The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

iPhone 6

Revisiting iTunes/iOS sync issues

After getting my iPhone 6 in early October, I was initially excited by all the cool tech in my new phone. Until I tried to sync it, that is. I eventually got so frustrated that I emailed Tim Cook for help. From that email, I wound up talking to Apple’s engineers, who eventually solved my sync issues—it turns out they were related to duplicates of long-ago-purchased songs.

Welcome to
Sync Hell

And for a while, things were great in iPhone 6 land. Then I ripped a few new CDs, and noticed that they didn’t show up on the phone. Uh oh. Even worse, when I looked at my iPhone in iTunes, the Music section contained hundreds, if not thousands, of the dreaded gray dotted circles.

This seemingly innocent symbol means that the indicated song did not sync—the information about the song made the journey to the phone, but the song itself did not. Argh! Read on to see how I muddled through this issue, with some advice that may, or may not, help you with your own sync issues.

If you don’t want to read everything, here’s a tl;dr version:

  • My iPhone sync issues returned, along with a huge-fake-but-limiting amount of data shown in Other.
  • There’s a known-to-Apple “very slow performance” issue in iOS/iTunes that can make some iPhones sync very slowly (fixes have been made, but not yet released).
  • A factory restore failed to complete until I rebooted the iMac.
  • After the restore, the sync worked, but I still had a huge Other category.
  • After the iOS 8.1.1 update, the huge Other category vanished.
  • I had to manually unsync/resync a number of songs to clear their gray dotted circles.
  • It may help to do a voodoo dance, sacrifice three Nokia phones, and rub your stomach while patting your head before syncing.

Read on for the gory details…except maybe for that last item, which I totally made up.

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An odd iOS8 wallpaper placement issue

While creating and testing my iPhone 6 wallpapers, I ran into a little issue with how iOS 8 (I think that’s the culprit) places wallpaper. You can see the issue by watching (and listening; yes, there’s an audio track!) the movie at right.

You won’t see this problem unless you try to use a wallpaper with a visible row for iOS’s page indicator dots; I prefer this style of home screen, as I like the separation it adds between the dock and the icon area.

When placing such a wallpaper, however, if you don’t bounce it off the top of the display, it winds up being positioned just a bit too low—the row that’s supposed to contain the page indicator dots won’t quite be in the right spot. As I wrote on my iPhone 6 wallpapers post, here’s the workaround in text:

  1. Tap the desired home screen icon to see the full-size version.
  2. Disable Perspective Zoom. (It won’t work right with the navigation highlight row I use.)
  3. Pinch and zoom out so the image is at it’s 100% size.
  4. Now drag the image up and let it bounce—this is the critical step.

This really strikes me as a bug, because the images I’m using are 750×1334, which exactly matches the iPhone’s resolution. So with perspective zoom off, and the image shrunk to its smallest (actual) size, there should only be one way to put that image on the screen. But, as seen in the video, that’s not the case.

This is probably of use to only a couple other people on the planet who like divider rows for the page indicator dots…but if you’re one of those people, hopefully this helps you get your wallpapers properly positioned.

Wallpapers: iPhone 6

Once I had my iPhone 6 syncing, it was time to get to work on my home and lock screen wallpapers. I have made these for every iOS device I’ve owned—here’s the full collection.

My home screen wallpapers feature a bar to highlight the paging dots, and are typically “low noise” to make it easy to see icons and text. The lock screen wallpapers have no such restriction, and include a little bit of everything.

These wallpapers are 750×1344 pixels in size, and are designed for use on the iPhone 6, as that’s what I have. (If you use a Plus, and really like an image or two, let me know and I can make one for the larger phone.) Note that the images shown in the image sliders below (hover and click to cycle) are low-quality 180×320 JPEG representations of the actual photos; to get the high-quality images, download the entire bundle [24MB] and install only those you wish to use.

Home Screens (16) Lock Screens (52)
[cycloneslider id=”iphone6_home”] [cycloneslider id=”iphone6_lock”]

Note: Due to a quirk in iOS 8, you need to use these steps when installing one of my home screens, otherwise the nav bar (the bar that shows the page navigation buttons) won’t be located in the right spot. Here’s how, assuming you’re in the “Choose a new wallpaper” section of iOS:

  1. Tap the desired home screen icon to see the full-size version.
  2. Disable Perspective Zoom. (It won’t work right with the navigation highlight row I use.)
  3. Pinch and zoom out so the image is at it’s 100% size.
  4. Now drag the image up and let it bounce—this is the critical step.

If you’ve done the above steps right, then you’ll see quite a few pixels of the nav bar above the Perspective Zoom button (top image). If you haven’t done it properly, then the nav bar will barely clear the button (bottom image).

Given the images are the same resolution as the screen, I have no idea why this happens…but it does, and this is the only way to make sure the nav bar winds up where you want it.

License: All photographs in these wallpapers are © Rob Griffiths, and are freely provided for personal use only. You may not include these wallpapers on other sites, nor in any commercial product, without my prior permission. (I hate having to put this here, but prior experience has shown it to be necessary.)

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!

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I asked Tim Cook for tech support…and you should, too!

Those following me on Twitter this weekend will have noticed that my (lovely, stunning, amazing, I am keeping it) iPhone 6 is not playing nicely with iTunes. I’ve invested over 10 hours—in one day—just trying to get music and movies onto my iPhone.

Frustrated as hell, I decided ask Tim Cook for some tech help, not that I have much hope of any sort of reply. Emails to his address, however, are apparently all read by someone. For those having similar issues, I think it may be useful to also send your feedback in Tim’s direction; his email address (not a secret, published in many places) is tcook at Apple’s domain. Perhaps if there are enough voices providing feedback in high places (not that Tim reads these himself), we might see some action.

Further update: I have now done two full system restores. I did the second just before bed last night, and let the iPhone sync overnight. On wake, everything worked! So then I added in a few more movies, and—of course—they failed to sync. So now I’m back where I started, oh so many hours ago.

Anyway, For the curious, here’s the tech support request I sent to Tim yesterday.

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My iPhone 6 case of choice…or choice of case?

With my recent iPhone 6 purchase, at first I was contemplating no case at all. I was thinking I’d just put on a set of Bodyguardz clear skins and call it good.

But (to me, at least) the iPhone 6 is quite slippery—much more so than my iPhone 5. And given my history of dropping my iPhone 5 in some really bad spots, I decided a case was a good idea.

At the Apple Store, they had Apple’s own leather and silicon cases, and some cases from an unknown (to me) company, Tech21. The Apple cases are nice, but they completely cover the gorgeous phone. So I tried one of the Tech21 cases, and came away impressed enough to buy one.

The cases in the Apple Store—the Evo Mesh for iPhone 6 and 6 Plus—aren’t even on the Tech21 site yet. However, it’s the same design as the Evo Mesh for iPhone 5s, just upsized. You can find the case listed on the Apple Store, though not the color I purchased (smoke with the protective edge bits in orange).

I like that the case is really thin and light, that I can still see the back of the iPhone, and that the important bits are all protected. I’m not sure about the effectiveness of Impactology, and I hope I never have to find out.

Even in the case, my iPhone 6 is slimmer than my iPhone 5 in its also-very-thin case, as seen in the image above—the iPhone 5 is the blue case in the background.

The Evo Mesh case is grippy soft plastic, making the phone easy to hold. It’s not, however, so grippy that it won’t slide in and out of pockets, which is good. The cover slips on easily, fully covers the volume and power buttons, and leaves the important ports uncovered. The top protrudes just slightly above the height of the phone, so I can set the phone face down without worry. The case is also just thick enough that the protruding camera lens no longer protrudes, which I love.

Overall, I’m impressed with this case. We’ll see how it holds up over the next few months, but initial impressions are good.

A few tidbits about the AT&T Next plans…

Having studied the AT&T Next plans in great detail, and with the help of some great comments to this post, I feel that I have a very good (though not perfect) understanding of the AT&T Next plan.

Based on what I’ve learned, here are some bullet points about the Next plans to keep in mind as you decide how to pay for your next phone.

Please keep in mind these are my thoughts based on what I’ve been told and/or read about—so some of them may be quite wrong! (If you see anything that seems wrong, please let me know. Or if you think of other things to add, let me know that, too.)


Next 12 vs Next 18
The Next 12 and Next 18 plans vary only in the number of payments (20 for Next 12; 24 for Next 18) and when you can upgrade (12 months and 18 months, respectively. See the Upgrades section for more details on the upgrade options.

Using AT&T’s money
The Next plans let you borrow AT&T’s money—at 0% interest, no less!. That’s a good thing. Assuming you have the cash to pay off the phone at some point in the future (see Upgrades), you’ll want to use AT&T’s money as long as possible. So go for Next 18, not Next 12.

How to switch from Next 12 to Next 18
If you signed up for Next 12 due to late-night-itis (umm, that might be me), you can switch to Next 18. Here’s how: You have to wait for your phone to arrive, then—before you activate it—take it to an AT&T store. They’ll be able to switch the plan—at least, that’s what the AT&T rep told me after she consulted with her supervisor.

How to cancel a Next 12/18 purchase
You can apparently cancel an AT&T iPhone 6 order—just call them (1-877-782-8870). I was told I could cancel and reorder as another method to switch to Next 18; I politely declined. But if you want to cancel, apparently this is how you can do it (untested).

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An AT&T Family Share Plan/iPhone 6 cost calculator

In my article on the (possible) vanishing monthly discount for AT&T Family Share Plan users, I included a table with some cost estimates for a given phone and service.

Given the popularity of that article, I’ve done a bit of work to clean up my spreadsheet to make it usable by anyone. You choose which phone, and the size of your shared data plan, and the calculator spits out the results (click the image at right for a large version). As you can see, I’ve added a column for the Next 18 plan, too.

Download the calculators here. The zip archive includes versions for Excel and Numbers. Usage is pretty simple: Click the two red-text cells to set the desired iPhone and your data plan size, and that’s that.

To summarize what I saw in building the worksheet:

  • If you’re on a shared plan with under 10GB of data, going contract will save you a bit of money over two years. You’ll give up flexibility over buying or Next, though.
  • If you’re on a 10GB or more shared data plan, then going Next or buying outright is definitely the way to go. More flexibility, and you save money—assuming you do not upgrade at 12 or 18 months under Next by just sending in the old phone!

Note: I do not vouch for the accuracy of this thing, beyond its role as a “what if” tool. I took the values from AT&T and Apple sites, but those figures could change. Feel free to modify as you wish; it’s a quick and dirty spreadsheet with minimal formatting.

It’s the iPhone 6 Plus for me…I think

After a few chats with AT&T and Apple online reps, some spreadsheet work to examine the costs, and much thinking, I’ve believe I’ve figured out how I’m going to order my iPhone 6 at 12:00am Pacific time tomorrow morning. Here’s what I’m going to do…

I’m going to order the “contract free” 64GB iPhone 6 Plus directly from Apple. The phone is listed as “T-Mobile,” but after chatting with Apple and AT&T reps, and hearing from people in the Twitterverse, it seems this will be usable on AT&T with a simple SIM card swap at the local AT&T store. And buying it off contract means I can keep my AT&T discount, as discussed in the above-linked article.


Update: Based on some comments on this article, I’ve changed my mind: I’m going to try AT&T Next 12. It can be paid off early without penalty, the total cost over two years is the same as buying up front, you still get the $25 monthly discount, and you save the up-front cost.


Why buy directly from Apple, and why choose the monstrous 6 Plus?

The Apple bit is simple: it’s due to their friendly 14 day return policy. (I’ve also confirmed they’ll take back an activated phone without any issues.) AT&T offers a return program, too, but there’s a potential restocking fee for opened devices.

Buying from Apple gives me the chance to test the monster phone in my hands for a week or so before deciding if it’s right for me. I’ve been “testing” this week with the cardboard-and-coin monstrosity seen at right. Somehow, it’s not quite the same—though I think the call quality is a touch better than on my real iPhone badda-bing. I really need to have the beast with me for a week to see how it goes.

Why did I choose to start with the monster phone? First, because I’m really interested in the optical image stabilization feature, and want to see how it works in real life. Second, because I tend to think the Plus might be the rarer of the two phones, therefore harder to get if I do decide to do an exchange in a couple weeks. Finally, it’s the most-different device from my current phone—if I’m going to make a change to something bigger, I might as well start with the really big one.

Of course, I may change my mind at 11:59pm tonight, and start with the smaller Six, with the option to return and replace for the Plus. I figure I’ve got about eight hours left with my two cardboard stand-ins (yes, I made one for the regular Six, too) before I have to make up my mind!

The AT&T Family Share Plan’s vanishing discount—don’t get burned

The popularity of this article led me to write two followups:

Please give these a read if you’d like to know even more about AT&T Next.

Tomorrow (starting at 12:01am Pacific time, apparently) you can order a new iPhone 6/6 Plus. But you probably already knew that. What you may not know is that if you’re on AT&T’s Family Share Plan, and you enrolled in that plan with phones on a two-year contract, you’ll see a large increase in your bill if you upgrade to a new on-contract iPhone 6—even if your current contract has expired and you’re now contract-free.

Why would your bill go up, simply moving from an older to a newer iPhone? That’s never happened in the past. But we’ve not had the Family Share Plan in the past. And when AT&T rolled out this plan, they gave folks an incentive to move to it: they offered a discount for on-contract phones, from a $40 per month per device cost to either $25 (for under 10GB of shared data) or $15 (10GB or more) per month per device. So if you look at your bill, you’ll see something like this:

That discount was applied to the under-contract (at the time) iPhone 5 I moved to the Family Share Plan; the other two lines we have in the plan show the same discount. But if I buy a new iPhone 6 under contract, the discount will go away. If we upgrade all three phones with contract iPhone 6’s, that’d be another $75 per month!

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