DXO Ratings Are Horseshit 

DXO has released its review of the iPhone 8 Plus camera, and it got their “highest scores” ever. No one should give a shit. They assign precise numbers like 96 for “photos”, 89 for “video”, and 55 for “bokeh” — but these numbers just give a false illusion of scientific rigor, as though they’re like CPU or GPU benchmark scores. (And CPU/GPU benchmark scores have their own problems.)

They’re not. There are certain aspects of a camera that you can measure objectively, but the overall quality of a camera is utterly subjective. Go read John Paczkowski’s interview with Phil Schiller and Apple designer Johnnie Manzari that I linked to an hour ago — they talk about how Apple sees cameras as being about art, history, and people. Go read Austin Mann’s review of the iPhone 8 Plus camera (also linked to here at DF earlier today) — that’s how you review and measure the quality of a camera.

Particularly with their “overall” score, DXO is pretending to assign an objective scientific-looking measurement to something that is inherently subjective. It’s horseshit, but everyone in the media falls for it. I said it was horseshit last year when they named a Pixel their “highest rated ever”, and I say it’s bullshit now when they said that about an iPhone.

London Won’t Renew Uber’s License 

CNN:

London’s transport authority announced Friday that it will not renew Uber’s license, saying the company is not “fit and proper” to operate in the city.

The move, if upheld after an appeal, could deal a serious blow to Uber’s business.

Transport for London cited the company’s approach to reporting serious criminal offenses, and the way it explained its use of software that prevents regulators and law enforcement from monitoring the app.

Actions have consequences. As new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote in a company-wide memo responding to this: “The truth is that there is a high cost to a bad reputation.”

Polling Experts Cast Doubt on Widely Cited College Free Speech Survey 

Lois Beckett, reporting for The Guardian:

Polling experts are raising concerns about a new survey thatfound nearly 20% of American college students believe it’s appropriate to use violence to silence offensive speech. […]

However, his survey was not administered to a randomly selected group of college students nationwide, what statisticians call a “probability sample”. Instead, it was given to an opt-in online panel of people who identified as current college students.

“If it’s not a probability sample, it’s not a sample of anyone, it’s just 1,500 college students who happen to respond,” Zukin said, calling it “junk science”.

“It’s an interesting piece of data,” Michael Traugott, a polling expert at the University of Michigan’s Center for Political Studies, said. “Whether it represents the proportion of all college students who believe this is unknown.”

Important follow-up to this piece I posted earlier in the week.

Behind the iPhone 8 and iPhone X Cameras 

Speaking of the new iPhone cameras, John Paczkowski goes behind the scenes on the development of Portrait Lighting mode with Phil Schiller and designer Johnnie Manzari:

And to get it right, Apple relied on what it does best: enthusiastic study and deconstruction of the art form it wishes to mimic and advance. In the case of the iPhones 8 Plus and X, this meant pouring over the way others have used lighting throughout history — Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz, Vermeer.

“If you look at the Dutch Masters and compare them to the paintings that were being done in Asia, stylistically they’re different,” Johnnie Manzari, a designer on Apple’s Human Interface Team, says. “So we asked why are they different? And what elements of those styles can we recreate with software?”

And then Apple went into the studio and attempted to do just that. “We spent a lot of time shining light on people and moving them around — a lot of time,” Manzari says. “We had some engineers trying to understand the contours of a face and how we could apply lighting to them through software, and we had other silicon engineers just working to make the process super-fast. We really did a lot of work.”

Portrait Lighting mode is a practical meaningful effect of the A11 Bionic chip’s astounding performance. Even if Android software engineers at Google or Samsung or wherever reproduced the work Apple has put into this, they don’t have the hardware to perform it on in real time.

As I wrote in my iPhone 8 review, in the old days, if you wanted better photos, you made better lenses and better film/sensors. With cameras small enough to fit in a phone, you need better software and better silicon.

Austin Mann’s iPhone 8 Plus Camera Review From India 

I look forward to Mann’s iPhone reviews more than any other each year. My lord what a remarkable camera these devices are. Mann:

I’m writing to you from a small hotel room in India having just experienced a magical adventure in western India orchestrated by friends at Ker & Downey. I’ve shot thousands of images and countless portraits with the iPhone 8 Plus and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned.

While the iPhone 8 Plus looks essentially the same as the phone we’ve had since the 6 Plus, there are some new features in the 8 Plus which really impact creative pros across the board — most notably Portrait Lighting, along with a few other hidden gems. […]

After shooting 100 portraits or so, I can easily say Studio Light is my favorite of the effects. It emulates a gold bounce card as if it is just outside of the frame, bouncing nice warm light into the face and eyes of the subject. It does a nice job of making the face subtly pop from the rest of the background without doing anything too dramatic.

I’ve found Studio Light to be my favorite too. I’m pretty sure that’s why Apple put it first in the list.

Do yourself a favor and take your time reading Mann’s review, and really look at these photos. They’re simply amazing. (He’s got a great video too, with his tips for getting the most out of the new Portrait mode lighting effects.)

‘Truffle Oil’ Without Any Actual Truffles 

Eugenia Bone, writing for The New York Times:

Ever since Jeffrey Steingarten broke the story in Vogue in 2003, it has been common knowledge among aficionados that truffle oil is typically synthetically flavored. But dubious truffle oil products have proliferated. For instance, Walmart now sells Roland Extra Virgin Olive Oil With White Truffle. Its 1.86 ounces, about the equivalent volume of an egg, cost $18. On its ingredient list: “truffle aroma.”

My cousin Maria, the truffle hunter’s wife, used to make truffle oil with the broken bits of truffle she couldn’t serve, but not to preserve the flavor — the oil was flavorful for only as long as a fresh truffle. Much as we may want to capture truffles in a jar, the biology isn’t accommodating.

I forget where I first read about this, but once you know it, you can’t untaste that “truffle oil” just tastes like an oily chemical coating.

How to Remove the Link Bracelet on an Apple Watch 

Apple:

You must separate the Link Bracelet into two pieces before removing the band from your Apple Watch. While removing the band, don’t force the band or twist it. Use the steps below to avoid damaging the band or clasp.

My Series 0 Apple Watch was the space black steel model with the link bracelet. When swapping bands, it’s a little tricky to get it on and off if you keep it in one piece. At some point a few years ago, someone told me the right way to take it on or off: separate into to two pieces first. It’s a cinch once you know this trick.

Word of the Day: Dotard 

Choe Sang-Hun, reporting for The New York Times from Seoul:

Responding directly for the first time to President Trump’s threat at the United Nations to destroy nuclear-armed North Korea, its leader called Mr. Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” on Friday and vowed the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.”

I’d never heard it before, but dotard is a real word: “an old person, especially one who has become weak or senile.”

‘The Real Story in This Mess Is Not the Threat That Algorithms Pose to Amazon Shoppers, but the Threat That Algorithms Pose to Journalism’ 

Maciej Ceglowski, demolishing a “news” story that spread around the world claiming that Amazon’s suggestions were helping people make bombs, when in fact they were helping people conduct high school chemistry experiments: 

The real story in this mess is not the threat that algorithms pose to Amazon shoppers, but the threat that algorithms pose to journalism. By forcing reporters to optimize every story for clicks, not giving them time to check or contextualize their reporting, and requiring them to race to publish follow-on articles on every topic, the clickbait economics of online media encourage carelessness and drama. This is particularly true for technical topics outside the reporter’s area of expertise.

And reporters have no choice but to chase clicks. Because Google and Facebook have a duopoly on online advertising, the only measure of success in publishing is whether a story goes viral on social media. Authors are evaluated by how individual stories perform online, and face constant pressure to make them more arresting. Highly technical pieces are farmed out to junior freelancers working under strict time limits. Corrections, if they happen at all, are inserted quietly through ‘ninja edits’ after the fact.

There is no real penalty for making mistakes, but there is enormous pressure to frame stories in whatever way maximizes page views. Once those stories get picked up by rival news outlets, they become ineradicable. The sheer weight of copycat coverage creates the impression of legitimacy. As the old adage has it, a lie can get halfway around the world while the truth is pulling its boots on.

The Inside Story of the A11 Bionic Chip 

Speaking of the A11, I missed this feature for Mashable by Lance Ulanoff last week when it came out, but it’s interesting:

“We’re clearly on a path now where, with generations of our products, one of the core elements is the chips in them that, to us, they’re intrinsically part of the definition of the product,” said Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller who, along with SVP of Hardware Technologies Johny Srouji, sat down with me 24 hours after the big unveil for an intense chat about silicon, the Apple way.

I had many questions about the A11 Bionic, Apple’s fifth-generation CPU that sits inside not only the iPhone X, which ships in November, but also the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus — mostly about just how many things this new system on a chip (SoC) could do. Srouji, who runs the silicon team, and Schiller were taking me deep, or at least as deep as Apple is comfortable going on its proprietary technology.

Tom’s Guide: ‘iPhone 8 Is World’s Fastest Phone (It’s Not Even Close)’ 

Mark Spoonauer, writing for Tom’s Guide:

The “Bionic” part in the name of Apple’s A11 Bionic chip isn’t just marketing speak. It’s the most powerful processor ever put in a mobile phone. We’ve put this chip to the test in both synthetic benchmarks and some real-world speed trials, and it obliterates every Android phone we tested. […]

If you’re wondering how all this translates to real-world performance, we have more good news for iPhone 8 shoppers — and bad news for everyone else. To really put the A11 Bionic chip through its paces, we put the same 2-minute video, shot in 4K by a drone, on the iPhone 8, Galaxy Note 8 and Galaxy S8+, and then added the same transitions and effects before exporting and saving the video.

The iPhone 8 finished this strenuous task in just 42 seconds, while the Note 8 took more than 3 minutes. The Galaxy S8+ took more than 4 minutes.

More than 4 times as fast in a legitimate real-world CPU-intensive task. Android is literally years behind.

11 Tips for iOS 11 

A bunch of good tips packed into a 2.5-minute video by Joanna Stern.


Thoughts on Apple TV 4K

I’ve been testing the new Apple TV 4K for a few days, but I don’t own a 4K TV, so there’s no way I can pretend to write a full-on review when I can’t make use of the tentpole new feature. I do have a few thoughts, though:

  • Initial setup was amazingly simple. Plug it in, it boots up quickly, and it asks if you want to share setup information like your Wi-Fi network info from your iPhone. Hold your iPhone near the Apple TV and boom, Apple TV is on your network, and it knows some information like your iTunes Apple ID. This is true too for setting up a new iOS 11 device — you can get a headstart on setting up a new iPhone just by holding your old iPhone next to it. But this is especially helpful on Apple TV, where entering passwords and email addresses through the on-screen keyboard felt like a form of punishment. When you do need to type things, Siri dictation works like a charm — fast and accurate.

  • It is baffling to me that Apple didn’t redesign the remote control to make it obvious at a touch which way it’s oriented. The raised white ring around the Menu button is an improvement, but it’s truly the least Apple could have done. I really wish they’d either made it asymmetric (wedge-shaped, perhaps) or used texture to denote orientation along the back and sides. Nobody loves this remote. Most people I know outright dislike it. And Apple left it almost unchanged.

  • It seems to me that navigating around the Apple TV 4K interface is improved over the previous generation. Everything feels snappier, Siri seems to be faster and more accurate, and even navigation via the remote control feels more accurate. I’m not sure if that last one is thanks to improvements in the Apple TV 4K hardware itself, improvements to the remote control touchpad, improvements to tvOS 11, the reviewer’s placebo effect (I want navigation to be more precise), or some combination of the above. My guess is that it’s a change to tvOS to change the on-screen physics of navigation.

  • Apple TV 4K is tiny compared to a Mac Mini, but judging by Geekbench scores (Mac Mini; iPad Pro, which uses the A10X in the Apple TV1) it’s a slightly faster computer than even the maxed-out Mac Mini configuration. Apple TV 4K probably has better GPU performance too. In addition to all the performance problems stemming from the fact that the Mac Mini hasn’t been updated in three years, it’s also inarguable that it’s no longer even “mini”. You could arrange four Apple TV units in a 2 × 2 square and they’d take up the same volume as one Mac Mini.

  • I did get to see Apple TV 4K in action last week in California, in a product briefing with Apple. They had it connected to a gorgeous 70-inch display from LG. Apple’s remastered videos for the Aerial screensaver look amazing. There’s a daytime flyover in Dubai in which you can now see that one of the skyscrapers has a pool on the roof with two sharks in it. It’s on the left-hand side of the street. That’s some serious James Bond villain’s lair shit.

  • Upgrade advice: I often don’t give upgrade advice in reviews, because everyone’s situation is different. Instead, I try to write reviews that help you decide on your own whether it’s worth upgrading to this new thing from whatever you’re using now. But with Apple TV 4K, upgrade advice for people who already own the previous Apple TV is easy. If you have a 4K TV, you should upgrade (especially if you watch a lot of movies and TV shows from iTunes). If you don’t own a 4K TV, you shouldn’t.

In short, it’s the Apple TV you know and love (and/or hate), only faster, and with 4K support I can’t test.

Nilay Patel’s Review for The Verge

Apple is firmly at the high end of the market: the Apple TV 4K starts at $179, much more than competing 4K HDR-capable devices like the $89 Roku Premiere+ or the $69 Google Chromecast Ultra. I was really expecting — hoping! — this thing would blow me away.

But the new Apple TV doesn’t support Atmos. And it doesn’t support YouTube in 4K HDR. And it doesn’t have Disney or Marvel movies in 4K HDR. And it makes some 1080p content look less than great.

I’m going to explain why these limitations exist, but you’ll have to bear with me. I suspect most reviewers will focus on the interface, the TV app and the various content deals that populate it, and the bare fact that the Apple TV now supports 4K HDR playback. But I need to tell you about video format arcana, because Apple’s decisions around some very wonky specs directly influence what it’s like to use the new Apple TV 4K.

Put some tape on your glasses. This is going to be nerdy.

This is a great review, and I really enjoyed the focus on the technical aspects. In terms of user-interface, Apple TV is clearly the best, because Apple is the only company in the game that values the user experience so highly. (Matthew Panzarino: “Interface and OS still best in class. All other TV box interfaces are like sticking a fork in your eye and swizzling it around.”)

The omission of Atmos support seems baffling. As Patel points out, for the premium price Apple charges — at $179 for the 32 GB model, it’s double the price a Roku Premium Plus — you expect support for premium features like Atmos. According to Patel, though, Atmos support is coming in a future update.

It’ll be interesting to see how the lack of 4K YouTube support plays out. The issue is that YouTube encodes its 4K content using the VP9 codec. No Apple device supports this format. Apple has thrown its weight behind H.265.

With regular HD content, YouTube supports H.264. If YouTube dropped H.264 support for HD content, you couldn’t play HD YouTube videos on any Apple device. There’s no way YouTube is going to do that — the iOS market is too big and too valuable. And you don’t need 4K to play at native resolution on iPhones — HD is enough. And even on iPads, the displays are small enough that upscaled HD is still good. But on a 70-inch (or bigger) 4K display, 4K content matters.

Unlike the iPhone and iPad, Apple TV doesn’t have enough market share to force Google’s hand. I think Google can stick to its VP9 guns and it’ll be Apple that pays the price. YouTube’s enormous popularity is more likely to force Apple into supporting VP9 than the Apple TV’s middling popularity is to force YouTube into supporting H.265. Even worse for Apple, the whole point of Apple TV is that — like with all Apple products — its entire reason for existence is to provide a premium experience for discerning users. Apple TV users are more likely to notice and be annoyed by upscaled 1080p content on their 4K TV than users of generic set top boxes are.

Apple may well have good technical or legal reasons for not supporting VP9. Apple TV users don’t care. They just want YouTube videos to look great on their TVs.

Another non-ideal aspect of Apple TV 4K — rather than have your TV switch modes from 4K to 1080p when playing 1080p content, Apple TV upscales the 1080p on the fly itself:

If you have a previous Apple TV, this lack of mode switching is familiar, but remapping SDR content into HDR is a whole new ballgame, and unfortunately, Apple’s HDR video processing is hit or miss. It was great when I watched HD content from iTunes, but it fell down in other apps. I watched The Dark Knight in HD on HBO Go with our video team, and the Apple TV 4K HDR processing blew out all the contrast in the image, sharpened everything to hell, and turned the film grain into noise. The same movie looked fine on iTunes, but it just looked bad from HBO Go. I checked on my older 1080p Apple TV, and HBO Go looked fine. So there’s definitely work to be done here.

Matthew Panzarino noted the same thing, again, from content that wasn’t from the iTunes Store. 


  1. There’s no Geekbench app for Apple TV, unfortunately. If anything, Apple TV 4K might be faster than iPad Pro, because iPad Pro runs on battery and Apple TV is always plugged in. ↩︎


Craig Federighi Says 3D Touch App Switcher Gesture Will Return in Future Update to iOS 11 

Craig Federighi, in an email responding to a customer asking for the return of the 3D touch shortcut for app switching:

We regretfully had to temporarily drop support for this gesture due to a technical constraint. We will be bringing it back in an upcoming iOS 11.x update.

Thanks (and sorry for the inconvenience)!

Facebook Newsroom: ‘More on Russian Ads’ 

Facebook:

4) Do you expect to find more ads from Russian or other foreign actors using fake accounts?

It’s possible.

Translation: “Definitely.”

Why Google Is Spending $1.1 Billion to Acqhire 2,000 HTC Engineers 

Dan Frommer, writing for Recode:

Why should Google cede the high end of the handset market to Apple — which dominates the industry’s profits — by default? Google can now really, truly make the best Android phone by tightly integrating hardware, software and services. And, if successful, it could eventually join Apple in profiting hundreds of dollars per device sold — not just the smaller amount it makes from search ads.

Phones are today’s focus, but what’s next matters more.

While HTC is keeping its Vive VR business, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to think of things that smartphone hardware engineers could be asked to work on.

What comes after the smartphone? Augmented reality (AR) or “mixed reality” glasses? AirPods-like earpieces? Wearable sensors? Implanted devices? All of the above? It’s increasingly clear that Google’s parent company Alphabet won’t be leaving this problem up to its Nest subsidiary to solve. Google must play a leading role in the next wave, or it will lose relevance.

In the near-term, the challenge for Google isn’t making great phones. They proved they could do that with last year’s Pixel models. The challenge for them is bringing them to the masses. I don’t know anyone who owns a Google Pixel who isn’t involved in the tech industry in some way, either as a developer or in the media. No one. The Pixels are Android’s best answer to the iPhone, and no one knows about them.

Google can build all the great new hardware they want, but they’re not going to succeed until they learn to do product marketing.

Tim Cook Says DACA Is the ‘Biggest Issue of Our Time’ 

Tim Cook, speaking on stage in New York at Bloomberg’s global executive forum:

“These people — if you haven’t met them — at Apple, we have many that came to the U.S. when they were 2 years old. They didn’t exactly make a decision to come. They came here — they only know our country. This is their home. They love America deeply. When you talk to them, I wish everyone in America loved America this much.

They have jobs, they pay taxes, they’re pillars of their communities. They’re incredible people. And so, to me, it would be like someone coming to Mike [Bloomberg] and saying, ‘Mike, I just found out, you aren’t really a citizen here, you need to leave.’

This is unacceptable. This is not who we are as a country. I am personally shocked that there’s even a discussion of this. This is one of those things where it is so clear — and it’s not a political thing, or at least I don’t see it like that at all. This is about basic human dignity and respect. It is that simple and straightforward.”

I like this bit too:

“As a CEO, not only today but in the past as well, I think silence is the ultimate consent. If you see something going on that’s not right, the most powerful form of consent is to say nothing. I think that’s not acceptable to your company, to the team that works so hard for your company, for your customers, or for your country. Or for each country that you happen to be operating in.”

Ben Clymer Reviews the Apple Watch Series 3 Edition 

Hodinkee’s Ben Clymer was, I believe, the only reviewer seeded with an Apple Watch Series 3 Edition, and his review is excellent:

Now, what I haven’t mentioned yet is that there is actually a sister product to Apple Watch Series 3 that is all but a must-have: AirPods. Apple’s wireless Bluetooth headphones have been with me since December of last year, and while the sound quality is hardly audiophile worthy, they are incredibly convenient. At this point, I couldn’t live without them, and I felt that way even before I received this sample Series 3 to try. They are an even bigger part of my life with the Series 3 in the picture.

Indeed, Apple Watch with AirPods is a terrific combination, both for listening to music and for making phone calls.

On the ceramic case:

Again, the quality of the ceramic matches that of any high-end polished ceramic watch I’ve seen in the market from Switzerland. In fact, Apple has indicated they are using much of the same finishing techniques that one might expect to see in, say, Le Brassus or Le Sentier, and if you look through Apple’s “Designed by Apple In California” book, and then tour Audemars Piguet for example, you’ll see the very same tools.

And as Ben Thompson noted, this is probably the best line from any of the Series 3 reviews:

Still, we now have smartwatches from two of the three big luxury watch groups, and likely more to come. And that’s before we actually talk about sales numbers of Apple versus the traditional players or the fact that all of theirs use what is the equivalent of an off-the-shelf caliber in Android OS while Apple’s is, to borrow a term they’ll understand, completely in-house. Ironic, really.

Understanding How the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Toggles in Control Center Work in iOS 11 

Apple:

In iOS 11 and later, when you toggle the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth buttons in Control Center, your device will immediately disconnect from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth accessories. Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth will continue to be available, so you can use these important features:

  • AirDrop
  • AirPlay
  • Apple Pencil
  • Apple Watch
  • Continuity features, like Handoff and Instant Hotspot
  • Instant Hotspot
  • Location Services

This is an interesting feature, but I think it’s going to confuse and anger a lot of people. Until iOS 11, the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth toggles in Control Center worked the way it looked like they worked: they were on/off switches. Now, in iOS 11, they still look like on/off switches, but they act as disconnect switches.

Off the top of my head, I would suggest making them three-way switches: on and connected, on but disconnected, and off. I don’t have an idea for how to present that visually though. Or make on/off buttons available in the expanded menu you get when you 3D touch on these controls. Update: DF reader Matthew Smith emailed to point out that these buttons already have three states: “In Control Center, when you tap the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth icon, it goes from blue to grey. If you tap the Airplane mode icon, both icons go grey, but also gain another indicator: A diagonal line through their icons. This is a good way to tell the difference between disconnected and off. So with the currently available indicators, these could easily become a 3-way switch.”

Motherboard has a story that posits that this change is a security risk, but I think that’s overblown. I think the problem is simply that these buttons no longer do (a) what they used to do, even though they look the same, and (b) what people naturally expect them to do, just by looking at them.

Everything You Might Want to Know About Cellular Service With Apple Watch Series 3 

Serenity Caldwell:

Apple’s GPS + Cellular Apple Watch is almost here, and I’ve gotten a ton of questions from our readers and various folks on Twitter in regards to how cellular data will work on the Apple Watch. Here’s a brief overview of everything you need to know in that regard.

Great FAQ. One small thing she missed: the new Explorer watch face is exclusive to cellular-capable watches, and it shows you whether you’re currently connected to LTE or not with the four green circles that serve as a signal-strength indicator. If you don’t see the circles, the watch is not using LTE; if you see them, it is. With all other watch faces, you need to peek at Control Center to see whether you’re on LTE.

Brian X. Chen’s Apple Watch Series 3 Review 

Brian X. Chen, writing for The New York Times:

Important features like the stopwatch, calendar and Siri work quickly and reliably. And unlike its predecessors, the watch has impressive battery life — on average, I had more than 40 percent battery remaining after a full day of use.

So the final verdict? The Apple Watch Series 3 is the first sign that wearable computers are maturing and may eventually become a staple in consumer electronics.

I’d like to reiterate just how good my experience with Siri has been while testing the watch on LTE. Siri has been fast and accurate, just as it needs to be. The primary interaction model for communicating via the watch isn’t apps. I don’t want to hit the crown button, go to the app screen, find the Phone app, tap it, and somehow initiate a call by poking at the screen. I want to hold the crown button and say “Call Amy”. And that has just worked.

Also, dictating text for Message replies has been excellent. 30 minutes ago I was out getting coffee and got a text from my wife about dinner plans. In response, I dictated a response that, if transcribed perfectly, I would spell and punctuate as follows: “Fucking-A, that sounds good to me.” Siri’s actual translation: “Fucking a that sounds good to me.” I thought perhaps I could trick Siri into prudishly mis-transcribing that first word, but no, she got it.

Joanna Stern’s Apple Watch Series 3 Review: Untethered, All Day 

Aside from the LTE connectivity issues she ran into, Stern’s review is interesting because she tried something Apple Watch Series 3 isn’t really meant for: going all day long without your iPhone. She had to recharge midday, but Apple’s own specs only list the watch as having 4 hours of battery life while connected to LTE, and 1 hour of talk time.

It’s a fun video, too. I realize these larger publications have video teams, but all I can think is that if I published videos alongside my product reviews, I’d still be working on my review of the iPhone 7 from last year.

Serenity Caldwell: ‘Apple Watch Series 3’s “LTE Problems” Are Actually an Existing Wi-Fi Bug’ 

Serenity Caldwell, writing for iMore:

Essentially, the Series 3 GPS + Cellular watch tries to save battery life at all times by using your iPhone’s connection, or failing that, a Wi-Fi network. What’s happening here is that the watch is attempting to jump on a so-called “captive” network — a public network with an interstitial login prompt or terms and conditions agreement. (You’ve probably seen these at a Starbucks, McDonalds, or Panera.)

In theory, the Apple Watch shouldn’t be allowed to connect to captive networks at all, because there’s no way for it to get through that interstitial layer. Unfortunately, watchOS 4 has a bug where captive networks are being recognized identically to normal saved Wi-Fi networks — so while you’re technically “connected” to a network, you won’t be able to connect to the internet; nor will you be able to go to cellular, because the Watch’s auto-switching prevents you from connecting.

This article is simply phenomenally detailed, including how to tell if your Apple Watch is connected to a Wi-Fi network.

Apple Admits to Apple Watch LTE Problems When Joining Unauthenticated Wi-Fi Networks 

Lauren Goode, writing for The Verge:

While writing my review of the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE capabilities, I experienced notable connectivity issues. The new Watch appeared to try to connect to unknown WiFi networks instead of connecting to cellular, when I was out and about without my phone. (The issues are laid out in much more detail in the review.)

Within the first couple days of experiencing this, Apple replaced my first review unit with a second one, but that one proved to be problematic, too.

Eventually, the company issued an official statement, acknowledging the issue. “We have discovered that when Apple Watch Series 3 joins unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks without connectivity, it may at times prevent the watch from using cellular,” an Apple spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We are investigating a fix for a future software release.”

Joanna Stern (and her WSJ colleague Geoffrey Fowler) ran into LTE connectivity problems, too — hopefully caused by this same issue with the watch joining unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks. I didn’t run into any problems with LTE connectivity. Every single time I tried to do something via LTE — make a call, send messages, invoke Siri — it just worked. For what it’s worth, my review unit watch was paired with my review unit iPhone 8, on AT&T’s network.

I’m not the only reviewer who seemingly had no issue with LTE. BuzzFeed’s Nicole Nguyen made no mention of any such issues, and she placed a phone call via her watch after swimming 1,500 feet into the San Francisco Bay.

I suspect one reason I haven’t run into this is that I generally avoid using unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks. They’re a security risk, and at least in my experience they generally offer slower, less reliable connectivity than LTE. This might also explain how Apple shipped these watches with such a bug — I doubt Apple employees seeded with testing units were connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots.

I’m not trying to blame the victims here. This is a severe bug that Apple needs to fix as soon as possible. And it’s left Apple in the embarrassing position of having a slew of reviews today in which the tentpole new feature of Series 3 shit the bed.


Apple Watch Series 3

When is the right time to ship a product? In particular, a hardware product? The answer, sometimes, is not when it’s done, but rather when it’s useful.

The original Apple Watch was too slow. It was too dependent on being tethered to an iPhone. The user interface was too unfocused. But it was useful in some meaningful ways — primarily fitness tracking and as a convenient display for notifications.

With WatchOS 2 and 3, Apple focused the experience on fitness tracking and notifications. With last year’s Series 2 hardware, performance improved and the screen got much brighter, making it far more legible outdoors.

With the addition of cellular networking in Series 3, Apple Watch gains something essential: independence. It’s not just a cool feature. It’s aimed smack dab in the middle of the two things people like best about Apple Watch: notifications and fitness. When are you separated from your iPhone? When you’re exercising. What do you miss most when you’re away from your phone? Messages and phone calls.

Phone anxiety is a weird, and, for me at least, irrational thing. I know that mankind survived for millennia without the ability to communicate with each other out of earshot. But once you get used to having your phone with you at all times, you get used to feeling that if anyone needs you, they can get you.

Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular networking completely alleviates this anxiety. It is not a replacement for a phone, and is not supposed to be. But it lets you leave your phone at home when you go for a run, or in your locker while you’re at the gym, or in your hotel while you go to the beach, and not worry in the least that you’re out of touch.

Audio quality for phone calls on the watch is very good. People I called via the watch said I sounded great, and I could hear them loud and clear. And all of my testing of phone calls on the watch took place mid-day on busy city streets — full of traffic and pedestrians — here in Philadelphia. People won’t know you’re calling them from your watch if you don’t tell them.

Siri sounds great on the watch, too: crisp and clear. The hardware performance improvements surely help here — the S3 dual core CPU is “up to 70 percent” faster, and the new W2 chip for wireless improves Wi-Fi performance “up to 85 percent”. (The W2 also makes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth more energy efficient, and, it seems obvious, is one of the reasons that cellular networking is possible at all.) The effect of these performance improvements isn’t that it makes Apple Watch Series 3 feel fast, but that it makes it feel not slow. When you dictate a text message to Siri and it just works, without delay, it just feels like it should.

But it really feels like a big difference that Siri now talks back to you. The non-talking Siri on previous Apple Watches now feels half-baked to me. (And, at least here in the U.S., you get the new improved Siri voice that also ships with iOS 11.)

The only thing I don’t like about the addition of cellular networking to Apple Watch is out of Apple’s hands: the monthly price to add it to a cellular plan. AT&T and Verizon are both charging $10 a month per watch. I don’t expect it to be free, but $120 a year feels like too much for a device that I’m using instead of the iPhone I’m already paying (a lot) for. With our Verizon family plan, it also costs $10 a month to add an iPad. But an iPad is a device we use in addition to our phones, not instead of.1 I think $5 per month is the right price. (And DF readers in Canada and Australia report that that’s about what it costs from the carriers in those countries — this is perhaps a U.S. problem, not a worldwide one.)

Battery life has been fine. “All day” is about right — charging at night, using it all day, and I’ve had plenty left in the tank when I went to bed again. That said, I’ve been testing a 42mm watch. I can’t speak to the battery life of the 38mm models. This is what I expected, but it’s kind of exciting when you think about it. Apple turned Apple Watch into a goddamn cell phone, without making the device thicker2 or heavier, and it still lasts all day.

It’s worth thinking about that. Apple is a company that is driven to make its devices thinner and thinner. To the consternation of many users, when Apple creates more efficient chips, they tend to keep battery life the same while making the devices thinner, rather than keep the devices the same size and extend battery life with bigger batteries. But in the early years of a new product line, they don’t do that. iPhone stayed the same basic thickness until the iPhone 4. In those early generations, it was more important to add essential missing features, like 3G networking, a better camera, and a faster processor, than to make it thinner. Apple Watch might stay the same size for a few more years.

There’s no way to review this watch without mentioning the red dot on the digital crown. All cellular equipped Series 3 watches, including all the stainless steel models, the ceramic Edition models, and the Hermès models, have this red dot. I don’t get it. It’s not that it looks bad in and of itself, but it draws unnecessary attention. I would much prefer this watch if it were black. Also, red doesn’t go with everything, and a huge part of the fun of Apple Watch is swapping bands. Apple sells a lot of watch bands that clash with the red dot.3

The Future

My two big wishes for future generations of Apple Watch: a camera and some form of always-on display.

A camera is the one thing I miss when I leave my iPhone at home and go for a run. I have no idea how a camera could work ergonomically on a watch. Maybe it’s just not feasible. But it is mildly frustrating when I’m out on a run and see something interesting that I’d like to photograph. In the same way that always carrying a phone gets you used to always being in contact with friends, family, and colleagues, always carrying a camera gets you used to always being able to take a photo.

Raise-to-wake works about as well as I could hope, but as someone who regularly wears mechanical watches, trust me, it’s no substitution for always being able to glance at your wrist for the time. With the current Apple Watch displays, the problem is obviously battery life (and perhaps burn-in too). I don’t know what the answer is, technologically, but I feel like Apple has to be working on this, and that it’s coming in some future model.

A third, bonus wish for the future: stronger, more precise haptic feedback from the next generation Taptic Engine. The Taptic Engine in Series 3 is unchanged from Series 2. It’s not bad, but I wish it were better, especially for the stainless steel models.

WatchOS 4

This is not a full review of everything new in WatchOS 4, but there are two features I want to point out.

First, I love the new option to show the app screen as a simple vertically scrolling list of apps, sorted alphabetically. The honeycomb design — which is still the default in WatchOS 4 — has frustrated me ever since the original Watch. It’s a bad design in several ways:

  • The icons are unlabeled, and at such small sizes many of them look very similar. At a glance the Stopwatch and Timer apps are practically identical.
  • The arrangement is seemingly random. It’s like playing “Where’s Waldo” trying to find a specific app.
  • The tap targets are way too small and packed too close to each other. Even when you find the app you’re looking for, it’s all too easy to accidentally launch a neighboring one.
  • It suggests that the Apple Watch is like an iPhone, with a home screen. It’s not. The “home” screen on Apple Watch is your watch face.

The new simple scrolling list of named apps solves all of these problems. I’d go so far as to say that Apple should have made this the default. The honeycomb design is a violation of the adage that design is how it works. The honeycomb looks cool, especially when you pan around, but it works like shit, and it’s a reminder of the unfocused nature of the original Apple Watch.

(Update: To toggle between these views of apps, 3D touch on the app screen. You get a choice between what Apple calls “grid view” and “list view”.)

Second, there’s a new feature in WatchOS called “Auto-launch Audio Apps”. It’s in the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, in the General: Wake Screen section. What happens with this is that when you initiate audio playback on your iPhone, if there’s a corresponding WatchOS app on your watch, when you raise your wrist that app is what you see, instead of your watch face. This was on by default with my review unit, which I set up as a new watch, and I noticed it while listening to podcasts in Overcast. Because I wasn’t expecting it, I was irritated at first, and thought about disabling it. But now that I know it’s there, I really like it. I don’t know how much of this to attribute to WatchOS 4, and how much to attribute to the performance improvements in Series 3, but there is zero lag involved. No spinner while the app launches or anything like that. When I play podcasts from my iPhone, my watch just automatically turns into a remote control for audio playback. It’s nice. 


  1. It’s worth noting here that a Series 3 Apple Watch’s cellular networking will only work in the country in which you purchase it. That’s because the link between it and your iPhone is handled by your carrier. The watch’s cellular connectivity is an extension of your carrier account. ↩︎︎

  2. To be pedantic, as Jeff Williams pointed out on stage at the event last week, the casing for Series 3 watches is unchanged in size, but the covering on the back of the watch (ceramic on all cellular models, composite on non-cellular ones) is 0.2mm thicker. Not 2mm thicker — 0.2. As Williams described it, that’s “two sheets of paper”. Side-by-side it is indistinguishable in thickness compared to a Series 2, but I admire Apple’s exactitude. ↩︎

  3. While I’m talking about aesthetics, allow me to plop in an unrelated suggestion: try the “Bold Text” option in the Brightness & Text Size section of Settings. When you toggle this, the watch warns you that it will need to restart. That warning kept me from trying this option for a long time, because it takes Apple Watch so long to restart. I was worried that if I didn’t like the way Bold Text looked, I’d have to wait for two reboot cycles to get back to the default setting. But it’s not really a full reboot. WatchOS just needs to restart its presentation layer, much like on iOS when you switch to zoomed mode. And I really like the way Bold Text looks. Small text in complications just looks cooler, more like the way I’d expect small text to be printed on a nice mechanical watch. Seriously, give it a try. ↩︎︎


Poll: College Students Are Hostile Toward Free Speech 

Catherine Rampell, writing for The Washington Post:

Here’s the problem with suggesting that upsetting speech warrants “safe spaces,” or otherwise conflating mere words with physical assault: If speech is violence, then violence becomes a justifiable response to speech.

Just ask college students. A fifth of undergrads now say it’s acceptable to use physical force to silence a speaker who makes “offensive and hurtful statements.”

That’s one finding from a disturbing new survey of students conducted by John Villasenor, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and University of California at Los Angeles professor.

Even worse, a large segment of them fundamentally do not understand the First Amendment:

For example, when students were asked whether the First Amendment protects “hate speech,” 4 in 10 said no. This is, of course, incorrect. Speech promoting hatred — or at least, speech perceived as promoting hatred — may be abhorrent, but it is nonetheless constitutionally protected.

This notion equating speech with violence is more than just an irritation. It’s ammunition for the right to shut down legitimate protest. It’s self-defeating for people on the left to take this stance. Sticks and stones, folks.

Update: Polling experts are casting serious doubts on this poll’s methodology. But whether this poll is valid or not, there’s no question in my mind that today’s youth have a serious problem with free speech. There’s a reason why many comedians won’t play college campuses anymore — too many kids can’t take a joke.

Nilay Patel on the iPhones 8 

Nilay Patel, writing for The Verge:

Qi is pretty slow, though — Apple’s goal is to match the charging speed of its own 5W pack-in charger, but I only saw about 15 percent more charge on the 8 Plus every 30 minutes with the Mophie, which is especially pokey when you consider that you can’t pick up and use your phone during that time. A future iOS update will let the iPhone 8 draw more power out of the Mophie and Belkin pads Apple sells in stores, so hopefully things speed up when that happens.

So with fast charging (Apple’s 29-watt charger and a USB-C-to-Lightning cable) you get about 2 percent charge per minute. With Qi you get about 0.5 percent charge per minute — but that might improve in a future iOS update.

Matthew Panzarino on the iPhones 8 

Matthew Panzarino, writing for TechCrunch:

Nearly every iPhone upgrade for the past several years has been driven by the camera. There have been impressive updates in hardware and feature additions, but anecdotally I cannot count the number of times people have cited the camera as the primary reason that they’re interested in updating their phone.

So, how does the camera in the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus stack up?

Killer.

My favorite review so far. I think people underestimating the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus cameras are missing the boat.

Geoffrey Fowler on the iPhones 8 

Geoffrey Fowler, writing for The Wall Street Journal:

The virtues I see in the iPhone 8 are niche: I’m glad you don’t have to spend $1,000 to get an improved camera and processor and even wireless charging, if that matters to you. But Apple’s confusing iPhone family now includes three pairs of practically identical phones: the regular and Plus versions of the iPhone 8, 7 and 6s. Don’t buy the spendiest one.

I think this is terrible advice. I don’t think the iPhone X is for everyone. But if you’re not going to get the iPhone X, you should definitely get the iPhone 8 if you can afford it. The cameras are better, and the A11 Bionic chip is truly built for the future.

But you will have to look closely. There has been no resolution change — still 12 megapixels. And I didn’t find any shocking improvements like I saw in low-light performance we got in the iPhone 7.

I could go on and on about this, but just counting megapixels is arguably the worst way to gauge camera quality. Yes, iPhone 7’s sensor is 12 MP and so is iPhone 8’s, but the iPhone 8 sensor is bigger. That means every pixel is bigger. That means every pixel can absorb more light. The fact that the iPhone 8 sensor is bigger but has the same number of pixels is — at least in my opinion — far better than if it were the same size as the 7’s but had more (smaller) pixels.

Farhad Manjoo on the iPhones 8 

Farhad Manjoo, writing for The New York Times:

So here’s my conclusion, after nearly a week testing the 8 and 8 Plus: The 8s feel like a swan song — or, to put it another way, they represent Apple’s platonic ideal of that first iPhone, an ultimate refinement before eternal retirement.

Unsurprisingly, both the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are very good phones. Most of Apple’s improvements over the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are minor, but if you have an older model, either of the 8s will feel like a solid upgrade. And if you are considering upgrading from an Android phone, there’s one area where the new iPhones still rank head and shoulders above their competition — the processor, the engine that runs the entire device, where Apple is so far ahead that it almost feels unfair.


The iPhones 8

I was tempted to write this review under the conceit that there was no such thing as the iPhone X. Just don’t even mention the iPhone X, and consider the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus as though they were the only two new phones coming from Apple this year. That conceit would work, insofar as the iPhones 8 are excellent year-over-year upgrades compared to their iPhone 7 counterparts.

But ignoring the iPhone X would actually do an injustice to the 8 and 8 Plus, because so much of what is inside the X is also inside the 8’s. These phones are in no way shape or form1 some sort of half-hearted or minor update over the iPhone 7.

The Outside: Design and Display

These new iPhones look and feel great. I’ve been testing a silver iPhone 8 and gold iPhone 8 Plus since last Wednesday. Whether you like the way their polished back glass looks is subjective, but I like it a lot. Feel-wise, there’s no question in my mind that glass is better than aluminum. My personal iPhone 7 that I’ve been using for the last 11 months, however, is the jet black model, which in hand feels very similar to the glass of the iPhones 8. With both the iPhone 8 and iPhone 7 in my pocket I can’t tell them apart by feel, but that’s only because my 7 has the jet black finish.

I’ve never owned a Plus-sized iPhone, and last year my review unit did not have the jet black finish, so I found the 8 Plus with glass back to be a revelation. I prefer it so much to any previous Plus-sized iPhone I’ve tested that it almost feels like a different form factor, not just a different material. I’ve always found the Plus unwieldy, and part of that is that aluminum is slippery enough that, combined with the size of the device, it just felt like something I had to consciously think about to avoid dropping. However, just like the jet black aluminum finish, the polished glass back of these new phones is grippier. That grippiness is a nice feature for the 4.7-inch size, but for the Plus, I think it’s a necessity — it makes it far more pleasant to hold and use.

This is the fourth Plus-sized iPhone Apple has made, and it’s the first time that I personally would seriously consider buying one. (I probably would have thought the same thing if I had tested a Plus with the jet black finish last year, though. The difference for me is all about the grippiness.)

Here’s what I wrote about about the jet black aluminum finish last year:

I’ve spent the last five days testing one iPhone of each finish: a jet black iPhone 7 and a matte black iPhone 7 Plus. On Friday I devoted an entire piece — “Black vs. Jet Black” — to help pre-orderers decide between the two, based on my initial impressions. Long story short, my initial impression was that black looked better, and jet black felt better. I stand behind my initial description of jet black as the grippiest iPhone Apple has ever made. I also stand by my prediction that Apple wasn’t joking around about the footnote on the iPhone 7 web page:

The high-gloss finish of the jet black iPhone 7 is achieved through a precision nine-step anodization and polishing process. Its surface is equally as hard as other anodized Apple products; however, its high shine may show fine micro-abrasions with use. If you are concerned about this, we suggest you use one of the many cases available to protect your iPhone.

After just five days — more than half of which I’ve spent using the matte black iPhone 7 Plus — this jet black iPhone 7 has a few “micro abrasions”, to use Apple’s own term. I can only see them when I’m looking for them, and only when I reflect light off the surface at the perfect angle, but they’re there. This is after two days of careful use, and never putting it in a pocket that contains anything else. The back surface of this phone shows more wear after (effectively) two days of use than my space gray 6S does after nearly a year.

After six days of daily use, this iPhone 8 shows no scratches or “micro-abrasions” whatsoever. With a wipe on my shirt to remove fingerprints, it could pass for mint new-in-box condition. The iPhone 8 Plus I’ve been testing has not been in my pocket every day, but it too looks flawless.

I don’t mind the micro-abrasions on my jet black iPhone. After nearly a year of daily use, almost all of it sans case, its back is covered with these fine scratches. That’s what I expected based on Apple’s warning last year. There’s no such warning from Apple this year. I think these glass backs are going to hold up nicely.

Color-wise, I can’t say much about space gray, since I don’t have one to test. But that’s the one I’d buy if I were going to buy an iPhone 8, because I always prefer black or space gray or whatever name Apple is calling the black one this year. But the silver looks nice, and the new gold is very interesting. Rather than two golds — a yellow gold and a pink rose gold — Apple has honed in on one true gold this year, a sort of slightly rosy gold. The back glass panel is a sort of taupe. It looks like a slightly different color under different lighting conditions.

A lot of people out there have been asking me who the iPhone 8 is for, other than people who can’t or don’t want to spend $999 or more on an iPhone X. One group, I think are people who’ll want this gold color.2

Now, everything I’ve written about what’s new about the exterior of the iPhone 8 is moot if you put your phone in a case, and from what I’ve observed, I’d guess 90-95 percent of iPhones in use are in cases. Some cases have clear backs, which do show the color and design of an iPhone’s back. I think it must be so weird to be a hardware designer at Apple, though, working to make these devices that look beautiful, knowing that 90+ percent of the people who buy them will put them in a case within minutes of unboxing them and never take the case off.

In a lot of ways, I think the iPhone 4/4S design was the pinnacle of the iPhone’s perfection. No camera bumps, no notches. So much symmetry, including a symmetric feel between the front face and back, because both were made of glass. Those backs were prone to shattering when dropped, and I’ve always suspected that’s what led them to switch to an aluminum unibody case with the iPhone 5. We’ll see how durable this new “most durable glass ever in a smartphone” is (those are Apple’s own words), but in terms of look and feel, I’m glad glass is back.

A11 Bionic Chip

I asked Apple last week what exactly was “bionic” about the A11 chip system. The answer, translated from Apple marketing-speak to plain English, is that The Bionic Man and Woman were cool, and the A11 chip is very cool. I think they’ve started giving these chips names in addition to numbers (last year’s was the A10 Fusion) because the numbers alone belie the true nature of how significant the improvements in these chips are. Going from A10 to A11 is like going from 10 to 11 mathematically, which implies a 10 percent improvement. That’s not the case at all here — the A11 is way more than a 10 percent improvement over the A10. So they’ve given it a name like “Bionic” to emphasize just how powerful it is.

I wrote about the A11 Bionic chip last week in my thoughts and observations on the event, and I don’t have much more to say here, but I’ll repeat this line:

The specs aren’t what matters — the effects are what matters. But the specs are what we can measure, and the faster the chips are, the better the effects are in the user experience.

Apple isn’t using the power of the A11 simply to make the things older iPhones do faster. They’re using it to power new features, like the lighting effects in Portrait mode on the 8 Plus and the various machine learning stuff.

Cameras

Six days is not a lot of time to spend with a new phone, let alone two new phones. Photography is one area where I don’t yet have a handle on how much better these iPhones are than their predecessors. The lighting effects in Portrait mode, though, are interesting. This feature is still in “beta”, but man, I’ve already taken some shots of my wife and son that I just love. There have also been a few where the edges of their hair have confused the hell out of the iPhone’s depth sensing. But the original Portrait mode last year shipped in similar state, and got better quickly. When it works, though, it’s amazing. (And when it doesn’t work well, you can always revert to the plain no-lighting-effect Portrait mode shot, with nothing lost.)

From a high-level perspective, a camera is three things: a lens, a shutter, and a surface on which to focus the image. That surface used to be film; today it’s a digital sensor.3 For the most part, if you wanted to improve the image quality, you had to improve (or change) the lens or the film. Over the decades, there were breakthroughs based on electronics — automatic focus and exposure are the ones that spring to my mind — but the biggest technical factors in photography were based on the simple physics of light passing through a lens and being focused onto a sensor surface.

What’s interesting to me is that some of the camera improvements Apple is talking about with the iPhone 8 aren’t about that. Yes, the sensor has been improved, and is apparently even better at capturing colors in a wide color gamut. But the advances in phone photography are driven more by computing — both hardware and software — than by advances in lens optics or sensors. There’s just not much more that can happen between such small lenses and sensors. The real action is in hardware and software.

Here’s one example from the iPhone 8, in Apple’s own words:

The intelligent, Apple-designed image signal processor in the A11 Bionic chip detects elements in a scene — like people, motion, and lighting conditions — to optimize your photos before you even take them. It also delivers advanced pixel processing, wide color capture, faster autofocus, and better HDR photos.

Apple is so confident in their improvements to HDR that with the iPhone 8, by default HDR is simply engaged automatically, and iOS no longer stores separate HDR and non-HDR images. HDR just turns on when iOS thinks you need it, and it simply leaves one image in your camera roll. The Settings app has options to enable manual HDR mode and to save HDR and non-HDR versions of images, but until I run into a problem, I’m sticking with the defaults. HDR is no longer something I need to think about.

Charging

In addition to the fact that the glass backs look and feel nicer, they also allowed Apple to add inductive charging to the iPhones 8 — a feature the industry and, alas, Apple itself insists upon calling “wireless charging”. Don’t get me started. Inductive charging is not wireless. But it is nice. Apple supplied me with a review unit of Belkin’s $60 wireless charging pads. Other reviewers were given Mophie’s, which is also $60. It’s convenient and works great. Design-wise the Belkin pad is what it is — it looks Belkin-y. My biggest complaint is that the plug that goes into the wall is enormous and ugly. I’ll probably buy the Mophie one simply because I prefer black to white, and their wall plug has to be better than Belkin’s.

I’m glad Apple decided to support the Qi (pronounced “chee”) standard, which several Android handsets already support. This is an area where Apple has been behind its competition. You know how like 10 years ago, hotels started buying bedside alarm clocks with built-in 30-pin iPod docks? And then they were rendered useless when the iPhone switched to Lightning? And how those Lightning docks are utterly useless to Android users? If they start switching to Qi charging pads, it’ll just work for everyone, and that’s a good thing.

The iPhones 8 also now support “high-speed charging” when you connect them to a Lightning cable attached to a high-wattage charger. In the box, both the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus both still come with the same rinky-dink 5-watt charger that all iPhones have shipped with since 2008’s iPhone 3G. iPhones have long charged faster when connected to one of the larger 10- or 12-watt chargers that ship with iPads.4 I went out and bought one of Apple’s 29-watt chargers that ship with the MacBook ($49 bucks, not cheap). I also bought a USB-C to Lightning cable ($25 for 1 meter, $35 for 2 meters — also not cheap). Anker makes a 30-watt USB-C charger that sells for under $30, but I figured I’d test fast-charging with Apple’s kit.

The bottom line: it’s faster, yes, but not that much faster. I ran the iPhone 8 battery down until it powered off. I plugged it into the 29-watt charger, and got the following results: after 15 minutes it was back to 27 percent, at 30 minutes it was at 54 percent, and at 45 minutes it was at 72 percent. But then I did the same thing with my year-old iPhone 7. After 30 minutes it was at 43 percent, and at 45 minutes it was at 65 percent. (I didn’t pay attention to where it was at after 15 minutes.) The iPhone 8 does charge faster than an iPhone 7, but not by much.

Display

There’s one major difference between these displays and those of the iPhones 7 — True Tone. This is a feature where the device uses a 4-channel ambient light sensor to detect the color temperature of your surroundings. It then adjusts the color temperature of the display to match. I love True Tone. Back in March 2016, Apple introduced the first True Tone device: the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Describing the feature, Phil Schiller said something to the effect of “Once you get used to it, you can’t go back.” I took this as a sign that it would be coming in the iPhone 7 last year, too. It didn’t.

But the iPhones 8 have it now, and it’s great. True Tone, though, is the sort of feature that you don’t notice, but rather that you notice the absence of in other devices. It ruins you. When I flew home last week, I spent the first few hours of my flight using the iPhone 8. I find phones to be convenient devices on planes — and the flaky nature of in-flight Wi-Fi is a good stress test for battery life. Two or three hours into the flight, I needed to check something on my personal iPhone 7 — I don’t remember what it was exactly, but it was something from an app I didn’t have installed on the review unit. When I took my iPhone 7 out of my pocket, my first thought was “What’s wrong with the display, why is everything gross and blue?” Then I remembered: True Tone.

(Battery life, by the way, has been fine. 4 hours into my flight last week and the iPhone 8 was still at 50 percent — that was pretty much non-stop use.)

Conclusion

The pricing has changed slightly since last year. Last year’s entry model iPhone 7 cost $649. This year’s 64 GB iPhone 8 costs $699. Apple, of course, has no explanation for this. But RAM prices have gone up so much in the last year that it’s probably the biggest reason.

Each phone comes in two sizes: 64 GB and 256 GB. The iPhone 8 costs $699 and $849; the Plus $799 and $949. I like this change from three sizes to just two. And even more than that, I like that after years of languishing with 16 GB base models, Apple has quickly moved to 64 GB as the base model capacity.

No one is going to describe the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus as having a radical new design. But they do have new glass backs that are the biggest change to their finishings since this general form factor started with the iPhone 6. The displays have gained True Tone. The cameras are significantly improved, both for still images and video. (Did I mention that both the 8 and 8 Plus can shoot true 4K video at 60 frames per second when you use the new HEVC format instead of the more compatible H.264?) The iPhone 8 Plus gets the new Portrait mode lighting effects. Both phones have the amazing A11 Bionic chip. They get inductive charging.

These are solid year-over-year updates — at least as impressive as the iPhone 7 was over the iPhone 6S. If they hadn’t debuted alongside the iPhone X we’d be arguing about whether these are the most impressive new iPhone models since the iPhone 6. There’s a lot to love about them and nothing to dislike.

But they did debut alongside the iPhone X, and because of that almost nobody is excited about them. There’s no use pretending otherwise.

But it’s worth noting that it’s just as instructive to compare the iPhones 8 to the iPhone X as it is to compare them to the iPhones 7. The iPhone X certainly has much to offer: the edge-to-edge 5.8-inch OLED display, the form factor that’s easier to hold and pocket than the Plus, the front-facing sensor array for Face ID and depth mapping with the front-facing camera, and an even better camera system on the back (with optical image stabilization for both lenses — the iPhone 8 Plus only has OIS for the wide angle lens). But the A11 chip (including the improved image processing that I described above), inductive charging, True Tone — all of these things in the iPhone X are also in both iPhone 8 models.

Pretty good for a boring update. 


  1. Well, I guess the shape and form are actually the same. I need a new idiom here that includes the word “finish”. ↩︎︎

  2. Another group are people who value familiarity over being on the bleeding edge. You, the sort of person who reads the footnotes on Daring Fireball iPhone reviews, are not that person. But an awful lot of regular people out there just want a nice new iPhone that looks and works like the one they’re replacing. ↩︎

  3. No offense to you photographers still shooting on real film. I love your work. ↩︎︎

  4. I’ll go so far as to call the rinky-dink 5-watt charger the new 16 GB storage tier — a nickel-and-dime move whose time was up a few years ago. Oh, and one more nickel-and-dime move: Apple only includes a USB-A-to-Lightning cable in the box. The Google Pixel I bought last year included two cables, USB-A and USB-C. And Apple is the company selling laptops that only include USB-C ports. If you buy a new MacBook or MacBook Pro and a new iPhone 8, you’re spending upwards of $2,500 and Apple still requires you to buy a separate $25 cable if you want to connect that new iPhone to your new MacBook or to use the MacBook’s high-wattage charger to power your phone. That’s embarrassing. ↩︎︎


The Courage of Embracing the Notch 

Marco Arment:

Apple just completely changed the fundamental shape of the most important, most successful, and most recognizable tech product that the world has ever seen.

That’s courage.

It is. But as I wrote when Phil Schiller used the word to explain why they removed the headphone jack last year, that took courage too. It takes courage to rob a bank too. The objection people had to calling the removal of the headphone jack “courage” is based on the notion that courage is always noble. You can despise the notch and/or think it’s the stupidest thing Apple has ever done, but still acknowledge that it took courage to embrace it.

My objection (again, after admittedly only spending 10-15 minutes with an iPhone X in hand) remains that Apple could embrace the notch on the lock and home screens, allowing for this new iconic silhouette, without embracing it all the time.

I suspect (or maybe it’s just hope) what might happen is something along the lines of the evolution of the new look-and-feel that debuted in iOS 7. With iOS 7, Apple took everything to an extreme. The thinnest, lightest fonts. The least amount of button-y shapes for buttons. The least amount of depth and texture in the interface. The most amount of translucency. Each year since then, iOS has turned the dial away from the extremes on all those things. iOS 11 goes so far as to make common use of very heavy, black weights of San Francisco in the UI. I think that could happen with the software’s handling of the notch.

Or maybe we’ll just get used to it quickly. I really don’t want to spend too much time ranting against something I’ve only used for a few minutes.

PixelCut’s Ultimate Guide to iPhone Resolutions 

Helpful illustrated guide to the relationship between points, rendered pixels, and display pixels on all iPhones, including the upcoming iPhone X. They also have a nice illustration specific to the X.

The EFF Withdraws From the W3C Over Support for DRM 

Cory Doctorow, in an open letter from the EFF to the W3C:

In our campaigning on this issue, we have spoken to many, many members’ representatives who privately confided their belief that the EME was a terrible idea (generally they used stronger language) and their sincere desire that their employer wasn’t on the wrong side of this issue. This is unsurprising. You have to search long and hard to find an independent technologist who believes that DRM is possible, let alone a good idea. Yet, somewhere along the way, the business values of those outside the web got important enough, and the values of technologists who built it got disposable enough, that even the wise elders who make our standards voted for something they know to be a fool’s errand.

I’m no fan of DRM. Who is? But I am a fan of practicality, and there are practical reasons why web browsers should be able to play DRM-protected content without using proprietary plugins. Netflix, for example, is never going to serve video without DRM. Or perhaps better put, movie and TV studios wouldn’t allow Netflix to do that. Nor would professional sports leagues or the Olympics.

So either you can watch Netflix in a web browser or you can’t. If your web browser doesn’t support DRM natively, then you have to use plugins. And plugins are rapidly going the way of the dodo bird, because they suck. Even Flash’s end-of-life has been announced. iOS and Android don’t even support browser plugins anymore — and together they dominate real-world usage.

I love the EFF and will continue to support them, but I’d rather see a world where Netflix and all the other DRM-protected streaming services still work in standards-based web browsers than a world where they don’t but where the W3C can claim a moral victory. If you think the open web is losing ground to native app-based platforms now, think about how bad it would be if you couldn’t watch Netflix or live sports.

I also think it’s silly to say DRM doesn’t work. It’s not perfect, and can be worked around, but it’s harder to pirate DRM-protected content than it is non-DRM-protected content. Just making it harder is “working” to at least some degree.

Update: In a series of tweets, Doctorow clarifies that it was the W3C’s refusal to seek compromises over the DMCA, not support for DRM in general, that led to the EFF’s decision to leave:

Significantly, refusal from DRM advocates to promise not to use the DMCA against security researchers, accessibility workers, archivists […] is an ominous sign that they want to reserve the right to execute exactly that power. Publishing EME after the refusal to deal on this is recklessness embodied: when someone tells you they plan to use the power you’re giving them, you should believe them.

I’ll leave the original post as-is, because I think it expresses well my thoughts on why the W3C should support DRM, but this DMCA issue is important, and now I’m uncertain how to feel about the EFF’s decision to leave. The DMCA is an odious — and I think unconstitutional — law. DRM should be protected by its encryption and longstanding copyright law. Anything that’s “fair use” under copyright law should be “fair use” with DRM content if the DRM can be circumvented.

Halo Top: Eat the Ice Cream 

This is one of the best commercials I’ve ever seen. The less you know about it going in, the better.

Mystery of the Day 

Mara Bernath, reporting for Bloomberg:

Swiss prosecutors are trying to figure out why someone apparently attempted to flush tens of thousands of euros down the toilet at a Geneva branch of UBS Group AG.

The first 500-euro ($597) bills were discovered several months ago in a bathroom close to a bank vault containing hundreds of safe deposit boxes, according to a report in Tribune de Geneve confirmed by the city prosecutor’s office. A few days later, more banknotes turned up in toilets at three nearby restaurants, requiring thousands of francs in plumbing repairs to unclog the pipes.

In all, police have extracted tens of thousands of euros in soiled bills, many of which appear to have been cut with scissors.

While destroying banknotes isn’t a crime in Switzerland, “there must be something behind this story,” said Henri Della Casa, a spokesman for the Geneva Prosecutor’s Office. “That’s why we started an investigation.”

I can’t figure out an angle on this one.

Update: All I’ve come up with is this: the perpetrator is an employee pissed off at their employer, the bank, and they thought they could get away with destroying this cash but not with stealing it.

Report Says Red Sox Used Fitbit, Not Apple Watch, in Sign-Stealing Scheme 

The Score:

The device used by the Boston Red Sox in their infamous sign-stealing controversy has been revealed as a Fitbit product, according to a major-league source of Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.

Though Fitbits are used as a tracker to measure an individual’s steps and levels of fitness activity, many products — specifically Fitbit Surge — can be synced with mobile devices and receive text messages.

This takes some of the fun out of this story. Now the Red Sox are just cheaters with bad taste in gadgets.

APFS Will Be for Flash Drives Only in First High Sierra Release 

Juli Clover, reporting for MacRumors:

iMacs with Fusion Drives were converted to APFS during the beta testing process in the first macOS High Sierra beta, but support was removed in subsequent betas and not reimplemented.

With the release of the Golden Master version of the software, Apple has confirmed APFS will not be available for Fusion Drives and has provided instructions for converting from APFS back to the standard HFS+ format.

I have all-flash drives in both my MacBook Pro and iMac, but I’m not in any hurry to switch to APFS. And since drives that can be updated are automatically updated to APFS when you update to High Sierra, I’m in no rush to update to High Sierra. Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to APFS. This just feels like something for which I’ll wait for 10.13.1.

Squarespace Personalized Templates 

My thanks to Squarespace for once again sponsoring the DF RSS feed. Squarespace lets you create a truly personalized website: their platform enables developers and designers to “make it yours” with their easy to use, but personalized templates. Start with an award-winning template, or build your site from scratch.

Best of all, you can try Squarespace for free. When you’re ready to subscribe, get 10 percent off at squarespace.com with offer code DARING17.

Matthew Panzarino Interviews Craig Federighi About Face ID 

Great complement to my interview with Federighi on the same topic yesterday, including some privacy-related points I didn’t think to ask about:

When it comes to customers — users — Apple gathers absolutely nothing itself. Federighi was very explicit on this point.

“We do not gather customer data when you enroll in Face ID, it stays on your device, we do not send it to the cloud for training data,” he notes.

There is an adaptive feature of Face ID that allows it to continue to recognize your changing face as you change hair styles, grow a beard or have plastic surgery. This adaptation is done completely on device by applying re-training and deep learning in the redesigned Secure Enclave. None of that training or re-training is done in Apple’s cloud. And Apple has stated that it will not give access to that data to anyone, for any price.

Terrific interview.

Advertising Trade Groups Object to Safari’s New Intelligent Tracking Protection 

Marty Swant, writing for Adweek (headline: “Every Major Advertising Group Is Blasting Apple for Blocking Cookies in the Safari Browser”):

The biggest advertising organizations say Apple will “sabotage” the current economic model of the internet with plans to integrate cookie-blocking technology into the new version of Safari.

Six trade groups — the Interactive Advertising Bureau, American Advertising Federation, the Association of National Advertisers, the 4A’s and two others — say they’re “deeply concerned” with Apple’s plans to release a version of the internet browser that overrides and replaces user cookie preferences with a set of Apple-controlled standards. The feature, which is called “Intelligent Tracking Prevention,” limits how advertisers and websites can track users across the internet by putting in place a 24-hour limit on ad retargeting.

This is like a group of peeping Toms objecting to the invention of window shades. What ad trackers do is abhorrent, and what Safari’s new Intelligent Tracking Protection does is indisputably in the interests of users.

Steven Sinofsky (formerly president of the Windows division at Microsoft):

Stand strong Apple [rhetorical]. Had these groups come after us trying to offer browsing safety. MS backed down.

Pretty sure Apple is standing strong on this. Here’s a response I received from an Apple spokesperson:

“Apple believes that people have a right to privacy — Safari was the first browser to block third party cookies by default and Intelligent Tracking Prevention is a more advanced method for protecting user privacy.

Ad tracking technology has become so pervasive that it is possible for ad tracking companies to recreate the majority of a person’s web browsing history. This information is collected without permission and is used for ad re-targeting, which is how ads follow people around the Internet. The new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature detects and eliminates cookies and other data used for this cross-site tracking, which means it helps keep a person’s browsing private. The feature does not block ads or interfere with legitimate tracking on the sites that people actually click on and visit. Cookies for sites that you interact with function as designed, and ads placed by web publishers will appear normally.”

The Original iPhone Superimposed on the iPhone X, Pixel-for-Pixel 

David Barnard:

The entire home screen of the original iPhone (320 × 480 pixels) is about the size of 2 icons on the iPhone X home screen (1125 × 2436 pixels).

Linking to Barnard’s tweet, Joshua J. Arnold nails it:

This is what a decade’s worth of sustaining innovation looks like.

The Talk Show: ‘200: Episode CC’, With Special Guest Craig Federighi 

Very special guest Craig Federighi returns to the show to talk about Face ID, the perils of live demos, Apple’s approach to designing the iPhone X, privacy, security, and more. A great way to close out Apple’s big week and mark the 200th episode of the show.

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