Introducing the Apple Pen

Wed Mar 18, 08:38 PM

[Tim looks down at his Apple Watch. It says, “Meeting with Jony re: new product lines”. He enters a meeting room where Jony Ive is quietly sipping Earl Grey tea.]

Tim Cook (for it is he): Hit me J-Boy. What ya got?

[Jony takes a pen from his shirt pocket, then pauses.]

Jony: We call it the Apple Pen. Handwriting made better.

[Tim looks around before realising Jony is referring to the thing he’s holding.]

Tim: You’re shitting me. A stylus?

Jony: No. A pen. An actual pen complete with ink. The ultimate personal technology.

Tim: But nobody uses pens anymore! That’s the whole point of what we do as a manufacturer of computing devices!

Jony: And everybody said nobody uses watches any more. Look what happened there! It’s called disruption, Tim. Business School 101. Well, 102 or 103, perhaps.

Tim: The market is sewn-up with pen manufacturers at every price point.

[Jony pauses to collect his thoughts, like he saw Steve do several times.]

Jony: Do you know who I saw today on my way to the office? The guy who used to run Swatch. The very guy. Sitting on the sidewalk. I thought it was an old bundle of rags at first. He had a paper coffee cup in front of him and a cardboard sign asking for spare change. I gave him a dollar. Then I asked him what time it was before running off.

[He sings]

“Threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?” God, I hate that song, Steve never stopped playing it.

Tim: OK, let’s say I take this seriously. Run me through the features.

[Cut to Jony against a stark white studio background, talking to somebody off-camera.]

Jony: With the Apple Pen we had to return to basics. We had to engineer from the ground up. With iInk technology we’ve managed to make the black pigment 80% darker than anything experienced before, and we’ve made blue and red ink 85% more vibrant. The result is ink flow that truly defines the page it’s written on. In our simulations we found that the ink will remain 75% visible on the page after 100 years. No other writing technology comes close.

[Cut to lingering, panning shots of the Apple Pen in the style of an 80s Playboy Playmate of the Year VHS.]

Our Smart Nib technology requires incredibly precise engineering to create a nib that for the first time in history can be resized. You can write in thick broad strokes, or in thin neat writing. Just turn the Smart Collar at the top of the pen.

[Cut to Craig Federighi, Senior Vice President, Mac Software Engineering.]

We call it Digital Signing. Whenever the Apple Pen is used to sign your name, the Apple Pen records the date, time and a fingerprint via a tiny Touch ID sensor built into the bezel. The result is that nobody can argue a signature is forged.

Whatever you write is digitally sent to your Apple Watch, and then to your Apple iPhone, and then to your iPad, and then to your MacBook, before being uploaded to iCloud. Everything you write is securely stored online – from a grocery list, to the latest novel that you’re definitely going to write one day and need an Apple device to do so.

[Cut to a man sleeping soundly at night and a nightstand alongside him full of Apple hardware. Jony’s voice is heard.]

The Apple Pen charges each night alongside your Apple Watch, your iPhone, your iPod, your iPod Nano, your iPad, your MacBook, and your MacBook Pro.

[Cut back to Jony in the studio against the white background.]

We’ve pushed materials science to its limits to create a pen that’s slimmer than anything you’ve ever seen, and that weighs only half an ounce. Three models are available. Apple Pen Sports uses a polymer coating for simply excellent grip. Apple Pen is made from aluminium and comes in either Slate Grey or Silver, while the Apple Pen Edition comes in precious metal composite that’s close enough to gold for most people not to care despite the eye-watering price tag.

[Cut back to Tim and Jony in the meeting room. Jony sips more tea.]

Tim: That’s pretty cool. Patents?

Jony: Yeah patents! Into the triple digits, my friend.

Tim: Price point?

Jony: High enough so poor people can just about save up for one, low enough so the rich folks can buy one for each of their kids – plus getting an Edition model for themselves when their tax rebate comes in.

Tim: Bono?

Jony: He loves it.

Tim: China?

Jony: It writes hanzi as well as it does latin script.

Tim: I’m sold. Let me try it out.

[Tim looks around for a scrap of paper, then taps his Apple Watch. Within a split second a lackey runs in.]

Tim: Paper. I need some.

Lackey: Paper? Like we put in printers?

[Tim looks at Jony. Jony nods his head. The lackey runs off again.]

Tim: Obviously we’ll need to – you know –

Jony [nodding]: Apple Paper will be available exclusively from the Apple Store at $20 for 10 sheets. The finest 120gsm stock. Comes in a beautiful white box. It’ll be the only paper we recommend for use with the Apple Pen. Warranty void if people use anything else. We’ll think up some patent to do with how it’s manufactured to stop eBayers selling knock-offs.

[The lackey return with paper. Tim tries the pen then shrugs.]

Tim: Pretty good, I guess.

Jony: Oh, and one last thing…

[Tim laughs.]

Tim: OK! Hit me!

Jony: FM radio.

Tim: What?

Jony: The pen has an FM radio built in. Your choice of golden oldies, or Christian, or Country stations. Just plug in EarPods. And look at the top of the pen –

[Tim does so with an expression of horror.]

Jony: – there’s a small LCD window showing the time. Press the little button on top and – look! The LCD flashes between showing the time and the date. Isn’t that cool?

Tim: Are you serious?

Jony: Totes.

Tim: But this is little more than those cheap novelty pens you get for 50 cents in places like China.

Jony: No. It’s an Apple novelty pen. That’s the difference.

[Tim glares at Jony, then at what he’s just written on the paper. When he looks up Jony has vanished. He hears laughter over his shoulder. He turns around to see a keynote audience of thousands behind him. He realises he’s on stage, giving a keynote speech at WWDC, but is entirely naked except for his socks. The laughter grows louder. Tim attempts to make light of the situation, smiling and welcoming everybody as he’s done many times before, but it’s too late. A young man walks on stage with a notepad and asks Tim for his autograph. Tim pulls out a pen. It’s an Apple Pen. Tim presses the button on top and it starts play a beep-beep version of The Yellow Rose of Texas, like a digital watch from 1979. The crowd erupts into cheers.

Cut to Tim sitting up in bed at night, having woken-up suddenly, screaming.]

Keir Thomas


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Your iPhone may be tracking your steps

Wed Mar 11, 07:40 PM

Did you know that, if you updated to iOS 8.2 on your iPhone, it’s probably acting as a pedometer and tracking your steps and how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed — even if you didn’t ask it to?

My iPhone 6 Plus has been doing so since 5th March, which is when I updated to 8.2. You can view the data in the Health app and deactivate the feature in the Settings app by clicking Privacy > Motion & Fitness. In fact, some people have been claiming that this feature is eating battery life, so advise turning it off. I can’t say I’ve noticed any difference.

It’s not terribly accurate for me because I frequently leave my phone on my desk while I go off and do other things.

Keir Thomas


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System report without personally identifying info

Sat Mar 7, 02:01 PM

Sometimes people who are trying to help you online might ask for a full system report. There’s a variety of ways of doing this but one issue is that personally identifying details might be included, and this can be insecure — even your login name could give malicious interests vital information, but you should always keep your Mac’s serial number confidential.

EtreCheck is the answer, and will provide a report with the salient details included. it’ll also highlight problematic areas, with a More Info link so you can research. It’s free.

Keir Thomas


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Make TextEdit open with a new document, rather than a file open window

Wed Mar 4, 04:35 PM

I used to use TextEdit all the time to jot down quick notes but since the introduction of iCloud it’s insisted on starting=up with a File Open dialog box, on which you have to click the New Document button. A PITA, if ever there was one. Progress, eh?

The following command pasted into Terminal (which is in the Utilities folder within Applications) will make TextEdit open straight to a new document each time, just like the old days. Triple-click the line to select all of it if you can’t see scrollbars and quit TextEdit first if it’s open:

defaults write NSShowAppCentricOpenPanelInsteadOfUntitledFile -bool false

Then reboot.

Should in future you wish to return to the default way of working, paste this in to the Terminal:

defaults delete NSShowAppCentricOpenPanelInsteadOfUntitledFile
Keir Thomas


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Adware... On a Mac?!

Wed Mar 4, 11:55 AM

Like many people I installed Go for Facebook, an app from Fiplab that provides quick access to Facebook from the menu bar. It’s advertised in the App Store as being “FREE FOR A LIMITED TIME!!”.

Unfortunately, I booted my Mac just now and saw a pop-up notification advert appear at the right of the screen for another Fiplab product. I’m not 100% sure that Go for Facebook is adware — another app could’ve caused the notification to appear — but let’s be honest: it’s unlikely. I wasn’t using the app at the time, although it was running in the background as a menubar process.

I didn’t agree to ads, and if I did it was hidden in a licensing agreement. If I want that kind of crap I’ll use Windows.

I’ve now uninstalled Go for Facebook. I advise you to too. In fact, I used App Zapper to ensure that every aspect of it was removed. I also removed all other Fiplab apps on my system. This is an extensive list of apps and many have been recommended by influential sources. The list includes:

  • Disk Doctor
  • Duplicate Detective
  • Disk Map
  • Memory Clean
  • CopyClip 2
  • InstaReel for Instagram
  • MailTab for Gmail (and Outlook)
  • MenuTab for Facebook
  • NotesTab
  • StatsBar
  • Battery Health
  • Share Bucket
  • Privacy Protector
  • RSS Bot
  • StockTab
  • Alerts for Gmail
  • Download Shuttle
  • London Cycle: Maps & Routes
  • CopterKid
  • Magic Math
  • Exporter for Address Book
  • Translation
  • Converto
  • Owly
  • CopyClip

Not cool, Fiplab. Not cool. I’ve contacted them for comment. If I get anything I’ll post an update here.

UPDATE: No response from Fiplab. In the meantime you might want to use the free-of-charge Adware Medic to scan your system.

Keir Thomas


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Fine-tuning font antialiasing on Yosemite

Mon Mar 2, 02:28 PM

I decided today to have a play with font antialiasing on Yosemite. To tweak this you’ll need to open a Terminal window (it’s in the Utilities folder of Applications) and type the following:

defaults write NSGlobalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int

… and follow it with a number, from 0 to 3, with 0 being least severe and 3 being strongest. (a value of 4 or 5 appears to be equivalent to 0, although I suspect a value of 4 affects sub-pixel rendering. However, more testing is needed.)

I tested each value on my non-Retina MacBook Pro and it was quite interesting, especially bearing in mind the change of system font that was introduced with Yosemite. The results are here in screenshot form (when viewing this don’t forget to set zoom to 1:1, or 100%; note that I also tested values of 4 and 5, as shown, but these appear to be identical to a value of 0). The red number at the top left of the Finder window is the number set for that particular screenshot.

For example, to set an antialiasing value of 1, you’d type:

defaults write NSGlobalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 1

To restore to default value (which is 3), you’d type the following

defaults delete NSGlobalDomain AppleFontSmoothing

You’ll need to reboot after each change of setting to see the results system-wide.

See what you think works best. I think 1 looks great. Characters are clearer and less blurry. If anybody has a Retina display, can you send me screenshots of each integer in use so I can add it here? Thanks!

Keir Thomas


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Quick View conflicts in iCloud

Sat Feb 28, 05:22 PM

If you get an error about file conflicts when accessing iCloud Drive — that is, a file was edited on both your Mac and another device so that OS X is no longer sure which is the current version — you can click on each of the thumbnails in the dialog box to instantly open a Quick Look preview of its contents. This should help you work out which is the latest version.

Keir Thomas


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Scary boot-time icons on a Mac

Sat Feb 28, 09:59 AM

I see this coming up over and over again in forums, so here’s what to do when you see boot-time icons on a Mac:

Flashing question mark in a folder icon: Your Mac can’t find the boot disk it’s used to. Turn your Mac off and on again, but this time hold down the Option key (Alt on some keyboards) as soon as the Mac starts. You should then see a list of possible boot disks. Lift your finger from the Option key, then select the boot drive from the list using the cursor keys, before hitting Enter to select it. When you boot to OS X, open System Preferences, click Startup Disk, select your boot disk, and click the Restart button.

No Entry symbol/“No” icon/Prohibition icon: Something’s gone wrong and your Mac simply can’t boot. It might be that a bodged update has happened, or you might be suffering a boot disk failure. Whatever the suspected cause try the steps in the entry above — reboot holding down Option and see if you can select a boot drive. If this doesn’t work you may need to boot to the Recovery System. Good luck!

[Update Needed] with an icon of a person and a question mark: The drive you’re attempting to boot from is encrypted and needs unlocking. It might be that FileVault has been set on the drive. You might see this if you’re attempting to boot from a recovery partition on an external USB/Firewire/Thunderbolt drive, for example. Obviously, you’ll need to type the encryption phrase. There’s no way of asking for a passphrase hint here, so if you’ve forgotten it then you’re in trouble. There’s simply no way of unlocking the disk without it (unless you have friends at the CIA/MI5).

Flashing globe icon: For some reason your Mac is attempting to boot from the network (a.k.a. NetBoot). It might do this if it can’t find the correct boot drive. You might see the flashing question mark icon appear immediately after the flashing globe. Whatever the case the instructions to fix things are as described in the first entry above – hold down Option/Alt and then select the boot disk in System Preferences. Note that a globe icon can also indicate Internet Recovery is taking place, although you’ll see a message beneath the icon telling you this.

Keir Thomas


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DIY Fusion and RAID on an old MacBook Pro with Yosemite

Sat Feb 28, 08:53 AM

I’ve just finished writing a piece for Macworld here in the UK called “Create a FrankenMac“. It’s about ways in which older Macs, going back to the first Core 2 Duo models back in 2007, can be boosted so that their day-to-day performance is as good as new models. The feature also looks at how you can get modern Mac features on your old Mac, such as Fusion drive technology, and Handoff/Continuity.

When writing the piece I had to figure out a way to make a DIY Fusion drive on Yosemite. I searched extensively and it appears nobody has written about this. All the instructions I found relate to DIY Fusion drives on Mavericks or earlier versions of OS X, and with the move to default CoreStorage on Yosemite the task is not quite as simple as it used to be. I can’t let the cat out of the bag about how it’s done because that’s what Macworld paid me for but I can tell you of a few experiments I did.

SSD + SSD = Fusion
What if two SSDs are combined together into a DIY Fusion setup under Yosemite? That’s what I did with a Crucial M4 256GB, fitted as the main drive in my MacBook Pro, and a Kingston V300 128GB, fitted where the optical drive used to be. Theoretically there’s nothing to be gained in terms of performance but it seemed to be a simple way of concatenating two drives into one, so that I didn’t have to mess around choosing which disk to store certain files on. Well, I can say that it works and has been reliable so far. It’s at least as fast as when I used the Crucial M4 on its own as a boot drive. It might even be faster but I have trouble accepting that because it doesn’t really make much sense. Most apps start within a second. Bigger apps like Photoshop start within 2-3 seconds. Because I used a Time Machine backup to restore from I also have a recovery partition on the disk, so have been able to enable FileVault too. One concern I had was that OS X might default to the slower Kingston drive, rather than the faster Crucial M4. However, Patrick Stein who initially probed Fusion technology and pioneered the DIY approach says that Fusion “always [chooses] the faster drive“. How Fusion works is entirely undocumented, I believe, but it might be that OS X has some kind of benchmarking function built-in. Whatever the case, I suspect that Fusion might be offered as a function in future versions of Disk Utility as a way of concatenating two or more drives into one volume without RAID. The fact Patrick combined three drives into one using Fusion seems to suggest it has ambitions beyond mere faster rotational hard disks.

RAID stripes
Talking of which, I also tried a RAID stripe setup combining the the two SSDs together. First I tried 32KB blocks (which is default), and then started afresh with 16KB blocks. RAID is setup using Disk Utility from the Recovery Console — you simply drag the two partitions from the disks to the box under the RAID tab heading. The block size can be set by clicking the Options button beneath. Anyway, to cut a long story short, IO performance wasn’t great. Still faster than a traditional rotational disk, but slower than the Crucial M4 had been on its own. Additionally, a recovery partition isn’t allowed on a RAID setup, and this means no FileVault either. Considering that the total size of the RAID array is less than the actual combined size of the two disks – a limitation of the way RAID striping works – then it’s a pretty dumb idea.

Let the hacker beware…
There are a few caveats if you’d like to create a DIY Fusion drive using either two SSDs, or a rotational disk and an SSD. The first is that Patrick Stein reported getting a few system crashes during his testing (kernel panics). However, his testing was done on older versions of OS X and it may be that the bugs have since been fixed. Apple tends to be pretty tight on core technologies. The second warning is that spreading data across more than one drive increases the possibility of drive failure — if either of the two drives fails, then ALL my data is lost. The probability of one of two drives failing is higher than that of a single drive failing, as in a traditional setup. However, I run a tight backup routine so I consider this aspect guarded against, and apps like DriveDx can help monitor underlying drive diagnostics, but it’s worth bearing in mind.

Keir Thomas


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Clean fingerprints off your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad

Thu Feb 26, 01:54 PM

Got ugly fingerprints, dust or other detritus on your beautiful iDevice? Just get a small blob of Blu-tac (a.k.a. sticky tac/clay) and rub it on the screen. After a few rubs any marks will disappear. This is also good for giving the TouchID sensor a clean, and for getting rid of those ugly stripes that appear on an iPad screen from the creases of a Smart Cover.

For what it’s worth, this trick can be used to clean grime off virtually any surface. I just used it to clean years of accumulated human grease off the aluminum surround and the keys of my Apple Keyboard, for example.

Keir Thomas


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