Category Archives: Tech

The 3rd and 4th Biggest Apple Watch Buzz Kills

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I’ve already described the two biggest buzz kills.  Now it’s time for numbers 3 and 4, plus a bonus.

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Several of my complications, including the native Apple Weather app one, work sporadically.  The temperature, which is supposed to be at the lower left, appears maybe half the time.  The sunrise/sunset, which appears at the lower right, does a little better.  The best thing about the watch is the ability to quickly get information by glancing at your wrist.  When two of the six items don’t appear, that’s a problem.

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It’s a good thing, ironically speaking, that third-party apps don’t really work on the Apple Watch, since around a third of my app icons are permanently stuck in incomplete, installation-in-progress mode.  Sure, you can remove them and reinstall them via the Apple Watch app on your iPhone.  And if that doesn’t work, you can reset your Apple Watch and start over.  But that is a needless and frustrating time-sink.

Whatever happened to “it just works?”

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Oh, and a bonus.  Sometimes the Apple Watch will simply disconnect from your nearby iPhone and refuse to re-pair. Usually, turning Bluetooth on and off a time or ten on your iPhone will fix the problem.  This happened to me in Austin the other day.  It took much effort and trial and error to force these supposedly and mandatorily complimentary devices to begin speaking again.

Need even more?  Lately, I’ve noticed that the text and email notifications on my watch (the most useful thing about the Apple Watch in my semi-humble opinion) lag behind the notifications on my iPhone, sometimes by 15 minutes or so.

I like my Apple Watch.  I really do, even though it drives me nuts at times.  And, yes, I know this is a version 1 product.  But I’ve bought a lot of those from Apple over the years.  This time it seems like more of a public beta.  Great promise, but very rough around the edges.

P.S. Yes, I have considered that my iPhone has a Bluetooth or other connectivity issue.  I’m hoping if we don’t drown in the next day or two (more flooding expected here in south Texas) a trip to the local Apple Store might fix some or all of this.  Having said that, I know that many others have experienced some of the issues described above.

Is It Time to Rethink Password Management?

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Timing is a funny thing.  I was thinking about doing a post wondering why so many of my Mac friends always yammer on about 1Password and never, ever mention LastPass.

Then I read that LastPass has been hacked.  Again.  Funny that I read this at Lifehacker, and not via an immediate email from LastPass.  It looks like others found out via Reddit.  LastPass says it’s getting around to sending out an email to its users.

Some of that I can deal with.  But then I go to reset my master password, and this happens.

click for larger view

click for larger view

I know that security can be achieved without meeting every current standard out there, but if there is a time when you don’t want to read about outdated security settings, it’s when you’re trying to reset your master password on the website of your password manager which, you have just found out from a third-party, has been compromised, again.

All of the above, taken one at a time? Probably no big deal.  All of the above added together?  Time to rethink my password management plan.

OS X El Capitan: Initial Thoughts

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I downloaded the developer preview of OS X El Capitan onto my late 2014 Mac Mini, and here are my initial thoughts.

It’s largely an under the hood update, which means that many of the benefits will be less apparent than in some prior more cosmetic and feature-focused updates.  This is a good thing, because Apple needs to focus on the speed and stability that Mac users have come to expect.

During the keynote, I was most excited about the ability to split your screen.  In practice, at least initially, it doesn’t seem as useful and efficient as I’d hoped.  For one thing, it’s a little cumbersome to initiate a split screen.  For another, it doesn’t look like you can share a screen with two windows of the same app (e.g., Chrome).  Sure, I can do it via a third-party app like Divvy, but it would be nice to be able to have two browser windows open in split screen mode.  In sum, I’ll probably keep using some apps full screen and accessing them via left and right swipes, which has always been pretty efficient.

Interestingly, the most useful new feature so far has been the Find My Friends widget.  I am not a big Today view or widget user, but the ability to see where my family is without opening an iOS app or Messages is handy.

I’m also not a heavy Spotlight user, so some of the enhancements to Spotlight are lost on me.  Maybe I’ll come to use it more over time, but historically, I’ve used it to find files on my Mac, and for little else.

There are a lot of enhancements to the Mac Mail app and to Safari.  Unfortunately, the Mail app doesn’t play well (and never has) with Gmail, so I can’t effectively use it.  Even more unfortunate, the Safari non-sticky zoom level issue has not been fixed, which means Safari is a non-starter for me.  This is the most frustrating thing in all of Apple-dom.  It seems like a 30-minute job for an Apple coder.  Chrome has had sticky zoom levels for years.  My inability to use Mail and Safari prevents me from using many of the features that are embedded in the OS.  It really bums me out.

The updated Notes application looks good.  While I am a dedicated Evernote user, I also use Apple’s Notes app for some things.  Unfortunately, unless you install the developer beta on a Mac or iOS device, you can’t access your upgraded Notes via iCloud.  So until I have the new OS on all my devices, I’m sticking with the non-beta version.

I’ll all for upgrades to Apple Maps.  I don’t use public transportation, but I think adding maps for it is a good idea, as long as they are accurate.  It will take some doing to get me away from Google Maps and Waze (maybe my most useful iOS app; it has saved me from many tickets), but if Apple gets maps right, it could happen (especially, if CarPlay ever really gets legs, which still seems like a far-off dream).

The very best new feature?  The ability to easily edit photos in third party apps.  I haven’t tried this yet because I don’t have photos in iCloud enabled on my Mac Mini, bit if I can once again easily edit my photos with Pixelmator, the way I could with iPhoto, I will consider my move to the Photos app and photos in iCloud a resounding success.

The new font seems cool, but candidly it’s not very noticeable.

Overall, this looks like a good, incremental upgrade, and hopefully one that will bring speed and stability improvements, along with a few new features.  So far the beta seems stable, and the experience feels almost identical to the Yosemite experience.  I generally keep my beta installs off my primary Mac and my iPhone.  I’ll probably do the same this time.  Probably.

For more details, check out MacStories’ write-up and 9to5Mac’s list of features that didn’t make the keynote.

Apple WWDC: Likes, Hopes and Despair

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Here’s my relatively short take on today’s Apple WWDC keynote.

Like

By far the new feature set for both the new OS X and the new iOS that I am most excited about is the ability to split the screen on your Mac and iPad, and use two apps separately.  This will be huge for iPads and MacBooks.

Hope

I would really like to use Safari.  I hope, but so far see no evidence, that Apple will fix the custom zoom level issue that makes Safari unusable.

Despair

It would be very hard to overstate how underwhelmed I was with the Apple Music presentation.  Other than the potential to save a few dollars a month over the Spotify family plan, I saw nothing that would support a move from Spotify.  Additionally, anything that involves- or even reminds one of- the tangled mess that is iTunes is a non-starter.

My feelings are best summed up by a Facebook exchange I had with my friend Adrian during the keynote address:

Him: I feel like I’ve died and gone to a heaven filled with people who talk music industry bullshit.
Me: Yeah, I love Apple, but every bit of that Apple Music stuff was painful to watch.

Granted, I am not in the target demographic, because, while I listen to a lot of music, I am profoundly uninterested in current pop or mainstream rock music, and I have no interest in connecting with (which really means being marketed to by the managers of) mainstream artists.

Maybe the kids will make Apple Music what Tim Cook envisions.  Time will tell,  but I have some doubts.

SmartThings Aren’t All that Smart, Yet

sthingsIn my never-ending quest to achieve  automation nirvana, and somewhat  thanks to WeMo‘s frustrating inability to control devices on separate wi-fi networks, I decided to give SmartThings a try.  While there is little doubt that SmartThings is a highly ambitious platform, and the potential is evident, I found the SmartThings experience, at least at this stage, to be frustrating and unsatisfactory.  After months of wrestling with the devices and the overly complicated and unintuitive iPhone app, I took the entire system off-line.

To begin with, SmartThings devices are difficult to set up.  Techie folks will likely stay the course and eventually get their hub and assorted components up and running.  Those who just want the equipment to work out-of-the-box may become frustrated and give up.  I considered it, after wrangling with an uncooperative light switch.  The process to connect to various devices is not consistent and some devices simply will not connect  to the hub that controls the platform.  For example, I have a Motion Sensor that simply will not connect to my hub, no matter how many times I try.  I had to try 5-6 times to get my recalcitrant light switch to connect (though once I got it connected, it worked fine).

Additionally, the set-up instructions, both written (to the extent there are any) and in the app, are lacking (and the instructions for the light switch are utterly horrible).  SmartThings should take a look at the way Dropcam and WeMo handle set up for elegant examples of how easy it should be.  The hardware, while sufficient, seems a little inconsistent (I have the sense that SmartThings outsourced the manufacture of the various devices to different companies) and insubstantial.  Unlike WeMo devices, for example, which feel substantial in your hand most of the SmartThings devices feel light and fragile.    I accidentally broke one of my devices and had to tape it back together.  I would also like to see more detailed instructions on installing the Multi Sensor device to various doors.  I had to try it a number of ways to get it to operate properly (though, again, once I got it installed, it worked, for a while, sort of).

If you stay the course and manage to get your hub and assorted devices set up, connected and working, the SmartThings platform, which includes basic functionality as well as numerous add-on apps, creates a lot of flexibility.  For example, after some trial and error, I created rules and processes to notify me when doors are opened or closed, when motion is detected in certain areas and when certain people leave or arrive home.  When it works, it’s beautiful.  The kludginess of the set-up experience reminds me a little of wi-fi in its early days.  It was frustrating, somewhat unreliable, but the potential was abundantly clear.  My expectation is that SmartThings devices will become easier and more reliable over time.  That may be cold comfort, however, for early adopters like me who spend several hundred dollars on the current hardware.

The iPhone app is in a two horse race with the Hue app for the title of taking something that should be simple and straight forward, and making it almost incomprehensible and totally frustrating.  I love my Hue lights, but they need to trash the app and start over.  Seriously.

Maybe Apple Home Kit will wrangle these devices into compatible simplicity.  In the meantime, I’d wait for Apple or SmartThings to evolve this platform a bit.

The Two Biggest Apple Watch Buzz Kills

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As I mentioned the other day, I am enjoying my Apple Watch.

But it’s not perfect.  Here are the two biggest buzz kills.

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That screenshot was taken today, June 4, 2015.  If these apps and the corresponding Glances don’t automatically and seamlessly update, they are useless.  This is not an isolated problem.  It also happens with weather apps, among others.

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The only thing worse than old data is no data.  This is the rule and not the exception with some Apple apps (see above) and most third-party apps.  They rarely update before the screen goes blank.  I rarely have the perseverance to stick with it, and usually just give up.

And all of this happens within a foot or two from my iPhone.

Notifications are wonderful on the Apple Watch.  Phone calls are remarkably functional.  Apps, and most Glances, not so much.

The Coolest Thing Yahoo Ever Created is Going Away

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Yahoo Pipes fans have been expecting this news for a while, and today it came.  Yahoo Pipes, and some other Yahoo products that no one even knew existed, are gone.

I didn’t know Yahoo had a maps application, so I won’t miss it.  I have no idea what GeoPlanet and PlaceSpotter are, so I can’t miss them.  But I have always been a big fan of Yahoo Pipes, which TechCrunch describes as:

[A]n online (and somewhat geeky) visual interface that let you aggregate and filter web data without requiring the end user to have programming skills.

Yes, it was that, but it was a super-charged, very handy that.  It allowed you to easily and graphically create bundles of RSS feeds that you could then syndicate for use in other places and projects.  My original Headline News Page used Yahoo Pipes, as did numerous other content aggregations I developed over the years.  Sure, I didn’t use it as much in the last few years (and, undoubtedly, therein lies the problem), but it was a cool service, and I liked knowing it was a tool at my disposal when needed.

I’m not sure what Yahoo’s long-term plan is, or what it’s trying to become.  But I’m seeing fewer reasons to visit a Yahoo site, not more.  Yahoo could have owned the personal portal space (which I am convinced is not as meager as mobile-first developers would have you believe).  Yahoo ignored Flickr into near oblivion (though they are trying, at least for the moment, to revive it).  Yahoo bought and starved Delicious to death.  I’m not sure what’s left.  But I know what’s gone.

Adios, Yahoo Pipes.  You were cool.  You will be missed.