Tag Archives: apple

Evolution

MacBook Pro Retina unboxing

At the start of the year, I picked up a MacBook Pro with Retina display. Half late-graduation present, half-birthday present to myself. It’s the best Mac I’ve ever used, but then again, why wouldn’t it be?

I mean, you would think that given the innumerable and considerable technology advancements since the last time I purchased a Mac (March 2011), that any new Mac would improve upon every aspect of my previous Mac and then some. I don’t know about you, but I would definitely be questioning what the tech industry was doing if there were regressions of any kind.

Thankfully, there aren’t. I’m excited to say that the MacBook Pro with Retina display gets pretty damn close to my perfect machine. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted from a portable Mac. It’s powerful without being too bulky or heavy. It has great battery life without sacrificing portability, and while it may not be as upgradeable as I’d like (more on this in a bit), that’s a compromise I’m willing to accept for a machine that is otherwise everything I’ve ever wanted out of a personal computer, especially seeing as Apple offer configure-to-order options that satisfy the vast majority of customers, including your truly.

Because specs matter, my MacBook Pro comes with 16GB of RAM and 1TB of flash storage. The amount Apple charge for the 1TB flash storage upgrade borders on the extortionate, but there’s a price for everything, and that was a price I was willing to pay for some of the highest-performing flash storage around. Yes, my new MacBook Pro cost me a pretty penny, but considering this is a computer I’ll be using for hours at a time, every day for the next three to four years, I think the price was pretty reasonable. And since my Retina MacBook Pro now supports 4K displays at 60Hz, I don’t think I’ll be upgrading from this machine any time soon.

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Welcome to AppleTalk →

Last week, I quit MacTalk. Yesterday, I, along with a number of other co-conspirators, launched AppleTalk Australia, a new site for Apple enthusiasts to chat about anything related to Apple.

Yours truly on the welcome post:

So, this is us. A new name, a new front page, a new discussion platform. A fresh start in many respects, and a clean slate in every other. We’ll still be covering all things Apple, Mac, and iOS, and we’ll do so from that unique Australian perspective you’ve come to know and enjoy. For starters, we’ll be taking it slow with a daily news summary from the world of Apple from yours truly. Over time, we’ll add reviews, how-tos, and editorials into the mix, and we’ll see where things go from there.

It’s our own foray into the big, bad world of online publishing. We’re funding the entire thing ourselves for the time being, and once we get something resembling a readership, we’ll look into sponsorships, running ads, or other alternatives for revenue. We’ve put a bunch of effort into it, and it’s turned out pretty well so far — I can only hope it lives up to our readers’, and our own, lofty expectations.

If you’re wondering whether I knew about it before I left MacTalk, the answer is: yes, of course I did. After a number of years writing the daily news, I just wanted something of my own — a property (besides this blog) I could be proud of, one that I could look back on and pat myself on the back about.

The front-end is powered by WordPress, and the forums are powered by Discourse. I’ve been using WordPress for years, but Discourse is an entirely new thing.

Ever since it was introduced, I’ve wanted to work with Discourse. Something about it just seemed like the future of online discussion platforms — and from everything that I’ve seen of it so far, I’m wondering why people are even bothering with the alternatives, the established players in the forum space (phpBB, vBulletin, etc). There’s just so much to love about it that everything else seems outdated by comparison. It’s modern. It’s open-source. I have no experience with Ruby, the language that it’s built with, but thankfully I haven’t had to dive into any code thus far — the admin panel is well-organised and fully featured enough so that hasn’t had to happen.

There are those that think Discourse looks “samey”, and like any default theme, I agree wholeheartedly. We’ve customised the AppleTalk install a little, and it’s amazing what you can do with a splash of colour and a few custom avatars.

As Mr Wells said on the Reckoner podcast (where I spilled the beans about AppleTalk before it was actually live), it’s been a long time since there was a good Apple forum for Australians, by Australians. It’s my fervent hope that AppleTalk becomes that new forum, and I, along with my partners in crime Toby and Bart, am prepared to commit as much as it takes to make that happen.

As they used to say, “this is my next”.

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The iPad mini

iPad mini white

I have this weird thing where I’ll keep a tab open for days, weeks, even months, if there’s something even potentially interesting that I can’t deal with right now, but want to do something with eventually. Before you ask, yes, I have heard of bookmarks, but ask any nerd and they’ll tell you they do a similar thing with their browser tabs. It’s not uncommon to have umpteen tabs open at any one time — and of all the stuff I have backed up, I’d be pretty devastated if I lost all my tabs. I could potentially get them back, but that involves trawling through days, maybe even weeks of internet history.  When you visit as many websites as I do, it’s hard to tell what you had open as a tab and what you were merely browsing out of curiosity.

But I digress. I’ve had two tabs open for close to a year now, and as much as I’ve wanted to write something substantial about the iPad mini, there just isn’t anything worth writing about. Not because the iPad mini is boring or anything, but because I just haven’t been inspired to write anything worth publishing. Because when it comes down to it, the iPad just isn’t as interesting as the HP TouchPad was, back in the day. WebOS was just so bad and so good at the same time, you know?

I’ve owned an iPad mini since it was first released around this time last year. It wasn’t my first tablet, but it is my first iPad. I honestly don’t have anything else to say about it that hasn’t been said elsewhere, but with the new iPad Air coming out riding on the coat tails of the iPad mini, I thought I’d take a moment to write about how I’ve been using it.

I think the most telling thing about the iPad is that it hasn’t replaced my computer. That’s telling because I see a lot of older, mature folk replace their clunky Dells with futuristic, touch-enabled iPads, even if they don’t run the same programs as their old computer used to. Why? I’m not sure, exactly, but at a guess, it has something to do with how intuitive Apple has made iOS (and then turned everything upside down with iOS 7, but that’s for another time).

But as much as I enjoy using the iPad, it hasn’t replaced my computer. If all I’m doing is light web browsing and catching up on my Instapaper backlog, then sure, I’ll pick up the iPad over the MacBook Pro any day; the iPad is lighter, has a much longer battery life, and lets me concentrate on one thing at a time, for the most part. It’s kind of like the Kindle, in that regard. For everything else, there’s the Mac: for switching between any of my umpteen open tabs, writing content into browser text boxes, and doing any other kind of serious work.

I tried writing one of the MacTalk daily news posts on my iPad mini one time, and while it was OK, the software keyboard really hindered the process by needing to switch between the various keyboards to access special characters. I could have worked around the issue by using a hardware keyboard or using an app that offered an extra row of characters, but that would have required a little extra preparation on my part, something I wasn’t able to do at the time.

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My iPhone Home Screen

iphone 5 ios 7 home screen

Updated 1/11/13 for a few more iOS 7 app updates

It’s been a year since the last time I wrote one of these, so I figured it was about time I updated the previous post with everything that’s changed during that time.

IOS 7 brought a massive list of changes, first and foremost of which was a massive overhaul of how everything looks and feels. Some people absolutely hate it, but I like it, for the most part — it makes everything fun.

Anyway, let’s talk about some apps.

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Made in Australia for iOS 7 →

Instead of writing some epic thing about stuff you probably don’t care all that much about anyway, I thought I’d substitute one of my monthly pieces on here for something I wrote over on MacTalk.

I dug up a few apps designed for iOS 7 by Australian app developers, emailed a few guys, and asked some questions.

It took a little longer to write than I would normally spend on the news, but I think it was worth it.

Simplicity

AirPort Extreme

It just so happens there’s a reason people own Apple products.

That reason?

Simplicity.

If there’s a universal truth, it’s that people just want their stuff to work. No mess, no fuss. No one wants to know how their stuff works, they just want it to work every time, like it did the last time. No one really cares how it works — I mean, there’s only so many hours in the day. You could probably point to a dozen or more household appliances that few people could explain the inner workings of. Do you know how your fridge works? Do you know how an oven gets hot? Or how an induction cooktop generates energy? Most people have no idea.

And why? I’m not entirely sure myself, but there’s no reason to care how your microwave heats up your food, just so long as it does it every time you want it to. Magnets are probably involved somewhere in the process, but how many times will I have to take apart my microwave to fix it? Unless I suddenly get  a job as a microwave repair technician, none. Zero. Nada.

But look, I hear you. We’re nerds, and we like to know how stuff works. We like to know the ins and outs of every appliance, every kind of technology we come into contact with. I can understand wanting to know, merely out of pure curiosity, what kind of unfathomable magic makes water boil when no energy is directly transferred as heat that we can feel. (Again, magnets.)

Which is why projects like dd-wrt exist. DD-WRT, for those playing at home, is a totally custom router firmware that includes everything but the kitchen sink. The interface isn’t spectacular, but it’s packed to the gills with functionality, and provided you have the right kind of router to run dd-wrt on, you’re all set. Only a router-specific installation procedure to follow, a few harrowing moments when you might think you’ve bricked your new router, and boom — you’re running the arguably the most powerful third-party firmware out there.

I’ve always been curious about dd-wrt. I learned about it back in high school, I think, and I’ve wanted to play around with a dd-wrt compatible router ever since. I’ve never really had any real need for one, mind you, but it would have been cool to tinker. Just ‘cos, you know?

As it happened, I bought a Nintendo DS lite a little while ago for some old-timey DS games. (OK, Pokémon. But I’ve played other games, too!) The best thing about the DS lite is that it’s the best one available if you want the best combination of backwards-compatibility and, uh, homebrew media; it has an old-school GBA slot for Game Boy Advance cartridges, and with an Acekard or similar, you’re all set for just about any GBA or DS game you could care to name. It’s even better with a flashable GBA card for, uh, homebrew GBA games, but we’ll leave that for another time.

But the worst thing about the DS lite is that it only supports Wi-Fi networks with no encryption, or WEP. Now, I don’t know if you know, but WEP is about as secure as locking up your house with sticky tape. A miniscule deterrent at the most, and a mere inconvenience for anyone actually wanting to see what’s happening on your network.

Which brings us back to dd-wrt. You see, dd-wrt has a cool feature where it can broadcast multiple SSIDs if you have the right hardware. Each of these multiple SSIDs can have their own security settings, and if you really want, you can also choose to route traffic from each of the WLANs separately. Pretty cool if you have your CCNA cert, but otherwise just a hindrance to get some real stuff done.

Anyway, one thing lead to another, and just for fun, I picked up an E4200 wireless router to play with. I saw an Engadget article on the E4200 years ago, and I’ve always wanted one. Not really sure why. After a moderately complex installation process (are all those 30-30-30 resets really necessary?), I had dd-wrt up and running on my E4200.

That was when the real fun began.

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WWDC 2013 Thoughts and Musings

I had an exam so I couldn’t really get up to watch the keynote, but I did watch it earlier today. Since I didn’t get to live-tweet it with a few of my best buddies, I put together a few random thoughts — there’s a great summary of the event over at MacTalk, written by Rémy Numa, but this just what I came up with while watched the keynote earlier today. In somewhat chronological order, but still mostly just Things I Would Have Tweeted If I Was Watching It Live…

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Apple: iPhone, iPad, Mac are better products for most users

The reason I love my iPhone isn’t because it’s made by Apple, it’s simply because I think it’s the best mobile device ever made. And that’s where I’m going with all this — just hang in there, I know there’s probably some cute kitten with overlaid capitalized text on Facebook you’re thinking about checking out. The reason I compare every device to an iPhone is not because it’s an Apple product, it’s because Apple has done something that no other manufacturer in the world has done. Apple has created a product that isn’t a product. It’s a seamless, effortless, enjoyable extension of your computer and your life. In fact, you could now argue that a computer is just an extension of your phone, and you’d be right.

via Apple: iPhone, iPad, Mac are better products for most users.

The iPhone 5

A few weeks before the iPhone 5 was even announced, before all the rumours, part leaks, before all of that, I wondered what I was going to do with my old iPhone 4.

See, I’m on the “good” iPhone cycle: my first iPhone was the 3G, then the 4, and now, the 5. I skipped the first iPhone due to it not being available in Australia, skipped the 3GS due to still being on a contract, and skipped the 4S for the same reason.

For many, this two-year contract cycle is nothing new, the natural progression of things if you’re not a compulsive upgrader, and/or don’t have the funds to buy a new iPhone every year.

In any case, as I pondered what I was going to do with my old iPhone, it dawned on me: why not sell it off and use another phone I had lying around? As I dwelled on this, it began to make more and more sense; by selling the two-year-old iPhone 4 off, I’d get a few dollars more than I would have if I sold it off after the release of the iPhone 5.

Question my committal if you want, but as a test, I pulled out my trusty old Nexus S to see how I’d fare using Android for a few weeks. Jelly Bean had just just been released, you see, and now was as good a time as any to test the latest and greatest Android release, on hardware around the same age as my iPhone 4.

This was my first mistake.

It’s not that I hate Android. Really, it’s not. It’s just that, for me personally, Android doesn’t quite gel as much as iOS does. Things are less fluid. Third party app quality just isn’t there.

But like any curious and “bored with iOS” technology enthusiast, I forged on.

This was my second mistake. For two weeks, it was nothing but constant grating. Me constantly fighting the OS on what I wanted to do versus what it allowed me to do. I’d imagine my experiences with Android during the few weeks of pain would have been an approximation of an abusive relationship of some kind.

Sure, it was stable enough. I only saw a few crashes here and there, mostly from apps labelled as beta in the Play Store. Sure, there were apps available for all the popular things I used on iOS: Twitter, Instagram, Instapaper, and even a Dropbox-syncing, Markdown-supporting, plain text editor.

But the thing is, it’s been a year since I last looked at Android, and I found myself going back to the same apps I used last time around, simply because no better alternatives exist. Actually, that’s not entirely true: there’s now and official Instapaper client for Android. Other than that, the Android app landscape is blacker than black. Where are all the good quality apps?

Suffice to say, my Android experience, Jelly Bean and all, was pretty bad. Two weeks later (I had originally planned to stick it out for at least a couple of months, until the iPhone 5 was out), I was crawling back to my iPhone 4 and begging it to take me back.

In some ways, Android reminds me of the desktop Linux experience. It has its advantages, but probably won’t ever reach mass popularity with non-technology-minded people due to inherent issues with the ecosystem and how things work. Unless its locked down and given a stern talking-to, developers won’t be attracted to it anytime soon. And that means it will stagnate.

But enough about Android and mediocre software experiences combined with stellar hardware specs packaged in the cheapest plastic you’ve ever felt. I’ve since sold off my Nexus S and have acquired the iPhone 5.

It’s amazing.

Thinner. Lighter. Faster. All these verbs are true of the iPhone 5, but I still want to talk about three main aspects which make it all worth it.

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How Google Builds Its Maps—and What It Means for the Future of Everything

Let’s step back a tiny bit to recall with wonderment the idea that a single company decided to drive cars with custom cameras over every road they could access. Google is up to five million miles driven now. Each drive generates two kinds of really useful data for mapping. One is the actual tracks the cars have taken; these are proof-positive that certain routes can be taken. The other are all the photos. And what’s significant about the photographs in Street View is that Google can run algorithms that extract the traffic signs and can even paste them onto the deep map within their Atlas tool.

[…]

Google Street View wasn’t built to create maps like this, but the geo team quickly realized that computer vision could get them incredible data for ground truthing their maps. Not to detour too much, but what you see above is just the beginning of how Google is going to use Street View imagery. Think of them as the early web crawlers (remember those?) going out in the world, looking for the words on pages. That’s what Street View is doing. One of its first uses is finding street signs (and addresses) so that Google’s maps can better understand the logic of human transportation systems. But as computer vision and OCR improve, any word that is visible from a road will become a part of Google’s index of the physical world.

via How Google Builds Its Maps—and What It Means for the Future of Everything – Alexis C. Madrigal – The Atlantic.

A super-cool read on why Google’s Maps product might be the best thing on the web since Google itself (and why it’ll always be better than whatever Apple can come up with in this regard).

Google drove cars practically everywhere — on multiple continents, in different countries, states, territories — and took photos while they were doing it. That’s pretty mind-blowing in and of itself, but when you consider they can then use that information to enhance digital maps back in Mountain View?

Amazing.

Why Does Every PC Notebook’s Trackpad Suck? (Or Why Microsoft Is Building its Own Hardware) | PandoDaily

But when you move away from those machines into computers that are more like appliances, you get the sort of clunkers that now clog the ultrabook market. They’re cheaper than the Air, they have better specs than the Air, and yet—because of things like terrible trackpads—they fall far short of the Air.

via Why Does Every PC Notebook’s Trackpad Suck? (Or Why Microsoft Is Building its Own Hardware) | PandoDaily.