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Jony Ive is Great but Not Perfect

Jony Ive flourished under Steve Jobs’ leadership. In those days, Jobs was focused on simplicity, and Ive was masterful at creating it.

Some achievements were clearly great. Others arguable. A few were hamhanded.

There’s a saying that art can be whatever it wants, but design has to work.

The Misses

The mouse puck, the original iPod shuffle, and the Apple TV remote are exercises in forcing art to design.

Beauty Meets Stink

The mouse was an ergonomic disaster. The third generation iPod shuffle lacked buttons (yes, really). The Apple TV remote is the manifestation of a palindrome: Which way is up? (I always, always grab the thing incorrectly.)

In the pursuit to achieve thinness, Ive drove the effort to re-engineer the key mechanism on MacBook laptop keyboards. Thus, the traditional scissor key mechanism was eschewed, and the butterfly key was developed. This new invention reduced vertical space requirements from 1mm to 0.5mm. The butterfly keyboard has gone down in infamy as a true liability for Apple. The widespread reliability issues has spawned a multi-year warranty program to quickly replace failed keyboards for customers. One new MacBook hardware update was introduced and added to this warranty program on the same day. All to shave a half millimeter of MacBook thickness.

The Mad Pursuit of Hardware Thinness

Amazing that Scott Forstall lost his job for not apologizing for Apple Maps, but Jony Ive stayed completely under the radar on this one.

Painful But Good

Anytime he could, Jobs tried to advance the computing industry in many ways, and Ive realized many of those goals.

The iMac lost its floppy disc drives and then its CD-ROM/DVD drives. Apple lost these features first, and the industry eventually followed. Now that these things are gone, no one misses them.

These days, the pinch in convenience is the Thunderbolt 3/USB-C port. The evolution to this port is inevitable and comes closer to reality as each month goes by. Like before, Apple was the first mainstream hardware maker to unceremoniously dump all other ports for this new one. In a few years, no one will miss USB-A and the mini-USB, micro-USB, etc., ports and cables.

The Hits

Ive’s design skills were a vital part in Apple’s return to prominence. The industry-standard beige box was disrupted by colorful iMacs.

The iPod liberated our music from our immobile desktop computers with a revolutionary interface to access thousands of tunes in a device that literally fit in Jobs’ back pocket.

Inarguable Hits

And then there was iPhone.

A truly momentous device that revolutionized the awful mobile phone and personal info manager industry. It went on to conveniently bring communication technology to millions across the United States and billions around the world.

Now, that is a real legacy. So thank you, Jony!

2018 Mac mini Disappoints [Updated]

2018 Mac mini next to a Shame meter

On October 30, 2018, Apple debuted an updated Mac mini. The Cupertino kids did an admirable job updating the product, and the new price ($799, previously $499) seemed within normal Apple tolerances.

But the devil is in the specs.

If this is a desktop computer, the entry level specs aren’t impressive. And once you bump the options into mid-level desktop territory, you’re in for sticker shock.

In my opinion, a desktop computer serves as a desktop with these minimum specifications: A Core i5, 8 GB RAM, and 1 TB storage.

Let’s compare’s Apple entry level device with something more serviceable:

Mac mini
(entry level)
Mac mini
(desktop minimum)
Core i3 (4 core)Core i5 (6 core)
8 GB RAM8 GB RAM
128 GB SSD1 TB SSD
$799$1,699

Bumping the specs in just 2 areas adds $900 to the cost. Does upgrading a processor and solid-state storage really cost more than two entry level Mac mini devices?

I had hoped that the cost with the upgrades I sought would have been $1,199. If it had, I’d have placed my order.

Apple gives lip service to creating devices that provide the experience its customers desire. That gets interpreted as lip service when you look at the paltry entry level specs.

C’mon, Apple. You shouldn’t seek to fleece your customers to provide the expected “experience” you propose.

UPDATE … At the end of last summer (2019), I pulled the trigger on a Mac mini. I bought an Apple refurbished model with an i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and 1 TB of storage. The savings was close to $400 from new retail. Not bad.

Still, I feel Apple continues to offer utterly lacking storage options in its base Mac models. Living with 128 GB or even 256 GB of storage is not an acceptable “experience.” Solid state storage costs have dropped dramatically, and Apple should offer better base options to its customers.

Degraded Sound Quality on CarPlay When Using Waze

Waze, a Sad Face Emoji, CarPlay, and Music

Waze recently updated its app with several new features including a nice new feature where you can get the app’s attention by saying “Okay, Waze.” But it might have a downside.

I have a car stereo with Apple CarPlay, but I still prefer to use Waze rather than Apple Maps. Unfortunately, Apple does not allow third-party apps to draw graphics on the stereo’s screen via CarPlay. So I have a setup that allows me to see Waze on my phone while playing music or podcasts over CarPlay.

One day, I noticed that when I switched the phone to Waze, the music sound quality tanked. If I switched back to any CarPlay-enabled app, the sound became noticeably better. Finally, it occurred to me that I had updated Waze and enabled it to listen for “Okay, Waze.”

I turned off that feature, and the sound degradation issue ceased. I could switch to and from Waze without the sound quality suffering.

Granted, this is a fairly unique circumstance, but it might save someone somewhere a frustrating headache.

Holding Off on Apple’s iPhone X [Updated]

iPhone X

Apple worked too hard to get the iPhone X ready.

When the company couldn’t roll out the iPhone X with the iterative iPhone 8 and 8 Plus models back in September, that was the first sign. When KGI Securities guru Ming Chi Kuo kept releasing pessimistic supply chain reports, that was more bad omens. When, on October 25, Bloomberg reported this:

“As Wall Street analysts and fan blogs watched for signs that the company would stumble, Apple came up with a solution: It quietly told suppliers they could reduce the accuracy of the face-recognition technology to make it easier to manufacture…”

I doubt I was the only person who sold Apple stock that day.

So on iPhone X pre-order night, I slept. And I plan to just go about my day on November 3 when the iPhone X hits stores.

Why? I predict a ridiculous level of hype. I predict short supply until January or February 2018. I predict quality production issues. I predict Face ID problems (I’ll be happy to be wrong). I predict the iPhone X will be smoothing out by March 2018, and that’s when I’ll consider buying one.

Or not. I keep looking at my 6s Plus and thinking there’s nothing wrong or lacking with it.

Update (Nov 5, 2017): It seems my concerns about the performance of Face ID was overblown. Most reviews are decidedly favorable on this new technology. Meanwhile, I found Nilay Patel’s remark about Face ID in bright sunlight amusing:

Recent Apple products have tended to demand people adapt to them instead of being adapted to people, and it was hard not to think about that as I stood in the sunlight, waving a thousand-dollar phone ever closer to my face.

Thoughts About the 2016 MacBook Pro Laptops [UPDATED]

MacBook Experience

Apple’s new MacBook Pro laptops were shown on October 27 to a relatively small audience at the company’s headquarters. The machines were redesigned to be smaller with a respectable offering of hardware options in processors, RAM, storage, and graphics horsepower. The highlight, of course was the Touch Bar with Touch ID which offers innovation for the tired row of function keys along with fingerprint security.

Touch Bar on MacBook Pro

The only surprise was the significant bump in price over the predecessors. And for me, Apple seemed to apologize for this by offering a less expensive MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar and half the USB-C ports.

Apple executives seemed to be prepared for this reaction and conducted an unusual interview with Cnet reporters. I can’t recall such an interview at previous product launch events.

During this interview, Apple asserted that the MacBook Pro models were designed to an experience and not a price point. I’ll take them at their word, but the prices are still too high. Comparably equipped premium Windows computers aren’t cheap but are much more affordable. So the whole designed-to-an-experience-and-this-is-what-it-costs argument is kind of hollow.

If the experience was paramount, the MacBook Pro line would start off with 1 TB of flash-drive storage.

Another point on the steep price: The day after the launch event, Amazon had a Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro discounted $200 and the non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro discounted $360. Hmm.

In the past, Apple has poked fun at Windows PCs with touch screens. Their opinions were arguably valid, but their actions might not be fully in line with their words. With the large trackpad and the new Touch Bar, I’d argue Apple is making everything “touch” except the screen. I don’t intend this to be an outright criticism of Apple, but it’s something to consider.

And finally, let me pick on Apple about input/output. The MacBooks appear to be all going to USB-C/Thunderbolt 3. While this creates an uncomfortable period where there are few directly compatible peripherals, I feel this is the right way to go. USB-C is the future. It powers devices, runs video/audio, and offers very high data speeds. And each port can do more than one thing per connection. What’s not to love about USB-C?

Meanwhile, the iPhone still uses Lightning connections. And the latest iPhones, the 7 and 7 Plus, courageously lost their headphone jacks (but you can still connect your wired headphones to the new MacBook Pros). To do right by their customers, Apple needs to lose Lightning in favor of USB-C on the very next iPhone.

That has to be obvious.

Don’t get me wrong, I find the new MacBook Pro laptops very attractive. They’re top of the line and will perform very well, I’m sure. But I can’t bring myself to afford the one I want right now. Perhaps more of the discounts Amazon previewed will become more widespread soon.

So … my waiting continues…

Sad German Shepard Waiting

UPDATE Oct 30, 2016: So this is part of the designed experience? The right-hand side USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports have reduced performance. I know this would only be noticed by few users, but still…

The Implications of a Delayed iPhone 7

iPhone ?

Nikkei is speculating that the iPhone 7 won’t debut until 2017. And I’ve been wondering the same thing over the past few months.

So perhaps Apple will keep the iPhone 6 design around for a third year. Photos of alleged iPhone pre-production parts are appearing on the rumor blogs, and they look like … iPhone 6 designs. The most significant rumored changes are camera updates and no more headphone jack (which might lead to better water resistance).

Meanwhile, the rumor mill regarding iPhone’s switch to OLED displays puts that hardware change into 2017. Going with OLED displays on an “s” year just seems unlikely to me.

If this is all true, it will be entertaining to see what they decide to call the 2016 iPhone 6 iteration.

Also if this is true, it might allow Apple to dedicate some time and resources to Siri. Other existing and upcoming virtual assistants from competitors are making Siri look neglected. In fact, Siri’s original creators recently demo’d Viv which seems to be leaps and bounds ahead of Siri. Apple’s 2016 WWDC might include a huge push for Siri. Rumors swirl that the voice assistant might get its own SDK for developers to better implement the technology in their apps. Also, dedicated Siri devices could be on the way to compete with Amazon’s intriguing Echo product.

While that sounds positive, a delayed iPhone 7 could further impact Apple’s stock price. Apple continued to sell a huge number of iPhones this year, but it showed essentially flat growth from the previous year. Investors tend to hate that. And if there’s no shiny new technology to make up for an absent iPhone 7, the Apple stock will likely take another hit.

This is, of course, all speculation, and that’s fun. Time will tell, though.

Does Apple Music Still Mess With Your Song Collection?

Apple Music Plus Your Song Colleciion Equals Confusion

After almost a year, can Apple Music be trusted to work with your existing music collection? The heated debate continues. But my take on it is: NO! Apple Music should not be allowed to touch your music collection.

However, if you haven’t meticulously curated your collection, then perhaps you won’t care when Apple Music randomly changes your album art or mixes up your studio and live tracks among other odd behaviors.

Apple Music manages (or man-handles) your music when you turn on “iCloud Music Library” on the General tab of iTunes Preferences.

iTunes Preferences

In my own experience, having iCloud Music Library on changed album art for a significant number of my songs. It also mixed up some tracks in completely illogical ways. I would find one of my songs, tap it, and something else would play. Some of my more obscure tracks never appeared in Apple Music at all, but I could find them on my hard drive.

Thankfully, just turning off iCloud Music Library restored my collection without having to retrieve everything from a file backup. But I have had friends who were not so lucky.

While I loved having my playlists synchronized on my computer and my phone, I had to turn off iCloud Music Library. I could not find a way to only sync playlists. And if I could, I would.

Otherwise, I love Apple Music! I pay for it, because the music discovery is terrific. The handpicked playlists are fun to explore, and the radio serves up terrific tunes. And just about all the tracks I want are just a search away. And using Siri to cue up music is just wonderfully convenient.

There’s always hope that iOS 10 and MacOS 10.12 will resolve the iCloud Music Library problems, but I’m not holding my breath…

Sources:

iPhone and a Changing Marketplace

$ iPhone

Just the other day, Apple reported flat growth in iPhone sales for the first quarter of its fiscal year 2016. Keep in mind the number for sales (and revenue and profit) are phenomenal, but it’s still the first lack of significant growth in the product line’s history.

Here’s a quick thought about a market factor that I believe will be a challenge for iPhone going forward: Carriers are dropping the 2-year contracts. And because of that, customers are seeing the true cost of their iPhones.

I’ve done the math for my family, and dropping the 2-year commitment and paying for our phones resulted in reduced cost over the same time period. That is based on our usage, of course. Your mileage may vary.

But the on-contract price of $199 or even $299 is mentally more appealing than $750 or $850. These higher prices are now being explicitly exposed to buyers. And while consumers are still buying at those prices, I suspect that they will do it less often in the future.

Other factors certainly play into this consumer behavior. Economic conditions around the globe are relatively volatile. The smart phone market is clearly maturing with fewer distinct and meaningful new features being added to the annually updated devices.

So Apple will need to consider dropping the prices of their phones (gasp!).

Apple’s leaders are not stupid. They’ve certainly been aware of these trends and what the company will need to do to adjust.

Just my two cents for today…

Non-Obvious Features Hidden in Your iPhone

Hidden FeaturesBack in 2007, Apple revolutionized the smart phone industry with the iPhone. And at that time, the phone’s operating system was refreshingly simple. Since that time, the operating system (now called iOS) has become much more complex with a simple-looking interface. Some of the best features are hidden in that simple-looking interface.

Here are a few tips to expose some non-obvious functionality that you might be able to adopt into your daily usage.

App Switcher

Double-press the Home button and then use two fingers on two apps (one finger each) and swipe upwards to close both with one gesture. This requires a bit of practice and dexterity, but it works.

Calculator

Turn the phone to landscape orientation (sideways) to expose the built-in scientific calculator.

To backspace (delete) a digit that you’ve entered, just swipe left or right across the number string.

The calculator in portrait mode limits numbers to 9 digits in length. Turn to the landscape, scientific mode to work with larger numbers.

Camera

When set for taking a photo, press and hold the shutter button for burst mode. This takes several photos per second. This is great for those action moments to get the perfect picture of the winning goal, touchdown, or slide into home plate.

While taking a video, notice the white circle within a circle. Tap that during the video recording session to take a still photo. While this isn’t hidden per se, it’s kinda hiding in plain sight.

You can activate the photo shutter with the volume keys on the side of the phone. You can also do this with the volume buttons on the EarPod headphones. This is good if you ever use the phone on a tripod and long shutter exposures (you’ll need a third-party app for long exposures, many of which are free).

Find the Owner

Press and hold the Home button and ask “Who owns this phone?” You’ll get contact information that should help you return the phone.

Flashlight

If you have the flashlight on and the phone auto locks, you can simply swipe up on the lock screen’s camera icon and the light will go off. This is probably more of a tip than a feature.

Mail

There are many hidden ways to view your email messages. Navigate to your list of Mailboxes, then tap Edit. You might find the ability to view only Flagged or Unread messages helpful. Also in this edit mode, you can reorder you mailboxes to have your primary service at the top of the list.

Messages

When you’re not in the Messages app and you receive a new message as a banner notification at the very top of your screen, you can swipe down while it’s visible to respond to the message without going into the Messages app.

Phone

On the Keypad screen, tap the green call button to display the last dialed number. Don’t worry, it won’t automatically call it.

Photos

In the Albums view, long press the plus sign to be offered to create a new folder or a new album.

Reachability

[For iPhone 6 and later] From anywhere except the lock screen, lightly double tap (not press) the Home button. The top half of the screen will drop to the lower half allowing your finger to reach the items. Double tap again for the screen to return to normal.

Safari

From the carousel view of open windows, tap and hold the plus sign to view a list of recently closed browser tabs.

Quickly request the desktop version of a website by pressing and holding the reload icon in the URL bar. If you have a content blocker enabled, you can also choose to reload a page without the blocker temporarily disabled.

Spotlight

Spotlight appears when you swipe downward on any home screen (but not swiping down from the screen edge which shows Notification Center). It’s also available when you swipe to the left from the first home screen. It shows a search box, app suggestions, and (sometimes) news.

Enter a simple math problem to get the solution.

Type in a measurement or currency to get a conversion.

System

Clear iOS cache by tapping any single tab icon 10 times in the following Apple apps: Apple Store, Podcasts, Music, Game Center, and Phone. For example, tap the For You icon in the music app 10 times. Don’t expect any confirmation for this action. I guess you just have to have faith.

To clear iOS RAM, press and hold the Power/Sleep button until the Slide to Power Off prompt appears. Then press and hold the Home button until you’re returned to your home screen.

Touch ID

[For iPhone 5s and later] In the Setting app, navigate to Touch ID & Passcode. Now place a registered finger on the Home button. The entry under which that finger is registered will highlight while the finger rests on the button.

Wallet

From the lockscreen, double press the Home button to open the Wallet app. THis gives you access to Apple Pay and supported payments and loyalty cards.

3D Touch

[For iPhone 6s and later] In Safari’s carousel view of open tabs, you can peek and pop any of the web pages. Press to peek. Press deeper to pop it fully open.

In Reminders, press a reminder to get a quick menu to add an alarm based on time or location.

Almost everything in the Music app supports peek and pop.

The drawing tools in Notes support 3D Touch. Deeper swipes make a darker, wider line.

Source: ArtKeele.com, BGR

Apple Music’s Biggest Problem

iCloud Music Library Raining on Apple Music

Apple Music has emerged as my favorite music streaming service … but it ain’t perfect. And the Achilles heel is iCloud Music Library.

iCloud Music Library is Seriously Flawed

I use playlists, and I have several filled with tunes that are not in my personal music collection. To enjoy this feature, I must have iCloud Music Library enabled. And for the most part, that’s fine. Until I want to listen to one of my own more obscure tracks.

In theory, iCloud Music Library will scan my collection and make all the matching tunes in Apple’s library available to me. If it can’t find a match a tune, then it uploads my own tune to make it available to me.

Big surprise! It doesn’t usually work.

Example 1: I have a track of the Olympic fanfare followed by Summon the Heroes. So the matching song in Apple’s cloud doesn’t include the Olympic fanfare (selfish Olympic rights holders?). So that is less than optimal.

Example 2 (but related to 1): I cannot just drag and drop my Olympic fanfare/Summon the Heroes track to my iPhone. That’s right! I can’t just attach it my my PC and use iTunes to copy over my preferred track (or any other track for that matter). I’m assuming Apple can’t fathom a world where any of their “solutions” would ever fall short of customer expectations. Perhaps, I’m expecting it wrong??

My Workaround

Okay, this scenario doesn’t really impact me very often, and I hate workarounds. But we live in a techie world, so workarounds are part of our worlds.

Settings Music

  1. On your iPhone, go to Settings/Music.
  2. Tap the toggle to turn off iCloud Music Library.
  3. Confirm that you wish to turn off that feature.
  4. Connect the iPhone to your computer and use iTunes to add your desired music tracks.
  5. On your iPhone, return to Settings/Music to enable iCloud Music Library.
  6. Confirm that you wish to Merge the media resources on your iPhone.

Hope this helps!