AirPods


I picked up a set of AirPods about three weeks ago, and have been in love with them. They are one of the most Apple-y products I’ve ever used.

I’ve long avoided using headphones as there’s too much friction. You’ve gotta have somewhere to put them, detangle the cords every time you want to use them, and constantly get the cable stuck on things. I can’t tell you how many times as a younger man that I had earbuds violently ripped from my ears after getting caught on something.

I even tried a set of wireless Plantronics earbuds for a while - a set with a cable running between the ears. They were barely an improvement over normal wired earbuds. The battery life was awful, they had clunky charging, and I still had to deal with a cable getting tangled every time I had to take them out of my pockets.

AirPods are the opposite of all this friction. Quite simply: they just work. For the first time in years I’m using and enjoying earbuds.

Setup is absolutely effortless. After removing AirPods from the box, there are only two steps:

  1. Open the lid of the case
  2. Tap ‘connect’ on your phone.

That’s it.

No entering pairing mode, no diving down into Bluetooth settings, just pop open the case and connect.

Once connected, using AirPods is seamless and effortless. There’s no turning them on and off, you just open the case, pop them in ears, and you’re going. AirPods have sensors for each earbud that will detect when they’re in your ear, and will automatically turn on and begin routing your device’s audio to them.

AirPods Playback Controls

While there are no buttons on the earbuds, Airpods do have a small amount of physical controls. You can double tap on either earbud and they can perform a small set of tasks, either play/pause, next/previous track, or Siri. If you take one of the earbuds out (to talk to someone for example), any music that’s playing will automatically pause, and it will resume once you put the earbud back in.

AirPods charge exclusively through the included charging case. Apple rates the earbuds for 5 hours of charge, and the charging case can provide multiple full charges. The case charges using the included lightning cable, and provides a simple and fool-proof way to carry AirPods with you when you’re not using them, and I’ve experience great battery life in real-world testing.

Connecting AirPods to Mac

AirPods aren’t just for iPhone, they work brilliantly with Macs as well. AirPods are connected to your iCloud account so you don’t even need to pair them with your Mac. When switching from iPhone to Mac, just pop open the AirPods case, and select AirPods from the volume menu in the menu bar.

For me, the biggest use case for AirPods is actually for calls. At work I use a soft phone exclusively, but have struggled to find a good way to do audio. I’ve tried a few standard Bluetooth headsets and they’re all awful. None of them have decent audio quality, charging them is super clunky, and they all randomly disconnect for no reason. Just. Awful.

Conversely, AirPods have been great for calls. The audio is top notch, I don’t have to deal with clunky chargers or making sure that things are paired - they just work.

Audio quality in general with AirPods is pretty good. Obviously they’re not going to surpass a high-quality set of dedicated wired headphones, but the audio is sufficient for most people. It comes down to a trade off: you can get high fidelity audio (and suffer through dealing with a cable), or you can have a set of truly wireless earbuds with audio quality that is on par with the EarPods you get out of the box with the phone.

AirPods are one of the best Apple products I’ve used in years. They’re pure Apple. Simple. Easy to use, and innovative. Wireless headphones have been around for a while, but no one nailed it until now.


Typed on iPhone

RedScarf II Ver.D Build Log

60% + Numpad with Gatistotle Switches

I’ve long been interested in RedScarf keyboards, their interesting interpretations of 60% keyboard layouts. The most well-known variants are the RedScarf II Ver.B (65% + 10 Fkeys in 2 columns), and the RedScarf III 96 (60% + Numpad + Fkey row). I’d been particularly fascinated with the RS96 for a while. It seemed to be a really great and efficient layout, one that provides nearly a full-sized layout, but with all the keys brought together, reducing the board’s overall size. Of course, by the time I got seriously interested in the RS96 it was nowhere to be found - which is probably a good thing. After thinking long and hard I realized that what I really wanted was an RS96 without the function key row. I rarely make use of function keys, so I really wanted a 60% board with built-in numpad. Then one day along came the RedScarf II Ver.D - I had to have it.

Parts

I opted to go with the barebones kit from Massdrop during the RedScarf group buy. I ordered only the acrylic case, PCB, and fiberglass plate. At the time I wasn’t quite sure which switches or keycaps I’d be using. I settled on the below for this build:

Switch Mods

For RedScarf I decided to do something new: instead of using off-the-shelf Gaterons, Cherrys, or Zealios, I opted to use modified switches.

Switches for this board are Gatistotles - a portmanteau of Gateron + Aristotle.

The Aristotle variants started to pop up in the keyboard scene about a year ago. Someone out in Asia found a large stockpile of new-old-stock Aristotle switches. Heretofore an unknown switch in the community. Aristotles are notable for a very tactile yet clicky stem. The Aristotle stems are really quite superb - the switch houses are…less so. Typical switch housings are made from strong plastic like ABS. The Aristotle housings are really soft plastic, likely POM. The result is that you’ve got really great internals, but the switch feels pretty crappy because of a poor switch housing. The solution to this is to remove the stem from the switch and transplant it into a housing from another manufacturer. This gives you switches like Cherrystotles, Gatistotles, and Zealistotles - you do the math on which housings are used for each of these.

For my mods I chose to use Gateron Greens as my ‘donor switches’. The resulting Gatistotle switch would have a really smooth housing to work with, and a nice heavy 80g spring.

open Aristotle switchs

I’ve never actually done switch mods before. I’ve lubed switches, but never modified them. The process is fairly simple: use a switch opening tool to open the Aristotles. pull out the stem. Open the Gaterons, pull out the stem. Insert the Aristotle stem in the Gateron housing. Close the switch up (carefully).

For these mods I didn’t make use of a proper switch opening tool nor a switch modding station, but I was able to get all 80 or so switches done in about an hour. For future mods I’ll definitely use a proper switch opening tool as opposed to a bodged-together one. It’ll make the process a lot quicker.

Time To Build

The build itself was pretty straightforward, as far as custom boards go. RedScarf II comes with all diodes, resistors, and even the RGB underglow LEDs preinstalled.

First I installed the included stabs (after lubing them of course).

Then it was time to put all the switches in the appropriate spots.

And solder away.

I ended up not having enough Gatistotles for full coverage, so I leaned on my old standby, the Cherry Black to fill the remaining spots.

Programming - TKG

After soldering, the board was actually fully functional. It comes from the factory with a pretty usable layout preinstalled. Even the RGB underglow is usable after assembly, when using the included remote control.

Of course, I can’t abide using anyone’s default layout, so I had to flash the board with a layout I’d prefer.

With RedScarf the only option for building its firmware is TKG tools. I’d used a variant of TKG on a previous build and hated the entire process. The flashing method for RedScarf is actually pretty easy though, far better than my previous TKG experience

Unlike QMK, where a board’s layout is built in text files, and flashing done from terminal, TKG allows an entirely GUI-based flashing process. There are a bunch of steps, but the process is simple enough that a novice or newbie to custom keyboards should be able to flash using TKG with ease. The only really complicated part of this process is finding/building a layout to work with - more on that below.

Building a layout

The first step is to build out your layout and keymap on Keyboard Layout Editor (KLE). On KLE you can either place all the individual keys so that the on-screen layout matches your RedScarf, or start using a template. When using a template, you copy a text file into the ‘raw data’ section of KLE, and the proper layout will be displayed on screen. One then selects each individual key and sets the ‘top legend’ to what you want that key to be. Once you have the layout you want, copy the raw data from KLE into a text file - be sure to save that text file should you want to ever change your keyboard’s firmware in the future. Repeat this process for each subsequent layer you’re going to have on your board.

Note: for function keys, you must designate these in your layout on KLE. With RedScarf, Fn0-24 are reserved for the remote control to change RGB underglow settings. Any function keys you assign must start at Fn25 or above.

My RedScarf has 3 layers. Layer 0 is the base layer, normal layout. Layer 1 has things like media controls, arrows, etc. Layer 2 gives me Fkeys (for the rare times I need them.) Text files for each of these layers are here (Layer 0, Layer 1, Layer 2, if you’re building a RedScarf you can paste this data directly into KLE.

RGB Underglow

As mentioned above RedScarf comes with RGB LEDs preinstalled, and also comes with a physical remote control that can be used to control RGB effects on the board. RedScarf reserves Fn0-24 for RGB functions. It’s also possible to set up additional function keys within RedScarf’s layout, enabling control of RGB without using the remote. For my build, I assigned RN28-31 to RGB functions.

Setting up TKG

TKG is actually just a website/webapp. One builds the desired layout on the site, then the site can actually flash your board directly from your web browser. Before setting up your keyboard’s layout, it’s first necessary to install the TKG Chrome App. The app allows the TKG website to interface with your keyboard.

Build your board in TKG

With a layout set in KLE, it’s time to open TKG. Set the ‘keyboard’ to RedScarfII+, layer mode to normal. Paste each of your layer’s raw data into the appropriate fields.

After the raw data has been pasted in, you’ll then see settings for function keys. TKG supports all the same function key types as standard QMK/TMK.

Once function keys have been assigned, it’s nearly time to actually flash the RedScarf. If you’re building one yourself, I’d recommend going to Tools > Export FN, and also save a text file for each of your layer’s raw data before you flash your board - that way you’ve got copies to work with should you ever want to change your board’s layout in the future.

My exported FN layer settings are here.

Flashing is desperately simple. Easier than flashing with something like dfu-programmer, actually.

Hold down the top-left key on RedScarf, and plug it into your computer. The burn .eep file or burn .hex file on the TKG website will go green. Click it, and the RedScarf has been flashed.

Final Thoughts

The build experience on this board was a lot of fun. With all the electronics (like diodes and RGB LEDs) preinstalled, assembling this board was a breeze, and the TKG experience was actually pretty easy. A lot less frustration than I had with my previous TKG experience.

I genuinely enjoyed the process of modding together the Gatistotle switches. They’re really the star of the show with this board for me. I’ve very much fallen in love with Gatistotles. Shortly after finishing RedScarf I went out and bought another 80 Aristotle switches to use in future builds. As Aristotles are no longer in production, the supply of them out in the world is dwindling. The Aristotle stems with Gateron housings are a powerhouse. They’re SUPER clicky, and SUPER tactile, a wonderful combination.

Using this board day-to-day has been excellent. I find the 60% + numpad layout to be very functional for me, especially at work. It’s a same that there aren’t a lot of boards that use this, I think it could really catch on.

RedScarf Underglow

For a long time my Test ErgoDox was my daily driver at work, but for the past few months I’ve been using RedScarf consistently, and it’s been fantastic. Going in to this build, I’d expected that with this layout I’d use RedScarf quite a bit, but it’s definitely become one of my favorite boards. I actually typed this entire post on RedScarf.


Typed on RedScarf II+

All Screen


Wow.

It’s just…its just all screen.

Update iPhone X Day 2

This phone is amazing. The screen feels gigantic, yet the phone is physically more or less the same size as a standard 4.7” iPhone. iPhone X is everything I wanted my old iPhone 6 Plus to be.

FaceID is fantastic - easily better than TouchID. It’s effortless ambient authentication.


Typed on Octopage

Gruber’s Apple Watch Series 3 Review


With the addition of cellular networking in Series 3, Apple Watch gains something essential: independence. It’s not just a cool feature. It’s aimed smack dab in the middle of the two things people like best about Apple Watch: notifications and fitness. When are you separated from your iPhone? When you’re exercising. What do you miss most when you’re away from your phone? Messages and phone calls.

Phone anxiety is a weird, and, for me at least, irrational thing. I know that mankind survived for millennia without the ability to communicate with each other out of earshot. But once you get used to having your phone with you at all times, you get used to feeling that if anyone needs you, they can get you.

Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular networking completely alleviates this anxiety.

I was waffling between getting the cellular or non-cellular version of Series 3. Now I’m convinced - it’s gotta be cellular.

[via Daring Fireball]


Typed on Git2Go

iPhone X Keynote Hot Take And Rundown


Apple presented its 10th annual iPhone keynote today. The keynote was the first ever presentation made from Apple’s new campus, in the Steve Jobs Theater. How appropriate - to hold the 10th iPhone keynote in a theater thusly named.

What follows are my hot takes and first thoughts about the keynote and what Apple announced today.

iPhone X

Pronounced ‘ten’

Oh man, this one is a doozy. It’s crazy to think how far we have come in a mere decade. Just ten years ago the world was astounded and amazed by a slab of metal and glass with a 3.5” screen. iPhone was amazing then, and its amazing now.

Display

The 5.8” full screen OLED display on iPhone X looks amazing. This will be a huge leap forward for iPhone – finally ditching the physical home button, and dropping the top and bottom bezels that have been around for a decade now. Of course, in typical fashion, Apple is not the first to come out with a full-screen phone, but they will likely do it best.

I’ve long thought that the top and bottom bezels on iPhones have held it back. Of course, the bezels have served as a spot for the home button and various sensors that are below the screen, so getting rid of them wasn’t really an option for early iPhones. I recall with the original iPhone feeling like the screen was just slightly too small, and imagined what it would be like if the entire front was a screen. iPhone X realizes this idea.

FaceID

FaceID is an interesting change for iPhone unlock - with no physical home button anymore, FaceID replaces TouchID on iPhone X. According to the rumor mill, Apple was initially planning on using TouchID on iPhone X, but was unable to make the under-display-fingerprint-recognition technology work, and thus went to FaceID instead. Several other phone makers have attempted facial recognition before, but all of them have failed at making something with any real security. Past facial recognition systems have been easily fooled by photos, hopefully FaceID will live up to what Apple has demoed.

Apple claims that the false positive rate with FaceID is actually better than TouchID. TouchID could produce a false positive 1 in 50,000 attempts - Apple claims that rate is 1 in 1,000,000 with FaceID. I am a security wonk, so the security of my mobile devices are paramount to me. If a malicious actor gained access to my phone, my entire digital life would be up for grabs. If FaceID lives up to the claims, this is a good step forward with security. I could retain all the security of TouchID, with an even simpler method for authenticating and unlocking my phone.

The sensors that they’ve crammed into the top of iPhone X are amazing. There are no fewer than 7 sensors here. The internet colloquially referred to the top sensor array as the ‘notch’, Apple calls it the ‘True Depth Camera’. It’s impressive that they’ve been able to cram all of this hardware into a tiny space. It looks like Apple will obscure the notch slightly in some applications, while embracing it in others.

Gestures

iPhone X will be a significant change in how iPhones will be used going day-to-day, largely because it discards iPhone’s primary physical input: the home button. iPhone X lacks even a semblance of a home button. It doesn’t even have a virtual home button. Apple is instead replacing the button with gestures. What they’ve shown off looks so natural, so easy. In a couple years we’ll look back in amazement that we had to press a button to perform some basic interactions with our phones.

These gestures are honestly one of the features I’m most excited about. They’re so simple, so fluid. I can’t wait to try it out.

To access home on iPhone X, one need only swipe up from the bottom of the screen.

Home Gesture

To access multitasking, make the same swipe, but pause. You can also swipe directly between apps by just swiping left-to-right across the bar at the bottom.

Multitasking Gesture

On current iPhones, a swipe up from the bottom invokes control center. On iPhone X you drag down from the status indicators in the top right.

Control Center Gesture

Charging

iPhone X and its glass back will support wireless charging. The only device I own (or have ever owned) that supports wireless charging is my Apple Watch. I’ve long thought that wireless charging is silly, but it’s been lovely to use with Apple Watch. Every night I take my watch off, put it on my charging dock, and I’m done.

There have been plenty of phones on the market that have had wireless charging for some time, so Apple isn’t really innovating here. But it’s nice to see this feature finally come to iPhone. In non-Apple fashion, they’ve chosen to go with Qi, the industry standard for wireless charging. Apple isn’t shipping a wireless charger at launch, but because iPhone X (and 8) use Qi, it’ll be possible to charge using any currently available Qi charger. Hell, you could even use a Samsung charger if you were so inclined.

Capcity and Pricing

Apple has doubled its capacities with this year’s iPhones, going from 32GB and 128GB to 64GB and 256GB. I personally think that 256GB might be a bit excessive for most users, but it’s good to see the base models now start with 64GB. These days, having a super large capacity iPhone isn’t too desperately important. With optimizations on photo sizes and music streaming, most people likely use less space than they’d think. I’ve currently got an iPhone 7 with 128GB capacity, I’m only using about 30GB - this includes about 4,000 photos stored at original size, and I let Apple music take care of what songs are and are not downloaded locally. Honestly, for iPhone X I’ll probably opt to get the 64GB model, I think it’ll be enough.

There was a lot of talk ahead of the Keynote on how iPhone X would be priced. Most outlets were predicting pricing to start north of $1000.

I took to twitter yesterday with my predictions. I wasn’t too far off.

As it turns out, iPhone X will start a $999. Compared with the current Plus phones, this pricing isn’t too egregious. It’s a $200 premium over the iPhone 8 Plus price, but worth it (to me at least) because of the full-screen 5.8” display.

Preorders for iPhone X go live 10/27, shipping on 11/3.

I’ll definitely be getting iPhone X, but I’m not certain that I’ll buy it at launch. Last year I waited a couple months until there was wide availability for iPhone 7. I’ll likely do the same with iPhone X.

Other iPhones

If it were any other year, this would be a worthwhile iPhone upgrade.

iPhone 8 (and 8 Plus) share the same CPU as iPhone X - A11 Bionic.

A11 Bionic boasts the typical specs for new Apple mobile CPUs. It’s faster, with better graphics, more CPU performance, enhancements for AR and machine learning - the works. It’s now a 6 core unit, up from a 4 core in iPhone 7. They’re also able to leverage all 6 CPUs simultaneously. Suffice to say, it’s fast.

iPhone 8 also shares the glass back and wireless charging in iPhone X, and it’s got better cameras too.

In fact, many of the features of iPhone X and iPhone 8 are shared - under the hood they’re nearly the same phone.

If it weren’t for iPhone X, I’m sure I’d buy this phone if it were the flagship.

iPhone 8 and 8 Plus ship 9/22.

Apple TV 4K

This is a nice upgrade. Like it says on the tin, Apple TV will now support 4K, including HDR. 4K is quadruple the resolution of 1080P HD, and HDR doubles the color space of 4K.

Apple TV 4K also has an A10X CPU in it, so it’s got more processing and graphical power. The A10X is actually the same CPU used in iPad Pro - so it’s a screamer. Mind you, the Apple TV wasn’t exactly a slouch when it came to performance. In my experience using Apple TV, it blows away all competitors in simple ease of use and fluidity.

The 4K product starts at $179, the standard Apple TV stays on at $149. I don’t have a 4K TV in my living room, so I won’t be buying this, but if I did have one, I’d definitely get it.

Notable: if you buy your movies from iTunes, you automatically get the 4K versions for free

Apple Watch Series 3

I’ve had Apple Watch since launch day nearly three years ago. I was very excited to receive it three years ago, and it has been a loyal companion on my wrist since launch day. I can’t think of a single day since I received it that I haven’t worn it. I did skip the Apple Watch Series 2 last year, as the speed bump wasn’t enough for me to justify another large smartwatch purchase. Don’t get me wrong - the original Apple Watch is quite slow - it crawls at anything other than notifications and timers, but Series 2 wasn’t enough for me. Given my Apple Watch’s age, I’m definitely eager to replace it - the Series 3 may indeed be a worthwhile upgrade for me.

Apple brought some great improvements with Watch Series 3. It has a faster CPU - 70% faster than Series 2 (imagine how much faster than my original), with built-in cellular. I don’t necessarily have a burning need to get this on launch day. I’ll likely pick it up some time after I’ve picked up iPhone X.

Series 3 at $329, the cellular product is $399.

Shipping 9/22

iOS 11

This year’s iOS is great. Lots of little changes, lots of big changes. I’ve been running the Public Beta for a while now, and it’s great.

iOS 11 ships 9/19.

Final thoughts

Apple announced killer products this year. They made good strides with upgrades to existing hardware (iPhone 8, Apple Watch, Apple TV). A huge leap with iPhone X, and the software that they are shipping only continues to innovate and push the industry forward. Apple is rarely first, but they are almost always best. Since Steve Jobs’ passing 6 years ago, I was worried that after a short period of time Apple would begin to falter and lose its way, much like the 1990s. There is no doubt that Apple has changed greatly in the past half-decade. The product line has expanded, it has become more ambitious, but in typical Apple fashion, it all ties together and works together seamlessly.

From the outside looking in, Tim Cook’s Apple has pushed forward and continued to be Apple. The direction may be different, but the spirit is there. Apple is indebted to the work Steve Jobs did. He was (as Tim said on screen) a genius. In many ways, Apple’s greatest product is Apple itself. Their new campus, Apple Park, is a physical realization of Apple’s new direction. As I said at the top, it’s only fitting that the tenth anniversary iPhone be announced in a theater named after Steve.


Typed on RedScarf II Ver.D