Category Archives: Apple

A fix for AirPods low volume

I’ve had my AirPods since the first shipment, December 2016 and have noticed that the volume seems quite a bit lower. I clean them fairly regularly. At half volume I can barely detect the audio. In other words, half volume seems to be low. High volume is what I would think of as half volume. I’ve compared output between iPad, iPhone, Watch and Mac and all seem to be about the same. If there is a difference it would be that the iPhone and Mac are slightly lower. Watch and iPad seem slightly higher but at half volume the audio was barely detectable.

I did yet another search to see if I could turn-up any tricks for resetting the volume of AirPods. I again tried the usual suggestions of turning off bluetooth, disconnecting, unpairing, repairing, etc. Nothing worked. I came to the conclusion that it had to be a build up of wax under the grill. Perhaps in cleaning it from the surface some of it get’s pushed through rather than scraped off. That seems the likely culprit.

I took an extreme measure. I’m not suggesting anyone do this because it might ruin your AirPods. Nowhere on their website does Apple suggest this. But for myself, I figured that as low as the volume was, it couldn’t get much worse. My AirPods were nearly unusable so I put 1 drop of ear wax removal liquid onto the mesh of each AirPod. I was very careful to just do ONE drop. I let it sit for a minute or two. I tapped them a few times to assist in getting the fluid through. I assumed that because the fluid did not just go right through that there must indeed be wax under/inside the grill. I waited. I tapped again a few times. Some of it very slowly disappeared through the mesh. I turned them over to drain. I used a small bit of tissue to wipe the mesh. I gently blew into the three other holes of the air pod tapped the airpods against a table mesh side down. I can’t really say that I saw anything come back out, liquid or wax.

At that point in the process I was hoping that while the wax might not make its way back out through the mesh it would at least be dislodged enough that it might clear the way for more sound to get through. The result: slight improvement. I tried it all again with another drop to each AirPod. I let it sit then wiped and blew. Then I did a third drop. The whole process took maybe an hour of just letting them sit then wiping then blowing and testing between each drop. When I decided to stop I’d noticed about a 30% improvement. Still not as loud as I remember them being new or as loud as the wired EarPods are (they never get used), but now much more useable. At full volume now they are almost too loud again. I might actually need to bump the volume down a wee bit.

So, for me, this has helped. It might ruin your AirPods as it is a deliberate attempt to get a drop of liquid inside. I’ve read accounts of people running them through the wash and still working after so I took the chance. I’ll likely do it again when I notice another degradation. But this is not something that Apple recommends.

Update: A few weeks later and the sound is still improved. Actually, it seemed to me that after a few days the sound had actually improved further. As though whatever was inside had further dissolved or had moved further out of the way. I’d say at this point that they sound at about 50% improved and while not as loud as new they are much more usable. I’m not struggling to hear them and have actually turned the volume down from the highest setting. When I notice the volume decreasing again I will definitely repeat the above process.

Apple News and the 2018 US Elections

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I’m really happy to see Apple upping their efforts with Apple News. The latest special coverage for the US elections shows great promise. I’m a longtime user of RSS and continue to use that but I’ve been supplementing using Apple News since it’s release. I recently wrote about Apple News and compared it to the new Google News. Apple News will get even better with the upcoming changes in iOS 12, namely the addition of the sidebar on the iPad. I really prefer having a sidebar for easy navigation of sources and I suspect my use of the app will likely grow as a result of the change.

But in terms of substance, today’s introduction of the midterms elections coverage section is an important step towards increasing the quality of information. I’m hoping that the level of human curation will continue to grow in Apple News and that the result will be more a more dependable feed.

Today’s introduction features an editorial by Lauren Kern, Editor-in-Chief of Apple News: Decision 2018: Make It an Informed One – Midterm Elections

Elections aren’t just contests, they’re conversations — about who we are as a country and who we want to become. When the loudest, most extreme voices dominate that conversation, we can’t hear each other. At Apple News, we want to help fix that.

This election season, our editors will highlight the most important, rigorously reported news to help you understand key races and your fellow voters. Rather than focus on party politics, we’ll cover issues as they’re lived on the ground, in the districts and states where these races will be decided, vote by vote. We’ll publish exclusive analysis, thought-provoking opinion pieces, and inspiring stories of citizens getting involved and changing the world. We won’t shy away from controversial topics, but our goal is to illuminate, not enrage. And we’ll always steer clear of rumor and propaganda.

Obligatory 2018 WWDC Post

 

It’s been a couple weeks and I’ve been reading to posts and listening to podcasts from the nerd herd. A few thoughts on the announcements by Apple as well as some of the reactions in the community. It was widely rumored that this year would see a focus on optimization rather than new features. It seems we’re getting both but perhaps more emphasis on optimization. This was expected and many folks thought it best. There have been a lot of complaints about some of the changes introduced with iOS 11. I’ve largely been happy with those changes but some were not. But it seems that with iOS 12, this year, more than any in recent memory, people are actually satisfied. At least for now. The complaints will come once the honeymoon is over.

Mac

Though I use my Mac less and less, I’m happy to see Apple affirm that it is committed to the Mac. Not that I had any doubts but I’m weary of hearing the complaint of the past 2 years that Apple does not care about it’s Mac users and even that it might not be committed to the long term future of the Mac. It’s just silly. For the moment, at least, the Mac oriented crowd seem mostly satisfied.

iOS 12

iOS 12 Preview – Features – Apple

As predicted by many, a focus on optimization which is, of course, always welcomed. But, also, some new features as we might also expect. Nothing like last year’s amazing addition of iPad features but some nice additions. Early reports by beta users confirm that the optimization, especially on older devices is significant and that the speed increase is very noticeable. This is great news not just for users on older devices (many in my family still user older iPads and iPhones) but also a show by Apple that while they do want to sell new devices they also understand the value of maximizing the time that devices can continue to be useful. This is not only good for users but for the environment.

One thing I think nerds often forget is that the “norms” aren’t so obsessed with operating systems and new hardware. They just want devices that they understand how to use and which they can depend on. Based on my observations, the new and flashy is often just added financial cost and mental energy they have to expend figuring out why their devices are behaving differently. This seems especially true with older folks or at least the older folks I interact with. It seems just as people are getting comfortable with new features and changes the os changes again and trips them up.

Siri

I’ve written before about my hope for a proactive Siri. In short, I was hoping for the ability to configure “Siri Scenes” which might be integrated with a more powerful Home app. With Shortcuts we might be getting that or parts of it.

Shortcuts App and App Shortcuts

Everyone seems happy and excited about the transformation of Workflow into Shortcuts app. In addition to the new app, App developers will now be able to offer simple shortcuts to users, increasing discoverability and at the same time allowing the user to customize the Siri-based activation with their own phrase. This will be big. Not sure how many “normal” users will use it but it appears Apple has done a great job in making it easy to take the first step. I suppose App Shortcuts with the ability to assign a custom phrase is the Apple equivalent to Alexa’s skills with a key difference being that these are based on the device rather than the cloud. And Apple’s solution seems to easier for average users. It also gives them the added opportunity to take the next step to begin using the Shortcuts app to begin assembling even more powerful actions.

The Shortcuts app is Workflow with deeper system integration, namely Siri and Homekit. It appears that older Workflows will, for the most part, continue to work. That’s great news for those that have invested a lot of time into development of of these kinds of systems. One such person is Federico Viticci who has, of course, already written quite a bit about the new Shortcuts.

Based on what I’ve read it appears I’ll get at least part of what I was hoping for when I wrote about the above mentioned “Siri scenes” in that I’ll be able to set-up a workflow that includes Home scenes. My ideal morning routine would be an automation beginning at a predetermined time. A light would come on at 10% brightness. Then a little bit later that light goes to 40%. Then my HomePod chimes with an alarm as my coffee maker kicks on with yet another light. Then Siri would read me the weather and any calendar events. Last, she would ask if I wanted some music or a podcast. Or, perhaps just play music or a podcast.

Some of this is already possible with Home scenes set to a schedule. But while the new Shortcuts app can call on the Home app the Home app cannot, in reverse, be scheduled to open a Shortcut which is what I was hoping for. This kind of scheduled Shortcut would give the appearance of a proactive Siri at normal or specified bedtime and wake-up times. If I’m correct that the new Shortcuts cannot be scheduled for a time I’ll settle for a mix of automated and voice initiated actions which previously would be limited to scenes in Home. It’s still a step forward.

Oh, the horror of having to actually do something myself. Will I be able to muster the strength and courage to croak out a few words to Siri?

Suggestions

This has been a part of Siri for awhile though I’ve not found it all that useful. Maybe it will be improved enough that I’ll make use of it. Every morning I walk the dogs and do an “outdoor walk” workout on the Apple Watch. I start that using Siri then I pick music or a podcast to listen to. Everyday. I’d guess that Siri will suggest music or a podcast as well as starting an outdoor walk. That’s fine but I don’t think it will help much. I’m hoping to be surprised.

Knowledge

Certain things mentioned regarding updates to Siri’s knowledge are things I’ve already noticed are present. They don’t seem like new features. That’s not a problem and I guess it’s possible that Apple has just added some new things under the hood. Regardless, I’ve found Siri’s knowledge base to often be very helpful and from what I’ve read, it seems that Siri already does far more than most people realize. I suspect, many haven’t used it that much and this is Apple’s chance to draw attention to it.

Photos

Photos is getting smarter with more Siri-powered searching and when combined with Messages, we will have an enhanced, smarter flow for sharing via event and face recognition. A welcome addition. Also, the improved import process looks very nice!

FaceTime

Some really nice improvements here. Group calls now supported with up to a ridiculous 32 participants! Audio FaceTime calls can now be made with HomePod or AppleWatch. It’s now integrated with Messages. New effects too, most notably: Animoji, filters, text effects, shapes, sticker packs. Basically, it looks as though they’ve spiced it up with a bit of flavoring from their Clips app.

Messages

Speaking of Messages and Animoji, well, of course there is Memoji and new Animoji, longer Animoji and more effect and filters. Also, as mentioned above, tighter integration with the Photos app.

Screentime, Notifications and Do Not Disturb

I’m not going to say much other than I’m glad they’re adding these features. I’m sure most of us will be horrified at how much time we spend looking at screens. Do Not Disturb is getting some useful refinement. That said I leave Do Not Disturb on 24/7 due to the number of spam calls I get. I wish Apple offered a general option to only accept calls from contacts. Then I could use Do Not Disturb for other things. As it is, I have to use it to filter all my calls all the time.

Apps

Nice that various apps are making their way from being iPhone only to the iPad. I use Apple News a lot and am looking forward to the new sidebar.

New iPad Gestures

Shrug. Glad that this will match up with the iPhone X. Not happy about the control panel being by itself and accessed via a pull down from the top right. I’d rather it stay where it is in the Multitasking view.

There’s more but I’ve just hit on a few of the things that stood out the most. The page at the top links to Apple’s more complete list.

Apple News, Google News, RSS

I’ve used RSS since the early days. I forget the exact year but I think I started using around 2002 which was also around the time that I started blogging. Been awhile. Anyway, I’ve had an RSS reader on every computer I’ve owned for at least the previous 15 years. On iPad (and previously on my Mac) that’s mostly been Reeder. I’ve tried several others but Reeder remains my favorite.

But I’m also open to trying new things. When Apple introduced Apple News I tried it. Not the best experience but I kept at it. It was no replacement for Reeder and RSS but I used it as a supplement. No doubt, it’s gotten better and I’ve used it more and more but RSS still remains the foundation for all my internet reading. With the release of Google News I thought I’d try it though I’m not big on using Google. I have gmail which is now relegated to my junk account and iCloud is my primary, preferred account. Google is not my default or usual search engine. My plan with Google News is just to use it to compare to Apple News and after a few days use I can confirm I’ll be sticking to Apple News. Google News is okay but it’s not great.

What I like about it is the quickness with which content reflects my likes or dislike. I can tap the widget at the bottom right of any story summary on the main page and give it a thumbs up or down. If I thumbs down it it goes away instantly. Of course this is long term training and I’ve only used it a few days so can’t comment on that. But I like that it goes away. Compare this to Apple News. This weekend, like everyone else, I was inundated with royal wedding news. Not the least bit interested. On Google News I could thumbs down it and it was gone. With Apple News I could dislike it but it remained in place. Even worse, after disliking 40+ such royal wedding stories they continued to reappear with my little dislike icon highlighted. So, not only do they not go away but they remain over the course of a couple days. Ugh. That’s a terrible user experience.

I also noticed Google News is heavily weighted towards entertainment news which isn’t something I’m interested in. I’d rather see a an emphasis given to science. By default the headlines section offered almost no science. Will see if it can be trained though I don’t plan on keeping it around. I’m just curious. My assumption is that because I don’t use Google for search the app doesn’t know what I like. I’ve followed a few topics and will see how that affects what’s presented to me.

Another contrast worth noting is visual design. In the first section, “For You” I prefer Apple News to Google News. Of course it’s been around and has had some time to evolve and change so it seems more refined. Google News has a nice, simple design but the main feed is so bare as to seem unfinished. Apple has achieved a balance of well presented information that is well organized without being too cluttered.

A downside to Apple News is refresh time. When I load Google News it is fairly quick to refresh. Apple News seems to take quite a bit longer. I’m in a rural area on satellite internet. I often run out of data half way through a month which drops me down to about 2 Mbps for normal usage. That’s not too bad but I really notice it with Apple News. I’ve also noticed with Apple News a repeat of stories days old. Why show me a story that was in my feed 2 or 3 or 4 days ago?

Overall, the feel that I get with Apple News is that it is generic. I can customize in that I can choose topics and sources but the For You section really feels like it has no intelligent foundation. As mentioned above, the stories I’ve disliked continue to show up. Stories similar to stories I’ve disliked continue to show up. The Spotlight section often seems useless as it presents topics I’m not interested in. If Apple is going to emphasize Apple News and if it has human curators, might not the Spotlight section present more intelligently? For those that like sports, they get more sports in Spotlight. For those that prefer science, more science. I rarely use it now because every time I look it’s presenting me with stories I’m not the least bit interested in. In short Apple News doesn’t really know my interests even though I’ve spent time liking/disliking stories, topics and channels.

Search is much better on Google News as one might expect. It’s at the top of the screen of every section of the app and it works great to present recent news on the various searches I’ve tried. For example, a search for Gaia Telescope presents a series of recent stories from diverse sources. It’s excellent. The same search in Apple News? Nothing. Literally, nothing. I realize Google has the upper hand here given the nature of it’s business but if Apple News is going to be useful it must be better and getting me useful search results.

Lastly, sharing. Again, Google News is better. If I choose to share a story I simply get a proper web link to the original story on the original site. If I try to share from Apple News I get an Apple News link. When I’ve shared from there in the past non-Apple users get errors. So, I have to take the extra step of first sharing the article to Safari then sharing from Safari. That’s lame.

When I started this post my feeling was that Apple News is my preferred app. I want it to be my preferred app. I’m all in on Apple in part because I appreciate the focus on privacy. I want Apple’s machine learning to improve for the whole Apple platform. As I’ve written the post I keep asking myself why not use Google News? In almost every way aside from visual design it is better. If I use Google then I just have the feeling that not only am I leaking my data to Google but I am not informing Apple. I want Apple to know more about what I need and want when I use my iPhone and iPad. But after years of using Apple News I don’t get the sense that it knows my interests any better. It presents me with the same generic content everyone else gets and it’s search results are so weak as to be useless.

For now I’ll continue to test Google News along side of Apple News. A few days ago I would not have considered switching but I’m at least open to that idea now.

The thing about iCloud storage

Last night I listened to yet another podcast in which complaints were being made about the cost of iCloud. This has been going on for years now.

But here’s the thing, and this is anecdotal. When my granny needed to upgrade her iCloud storage to back-up her iPad I suggested the 99 cent tier. She shrugged and said sure. When my parents started getting the message I suggested the same tier. They shrugged and said sure. Everyone in my family is paying for it and I’ve never heard one of them complain. Even the $9.99 plan, for 2 TB which can be shared within a family is a good deal if 4 to 5 people are using it. For them it’s just a cost of using/maintaining the devices.

I’ve been using the $2.99 plan for the past year. I dropped my $10/month DropBox and am saving money. Funny thing, I never hear people complain about the cost of DropBox. Many of the nerds that complain the loudest about the lack of more free iCloud storage are the same people yelling from the rooftops that everyone should happily support app subscriptions. Now, I get that there is a difference between a small app developer and Apple. But a service is a service. Once we start down the road of demanding that a company give us this or that because we purchased their product, well, that’s a slippery slope. Heck, I’d like to demand free music every month too. They owe it to me. And let’s have them throw in a free movie every month too. They can afford it.

Enough. If I can afford a $400 or $600 or $1,000 iOS device that also requires fees for monthly internet and apps to be useful, I can also afford a monthly .99 or 2.99 a month for added iCloud.

When we buy our wash machines we know that we also have to buy laundry soap and we don’t expect a certain amount of that to come with it. When we buy cars we know that we’ll need to get oil changes and buy gas. Even a bicycles require new tubes and the occasional tune-up. Years ago I worked at a bike shop and we provided a free 30 day tune-up to tighten the chain and check everything out on new bike purchases. But if someone came in a year later for a tune-up they paid for it. As I recall a basic tune-up was in the $60 range. If they needed a new tube they paid for it to be installed. They didn’t get to demand that service for free.

Do I need to go on with the examples?

I don’t know why we now have this trend in which people feel the need to incessantly complain. Am I the only one that finds it tedious? I’m not suggesting Apple or any company is above criticism. It just seems to have become the constant hum. It’s not even a background hum. The snark is front and center with most Apple oriented podcasts and blogs. Seems to me we have issues far greater in our world than whether or not Apple is charging my granny .99 a month to back-up her iPad.

Apple’s Education Commitment

The March 27 Apple education event has come and gone and I’ve taken a couple weeks to digest others’ responses which have been generally positive. My own response, at the time of the event was very positive and after a couple of weeks I continue to be so. There’s a lot to unpack so I’ve taken my time mulling it over. Also, I should say, I’m not a teacher in any school. But education is dear to me and I’ve spent many, many hours of my life encouraging life long learning in every community I have lived in. I’ve helped homeschool kids and volunteered at an adult literacy program, led group workshops for all ages and tutored one-on-one. Education is something I’ve done because I deeply value personal growth. I want the humans around me to strive towards the fullest expression of their potential and if I can be a part of that process I consider myself very fortunate.

Okay, enough of that. Let’s get back to Apple’s announcements.

**Everyone Can Create curriculum **
Apple has added a new curriculum along side of their previously introduced Everyone Can Code. This new branch is exactly what we would expect as the follow-up: Everyone Can Create. They created a video to tell this story and it’s a lot of fun:

Apple has this to say about the importance of creativity in the learning process:

After 40 years working alongside educators, we’ve seen — and research has shown — that creative thinking leads to deeper student engagement. And when students are more engaged, they take more ownership of their learning. Creative skills help students become better problem solvers, communicators, and collaborators. They explore more and experiment more. They tell richer stories and find their own unique voices. They stretch their imaginations and make connections they might not otherwise make — and carry all these skills through everything they’ll do in school. And beyond.

They’ve gone to great lengths to highlight the iPad as the best computer for students to have in their endeavors. From form factor to app ecosystem, and I think it’s true. While Chromebooks have gained market share due to the cheap price, ease of management, and the covering of conventional academic needs such as the writing of papers. Stuck in the laptop form factor Chromebooks are good for sitting on desks and doing inside, at a desk tasks. Apple continues to position the iPad as the tool that goes beyond the desk, beyond boundaries. It’s the tool that kids can take outside to record video or sketch or paint or photograph or record audio. It’s the tool that can be used to assemble those videos, sketches, paintings, photographs and audio recordings into a variety of academic presentations or reports or even books.

But Apple isn’t just putting the device out there. They’ve taken the added step of providing lessons to help the process along. The Teacher Guide preview for the Everyone Can Create curriculum looks pretty fantastic.

Designed with the help of educators and creative professionals, Everyone Can Create introduces the fundamental skills and techniques of video, photography, music, and drawing. Students will use free apps available on any iPad, like Clips and GarageBand, taking advantage of the built-in camera, microphone, speakers, Multi-Touch display, and support for Apple Pencil. The curriculum also offers materials to help teachers infuse these skills into the subjects they teach every day. So students can use musical rhythm to make a math equation more memorable, produce a video to re-create a turning point in history, or use drawing to illustrate a city’s changes in architecture over time.

I’ve been reading through it and to this layman’s eyes it looks like a really engaging creative process to enhance the learning of material that might otherwise be learned in more traditional ways, namely the taking of notes from lectures and books which lead to essays and papers. This curriculum is Apple’s recipe for using the creative arts to build a new process

There’s a lot more on the Apple More for Teacher’s resource page.

Cost
One persistent criticism of iPad-centered curriculum is the price. Quite a few have commented that it’s too much, especially for an education system that is cash-strapped. Oh, I’ve got some thoughts on this. Boy do I. Our lack of funding for education is nothing more than a political problem that is immediately fixable. The fact that the U.S. has, for decades, chosen to grossly outspend every other nation on the planet in it’s spending on its military is THE direct cause for our under-funded education system. This is not Apple’s fault and not Apple’s problem. Period.

My proposal is an immediate cut to military funding by 40%. Yes, 40%. Then 50% and then 60% and then 70%. Let’s put that money into education, healthcare, and other humanitarian programs. There’s no reason, none at all, that our education system should be anything but fully funded and such a system could afford iPads for ever student and far more than that.

Until such a time as we make better, more ethical choices about our national priorities schools will continue to go underfunded. In that environment many schools will not be able to go all in on iPads. For many of the poorest schools even the cheapest Chromebooks might be out of reach.

Creativity with iPad

I’ve used the iPad for a variety of creative endeavors over the years. From video editing to design projects to paintings of nebulae in deep space. It’s a fantastic creative tool and with the latest iPad, the Pencil is now available for the base model. Serenity Caldwell’s review of the 2018 iPad and the Apple Pencil released at Apple’s Education event is an excellent example of what is possible with this new device. Written, edited and completely produced using the new iPad. I’m a big fan of iMore in general and Serenity in particular. She’s always thorough and offers a balance of positivity and critique that I’ve come to appreciate. She really digs into what can be done with these devices and steps outside of the usual written review. Actually, she often writes a review too but she does’t stop with the written word. From her illustrated review of the Apple Pencil to this most recent review, she really explores the creative potential using the device being reviewed. With her current video review she also offers a detailed description of the process that she used. Very helpful for anyone wanting to learn more about how to create with their iPad.

Serenity also put together round-up of tips, techniques, apps and website resources for those that want to learn how to draw using an iPad and Pencil. I’m going to do a post soon about my recent exploration of lettering using the Pencil and iPad. I’ve long avoided handwriting in favor of the keyboard. My handwriting, never good, has only gotten worse. Via a tweet by Matt Gemmell I recently discovered a free video tutorial for brush lettering using the iPad and it’s been fun.

It goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway, of all the Apple computing devices I’ve owned the iPad is, by far, my favorite. Just a few years ago I never would have thought my favorite would be anything other than a Mac. 

Apple’s Renewable Energy

Apple’s attention to the details of its environmental impacts has become one of the best things about the company. They are in a position to have a substantial impact and they are pushing forward constantly. The latest news is that the Apple now globally powered by 100 percent renewable energy. But even better, they are getting their suppliers into clean energy and as of today nine more of its suppliers have committed to 100% clean energy production.

“We’re committed to leaving the world better than we found it. After years of hard work we’re proud to have reached this significant milestone,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “We’re going to keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible with the materials in our products, the way we recycle them, our facilities and our work with suppliers to establish new creative and forward-looking sources of renewable energy because we know the future depends on it.”

Renewable-Energy-Apple_AP-Solar-Panels_040918

Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino is powered by 100 percent renewable energy, in part from a 17-megawatt onsite rooftop solar installation.

Apple and its partners are building new renewable energy projects around the world, improving the energy options for local communities, states and even entire countries. Apple creates or develops, with utilities, new regional renewable energy projects that would not otherwise exist. These projects represent a diverse range of energy sources, including solar arrays and wind farms as well as emerging technologies like biogas fuel cells, micro-hydro generation systems and energy storage technologies.

It goes without saying that all companies should follow Apple’s lead.

Roundup of recent articles and podcasts

We’ll start with MacStories which has been very busy and churning out articles I’ve really enjoyed.

Most recently, Federico Viticci hit on a topic that I also recently wrote about. Of course, his article is of much greater length and detail (when are his articles not of great length and detail?). His article, Erasing Complexity: The Comfort of Apple’s Ecosystem is an excellent read:

There are two takeaways from this story: I was looking for simplicity in my tech life, which led me to appreciate Apple products at a deeper level; as a consequence, I’ve gained a fresh perspective on the benefits of Apple’s ecosystem, as well as its flaws and areas where the company still needs to grow.

After a couple of years experimenting with lots third party hardware and apps he’s simplifying:

But I feel confident in my decision to let go of them: I was craving the simplicity and integration of apps, services, and hardware in Apple’s ecosystem. I needed to distance myself from it to realize that I’m more comfortable when computers around me can seamlessly collaborate with each other.

I’ve never gone to the lengths that he has. I don’t have the money, time or the inclination for such far ranging experimentations, be they apps or hardware. But I’ve dipped my toes in enough to know that constant experimentation with new apps takes away from my time doing other things. At some point experimentation becomes a thing unto itself which is fine if that’s something one enjoys. I think many geeks fall into this.

His conclusion is spot on:

It took me years to understand that the value I get from Apple’s ecosystem far outweighs its shortcomings. While not infallible, Apple still creates products that abstract complexity, are nice, and work well together. In hindsight, compulsively chasing the “best tech” was unhealthy and only distracting me from the real goal: finding technology that works well for me and helps me live a better, happier life.

This tech helps us get things done. It is a useful enhancement but it is not the end goal.

A week or so ago Apple announced an upcoming event for March 27, centered on education and taking place in Chicago. There’s a lot they can do in this area but they haven’t provided much detail about the event so of course there’s been LOTS of speculation. John Voorhees of MacStories has a fantastic write-up of his expectations based on recent history in the education tech area as well as Apple’s history in education. He think’s the event will “Mark a milestone in the evolution of it’s education strategy”:

However, there’s a forest getting lost for the trees in all the talk about new hardware and apps. Sure, those will be part of the reveal, but Apple has already signaled that this event is different by telling the world it’s about education and holding it in Chicago. It’s part of a broader narrative that’s seen a shift in Apple’s education strategy that can be traced back to WWDC 2016. Consequently, to understand where Apple may be headed in the education market, it’s necessary to look to the past.

It’s a great read. The event is this week so we’ll know more soon.

With the topic of Apple and education there’s been a lot of talk about Google’s success with Chromebooks in education. As the story goes, many schools have switched because the Chromebooks are cheap, easy to manage and come with free cloud-based apps that teachers (and school staff) are finding very useful. Another one of my favorite Apple writers is Daniel Eran Dilger over at Apple Insider and he’s got a great post challenging the ongoing narrative that Apple in dire straights in regards to the education market. Specifically the current popular idea that Apple should drop it’s prices in a race to the bottom with companies that sell hardware for so little that they’re making little to no profit. How is “success” measured in such spaces? Dilger covers a lot of ground and it’s worth a read in terms of having more context, current and historical, for that market area. He’s got another recent post about Google’s largely failed attempt at entering the tablet market in general. Google gives up on tablets: Android P marks an end to its ambitious efforts to take on Apple’s iPad

Rene Ritchie over at iMore continues to do a fantastic job both in his writing and podcasting. His recent interview with Carolina Milanesi on the subject of Apple and education is excellent. It’s available there as audio or transcript. I found myself agreeing with almost everything I heard. Carolina recently posted an excellent essay on tech in education over at Tech.pinions..

One thing in particular that I’ll mention here: iWork. I love the iWork apps and have used them a lot over the years. That said, I agree with the sentiment that they are not updated nearly enough. I would love for Apple to put these apps up higher in the priority list. Would be great to see the iPad versions finally get brought up to par with the Mac versions.

Rene also did another education related podcast interview, this one with Bradley Chambers who’s day job is Education IT.

Siri and the iOS Mesh

Over the past couple years it’s become a thing, in the nerd community, to complain incessantly about how inadequate Siri is. To which I incessantly roll my eyes. I’ve written many times about Siri and it’s mostly positive because my experience has been mostly positive. Siri’s not perfect but in my experience Siri is usually a pretty great experience. A month ago HomePod came into my house and so I’ve been integrating it into my daily flow. I’d actually started a “Month with HomePod” sort of post but decided to fold it into this post because something shifted in my thinking about it over the past day and it has to do with Siri and iOS as an ecosystem.

It began with Jim Dalrymple‘s post over at The Loop: Siri and our expectations. I like the way he’s discussing Siri here. Rather than just complain as so many do he’s breaking it down in terms of expectations per device and the resulting usefulness and meeting of expectations. To summarize, he’s happy with Siri on HomePod and CarPlay but not iPhone or Watch. His expectations on the phone and watch are higher and they are not met to which he concludes: “It seems like such a waste, but I can’t figure out a way to make it work better.”

As I read through the comments I came to one by Richard in which he states, in part:

“I’ve improved my interactions with Siri on both my iPhone 8 and iPad Pro by simply avoiding “hey Siri” and instead, holding down the home button to activate it. Not sure how that’s done on an iPhone X but no doubt there’s a way….

A lot of folks gave up on Siri when it really sucked in the beginning and like you, I narrowed my use to timers and such. But lately I’m expanding my use now that I’ve mostly dumped “hey Siri” and am getting much better results. Obviously “hey Siri” is essential with CarPlay but it works well there for some odd reason.”

Since getting the HomePod I’ve reserved “Hey Siri” for that device and the watch. My iPads and iPhone are now activated via button and yes, it seems better because it’s more controlled, more deliberate and usually in the context of my iPad workflow. In particular I like the feel of activating Siri with the iPad and the Brydge keyboard as it has a dedicated Siri key on the bottom left of the keyboard. The interesting thing about this keyboard access to Siri is that it it feels more instantaneous.

Siri is also much faster at getting certain tasks done on my screen than tapping or typing could ever would be. An example, searching my own images. With a tap and a voice command I’ve got images presented in Photos from whatever search criteria I’ve presented. Images of my dad from 2018? Done. Pictures of dogs from last month? Done. It’s much faster than I could get by first opening the Photos app and then tapping into a search. Want to find YouTube videos of Stephen Colbert? I could open a browser window and start a search which will load results in Bing or type in YouTube and wait for that page to load then type in Stephen Colbert and hit return and wait again. Or, I can activate Siri and say “Search YouTube for Stephen Colbert” which loads much faster than a web page then I can top the link in the bottom right corner to be taken to YouTube for the results.

One thing I find myself wishing for on the big screen of the iPad is that the activated Siri screen be just a portion of the screen rather than a complete take-over of the iPad. Maybe a slide-over? I’d like to be able to make a request of Siri and keep working rather than wait. And along those lines, if Siri were treated like an app allowing me to go back through my Siri request history. The point here is that Siri isn’t just a digital assistant but is, in fact, an application. Give it a persistent form with it’s own window that I can keep around and I think Siri would be even more useful. Add to that the ability to drag and drop (that would come with it’s status as an app) and it’s even better.

Which brings me to voice and visual computing. Specifically, the idea of voice first computing as it relates to Siri, HomePod and others such as Alexa, Google, etc. After a month with HomePod (and months with AirPods) I can safely say that while voice computing is a nice supplement to visual for certain circumstances, I don’t see it being much more than that for me anytime soon, if ever. As someone with decent eyesight and who makes a living using screens, I will likely continue spending most of my days with a screen in front of me. Even HomePod, designed to be voice first, is not going to be that for me.

I recently posted that with HomePod as a music player I was having issues choosing music. With an Apple Music subscription there is so much and I’m terrible at remembering artist names and even worse at album names. It works great to just ask for music or a genre or recent playlist. That covers about 30% of my using playing. But I often want to browse and the only way to do that is visually. So, from the iPad or iPhone I’m usually using the Music app for streaming or the remote app for accessing the music in my iTunes library on my MacMini. I do use voice for some playback control and make the usual requests to control HomeKit stuff. But I’m using AirPlay far more than I expected.

Music

Using the Music app and Control Center from iPad or iPhone is yet another way to control playback.

Apple has made efforts to connect our devices together with things such as AirDrop and Handoff. I can answer a call on my watch or iPad. At this point everything almost always remains in constant sync. Moving from one device to another is almost without any friction at all. What I realize now is just how well this ecosystem works when I embrace it as an interconnected system of companions that form a whole. It works as a mesh which, thanks to HomeKit, also includes lights, a heater, coffee maker with more devices to come in the future. An example of this mesh: I came in from a walk 10 minutes ago and I was streaming Apple Music on my phone, listening via AirPods. When I came inside I tapped the AirPlay icon to switch the audio output to HomePod. But I’m working on my iPad and can control the phone’s playback via Apple Music or Control Center on the iPad or, if I prefer, I can speak to the air to control that playback. A nice convenience because I left the phone on the shelf by the door whereas the iPad is on my lap.

At any given moment, within this ecosystem, all of my devices are interconnected. They are not one device but they function as one. They allow me to interact visually or with voice with different iOS devices in my lap or across the room as well as with non-computer devices in HomeKit which means I can turn a light off across the room or, if I’m staying late after a dinner at a friends house, I can turn on a light for my dogs from across town.

So, for the nerds that insist that having multiple timers is very important, I’m glad that they have Alexa for that. I’m truly happy that they are getting what it is they need from Google Assistant. As for myself, well, I’ll just be over here suffering through all the limitations of Siri and iOS.