Tag Archives: Apple

Apple’s HEIF and HEVC

At this year’s WWDC, Apple introduced a new format for still images and video. The container is called High Efficiency Image Format (HEIF), and it uses a codec called High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC). HEIF files can store still images, video, or both at once. Apple doesn’t have proper documentation on its site, as far as I can see, but a slideshow on HEIF and one on HEVC provide a lot of information. Kelly Thompson provides a technical overview.

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APFS, Apple’s replacement for HFS+

Apple is introducing a new file system to replace the twentieth-century HFS+. The new one is called APFS, which simply stands for “Apple File System.” When Apple released HFS+, disk sizes were measured in megabytes, not terabytes.

New features include 64-bit inode numbers, nanosecond timestamp granularity, and native support for encryption. Ars Technica offers a discussion of the system, which is still in an experimental state.
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The return of music DRM?

U2, already the most hated band in the world thanks to its invading millions of iOS devices with unsolicited files, isn’t stopping. An article on Time‘s website tells us, in vague terms, that

Bono, Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr believe so strongly that artists should be compensated for their work that they have embarked on a secret project with Apple to try to make that happen, no easy task when free-to-access music is everywhere (no) thanks to piracy and legitimate websites such as YouTube. Bono tells TIME he hopes that a new digital music format in the works will prove so irresistibly exciting to music fans that it will tempt them again into buying music—whole albums as well as individual tracks.

It’s hard to read this as anything but an attempt to bring digital rights management (DRM) back to online music distribution. Users emphatically rejected it years ago, and Apple was among the first to drop it. You haven’t really “bought” anything with DRM on it; you’ve merely leased it for as long as the vendor chooses to support it. People will continue to break DRM, if only to avoid the risk of loss. The illegal copies will offer greater value than legal ones.

It would be nice to think that what U2 and Apple really mean is just that the new format will offer so much better quality that people will gladly pay for it, but that’s unlikely. Higher-quality formats such as AAC have been around for a long time, and they haven’t pushed the old standby MP3 out of the picture. Existing levels of quality are good enough for most buyers, and vendors know it.

Time implies that YouTube doesn’t compensate artists for their work. This is false. They often don’t bother with small independent musicians, though they will if they’re reminded hard enough (as Heather Dale found out), but it’s hard to believe that groups with powerful lawyers, such as U2, aren’t being compensated for every view.

DRM and force-feeding of albums are two sides of the same coin of vendor control over our choices. This new move shouldn’t be a surprise.

Rescuing Macintosh Files

On Wednesday, September 4, 2013, I talked with a small gathering of the Mac Tech Group at MIT on “Rescuing Macintosh Files.” There was a good discussion, with several people contributing valuable points.

The computer presentation which I used is available as a Powerpoint or OpenOffice document. The PowerPoint one had some problems at MIT with displaying all the images, so if you have a choice the PowerPoint one may work better.

New audio format from Apple?

The Guardian reports that Apple is developing a new audio file format.

Apple is working on a new audio file format that will offer “adaptive streaming” to provide high- or low-quality files to users of its iCloud service.

The new format could mean that users can get “high-definition” audio by downloading to an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Alternatively, it could offer a streaming service – like that of Lala.com, the music streaming and online storage company, which Apple acquired late in 2009.

No technical details are available yet as far as I can tell. This part is weird:

“All of a sudden, all your audio from iTunes is in HD rather than AAC. Users wouldn’t have to touch a thing – their library will improve in an instant,” said the source, who requested to remain anonymous.

This presumably refers to your music files on iCloud, not the ones you’ve downloaded. It seems a bit disturbing to me that Apple would just replace all the music you’ve paid for with a new format, but maybe I just don’t understand iCloud.

Concerns with Apple’s iBooks Author

Apple’s iBooks textbooks for iPad stakes a position against openness in e-book publishing.

The format of the books is not a standard EPub format. The only tool that can create this format is Apple’s iBooks Author, and the only application that can view it is iBooks. An article on Ars Technica reports that it uses “ePub 2 along with certain HTML5 and JavaScript-based extensions that Apple uses to enable multimedia and interactive features. Those interactive features will only work with Apple’s iBooks app, not with other e-reader software or hardware, because only Apple supports those extensions.”

A post on Glazblog (the author says he’s “Co-chairman of the W3C CSS Working Group”; it would be nice if he gave his name) gives technical details. It uses XML namespaces that aren’t publicly documented, a nonstandard MIME type, and a private CSS extension.

This means you can’t view the books on anything but iOS. If Apple ever drops support for the format, it’s obsolete and impossible to support.

On top of this, the EULA for iBooks Author restricts sale of books created with it to the Apple Store. You can give away your books by any channel you like, but if you sell them, you must use the Apple Store. This means that if Apple doesn’t accept your book for publication, you can’t sell it in that format. (Except maybe in France, as Glazblog amusingly notes.) This is like having a compiler that lets you create software which you may sell only through Petitmol, or a video application that forbids you from selling your movies through anyone but FooTube. I can’t think of a precedent for this.

Authors normally would like to be able to take a book to a different publisher if their previous one loses interest. With books created with iBooks Author, you can’t do that, for both technical and legal reasons. The format isn’t under DRM, though, and the exclusivity applies to the format, not the content. As far as I can tell, you should be able to extract most of the content and republish it in a different format.

Apple’s restrictions make iBooks textbooks unsuitable for assignment to classes, unless the school is willing to give every student an iPad. Those who use other devices would be left out in the cold.

Apart from the restrictions, does Apple’s new format offer anything exciting? My own reaction, from briefly looking at a few sample books on a co-worker’s iPad, is that the interactive graphics are attention-getting, but the most important form of “interactivity” with a textbook is trying things out on your own — playing with the equations, writing sentences in the language, whatever. The best accessory for that is still a pencil and paper.