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Apple Event, September 2016

Like many, I had been waiting for Apple's September event with eager anticipation. Dubbed the iPhone event it is primarily a platform for the launch of new mobile hardware. Rumour and speculation leading up to the event meant that there was little ground breaking news or product.

There were large parts of the presentation that didn't interest me, but I understand the need to court big partners like Nike and Nintendo, even Niantic, but they did detract, for me, from the product launches.

I've had an iPhone 6 for two years and am seriously considering an upgrade. The last time I was at this point was when I owned an iPhone 4S and had completely skipped the 5 and 5S models. The 6 was a significant change. Larger screen, completely new physical design, a lot faster, Touch ID, Retina display etc. etc. and felt like a real upgrade.

In the iPhone 7 the changes and improvements are more subtle; ongoing refinement of what is already there. There's no doubt significant innovation and development in manufacturing processes, but the product has become mature.

Apple likes to talk about being "courageous" in it's decisions to move away from old technologies and hardware solutions. This time in the iPhone 7 it was the consignment of the 3.5mm headphone jack socket to history. It makes perfect sense as the format of the plug really is ancient technology which has changed little in form or function since the late 1870s. In reality I suspect the move was more about several other factors, namely creating extra space within the enclosure, eliminating one hole in the device in the pursuit of making it more water resistant and the ability to generate even more revenue through the licensing of Lightning connected wired earphones and headphones in addition to increased sales for Apple and Beats branded products.

The bundling of a converter dongle, which is effectively creating space on the inside of the phone and dangling it out of the Lightning port is the least Apple could do for all those who have money already invested in high end audio jack earphones, though it's an inelegant solution. It also means that you cannot listen to music through earphones whilst charging the device, although third parties are already selling even more cumbersome looking dongles to get around this.

Apple did launch a pair of Bluetooth earphones called AirPods which look pretty much like their EarPods but without the cables. Simply from a practicality point, regardless of sound quality, ease of pairing and charging, they need a lanyard or head band. One or both earpieces will be lost within days of purchase, and at £159, that's not a cost that can be easily justified.

Other improvements to the iPhone are as expected. Camera, display, speed and storage. There are also a couple of new colour finishes available, though Apple is already warning that the gloss 'Jet Black' is likely to scuff and scratch easily.

Apple Watch also got a refresh and is now waterproof, within reason. The addition of GPS is nice but I still don't think it fully meets the necessary requirements to be considered a serious sports watch. It is also thicker and heavier than the first generation Apple Watch, but doesn't come close to the size of some of the competition in the specialist sports watch sector.

I was hoping to see a refresh of some of the iPads, in particular the iPad Mini; assuming that we would see a Mini 5 to replace the twelve month old Mini 4, but this didn't happen.

What did happen was an across the board increase in storage capacities on all iOS devices, replacing the ridiculous 16GB entry point with 32GB, and then skipping 64GB in favour of 128GB, topping out with 256GB on some models.

Customers in the UK are also treated to a price increase across all Apple product, due to international exchange rate fluctuations, with most of the media adding "post Brexit" to that statement. 

As yet I'm undecided about ordering an iPhone 7. I want one, but don't need one.  At the time of posting this, there are about eight hours before the preorder process comes online (08:01 UK time).

I think I'll have to sleep on it


Update: Friday 9th. September 2016.

Thank you for your order.

Getting things done (GTD). A matter of discipline.

I wrote the bulk of this almost twelve months ago. Some of it is a little outdated, but most is still relevant and valid. I didn’t and don’t want to merely make it a list of application recommendations, although inevitably there will be some.

 I'd love to be organised. Actually, I suppose I am quite good at keeping on top of most of my commitments and tasks, but inevitably, some tend to slip, or get put off, or simply forgotten.

With this in mind, and never being much of a list maker, I've been looking to technology to help me.

The trouble is, identifying exactly what I want to do and how it will fit in with my life pattern.

As far as the hardware goes I've no problem. I always have my smartphone (iPhone) with me, I have an iPad 2 which is almost always accessible and a desktop Mac at home. Whatever I use in the form of software must be able to work on all of my devices and synchronise automatically as I enter, modify or remove data.

It must be relatively simple to use, as there are many occasions where I need to quickly enter information on my iPhone whilst on the move or talking with a customer.

The last thing I want is to have to trawl through layers and layers of entry screens, only to find a simple touch in the wrong place deletes all that I have entered.

 I started when I bought my first iPhone in 2007. Before that I had used traditional notebooks, calendars and diaries. For many years I had a Filofax, which, when they became popular in the mid 1980's were the height of sophistication and had huge pose factor. I remember using my Filofax in public places and getting the same admiring looks that the iPad got a couple of years ago. (Now, they are so commonplace, hardly anyone notices).

On the first generation iPhone, I used the Calendar app. Of course there were no third party applications available at that time. It worked reasonably well, but data entry was, and still is a little fiddly and slow on the small screen. I found that when I was with a customer, discussing a new project, it was far easier to take notes with a pen and paper, then transfer schedules and timings to my iPhone calendar later.

With the introduction of third party apps through the App Store a wide selection of organisational applications quickly became available. Until this time I had never considered adding photographs and sketches to notes. This was now possible, but not particularly practical, because the first generation of iPhone only had second generation GSM with rather patchy and unreliable Edge connectivity, so any file uploads were painfully slow.

The introduction of the iPhone 3G improved matters significantly, though because I was in the middle of an 18 month contract on my first generation iPhone, I didn't upgrade until the introduction of the iPhone 3GS. This was a phone capable of using the increasingly wide range of organisational apps.

Evernote stood out straight away, but it still didn't meet all of my needs. It was great for quick notes and snapping pictures to attach to the notes. The basic, free (ad supported) account was, and still is enough for me, primarily because it only forms a part of my organisational suite of applications. I've found that there's still no one perfect solution to my needs.

I'm fascinated and somewhat bewildered by people who profess to be GTD experts or gurus. Surely all they are doing is guiding people towards making better, more effective lists. It's easy to make a list, the hard part is the discipline required to work with the list; to keep up to date with entry and action. That's where I fail too often. It's deeply satisfying to create an organised, categorised list of things that need doing; to set targets and reminders. The point where I fall down, is making sure that the tasks are put into action in the order of priority set out in the list. I find myself picking out the easy ones and neglecting the ones that take time and effort. Soon, there is a mountain to be climbed, instead of a gentle uphill walk. 

I find that I've still not settled on the ideal single application, but tend to use a variety of solutions to meet my varied needs. It works for me. Sort of.

I said earlier, that whatever I used had to synchronise with all of my devices, yet I find that the app I am using the most, Thinkbook, from Emiliano Molina at Bitolithic doesn't. It’s an iPad only app. It became popular when it was first launched, with its quirky interface, and I took the time to learn and appreciate it. Sadly there has been minimal development since. The most notable change being a new icon.

 More recently I’ve been experimenting with Awesome Note HD, from BRID on the iPad which has plenty of useful features; there’s even an iPhone equivalent, but development seems to have slowed and syncing data is positively archaic in it’s implementation.

 I am also enjoying using Clear from Realmac Software. It is an excellent note application with a lovely gesture based interface. Although there’s no real depth to it’s functionality it benefits from having both iOS and Mac desktop clients and syncing over iCloud. It is great for taking and organising short notes and priority lists.

 For the future I have been looking at 2Do from Guided Ways Technologies. This has been getting some very good reviews, it is cross platform and syncs over iCloud or Dropbox. It is more expensive than many, but that may not be an issue if it does what I want it to do.

 Last but not least is OmniFocus from The Omni Group. I hear nothing but good reports about OmniFocus, Admittedly some of these have been from bloggers and podcasters with perhaps, a promotional relationship with the company, but there’s no doubt that this is the high end of organisational, task management applications. I’m absolutely sure that it is worth the price Omni charge for it, but that, coupled with the fact that it is probably overkill for my fairly simple needs has meant that I have not tried it, and probably won’t.

My organisational needs are currently fulfilled by a combination of the following applications.

Calendar

Evernote

Clear

Reminders

Notes

ThinkBook

Awesome Note HD

On the Mac, I use BusyCal and Fantastical instead of the Apple Calendar.

I also use Siri to create notes and reminders on my iPhone.

 As I’ve repeated throughout this article, you will find the tools to do what you want to do, even if they are a selection of apps that don’t all work in perfect harmony with each other and on different platforms. The hardest part is developing and maintaining the personal discipline required to run an efficient and functional GTD system.


Losing their Marbles!

In July 2000, I signed up for a Marbles MasterCard, Issued by HFC Bank plc. (Part of HSBC). In the relatively early days of online shopping, it was guaranteed to cover any losses due to fraud. Sure enough, this was proven to be correct; when someone kindly bought several cases of wine, using my card details. I reported the irregular transaction and was immediately credited with the lost amount.

In 2007, the Marbles brand was acquired from HSBC by SAV Credit, a rather anonymous holding company, supported by private equity investors. Subsequently, I believe that the Marbles brand was sold to Aviemore Funding Limited and licensed to Bank of Scotland plc, a member of the Lloyds Banking Group.

Regardless of ownership, everything has been fine, until a couple of weeks ago, when I found myself unable to log in to the online account management page. I called to enquire about this, and was told that there was a known issue and that logins were sporadic, but still possible, if I kept trying.

After several days of not being able to access my account, I rang them again. This time I was asked which web browser I used to access the site. When I said Safari, on a Mac, I was told that access was not possible with any browser other than Microsoft Internet Explorer. At this point, I may have been rude. If I was, then I'm sorry to have taken my frustration out on the customer support representative.

 BUT, REALLY?!  INTERNET EXPLORER?

Microsoft discontinued support for the Mac version in late 2005 and removed the application completely in early 2006.

 Later the same day, I checked the Marbles site to see exactly which browsers were supported. To my horror, things got worse.

Below are the hardware and browser requirements for site access and account management.

 (Copied and pasted directly from the Marbles site and dated 2011). Link here.

 

"What do I need to use the on-line service?

A PC with Windows 95, 98 or NT, an internet connection and a browser, preferably Microsoft Internet Explorer (version 4 or above), or Netscape (version 4 or above)".

 

 Last week, I stopped using my Marbles Mastercard and signed up for a replacement card with a provider firmly based in the 21st. Century.

Training really does make a difference.

During the coldest part of last winter, I witnessed a road accident. I was driving behind a motorcyclist on a very icy day. He was riding carefully and was in the correct position on the road, so that he could see clearly and be seen. Fortunately we were not traveling at any great speed. As we approached a crossroads where a minor road crosses the road we were on, cars in front slowed quite suddenly, as one was turning onto the minor road. The motorcyclist touched his brakes and immediately lost control, sliding across the road, into the path of an oncoming car. I pulled over, onto the pavement, got out and ran over to the scene of the accident. The motorcyclist was stuck underneath his bike, which was wedged under the front of the car. He was not injured, though he was quite shaken. The driver of the car managed to release him quite easily, whilst I phoned the emergency services. I then waited at the scene, ensuring that everyone was okay, until the police arrived.

I was immediately struck by how quickly the police officer assessed the situation, identified what needed to be done and acted in a calm and professional manner to ensure that the road was made safe, that all information was gathered and that the needs of everyone at the scene were addressed.

Out of earshot of the people involved in the accident, he asked me to describe what I had witnessed and then allowed me to leave.

 

About a week later, I was asked by one of my customers to assist her in the purchase of a computer. She'd hardly ever used a computer before, but, through talking with friends, had decided that she wanted an Apple laptop.

I took her to our nearest Currys - PC World, which now has a reasonable selection of Apple hardware. I'm always wary of the staff in stores like this. Usually they have very limited product knowledge and tend to ask highly annoying and irrelevant questions like "Are you looking for something for yourself?", or the more usual "How are you today?".

Consequently, I have a tendency to zig-zag through these stores, dodging the assistants in case I end up saying something that perhaps I shouldn't.

We managed to get to the Apple laptops without being accosted and I was explaining the differences to her, in very simple terms between the MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. A member of staff wandered by, asking if we needed help. I said "no, we're fine thanks" and she didn't bother us any more. Shortly afterwards we were approached by another member of the sales staff. This one was the self appointed Mac expert, keen to impart his worldly wisdom in matters Apple, to anyone who would listen and, more specifically, those who did not want to listen.

He started with the usual, "Are you looking for something for yourself", directed at me and totally ignoring the my customer. I said, politely that we were fine and just looking, and that it was not me but my customer who was interested in a new computer. Perhaps that was my first mistake.

He immediately launched into his favourite subject; what he liked to do on his computer.

"Do you take lots of photos" he asked. "No", my customer said. "I don't have a camera". He launched iPhoto and gave us his " This is so cool, look, you can remove red-eye and everything" presentation. As he occasionally glanced up from what he was doing, he always caught my eye and never once looked at my customer. She reiterated, "I don't take photographs". Unswayed, he suggested that she should buy a digital camera or use her camera phone, because iPhoto was so cool. "You can even email your photos to family and friends or make books of photos, it's just so cool - do you listen to a lot of music?".

By this time, I had stepped back, out of his line of sight. My customer turned to me briefly and asked if he was getting on my nerves - I nodded.

She turned to him and said, "Look, I'm not interested in taking photographs, I don't have a camera, I don't have a camera phone and I don't listen to much music, I just want to look at the internet and send and receive email and maybe write the occasional letter". "Cool", he said, "but you may want to, in the future".

At this point, I stepped in and told him we would continue to look, on our own and call him if we needed further help. He was about to start saying something else, but probably thought better of it and walked away. "Just give me a shout if you need anything" he called across to us as he left.

During the next few minutes I explained to my customer what she needed to know about the range. She didn't need much more than a MacBook or MacBook Air, but liked the look and feel of the 13" MacBook Pro, which she eventually bought, along with a copy of iWork. The salesman was slightly more subdued during the purchase process, though he did try to sell a range of unnecessary accessories and an extended warranty which were politely refused.

What struck me about these two completely different experiences was that the two young men, the policeman and the salesman were, in many ways, quite alike. I would suspect that they were about the same age and that they both had very similar family, social and educational backgrounds; yet the way they dealt with the public in their professional capacities was markedly different.

Is the way they interacted purely down to the way they have been trained? And if so, why did the salesman irritate me so much? Does he irritate every customer in the same way, and if that is the case, are retailers like this missing the point and losing potential business because of it.

Certainly, high street retailers are fighting for survival. With the ever increasing pressure from online retailers with significantly lower overheads it's incredibly difficult for them to compete on price, so they have to ensure that customer experience is absolutely first class, and that means the face to face contact must impress the potential customer. DSG Retail Limited, the owners of Currys - PC World have, in recent months been investing heavily in store upgrades, and, from what I have heard, staff training; yet they still continue to lose trade.

I fully acknowledge that I may not be their typical customer, but if I try my best to avoid the sales staff in stores like these, I'm sure many others do too.

The true cost of Mac OSX 10.7 Lion.

On July 20th 2011, Apple will launch Lion, the latest and probably most significant update to their desktop computer operating system Mac OSX.

Mac OSX 10.7 will introduce a whole host of new technologies and conventions that will be radically different to those in the previous iterations of their Unix underpinned OS.

The gradual convergence of their desktop/laptop and mobile operating systems is going to take a huge step towards being totally integrated. The launch of iCloud, which will replace their current MobileMe service, but add so much more, will be the glue that bonds the various platforms together. A service for storing and synchronizing our data seamlessly between all of our Apple devices.

There’s plenty of information and opinion about the details of these changes available online and I’m not going to go into detail about individual features and specifications. I want to look into the true cost of the upgrade for the average user of Apple computers and mobile devices.

As with all progress, some things have to fall by the wayside to allow for new developments to be implemented. Mac OSX Lion will only work on Intel processor equipped Macs; this means that the earlier generation of PowerPC Macs will not be able to run the new OS. Actually, some of the earlier Intel processors are not supported for installs of Lion.

As the transition between PowerPC and Intel processors in Macs took place, there was a need for Apple to ensure that software written to run on the PowerPC Macs continued to function. This is achieved with Rosetta, a dynamic translation function built into the Mac operating system. It effectively converts applications on the fly, compiled for PowerPC to run on Intel with surprisingly little degradation in performance.

With the launch of Lion, Rosetta is no longer a part of the OS.

Lion will be ground breaking and incredible value for money. At only £20.99 ($29.99 in the US) it’s surely a must have upgrade. But what is the true cost to the average user?

If I download and install Lion from the Mac App Store when it launches, many of the applications I use regularly will not work. Some may say that I shouldn’t still be using legacy software, some of which is almost ten years old, but these apps and utilities have worked perfectly well under OS 10.6 Snow Leopard and are the core applications used in running my business.

I’ve already started to move away from Microsoft Office and invested in iWork, which in itself isn’t a huge cost, although the time spent getting myself up to speed with the doing what I want to do in Pages and Numbers particularly, has a cost which has to be absorbed.

I also use Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign and even, dare I say it, GoLive. I own the original Adobe Creative Suite and have never found it necessary to upgrade. mostly I use Illustrator and Photoshop, but there is no simple upgrade path for just those two apps, because Adobe insist that the Creative Suite is a whole package and can only be upgraded as such. But the original CS, as a package has no official upgrade path either, so I have to buy the whole suite again at a cost of around £1,000, paying for Acrobat, Bridge and Device Central, which I know I will not use. The other option; buying just Illustrator and Photoshop will cost an eye watering £1,276. Even accounting for the probability of finding better deals online, it’s still a significant price to pay.

I also have an old GCC laser printer, an absolute workhorse which is still working, with its original toner cartridge. I print all of my business documents on it. GCC stopped development of drivers for it some years ago and even though there was a period when Apple dropped Appletalk with the introduction of Snow Leopard and I thought it would be rendered useless, I was, however, able to set it up as an IP printer. Hopefully it will still work under Lion, but I’m not sure whether or not the specific driver will function. I do have to consider the possibility that it may be time to buy a more current laser printer. (£150 - £200).

It also seems likely that the Apple Magic Trackpad (£59) will be essential for use with a desktop Mac using Lion. The touch and gesture interface on the iOS devices has completely changed the way we interact with our mobile devices. Lion will make this a far more fundamental part of the way we control our computers and a necessity to have some form of touch input device in addition to the now rather dated mouse. I do have a Magic Mouse which is probably perfectly adequate for touch control, but I hate it as a mouse, its just far too flat and slippery for my fairly large hands. I use a Logitech Performance MX mouse and, except for a few minor issues, I love it.

So, fantastic as Mac OSX Lion is going to be; and I really want to upgrade and experience the latest and greatest that Cupertino has to offer, I really have to weigh up whether I can justify the true cost of the upgrade.

I’m absolutely sure I’m not alone.

I suspect that I will do it anyway.

iPad 2. The UK Launch.

 

It seems only right that, after having owned an iPad 2 for just over a week (since it's UK launch, on Friday 25th March 2011), I should post a short piece to my site from it.

Wednesday and Thursday of the launch week were very warm for mid March in North West England. Temperatures were in the high teens, Celsius. So, I set off to Liverpool on the train, probably a little under dressed for the cold afternoon of standing in line at the Apple Store in Liverpool One that was to follow. Although it was a sunny afternoon, I hadn't considered the cold wind blowing off the River Mersey and funnelling through the streets close to the docks.

I arrived in good time and joined the line at about 12:15pm. I estimated that I was about 50th. in line. As it turned out, I was 38th. Considering the fact that a few people had already been waiting for almost twenty four hours, I didn't think it was too bad.

Staff from the Apple Store spent the whole afternoon amongst the queuing fans, handing out complimentary water, tea and coffee. The warm drinks were certainly very welcome, though as a person on my own, I was a little concerned about taking in too much liquid with at least a five hour wait ahead of me. The line behind me grew pretty quickly and at the time the store reopened for the official 5pm launch, there were probably about 400 people there. A small team of staff also worked their way through the queue from the front, identifying which model of iPad everyone required and handing out reservation tickets.

 


At about 3pm the store closed for business and the staff began erecting a large black curtain across the front of the store, just inside the doors. Outside, there were photographers, journalists and film crews recording the event and interviewing willing fans, happy to share their passion for all things Apple. One of the photographers from the store tried to initiate a Mexican wave, but failed rather miserably as everyone was too concerned with just keeping warm.

Following a 10 second countdown, at exactly 5pm, the large curtain dropped to the floor and the doors opened to a loud cheer.

Each customer was assigned a personal shopper, who lead them through the store, helping with the selection of any accessories, before arriving at an area on the first floor of the store, where the iPads were being issued. They were then taken downstairs again, where payments were taken.

The whole process took less than ten minutes. Considering the volume of customers, the store didn't feel crowded and I certainly didn't feel rushed to purchase and get out.

 

This was my first experience of a product launch at an Apple Store. The atmosphere, anticipation and sense of community were more than compensation for the cold conditions.

When the next iPhone is launched, I will be upgrading.

Will I be getting it on launch day from an Apple Store? Almost certainly.

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