Posts from the “Mobile Operating Systems” Category

Apple March 2018 Education Event Breakdown

On March 27, 2018, Apple let the world know that it aims to take on education.  There are numerous reasons as to why getting into education is a good thing when you’re a large technology conglomerate:

  • Device infiltration from an early age, thus creating Apple users for life
  • Competing in a new area

For some time, Google has been dominating the classrooms with the help of their Chromebook line.  These inexpensive, easy to configure and deploy laptops running only the Chrome browser (Chrome OS) are a mainstay in American schools because they are so affordable and Google services are free (we always pay — even for free services, more on that later).  While Apple has always wanted to be in the space, the company has yet to show how fully committed they are to providing tools that schools and administrators find useful or affordable.


Overview

The highlight of this event is an all new 9.7″ iPad, coming in a just a little over one pound, that supports Apple Pencil, which is a big deal and will likely cause increased adoption of this new iPad by those wanting to use Pencil.  The device starts out at $329 for consumers and $299 for students.  This updated tablet features an A10 Fusion SOC, which is the same as the iPhone 7 and should provide lasting performance for years to come.  In addition to the Apple Pencil, Apple partnered with Logitech to create the “Logitech Crayon”, which will be available for $49, which is half of the price of Apple Pencil at $99 ($89 for students).  Logitech also created a rugged case, featuring a keyboard for $99.  This lower cost iPad does not feature the set of pogo pins, which would allow the attachment of Apple’s keyboard cover used on iPad Pro models.

Child-drawing-on-new-2018-iPad-with-Apple-Pencil

In addition to the smaller hardware announcements came big changes on the software front in iWork featuring updates to Pages, Numbers and KeyNote — all featuring Apple Pencil support.  One feature to note is “Smart annotation” to bring markup to Pages, which has been available for some time in other competing apps such as Google Docs.  Teachers will now have the ability to create digital books in Pages, which could be shared with students.  A feature that we’ve long asked for, Shared iPad, will be available for students featuring an interface where the student taps their picture and they are thrust into an experience designed for them because it will have all of their apps and settings available, regardless of device.  All of the Apple IDs created for students will be done through Apple School Manager, which can create 1500 IDs in under one minute.  Remarkable.  In the future students will be able to get handouts and more from their teachers in the Schoolwork app and be further managed in the Classroom app for Mac, which will debut in June and all work done within these apps will not be accessible by Apple.


Issues

Apple has done a great job playing catch up; however, there are still lingering problems that I see in this approach.  While the 9.7″ iPad will only cost a school $299, there are Chromebooks that cost $150 — while Apple will never say outright that they are competing against Google, the truth is they are.  In addition to the fact that in order to gain a full experience you need a pencil and under certain circumstances, certainly as the children get older and the type of work changes, you need keyboard support.  See a sample cost breakdown:

  • Apple iPad 9.7″ $299, Logitech Crayon $49, Logitech Rugged Case $99, bringing the total to $450
  • Any budget Chromebook $150-200, consumer purchase, note that a school will pay less

So for the experience that Apple is displaying, it will cost over 50% more (in fact, Apple Pencil itself can cost up to 66% the price of a Chromebook) when the end goal is the same, putting technology in the classroom to shape our future generation.

chromebook-or-ipad-for-classroom-debate


Wrap-up

Apple has made headway into education now by fully marketing towards educators; however, I feel like they’ve still missed the mark because the deployment of one iPad alone without any other accessories still costs almost double the price of one Chromebook.  It would’ve been nice to see them hit a $200 or $250 pricepoint here and with services that never seem to fully pan out — I struggle to see this changing Google’s lock on education any time soon. The hard truth is that if Apple wanted to create a true low cost competitor in this market for schools, they could — but as this announcement has shown us, they simply have not.

Additionally, many fans wanted to see a new iPhone SE or MacBook Air — this was an education event, for those of you who wanted those devices they may or may not come at a later time.

Apple Phone Slowdown Explained

It’s never a good thing to suspect that a company, especially one as large, controlling and expansive as Apple, could be doing something nefarious.  This certainly is not the case, Apple is not doing anything to make consumers purchase new devices or give up on their old ones.  However, what they did do, in traditional Apple fashion, is lack tact in delivering information to consumers, who just so happen to be the ones making them billions.


What is happening?

Over time lithium-ion batteries degrade.  It has become common knowledge that your smartphone battery (any rechargeable battery for that fact) will hold less and less change as it only has a lifetime of so many charge cycles.  With that being said, given the fact that your smartphone battery has limited life, develops wear and tear and will hold less and less charge over time it might make sense to slow an older phone down, right?  Smartphone apps are not getting any less demanding nor are the mobile operating systems that contain them.

iPhone-5-battery-replacement-process-iFixit-001

Due to the systems and applications that are on our mobile computers needing such power, they simply strain the battery too much for them to remain properly functional, meaning that Apple will throttle the performance of your CPU when it detects that the battery has a certain level of wear.  When CPU spikes occur, sometimes we feel our phones getting hot (it simply means that it’s working hard under load); however, when you’re dealing with sensitive internals of a device — if your battery already a tremendous amount of wear, spike after spike of the CPU could have your device shutting off because it simply cannot handle the operations (we’ve seen this on iPhone 6), have it’s battery life plummet or worse, mechanical failure of the internal components. Users noted that after they got a battery replacement on their device it seemed to function normally presumably because no throttling was needed at that point because the battery in the device was of good integrity.

Remember the Galaxy Note 7?  You don’t want mechanical failures like that in your precious iPhone.


Apple’s Response

Since the fallout, Apple has publicly acknowledged that this was happening and reportedly has been occurring since the iOS 10.2.1 update when it was noted that the iPhone 6 battery issues had been resolved.  This comes as somewhat of a surprise to Apple loyalists when some enthusiasts have been suspecting Apple of “planned obsolescence” or intentional slowdown of older devices in order to get the user to purchase a new one.  Additionally, Apple has noted that a future software update will give users insight into the health of their battery, this will come in early 2018.


My unbiased opinion

The issue that I have is that Apple did not tell customers that this CPU throttling was happening and honestly, they have a right to know, especially with newer phones costing $1000 and more.  Don’t just sit back and apologize for Apple (or any technological company) over and over again when they make a mistake — this is wrong and cowardly when you hold such a compelling grip on your customers and can lead to consumer backlash.  Perhaps that’s exactly what the company needs to stop being so secretive and oftentimes ignoring what their customers want and think.

iPhone X Hands On Impressions

Ah, the iPhone X…….the glorious, magnificent, flawed…..iPhone X. Whether you like it or not, it’s here and I’ve got all the dirty details. My preliminary disclaimer: I will not tell you what to do or not do with your one thousand dollars, that’s up to you my friends!


Background

Leading up to the launch of a new iPhone this year, it has been long rumored that Apple would switch to a bezeless display, regardless if other smartphone manufacturers were or not — it takes years for this stuff so no one is copying off of one another when these features take years to design, test and produce. Apple has had it’s iconic home button since 2007, then with the advent of iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, the button changed from mechanical to software based — that along with it’s usual forehead and chin have been mainstays in determining what is and what is not an iPhone.

Enter iPhone X. Minimal bezel all around the glass, no home button, simply a “home bar” indicator at the buttom, no forehead and chin — simply a notch (more on that later) at the top that houses the True Depth camera array used in FaceID. This is a radical departure from iPhone of old and when you pick this thing up, you’ll immediatelly realize, it’s a good departure.


Design

The design of this phone, as well as all other iPhones and most of Apple’s devices, is nothing short of beautiful and it feels significant and great in the hands navigating throughout the operating system with an undeniable premium feel.

Next, the thorn in the side of this device that everyone has talked about before it was even released — the top notch. To be honest, you completely forget about the thing as you move throughout the OS and between apps, however, once you see it on a white background or an unoptimized app — it is ugly and in many instances, it can get in the way. There are many Apple centric websites and podcasts that I listen to and frequent, and they note that “once developers update for this” it will be better. The issue with this statement is that this is a design FLAW that has been introduced by Apple and developers are being forced to code around for a device that touts a larger display that the Plus model; however, has actual less usable space because of the notch and the rounded corners on the edges of the display. So, you’re either going to hate or love the notch — for me, I am not a fan as long as I don’t see it….unfortunately, here’s looking at you, developers.


Usability

iOS has been praised for being easy to use and it’s no different here as long as you are fine with a bit of a learning curve. Note, this curve will be fairly straight if you’re a fellow tech nerd; however, it could be problematic for users that love what they are used to. To put it simple, the home bar, could be usability issue for the non-tech enthusiast.

Gestures. The iPhone X is all about gestures and they are nothing short of great.

Swipe up to go home. Swipe from side to side to multitask between apps (this may be the best multitasking paradigm when going between apps on a mobile device, period — it’s that good). Swipe up and hold for traditonal multitasking (same as a double-click of the home button on iPhone 8 and below). See the video below for a sample of the interactions mentioned above on iPhone X:

Control Center additonally has gone through a few changes, the old gesture of swiping up from the bottom is no more as it has been moved to a swipe down from the right “ear” next to the notch at the top — this is something that I’m not a fan of. Not because it doesn’t work, but it’s a paradox to what happens if you swipe down anywhere else. If you swipe down on the left “ear” or from the center of the notch you get notifications. Realistically, one could be unsure how discoverable this can be. However, it is important to note that with iOS 11, Control Center is much improved.


Display

Apple has made the switch to OLED, which gives users more in many ways, such as battery savings on dark backgrounds and more realistic colors (note that Apple’s LCD displays featured on the rest of their devices are simply the best in the business). This display is produced by Samsung, but Apple led in the design of this display and it is absolutely flawless. While the Note 8 display is fantastic and industry leading in many ways, so in this one — thanks Apple!This display itself sits at 5.8″ respectively. While this in itself is larger than the display on the iPhone Plus devices, which is 5.5″ — there is less usable space, which actually gives it a size comparable to the 7 or 8 — non Plus model. This is all because of the design choices that were made on this device with the rounded corners and True Depth camera array at the top. This makes that usable area less wide and seemingly not as tall as the Plus model, leading to less space and wasted space. Seen below:

Have a look at the Human Interface Guidelines here provided by Apple for the best experience on iPhone X, which is somewhat constrained. See below:

Source: Apple

While this display may be great in terms of accuracy, there were compromises made to make it “edge to edge”.


Camera

An iPhone camera is always industry leading and the iPhone X is no different. The cameras (dual) in the camera are the same as the iPhone 8 Plus, except for the fact that the telephoto lens on this device adds optical image stabilization.

The rear camera produces some of the most realistic shots that I’ve ever seen from a mobile device. The iPhone, just like the Pixel 2 and Note 8 are in a league of their own. Additionally, iPhones X and 8 Plus rear portrait modes are industry leading (alongside the Pixel 2) and consistently will provide an accurate, true to life picture. New with the iPhone X and iPhone 8 Plus, Apple introduced portrait mode on the front-facing camera and it is a complete disaster. Here is an image sample from the front camera:

What needs to be scrutinized here is the distortion around the edges of my hair. You will see that it is blurred out as the subject (me) is detected; however, the software is unable to accurately discern what is part of my head. Note, that portrait mode is an ongoing “test” and has notably gotten better over time.


Wrapping Up

Although, this may appear as a scathing write up, I was actually impressed with the device. Multitasking and gestures are fluid, the camera and display are great and iOS just works in the same consistent and reliable manner that we’ve all gotten used to. No, it’s not bad that the operating system hasn’t changed much over the past few years, radical redesign isn’t always necessary.

However, no phone is perfect and many publications may hint that this one is — it’s not — but we must look at this device as a first generation device. Face it, all of the new features packed into this device such as the True Depth camera system, edge to edge display, Face ID and others are all on an iPhone for the first time. I am not giving Apple a pass here, simply stating a fact and noting that things need time to progress and mature. If you are looking for an experience that you’re used to pick up an iPhone 8 or 8 Plus as it is built off of the iterative design of the 6 and yes, it is darn near flawless. On the other hand, if you must have the new and shiny, you’re not necessarily a Plus user and you’re up for a extraordinary gesture based experience, you simply can’t go wrong iPhone X.

Note: FaceID was not covered as part of this hands-on because the unit used was in demo mode. The demo app on the device appeared to work smoothly; however, for a more in-depth review of the technology, refer to the video below:

Source: AppleInsider

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 First Impressions

Enter Galaxy Note 8.

There is a lot of chatter about this phone; however, one statement that is not being put out into the atmosphere is, “This is not a good device.”  The Galaxy Note 8 is a wonderful device through and through.

IMG_0941.HEIC

Samsung Galaxy Note 8.


Hardware

The Galaxy Note 8 feels great in the hands and it is simply amazing that Samsung managed to package a 6.3″ screen into a body of this size (close in size to an iPhone 7 Plus).  Since the device has a glass front and back, it is very grippy and easy to hold — so although it’s size may be unwieldy to some, is easy to hold in one hand.  Additionally, although the screen is large, it is slimmer than most devices coming in at only 74.8mm wide.  We are looking at a smartphone that has 6 GB of RAM, 12 MP dual-camera system (OIS on both sensors), USB-C, a headphone jack (yes, I have to mention it), S-Pen (more on that later), IP 68 water and dust resistant, a bottom firing speaker that actually sounds really good, Fingerprint scanner (in the wrong place right next to the camera,  this is the only part of the design that is flawed, which ruins the look of the back of the device) along with a Super AMOLED display that is simply one of the best, if not best, in the business.


Performance

You can put the best specifications in the world, the most RAM the fastest processor and still have a terrible smartphone experience, many Android OEMs have been guilty of this in the past, including Samsung.

Not this year.

With my time spent with the device, the phone flat out screamed from the moment I picked it up, until I put it down.  One area of the operating system in Samsung’s “Samsung Experience”, renamed from TouchWiz that appeared to be much more optimized was simply opening the Camera app.  Nearly all Samsung phones of the past would experience a little lag when opening the app — yes, it’s a big deal a moment is exactly that, a moment and something that you do not want to miss out on one.  Opening apps, closing apps and multitasking were absolutely painless making  this phone very performant.  One of the only pain-points I saw in regard to performance was swiping to the Bixby page at the left of the launcher, nearly every time (even when it was loaded into RAM) it opened the phone was met with stutter and dropped frames.


Samsung Experience

Most Android OEMs add a few apps, launcher changes and more to differentiate their flavor of Android from it’s competitors and Samsung does it in a very tasteful and refined manner on the Note 8 with highlights on two in particular.

Edge Apps

Because of the Note 8 screen technology, wrapping over the edges to meet the bezel, Samsung makes use of this with “Edge Apps”.  Edge Apps allows to to select from certain “predetermined” apps on the device and create shortcuts to those from anywhere in the operating system.  Really love that Samsung Notes app?  Put it in the edge and you’ll be able to take notes from anywhere in an instant.  Additionally, we now have App Pairs, which were introduced with the Note 8 and this allows you to pair commonly used apps together in a “pair” that will be launched together in split screen mode (6.3″ screen here, really making use of the extra real estate).

IMG_0944.HEIC

Samsung “App Pairs” shown, above. (Note: In my experience the device did heat up a bit when two apps were on the screen in App Pairs.)

S Pen

While it is unknown of the actual usage statistics of Samsung’s S Pen, it is certainly a valuable addition to the device and where it gets its “Note” name from.  The S Pen makes it easy to jot down notes quickly and efficiently.  The phone doesn’t even have to be awake.  Need to capture some info?  Pull out the S Pen from the device, and start writing on the screen with “screen off memos” — these will be saved to a new note ready for you to reference later.  The S Pen does have it’s drawbacks, as the input lag is real here when drawing lines on screen and is somewhat intermittent when swiping between homescreens.

Source: Tim Schofield


Camera

Since when have you ever known of Samsung to slouch in the camera department?  It started this year, kidding.

The Note 8 takes fantastic shots.  With my experience, under Best Buy lighting, the pictures were crisp, focused and contained plenty of detail.  Video capture was nice and smooth as well; however, playback appeared slightly choppy on the Note 8.  Check out this very thorough camera review below:

Source: Andru Edwards


Nitpicks

There is so much to like about this device; however, I’m yet to have a perfect smartphone experience (seen my rants on iOS 11 lately?).

Let’s get this over with:

  • Smaller battery than the smaller Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus (likely due to battery issues in the Note 7)
  • Some photos appear to be over saturated, while pleasing to the eye, these pictures are not the most “true to life”
  • Disappointing S Pen performance lag

TLDR

Right now, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is the best Android phone that you can go into a store and buy, period — no questions people.  The overall package of performance, camera quality and excellent build make it an all-around winner.

Samsung Galaxy S8 — Quick Look

Android fans, Samsung fans, everywhere unite!  The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus are two fantastic devices that will have you saying “take my money”.  What are some of the main draws to this device?  Is it the curved display?  Is it the thinness of the design?  Is it the camera?  It’s actually all of these characteristics and more.

Design

Galaxy S8 takes on an incremental approach in it’s design scheme and is fully embracing its edge display, Samsung touts this as the “Infinity Display”, which leaves little bezel at the top and bottom of the device.  Essentially, you’re either looking at a 5.8 or 6.2″ massive screen.  But what is truly different about this?  These large devices fit inside of other smartphones with larger bezels like the Google Pixel or iPhone 7 Plus; however, the Galaxy S8 devices are a bit narrower making them potentially easier to pocket and hold.

IMG_0101

Front of Galaxy S8.


Hardware

What’s the best camera that money can buy?  That’s right, the one that’s with you.  A camera that is always with you is the one built into your smartphone and the Galaxy S8 camera will not disappoint in one bit.  During my hands-on time with the device (in a local Best Buy) pictures turned out crystal clear and vibrant, which is a usual of most Samsung devices — very pleasant to look at although not the most true to life.  The stock Samsung camera app had absolutely no shutter lag and captured images within an instant of touching the button.  Speaking of buttons, there is no more home button on the latest flagship device with Samsung finally switching to on screen buttons marking a big step forward and aligning the company more with the modern Google design language for devices.  Although the home button is no longer physical, the user will receive haptic feedback when it is pressed on the screen.  (Cool note about the button is that the square that triggers the home action moves around on the screen slightly, unbeknownst to users, to avoid burn in on the screen, nice huh?)

IMG_0102.jpg

Rear of the Galaxy S8, highlighting the camera and the fingerprint sensor.

Since the home button is virtualized, that means that the fingerprint sensor needed to move and in this iteration of the device, it lands itself next to the camera.  This was not the best design decision, as even someone with larger hands has a difficult time reaching the correct spot on the back of the device to activate it.  A giveaway at this fact is because Samsung built technology into the camera to understand when there are extra smudges on it (likely because users are trying to access the fingerprint scanner).  Most Android OEMs either keep the home button on the front or move the sensor altogether to the back middle of the device, which is simply more ergonomic and looks a lot better.

View the complete specifications of these new devices here.


Software & Interface

Samsung has done an excellent job fine tuning the software that comes loaded on their latest flagship device.  The S8 and S8+ come with your standard set of Google apps and Samsung preloaded goodies, and this year the software and interface is it’s lightest yet.  No, I didn’t go into the settings and check how many non-stock apps were installed; their ROM is still not the lightest, but overall feel is much improved from previous years.  From the settings app, to the notification shade the overall user-experience is much lighter and closer to stock, as Samsung has seemed to have taken cues from the complaints of many users over the years.


Bottom Line

The Samsung Galaxy S8 is in elite company here and is certainly one the best built, looking and performing smartphones currently on the market.  Featuring an all new “infinity” display that offers more view-able real estate (although, this new display curves around the edges, it’s still unclear what actual function it serves in other circumstances in the OS) than most other devices on the market.  If you’re up for an upgrade and you’re interested in a new thin, light device with excellent performance — check out the latest offerings from Samsung with it’s S8 and S8+.