Project 365

For the past week I’ve been participating in Project 365 with Frédéric Wenzel (who was the first I saw to blog the idea) and Mike Morgan among others.

Unlike many who are doing it purely for the love of photography for me it seemed like an interesting way to force myself to either look for something interesting/odd/unique/interesting each day, or to go out and find something that would be worth while. Perhaps walk a slightly different route to work, or just notice what I always overlook in the rush of life.

Unlike many I’m also doing it mostly with my standard issue iPhone 4 vs. a fancy $1,000 camera and several hundred dollars worth of lenses. This adds a pretty interesting challenge (low light is tough) but also makes it a bit more easy to just reach in my pocket when opportunity arises.

Week one is done, week two is now under way. I can’t say for certain I’ll last 365 days (that’s a LOOOONG time), or even finish the month.

I will allow myself to hit the archives of photos I have for some days, though I’ll try not to do that too often. I’ve actually got some pretty interesting things just sitting around that I’ve yet to actually publish. They will just get sprinkled in.

As a bonus, I’ve been using this as an opportunity to learn a bit more about post-processing photos.

They are all published to Flickr and so far to this blog. I’ve yet to decide if I will blog them all or just select ones. If anyone has an opinion let me know.

iPhone 4 Teardown Analysis

iPhone 4 Teardown

iFixIt has their traditional teardown posted. After analyzing every picture, a few things are noteworthy:

Stainless Steel Antenna

The stainless steel antenna strikes me as more than just an antenna, but Apple will never admit it. The iPhones before all suffered from the same structural weakness. If dropped so that it lands on a corner or a side, the body flexed putting pressure on the glass and possibly digitizer if the impact was strong enough. This resulted in the shattered glass you sometimes see people walking around with. If the phones land on their backs or faces, they are often fine minus a tiny scratch or two. This is because the sides of earlier models were not very strong. The metal band you see on the earlier models isn’t enough to hold up to the force of a drop from 5 feet. It was a thin piece of stainless steel around what is otherwise plastic. Most of the metal in the previous phones are actually thin EMF shields, not anything structural.

I suspect this new frame also serves to strengthen the phone and prevent this type of damage.

Creative EMF Shielding

The previous iPhones pretty much just had a large EMF shield like we see in most consumer appliances. The new iPhone has a bunch of tiny EMF shields. The advantage to this approach is that they can cram more things into small nooks and crannies. Apple is clearly desperate for every nanometer of space they can get.

No Surprise Chips

Nothing inside circuitry wise is even remotely surprising. Samsung flash memory, Broadcom WiFi, Bluetooth (BCM4329), Cirrus Logic audio codec, TriQuint/Skyworks GSM/GPRS chipset, STMicro accelerometer. The new gyroscope is suspected to be STMicro, which isn’t shocking. There is a Broadcom GPS (BCM4750) chip, same as the iPad. Prior to the iPad, the iPhone 3G and 3GS used an Infineon Hammerhead GPS chip which was questionable in performance. Perhaps this will finally give the performance necessary for eventually making turn by turn directions a reality.

Battery Technology Needs To Improve

It’s becoming clear looking at the iPhone 4 that Apple made the right decision to make the battery non-removable. The hardware and extra material to make it removable would have really bulked up the phone. At this point the battery is by far the biggest single space consumer in the iPhone. Look how dense the circuitry for the phone is in comparison to the hulk sized battery. Apple crammed what a few years ago was a full PC into that sliver on the side of the phone. The rest is largely the battery with glass and LCD in front and various speakers, microphones, cameras and sensors mixed in the otherwise empty nooks.

Apple really needs to find a technology that can offer a higher power density ratio for the iPhone to get any lighter or longer battery life. Custom silicon will help them, but it’s only going to go so far and so fast. It’s becoming obvious that power is a major concern and limitation for Apple engineers. I suspect Apple spends a ton of R&D time and money trying to figure out how to deal with this limitation the best they can from the physical space requirements to power efficiency and software innovations.

Don’t be shocked if Apple either invests or just acquires a company who is doing something interesting in the battery space just like they picked up P.A Semi.

Environmental Stats

Apple hasn’t published their environmental report yet on the iPhone 4. I’m curious how the greenhouse gas emissions changed between the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4. Several things have changed about its composition including the glass and steel frame that should make it interesting. The iPad’s slightly different (and larger) power adapter boasts an 80% efficiency rating. The iPhone 3GS is only in the 70% range. I’m curious if Apple quietly updated the adapter at all or not (I suspect not, but it’s possible).

Image courtesy iFixIt

Phil Plait On Retina Display Resolution

There has been some ongoing debate the past few days about if Apple’s new Retina display is really better than the human eye can detect. Some have even gone as far as calling it false marketing.

Phil Plait, whose background includes calibrating a camera on board Hubble wrote a really great blog post that sides with Apple. I’ve been a fan of Phil’s blog for some time and remember when our websites were hosted by the same provider many years ago. It’s not too math heavy, and as always he does a great job explaining everything. Totally worth reading.

Essentially if you had absolutely perfect eyesight, which almost nobody has, you’d still see pixels, but again virtually nobody does. People will still make silly claims, but remember there are audiophiles who claim they can hear subtle differences that $10,000 worth of scientific equipment can’t detect. Despite humans having worse hearing than a dog, who can’t hear what the equipment can pick up not to mention them being older. So I’d take those claims with a grain of salt.

Initial iPhone 4 Thoughts

iPhone 4Here are my general thoughts on the iPhone 4 since the announcement. Hopefully I’ll be able to check one out in the store soon enough.

  • The “retina” display is the killer feature – I’ve yet to see anyone report anything other than words of astonishment after viewing it. Low resolution displays, poor refresh rates, bad contrast is all hard to read but we’ve all adapted from using technology. Go back to a CRT or monochrome display and you’ll know what I mean. This display is moving forward to the next generation. In a few years you’ll look at an iPhone 3G and wonder how you ever read email on something of that quality without getting a headache. The usability of the extra pixels and the quality will set the standard for future phones.
  • The form factor is strong – I actually think the new form factor is pretty nice. I appreciate the curved design, but it’s a bit out of style and quite frankly I’m not sure that space went to any better use in my pocket. It didn’t make it feel emptier either. Giving that space for more features and battery seems like a good tradeoff. Switching to stainless steel after so much aluminum is interesting. Will we see steel in other products? Or was this simply done because of the radio properties? I believe it was John Gruber who mentioned aluminosilicate glass being used in future products a few months ago since it has better radio properties than the metal backs on the first iPhones and isn’t as fragile and weak as the plastic that has been used on the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3Gs. It also looks pretty nice.
  • Better Camera(s) + Flash + HD Video – This is the runner up killer feature in my mind. The first big win is that the sensor is actually better, not just more megapixels, since megapixels are mostly the stuff of myths. Flash is handy, but in reality without a good sensor it’s not going to make much of a difference anyway. HD Video is interesting, 720p is especially awesome. I suspect the front mounted camera will be more useful to developers than to FaceTime use thanks to the WiFi limitation and people generally hating video chat for practical purposes. It’s still VGA quality, which is impressive. At this point for some people the iPhone 4 will be their primary camera. It’s not replacing SLR’s anytime soon, but Point & Shoot manufacturers should start thinking twice with what’s on the market now. Especially since video is becoming a focal point.
  • FaceTime – We all “ooh and ahh” every time we see video chat, but the reality is people hate it. The technology to do it has existed for almost a generation now in various forms. The reason why we call, email, IM, text each other is because we are either to busy for face to face, or we just want to avoid each other. Don’t take it personally, we all do it either for the sake of brevity, or so that we don’t have to comb our hair and get dressed, shave/apply makeup. I suspect this will be the same thing. If people were really so interested in it, everyone on earth would be using Skype or iChat by now. Almost every IM service has offered video chat at one point, all were pretty easy to use if you have a camera, which costs less than $50 for many years and is plug n’ play with OS’s post 2002 (Windows XP, OS X). How many of you Mac users with iSights built-in fire up iChat and not send an email? People think “Jetsons” then send a text message. It’s convenient.
  • Dual-mic noise suppression – This is a pretty fancy way of addressing the problem, and a pretty nice one. I suspect if Apple exposes the necessary API’s we’ll see some interesting Apps doing some unusual things with the hardware, assuming that API is exposed. If it’s not, there will be some clever hacks for jailbroken iPhones.
  • Finally 802.11n – iPhone 4 supports 802.11n, something that wasn’t advertised very much for good reason. While it’s pretty cool to support, I doubt the iPhone is powerful enough to process that much incoming data in any way that would make it worthwhile. I think the main benefit to connecting over 802.11n is to avoid lowering performance of non-dual-band networks.
  • 3-axis gyro means some good gaming – Game developers will make good use of it. We’ll see some impressive demos pretty quickly, I’m sure Apple gave a few folks a sneak peek so they could start developing. In several months we’ll see some real creative things come out of this.
  • Name is semi-stupid – Apple went from naming models like the “PowerMac 9600” to only naming generations of machines like the “G3”, “G4”, “G5”. More recently they moved to just “Mac Pro”. Now they are re-introducing numbers, but only for mobile phones? Odd.
  • Apple A4 processor – Faster, lower power. That’s about all there is to say here. It’s the future of Apple mobile at the present time.
  • Plan paradox – Interesting how as the phone gets faster, and can generate more data by way of HD video, and 5 MP pictures the data plans are actually getting smaller. I suspect this will eventually result in either several tiers or a pay as you go scheme. Overall I think there’s a good chance cost per MB will be increasing for most users in the long-term 18-36 months.
  • iOS – I knew Apple would rename the OS since it was getting confusing with the iPad. I would have assumed something more creative than iOS, especially given the Cisco IOS . Guess that’s good enough though. Most users won’t care. A few networking engineers will go insane when Google turns up iPhone blog posts rather than than relevant documentation.
  • Competing with Android – I think Apple did a good job here. The truth is most of the places where Android has a competitive edge are in cloud services and social networking. This is all software. Apple can address this well within a years timeframe if they think that’s hurting their sales. They don’t need to wait until a hardware revision. Apple could ship iOS 4.1 by end of year with those features. I think iOS 4.0 was set in stone a while ago to be honest. It was mostly about developer API’s and iPad. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple does do a 4.1 or 4.5 release more focused on this type of stuff in the near future. I’d put the odds at about 51%. Software is easier to correct than hardware.
  • Google should be thrilled – Google is still the default search engine, most users won’t even think of switching. Apple is also arming it’s customers with HD video and better quality cameras. That means tons more content going onto the web for Google to index and even serve via YouTube. Google can benefit immensely. One person catching an interesting news story on an iPhone video and uploading to YouTube can be huge for them. It can be huge for anyone who gets the video.

iPhone 4 photo courtesy Apple Inc.