Demystifying the Digital World – Part 6 – For an iPad?

The previous post in this series provided some compelling reasons to ditch Windows for the Google Chromebook. Chromebooks are inexpensive, easy to switch to (especially if you already use the Chrome browser), secure, and have long battery life. Why even consider an alternative like the Apple iPad?

There are several reasons. Maybe the most important of which is that using a Chromebook implies that you are not only trusting Google’s cloud computing system, but also giving Google access to your data. Despite all the businesses Google is involved in, at its heart it is an advertising company. Your data is used to tailor ads delivered to you and others. That’s the price we have always paid for “free” Google Search, YouTube, Gmail, Maps, Photos, Cloud Storage, etc.

Apple on the other hand has made it perfectly clear that “Apple’s customers are not its product” and they go to great lengths to be transparent about privacy issues. However, more compelling than vague discussions about privacy is the fact that if you use an iPhone, the iPad can run the same high quality apps. This is a MAJOR advantage over the Chromebook. Take a photo on your iPhone and it magically appears on the beautiful screen of the iPad. The same for bookmarks, contacts, calendars, reminders, notes, text messages, passwords, and the other bits and pieces of our digital lives. Sure Google can do this as well, but an iPhone paired with an iPad is a powerful, very well integrated combination. You don’t even have to pay for the app again. If you bought it for your phone, you can use it on you iPad for free.

The iPad also has outstanding technical support of AppleCare, 90 days are included and up to two years if you choose to purchase it. Even though I’ve rarely used it, I have always found AppleCare to be the best support in the technology world. Even their post-support surveys reflect their commitment to helping people solve their problems quickly and painlessly. In the screenshot of a survey below, Apple asks about “Compassion for your situation.” How many times has a tech problem been so frustrating that a little compassion by the support person would have been just the ticket?

Other benefits of the iPad include a wonderful size, excellent battery life, and high quality hardware that is supported by software updates from Apple for years. While the lack of a physical keyboard is an issue for some people, it comes in handy on cramped flights and makes the iPad much easier to hold for long periods of time. Like any high tech product though, the iPad is not without its issues. Copy and paste can be fiddly and file management is still a bit obscure since apps typically have not supported files the same way a laptop does. Also, the iPad doesn’t have proper “windows.” Apps take up the whole screen with one exception called “split screen” which is awkward to use.

Can the iPad replace a windows laptop? The answer is a definite yes. I sometimes go days without touching my desktop computer. Is it worth the extra cost? An entry level iPad costs only $329 compared to an entry level Chromebook’s that range from $199 to $299. Not much difference considering the risk involved. Is a Chromebook from Asus better than Acer, how about Samsung or HP, which model has the better screen, keyboard, warranty, reliability rating, etc.? There is such a thing as a Google Chromebook. It is called the Pixelbook and starts at $999, a whole different category of pricing.  If you buy an iPad, you get an Apple iPad, period.

So there’s less reason than ever to keep struggling along with a Windows based computer. If you’re still not convinced, buy an iPad. Apple has a 15 day, no questions asked return policy. If you live near an Apple Store, make an appointment at the Genius Bar to help you get started. I’m 95% sure that you won’t be taking advantage of that return policy.

The next post in this series will be discussing a slightly different topic, demystifying one of the most challenging parts of the high tech world: watching TV! Stay tuned!

iOS Grows Up Part 2 – Mommy What’s a Computer?

Two months ago part 1 of this post ended by asking, “So what did iOS users get with iOS 11 that demonstrates that it is growing up?” While Apple’s official marketing materials provides the big picture regarding the new level of maturity of iOS 11, in this case it’s the details that tell the deeper story. This Apple ad summarizes Apple’s vision for how people will use it. The description includes the tagline “With iPad Pro + iOS 11, a post-PC world may be closer than you think” but for me it’s last lines of the video that are the inspiration for this post. A mother asks her daughter who has been working, drawing, shooting, reading, etc. on her iPad throughout the day, “Watcha you doing on your computer?” and the child responds, “What’s a computer?” Of course, replace the iPad with a cellphone and you have the digital reality of most millennials these days, but the difference for this little girl is the fact that she has been using the larger size of the iPad, the Apple Pencil, the physical Keyboard together with features of iOS 11 seamlessly and effortlessly.

But despite Apple’s optimism, there is still a long way to go before iOS can really create a “post-PC world” for the rest of us. Part of the problem is the technology. Many experts still feel that iOS has major shortcomings which the post, “The Mac Still Feels Like Home” explains well through a story about the challenges the author encountered while only using his iPad for five months. iOS 11 also has quite a few bugs which inspired a thread on Reddit with over 6,000 replies about how iOS 12 needs to fix bugs rather than add features.

The other side of the problem is the slow rate of technology adoption. Apple not only needs to provide the tools, but needs to help people adopt them. Split screen, drag-and-drop, picture in picture, and other features require large numbers of people to change the way they interact with their devices and that’s extremely hard to do.

All this said, I find more and more “non millennials” skipping a new computer and shifting their online tasks to an iOS device. Personally, I can go whole days without sitting down at my iMac. Also, little by little, I’m beginning to use the more advanced features of iOS 11 like creating a list of neighborhoods to visit for an upcoming trip by dragging and dropping links from a website in Safari to the Notes app using the iPad’s split screen mode. The screen shot below shows picture in picture of a relatively boring video I was watching while reading a relatively interesting article about the Nintendo Switch.

If you have an iPad, now might be the time to start watching some of Apple’s videos on the new features (9to5Mac has collected them in one place for convenience). They’ve been around for months and will certainly help you “Get the most out of your hands” like a Pro!

iOS Grows Up Part 1

In a few short years, mobile operating systems have transformed modern society. The younger generations have for the most part skipped laptop and desktop computers and rely on mobile devices for all their online activities. From social media to messaging to watching hours of video, the small screen is the focus of their attention. Of course, voice calling is reserved for parents and emergencies while, depending on the country, SMS Messaging (and iMessage), Facebook (and Messenger), WhatsApp, Snapchat, WeChat, Instagram, Kik, etc. dominate their online lives. Written words replace spoken conversations, photos (selfies) convey more complex emotions, and short ephemeral videos entertain and inform. On a larger scale, YouTube has replaced network television, streaming music has replaced radio, and personalized recommendations from “influencers” trumps traditional advertising.

In this brave new world, the debate between iOS and Android rages on. How can Apple survive when 80% of the smartphone market is Android? It’s a classic question asked of every premium brand that exists successfully in the marketplace. Why buy a BMW when a Camry is excellent, reliable transportation? Why buy designer clothes when Target has great styles for less? It boils down to a few things that Apple does extremely well. First is excellent hardware, especially the iPhone camera. The second is a fanatical attention to software details including usability, security, a constant stream of innovations, and a massive, high quality App Store. They are also able to appeal a wide range of users. Millennials love advanced iMessage features such as group messaging, stickers, apps, emoji, and now the animated Animoji feature of the iPhoneX. Casual users find the default iPhone setup out of the box easy to adapt to. Add the Facebook app and email account information and they are happy. Photos (and the iPhone in general) get backed up to iCloud, messaging just works, and emailing is painless. To be fair, these features of Android are also easy to setup, but the experience is tainted by a wide variety of strange problems even with the most popular phones. Samsung phones ($849 for the S8) have the controversial “TouchWiz” user interface, Google Pixel ($949 for the XL 2) features a “clean, bloat-free experience with no unwanted apps” (a feature?!, a reaction to Samsung?), and even flagship phones like LG V30 ($800) get released with major flaws (a bad screen).

So to answer the question posed at the end of the last post, “How can Apple possibly survive giving something this valuable away for free?” The answer is simple, free iOS upgrades are one of the primary reasons people choose iOS over Android. It’s like getting a new phone every year without the cost of purchasing new hardware.

iOS users can rely on the fact that their product will be supported at no extra charge for at least three years. That means new features, security updates, and compatibility with other Apple products as soon as the update is released. By contrast, even flagship Android phones cannot be upgraded until the carrier “approves” the update which is sometimes several months later (if ever). Google Pixel phones are guaranteed to get updates immediately, but that’s a small part of the Android world.

So what did iOS users get with iOS 11 that demonstrates that it is growing up? Hang tight, that’s the topic of the next post and it straddles a different line, the blurring line between the desktop and mobile worlds.

My First Week Not Using the New iPhone X

Nope, that is not a typo. I’m really not using the new iPhone X and it really is an unusual event because I’ve purchased a new iPhone every year since the 3G. I remember it like it was yesterday. In 2008, while waiting in line at the Apple Store in Santa Monica for hours to buy my first iPhone, I spoke to several people near me. One was a neurosurgeon, another was a musician covered in tattoos, and a couple were computer science students from nearby UCLA. Despite our differences, we all agreed that the iPhone was going to conquer the mobile world which then consisted of horrible phones like the Blackberry and Windows Mobile based devices. At the time I was using a state of the art Samsung “Blackjack” which I nicknamed the “Crapjack” because it was so bad.

Then, like now, the release of a new iPhone’s was met with immediate criticism. Blackberry wrote it off as an “expensive toy” and Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer laughed at the $500 price tag. The video of him laughing out loud almost has three million views on YouTube.

Fast forward almost 10 years and the iPhone has been a great ride for Apple. It has transformed computing, spawned numerous imitators such as Android, and has brought the Internet to the masses around the world. Personally, working with Apple catapulted my career and transformed the company I worked for. It was certainly no fun visiting them before Steve Jobs returned, but afterwards it was a high octane trip in the Silicon’s Valley’s version of the Autobahn. Each new iPhone model added irresistible features: better cameras, better (and bigger) displays, faster processors, better industrial design, higher WiFi speeds, better security through TouchID, etc.

So why didn’t I buy the biggest and baddest iPhone ever when it was released this week? It has a bigger, better display (OLED!), FaceID, a faster processor, two cameras that are both optically image stabilized, and a whole host of other improvements including a special “image signal processor” in the main A11 CPU that creates special effects like the one below. I took this with an iPhone X in the Apple Store in Phoenix. No special lighting, no special background, in broad daylight just using Apple’s “Stage Light” effect.

The answer is complex. Part of it has to do with the idea that at some point, the iPhone 7+ is “good enough” for 90% of the tasks I use it for. In fact, my phone sometimes sits on my desk the whole day lonely and neglected because the Apple Watch has taken over some tasks and the iPad others. Also, TouchID is still great, the camera is excellent, it has not slowed down with iOS 11, and is not too big for my pockets. It’s a similar story as to why I only recently upgraded my 2012 MacBook Pro (explained at the end of this post). Other reasons include the price. While 64GB for $999 is not unreasonable, it is not enough storage for me, but the next step up is 256 GB for $1,149 which feels like a waste of money because it is definitely too much space. Like Goldilocks, 128 GB is “just right.”

In general, the iPhone X seems to be made for a slightly different use case than mine and the iPhone 8 doesn’t seem like enough of an upgrade to justify the cost either so here I sit for the first time in 10 years without the latest greatest from Apple. Is Apple in trouble? No way! FaceID and other enhancements will probably get me to upgrade my iPad next year and there will certainly be something to lure me into the iPhone 11 eventually. In the meantime, it’s all about the software at the moment and iOS 11 is a major breakthrough for mobile operating systems. How can Apple possibly survive giving something this valuable away for free? Well, that sounds a topic for the next post. Stay tuned!

The Magic Behind Apple’s Notification Sounds

Now that the 13 part series “Online Security” is done, it’s time to get back to other interesting topics like Sound and nobody does Sound like Apple. Even the earliest Apple II computers had sound generation. I remember my amazement when I heard Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” played on the Apple Music Synthesizer in 1978.

Fast forward to 2001 and the first iPod was released. Then in 2002 Apple was the first computer manufacturer to own a music software company when they purchased Emagic, the makers of Logic Pro. From this, Apple created the super popular consumer version, GarageBand. In 2003, the iTunes Store opened, selling tracks for $0.99 and seven years later Apple was the world’s largest music retailer.

Mostly recently in November 2016, I wrote the post, “Acoustics – Apple’s Future is ‘Ear’” refuting the negative publicity around the new AirPods and sure enough six months later, they are another smash hit. However even with these successes, Apple is still a relentless innovator and will soon release the HomePod, “a powerful speaker that sounds amazing, adapts to wherever it’s playing, and together with Apple Music, gives you effortless access to one of the world’s largest music catalogs. All controlled through natural voice interaction with Siri.”

So what do humble Notification sounds have to do with these blockbuster products? To me, they are the true measure of a commitment to excellence and form an integral part of the “personality” of iDevices. Keep in mind that at one point during the Super Bowl, over 380,000 text messages were sent EVERY SECOND. That’s a lot of “Note” notifications. Apple even dedicated a session at their recent World Wide Developers Conference to “Designing Sound.”  In a fun twist, the presenter actually played “Note” live at 15:25 in the video.

He also played the “Chord” notification used in the Calendar at 16:45. Spoiler alert, it’s a Kalimba! The entire presentation is fascinating and demonstrates how serious Apple is about the high quality of its design ethic.

At 18:30, he also goes on to provide an introduction to creating your own appropriate notifications using simple tools such as iOS Voice Recorder and GarageBand including how to avoid the pitfalls associated with improperly created sounds like noise and truncated endings.

If you have a few free minutes, capture sounds that catch your attention and make notifications from them. My wife and I heard a wonderful ringtone while we were in Cuba and now it is her iPhone ringtone. It’s a fun, creative way to personalize something that quickly becomes a part of your personal soundscape!