by Lance Somoza

Apple

All about Apple, including rumors and speculation abound.


iPhone 8: How Face ID could work

Thanks to the accidentally leaked HomePod firmware, 1 it’s almost certain that Touch ID will not continue in the iPhone 8. Apple may be opting for a face unlocking feature dubbed ‘Pearl ID’.

Facial biometrics have always been a lacking mechanism for security, at least in the consumer market. It’s pretty bad in most implementations, so everyone is up in arms about this feature possibly replacing the tried-and-true Touch ID we’ve had since the iPhone 5S. Which, if you remember, doubters largely acted the same way about fingerprint sensors when Touch ID was announced. The point is: everyone seems to forget that Apple undoubtedly has found ways to overcome the downsides of these implementations, or they wouldn’t be doing this.

Since Pearl ID is a speculated name, let’s just call it Face ID for the sake of this post. Here’s how I could see it working.

Unlocking the Phone

Apple changed the unlocking behavior in iOS 10 from a press of the home button to simply resting your finger on it. I now believe Apple made this change to pave the way for Face ID. Why? Let’s think about what’s required to only unlock an iPhone right now with Touch ID.

Unlocking with Touch ID

  1. Wake your phone via:
    • Raise to wake.
    • Pressing the Sleep/Wake button.
    • Pressing the Home button with a non-registered finger.
  2. Rest your finger on the Touch ID sensor.

You can then take action on your notifications, press the Home button to go Home, launch straight into apps from the widget screen, etc. You’re authenticated.

Unlocking with Face ID

  1. Wake your phone via:

Where’s step two, you say? That’s the beauty of it — step two is handled by the phone. Whenever you are looking at the phone while the Lock Screen is presented, Face ID would authenticate you. You can then perform all the normal actions from the Lock Screen like usual. If you look away, the phone is instantly locked again.

Benefits

  • No need to specifically unlock your phone.
  • Faster access for acting on notifications.
  • Potentially more secure than Touch ID.
  • Low false positives, given that the iPhone will purportedly use 3D-sensing cameras to differentiate between a picture of your face and your actual face.

Making Purchases: App Store & Apple Pay

Touch ID can also be used to make purchases in the App Store and iTunes Store, as well as authenticate payments for Apple Pay. Here’s how Apple could replicate this with Face ID and a gesture.

Process

  • Instead of a Touch ID prompt, you are presented with a Face ID prompt and an on-screen button.
  • Simply look at the phone and hold an on-screen button for 3 seconds.

Face ID provides the biometric authentication, while holding an on-screen button would indicate intent. It also would give you time to back out (something that is actually a little harder to do with Touch ID). This would work for both App Store Purchases and Apple Pay. With Apple Pay, you would hover your iPhone over the NFC terminal like usual, then follow the process outlined above. Same goes for sending Apple Pay Cash to friends and family when iOS 11 launches in the fall.

iPhone 8-Specific Feature: App Locking

With this kind of ambient authentication, I think the iPhone 8 has the potential to receive special features taking advantage of Face ID. One I can think of is App Locking, something frequently requested to this day for use with Touch ID.

In other words, apps are only allowed to show their content if you are actively looking at the phone. Take a banking app for example. You would launch it, but it wouldn’t show anything until you actually look at the phone and are authenticated by Face ID. To take it one step further in theory: once you look away, the content could be hidden until you look back again.

The Sleep/Wake Button

I think the Face ID change is what could be driving a larger Sleep/Wake button to be present in the leaks that have come out. Because of Face ID’s ambient nature, we may benefit from easier access to the Sleep/Wake button. Making it longer would help enable that.

Also, it makes sense to differentiate this button in size from the volume up/down buttons. I never could understand why Apple made them the same size in the first place, other than for congruency. Quite a few times while trying to lock the phone while holding it a specific way, I’ve pressed both the Sleep/Wake button and Volume Down button. I’ve read others have experienced the same thing, so it would be nice to not accidentally do this anymore.

The Cover Sheet

iOS 11 replaces Notification Center with the Cover Sheet, which blurs the lines between the Lock Screen and the old Notification Center. A puzzling change to this date, Federico Viticci speculated this morning on Twitter that it may provide a way to lock the iPhone 8. While I initially disagreed with this theory, I think it’s plausible if you take into account the ambient nature of Face ID as outlined above. I would perhaps just question calling this the Cover Sheet on iPhone 8, instead of just Lock Screen.

Conclusion

Thinking this through has made me excited for Face ID and highlights the flaws of Touch ID. This kind of interaction would be something Apple is great at: simplifying things we already thought were perfect. We’re looking at our phones all the time anyway — might as well make use of our beautiful mugs.


  1. A gift that keeps on giving. ↩︎


John Gruber weighs in on names for this year’s iPhones ➔

Benjamin Mayo for 9to5Mac:

We’ve received a couple of photos from Apple tipster Sonny Dickson this morning that depict a dummy model for the ‘iPhone 7s Plus’, one of three new phones Apple is said to be launching this year. Although marketing branding is unknown, the ‘7s’ devices are expected to iterate on the current iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus chassis.

One distinction will be the introduction of glass backs (rather than aluminium), which this dummy model incorporates. It is believed that the phones will support inductive charging.

Gruber’s comments:

If these are legit, there’s no way Apple is going to call these devices “7S”. The S models have had minor cosmetic differences from the preceding year’s non-S iPhones, but these phones are sporting entire new designs.

I also think that the “7S” name would contribute to the notion that Apple’s “S” phones are only modest updates, when the truth is that the S phones tend to get the bigger technical improvements. I suspect Apple will use one of these sets of names:

  • iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone 8 Pro; or
  • iPhone, iPhone Plus, iPhone Pro

Either of these naming schemes would make all three new iPhones sound new.

While I think Apple could abandon the ‘S’ branding for its traditional update, I’d argue they could still get away with it even if the back of the phone is made out of glass for wireless charging. My main reason: most rumors and leaks indicate the front will be relatively the same as the iPhone 7/7 Plus.

Now, if the front was believed to also be receiving an edge-to-edge screen without a Touch ID home button, I’d buy into the iPhone 8/iPhone 8 Plus/iPhone Pro line of thinking. Since that’s not the case, iPhone/iPhone Plus/iPhone Pro sounds like the more believable of the two.

As for my actual guess, I’m going with: iPhone 7S, iPhone 7S Plus, iPhone. ‘iPhone’ being the new ‘Pro’ model. I wrote a post last week explaining why. Either way, it’s fun speculating.


iPhone Pro: We’re going to use a soft home button, right?

Recently, there have been quite a few interesting takes on what Apple would do with the home button on an iPhone with an edge-to-edge screen. I’ll refer you to two takes in particular. For the sake of this post, let’s call the device in question iPhone Pro.

Make sure you read both of these in their entirety. There’s some really great thinking here.

First, Allen Pike made a case for the huge app titles in iOS 11, which could support the back button and other functions that could be relocated to the bottom of the UI. Quite brilliant, actually! I’m just not on board with a soft home button.

Then, Max Rudberg riffed on this with his own take, expanding on Allen’s concept in regards to the iPhone Pro’s alleged ‘notch’. I’m a big fan of his second concept depicted below.

Max Rudberg. iPhone D22, hiding the notch.
Max Rudberg’s concept: iPhone D22, hiding the notch.

Of his four concepts, this one seems the most likely to me. Apple could also blend in the bottom and make it black like Max’s last concept, but that would defeat the purpose of an edge-to-edge screen for me. It would be perceivably smaller in most apps as a result. Having the bottom area take over the color scheme of the app and adapting would make the most sense and in accordance with Apple’s UI design.

That said, I think Apple should take it one step further and just remove any and all representation of a home button. We’ve had ten years of training and know exactly where the home button is supposed to be — in the middle-bottom part of the phone. Why do we need a software reminder taking up screen real estate that could be better served for other purposes, as demonstrated by Allen and Max? I’ve never been a fan of soft home buttons on Android and hope Apple bucks the trend.

Here’s how I’m proposing they do it (borrowing from Max’s concept): a bottom-edge home button area activated by 3D Touch.

Edge home button, activated by 3D Touch.
Bottom-edge home button area, activated by 3D Touch.

As I’ve mentioned before, I feel the home button functionality could be replicated by a 3D Touch press along the bottom edge (the area highlighted by the red box). This would be similar to the now-removed left side 3D Touch edge press to activate the app switcher pre-iOS 11. 1

If you don’t think it would work, without looking or specifically trying to hit the home button, try pressing the red box area on your iPhone 7 or 7 Plus. If your results are similar to mine, your thumb should hit the home button’s bottom edge and activate it. This would leave the middle section free for other elements to be taken advantage of by apps or the system.

Supporting Evidence

It seems increasingly likely that the iPhone Pro will use face recognition in lieu of Touch ID. As identified by notorious iOS prodder Steve Troughton-Smith, there are references to this feature possibly being called Pearl ID. In other words, whether the home button is represented or not, your fingerprint would be irrelevant.

Steve has also discovered settings for a ‘home indicator’ (among many other things) that can be hidden by default within apps.

To this, Dave Mark from The Loop says:

This raises an interesting question. If the home button no longer has dedicated real estate but is, instead a fungible, virtual spot, with the ability to be turned on and off, what happens if an app runs full screen? How will you exit the app?

In other words, if a game takes over the full screen, presumably the home button will not be there. What will the user do to force exit the app, to return to the home screen?

To be crystal clear, I don’t see this as a problem. I see this as an interesting puzzle. We don’t know that the home button will disappear, we don’t know that developers will be allowed to grab the full screen without saving room for the home button.

Great points by Dave. I think all of this could be solved with a 3D Touch home button on the edge.

Peeking and Popping the Home Button

3D Touch can differentiate between levels of pressure, which is why we can peek/pop UI elements on the screen, but the existing static home button only interprets one level. Taking a 3D Touch-activated home button into account, here are some sample interaction methods I can think of that would be great no matter the button’s implementation.

For ease of explanation, let’s use two levels of pressure referred to as Peek and Pop.

Peeking

  • Peek: takes you back home just like normal.
  • Double Peek: enters the App Switcher just like normal.
  • Peek (hold): engages Siri just like normal.

Essentially, all the interactions we use the home button for now.

Popping

  • Peek > Pop: enters the App Switcher or engages Siri.
    • I would prefer the App Switcher in order to make up for the removed left-edge gesture, but I could see how triggering Siri could work here too.

Conclusion: UI is getting out of our way

Apple is on the cusp of releasing an iPhone that is different in many ways. In the examples described, the iOS UI and UX may differ slightly when compared to the traditional iPhone line, but to repeat the same formula for years on end just doesn’t make sense either. As Gruber has been saying, it’s risky for Apple not to try this — for what essentially could amount to a power user iPhone.

Apple has been criticized a bit for 3D Touch with regards to its hidden nature. In some cases, it’s not exactly clear what UI elements you can 3D Touch or when you can touch them. I use it quite a bit and would mostly agree, but therefore regard it as somewhat of a power user feature.

For instance, some have described the use of 3D Touch on home screen app icons as analogous to a context click on the Mac, which makes total sense. Same goes for the incredibly awesome keyboard gesture used to move the text cursor and select text. I could never go back to tap-and-hold for text selection after using the 3D Touch implementation. The thing is, most people probably don’t know of these interactions unless they’ve read about it in the Tips app, online, or someone has told them. Even then, I’d wager most people forget about them or are simply content with the basic interaction methods.

My point is this: UI is increasingly getting out of our way. Maybe we lose a little intuitiveness in the process, but I think it’s worth it. Apple is building a new interaction language that will become so ubiquitous in the coming years that its intuition will matter less and less.


  1. I’m still salty about the removal of that gesture, but perhaps this is the reason why. ↩︎


“And we’re calling it … iPhone”

It seems inevitable now, if you’ve been following recent leaks: we’re getting a next-level iPhone in the Fall. While most analysts seem to agree it will cost from $1,100 to $1,200, the jury is still fairly out on the naming for said product.

The most popular names being suggested are: iPhone 8, iPhone Pro, and iPhone X. As for my pick? I’m going with ‘iPhone’. Here’s why…

Historical Analysis

The main iPhone line’s naming has been pretty predictable due to the tried and true tick-tock cycle, but Apple is going to shake that up this year. Let’s review the main iPhone names up until now:

iPhone > iPhone 3G > iPhone 3GS > iPhone 4 > iPhone 4S > iPhone 5 > iPhone 5S > iPhone 6/6 Plus > iPhone 6S/6S Plus > iPhone 7, 7 Plus 1

Here’s what Apple has done with wholly new models: iPhone 5C, iPhone SE.

I was also going to reference all the names for iPad and Apple Watch, but instead I’ll sum it up like this: both products started out with complicated naming schemes (especially iPad), but have since been reeled in. As of late, also see the more simplistic: Apple Music, HomePod, and AirPods

What does this all tell us?

  1. Apple is very careful with the iPhone brand when it comes to marketing and naming.
  2. Apple made a natural, if initially confusing progression with the iPad naming, which it has never had to make with iPhone. MacBook is similar, though (i.e. Air, Pro).
  3. Apple is trending towards more simplistic product names. Suggestions of “Apple Phone” or similar may be in the same ballpark as other new product names, but Apple would be way off mark to not continue calling this the iPhone in some capacity.

The Case for ‘iPhone’

When Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone ten years ago, he used misdirection to describe it as three products:

  1. A phone
  2. A widescreen iPod with touch controls
  3. A breakthrough internet communications device

Let’s reinvent this line of thinking for the next-level iPhone. If it were going to be three products, I’d say:

  1. A communications device
    • Covers phone calls and messaging of all kind, in addition to social apps like Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram.
  2. A powerful computer in your pocket
    • Essentially what the iPhone has become. For many, its their only computer, or most important device.
  3. An insanely-great camera

Also rumored to have an edge-to-edge screen, wireless charging, and more, the next-level iPhone is poised to be the epitome of the original and then some. It will leapfrog every goal established by Steve Jobs in its introductory keynote.

Since there’s not going to be a screen size choice, something along the lines of iPhone 8 Plus is out of the question.

Taking all this into consideration, I don’t think there’s a more perfect name than simply ‘iPhone’. Would it be confusing for people? I don’t think so; at least not any more so than iPhone 7S/7S Plus and iPhone 8 would be. Anyone looking to upgrade according to the normal tick-tock cycle will go for the iPhone 7S/7S Plus because that’s the status quo and extremely familiar. Anyone wanting next year’s iPhone today 2 will go for ‘iPhone’.

In short: iPhone 7S, iPhone 7S Plus, iPhone.

If it’s not ‘iPhone’, I’d prefer ‘iPhone X’. ‘Pro’ just doesn’t sound fitting for the iPhone line, for some reason. ‘X’ would serve two purposes: a nod to the tenth anniversary and being just plain badass.


  1. I’ve never liked 6S Plus (and soon-to-be 7S Plus) name. Too many ‘s’ sounds. ↩︎

  2. Beautifully said by Rene Ritchie. ↩︎


Former Google SVP praises iPhone camera over Android ➔

Linking to Business Insider’s coverage of this story.

Vic Gundotra, former Google SVP of Engineering, posted the following on Facebook yesterday in reference to recent shots taken of his family with an iPhone 7 Plus:

The end of the DSLR for most people has already arrived. I left my professional camera at home and took these shots at dinner with my iPhone 7 using computational photography (portrait mode as Apple calls it). Hard not to call these results (in a restaurant, taken on a mobile phone with no flash) stunning. Great job Apple.

In a later comment, he goes on to explain why other phones trail behind. Here it is in its entirety, because it’s fantastic:

Here is the problem: It’s Android. Android is an open source (mostly) operating system that has to be neutral to all parties. This sounds good until you get into the details. Ever wonder why a Samsung phone has a confused and bewildering array of photo options? Should I use the Samsung Camera? Or the Android Camera? Samsung gallery or Google Photos?

It’s because when Samsung innovates with the underlying hardware (like a better camera) they have to convince Google to allow that innovation to be surfaced to other applications via the appropriate API. That can take YEARS.

Also the greatest innovation isn’t even happening at the hardware level - it’s happening at the computational photography level. (Google was crushing this 5 years ago - they had had “auto awesome” that used AI techniques to automatically remove wrinkles, whiten teeth, add vignetting, etc… but recently Google has fallen back).

Apple doesn’t have all these constraints. They innovate in the underlying hardware, and just simply update the software with their latest innovations (like portrait mode) and ship it.

Bottom line: If you truly care about great photography, you own an iPhone. If you don’t mind being a few years behind, buy an Android.

Damning words by Gundotra. If you have ever scoffed when Tim Cook says “this is something only Apple can do”, remember this post. It all goes back to owning as much of the technology stack as possible (hardware and software). As Gundotra points out, Apple has virtually no limitations when it comes to innovating because of this. Also for good measure, and because it’s so true, here’s Alan Kay’s legendary quote: “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” Google has just begun to do this with their Pixel phone line, but they’ve got a long way to go to execute at the level Apple does.


More price analysis on the iPhone 8 ➔

Horace Dediu for Asymco:

The graph shows a high degree of consistency of pattern: Every year a new iPhone is launched which replaces the one launched the year before. The older product is still offered at a reduced price. Price brackets are very firm and set at fixed intervals about $100 apart.

And…

The “floor” of the range is a consistent $400 while the “ceiling” has expanded from $700 to about $950.

This year’s ceiling is due for the fourth leg up and if the pattern persists, we should expect it to reach $1100.

Definitely check out the whole post. There’s some excellent graphs and data-driven logic. The price lines up with Gruber’s thought process as well. With growing analysis, it seems inevitable that the iPhone 8 will be the most expensive iPhone when it launches. The only thing nobody can decide on is what it will actually be called.


Last Pod Standing

The iPod Touch is now the only remaining iPod sold by Apple, after the Nano and Shuffle were unceremoniously discontinued yesterday. It truly is the end of an era for the longtime king of MP3 players.

iPod third generation.
iPod third generation. My first iPod.

My first iPod (3rd generation) 1 was a lot of firsts for me. It was my first MP3 player, first Apple device, and first gadget I ever lusted after. I only had it because my grandfather promised to buy me something when I made the honor roll in high school. I remember not knowing what I wanted at the time, until suddenly it hit me: iPod.

Even then, I didn’t know why I felt so compelled to have one. I was still developing my own taste in music and didn’t even have a CD player, let alone an inferior MP3 player. Still, the third generation iPod was such a cool, mesmerizing gadget that it almost didn’t matter if I had songs to load on it or not — I just wanted the damn thing. Thankfully, my Dad is a music aficionado and had a budding MP3 collection at the time, so I wasn’t too worried about that.

I remember scouring the Apple website and the whole internet for every detail I could find about the iPod. 2 I was obsessed with how freaking cool it was with its red, glowing buttons and static touch wheel. I remember vividly going to the Apple site a million times from the school library to play with how I wanted the back engraved. Remember how novel that was?

Once I got it, I remember being the first person on campus with an iPod, which drew the attention of my friends, peers, and teachers. Some were even worried it would get stolen, but iPods started becoming commonplace not too long after.

I remember sitting in English class with my then best friend, sharing the old Apple earbuds while listening to Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust and Under Pressure. 3

I remember purchasing the fourth generation iPod while on vacation in Palm Desert shortly after it came out. I called the nearest Best Buy and had my Dad drive me over to buy it. 4 I was in awe of the new click wheel and blue-tinged screen.

I remember the fifth generation iPod, which featured a color screen and the ability to play videos. I didn’t play many videos on it, but that color screen was so impressive at the time.

I remember the iPod Classic, which was just the epitome of the greatly-designed iPod. I also remember when it was killed off in 2014.

I remember the original iPod nano, which was just absurdly small. Loved that little guy. I think the fourth generation nano was the best design, though. The tall screen and click wheel was just SO perfect.

I remember carrying an iPod Touch and original iPhone at the same time because I didn’t want to kill my iPhone’s battery by playing music.

Shortly after, I remember the first time I no longer needed a standalone iPod (when the iPhone 3GS came out). Just like that, I cast away an old friend and adopted its true successor. Now, ten years after the introduction of the iPhone, the last remaining real iPods are no more. They paved the way for so many things: for the modern Apple of course, but also for computing, for music, for PC to Mac switchers 5, and for the world.

And now, I remember the plethora of Apple products I’ve bought over the years thanks to the iPod hooking me into the Apple ecosystem.

So thank you for everything, iPod. Your name lives on in other Apple music products (i.e. HomePod, AirPods), and your legacy will live on inside the iPhone’s Music app.


  1. This iPod still lives to this day as my Dad’s dedicated Christmas Music player! ↩︎

  2. As I do now for every new Apple product. ↩︎

  3. I hated Under Pressure for some reason, but he loved it. It has since grown on me… ↩︎

  4. Thanks, Dad! ↩︎

  5. Myself included. ↩︎


How Jony Ive Masterminded Apple’s New Headquarters ➔

Christina Passariello from the Wall Street Journal has a great piece centering on Jony Ive and Apple’s new headquarters, Apple Park.

You definitely want to settle in for the long read linked above, but here’s a few highlights.

Throughout the article, Ive compares the planning, design, and creation of Apple Park to the same as any other Apple product, such as:

Ive’s characteristically understated reaction—“It’s nice, though, isn’t it?”—masks the anxiety he feels each time a product he’s designed is about to be introduced to the world. “There’s the same rather strange process you go through when you finish a product and you prepare to release it—it’s the same set of feelings,” says Ive, who turned 50 in February. “That feels, I don’t know, encouragingly healthy, because I would be concerned if we lost that sense of anxiety. I think that would suggest that we were not as self-critical, not as curious, not as inquisitive as we have to be to be able to be effective and do good work.”

On Apple Park being the workplace for future Apple employees:

[…] At the same time, he promises it will be the birthplace of new toys and tools the rest of us haven’t imagined yet. Ive and Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, talk about the campus as something for the next generation of Apple employees—like parents doing estate planning.

This is really well said. Tim, Jony, and other execs clearly are looking towards the future when it comes to Apple Park. Our children will build the next great Apple products in this facility.

Christina goes on to say that Jony essentially needs to prove Apple hasn’t stagnated, saying:

[…] In other technologies, from digital assistants to driverless vehicles to augmented and virtual reality, Apple seems to lag other tech giants, including Google, Amazon and Tesla. Its new voice-activated speaker, HomePod, unveiled in June, will arrive on the market in December, three years after Amazon’s Echo. […]

Queue the tired “Apple is behind everyone” trope, with a surprise appearance from Tesla for some reason.1 Also, I would argue HomePod is a tangential competitor to the Echo, and a direct competitor to Sonos.

Tim Cook on managing Apple’s growth:

“We didn’t plan our growth, and then when we saw our growth, we were so engrossed in trying to push things forward that we didn’t spend time to really develop the workplace,” says Cook. “We’ve done a really good job of working around it, but it’s not the way we want to be working, nor does it represent our culture well.”

I can relate to this. Working for an extremely large, national company, with specialty teams can make for difficult collaboration at times.

A cool note about how the AirPods design was inspired by Stormtroopers:

When J.J. Abrams was working on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ive mentioned that he “would love to see a lightsaber that is rougher, spitting sparks,” Abrams says. The director, who says he and Ive were already fans of each other’s work when they met at a dinner four years ago, applied Ive’s suggestion to character Kylo Ren’s weapon. “His lightsaber was as imperfect and unpredictable as the character,” says Abrams. (The inspiration is mutual: Ive told Abrams that he had the look of the original Stormtroopers in mind when he designed Apple’s earbuds.)

More on architecture as a product from Ive:

Architecture is “a sort of product design; you can talk about it in terms of scale and function and materials, material types,” he says. “I think the delineation is a much, much softer set of boundaries that mark our expertise.”

Mark Newson on design and a token “Apple Car” reference:

“We always joked that one of the greatest sources of our inspiration was the fact that there was just so much stuff out there that we didn’t like,” says Newson. “The negativity sort of became a positive source of inspiration.” Newson says that Ive’s hand could improve a plethora of badly designed products beyond technology, such as cars—though he says he has no idea if Apple is working on a car.”

Apple Park was almost shaped like a fidget spinner:

The desire for light and air, crossed with the need for enough density to house 12,000 employees, gave shape to Apple Park’s main building. Ive, tracing an infinity sign in the air, says they considered complex forms, including a trilobal design, a sort of giant fidget spinner. Ultimately they decided that only a ring shape could give the feeling of being close to the elements.

On the design of work pods:

The first prototype was ready in the summer of 2010, with pictures of trees on either end of the central area to evoke the landscaping and proximity to the outdoors. Jobs himself set the precise dimensions of the openings from one end of the central area to the other. The team quickly discovered that early versions of the small offices on each side of the central area were noisy—sound bounced off the flat wood walls. Foster’s architects suggested perforating the walls with millions of tiny holes and lining them with an absorbent material. In the completed section of workspace, Ive snaps his fingers to demonstrate the warm sound it creates.

I love this quote from Laurene Powell Jobs, because it sounds exactly like something Steve would say:

“The materiality of it is inspiring,” says Powell Jobs. “The quality of the wood, the quality of the stone, the quality of the light—that’s what makes it so beautiful.”

On Apple employees paying for their own food, as opposed to most other large tech organizations which offer it for free:

Apple employees will pay for the food served here, but at a somewhat subsidized rate. “Steve’s philosophy was that when people have skin in the game, they appreciate it more,” says Dan Whisenhunt, Apple’s head of real estate and development.

It’s an interesting philosophy I can see the point of. It’s not like you’re going to choose between Apple and Google solely because of free food, for instance. You would choose Apple because you believe in the culture, mission, and passion.

On the importance of employees being physically together:

Ive and Cook place great importance on employees being physically together at work—ironic for a company that has created devices that enable people to work from a distance. Face-to-face communication is essential during the beginning of a project, when an idea is sprouting, they say. Once a model emerges from a series of conversations, it draws people in and gives focus. “For all of the beauty of technology and all the things we’ve helped facilitate over the years, nothing yet replaces human interaction,” says Cook, “and I don’t think it will ever happen.”

Again, I can relate to this professionally. While technology allows us to work from anywhere, meeting in person or by random happenstance almost always makes for better progress.

On the workspaces being more open and less confined:

The thousands of employees at Apple Park will need to bend slightly to Ive’s vision of the workplace. Many will be seated in open space, not the small offices they’re used to. Coders and programmers are concerned that their work surroundings will be too noisy and distracting. Whiteboards—synonymous with Silicon Valley brainstorming—are built into floor-to-ceiling sliding doors in the central area of each pod, but “some of the engineers are freaking out” that it isn’t enough, says Whisenhunt. iPhones will be the primary mode of communication for everyone, though individuals can also lobby for a desk phone, if they feel they have a need for one.

Going from an office to open space will probably be a little shocking, and some might not be able to adjust, but adaptation will be key.

On Apple supposedly contributing to a tree shortage:

Ive takes offense at the idea that he hasn’t already thought of every detail during the years of planning Apple Park. He scoffs at an article claiming that Apple contributed to a tree shortage in the Bay Area by buying up so many plants for the campus, “as if we’d got to the end of our project and we thought, Oh, we’d better plant some trees.” Apple began working with an arborist years ago to source trees, including varieties that once made up the bountiful orchards of Silicon Valley; more than 9,000, many of them drought-resistant, will have been planted by the time the campus is finished.

On Ive getting back to normal work after Apple Park is fully up and running:

In the next few months, Ive will transition from being the creator of Apple Park to one of its thousands of users. His design team is scheduled to be one of the last to move into the new headquarters this fall—around the same time as the event at which Apple has typically unveiled its new iPhone. The next frontier Ive faces, beyond reinventing a greatest hit, is how to further embed technology onto our bodies and into our homes, using devices such as the Apple Watch, AirPods and HomePods as the beachheads for collecting data and tracking ourselves. “Everything we design and make in the future is going to start right here,” he says.

With each new product Apple rolls out, its predecessors seem a little antiquated. But Ive and Jobs built Apple Park to last, and their legacy will be etched into the glass, concrete and trees for decades to come. Just as the ring blurs the boundary between inside and outside, Ive’s personal and professional lives are fluid. As a designer, “you spend so much time living in or living with the solution that doesn’t yet exist,” he says. “I’m just looking forward to going to see an engineer I’m working with on something, to sit there and perhaps walk out and sit outside for a bit with him, to be able to go to the workshop and start to see how we’re building something.”

Ive’s longevity at Apple has been questioned a bit in the past couple years, with his promotion to Chief Design Officer. Subsequently, this allowed for the shedding of his managerial duties through the appointment of Alan Dye and Richard Howarth to the positions of VP, User Interface Design and VP, Industrial Design respectively. It was also speculated that he wanted to return to the U.K. in a larger capacity.

Ive is still a large part of Apple, and judging by the last two paragraphs, it sounds like he has a renewed focus to get back to his other design work, thanks to the new campus.


  1. If Christina means a car, then it goes without saying that Apple is behind the entire automotive industry, not just Tesla. ↩︎


The Rock x Siri Dominate the Day

Takeaways

  • The short is better than I thought it was going to be. At least it’s not Planet Of The Apps.
  • Think they could’ve come up with a better name than “The Rock x Siri”. Why not “The Rock & Siri”?
  • Dwayne Johnson was the highest paid actor of 2016, making over $64.5 million.
  • They cut some of Siri’s responses when unnecessary. No “Calling so-and-so, iPhone” or similar.
  • They didn’t use Siri’s new iOS 11 voice; a missed opportunity to showcase it. It’s a shame, because Siri sounds a whole lot better in iOS 11, although it’s a little stunning at first since she sounds like a different ‘person’.
  • Voice is the newest mainstream input method for computing, and is far from perfect.
  • If Siri worked this perfectly every time, more people would be inclined to use it. I think Apple is painting a picture here of the possibilities and use cases Siri offers—not that anyone didn’t know a majority of the commands, but it serves as a reminder in a sense of “oh yeah, I can try Siri for that”. My advice: use Siri as much as you can, so when its eventual accuracy improves, you’ll be a step ahead.

Apple Watch Series 3 could be the iPhone 4 of its line

iPhone 4 was arguably when the iPhone became the modern iPhone. It was a huge leap from the 3GS. It was really fast, had a sexy glass sandwich design, introduced the Retina display, external antenna system, and more. It even had huge controversies from being lost in a bar and published by Gizmodo to antennagate. Along the same lines, I think Apple Watch Series 3 has the potential to be the ‘iPhone 4’ of its line in terms of performance and adoption (hopefully without the controversies).

I remember being extremely excited for the original Apple Watch’s (delayed) launch back in early 2015, more than any Apple product since the original iPhone. A close match was the AirPods, but that was a different kind of excitement. Now, with Fall quickly approaching, we are seemingly on track to receive another Watch update.

See, it’s all about experiences when it comes to technology. Apple Watch does a subset of things the iPhone does, but the experience it offers is visceral, compelling, and strikingly different than the iPhone. For instance, I’m more compelled to archive email from the Watch because it’s right there on my wrist. Same goes for quickly replying to a message or controlling music playback. These quick use cases and the experience factor make pulling the iPhone out of my pocket seem like a major drag. Using the Watch makes me feel like I’m accomplishing things with the speed of a ninja.

I still have my original 42mm Apple Watch.1 While I love it, it’s an absolute dog when it comes to doing tasks not already loaded in memory. I recently upgraded my wife’s original Watch to a Series 1 and am on the verge of stealing it insanely jealous of the dual-core processor within. I tested hers by asking Siri to unlock the front door; a task that normally takes my Watch around 25 seconds to complete. Hers did it in less than 10. Considering this, I am impressed with myself for holding out for the Series 3, since it is highly unlike me to not upgrade (mostly) every Apple device upon its new release, but I digress.

Before Series 2 was announced, I thought all I wanted was a faster watch. The more I thought about it, though, the more I decided to wait for Series 3.2 While I knew Series 2 would be faster, I’m holding out for a major increase in speed, as I shouldn’t have to wait for my Watch to catch up to my commands. With that said, here’s what I’d like to see in Apple Watch Series 3.

Series 3 Wishlist

  • Faster processor and more RAM, of course. This is arguably the most important and obvious upgrade. Apple is typically not concerned with feeds and speeds, but for such a small device, it’s particularly important. I’m expecting their silicon team to wow us this year.
  • Better battery life. The Series 2 does better on battery, but Apple needs to keep pushing in this space to improve the experience for heavy Watch users. Things like less battery intensive chips are key to ensuring this.
  • Always-on Watch Face. This is dependent on a better battery. Notifications and Hey Siri could still be activated like they are now (raising the Watch first).
  • Smaller bezels. A big trend this year with smartphones, and rumored for the iPhone 8. Reduced bezels on the Watch would allow for potentially bigger screens.
  • Cellular radio. This is a big, heavily requested one. Series 2 checked off the GPS box for runners, so this seems like the next logical step. A cellular radio would enable the Watch to be more independent in most regards. I would think you’d still pair it to an iPhone, but you’d be free to completely leave the phone behind when you need to. It shouldn’t use a lot of data, so hopefully Apple works out some nice kind of deal with the carriers to facilitate an inexpensive connection to your existing plan.
  • Improved Taptic Engine. Series 2 is better, but I think the Taptic Engine could still be more powerful and precise to really get your attention.
  • Space Black variants of Watch bands. Maybe not for all bands, but it would be nice to have more first-party bands that pair well with the Space Black Watch. I’m mostly referring to the silver hardware on the classic leather band, for instance. Let’s get some Space Black hardware on that bad boy!

Unlikely Features

  • FaceTime Camera. This has been rumored before, but I really don’t think Apple would do this. Terrible ergonomics alone are reason enough not to.
  • Smart Watch Bands. A few days ago, Chaim Gartenberg from The Verge suggested smart bands as the future of the smartwatch. While they very well could be, I think the band should be all about form, not function. Having to choose between form and function in a band would be too much.

Medical Series

Tim Cook was rumored to be testing a breakthrough blood glucose monitor that connects to Apple Watch. If Apple is making a play for a real ‘Medical Series’ Watch, it would have to pass stringent FDA specifications to be used for real medical collection of data and evaluation of said data. I think there’s a decent chance we could see a ’Medical Series’ this year. Some Health Plans have already been subsidizing the cost of the regular Apple Watch, and Apple is rumored to be making a play in healthcare. Makes me think this will happen eventually.

Final Thoughts

Announcements from WWDC had virtually no leaks, and we were bombarded with awesome updates. I think we’re in for a similar surprise with Apple Watch this fall.

My other bet is on Apple Watch playing a bigger role in Apple’s ecosystem down the line, potentially involving AR. Imagine the Watch’s motion data being used as a input mechanism for future Apple AR glasses or similar. Sounds cool, right? Let’s get that future here as fast as possible. Bring on Series 3!


  1. Space Black Stainless Steel, if you were wondering. ↩︎

  2. I just didn’t care enough about the GPS and swimproof features. ↩︎


Apple’s Machine Learning Journal ➔

Today, Apple announced a new journal (read: blog) to catalog their machine learning findings.

Welcome to the Apple Machine Learning Journal. Here, you can read posts written by Apple engineers about their work using machine learning technologies to help build innovative products for millions of people around the world. If you’re a machine learning researcher or student, an engineer or developer, we’d love to hear your questions and feedback. Write us at [email protected]

In the first entry, they discuss improving the realism of synthetic images by using large, diverse, and accurately annotated training sets.

Most successful examples of neural nets today are trained with supervision. However, to achieve high accuracy, the training sets need to be large, diverse, and accurately annotated, which is costly. An alternative to labelling huge amounts of data is to use synthetic images from a simulator. This is cheap as there is no labeling cost, but the synthetic images may not be realistic enough, resulting in poor generalization on real test images. To help close this performance gap, we’ve developed a method for refining synthetic images to make them look more realistic. We show that training models on these refined images leads to significant improvements in accuracy on various machine learning tasks.

They go into explaining the challenges and methods used to refine synthetic images, demonstrated by the example figure below.

Unlabeled Real Images
Figure 1. The task is to learn a model that improves the realism of synthetic images from a simulator using unlabeled real data, while preserving the annotation information.

The post is fascinating. Alternate reality and machine learning are the next frontier for computing, and a growing focus for Apple. This is demonstrated by iOS 11’s ARKit and CoreML, which allows developers to easily implement these technologies into their apps. In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Tim Cook talked about autonomous systems and Apple’s focus on them, including software for self-driving cars, calling it “the mother of all AI projects”.

Some are worried Apple is limiting themselves in these areas because of their privacy and security standpoints. It’s a self-imposed limitation, yes, but that could be why they are being more open about publishing their findings on efforts in this space—to attract like-minded individuals who have the same passion and belief system. For example, all machine learning features on iOS right now are done on-device. No identifiable data is sent back to iCloud and analyzed by a super computer to suggest similar faces in the Photos app, for instance. It’s all done by your iPhone or iPad. Mark Gurman even reported back in May that Apple is developing an ‘AI’ chip to specifically handle these tasks, similar to how the motion co-processor handles all motion data. Makes total sense.

I would much rather have the comfort knowing my device is doing all the work if it comes at a cost of speed to market. Besides, it’s only an inevitability that our machines will do more for us on their own. Apple may take a little more time to get there, but that’s their M.O. iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone, Apple Watch wasn’t the first smartwatch, but both products are now the benchmark in their markets. Apple will do this right, as opposed to other companies who live on getting their hands on your data, and it will be the benchmark for machine learning privacy.

Apple is indeed a secretive company, but under Tim Cook’s direction we are seeing them embrace the ability to be more open. One prior example is the open sourcing of Swift. It makes me excited to see what will come next as a result of this openness.


We have entered ‘iPhone Silly Season’ ➔

John Gruber tweeted the following on July 7:

Since then, a few news outlets have reported on a ‘sense of panic at Apple’ in one form or another. In particular, here’s an excerpt from a Fast Company article, “Source: A ‘Sense of Panic’ at Apple as the Next Flagship iPhone’s Software Problems Persist”:

June was a tense month for the engineers and designers on Apple’s iPhone team with “a sense of panic in the air,” a source with knowledge of the situation tells me.

The company has been working feverishly to fix software problems in its hotly anticipated 10th-anniversary iPhone that could ultimately cause production and delivery delays, the source says. If the software problems aren’t resolved quickly, the new flagship iPhone could even launch with major features disabled. […]

One of those is wireless charging. The iPhone 8 — let’s call it that for now — will reportedly use a type of inductive charging, where the phone sits directly on a separate charging device. (Our source believes Apple is using the Qi wireless charging standard, or a variant of it.) The wireless charging components, which are provided by chipmaker Broadcom Ltd., are not the key issue, the source said; it’s the software that’s not ready for prime time.

To which Gruber says:

That sort of matches up with what I heard — that inductive charging might miss the September debut because the software isn’t ready. I have not heard anything about any sort of “panic”. Summers are crunch time for iOS engineers, and the deadline for iOS 11.0 is probably no more than a month away at this point. But if inductive charging has to wait until 11.1 in October or November, it’ll be a disappointment, but not much more so than having to wait for the iPhone 7 Plus’s Portrait Mode to come out of beta last fall.

Gruber goes on to highlight a few more of these misrepresentations for what he has accurately dubbed ‘iPhone Silly Season’, but he sums it up well towards the end of his post:

With software Apple can (and does) play a bit fast and loose. iOS 11.0 won’t be baked until late August. But software can (and always is) patched. Hardware doesn’t work like that. Many of the decisions related to the hardware on this year’s new iPhones were made two years ago. (And there are decisions being made now for 2019’s new iPhones.)

Let’s just call the bad headlines what they are: clickbait. Everyone loves drama, but here’s a newsflash: Apple doesn’t work out of a garage anymore.


John Gruber speculates on pricing for this year’s new iPhone models. ➔

Excellent, well-thought out piece by Gruber on pricing and storage capacity for the three reportedly new iPhone models due out this year.

The whole thing is definitely worth the read, but here’s a few highlights and thoughts.

Assuming that’s true and that Kuo means the phones will only come in 64 and 256 GB configurations, I can see two ways this plays out for the 7S and 7S Plus:

Scenario 1:
-32 GB 7, no-S: $549 - 64 GB 7S: $649 - 256 GB 7S: $749 - 32 GB 7 Plus, no-S: $669 - 64 GB 7S Plus: $769 - 256 GB 7S Plus: $869

Scenario 2: 32 GB 7, no-S: $649 64 GB 7S: $749 256 GB 7S: $849 32 GB 7 Plus, no-S: $769 64 GB 7S Plus: $869 256 GB 7S Plus: $969

If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m basing this analysis on Ming-Chi Kuo’s reporting, I would expect 32/128/256 configurations of the 7S models, at the same prices as today’s 7 models. Apple was very slow to move beyond 16 GB base configurations; it seems odd to me that they’d be so quick to move beyond 32 GB base configurations. It also seems odd that Apple would move away from the successful good-better-best strategy of having three storage tiers. But that’s what Kuo is reporting.

It’s hard for me to think Apple will move beyond the good-better-best strategy either. If they did though, it would then make sense for them only to have 64GB and 256GB tiers for the 7S and 7S Plus models. Right in the middle.

Either way, Apple is doing so much to combat the local storage problem, it could make sense for them to break with the good-better-best tradition.

Here’s a few things Apple is doing/has done to illustrate my point:

  • App Thinning and Delta Updates have been in place for a while. This allows for smaller app downloads (in theory).
  • iOS will temporarily delete and restore your apps if you don’t have enough space to update the OS to a new version.
  • Auto deletetion of on-device downloads from Apple Music if you haven’t played them in a while.
  • Optimize iPhone Storage for iCloud Photo Library so you aren’t storing full size pictures on-device.
  • Decreased monthly pricing for iCloud storage tiers ($.99 for 50GB, $2.99 for 200GB, $9.99 for 2TB).
  • In iOS 11, you can have the OS Offload Apps (but not their data) if you haven’t used them in a while.
  • The new App Store in iOS 11 doesn’t display download sizes for app updates inline with update notes anymore. Also, when downloading a new app, the download size is no longer at the top of the page (you have to scroll down a bit).

These actions indicate to me an end-game for Apple. Eventually, they don’t want customers to worry about local storage. At the same time, they are well aware of this setup when it comes to model pricing. The iPhone 7S/8 may be the onset of this change.

Apple’s work in this area definitely benefitted the 16GB generation, but larger capacities can reap the benefits as well.

So in my Scenario 2, where the 256 GB 7S and 7S Plus cost $849 and $969 respectively, the base model 64 GB OLED iPhone would have to cost at least $999, and I think more likely $1099, and the 256 GB model would cost at least $1099 or $1199.

But if Apple expects severe supply constraints on these iPhones, I think prices of $1199 (64 GB) and $1299 (256 GB) are more likely. I honestly don’t think something like $1249/1399 is out of the question.

Sounds about right. There definitely is a market amongst the Apple diehards (including yours truly) and professionals that wouldn’t bat an eye at a $200-$300 premium for the best phone on earth with tangible benefits. I mean, it’s not like Apple’s taking an Android phone and just slapping gaudy crap on it. Plus, if you get it with Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program, it means you’re only forking out around $20-30 more a month.

The prices for these iPhones need to be high enough so that tens of millions of people still want to buy the iPhone 7S and 7S Plus. If the “iPhone Pro” or “iPhone Edition” or whatever it is that Apple is going to call this phone starts at $800 or even $900, who is going to buy an iPhone 7S or 7S Plus? Not enough people, that’s who. Apple needs tens of millions of people to buy the 7S and 7S Plus because they aren’t going to be able to produce the “Pro/Edition” model in sufficient quantity.

Makes a whole lot of sense. 90% of normal users will continue with the good old fashioned iPhone line (7 and 7S) and be perfectly happy with the second best phone on earth.


HomePod technology analyzed by audiophiles on Reddit ➔

The linked Reddit post is an interesting read from Reddit’s picky1 audiophile community. They seem largely impressed with HomePod’s underlying technology, bringing highly advanced audio engineering to a consumer device. HomePod is starting to sound like a bargain after you read this.

Here’s one specific analysis in the thread from user Arve:

They’re using some form of dynamic modeling, and likely also current sensing that allows them to have a p-p excursion of 20 mm in a 4” driver. This is completely unheard of in the home market. You can read an introduction to the topic here. The practical upshot is that that 4” driver can go louder than larger drivers, and with significantly less distortion. It’s also stuff you typically find in speakers with five-figure price tags (The Beolab 90 does this, and I also suspect that the Kii Three does). It’s a quantum leap over what a typical passive speaker does, and you don’t really even find it in higher-end powered speakers

Sounds like classic Apple. Bringing high-end, unheard of performance to the masses.

The speaker uses six integrated beamforming microphones to probe the room dimensions, and alter its output so it sounds its best wherever it is placed in the room. It’ll know how large the room is, and where in the room it is placed.

This is the coolest feature of the HomePod to me. Typically, you’d want a speaker of this size to be placed about one foot from a wall in order for the sound to project better towards you. With HomePod, you should be able to put it anywhere in the home and have it sound good.

The room correction applied after probing its own position isn’t simplistic DSP of frequency response, as the speaker has seven drivers that are used to create a beamforming speaker array, so they can direct specific sound in specific directions. The only other speakers that do this is the Beolab 90, and Lexicon SL-1. The Beolab 90 is $85,000/pair, and no price tag is set for the Lexicon, but the expectation in the industry is “astronomical”.

This is truly amazing and goes hand-in-hand with room sensing. The HomePod will be able to direct specific frequencies to different parts of the room in order to produce better sound.

I wouldn’t call myself an audiophile per se, but I definitely appreciate better quality music. Audio quality is a largely subjective thing. What may sound good to me might sound bad to you and vice versa. Either way, there definitely is a threshold where people can agree here is where audio quality starts to sound like shit. It’s whether or not they care that determines what they purchase. Apple has got to get people to care about their audio quality in order to buy HomePod. They did a great job with the AirPods, which sound noticeably better than EarPods, in addition to offering a great experience.

We’ll see if they can go 2 for 2.


  1. Redundant, I know. ↩︎


Kuo and Gurman: No Touch ID for ‘iPhone 8’ ➔

Until now, nobody has been able to agree where the Touch ID fingerprint sensor will be on the highly-anticipated ‘iPhone 8’. The popular opinions were either under the screen, on the back of the phone (ugh), or integrated with the power button.

It turns out these may all be wrong, as Ming-Chi Kuo and Mark Gurman reported today the iPhone 8 won’t have Touch ID at all.

Ming-Chi Kuo, KGI Securities, published an investor note saying:

As the OLED iPhone will not support fingerprint recognition, we think it may have to rely on facial recognition to ensure security. As such, we believe Apple (US) will be very demanding as regards the quality of 3D sensing, thereby increasing the difficulties in hardware production and software design.

iPhone 8 is rumored to have 3D depth-sensing cameras on its face to handle the said facial recognition.

Mark Gurman then confirmed the report:

The sensor’s speed and accuracy are focal points of the feature. It can scan a user’s face and unlock the iPhone within a few hundred milliseconds, the person said. It is designed to work even if the device is laying flat on a table, rather than just close up to the face. The feature is still being tested and may not appear with the new device. However, the intent is for it to replace the Touch ID fingerprint scanner, according to the person.

Thoughts

  • I will really miss Touch ID if it does go away. It’s so natural and easy.
  • That said, I might not miss it so much if the badass edge-to-edge screen is real. The mockups online look fantastic.
  • Facial recognition would allow for ambient security. Think about it—the screen turns on when you raise the phone and it’s instantly unlocked. No additional intervention required. Slightly different than Touch ID, which still required specific interaction to unlock.
  • If the facial recognition is real, I bet it’s built on top of ARKit, with some special Apple code. Hashed facial data can still be stored in the secure enclave, but that would probably mean the enclave and 3D cameras are hardware paired, making Apple the only one that could replace the camera (just like Touch ID sensors).
  • If it really works while the device is laying on a desk and at an angle, it sounds a lot like the document scanning feature built into the iOS 11 Notes app. The document scanning can capture paper documents at odd angles with lightning speed. This is indeed accomplished via ARKit.
  • If anyone can get facial recognition right, it’s Apple. Other implementations I’ve used suck. They’re slow and detrimental to gaining access to your content/data.
  • How will the phone unlock if there is no light? Maybe an infrared LED on top of the screen? Or maybe enough light is generated by the screen upon waking?

It seems like we’re in for an iPhone shakeup. Jury is still out on the name, though. Most people are calling this model the iPhone 8, while there are still most likely an iPhone 7S and 7S Plus in store. iPhone X would be pretty badass and fitting, considering the tenth anniversary.



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