The Magic Behind Apple’s Notification Sounds

Now that the 13 part series “Online Security” is done, it’s time to get back to other interesting topics like Sound and nobody does Sound like Apple. Even the earliest Apple II computers had sound generation. I remember my amazement when I heard Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” played on the Apple Music Synthesizer in 1978.

Fast forward to 2001 and the first iPod was released. Then in 2002 Apple was the first computer manufacturer to own a music software company when they purchased Emagic, the makers of Logic Pro. From this, Apple created the super popular consumer version, GarageBand. In 2003, the iTunes Store opened, selling tracks for $0.99 and seven years later Apple was the world’s largest music retailer.

Mostly recently in November 2016, I wrote the post, “Acoustics – Apple’s Future is ‘Ear’” refuting the negative publicity around the new AirPods and sure enough six months later, they are another smash hit. However even with these successes, Apple is still a relentless innovator and will soon release the HomePod, “a powerful speaker that sounds amazing, adapts to wherever it’s playing, and together with Apple Music, gives you effortless access to one of the world’s largest music catalogs. All controlled through natural voice interaction with Siri.”

So what do humble Notification sounds have to do with these blockbuster products? To me, they are the true measure of a commitment to excellence and form an integral part of the “personality” of iDevices. Keep in mind that at one point during the Super Bowl, over 380,000 text messages were sent EVERY SECOND. That’s a lot of “Note” notifications. Apple even dedicated a session at their recent World Wide Developers Conference to “Designing Sound.”  In a fun twist, the presenter actually played “Note” live at 15:25 in the video.

He also played the “Chord” notification used in the Calendar at 16:45. Spoiler alert, it’s a Kalimba! The entire presentation is fascinating and demonstrates how serious Apple is about the high quality of its design ethic.

At 18:30, he also goes on to provide an introduction to creating your own appropriate notifications using simple tools such as iOS Voice Recorder and GarageBand including how to avoid the pitfalls associated with improperly created sounds like noise and truncated endings.

If you have a few free minutes, capture sounds that catch your attention and make notifications from them. My wife and I heard a wonderful ringtone while we were in Cuba and now it is her iPhone ringtone. It’s a fun, creative way to personalize something that quickly becomes a part of your personal soundscape!

Online Security Part 5 – How Secure is an iPhone? Really, Really, Really Secure!

Today many people carry their entire digital life around in their smartphones. Emails, text messages, address books, calendars, to do lists, banking apps, music, and photos are just a few of the valuable items found on these small slabs of metal and glass. This makes the humble cell phone an attractive target for hackers. Recently, the news has been filled with stories about smartphone security. This is a result of the fact that the president was known to have been using an ancient, insecure Android phone from 2012 (Samsung Galaxy S3). He finally upgraded to an iPhone this week.

Why was an iPhone chosen for the President of the United States? Probably because it’s the most secure phone on the market today. It is amazing the lengths Apple goes to and they do it without much fanfare. Buried toward the end of the iOS webpage is a section called “Privacy and Security” with a short paragraph on security:

iOS offers the most advanced security of any mobile operating system. For starters, hardware and firmware features are designed to protect against malware and viruses, while iOS features help to secure your personal information. Touch ID lets you use your fingerprint as an easy alternative to entering your passcode each time, preventing unauthorized access to your device. And we give developers tools to make the safest apps possible, including top-notch encryption, app transport security, and more. The point is, security runs throughout the entire system — everything from the hardware to iOS to the App Store.

Deep down though, iOS security is hidden universe of its own. The IOS Security Guide explains the details in 63 pages and there is an interesting lecture on Apple’s Developer website that covers the highlights in 25 minutes. To make a long story short, since Apple has control of both the iPhone hardware and iOS software, they can insure security from the moment the iPhone is turned on and even when it is turned off. They don’t even allow downgrading iOS software since that would make a secure iPhone insecure. Also, each iPhone has a completely separate security microprocessor called the “Secure Enclave Processor”(SEP) that includes a unique code burned into it. This means that only your iPhone can decrypt your data. Finally, Apple enforces its commitment to security on its App developers as well as on how a device securely communicates with the outside world.

To be fair, Google / Android does care about security and implements many of the same measures in the most recent versions, but only 3% of Android users have upgraded compared to 80% of iOS users. Apple’s security philosophy is a great example of something called “layered security” which professionals recommend as the best practice to stay safe online. A future post in this series will explore layered security in detail.

 

Apple Demonstrates the Problem With Being “Perfect” – Part 3

As Part 2 of this series demonstrated, the truth seems to be that technology doesn’t have to be perfect to be usable. Microsoft and Google are posting record profits despite a wide variety of serious flaws in their products and services. Apple is clearly being held to a higher standard. To a large extent, people don’t know or care if their phones, tablets, or computers aren’t perfect. They just want to use them to get work done without issues requiring convoluted fixes and the threat of viruses. I constantly see people in companies, airports, etc. with their phone’s apps just as they were when it came out of the box plus a few standards like Facebook, News, and Sports. Often people only upgrade when they replace the device with a newer model. Apple has done an great job with this less tech savvy group. For example, Apple stock apps like Mail, Maps, and Calendar are very functional and sync seamlessly between mobile devices and desktop computers. Even more impressive, Apple’s utilities like macOS Time Machine and iOS backup are outstanding. I restored my computer after a rare filesystem problem and an hour later the computer rebooted exactly how it was at the end of the last backup. Try that with Windows or Android. Also, macOS and iOS are mostly secure from online threats. Even the techie Mac users I know don’t run anti-virus software.

Technology breakthroughs don’t have to come on a yearly schedule like clockwork. In an article in 9to5Mac that explored if Apple has become “boring” recently, Ben Lovejoy made the following comment, “It is, of course, a recurring debate – but one often fueled by the myth that Apple was inventing new product categories on an annual basis. We insert here our usual reminder that the Mac was launched in 1984, the iPod in 2001, iPhone in 2007, and iPad in 2010.”

To be fair, Apple has slipped lately. The battery life controversy with the new MacBooks and iPhones, software issues with iCloud, high prices, and other issues are worrisome, but Apple products are still the best option for a large majority of users. So what is behind the anguished screams that seem to be coming from every direction? A future post will focus on the different, but related issue of explosion of fake online news that is fueling the fire. Where has “real news” gone? Even a guy who was helping us with a bathroom tiling job was bragging about becoming a writer for “referral networks” which is just another fancy name for creating fake reviews. Negative articles about Apple make people click on them, generating revenue, so another future post will provide some concrete ways to work around this. Even one of my favorite tech sources has commented on the situation in his own industry. Here’s a quote from the full article.

Combine those two factors and we’re looking at a world where large swaths of the American public (and the rest of the world) will have very bad information about crucial news, because they’ve created their own very bad newspaper. It’s a problem technology has helped create, but it’s hard to see how technology will fix it.

— Peter Kafka

Maybe technology won’t fix it, but making people aware is the first step.

Apple Demonstrates the Problem With Being “Perfect” – Part 2

To continue the short rant that ended Part 1 of this series, Windows 10 is far from perfect and continues with the tradition of bizarre Microsoft design decisions. For example, the “system tray” found on the bottom right of every Windows main screen is full of obtuse software by default including something called the Intel Rapid Storage Manager (don’t touch these settings!), Synaptics Touchpad (I have adjusted my Mac touchpad once in four years), Lenovo Solution Center (an oxymoron), McAfee Anti-Virus, etc. McAfee is a joke in itself, more like buying a used car than software.

On the other hand, macOS shows only Bluetooth status by default. Also, high end Windows machines aren’t cheap anymore either. Microsoft’s Surface Book is pushing $2,200 and has several serious issues.

In the world of mobile operating systems, people threatening to jump ship from iOS to Android should read the balanced, well written article: “What I Learned about My iPhone After Switching to the Google Pixel.” The author sums up his experience with Google most recent phone by saying, “If you’re predisposed towards Android, or don’t enjoy iOS, the Pixel presents a superb overall experience… For now though, even though I’m still carrying around my Pixel, my iPhone remains my main device.” I have a Android Nexus 6 phone that I keep updated and I came to exactly the same conclusion. Even Google’s flagship phone from last year, the Nexus 6P, is experiencing a software problem (boot loop) so severe that it disables the phone completely. The thread on Reddit has almost 500 comments. If the iPhone had the same problem… Ugh, I shudder to think of the media frenzy. “Coincidentally,” the Pixel XL with 128 GB is EXACTLY the same price as the iPhone 7+ with 128 GB, $869. So much for Android being the less expensive option.

Finally, since I love acoustics, I found this article to be a fascinating glimpse into what happens when people stray away from the closed systems that Google has created: “An Audiophile Switches From iOS to Android.” His conclusion, “My journey from iOS to Android on a Google Pixel phone has been frustrating with respect to audio playback… Google could make all of this a nonissue, but based on the company’s responses, I don’t have a good feeling the company will ‘Do the right thing.'” By contrast, his iOS audiophile configuration is straightforward: Lightening Connector to USB, then the DragonFly USB DAC.

So where does that leave Apple in the wild world of consumer electronics? We will see in Part 3 of this series!

Apple Demonstrates the Problem With Being “Perfect” – Part 1

Welcome to 2017! It would be great to start the year with a post about Apple creating the next generation of breakthrough products and providing them at reasonable prices, but unfortunately 2016 was rough. To make matters worse, lately the news has been sounding like Chicken Little, “The sky is falling!” Even the smallest complaints are being screamed from the rooftops. Last month’s Monthly Recap explored this in detail, but with the continuing deluge of negativity, it’s worth taking a step back to try to see the big picture.

In short, Apple is a victim of its own success. For the past decade, every year has brought another industry changing product or feature. The video of Steve Jobs’ iPhone 1 unveiling is a reminder of how revolutionary it was and still is. So much so that the rest of the industry is just not beginning to catch up. This dominance has made Apple a favorite target for critics, which begs the question: Why does Apple have to supply a continuous stream of “perfect products” when nobody else does? ReCode’s article, “All Apple gave us in 2016 was a thinner iPhone, a touch bar, and too many dongles” paints a bleak picture, but where consumers are spending their money sends a different message. Other tech news sources wrote recently, “Huge demand for Apple’s ‘boring’ iPhone 7 may lead to Apple’s highest revenue in history” and “From Apps to iPhones: Holiday Shoppers Invest in Apple.”

Maybe Apple products are becoming boring, but they’re profitable workhorses. I’m currently using an “ancient” 2012 MacBook Pro which feels almost as fast as it did four years ago and still runs the most current version of MacOS. It’s so good that a year ago, Cult of Mac wrote a post, “Why is Apple’s ancient 2012 MacBook Pro still so popular?” By comparison, a brand new Windows 10 machine that I purchased for a specific project last month already has had a two hour “anniversary” upgrade and still constantly bombards me weekly with forced update notifications requiring a reboot. The anniversary upgrade took so long that I almost turned it off midway through (which would have been a disaster). The 2012 MacBook took less than a half hour for its most recent major upgrade.

The next part of this series will look at Apple in relation to the other major players in the tech world: Microsoft and Google. Certainly some of the recent criticism is warranted, but how much?