Category Archives: Apple

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.


MLB Manager Chided for wearing Apple Watch



MLB logoThe use of “assistive devices” is nothing new to Major League Baseball. For decades, pitchers have snuck things like sandpaper or razor blades onto the field to alter the way baseballs reacted to different kinds of pitches. Major League officials have cracked down on these shenanigans over the years, and for the most part, they’re a thing of the past. But the drive to cheat the system will never die. And it’s in this spirit that Major League Baseball banned players and coaches from using smartphones in dugouts during games. But smart technology is moving beyond phones and into wearables, creating a new potential for team members to access data that might give them an unfair advantage during games.

This led to a reported questioning of Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost, who’s been wearing an Apple Watch in the dugout during games. MLB officials wanted to make sure Yost wasn’t using the electronic device to somehow gather information on opposing teams during games. But in the end, it was determined that Yost wasn’t actively pairing his Apple Watch with an iPhone, meaning the watch was pretty much just… a watch. Aside from being able to tell time, Yost could also get basic weather information thru the unpaired device. That’s it.

Overall, this incident was really just a friendly reminder to Yost (and all other MLB players and coaches) that they can use wearables like the Apple Watch during games. They just can’t let those devices communicate with the rest of the connected world. Professional baseball sure has come a long way from the spit ball and the corked bat!


Major Apple TV Revamp Could Be Coming



Apple LogoApple’s set-top box, the Apple TV, has always been a bit of a curiosity. The so-called “hobby” device has been around for years. Originally, the Apple TV was envisioned as a home theater hub, shipping with built-in apps for media streaming as well as an internal hard drive for local file storage. But Apple stripped the device down in later iterations, removing the hard drive and slimming the Apple TV down to the familiar hockey-puck shape we see today. Speculation has run rampant over the last year that the Apple TV would see a major update, and it looks like Apple will be delivering the refreshed device next month.

Highlights of the new Apple TV:

  • It’ll run iOS 9 on an iOS Core
  • Siri Support
  • App Store
  • New remote control

The items on this list that are most interesting are the switch from the current Apple TV OS to iOS and the inclusion of the App Store. Independent media producers have been clambering for a long time for Apple to truly open up the Apple TV to third-party developers. Current Apple TVs host a limited number of apps, all of which are curated by Apple. The new Apple TV will truly be open to anyone who wants to get onto the platform. And now that the device will rely on iOS hardware and software to operate, it’ll be even easier for developers to bring things like games to the Apple TV.

While these are great developments, it looks like the new Apple TV won’t be shipping with quite everything consumers have been hoping for. One of the biggest rumors that’s been swirling around the Apple TV is Apple’s supposed Internet TV service that would truly unbundle cable TV once and for all. Apple is allegedly still negotiating with content providers for this new TV service. Regardless, the new Apple TV looks like an exciting revamp of a product line that looked like it had almost been abandoned not too long ago.


Using Siri to Call 911 Could Save Your Life



Siri logoA young man from Middle Tennessee used Siri to make a 911 call that saved his life. The story is making the rounds across news websites today in part because it’s an interesting story. At the same time, the story inadvertently emphasizes how useful Apple’s virtual assistant can be.

Sam Ray is an 18-year-old from Middle Tennessee. He was working on his truck when a jack collapsed. As a result, he found himself pinned under the 5,000 pound truck. This incident occurred in what the Chicago Tribune describes as “a location where he couldn’t be easily seen or heard”.

Fortunately, Sam Ray had an iPhone. In his struggle to get free, he somehow activated Siri. When he heard Siri activate, he said “Call 911”. The dispatcher who received the call thought it was a “pocket dial” at first, but then heard screaming. Sam Ray was able to tell the dispatcher the address of where he was located, and was rescued by volunteer firefighters about 40 minutes later.

He ended up with broken ribs, a bruised kidney, cuts, a concussion, and burns on one arm. It could have been worse, especially if he was not able to make that 911 call.

Siri is available on iPhone 4s or later, iPad (third generation or later), iPad mini, and iPod Touch (fifth generation or later). It is unclear whether or not Sam Ray was using iOS 8, which allows users to go into their settings and activate the “Hey Siri” function. Once that it turned on, a person can activate Siri by saying “Hey Siri”. They wouldn’t have to touch the phone to get Siri’s attention.

In July of this year, The Verge reported that if you ask Siri to “charge my phone 100 percent”, Siri calls emergency services. Siri gives you a 5 second window to cancel the call.

The reason seems to be that Siri reacts to a request that includes a number with the word “phone” after it as though the user intended Siri to dial that phone number for them. I can see where a person who is in a domestic violence situation could ask Siri to “charge my phone 100 percent” as a way of calling for help without the abuser being aware of it.


11 Million Users Try Apple Music



Apple Music logoApple Music launched a little over a month ago, on June 30, 2015. Since then, it has obtained 11 million users. That’s a pretty remarkable number for a service that hasn’t been around very long.

The thing to keep in mind is that this number is counting trial memberships. Apple has been offering a free three-month trial to everyone who signs up. The earliest users, who signed up on June 30, can listen for free up through September 30. After that, the free trial will end. Those who signed up later might have their free trial end in October.

Individual membership plans for Apple Music are $9.99 a month. Family plans are $14.99 a month. Those without a membership will be able to listen to Beats 1 radio, Connect, and to hear Apple Music’s ad-supported stations.

The free three-month membership gives people the full Apple Music experience on their iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, or PC. The Apple Music website describes it as “an all-access pass”. I think people are going to notice a difference when their free trial ends – unless they pay for a membership.

Billboard reports that if the numbers hold, Apple Music will already boast half the number of paid subscriptions as Spotify has. USA Today reports that Apple’s Senior Vice President of internet software, Eddy Cue, said that two million of the trial users chose the pricer family plan. It will be interesting to see what the numbers of subscribers look like after the initial wave of free trial memberships end.


Getting Onto Tim Cook’s Radar



Jen's iMacLast week, I wrote about my wife’s broken iMac that’s just barely outside of a special warranty period. That post was meant to be an open letter of sorts. Something I’d hoped would get the attention of someone up high enough on the Apple food chain that they’d reconsider the warranty period and just go ahead and fix the computer. After posting that blog, I sent an e-mail to Apple CEO Tim Cook as well as the Apple corporate PR team, explaining the situation, including a link to that blog post. I was polite and courteous but I did reinforce my belief that Apple should fix the machine, making sure to emphasize that I’d post a followup blog here at GNC, giving the company a chance to pick up some positive “organic PR.” I wasn’t expecting anything to come out of it but I figured I’d give myself 24 hours before throwing in the towel and shelling out the money for the iMac repair. I set a reminder for 1PM the next day to call the service center and authorize the repair, in the case that no one from Apple got back to me.

That 24-hour period passed by with no response from Cupertino. As soon as my phone chimed with that 1PM reminder, I called the service center and gave them the green light on making the repair. And then about five minutes later, it happened! My phone went off with an incoming call. I immediately recognized the phone number because I had seen it the day before. It was the Apple corporate office. It worked! I thought. My message got thru to someone at 1 Infinite Loop and they’re gonna do it! They’re gonna fix my iMac!

I answered the call and was met by the friendly voice of Jessica from Corporate Executive Relations at Apple. She assured me that she was at the corporate office and not at a call center. She said that Mr. Cook had received my e-mail and that he wanted to follow up on the situation. Jessica asked me to recount what had happened so far. I told her how the iMac had died, where we had taken it for service, the diagnosis of a bad video card, and the attempts that were made to get the repair approved thru Apple Care (including my case number, which she already had).

After reviewing things, she said that she was sympathetic to the situation. But, it looked like everything was handled correctly and that she was going to send me an e-mail with specific information on the video card replacement program. So, while the e-mail I sent did manage to get onto Tim Cook’s radar (or at least, the radar of someone in the corporate office), it ultimately didn’t do anything to change my case. With a certain air of disappointment, I thanked Jessica for reaching out and ended the call.

The iMac repair was already in process so there was nothing else to do other than wait for it to be done. I gueess it’s nice to know that Tim Cook, like Steve Jobs before him, has a public facing e-mail address, and that someone is reading it. Overall, Apple is within its rights to deny the post-warranty authorization. But it would’ve been really cool if they’d stepped up and approved it in the face of a technicality. Of course, Apple moves a lot of products and sidestepping its own policy like this could set a dangerous precedent for the company. Regardless, the iMac is now back from the store and working just as good as ever.


Hey, Apple. Fix my iMac!



Two iMacsMy wife and I are the proud owners of two 27″ iMacs (seen in the photo to the left). Both machines were manufactured in 2011. They’re identical in terms of model and specifications. And both have been afflicted by the same problem – failed video cards.

The first iMac went down in early 2014. I took it to a local Apple certified repair shop where the problem was identified. The repair tech told me that Apple had put in a special “repair extension program” specifically for this iMac model because there are known issues with the video cards that shipped from the factory. Thanks to this program, Apple covered the cost of the repair and the iMac has worked flawlessly since.

The second iMac (seen to the right in the above photo) was acquired used in late 2014 as a replacement to my wife Jen’s aging MacBook Air (which she had mostly used like a desktop computer). A few days ago, this iMac started acting erratically and the symptoms were very similar to the other iMac’s failing video card. We took the second iMac into the shop and sure enough, the problem was diagnosed as a faulty video card.

But the iMac didn’t result in the same outcome as the first computer. This iMac was apparently originally purchased in May of 2011, which means the repair extension program for this machine expired in May of 2015. A scant two months ago. Due to this technicality, Apple won’t cover the cost of the repair, leaving us with a $500 bill after parts and labor. I recognize that Apple was being generous in even offering the repair extension in the first place. But the fact is, these iMacs were shipped with defective parts. It was only a matter of time before the video card would fail. But too bad for us it didn’t break down three months ago? That’s a lousy way to treat a loyal customer, Apple!

And speaking of us as customers. Here’s a rundown of all of the Apple products we’ve owned over the years:

  • 9 desktop Macs
  • 2 laptop Macs
  • 5 iPhones (and 1 iPod)
  • 2 iPads
  • 1 Time Capsule

Also, I’m legally blind and I live on a somewhat fixed income while my wife is a freelance writer and relies on her computer for work. The $500 repair bill is difficult for us financially and this is compounded by the fact that Jen is losing valuable productivity time while the machine is down.

So, come on, Apple! Wouldn’t it feel great to help us out and just approve the repair of the bad video card? Doesn’t our longtime patronage of your products mean more than a simple technicality in a warranty program? Please, Apple. Fix this iMac!