Quite a lot has happened this week, but there are three things on which I have some thoughts to share. First is Apple’s updates at WWDC this year for the rebranded macOS, some bold changes to iOS 10 etc. Second is the rather bad update (in my opinion anyway) that the VSCO iOS app recently received; it had been my photo management app of choice for years but that may change if things remain as they are now for long and Priime, the app that works beautifully and replaced VSCO entirely during my recent trip abroad, could replace it. Is that indeed a sign of things to come? Third is the new Warcraft film which I thought was brilliant, and I cannot think of a single reason why it did not do well in the USA while it did just fine here in Asia.
WWDC 2016 and iOS 10
Apple’s live stream was broken for me, being spotty at its highest consistency and unavailable otherwise. I managed to follow it hopping between the video feed and Andrew Cunningham’s live blog over at Ars Technica. The company says iOS 10 is the biggest release yet for users (bigger than the jump from iOS 6 to 7?) and ditto for developers. The latter I can understand: extensions are everywhere, Siri SDK opens up at last, and lock screen widgets can do wonders if used right. The former, though, let’s face it: bubble effects and emoji that are “3 times bigger” are not enough. Apple does make up with something they skipped at the keynote itself, namely the ability to delete most stock apps. This was something I had on my wish list since quite some time.
There are other points on my wish list that somewhat saw the light of day: control centre is now customisable albeit not in the way I had hoped it would be; there is no RAW shooting mode yet; contact books got an overhaul, but I have no idea if groups can be created on iOS yet; Siri, as I said already, is open to developers; multi-user support is nowhere to be seen yer; 3D Touch is getting better use, but I will hold off my thoughts on this till I actually use iOS 10, hopefully sometime in July; Mail seems to have a new design, but since I moved to Airmail this point is moot for me unless the redesign is massive enough to make using Mail as convenient as Airmail, so, once again, no thoughts until after July; Calendar falls in the same category as Mail, and I have no data as to whether this has seen an update yet in the first place; the Camera app was surprisingly left out of every conversation at WWDC, so I still have no word on whether the camera app has video options in it, but the slide right option to quickly access the camera from the lock screen is much better than the older method. These were on my wish list and Apple has answered them well. I still would like to see the ability to set third-party apps as defaults. Perhaps this will come with iOS 11, seeing as Apple took baby steps to finally make default apps deletable.
The re-branding to macOS was simple, but I wish it did not take up so much of the changes to Macs. In retrospect, there were hardly any big changes to Mac except Siri. This could mean I (we?) expected too much, or Apple needs to switch to an update stream once in two years so that substantial updates are made possible, while minor updates can continue to be served through the App Store — which, I hear, is getting a major re-design. Search on the App Store was especially broken requiring devilishly accurate typing to get relevant search results. Once again, it looks like Google may have spoilt us, but there is no denying that AI in search saves time. (That it may unintentionally limit one’s worldview is a whole other debate.) The bold text on the Music and News apps are a welcome change, but Apple has a notorious track record of inconsistent changes, which is a surprise considering Mr Ive is at the helm these days; consider, for example, the skeuomorphic texture leftovers in the Notes app and Reminders app, even after three whole years of changes everywhere else in the OS — and one massive overhaul in the case of the Notes app. I, for one, hope to see that bold text and clean look à la Apple Music everywhere in iOS 10.
VSCO and Priime
About five years ago when I first came across a photo editing app called VSCO, like 30 million other people, I absolutely enjoyed it. Its edits were subtle and fit perfectly into the entire philosophy of mobile photography: speed and ease of use. And then last week’s update happened which ruined a lot of VSCO for me as the end user. I think what the end users feel matters a lot, and if VSCO thinks the same, they should probably rush to correct everything disturbing about the latest version (5.x) of the app. In short, I think they went ahead and tried to fix something that was not broken and, in the process, broke it.
Here is the harsh fact, though: no matter what anyone says, there are alternatives to VSCO. Like synonyms, these alternatives may not do the exact same thing (and if they do then who needs them anyway?) but they do offer similar capabilities and retain the underlying principle of their genre of apps. That is to say, they may not have VSCO’s signature “film looks” but they do, however differently, still let you achieve the same kind of photographic darkroom edits to make your good pictures better and give them a more formal completeness. In Priime I see a successor to VSCO like I have not seen in another app. Make no mistake, VSCO is a giant, which is what is still keeping the app on my phone. They changed a lot about the app but they left the editing screens mostly untouched, and with good reason: that is the heart of VSCO, and if they ruin that, it means the end of the mobile app.
However, Priime is really good and comes dangerously close to stealing VSCO’s user base. Nonetheless, if “film looks” are not really your thing and all you need are editing capabilities, there is no reason not to jump ship to Priime right now. Its UI is better: once you swallow VSCO’s interface, which looks like their first draft somehow made it all the way to the final version, it is a little easier to use, but nothing beats actual words written on the screen. Also, Priime has shadow darkening, which VSCO does not. On the other hand, VSCO makes it easy to play with skin tones and keystone effects. All said an done, what seals it for me are Priime styles. Filters are an important part of mobile photography because they help achieve a look quickly and then make edits, whereas starting from scratch like in the traditional digital darkroom does not always make sense thanks to the time and effort involved — at least in the way most people see mobile phone photography, as on-the-spot creating, editing, and sharing. At one time I may have said that VSCO blocked itself off with only film looks, but Priime overcomes this because its styles are designed based on the works of real photographers, in collaboration with those photographers themselves. In any case, I lose nothing by leaving VSCO, because both VSCO and Priime are merely tools for my photography and if VSCO makes things harder for me with its avante garde non-functional UI, and if Priime makes things simpler and more straightforward, then Priime it is.
Warcraft — with spoilers
Ah, how some of us waited for this film. And then it flopped in the US, but that was not to move the Chinese who gave it over half of its US $300 weekend bag. I see a lot of people calling it a flop, but it is not, just because it did not do well in the US. One can sit around and nitpick about Warcraft lore and call the film on its changes, but a film is not a game and some changes simply have to be made to cater to those unfamiliar with the game itself and the fact that a game can grow on you over months and years while a film has a few hours at best. I did think the whole relationship between Lothar and his son was unnecessary, but I can see how director Duncan Jones may have intended that as a means of grounding the characters and making people connect with them more.
Gerona’s story was, personally, my favourite. Although different from the game itself, it was complex and brought a lot of dimension to the orc–human relationship among the key characters in the film. Misunderstandings have often played a big part in tragedies and this time is no different, and I think the filmmakers used it really well here. Blizzard did a good job to be honest, and this is one of the better video game films I have seen recently. The orcs and Lothar’s bird were beautifully animated — again, one can complain, but I think they deserve a lot of credit — and the CGI was generally really good. One possible reason critics may have given this film low ratings would be the fact that rather than feeling like a complete, wholesome story, this feels like it was setting up a world. It definitely has the feeling of a beginning, not the horrible feeling that Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man had, but the kind of feeling you get when you watch the first LOTR film and know there is more coming. For Warcraft, I certainly hope there is more coming, although the poor reviews in the US do little to ensure that, but with a trilogy or — dare I say it — with six films, the Warcraft can make it as big in the film world as it has in the video game industry.
So much for this week.