September 21, 2014

How do you make a can of Coke?

The Vons grocery store two miles from my home in Los Angeles, California sells 12 cans of Coca-Cola for $6.59 — 54 cents each. The tool chain that created this simple product is incomprehensibly complex.

Each can originated in a small town of 4,000 people on the Murray River in Western Australia called Pinjarra. Pinjarra is the site of the world’s largest bauxite mine. Bauxite is surface mined — basically scraped and dug from the top of the ground. The bauxite is crushed and washed with hot sodium hydroxide, which separates it into aluminum hydroxide and waste material called red mud. The aluminum hydroxide is cooled, then heated to over a thousand degrees celsius in a kiln, where it becomes aluminum oxide, or alumina. The alumina is dissolved in a molten substance called cryolite, a rare mineral first discovered in Greenland, and turned into pure aluminum using electricity in a process called electrolysis. The pure aluminum sinks to the bottom of the molten cryolite, is drained off and placed in a mold. It cools into the shape of a long cylindrical bar. The bar is transported west again, to the Port of Bunbury, and loaded onto a container ship bound for — in the case of Coke for sale in Los Angeles — Long Beach.

And that’s just the beginning. Great read.

iPhone 6 and 6 Plus teardowns

Per tradition, every major Apple product release is followed quickly by a teardown video from iFixit. I love taking things apart and fixing them myself and I am very happy with the improvements Apple has made to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus construction, making it much easier to replace the display and battery.

As you watch the video, note the use of the iSclack tool, a kind of pliers with a pair of facing suction cups designed to grab onto the front and back of the iPhone. Once you’ve removed the iPhone screws, you place the ISClack, press on the suction cups, squeeze the ISClack handles, the suction cups separate, and the phone gently opens. Nice design there.

Here’s the iPhone 6 teardown.

And here’s the iPhone 6 Plus teardown.

September 20, 2014


As of 4 PM Pacific, the iPhone 6 accounts for about 2.45% of the devices MixPanel is seeing in use. The iPhone 6 Plus, meanwhile, makes up just 0.31%. Everything else (that is, every previous generation of iPhone MixPanel still sees in the wild) makes up the other 97.24%.

This data is pulled from mobile analytics firm MixPanel (subscription).

It’ll be interesting to watch this graph over the next few days; on day one, at least, the margin between the two devices seems to just be getting bigger and bigger. Given that both devices are widely sold out, this could also imply that Apple made way more 6s than 6 Plus. If that’s the case, will the gap close as Apple becomes able to meet demand… or will most would-be 6 Plus owners have given in and bought a 6?

Or is it simply that the much larger size is still emerging as an acquired taste, that the iPhone 6 is already a step in a new direction for most buyers? It’s interesting to note that we no longer have a smaller form factor as an option. When the iPhone 5 was introduced, the shorter iPhone 4 form factor no longer sold through the traditional channels.

When the iPhone 6 was released, the iPhone 5s was not updated. Presumably, over time, the iPhone 5s form factor will disappear and the iPhone 6 will become the new normal. As users acclimate to this new standard size, and as more and more Android users make their way across the divide, I suspect the iPhone 6 Plus will gather momentum.

iOS 8 allows you to select a third party keyboard to replace Apple’s built-in keyboard. The linked article takes a look at three of these, SwiftKey, Swype, and Fleksy, comparing them to the default iOS 8 keyboard.

Before you adopt one of these alternatives, be sure to read this discussion of third party keyboards and the security risks they bring to the table.

A walk down memory lane for the Apple home page. Amazing how much has changed over the years and how much has stayed the same. Remember iCards? iTools? [via iOS Dev Weekly]

Fighting gravity

Two dancers rappel a short distance down the side of Oakland’s City Hall, then do an incredible gravity-defying dance on the side of the building.

September 19, 2014

Visual Supply Co:

Advanced camera controls are now available for iOS 8. New features include:
- Manual focus
- Shutter speed
- White balance
- Exposure compensation

VSCO Cam is the first app I’ve seen that takes advantage of the new capabilities of iOS 8 in letting photographers take more control over the camera in the iPhone. Even better, it’s a free app.

“What was a complex environment with hundreds of phone types now has two: (Google) Android and Apple,” notes Thomas Noyes, former head of sales channels at Citigroup’s Global Consumer banking business who now heads Silicon Valley data-sharing firm Commerce Signals.

It’s the “complex environment” that Apple is so good at fixing. They’ve done it over and over again with products released in the past 15 years or so.

Today I Found Out:

Given that most have still heard of the Pony Express today, unlike so many other messaging companies long gone, you may think that the Pony Express was once an integral part of communication between the East and West in the United States. It turns out, this was never the case and the Pony Express was around only for an extremely short amount of time.

I love these stories of how things were done “in the old days”. One of my favourite non-fiction books is “American Road: The Story of an Epic Transcontinental Journey at the Dawn of the Motor Age” about the first US government sponsored cross country trip. Future President Eisenhower was a member of the group.

Today, Apple released an update to iCloud which gives Windows users early access to iCloud Drive. Ironically, Apple’s new cloud storage solution is not yet available on the public build of Mac OS X.


Tim Cook opens Palo Alto Apple store for iPhone 6 buyers

This is just great. Tim stops and chats with people, takes selfies and then opens the store.

Scottish insults

I love the Scottish accent.


Get started with these great free books.

Ten ebooks from Apple, ranging from crime fiction to comic books to Young Adult to classics. Thanks to Rob Griffiths for the link.

CARROT is a sadistic AI construct with one simple goal: to transform your flabby carcass into a Grade A specimen of the human race. She will do whatever it takes – including threatening, inspiring, ridiculing, and bribing you – to make this happen.

This really is a great app.

I always enjoy reading Shawn’s thoughts and reviews. I never really got the Kindle and still don’t.

Some have pointed out that password fields are excluded from using an alternative keyboard. This tells me that even Apple is a bit concerned about the consequences of logging key strokes. I’m not sure about everyone else, but I generally use a password to protect all of the other things I write with my keyboard. If every other keystroke is logged and transmitted to a server, my password becomes far less relevant.

This is worrisome.

Amazing that this still happens after all these years.

At Apple’s store on Fifth Avenue in New York, police officers put up barricades as the line stretched more than 10 blocks and the crowd cheered continuously for the 15 minutes before the phones officially went on sale.

Product Loyalty? Brilliant marketing? Whatever the cause, this is something that Microsoft and Samsung can only dream of.

This is a nice little collection of tidbits highlighting new functionality that comes with iOS 8.

Siri, name that tune

One of my favorite additions that came with iOS 8 is Siri’s ability to pick out a tune. This is, presumably, a direct result of Apple’s new deal with Shazam.

To try it, press and hold the home button and say “Name that tune”. Siri will listen and will attempt to name the song you have playing. If the song is available in the iTunes Store, Siri will name the song and put up a “buy” button.

iOS 8 added a new feature called “Hey Siri”. If you are connected to power and have this feature turned on (Settings > General > Siri), your phone will go into a constant listening mode (which drains the battery, thus the requirement for power). If you say the magic words, “Hey Siri”, Siri will come to the foreground, ready for your command.

I played name that tune with Siri many, many times. If the song was carried in the iTunes Store, Siri got it right, 100% of the time. If the song was not available (very hard to find those, amazing how complete Apple’s catalog has gotten), Siri did not recognize it. Could be coincidence, not certain.

Joshua Brustein wrote an inflammatory piece for Businessweek, called Hey, Android Users, Don’t Buy the New iPhones. In a nutshell, the basic premise is this: Although the new iPhones are the best phones on the market and superior to the larger screen Android devices they are replacing, it’s just too hard to switch ecosystems, so stick with Android.

I struggled with a reply to this. And then I read John Gruber’s response on Daring Fireball. Spot on. Go read it.

Professional photographer Austin Mann teamed up with The Verge to field test the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus cameras in the Icelandic countryside. They took along an iPhone 5s for a side-by-side comparison. Brilliant work.

There’s a lot to enjoy here. For starters, Mann really pushes the cameras to the limit with some extreme low-light shooting. Good to know the iPhone 6 series cameras can handle such low light, and it does help showcase the difference between the 5s and 6 series cameras.

My favorite shot was the Focus Pixels test, towards the bottom of the page.

Focus Pixels are all about autofocus. They enable phase-detect focusing on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, which makes switching subjects in your frame both smooth and fast. It works well in stills, helping you always keep your subjects in focus, but it’s most useful when you’re shooting video.

Words don’t do this justice. Watch the video. [via Matt Abras]

September 18, 2014

There are some great tips here. No. 1 is my favorite, mostly because I learned that one the hard way. You don’t have to—and shouldn’t—make everything louder in a mix.

Truly the end of an era. Wonder what Ellison will turn his attention to now.

A nice set of images from Abdel Ibahim—it’s hard to argue with the logic.

Tim Higgins for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s newest iPhones are fueling a surge in trade-ins of Android-based smartphones, threatening to loosen Samsung Electronics Co. (005930)’s grip on the large-screen smartphone segment as users switch allegiances.

When Apple’s main product, featuring bigger displays and faster chips, goes on sale starting in Australia, they may be best remembered as the generation of iPhones that won over consumers from rival smartphones. Trade-ins of Samsung phones with smartphone reseller Gazelle Inc. tripled last week and about a quarter of potential iPhone 6 buyers are new to Apple’s ecosystem, according to RBC.

It should be interesting to see Samsung’s next quarterly results.

I absolutely love 1Password and have beta tested the new version for quite a while. The new extensions work great—it’s a must have app.

Microsoft gave notice to 2,100 employees on Thursday, 747 of those in the Seattle area, a company spokesman said. That is in addition to 13,000 laid off in July, which means a further 2,900 are set to be laid off over the next nine months or so.

I hate seeing people lose their jobs, especially when it’s caused by executive mismanagement.

Storehouse is a visual storytelling app that was previously only available for iPad, but now an iPhone version has been released. I love this app.

Apple statement:

We discovered a bug that prevents us from making HealthKit apps available on iOS 8 today. We’re working quickly to have the bug fixed in a software update and have HealthKit apps available by the end of the month.

I’m sympathetic, but Apple should never have allowed this to happen. This isn’t good.

Man races a train from one London tube station to the next

All the ingredients are there. One person with an iPhone on the train to record the runner leaving and await his return, and a GoPro camera on the runner’s head to record the actual run. Loved this.