eXtensions - Monday 10 Jun 2019


Cassandra - Monday Review: Lazy Reporting from WWDC and Less-evident Problems

By Graham K. Rogers


As with Wall Street misconceptions about Apple, some in the technical press do not really examine the full picture before rushing to the internet with knee-jerk headlines. A good case in point is WWDC, the new MacPro and the monitor that was also announced. Those who took a longer look and made comparisons find that Apple is in line with other products.

This should have been a Weekend Review but there was a problem with the website Sunday and while I could read files (and browse) I was not able to upload anything. The fix took a little longer than I wanted, but I have now been able to add some additional information to a couple of the ideas below.

A quick note: many will know I am a keen fan of medium format film cameras and have half a dozen. It is interesting to see how many are now turning to film and I count several of my students among them, although I deny any influence. I have recently been trying a new film: CatLABS ISO 80, although have yet to see the results (there are about 20 undeveloped rolls in my fridge). I also just ordered 10 rolls of Kosmo Foto Mono film (ISO 100), which was initially only available for 35mm cameras, but is now also made in 120.

Film Film

Earlier on Monday, it was also announced (Emulsive) that Fuji are to restart manufacturing their Neopan 100 ISO Black & White film with an autumn arrival expected. Perhaps one or other of the camera makers will begin remaking one of their devices, like a new Nikon FM2 or the like. The second hand market is becoming more expensive, although there are still bargains to be had, particularly with older, obscure brands and models.

With every Apple product event, I ignore the initial headline rush. Many so-called technical journalists fail to look at technical specifications, but reach instead for the most headline-worthy points. The iPhone is a case in point, especially in the so-called "S" years, when many report that there are no changes: just a minor update. This ignores new A-series processors, as well as specific features or materials: it is a dud before the announcement is out of Tim Cook's mouth: after all, what does he know?

Particularly with an iPhone release, after I have watched the event video (a lot there that some miss), I take the time to look at Technical Specifications: always a revelation or two there. Although I come to my own conclusions about a device, I read certain online sources for opinions. I also like to wait for the iFixit teardown and the full report from AnandTech, both of which will come later and show some important points that those early reports missed with their hit-hunting content: but it is too late. Many people have already formed misconceptions borne of the shoddy reporting.

And so it is with WWDC: a Developers' Conference, not a product event; although this year (unusually) the long-expected MacPro was announced, to the cheers of the developers, but howls of derision in the popular tech press.

I noticed in the event video how the wants and needs of professional users were analyzed while the new Pro Display XDR was under development. In the video there was a comparison with an existing monitor: a Sony reference monitor which is priced at $43,000. In the reports I read, no one used that: only the $4,999 tag. This was made worse (in the eyes of some) by the additional expense of the stand. As Jim McCauley (CreativeBloq) pointed out, some will not need the stand with its well-designed and engineered pivot system as they will attach it to a wall. Apple thought of that too with its $199 adapter: with a $5000 monitor you would not want to trust it to a picture hanger.

As has been done in the past by others, Chuong Nguyen (Digital Trends) came up with a close comparison of the new MacPro with a near-equivalent PC. A direct comparison is not possible because of the relative specifications of components, some designed specifically for the Apple machine. It turns out that for the basic specs, you would have less for over $7000 with a PC.

When the full specs are examined, however - estimated at $35,000, or more - prices on the PC side are astronomical, with one figure (for an HP computer) coming in at $150,000, while none of the PC devices examined could match Apple's 4 video card potential, a Dell could handle 3TB RAM. I am suitably impressed, especially with the $90,000 that would cost. It would serve anyone well to look again at the section of the WWDC video that introduces the MacPro to see the well thought-out components and their assembly. The section also mentions the developers, like Adobe, Autodesk and Serif (also see below).

The very title of WWDC tells us that this was a Developers' conference. There was much of interest about future developments for the different operating systems, including APIs and an outline of possible features that developers could work on. I found the last ten minutes or so, when Craig Federighi outlined new AR features and a new evolution for the Swift language interesting, even though I am not a developer. I told my Computer Engineering students that if they saw nothing else they should watch this. On my theme above that some reporters selectively report Apple events, MacDailyNews (rightly) savages a Bloomberg editorial from Shira Ovide), noting that the keynote presentation is not WWDC. There is clearly some selective reporting here, for example the "$12,000-and-up computer". As I point out (above) and in Wednesday's MidWeek Review, there was a lot more going on if anyone bothered to look at the video for starters. Bloomberg has not always reported well on Apple.

One of the reasons Apple fought so hard against Qualcomm was the unfair licensing. That is also why a number of other companies and the FTC signed up for the cause. I had seen some comments when Judge Koh found Qualcomm had created an unfair situation, so although Apple had settled when Intel left the G5 arena, they were vindicated. I noted a couple of items that discussed some of the terms that Qualcomm insisted on when Apple was beginning to develop the iPhone in 2005, and like many was surprised by these unreasonable demands. Writing on TechDirt earlier this week, Mike Masnick references the words of the Founding Fathers, as well as Tim Lee's (ArsTechnica) summary of Judge Koh's decision.

Qualcomm used its position "to hold everyone over a barrel" and to "crush the opposition". And in that Opinion there was reference to the ruthlessness of Qualcomm with a slide "of how to starve MediaTek (MTK) in a PowerPoint presentation"". Masnick closes with "But if you ever want a pure example of the "evil" created by excessive patent monopolies, Qualcomm is about as pure an example as you can find." A PDF of Judge Koh's 233 page decision is included at the end of the article.

I was in central Bangkok on Saturday and saw that the Huawei shop in Siam Paragon was quite busy. This is quite a large store and so there are several device types: not just smartphones. Despite the recent problems, people are still interested in the products. There were a couple of changes to the closed doors that Huawei had been facing: the SD organization had a rethink and reinstated membership; the ban on IEEE editors was rescinded.

Google however was not thought likely to change its position on Android access, because it couldn't, so Huawei has to come up with its own solution which had already been under some development, but is now a priority. Bloomberg News reports that as many as 10,000 workers on three-shifts are working to come up with a product that will be capable of taking the place on Android on the phones. They are also working on things like chips and base station antennas. There is, however, a delicious irony to the Android-Oak story as Google has now put forward the point that if Huawei are unable to use Android, and of Oak is developed successfully, it could compromise security, which was one of the points of that sweeping ban (Derek Wallbank, Bloomberg).

A potential result of all this re-creation is "China having an independent communications technology industry", which may not be what Trump intended. Another unexpected effect will be to the mass of networking equipment that is in use especially in rural areas. Apparently the engineers like it because it is so low-maintenance. Replace that and communities may initially have no broadband (Suhauna Hussain and Alice Su, PhysOrg) and who knows what the substitutes may be like. The current president has already done an about-face on Mexico - it was a negotiating tactic after all - so if China presses hard will he back down again? It may be too late as China - and other countries who are now seeing the writing on the wall - may seek out alternatives.

Notes from Scott Adam Gordon (Android Authority) suggest that the new Huawei operating system could be ready around September. It is likely to be named Oak OS, which has a nice sound to it, although in China it is expected to be called HongMeng OS, which also has a nice ring to it. Talk Android (Oscar Cooke-Abbott) shows what appears to be a screenshot of OakOS which they describe as a little Android, a little iOS with the additional point that this probable Android fork may still handle Android apps. That is significant for users.

One of the reasons I do not use Photoshop is that I do not need all of those tools that are necessary for Pro users - its wasted on amateurs - and for several years have made do with other apps on the Mac, especially Aperture. Apple is no longer maintaining this and as a 32-bit app it will die when macOS is updated to Catalina. I had already been forced to move away from the app when I bought my Nikon D850 as the RAW files were not supported. As I already have several other image editing tools, the main problem was organization of the images and, for all its faults, I ended up using Photos, but have created a strong series of folders and albums to help organization and use. The problem there is not storing the images, but finding them again later.

The Nikon brought a couple of changes to my workflow. As Photos has limited storage, even with a 2TB plan on iCloud, I now keep only the best images (and a few that might be useful. I delete the others, but all the original photographs (and the scans from my film cameras) are stored on external disks so if I do need a RAW image from April 2018 that is not in Photos, I can dig it up. The only photographs I do not store are the occasional black image and those that are so terminally blurred as to be useless.

For editing on the Mac now that Aperture is unavailable, I make use of several other editing applications, such a Graphic Converter (which I had used since before OS X), Pixelmator and Affinity Photo, among others. Those last two also have iPad versions, and there is also Pixelmator Photo, so I am able to do considerably more editing on the iPad (and the iPhone at a pinch with some apps), even with Photos. Some of the editing apps are also available as extensions for Photos on the iPad. With iOS 13, those tool sets will be expanded (Sharpen, White Balance, et al).

Affinity Photo was available as an extension on the Mac, so along with Luminar3 and Tonality there were many options available to add to the basic tools in Photos on the Mac: a user could do a lot from within Photos, but for really heavy editing it might be better to export and work in a standalone app, rather than from within Photos. When Apple provided the option to save iPhone photos in HEIC format (High Efficiency File Format), instead of JPEG I switched to this although I also use some apps on the iPhone that save in RAW (or TIFF). When these HEIC files were synchronized to the Mac, via iCloud, the Affinity Photo extension balked and for a long time (with a number of user complaints) the only way was the image export route, which for basic fixes is inefficient.

Serif have finally updated both the iPad and Mac versions of Affinity Photo to version 1.7 and this will allow the handling of HEIC image output from within Photos on the Mac. There were several other improvements to the app including multi-GPU and multi-display support (Jeff Benjamin, 9to5 Mac): just in time for the new MacPro. This just adds to the ability to work on images without being tethered to one specific software developer. Affinity Photo (and Designer) also have support for Sidecar, so when I have iOS 13 and macOS Catalina running, I will be able to link the iPad with the Mac and work on both platforms. I can hardly wait to try this. A number of other applications that run on both platforms will also be Sidecar-capable.

I see that screen-sharing on Skype is now available for iOS and Android. Sorry, Microsoft, you lost me a long time ago with that app. It had been fine for years, then corporate Redmond started tampering. Bye. . . .

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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