Categories
Weeklies

Week 28.20

  • I was wondering what book to read after Cryptonomicon and fell back into the easy, brainless comfort of another Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child. This time it was #16, The Affair. It stands out for being a prequel to all the others, written in the first person. Now that I’m done, I think my next book will be some kind of SF.
  • We have a baker across the street who does pricy (and good) pies, tarts, cakes, and various breads out of his little shop. And since we’re home 99% of the time now, I’ve been trying to buy more things from the neighborhood, hyperlocal spending and all that. The bakery especially, since they don’t sell on delivery services. That said, my mother is in the habit of making the 20-minute trip to buy their quiches (not to see me!) This week I started buying big slices of cake as after-dinner treats. No danger of the pandemic weight gain reversing soon.
  • Yesterday was polling day in the local elections, and we were given an afternoon window of about two hours to show up, line up, have our temperatures taken, IDs scanned, and our votes cast. There were bottlenecks in the morning, and stories of old people struggling to put on mandatory plastic gloves after having their hands sprayed with alcohol — how nobody in the Elections Department tested this and realized it would be impossible to do quickly, I don’t know. By noon, the gloves were optional. By the time we voted, the entire process was over in 60 seconds and we were headed home.
  • I caved and installed the first(!) public beta for iOS 14 on my primary phone, which I use for both work and personal purposes. I filed an Apple Music bug within the first 30 minutes, and noticed a few other issues like how the OS think it’s using 90GB of free space for “Other” temp files. According to Reddit, this is widespread but doesn’t actually mean my phone is full, so, okay. It’s surprisingly stable otherwise.
  • The way I organize my home screens has evolved over the years, particularly after folders were added, but it’s been simple: the first page is for apps I’m likely to need often, the second page is for all my camera and photo-editing apps, and the third is for games. The fourth is where junk goes. Now that there are large widgets vying for real estate (the Files widget can take up the room of 16 icons!), and an App Library where you’re meant to keep all but the most immediately needed icons, I’m having to rethink the whole approach and get comfortable with a totally different model. Of course, no one is forcing me to use widgets or change my ways, but I’ll take the opportunity to maintain some neuroplasticity.
  • A friend told me last year about services that let you gain interest on your cryptocurrency holdings, but they were small UK companies and I didn’t particularly feel like going through the trouble at the time. The premise is sensible though, if not free of risk. If you’re going to be holding currency in any form, you don’t want it stagnating and not earning interest of some sort. These companies will loan out your capital to others, and in return you get interest rates ranging from 4–8% per annum. Which is stunning compared to any traditional savings account, and makes one wonder how high the risk is. But if you’ve got money in crypto to begin with, what’s a little more risk? It seems this has now become a “mainstream” offering at several exchanges and so I’ve decided to give it a go with what little I have. Perhaps I’ll regret it.
Categories
General

HEIFer — iOS Shortcut for Batch-Converting Photos to HEIF/HEIC

Changelog:

v1.01 (Jan 30, 2020) — iOS 13.3.1 fixes a bug that affected the way Share Sheet imports had to take you out of the Photos app and into Shortcuts. So this is now simplified. Also added emoji graphics to make the main menu fancier.

v1.02 (Sep 5, 2020) — Updated to fix the shortcut stalling at deletion of original photos after processing. Apple changed some behavior in the Shortcuts.app.

Summary

HEIFer is a shortcut for iPhones and iPads (you can import and run it in the Shortcuts app that is part of iOS 13) that automates the batch conversion of photo to HEIF/HEIC formats. This has the benefit of making their files dramatically smaller without any visible loss of image quality.

HEIF stands for High Efficiency Image Format, and Apple introduced support for it in 2017. You can find out more about the format here.

HEIFer has three modes:

  • Converting a manual selection of photos
  • Scanning the newest 100 photos in your library, and converting any JPEG/PNG/TIFF images it finds
  • Converting the last imported batch of photos (from a camera or SD card, using an adapter)

Add HEIFer to your Shortcuts.app here (v1.02)

Why Did I Make This?

This is my first proper iOS Shortcut and I made it to learn the ropes.

I’m kinda all-in on the HEIF format, and if your iPhone is set to save at “High Efficiency” in the Camera section of Settings.app, then you’re already using it for every photo you take. The quality is great, and you can store twice as many photos in the same amount of storage space.

But… I also shoot photos with other cameras, and every manufacturer, from Canon and Nikon to Sony and Leica, seems to be years behind in the software game, and the only options they offer are usually JPEG and RAW. What’s more, the CPUs in these cameras are usually very underpowered compared to what’s in your iPhone, so they don’t try very hard to compress the images efficiently. You can typically turn a 10MB JPEG from your camera into a 3–4MB HEIF file in less than a second. It’s a tremendous waste of space, both on device and in your cloud backups, to keep the JPEGs.

When you save an edited photo out of VSCO, you’re turning a HEIF file into a JPEG

I also edit my photos with iOS apps like VSCO and Lightroom, and almost all of them save the finished photos in JPEG. So if you’re regularly editing your iPhone photos, those small .heic files are still ending up as fat .jpg files at the end of the day. It’s nuts!

So HEIFer is a way to quickly take those old-ass files, bring them into the present, and then dump the originals. For instance, if I’m shooting directly to JPEG on my cameras (why not RAW? That’s a topic for another day), all I have to do is plug in the SD card, select “Import All”, run HEIFer, and I’m done in three taps.

If your photos have proper timestamps, then you will still see them in chronological order in the “Photos” tab. However, if you go into the “Recents” photo album, it will reflect the process of converting and deleting them, i.e. it’ll be as out of order as your recollection of a big night out.

Usage

Categories
General

iOS 10 Makes the Timeline UI a Reality

Wired: Apple May Have Figured Out the iPhone’s Most Promising Feature

3D Touch is instrumental to Apple’s newly rethought lock screen, in a way that could fundamentally change how you interact with your iPhone.

But with iOS 10, you’ll use your home screen a whole lot less.

This article from Wired today recalls the thinking of many UX designers who believe that homescreens tiled with app icons will soon give way to a new kind of smartphone UI: the timeline. Over the last few years, both iOS and Android have been making their notifications richer, with simple functions like deleting new emails, quickly replying to texts, or faving tweets, amongst others.

lockscreenBut iOS 10 looks to be taking it to a whole new level. iPhones will light up when you raise them, and interactive notifications can expand into whole widget-like apps with live maps and data, and house more complex options than a dialog box or text input field can provide. And the best place for this new timeline UI to live is on the lock screen of your phone, the starting point of any interaction, and an arguably more valuable space for accomplishing tasks than the homescreen.

And it’s 3D Touch, launched to public disinterest with last year’s iPhone 6S, that’s been the missing piece all along. Without pressure sensitivity and Apple’s Peek & Pop gestures, a self-activating lock screen might be a pretty bad place to have action buttons that can accidentally touched. I’d be interested to see how it works on phones without it, such as the new iPhone SE. Perhaps they just won’t have Raise to Wake.

Also worth remembering that this new timeline of Things That Need Your Attention Most will live beside the Today screen of widgets (swipe to the right), which should do a lot for the idea that we’ll all be unlocking our iPhones a lot less and getting stuff done quicker later this September.

Categories
General

iPad Pros

  
When the 12.9″ iPad Pro was first unveiled, I was pretty sure I didn’t want or need one. Then I held it in the Ginza Apple Store while on vacation and bought one later that same day. The experience of holding such a large screen in your hands and touching it directly is more impressive than it sounds. But what you won’t realize while handling one in the store is how heavy it gets once you add a Smart Cover or Smart Keyboard and a silicone case for the back, if so inclined.

In the couple of months since, I’ve merely used it like a big iPad, watching movies in bed and occasionally reading comics or news on it; that sort of thing. But I knew it was meant for more and wanted to try bringing it to work with the Pencil and Smart Keyboard. Spoiler: it’s awesome, and I could probably do a lot of my daily stuff on it while moving easily from meeting to desk. The main problem has been its weight, especially when carried in my bag with a camera and power bank and umbrella every day. It’s also too much to hold in one hand while sketching with the other.

So after a few weeks of deliberation and bugging other people with the pros and cons, I decided to pony up for the new 9.7″ size and try to see if I could make justifiable use of two iPad Pros in one life. The Smart Keyboard hasn’t arrived yet, but I expect it will be even easier to type on than the Logitech and Belkin ones I’ve had for earlier iPads. The size and weight are perfect for one-handed use with the Pencil, although the back is slippery without a silicone case. I don’t think adding one is worth the weight gain, though. The larger iPad Pro is going to stay home and try to become a desktop computer in place of my ageing 2010 iMac. It was an unnecessary and guilt-inducing expense, but the thing that helped justify this dual-iPad setup was asking why I’ve allowed the iMac to go so long without an upgrade.

I got old! Which makes one treat computers differently, not to mention the nature of the tasks have changed.

Years ago, I would replace my PC/Mac every couple of years, usually by the end of every three-year AppleCare cycle. My computer was at the center of my life, and as a student living in a single bedroom, I’d spend most of the day in front of its screen; it was TV, telephone, game console, word processor, and library. I ate meals in front of it, and I know I wasn’t the only one.

These days, I spend most of my time at the office in front of a MacBook Pro, and at all other times, the job of that home computer is being done by an iOS device or Apple TV. I have a bigger house to move around in, and I’m almost never found sitting in front of the iMac. Having a desktop for those purposes seems awfully restrictive now, and confronting the mess of my HDD and locally stored files feels tiresome and archaic. Doing everyday tasks on an iPad without that legacy is a sort of escape, and there’s some measure of security to be had in knowing I could use one of the Macs if I really needed to. Chances are, I won’t. With music and photos on iCloud and other files on Dropbox, the iPad has all it takes to be a primary computer most days. I’ve stopped editing photos in Aperture and Lightroom and do it all with an iOS workflow now. You just have to let go and not look back.

I think all of us iPad Pro owners are waiting on iOS 10 to see Apple’s grand plan to bring this post-PC vision to maturity, but in the meantime it’s not bad at all.

Categories
General

Mobile or Console, the Name of the Game is the Same

Playing Oceanhorn on the new Apple TV, with a Bluetooth game controller like the SteelSeries Nimbus, feels distinctly like a traditional console gaming experience. It’s been compared to a modern Zelda title, and if you’re in the mood to explore, its large world lends itself to leaning back on the couch for a good hour or more.

What’s interesting is that you can pick up your iPhone later and continue your savegame synced over iCloud, at which point its modified-for-touch controls and mini quest structure actually turn it into a modern mobile gaming experience.

What might be undersold by a simple bullet point — “Cloud Saves” — is really significant: one game that can be played in very different contexts, made possible by having the same OS in your pocket and living room (and car, one day). It’s probably the future of gaming.

Much like how we now commonly design for the web, going mobile-first in gaming makes sense for companies looking to the players to come. That means not making the mobile bit just a simplified companion app with minigames connecting back to the “proper” console version. The level of control complexity and engagement can and should scale to the device, all within the same game.

Geometry Wars 3

Many of the guidelines for apps on the new Apple TV force developers to adapt the experience to the available controller. Geometry Wars goes from a dual-analog stick shooter on a regular gamepad to an auto-shooter when on Siri Remote, where the player only has to steer. You get what fits, but never less than the whole story.

The experience of seamlessly jumping from a phone to a 60” TV reminds me of how it felt to play the first iPhone games. I remember Crash Bandicoot, in particular, as a sign of things to come. You could get games like it on the Nintendo DS, but they weren’t downloaded over Wi-Fi in seconds, for mere dollars, or paid for electronically. It made the portable gaming systems of 2008 feel dated. And as Apple added more power, multitasking, social features, and cloud saves to iOS, the iPhone overtook them completely.

Games on the new Apple TV have more than a whiff of that to them. Even if the platform doesn’t come to dominate gaming a decade from now, I believe the winner will work and feel like it.

In a sea of diminished companies out-innovated from changes they didn’t see coming, it’s gratifying to think that Nintendo may have played their cards right with the upcoming NX. It’s rumored to be a home console with a detachable mobile device, playing games that also work with smartphones and networks from its rivals. God knows how they’ll do it, but that describes the right shape to survive: experiences designed to shift context, open to different forms of interaction (hey, even VR), ready to fill varied slices of time, long or short, in a busy user’s day.

Categories
Photos Reviews

Pebble Time Steel: First Impressions

As a user of the first-generation Pebble since last December, I eagerly ordered the new Time Steel model when it hit Kickstarter earlier this year. And then the Apple Watch went on sale in Singapore earlier than I’d expected it to, and that’s a whole other story about my irrational spending.

Fast forward to the present, and my new Pebble has arrived! But I’m probably selling it!

  
Let’s open this shipping box up.

  
There’s the Pebble Time Steel (which ships on a genuine Italian leather band, this one’s a gunmetal gray body, so the band is a matching gray/black), and a separate box containing the steel link bracelet in gunmetal. As a Kickstarter edition, it comes with both. With the retail model, the steel bracelet will be sold separately for US$50.

  
Previous Pebble watches have had pretty lackluster packaging, so this is quite a step up. Look at that display box; it’s good enough to be sold on the accessory shelves of an Apple Store, except they won’t be.

  
Here’s the back of the box with a list of standout features. Of course, the main improvement to the hardware is a new color e-ink/e-paper display. It’s always on, unlike the Apple Watch’s, so you can glance at it any time over the 10 DAYS that its battery will last, and know the time or your latest notification, without having to raise your wrist or press any buttons. It’s got a microphone now, which is useful for Android users who can dictate responses to messages and emails. It’s slightly less useful for iPhone users. And of course, it’s still waterproof to 30M. I don’t think anything else is.

 

Here it is next to my Apple Watch on the right. The watch case is very slightly smaller than the Apple one, and is also gently curved on the underside to sit neatly on your wrist. In that regard, it’s very nice and possibly more comfortable and natural looking on the wrist.

 

Here it is all set up and charging via a magnetic cable attached to the back. Nothing as sexy as Apple’s inductive charger; this one only uses magnets to draw two magnetic points to their respective spots. It works.

As you can see, the e-paper display shows colors even when not lit, although they’re not as vibrant as you’d see on a printed page. The sun icon has a mild yellow to it, and blue shows up very well. In direct sunlight, it looks crisp and strong, and is easy to read. Indoors, it can be a little muddy and dark, perhaps a touch dimmer looking than even the original Pebble. A backlight comes on when you press a button or flick your wrist. This also looks dimmer than I remember the original Pebble being, but perhaps I’ve just been spoilt by the Apple Watch’s super bright and colorful OLED display (which wantonly consumes more power in a day than the Pebble Time Steel does in 2 weeks).

  

Here’s what it looks like on the wrist (thanks to my dumb use of a wide-angle lens, the watch looks larger here than it is). I wear a 42mm Apple Watch and it looks smaller than this, and as shown above, the Pebble is even smaller than Apple’s. So if you normally wear a 38mm Apple Watch, this is probably what the Pebble Time Steel will look like on you.

  
Here’s a more accurate shot, this time with an imitation Casio watchface complete with Timex Indiglo color scheme. That statement alone tells you who the Pebble is aimed at; you have so much opportunity to customise the face of this. Many of the color faces I saw let you specify the color of every element and make your own themes. It strikes me as the sort of thing some people jailbreak iPhones or choose Android smartphones to be able to do. I’ve decided I’m not that person these days, so I’m probably going to sell it. But the build quality is solid and the leather strap is really quite soft and lovely. It’s a real improvement from Pebble, and if they can get the cost down, it might work out.

Oh, the new software works as advertised, but without using it for a few days, it’s hard to say how useful seeing your apps and events laid out on a timeline is. On paper it sounds like a great idea and it was one of the main reasons I ordered this at the time. Apple’s watchOS 2 is also going to have something along the same lines with its Time Travel feature, so I guess it doesn’t matter what platform you eventually choose — we will all soon be consuming time-sensitive content on our timepieces using contextual timeline interfaces.*

*Did it strike anyone else as odd that after Pebble showed their hand with Timeline on Kickstarter, Jonny Ive or someone on his team dropped a casual interview comment that they had tried a similar concept in an earlier prototype of the Apple Watch, but it didn’t work out? And then a few months later we see Time Travel as one of the key new features of the next watchOS?