Image: Matt Buchanan
The iPad was introduced on this day seven years ago. It’s been an interesting seven years with fairly consistent improvements by Apple. I purchased the first version and then the 3 and then the Air 2. I’ll purchase the next 12.9″ Pro when it is announced. I’ve written several times about how the iPad has become more important in my workflow. It is, absolutely, my favorite Apple device for work and play. I’m really looking forward to future improvements.
One last thing. With the iPad I’ve seen generations of my family, young and old, have access to technology that they’d never had before. In other words, the iPad opened up the internet as well as other aspects of computing they’d never before experienced. Young or old, the iPad has provided many people with experiences and opportunities for personal growth that they would not have had and that’s a great thing.
I’m currently enjoying a recent switch to Apple Music but often when I’m at home I still want to listen to my local iTunes content. Now that I have the Air Pods I’d really like to be able to do this via Home Sharing to the iPad because it’s the device I’m likely using. But you know, the Home Sharing from iTunes to an iOS device is terrible. TERRIBLE. In my experience it’s always been terrible.
One alternative is Plex which is what I’m using to stream local content to the iPad or iPhone. Because Apple treats Home Sharing as an afterthought on the new AppleTV I switched to Plex there as well. On an iOS device I can open the Plex app and be streaming music or any other content in just a few seconds. It’s flawless and fast. If I try the same using the new TV app or Music I just get a very slow loading indicator that never actually finishing loading. Actually, it might finish loading 1 in 10 times. Again, Plex loads nearly instantly.
So, Plex it is and that’s not a complaint because they have built a beautiful app. In fact, as apps go, it’s gorgeous and incredibly easy to use. Over the years I made the effort to add metadata so iTunes and the AppleTV would show nice descriptions and art. With Plex that’s not needed as Plex does all the work on it’s own and does fantastic job of it.
Yet another benefit is that with Plex I get fantastic searching abilities on the AppleTV or iOS devices. Search is nearly instant. By comparison, Apple’s native offerings do not offer search of Home Sharing libraries only streaming services.
It bugs me that Apple treats Home Sharing with such disdain after years of encouraging people to buy content from iTunes, anyone with a large library that would like to share content in the home is out of luck. But as it turns out it’s not a problem thanks to Plex.
Note: This post started as a tweet but it occurred to me that I should at least make a note here first. So it was intended to be a paragraph complaining about Apple’s Music and TV clients on iOS. But it seems to have turned into a little love note to Plex.
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.
Apple always has a nice makeover of it's website on this day. Well done.
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.
A few weeks ago Federico Viticci wrote a very nice article about his transition to the iPad as his primary computer: A Computer for Everything: One Year of iPad Pro – MacStories
"There's no doubt in mind now: the iPad Pro is the best computer I've ever owned not only because it's powerful, but because iOS apps unlock a different kind of productivity on the big screen. More than any other iPad before, the iPad Pro is the strongest argument in favor of iOS for as a primary computing platform."
"My first year with the iPad Pro has been a success. By embracing new ways to work and manage my time, I was able to optimize my workflow on a computer that can transform into a laptop, a book, a videogame console, and a focused writing machine. I've had fun working on the iPad Pro, but, more importantly, I've accomplished more thanks to the power of modern iOS apps. What I do on the iPad Pro today can't be done on a Mac."
Serenity Caldwell has also been using the iPad as a primary computer – mostly.
The potential of the iPad platform remains huge, but Apple has made great strides in realizing some of that potential, giving its users more control over the last twelve months. Thanks to third-party apps like Workflow, I've been able to recreate — and in some cases, better — daily work tasks.
There are more and more people doing this and along with the trend there is growing concern in the Mac-using community that the Mac might be on the way out. Maybe in the distant future. Maybe not. But if so I don't see it happening anytime soon. Jason Snell has a great video about the Mac as truck, tablet as car comparison that Jobs used several years back.
At this point in time it is a given that the iOS ecosystem will only become more powerful in terms of hardware and software. From iOS to new iPads to other as yet unreleased iOS devices, we don't know where this road will lead, but we can plainly see that the platform is increasingly capable of handling a greater variety of tasks and is often capable of things the Mac is not capable of. And with the recently introduced "Pro" branding it seems Apple intends for the iPad to become more people's primary computer. With iOS 10 many iPad fans were a bit disappointed with the lack of iPad specific features. If Apple truly intends the iPad to take a more prominent role they'll have to do better.
I've greatly enjoyed my increased time on the iPad in the past year and there's no doubt that it is now my preferred device. There's something about holding this impossibly thin and light pad of glass and metal that just feels right. It feels like the future. Maybe I've watched too much Star Trek? In any case, I suspect with each year more of my work will be iPad based and less will be on the Mac. It's safe to say that the Mac is now a secondary machine but truthfully, I'm still happy to have it around. I'm beginning to think of macOS the way I used to think of Mac OS 9, the "Classic" Mac OS. Not that the old system was ever as stable or as enjoyable to use as OS X but it held a special place (and still does) in my memory of Mac experience. OS X/macOS has been an incredible workhorse for 15 years and I've made my living using it. I've enjoyed every version beginning with the public beta all the way through to today.