The Paradox of iPhone

There was a time when getting a new iPhone was a simple decision. The only choices you had to make were colour (black or white) and storage size. Everything else was the same.

Today, there's no such thing as "the best iPhone". It doesn't matter which one you choose, you'll have to make a compromise.

For example:

  • iPhone: This is the "normal" one (right now the iPhone 7). It's a fine device, but you'll get a lesser camera and miss out on Portrait Mode and image stabilisation. And personally, I find it too big.
  • iPhone Plus: This one has the latest technology. You get the best camera and everything that comes with it, but you better have big pockets to carry it around. If you want a huge phone you're fine. But if like me, you don't, then compromising on size isn't even an option.
  • iPhone SE: This is the perfect size for me, but there are too many compromises: older camera, older chip, no barometer, lack of features such as 3D Touch, and you're mid-cycle (and who knows if it'll ever be updated).

A few years ago, when I upgraded from the iPhone 5s to the iPhone 6, I wrote an article with my thoughts on this and why I just did not like the size and form factor of the new iPhone. For the first time, I was disappointed with my purchase and seriously considered switching back to the 5s.

I never got used to it.

Also for the first time, I did not upgrade to the iPhone 6s. I just didn't like the size. And I didn't want to go through the mental angst, again, of having to choose between a huge phone or a lesser camera. I only got an iPhone 7 in January this year because I gave my old one to my dad. I would still be carrying my iPhone 6 today otherwise.

Apple used to make these decisions easy.

Now I feel like my 7 year old trying to decide which flavour of ice cream to get. Instead of being a great experience I'm looking forward to, getting a new iPhone has become a stressful experience I dread. Yes, I know how that sounds. It's true though.

What I really want is the latest tech in the size of the SE.

I do not want to have to compromise on the camera or features. And I certainly don't want to spend time analysing different iPhone models to decide which one is the lesser compromise.

I just cannot get the iPhone I want because it doesn't exist.

Every time I think about it I remember The Paradox of Choice. In that book, Barry Schwartz gives an example of buying jeans. It's the same thing with iPhones today. Too many choices.

Next week Apple will announce the new iPhones. The rumour is they'll release the "S" versions of the current ones and a higher end model that some people are calling iPhone Pro or iPhone X or iPhone 8.

Here's hoping that new one brings us back to an easier choice where the only considerations, other than price, are colour and storage size.

I'd love to see an SE sized iPhone with all the latest tech.

But if they keep the same size as the regular iPhone, no matter what decision I make, getting an iPhone will be a compromise. That is not what I expect from Apple.

Ulysses on iPhone and iPad Pro!

Ulysses is awesome. I've used it for years on both my Mac and my iPad and it truly is a great app. The one thing that was missing was an iPhone version so I could do quick edits on the go or write while on a plane or somewhere I didn't have access to either Mac or iPad but inspiration struck. I used Deadulus Touch for that, but it wasn't the same.

Then I got an iPad Pro. And while Ulysses for iPad worked great for the most part I did miss split view and the full keyboard.

Well, the guys have just released the new version and it's universal and updated for the iPad Pro.

Apple results. But will it last?

Apple published its latest financial results last week and they sold even more iPhones than ever before. If you take a moment to consider the numbers it's quite an incredible accomplishment. In the last quarter they sold over 74 million new iPhones.

They don't specify the breakdown of models, but I think it's safe to assume most of them were the latest iPhone 6 and 6 plus. Interestingly, the breakdown was different across markets. In the conference call Tim Cook suggested that the bigger screen 6 plus sold better in the Asian markets.

Remarkable achievement indeed.

But I'd like to suggest that perhaps the amazing interest in the iPhone is not because it's the best possible phone, but because it's the best one out there right now.

Let me explain what I mean.

I'm a geek and I love technology. But I'm not flippant about gadgets. I don't upgrade every time there's a new shiny toy. Hell, I kept my Nikon D700 and have no intention of upgrading my Fujifilm x100s even though the new model looks very cool. But my phone is different. It's the one gadget I get to play with. And because it costs me nothing to upgrade because I hand down my current model, I have always upgraded my iPhone. This is the first time I've regretted it.

I won't say anything about the big one because I don't own one. I can see the appeal for some but it's just not for me. It's the "normal" one the one I currently own and which infuriates me several times a day. Let's see why.

Holding it one handed is awkward. Trying to navigate it with one hand while walking is a recipe for disaster. I've almost dropped it too many times already. Stretching to tap the buttons at the top is infuriating. And that double-tap on the home button hack is the sort of thing we used to make fun of when Samsung did it.

Fitting it in jeans pocket is just bizarre. The iPhone is so big that it keeps moving inward, so I'm now walking around touching my crotch as I move it back into place.

The layout of the buttons is the exact opposite of user friendly. How often do you try to turn the volume up/down and the iPhone switches off? I can't imagine who thought it'd be a good idea to put those to buttons on opposite sides. And then there's the different layout from an iPad.

Running with an iPhone is weird. Granted, this won't affect the majority of people out there, but if you're a runner it's pretty annoying to have a huge phone jumping around.

When the 5s came out I wasn't convinced about the bigger 4 inch screen either.

I had no issues with the 3.5 inch screen of the previous models and it had never occurred to me that I would need a bigger screen. But I quickly got used to it. It didn't fit in my jeans pocket quite as well as the older ones, but I could live with that compromise. But that's the thing. It was a compromise.

I still think the original iPhone size was the perfect size. Here's hoping we see an iPhone 6s Mini in October 2015.

The mess that is media management with Apple devices

Media management across Mac OS X and iOS is a mess.

If you want to find TV Shows on your Mac, you go to iTunes, but on an iPhone or iPad, you go to the Videos app. Podcasts? Also in iTunes on Mac, but in your iPhone they've moved to the Podcasts. Photos? Try explaining the difference between iPhoto on Mac and iPhoto/Photos/Camera on iOS to regular people. Looking for a book? That's easy, you'll find it in iBooks across all your devices. Unless you haven't "moved books from iTunes". Then they'll be in iTunes on your Mac. Well, some of them. Some will be in iBooks depending on where you purchased them from or if they're PDFs.

Hang on... what?

A week ago I was having a coffee with a friend who's not technically savvy. He has been a happy Mac and iPhone user for years, but he's not the type to spend hours figuring out his gadgets and he couldn't care less about things like application preferences and other nerdy stuff like that. He just wants things to work. He is, what most would call, normal. 

Of course, as with most of my non-geek friends, I've become his personal Apple Support assistant, and every time I see him he remembers something geeky he needs help with. Last week he raised an interesting point.

He complained that he just couldn't get his head around where his stuff was at any given time on his Mac and his iPhone.

By stuff he meant media content. Things like music, podcasts, TV shows, movies, books, and photographs.

During the holidays, he downloaded the free content from Apple's 12 Days of Gifts app, and he got confused with where things had ended up. I can't blame him. Even reading the FAQs from the 12 Days app would confuse many people:

Where can I find the gifts I’ve downloaded?
 
On your computer, you can find your music, TV and film content in your iTunes library and books in your iBooks library. On your iOS device, you can find your music in the Music app, your TV episodes and films in the Videos app, and your books in the iBooks app. Apps will appear on your home screen.

That's messy to begin with, but it gets worse once you start digging deeper.

For example, music videos live in iTunes on the Mac, but on iOS they appear in both the Videos and the Music apps. In Videos they're clearly labeled as music videos, but in Music they're just in there with the rest of the songs. In a way, I guess it makes some sense.

However, books are where things start to get really confusing.

Books, like everything else, used to be in iTunes on the Mac, but the latest update to the Mac OS brought iBooks to Mac OS. You'd think all books are now in iBooks and sync across OS X and iOS. That's true for books purchased from the iBookstore (although you might have to tell iBooks to move them over from iTunes), but it doesn't work as seamlessly with books from elsewhere or with PDFs. Those you have to manually add to each device or sync via iTunes which pulls them from iBooks. See? Confusing.

Even worse, audiobooks aren't considered books apparently, or at least are not worthy of iBooks. Audiobooks stay in iTunes on Mac and in iOS will be in the Music app, which just does my head in.

As I was explaining how all this works go my friend, I drew a version of the table above in an attempt to clarify things.

That's when I realised just how broken content management across Apple devices currently is.

Normal people must be really confused. My mom is currently travelling and can't figure out Photo Stream on her iPhone so she keeps sending us photos via Messages.

I believe the right approach is one app for each media type with a Mac and an iOS version and everything kept in sync via iCloud. Audiobooks should be in iBooks. Photos should make sense to users. And you should be able to read purchased magazines full screen on your 27 inch iMac.

The introduction of dedicated apps for iOS makes me think that's the direction Apple is headed. Maybe we're just in transition at the moment. Maybe in the next OS X update we'll see a counterpart for Music, Podcasts, Videos, etc. But what will be the fate of iTunes then? It's an interesting dilemma.

Halfway through my explanation my friend just gave up. Too hard, he said, and changed the subject.

GeoTagr review: iPhone app to geotag your photographs

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UPDATE (24 March 2014): A new version of GeoTagr is out with additional features and full iOS7 support. It's now better than ever. Highly recommended.

Geotagr is an iOS app that continuously records your location while you're out taking photographs and lets you geotag them afterwards.

According to Wikipedia, "geotagging is the process of adding geographical identification metadata to various media such as a geotagged photograph or video." Basically, it means your photographs include the location they were shot at as part of the metadata, which you can read later to find, sort, or just see where exactly you took them.

Photographs taken with the iPhone are geotagged as you shoot them. The iPhone uses its GPS to determine your location and assigns it to photos taken with it's Camera app automatically.

However, the photographs you take with your regular camera are unlikely to include location information. Although growing, the number of non-phone cameras with built-in GPS capabilities is still relatively small, so if you want to geotag photographs from these you need to do it separately using a different device to track your location.

This is where GeoTagr comes in.

GeoTagr uses the GPS in your iPhone or iPad to track your location and then matches it to your photos based on the time stamp.

GeoTagr allows you to geotag photos in your iPhone, iPad, Mac, Dropbox, Flickr and others straight from the app. It doesn't require a separate desktop app to do it, although you can also export a gpx file and import it into Aperture or Lightroom and do the geotagging there.

GeoTagr a universal (iPhone and iPad) app developed by Galarina and sells for US$4.99 in the App Store.

Using GeoTagr in a real situation

So that was the sales pitch, but how well does it work in a real life situation?

That's what I set out to find out. I had used GeoTagr a couple of times around the house to test it and it all worked as expected, but I didn't think it was sufficient to really understand how it works enough to write a review. Fortunately, I had an upcoming road trip to New Zealand, which seemed like the perfect way to test it, so I did just that.

I spent 2 weeks traveling around the north island and I took over 1,200 photographs, which I wanted to geotag. I took only a Panasonic GF1 and an iPhone 4 with me (GeoTagr is optimised for the larger screen of the iPhone 5/s/c, but I only had the 4 at the time).

I didn't get a data plan while in New Zealand, so I turned off both Data Roaming and Cellular Data to avoid any unexpected charges. I could only make calls and text messages. No Internet, so no maps.

There are essentially 3 steps to geotagging with GeoTagr:

  1. Record location
  2. Geotag photos
  3. Import to Aperture (or Lightroom/iPhoto/whatever)

Here's what happened on my trip:

Recording your location

Every morning, before even taking the first photo, I opened GeoTagr on my iPhone and let it track and record my location all day until I returned to the hotel at night.

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Upon startup, GeoTagr shows you a screen with one big red "Record" button and a note reminding you to synchronise the time on your iPhone and camera. This is a very nice and useful touch since it's easy to forget and geotagging won't work if your devices aren't syncronised.

I had my camera in Australian time and my iPhone had already changed to the local time automatically. Fortunately, GeoTagr was smart enough to notice and gave me a handy warning.

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Even with all these warnings I managed to screw it up on the first day. I did change the time on my camera, but foolishly set it as PM instead of AM. Dumb, but it was easy to correct within Aperture. Anyway, moving on.

Tap the "Record" button and GeoTagr will start tracking your location.

I was initially concerned about battery life, but I was pleasantly surprised that it lasted all day. The longest stretch was 18 continuous hours and I still had 12% battery left at the end. Of course, keep in mind that I had roaming and data off, and I only turned on the screen occasionally to take photograph. Under normal circumstances the battery drain is also negligible.

The lack of Internet connection wasn't an issue either. GeoTagr tracks your location constantly and you can see the track and distance, but without data it just doesn't download the maps.

geotagr-review-03.png

No worries. I don't need to see the map of where I am and I'd rather not spend unnecessary money with exhorbitant data charges. I love that GeoTagr works while overseas.

Geotagging the photographs

I didn't geotag the photos until I got back home. You basically have 2 options to geotag: use GeoTagr itself or export a gpx file and use another application, such as Aperture or Lightroom. Neither was doable during my trip.

Using GeoTagr itself, you can geotag:

  1. Photos in your iPad (transferred via the camera connection kit, which I didn't have)
  2. Photos online in Flickr, Smugmug or Google+ (which I didn't use for these photos)
  3. Photos in a folder in Dropbox (which take forever to upload with crappy hotel Wi-Fi)
  4. Photos in a shared folder on your Mac (which need the Mac and iPhone/iPad to be on the same Wi-Fi)

To geotag within Aperture, you need the gpx file on the Mac to be able to import. Unfortunately, the only ways to get it out of GeoTagr are to email it to yourself or sync it to Dropbox, both of which require an Internet connection. So geotagging had to wait until I was back.

I figured the easiest was to download all the photographs to my Mac into a shared folder and do it that way. The tracks were on the iPhone, but I wanted to use the iPad because of the bigger screen. It sounds rather complicated, but it was pretty straightforward and worked flawlesly. The only requirement is that all devices are on the same Wi-Fi.

This is what I did:

  1. I opened GeoTagr on both the iPhone and the iPad. The apps quickly saw each other and linked.
  2. From the iPad, I selected the shared folder on the Mac where my photos were.
  3. GeoTagr automatically finds photos it can geotag and goes ahead and does it. It even creates a copy of each photo as a back up just in case, since it's writing the metadata to the file itself if it's a jpeg.
geotagr-review-ipad-01.png

Importing into Aperture

Once GeoTagr finished, I imported the photos into Aperture. When finished, clicking on Places shows all images on the map.

geotagr-review-aperture.png

Awesome.

I have to admit, it's so much fun looking at photos in Places. I sat down with my family after the trip and went through the photos this way and everyone enjoyed looking at the map and remembering where we were.

One extra thing I did was email myself the full gpx file and import that into Aperture as well. I didn't use it to tag the photos, but just to show the full track. It's fun to see the whole trip. Some days, I took some photos in the morning in the town we woke up, then drove 2 hours, stopped for lunch, took some more photos, drove another hour, took more photos, etc. Having the gpx file shows me a line of everywhere I was.

While Aperture can geotag the photos off the gpx file, it's not that intuitive and in my experience it doesn't always get it right. I find it much easier to geotag with GeoTagr first and then import into Aperture.

Since the location metadata is embedded in the files, any application that can read geolocation will display it. For example, below is one of the photos from the New Zealand trip viewed in Preview. It shows latitude, longitude, altitude and even shows it on a map. Clicking on the "Locate" button opens up the exact location in Apple Maps.

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If you pay attention to the date stamp in the photographs above you'll notice this trip was during the New Zealand winter of 2012. Hence the iPhone 4 screenshots. Since then I've used GeoTagr extensively.  I've become obsessed with geolocation to the point that I adjusted my Aperture workflow to ensure I have location metadata first.

My only complaint about GeoTagr is that the interface hasn't been updated to the look of iOS7. Although honestly this is a nice-to-have. The functionality is there and it already does everything I need.

If you're interested in geotagging your photographs without having to purchase additional hardware, give GeoTagr a try.

WriteRight Review: A writer's text editor

I love writing with the iPad. In fact, right now I'm in the balcony with my iPad, bluetooth keyboard, and a cup of coffee writing this in WriteRight, an iOS text editor I've been using a great deal for a couple of months.

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The App Store has no shortage of writing apps. I should know. I have a bit of an obsession with them and have tried way too many over the years. I don't even want to think about how much I've spent on them.

To my mind, there are 2 types of text editors. First are notes apps, where I keep a lot of small notes like quick thoughts, reference material, lists, and other things I want to have easy access to. I don't do any "real" writing on these. The most important features are quick entry and robust search. Apple's Notes and Simplenote/NVAlt are good examples.

Second, and more important to me, are writing apps. These are where I do long form writing (as opposed to jotting down short notes). For these, the writing experience is key. Things like good organisation features, word count, markdown support, preview, and full-screen mode are crucial. And because I spend so much time in these, the user interface is a big factor. Of course, sync is essential for both types.

WriteRight is unmistakably a writing app.

It has all the features I expect from a writing app, and then some. It's a universal app that looks beautiful in both iPad and iPhone.

WriteRight Features

In using WriteRight, it became clear the developers thought about every feature from the point of view of a long form writer.

Many of the features in WriteRight give you a little bit more, or are slightly different than typical, in a way that favours your writing flow. For example:

  • Easily move through your document: Tap on the margins to move the cursor one character at a time. Long tap to move by word. Swipe up or down with two fingers to instantly go to the start or end of the document. And if it's a long piece, moving your finger along the margins activates fast scrolling.
  • Undo/Redo: Select the arrow icons next to the keyboard or just swipe with one finger. No more shaking the iPad like a caveman.
  • Change font size: You don't actually pick a size, you pinch in or out (like with a photo) to make the text larger or smaller. And it remembers your choice in the previews.
  • Search and Replace: I recently changed the name of a character in a short story and this was a huge time saver. Without it, I would've had to wait until I was back at the desktop or do it manually. Again, like a caveman. You can choose to make search/replace case sensitive, use whole words or even ignore accents.
  • iCloud and Dropbox: iCloud syncs files and folders between iPhone and iPad. With Dropbox, you can import a file and save back to Dropbox, but you can't choose a folder (or series of files) in Dropbox and keep them in sync (see "what's missing" below).
  • Markdown Support: WriteRight is built for Markdown. Like many writing apps, it includes an additional keyboard row with often used Markdown symbols for easy access. But they take it one step further with additional options via clever popups that make fast typing easy and enjoyable with the device's keyboard.

These are fine features that once you get used to them, they're difficult to live without.

However, the biggest value in WriteRight is in the following:

English and Spanish dictionaries

WriteRight includes a vast dictionary in both English and Spanish. The developers are the guys that do Word Magic dictionaries and translation software, so you know they're serious about this.

According to the help file in WriteRight, the dictionary includes:

  • In English: 345,000+ meanings, 275,000+ unique words and phrases, 1,708,000+ synonyms, 358,000+ antonyms, 165,000+ phrasals (verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs)

  • In Spanish: 282,000+ meanings, 242,000+ unique words and phrases, 1,280,000+ synonyms, 441,000+ antonyms, 148,000+ phrasals (verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs)

And they keep adding more. The latest update added 68,000+ new English words, 560,000+ new English synonyms, 29,000+ new Spanish words and 320,000+ new Spanish synonyms.

Linguistic Tools: Synonyms, Antonyms and Phraseology

Selecting a single word gives you synonyms, antonyms and of course, definitions. I don't know about you, but when I write on the Mac I keep the Dictionary open and I often command-tab back and forth to use the thesarous. With WriteRight, I have it right there in the iPad as well.

The best feature though, is phrase or expression change recommendations. Tapping on the cog icon activates it and little blue cogs appear throughout your text to indicate WriteRight has an alternative available. Tapping on these shows you the suggestions.

You can just tap on one and it'll replace your word or phrase with the selected one. What I found even more impressive is that WriteRight will recognise conjugated words, tense, person, and gender, and replace accordingly.

Previews

When you want to see your document in it's final stage, you can preview it with Markdown rendered. But WriteRight has three different preview options:

  • Continuous: Shows you your document in one long continuous page formatted with Helvetica Neue. This is what most other text editors do.
  • US Letter and A4: Shows you your document in actual pages (either the standard US Letter or the European A4) with page numbers using Georgia in size 12.
  • Manuscript L and A4: Shows you your document in pages using Times New Roman in size 12 with a spacing of 1.5 and margins studied to contain between 1800 and 2000 characters per page.

Export

The export options are comprehensive:

  • Copy: Text, Text with format, HTML Code, link to share documents in iCloud or Dropbox.
  • Send by mail: Text, Text with format, Attach Text, Attach HTML, Attach PDF, link to share (iCloud or Dropbox).
  • Printing document: Text, Text with format, selection of number of pages to print.
  • Open with: Any text editor that accepts .TXT and .MD formats.

What's missing

I really like WriteRight. However, there are a few things that are missing:

  • Dropbox sync: WriteRight can access your Dropbox account and import a file. It'll create a local copy which it'll save back to Dropbox when it has Internet connection. However, it doesn't really sync. You can't, for example, choose a folder to sync where WriteRight keeps a copy of all files locally. It's only one file at a time.
  • Font options: I'm a typography nerd. I'd like to be able to pick a different font for writing. Menlo is good, but it would be awesome if I could import my own like Daedalus Touch.
  • Text Expander support: Personally, I don't mind this one. I use Text Expander in notes apps, but not for creative writing. But I know many people need it.
  • Mac App: Full sync via iCloud with a WriteRight for Mac would be awesome. Currently, I use Ulysses III on the Mac for almost everything. The files I want to edit in WriteRight are saved in Dropbox and pulled from there.

For me, Dropbox sync is the big one. I'd love to keep a folder in sync between Ulysses III (or Scrivener) and WriteRight without relying on an Internet connection. I write a lot in coffee shops and when travelling and having access to all my text files is necessary.

The good news is the developer is aware of this and has told me they're working on it and should have full Dropbox sync in an update soon.

Conclusion

WriteRight is, as I said, a writer's app. The linguistics features are impressive and the fact that it's built for both English and Spanish is big for me since I write in both languages a lot. I'm a fan and it's earned a spot in my iPad home screen.

If you do a lot of creative writing you should check WriteRight out (website/App Store). It's available for iPhone and iPad and only US$2.99.

It might be the text editor you're looking for.

Week 52: Chicago (typeface), VSCO Cam presets, and Aperture tip

Apple's Chicago Typeface

Remember Chicago? The typeface used by Apple during the 80's and 90's as the main user interface font?

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If you're feeling a bit of nostalgia, there's a fairly easy way to get it onto your brand new Mac and ready to roll under Mavericks. It involves downloading a copy of Apple's System 7 from the Apple website and doing a bit of fiddling with Disk Utility. There are step by step instructions over at Stack Exchange.

New presets for VSCO Cam

VSCO Cam, my favourite photography iPhone app, released a brand new set of presets. At first, I couldn't see them. If the same happens to you, I found that just pulling down to refresh will do the trick.

VSCO Cam was also chosen as the best photo editing app over at The Sweet Setup. It's a great article.

By the way, if you get a connection error when downloading a bundle in VSCO Cam, here's how I got around it.

Quick tip to speed up Aperture

This week I updated my last Aperture library to the latest version. While doing so, I revisited the Preferences and found an option in the Previews section that I don't remember seeing before. It says "Share XML with other applications" and you can set it to Always, When quitting Aperture, or Never.

Apple Aperture preferencesthis support Article that explains it.

Basically, in Aperture 3.5 the way previews are shared has changed. Now they're always available to Apple's apps (iMovie, Safari, Mail, etc.) but for third-party apps to see them you need to share this XML. However, the article states:

If you do not use Aperture media in any third-party applications, setting XML sharing to "Never" in existing libraries is best. This eliminates the need for Aperture to write periodically to an XML file which can cause a spinning wait cursor to appear as you work, or when you quit Aperture.

So set "Share XML with other applications" to "Never" for "better performance and faster quit times".

Fresh iOS install and apps without sync

The only gadget I own that I upgrade regularly is the iPhone, and every time I get a new one I do a fresh install.

There are three reasons why I do this instead of just restoring from a backup:

  1. Culling Old Apps. I'm a shiny-new-app junkie and like trying out new ones all the time. I often download more apps than I have the time to check out, so eventually my iPhone becomes a graveyard of apps I never properly tested or that just didn't stick and I don't use anymore. My yearly fresh install gives me a chance to check them out and only re-download the ones I use. With the iPhone 5s I went from over 300 apps installed to under 80.
  2. Being a new user. By installing the phone I get to experience what a new user goes through when they set up their iPhone for the first time. I like to see what's changed and I'm amazed how much easier it is every time. I also like to go through all the settings and set them again.
  3. It's just fun (to me). I'm from the generation that got into the habit of regularly doing a nuke and pave on our computers to "remove cruft". I guess old habits die hard, but even on the Mac, I still do this with every new OS. I know it's no longer necessary, but for some reason I actually enjoy the process. It feels good to have a fresh start once in a while.

I still use iCloud backup, but to me it's just a backup and nothing more. Meaning it's there in case something goes wrong. I've only restored from iCloud once when I had an iPhone replaced after I smashed the liquid inside the display. But for a new device with a new iOS, I do a fresh install.

In previous years, doing a fresh install of iOS required more manual work than it does today. Hardly any apps synced or stored data in the cloud. Most kept everything local and iTunes was the the only way to back up the data. So with a fresh install you either lost data in some apps or had to manually restore the data files via iTunes.

Last year I noticed that a lot of the apps I use most often sync to the cloud via iCloud, Dropbox or their own servers, which made the fresh install so much easier.

This time, I expected most, if not all, apps to have some sort of cloud component that would allow me to re-download my data without any fuss. It was especially important now since I no longer connect my iPhone to iTunes.

Turns out I was right, almost. Out of almost 80 apps, only 6 stored the user data exclusively on the device, and one offered sync and backup to the cloud but via a paid yearly subscription. I should note that I didn't check games. That's just not important to me, but it may be for you.

Here's what I found:

  • Sleep Cycle: Data is stored locally. If you want cloud back up and sync you need to pay $10 per year. This also gives you web access with more graphs and detailed data, but since I don't care for that it seems pretty steep and not really worth it.
  • Goal Streaks: I've tried pretty much every goal setting/habit forming app out there and Goal Streaks is my favourite. Unfortunately it has no sync or backup, which is weird since it's a universal app. With no sync the iPad version is effectively useless to me.
  • Frameographer: A beautiful app for creating time-lapse videos. You can keep projects in progress in the app, but no cloud back up. All I could do is finish them up and export the final videos.
  • Collect: I use this app daily to manage a "photo a day" or 365 project. This one is the one that really annoyed me that it didn't sync. And even more maddening is the fact that they advertise this: "Protected with iCloud Backup. Photos and data backed up securely when connected to iCloud backup service." Which means it does exactly nothing. It's just backed up in iCloud as everything else on the phone. This is not a feature of the app and I'd suggest is borders on false advertising.
  • VSCO Cam: My favourite photography app. You can upload your photographs to the vsco grid or save them to the camera roll, so you don't loose your finished work. But VSCO Cam has its own photo library that I would've liked to migrate across. Not a huge deal in this case.
  • Figure: The only ways to back up and restore your songs is via iTunes or by emailing each one to yourself and then opening them up again. iTunes is a no go (who syncs with iTunes these days anyway?), and the email is just too much work.
  • Voice Memos: This one surprised me. Apple's own built-in app doesn't sync with iCloud. Really?

Of all the apps I truly like and use often, these were the only ones that caused some friction while installing iOS 7 from scratch. For some, the experience has motivated me to go looking for alternatives and I'm considering a few at the moment.

To be clear, I'm not specifically looking for sync as it doesn't make sense for some apps. What I want is a way to export and import the user data. Some do that inherently because they sync with desktop or web applications (e.g. Day One, OmniFocus, Byword), or are pulling from a feed (e.g. Reeder, Pocket, Twitter), so the master database is in the cloud. But for the ones that don't need to sync, or shouldn't, it would be great if they'd allow me to export all my data and re-import it again later. Figure could've added an option to save all files to Dropbox or at least email myself the whole database instead of one song at a time.

I bet by next year any app that doesn't back up it's data in the cloud, has a sync service, or export/import option will be left behind. I now look for that as a feature in any new apps.

The hidden "game" in the Compass app of iOS 7

Yesterday I was listening to the Mac Geek Gab podcast episode 469 and Dave Hamilton mentioned a hidden feature in the Compass app that comes built into iOS 7 on the iPhone.

The feature is effetively a levels app. After calibrating the Compass by rolling a little ball around, just flick right to a second screen to access it.

Dave threw out the challenge to get a screenshot of the compass at exactly 0 degrees when it turns green. Well, in a few minutes of boredom yesterday I decided to give it a go.

It took multiple tries to get it at exactly zero with the full green tint. The moment you press the buttons to take the screenshot you naturally move, so it's not easy to get it, but after a few tries I managed to get it:

iPhone Compass app in iOS 7

Yes, it's a bit silly to try and catch the green 0 degrees. But the actual feature is useful if you ever need to ensure something isn't at a slant.

To close off, here are a few tries:

iPhone Compass app in iOS 7

Reeder 2 is live!

Reeder 2 app for iPhone and iPad

Today is a good day. Reeder, my favourite RSS reader has been updated and is now available in the App Store as a brand new app called, appropriatly, Reeder 2. This time around, it's a universal app that looks beautiful in both the iPhone and the iPad.

Back in June when Google shut down Google Reader, I wrote about my temporary RSS setup and lamented that I had to stop using Reeder. Fortunately, a few weeks after that, sync with Text Wrangler as added to Reeder for iPhone and I switched back.

After almost 2 months, I missed the IFTTT integration that I had with Google Reader and switched to Feedly as the RSS sync service, and continued to use Reeder for iPhone (I actually had both Feedly and Feed Wrangler syncing with Reeder).

But I still missed Reeder for iPad.

I never deleted the app from my iPad and actually stopped reading RSS on the iPad altogether. That's how much I liked Reeder. All my RSS reading since has been on the iPhone using Reeder for iPhone.

Today, thanks to Reeder 2, I'm happily back to having one of my favourite apps on both devices again.

And before you start whinging that it's a new app and not a free update to a $4 (or whatever it cost) app you bought 2 years ago, stop. Don't be a dick and pay for good software. Especially if you use it every day. I've already heard a few complaints and read a few people moaining in Twitter.

I purchased Reeder for iPad in October 2010 and Reeder for iPhone before that (I can't find the receipt for that one). I'm pretty sure I paid less than $10 for both back then. I think I've gotten pretty good value out of my 10 bucks over the last 3 years.

I can't believe I'm trying to rationalise this for the whingers.

Anyway, Reeder 2 is out and that makes me happy. Federico Viticci at Macstories has a great review up already. Go check Reeder 2 out now and support the developers that build the software you love.

TrailMix Pro Review - Run to your beat

Those of you who've been hanging around in this corner of the Internet know that in addition to being somewhat of a geek, I'm also a runner. As such, I'm always excited to check out new tech toys that combine these two passions. One such thing is an iPhone app called TrailMix Pro.

TrailMix Pro Review - iPhone app Screens

What is TrailMix Pro?

First and foremost, TrailMix Pro is a clever running app that automatically changes the beat of the song you're listening to so it matches your pace.

If you run faster, the song will speed up; if you run slower, the song will slow down, without changing the pitch.

I'll confess that at first I thought it was a bit gimmicky, but in practice I found it to be surprisingly useful and a lot of fun.

Running to the beat of music

The idea of running to music that matches your pace isn't new to me. I even started a website about it! In fact, a couple of years ago I went through the process of adding beats-per-minute (BPM) metadata to all songs in my iTunes library using a software called beaTunes. Now I just create smart playlists with different tempos and use the appropriate one depending on how fast I want to run. It's awesome; but it's also a pain to have to add the BPM metadata to new songs.

TrailMix Pro solves this problem, as it figures out the BPM automatically. And the fact that it can change the tempo of a song as you run is pretty cool.

This live-tempo-changing turned out to be a killer feature for me. You see, unless you run shortish distances on a completely flat surface, you're likely not going to maintain the same pace for the entire run. Hills, for example, naturally slow you down. On long runs, you'll get tired towards the end. Having the music match your pace automatically is brilliant.

Of course, you can also set a specific pace and TrailMix Pro will adapt the tempo of all songs to match. They call this Cruise Control.

Oh, and it's also a pedometer.

How does it work?

TrailMix Pro uses the accelerometer in the iPhone to detect your motion as you run or walk. It then analyses the information and uses it to determine your pace and to count your steps. And since it knows which track is playing, it simultaneously finds the BPM of the song.

So now TrailMix Pro knows your steps-per-minute and the beats-per-minute of the song you're listening to. With these, all it needs to do is calculate the difference between them and make the song faster or slower to match your pace. Pretty clever, I think.

TrailMix Pro in actual use

OK, so how good is it in practice? Well, I think it's pretty obvious by now, but I think it's pretty cool.

The process couldn't be easier. Put in your earbuds, fire up the app, pick a playlist, tap on the Magic Shuffle button, and start running.

That's exactly what I did on my first run with TrailMix Pro. I was thinking about writing this review and wanted to see how easy it was to get the hang of it. At first, it was a bit weird. The first song was from Pitbull (don't judge, I like it only for running) and because I was walking slowly it plllaayyyeed veeerryyyy sllooooowwlllyyyyy. Pretty funny for an upbeat song. But as soon as I started running the tempo picked up and amazingly matched my footsteps exactly.

As I went about the run, the music kept up with my pace. It was great. When I got to the hills and slowed down, so did the song. My feet kept hitting the floor in sync with the beat.

For my next run, I decided to set the pace myself using Cruise Control and try to keep up. I went on the exact same route as the previous run and did maintain a higher pace. I'm already thinking about a training plan using both Cruise Control and normal modes.

After using TrailMix Pro for several weeks, I've realised it pays to create playlists specifically for running. For example, avoid slow songs and songs with no bass. These sound weird. In one fairly fast run, the track changed from Pendulum to Nearness of You, by Norah Jones. Trust me, no matter how much you speed up Norah Jones, it's impossible to get it to match your beat.

By the way, if you use Runkeeper (or similar) and, like me, get a nervous twitch at the mere thought of loosing your stats, you're in luck. You can use both apps concurrently without a problem. Just don't play any music through Runkeeper and you're good.

TrailMix Pro Review iPhone app screens

Conclusion

TrailMix Pro was a pleasant surprise. Honestly, my only complaint is the interface. The design has a lot of room for improvement, but it works fine and is intuitive enough. My real issue is this whole sharing on social media push that many apps do. It drives me crazy.

When you finish a run, you get a screen with useful stats (steps taken, time spent, average pace), and a big ass "Tell Your Friends!" message with huge Facebook and Twitter buttons. OK if you like that, but I find it really annoying.

That's a minor gripe though. The truth is that I found TrailMix Pro useful and enjoyable. It makes it exceptionally easy to match your music to your beat.

I've kept using it and I know I will continue to do so.

VSCO Cam for iPhone (and fix the download error)

vsco-cam-iphone-app.png

Visual Supply Co. (VSCO) develop VSCO Cam, which has quickly become my favourite photography app for iPhone. I have it permanently on my homescreen and use it for 90% of photos I take with the iPhone now.

VSCO Cam replaced a previous app by the same company called VSCOCam (yep, without the space), which I onwned and really liked. When I say replaced, I mean exaclty that. The previous version is no longer available or supported.

While the previous one was a paid app (from memory it was US$.99), the new one is free with in-app purchases. If you own the old one and have it installed, you get a bunch of paid filters for free when you download the new one. This is a nice touch from VSCO.

But the new filters are even better than the old ones. I purchased the full pack of filters and I'll be spending some quality time with them. So far, I really like it.

One thing I noticed when I bought the filter pack is that it kept giving me an error in the middle of the download. The error message said only "There was a connection error" and all I could do was start the download again. I tried multiple times and always got the same error.

Frustrated, I tried again and watched the phone through the download instead of just letting it do it's thing. That's when I realised the download took so long that the screen went dark and the iPhone locked.

If you purchase the full filter pack, it's about 108MB and I assume the app can't download in the background.

vsco-cam-connection-error.png

So, to fix the VSCO Cam download error issue, just go to the Settings app, then General > Auto-Lock and set it to Never. Then start the download again. It'll take a while, but it'll finish fine.

Once it finishes, remember to go back and set the Auto-Lock to whatever you had before.