iOS 10: Lots to learn

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After a less than satisfactory upgrade to iOS 10 earlier this week, I’ve been learning about its bits and bobs through day to day usage. What follows is a far-from-detailed review of the update, which is no way been approaches the thoroughness of some of the excellent reviews (e.g. iMore, MacStories).

So, in no particular order…

I like the widget-type functionality on the new search screen. You can get here by swiping right when on your home screen. It’s editable, so you can see the key information and updates that are more interesting and useful to you. I have it set up with a widget from ToDoist (of course!), a summary of my Activity

, the weather and headlines from the Guardian. I’ll be interested to see what other apps add widgets in the coming weeks. But for now, it gives me a nice, brief summary of key information that interesting to me, without too many clicks or swipes.

The new expanded notifications are also a big improvement. You can act of notifications from within another app (e.g. respond to a text message) and the new design of the notifications leaves me feeling less harassed by them as they pop up on the screen. You may feel differently about them, of course.

I’m torn when it comes to the app store for Messages. While it’s fun to be able to send GIFs more easily (@FrankDJS is enjoying this in particular 🙄) some of the noisier message settings are just plain annoying. Lasers. Confetti. Invisible ink. To me, it all smacks of gimmicks and makes it harder to read the messages. But I’m obviously turning into an old fart. so let’s move on to something more positive.

As an OS, it’s running faster on my iPhone 6s Plus. Noticeably faster. I like the changes to the interface for the most part and the fact that the screen comes to life when to pick it up is a piece of common sense functionality that is both simple and incredibly helpful.

I haven’t really explored what’s new in Photos or Music, especially as I’ve become quite the fan of Spotify in recent months. It was my main source of music when using Android and it’s recommendations engine is second to none. I’ve discovered more great music with Spotify this year than I ever have before. So I’m loathe to move back to Apple Music and deal with its tendencies to recommend pure unadulterated shit. Pardon my French.

I’ve not been as impressed with Siri as I’d hoped. Yes, it now works with a series of external, non-Apple services, but this is limited right now. So while you can control Spotify with it, I still can’t use it to control ToDoist. Being able to verbally add tasks to my inbox via Siri would be magical and a big timesaver. Hopefully it won’t be too long before there’s an integration.

If you have the time, and the inclination, I can recommend Federico Viticci’s in-depth review of iOS 10 over at MacStories. It’s epic. Truly. Otherwise, you can do what I’ve also been doing: just get stuck in and use it, googling the answers to challenges when you encounter them.

Day One 2.0 is coming!

My favourite journalling app for the Mac and iOS is getting an update!

In the next few weeks, the guys at Bloom are going to release a 2.0 update for Day One which has been in development for several years. This is going to include some handy bits of functionality like adding several photos to a single journal entry, maintaining multiple, separate journals and so on.

I’m really excited to see all of this come to fruition. The introduction of their own sync service last year was the start of something really big. I can’t wait for it to work with other services, so I can (for example) automatically include checkins, Facebook mentions, Tweets, fitness information and so on. All the stuff my iPhone has at its disposal could – in theory – be automatically added to my Day One journal to give me a real ‘life log’.

The update won’t be free – but how else can we expect companies to continue to produce quality software if we don’t pay for what they develop? I’ll be happy to buy my upgrade, as soon as it’s available.

If you like to keep a journal, you may like to check out Day One. Accessible on all the platforms I use (including Apple Watch!), it’s a great way to record your thoughts and experiences. I’ve previously blogged about it here and use it daily to track what’s been going on. Sometimes more than once per day, depending on the madness around me. I have a daily reminder set up in ToDoist to ensure I never (rarely!) miss a day.

Maybe you’ll be inspired to start the habit when you check out these examples uses for the app.

 

Getting a passport with your iPhone?

Amazingly, yesterday afternoon I used my iPhone to order a passport card from the Irish Passport Office.

Amazingly?

Well, I used the iPhone app Irish Passport Card from the Department of Foreign Affairs, filled in some basic details, then took an appropriately grim-looking selfie and I was all done.

It took a total of about six minutes. Compare that to the standard paperwork these things require and even the time spent queuing for passports. This is going to be posted to my home address, so no requirement to do anything but wait.

Finally, government services catching up with 21st Century technology. Big thanks for the Department of Foreign Affairs for making it so easy for emigrants like me to access this service.

Hey Siri: shut up

The update to iOS 8 brought the ability to activate Siri simply by saying “Hey Siri”, so you can ask Siri to do things while your hands are otherwise occupied. Everyone illustrates this by talking about “while baking in the kitchen”. They don’t really know me at all…

I switched this on, despite having no idea when I might actually use it. But you never know, right?

Not to worry, Siri had plenty of ideas for me. For a start, Siri piped up when I was in bed watching the news. A story about Syria came on and obviously Siri thought we were speaking about “her”. All very amusing. How funny! Isn’t technology wonderful! Etc.

Two days later and Siri went off in my bag while I was in a client meeting. Not just the “beep” announcing she was listening, but the follow up “I”m sorry, I can’t help you right now…” verbal message. I’ve no idea what set it off, but it was awkward to say the least.

Cue lots of rummaging around in my bag to switch it off before it caused even more embarrassment. Luckily, my client saw the funny side. But I’m not that keen on a repeat performance.

I’ve switched this off in the options and wont be reactivating it until Siri is a little bt more discriminating in who she listens to. You can experiment with this at your own risk – read more here.

Excellent podcast news

My podcast player of choice, the very excellent Pocket Casts, now offers access to your synced content via the browser.

So, once you have an account set up and you have synchronised your podcasts between devices, you can also log in via desktop browser and keep listening. If you’re an existing used, just go to play.pocketcasts.com and log in with your existing account information.

Bam! All of your favourite podcasts are available, right where you left off on your mobile device. So you can come home, take off your earphones and plug your iPhone in to charge. In the next room, fire up your browser and Pocket Casts will have the same podcast ready to roll from the point at which you left off.

Magic.

This is really timely as I was just wondering the other day how I could avoid using Apple’s own Podcast app and continue to have seamless listening with Pocket Casts.

I’m taking advantage of the 30-day free trial right now, but I’m positive I’ll be paying the very reasonable $9 once the trial is over to keep listening. Especially as my new 27″ iMac (oh yes) is plugged into some great speakers on my desk. Listening to my various geeky podcasts is much nicer without earphones when I’m in my home office.

If you’re a podcast aficionado, and you use Apple’s own app, I encourage you to give Pocket Casts a try. You won’t regret it – it’s fast, easy to use and so intuitive. Everything Apple seem to have left off their to-do list when designing their own app…

iPhone 6 Plus: First Impressions

After some initial disappointment, my iPhone 6 Plus finally arrived on Monday. Unboxed (carefully) , sim-card inserted, I was up and running in minutes.

I’ve been using it intensively all week, and while this isn’t a full and detailed review of the phone, I can safely share the following first impressions:

It’s big

It’s big. It’s bigger than you’d think. It’s bigger than I thought, even though I’d played with one in a mobile phone store last weekend. It’s big and yet it’s not. It’s extremely slim and very, very light. It’s not so big that it’s unusable and I’ve yet to drop it through an ill-advised one-handed-walking-down-the-street manoeuvre. It has been snug in the Apple leather case, which definitely makes it less likely to slip out of your hand.

The size definitely won’t work for everyone. Hipsters in skinny jeans, for example. While I can fit the phone into my skinny-ish jeans (I’m no hipster, despite the unintentionally hilarious facial hair and love for unpopular music) but then it’s impossible to get it back out if I’m sitting down. Or climbing stairs.

I am, however, someone who has missed a large screen every day since the old PDAs went out of fashion. So a PDA-like iPhone is the answer to my dreams. If you’re thinking about getting an iPhone 6, but unsure which model to go for, I strongly encourage you to go and play with them in store. Don’t buy one sight-unseen like me. I’m definitely an edge-case when it comes to mobile phones.

And if you’re moving from an iPhone 4, then prepare to be shocked.

The screen

The screen is, in short, glorious. I enjoy watching video podcasts and normally “consume” these via my iPad Mini. But this screen, on which video seems to pop out and massage my eyeballs (not the best of metaphors, but I’m tired) is perfect and I’ve not used my iPad Mini once since opening the iPhone 6 box.

Really. I’m not actually sure where it is right now, if I’m honest. Somewhere in the apartment. Probably weeping at its abandonment and slide into oblivion.

I’ve watched about a half-dozen video podcasts this week – all over an hour in length – and not once did I miss a bigger screen. Back in the old days, when I struggled to live with an iPhone 5S (intentional use of hyperbole), I’d give up on video podcasts after a few minutes and pop the phone in my pocket – the audio was enough – to avoid squinting.

I’ve had strangers blatantly watch along with me when I’ve been on the Tube. Thankfully, all the podcasts I watch are suitable for playing in public.

Which leads me to a serious point. The bigger the screen, the easier it is for others to see what you’re looking at. One morning, one particularly rude guy blatantly watched me work through my email inbox. I had to stare him down until he looked away. The screen is bright and large and definitely attracts unwanted attention. I’ve turned down the brightness when in public to avoid this.

The battery

The battery is better. It’s not stunning, but I definitely get more use out of a single charge. Yesterday, I used it steadily – voice and data – and when I checked at 7pm, I still had 59% battery left.

It’s a definitely improvement, but to be honest, I won’t be happy until mobile devices charge themselves through contact with my skin. Plugging things into the wall is so 20th century…

iOS 8

I can’t do justice to all the many and varied improvements iOS 8 brings to the iPhone. Instead, I’ll highlight some I’ve really enjoyed.

Firstly, the iPhone 6 Plus allows you to use several of the key applications (e.g. Mail) in landscape mode. I’ve wanted this from day one and look forward to other third-party developers introducing the same to their apps in the coming months.

I love the new simplified sharing. It’s got me back into using Instapaper, where I can send long-form articles from Safari with just a couple of clicks. And reading long articles via Instapaper on this screen is fantastic. So I’m reading more and more when I have some downtime between meetings and on the tube.

Finally, adding widgets to the notifications screen is excellent. Now, with a simple swipe down from the top of the screen, I can see my appointments for the day, start a new Evernote note, read headlines from The Guardian and see the weather. Again, I’m sure third-party developers will update their apps to enable this functionality. Personally speaking, I think this is a more elegant solution than having lots and lots of on-screen widgets, like with Android.

The review of iOS 8 from The Verge is well worth a read.

No bend

Despite heavy use all week, I’ve not managed to bend my iPhone 6 Plus. Is there something wrong with me? Aren’t I strong enough? Or might it be that I’m not living under the double-whammy of obesity and stupidity that leads people to keep their high-end smartphone in your back pocket. And then sit your fat ass down on it.

Seriously. I despair sometimes…

Finally

Would I recommend the iPhone 6 Plus? In a heartbeat, but with some caveats. The size is enough to put many (most?) users off. But if you like big screens, if you enjoy watching video on the move and if you miss the PDAs we all loved in the 90s, then it’s a no-brainer. But please – check them out in-store before handing over any cash.

You won’t be able to operate it one-handed, and you may feel silly speaking into it. I prefer to use headphones with a built-in mike anyway.

Funnily enough, I’ve yet to see another one “in the wild”. Plenty of iPhone 6 models being waved about here in Canary Wharf, but not a single Plus model. I’m wondering if they’re less attractive or just harder to find.

Anyway, I’m happy with mine. Very happy indeed.

Lots of Apple loveliness

Let’s get this out of the way first. Despite being in an extremely unhepful (relatively speaking) timezone, I stayed awake to watch this week’s Apple keynote launch of their new goodies.

So, being in Tokyo right now, this meant I had to wait up until 2am local time and then watch two hours of badly streamed Apple news, all on a small iPad Mini screen and a less than excellent hotel wifi connection.

Actually, the difficult bit wasn’t staying awake until kick-off, despite a full-on day here. It wasn’t staying awake during the event itself. It was actually getting to sleep once the keynote was over and a serious bout of “new Apple gadget” excitement was buzzing around in my brain.

Sad, I know.

So. To business… Will I or won’t I be getting a new iPhone?

Yep, I’ll be getting a new iPhone. I don’t think there’ll be any surprise at that. Between the models available, I’m almost positive I’ll go for the iPhone 6 Plus, with 128 GB of memory. I love the idea of a bigger screen and the promised better battery. I also like the way the bigger model includes some iPad-type interface design when turned to landscape orientation.

I’ve already sold my iPhone 5s online, to a well-known trade-in site, and am happy with the cash offered for it. I’ll be ordering my new phone at midnight Cupertino time Friday, which is helpfully 4pm here in Tokyo. No big hassle there!

(Incidentally, I’m not looking to upgrade with Vodafone – I haven’t got my handset from the mobile carrier in years, as I don’t want to be tied to a locked down version of the nadset. Plus, sim-only monthly plans are very, very good deals. Finally, resale value is higher if the handset isn’t “locked”.)

I’m very glad Apple didn’t announce the launch of the Apple Watch for next week as well, though. I’d be broke! I’m almost certaily going to get one, for various reasons. But with a 2015 launch, I can start to save up now. I’m looking forward to learning more about what the watch can and can’t do over the coming months.

In the interim, I used a very favourable exchange rate and lower prices here in Tokyo to get myself a new iPad Air. All tech loveliness aside, I saved myself a small fortune and received the best ever customer service.

The team in the Apple Store in Shibuya were *amazing* and couldn’t have been more helpful.

Including their excellent recommendation for a Tonkatsu restaurant around the corner.

We went and it was fantastic – thanks guys!

iOS Apps I missed

While I briefly “went Android” (don’t judge me, Apple fanboys) I found such a great selection of apps for my Samsung Note 3 that I barely noticed what I’d left behind. There were Android version of all my favourite and most-used apps: Twitter, Evernote, Dropbox, Instagram etc. But not everything was covered by the many thousands of available apps in the Google Play market…

Now that I’m back with Apple, I’ve just realised the apps I really missed, including:

Day One: A superb diary app. I love keeping a diary and this allows you to simply add any thoughts or reflections, while it pulls in your location, the local weather, any photos you like etc. It syncs across Dropbox (or iCloud if that’s your thing) so you can access and write in your diary on any iOS or Apple Mac device. I *really* missed this and couldn’t find an appropriate Android replacement.

iBank: I found this a really useful app for recording where my money goes. It allows to record expenditure “in the moment” and syncs with a desktop app to give you a detailed breakdown of accounts and credit cards. If you wonder how your account is empty at the end of each month (or before!) then this app will make you more aware of how you’re spending it. And mindful shopping is a lot better than impulse shopping.

Passbook: Everything from event tickets, my Starbucks card and my boarding passes for flights end up here. One handy app to open, rather than multiple separate ones, just when you need that crucial piece of information. It’s one of the best innovations to come out with iOS 7, there’s not doubt about it.

I also brought something back from the Android camp: Pocket Casts. This is a superb replacement for the godawful podcasts apps that comes with iOS 7. Yes, it has improved over time, but in my view it’s missing some key functionality and has usability issues.

As someone who consumes audio and video podcasts in alarming volumes, Pocket Casts is a godsend. Easily subscribe to podcasts from a range of networks, sync your preferences across devices and never find you’ve got duplicate downloads or missing episodes. Yes: I’m looking at you, iOS Podcasts app.

It’s not a free app, but at £2.49 I’d say it was an absolute bargain. If you listen to more than a couple of podcasts a week, or are as frustrated as I am with Apple’s native app, then give this one a spin. And if you’re an Android user, I can heartily recommend the slightly different, but equally impressive Android version.

Back in the saddle again…

Evernote Camera Roll 20140607 074134

It’s official

The experiment is over. I’ve officially handed in my Android club membership card and come crawling back to Apple like the boyfriend who has come to his senses after a crazy fling.

Kind of.

A quick update: After getting about three hours sleep on Thursday night/Friday morning, I was less than my bright, Wildean self at work on Friday. Yes, I had slipped into some high quality insomnia. on Friday morning, I basically dragged myself through a couple of meetings and then skipped lunch to get back outdoors so I could keep moving around in the sun.

I was not far off looking and sounding like a zombie. Albeit a well-dressed zombie.

I didn’t have a massive list of things to get done yesterday afternoon, so I “treated” myself to making a series of phone calls while walking through the 25C sunshine in London. It was glorious. I walked and walked, talked and talked, then suddenly found myself…just five minutes from the Apple Store on Regent Street.

What’s a boy to do?!

Making my excuses

I’d already made up my mind to go back to iOS and had “played” with iPhones and iPads while in shops last weekend, which only served to remind me of what I’d missed. Zippy responsiveness, a solid feel to the device and far, far less weight to carry around in my little pockets.

An incredibly short time later and I was on my way down the street with a new iPhone 5S in my bag.

In the interim, I had quite the chat with an Apple Store employee about my brief dalliance with Android and why I’m coming back. I was – to be honest – embarrassed, but he said it happens all the time to men of a certain age. They get bored with their old dependable, which has served them so well, then waste their time and money on a new model, hoping it will make them feel younger.

There’s initial excitement at all the flash experiences and they mix with a whole new set of friends…but eventually they realise what a horrible mistake they’ve made and come home.

At least I think we were taking about phones…

He was almost as excited as me at the thought of a new iPhone in my hand. And we briefly touched on iOS 8 and all the glorious functionality it will bring. Interestingly, he was most excited about the increased opening up of the OS to third-party developers. I meanwhile shared my geekish excitement at the increased cooperation between Apple desktop and mobile devices.

Yes. A typical (for me) Friday afternoon conversation.

And so to bed

The fact that I had to make several more work calls using my Note 3 yesterday was a source of frustration, I can tell you. I didn’t have time to get the new phone set up before I finished up work. For those few hours, the Note 3 seemed like the worst phone in the world.

Relatively speaking.

Which illustrates just how easily I’m influenced and how little patience I have.

I crashed in bed to catch up on much needed sleep at about 7:30pm. Sad, I know. But there’s only so much sleep I can do without. As I lay there, desperately trying to keep my eyes open, I quickly set up my new iPhone, downloading old, beloved apps and getting used to the difference in size.

Seriously. I feel like I’m using a toy phone now. I was so used to the mammoth Samsung Note 3, I forgot what “normal” mobile phones are like. In comparison, the iPhone 5 is so light, but at the same time feels solid in the hand.

The Samsung was, in contrast, heavier but also more….plasticky? Is that a word?

So, what next?

I’ve been thinking about how sad it is (relatively speaking, from a First World perspective, obviously) that there isn’t yet a combination of the two phones. With the flexibility of the OS and the larger screen of the Note 3 and the build quality and usability of the iPhone 5S.

I’m confident Apple will at some point some out with a larger iPhone, probably later this year. After using an enormous Note 3, I’d be happy with a 5-inch iPhone (or thereabouts) as long as it was a little thinner in profile.

So. Back in the Apple camp. But now knowing so much more about Android. I feel like I’ve learnt a lot (and spent a lot!) but know that I’ve made the right decision.

Hello iPhone. Nice to see you again.

Hello eBay. Here’s some Samsung stuff…