The past year has seen an influx of new smartphones flooding the market – all Android, and almost all of them touting at least three rear cameras.

The Huawei P30 Pro has perhaps shown the most promise – until the U.S. government came along and started their trade war with China – as well as the whole Huawei trustworthiness affair. This resulted in Google allegedly cutting Huawei’s access to Android updates at one point. Even with the recent thawing, it’s enough to have put me off considering Huawei smartphones.

I’ve used Google’s Pixel XL and Pixel 2 XL for a while, but even with a frequently updated OS, there have been substantial problems with the phone that have put me off going back to Android at all. I’ve read all the problems with the Pixel 3/3 XL and have been counting my chickens that I didn’t switch.

I am an iOS man, and I’m not likely to ever switch. Here are some statistics as to why that is the case:

  • 1,642 albums (15,648 songs) totalling 108.95Gb, or 37.5 days worth of music stored in Apple Music
  • 361 purchased iTunes films totalling 1.4Tb in total (if I were to download them all in HD), or 30 days worth of viewing back to back in one sitting
  • 38 purchased iTunes TV programmes totalling 947Gb in total (if I were to download them all in HD), or 24 days worth of viewing back to back in one sitting
  • 10,108 photos, 453 videos totalling around 97Gb (APFS) which are stored both on the Mac, iPad Pro and iPhone XS Max as well as the iCloud Photo Library

Switching between Apple Music and something like Spotify is possible with third party programs, but it’s a substantial pain-in-the-arse process and the music catalogues vary between the services which mean that I’d lose quite a few albums/tracks along the way. I know I’d definitely lose all the Studio Ghibli soundtracks if I were to switch to Spotify.

Moving my movies and TV shows to another service is near impossible unless I break the digital rights management of each title. This is illegal in the UK (even for the purposes of backup). The state of the streaming and physical disc union is a massive pile of poop at this point, but iTunes has almost always been the best experience. And the Apple TV 4K has been the best streamer. Newer TVs from the likes of Samsung and Sony are getting the Apple TV app, so content from iTunes is becoming more widely available across other devices. It’s still not ideal, but it’s something that consumers are having to live with if they want to rewatch their favourite films or TV shows.

I’ve also struggled with Android to try and replicate the sheer ease of use and simplicity of Apple’s Photos app. Google Photos has come very close, but it is substantially behind in some RAW camera formats (particularly earlier Sony RX100 models) and limitations in MP4 sizes has meant that I cannot upload my whole library to Google’s servers. I do use Google Photos to upload what I can, however, and my Google Nest Home Hub shows a series of photos from my travels – a bit like a digital photo frame – when I’m in the kitchen.

Then there is iOS itself. We get a major free version every year, and it’s generally very well supported for around 3-4 (and even in some cases 5) years during the lifetime of a device. And it’s regularly updated by Apple to fix major security flaws whenever they occur. When looking at my work’s policies for BOYD phones, we have had to pretty much rule out most Android phones because of the delay in which the device manufacturer roles out security updates. It’s really only Google’s Pixel phones that pass the grade and that kind of rules out the whole purpose of Android IMHO.

Finally, I have an Apple Watch (series 4) which still requires pairing with an iPhone for many functions. However, with the next release of WatchOS, the watch is going to start to gain a bit more independence from the phone. But it will still take a few more iterations before the Apple Watch is a truly standalone product.

So, this leads me to the iPhone 11. We should find out soon when Apple intends to announce this year’s new line-up. It’s not long to go – they usually announce them sometime in September. Rumours suggest that the current XS and XS Max line-up will be renamed “Pro”.

Rumours also suggest that there will be fairly modest upgrades this year, with the bulk of the good stuff coming in 2020. We’re unlikely to see 5G modems this year, and we’re likely to follow the trend of other smartphone manufacturers by having a third camera on the back of the phone – probably an ultra-wide lens.

My plan with EE should allow me to upgrade sometime at the end of September. Whether I will or not really depends on what Apple’s offering with the iPhone 11. I’d REALLY like to see is USB-C connectivity like the iPad Pro. Given the Macs, I work with all have USB-C ports, and I have multiple USB-C chargers, cutting down on Lightning connectors would be a real bonus. There are some sketchy rumours abound that the Pro range of iPhones will feature Apple Pencil support. Useful, but not essential to me (but I can imagine a trillion uses in my line of work).

As for cameras, I’ve been really happy with the iPhone XS Max. It is by far the best camera that Apple has rolled out in a phone. Some recent images that I took:

And I still have a significant amount of storage left for more films, TV shows, music and photos:

So I’d be perfectly happy to continue using the iPhone XS Max for another year if necessary. If I did upgrade, I’d still be on an upgrade anytime plan, but I’d effectively renew my contract for another 2 years – whereas next year I’d be free to leave EE if necessary. But so far I’ve had no reason whatsoever to do so – they’ve been brilliant.

Apple is a strange company. It has come up with some rather lovely designs during its history. The Apple Magic Mouse 2 isn’t one of them. It’s a mish-mash of superb usability and horrible ergonomics combined with very decent battery life. I’ve been using them pretty much ever since I’ve had a Macintosh.

The Space Grey version of the Apple Magic Mouse 2 is very shiny!

I have been tempted by other Bluetooth mice before, and indeed earlier this year I bought a couple of Logitech MX Master 2S wireless mice. They’re ergonomic, chunky and feel great in the hand. My only complaint has been the scroll wheel has always felt either too loose in quiet mode, or when the ratchet mode is on, too noisy. Whereas the Apple Magic Mouse 2 has a surface area which acts like a touchpad which makes scrolling pretty much flawless. Plus the Apple mouse can scroll sideways much more easily.

The Logitech MX Master 2S – which can be used when charging

The MX Master 2S can also be charged whilst it’s being used, whereas with the Apple mouse you’ll need to turn it upside down in order to plug in the Lightning cable – thus it’s incapacitated whilst it is charging. This is made up, however, by a much better battery in the Magic Mouse. The Logitech MX Master 2S only seems to last 2 days before the battery runs out whereas the Magic Mouse lasts several weeks. Well, I’d say that my home MX Master 2S only lasts a couple of days – my work MX Master 2S does tend to last a couple of weeks, and both tend to get the same kind of use.

But I’ve had to go back to using a Magic Mouse 2 again because Apple do NOT make it easy if you ever need to reset your Mac’s PRAM, or go into recovery mode with non-standard Apple kit. The following image demonstrates:

Cables, dongles and non-Apple kit – oh my!

I wanted to reset my work 2018 Mac Mini’s PRAM as the USB-C (acting as a DisplayPort cable) to HDMI connected monitors tend to play Russian Roulette every time I switch the Mac on. Sometimes the Mac remembers the right order, and other days it doesn’t. Or sometimes the Mac doesn’t send the signal to the right monitor, necessitating cable fiddling. A PRAM reset might fix that, I thought.

First of all, the Magic Keyboard 2 wasn’t able to get the bloody Mac into PRAM reset mode wirelessly – not without physically attaching the keyboard to the machine via a Lightning to USB-A cable (thankfully the Mac Mini has two USB-A ports). That seemed to work. Then I needed to go into recovery mode to sort out something, but the MX Master 2S mouse wouldn’t work. As you can see above, the Mac’s firmware wanted me to connect an Apple wireless mouse. Any Bluetooth mouse that’s Bluetooth capable (and not an Apple mouse) and has been paired with the Mac beforehand will not work in recovery mode. I had to hook up the MX Master via a micro-USB cable to USB-A to get anything done.

So it’s a mix of battery life, being able to scroll properly on a Magic Mouse 2, and being able to move the mouse pointer effortlessly in Mac’s firmware/recovery mode that’s brought me back to the Magic Mouse.

First, it was Good Omens. Now it’s The Boys. Amazon Prime Video has been available on Apple TV devices for a while now. Not long, but long enough. I bought the 4K version of the Apple TV because I have a 4K TV.

I do have the Amazon Prime Video app on my LG 4K TV, but I don’t tend to use the built-in apps for the TV because the TV is getting old now and the app and WebOS updates are few and far between. An Apple TV device should continue to receive OS and app updates regularly for many years to come – and one only has to replace one component when Apple stops supporting that device, rather than having to replace an otherwise good working TV. This is why I despise the “smart” in Smart TV.

Amazon’s 21st century equivalent of adjusting a TV aerial

Amazon, like Netflix, has been commissioning original TV shows in UHD (4K). With Netflix and the right subscription, you’ll get the highest resolution out the box without any fuss. If it’s 4K, you’ll get 4K. If it’s HD only, you’ll get HD only. With Amazon, you’re relying on them to put the 4K version of the title on the home page. Except they rarely do. No, with Amazon, you have to dig deep to find the bugger and then add it to your wishlist so that you don’t lose it again.

I had tremendous difficulties playing Good Omens in 4K when it was first released. Error galore. And I had even more difficulty trying to find the link to get help with Amazon (though it turns out when you do find the help page, the contact us section is bottom left-hand side – it’s not as obvious as you think it is when you’re trying to look for it). We then spent about an hour going through a scripted support process before the case was escalated to Amazon Prime Video’s specialist support team.

The thing is, the LG TV could play the 4K version of Good Omens just fine. Yet the newer Apple TV running Amazon’ s own app couldn’t. Eventually, Amazon managed to fix it, but it left a bit of a bad taste.

And now we have a new Amazon series called The Boys. It’s a very good black comedy about a world where superheroes are vile and managed by a massive agency who look after their PR, which comes in handy whenever collateral damage from a superhero rescue comes into play. It’s an exceptional series, but again, I can’t play it in 4K on the Apple TV.

Here are things I’ve tried:

  • Signed out of Amazon, then signed back in again
  • Restarted the Apple TV
  • Signed out of Amazon, deleted the Amazon Prime Video app, restarted the Apple TV, downloaded the Amazon Prime Video app, and then signed in again
  • Sacrificed a small goat to the tech god, “Sodslaw”
  • Admired the extremely impressive Apple TV 4K screensavers when attempting to escalate the issue with Amazon

The reason I got angry about this in the first place was that the TV app on Apple TV made it clear it was a 4K show. But when you clicked on the link to open it, an error from Amazon’s Prime Video app popped up.

I tried to search for The Boys within the app. No joy. And I tried on the web site – again no joy – until today (one day after the release). I added it to the Watchlist so that I wouldn’t lose it again.

I’ve been in touch with Amazon, and I think they’re escalating this – but they also wanted me to restart my router. I said that I didn’t think that was going to be necessary, but they insisted. And that’s when I lost my temper and left the chat.

Some thoughts:

  • Apple and Amazon need to work more closely together
  • Amazon needs more developers onto the tvOS app
  • Amazon needs better QA testers for the tvOS app

If these so-called “cord-cutting” services are to succeed, they need to work flawlessly across the many platforms that they’re on. And support for these services needs to be beefed up. Streaming is only going to get more complex – especially if 8K is around the corner (my prediction: won’t see anything serious for the next 2-3 years and even then we’ll still be struggling with 4K like we are right now).

(*) Translation: I am in great pain.

So many announcements, so little time..

This year’s WWDC keynote was packed to the gills with a slew of announcements relating to upcoming software features in Apple’s range of products, including the Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Additionally, the company also announced a whole new redesign of the Mac Pro, a new high-end monitor, and $1,000 monitor stand (I kid you not).

Apple has a rebranding/versioning problem

The iPad is getting a whole new slew of feature enhancements that won’t be found on the iPhone, to the extent that Apple is now referring to the version of iOS for iPad as iPadOS. This now gives us the following OS derivatives based on the Mach kernel/FreeBSD from which OS X originally came from:

  • MacOS – for Mac desktop and laptop operating systems
  • iPadOS – for iPads
  • WatchOS – for the Apple Watch
  • tvOS – for Apple TV HD and Apple TV 4K
  • iOS – for iPhones

So why doesn’t Apple rename iOS to iPhoneOS to identify the operating system specifically for iPhones? I don’t know. I’m assuming iPadOS will be referred to version 13, the same as iOS rather than iPadOS 1. If Apple did change iOS to iPhoneOS, it’d still be version 13 too. Only WatchOS has had significant changes to the version number since it was first released. We’re currently on major version 5, but for iOS and tvOS it’s version 12. For MacOS it’s 10.14. Even I’m finding it difficult to keep up.

Goodbye iTunes – so long, and thanks for all the fish

I’ve been a heavy iTunes user since.. well .. since Winamp died. I migrated over to the iTunes platform on Windows initially long before I had my first Mac, and haven’t looked back since. I’ve tried to leave the iTunes ecosystem a few times, but quite frankly it’s very difficult – particularly because the integration and feature set is very good. The downside is that iTunes has been enormously clunky for quite some time.

So Apple is splitting out music, video and podcasts into three separate applications for the next release of MacOS (called Catalina). This makes sense. I’m an Apple Music subscriber and find that the iCloud Music Library to be extremely useful to sync my own tracks across my iPhone XS Max and Apple Watch series 4. The iTunes store will still be there if I do want to purchase tracks or albums, or movies or TV shows.

The Mac to get 4K movie playback

Apple TV on the Mac will also play 4K content (since many modern iMacs will have 4K or 5K displays) and Dolby Atmos content. It’s no longer limited to Apple TV HD/4K devices. However, my biggest disappointment with Apple in this regard is that iTunes is still not offering 4K television shows for sale. Or TV shows with iTunes Extras content. I feel that Apple’s upcoming video streaming service, Apple TV+, may have had an effect on that. If UHD Blu-Ray content is on the way out, we need a better alternative to just streaming services. People want to buy, download and keep. And they want the extras that come with physical discs.

Apple to stop BASHing MacOS and wants to zig-a-zig-zsh

Apple is, for whatever reason, not a fan of GNU v3 General Public License. As such, the version of the bash interpreter included with MacOS is a little out of date. The zsh shell is more modern, largely backwards compatible with bash and is, in theory, a better option. That said, a good amount of what I do involves bash, so I doubt I’ll be changing over anytime soon.

You’ll be able to use your iPad as a second screen with MacOS Catalina

Something that I look forward to using. The new version of MacOS Catalina will allow users with a modern iPad or iPad Pro as a second screen – with the added bonus that if you have an Apple Pencil, you can use something like Photoshop to sketch on the iPad and it’ll appear on your Mac.

iPadOS will make the iPad more computer-like like never before

Apple has been pushing the iPad and iPad Pro as fully fledged computers. The problem with that is that even with a physical keyboard, key features of the operating system are still incredibly limited.

As well as a new home screen with access to widgets in horizontal view, the icons are now more tightly packed together – allowing more icons per screen. There are new gestures to make it easier to select, copy and paste text – and the cursor should be much easier to reposition.

And you’ll finally be allowed to use a mouse with an iPad! Though it forms part of the accessibility features and effectively emulates fingers – thus it won’t be the same as if you were using MacOS. But I think the new gestures and cursor control should help a bit.

The biggest change is that you’ll be able to plug in a USB hard drive or thumb drive and copy data to and from the iPad like any other file. It’s been mentioned that Apple formatted HPFS+ volumes don’t yet work (which would be silly if you also have a Mac), but may change during the beta/development process.

The iPad will also be able to connect to network shares as well – also offering a way of pulling data into and out of the iPad over the network.

Access to files via USB drive or network drive makes me wonder what would happen if the iPhone XI models ship with USB-C ports instead of lightning ports. It would be a tremendous benefit to have USB-C on the iPhone, but it did, would the Files app also support the use of hard drives and thumb drives as well? And are the other features sufficient to rename iOS on the iPad as iPadOS in that case?

Safari, the default web browser on iPadOS, will be able to use the desktop versions of web sites. Previously this was not possible as Safari always identified itself as a mobile browser, and the web site/app would deliver a mobile-friendly version. It’s not clear whether this will be the default option, or if other browsers such as Chrome will follow suit as it will mean changing the browser identification string. Something I’ll need to bear in mind for work!

In short – iPadOS has more features in it to make an iPad last a good many years as a laptop computer. It’ll always be a locked system, but Apple have opened it up a little more in what it can do that will make it a more attractive option to those on the move.

iPhone users also have a few tweaks to look forward to

I’m so looking forward to disabling limits on the size of app downloads. I have a very generous data allowance with my phone provider, and few humongous apps. But that’s not all – it’s said that apps will launch twice as fast and be half the size. Some serious optimisation work going on there!

I’m definitely looking forward to the new dark mode, and even more so – I like the look of the new Photos app. I use Photos and the iCloud Photo Library a lot across all my Apple devices, so it’ll be interesting to play around with the new features there. Already loving the new layout and can’t wait to start using it.

Pro Macs and Displays

With potential costs of up to $35,000 for a fully tricked out Mac Pro, and the displays costing around $6k including the monitor stand, the new Mac Pro is going to be something for companies or individuals with very deep pockets. The performance will be phenomenal, but it will require substantial effort from developers to make use of those performance enhancements.

VFX, for example, has generally relied heavily on NVIDIA graphics technology – as has anything with big computational needs. That said, when I was working back in VFX, Macs were primarily used for 2D Photoshop work (working with giant size textures).

I think the Apple ProDisplay will do much better in terms of sales – the specifications alone are going to be very tempting for anybody that requires great colour accuracy. And cost point of those monitors – even with the stand – is considerably cheaper than other manufacturers.

Another question that I have is that if Apple is intending to switch from Intel to their own ARM silicon in the future – how far ahead is this, and what about people who have spent tens of thousands of pounds/dollars on these systems only to find that we’re going to be in the middle of another architecture change in 2-3 years time. That’s a very difficult question to answer right now, but I believe Apple *will* do it at some point. Given the number of speculative vulnerabilities that are cropping up in Intel CPUs, people (and Apple) are going to be fed up with Intel.


(*) From the Adult Sim cartoon series, Rick & Morty. “Wubba lubba dub dub” was Rick’s catchphrase.

Netflix has confirmed that it is removing AirPlay support from its iOS application due to ‘technical limitations’.

My concern with this is that it’s taking away one very useful feature – the ability to stream Netflix shows on TVs that have built-in AirPlay (and subsequently AirPlay 2) support. If you’re doing a lot of travelling – whether for business or pleasure – this can be extremely useful.

You could argue that a lot of TVs have a built-in Netflix app already? Yes, this is true. But many hotel TVs don’t. Will Netflix look to make up for potential connectivity problems by attempting to sell dongles or TVs with Netflix built to hoteliers?

I don’t want to have to provide credentials for my Netflix account to completely strange TV setups. AirPlay ensures that my credentials stay secure on my phone (though I’d use a VPN if I was on a hotel Wi-Fi – which could cause problems with Netflix’s policy of using VPNs – another problem Netflix has got to sort out because using a VPN has legitimate uses).

What next, Netflix? The ability to output content from Netflix via Lightning/USB-C to HDMI (which would enable you to hook up Netflix from an iPhone or iPad to a TV or monitor)?

Netflix is becoming awkward on the iOS platform because its app doesn’t support the interactive features that are present in the Black Mirror special, Bandersnatch. And this means other planned titles are unlikely to work either.

The Netflix app on Sky Q is becoming a big problem too. I frequently find that the app on the Sky Q box keeps crapping out, forcing me to switch over to the Apple TV 4K. The Netflix app on the Sky Q can handle interactive features but given that I consider the Sky Q app to be unstable, it’s not

Is the once durable and available everywhere Netflix app becoming a liability and non-consumer friendly? It certainly looks like it. And if Netflix continues on this path, and increases the subscription price, it will be a streaming/cable service like any other and I’m going to stop subscribing.