using the iphone 11 pro max – initial experiences

The crowded, and noisy, Apple Store at Florida Mall. Taken with the iPhone 11 Pro ultrawide lens

Saturday I went back out to pick up my new iPhone 11. This time I drove out to the correct Apple store where the transfer had been setup. I was able to get in rather quickly, team up with an Apple store employee, and begin the process of picking up the phone. It took me some two hours to purchase it, set it up, transfer the data from my older iPhone 8 to the 11 Pro (the bulk of the time), and then finish up and walk out the door. The hardest part was transferring all the data off my iPhone 8 and onto my iPhone 11 Pro. (Note to readers: except where noted all photos taken with the iPhone 11 Pro)

Purchase and Setup

When I arrived at Apple Florida Mall I was carrying my MacBook Pro with a full iTune’s backup of my iPhone 8. From past experiences restoring to a new phone from an iTune backup was the fastest way to get up and running with the new phone. This time, it failed.

Getting the iPhone 11 Pro and getting it onto the AT&T network was very simple and very fast. But when I tried to go through the hand-holding setup of restoring from my backup on my MacBook, iTunes on the MacBook refused to see the iPhone 11. It could see the iPhone 8 just fine, but iTunes would not fully connect to the iPhone 11, and iTunes would eventually time out trying to connect.

At this point we had two choices: back up to a newer MacBook they had at the store and then restore from that, or use physical cabling to copy from one iPhone to the other. I chose the cabling option. That method was successful but also introduced drama of its own.

When the cabling transfer method first started, the Apple software running on both phones stated it would take 11 hours to complete. Oh boy. But the Apple store staff person who was helping me said not to worry, that was the way it always worked when it first started. Once the software had scanned all my data on the old phone then the time to transfer would drastically drop. Except it didn’t. While waiting and watching, the time to complete crept up to 14 hours, at which point I was beginning to panic. The Apple staff person and I talked about using their Mac as an intermediary for a few moments, during which I asked if he had a wall-wart we could use to keep both phones powered during the process.

With both phones plugged in, the time to transfer began to drastically fall. I didn’t keep exact times, but it ran between an hour and an hour-and-a-half in my situation. I transferred, in total, about 90 GB of photos, texts, and a lot of other personal data that has accumulated on my iPhones since I started with the iPhone 6s back in 2015. (Before then I’d been an Android True Believer using a Samsung Galaxy S4) We’re talking five years of personal information slowly being pulled forward on each iPhone I chose purchase.

While waiting for the transfer to take place I did find a use for my MacBook Pro, and that was with Face Time. I paired my AirPods with my MacBook and then pulled up iMessage, and from there, I Face Time called my wife. I was able to reach her and keep her in the loop, because my regular wireless number was effectively out of commission until I finished the data transfer. The MacBook did serve an important purpose, but not in the way I had originally planned.

I’d like to say for the record how incredibly helpful and professional all the Apple staff were at both Apple stores, the store at Millenia Mall as well as Florida Mall. At no time did anyone show any signs of impatience with me. They were kind, gracious and above all patient, as well as knowledgable about the 11. This is why I go to an Apple store to buy a new iPhone. If I’d been confronted by these problems at home, I would have been driven to seek help there anyway, and considering this was the release weekend for the 11, it would have been insane going in as a “regular” customer.

Initial Observations

It took me from yesterday evening until this morning to grow used to not having the button to wake up the phone. I’ve set up Face ID and the phone is tweaked a bit to make it open up almost instantly for me. Having said that, I’ve been reading articles where complaints are being leveled against Face ID and how it’s not as fast as Touch ID, and I believe I know why the critics are saying that.

  1. When you open an iPhone using Touch ID, you immediately go to the home screen.
  2. When you open an iPhone using Face ID, you still have to swipe up to go to the home screen.

It’s that extra swipe up to open onto the home screen that is bothering people, and makes it seem that Face ID is slower than Touch ID. I’ve done no absolute formal testing, but for me, my 11 is faster to unlock using Face ID than my 8 is using Touch ID. Note I said unlock. I didn’t say opening the home screen. That delay in swiping up wipes out any speed advantage, and if the user isn’t expecting this behavior and delays, it makes it appear even longer.

I consider this current Face ID unlock behavior to be a design flaw, if not a software bug. I expect my iPhone 11 to immediately show the home screen once Face ID unlocks the iPhone just like Touch ID does. If someone at Apple thought this was a Good Idea, I’d like to know what that Good Idea was. At the very least give me yet another option in Settings to choose between swiping to fully open versus going immediately to the home screen. Which will lead to further feature bloat and make Settings just that much more complicated to navigate.

Which leads me to this side comment: I’m a camera person who uses Olympus cameras. Lots of people (I’m looking over at you, Kirk Tuck) like to belittle the Olympus menu system, calling it too complicated. They’re obviously choosing to forget the Apple Settings app, because if they spent a moment mentally comparing the two, they’d realize that nobody, not even Olympus, holds a candle to Apple when it comes to configuration menu complexity. But I digress…

I find Face ID rather remarkable, in that it always recognizes me face as I initially set it up. I’ve had no misses or longer than normal unlocks since bringing it home (at the store I did not enable Face ID). I’ve even made it fail, and fail consistently. I have a habit of pushing my glasses up on my forehead when I read close, such as reading my iPhone screen for example. When my glasses are up like that then Face ID won’t recognize my face. It fails every time I do that. That tells me two important observations: 1) the iPhone really is paying attention to how my face is arranged (which actually makes me quite happy to know), and 2) I’ll need to add another face scan to the existing one to handle that particular use case, and probably a third with my glasses off completely. Once I add those two additional scans in then I’ll need to see how long it takes for Face ID to respond. That will be an interesting experiment.

I’ve also tweaked the 11’s ability to wake up right before scanning my face. I’ve turned that off (Settings | Display & Brightness | Raise to Wake). Instead I have enabled Tap to Wake (Settings | Accessibility | Touch | Tap to Wake). You can find both settings quickly by going into Setting’s search bar and simply typing ‘Wake’. It’ll find both settings for you. I turned Raise to Wake off because it made the iPhone too prone to open up. It’s easier for me to just pick up the handset and then touch the screen for Face ID to unlock the phone.

Gestures

I don’t know what the proper term is, but gestures are very smooth and fast on the 11. They also seem intuitive once you spend even a small amount of time working with the device. Right now I’m so comfortable using the 11 with gestures I can’t imagine going back to the 8. I’ve even mastered the the little curve gesture for bringing up the open app carousel. And I’ve discovered that it works whether I start in the lower left corner or lower right. As long as I curve towards the center the carousel comes right up.

Apple says it got rid of 3D Touch, and that’s true, it did. But the alternative, Long Touch, seems more than an adequate replacement. It does take a mite bit longer for q quick menu to appear, but not horribly so, and my 11 produces a little feedback ‘tick’, both audibly and physically, within the phone itself. The feedback of this gesture is very positive and more than fast enough. I use that all the time, especially when I’m out, to control when and where I use public WiFi. Thus a very short lingering touch on Settings brings up the quick menu, allowing me to go directly into WiFi settings. I will not miss 3D Touch because I consider the replacement more than adequate for my needs.

How do you take a screen shot without a button on the chin? On the 11, simply press up volume on the left and power on the right simultaneously. Easy-peasy, and faster on the 11 than the 8. And there are two examples below.

Initial Performance

The 11, performance-wise, is a class act, supremely smooth in every action it performs. The 8 was certainly no slouch, but the 11 is pure refinement and even more enjoyable to work with. I say this because I’ve been reading the pundits pontificate on whether to upgrade from the iPhone 8. Technically they’re technically correct that you don’t have to. But if you can, you should.

I’ve included a pair of  Geek Bench (version 4.4.1) screenshots. They’re based on “synthetic” tests, so keep that in mind. We’re not talking real-world use, unless your job is to constantly run synthetic benchmarks on your iPhone.

One other performance comment. I’ve been reading (but have not yet observed) a test where somebody sits and starts multiple applications, one right after the other, and times how long it takes. They’ll remove them and run through the same sequence again, timing that. In one of those tests the 11 Pro came up “30 seconds” slower than the regular old 11. On the face of it that sounds pretty horrible, which is why that headline is written the way it is; click-bait. But when I read how the test was conducted, I immediately called bullshit on the entire procedure because that’s not how I’ve ever used any smartphone, nor do I believe that’s how any other normal human being uses their smartphone.

Over time I’ll open multiple applications, that’s true. I’ll open one, use it for some time, and either then open another app, or put my phone away (making calls and reading texts falls into the later category). At no time, with any smart phone, have I ever seen where starting an app was slow. The only time I’ve ever had a problem was with a very-low-end Android handset that cost all of $140 brand new, and even then when it happened it was very seldom and not for very long (we’re talking maybe two seconds max, if that long). Slow app opening on both Android and iOS was a dragon that was slain many, many years ago. It’s just not an issue.

In another post to follow this one I’ll talk about using the camera and a number of photography apps, and that’s where I’ll talk about performance and the processing prowess of the iPhone 11 Pro. It’s in that use case where the iPhone 11 Pro truly shines, at least for me.

Initial Power Usage

I have had very little time to determine how the iPhone 11 Pro Max will handle battery life, but my initial experiences are very, very positive. Firstly, the battery usage over time is much slower. Secondly, when I do put the 11 Pro on my wireless charger, it charges a lot faster than the iPhone 8 does. I’m using an Ubiolabs Wireless Charging Pad (AWC1018, which I purchased at my local Costco), and it charges the 11 even faster than the 8.

There is an article from iFixit where they show in their tea-down that the wireless charging coil is connected directly to the battery, introducing a second electrical path. They speculated it might have been for a feature that wasn’t released on the iPhone 11, the ability to wireless recharge another iDevice such as an AirPod or Apple Watch by placing said device on the back of the iPhone 11. Apple, if anything, is parsimonious in its designs. I don’t think Apple would waste all that manufacturing time and material doing that if it didn’t have an immediate purpose, and I now believe that purpose is to speed up the charging cycle, and they shorten the time, for the iPhone 11.

Closing

I made the right decision. Yes, it costs quite a bit of money, but the payments are spread out over two years, and in a year, if I decide I just have to have the next major design, then I’ll trade up. But right now I’m happier than a pig in mud.

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so i went to an apple store today

The lines weren’t all that long at 2pm in the afternoon, but they were still crowded enough.

I had a 2pm appointment to pick up an iPhone 11 Pro Max w/512GB of storage at Apple Millenia (or so I thought; read on). I’m a part of the Apple Upgrade Program, and I have been since the iPhone 6. It’s been good for me, in that I’ve been able to keep a decent up-to-date smart phone with me with software that is also being constantly upgraded with fixes and new features, a far cry from my experiences with Samsung and Android. It was the negative Samsung/Android software upgrade experience that finally drove me to Apple.

My current iPhone is the 8 Plus, released back September 2017 alongside the iPhone X. I wasn’t ready for the X, nor the XS when it was released. But the iPhone 11 Pro, now that’s a different kind of smart phone.

My reasons for buying now are varied, but they’re all technically and solidly grounded:

  1. Battery life. It is vital that I be reachable on my iPhone, and battery life figures significantly into that. Apple is claiming a four to five hour battery life increase (11 Pro, 11 Pro Max) over the XS pair released last year. While the iPhone 8 Plus has decent battery life if I’m careful, there’s a reason I have several wireless charging cradles around my house and one at work. I’m constantly dropping my 8 into one of those cradles to keep it topped up. With Optimized Battery Charging enabled (under Settings | Battery | Battery Health, iOS 13) my battery is pretty healthy even after nearly two years of constant use. Right now after nearly two years my battery Maximum Capacity is 96%. That extra four to five hours means I’m far less tethered to a spot to charge at.
  2. The processor. The A13 is considerably faster than the A11, even though both are multi-core using Apple’s variation of big.LITTLE architecture. What’s more reports are beginning to circulate that the A13 is faster than every other Apple Intel-based Mac except for one 15″ MacBook Pro. That also makes it noticeably faster than every other ARM processor in all the other Android high-end handsets. Consider that’s a hand-held near super computer that slips into your pocket. I’ll take that power and use it. A lot.
  3. The camera. I have read many stories already about the new camera, and I can read between the lines, and it’s all very good news. While Google with its Pixel 3 camera system set an overall high bar, Apple’s camera system has raised that bar much, much farther. So much so that I’m beginning to question if I even need a digital interchangeable lens camera any more. It’s one reason any thoughts of any more gear purchases have come to a total halt for me. I felt certain this was coming from Apple. From what I’ve seen so far the new iPhone 11 Pro camera will handle at least 80% of what I use a camera for, and in far more challenging light conditions than every before. Again, I can certainly put that to very good use.
  4. The overall design. While I was in the Apple store today I handled all three iPhone 11s, and I can indeed tell a difference between the regular 11 and the Pros. I love the Pro’s dark green color. The entire design effect is gorgeous, and far better looking in person that what I’ve seen all over the web. And I love the screen. I played a bit with apps, and while I’ve seen some of the 90Hz handsets so far, I can’t tell the difference at all between a 60Hz refresh rate on the Pro and faster refresh rates anywhere else. Keep in mind that refresh rate inversely impacts battery life. In a tradeoff between faster refresh rate and longer battery life, longer battery life will win with me every time.
  5. It doesn’t have 5G. I don’t want 5G, and I’m quite sure I’m not going to want it next year or the year after. Currently 5G is a power hog and with the frequencies it uses it’s going to require far more infrastructure buildout than 4G ever has. Remember point 2 above about battery life? I don’t want any feature that negatively impacts that, and 5G will most certainly negatively impact battery life. The fact that this may be the last iPhone that doesn’t have 5G was the final push to buy an 11 Pro.

All that love, and nothing to satisfy it. I left the Apple store today without an iPhone 11 Pro because even though I pre-ordered one a week ago, I wasn’t paying attention and the Apple Store app sent it to another Apple store in Orlando. I know where that other store is, but I had to ask the nice Apple folk why the Apple Store app sent my phone to a different store, rather than the one that’s just ten minutes away from where I live.

That led to a series of unfortunate events while I was there at the Apple Store at Millenia.

When it finally dawned on everyone what had happened the Apple staff tried very hard to have my order transferred to that store. That meant I had to cancel my current order and then open a new one at Millenia. I tried to cancel the order using the Apple Store app, but it failed with a message to call Apple support. So I called Apple support and wound up on infinite hold, right there in the store. While waiting I tried to use my MacBook Pro, which I had with me as well to speed up the transfer to a new iPhone via iTunes. That failed as well. The Apple Millenia staff were as helpful as they could possibly be. They’d even brought out an iPhone 11 Pro Max with 512GB in dark green, just like I’d ordered. But the Apple system didn’t scale well today, so I left unfulfilled. I was told that the other store will keep it until October 10th, so I have time to drive over when things aren’t so crazy and pick it up then. Until then I continue to use the 8 Plus and back it up to my MacBook every evening.