eXtensions - Monday 5 April 2021


Monday Digression: WWDC Announcement and Speculation; Unlucky 13; Back to Online Teaching and Display Options

By Graham K. Rogers


Apple announced the online WWDC for 2021 which caused speculation on top of the usual guesses that are made. The risk to sales of the next iPhone bearing the number 13. Covid outbreaks keep occurring and that means another return to online teaching: how can displays improve this? Paying taxes is not for all large corporations.

Less than 3 hours after I put the last comments online, including notes on the potential for WWDC being in June (a fairly safe guess), Apple announced that WWDC will run 7-11 June and it will be all online (Stephen Warwick, iMore). There has been nothing about the rumored April event (which was formerly a March event) and as it is Easter now, the window for any announcement is closing.

The WWDC invitation was parsed for hidden meanings but the image used gave us an easy start. One of the favorite memes from last year was Craig Federighi looking at the screen of a half-opened MacBook Pro. The illustration used in the email sent to developers was based on that, with the date reflected in the user's glasses along with a 21 for the year, using a red dot like those in emails or Messages to show the number of unread items. I cannot find that feature in my versions of Apple's Calendar, so is that something new or just a confection?

WWDC Invitation
Apple WWDC Invitation

Glasses being worn by the Federighi clone hinted, some said, at the long-awaited VR glasses that have been rumored for a while. Chicken Little has nothing on these guys. There have already been some reports that new charging controls and features will be coming with the next update to the current version of iOS, and there could be other changes to keyboard functionality, but many of the major changes that iOS 15 brings will be revealed at WWDC.

As is usual, the few days after the announcement saw a mix of speculative articles including one or two with the idea of, "Apple must. . ." with the blank filled in by the writer's pet peeve. There were also several items that had the idea that "Apple will. . ." although I rate these much lower it is almost certain that the designer team at Apple has already decided on the overall plan for the next iPhone. This has to be set out early as the technical specifications for the software - much of which is limited by the new hardware - at least must be at a state of readiness by early June so that the engineers are able to run presentations and workshops for developers. Tim Cook and the others involved in the Keynote presentation only need to paint the broad strokes, but it is the developers who fill in the gaps; but they need a completed framework in which to work.

iPhone - Image courtesy of Apple

There has been some interesting speculation on the naming of the next iPhone. Normally I dismiss this as Apple might change the numbers to a name series in any year, and there are precedents for this, with the SE for example. This year, if all remains as normal and Apple uses numbers, we are faced with the number Thirteen. Apple may be an agnostic or atheist, technological company, but its customers come from many walks of life, cultures and religions.

The number 13 has such significance that were the company to use it, I would not be surprised if a significant proportion of users avoided the model. It is no coincidence that tower blocks (and consequently elevators) do not have a floor 13: fear and superstition. There is no demonstrable proof that unlucky 13 would cause a hotel to collapse if there were a floor 13, but who wants to be the one to put this to the test?

Some cultures are wary of 13, some not. Like walking under a ladder or shoes on a table, it is not a superstition in some cultures; and in some countries there is a 13 on the lift panel. Does that mean Apple should just go for it and have its iPhone 13 as normal next time? This is a hard one to call, but then superstitions die hard. When I was a kid teachers tried really hard to stop me writing with my left hand. As it is a right-handed world, there is some pragmatism there, but in the background was that the Latin word for Left, is sinister. In earlier times, left-handedness was seen as a sign of the Devil, but then, so were many other things. But that reluctance to use 13 lingers on and will Apple be willing to run the risk of potential lost sales?

Teaching in a classroom
Learning in a classroom

Once again the university where I work is in lockdown and all teaching is back online, at least until 18 April my taxi driver told me on Sunday. A small COVID cluster of students who frequented a bar near where I live has (rightly) sent the authorities into a test, trace and clean program so I am working online again. It is easy right now as all I have are papers to read and the occasional thesis to edit. With both, I read on the iPad Pro, markup with the Apple Pencil and send back with some notes. Nonetheless, I am acutely aware that there could well be an extension of online teaching when I start again later this month and I must prepare for that.

I see that Patently Apple has outlined a new product presentation idea for remote work, using what is called an Extended Reality (XR) format. Rather than showing people presenting, this sounds like a graphic representation of a presenter, with the addition of gestures (e. g. face). A patent is a line in the sand to show that there is work being done in the area and that the patent holder retains the concept. The filing here has a number of potential scenarios, but there is clearly far more work to be done on this.

I wonder how we may use the current limited displays to enhance the teaching and to motivate the students more. It seems as if they log on and just pay half the amount of attention needed, then wonder why they do not have enough information to answer exam questions. Every teacher I discuss this with starts with the idea that they (the teachers) are not doing as much as they can and arte clearly re-examining their efforts, yet immediately switch to the lack of attention paid by students.

While I was reading about that patent I wondered about the potential for Augmented Reality - putting a 3D teacher in front of the student - and how that might improve the attention span. With more than around 20 in a class, it is impossible to watch them all; and even then, the screen area is just a thumbnail, so little detail is available If they leave the room (sometimes necessary), the signal fails, they are doing something else, or just fall asleep, there is little that can be done while teaching. That Patently Apple article has a number of links to other patents that have similar technical interest.

Twittter news There is a lot of information on Twitter that is missed by main stream media (MSM) although it may need some filtering. Like Wikipedia, not everything can be trusted. Nonetheless, I saw a Tweet this week that listed the amount of federal tax paid by certain corporations: each company in the list paid zero over 3 years.

I don't remember reading anything about this tax avoidance by these companies, although I have read much about how Apple and other companies with operations worldwide, like Google and Amazon, who do pay federal taxes, are never paying enough according to grandstanding politicians.

Perhaps these politicians and MSM should rethink their approaches and headline grabbing. As I have written several times that the companies that avoid paying taxes only use the legislation that is written by politicians, it is up to them to change the tax laws instead of providing let-outs for companies, while over-taxing individuals.

There is much that can be done by users to improve the way devices operate; and Apple has put much effort into its Accessibility features on all devices. I use a number of these like Zoom or Dictation on the Mac, or Siri and Shortcuts on the iPhone. In an article I saw this week, Paul Parker (FStoppers) outlined the problems he found with display colors after having the screen replaced on an iPhone 5S. On the Mac, we have Calibration (System Preferences>Displays/Color). On the iPhone, he writes that this is hidden away in Accessibility settings and outlines the process he went through. This has now been changed.

I guess that with the iPhone 5S this was an earlier version of iOS. With iOS 14, the Display Accommodations section is no longer available. The same settings he writes about are in Accessibility > Display & Text Size > Color Filters (iOS 14 and iPadOS 14). There are three ways to look at the filters, and 5 ways to select the effects, including Grayscale. Sliders for Intensity and Hue with the color options allow for some fine-tuning.

COlor Filters COlor Filters COlor Filters COlor Filters

Oddly, although Grayscale changes the color of all displays on the iPhone to monochrome, screen shots (e.g Image 4 above) are still in color, so I cheated by editing the image in Photos so that you can see what it should look like.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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