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.

WWDC 2016: Apple Just Killed the Game Center App

This one has been a long time coming. Apple’s long-ignored Game Center app seems to be going away.

GameKit Framework Changes

The GameKit framework includes the following changes and enhancements:

  • The Game Center app has been removed. If your game implements GameKit features, it must also implement the interface behavior necessary for the user to see these features. For example, if your game supports leaderboards, it could present a GKGameCenterViewController object or read the data directly from Game Center to implement a custom user interface.
  • A new account type, implemented by the GKCloudPlayer class, supports iCloud-only game accounts.
  • Game Center provides a new generalized solution for managing persistent storage of data on Game Center. A game session (GKGameSession) has a list of players who are the session’s participants. Your game’s implementation defines when and how a participant stores or retrieves data from the server or exchanges data between players. Game sessions can often replace existing turn-based matches, real-time matches, and persistent save games, and also enable other models of interaction between participants.

Read More

It doesn’t get much more clear that that. The Game Center app had serious bugs for the past several versions of iOS. It was obviously not something Apple cared about, and it’s unsurprising to see them put it out of its misery.

WWDC 2016: Apple TV Games Can Require MFi Controllers

WWDC is upon us once again! Lots of new things to unpack – major new features for iOS, , tvOS, watchOS, and (don’t call it OS X!) macOS.

First up, and perhaps most important for this site’s audience: games for the Apple TV can now require MFi controllers! No longer are they limited to the inputs of the Siri Remote. Games that really only work with a full controller layout – console ports, hardcore platformers, shooters – can now require MFi controllers.

In the lead-up to the Apple TV launch, I said Apple was right to prevent tvOS games from requiring MFi controllers. At this point, it’s pretty clear I was wrong. I’ve been wondering why that is. Here’s what I think:

It’s safe to say that the Apple TV launch didn’t exactly go as planned for Apple or for developers. Everyone was hoping this platform would gain widespread adoption among causal users. This hasn’t happened. The Apple TV is still a niche product. It’s too expensive. It overlaps functionality built in to most smart TVs. It launched without a compelling exclusive video streaming platform.

If the Apple TV was a mainstream product, allowing developers to require expensive third-party controllers would be stupid. It would fragment a market during its initial launch – exactly the time a platform needs to be unified. However, the Apple TV is not a mainstream product. It’s a product for early adopters, and for people who are willing to pay a massive premium for a better experience. If the Apple TV is already a niche product, allowing MFi-controller-exclusives makes a lot of sense. You’re already dealing with an audience that is outside of the mainstream.

Importantly, apps for iOS and macOS can not require MFi controllers. Those are mainstream platforms – Apple can’t afford to splinter those markets.

Still, this optional controller requirement is good news for iOS gamers. It might lead to greater developer adoption of MFi controllers across-the-board. At the very least, it should allow games like Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto to be ported to the Apple TV with much less difficulty.

Apple Gives the Gamevice a Major Retail Push

Big, big news for iOS gamers: Apple is in the middle of rolling out MFi game controller sections to all of their retail stores! You read that right – if you head down to the nearest Apple Store, you’ll probably be able to play with any of the current top-tier MFi controllers, right now. Most Apple Stores opened these gaming sections yesterday; the rest will be rolling them out throughout the week.

Apple Store Gaming Section with Controller Hands-on
Apple is giving iOS gaming its own featured section, sometimes even with a hands-on area

Every single Apple Store – all 465 locations – will be receiving a dedicated “gaming” space, highlighting the best available MFi controllers and recommended accessories. You’ve been able to buy MFi controllers in Apple Stores before, but they’ve never been collected together and presented as a platform before – this is a big deal for the ecosystem.

To be clear, this is a world-wide rollout, and it hits every single store, from the biggest flagships to the smallest mall outlets. Every Apple Store, everywhere, will have every top-tier MFi controller in-stock and in a dedicated section.

Standard Apple Store Controller Feature
Apple seems to be promoting the Gamevice in a big way

Giving gaming its own section is good, but it gets better. In addition to the gaming sections, many of the larger Apple Stores will feature usable Gamevice controllers, out of the box, connected to iPads loaded with games. This is important; I’ve always said that the most important thing Apple could do to promote MFi controllers is to actually let people use MFi controllers. Once gamers get a chance to play Minecraft on an iPad Mini connected to a Gamevice, the controller will sell itself.

Many Apple Stores already had the Horipad Ultimate and SteelSeries Nimbus controllers hooked up to the Apple TV. While that is great for TV gamers, but it doesn’t make it clear that these controllers work with iOS. This new section fixes that problem, and presents tvOS and iOS as a unified gaming platform – a great move, considering the iOS audience is tens of thousands of times larger than the Apple TV audience.

iOS Gaming in Genius Grove
Gaming is a defined section, separate from other accessories

I was curious about how knowledgeable Apple was about these controllers – when the MFi controller program first started, Apple retail employees generally had no idea what the controllers were. Chatting with a couple of the Apple Retail employees at the new Union Square Apple Store eased my worries – these people know a lot about MFi controllers. More than that, the people I talked to were enthusiastic iOS gamers – one employee was very much looking forward to the iPad Pro Gamevice for personal use.

This push with Gamevice represents one of Apple’s biggest commitments to the MFi controller program. Not only are they promoting a product exclusive to iOS, but for the first time, they’re stocking every single available Gamevice in every Apple Store – the iPhone, iPad Mini, and standard-sized iPad models are all available, with the iPad Pro model coming later this year. It’s a welcome sight, and I hope it’s a sign of things to come.

There’s a Special Edition SteelSeries Nimbus at the Union Square Apple Store in San Francisco

I just arrived back in San Francisco for WWDC, so of course the first thing I did was visit the new Union Square Apple Store.

The new store is amazing, and probably warrants an in-depth review of its own. But of special note to readers of this site, the store is host to a few MFi controllers you can’t easily get anywhere else. There’s the 9.7inch iPad Gamevice, which is only available online and in this store. And – of special interest to readers of this site – an exclusive MFi controller: a white version of the SteelSeries Nimbus.

White Nimbus Front View
The Nimbus, now in white

I’ve been wondering about this controller since it was first hinted in blurry photos from press visits to the store’s soft-launch. I was expecting to see this controller roll out to additional Apple Stores in the weeks after the Union Square store opening. Instead, SteelSeries was completely silent about it. I wasn’t expecting a full ad campaign extolling the virtues of a white controller, but I was at least expecting a mention on the SteelSeries website. Alas, nothing – I definitely needed to check things out for myself.

After chatting with the gaming expert at the Apple Store, I have a more clear picture of what’s going on. Turns out the white Nimbus controller is exclusive to this specific Apple Store location. If that isn’t enough, SteelSeries only made a few hundred of them. So if you want a white Nimbus, act fast. And… I guess, book a flight to San Francisco.

But do you really want one? I’m not going to do a separate review for a color variation – my review of the regular SteelSeries Nimbus mostly stands for the white variation – but there are a few things about this model that are worth mentioning.

The most important thing: this white Nimbus is very clearly just the black version with a coat of spray paint. And not particularly good spray paint, at that. I was able to scratch off a bit with my fingernail, revealing the standard black plastic beneath.

Due to the extra layer of paint, the surface texture of the controller is noticeably less “matte” than the black version, and as a result, feels much cheaper. The feel falls somewhere in the gray area between matte and glossy – it feels far more like a decent Chinese knock-off controller than it does like a premium Apple-exclusive product.

White and Black Nimbus
The Two Nimbuses; notice the surface texture differences

The coat of white paint on this Nimbus has another unfortunate side effect: it makes the entire controller smell strongly of chemicals. Seriously – I’m not usually affected by this type of thing, but upon opening the box, I was hit by an overwhelming smell that reminded me of white-out fluid. I’m assuming this is left over from whatever they did to color the surface of the controller. Whatever the reason for it, I had to leave the controller sitting at an open window all night before the smell faded enough for the controller to be usable.

The controller I purchased has another problem, and unfortunately, this one goes far beyond cosmetics. The A button is extremely sticky. I have no idea whether or not to chalk this up to the paint job – none of the black Nimbus controller I’ve used have this problem – but it’s kind of a big deal, the problem doesn’t disappear after using it for a bit.

The last thing I have to point out is the price: for this limited-edition white (painted) Nimbus, you’ll have to shell out $59 dollars. That’s a significant premium over the standard Nimbus, which is currently on sale for $41.99 on Amazon (with free shipping!).

White Nimbus Back
The white Nimbus looks cool, but is poorly executed and overpriced

If you want a white Nimbus, you have a couple of options. You can make a trip to San Francisco, visit the Union Square Apple Store, and shell out $59. Or you could visit, order a black Nimbus and a can of spray paint, and make your very own white Nimbus controller. Whichever option you choose, you’ll wind up with the same thing.