Category Archives: iPhone

Apple announcements today

I watched various Apple folks present the keynote at the Apple World Wide Developers Conference today and I have to say, I got really excited and was cheering like many do watching sports games.

You can watch it here: WWDC. June 10, 2013.

I wasn’t really looking for new stuff, I was looking to see how Apple was going to refine and enhance the things they already have out there.

Mac OS X (Mavericks) looks fantastic with lots of integration with life outside of one’s computer (namely, one’s other Apple devices). But, little things like tabbed Finder windows and tags at the system level look extremely useful to me. Maps is now an app on the Mac with easy syncing to iPhone and/or iPad and something that I’m very much looking forward to is iCloud Keychain: passwords and logins are shared between all devices immediately and automatically. Oh, and iBook is now an app on the Mac. Yes!

iOS 7 looks great to me and while the new flatter look isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, the integration of the design throughout the OS and standard apps is apparent. A lot of thinking went into the small stuff and these kinds of things won’t be apparent until we get our hands on it. I noticed and particularly liked the new Photos app. Very nice update to an app that was in sore need of one.

I particularly liked the demo of iWork for iCloud: Open or create iWork documents (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) in a browser window on iCloud and share them easily with all your devices. Even work on the document on a machine running Windows 8 in IE. Very cool.

I’m a fan of Pandora so iTunes Radio looks great to me and it will integrate well with my existing iTunes library. I doubt I’ll leave Pandora over it but I see no reason they can’t coexist.

The new Mac Pro looks fantastic, especially its size (when compared with the existing Mac Pro). Note: It’s small. I have no use for it myself being a MacBook Pro kinda guy but I have friends who are drooling over this thing. And, one of its nice new “attributes” is that it’s assembled in the USA. I hope Apple sells a ton of them.

There’s an upgrade to the MacBook Air which looks great and a redesign and upgrade to Apple’s wireless router: AirPort Extreme and router/backup device, Time Capsule. The new AirPort Extreme appeals to me as it has a smaller footprint, is taller and has better (and faster) coverage. I’ll probably be getting one.

I have to say, I loved today’s announcements and while Wall Street seems to have been disappointed, I’m done thinking that there’s any coincidence between AAPL and Apple, Inc. I’m a user first, an investor second and as a user, I’m totally psyched.

AirPort wifi issue solved

For the past few months I’ve had sporadic drop-offs on our home network which is provided by a cable modem and an AirPort Extreme base station. I figured this was our cable provider although to be fair, we rarely have issue with cable unless there’s a severe storm.

Then I read Marco Arment’s piece Wi-Fi connections stalling on AirPort Extreme with 7.6.3 firmware and noted that I was running the latest (7.6.3) firmware. I didn’t do anything about it but saved the link to Marco’s piece.

Last week I was out in California visiting my mother and noticed that the AirPort Extreme router I have set up in her house was also running the latest firmware and in the past I’ve noticed that her network ground to a half at odd times.

So, I followed Marco’s directions and downgraded her AirPort Extreme to version 7.6.1 (extremely easy to do) and everything seemed to work fine. I don’t know if it did anything good but it certainly didn’t do anything bad. Next time I’m out there I’ll know better.

When I returned home I downgraded our AirPort Extreme and while I can’t say it solved the problems we were having they have not re-occurred since.

Marco seems to have been having problems with an iPhone dropping off and we may have had this too but I noticed it on my computer which I use much more at home.

I think this is worth trying if you’re running the latest firmware on an AirPort Extreme and have had any kind of noticeable drop-offs or slow downs.

Automatic Link

This is an incredible invention: Plug Automatic Link into your car’s data port and it shares all kinds of data on your car’s health and your driving habits with an app on your smartphone.

You can find out if your car or phone is supported here (you don’t need to go through with the pre-order).

For more details check out the Automatic Labs site.

[via Steve Splonskowski]

Entitlement and a comment on Apple’s Maps app

Entitlement

Aaron Mahnke comments on the iPhone 5 and our jaded attitudes towards new products and services.

We can trash an app because of the color of its icon and use powerful words like “hate” and lambast the decisions of the developers as “stupid” or “wrong”. But in doing so we ignore the multitude of positive aspects and elements that make the app worth buying and using. We, the generation of armchair developers and silver-spoon cry-babies. Shame on us.

I agree 100%. I’d go further: It feels to me that many people who are piling on Apple about the lack of data accuracy on the iOS 6 Maps app have never used it, they’re just echoing the buzz that Apple has stumbled.

On Apple’s Maps app

I was going to do a longish post on my recent use of Apple’s new and to some “disastrous” iOS 6 Maps app but I’m not sure I will. Suffice to say that I not only love the new app, it has guided me flawlessly with turn by turn navigation to two spots in LA: a restaurant which is correctly located on Apple’s map, and the Huntington Library and Gardens, which is also correctly located on Apple’s map.

I think the design and iOS integration is better than anything I’ve ever used (including Garmin, Google, and others). Yes, it’s not as rich in data (yet) as Google maps but Google maps had problems when it started as well. I remember them although we were all so blown away by the introduction of this kind of mapping we let them go, knowing they’d be fixed in time (as they have been).

Apple should have called maps “beta” and made it easy to crowdsource fixes. That’s where they blew it, not in releasing it prematurely. They had to start somewhere.

I’ve been testing addresses in my contacts list and so far only a few are off. For example, B&H Photo, a store I know well is located in New York on 9th Ave. between 33rd and 34th St.

Google maps not only has it right, it IDs the store. Here’s a screen snap from https://maps.google.com:

google maps screen shot

Apple Maps on my iPhone finds the address and locates it correctly on 9th Ave. but incorrectly on the corner of 30th St., three blocks south of where it actually is.

apple maps screen shot

No doubt things like this and all the melted overpasses and monuments in the wrong place will get fixed in due time. Again, Apple might have made this easier for themselves by pushing us to send in the fixes.

Back to Aaron’s idea that we’re a bit too entitled these days. Remember, Google Maps had lots of problems when it started as well. We’re so jaded these days that we expect everything, especially things from Apple, to be absolutely perfect out of the gate. I certainly don’t feel that way about Apple’s Maps app and I think they’re off to a fine start. Remember, it’s not just about the map, it’s also about the way its integrated into the rest of the operating system of the device, and in this area no one touches Apple. I’m confident that Apple will get this right and until then, we have alternatives.

A week with iPhone five

a week with iPhone five

Chuck Skoda writes about his first week with the new iPhone 5. Well written review, worth reading.

If there is one top selling point with the iPhone 5, this is it. Which is funny considering the iPhone is late to the LTE party. iPhone is the only device many of us have with ubiquitous internet connectivity, and LTE speeds make for an even bigger improvement than 3G had over Edge. In other words, this speed on a mobile device is a game changer.

Cardiio

Cardiio

I just downloaded and used a new iPhone app called Cardiio that measures your heart rate with the front camera of your iPhone.

Every time your heart beats, more blood is pumped into your face. This slight increase in blood volume causes more light to be absorbed, and hence less light is reflected from your face. Using sophisticated software, your iPhone’s front camera can track these tiny changes in reflected light that are not visible to the human eye and calculate your heart beat!

It works amazingly well, keeps track of your various measurements over time and shows you how you’re doing relative to others your age.

This is really incredible and I can’t wait to use it on a hike to see what my heart rate is on a steep climb.

Mountain Lion’s new document model explained

The Very Model of a Modern Mountain Lion Document

Matt Neuburg does an outstanding job of describing Apple’s new document model in Mountain Lion, how it improves upon Lion and how both of them are vastly different from document models in earlier versions of Mac OS.

I’ve been struggling with “Save,” Save As…” and auto save since the Lion upgrade and while I’m not completely comfortable with the new model in Mountain Lion, reading Matt’s piece enabled me to make the changes in my System Preferences General Pane that I need to to feel comfortable, for the time being.

All of this is OS X being influenced by iOS, for better, worse, or who knows?

These are the details that Mac and to a lesser extent iOS users sweat over and I’m glad of that. Apple sweats over them too and that’s what makes this stuff work so well.

Fascinating time to be using these tools.

How Mat Honan was hacked

How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking

This is a both a fascinating and sad story and a wakeup call for those of us who have built up a complex life online. It’s also a wakeup call for those of us who do not back up our computers, iPhones, iPads, and other devices connected to a single or even multiple connected digital ecosystems.

This story scares the shit out of me. I’m paranoid enough right now so that I have serious mixed feelings about posting this (it might be looked at as a potential challenge to a hacker).

I urge anyone reading this post to read Mat’s story slowly and carefully and make note of every detail described and put yourself in Mat’s shoes. He may have made some mistakes that you haven’t made but no doubt we all have vulnerabilities, I know I do.

In short, the very four digits that Amazon considers unimportant enough to display in the clear on the web are precisely the same ones that Apple considers secure enough to perform identity verification. The disconnect exposes flaws in data management policies endemic to the entire technology industry, and points to a looming nightmare as we enter the era of cloud computing and connected devices.

It isn’t just having an Amazon account, an Apple ID and an iCloud account, or having “Find my Mac” turned on in iCloud that brought Mat’s digital life down, it’s also a seemingly insignificant fact that he had a short, desirable three character Twitter handle and enough followers to make that account useful to hackers who wanted a high profile account so they could send a message: “we got into this account via a complex ID hack.”

But, even if you’re nobody of import on the internet, reading this article is a useful wakeup call if for no other reason than to hear that a person like Mat who’s a relatively sophisticated tech journalist stupidly did not back up his home computer and so it was vulnerable when hackers took over his iCloud account and found “Find My Mac” turned on. They did a remote wipe on his Mac for no good reason given the reason he was hacked and he lost the complete early photographic history of his daughter because he had no backup.

Here’s how I map myself into this

I’m a much less desirable target but who knows what makes a person a desirable target?

I use an Apple AirPort Extreme router between my local network of computers and iOS devices and our cable modem and the internet. It has a built-in firewall. We do not use local file sharing although I trust the AirPort firewall to protect us. If you have a computer directly connected to a cable or DSL modem you are extremely vulnerable and you need to do something about that.

I back up my iPhone and iPad to my computer daily (sync – backup). If they are mistakenly or maliciously remote wiped I can get the data back easily.

I use iCoud’s Find My iPhone and Find My iPad features (like David Pogue) so I can find and if necessary, remote wipe my iPhone and iPad if they fall into the wrong hands. I do not use Find My Mac which means my Macintosh isn’t visible and vulnerable to a complete wipe from my iCloud account (I hope).

I back up my computer daily in two different ways (SuperDuper and Time Machine) which means I have a complete back up of my computer and my iOS devices in case of accidental or malicious remote wipe. I actually have multiple complete backups: I have two external drives that I swap daily one being kept in the basement in a fire proof box.

I’ve only lost everything once in my life, in the very early days of personal computing before there were easy ways to back things up. It felt bad enough so that I swore I’d never let that happen to me again and hopefully it won’t. But, all it takes is once and that ought to be enough of a wake up call to get your attention and get you doing something about it. Since the early ’80s (pre-Mac) I’ve had a backup scheme in place that I’ve used religiously. Some people who hear about this think I’m nuts but their time will come and when it does they’ll get it.

I may be vulnerable via the online methods that got Mat in trouble and rather than blaming Apple and/or Amazon I need a plan to do something about this. I’m working on it and for obvious reasons I’m not posting that plan here. Your ideas are always welcome in comments, email, chat, phone.

I’m quite sure that some reading this are even more vulnerable than I am and I urge you to read Mat’s story and make note of both his mistakes and how your digital life maps onto his. Even if you feel you’re not a target because you have no status online there may be other aspects of your life that make you a desirable target for a hack or an ID theft.

Hacking and ID theft like this should bring on the most severe legal punishment no matter what age the hacker (Mat’s hacker is 19). Life in prison sounds about right. Of course, the stiffer the penalty the greater the challenge for a motivated hacker.

[via Dale Allyn]

Is Siri riding a Dragon?

Goldman Sachs and the $580 Million Black Hole

This is an amazing piece of history by Loren Feldman at the New York Times and it’s not just about Goldman Sachs, it’s also about Dragon Systems (founded and run by Janet and Jim Baker), the inventors of Dragon Naturally Speaking, one of the first continuous speech to text dictation systems on any computer.

Goldman was hired ($5 million) to broker the sale of Dragon which eventually got sold in 1999 for stock only to a Belgian company, Lernout & Hauspie (L&H).

L&H collapsed soon after the sale and the Bakers were left with nothing, they even lost the technology they invented.

The lawsuit claims that Goldman didn’t do due diligence and had a troubled past with L&H that should have made them wary of a sale.

No doubt Goldman should be sued although it’s easy to pile on because of all the other bad things that have come to light about Goldman in the past few years. The problem is, the Bakers agreed to the stock only deal and could have walked away from it. It will no doubt be argued that Goldman didn’t do its job and that’s true, but the Bakers had final say on any deal and they took a bad one (that Goldman misrepresented to them).

As someone who’s been extremely interested in both synthetic speech and speech to text technology for over twenty years, I’ve followed Dragon closely and I was aware that the Dragon sale had been problematic as this case has been around for a while.

Dragon Dictate was never built for the Mac (it does exist as a free app for iOS: Dragon Dictation) and the various Macintosh equivalents were never as good but even if it had been built I doubt I would have embraced it; it required hours of training and was a clunky system. Now that Apple has put both dictation and control (commands) into the iPhone and iPad and no doubt, eventually the Macintosh I can say that I love it and use it all the time. It’s a beautiful implementation of this technology that requires no training (except us learning how to deal with Siri) and it works extremely well.

This paragraph from the end of the article should be interesting to any Apple follower:

Dragon Systems, the Bakers’ “third child,” was put up for sale at a bankruptcy auction. Visteon acquired some of Dragon’s technology. ScanSoft bought the bulk of it and went on to become a $7 billion giant, with a licensing deal with Apple. (The Bakers believe that some of their technology made its way into Siri.) ScanSoft later acquired — and assumed the name of — Nuance, another voice technology company.

It will be interesting to see if the trial, set for November 6th in Boston digs through the code in Siri and tries, for whatever reason, to show a genealogical relationship between Dragon and Apple.

State of the art British synthetic speech

My friend David Niemeijer has been working on some new synthetic voices and they’re quite amazing: British Children’s Voices. Play the New Harry voice and the new Rosie voice, you’ll be impressed.

Text to speech or synthetic speech has really come a long way. These voices are as good or better than Siri which is state of the art for text to speech.

David is the developer behind AssistiveWare which makes assistive technology products for the Macintosh, iPad, and iPhone for people with a variety of special access needs. These new voices are built into various products.

Thoughts on Apple’s recent announcements

I was traveling the day of the Apple keynote presentation at their annual World Wide Developer’s Conference so I didn’t see the announcements live but the next day I watched the event as you can here:

Apple Special Event, June 11, 2012

If you’re an Apple user (Mac, iPhone, or iPad) and are interested in what’s coming in the year ahead you might enjoy the presentation.

Unlike others who seem to have been let down by the presentation, I loved it and it gave me a clear picture of Apple’s direction in the near and probably the mid term, maybe even the long term.

Mac OS X.8 (Mountain Lion) and iOS 6 both look like wonderful upgrades but the bottom line is this: Apple’s various devices are becoming simpler, more streamlined, and most importantly, better integrated with each other and with various social and informational services outside of Apple’s domain.

iCloud is better integrated into more Apple applications and it looks like there will be built in functionality that will compete with Simplenote, Dropbox, and Instapaper, to name a few.

Dictation, which was initially only on the iPhone is now on the iPad (3) and is coming to the Macintosh. No doubt Siri is coming to the iPad and at some point to the Macintosh as well. Think about this: it wasn’t long ago that speech to text and/or speech commands and text to speech were novelties and didn’t work all that well. Now they’re both reliable, understandable and work on small, handheld devices. This is revolutionary. Apple is betting heavy that speech will be a big part of using all of its devices going forward.

Apple’s computers are starting to move in a bigger way toward flash storage (SSDs): the new MacBook Pro model is a solid state device with no hard disk. While I’m not in the market for a new computer at the moment, I’d buy this machine in a heartbeat if I were. Solid state storage is the future of computing and no doubt more of Apple’s computers will move to it as it becomes more affordable.

Neither AppleTV nor Apple’s plans for a television were mentioned during the presentation. No doubt the next step is to tie AppleTV into this mix in a bigger way and my guess is that it will happen incrementally as it has been for a few years now. Here’s an idea for a next step: Add Game Center to AppleTV. I don’t play games on computers or iOS devices but if I did I’d be using Game Center and it seems to me it’s just a matter of time before Game Center is on AppleTV, another iOS device that will no doubt run at least some iOS apps in the future. When that happens AppleTV will essentially be an “iOS Mini” driving an HD TV and computing will have truly entered the living room.

While Wall Street and the pundits may be disappointed that this particular keynote didn’t announce much that wasn’t already known, I found it exciting to see the way the new operating system for the iPhone and iPad and the new operating system for the Macintosh work so well, individually and together.

Simpler is better and Apple is definitely moving in that direction.

Keyboards, touch typing, dictation

Shawn Blanc has done some research on keyboards for the Macintosh and written an exhaustive piece on using them as a professional writer: Clicky Keyboards. It’s not clear from the piece if Shawn is a touch typist but my guess is he is.

In 1985 I witnessed my friend Steve Splonskowski (still in college) typing at lightening speed on the awful Macintosh 128K keyboard. He was looking at the screen and typing away and it was a thing of beauty. I wanted to type like that so I bought a copy of the keyboarding instruction program “Typing Intrigue” and started playing the rain game (type a letter as it falls from the top of the screen) and quickly moved on to typing odd practice sentences.

At that time I was starting to contribute articles to early computer magazines and between that writing and early email with AppleLink, bitnet and a few other email networks I had enough of a writing load so that within a few weeks I was able to leave hunting and pecking behind. Once I’d made the transition to touch typing my speed and accuracy went down for a while but as I felt more confident and kept my eyes comfortably on the screen and my writing the feedback loop between fingers and brain got tighter and faster. The more writing, the better it got and as a person who had avoided writing for most of my life, a computer and touch typing was like opening a dam: writing spilled out of me on a daily basis.

The way to become a better writer is to write more. If improving your writing tool (a keyboard, a pen) helps then improve it.

Touch typing has changed my life by being one (important) part of the process of getting my ideas outside my head and encoded into writing. Before computers, keyboards, and touch typing my image of myself did not include “writer.” Here’s a now dated piece I did on the mechanics of this experience: How Computers Change the Writing Process for People with Learning Disabilities.

At some point, maybe after I’m compost, touch typing will probably go the way of cursive handwriting but until then it’s a useful skill to have and if you have it the layout and feel of your keyboard is an important part of your writing experience.

One of the things that will send keyboards and with them, touch typing to their grave is dictation: being able to talk to your computer, iPad, iPhone or whatever and have the device type out (encode) your voice. We used to call this “speech to text” or “speech recognition” but the single term “dictation” will no doubt supplant those awkward phrases.

I bought a new iPad (3) for one reason (not the screen): it has dictation capabilities. I’ve been using dictation quite a bit on my iPhone 4S and I’m finding it quite useful and it’s quite good on the new iPad as well. However, it’s a very different writing experience from touch typing and so, my brain is making a feeble attempt to adapt. I really like the tight feedback loop that happens with touch typing and dictation is a different kind of experience. We’ll see how touch typists like me adapt (or not).

No doubt we’re in transition: I’m touch typing this on my MacBook Pro’s keyboard which works quite well for me and for any longer piece of writing/editing I’ll probably be using this tool but for a lot of the other writing I do I’ll just as easily be using the iPad or iPhone with dictation (or with their awful but useable onscreen keyboards).