Tagged: apple

Opinion: iOS notification center still sucks

Screenshot of iOS Notification CenterI was overjoyed when Apple said they had completely reworked the notification center in iOS 7. Then I updated my phone and actually used it… the joy quickly faded.

It’s now been months and I can officially say, the iOS notification center still sucks. I waited to write this, hoping that I was just overreacting and/or the 7.1 update would address these issues. They haven’t. Here is why I can’t stand it:

Missing features

I love upgrades, but please don’t take away useful features from an earlier version. Why are the Twitter and Facebook shortcuts gone? I used to tweet or post messages all the time from the handy little buttons at the top of my notification screen in iOS 6. It was a huge blow to my workflow to lose shortcuts. Maybe the notification center isn’t the right place for actions like that, but couldn’t they at least be moved to a more appropriate section (perhaps the new control center tray)?

Less useful features

I’m not sure if this is better or worse: taking a feature and making it less useful. I’m leaning towards worse. The “Today” tab is great in concept, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. In previous versions of iOS, there was a handy weather widget which quickly told you the weather conditions at a glance. Important info like temperature and an icon showing if it was sunny or snowing were easy to read. Now, iOS 7’s notification center replaces this widget with a line or two written about the weather today. It’s not necessarily the current temperature (sometimes it is, but not always, why is that?) and it certainly isn’t as easy to process at a glance.

Same old problems

While made slightly bigger, the clear buttons are still a pain to use. Why must I clear all notifications for an app? I’d love to just swipe one or two things away or maybe the first tap of the clear button shows clear buttons next to each item, allowing you to tap single notifications or all of them. In fact, why isn’t there a master clear button. After your phone has been off for a while (say during a movie) you end up with a ton of notifications from various apps. It’s a little tedious to tap twice for each application’s notifications. I’d like to see one option at the top to “Clear All.” Options are good, and the notification center is lacking them.

On the home screen, a swipe of a notification will bring you to that notification’s app, but once you’ve pulled down the notification center, swiping moves you between the tabs at the top. Why does the act of swiping a notification change behaviors? It just seems strange to change that on something so closely related.

Wish list

So what would I add? I’d love to see widgets. I’m certain Apple will never allow home screen widgets (at least third-party ones), but why can’t they open up the API for a few notification center widgets. Then we could get a more useful weather widget back, or perhaps a quick Foursquare check-in. The Today tab has a lot of potential and I’d like to see where that could lead with some third-party integration. The larger screen real estate on iPads could open this up to even more innovations. Please unlock it, just a little, and let developers show us what’s possible, Apple.

This one is more notification related in general, not just for the notification center. I want custom alert tones that can be assigned on a per app basis. Some apps use custom alerts but you can’t customize it yourself. Again, Apple, options are good, please let us have some. One of the few things I miss from my old Android phone was the ability to change the sounds of each app’s alerts. Then I knew if it was a new email, a text or just some dumb game trying to get me to play. It’s useful for discerning if it’s worth checking your phone.

I’m pretty sure I remember hearing something about the Mac notification center integrating with the iOS notification center. This seems to have never really come about. It would be useful, however it would HAVE to synch cleared and read notifications across devices. There’s nothing worse than having to clear hundreds of notifications, except having to do that on two or three devices.

What’s your experience with the iOS notification center? What would you like to see added or removed? Sound off in the comments.

Pro Tip: How to Properly Wrap an Apple Power Brick

There has been a lot of noise around the Web claiming to have a great new way to wrap your Apple MacBook power bricks. They say it is a great space saver. Sure they, might save you some space, but don’t be fooled, this is not a good idea.

Two photos depicting the wrong and right ways to wrap a power cord.

I planned on writing a whole post about this, but WIRED beat me to it. Basically the offending tip said you should tightly wind the long power cord around the brick and tuck it securely under the smaller wire. As Robert Baldwin of WIRED points out, this isn’t a good idea. It creates unnecessary stress on the wire and will lead to a shorter life of the cord. If that’s not enough reason, stress on certain parts of the wire could lead to an exposed wire, and that is a fire hazard. Read the WIRED article to get more specifics.

The best way to wrap or store any wire is to let it coil naturally. Every cord has a natural tendency to coil one way and forcing it to go another, or wrapping it tightly around something else will cause it to wear faster. Power bricks aren’t cheap, so I’d suggest using a little extra bag space and letting those cords coil naturally.

Review: iPhone 5S

Three Apple iPhone 5S phonesI recently upgraded my trusty ol’ iPhone 4S to a shiny, new, space grey iPhone 5S. So far, I couldn’t be happier.

Bright and early Friday morning, my brother and I checked number 26 off of our “Apple Nerds Bucket List.” We stood in line to get the latest iPhone. At 8 a.m., we became the first people at Best Buy (and one of, if not the first people in Kalamazoo) to unbox our fancy new iPhone 5S phones.

Last year, I almost upgraded to the iPhone 5. I liked the idea of LTE and a longer screen, but I was only halfway through my contract and didn’t feel like it was really worth the extra dough to buy the phone at full retail price. I anxiously awaited the next phone, pretty certain I’d be using my upgrade for it. Although many people were disappointed with what was announced, I was able to see past the initial criticism of Apple “not innovating” and was excited to get my hands on the 5S. After all, they just released the first phone with a 64 bit chip and it has a fingerprint scanner. At first these could just seem like gimmicky features, but they aren’t, and Apple is still innovating. I think everyone just expects them to change entire industries with every launch. That’s a lofty expectation for any company, even Apple.

Leading up to getting my iPhone 5S, I read a lot about how the fingerprint scanner was just a gimmick. It’s not. Touch ID is actually amazing. For much of the time I had my iPhone 4S, I did no protect it with a security code. I knew I should, but having to type in four numbers every time I unlocked my phone was too much of a hassle. Being able to protect my phone and still get into my phone at a moment’s notice with Touch ID has been awesome. In a very Apple-like fashion, it just works. There’s tons of technology there, but to a user it’s extremely simple. Furthermore, being able to authenticate iTunes and App Store purchases with a quick placement of your thumb on the home button is a convenient way to avoid typing your password. My only complaint with Touch ID so far, is that it only works for those two instances. I’d love to see them somehow expand (in some extra secure fashion) this feature to any app. Passwords are the worst part of any app and somehow creating a system key chain that stores them and lets you interact with your fingerprint, would be a huge time saver.

While it’s not a new feature to the 5S (it was introduced on the 5), the larger screen is a welcome addition. I was surprised how much that extra half-inch really improved my experience. I mean, an entire extra row of icons? I’m down with that. The retina display is as beautiful as ever. Despite bigger pixel claims, I haven’t seen another smartphone screen that’s as impressive.

The 64 bit processor is a major upgrade. Technically speaking, users aren’t experiencing its entire power yet. That said, it’s super fast. Nothing seems to lag and the battery life (somewhat surprisingly) doesn’t suffer at all. Maybe that’s thanks to the new M7 co-processor, another great addition to the iPhone 5S.

iPhone photography is stronger than ever. They didn’t go for the ridiculous megapixel counts, but instead concentrated on making the 8 MP sensor even better. I was impressed with the camera on my 4S and I’m even more impressed with the 5S. The new sensor takes super fast photos with lots of color depth. The new flash does a good job evening out color temperature (but if given a choice, I’d still try to shoot a photo without flash). The burst mode is very handy and the slow-mo video capability is outstanding. You can make almost anything look cool in slo-mo. If your iPhone hasn’t replaced your point and shoot by now, this probably will.

The color options for the 5S were a little disappointing. High-end phone users like bright colors too, Apple! I didn’t think the gold would be popular at all, but reports are saying it’s the best-selling model. I decided to turn in my black iPhone 4S for a space grey 5S. It’s the same familiar black front and a decent looking grey panel on the backside. It’s almost always in a case anyway, so I guess colors aren’t a huge deal.

I’ve had my 5S for a while now and I’m still in love with it. It’s a solid phone. It feels good in your hand, it’s well-built and super fast. The battery life is good and the Touch ID is much more useful than you might think. Let the haters hate, but I’m still a big fan of Apple and their iPhones.

Happy iOS 7 day!

Screen shots of Apple's iOS 7.The highly anticipated update to iOS is finally here. While initially iOS 7 left me with a few concerns, I’ve found it to be an improvement and for the most part, very satisfying. I’ll go into more detail after I’ve used it day-to-day for a longer period.

So what do you need to do to get updated? I recommend a manual backup of your phone (even if you normally backup through iCloud). It’s easy and doesn’t take to long. Open iTunes, plug-in your phone, select it in the upper right corner and look for the “Back up Now” button. It’ll do it’s thing and in a few minutes you can eject your phone and upgrade to iOS 7 without fear.

So now you’re rocking the fancy new iOS 7, but besides the eye candy, what’s new? Wired wrote a great little article detail many of the changes in iOS 7. It’s worth a read.

iOS 7 is great and all, but the real treat today (and for the next few weeks) will be all the great UI updates to your favorite third-party apps. Wanting to stay relevant and not look out-of-place, many app developers have worked hard on getting their apps to reflect the new style in iOS 7. TapFame set up a page detailing some of the before and after screen shots. I find some of these third-party updates even more exciting than iOS 7 itself.

Have you installed iOS 7 yet? What’s your favorite feature? How about third-party apps, who’s done the best job translating their app into the new iOS 7 design language?

iOS 7 gets flatter, more transparent

iOS 7 logoUnless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that Apple was overhauling iOS. The rumors had been swirling for months saying that Jonny Ive had led the design team in a new, flatter, minimalistic and all around, exact opposite of the current iOS. Gone would be the leather stitching, cloth textures and strange skeuomorphic experiences.

Well, the rumors were pretty dead on. iOS 7 will be a completely new beast (visually at least). During the big keynote at the World Wide Developers Conference yesterday, Apple took the wraps off the new iOS. It’s definitely flat, definitely not skeuomorphic and the textures are kept to a minimum. Transparency and sense of depth are design themes. The standard Apple apps have all been rethought. The interface seems to do a much better job of getting out of the way and let you see the content. Safari, for example, has its navigation “chrome” disappear so the Web page you’re viewing can take over your screen.

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 10.26.26 AM

Overall, I’m impressed. They’ve gone into a bold new direction. Sure a lot of the ideas are borrowed from jailbreak hacks or other operating systems, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t great. Many of the cries for a sleeker interface and easier to use quick functions have been answered. Swiping up from the bottom gives you access to switch on and off wifi, bluetooth, do not disturb, screen brightness, etc. It’s simple, not ground breaking, but it’s what they needed. Notifications, multi-tasking, app switching and much more have all been overhauled. The type alone is worth upgrading. It’s big, beautiful and used to communicate effectively. This truly is a big update for iOS and I cannot wait to install it.

iOS-screenshots

At this point, it’s probably important to note I haven’t used this hands on yet. That said, my biggest criticism right now has to be the icons. I’m all for flatter, less glossy icons. That really works in some cases. In others, I just don’t get it (in the case of Game Center, what are those bubbles for?) or I just feel uneasy about them (I’m looking at you Safari, perhaps it’s the stark white square you sit in?). Maybe in my hand they’ll look better, or at the very least I’ll get used to them.

The second thing that worries me is the transparency. It’s cool in the screnshots they provide but how will it actually react with your own photos as backgrounds? How will it work in the sunlight? I hesitate to critique it too much without using it, so my final judgement on transparency will have to wait.

I won’t ramble on too much more, but I will add you should definitely check out the iOS 7 teaser page at Apple’s site. There is a lot of change coming to an iDevice near you this fall. I, for one, am chomping at the bit to start playing with this new design direction. It might not be perfect, but it’s a step in a new direction and that was much needed. What do you think?

Design Find: iOS 7 Concepts

I’m always intrigued by exciting new interface designs, and these iOS 7 concepts by Mohamed Kerroudj are no exception. Kerroudj shows what a dramatic overhaul of the iOS interface could look like. It’s beautifully minmal, but also adds a lot of new functionality. I’m sure Apple will never implement quite this much change (at least all in one OS update), but there are still some great concepts.

I particularly like being able to perform simple functions and manage notifications right on the lock screen. The overall feel is much cleaner and more fresh. It still feels very Apple-like (maybe even more so), while giving iOS that update we’ve all been clamoring for. I hope Apple takes note and incorporates something similar.

Take a look at the videos below, and let me know what your favorite parts are in the comments. Have you seen some great concept videos or images? Share a link, I’d love to see them.


Opinion: How to improve iOS

I know, I know, just what the world needs, another article on how to make the iPhone (and other iOS devices) better. Well, it’s true there’s no shortage of user dreams for iOS, but that doesn’t mean I can’t throw my two cents in. Here are a few ways how Apple could improve iOS to keep it current and improve the overall user experience.

Screenshot of iOS notification with delete button mocked up.Swipe to clear notifications: Have you ever not paid attention to your phone for a while? On occasion, I’ll leave it sit in my pocket on a long drive or while I’m in a meeting. Afterwards, I’m overwhelmed with the number of notifications on screen. Usually I’ll try to delete them, but Apple tiny little “x” doesn’t like my man-sized fingers. Furthermore, I don’t always want to delete all of the notifications from an app. Wouldn’t it be nice if Apple added support to “swipe” across a particular notification and a delete button popped up (think of the experience in Mail; see mock up at right)? I’d like to see this functionality in both the notification center and the lock screen.

Set your own default apps: A few years ago Apple apps were top notch. Now they’ve seemingly remained stagnant, and there is a wealth of better designed, easier to use and all around more enjoyable third party apps. It’s time Apple opens up a little and lets users set their own default apps. I’m in love with Mailbox and already use it as my main mail app. Wouldn’t it be great if iOS knew and respected that? I hate being in another app and trying to share something via email only to get Apple Mail app. Same goes for browsers, maps, etc. You can still ship your stuff, Apple, but let me choose what to use.

Siri API: Oh, Siri… I had such hope for you. Siri in theory is a really useful assistant. But in practice, she leaves a lot to be desired. Turn by turn directions are finally there, and you can look up movie showtimes, but I want more. Obviously setting your own default apps would take use a step closer to usefulness but I want a full-fledged API. I want developers to have access to Siri so she can do wonderful things. “Siri, check me into Starbucks”

iWatch: So this isn’t so much an iOS request as it is a new product, but I see them closely related. I want a watch that will make Siri useful (talking to my wrist is better than talking to my phone, which if in my hand, I can easily type on). I want the ability to easily glance at my watch to see who’s calling or texting or emailing, maybe even let me use canned responses right on the device. The Pebble is a start, but I think only Apple can make it a truly seamless experience.

Better app management: I literally have a dozen pages of apps on my phone. Needless to say, I’m not even sure what’s on there beyond the first couple pages. I’ve tried to organize, but it’s a daunting task, and it should be so much easier. For starters, don’t make my apps slide to the upper left corner. I want to place apps in specific spots and have them stay there. Sometimes I might want a gap between apps, it’s no big deal, just let me do it! I’d also like to see the ability to move more than one app at a time. I think there are jailbreak tweaks to do these things, but I shouldn’t have to do that. It should be easy and standard.

Alert sounds: The thing I miss most about Android is being able to customize every single little sound my phone makes. I customized apps to have alerts that let me know what was happening and whether or not it was worth pulling my phone out of my pocket. To some extent you can customize sounds on your iPhone, but it’s very limited. I hear the same ding for most apps, and it’d be nice to know if a game wants my attention or if it’s something more important. It seems this is left up to individual developers to add their own sounds right now, but I want to take it further, let me set the sound. I want to do custom sounds, so I know exactly what I’m being pinged for, and it’s not the same default sound that everyone else in the room has.

Web app notifications: Sometimes a native app isn’t the answer. One of the downsides to a Web app, however, is the inability to send users notifications. With modern browsers like Chrome and Safari allowing Web apps to take advantage of desktop notifications, why shouldn’t your phone or tablet? Hopefully this would cut down on some of those “native” apps that just wrap up a website. I saw a good mock up of this recently but I cannot seem to re-find it.

There are plenty of other ideas I didn’t add, but the above are some of my biggest desires. What would you like to see added in iOS 7? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please comment below.

Quick Review: iPad mini

Hand holding an iPad mini.Apple’s done it again. They created something that made me go “why would anyone, let alone me, want that?” This time of course it was the iPad mini but it wasn’t long ago Mr. Jobs introduced the original iPad. While it seemed kind of cool, I couldn’t figure out how it could be all that useful. Turns out I was wrong. After a few months of reading about and playing with store models, I was intrigued. Sure I couldn’t build websites or do any kind of profesional level graphic design with it but for everyday tasks it seemed great.

I was fortunate enough to start using an iPad a few months ago and instantly fell in love with it. I found most of the time having a browser, email and tons of time-wasting-but-loads-of-fun games was more than sufficient. I even started using it as an e-reader. It really shined for taking notes at meetings allowing me not to have to lug around my laptop.

Recently I got even luckier and was able to upgrade to an iPad mini. Everything I loved about the iPad but in a smaller, more ideal size. Reading on a mini is so much more convenient too. It feels about the size of novel and is easy to hold in one hand. When it was announced I thought the iPad mini would be too small to really get anything done. It turns out Apple’s picked the perfect size and weight. It’s easy to carry around, it still has a lot of space to do things and best of all it runs all of the iPad apps already out there.

I was extremely surprised how much I preferred it to a full-sized iPad. The biggest complaints I’ve read about are the lack of retina display and it’s small size. Honestly I don’t find the screen to be a big deal. Sure retina displays are beautiful but I don’t know if it’s entirely necessary (of course when the retina display does arrive, I’ll probably rave about it and be jealous I don’t have one, such is life).

As I said before the size is perfect in my opinion. The iPad was great but it always felt a little awkward to hold, especially with on hand, and was definitely hard to type without going one-finger peck style or setting it down on something. With the mini I can use the familiar two-side grasp and thumb typing I’m used to on my iPhone. Best of all it fits in an inside coat pocket rather nicely, which makes bringing it places pretty easy. I think part of the size complaints stem from how it was billed in the media as a seven inch tablet. In real life it’s much closer to an eight inches and because it’s taller than the 16:9 widescreen ratio many Android tablets use, it’s actually feels comparatively large.

Overall I’d say they’ve done a fine job. It’s not revolutionary like the original iPad but it definitely improved on some of my iPad complaints. The iPad mini is a fun little tablet with a great size, decent price and all the App Store goodness iOS devices provide. I have to highly recommend it.

Opinion: Google would be stupid to kill Sparrow

I’ve had a post sitting in my draft box about my favorite email client for months now. I never got around to finishing it and now it looks like I never will. I’m talking of course about Sparrow, the well-designed, simple and easy to use Mac (and iOS) mail client. I started using Sparrow when it was still in private beta, that’s why it pains me to inform you they’ve discontinued development.

According to their website, Sparrow has been acquired by Google. I know the end goal for many startups is to be eaten up by a big-time player but this particular case really makes me sad. They will make Sparrow available and continue to support it but they will be “joining the Gmail team to accomplish a bigger vision.” I’m happy for the team, really. I’m sure that’s a huge opportunity and if in the same situation, it’d be hard to turn down a job at Google. I’m sad for all of us users though, we’ve lost the best email client around. Sure we can still use it but it will never be updated and will slowly become less and less relevant.

Here’s what I think Google (and the old Sparrow team) should do… rebrand it. Make it an official Google product. The iOS Sparrow app is leaps and bounds better than the iOS Gmail app. The only complaints I’ve heard (and share myself) are about the lack of push notifications. Google can handle that, their Gmail app already does. They could easily add that functionality to the existing Sparrow app and package it up as the new Gmail app. It’s a win for everyone. Sparrow users will be glad their beloved email app hasn’t faded to oblivion and Gmail users will be pleasantly surprised by a new (to them) and wonderful replacement. Perhaps they should even consider porting it to Android. Why not share the wealth? It’s a shame to let such an innovative and beautiful product go to waste.

Most importantly, I’d like to see them do a similar thing with the desktop version. Like I said before, I’ve been using Sparrow for quite some time. I love the slick and minimal interface. It’s fast, easy to use and let’s me manage multiple accounts in one place. I love how well it handles Gmail labels and starring. It’s really the Gmail experience I wish the web had, but better because it’s a separate app. I know Google doesn’t have an official desktop email client and they probably weren’t planning to. That said, why not have one? The bulk of the work is already done with Sparrow. If you’re not going to continue developing the Sparrow anymore, at least re-visit gmail.com’s interface. It’s gotten to be unruly and could use a little of Sparrow influence.

Overall I just hope the Sparrow team does well at Google. I’m cautiously optimistic they can influence the Gmail team for the better. On the flip side, I’m a bit irritated that development on one of my favorite Mac AND iOS apps is dead.

R.I.P Sparrow, you will be missed.

Living in the Cloud

With the recent release of Google Drive, “the cloud” is once again all anyone can talk about. There are plenty of options but now that the big boys like Apple and Google are on board, just about everyone is starting to use some form of cloud storage.

I’m personally a huge fan of the cloud. I love having access to stuff anywhere, anytime and on any device. I actually use multiple services to maximize free space (and because I’m a little too paranoid about my data to put all my eggs in the same basket). Here are a few popular cloud services I’ve tried out:

Dropbox – I started using Dropbox a few years back at an independent contracting gig. It was a really simple way to transfer files between my laptop and the office desktop I was using. It was even more useful to have a shared folder with other team members so any of us could get access to the latest files at any time. Since leaving that job, I still use Dropbox all the time. It’s simple enough that I really don’t have to do anything at all. I love that it works across so many platforms so effortlessly. There’s been multiple times where I’ve needed a file when I wasn’t near my computer and could still get to it with someone else’s computer through the Dropbox website (This isn’t just a feature of Dropbox but most of the cloud services). When you sign up for your free account you get a decent chunk of space (2GB) and you can earn more space with referrals (up to 16GB total). There are paid accounts that up your storage space considerably, but I haven’t reached a point where that’s necessary yet. I think they also have “team” packages with lots of space designed for sharing on a project or in an office.

CX – This one is almost completely a clone of Dropbox (I’m not sure which came first, maybe Dropbox is the clone). They have the same effortless synching between devices and  CX works across plenty of platforms too. What I do like is their style. It’s bright, it’s fun and it’s very clean. The other big advantage to CX is the space. You start with 10GB, which is the largest free amount I’ve come across. You can even earn up to another 6GB by referring friends. If you’re looking for space, you can’t beat CX.

Google Drive – Google finally rolled out the much-rumored Google Drive. It essentially upgrades Google Docs to 5GB that you can use to store all of your files on. They’re accessible online (compatible formats can still be opened/edited like old Docs) and there is a nice desktop app that behaves (as in effortlessly synching) exactly like Dropbox and CX. There’s an Android app that I haven’t tested and apparently an iOS app is in the works. I’ve been an avid user of Google Docs for a while now so Google Drive is a nice upgrade for me. Google has a bit of an edge with integration. They’ve already announced a few partnerships (Lulu for example) and a number of browser plugins to extend it. I think done right, they can grab a lot of market share with tie-ups like these.

iCloud – This is Apple’s take on the cloud. Like many things Apple does, they don’t want you to even realize it’s there. They want to give you what you want when you want it without having to worry about where it lives. I haven’t come across many apps that are integrating with it yet but I’m sure they are coming. All of my iPhone pics are automatically available via photo stream in my iPhoto when I pop open the laptop. It’s stupid simple and for that I have to recommend it. Your mail, contacts, calendars, bookmarks (for Safari), photos, docs and even iPhone backups work without you having to do anything (beyond enabling it). As an added bonus they’ve added “find my Mac/iPhone” into the mix so you can locate your misplaced device. The downside is your synching is mostly limited to Apple products and services. If you’re using any of those though, it totally rocks.

Cloud App – This one is very different from the rest. It’s something I use nearly everyday but not in the same way. Basically it’s a service to share files. You just drop a file on the little cloud icon in your menu bar (on a Mac at least), it uploads and generates a tiny URL for you to share. You can even have it auto upload screen captures (again, on my Mac at least). One of the really cool features of the app is “rain drops.” These are essentially plugins that extend the usefulness of Cloud App to other apps. My favorite mail client, Sparrow, also integrates with Cloud App for sending attachments. I couldn’t find a definite total space limit on Cloud App’s site but you are limited to 10 files a day at up to 25MB a file. For most things that’s perfectly acceptable. They’ve got pro plans that up that space and add other cool features like custom domains for sharing. This isn’t something that will replace your Dropbox but I use both everyday for very different work flows.

Those are just a few options that I’ve personally been using. Each one is a little bit different and for me at least, no one service can do it all. I like each for specific reasons and will continue to use them all. Since you can try them all for free, I suggest you do and find what works best for you. Do you have a favorite I didn’t mention? Tell me about it in the comments.