After nearly 25 years of operation, DPReview will be closing in the near future. This difficult decision is part of the annual operating plan review that our parent company shared earlier this year. The site will remain active until April 10.
DPRreview, a camera review and photography enthusiast community website owned and operated by Amazon, is shutting down, no thanks in part to a large-scale corporate readjustment — the company is laying off another 9000 employees. What an ironic twist of fate — getting shuttered in their twenty-fifth year.
On a cloudy morning, the San Francisco skyline contrasts sharply with the brooding skies. I caught this moment a few weeks ago when returning from East Bay on a rainy morning. I love light on such mornings.
You might have noticed that it has been very quiet around here! Well, I went for a short trip to Alaska to take in the brutally cold winter weather, and take some photos. I had originally planned on visiting Alaska at the end of 2022, but the universe conspired against my plans. Alaska is one … Continue reading An Alaskan Sojourn
In 2021, I had a chance to visit the frozen continent of Antarctica. It was a chance to experience “totality,” a kind of solar eclipse where the Moon fully obscures the disk of the Sun. Originally the plan was to see this eclipse over a large Emperor Penguin colony, but the weather changed my plans. Instead, I experienced totality on the vast nothingness of the Union Glacier.
But before that, I got to spend a lot of time with the Emperor penguins and get up close and personal with these beautiful creatures. I captured some of these moments on my iPhone, which was my primary tool for making short videos on this trip, which took me to different locations in Antarctica. My videographer friend Felix helped cobble them together and created a short 2+ minute film for your enjoyment.
Let me know what you think!
January 31, 2023, San Francisco
I am fortunate enough to have traveled to many exotic locations. Still, the biggest thrill is when the plane slowly makes its way around the bay area and settles into a slow approach over the San Francisco Bay towards the San Francisco Airport. The bigger the bird, the slower it is in its approach.
As we float over the bay, approaching from the Southern end of the Bay Area, occasionally, I find myself sitting on the window seat on the plane’s right side. My vantage point gives me a view of the San Mateo bridge and the salt ponds that have been part of the bay since the California Gold Rush. The 16,500-acre ponds once were part of the wetlands.
Almost every single time, I marvel at these ponds’ colors and the minimal beauty of their geometric shapes. Recently, I snapped a few photos with the new iPhone 14 Pro Max, and the long reach of its telephoto lens allowed me to focus on a few elements in each photo. And since I was using Halide’s app, the RAW files gave me enough data to manipulate in Photoshop. I was quite amazed by the details captured by the new iPhone camera. The reflections of the clouds were very clear and added a nice texture to the photos. Using Topaz’s software, I was able to clean up the files. After that, it was just a matter of applying my custom presets and playing around with saturation and contrast.
As the holiday break approaches, I plan to find a way to fly over the bay and do a proper ariel photo session over these ponds. I want to see what my “pro” grade camera and lenses can help me achieve in this most fascinating of landscapes. That said, the iPhone 14’s camera rig is pretty darn good — as you can see in these three photos.
I was traveling when Apple launched the new iPhone 14 series. For once, I had no desire to upgrade from my 13 Pro — only a year old. It is a great little device and does pretty much everything I need it to do. However, being the camera nerd I am, I couldn’t resist. The … Continue reading My Verizon + Apple eSIM Problem
As part of writing a review, I have been using Apple’s 2022 version of the 13-inch MacBook Air. I am not the first one to say it — many others have said before — it is a great device. It is a great testimonial of Apple’s hardware excellence and knowledge crammed into this thin sliver of engineering marvel. The new M2 chip, the longer battery life, improved webcam, keyboard, and speakers — everything is of exceptional quality. Apple does know how to build good premium hardware at scale.
Sadly, you can’t say the same when it comes to its software & services that rely on machine learning and augmented intelligence. The obvious deficiencies, whether on the Mac, the iPhone, or the iPad, are quite annoying. Take the Mac as an example. By now, it should be easier for the “notification” system to understand that showing notifications of events that have already happened is mere noise and a nuisance. And yet, you have to manually delete them. I mean, it should be obvious to any computer system and any application that date and time have passed.
Don’t get me started about Siri, which feels like a kindergartner compared to highly effective Alexa, and Google’s Home. If you have an accent that is not “classic American” or “classic English,” Siri will never quite understand you. Much as I loved the HomePod, it could never play “Nitin Sawhney” when I asked Siri to play his new album.
Things on iOS are comically calamitous. We all know about “What the Duck,” and by now, we have decided to live with it. Whether it is the spontaneous capitalization of words without reason, amazingly incomprehensible autocorrect, or lack of competence to transcribe effectively makes you wonder what is the point of all those neural engines Apple’s hardware team keeps cramming into the newer generation of Apple’s chips.
Many folks weighed in with their experiences and opinions when I tweeted out my observation. Ken Kocienda, who spent most of his working life at Apple and is the inventor of the iPhone auto-correct in a tweet-reply noted: “To make good computing experiences for people, you have to understand computers and people, what people want to do with computers, and what new technology can do to make things better. This sounds obvious in theory, but it isn’t so easy in practice.”
It is obvious that Apple competitors — Google, Amazon, and Microsoft — have become much better at helping people with their computing experiences. Microsoft’s Outlook, for example, has become very effective at helping with autocorrecting spellings and grammar and learning my idiosyncratic idioms. Apple showed many improvements in the Mailapp in its next Mac OS, Ventura, but they have been a bit of a letdown. For example, the “Follow Up” functionality in Mac OS Ventura Beta version of Mail is pretty hit or miss.
Together, this might seem like a bouquet of small annoyances, but it can have larger ramifications for the company. The future of hardware is not just hardware; it is constantly morphed and shaped with software and “augmented intelligence.” I pointed this out in my piece about Apple’s Studio Display. It is about adaptable and personalized hardware. AirPods, for example, could become more powerful and personal in the near future.
But all that needs intelligent systems to “augment” what we need as humans. And nothing needs it more than Apple’s next big bet. The much-rumored mixed reality platform depends on glasses, phones, and access to network information.
This platform eschews text entry for gestures and voice commands. For this new post-touch interface to work, the hardware has to be flawless, and its software experience has to be perfect. Imagine my “commands” getting a Siri-like response? I will return the glasses to the store and demand my money back. This is the real Achilles heel of Apple.
In a strange bit of irony, the piece started with Otter. I use that service to dictate notes, ideas, and random thoughts. It takes my voice and transcribes it. By now, it is good enough to deal with my accent and my pronunciation. I drafted this piece on Google Docs, enhanced by Google’s intelligence, and then used Grammarly’s AI tool to help make sure that I got my grammar right and didn’t skip the commas. For all this, I used the new 13-inch Apple Macbook Air, which I don’t mind saying, is one helluva computer.
U.S. President Joe Biden has informed Americans that a potential cyberwar with Russia is likely. And we should be prepared for the consequences and havoc it can cause on such a society. It is common knowledge many of our industries, corporations, and infrastructure services, such as the electrical grid, are weak and can fall victim to large-scale attacks. Even Americans have weak defenses on our computers.
“Given the administration’s stellar track record in predicting Russian moves in its attack on Ukraine, we should take this warning seriously,” wrote Richard Bennett, a writer, and analyst focusing on telecom and network. “Cyberwar is a business conducted by firms and individual actors with a rapidly changing arsenal of software-based tools.”
The timing of the White House release was at best a coincidence, and at worst, curious since it came on the same day Apple experienced a massive outage in its online services. To be very clear, what I am about to write is hypothetical, and I am putting it in my “what if” buckets.
An odd and somewhat crazy thought crossed my mind — what if the outage resulted from an attempt to compromise Apple’s crown jewel — its Keychain, end-to-end encryption, and the iMessage. Like many, I have had blind faith in Apple’s capabilities to protect my privacy and data. I am not alone, and many folks in the government and corporate America have faith in Apple’s capabilities. So this keychain could be a single point of information security failure that could impact a lot of folks across America. Forget America — with hundreds of millions of iPhones, a breach’s impact will likely have an impact globally.
If the cyberwar starts to unfold, password management services such 1Password, could find themselves under extreme pressure. Yes, they all have pretty blue chip reputations, and impecable infrastucture. It is crazy to even suggest as much. However, read the headlines just from today — a ransomware group is rumored to have accessed Okta’s database, which provides trusted authentication services to about 15,000 companies. The same ransomware group has claimed that it stole source code from Microsoft. If this is even fractionally true, then basically every company is vulnerable.
No matter how secure we might feel, at this point, our password defense is our biggest strength and our biggest weakness.
PS: Bennett has some good advice: follow the news, check for patches, and update daily. Keep a local copy of your data, just in case you need to wipe your computer and restore it. That’s the best for now.
March 22, 2022. San Francisco
The Pursuit of Productivity is a trap: “in a culture so focused on managing time, we have become subservient to it,” writes Lawrence Yeo. “By scheduling your day down to the last minute, you introduce an anxiety from managing your real-time progress to an imagined vision.”
The Joy of Physical Media: David Mitchell, a British comedian, points to the growing sales of physical media formats (including books) as a sign that digital (streaming) lacks a loving feeling. I am sadly in the “streaming is convenient” camp, though I tend to buy my music from Bandcamp to support the artists, not because I want a download taking up space on my hard drive.
We all still don’t understand Substack: Nathan Baschez, who was with Substack in its earliest days, explains why the newsletter platform differs from most other media startups. I kind of agree with Nathan.
I woke up this morning thinking about the new Apple Studio Display’s webcam hiccup. It has reaffirmed my belief that the camera, and by extension, the visual sensor, is becoming a key interface to the information and how we interpret it. What keyboard and mouse were to what was textual computing, visual (and other sensors) will be a key to computing in the future.
An article in the New Yorker laments that smartphone photography is too algorithmic. Similar laments were made when William Eggelston started experimenting with color film. Since then, our everyday memories have been captured on color film, each generation getting better than the others. It is the same for computational photography — we started with the grainy photos from Nokia, Blackberry, and the first iPhone. I remember the first iPhone and the photos that came off its puny sensor. We have already come so far in this journey. Writers need to overcome nostalgia have to think different – the camera isn’t just a camera. It is so much more!
Looking beyond, the speed with which Apple can fix the problem by issuing a software upgrade will reaffirm the advantage of what I wrote earlier about putting “smarts” into previously dumb devices. Apple’s ability to take all the gains offered by its iPhone business & its scale gives the company a significant leg-up in its ability to reinvent products. It will help it become the key player in the next evolution of computing — spatial computing, as it is colloquially known. Yes, sometimes a display is not just a display.
Talking about iPhone — it accounted for 37 percent of all 5G phones sold, according to data from CounterPoint Research. “The 5G smartphone penetration for North America and Western Europe reached 73% and 76% respectively,” they point out. Over 51 percent of the phones shipped now are 5G phones, though it doesn’t necessarily mean you get to enjoy the benefits of 5G speeds in the U.S.
OpenSignal data shows that the South Koreans have got their 5G zooming! In South Korea, average download speeds were 129.7 Mbps at the end of 2021, up from 52.4 Mbps at the start of 2019, before 5G. The U.S. is not in the top 25, even though more people have 5G iPhones around. Why? Because AT&T and Verizon are essentially shit when it comes to 5G.
FYI: I like to read a lot. When I find something interesting, I share it in my link blog. Think of it as "collected wisdom." You can visit it here. And if you want to see my photos, visit my photoblog.
March 19, 2022. San Francisco
The endless quiet of the Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming. Winters in this part of the world are my favorite and I can’t wait to go back next year.
Due to unavoidable circumstances, I missed the visit this year. This photo is also a testimonial for iPhone and its ability to capture amazing details in raw and then let me play around with it in Photoshop.
March 22, 2022. San Francisco
Letter from Om
A (nearly) bi-weekly dispatch about tech & future.
You will get my reporting, analysis, conversations, and curation of the essential information you need to make sense of the present future.