This weekend, we ran an encore episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE. We featured outspoken podcaster and commentator Kirk McElhearn. After Kirk mentioned seeing a performance in a Shakespearean play by Ian McKellen, the subject turned to pop culture. Kirk isn’t a fan of super heroes, well except for The Shadow, an old radio and pulp novel character featured in a less-than-successful 1994 movie that starred Alec Baldwin as the titular character. Gene and Kirk discussed who might play the character if it was brought back. With Apple CEO Tim Cook making positive comments about the future of the Mac mini, the discussion moved the future of the cheapest Mac. The apparent backorder situation with Apple’s new flagship smartphone, the iPhone X, was also discussed. Gene mentioned a published report that some iPhone X preorders might have been delayed because customers put freezes on their credit reports as the result of the hack at Equifax that impacted 143 million Americans.
Regardless, there are published reports that the iPhone X is far easier to get as we close in on Christmas. As of the time I wrote this column, Apple was quoting 3-5 day delivery times, and listing them as available at an increasing number of Apple Stores. What this means, assuming sales remain high, is that the results may be far larger than you might have expected with all the fear-mongering that preceded its launch.
And you won’t be able to determine the totals from the rate of Google searches.
You also heard from longtime Mac peripheral maker Larry O’Connor, of Other World Computing. Larry presented the down and dirty details about upgrading Macs with new drives and RAM, and the fact that many recent Macs cannot be upgraded. He also explained why he believes that Apple will eventually support more drives with APFS, especially Fusion drives, and about an app his company is developing that improves the efficiency of such drives, which combine a traditional hard drive with an SSD. A Fusion drive delivers most of the performance of a true SSD at a fraction of the cost. The discussion also included the price of Apple upgrades, when available, and some of the products Larry’s company is working on, such as a 4TB SSD, and peripherals to enhance new Macs equipped with USB-C and Thunderbolt 3. And what about the possibilities of the forthcoming iMac Pro, and the promised Mac Pro refresh?
Now when it comes to Apple’s new file system, the original release of macOS High Sierra only converted SSDs to APFS during installation. While you could format a regular hard drive that way, not so with a Fusion Drive, which consists of a regular hard drive and a small SSD, thus delivering most of the performance of a single large SSD at a fraction of the cost. Apple promised that this would be addressed or fixed in a “future update” of High Sierra. But after two maintenance updates, it’s still not there. Will it be? Probably, but evidently Apple has encountered more problems than it expected to make the file system work with that setup.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present journalist Avrel Seale, author of MONSTER HIKE?: A 100-Mile Inquiry Into the Sasquatch Mystery. Says the publisher, “Sometimes, when you want to find out the truth, you have to go out there and find out for yourself. That’s just what Texas author Avrel Seale has done. Nevermind the naysayers—science, government, and mainstream society—there is no better knowledge than personal knowledge.…Seale probes this controversial subject not just with boots on the ground in the Sam Houston National Forest, but on the page with curiosity and literary flair.” Avrel Seale is a writer of eclectic non-fiction and an outdoorsman living in Austin, Texas.
I’ve written about the iPhone X for months. It is not on my shopping list for a near-term purchase, because I have bills to pay. But I’ve always had extended access to iPhones and many iPads. So it was high time that I spend some face time with Apple’s latest and greatest.
The occasion came Friday when I met a colleague who bought one the very first week. He had plenty of time to put it through his paces and, as a power user, he made sure to type some notes about his early experiences. So when he handed it over to me for an overnight “visit,” I was able to consult them to compare his reactions to mine.
Now as you know, the iPhone X’s edge-to-edge OLED display allows for a product that is similar in size to the regular iPhone 8 to incorporate a larger display. I had an iPhone 8 Plus on hand to compare the feel, and the iPhone X is not only smaller, but noticeably lighter. The former actually feels a tad heavy when I hold it in one hand, and it wears a little over an extended period of time.
Perhaps it’s me. My wrists are old and worn, so I am also a poor candidate for one of those 2-in-1 PC notebooks, the ones that offer touchscreens. It’s another reason why I haven’t set up a holder for my iPhone in the car, as my arm begins to hurt when I reach out to it. Not to worry: I am a safe driver, and do not text or speak into my iPhone when I’m driving. I take advantage of the vehicle’s Bluetooth connection for handsfree connections.
There are obviously some unusual twists with the iPhone X. My friend said he loved Face ID, that it was both smoother and faster than Touch ID. He allowed me to delete his profile and use my face instead (Siri didn’t complain!), and I agree. I could probably get used to this. You see, with Touch ID, I sometimes have to try it two or more times for it to work. By comparison, Face ID was nearly perfect, at least during the time I had the unit.
I made no effort to test Face ID with a hat, since I never wear a hat. Sunglasses didn’t block its facial recognition. I concentrated on the movements I expected to make during normal use, realizing I only had hours rather than days or weeks.
But I’m not sure I agree with Apple’s decision to make Face ID a single user feature. It may be a matter of limited system resources, since facial data will doubtlessly consume a lot more storage space than fingerprints. As most of you know, with Touch ID, you can set up to five profiles. I use two, for my left and right thumbs. But that leaves room for giving someone else access.
Apple clearly wants the iPhone — and the iPad for that matter — to be personal devices meant for use by a single person.
Working without a Home button may be somewhat of a stretch for me right now. The reviewers at Consumer Reports have managed the new swipe routines without complaint, and no doubt I will too. But I didn’t make an effort to get used to it, since I have to go back to a traditional iPhone and iPad. Nonetheless, I’d rather not have to switch back and forth, and that might very well be a problem for some. Over time, as the iPad also loses its Home button, which is inevitable, it won’t be a problem.
Since the iPhone X and the iPhone 8 have the same CPU and graphics capabilities, I didn’t expect any performance differences. Apps launched and text scrolled with the same speed and fluidity.
That OLED display was a revelation. I’ve grown accustomed to the most serious shortcoming of an LCD display, its limited viewing angle. Move it to the side, even slightly, and the picture dims noticeably. Not so with the iPhone X, which has the virtually unlimited viewing angle reminiscent of those long-gone plasma TVs. It is a significant factor, particularly with a larger display.
The most controversial feature of the iPhone X is that notch at the top of the unit, which contains all the technology used for its TrueDepth camera, the heart of Face ID. It’s not something that Apple could eliminate, and having the display begin below the notch would leave empty space at each side. It’s up to each app developer to decide how best to manage it.
What it does do, however, is make it possible to identify the iPhone X from several feet away. That’s how I first noticed that my friend had one. The discussion went from there. And, no, he didn’t ask to hang onto my iPhone while I held onto his. I took his unit home with me for the night with his blessing. He knows where to find me, and he’s developed the commendable trait to be able to stay away from his mobile gear for hours or days on end without feeling lost.
I did have permission to hide his personal email accounts — and not attempt to read his email — while adding my own personal accounts temporarily.
Email proved to be a problem, from Friday evening until Saturday morning, but not because of any issue with that iPhone X. Our email provider, PolarisMail, had an outage due to a power failure in Montreal that took out their datacenter. My email became partly functional after a few hours, but wasn’t fully restored until I was about to return the iPhone to its rightful owner.
I appreciate the iPhone X’s lightness and relative ease of use, though it’ll take time to become accustomed to living without a Home button after nearly a decade. The OLED display’s advantages are revelations compared to the limitations of LCD that we’ve learned to live with, especially the richer colors and the constrained viewing angle. Improvements in the technology have enhanced color rendition, but viewing angles are little different after all these years.
The notch? I’m not sure. It strikes me as an awkward solution to a design limitation. Someday it ought to be possible to embed the camera parts beneath the display without reducing the ability to take selfies and recognize your face. Until then, it’s an acquired taste.
Will my next smartphone be an iPhone X? I’m just not sure, at least not yet.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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