Apple’s Obsession with Thinness; How Much Thinner Can Things Get?

Apple is obsessed with thinness. With an obsession that rivals that of the CPU clock speed days, Apple touts thinness for many of its devices.

Look at the new (poorly named) iPad Air 2; the first text you see on Apple’s website is:

“So capable, you won’t want to put it down.
So thin and light, you won’t have to.”

For the iPhone 6, it’s a bit different. They start with bigness, then go to thinness:

“iPhone at its largest.
And thinnest.”

Ember

And the MacBook Air:

“Thin. Light. Powerful.
And ready for anything.”

And then there’s the iMac:

“Creating such a stunningly thin design took equally stunning feats of technological innovation.”

Apple marketed the current iMac models as being thinner, even though the thinness of a desktop computer is not a valid selling point.

Since Apple no longer touts the clock speeds of its devices – at least not as the leading argument in their marketing pitches – thin is the new fast. The problem is that this thinness is getting less and less important; with each iteration of a device such as an iPad or iPhone, the company shaves a few millimeters off the thickness, making very little difference, but giving them a marketing message that, in the end, means little.

The difference between the current iPad Air and last year’s model is so slight as to not make a difference. The newer model is 1.4 mm thinner than the previous one; the difference in weight is a mere 34 g, or just over an ounce. The iPhone 6 is only 0.7 mm thinner than the iPhone 5s, yet it’s still thicker than the iPod touch. But it doesn’t matter; the difference in thickness and weight are inconsequential.

Metric such as size are valid at certain times. When the MacBook Air was released – nearly five years ago – the difference in thickness and weight, compared to other Apple laptops, was tremendous. At 3 lbs, it was 2/3 the weight of the first aluminum MacBook with the same display size: the aluminum MacBook, released later that year, weighed in at 4.5 lbs. And the plastic MacBook, released shortly after the MacBook Air, weight 5 lbs. Those are big differences.

Yet Apple hasn’t changed the MacBook Air much in five years; it’s still just under 3 lbs (2.96 to be exact), and it’s only a few hairs thinner. The MacBook Air has hit the thinness wall. The same thing will happen to other Apple products.

Apple has nearly reached the limit of thinness. Compare the original iPad and iPhone to the current models; the differences are noticeable. But as each generation shaves a couple of millimeters off the thickness, there’s not much point any more. It’s getting harder to make devices any thinner. Already, the iPhone’s camera has to stick out because the body of the device is too thin. (This was already the case with the iPod touch, whose camera also protrudes.) Apple soon won’t be able to shave even a half a millimeter off its devices, and they’ll have to find a new marketing message.

Thin is near the end of its life as a marketing argument. Maybe it’s time to switch to something else: something that has a lot more value to users, such as battery life.

How Much Media Content Does a 16 GB iPad Hold?

In a recent article, I did a test to see how much free space was left on a 16 GB iPad after installing iOS and all of Apple’s apps. Taking into account the “Other” space that’s always lost on an iOS device, I got a bit more than 8 GB to store music, movies, photos and other content.

Today, I tried another experiment: with the base iOS installation, and no other apps, how much content can it hold? I did this in part following a Twitter conversation with Jim M. who pointed out that the idea of selling music in lossless formats was problematic with so many 16 GB devices.

So, I wanted to find out how many hours of lossless music a 16 GB iPad would hold, taking into account a variable amount of “Other” space lost; in my case, between 1 and 1.5 GB. The answer is around 48 hours.

Lossless music

Lossless music is not all the same bit rate. It compresses differently according to the type of music. It varies from around 400 kbps to as much as 900 kbps, but, on average, comes in around the middle of that range. Though if you want to copy a lot of, say, harpsichord music to your iOS device, you’ll get fewer hours of music than if you sync music that takes up less space. In my test, the average was almost exactly 512 kbps.

The next step was to see how much music I could get on my device at 256 kbps, the bit rate the iTunes Store uses. I managed to squeeze just over four days’ worth of music, or 96 hours, almost exactly twice the amount of lossless music:

256k

How about movies? I managed to sync two Die Hard movies in HD with some free space; two Harry Potter movies; one Lord of the Rings; a bit more for movies I ripped from DVDs. For the latter, since they come in around 2 GB each, I can get 5 movies comfortably.

I recall taking a trip a couple of years ago, and bringing this iPad mini with me. I was re-watching Breaking Bad, at least the seasons that had already aired at the time. I was able to fit about five episodes, as they are around 2 GB each. (I used hotel wifi to download others.)

All this is a thought experiment, designed to point out that with a 16 GB device, there’s not much space for anything. Once you start taking a lot of photos and videos, you’ll eat up free space; when you add apps, that’ll take up room. What’s left isn’t much.

This is yet another suggestion that Apple shouldn’t be selling a 16 GB device; and that users certainly should not buy it. You may only use your iPhone or iPad for a few apps, and not sync media; if so, then the 16 GB device will be big enough for you. But once you start syncing content to the device, it will fill up very quickly.

First Impressions: IPad Air 2

The delivery guy knocked on my door early today with my iPad Air 2. I hadn’t initially planned to upgrade from the first iPad Air, but I decided to pass last year’s iPad on to my son, who was a couple of years behind. I didn’t see any really compelling reasons to upgrade from the previous model, and most users won’t find any either. The main new features on the iPad Air 2 are, for me, Touch ID and the thinner, lighter form factor. The display is also improved, but I’ll write about that later, when I’ve had more time to use the device.

I’ve been using Touch ID since the iPhone 5s was released, and I think it’s a brilliant technology. However, I’m not convinced that I need it on an iPad; for me, the iPhone is the device I carry with me all day, the one I often check quickly; being able to unlock it with Touch ID is wonderful. I use the iPad occasionally: to read, watch a movie or TV show in bed, play a game, or check email. But it’s not a device I use all day. I don’t mind tapping four digits to access it, but having Touch ID does make it a tiny bit easier to use.

The iPad Air 2 is clearly thinner than the previous generation, but I think Apple will have to stop obsessing about “thinness.” Sure, it’s nice for the device to be a bit thinner, and a bit lighter, but the difference is minimal. Holding each one in one hand, I can barely feel the difference in weight; unlike when I switched from the retina iPad to the iPad Air. As for the thickness, there is a clear difference. Here’s the iPad Air 2 on the left, and the original iPad Air on the right:


IMG 2299

The iPad Air 2 is a tiny bit thicker than the current iPod touch:


2014 10 22 10 24 47

They’re both listed as being 6.1 mm thick, but as you can see in the above photo, the iPad Air 2, on the left, seems to be a hair’s width thicker.

No matter, when you get to this thickness, it’s not much of a big deal. The iPad Air 2 can probably bend if you put it in a pocket, or in, say, a knapsack full of books, and, while Apple will probably keep thinning the iPad in future generations, there’s not much to be gained. Being less thick makes little difference now, and the weight gain would be minimal.

A quick comparison of the displays of the two iPad Airs shows a noticeable difference in gamma – the original iPad Air is a bit more bluish – and the iPad Air 2 doesn’t seem quite as bright. When I compare the two looking at an ebook, it actually seems that the viewing angle on the iPad Air (original) is better than that of the iPad Air 2, while Apple claims that the new model has “more vivid colors and greater contrast,” though it could be the anti-reflective coating that makes it look a bit darker.


IMG 2302

(Photos like this are never good enough to really appreciate displays; they are not focused directly on either display, but I think you can see the difference in brightness here.)

I’ve rarely used the camera on any of my iPads, so I won’t look at that now; I make shoot some photos later and see how they compare.

So the new iPad Air 2 is an excellent device. It’s light, thin, and the display is crisp. That display is a tad darker, probably because of the anti-reflective display, but that’s fine; anything to reduce reflections. If you have the previous iPad Air, I wouldn’t recommend upgrading, unless you absolutely want Touch ID. But if your iPad is a couple years old, and you use it regularly, you’ll find the weight difference between this model and any pre-Air iPads to be noticeable. Also, the new storage tiers make this a good upgrade; the iPad Air 2 cost a bit less than the original iPad, and this with twice the storage (64 GB vs. 32 GB on the iPad Air.)

The iPad remains a great device for doing all sorts of things. The iPad Air makes it better; but just by a little bit.

Note: Following a comment below, I checked with an app called System Activity Monitor to see how much RAM the iPad Air 2 has. It does, as rumors have suggested, have 2 GB:

IMG_0338 2.PNG

Apple’s Weird Math, or the Weight of the iPad

I was looking at the specs for the new iPad Air 2, comparing its weight with last year’s original iPad Air. I’m unimpressed by the difference in thickness between the devices, but wanted to see how much difference the thinner iPad meant in terms of weight. On Apple’s page where you can compare iPad models, I saw this:


compare-ipads.png

(I’ve edited the above, so the images display right about the weight section, which is quite far down on the Compare iPads page.)

I you think for a second, you realize there’s something wrong with the math. The iPad Air 2 weighs 32 grams less than the original iPad Air; that’s almost an ounce, or 1/16 of a pound. But the difference between the two – .96 lbs and 1 lb – is clearly wrong. Last year’s iPad Air actually weighs 1.03 pounds, yet Apple rounds this down to a pound. For other models, they have un-rounded numbers: .98 lbs for the Wi-Fi + Cellular model of the iPad Air 2, 1.05 lbs for last year’s version. But last years Wi-Fi iPad Air is curiously an even pound.

I suspect that Apple rounded down last year, and, since they did so, they can’t change the weight, but a simple calculation shows their error. It’s odd; you’d think they’re want to better highlight the difference between the two models: 32 grams, or just over 1/16 of a pound, or, to be precise, 0.07 lbs. When you compare the two in the above graphic, if you aren’t familiar with the conversion (454 g = 1 lb – you’d think there’s less of a difference in weight.

This isn’t a big deal, but it’s a spec that’s clearly wrong (at least in pounds).

The iPad mini 3 is Not Worth the Money

Apple yesterday updated the iPad line, with a new processor, improved camera and an even thinner body for the iPad Air, and Touch ID added to both the iPad Air and the iPad mini. But the iPad mini 3 sees only the addition of Touch ID; everything else is exactly the same as the iPad mini 2.

Nevertheless, this new iPad mini costs $100 more than the iPad mini 2, which Apple is still selling, for the base 16 GB model. It’s hard to compare other versions, as the iPad mini 2 is only available in 16 or 32 GB, and the iPad mini 3 in 16, 64 and 128 GB.


ipad-comparison.png

Nevertheless, that’s $100 for Touch ID, and for an iPad whose processor is already a year old, and which will have a shorter lifespan in terms of OS upgradability than, say, the iPad Air 2, which has a newer processor.

This seems like a ripoff. With Apple still selling the older model – and even the first iPad mini – it’s obvious that, unless you really need the storage, you’re better off getting last year’s model. You can even get a 32 GB iPad mini 2 for less than a 16 GB iPad mini 3. Touch ID is nice, but it’s not that big a deal, and not worth paying $100 for.

The iPad Mini Is the New iPod Touch

“Apple’s annual iPad event is upon us. The company is expected to release updated versions of the iPad Air and iPad mini, both with Touch ID, faster processors and perhaps new colors.

A year ago, it looked like demand for the iPad mini was on the cusp of potentially eclipsing that of the traditional 9.7-inch iPad. The iPad Air made a strong case for large-screen tablets everywhere, but the market definitely seemed to be trending toward the 7- and 8-inch ones that Steve Jobs so abhorred.

A year later, the scenario seems to have reversed itself yet again. At the end of 2014, tablet sales in general have slowed down (though I contend that the tablet is in no way dead). At the same time, large-screened phones (“phablets,” if we must) are taking off.

On the Android side, we’ve seen very clear evidence that the large-screened smartphones have started to eat into the sales for 7-inch devices. Even 8-inch devices (the size closer to the iPad mini), are impacted when phone screens approach the 6-inch mark.

After all, a 5.5-inch phone is in many ways closer to a tablet than it is to a smartphone. In talking with hundreds of iPhone 6 Plus owners for a recent story, a common refrain I heard from many was that “the iPhone 6 is going to make me use my iPad mini less.””

Christina Warren nails it in this Mashable article. Why carry around an iPad and an iPhone? If you use both regularly, it makes sense to swap the iPad mini and iPhone for an iPhone 6 Plus. While it’s not quite as big, it makes a lot more sense. Also, if you have an iPad with a data contract – which you don’t always need, since, depending on your cell provider, you may be able to use the iPhone to create a personal hotspot – you’re saving money on that subscription.

It’s not for me – neither the iPhone 6 or the 6 Plus – but I can see plenty of use cases where the 6 Plus is the perfect device for lots of people.

This said, a recent segment on the BBC News showed a hospital where the nurses were using iPod touches to record patient data, which is then centralized. The hospital has a much lower overall death rate because of the system. I think the iPod touch – or something like it – has a future in the enterprise, in areas where a touch-screen device is useful, but where cell access isn’t needed. It will be interesting to see if Apple addresses this market explicitly in the future.

The iPad Mini Is the New iPod Touch.

Duplicate Tracks in iTunes Cause Problems Syncing iOS Devices

My friend Rob Griffiths pinged me the other day. He had gotten a brand new iPhone 6, (and ribbed me about it), but was having problems syncing it. He could sync some content, but not movies; then some movies, but not all; then he couldn’t sync at all.

Rob took the extreme move of writing to Tim Cook, one of whose staffers read the email and reacted, quickly. It turned out, as Rob explains, that the problem was caused by duplicate tracks in his iTunes library:

“In the current version of iTunes/iOS, there’s a bug that only appears when you have duplicates of purchased songs. When encountered, a duplicate of a purchased song will (almost always) cause iTunes to silently stop syncing.”

This is interesting, in part because I get lots of emails about problems with syncing iOS devices, and I’d never found a cause. I’m not sure this is the only issue, because sync problems are multifarious. For example, in the few days that I had my iPhone 6, I had to restore it twice, because the device lost track of my music and showed it all as “Other” content. I’ve seen this occur in the past when syncs are interrupted, but this was happening to me with a new device, allowing it to sync completely.

Rob eventually scoured his library with Doug Adams’ Dupin, an app that finds duplicates in iTunes. (Read Doug’s write-up of the story.) I ran Dupin, and was surprised to find that I, too, had a number of duplicates, one of which was a full purchased album by Bob Dylan. I know I had never downloaded that album twice, so I suspect something odd going on behind the scenes in iTunes when it organizes libraries. And Rob is sure that he never downloaded his duplicate tracks twice, but what was interesting was some of them were older 128 kbps tracks with DRM, and some were newer versions; perhaps he upgraded them, at some point, and iTunes didn’t delete the older ones?

What is more likely is that these duplicates were added to his library when he chose to transfer purchases from an iOS device:


donotxfer.png

I know I’ve done that at times, when I’ve updated apps on my iPhone, for example, and didn’t want to download them again in iTunes (since my bandwidth is limited). But why would it have, in my case, only transferred one album?

I wonder if this is just a bug with iTunes, or with specific iOS devices. Rob never had problems syncing his iPhone 5, and I saw sync problems with my iPhone 6, but my 5s generally syncs without any issues. So there’s some odd combination here causing the issue.

Whatever the case, if you do have sync problems with an iOS device, I’d suggest getting Dupin and scouring your library. It may save you a lot of headache.

How To: Prepare an iOS Device for Return, Exchange or Sale

If you ever need to erase an iOS device completely, to return it (as I’m doing today with my iPhone 6), to exchange it, or to sell it, it’s a simple process, but you need to make sure you do it correctly. You can’t just wipe the device in iTunes, using the Restore function; that will still keep it linked to your Apple ID.

2014-09-29 11.14.12.pngGo to Settings > General > Reset, then tap Erase All Content and Settings. You’ll see a dialog asking if you’re sure you want to do this; if you are, go ahead. The device will erase everything but the OS, and you’ll see the welcome screen that you saw when you first set it up, or first installed the latest version of iOS.

But there’s another thing you need to do. In iTunes, go to the iTunes Store, then to your account. In the iTunes in the Cloud section, you’ll see a Manage Devices entry. Click Manage Devices, then check to see if your iOS device is listed there. Reseting it should delete it from the list, but it may not. Since you can only have ten iOS devices linked to your account, you may be near that limit, if you have a couple of Macs, an iPhone, an iPad, and a couple of devices for your spouse, partner or children. If you find your device there, click Remove.

That’s it. You can now return, exchange, sell or give away your device.

The iPad mini is a Book; the iPad Air is a Magazine

I wrote about my first impressions of the iPad Air yesterday, and posted that article about two hours after I got the Air. Later, I posted an update, saying:

new-yorker.png“Aside from the use of the iPad as a content creation device, which is not my use case, it seems to me that the full-sized iPad is a magazine and the iPad mini a book. You may disagree, but the size of the iPad Air, to me, makes reading magazines much easier. I can still read books comfortably — and surf the web, answer email, scan Twitter — but I find the iPad mini a bit small for non-responsive layout magazines, such as The New Yorker.”

This, to me, is the biggest difference between the two devices. Jason Snell, writing at Macworld, corroborated my thoughts, saying:

“In my past year as an iPad mini user, there were two kinds of reading that I basically stopped doing on my tablet: digital editions of print magazines and comic books. These are both formats that just work better with a larger screen, because everything is larger. The iPad Air’s screen is simply closer to the intended page size of those periodicals than that of the iPad mini.”

And that, to me, is the key difference between the two devices. Notwithstanding any type of content creation, or the mere desire to have a bigger display for reading web pages or playing games, the iPad Air, for me, is ideal for reading magazines; the iPad mini still shines as a book-reading device. Naturally, I use my iPad for more than just that, but, like Jason, I had stopped reading magazines on the iPad mini, because they were too small.

Looks like it’s time to catch up with those back issues of The New Yorker

iPad mini vs. Kindle Paperwhite

I like the idea of the Kindle, and the idea of the Kindle Paperwhite even more. Offering the ability to read both outdoors in sunlight, and indoors with a backlight, it seems like the best of both worlds.

Alas, having received a Kindle Paperwhite yesterday, I’m very disappointed. Not only is the backlight not very bright – not really bright enough to read indoors if there’s a lot of light – but it’s very uneven, with dark spots around the edges, especially at the bottom.

Here’s a photo I took of the Kindle Paperwhite next to the iPad mini, the latter showing a book in the Kindle app. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

As you can see, even in this small photo, the lighting is uneven at the bottom of the Kindle, and there is a very large difference in brightness (both devices are set to maximal brightness in the photo above). While the iPad mini won’t work in bright light – such as outdoors – I have a Kindle Touch for that. So that Paperwhite is being returned. It’s a good idea, but it’s just a bit cheap and poorly designed. Amazon should really do better with a device like this.