Category Archives: Tech

Six Things About My iPhone 6+

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So I thought about it for a minute or so, as I was feverishly refreshing the Apple Store page at 2:01 a.m. that sleepy and frustrating Friday morning.  Should I get the bigger iPhone 6 or the huge iPhone 6+?  I got the big, honking iPhone 6+.

It came down to two things.  And unlike most things, neither of them was money.  The pro- I almost never actually raise my iPhone to my ear.  I have Bluetooth in the car.  I rarely get calls on my iPhone when I’m in the office.  When I’m at home or at the farm, I either use the iPhone’s built-in speaker, Google Hangouts (where I’ve been involuntarily tossed from the no-doubt soon to be shuttered Google Voice), or- and this will become the default- the ability to talk on my iPhone on my Mac via the forthcoming OS X Yosemite.  I rarely handle my iPhone in a traditional phone manner.

The con- I work out a lot.  And during many of those workouts, I listen to podcasts.

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Which means I have to carry this giant phone around in my pocket.  The fact that all of my pants have big pockets was the deciding factor.  So now I’m toting around my gigantic iPhone 6+, with the wonderful iOS 8 and 128 GB of space.

I’ll admit to second thoughts.  But in the end, I’m certain I made the right choice.  Screen size trumps physical size, at least for me.  I think it would, if given a chance, for most people.  But it’s an adjustment.  For sure.

Here are six things I’ve noticed.

One, it’s slippery and very easy to drop.  The size, thinness and smooth finish conspire to make the iPhone 6+ a drop waiting to happen.  In fact, within (and I’m not kidding) a second of taking my new iPhone out of its box, it sprang from my delighted hands onto (thankfully) the counter in my study.  No harm done, but it could have been much worse.  I haven’t used a case with my iPhone since Around Me was the hot app de jour, but I have been weighing the odds and thinking about getting one.

Two, the screen is large and wonderful.  I didn’t use my prior iPhones for much heavy lifting when I was near a Mac or iPad.  The experience seemed very much like working on a phone.  You can do it, but it’s a little unsatisfying.  Photos or texts, sure.  But anything more than that had me grabbing another device.  Not so much any more.  The iPhone 6+ experience is much more tablet-like.  The resolution is superb and the extra screen space makes a ton of difference.  When I was holding Cassidy’s beloved (because it fits in her pocket) iPhone 4S last night, it seemed tiny.

Three, extensions make a huge difference.  If you’re a geek, you already know what extensions are.  If you aren’t, they allow you to do more stuff on your iPhone.  Apps can interact with one another (e.g., you can edit a photo in the native Photos app with another app, without having to back out and switch apps).  In other words, you can have more creative, seamless workflows.  You can also add widgets to the Today view in the pull-down Notifications window.  This may seem minor, but it is a major productivity boost.  In sum, extensions allow you to have a more computer-like experience on your iPhone and iPad.

Four, the native dictation feature works.  It’s accurate and, best of all, you can see what you’re saying in near real-time.  Previously, you said whatever you wanted typed, and then waited for the iPhone to process it.  As a result, I use voice all the time on my iPhone 6+.  Again, a huge productivity booster.

Five, working with documents will, eventually, be much easier.  iCloud (and iCloud drive) will be more powerful.  Handoff, which lets you start a task on one device and finish it on another, will lead me to use Pages much more than I have in the past.  At this point, other than its mandatory use for work documents, I have little need for Microsoft Word.  I also expect that much of my non-work document flow will migrate away from Google Documents to Pages, etc.  I use the future tense, because much of this requires the forthcoming OS X Yosemite to work.  I’ve been using the Yosemite beta since the day it was released to developers, and I love it.  One caveat: I have found it difficult to get handoff to work.  Hopefully, it will be easier with the release version.

Six, while iOS 8 doesn’t look much different than iOS 7, much of the magic is under the hood.  Developers are going to have a field day adding features.  Some of my most-used apps (Evernote and LastPass, for example) have already been updated to take advantage of things like touch ID and widgets.  I use Drafts (a must-have app for anyone looking for an efficient workflow) many times a day, and am anxiously awaiting its update (would love a beta version, guys).  Over the next few weeks, many, many apps will be updated to take advantage of iOS 8.  The user experience will be vastly improved.

In sum, the new iPhones are big and beautiful.  iOS 8 is powerful and expansive.  The combination of the two with updated and optimized apps will be life-changing.  You’ll think I’m exaggerating until you [hat tip to my editorial board in the comments] experience it for yourself.

You’ll dig it.  I promise.

Adios Yahoo Directory

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Those of us old enough to remember the birth of the web have seen some things we thought were awesome at first, that later turned awkward and silly with the passage of time, and ultimately got unceremoniously buried in the potter’s field of the Internet Archive.

There was Geocities.  It looked bad, even back then.  But everyone was there.  It was inevitable.  Like the Borg, and Sharknado 3.  There were web awards.  I remember this awesome technology that put current news headlines into your screen saver.  I have no idea why that app died- I’d use it now.

And there was Yahoo.  Front and center.  It was the search engine of choice for a while, but it was originally the directory for the entire internet.  Yahoo Directory was the digital equivalent of the boards you look at in building lobbies to see where you need to go.

In other words, it was a very big deal.

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There I am.  With a link that still works.  And only 7 spots away from Wayne Newton!

It seems silly now, but back in the day, we browsed that directory like the newfangled yellow pages it was, looking for whatever we were looking for.  It was fast and hip.  Or at least it seemed that way.

Now it’s about to go away.  At the end of this year, Yahoo Directory will be shuttered.  It’s a little sad, given its cultural importance, to the entire internet and inarguably to Yahoo.  Yahoo should create a digital museum and move it there.  But apparently that’s not the plan.

Which is OK, I guess  Wayne and I will absorb the blow, and move on.

Like time, and the web.

A hopeful postscript:

I understand Yahoo’s need to move somewhere, given, you know, Google.  And I get that one needs to chop off dead branches for the good of the tree.  But I hope Yahoo will keep in mind that technical achievement, even if now outdated, should be remembered.  I also hope they don’t start sacrificing cool stuff that still works just because it doesn’t attract enough eyeballs.  Yes, I’m talking about Yahoo Pipes.  It will bum me out if Yahoo’s ax finds its way to the wonderful and still useful Pipes.  Take away everything else Yahoo.  But leave Yahoo Pipes alone.

At least for a while.

Apple Watch: The Musical

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This is excellent.

End of an Era: RIP Macworld Magazine

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Time is a funny thing.  It marches on, making us older and making many things we once enjoyed obsolete.

I laugh (sometimes to myself, unless it’s Fox News and then out loud) at people who design their evenings around the television news hours.  I haven’t watched traditional television news in a decade or so, and I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone under sixty reading a newspaper anywhere other than the restroom.  I didn’t mourn the obsolescence of television news or traditional newspapers- I was happy to have the internet to access information that interested me.  Faster, and on my schedule.

I didn’t even mourn the obsolescence of traditional records, even though I write songs for them and occasionally receive royalty checks.  The greedy, inept record label cartel led me to embrace the new era of Apple, Amazon and direct distribution, even if it costs me money (though I really don’t think it does).

But even though I no longer subscribe to any magazines, the death of two of them has led me to stop for a moment and reminisce over days gone by.

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The first was when Stereo Review became whatever it became, on the way to whatever it is now, if anything.  Stereo Review, back in the Julian Hirsch era, was a wonderful, wonderful thing.  Back in the day, I would go to bed early on the day my copy arrived, so I could relish the stories, reviews and analysis.

The second was today, when I read that the print edition of Macworld is ceasing publication.  I subscribed to Macworld for a long time, but I confess to being part of the problem, as I have not subscribed to the print edition in several years.  Nevertheless, I remember learning about some of the coolest devices I ever experienced in the pages of that now shuttered publication.  This copy has a permanent place on my bedside table.

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Sure, Macworld will continue online in a vastly reduced form.  And thankfully, Jason Snell managed to save Clockwise, one of my very favorite podcasts (Jason, if you need some non-paid help in keeping that wonderful podcast going, let me know.  I’m in.).  But knowing that Macworld, in its traditional, obsolete-or-not, hard copy form will soon cease to exist makes me sad.

Maybe it was inevitable, but it’s still sad.

New iCloud Pricing Is Out: Is It Worth It?

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So Apple announced its new iCloud pricing today, in advance of the forthcoming iCloud Drive.  It costs more than its two main competitors, Dropbox (get some free storage by signing up via that link) and Google Drive.

iCloud_Pricing

1TB of iCloud storage is $20 per month ($240 a year).  That’s cheaper than it was, but significantly more than Dropbox ($10 per month or only $100 for a year) and Google Drive ($10 per month or $120 per year).  I have a 1TB plan from both Google Drive and Dropbox currently.  Would I dump one in favor of a pricier iCloud plan?

Maybe.  It depends, but only on one thing.  The forthcoming new Apple Photos app.

Space is space, and no one should pay double or more for space at one trusted brand over another trusted brand (I love the cloud, but only at names I know and trust: names like Amazon, Apple, Box, Dropbox and Google).

But space to use along with a powerful app that solves a terrible problem?  You bet.  I’d happily switch to iCloud if the Photos app would:

1. Look and work elegantly, like most Apple apps (excluding iTunes, which is a bloated wreck).

2. Easily assimilate and combine my current iPhoto libraries, of which I have three because they do not sync between computers.

3. Thereafter automatically upload, sync and manage my photos from whatever Apple device they originate on.

Photo management is a mess currently.  I love much about iPhoto, but the process of keeping your photos together in one place and managed logically is somewhere between burdensome and impossible.

If Apple can do that and combine it with some storage, I would gladly pay more for iCloud space.

If not, I’ll pass.

Impressions on the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch

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As anyone who hasn’t been unconscious all day knows, Apple introduced both its next-generation iPhones as well as its long-awaited Apple Watch today.  There are detailed summaries and hands-on reviews all over the internet, so I will dispense with the summary and descriptions and simply give you my initial thoughts.

First, let me add my voice to the chorus of howls whining about the utter failure that was Apple’s live stream of today’s keynote.  Despite trying over and over, I was unable to obtain anything resembling a reliable, uninterrupted stream via my Apple TV.  Eventually, I was able to obtain an intermittent stream via my iPhone, but even this smaller stream was interrupted incessantly by oddly-intermingled earlier recorded clips of people milling around before the event started, and an unbelievably annoying translator (Japanese or Chinese, I believe) talking over the speaker.  No attempt at live streaming would be greatly preferable to the disaster that was served on us today.

Having dispensed with my mini-rant, let’s get down to the details of today’s announcements.  Which were pretty awesome.

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So about this iPhone 6.  Yes, I want one.  There are enough improvements, from a bigger screen, to a faster chip, to a better camera, to faster WiFi, to an ambitious payment system, and beyond to make me more than willing to pre-order my iPhone 6 this Friday, for a September 19 delivery.  I’m very interested in the motion-tracking and fitness features, and wonder if this will be the end of my beloved Fitbit.  I suspect it will come down to reliability and the device’s ability to track treadmill miles with a reasonable accuracy.  Whether it’s recommended or not, lots of people (including me) occasionally hold on to treadmills when they walk or run, and I always question whether a device (be it a new iPhone or an Apple Watch) will accurately log treadmill miles.  Fitbit does a reasonable job of this.  I also wonder how the iPhone fitness apps will work if you don’t have an Apple Watch (more on this below).

The only material issue surrounding my new iPhone 6 is whether I will get a slightly larger iPhone 6 or a significantly larger iPhone 6 Plus.  Initially, I felt reasonably certain I would choose the larger device, but the more I think about it the more I wonder if carrying around a larger device all the time would be cumbersome.  Granted, using it while stationary would be wonderful, but the idea of logging 60 or 70 miles a week on roads and treadmills with a big, honking iPhone 6 Plus in my pocket worries me.

One thing I’m certain of.  The fact that the Apple Watch requires an iPhone for effective use is the biggest thing the smaller iPhone 6 has going for it.  I question the effectiveness of having a smallish, elegant device on your arm if you are required to lug around a large, 6 ounce iPhone Plus in your pocket (if it will even fit).  It’s a true conundrum.  Sitting at my desk or on the couch- iPhone 6 Plus for sure.  Traveling, running or walking- smaller may be better.  Not to mention that I am very attached to my iPad Air, and typically have it close by when at home.

The bottom line: I was leaning towards the larger model, but now it’s a toss up.

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So, what about the Apple Watch?

I haven’t worn a watch in many, many years, and absent Apple’s involvement, I have absolutely no desire to wear one.  In fact, I hate the idea of a watch.  Prior to today’s keynote, I, like many others, expected Apple’s “wearable” device to be much more Fitbit-like, and much less watch-like.  I was wrong.  The Apple Watch is very much a watch, albeit one with lots of features.

I like the idea of being able to “glance” at information, quickly and easily.  If it works, I like the fitness aspects.  I guess it would be cool to be able to communicate with my family and friends via sketches and dictated messages.  Having said that, I don’t text much now, and I don’t see the Apple Watch turning me into a power-texter.  I wasn’t into Dick Tracy as a kid, and I just don’t know that I want his watch now.

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Of course, I wasn’t sure I wanted an iPhone, until I had one.  Or a Sonos.  Or all sorts of other things you have to experience to fully appreciate.  And there’s no denying that the interface looks beautiful, intuitive and powerful.  At the end of the day, my dislike of watches will have to battle my love of Apple for the future of my currently bare arm.

I will say that, while the Apple Watch screams cool, I don’t see anything about it that will make it a mandatory purchase for all iPhone users.  Additionally, the requirement to associate an iPhone with the device limits its ability to penetrate the Android and other wearable markets.  I’m sure Google and Samsung breathed audible sighs of relief at this.

I think the biggest leap forward we learned about today will end up being Apple Pay.

If it is adopted on a universal or close to universal basis, Apple Pay will be life- and commerce- changing.  Clearly, someone needs to step up to the plate and address the endless security problems inherent in current credit card standards and technology.  Apple changed the music business, and there is little reason to doubt it can do the same with the credit card business.  While I am not much of a Passbook user currently, I am excited about the potential for my iPhone to replace both my membership cards (as few as they may be; I am profoundly unaffiliated) as well as my credit cards.

We can debate the details, but clearly today was another big day for Apple, and for current and future Apple users.

Sonos: For Those Who Want (Their Audio System) to Rock

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I’ve been reading and hearing about Sonos for a long time.  For much of this time, I have resisted taking the plunge, because I thought I could manage and listen to my music via my Mac, and because Sonos equipment is expensive.  But the more I heard and read, the more my excuses and counter-arguments starting to sound like the stubborn rationalizations of Mac-resistant Windows users.  But as we know, when it comes to good tech, resistance is futile.  So the idea of a Sonos system found a place in my contemplation, and began to slowly grow.

The death of an inexpensive Woot-purchased soundbar I have been using had me thinking about a more robust replacement, and when Sonos announced this week that a separate wireless network (via a wired connection to your router) is no longer required (it is never a good idea to have two competing wireless networks in one location), I took the plunge.  I bought a Sonos Playbar  and two Sonos Play:1’s from Amazon.  After 30 minutes with the Play:1, I knew I was onto something good, and purchased a Play:5 to serve as my primary audio system.

Yes, Sonos equipment is expensive.  No argument in the world is going to make it sound like a bargain.  When you consider how robust and elegant the hardware and associated software is, and when you realize that going all-in on Sonos equipment renders you free of some legacy audio equipment (receivers, amplifiers, CD players, speaker wire, MP3 players, etc.),  the price seems a little less insane.  A little.

So here’s a summary of my Sonos experience so far.

First, the hardware is powerful, well-built and beautiful.   Very Apple-like.  Setup is easy (basically, you turn on your first device, open the Sonos app on your iOS device, connect it to your existing wireless network, and follow the instructions).  Adding additional devices is even easier.  You can listen to devices individually in full-stereo pairs or in large groups (e.g., whole house), and you can easily manage devices throughout your house.  You can play what you want, when and where you want.

And if you want, there are devices that will integrate your existing audio system into your Sonos setup (though I have not tried them).

While I am still in the infancy of my Sonos experience, the sound quality is very impressive.  Wirecutter, maybe the most reliable online source for gadget testing and reviews, chose Sonos as the best whole-home audio system:

Sonos is flexible, easy to use, integrates into your current system and works with a huge array of services and content providers. It has been around since 2004, and that time has let the company build up its product to be better than anyone else’s. It also sounds fantastic.

Eventually, I intend to have a system of paired devices for a full-stereo set up.  However, listening to a single Play:5 (as I am doing now for most of my music) sounds excellent.  In fact, the single Play:1 I’m using in my downtown office sounds great.

Second, the associated software is intuitive and robust.  Initially, I managed all of my Sonos activity via the Sonos app on my iPhone.

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Eventually, I downloaded the Sonos controller for my Mac (there’s a Windows version too), and found it to be another great way to manage my Sonos system when sitting at my desk.

There are tons of integrated music choices.  I immediately added Spotify (my primary music source; that link is to my curated Rancho Radio, try it), Amazon Cloud Player, Google Play Music and Pandora.  There are numerous other choices as well.  An added bonus is the integration of a virtually infinite number of terrestrial and online radio stations.  I quickly added NPR, WNCW and, amazingly, WCRE, the local radio station in the small town where I grew up.

One of the questions I had when considering Sonos was the ability to have and manage systems at different locations.  Happily, Sonos permits this, and switching between setups at various locations happens automatically, based on your location.  I have a system at home, I will sometimes take my Play:5 to and from the farm, and, at least temporarily, I’m using a Play:1 in my downtown office.  It’s pretty awesome.

One of the unexpected benefits of my Sonos experience is that I find myself listening to music a lot more than I did previously.  Before, I had to stop what I was doing on my Mac or iOS device, open the Spotify app, charge, find and connect to a speaker (if listening via my iPhone)  and start listening to music that would play in lieu of the audio component of whatever else I was doing on my computer or iPhone.  Since I’ve begun using Sonos, I often have music playing wherever I am, with only the volume to change depending on where I am and what I’m doing.

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No review would be complete without a wish list of additional features, but I had to dig pretty deep to come up with one for Sonos.  I wish the Play:5 (which has a line input) would accept Bluetooth connections.  It would be awesome if you could access and play your music from more places in the cloud (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.).  And I wish your Sonos playlists would sync across locations (e.g., I wish a Sonos playlist I create at home on my home system would be available via the Sonos app on my iPhone at the office or farm, at least for non-local music).  There may be a way to do this, but I haven’t figured it out yet.

While Sonos has dispensed with a wired-connection requirement for most setups, you still have to attach a Sonos device (a player or an available Sonos bridge) directly to your router to set up surround sound for your television via the Playbar and a Sonos subwoofer and/or Play:1’s.  I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to do this, but it would be nice to have the choice to do so completely wirelessly.  Finally, it would be nice to have better integration with some of the music services.  For example, I would love to have the option to automatically share the songs I play to Facebook, much like I can with the native Spotify app.  You can share what you’re playing to Twitter or Facebook, but the share is not embedded, like it is when you share to Facebook via the Spotify app.

If that’s the best I can come up with for wish list, you can tell that the Sonos system and apps are mature and well-designed.  It’s early, but so far I am a very happy customer, and one that will have to constantly resist the desire to buy additional Sonos equipment to add to my setup.

Or not.  Like I said, resistance is futile.