SoundByte 353 – July 2024

ChristopherNews, SoundByte

Apple Intelligence

Welcome to SoundByte! In this issue

Annual General Meeting

Please join us online this Tuesday, July 9 at 7:00 pm BST, for our Annual General Meeting. 

This will be a paid members-only meeting. As many members as possible must attend as we will be electing a new committee. There is much to discuss about the year ahead and what it should look like. Take part and help us set LMUG’s future direction! We will start the evening with our usual NewsByte presentation.

Members will have received a Zoom link for the AGM in an email from LMUG on June 10. We will include it again in the email with this newsletter! Follow the London 😜 Mac User Group on…Mastodon🐘! If you are not familiar with Mastodon, have a look at TidBit’s explainer here.

We look forward to seeing you all there.

Apple gains intelligence

Apple joined the AI fray at WWDC with their own flavour of AI called Apple Intelligence. Following tradition, Apple has let both Microsoft and Google try first and flail before coming in to show them how to do it. And let’s not forget the AI devices. Apple Intelligence also renders the half-baked Rabbit R1 and the Humane AI Pin obsolete in the process.

What is special about Apple Intelligence and what does it do? Let’s start with productivity. It can rewrite, proofread and summarise your text. But it can also change the tone, more serious, more humorous, you choose what sort of assistance. It can help developers write code (building on internal Apple knowledge). It can create images, but to avoid the offensive images from other AI models, Apple Intelligence has strong guardrails and it appears these are restricted to harmless cartoons. Then from the company that created Memojis, you will be able to ask Apple Intelligence to make a custom emoji for your iMessages. Just describe what you want, like an otter playing cricket.

Siri also benefits from Apple Intelligence. Apple has opened up Siri to developers to enable it to run actions in their apps. Does this mean, you will be able to say ‘order me my favourite pizza’ or ‘book me a ride to John’s party? Will it will understand what you mean and orchestrate Contacts, Calendar, Messages and Just Eat/Uber to do it? This was a feature of Newton Intelligence way back in 1992: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. It can’t be too much to ask now?

So Apple Intelligence contains some practical useful tools, a desperately needed brain transplant for Siri and some fun image and emoji tools. But unlike other AI, the big difference is, like machine learning, which came before it: indexing all of our files in Spotlight (all of which is fed into Apple Intelligence); improving our photos; correcting keyboard swipes on iPhone and adding karaoke to Apple Music; Apple Intelligence does most of its work in private, on-device. When there are more complex tasks, Apple will send your request to the cloud, but not any cloud. Apple have built their own Cloud with Apple Silicon and ground breaking privacy controls to isolate requests and instantly delete them so nothing is stored, sold or re-used, once answered. Our technical editor recommends reading page 5-8 in this edition of Security Now for an independent assessment. Apple calls this Private Cloud Compute, and it runs on 100% renewable energy ♻️. Apple discusses this in their WWDC interview below with John Gruber:

Acknowledging the strides made by other companies, Apple also intends to integrate other AIs if Apple’s AI can’t do what you want. It will ask each time if you want to leave the walled garden to risk a dumpster fire of hallucinations, which might give you what you need (or might not). First up is OpenAI’s Chat GPT, but others are likely to follow. Have a look below on how to optimise ChatGPT. It turns out some techniques are needed:

Apple Intelligence (a feature of iOS 18 and macOS Sequoia, coming this autumn) requires a lot of power. A key requirement appears to be 8GB RAM to run the model. This harsh reality rules out all iPhones before the iPhone 15 Pro! All Apple Silicon Macs are included (sorry, no Intel Macs will get it). The Vision Pro, which has an M2 processor might also get it in future. The Apple Watch, Home Pod and Apple TV (some of which are quite old now) just don’t have the power ☹️. It seems amiss, not to have Apple Intelligence on those devices (smart home, anyone?). It will be interesting to see how Apple solves that.

Colour me red: iOS18 and other WWDC updates

WWDC’s main purpose was to introduce new versions of iOS and iPad (18) and macOS (Sequoia). Each received Apple Intelligence functions described above. Additionally, there is a smart calculator function on the iPad, which can understand written maths equations. This equation function works in Notes on the Mac which also gains live transcription. Apple Intelligence is added to Safari to enhance Reader View and its also able to fully summarise web pages (cutting out all the noise in the current web). You can pull out web videos into their own window (a function also added to Vision OS). There is a new Photos app powered by Apple Intelligence that will intelligently group your photos for you. And Mail gets smart too, able to group the same types of mail together e.g. all your flights. Maps gains topography (in some regions) and finally, Passwords are split out from Keychain into its own Password app, which will sync with Windows via the iCloud app over there.

Sequoia gains deeper iPhone integration including iPhone screen mirroring, iPhone notifications on screen and remote control from the Mac. It gains Windows style window tiling, further video conferencing features and much more.

AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) will recognise nods or head shakes as yes or no (e.g. to answer a call or not). Apple TV copies and improves on Amazon TV’s X-Ray feature and Vision Pro gains additional features to improve spatial computing. Perhaps the best new feature there is a much bigger Mac screen.

iPhone will gain customisation options. Make all your icons red for example, if that’s your style 👀. The control centre is also optimised into one long page that scrolls and is made more customisable. iPhone also will gain better compatibility with Android messaging and message support via satellite when out of mobile range (expanding on emergency calls) and much more.

There will be so much to learn we will need to have some LMUG meetings to explain how to use it all!

Nothing is new, Apple’s first tablet computer

If you own a copy of the iconic Apple Design book, you will know that Apple worked on tablet computers back in the 1990s. The outcome was the Apple Newton (just like the outcome of the original work on the iPad was the iPhone), plus ça change. Amazingly, it turns out that one of the 90s designs was launched and then killed. A few survived the shredder, have a look below at a prototype:

How the deaf can feel football matches

How can you enjoy the atmosphere of a football match (meaning soccer for US readers) if you are deaf? The obvious way is to feel the vibrations in the stand. This has been boosted with an iPhone controlled shirt with haptics. Read more on euronews.

Another transformational product for accessibility is Navilens, which can make the world navigable for the blind using the iPhone camera. Read more on their website.

Future Shock 7: Denouement or cul-de-sac?

It’s happened. You can now buy powerful Arm-powered PC laptops. Apple’s lead was indeed not tolerated and these new PC laptops are confirmed to have performance similar to (but not quite the same as) current M3 Macs.

This includes heat and fan noise being much lower than Intel laptops and battery life being much longer.

Your editor does wonder what will come next? We know that the X Elite is actually a server chip crammed into an ultrabook chassis. This is because Snapdragon bought a server chip company. But a server chip is bound to have some compromises compared to the smartphone evolved Apple chips, which for example, have multiple low energy cores to run system tasks with less battery drain (the Elite only has higher power performance cores). So, will the new elite team design a new chip next year that’s better optimised, including with better graphics? Speaking of which, Nvidia, the graphics card/AI powerhouse, makes ARM server processors too. Will they enter the PC market? With their graphics chops could they make a killing? Who knows?

What we do know, is that Microsoft continues to optimise Windows for ARM with increasing numbers of native ARM apps. This means, despite ongoing AI missteps, that PC users will now get access to some of the high performance and energy saving ♻️ benefits that Apple Silicon Mac users have taken for granted since 2020.

Reduce and re-use, what next for Apple repair?

Fairbuds – repairable earbuds

There are conflicting priorities for Apple when it comes to longevity and reparability of its devices. There is an idea that Apple products are designed with planned obsolescence. This is a sort of conspiracy theory where Apple induces you to fill their coffers regularly by making their products fail before they are meant to. Unfortunately, some outcomes of Apple’s design decisions, where they have aimed to make innovative products can look that way. Remember the butterfly keyboard and flaky motherboards in amazingly thin MacBooks? Then #batterygate in our world-changing iPhones?

An underlying current to these problems are the challenges and restrictions around repairability if something fails on your device outside of warranty. [ED: Reminder that if you rely on your Apple Device for work, you should be investing in Apple Care to avoid this issue/stress]. Back in May we looked at the (minefield?) of repair options available if you need to look for an out of warranty repair yourself, outside of Apple Care.

There is an alternative strategy. When a key part in your device wears out, why not make it easy to replace? The obviously consumable key part of many Apple devices is the battery. Perhaps one of the more worrying Apple products in terms of battery replacement is AirPods. A famous (if not very popular) proponent of easy repairs like this is Fairphone and they have targeted this worry point in their new Fairbuds. These have batteries that are easy to replace both in the case and also the small ear pieces. Long time Apple Commentator, John Siracusa thinks this is one innovation that Apple should consider bring to its devices. Read about it on his Hypercritical blog.

Offers for members

Find below the special offers available to our paying members. Access these great discounts from the discounts page in the member’s section of the LMUG website. 

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