About Apple’s California Streaming

This week was the ”Superbowl for nerds.” Apple held its annual September event where it showcased the newest iPhones to debut in Autumn. This year sees iPhones 13, which are incrementally better than last year’s iPhones 12. With them, Apple is releasing updated iPads and the latest Apple Watch iteration.

I viewed Apple’s live video announcement — California Streaming — a fast-paced deluge of features packed into a superlative-laden presentation. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m more or less an Apple Fanboy, but it felt a bit like drinking kool-aid with too much sugar. With that small gripe out of the way, here are my personal thoughts as a mobile-computer consumer.


iPad mini

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Going from 7.9” to 8.3”, the mini has more screen, yet it remains mini! That’s a solid win in my book. I think most people want as much display as they can comfortably fit in a pocket or hold in one hand. Apple does this via removing bezels and extending the display to the edges of the device. Samsung’s approach is to fold the screen in half! I think I prefer Apple’s method: it’s simpler, more elegant, more affordable, and less likely to break.

The iPad mini basically got all of the iPad Air’s features, but it also got a $100 price hike over the previous mini, which is a bummer. I was thinking about buying my wife her own iPad mini for Christmas, but now it’s more out of reach. Then again, it comes in my wife’s favorite color: purple.

iPad

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I love the iPad! As I type this blog post, I’m enjoying my 8th gen iPad, which I bought in the Summer. I had figured the 9th gen iPad would not get a significant upgrade, and that’s basically what happened. This newest iPad got 3 updates: a wider front camera that follows people to keep them in frame (Center Stage), the A13 chip to replace the great A12, and a True Tone display that, in my experience, is nice but not a big deal.

The one other update that is worth shouting about is that Apple finally bumped the entry priced $329 iPad from a paltry 32GB of storage to 64GB! For that low price, often on sale for $300, I think anyone can now enjoy a viable and enviable Apple tablet. In addition, the $429 iPad now packs a generous 256GB of storage — nice!

iPhone 13/mini/Pro/Pro Max

Apple_iPhone-13-Pro_Colors_09142021
Apple_iphone13_design_09142021

There’s isn’t much for me to say here except that, like most people, the latest iPhones’ camera improvements are more than welcome. I especially am excited about the iPhone 13 Pros getting a Macro photography capability, preferring both the ultra-wide and macro features over the zoom/telephoto features. In addition, the newest iPhones 13 get better performance (not that they were lacking) and longer lasting battery life — what good is all that CPU power if the phone has no battery power at all?

With new phones, I like that the previous few years’ iPhones, which are still excellent devices, now sport a lower price than ever. Those now “older” phones — still for sale as new — make some of the best tech from Apple available to more and more people. Upgrading my iPhone 8 Plus, for example, to last year’s iPhone 12 versus the 13 would save me $100, yet I’d still get a significant update.

Apple Watch 7

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When it comes to the Apple Watch, I see two sides to it: the fitness side and the smart side. This year’s version 7 does not see much new for either side. Yet while some pundits have panned this year’s Watch as a minor update, I was quite excited for it. Sure, it’s not a huge step up, but it’s better nonetheless. What matters to me is that when I eventually upgrade my current 40mm Apple Watch SE, I’ll see an even bigger display boost when I opt for the now larger 45mm size. Otherwise, I think it performs like my current watch, but it’s vast screen will make using it easier and more enjoyable.

Another welcome change will be the always-on display that’s now much brighter; I presume it doesn’t degrade battery life. Most surprising of all, though, is the new on-screen keyboard! I’m skeptical that it will work well. I suspect the bigger watch size will be easier to tap the tiny letters on. Even without a keyboard, I find voice dictation totally reliable, but it will be nice to try the keyboard once I upgrade in the distant future.


Overall, this year sees Apple making incremental and iterative updates. The biggest changes come to the smallest iPad: the mini. While this might not be an exciting and “revolutionary” upgrade cycle, the progress Apple is making by pushing forward in smallish steps is nevertheless welcome and positive gain. Growth in life only sees spurts during adolescence. Generally, life grows by slow and steady consistency. Apple is a mature company, and all the hardware products announced this week are likewise mature.

The other side of Apple’s coin is more interesting to me this year: software. Next week, Apple will release the public versions of its latest operating systems. I’m eager to install the newest iOS and iPadOS software. Many of the features, like focus modes or multitasking buttons, will make current devices more capable or efficient. Shiny new hardware is fun and functional, but the integrated software is also key to giving nerds, geeks, and ”normal” people the tools they need to apply their talents.

Whether being productive and creative, organizing photo albums, or surfing the web, I’m glad to see Apple steadily improving both its devices and apps that make such tasks simple, elegant, and delightful. Here’s to another year of Apple gear.

Apple And Gaming Stuff

Well, hello there September blogosphere. While I’ve been somewhat scarce from the blog lately, that must mean I’ve been so busy with life experience that I’ve stockpiled stacks and piles of content in draft to write, right? Sounds good to me, but that’s inaccurate. No doubt, I’ve been mobile computing (iPad!) and gaming (RPGs!), but that’s only the half of it. I’ve also spent energy writing elsewhere and took a week off from everything for a big family vacation. Next thing you know, I’m flipping the page on the wall calendar and yearning for cool Fall temps to finally blow away the Texas Summer heat.

This month is bringing more cool stuff than just the Autumnal Equinox. First, next Tuesday is Apple’s first Fall event where they tell everyone what to spend their money on next, like new iPhones, maybe new iPads, or Apple Watches too. Oh, and how about new AirPods? Mobile tech is getting a boost this Fall for sure. My current iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and AirPods are working well. In fact, just yesterday I had my iPhone 8’s charge port repaired at a local shop. No longer must I wiggle the charging cord in the port and hope it sits securely enough to juice up; now I just set it and forget it. The port is a physical or mechanical point of failure, subject to wear and tear over time, and is probably why Apple rumors suggest future iPhones may be port-less, relying only upon wireless Qi charging. I have my doubts, and I’m pretty sure this month won’t see such ”courageous” advancement when Apple announces iPhone 13 or 12S or Year Model 2021.

The other new nice thing-a-ma-jig coming this month is an RPG. I’m excited to soon buy the physical edition of Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom – Prince’s Edition for Nintendo Switch! While it’s not a direct sequel to the the first game, it still features sublime Studio Ghibli-esque art design, youthful fantasy, and some other differences to earn a hearty play-through. I think the battle system may even be improved – very nice. Of course, the timeless dilemma is ever present with this upcoming release: when to play it. Can I pause life and disrupt the space-time continuum in order to play and finish all the awesome games available, namely the RPGs on my backlog? I wish.

Gaming has been fun lately. I continue to enjoy Fantasian Part Two; it’s become more addictive lately. But I’ve also gotten sucked back into Pokemon TCG. And then another fun game recently grabbed my attention: Asphalt 8 and 9. Ok, that’s two games, but they’re kind of the same thing. Apple Arcade launched Asphalt 8, which my kids enjoyed on vacation. So then we downloaded Asphalt 9 on the Switch, and instead of catching all the Pokemon, we’re now collecting all the exotic sports cars. Yeah, I know, it’s a racing game, not an RPG, but it does have stat boosts when upgrading car parts, and each race is like an action-battle system where you can crash other cars in order to win first place. That’s a stretch, but the Asphalt games are no less fun to play.

Anyways, this blog post is sort of a catch up for things of late. I hope to write more in the near future; I have some draft ideas slated. Here’s to the Fall being more fun and exciting than the Summer of 2021.

Windows 11 With A Future View

Earlier this Summer, Microsoft announced something new and upcoming. The age old Windows platform will see yet another release, taking things from 10 to Windows 11. The operating system will be refreshed, becoming more modern than ever, which should help the legacy platform shed years of old weight. Hopefully, Microsoft pushes the OS forward and doesn’t look back; Windows with a view of the future is something to look forward to.

Start to Relaunch

New aspects of Windows 11 suggest a positive march of progress. One is an overhauled visual design where common elements look renewed with soft rounded corners, and the overall clean and light user interface is said to invoke a sense of calm. Icons are updated and more consistent, and some are moved to a surprising new layout for Windows — the Start button is no longer bottom-left, it’s now center justified with other icons pinned to the taskbar. This tectonic shift is a departure from over a quarter-century of classic Windows design dating back to 1995, yet it shouldn’t surprise anyone since competing systems have commonly centered apps and icons. Apple’s Macs place the Dock in the middle and Google’s Chromebooks also have a centered app taskbar. Likewise, this symmetry appears to imbue Windows 11 with a sense of balance along with its calm vibe.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 isn’t a dusty OS, but it does have a few cobwebs in various corners of the system — this week I encountered old Windows XP icons in an obscure system info pane. The Start menu also shows signs of the past with Live Tiles leftover from the defunct Windows 8 and Windows Phone era. While users must adjust to the repositioned Start button and menu, they will likely appreciate the robust revamp otherwise. Windows 11’s fresh flourishes and aesthetic advances appear to be an improvement overall.

Another modernization coming in Windows 11 will ensure the OS fits the mobile computing age by simplifying the system and opening its Store to various app technologies. It appears that old legacy dialogue boxes and outdated window panes, which have remained disparate thus far, will be removed and their contents or functions reconsolidated. For example, the Settings app, along with a slick coat of paint, is being renovated by bringing in features that were scattered to and fro before. System level resources and toggles look to be more accessible as well. The previous window snapping feature is more robust, yet simple, with Snap Layouts, which enables multiple window arrangements automatically. Also in keeping with the times, new Widgets will be available in Windows 11 for easy and organized at-a-glance info.

In addition, the Microsoft Store, not known for providing either a quality or quantity of apps, looks to improve as well. Instead of Microsoft going back and forth between different strategies or types of app technologies, the company is now positioning the Microsoft Store as the Amazon of Apps, which means if a user needs an app, the Microsoft store should be the place to get it, assuming developers are fully onboard. With good marketing and luck, the new saying for users in search of an app could be, “There’s an App Store for that.” The Microsoft Store will allow all types of apps from all developers: from legacy or classic desktop apps to progressive web apps to Android apps via the Amazon App store. In that regard, Microsoft is making Windows 11 all-inclusive — no digital discrimination. Apple is welcome to port iMessage over. This will be not only a boon to users, but it’s likely to appease or avoid anticompetitive regulation.

A Windows of Opportunity

Shiny new tech, especially when it comes to mobile computing, is exciting. When Windows 11 software was announced, though, I wasn’t too thrilled because all its modern advancements come at a cost: it will require current hardware technology to power its performance. That means my creaky old budget laptop and my wife’s ancient desktop are ineligible to receive the upcoming OS upgrade. I didn’t mind much, though, since we largely rely on Chromebooks and Apple devices; there’s something to be said about not putting all your eggs in one computer basket.

Something new suddenly happened though. With my kids taking a new computer class in the Fall semester, they are required to have a Windows or Mac laptop. So, long story short, my family ended up buying a brand new Windows gaming laptop. It’s the best PC I’ve ever owned, having a discreet Nvidia RTX GPU! It’s the new family PC at home that will also serve my kids’ needs at school. Okay, it’s basically my own new personal laptop too. And because it is so modern and powerful, it will get the Windows 11 upgrade when it releases later this year. In fact, one of my purchasing factors was the laptop feature listing of Windows 11 capability. In other words, this thing is future proof.

Now that I have a dynamo of a PC that’s Windows 11 ready, I’ll be previewing the impending OS with eager eyes. I won’t go so far as installing a public beta though. Meanwhile, my family and I will enjoy using the latest that Windows 10 offers, but I’m not getting too attached because I recently switched from using my Chromebook to using an iPad as my primary machine…and that’s for a future blog post.

Are you looking forward to Windows 11, or does the prospect of change give you bad vibes? Let me know in the comments.

Here Come The HearPods

This week I was happy to hear about a new feature coming to AirPods Pro. Apple is enabling the upcoming feature through software, so the hardware a user already owns will gain a capability. Too bad I don’t yet possess the Pro version of AirPods; I have the entry-level pods. I love’em, to be sure. But with Apple sweetening the deal on AirPods Pro, I’m more eager to buy them than ever.

Listen here, the new feature that has boosted my interest in AirPods Pro is called Conversation Boost. This new ability sounds like something I both want and need as it makes the AirPods function like hearing aids. In fact, a few years ago I asked Tim Cook @Apple to make essentially what they’re soon releasing — HearPods.

I suffer from Tinnitus and mild hearing loss. Having undergone various tests at different times to assess and confirm this, I was given a pair of hearing aids to try for a week. They synced with an app on my iPhone and…long story short, they were impressive yet more than I needed at the time. What would be useful to me now is what Conversation Boost is described as. It lets AirPods Pro focus on the voice speaking in front of you and can also minimize ambient noise so that you can more easily hear what’s being said.

One situation in particular where this feature would be useful to me is regular conversation in a restaurant; I can hardly understand what others are saying unless they’re right next to me as their voice is muffled by ambient noise. I often give up on the chit-chat and only enjoy the food.

This upcoming feature, Convo Boost, is a health/quality of life capability that would bring much value to me. In addition, AirPods Pro bring other benefits I’m sure to enjoy: Noise Cancellation, deeper bass, Passive/Ambient mode, Spatial Audio, and wireless charging. So while I’ve been meaning to wait until my current AirPods bite the dust before upgrading to the Pro Pods, my ears are itching for Conversation Boost. It sounds like I’ll be purchasing the AirPods Pro sooner rather than later.

Tom Bihn Small Cafe Bag Impression

There’s a new man-bag in town. Call it a satchel, cross-body bag, or a tablet bag…or heck, a man-purse or murse; call it what you want, it’s my everyday carry bag (EDC). Most important and exciting of all, it’s the Tom Bihn Small Cafe Bag, and it’s finally here!


Tom Bihn Small Cafe Bag in Burnt Orange

Good things come to those who wait

I waited months for the pre-order to open and then more months for production and shipping to complete until — at long last — my EDC bag of choice arrived in a small brown box off a big brown truck.

Previously, I had spent many weeks researching and shopping online in a quest to find the best bag. Tom Bihn was the best bag maker at the best prices I found. The expert pack company has the widest selection of bag sizes and colors to suit my tastes. I especially like the modular organization system that revolves around the O-ring (please watch the linked video to really see it in action). In each bag are one or more O-rings to which a variety of pouches attach. It’s a simple yet smart and flexible way to keep any bits and bobs tidy; nobody likes a cluttered contents compartment.

Here’s my EDC. (The Android phone placeholder let my iPhone take the picture.)

Sizing Matters

Settling on the right-sized cross-body bag wasn’t easy. I wanted a bag big enough to fit a 10″ iPad. Though concerned a bag that size might be too large for everyday carry, my worries became unpacked. Using the bag on a few normal outings, I’ve found it fitting. I like the ample roominess inside; it lets me easily reach my forearms into it for optimal item retrieval, and it’s spacious enough to hold a small water bottle — something Texas summers requires. That said, I’ve also thought it would be nice to see a Mini Cafe Bag — sized to fit an iPad mini or other 7″ tablet — and I might like to upgrade someday to the Medium Cafe Bag. Having extra room seems extra nice, yet it might be too much.

Delight in Details

Besides its comfortable size, my favorite traits of the Small Cafe Bag are:

  • Strong yet supple shoulder strap.
    • Almost like a car’s seat belt but narrower and smoother.
    • It also has an effective strap pad with tiny grip nubs to minimize shoulder slipping.
  • Simple yet sufficient compartments.
    • There are only 3 (front, back, and main); they’re not overloaded with pockets or dividers.
    • 1 stuff pocket and 3 pen pockets grace the main pouch.
  • Fine quality materials.
    • Firm yet flexible fabrics in and out.
    • They feel very nice yet tough.
    • 525 ballistic outer and 210 ballistic inner.
  • Attractive colors.
    • Burnt orange, gray, and black.
    • I love the burnt orange!
Inside view of the Small Cafe Bag main compartment, featuring: 3 pen pockets, 1 large pocket, and 2 O-Rings. Note the interior color is gray — not black as in a dark cave wherein lurks unknown danger — so it’s easier to see and find what’s inside.

My EDC Kit Fit Out

Primary Compartment

Everyone fits out their everyday carry kit differently. My Small Cafe Bag‘s main area carries an iPad plus four organizer pouches (detailed below) snapped onto the two O-Rings. Also tethered by a key strap are my…car keys.

Snugly tucked into the primary compartment’s stuff pouch are a tin of Altoids and a Leatherman Sidekick multi-tool, or it also neatly fits my JBL Go Bluetooth speaker when needed. The three pen pouches hold two Bic 4-color ink pens and eventually an Apple Pencil.

Back Pocket

Though this open pocket on the back of the Small Cafe Bag is large enough to accommodate an eReader or small paperback, I normally use it for only one thing: my iPhone 8 Plus. Located on the back, it stays against my body while wearing, which makes it feel somewhat secure despite being open on top. And since I access my phone often, it’s nice to quickly and easily slip my phone in or out. It can lay vertically or horizontally, and there’s room for other items when needed. The other use of this open pocket is quickly storing the shoulder strap when hand carrying the bag.

There’s one small challenge worth mentioning here. The handle strap on top of the bag somewhat overs the back pocket and sometimes hinders access to it. It’s minor and easily managed, but it might be the one imperfection of an otherwise ideal EDC bag. This little issue also might be solved through usage over time, causing the handle strap to become set in an upright position. As it’s new, the strap lays flat and down toward the back pocket’s opening.

Tom Bihn Small Cafe Bag in Burnt Orange
Tom Bihn Small Cafe Bag in Burnt Orange – back pocket

Front Pocket

This is the only zippered compartment in the Small Cafe Bag and is tucked under the main buckled flap, so I find it’s the best place for my “wallet” (also with its own zipper). My wallet is tethered with a 6″ Key Strap. The front pocket also contains other thin or flat items: trail mix bag, almond butter, and a mask.

Pouches

I’m super happy to embrace Tom Bihn’s O-Ring system with organizer pouches. To arrange my accouterments, I have 4 add-ons clipped to O-rings throughout, tailored to my daily essentials:

  • Clear Organizer Pouch.
    • This replaced my old-school bi-fold leather wallet to carry cards and some cash.
  • Ghost Whale Organizer Pouch – Small.
    • The quintessential sunglasses pouch.
  • Ghost Whale Organizer Pouch – Super Mini.
    • AirPods case goes here.
  • Q-Kit – Mini.
    • This cool little taco-shaped pouch holds my spare EarPods (neatly coiled in a plastic snack bag), Advil, Burt’s Bees lip balm, and a spare key.

The nicest aspect of all these pouches is their matching colors: burnt orange and gray. (There are many other colors to choose from.)

Tom Bihn Small Cafe Bag with organizational pouches tethered.

Freudian Slip

Another add-on package to mention — a packet-full-o-pockets — is called the Freudian Slip. It’s a custom tailored insert for the Small Cafe Bag that features several pockets and a handy looped pull-strap on top. While I don’t know if this insert will fit in the bag along with an iPad, I’d like to try it in the future (in Cloud gray of course) since it might be useful to have in lieu of the iPad sometimes. I’ve also wondered if the Freudian Slip would be a better option than separate organizer pouches clasped to O-Rings. Then again, the Slip also has its own O-Ring too. Also, it has a large enough pocket to contain an iPad mini/7″ tablet or eReader.

A Tablet Bag

I categorize this bag impression under Mobile Computing: Accessories because carrying a tablet requires things like a case, sleeve, or a bag — often a combo of those. An EDC bag large enough to lug a lightweight laptop replacement (iPad) is an essential accessory.

The Small Cafe Bag, though little enough for everyday carrying, is large enough to house an iPad or similar 10″ tablet (or a Nintendo Switch). Given that, I designate it as a Tablet Bag. I make this distinction because in American culture, traditionally it has been acceptable or “normal” for a male to carry either a backpack, briefcase, or a laptop bag, but anything smaller has often been deemed inappropriate for a male.

Tradition is nice and all, but times change. Since a cross-body laptop bag is acceptable for men, then why not a cross-body tablet bag? It’s smaller but not necessarily less masculine. While there are several bag makers on the market that provide solutions for anyone to carry tablets among everyday essentials, Tom Bihn makes the one I like best. The Small Cafe Bag is an excellent tablet bag and EDC bag.

Oh, and by the way, I love the burnt orange color!

If you fancy a full preview of the Cafe Bags from Tom Bihn, watch this video here.


Update: 7-31-21

Here are various photos of the Small Cafe Bag with a 10.2” 8th gen. iPad in a Fintie case. Given that the 10.2” iPad measures 9.8”x6.8”, I think an 11” iPad Pro, measuring at 9.74”x7.02”, would also fit the bag (depending on the size of a case, if any). I plan to use the Logitech Combo Touch keyboard case (in the Fall) and may share another update with photos of that as well.

iPad in case on Small Cafe Bag
The encased iPad appears too large for the Small Cafe Bag, but it fits very well.
Encased iPad in Small Cafe Bag
Small Cafe Bag with iPad and organizer pouches.
iPad in case inside Small Cafe Bag empty
Small Cafe Bag with an encased 10.2” iPad.
iPad in case inside Small Cafe Bag full
Small Cafe Bag stuffed with an encased 10.2” iPad and organizer pouches. It’s a good fit; contents are manageable.

iPad in case in Small Cafe Bag back pocket
In a pinch, the encased 10.2” iPad fits the back pocket a bit squeezed. It stops about 1/2” above the bottom of the pocket due to the shape.