A Week Without My Apple Watch

I’ve had my Series 2 Apple Watch for nearly a year. I ordered it the minute that the preorders went live, and it has worked flawlessly ever since. However, my Watch recently developed a bright pixel. If the display was on, no matter its brightness, this blue pixel was stuck on full brightness. It wasn’t a big deal during the day, but was glaringly obvious at night – especially when I was using the Numerals watch face. So I took it to the Apple Store to see what they could do. After all, it is still covered by Apple Care, and I didn’t spend $500+ for something that’s defective. Unfortunately, I was told that Apple Stores aren’t equipped to handle Watch repairs, and that my Watch would need to be shipped back to Apple for them to attempt to fix it. This meant that I would be without my Watch for about a week. Not a big deal, right? Well, I am now 6 days without my Watch, and this has made me realize just much I actually use it.

A typical day for me starts and ends with my Watch. I have a dock that charges it in nightstand mode overnight, and all it takes is a gentle tap anywhere on the Watch to light up the display to show me the time. Then when the alarm goes off, it’s time to get up.

First thing in the morning is workout time, and Apple Watch makes it so easy to start and track my workouts. I usually do either an elliptical workout or a strength training workout, and all I have to do is remember to start and stop the workout on my Watch. It automatically captures the duration of my workout, and uses the heart rate monitor to help calculate the total calories burned. I don’t have to go into an app afterwards to record my data. It automatically syncs to the Activity app, and I’m all set.

(Speaking of Activity, something has to be said about the motivating factor of filling up those Activity rings. I usually have one of the Activity watch faces for most of the day, to make sure that I keep pushing to fill the rings. I’ve had days where it looked like I might not complete my Move ring, but a quick walk after dinner was enough to get the job done. A little more activity that wouldn’t have typically been done is always a good thing! As if seeing my rings fill up isn’t motivation enough, there is even more reason to do it when you consider the weekly and monthly badges that are available. Especially as I approach the end of the month, and I’m already working on a perfect month of filling the rings everyday, there’s no way I can not try my hardest to fill the rings on those final days! Those Activity rings are a simple and amazingly powerful way of getting me up and keeping me going! Without my Watch, it has been more difficult to stay motivated to do my workouts everyday. Obviously, I’ve worked out for years without my Watch, but nonetheless I’ve come to appreciate the simplification that it has brought to my routines. Now, I have to manually add my workouts to my Health app, which means I have to note times and calories burned off of the machine, or just estimate them. Having a heart rate monitor built in to the Watch makes these numbers way more accurate. However, much to my dismay, I discovered that adding workouts manually to the Health app doesn’t contribute to the filling of my rings. I investigated and determined that only the Apple Watch is capable of adding data to the rings. Unfortunately, this means that I will miss out on two Perfect Month badges, as I shipped out my phone on August 29, and it’s now into September.)

After my morning workout, it’s time to get ready for work. Frequently, I set a reminder to go off at some point before I leave the house. “Remember to take such and such to work”, for example. I’d always miss these reminders when they used to go to my iPhone, but now with a quick tap on my wrist by my Watch, I never miss them!

These quiet taps for Notifications are indispensable throughout the day as well. I have several that go off periodically: reminders to log my caffeine, to log my meals in MyFitnessPal, to do something on my Things list, stand notifications for my Activity ring, activity notifications for my social apps, email and messages notifications, game notifications. The convenience of having these delivered to my Watch, viewable at a glance rather than having to pull out my iPhone and potentially be a disturbance, is greatly missed while my Watch is in the shop!

Similarly, being able to view incoming messages from my Watch, with the ability to quickly tapback a response or dictate something more fully, is amazing. This is even better when the message contains a photo! Viewing a shared photo on your Watch truly is like we’re living in the future!

Back home in the evening, I use my Watch while preparing dinner. I frequently set a timer with Siri while I’m cooking, which has saved me from countless burned dinner or spoiled recipes. I can still do this hands-free with the Hey Siri function on my iPhone, but the convenience of it being right on my wrist means I can’t walk away from it and forget about it.

The music playback controls are super convenient as well, as I don’t have to use my iPhone to get some music playing. I can leave the phone on the table and control it from my Watch if it’s just me and I want something quiet. Or, if I’m having more of a gathering, I can use the Apple TV remote on my Watch to play some music through the stereo that everyone can enjoy.

Then finally, when it comes to the end of the night, I turn on my alarm for the morning and set the Watch on its charging stand,

Of course, there is one other, obvious thing that my Apple Watch does all day. It tells the time. I haven’t worn a watch for probably 20 years, having just gotten used to checking my iPhone. But now, I didn’t even realize how frequently I would raise my wrist to check the time until I have nothing to look at but a watch tan!

None of these small conveniences are critical. I can set alarms or get notifications on my iPhone, just like I did for years before getting my Watch. After getting used to all of these things, and now going back to how I was before while my Watch gets repaired, it is eye-opening to how important this little device has become to me.

WWDC 2017 iOS 11 Predictions

Seeing as WWDC 2017 is set to begin in only a couple of days, I might as well join with so many other tech bloggers and add my own predictions! I agree with many of what I’ve seen already, so I’m not going to bother repeating those ideas. However, I have a couple of thoughts which I haven’t seen anywhere else yet. So here we go!

iOS 11 iPad Slide Over / Split Screen App Switcher

It seems that people have been complaining about the iPad Slide Over / Split Screen app switcher ever since it was released a couple of years ago. We hoped that it would get a redesign last year, but like most things on the iPad, there wasn’t much in the way of updates for it. However, if some of the rumours this year are to be believed, iOS 11 on the iPad might have much more of a significant makeover. The app switcher is, in my opinion, one of the parts of the iPad software that need to be updated in a big way! It’s next to impossible to find the app that you want on the list quickly. Apparently, the three apps that you see when you first slide open the switcher are the most recently opened apps, or something like that. But if you want something other than those, there is no easy way or quick way to find them beyond just scrolling through the list. And if you have a lot of apps that support multitasking, this list can be quite a headache to scroll through.

So here’s my idea for the redesigned app switcher and iOS 11 on the iPad. It stems from the idea that when some apps run in Split View on the iPad, they don’t necessarily display a shrunken regular iPad view of the app, but rather they show a view that would appear on an iPhone. Take Messages or Mail for example. When you open Split View or Slide Over, the view of the app that you see looks almost exactly like what you would see on an iPhone. You don’t just see a smaller version of what you would normally see in a full-screen iPad app. With this in mind, my prediction for the Split Screen app switcher redesign is that when you slide open the switcher, you are presented with an iPhone-like display of your home screen rather than a scrolling carousel of app icons, as it is now on iOS 10. This mini home screen would behave similarly to how your regular iPhone homescreen behaves. For example, you could swipe to the side to go to your next page of apps, or pull down to reveal the search bar. If either one of those two gestures is applied, then you would have a much easier finding apps in the app switcher! Both are familiar gestures, and if you don’t know exactly where to look to find your app, a search bar is a swipe away!

Biometric security

Along with the talk of Apple getting into augmented reality, AR, there is also some discussion about using more biometric data to verify you as your device’s owner. Current iPhones and iPads do this with the Touch ID sensor, built into the home button. But there is some talk of a future device using the FaceTime camera either as a retina scanner or, more likely, for facial recognition. It remains to be seen if these would be as successful as Touch ID has been so far, but maybe using them as a secondary verification rather than a primary would be a better idea. It seems to me that it would be quite a bit easier to spoof a face than to spoof a fingerprint!

Regardless of this, a camera that is adept as facial recognition would be very useful! What I would propose is that for every unlock attempt that is made on your device, the camera would instantly capture a photo of the person using it. If it’s you, and the device recognizes you already, then the photo doesn’t need to be saved and the unlock proceeds normally. However, in the case of a theft, if an unknown person tries to unlock the phone and it fails, the camera would capture that image and add it to your photo library, at which point it would be uploaded to iCloud. A warning message could then be triggered that would go to all of your other devices that an attempt has been made to unlock one of them, provide you with location data (like you get now if trying to access your account from an unknown location), and also provide you with a photo of the person. Photo evidence of an attempt at unlocking a stolen device! I really hope this comes true. Heck, you don’t even need a future iPhone with a new camera to do this! Just make this a security feature of iOS 11!

Apple AirPods Firmware Update

Apple recently released a firmware update for their AirPods wireless headphones. It was a silent update, meaning that in all likelihood, your AirPods have already updated and you didn’t even know or have to do anything. If you want to check to make sure that you’re running the latest version, here is what you have to do.

You can find your AirPods firmware version number buried in your iPhone’s General settings. First of all, make sure your AirPods are connected. Tap on Settings, and then tap on About at the top of the next page. If you scroll down this page and your AirPods are connected, you will see an entry labelled as “AirPods” with an arrowhead in the right side indicating a deeper page with more info. Tapping on this will present you with some info about your AirPods: Manufacturer (Apple Inc… duh!), Model Number, Serial Number, Firmware Version, and Hardware Version. As of this writing, they are up to version 3.5.1, which I believe was the first update to them. The other entries on this page are somewhat interesting, if you’re into that sort of thing. All Apple devices have a model number, and you can see here that AirPods are A1523. (Comparatively, here’s a list of all the iPhone, iPad, and iPod model numbers.) This screen also suggests that there will be minor hardware revisions produced before major new upgrades are introduced, based on how the Hardware Version number includes more than a single, whole number. In all likelihood, for something like a fix for a minor speaker issue, not bringing any new hardware or features, people with those models will probably have version 1.1.0 or something like that. For now, this early in the AirPods life cycle, we have version 1.0.0.

If, by any chance, your AirPods info indicates you are still on version 3.5.0 and it hasn’t updated yet, you can try to coax them… but not really. They automatically will update when both ear buds are in the charging case, and presumably, the case has sufficient charge to power the update. When I first checked, mine had not updated yet. But I just left them in their case and checked back in a while, and they were on 3.5.1. There’s nothing to do to force them to update.

As for what the update actually provides, there isn’t a lot of information about that. Some people have suggested that before the update, the charging case was draining too quickly while charging the AirPods, or it was reporting incorrect charge remaining. After the update, some feel this has been corrected. Some people have also suggested that it improves the quality of some calls, specifically FaceTime audio. Most likely, it only contains minor connectivity bug fixes. I assume that if there were any great new feature made available, Apple would let us know!

If you’ve updated and discovered that it has fixed a previous annoyance or problem, let me know in the comments!

My AirPods One Month Review

When Apple announced their AirPods wireless headphones, their eventual purchase was not an immediately obvious conclusion. After a lot of consideration, as I presented in my AirPods Decision blog post, I became much more confident that they were the headphone solution that I wanted. Having had my AirPods for more than a month now, I can happily say that I made the right decision. Here is my one month review of one of my favourite pieces of Apple tech.

I love everything about my AirPods. Well, almost everything… but I’ll get to that later. But first, let’s talk about the things that are great about them, which justify spending the money for these costly devices.

I’ll start with the obvious advantage that these headphones have over almost all others: they are truly wireless. They are virtually incomparable to anything else I’ve ever used. When I put them in my ears, I have complete freedom of motion. With traditional wired headphones, like the EarPods included with your iPhone, you have to plug into your phone, and it has to move with you. I’ve inadvertently pulled my iPhone off a table several times using those headphones, and a more serious repair at the Apple Store seemed to be an inevitability. Even if you keep your iPhone safely in your pocket, the wire snaking up to your ears is like a magnet to get caught on door knobs or any other thing that happens to intrude in your path, which causes either your EarPods to come flying out of your ears, or much more seriously, yanks your iPhone from its confines and drops it on the floor. With my AirPods, none of this is a concern. I can move around the house or office completely carefree and without worry of looping my cord on a drawer handle, or standing up abruptly and catapulting the phone. And I can do everything without ever missing a beat of the music.

Even if I compare my AirPods to other wireless Bluetooth headphones that have a wire connecting the two sides, they are still awesome. While those headphones also let me move around unrestricted, the connecting wire still has potential to stick to my neck or tangle in my shirt collar, which can provide just enough of a yank to loosen or free the earbud from my ear. Not a problem with AirPods.

What about the fit, you ask? Do the AirPods ever fall out of my ears? I can honestly say that they have never fallen out. Not once. I constantly move around with them, I exercise with them, I lie down with them. They have never once fallen out of my ears. They don’t hurt after prolonged usage either. I know that not everyone’s ears are the same shape, so I guess I could just be lucky. But I suspect that for most people, there isn’t going to be an issue of them falling out. I seriously believe that all the complaints of EarPods falling out of ears is because of the weight of the cord, constantly dangling and fighting the pull of gravity. With AirPods, they are so light and fit so right that it would take some pretty strong force to dislodge them from my ears inadvertently.

Next, let me talk about their battery and charging system. It’s fantastic too! Apple advises that you can expect about 5 hours of playing time from a fully charged AirPod. Then, you can pop it back in the charging case for a 15 minute quick charge to get another 3 hours of listening time. First of all, I rarely listen to anything for 5 hours at a time, so I can easily say that I have never run out of battery in these things. On top of that, whenever I am not listening to something, I immediately store the AirPods back in their charging case, which starts to charge them up again. The charging case is supposed to provide up to 24 hours of additional playing time. My feeling is that I don’t quite get this much charge out of them, but I’ve never listened so constantly or tried to count out just how much charge the case provides. On top of that, I feel that the case charges the AirPods more efficiently after recent firmware updates, and doesn’t lose as much charge itself to do it. I haven’t actually measured this either. For my uses, I am completely satisfied with the amount of charge that the AirPods themselves hold, and it takes virtually no effort to plug in and recharge the charging case at my desk once every few days, just to quickly boost it back up.

How about their use? Do they actually work as well as Apple says they do? Absolutely! They pair almost instantaneously when you open the charging case lid next to your iPhone. Then, once it has paired to your iCloud account, it is recognized by all your other iOS devices as well. It’s truly magical, when you consider the alternatives offered by nearly every other headphone out there. They also sound amazing; I think they sound even better than regular EarPods. The sounds just seem a bit richer, or the bass a bit deeper – not by a whole lot, and they certainly don’t compare to higher end listening headphones, but definitely good enough for me. The double tapping feature to activate Siri works very well, and Siri is arguable more responsive and better at understanding my voice than when I activate it on the iPhone itself. Probably because of the beam-forming microphones, and their proximity to my voice. But I can get Siri to work and understand me even when I’m speaking just louder than a whisper. After years of using Siri on my iPhone and iPad, and the frustration of it not triggering or understanding me correctly, AirPods make an amazing difference for this!

Controlling the AirPods is also super simple. Since Siri is so good at understanding me now, it is effortless to just ask for the volume to go up or down, or skipping or replaying songs, etc. I honestly don’t think that having physical buttons on the sides of the devices, as some people clamour for, is a good solution. It would add bulk, would be a physical point of wear, plus wouldn’t it be uncomfortable to push a button on something that is in your ear? Tapping for Siri is so easy! Any change in volume can also be controlled by your iPhone in the typical way, with the side volume buttons. And if you want to truly embrace wireless freedom, the AirPods also sync with your Apple Watch. So, I regularly play music on my iPhone, listen through my AirPods, and control playback and volume with the app on my Watch. It’s a fantastic system, and I don’t know if I’d ever want to go back!

I don’t think they look are dorky as some people make them out to be. I think the white colour of them is classic Apple, and they seriously just look like headphones without the wires. I’ve had jokes from friends saying that I look like I have Q-tips sticking out of my ears, but I pay no attention to them. Knowing the freedom that my AirPods give me, and then to walk by these same friends huddled over their phones with wraps of cord dragging papers around their desk and threatening to spill it all over, I’m the one that laughs in the end.

So, is there anything I don’t like about my AirPods? Well, there are two things…

For the first point, I don’t honestly know how much of a concern it actually is. AirPods are not marketed as being sweatproof, and I am scared to run or workout vigorously with them, for fear of sweat getting into them and short circuiting something inside, like I have done with countless EarPods over the years. However, they are incredibly well built, with seams barely visible. I suspect that sweat is not likely to get to the inside of these devices, but for the amount of money I paid for them (in Canadian dollars!), I am very hesitant to do something to them that has a chance of wrecking them. Maybe if I read enough stories about how they perform for other people using them like this, then perhaps I will start to run with them as well.

The second frustration I’ve had with them is with temporarily dropped connections. I usually am using them with my iPhone 6S, though also have them working with my iPad. These devices also have other Bluetooth accessories associated with them, so I don’t know if there is some kind of device confusion going on. Whatever it is, once in a while, the music will stop playing, and them I will get the “connection chime” to indicate that they are paired again. It doesn’t happen frequently, but when it does, it takes away a bit of the magic about them. That being said, I have never been unable to connect, and I am only ever a moment away from listening again.

So, that is my review of my AirPods after having them for more than a month now. I love these things! If I’m not actively using them, I usually have them in my pocket, charged and ready to use. They may be pricey, but with all the miniscule tech buried away inside, plus the incredible functionality of them, I think they are completely worth their price. You can buy $30 wireless Bluetooth headphones on Amazon, but you won’t get the tight integration with the rest of your devices, or the surprisingly good sound that come from these. I haven’t tried the new BeatsX wireless (connected) headphones, or any of the other W1 chip-containing headphones like the Powerbeats, and I’m sure that those headphones have their target audience, but for me and my listening requirements, I am completely satisfied with my AirPods!

The AirPods Decision – To Buy or Not To Buy

When Apple announced their new wireless earphones, the AirPods, I had mixed feelings about them. I initially thought that these things were really cool, but then had second thoughts after really considering if I wanted another costly gadget that functions similarly to things I have already. However, even though they are still not available, I have now decided that I am firmly on the side of wanting these new headphones. Here are my reasons why, and then some points that made it a more difficult decision that I first thought.

With the AirPods, you get the latest in wireless tech, and the latest tech is always cool to play with. With Apple’s custom W1 chip embedded inside each earphone, you’ve never had as much computer inside a set of headphones before! These smarts allow the AirPods to know if you are using only one or both earphones, and to smartly play sound as either mono or stereo appropriately. Optical sensors and motion accelerometers are included so that they can even tell when you take one out of an ear, and they will then switch from stereo down to mono sounds automatically. Put the seconds bud back in your ear, and you get switched back to stereo sounds just as easily. There are also beam-forming microphones and voice accelerometers in each AirPod , so that you can even talk very quietly and they will be able to focus on your voice and not any background sounds. And with just gentle taps, you can trigger Siri or answer a call on your iPhone. On top of all that, the W1 chip is smartly managing battery life, so that you can get the most use out of them on a charge. These tech features alone make AirPods smarter than any headphones I’ve ever owned.

The fact that AirPods are truly wireless, with no wires connecting the two earphones at all, is another of the reasons that make these so attractive to me. With traditional wired headphones, there is always a wire dangling from your head to your pocket or wherever you have your phone/device. This isn’t always a nuisance, but when it is, it really is. For example, how many times has your iPhone been on a desk or table, you’re listening to music through the bundled EarPods, and you suddenly get up without remembering that you have a wire connecting you to your phone. Next thing your know, your phone is tumbling to the floor, and if you’re really unlucky, you then have to make a trip to the Apple Store for some repairs. Or, you have your phone in your jacket pocket and the wires running up to your ears, and the extra length of wire catches on the door knob as you pass through the doorway, causing you to jump backwards to prevent your device from being pulled out of your pocket. AirPods clearly don’t have this wired connection, so they don’t have these problems.

Of course, these examples are specifically for wired headphones, but wireless Bluetooth headphones that have a cable connecting to the two earpieces also have some downfalls. I have some sport headphones in this style, and there are two things in particular that drive me crazy. The first is that if the cord running behind my head is too long, it can catch on a shirt or towel and tug the earphones right out of my ears. Also, while running, the cord bounces on the back of my neck, and this sound gets amplified into the earphones. So I end up hearing my music, but with the beat of my running cadence over top of it. Without a cable connecting the two AirPods, neither of these issues are present either.

Another great feature of the AirPods is their charging solution. A single charge can power an AirPod for up to 5 hours. That’s more that enough time for a typical use for me. In fact, this would probably be good enough for 2 or 3 typical listening sessions. But by putting them back in their charging case, they automatically start to recharge. They’ll have enough power to go for another 3 hours after only a 15 minute quick charge in the charging case. The charging case itself needs to be recharged periodically via a lightning cable, but a fully charged case can provide enough power to the AirPods to keep them going for 24 hours. Considering that when I am finished with listening to my AirPods, I would always put them right back in their case, that means that they would potentially never have a dead battery for me. All I have to do is remember to charge the case periodically. Too many times, I’ve picked up my current Bluetooth headphones, thinking that they were charged (they even report 40% charge sometimes), only to find that 10 minutes into a run, they are screaming “low battery” into my ear until they go silent completely moments later. This AirPod charging solution seems like it is going to be great!

The sheer convenience afforded by the smarts behind the W1 chip in the AirPods is a huge selling feature as well. Currently, with multiple devices in the house, I can have my Bluetooth headphones simultaneously connected to 2 or 3 of them. Anything more that those connected devices, and I have to go through the pairing process all over again. That then causes the original pairings to be lost, so the process has to get repeated over and over again. With the AirPods, once you open the charging case next to your iPhone for the first time, you will be asked if you want to pair them. Simply by tapping to agree with this, you pair with not only the iPhone, but with all the iOS devices connected to your iCloud account. You don’t so much as pair to a *device* as much as you pair to an *account*, which connects TO all of your devices. Beyond your iOS devices, the AirPods can connect as a traditional Bluetooth-connected device as well, which means you can pair it to your Apple TV or even your non-Apple devices. This is a much better solution that my current Bluetooth devices, and I will not miss the frustrations that come with pairing and repairing them!

The last point that I appreciate is the design of the AirPods. I know this is a contentious point, but I don’t think they look as bad or weird as some people make them out to be. They look exactly like traditional Apple EarPods headphones if their wires were cut off. They may look a bit odd or out of the ordinary, but I’m convinced that this impression is because there is nothing else like them. I’m sure that in time, as more people use them, they will seem more commonplace. This happened when Bluetooth headsets first came on to the market. If you saw someone walking around with a black thing sticking out of their ear, you thought they looked weird. But nowadays, everyone knows what it is and no ones pays it a second thought. It took a while to find acceptance, but it eventually happened. I think the same thing will happen with AirPods, and I don’t mind being one of the early adopter trendsetters. On top of that, I have never had a problem with the fit of EarPods. If AirPods fit my ears the same way, then that will be great. The only times that EarPods have ever fallen out of my ears has been when the cord tugged on them. But when I’m sitting at rest, they don’t hurt my ears, they sit comfortably, and I actually appreciate that they *aren’t* noise-cancelling or sound-isolating. While those techs are great in their own right, when I’m walking down the street, I would prefer to be able to hear the car horn or the police siren or the person on the trail announcing they’re about to pass me. As far as fit and design go, I am very pleased with EarPods, and if those are carried over to the AirPods, then I’m not going to have any problems at all.

Of course, there are some important points that have made me think a lot harder about my decision that I originally imagined. At $159 USD, or $219 in Canada (where I am), these are not a cheap gadget. This is a sizeable amount of money for something that essentially does the same thing as the free earphones included in the box with an iPhone, albeit with extra functionality. Furthermore, for that price, you get a first generation product. First gen products are always a bit risky. You basically are paying to be a first adopter, and to go along for the ride with the evolution of the product through its generations. The first gen product usually shows a lot of rough edges that get worked out in subsequent versions. In the case of the AirPods, one common complaint I’ve heard from early reviewers is that the lack of volume controls on the device itself is a bit of a nuisance. Sure, you can change the volume with Siri, or manually on your iPhone or iPad, or even more easily with your Apple Watch. But considering that the AirPods have motion accelerators and can respond to touch, it might make sense for future versions to have volume controls available through certain touch gestures right on the device – like a two finger tap and drag up or down. Early adopters fight through the growing pains, but if you wait until the device is “perfect,” you will never get one. Future generation models may also come in different colours, but for now, AirPods are limited to the traditional Apple headphone white. The tech itself may also become more refined, and therefore the design of the stems of the AirPods can become shorter and not look quite as odd as some people suggest. Evolving tech may also mean that wireless audio becomes more comparable to wired audio, as any audiophile will be quick to say you lose a lot of quality when you lose the wires. And finally, it does not sound like AirPods are sweatproof. I’ve killed several EarPods by running with them, especially ruining the button controls. I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable running with these expensive ear buds and risk sweating into them and wrecking them.

Despite these points that have made me seriously reconsider getting these, and for the reasons I’ve outlined earlier, I am very much looking forward to purchasing some AirPods as soon as they’re released. There are so many things about AirPods that are better than my current Bluetooth device, and I can’t wait to get a set and see how much better it makes my listening experiences.

multiple Siri's

My Biggest Hope for Siri at WWDC 2016

I recently published a blog post containing my predictions for Apple’s WWDC 2016. I touched on some of my wishes for all of their current hardware devices and operating systems that run on them. What I mention here isn’t necessarily a prediction, but rather a hope – or a plea – for something that I think is drastically needed.

Whereas one of my long shot predictions centered around a new hardware device that acts as a speaker or hub for the home, and is completely governed by Siri, this request – I think – can be much simpler than that. I don’t think it requires a new device, though I admittedly have no idea about how complex it could be to make it work.

What I want is for when I say “Hey, Siri!” that only the nearest or current device that I’m using responds!

Right now in my house, I have an iPhone 6S, an iPad Pro, my wife’s iPad Air 2, and her iPhone 5S. Two of those devices (the 6S and iPad Pro) have “always-on Hey Siri,” while the other two have it active only when the device is charging. The iPhone 6S only responds to my voice, though all of the other devices will respond to whatever voice speaks the “Hey Siri” command. It is not uncommon for the 5S and Air 2 (the older two devices) to require more frequent charges, and so will be plugged in. All of these devices will frequently be in the same room. So, a worst case example of what can happen right now is that, using my own voice, I will trigger all four devices to respond to my “Hey Siri!”

This is not helpful. And it gives the illusion of there being multiple Siri assistants, when I don’t think that should be how we view Siri.

(And I imagine it only getting more confusing if, as rumoured, Siri comes to the Mac next. If the function works the same way as on iOS devices, then we might assume that “Hey Siri” will also come over, and will work on the Mac while it is being powered.)

First of all, the devices don’t all reply with a perfectly synchronized voice. There is always a delay on some of the devices. So, even if all of them are saying the same thing, the reverberation or echo effect I get means that the response is next to useless to me. Secondly, and to complicate matters further, “Hey Siri” does not have an amazing track record for accuracy, so more often than not, at least one of the devices will hear me wrong. What happens is that I suddenly feel like I’m in the middle of a room hearing multiple conversations, unable to parse what any one in particular is saying.

I am not a programmer and don’t claim to have any idea of what goes into making these extraordinary devices work as well as I do. But in my mind, here is an idea: have all of the devices that get triggered initiate some kind of rapid communication between them that designates one device as the “responder.” How this responder device gets chosen could happen in a few ways. If I’m using one of the devices at the time, then clearly that device could take command and override any of the others. Alternately, if I just walk into a room and shout my command without actually using any device, then proximity could be assigned by how loudly my voice is detected. Nearer devices will detect my voice louder than devices on the other side of the room. All the devices can hear me, have a brief conversation amongst themselves about which unit heard me the loudest, and then only that device would respond to me.

I have no idea if this particular idea would work, but I know that there is a solution out there somewhere!

WWDC 2016

What I Expect from WWDC 2016

It’s that time of year again: No, not Christmas, but very close for Apple fans! Apple is holding their Worldwide Developers Conference again next week, and that means that they will be letting us see some of what they’ve been working on. Typically, as they’ve done for the last few years, they show a preview of the upcoming iOS and OS X versions that get released a few months later, as well as demoing some of the new hardware. Since as of yet, there haven’t been any leaks of what to expect at the show, I figured I would post my predictions for what may be presented. So with that, here are some of my expectations for WWDC 2016.

Let’s look at this by category, starting with the iPhone. iPhone 6S and 6S Plus were released this past fall, on the usual iPhone refresh cycle. In addition to those, Apple released the iPhone SE even more recently, just a few months back now. Considering those releases and the usual timing of phone updates, I think it’s virtually guaranteed that we will not see any iPhone hardware update news. If they do bring out a new phone, I think it will catch everyone off guard, and it would likely cause a whole bunch of complaints from the people who bought in to the 6S cycle, only to have the cycle cut short early, very similarly to what happened with the 3rd and 4th generation iPads, where the 4th gen iPad was released less than a year after the 3rd gen one. That made a lot of the early adopters upset! I should know – I was one of them!

Speaking of iPad, should we expect to see any iPad hardware refreshes? I think that’s doubtful. The past fall, the released the 12.9“ iPad Pro (with Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil accessories) and iPad mini 4. They elected to not introduce an iPad Air 3, but rather delayed the update to the 9.7” iPad until just a few weeks ago, when the released the 9.7" iPad Pro to replace the Air. So, much like with iPhone, the iPad hardware lineup doesn’t have anything more than a year old yet and due for a refresh.

Of course, iPhone and iPad will likely still play a central role in the WWDC keynote, as if this show follows the routine from the last several years, we will get a preview of iOS 10. This is an easy prediction to make, and I’m not going to go into details here about what I think or hope iOS 10 will contain. I’ll save that for another post!

Same hardware story for Apple TV. It just came out last fall, and considering how the Apple TV 3rd gen went for several years without a refresh, there’s no way they’d refresh the current Apple TV 4th gen this soon. Developers are still getting used to writing apps for tvOS, so I can’t see a good reason why they’d need to upgrade the hardware.

For Apple Watch, I’m a little unsure. They announced the Watch well in advance of it’s release – I believe a Fall announcement for a Spring release? Then at the last WWDC, they announced watchOS 2 already. For sure, we will get a preview of watchOS 3, but I am curious if that will shed any light on what the Apple Watch 2 itself might contain, or if they might do an early reveal of that as well. I’m very hopeful, as I’ve been holding off buying a Watch until version 2 comes out, but I suspect that we’ll be seeing more of what the Watch will be able to do, rather than the Watch itself. I’ll just have to keep waiting! Oh, and probably new watch straps, to keep with fashion trends.

Finally, let’s consider the Mac lineup. The new 12“ MacBook was released a while ago, with the single USB C port that created such a stir. However, the rest of the MacBook Pro line didn’t get much of an update. The CPU’s got a recent speed bump, but nothing major. One rumour is that Apple may bring the 12” MacBook styling to the MacBook Pro lineup. If they did that, I suspect they’d have to increase the number of ports available, as it wouldn’t be much of a Pro device with such limited connectivity. The iMac also got an update last year with the 5K retina display, so that one may also get a speed bump, but probably nothing revolutionary.

The operating system for the Mac will likely get a big part of the show as well, and if rumours prove correct, it’s going to have its name changed from OS X to MacOS. There has also been some debate about the syntax of the name, with all the other Apple OS names starting with lowercase letters, though the argument is that the Mac is a proper and trademarked name, and should rightfully remain capitalized. Anyways, that’s just the name. What it will actually bring to the Mac will likely be working towards more of a constant user experience across Apple’s mobile and desktop devices. Of course, the big rumour that should hopefully prove true is that Siri may be coming to the Mac.

Beyond Apple’s mainstream hardware and OS systems, they have a few other things that could possibly get some of the spotlight at this WWDC. Recently, Airport routers have been disappearing from Apple Store shelves. When things go out of stock at Apple Stores, that a good indication that a refresh is coming soon. However, in this case, it might just be a matter of recently changed FDA rules, and hopefully they will be brought back soon. Every year, people also pine for upgraded Retina Thunderbolt displays. There has been recent talk that standalone 5K displays containing their own GPU’s may be on the verge of showing up, but those rumours have also been shot down by a few people. New Beats devices could get released as well, especially with the back to school season soon upon us, though I don’t think Beats devices have ever been given any presentation time at these keynotes. They’d probably just be a silent refresh on the website or a news release.

One final rumour involves a new piece of hardware, which would be really cool if true, though I have my doubts. The rumour is a device that has a speaker, mic, and camera, and runs an always-on Siri that can act as a sort of hub for the home. I suppose they could integrate the Beats technology into the speaker functionality, though I can’t see this being anymore than a since standalone device, as opposed to a collection of speakers that you can customize for your room, like Sonos. Maybe something closer to a Beats Pill? Then the camera could supposedly perform facial recognition so that Siri knows who is present in the room. Combining this with the tech that allows the iPhone 6S to distinguish between voices could really help with the device’s awareness. This hub device could integrate with all the devices in your home, and issue commands to them individually, such as telling the Apple TV to turn on a movie, or telling your iPhone to dial a contact. Plus, it would tie into iCloud, so that you could dictate notes or make calendar appointments, etc. With the recent surge in popularity of Amazon’s Echo device with Alexa, something like this from Apple may attract a big audience.

So, those are my predictions for WWDC 2016. It sounds like this year is going to be a big year for software, with less attention on new hardware. Either way, our Apple devices are going to learn some new tricks in the coming months, and that is exciting!

How to Convert a Live Photo to a Still Photo in iOS 9.3

With Apple’s recent update of iOS to version 9.3, they fixed one of my earlier complaints of the Photos app, which had to do with the complication of getting a still photo out of a Live Photo. Up to and including iOS 9.2, the task of converting a Live Photo into a still photo was doable but with a few points worth considering. However, now it’s as simple as can be. Here’s how you do it!

How to Convert a Live Photo to a Still Photo in iOS 9.3

With iOS 9.3, it’s easy to turn Live Photos into still photos. Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Take your photo with the Live Photo function enabled. You can tell this is turned on when the icon for Live Photos (the circular one with concentric rings in the camera app) is yellow. If it’s white, it’s disabled.
  2. Check out your Live Photo in the Photos app. If you like the still frame of it that is displayed without activating the motion, then keep going because this is the still pic you’ll end up with.
  3. Tap on the Share button.
  4. Swipe over through the gray icons until you find the new Duplicate action. Tap it.
  5. You will be prompted to Duplicate, which gets you another Live Photo, or Duplicate as a Still Photo. Tap the second one.
  6. That’s all there is to it. Check out your duplicated photo to make sure it’s everything you’d hoped it would be!

From what I can tell, the process of converting a Live Photo to a still photo copies the time and date metadata, though it seems that location data is not available on the still copy.

Potentially of significant interest, if you are happy with the still photo that you obtained and you no longer wish to keep the Live Photo original, now you are free to delete it. Since the animated versions are larger files than the standard pics, this is a great way to reclaim some of your limited iCloud storage space.

Hopefully you can see that extracting the still frame from your Live Photos is now a super simple process. Comparatively, here’s how you’d do it before iOS 9.3, in iOS 9.2 or earlier.

How to Convert a Live Photo to a Still Photo in iOS 9.2 or Earlier

  1. Take your Live Photo.
  2. Check it out in the Photos app.
  3. You have a few options from here:
    • Tap to make the photo full screen, then press the Home button and power button at the same time to capture a screenshot. (Note that this will time stamp the still as the time of the screenshot, not as the original time of the Live Photo. Same story for location data.)
    • Tap the Edit button for the Live Photo to enter editing mode. From here, you can tap on the Live Photo indicator in the top left corner to disable the animation. Then tap to save the photo. Importantly, while this will give you the still image that you desire, the animation part of the original is still attached and stored in iCloud. If you later decide that you actually want your picture to move, you can undo these steps and reenable the animation. Point being, you are not reclaiming iCloud storage space simply by disabling the live component.
    • I’m sure there are third party apps that could extract the still frame from your original photo, but since I’ve never attempted this, I can’t really comment about it.

As you can see, the update to Photos in iOS 9.3 makes it easy to convert a Live Photo to a still photo!

iCloud Photo Library problem

How to Fix iCloud Photo Library Problems

I’ve been having problems with my iCloud Photo Library this week, so I am deciding to write a blog post about it. I haven’t been able to find anything written anywhere online about this particular issue, but surely there are other people out there having the same problem as me since updating to iOS 9.3. The good news is that I think I figured out how to resolve it. Hopefully, this post will find others having the same problems and will help them too.

Here are a few of the things that alerted me to something being wrong:

  1. I could not save any edits to my photos in the Photos app. Whenever I would try, it would tell me “There was an error saving this photo. Please try again later.” Later never arrived.

  2. I could not add photos to a shared photo stream. I should possibly state that I could not do this “reliably.” My usual method of sharing is to view the photo in the Photos app, tap the share sheet, then tap the iCloud Photo Sharing button. After specifying which photo stream to post to, it would always go without any issues. However, now I could perform all those steps without alerts, but the photo would not show up in the photo stream. I did manage to add one or two photos to a photo stream by going into the shared photo stream itself, and tapping on the big + button at the bottom, and selecting a photo to add. However, after I did it once and thought this might help me, I wasn’t able to repeat it again.

  3. It seemed that I was always having to wait for every photo to download from iCloud. I have seen this on my iPad and am accustomed to it there. However, this was happening on my iPhone 6S. I shoot 99% of my photos with that device, and despite having the photo storage set to Optimize, I rarely have to download shots, and especially recent ones. You know that the photo is not stored on your device when it initially loads a rather blurry version of the pic, and then a few seconds later it just snaps into high resolution focus. I was experiencing this for pictures that I shot only days ago. For something from a few years back, that’s understandable. But I’ve never experienced this for something so recent. Furthermore, once I had downloaded the high resolution version, I noticed that I now had to do this almost every time I wanted to view the photo. This was definitely something new.

Importantly, I had confidence that my photos were safely stored in iCloud, because even though I was having these issues, new photos taken with my iPhone were uploading and syncing to my Mac running the latest version of El Capitan, 10.11.4. In addition to that, my Mac is backing up through Time Machine to multiple drives. So, this is another example of BACK UP YOUR DATA! I’d never want to troubleshoot and experiment with something as important as photos without having a backup to fall back on if needed.

I tried to figure out if I had done anything to my devices lately to prompt such strange behaviour. I don’t typically download a lot of apps, and I hadn’t for a while, so it wasn’t that. I don’t usually change up my workflows and routines, so there likely wasn’t something I changed to have triggered this. But oh wait… coincidentally enough, I did download iOS 9.3 earlier this week. I can’t confirm that was the cause of my problem, but it sure seems like it must be connected.

I tried the obvious things first. I killed the app and then reopened it. That didn’t help. I restarted my phone. That didn’t help. I shut down my phone completely before powering it back on. That didn’t help.

I thought to try connecting with @AppleSupport on Twitter, since I’ve heard remarkably positive reviews of their service. They responded within a few hours, and we had a pretty good conversation through direct messages. I explained the problem and they offered me a few things to try. Their suggestions didn’t work directly, but they did lead me to my own solution. (They possibly may have given me the solution eventually, but with a few hours in between direct messages, I got impatient and started experimenting!)

The first thing they suggested for me to do was to disable and then reenable iCloud Photo Library. I was hesitant to do this, because it’s a bit daunting to consider completely removing your photo library, and then hoping it comes back again later. These are precious memories, not just documents or something far less personal and important. But as I said, I had confidence because I knew it was all safe and sound on iCloud, and then synced to my Mac, and then backed up multiple times from there.

So, disable and reenable iCloud Photo Library. No problem. And… that didn’t help. When I looked in the Photos app, in the Years view, I could see a bunch of gray thumbnails and sporadic image thumbnails. But the thumbnails were not all coming back. I watched a few fill in, but soon after, the network activity spinner in the top bar disappeared and the downloads stopped coming in altogether. And, I still couldn’t save edits or share photos.

Very frustrating…

I tried to disable iCloud Photo Library in combination with a phone restart. I think this was now getting somewhere. As soon as I disabled it, I went to the Photos app, and from the Years view, I watched the lines of photo thumbnails disappear until the app told me I had no photos saved. Then I restarted the phone, and once back on, I reenabled the library. This time, I watched as gray thumbnails appeared line by line to make up the years of photos stored in iCloud. So, I definitely knew that the app knew about my photos, because seconds earlier, I was completely cut off from them. Now, though, they were still just gray boxes, and the actual photo thumbnail wasn’t downloading as I’d expect.

However, I noticed that when I zoomed in a few levels to the Moments view, all of the gray boxed had a small cloud icon on them, and seconds later, the boxes on the screen were populated with the actual image thumbs. Tapping on the image launched me into the full size photo, and after a second of downloading, I had the full resolution image again. Back to the Moments view, I noticed that if I would scroll through my list, the gray thumbnails would populate with image thumbnails almost as fast as I could scroll. So that’s what I did.

I scrolled through my list in the Moments view, starting with today, and flinging backwards through several years worth of photos. Periodically I would stop and go back to make sure it was keeping up with filling in the blanks, and sometime I noticed that I was scrolling too quickly for it to do so. But as long as I was continuously scrolling at a “not too fast but still pretty fast” rate, I was good. After a few minutes of this, I had repopulated all of the gray boxes with the actual photo thumbnails.

I don’t know enough about how iOS or iCloud Photo Library or the Photos app work to elaborate on this at all, but somehow, once I had fixed the thumbnail problem, I was able to save any edits I made on the photos, and I was also able to share on my photo stream again.

I have to note that this resolution clearly only applied to the device that I was working with, or my iPhone 6S in this case. When I checked to see if it had done anything to the online photo library itself to cause this to be resolved, I found that my iPad still gave me the same problems. So, I have to now repeat the process with my iPad later. Hopefully I will have the same resolution, and I’ll update this post with the results of that.

As I mentioned, I am writing this because I struggled to find a solution online to these precise symptoms. However, if this is truly connected to my iOS 9.3 update, then I have to believe that there are others out there going through the same frustrations. Hopefully they will find this post, and hopefully it will help them to fix one of their most loved and important apps.

EarPods wrap

How to do the Apple EarPods Cord Wrap

So you’ve got yourself a brand new iOS device, and with it comes a new set of Apple’s Ear Pods in their reusable travel container. You open the case, unravel them and put them to use. However, now that you’re done, how in the world do you wrap them up again as nicely as when they were new? There is a precise method to the Apple cord wrap. Here is how you do it.

First thing you do is put the Ear Pods into the right and left slots for them. They will only fit one way. Now orient the case so that the cord points straight towards you. Now comes the wire wrap trick.

To begin, grab the wire that does not have the control buttons on it. Wrap this cord counter-clockwise to the top, and them thread it down the center groove back towards you.

Next, take the other wire (with the control buttons) and wrap that the same way, and lay it down the middle on top of the first wire so that the buttons for nicely into the groove.

Now you should have both wires wrapped once and them down through the center groove. Continue now to wrap them both together counter-clockwise, trying to pack he cord neatly and tightly as you wind.

When you are done, the 8 mm headphone connector should be on the right side pointing up, perfectly positioned. All you need to do next is fit the transparent plastic lid over top of your wrap job to finish. You may need to jostle the cord a bit as you settle the lid, ensuring that you aren’t pinching the wire anywhere.

That’s all there is to it! I think these are some of the best in-ear headphones, and the bonus is that they come with your new iPhone or iPod! If you’re planning on reusing the Apple Ear Pod case to store your new headphones, make sure you follow this method to store them correctly, with the proper cord wrap!