Let’s face it- we’ve been spoiled by empowerment. I can personally attest to the fact that my attention span is measured in seconds rather than minutes now thanks to the wealth of distraction my iOS devices afford me. Stuck in an elevator for a minute? No worries- check Facebook. Got to work a bit early? Hey- why not clean out your inbox? Downtime during lunch? Time to tear through a few more pages of Game of Thrones in iBooks. This doesn’t even touch on the siren song of gaming, other social media, the various forms of chat (including iMessage), all of the various forms of video entertainment, and so on. With Reddit alone I could probably waste a good portion of every day.

All of this ready entertainment/infotainment is heady stuff- even when I don’t really have the time to spare I’ve found ways of wringing a few moments out of a down time to shift back into an electronic world that is so much more engaging that the real one typically is. There’s the rub: when does this desire to communicate and be entertained run afoul of proper etiquette. I’m not one to criticize others for checking their phone while eating or during a social outing; I’m all too guilty of it myself. Like most ventures, it only strikes me as truly objectionable when it begins to infringe on others.

That’s not to say favoring your device over the actual humans around you isn’t rude. It’s no different from ignoring someone completely to converse with another. No, it’s not rudeness that drives me into a pseudo-murderous rage, it’s the rampant self-indulgence of personal electronics use that interferes with those around you.

Case in point: at a recent concert smartphone use was more than rampant, at times it was almost as blinding as the spotlights of the stage. The offenses were various; social networking, texting, gaming (if Words With Friends is more interesting than the concert maybe you should have reconsidered that ticket purchase), and the most egregious offense of all, piracy. Perhaps I’m just showing my age, but isn’t it both incredibly disrespectful AND overoptimistic of the capabilities of your handset to try to record video of a concert? The sound would be utterly distorted, the shaky video practically unwatchable, but the disregard for the performer would remain intact.

I understand the need to relay information and communicate at times with others. Maybe you were trying to meet up with friends. Maybe a teenager was checking in with a protective parent. These and other instances are understandable, but when the device stays in your hands for a half an hour while you furiously tap away it makes the user seem like an imbecile. Have smartphones become so integral to our daily lives that we can’t set them aside to experience something outside of that tiny screen? The concert I attended was a very good one, but the enjoyment was definitely hampered by the glare of so many tiny bright screens distracting from the performers.

As annoying as that may have been it pales in comparison to those that refuse to follow the advice of the PSA at movie theaters to keep their phones in their pockets. A live concert is a cacophonous event- lights, sound, kinetic energy; something that is to be experienced with more than one sense. While smartphones lit up around you can be distracting, it can’t being to compete with the annoyance of someone whipping out their device during a movie. It still amazes me how bright those little screens can be in a darkened theater. Again, I understand that there are exceptions to every rule, but etiquette is more than a pretty word. When I’ve needed to access my phone (I do chance a movie when on call for my hospital on occasion) I take it out of the theater out of consideration for both other moviegoers and the person trying to communicate with me (those digital speakers in a theater get pretty loud).

So by all means enjoy the fantastic devices we all seem to be sporting now. Smartphones are amazing devices; almost unthinkably powerful and versatile. To paraphrase Spider Man, with that great power comes a greater need for responsible use. It’s not enough to refrain from texting while driving (although it’s amazing how many times I still see that happening), you should be respectful for those that aren’t a part of your smartphone experience too.

We’re still waiting on the next wave of releases from the world’s electronica oligarchy, and most (like me) have become a bit spoiled in our expectations. Having a device that’s newer/faster/more powerful/longer battery life has become passé. We expect manufacturers to provide us with a bevy of improved product lines; it’s the new and shiny that everyone craves. 

Right now, the only category that’s still new-ish/still in its infancy is the wearables category. There have been some fumbling first steps with crowdsourced smart watches and such, recently topped by first efforts from big names like Samsung (and a stated strategic support from Google with Android Wear). To date none of the smart wearable products have been a true hit, and for good reason. Smart watches just don’t provide enough benefit to warrant being more than a curiosity; the smallish screens aren’t that much easier to access compared to taking your primary device out of a pocket, and don’t provide any real benefit over the handset they invariably link to. There are other issues as well- battery life has been hamstrung by the small form factor. There are some wearables that have been successful such as the fitness-dedicated devices, but these don’t really fit the parameters that we’ve been waiting on for the next epoch in personal electronics. 

Google has generated more than a bit of press with Google Glass, but the devices are prohibitively expensive (still north of $1500 US) and wearers have become a bit of a social pariah due to privacy concerns to the point that some establishments have banned them. 

Thus the continuation of my poor attitude on such devices. Unless a manufacturer can create a device that offers some real utility beyond being a smaller second screen of a handset I am extremely skeptical that the market will exist beyond being a curiosity. Apple has been strongly rumored to be developing a device with multiple (sometimes stated to be 10 or more) sensors that would focus on health and well being in a way that current wearables or handsets can’t. It’s an intriguing idea, but are there enough iOS users so interested in detailed tracking and analysis of their physical well being to make it a viable product, or does Apple have more in store that they’ve been able to keep secret? I’d wager on the latter considering how they’ve doubled down on keeping their upcoming products confidential. While there have been numerous sightings of alleged iPhone 6 parts, much of what was revealed in the recent WWDC had been a surprise to just about everyone. 

As usual, Apple won’t be the first to market should they release a smart wearable, but if/when they do I’d put my money on their product over existing devices. It wouldn’t be the first time they reinvented a market to the point of practically creating it. 

It’s a bit of a dead time for gadgetry right now. All of the major manufacturers have had their teaser expos, flaunting their latest goods and software to hungry consumers and hopeful developers. Apple has shown us a glimpse of their future pathway with the developer-centric WWDC (and gained a bit of punditry ire for not trotting out any hardware), and Google has tipped us off to their latest version of Android and a slight change in their strategic vision with the reintroduction of what was Google TV, a glimpse at their vision of wearables, and a not-so-veiled focus on reigning in the fragmentation of their mobile OS. Amazon has made their desire to be a major player known by releasing both a proprietary smartphone and an entertainment platform- the Fire TV. Samsung continues to be Samsung, frantically flinging every possible idea at a wall to see what sticks.
So in this quiet news time I was reflecting on just how spoiled we as consumers already are. Devices that could have been miraculous just a couple of years ago are now seen as almost antiquated; I’ve seen a few iPhone 4 and 4s recently that seem more dated than acid washed jeans. My 2010 iMac seems glacially slow booting up compared to my Macbook Retina’s solid state drive supported system.
In this same vein I came to the realization that my consumption habits have dramatically changed as well. I haven’t bought any physical media in years now, and discontinued even the Netflix DVD rentals in favor of streaming only (with no regrets so far). I used to be a voracious downloader of music (both legitimately and illegitimately) yet with the advent of Pandora that slowed considerably. I was a happy Pandora customer for about two years; the streaming service was more than affordable and it fit my needs for music perfectly. Their search algorithm did well initially, and after a little coaching via the don’t play this again/play more like this feature each “station” provided a perfect soundtrack to whatever mood I may have been in.
I had several friends that favored other streaming services like Spotify, but Pandora fit me well until recently. After a couple of years of heavy listening I had noticed that I had reached the boundaries of their library. Some stations had become stale, playing the same songs in roughly the same order. Granted, some of my favorite stations (Alan Parsons Project for example) was a bit of a narrow category, but their library had become a bit too narrow.
Then Apple decided to enter the fray with iTunes Radio. Initially I was a Pandora devotee; I would listen to the ad supported iTunes radio out of curiosity but Pandora was still my go-to source.
But then Pandora made a move that made me reconsider my devotion. Their $36 yearly subscription was done away with in favor of a $5 monthly charge (or $3.99 for existing customers). A small increase to be sure, but when I considered how stale my playlists had become it was time to see what competitors had to offer.
Going back to local storage wasn’t a viable option. While I had plenty of storage in my 32 gig iPhone, I didn’t relish having to rely on loading my handset with all the music I’d have (commercial free) access to. Secondly, what of new tunes? I had been introduced to a few new favorites via Pandora, and relying on what I already had in my considerably library may be entertaining but it wouldn’t provide me with any new interests.
I had signed up for a Google Music account earlier for streaming access to my library, but none of the iOS clients worked satisfactorily (and the web portal isn’t the best interface I’ve used either). After reading more about iTunes Match I decided to give Apple’s answer a try.
The service is twofold: first, they provide access to high quality iTunes version ( 256-Kbps AAC DRM-free) of all the tracks in your library that they can positively identify, regardless of where you obtained them. Should the version you have be inferior, you’re welcome to delete it and download a superior copy. If a positive match can’t be found iTunes will upload a version of the unrecognizable tracks so that you can access them when away from your physical library as well. While Apple does state there’s a limit of 25,000 songs that can be uploaded to iCloud (tracks purchased from iTunes don’t count) I have yet to find a track in my 150,000 song library I haven’t been able to access. YMMV.
Secondly, iTunes Match provides commercial-free access to iTunes radio. Pandora had a respectable library of about a million tracks, iTunes Radio dwarfs it at over 25 million tracks (and sports higher quality 256kbps tracks versus Pandora’s 196). It’s significantly cheaper as well: $25/year versus $3.99 (or higher) per month.
After settling in for a couple months I’m convinced I made the right choice. While iTunes Radio took a bit more coaxing (play this/don’t play that choices) the stations I have tend to be far broader given the same source band or song. The preset stations iTunes Radio provides have been welcome as well (particularly the Disney movie themed one), and they recently expanded to include ESPN radio and NPR as well.
I’ve enjoyed having a well designed interface to access my home library (nice for when you’d like to hear a specific song/album/artist) but my downloading has slowed to a trickle. I already own the vast majority of music that I have an emotional or sentimental attachment to, and most newer music tends to be a bit disposable- enjoyable, but with a short shelf life. I’m not alone in my change of habit, as music sales of streaming and all but vinyl media has plummeted.
The convenience of having access to an almost inconceivably huge music library that can be easily tailored to a specific mood or taste is just too compelling compared to the older business model of buying entire albums to enjoy music you may not be invested in over the long term. The impermanence of digital tracks has compounded this- in the past you could always sell unwanted CDs or LPs, and pick up other’s used albums at a discount if you could wait for them to be available.
So count me as a happy member of the growing crowd eschewing ownership of media (even if only partially). Whether it be video (in the case of cable cutting) or audio, the rapidly approaching future belongs to the subscription service.

It’s not news that Apple and Google haven’t exactly gotten along. From Steve Jobs’ accusation that Android was an obvious ripoff of iOS (leading to that famous ‘nuclear war’ comment) to Apple’s eviction of Google Maps (later to be rescinded somewhat) from iOS, Apple has seen Google as more of a parasite than a partner. With the upcoming release of iOS 8 it will be possible for users to even further divest themselves of the web’s biggest, most pervasive entity. 

Despite their varied products, Google is in the business of data. The free services they offer (and some of them are arguably the best out there) are offered to entice users to surrender some of their privacy in exchange. Their industry-leading web search provides the most obvious means of revenue generation- search for a term or word and the results page will offer a host of targeted links; some advertisements, some paid placements. Use any of their myriad web products and your efforts will be data mined for a variety of uses. The old saying about free products making YOU the product really is true. Apple has done a decent job offering free services to counter Google’s offerings; Photostream is a nice alternative to Google’s Picasa web albums, iCloud’s various offerings match many of Google’s free services including productivity software and cloud storage, Safari has been improved to match Google’s Chrome browser, and so on. In areas Apple doesn’t have a matching service or product they’ve made moves to pair with other providers that do. 

The biggest area where Apple can’t compete with Google is Google’s mainstay- web search. Apple made an effort to provide an alternative by allowing iOS users to choose Bing as a default search engine (although I’ve never met anyone that chose to use Bing for anything). While Bing is a viable alternative, users still face the same problem: being data mined. While it may not be an issue for some users, I’ve started to chafe at my web searches turning up in advertisements on web pages even months later (online shopping for a memory foam mattress led to over four months of targeted ads) and unbeknownst to many, Google keeps a record of all of your web searches (not a pleasant thought if you’ve been looking for anything unsavory). For those of you like me that would rather enjoy a bit more privacy on the web there’s an alternative that iOS 8 will embrace: DuckDuckGo.

DuckDuckGo does one thing: web searches, and does it exactly as I want: quickly, efficiently, and privately. It even seems like a derivative of Google; cute logo, simple and clean interface, and snappy performance. Advertising is kept to an absolute minimum (and has been completely missing on occasion). According to their privacy statement DuckDuckGo does use non personally identifying cookies for reimbursement for referrals to merchants like Amazon, but does not collect or share any personal information, nor do they partner with any outfit that does. While you can use it in Safari now (it’s not a selectable default but a provided plugin will circumvent that) it will be in the upcoming Yosemite release of OSX. 

To date I’ve been very happy with DuckDuckGo; searches have been just as fast and accurate as with Google, without the targeted advertising via Google’s AdSense. Like much of the Apple experience it just works- you do what you want to without having to think of the tool at hand. While Google has some fine products, I’ve found that I’ve been drifting further and further from its lidless eye. If you’re not comfortable with being the unwitting revenue engine for a company that has been slowly drifting from their corporate motto of ‘don’t be evil’, give DuckDuckGo a try. I think you’ll find it a great alternative. 

Apple has followed a strategy of offering an ecosystem of products- a lineup of specifically task-targeted devices that together provide more utility than a pieced-together system consisting of products from various manufacturers. The lineup offers portability in the form of the Macbook Air, more power in the Macbook Pro lineup, the entry-level desktop and server Mac Mini, the desktop workhorse iMac, and the professional powerhouse desktop Mac Pro. While each has the same operating system, the physical form of each product displays Apple’s vision of what each was designed to do.

The iOS devices compliment the OSX lineup. The iPod was my first Apple device; my first gen iPod Nano replaced a faulty Rio Karma (while it had a smaller capacity, the solid state construction and sleek form made it a much better choice for what I used an MP3 player for). The iPod may have been wildly popular, but it didn’t serve as quite the gateway to Apple’s computers as it could after Apple decided to expand iTunes to Windows. They expanded their non-PC lineup with the iPhone and iPod Touch, providing the platform that would soon become iOS.

The Mac lineup is a top-notch group of computers, but they are more expensive than many competing systems (although that difference is slowly disappearing). The expense of a Mac can be a deterrent for those that aren’t operating system or manufacturer focused, but iOS devices don’t have that limiting factor. The iPhone is arguably the best smartphone available, the iPod Touch the best handheld media device, and the iPad still reigns as the best tablet available- all at considerably less than the price of most Macs. Each can act as a ‘gateway drug’ to the Apple ecosystem; a less expensive way of seeing what Apple has to offer without leaving the computer system they currently have.

With the announcement of the upcoming iOS 8 and OSX Yosemite the interoperability of the two systems has become even more of a focus for Apple. While the various iOS devices will work just fine for Windows users, they offer a synergistic experience when paired with a Mac. The ability to pick up a task seamlessly between devices, being able to have phone capability via Bluetooth pairing on your Mac when your iPhone is near, Airdrop (an underrated feature in my opinion), and so many other features makes your iOS and OSX device so complimentary that users really miss out by opting out of the ecosystem.

While I took immediately to OSX, not everyone will feel the same. There are some similarities to Windows, but if you’ve been brought into the Apple world via an iOS device you have the ability to largely stick with the interface that you’re already comfortable with on a Mac.

One of the primary visual differences between OSX and Windows is the Dock- that row of icons at the bottom of the screen that long time Mac aficionados use for quick access to their most commonly used apps and folders. It’s a valuable tool to have, but for those that prefer iOS’ cleaner interface you can easily mirror its look and functionality.

You can’t get rid of the dock entirely (and as time goes on you’ll likely find that it’s really useful) but you can hide it. The easiest way is a simple keyboard shortcut: just press Command, Option, and the D key simultaneously. This slides the dock off the screen, leaving you with a clean desktop (provided you don’t use it as a repository for files and shortcuts). The dock will reappear if you move your mouse cursor to the edge of the screen where the dock was. For those of you that are keyboard shortcut adverse, just open the Settings app (the icon is the same for iOS and OSX) and click on the Dock icon in the top row, then check the box next to ‘Automatically Hide and Show the Dock’.

While you can’t display the app icon grid of iOS as a default action on your Mac’s desktop, you can summon them with a gesture. Just swipe four fingers together on your Macbook’s trackpad (or a Magic Trackpad for those of you that have one) and the familiar grid fades into view. For those that use a mouse you’ll have to move the mouse to the edge of the screen to summon the Dock, then click on the Launchpad icon or set up a ‘Hot Corner’ (check here for a quick tutorial). You can rearrange and group the icons into folders the same way you did with iOS, too. Click the app you’d like to open it. Apps on the Mac will open in a window, but if you prefer the full screen approach that iOS uses just click on the double arrow icon in the upper right hand corner to make the app full screen. Just as with the iPad, switching between full screen apps is done via a four fingered horizontal swipe. To quickly navigate to a specific full screen app do a four-fingered sweep up on the trackpad to show all screens, then click on the one you’d like.

I prefer to stick with the original dock configuration of OSX, but there are times that the iOS approach of a cleaner interface and full screen focus makes for a better experience. Use the configuration that works best for you, but remember that there’s always more than one route to your destination.

I’ve been using a Macbook Retina for a while now as my primary work PC; while I have Dell workstations for some tasks they run like an asthmatic in August heat more often than not. As a daily mobile workstation I couldn’t have asked for a better laptop; while the Macbook Airs were enticing I really coveted the extra horsepower and better resolution the Retina models offered. Since I use it as a personal laptop both at work and telecommuting, I needed a carrying case that would match its slim aesthetic. For the first year or so I’ve had it I had been using a Brenthaven Prostyle sleeve and had been very happy with it. The slim form held my Macbook snugly but protectively, and had extra pouches for various sundries like the power brick, my iPhone, and some necessary adaptors. While it was functional, ultimately it wasn’t optimal for my daily commute as the power brick left a sizable lump on the side of the case and there were times when I needed to carry some additional gear or physical media. 

After some serious searching (there’s a LOT of Macbook accessories out there) I opted for what I considered to be the best possible case for what I need (and the best looking to boot): the Rough Rider Messenger Bag from Waterfield Designs.


The Brenthaven’s nylon construction is sturdy enough, but the Rough Rider’s leather build puts it to shame. It exudes an air of rugged dependability and utility. The internal capacity is significantly larger, sporting several accessory pouches and a central compartment large enough for my 13 inch Retina, iPad Air, a notebook, and a sheaf of printed Powerpoint slides. The leather may have a distressed saddlebag-like appearance, but the construction is rock solid (and the worn look is more than a bit appealing, becoming ‘warmer’ and more eye catching as you use the bag). 

It’s not often I have such a sentimental attachment to what is essentially luggage, but the Rough Rider case is as much a visual statement as it is an accessory. There are plenty of cases and messenger bags that can carry your device and sundries, but few that can do it as well (or as strikingly) as the Rough Rider. 

While it is a larger bag, the extra space has been welcome. For those that don’t need the space Waterford offers several messenger bags of similar quality and build; so far I can’t recommend them highly enough. It even pairs perfectly in construction and style with the Dodocase Durables Sleeve I use for my iPad Air


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