“There’s more in the making.” – Keynote Thoughts and Predictions

Apple’s fourth and most likely final Keynote of 2018, was announced with over 370 different variations of the invite, but what different things should we expect to see announced at the Keynote itself…

iPad Pro

The iPad Pro is set to receive the most significant update to the iPad lineup to date, with an “Edge to Edge” Liquid Retina display akin to the iPhone XR that was released last week. This means that the iPad Pro will continue to lack 3D Touch support, but will be able to maintain the ProMotion display which didn’t make it across to Apple’s OLED screens found in the iPhone X and XS.

The iPad Pro will also gain Face ID, but unlike the iPhone it will work in both portrait and Landscape orientations. Moreover the iPad Pro will not be gaining a notch to accommodate the sensors, and will simply incorporate it into the rim that will be present the whole way round the device.

The iPad Pro is set to get an update to both of its connectors, with the lightning port rumoured to make way for a USB-C port, which will give it enough bandwidth to connect to 4K external displays. The “Smart Connector”, or shall we say Keyboard Connector, is set to move to the back of the iPad, allowing peripherals … keyboards to click on magnetically.

Apple Pencil 2

Alongside the third revision of the iPad Pro lineup, we are set to see the second revision of the Apple Pencil. The Apple Pencil will auto pair with the iPad like the Logitech Crayon, and more interestingly gain gesture support for additional functionality. The Apple Pencil will also move to USB-C so it cab be charged directly from the iPad Pro.

MacBook

The MacBook is set to get a spec bump to the Intels 8th Generation Chipset, but nothing overly exciting.

MacBook Air

The MacBook Air was the defacto Mac for a number of years. It was slim, fast and for a Mac, inexpensive. Since then times have changed (unlike the MacBook Air itself) , and with its Non Retina display and huge bezel it has started to show its age.

The MacBook (Air?) that is set to be announced at the Keynote, has been developed to occupy the magical $999 price point that the MacBook Air currently hovers around. Expect to see a device a lot like the 13” MacBook Pro without Touch Bar, just with slightly slower internals, rather than a super slim device as that is already covered by the MacBook.

Mac mini

The Mac mini was originally announced at Macworld 2005 with the slogan BYODKM: Bring Your Own Display, Keyboard, and Mouse. The Mac mini was designed as low cost $499 entry level Mac, to encourage switchers from Windows. Now the Mac mini isn’t a machine for switchers, its the small headless Mac, that people use for variety of things such as running a Media server, a CI Build Machine etc, so expect the update to reflect this, with a higher base price and powerful build to order options.

iMac

The iMac is also set to receive a spec bump to the latest CPUs, which also means an increase of cores at the high end. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it incorporate a T Chip similar to the one introduced in iMac Pro unveiled last year, as Apple slowly migrate all of their Mac’s over to this new security architecture.

AirPower

It has to ship sometime doesn’t it? With it featuring in the iPhone XS manual you have to assume it is still being worked on, so what better time to release it than just before the holidays.

“Gather round.” – Keynote Thoughts and Predictions

Apple’s third Keynote of the year is set to focus around the iPhone and Apple Watch lineups, but what changes should we expect to see?

iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max

Although everything but the names have already been leaked, we are due to see a spec bump to the iPhone X introduced last year, in addition to a larger 6.5 inch model. In the tradition of iPhone “S” cycles, most of the improvements are internal. The iPhone XS is due to have a faster processor, more RAM, and improved rear cameras. The iPhone XS and iPhone XS Plus will also be available in a new Gold Band colour option, in addition to the Silver and Space Grey options currently available.

Below the iPhone XS in the lineup we are also set to see then introduction of the iPhone 9, which will feature a 6.1 inch LCD display and the now iconic notch. In addition to the lack of the OLED display, the iPhone 9 is also going to lack the ability to charge wirelessly and only have a single rear camera.

The combination of a cheaper price but bigger screen, tends to lend the iPhone to more emerging markets rather than simply adding choice to the lineup. This would be made even more clear if it ships with Dual SIM support as rumoured earlier in the year.

If the this year’s iPhone follows the typical release pattern, expect preorders to start on Friday, with delivery starting the following Friday.

Apple Watch Series 4

The Apple Watch wi see its first screen size change since it was first introduced back in 2015, while maintaining a similar, albeit slightly slimmer form fact when compared to the current Series 3 models. The the 42mm model is set to have its resolution increased from 312x390 to 384x480, giving the Apple Watch an edge to edge display allowing it to display more content and in particular complications on Watch faces. Due to the similar form factor, all of the existing watch bands will remain compatible. The Apple Watch Series 4 will feature a gold stainless steel option to match the newly available colour on the iPhone XS.

AirPower

Announced at last year’s iPhone announcement, AirPower is set be made available alongside this year’s iPhones, alongside the updated AirPod wireless changing case.

iPad Pro

The new rounded screen iPad Pro is set to be unveiled, with Touch ID being replaced by Face ID. Unlike the iPhone, the iPad Pros bezel will mean that it doesn’t have to gain a notch to accommodate Face ID meaning it won’t be restricted a single orientation.

iOS 12

iOS 12 was original shown at WWDC in June, this event will see a recap of iOS 12 headline features in conjunction with some App demos. Expect it to be available for download on Wednesday the 19th of September.

Mac

I am personally expecting to see major updates to the Mac line up this year, but I’m not sure it will make it into this event. The iMac, iMac Pro and MacBook are all due an annual spec bump, but the more interesting Mac’s are the Mac mini and MacBook Air.

Mac mini

The Mac mini, which hasn’t been updated since 2014, is set to be updated to cater for a wider range of customers. It will move away from being the “cheap” Mac and become the small Mac. Expect it to lose the Superdrive but gain Quad and Six Core Options.

MacBook Air

The MacBook Air is a still a popular machine, predominately due to its price, and because it doesn’t require you to purchase a set of dongles to use all of your old peripherals. I expect Apple to rename the current MacBook to the MacBook Air (as it is the slim and light model after all), and rename the 13” inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar to the MacBook, possibly ditching its P3 display along the way.

WWDC 2018 Keynote Thoughts and Predictions

Following on from Apple’s educational event in March, WWDC is now upon us, but what should we expect to see announced at the event this year?

iOS

A yearly update to iOS is a given at this point, with iOS 12 focusing on stability, reliability and performance.

ARKit already had an update to version 1.5 mid OS cycle in iOS 11.3, so I would expect ARKit to hit version 2.0 at WWDC, with support for object permanence and multi devices.

SiriKit is also set to get some additional domains, but less be honest it needs more of an overhaul than an update

Apple are also set to open up NFC on iOS, which will enable functionality such as using an iPhone or Apple Watch to open NFC door locks in offices and hotels.

Google announced a range of features under “Digital Wellbeing” banner at IO, in regards to curbing smart phone addiction, and it makes sense for Apple to follow suit, even if it is just to limit time spent in apps via using parental controls.

Notifications are in desperate need of an overhaul as they can easily become overwhelming, I would like to see additional controls for filtering notifications and having them automatically group into threads.

Animoji … remember them? I would expect Apple to add some more Animoji’s and add support for them in realtime using FaceTime.

tvOS

tvOS will also get an update, but I think it will just be coming along for the ride feature wise with iOS.

watchOS

watchOS will continue to gain more features in the health and fitness area, such as additional workouts and data tracking.

Always on watch faces sounds like an obvious candidate but I imagine Apple will tie this with a hardware revision.

audioOS

The HomePod has to get smarter, it is as simple as that. Support for more Siri domains is an obvious improvement, but I would like to see support for multiple users this year too, and with stereo support shipping this week that is the next obvious feature to tick off the list.

macOS

As with iOS, macOS is also going to receive its annual update at WWDC, again with a focus on stability, reliability and performance. Unlike iOS, macOS has had a number of security issues during last year, so even if it is not alluded too during the keynote, you could imagine security has also got some attention internally in the last 12 months.

Initial the rumours pointed to a unified UI library between iOS and macOS, code named project “marzipan”, but the rumour mill has thrown cold water on this happening this year.

When it does arrive it will be interesting if it is just a native shim around the iOS Simulator, with additional support for Trackpad/Mouse and the Menu Bar. Another approach would be to release UXKit which Apple use internally for Photos on macOS, to give AppKit UI classes the same API as their UIKit Counterparts. The third approach, and the least likely to see this year is to create a new UI Framework, that not only unifies iOS and macOS (possibly watchOS too) but behaves better with Swift’s type safety and optional handling.

The annual rumoured dark mode is also an obvious candidate to see the light of day this year, along with bringing Apple News back to the Mac.

iPad Pro

Now that the entire iPad lineup supports the Apple Pencil, Apple will want to increase the differentiation between the iPad Pro and iPad lines.

The iPad Pro is set to get its regular performance bump, in addition to a smaller bezel and Face ID. The bigger question is if the iPad Pro will bed updated at WWDC or along side the iPhone in September.

I would also like to see a bigger 15 inch iPad Pro, but I won’t hold my breath on that one!

MacBook Pro

The MacBook Pro is set to receive a processor update, that will see a 6 core option in the 15 inch model and 4 core processor option in the 13 inch model. In addition to this one would hope that the MacBook Pro’s keyboard receives an update that solves its reliability issues that seem to be becoming more and more prevalent.

AirPower

I personally thought this was coming app the last event, but surely at WWDC Apple will announce the price and availability of AirPower alongside the compatible AirPods case.

“Let’s take a field trip.” – Educational Event Thoughts and Predictions

Apple’s first event of the year will be focused on education, and even though Apple have now moved into Apple Park, this event will be held offsite in a Chicago High School, but what should we expect to see announced?

iOS 11.3

iOS 11.3 has been in Beta for a little over 2 months now, and is probably Apple’s most feature packed point release to date. Here are the biggest features in this release.

AirPlay 2

AirPlay 2 comes with 2 major benefits over AirPlay 1, which are especially relevant if you own one or more HomePods. The first is to remove the 2 seconds latency when stream with AirPlay 1, the second is the ability to stream to multiple device simultaneously while keeping the audio in sync.

Battery Health

In iOS 11.3 you will now be able to check the health of your battery and disable CPU throttling, but by doing this you want to run the risk of your device suddenly shutting down and restarting.

Messages on iCloud

Messages in iCloud was originally meant to roll out in iOS 11.0 but then mysteriously disappeared! This feature syncs and stores you iMessage history in iCloud, which will free up space on your devices and hopefully mean the end of out of order and missing messages.

ARKit 1.5

Rather than waiting for iOS 12 Apple is pushing out a significant update to a framework in a point release. The major enhancement in ARKit 1.5 is support for vertical planes, which should enable a whole host of apps.

Business Chat

Customers will now be able to chat with businesses (for customer support) through iMessage, rather than the current web based chat widget solutions that are no becoming common place on most websites. Although this sounds great, I’m not that optimistic that this will be readily adopted.

Animoji

New Animoji characters … yeah I’m not using Animoji either.

ClassKit

iOS 11.3 is set to include a new Framework ClassKit which will allow apps to integrate better in the classroom environment, e.g. submitting assignments etc.

Classroom

iOS 11.3 is also set to introduce a Classroom app, but we will have to wait and see what functionality this brings, but with it only appearing for iPads provisioned in educational settings it probably won’t be anything exciting for most users.

iBooks

iBooks is set to get an update, or at least be renamed to Books at this event. Apple tried to reinvent the text book market before with iBooks and iBooks Author, so it will be interesting to see if Apple double down on this again.

iWork

The iWork suite of apps; Pages, Numbers and Keynote, have not seen a significant update (unless you count collaborative editing … and I'n not) for a few years now so they are all due an update. I would expect to see anything massive but at least update to support the formation ClassKit.

MacBook Air

The Mac laptop line currently starts at $999 with the 13 inch MacBook Air, and although it received a number spec bumps over the years it is essentially the same design as it was in 2011. This means unlike the rest of Apple’s Laptop line up it has no Retina Screen, or USB-C, but thankfully for some, it still does retain the the old keyboard design.

The optimist in me would like to the see the MacBook Air removed from the line up and the MacBook/MacBook Pro reduced to $999 (even if it meant a spec reduction) but I think Apple will reduce the price of the MacBook Air, possibly with a spec reduction of its own to better suit the price conscious needs off the education market which is starting to be dominated by Chromebooks.

iPad

It is possible that Apple is throwing us a curve ball with the event invitation depicting a sketched Apple logo, but I would expect to see the base iPad model be updated to include support for the Apple Pencil. Apple Pencil support will be the only significant update to the iPad, possibly alongside a price drop, with the iPad Pro differentiating itself by reducing its bezels and adopting Face ID with an update of its own later in the year.

AirPower

AirPower was unveiled last September in Apple’s Fall event, but its should finally be available to purchase after this event. Logically this also means the AirPods compatible case, but will we also see a refresh of the Apple Pencil to support AirPower?

“Lets meet at our place.” – Keynote Thoughts and Predictions

On Wednesday Apple will hold their first public event at the new Apple Park campus, and therefore their first product unveiling in the Steve Jobs Theatre (which deserves its own grand reveal), but what software and hardware announcements should we expect to see?

iOS 11

iOS 11 already got significant Keynote time at WWDC in June, but it will still get recapped at this event, with the major fous being on ARKit. It will be interesting to see if the enhancements for iPad will get any stage time at this event, without any iPad related hardware announcements. Apple typically makes the GM available to developers on the same day, with the public release a week later on Wednesday.

macOS 10.13 High Sierra

macOS won’t get much stage time if at all, especially as the Keynote will lack any Mac hardware announcements, but I would expect to at least hear about the release date next Wednesday, and possibly a recap of what we saw at WWDC.

Apple TV 5th Generation

This could potential be pushed back into an October release, but it is set to be such a minor revision, with the only significant updates being 4K and HDR support, that it will only get a few minutes of stage time whenever it is announced. Alongside the new hardware, we will also get the ability to rent and purchase 4K/HDR content from iTunes.

Apple Watch Series 3

The Apple Watch Series 3 is set to gain LTE Cellular radios meaning that it will be able to make and receive both calls and messages without being tethered to an iPhone. I expect the SIM to be a virtual one as with the iPad (although they also have a SIM tray too), and your number will be shared with the paired phone. If like the iPad LTE capabilities cost another $130 in addition to a monthly fee, I’m not sure how popular of a feature this will be. Either way it will still be a substantial update for anyone still using a Series 0 Apple Watch, and will also be available in a couple of new finishes.

iPhone 8 and 8 Plus

Following on the the iPhone 7 last year (which you could argue was a tock rather than a tick release in itself), the iPhone will see it regular “S” update with a faster processor and upgraded dual camera on both models.

Another noticeable change to the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus’s design will be its glass back, which has been done to support inductive charging. The charger itself will be sold as an additional accessory however, more than likely retailing at around $49.

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus will take on the IPhone 7 and 7 Plus’s place and price points in the iPhone line up.

iPhone X

The iPhone X, named to indicate the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, is the headliner for this event and indeed this year, as it is set to receive its most significant hardware revision to date.

The iPhone X will feature a 5.8 inch OLED edge to edge display, which will be a noticeable step up in terms of contrast when compared to the LCD display in the iPhone 8, and will also feature True Tone which to date has only been available on the iPad.

The edge to edge display means that there is no room for a home button. The rumours have suggested that Apple tried to embed the Touch ID technology under the display, but when that failed they decided to go with facial recognition known as Face ID, rather than put the home button the back.

The lack of a home button will also lead to the unveiling of numerous previously unseen updates to iOS 11, to support a heavily gesture driven UI.

The iPhone X is expected to start at $999 in Jet Black, Silver and Copper, with the usual $100 storage bumps. More than likely this with 64GB, 256GB and 512GB.

WWDC 2017 Keynote Thoughts and Predictions

For the first time since 2014, WWDC is Apple’s first keynote of the year, which naturally means that there is a lot of pent up excitement and expectation surrounding the event. WWDC has always been the most significant event for developers, but what should we expect to see this year…

AI

AI and in particular ambient computing devices such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home are becoming ever more present in the last couple of years, and although Apple launched Siri way back in 2011 it finds itself playing catch up. AI is set to be a major theme for WWDC this year, as Apple continues to make improvements while maintining a major focus on privacy and internationalisation.

Home Kit

Apple’s integration with smart home devices centres around HomeKit, which means that providers have to go through a rigours certification process and include a proprietary chip in their devices. I don’t expect many changes to HomeKit this year, but a possibility an update of its adoption during the keynote.

Analysis APIs

I would expect Apple to open up some of its on device data analysis APIs to third party developers, and these API will be optimised for any AI co-processors that will be added to upcoming devices.

Siri Domains

The biggest thing holding Siri back is the available domains that it supports, so seeing these expand this year is a no brainer. The most obvious domains are music controls and to dos.

Siri Ambient Device

Does it exist? Does it have a screen? Nobody outside of Cupertino knows, but if it does, one thing is for sure, that it will revolve around Siri. Apple have pre announced a devices months before its release before (AppleTV, iPhone and Apple Watch to name but a few) but Apple could get away with just announcing the new enhanced Siri capabilities in its other SDKs at WWDC, and leaving the big unveil of the hardware for the holidays.

Unlike other Siri hardware, an ambient device shouldn’t be tied to a single user, so support for detecting individual users by their voice would be an important feature of this device.

A major focus of the Siri hardware will be music, in particular sound quality and its integration with Apple Music.

iOS 11

iOS, as has been the case since iOS 5 will be the headline update at WWDC. While nobody is expecting a major overhaul to the UI like in iOS 7, the UI will continue to roll back the extreme aspects of flat UI introduced in iOS 7, such as getting filled buttons, thicker fonts etc

iOS 11 is will have major improvements for the iPad, including an overhaul of the multitasking interface, and the ability to drag and drop files between apps.

Dark mode is an obvious feature, and is already available in macOS and tvOS. Integration at the OS level means that it can be activated automatically in conjunction with night shift.

macOS

Improving AI and therefore Siri on macOS will be a major area of focus this year, which will hopefully include merging Spotlight and Siri together. SiriKit came to iOS in 10.0 last year and watchOS 3.2 earlier this year, so this update of macOS should see it make its way across to the Mac.

Developers can hope (as we do every year) that UIKit, or at least a UIKit replacement/wrapper for AppKit is unveiled at WWDC. The ability to share more than the model layer code between all of Apple’s platforms would probably see the biggest cheer of all at the keynote.

iOS 10.3 saw millions of iPhones successfully migrate their file systems from HFS+ to APFS, so I would expect to see this release of macOS to do the same.

watchOS

watchOS 3 was a major update, focusing on fitness and simplifying the most common real world workflows on the Apple Watch. watchOS 4 is set to add more refinements and niceties akin to unlocking your Mac, with any major features requiring new hardware such as a cell radio or glucose monitor.

tvOS

The Apple TV hasn’t as of yet set the world on fire, but rumours are rife that we will finally get an Amazon Prime app for tvOS. I expect tvOS to get an update, but nothing major as the single thing holding back the platform is the lack off content.

iPad

The “iPad” received an update in March, but both of the iPad Pro models are due for an update, with the 12.9 and 9.7 inch versions been released in November 2015 and March 2016 respectively. The iPad Pro line up will game feature parity and include a True Tone display in both models, it would be nice to see them both gain 3D Touch alongside their existing Apple Pencil support.

The iPad Pro 9.7 inch will be replaced with a 10.5 inch, thin bezelled screen, at the same resolution (but a higher pixel resolution) as 12.9 inch model, akin to the iPad and iPad mini.

In regards to the iPad mini, its days are numbered with iPad’s price drop and popularity of the Plus size phones.

Mac

The MacBook was released in the first half of 2015 and updated at the same time last year, so an update to the MacBook is due but just a spec bump isn’t really keynote worthy.

There are also rumours of a update to the MacBook Pro, which already saw a significant overhaul in October, so this will only be a minor spec bump.

The iMac is a bit long in the tooth, last being updated in October 2015 but it is already fast so I wouldn’t expect to see it unless we get the iMac Pro.

Developer Tools

Although it only gets some words on a slide during the main Keynote, saving the rest for the state of the union presentation later in the day, the developer tools will obviously get an update at WWDC. Last year Apple finally fixed automatic code signing (for all but the most complex of cases), so next on the list has to be improvements regarding Swift, such as the refactoring tools.

Swift is now being developed out in the open, so I wouldn’t expect to see any major announcements on that front.

Migrating ObjColumnist.com from Wordpress to Middleman

A few months ago I decided to migrate ObjColumnist.com from a custom Wordpress install to a Middleman generated static site. I thought I would document my thinking process about undertaking this migration and how it turned out.

I should start by saying that I have nothing inherently against Wordpress (although I admit I’m not the greatest PHP or MySQL fan), but it was in fact Wordpress’s extensive flexibility that lead me to move away from it. Wordpress in 2017 is so much more than a blogging platform, its essentially a constantly evolving, highly customisable CMS that has numerous Themes and Plugins. The truth is, as a solo blogger I don’t need any of Wordpress’s advanced functionality, I didn’t even need comments! Moreover installing a Wordpress theme is trivial, but to customise it? I didn’t even know where to start!

This meant that the requirements for my new site were:

I had a preference for a Ruby based static site generator, which naturally lead me down the route of Jekyll. The one area that I found Jekyll fell down on was the ease of theming, it’s theming is comprehensive but overkill and too complex for my needs.

I then took a look at Middleman, which is another static site generator written in Ruby, that has an official blogging extension. The blogging extension did exactly what I wanted, it generated a blog from a folder full of Markdown files (one for each blog post, or what Middleman refers to as articles) and also supported all of the more programmer centric Markdown features that I had become accustom to when using GitHub, such as language specific code fences. Middleman also forced me to use my own styling.

Here is an example of one of the Markdown files that can be viewed here (note that I have left the “tags” metadata in, even though I currently don’t make use of them on the site):

---
title: WWDC 2015 Review
date: '2015-06-13 11:38:06'
tags:
- opinion
---

Users and Analysts have finally got what they wanted this year, as both iOS and OS X are receiving a "Snow Leopard" like update. This will allow developers (including Apple's) to iron out the rough edges in their apps but still add a sprinkling of new features.

My original reaction to the Keynote was that I found it somewhat underwhelming, but in hindsight after watching the sessions, I've come to the conclusion that there are a lot of small and useful improvements that I can't wait to make use of in my own apps.

I personally didn't attend WWDC or any of the alternative conferences in San Francisco this year, but found the live streaming of sessions great for keeping up to date. It also increased the level of discussion and sense of community between fellow developers.

From watching the sessions and the keynote, its safe to say the following 3 points are going to be important things to think about going forward:

## Swift

Swift is the language that you should now be using to develop apps for Apple's platforms going forward. Personally I am not planning to rewrite any of my apps using Swift, but will be using it for any new apps that I create going forward. Swift 2 is a great update to an already great language (although there is still a long way for the tools to go). I also noticed that when Apple pointed out problems during the sessions they were often written in Objective-C, while the solutions were in Swift. I don't think that these subtle hints were by accident. Developers may take time to adjust to Swift's "Protocol Oriented" approach, but I feel it will be worth it it.

## Adaptivity

Apple have introduced numerous APIs over the last few years such as AutoLayout and Size Classes to support designing your UI for multiple window sizes. I say window sizes, as screen sizes don't matter anymore and you shouldn’t — can’t — make any assumptions based upon screen sizes, device model or orientation. This unfortunately may mean we see a reduction of bespoke iPad UIs, but maybe this is the price we have to pay for adaptability.

## Search and Deep Linking

Apple made a big deal about search in the Keynote and iOS 9 will allow developers to index their data so it appears in search. Apple has also introduced universal links, which allows apps to intercept and handle HTTP(s) URLs for their website with their app. Both of these changes mean that apps will also need to support "Deep Linking". This will probably end up being one of the more complex features for developers to implement this year, as apps must be able to present linked content regardless of the apps current view hierarchy.

## Privacy

Apple's common theme at the moment is privacy and this is reflected in iOS 9s API changes. NSURLSession now requires a secure connection by default and apps can no longer use URL Schemes to see what apps are installed on a device. We as developers should take note of this, and continue to keep user’s information secure e.g making sure user data is encrypted, storing passwords using Apple's Keychain APIs etc.

Those were my major takeaways from the conference and with iOS 9 and OS X 10.11 scheduled to be released in just a few months time, I better start coding ...

The entire migration of Wordpress to Middleman (including building the Middleman site from scratch) took about 5 hours. I used wp2middleman to export my Wordpress posts to Markdown files. Everything exported correctly, but I noticed lots of inconsistency in emphasis and headings throughout the files (which was my fault!), so I spent about an hour cleaning up all of the files so that they were consistent.

The Middleman side of things was trivial, but I still probably spent around 1 hour setting up the template and config files so that the produced site was exactly what I wanted.

This included:

My Gemfile ended up as:

source 'https://rubygems.org'

# Middleman Gems
gem "middleman", "~> 4.1"
gem "middleman-blog"
gem "middleman-syntax"

gem 'redcarpet', '~> 3.3', '>= 3.3.3'
gem 'middleman-google-analytics', '~> 2.1'

# For feed.xml.builder
gem "builder", "~> 3.0"

My config.rb file ended up as:

###
# Page options, layouts, aliases and proxies
###

# Per-page layout changes:
#
# With no layout
page '/*.xml', layout: false
page '/*.json', layout: false
page '/*.txt', layout: false

###
# Helpers
###

activate :blog do |blog|
  blog.permalink = "{year}/{month}/{day}/{title}.html"
  # Matcher for blog source files
  blog.sources = "{year}-{month}-{day}-{title}.html"
  blog.layout = "article"

  blog.tag_template = nil
  blog.calendar_template = nil

  blog.generate_day_pages = false
  blog.generate_month_pages = false
  blog.generate_year_pages = false

  blog.generate_tag_pages = false

  # Enable pagination
  blog.paginate = true
  blog.per_page = 10
  blog.page_link = "page/{num}"
end

page "/feed.xml", layout: false

# Enable pretty urls
activate :directory_indexes

###
# Google Analytics
###

activate :google_analytics do |ga|
  ga.tracking_id = "UA-MYTRACKINGID"
end

###
# Markdown configuration
###

set :markdown_engine, :redcarpet
set :markdown, :fenced_code_blocks => true, :tables => true, :smartypants => true, :autolink => true, :highlight => true, :with_toc_data => true
activate :syntax

###
# Build specific configuration
###

configure :build do
  # Minify CSS on build
  activate :minify_css

  # Minify Javascript on build
  activate :minify_javascript
end

The last 3 hours was spent implementing the site itself, and besides the few inevitable head scratching moments with CSS this went as smoothly as could be expected.

Deployment was a case of building the blog and uploading it to my server. The site has no dependancies as it is just static files.

In hindsight I’m really happy that I decided to migrate my blog from Wordpress to Middleman. The site looks better, loads faster, and it is now trivial for me to make any changes. Moreover I don’t have to deal with installing updates or fixing any issues that come up with upgrading Wordpress or one of its Themes or Plugins. Obviously I could of achieved this with one of the other static site generators, or doing it all by hand, but I can whole heartedly recommend building your static blog using Middleman.

Amazon Echo Review

In September Amazon announced that the Echo was coming to the UK, and that Prime members could preorder one for £99.99, rather than the usual price of £149.99. Over the last couple of years I have heard great things about the Echo (mainly from Podcasts with US hosts), and I was in the market for a new Bluetooth speaker anyway, so I knew that it wouldn’t a completely wasted purchase. So I went ahead and purchased the black model at the discounted price, in addition to the remote for £19.99.

I received the Amazon Echo on launch day, the packaging was nice but without the wow factor you get when unboxing an Apple product. The size of the Echo is what I expected from the various reviews and promo shots online, but a lot of the photos do a suspiciously good job of hiding the power cord coming out of it. The Echo itself has 2 buttons on the top, one for disabling the mic and another to trigger the setup process. Around the top of the Echo there is a light ring which is used to indicate activity. You can also twist the top of the Echo, which rather satisfyingly adjusts the volume.

I decided to put the Echo in my lounge as it is where I spend the majority of my time when I’m at home. The setup of the Echo using an iPhone was easy, you download the Alexa app from the AppStore and follow the on screen instructions. These involve connecting your iPhone to the Echo’s WiFi network and configuring it with your network’s WiFi credentials and Amazon account.

The Alexa app on iOS is clearly a hybrid app, in fact I would say it is predominately web based. There are a few strange behaviours with navigation (sometimes you press back and it appears to pop an entire web view from the navigation stack, thus you actually go back multiple steps) and it doesn’t use native controls which can be quite jarring at times. The app works, but I’m pleased that besides the initial configuration you don’t have to use it. It does have a nice feature where it shows you all the events you have triggered, and also (rather creepily) allows you to playback the audio from any of your requests that triggered Alexa, which is good for when you ask yourself “Why did it do that?”.

After configuring my Echo, i then proceeded to set up my Smart Home Devices. I have a Hive Thermostat and Smart Bulbs, and it was trivial to add these to my Echo. The Echo also allows you to to create groups of devices e.g. downstairs lights, which was a nice touch. My one issue with the integration (but I am not sure where the issue is), but simply saying “Alexa, Turn the hall light on” means that it sets the brightness to 100%, not the last brightness setting that was used.

I don’t use Spotify, but I have access to Amazon Music with my Prime Subscription, so I set this as my default music service and have used it to listen to music numerous times over the course of the last few months. In addition to music it also plays internet Radio, which I have used more than I thought I would. In my opinion the Echo sounds really good when compared to other Bluetooth Portable Speakers that I have heard, and has a loud enough speaker to fill a room although you lose some of the depth at full volume. In addition to streaming Audio from the internet, once paired you can say “Alexa connect” and it connects via bluetooth to your last paired device, in my case my iPhone, and then it works as a normal bluetooth speaker with support for voice commands to play, pause, next/previous track and volume up/down.

The Echo does a good job of listening to voice commands even when it’s outputting audio at a high volume (ducking the audio after it hears the trigger command), however this is the one scenario where by I would recommend the remote, as saying next track, adjusting the volume etc by voice can get a bit tedious. The remote is what you expect, it also has a mic button that you hold down to talk into it, but if you are not going to listen to audio I probably wouldn’t bother purchasing it.

One reason to use the Echo in the Kitchen/Bedroom is that it offers Timers and Alarms, you simple say “Alexa, set a timer for 7 minutes” and it will remind you. Obviously being in my Lounge means I don’t really make use of this feature, but when I tested it they both worked as you would expect.

Another major built in feature of the Echo is its ability to add items to both shopping and todo lists. Unfortunately these both require you to use the Alexa app, so I gave them a miss. Other than that, you can ask Alexa questions about the news, weather and more general questions such as unit conversions etc

Additional capabilities can be added to the Echo using Skills, which are in essence apps for your Echo. Once enabled you can then trigger a skill by saying “Alexa, ask SKILL QUESTION” e.g. “Alexa, ask TubeStatus are there any delays” (TubeStatus being the first Skill I downloaded to find out about delays on the London Underground). The Skills (if you can find any that you want) work fine, but they feel a bit robotic and you are conscious that you have to learn the syntax, whereas the built in features seem a bit more forgiving in wording and phrasing.

Obvious I couldn’t review Alexa without making the comparison to the other assistant in my life, Siri. After living with the Echo for a few months, the detection and transcription capabilities of Alexa on the Echo is leaps and bounds ahead of Siri on the iPhone 7. Alexa is also better at answering general questions, like the weather, unit conversion etc. However I feel that Siri’s intents API implementation means that for the few supported domains (8 as of iOS 10), your interactions feel a lot more natural compared to when interacting with a Skill. In short they are both coming at the problem from different directions, Alexa is currently winning but in my opinion that has a lot to do with the hardware.

So to conclude, would I recommend buying an Echo? Yes, if you want to make use of it as a Bluetooth speaker, whether than be with Spotify, Amazon Music or Internet Radio. I would also whole heartedly recommend it If you are interested in using it for interacting with your Smart Home Devices, but it is probably worth considering the cheaper (£49.99) Echo Dot device…. but I actually ended up buying a second Echo for my bedroom, so it is safe to say I recommend it.

“hello again” – Keynote Thoughts and Predictions

So it is finally happening, Apple has called a second holiday Keynote to announce some major updates to the Mac lineup (sent with lasers). The question is what Macs will get a major redesign and which ones will just be getting a minor speed bump?

MacBook Pro

The MacBook Pro is set to be the headline product announcement at this keynote and receive its biggest overhaul since it was updated to a unibody enclosure in 2008. Although the MacBook Pro will feature a slightly thinner designer than its current incarnation, the major change will be the multitouch function bar with Touch ID, called the Magic Toolbar. This will allow developers to display contextual virtual keys and information on the function row, while Touch ID would reduce the friction of using Apple pay on the web, as well as giving you a convenient way to unlock your Mac.

The MacBook Pro will also make the transition to USB-C and Thunderbolt 3. It will be sad to see the MagSafe port go away (unless Apple have come up with a USB-C complient MagSafe cable since the introduction of the MacBook), but the bigger question is whether Apple will ditch the headphone port in favour of a Lightning port…

MacBook Air

The MacBook Air is an interesting product for Apple as it still sells in huge quantities (due to its price, number of ports, size and performance), but it is looking outdated with its huge bezel and lack of Retina Display. I expect it to remain (relatively untouched) in the Apple lineup until the MacBook hits the magical $999 price point, but a minor speed bump an inclusion of USB-C is on the cards for this event.

MacBook

The MacBook is the only Mac that has been updated this year, and already has a single USB-C Port, so it is unlikely to get an update at this event.

Mac Pro

When the current generation Mac Pro was unveiled at WWDC 2013 (yes it was unveiled 3 years ago!), Phil Schiller followed up the product film with the remark “can’t innovate my ass”. While Apple have been innovating else where (they have announced and released 2 generations the Apple Watch since then), the Mac Pro has remained untouched in both spec and price since it shipped at the end of 2013. Logic would suggest a spec bump at this Keynote, but there are rumours of this not happening till next year alongside the new Xeon processors.

iMac

The iMac is set to get its annual speed bump and support for USB-C, but nothing out of the ordinary having received major updates (to the display inpaticular) for the last 2 years.

Mac mini

The Mac mini aka The Home Server or The Build Machine, hasn’t had an update for over 2 years and with that “update” they dropped the option to have a quad core CPU, which has led to some people continuously checking the refurb section of Apple Store to grab a quad core Mac mini as soon as the come back in stock. If the Mac mini does get an update, it will just be a CPU bump and USB-C.

Cinema Display

Apple discontinued the Thunderbolt Cinema display earlier this year, so the question is wether Apple are out of the external display market altogether or just waiting until the Mac lineup can drive a 5k external display. If it is the latter, this will be the Keynote to do it.

iOS

iOS 10.1 has been in beta for over a month now, the main feature being the portrait camera mode for the iPhone 7 Plus. iOS 10.1 will get a release date during the keynote, which will probably be later on in the day.

macOS

macOS didn’t get any stage time at the last keynote, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a small recap of some of the new features in macOS Sierra in addition SDK support for the Magic Toolbar.

“See you on the 7th.” – Keynote Thoughts and Predictions

Its that time of the of year again where Apple updates its products in time for the holiday shopping season, but with Apple’s ever expanding product line what should we expect to see updated?

iPhone

The iPhone has already been updated this year … well the 4 inch model has anyway, with the introduction of the iPhone SE in the spring. Even though the iPhone SE has been a great success for Apple, this event will only see the 4.7 inch (iPhone 6S) and 5.5 inch (iPhone 6S Plus) models being updated.

Unfortunately this year’s iPhones seem to be destined to be remembered as the one where Apple got rid of the headphone jack. It will be interesting to see how Apple puts a positive spin on this (water resistance, sound quality etc), but whatever the reasoning I would expect the Keynote to mention the benefits of both Wireless and Lighting Cable headphones. This will also mean that Lightning EarPods will be bundled with the this years iPhone’s, in addition to Apple’s offering its own premium wireless headphones called AirPods alongside the new iPhone.

One less noticeable physical change will be an update to the iPhone’s Home button, so that it has no moving parts and use Taptic feedback, much like the Magic Trackpad.

To ease the pain of the missing headphone jack, Apple will bump the capacities of the iPhone so base model comes with 32GB of storage and introduce a new colour to the lineup.

The iPhones will also be updated to have a True Tone display, that was introduced with the 9.7 inch iPad Pro earlier this year, so those 3x Emojis will look even better.

One of this years major hardware updates will be exclusive to 5.5 inch Plus models, and will be a dual camera system allowing for better depth of field and performance in low light conditions.

Unsurprisingly both the 4.7 and 5.5 inch will be updated to Apple’s A10 processor, which is set to be 50% faster than the current A9.

The new iPhones will be available on either Friday the 16th or 23rd of September.

Apple Watch

Apple Watch was unveiled 2 years ago and has been available for purchase for a year and a half, so it is set to get its first update, focusing on the health aspects of the Apple Watch.

The Apple Watch will gain a GPS chip of its own, meaning that it can accurately track your run without having to take your iPhone with you. The Apple Watch won’t gain any cellular capabilities this year, so what it can do untethered from your iPhone will be limited, but with the extra capabilities made available to apps in both watchOS 2 and watchOS 3, the Apple Watch is now more than capable of undertaking tasks while untethered from its iPhone.

In addition to the GPS the Apple Watch will get a Barometer to help monitor your fitness such all those flights of stairs you go up and down over the course off the day.

The new Apple Watch will be faster, lighter and have better battery life, but I think so insignificantly that the majority of users won’t even notice. The existing sensors such as the heart rate monitor will be updated for increased accuracy and have extra capabilities such as measuring blood oxygen levels.

In addition to updating the Apple Watch, Apple will also take this opportunity to release a new set of seasonal bands that will be compatible with both the 1st and 2nd Generation Watches.

MacBook Pro

The MacBook Pro is set to get its biggest overhaul since it was updated with the unibody enclosure in 2008. Although it will feature a slightly thinner designer than its current incarnation, the major change will be the multitouch function bar including Touch ID. This will allow developers to display contextual virtual keys and information on the function row, while the Touch ID would reduce the friction of using Apple pay on the web as well as giving you a convenient way to unlock your Mac.

The rumours point to this not being announced until later in the year, but anyone who is expecting this to be as thin as the MacBook Air will be disappointed. The updated MacBook Pro will be available in both 13 and 15 inch sizes, and include USB C and Thunderbolt 3 Ports.

iOS, tvOS, watchOS and macOS

All of Apple’s OSs had an update unveiled at WWDC in June, so the only updates you should expect to see (other than the refinements made during the betas) are those related to the new iPhone and Apple Watch hardware. Naturally we will get a run through of all the key features again during the Keynote, but it will be a similar presentation to what we saw at WWDC.

 
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