Archives For iOS

my ipad air 2

July 1, 2017

I have a confession to make. I have two iPads, an iPad Air 2 from 2014 as well as the 2016 Pro. I purchased the Air 2 in November 2014, right before my annual trip to Japan in support of Yama Sakura. I’d purchased the Air 2 for the express purpose of moving my photography post processing over to an iPad and away from a 17.3″ Samsung notebook running Windows 8 that I’d also carried with me to Japan. The biggest reason for the Air 2 was its gorgeous Retina Display. The Air 2’s display was the killer feature for me on that device. It just blew the display on the Samsung notebook completely away. In addition to all of that hardware, I still had my Samsung Galaxy S4 phone. I carried every bit of it in a backpack from Orlando to Tokyo, which was where Yama was held that year.

The Air 2 was the second major Apple purchase I made. The first was a refurbished mid-2012 Mac Mini Server. I used the Mini as my initial OS X development platform. I’d purchased a refurbed Mini because by that time Apple had dumbed down the Mini. The refurbed unit came with an Intel quad core i7 and a pair of 1TB drives. Furthermore it came with an easily removable base, which allowed me to boost the initial 4GB of DRAM to 16GB six months later.

Up to the point where I purchased the Mac Mini I was pretty anti-Apple. My wife owned a MacBook, then a modest MacBook Pro, but I stuck to my Linux and Windows systems. But there was something about the design of the Mini Server that I appreciated, and the overall system’s small size but mighty capabilities struck a chord with me. The purchase of the Mini opened a chink in my personal armor against Apple. The Air 2 finished the job by blowing that armor away. I was so pleased with the Air 2 that the next year, when it came time for me to upgrade my Android phone to something more current for the time that I elected to switch to Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program, starting with the iPhone 6s Plus. Then later came the purchase of the 15″ MBP and the retirement of the Samsung Windows notebook to my shelf (the way Windows 10 came to the Samsung played a role in that decision as well).

It was with the Air 2 that I came to fully appreciate iOS and the various tools, especially Pixelmator for still images and RePlay for simple videos built from those stills. RePlay was later purchased by GoPro and folded into Quik, but not before I paid to fully unlock RePlay’s capabilities (Quik is now free). I’d also purchased a Pencil by 53 Software, and had the app installed on the Air 2. It was something really cool to work with, back before Apple released their own Apple Pencil. I still use it, but not quite as much.

I’ve included the Air 2’s Geekbench 4 numbers in the table from the last article. At first blush the numbers look rather modest, but I can assure you that the Air 2 was (and still is) a fast and capable iPad. I accomplished and created quite a bit on the Air 2, and I’m still so attached to it that I refuse to give it up.

MBP mid-2015 iPhone 7 Plus 2016 iPad Pro 2016 iPad Air 2 2014
CPU Single-Core 4462 3457 3017 1811
CPU Multi-Core 16005 5872 5082 4297
Compute 38117 12296 14764 7646
Processor Intel Core i7 Apple A10 Fusion Apple A9x Apple A8x
Max Frequency 2.8 GHz 2.34 GHz 2.26 GHz 1.50 GHz
OS macOS 10.12.5 iOS 10.3.2 iOS 10.3.2 iOS 10.3.2

There has been talk for some time about how Apple devices running iOS are contenders for replacing standard Intel architecture computers, such as MacBook Pros. Since I have a number of Apple devices, I thought I’d install Geekbench 4 (version 4.1) and run it across three of my Apple devices. I’ve put the results in a simple table below, with the results in the first three rows.

MBP mid-2015 iPhone 7 Plus iPad Pro 2016
CPU Single-Core 4462 3457 3017
CPU Multi-Core 16005 5872 5082
Compute 38117 12296 14764
Processor Intel Core i7 Apple A10 Fusion Apple A9x
Max Frequency 2.8 GHz 2.34 GHz 2.26 GHz
OS macOS 10.12.5 iOS 10.3.2 iOS 10.3.2

The MBP I own is a 15″ Retina MBP with 16GB of memory and the 2.8GHz quad-core i7. I wasn’t surprised to see the MBP be the leader across the board, particularly in multi-core scoring. The MBP is certainly the brawniest of the three with its Intel processor and eight times the memory over both the iPhone and iPad. Keep in mind that the MBP is the oldest of the three devices.

What I found rather interesting is the GPU-based Compute score. The iOS version of Geekbench uses Metal, the graphical framework that’s a part of iOS. Geekbench on the MBP uses OpenCL and because I’m too cheap to buy a copy, the built-in Iris Pro on the i7 processor was used instead of the beefier AMD Radeon R9 M370X. So even though I’m using the “lesser” graphics processor and “poorer” graphics software framework, the MBP still scored a solid two to three times faster than either iOS device. Of further note is the sizable performance lead of the iPad over the iPhone, even though the iPhone’s CPU is clocked faster and it’s using a more current Apple SoC.

So, am I ready to trade in the MBP for either iOS device? It all depends on the use case.

For general uses involving reading content and typing, I could easily switch to the iPad Pro. I use it with a Logitech keyboard-and-cover in landscape mode, which, when attached to the iPad using the Smart Connector gives me a decent keyboard with back-lit keys. It’s not as efficient and comfortable as the MBP keyboard, but it’s more than serviceable especially over a period of hours. I can do writing and other types of textual creation, as well as fairly sophisticated graphical content creation and photo/video post processing. There are, however, limits to the iPad Pro.

For the ultimate web experience I prefer the MBP and my selection of browsers, which includes Chrome, Firefox, and Vivaldi. I am not a fan of Safari on either iOS or macOS, and I don’t think I ever will be. What makes web browsing on iOS truly annoying is Apple’s insistence of forcing every other browser to use the Apple web engine used by iOS Safari; it is buggy and poorly performant.

When I need to develop software I much prefer the MBP. When I need to do light code editing on the iPad Pro I use Textastic with Working Copy. I have iOS Terminus that allows me to ssh into machines around my home running Linux and macOS (nothing like that for Windows, unfortunately). Under ssh I tend to use vim with extensive vim customizations and colorizations. And I can use scp and git to move things around that need moving. So the iPad Pro makes a pretty decent work platform when I don’t want to fire up the MBP, especially when I need to put it down due to interruptions.

I haven’t even mentioned the iPhone, but it’s decent enough that it can fill in for the iPad when all I can carry with me is just the iPhone. I use a Microsoft Folding Bluetooth keyboard to type on, and I have an SDHC to Lightening card reader for reading JPEG and RAW files produced by my Olympus cameras. The same apps I would use on my iPad to post process work just fine on the iPhone 7 Plus. And when I don’t want to, or can’t have, my Olympus camera, then the iPhone 7 Plus camera is just fine.

Finally, there’s the truly heavy lifting that the MBP is called upon to do. For example, I have a number of Linux virtual machines I power up to perform testing and development in parallel with work on the MBP. I use Xcode to develop iOS applications, as well as Android Studio to develop Android applications. If I want to develop using a full Javascript stack starting with node.js, then the MBP is the only way to go. If I want to develop in Java or Python or Go or Rust, only the MBP allows me to do that.

And the 15″ screen on the MBP is the easiest of all the screens to read, which is important due to my poor eyesight (20/700 and near sighted).

There is no easy answer to the original question, except to say it all depends. As long as I can choose which to use for which task, I will choose all three based on the work at hand that needs to be done.

But I am impressed with what the Apple SoCs can accomplish. While the MBP rules them all, for single core scoring all three devices are fairly close together, compared to multi-core and compute. This bodes well for Apple’s continued evolution of its ARM-based processors, and if I were Intel, I really would be looking over my shoulder at ARM in general and Apple in particular.

gear for the revolution

February 3, 2017

You’re looking at an Olympus E-P2 with a 15mm body cap lens and a 14-42mm EZ pancake lens. That small round item with the hole in the middle is the Olympus LC-37C auto open lens cap which screws onto the front of the pancake zoom. The E-P2 was introduced November 2009, five months after the E-P1, Olympus’ first µ4:3rds camera. I paid full price for the complete kit which included the original M.Zuiko 14-42mm collapsible kit lens and the VF-2 electronic viewfinder, which slid into the hot shoe at the top of the camera. The key advance of the E-P2 over the E-P1 is that an expansion port was built into the back side of the hot shoe, which allowed for additional capabilities like the VF-2 to be added to the camera. The camera is now so old it qualifies in some corners as a vintage camera. The only up-to-date part of the kit is the pancake zoom which was introduced January 2014 along with the OM-D E-M10 Mark 1.

The question is why go back to something retro? Price and availability. The cost of new contemporary interchangeable digital camera are skyrocketing. While I would love to own a new Olympus OM-D E-M1, the eye watering high cost of US$2,000 is more than my budget can bear. To put that cost in perspective, I can either have the E-M1 Mark 2, or I can remodel one of my bathrooms. Throw in one of those new zooms, such as the M.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 PRO, and I’ve now got enough money to remodel both bathrooms.

Other reasons for turning back to this camera (and a Sony NEX 5N I also own, but picked up when it was heavily discounted a few years back) is that it still works, it’s compact, and looks like a lot of point-and-shoot cameras that are still be used extensively around the world. As used gear it’s dirt cheap. The large 13 x 17mm sensor in the body doesn’t hurt either, since it is considerably larger than the sensor in every cellphone being made. The final, most important reason for using a camera like this, is that it’s capable of documenting this strange dark world we’ve moved into since Trump was elected. Loosing it or having it get busted won’t set me back an inordinate amount of money. It’s simple and rugged enough to meed my needs for a set of tools that I can use to document who knows what over the next four years (at a minimum).

What can this camera do? With the body cap lens, a 15mm (e30mm) at f/8, I can literally point and shoot and get everything in focus from 3 ft/1m out to infinity. Or with the pancake zoom, I can zoom into the equivalent of 84mm on a 35mm camera for that short zoom effect if I need to keep back and avoid a confrontation.

Or pop the 15mm on the body and just document the world around you without drawing undo attention.

Even at f/8, in low light, the E-P2 is capable of grabbing something decent at ISO 1600 (it can go higher) that can be used, especially on the web. And if you want, you can set the 15mm to closeup (0.3m) and get down a bit close to your subject.

Olympus’ digital Pen’s aren’t the only game in town. Sony’s older NEX series of cameras, especially the 5 series, are an excellent little carry around camera, especially if matched with an inexpensive prime like the older Sigma lenses.

I picked up the NEX 5N when it was on closeout a few years back, and I happened to pick up a Sigma two lens set, the 19mm and the 30mm, for $99 each at about the same time. To give you an idea of relative sizes, the Apple SDHC to Lightening adapter is in front with the 5N’s SDHC card plugged into it. Which brings up an interesting point. I use an iPhone for just about everything now related to photography, from taking the photograph to processing it and then pushing it out to various social channels such as Smugmug and Instagram. The Apple adapter allows me to move images off the card and into the phone for post processing.

What is significant now is that iOS 10.2.1 is capable of knowing when you’ve taken your camera photos in RAW and can actually show you what you have directly on the cell phone once they’ve been imported into your camera roll. In the past I couldn’t process RAW anything unless I had a personal computer and software, such as Lightroom, that knew about how to interpret those RAW files. I discovered today that my iPhone with iOS 10.2.1 can read raw files from both the Olympus E-P2 as well as the Sony NEX 5N. How it handles newer cameras I can’t say. But for what I need, I don’t need the latest and greatest, just something from the last 8 or so years that still works. Here’s two examples from the same RAW file produced by the Sony. The first is post processed by VSCO, the second by Snapseed.

While both VSCO and Snapseed knew they were dealing with RAW files, it was Snapseed that post processed the photo as it was shot. I’d set the Sony to shoot 16:9 aspect ratio. The VSCO app didn’t honor that aspect ratio, choosing to revert to the full 3:2 aspect ratio. Furthermore, mirrorless cameras embed metadata in every file that allows the post processing software to correct for lens flaws, such as barrel distortion in the 19mm. If you look closely at the VSCO image you can see it. It’s properly corrected in the Snapseed. Whether the second is better than the first is entirely up to the viewer. I personally prefer the brighter color from the VSCO processing (which was what I was going after), but if I had to make sure it was “more correct” then I’d probably run it through Snapseed. By the way I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary with Snapseed. I just accepted its defaults when it first read it in, and then immediately saved the JPEG back out again.

In the past I put together several mirrorless kits, with multiple bodies and lenses. Today, I’ve narrowed that down to a single body and one or two lenses. Furthermore, I’m doing everything on my iPhone because it’s now powerful enough and the iOS apps are sophisticated enough. For the citizen journalist who wants a bit more on a budget than just the camera on the phone, the latest iOS release coupled with a reasonably up-to-date iPhone (SE through 6 and on up) can help you build a powerful documentation system without the need of a notebook or even a tablet to handle the output from any mirrorless camera made in the last eight or so years.

I’m using the iPhone Upgrade Program to keep me up-to-date with, well, iPhones. I started using it when I switched in 2015 from the Samsung Galaxy S4 to the iPhone 6S Plus. Along with the ability to exchange for the latest iPhone every year is the inclusion of Apple Care in the price. I’ve used Apple Care once, for my wife’s iPhone, when she broke the screen when dropping her iPhone. It cost $30 to repair. Because I started in early November, I upgraded my 6S Plus to the 7 Plus in early November 2016, before I left for Japan.

When I got to Japan I discovered I couldn’t find cellphone coverage anywhere, unlike the 6S Plus. Normally I keep my phones in airplane mode because I don’t want to pay AT&T’s exorbitant international roaming fees. But I do like to turn it on right after I land to get my phone’s time synced up with the local time. The last trip I managed to sync up via free public WiFi at Haneda, along with my Apple Watch, so that wasn’t an issue. After getting to my hotel I did a little digging, and you guessed it, I have a Model A1784, the iPhone with the Intel modem, not A1785, the model with the Qualcomm international modem. To rub salt into the wound, the Intel component has much inferior performance to the Qualcomm model. Qualcomm appears to perform about 30% better than Intel, especially when downloading data.

That wasn’t the only issue I had in Japan. I stayed at the Hotel New Otani Kumamoto. The New Otani had excellent WiFi performance, probably the best I’ve experienced to date in Japan. That included the ability to stream video from services such as Netflix, which in the past had always been a pain due to regional segmentation. This time it seemed to work. The issue I had was with apps running under iOS 10 that required I log into repeatedly, such as the Guardian, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, WordPress, Google+, Google Hangouts, and even Twitter from time to time. And those are the apps I remembered. I’d log in repeatedly, about once every 24 hours. In several cases I deleted the apps; this included the beta version of the Guardian app and LinkedIn. I re-installed the regular Guardian app and logged back in, but changing out the app didn’t solve the problem. All I know is that, for whatever reason, I had to log in repeatedly into apps from my iPhone 7 Plus. I also had my iPad Pro with me as well, and it exhibited similar behavior, but not nearly as often.

Once I returned home back in the US, that behavior stopped. I don’t know if that was due to timezone issues (I was 14 hours ahead of Orlando), or some other issue. Maybe it was tied into the fact I got my time sync via WiFi, and not the mobile network. I just don’t know. But I was well and royally pissed off.

I don’t know what I’ll do, let alone can do, from this point forward about the app behavior, but as far as the modem issue is concerned, I intend to head back to my local Apple store and push to get my iPhone 7 Plus switched out for the version with the Qualcomm modem. I won’t put up with such limitations with my smart phone, especially overseas. That issue didn’t exist with the 6S Plus, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to put up with it with the 7 Plus. I can live without the headphone jack, but not international capability. And not from Apple of all people.

As for Intel, this is the straw that has broken the metaphorical camel’s back. I’ve had all I intend to take from Intel as a device provider. My interaction with Intel goes back decades to the 8080, when I discovered I got considerably more value using the Z80. All the way up through the 286, I found I got better performance and capabilities if I used Harris or AMD CMOS versions of the 286; Harris with low power, AMD with higher clock speeds. And then we’ve all had to live with Intel’s x86 market manipulation. Yes, I know I have an Intel i7 in my MBP, but that was a necessary evil I was willing to put up with.  The fact that there is Intel content via a critical component in my iPhone 7 Plus is something I won’t put up with. And to be brutally honest, once Apple releases an MBP with ARM, I’m switching, and I’m not looking back. As an engineer and a user I’m doing everything I possibly can to marginalize Intel by specifying anyone else besides Intel in my designs, and making sure any electronic product I purchase has little to no Intel content.

I share code on my blog from time to time in order to illustrate key points. In order to display code I use the code tag provided by WordPress. Most of the time I have no problems with displaying code, especially on any of the desktop browsers across the Mac, Linux or Windows operating systems. The only time I have a problem displaying code is on any iOS-hosted browser such as Safari, Chrome, or Opera. But before I show you the problem on iOS let me show you how successfully it renders under Android Chrome (Android 6.0.1 on a 2013 Nexus 7).

This is the prior blog entry with a Makefile and a C++ source file. The Makefile is being displayed properly. Note in particular how the text is of the proper size and alines correctly with the line numbers to the left. Now look at Chrome on iOS 9.3.1, the current release, on an iPad Air 2.

The source code file for the Makefile is grossly oversized. This poor source file display shows like this on any iOS browser, not just Chrome. And that’s because Apple forces all browsers to use the same Apple-provided rendering engine. Thus, it’s not just a problem with Chrome on iOS, but with every browser on iOS, because it’s an Apple problem. I should note that all browsers on Android render source code on my WordPress blog correctly. They each have their own rendering engines, and they all handle this correctly.