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Apple Still Isn’t Done Building Its Dream iPad ►

Harry McCracken at Fast Company talked to Apple Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing, Greg Joswiak, and VP of Hardware Engineering John Ternus about the new iPads. I wanted to highlight this because it is a rather defensive interview —not defensive toward Harry— but toward criticism of Apple’s iPad line, in particular the iPad Pro, and AI features.

I wrote about the iPad Event from the perspective of it as a marketing event that was a sales pitch not just for new models, but for the platform. If you didn’t think you needed an iPad Pro before the event, I’m not sure why you’d think you needed one after.

Reviews came in, you can go read any of them, and they’re from veteran iPad reviewers who loved the hardware, and leveled the same critiques.

I didn’t feel compelled to write anything about these reviews. As I disclosed before, I’m not a reviewer, or a serious iPad user with serious things to say, but this executive interview bugged me because it rebuffs serious criticism.

iPad Pros are absolutely not bad products, and no one should feel bad about wanting an iPad Pro, buying one with maxed out specs, or only using 1% of its power. Zero judgment.

Reviewers want the devices to have more capabilities that match their hardware, and their ever increasing costs. Which is what makes the interview strange.

“The fact is that the majority of Mac customers have an iPad, and they use them both,” [Joswiak] says. “And a large proportion of iPad customers have a Mac, or even some of them have [Windows] PCs. You use the tool that makes the most sense for you at that time. They’re two different tools.”

They’re two different tools that use the same kinds of processors, the same storage, and the same RAM. The iPad Pros and MacBook Pros cost about the same if you spec them out equally, but what makes them different is mostly the optional Pencil, optional cellular modem, and singular port.

The iPad Pro doesn’t need to run macOS, but the answer to why an iPad Pro can’t do something a Mac can do, shouldn’t be to carry two kinds of computers with the same M-series chips, with the same RAM, with the same storage, and do different things on each.

I see why it’s financially appealing to have two different hardware lines that don’t cannibalize each others’ sales, but that makes the iPad Pro more niche, in a way.

What really bugged me was what John Ternus said about the source of criticism.

But Ternus also pushes back on the notion that the iPad Pro is less than “pro”—a term, he says, that isn’t defined by the Mac.

“There’s a funny perception thing,” he says. “Maybe it’s Mac people with their notion of what professional is. You saw what the Procreate team has done with Apple Pencil Pro. There is no more professional drawing application in the world than Procreate—I mean, they’re the lifeblood of artists.”

Procreate is an exceptional app for illustration. It absolutely deserves all the praise it gets. I’ve enjoyed using it on my own iPad Pro (when I remember to charge it).

It is also the exception that proves the point those “Mac people” are trying to make. That’s one workflow that Apple thoroughly supports on the iPad because of the Pencil, but there is a lack of flexibility for other workflows that don’t need the Pencil, even things as basic as file operations.

Federico Viticci isn’t a Mac person (should have named the site iPadStories amirite?), so it’s worth reflecting on his thorough critique of the platform.

As I noted before, Final Cut Pro for iPad 2 and Logic Pro for iPad 2 seem impressive on the surface, but they don’t handle things like file management and multitasking well. I’ve yet to see a thorough review of Final Cut Pro for iPad like Vjeran Pavic made last year.

Apple didn’t even edit their whole iPad event on an iPad to eat their own dogfood, or describe where and how they had to use the Mac to compliment the iPad as part of that two-device solution.

No one is asking the iPad to do less. No one is trying to look down on anyone that doesn’t want more. There is no zero-sum game where if Jason Snell, Viticci, etc. get what they’re asking for then people currently happy with their iPads will hate their devices.

Circle the wagons, fellas, someone’s complaining they want a more capable $3k iPad Pro!

2024-05-15 21:15:00

Category: text


Gemini In, Gemini Out

This year’s Google I/O event was a strange affair. There was an unhinged DJ who yelled “NO ONE WROTE THIS! GOOGLE WROTE THIS!” while he sort of (?) demoed generative music that he was looping.

Sundar Picahi came out a few minutes later and with the vitality of a mannequin announced that this was “The Gemini Era” and talked about how much progress they’ve made since last Google I/O with Gemini.

Keep in mind that last Google I/O Bard was first made available to everyone. Then Google changed the name of Bard to Gemini this February. They announced an improved version of Gemini 1.5 Pro (a.k.a. Gemini Advanced for some reason?), but didn’t change the version number, as well as Gemini 1.5 Flash, a lighter model, and Gemini Nano which will be embedded in Chrome browsers now, not just Android phones. This is not to get it confused with AI Overlays for Google Search, which can be turned on with the Google Labs flask icon.

The only name Google has left untouched is DeepMind, which is perhaps the most sinister-sounding name possible for LLM and general AI research (Project Astra).

That doesn’t mean that all of this is in anyway sinister, but a lot of it seemed misguided. A lot of it is also very confusing, since there are many Geminis, and they’re going to appear in a variety of places.

There are some demos that everyone in Google’s C-Suite is wild for, regardless of the specific product:

  • Summarizing. Every executive wanted a summary of everything. One summarized an email chain between herself, her husband, and a prospective roofer. The summary said that there was a quote for the work, and the time the work could start but didn’t even include the quote in the summary. She asked a followup question to compare the quotes and that’s when she saw the price. Another exec didn’t have the time to watch a 3 minute video on pickleball rules. Wild that these were selected as demos.
  • Meal planning. We saw two sets of meal planning examples in the presentation. It showed off how you could load up a prompt (a question) with terms and then you’d get back breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes. Individual UI elements existed to override a particular item, so it wasn’t like you were locked in, but these weren’t really any different from the recipes you’d get doing a Google search before this rolls out. It wasn’t writing a recipe, showing the recipe, doing measurement calculations or generating a shopping list. These are links to all the recipe sites that are laden with shady ad-tech cruft and SEO keyword stuffing to try and get into Google search results. I wasn’t as wowed as these busy professionals.

These are dreadful things to watch, and are not really as impressive as executives seem to think that they are. I hope that Apple doesn’t fall into this trap at WWDC.

There was only one travel planning demo, so I didn’t include it above, but it was a lengthy one. The exec had already booked flights, and a hotel, and that information was in her Gmail. She constructed a prompt to get help organizing what to do and where to eat according to that flight and hotel information. The results were produced and she could browse and override individual bits, but budget and prices really didn’t seem to factor in. These restaurants are also things you could just … Google for instead of paying $19.99 a month for Gemini Advanced. Who’s that stressed about planning they’re paying that fee?

Surely, at some point that might filter down to regular Google Search, but maybe Google is planning on Gemini being so exciting that people start paying for it?

There were some good demos about being able to load up a bunch of documents and pick out important information from them. More than just opening each and performing a text search. Also that data is explicitly not used for training models, and Google doesn’t use it. That sort of thing could have interesting applications.

I was a lot less happy with the demonstration of a virtual teammate that sits in Google Workspace. In this case, named Chip. The first hypothetical scenario that the presenter invents for Chip is to “quickly catchup” by asking the Google Chat space, “[Does] Anyone know if our IO storyboards are approved?”

If anyone asked the group that general question, spamming everyone, he should have read the channel updates first or done a search for “storyboards” maybe check in with the person responsible for approving them. Instead, everyone gets spammed and then gets spammed by Chip’s reply, which is, “Based on the Google I/O chat between Aparna and Kristina it looks like the storyboard is approved”. Yeah, for some reason it doesn’t use punctuation to appear more human-like. Also, it couches it’s response with “it looks like” to seemingly avoid legal liability? Remember, Gemini, like all LLMs isn’t a reliable source of truth.

Congratulations, you spammed everyone in the chat so you look like a fool, got a bot that replied without any certainty, and still should check on the approval state. If those storyboards weren’t approved you’d be in a position of trying to tell them this was Chip’s fault.

Then he follows that up by demoing Chip summarizing where they’re at on their schedule, and it highlights a potential conflict. Another person offscreen asks for a summary.

These are not tasks that require automation, because you should have hired capable people. We should appreciate labor that goes into all aspects of communication and not treat our conversations with one another like a free-flowing firehose.

What is not demoed, and what I’m sure will appeal to bad bosses around the world, is the capacity to use this tool to micromanage employees, or generally snoop on progress in an invasive and disrespectful way. Chip doesn’t care about summarizing your status for that boss, or making any mistakes, because Chip isn’t a person.

Creativity

A constant source of tension with generative AI is over training sources, and whether the application is a tool, or a replacement for an artist. Google is not transparent about the datasets it trains on, so we’ll just take it as a given that there’s stuff in that training data that people would object to.

Setting that aside, we started the I/O event with the guy using Google to make a short clip of nonsensical music that he looped. That part was very much not using Google’s tool. It just generated that little snippet and that was it.

Doug Eck came out on stage later in the presentation to talk about Generative Media - image, music, and video.

Imagen 3

more photo-real, fewer distortions and artifacts, better text rendering, and “independent evaluators preferred Imagen 3 over other popular image generation models.” It really doesn’t seem all that distinct in the demo, and I am definitely not the target audience for this. There’s little an artist can do with the output, so this continues to be mostly for someone that couldn’t produce artwork.

Music AI Sandbox

Creates instrumental sections “from scratch” and transfer “styles” between tracks. Wycleaf Jean appears in a video to describe how he considers the tool to be akin to sampling. “As a hip hop producer, we dug in the crates. We playin’ these vinyls and the part where there’s no vocals, we pull it, we sample, and we create an entire song around that. So right now we’re diggin’ in the infinite crate. It’s endless.”

Then my nemesis Marc Rebelliet appears and talks about how he uses it to generate a bunch of loops. “Google’s loops right here. These are Gloops.”

Sigh.

Veo

“High quality” 1080p videos from text, image, and video prompts. One of the demo started from a video, and extended it. Then to show us what it can really do they put it in Donald Glover’s hands. Cut to Donald Glover saying he’s interested in AI. Then there are a lot of vague clips of things where you can see some warbling, and the ground surface artifacting like crazy with the cowboy boots. That’s it though, they didn’t actually have the short film they allegedly were making with Donald Glover.

Veo will apparently only be available to select creators at lab.google and there’s a waitlist open now. But… what does it do? How can you edit or adjust the output? Can someone fix those cowboy boots? Can someone keep any kind of consistency from shot to shot so it doesn’t look like it’s completely different each time you generate a video? How are you going to handle generating sound to match with the video you’re generating?

Update: The videos have a maximum limit of 60 seconds. Good grief.

I’m the most skeptical of generative video at the end of the day. These things approximate stock footage —probably because they used a lot of stock footage in their training data? Possibly. There are some more videos on their labs site so you can see things tearing and burbling.

I don’t think it is responsible for Google, or OpenAI for that matter, to sell fully generative video as being something that’s right around the corner.

Not a lot of producers are technically savvy, they’ll believe this stuff, and it’ll make a big mess.

In Summary

I think this was a cynical event trying to apply AI to things as fast as they can get it out the door. Building a business model on the fly to charge for computer resources. Inculcating LLMs into things that are not always improved by having them there. Impressing the inveterate gamblers of Wall Street to show that you have “AI” like OpenAI does.

There’s intriguing stuff in here, to be sure, like the Astra demo, and checking through your personal files with a level of context awareness that a search lacks.

But summarizing? Meal planning? Increasing office dysfunction? Suspicious generative video?

Sundar even made a heavily scripted, cringeworthy joke out of it at the end of the presentation where he mentioned someone was probably counting how many times they said “AI” in the presentation. Then the script text file (not even the video output up to that point) went into a prompt and a Gemini model counted 120 times. Was that even correct?

I know it’s to show off feeding data to the model and asking it to do something, but it’s an oddly accurate metaphor for this presentation where Gemini didn’t really need to be used, and it didn’t really improve anything.

2024-05-14 17:00:00

Category: text


The iPad Event

I was struggling to make it through yesterday’s iPad event video. At one point I paused and went outside to do some weeding. That’s how captivating the event video was. Weeding!

Part of that is the fault of Apple’s formulaic and sterile presentations, which are not a new phenomenon at this point. Lex Friedman, and others, would like Apple to bring back live events to get some life back into these things. I doubt they’d give over this level of control for the chaos of live events, but just something recorded that’s more energetic. It’s giving “high school presentation”. It’s giving somnambulant, honey.

The other issue was the subject matter —iPads.

As I said on Mastodon:

If you are someone who regularly uses an iPad, and you needed new hardware for some reason, then any new iPad hardware is an iPad for you. If you didn’t use an iPad (or had one collecting dust on a shelf) I don’t know why today’s announcements would make you want to buy an iPad.

That’s what I keep coming back to when I consider a media event like this. This was a big production, both in terms of the video itself, and the dual press events in New York and London. It’s not nothin’ to go through this effort to pitch these iPads to consumers either directly, through the sleepy video, or indirectly, through the press.

To go through all that effort and the appeal of the new iPad Air is that it’s like an older iPad Pro, and that the iPad Pro is a thinner iPad Pro, is … well … underwhelming if the hardware wasn’t a primary concern for you before yesterday.

The tandem OLED is great. The M4 sounds pretty amazing (I can’t wait until that display controller finds its way into Macs). The Pencil Pro seems nice, if perhaps a little over engineered for people used to Wacom tablets that have been asking for physical buttons and comfortable grips. The new Magic Keyboard seems very MacBook-like with its function row, and big touch pad.

However the headline feature that Apple thinks will knock our socks off is that the iPad Pro is Apple’s thinnest device ever. [Sound of crickets chirping.]

This is an especially challenging sales pitch when the price of an iPad Pro has ratcheted up a little, and it needs new accessories if you want to do those fancy things. You wind up spending more than it would cost to buy some Macs. Yet, if you spent that comparable sum, you might have a far less capable machine because of the tremendous peaks and valleys in what an iPad can do.

The consistent refrain before, and after the event is that Apple isn’t addressing the iPad software platform.

Jason Snell:

What I’m saying is, when it comes to iPad Pro hardware, it feels almost like Apple can do no wrong. On the software side, iPadOS is still rife with limitations that probably don’t matter much if you’re just using it to watch TV in bed or triage a few emails—but matter a lot if you’re trying to go beyond a limited set of features and some specific apps.

I will live in hope that the next version of iPadOS will address some more of these issues. (I have expressed this sentiment every single time a new iPad Pro has been released. It hasn’t helped.)

Federico Viticci:

The elephant in the room, which I plan to address more in-depth in a future story, is that while the iPad Pro’s hardware was fine before and is finer now, its software was a letdown before, and nothing has changed after today’s event. I don’t need to rehashwhy I think Apple is missing a huge opportunity by not embracing the iPad Pro as a machine that could do both iPadOS and macOS equally well in the same package. I’ll save that for iPadOS 18 at WWDC. What I will say is that if there was a gap between the older-generation iPad Pro hardware and its software, that gap is now a Tears of the Kingdom-sized chasm between these thin, OLED iPad Pros and iPadOS 17.

Marques Brownlee:

“But the thing is, and I feel like we’ve been saying this for years, is it kind of doesn’t matter how powerful they make the iPad. It’s still an iPad, right? It’s still iPadOS. And we’ve seen gigantic improvements in the M-series chips. And these iPads are like the most powerful chips on paper ever, but they’re still iPads. So the last thing we need after all this time is just another spec-bumped iPad, right? […] So in this awkward meantime [between iPads shipping next week and WWDC], here we have these really, really impressive spec-bumped iPad Pros, but the list of things it can do is the same as my three year-old M1. Just saying. What a time to be alive.

While Stephen Hackett didn’t attend the press events in person, he’s got a pretty succinct critique on his blog:

As nice as the new OLED display looks, and no matter how powerful the new M4 may be, the iPad’s problem in 2024 — or another year for that matter — is the software. Fourteen years into its lifespan and the iPad still can’t seem to fully shake off its iPhone OS roots. Almost everything Apple has attempted to bolt atop iPadOS to make it more useful for more people has come with weird tradeoffs. Look no further than something like Stage Manager, or that just today Apple announced a version of Final Cut that can use external drives for project storage.

So, like I was saying, there’s no sales pitch here for people that were previously uninterested in iPads. As if the maximum addressable iPad market has been reached and now the only way to move the needle on sales is to entice existing owners to upgrade.

The Mac is still pitted against the array of PC vendors out there, so it does have a sales pitch to those PC buyers and isn’t just reliant on its own iterations. The iPad is also poised as a PC replacement, but it’s always depicted as a more appliance-like replacement.

Send some emails, use QuickBooks on BART, “catch up on a hit show, like Palm Royale.”

People do use and love their iPads, so perhaps what it is is enough. It serves a role.

The iPad might not ever need to be more than the iPad is now, but at this point you know if that aligns with you or not. Unlike some others, I’m not expecting any dramatic innovations at WWDC this Summer, and even if there were you’d be on a beta iPadOS until the Fall if you really wanted to use them.

But the Pro Apps

I am really at a loss when it comes to Apple’s Final Cut Pro for iPad 2 and Logic Pro for iPad 2. Lovely names. I haven’t heard of anyone using the first versions (which is not to say that no one uses them, just that if there was a professional non-linear editor for $4.99 a month you’d maybe hear about someone using it.)

Apple might have thought it sounded impressive when they punctuated the event with, “Shot on iPhone. Edited on Mac and iPad.” That’s not quite as impressive as the fall MacBook event that was shot on iPhones. I’ll be interested to see if they release a BTS video in a few days that shows us how much of this was Final Cut Pro for iPad. At what point did they export the project files on that one-way trip to the Mac? How much did they render on the iPad?

Functionally, they still don’t match the desktop counterparts feature for feature. Like exporting video, which you can’t do in the background or it will kill the export.

The Final Cut Pro for iPad project file format continues to be incapable of round-tripping between a Mac and back to an iPad. It’s a one-way trip.

As already noted, the project files can at least finally live somewhere other than the iPad’s on-device storage. I’d love to hear an explanation about why that feature took this long.

They still can’t use disparate files in the file system though, which is bananas. Sure, you reduce the chance that someone will open a project file to find missing media, but you also bloat this opaque package file container, and need to pay attention to whether or not you have “Include All Media” checked when you export your project for a Mac or you lose anything that’s not being currently used on the timeline.

I do understand that things are this way because iPadOS file management is based on iOS file management, and that can’t ever be as complicated as a Mac because it might hurt people’s wittew bwains, but aren’t these pro apps supposedly for people that would use Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro on a Mac? Who is the target market?

Personally, I was also a little let down that the new features for announced for Final Cut Pro for iPad 2 and Logic Pro for iPad 2 were mentioned to bolster the iPad, when those same features were coming to the Mac. Not because I wanted those features to be exclusive, but because it felt misleading to frame them as iPad features and quietly mention the Mac.

With the notable exception of Final Cut Camera (woof, what a name) multi-cam support, which apparently a Mac can’t handle. It must be because the file system is too complicated on the Mac.

Back to the Future

The main tension here seems to be people who want to be able to use an iPad as a complete drop-in replacement (or merely on-the-road substitution) for a Mac in as close to 100% of the circumstances that they would use a Mac for. Otherwise that is all that M4 horsepower for? Jason and Federico have both opined that the solution to this ought to be with Mac virtualization. Letting people choose to run a macOS environment on their iPad which has the same M-class chips.

If people are asking themselves “how much RAM should I get for my iPad?” Then maybe we’ve crossed into more Mac-like territory than people are willing to admit.

I don’t think that is an unreasonable request, and it seems to be the simplest route to appease those users, while also leaving the basic iPad experience unmolested.

Fold iPadOS back into iOS. The jig is up anyway. When iPadOS was split off from iOS it was supposedly to let it be its own thing, but that hasn’t happened. It’s just a platform Apple can deprioritize when they’re focusing on getting iOS out for the far more important new iPhones.

Let iOS be Apple’s friendly, touch operating system. Let macOS be Apple’s slightly less-friendly OS for power users.

Would it be a great touch-first experience to use today’s macOS on the iPad? No, but that’s way less of a problem than some “but but” nerds make it out to be, because of accessories, like the new Magic Keyboard that looks just like the lower half of a MacBook Air, touch pad and all. Universal Control, virtual desktops, etc. People are already capable of using that UI on those devices. No one would be required to use it anyway.

In my humble opinion, it seems much more difficult, and fraught to revise everything from the file system up so that not everything needs to live in package files. To allow background export and rendering entitlements so people could actually multitask. An honest to god Terminal app where people could install things like Python, or Node to do development (even if that was sandboxed from the system processes, but could mingle freely with files).

Anyway, this is my two cents, as someone that can’t remember the last time he charged his iPad Pro. Make of it what you will, but definitely listen to the far more exuberant iPad users that feel a little bummed out by the best iPad Airs and the best iPad Pros ever made.

2024-05-08 17:30:00

Category: text


Prime Video Steals the Show

In the continuing quest to suck the lifeblood out of us all, Amazon announced three new streaming ad formats for Prime Video (well, 2.5). This is in addition to all the other stuff they were doing with ads in the interface and screen stealers “pause ads”. Scharon Harding at Ars Technica first brought this to my attention, but it’s worth reading Amazon’s advertising blog post about this:

  • Shoppable carousel ads, which make it easy for customers to browse and shop multiple related products on Amazon during ad breaks on Prime Video. Brands can present a sliding lineup of their products that customers can explore on Amazon and add to their cart using most living-room remotes. The ad automatically pauses so that customers can browse, and automatically resumes play when ad interaction has stopped.
  • Interactive pause ads, which enable customers to discover and engage with brands when they decide to pause the show or movie they’re streaming. When viewers press pause on their living-room remote, they will see a translucent ad featuring brand messaging and imagery, along with an “Add to Cart” and “Learn More” creative overlay. These ads extend the engagement opportunity beyond a traditional ad break, as the interactive overlay is available to customers for as long as the content is paused. With a click of their remote, customers can easily add the product to their Amazon cart, get more information sent to their email, and resume their stream at any time.
  • Interactive brand trivia ads, which help advertisers elevate their storytelling by entertaining customers with factoids about their brand while giving them the opportunity to shop on Amazon, learn more about services and products, and even unlock rewards. Customers can use their living-room remote to add a product to their cart, request information via email, and claim rewards like Amazon shopping credits with the purchase of eligible items.

Guh-ross.

Let’s just read some more about this depredation, shall we?

Prime Video has an average monthly ad-supported reach of over 200 million global customers. With Amazon customers shopping while watching content on Prime Video, Amazon Ads connects content to customers using Amazon’s addressable signals and first-party audiences. With this set of innovative S TV ad formats and access to a closed loop of insights, billions of signals help brands to continually improve their ad performance and campaign strategy.

Translation: We have engineered a captive audience by flipping that switch on opting everyone into ad-supported plans, and we have all the data on the audience from those plans, and if you want access to them, and the “insights” from their data you’ll use our advertising platform.

Let’s hop back over to Ars, where Scharon points out:

Still, Amazon claimed today that Prime Video ads reach an average of 200 million people monthly. Although, Amazon hasn’t provided a firm figure on how many Prime Video subscribers it currently has overall. In 2021, Amazon said that Prime, which includes Prime Video, had 200 million subscribers.

So that 200 million number is a lie because not every Prime subscriber watches Prime Video. They have the capacity to show ads to 200 million subscribers, were they all to actually use Prime Video.

This offends me for the same reason as all the other stuff, not because of advertising in the abstract, but because it is worsening an experience in a way no one anticipated when they subscribed. It is altering the deal when all this time I’ve been praying they do not alter it any further.

I do wonder how long it’ll be before they start offering advertisers display banners framing the video content. You know, but in a tasteful way that respects the closed-loop insights.

2024-05-07 17:00:00

Category: text


Simply Make More Vision Pro Videos

One of the consistent laments I’ve heard on podcasts over the last couple of months is that there’s not enough “content” specifically for the Vision Pro.

People have pointed towards Apple’s sports push, with live sports offering an opportunity for Immersive Video. All Apple’s put out is a widely-panned, five-minute highlight reel.

It kind of proves that this stuff just really isn’t that easy, or inexpensive, to make. I doubt that anyone at Apple is surprised about the return on their investment.

What little catalog content that exists is mostly a byproduct of 3D movie distribution, which is why it’s the most plentiful source of Vision Pro media. That’s more about negotiating deals, old-school iTunes style, for stuff that has no real home video venue (practically speaking, stereoscopic home video didn’t take off).

So let’s assess the video sources:

Old School

2D Movies and TV

The sales pitch of a huge screen (that feels like it’s only a few feet in front of you) hasn’t proven to be all that attractive based on my anecdotal observations. The supply of 2D Film and TV is relatively unconstrained except for the absence of Netflix and YouTube. It’s not especially enticing compared to other devices.

2D Live Sports

The main benefit for this 2D experience is multi-window viewing for watching several games, or stats, at once. Like a sports bar strapped to your face. I haven’t observed a lot of chatter about it except when new app releases with new viewing modes become available. I’m unsure if people are really continuing to watch games in the Vision Pro after they write up the app updates, or if the pull of screens further from your eyeballs wins out when there’s nothing new.

3D Movies

This is the byproduct of theatrical 3D. It’s still a windowed experience on a big (close-feeling) screen where things mostly recede into the screen, for reasons I have discussed before. I’ve seen some people respond favorably to a handful of viewing experiences, but the limiting factor seems to be the same as 3D theatrical —is there a reason to see this in 3D at all? Or can I just watch it 2D with no downsides?

Remember that Apple has no 3D movies on Apple TV+. Not a thing. They had no reason to have the theatrical stereoscopic byproduct that legacy studios make, so they can’t just drag those files over. Their movies, at present, don’t stand to benefit from stereo-conversion either because unlike Apple TV+ shows, the movies they greenlight aren’t blockbuster spectacles, they’re targeted mainly at securing prestigious awards for talky-dramas.

3D TV Shows

What? LOL. Get outta here!

This isn’t really a thing, because 3D never took off for home viewing in the 2010s, and had no theatrical demand to prop it up. There is no catalog like there is for 3D movies.

However, that doesn’t have to be true. Apple is in an interesting position right now where they need compelling material for the Vision Pro, they have a lot of 2D TV shows they make themselves that have spectacle for 3D, and a VFX market that is almost completely dead because of reduced production following the 2023 strikes, and the potential 2024 IATSE strike. Additionally, Apple TV+ series have short production runs, and few seasons. It is kind of the perfect time to do stereo conversion on some of their popular shows like Foundation, Monarch, or For All Mankind. Where possible the studios that did the original work for CGI scenes could even be contracted for stereo renders because they weren’t produced aeons ago.

Would that make headsets fly off the shelves? Probably not, but it builds a catalog Apple simply doesn’t have from themselves or others. Compare that to live events, where there’s little interest in watching old events, but there is definitely interest in rewatching TV series. Remember only a teeny tiny percentage of people have seen these shows at all to begin with, so it’s also an opportunity for new customers.

Then when new seasons are available they could be available in 3D. Someone could catch up on For All Mankind and spring right in to new, weekly stereo releases.

If they want to create a market, this strikes me as a not-ridiculous candidate.

Immersive Video

While people talk about Immersive Video as one thing, I think it’s really worth discussing it based on subject matter, because I think that makes far more of a difference than the technical details of stitched together spherical projections.

Live Sports Immersive Video

This is the one I’ve seen and heard the most requests for. People keep saying you can just stick some white-obelisk camera rigs in stadiums and that’s it.

I’ve never done live TV work, which is a very different pipeline from my job, but it seems that you still have to solve for graphics, and editorial choices that have different constraints from 2D or even 3D. You also have equipment and crew dedicated to this because it is not piggybacking on what the 2D broadcast team is doing. It’s a different medium.

The most obvious evidence of this not being simple as “just” putting camera rigs there, is that if it was that simple, then we wouldn’t be talking about any of this.

The sporting events are also at the mercy of the calendar, what deals have been cut, etc. They have far less value as catalog content (though there are people that watch old games, I don’t think a game from a couple months ago is “old” enough).

Live sports are definitely a way to increase adoption of a technology. Not everyone bought an HD TV when they hit the market, but someone knew a person that had one, and that person might show “The Big Game” or whatever and then when the next person in that friend group could buy a TV they’d buy one, and so on.

The exception, of course, being 3D live sports. Not many people remember ESPN 3D, but let us take a moment to ruminate on it’s lifecycle from it’s 2010 launch with a smattering of 3D broadcasts, to it’s 2013 demise for being too expensive to produce and having low consumer demand.

I’m sure none of that history is relevant to this discussion at all.

Immersive Video Experiences

There are still a handful of these. Whether or not you like them depends deeply on the subject matter. I was not particularly enraptured during my own demo experience, but that’s not saying much at all. I freely admit that I’m a tough audience.

I’ve heard Casey Liss groan about the dinosaur thing not really being for him. Just like with any other movie or TV show, people have to want to watch it otherwise it might as well not exist. Which is why there needs to be both a high quantity and a high variety.

That’s no simple task. Even though the current immersive video experiences were undoubtedly expensive to produce (especially relative to 2D) it’s going to take even more that what they’re spending, or just a very, very, very, long time to accumulate a catalog.

The problem with slowly producing material on an infinite time scale, is that while Apple certainly has the money to whittle away at this, they don’t have infinite consumer interest over that same period of time.

If the rumors are true and the next headset hardware is going to be released in 2026, then we’re looking at probably 3x what the current library is if they maintain output at this rate. I’m skeptical that will constitute a substantially more impressive catalog.

User-Generated Videos

Apple’s really expecting a lot of people to be interested in shooting Spatial Video, which is just a fancy term for 3D video with blurry edges.

Spatial Home Videos

Spatial Videos don’t have to meet the same standard of quality as studio fare (they also quite literally can’t.) However, Apple has no venue for hosting user-generated video to share with wide audiences so these videos are only hyper-relevant to individual people and entirely reliant on the person choosing to make the videos for themselves.

The upcoming iPhone 16 has their cameras moved around so it’s supposed to be able to shoot Spatial Video too, but it remains to be seen what quality improvements there will be. Sacrificing all the cool stuff that your iPhone can do in 2D, is incredibly unfortunate at present.

It’s important to remember that adding Spatial Video to the regular iPhone 16 doesn’t mean much in terms of Vision Pro adoption, because the people buying iPhone 16s are likely price sensitive. That’s why they’re not buying Pros. So good luck selling them a $3500 headset to look at their own home movies in subpar quality.

VR/3D User-Generated Video

Let’s circle back to YouTube, which is absent from the Vision Pro because of pride, business, and all that jazz. People have been uploading 3D videos to YouTube for over a decade, and a VR “immersive” videos since 2015 that are all available on Meta Quests, and whatever monstrosities wind up shipping with Horizon OS.

I’m not going to debate the quality of user-generated video in the abstract, but I will note that the low production values of YouTube creators in any dimension don’t seem to be a huge issue.

When something’s not from a studio, they don’t have the same expectations, or the same para-social relationships for that matter.

Apple should leverage YouTube’s 3D and VR videos here if for no other reason than to have the minimum level of content available to people with headsets.

If You Build It

The problem with Apple’s strategy from the outset is that it relies on the assumption that people will beat down the doors to make something for Apple’s platform, and Apple can collect money from movie rentals, sales, and subscriptions. They’ve got demos.

It’s really on Apple to invest an ungodly amount of money instead of waiting for an external spark of interest from some other studio. There’s no market to entice anything tailored to it, specifically.

Despite Apple and Disney’s special relationship which produced the Disney+ Vision Pro app, Disney’s not going to throw money at a Vision Pro app forever for Apple. The clock is ticking.

Disney didn’t throw money forever at ESPN 3D, but that was waaaaay back when the CEO was Bob Iger so I’m sure it’s different now (checks notes).

In all seriousness, they should have spent the money they didn’t want to spend before. Now they’ll have to spend even more, and they have less time to do it in.

Knowing they don’t have a lot of time I think stereo conversion of their hit action shows is the fastest turnaround. With new episodes also coming out in 3D. That’s not instant, but it’s a lot faster, and more durable than the live sports they’re fumbling.

No external entities are invested in the success of the Vision Pro hardware or visionOS software — unless Apple pays them to be.

2024-05-06 15:00:00

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Florals? For Spring? Groundbreaking

Three, large, purple orchid flowers.

This is a pretty good time of the year to go outside and appreciate what’s happening in nature. Even if you’re in a major metropolitan city, like me, you’ve still got flowers out the wazoo. Knock back a few antihistamines, grab a camera, on go on a little walk.

A yellow venus slipper flower with wine-colored dots.

It could be the camera on your smartphone, but try to grab something you don’t ordinarily take pictures with just so you stretch some different mental muscles.

Shockingly, almost exactly a year ago, I wrote up a post for Six Colors about this topic.

You’re unlikely to win any awards, since the subject matter isn’t all that special, but it’s for you more than it is for other people. The act of composing a shot, adjusting your aperture settings, selecting your focus, etc. can clear your head.

The other week I grabbed my cameras and went to The Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino (the Beverly Hills of the San Gabriel Valley).

The Chinese Garden at the Huntington on a sunny day.

I have a Nikon D80 that I bought used last year, and a used Sigma 17-70 F2.8-4 lens. It is absolutely not what I would take with me if I was worried about flexibility, dynamic range, low-light, lightness, space, etc.

The bright yellow inflorescence of an aloe vera plant with a yellow bee flying toward it.

It’s for jaunts. For outings. The thing is a brick that takes lovely 10.2 megapixel photos.

The desert garden section of The Huntington Library full of cacti and succluents with colorful flowers and a couple towering palms.
The Desert Garden at the Huntington in Spring.

It doesn’t have to be a botanical garden though. There’s plenty of stuff in the most mundane of urban locations.

Orchid tree with pink, purple and white flowers.
Bauhinia variegata, a.k.a. orchid tree. These are blooming all along the streets.

I just went on another little walk around on a nice, sunny, Sunday morning, with the ~lead weight~ D80 and it felt good. None of the photos are impressive or precious memories, but it felt good to do it.

A male house sparrow on the branch of a hibuscus plant.
Holly growing through a chain link fence.

Again, there’s nothing about these photos that’s exciting or novel. The old Nikon D80 CCD sensor isn’t magic. This subject matter isn’t special. These photos aren’t groundbreaking.

You should also go out with a hunk of junk and make your own achingly basic flower photos too.

The purple inflorescene of a Pride of Madeira plant with small, yellow bee.

2024-05-05 17:00:00

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Logitech’s Mouse Software Now Includes ChatGPT Support, Adds Janky ‘ai_overlay_tmp’ Directory to Users’ Home Folders ►

Stephen Hackett noted that Logitech has added some extra bullshit to their bullshit Logi Options+ app in a post you absolutely should read.

I cannot tell how little I want THE SOFTWARE FOR MY MOUSE to include features tied to ChatGPT … let alone a mouse with a built-in button to start a prompt.

You need this garbage app to take full advantage of your Logitech hardware. It’s a shame because the MX Master 3S is an excellent mouse. My favorite mouse ever.

What makes it my favorite mouse ever is the thumb-button and its accompanying gestures. Click that paddle-ish button once and you get Mission Control. Hold it down and swipe left and it swipes to the Space “to the left” the same goes for the right.

screenshot of the Logi Options+ app showing the gesture controls.

Most people don’t think they use Spaces, but every full-screen app is a Space. It’s true. I deal with a lot of full screen apps. My employer used remote desktop software, and the best way to use that is full screen.

It’s pretty indispensable to be able to hold and drag to pop from app to desktop to app.

I might have gone for a couple months without even noticing the AI cruft, because I don’t launch Logi Options+, but I would eventually have noticed the folder, or the running process, like Stephen did and waste my time trying to figure it out.

In theory it’s not hurting anything because it’s not doing anything, but in principle my computer is not at Logitech’s disposal. Much like my recent complaints about YouTube, or all the other companies, my devices are mine. It stinks more of Adobe than YouTube though. They’re not angling to sell ads, they’re trying to appear trendy and relevant.

I tried uninstalling Logi Options+, and then installing SteerMouse, like Stephen did, but SteerMouse doesn’t have the gesture support I am accustomed to. I heard some people used the “Chords” to switch spaces, but I didn’t want to relearn how I used the mouse.

I tried to use Karabiner Elements next. Someone with a more sophisticated background in computer programming might be able to figure that out, but there’s nothing more I could seem to do than what SteerMouse did with setting the thumb button to trigger one thing, and no gestures. If anyone happens to figure out how to reproduce the gestures in Karabiner, get in touch.

Fortunately, Stephen updated his post with some reader feedback that it’s possible to edit the JSON file in Logi Options+ and it won’t run the extra process, or create the tmp directory.

I reinstalled Logi Options+, set up my mouse again (because I have always refused to create a Logi account to sync settings. Like they won’t abuse that), edited the JSON file from true to false and turned off automatic updates.

I had also considered downloading the offline version of the Logi Options+ app that Stephen linked to, but at least with the way things are my mods are very undoable if I do need to update the app.

Like I said in my previous posts about why this crap happens, the people at Logitech talked themselves into how this was actually a good thing that they were doing. Why wouldn’t people want this (poorly implemented) additional feature?

To anyone suggesting that I throw the best mouse I’ve ever used in the trash over this, think again. To people that think I should retrain myself to use a $129 Magic Trackpad set up to the left of my keyboard to switch spaces, I ask, “in this economy?”

This is a case where I want my consumer electronics to be an appliance, not a platform. I’ve gotten it back in line, and that’s that.

Sometimes a mouse is just a mouse.

2024-04-25 11:00:00

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Does Everything Need to Be an Ad? ►

Increasingly, every pixel in front of our eyes is fought over by a pool of large technology companies that are trying to squeeze fractions of cents out of ads and promotions.

There’s a lack of care and thoughtfulness about all of these moves. Instead, there’s just an assumption that as long as they can pry someone’s eyes open, “Clockwork Orange”-style, then they’ve helped activate those reluctant viewers with brands.

Read the rest on Six Colors.

2024-04-19 15:00:00

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Apple TV 4K 18 Months Later: I’m FED UP with TVs! ►

I came across this video from Kyle Erickson on YouTube. The video follows the general YouTube tech video template, and Kyle has some Canadian flare so you’ll see him use apps for services like Crave.

The premise of his video is that he’s fed up with the embedded software in his TVs, specifically Roku and Tizen (Samsung) — though he does briefly mention Fire TV. His solution was to add an Apple TV to those HDMI inputs in his home. You can’t argue with that logic in this day and age.

However, he skips over the TV app in a way that serves the premise of the video, but not potential Apple TV buyers.

He uses the home screen (as I do, and I recommend for everyone) but he doesn’t point out in the video that he’s changed the default behavior of his remote to use the home screen over the TV app.

It would be better, maybe, to detail the steps to go through to get Watch Now to appear on the home screen, for example. When he bemoans the apps in the interfaces of the embedded software systems, he doesn’t mention that the TV app is a billboard for Apple TV+ first and foremost.

He also highlights that Apple supports older hardware with new versions of the OS and that a new version of the OS will be coming at this year’s WWDC. That needs a qualifier that Apple might finally pull the trigger on the TV app being the new home screen, and with the TV apps heavy emphasis on Apple TV+ we might all be in for a rude awakening.

Having said that, I completely agree with Kyle that people should buy an Apple TV these days if they can afford it. Apple TVs are better in a lot of ways thanks mostly to competitors worsening their products, not because of improvements Apple is making. Apple should be doing a better job here, even when, as Kyle notes, the competition is so awful.

2024-04-16 13:00:00

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YouTube’s Screen Stealer

Something's distinctly different about this "aerial" still frame.

Yesterday, I had the YouTube app open on my Apple TV in my office. I went to do something else, and when I looked back it wasn’t the Apple TV aerial screensaver, but a YouTube app “screen saver” with a slideshow of heavily compressed still images.

The Apple TV in my living room had an older version of the YouTube app (presumably from April 2nd if the dates in the version names are to be believed.) That version didn’t try to override my screensaver like the one in my office.

It seems the YouTube app, if the app is open, will start a screensaver slideshow of generic still images taken from videos if there isn’t a video that I’ve paused.

Look at the compression shred this still.

If there is a paused video it will be a slideshow of the YouTube thumbnail art endlessly zooming in, fading to black, and starting over.

Some of the worst sins of mankind exist in YouTube thumbnails, and they’re not designed to be screensavers.

You know what is designed to be a screensaver? The Apple TV’s aerial screensaver. Far and away the most lauded feature of the Apple TV platform. Beloved by all (except people that get creeped out by jellyfish) and yet replaced by either chunky-compressed stills from drone footage, or looping thumbnails.

To top it all off, it has static, white text (famously the best to use for screensavers) for video details, static YouTube logo, and a graphic for the directional pad, indicating that pressing the top will start playing the video being used in the screensaver. If you have an older Apple TV in your house (my office Apple TV is the 4th gen one) with the awful touchpad you can even trigger it when you try and pick up the remote from the furniture.

UPATE: Thomas did some further testing of his own, and apparently the fake screensaver will show media controls on devices you have connected to your TV (iPhone for a remote). According to him, if you let the fake screensaver keep running it will eventually revert to the Apple TV screensaver, and then the Apple TV will sleep.

YouTube’s not the first company to “innovate” in the screensaver space, and it’s not exclusive to the Apple TV. A few years ago my boyfriend had a set-top box that would initial start a slideshow of ugly nature photos, and then after a while they started dropping in ads into the slideshow.

I fully expect YouTube’s aim here is to capitalize on all this “free” real estate and start sliding in ads, promoting specific videos from partners, or showcasing movies available to rent or buy. I know that’s cynical, but so is YouTube as a business.

Setting that aside, I pay for YouTube Premium because the ads are so awful I can’t stand them, but because there’s some pretense of this being a screensaver I still get these slideshows that are the future home of ads for other people.

On April 4th, Janko Roettgers published a piece about a recent Roku patent filing about injecting ads over the source input feed when the source input feed is paused. The patent also says the display device will discern content and context to place a relevant ad over the paused video stream.

As Janko points out, Roku already monetizes screensavers on its platform. Feel free to peruse Roku’s site where they brag about chunks of the screen they’re willing to sell.

I don’t think advertising, in the abstract, is evil. I do, however, think it’s insidious to inject advertising into every pore —especially when those pores don’t belong to you, like when you’re the YouTube app, not even a platform.

Screen Saved

If you want to bypass the YouTube app change, I heard from Rob Bhalla on Mastodon that if you change the screensaver to start at 2 minutes, instead of the Apple TV’s default 5 minutes, then the Apple TV’s screensaver kicks in before the YouTube one and you never see theirs. Thanks to YouTube not having any screensaver controls, and no idea what your actual screensaver settings on the Apple TV are, they hard coded in a start time just prior to the default 5 minutes.

That’s how you know it’s really there to help improve user experience, and not just a craven money grab by absolute hacks.

Sure, they might change this to start even earlier. In which case, we’re at the mercy of Apple to protect customer experience. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one. App Store rejections are for indie devs, and people trying to skirt giving Apple money, not YouTube overriding the screensaver.

2024-04-12 02:30:00

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