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iPhone 5 Leather Case Thoughts From A Case Hater

I have never liked using a case on my iPhones (from the beginning). I’ve never found one that didn’t make it feel excessively bulky and, well, ugly. I like the feel and look of the devices, and have never liked covering it up with a case. My wife, on the other hand, is pretty rough on her iPhones, and benefits from having one. So I ordered one of the new Apple leather 5/5s cases (blue) for her at the same time I ordered my 5s, with the ulterior motive of evaluating it for myself, to see if I might finally cave in and start using a case.

She loves it – it’s super slim, feels and looks very nice, and provides good protection (especially to the back, edges, and corners, which are the most vulnerable areas on the 5 series, IMO). I liked it too, a lot, so I went out and picked one up for my 5s. I went back and forth on color, between black and red, and finally went with red, just to have a little splash of color. I love it so far. Feels nice, looks GREAT, and doesn’t add hardly any bulk. One of the best features is that it adds a little grip to these very slippery phones, and I feel like it’s much less likely that it’ll slip out of my hand with the case on.

I’ve seen some complaints that the buttons (power and volume) are kind of hard to press through the case, and they are a bit stiff, but not excessively so, and I’m sure they’ll loosen up over time. I’ve also seen complaints that it’s hard to remove the phone from the case, which is true, but I don’t intend to take it out of the case very often, so it’s not a big deal to me. It’s kind of pricey at $40, but that’s Apple for you. Great quality, worth it to me.

A couple of incidental observations:

I picked up the case at the Washington Square Apple Store (in the Portland, OR area) on Saturday afternoon. I used the Apple Store app on my phone to scan and pay for the case without waiting in any lines, or interacting with anyone. Even in a super crowded store, I could have been in and out of there in a minute if I hadn’t stopped to chat with one of the sales guys. Very slick experience.

As I mentioned, the store was PACKED, which isn’t unusual, but besides the normal crowd (I’ve never seen Washington Square mall this crowded, in general), there was a line of about 50 people *outside* the store, queued neatly behind some ropes. Mind you, this was about 4:30pm on a Saturday afternoon. I asked what they were lining up for, and the sales guy told me it was for the 5s. He said that was the first day they’d received any significant stock since launch, and people were still lining up for it.

So, after 6 years, and on my seventh iPhone, I think I finally found a case I like.

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Six Years Ago, The iPhone Changed Everything

You'll all have one of these soon!

Six years ago today was the launch of the iPhone. Up until the night before, I was convinced I wasn’t going to get one. It only had “2G” EDGE data speeds, and I had just switched from Verizon’s 1.5-ish Mbps EVDO network to AT&T’s faster UMTS/HSDPA network. I was using an HTC phone running Windows Mobile 2003, and I loved it. Fast speed, email and web, it was great. I didn’t think I could handle going back to slower EDGE speeds.

But the night before the iPhone launched, the excitement overcame me, and I decided to wait in line for an iPhone. I went to the AT&T store in Hillsboro about 9AM the next day (the launch was at 6PM), with a camp chair and supplies, ready to camp out. I was first in line at that store. I made it into a fun experience – I blogged and posted photos, and even managed to work for a while with my laptop. Rachel and the kids brought me lunch and stayed and played for a while. I visited with a couple of people in line near me, and the overall atmosphere was fun and exciting. As 6PM drew closer, the AT&T store staff visited with us, sharing in our excitement, and brought us bottles of water and chips. The store closed a couple of hours before 6PM, and we could see the employees inside setting up the new displays and demo phones. One guy brought the iPhone he had just unboxed over and held it up to the glass for us – it was the first time I (or anyone else there, for that matter) laid eyes on the iPhone in person. It was beautiful.

Teasing us!

When 6PM rolled around, the doors opened and the excitement hit its peaks. I was the first one in the store, and since I knew exactly what I wanted, it was a quick procedure. Activation went smoothly (lucky for me I was first, as activation delays set in later). EDIT: I remembered that wrong. A few minutes later I got to be the first iPhone owner to walk out of the store. There was no huge crowd (though I think I remember some applause and yelling), but it was a moment of supreme nerd pride and satisfaction. I was (pretty much) the first iPhone owner in Hillsboro. You can see a set of photos from that day on Flickr.

I sometimes wish I had gone to the Apple Store. The crowds were bigger, and it feels like it would have been a more “essential” iPhone experience. Next year, for the 3G launch, and the following year for the 3GS, I went back to the same store. I showed up about 4AM (it was a morning opening, unlike the 6PM launch for the original), and I was close to the front of the line, but never first again. It was fun, but never approached the atmosphere of the first one. And with the iPhone 4, I decided to pre-order online directly from Apple. I somehow got my phone a day before it officially launched (which was another bout of nerd pride). Since then, with the iPhone 4S and 5, I have always pre-ordered. It’s a little different to spend iPhone launch day at home waiting for the FedEx truck, but it’s also nice not to get up in the middle of the night and sit outside a store.

All of this probably sounds extremely indulgent and narcissistic. And it is. It’s one thing to wax nostalgic about the day a new phone came out. But the original iPhone was something special. Phones (and PCs, and tablets, and the web, and a lot of other things) were never the same again. Entire industries have been created and recreated. So as spoiled as it sounds, I think it is worth looking back, six years later, and contemplating everything that has changed because of the iPhone.

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iPhone Gets Hot, Battery Drains Rapidly – How I Fixed It

The short version: how I diagnosed and fixed an issue that was causing multiple iPhones and an iPad to get hot and drain their batteries. This is the nitty gritty on how I fixed the problem. Read on below for all the details, and how I let my Apple bias (almost) lead me away from the correct answer.

Update 2: A lot of people have contacted me to let me know the things I documented in this post helped them solve their battery issue. That makes me really happy. Recently, there was another popular post by former Apple Genius Scotty Loveless with some more great steps to diagnose and fix iPhone battery issues. You should definitely check it out: The Ultimate Guide to Solving iOS Battery Drain

Update: Apple released iOS 6.1.2 on February 19, 2013, which is slated to fix some Exchange-related bugs that can cause the problem I describe in this post. Make sure you’re running 6.1.2 or newer if you’re experiencing this problem.

Troubleshooting Excessive Heat and Battery Drain Issues on iOS Devices

Problem: iPhone (or iPad) gets abnormally warm when not doing anything. battery drains much faster than normal. Rebooting doesn’t fix it.

Troubleshooting Steps:

  1. Follow all of Apple’s battery life troubleshooting steps. No, really. Do all of them. Don’t skip any. I know you’re a super smart nerd. Just do them.
  2. Go to Settings, General, About, Diagnostics & Usage, Diagnostic & Usage Data. Scroll through the list and see if there are any system processes with an abnormally large number of entries (a few entries is normal). Identify the name of the troubled process.
  3. Research the name of the troubled system process to see what it’s function is – this will give you a clue to a possible solution. For example, dataaccessd is responsible for background syncing of Exchange, iCloud, CalDAV, and other calendar data. This was the cause of my problem. Others have reported issues with webbookmarksd, the process responsible for syncing bookmarks and Reading List with iCloud.
  4. Try disabling the functionality related to the troubled process, then rebooting your device to see if the issue goes away. In my case, I disabled all iCloud syncing (Calendars, Contacts, etc.). If you have an Exchange email/calendar account, remove it from your device. Make sure the server side has all of your data, because this step will delete it from your device.
  5. If the issue is resolved, try reenabling the functionality. Again, in my case, I turned iCloud syncing back on, and the issue hasn’t returned. I suspect a corrupt meeting instance that was deleted days ago was causing the problem.
  6. Going forward, use what you’ve learned about the Diagnostic & Usage data logs to keep an eye on your battery usage. If you desire, try a third party “activity monitor”-type app to see what system processes are doing. I used this free one. There are many to choose from.

Background, Details, Lessons Learned, Crow Eaten

The long version:

Prior to getting the iPhone 5, my iPhones spent a lot of time in a dock on my desk, or in a cradle in my car, being charged. I had no real idea of what “normal” battery life was like, because I was always near a charger. When I got my iPhone 5, with its new Lightning connector, none of my old intraday charging options worked anymore. For the first time, I got a sense of what “normal” battery life on my iPhone should be. I took it off the charger in the morning, used it normally throughout the day (i.e. took no special steps to preserve battery life), and by bedtime, I’d sometimes hit the 20% battery warning. Maybe 10% if I was using it heavily. Not once did it drain to zero and shut off. A typical day was an hour or so of listening to podcasts, one or two short phone calls, and an hour or so of browsing Twitter/Reddit/Facebook or reading in the Kindle app during lunchtime. I even left Dark Sky notifications (which actively uses GPS) and Instapaper Background Location Updates (which uses geofencing) enabled. Based on this, I had confidence that I could get through the day without charging, following my normal usage patterns.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that I was getting the 20% and 10% battery warning in late afternoon, and more than once, my phone would completely shut down when I pulled it out of my pocket in the evening. It was often quite warm (I could feel it on my leg). I was annoyed, but I figured that I was just using it too much. But at this point, I started to pay more attention to how much I used the phone, and where the battery was at throughout the day.

Around the same time, my wife complained to me that her iPhone 4S was getting hot for no reason, and the battery was draining quickly. Essentially the same symptoms. My wife’s charging habits are much different from mine (I charge religiously every night, she charges when the battery gets low), so I couldn’t make a direct comparison between our usage habits. But this coincidence raised my alert level another notch, and I started thinking about what could be causing the issue.

Here’s what I ruled out:

  • iOS Version – I have 6.0.1, she has 6.0. So it wasn’t something introduced in the 6.0.1 update, and both of us had used 6.0 for weeks with no problems.
  • LTE – My iPhone 5 has LTE, but her 4S doesn’t. Again, I used LTE for weeks with no issues.
  • Bluetooth – not enabled on either phone
  • Apps running in the background – besides the fact that Apple doesn’t let apps fully run in the background (there are a limited set of background APIs an app can use, like requesting location, playing audio, etc.), I did some troubleshooting to rule this out. Fresh restart of the phone, didn’t open any apps, and it would still get hot and drain the battery.

This is the part where I start jumping to conclusions, and being blinded by my own bias.

The only thing (I thought) our afflicted iPhones had in common was the AT&T network. I imagined that there was some issue with the AT&T network in our area (a misconfigured tower, etc.) that was causing the phones to crank up power to the cellular radios, get hot, and drain their batteries. If you’ve ever used a cell phone in an area with very minimal coverage, you know what I mean. In order to hold onto the signal, software turns up the transmit power on the radios. In my head, this was the only explanation for our problem. Apple doesn’t let apps run away in the background, and I didn’t even consider that it could be something integral to iOS itself. So I took to the interwebs, ranting and complaining:

Then some new clues popped up that eventually led me to the solution to our problem. And a nice, big helping of crow.

I got three emails, in close succession, informing me that I only had 5% (then 4%, then 3%) remaining on my iPad’s monthly data plan. I picked up my iPad, and it was warm, and the battery was lower than it should have been (49%, and it had hardly been used that day). Whatever this supposed AT&T network problem was, it was now affecting my iPad. My iPad with Verizon LTE.

I don’t use LTE much on my iPad when I’m not traveling, because I’m always near wifi. I’ve never even come close to using my monthly allotment of 2GB. I concluded that something was chewing up large amounts of cellular data (and battery), just like our phones, but it couldn’t be AT&T’s fault. Humbling realization number one.

I started searching for people with similar problems (and hopefully, solutions). I found a TON of results, which were hard to wade through. I knew this was a vague enough problem that finding specific, helpful information was going to be a challenge. I found lots of forum threads full of people with similar issues. These threads pointed out that you can check detailed system logs for crashes or other issues by going to Settings, General, About, Diagnostics & Usage, Diagnostics & Usage Data. Now, I’ve done my time in IT support. I know how to use logs to troubleshoot issues. I just assumed that the nice, clean Apple-designed world of iOS wouldn’t let me get at system-level event logs to gain any useful information. That it would all be locked up in a black box that only the Genius Bar could open with their magical incantations. I was wrong. It’s all right there, for anyone who wants to look. Humbling realization number two.

This led to the final clue, and the solution to our problem. In the Diagnostic and Usage data, there were hundreds of entries for a system process called dataaccessd. It was crashing frequently. I downloaded a free Activity Monitor-like app to let me monitor those system level processes, and I saw that dataaccessd was essentially running amok – pegging the CPU and the network, and constantly working really hard to do whatever it was trying to do.

More research revealed that dataaccessd‘s job is synchronizing calendar data for Exchange, CalDAV, and iCloud accounts. Many people in the forums reported success by disabling Exchange calendar sync. I use Exchange calendars for my work stuff, by my wife doesn’t. So it wasn’t that. Could it be iCloud?

I suddenly recalled some weird iCloud calendar issues we’d been having. An apparently corrupt meeting from work that somehow landed on one of my iCloud calendars that I couldn’t delete. My wife complaining about events being added on her phone but not showing up on the Mac at home. Maybe it was iCloud.

I had gotten so frustrated with this problem that I could pick up my phone and tell by its temperature whether or not it was experiencing the issue. I could feel it get hot, and watch the battery percentage drop before my eyes. So I disabled iCloud completely (removing all my calendars, contacts, etc.), rebooted the phone, and waited. Several minutes later – long enough that the battery would have dropped a couple of percent if it were still having problems – the phone was perfectly cool to the touch, and the battery percent was exactly the same. The activity monitor app no longer showed dataaccessd going crazy. Disabling iCloud had fixed the problem. This was Apple’s fault, not AT&T’s fault. Humbling realization number three.

Many of the threads I read reported success by disabling then re-enabling Exchange (or iCloud), so I tentatively turned it back on, letting all of my data sync back, and watched it carefully over the rest of the evening and the following morning to make sure. It stayed cool as a cucumber, and the battery is back to the strong performance I was getting a couple of weeks ago. I did the same to my iPad and my wife’s phone, and they’re all back to normal, as well.

I can’t say with 100% certainly, but there’s a calendar item that I got from my Exchange account that I’m pretty sure was corrupt (it ended up on my iCloud calendar for some reason, and I couldn’t delete it), and I bet that’s what caused iCloud to go crazy.

What did I learn?

I didn’t want to admit that the problem could be Apple’s fault. My bias led me to prematurely place the blame on AT&T, and it had nothing to do with them.

There are useful diagnostic logs available on your iOS device. I should learn more about these. Ironically, the Apple bias that made me reluctant to blame them also made me reluctant to believe that they would provide the system-level diagnostics to solve the problem.

I’m not as smart as I thought I was. Making assumptions about what you think you know is dangerous, and often leads not only to the wrong answers, but to looking dumb in public.

I do not like the taste of crow, but I believe it’s healthy to eat it when you need to.

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My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic for iPad
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Worlds Collide: The My Little Pony iOS Game

Sometimes there’s a perfect storm, when different avenues of my weird personality collide. The [My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic](https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/my-little-pony-friendship/id533173905?mt=8) game by Gameloft (for iPhone and iPad) is out. The game itself is free, but they’ll try to sell you coins and gems. The basic mechanic is a town builder similar to We Rule or Tiny Tower (and countless others that I lost patience with long ago), but set in Ponyville. And it’s absolutely lousy with MLP goodness.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic for iPad

Fans will be happy to know that Gameloft didn’t just phone this one in. The art is good. The voices are great (they use the original voice actors). The music is *perfect*. The cast is wide and varied, and more than likely includes your favorite background pony, no matter how obscure. There’s even sort of a plot/storyline, beyond just “build your town and get lots of stuff”. Derpy even plays her adorable part.

Nits to pick: there’s not much variety in the minigames (you’ll play a *lot* of bouncy ball and catch the apple to level ponies up), and some of them are kind of jerky and don’t feel quite right. I found a typo (Pinkie Pie’s name is misspelled “Pinky Pie” on her caption when she’s speaking, but is correctly spelled elsewhere). At its core, it’s just an addictive, nagging “come play with us!” game that will bug you to keep coming back. Progress can be slow at times, but that’s because they want you to cough up real money for bits and gems to speed things up. Typical for the genre. What will keep bringing you back are the ponies. They’re just so dang adorable!

The social aspect is also seriously broken right now. Besides the fact that “Gameloft Live” is hard to figure out (adding friends, etc.), there are widespread reports on [/r/mylittlepony/](http://www.reddit.com/r/mylittlepony/comments/12v8dv/mlpfim_official_iphone_and_ipad_app/) of simply not being able to connect with friends, service errors, etc. I might be willing to chalk it up to high demand on launch day – we’ll see how it goes. At any rate, I’m jabancroft on GLLive, if you want to add me. You can also connect with Facebook, but it didn’t find any friends for me. Could be because no one is playing/connected there yet.

There are a thousand ways this game could have gone wrong, and for the most part, Gameloft nailed it. The bronies are appeased (and lets face it, we’re the target audience, if for no other reason than we have more disposable income than six year old girls :D ).

See you in Ponyville.

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iPhone 5 LEGO Dock v2: Headphone Compatibility

20121010-120338.jpg

I modified the iPhone 5 dock/stand I made out of LEGO to accommodate the headphone cable (which is now located at the bottom of the phone, and is probably the number one reason that Apple has said the won’t be making a dock for the iPhone 5. Now I can listen to podcasts and music at my desk while using the stand.

20121010-120348.jpg

I also added some cosmetic enhancements, because let’s be honest – half the fun of doing this is tinkering and trying to make it look cool.

I still haven’t integrated a Lightning cable of charging/sync, partly because I still only have two cables, and don’t want to dedicate one to living on my desk, but also because kind of like see what kind of battery life I get when I go all day without charging. So far, it’s great. I rarely dip below the 20% mark before I go to bed. There’s space for it in the design, though, and I’ll add it eventually, once I have a spare cable laying around.

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iPhone 5 LEGO Dock

iPhone 5 LEGO Dock

The angle is just about perfect. It was driving me CRAZY having my phone lay flat on my desk. Partly because I’m paranoid about scratching up the back, and partly because I like to glance at notifications when they come in.

Battery life is good enough (and spare Lightning cables scarce enough) that I’m not going to integrate charging yet. And I want to figure out how to raise it enough to allow the headphones to be plugged in (at the bottom). But it’s a start.

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Prototype LEGO iPhone Dock

I bought a [Brickcase][] a while ago – an iPhone case with LEGO studs on the back. It’s quite cute and geeky, but I’ve never been one to use a case with my iPhone, and I couldn’t use my iPhone 4 dock on my desk with a case, so I stopped wearing it after a few days.

A couple of days ago, my I saw that my friend Matt had a Brickcase, and had attached a few 1×1 LEGO plates on the back. My geek brain immediately saw the pleasurable possibilities of fidgeting with constantly rearranging the pattern on the back of my iPhone. **Executives have stress balls, hippies have worry stones, geeks have LEGO on the back of their phones.** I scrounged up some red and white plates (until I can make a trip to the LEGO store to pick up 96 of them in bulk, to cover the whole case), and made a nifty pattern. It kind of looks like a Viper fighter from BSG, if you ask me. But I could no longer use the dock I keep on my desk…

Matt had the solution to this, too. He whipped up a makeshift iPhone dock out of some LEGO bricks. So of course, I had to copy that, too. Here are the results of a few minutes tinkering with some pieces from a [LEGO Creator Street Speeder kit][] that I’ve had at my desk for ages:

My first prototype LEGO iPhone dock, for use with my Brickcase. What do you think?

View from the side, showing the nice recline angle (almost matches the Apple dock):

Prototype LEGO iPhone dock - side view. I like the slight recline angle.

View from the rear, also showing off the back of the Brickcase and my current design (which will change at any time):

LEGO iPhone Dock - Rear. With my Brickcase (and BSG design) that started the whole project.

(*Pardon the quality of those last two pics, I took them with my iPad, because my iPhone was in the dock.*)

This what a total whim, but I’m pretty pleased with how functional the result is. It won’t tip over, it holds the dock connector cable quite securely, and I’ve already had people ask me when I’m going to start selling them (answer: I’m not, but it’s more fun to build your own, anyway!). All in all, I’m pretty proud of my geeky little ten minute project. What do you think? :-)

[Brickcase]: http://amzn.to/ihPUsM
[LEGO Creator Street Speeder kit]: http://amzn.to/hwCCvv

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Compare iPad 2 720p HD Video to iPhone 4 720p HD Video

Watch fullscreen and select “720p” to see it in HD.

This is a video Brian and I shot yesterday while messing around with my new iPad 2. It’s just a short video, about 10 seconds shot on the iPad 2, then 10 seconds shot on the iPhone 4. It’s well known that the still photo capabilities of the iPad 2’s cameras are much lower than the (very nice) 5MP sensor in the iPhone 4. But for video, the specs are the same. They both shoot 720p (1280×720 pixels) HD video. We wanted to see if there was any noticeable difference.

The verdict? To my untrained eye, I can spot the difference in the two videos, but it’s hard to definitively say that one is better than the other. I’d give the edge to the iPad 2, but the iPhone 4 shoots good video, too. One thing we noticed: the live “viewfinder” view on the screen while recording video on the iPad 2 was really grainy, and honestly looked pretty bad. But the actual recorded video looks much better when played back.

Side note: I imported the iPhone video into the iPad using Apple’s Camera Connection Kit, then used iMovie on the iPad to string the two videos together and add the titles/lower thirds. I then uploaded to YouTube from iMovie. The whole process was pretty slick, and only took about two minutes. I can’t wait to dig into iMovie on the iPad.

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Instagram – a Fun New Social iPhone Photo App

You’ve probably already seen these if you follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Flickr, but here are some random photos I’ve taken over the last couple of days with [Instagram](http://instagr.am/index/) – a fun new iPhone app that focuses on taking quick photos, applying some filters, and sharing them with your friends.

Got an Apple Magic Trackpad. Love it so far.

When the otaku geek “influencers” I follow got all excited about Instagram, and I read what it was, I couldn’t quite grasp why they cared. Yet another app where I have to find and follow my friends? Why not just use the existing networks? And I already have [Hipstamatic](http://hipstamaticapp.com/) and a ton of similar photography apps on my iPhone for when I want to make hipster pictures.

Why, yes. I *am* wearing a Hello Kitty bandage.

But with Instagram, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. It does have great integration with Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and even Foursquare. It is super quick to take a picture, apply a filter, and share it. And there are lots of really nice design touches (especially in the News tab) that make it a joy to use. And it’s free.

Narcissism

That’s not to say that it’s perfect. I quickly discovered that the images it uploads (and saves to your local Camera Roll) are only 612×612 pixels. That’s tiny.

Instagram pics are only 612x612 pixels. WTF?

After I [complained about this on Twitter](https://twitter.com/jabancroft/status/26575739137), the Instagram folks invited me to [submit a full resolution picture option as an improvement on their GetSatisfaction page](http://getsatisfaction.com/instagram/topics/give_the_option_to_save_share_pics_larger_than_612x612), where lots of other people chimed in, and the developers agreed it would be a great feature. Hopefully it will come soon.

Sync in Progress. Story of my Life

So, if you have an iPhone, and like pictures, grab Instagram, and follow me (I’m jabancroft there, same as everywhere else), and get ready for lots of hipster-ized random photos that make no sense, but look real nice. :-)

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iPhone HDR Comparison: iOS 4.1, Pro HDR, and True HDR

Now that iOS 4.1 is out for my iPhone 4, I loaded it up to try the feature I was most looking forward to: [HDR photos](http://www.apple.com/iphone/features/camera.html). HDR stands for [High Dynamic Range](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_dynamic_range_imaging), and is a way to get a photo where neither the shadowy areas or the bright areas are overexposed. It can also be used or “abused” to commit crimes against good taste. :-) I’ve been using two iPhone HDR apps for a while, [Pro HDR](http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pro-hdr/id347104281?mt=8) and [TrueHDR](http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/truehdr/id340741871?mt=8), and now that Apple’s thrown its hat in the ring, it’s time for a comparison.

Here are the examples, and below them, my thoughts. The following photo was taken in my driveway last night (sunsets are generally good fodder for HDR photos). The four shots are, in order:

1. The original “non HDR” photo that iOS 4.1 optionally saves when you take an HDR shot.
2. The Apple iOS 4.1 HDR photo
3. The Pro HDR photo, taken in “Auto HDR” mode
4. The TrueHDR photo, taken using “Take Pictures” mode.

All photos are unretouched, uploaded at full resolution (available on my Flickr – click to embiggen) directly from my iPhone 4.


###Original iPhone 4 Non-HDR Photo

iPhone iOS 4.1 HDR Sunset Comparison - Original Apple Image

* __The Good__: Fast, easy, and simple. Colors captured pretty well.
* __The Bad__: Shadows and dark areas underexposed. Could have touched the dark areas to get them exposed correctly, but then the sky would be overexposed and blown out. Hence the need for HDR.
* __The Verdict__: The iPhone 4 still has an amazing camera with great saturation and color. Unless you really need HDR to make a photo better, this is all you need.


###Apple iOS 4.1 HDR Photo

iPhone iOS 4.1 HDR Sunset Comparison - Apple HDR

* __The Good__: Fast and subtle. Takes three exposures (instead of two, like Pro HDR and TrueHDR), and takes them near instantaneously (within two seconds or so). It’s still possible to get motion blur/ghosting, but it’s an order of magnitude faster than the other apps. Seems to go for realism rather than the over the top “ZOMG HDR!!1!” look. Free (if you have a device that can run iOS 4.1).
* __The Bad__: Subtle. May not give as much of that “HDR” effect you’re looking for. Colors aren’t as bright, and the image can appear a little washed out. Dark areas are still really dark (compare the grass and balloons on the left side).
* __The Verdict__: An great capability added to an already amazing camera. Will make a lot of photos better for almost no effort at all.


###Pro HDR Photo, “Auto HDR” Mode

iPhone iOS 4.1 HDR Sunset Comparison - Pro HDR, Auto Mode

* __The Good__: Auto Mode evaluates the scene, decides which bright and dark spots to expose for, then takes the two photos. Manual mode (where you pick the bright and dark spots) still available. Nice slides to adjust contrast, saturation, etc. available after the merge is complete. Does a better job handling the extremes of bright and dark than the iOS 4.1 HDR mode. Colors are bright and not too “unreal”. Only $1.99.
* __The Bad__: Even Auto mode isn’t fast enough for moving subjects. A “halo” is sometimes visible where two areas blend together (see where the trees meet the sky on the right). Sometimes the colors just _go wrong_. Merging the photos takes a few seconds (longer than iOS 4.1, but not as long as TrueHDR).
* __The Verdict__: If you’re a photography nerd like me, iOS 4.1’s HDR mode probably won’t be enough to scratch your itch. Pro HDR is a great tool for the virtual camera bag, and I recommend it without hesitation. If iOS 4.1 had never added HDR, I’d still recommend Pro HDR for taking cool HDR shots on your iPhone.


###TrueHDR Photo, “Take Pictures” Mode

iPhone iOS 4.1 HDR Sunset Comparison - True HDR, "Take Picture"

* __The Good__: Often more subtle and realistic than Pro HDR (see the balloons and grass on the left side). Doesn’t exhibit the “halo” effect as much. Does what it says on the tin. A little birdie tells me that an “auto” mode might be coming in a future update. Only $1.99.
* __The Bad__: Slowest of the three to process/merge the two photos. No adjustment sliders for contrast, saturation, etc. Colors don’t “pop” as much as Pro HDR. Sometimes the colors just _go wrong_.
* __The Verdict__: Still a great HDR app, and future improvements could move it right into parity with Pro HDR.


What I’ve written is based on these four photos, plus the experience I’ve had using both Pro HDR and True HDR for a couple of months in various situations. The differences between those two apps are small, and sometimes performs better in one situation than another, with the opposite occurring under different conditions.

In the end, if you’re an iPhone photography geek like me, you’ll want to use the built in iOS 4.1 HDR function _and_ one of the third party apps. Which one to choose is a tough call, though. If it came down to it, I’d say get Pro HDR. But software updates can change the landscape quickly, and TrueHDR is a great app, too. You won’t go wrong with either of them.

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