Thursday, November 12, 2015

Apple TV

The more I use the new Apple TV the more I like it. The previous model was likable and easy to use but we had no options for live content. Now with a full app store and a community of excited developers the sky is the limit for this set top box. It was surprising to hear the bump in price to $169 or $199 depending on memory configuration but with the updated remote control and additional features it is well worth the price point in my opinion. 
The first surprise was the remote control and updated HDMI. The new HDMI port allows the Apple TV to turn on some TV's and control the volume with no configuration. It just works out of the box. Apple TV setup is a breeze if it works well. If not try rebooting your phone and tap the phone on the TV again to do the setup. 

While it is still 1080p and not 4k don't worry I am sure there is good reason for this. One being the 4k standard isn't fully defined yet and Apple doesn't want to have to make changes or tell users sorry your 4k device doesn't work with the 4k standard. Waiting until the standards are settled is just fine by me. 

Downside of the setup process is users still have to login to each app one at a time and go to a webpage and enter the code to authorize the Apple TV to the app. If you have multiple Apple TV's at home this is a task that will have to be done for each. I would love to see Apple store authorizations in iCloud and family sharing so this only has to be done once and the whole family can use it. 

We have live TV shows. I watch TWiT every week and now I can watch it live without having to Airplay to the Apple TV from another device. The odd thing that has disappeared from the Apple TV lineup is Podcasts. So now I can watch live shows on my AppleTV but I can't go back to my Podcast app and listen to some on my phone and have it sync with the TV and just work. I assume Apple will release a podcast app soon. 

Airplay while it has always worked well sometimes was slow to connect or would fail to connect from time to time. These issues seem to have been resolved and Airplay connects quickly and stays connected now. 

The remote control needs better indication of what is touch surface and what isn't. With the buttons in the middle it is hard to orient the remote in a dark room. Siri also still feels very beta. She can do some cool context aware searches but certain things she just apologizes for not being able to do and sometimes just displays info on screen and doesn't speak a response. When asking about weather one might expect to hear a response and not just see it printed on screen. 

Overall AppleTV is a nice upgrade but it isn't what it does today that has me so excited about it. It is what is going to come over the next year or so that is going to make it a ground breaking set top box. The more I use it the more I like the user interface and the ease of navigation. More capabilities from Siri and I might just remove my other set top boxes. Now Amazon needs to put their app on the Apple TV so I don't have to switch sources to watch content from Amazon or I may just stop buying form Amazon all together. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Magic of Apple's Newest Keyboard & Trackpad

Last week early orders of the new Apple Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad started arriving at door steps even before they started arriving in stores. I have now spent a couple of days on the new Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad and here is what I have found.

The keyboard with the new internal butterfly mechanism and larger key caps feels very nice to type on. Quick lightning charging and simplified paring makes it an excellent keyboard for daily use. It came nearly fully charged and I plugged it in for a few minutes to see the new auto pairing feature. Only time will tell how long internal battery will last but in four days I haven't seen the battery percentage drop at all yet. 

Taking it out of the box and plugging it in to the computer with the lightning cable made the keyboard automatically pair with the computer making it even simpler to setup than going to Bluetooth and entering the six numbers that appear. 

Plus who hasn't had that moment when they realized they needed a new keyboard and mouse and had turned off the feature to automatically open the app to connect a keyboard and mouse when one wasn't detected and been stuck going to look for a wired keyboard and mouse to setup the wireless ones? 

Well now just plug it in and it pairs and is ready to go. Then you can unplug it at your leisure. The thing some people may not like about the much thinner and smaller physical keyboard size is now like on the mobile computers the up and down arrow keys share a single key cap. Sorry gamers I know you won't be crazy about that. Even I am not a huge fan of it. Although now my laptop and desktop keyboards have the same approximate feel to them. 

It also struck me that Apple had an opportunity to add a finger print reader to the keyboard or trackpad and didn't do it. I can unlock any other iOS device and use credit cards with my finger print. I really would have expected to see the keyboard include a finger print reader so Wallet can be used from my desktop and finally be able to use Apple Pay from my desktop. 

The TrackPad is a huge improvement. It has a much larger surface area and features Force Touch. Allow users to have left click, deeper left click, right click, and a whole host of gestures to make the desktop more useful. As developers start taking advantage of Force Touch I am sure we will see it more in desktop applications. It takes a little getting used to the Force Touch feature as I occasionally end up clicking too hard when trying to drag a file somewhere and force touch instead of left click by accident. I am sure it is an adjustable setting. For now I am just trying to get used to lightly tapping on the trackpad to see if I get used to it before I start changing settings. I try to test out the defaults first to see how it works before I start customizing the experience. 

Overall the new Magic Keyboard and Magic TrackPad has made my two year old iMac feel newer and give me access to all of the features of OS X 10.11 and I am sure as time goes on we will see more features take advantage of Force Touch. 

Now the new Magic Keyboard is a price jump of about $20 to $99 and the Magic TrackPad increased in price from $69 to $129 a $50 price increase over the previous models. So far I have only replaced two of the three keyboards and trackpads I use given the price jump. However, I believe the devices are worth it given you will not be buying replacement batteries again and given how long the previous models lasted these new devices will likely last many years to come. So think of it as a long term investment in your technology and it is the piece of technology you touch as much as or more than your smart phone so it should feel good to use. 

Friday, October 16, 2015 Credit Card Processing

My consulting business has been growing and people are starting to ask if they can pay by credit card. I had a system I setup in 2012 but only rarely used. So I dusted off the old Square reader and tried it. It didn't work anymore and needed to be replaced. So off to the Apple Store to get a new reader. I asked for a reader and was handed a reader. I didn't look too closely at the package and noticed it wasn't what I thought when I got home, but they offered lower rates than Square so why not setup an account and give them a shot.

The device looks nice and is packaged nicely but the service from the company is horrible and tech support is useless.  The initial limits were too low to be useful. I could initially only sell $10 or less at a time and a low daily and monthly limit. So even a poorly attended garage sale wouldn't make this device useful. 
Emails from the company are poorly phrased and don’t make requirements clear. I had a three day delay because they said they may ask for a document. They never asked for it just expected me to send it because they said they may want a copy of my business license and three months of bank statements. 

My first interaction with the chat system listed the wrong business hours and disconnected me when it was stated to be open but were not really open at that time. The first support person I talked to lied to me and told me Square doesn't have a customer service line. I didn't know that I never needed it. (It was a lie they do have one and they were helpful.) It had taken days to get any sort of response which has slowed my ability to do business and take payments. Ultimately I went out a bought a new Square reader to process payments from my clients. 

When requirements were finally made clear I was asked to email or fax my bank statements. I don’t own or use a fax machine anymore and haven’t for the last decade. The tech suggested I go out and pay Kinko’s or someone else to fax it for me. Would you want to give your bank statements to strangers to fax? Email isn’t secured or offer an encryption option. So the bank statement request is protection for them but not for the merchant. It would be trivial to put an upload button on the secure site to upload a document that is requested. The second support tech was kind and tried to be helpful but wasn’t really able to do much or advance the issue. I let her know I was on a time crunch because a client had been trying to pay me for days while I spent hours sorting this mess out. This is of course costing me money and time. 

Finally this morning they raised my limit but to a lower limit than I had requested which still doesn't make the device overly useful. I used Square to take care of my clients and while on the phone with Square support I asked if these transactions would work. They said if they have questions they will ask me but none of their procedures are designed to impede merchants or business. Unlike PayAnywhere who's entire system is designed around throwing up roadblocks and impeding business. 

Finally to top off this entire mess the product packaging promised $5,000 in free transactions when signing up. I used my own credit card as a test on a $1.00 transaction to make sure everything worked and they charged me for it. So much for the first $5,000 in free transactions. 

For me and my business I am going back to Square and will patiently wait for my new reader to come and they supplied me with a $10.00 credit for the $10.00 reader I purchased so I could continue to take credit card payments. 

So for Square they get an A for customer service and as for PayAnywhere they get an F for customer service and I am canceling that account and will not recommend PayAnywhere to anyone for any reason. I am not alone in this opinion doing a quick search on Google later many review sites have given PayAnywhere poor reviews and there are always hundreds of former customer comments about a myriad of issues around using the service. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Quick Tip for Burning DVD's in 10.11 El Capitan

We are just a week away from the release of OS X 10.11 El Capitan. For those that still use a DVD drive and have need to burn DVD's. Here is a quick tip to keep you working. The new Disk Utility Application is no longer a way to burn a DVD.

First Insert the DVD you want to make a copy of and open the New Disk Utility Program and choose File / New Image / Image From

Place the image file on your desktop or wherever you would like to save the file.

Next Single Click the Disk Image Go to Finder and choose File Burn disk Image "Name of the DMG file.dmg"

Insert a blank DVD and click Burn.

You will then be able to burn disks again.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Predictions for WWDC 2015

We are just two days away from the next Apple World Wide Developers Conference and the latest announcements from Apple. I thought I would quickly share my predictions for what we will see coming from the land of Apple.

Everyone likes to try and read the tea leaves to figure out what the center piece of the show might be and believe Apple tends to add hints to the invitations and graphics. If that is true the center grey square on top of the colors looks a like like an Apple TV as seen from above.  

There are a few givens for every WWDC, we will see a new version of iOS and a new version of OS X. Since last year HomeKit was introduced we will certainly get an update and see some new devices rolled out to support HomeKit. HealthKit has been around for about a year now as well so I would expect we will see an update for HealthKit as well. Since ResearchKit is just a few months old we should expect to see a little more information on it as well. 

The Apple Watch will get an update and release a new WatchKit API to allow developers to write native apps for the now 1 1/2 month old technology. The watch will get a smart leashing feature to remind you to not forget your phone and Find My Watch will be added to iCloud. Apple Watch will also likely get some integration with HomeKit to allow users to control their home from the Watch and the watch to work with Apple TV iBeacons to allow users to setup scripts to fire when a device enters a specific area.

The new iOS 9 is rumored to get the Snow Leopard treatment with many under the hood enhancements and optimizations to allow it to run better on older hardware. We will certainly get a few new features in addition to the optimizations. Rumors include enhancements to Siri to make it more Google Now like, transit directions, enhanced traffic information, Split Screen Apps coming to iOS, rootless mode to enhance security, multiuser mode, force touch support, improvements to iMessage, updated keyboard with fixed shift key, enhancements to iCloud, additional support for Enterprises, and support for the San Francisco Font. 

OS X 10.11 will likely include rootless support for enhanced security, San Francisco Font, additional UI cleanup, Siri Support with Proactive support the Google Now like interface for iOS devices, iOS like Control Center, additional iCloud enhancements, additional support for Enterprises and more.

Enhancements to Swift language and more apps that will be smaller, more powerful, and more secure.  

Apple Music, I believe we will see a whole new version of iTunes called Apple Music to manage your Music and separate apps to handle Movies, Podcasts, etc. Rewritten from the ground up in Swift it will be simpler and work well with iOS devices. These apps will all be mirrored in new versions on iOS. iTunes Music and Beats will merge into a streaming music service that will be free to iTunes Match users and include curated radio stations built by artists and DJ's. 

iCloud will receive stability and speed enhancements to make the Mac and iOS devices work better together and extend features to the Apple Watch. It is unlikely but I would like to see more collaboration features for iCloud users. 

A new Apple TV could be in the mix tied to HomeKit and the modifications to iTunes and other services. The developers conference would be a great time to announce it and release an AppKit for Apple TV allowing developers to start writing for the Apple TV.

I do not expect to see new hardware since the Macbook Pro and iMac just got an update. The Macbook was just released and it would be much too soon for an update yet. 

So I expect the following from a long WWDC Keynote:

  • WatchKit API revison
  • HomeKit update and technology rollout
  • HealthKit update
  • Research Kit update
  • iOS Update
  • OS X Update
  • Apple Music new iTunes and other apps for OS X and iOS
  • iCloud enhancements
  • Apple TV
As I write this I am thinking more Apple needs to have a couple of more events this year. 

A media event to rollout Apple Music, Apple Movies, Podcasts, Streaming Music with apps for iOS and Android, the new Apple TV with live streaming services could be a stand alone event. 

A rollout for new iPhones and iPads around the launch of iOS 9 and OS X. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Two weeks and one trip with the Apple Watch

I will admit I have really been excited since the Apple Watch announcement to get a smart watch on my wrist to make my life easier. I was a little envious of my Android friends that already had smart watches. I didn't care that they looked clunky or cheesy. I just wanted access to data quickly on my wrist.

I eagerly ordered my watch on April 10th and hoped it would arrive on April 24th and to my delight it did come on Friday April 24th at 1:40 in the afternoon. By 2:15 I had it unboxed, paired to my phone and begun the task of configuring my watch.

Setup was pretty easy and after asking it to mirror my iPhone for preferences I just had to wait for apps to install and the watch to be completely ready but I could wear it in the mean time. I thought the look didn't matter but after slipping the stainless steel watch with milanese loop on my wrist I realized the look does matter.

For the most part my watch goes largely unnoticed looking like a normal but somewhat large watch. When it gets attention is when I do something that a watch doesn't do and even a Android watch still lacks. Paying for purchases at the store with Apple Pay, or answering my phone when my phone isn't in easy reach just to name a couple of examples.

So far I use my watch as a quick way to:

  • triage my notifications
  • answer my phone
  • check a recent voicemail
  • pay at stores with Apple Pay
  • find a local Starbucks and pay for my coffee
  • request an Uber car
  • scan my boarding pass at the air port
  • check into my hotel from the car so everything is ready when I arrive
  • check the weather
  • monitor my activity levels
  • keep tabs on the weather
  • turn lights off and on in my home with Hue
  • as a remote for keynote or powerpoint
  • quick email triage
  • monitor my workouts
  • use Siri to set reminders and appointments
  • check what is next on my calendar 
I'm sure there is more that I do with it but it has become so enmeshed with my daily life I am already starting to not think about it. I just put it on as soon as I get out of bed and wear it until I am ready to go to sleep. 

The battery life is even better than expected. I have gone past 18 hours of using my watch and still had 25% of my battery left to spare. I haven't needed to use the Power Reserve Mode yet after two weeks of heavy use and charging nightly. 

A few things I found surprising in the watch was the ability to Ping my phone when I leave it somewhere. Something I do quiet a bit at home and in the office. Although less now that my phone doesn't leave my pocket nearly as much during the day. The phone and watch also mirror each other in Do Not Disturb and Airplane modes. Of course once you put it in airplane mode you will need to access both devices to get them out of airplane mode. 

The watch faces are delightful and while there are not many of them, they are all customizable and all look good. Mickey faces opposite directions in the morning and in the evening. The animations for the moon and the planets are very smooth and rolling the digital crown can show where the planets will be or were on a given date.

As for the things I am not crazy about, the load times for third party apps is quiet long. I am sure it is to preserve the battery life but wouldn't it benefit battery life more to load quickly so I can get back to whatever else I might want to be doing? I wish there was a setting to allow the user to set how long the watch face stays active when it is being viewed and to be a little more lenient when I put my arm down or change position to not think I have turned away and turn off the screen immediately. I wish the sensors on the watch did more. After seeing the new Jawbone UP 3 having temperature sensors to measure both ambient and skin temperature. As well as a bioimpedance sensor which could be cool add ons for the quantified self. I want my watch to tell me when I am getting stressed and encourage me to call down a bit.   

The things we don't know yet, will it be upgradable? I would love to see an Apple watch update program which would make sense for the price point and peoples tendency to keep watches. I know as Apple develops the watches they will get thinner and they styling will be enhanced. It would be great if people who wanted the new style could just buy a new watch but people who like the style they have be able to upgrade the internals when a faster CPU, more memory, improved battery, or more sensors become available. 

The OLED display is absolutely beautiful and is easy to read in bright light. The watch fit and finish feels like a very high quality and something I could wear for a long time to come. Overall it is a beautiful watch with a lot to like. Now that it is getting into the hands of developers something that is already useful is going to go crazy with possibilities. As time goes on Apple will loosen the reigns a bit and let developers take the watch even further. 

The Apple watch was an excellent 1.0 device from Apple and I am excited to see where it goes in the future and how it will tie in with HomeKit and other future Apple technologies. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Predictions for the Apple Spring Forward Event

I love writing prediction pieces, it is fun todo and gives me a chance to imagine what I would design or like to use if it was made available. We already know Apple is going to talk about details of the Apple Watch. We will finally get pricing on the mid range and high end watches, as well as ship dates and pre-order dates. I can't wait to line up to get my Apple Watch.

Analysts are predicting 5 million units have been made, I think that will not cover the opening weekend demand for the new device. I bet sales will be strong and supplied constrained until summer. The entry level watch and mid tier the big sellers with just a few high end watches being sold. Estimates that the high end watch being around $5,000 is probably not far off base. For that price Apple I believe will announce the devices to be the most upgradable device ever with internal component upgrade options in the future for a substantially more modest price or the Edition and maybe the mid tier watches.

The demos will of course include some highlights from developers doing some amazing things with the watch software. I hope some of the health information rumors are just that rumors, I hope the device has the ability to monitor stress levels and remind the wearer to calm down. I know this writer could use that reminder from time to time. I will be surprised to see if it can monitor blood pressure but heart rate should be fairly simple.

I will say that accessories for the Apple Watch will also sell very well. I would bet that most owners of the mid tier and edition models will probably choose two or three band options and the price of the magnetic bands or more modern clasps will certainly be higher than what we see with traditional watch band tech.

Overall I expect that Apple watch to be a huge hit and outsell the rest of the smart watch industry and likely take the traditional watch industry by surprise. Even if a small percentage of iPhone owners buy Apple Watches it will still be a huge market.

The big surprise will come in the form of the One more thing. Apple never just rolls out one item at these events. The rumor mill has been loaded with talk of a pen, a 12" iPad, and a 12" Macbook Air. I am just seeing a flashback to the iPhone announcement when Apple announced three new products and they are all the same thing.

My prediction is the iPad Pro 12" and the Macbook Air 12" will actually be the same device. A
modified version of iOS and OS X, with better multi-tasking and enhanced UI for better touch interface. When docked with the keyboard it would behave like a Macbook Air, when undocked it would behave like an iPad. The ability to run both OS X and iOS Apps. Not with emulation but by putting both an ARM processor and Intel processor in the same machine. Toss in a high quality pressure sensitive pen and you have a strong competitor to the Microsoft Surface tablets. Which I have used and find them to be likable devices. Some elements of the UI are still too small to be effective for touch but I am sure Apple UI designers would address and correct that.

I could envision the workflow being something like quick communications and notifications coming in on the watch. Slightly longer interactions and light work, pull out the 10" iPad tablet for single tasking work and entertainment. Then the larger tablet for serious work, multi-tasking and laptop replacement when traveling for days and the large desktop machine for the heavy duty computing tasks and large amounts of data storage.

I hope to see a new announcement regarding AppleTV. Something that will give the cord cutters a reason to rejoice and some new technology around home to make home automation easier and more user friendly. They may even throw in an announcement on upgrades to iCloud for enhanced security and maybe a new feature or two.

Apple TV

The more I use the new Apple TV the more I like it. The previous model was likable and easy to use but we had no options for live content. N...