Does Apple really slow your phone down? Perhaps

Lots of  headlines like this in the press this week:

Is Apple intentionally slowing down your old iPhone? The data suggests not

The article reads:

Futuremark collected more than 100,000 benchmarking tests, from the iPhone 5S to the iPhone 7, and averaged the performance of both the processor (CPU) and the graphics chip (GPU) once a month between April 2016 and September 2017 with different versions of Apple’s software from iOS 9 to iOS 11.

According to Futuremark: “iPhone 5S GPU performance has remained consistent from iOS 9 to iOS 11, with only minor variations that fall well within normal levels.”

They’re missing the point. New operating systems don’t get slower because the manufacturer writes codes to throttle down CPUs. The reason new versions of iOS are slower on older hardware is because they do more. To be fair, the article does explain this. iOS 9 on an iPad 2 is almost unusable, it’s certainly a long way from the speed of iOS 4 the iPad two debuted with. Clearly something changes overtime, and CPUs do not wear out over the course of 4 years!

But is it intentional or not? Of course it is. I’m sure there is a business decision made by Apple on how much time to spend optimising software for older devices. It’s a tradeoff. iOS versions are made in less than a year. At some point you have to balance the needs of the ecosystem (having as many users as possible running the latest software), the cost of development, and the needs of users – which includes having a device that runs at an acceptable speed, as well as having the latest security updates and new features.  I’m don’t think it’s a bad tradeoff, but to say a smart company like Apple does this unintentionally doesn’t sit right with me.

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You don’t need a new Apple Watch, but the ecosystem does

I’m not sold on the need for a cellular Apple Watch. While it’s a cool gadget and would be a nice luxury, I really wouldn’t recommend anyone buy it unless they are in the habit of upgrading their watch yearly. (Yes if the idea of upgrading your watch every year sounds ridiculous, that’s because is it.)

Why don’t you need it? Well, you do, just not yet.  The battery seems to be just able to cope with the demands of a 4G connection, and it’s still very limited from a software standpoint. For example, if you dictate a long reply to a message, and the dictation inevitably gets a word wrong, you can’t edit that one word by hand,  you have to say the whole phrase again, or just leave the mistake in and hope the recipient understands you. Guaranteed to loose any kudos on the train you thought that red dot might have given you. Apple will get there of course, but by the time they do, a new model with better battery life and a faster processor will be with us. So while like any technology geek I think it’s a cool gadget and a genius piece of technology, I do feel it makes sense to wait until there’s a better version, unless money is no object of course, or you have an exceptional circumstance that means having a phone on you at all times is a burden you’d rather not carry.

So why have Apple released it now, when it’s probably not ‘as ready’ as they’d like? My guess is that it helps the watch’s neglected app ecosystem. Now all of a sudden, rich people with their cellular Apple Watches are going to want to send WhatsApp messages from their watch. Time to build an app, WhatsApp. The same could be said for lots of the big players who’ve not yet bothered building watch apps. watchOS apps have been able to work somewhat independently from the phone for a couple of years now, by this I mean they can connect to the Internet (via WiFi or the phone), get their data and present it to the user interface without the phone. Original watchOS apps needed the phone for absolutely everything, including updating UI. Twitter and BBC News, to name just a few, still haven’t updated their apps to benefit from this new way of coding apps (which vastly improves performance), but now faced with a user base that doesn’t have their phone with them but expects the app to work, they might feel inclined to.

Is North Korea a distraction?

Gripping article in this week’s New Scientist on the gradual escalation of nuclear arms between the word’s superpowers, and this:

In June 2016, the British submarine Vengeance test-fired a Trident missile, the UK’s nuclear deterrent. Something went badly wrong, and the missile may have veered towards the US.

The missile was not carrying its nuclear warheads and was destroyed. The UK government has remained silent on what might have caused the incident, but “the failed Trident test is consistent with cyber interference,” says Paul Ingram of the British American Security Information Council, a think tank in London.

New Scientist

Some thoughts on the new Apple Watch Series 3

Apple Watch (original)
My favourite gadget

Finally, it’s here – a smartwatch that has it’s own cellular connection and so doesn’t require you have your phone with for it key functionality to work –  while also not looking like an ASBO tag.

I’m impressed that Apple were able to cram this new functionality into a watch that’s almost the same size as the previous generation. The ability to go out for a run, to a gig or to the pub for the evening and leave your phone at home is a game changer.  Being able to listen to music, get directions, take calls and respond to calls without anything on your person is something I imagine to be a very freeing experience. It’s still early days, and I expect the new watch to have significantly worse battery life when the cellular connection is used. Just as the current generation suffers when you use the GPS and heart rate monitoring functionaries, the new models will see less battery life if you use them away from your iPhone a lot of the time. In two or three years time however, when battery and processor efficiency has improved even more, these watches will be capable of  replacing our phones for many of their core uses. Will people want to replace their phones though? No camera, no web browser, no games. I doubt it. Having the option though, can be only a good thing. If you can leave your phone at home more and more often, you might even consider a bigger phone, or just having a tablet-sized device instead of a phone. Or perhaps we’ll just pull down out Apple Glasses when we need a bigger screen.

So will I be upgrading to the Series 3? In short, no. I bought an Apple Watch last year, and I’m going to make it last.⌚️

Trust Me, I’m a Doctor.

I’m beginning to come around to the idea of cancelling my Netflix subscription. With the latest series of House of Cards being, well, dismal, and other new shows starting to feel a bit tied and formulaic (Ozark was good, but it was basically Breaking Bad) it seems to have lost its shine, and don’t get me started on the quality of films available. One additional reason though, is high quality of drama coming out coming out of the BBC these days. The latest of which aired recently:  Trust Me.

About a nurse who fakes her identity to get a job as a doctor, it’s a nail-biting thriller that forces viewers to confront a fear that anybody who’s ever had complex medical treatment or surgery must have had at one point; does the doctor really know what they’re doing?  The subtle social commentary is not lost either, with the nurse’s life in a small terrace house hunting around in her purse for small change transformed into a bourgeois life of a doctor living in a swanky apartment and frequenting dinner parties.

I forget who came up with the adage that in a TV or movie, you can always tell whether a character is well written if you can imagine them staring in their spinoff show. It holds true, and demonstrates the excellent writing in this drama, as indeed most of the secondary characters could hold their own if called upon.

So I recommend anyone who can catch this while it’s available on iPlayer.

The future is not easy

Have you noticed lot of people lecturing about how the near future is going to be full of self-driving cars and robot doctors? The past shows us however, that predicting the future is not easy, and rarely do long-term predictions about technology come true. As this video and article demonstrate fantastically.

Humanoid robots exist alongside err… payphones? I’m still waiting for an electric belt that adapts to bodily and climatic conditions though…

From Insurgent to Blade Runner: why is the future on film always so grim?

Every Valley

Every-Valley-CD-300x225

I’m really enjoying this album from Public Service Broadcasting. A history lesson woven between masterful songs. Songs that tell the story of the rise and fall of the coal mining industry in Wales. The record is so emotional in places, that much like another classic, the Manic Street Preacher’s The Holy Bible, it’s not an album for any occasion – at times it can be very depressing, but this is what makes it so brilliant.

AirPods

When Apple first announced the AirPods there was a lot of hyperbole in the media about them being Apple’s next big ‘wearable’ device. For a company that famously said that speeds an feeds did not matter, there was a of emphasis on the fact these headphones contained a “W1” chip that could do all sorts of smarts other headphones could not.

I use Bluetooth headphones extensively: at work I have a pair of over-the-ear noice cancelling headphones that double up as a headset for making calls. They are excellent at both cancelling the noise around me so I can’t hear it when listening to music, and also at removing external noise so other people can’t hear me when I’m phoning them. I also use a different pair for running – they are average sound quality, but they are sweat proof and let in external noise making them safe for road-running. Both these headsets have an onboard chip: The big ones I use in the office are able to tell me if I start speaking and my microphone is muted, alleviating the frustration of sharing your greatest idea on a conference call and wondering why nobody even acknowledged you. The sports pair aren’t as sophisticated but can tell me how much battery life I have left, telling me there is some smarts going on inside the headphones. So having ‘smarts’ inside a pair of headphones is nothing new. I’m sure they could come up with a brand name for their silicone chips to, but to me, the W1 in the AirPods is meaningless in of itself.

So what makes the AirPods better than any other headphones? It’s the integration between hardware and software – Apple’s usual strength. In this case not only the integration between hardware and software on the AirPods themselves, but also between the AirPods’ software and the iOS device they’re paired to.

My biggest frustration with existing Bluetooth headphones is that they stay connected to my phone when I’m not wearing them. How many times have I tried to use Siri, and realised after 3 attempts that it’s not working because I’ve left my Bluetooth headphones on and they’re still connected but in my gym bag. AirPods solve this beautifully.

The other big problem with Bluetooth that AirPods solve is pairing. Recent Bluetooth headphones are not difficult to pair: there’s no passcode (it was always 0000 anyway so it seemed pointless) it’s just a case of putting the headset into ‘pair mode’ and then choosing it from the Bluetooth menu. Unless you’ve paired it with another device since you last used it with the one you’re trying to use it with now, in which case you need to un-pair and re-pair. Usually you need to see a few error message before you realise this is the case. This of course means if you want to use them with that other device again you’ll need to repeat the process. Not a big hardship, but a small piece of friction that meant I rarely bothered to use my headphones with other devices. AirPods make switching devices as simple as selecting ‘Marc’s AirPods’ from a menu. No pairing, no need to remember about which device I used last. It’s not quite as magic as I had hoped for – it doesn’t just know I’m using an iPad now and so switch automatically, but hey you can’ have everything.

So overall I am impressed with my third set of Bluetooth headphones. The AirPods won’t replace my headset at work for calls, because I need noise cancelling at work. I will use them for running, walking and working out however. They are especially good around the house while doing chores etc. Their frictionless nature means I’ll use them whenever I would have just use the phone’s external speaker before. The quality of phone calls is surprisingly low, making me think Apple’s switching to a different Bluetooth profile or something. Hopefully this will be fixed in a firmware update.

Some other random thoughts:

– Siri is pretty unreliable, it’s generally not worth the hassle. In the rare case that it understands what I meant, the phone will often respond by displaying an answer on the screen, defeating the point of using the headset.
– They seem very secure in the ears.
– They look silly, but so did white earbuds when they first came out.
– i sometimes feel a bit self-conscious when wearing them, especially if I’m on a train wearing an Apple Watch and reading on an iPad. I feel like I’m in an Apple advertisement (though I’m not good looking enough to actually be in one).
– It seems weird that if I go for a run with my Apple Watch, and my iPhone, and use Siri on the AirPods, I can’t start a workout using AirPods because they’re connected to the phone. This says more about Siri’s inconsistencies than the AirPods.
– Opening the case near an iPhone causes a menu to show on the phone with details about the AirPods’ battery life. It doesn’t do this on iPads and Macs, presumably because it needs NFC, which they don’t have, but I’m not sure.