• apple,  apple //gs,  retro computing

    Welcoming Home an Apple IIGS from 1986

    Mac Pro (2013) helps welcome home my Apple IIGS (1986)

    I’m an Apple //e fan, but in the mid-1980s, with the introduction of the Lisa in 1983 and the Macintosh in 1984, it was becoming clear that the largely text input-based Apple II line of computers needed an innovative refresh.

    In 1986, Apple II fans got their new graphical interface upgrade in the form of the Apple IIGS.

    Developed under codenames such as “Phoenix”, “Columbia”, and “Cortland” the Apple IIGS was an attempt to modernize the Apple //e and the non-expandable Apple IIc into a modern computer. At the time, attempts to replace the venerable Apple //e with the Apple III and the Apple IIc did not go according to plan. The Apple III ended up being a commercial failure and customers favored the Apple //e over the IIc largely in part due to the //e’s expansion card bays.

    The Apple IIGS is a curios machie because it encapsulates both what has come before, the Apple II platform, while embracing a future with a graphical interface, a mouse, improved sound capabilities, and a 3.5-inch floppy drive – just like the Macintosh. Powering the Apple IIGS is the new 16-bit 65C816 chip running at 2.8MHz. The 65C816 is a 65C02 compatible processor, meaning that it can emulate the CPU used in prior Apple IIs. The 65C816 also has two run modes: the native 2.8MHz mode for running software written specifically for the graphical GS/OS operating sytem, and a 1MHz mode for running a customer’s older Apple II series software.

    In addition to the new CPU, the Apple IIGS also includes 256kb of system RAM, expandable out to a total of 8MB. The “GS” in the IIGS name stands for Graphics and Sound, and this Apple II is able to deliver. The new GUI interface was made possible due to a new super Hi-Res video mode capable of putting a 16-color palette up on a 200×320 screen. The included Ensoniq Mirage sound chip improved the audio features of the machine.

    There is a lot going on under the hood of this Apple II and that’s because the designers needed to address two project goals. First, make it compatible with the older generation of Apple II hardware and software. Second, bring the technology advancements from the Apple III, the Lisa, and the Macintosh to the Apple II line. In short, the IIGS ended up becoming a bridge from the Apple II line to the Macintosh line.1 This feat was made possible by Apple’s new custom integrated circuit (IC) the Mega II. The Mega II included the functionality of several of the ICs from the Apple //e and the IIc into the IIGS motherboard. In the end, the IIGS was able to run at least 90% of the titles in the Apple II software library. With the use of an optional disk controller card and floppy disk drive, the Apple IIGS could also read and write 5.25-inch disks created for earlier Apple IIs.

    The Apple IIGS was forward looking too. For example, the graphical GS/OS environment used 114 of the same QuickDraw calls as was found on the Macintosh. The graphical interface program used to access disks, draw windows, and work with menus and files is called the Finder and is modeled after the Macintosh desktop program of the same name. The Apple IIGS also has an Apple Desktop Bus (ADB) port for connecting up to 16 daisy-chained devices. The same ADB technology that is used on the Macintosh, allowing keyboards and mice to be interchangeable. And, finally, the IIGS is the first Apple II computer to include built in support for AppleTalk networking. Yes, the Apple IIGS and the Macintosh could talk to each other and share files over an AppleTalk network.

    The Apple IIGS was released in September 1986 with a base price of $999. Customers would then need to add one or more disk drives, a color monitor, and possibly a printer, easily raising the price of the machine to the $2,499 – $3,199 range.

    The Apple IIGS did succeed in delivering on it’s promise to be true (and compatible) to it’s Apple II roots and simultaneously embrace a graphical interface future. And for Apple II fans, that was a positive point. However, in terms of the state of technology in 1986, many journalists coving technology at the time considered the Apple IIGS to be too slow and too expensive when compared with contemporary machines of the day, including the Macintosh, the Amiga 500, and the Atari ST.

    In 1988, waiting for my back ordered Apple IIGS to be delivered by ComputerLand, I was excited to this new computer. For me, I could leverage everything that I had learned about my Apple //e with the IIGS and share hardware and software between the two machines. I will admit that my cousin’s Amiga 500 had way better looking games, but I loved my Apple IIGS. Unlike the closed case Amiga 500, the Apple IIGS could be easily opened allowing me to tinker around inside and add new expansion cards, foreshadowing my career in Information Technology. Today, I still tinker around inside PCs and servers thanks, in no small part, to the openness of the Apple II platform.

    Apple II Forever!

  • apple //e,  apple //gs,  lifestyle

    Byte Magazine Archive Available

    Byte magazine Feb. 1983 Cover

    While doing some research into the Apple IIe (1983) and the Apple IIGS (1986), I came across a large Byte magazine archive that is available on the Internet Archive.

    The magazine archive is labeled as “complete” and has issues from Sept. 1975 through Apr. 1989. And while I can’t vouch for the entire archive, the three issues that I looked at had clean and easy to read articles from the issues that I wanted to read. Here are the links to the articles I was reading earlier this week.

    Feb. 1983 – Apple IIe Review by Robin Moore pg 68

    Oct. 1986 – Apple IIGS Preview by Gregg Williams and Richard Greham pg 84

    Apr. 1987 – Apple IIGS Review by Philip Chien pg 223

    I really appreciate that these archives exist. Reading computer magazines before I started my professional IT career was a fun way that I learned about computers. A+ and inCider were two of my favorites. Once I started working in IT, I loved to read Windows NT Magazine, PCWeek/eWeek, MacWeek, and Information Week.

  • lifestyle,  social,  twitter

    Archive Your Twitter Account in Case You Get Hit with a Ban

    If you are like me and have no patients for Elon Musk’s jackassery, you might be looking to move to another smaller social media community. I have opened a Mastodon account and am reconnecting with other retro computing fans.

    Under Musk’s “leadership”, Twitter has gone from a stable mismanaged platform to a mismanaged platform under constant churn. Take last night’s unforced error. In a now deleted tweet, Twitter Support posted a notice that the company would begin removing accounts promoting or linking to other social networks. You can read The New York Times and CNN coverage of the latest dust up if you can stomach it.

    Since I have a pinned tweet redirecting folks to my Mastodon account, I was expecting that either the tweet would be deleted, or that I would end up being banned from Twitter. So, I decided to request an archive of my account.

    Here’s how to request your own archive.

    Step 1: Login to your account.

    Step 2: Click or tap on More > Settings and Support > Settings and Privacy

    Step 3: Then, click or tap on Your Account > Download an Archive of Your Data

    Step 4: Click or tap the Request Archive button.

    Assuming that Twitter.com is still functioning at a basic level, within 24 hours you will receive an email with a download link to your archive download.

    I’m not a prolific social media user and do not have any regrets about deleting my Facebook account years ago. As it stands now, I am fine if I get banned or suspended because I am reconnecting to other retro computing enthusiasts, as I said, on Mastodon. I am also supporting my favorite creators on Patreon. When a paid subscription also includes a Discord server, I also occasionally stop in there to hang out with other like-minded nerds. It’s nice to not be bombarded by ads and accounts that just want to cause chaos.

    So, will I delete my Twitter account? I honestly don’t know. As it stands now, I probably won’t delete it yet. I am spending less time on Twitter these days. Just like discussion boards gave way to blogs which stepped aside for Twitter, I’m ready for the next thing. If Musk speeds up that transition to the next thing, so be it. Buckle up!

  • apple,  iphone

    iPhone 3G Motherboard

    2008 iPhone 3G Motherboard

    What better way to spend a cold and grey Sunday afternoon in December than sorting through your spare parts bin and deciding to teardown an iPhone 3G. Don’t worry, this iPhone 3G was broken long before it came my way.

    iPhone 3G (A1241) is the second iPhone to have been released. It started shipping to customers on July 11, 2008. The US model was only available on the AT&T Wireless network. 2008’s color options where Black and White. The Black model was available in 8GB or 16GB configurations, while the White iPhone 3G was only available in the 16GB configuration.

    Powering the iPhone 3G is the Samsung ARM-based System on a Chip (SoC) that contains the 412MHz CPU and 128MB LPDDR memory. In the photo, above, the SoC is the large chip on the left with the Apple logo printed on it.

    If you want to see a graphic with each chip labeled, visit the iFixit.com iPhone 3G Teardown page.

  • apple,  iphone 7,  repair

    Welcoming Home a Rescued (PRODUCT)Red iPhone 7

    (PRODUCT)Red iPhone 7…wow, that’s red!

    I have been looking for a reasonably priced used (PRODUCT)Red iPhone for a while now. First introduced as part of 2016 iPhone product line, the (PRODUCT)Red iPhones, in my opinion, have a strikingly bold color that makes them standout against the other colors in the line up.

    Being a nerd who has to have all of the latest iPhone features, I gravitate toward the Pro model iPhones. Apparently, Pro iPhones are not allowed to have cool color choices, so I had never purchased a (PRODUCT)Red iPhone as my daily device.

    About three weeks ago, I purchased a batch of broken iPhones from seller from eBay. All the iPhones were listed “as-is” and not tested. This is eBay code for broken and/or iCloud Locked. One device, for example, a GSM iPhone 6, was in great condition, but was iCloud Locked.

    One device in the listing caught my eye: a (PRODUCT)Red iPhone. No mention was made of which model it was. All I could tell from the photos was that it had a shattered display.

    Broken iPhone 7 screen with packing tape

    Once the shipment arrived, I zeroed in on the (PRODUCT)Red iPhone. It had a 4-digit PIN code. I tried entering my picks from a list of commonly used PIN codes. Eventually, I reached the limit for failed PIN code attempts, and the iPhone disabled itself.

    An Apple Store won’t service an iCloud Locked iPhone, so I put the iPhone into DFU (Device Firmware Update) mode, erased the device, loaded a fresh copy of iOS 15.7.1, and rebooted the iPhone.

    To my surprise, the previous owner had not enabled the Find My iPhone feature. Without the Find My iPhone security feature enabled, the DFU mode iOS 15 install had the effect of erasing the previous owner’s data and reset the iPhone so I could make it my own. To test this out, I logged into iCloud with a test Apple ID and sure enough, I was able to login and assert ownership of the iPhone.

    The final step, now that I was certain that the iPhone 7 wasn’t iCloud locked, was to setup a Genius Bar appointment at my local Apple Store and have the screen repaired. Thankfully, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus models still have a “Supported” status, meaning that Apple will still service them.

    I explained to the Genius who was helping me that I was the second-hand owner of the iPhone and wanted to have the screen repaired. I mentioned that I hadn’t opened the iPhone but couldn’t definitively state that someone else may have gone inside. The Genius ran the iPhone through a suite of diagnostic tests to confirm that there was nothing else wrong with the iPhone.

    iPhone 7 with a new screen

    After confirming that no other defects were present, I handed the iPhone over to be serviced. It would be ready later that day. A few hours later, I picked up the repaired (PRODUCT)Red iPhone and brought it home.

    Thankfully, even when you consider the repair cost of the new screen, I was able to find a relatively inexpensive (PRODUCT)Red iPhone 7. This was not the way I was expecting this story to turn out. I was expecting the iPhone to be iCloud locked, indicating that the iPhone was possibly stolen. If you plan on buying a used iPhone from eBay, be sure that the seller shows pictures of the unlocked home screen and the Settings app showing that the iCloud account is logged out. Logging out of iCloud on an iPhone will disable the Find My iPhone security feature.

    In this particular case, this repair story has a positive ending, allowing me to welcome home a (PRODUCT)Red iPhone 7!

  • lifestyle

    Happy Thanksgiving

    This year, I am thankful for everyone who reads my blog. I do appreciate it.

    I am also thankful for the many things that I have, including my family and our healthy, and my job.

    I am also thankful that, finally, COVID-19 is starting to shift into the background of everyday life. Don’t get me wrong, COVID-19 is still a global pandemic and we should still continue to get vaccinated and wear high quality masks where appropriate.

    Have a Happy Thanksgiving!


  • apple,  mac pro,  macintosh

    2013 Mac Pro Homecoming and Retrospective

    The 2013 Mac Pro (left) joins the Museum “Pro” Family

    In the summer of 2013, at that year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple executive, Phil Schiller, previewed the then all-new Mac Pro that would go on sale in December of that year. The boxy “Cheese Grater” design was swept away and a new sexy Space Grey polished aluminum housing for its cylindrical body was ushered in.

    While looking at old computers on eBay, I came across several 9-year-old Mac Pro towers at a fraction of their retail cost. Most were B stock equipment. Banged up, scratched, and for some of the used computers, broken USB ports. I started watching several of them, getting outbid on many of them. On eBay, $200 looks like a great price, until the final few minutes where the real bidding happens. Eventually, I was able to find a Mac Pro with all of it’s ports working and in good condition. I received my new to me Mac Pro earlier this month.

    2013 Mac Pro’s ports (left) compared with 2006 Mac Pro’s ports (right)

    The 2013 Mac Pro was a radical departure from previous models in the Mac Pro line. Stripped of all of the internal expansion bays, the 2013 was reduced to the essence of the computer: CPU, memory, disk, video, and networking. For everything else, users would have to connect external wired peripherals. Unlike the front-to-back air flow of the physically larger Mac Pro towers, nicknamed “Cheese Graters”, the cylindrical “Trash Can” Mac Pro relied on a triangular system board arrangement that radiated heat into the core of the machine to be drawn up and out the top by a single large fan. The 2013 Mac Pro runs dead silent unless pushed very hard. The only way I know that it is turned on is because the monitor wakes up when I tap the space bar on my keyboard.

    2013 Mac Pro with case removed, showing CPU board

    The 2013 Mac Pro went on sale for online orders starting on December 19, 2013. The base model Mac Pro shipped with a single quad-core 3.7GHz Intel Xeon E5 CPU, 12GB of ECC DDR3, dual AMD FirePro 300 GPUs, and 256GB of SSD storage. Six Thunderbolt 2 and four USB-A 3.0 ports round out peripheral connections. The external expansion ports being intended to take on the load of the internal card slots of earlier Mac Pro systems. The Mac Pro also includes dual 10Gbps Ethernet RJ-45 NIC ports for high-speed networking to things like network attacked NAS storage arrays. The base model retailed for $2,999 with a six-core configuration selling for $3,999. Unlike most other products, the 2013 Mac Pro was both designed and built in the United States. A trend, in my opinion, that I would like to see more of in the future now that the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 has been signed into law.

    The 2013 Mac Pro originally shipped with Mac OS 10.9 Mavericks. While it would have been nice for Mac Pro owners if Apple chose to release 2022’s Mac OS 13 Venture for the Mac Pro, Mac OS 12 Monterey will be the last official upgrade for the 2013 Mac Pro.

    Mac Pro’s OEM 1TB M.2 nVME SSD

    My 2013 Mac Pro has a slightly different configuration that I cannot fully account for. It arrived with the stock quad-core E5 Xeon CPU, and it still has its OEM 1TB SSD. However, the machine only had 8GB (2 x 4GB) of non-OEM non-ECC RAM. The DIMMS in my Mac were matte black and locked like stock RAM, but they weren’t. For high-end use cases, like those the Mac Pro is intended for, Error Correcting Code (ECC) memory should be used due to its ability to detect and correct minor data errors that can lead to data integrity problems and file corruption. I decided to purchase and install an OWC 32GB (2 x 16GB) RAM upgrade kit using DDR3 ECC-R 1866GHz RAM. The OWC upgrade kit was about $60 USD. Apple has a KB article on the 2013 Mac Pro memory specifications if you want to choose a different memory vendor.

    Two RAM bays, one on each side, pop open so you to install 64GB (4 x 16GB) of RAM

    Since I plan on using my Mac Pro, with its 3.7GHz Xeon CPU for running my Intel-based VMware Fusion (aka Workstation in PC parlance) virtual machines. 32GB of RAM should be fine for this use case. If I need more RAM, I can add another 32GB upgrade kit and install the modules into the remaining two memory slots. If you want to tinker with a 2013 Mac Pro of your own, you are in good luck. It is possible to upgrade the Intel Xeon CPU, SSD via an adapter bridge board, and the aforementioned RAM. For an extensive list of hardware and software upgrades that can be performed on the 2013 Mac Pro, also known as MacPro6,1 (Late 2013), check out Greg Gant’s excellent upgrade guide.

    The Mac Pro launch was greeted with fanfare from hungry professional customers who had been worried that the Apple was about to abandon the high-end workstation market and focus solely on consumer hardware, like the iMac. However, once the new Mac Pro started shipping to customers things started to turn bad for Apple and customers alike. Apple, in a rare misstep, chose to build the 2013 Mac Pro around dual AMD FirePro video cards. While this configuration worked well for Apple software, like video editing Final Cut Pro, third-party software needed to be updated to support dual video cards. The rest of the industry, focused on single powerful GPU cards.

    Mac Pro: designed and assembled in the USA

    Apple needed to face the fact that they were not going to be able to upgrade the GPU support in the 2013 case design. The dual GPU bet not paying off resulted in four years of not being able to deliver any significant system upgrades, resulting in the 2017 Mac Roundtable discussion with a small number of tech journalists. During that meeting, Apple executives talked about their plans to completely revamp the professional’s Macintosh by returning to a modular design with an Apple external monitor, reversing a decision to cancel the Cinema Display line of first-party monitors.

    It would be another two years before Apple introduced the 2019 Intel-based Mac Pro desktop computer and Apple Pro Display XDR. The 2019 Mac Pro was everything that professionals wanted – a large Cheese Grater design that they could stuff full of disk drives, RAM modules, and expansion cards. Everything they wanted, except maybe, the $5,999 starting price. Anyone seriously considering the 2019 Mac Pro would almost certainly want to bump up some of the base model specs, pushing the price of the machine well beyond the starting price. And that was before considering the purchase of the $4,999 Pro Display XDR monitor with Pro Stand, a $999 option.

    Today, the complicated Mac Pro story continues as the Mac Pro is one of two remaining Apple computer that have not yet made the transition to the in-house designed M-series Apple Silicon ARM-based CPU designs. In my option, 2022’s Mac Studio and Studio Display was meant as a partial stopgap release for a heavily rumored 2023 Apple Silicon rumored Mac Pro. That has left customers and fans to wonder if the next Mac Pro will be another Cheese Grater like the 2019 model, a compact Mac Studio design, or something else entirely. While I would like to see another “big iron” Cheese Grater design myself, I feel that we are going to end up with something more like the Mac Pro, with limited to no internal card slots and locked down RAM and primary storage like we have seen with M1 and M2-based Mac configurations.

    For now, I am happy to have gotten a 2013 Mac Pro. It has an innovative design that will be an interesting talking point in a collection of boxy Macs from yesteryear. And, while Apple may no longer be supporting the 2013 Mac Pro hardware or releasing new versions of Mac OS for it, my new Mac Pro has a long second life ahead of it running my Windows virtual machines. Nice.

  • lifestyle,  mastodon,  social,  technology

    Toot, toot! I’m on Mastodon!

    I tend to like my drama on TV, not on my social media platforms. So, after Elon Musk’s $44B takeover of Twitter and the corporate chaos that followed, I started looking for alternate services.

    I ended up on the noc.social distributed Mastodon server as @AlanGrassia@noc.social.

    Mastodon is a distributed open-source social network that is not driven by algorithms or junked up by ads. This means that you have a nice chronological feed of posts, called toots, by the people you want to see.

    The noc.social server that I joined is a Mastodon community for sysadmins, engineers, and tech people in general. Noc’s Code of Conduct is pretty simple. It all boils down to don’t be a jerk and everything will be fine.

    The cool thing about Mastodon is that it doesn’t matter which server you are on, you can still see and talk with people on other servers. This is due to the ActivityPub and other open web protocols.

    So far it has been a wonderful experience. Mastodon is full of other retro computing and technology enthusiasts just like me. The Mastodon web UI and iOS/iPadOS apps are nice too.

    If you are looking for a replacement for the dumpster fire that Twitter is becoming, Mastodon might be the place for you.

  • apple,  ios 16,  iphone 14

    One Month with the iPhone 14 Pro Max

    Silver iPhone 14 Pro Max (left) and Silver iPhone 14 Pro (right), source: Apple.com

    Last month I was lucky enough to have been able to receive my iPhone 14 Pro Max on launch day. After having lived with mine for a month, I wanted to share my impressions with folks who haven’t yet upgraded. In short, iPhone 14 Pro Max offers several quality-of-life improvements over recent Pro Max models. If you are still happy with the iPhone your purchased in the last couple of years, there is likely little reason to upgrade unless you specifically want one or more of the features I will be talking about in my review. If you are that person, you have probably already purchased and received your new iPhone too.

    iPhone Models

    For 2022, Apple has released four new iPhone models: iPhone 14 ($799), iPhone 14 Plus ($899), iPhone 14 Pro ($999), and iPhone 14 Pro Max ($1099). If you are looking for the latest and greatest features, you will need to turn to the “Pro” models. This year, I purchased the Silver (White) iPhone 14 Pro Max with 256GB of storage. I also purchased the Forest Green Apple Leather Case with MagSafe.

    The iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus, Apple is essentially applying some minor tweaks to last year’s iPhone 13 to give users a slightly better camera, a slightly better processor, and slightly better battery life all in a slightly lighter body. One big selling point is the larger non-Pro iPhone. Apple has replaced last year’s iPhone 13 mini with the iPhone 14 Plus. It’s just like the iPhone 13, but with a larger iPhone 14 Pro Max screen without the price premium. I’m sure that that the new 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR display on iPhone Plus with be a popular selling point among iPhone buyers who just want a good phone without all of the extras fo the Pro models.

    If you are like me, you want all of the new features that iPhone and iOS has to offer, including the Dynamic Island, the Always-On display, the 48MP main camera, and the Apple A16 Bionic System on a Chip (SoC), then you have to look to the more expensive Pro models. For me specifically, all the features mean the Pro Max version of iPhone 14. While I will be discussing the iPhone 14 Pro Max specifically, everything here also applies to the iPhone 14 Pro.

    Source, Apple.com

    iPhone 14 Pro Max, just like the 13 and 12 Pro Max models before it, look and feel very similar to each other. And that’s fine. I prefer the flat side design element used on recent iPhones and the iPhone 4 and 5-series (2010 – 2013).

    The size and weight of the iPhone 14 Pro Max is essentially unchanged compared with iPhone 13 Pro Max and iPhone 12 Pro Max. The new iPhone is slightly narrower (0.02mm), slightly thicker (0.1mm), and has a larger camera mesa than last year’s models, meaning that you will need to purchase a new case. Most other accessories, including Lighting cables, MagSafe and Qi inductive chargers, and car mounts should all work fine.

    Dynamic Island

    The first thing you will notice about the iPhone 14 Pro Max is that the “notch” first introduced with 2017’s iPhone X looks different. No longer an extension of the top bezel into the upper region of the screen, the Dynamic Island is a black oval that is “cut out” of the screen. The Dynamic Island takes the space occupied by the sensor array that contains the front facing TrueDepth camera and the Face ID hardware and puts an iOS 16 wrapper around it. In effect, taking dead space on the front of the iPhone and making it more useful by using the pixels around the sensor array to provide status indictors, pop-up widgets, task switching capabilities, Apple Pay animations, and Live Updates (coming in a future iOS 16 update).

    Personally, I like the look of the Dynamic Island. It tricks me into thinking that I have more screen space. In actuality, there isn’t much going on between the top edge of the Dynamic Island and the top of the screen, but those pixels do light up, so there is an impression of more space. To my eye, the width of the Dynamic Island and the Notch on iPhone 13 Pro Max are the same.

    Widgets expand out of the Dynamic Island on iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max

    For example, if I’m playing music on my iPhone with Apple Music (the app, not the service) you will see a tiny album art thumbnail to the left of the sensor array. To the right of the TrueDepth camera, my output source, a pair of HomePods, is shown. The Dynamic Island does annoyingly seem to break the mental model of when to tap and when to long press objects to make things happen. To call up the Now Playing widget, you long press the Dynamic Island. When you do, the Dynamic Island morphs into a large widget that gives you playback controls. A tap of the Dynamic Island takes you to the most recently used tab in the Apple Music app. It has taken me a while to get used to this seemingly backwards approach. When you consider other actions on your iPhone, the long press to get a pop-up control is normal. Take the Clock app, for example. A quick tap on the Clock icon launches the app. Just like tapping on the Dynamic Island. When I long press on the Clock app icon, I get a pop-up of actions I could take, such as creating a new alarm.

    Long press the Clock icon to show a pop-up list of features

    In this regard, the UI for the Dynamic Island does follow iOS conventions, but it is my expectation that if I poke at the Dynamic Island, I would see the controls pop-up.

    On a somewhat nerdy level, I appreciate the effort that Apple’s software engineering team has put into creating Dynamic Island’s personality. The animations that give you the impression that it is growing, morphing, and shrinking is a nice touch of whimsy that for so long has been missing from Apple products. Old timers like me will point to a time in early Apple history when scribbling out text on a Newton or dragging an icon out of the Mac OS Dock would cause the poof animation to appear, Clarus the dogcow to appear in the Page Setup dialog box (she will be making a return in macOS Ventura out later this year), and the Macintosh boot chime. The fluid personality of the Dynamic Island will join the Mac smiley face that appears during Apple Pay transactions as modern additions to the list of whimsy that Apple is bringing back to their products after a long absence.

    Where have I seen that Face ID and Apple Pay icon before?

    The Dynamic Island is also the place where the new Live Activities feature will live. Laster this year, you will be able to get real-time information updates, like sports scores and ETA information for things like car services, food delivery, and flights. That’s all well and good especially if you want that information as it happens. However, I am taking a more skeptical view of this feature. I worry about the annoyance factor from apps and platforms that overuse this feature that can interrupt whatever you are doing on your iPhone.

    I recently ran into a situation on Apple TV of all things that gave me pause about this feature. I am not a big sports fan. Sure, I like the New York teams, specifically the New York Yankees. I wanted to get scores and updates on Arron Judge’s chase to beat the American League home run record set by Roger Maris. Once I did, I started noticing pop-ups on Apple TV while watching steaming TV shows on Paramount+ about baseball games. I asked Apple News for Yankees updates. I did not ask Apple TV to start interrupting me while watching Star Trek (which is more “on brand” for me than sports). After seeing that, I worry that I’ll start getting all sorts of Live Activities ads in the form of “updates” from news, shopping, games, and restaurant apps installed on my iPhone when I don’t want them. I could be overreacting, but I am already thinking about disabling this feature and only turning it on when I specifically need it. Stay tuned until third-party developers can start using the Live Activities features in iOS 16.1 due out later this fall.

    Always-On Display

    New on iPhone 14 Pro Max is the Always-On Super Retina XDR display with ProMotion. If that seems like a lot of marketing speak, it is. The key take away about the 2022 iPhone Pro displays is that they look amazing and now, they are always on by default. Apple has pushed its display tech quite a bit in the last five years since going to OLED panels on iPhone X in 2017. Five years ago, we had to be concerned with screen burn in that is common with OLED displays, like those found in OLED TVs. Now, with Apple’s custom software and hardware, the iPhone 14 Pro Max display now has a variable refresh rate between 1Hz to 120Hz. Being able to drop down to a 1Hz refresh rate, similar to the display on Apple Watch Series 5 and later, is what allows Apple to keep the display “on” all the time while conserving battery life.

    At first, I found this feature a bit jarring. I kept thinking that I hadn’t turned off the screen. Worried about burn in since 2017, I religiously pressed the Side button (Power button) to turn off the display when not using my iPhone. In the month of using my new iPhone, I have gotten used to glancing down and seeing the screen on without worry.

    New in iOS 16 is the ability to customize the lock screen. I have had some fun playing around with different lock screen configurations. I currently have four configured. Two that are NASA themed, the Weather lock screen, and a lock screen using a photo that I took at the beach that I’m quite proud of.

    When the iPhone is not actively being used, the screen will dim at about seven seconds, and will drop to the 1Hz refresh rate. While sitting face up on my desk, I need to tap the screen to put it back into an active state. While dimmed, for example, you cannot interact with things like the Now Playing lock screen widget or any notifications that come in. So now, it’s tap to wake up, perform an interaction on the lock screen, and then allow the screen to dim again. It is still very similar to tap to turn on the screen from other recent iPhones. If you prefer the original tap-to-wake behavior, you can toggle the Always-On screen setting in: Settings > Display & Brightness > Always On = Off.

    Also new in iOS 16 are lock screen widgets. With the stock iOS 16 clock screen widgets, I found myself just duplicating the information offered to me by the complications on my Apple Watch. After a little over a month of iOS 16 having been released, only three of my third-party apps offer lock screen widgets: Conrad Stoll’s Grocery, Marco Arment’s Overcast, and LateNiteSoft’s REC. Personal tastes and milage will vary. For me, I have not found myself to be a big fan of widgets in general. I like having the day and date single line widget at the top of the screen with the clock just below it. The one widget that I have found useful at work is the stock Calendar app’s double-wide Next Event widget. While walking around the office talking to people, I can quickly glance at my work iPhone see what time it is and where I need to be next. This widget helps keep me from being late to my next in-person or online meeting. As more time goes by, I am looking forward to more developers integrating lock screen widgets into their apps. For now, I still have a limited use of widgets on the lock screen and on the SpringBoard home screen.

    48MP Pro Camera System

    Let’s get this out of the way right up front: I would not even consider myself an amateur photographer, let alone anyone qualified to speak with any authority on the subject of photography. Pretty much everything that I know about cameras can be summed up by saying that the current model iPhone camera is the best camera I own and that it is the camera that I have with me all the time.

    With that said, I recently had a chance to take some interesting photos while on a recent trip to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I was shooting photos on both sunny and grey and rainy days.

    On iPhone 14 Pro Max, the main camera sensor is now 48MP, up from 12MP from prior years. What you need to keep in mind is that the new 48MP camera system is designed such that four light-capturing pixel sensors are, by default, grouped together in clusters of four, for a 12MP sensor system that can capture more light than last year’s model. If you are like me and take the iPhone out of the box and start using it to take pictures, you will get better low light pictures since there are more pixels soaking up light.

    If you are a professional, or presumably, an amateur photographer who understands the various modes and science behind taking good photos, you are going to be able to enable the Apple ProRAW photo capture mode and take photos in full 48MP ProRAW Resolution. I have no business shooting photos in this mode, but for my trip to the Cape, I turned it on to get an idea of what some of the differences will be for an uninformed user like myself.

    There are two important things you need to know about shooting photos in ProRAW mode: they take about 1-2 seconds to process before the stock Camera apps is ready to take another photo; and that photos taken in ProRAW format are large, meaning that you will be able store less photos than shooting in the standard 12MP JPG format.

    For example, a standard 12MP Main camera photo, equivalent to 24mm ƒ1.78 with a 9MP resolution of 4032 x 2268 is stored as a 1.3MB JPG file. The exact same scene, shot just a few seconds later in Apple ProRAW, is equivalent to 24mm ƒ1.78 with a 36MP resolution of 8064 x 4536 is stored as a 50.4MB file.

    Another standard 12MP photo, taken of a cranberry bog in Harwich on a sunny day, is equivalent to 24mm ƒ1.78 with a 9MP 4032 x 2268 and is stored as a 3.9MB image in my iPhone’s Camera Roll. That same scene shot in ProRAW seconds after the first is equivalent to 24mm ƒ1.78 with a 36MP 8064 x 4536 resolution and taking up 102.1MB of storage on my iPhone.

    If ProRAW images require more storage space and more time to recycle and be ready to take the next photo, why would anyone want to shoot photos in RAW format in the first place? Well, for most people, it doesn’t. I certainly shouldn’t be taking ProRAW photos. But, for folks who know what they are doing, and how to use the tools, the 48MP Pro Camera system on iPhone 14 Pro is a big step forward for the camera that’s always in your pocket.

    William Sawalich, writing for DigitalPhoto.com, provides a more informed opinion when he writes:

    “There’s no doubt that RAW files provide better dynamic range and more control, allowing photographers to make changes to color, contrast, sharpness and saturation after capture without loss of image quality, as if the changes had been made prior to releasing the shutter. That’s why photographers who want ultimate control and quality relish shooting RAW.”

    The thing that I found interesting about photos taken in 48MP ProRAW mode is the amount of detail you can see when zooming in on a photo I took of Aunt Lydia’s Cove taken in Chatham, MA. For context, here is the full frame image that I took.

    Aunt Lydia’s Cove, Chatham, Cape Cod, MA.

    Below are two examples of unprocessed images that took on my iPhone 14 Pro Max. I used Preview to open them both side-by-side of illustrative purposes and then took a screen capture of them on my Studio Display for this post.

    Left: Zoom in on a 12MP photo. Right: Zoom in on a 48MP ProRAW photo.

    Zooming in on the boat that is in the center of the photograph, the name on the back of the vessel is muddy and hard to read (left). When zooming in on that same boat in ProRAW mode, the name Jakob & Megan is much clearer and easier to read. You don’t need all of the extra pixels to appreciate the photo, but if you wanted to get a zoomed in crop or adjust the colors of the photo, those extra pixels will be very helpful.

    Everything Else

    Aside from the marque features, iPhone 14 Pro Max is very similar to the iPhones Pro Max 13 and 12. You can see a full list of features between the phones using Apple’s Compare iPhone Models tool. Some other notable features include the second-generation optical image stabilization system and the related Action Mode video mode and the image processing enhancements in the new Photonic Engine. The two new safety features that any iPhone 14 Pro Max user will be happy to have and hopes to never use are Emergency SOS via satellite and Crash Detection. These new safety features are available on all four models of iPhone 14. The Crash Detection feature is also available on Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra.

    While I think it is amazing to think that the iPhone that is riding around in my pocket can communicate with satellites whizzing around the planet in space, Crash Detection will likely be the more commonly used feature. The Crash Detection feature uses data collected from the on-board sensors to determine if you were just in a sever vehicle crashes or rollover. Your iPhone will prompt you to request emergency SOS help. If you do not response, the iPhone will make an emergency services call on your behalf.

    Early smartphones, like the Palm Treo 600, taught me to hoard battery and data usage. While I have let go of miserly use of cellular data, I still fret over how much battery is left on my iPhone. This is one of the reasons why I get the Pro Max iPhone – I want the largest battery available in an iPhone to make sure I get through day and get back home before having to activate Low Power Mode.

    In reality, I am a light iPhone user. If I’m home, I typically grab my iPad. If I’m at work, there’s a PC on my desk. While working, I only occasionally check on Twitter, news headlines, or text messages. As a result, I can usually get at least two days out of a single charge of the Pro Max battery. This was true with my iPhone 13 Pro Max and also seems to be true of my iPhone 14 Pro Max as well. There have been some complaints that battery life on iPhone 14 is inferior to that of iPhone 13 Pro Max that I have seen on Apple-centric websites and tech Twitter. I’m just not seeing it in my daily use. Maybe I need to use my iPhone more while I’m at work playing around in social media apps like TikTok, Instagram, or Snapchat. I don’t know. I’m not into those platforms and don’t use those apps. Maybe it’s a bug in iOS 16. Maybe it’s just how people use their iPhones. All I can say is that in my opinion, iPhone 14 Pro Max with iOS 16 seems about the same as it was on my iPhone 13 Pro Max and iOS 15.

    Buying Advice

    I buy a new iPhone every year because I’m an Apple nerd that needs to have the latest popular gadget and because, as corny as it may sound, it’s my “thing”, just like many of you reading this article have your thing, be it cars or sports.

    Over the last month, I have been asked by family, friends, and coworkers if I have the new iPhone and what’s new with it. By and large, I answered with the same information that I have outlined here. At the same time, they ask if they should get the new iPhone.

    I follow up on their upgrade question with a few questions of my own. Is their iPhone more than three years old? Do you have to charge your iPhone one or more times a day to make it to the end of the day? Does it have any major screen or rear housing damage? If they have answered yes to these questions, I suggest that it’s likely time to upgrade.

    Most people upgrade every two to four years. And that sounds about right for an iPhone. Apple will service your hardware and provide free software upgrades for many years into the future. If you have an iPhone 6S, 7, 8, X, XS, or XR, you will probably want to upgrade to the new equivalent iPhone 14 model now. If you have an iPhone 11 Pro or iPhone 11 Pro Max from 2019, I think there are sound arguments to be made for buying now or waiting one more year.

    In most cases, upgrading after three years will get you a great new iPhone with loads of new features that will serve you for years to come. So, when it comes time to buy, buy the best iPhone you can and then enjoy using it for as long as you can before you upgrade again. In my opinion, that is a good strategy for getting the most bang for your buck on your new iPhone day.

    If you have an iPhone 12 or 13 Pro Max already, I feel that you can safely skip this year’s iPhone 14 Pro Max. Your current iPhone with iOS 16 gets you pretty close to iPhone 14 Pro Max. If you have an iPhone 13 and wondering if you should upgrade to the non-Pro iPhone 14, my opinion is that you should not upgrade.