HomePod Will Support Lossless FLAC Audio Playback →

January 25, 2018 · 10:39

Peter Cao, writing for 9to5Mac:

HomePod specs are indicating that Apple is serious about the audio quality on the device. Today, we’ve discovered that the smart speaker will support FLAC out of the box.

For those unaware, FLAC is a lossless format, meaning there is no compression whatsoever and recordings are kept as is. Not to be confused with lossy, which is used by most music streaming services such as Spotify or Apple Music and is usually compressed to 256 or 320Kbps.

How would this work, since the HomePod supposedly will not have access to music in our iTunes Libraries, which wasn’t purchased via the iTunes Store? Siri seems to be out of the question.

[…] AirPlay 2 will be able to transmit lossless audio to the Apple-branded smart speaker.

Can we store FLAC on our iOS devices in Apple Music on iOS 11.3? Or do we need to stream from a Mac, which means we would have to control playback from there?


Don’t Be Trustworthy Honourable Open Evil →

January 25, 2018 · 10:27

Jean Marc Manach, for The Intercept:

Since at least May 2016, the surveillance agency had featured honesty as the first of four “core values” listed on NSA.gov, alongside “respect for the law,” “integrity,” and “transparency.” The agency vowed on the site to “be truthful with each other.”

On January 12, however, the NSA removed the mission statement page – which can still be viewed through the Internet Archive – and replaced it with a new version. Now, the parts about honesty and the pledge to be truthful have been deleted. The agency’s new top value is “commitment to service,” which it says means “excellence in the pursuit of our critical mission.”

Those are not the only striking alterations. In its old core values, the NSA explained that it would strive to be deserving of the “great trust” placed in it by national leaders and American citizens. It said that it would “honor the public’s need for openness.” But those phrases are now gone; all references to “trust,” “honor,” and “openness” have disappeared.


January 23, 2018 · 21:50

I often stream music from my iPhone to a Bluetooth speaker when at home. I keep on wondering if the HomePod, since it should have access to my account, will takeover the AirPlay stream if I want it to. That would be preferable — if I leave, the HomePod can just keep on playing if my family is home.


What Happens to the Traffic You Send to the App Store? →

January 19, 2018 · 10:42

From Information Architects’ blog:

No matter how good your product is, you need to be found. We send all our traffic to the stores. In return, we get higher sales and higher rankings. Recently, some of the numbers left us guessing. The more traffic we get the higher the sales. But, somehow, our ranking suffers.

This insightful post from iA details surprising behaviour from the App Store algorithms. They also mention skipping the Windows Store for their Writer début on Windows 10, which I’m guessing signifies that they’re considering leaving the Mac App Store. While developers have no such choice in terms of iOS apps, I’ve been recently reconsidering my stance that this is a good thing. Perhaps the option to install apps directly from trustworthy developers would be a net win, even at the risk of less security for less tech-savvy users…


Tim Cook: ‘I Don’t Think a Lot of Users Were Paying Attention’ →

January 19, 2018 · 10:15

Zunaira Zaki:

When asked about the [battery] incident, Cook apologized to Apple users who believe that the company deliberately slowed the processors down in older models.

He hypothesized that when Apple released software updates to slow down older devices in older models to keep up with the new features, people may not have been “paying attention” when they explained what it was.

“Maybe we weren’t clear,” he said. “We deeply apologize for anyone who thinks we have some other kind of motivation.”

We were paying attention. His statement isn’t just bad PR, it’s unacceptable. Watch the video on ABC to hear his full statement.


January 16, 2018 · 12:24

My sister ordered this official (and priceless) Star Wars doormat for me over one and a half years ago. It finally arrived last week!

I love it!


Tea if by Sea, Cha if by Land: Why the World Only Has Two Words for Tea →

January 14, 2018 · 01:49

Nikhil Sonnad, writing for Quartz:

With a few minor exceptions, there are really only two ways to say “tea” in the world. One is like the English term—té in Spanish and tee in Afrikaans are two examples. The other is some variation of cha, like chay in Hindi.

Both versions come from China. How they spread around the world offers a clear picture of how globalization worked before “globalization” was a term anybody used. The words that sound like “cha” spread across land, along the Silk Road. The “tea”-like phrasings spread over water, by Dutch traders bringing the novel leaves back to Europe.

Seems we’re one of the few exceptions — it’s called “herbata” in Poland and I now wish it wasn’t.


FBI Hacker Says Apple Are ‘Jerks’ and ‘Evil Geniuses’ for Encrypting iPhones →

January 12, 2018 · 10:29

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, writing for Motherboard:

On Wednesday, at the the International Conference on Cyber Security in Manhattan, FBI forensic expert Stephen Flatley lashed out at Apple, calling the company “jerks,” and “evil geniuses” for making his and his colleagues’ investigative work harder. For example, Flatley complained that Apple recently made password guesses slower, changing the hash iterations from 10,000 to 10,000,000.

I’m glad his work is made harder and I can’t help but wonder what smartphone he uses privately and if he would want it to be unencrypted.


iMac vs. iMac Pro — Apple’s Bad Design Priorities →

January 11, 2018 · 12:51

Stephen Hackett, writing for iMore:

I decided to take the conservative route, so I ordered the regular iMac. It showed up the day after Christmas. I slapped 32GB of OWC RAM in it — for a total of 40GB — and migrated my data from my trusty 2015 model.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long to realize that I had made a mistake. Even during the migration, I could hear the new iMac’s fan blowing, and once I was logged in, it was even louder.

After any data migration, a Mac has a lot to do behind the scenes. Photos.app was busy reindexing my library, and Dropbox was working hard to make sure everything in its folder was supposed to be there. I let things run over night, thinking that by the next morning, this new iMac would be as quiet as my old one in normal usage.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case. I’ve heard very mixed things about this from people on Twitter and friends with 2017 iMacs, so I can’t say this is a universal truth, but the Core i7-powered iMac on my desk seemed to ramp up its fan far more often than my older i5, and when it did, the noise was noticeably louder than before.

Indexing Photos and Dropbox is not something that should make a powerful iMac, equipped with a Core i7, costing close to $3K, sweat. I know that because I built a Hackintosh based on an iMac’s specs — it has a much beefier GPU but it’s basically a 2013 iMac on paper. Its fans still spin at their slowest speed when the machine is chugging along, crunching 4K data in Final Cut Pro X. If the top-of-the-line iMac starts screaming at the top of its lungs during the basic stuff, then something’s wrong. It could be a software issue, but I’ve heard enough people complaining about the fans in various scenarios, that this sounds like a bad design decision.

Granted, the iMac Pro does seem to solve the problems Stephen’s having, but to me it sound as if his issues are the most basic tasks, which most Mac users do. A $5K+ iMac Pro should not be a “solution” to this problem. An iMac Pro is a workstation, aimed at demanding workflows. And I still have my doubts whether this is the appropriate machine for the task, especially since a 2010 Mac Pro equipped with a Vega 64 is still faster in OpenCL than a 2017 iMac Pro.

Apple’s crusade for making everything thinner and sleeker is ruining their machines. They are making their products more and more niche, while not providing computers for the masses. I’m sure there’s a market for a desktop computer like a Mac Pro, but with cheaper hardware and full-sized GPUs – I know I’d switch to that from my Hackintosh in a heartbeat, if the GPU was upgradeable, and I’m sure many more would too.

 


Dell’s ‘Maglev’ Keyboard →

January 10, 2018 · 16:05

Jacob Kastrenakes, writing for The Verge:

Among the most interesting quirks is the laptop’s keyboard: though it looks and feels just like typical Dell keyboard, it’s built using a brand-new mechanism that relies on magnets. The keys are still physically held in place at their corners, but there are now magnets beneath them to provide feedback. By controlling the strength of their repulsion, Dell can create a deeper, clickier feeling for the keys than their 0.7mm travel would normally allow.

The new “maglev” keyboard felt perfectly normal, at least during my brief use of it. I wouldn’t say it’s among the best keyboards I’ve ever typed on, but I didn’t feel any issues related to key travel, either.

This sounds like something Apple should have implemented instead of their new failure-prone butterfly switches. I am however curious how much vertical space this ‘Maglev’ implementation takes up, in comparison to the latter.


Safari’s Privacy Feature Costs Ad Companies Millions →

January 10, 2018 · 16:02

Alex Hern, writing for The Guardian:

Advertising technology firm Criteo, one of the largest in the industry, says that the Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) feature for Safari, which holds 15% of the global browser market, is likely to cut its 2018 revenue by more than a fifth compared to projections made before ITP was announced […]

In response, Apple noted that: “Ad tracking technology has become so pervasive that it is possible for ad tracking companies to recreate the majority of a person’s web browsing history. This information is collected without permission and is used for ad re-targeting, which is how ads follow people around the internet.”

This is great news (!) and means that Apple is on point with the implementation details of their new feature. The practices of the ad industry are horrific and should have been addressed years ago. I strongly believe their shady practices have basically killed their own business — people basically hate most web ads — which is in stark contrast to podcast ads.


Measuring macOS Meltdown Patches Performance →

January 10, 2018 · 15:57

fG, writing for Reverse Engineering Mac OS X:

My tests demonstrate that the syscall interface is definitely much slower in High Sierra 10.13.2. This could lead to some drama, that in most cases, is not justified (I witnessed some minor drama because I released an early chart to see what happened). What my tests appear to point to is that some workloads will be slower but they are probably not relevant unless you are doing millions of iterations. Maybe a 10% impact on your build times is not reasonable at all or you don’t even notice it. The most important thing that users and systems administrators need to do is to measure their specific situation. It’s the only way to be sure if this patch is a problem or not, and build their threat case under this new assumption. One thing is sure, this appears to be here to stay in the medium to long term until all hardware is replaced.

Interesting and varying results, depending on the workload, tested on a MacBook Pro and Mac Pro, running Sierra and High Sierra.


Don’t Use AMP →

January 10, 2018 · 09:33

Malte Ubl:

TL;DR: We are making changes to how AMP works in platforms such as Google Search that will enable linked pages to appear under publishers’ URLs instead of the google.com/amp URL space while maintaining the performance and privacy benefits of AMP Cache serving.

Nothing significant has changed; you still cede content control to Google.

Do not use AMP.


Transmit iOS Development Suspended →

January 9, 2018 · 13:03

Cabel Sasser, from Panic:

Hello. Here’s an update on Transmit iOS that I promise will not use the words “sunset” or “journey” […]

Transmit iOS made about $35k in revenue in the last year, representing a minuscule fraction of our overall 2017 app revenue. That’s not enough to cover even a half-time developer working on the app […]

My optimistic take: we hope that as iOS matures, and more and more pro users begin to seriously consider the iPad as a legitimate part of their daily work routines, Transmit iOS can one day return and triumph like it does on the Mac.

This is terrible news. I don’t often use Transmit iOS, but when I do, I love it and wish I had reason to use it more often.


I Cannot Disconnect From Wi-Fi Under macOS Sierra

January 4, 2018 · 13:12

Isn’t it ironic that so many people have issues connecting to Wi-Fi networks under various version of macOS on their MacBooks, while my issue is the exact opposite — I cannot disconnect Wi-Fi when tethering from my iPad.

Pressing “Disconnect” from the menu does nothing. Turning off Wi-Fi only reinstates the connection when I turn it back on. The only method that works for me is sleeping the computer1 — it’s disconnected after waking.

Frustrating, as is everything that doesn’t work correctly.

  1. For the record, it’s a 2016 MacBook Pro 13″ without the Touch Bar.

The Mac Is Not at the Top of Its Game →

January 4, 2018 · 10:26

John Gruber:

But Apple has invested significant time and resources into the MacBook, MacBook Pro, iMac, and now iMac Pro as they are.

Why hasn’t Apple yet shipped the Kaby Lake Refresh quad-core 15 W parts in the 13” MacBook Pros? They used to be the first manufacturer to put out machines based on new CPUs, with everyone waiting their turn. Today? They’re months behind.

The Mac is not at the top of its game, even if we skip the Surface innovation angle. Apple really needs to get its shit together, because at this point, I don’t trust them to ever update anything again, whatever Tim Cook says. I’m not a fan of their current lineup either. The iMac is a huge compromise, as is the new iMac Pro. The Mac Pro is still dead and there is no word on when the new one will arrive. The Mac Mini hasn’t been updated in close to 1200 days. The MacBook Pros still haven’t gotten new CPUs and the Touch Bar is horrific to use. The MacBook is… cute.1

All I want is a Pro laptop, with a normal keyboard and a quad-core CPU, with a footprint no larger than the current 13” model. And a no-compromise, upgradeable desktop with a full GPU and Core-series CPU, not costing a fortune. This isn’t asking much.

  1. Its screen is too small for my aging eyes.

January 1, 2018 · 11:08

I’m up. I think I’m alive, more or less. Hope your New Year’s was as good as mine!

Happy 2018!


My Photography (32) — A Curious Squirrel in Royal Łazienki Park, Warsaw, Poland, 2017

December 30, 2017 · 17:30

The squirrels in the Royal Łazienki Park in Warsaw are probably the most adorable creatures I have ever seen. Since it’s winter, they’re currently collecting as many nuts as they can, storing them for later by burying them in the ground, and only eating a few. If you happen to have a few with you (they love hazelnuts in particular), you’re in luck — they will literally eat out of your hand.

Shot with Sony A7R II + Zeiss ZF 100 mm f/2 Makro-Planer T*: f/2, 1/100 s, ISO 200.


Apple’s Message to Their Customers About iPhone Batteries and Performance →

December 29, 2017 · 11:15

We’ve been hearing feedback from our customers about the way we handle performance for iPhones with older batteries and how we have communicated that process. We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize. There’s been a lot of misunderstanding about this issue, so we would like to clarify and let you know about some changes we’re making.

First and foremost, we have never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades. Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that.

Now the important part…

About a year ago in iOS 10.2.1, we delivered a software update that improves power management during peak workloads to avoid unexpected shutdowns on iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, and iPhone SE. With the update, iOS dynamically manages the maximum performance of some system components when needed to prevent a shutdown. While these changes may go unnoticed, in some cases users may experience longer launch times for apps and other reductions in performance.

Customer response to iOS 10.2.1 was positive, as it successfully reduced the occurrence of unexpected shutdowns. We recently extended the same support for iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus in iOS 11.2.

Of course, when a chemically aged battery is replaced with a new one, iPhone performance returns to normal when operated in standard conditions.

I mentioned that last bit a few days ago:

Fitting a new battery into an iPhone will allow the SoC to be used at full power once more, hence the issue will go away. You can either try to do this under warranty or pay less than 100 EUR / 100 USD to get it done in authorised service centres. You can find multiple examples of a new battery fixing the problem, here and here for example.

Apple is now lowering the prices of battery replacement however.

Apple is reducing the price of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement by $50 — from $79 to $29 — for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later whose battery needs to be replaced, starting in late January and available worldwide through December 2018. Details will be provided soon on apple.com.

I hope this also means that they will refund those customers, who already replaced their batteries for this very reason.


The iMac Pro Is Amazingly Silent →

December 28, 2017 · 14:13

Jason Snell, writing for Six Colours:

When running HandBrake, the fan on my 5K iMac would always crank up and was quite audible when it did so. So far as I can tell, the iMac Pro’s fan may always be running, but it’s amazingly quiet. In my normal office environment, I can’t hear it—only when I spun the iMac Pro around and listened with all other devices off could I hear it, faintly blowing. When HandBrake was running at full speed, the iMac Pro sounded pretty much the same—but the air coming out of the vents on the back was definitely warmer!

I wonder how well the components inside that unnecessarily small case will fare from the heat over an extended period of time. This is my biggest iMac complaint — the back of the display could be both thicker and deeper, like the older iMacs. I’ll admit it looks good, but I’ll take cooler running internals over visual aesthetics every day of the week.


“Face ID Is a Mistake Disguised as Courage” →

December 28, 2017 · 12:39

Paul Thurrott’s piece on the iPhone X caught my eye because of his take on Apple’s design decisions:

Apple’s iPhone X is chock-full of new technologies and features, and it has a modern, elegant design that I feel will stand the test of time. But it is also more expensive than any other mainstream smartphone. And it has a few bad design choices that may limit its appeal.

My own complaints are mainly focused around iOS 11 itself, but I was curious on Paul’s take.

[…] some smartphones even offer more technically impressive designs. Samsung’s flagships offer displays that gracefully curve around the edges of the device, creating a truly bezel-less effect. And few phones stick an ungainly notch into the top of the display, ruining the infinity pool effect.

I spent a month with the S8 and S8+ — they are impressive — but if there was one thing I wish they didn’t have, it’s the curved glass. Terrible, terrible decision.

The notch is a problem. We must discuss the notch.

The notch is the wrong decision, and it’s one that Apple, and iPhone users, will now need to deal with for years. And it is the wrong decision on a number of levels.

From a looks perspective, the notch is an unnecessary, jarring interruption of an otherwise beautiful looking visual design. There is an elegance to the curves of the display and the surrounding frame, which match each other perfectly … except for that notch. It’s an affront. An intrusion. And despite assurances from some others I know who own the iPhone X—opinions differ on this one, apparently—you never really do get used to it. It’s like a mote in your eye, always in the way.

It is an affront, but at the same time, strangely enough, I barely notice it.

Apple should have done what Samsung did with its 2017 flagships, what OnePlus did with the 5T, and what virtually all other smartphone makers will do when they adopt this more design in other devices: Just put a bit of bezel at the top of the device. There is no need to intrude into the display.

I’m sure they considered this, but the iPhone would then look like every other phone on the market. My friend recently held up an LG V30 and even seeing it up close, I had to look for the logo — I thought it was the new Samsung set to ship in January.

But design is about more than just looks. Design also encompasses how a thing works. And notch or not, Apple needed some space at the top of the device to house the optical elements that were required for the iPhone X’s terrible Face ID technology.

Terrible? This will be interesting.

And Face ID is terrible by any meaningful metric. I’ll get into this more in the Security section of this review. But the short version is that this design is an unnecessary compromise and inconvenience. A rear-mounted fingerprint reader would have been hugely preferable. This is the iPhone X’s version of the missing headphone jack: A mistake disguised as courage.

Face ID has thus far, subjectively, surpassed all my expectations, beating Touch ID in every single “metric”. Which are the “meaningful” ones, I wonder?

It’s a shame that it needs to be protected with a case. Which it does, given its slippery and non-durable all-glass design.

Still rocking mine without a case1. It’s also notably less slippery than the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

To display the App Switcher, you swipe up from the bottom of the screen and hold.

You don’t need to hold. Just arc your gesture and the App Switcher will appear. This was a huge mistake on Apple’s part, when they demoed the iPhone X gestures during the keynote.

To access Control Center, you now swipe down from the top right of the screen. This is, of course, different from all other iOS-based devices, where you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to access this interface. But it’s easily learned.

This is the one gesture which is terrible beyond words.

Since Paul doesn’t mind, we obviously have completely different points of view.

The iPhone X display features HDR capabilities plus Apple’s excellent True Tone technologies, which subtly and dynamically color the display to match the light in your surroundings. This is the best implementation of this kind of thing I’ve ever seen—it debuted on the iPad Pro—and it makes reading, especially, delightful no matter where you are at the time.

Whenever I see a screen without True Tone now, I cringe. It’s that good.

The problem with this approach is that great low-light cameras, like that in the Pixel 2 XL, actually use the darkness to great effect: Instead of lighting up the scene, they let you tap to focus on a lit area and create a much more attractive—and sometimes even surreal—photo in which colors and lights pop in the darkness. With the iPhone X, all you usually get is a scene that is as evenly lit as possible, given the conditions.

If Paul bothered to tap the screen, focusing on the light bulb in the iPhone shot, he would have gotten the same effect. Proof below.

Portrait Lighting only works with the selfie camera.

Nope. It works with the rear cameras too.

Apple’s use of facial recognition is inarguably the most controversial aspect of the iPhone X. It is also, I think, the iPhone X’s Achilles Heel.

Yes, Face ID works as good, if not better than, any facial recognition system I’ve used. But it’s not particularly fast or convenient when you factor in the time and effort it takes to actually sign-in: You also need to swipe up on the screen in order to actually access the home screen or whatever app you were previously using. It’s tedious.

Effort? What effort? I already have the phone in front of me — the rest is automatic.

I start swiping before the iPhone is in front of my face, in a position where I always hold smartphones. Face ID does the rest in the background. You don’t have to wait for Face ID to unlock before you start swiping.

Worse, it’s time-consuming: Face ID is not nearly as fast as using the Touch ID fingerprint sensor that Apple placed on previous iPhones. And in denying users that option—it could have, and should have, simply put Touch ID on the back of the iPhone X—it has created an all or nothing dilemma for customers. Face ID is easily the worst thing about the iPhone X. Easily.

It’s faster in the 48 days that I’ve used it, even more so when I take into account all the situations when Touch ID fails (multiple times per day). Face ID has failed me twice so far. Not bad. And it’s easily the best new feature of the iPhone X. Easily.

And you will need to use Face ID. To sign-in to your device, over and over again. To use Apple Pay. To approve purchases in the Store. Until of course, you can’t: For reasons I can’t quite explain, I’ve had to type in my Apple ID password—my freaking password, in 2017—more on the iPhone X than I have in years.

Once a Touch ID iPhone was unlocked, the user could get into almost everything, including signing into websites, whose passwords were stored in iCloud Keychain. Not so on the X. Before the iPhone X pastes in your login data, in Safari for example, it verifies that the user is still the owner of the phone. This additional security is priceless.

God, I miss Touch ID.

I don’t. And I can’t wait for Face ID on the iPad and Mac.

Video playback is problematic too, thanks to the notch. You have two choices: You can let the notch intrude into the video, as shown here.

Or you can crop it so that there are black bars on both sides. No, neither is ideal.

This is the result of going to taller that 16:9 screens, which Paul earlier calls “correct”:

Granted, other smartphone makers delivered what is now correctly viewed as the standard for modern flagships—tall, 18:9-ish displays with tiny bezels—well before Apple did with the iPhone X.

Come on Paul, every single taller or wider than 16:9, depending on orientation, screen is going to exhibit this behaviour.

There is no way around this: The iPhone X is expensive. Too expensive, I think.

I completely agree. To some, the price is justifiable, but not to most. I don’t consider the X to be worth the $1430 it costs in Poland. Not even close.

Compared to other flagships smartphones, the iPhone X is crazy-expensive. You can get an excellent Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8+ at a steep discount right now, and these devices feature even more impressive displays than Apple’s offering.

More impressive only considering it’s discounted to half the price of the X. If we remove the pricing factor, it is not superior.


I understand that these are Paul’s subjective views on the X, but I just cannot comprehend how he sees Face ID as the Xs biggest weakness.

  1. Touch wood.

Computer Latency: 1977-2017 →

December 26, 2017 · 15:35

Dan Luu:

I have this nagging feeling that the computers I use today feel slower than the computers I used as a kid. I don’t trust this kind of feeling because human perception has been shown to be unreliable in empirical studies, so I carried around a high-speed camera and measured the response latency of devices I’ve run into in the past few months. Here are the results […]

It’s a bit absurd that a modern gaming machine running at 4,000x the speed of an apple 2, with a CPU that has 500,000x as many transistors (with a GPU that has 2,000,000x as many transistors) can maybe manage the same latency as an apple 2 in very carefully coded applications if we have a monitor with nearly 3x the refresh rate […]

On the bright side, we’re arguably emerging from the latency dark ages and it’s now possible to assemble a computer or buy a tablet with latency that’s in the same range as you could get off-the-shelf in the 70s and 80s […]

The smartphone results that Dan posted put things in perspective.