a lot of places, such a eBay or Amazon that sell random Symbio, or Symbio like products, but it wasn’t very clear at all. To this end, I ended up just going directly to the Symbio website. This was quite expensive, in the end, about £20, but it only took a week or two so was a fairly pain free method of getting hold of them.

The modding itself sounded a little fiddly when I read Federico’s article, but having the tips in-hand made the instructions a lot clearer to understand, and it ended up only taking a minute or two to do. I got the set that came with small, medium and large sizes, so I applied all three, so I could try various fit options. I ended up going with the Small ones.

I popped them in and ... instantly felt a little bit disappointed. After the fiddling around, and extra cost, they felt pretty uncomfortable and the size didn’t seem any better. The part you put inside the Apple tips, however, is memory foam so after a little wiggling about they started to feel far more comfortable. They’ve now seemingly fit around my ear shape and are, in fact, working wonderfully!

There’re little vents around the part you insert the new tips which can be obscured a little by the memory foam inserts, which require a little adjustments here and there. When these are covered the AirPod is unable to work its magic to release some of the pressure caused by filling your ear hole the way it does. This is easily rectified, however. The real improvement can be found with the noise cancellation, however. With this modification, at least in with my ears, the noise cancellation felt super charged. It worked almost too well, I really couldn’t hear a thing. If you’re having difficulty with fit, or don’t find the noise cancellation is ... noise cancelly enough, I can’t recommend this small modification enough.

On that note, however, it’s far from ideal that I would be recommending spending £20 more on a £200+ set of headphones to get the functionality and quality they should ship with, but there we are.

If you have any questions about my experiences with this modification, please give me a shout.

Slight Apple Books Tweaks in iOS 13.4

Apple released the first developer beta of iOS 13.4 a few days ago and Apple blogs were quick to share the usual in-depth deep dives into what changes it would bring. These changes are pretty small, but from what I can tell they've all missed some equally small changes to Apple Books also.

Here's a quick comparison between Apple Books in iOS 13.3 and iOS 13.4 developer beta 1:

iOS 13.3 (left) vs. iOS 13.4 (right). Big thanks to Habib for the iOS 13.4 screenshot

Can you spot the differences? The chapter select button has moved from the top right, to the bottom right, the 'sleep timer' button is now a much more descriptive image, the playback speed indicator is larger and there's now an elipsis menu near the track name which opens the Sharesheet. The track scrubber and names have switched over as well.

Look, I did say the changes were tiny, but like I said I've not seen these particular tweaks mentioned anywhere so I couldn't resist my little exclusive of my own. The fact that I'm one of the only people I know that use Apple Books multiple hours a day, thus in a relatively rare position to notice such menial changes is by the by. I love the Apple Books app and, while these tiny changes make no difference to how I, or others, use the app, it is nice to see there is still a tiny focus on the app still from Apple's end.

Is The iPad Intuitive?

A few days ago, John Gruber and Matt Birchler had a bit of back and forth about the iPad and it's intuitiveness as a device. Both sides of the argument had some valid points, but I knew which side of the fence I sat.

One line in particular struck a cord with me, from Matt's original post on the subject:

As I have to say in every one of these pieces, I'm not arguing that macOS is trash, nor am I arguing that iPad software is perfect and needs no refinement. I'm just saying that humans have a tendency to mistake familiarity for intuitiveness.

After reading this short to and fro I had started to compile my own thoughts, but struggled to verbalise my feelings on the subject without it turning into a bit of a tirade. I then read this excellent, and concise, thought from Scott Willsey on Twitter, which expands upon Matt's thoughts perfectly:

This statement, along with Matt's post, perfectly sum up my thoughts on the tiresome 'iPad vs. Mac' debate. While this article debunks the idea that you can learn anything given 10,000 hours of practise, the theory behind this is still sound. If you put enough effort in to both learning, and practising something, regardless of the specific hour count, you will eventually get better at it. By its very nature, things seem simpler and more intuitive the more you understand it. This seems like common-sense to me, though it seems to be completely lost on those making an argument about which is more intuitive.

Take a simple task like shutting down a computer for example. For a Mac user, that device will be shutdown in 2 seconds flat. Give the same task to someone that has spent 20 years using only a Windows PC and you could imagine them moving the mouse[1] around for 20 minutes looking for the Start menu. If they were willing to keep trying, and think differently they will eventually get it. If, however, they insist on following the old paradigms they've used for the last 20 years, they'll get nowhere. Give the same task to my 5 year old, who's only really known iPad's, wont even understand the concept of shutting down at all.

While I've used a Mac's in the past, I've spent so much time with iPad's that I am now a lot faster and more efficient and doing any task I would need some form of computer for via an iPad. I don't think this means that any system is more or less intuitive than the other, rather the old adage 'you only get out what you put in' applies in the 21st century more so than ever before.


  1. once you've explained why there's only one button ... ↩︎

Is 2020 The Year of AR?

Augmented Reality, or AR, has been a bit of a buzz phrase within Apple for years now. The framework / platform was introduced in iOS 11, in the Autumn of 2017 and has had a mention, or demo, in almost every Apple event since.

It’s clear that Apple sees a future in AR, and while many people in my echo chamber seem to be on the fence, I’m well and truly behind Apple on this one.

AR in 2020

Currently, despite my statement above, I generally don’t touch AR apps or games in their current form. Holding up an iPhone or iPad, whilst trying to navigate a game world can be tricky, and I find myself quickly losing any sense of immersion when I attempt it.

That being said, Apple has not let go of the technology and have doggedly promoted and improved upon it across the product portfolio. Despite the slightly jarring implementation currently, there are some good examples of AR really adding to an experience rather than detracting from it. Some interesting examples of the current iteration of AR are:

  • Pokemon Go / Harry Potter Wizards Unite While I, again, will generally have the AR mode off it does add a nice layer of fun when switches on
  • Apple Arcade - There are a few examples of Apple Arcade games embracing AR such as Secret Oops! and Rosie’s Reality.
  • Educational Apps - There are too many to list here, but the App Store is full of really great AR-based educational experiences from the big bang to frog dissection.

While these are some interesting use cases, AR in 2020 is still restricted to pointing your device around the room / world like a madman. The best experience can be found with a bigger screen, but using something like a 12.9” iPad Pro looks more impressive to you, to everyone else you look like an even bigger plum than before, with added arm ache to boot.

To truly move AR forward, it seems to be universally accepted that a pair of glasses / a headset is going to be required and rumours have been circulating for years that Apple are on the precipice of releasing just that. Historically Apple have rarely entered a product category first. They generally observe the competition, iterate on their original concept and release a more mature and robust product when they feel it’s the right time to do so. In this category, however, while there are some basic examples available, Apple seem to be in the best position amongst the big tech giants to be the first to market. They’ve been laying the groundwork for this for years and I’m so excited for what may be around the corner. I’m with Tim, who recently said:

My view is it’s the next big thing, and it will pervade our entire lives.

Hardware

This is the part of a post like this where the writer inserts a really cool rendering of some expected / hoped for Apple AR Glasses design. Unfortunately, for me, this is beyond my skill set, so you’re going to have to make do with looking at some interesting designs / ideas created by others:

As you can see from this eclectic mix of designs, we really have no idea  what these mythical Apple AR glasses may look like, but that hasn’t stopped numerous thought pieces, mock-ups and speculations from running rampant.

This is a pretty cool concept / marketing video from late last year:

The fact we have no concrete idea of what these things may look like doesn’t mean they aren’t imminent. As Venturebeat recently reported it’s possible that Apple’s AR offering will receive an ‘Apple Watch-style early access launch’. Jeremy Horwitz wrote:

Launching early without features that would benefit a second-generation model (and become standard in all future versions) didn’t hurt the Apple Watch, which subsequently became better and more mainstream each year. Nor did it hurt the iPad, which similarly shipped to a somewhat skeptical initial audience before rocketing to success in later generations.

I completely agree with this view. While the Series 0 Apple Watch was a pretty painful experience, it was quickly iterated on and has gone on to becoming a much loved product, which is more popular than even the mighty iPod was at its peak.

Having a device on your face is always going to be more of an ask than a Watch, or any other device. As a glasses wearer, however, I’m long past this concern. For me, all Apple need to do initially is to make something that looks as close as possible to conventional glasses. Some slight added functionality, initially, added to something I’m already wearing would be a massive win as far as I’m concerned.

Applications of AR

Now, let’s assume that the simple task of the hardware had been taken care of. The next big question is: What would you use them for? No one is going to buy a pair of Apple Glasses just to play Pokemon Go, apart from maybe this guy. To me, I think there a multitude of really interesting use cases for such a device. On Apple’s recent earnings call, CEO Tim Cook said:

You rarely have a new technology where business and consumer both see it as key to them.

I completely agree with this statement. Off the top of my head, I can see AR glasses being really helpful for:

  • Navigation - Almost everyone has used their phone for navigation whilst driving, or walking.
  • Gaming - While I’ve already stated that no one will buy this just for games like Pokemon Go, this is a device that could potentially be a game changer[1] for this medium. The iPhone, like the early Apple Watch devices before it, can still drive the bulk of the processing with the glasses acting as the display the device. The strange feeling of doing this whilst waving an iPad around a room would evaporate completely. I’ve recently picked up an Oculus Quest VR headset and despite being a fantastic experience the face you’re completely blind and blocked out from the world is hard to shake. AR, as opposed to VR, will again strip away this restrictive barrier. The technology lends itself far better to a social experience than the very much isolating experience of VR.
  • Education - I’ve already said there are a lot of educational apps currently available, but the potential applications, and subsequent engagement, afforded by AR are huge.

Beyond these top-level uses, there is still so much potential to explore. A LinkedIn app that could help you identify associates at a conference, a review app that can overlay restaurant / shop reviews over the venue as you glance at it. The possibilities really are endless and, again, as someone that wears something on my face all day anyway, even 10% of this potential is making what I’m already wearing more functional and beneficial to me.

It’s not all rose-tinted glasses

While I’ve gone to lengths to highlight some positive elements to AR, any headset from Apple would have a very fine line to walk between function and privacy. I agree and like Apple’s current stance on privacy, but they have painted themselves into a corner with this mentality and it’s already showing signs of holding them back in areas that others are pushing, such as AI. These glasses, will, I assume, need to include some cameras to function. I would assume Apple would not open them up recording, though it may be a challenge to get non-early adopters to accept that.

Whether we will see Apple Glasses in 2020, or ever, is still yet to be decided. When they do come, however, you can be sure I’ll be at the front of the queue, cash card in hand.


  1. Pun intended. ↩︎

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