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Apple

Things related to Apple

The Finder’s GUI tax can be very expensive

Once a month, I download roughly 25 gzipped (.gz) files from Apple—these are our Mac App Store sales reports, with one file for each App Store region. I could have Safari expand these files (via the “Open ‘safe’ files after downloading’ item in its preferences), but I prefer to leave that option unchecked. (Why? I often download archives that I want to leave archived, and I like to keep originals of many of the things I download).

If you work with lots of compressed files, you’re probably familiar with what happens in Finder (see note) when you go to expand any semi-large number of files: The infamous Dancing Dialog™. It looks something like this…

[Note: Technically, this isn’t Finder, it’s Archive Utility doing the expansion. But this is the service that Apple provides to expand compressed files, and it’s what 99% of macOS users will use. It can be changed via the Get Info dialog, but very few people will take that step. So to most users, it seems it’s Finder handling the expansion. For ease of reference, I’m going to say it’s Finder doing the expansion.]

Not only is this randomly-resizing dialog box visually annoying, it turns what should be a super-fast process into one that takes a ridiculous amount of time. The end result is that users think they have a slow machine—”it took over 12 seconds to expand 25 tiny little archives!”—when what they really have is a horrendously slow GUI interface to a super fast task.

Just how fast is the task, if the GUI doesn’t get in the way? Thanks to the Unix core of macOS, we can answer that question using Terminal, the geeky front-end to the Unix core. The Unix command to expand .gz archives is gzip; so to expand all the .gz files in a folder (and keep the originals), you’d use this command in Terminal:

gzip -d -k *.gz

If you try this, you’ll find out it’s nearly instantaneous—press Return, and the files are expanded. Unix actually gives us a way to see exactly how fast it is, via the time command:

$ time gzip -d -k *.gz

real	0m0.013s
user	0m0.002s
sys	0m0.005s

This was for a set of 24 .gz archive files (on a solid state drive), and the real line in the output shows exactly how long it took to expand them all: 0.013 seconds. By comparison, I made a screen recording (with an onscreen stopwatch for timing) of Finder expanding the same 24 files; it took 12.8 seconds for all the dialog dancing to end. Think about that…

Expand 24 .gz files Finder:
12.8 seconds
Terminal:
.013 seconds
Terminal is 984.6x faster than Finder

To put those results another way, if expansion time is linear, gzip could expand 23,631 files in the time Finder takes to expand 24 files. That’s nuts!

(You can watch this video for a visual comparison of expanding the same set of files in Finder and Terminal.)

So it’s not the computer that’s slow, it’s the GUI interface to the computer that (in this particular use case) is incredibly, horrendously slow. And there’s no need for it—the separate individual progress bars, appearing and vanishing in under a second each, provide no useful feedback to the user. They just slow down the task.

Finder (née Archive Utility) should just execute the task without any visual feedback (though it should pop up a window if there are exceptions). If visual feedback is really required, a window with a single progress bar for the entire task would be OK, but would still slow operations down.

This is a great example of how an everyday task can make you think you have a slow computer, when what you really have is a fast computer with a slow interface element. Given how often we all deal with compressed files, it’d be nice to see Apple clean up this mess. Until they do, however, you can harness the power of Unix—even while in Finder—to speed up the task. Here’s one way to do just that.

Apple should go back to the future with the Mac Pro


Expensive trash can?

Back in 2013, Apple introduced the new Mac Pro, an amazing wonder of design. But it was also a study in compromise for “Pro” users, requiring all peripherals to be externally attached, and not allowing for any after-purchase upgrades (video card, CPU, etc.). It was also shockingly expensive.

I can only imagine how hard it must have been for Apple to try to build a perfect Mac “Pro” desktop for everyone. As nicely designed as the new Mac Pro was, it missed the perfect mark for many Pro users by quite a bit.

So how does Apple try to design one Mac that can satisfy a diverse group that encompasses design professionals, gamers, scientific researchers, video creators, and who knows what else? Quite simply, they shouldn’t try, as such an exercise is destined to fail. (See “new Mac Pro,” above.)

Instead, Apple should design one Mac that can become anything and everything to each type of “Pro” user. While that may sound daungting, the good news is that Apple’s already done this in its recent past. And done it very well, I might add…

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The iPhone 7 and third-party battery pack cases

One aspect of Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7/7 Plus that I haven’t seen discussed anywhere is the impact it will have on third-party battery pack case makers. Traditionally, third-party battery pack cases plug into the Lightning port, and typically provide a micro USB connector in its place. They also then usually have a headphone passthrough, either via a port extender or a special headphone cable extender, to allow you to plug in headphones without removing the battery pack.

I was curious how the case makers were going to address this for the iPhone 7, because blocking the Lightning port means that users will have to use wireless headphones when using a battery pack. I searched Amazon for iPhone 7 battery case, to see what might be in store. However, the results were disappointing—basically, every single product uses micro USB for charge and sync. I could go on, but you get the idea: None of the manufacturers seem to be worried about blocking the Lightning port with their battery cases.

The only exception I found was the SOLEMEMO Ultra Slim Charging Case, which isn’t actually designed for the iPhone 7. But as designed for the iPhone 6, this case uses an ultra-slim bottom with a tiny Lightning pass-through, as seen in the photo below (borrowed from one of the reviews on Amazon).

This style of connector would allow you to connect wired headphones (either Apple’s Lightning pods, or standard headphones via Apple’s Lightning to 3.5mm adapater cable). I don’t know if this company will be making an iPhone 7 version or not; the iPhone 6 case should fit the iPhone 7, but the camera opening won’t line up with the camera’s new position on the iPhone 7.

(I checked Mophie, too, but they’re early on in their iPhone 7 case building process; their iPhone 7 link takes you to their Explore our Process page, which describes the method and timeline they follow in making products for new devices.)

So if you’re buying an iPhone 7, and you want a battery case right now, and you want to use wired headphones with that case, as of today I see three solutions:

  1. Buy the SOLEMEMO Ultra Slim Charging Case for $35, knowing you won’t be able to take pictures. Note that this is a 2400mAh battery pack, so it’s not as large as some of the others (but it is very slim).
  2. Buy Apple’s $99 iPhone Battery Case. This is an 2365mAh battery pack (up from 1877mAh for the iPhone 6s), and it nicely integrates—at the iOS level—with your iPhone. But it’s pricey, underpowered, and has The Hump. For the cost of the Apple pack, you could get two SOLEMEMO packs and have $30 left over!
  3. Buy any of the forthcoming iPhone 7 battery cases and use wireless headphones. OK, so that totally skips the ‘use wired headphones’ requirement, but it’s really the only other option at this time.

I’m hoping we’ll see someone come out with something truly innovative here, such as Lex Friedman’s suggestion on Twitter:

Adding an actual headphone jack would probably be a home run product; I have no idea if it’s technically possible to split the Lightning port’s signals in that way (I would bet it’s not). Even lacking that, though, it’d be nice to see more third-party cases that pass through the Lightning connector, so that wired headphones could still be used.

Why I still use the admittedly-awful Messages

A while back, David Chartier tweeted this:

David really doesn’t like Messages (for many valid reasons), and has often tweeted and written about other, better messaging platforms, including his current best-of-breed example, Facebook’s Messenger.

And you know what? In general, I agree with David: Messages sucks. It’s got latency issues, messages sometimes vanish, shared URLs are ugly, search is troublesome, it lacks many features found in other apps, etc. Yet still, it’s my messaging app of choice, and will remain my messaging app of choice, probably forever. Why?

First of all, it’s bundled with every Mac and iOS device sold, which means that most of the people in my social group already have it and use it. I don’t have to send a link to someone and explain how to install the app, set up an account, find my name/phone number, add me to their group of friends, and initiate a conversation.

Does that make Messages good? No, just because an app is bundled doesn’t mean it’s excellent. (See previous generations of Internet Explorer on Windows, for instance.) But it does make it pervasive, and in a messaging app, that’s what I want.

But even beyond that—even if Messages were so abysmal it lost 50% of the messages I sent and often force rebooted my devices and remotely spilled my milk—I would probably continue to use it. Why? Because Apple isn’t in the business of making money off of who I talk to, what I talk to them about, or what devices I use to do that talking. Apple wants to sell devices, not data about how people are using Apple’s devices.

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Replace the departed free iTunes Radio with free iTunes radio

In case you missed the news, Apple has now officially ended the free streaming of iTunes Radio. To listen to these stations now, you have to subscribe to Apple Music, which isn’t something I want to use. (If they offered a “use but don’t integrate into library,” I’d subscribe in a heartbeat…but they don’t.)

There are any number of other radio services out there – Pandora, Spotify, etc. But I wanted something that existed in iTunes, as I didn’t want to have to run another app, nor (shudder) use my browser as a radio station front end. Then I remembered that iTunes has a huge—as in tens of thousands—assortment of Internet Radio stations.

I hadn’t looked at internet radio in a long time, as I’d been quite happy with my selection of iTunes Radio stations. But Apple’s move inspired me to take another look, and so far, I like what I’ve found. If you’d like to explore the world of Internet Radio in iTunes, here are a few tips to ease the exploration.

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A look at password entry on the new Apple TV

When I discovered that I could use the grid-style password entry on the new Apple TV, I thought I’d hold a little password entry shootout of sorts. I wanted to compare the three ways I’ve discovered of entering passwords on the fourth-generation Apple TV. Just for fun, I threw my iMac into the mix, too.

First, some background: I use passwords of the correct horse battery staple variety. For sake of this post, let’s assume my password was:

jinxed 187 Golf Bogies

There are 22 characters in total, with two capital letters and three numbers. My actual password consists of the same distribution, though that’s all it shares with the demo password above. I then timed how long it took to enter on my iMac, and using the various input methods on the Apple TV. The results aren’t all that surprising:

Device Remote Method Time Tries
Retina iMac Typed 0:02 1
Apple TV 4th Gen Silver Line 0:49 1
Apple TV 4th Gen Silver Grid 0:41 1
Apple TV 4th Gen Black Line 2:59 3
Apple TV 4th Gen Black Line 1:41 1

Obviously, typing your password on a physical keyboard is incredibly fast and (assuming you’re a decent typist) basically error free. On the Apple TV, what I found is that regardless of method used (i.e. grid or line), the silver remote is both faster and more accurate than the Siri (black) remote. After discarding the Siri remote, I was notably faster using the silver remote with the grid layout than with the line layout.

The other thing to notice is that I only had accuracy issues with the Siri remote. The first time I tried to enter my password for this test, it took me three tries to get my password correct. The 2:59 time shown for the “grid” line is the total of all three times (0:47, 0:57, and 1:15). I then tried again, going very slowly to make sure I didn’t make a mistake, which is the 1:41 time shown on the last row. I had no accuracy issues with the silver remote, regardless of line or grid data entry style.

My fastest entry (0:47) with the Siri remote wasn’t that far behind the silver remote, but the accuracy was obviously not good. I had to work at half the pace of the silver remote to insure I didn’t make any errors with the Siri remote.

Clearly password entry on the Apple TV is a hassle: Even with the silver remote, taking 41 seconds to enter a 22 character password is quite a waste of time. Apple really needs to address this, either by letting us pair a keyboard, or by updating the iOS Remote app to support the new Apple TV. For now, though, I’m sticking to the silver remote for password entry—even on the new line layout—because it’s both faster and more accurate than the Siri remote.

Use grid-style password entry on new Apple TV

This morning, after waking my fourth-generation Apple TV, I was prompted for a password, and was very surprised when I saw the password entry screen, because it was not the two-row layout I’ve grown to hate. Instead, I saw this:

Yes, that’s the third-gen Apple TV’s password entry screen, on my fourth-gen Apple TV. Just how did I get it to appear? Very easily, though it took me a bit to figure out exactly how I did it. Here’s how:

To use the old-style password entry screen on the new Apple TV, wake the Apple TV using the old silver remote, and don’t touch the new Siri remote.

And that’s it. If you wake the Apple TV with the silver remote, and don’t touch the Siri remote until after you get to a password entry screen, you’ll get the grid. If the Apple TV pairs with the Siri remote, though, you’ll get the new-style line entry screen.

I haven’t extensively tested this, but I did try on two different fourth-gen Apple TVs, and got the same results on both. So if you want to use the old password entry grid on your new Apple TV, get yourself a silver remote (if you don’t have one already).

Why Apple hasn’t responded to your bug report

I know Apple gets a lot of bug reports (i.e. RADARs, for Apple’s internal name for the system). But I didn’t realize just how many until I filed a minor flurry of reports over the last day and a half. OK, a minor flurry is four. For me, though, that’s a lot. The time gap between the first and the last was 36.87 hours. The gap in RADAR numbers across those hours was 31,222—and that struck me as a huge number of bug reports.

That got me wondering if the numbers were actually sequential, so I asked Twitter. I received a single reply, but that reply confirmed that yes, they are sequential. Based on that, I could do math on my RADARs and find an average, then try to extrapolate. But there’s a much better data source: Open Radar.

Open Radar is a site where users can republish the RADARs they’ve filed with Apple. Not everyone does so, of course, but that doesn’t matter, because each one includes the original RADAR number. So I went back and found RADAR 19363080 from January 1st, 2015, and RADAR 23519997 from November 12th, 2015.

Do the math on those RADAR numbers … 23,519,997 – 19,363,080 …

4,156,917 bug reports so far in 2015

Wow. If that run rate continues for the remainder of the year, they’ll finish with 4,811,865 bug reports! That number is so big as to be unimaginable, so here it is in some smaller units:

  • 551 per hour
  • 13,219 per day
  • 92,536 per week
  • 400,989 per month
  • 4,811,865 per year

That’s an insane volume of actual submitted bug reports. How insane? If each bug report can be handled in just five minutes (very unrealistic), you’d need over 200 full-time bug report workers just to handle all the bug reports for one year! (I know: automated systems, duplicates, etc. But still…)

So if you’re wondering why Apple hasn’t replied to your bug report, it’s probably because there are a few hundred thousand—or more—bug reports ahead of yours in the queue.

Presenting the Apple TV (4th Generation) Password Tester

Earlier, I sent out this hopefully-humorous tweet about the difficulty involved in clicking one’s passwords into the new Apple TV password input screen:

Presenting LIMNOPHILE, a 10-character yet easy-to-type Apple TV password.

The chart is just an Excel file, with absolutely no logic—I just colored the squares and counted to fill in the data. But then I got this reply…

So I thought “Why not?,” and created an actual spreadsheet that will “click check” any all-letter password you feed it. Here’s what it looks like in action:

Just replace RIDICULOUSLYLONGWORD with whatever you like, and see how it’ll “click out” on your Apple TV. Obviously, this tool is totally tongue-in-cheek!. Any password built with this tool will be weak as heck. It’s just for fun, so don’t take it seriously.

Feel free to share and modify, but I’d appreciate a credit back if you do so.

Download Apple TV Password Tester (44KB)

Please note that this is an Excel file, and it relies on conditional formatting, so it may not work in Numbers.

On the vagaries of saving from Mail

As I suspect is true of many of you, I buy a fair bit of stuff from Apple, whether in a physical Apple Store or in the various online stores. I receive electronic receipts for all these purchases, which look something like this (but with all the personal info filled in, obviously):

Until yesterday, I have just filed all these receipts in their own folder in Mail (in the On My Mac section, so they’re stored locally). But in the process of going paperless, I wanted to move them directly to my hard drive, so I could store them in a more-organized manner, and keep them alongside my other receipts. That meant saving the messages from Mail to the disk.

I had only two objectives when saving:

  1. Maintain the formatting and images in the original receipt
  2. Have the message content indexed by Spotlight

You’d think this would be a simple proposition, but you’d think wrong…the above two criteria are basically mutually exclusive with Mail’s Save As feature. Read on for the details, and my eventually-discovered workaround (and labor-saving shortcut).

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