The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

iPad

Why I still use the admittedly-awful Messages

A while back, David Chartier tweeted this:

David really doesn’t like Messages (for many valid reasons), and has often tweeted and written about other, better messaging platforms, including his current best-of-breed example, Facebook’s Messenger.

And you know what? In general, I agree with David: Messages sucks. It’s got latency issues, messages sometimes vanish, shared URLs are ugly, search is troublesome, it lacks many features found in other apps, etc. Yet still, it’s my messaging app of choice, and will remain my messaging app of choice, probably forever. Why?

First of all, it’s bundled with every Mac and iOS device sold, which means that most of the people in my social group already have it and use it. I don’t have to send a link to someone and explain how to install the app, set up an account, find my name/phone number, add me to their group of friends, and initiate a conversation.

Does that make Messages good? No, just because an app is bundled doesn’t mean it’s excellent. (See previous generations of Internet Explorer on Windows, for instance.) But it does make it pervasive, and in a messaging app, that’s what I want.

But even beyond that—even if Messages were so abysmal it lost 50% of the messages I sent and often force rebooted my devices and remotely spilled my milk—I would probably continue to use it. Why? Because Apple isn’t in the business of making money off of who I talk to, what I talk to them about, or what devices I use to do that talking. Apple wants to sell devices, not data about how people are using Apple’s devices.

(more…)

Images replace content in USA Today’s iOS app

Yesterday, I noticed that USA Today had a new iPad app out—they released it as a separate app, so it didn’t replace the old version. After trying the new app, I’m incredibly glad they chose to release the new version as a new app, because it sucks. Absolutely, positively, sucks.

Like the recent CNN redesign, USA Today has chosen to focus on pretty pictures instead of information. In other words, it’s become another news app that has decided not to show any news.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the old (left) and new (right) apps:

As you can see, the new app is dominated by one massive image, and very little of anything else. Here’s a quick comparison of just how bad things are in the new app:

Data points… Old App New App
Stories visible 6 3
Words shown 148 43
Weather visible Yes No
Navigation visible Yes No
Ads visible 0 1
Largest image on page 386×220 1024×475
% of page covered by image 10.70% 61.80%

If you’re scoring at home, which I am, the new app has a 50% reduction in the number of visible stories, and a 71% reduction in the number of words. And that insanely-huge ‘hero image’ covers nearly 62% of the page!

In addition, there’s no visible weather, and navigation between sections is now hiding in a hamburger menu. Overall, the usability of the app has gone from very good to basically worthless.

This is progress? I don’t think so. I’m staying with the old app, and giving the new one a one-star review on the App Store. Bad move, USA Today!

Resolve an iOS FaceTime/Messages activation error

After reinstalling iOS 8.4.1 on my iPad Air (due to some issues with the 9.0 developer betas), I was unable to use either FaceTime or Messages. When I’d enter my iCloud credentials in the setup box for either service, I’d be greeted by a long delay, followed by this error message:

FaceTime Activation
An error occurred during activation. Try again.

When I searched on this message, I got lots of hits, including the first one, which points to this article:

The advice in this article matches what I was told by Apple Support: back up the iPad, erase it, set it up as new, make sure Messages/FaceTime works, then restore from backup. And for me, it seemed to work at first: Everything worked fine until I did the restore, and that would then break Messages/FaceTime. Ugh.

Apple Support told me the backup must be corrupted, and I’d just need to start fresh. But with over 200 apps, and who knows how many that don’t sync data via iCloud or other service, I did not want to do this.

But then I noticed something. Something completely self-induced. And that something turned out to be both the problem and the solution. So just what was that something? Nothing more than a bit of time travel…

(more…)

How far we’ve come…

Happy 34th birthday, IBM PC!

While I didn’t own the original, our family did get one of the follow-on models. But that tweet really got me thinking about just how far we’ve come in 34 years. And while the original PC did start at $1,565, that price didn’t get you much of a usable machine, as noted by oldcomputers.net:

A basic system for home use attaches to an audio tape cassette player and a television set (that means no floppy drives or video monitor) sold for approximately $1,565. PC-DOS, the operating system, was not available on cassette, so this basic system is only capable of running the Microsoft BASIC programming language, which is built-in and included with every PC.

If you really wanted a usable IBM PC, you were looking at a much higher cost (from the same site):

A more typical system for home or school with a memory of 64K bytes, a single diskette drive and its own display, was priced around $3,000. An expanded system for business with color graphics, two diskette drives, and a printer cost about $4,500.

Keep in mind this is 1981 money. Adjusted for inflation, those costs are dramatically different in 2015 dollars:

  • $1,565 (Basic IBM PC) –> $4,109
  • $3,000 (Home IBM PC) –> $7,876
  • $4,500 (Business IBM PC) –> $11,814

Doesn’t seem quite so cheap now, does it? But what’s really amazing is what you can do with that same amount of money today. I’ll use the Home IBM PC as a comparison, so I’ve got $7,876 to spend. Here’s what you can get for that in 2015…

(more…)

My thoughts on Apple Watch upgradeability

Lots of people are talking about the possibility of an upgradeable Apple Watch.

In particular, the ultra-expensive Apple Watch Edition is the version that seems to inspire these conversations: Who’d pay $5,000 (or $10,000 or whatever) for a non-upgradeable high-end watch?

While this seems a fair question, I honestly don’t think upgradeability of hardware will be a major stumbling block for folks with this kind of money. Instead, they’ll be focused on two questions: Does the watch do what I want it to do now, and does it make the statement I want it to make? If they answer yes to both of those questions, then they’ll buy the watch.

A year from now, if Apple comes out with Apple Watch Edition 2 (gads, could that naming get any worse?), they’ll ask themselves the same two questions, and then either buy a new watch or keep the old watch. Remember that functionality will improve on the existing hardware, as Apple ships software updates over time, so it’s not like the watch will lose functionality as time passes.

Apple has never been in the “let us help you upgrade” business. They’re in the “let us help you buy a new device” business, and I don’t see their entry into the watch market changing that focus. If you want a new watch, they’ll sell you one. Perhaps, just perhaps, there will be a formal trade-in program for existing Apple Watch customers—but I think that’s all it would be, a simple trade-in credit when buying a new watch.

I just can’t envision “Apple Watch Specialists” at the various Apple stores, sitting around on benches, loupes on eyes, swapping out watch motherboards. That’s not Apple’s business, and it’s not a business I think they want to be in.

There is one minor exception to this: clearly there must be a relatively easy way to replace the battery on the watch; there’s just no way they’re going to require folks to mail in their watches for battery service. Perhaps the battery will even be a user-serviceable part…wait, what am I saying, this is Apple we’re talking about.

I believe the level of Apple-provided hardware upgradeability in the Apple Watch (all versions) will match that of the iPad or Mac lines: none. In theory, we’ll find out the answer in a few weeks when the Apple Watch is released. But in reality, Apple could take another year (or more) to figure out what to do for existing customers, as that’s not an issue they’ll need to address until the second generation Apple Watch is released.

The iOS App Store’s paid apps lottery game

In case you missed it, Apple is promoting “pay once” games in the iTunes App Store:

I think it’s amazing that Apple is highlighting pay-once games; anything that helps focus attention away from the freemium model is great in my eyes. I hope this is a regular feature and kept up to date.

Looking at just the apps I can see on the screen without scrolling, there are about a dozen I think I’d like—for a total cost of around $85 or so. But that’s where I reach the freeze point: Instead of sending Apple my $85 and trying out a bunch of cool games, I do nothing. That’s because if I decide to buy these games, I might as well spend the money on lottery tickets.

You ‘win’ the iOS lottery if you get a great game for your money. You ‘lose’ the iOS lottery when you wind up purchasing a steaming pile of donkey dung of a game. Sorry, you lost this time, but please play again soon!

(more…)

Fun with iTunes’ new math

Unlike my previous incidents with iTunes and iOS devices, today’s report isn’t on a sync problem per se.

It’s more like a math problem which then leads to a sync problem. Here’s the tl;dr version: I have an iPad with 5GB of free space, and I cannot add a 1.8GB movie to it, as iTunes eventually tells me it needs another 526MB of space in order to do so.

During the attempted sync of this movie, iTunes displays some horridly bad math skills; just watch the video to see.


Here’s the video at its full size (1164×1056).

I have no idea how to resolve this, short of restoring the iPad, which I’d rather not do. (I’ve already unsynced and resynced everything, in an attempt to straighten out the math, but to no avail.)

Quick poll: How many iDevices do you own?

From fiscal 2002 (the iPod’s launch year) through fiscal 2014, Apple sold 1,224,700,000 iPods, iPhones, and iPads. That’s a lot of iDevices! In looking around our (four person) home, I count more than I would have expected. So that got me thinking, how many of these things do other people own?

Hence this simple poll. It doesn’t matter if the device is in use or not in use, working or not working…I just think it might be interesting to see how many of these things each of us owns.

Voting is 100% anonymous; I’m not collecting or tracking IP addresses or any other identifiable information. So take a second and tell the world how many iDevices you own.

Portable power pack products prevent powerless problems

“Hello, my name is Rob, and I have a portable power problem. It’s been six days, 13 hours, and 23 minutes since I last bought a portable power solution.”

OK, so that’s a bit over the top. But still, I find portable chargers appealing, as I don’t like being without power when away from a wall outlet. Whether it’s a long flight, a camping trip, or a Mother Nature-induced power outage, I like having alternatives. That’s why there are currently eight chargers in my collection, as seen in the image at right (click for larger).

And while I can’t pretend to be anywhere near as thorough as The Wirecutter, I thought it’d be interesting to compare all eight of these portable chargers.

The following table provides baseline specs on all eight chargers, and shows how much power you’re getting for each ounce of weight you carry (mAh per Ounce) and how much you’ll pay per milliampere-hour (mAh per Dollar)—so you can choose by power effectiveness or cost effectiveness. (The order of the table corresponds to the numbering in the above-right photo.)

My two favorites are highlighted; the Jackery is an ideal size to carry around nearly everywhere, and the EC Technology is excellent for camping trips or other extended periods away from power. Beyond the table, I share a few thoughts on each of these power bricks, in case you’re really interested in these things.

# Product Size (LxWxH, inches) Volue (cubic inches) Weight (oz) Capacity (mAh) mAh per Ounce Cost ($) mAh per Dollar
1 OrigAudio w/ Oracle logo 3.75 1.75 0.80 5.3 4.1 1,000 243.9
2 Sony CPV3 Portable Power Pack 4.00 1.50 0.75 4.5 3.0 2,800 933.3
3 Sony USB Portable Charger 5.13 2.75 0.63 8.8 9.6 10,000 1,041.7
Sony Cycle Energy – 2+3 sold as a set 13.3 12.6 12,800 1,015.9 $83.85 152.7
4 Zagg 6000 battery pack 4.25 2.75 1.70 19.9 7.5 6,000 800.0 $55.89 107.4
5 EC Technology Power Bank 6.30 2.90 0.80 14.6 15.4 22,400 1,454.5 $45.95 487.5
6 Jackery Giant+ Portable Charger 4.30 3.10 0.80 10.7 10.4 12,000 1,153.8 $39.95 300.4
7 Boostcase Hybrid Battery Case 5.50 2.38 0.40 5.2 2.8 2,200 800.0 $99.95 22.0
8 JunoPower JunoJumper 5.47 2.95 0.59 9.5 7.2 6,000 833.3 $99.99 60.0

Read on for a little blurb on each charger…

(more…)

A nasty little iTunes/iOS bug may be causing media sync issues

November 18th update: My sync issues returned, but due to a different cause this time. Details in this post.

After complaining to Tim Cook, and separately starting a (now closed) support ticket, it appears that my iOS/iTunes sync nightmare has finally come to an end!

I have not seen a progress bar that busy since the day I brought my iPhone 6 back home. Whatever I tried, iTunes simply would not sync everything in my library. In the end, the problem turned out to be as simple—but as deadly—as this:

In the current version of iTunes/iOS, there’s a bug that only appears when you have duplicates of purchased songs. When encountered, a duplicate of a purchased song will (almost always) cause iTunes to silently stop syncing.

This is a known-to-Apple issue, and it will be fixed in a forthcoming update. I’m fairly certain it’s an iTunes bug, but as Apple didn’t clearly state which it was, I’m calling it iTunes/iOS. Either way, until it’s fixed, it’s a really bad bug.

Here’s what happens: If you have duplicates of purchased songs, iTunes simply silently stops syncing when it hits one of those duplicates. From your perspective, it will look like everything is working—iTunes never throws an error, and it proceeds through all six (or seven or whatever) steps of the sync process, as seen in the status window of iTunes.

But behind the scenes, nothing is happening—at least, nothing relative to syncing your files. As seen by my troubles, this can be incredibly frustrating and hard to fix.

Continue reading to see how I was able to finally (with Apple’s help) get my devices syncing again—the tricky part is finding all the duplicates, because they’re not all obvious. Also note that if you are not having sync issues, I wouldn’t worry about duplicates—no need to endanger what’s already working well!

(more…)

The Robservatory © 2018 • Privacy Policy Built from the Frontier theme