The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

iOS

Making some marks on some iPhone 8 benches

With the arrival of my iPhone 8 Plus and its A11 Bionic CPU, I thought it’d be interesting to compare its benchmark performance (for the CPU and GPU) with some of the other gear in our home—iOS devices, Macs, and even a PC and a Linux box. In total, I tested 15 devices.

How did I test? I turned to Geekbench, which you can run on MacOS, Windows, and Linux (anywhere from free to $99), as well as on iOS ($.99). It has tests for both the CPU (using single and multiple cores) as well as the GPU (OpenCL and Metal on iOS/macOS; OpenCL and CUDA on Windows; CUDA on Linux).

What follows is far from a scientific study; I was just curious how the CPU and GPU in the iPhone compared to other tech gear in our home. As such, I didn’t run the tests under “ideal lab conditions,” I just ran them—one time per machine, with no special setup other than some basic stuff…

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Remove duplicate purchased movies in iTunes

Earlier today, I tweeted about duplicates of purchased movies in my iTunes library…

With 150 or so purchased movies over the years, these dupes make reading through the movie list quite annoying…

Finally annoyed enough to do something about it, I chatted with Apple Support this morning, and they quickly identified the cause…

Why are there two? iTunes is showing both 1080p and 720p versions of each movie (which also explains the size differences), so you can choose which to sync to an iOS device—you’ll save a bit of space with the 720p versions. That makes sense, though the way it’s handled seems quite odd and visually annoying.

To prevent this from happening in the future, iTunes support suggested I open iTunes’ prefs, go to Downloads, and make sure only the “Download full-size HD videos” box is checked (assuming you want HD). My iTunes had both that and the “Download high-quality SD videos” box checked, so I unchecked the SD box.

I don’t really understand how this will prevent the dupes from showing on future purchases, because my dupes are primarily all in the cloud, as noted by their icons, so I wouldn’t think this setting would help. But I won’t know until I purchase my next movie—changing the setting had no effect on existing duplicates.

But what about getting rid of the existing duplicates? That took a bit of trial and error, but this method seemed to work for me…

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On the removal of iOS apps from iTunes: I hate it

The recently-released iTunes 12.7 removes access to the iOS app store, as well as management of iOS apps. This is bad on any number of fronts; here are just a few things that bother me about it…

  • Migrating installed apps to a new device will now require you download all of them from the iOS device itself. This will be slow, and if you have capped internet, eat into your bandwidth. In my case, my iPhone holds 248 apps. So I’ll have the joy of waiting for 248 apps to download over the internet? And, heaven forbid, if I have issues as I did with my iPhone 6, I’ll get to do that over and over and over…
  • You can’t organize your apps in iTunes any more, only on your iOS device. If you have a lot of apps, this is perhaps the most painful task to do on an iPhone—dragging icon by icon, across screen after screen. Ugh. iTunes offersoffered a much better method…

    But no longer, because Apple knows better, right?

  • Developers, I think, will hate this change. Why? Because not only can users not browse apps in iTunes, they can’t purchase apps on a Mac or a PC at all! I spend all day at my desk, on my Mac. When I read about an interesting iOS app, I can see its web page, and then jump right into iTunes and buy it. But as Kirk McElhearn notes, this is no longer possible (temporary issue, maybe?). As a developer, losing access to anyone browsing from a non-iOS device would be deeply troubling.

But the above issues are only part of the reason why the removal of iOS apps from iTunes bothers me. An equally concerting issue is this: Browsing and buying apps on an iPhone is an absolutely horrid experience.

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Apple giveth, and Apple taketh ($50) away

The new iPhones—both the 8/8 Plus and X—now come with either 64GB or 256GB of storage space. On the low end, the move from 32GB to 64GB is long overdue, and makes a ton of sense. Most iPhone users I know who have 32GB phones are always bumping up against the storage limits, so thank you Apple.

However, on the other end, the move from 128GB to 256GB is harder to understand, especially in a phone. 256GB is a lot of apps and videos and music and photos. I’ve yet to meet someone who said “I wish my iPhone had more than 128GB of RAM.” My personal phone is a 128GB model, and even after a year, I’ve yet to come close to filling it up—it’s at roughly 90GB today. But I’ve always got over 64GB of stuff on it, so the small phone isn’t an option.

The bad news is that the now-192GB step up (vs 96GB before) from the small to large capacity means you’ll be paying $150 for the upgrade, instead of the old $100 charge. I understand Apple has higher costs for this, and on a cost per gigabyte basis, the new upgrade is much cheaper than the old ($0.78/GB vs $1.04/GB). But I dislike paying an extra $50 for space I’ll more than likely never use, so this strikes me as nothing more than a move by Apple to drive up their average selling price.

What’s the answer? I really would have liked to see Apple keep the 128GB option; it’s the perfect size for many iPhone customers…and the cynic in me says that’s why they killed it, so they can drive all those consumers to spend an additional $150 on their next phones.

A modest proposal to improve the iOS Settings app

One of the things about the iPhone I don’t like is that Apple requires (recommends?1)Many apps now have settings within the app, which I love, so this “separate settings” thing doesn’t seem to be a hard requirement. that apps keep their preferences (settings) in the Settings app.

While I understand the theory (don’t clutter the app with prefs, all prefs in one spot), the reality is that this structure quickly turns the Settings screen into an endlessly scrolling nightmare. I hate opening the Settings screen, knowing how much flicking it’ll take—simulation visible at right—to get to the app whose settings I want to modify.

With some apps having some of their prefs within the app, and some of their prefs on the Settings screen, I find I often have to look in both places to see if the pref I want is available.

What I’d love to see is Apple recommend (require?) that apps do not use the Settings screen, and instead keep their prefs within the app. After all, if you’re using app XYZ and you want to change something about its settings, the most logical place to look would be within the app itself. This would greatly clean up the Settings screen, too, restricting it to just Apple’s stock apps and system-wide settings.

But barring that change, I’d like to see a more-usable Settings screen. How can it be more usable? By splitting the apps into alpha buckets, so I could tap into a letter/number, and then see only those apps on the list. Something like this very-rough mockup…

A horizontal flick on the alpha row scrolls through the letters (and numbers), then vertical flicks scroll within the chosen letter. This index would appear with the first entry in the third-party apps section, then stick to the top as the user scrolled down.

I’m sure there are better ways to do this, but something needs to be done, especially as device storage sizes increase.

iOS App: Pool Break pool simulator

I recently got back into playing pool, joining a local 8-ball and 9-ball league. It’s been many (many) years since I played pool, and I can’t really put a table in our home (unless I want to take over the living room or the master bedroom, probably a no go on either one). So I went looking for an iOS pool simulation that would help me visualize angles and cue ball spin (English).

I tried quite a few, and in the end, found Pool Break to be the best for my needs. Here’s a very brief snippet of the gameplay…

You can turn the guidelines off; I use them to help understand the cue ball’s movements after contact. Pool Break supports 8-ball, 9-ball, straight pool, snooker, and a couple things I’ve never heard of (Carrom and Crokinole). You can play against the computer, or against others on the Internet. The physics appear to be very good, plus you can change some of the friction values if you wish.

I’ve only been playing against the computer opponents; if you choose their highest skill level, you probably won’t win, even with the aim lines on—they make some absurd shots! The only mode that’s lacking is a straight practice mode where I could position the balls as I like to try various shots. But that’s a minor nit; Pool Break is a very nice pool simulation…whether it will help my real-world ability to see various angles or not, only time will tell!

iOS App: Jollyturns tracks your day on the mountain

I spent yesterday at Mt. Bachelor, enjoying a bunch of fresh snow and surprisingly light crowds. To track my tracks, I’ve been using an app called Jollyturns Ski & Snowboarding. The app is free and includes one ski area; you can buy five more for $3.99, or $9.99 gets you “every ski area in the world.”

For each area, you can see a summary page with current conditions and info on lifts, runs, and restaurants, as well as a zoomable scan of the official trail map. (For Mt. Bachelor, that means four maps, as they have quite a bit of terrain.)

You can drill down into run type to find a specific run; it’ll be highlighted on the map. (Though if your area has more than one map, you may need to switch views to see the run on the proper map.) Click on a lift name, and it will be similarly highlighted on the map. Ditto for restaurants.

Jollyturns can also find and map your friends on the mountain, assuming they’re using the app, of course. I haven’t yet tested this social aspect of the app.

The one thing Jollyturns doesn’t do is track your runs on a map—there’s no way to see exactly what you skied in a given day. This is no longer true as of the latest update—you can view your tracks on Google Earth on the iPhone, or export as KML (or a couple of other options). As an example, here’s a map from my February trip to Mt. Bachelor, as seen in Google Earth on the iPhone:

Beyond the map, you can also see how much you skied (vertical feet), how far you skied (miles), and your peak speed. I’d love it if it would map my day (I assume there are other apps that do this, but I haven’t gone looking…recommendations?), but what it does do, it does well.

Jollyturns also includes an Apple Watch app—it provides a quick view of your vertical feet, distance, and peak speed. I much prefer a glance at my watch versus digging out the iPhone from multiple layers of clothing.

The one caveat I will add is that running Jollyturns can suck your battery down, as it’s updating location info via GPS, and doing so quite often. Yesterday, after 4.5 hours of continuous skiing, my phone was down to about 25% battery. So if you want to make sure you get all-day phone battery life while skiing, Jollyturns is probably not the app for you.

See the actual strength of the iPhone’s cellular connection

This is a very old tip, but I’d never seen it before, so I figure it might be new to some others, too. My home has a relatively weak cell signal, varying between one and three dots on the iPhone’s display. But sometimes, even when I have three dots, the quality of my calls seems spotty.

While looking for some tool to try to analyze the cell signal’s actual strength in my home, I stumbled on this useful tip at Lifehacker: It’s possible to make your phone display its actual signal strength in decibel-milliwatts, or dBm. Here’s my phone, showing the stock display on the left, and the dBm value on the right:

And this explains a lot: While two dots of five seems like a decent connection, the actual value of -116dBm is bad. (Signal strength goes from a best of 0 to a worst of -140 or so.) How bad? According to this site, it’s an unusable signal. So, yea, don’t try to call my cell phone when I’m at home!

If you’d like to set your phone to display the actual signal strength (you can tap the indicator to flip between values and dots), read the above-linked article (or any of the thousands of other sites that have the same tip), or just read the rest of this post, where I’ve recreated the simple steps.

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iOS App: OSnap! Pro for time lapse and animation movies

A while back, I created a time lapse movie of a lava lamp warming up. I’d wanted to use my iPhone for this, as time lapse is a built-in feature, but the iPhone implements it in an odd way: The iPhone will vary the time intervals between pictures as your recording time increases. This keeps all time lapse movies to a similar duration (20 to 40 seconds), but it means you can’t shoot a constant-rate time lapse movie.

I solved the problem for the lava lamp movie by using OSnap! Pro, a $3.99 iOS app (for both iPhone and iPad). I’ve wanted to write more about this app for a while (I’ll be calling it OSnap from here on out), and a recent snowstorm in central Oregon gave me the perfect chance to test the app again before writing about it…

Ah, if only it went so quickly in reality! Making this movie was a breeze with OSnap! Pro; read on to see what makes OSnap so good (and to see a lame-but-short stop-motion animation movie, too).

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The ridiculous economics of Real Racing 3

I used to play a lot of Real Racing 3 (RR3), an iOS auto racing game. Like, quite a lot. At one point, I owned all 132 cars available at that time, and had completed all the events.

To reach that point, I spent about $60 on in-app purchases—RR3’s in-app purchases were really expensive. And yes, that’s a lot, but I didn’t own a console at the time, and I judged the app worth the cost of a console racing game. (I also took advantage of some programming glitches that enabled occasional free in-app purchase items; without these glitches, I doubt I would have made it as far as I did.)

Once I’d spent $60 and could go no further without spending more, I stopped playing; $60 was my limit. I did keep my iCloud save game file in case I wanted to revisit it someday. That someday was yesterday.

Since I left, the game has grown a lot: There are now 171 cars available, or 39 more than when I stopped playing. To finish the game again, I’d need to acquire (and upgrade) all of those cars (and race a huge number of new races). I thought “maybe it’s OK to spend another $60 or so; it’s been a few years.”

But as I looked into what it might cost to finish the game, I found that the economics are still absolutely ridiculous. How ridiculous? About $3,665 ridiculous. Yes, I estimate it would cost me $3,665 to finish RR3. At that spending level, though, there are some other purchases I could consider…

Instead of finishing RR3, I could purchase a commercial-grade 48″ gas range. Or I could buy a loaded Touch Bar Retina MacBook Pro with a 2.9GHz Core i7 CPU, 1TB SSD, and upgraded graphics.

The third option, though, is the best comparison: For $129 less than what I think it would cost me to finish RR3, I could purchase all of the following:

That’s a full console-based driving setup, including a 65″ 4K TV, for less than what I’d probably have to pay to finish (temporarily, until the next expansion) Real Racing 3. Yes, I’d say that’s ridiculous.

But where do my numbers come from, and how could I possibly think it’d cost that much to finish the game?! Read the rest if you’d like the nitty-gritty on my $3,665 estimate.

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