At a young age, a passing comment by a family member about its strength-to-weight ratio captured my imagination and led to a fascination with titanium that persisted into adulthood. Unfortunately titanium is not frequently encountered in adulthood. When Apple announced the latest iPhone 15 Pro, which has an outer band crafted with titanium and comes with a natural titanium colour, my curiosity was naturally piqued.
I eagerly acquired the iPhone 15 Pro 256gb in natural titanium on launch day. As I unboxed it I was struck by two observations. First, it felt noticeably lighter than its predecessors — beyond its stated reduction in mass. Second, the natural titanium colour imbued the device with a ‘tool-like’ quality — it exuded a sense of purpose, more like a crafted tool designed for productivity rather than a device for entertainment. The material and colour would be a great match for the Apple TV remote, for example.
The camera improvements are subtle, but discernible. Most notably, portrait mode now operates automatically on regular photos — all you need to do is snap away, and then you can apply portrait mode filters afterwards. Additionally, the main camera now offers a range of focal lengths that you can alternate through without sacrificing image quality — a welcome addition for those preferring a 35mm focal length.
In terms of performance, I measured a roughly 12% improvement over the iPhone 14 Pro. While current everyday tasks will not fully exploit this power, the new tranche of AAA games making their way to the iPhone will. I am mostly looking forward to trying out the new Assassin’s Creed title, and the prospect of console-grade gaming on an iPhone a-la-Switch could breathe new life into the mobile gaming sector.
Finally, the biggest outward change is the action button, which replaces the traditional mute switch. Its versatility is a potential game-changer. The action button lets you trigger an action on your device when it is pressed, the very nicely 3D rendered UI for selecting the action gives you a range of basic options such as muting, opening the camera, toggling a focus mode — but the most powerful option is the ability to launch a shortcut. I currently have mine setup to streamline task management, reminders, and manually logging health data.
Summarising, the iPhone 15 Pro is a solid, albeit incremental improvement and as such it is undoubtedly the ‘best iPhone ever’. The changes in material, and the addition of the action button subtly shift your perception of the device as you use it away from entertainment, and towards utility. It will be interesting to see if this silent nag will have any long term impacts in how people use their device.
The best tricorder ever.
On Tuesday, the 18th of October 2022, I arrived at the eye hospital ready to have wavefront guided LASIK eye surgery. On entry, a sign directs me to wear a face mask and I oblige — my glasses immediately fog up. I clear my glasses and forcefully fold the mask over my nose to avoid more fogginess and make my way up the stairs. A nurse hands me a goody bag with three different types of eye drops that are to be taken at declining intervals over the next few weeks. I see a fellow patient who has just undergone the same procedure sitting in silence with their eyes closed. After a short wait I am taken into the operating room where I sign some paperwork and then lay on the table beneath two imposing machines. A nurse places a foam wedge under my knees, and with that we are ready to begin.
Throughout childhood I managed to get by without glasses but at 17 after struggling to read the whiteboard for a few months I went to the opticians with what I thought were dry eyes. One week later I was walking out of the opticians with a myopia diagnosis and a pair of glasses. Many people who have experienced a change in prescription will understand the thrill of a new pair of glasses: the world is suddenly viewed with a clarity that was hitherto unimaginable — but over time the elation wanes. Glasses need to be cleaned, glasses need to be pushed back up, glasses need to be adjusted, glasses need to be maintained.
Eventually the accumulated frustration had built up sufficiently to break through the fear and procrastination and I decided to get contact lenses. Euphoria once again returned, not only was my vision crisp; I could see all around me. Ascending a set of escalators I could see every crevice of the store below in my periphery. Years passed, I would occasionally switch to glasses for a time but always returned to contact lenses.
After nearly a decade of contact lens use I visited the opticians for a routine checkup. They told me that because I was wearing contact lenses for too long each day they were starting to scratch the surface of my eye. This wasn’t a problem per se, but would eventually make lenses untenable. They asked me to reduce my lens usage first, but rather than take this risk I decided to switch back to glasses full time. I invested in a great pair from Ace & Tate — blue light filter, ultra thin compression, every coating available — and for a time I enjoyed them greatly, but they had unimagined consequences.
In an effort to lose weight gained and regain health lost over lockdown, I had recently taken up running. My resting heart rate had declined from 74bpm at the start of the year to 60bpm in July before I switched back to glasses. Unfortunately, running with glasses proved to be more difficult than imagined. During a run, the glasses needed to be pushed up, they would inevitably get a highly distracting smudge on them and they would interfere with my headphones. Running without the glasses was somewhat viable but I ran in perpetual fear of tripping on a loose paving slab or running through an otherwise unseen hazard. Every kerb became an obstacle to slow down for rather than something to be leaped up with confidence. I stopped running eventually, and failed to replace it with another form of exercise; the consequences for my health were dire as can be seen by the resting heart rate charts.
We humans are creatures of habit - our habits are nudged not only by our objectives but also circumstances and environment. You might want to learn a new language, but it’s a lot harder to get into the habit of using Duolingo every day if your phone has a cracked screen, barely holds a charge and periodically crashes. Willpower and discipline will overcome this to a certain extent, but things are easier if you set your environment up for success.
I eventually identified my glasses as a source of such psychological burden, nagging me towards inactivity, causing me to think twice before taking any action remotely active and placing a barrier between me and the world. The obvious solution was laser eye surgery, so after some research I booked an appointment with Moorfields Eye Hospital and I was soon on my way to the operating room. I confess that I had not considered Orthokeratology lenses — lenses you wear at night which correct your vision during the day — because I simply hadn’t heard of them. The price makes Ortho-K lenses uneconomical compared to laser eye surgery but given the lack of invasiveness I may well have sought them out as an alternative.
Back in the operating room the surgery is underway. The surgeon rotates me between the different machines and I get to the step where I am mostly blind. The experience was unique, I could see only an ocean of nothingness and the faint blinking red light of the machine I was somehow supposed to focus on. Even the blur of that light was something I had not previously witnessed, it was not only a gradient but distinctly grainy. The surgeon finishes up and I sit up. Looking around is strenuous, everything is extremely bright, but I make my way to the waiting area and start to apply eye drops every 3-5 minutes for the next thirty minutes. The consultant checks up on me, gives me the all clear and sends me on my way. I call my own Uber.
The next few days are the most exciting. For the first few hours I take occasional peeks, everything is so crisp but light sources are difficult. By 5pm I can keep my eyes open, bright lights are a bit of a problem but not too bad. The next day I would describe the process as complete, I had regular eye drops but any discomfort was gone, my vision continued to improve over the next several weeks.
My vision now is beyond flawless. I can read signs at distances where I previously may have only just realised there was a sign. The most unexpected aspect is in the periphery. When wearing glasses you are effectively wearing blinkers, you can see in-front but the sides are blurry and obstructed by the frame arms. Contact lenses liberate you from much of this, though compared to laser corrected vision the acuity is not so pervasive. The best way to think about this might be through video games. Modern video games blur and render in lower quality areas of the screen that are not in focus. Laser eye surgery has made the clarity like slightly older video games where the edges of every surface — even where not in focus — are perfectly crisp. Indeed, I now look at some of the cleaner stone buildings around London and the lines are so straight and crisp that they now feel more like artificial renders.
The surgery was expensive — and the cost may be prohibitive to many — but I believe that if anyone who wears glasses or contact lenses could somehow test the outcome of laser corrected vision for a few hours, they would largely be organising their life and finances around finding a path to make it happen. If you are on the fence, get off.
It has been several months now since the release of Apple Arcade. I had a subscription for the first couple of months, then dropped out after I started my new role @Soho House and for whatever reason I spent all of my new-found commute time playing solitaire.
I was later enticed to re-join with the annual payment of £49.99 for the year (a saving of £9.98). I’ve enjoyed most of the games I’ve played on Apple Arcade, it’s liberating to have real mobile games, and not be continually pushed in-app purchases.
￼By far the best game that I have enjoyed is Assemble with Care, a narrative driven puzzle game where you have to assemble or repair various objects for people in a town the protagonist is visiting. The game starts by encouraging the player to wear headphones. Follow this advice, the audio is rich and incredibly immersive.
I would have liked for there to be more complex or challenging repairs. The game designers did a great job of keeping the puzzles at the right level to not be frustrating, perhaps adding more complexity would have pushed it too far. It was great to get lost in the repair, with the side characters standing over you to provide encouragement (or distraction). The small details were great.
There have recently been rumours that Apple has been cancelling contracts for games that are not so long lasting in favour of more engaging games often citing Grindstone as a positive example. I played Grindstone, I enjoyed Grindstone, I played Grindstone for many more hours than Assemble with Care.
That being said, games like Grindstone will never be the reason for me to pay for Apple Arcade. Games like Grindstone already exist on the App Store, but funded with in-app purchases instead of an annual subscription. I have no interest in only changing the business model. I am drawn to Apple Arcade because of its promise to move mobile gaming forward, to provide unique experiences that are not present elsewhere.
This year, due to coronavirus the conference was moved to be entirely online. For most people the WWDC was already online but this year was different. This year, without the constraints of a live physical audience, everything was pre-recorded. Overall this was a huge success and I would say that all of the sessions were tighter and easier to follow as a result.
My one criticism is that the keynote felt relentless. Compared to normal, everything felt compressed. Gaps in time where the audience is cheering, or speakers are alternating, which allowed the viewer to absorb an announcement or talk / tweet with others were almost entirely gone. I think Apple were aware of this problem as later on they had quite a few fun/gaudy transitions which I enjoyed, but I think there needed to be more.
macOS certainly had the spotlight for most of the show. Everything has been redesigned to be more evocative of iOS design, but with a twist of macOS dimensionality. The biggest announcement was of course the transition to Apple Silicon. There has been much speculation as to the eventual performance of these systems, but Apple themselves have said very little. Their strongest statement was perhaps in the below image, which would seem to indicate that they occupy the power consumption range of a notebook processor, but with the performance covering the range of low-high end desktops. It remains to be seen how accurate this will be, but if it is then I will be at the front of the line to buy a new system.
Catalyst has received a lot of polish this year too, and I now believe it’s 100% possible to build great Mac apps using UIKit (which I fully intend to do). If developers don’t want to make a Mac app, that’s fine, the new Apple Silicon devices will allow people to run iPhone apps. I imagine many services, in particular banks, will not wish to release their apps for Mac. They should reconsider, I would relish having access to my Monzo or Natwest bank account from the place I am most productive.
Honestly, I barely remember the announcements for iOS the gravity around macOS was so consuming this year. There are a few notable improvements though.
The home screen now has widgets. These are not the today view widgets we already have, which are tiny, but real, apps. These new widgets are a SwiftUI view hierarchy, combined with a date and a relevance. For now there is no deep interactivity, and the view hierarchy is static. The exception to the static rule is dates / times, which are the only things that can update dynamically. The way I have chosen to look at it is that an app can choose to provide a series of images, with the times that these images become relevant. These should use almost not additional battery power, which is pretty cool.
Another home screen update: you can turn off some pages of your home screen. All apps will then appear in a searchable app library. The app library search is entirely separate from spotlight, and spotlight seems to now de-emphasise app results. I’m hoping that latter behaviour will change before release as Spotlight was my primary method of launching apps that languished on page 3+, and significant muscle memory has been accrued for that method.
Picture in picture has made the jump from iPad to iPhone. I can’t wait for Youtube to continue to not implement this, and ruin the video watching experience for everyone.
App Clips look super cool, I really want to work with them. Unfortunately I don’t think I have any viable use for them right now.
What will have the most impact to developers of many apps is the change to permissions around IDFA usage. IDFA is the identifier for advertisers that can be used by marketings to track the effectiveness of their advertisements across apps. Using the IDFA will now require an up-front system alert, similar to those used for location. As an end-user there is simply no incentive for you to ever accept this. The IDFA is dead, move on, switch to fingerprinting if you want to stalk your customers.
This has been a good year. Every Apple platform has taken steps forward, and it truly feels like everything has progressed, and nothing has been left behind.
You may have recently seen in the news that R0 (the reproduction rate) in the U.K. has increased. This is concerning and we should all keep a close eye on the overall R value. However, it is wholly possible that R0 as dropped all over the country, but for the average value to appear flat, or even increase because of something known as Simpson’s Paradox.
Imagine we have 2 large 12-slice pizzas. One is anchovy, the other is pepperoni. Pepperoni is more popular, and the rate of pizza consumption is 100% (Rpizza = 1). Anchovy is less popular, and the rate of consumption is only 50%! Out of 24 slices in total, 18 have been consumed. This represents an overall rate of pizza consumption of 75%.
Now, because of a wide-scale weight loss program, everyone decides to eat less pizza. The anchovy pizza now only has 5 slices, but we have the same amount of pepperoni.
In the below example, only 11 slices of pepperoni have been eaten, and 2 slices of anchovy. We can rejoice, the rate of pizza consumption has gone down across the board! Only 92% of the pepperoni, and 40% of the anchovy pizza has been eaten! The overall picture tells a different tale. In total 13 slices of pizza were eaten out of 17 slices available in total. That works out to 76.5%! The percentage of the pizzas being consumed has gone up, even though: a) Less pizza is being consumed in total, b) Both pizzas have a lower percentage being eaten.
This has happened because the pizza with the lower Rpizza is no longer as represented in the overall figures. The same could be true for England’s R value. It could well be the case that transmission everywhere has reduced, but because the reduction in the normal community was so much more the R value is shifting to become a representation of transmission in hospitals and care homes. If the recent estimations of around 25 new infections in London per day prove to be accurate then this could well be the case.