Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea…

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

… and so these ape-descendants spent a bloody fortune on Apple Watches.

Meanwhile, YouTubers (which we believe are the direct descendants from a select group of Golgafrinchans) were demanding bigger and better computing power to produce their many documentaries (usually about themselves) or to “influence” people to buy absolute rubbish.

So our favourite digital-watch-making fruit-named company came to their rescue with their outerwear-named behemoth: the Mac Pro. In order to appease the mice Magratheans (the current owners of Earth), it was designed to resemble a large cheesegrater.

It is said that a fully specced Mac Pro costs more than some people’s houses, depending on where they live. Or most sensible cars. In either case, you can’t live in it, nor drive it to work (well, maybe with the wheel edition if you push hard and long enough whilst sitting on it).

However, the question on everybody’s lips (or appropriate orifice depending on your species) is: can it give us the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything in something significantly less than 7 and half million years?

So, Labour has pledged that they’ll bring free broadband for everybody by 2030 if elected on the 12th December. They’re re-nationalise parts of BT and take over the infrastructure that’s currently being run by OpenReach. The cost of all of this will be met by taxing the big tech giants such as Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon.

It’s a lovely idea – the internet has become part and parcel for many of us, and it can be very costly (I won’t reveal how much I pay monthly across my broadband and mobile, but it’s not a pretty sight – but for me, it’s essential for my job, is a hobby, and a method of learning new skills).

But:

  • Who pays for the extra capacity required to support every single home and business? This is a HUGE investment. And what about the equipment? Will the UK government stick with using Huawei, or side with the US (and in turn angering the Chinese who have invested substantial sums in UK businesses and infrastructure)?
  • Will we see costs associated with services operated by the “big tech” companies increase substantially if they’re taxed heavily? After all, Apple famously defended their $1=£1 conversion by saying, “That’s the cost of us doing business in the UK”. I fully expect the costs of AWS and Google’s Computing Platform to increase for London points of presence (PoPs), which in turn will affect businesses that use cloud computing. Netflix which uses the AWS platform probably serves video content via a local PoP, so their operating costs will increase, which will probably be passed to the consumer. I’d also imagine the likes of Amazon Prime and Prime Video going up too. And what about the UK government itself, which also relies on Big Tech in its day to day operations? Their costs would surely go up as well?
  • How does this affect existing ISPs? I’m very happy with Zen which uses G.Fast to deliver 300Mbs down/50Mbs up. That said, it uses the OpenReach infrastructure – there is no alternative. To be free of OpenReach requires changing to Virgin Media. And surely if the UK government takes over OpenReach, you’re just replacing one monopoly with another? Is the UK government competent enough to understand the technical implications of doing so?

Let’s take a look at the UK film and TV industry as an example of what could happen if they ever were found their tax cuts are reduced or even withdrawn (let alone making them pay their tax). US studios would have major hissy fits. This has already happened when Labour were in power:

  • During the production of the Harry Potter film series, Gordon Brown (then PM) was forced to introduce better tax cuts for the likes of Warner Bros. due to uncertainty over what would happen to them. Had Brown not done this, Harry Potter’s production would have moved to Eastern Europe. When New Zealand also bulked at reducing tax credits for New Line’s (owned by Warner Bros.) Lord of the Rings – a similar threat was made.
  • An email was sent around work to say that this threat was serious enough that it could cause problems of the business if Brown and his chums didn’t capitulate. Now, imagine this being the case if Corbyn pisses off the likes of Microsoft, Google and Amazon. All these companies have employees and offices in the UK.

A better option at this time would be the discussion of the possibility of re-nationalising BT and OpenReach – the implications of doing so (including technical). How will this affect the current employees of BT and OpenReach, their pensions, etc.? What are the alternatives – better regulation?

What’s to differentiate between Apple TV+ and other streaming services, other than the content and a lower price? Unfortunately, very little. One of the biggest frustrations I have with all of the current streaming services is the complete lack of additional features and audio commentaries.

Apple had a chance to make their Apple TV+ streaming service truly unique by introducing special features and audio commentaries to their original content, but this just has not happened. Yet. Until they do, Apple TV+ is just another platform offering limited original content.

iTunes Extras has been the only service available to most (dependent on the film studio) film purchases on iTunes to provide special features. It’s the main reason I’ve stuck with iTunes as a purchase platform. It is the closest I can get to physical media features on a digital platform. I can play films on my Apple TV 4K, iPad Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max or 2018 MacBook Pro. It’s both portable and can be played on the big screen TV. I still prefer physical media for most things, but as I’ve mentioned many times here and elsewhere, it’s a rapidly losing battle.

On the TV programs front, iTunes has been a poor show. None of the titles available are in 4K, and very few carry any extras – mainly because iTunes Extras is a format reserved for films. Breaking Bad is currently the ONLY title I own that has special features and audio commentaries – and I can only play the audio commentaries by disabling Dolby Surround.

Apple TV+ content IS available in 4K. Whether this will push existing TV studios to consider releasing their purchasable content on iTunes in 4K, I just don’t know. I doubt Apple will let you purchase episodes or whole series of Apple TV+ shows since it’s in their interest to keep you as a subscriber. But that then brings me back to the special features and audio commentaries.

Netflix, oddly, puts many special features about their shows on YouTube. Not on their own platform. Amazon is equally rubbish at this, and also put special features on their YouTube channel too. Amazon have been the only streamer to put an audio commentary on their service, but only for one title, and for one season.

No. Unless Disney+ pulls its fingers out and puts special features and audio commentaries on their platform as well as releasing new content and offering their back catalogue, Apple TV+ isn’t going to be unique in the market place at all.

Other problems with Apple TV+ have been the super annoying Up Next bar during end credits. I can’t dismiss it – but it does vanish after a while – but it still obscures credits. And the Apple TV+ user interface doesn’t tell me the frequency of new episodes of a current season. I had to look up when new episodes for For All Mankind came out having watched the first three episodes this weekend.

For All Mankind, BTW, is a decent show but somewhat let down by its visual effects. I’ve seen Method Studios and Pixomondo do better. But the storytelling is compelling enough to stick around for now. Other titles have received very mixed reviews. I have a free year’s trial with Apple TV+ thanks to upgrading to the iPhone 11 Pro Max, so only time will tell if I’ll be paying for it next year (even if it’s £4.99/month).

In other news, I cannot tell you how much frustration MacOS Catalina and iOS 13 have caused me over the past few weeks. This is some seriously buggy piece of crap from Apple, and by far the worst quality releases that have come from them in years. If Apple doesn’t buck their ideas up, I’ll be moving back to Dell and Windows late next year.

The ultra-wide lens is a bit of a disappointment

I’ve had the opportunity to take a few photos with the new camera set-up of the iPhone 11 Pro Max, and I’ve mixed feelings. The ultra-wide lens is somewhat of a disappointment. It isn’t optically image stabilised, and the sensor looks to be smaller than that of the other two lenses.

Note: For the best results, if you’re reading this from the home page, please click this post’s title to load the blog post’s own page containing unoptimised, full resolution images (click to enlarge).

Ultra-wide angle lens
Standard wide-angle lens
Ultra-wide angle lens
Standard wide-angle lens

If you open the Ultra-wide photos and blow them up to 100%, you can see that the level of detail is quite a bit poorer than the standard wide-angle lens. Even with decent light, this isn’t brilliant. It’s not completely awful, but it’s not terribly good either.

I’d show you the company photo featuring all of our local employees (we’re rebranding today to align with our German partners). I took one photo ultra-wide and one with the standard wide-angle lens – the ultra-wide is absolutely atrocious. Sure, the lighting could be better, but give the lack of OIS, the picture comes out grainy and people’s facial features are .. lacking. And you can’t make out the sign with the name of one of our meeting rooms. I’d show you an example of this, but since the photo isn’t publically available yet – I’d rather keep both versions offline for now. The standard lens photo was much, much better.

Apple has some work to do. Whether through computational photography and/or hardware improvements (well, hardware improvements – definitely – this puppy needs OIS). But I guess it’s a start. I won’t be using the ultra-wide-angle for anything less where there is decent light – but I’d want to take standard/telephoto versions as well.

Next up is a video test. I’ll let you know how that goes.

The first mistake I made was to order the wrong size case for the iPhone 11 Pro Max – I bought the iPhone 11 Pro case. So that’s got to go back to Apple sometime this week. Meanwhile, I’ve got to use the phone without a case until Monday when the replacement (which is the correct size) turns up. Without a case, I feel that I could drop the phone at any moment. The glass on the back is very nice, and it may be made from tougher materials than the previous generation, but even so, these phones cry out for a decent case.

Set-up took about three hours. I tend not to perform any transfers from the old phone and set up iPhones as new. The biggest bugbear is the Google Authenticator – one usually has to disable two-factor authentication, re-enable it and then scan the barcode for the new token again. But with more sites and apps using Google/G Suite for authentication, I don’t need to keep as many two-factor authentication tokens as I once did.

The display is much brighter than the iPhone XS Max. Gone is the 3D Touch system which provided context-sensitive menus when you pushed down hard on the display. Now we have haptic feedback. I found it much more difficult to re-arrange icons on the home screens as a result – it takes a much longer press to re-arrange icons. Or you could just select the option from the context-sensitive menu that pops up. Either way, the extra waiting time between pressing down and moving an icon is annoying.

Battery life is something I’ve yet to measure, as are the rear cameras. But I’ve been playing with the front camera and portrait mode and I’m quite impressed with the studio portrait mode which removes the background and replaces it with a white backdrop. The following portrait photo of a serious-looking me is an example of this. But note that due to the (poor) lightning, the shirt texture on (my) the left shoulder differs than the right.

Front-facing camera Portrait mode with Studio filter

Hopefully sometime this week I’ll get a chance to get out and use the rear cameras in anger. I’ll also perform a comparison of image quality versus the previous iPhones that I’ve used. You can see from the Apple Photos smart albums below, I didn’t have the iPhone 8 Plus for long given the number of photos in that album..

Photos sorted by iPhone model (part one)
Photos sorted by iPhone model (part two)

Apps load much faster than the previous generation, and Wi-Fi (which is now updated for use with Wi-Fi 6) gives me a speed boost of around an extra 20-30Mbs on my home AmpliFi system. It’s definitely a noticeable difference. I can’t speak for improved 4G speeds yet – but this is something I should be able to test later this week.

The few improvements I’ve been able to test so far have been impressive. Plus as this is a new phone, I should be able to claim a free year’s worth of Apple TV+ when it’s released in November – and I’m very much looking forward to that.

Stay tuned for more updates. The whole upgrade has only cost me about £14 (£7 for delivery, plus another £7 to return my old phone back to EE). I get an Amazon Prime Video subscription as a benefit of my renewal, so that’s another bonus. And more data than I can ever know what to do with. And not forgetting roaming in the US and Canada. All this is down to EE’s Smart Plan.