iPhone X Home Indicator Tinting

11 November 2017

In a post for 9to5Mac, I brought up an area where the iPhone X currently does the wrong thing, at least in my opinion regarding the aesthetics of the home indicator. In an app with mostly dark content, like iTunes Store or the Watch app, the home indicator is coloured stark white.

This is not very nice to look at, the subtle greys and blacks of the application clash with the bright white rounded rectangle. It distracts the eye. You can see that in the screenshot above, on the left. If you are reading this post on an LCD screen, consider that the problem is amplified further on an actual iPhone X with its high-contrast OLED screen.

In the right-side mockup, I color-matched the home indicator with the text colour of the tab-bar items. This is a simple but very effective change. From a technical perspective, UIKit could easily grab that value from the appearance proxy — no additional API surface needed — for a much more pleasing result. The home indicator is unmistakably still there, it just integrates neatly with the app chrome.

Ideally, Apple would expose a dedicated API that lets each app decide what colour the home indicator should be in the current context. It already allows developers to set whether the home indicator should be temporarily hidden, to avoid disrupting full-screen experiences like watching video.

The automatic algorithm does a decent job at guessing the best colour for the indicator at any particular moment (it’s actually a luminosity-blended texture, not one single colour), but it would be better if each app could provide its own suggestion. The suggested colour would only be a preferred tint; the system could choose to override the developers’ wishes if it deemed it necessary.

Right now, the indicator is only ever depicted in shades of grey. That doesn’t need to change with the API extension proposed above; in fact it’s probably enough if the API simply let the app say what the maximum brightness of the indicator should be.

Apple Gives Early iPhone X Access To YouTubers

1 November 2017

I think the Monday YouTube iPhone X videos were a shambles. Not because they were YouTubers, but because Apple didn’t give them sufficient access to create interesting and engaging videos.

Every Apple-sanctioned hands-on posted on Monday was the exact same, incredibly generic, rough overview of Animoji, Face ID and the bigger screen. Each video was shot in the same New York City location and felt incredibly scripted by the invisible hand of Apple PR, with restrictive guidelines on what they could talk about and limited time to handle (and shoot) the product.

With these constraints imposed, it’s no surprise that the videos are homogenous and drab retelling of certain features. I’m sure Apple PR loved it as a way to advertise their iPhone X talking points to a wide base of people for free, but as a collection it didn’t work.

What allows the tech press to create compelling content for Apple products is they have the freedom to take a review unit home with them, in their own unique environments and situations. Apple threw away the creative diversity of YouTube with how they orchestrated the Monday early access previews. I think it’s cool they are reaching out to more YouTube personalities, specifically small to medium size channels, but on this occasion it fell flat. Apple stacked the deck against them, they didn’t have the freedom to make captivating, immersive, videos.

You know who made the best YouTube hands on? Brooke Peterson. Her video had a story, it had a flow, it had a cool setting. The grittiness made it feel like real life, which is ironic given its illegitimacy. With the Apple-sanctioned videos, it was impossible to escape the artificial studio lighting of the demo room.

HomePod SiriKit Integration

31 October 2017

SiriKit, Apple Developer:

With the intelligence of Siri, users control HomePod through natural voice interaction and can conveniently access iOS apps that support SiriKit Messaging, Lists, and Notes. Siri recognizes SiriKit requests made on HomePod and sends those requests to the user’s iOS device for processing. To prepare your app, make sure that your SiriKit integration is up to date and that you’ve adopted all of the appropriate intents.

Here’s the flow. The HomePod listens for a request from a user. If it recognises it as a request meant for a third party app, it sends the necessary data to a nearby iPhone/iPad with the app installed. The iOS device sends the response back to the HomePod, which speaks the reply. It’s similar to how WatchKit 1.0 worked where the connected phone did all of the heavy-lifting for third-party Watch apps.

Requiring an at-home iOS device to handle a third-party app request isn’t much of a limitation, at all. I can’t think of a situation when I would be using the HomePod and not have the iPhone somewhere in the house. There are benefits to a satellite ‘remote control’ approach too: developers don’t have to do anything special to support HomePod, all service configuration will naturally mirror the user’s phone apps, and there’s no need for users to manage another list of installed apps.

HomePod is lacking in capability in key areas, though. The scope of SiriKit is small on iOS and it’s even smaller for the HomePod integration; limited to third-party notes, lists and messaging apps. Some of the SiriKit domains don’t make sense because they require mobility (workouts) or a display (visual codes) but there are others that could be useful if the technical infrastructure could support them. Hailing an Uber from your living room smart speaker is a first-world convenience that HomePod cannot serve.

It would also be nice if Apple opened up new SiriKit domains to coincide with the HomePod launch, to give it more functionality. Third-party podcast and music apps are notable omissions — relevant to HomePod, iPhone and iPad — but there is no news on this front whatsoever.

Most significantly for HomePod is how it behaves as a device shared by multiple people. Or more accurately, how it seemingly ignores any such attempt to be a shared home product at the software level. It seems like one user will sign into the HomePod with Apple ID and iCloud, and all Siri features will be funnelled through that one account. This applies to first-party and third party services.

If you look at the HomePod solely as an Apple Music jukebox, even that has data that is unique to different members in the family: personal playlists and mixes. The first version of the HomePod software appears to have no support for multi-user accounts at all. Not good.

Tim Culpan On iPhone X Production Problems

23 October 2017

Bloomberg:

So when Cupertino decided to go with OLED, it must have known that supply would be tight and the company would be relying on nemesis Samsung. Perhaps Cook and Williams were OK with this and figured Samsung would ramp up fast enough to ensure OLEDs for all, or maybe they thought alternative suppliers would come on stream.

The biggest bottlenecks in the iPhone X supply chain are not directly related to the OLED screen at all. The OLED panel is expensive (five times more costly to Apple than an iPhone 8 Plus LCD) and only available from a single supplier, but that screen can be produced at the required ‘Apple scale’ by Samsung.

It is true that adopting an (almost) edge-to-edge OLED screen had implications on product specifications; namely the need for Face ID as a replacement to Touch ID. The depth-sensing camera system is one of the parts that caused holdups in ramping iPhone X units.

Regardless, Apple handled the situation the best it could. They needed to bring out a revolutionary high-end phone this year; the 6-series chassis with forehead and chin was showing its age. I’m sure they knew about the potential pitfalls in the supply chain that could arise, natural for any product like iPhone X that uses new internal components at incredible volumes, but they simply had to take that on the chin or risk falling behind in the marketplace.

Instead of the X, imagine that Apple released a much more conservative phone as their 2017 flagship iPhone. It may well have been readily stocked in stores, but who cares if nobody is excited to queue up (figuratively) and buy it. It would also have been incredibly punishing to Apple’s brand reputation; the press would publish negative stories about Apple’s lack of vision and innovation in droves.

It’s just an untenable proposition. They needed an impressive high-end device, at any cost, and the iPhone X is exactly that. Millions of people are about to buy it on Friday. Millions more will be gasping to buy it as soon as they can. The production issues and lack of supply is frustrating … however it’s only a short-term concern. KGI’s Ming-Chi Kuo believes iPhone X production will ramp up to full capacity sometime in November.

Facing the choice between launching a radical new design with a few months of supply shortages, or heralding a ‘boring’ iPhone for another year, Apple clearly made the right decision.

Google Pixel 2 Cameras

18 October 2017

The Verge:

Google attempts to do the same thing with a single lens that other cameras do with two: detect depth data and blur the background. Most phones do this by combining computer recognition with a little bit of depth data — and Google is no different in that regard.

What is different is that Google is much better at computer recognition, and it’s gathering depth data from the dual-pixel system, where the half-pixels are literally less than a micron apart on a single image sensor. Google’s proficiency at machine learning means portrait images from the Pixel 2 do a better job of cropping around hair than either the iPhone 8 or the Note 8.

The Pixel 2 cameras are very impressive. The sample photos are very sharp and the automatic HDR+ effects make most of the images look hyper-real, probably not the most accurate depiction of the real-life scene but they look good.

It’s also fascinating to see others do Portrait mode features with a single lens. As everything in technology follows a path towards miniaturisation, the Apple approach — a dual camera system — will eventually be obsolete. One day. As it stands, the duo component enables another camera feature that no single lens phone offers: optical zoom.

The 2x zoom of the telephoto camera is a huge feature. In fact, when the iPhone 7 Plus first launched, the only function the dual cameras served was higher-quality zooming. The depth effect Portrait camera didn’t ship until a month after the phone was released.

The ability to zoom without digital cropping is a big deal. It justifies having two ugly holes poking about the back of the phone, rather than one. It doesn’t matter that Apple can ‘only’ achieve Portrait mode by using two lenses until Google (or another prominent phone manufacturer) can do optical zoom with a single lens.

Developing For Apple Watch

9 October 2017

The Watch is cool, making apps for it not so much. WatchKit doesn’t give the developer much freedom when it comes to design. The interface is composed of pre-compiled layouts and generic UI elements, with limited customisation. It’s a rich templating engine.

Behaviours and interactions are only achievable for third-party developers on watchOS if someone at Apple has already invented them and exposed a checkbox in Interface Builder. Any dynamic transition or animation in a WatchKit app is basically impossible.

For example, you can transition a table row to a new appearance if that row changes height because WatchKit happens to support that. But if you want to cross-fade the contents of a row that has the same height before and after, you are out of luck.

Want to create a social feed with post summaries and photos that use a parallax effect to subtly shift perspective as you move through a story? No joy. WatchKit does not provide realtime scroll events to apps so there is no way to react to a change in view offset. Even if it did, the lack of freeform layout effectively makes it unfeasible.

Let’s pretend Flickr wants to make a watch app that showcases the best images of the week uploaded to the platform, with a wall of thumbnails that fills the watch display. Users could use the Digital Crown to zoom in and focus on a single photo in fullscreen. You could perhaps favourite it to find it again later on a Mac or iPad. Seems like an interesting app? Literally only in your dreams with WatchKit. (In my dreams, Flickr is also a thriving photo sharing site.)

You have to fight the system at every turn to do anything non-standard … and in most cases it still isn’t achievable. There are a few ‘advanced’ interactions that Apple has made special affordances for developers to take advantage of, but I can probably count the number of them on one hand. There’s a reason why all third-party watch apps look uninspiring and generic; there’s just not much you can do to make your own app stand out.

What really puts salt in the wound is that Apple has access to a completely different Apple Watch technology stack and doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of it in its own apps. In thinking what I wanted to say for this article, I started flicking through the honeycomb and trying to find a stock app that could be visually replicated by a third party. I really, really, struggled.

The examples I wrote up above were not invented arbitrarily. The parallax story feed is literally describing the Apple News app. The photo wall describes the interactions of the Photos app. The update-in-place custom transitions are used all over the system — I was specifically thinking of the Heart Rate app which dynamically updates the current heart rate readout using a rotary-dial text animation.

The kind of things Apple doesn’t let you do are critical things that makeup a rich and responsive application. These things should not be passed off as little niceties, they serve a significant role in making an app feel alive and more enjoyable to use. Let’s drive this home with more examples of stock apps doing things third-party developers can’t.

Messages uses a zooming effect for bubbles as you scroll through the transcript, and swipe actions for the summary cells on the main screen. Calendar pushes the title bar alongside the list of events. Music has a beautiful transition for scrolling between albums on the home screen, it feels like you are flicking between jewel case CDs on a shelf. Activity relies on a rich graphical representation of progress, the rings, with independent animations for each segment and several custom live-updating animated charts hosted inside table cells that scale up as the user scrolls.

Even something mundane like the contact list in the Phone app shows hundreds of rows with a large address book, far more cells than WatchKit can manage, and presents a custom letter-by-letter scrubbing interface when you scroll the Digital Crown quickly. Tap on a contact photo and it smoothly expands to fill the Watch display. These interactions are so basic I had to double-check I wasn’t crazy, but sadly it is true these things are all unavailable to external developers.

After looking at every app on my watch, I think three Apple apps could be implemented by an outsider: Alarms, Settings and Stocks. That’s it. (Alarms and Settings are very plain apps mostly consisting of standard table rows. Stocks has a dynamic behaviour where you can scroll/swipe through the detail views like vertical pages. This interaction is one of the few things Apple has packaged up for WatchKit developers to access.)

Apple engineers are using a completely different technology stack to create the system apps. They get to write real iOS apps with a watchOS appearance theme, essentially. Third-party developers have to use WatchKit — a completely separate abstracted framework that exposes only high-level interface objects (whilst creating UIKit components under the covers).

The current WatchKit API leaves no room for invention. iOS innovations like pull-to-refresh came about because the iPhone OS UI frameworks were flexible enough to let developers and designers run wild with their own ideas, if they wanted to. Some of these custom controls worked so well Apple later incorporated them as standard components in UIKit. That free reign creativity simply can’t happen on the watch at the moment. Apple defines what is possible.

I hope this adequately conveys the frustration I had developing Visual Codes for Apple Watch. There’s no freedom to make what you are imagining in your head which means, for me, there is almost no fun in making it either. I did it because I had to.

Unlike iOS, making a WatchKit app is like a chore where you have to do a set number of things in a set number of ways. And that’s just an exposition of the UI side. I haven’t even covered the restrictions on what features are actually implementable on current watchOS. Those functional limitations preclude many categories of Watch apps from being made at all.

Google Home Max

4 October 2017

9to5Google:

In addition to launching a smaller, cheaper Assistant smart speaker this morning, Google also unveiled the Google Home Max. Larger than last year’s Home, it features stereo speakers and a more premium design.

On the audio front, there are dual 4.5-inch high-excursion woofers with “custom” .7-inch tweets. The speaker cover is made of an “acoustically transparent fabric,” while there is a rigid polycarbonate housing. Google notes that the Max is 20x louder than the Google Home. Users can connect speakers via Cast, Bluetooth, or aux jack.

I’d be shocked if they sell more than a few thousand of these. It is expensive. At $399, it’s positioned at a price even higher than the HomePod. It’s also really expensive relative to the rest of the Google Home line.

Google already sells far cheaper smart speakers; in fact, they just announced a $49 Mini. I reckon that most people interested in a Google smart speaker product will just buy what’s cheap, and be very happy. The Max is a premium option that very few people will shell out for.

Similarly, Apple would sell far fewer $349 HomePods if they also sold a $199 model that had worse sound quality proportional to its lower price.

Nevertheless, ignoring market viability, I think the Max is pretty cool. The form factor is neat. It has a magnetic rubber foot that can attach to the short side or the long side. In its default horizontal appearance, it looks like it is meant to be used as an oblong. Yet, you can pair it with a second unit, orient them vertically, and it looks like it meant is to be used that way round reminiscent of ‘normal’ stereo speakers.

As with all the smart speakers that emphasise their music capabilities, it’s impossible to know how it stacks up without hearing it in person. Both this and the HomePod ship sometime in December — it will make for an interesting comparison.

KeyboardNavigationKit

25 September 2017

On iOS, if you connect a hardware keyboard, you can actually open Spotlight Search and navigate between search results without ever touching the screen. KeyboardNavigationKit provides the same behaviour as a framework for any developer to add similar interactions to table views in their own applications. Check out the source on Github.

Use the up and down arrow keys to adjust the focused row. Press Enter to select a focused cell. Check the video for visual examples.

I’m very happy to finally be able to contribute to open-source iOS development with my first open-source Swift framework. KeyboardNavigationKit is used within Visual Codes right now, so it’s tested in shipping applications. Ultimately third-party implementations of keyboard focus will not be necessary, as UIKit will provide system implementations (UIFocusEngine is almost there already, but it’s tvOS only) as the iPad becomes more of a macOS replacement.

Feedback is very much welcomed. I am aware that documentation and example code is very much lacking. It’s on the to-do list. Shipping this fulfils a goal of mine I’ve had since the end of 2016, so here it is. I hope it is useful to someone.

Making Visual Codes

21 September 2017

Visual Codes creates QR codes that anyone can scan using their iPhone camera app. Send links, add a contact or even connect to WiFi, just by scanning a code. Only the person who makes the QR code in the first place needs to download Visual Codes app; any iPhone or iPad running iOS 11 automatically scans the code through the native Camera.

That’s the pitch. Here’s the backstory. I have definitely mocked QR codes in the past so at face value, it’s a bit hypocritical to then go and make an app that centres around them as a concept.

However, what changed my view is iOS 11 integration of a QR code reader at the system level. Becoming a first-party feature helps a great deal and reducing the friction of using a QR code. No third-party apps to download and launch, users simply open the Camera (which is instantly accessible from the lock screen) and point it at the QR code.

The QR format space is messy; there isn’t really one official standard on how a message payload is encoded into a QR image. The design elegance of Visual Codes is that I picked Apple’s implementation in iOS 11 as the ‘standard’ to write against. I can promise to support what iOS does, and nothing else. I can test against the devices I own and comfortably address a large audience (any iOS 11 device).

If the generated codes work on other platforms, then that’s great. If they don’t, I’m not going against the app’s premise. Incidentally, most of the codes will work with Android which is a nice sweetener.

Visual Codes is a niche app with a couple of obvious use cases (like creating a QR code for your home WiFi network) and then a wide space of potential niche applications. Marketing such an abstract generic utility is hard. The app is freemium for precisely that reason: people can try it out without having to decide if it is worth paying for.

The app was a fun project to make. I pushed hard to make the 1.0 not require a web connection at all. It’s refreshing to work on apps that don’t need to worry about networking; there’s just a lot of boring stuff that I didn’t have to concern myself with. Instead, I used the extra development time to experiment and play around with features like SiriKit and rich keyboard list navigation.

I think that was a good decision. If I had forced myself into networking for the 1.0, I might not have ever shipped it. I probably would have got bored debugging a synchronisation issue and given up on it entirely. The flexibility to abandon something is a blessing and a curse when it comes to side projects.

Of course, the most-requested feature since the app launched yesterday is cross-device iCloud syncing of libraries. This is something I obviously want to add. At least now, I have the motivation of a (partially paying) user base to satisfy when I inevitably hit a wall in the CloudKit implementation.

In terms of the interface design, my limited resource budget stunted some of the things I wanted to achieve. I scrapped plans for a custom iPad layout (likely revolving around a grid view for the main screen rather than a stretched-out list) and limited myself to only small tweaks for the tablet size class. My compromise was to make the app look good on the iPhone and in the iPad floating multitasking window.

The transition from code library to detail view is hacked together but it looks great and smooths out the navigation experience. I’m really proud of the custom Print interface with dynamic previews, I think it looks great and exposes a lot of advanced functionality without getting lost in configuration panes.

A secondary motivation for releasing Visual Codes was to have a shipping app that uses my open-source frameworks, dogfooding as it were. Until this year, I had no open-source repositories to my name. Now, I have two meaningful contributions to the open-source iOS community in the wings. Although I am yet to formally announce them, they aren’t exactly hidden so if you are that interested you can check my Github profile. I want to properly ‘reveal’ one of them later this week.

In general, response and media coverage of Visual Codes was way higher than I ever expected it to be. I am really grateful to anyone that downloaded it, and especially thankful to those that have already bought the upgrade. I am aware of some teething problems in the 1.0 release (people use really weird names for their WiFi networks!) but I’ve already pushed a bug fix update through to App Review. Such is the life of an app developer. I love it.

iPhone X Impressions

15 September 2017

I don’t think Apple’s marketing of the iPhone X as the ‘future’ is really appropriate. Android manufacturers have gone far down the bezel-less line for a year now. The iPhone X is more drastic, boasting the highest screen-to-body ratio of any phone, but it doesn’t feel like something that should be applauded as debuting the technology of tomorrow, today.

This kind of design is what I expect top-end phones to look like in the here and now. Despite the X and 8 sharing so many component upgrades (SoC, camera, True Tone), I feel like I will never be able to recommend an 8 to anyone. I am so done with bezels, foreheads and chins.

For people needing a new phone, I would seriously consider saving money and picking up a discounted iPhone 7 or 7 Plus if the X’s $999 starting price puts it out of reach. Maybe carriers offer good promotions for iPhone 8 series that could tip the balance; I just know I do not want to pay full price for a bezelled device. Alternatively, hold off on upgrading until you can afford the X tier phones (whether that’s three months or next year).

This sounds negative but it is really a commendation of how much better the iPhone X is as a product. The design is beautiful. This is what I’ve wanted for a year and a half. The concept of a screen that traces the edges of the chassis is as good as I imagined it to be.

The iPhone X doesn’t fully realise that idea, of course. It has the already-infamous notch area at the top of the screen. A future generation of this phone will not have a notch, making the vertical symmetry as perfect as the horizontal. That is years off, though.

Waiting to realise the vision in its entirety would have been a mistake. Putting all those components below the display is going to take at least another three years of development. It’s not feasible to sit on a radical new iPhone design for that long. The other option would have been to take an Android-esque approach: no bezels on left and right with a slimmer top forehead and bottom chin.

The notch brings its own downsides, particularly with landscape layouts, but going all the way to the edge, mirroring the rounded corners of the body, is impressive, fresh, cool and a competitive advantage. Apple are the first manufacturer to achieve this look and it makes them stand out. Going with a typical candy bar style would have drawn criticisms that they were copying Samsung and the design had no unique characteristics.

It’s a nuanced discussion that will no doubt span months of conversation but that’s my guess at the high-level business chatter. Luckily for me, the conclusions match up with my personal preferences of what looks good. I hope iPads, MacBooks and iMacs adopt these style of screens as soon as possible. I can’t wait to see the iPhone X in real life.

Whilst everyone on Twitter rattles on about the sensor housing placement, I take more offence with the home indicator. I don’t even have the phone yet and I already want it to never be there. Right now, iOS 11 always shows the home indicator apart from a few select cases where it can be temporarily hidden, like watching a full-screen chrome-less video. This is a sensible default, the mainstream population will benefit from having a permanent visual cue for system navigation.

But I’m technically minded, I won’t forget to swipe up from the bottom of the display to go back to the Home Screen. For me, that indicator is wholly redundant and offers basically no value in exchange for limiting usable screen space for actual content. I hope a future iOS update adds a toggle in Settings to permanently hide the indicator.

The ramifications of dropping Touch ID for Face ID are hard to reason about until I have an iPhone X to use. For now, I’ll take Apple’s marketing of its convenience at face value. I’m sure there will be times when I miss the ergonomics of fingerprint recognition and other times when I appreciate the benefits of facial recognition. I would not rule out a return of Touch ID at some point, when they can eventually integrate it seamlessly behind the screen.

Pricing for the iPhone X is pretty much inline with what I predicted months ago; the most expensive model doesn’t exceed $1200. Amusingly, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus actually cost $50 more than the 7 and 7 Plus did. Apple blames rising NAND costs for the increase. Regardless, it’s worth noting that the 6s and 7 phones stay in the lineup. Apple is defending against the price hikes at the high end by keeping around older generations. If some portion of the user base are drawn to lower tiers, that’s okay. There will be an influx of people spending more money than ever on their next phone to balance it out.

UBS Predicts OLED iPhone Pricing Starts At $900

5 September 2017

UBS, via Business Insider:

“Apple tends not to price far from the high end competition,” the analysts wrote. “With the Galaxy Plus at $840 and the Note at [almost] $950, we think a $900 price tag for the base OLED model makes sense.”

Apple doesn’t price their products in a vacuum but it’s not magnetically attached to what Samsung is doing, either. I think what UBS is overlooking here is that the ‘7s’ iterative models will keep Apple competitive at the same price tiers they always have. The OLED phone doesn’t have to fight off all cheaper competition; if you want a ‘normal priced’ new phone you can consider getting a 7s or 7s Plus.

The OLED iPhone is clearly going to be positioned as a premium device that appeals to anyone interested in buying brand new iPhones. In my mind, this means it has to be more expensive than the most expensive iPhone that exists today. That’s the floor. The ceiling is the level of affordability that allows Apple to attract the millions upon millions of sales they want, for people that want to stretch their wallets.

That means Apple will start pricing above what the maxed-out 256 GB iPhone 7 Plus costs today, $969, but not too much more. With those conditions, $999 for a 64 GB iPhone 8/Edition/whatever seems right to me. The higher end storage tiers would add another $100 like always. Every current iPhone user pays at least a little bit more for the new best model but it isn’t wildly out of reach to anyone either.

iPhone 8 Swipe Gestures To Replace Physical Home Button

1 September 2017

Bloomberg:

Across the bottom of the screen there’s a thin, software bar in lieu of the home button. A user can drag it up to the middle of the screen to open the phone. When inside an app, a similar gesture starts multitasking. From here, users can continue to flick upwards to close the app and go back to the home screen. An animation in testing sucks the app back into its icon. The multitasking interface has been redesigned to appear like a series of standalone cards that can be swiped through, versus the stack of cards on current iPhones, the images show.

I’m very much surprised that Apple is taking such a big stride here. Until Gurman’s story, I was working on the assumption that Apple would take the obvious path when it removed the physical home button. That would mean drawing a circular button in software in the same place where the button would normally be.

Apart from the removal of the indentation, the navigation would be the same. Click to go to the home screen, long press to activate Siri, double tap for multitasking. Instead, Apple is doing something much more drastic based around edge-swipe gestures.

Whilst the description of how it works sounds reasonably intuitive (although there are gaps in this report about some of the finer details), it is different enough that the usual appeal of a new iOS device (‘you already know how to use it’) won’t apply.

It will be especially weird in Apple Stores, where the company will sell two new iPhones with very different navigation interactions (the 7s phones retain the home button, so it’s just the OLED phone getting the new swipe gesture stuff).

On the other hand, assuming that this is the ultimate direction for all iOS devices eventually, rolling out new and ‘hidden’ gestures to a high-end model first is perhaps the best transition plan Apple could pull off. By its premium nature, the iPhone 8 will be bought by a lot of early adopters and techies first, who are more accustomed and responsive to change. That group can lead by example, almost, before the new UI is used by the more mainstream population. People will see iPhone 8 users in the wild and acclimatise to it, if only subconsciously. It’s not seamless but it certainly helps bridge the gap between the two paradigms.

The Touch Bar Future

29 August 2017

Chuq Von Rospach:

So I think Apple needs to make a decision here: either push the Touch Bar/TouchID system out to the entire Mac Line via a new Keyboard, or they need to expand their laptops with a line of devices without Touch Bars.

The current laptop line forces users to pay for the Touch Bar on the higher end devices whether they want it or not, and that’s a cost users shouldn’t need to pay for a niche technology without a future. So Apple needs to either roll the Touch Bar out to the entire line and convince us we want it, or roll it back and offer more laptop options without it. I’m going to be curious what they do if/when they announce updated Laptops this fall.

Whether you like or despise the Touch Bar, you can’t say it’s “technology without a future”. Apple knows its own trajectory, no one else. I don’t think they have shown any suggestion of abandoning it (the 2017 MacBook Pro lineup retained the Touch Bar for a start).

In fact, the Touch Bar has a clear path of iteration ahead of it. Make it cheaper, roll out to lower-end Macs, add haptic response, and ultimately take over the whole keyboard with one giant screen. The current utility of the Touch Bar is small but it doesn’t compromise the machine, aside from the price hike. I don’t use the Touch Bar for much and I don’t regret it in the slightest. I love being able to control volume and brightness as a slider by just sliding my finger along the track.

Apple probably needs to re-think some of the dynamic interfaces — even a year later, I can’t train myself to use it when I’m flitting between so many different states and applications. Even so, it’s not a dead-end feature by any means.

Pushing Touch Bar into lower-end MacBooks will be a big win for Apple. I strongly believe that the Touch Bar is better suited for novices than professionals; it is far more useful to people that have to stare down at the keyboard to type.

The Essential Phone

20 August 2017

The Verge:

The Essential Phone has the most appealing hardware design of any phone I’ve used in at least a year. Everybody’s taste is different and so this is mostly my own personal aesthetic judgement, but it’s a strong one. I simply like holding and using this phone, and I love that it is unapologetically rectangular. The Essential Phone weighs about as much as an iPhone 7 Plus, but, as I said, it’s much smaller. That makes it feel substantial, actually dense.

If iOS disappeared today, this is the Android phone I’d get. No frills, no weird gimmicks and no preinstalled crapware. It even upstages Apple on minimalism; the chassis has no logos at all.

On the bezel scale, the Essential phone gets a pretty good score. There is a top-edge notch for the front camera — it’s smaller than the upcoming OLED iPhone’s notch because it’s just a cutout for the pinhole camera whereas Apple is incorporating the earpiece and depth-sensing Infrared cameras in that area.

The Essential’s screen-to-bezel ratio is let down on the bottom edge. It has a noticeable chin. The appeal of the iPhone 8 is that its only front-face concession will be the notch. What amazes me is that Google’s imminent Android flagship, the second-generation Pixel, has a huge forehead and chin. They have missed the boat, big time.

KGI Says No Voice Calling For LTE-Only Apple Watch

16 August 2017

9to5Mac:

The other new development is Kuo expects Apple could omit phone call capabilities from the LTE model of the new Apple Watch. You can already make phone calls from the Apple Watch when it’s paired with a nearby iPhone and there’s no technical limitation with the implementation, but KGI expects Apple may want to improve the “user experience” of data transmission before enabling voice services.

This would be a big letdown. Taking calls in your headphones whilst working out is a major feature for a hypothetical connected watch. Listen to music with AirPods, songs streaming from your wrist, with the comfort of being connected if something urgent happens with work or family.

Moreover, Kuo’s logic for this feature not being present is strange. He says that not including voice service simplifies the internal antenna design, as it doesn’t need to support 3G spectrum, just LTE. It makes sense that Apple would want to be selective in the name of miniaturisation. What I don’t understand is why exclusively using the LTE network means the watch cannot support voice calling at all. Many carriers nowadays run voice and data over the LTE network.

Also, for some time, Apple has offered a remote Handoff feature for phone calls on select carriers. If you are on AT&T, for instance, you can leave your phone at home on WiFi and pickup calls on your iPad and Mac — from anywhere. Cellular or non-cellular, another Apple device can take the call. Why can’t the Watch do this? It surely doesn’t matter what wireless data protocol the underlying hardware is transmitting across.

Cellular Apple Watch Coming This Fall

5 August 2017

Bloomberg:

Equipped with LTE chips, at least some new Apple Watch models, planned for release by the end of the year, will be able to conduct many tasks without an iPhone in range, the people said. For example, a user would be able to download new songs and use apps and leave their smartphone at home.

Apple is already in talks with carriers in the U.S. and Europe about offering the cellular version, the people added.

I think pretty much everyone would see benefits from the Apple Watch gaining a cellular connection, and it would easily be the most popular model of Watch if there were no strings attached beyond the upfront sale price.

That isn’t the case, though. The carrier situation is the crux of this product. It is very unlikely that LTE service on Apple Watch would be free. An Apple Watch has the potential to eat up a lot of data: you can make FaceTime Audio calls, download videos and photos over iMessage, stream music and much more.

What monthly contract price is acceptable for this ancillary device? US carriers let customers add tablets to their phone plans for $10 per month. Could carriers charge $10 per watch? That seems exorbitantly high. Maybe $5 a month is low enough not to deter buyers.

I could maybe see Apple negotiate a special super cheap deal with an underdog carrier that is very inexpensive but functionally limited. T-Mobile is the kind of carrier that I can envision being open to something like this; a $1/month deal that allows Watch users to get email, send iMessages and sync reminders … but still requires a paired phone for data-hungry services like FaceTime Audio calls and Apple Music.

Unfortunately, that kind of arrangement requires tough negotiation and even if they get someone to say yes, only applies to a select region of the worldwide. Perhaps the cellular Apple Watch will kickstart a new subsidised smartwatch market with ‘unlimited’ data, lower initial costs, and two year contracts.

Speaking about oneself for a moment, I have no interest in a cellular Watch where I have to pay anything above a couple pounds for a data plan. My current SIM-only phone plan costs me £8 a month; I am doubtful the cellular Watch contracts will be inexpensive relative to that level.