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What is a Retina display

June 18th, 2012 by Raj

This article was originally written for MacTalk.
It appeared as an editorial on their home page June 18th, 2012.

“Retina display” it’s Apple’s latest buzzword that’s slowly mulling its way across their entire product line. Most recently recently bursting from its former iOS bounds and landing amid Apple’s newest MacBook Pro lineup announced just days ago at WWDC 2012. But what is exactly is a Retina display? How does it affect you as a consumer or perhaps you as a developer? Do I want one? Well in the words of Dr Deane Hutton “I’m glad you asked”…

To understand what a Retina display is we’re going to jump back to some of the basics that make up your computer’s (or phone’s, or tablet’s) display. Every screen is made up of pixels, tiny dots of light that are told what colour they should be by your computer. Thousands of these pixels line your display and together in their combination of colours create the visual imagery that you see and interact with on your screen. Where things get interesting is when we look at the density of the pixels or rather how many of them are crammed into the physical size of your screen referred to by the term “pixels per inch” (PPI).

PPI is calculated through a relatively simple little formula of which the crux is the number of pixels diagonally across your screen divided by its physical diagonal size. For example Apple’s smaller iMac which has a viewable diagonal screen size of 21.5 inches at a display resolution of 1900×1200 equates to a PPI of 102.46. Had the same display resolution been on physically smaller screen, say 15 inches diagonal the PPI would be much higher at 149.81.

Having a higher PPI means the pixels are bunched up much finer and can lead to a more crisp image to the viewer. Technology in display manufacturing has been slowly leading up to the point where now we can create displays with such a high PPI that according to Apple they are of such a high density that from a normal viewing point we can no longer see the lines between the pixels and it is this high density that Apple loosely refers to as a “Retina display”. To quote Steve Jobs at the unveiling of the iPhone 4, Apple’s first product with a Retina display:
“…there’s a magic number around 300dpi, if you hold something about 10-12 inches away from your eye, it’s the limit of the human retina to distinguish pixels.”

The original iPhone and it’s successors up until the iPhone 4 all had a resolution of 320×480 with a PPI of 163. With the launch of the iPhone 4 the resolution doubled to become 640×960, 326 PPI. The increase by exactly double is no accident either and you may have already noticed that the new MacBook Pro’s resolution is exactly double its predecessor’s too. 2880×1800 to it’s former non-retina self of 1440×900. So why is this? Well, it keep everything in proportion. For the user if you’re looking at a web page or running an app that was built using the lesser resolution the system can double everything quite easily and not ruin the ratio of the material. The downside is that as the technology begins to expand across new product lines you’ll see an almost never-ending game of catch up as developers must include larger versions of all the imagery included in their software so that it looks as it should, until that happens the software does its best to blow things up to their newly doubled size often leaving them blurry and uneasy on the eye.

For now the introduction of Retina displays into the Mac product family means more work for developers to double the size of their image assets. For the end-user, once their apps are updated they’ll enjoy a much more pleasant aesthetic experience and be able to truly reap the rewards of their wonderful display. The same goes for web developers, in a world where Retina displays become the norm the web will migrate to non-vector imagery doubled in size to accommodate these higher PPI displays. This may be a while away as Apple are technically the only people out there pushing the displays into the market at present but there are already Retina displayed imagery on a lot of websites as the iPhone & iPad take advantage of them already, accounting for the lion share of mobile traffic.

To break it down as a developer (web or app) you’ll be creating rasterized assets at double the size (and again at half if you want to do the job properly), for the end-user you’ll be complaining on Twitter and Facebook that your favourite app looks funny until you get an update. Unfortunate but true.

Lastly let’s all understand that “Retina display” is nothing more than an Apple trademarked name of higher pixel density displayed. It is NOT an industry standard nor patent of technology held by Apple, it’s a marketing term. Other computer manufacturers such as Dell or HP may not have a competing displays at this point but if they did they don’t have to create it to the same standard as Apple nor would they call it “Retina display”.

References:

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OS X Lion arrived; here’s how to fix it

July 21st, 2011 by Raj

Love it or hate it OS X Lion (10.7) arrived today and it doesn’t take long for you to notice (and loathe) many of the more subtle changes Apple have made in their infinite user interface (UI) wisdom. Fortunately a lot of the changes, which I personally find not to my taste, are quite easily fixed.

The issues & fixes:


“Natural scrolling” and how to disable it
Mimicking Apple’s iOS devices Lion implements a “natural” scroll direction, you would have noticed it as soon as you tried to read or do pretty much anything on your now Lion based machine. What it means is that when you scroll your mouse down the page moves up, which goes against any conventional mouse usage since its inception. In the words of Leo Laporte: “So. You spend 27 years teaching people how to scroll. Then you turn it upside down just for fun. I think Steve is laughing at us.”

How to fix it:
Jump in to System Preferences and select “Mouse”
On the first tab (“Point & Click”) the first option is “Scroll direction: natural”. Simply un-tick this.


Large font/icons in the Finder sidebar & Mail folder list
This one jumps out at you pretty quickly, everything, everywhere just looks BIGGER!

How to fix it:
Jump in to the “General” System Preference and look for the item “Sidebar icon size” seen below


Finder status bar missing
Are your Finder windows looking particularly thin? Missing some information about how many files/folders you have in the place you’re looking or perhaps a total file size for that folder? Well that’s because Apple have turned off the status bar leaving your Finder windows borderless on the bottom.

How to fix it:
Really simple this one. You can press Command + / on your keyboard or jump up to “View” > “Show Status Bar”


Startup disk missing from Finder sidebar
First of all the “Devices” section has been moved to the bottom of the sidebar, sorry no way to fix that one, but more concerning is that your startup disk has been removed from the list meaning the Finder is really only giving you quick links to your home folder. Sure there’s an icon on the desktop for your hard drive but that’s pretty lame if I have to go there to access it every time!

How to fix it:
Jump in to Finder’s preferences (either through the menu Finder > Preferences or by pressing Command + ,) and click on the “Sidebar” icon in the toolbar. Here you’ll see a list of items you can turn on & off in your toolbar. Down the bottom you can enable “Hard disks” if it is missing. If you have a “-” in the box next to it that means that it’s only displaying some of your hard disks in the sidebar, keep clicking it until it changes to a tick to get them all.


Library folder in home folder missing
The Library folder holds some very important information on how your applications will run and their settings. It’s also a commonly used folder by people who know what they’re doing to free up hard drive space, clean out old preference files for long deleted apps, fonts and much, much more. Apple have hidden the Library folder that’s in your home folder as (at a guess) a way of stopping people screwing up their application and OS installs. A fair move but for many they’ll want it back!

How to fix it:
This one’s a really simple one but it’s going to involve a little Terminal action. Pop open Terminal (Applications > Utilities) and paste in the following line:
chflags nohidden ~/Library/


Auto correct while typing
Further blurring the lines between desktop and mobile (iOS) experiences Lion introduces the popup predictive text box you’ve become acustom to writing all those text messages. Annoyingly it also enables the “auto correct” feature meaning that even if you type a word that you know is the one you want Lion goes ahead and places what it thinks in. As a programmer you most definitely do NOT want this function on I assure you.

How to fix it:
Another one squirrelled away in System Preferences. Open the “Language & Text” System Preference pane and select the “Text” tab.
Deselect the “Correct spelling automatically” option and I’ve found I needed to restart all the apps I had open or reboot to be sure.

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Apple Australia: Continuing to bite the reseller hands that feed it

April 4th, 2011 by Raj

A recent MacTalk post eagle-eyed a new round of retail job listings for the Victorian postcode 3205 otherwise known as “South Melbourne”. A store here would mark Apple’s first in-roads towards servicing the Melbourne CBD. The news was of course met with a chorused “Huzzah!” by fanboys en masse – the minor sub-plot: a debate waged over whether this meant the demise of any plans for a truly central CBD store.

Should this four digit prophecy prove true spare a thought for Apple reseller Computers Now. Their head office and showroom currently reside upon a corner of Clarendon St, South Melbourne’s main retail strip and what is most likely to be the home of the alluded Apple store. A slight kick in the balls to Comp Now who’d undoubtably see their retail bottom line take a hit with Apple parking their butts a few hundred metres down the road. Salt in the wound when you consider that the two Apple retail stores currently operating in Victoria have also parked themselves squarely on Computers Now’s doorsteps firstly at Chadstone (a store which has since closed) and Doncaster (a whole 100 metres away on the same floor of the shopping centre). Not only have Apple kicked them in the balls but I’d say they’ve fair cut them off too!

None of this would irk me too greatly should I not have, many years ago, ventured in to the realm of becoming an Apple reseller myself and gone through a very tiresome process of choosing a location that needed to be approved by Apple and the powers that be. Dealing with your local Apple Business Development Manager (BDM) my partners and I were given a very lengthy radial berth that we not impede on existing resellers and their business. The technicalities and legalities behind it all could be construed as complex but the general gist was around population density and it’s relation to supporting multiple outlets. At this time you have to remember the iMac had barely seen the light of day and Apple was hardly cash positive so their aim was to cover as much land mass as possible and not cannibalise their rather meagre sales streams. It made sense. It was business wise and between then and now Apple has been forced to recognise that all the good spots have already been taken and it would seem are just muscling the poor bastards out of their way.

Contracts and clauses have no doubt changed in the past eight or nine years, of that I’m sure, and technically Apple aren’t a “reseller” so the rules don’t apply in the first place but I still think it’s a shitty way to say thanks for standing by them while we were selling your crap Quadra 900’s for ten grand a pop once a year and eating tinned soup for dinner.

In closing I should add that I have never worked at Computers Now nor am I affiliated with them in any way. I also have no knowledge of any negotiations Apple may or may not have with the aforementioned resellers should they impose their giant foot on nearby ground. This is purely an opinion piece.

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Safari Extension: Google Bookmarks Autocomplete

January 2nd, 2011 by Raj

As with many of you I was shocked by Yahoo’s recent decision to begin closing Delicious. Having used Delicious for years I was now left searching for a replacement online bookmark service.

Not looking too far I decided to even further consolidate my online persona by importing my precious bookmarks in to Google Bookmarks. Unfortunately like the majority of Google’s services whilst reliable and functionally sound the UI sucks and it looks like it was designed 20 years ago by an engineer. The biggest functionality I missed almost immediately was the fact that the search function focused more on a plain text search through your bookmark’s names rather than tags (or as Google calls them, labels). All of your labels are listed on the left hand side and are clickable to perform a search on them but I’ve become used to being prompted when typing in the search field a selection of tags I may be looking for. Hence my first published Safari Extension is born, the “Google Bookmarks Autocomplete” extension.

The extension will prompt you with label matches based upon what you’re typing within the search box. Selecting one will automatically complete the search field along with Google’s required keyword to indicate you’re doing a label search. (ie. label:”label name”). You can then continue to type and be prompted with more labels or simply enter any text to further refine your criteria for results.

I have submitted it to Apple’s extension gallery or you can download the extension by clicking here.

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Can Touch This – Video Review: Fruit Ninja

September 7th, 2010 by Raj

My apologies peoples, I have forgotten to let you all know of my further Internet whoring exploits over at MacTalk Australia. Back when I did an episode of “Can Touch This” for them I also filmed a couple of video reviews, one of which was for Australian made “Fruit Ninja”.

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Guest host on MacTalk’s “Can Touch This” #61

July 28th, 2010 by Raj

Have you been missing the sound of my voice? Well I have good news for you, this week I join Anthony & Gav for episode 61 of the MacTalk produced podcast “Can Touch This“.

They were even kind enough to name the episode after something I said, “Your typical ham sandwich“. Tune in here to find out what that means and listen to us dissect the upcoming Australian release of the iPhone 4 and other related iOS news.

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Apple release new Mac Mini with HDMI

June 17th, 2010 by Raj

Apple released a long anticipated update to its Mac Mini line Monday morning. The new enclosure with in-built power supply and HDMI connectivity alone has home-theatre PC (HTPC) enthusiasts salivating whilst further blurring the line between the AppleTV’s usefulness and novelty factor.

The new 2010 Mac Mini includes:

  • 2.4GHz or 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 1.4″ thick Unibody enclosure
  • NVIDIA GeForce 320M Graphics Card
  • Built-in Power Supply
  • HDMI port and Mini DisplayPort
  • User accessible memory slot
  • Ethernet, FireWire 800, 4xUSB 2.0 ports
  • Secure Digital (SD) card slot
  • Analogue/Digital Audio Line out

Whilst the updates (and the immediate availability) are a welcome announcement the additional US$100 price tag has many punters up in arms. The Mac Mini is available starting from US$699 (AUD$999).

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The Apple iPad: 3 x 5 Points of Opinion

January 28th, 2010 by Raj

In case you’re one of the 6 people in the world that didn’t already know Apple today released a longly anticipated product, the iPad. Many have cheered, others have cried and then there’s those like me who write an opinion piece on it for an Australian Mac website MacTalk.

If you’re interested in learning more about it then may I suggest you check out the full article here:
http://www.mactalk.com.au/2010/01/28/the-apple-ipad-3-x-5-points-of-opinion/

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My first Cocoa adventure: The Huawei E169 Monitor

December 20th, 2009 by Raj

E169Monitor

Having moved in to a new place a few months ago I was once again greeted with the issue of not having an internet connection until the powers that be connected the relevant wires and flicked their respective switches. This; an all far too familiar occurrence I’ve had dealt with in a timely fashion in times gone by (it helped when you worked for a telco) would this time blow out to well over a month to which point relying on my iPhone would not cut it. Coming to my rescue a good friend (thank you Gavlar) bestowed upon me a USB wireless internet dongle that would suffice my addiction until normality was restored with some ADSL.

Armed with an Optus flashed Huawei E169 I was quick to find that at the time there was no software around that was compatible with the relevantly new Mac OS X – Snow Leopard (10.6.x). The solution was to set up the device as you would any other modem and install some lovely modem scripts and what not from Huawei’s website, this got you online but I then found my next problem, reception! It seemed that the Optus network had a little difficulty in particular areas of my CBD apartment and not having an real software to report things like signal strength and data network I spent a good amount of time walking around my place laptop in hands “guessing” that the reception was actually best 1m to the left of my kitchen stove at ground level laying on the floor.

As you can imagine I quickly got sick of that game and thusly decided I’d take a look at just how complicated it was to find out the signal strength was directly from the device. A few googles later and I’d opened a connection directly to the serial device through the terminal and was now actively seeing what I was after albeit in a rather nerdy fashion. Coincidently at the same time as this I was ploughing through Aaron Hillegass’ 3rd edition of “Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X” and thought to myself “Hey, why not create a program to scrape this nerdy jargon and present it visually.” and that’s exactly what I did.

So here you’ll find a little program I like to call the E169 Monitor, because that’s pretty much what it does, monitor your E169’s data connection reporting back on things like signal strength and network connection type (WCDMA, HSDPA, etc) as well as giving you a couple of buttons to connect and disconnect.

Credit where credit is due; a lot of the code in here would not have been possible had it not been for the wonderful AMSerialPort project that makes connecting and reading from serial (USB) connections so much easier than the standard Cocoa libraries and to make the whole connect/disconnect functionality work (and I’m still not sure I understand) I’ve borrowed heavily from the source of the now defunct CheetahWatch, a program which essentially did everything I’ve done and more back in the days of the E220 and OS X 10.4. I really wish this project was picked up again and nurtured because it is a really fantastic effort, if I actually owned one of these wireless cards I think I’d even try an revive it myself, even with my rather fledgling cocoa skills.

Rambling and thanks aside a link to my Xcode project is available here & below. Do with it as you will but please be aware that I’m offering no support, this is all just a learning experience for me that I thought others may find useful. I’ve only tested this code on my own machine, an Intel based MBP running 10.6.2. I hope you can get some use out of it, I had fun doing it and throwing back to the days I used to have to manually enter AT commands to dial the local BBS.

Download my E169 Monitor Xcode Project files. (3.1MB)

Useful Resources: AMSerialPort Project, CheetahWatch application

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I play guest on the MacTalk Podcast #95

October 8th, 2009 by Raj

Mactalk Podcast

Things have been a little quiet for me in the online world of recent but that’s all about to change today with a recent guest appearance on MacTalk Australia’s podcast in episode 95.

I’ve you’d like to have a listen head on over to their website or fire up your iTunes and get your Mac on.

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