Photo Metadata on iOS

With the recent announcement of new 11- and 12.9 inch iPad Pro models, there have been many thoughts flying around online about what does and does not make the iPad a pro machine. There has been a particular focus on elements such as file management and the inability to connect external volumes to the new USB-C port. To me, this will certainly arrive in a future iOS release… Apple would not have replaced Lightning with USB-C on the iPad Pro if it weren’t serious about the iPad as a productivity device. We’re getting there.

For some time, I have been wishing for a particular feature set to be added to iOS, which unfortunately I think is much less likely: the ability to edit image metadata in the Photos app, such as keywords, titles and descriptions. Photos on iOS already has an impressive range of features based on machine learning, such as facial and object recognition, memories and even synchronisation with contact and calendar information to organise photos automatically. With this in mind, I would assume that Apple deems such manual image management as redundant on iOS.

As an example of when this would be useful, this week my wife and I received our wedding photos from our hired professional photographer. She (the photographer) did a fantastic job of culling and editing the selection before giving it to us, however, I wished to add precise locations to our over 800 photos. Also, rather than just dumping them into an album, which I could easily do on iOS, I wanted to include keywords and descriptions, so that they are all easily searchable in the main ‘Years > Collections > Moments’ interface. All of this still has to be done on a Mac, as no native interface exists for this on iOS. Whilst this process certainly isn’t a chore on the Mac and I have no real issue with it, it’s an example of functional inconsistency that could easily be resolved by Apple. Since my images are synchronised across all of my devices with iCloud Photo Library, it’s only logical that I should be able to interact with and adjust these photos in the same way on each device. There are third-party apps that can achieve this but I don’t wish to risk my data privacy.

In its promotional videos, Apple has shown how its new iPad Pro models attach to other devices via USB-C… imagine connecting a DSLR, importing photos and having full, manual control over their metadata. That sounds like a pro activity.

Some people wish that iPads had mouse pointers and trackpads; others wish for laptop-style hinges to prop up the display, such as the Brydge keyboard. These are major design points that can change the entire interaction model of the device (for better or worse). They’re interesting to consider but much of what makes the iPad so enjoyable is that it is a versatile slab of glass. Its minimalism and difference from traditional computers are the things that make it so fun to use.

To me, it comes down to the finer points of software consistency. I don’t want to have to choose which device I pick up based on what it can or can’t do; I want to choose which device I pick up based on how I want to use it: touch or pointer. If Apple can address such niggling points and offer consistent app experiences across its devices, this will see the iPad’s pro status confirmed. With the addition of pro apps such as Adobe’s upcoming Photoshop on iPad, I’m hopeful that we will start to see a new era of feature parity across iOS and macOS.

Australia vs. the Arts

I was browsing the Apple News app today when I came across this fantastic piece in The New York Times: ‘Is the Way Australia Funds the Arts a Recipe for Mediocrity?’.

Overall, the article explains how Australia lacks the funding and vision to encourage consumption of its own culture and artistic works. I couldn’t agree with this more and I’d love to go out on my own tangent here. (Make sure that you check out the full article though…)

Two major points stand out to me in the piece. The first is the matter of cultural cringe:

“Cultural cringe — in part, the tendency to overvalue the culture of Europe and North America and undervalue Australia’s own — lingers, many Australians in the arts argue. This, they say, plays into why the 28 majors, who mostly concentrate on traditional art forms and repertoire, are still so revered by those who manage government funding.

Professor Meyrick said that cultural cringe has lessened over the years, as Australia gained more confidence on the global stage. Yet this attitude is “still hard-wired into the administration of culture.”

I see evidence of this all the time. With friends and colleagues, discussions about television programmes and film always default to American productions. If mentioned shows are Australian, they’re almost always in the realm of reality TV. There is so much to be enjoyed on the government-funded free-to-air networks such as the ABC and SBS, with a multitude of home-grown drama, news, comedy and documentaries. Don’t even get me started on whether people go to theatres to see Australian plays. Such theatregoers do exist–I don’t wish to generalise–but it’s certainly not the norm.

Read on for the second point of note:

“Fundamental to the debate over funding is that Australia as a nation prioritizes sports over the arts. The last federal budget allocated nearly $75 million more to the Australian Sports Commission than to the Australia Council. According to a 2017 study by the broadband network N.B.N., Australians watch around 60 million hours of sports at home per week—about 2 and a half hours per person.

By contrast, some Australians regard the arts with suspicion, said Christopher Tooher, executive director of the annual Sydney Festival. Fifteen years ago, he said, the newly elected head of the government in the state of New South Wales felt the need to reassure the public that he was ‘a footy man’, referring to Australian Rules football, the national sport, ‘not an opera man’.”

The nation’s obsession with sport (particularly domestic sports such as rugby league, cricket and Australian rules football) is tiresome. Not only does it take too much time as a regular segment on daily news programmes, it swallows up other important spheres of daily life.

Perhaps my clearest memory of this fixation on sport is my time as a student in primary and high school assemblies. There were other extra-curricular activities for kids, such as debating, drama, photography, film cultural exchanges and vocational training, however, all assemblies contained at least 15 minutes of monotonous sport reports, as athletic school heroes were paraded in front of the bored school population. I never felt personally affected by this (other than lapsing in attention), but I am sure that others who were also not that athletic felt completley insufficient, as they were forced to watch the latest swimming champion was placed on a glorious pedestal.

Later, during my tertiary education (and even today), I frequently heard people say, “Oh, such-and-such is just doing an arts / creative arts degree because she/he didn’t know what else to do”. In general, the arts discipline and other creative fields are regarded as paths to zero employment. Areas such as sport, STEM and business are the ultimate symbols of success. The greatest leaps forward in society have in fact almost always come from the arts, whether from philosophers, sociologists, playwrights or musicians.

What’s particularly sad to me is that this attitude towards the arts has become so dismal, that it has even made it into an international American newspaper. I wish the Australian mainstream would turn its gaze to the wonderful pool of artistic talent in this country, spurring not only demand for Australian content but also increased funding.

Antipodean Antics

Australian politics has now been a downright mess for a decade, with elected leaders placing more emphasis on personality over policy. Legislation on issues such as energy, immigration, communications and industrial relations (amongst many other things) has lacked any real direction or conviction. Essentially, we have been living with a revolving door of parliamentary mediocrity, with leadership spills in each of the major parties. This time, it seems that Prime Minister Turnbull of the conservative Liberal-National Coalition is facing the chopping block. This fantastic article shared by the ABC from The Conversation details how ideological division and a massive leadership vacuum formed in the modern Liberal Party

Album: ‘Eternal Nightcap’

As I become more of a crusty, old curmudgeon (now at the ripe, old age of 26), I’m becoming increasingly intolerant of much of the popular music that is released today.

I often spend time thinking about what defines my musical taste and which particular genres I enjoy most… it can be difficult and is highly dependent on the mood of any given day.

An album to which I frequently listen for relaxation and general nostalgia is the great Eternal Nightcap by Australian band The Whitlams. Released in 1997, its lead single No Aphrodisiac took first place in national radio station Triple J’s Hottest 100 at the time and took the band to a high level of Australian reverence. It also features a fantastic trio of related songs under the shared moniker of Charlie, all of which deal with issues such a substance abuse and depression. There’s even a fantastic cover of Bob Dylan’s classic Tangled up in Blue.

When most people think of classic Australian bands, they mention names such as AC/DC, INXS, Midnight Oil and other typical rock outfits. To me, The Whitlams are the quintessential Australian group. Diverse in sound, cheeky and at times dry in their lyrics, they capture a feeling that makes sense to both urban and regional audiences, driven by precise piano melodies.

It’s hard to pin the band to a particular genre… kind of pop-rock, sort of folk, semi-alternative and at times easy listening and funk. Frontman Tim Freedman’s vocals are often not even akin to traditional singing; I would call his style ‘rhythmic enunciation’.

This album has always been a favourite of mine and was a staple in many long road trips when I was a child in the back seat of the family car. If you’re not familiar with the band and are after something that’s a bit different, check out this album.

Podcast: ‘When work stops working’

One of the major topics in the world of work today is the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ or in other words, the current wave of digital automation. As computers and artificial intelligence become more complex and capable, many humans are (and will continue to be) replaced by robots and other digital systems.

Whenever I’ve heard businesspeople discuss this current revolution, it’s often expressed with an unmistakable sense of optimism…

“Think of the benefits! People won’t have to work as much anymore.”

“There will be huge efficiency gains.”

“So many new jobs will be created because someone will have to maintain the robots!”

Those are some of the typical lines that are trotted out by companies today.

I’ve never really been satisfied with any of these assertions, as they always seem to be delivered by people in high-up, managerial positions. Current CEOs and top-level managers get to enjoy their profit today and are unlikely to be affected by future automation. As the global population grows, there is a chance that not everyone will be addressed. Also, not everyone has the intelligence or inclination to become an advanced software developer or robot maintenance specialist. No amount of carry-on about the coding revolution in schools will convince me of that.

I was very pleased to listen to a recent episode of ABC RN’s The Philosopher’s Zone, titled ‘When work stops working’, which deals with some of the issues of modern work. Whilst it doesn’t (and can’t possibly) offer all the answers, it deals with the questions of what work means today in a more considered, philosophical and ethical fashion. Where are we heading? What are the ethics to consider? In a world where no one has to work, how is wealth distributed fairly? How can we change the culture of work? I’m definitely not entirely pessimistic about the future—change is good and inevitable—but the conversation needs to go deeper.

Source: ABC Australia

If you’ve ever wondered what work is actually for, have a listen to the episode. Work is such a major part of our society and it goes on to influence individuals’ personal identities. We should all take much more notice of how our jobs shape our lives.

iPhone Photography Awards 2018

The winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards were announced this week and the included images are nothing short of breathtaking. From the artistic to the tragic, they all leave a very strong impression.

Source: Mateusz Piesiak/IPPA

What is perhaps most impressive as you scroll down the list and tap on each one, however, is the handsets that were used to shoot these images. Not all photos were taken with a recent iPhone X or 8 Plus; many were taken on older SE, 6s and even 5S models.

This made me reflect on just how different the art of photography is today and it’s now easy to pinpoint when this change began. We’ve just passed the tenth anniversary of the release of the iPhone 3G, which was the first truly international iPhone after the US-only first-gen model in 2007. The 3G brought the launch of the now mammoth iOS App Store along with it and at the time, it sported only a two-megapixel camera. It wasn’t even capable of taking video—a typical Apple feature omission, as when certain features aren’t up to scratch, they’re just chopped and included when ready.

The iPhone 3G was the first iPhone that I ever owned and I have bought multiple new models since. Whilst apps, messaging and full Web browsing were amazing, it was the camera that really resonated with me at the time. The idea that you had a decent camera with you everywhere that you went and that the camera came with its own pinch-to-zoom photo studio was flabbergasting.

Seeing what such tiny cameras are capable of today is a sign of just how far we’ve come since 2008. Improved aperture, secondary lenses, native software enhancements and third-party camera apps on iPhone have led many to leave their DSLR cameras at home. This is undoubtedly why Apple has so strongly pushed its yearly Shot on iPhone campaign and new support and tutorial pages. Not everyone needs a DSLR to capture the world with such precision and realistic colour; an iPhone does the job nicely indeed.

Considering all of this, check out the beautiful winning photos and maybe even take the time to look back at your own photo library from the last 10 years. Has your smartphone changed the way that you take photos? Do you take more or fewer? How do you organise them? Do you share them online? Most importantly, do you back them up? I doubt highly that there is a single person on the planet who has been untouched by the influence of the modern smartphone camera.

Never take the empowering technology in your pocket for granted.

The Conversation: ‘Apple acknowledges the iKid generation…’

Writers Michael Cowling and James Birt put together this great article on The Conversation, which is all about how Apple is tackling excessive use of its devices with the upcoming iOS 12 release later this year.

The authors discuss the powerful features that are coming in the form of ‘Do Not Disturb at Bedtime’, Screen Time app usage measurements and customisable notifications.

What stands out particularly to me, however, is this section:

And this week at WWDC, they [Apple] appeared to acknowledge some responsibility for creating balance in their lives… Parental controls can be activated through Family Sharing. They allow parents to put limits on their kids [sic] usage of individual apps, while allowing unlimited use of education apps.

Parental controls have existed in iOS for some time; it is great that Cowling and Birt are explaining the improvements that are being made in this space.

Parental Controls Icon
Parental Controls icon (Apple)

It is the idea of responsibility though that I find most interesting. Responsibility does fall on Apple to ensure healthy use of its devices, however, I believe that some parents just aren’t aware of these functions or even lack the interest in using them. More often than not, I visit restaurants where parents can be seen placating their children at the dinner table with iPads, iPhones and other competing devices.

For many, these devices have become digital babysitters. I applaud the (albeit late) effort to really enhance this functionality for families, but I believe that Apple should put even greater effort into promoting these tools, even if it takes incredibly annoying splash screens post-update or even TV and online advertisements.

Consumers (and particularly parents) are often the first to voice their annoyance with things like in-app purchases, games and children’s data privacy. Not all responsibility falls on tech companies; it is shared. I hope that adults themselves use these tools and make changes to their app usage behaviour, so that they can make better decisions and boundaries when it comes to their kids’ use of devices and apps.