iOS Grows Up Part 1

In a few short years, mobile operating systems have transformed modern society. The younger generations have for the most part skipped laptop and desktop computers and rely on mobile devices for all their online activities. From social media to messaging to watching hours of video, the small screen is the focus of their attention. Of course, voice calling is reserved for parents and emergencies while, depending on the country, SMS Messaging (and iMessage), Facebook (and Messenger), WhatsApp, Snapchat, WeChat, Instagram, Kik, etc. dominate their online lives. Written words replace spoken conversations, photos (selfies) convey more complex emotions, and short ephemeral videos entertain and inform. On a larger scale, YouTube has replaced network television, streaming music has replaced radio, and personalized recommendations from “influencers” trumps traditional advertising.

In this brave new world, the debate between iOS and Android rages on. How can Apple survive when 80% of the smartphone market is Android? It’s a classic question asked of every premium brand that exists successfully in the marketplace. Why buy a BMW when a Camry is excellent, reliable transportation? Why buy designer clothes when Target has great styles for less? It boils down to a few things that Apple does extremely well. First is excellent hardware, especially the iPhone camera. The second is a fanatical attention to software details including usability, security, a constant stream of innovations, and a massive, high quality App Store. They are also able to appeal a wide range of users. Millennials love advanced iMessage features such as group messaging, stickers, apps, emoji, and now the animated Animoji feature of the iPhoneX. Casual users find the default iPhone setup out of the box easy to adapt to. Add the Facebook app and email account information and they are happy. Photos (and the iPhone in general) get backed up to iCloud, messaging just works, and emailing is painless. To be fair, these features of Android are also easy to setup, but the experience is tainted by a wide variety of strange problems even with the most popular phones. Samsung phones ($849 for the S8) have the controversial “TouchWiz” user interface, Google Pixel ($949 for the XL 2) features a “clean, bloat-free experience with no unwanted apps” (a feature?!, a reaction to Samsung?), and even flagship phones like LG V30 ($800) get released with major flaws (a bad screen).

So to answer the question posed at the end of the last post, “How can Apple possibly survive giving something this valuable away for free?” The answer is simple, free iOS upgrades are one of the primary reasons people choose iOS over Android. It’s like getting a new phone every year without the cost of purchasing new hardware.

iOS users can rely on the fact that their product will be supported at no extra charge for at least three years. That means new features, security updates, and compatibility with other Apple products as soon as the update is released. By contrast, even flagship Android phones cannot be upgraded until the carrier “approves” the update which is sometimes several months later (if ever). Google Pixel phones are guaranteed to get updates immediately, but that’s a small part of the Android world.

So what did iOS users get with iOS 11 that demonstrates that it is growing up? Hang tight, that’s the topic of the next post and it straddles a different line, the blurring line between the desktop and mobile worlds.

My First Week Not Using the New iPhone X

Nope, that is not a typo. I’m really not using the new iPhone X and it really is an unusual event because I’ve purchased a new iPhone every year since the 3G. I remember it like it was yesterday. In 2008, while waiting in line at the Apple Store in Santa Monica for hours to buy my first iPhone, I spoke to several people near me. One was a neurosurgeon, another was a musician covered in tattoos, and a couple were computer science students from nearby UCLA. Despite our differences, we all agreed that the iPhone was going to conquer the mobile world which then consisted of horrible phones like the Blackberry and Windows Mobile based devices. At the time I was using a state of the art Samsung “Blackjack” which I nicknamed the “Crapjack” because it was so bad.

Then, like now, the release of a new iPhone’s was met with immediate criticism. Blackberry wrote it off as an “expensive toy” and Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer laughed at the $500 price tag. The video of him laughing out loud almost has three million views on YouTube.

Fast forward almost 10 years and the iPhone has been a great ride for Apple. It has transformed computing, spawned numerous imitators such as Android, and has brought the Internet to the masses around the world. Personally, working with Apple catapulted my career and transformed the company I worked for. It was certainly no fun visiting them before Steve Jobs returned, but afterwards it was a high octane trip in the Silicon’s Valley’s version of the Autobahn. Each new iPhone model added irresistible features: better cameras, better (and bigger) displays, faster processors, better industrial design, higher WiFi speeds, better security through TouchID, etc.

So why didn’t I buy the biggest and baddest iPhone ever when it was released this week? It has a bigger, better display (OLED!), FaceID, a faster processor, two cameras that are both optically image stabilized, and a whole host of other improvements including a special “image signal processor” in the main A11 CPU that creates special effects like the one below. I took this with an iPhone X in the Apple Store in Phoenix. No special lighting, no special background, in broad daylight just using Apple’s “Stage Light” effect.

The answer is complex. Part of it has to do with the idea that at some point, the iPhone 7+ is “good enough” for 90% of the tasks I use it for. In fact, my phone sometimes sits on my desk the whole day lonely and neglected because the Apple Watch has taken over some tasks and the iPad others. Also, TouchID is still great, the camera is excellent, it has not slowed down with iOS 11, and is not too big for my pockets. It’s a similar story as to why I only recently upgraded my 2012 MacBook Pro (explained at the end of this post). Other reasons include the price. While 64GB for $999 is not unreasonable, it is not enough storage for me, but the next step up is 256 GB for $1,149 which feels like a waste of money because it is definitely too much space. Like Goldilocks, 128 GB is “just right.”

In general, the iPhone X seems to be made for a slightly different use case than mine and the iPhone 8 doesn’t seem like enough of an upgrade to justify the cost either so here I sit for the first time in 10 years without the latest greatest from Apple. Is Apple in trouble? No way! FaceID and other enhancements will probably get me to upgrade my iPad next year and there will certainly be something to lure me into the iPhone 11 eventually. In the meantime, it’s all about the software at the moment and iOS 11 is a major breakthrough for mobile operating systems. How can Apple possibly survive giving something this valuable away for free? Well, that sounds a topic for the next post. Stay tuned!

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.