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A look back at iOS 8

It’s been a while since iOS 8 has been introduced to the world so I thought it was time to look back at how impactful one of Apple’s bigger mobile OS releases really was. At the time it was touted as groundbreaking and (as many other Apple things are described) “magical”. While it did offer quite a few new features, like so many other things in the world sometimes promise and reality are starkly different.

The biggest story over the past few months has been the buggy nature of iOS 8. There have been numerous stories about its issues, in particular network problems. From my limited perspective it was much ado about nothing, as my iPhone 6 hasn’t had any more network issues than I’ve experienced with prior iPhones (and those few instances were solved by a reboot). For the most part it has run smoothly, with the biggest problem being crashes from non-iOS 8 optimized apps.

As for the laundry list touted by Apple at the press conference, there’s good and meh:

Photos: I don’t take a great deal of photos with my iPhone, so the changes didn’t impact me in any noticeable way. The image quality has improved dramatically, but I take that as more a product of improved hardware than software. Photo stream has been a welcome addition, and I’ve used it for both personal and professional purposes (being able to take a photo on my iPhone and then use it in iWork on my Macbook without importing it is great). My photo editing is typically limited to cropping, so the improvements there are wasted on me. Overall rating: nice, but no biggie.

Messages: BIG improvement. Being able to send (and receive) SMS to anyone from any device has been a huge boon for my work communication. I do wish they would swap out the voice message button for a voice dictation one; if I want to speak to someone I’ll call, but I use voice dictation in text daily. Overall rating: A welcome improvement.

Design: I realize they needed to refresh the look of iOS, and I don’t mind the flat look but theres no lasting impression. iOS 8 is a pretty OS, but a lot of the graphical flash (like the parallax “floating” icons on the home screen) quickly lose their shine and become overlooked. Overall rating: meh.

Keyboard: A nice improvement on a couple fronts. The predictive type is markedly better, and I use it often to complete longer words. Autocorrect can still be hilariously wrong at times (especially if you’re using dictation), but the incremental changes have added up to a much better experience that can be easy to overlook. I still use the stock keyboard, but the ability to install third party keyboards was long overdue. If I were going to install a third party one it would likely be Swype, as pecking away at the keyboard can be trying with overly large fingers. Overall rating: Thumbs up.

Family Sharing: A really welcome addition, but one I can’t really review as I haven’t had a chance to use it. Would like to see them expand it further, and I hope this would open the door to a guest or multiple user accounts on an iOS device as competing operating systems currently offer. Overall rating: TBD.

iCloud Drive: I use Apple’s cloud storage for iWork documents and Photostream, but that’s about it. For the limited use I have I have no complaints; it’s worked as designed and has been a nice addition. They’d need to improve the free storage levels to be a serious competitor to Google and Dropbox, but for many users the limited free storage might work fine. Overall rating: nice, but not groundbreaking.

Health: A great idea, but as of right now it’s just potential. I had limited experience with it while testing a Garmiin Vivosmart but wasn’t too impressed; the data didn’t mean much without something to compare it to or deeper interpretation. Should health care providers embrace Health Kit it could be huge. Many patients I see on a daily basis need regular monitoring, and an electronic “coach” might be of significant value in steering them to better health choices and improved communication with their doctors and other health care providers. Overall rating: to be determined, but it could be a game changer.

Handoff: I don’t really use it beyond Messages, so I can’t pass judgement. I thought it was a great idea when I watched the Keynote, but in use it hasn’t provided any real value. I do use Safari Cloud tabs to pick up on web pages on a different screen, and the cloud keychain has been a very welcome addition, but I just don’t use my iOS devices for productivity as I did in the past- those tasks are done on my Macbook now. If I did use my iPad at work this new feature might be more useful to me. Overall rating: Nice, but again no game changer.

Spotlight: I use it quite a bit on my Macs, but on my iOS devices it acts solely as a way of launching apps I don’t want to be bothered searching for (now just what folder did I leave the Notes app in?). Again, to some it might be an invaluable addition but for my daily use it’s an afterthought. Overall rating: nice, but no biggie.

So there you have it. Much like my overall Apple experience, there are numerous nice features, but not too many mind blowing ones. Thankfully, those small features add up to an overall superior end experience that you may not be able to isolate a single reason why it’s better, but would be missed immediately if you lost it. Much like the MagSafe power cable or multitouch controls on the Mac, many of these highly-touted new features aren’t as “magical” as the hyperbole paints them as being, but in the end they keep me as a customer.

Whether it’s via my iPhone or iPad, one of the primary uses of my iOS devices has been listening to music. Music was Apple’s first foray into the portable world via the iPod, and while lately productivity and gaming get top billing when discussion the use and future of iOS music, whether loaded on the device or streaming, remains a primary function for many end users.

Most listening is done via headphones/earbuds, from the included EarPods to high end over-the-ear headphones costing hundreds. If you’d like to listen to your music via a traditional speaker the default option has been a Bluetooth speaker. There’s a wide range to choose from, in both price and quality. While they can be a fine solution, there is another option with some significant advantages: AirPlay.

Bluetooth speakers (including streaming audio in newer cars) provides reasonably good sound quality and easy connectivity. My phone instantly connects to my car when I start it up; the same with the Philips bluetooth speaker box I use at work. While my non-audiophile ears can’t discern it, the sound played via Bluetooth is compressed. Since iOS devices don’t typically play uncompressed music files, the dual compression may be unpalatable to some listeners. Furthermore, the convenience of instant pairing can be a pain as  much as pleasure if you have more than one device you’d like to send music from. Unpairing and paring the new device is doable but hardly elegant, Lastly, Bluetooth has a limited range, optimally about 30 feet (and under some circumstances less than that).

AirPlay has been touted during some of the Apple corporate PR events, but isn’t discussed much beyond that. I’ve used AirPlay with my Apple TV to play video from my iMac that hasn’t been converted into an Apple TV-friendly format or to be able to watch things like Amazon Prime video that aren’t yet part of the Apple TV’s apps, but there’s more to it than just pushing video to the TV. There are some very high quality portable speakers that use AirPlay instead of Bluetooth as the means of wirelessly sending your tunes.

When searching for a portable AirPlay speaker I settled on Libratone. Their products are as visually appealing as they are functional, and the Zipp matched the parameters I needed out of a portable speaker perfectly: good sound quality, portability (backed up by an internal battery), and easy wireless connectivity with any device. The Zipp pairs with your wifi network, providing audio playback the same way the Apple TV does. Swipe up from the bottom of your iOS device’s screen, tap the AirPlay icon, select the Libratone device and you’re done. No pairing, no numerical codes, and none of Bluetooth’s limitations. I  use my Libratone as a step up from the iPad’s internal speaker when watching TV shows in the kitchen, and as an extension of my iMac when grilling (controlled by my iPhone). Should I need to take it out of the warm embrace of my home’s wifi there’s no issue as the Zipp’s PlayDirect feature allows you to directly connect your device to the speaker via wifi.

AirPlayuses the AAC lossless codec, so there’s no further degradation of your audio. Wifi has a much better range than Bluetooth and can handle a wall or two between source and destination device, and as mentioned earlier doesn’t require pairing like Bluetooth device do making it much more convenient if you plan on using the speaker with multiple devices.

The Zipp isn’t cheap, but it is comparable to other high end Bluetooth speakers like the Big Jambox from Jawbone (both are $299), but there are quality Bluetooth speakers out there for considerably less. That being said, if you’re in the market for a portable speaker be a smart shopper and know exactly what you need out of the device. You might find like I did that an AirPlay speaker fits you needs much better.

Anything you can do…

a1Sjt0W

Not cold? I shut down when it gets below 50!oytgXav

usb-toiletHey, methane is a viable renewable energy source!

Its-easier-with-a-mouseClever, but maybe you should opt for another device?

Courtesy of an anonymous Reddit poster: h15189891

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