My Favorite BirchTree Posts of 2017

Because what is the end of the year for if not looking back on the entirety of the past 12 months and reflect. In that spirit, I wanted to revisit some of my favorite posts from 2017, ranked exclusively by the arbitrary measure of how happy I am to look back on them and think “hey, that was a good one!”

Breath of the Wild Wallpapers

January 14

These were just a ton of fun to make, and they had the added bonus of being passed around the Nintendo-centric web for a number of weeks after I made them. These were my most successful wallpapers of the year.

Apple needs to make us at least think they’re paying attention of the iPad

January 31

So what the hell is going on, Apple? The iPad is wonderful, and your third party developers are breaking their backs to make some amazing software for it. Even as I write this today, The Iconfactory has just released a great new app for iOS called Linea, which looks fantastic. But where is Apple in helping these developers do more? iOS 10 brought no new iPad features, and a lot of us had our hopes up that this spring’s 10.3 release would bring the good stuff. Well the 10.3 beta has hit and theres…zero new iPad features.

What if you put iOS on a Mac?

March 3

There’s a lot of work to do here, but Apple has the ability to move all of their hardware to iOS and relegate macOS to a “legacy” status. If they can do the leg work to make this happen, I think there is a lot of potential for us to think quite differently about iOS in the next couple years. Here’s hoping Apple has it in them.

This post seems extra relevant given this week’s rumors.

RAW images and why smartphone camera comparisons are just plain complicated

April 26

The RAW images that come out of the camera sensor are not ready for prime time, and it’s the job of software to translate that image to something that looks like reality.

High end cameras are largely differentiated today by what decisions their processing units do with raw image data, not just how good the lens itself is.

The Nintendo Switch is probably my favorite video game hardware ever

May 20

I knew I would enjoy my Switch, but I was not expecting to be this overwhelmed. I have not even talked about how amazing Breath of the Wild or Mario Kart 8 is on the Switch, but even without those, I’m a very happy camper. Maybe I’ll come down from this high in a few weeks, but I’ve owned a good number of gaming devices over the years, and this is the strongest first impression I can remember having to any of them.

I have not come down from the high yet, and I’m more convinced than ever that the Switch is my favorite hardware ever. 7 months later I can happily say the game lineup has improved dramatically as well.

2016 iPhone Rumor Roundup

July 9

I recorded 77 total rumors that made it to MacRumors between January 1, 2016 and September 6, 2016. Of those 77 rumors, I found 41.5 of them to be accurate, or 54% of all posts. That’s actually pretty good, considering we generally say “that’s just a rumor” and dismiss these right away.

Should you force quit your iOS apps? Let’s look at the data

July 22

Turning this into a “he said, she said” debate doesn’t solve anything, so I booted up Instruments on my Mac, plugging in my iPhone and ran some honest-to-goodness analytics on my phone to see what’s actually going on. Here’s what I found.

I love demystifying things with data, and this was a big hit this year. I don’t know many people this converted, sadly.

2017 iPhone Rumors Roundup

September 15

Overall there were 90 total rumors posted to MacRumors about the iPhone 8/X and 58 of those rumors turned out to be correct.

Not only were the iPhone 8/X rumors coming earlier this year than last, they were also more accurate than ever.

watchOS 4: The BirchTree Review

September 19

Of course you should update your Apple Watch if you own one, it’s free and makes the Apple Watch a better product than it was yesterday. But set your expectations properly because this release will make your Apple Watch better, but it will not change your life.

This is the biggest single article I write every year, and this year’s version was the biggest and (far I say) best yet.

What’s the best way to charge your iPhone 8 Plus?

October 5

In which I learned that the 12W iPad charging brink was basically giving us fast charging already.

An iPhone Lover’s Review of the Google Pixel 2

October 31

If you are an iPhone user who’s on the fence and is wondering if the Pixel 2 is the phone that can steal you away from Apple’s camp, I don’t have a one-size-fits-all answer. If you’re wondering if the Pixel 2 beats Apple at it’s own game (hardware) then the answer is a resounding NO. The Pixel 2 hardware is not as good as the iPhone in basically any way, and the software tricks Google uses in features like the camera only get it close, not into the lead. But if you’re looking for a change and want to see what Android is like, I don’t think there’s a better phone out there than the Pixel 2 to get the best that Android has to offer.

Android Oreo Review

December 4-13

The Android of today is far better than it was back then, but it still pales in comparison to iOS in my book.

And that’s it folks, another year in the books! There’s still a week until New Year’s, so I may post a few more times between now and then, but that about wraps it up for BirchTree. Happy holidays!

Civilization VI (all of it!) Comes to iPad

Correction: now through January 4, the full game upgrade is on sale for $30.

In yet another surprise iOS game release this month, Civilization VI just hit the App Store. No, not some watered down mobile version of the game, this is the entire PC game from last year.

You can download the game for free and play the first 60 turns of a civilization, which is pretty generous, and then will run you $60 for the full game if you want to keep playing. The $60 price point is in line with what a new game goes for these days, but considering the PC game currently sells for $30 on Steam it’s a harder sell for me. On the other hand, playing Civilization on my iPad in bed is pretty damn appealing, especially around this time of year when sometimes all you want is a few minutes to yourself amongst all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

The game requires and iPad Air 2, iPad (2017), or any iPad Pro.

When the Tech Press Strikes Out

You’ve probably heard about the fact that Apple has confirmed they throttle iPhone performance down when battery health degrades past a certain threshold. This means that if your iPhone’s battery starts to struggle to hold a charge like it used to, the phone will slow down slightly to make sure your phone stays alive longer. If they had to choose one or the other, I think they’ve made the right choice, as a slightly slower phone is far more useful than a dead phone, but I also think they should let people choose whether they want to throw battery life out the window.

What stings about this story is that we in the tech press have been assuring people for years that “no, Apple isn’t slowing down your phone so you buy a new one,” which is tragically both true and false. Yes, Apple may do something to slow down your phone a little, but it’s not so you buy a new phone, it’s so your current phone makes it through the day better.

Where this gets tricky is in the fact that people in the press (including me) dismissed the “my iPhone is slower” complaints for 3 reasons I can think of:

  1. It sounds like a misunderstanding of how computers work. Non-nerdy people do all sorts of things with their phones that make so logical sense, so this claim sounded like just another cooky theory. It’s very similar to the “I need to close all my apps so they don’t all run in the background” mumbo-jumbo.
  2. This theory is always posited with malicious intent as the reason it is happening. The suggestion that Apple has an invisible switch they flip on the day a new iPhone comes out to make all other iPhones slower is ridiculous, and obviously not what’s happening. But because the “my phone is slower” was almost always accompanied by “because Apple is evil” it made the claim easy to dismiss.
  3. Quite simply, the tech press doesn’t use old phones.

That last reason is a big, big, big one, and we’re all guilty of it. I, like so many others, upgrade the latest and greatest as soon as possible and we don’t really understand how things work on older hardware. Sure, we can keep up with things that fit on a spec sheet, so we know that iOS 11 runs on the iPhone 6 and newer, but we don’t have a detailed understanding of how it works on an iPhone 6 because none of us have used one since the day the 6s was released.

I’m not saying that all tech folks need to start using an old phone as their “daily driver” or even that they need to test everything on every possible phone, but maybe there is space out there for someone to spend more time on how new software works on older hardware. At the very least we should be a little more cautious before dismissing the next seemingly-silly thing we hear about what people are experiencing on hardware we don’t own.

Note that based on Apple’s clarification, this is a change made only to the iPhone 6 and newer phones, so this is a relatively new thing.

iOS Apps Might be Coming to a Mac Near You

Mark Gurman has the scoop of the week:

Starting as early as next year, software developers will be able to design a single application that works with a touchscreen or mouse and trackpad depending on whether it’s running on the iPhone and iPad operating system or on Mac hardware, according to people familiar with the matter.

The specifics of this matter a ton in determining how I feel about this situation (assuming it’s true).

If this amounts to simply having iOS apps open in what amounts to an iOS simulator that looks like a small iPhone screen, then this is not going to be great for anyone. Users will get apps not designed for a mouse an keyboard, and likely can’t tap into macOS in any meaningful way.

On the other hand, if Apple is developing a universal platform, similar to what Microsoft did with their UWP system, that allows developers to make software that has the same code base, but can easily be adjusted to run optimized on whatever platform they’re on, then that’s great for everybody. We already have universal apps that can run on everything from the Watch to the iPhone to the iPad, so why not add the Mac to that mix as well. I’m not talking about an iOS in a resizable window, I’m talking about an app that actually gets more functionality and maybe even has different UI elements when running on macOS.

Apple is in the process of revamping its pro-level Mac hardware right now, and this change could help them on the consumer side considerably. The devil, as it often is, is in the details, so we won’t know if this is good or bad news until we actually see how it really works, but I’m optimistic this could be very good for Apple, developers, and users.

AutoSleep is Far and Away the Best Way for Apple Watch Users to Track Their Sleep

AutoSleep is my go to sleep tracking app for the Apple Watch and it got a big update today:

Much faster, simpler and more accurate.

Now with automatic “live” sleep tracking on the Watch face! No buttons to press.

iPhone X Support. Optimised for WatchOS 4.

I love this tracker because it requires literally zero input from me. After giving the app access to your movement data, it will automatically keep track of your sleep every night. It’s the only sleep tracking app I’ve ever used that doesn’t require any user input, which is huge!

If you own an Apple Watch and want to better understand your sleep with no effort, AutoSleep is totally worth it.