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!

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!

caffeine header

Caffeine Tracking on iOS

Steps, weight, calories, water consumption… if there’s an easy way of recording fitness or nutrition data to visualize patterns and trends that could affect my health and well being, I am probably interested. With the iOS Health app, many of these things have never been so accessible to record and view. By simply opening the app, you can immediately be taken to a dashboard containing the data most important to you, and with the various time periods from which to choose, you can easily monitor and notice the impact of your habits on your health, thereby helping you to identify where you may want to make improvements to your lifestyle.

One aspect of nutrition that I have been monitoring for a while now is caffeine consumption. I had a habit of drinking a cup of coffee several times a day, and I eventually realized that this was something I should probably tone down. Once I settled into a new routine, I eventually became accustomed to having a lesser amount throughout the day. One thing that helped me to achieve this goal was to actively track how much caffeine I was having. However, I had to do some experimenting before I finally arrived at my perfect method of collecting this data. What I settled on was a “script” that I made in the Workflow app. I had issues with everything else that I tried.

UP Coffee

The first app that I tried was UP Coffee by Jawbone. I admit that I did like this app at the beginning. All you have to do is remember to open the app and select how much coffee you consumed, and the app will generate a graph of the caffeine in your body. The great thing about this graph is that it factors in the half-life of caffeine in your bloodstream, and displays an approximation of the amount still in your body for hours after you consumed it. The graph also indicates a corresponding wakefulness on the graph, so that you can see that if you have a cup of coffee at 8 PM, your caffeine level and alertness will spike and probably not be down to a reasonable level for sleep for a few hours. While this way of visualizing my caffeine consumption was useful, I eventually felt that the app was not fully fleshed out and it annoyed me. All I wanted was to track my caffeine, but it insisted on also giving me trivia facts and insights about coffee and caffeine that I could not disable. I could view my caffeine intake a day at a time, but I don’t believe there was a way to zoom out and show consumption on longer time scales, which is a great benefit to tracking your progress when trying to change a habit. It also said that it needed to collect data about my habits for several days to generate a “caffeine persona,” but when the meter had filled up to something like 116 out of 10 days (I don’t remember the numbers) and extended right off the side of the page without it actually doing anything different, I figured it was past time to move on to something that was better designed. I also got the impression that this app was meant as a gateway into Jawbone’s ecosystem, noticeable by the tab pointing you towards UP sleep integration (presumably requiring one of Jawbone’s physical UP bands).

Coffee Tracker and Caffeine Zone 2

Having become frustrated by Jawbone’s offering, I went back to the AppStore to look for something else. I considered trying Coffee Tracker, though it’s interface looks almost exactly like the UP one. I’m not sure who copied who, but that is not coincidence. I also considered purchasing Caffeine Zone 2, though I felt the app seemed rather sparse and doesn’t appear to be updated regularly. Based on the iTunes preview, it seems that there are some good ideas in here, though I’d like to see the design updated to be more fresh and welcoming, and not just the basic iOS tables, forms, and buttons.

Manual Addition to iOS Health

The final method of caffeine tracking that I tried, before finding my eventual solution, was to manually make an entry in the iOS Health app. This is easy enough to do, and provides a very nice graph of my data over time. You can view your data over the course of a day (neat if you actually include the accurate time of consumption in your record), by week, month (my preferred view) or year. As well, each time scale shows a dotted line to represent the average over that time. To actually add the data, you have to go into the Health app, tap on the Caffeine graph (assuming that you have added it to your dashboard already. Otherwise, it’s under the Health Data tab), and then select “Add Data Point.” Then you can tap in the time, date, and amount of caffeine in milligrams that you consumed. Like I said, this is pretty easy to do. The only catch is figuring out how much caffeine you had! If you had a can of pop, odds are that you can figure out how much you had from the nutrition label on the side of the can. But what about for a cup of coffee? I had to look this up. From what I can tell, a single scoop of coffee beans (I grind my own) corresponds to about 100 mg of caffeine. So from that, you should be able to figure out how much you consumed! Furthermore, I found that a single espresso shot is about 75 mg and a double is 150 mg, so it’s good to know those numbers as well. If you can remember these numbers, then this method of manual entry into the Health app works just fine. However, after doing this a few times, you will quickly wish that there was a faster way of inputting this data into your Health app. Fortunately, there is. And this is my ultimate caffeine tracking “workflow.”

Automatic Addition to iOS Health via Workflow

The key to my perfect caffeine tracking solution lies in the app called Workflow. It is a paid app in the AppStore, selling for a few dollars (check your local AppStore for the correct price in your currency!). Because caffeine tracking is important to me, a few dollars is a completely justifiable cost, especially considering how well designed it is, its enormous utility, and its on-going support and development. However, when you really dig into it and understand just what this app is capable of doing, you will quickly find that they could sell this app for much more money, and it would still be a worthwhile investment. (I was first introduced to this wonderful app by Federico Viticci of Macstories, and if you are interested in one of the most in-depth reviews out there, I highly recommend reading his original review of Workflow, and his subsequent updates.) Anyways, in the Workflow app, you can create little “programs” that run when you tell them to, and I have created my perfect workflow that automatically adds one of several preset amounts of caffeine to my iOS Health app, depending on the coffee drink that I have chosen.

With my coffee workflow, now all I have to do after I’ve had a cup is go into the Workflow app and run my created workflow. I get prompted at various steps in the program to provide some quick answers to my pre-made questions, and then it automatically creates the entry in my Health app. Then I can just open the Health app and be presented with a beautiful caffeine graph without having to dig around into the details of adding new data points. Workflow does it all automatically.

Here is a link to my coffee workflow. I call it “Anytime Coffee” for reasons that I will get to later. Basically, here is what it does:

  1. Sets an amount of caffeine per scoop of coffee beans. As I said, I grind my own. See below for how I arrived at this number.
  2. Offers me a choice from three of my most common coffee drinks, along with an option for some of my less frequently consumed drinks. Each of these options has a predefined amount of caffeine that I have set. I also have a “custom” setting, for those days where I vary the amount of beans that I use, and I can tell it how many scoops I used (decimals or multiples!).
  3. It takes my selection, and prompts me for the time and date that I had it, with the default set to the current time (though this can be changed to whatever time and date you prefer).
  4. It gives me a brief summary of the info that I’ve provided, and prompts for me to cancel or have it go ahead and log it to my Health app.

You probably will want to customize the coffee drinks more to your regular routine. For example, Tim Horton’s is a favourite place of mine to get a coffee, so I have a couple of their drinks easily accessible for me, right in the first set of options it gives me. If you don’t go to Tim Horton’s, but rather visit McDonald’s or Starbucks for your coffee, just make the change to your workflow. My Tim Horton’s info I found on their website, so if you want to change the options to something more relevant to you, be sure to check their sources to find the right caffeine data to include!

Tips for an Even More Awesome Caffeine Tracker!

I also have a slightly modified workflow that I call “Morning Coffee.” Since I typically have the same coffee every morning at the same time (thank you, 9–5 job!), this workflow removes the extraneous options. It simply logs my usual coffee at the predefined time of 9 AM. It then also removes the final prompt to go ahead or cancel. With this workflow, I can log my caffeine even quicker, as I have removed all of the choices that are built in to my original “Anytime Coffee” workflow. I just run the workflow, and it logs the caffeine, with no further interaction from me required! If you have a typical routine that you do, this slight modification makes the original workflow even more convenient!

Now that you know about how perfect these caffeine workflows can be, here are some awesome tips to make them even more convenient.

  1. If you have an iPhone 6S with 3D Touch as I do, then a great idea is to set your coffee workflow as one of the 3D Touch shortcuts in the Workflow app. That way, all you have to do is Force Press the app icon to get the 3D Touch menu, then tap on your workflow, and it will begin to run directly from your home screen.
  2. In the Workflow app settings, you can also choose to have selected workflows available to you from the Notification Center as Today widgets. (You also have to customize your Notification Center to show Workflow, of course. Just pull down from the top of the screen to open it, then scroll to the bottom and tap the Edit button. Then tap the plus to add Workflow.) Especially useful for my Morning Coffee workflow, which requires no interaction, if you set that one to be a Today widget, it will show up in Notification Center and you can run it without it even needing to open the Workflow app! Just press the workflow icon, and it will zoom through the steps. (Because the Anytime Coffee requires interaction, it takes you into the app.)
  3. If you find that when you use these workflows to log your caffeine, you always leave the app immediately afterwards to do something else, a final customization step that you can apply to the workflow is to add the “Exit Workflow” step at the very end. Without this step, the workflow will execute and will leave you at the end when it completes. You can then run it again or do something else in the app. But automating the exit from the app if you rarely do anything at this point is yet another way that Workflow will make you appreciate it even more. (Note: I am having mixed results with this option since I wrote this. This seems to exit the app altogether if you run the workflow from the Notification Center or the 3D Touch menu, though if you run the workflow from within the app itself, it will only take you back to the app’s home screen. However, this result hasn’t been consistent and I’m not sure why. I suspect it has something to do with the workflow requiring user interaction. “Morning Coffee” doesn’t require this, and exits immediately. “Anytime Coffee” does require input, and goes back to the main screen at the end. Not sure if this is by design or a bug.)

Note About my Caffeine Amounts

Since I grind my own coffee beans, I need to know two things to figure out how much caffeine I’m getting: the amount of beans that I use, and the amount of caffeine per amount of coffee beans. My typical cup of coffee uses one scoop of Arabica beans, equivalent to about 8 grams. The caffeine per gram of coffee bean varies depending on the brand, roast type, etc, but i assume a caffeine content of 1.4% for the stuff I use. Therefore, this works out to 112 mg, so I say 100 mg from a single scoop of coffee beans for simplicity. Similar thinking led me to the caffeine amounts in my other options. Disclaimer: don’t take any of my preset values as medically or scientifically accurate!

Google apparently also has a handy caffeine calculator. Just search for “caffeine content of coffee” and you will get a calculator right there in the search results.


I may be completely wrong in how I’ve determined the caffeine content of my coffee, but that’s not the point of this article. The beauty of my workflow to track caffeine content is that I can make a simple change to the numbers, and the workflow will use those new values to do exactly what I want it to do. It won’t necessarily go back and change previously entered data either, but I don’t think that my numbers are so incorrect that I’d want to go and change my historical records anyways. The iOS health app gives me a beautiful graph that, if nothing else, shows the trends in my caffeine consumption, even if the numbers themselves aren’t scientifically precise, and that is enough to monitor, change, and maintain habits. Plus, the simplicity and convenience afforded by using the Workflow app to enter this data make this my ultimate caffeine tracking method for iOS.

How to Use Apple’s Notes App on PC

Notes on iOS 9 is a huge jump forward for the Notes app. Extra formatting, lists, sketches (including pressure-sensitive drawing on the new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus), web clips. You can easily create a new note from text you select in another app, or automatically included a link and picture preview of the webpage. This list goes on and on if what you can now do with Notes. It is not the bare bones basic note-taking app we’ve come to know over the years!

Like many people, I am finding this newly added functionality to the Notes app to be incredibly helpful for quickly getting my thoughts down in a note. It is wonderful on my iPhone 6S, especially where I want to include sketches! They’re easy and fun to make. I also have come to really appreciate the functionality of iCloud to sync my notes between my devices. Creating a note on my iPhone but then being able to access it on my iPad or MacBook is incredibly useful! However, at work, I have a Windows PC (unfortunately), and there are times where I wish I had the added convenience of my notes syncing to that device as well.

Then it occurred to me… I DO have that convenience!

Because I have iCloud set up on my devices to sync everything, I can actually access my notes from the iCloud website! If I log on to with my Apple ID for the account that I am syncing across my devices, I can access all my stuff from any computer that is connected to the Internet, whether it is a PC or a Mac or otherwise! I can also not only just view my notes, but I can create new ones and manage my existing ones, and everything that I do will sync to all my devices.

iCloud is a great feature of the Apple software ecosystem, and it makes the new Notes app even better!

How to View Live Photos from older iPhones

With Apple’s latest iPhones, the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, one of the key new features is 3D Touch. This enables a bunch of new shortcuts and things for your phone to do. They’ve also paired this technology with the new Live Photos for viewing. Only the new phones are capable of taking Live Photos, though what many don’t recognize is that you don’t need the new phones to view them.

With an iPhone 6S, you simply enable the Live Photos feature from the camera screen. It turns yellow when it’s on. Consider that whatever image your camera is looking st, it is temporarily recording it all and saving a rolling buffer of what it sees. When you snap a photo, it saves the previous 1.5 seconds from its buffer and also adds the 1.5 seconds after you took the picture, giving you a 3 second window surrounding the instant of your shot.

To view the Live Photos, on a 6S or 6S Plus, you can find it in your Photos because it has the same Live Photos icon that you tapped to turn in the feature in the camera window. With your photo selected, simply apply force to the 3D Touch-enabled screen, and it will briefly blur and then start playing for you.

On an older iPhone or iPad, you will not have the pressure-sensitive 3D Touch display, so applying more pressure will not work! However, you can still play it back simply by touching and holding on the photo. The only catch is that your device just be updated to at least iOS 9.0 or greater.

Live Photos are one of the great new features of Apple’s new iPhones. What makes the feature even better is that you don’t need to have the latest hardware to participate in viewing then! Moms and dads and grandparents who are running older devices don’t have to miss out on the great Live Photos of the kids at all!