Review: The Brydge 12.9 iPad Pro Keyboard

This is the first in a series of articles I’ve been working on: reviews of iPad Pro keyboards! Those of you who’ve been reading me for a long time might know that I’m a full convert to the so-called “post-PC world”. I do the vast majority of my writing and coding for AfterPad on my 12.9-inch iPad Pro, only returning to the Mac for particularly tricky web layout problems or photo editing.

Part of the reason the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is such a great computer is that unlike most laptops, it doesn’t come bolted to a terrible keyboard. The iPad can work with any style of keyboard you want, in any form-factor you want.

Much of the time I’m using my iPad Pro, it’s with a mechanical keyboard. But when I’m on the go, or working while sitting on a couch or lying in bed, a keyboard-case is necessary. I decided to put every available option I could find to the test, and try to narrow down a recommendation. This will be an ongoing series, with at least ten parts. For the first part, I wanted to start with the keyboard that was, perhaps, my most anticipated – the Brydge.

The Brydge with an iPad Pro
Brydge makes your iPad look like a MacBook

The Brydge Pro

At $189, the Brydge is the most expensive keyboard I’ll be reviewing. On paper, it seems to justify the price: backlit keys, full anodized aluminum construction, a clean and minimalist appearance, cutting-edge Bluetooth – everything you’d expect in a premium product.

The Bridge Pro has my favorite design by far of every iPad Pro keyboard I’ve used. It is the only functional keyboard that can be used equally well sitting at a desk, sitting on a couch, and lying in bed, and at the same time is easy to detach from the iPad.

The Brydge Pro's Hinge
The hinge is easy to detach, but not sturdy enough

Unfortunately, there are two major problems with the Brydge that make it impossible for me to recommend. First, the hinges aren’t sturdy enough. You can push the iPad Pro to approximately a 40° angle away from you; any further, and it falls back under its own weight. 40° is a decent amount for use on a desk or use lying down in bed, but it’s simply not enough to use while sitting with the keyboard in your lap.

The biggest issue with the Brydge: the keys are unpleasant to touch. They have a dry, scratchy texture to them – my fingers bristled every time I rested them on the keys. The keys appear to be constructed out of a piece of transparent plastic, with everything but the symbols painted over with a thin coat of black paint – your fingers end up rubbing against the paint layer, which doesn’t have the pleasant texture of a good piece of plastic. You see this a lot in the cheap backlit keyboards you can grab from Chinese sellers on Amazon, but it’s inexcusable in a keyboard that is positioned (and priced) as a premium product.

Brydge with Backlit Keys
Backlit keys are nice, but not when they feel terrible

As much as I like the idea of the Brydge, and the overall design of the Brydge, it simply isn’t good enough. Premium construction and clever design don’t matter if the keyboard is unpleasant to use. None of the other keyboards I’ve reviewed feel as “premium” as the Brydge, but many of them are a lot more pleasant to type on, at much smaller price tags.

Crashlands is Getting MFi Controller Support

Crashlands is currently alpha-testing controller support on Windows. Other platforms – presumably including iOS – are scheduled to support controllers in the future.

HEY, GANG! Have you ever thought, “I sure do love Crashlands, but I wish I could wiggle my thumbs 300% more while I play it!” Well, GOOD NEWS! Now you can, because we have CONTROLLER SUPPORT ready for alpha testing!

Currently the test version is only available for Windows users on Steam, because we haven’t integrated the controller into BscotchID — just gameplay. The goal for now is to find any bugs or problems with gameplay using a controller. Once controller support is implemented 100% into everything, we’ll upgrade controller support to “beta” and bring it to all platforms.

Crashlands is an action-RPG with a Minecraft-style crafting mechanic. It’s an odd mix, but it works wonderfully. The story behind the creation of Crashlands is equal parts inspiring and heartbreaking, but the important thing to most gamers is the end result. The good news: Crashlands is excellent. Shaun Musgrave gave it a perfect grade on TouchArcade. I put a good deal of time into playing it myself, though without controller support, I had no reason to review it. Once MFi controller support arrives, I plan on putting much more time into this one – it’s a classic.

iOS 10 Potentially Causing Issues with MFi Controllers

Potentially bad news here for owners of older MFi controllers: I’ve been hearing widespread reports of bluetooth disconnection issues on iOS 10. There’s a topic about it on the forum, and I’ve been getting reports via email and Twitter.

If you’ve been reading the site for a few years, this might seem familiar. A similar issue cropped up in iOS 8, where older MFi controllers would randomly disconnect during gameplay. Unfortunately, there was never a satisfactory fix for that problem – a few controller makers issued firmware updates to address the problem, and newer iPhones and iPads seemed to be immune to the issue.

In this instance, if a firmware update is required to fix older controllers, I wouldn’t get my hopes up. Many of the manufacturers of older MFi controllers are either out of business or focusing on other products. If there is a widespread issue with MFi controllers in iOS 10, it will likely come down to Apple to fix the problem.

If we expect Apple to fix this issue, Step 1 is finding a way to reliably reproduce the issue with specific controllers on specific hardware. If you’d like to help, test your MFi controllers on any iOS 10 devices you have, and post your results in the forum thread. I know from experience that Apple won’t help us unless we can provide them with specific, reproducible bugs.

The iPhone 7 Benchmarks Twice as Fast as Any Android Phone

Pretty insane results for the A10 chip in the new iPhone. The iPhone 7 scores 3,450 in single core performance and 5,630 in multi core. The Android competition is close in multi-core, but barely halfway there in single-core.

As John Gruber points out, the iPhone 7 also scores better than any MacBook Air ever made.

I’ll add one observation of my own. I have a top-of-the-line gaming PC. It has the latest and greatest Intel i7 processor. I’ve even overclocked it a bit. Here’s how it scores. Apple’s new phone is over halfway to reaching Intel’s latest-and-greatest chips in single-core performance.

iOS 10: The MacStories Review

Federico Viticci spent months of work on this, and it shows. This is pretty much everything you’d ever want to know about iOS 10. If you only read one review of iOS 10, make it the MacStories review.

This is up there with John Siracusa’s Mac OS X reviews.

I do have some of my own thoughts about iOS 10, specifically as it relates to photography and gaming. I’ll post those thoughts soon, in another piece.

Apple’s September 2016 Event – My Thoughts

September is upon us, and once again, that means Apple is ready to reveal the hardware they’ve spent the past few years working on. Apple’s September 2016 event starts tomorrow, 10 AM California time. As usual, you’ll be able to watch it live on Apple’s website or, if you have an Apple TV, using Apple’s Events app.

This particular event is a little more mysterious than those in years’ past. A new iPhone is a given. But as for what that iPhone entails, and what else is coming… I have a few predictions.

The dual-camera system is real, and it’s a big deal

If rumors are to be believed, the iPhone 7 will be getting a second camera, with a much closer zoom level than the current camera.

Apple has done a great job squeezing every last ounce of quality from the sensor size they’re stuck with, but there’s only so much they can do. They cannot ever get depth-of-field from a tiny, wide-angle camera, no matter how hard they try. They cannot achieve a good quality digital zoom on a phone camera – that would require vastly increasing megapixel count, and they’re already at the point where additional pixels would damage picture quality by introducing noise.

There are two options to significantly improve picture quality, and only two options: increase the camera sensor size, or add more cameras optimized for different things. The larger sensor option would require a thicker camera bump, and I don’t see Apple making the iPhone thicker any time soon.

A second, zoomed-in camera would solve many of the iPhone’s camera problems. True depth-of-field separation would be possible, allowing for smooth out-of-focus elements like the ones on Apple’s event invitation. A telephoto lens would look far better than digital zoom ever could, and would capture detail from much further away than the current wide-angle camera can.

Combine that with iOS 10’s RAW image support and wide-color gamut, and the iPhone 7’s camera will be the biggest camera upgrade in the history of the product.

With that said, it’s still nowhere close to a dedicated camera. When it comes to photography, the larger the camera sensor the better. Interchangeable-lens digital camera sensors are getting bigger, not smaller. I’m a huge iPhone fan, but I shoot all my art photos with a full-frame camera.

The Headphone jack is going away, and it really doesn’t matter

Yes, the rumors are true. Hold on to your monocles: the new iPhone is losing the headphone jack.

I’ve resisted writing about this, because the Internet already has enough vapid think-pieces on the subject. Apple isn’t doing this because they hate you. There are real benefits to losing the jack.

The headphone jack is huge. It’s twice as thick as Lightning. It’s thicker than USB-C, which is already too thick for Apple. There’s a slimmer variant of the jack Apple could switch to, but if they’re already giving up any advantage of the ubiquitous jack, why bother? Ditching the jack lets Apple make thinner devices. And we all know how much Apple likes to do that.

The technology behind the headphone jack is old; it dates back to the 1800s. It requires the iPhone to convert all audio from its native digital format to analog sound, which is sent directly from your phone, though the cable, to your ears. Switching to digital means the iPhone no longer touches the audio – it sends raw audio files directly from the device to the headphones, which do the work of turning digital 1s and 0s into analog sound.

Moving digital-to-analog conversion from the iPhone to the headphones can result in better sound quality – expensive headphones can use better converter chips than the ones in the iPhone. More importantly, headphones connected over Lightning would allow for additional functionality over old headphones, because in addition to sending audio, Lightning sends power. This allows Lightning headphones to cancel noise or drive additional bass, without requiring separate batteries for power – big feature gains that Apple would love to capitalize on with their Beats line.

Here’s what I see Apple doing in regards to headphones. In the box, the iPhone 7 will include their standard EarPods, but with a Lightning connector instead of a headphone jack. Sound quality will be the same as existing EarPods, but Apple will clearly be hoping people upgrade to something higher-end.

At the high-end, I picture one headphone product. This will be a larger, Beats-inspired (and possibly co-branded) standard headphone design. It will be Bluetooth, with a 10-hour battery. It will be the most reliable, best sounding Bluetooth headphone ever made. The headphones themselves will have a USB-C port on them. They can connect directly to your iPhone using an included USB-C-to-Lightning cable, to your Mac using a standard USB-C cable, and to anything else using a USB-C-to-headphone-jack cable.

Just like the Apple Pencil, the Magic Keyboard, and the Magic Trackpad, connecting these headphones to your (Apple) device takes care of all the Bluetooth pairing work for you. And when they are connected, the Bluetooth functionality is ignored, and sound is routed directly through the cable. The headphones could recharge their batteries directly from the device they’re connected to.

I expect other manufactures to implement a similar feature set across their high-end headphone line very quickly. Within a year, I expect every headphone in Apple’s stores to work this way. I expect the entire overblown argument about the headphone jack to die long before that.

It’s time for a new Apple Watch

I love my Apple Watch. I’m going to love it a lot more after watchOS 3 comes out. But it’s over a year and a half old, and I doubt Apple has been resting on their laurels.

Unlike the new iPhone, I have no idea what a new Apple Watch would look like. I’ll go with the obvious: thinner design, more powerful internals, comparable battery life. It will not have its own cellular connection – that comes next year. I also doubt it will come in a $10,000 gold model – that was a one-off experiment.

Beyond those guesses, what Apple does with the new Watch is anyone’s guess. I’m excited to find out.

No New iPads or Macs Yet

This one hurts me to say, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing new iPads or Macs tomorrow. Between the new iPhone, new Apple Watch, and a reminder of all the changes in iOS 10, this event is fully booked.

New Macs are LONG overdue, and new iPads are almost certainly coming before the holiday shopping rush. Normally, to modern Apple, these products might not warrant their own event. In this case, I think the changes to the Mac line will be sweeping enough to justify holding a second event. Expect it sometime in mid-to-late October.

I expect to see a beta for a new version of iOS 10 at the same time, with considerably more iPad focused features, and perhaps a dark theme.

Other thoughts

I’m not predicting anything significant from this event as it pertains to Apple and Gaming. The new iPhone will certainly be more powerful than the previous models, but that doesn’t really matter, because no games push the current iPhone anywhere close to its limit. The A9 chip is vastly overpowered for the tiny screen in the iPhone – it’s designed to push full-size iPad screens.

On that front, we could see a resolution increase across the iPhone line. 2x Retina has lasted us a long time, but a move to 3X would make games look considerably sharper, especially on the non-Plus iPhone 7.

Wide-gamut color will probably be making its way to the new iPhone, along with true-tone display. This is a big deal for photography, but less so for gaming. These are both features that will likely be rolling out to everything in Apple’s product line – once you get used to them, there’s no going back.

Nintendo Denies Planning Smartphone Controllers, The Internet Writes the Opposite

Nintendo held a Q&A session with shareholders during their latest shareholder meeting. There were some interesting questions and some maddeningly stupid ones. One interesting tidbit: a shareholder asked directly about Nintendo possibly making physical game controllers for smart devices.

Q: […] I think many people would like to play Nintendo’s action games as smart device applications. But smart devices use touch panels, which may not be suited to action games. Does Nintendo have any plans to launch a physical controller and invest in new titles of quality action games?

This is actually two implicit questions: does Nintendo agree with the statement that action games may not be suited to touch panels, and if so, does Nintendo plan on making such controllers?

Shinya Takahashi (Director, General Manager of Entertainment Planning and Development Division):

Physical controllers for smart device applications are available in the market and it is possible that we may also develop something new by ourselves. On the other hand, I believe Nintendo’s way of thinking is to look at whether action games are really not impossible (without a physical controller for smart device applications) to create and how we can make it happen to create such a game. I think we will make applications, and not just action games, in consideration of what best embodies “Nintendo-like” applications, including applications for everyone from children to seniors.

To my eyes, that’s a pretty straightforward denial. First and foremost, Nintendo is making applications for everyone, not just action games. Even if Nintendo were to make an action game, the implication is that Nintendo thinks that it probably would be possible to make an action game that doesn’t require a physical controller. Lastly, there are a bunch of controllers already on the market, and although Nintendo probably could make something by themselves, the other two points suggest it wouldn’t make much sense.

Distill it all down to one sentence, and that sentence would be something like: “Nintendo knows these controllers exist, but would rather spend their time developing the type of application that everyone can play, not just gamers.”

For fun, lets look at how other websites are reporting this (non) story:

9to5mac: Nintendo betting big on mobile, potentially building hardware controllers for iPhone & iPad

I mean… If you squint your eyes and try really hard, maybe you can read that in what Nintendo said. It is physically possible that I could be elected president of the US – that doesn’t mean I’m potentially building my campaign.

TheNextWeb: Nintendo might make dedicated controllers for its own mobile games

And then again, they might not. I know where I’d place my bets.

The author goes on to call this big news for Nintendo fans. Maybe if issuing a denial and followed it with the exact same things they’ve been saying for a year counts as “big news”.

Polygon: “Nintendo has major plans to focus on smart device development, including possibly designing its own controller for mobile gaming, according to general manager of entertainment planning and developement, Shinya Takahashi.”

Maybe instead of writing down his entire job title in full, the author could have written down his actual quote, instead of paraphrasing it incorrectly. Or not written this article at all, since the rest of it is a random assortment of ramblings on things Nintendo is working on, without any coherent point.

Damn, I’ve only responded to three articles, and I already feel angry and tired. I don’t know how The Macalope handles sifting through this stuff full time.

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is Now Available

This one was a bit out of left field: the new LEGO Star Wars was released on iOS today, and it comes with full MFi controller support!

To the best of my knowledge, although LEGO Star Wars was a highly-anticipated console game, this iOS port hasn’t been previously discussed. It’s release comes as a bit of a surprise. Even more surprising, it’s a free download; the first episode is free, and in-app purchases unlock the entire product.

The classic LEGO Star Wars saga basically launched the entire LEGO game franchise, and still goes down as a classic action-platformer. It has an excellent iOS port. I’m not sure if this new version lives up to its namesake, but I’m looking forward to putting some serious time into it soon.

Big New Safari Changes in iOS 10

The Safari team at Apple doesn’t get enough credit. They’ve been firing on all cylinders lately, and the newest versions of Safari are set to include some major new functionality changes.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Safari is the best web browser on the planet, bar-none. I’m a web developer, I’ve used all of them, I know their strengths and weaknesses – Safari is way ahead of the competition. It’s faster, it’s far more efficient on the battery, and it enables developers to add useful features that other browsers don’t support.

If you use a Mac, and you allowed Google to bully you into using Chrome with their aggressive ad practices, you’re throwing away one of the Mac’s biggest advantages over a PC.

The End of the Game Console as We Know It

Hyperbolic headline aside, Ars Technica has a pretty good run-down on what Sony and Microsoft’s mid-cycle console replacements mean to the gaming industry.

The last console generation was the longest in modern gaming history. By the time the Xbox 360 and PS3 were put out to pasture, contemporary iPhones has (arguably) surpassed them in performance. Console makers simply can’t wait almost a decade to replace their hardware anymore.