I don’t need an iPad to be a working machine any longer; I need it to fill a gap of reading blog posts, my pocket feed and watching videos when I want to relax. So the iPad returns to its starting position. Nestled in among other Apple devices, and one I use to consume. Waiting its turn amongst threes Macs and an iPhone. Sure I could pick up a pencil and a keyboard to go with it – but there is little point as the iPad has gone full circle.
There’s been a lot of posts over the last 12 months either lamenting the fact that ‘you can’t get real work done on an iPad’ or about the iPad suddenly becoming the best thing since sliced bread. I’ve been guilty of this multiple times myself, often spouting off about how much I love my iPad Pro and how I don’t need a real computer. The truth is, on that point, that’s not strictly true. I still use, and have to continue using, a Windows PC laptop for my day job and that’s not going to change. So, really, my iPad is purely for personal time. In that circumstance, unless you’re doing programming or the like, which I’m not, chances are an iPad can certainly do what you need.
The issue I have, however, and have to keep reminding myself about avoiding, is that it really doesn’t matter. This constant tribalism is rampant right now, and it’s literally tearing the world apart. When discussing this you think about Pepsi vs. Coke, Apple vs. Android, Windows vs. macOS, but this basic tribalism has extended to the dreaded Brexit with Vote Leave vs. Remain and Republicans vs. Democrats in the U.S. and further afield. On issues both big and small this needs to stop, though I’m worried this is really just the start of it all.
I’m clearly feeling the effects of letting my podcast die because rambling, disconnected thoughts was the order of the day there. I’ve shared Greg’s post, and this specific quote, not to complain about Greg finding his way back to finding a niche for the iPad. Quite the opposite in fact. It was more to highlight the fact that people seem be getting too caught up in the iPad replacing X, Y and Z in their lives. If it can replace your laptop, then great. For others, however, it’s purely a device to relax with, to enjoy some browsing and reading with and nothing more. And that’s just great too. The world is decided enough as it is. There’s no room for tribalism in every little thing right now.
I’ve been using the built in iOS Reading List feature for some time now, but only today I discovered a very useful feature that I wanted to share with you.
After a quick Google search, it seems this isn’t a new feature so please indulge me if this is common knowledge. Once you’ve read, or at least navigated to the end of an article you’ve saved into Reading List, it will automatically jump to the next item in your reading list. You can see this in action below:
Like I said, this may well be common knowledge, but it’s new to me and it’s going to be a big help in getting through my ever growing, rarely decreasing, Reading List.
While I had mixed feelings about the case, I summarised my feelings thusly:
All in all, I’d say if you really need an extra boost of life in your phone, you’d get no better quality and integration than Apple’s own case, though I wouldn’t recommend using it every day. Unless you like your phone feeling like a brick phone from the 80s that is. Each to their own, however. Given the price, I can’t justify the case sitting in my drawer for the majority of the year so it will be going back to Apple, but I will consider picking one up again should the need for longer battery life become more frequent for me.
I now no longer have that case, or the iPhone XS if once adorned. I upgraded to the iPhone 11 Pro Max in September and with it came an incredible battery performance boost. At the time Apple claimed it could out perform the iPhone XS Max’s battery by 5 hours and it definitely does perform admirably.
The incredible battery life, coupled with my less than perfect relationship with the case first time round, made me instantly dismiss the new Smart Battery Case for iPhone 11 Pro Max. And then I saw the camera button …
Now, fast forward a day and my Pro Max is wrapped in another hideous battery case, but this time it has a camera button. I’m not going to review the case here. There’s nothing much I can add that I haven’t said already though I did want to share a few thoughts about that camera button, and what’s changed for me.
Firstly, design-wise, it does feel a little strange. The button itself is at the bottom right hand side of the case, when looking at your phone. The button feels slightly oddly placed, in that it’s near the back, not centred on the side as I imagined it would be. It’s also recessed a little, and the button is concave, curving into the device. I would imagine both things are true so as to avoid accidental presses, which works me and I think it’s more visually pleasing than a further protruding button. A finger rests nicely in the little groove it sits in. Movement on the button itself is smooth, yet robust feeling.
Upon first pressing the button, once I added it to my device, I thought it was not working. A short tap on the button has no effect, you instead need to hold the button down for about a second or two. While, obviously, that’s a tiny amount of time, it did feel like it should be a bit more responsive and when you’re expecting a result to be instantaneous it’s a little jarring. While it feels like it should launch quicker, I also believe this is again a safety feature to prevent a million accidental pocket photos. To this end, the delay does make a lot of sense.
I had the last battery case for a few days before returning it and nothing about the old one that I disliked has changed. I still really don’t like the silicone material, it’s pretty ugly, it makes my svelte and beautiful phone a heavy and chunky monstrosity and yet, I think this time I’ll be keeping it. As Habib wrote in his article on Chambyte, it’s going to come in handy for longer photo walks and days out. My mistake last time was thinking that this would be my new case. It’s really not feasible for every day use and frankly it’s not necessary, given how good the battery is on the iPhone 11 Pro Max. I will instead be treating it as the accessory it was meant to be. A case that can be put on, as and when needed, when you need that little extra juice. An additional 50% battery life, which the case provides, is not an insignificant amount, so I’m sure I will get value from the device.
Taking the case on and off is simple enough, though I’m interested to see how well it lasts over time. To remove it you need to bend the top back, so you can slide the bottom of your phone out, so it disconnects from the small protruding lightning connector at the bottom. It feels like, after a few tries at that, the silicone / rubber may start to crack, but I’ll see how it goes I guess.
All in all, this case will spend more time in my drawer than it will on my phone, I imagine, but this time I’m okay with that. When it does come out and onto my phone it’ll be the perfect camera case and companion and will easily get me through whatever I want to throw at it.
Trying to eat the right thing, and improve my health has been a constant battle for me over the years. As with many things in my life, I often turn to technology to help me through. To this end, I’ve tried a lot of food tracking apps over the years, however none have ever stuck with me for more than a day or two.
The issue with most food tracking apps is that you already have to be very familiar and au fait with the food you’re eating. Unless you’re eating a meal from a packet, in which case you can simply scan the bar code, you need to be able to enter the measurement of what your eating, along with an approximate calorific count. Let me tell you, if you know how to measure an amount of food by sight alone, and know the calories contained within you don’t need to be tracking your calories. You’re already on top of it.
These are the exact reasons why I’ve never stuck with a food tracking app for long, and is also the reason why I was so pleased that Dominic Williams, the developer behind Moderation, shared the details of his app with me.
Moderations tag line is: ’A Radically Simple Food Diary’, which sums it up pretty well actually. Moderation is a food diary for the rest of us. It’s an app for people that are either just starting their journey towards a healthier diet, or for those just looking to maintain some top level detail about how well they’re eating over a certain period of time.
When you open Moderation you’re presented with a very clean, simple, yet beautiful main screen. On this screen, for each meal you have, or are having, throughout the day you simply need to indicate if it was ‘Healthy’ or ‘Unhealthy’, and that’s it! This basic approach to recording how healthy each meal is will likely not be enough for real health freaks out there, but it works ideally for me.
After a few days of use you will start to build up a very clear indication of how healthy your meals have been across breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. With this information to hand you will have a better idea of what needs improving without a large, and laborious, data entry dance after every meal, which you’d have in a more traditional food tracking app.
As well as the main ‘Food’ tab where you record the information about each meal, there is also a ‘History’ that allows you to see a month by month view of your eating habits. The calendar view is colour coded for each day you’ve recorded some information, so you can see at a glance how many red (unhealthy) or green (healthy) days you’ve had in that period along with a helpful bar graph detailing a breakdown of meal healthiness from your entire history. Finally, this page can display a historic view of your best and worst days, which can help you identify which days you’ve really excelled or let yourself down.
I think one of the things I like most about this app is that it’s not there to shame you, or make you over think your dietary short comings. It’s simply there to provide some top level analysis which you then fill in the blanks on. You don’t record what that meal was, or how many calories it included etc. You may, sometimes, mark a high calorie meal as ‘healthy’ because it is healthy in relation to your usual diet, or if you have a reason that you need high calories on a given day. The way you record things in Moderation allows the user to be far more subjective than other tracking apps, in what is healthy or unhealthy for you and your diet, may be completely different for someone else.
There is some light gamification included as well, in that you can start building up a streak after at least two successful ‘healthy’ days which is a nice touch. There are also achievements available as you progress. While the achievements pop up on screen as you obtain them, I don’t believe there is currently a way to view them. It sounds like, however, this is coming soon.
From a design point of view the app is also a joy to use. It’s clean, lightweight and includes a lovely dark mode theme, which is always a winner for me. When Dominic contacted me about his app, he told me he’s working on a big update to Moderation that will include:
Smarter Notifications: Understand if you have logged a meal already
Reminder for when you didn’t log your food yesterday
More variety in notification messaging
Better Insights: See your 7 day Healthy % Monthly Summary Card
Meal Summary Card
Streak Summary Card
That’s certainly a strong development pipeline, so I’m looking forward to seeing how Moderation continues to develop.
While I’m a big fan of the app, one big omission for me is a Apple Watch app. Given the simple ‘healthy’ / ‘unhealthy’ approach to meal logging it feels ripe for a basic Watch app so you can quickly rate a meal at the time of consumption. Including this in the Siri Watch face so it surfaces a button around breakfast, lunch, and dinner time would be really helpful. Interestingly it doesn’t seem to be in Dominic’s immediate development pipeline, but that’s not to say it’s not something that could come at a later date.
The app is currently free, but I would actually like an opportunity to pay something for the app, perhaps in exchange for some custom icons or themes. I’m a real sucker for paying for cosmetic unlocks in an app, as a way of supporting independent developers, whilst also getting something for yourself (beyond the app itself of course). I definitely think Dominic is missing a trick here. He’s built a gorgeous, and extremely helpful app which I’m sure people would be willing to pay for. I can totally understand leaving the core app free, but I would personally look to add some options for those of us that want to give him money and support for his efforts a way of doing so.
Unlike any food tracking app before it, Moderation has slipped easily into my day to day life. Updating my meals is a real breeze and it’s already making me a lot more mindful of what I’m eating. Moderation is a free app, with a rare 5/5 score on the App Store currently, so there’s nothing stopping you from taking it for a spin.
With Photoshop and many other hugely ambitious projects / releases from large companies, there seems to be a lack of basic understanding for how these kind of things work. It seems to be a growing trend recently, when a big new software release comes out, that people have extremely high and unrealistic expectations on what it may be. The below is one such example of this:
Oh, Photoshop for iPad… my expectations were super-low and you still manage to disappoint. Missing core features, in order of ridiculousness:
Fill layers (srsly) Paths (wtf) 16 bit colour (omg) CMYK (bbq)
There seems to be an expectation that from day dot a software release will have every feature you could ever imagine, will never crash, and will do everything another piece of software can do. Photoshop, in this example, has had a version built for a specific architecture that has been iterated on for almost three decades, yet a complete rebuild for a completely different device type should have feature parity on day one? No chance. Beyond that, I don’t understand why someone would expect it.
Is it better to have a product out there, in users hands so it can be iterated in, or kept behind closed doors for years until it’s some product managers idea of ‘ready’? I appreciate there are different schools of thought on this, but this Agile approach has been adopted for a lot of software and development teams for some time now and it works.
After putting a short version of this post up earlier, one of the Photoshop team responded with the following:
Spot on. And you’ll see we’re following up with a release cadence previously unheard of for Photoshop.
It’s clear from this that Adobe are serious about this product, and they literally had to start somewhere. My plea to people reading this, and sending out a lot of ill feeling about this release, and others, please consider the following:
This software doesn’t just appear one day. It’s been built by human beings, with feelings and pride in the hard work they’ve done. If it isn’t exactly what you wanted, maybe consider some constructive feedback, via the correct channels, instead of blanket statements of ‘Wow, this sucks!’
Consider that the new piece of software is rarely the only way of achieving what you want to do. In this example, the normal Photoshop is still wherever it is you left it. Continue as you were, whilst experimenting with a new version to see if you can help improve it.
An interesting point about this is that it doesn’t seem to be the same when users take part in a TestFlight beta, for example. There, you may get some bad builds along the way, but by testing the MVP and helping the developer iterate upon it via feedback and just using the app you will help drive improvements. An MVP product release is, to me, no different.
Unbelievably, it’s November already, so I thought I’d do a quick Homescreen update post. First things first, here it is:
My main Homescreen has remained pretty static for months now, with only a few tweaks here and there. I’ve recently moved from Overcast to the stock Podcasts app for my podcasting needs. While it is, of course, far more basic and sync can be a little flakey between devices, I’ve been enjoying a more integrated experience. I’ve started using the excellent ‘Handoff to HomePod’ feature from iOS 13.2 as well. This isn’t unique to the Podcasts app, however. While I’m trying to spend less time on podcasts, and more time listening to audiobooks, a simpler and streamlined experience has been working well.
I’m also experimenting with replacing 1Password with the iOS keychain, so I have a simple Shortcut, represented by the key icon, that will jump straight to that page in settings. So far, it’s working well.
Lastly, I’ve added Federico Viticci’s excellent Reminders+ Shortcut to my dock, for quick access.
I don’t usually share the second screen, because that’s where my ugly folders or junk is kept, but I’ve been experimenting with more basic, but helpful, Shortcut actions recently so I thought I’d show these too. Currently I have Shortcuts to:
Switch my current audio output to, or from, one of my HomePods. I can pick the HomePod to send or retrieve audio from within the Shortcut.
One very simple one that just switches the audio to my AirPods Pro. This is just a quicker way of doing it than going through the Control Center.
Podcast episodes lets me pick from one of my subscribed podcasts and plays the latest episode.
YouTube time turns on one of my Apple TV’s, opens the YouTube app and launches the remote on my phone. This works well from my Living Room HomePod also.
The Meeting Shortcut simply puts my device into DND and turns the volume off at the start of a meeting and reverses this, setting volume to 25% when I leave.
And, finally, ‘Detailed’ gives me a quick, yet detailed, weather report as and when I need it.
I’ve also started using more Shortcuts widgets in the notification center panel, but that may be something to share another day.
Before I get started with this post, allow me to set the scene a little bit. I am, by no means whatsoever, an audiophile. My experience with audio equipment, especially headphones is limited to the extreme. Since I started buying iPhones I’ve been using the supplied EarPods and then the AirPods, since their introduction in 2016. I’m mentioning this early doors so you can get a bit of perspective on what past experiences I will be bringing to bear when discussing the AirPods Pro. If I was a betting man, I would have thought the vast majority of people out there are coming from a fairly similar place, to be honest. With that being said, and assuming you’re still reading, let’s move on.
The first thing you’ll notice when unboxing the new AirPods Pro is the redesigned wireless charging case. It’s now a shorter, wider version, but still retains that fairly distinctive look. While it isn’t especially important, I think I prefer the squared off look of the past generations, though perhaps I’m just used to it.
Flipping up the lid gives you your first glance of the new, redesigned AirPods themselves. The snug fit of the AirPods in their case, as seen in the first two generations looked good, but also made it easy to almost roll each bud out. The AirPods Pro doesn’t have either of these things. As you can see from the comparison shot below, the normal AirPods fit into the case snuggly, but leave a nice amount to grip when you need to pull them out.
The AirPods Pro, on the other hand, sit into a space far less moulded to the shape of the bud. I know this sounds pretty anal, and I admit it is, but they just don’t have that same premium feel you get from the standard versions as you put the AirPods back in and they are gently pulled into place. The Pros feel a bit less secure, I’m less confident they are touching the charging area, and they are far more fiddly to remove.
The AirPods themselves are quite different this time around as well. I’ve always been very lucky with the EarPods, and then AirPods, in that they have always fit into my ear perfectly. One way or another they seemed to fit with the contours of my ear and I’d forget they were even there sometimes. The AirPods Pro, on the other hand, not so much. Granted, I’ve only had them for a day or so, so they may just take some getting used to. I used them at work for quite an extended period of time and I think I’m slowly getting more familiar with the feeling in ear. Again, coming from someone with limited headphone experience, I’m used to my ear buds just slipping into the shape of my ear and then thinking noting more of it. Due, in part, to the new shape and new rubber tips, it’s been taking a lot more thought to get them in. When I bring them to my ear they’ve not been slipping neatly into place and so far I’ve not got then in in such a way that has felt instantly comfortable or even secure, more than a handful of times.
Once they are in, so far at least, it’s not been the most comfortable experience, though again it does feel like my ears are, somewhat at least, getting used to them. They certainly haven’t blended into the background of my consciousness like the standard AirPods do. In fact, the feeling that I have something hard and uncomfortable jammed awkwardly into my ear is more prevalent than any sounds I may be playing at the time. This experience is, as you’d imagine, incredibly subjective, however, and your milage not only may vary, it almost certainly will. I’ve been very spoilt so far, having a near perfect fit with everything Apple has supplied or sold up to this point. I am going to keep trying on this front, however. It may just require a new angle of placement compared to what I’m so used to to get the fit I like.
Also, before anyone writes me a letter, yes I have tried different tips. I tried the default medium size first, and have swapped to the small ones to try currently.
Performance and software
So, comfort and fit aside, how well do they actually work? Once again, as a non-audiophile user I have never tried a noise cancelling set of headphones or earbuds so I don’t have a lot to compare it to, but it feels like there is some real Apple magic going on on this front. Once they’re connected you have three options available to you. These are:
The noise cancellation is truly a thing to behold. It’s incredibly effective and works like a charm. When I first turned it on it was a pretty strange experience and felt a little jarring to be honest. Initially I had nothing playing, so the almost eerie silence threw me a little. It felt like I was in some kind of vacuum. As soon as I started playing a song, however, it started to normalise a bit. Once I got used to the feeling it felt great.
You can switch between modes via a long hold / squeeze of the AirPods stem, or via a long press on the volume control in the Control Center
I have to admit that despite being very impressed with the technology itself, I’d never personally thought about why someone would want noise cancellation. My main use for AirPods currently has been at work, but while I’m working I’ll often have someone come up to my desk for something, and felt I should always have an ear open, both literally and figuratively. That being said, I used them for most of the day today and have to say I found it pretty incredible. My work is quite technical, and while I have to help others quite a bit throughout the day, sometimes I really need to just concentrate on what I’m doing. Throughout my first day using the tiny buds, I was able to completely drown out the surprisingly loud background noise of my office and really focus on my work. The noise cancellation, combined with a relaxing flowing river noise from Dark Noise was an extraordinary zen experience. I think I’m a convert.
The next option available for the AirPods Pro is the Transparency setting. Once again, this feels like some patented Apple magic at work. Because the new AirPods include rubber tips they, by their nature, already provide a physical form of noise cancellation or blocking. That’s where the Transparency mode comes in. I’ve written about five different paragraphs trying to explain what this mode is, and I’ve fallen short each time, so I’ll let Apple explain it:
“Transparency mode provides users with the option to simultaneously listen to music while still hearing the environment around them, whether that’s to hear traffic while out for a run or an important train announcement during the morning commute. Using the pressure-equalizing vent system and advanced software that leaves just the right amount of noise cancellation active, Transparency mode ensures that a user’s own voice sounds natural while the audio continues to play perfectly.”
This, like the noise cancellation, works incredibly well and really does make the surrounding noise clear and natural, completely mitigating the rubber bud in your ear.
Finally you can just turn it all off completely and the buds will then function just like standard AirPods, though slightly more audibly restrictive due to the rubber tips as mentioned previously.
I’ve heard a lot of people reporting that they think the AirPods Pro sound better than regular AirPods, but I can’t hear that personally. They do sound better with noise cancellation on, but only because you can hear the sound more clearly without as much background noise. Beyond that, however, they sound identical to me, personally.
To sum things up, did I need new AirPods? No, not at all. Do I need noise cancellation on the AirPds I don’t need? No, no I don’t. Am I going to keep them, regardless? Damn right I will. The siren call of interesting and enjoyable Apple tech cannot be ignored, it seems.
One of the main things keeping me from posting more, I think, is that I have a bad habit of only ever writing a post / article in one sitting. I can’t remember a time I’ve ever just started writing a bit and then come back to add a bit over a few days. The fact I don’t come back to a piece is probably fairly evident in the quality of my posts, unfortunately.
While doing a post from start to finish each time seemed like it would be a better way of getting more posts out, it’s ended up with me just thinking I don’t have enough time to finish anything of substance right now so I don’t even start. I think this is a mindset I need to get out of. I have plenty of ideas currently, and some reviews to share of some interesting new apps I’ve had shared with me by various developers, nothing seems to be progressing all that much.
Right now, I should have a handful of draft posts somewhere where I can keep adding points as I go along before compiling them into a final post at some point. Instead I have a bunch of emails sitting in my inbox, with Reminders entries attached to them. The closest I get to drafting things right now is writing some posts in my head while I drift off at night.
This is probably where an app like Drafts might actually come in useful. I’ve never been able to find a compelling reasons to stick with it, but this may be it.
I need to stop thinking that I have no spare time to write or podcast, and start making better use of whatever time I do have.
It looks like Apple aren’t slowing down with their new Apple Arcade launches quite yet. Just 5 days since the last update Apple has released a further 5 titles onto their subscription service. Judging by the short introduction videos on the App Store, they look to have the same high quality of the previous additions and they bring the total up to 80.
Decoherence - This game looks like a bit of a strategic, competitive arena game featuring robots. What game isn’t made better by the inclusion of robots??
INMOST - At first glance this one looks really interesting. It features a very retro looking graphical style. It’s a ‘story driven puzzle platformer’ which already makes it sound pretty interesting. I’m looking forward to giving this one a go. It’s been developed by Chucklefish, the team behind the amazing Stardew Valley. If that’s not reason enough to jump in I don’t know what is!
Mind Symphony - This one was developed by Rogue Games, a very prolific App Store developer. A lot of their games are very IAP focused, so I’m interested in seeing one of their games without the crippling monetisation.
ShockRods - Car-based deathmatches. ‘Nuff said! The preview video makes it look like a mix between PS1 classic Twisted Metal and Rocket League. ShockRods looks like great fun.
Stella - Stella looks to be a stunning looking 3D / First Person platformer. Of all the new releases this week, this one looks ideal for the Apple TV. Performance on other games I’ve tried has been far from optimal, so I’m keen to give this one a try.
I’m looking forward to jumping into this new selection ASAP. I need to get back to doing some reviews on all of these, but I’m just having too much fun playing them!
For those keeping up, it looks like there are some new additions to Apple Arcade that have sprung up overnight, bringing the current total to 75.
The new additions are:
NIGHTMARE FARM - This looks like an interesting, if not a little strange title. After reading the App Store description it’s a little hard to even see what this ones about, but it’s labelled as a ‘simulation’. You apparently have to visit a farm and give the creatures there food and toys. Fair enough!
Pilgrims - Again, this looks like an artistic and quirky game. It looks like you need to interact with people you meet as you journey across the land and try to make friends and ‘help them complete their little stories’.
Redout: Space Assault - This appears to be a space-based action shooter. From the screenshots it looks pretty good, though the early reviews suggest it may be a bit buggy.
The Bradwell Conspiracy - This one is described as being a ‘highly stylised, narrative-driven experience’, which sounds good to me! The game has an impressive team behind it and looks like the cream of the latest additions crop.
I’m looking forward to diving into this new selection of Apple Arcade games soon.