Come on Baby Don’t Be Cold as Ice

beatles909

You know what today is, right?

It’s One After 909.

Much of The Beatles’ catalog, while excellent, now bores me to tears, because I’ve heard every song several hundred times (or more).  One After 909 is an exception to that.  It rocks so hard.

While generally considered one of their later songs, it was actually one of the first Lennon-McCartney compositions.

New iCloud Pricing Is Out: Is It Worth It?

Icloud_logo

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

apple logo

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.

iphone6

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.

applewatch

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.

dicktracy

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.

She Knew My Intentions

The Sumner Brothers

I’m a headin’ out to the west, son
I got some tending got to do there
Tell your brothers, tell your sisters
Tell ‘em take care

The Sumner Brothers – Going Out West

A Beat Up Ford and a Jug of Wine

EMMYLOU HARRIS

Blossoms in the apple trees,
Full of birds and buzzing bees
It’s summertime.

The Bootleggers, featuring Emmylou Harris – Cosmonaut

 

The Way I’m Livin’, It’s Gonna Cause My Heart to Ache

deepdarkwoods

The wayward son
He never gets nothing done
If I had some money, I’d be on the run
But all the money I had is gone
All the money I had is gone.

The Deep Dark Woods

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

sonos

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.

sonosiphone

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.

sonosiphone2

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.