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.

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.

Keynote Diversity

After much anticipation, the opening keynote for WWDC 2018 has been and gone, with numerous announcements surrounding performance, privacy, security and new features across all four of Apple’s software platforms.

Whilst many in the media have covered the numerous features and improvements that Apple announced (and whether it’s an exciting or ‘quiet’ year), there is one particular element of this keynote that I think deserves more attention.

Yesterday’s keynote included more women than just about any Apple keynote that I can remember. These women were not just brought on stage in a tokenistic or symbolic manner; they were brought onto the stage to discuss enhancements that they have worked on or directed themselves. The effort actually to include women began in 2015 (later than it should have been), with Jennifer Bailey (Apple Pay) and Susan Prescott (Apple News). This year, a female presenter named Jules even demonstrated new watchOS features whilst on an exercise bike in front of the crowd, finishing her segment with an ‘I love you’ message to her daughter.

Jules demonstrates watchOS 5 Workout app features. (Apple, 2018)

This is an outstanding display of company diversity and sets a fantastic example for all companies. Beyond the question of gender diversity, it also continues Apple’s trend of introducing developers and users to different people in the organisation. Back when Steve was in charge, he was often responsible for directing the entire show. Since Tim took the helm, he has adopted the role of ‘keynote bookender’, simply beginning and ending the presentation and allowing others to step forwards. This has enabled the company to highlight the hard work of many of its employees and avoid the reliance on one personality for the company’s overall success and image.

Furthermore, the videos prior to and at the end of the keynote showed a diverse range of developer stories, both in terms of gender and ethnic background.

I hope that Apple maintains its efforts in displaying a healthy mix in its public presentations. The ultimate goal is an even more diverse workforce and company leadership, the latter of which is already on the way to significant improvement with the addition of women over time such as Angela Ahrendts, Katherine Adams, Lisa Jackson, Isabel Ge Mahe and Deirdre O’Brien.

WWDC 2017 Keynote Rundown

Earlier this morning, Apple held the opening keynote of its 2017 Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), with 6000 attendees and many viewers via livestream around the globe.

Usually a software-focused event, this keynote ended up being much, much more. Not only were there announcements for each of Apple’s software platforms (tvOS, watchOS, macOS and iOS), but also refreshed MacBooks, MacBooks Pros and iMacs, an entirely new iMac Pro, beefed-up iPad Pros and an entirely new product: HomePod.

To save you the hassle of reading all of Apple’s marketing material, here’s a quicker rundown of what was announced…

Software

tvOS

Apple’s software platform for the Apple TV, whilst quite easy to use and with its own App Store, hasn’t always received the most love and attention. This tradition (of sorts) continued at the keynote this morning, with the only major announcement being the addition of the Amazon Prime Video service to tvOS. Perhaps the greatest issue that has plagued Apple’s efforts in the lounge room space has been the confirmation of new content deals, particularly for its new TV app. With this new development, it’s exciting to see Apple filling the gaps. No other software developments were announced for tvOS, but I anticipate that we will continue to receive more refinements in the future, such as the fantastic dark mode and quick scrolling that have been delivered in recent updates to the platform. A renewed focus on gaming would also push people to engage more with the device, as they have done so willingly on iPhones and iPads.

watchOS

watchOS 4 Siri Watch FacesThis is the platform that I was perhaps most excited to hear about prior to the keynote. Since the initial announcement of Apple Watch in 2014, Apple has come a long way in how it defines and sells its wrist-worn product. Whilst originally pitched as more of a communications device (think Digital Touch),  last year watchOS 3 redefined the watch as a health and notifications tool. Building on this, watchOS 4 focuses on improved watch faces, app design and notifications, particularly for health and activity. Users can expect a new kaleidoscope face, Toy Story character watch faces and (perhaps the most useful) Siri watch face, which dynamically adjusts a range of scrolling complications that provide personal updates and link to each relevant application.

Activity notifications have also received a boost, with improved tracking and reminders giving watch users greater motivation and information about movement throughout their day. The dock and Music and Workout apps have also received update user-interfaces, making them easier to use on a small display.

This is only a preview of what is to come, however, and I anticipate that yet more features will be added once new hardware has been announced. The watch category is still in its infancy, and new hardware sensors and expanded battery will no doubt lead to further software features.

macOS

macOS High Sierra Photos

In a similar style to earlier ‘refinement’ updates (think Leopard to Snow Leopard, Lion to Mountain Lion), Apple has updated macOS Sierra to High Sierra. This also continues the naming theme of famous locations in California, which began with OS X Mavericks.

High Sierra extends apps such as Notes, Mail, Safari and Photos, adding speed, navigation and feature improvements, such as autoplay-blocking, more professional editing functions, external editor support and privacy enhancements like ‘Intelligent Tracking Prevention’ while browsing the Web.

Although likely boring for most end-users, but actually incredibly significant, High Sierra sees the introduction of the new Apple File System (APFS) to the Mac. APFS dramatically improves system performance, so things like writing, moving, copying and pasting files take much less time. The speed difference was very noticeable during the presentation, and when coupled with developments such as HEVC video, graphics improvements and new VR capability, this is a fantastic update for professional Mac users.

iOS

iOS 11 iPhone and iPad Pro.jpg

Saving perhaps the biggest update for last, iOS 11 will bring a truckload of new features when it’s released later this year. It’s actually easier to list just some of these as bullet-points:

  • enhanced iPad features, such as a customisable dock, multi-touch drag-and-drop and better app switcher;
  • a dedicated Files app for drastically improved file management;
  • a new ARKit for developers, bringing new augmented reality features to games, apps, camera functions and more;
  • improved Siri, with enhanced voices, more natural language and translation support;
  • advanced editing features for Live Photos, including loop, bounce and long-exposure effects;
  • Apple Pay money transfer wth friends via an iMessage app;
  • a new ‘Do Not Disturb While Driving’ feature for safer driving;
  • an entirely redesigned App Store and iMessage App Store;
  • Maps enhancements with lane guidance and indoor mall mapping; and
  • an improved, one-page Control Centre with better 3D Touch support.

iOS 11, in many ways, completes the professional enhancements that began in iOS 9. With more productive features for iPad Pro, users will now have access to much more powerful multitasking and file management, making it a much more convincing replacement for the laptop.

Hardware

Over the past few years, we have seen fewer and fewer hardware announcements at WWDC, with events in March, September and October often used for the unveiling of new Macs, iPads and iPhones. This year saw a reversal of that trend.

Mac

iMac Pro

Certainly one of the biggest concerns from the pro and developer community in recent times as been that Apple has lost enthusiasm for the Mac. As more consumers flock to portable devices, and even in many cases use only a smartphone day-to-day, the Mac has seemed like the forgotten child of the line-up. Consider the delayed Mac Pro and somewhat mixed reaction to the Touch Bar, and anyone of a ‘pro level’ has had at least some cause for concern. (Frankly, I believe that most average users don’t care about this, but as much of the online discussion is held by enthusiasts, the view of this situation has become overwhelmingly negative.)

Well, today was a big reassurance to all who might have thought that Apple no longer cared about the Mac. With new Intel Kaby Lake speed bumps to the MacBook and MacBook Pro, as well as more powerful iMacs, Apple has shown that it can still keep the Mac up to date.

What is most interesting, however, is the addition an entirely new Mac: the iMac Pro. Long-rumoured and much-discussed online, the iMac Pro takes the well-known all-in-one design, but adds considerable processor, RAM and graphics upgrades, with a new space grey finish. This is clearly Apple’s way to address the ‘prosumer’ market, or in other words: more serious consumers who aren’t necessarily hell-bent on purchasing a more modular system like earlier Mac Pros. This new iMac Pro, available later in the year, should satisfy many creative professionals who thirst for a minimalist desk set-up.

iPad Pro

iPad Pro.jpg

As iPad sales have continued to fall over the years, Apple has tried many things to reinvigorate and redefine the category, including iPad minis, iPad Airs, price adjustments and more. The most recent strategy, however, has perhaps the greatest chance in pushing the iPad as a full-blown personal computer. Significant speed increases, brighter displays and a new 10.5-inch version with new productivity features in iOS 11 now all position this portable category as much more attractive work machines.

HomePod

HomePod.jpg

Easily the most rumoured announcement of all, Apple finally unveiled its newest product, the HomePod. Pitched as a high-end competitor to devices such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home, the HomePod combines home automation, voice assistance, quality sound and wireless audio connection and playback (think Sonos).

The particularly interesting thing about the HomePod is Apple’s emphasis on its music cred, even describing it as being a kind of resident ‘musicologist’ in your home. This product ultimately feels like a rethink of the original iPod Hi-Fi, brought into 2017 with wireless enhancements, Siri capability and integration with Apple Music. When compared to the Amazon Echo and Google Home, the HomePod is a much more fashionable, homely device (available in two colours), but it remains to be seen how well it will compete. Products like the Echo and Home are fairly well-established and have less friction for third-party device integration than Apple’s secure HomeKit platform. Also, the HomePod will only be available in three countries (US, UK and Australia) in December December, with more markets in 2018. Apple’s strength, however, is likely to be in its premium push, existing service ecosystem and superior multi-lingual support for Siri.

Conclusion

Rumours were rampant for this event, but Apple did not disappoint. Following much anxiety from Apple analysts, bloggers and creative professionals, the company managed to address pretty much every area in which it was accused of falling behind, adding meaningful software enhancements and announcing a number of hardware refreshes. Judging from previous WWDC keynotes, it was far more likely that only a small handful of hardware announcements would have been made.

I’m particularly curious to see how the iPad performs as a segment. As time goes by, the iPad seems to be settling into a longer product refresh cycle, like the Mac. iPads are so good, that many users do not feel the need to update their tablets for at least a few years. Will the enhancements in iOS 11 for iPad Pro be enough to motivate people to upgrade, as well as ditch their laptops? I’m convinced of its power as a productivity and creative content machine, but I’m not so sure about other consumers. In my mind, many average users still consider tablets like the iPad to be consumption devices, not tools for productivity, even if they are more than capable of it.

What’s important today is that Apple has shown that it can chew gum and walk at the same time, even whilst moving 12,000 employees into a newly-constructed campus. I can’t wait to get my hands on these new software updates in Spring and am eager to see what the rest of the year holds.

Image credits: Apple 2017

On the Mac for Switchers

Following Apple’s recent summit with journalists on the future of the Mac Pro line, Macworld contributor and podcaster Dan Moren wrote a great piece on the versatility of the Mac mini (the company’s cheapest desktop computer). This device has always been a bit of an oddball in the line-up — originally intended as a low-price option to entice Windows PC switchers to the Mac ecosystem.

psp-mini-hero-macmini_2x
Mac mini (2014)

The conundrum for Apple has always been that Windows users may be reluctant to spend their savings an expensive, all-in-one Mac. The mini, which has always been sold without a screen, keyboard or mouse, was designed to fit in with people’s existing desk set-ups. Over time, the mini has been used in a number of ways by different types of user. Sure, switchers have taken advantage of the machine, but it has also become a favourite of certain Mac enthusiasts as a TV-connected media player or even in professional server situations.

In 2014 (when the mini was last updated), it lost its faster, quad-core option and the ability to upgrade RAM in the base of the machine was also removed. Many were upset about these changes, which is understandable due to the product’s changing meaning and use cases since its introduction in 2005. Also, like the 2013 ‘trash can’ Mac Pro, it has been neglected for some time, leaving users doubtful about its future in the Apple product line.

I bought the 2014 Mac mini as a refurbished machine in 2015, and have been thrilled with it ever since. With a 1 TB Fusion Drive option, I have plenty of space for my content, whilst still enjoying great speed across a variety of more basic and demanding apps with the SSD section on the drive. Boot-up is quick and I rarely see apps bouncing in my dock upon launch. Of course, quad-core processors and the ability to increase the RAM even more would be great, but it in no way restricts my personal use.

As far as the future of this product goes (other than discontinuation, which I hope will not be the case), I think there are two ways that Apple could deal with it. First, Apple could bump up the processors and retain the same case design. Whilst a tad large for ‘mini’ for 2017, this could help to keep the price down. Faster processors and an upgrade to two or three USB-C ports (like Dan Moren suggested), would make it more relevant in an industry that is moving to the new standard. A low price with some new components would make this a much more appealing product for price-conscious switchers or even those who want to use it as a media centre in their lounge rooms.

Second, and also more salivating of an idea, would be Apple redefining ‘mini’ for this desktop product. With more people using their mobile devices like iPhones and iPads as primary computers, Apple could spark new interest in the desktop space with a significantly smaller, SSD-based Mac. At a fraction of the size and with cooler operation, Apple could make a pocket-sized Mac that can be picked up easily and transported between different desk set-ups.

I don’t think this second option is necessarily likely, but it’s good fun to think about how Apple will move forwards in the desktop space, particularly with its break from conventional secrecy with its Mac Pro plans. Pros don’t only use the Mac Pro or upgraded iMacs; they also use devices like the Mac mini for servers, media players or perhaps even as computers for their kids. Showing a greater interest in the versatility and design of this machine would be further evidence of Apple’s commitment to desktop users, increasing options for those new to and experienced in the Apple ecosystem. As a long-time Mac enthusiast who loves his mini, I’m very keen to see what the future holds for the desktop in a world of mobile devices.

Image credit: Apple (2014)

Ad: ‘Sticker Fight’

Undoubtedly, one of the most exciting changes to come in iOS 10 last year was the updated Messages app. iMessage apps, screen animations, tapbacks and Digital Touch sketches have really strengthened an already fantastic service from Apple, making it even more integral to the broader ecosystem.

Perhaps the greatest addition, however, was stickers. Easily downloaded from the iMessage App Store within the Messages app, stickers have added a whole new level of fun to iOS messaging. Of course, there are many free and priced options. I certainly use this feature a lot with my family, friends and fiancée. Trash Doves, cutiefood, Dancing Food and the Star Wars packs are particular favourites of mine.

To spread the word further about how cool these stickers are, Apple has made a great ad that reflects the fun of using them. Check it out below, and if you haven’t gotten into iMessage stickers yet, then you should definitely do something about that.