eXtensions - Wednesday 28 June 2017

eXtensions: The Wednesday File (11) - iPhone Anecdotes, Updated Apps and a new iMac

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Opening Gambit

This week a lot of people both in computer circles and in the financial field have woken up to the existence of AR and VR, or more particularly as it is being done by Apple. We saw some demonstrations at WWDC early in the month, and now a couple of apps have been released: one by Laan Labs. This ended up with me downloading an older app by them that I originally had in 2011: iTimeLapse Pro. I guess it has now been updated to a 64-bit app, but it still needs some fixing as I outline in a look I had on Tuesday.

That AR and VR is kicking off has become fairly clear and to add to the excitement, it was revealed that Apple has bought SensoMotoric Instruments, a German company that makes eye-tracking glasses among other things and, as Buster Hein (Cult of Mac) writes, this gives Apple "access [to] the company's trove of patents related to eye-tracking glasses and other systems."

Related to this (perhaps) is a prediction from Gene Munster that Apple Glasses for AR use, will be released in mid-2020 (Jeff Gamet, MacObserver) and will cost around $1300.

Another interesting change in technology that was announced at WWDC was that Apple is to shift away from the fairly old JPEG format to HEIF: High Efficiency Image Format. A good explanation and outline of this was produced by Kelly Thompson recently on 500PX and it is worth looking through.

If you are at all interested in AppleScript or in the use of Services (much underused - highlight some text in the browser page and look at the services item in the app menu), you probably remember Sal Soghoian who did a lot of good work over the years with Apple. He is now with Omni Automation. Jeff Gamet (MacObserver) interviewed him at WWDC (I only just found this).

This week, Google was fined $2.7 billion by the EU Commission, and this was announced by Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, the same lady who says that Apple must pay back lots of back taxes to the Irish Republic, even though Ireland doesn't want it. Leonid Bershidsky (Bloomberg) makes an interesting case on why it may be more in Google's interests to accept the fine and move omn rather than fight.

The Main Show

Last week, along with a great many other interested people, I watched the 2-part discussion on the original iPhone development from the Computer History Museum. The first hour had a panel of three people who had been in on the ground with the secret Project Purple: Hugo Fiennes, Nitin Ganatra and Scott Herz. It was clear - as we have heard about other secret Apple projects - that there was a clear separation of parts and expertise: the right hand really did not know what the left hand was doing.

CyberPunk The second part was a discussion between John Markoff and Scott Forestall. Markoff was the author, with Katie Haffner, of Cyber Punk (1991) and I noted in my edition of this that this was "Less about computers and more about human nature" adding, "any system can be screwed up given enough malice and intelligence." The book was a bit too chatty and journalistic for my tastes. Like Stoll's important The Cuckoo's Nest, the main story was sometimes lost behind the personal: in computer security, who wants to know about wholewheat bread?

Forestall had been silent since his surprising dismissal from Apple 5 years ago. Whether it was politeness, or if they had been warned off (by Forestall or Apple) there was no mention of the event, which sort of rocked Apple followers at the time and which I think revealed a surprising strength in Tim Cook to the public.

Many people were critical of Cook at the time, mainly for not being Steve Jobs; and even the growth of Apple since he has been CEO is still believed by many to be simply follow through from the foundations laid by Jobs. Neither Cook, nor the other Apple executives were mentioned at all (apart from Jobs) which implies this was an area with a (legal) health warning.

The most interesting aspects for me about the iPhone were the anecdotes revealed in these two discussions. I thought back to the original mouse and the use of a roller ball from an underarm deodorant. The comments did lay to rest the rumor that the tablet computer was the original idea (it was) and that the iPhone was serendipitous.

That original tablet was done - this is magic and so typical - because Steve Jobs was infuriated by the boasting from a Microsoft executive who was in the same social circles. It was clear this was not Bill Gates, with whom Jobs had a fairly good, on-off relationship. It also lends support to the idea of keeping your mouth shut, especially when with a competitor. Then end result was the iPhone and look what that did to Microsoft. And Blackberry, and Ericsson and Nokia, et al.

The initial tablet development laid the groundwork for the iPhone, particularly the screen; although even this involved a series of intuitive steps and some luck. As Jobs insisted that it would not use a stylus (as per the Microsoft boast), it could not be pressure-based input so a capacitative screen, set up like a table with an OS X display, was developed.

When Jobs was with Forestall in a coffee shop, they saw several people working on their mobile phones (with flip tops and plastic keys) really not enjoying what they were doing. There was an "aha" moment and back at the shop Jobs pushed Forestall in the direction of a phone. He asked the screen developers if it was possible to downscale the design: to produce a phone-sized screen to see if how it worked.

We also learned how the scrolling and rubber-banding were created; and how Jobs would poke his nose round the door from time to time, adding to the pressure. Forestall explained how carriers were approached with a vague outline of the project, and how they were dismissive, except Stan Cigman of Cingular.

I feel sorry for Cigman in a way, because here was a major player in the growing cellular field (Cingular merged with AT&T at the time the iPhone was announced), who took a massive gamble on a product he had never seen, but is remembered for his poor delivery on stage at the 2007 Keynote presentation (neither he, Jerry Yang of Yahoo or Eric Schmidt of Google did particularly well) rather than for his foresight and bravery.

Forestall told a remarkable tale of taking a late prototype to Cigman in Las Vegas after first arranging with the hotel IT to make the internet login-free (and therefore free for everyone in the two hotels that shared the link), to make sure that there was no delay beginning the demonstration he was to make in Cigman's suite.

Needless to say, when Cigman saw this - and how it vindicated the risks he had taken - he was blown away. As funny as this was the way Forestall related it, the punch line came a few days later when he had a phone call from the hotel pleading with him to let them start charging again for the wiFi connection as they had lost thousands of dollars.

As well as the video on the iPhone, the Computer History Museum also released video of an interview with Avi Tevanian by David Brock, Hansen Hsu and John Markoff. Avi Tevanian, like Forestall had worked with Jobs at NeXT. He is known as the force behind NextOS and what became macOS, with some saying (I don't know the full truth of this) that the Mac has now caught up with NeXT.

Also as a celebration of the 10 years of iPhone, is a short documentary (just under 10 minutes) from WSJ with interviews from some involved on the creation of the iPhone. I used the link from MacStories (Federico Viticci). The comment from Forestall about the coffee shop is also in this video. This also adds to the ways in which Jobs saw things and cracked the whip when necessary. Comments about the use of AI in developing the keyboard are fascinating and this reminded me of something I had read years ago in that 1991 Scientific American special on the internet.

Scientific American Internet Special I still have that in my office, but as I am elsewhere I downloaded a PDF copy (legally) and sought out the information on David A. Huffman that I had read then. It came from a problem set when students were asked to find the most efficient method of representing numbers, letters or other symbols using a binary code.

Huffman solved this with a coding tree and using letters that are most likely to occur. This is like the solution of the first iPhone keyboard which despite the size of letters, guesses which letter could come next. As Forestall explained it, if a user types T, it is highly likely that H will come next, and so that character is displayed slightly larger, making it easier to hit.

The keyboard was one of the targets of criticism, particularly from those who had not handled the iPhone (I got my hands on one the day after the orignal announcement). So many critics who had zero experience were totally negative about the iPhone. I saw this recently with the MacBook Pro when some of the most vocal criticism came from those who had not actually used the Touch Bar.

I had not read it in a while but that Scientific American issue really is a gem with several important names, apart from Al Gore: Vinton Cerf, Nicholas Negroponte, Alan Kay, Mitch Kapor. I should take time to read this all again.

During the week, the Withings app that I use with a blood pressure monitor was updated to become Nokia Health Mate. The first release is a little sparse and worked fairly well with data from the Apple Health app appearing, but data was not going the other way. A minor update the next day added a missing Guest option, but did not fix the data seeding. I wrote to Nokia. The response was quick and honest.

Others had also experienced problems and they were working on this. A second email confirmed that help was on the way. After another day an update appeared that fixed the transfer of older data to Health (this was all retained online as well, so nothing was lost), but when I check blood pressure no data appears in Health initially. I have to nudge the Health Mate app, by tapping on the blood pressure data in that app. Then it appears in Health. A rule from motorcycle maintenance: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Local Notes

Migration Assistant A local reader was delighted to have his new iMac delivered last week, but wrote to me at the weekend about a couple of problems he came across. These were mainly with 3rd party applications. He had transferred data from his Mac mini to the iMac using Migration Assistant, but he had done this via WiFi and found it slow. When I have done this I aways use a direct cable (USB, Firewire), depending on the respective machines. The last time I did this was from a 15" MacBook Pro to the 13" MacBook Pro, so I used USB-C and that was easy.

As part of his installation process he accessed the rescue partition (Start with Command + R keys pressed), but this took three tries he told me as, without the startup chime, he kept pressing those keys at the wrong time. There are several articles online with the information, but to activate the sound, it needs command line access in an Admin account, using

sudo nvram BootAudio=%01

To turn this off again, we use the same command but %00 instead or %01

One of his biggest problems came with Microsoft Office as his wife needs Word for legal documents. I was aware of this and (choke, choke) there is no alternative. But then Microsoft throws a spanner in the works by declining to authorize his copy: too many uses. Despite help from MS Support personnel who sent special codes, but which failed to work their magic, he and Support were stumped. That is still a work in progress.

He is pleased with the screen which makes even small text easy to read and with the speed and power when the new iMac is handling images and video. He had several videos open at one time, he wrote, not because he wants to watch multiple videos, but because he could: just to see. Not a flicker.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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