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Focos: Powerful Depth Image Controls in a Fun Package

The iPhone's camera has long been one of its most important features. Every year when new models are introduced, it's a sure bet that camera improvements are part of the package. Last year that remained true, but it also proved an even more special year for the iPhone's camera setup. The introduction of dual rear-facing cameras with Portrait mode was something different – pictures no longer just looked a little better than on older iPhone models, they looked almost professional-quality.

This year, whether you picked up a new iPhone or not, Portrait mode is a better feature than before. Part of this is due to software improvements in iOS 11, but another key benefit is that third-party developers now have access to the depth information in Portrait photos. For the first time, Portrait images taken with the iPhone can be edited and enhanced in unique ways, and Focos is a new app that takes full advantage of that opportunity.

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Testing Faster Wireless Charging on iOS 11.2 Beta

Matt Birchler ran some tests with faster wireless charging on iOS 11.2 (currently in beta) and, unfortunately, the results aren’t impressive:

Over the 2 hour test, the iPhone 8 Plus went from zero to 47%. It charged at an incredibly consistent 4% per 10 minutes. Previously I got up to 40% with this same charger after 2 hours, which is a 17% improvement in wireless charging speed. While this is indeed an increase, it’s not the sort of increase that’s going to get you from “wireless charging is too slow” to “I love wireless charging!”. If you have 2 hours to change your phone and there is a 7% difference in the change level, I don’t think that’s a huge deal. Especially when you compare 30 minutes on the charger, I saw literally no change in performance, as it took 30 minutes for the phone to reach 11% charge.

As I noted yesterday, the Qi spec supports up to 15W, but it’s unclear if Apple will go beyond 7.5W for wireless charging on the iPhone 8 and X lines. “Faster” wireless charging doesn’t compare to actual USB-C fast charging at all – earlier today, I tested a 30W USB-C battery pack for an iPhone X story I’m working on, and the device charged by 83% in just 60 minutes. Now that is remarkable.

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Firefox Receives Speed Bump and Design Refresh

I was an original supporter of Firefox in 2004. At the time, the Internet was in desperate need of change. The web browser market was dominated by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which was clunky and becoming an increasingly closed, proprietary system. Firefox found immediate success because it was fast and had an extension system for extending its functionality. Over time though, Firefox lost its speed advantage and fell out of favor.

Now, Firefox is back with a new and improved version called Firefox Quantum that focuses on speed and a fresh design. According to the Mozilla Foundation:

Firefox Quantum is over twice as fast as Firefox from 6 months ago, built on a completely overhauled core engine with brand new technology stolen from our advanced research group, and graced with a beautiful new look designed to get out of the way and let you do what you do best: surf a ton of pages, open a zillion tabs, all guilt free because Firefox Quantum uses less memory than the competition.

I haven’t had an opportunity to thoroughly test Firefox on my Mac, but even after opening 50 tabs on a fresh install of the browser, many of which were notoriously heavy sites, Firefox remained responsive. In addition to being twice as fast as the previous version of the app, Mozilla says Firefox Quantum uses 30% less memory than Google Chrome.

The under-the-hood improvements are coupled with a refreshed user interface that’s designed to scale from mobile devices to large screens. The redesign includes the incorporation of Pocket article recommendations. When you open a new tab, you get three article recommendations from Pocket, which was acquired by Mozilla earlier this year, along with links to popular Pocket article categories.

The update to Firefox for macOS is coupled with a similar design refresh on iOS. Version 10.1 of Firefox brings Firefox’s new design to iOS, including Pocket recommendations. The iOS version of the browser also has a ‘no image’ mode that uses less data and loads faster.

Firefox for macOS is available directly from the Mozilla Foundation. The iOS version of the browser is available on the App Store.


Can Clips Be a Modern Day Photo Booth?

Karan Varindani considers the potential of Apple's Clips to be a spiritual successor to Photo Booth:

With the iPad 2, back in early 2011, Apple brought Photo Booth to the iPad. I distinctly remember thinking that this was a no-brainer at the time. Growing up in Ghana, there weren’t that many Macs in my high school, but everybody that had one used Photo Booth. It was very regular to walk into the sixth form (senior year) common room and see groups of friends, myself included, behind a MacBook playing with the filters. Talking to several of my American friends, it sounds like it was the same deal here. I always thought that it was only a matter of time before Apple brought Photo Booth to the iPhone, but six years later it still just ships with Macs and iPads (and I don’t think that it’s been updated in that time).

Playing with the Selfie Scenes in Clips last week, I had the same feeling that I did playing with Photo Booth on my Mac many years ago. It was a little surreal, as someone with incredible front-camera shyness, to find myself having so much fun with it. The whole experience had me thinking: In a few years, once the Face ID technology has spread to the rest of the iOS line (and maybe even the Mac), could Clips be the successor to Photo Booth? Between Selfie Scenes, stickers, Live Titles, and fast sharing to social media, it seems the perfect fit.

I think the best modern equivalent of that Photo Booth social experience is Snapchat's lenses, which I've observed can consistently deliver laughter and interest among a group of friends or family members. While Clips' Selfie Scenes offer a similarly neat technical effect, if Apple is serious about being successful with the app, a couple big changes need to take place: the square orientation limit has to go, and Clips needs better hooks into apps like Instagram and Snapchat than the share sheet provides.

Photo Booth's prime was a very different era than where we are today, and without the aid of a true social network it will be hard for Apple to replicate its success. So far, Animoji seem much closer to meeting that goal than Clips.

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RAW Power for iOS Review

Earlier this year, I reviewed RAW Power for macOS and was impressed by its power and flexibility. Yesterday, Gentlemen Coders released a no-compromises version of RAW Power for iOS that matches the macOS version’s features and adds the ability to manage your photo library and make Depth Effect edits to Portrait mode photographs. There are a few rough edges here and there, but by and large, the app delivers on its promise of desktop-class, non-destructive photo editing on iOS devices.

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AppStories, Episode 31 – What Makes an App Sticky?

On this week's episode of AppStories, we look at apps that have been designed for the iPhone X and consider what makes certain apps ‘sticky.’

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Connected, Episode 168: My Bedroom Has Become a Museum

Control Center is broken, Myke is broken and Spotify is broken.

On this week’s episode of Connected, we continue our discussion on the iPhone X and talk about music streaming services and smart speakers. You can listen here.

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iOS 11.2 Beta Adds Support for Faster 7.5W Charging with Qi-Based Wireless Chargers

Juli Clover, writing for MacRumors:

Starting with iOS 11.2, the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X are able to charge at 7.5 watts using compatible Qi-based wireless charging accessories.

Currently, on iOS 11.1.1, the three devices charge at 5 watts using Qi wireless chargers, but Apple promised that faster speeds would become available in a future update. It appears that update is iOS 11.2.

MacRumors received a tip about the new feature from accessory maker RAVpower this evening, and tested the new charging speeds to confirm. Using the Belkin charger that Apple sells, which does support 7.5W charging speeds, the iPhone X was charged from 46 to 66 percent over the course of thirty minutes.

At 7.5W, it’s still not as fast as the 15W supported by the Qi 1.2 spec on compatible Android devices, but it’s good progress nonetheless. I wonder if Apple’s upcoming AirPower mat will also max out at 7.5W, or support up to 15W wireless charging for multiple devices.

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Playground AR: A Physics Sandbox for Freeform Play

One of childhood's simple joys for many of us was getting our creative juices flowing by playing with building blocks. It's one of those tactile, imaginative outlets that adulthood features far less of. Blocks also brought the added benefit of getting to destroy the work you'd built – a task similarly delightful to the actual building.

Recently my wife and I were babysitting twin 1-year-old boys, owners of a big bucket full of colorful, cardboard bricks. All throughout the night I enjoyed building small towers with the bricks, and the boys would have a blast knocking those towers down. Even when they were on the other side of the room distracted by something else, if they saw me stack three or more bricks together, they'd quickly come running to play demolition crew.

Playground AR is a new app from developer Marc Sureda that uses ARKit to bring the joys of childhood play to all ages – and with no mess to clean up either. The app provides a variety of toys that let you both build and destroy, with a physics system backing it all up to make the experience a delight.

There are three main modes in Playground AR: one is for placing objects in your playground, another lets you better survey and capture photos of what you've built, and the last is for picking up and moving existing objects. Objects you can place of course include blocks of varying shapes and sizes, but there are also lots of other fun, interesting toys to experiment with – trucks, helicopters, dice, spinning widgets, and more.

The physics engine is what makes Playground truly shine. Stacking blocks too high, for example, will cause your creation to topple over if the stack isn't well-balanced. Dominos can be strung together in an elaborate setup then knocked down by a rolling ball. Magnetized blocks will stick together even if gravity or another object forces them to fall. Balloons can be attached to objects, and depending on an object's weight and the number of balloons, the object will eventually be sent flying into the stratosphere. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention my favorite physics demonstration: placing bombs and TNT containers in your playground to blow everything up. It's brilliant.

If you want to spend some time goofing around in an AR sandbox, building and destroying in all kinds of creative ways, you can pickup Playground AR on the App Store for $1.99.