Apple Demonstrates the Problem With Being “Perfect” – Part 3

As Part 2 of this series demonstrated, the truth seems to be that technology doesn’t have to be perfect to be usable. Microsoft and Google are posting record profits despite a wide variety of serious flaws in their products and services. Apple is clearly being held to a higher standard. To a large extent, people don’t know or care if their phones, tablets, or computers aren’t perfect. They just want to use them to get work done without issues requiring convoluted fixes and the threat of viruses. I constantly see people in companies, airports, etc. with their phone’s apps just as they were when it came out of the box plus a few standards like Facebook, News, and Sports. Often people only upgrade when they replace the device with a newer model. Apple has done an great job with this less tech savvy group. For example, Apple stock apps like Mail, Maps, and Calendar are very functional and sync seamlessly between mobile devices and desktop computers. Even more impressive, Apple’s utilities like macOS Time Machine and iOS backup are outstanding. I restored my computer after a rare filesystem problem and an hour later the computer rebooted exactly how it was at the end of the last backup. Try that with Windows or Android. Also, macOS and iOS are mostly secure from online threats. Even the techie Mac users I know don’t run anti-virus software.

Technology breakthroughs don’t have to come on a yearly schedule like clockwork. In an article in 9to5Mac that explored if Apple has become “boring” recently, Ben Lovejoy made the following comment, “It is, of course, a recurring debate – but one often fueled by the myth that Apple was inventing new product categories on an annual basis. We insert here our usual reminder that the Mac was launched in 1984, the iPod in 2001, iPhone in 2007, and iPad in 2010.”

To be fair, Apple has slipped lately. The battery life controversy with the new MacBooks and iPhones, software issues with iCloud, high prices, and other issues are worrisome, but Apple products are still the best option for a large majority of users. So what is behind the anguished screams that seem to be coming from every direction? A future post will focus on the different, but related issue of explosion of fake online news that is fueling the fire. Where has “real news” gone? Even a guy who was helping us with a bathroom tiling job was bragging about becoming a writer for “referral networks” which is just another fancy name for creating fake reviews. Negative articles about Apple make people click on them, generating revenue, so another future post will provide some concrete ways to work around this. Even one of my favorite tech sources has commented on the situation in his own industry. Here’s a quote from the full article.

Combine those two factors and we’re looking at a world where large swaths of the American public (and the rest of the world) will have very bad information about crucial news, because they’ve created their own very bad newspaper. It’s a problem technology has helped create, but it’s hard to see how technology will fix it.

— Peter Kafka

Maybe technology won’t fix it, but making people aware is the first step.

Apple Demonstrates the Problem With Being “Perfect” – Part 2

To continue the short rant that ended Part 1 of this series, Windows 10 is far from perfect and continues with the tradition of bizarre Microsoft design decisions. For example, the “system tray” found on the bottom right of every Windows main screen is full of obtuse software by default including something called the Intel Rapid Storage Manager (don’t touch these settings!), Synaptics Touchpad (I have adjusted my Mac touchpad once in four years), Lenovo Solution Center (an oxymoron), McAfee Anti-Virus, etc. McAfee is a joke in itself, more like buying a used car than software.

On the other hand, macOS shows only Bluetooth status by default. Also, high end Windows machines aren’t cheap anymore either. Microsoft’s Surface Book is pushing $2,200 and has several serious issues.

In the world of mobile operating systems, people threatening to jump ship from iOS to Android should read the balanced, well written article: “What I Learned about My iPhone After Switching to the Google Pixel.” The author sums up his experience with Google most recent phone by saying, “If you’re predisposed towards Android, or don’t enjoy iOS, the Pixel presents a superb overall experience… For now though, even though I’m still carrying around my Pixel, my iPhone remains my main device.” I have a Android Nexus 6 phone that I keep updated and I came to exactly the same conclusion. Even Google’s flagship phone from last year, the Nexus 6P, is experiencing a software problem (boot loop) so severe that it disables the phone completely. The thread on Reddit has almost 500 comments. If the iPhone had the same problem… Ugh, I shudder to think of the media frenzy. “Coincidentally,” the Pixel XL with 128 GB is EXACTLY the same price as the iPhone 7+ with 128 GB, $869. So much for Android being the less expensive option.

Finally, since I love acoustics, I found this article to be a fascinating glimpse into what happens when people stray away from the closed systems that Google has created: “An Audiophile Switches From iOS to Android.” His conclusion, “My journey from iOS to Android on a Google Pixel phone has been frustrating with respect to audio playback… Google could make all of this a nonissue, but based on the company’s responses, I don’t have a good feeling the company will ‘Do the right thing.'” By contrast, his iOS audiophile configuration is straightforward: Lightening Connector to USB, then the DragonFly USB DAC.

So where does that leave Apple in the wild world of consumer electronics? We will see in Part 3 of this series!

Apple Demonstrates the Problem With Being “Perfect” – Part 1

Welcome to 2017! It would be great to start the year with a post about Apple creating the next generation of breakthrough products and providing them at reasonable prices, but unfortunately 2016 was rough. To make matters worse, lately the news has been sounding like Chicken Little, “The sky is falling!” Even the smallest complaints are being screamed from the rooftops. Last month’s Monthly Recap explored this in detail, but with the continuing deluge of negativity, it’s worth taking a step back to try to see the big picture.

In short, Apple is a victim of its own success. For the past decade, every year has brought another industry changing product or feature. The video of Steve Jobs’ iPhone 1 unveiling is a reminder of how revolutionary it was and still is. So much so that the rest of the industry is just not beginning to catch up. This dominance has made Apple a favorite target for critics, which begs the question: Why does Apple have to supply a continuous stream of “perfect products” when nobody else does? ReCode’s article, “All Apple gave us in 2016 was a thinner iPhone, a touch bar, and too many dongles” paints a bleak picture, but where consumers are spending their money sends a different message. Other tech news sources wrote recently, “Huge demand for Apple’s ‘boring’ iPhone 7 may lead to Apple’s highest revenue in history” and “From Apps to iPhones: Holiday Shoppers Invest in Apple.”

Maybe Apple products are becoming boring, but they’re profitable workhorses. I’m currently using an “ancient” 2012 MacBook Pro which feels almost as fast as it did four years ago and still runs the most current version of MacOS. It’s so good that a year ago, Cult of Mac wrote a post, “Why is Apple’s ancient 2012 MacBook Pro still so popular?” By comparison, a brand new Windows 10 machine that I purchased for a specific project last month already has had a two hour “anniversary” upgrade and still constantly bombards me weekly with forced update notifications requiring a reboot. The anniversary upgrade took so long that I almost turned it off midway through (which would have been a disaster). The 2012 MacBook took less than a half hour for its most recent major upgrade.

The next part of this series will look at Apple in relation to the other major players in the tech world: Microsoft and Google. Certainly some of the recent criticism is warranted, but how much?

Monthly Recap: Wired for Sound – The Times They Are a-Changin’

What a month! It started with the vocal backlash of the tech community against the new MacBook Pro which prompted my post, “The Rise of the Incompetent Experts,” continued with the elections, and culminated with our fascinating trip to Cuba which I photographed with the new iPhone 7+. Along the way, the post, “Acoustics – Apple’s Future is ‘Ear’” explored the interesting acoustics related idea that Apple may be paving the way for an audio user interface accessed through the soon to be released Apple AirPods.

nokiaaudioDespite what might seem like missteps, Apple definitely has a well thought out plan and acoustics will continue to play a major role. How could it be otherwise? They made the first commercially viable MP3 player with the iPod and pioneered the first digital music ecosystem with iTunes. Also, many people don’t remember that cellphones used to have proprietary audio connectors. Apple was the first manufacturer to standardize on the 1/8″ headphone jack. The BBC News post, “The 19th Century plug that’s still being used” is wonderful if you want the full story.

As for the title of this post, it comes from another major change in the world of audio recording that’s all but forgotten: the wire recorder. This is strange because it is still the recording format with the longest history, over 70 years! ArsTechnica wrote an excellent, in-depth article about it recently, “Forgotten audio formats: Wire recording.” Along the way, the article revisits Woody Guthrie’s recordings, the first audio bootlegging, and its impact on the language in phrases such as “wire tap,” “on the wire,” and “wired for sound.”

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Using the iPhone 7+ in Cuba

We just returned from a week in Cuba and it’s hard to explain what a strange and wonderful country it is. A page of my favorite photos can be found here. First, the people are incredible in every way: kind, patient, creative, and resourceful. At the same time, the country is broken in every way: the physical structures, transportation, pollution, communication, etc. Here is a photo of a tourist restaurant in “Old Havana” where excellent, international dishes were served in a modern setting. It was empty at lunch, but jam packed with customers every evening.

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This is the view from the building less than a block away.

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We traveled with a group of professional photographers so we visited many non-tourist locations that I shot primarily with an iPhone 7+. Here are 10 things I learned.

  1. Swipe to open camera is a fast, fluid gesture that I used probably a 100 times a day.
  2. Low light performance is so good that the flash was rarely necessary. This was good because it’s very slow to fire.
  3. The 2x optical is surprisingly useful, but I also used an inexpensive point and shoot with 10x zoom that came in handy. Mine has an articulating screen which was perfect for waist level candid shots. Sticking a big camera lens in someone’s face just feels wrong.
  4. Backups without iCloud – The was one of the biggest issues. The internet is not available in Cuba unless you count 5 Mbps speeds in a park or hotel lobby shared with 100 others as access. Since iOS is a closed system, I used this device which was kludgy, but workable.
  5. Waterproofing – It was a true revelation to be able to use an unprotected iPhone in the rain. Also for navigation without the internet, Maps.me was a lifesaver.
  6. VPN – Even when we could use the internet, a VPN connection was required to access our US accounts. It’s a good idea for safely using any public Wifi when traveling.
  7. Editing photos with iOS is super advanced. The stock photo app is great. Adding professional level tools like Snapseed, PicsArt, Pixelmator, and Photoshop Fix can result in photos like these.
  8. Airdrop is awesome! Even without internet access, we transferred photos within the group with ease. Even sending photos to 15 people at once was simple. You need to have Bluetooth and Wifi turned on, but it’s peer-to-peer so the internet is not required.
  9. Triggering the camera with the Apple Watch is cool. You can get a refurbished series 1 for around $240 now. Here’s one I took.
  10. Portrait mode is icing on the cake. Take a look at the these shots.

So there are some interesting observations from our trip. The iPhone 7+ is a powerhouse of a travel camera that can replace a GPS and a laptop for editing. If you’re reading this on Turkey Day, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving. Travel always reminds me that we have a lot to be thankful for!