Why Stephen Hackett Bought the iMac Pro

In his column this month at iMore, Stephen writes:

The standard iMac Pro is still a lot faster than my 2015 could ever be, but then I started looking at a fully loaded 2017 5K iMac. If I opted for third-party RAM, I could pick up a 4.2GHz i7 iMac with a 1TB SSD for $3,099. With this iMac, I would still have a noticeably faster machine on my desk, but with a lot more cash in the bank.

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.

Apple Investors Write Open Letter on Children and Tech

David Gelles at the NYT has a story on an open letter by Janas Partners & Calstrs to Apple pushing the company to offer, among other things, more granular parental controls on iOS. The idea here is more parental controls will help parents better govern their children’s time with tech.

As I said to Carolina Milanesi and John Gruber on Twitter today, the onus is ultimately on educators and parents to monitor how much screen time a child gets. More granular parental controls are good, but it isn’t the responsibility of tech companies to limit how much time children have with technology. As I was taught in my early childhood development classes years back, that responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the adults who care for our children.

See also: Apple’s statement on this matter, per Rene Ritchie.

‘World Leaders on Twitter’

Twitter on Friday published a blog post in which the company explains why it won’t ban heads of state from its platform. Of course, “world leaders” is really a euphemism for “Donald Trump.” Twitter writes:

Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets, would hide important information people should be able to see and debate. It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.

What Twitter is saying is, despite Trump’s proclivity for threatening nuclear war, they won’t take action because apparently threatening war isn’t in violation of their terms of service.

‘The Snapping Point’

I enjoyed this story by Casey Newton and Nick Statt for The Verge on Snapchat and its founder and CEO, Evan Spiegel.

The public face and chief strategist at the company has been Spiegel, an obsessive product mind who reveres Steve Jobs, former employees say. (Spiegel has a portrait of Jobs hanging in his office.) Like Jobs, Spiegel is known to involve himself in seemingly minor decisions involving office aesthetics. He once ordered employees’ individual trash cans in New York City be removed in favor of communal receptacles, because he disliked the look of so many trash cans in the office, one source said. This week, he personally co-sponsored the company’s New Year’s Eve party, where public snaps were banned.

Despite my tech savvy, Snapchat continues to befuddle me. I’m old.

On the iMac Pro’s T2 Chip

In his More Color column for Macworld this week, Jason Snell writes about what the T2 chip in the new iMac Pro does. (My Late 2016 Touch Bar MacBook Pro has a T1.)

Notably, here’s an excerpt on booting up the machine:

When you start up the iMac Pro, the familiar Apple logo appears almost immediately. This is a sign that the T2 is taking control. For security reasons, the T2 is the iMac Pro hardware’s “root of trust,” and it validates the entire boot process when the power comes on. The T2 starts up, checks things out, loads its bootloader, verifies that it’s legitimate and cryptographically signed by Apple, and then moves on to the next part of the boot process.

This new boot process means there’s also a new utility for Mac users to get to know: Startup Security Utility, which you can only access by booting into Recovery mode by holding down Command-R while starting up. Startup Security Utility gives the T2 guidance about just how strict it should be when judging whether it should boot your computer.

Jason Snell’s First Impressions of His New iMac Pro

Jason posted his first impressions story to Six Colors last week:

It’s a 5K iMac, albeit in a slightly darker shade. I made my transfer of data using Migration Assistant via Thunderbolt, which meant I needed to dig up a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter. (Turns out I had one of those!) I look forward to compressing more video and denoising more audio. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I’ll say it again: I’m not in the market for this machine, but that space gray sure is pretty.

On Streaming Video and Classic Film

Zach Schonfeld, writing for Newsweek, on the dearth of classic films on Netflix:

Netflix’s selection of classic cinema is abominable—and it seems to shrink more every year or so. As of this month, the streaming platform offers just 43 movies made before 1970, and fewer than 25 from the pre-1950 era (several of which are World War II documentaries). It’s the sort of classics selection you’d expect to find in a decrepit video store in 1993, not on a leading entertainment platform that serves some 100 million global subscribers. Netflix’s DVD subscribers enjoy a much wider selection (four million customers still opt to receive discs in the mail), but as the company shifts its focus to streaming and original content, cinephiles fear the cinematic canon is being left behind.

“If you're the biggest name in film streaming services, the less you offer in classic movies, the more you imply that classic movies have less to offer,” says Nora Fiore, a 26-year-old writer who has a blog devoted to classic cinema, “The Nitrate Diva.” “It's a terrible message to put out there.”

I’ve long been a fan of classic film, and have a good-sized library of movies on DVD. If Turner Classic Movies ever launches a streaming service, I’d sign up for it in a heartbeat.

John Gruber’s iPhone X Review

John’s review is quintessential Gruber: incredibly thoughtful and well-written.

This is the key passage to me:

The iPhone X is not the work of an overcautious company. It’s a risk to so fundamentally change the most profitable platform in the world. But Apple is gambling on the taste of the team who lived with the iPhone X during its development. Ossification is a risk with a platform as popular and successful as the iPhone — fear of making unpopular changes can lead a platform vendor to make no significant changes. Another risk, though, is hubris — making changes just for the sake of making changes that show off how clever the folks at Apple still are.

After two months using an iPhone X, I’m convinced Apple succeeded. The iPhone X is a triumph, a delightful conceptual modernization of a ten-year-old platform that, prior to using the iPhone X, I didn’t think needed a modernization. Almost nothing7 about the iPhone X calls undue attention to its cleverness. It all just seems like the new normal, and it’s a lot of fun.

Also of note, we have similar takeaways about the lack of Face ID on our iPads.

Eminem Interview with Vulture

David Marchese at Vulture interviewed Eminem about his new album, Revival, released earlier this month. Eminem is one of my favorite artists, and although I was initially skeptical, Revival has turned into one of my most favorite albums of the year. The man is a genius, lyrically and technically. I say Recovery is his best work, but this new one is up there.

It’s fascinating to read how Eminem dislikes his Encore and Relapse albums.

The Moat Between Apple Maps and Google Maps

Justin O’Beirne wrote (another) blog post comparing Apple and Google’s respective mapping apps. In this recent piece, he argues there’s a sizable moat between the two because Google has more AOIs, or “areas of interest.” Namely, buildings.

I don’t dispute Google has collected better data than Apple—and you can argue data is paramount in this context—but there is a flip side to this. In my usage, Apple Maps wins the day over Google. This is because (a) I live in the Bay Area, and as such, the data here is great; and (b) Apple Maps is far more visually accessible. As I tweeted earlier today, it’s a matter of perspective. In other words, data isn’t everything, even to maps. Accessibility, as ever, is a key factor too, so in my case, design and data make the difference.

Bloomberg: Apple Developing EKG Monitor for Watch

Good scoop by Alex Webb at Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. is developing an advanced heart-monitoring feature for future versions of its smartwatch, part of a broader push by the company to turn what was once a luxury fashion accessory into a serious medical device, according to people familiar with the plan.

A version being tested requires users to squeeze the frame of the Apple Watch with two fingers from the hand that’s not wearing the device, one of the people said. It then passes an imperceptible current across the person’s chest to track electrical signals in the heart and detect any abnormalities like irregular heart rates. Such conditions can increase the risk of strokes and heart failure and develop in about one-quarter of people over 40, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As someone who recently had a bit of a heart scare—my EKG results came back normal, thankfully—I find this incredibly exciting news. Every bit of Apple Watch news is exciting, as Apple is clearly invested in pushing the device’s health and fitness capabilities even further.

‘iMac Pro: The First Shoe Drops’

Jason Snell published a great piece at Six Colors on what the new iMac Pro means for Apple, customers, and developers. Jason puts everything nicely into perspective. As I’ve said on Twitter, I’m not even remotely close to being in the market for this machine, but I’d be all over the space gray accessories if they were available as standalone purchases.

See also: John Gruber, Matthew Panzarino, and Rene Ritchie on Apple’s new desktop.

Review: iPhone X

With the exception of the SE and the 8/8 Plus, I’ve reviewed every new iPhone since the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus debuted three years ago. I’ve concluded every review by saying that, in one way or another, that year’s model is the best, most accessible iPhone to date. However trite, I’ve stood by that assertion because it’s true. Each model is an iteration on the last, bringing about many improvements. Accordingly, each successive model is more accessible than the last.

The iPhone X is more than iterative—it’s a massive leap forward.

In a month using iPhone X—a review unit provided to me by Apple—I’ve found the device to be everything Apple proclaims it to be. It truly is the best, most accessible iPhone yet. It’s delightful to hold and use. It feels like the future, today.

That iPhone X is the “most accessible iPhone yet” holds new meaning. As I’ve lived with the phone, a thought that’s persisted in my mind is how much iPhone X is not merely the “future of the smartphone,” as Apple boasts, but how it represents a more accessible smartphone of the future. Between the new form factor, Face ID, and wireless charging, using iPhone X is a whole new experience for a disabled user such as myself. These technologies are bleeding-edge, but they’re so compelling that they make iPhone X the most accessible iPhone Apple’s ever made.

Face ID

I published a piece a few weeks ago in which I delve into the accessibility implications of Face ID, Apple’s new facial recognition system. Without rehashing the entire article here, the Cliff’s Notes version is Face ID became most useful to me when I realized I had to turn off the Require Attention option.

The reason Require Attention doesn’t work for me is the strabismus in my left eye. Strabismus is a condition where one or both of the eyes aren’t set straight, and it seems to wreak havoc on the iPhone X’s TrueDepth camera system. After I restored my phone from an iCloud backup, the Face ID setup process would go smoothly, but then I wasn’t able to log into my phone (getting into 1Password and using Apple Pay was also hard). The problem was the phone couldn’t tell whether I was looking at it, even if I knew I was, due to the strabismus. It was highly frustrating initially, but I learned something: I’m an edge case. For the first time using an Apple product, I felt I had to adapt to the technology rather than have the technology adapt to me.

Since turning off Require Attention, Face ID has worked like a charm. It has even started to recognize me at extreme angles, such as when I lean over the phone as it sits on my kitchen table. The only issue I continue to have is I’m still not totally accustomed to holding the phone far enough away such that it can see me. This is because I instinctively hold the phone close to my face in order to see comfortably. I have yet to develop consistent muscle memory to move my arm farther away, and have to consciously remind myself to do so whenever I get the haptic, can’t-log-you-in buzz on the Lock screen.

Overall, Face ID is terrific, particularly given how it’s a “1.0” version of the feature. For as much as I praised Touch ID on its merit as an accessibility tool, Face ID is markedly better. It’s very liberating going from tactilely authenticating with my thumb to simply looking at my phone. Face ID removes another point of friction, effectively making accessing iPhone X a “hands-free” endeavor. If you’re someone with certain fine-motor limitations, the advent of Face ID is a true revelation.

The side effect here is Face ID instantly makes Touch ID on my 10.5-inch iPad Pro feel downright anachronistic. For things like unlocking my phone or paying for a Lyft ride, Face ID is like performing a magic trick. To me, this is the utmost compliment; for as wonderful as Touch ID was (and still is), Face ID bests it in every meaningful way. And, again, this is a 1.0 take.

Size & Weight

In early 2016, I wrote about switching to the iPhone 6s Plus, saying “the ‘monster’ iPhone is the iPhone I've always wanted.” To this day, I maintain moving to the Plus was one of the best technological decisions I’ve ever made. If the iPhone X didn’t exist this year, I certainly would have upgraded to the 8 Plus.

I freely admit, however, loving the Plus for its screen didn’t come without a cost. There’s no getting around the fact it’s a beast physically, and as such, it’s not easily pocketable. Of course I acclimated to the size in hand and in my pocket, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a pain in the ass. As I said in my 6s Plus story, the benefits my low vision reaped from the big screen trumped any concerns over ergonomics and portability.

For its part, the iPhone X strikes me as a blend of both traits: it has the ergonomics and pocketability of an iPhone 6/7/8 and it has the (slightly) bigger screen of the Plus models. In practice, using iPhone X feels like using a “regular” iPhone; I’m able to use it one-handed and pocket it with no problems. It’s so great to have the best of both worlds, because I feel I’m not making a compromise to use the device. It’s all good.

Which is important considering the rumor Apple is planning to release a Plus variant of iPhone X in 2018. In all honesty, I don’t know if I’d be willing to make the switch to an iPhone X Plus. I’d surely like to check it out for journalism’s sake, but I really believe the iPhone X as it is right now is ideal. Like the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, I feel like I’m getting the best of both attributes: Small enough to be portable yet big enough to see.

Wireless Charging

Aside from Tap to Wake, wireless charging is actually my favorite aspect of iPhone X. Like with Face ID, it’s felt incredibly freeing not having to plug in a cable to charge. All I need to do is literally put my phone down, and it charges.

My review kit from Apple included the Belkin charging pad, which has worked wonderfully for me. I’ve seen other reviewers on Twitter say the Mophie one is better, but Belkin’s has been fine in my usage. Maybe it’s just dumb luck, but I’ve never had an issue with finding the right “spot” to charge my phone.

In terms of accessibility, what makes wireless charging so great is, again, it removes a point of friction. In this case, wireless charging means I needn’t have to contend with plugging in a cable. Mundane as it is, this is a big deal. Given my low vision and cerebral palsy, plugging in my devices has always been somewhat of an adventure. I have to not only find the port with my eyes, but I have to use my fingers to plug in the cable. It’s not an easy task if your vision and fine-motor skills are lacking, as mine are. Thus, wireless charging is a lifesaver.

There are people who poo-poo wireless charging as not being any better than using Lightning, which is their prerogative, but it overlooks the accessibility benefits. The bull case for wireless charging is exactly the same case for ditching the headphone jack. Losing the headphone jack on iPhone 7 meant I gained AirPods, which has revolutionized the way I listen to audio on iOS. Wireless headphones absolutely beats plugging in EarPods. Likewise, using a wireless charging mat like Belkin’s (or Apple’s forthcoming AirPower accessory) beats plugging in a Lightning cable. Put another way, a wireless charging mat makes charging my phone more accessible in the same way AirPods makes listening to music and podcasts more accessible. I can plug in a cable, but I’d rather not. With iPhone X, I don’t have to.

New Home Gestures

The absence of a Home button on iPhone X means unlocking the phone, opening multitasking, and exiting apps is done via a swipe-up gesture. I’ve had no problems performing the swipe; it became second nature to me after a matter of hours. The only bad thing is my brain goes wonky when I try to swipe on my iPad. It feels “broken” for a second before it dawns on me it’s different. iPhone X is magical not only technologically, but also in the way it makes newish devices feel old and decrepit.

One amusing aspect of iPhone X lacking a Home button is the popularity of using AssistiveTouch to “put back” the button. It’s a hack—a hack that works!—but it’s funny nonetheless. People are spending $1000 on Apple’s flagship, cutting-edge smartphone only to “hack it” by giving it a pseudo Home button. On the bright side, though, it’s heartening to see more people discovering iOS’s accessibility features. I’ve long championed the idea that accessibility features are not exclusively the domain of users with disabilities. They’re equally beneficial to anyone, regardless of ability. The use of AssistiveTouch (and Dynamic Type) are two examples of this, and I’m happy people are noticing. Accessibility helps everyone, not only the disabled.

Things I Don’t Like

I have only two complaints about iPhone X, both minor.

First, I dislike how I can’t see the headphone icon (🎧) in the status bar at a glance, as it’s helpful in confirming that audio is piping through my AirPods. Because the sensor housing (aka “the notch”) is in the way, there’s less room up there for information. I find I have to swipe down to invoke Control Center in order to see the icon, and it’s annoying. (The same goes for the battery percentage, which I like a lot. Visually, it’s a far more concrete measure for me than the abstract battery icon alone.) I would rather see the headphone icon instead of, say, the cellular bars or “AT&T” whenever I’m listening to something.

Secondly, the home indicator (the horizontal line at the bottom of the screen) gets in the way of content. I understand why it’s there, but I don’t believe it needs to be persistent. I know how to get back to Springboard; I don’t need to see the home indicator all the time. It gets in the way of stuff down at the bottom. I’d like to see Apple add an option to get rid of it.

Bottom Line

The iPhone X is superb. It gives me the same feeling of delightfulness as my AirPods and Apple Pencil do. The phone oozes luxury with its all glass and stainless steel design, and its OLED screen is the best screen I’ve ever seen on any device. I cannot wait to see how Apple will refine iPhone X next fall.

I’ll say it once more: iPhone X is the best, most accessible iPhone yet.

Apple Confirms Shazam Acquisition

Last Friday, TechCrunch reported Apple was in talks to acquire Shazam. This morning, the company issued a statement to BuzzFeed on the deal:

“We are thrilled that Shazam and its talented team will be joining Apple,” Apple spokesperson Tom Neumayr said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “Since the launch of the App Store, Shazam has consistently ranked as one of the most popular apps for iOS. Today, it’s used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, across multiple platforms.”

“Apple Music and Shazam are a natural fit, sharing a passion for music discovery and delivering great music experiences to our users,” Neumayr continued. “We have exciting plans in store, and we look forward to combining with Shazam upon approval of today’s agreement.”

I wonder if this deal was more about the engineering talent than about the service.

Jony Ive Resumes Daily Oversight of Design Team

Mark Gurman and Alex Webb, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc.’s Jony Ive, a key executive credited with the look of many of the company’s most popular products, has re-taken direct management of product design teams.

Ive, 50, was named Apple’s chief design officer in 2015 and subsequently handed off some day-to-day management responsibility while the iPhone maker was building its new Apple Park headquarters in Cupertino, California. “With the completion of Apple Park, Apple’s design leaders and teams are again reporting directly to Jony Ive, who remains focused purely on design,” Amy Bessette, a company spokeswoman, said Friday in a statement.

Now that Apple Park is complete, this makes sense.

(via Daring Fireball)

Improving the iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard

Although I’m fond of my Touch Bar MacBook Pro, the majority of my computing time is done on iOS, whether it be on my iPhone or my iPad. I use the iPad (the 10.5-inch model) often as a “laptop” to write blog posts and stories for my various freelance outlets. When I write on the tablet, my keyboard of choice is Apple’s Smart Keyboard. I like it for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact it’s an “all-in-one” solution. Unlike something like Studio Neat’s Canopy, the Smart Keyboard attaches itself to the iPad—which means it’s also a cover, so I’m effectively carrying a single entity. That matters for accessibility insofar as it’s one thing to carry, as opposed to carrying my iPad and the Canopy stand with the Magic Keyboard. For me, the Smart Keyboard is less weight and less cumbersome. Not to mention the advantage of the Smart Connector over Bluetooth; overall, the Smart Keyboard is a winner in my book.

Ergonomics and portability aside, I do like the Smart Keyboard as a keyboard for typing. The keys feel good, and not being a touch typist, I’m not concerned about words-per-minute or key travel. My cerebral palsy makes typing somewhat difficult for me, so the only way I can put “pen to paper,” so to speak, is to use the hunt-and-peck method. (I also do this on iOS’s virtual keyboard. In my almost 5 years as a member of the tech press, I’ve written innumerable articles using only the glass on my iPad.)

Despite my Smart Keyboard fandom, there are two key areas that are in dire need of improvement. The enhancements I suggest would make the accessory more accessible to me, and I hope the company considers adding them, if possible, in a future version of it.

The Caps Lock Key Needs an Indicator Light

One huge advantage the Magic Keyboard has over the Smart Keyboard is its Caps Lock key has a light that indicates state. The Smart Keyboard desperately needs one, and I sorely miss it. It drives me crazy at the beginning of a sentence or when I type a proper noun that I can’t tell whether Caps Lock is on/off. I end up with many typos as a result, which I find disrupts the writing process because I always feel compelled to stop and correct myself.

The lack of a Caps Lock indicator is so infuriating not only for convenience, but more importantly, for accessibility. The reason for this is because the little light on my Magic Keyboard—or on my MacBook Pro’s keyboard, for that matter—is a clear visual cue signaling that Caps Lock is enabled. By contrast, the lack of said light on the Smart Keyboard today means users effectively play a guessing game every time they write. You don’t know what state the key is in unless you press it once or twice—this abstraction is both annoying and inaccessible, at least for me. Adding a light would give me (and others) a concrete indication that Caps Lock is on or off. No more ambiguity or frustration.

The Keyboard Needs to Be Backlit

In a similar vein to how an indicator light on the Caps Lock key acts as a visual cue of state, backlit keys would make seeing the Smart Keyboard easier. The keyboard itself is relatively low contrast, as its dark grayish-blue color makes distinguishing individual keys somewhat tricky. I find this especially problematic in low-light environments or at night, because the dark styling of the keyboard can’t offset the ambient conditions. I’m able to manage despite this, but it isn’t an ideal situation.

Adding backlit keys to the Smart Keyboard would help immensely in boosting contrast because the LED lights would be the contrast. It’d make typing in low-light conditions exponentially better, particularly for someone like me who’s visually impaired. I don’t know how feasible this would be, engineering-wise, but it would be awesome if Apple can pull it off. I’d be very pleased.

As I mentioned at the outset, the addition of a Caps Lock indicator and backlit keys to the Smart Keyboard would make the product more accessible—and more enjoyable. The Smart Keyboard seems to be a divisive product amongst iPad writers, but for my needs and tolerances, it’s nearly perfect. Enhance it with my suggestions, and I’d likely never use another keyboard again.