Category Archives: Apple

Outlook for IOS – My First Look



Screen shot 2015-10-29 at 10.18.28 AMOutlook for iOS has been out awhile, but this is my first look. 

Since I made the switch from Microsoft products to “other” products in 2008 or so, I haven’t looked back…. Until now.  

My wife started a new job and received a Microsoft Surface (Not sure exactly what model) as her work machine.  It came with Windows 8.1 which I wasn’t really impressed with.  When windows 10 came out, I upgraded it for her.  What a world of difference!  I have to say, windows just became usable again.  I have one older laptop that I upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 10 and it works great for what little I use it for. I’m not switching back from Apple for my desktop anytime soon, but I am impressed.

That being said, I notice that Microsoft is now putting out new office apps for iOS and Mac.  I decided I would try Outlook for iOS for email.

I use gmail for my main email and my work email.  I also have an icloud email account.  I figured I would give it a full test and put all 3 in it.  It was really easy, no server addresses, no SSL selections, it just worked (when is the last time you said that about a Microsoft Product?).

Outlook for IOS organizes things a lot like Gmail does.  In threads.  You can turn that off if you want.  It also handles “priority inbox” in Gmail in what is called “Focused Inbox”.   All in all, it’s a great email app and I’m 90% sure I’m going to dump Gmail for IOS as my go-to mobile email app.

Outlook also picked up my calendars from both iCloud and Google. The good thing is it didn’t make dupes like some calendar apps do.  I’m thinking if Microsoft keeps making good stuff like this, they may convert some of the die-hard Apple Fanboys.  

To check out Outlook for IOS, see it in the Apple App Store 


El Capitan Tale of Woe



I have a mid-2010 Mac Mini set up in my living room that I use for occasional browsing and email. It came installed with Snow Leopard.Wallpaper-OS-X-El-Capitan-Mac

I swapped out the hard drive for a 256 gigabyte SSD and bumped the RAM up to 8 gigabytes. The machine is reasonably fast and is in a handy location. Additionally have it set up with a Neat desktop document scanner.

I’ve deliberately kept the machine running Snow Leopard over the years even though several new versions of OS/X have come and gone. Lately a nag screen kept popping up wanting me to update it to OS/X El Capitan. I resisted at first, but from the Apple podcasts I listen to the chatter is that things are slowly improving as Apple rolls out bug fixes.

So, I ended up saying yes to the El Capitan upgrade. The upgrade process itself seemed to go smoothly enough.

It wasn’t until I sat down in front of the machine afterwards that I realized saying yes to the El Capitan upgrade was a mistake.

The first thing I found objectionable is the overall look and feel of the new design. The menu text isn’t big or bold enough to stand out, and the aggressive use of white and wimpy light-colored pastels ruins the usability that extra contrast affords. You have to remember I’m coming directly from Snow Leopard to El Capitan, and the overall look and feel of the Snow Leopard interface is much more appealing and practical. If you can do so, put El Capitan directly next to a machine running Snow Leopard and the Snow Leopard machine is much easier to see and work with. Interface elements in Snow Leopard are much more prominent. Snow Leopard icons are far more recognizable, and menu text is bigger and stands out more boldly.

The next thing I noticed is that the Finder dumped all of my customizations. It has an “All My Files” folder that dumped some 1,200 files into one giant folder even those files reside in many different folders across the hard drive. Folders such as Movies, Photos and Music are completely missing from the Finder’s sidebar. They still exist but it’s necessary to go digging around for them.

Functionally El Capitan caused my Neat desktop scanner software and driver to utterly stop functioning. Neat has a multi-step work-around for El Capitan posted to their website. The work-around sort of fixes things partially but not really. If you have a Neat document scanner, DO NOT upgrade to El Capitan at this time unless you don’t want to use your scanner.

At this point, I was willing to live with El Capitan until Apple fixes all of the infrastructure problems. However, I ran into an infrastructure problem that turned out to be a complete deal-breaker.

I have a 6 terrabyte Western Digital MyCloud network attached storage (NAS) drive plugged in to my Apple router. Though the MyCloud drive functions perfectly under Snow Leopard, iOS, Android and any version of Windows, to my chagrin I discovered that OS/X El Capitan won’t stay connected to the drive. I could reboot the computer and regain access, but within a few minutes the Mac Mini would arbitrarily disconnect from the MyCloud drive. It even disconnected in the middle of copying a large file to the MyCloud drive. If you have a MyCloud NAS drive DO NOT upgrade to the current version of El Capitan.

That was too much. I made sure I had backups of pertinent files, including the all-important Neat Library database file. Then I dug out the DVD’s that came with the Mac Mini and made a fresh install of the version of Snow Leopard that shipped with it. I was able to use the Migration Assistant to restore pertinent files, settings and Applications from a current Time Machine backup.

What is Apple thinking? In my opinion OS/X El Capitan is worse than Windows ME, arguably one of the worst, most bug-ridden versions of Windows ever. I know what Apple is trying to do with the El Capitan interface and color scheme – they are trying to make it seem fresh, new and exciting. Unfortunately, it fails on basic ergonomics. The El Capitan interface is a nightmarish hurricane of weak pastels, hidden features and unreadable system text combined with a truly dysfunctional infrastructure.

Fortunately, I had the option of pulling the plug on El Capitan and going back to Snow Leopard, which is arguably the best-ever version of OS/X. People buying new Macs today do not have that option. Unless they’ve had experience with older versions of OS/X they will never know that they are buying into a computing eco system that left its best days behind it.

 


MacRumors Buying Guide Helps with New Apple Purchases



MacRumors buying guideWhen is a good time to upgrade to a new Mac, iOS device, or Apple accessory? The general thinking has always been that you should upgrade once a piece of technology is no longer serving your needs. And that’s a good way to approach the decision. Still, you can never be too informed when it comes to making what could amount to a major purchase. Also, you don’t want to bring home a shiny new piece of technology and then find out a few weeks later that Apple has refreshed that product line, effectively leaving you with last year’s model.

Popular Apple-news site MacRumors has a buying guide that compiles historical information as well as the most recent rumors relating to Apple products. The guide then rates different products on a Buy Now, Neutral, Caution, and Don’t Buy scale. The ratings are fairly self-explanatory but if something is marked as Buy Now, then that product line has been recently refreshed. If an item is described as Neutral, then it’s likely to be at the midway point to a product refresh. A Caution rating indicates that product line is nearly out of date. And if a product carries the Don’t Buy warning, MacRumors believes that a refresh is imminent.

Given my recent computer issues, I’ve been looking at new Mac options. I may go with a Mac Mini, and when I started checking the MacRumors guide a few weeks ago, the Mini was being given the Caution label. Within the last few days, that rating has been upgraded to Don’t Buy. I will likely hold off on that purchase now, since it looks like Apple may have new Minis on the market in early 2016.

At present, the buying guide is giving a Don’t Buy rating to the MacBook Pro (non-Retina), Mac Mini, Mac Pro, and Apple displays. If you’re in the market for a new Apple product, be sure to check the buying guide first. It might save you some heartache down the road.


The 2011 iMac: Officially a Lemon



Mid-2011 iMacThere’s probably little point in calling Apple out over a four-year old computer. But I think if my experience with the mid-2011 27″ iMac is any indication, these machines are lemons.

I’ve blogged here before about Jen’s mid-2011 27″ iMac, and how the video card failed two months short of a special extended warranty period Apple had put in place specially for this problem. But I haven’t elaborated yet on the history of my own iMac, which is the exact same model.

I purchased the all-in-one computer in November of 2011. It worked just fine up until January of 2014. I took the computer into a local Mac repair shop and there it was determined that the video card had gone bad. The shop was able to replace the card at no cost to me, because of the special warranty I mentioned above. After that repair, the iMac was working fine, up until about two weeks ago. Then, out of nowhere, I was struck by a surprise system crash. Rebooting would fix the machine temporarily, but after a few minutes, it’d crash again. The way the machine went down looked very similar to what happened when my iMac’s video card failed the first time. Having seen this type of crash before, not only with this iMac but also with Jen’s, I was pretty sure that the video card had failed again. Another trip to the Mac repair shop confirmed this. Fortunately, this failure occurred just inside the expiration date of the special extended warranty. So, at least the repair will be free of charge.

A friend of mine also has a mid-2011 27″ iMac that’s currently collecting dust in a storage shed. That iMac crashed in a way that sounds very similar to mine. Instead of messing with a repair, he just bought a new computer. Between me, my friend, and Jen, we’ve had three iMacs, all the same model, go down for the same reason. That’s a 100% failure rate in our (admittedly) small group. But we can’t be the only ones who’ve suffered with the problematic make of this particular iMac.

I think it’s safe to say that the mid-2011 27″ iMac is a lemon. If you’re using one of these machines and it hasn’t failed yet, consider yourself lucky. But prepare now for the inevitable loss of your computer. And if you’re considering buying one of these computers on eBay or Craigslist, take a pass. While they’re still very robust and competent machines, they will likely break before you know it, leaving you with an expensive doorstop.


Pickup Trucks



When the late Steve Jobs introduced the iPad a few years ago, he made the analogy comparing the iPad to cars and conventional computers to trucks.

h3tAt its essence it is a good analogy. Cars provide comfortable transportation for a limited number of passengers. Trucks can haul massive payloads. There are a myriad of vehicle sizes in between that serve many different functions. Overall in this blend, there are more cars on the road than trucks, but there are plenty of vehicles that fall into the hybrid category.

What would happen if we press the analogy farther? Where do vehicles such as pickup trucks and the ever-popular SUV variants fit in to Jobs’ vision? Vehicles of different sizes perform different functions

Modern computers also come in many different shapes and sizes. We started out with massive mainframes in corporate and government computing centers, and we have ended up with extremely powerful miniaturized computers that are so inexpensive and useful they are virtually everywhere.

If smartphones could be considered the computer equivalent of the chopped-off looking “Smart” two passenger car, and iPads and other tablets could be considered normal four and five passenger sedans, while desktop and laptop computers are trucks, then where does the ever-popular pickup truck fit in?

Enter the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and 4 tablets that are also powerful PC’s in their own right. After buying and using a Surface Pro 3 for a variety of computing tasks, I’m sold on the Surface Pro 3 form factor. This category of computer – the convertible – has legs.

The Surface Pro 3 and 4 could be considered pickup trucks in Steve Jobs’ analogy. It functions well as a capacitive touchscreen tablet media consumption device, but it also is a full-fledged, no compromises PC that can handle real-world productivity tasks. This is the computer I’ve been looking for since becoming intimately familiar with my first iPad.

I feel the need to reiterate once again that I am a fan of technology. I own many Apple devices as well as Windows and Android devices – I feel no monolithic loyalty to any of them. Setting aside irrational emotional reactions for or against companies or operating systems, the convertible tablet PC is a fantastic computing concept that through blood, sweat and tears Microsoft has made into a reality.

Will the convertible tablet PC catch on? My prediction is yes. Will Apple produce the Mac OS/X version of the Microsoft Surface Pro? Again, my prediction is yes, though they may stubbornly resist for a while the same way they resisted producing larger-screen iPhones — they pivoted when they realized they were leaving money and mindshare on the table.


Adobe Premiere Elements 14



Adobe Premiere Elements 14

Back in the heyday of the FireWire interface, I became fairly proficient with Final Cut Express. However, in 2011 Apple stopped developing it, and Final Cut express just wasn’t designed to work natively with compressed video file formats that virtually all modern cameras output. I really liked the Final Cut Express interface and was sad to see it be left behind.

Many people rave about iMovie. Unfortunately for me, I’m one of those people that doesn’t like the iMovie interface. Just give me a linear editor with stackable clips and I can easily and quickly find my way around.

In the meantime, my 2007 MacBook Pro 17” inch became quite long in the tooth and I started leaving it at home. For the past year I’ve been doing relatively simple video editing on my phone.

The recent purchase of a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 256 gigabyte machine inspired me to try out a trial version of Adobe Premiere Elements 14, the latest version of Adobe’s consumer verson of Premiere, which is aimed at high-end professional video editors. Premier Elements 14 is somewhat different than Final Cut Express, but actually very similar since it is a linear editing approach.

Unlike Final Cut Express, Premiere Elements 14 is quite up to date and handles all of the modern compressed digital file formats. It is even capable of editing 4k video. It’s quite flexible in output formats, and is capable of uploading directly to YouTube and Facebook.

I am still learning my way around the interface. My biggest complaint so far is that using the animated titles seems a bit clunky. I’m sure I will become proficient with them over time as I continue to use the software. Some of the options at first blush seem to be a bit hidden.

Before I pulled the trigger and purchased the unlock key from the Adobe website, I watched a number of tutorial videos on YouTube to make certain that the program could do everything I expected it to be able to do. It turns out that all of the features are present, but proficiency requires a bit of time and effort. Alas, this is video editing after all!

Version 14 of the software has 4 modes, Live, Quick, Guided and Expert. The two most useful modes for my needs are Quick and Expert. Though I am spending most of my time in Expert mode, switching to Quick mode can be useful from time to time in order to gain quick access to certain features. To instantly switch from one mode to another it’s as easy as clicking on the appropriate word just below the title bar.

Premiere Elements 14 sells for $99 dollars US and is available for download at the Adobe website. The 30 day trial version is easily converted to the full purchased version by purchasing a license key from Adobe.

Overall, I like the software. I will be happy to purchase the next upgrade.


Device Wars



surface-bookAs technology relentlessly moves forward, functions continually consolidate and devices get smaller as capabilities increase. This march forward has caused form factors to shift. The first desktop computers were relatively large and boxy and certainly not portable. Over time as laptop computers improved, desktop sales began to fall.

Imagine the succession of devices you have gone through over a long period of time. They start out as clunky and single purpose, and over time as the tech improves they get smaller and some of them are simply absorbed such as camcorder and point-and-shoot cameras. Imagine them endlessly changing and continually morphing as your expectations changed over long periods of time. There is an ongoing war not only between devices, their capabilities and their form factors, but there is also a war going on inside of each end user of these devices as to which one is better and performing specific tasks.

The first mobile phones were large and clunky. Mobile phones went through a long progression over time of getting smaller as capability increased and eventually turned into the ubiquitous smartphones we know and love today.
The ongoing warfront is now between smartphones, tablets running apps such as the iPad, and conventional laptop computers. Which one is better at performing what task?

Up until about 2011, I did all of my mobile computing on laptop machines. I got an iPad 2 in 2011. I found the iPad 2 to be a great media consumption device, so between the iPad 2 and my Android phone, I gradually stopped using my laptops for all but real productivity tasks, where the iPad and other tablets really seem to fall flat.

In 2013, I bought an iPad Air. In retrospect, I justified the purchase to myself thinking that the faster processor in the iPad air might enable me to move completely away from laptop computers altogether. Sadly, this was not the case. The iPad remains a great media consumption device, but as a productivity device it is still quite lacking.

My primary use for computers includes writing articles, editing video, editing my websites, and recording and publishing audio podcasts. While it is possible to do all of these tasks on an iPad or an Android tablet, it’s an unnecessarily painful, slow experience necessitating jumping through multiple hoops.

I believe many people did exactly the same thing I did, trying to turn the iPad into a small ultraportable laptop. The iPad makes a lousy laptop. There is no mouse, and though the iOS apps are great for media consumption, the apps make lousy productivity impostors. The iPad makes a poor netbook. I believe that is why Apple forbids the iPad from using a mouse.
The conventional laptop makes an inferior media consumption device.

Beginning in May of 2014, a new entrant entered the ongoing device war. I believe a significant portion of the future of computing resides in the so-called 2 in 1’s. I don’t believe that conventional laptops or tablets running apps will go away, but I believe the 2 in 1’s such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and above will eat into laptop and tablet sales. Apple has yet to enter this 2 in 1 market, despite the recently-announced iPad Pro. The iPad Pro running iOS apps will be a bigger iPad and thus a bigger media consumption device that can’t run genuine productivity software.

I personally see a future for myself with a large screen smartphone, and a 2 in 1 tablet/computer, with some room left over for inexpensive mid-sized tablets that function as media consumption devices and offer mapping and GPS functions. I will allow my conventional desktop and laptop computers, the majority of them now-older out-of-date Macs, die of attrition as they inevitably quit working over time.


Coming Full Circle



Surface Pro 3
Surface Pro 3

Over the years I’ve made use of most every personal computing device as it came along. I’ve have been through a long succession of desktop and laptop computers (both Windows and OS/X), along with expensive but rather limited use PDA type devices, and in more recent years smartphones and tablets (both iOS and Android).The capacitive glass touchscreen smartphone era was ushered in by the iPhone. Next came the capacitive glass touchscreen tablet, a device that ate into laptop usage. In the past couple of years larger screen smartphones have taken a bite out of both tablet and laptop usage.

Admit it, it’s happened to you. You are sitting there in front of your desktop or laptop computer with a keyboard and mouse, and you find yourself reaching up and touching the monitor screen trying to pinch and zoom. You are in good company — it’s happened to virtually everyone that’s gotten used to using a capacitive touchscreen phone or tablet.

When I first got an iPad, I realized pretty quickly it was quite good at being a media consumption device. Naturally over time, I found myself trying to figure out ways of doing more with it. It was a bit frustrating, because I almost wanted it to be more of a laptop with real productivity software (not limited “apps”) that I could use a mouse with (specifically forbidden by Apple for use on the iPad).

I have to admit to never using Windows 7, 8 or 8.1. Windows Vista had been such a frustrating experience that around 2006 I jumped over to Apple machines in a big way — three Mac Minis, two Macbooks, one original Apple TV, two iPod Classics, one iPod Touch 4th gen, and two iPads.

Microsoft has to be given credit for trying to blend the capacitive touchscreen interface with the traditional computer interface. Of course, their first attempt at it — Windows 8 and 8.1 — was badly bungled.

With Windows 10, Microsoft has really nailed the blending of the capacitive touchscreen experience with the traditional mouse interface.

Lately I’ve found myself getting excited by the idea of being able to have a high-performance tablet device that could also run real software applications — not just very limited “apps” — that could also function as a desktop class computer. Importantly, real productivity software demands the option of being able to use a mouse instead of fingers if need be. Editing audio or video, for example, demands the precision of a nimble pointing device that can’t be matched by fingers on capacitive glass obscuring the image.

All that being said, I’ve come full circle. I want a high performance tablet that has a great screen, fantastic performance, plenty of storage and a real computer operating system that when attached to a keyboard essentially turns into a high performance laptop computer.

One of the things that has driven me a bit insane about the world of Apple and OS/X (along with iOS) is their penchant for routinely taking valuable things away. I became fairly proficient with Final Cut Express, and Apple arbitrarily decided to stop developing it. For years I used a podcast recording application for OS/X called Ubercaster that pretty much stopped working with OS/X Lion, and the developer stopped developing it. My choice was to stop upgrading OS/X or stop using Ubercaster with no one piece of software that could directly replace it.

My Macbook Pro 17″ from 2007 still works, except the moust button is stuck in the “on” position, rendering it useless. I could get it fixed, but the machine is at least 8 years old and has a high-hour LCD — probably not worth spending any money on at all.

I am not very loyal when it comes to brands or technology. Though I started out with DOS and Windows and mostly moved over to OS/X about 9 years ago, I can easily move back to Windows.

Two days ago I purchased a Microsoft Surface 3 Pro tablet and keyboard with a 256 gigabyte SSD. So far, the experience has been great. The Microsoft keyboard offers a great typing experience. Unlike the cramped and compromised netbook sized keyboards, the optional Surface Pro 3 keyboard works as well as any laptop keybaord I’ve ever used.

To Microsoft’s credit, much vintage/legacy software works just fine on Windows 10. Adobe Audition 1.5, which is at least 10 years old at this point, loaded and functions on Windows 10.

I now have a 12″ high resolution tablet that offers incredible performance. It can turn completely on and off in seconds. I can use it either as a tablet or as a laptop. I have a capacitive touchscreen that I can pinch and zoom if I want, but I’ve also got a touchpad and mouse cursor, completely my choice — whatever I reach for without having to think about it.

I don’t know about anyone else, but the two-in-one experience — a tablet that can function as a high performance laptop — is the new next step in the ongoing story of my usage of computing devices.

 


Zoom Function Broken in iOS 9



iOS 9 logoIt can be a gamble upgrading to a new version of any operating system. The latest iteration of iOS has proven this true once again. Users are reporting a wide range of bugs and quirks after updating their iPhones and iPads to iOS 9. For example, Apple’s proprietary Podcasts app began constantly crashing after the iOS 9 upgrade.

Another problem I’ve noticed is that the system-wide zoom function, found in the Accessibility section of iOS’s System settings, is now very erratic. Sometimes, it works as expected. But most of the time, it doesn’t.

Most iOS users probably aren’t even aware of this zoom function. But as a visually impaired person, I rely on it all the time. Once system-wide room is enabled, it’s engaged by doing a three-finger double-tap on the screen. From there, a three-finger drag allows the user to adjust the magnification level of the zoom. It’s an indispensable feature, especially for apps that don’t utilize the standard pinch-to-zoom function.

I visited the Genus Bar of my local Apple Store on Tuesday. I wanted to make sure that this problem wasn’t the result of something I’d overlooked. My genius stopped just short of saying it was the iOS update that caused the problem but she did say it looks like a software issue. She also said that doing a full wipe and restore of the device might help. But that was no guarantee.

I have reported my findings thru Apple’s official product feedback system. Now, all I can do is wait and see if a future update fixes the problem. I had hoped it’d be resolved with the 9.0.1 update that came out yesterday. But the problem is still there.


Could the next Mac OS be named after a local town?



apple logoStarting with version 10.9, Apple began naming its long-running OS X operating system after specific places in the state of California. OS 10.9 was called Mavericks. The current version of the operating system, 10.10, is called Yosemite. Apple has already announced that the next iteration of OS X will be named El Capitán, after a famous mountain inside of Yosemite National Park. Since it seems likely that Apple will continue to name future versions of OS X after California places, this is already leading to speculation of what place-names Apple may choose in the future.

My local daily newspaper, the San Luis Obispo Tribune, has an idea that, while far-fetched, may have some merit:

At the Apple event in San Francisco on Wednesday, the city of Arroyo Grande made an appearance in a presentation about the tech giant’s new 3-D touch screen for the new iPhone.

If you blinked, you might have missed it.

The article goes on to note that during the presentation, an e-mail is briefly shown that was allegedly sent to Apple’s marketing team. In the message, the team is asked where they should visit next to scope out potential names for the next operating system. A short list of places follows: Manteca, Tehachapi, and Arroyo Grande. The e-mail even shows a photo of downtown Arroyo Grande along with a link to the city’s official website.

While it is fun to consider the possibility of Apple naming OS 10.12 after Arroyo Grande, it wouldn’t really fit the pattern established in the other recent OS X names. (No cities so far – only “natural” places.) But the surrounding area does hold some impressive natural sites. There’s Price Canyon, Morro Rack and Montana de Oro to name just a few. (Personally, I’m rooting for OS X Bubblegum Alley but I won’t keep my hopes up.)

Only time will tell what Apple ultimately decides for its future OS names. But the company could do a lot worse than some of the beautiful places found on California’s Central Coast.