Ryan Christoffel

230 posts on MacStories since November 2016

Ryan is a regular contributor to MacStories. He most commonly works and plays on his iPad Pro and bears no regrets about moving on from the Mac. He and his wife live in Texas, where he works for his church.


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Apple Announces New Campus in the Works, Pledges Significant Investments in US Economy

Today in a press release Apple shared an update on its contributions to the US economy. One significant piece of news shared as part of that broader story was the surprise announcement of a new Apple campus in the works.

The company plans to establish an Apple campus in a new location, which will initially house technical support for customers. The location of this new facility will be announced later in the year.

Despite many employees' transition into the newest campus, Apple Park, not yet being complete, it makes sense for a company of Apple's scale and growth to continue expanding its corporate footprint. No further details on the new campus were shared, other than that it will open within the next five years.

Apple expects to invest over $30 billion in capital expenditures in the US over the next five years and create over 20,000 new jobs through hiring at existing campuses and opening a new one.

The announcement of a new campus was only a small portion of the overall press release, which presented several financial details regarding Apple's five year plan for economic contribution.

  • $350 billion will be contributed to the US economy over those five years.
  • $5 billion is committed to Apple's Advanced Manufacturing Fund, up from the previously announced $1 billion.
  • $55 billion is estimated to be spent in 2018 alone with domestic suppliers and manufacturers.
  • $38 billion is the expected tax payment when Apple repatriates overseas profits under new tax law.

These are huge numbers, clearly reflecting Apple's current financial success. With numbers like these, and an anticipated 20,000 new hires over five years, it's no surprise the company will need another campus.

Evolving the Apple Watch in watchOS 5

Matt Birchler has published his list of requests for watchOS 5, and I wholeheartedly agree with all of his major feature ideas. His top request is identical to my own: letting third-party apps populate the Siri Watch face introduced last year.

Essentially, Apple should be making the Siri watch face the smartest, most useful watch face someone can choose. It already is the smartest, but to be useful to everyone, they need to make the apps people are actually using work with it.

I've been using the Siri face nearly non-stop since installing the watchOS 4 beta. Because I use a lot of first-party apps, it still offers me enough value to be the best Watch face for me. Once third-party apps can tap in though, it could end up becoming the best face for everyone.

Pair Siri face improvements with Birchler's other major requests – always-on Watch faces, an Apple Podcasts app, and further updates to Activity and Workout – and watchOS 5 would stack up to address all my outstanding issues with the platform.


Twelve South’s PencilSnap Upgrades Your Smart Keyboard with a Pencil Holder

One of the longstanding frustrations with the iPad Pro's Smart Keyboard is that it contains no place for holding the Apple Pencil. Last year Apple released separate accessories – the Leather Sleeve and Pencil Case – that could house the Pencil, but many iPad users still wanted something simpler: a Smart Keyboard with Pencil holder.

Twelve South, with its new PencilSnap accessory, appears to have made that possible.

The PencilSnap is a small leather holster, very similar to Apple's own Pencil Case, but with one significant difference: it includes magnets for attaching to other accessories, including Apple's Smart Keyboard and Smart Cover, and Twelve South's own SurfacePad. While we haven't been able to test the product yet, Twelve South stresses the strength of the magnets and tight grip of the Pencil holder – in other words, they're confident the PencilSnap won't get easily disconnected from its attachment point, nor will the Pencil come loose when you don't want it to.

PencilSnap is available for $29.99 in two colors: Black and Camel. If it works as advertised, it may well become the new go-to Pencil storage solution for iPad Pro users.


Explaining the Roles of the iMac Pro’s T2 Chip

Jason Snell, writing for Macworld:

Before the iMac Pro was released, there was a lot of speculation that it was part of a trend toward creating a “hybrid Mac” that is driven by both an Intel processor and an Apple-designed ARM chip like those found in other Apple devices. The iMac Pro is definitely a hybrid of a sort, but probably not the one people were expecting. With the T2, Apple is using its chip-design prowess to take more control over parts of the Mac hardware that were previously outsourced to other controllers, and reaping the benefits of integrating them all together.

The iMac Pro isn’t running iOS apps, but it does get to take advantage of most of the work Apple has done to bolster the security of iOS devices and enhance the quality of photos and video taken by iPhone cameras. Apple will almost certainly continue to push this technology into more future Mac models, because it allows Apple to use the work it’s already done on iOS to improve the features and security of the Mac.

For years, the advancement of the Mac has been tied closely with the evolution of iOS. Many of the hallmark macOS features dating back to Lion originated on the iPhone and iPad, and came to the Mac – in part – to provide greater feature parity between the differing platforms.

While the iPhone's influence on the Mac has previously played out primarily in the realm of software, that influence is clearly extending to hardware now. The 2016 MacBook Pro took the first step with its T1 chip powering the Touch Bar, but the T2 is another significant step forward. Though its benefits are largely invisible to the average user, Snell's overview of the T2 and its extensive reach throughout the system makes clear that the Touch Bar was just the beginning of ARM-enhanced Macs.


Apple Addresses Reported iPhone Slowdowns After Software Updates

There's an age-old conspiracy theory that Apple intentionally slows down older iPhone models to compel upgrades to new ones. Every year around the time a new version of iOS releases – which also happens to be the time new iPhone models launch – users report that their old phones aren't as speedy as before. While some of this felt downgrade is to be expected with new features introduced in major iOS versions, Apple today confirmed that there is in fact more to it than that – at least, in certain cases.

Earlier this week John Poole shared Geekbench results that seemed to indicate some level of throttling of iPhones after certain software updates. His charts showed that for an iPhone 6s, iOS 10.2.1 introduced a performance change, while for the iPhone 7, iOS 11.2 did the same. Seemingly in response to these tests, Apple has released a statement to Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch that aims to make sense of the inconsistencies.

"Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices. Lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands when in cold conditions, have a low battery charge or as they age over time, which can result in the device unexpectedly shutting down to protect its electronic components.

Last year we released a feature for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE to smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down during these conditions. We’ve now extended that feature to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and plan to add support for other products in the future."

Panzarino explains:

Basically, iPhones were hitting peaks of processor power that the battery was unable to power and the phones were shutting off. Apple then added power management to all iPhones at the time that would ‘smooth out’ those peaks by either capping the power available from the battery or by spreading power requests over several cycles.

While Apple's lack of communication on this matter can certainly be viewed as a problem, ultimately the issue appears rooted in battery technology generally rather than in iPhones specifically. Lithium-ion batteries have certain limitations, which are exacerbated in certain conditions, and Apple made the decision to reduce peak performance in those conditions rather than leave users facing unexpected device shutdowns.


Pokémon GO’s ARKit-Powered Release Coming Soon

The most well-known augmented reality smartphone game will soon be better than ever. As was previously announced at WWDC, Pokémon GO is adopting Apple's ARKit framework to provide a more true-to-life AR experience. The Pokémon GO website announced that this update, featuring what the post dubs 'AR+', is launching very soon.

AR+ will not only make Pokémon appear more accurately in space, but it also brings enhancements to actual gameplay. Because the game will be able to better measure distance and placement of objects, each Pokémon found in the wild will now have an awareness meter. The meter fills up as Pokémon grow more aware of your looming presence, and if the meter fills up completely, the Pokémon will run away. But if you sneak up carefully, not only will you prevent the Pokémon from fleeing, but you'll earn some nice perks: an Expert Handler bonus that increases the amount of XP and Stardust you receive, and a better chance at earning Great and Excellent Throw bonuses. These additions are a clever way of using ARKit to not only improve the realism of the game's visuals, but its mechanics too.

One either nice perk of AR+ is that, as a side benefit of being fixed to a precise point in space, Pokémon will display in an accurate scale, so you can walk up and see just how big or small a Pokémon truly is.

While Pokémon GO's days as a worldwide phenomenon are over (at least for now), the game continues to receive important updates, and the adoption of ARKit appears to be a key one. The update's exact release timeline is unclear, but by all indications it's imminent.

Apple Shares Differential Privacy Insights for Emoji and QuickType Keyboard

In the most recent issue of Apple's Machine Learning Journal, titled "Learning with Privacy at Scale," the team working on differential privacy shares details on exactly how its systems work. While much of the article is highly technical in nature, it concludes by sharing results from several real-life applications. Regarding emoji:

The data shows many differences across keyboard locales. In Figure 6, we observe snapshots from two locales: English and French. Using this data, we can improve our predictive emoji QuickType across locales.

The referenced chart is featured above, showing the popularity of certain emoji in different parts of the world.

The results regarding QuickType words aren't presented in a chart, but the article does mention words in several specific categories that Apple has been able to learn about thanks to differential privacy.

The learned words for the English keyboard, for example, can be divided into multiple categories: abbreviations like wyd, wbu, idc; popular expressions like bruh, hun, bae, and tryna, seasonal or trending words like Mayweather, McGregor, Despacito, Moana, and Leia; and foreign words like dia, queso, aqui, and jai. Using the data, we are constantly updating our on-device lexicons to improve the keyboard experience.

Another category of words discovered are known words without the trailing e (lov or th) or w (kno). If users accidentally press the left-most prediction cell above the keyboard, which contains the literal string typed thus far, a space will be added to their current word instead of the character they intended to type. This is a key insight that we were able to learn due to our local differentially private algorithm.

Though the article doesn't mention it, presumably the latter example of accidentally-tapped QuickType suggestions might lead to Apple adjusting sensitivity for its touch targets related to the 'e' button and the left-most prediction cell. It's interesting to consider what other unexpected lessons may be learned from differential privacy data.


Apple Releases iOS 11.2 with Apple Pay for iMessage, Fix for Notification Bug, and More

Today in an unusual weekend launch, Apple released iOS 11.2 to the public. The hallmark feature for US users is Apple Pay for iMessage, but that service reportedly won’t go live until at least Monday. The reason the update launched today is that current versions of iOS contains a bug that may crash springboard on December 2nd – as users all over the world are now discovering – and 11.2 contains the fix for that bug.

Apple has published a support article where they urge users encountering the issue to follow steps to disable notifications in order to stop the crashes, then update to iOS 11.2 before turning notifications back on.

Besides the bug fix, iOS 11.2 includes the aforementioned Apple Pay for iMessage for US users, new wallpaper options for iPhone X users, and a handful of other minor improvements.

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