Author Archives: omo

HomePod & Apple Audio

I’m not fully in Apple’s echosystem, owning just a MBPr for personal use, a work MBPr, a work Mac Mini, an iPad mini 2, and the latest addition which is an Apple TV. I guess I’m pretty deep in it! But my daily drivers are my Pixel and my home-build desktop running Win10, so it goes that I only tangentially use Apple’s hardware because I think they are pretty good. I kind of use MacOS begrudgingly but realize that a *nix environment with my work is very nice, a gap that Win10 is slowly bridging.

Digression aside, with WWDC wrapped up the only real interesting item to me is the HomePod. I am very lightly dabbing in the home IoT stuff with just a WeMo switch and my Google Home Assistant (and it comes with the Pixel too). HomePod just seemed timely because I recently upgraded my receiver to a Yamaha RX-V581 (attached to a Polk-powered 5.1 system) in my living room, and it allows for 96khz FLAC streaming. It sounded really good if you have properly high-dynamic-range music playing off it. Like, REALLY FREAKING GOOD.

I’m thinking about the HomePod in this context, in that it adds a voice assistant in the form of Siri in which can help you easily set the music you want, assuming you want to use its services. Well, that’s nice, because the immediate bottleneck in order to get the FLAC streaming going on my new receiver is getting the music set up for streaming. On the phone, I was able to use Yamaha’s MusicCast and that was fairly painless, but on the PC I had to use some homebrewed media server (MinimServer) to get high res FLAC to work. It’s not hard, just something you need to research. Wouldn’t it be easy to just Aux out from something like a HomePod?

Well it turns out if I hook up a Chromecast (which I did) to the receiver the same could happen. And the internet comments are right, Google already allows for this use case. It’s not first-party in that you have to get the devices or apps that allows for Chromecast streaming, or a Home Assistant which does it for you. But this is the thing Apple is good at–simplifying these kind of “a little nerdy” ways to get things to work.

I guess since my Apple TV is hooked up to it, I should be able to do it with that too, right? I guess Apple hasn’t opened up that use case yet. I imagine it’ll happen soon. And if I want to use AirPlay I can directly do it into the receiver, so it’s even easier there, it’s just Apple hasn’t enabled Siri enough in the way Google has for its Assistant.

All this is saying, is that I won’t be getting a HomePod because once again I am not really the kind of users they’re targetting. Not that I’m not in the high end market, but I’m not “sheeple” enough to appreciate their enhancements, and I want more flexibility and openness than what Apple is willing to give. And I prioritize differently in terms of my voice or smarthome assistant. So I guess it’s a variety of things.

Say what you want about Apple being an audio company; the EarPods are the #1 thing I want from Apple today, and what is stopping me from buying one is precisely because they have pretty bad sound compared to a similar pair of full wireless buds.  Why can’t they double down on some truly good IEM? Ear buds suck! Sigh.

Good Writing, Poor Thoughts

I’m just picking on the Verge because I can’t log in. I think it collects a nice reader base so I “troll” in the comments. With MTF being inaccessible I need somewhere to have a prose-y way of expressing myself? Something between a chat and a blog, and a federated public space (eg., not my Facebook page).

But reading the articles, I think they at least try to point fingers at large topical areas that are relevant given the landscape of personal tech, but there is poor thought put in.

Take this one about USB-C and universal charging. As the landscape move from Micro-USB (and Lightning) to USB-C based methods, yeah, issues will happen, consumers will be bothered, so there’s space to write something. But at the same time the complaints in the articles are exactly the things why we did not have a unified standard to begin with. Once you unify the plugs, the more types of plugs, the more different use cases you have to distinguish, that used to be sorted by plug types. Yes, isn’t it cool you can charge your laptop with your Switch? Oh it’s a problem? Because people don’t know how new stuff works? Isn’t this exactly the “dumbening” at work? It’s not even growing pain as I call it, it’s about maturity of one area in which personal tech needed more support from.

Then you have tone deaf ones like this. He’s saying the small phone feels smaller, but not that much smaller. You still have to stretch to hit the top, but the S8/S8 Plus makes it easy. But the reality is anyone who opts for the smaller phone in this space are doing it 1) for the money, or 2) they want a phone that is easier to handle, or just smaller phone. The S8 Plus is not easier to handle than the S8, and he doesn’t even claim it handles the same. So what is this? It’s kind of mansplaining if you think about it. It’s the kind of dumb articles that just tells the reader “hey I have no real idea why people buy smaller phones!”

The point about the S8’s new shape and handling is well worth pointing out. They are gaming the spec sheet by changing both the aspect ratio and having no bezels. People shop by screen sizes (for some reason, thanks comparison charts and the like) and not by how phones handle (dimensions don’t tell the full story either, weight distro, surface grip, curvyness/shape all play big roles). The S8 was able to make good handling for a phone of that size screen (hope you like black bars), so the usual comparison charts fail. It’s worth pointing out. But not like this.

Sigh.

This Really Is My Next?

I spent a good chunk today reading up on 3D XPoint technology. It’s basically non-volatile memory based on a phase change technology. Think NAND, except it writes-in-place (no erase needed) and does not have the same degradation issue NAND has (it still does…). This means this memory can be directly addressed, and also offer very low latency and very good performance at low queue depth.

This is because Intel issued a PR for its consumer space, selling 3D XPoint SRT (basically M2 cache drives for consumer grade desktops and maybe laptops). For $77 or whatever you can stick 32GB of fancypants new memory tech into your crap-tier desktop and it will function like a hybrid drive? Uh okay. The only juice I found was that they’ll release a U2 version of this memory and that’ll be worth looking into when the time comes?

Instead, let’s read up on Intel’s roadmap (unlike SLC/MLC NAND, Intel and Micron locked 3D XPoint down) here. Or their 4$/gb enterprise “cache” solution. Or Sammy’s answer as of last year. As you can see this has been playing out for years. A lot of the performance that 3D XPoint brings are going to be “locked” behind the controller scheme, and OS level support. Obviously for hyperscale solutions there’s all kind of juice to be extracted but if we plebs get even non-volatile memory as a result, that would be pretty sweet. Of course even for NVM-based memory (that sounds dumb) to play a revolutionary role there’s so much that has to change…

It’s interesting to see that the heating uptake on NVM directly leads to my investment in NVM (bought a Sammy 950 pro last Christmas) being obsolete. As someone who still owns an Intel X-25m g1 I find it only apropos.

#Donglelife Remixed

If we think of removing the 3.5mm jack on iPhones and rumored next Sammy’s Galaxy phone as how Apple removed less-used IO devices like optical drives and Ethernet ports, then it makes sense.

Is it anti-consumer? I don’t know, they do include a dongle in the device so not really to me. Could it have been done better? Yeah sure.

The problem I have isn’t the whining–the whining is the solution to the problem that I have–the problem is that Bluetooth is this wild child growing up on the sidewalks and street corners of today’s gadgets metropolis. Someone needs to take him/her in and give Bluetooth the grooming and upbringing it deserves. If the wireless future is to continue, and based on what I understand about Bluetooth there’s nothing technically inferior about it, companies need to drive this technology.

The problem with audio technology in general is that consumers are far from discerning. As much as I look down on Beats phones, the commercial success of those fashionable cans does drive people to new habits–namely buying better quality headsets. That in turn should drive more people to better Bluetooth devices. Historically BT was used for crappy conference speakers and headsets that sound like a 3200baud modem. And that has been the way China and all them product chains are working. (Side note: same thing is happening with cables for USB-C). This means the marketplace is flooded with terrible BT implementations. And nobody knows any better.

So in order to take dongle life to the next stage, we need better BT implementation. Which is why Apple did just that. This is why Android OEMs need to take note and play along. I think by ditching the 3.5mm that will mobilize public attention on this issue. If we want real progress we can’t just let fools keep fooling around with their cables, as suitable as it might be. Life is better when wirelessly portable is literally wireless.