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Microsoft has placed their considerable developmental focus on overcoming the debacle that is Windows 8. There were just too many user interface elements that had issues (or were just simply hated) to clean up via dot-something updates, so Redmond put some lipstick on the pig via the 8.1 update then put all their effort into the next version of Windows (much as they did with Vista/Windows 7).

Even for those that didn’t mind the change to the once-named Metro interface the change was drastic one. The whole version has been a recipe for disaster: toss in reworking just about every aspect of the interface and the schizophrenic nature of apps for a touch interface that don’t necessarily work with the desktop interface to get the most reviled version of Windows since Millennium.

With all these issues in mind Microsoft is attempting to circumvent shocking their user base with features and interface changes that seemed like a good idea in development by employing a large public beta test of the upcoming Windows 10 (for some reason they’ve decided to skip 9, but no word if the final project will be Windows OS X). The beta is available free for those that sign up for the Windows Insider Program; early views of the new version show a compromise between Windows 8’s improved functionality and Windows 7’s beloved user interface. While I’m more than happy to stay comfortably nestled in the world of OSX, there are times that my work tasks would have been easier with an installed version of Windows rather than relying on Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Connection software to log in to a workstation running Windows. My interest in trying out the new technical preview of Windows was extinguished this morning when I read about one of it’s ‘features’.

Apparently Windows 10 is chock full of data loggers, keeping track of how you use the OS to an uncomfortably personal level: information about the user, device category, mail address, interests, browsing and search file history, SMS records, phone calls list, application usage list, preferences, device configuration and so on. While that’s enough to set both privacy advocates and users on edge, some have claimed that the preview even has a keystroke logger.

It’s understandable that a beta of this magnitude needs to report home on crashes, errors, and problems that end users encounter. It could even be argued that some data on user activity is beneficial (provided it was anonymized) to shed light on what features were and weren’t used, and what interface elements were used or avoided. I have a hard time seeing the validity of collecting the depth of information that’s been alleged, though. I guess the old saying about free lunch really is true. Make sure to read that end user agreement page thoroughly- even if it’s free, caveat emptor. 

In spite of my fascination for the concept, I’ve stayed away from crowd funding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter for a while now. After unsatisfactory outcomes from a couple campaigns (underwhelming products or products that just never seem to make it to market) I thought I’d keep my focus on things I could actually have after parting with my hard earned money.

A request for a review has made me reconsider that decision. The product in question is Waves- and at first glance it didn’t seem to be all that enticing. At it’s core Waves is a wireless speaker for any Bluetooth-enabled device; PC, smartphone, tablet, or personal media device. The market is already flooded with Bluetooth speakers, from the inexpensive to the ridiculously pricey, in all manner of shapes and sizes. The Wave seeks to differentiate in a few subtle ways.

First, Wave sports a multicolored light display filtered by a series of diffusers. The light functions in several ways; it can provide ambience to your audio (much as the LED backlight to some high-end TVs do currently), responding to the audio you play or to a preset program. The Wave’s light diffuser works in conjunction with your social media accounts as well, reflecting the ‘mood’ of your friends list or feeds. The diffusers are user-customizable, and can easily be fashioned into whatever shape pleases you. The Kickstarter page shows some of the clever suggestions the development team has come up with, and suggests that the user community will have more.

wave diffuser

The device is both desktop-ready and wall mountable, easily placed regardless of where you’d like to enjoy it. Lastly, the Wave is a collaborative device- it will partner with other Wave devices nearby to coordinate their light and audio outputs.

The last feature is what really caught my attention. There are plenty of Bluetooth (and AirPlay) audio solutions out there, I haven’t seen a hive-like device like the Wave. It may not be the perfect device for everyone, but it does offer utility that nothing else I’ve seen does, making it a worthy accessory for the right situations. The Kickstarter campaign references using multiple Wave devices at a wedding reception for both audio and light show entertainment; not only does every table have it’s own speaker for music the entire guest list is assured to hear the best man’s speech and other well wishers that use a microphone connected to the Wave’s Bluetooth network. Parties, large meetings, seminars, and other get togethers could easily benefit from creative uses of the Wave’s abilities.

The device is controlled via just about any device; smartphone, tablet, or PC; and while I haven’t had any hands-on evaluation time (it IS still in the fundraising stage, after all) it does make for an intriguing device. The level of support to get a first-gen Wave is the same (or less!) than may other existing Bluetooth speakers, so if it piques your interest as it has mine please consider backing the project. There are just over 2 weeks left in the campaign, and every backer helps the creators that much closer to bringing the Wave to market.

Life with the iPhone 6

Being an adult has a nasty way of consuming all your available time (and wringing out more from you than you thought existed) but now that most of the furor over the latest models of Apple’s iconic handset had died down, I’m ready to share my experience to date.

The purchasing experience was far easier for me than for many out there. While I was very much looking forward to having a new smartphone to replace my 5c, I wasn’t about to stand in a queue hoping my local Apple Store hadn’t sold out of the model and capacity I wanted. I didn’t stay up late to be first to preorder, either- I logged in after I woke up that morning, chose my model, and that was that- no website crashes or slowdowns. Sometimes fate is kind.

I chose the iPhone 6 over the 6 plus; I’ve never been a fan of the phablet form, and the pockets of my work scrubs are hardly spacious. While I did get a chance last week to get my hands on one in the Apple Store and was surprised to find that it wasn’t as unwieldy as I had thought, I definitely made the right decision. The 6 has been just about perfect form-wise; my aging eyes appreciate the additional screen space, and I love the rounded corners and featherweight (yet still with a comfortable amount of heft) chassis. I learned my lesson a while back and have put a case on my iPhone, but opted for as slim a case as I could find (Best Buy had a surprisingly small selection, and the Apple Store even less). While they didn’t increase the RAM (still just 1 gig) Apple did up the storage capacity ranges. The 5c I traded in was a 16 gig model that fit my needs adequately aided by my transition to iTunes Match (having remote access to my entire library plus the ready access to unlimited streaming put a big dent in my storage needs) but the jump from 16 to 64 gig for $100 more was too tempting to pass up.

The phone is the embodiment of what a smartphone should be- blazingly fast, beautifully rendered display, with controls that are simple to the point of elegance without impairing the user experience. After using it for a week I marveled to myself how I ever lived without Touch ID; it’s been the one major upgrade from previous models I’ve used the most. The four digit code for security was such an annoyance to use I just deactivated it. Now the only thing stopping me from almost instantaneous secure access is the latex-free gloves I wear for some diagnostic procedures.

Once I acclimated to the physical form and Touch ID, the day to day use of the 6 wasn’t that jarringly different from my 5c. Faster, smoother, and better looking, but iOS 8 provides the same basic experience on all devices that can run it. On the whole the OS update has been a welcome one, but one that I’ll defer to better judges to describe.

While I have no concrete evidence to back up the claim, the iPhone 6 seems to perform better with peripherals. It syncs to my car’s bluetooth far better than my 5c did (which routinely required manually pairing), pushes sound to my bluetooth headphones with no dropouts or lost connections, handles my employer’s (very bad) public wifi far better, and seems to make the most of limited cellular signals. I’ve had it long enough for the excitement of having a new gadget to have ceased interfering with my honest evaluation, and this version of the iPhone is well deserving of the record-breaking sales it’s racked up to date.

Had I wanted to limit myself to a single iOS device instead of both an iPhone and an iPad the 6 plus would have been an easy choice. I do like the additional screen interface options the larger screen provides, and it would have been considerably less expensive to buy one instead of two devices.  The upcoming Apple Watch will undoubtedly make life with a mega sized phone easier through its smaller and more accessible paired screen, as well. That being said, I have no regrets; the 6 was definitely the right choice for me.

So the real question- should you get one? If you’re sporting a 5, 5C, or earlier model iPhone ABSOLUTELY. The additional functionality and power make it worthwhile even without the additional utility when Apple Pay and the expansion of functionality that OSX Yosemite will provide. If you have an iPhone 5s or are still under contract I’d advise you to wait unless you have cash burning a hole in your wallet. The larger screen and Apple Pay would really be the main difference, and for most the additional expense wouldn’t be warranted. If you’re considering picking up an Apple Watch early next year bear in mind it will provide Apple Pay functionality as well. If you do upgrade be aware that the process is slowly changing- at one time you signed a new contract and picked the subsidized phone you coveted, and that was that. Now just about every cell provider will provide you a cost savings to your monthly coverage if your phone is paid for out-of-pocket (and provide a payment plan that’s added to your monthly bill if you don’t want to pay upfront), so if you’re someone who takes good care of your devices and don’t upgrade often it might behoove you to go that route. If you’re willing to change providers some will even pay your termination fee with your existing provider and offer you a price break for trading in your current phone.

New gadgets are always fun, but this one has been more than just fun- it’s been noticeably more functional. It’s nice when spoiling yourself pays such dividends.

As stated many times by many people, Apple isn’t just a hardware company; they are artisans. There are numerous ways their products stand out from competitors, from the engineering of the Magsafe power adaptors to the attention paid to graphic design of such simple things as screen icons. They strive to not only make a high-end product, they provide a certain special cleverness to aspects that one just wouldn’t expect. 

That being said, even the best miss on some things. Sometimes it’s a big deal, like the antenna placement on the iPhone 4 (and the deserved blasting Steve Jobs got for the ‘you’re holding it wrong’ defense). Sometimes, as in the case of my iMacs, it’s something small yet annoying. 

I’m writing this post via my second iMac. Both it and its predecessor are great all-in-one desktops; slim, powerful, uncluttered, and more than capable of doing anything I’d ask a desktop PC to do (including gaming). I’ve loved the almost cordless experience they provide as compared to the self-made gaming PCs I’ve built. While I’d happily recommend an iMac to anyone looking for a desktop, there is one significant design flaw- the location of the USB ports. 

My 2010 iMac seemed to be a razor thin machine when I first picked it up. After my covetousness of the new 27 inch models became to great to ignore I happily upgraded to the even-thinner model and have been more than pleased with the results. Yet both sport the same curious design choice of sporting all ports on the lower rear panel of the monitor. While they aren’t completely unreachable, anyone that’s tried to plug in a USB cord without seeing the port can attest to how maddening this can be. The iMac’s aluminum unibody is super durable, but it makes the ports a bit harder to access when blindly fumbling, and even moreso when you finally realize you have the USB jack backwards (where oh where is that reversible USB cable Apple filed a patent for?)

Unlike the ethernet and Thunderbolt ports, USB was made for hot swapping. The iMac only has four ports, so if you have multiple accessories it makes switching cables a necessity if you haven’t sprung for a USB hub (and even then it may not be the best option as unpowered hubs may not charge your various devices). Furthermore, adding a hub breaks the clean aesthetic of the iMac as well- I know, First World Problem; but it bothers me. 

So after fiddling with a Lightning cable for the umpteenth time I decided to see there was a palatable solution. My search didn’t take long, as Bluelounge had exactly what I was looking for. While they have many intriguing products (in particular their Soba line of cord and cable management) the simple yet elegant Jimi was exactly what I was looking for. 

The device is simply a USB port extender, but in the spirit of Apple’s engineering it answers the problem of the out-of-sight placement of those iMac ports in an elegant way. The device plugs into the port, with the other end of the extender clipping to the bottom edge of the iMac providing a secure and fully-powered front-facing port. The device is very low profile from the front of the iMac, with little more than the USB port visible. 

JM_desc_07

 

The handy device is compatible with both 21 and 27 inch variants of the most recent iMac (older iMacs sadly are too thick), and several can be used together if more than one front-facing port is needed (the smaller iMac can support one in each USB port, the larger iMac in three of the four). It has made swapping between my Lighting cable and the specialized cable for my iPod Shuffle so much easier. While the iMac’s thinness can only be completely appreciated when viewing it from the side, having to turn it every time you need to swap a cable tends to put a damper on my appreciation for the design. 

I’ve admitted before I’m a sucker for something clever, and the Jimi definitely fits the description. It’s a fine example of a product that tends to be scorned for being so simple, yet to date no one else seems to have thought of anything else like it.

Just about anyone that’s used an iPhone has run afoul of its autocorrect- that well-meaning yet often inexplicably wrong means of dealing with the inevitable typos brought on by touch screen typing. Add in dictating via Siri and you’ve got a potential disaster or hilarity just a send button away. 

Sharing that embarrassing humor makes it a bit more tolerable- check out one of the best collections of autocorrect humor at Damn You Autocorrect.  From unintentional corrections to the joys of dealing with parental technology use, it makes for a great time waster. 

Oh, it’s that blessed time again- the beginning of (real, not kickball) football season. That wonderful end of summer where the sweltering heat of August almost imperceptibly shifts to the cooler air of September, heralding the return of America’s greatest sport.
The actual NFL season doesn’t begin for a couple more weeks, but the preseason is in full swing. Unlike some fans, I enjoy the preseason- seeing how vaunted draft picks play around a higher level of competition, what unheralded free agents or lower draft picks become gems, and a general indication of the condition of my favorite team. Due to my longtime cord cutter status I lack some of the outlets I used to rely on- ESPN and the NFL network in particular. I get good digital reception via antenna for local broadcasts of my hometown’s team, but I do like watching more than what the local channels have approval to bring me.
The internet provides some relief; my various feeds and some official websites provide some video and information, but it’s not quite the same. In a quest to get more content than the NFL Now app on my Apple TV can provide I opted for the NFL’s Preseason app in the iTunes App Store. The $20 subscription fee allows you to watch streaming of all preseason games- most live, some blackout (i.e. carried by ESPN) are watchable the next day. Games you’ve missed are readily available in two forms- the complete game as it aired, and a ‘compressed’ game with all breaks, huddle time, and other downtime removed leaving just the action (reducing the watching time to about 1/4 of the broadcast time).
The service has been remarkably good. Video quality is as good as I’ve seen via a streaming service (especially one covering a live sporting even with plenty of motion, hampering video compression efforts) and the app is well made, allowing easy switching between games and providing up to the date scores and warnings of when a team has reached scoring position (Red Zone alerts). The ability to check out older games after they’ve finished has been more enjoyable than I had originally thought it would be; should a game I missed be the topic of discussion at work or on sports radio I can easily catch up on what I missed in its entirety, no programming of a DVR needed. The only caveat has been that the NFL has apparently locked down AirPlay; I can’t push content from my iPad to my Apple TV for a better (larger screen and better sound) experience. 

All this brings me to one inescapable conclusion- the cord cutter’s dream is not only possible, it’s easily doable. Live sports can be provided to internet subscribers, losing no quality but gaining quite a bit of functionality. Think of the additional information the NFL (or any other sport) could offer via official viewing portals or apps; up to the minute stats, fantasy league information, and so on. I’d gladly pay for a Season Ticket-style subscription via the same sort of app I’m using for the NFL preseason. I’m unsure if it’s loyalty to traditional media or just money talking (I’m sure traditional outlets like Fox and ESPN can pony up serious cash to keep their monopoly on broadcasting rights of certain games) but it would be a great start for the NFL to expand their NFL Now app to provide all the content the NFL Network does. It chafed me greatly when non-cable or satellite providers lost the ability to watch Monday Night Football when it was absorbed by ESPN. 

Make this happen, sports leagues. We have access to MLB, MBA, and NHL season tickets via the Apple TV. It’s time for the NFL and NCAA to step up as well. I’ve seen that it’s not only possible, it can be outstanding. 

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