The New Apple Paradigm

It’s time for a bit of recreational Kremlinology regarding Apple’s strategies.

When Intel and Apple brought the Thunderbolt interface into the world, there were a lot of interesting possibilities created. Thunderbolt being essentially the PCI bus on a wire, many peripheral solutions that were previously done with internal cards, could now be created as breakout boxes, which could serve both desktop and laptop users.

Since Thunderbolt is capable of carrying all of the other peripheral busses, one great solution it enabled was Apple’s Thunderbolt display, which could act as a peripheral hub for a laptop. You plug power into the display, and then the display has an upstream cable which branches into thunderbolt, and Magsafe power for the laptop. So with that one cable, your laptop effectively becomes a desktop (and your laptop’s power adapter stays in your travel bag).

My 68 year old mother, who is an accountant, uses this solution. She has a light, compact, 13″ Macbook Air, with which she travels interstate every quarter to work with clients. In her home office she has the big display, keyboard, mouse etc. On the road, the system is light & compact, at home it has screen space for her MYOB Windows VMs, remote desktop sessions with client computers etc.

The new Macbook isn’t set up to do his. It’s only external display options are HDMI and VGA, and with no Thunderbolt due to its sole USB3-C port, arguably, it never will.

It remains to be seen whether this is a repeat of the goof that was the original 13″ Aluminium Macbook (which dropped the firewire of its polycarbonate incarnation, only to regain it in the next revision), or whether this is a new paradigm of less versatile Macs, which have a narrower but deeper usability. By forgoing all the ports that make a laptop able to be both a portable, and desktop, Apple have made a computer that is arguably better when it’s being a portable.

The question is whether this will make its way into the rest of the laptop lineup. If so, I think we can probably say that the paradigm that Apple is heading towards, is this: People who need both desktop and laptop usage scenarios, should be buying a desktop and a laptop, and then using Continuity to move their work state between devices. The net result of more device sales for Apple is obviously just a happy coincidence.

Rotating a .NEF Raw File

One of the problems I’ve had using Apple’s (now end-of-lifed) Aperture photography software, is that it doesn’t make changes to an original RAW file. Everything changed within it is done using versions – essentially metadata – so that you can have a dozen different variants of a file, but only ever have one taking up space on disk.

It’s a great idea, except when your original has a problem, like for example the camera has recorded orientation information that you don’t want applied. Aperture provides no way to alter the RAW file. You can create a rotated version in Aperture, but exporting the RAW will output the original un-rotated edition.

The solution is to use Nikon’s own ViewNX software. It’s ugly as sin, not at all Mac-like, but when you rotate a RAW file in it, the file on disk is rotated, while staying as a RAW.

Then, you have to reimport the image as a new file, and delete the old version. Simply replacing the old one with the rotated version in Aperture’s library won’t show up as having been changed when you re-launch Aperture.

iOS 8 Photos app – DSLR Fail.

With the update to iOS 8, Apple obsolesced the iOS version of iPhoto. Notwithstanding that iPhoto was a paid product, which is made unusable without warning, the replacement has certain issues.

The replacement for iPhoto is an expanded set of capabilities for the Photos app. What it doesn’t have, however, is the ability to view EXIF data for the images, so if you’re using the iPad to triage images in the field, you can’t see any of the technical details of your shots – no aperture, iso, shutter speed or anything. Worse still, when you try to edit images…

Photos can’t perform more than a single edit on an image without it pixelating like this.

These add to the commonly held view that things at Apple are starting to go off the rails, at a systemic, company-wide level. Within Apple’s software efforts, new features are being brought to market before they’re thoroughly ready. More importantly, old working solutions are removed from users’ systems before their replacements are up to the task.

Recent iPhones

So my current phone, an iPhone 3GS which I bought outright in 2009, has been getting a little long in the tooth. I’ve been thinking about options for replacement, and had pondered trying to get an old stock iPhone 5S through a 3rd party retailer, since they’re still available in a 64gb version. The iPhone 5S models Apple sells since the iPhone 6 release, are 16 & 32gb only.

So, I went to the Apple store to check out the feel of the current lineup. In short, neither of them are particularly nice.

The iPhone 5S feels cheap and hollow. It’s too light for its apparent volume. While the rectangular design is pretty, it’s an unpleasant object to hold in your hand.

The iPhone 6 is a completely different experience. It’s heavier, having what feels like the correct weight for its size, or rather, the correct feeling of density for its size. The screen is tremendous, and looks more real and less like a screen than the 5s, I suspect because the panel is closer to the surface of the glass. While the curved back and front edges feel fantastic in the hands, the simple fact is that the phone is too big. In order to hold it in a way that’s comfortable for reaching the home button, so much of the phone cantilevers out over the top of your hand, that you never feel it’s safe unless you’re gripping onto it. Contrast that with my 3GS:

 Here I can sit the phone in my hand, and use it without any need to physically hold it in place, the weight and shape of the phone keep it in place.

Added to this, the glassy-smooth surface of the iPhone 6 simply feels too slippery. Combined with the projecting into space cantilever, every second of holding it resulted in buttock-clenching terror.

The only thing I’ve held that felt less secure in my hand, was a live, wriggling fish.

Now, I could, and probably would, get a leather or silicone skin if I was going to buy this phone. That would alleviate the slipperiness, and ensure that the camera lens wasn’t projecting out into space from the back of the phone – which is another mark against the iPhone 6. However, it would make the phone even bigger.

So, I think I’m going to sit out this round of phones, yet again, and stay with my 3GS. Perhaps when Apple makes a device with an iPhone 5S (or smaller) sized screen, in an iPhone 6 denisity and shape, and gives it 64gb of storage, I’ll look into buying again.

If this article was of use, a donation would help support my projects.

Review: Adonit Jot Script

Opening disclaimer: I was provided with a “keeper” review unit by Adonit, and Mobile Zap Australia. Since this is a review of a handwriting-oriented device, try reading it in the original, handwritten form of the images below, but please note the edit in the typed version.

The Jot Script is the first of the new “pixelpoint” styluses from Adonit – the maker of my current favourite stylus – the Jot Touch 4.0.

It’s important to bear in mind that this device is primarily designed to be used with Evernote’s “Penultimate” software, and unlike the Jot Touch, it’s primarily a writing stylus. As you can see so far, it’s pretty accurate at capturing my godawful handwriting, which would put the average doctor’s scrawl to shame. The point being that despite how unreadable it may be to others, it’s perfectly readable to me.

Zoom View

Here is where we get to Penultimate’s real strength “zoom mode”. In this mode the screen zooms in and scrolls under the pen in direct relation to how fast you lay down new letters. The faster you write, the faster the page scrolls under the pen. This means you can slowly progress your pen across the page, and just hold your pen up off the surface for a second or two and let the program just drift a space in under the pen.

As you can see from this page as compared to the previous page, the text is far cleaner and more readable. What’s most interesting about this interactive design is that you can see the non-zoomed view in the background, greyed out so as to not distractfrom what you’re writing, but it keeps you aware of how far down the page you’ve progressed as you write.

All in all, it’s a pretty brilliant solution to the handwriting dilemma on the iPad, while avoiding the Newton’s trap of handwriting recognition.

The Pen Itself

While not feeling quite as sturdy as the Jot touch 4.0, it’s still sturdier than any of the pens offered by Wacom for their Intuous / Cintique (sic) tablets. The machined Aluminium barrel meets a plastic centre section where the on / off switch then transitions to a plastic grip area,

Important Edit: I just ran the grip area over my teeth (yes weird I know), and realised it’s actually the same metal as the barrel – the texturing in the surface had confused me as to what the material was – it feels quite different to the smooth metal of the barrel. This more or less negates any criticism of the product’s sturdiness compared to the Jot Touch.

and down to a metal tip. It feels lighter, and plasticer than than the Jot Touch, which is unsurprising, given its lower cost. Possibly my only major criticism is the choice to go with a AAA replaceable battery, rather than the internal rechargeable of the Jot Touch. But then again, these are the sacrifices that are inevitably made to bring a product in within a certain budget. My hope would be that the new Jot Touch with Pixelpoint can fulfil all the tasks the script currently fills, enabling users to carry just a single pen.

It should be noted that I’m left-handed, and that may haveand effect on the performance of the product. But as you can see from the past few lines the pen is quite capable of running writing, for those who refuse to print.


What the Jot Script provides is a fantastic environment for handwritten note taking that can be faster than a keyboard for quick – err, jotting of ideas. It has a major strength that text and drawing can be integrated thusly: (note look at the final gallery image)

One thing to watch out for is that drawing smooth curves can result in stepping as you can see here. But again this seems to not have any effect on handwriting.

As you can see in the top left corner, this is largely a result of the speed at which the lines are drawn. Fast avoids the stepping.

This is a device which does what it claims to do, and shows off the potential of the new generation of fine-point styluses Adonit is moving towards.

If this article was of use, a donation would help support my projects.

iBooks EPUB Cover problems

How do you ensure the iBooks library image is readable, when the typography of your cover is too small in icon view?

Book Cover
Icon Cover

The answer to that is actually really simple, but has a quirk that can trip up a publisher, because the behaviour of files downloaded from the iBooks / iTunes store differs from how they work when loaded directly through iTunes or iBooks (formerly Book Proofer).

Solution first, then quirk afterwards.

By default, iBooks uses the file listed as the cover image in your package.opf file to generate the icon:

<item id="cover" href="images/cover.jpg" media-type="image/jpeg" properties="cover-image"/>

That image is the one you create optimised to be seen as a tiny icon in your iBooks library, which in icon view has no text labels (the origin of this problem).

The image optimised for full screen viewing and placed within your cover html page can then be listed separately:

<item id="front-cover" href="images/outside_front.jpg" media-type="image/jpeg"></item>

When you load this EPUB into iBooks, the image tagged as having the “cover-image” property will be used to create the icon.

When submitting your files via iTunes Producer, you have a cover image imagewell, and Apple then uses that to create the image of your book in the iTunes & iBooks stores, as well as the iTunes Preview website. It also uses that image to create the icon you see in the icon view of your iBooks library.

So, if you try to use your “big art” version of the cover to be the hero image of your book within iTunes / iBooks / iTunes Preview, when someone downloads your book, that’s the version of the cover image that’ll be used for the icon view in the Library. Importantly, that image will override the image you’ve hard-coded into your EPUB to be the cover image.

So, the solution in the end, is to design your icon view art so that it looks OK when presented as the hero image of your book in iTunes / iBooks / iTunes Preview, and remember that the “Preview” tag will obscure the top right corner when a preview is downloaded – hence my putting the author name on the left in the examples above.

If this article was of use, a donation would help support my projects.

And that’s the end of Aperture

Well, after all my problems with Aperture’s book printing, Apple has now announced that Aperture is being end-of-lifed. This brings with it conflicting emotions.

Aperture was developed in a time when the general Mac OS was somewhat more primitive than it is now. The capabilities demonstrated in the WWDC 2014 videos show that quite a lot of Aperture’s abilities have been migrated into the OS as a whole, and Aperture is to be replaced with a (lighter weight) iCloud-focussed Photos app. One of the themes of WWDC has been that applications are now highly plugin-able. One of Aperture’s great weaknesses was that third party filters and effects weren’t non-destructive. So if you wanted to apply a border to a photo, it had to be flattened into a TIFF file (an extra 100+mb for a whole image vs an insignificant addition of metadata to the original RAW file), and the border applied to it – negating the purpose of shooting in RAW.

The non-destructive plugin-oriented paradigm Apple unveiled at WWDC leaves me hopeful that even if Photos is a stripped down product from Apple, whatever is lost will be able to be replaced by third party plugins, which won’t require this stupid flatten-to-tiff workflow we have currently.

My biggest fear, is that the manual management facility – the ability to arbitrarily arrange projects with folders, subfolders etc will be lost. It’s a feature Aperture has, but which iPhoto does not, even when they share the same library. Tethering and fine-grained output options could potentially be replaced by third party plugins, but the representation of the library itself – the core functionality of the app is different between Apple’s two current photography apps, I would be surprised if that could be altered.

Right now, Aperture is a little under $90. If Photos is free, and the abilities of Aperture today can be aded as plugins for less than that, it could end up being a net win. If not, there’s app packages from Corel, DXO, and even Adobe if you’re a masochist.

More on Aperture Printing

After yesterday’s post on problems with a photobook produced and printed through Apple’s Aperture software, I thought I’d conduct a more thorough test. The conditions were setting up the same image as I’d used in Aperture, in Adobe InDesign, and Apple’s pages. The image was set up at the same physical size on the page, and then the page was output using various quality settings.

As can be seen, the basic problem is that Aperture is doing something in the PDF which puts white fringing on the black lines, which destroys them optically. In places in the book, the white fringing is more prominent than the black lines.

  • Aperture
    • The Print Proof when ordering a book.
  • InDesign CS5 Export to PDF
    • High Quality Print
    • Blurb print on demand books plugin quality
    • Smallest File Size
  • Pages Export to PDF
    • Good
    • Better
    • Best

Each pdf was then opened in Preview, the same area was zoomed to the same size on screen, and a screenshot of the window taken. Images were then opened in Photoshop CS5 and Saved for Web at 100% size with jpeg compression set to 100 / Maximum.

Aperture Printing Problems

I just received my first attempt at printing a fine art book of The Metaning with Apple’s Aperture printing service. There were major problems which make Aperture a no-go for this project.

This is the artwork for the cover spread, taken directly from the pdf proof Aperture generates prior to ordering the book. As you can see, the front cover on the right, and back cover on the left, each have design elements which align to centre, and have equidistant left and right gutters.

Here is what the actual printed product looks like. What has happened, as far as I can tell, is that the artwork was blown up in size, either to provide a bleed, or to accommodate the thickness of the spine. They’ve then centred the artwork to the front cover, which has meant all the horizontal growth pushes around to the back.

The other big problem is the compression used for the pdf files that get sent up to Apple’s print service. While it looks OK for photographs, when you have linework – high contrast changes from light to dark, the compression causes white fringing to occur. In this example, the image in the Aperture book maker is compared to its PDF output at the same size. As you can see, all of the lines have effectively lost their strength because they have their optical opposite right next to them.

Update: Further investigation of the problem shows a comparison of the PDF compression Aperture is using, as compared to InDesign, and Apple’s Pages app.

Review: Brydge+ Keyboard

Opening disclaimer: I was provided with a “keeper” review unit by Brydge Keyboards.

My first laptop style device was an Apple eMate 300 – a NewtonOS based touchscreen laptop. Following that were a couple of generations of PowerBooks, before I moved to Mac Minis as my primary computing platform. However, the memory of the experience of using a touchscreen laptop stuck with me throughout my PowerBook days. While the Windows ecosystem seems to be jumping on the bandwagon of integrating touch into all computers, Apple has remained resolutely against it.

The argument proffered is that fatigue from holding ones arms up to a monitor – “gorillla arms” – makes touchscreens unsuited to desktop computer use, and since Apple’s laptops are desktop computers in a different form factor, no touchscreen for them.

To me, the laptop can be a fundamentally different device to the desktop, insofar as the screen is mere inches from the user’s hands, rather than the full arms length of an iMac or standalone monitor. That should allow for some different ideas about the ergonomics of these devices.

Using an iPad with an external keyboard has been a thing since day one. Apple even launched the iPad with a keyboard dock accessory. Most keyboards are in the form of a folio, or as a slab with a slot to prop the iPad at a specific, set, angle. The Brydge line of keyboards is something quite different – a keyboard with hinges which grip your iPad and make it function in the same way as a standard laptop screen.

The history of the Brydge is an interesting one. Originally started as a Kickstarter project, the company quickly met its funding goals, and moved into production. From here things appear to have become problematic – with customer service not appearing to be able to keep up with sales. Brydge was recently purchased by a trio of Singapore-based Australians, who have embarked on a program of upgrades to sales & customer response systems, and establishing local distribution centres in major markets. For orders in the US, UK or Hong Kong they’re claiming to be able to ship an order within 24 hours of it being placed. They’ve also knocked about a quarter off the prices of the two top models. The unit I’m testing, the Brydge+ With Speakers, has dropped from $199.99 to $149.99, for example. They also have a speaker-less version of the Brydge+ for $139.99 in the brushed aluminium, and $99.99 in polycarbonate.

The Brydge+, like the entire current range, is designed for the second to fourth generation full-size iPads. The hinges on the keyboard have removable rubber linings, which suit the various thicknesses the devices have come in. While it’s not strictly designed for it, you can see in the photos here that an iPad Air in one of Apple’s leather Smart Cases will fit in the iPad 3/4 hinge size. Brydge say they’ve got a new model due out in the 4th quarter of this year, targeting the smaller form factor of the Air.

As a keyboard, the Brydge feels identical to Apple’s aluminium bluetooth keyboard in terms of depth of keystroke and “clickyness”, albeit a bit smaller in size. The top row has a number of function keys, including a very handy home key in the top left. One problem with the current models is that one or two of the keys have lost their function due to changes in iOS 7. Unless you need single key access to slideshowing your photo collection, this isn’t likely to be a major concern.

The angle and setup of the hinges is such that as you open the “lid” the screen bezel drops downwards relative to the keyboard surface, much the same as it does in Apple’s MacBook Pro line. As this happens, the angle of the keyboard is raised slightly as the cam-like outer curve of the hinge lifts the whole laptop off the desk. The hinges have a strong enough friction that they can hold the screen at any angle, even all the way back to horizontal, and the keyboard itself has sufficient weight to prevent the whole thing from overbalancing (noting that I’m using an Air, which is significantly lighter than other generations of iPads). What this means, effectively, is that this is a truly lap-top capable “laptop” solution for the iPad. There’s no straps, or kickstands, and the screen doesn’t have to sit a third of the way in to the device. You can have it flat on a desk, or sit in bed with your knees up and rest it on your thighs. Ergonomically, it’s a laptop, without a trackpad you can accidentally bump your thumb on while typing.

This model also has stereo speakers behind a centre aligned grille, which provide a diffferent audio experience to the built in speaker. To my ears they’re not as rich in bass as the Air’s speaker, though if critical audio quality is your thing, you’d probably want a dedicated set of speakers, or some good headphones. The speakers need to be paired separately to the keyboard, however they increase the battery drain.

In terms of battery life, Brydge claims the battery should last “several months” without the speakers in use. Mine arrived sufficiently charged that it hasn’t needed any charging throughout writing this review.

To conclude, the Brydge+ looks like an Apple product, and feels like an Apple product. It’s a top-notch piece of hardware – solidly built from durable materials, and possessed of the sort of heft that inspires a viscerally positive feeling in use. It does exactly what it claims to do – turns the iPad into a highly functional laptop. My personal choice would be the Brydge+ without speakers, although as someone who finds the feeling of brushed aluminium distractingly like touching something that’s electrically live, I’d also strongly consider the polycarbonate version.

If this article was of use, a donation would help support my projects.