The iPad I Want

There’s a lot to like in the iPad lineup right now. Since the announcements at WWDC and the announcement of the new 9.7 inch iPad last spring, there has hardly been anything but praise for the iPad. And for what it’s worth, I think that praise is well deserved. But there’s still a hole that I would like to see filled when it comes to iPad hardware, Namely the iPad mini.

While this article contains a lot of wishes from me, I also tried to be realistic with options and pricing. Let me know if you think I’ve gone off my rocker, but to me, I think this would be a great product. I’m also not trying to replace my MacBook Pro. Though some people are moving away from laptops in favor of iPads, as a web and software developer, I can’t conceivably do that yet. In the mean time I would like a product that’s small and easy to take with me in addition to my MacBook.

Before I get started on my feature by feature set, let me lay out for you what I like to do on iPads. I like to read (books, websites, email, documentation), draw, edit photos, watch videos, and occasionally play games. The iPad mini with its 7.9 inch screen is well suited for nearly all of those things, but it’s dreadfully out of date. It currently has an A8 SOC (system on a chip), 128 GB storage, 2 GB of RAM, and an sRGB, 60hz display (without modern anti-glare coatings).

Storage

The 128 GB of storage is enough for what I want to do on an iPad, but it’s big and bigger “Pro” siblings are now offered with up to 512 GB. They probably don’t need to go full “Pro” on the mini, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a 256 GB option. At least then I’d be able to download my whole photo library and edit to my heart’s content. But with iCloud photo library enabled, that’s not a deal breaker as it can download photos on demand from my library as long as I have an internet connection.

RAM

2 GB of RAM is probably enough for the iPad mini, but it won’t be in the future. While I don’t particularly care about split screen apps most of the time, as I tend to do one thing at a time on an iPad, it would be nice to use them on occasion. In it’s current form it can do an app slide over, but there are loading times when switching apps like that. So it doesn’t really help any more than just fully switching apps. The new multitasking features coming in iOS 11 only intensify the need for even more RAM. But a faster SOCs (system on a chip) might be enough to counter that problem since newer iPads with only 2 GB of RAM can do split screen. So I’d say this is also not a deal breaker.

System on a Chip

The iPad mini 4 has an A8 processor that is just plain slow at this point. For this reason alone, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone buy the current iPad mini. It was released two years ago and is terribly slow compared to the A10, or even the A9. At this point I’d like to see an A10 (or better), but even an A9 would be a welcome improvement. By Apple’s own measurements, an A9 has a 1.6x faster CPU and 1.8x faster GPU. The new iPad Pros, meanwhile, have A10X SOCs. Which boast far greater power. I wouldn’t expect an A10X in an iPad mini, but the A10 from the iPhone 7 would be wonderful boost while being a realistic option.

Geekbench Multicore CPU Benchmarks (higher is better)

  • iPad mini 4 (A8): 2810
  • 2017 9.7 inch iPad (A9): 4470
  • iPhone 7 (A10): 5523
  • 2017 iPad Pros (A10X): 9146

Display

The display is also an area the iPad mini falls short. The new iPad Pros have richer color with the Display P3 color gamut. The Display P3 color gamut shows about 25% more than sRGB. The Pros also have a much brighter displays and better anti-reflection. As I mentioned, reading is something I love to do on iPads. The iPad mini 4 is not a great option for cases when you’re reading in sunlight.

The iPad Pros also have a crazy fast 120hz refresh rate (part of the “ProMotion” feature set). I wouldn’t expect that to come to the iPad mini anytime soon though, since the only devices that currently use that refresh rate also use the A10X system on a chip. It would be nice for drawing since it greatly reduces the lag behind the Apple Pencil, but I wouldn’t expect it, and I don’t think this would be a deal breaker either.

Display Brightness (max)

  • iPad Mini 4: 450 nits
  • 2016, 2017 MacBook Pro: 500 nits
  • 2017 iPad Pro: 600 nits
  • iPhone 7: 625 nits
  • Apple Watch 2: 1000 nits

Input

Speaking of Apple Pencil. I desperately want to see the iPad mini gain Apple Pencil support. For the reasons I pointed out above, the experience wouldn’t be as good as it is on the brand new iPad Pros, but if it were as good as it was on the older iPad Pros, I would be quite happy with that. I don’t plan on building a carrier with my drawings, I just like to doodle, take notes, and edit photos. An iPad mini with Apple Pencil support would be great for that.

Anyone who knows the iPad line of products well is probably thinking that I’m about to say that the iPad mini should get the Smart Connector as well. I’m not. The Smart Connector is a specialized connection that has thus far only been available on iPad Pros and has only been used to connect keyboards (a very select few at that). I might be wrong but I don’t think there are a lot of people who want to use an external keyboard with an iPad mini. Those that do can still use bluetooth. It seems like a waste of space and money to try and jam a Smart Connector into an iPad mini.

Sound

The current iPad mini 4 has two speakers at the bottom of the device near the home button. When you hold it in landscape orientation, all the sound comes out of either the left or right side depending which way it was rotated. The iPad Pros have 4 speakers and know which way you’re holding it, so it can rotate which speakers play the left and right channels just like it rotates the display. I wouldn’t expect the iPad mini to have as good of speakers as the iPad Pros since it likely doesn’t have room for the Pro’s inner chambers that help with bass. But just putting a small speaker on each corner would certainly make it sound a lot better, particularly while watching videos or playing games in landscape orientation.

The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus also got an audio boost compared to their predecessors. The upper speaker on the iPhone 7 is now a loudspeaker just like the bottom one. Not only are they much louder now, they also do a similar effect as the iPad Pros when their rotated 90 degrees, allowing the top and bottom speakers to become left and right channels.

Differentiation

With the addition of Display P3, more RAM, a faster SOC, bigger storage sizes, and Apple Pencil support; some people might think the iPad mini would become an iPad Pro. But there are few key things that would still differentiate it from its bigger siblings. As I already mentioned, I wouldn’t expect the 120hz refresh rate to come to the mini, it will stay at 60hz, and I’m fine with that. In addition, the bigger iPads feature the Smart Connector for keyboards; the “X” line of SOCs (featuring more and faster CPU and GPU cores); as well as screens big enough for professional graphics and video production. I also wouldn’t expect the iPad mini’s cameras to be at the same level as the Pros. It could keep the same cameras it already has for all I care. I’m happy to pull out my phone out (or a bigger camera) when I need higher quality photos.

There’s also the question of the new 9.7 inch iPad that came out last spring. It starts at an amazing $329 and is a great deal. With an updated iPad mini there would be quite a bit over overlap in features with both the Pros and the 9.7 inch iPad. But I for one would be fine with paying more for a specced out mini than a budget 9.7 inch iPad.

The Final Product (one can hope)

iPad Mini 4 iPad Mini 5
A8 SOC A10 SOC
128 GB storage 64, 256 GB storage options
2 GB RAM 2-4 GB RAM (more the better)
sRGB display True Tone Display with P3 color
2 speaker audio 4 speaker audio
  Apple Pencil Support
$399 USD (128 GB) $399-499 (64 GB), $499-$599 (256 GB)
  • LTE would remain the same $129 USD option, just like it’s always been.

Unsatisfying

Everything — Daredevil season 2 “.380”

The second season of Daredevil on Netflix holds one my favorite scenes in TV history. And yes, I know Dardevil is a superhero crime drama, but don’t get hung up on that if you really want to enjoy life. In episode 11, called “.380,” Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) talks to Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) in an empty diner about, “people that hurt you,” and how they’re the most important people in your life.

SPOILER WARNING! If you haven’t watched season two of Daredevil yet, turn around and come back when you have.

Like most good stories, the lead up to this scene is everything. Up to this point Castle has been on a rampage, killing criminals because he has had everything important to him taken away during a drug deal gone bad. His wife and child were murdered at the hands of drug dealers and crooked cops. In their wake he’s cleaning up the streets in the only way a crazed, ex-special forces soldier would.

I’ve watched this clip over and over again and can’t seem to shake it.

To Scale: The Solar System

Conquerer by AURORA

Put this on the best sounding headphones or speakers you have at your disposal and listen as AURORA bursts with life and energy.

“That’s what you want, right there!”
AURORA – Conqueror on iTunes

Standing Up for Security and Privacy

Yesterday Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple posted a letter to their customers on Apple.com. It details how the FBI wants to Apple to create a way to investigate an encrypted iPhone, and the dilemma Apple is facing in doing so.

If Apple is forced to comply with the order to create a backdoor through their security there will be no way to ever ensure again, that your digital security and privacy is protected.

If you’re an American and reading this you might be thinking that you don’t have anything to hide from the US government. Maybe you’re not ashamed of anything you’ve ever done, that’s fair. But if you said that, I would quickly point out that in June of 2015 all my personal identity information was hacked and stolen from the US government along with 21 million other Americans’ personal identity information (presumably by the Chinese government, though that’s not confirmed). That includes my Social Security Number, the address of every house I’ve ever lived in, my entire work history, and even my fingerprints. Yes, all my identity information that was used to grant me security clearance by the FBI (the same FBI that wants access to iPhones) was leaked from the US government into the hands of some hackers. Here is the letter that the US government sent me regarding the issue.

Dear David Mead:

As you may know, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was the target of a malicious cyber intrusion carried out against the U.S. Government, which resulted in the theft of background investigation records.

You are receiving this notification because we have determined that your Social Security Number and other personal information was included in the intrusion. As someone whose information was also taken, I share your concern and frustration and want you to know that we are working hard to help those impacted by this incident. The Federal government will provide you and your dependent minor children with comprehensive identity theft protection and monitoring service, at no cost to you.

Since you applied for a position or submitted a background investigation form, the information in our records may include you name, Social Security number, address, date and place of birth, residency, educational, and employment history, personal foreign travel history, information about immediate family as well as business and personal acquaintances, and other information used to conduct and adjudicate your background investigation.

Our records also indicate you fingerprints were likely compromised during the cyber intrusion. Federal experts believe the ability to misuse fingerprint data is currently limited. However, this could change over time as technology evolves. Therefore, we are working with law enforcement and national security experts to review the potential ways fingerprint data could be misused now and in the future, and will seek to prevent such misuse. If new means are identified to misuse fingerprint data, additional information and guidance will be made available.

While we are not aware of any misuse of your information, we are providing a comprehensive suite of identity theft protection and monitoring services. We are offering you, and any of your dependent children who were under the age of 18 as of July 1, 2015, credit monitoring, identity monitoring, identity theft insurance and identity restoration services for the next three years through ID Experts, a company that specializes in identity theft insurance and identity theft protection. The identity theft insurance and identity restoration service coverage has already begun. You have access to these service at any time during the next three years if your identity is compromised.

To take advantage of the additional credit and identity monitoring services, you must enroll with ID Experts using the PIN code at the top of this letter. To enroll go to https://www.opm.gov/cybersecurity. You may also call 800-750-3004 to enroll in or ask questions about these services. I hope you will take advantage of these services.

Please take not that OPM and ID Experts will not contact you to confirm any personal information. If you are contacted by anyone asking for you personal information in relation to this incident, do not provide it. For additional resources such as information you may share with people listed on your forms, sample background investigation forms, types of information which may have been taken, and tips on how to protect you personal information, visit https://www.opm.gov/cybersecuity.

Sincerely,
Beth F. Cobert
Acting Director
Office of Personnel Managment

Image of the letter.

Now I’ll ask you again, do you still want the US government to know everything you’ve ever done? Every message you’ve ever sent? Every photo you’ve ever taken? This is not paranoia, these are real threats. Breaches have already happened, and there’s no way to ensure they won’t happen again. And once that door is opened for the FBI, there won’t be much in the way of anyone else opening that same door.

If Apple loosens security, terrorists will use other forms of encryption. In most cases they probably already are, it’s not rocket science to set up. So by Apple loosening security, the FBI won’t even accomplish their goal of more transparency into acts of terror.

Yes, the attack in San Bernardino was terrible. Yes, people will continue to do horrible things and hide behind encryption. But encryption is just a tool. It helps defend us much more often than attack us. A hammer can be used as a weapon too, but they aren’t made for that purpose. Hammers are made build houses, houses to shelter us and keep us safe. Encryption was made to keep our information safe. I’ve already illustrated one example if how the US government is not reliable in that regard. I for one am glad Apple and Tim Cook have my back.


[Note]
Shortly after writing this I read Rene Richie’s article on iMore about the same subject matter. He shares a similar view as I do, but dives at it from different angles. If you’re interested in this subject matter, you should read that too, it’s great.


I have copied the entire text of Tim Cook’s letter below for posterity:

Continue reading

Breaking Encryption Will Not Keep Us Safe

Mike Rogers wrote an opinion piece that was published on CNN today arguing that the encrypted networks should have a master key that would make warranted searches into private networks easier for the government. I wrote the following email to him in response, but I thought his staff shouldn’t be the only ones to read it.

Dear Mr. Rogers,

I read your article about encryption on CNN today and I can’t believe that you are unable to see the remarkable holes in your argument for having a master key in communication networks. I’ve been a professional web developer for seven years and can’t stress enough how important tight security is.

First, encryption without a master key is the first line of defense for average citizens to keep their data safe. If there was a backdoor designed in our communications systems, hackers would find it and exploit it. With that key they would be privy to all the information for all the users on the given network. One big hack would break the entire system. Without a master key, in a well designed system, they have to break each account individually and that helps keep us safe.

Second, it’s not hard to create a private encrypted network. If terrorists know that all the major companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc, have a key that can uncover all their info, they will simply move to a new service that has not been compromised, or even create their own. The problem is average, law-abiding citizens won’t go out of their way to make sure that their communications are kept private, like terrorists surely will, even though it’s in their best interests.

Third, taking away the rights of the many to punish the few hasn’t worked out well for America in recent years. At every turn, we’ve seen the systems abused over and over again. From mass surveillance by the NSA, to more general abuses of the Patriot Act, where law enforcement agencies have used it as an excuse to skip the warrant process, we’ve seen the laws that were meant to protect Americans turned on their head and hurt the innocent. Even worse, those abuses have been shown to be ineffective in stopping terrorism.

It’s time to stop punishing the law-abiding citizens of the United States, and take a more targeted approach against terrorism. Breaking encryption for the masses won’t stop a single determined terrorist, but it will infringe on the privacy and security of every American.

Thank you for your time and consideration,
David G. Mead
Mountlake Terrace, Washington, USA

QuickUnits – An iOS Unit Converter

Two weeks ago today, Apple approved and posted my first foray into app development in the form of QuickUnits. I had the idea for this app last summer and worked on it sporadically since then. Leading up to the launch I put a lot more time into it. It seemed that the closer I got the more motivated I became. I have to say, I haven’t had this much fun “working” in a very long time. I can’t wait to start on the next project, which is currently in the planning phase.

Check out the QuickUnits website or in the iTunes app store.

Accessibility and Dyslexia

Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper, posted an update to his beloved iOS app today. In the notes he listed a new feature that instantly grabbed my attention and gave me one of the first, “Ah ha,” moments I have had in a very long time. The feature was listed as follows:

New Open-Dyslexic font to increase legibility for readers with dyslexia.

Upon reading that line I realized something, in my six years of creating websites I have tried to think of every accessibility issue I could imagine and account for it. Most issues, such as having large enough fonts for people hard-of-sight and mixing tones in addition to color in order to account for colorblind-ness, come second nature to me now. But, I have never once thought (I am ashamed to admit) that dyslexia was something I could help with. I always thought dyslexia was something that fell into the abyss of, “I can’t do anything about it.” Happily, thanks to Mr. Arment, I now know I can do something about it.

Helpful Links

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson Delivers an Inspiring Speech at the 28th National Space Symposium

I think it’s really sad when a scientist seems to have a much better solution for solving this country’s problems than any of it’s politicians. However, in this case it’s the truth. This inspiring and passionate speech by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson from the 28th National Space Symposium explains how investing in space could solve many of the nations problems. Our economy would be spurred, our schools would flourish and the jobs we send overseas would no longer be a problem if only we doubled NASA’s budget. Dr. Tyson’s vigor oozes from this speech, do yourself a favor and get inspired by watching it. You won’t regret it.