Tag Archives: iPhone

iPad Journal: Coordinating family projects

Our extended family has some shared land with a small lake left to us by my grandparents. Sometimes that means we have to coordinate projects together. From road and dam maintenance to creating trails or any number of small things. In the past this was done via phone calls, sometimes email. Lately it’s been texting. But it can be a bit chaotic with anywhere from 3-7 people (sometimes more) chiming in with ideas or criticisms of the process involved in more complicated projects.

A good example would be a recent project clearing the area behind the lake dam which had become too densely overgrown. As we evaluated the project we took the opportunity to look at related tasks such as dredging out parts of the lake that had accumulated silt over the years. Also, there’s always the issue of repairing damage by beavers and muskrats and spillway maintenance. I’ve been helping coordinate with my dad, aunt and two uncles as well as someone we hired to help with some of the work. If my dad and uncle were a bit more technologically savvy I might try hooking them up on Slack. I may do that yet.

Due to repeated confusion (when texting and phone calls are primary it’s easy to loose track of who knows what!), the other day I decided to put together a project plan of sorts. Just a simple Pages document with a map and diagram. I emailed it out and suggested folks add in details, make changes, etc. But then I realized as I was suggesting they either reply via text in email or use pdf editing built into Apple Mail that at least two of them would likely be confused with the pdf editing. One of them is using an iPhone that he barely knows how to operate. So, it occurred to me that a shared Note which they can all access via iPhone, iPad or Mac might be simple enough and yet allow for the communication to happen all in one document that anyone can edit. It was a trivial task to copy/paste the material from the Pages document into the note. Time will tell if the shared note will prove effective.

Something that I’ve realized with this project is that the iPhone and iPad are a nearly perfect compliment to one another. I suppose I knew that going into it but it’s just working out so well that it seems worth mentioning. I use the iPhone to take notes, measurements and photos. Then from the iPad and a Bluetooth keyboard I can elaborate on the basics and create diagrams and maps with Graphic and Apple Maps. I’m using Numbers (mostly on the iPad) to keep an ongoing record of expenses and dates on which significant work is done.

I’ve not recently been in a position where I needed to do any sort of complicated project management but I’m guessing it could be done fairly well with these two devices and the right apps. In many ways they seem to be the perfect fit for project management taking place “in the field”.

From Pandora to Apple Music

This isn’t a review so much as a few notes comparing Pandora and Apple Music. In the past my music was artist based. I’d load up an iPod with several gigs of my favorite music and go. I didn’t bother much with playlists as I would just listen to albums. With the iPhone storage was at a premium and I started keeping far less music on the device. Usually just a handful but still it was album based listening with maybe a couple of playlists. I avoided streaming music due to data limitations until Sprint started offering an unlimited plan at which point I began streaming Pandora. I initially went with Pandora because I’d read that the data rate was a bit lower and even though I have an “unlimited” plan my understanding is that it’s actually something more like 23 GB per month which is still quite a bit. After three months I seem to only been using 15 gigs a month with about 3 gigs of that being Pandora. The idea was to evaluate the selection offered by Pandora and to keep an eye on the data usage.

In three months I’ve come to realize that I enjoy that I do not need to think about the specific artists. I just pick a genre or an artist-based playlist and listen. It was more like radio but without the commercials or playlists but without the effort of creating them. Very nice. But there are a couple things I don’t like: too much repetition of songs and lack of Siri integration. So, I thought it time to give Apple Music another go. I want to track the data usage as well as the selection and the benefits of Siri integration. I only just activated my account today so I haven’t used it enough to comment on data usage or variety though I’ve read that the library is MUCH larger than Pandora’s and at twice the cost I fully expect a better selection! In addition to the music there are several live streaming news stations such as. PRI, NPR and a few others. Excellent.

Siri works great with Apple Music and with the AirPods the experience is really fantastic. Not knowing what to expect I asked Siri: “Play some light ambient music” and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact I got exactly what I wanted and I was surprised because I don’t know that it is a predefined category or genre, it’s just want I wanted. Next I asked for Americana. Again, I got what I asked for though I expected it because I think it is a pretty clear genre. I’ve also asked for acid jazz and avant-garde jazz both of which produced great results. I didn’t have to think about an artist. Next I asked for ambient dream pop and again, not disappointed. It’s just been a day and just a few hours of listening but thus far I’d say this is exactly what I was hoping for. At one point I even forgot to preface the request with “Play some” and just said “Irish folk music” and it worked.

What about asking Siri for specific artists? I asked for Sigur Ros and got a nice mix from a variety of the band’s albums. I asked for “Lisa Hannigan’s most recent album” and I got it. I suspect that this will work well for any artist in the catalog.

With Siri I have full control and can repeat songs, jump to the next, shuffle and, of course, pause and play. After nearly a month with the AirPods I’ve got the double-tap force just right and have had almost no errors activating Siri. Much of my use of Music is while walking and having full control while leaving the phone in my pocket is amazing and is exactly what I was hoping for with a switch to Apple Music.

So, what’s the downside? I don’t mind the extra $5/month. I’ll have to monitor the data. In one day of streaming I used 500mb which is a good bit more than Pandora. I expected it would be more. I did do a bit more walking than normal but not much more. Will wait and see. That comes out to 15GB/ month just for music streaming. I should be alright. With other data usage that will end up being about 22-25GB/month which puts me near the upper limit of what Sprint considers normal for an Unlimited plan according to what I’ve read here.

The AirPods: Siri Everywhere!

Much has been made over the past year about Amazon's Alexa and Google's equivalent which are both available in different forms on different devices. In that process many have taken the opportunity to criticize Apple's Siri, many suggesting that Apple has fallen behind. I've written before about my fondness for Siri and the many ways I've found "her" useful over the past couple years. Perhaps the two things that the Echo has become most noted for are excellent accuracy in understanding dictation and the ever growing list of available skills. I've no first hand experience so I can't say much other than to acknowledge that yes indeed the list of "skills" is quite large and seemingly growing all the time. That said, at this moment, the Echo is also very limited in terms of availability in other countries. It's also generally mostly useful in the home.

I'll agree that my iPad and iPhone have not been perfectly accurate when I use Siri. I think I'd peg the accuracy at about 70% or a wee bit above that. It has worked well enough that I've continued to use it fairly often and have been generally happy with the results. With the new AirPods I'm seeing this greatly improved. Not only that, I am also finding that the AirPods are comfortable enough that they disappear into the background. Which is to say that while I'm aware that I have them in my ears I'm not distracted by them and so I tend to wear them far longer than any other headphone I've owned. In fact I'm leaving them in for much of the day with the exception of charging times.

I'm beginning to think of the AirPods as a persistent extension of Siri and I'd guess that Apple hopes this is the case for many who purchase the AirPods. I can certainly say that when I purchased them much of my interest was directly related to using Siri. Sure, I listen to music and podcasts daily and these are fine for both. But what I really wanted was an always present Siri that would more accurately understand my requests and do so more quickly than with my other bluetooth headphones or interaction with the phone directly. I've not been disappointed.

15 years ago I was that nerd that used "Speakable Items" on the Mac. It didn't work very well for me. But I tried. I've no doubt that more than one of my roommates at the time face palmed as they walked by my room as I alternated between patient talking and near shouting as I tried to interact with my Mac by voice. Well, here we are. It's 2017 and this is not yet the intelligent, ever present computer from Star Trek nor is it the AI found in the movie Her but the AirPods with Siri are a step in the right direction.

Until I had the AirPods I'd been hoping for a stationary device like the Echo but no longer. Assuming I have the AirPods in my ear and my iPhone within 60 feet I can, in all likelihood, make a request of Siri that will be successfully answered. In many ways this feels like the best of both worlds: the Echo/Google Home living room device and the mobile Siri model of Apple. When I'm at home I have the freedom to roam with or without the iPhone and still have Siri. When I get out for a walk or errands in town I take the iPhone and continue to have Siri.

Siri is far from perfect and there is much room for improvement mainly in that I'd like an expansion of what "she" can do for me. I don't doubt that Apple is working on this and that we will see a constant expansion of the things that the OS and third party apps can do. The AirPods and Siri feel like the future. Like the iPhone and iPad, they are the tech of science fiction being born into the present.

Innovation is often in the details

I recently decided to switch from AT&T to Sprint because I can get a good bit more data. It was this decision which led me into a nearby Sprint store which led to the store employee asking me about my use of the iPhone. He uses Android. My take on it is, eh, whatever. I don't care what platform other people use. Use what floats your boat. iOS, Android, hand-made paper, stone tablet, whatever. In any case, as we chatted he suggested that Apple's not been very innovative in recent years. It's something I've heard recently… or rather, read recently. Plenty of times. Mostly I just shrug and giggle. There are more important things to worry about (climate change being the top of my list). That said, I am also a geek, so I do have a few thoughts not just on Apple devices and innovation but also on the ease with which we form opinions often without little knowledge or understanding of a situation or technology.

I've not used a new iPhone 7 but from what I've seen and read, it is a solid technological upgrade with a nearly identical shell. So, to deal with the shell first, I'm an adult and I just don't see the need for a change every year or other year or even every three years. Change for change's sake does not interest me much. Frankly I think that speaks to a kind of immaturity, a kind of insecurity. It demonstrates a surface level desire for the new rather than a deeper, thoughtful appreciation and respect for the work that goes into something artfully designed. It's an expression of a society that is never happy with what it has, never satisfied, always greedy for the next new thing whether it is an improvement or not.

But beyond the I agree with the sentiment that I'm seeing around which is that the iPhone design has become iconic. Ben Bajarin's latest, The Benchmark iPhone 7 Plus is just one example of such sentiment.

Excellent, beautiful design, should stand the test of time. A well designed device should last awhile not need replacing every year or other year. That speaks to a throw away culture, plastic forks and paper plates. I've got a 2012 Mac Mini that I will use until it no longer functions. It is has, to my eyes, a simple and beautiful design. It sits quietly on a shelf of my standing desk and does what I need it to do. My iPad Air 2 is the same story except that it resides near me, be it on the futon or at the library or wherever. Same for the iPhone.

In my eyes the outer shell of the current iPhone is close to perfect. They changed up the design enough to make it water proof and that's a fantastic new feature even if it still looks the same (new color options notwithstanding). Internally they've built an entirely new camera system, processors, taptic engine and more. There's nothing about this iPhone that is the same. These are the changes that matter the most in terms of what the iPhone can be in terms of a functional, useful tool. The only way to look at this current device or the evolution of this device and come away with the idea that it demonstrates a lack of innovation is to look at it with your eyes closed. Such a statement demonstrates a shallowness of perception and a lack of effort of in observation. From the cameras to the processors to a host of other components, the iPhone is an excellent example of thoughtful iteration of design and it's in the details of the evolution that one will find the innovation.

I'd say that's it's not just the iPhone or iPad which demonstrate such innovation but equally important is the evolution of iOS as well. Again, it is a iterative process. Some years the "innovation" is more user facing, other years it is foundational. But it is there. Innovation is not just shiny new device categories. In the case of the iPad Pro and Pencil it can certainly be said that the Pencil, as an accessory, is innovative in the details of the implementation. By all accounts there's never been a stylus like it before and that's because of the details of the software and hardware engineering of both Pencil and iPad.

In the case of iOS and the Apple ecosystem I'd suggest that one innovation that adds to the delight and usefulness of the hardware is the communication between devices. Whether it is the hand off between device clipboards that is a new feature in 2016 or the handoff off app tasks that came on board in iOS 8 or the upcoming handoff that will allow the new AirPods to seamlessly move from device to device as the user moves from device to device. I can easily imagine starting a podcast on my Mac Mini. Half way through the dog goes to the door to let me know he needs a walk so I pickup my iPhone and see the handoff icon for the podcast app in the corner. I push the icon up and after unlocking the phone with my thumb the audio seamlessly switches to the iPhone and continues playing through the AirPods as I move from one device to the next. That is the kind of software/hardware innovation that Apple excels at and it makes for a delightful user experience.

Everyone has an opinion as they are easy to have, but few of us are ever aware of the details. Whether it is the details of the engineering of Apple's latest release or the detail of a probe sent into the solar system by NASA, engineering is all about the details. It's probably safe to say that while most of us are generally unaware of those details we are very good at enjoying the experience that they provide. We are good at taking for granted the innovation and the science involved in the technology that surrounds us. All of this to say that it's easy to sound silly when we express opinions often based on little to no understanding of the details of the technology and process.

Apple asks: What’s a Computer?

In a recent iPad Pro ad Apple simply asks "What's a computer?" In response Microsoft has issued an ad mocking the iPad and Apple's assertion. The suggestion being that if a device doesn't run desktop class apps it's not a computer. If it lacks a mouse, trackpad, and ports it's not a computer. All irrelevant points. It's been a question that's been debated long before the iPad or Apple's ad. But it seems a tired debate and a silly question. Isn't the answer clear?

I suppose lines could get fuzzy with all of the embedding that is going on these days. But in terms of stand alone devices that people might use to compute, certainly it's obvious that smart phones, whether they run Android or iOS are computers. As are tablets and laptops and desktops. All of them are computers that take on different form factors. My iPhone has more computing power than my Mac Color Classic or my G4 MacMini. In fact, it's got more built in storage, ram and processor than any computer I owned prior to 2006. I can (and have) create and edit documents, spreadsheets, and movies with both the iPhone and iPad.

Really, why is this being debated at this point? Why does the form factor variation confuse so many people? Enough already!

Apple Fall 2015 Releases

It was just a year ago that I posted about all the noise regarding Apple’s supposed decline in quality control. My take on it was that it was unneccesary and misplaced drama. To be honest there’s a bit of an echo chamber going on with some of the more prominent Apple bloggers and sadly one complaint often leads to a second and a third and before too long they’re all writing and podcasting about the terrible tragedy of this or that hardware/software blemish. Frankly it’s a fine example of the “First World problems” joke. As is usual though Apple got a handle on most of the software problems and most of the complaints faded. The hardware was solid with the exception of the fabricated “bendgate” non-issue.

June rolled around and with it the WWDC and the details of OS X 10.11 and iOS 9. As may expected and hoped, these releases were largely about refinement rather than major new features. Actually, between the two of them there were quite a few new and significant features added but yeah, it’s probably accurate to characterize them as refinement releases. Of course, there were still a few that shrugged their shoulders and offered at least mild complaint at the lack of whizbang but some of these are the same that complained in the fall about Apple doing too much. For the most part I’d say most folks were positive. For myself, I’ll just say that I was happy with the announcements and I’m happy with the releases we now have on our devices.

I’ve not yet installed El Capitan on my primary work machine, the 2012 Mac Mini. No hurry there as I’m in the very beginning stages of a series of projects that will be ongoing till spring. I’ll probably leave that machine as it is for the next few months. But I have installed it on my 13″ rMBP and it’s performed flawlessly thus far. Will be installing it on Kaleesha’s 2011 MacBook Air and on the 2009 MBP that the kids use for school. My favorite features thus far: split full screen; full screen mail that allows for minimizing draft emails; Mission Control seems tighter and more fluid; the new Notes app is fantastic; improved Airplay; last but not least, the system-wide use of the new San Francisco font is a nice improvement.

iOS 9 has been solid too. I’ve got it on an iPad Air 2, iPhone 5c and an iPhone 6s. The install on the first two devices went smoothly and both of them were up and running in no time at all. Split screen on the iPad is excellent. 3D touch on the iPhone 6s is also proving to be useful. As with El Capitan, Notes is a greatly appreciated improvement. Of course there’s been lots of talk about the new ability of Safari to block content and yes, it’s a fantastic feature that will save users hundred’s of mb of data each month. An added bonus, those blockers work in any app that has implemented the new Safari web viewer. The News app is an interesting addition. I typically use Newsify for RSS and will likely continue but News app will likely prove useful for people that might not normally use RSS. It’s a little wonky in terms of the selections in the “For You” section but adding favorites and going to that section works great. I expect it will get better as Apple provides access to the full formatting power of the app to more providers. Right now it is restricted to Wired and a couple others. I’ve saved the best for last: Siri is vastly improved on all of my devices. Wow. The service has been improving steadily over the past year but is now lightening fast and with the iPhone 6s, it’s always on. Not only is it fun to use but increasingly useful.

Last but not least, I’ll mention the iPhone 6s. We’ve been holding at one phone for awhile. Neither one of us are big on talking on the phone so it’s worked pretty well. That said we’re getting out a good deal more these days which means choosing to either take the phone or leave it at home so we’ve finally decided to go to two lines. I’ve passed my iPhone 5c to Kaleesha and ordered the iPhone 6s. Ordering it using the Apple Store app was painless and set-up was super easy. I’ve only had it for a week but in that week I’ve gotten a good bit of use and I’m pretty happy with it. As I mentioned above, 3D Touch looks to be very useful and is a good bit of fun too. And did I mention how much I’m enjoying Siri? Yeah. It’s a fantastic pocket computer with an excellent camera and a phone to boot. Good stuff.

Excellence is not Perfection

imageThere’s been a good bit of hub-bub lately about how Apple has over-extended itself. Whether it’s complaints about iOS 8 bugs or a bendy iPhone 6 it all seems to be much ado about nothing. No doubt there are bugs but this is nothing new. No company releases a major new upgrade to any operating system without bugs, not even Apple. Go back through the releases of iOS or Mac OS and you’ll see that every release has bugs and most releases have at least one or two big bugs. This is nothing new so why pretend it is? Frankly, given the ever increasing complexity of the Apple hardware ecosystem, my hat’s off to them for keeping it together as well as they have. We expect excellence and I think that’s what we get. Excellence should not be confused with perfection.

The big bugs with iOS 8 that I’ve seen mentioned the most in my Rss and Twitter feeds? HealthKit needed an immediate fix so 8.01 was pushed out sooner than it should have which turned the just released iPhone 6s into iPods. No doubt a big problem which was rectified by 8.02 a day later. Aside from that I’m seeing the usual anecdotal complaints of instability. Another issue, not so much a bug as an issue of different timing for the different upgrades, are iOS 8 users upgrading to iCloud drive who were unaware of how this would effect their ability to access their iCloud documents from Mavericks-based Macs. Apple presents a warning for those choosing this option. Perhaps they could have done more? On my devices I’ve had no instability. My personal experience with iOS 8 has been nothing but excellent.

The critiques I’m seeing on iOS 8 seem to include the notion that Apple is rushing things and should slow down releases but this is a damned if they do, damned if they don’t scenario because it’s often said that they are not releasing enough. Not enough hardware, not enough software. Complaints about a lack of updates for iWork or iPhoto or iTunes being too bloated… the list goes on. I’m the first to admit that I often wish for new features or updates more often but that said I’m also usually very happy with what I have. Again, excellence not perfection. Most incremental updates have proven great. Major app rewrites such as iMovie several years ago or iWork last year have come with a bit of pain, no doubt. Not just in the adjustments needed for users to new interfaces and workflows but also in lost features (or temporarily missing features) and bugs.

With each new season of changes and updates there is a predictable outcry from the Apple using community about changes and bugs which is followed by a few weeks or months of bug fixes and, in the case of the major app rewrites, the return of many if not most missing features. The end result is that within a few weeks or a couple months everything is back to “normal”. iOS or OS X has returned to a stable state with it’s new features and everyone is happy. By January or February the end of the world has passed and by April Apple geeks are anxiously awaiting WWDC. By August they are beside themselves as they await the new iOS around the corner. The cycle repeats.

But along the way Apple has built an increasingly complex and collaborative ecosystem which is, increasingly, taken for granted. I remember the days of OS 8 and 9 and near daily crashes of my Mac. A week without a forced restart was nearly unheard of. I considered an uptime of 3 days amazing. Now? My Mac goes weeks without a restart, often months. Often restarts are only after OS updates that require it. That is absolutely fantastic. My iPad and iPhone? The same. Not only do my devices just keep running but they now work together in ways I would not have expected before. In just a few weeks even more so with the release of Yosemite.

But right now, even before Yosemite, my 2012 Mac Mini with 4 GB of RAM is my daily workhorse with 8–12 apps open at any given moment. An example: Safari, Mail, Wunderlist, iTunes, Illustrator, Photoshop, Messages, Calendar, Filemaker, and Coda. I bounce from one to the other with no crashes. None. This MacMini also functions as the household iTunes server. iTunes, often derided as bloated and somehow a problem, performs fantastically in our household. Always on, it serves 6552 songs, 170 GB of television shows, and nearly 1 TB of movies out to multiple iOS devices including 2 Apple TVs and a couple Macs. I wirelessly back-up my iOS devices to iTunes with no effort on my part beyond initial set-up. The only time I have to plug in an iOS device is to charge it or import photos into iPhoto.

I regularly open or create documents from iWork or Byword on my Mac which are then edited, seamlessly, on my iPad. Sometimes it is the other way around. Thanks to extensions in iOS 8 and apps like Panic’s Transmit I can easily use my iPad to access and edit an image or html file on my Mac Mini which I can then upload to one of my servers. With the same device and app I can share an image on my Mac’s desktop to Facebook or Twitter with just a couple taps. I can use my iPhone to control media on my AppleTV or stream a video from a Mac to AppleTV. These little sharing workflows are things we do in our household everyday, many times a day without a second thought and more often than not they work flawlessly. We just assume they will work and they do. The list goes on and will only grow as apps are updated or new ones created. With the release of Yosemite it will get better with Handoff and Continuity. I’ve already taken phone calls to my iPhone on my iPad, with Yosemite I’ll be able to take (or make) a call on my Mac.

It’s a fantastic time to be in the Apple ecosystem and I’m just as excited about the release of Yosemite as I was iOS 8. In the first weeks there will be bugs and the usual chorus of complaints will erupt on my feeds. I’m not suggesting that people should not mention the problems with Apple releasesd, be they OS, software or hardware, only that they keep a bit of perspective. Honest and factual critique helps us move forward, dramatic headlines and exagerated problems do not. Take a deep breath. Expect excellence from Apple, not perfection.