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Main article: IPhone X

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Apple Sans Ive

21:40 | 2 July

Well, this has been interesting. After almost 30 years with Apple, Jony Ive is leaving, to found his own firm LoveFrom with his friend and frequent collaborator Marc Newson — also leaving Apple. The response to this news has been predictably histrionic from Apple watchers and press.

The narratives, to summarize, are essentially that:

  • Jony had checked out, become incompetent or just plain lazy
  • Apple is doomed because he is leaving

If those narratives look contradictory then you have eyes.

If you take the sum of the breathless (dare I say thirsty) stories tying together a bunch of anecdotes about Jony’s last couple of years, they are trying to paint a picture of a legendary design figure that has abandoned the team and company he helped build, leading to a stagnation of forward progress — while at the same time trying to argue that the company is doomed without him.

Ok.

Ironically (or perhaps inevitably) even the phrasing of the tweets that accompanied these stories were couched in inflammatory positioning. Tim Cook’s email (actually quite

) was touted as ‘scathing’, the Journal
: ‘Why hasn’t Apple had a hit product in years? A look at the internal drama around the departure of its design chief helps explain.’ A conclusion that its story only hints at.

Most watchers of the company that I know who were asking and listening to Apple people over the past couple of years are aware that Jony has been on borrowed time with the company. Shocking, this was not — a surprise it was always guaranteed to be given how much control Jony keeps over how and when he does press.

Back in 2015, it

that Jony wanted to do less paper pushing and more pencil pushing. And the past decade of Apple has been nothing if not an explosion of management challenges. Enormous growth in product volumes, splintering product lines that made an attempt to leave less room under the pricing and feature umbrella and, yeah, a hell of a lot more people.

“Many of Apple’s critics are purely nostalgic,” Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies puts it. “Wanting Apple to go back to the days when some of the designs were more bold, iconic, possibly polarizing, but in that time Apple was selling tens of millions of products not hundreds of millions of products. This is a crucially important point that many in the public sphere miss. “

All of that growth means that the job of someone like Jony would naturally shift from scooting a pencil around a drafting board to something more like management — or, in Apple’s case, teaching.

I’m not the Journal’s (or any other publication’s, thank god) public editor. So I will not be fisking the stories that have come out about Jony and his work habits. I’ve never been that good at it and I don’t really have the stomach for it these days. I do have thoughts, though about the way that these anecdotes are tied together in a narrative.

Given that I have covered the company closely for years, I know a lot of the people who were involved in some of these situations. Jony did, in fact, move to holding design meetings at his house in SF. They absolutely held design meetings at The Battery to collate device opinion. He has a design studio in other homes like Hawaii and London. He has absolutely spent more time in the city than down at Apple headquarters over the past few years. The design teams, in and out of the industrial design people, absolutely saw less of him than before.

There are also bits and pieces in the various stories over the past few days that are not, as I understand them, accurate, or represented in an accurate context. But the more important point is that no one I know felt that Jony had checked out or abandoned the team.

As he stated himself, Jony was just plain tired. What prolific designer do you know that is excited about doing more management and less design?

Also, I fully reject the narrative that Apple has somehow floundered because Jony has been absentee. During the period, the company has shipped some enormously successful products — including the major category hit Apple Watch. As one note, I found the criticism that Jony wanted a gold watch so that made the Apple Watch a boondoggle to be enormously hilarious.

The gold watch had 2 distinct purposes:

  • Jony wanted to make it
  • It set expectation that this was a product worth wearing all day

I think it is 100% possible and fair to argue that the first point means Jony had too much power or that it was him exercising that power in a way that felt foreign to Apple’s egalitarian ideals about computing. But the fact is that, regardless of how many they sold, it made a splash and did, in fact, push Apple into the world of fashion and wearable conversation in a way that it hadn’t ever before.

That toe-hold gave them time to figure out what the Watch is actually for and it is a very real success for the company. During the same period, Apple shipped the iPhone X months ahead of schedule, and major updates to every line including the iMac.

I can certainly understand one or more members of the design team resenting the lack of intimate one-on-one time that Jony used to spend with the team when Apple shipped fewer products in more time. And not all of Jony’s influence over the past few years is pristine in hindsight. The MacBook keyboards still suck, I’ll give you that one.

Basically, all design is worth critiquing, and Jony isn’t above that. If something doesn’t work consistently or feel human centric, then it doesn’t matter if 1950’s Dieter Rams himself designed it, it’s crap.

But the argument that Jony derailed product at Apple looks like complete nonsense when you observe the facts. And every design team member I’ve spoken to over the last 4 years has said that Jony, while at times difficult, demanding and intense, has also been an enormous enabling force when it comes to spending the time, resources and energy it took them to get a product or feature to the level they wanted. Resources like on-the-ground materials consultation in China, collaborations with artists around the world, research into the effects of a design — the willingness to ‘do the most’ in search of a solution. None of that went away.

That said, if Jony doesn’t like managing, guess what Jony is not going to be enthusiastic about? As Shel Silverstein put it: “If you have to dry the dishes, and you drop one on the floor, maybe they won’t make you dry dishes any more.”

There is certainly calculus in everything an executive at any big company says publicly — but I think you can believe Jony when he says that he feels like he can be useful elsewhere.

“I certainly have an ambition and feel almost a moral obligation to be useful,” he says in this FT piece. “I feel I’ve been fortunate enough to work with remarkable people over the last 30-plus years and have worked on some very interesting projects and solved some very difficult problems. I feel keenly aware of a responsibility to do something significant with that learning.”

He wants out, and that’s what he’s doing. But he’s not leaving the company in terrible shape, from either an overall perspective and from an internal perspective.

Let’s move away from the anecdotal. What’s more interesting to me than any of this Jony shit talking is where Apple design goes from here.

Apple has put Evans Hankey and Alan Dye in charge of design, reporting to Jeff Williams. Wring your hands all you want about Apple becoming an operations company but, like, where have you been for the last 10 years?

Yes, Apple is a different company now, and it should be. While Jony has given us some amazing work (and some amazing what the hell moments) over the years, its going to be fascinating to watch a new leadership tackle the next era at Apple.

I think it’s also smart of Apple not to announce a single ‘Jony replacement’ at this juncture. Any immediate comparison would likely not do them any favors and this gives the team time to find a new center and a new direction over the next couple of years. I think someone will emerge as the design lead here eventually, but I’m not sure who.

Evans, as I understand it, was hand picked by Jony to lead the ID team as a manager, a job she’s already been doing. She’s a capable design manager with hundreds of patents to her name. More importantly, Apple has a historic and systemic policy that they don’t just put people in to do a job, they put them there to learn from them and to teach them. The Apple way of doing things is institutionalized and taught to new hires.

This institutional tissue, I believe, will survive Jony leaving.

One of the things that struck me the most about a lot of the recent stories is that it painted members of the design team as feckless automatons that could not proceed without Jony approving every move. That’s not true and honestly not even possible. There’s no way Apple could ship on the schedule they have done over the past few years if Jony being late to a meeting would handicap them.

There are a lot of very smart and very talented people at Apple and they are not all named Jony.

I’m also very interested to see how Alan Dye gets on with Apple. He’s got a calm, understated demeanor in person that can come across a bit flat, but he’s clearly very engaged with the task. He’s respected by Apple designers who feel that his work speaks for itself internally and that he has the chops. One of the arcs of Dye’s tenure has been to unify the look and feel of iOS across its platforms in terms of typography like San Francisco.

One of the biggest potholes that the software design team has ever hit, in my opinion, was iOS 7. It needed to be a break with the past for some legitimate reasons, like the expansion of iOS onto new platforms like the car, the watch and beyond. But Jony brought print, not interaction, designers from other parts of Apple in to flesh out the final design and that ended up presenting as a radical new but also radically less usable iOS.

iOS 7, to me, has always reminded me of an apocryphal saying I heard but can’t remember where. It’s about the notoriously difficult to drive Porsche 911: Porsche made a beautiful mistake, and it’s spent 50 years fixing it.

The 911 was a car that was designed to be imbalanced from the beginning by placing the engine in the rear, to emphasize power transfer to the ground via weight and traction. Also, no joke, so you could still fit groceries in it.

Unfortunately, it also enabled massive oversteer, with the car swinging wide on corners incredibly suddenly if pushed too hard. Porsche has refined that design with every iteration, improving every other aspect of the vehicle like traction, larger wheelbase, steering, braking and gearing. Just to get it to a place where the original vision remained intact, but, you know, less fire and dying.

Apple has done much the same since iOS 7, taking a concept that it felt was necessary and continuing to pull it back into a place that feels more usable.

One of the things that stood out to me at the time was that iOS 7 led with a ‘panes of glass’ metaphor. They weren’t all that explicit about it then but it seemed clear to me that they saw this as a way to support all kinds of interfaces from palm first to heads up. An evolution of the information appliance.

Dye and the design team (and Jony, tbf) have spent the last couple of years making big strides fixing the mechanical issues, but it was very exciting to me to see the panes of glass metaphor heavily emphasized at WWDC this year. They’re just panes with depth, texture and hopefully more accessible context this time around.

Even though Jony is a ‘unicorn’ designer, Apple has always thrived on small teams with decision makers, and they’re not all one person. The structure of Apple, which does not rely on product managers, still leaves an enormous amount of power in the hands of the people actually doing the work. I’m not as concerned as a lot of people are that, with Jony leaving, there will suddenly be a slavish hewing to the needs of ‘ops over all’. It’s not in the DNA.

That doesn’t mean however, that there aren’t still question marks. Jony was an enormous force in this company. It is completely natural to be curious, excited and, hell yeah even worried about what his departure will do to the design focused Apple people love to love.

daniel arsham adidas futurecraft 4d bd7400 where to buy 2

An Adidas Futurecraft shoe with a midsole printed by Carbon

As for me, I hope that there can be a balance struck between the established patterns of Apple design and new schools of thought. No company should remain rooted in the past completely. There are wildly interesting things happening in design and manufacturing at the moment. Trends like programmatic or “AI” design that allow designers to define an algorithm and a set of constraints, and then generate ‘impossible’ shapes out of edgy materials to obtain a result unable to be sketched or sculpted by traditional processes.

The shoe pictured above is a collaboration between an artist and an algorithm. Daniel Arsham, Adidas and a startup called Carbon made this with the help of a design program that understands the goals and materials its working with, but charts its own path to getting there. This is the new school of design.

The compression of the design and manufacturing stacks into one segment is going to be the defining characteristic of this age of product development in my opinion. Apple needs to jump on that wave and ride it.

There’s a Steve quote, prominently displayed on the wall of the Infinite Loop 4 building in its old Cupertino headquarters.

“I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.”

I’d love to see Apple’s design teams do just that, embrace these new schools of thought and find ways to integrate them into the way that it has always worked. There hasn’t been a more fascinating time to follow this company in years. Whatever happens it won’t be boring.

 


0

Review: The iPad Pro and the power of the Pen(cil)

14:00 | 5 November

Laptop users have been focused for a very long time on whether the iPad Pro is going to be forced upon them as a replacement device.

Depending on who you believe, Apple included, it has at one point been considered that, or a pure tablet with functions to be decided completely by the app development community, or something all its own.

But with the iPad Pro, the Smart Keyboard and the new version of Apple’s Pencil, some things are finally starting to become clear.

The new hardware, coupled with the ability and willingness of companies like Adobe to finally ship completely full-featured versions of Photoshop that handle enormous files and all of the tools and brushes of the desktop version, are opening a new door on what could be possible with iPad Pro — if Apple are ready to embrace it.

Pencil

Does the double tap gesture feel natural? Yep. I’ve been using electronic drawing surfaces since the first generation Wacom that had a serial port connector. Many of them over the years have had some sort of ‘action button’ that allowed you to toggle or click to change drawing modes, invoke erasers or pallets and generally save you from having to move away from your drawing surface as much as possible.

That’s the stated and obvious goal of the Apple Pencil’s new double-tap as well. Many of the internal components are very similar to the first generation Pencil, but one of the new ones is a capacitive band that covers the bottom third of the pencil from the tip upwards. This band is what enables the double tap and it is nicely sensitive. It feels organic and smooth to invoke it, and you can adjust the cadence of tap in the Pencil’s control panel.

The panel also allows you to swap from eraser to palate as your alternate, and to turn off the ‘tap to notes’ feature which lets you tap the pencil to you screen to instantly launch the Notes app. When you do this it’s isolated to the current note only, just like photos. One day I’d love to see alternate functions for Pencil tap-to-wake but it makes sense that this is the one they’d start with.

I never once double tapped it accidentally and it felt great to swap to an eraser without lifting out of work mode — the default behavior.

But Apple has also given developers a lot of latitude to offer different behaviors for that double tap. Procreate, one of my favorite drawing apps, offers a bunch of options including radial menus that reflect the current tool or mode and switching between one tool and another directly. Apple’s guidelines instruct developers to be cautions in implementing double tap — but they also encourage them to think about what logical implementations of the tool look like for users.

The new Pencil does not offer any upgrades in tracking accuracy, speed or detection. It works off of essentially the same tracking system as was available to the first Pencil on previous iPad Pros. But, unfortunately, the Pencil models are not cross compatible. The new Pencil will not work on old iPad Pros and the old pencil does not work on the new model. This is due to the pairing and charging process being completely different.

Unlike the first one, though, the new Pencil both pairs and charges wirelessly — a huge improvement. There is no little cap to lose, you don’t have to plug it into the base of the iPad like a rectal thermometer to charge and the pairing happens simultaneously as you charge.

The ‘top’ (for lack of a better term) edge of the iPad Pro in horizontal mode now features a small opaque window. Behind that window are the charging coils for the Pencil. Inside the Pencil itself is a complimentary coil, flanked by two arrays of ferrite magnets. These mate with magnetic Halbach arrays inside the chassis of the iPad. Through the use of shaped magnetic fields, Apple pulls a bit of alignment trickery here, forcing the pencil to snap precisely to the point where the charging coils are aligned perfectly. This enables you to slap the pencil on top quickly, not even thinking about alignment.

The magnetic connection is tough — almost, but not quite, enough to hold the larger iPad Pro in the air by the pencil — and it should hold on well, but it’s fairly easy to knock off if you come at it from the side, as you would when pulling it off from the front.

There’s also a pleasant on screen indicator now that shows charge level.

When the Pencil launched, I brought it to my Dad, a fine artist who sketches more than anyone I know as a part of his creative process. He liked the tracking and the access to digital tools, but specifically called out the glossy finish as being inferior to matte and the fact that there was no flat edge to rest against your finger.

The new Pencil has both a matte finish and a new flat edge. Yes, the edge is there to stop the pencil from rolling and also to allow it to snap to the edge of the iPad for charging, but the ability to register one edge of your drawing instrument against the inside of your control finger is highly under-valued by anyone who isn’t an artist. It’s hugely important in control for sketching. Plenty of pencils are indeed round, but a lot of those are meant to be held in an overhand grip – like a pointing device that you use to shade, for the most part. The standard tripod grip is much better suited to having at least one flat edge.

Your range of motion is limited in tripod but it can provide for more precision, where the overhand grip is more capable and versatile, it’s also harder to use precisely. The new Pencil is now better to use in both of these widely used grips, which should make artists happy.

These fiddly notions of grip may seem minor, but I (and my drawing callous) can tell you that it is much more than it seems. Grip is everything in sketching.

The Pencil is one of the most impressive version 2 devices that Apple has released ever. It scratches off every major issue that users had with the V1. A very impressive bit of execution here that really enhances the iPad Pro’s usability, both for drawing and quick notes and sketches. The only downside is that you have to buy it separately.

Drawing and sketching with the new Pencil is lovely, and remains a completely stand-out experience that blows away even dedicated devices like the Wacom Cintiq and remains a far cut above the stylus experience in the Surface Pro devices.

Beyond that there are some interesting things already happening with the Pencil’s double tap. In Procreate, for instance, you can choose a different double tap action for many different tools and needs. It’s malleable, depending on the situation. It’s linked to the context of what you’re working on, or it’s not, depending on your (and the developer’s) choices.

One minute you’re popping a radial menu that lets you manipulate whole layers, another you’re drawing and swapping to an eraser, and it still feels pretty easy to follow because it’s grounded in the kind of tool that you’re using at the moment.

Especially in vertical mode, it’s easy to see why touch with fingers is not great for laptops or hybrids. The Pencil provides a much needed precision and delicacy of touch that feels a heck of a lot different than pawing at the screen with your snausages trying to tap a small button. Reach, too, can be a problem here and the Pencil solves a lot of the problems in hitting targets that are 10” away from the keyboard or more.

The Pencil is really moving upwards in the hierarchy from a drawing accessory to a really mandatory pointing and manipulation tool for iPad users. It’s not quiiiite there yet, but there’s big potential, as the super flexible options in Procreate display.

There’s an enormous amount of high level execution going on with Pencil, and by extension, iPad. Both the Pencil and the AirPods fly directly in the face of arguments that Apple can’t deliver magical experiences to users built on the backs of its will and ability to own and take responsibility of more of its hardware and software stack than any other manufacturer.

Speakers and microphones

There are now 5 microphones, though the iPad Pro still only records in stereo. They record in pairs, with the mics being dynamically used to noise cancel as needed.

Th speakers are solid, producing some pretty great stereo sound for such a thin device. The speakers are also used more intelligently now, with all 4 active for FaceTime calls, something that wasn’t possible previously without the 5-mic array due to feedback.

Let’s talk about ports, baby/Let’s talk about USB-C

I’m not exactly an enormous fan of USB-C as a format, but it does have some nice structural advantages over earlier USB formats and, yes, even over Lightning. It’s not the ideal, but it’s not bad. So it’s a pleasant surprise to see Apple conceding that people wanting to use an external monitor at high res, charge iPhones and transfer photos at high speed is more important than sticking to Lightning.

The internal and external rhetoric about Lightning has always been that it was compact, useful and perfect for iOS devices. That rhetoric now has an iPad Pro sized hole in it and I’m fine with that. A pro platform that isn’t easily extensible isn’t really a pro platform.

It’s not a coincidence that Apple’s laptops and its iPad Pro devices all now run on USB-C. This trickle down may continue, but for now it stems directly from what Apple believes people will want from these devices. An external monitor was at the top of the list in all of Apple’s messaging on stage and in my discussions afterwards. They believe that there is a certain segment of Pro users that will benefit greatly from running an extended (not just mirrored) display up to 5K resolution.

In addition, there are a bunch of musical instruments and artist’s peripherals that will connect directly now. There’s even a chance (but not an official one) that the port could provide some externally powered accessories with enough juice to function.

The port now serves a full 7.5W to devices plugged in to charge, and you can plug in microphones and other accessories via the USB-C port, though there is no guarantee any of them will get enough power from the port if they previously required external power.

Pretty much all MacBook dongles will work on the iPad Pro by the way. So whatever combos of stuff you’ve come up with will have additional uses here.

The port is USB 3.1 gen 2 capable, making for transfers up to 10GBPS. Practically, what this means for most people is faster transfer from cameras or SD Card readers for photos. Though the iPad Pro does not support mass storage or external hard drive support directly to the Files app, apps that have their own built in browsing can continue to read directly from hard drives and now the transfer speeds will be faster.

There is a USB-C to headphone adapter, for sale separately. It also works with Macs, if that’s something that excites you. The basic answer I got on no headphone jacks, by the way, is that one won’t even fit in the distance from the edge of the screen to the bezel, and that they needed the room for other components anyway.

The new iPad Pro also ships with a new charger brick. It’s a USB-C power adapter that’s brand new to iPad Pro.

A12X and performance

The 1TB model of larger iPad Pro and, I believe, the 1TB version of the smaller iPad Pro, have 6GB of RAM. I believe, according to what I’ve been able to discern, that the models that come with less than 1TB of storage have less than that – around 4GB total. I don’t know how that will affect their performance, because I was not supplied with those models.

The overall performance of the A12X on this iPad Pro though, is top notch. Running many apps at once in split-screen spaces or in slideover mode is no problem, and transitions between apps are incredibly smooth. Drawing and sketching in enormous files in ProCreate was super easy, and I encountered zero chugging across AR applications (buttery smooth), common iPad apps and heavy creative tools. This is going to be very satisfying for people that edit large photos in Lightroom or big video files in iMovie.

The GeekBench benchmarks for this iPad are, predictably, insane. Check out these single-core/multi-core results:

iPad Pro 12.9” 5027 / 18361

MacBook Pro 13” 2018 5137 / 17607

MacBook Pro 15” 2018 6-core  5344 / 22561

iMac 27” 2017 5675 / 19325

As you can see, the era of waiting for desktop class ARM processors to come to the iPad Pro is over. They’re here, and they’re integrated tightly with other Apple designed silicon across the system to achieve Apple’s ends.

There has basically been two prevailing camps on the ARM switch. One side is sure Apple will start slowly, launching one model of MacBook (maybe the literal MacBook) on ARM and dribbling it out to other models. I was solidly in that camp for a long time. After working on the iPad Pro and seeing the performance, both burst and sustained, across many pro applications, I’ve developed doubts.

The results here, and the performance of the iPad Pro really crystalize the fact that Apple can and will ship ARM processors across its whole line as soon as it feels like it wants to.

There are too many times where we have ended up waiting on new Apple hardware due to some vagary of Intel’s supply chain or silicon focus. Apple is sick of it, I’ve heard grumbling for years about this from inside the company, but they’re stuck with Intel as a partner until they make the leap.

At this point, it’s a matter of time, and time is short.

Camera and Face ID

The camera in the iPad Pro is a completely new thing. It uses a new sensor and a new 5 element lens. This new camera had to be built from the ground up because the iPad Pro is too thin to have used the camera from the iPhone XR or XS or even the previous iPads.

This new camera is just fine image quality wise. It offers Smart HDR, which requires support both from the speedy sensor and the Neural Engine in the A12X. It’s interesting that Apple’s camera team decided to do the extra work to provide a decent camera experience, rather than just making the sensor smaller or falling back to an older design that would work with the thickness, or lack thereof.

Interestingly, this new camera system does not deliver portrait mode from the rear camera, like the iPhone XR. It only gives you portrait from the True Depth camera on front.

iPad photography has always gotten a bad rap. It’s been relegated to jokes about dads holding up tablets at soccer games and theme parks. But the fact remains that the iPad Pro’s screen is probably the best viewfinder ever made.

I do hope that some day it gets real feature-for-feature parity with the iPhone, so I have an excuse to go full dad.

Of similar note, both hardware and software updates have been made to the True Depth array on the front of the iPad Pro in order to make it work in the thinner casing. Those changes, along with additional work in neural net training and tweaking, also support Face ID working in all “four” orientations of the iPad Pro. No matter what way is up, it will unlock, and it does so speedily — just as fast as the iPhone XS generation Face ID system, no question.

I also believe that it works at slightly wider angles now, though it may be my imagination. By nature, you’re often further away from the screen on the iPad Pro than you are on your phone, but still, I feel like I can be much more ‘off axis’ to the camera and it still unlocks. This is good news on iPad because you can be in just about any working posture and you’re fine.

Keyboard

Like the Pencil, the Smart Keyboard Folio is an optional accessory. And, like the Pencil, I don’t think you’re really getting the full utility of the iPad Pro without it. There have been times where I’ve written more than 11,000 words at a stretch on iPad for very focused projects, and its ability to be a distraction free word production machine are actually wildly under sung, I feel. There are not many electronic devices better for just crashing out words without much else to get in the way than iPad with a good text editor.

Editing, however, has always been more of a mixed bag. I’m not sure we’re quite there yet with the latest iPad Pro, but it’s a far better scenario for mixed-activity sessions. With the help of the Pencil and the physical keyboard, it is becoming a very livable situation for someone whose work demands rapid context switching and a variety of different activities that require call-and-response feedback.

The keyboard itself is fine. It feels nearly identical to the previous keyboard Apple offered for iPads, and isn’t ideal in terms of key press and pushback, but makes for an ok option that you can get used to.

The design of the folio is something else. It’s very cool, super stable and shows off Apple’s willingness to get good stupid with clever implementation.

A collection of 120 magnets inside the case are arranged in the same Halbach arrays that hold the pencil on. Basically, sets of magnets arranged to point their force outwards. These arrays allow the case to pop on to the iPad Pro with a minimum of fuss and automatically handle the micr-alignment necessary to make sure the the contacts of the smart connector make a good connection to power and communicate with the keyboard.

The grooves that allow for two different positions of upright use are also magnetized, and couple with magnets inside the body of the iPad Pro.

The general effect here is that the Smart Keyboard is much much more stable than previous generations and, I’m happy to report, is approved for lap use. It’s still not going to be quite as stable as a laptop, but you can absolutely slap this on your knees on a train or plane and get work done. That was pretty much impossible with its floppier predecessor.

One big wish for the folio is that it offered an incline that was more friendly to drawing. I know that’s not the purpose of this device specifically, but I found it working so well with Pencil that there was a big hole left by not having an arrangement that would hold the iPad at around the 15-20 degree mark for better leverage and utility while sketching and drawing. I think the addition of another groove and magnet set somewhere on the lower third of the back of the folio would allow for this. I hope to see it appear in the future, though third parties will doubtlessly offer many such cases soon enough for dedicated artists and illustrators.

Design

Though much has been made about the curved corners of the iPad Pro’s casing and the matching curved corners of its screen, the fact is that the device feels much more aggressive in terms of its shape. The edges all fall straight down, instead of back and away, and they’re mated with tight bullnose corners.

The camera bump on the back does not cause the iPad to wobble if you lay it flat on a counter and draw. There’s a basic tripod effect that makes it just fine to scribble on, for those who were worried about that.

The overall aesthetic is much more businesslike and less ‘friendly’ in that very curvy sort of Apple way. I like it, a lot. The flat edges are pretty clearly done that way to let Apple use more of the interior space without having to cede a few millimeters all the way around the edge to unusable space. In every curved iPad, there’s a bit of space all the way around that is pretty much air. Cutting off the chin and forehead of the iPad Pro did a lot to balance the design out and make it more holdable.

There will likely be, and I think justifiably, some comparisons to the design of Microsoft’s Surface Pro and the new blockier design. But the iPads still manage to come in feeling more polished than most of its tablet rivals with details like the matching corner radii, top of the line aluminum finish and super clever use of magnets to keep the exterior free of hooks or latches to attach accessories like the Smart Keyboard.

If you’re debating between the larger and smaller iPad Pro models I can only give you one side of advice here because I was only able to test the new 12.9” model. It absolutely feels better balanced than the previous larger iPad and certainly is smaller than ever for the screen size. It makes the decision about whether to mov e up in size a much closer one than it ever has been before. Handling the smaller Pro in person at the event last week was nice, but I can’t make a call on how it is to live with. This one feels pretty great though, and certainly portable in a way that the last large iPad Pro never did – that thing was a bit of a whale, and made it hard to justify bringing along. This one is smaller than my 13” MacBook Pro and much thinner.

Screen

The iPhone XR’s pixel masking technique is also at work on the iPad Pro’s screen, giving it rounded corners. The LCD screen has also gained tap-to-wake functionality, which is used to great effect by the Pencil, but can also be used with a finger to bring the screen to life. Promotion, Apple’s 120hz refresh technology, is aces here, and works well with the faster processor to keep the touch experience as close to 1:1 as possible.

The color rendition and sharpness of this LCD are beyond great, and its black levels only show poorly against an OLED because of the laws of physics. It also exhibits the issue I first noticed in the iPhone XR, where it darkens ever so slightly at the edges due to the localized dimming effect of the pixel gating Apple is using to get an edge-to-edge LCD. Otherwise this is one of the better LCD screens ever made in my opinion, and now it has less bezel and fun rounded corners — plus no notch. What’s not to like?

Conclusion

In my opinion, if you want an iPad to do light work as a pure touch device, get yourself a regular iPad. The iPad Pro is an excellent tablet, but really shines when it’s paired with a Pencil and/or keyboard. Having the ability to bash out a long passage of text or scribble on the screen is a really nice addition to the iPad’s capabilities.

But the power and utility of the iPad Pro comes into highest relief when you pair it with a Pencil.

There has been endless debate about the role of tablets with keyboards in the pantheon of computing devices. Are they laptop replacements? Are they tablets with dreams of grandiosity? Will anyone ever stop using the phrase 2-in-1 to refer to these things?

And the iPad hasn’t exactly done a lot to dispel the confusion. During different periods of its life cycle it has taken on many of these roles, both through the features it has shipped with and through the messaging of Apple’s marketing arm and well-rehearsed on-stage presentations.

One basic summary of the arena is that Microsoft has been working at making laptops into tablets, Apple has been working on making tablets into laptops and everyone else has been doing weird ass shit.

Microsoft still hasn’t been able (come at me) to ever get it through their heads that they needed to start by cutting the head off of their OS and building tablet first, then walking backwards. I think now Microsoft is probably much more capable than then Microsoft, but that’s probably another whole discussion.

Apple went and cut the head off of OS X at the very beginning, and has been very slowly walking in the other direction ever since. But the fact remains that no Surface Pro has ever offered a tablet experience anywhere near as satisfying as an iPad’s.

Yes, it may offer more flexibility, but it comes at the cost of unity and reliably functionality. Just refrigerator toasters all the way down.

THAT SAID. I still don’t think Apple is doing enough in software to support the speed and versatility that is provided by the hardware in the iPad Pro. While split screening apps and creating ‘spaces’ that remain in place to bounce between has been a nice evolution of the iPad OS, it’s really only a fraction of what is possible.

And I think even more than hardware, Apple’s iPad users are being underestimated here. We’re on 8 years of iPad and 10 years of iPhone. An entire generation of people already uses these devices as their only computers. My wife hasn’t owned a computer outside an iPad and phone for 15 years and she’s not even among the most aggressive adopters of mobile first.

Apple needs to unleash itself from the shackles of a unified iOS. They don’t have to feel exactly the same now, because the user base is not an infantile one. They’ve been weaned on it — now give them solid food.

The Pencil, to me, stands out as the bright spot in all of this. Yes, Apple is starting predictably slow with its options for the double tap gesture. But third party apps like Procreate show that there will be incredible opportunities long term to make the Pencil the mouse for the tablet generation.

I think the stylus was never the right choice for the first near decade of iPad, and it still isn’t mandatory for many of its uses. But the additional power of a context-driven radial menu or right option at the right time means that the Pencil could absolutely be the key to unlocking an interface that somehow blends the specificity of mouse-driven computing with the gestural and fluidity of touch-driven interfaces.

I’m sure there are Surface Pro users out there rolling their eyes while holding their Surface Pens – but, adequate though they are, they are not Pencils. And more importantly, they are not supported by the insane work Apple has done on the iPad to make the Pencil feel more than first party.

And, because of the (sometimes circuitous and languorous) route that Apple took to get here, you can actually still detach the keyboard and set down the Pencil and get an incredible tablet-based experience with the iPad Pro.

If Apple is able to let go a bit and execute better on making sure the software feels as flexible and ‘advanced’ as the hardware, the iPad  Pro has legs. If it isn’t able to do that, then the iPad will remain a dead end. But I have hope. In the shape of an expensive ass pencil.

 


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Apple could introduce three devices with iPhone X design

16:20 | 27 August

A new report from Bloomberg confirms previous rumors and lines up with Ming-Chi Kuo’s original report from November 2017. It sounds likely that Apple is going to introduce three new phones in September — an updated iPhone X, a bigger phone and a successor to the iPhone 8 with the iPhone X design.

The updated iPhone X could be considered as an “S upgrade” with a better system-on-a-chip and better cameras. The phone itself could look exactly the same as the iPhone X you can buy today. But you can expect faster performance thanks to an updated A12 chip designed by Apple and manufactured by TSMC.

The bigger device could feature a gigantic 6.5-inch display. It should have exactly the same features as the updated iPhone X — stainless steel edges, two cameras on the back, an OLED display, etc. This model could have two SIM slots in some countries to make it easier to roam in other regions and countries.

More interestingly, Apple wants to replace the iPhone 8 with a device inspired by the iPhone X. It could cost around as much as the iPhone 8 today, but it should be a big upgrade for those who are focused on the entry-level model.

Of course, there will be some compromises. For instance, Apple will replace the stainless steel edges with aluminum edges. There should be a single camera on the back. And the display won’t be as sharp as it should be a 6.1-inch LCD display.

A previous rumor indicated that this new model could come in a wide range of colors including grey, white, blue, red and orange. Bloomberg confirms that the disparition of the home button means that this phone will get Face ID.

On the software side, it sounds like the bigger 6.5-inch iPhone could let you run two apps side-by-side, pretty much like opening two apps on the iPad. If Apple follows its usual pattern, the company should unveil these new devices in just a couple of weeks.

 


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Qualcomm alleges that Apple’s iPhone infringes on Palm Pre patents

02:23 | 1 December

Shortly after the announcement of the iPhone X in September, my colleague Natasha Lomas noted the similarities between the phone and how WebOS operated on the Palm Pre. She ended her article, noting “in the iPhone X it’s clear you’re looking at a little ghost of the Pre.”

It seems that Qualcomm’s legal team was taking note; they cited that line in a complaint alleging that Apple ripped off Palm’s patented interface.

In the latest escalation of the nearly year-long legal battle, Qualcomm filed three complaints Wednesday in U.S. District Court alleging violations on 16 different Qualcomm patents by Apple, some related to RF transceivers and power-saving measures, some related to multi-touch displays and some related to the innovations of Palm.

Why does Qualcomm care about Palm? Well, in 2014 Qualcomm bought a bunch of Palm patents from HP, some apparently related to the company’s design choices for WebOS and the Pre. In the complaint, Qualcomm specifically alleges that Apple copied the operating system’s “cards” design interface.

Other alleged patent violations include the functionality to respond to a call with a text instead of answering, the ability to refocus the camera by tapping on the screen and the idea to drag multiple uses out of the power button, including ending a call.

“All of these Palm inventions—owned by Qualcomm—have vastly improved the functionality of mobile devices and the user experience, and all of them are widely found in Apple products without license or permission,” the complaint reads.

These are accusation sure to piss off Cupertino.

Apple CEO Tim Cook wasn’t believed to be too happy when the Pre surfaced as we noted in the September story. “We don’t mind competition, but if others rip off our intellectual property, we will go after them,” Cook said of competitors during a 2009 earnings call. Many took this as a dig at Palm.

Many of these technologies feel essential to most modern smartphones, but things are getting personal for Qualcomm, which is playing David in a major legal battle with Apple, which has likely contributed to curtailing profits at the technology firm. Nearly a year ago, Apple filed a $1 billion suit against Qualcomm and proceeded to cut off royalty payments while encouraging its suppliers to do the same.

All the while, Apple has reportedly been building iPhone prototypes that eradicate usage of Qualcomm technologies altogether.

Qualcomm has remained defiant, challenging Apple on alleged patent violations. The rhetoric has been strong, too; in this complaint, Qualcomm says that Apple’s products “would lose much of their consumer appeal” without Qualcomm technologies.

 


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Mysterious ‘green line of death’ appears on some iPhone X displays

20:49 | 10 November

It wouldn’t be the launch of a first-generation Apple product without a few hiccups — who can forget Antennagate and Bendgate? — and the iPhone X is no different. A handful of users report that a mysterious and inextinguishable green line has appeared on their device’s display.

The above images, from Twitter users mix0mat0sis, Nate Heagy and Christian Roman, represent a few of the examples of the “green line of death” as the latter called it. No one seems to know what causes it or how prevalent it actually is. I’ve asked Apple for comment.

We can at least speculate on one part of that. iPhone Xs have a new diamond sub-pixel pattern in their displays, and as such all green sub-pixels appear in lines, while red and blue alternate. You can see that in this image taken as part of DisplayMate’s tests:

It seems likely that an electrical fault in a few phones is causing voltage to flow to all the green sub-pixels in a line. That it stretches all the way from top to bottom suggests it’s something at the edge of the display that’s sending an incorrect voltage down a few lines of pixels (if it were just one line of sub-pixels, it would appear much thinner). The line tends to be close to the right or left side of the phone, but that’s harder to diagnose.

This kind of issue always pops up in ambitious devices that use several new kinds of tech at scale. It happened to Samsung last year, except the line was pink. Even if only 0.001 percent of the displays they put together were faulty, a frequency that’s nearly impossible to test for, a few users will still end up with a bum phone.

One such user already reports that their phone was replaced at the Apple store, so it seems unlikely that this is a software issue. Is your phone showing this line? Take a picture and let us know. Then take it in to be replaced.

 


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Album+ organizes photos with AI that runs on your phone, not in the cloud

19:36 | 6 November

A new iOS app called Album+ is taking advantage of the increased AI capabilities and GPUs in modern iPhones to help people better manage their photos. The app’s features are similar to those found in something like Google Photos — it also can de-duplicate photos, for example, as well as categorize the people, places and objects it finds in your images. But the difference is that Album+ organizes and ranks photos using on-device, offline machine learning — there’s no need to connect with the cloud, that is.

This allows for increased consumer privacy, the company explains.

“We believe user content privacy will be the main concern for consumers over the next decade,” says Sam Sabri, head of growth at Polarr, the company behind Album+. “No one wants to upload their photos to a server that might leak their behavioral patterns to advertising companies, but most people still need the computing services provided by the cloud, such as image classification and search categorizations,” he says. “Our team spent a lot of time compressing AI models to make sure they can run fast and energy-efficient on mobile devices.”

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The app also demonstrates how powerful smartphones have become.

Like Google Photos, Album+ can automatically recognize, categorize and organize the people, objects, places, documents and receipts in your photos. It can remove duplicate photos and other poorly shot images, as well as rank similar photos based on aesthetics. And it offers a variety of tools to help you do more with photos — like a collage maker, and a way to batch edit hundreds of photos at once to do things like apply filters, mass delete, etc.

Above: Album+ finding similar photos

But what’s notable about the app is not necessarily its feature set alone, rather that it’s doing the work on the device.

“We believe we’re the first company that’s able to run AI image clustering, face recognition, aesthetic ranking object and scene detection fast and efficient across entire user albums,” says Sabri.

Polarr is not new to the photo app market.

The company is already cashflow-positive thanks to its flagship product, Polarr Photo Editor, released two years ago. That app has 10 million users and landed on Apple’s “best of the App Store” lists in both 2015 and 2016.

In fact, the success of Polarr Photo Editor led to the creation of Album+, as the company already had a large data set on hand it could use to train its machine learning models. It combined this with public data sets to create its own machine learning technology that’s used to organize and classify iPhone photos.

Because its machine learning requires a more powerful phone, Album+ only runs on iPhone 6 and up. The app also uses different machine learning models that execute at a different speed and accuracy, depending on which device you’re using. On iPhone X, for example, the app will switch to iOS 11’s CoreML framework to run its fastest model, the company says.

The Stanford team of 10 worked on Album+ for more than six months ahead of its recent release. Apple has since featured it in the “New Apps We Love section” of the iOS App Store.

However, the consumer version may ultimately serve as a technology demo for Polarr’s developer-facing business. The company has also created an SDK to help other developers and vendors run AI offline on devices, and this is now in testing with a few partners.

For consumers, Album+’s full feature set, including unlimited photo indexing, is available via subscription for either $1.99/month or $12.99/year.

The app is available on iOS, iPhone 6 and higher, here.

 


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Snap, where are my anibitmoji?

23:00 | 3 November

The day we’ve all been waiting for is finally here. Apple’s highly anticipated iPhone X has made it into the hands of everyday customers. I’m a big weirdo, so I’ve been mostly looking forward to being able to use Face ID for the purposes of animoji.

Animoji takes emoji to the extreme and it works using the iPhone X’s new facial recognition system. As Apple’s Craig Federighi explained at the company’s big press event in September, the goal of animoji is to “breathe our own personality” into our favorite emojis. So far, it’s great. But I want more.

Here’s my idea: anibitmoji, a mashup of animoji and Bitmoji, owned by Snap. Instead of a talking pile of poo, what about a talking pile of my Bitmoji hanging out with the dancing hot dog?

At that same event in September, Apple gave a shout-out to Snap, noting that the two companies are working together to create realistic filters that can track your facial expressions. In his iPhone X review, my boss was able to test out these new lenses, and they’re pretty sweet, so what’s one more integration?

I’ve reached out to Snap and will update this story if I hear back.

 


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iPhone X teardown finds major changes inside the gleaming exterior

21:48 | 3 November

The iPhone 8 may have been filled with the expected kit, but we’ve all been looking forward to finding out what fun Apple’s engineers had putting together the all-new iPhone X — and it doesn’t disappoint. iFixit’s excellent-as-always teardown finds a wealth of strange new components inside the biggest redesign of the device in years.

Right off the bat there’s an interesting and first-time choice to split the battery into two parts — it’s mainly just to better use the space that’s left over after budgeting for the volume of the other parts. It still comes out as a single piece, just a little more L-shaped than the usual rectangle.

Users will be glad to hear that the Lightning port has been reinforced; it’s given a little more space and structure inside the body of the phone, which should prevent it from wearing out so quickly.

The front-facing camera array, essentially a miniaturized first-generation Kinect, doesn’t have many surprises, but it’s nice to see that it comes out relatively easily and in one piece.

It’s the logic board that really impresses, though. When taken out of its little spot, it looks like it’s actually smaller than the iPhone 8’s. How could that be, if it has even more capabilities? Turns out this particular logic board is double-sided.

Putting a few pieces on the back of a board is nothing new, but this takes it to a different level. It’s really two very thin and very densely packed logic boards, connected with a spacer PCB and with little tunnels through which data can travel.

By doing this, the logic board in the iPhone X manages to take up 30 percent less space, while fitting in 35 percent more components. It’s an admirable feat of miniaturization — but the flip side, so to speak, is that it puts a great deal of electronic eggs in one basket. If something goes wrong with one bit, you’ll have to replace what’s likely the most complex mobile logic board ever made.

The good news is that the most common failure of iPhones — a cracked screen — is relatively straightforward to fix. That notch holding the Face ID hardware is separate from the screen, so you can replace the glass without replacing the baby Kinect. The battery is likewise relatively easy to replace. Take care of the back panel, though: if it shatters, you’ll pretty much be stuck with it unless you really want to shell out.

Featured Image: iFixit

 


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Review: The iPhone X Goes To Disneyland

13:03 | 31 October

 Most iPhone reviews are done by technically savvy writers that put them through their paces locally or in a lab. But what if you took an iPhone to a place where millions of people travel every year and use the absolute crap out of it for several days straight? Read More

 


0

Crunch Report | Hey Dillon Francis, iPhone X Is Now Available For Pre-Order

08:15 | 28 October

Today’s Stories 

  1. The iPhone X is now available for pre-order
  2. Russian government condemns Twitter’s ad ban for Russia Today and Sputnik
  3. Walmart is rolling out shelf-scanning robots in stores, but says they won’t replace people

links to songs in todays episode:
Get out of my room – https://soundcloud.com/tito-hamze/get-out-of-my-room
Chicken Salad Sandwich – https://soundcloud.com/tito-hamze/chicken-salad-sandwich

Credits

Written by: Tito Hamze
Hosted by: Tito Hamze
Filmed by: Joe Zolnoski
Edited by: Tito Hamze

Notes:

  • I don’t know what to wear on Crunch Report (It’s a hard decision and I suck at dressing myself). If you are a startup and want to me to wear something mail me an XL T-shirt and I’ll wear it in an episode. I’m not going to mention the company on the shirt in the episode but it will be there. No offensive stuff, it’s totally at my discretion if I wear it. Mail it to me. Thanks <3 Ok, bye.

TechCrunch C/O Tito Hamze
410 Townsend street
Suite 100
San Francisco Ca. 94107

 


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