.the ramblings of a radman.

Category: Random Acts of Technology (Page 2 of 3)

Mavericks Browser Showdown: Safari 7 vs. Firefox 24 vs. Chrome 30

A new version of OS X has been released into the wild and, with it, a new version of Safari. I’ve had the luxury of playing with Mavericks during the beta and so I had been using Safari 7 off and on for a while. While I had already grown accustomed to a few of the new features (Shared Links and automatically stopping plug-ins to save power were the most noticeable), I wasn’t using it on my daily driver. So when it was released to the rest of the world, I finally got to see first-hand how much faster the computer felt due to the improvements in resource management.

I suffer from tab-creep in my web browsers. I have never implemented a proper system for taking sites I want to remember but don’t need right away and filing them away somewhere with an easy system for retrieving them. I used to bookmark everything and categorize it later. I’ve also tried dumping everything into Pocket, but it still mostly goes unused. So, as a result, I leave lots of tabs open in my browser until I get fed up and do something about the ones that are left open.

(Incidentally, if anyone out there has a suggestion on a service for filing, tagging, and searching sites I want to remember that is easily accessible from Mac and iOS devices, let me know.)

The first thing I noticed in Mavericks is how much faster Safari behaved with lots of tabs open. Many times I would have to quit Safari while I performed certain key tasks and then reopen it a few moments later when I was finished. This was even more aggravating due to the Internet at work running at glacial speeds during the majority of the day, as I often would have to buffer any videos I wanted to check out in the background in order to watch them later. Suddenly, however, I could leave Safari open and suffer no ill effects in other tasks. After reading up on how much more efficient Mavericks handles resources, I was excited, to say the least.

Throughout the last 5 years or so, several tech websites have performed “browser shootouts” on both Macs and PCs to break down the strengths and weaknesses of each web browser and declare one the victor over all. While Firefox and Chrome are updated semi-regularly, Safari only sees major improvements a few times a year. Generally, a new major release is refined over the course of the year, but adds very little in the way of new features, only bug fixes and optimization. One of the few times to truly see how the browsers compare to one another is to test them shortly after Safari’s major update, so I took it upon myself to do so.

What follows is a very simple test that is by no means exhaustive. But, it gives a good example of Mavericks’ impressive performance gains and what we can expect to see from Chrome and Firefox should they adopt the appropriate APIs to improve their resource management in Mavericks.

The Test

To compare the performance of each browser, I wanted something that was simple and fairly easy to replicate across each browser. So, I exported my bookmarks from Safari and imported them into Chrome and Firefox. Then, one at a time, I launched the browser and opened several bookmark folders into tabs. Once finished, I had 91 tabs open in the browser, four of which were YouTube, Vimeo, Hulu, and Netflix.

These final four tabs were where the real magic was going to happen. I started playing videos in each of the sites, and left Netflix as the front-most tab. Then, I jumped over to Activity Monitor to observe the results.

The first thing I noticed, in both Firefox and Chrome was how quickly the computer became taxed. The fan on the computer ramped up to full speed as it attempted to dispel the heat from my MacBook Pro. In Safari, however, the fan never sped up. I even performed the Safari test twice, once before the others and again at the end to ensure that the computer had been properly warmed up. The MBP kept its cool throughout Safari’s test both times.

I took screenshots of Activity Monitor and used a calculator to add up the percentage of CPU use and GBs consumed in RAM.

The Results

Here is what I discovered (all numbers are approximations):

  • Firefox used 262.6% CPU and 3.37 GB of RAM
  • Chrome performed a mite better using only 234.3% CPU and 3.17 GB of RAM
  • Safari blew them all away with only 85.7% CPU and 2.06 GB of RAM
  • Safari came in a very respectable first place with 120.6% CPU and 2.21 GB of RAM

(Shortly before publishing this, I realized that several instances of two processes that were owned by OS X but managed by Safari weren’t being counted in my initial results: com.apple.audio.ComponentHelper and com.apple.audio.SandboxHelper. Both appeared several times, but were only recognized as Safari processes when viewed hierarchically in Activity Monitor. I have included the correct results above.)

For Firefox, verification was easy. Since Firefox is the only one of the browsers tested that doesn’t separate each tab into its own set of processes, I could just add up the numbers for the Firefox app, and the two plugins being used: Flash and Silverlight.

Chrome and Safari were a bit more frustrating, as they break up tabs into multiple processes, rather than lumping them together. In fact, the first two times I ran this test for Safari, I missed some processes, as mentioned above. I might have missed some for Chrome, as well, but since the goal of this test was to see how Mavericks’ new APIs benefit resource management, I didn’t bother checking to see if Firefox actually managed to outperform Chrome. Once I had added up all the numbers for Chrome and Safari, it became evident that the new features in Mavericks were a huge benefit. It will be interesting to see if Chrome or Firefox see significant performance gains in future versions, as well.

Have you noticed any apps that perform drastically better in OS X Mavericks? Let me know in the comments.

Apple’s pending point-of-sale revolution

This morning, while I was getting gas, I noticed that the price had dropped since the day before. Sweet! I thought. Free dollar! Okay, I didn’t exactly think that, but it sounded cooler than, Huh. Nice.

Anyway, as I was sitting there waiting for the inexorably slow pump to fill my car, I started thinking about services like GasBuddy. If you’ve not heard of GasBuddy, it’s a website and corresponding mobile app that lets you search for the lowest price in gas near your location before filling up. It’s pretty handy, especially on road trips since it can help you determine which cities are the best to stop for gas before moving on, saving you money on the trip and ensuring you don’t run out of gas before you reach the next waypoint.

The problem with GasBuddy is that it requires a real-life human being to observe the price, check the GasBuddy app or website to determine if it has changed, and then update it. It’s a less-than-ideal situation that requires someone to be passionate about the app to make sure it’s up-to-date. Whomever you are out there updating this database for me, I thank you.

However, Apple could change all that very, very soon. With Touch ID on the iPhone 5s, Apple is positioning itself to become the ideal point-of-sale for businesses. Using Bluetooth 4.0 LE, your iPhone could automatically pair with the payment system at the pump, prompt you to provide authentication with your fingerprint, then bill your card on file in iTunes, all without ever taking your wallet out of your pocket or purse. But this can go even a step further. Imagine that when I pay at the pump, Apple takes information like the location of the store and the price-per-gallon and automatically updates an online database, allowing iOS users to quickly find the cheapest gas in their area and know that it’s almost certainly going to be accurate. Going a step further, Apple could also find out how quickly customers get in and out of the pump area, so you know how busy the station is. Your morning commute might be less frustrating if you can find the fastest gas station, assuming you don’t mind paying a little extra for your gas.

Now let’s go out even further. Retailers supporting iPhones for payment would likely send itemized receipts to customers through Apple’s payment system. This gives Apple information on the prices of every product you purchase, which could again be dumped into a searchable database, allowing you to find the best price on any item you wanted to buy. Got some grocery shopping to do? Make your grocery list and let Apple tell you which store is going to cost you the least. Or hell, it could even split up the list between multiple stores and tell you if it would be cheaper to drive to each one (based on current gas prices in your area) and how long it will take. With Apple’s mapping service, your iPhone could even tell you if you’re likely to hit traffic and to recommend the best time of day to make your shopping excursion (maybe even give you an alert if a sudden rush of customers hits a specific store, letting you know that maybe you should just wait until tomorrow).

A lot of people are terrified of sharing this kind of data, and in many cases you should be. Something like this should be dependent on anonymized information, preventing any purchase data from being tied to an individual user (except in the case of itemized, digital receipts, which should be opt-in only). But imagine the possibilities.’

I don’t expect to see this come this year in iOS 7, but I believe with iBeacons and Touch ID, Apple is laying the groundwork. We’ll see a few retailers try to implement their own systems with these existing tools while Apple continues to look for the best way to take the whole pie in one swoop. I’ll be very keenly interested in what will be possible when Touch ID has trickled down to the “free” iPhone.

Chromecast: Polish it all you want, it’s still a piece of…

…okay, that might be a little unfair. I haven’t even played with one yet.

Google announced several new products yesterday, one of which I got really excited about for almost a whole day. Chromecast is a little device that you plug directly into your TV’s HDMI port so that you can stream video to it. At first blush, it sounds an awful lot like an Apple TV, something I feel confident was intentional on Google’s part. And, since they’re only charging $35 for it, versus $99 for the Apple TV, it seems like a really great deal.

At first.

But today, I spent a little more time delving into the details of the device and discovered that it’s not quite as incredible as it appears. I was really hoping that I could use it as an ultraportable AirPlay receiver. Imagine visiting a friend and plugging this device into his TV and streaming photos of your kids from your iPhone or iPad. Or envision being able to connect the Chromecast to a projector and giving a presentation or demoing your latest iOS app wirelessly from anywhere in the room. But, that’s not something it can do out of the box. Or maybe ever.

Okay, maybe not ever. Obviously, dedicated developers should be able to expand the features of the Chromecast, which could (one day) make it a compelling alternative to the Apple TV. A program on your home computer could behave as a web server which could be accessed by your iPhone or Android or iPad and then redirected to the Chromecast locally. And the eventual support of streaming Chrome tabs to the device will open up the content available significantly. But there’s something about the Chromecast that still feels like it’s too much work for the masses. It appeals to the gadget geek in me, and I can definitely see some benefits to it as a cheaper alternative to the Apple TV for those of us that don’t mind doing a little extra work to get our content on the TV. But having to use a phone or a tablet or a computer as your “remote” is daunting for a number of people, and makes this device actually a fair bit more expensive than the $35 for which it retails.

However, all of that aside, the biggest complaint I have with the Chromecast is one that I discovered while writing this article, and is the one thing that keeps the Chromecast from being elegant, even if it is affordable. The device is not powered by HDMI, but rather must be plugged in to a wall outlet or a powered USB port to make it work. Suddenly, the “ultra-portability” I was hoping for is gone, as is my desire to buy the device. I might still pick one up, if only because of the three free months of Netflix that are bundled with it (bringing the total price of the device down to $11, a much more affordable “toy” with which to experiment).

I hope it gets better fast, though. The Apple TV is an amazing device and one I love having in my living room. I can only imagine how much better it or future generations will get if there is real competition in the space.

But so far, this isn’t it.

AirPlay Mirroring to your Mac with AirServer and Reflector

One of the coolest features available to iPhones and iPads has been the ability to mirror your devices display to your television using an Apple TV. AirPlay has been around even longer, which let you direct a video or audio stream to your Apple TV or (in the case of audio) to an AirPort Express with attached speakers. However, in Mountain Lion, Apple went a step further and allowed supported Macs to also be able to mirror their displays to the Apple TV. Unfortunately, in what many consider to be an incredible oversight, Apple never went the opposite direction and allowed iOS devices and Macs to mirror their displays to other Macs. Some might consider this overkill, but it’s an excellent way to capture gameplay video from an iOS device and it’s also helpful in a classroom or work environment when Apple TVs aren’t readily available.

Enter AirServer and Reflector. Both apps have a very similar feature set, with the edge going to Reflector, which allows you to record video directly from within the app. This is an excellent tool for developers wanting to show off how their app works. However, for those that don’t need that specific feature and simply want to stream video to their display (or, those that prefer to use QuickTime Player or another tool for capturing video onscreen), AirServer feels simpler and easier to use. Plus, AirServer has a number of excellent pricing alternatives for students, teachers, and those that need a volume license.

One major advantage to AirServer is its ability to present a higher quality video stream out of the box. Reflector defaults to 720p video only, while AirServer takes into account the specific device connecting, allowing 3rd and 4th generation iPads to display 1080p video with no configuration. Reflector appears capable of doing the same, however it gives a warning that iOS devices only support 720p video, which is no longer true. Both devices allow multiple inbound video and audio streams at a time, which is also pretty cool if you want to display more than one device at a time. In an education or corporate environment, that can be handy for allowing different pieces of a presentation to be offloaded to multiple devices so that presenters don’t have to switch between apps on the fly. Or, if you just like showing off technology, it can allow you to play multiple games on your TV at once.

Another great benefit to AirServer over Reflector is the ability to treat inbound streams as individual windows, complete with close and minimize buttons and a full-screen toggle. You can also hover your mouse over the video to access music controls, allowing you to play, pause, and skip music playing from your iDevice’s library through your computer speakers.

If I had to choose only one app to use, I’d currently go with AirServer due to the greater pricing flexibility and the fact that it’s a smoother experience out of the box. However, if you want more control over capturing video, Reflector has a definite advantage.

You can get more information about AirServer at their website here. Likewise, Reflector’s site has additional info, as well.

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App.net: or, how I learned to abandon Twitter and start having meaningful conversations

So some of you may have noticed that I’ve been talking or posting things here and there about App.net (or ADN). I promised I would elucidate, but haven’t made time for it. Well, this is me elucidating.

App.net is a social network service similar to Twitter or Facebook with an emphasis on privacy and developer interaction. In regards to privacy, ADN doesn’t sell users or their data to advertisers in an attempt to make money. Until very recently, ADN was a paid service, and the funds for keeping everything running were derived from those membership fees. However, there is now a free tier available by invite (from paid members) with a few limitations: free members can only follow 40 users and have storage and upload size restrictions. This has allowed ADN to start reaching out to others disillusioned by social networks that view their users as the product being sold, not the customer being served.

Another really neat thing about ADN is its very robust API that encourages developers to build apps and services to make ADN a stronger, better place. For example, any web developer can write their own front end for ADN and build a better site for users to access their stream. Apps for Mac, PC, iOS and Android are all being developed and many developers have even found ways to drastically rethink the uses for the service. Patter is a prime example of a developer using the private messaging feature of ADN to create chat rooms on a variety of topics that feel very similar to IRC of old. Users can create their own public or private rooms and even create a public room to which only certain members are allowed to post messages.

App.net is still in its infancy and developers are still figuring out how best to utilize its feature set while anxiously awaiting new features that are added regularly. I have already stopped using Twitter almost entirely and instead use ADN whenever I can. It’s an environment that heavily encourages discussion, as well as jumping into conversations in the middle, not unlike a public web forum. If it sounds like something in which you might be interested, let me know. I’ve got a few invites and I’m happy to dole them out when I can.

Or, if you just want to observe for the time being, check out my profile.

The iBand and the future of wearable computing

I recently signed up for App.net (a paid Twitter alternative) and have quite enjoyed the conversations in which I’ve found myself involved. Two of the more interesting discussions have been about the future of the Apple TV (more on that later) and Apple’s rumored wearable iOS device that Michael Norton (@zenimpulse – ADN) recently dubbed the iBand.

If you haven’t seen the hundreds of posts about it yet, let me fill you in. On Sunday, The New York Times published a blog entry about Apple’s rumored ‘iWatch’ and suddenly the Internet exploded with theories, rumors, and various people shouting that they know a guy that knows a guy, etc. Is it true? Only Apple knows for sure, but that hasn’t stopped speculation from clogging up the Interwebs.

Today, a group of us on ADN were discussing the possibilities of a wearable device that paired with our iPhones, iPads, and Macs and enabled us to do things that we currently can’t. It’s all wild speculation, of course, but it didn’t stop us from dreaming. As the discussion progressed, it became clear that what Apple might be building is much more than a watch, but an entirely new accessory to existing computing technology. It’s no surprise that most of us had already read Bruce Tognazzini’s thoughts on the rumored device, so it directed much of our discussion.

We were quickly divided into two reasonable (and polite) camps: those that believe an iBand would be an amazing device capable of changing how we interact with the technology around us, and those that believe it would be unnecessary in a world where we’re already too connected. One of the fundamental differences of opinion came from how each person views the rumored device: Do I need more from a watch? Can this even be considered a watch or is it something more?

Here are a list of items we discussed as potential features for the rumored iBand:

  • Syncs with iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Mac
  • Can be used as an authentication key for any of your devices, optionally disabling passcodes and passwords on your device when in proximity
  • Uses biometric sensors and/or an identification challenge to remain secure, preventing a thief from gaining access to your devices (or your house, or your car, or any other compatible tech-integrated object)
  • Captures data in a fashion similar to a Nike FuelBand or a FitBit, storing accelerometer, locations, elevation and more for synchronization with your devices when in proximity
  • Can be used to receive notifications from your devices including app notifications, email notifications, iMessages, phone call alerts, alarms and calendar events, and other items of interest (such as the restaurant you like is only a block away and is having a lunch special; you have plenty of time before your next scheduled meeting to have lunch, pick up your dry cleaning, and get back to the office)
  • Can tell time
  • May eventually come in multiple colors or have a removable band so that 3rd-parties can design new ones that fit your lifestyle and sense of fashion
  • Will have a simplified interface that is focused on receiving data from your devices, not replacing them entirely
  • Could serve as an external FaceTime camera and speakerphone (Dick Tracy would be proud!)

So there you have it. While it may not be everything to everyone, it certainly hits on a need or three of many humans out there. One of the biggest arguments against such a device is that you already have your iPhone with you, why can’t you just take it out of your pocket and do all these things? In the case of notifications, the benefit would be so you could see who is calling or messaging you without having to do those things, which would be very useful if you’re in a business meeting and are waiting for an important call from another client or are receiving an emergency message from a loved one. Plus, with control over what does and doesn’t get pushed to the iBand, you could ensure that important notifications show up on your wrist and other notifications are simply ignored in your pocket and left on your lock screen or in notification center to be reviewed at a later time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you think Apple should release an iBand? Do you have other ideas on what could make it better that I haven’t listed?

The trouble with BlackBerry

Today, the company-formerly-known-as Research in Motion, creators of the once-dominant smartphone BlackBerry, announced a name change to match their flagship product. In other news, nobody cares.

Okay, that’s a little harsh, but it’s more true every day. BlackBerry is no longer relevant, except as a case study of what not to do when a competitor launches a paradigm-shifting product. As if determined to prove that the company lives in a bubble, a recent radio interview from across the pond made me laugh today. Unfortunately, it also made me cringe.

Marketing buzzspeak is poison, but it’s downright mephitic (That’s right! I learned a new word today!) when an executive refuses to answer a simple question. One of the most frustrating thing about corporations today (aside from The Evil™) is that they use a lot of fancy words to say nothing. Rather than give a straight answer to a question, they focus on redirecting the conversation to a fanciful edition of their press release.

The problem BlackBerry is facing right now and that they just don’t seem to recognize is that they are no longer in control of the market. As such, they need to stop behaving like a large corporation and begin acting like a startup again. Make bold decisions, challenge the largest of your competitors and ignore the long-standing sithspit that you shouldn’t acknowledge your competitors. You’re the underdog now. Act like it.

Of course, BlackBerry could vanish into the æther and I wouldn’t care at all.

Best Apple links of the day

I came across a decent number of good articles today about Apple, all of which are worth a read, even if you don’t like Apple. Why? Because if you’re the type of person that expends any amount of energy repeating the misinformation that passes for journalism these days, it’s important to know when you’ve been had.

So, in no particular order, the best reads of the day are:

‘Every empire crumbles’ from John Moltz’s Very Nice Website

Swallowed whole from The Macalope over at Macworld

How Apple Is Destroying Android From The Inside Out (and why it’s difficult to see) from Kate MacKenzie over at Mac360

Of Myths and Market Share from Michael J. Tomlin’s obviouslogic (my personal favorite of the day)

Apple Investors ‘Dissatisfied’ With Life? from CNBC (this is a video, not an article), courtesy of MacDailyNews, which has transcribed key paragraphs from the video (if you prefer to read)

I was directed to most of the articles above by Daring Fireball and The Loop. I highly recommend reading both sites daily.

RetroforceGO! Podcast Archive

RetroforceGO! was a podcast from Destructoid that talked about classic video games. It ran for several years and to date remains my favorite podcast of all time. Unfortunately, the Destructoid website didn’t exactly do a very complete job of keeping the episodes online and available. Fortunately, I saved every episode on my computer long after I had listened to them.

I’m not the first person to put up an archive of the show, but I did put the entire contents online a couple years ago so that I could publish a link to them on here for others to download, in case they were looking for a specific episode or just wanted to listen to the podcast again or for the first time. I had always meant to set them up with an RSS feed for those that wanted to “re-subscribe” to it and get it into their preferred podcast player, but I never got around to it. So anyway, here they are in all their downloadable glory. When I have free time, I’ll try to come back in here and link to each individual episode, but for now I’m just going to present you with a link to the folder where they’re contained. If you want a more detailed download option, then I suggest you check out Wasted Seconds’ own archive of the podcast. They’ve also got links to a torrent to grab all of them at once.

RetroforceGO! podcast archive

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