This is excellent.
This is excellent.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m a devoted Mac user, with interconnected (via Google Drive and Back to My Mac), backed up (via Time Capsule and via Arq backing up to Amazon Glacier), and secured (via multiple, redundant means) iMacs at home and on the farm. These beautiful, powerful devices communicate and interact beautifully with my Macbook Air, iPad Air and iPhone. It all works beautifully, and elegantly, except for one little problem.
I have a job. Where I am forced to use a locked-down Windows computer. A committed Apple-loving geek being forced to work on a walled-off Windows machine all day is a recipe for disconnected frustration.
There are shortcuts, hacks and workarounds for most of my workflow. I use Google Drive, IFTTT and Hazel to move documents around, and to keep them in their desired locations. After years of managing a single contacts list via Google Contacts, Google’s insistence on jamming my contacts into Google+ and Hangouts and my desire to have a small, manageable personal contacts list led me to separate work and personal contacts, with my work contacts located inside the Outlook prison on my work computer and my (very limited) list of personal contacts residing in iCloud, and my various Apple devices. I used to think having two separate contacts lists would be burdensome, but the increasing integration between Apple contacts and various apps-and my desire to avoid inadvertently sending personal content to work contacts- made me a believer in separate contacts lists. In other words, my inability to sync my Outlook contacts with my iCloud contacts (and thereby my various Apple devices) led me to embrace a better, separate solution.
As an aside, I think work contacts are going the way of newspapers and record labels. I almost never resort to my work contacts list. Rather I search my emails (instantly via X1) to find the email address or telephone number I need. If that fails, I Google it.
I have always had separate work and personal email addresses and accounts, which has been and will always be preferable. Again, my inability to access my Outlook email via iCloud or my Mac has never been a problem. After all, both sets of email and both contacts lists are easily accessible via an iOS device, even if not be via a Mac.
Such is not the case for my calendar. Unlike email and contacts, I very much desire a single, unified calendar. Also unlike email and contacts, accessing multiple calendars via an iOS device alone is not a happy solution for me. For years, I kept my calendar on Google, and pushed (not synced) my Outlook calendar entries (consisting mostly of accepted meeting invites) from Outlook to my Google calendar via the recently deprecated Google Calendar Sync. Sadly, this no longer works and there is no acceptable substitute.
Which leaves me with the Hobson’s choice of having two separate calendars or having to manually enter every single Outlook calendar item in Cloud or the calendar application on my Apple device. The latter is simply unworkable, given the large number of calendar entries I have. The former is extremely unsatisfactory. There is just no answer for a Mac-loving geek forced to work on a locked-down Windows computer.
Until I find a better solution, I am currently using a less than ideal workaround, via which I repurposed two of my old iPads as dedicated calendar devices, each hung on the wall in each of my offices, and each displaying my combined calendars, via Fantastical. Because Fantastical can display multiple calendars, at least I have a unified calendar to look at, without having to pull out my iOS device each time. This is horrible solution, but it’s the one I have.
I wish there was a better way to solve my calendar conundrum, but for the time being this is the best I have come up with.
What I really wish is that Macs had infiltrated corporate America long ago, so that I could use a Mac at work. This is probably never going to happen- and will certainly not happen in my lifetime- so the best I can do is keep looking for some hacked up workaround that will allow me to live semi-efficiently within the frustrating digital walls I cannot climb.
I welcome any other ideas.
You have to click play before you can proceed.
Generally, I am a strong proponent of knocking down walls and tossing the gatekeepers out on their selective ears. Remember how much we used to care about who linked to whom? And sometime before that, I actually cared about the NBA and thought soccer was boring. That was all wrong.
Like much of what one reads in the so-called press these days. Now that the newspapers have been killed (generally good) and most content has been drug to free, anyone with a MacBook and an internet account can be a journalist. Or at least portray one of the internet. Sort of like I’m doing now.
That means more people competing for the same number of eyeballs, which results in more and more extreme stories, marketing and editing. This is math, inevitable. Which means you have some people who couldn’t write their way out of a wet paper bag hammering out half-baked and overly dramatic headlines. Link bait is the new journalism. Long live BuzzFeed.
Add to the mix some extreme polarization between ideologies, and you have a constant stream of bullshit that either pisses you off or reinforces what your preferred plutocrat has told you you already believe. It’s a hot mess.
Until I watched the video of the keynote. And realized that, while no new hardware was announced (it is, after all, a developer‘s conference), Apple announced some things that are not only awesome but destined to materially improve mobile computing. In other words, it was very impressive. Something I would never have known based on the news reports.
See for yourself.
Like a lot of people, I have come to rely more and more on mobile applications, and less on desktop programs. I still love my iMac, but the list of things I use it exclusively for (video editing, songwriting, maybe one or two other things) continues to shrink.
One of the by-products of this has been a simplification of my iPhone and iPad app use and flow. Rather than a hundred apps on my devices, stashed away in folders, I have moved towards having many fewer apps easily accessible from the screen.
Here are the 10 apps I use the most. For purposes of this exercise, I’m not going to count the pre-installed apps, like Camera (95% of my photos and videos are now taken with my iPhone), Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Messages and Phone.
I’ve already covered this great app in detail, so I’ll just restate that I use it all the time, and more than any other app, including the pre-installed apps.
Largely because Find My Friends, an Apple app for crying out loud, is so completely unreliable, this has become our family’s default and oft-used “where the hell are you” app. It’s not perfect, but it works.
I’ve tried many weather apps, and this one comes the closest to the balance between minimalist information and useful data. I never use the map, which is what got it on the app map initially, but I like everything else about it. It’s been my weather app of choice for a good while.
While not pre-installed, this is the functional equivalent of a pre-installed app. I’m not a heavy Facebook user, but it has all the people and they aren’t coming to me. It’s the virtual water cooler where one must go if one wants to interact with others. I hate, with a passion, the way Facebook keeps jacking around with my news feed (for example, by changing it back to top stories rather than most recent), but there’s not much to do about it (except immediately change it back).
I am a big fan of the Fitbit One. I’ve worn it for over a year, and I check my stats multiple times a day. Seeing that you’ve got your miles in before the last workout of the day (would otherwise occur) is like waking up at 4:00 in the morning and getting to roll over and go back to sleep.
I’m not big on entering notes from my iPhone or even my iPad. For all its awesomeness, the Evernote apps- and even the desktop program- are hot messes of too much information on the screen and chaotic navigation. But it has long been my primary file cabinet, and I access stuff all the time.
iTunes is a horrible train-wreck of an experience and probably always will be. Spotify is the one and only music application you need. I listen to 90% of my music via Spotify, and the rest via Google Music, which will not increase its share unless it removes the frustrating 20,000 song limit.
Here’s a short little playlist, via Spotify.
At first, I loved the simplicity of this app. Eight stories in the morning and eight at night. I still use it, though I find that, more and more, I am reading things I already know. But if you want a simple but elegant news app, this is the one.
Feedly is the best Google Reader replacement, and in many ways an improvement over my long-lost love. I don’t use it much on my iPhone (the screen is just too small for optimum content consumption), but I use it all the time on my iPad. Reading my feeds is one thing that has moved very decidedly from an iMac thing to an iPad thing.
I have had more than one frustrating experience with Dropcam hardware, but it’s getting better, and I use the app daily all the time to view my various security cameras. I pay for the cloud storage of the video feeds and I like the ability to get alerts when the camera senses motion. As soon as they come out with the long-rumored weatherproof camera, this app will be the only security service you need.
Honorable Mention: Skype (the best way I can effectively video-chat with my teenagers from afar; I prefer FaceTime, but young people seem to prefer Skype), Hue (the hardware is way too expensive, but, you know, colored lights can hypnotize), HBO Go (I use it all the time on my Apple TV- Sopranos FTW), Instagram (last year, it would have been at the top of the list, but it’s fading fast), Kindle (if this were an iPad only list, it would be near the top).