Sunday, September 29, 2013

Podcast confusion and a new feature with iOS 7

I just added my first podcast to my iPhone since upgrading to iOS 7.  Once I subscribed, I noticed that all of my other subscriptions were GONE!

However, I found that all was not lost, podcast-wise.  In iTunes on my Mac, all my podcasts, including the new one I had just subscribed to, were listed.  However, I had to click subscribe to get them to appear again on my iPhone.

Now when you listen to podcasts, your place is kept in iCloud.  Start on your iPhone, stop, switch to listening on your computer, and continue where you left off effortlessly.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

First comments after upgrading to ios7

There are numerous detailed reviews of new features in iOS 7 going over all features - Ars Techinca has a good one.  I'll go over my personal reactions.

The look and feel is very different.  I have an elderly relative that has trouble using technology, but is very successful using iOS 6.  She will not be moving to iOS 7.  The iOS6 skeuomorphism is too helpful and this change would be too abrupt.

Some notes:

  • My notification center view did not include weather data.  I never enabled the weather app to know my location data.  Enabling that enabled weather data in notification center.
  • Albums with no photo now have text words diagonally written as the album cover - name and artist.  I really like that.
  • Videos app:
    • I can now stream movies purchased from iTunes in the Videos app!
    • Still no genres from shared iTunes in my house.  AppleTV gets a genre view (See only Dramas, for example), iPhone does not - just one big scrollable list of images, and no portrait mode for choosing a movie.
  • Radio - my experiences so far have been positive.  I am an iTunes Match user, and have not heard an ad yet, as expected.  It has not yet enticed me to buy music, but I always thought this kind of functionality would be natural for iTunes and Apple.
  • Camera
    • I hated the tiny control used to switch from video camera to camera mode in all older iOS versions.  The "swipe the whole screen" method to switch in iOS 7 is superior!
  • Messages
    • You can see a timestamp for each message if you want to in iOS 7 - drag your messages to the left for a quick look.  The timestamps self-hide when you let go.
  • Auto-app updates:
    • Under Settings, iTunes & App Store, Updates - turn this on and applications automatically update!  Those updates might get a bit delayed for a few days...
  • Compass
    • I found that the compass capabilities of my iPhone were simply not good enough to use reliably under iOS 6.  With iOS 7, the first time I ran the new compass app, the  instructions to calibrate were easy to follow and now the compass seems useful!
More will come as I use iOS 7 further...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

An interesting take on Samsung and the Apple A7 chip in the iPhone 5S

I read an interesting article by Daniel Dilger published by AppleInsider titled After its disastrous Exynos 5 Octa, Samsung may have lost Apple's A7 contract to TSMC.

I see three core arguments in the article about the A7 chip:

  1. Apple's core news is the A7.  Everyone missed it (and even downplayed it once announced)
  2. Samsung has been doing quite poorly in many ways that are being ignored.
  3. Apple is indeed still innovating

I didn't see any coverage of a new chip from Apple ahead of the announcement.  The media seemed to be falling all over itself with how much was already known and how many leaks showed that Apple is utterly failing with secrecy.  If the A7 (or the M7) was an important secret, Apple has been successful with secrecy.  Apple has even gotten the world to mostly look the other way AFTER making announcements!
And, as the media pre-determined what important moves Apple needed to make next (cheap phone for China and the developing world), disclosed ahead of time details about the 5C, and then announced that Apple failed.  But what is Apple doing?  Most media does not know what Apple is trying to accomplish, but zdnet's Jason Hiner proposed an idea.

The idea that Apple might know what it is doing seems against much mainstream media reporting.  

When Apple comes out with a new technology such as the A7, Apple ships tens of millions , and ships for years.  Apple gets value from their engineering work.

Is Samsung doing well or poorly in some ways that are ignored?  In the Samsung mobile profits article is an argument that Samsung is pumping unwanted product into channel inventory.  I did not know and had not heard of the fragmentation within the S4.  I thought that at least within one phone from one manufacturer, they were the same with the same types of components.  even Wikipedia reports that outside the US they use the Exynos 5 Octa CPU, while in the US they use a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600.  They are playing with the Exynos chip, activating all 8 cores instead of having the  4 "big" or 4 "little" cpus active independently.

How do these Samsung technology choices affect consumers?  Are there better CPUs in Android Samsung devices that truly benefit consumers in application performance?  Do they have lower power usage for much longer battery life?

I am confused by Samsung products, and I am trying to understand.  Time will tell if Samsung is actually doing well longer term.

Apple innovation?

Apple is not doing what everyone seems to think it is supposed to be doing.  It is doing things its own way.  
  • The first 64-bit phone CPU
  • The first usable mobile fingerprint security system
  • Continued important improvements to its cameras
  • A separate processor for continuous motion sensor data gathering
  • Software updates to fully integrate the hardware improvements into software usage
It is true that the value of these innovations is not utterly clear.  If history is any indications, folks will buy the 5S by the millions, and the value will be proven over time.  They are great while not clear, and will likely be even greater once the value is unlocked and illustrated over time.

An iPhone 4 can survive water, at least in some cases

An iPhone 4 in my household recently took a trip to the bottom of a thankfully clean toilet.  After it was fished out and the exterior was dried and cleaned, the speakers were not working but the phone otherwise appeared to be working.

Some number of hours later, this event was reported to a responsible party in my household.  After powering down the phone, it was placed in a sealed plastic bag with dry white rice for 36 hours.  The rice was arranged to surround the phone.

After the ordeal, the phone is working fine, including speakers.  Perhaps we were lucky.  All I know is that the phone survived complete submersion in water.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The 2013 macbook air is a win

I mentioned recently that I am secretly relieved when I do not have to pay attention to the intricate detail of specifications, but still know that I am getting what I need and pay for.

The 2013 Macbook Air fits squarely into this area of value.  I have an old Macbook Air and I will upgrade soon.  Why?  Battery life.

When I am out and about, I do not always have a place to plug in even when I have my power supply.  This is more and more of a problem for my work style.  With the new Macbook Air, I will not even bother to bring a power supply except for overnight charging.

In a test, I ran a windows virtual in VMWare Fusion on a new Macbook Air, unplugged from power, for more than 10 hours, using Caffeine to keep the computer from going to sleep.  Wow.  When I run a windows virtual machine on my current laptop, one core stays 100% busy at all times.  On a new Macbook Air?  If the virtual machine is not busy, the CPU usage could be 2-3%.  What a huge change.

On other fronts, it is great:

  • PCIe based flash storage is speedier than ever
  • 1600Mhz RAM - the fastest available - along with a max 8GB of RAM.
  • USB3 ports along side Thunderbolt helping easy expansion when needed.
  • The Intel Haswell CPU keeps things working while sipping power.
Some people have said they will wait for a retina-based macbook air.  I am not yet convinced that the tradeoff between longer battery life and a higher resolution screen is worth it.

More people I work with are switching from other computers, including Macbook Pro computers, to the Macbook Air.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

About the current state of apple stock and hype

I will start by stating that I am not in the least a stock analyst and you should not use anything I am going to say here as financial advice.

So... What is the score?  Apple stock peaked over 700 in September and has been bouncing around.  People are saying that the stock is undervalued.  I would argue that at any given time, stock is right-valued.  It is selling at the price people are willing to pay.

But what do I know as a customer and consumer?
  • As a customer:  I still use and want to use an iPhone and Apple laptop.  I prefer to use Windows as a virtual on a server or my laptop.  I am still happy with my iPhone 5.  I am happy with my Apple TV as well, and kind of want a 2nd one.  I have switched over my home networking to Apple products, and while that has drawbacks (a lack of information about usage) it works more reliably than products I have used in the past.  I am even able to do backups with Apple solutions in a way that works.
  • As a consumer:  Apple stores are packed.  Apple is selling more product than ever overall.
  • Apple customers are in a wait-and-see-what-is-next mode with MANY products.  This is not good for current profits.
I do not think we will see 700 again any time soon.  It will happen after:

  • The new Mac Pro is out for a quarter
  • Haswell comes to Macbook Pro
  • Mavericks is out
  • iOS7 is out
  • new iPhones are out for a quarter
  • the value of the 5S is proven - this may take 6 months after release
  • updated iPads are released
  • a future story for AppleTV is shipping and available for purchase

Thoughts about the iPhone 5C and 5S

Apple just recently announced the iPhone 5C and 5S.

  • The 5C offers changes over the 5 such as:
    • larger battery
    • better front facetime camera
    • plastic cover (not seen as an improvement, but maybe it is ok)
    • $99 base cost with contract ($100 cheaper than iPhone 5 at the start) for 16GB storage
    • $549 base cost for no contract (same as iPhone 5 now) for 16GB storage
  • The 5S offers:
    • a new processor, the A7, the first at 64-bit
    • a first-time co-processor, the M7, to handle motion tracking
    • It also has a fingerprint ID system which can work in place of a password.
    • better front facetime camera
    • Rear camera is improved with larger F-stop and better rich color flash.
    • $199 base cost with contract for 16GB storage
    • $649 base cost for no contract for 16GB storage
  • Both include a free download of a suite of applications previously for a cost of about $40, making the iPhone much more like OS X (with the notable absence of GarageBand).  I'm told that a NEW iPhone 4S and other devices activated as new with iOS7 will also come with the apps for free, but your existing devices do not.
    • iWork: keynote, numbers, pages
    • iLife: iMovie, iPhoto
  • Apple put a lot of effort into making cases to sell with the new phones

I think we know what we get with the 5C.  Time will tell if people like the plastic and if they enable Apple to make any inroads in China or India.  I currently have no facts to lead me to think it will.

The value of the 5S is more uncertain.  Only one application was demonstrated - the game Infinity Blade III.  The rest was "the promise of the future".  The M7 chip may enable new apps using the sensor.   If so, it was not demonstrated.

Apple is much more in a "promise of the future" mode as time goes by:
  • iPhone 5C and 5S announced but not yet available.  The value of the 5S is likely greater than many pundits have suggested, but it is not yet fully known.
  • iOS7 announced long ago and still not available
  • OS X Mavericks announced long ago and no date for release announced
  • Apple TV updates coming but not yet available
  • Mac Pro with thunderbolt 2 -  announced long ago but not available and no date for release announced
  • People are expecting new Mac Pros with Haswell processors, but this is not even getting pre-announced.
This mode is dangerous to current profits, in my opinion.  I am inclined not to buy, but to wait and see. Even the retina displays for laptops... Has the promise won out?  I work with people using these displays and the core value has not been made ultimately clear to me.

Only the Macbook Air is currently in a state of "huge value, buy now" with the long battery life via Haswell processor power (Mavericks is not needed to get very long battery life).