The Paradox of iPhone

There was a time when getting a new iPhone was a simple decision. The only choices you had to make were colour (black or white) and storage size. Everything else was the same.

Today, there's no such thing as "the best iPhone". It doesn't matter which one you choose, you'll have to make a compromise.

For example:

  • iPhone: This is the "normal" one (right now the iPhone 7). It's a fine device, but you'll get a lesser camera and miss out on Portrait Mode and image stabilisation. And personally, I find it too big.
  • iPhone Plus: This one has the latest technology. You get the best camera and everything that comes with it, but you better have big pockets to carry it around. If you want a huge phone you're fine. But if like me, you don't, then compromising on size isn't even an option.
  • iPhone SE: This is the perfect size for me, but there are too many compromises: older camera, older chip, no barometer, lack of features such as 3D Touch, and you're mid-cycle (and who knows if it'll ever be updated).

A few years ago, when I upgraded from the iPhone 5s to the iPhone 6, I wrote an article with my thoughts on this and why I just did not like the size and form factor of the new iPhone. For the first time, I was disappointed with my purchase and seriously considered switching back to the 5s.

I never got used to it.

Also for the first time, I did not upgrade to the iPhone 6s. I just didn't like the size. And I didn't want to go through the mental angst, again, of having to choose between a huge phone or a lesser camera. I only got an iPhone 7 in January this year because I gave my old one to my dad. I would still be carrying my iPhone 6 today otherwise.

Apple used to make these decisions easy.

Now I feel like my 7 year old trying to decide which flavour of ice cream to get. Instead of being a great experience I'm looking forward to, getting a new iPhone has become a stressful experience I dread. Yes, I know how that sounds. It's true though.

What I really want is the latest tech in the size of the SE.

I do not want to have to compromise on the camera or features. And I certainly don't want to spend time analysing different iPhone models to decide which one is the lesser compromise.

I just cannot get the iPhone I want because it doesn't exist.

Every time I think about it I remember The Paradox of Choice. In that book, Barry Schwartz gives an example of buying jeans. It's the same thing with iPhones today. Too many choices.

Next week Apple will announce the new iPhones. The rumour is they'll release the "S" versions of the current ones and a higher end model that some people are calling iPhone Pro or iPhone X or iPhone 8.

Here's hoping that new one brings us back to an easier choice where the only considerations, other than price, are colour and storage size.

I'd love to see an SE sized iPhone with all the latest tech.

But if they keep the same size as the regular iPhone, no matter what decision I make, getting an iPhone will be a compromise. That is not what I expect from Apple.

This is when you know Apple screwed up iCloud storage for iOS

This is going to be an interesting conversation. (Sorry Mom if you're reading this).

How the hell do I explain what this message means to someone that's not a geek and couldn't care less about understanding geeky stuff. She just wants her iPhone to work.

We'll iCloud storage plans don't "just work".

And replying to my Mom with a "just subscribe to the US0.99 plan per month" is a stupid idea. First of all, she'll ask why. And rightly so. Which will only open a can of worms if I try to explain what it's doing in the background. She just doesn't care and nor she should. Second, she'll probably be pissed off that she has to pay a monthly fee for something that makes no sense to her and she sees absolutely no need for.

Now, I do see the value and pay for a 50gb plan right now. And I know that once I start to really use Photos I'll upgrade to the 200gb. But I'm a geek and she isn't. She's only using iCloud storage to back up her iPhone even though she doesn't know it.

As it is, iCloud storage is only causing my mom angst. And I'm pretty sure that's the opposite of what Apple wants to cause its users.

A good solution is if I could share my plan with her and take care of it all. I'd be happy to pay for a 1tb plan if I could share it with my family and make these emails go away.

My thoughts on the new Apple TV

I finally got a chance to watch the recent Apple keynote where they announced the new iPhones, iPad Pro, a few Apple Watch updates, and more exciting for me, the new Apple TV.

The new iPhone has a few pretty cool features like live photos and 3D Touch. And the iPad Pro looks great, but I have to see and touch it before I can make my mind about it. The watch, well, I’m still not sure where it could fit in my life and I haven’t bought one, so can’t really comment on it yet.

The new Apple TV, on the other hand, looks great and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Way back in 2012 I wrote a short article speculating on what I wanted the next Apple TV to be when there was a lot of talk about Apple building an actual TV set. I wrote:

As cool as an Apple television set could be, I have no need or desire to purchase a new one. I believe the potential is in the experience of watching television, not in the hardware itself.

And then went on to speculate about Apps.

It looks like my wish is coming true with the new Apple TV and it's even better than I thought at the time. The addition of games, the new remote, and Siri have the potential to make watching, and interacting with, TV an extraordinary experience.

The one thing I’m not clear on that I brought up in the article is if independent content producers can create an app to sell their content directly to consumers. For example, shows like TikiBar that were distributed as a video podcast, could now have their own app in Apple TV and sell a subscription (or per show) directly to consumers. They could also add interactive content, links/promos to complementary iOS apps, books, merchandise, even spinoff games.

It seems to me this could be a great way to monetise content by reaching consumers directly and skipping the middle-men. And who knows, if Apple TV grows enough maybe bigger productions could be funded directly by us.

I wonder how many paid subscribers it would take at $20 to $30 a season for a show like Firefly) to be self funded? How awesome would that be?

Sydney, Australia flyover in Apple Maps

Last night I did a clean install of my Mac and today I opened Apple Maps for the first time in this Mac. It asked my permission to use my location and when I said yes, it identified I was in Sydney and I saw a little button to 'Start Flyover'. I don't remember seeing that before, so I clicked yes.

Wow, I sure do live in a beautiful city.

Watching this 90 second or so flyover made me smile. I liked it so much that I decided to make a video and share it. So there you go, this is Sydney, Australia.

Aperture... so long and thanks for all the fish.

I just got the below email from Apple regarding Aperture. Like every other Aperture user out there, I've known about this since it was announced last year. That doesn't make it any less annoying.

I'm disappointed in Apple and upset about this.

Apple has a history of ditching technologies for something they consider better. Remember floppy disks, CD-ROMs, Firewire ports, Adobe Flash, iTools? They even did it with their own operating system when they moved away from OS 9 into OS X. Almost every time, they’ve been right. What came after was better than what we had before.

They did it with Final Cut. But they jumped the gun and shipped the new version to early. We all complained that it was missing features and, for many, the new version just didn’t cut it. Apple realised the mistake and put the previous version up for sale again and acknowledged the problem. They said Final Cut X would get new features soon. Eventually Final Cut X matured and it’s now a great app.

At first, I hoped they wouldn’t make the same mistake with Aperture. Then they announced Photos for Mac and I thought oh no, here we go again. Then I used the beta of Photos for Mac and thought shit, there’s no way this can mature into an app that can replace Aperture.

And that’s where I’m at now. Photos for Mac is pretty and I’m sure my mom will love it. After all, iPhoto is confusing and has only gotten worse over time, so Photos for Mac will be a welcome change.

For Aperture users however, Photos for Mac is both a disappointment and a joke.

What I don’t get is how they thought this was a good idea. It’s one thing to change technologies where the impact is that we have to buy new hardware, but this is messing with peoples photographs.

In moving on from Aperture we will loose data. And that’s just not cool. Shame on Apple for leaving it’s customers in such a predicament.

Apple is wrong this time.

Apple results. But will it last?

Apple published its latest financial results last week and they sold even more iPhones than ever before. If you take a moment to consider the numbers it's quite an incredible accomplishment. In the last quarter they sold over 74 million new iPhones.

They don't specify the breakdown of models, but I think it's safe to assume most of them were the latest iPhone 6 and 6 plus. Interestingly, the breakdown was different across markets. In the conference call Tim Cook suggested that the bigger screen 6 plus sold better in the Asian markets.

Remarkable achievement indeed.

But I'd like to suggest that perhaps the amazing interest in the iPhone is not because it's the best possible phone, but because it's the best one out there right now.

Let me explain what I mean.

I'm a geek and I love technology. But I'm not flippant about gadgets. I don't upgrade every time there's a new shiny toy. Hell, I kept my Nikon D700 and have no intention of upgrading my Fujifilm x100s even though the new model looks very cool. But my phone is different. It's the one gadget I get to play with. And because it costs me nothing to upgrade because I hand down my current model, I have always upgraded my iPhone. This is the first time I've regretted it.

I won't say anything about the big one because I don't own one. I can see the appeal for some but it's just not for me. It's the "normal" one the one I currently own and which infuriates me several times a day. Let's see why.

Holding it one handed is awkward. Trying to navigate it with one hand while walking is a recipe for disaster. I've almost dropped it too many times already. Stretching to tap the buttons at the top is infuriating. And that double-tap on the home button hack is the sort of thing we used to make fun of when Samsung did it.

Fitting it in jeans pocket is just bizarre. The iPhone is so big that it keeps moving inward, so I'm now walking around touching my crotch as I move it back into place.

The layout of the buttons is the exact opposite of user friendly. How often do you try to turn the volume up/down and the iPhone switches off? I can't imagine who thought it'd be a good idea to put those to buttons on opposite sides. And then there's the different layout from an iPad.

Running with an iPhone is weird. Granted, this won't affect the majority of people out there, but if you're a runner it's pretty annoying to have a huge phone jumping around.

When the 5s came out I wasn't convinced about the bigger 4 inch screen either.

I had no issues with the 3.5 inch screen of the previous models and it had never occurred to me that I would need a bigger screen. But I quickly got used to it. It didn't fit in my jeans pocket quite as well as the older ones, but I could live with that compromise. But that's the thing. It was a compromise.

I still think the original iPhone size was the perfect size. Here's hoping we see an iPhone 6s Mini in October 2015.

What I think Apple stopping development of Aperture means

A few hours ago Apple announced that it would stop development of Aperture (and iPhoto) in favour of the new Photos app they introduced at WWDC earlier this month.

This is what Apple said:

With the introduction of the new Photos app and iCloud Photo Library, enabling you to safely store all of your photos in iCloud and access them from anywhere, there will be no new development of Aperture,” said Apple in a statement provided to The Loop. “When Photos for OS X ships next year, users will be able to migrate their existing Aperture libraries to Photos for OS X.

Apple also said there will be at least one final update to Aperture to make it fully compatible with Mac OS X Yosemite, so at the very least we have a little over a year before we have to find an alternative.

As you might expect, I’m a bit torn about this news. Not too long ago, I was hopeful when I wrote my thoughts and wish list for the next version of Aperture. Then, after the WWDC Keynote, I wasn’t so sure and I wrote:

After seeing what they showed developers outside of the keynote, I don't think Aperture is dead. OK, maybe the Aperture we know and love is, but what comes after could be even better. I have no idea what it is, maybe a pro version of the Photos app, maybe it is Aperture 4, maybe something else. As long as it maintains backwards compatibility and doesn't loose any of the asset management power Aperture has, I think it could be good.

Clearly the upcoming Photos app is not Aperture 4.

But I do believe it will be pretty slick. If it does maintain backwards compatibility, then it just might be the evolution of a photography application. Scratch that, it might be the evolution of a photography ecosystem where a single applcation is no longer the right approach.

According to The Verge, Photos will be backwards compatible:

The company also confirmed that when users transition to the new Photos for OS X app, all their albums, folders, keywords and captions will be preserved. Apple also noted that any edits applied to photos will be retained non-destructively, so hopefully the transition won't be too difficult.

The truth is that I have no idea what’s coming. I can only speculate. But think of the history of Aperture and why it exists in the first place. When Apple introduced it, there was nothing like it. We used to manage our photographs in folders on hard drives and maybe used Adobe Bridge to bring some sense to them other than the one dimensional hierarchy the Finder allowed. There were no albums and metadata was limited. And any adjustment we wanted to make needed a destructive trip to Photoshop or similar.

Apple realised this was a problem that needed a solution and they built one. Then Adobe quickly jumped on the train with Lightroom. Today, if you have a sizeable library, you’d be insane to manage you photographs the “old way”.

Fast forward almost 10 years. Today we have multiple devices and we’re used to them being in sync, the cloud is a thing, we take a lot of photos with our iPhones.

Frankly, it’s a mess again.

It makes sense that Apple knows this and is coming up with a solution. In doing so, some things necessarily have to be left behind.

After all, this is the company that decided floppy disks and DVD drives were obsolete before any of us wanted them to be. The one that decided Ethernet and Firewire ports were no longer needed. The one that introduced a brand new product (iPhone) knowing it would canibalise a very profitable product (iPod). The one that decided video editing needed a complete reinvention. Every time, they didn’t look back.

My guess (hope) is that this is what’s happening with digital photography.

To be honest, managing the photos I take with my iPhone has been a headache. Getting them into Aperture is a pain. Photo stream works, but it messes with keywords and I have to manually reorganise them. If I don’t do it often enough I miss some photos and who knows which ones I missed. My Aperture library is so big that it doesn’t fit in my MacBook Pro, so I’ve had to split it in two and merge then regularly. My main library is still in a separate hard drive. It’s not fun and every time I'm dealing with this I think there has to be a better way.

Maybe the new Photos approach is the solution.

So what am I planning to do?

For now, I’ll stick with Aperture until I see what the new Photos is all about. I may eventually end up moving to Lightroom if I’m wrong, but I’m not going to rush into it or make any rash decisions.

UPDATE: Joseph Linaschke at ApertureExpert.com wrote a great article with similar thoughts. He did a much better job at it than I did. Go check it out.

Week 26: Aperture Workflow eBook, Timelapse photography, and Essentialism

Effective Aperture Workflow Book Updated

If you use Apple's Aperture you need to get this book. It's written by Scott Davenport, an active member of the Aperture community and a great landscape photographer.

 
 

I purchased Effective Aperture Workflow many months ago and enjoyed it immensely, but more importantly, I learned a lot from it. Scott goes through his workflow in a lot of detail and believe me, it's a good workflow. I've adapted many things from the book into my own.

The book is available in the iBookstore and includes a bunch of video where Scott shows you as he explains. It's only $6.99.

Last week Scott updated it with new content and I'm going through it again.

The Art Of The Timelapse by Michael Shainblum

Not much to add to this other than... wow. See more from Michael Shainblum at his website and Vimeo channel.

Greg McKeown on Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

I often fall for this. Sometimes I try to do way too many things and end up finishing none. Or the ones I finish are half-assed because I had to split my time and attention on too many non-essential things. The worst is, as Greg McKeown explains in the video below, when you do something that's successful and that opens a lot of new doors and you try to go through all of them. Success can bring failure indeed.

The video is about Greg's latest book titled Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Amazon | iBookstore | unfortunately I couldn't find in Audible). I just purchased it and it's next on my reading list.

Apple Aperture 4 Wish List (2014)

Aperture 4 Wish List

Like pretty much everybody else that uses Apple's Aperture, I've been waiting and hoping for the release of Aperture 4 for way too long.

Unlike most of the Internet though, I don't think Apple has abandoned it. In fact, I feel pretty confident we'll see Aperture 4 (or X or Pro X or whatever) sometime in the next few months. Of course, this is just speculation on my part. I have zero inside knowledge. However, there are a few things that hint at Aperture still being alive: Apple features Aperture in their website and advertising, they have been hiring people for the Aperture team, and of course there are the book leaks.

Most importantly though, I think Aperture 4 is around the corner because I believe a few pieces needed to fall into place before they could release a new version. Some are done and some are not here yet, but close:

  1. iCloud and Photo Streams - These are key for the next version of Aperture and I don't think they're finished. They need to add back some of the features of MobileMe Gallery and figure out how to support video. They also need to sort out how keywords are treated in Photo Streams.
  2. Unified iPhoto & Aperture Library - This not only provides a seamless upgrade path for iPhoto users, but makes it much easier to build new features and integration across the OS off a common base.
  3. New Mac Pro - A key Mac to promote and use Aperture.
  4. Retina iMac and Displays - Or at least 4k. It looks like this is coming soon.
  5. Powerful iPad and iPhone - I believe Aperture 4 will come with a companion iOS version and the previous gen iOS devices weren't powerful enough. iOS 7 being 64 bit might have something to do with this as well.

Again, I don't know, but I sure hope I'm right.

On the other hand, if I think about it, I don't really need and Aperture 4. Yes, there are a lot of things I'd like to see improved and a few features I'd like added, but non of them are a deal breaker.

Aperture does most of what I need and it does it well. It's still a pleasure to use and I like the fact that I haven't had to relearn new things or pay for upgrades.

The photographer in me is perfectly content with Aperture, but the geek in me wants a shiny new version. Now.

My Aperture 4 Wish List

Over the years I've kept a list of things I'd like to see in Aperture 4. Some are features, some are improvements, some are changes in the way things currently work.

In no particular order, here's my wish list for Aperture 4:

  • Fix Keywords: The way keywords work in Aperture is seriously infuriating. It's a long topic for another post, but if you use Aperture you know what I mean. (BTW, here's how to batch remove a keyword).
  • Pixelmator Compatibility: Aperture cannot read Pixelmator files (pxm) so there's no way to roundtrip a photograph.
  • Ability to assign multiple external editors with different settings.
  • Ability to assign export format for each plugin independently: onOne is happy with PSD files, but with the Nik plugins, some can't work with PSD so you need to use TIFFs. The problem is that Aperture will send files to plugins in whatever filetype you've chosen for the external editor, so you need to go back and forth.
  • Non-destructive plugins: Something like Smart Filters in Photoshop would be great.
  • Project and Image level restore from Vaults: At the moment it's an all or nothing backup.
  • Grouping and naming of adjustments bricks: I'd like to be able to give names to the bricks. Once you have 3 curves you need to open each and look at them to remember what exactly they're doing.
  • Ability to save masks and copy across different bricks: Scott Davenport has a script for that, it's called Aperture Adjustment Brush Mask Lift & Stamp AppleScript. That's awesome, but this should just be built in.
  • Ability to save groups of adjustments as brushes: Imagine you did multiple adjustments to the sky in a photograph and brushed them all in. Wouldn't it be great to save that as a brush so you could just paint in once to another photograph and apply all adjustments at once?
  • Save custom crop sizes: It's incredible that you can't to this. Every single time I have to type in the dimensions for a custom size that I use regularly.
  • Brush flow and pressure sensitivity with Wacom tablets
  • Output sharpening: Sometimes you need a little more sharpening than you can get out of Edge Sharpen.
  • Lens corrections: Adobe really cracked this one and I'd be happy with a similar implementation. Just make it automatic depending on the camera/lens. GoPro lens correction would be awesome. At least add manual perspective correction.
  • Noise reduction: Again, Adobe cracked it. Just copy them.
  • Sync settings across computers with iCloud: It's really annoying when a keyboard shortcut doesn't work because it's a custom one you created on one Mac and not in the other one.
  • Integration with other services: Forget about Flickr (the new version is horrible), give me 500px. And Squarespace somehow.
  • Stitching for panoramas: If the iPhone can do it, why can't Aperture?
  • HDR: I don't want to have to use an external plugin for this.
  • Graduated filters: Another one that Lightroom does great.
  • Film grain emulation: For those of us that like grain so we don't have to rely on plugins or hack it (like my Grain Preset).
  • Adjustment History
  • Ability to add borders on export
  • Watermarks that don't require Photoshop or using a bunch of applications.
  • Larger previews for effects (presets): If you have a big screen, there's no reason to have such a tiny preview.
  • Blending Modes
  • Content Aware Fill: I've never really had the need for this, but it could be useful.
  • Nik's u-point technology or something similar: Most of the time this would work better and faster than brushing. It's genius.
  • Camera Profiles
  • Aperture for iPad: Ideally, I'd like to move entire projects to the iPad to work on while away from my main computer and have them sync seamlessly back to the main library. At the very least, I'd like to be able to do editing on the road (ratings, keywords, flags, labels, albums, etc.) and creating and adding to Photo Streams.

That's my wish list for Aperture 4. I'm not sure these warrant a new version though. Many seem to me like incremental improvements and Apple has added new features in point updates. Still, this is what I hope for the new version.

Did I miss anything?

See geolocation of a photograph with Apple Preview

I'm obsessed with embedding location metadata in my photographs, or what's commonly called geotagging. In fact, it's the next step in my photography workflow right after importing my photos into Aperture.

Having this information is both fun and useful.

Looking at your photographs after a trip in Aperture's Places is a great way of reliving your adventures. You can also add maps, weather and other info to Web Journals with iPhone for iOS based on the location information. And if you ever forget where you took a particular photograph, the answer is just a click away.

I tend to add location information in 2 ways:

  1. Manually in Aperture's Places when I do an entire shoot in a single location.
  2. Automatically using GeoTagr on the iPhone when I'll be at multiple locations or when travelling.

Of course, Aperture and iPhoto aren't the only applications that can read location information.

Did you know you can see location information in Apple Preview?

This is one of those things that surprises most people when I show them.

Just open a photograph in Preview and display the Inspector (Tools>Show Inspector or cmd-I). In the Inspector window, click on the "More Info" button (the one with an info icon) and then click on GPS.

If the photograph is geotagged, you'll see altitude, latitude, longitude and a few other things, plus a map with the location highlighted.

The photograph below is of my first long exposure image taken a few days ago and today's photo of the day.

preview-location-gps-01.jpg

Clicking on the Locate button opens Apple Maps with the exact location.

preview-location-gps-02.jpg

How cool is that?

In the example above, Apple Maps says "Unknown Location" because I took the photograph in the rocky part of Gordon Bay and Apple doesn't have a landmark associated with it. But if you get closer you will see the exact place I was standing when I took that photograph.

This feature is also useful to see which photos do have location information embedded in the metadata. There are times when you don't want location info there and Preview makes it easy to check. For example, you might not want to post online photos taken at your house!

Introducing a new Aperture Preset: Grain

Aperture Grain Preset

Aperture Grain Preset

The first camera I owned was an old Nikon FM 35mm with a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens. It was a gift from my father when I was 13 or 14 years old. I used that camera for years. It's the reason I fell in love with photography and why I turned a room in my house into a makeshift darkroom. I loved spending countless hours in there developing my own film and printing my photographs.

My favourite film was, and still is, Ilford HP5 Plus 400. It's a black and white film with beautiful grain that tends to create sharp edge contrast. The grain has a certain "punch" to it that I like.

These days, although I still shoot film occasionally and continue to develop it myself, most of my photographic work is digital. Aperture is my main software.

Unfortunately, digital photographs don't have grain. At least not natural-looking grain. At high ISO, what you get is digital noise that in my opinion doesn't look like film grain at all. And most recent cameras are so good that noise is almost non-existent even at ISO of 3200 or higher. In contrast, the grain you get with an ISO 3200 film is too much for most cases.

Of course, there are plugins that simulate film grain. For example, onOne Software and Nik Sofware have Perfect B&W and Silver Efex Pro respectively. Both are designed to convert photographs to black and white and can add natural(ish) looking grain. They both work really well and I use them often.

However, I don't want to put every image through a plugin. It's time consuming and it creates huge TIFF files. I do this for my best photographs, but often I want a quick version done entirely within Aperture.

That's why I created the Aperture Film Grain preset.

It's an Aperture preset (of Effect as they're now called) that emulates the grain of Ilford HP5 Plus 400. I add it as the last step in my post-processing when I feel the photograph could use a little bit of grain.

The Aperture Film Grain preset basically adds a film grain mask using the Dodge and Burn bricks in Aperture so you can adjust the strength to best suit the particular photograph.

I'm releasing it for free. Find out more information and the download link in the Film Grain preset page.