Why, Apple, why? An iPad ordeal

Way back in April of 2010, about three weeks after it became available, I eagerly purchased an Apple iPad. Man, was this the device of my dreams, or what? Indeed, I had wanted a tablet for a decade, ever since I saw a really poor Fujitsu tablet with Windows 95 and ‘Pen Windows’ extensions. Even earlier, I once had an Epson ‘notebook’ which was similar to the TRS-80 Mod 100.

So, now I had this dream device.  I bought EVERY accessory for it that Apple came out with in those first few months. The keyboard dock. The video out cable. The Camera Kit. The case. Extra cables. I was so excited. I showed it to everyone I saw. After using it and downloading some useful apps, I thought this thing could replace my laptop.

After the death of my wife, I took my son on a rollercoaster tour of Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. We hit up Six Flags America, Trimpers in Ocean City, Maryland, Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens in Virginia and Carowinds in Charlotte, NC. I had several digital cameras with me and took a lot of photos and video. At the end of each day, I would-using the Camera Kit, which was just an SD card adaptor and a USB adaptor-upload photos from the cameras to the iPad and then correctt them, catalog them and upload a few to Facebook or Picasa. For the next few years, I did this. I used the iPad as a laptop replacement.

Over time, though, it was less and less useful. As Apple brought out new models, my old iPad really began to show its age. I used it less and less and the laptop, which had showed its prowess many times, saw more and more use. My Kindle Fire picked up a lot of what I used the iPad. My Asus Windows 8 tablet sealed the iPads fate: it got relegated to kid duty.

A few days ago, I picked it up and began to peruse the photos. I realized that there were many that I did not have anywhere else. Hmmm…now I have to get them off.  Easy.

NOPE.  Apple made it nearly impossible to get your media OFF of the iPad. As the latest iOS this thing supports is iOS 5.1, I had few avenues.  iTunes was out as the computer I originally synced it with is long gone and iTunes will not allow multiple computer sync. Really.  How inconvenient is that? Windows file explorer could only ‘see’ the ‘saved photos’ and NOT all of them.  What to do?

Well, there are several applications that will bypass the one computer limit and allow true syncing. However, these applications are not free and I did not want to spend money on this as it is a one shot deal. 

To get photos into the Saved Photos folder, you must select them, one at a time and copy them over.  A real pain.  So, I figured I would have to go through this rather laborious ordeal. That is, until I remembered Goodreader.  GoodReader will allow you to import photo folders and then zip them up. It also contains a WEB SERVER. A Ha!

I had a plan.  I created a couple of folders in GoodReader. Imported the folders from Photos. Selected All. Zipped them up.  Fired up the web server. Connect from Internet Explorer and download each zip file. It took about an hour, but I got the photos I wanted.

Now, I ask you, why did Apple make this seemingly simple task an almost impossible on?

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Office 365: Worth it?

word2013Back when Microsoft announced that they were going to offer Office as a subscription, I put it down.  I was convinced that it was nothing more than a money grab and not worth the money.  Well, A reader of this blog, and someone I consider a friend even though we’ve never actually met, convinced me that it was worth the money.  After some further research and listening to several podcasts both praise and condemn the notion of annual Office payments, I decided to try it out.

There are several subscriptions available, each have a unique offering, for the home and business user.  The home subscriptions works on just one device and is about 7.95 a month.  I got the middle tier, a $99 a year subscription that gets you installs on five computers and five portable devices.  The business edition is higher cost and is aimed squarely at companies and we won’t discuss that here.

Now, the really good thing with Office 365 is that you can actually install it on any number of computers and devices, but only five of each are active at any time. You can deactivate it on a device and activate it on another.  That’s pretty handy, and if you use OneDrive, then being away from your computer suddenly becomes a moot point. Save your work to OneDrive and access it and Office from anywhere. Just deactivate one machine, then activate the one you are on, do your work, save to OneDrive and then deactivate.  Plus, you only install what you need. If you don’t want Powerpoint, don’t install it. Simple.

So, here at my house, I have it installed on my primary machine, my Son’s laptop and one other desktop. As the other computers already have Office 2007 or Office 2010, I’m going to leave them be. I did install it on my Asus tablet and have downloaded the three apps for the iPad. 

My only complaint, so far, is that my Live ID seems to have problems with the Office 365 login.  Not sure why, but every other login seems to return an error telling me that the ID has a problem. It never says what it is.

OK, I do have one more issue: on my tablet, some of the damn on screen widgets are too small. It isn’t very finger friendly under Windows…yet.  With Build 2014 coming up, I’m hoping that Microsoft will announce a ‘Modern UI’  version of the suite.

Office 365 is one of those odd things that, on the surface, seems like a bad deal, but it really is not.

The iPad Mini: worthy successor to the iPad

ipadminiWhen Apple introduced the iPad in April, 2010, I was a bit skeptical but excited. Initially, I resisted the urge to buy one, but, ultimately, I did.  It was exactly what I had been wanting…except it did not run Windows. But, the device had so much going for it, I decided that the lack of Windows was OK. (It really wasn’t, but I had been able to get around it.)

When I bought, I went all in with the accessories. I bought the camera kit, extra power cables and adaptors, the keyboard dock, composite and VGA cables, you name it. If Apple had an accessory, I bought it. I LOVED the iPad.  It was toted around with me, everywhere I went.  I bought a WiFi hot spot just to have Internet access too (I bought the 32gb WiFi only version) and thought I was just all that.  Indeed, when I went travelling, it was all I carried.  My clunker laptop stayed mated to my desk at home.

Well, fast forward four years.  That original iPad is, at best, an aging game machine. It is no longer stable, the multitude of iOS updates have just killed it.  It is no longer supported, so I cannot update it to iOS 7.0.1, which seems to have stabilized my old iPhone 4.  Many apps I have on the device are out of date.  It crashes. A LOT.

I finally convinced my wife that she needed a decent tablet of her own, one that was still current and supported by its manufacturer. Well, she’s not a big Windows 8 fan (she pretty much hates it) and she does use her iPhone 4 as her computer, so I talked her into an iPad mini. I’m glad I did.

We got the iPad Mini 16gb WiFi version. Using my Best Buy rewards points, we got the device for about $270. Not too bad. It is new and has the very nice Retina display and a very fast A7 processor. Compared to the old iPad, it is like a Porsche to a VW Beetle.

The device is almost the perfect size, too. It isn’t overly heavy and it is pretty thin.  My complaint is with the screen. Even though it is the beautiful Retina display, it is a tad small for these tired eyes. For some reason, it seems tinier than my Kindle Fire, which is about the same size. I don’t have as much trouble reading text on the Kindle as I do the iPad Mini.  Weird. Still, the display is very, very nice and photos look great. It does video very well.  The sound is a bit tinny, but that is to be expected.

Of course, it came with iOS 7, which works much more smoothly on the iPad Mini than on my iPhone 4.  The nuanced animations, reshaped buttons, transitions…all look and work much more nicely on this device than my old iPhone (which doesn’t do most of the animations anyway.)

Apps seem to respond better, run faster and crash less. Yes, they crash less. They still crash, though, and crash more than they should. It would seem that Apple still has a way to go in the operating system department.

Aside from the screen issue I mentioned, the only other real complaint I have is that damned connector. We have tons of things that use the 30 pin connector and almost nothing that uses the Lightening connector, so…we had to buy another car charger and, likely, will get another household charger. She does not want the keyboard, yet. That may not be an issue, since we can use the Bluetooth keyboards we have.

The tablet comes with both forward and rear facing cameras. The take nice photos, with the rear camera taking the best still and video. The forward camera is better suited for Facetime.  In fact, this thing is the perfect Facetime device: big enough to actually use, not too big and easily propped up, far better than an iPhone.  It will also work well with Apple’s iMessage service.  Keep in mind, though, that Facetime needs excellent WiFi to work well. Oh, and you need a lot of light to get a good, crisp image sent to the recipient. That forward facing camera isn’t too good in the low light scenario.

Apple’s suite of video editing software works well with the device. I was able to use the iPad Mini to shoot video of my baby’s birthday, then edit it and post to Facebook as well as share the video with other devices in my house.  Apple’s in house developed software was excellent. I had not gotten to use it since my old iPad did not have a camera and Apple prevented me from downloading it because of that, even though I could use other software to edit video on the device (remember, I have the camera kit, which pulled video from my camera.  Apple, you were so forgetful…)

Overall, the iPad MIni is nice device. The price, while still a bit high, is better than what you pay for a full size iPad or Windows tablet. If you already have an investment in iOS apps, and you want another tablet, you cannot go wrong with the Mini. IF, however, you are starting out fresh and have little or no Apple interests, then you would be better off with a Windows tablet or even the Samsung Galaxy, if you care for Android.

My case against touch: struggling with touchscreens, it should not be this hard

Touchscreens have been around since the 1960’s, possibly earlier. Many schemes have been used, everything from the current overlay technology all the way back to the old light and photocell matrix and everything in between.  There are advantages to them all and many, many disadvantages.  The current flurry of technology employing touchscreens was sparked by the innovative iPhone from Apple. 

Steve Jobs despised the tried and true stylus. He famously said that we already have the best stylus: our fingers. Well, not so fast there, Mr. Jobs.

On large screen devices, like the full size iPad, my Asus Vivo Tab with Windows 8, and pretty much any device that is 8 inches or larger, your finger may work great. But, not so much on small screens.

I have found that it is not really the technology itself, but the user interface that is the real problem.  Especially with the bloody on screen keyboard. If a hardware keyboard fan ever needed a reason to bring back an actual keyboard, one needs to look no further that the iPhone. (Hot on its heels: Windows Phone 8).

The iPhone’s onscreen keyboard is just awful. I constantly hit wrong keys. Now, some of it is my fault, most however, are not. When it isn’t being responsive, it’s just too damn small.  Which is really surprising since the best on screen keyboard I’ve ever used in a small form factor is that on the Zune HD. Both Apple and Microsoft should take a look at that one.  Funny, Microsoft designed it and promptly forgot it when doing the Windows Phone 8 OS.

Aside from too small or unresponsive, the predictive text is also a problem as is spell check/autocorrect. Now, these should be very useful features and, indeed, can be. BUT…when they screw up, they REALLY screw up.  Yes, you can disable them, but, why should you have to? They should just work and they should give you an easy way to maintain and add to the database. If they do, then there’s no easy way to find it.

At any rate, why can’t these companies come up with decent on screen keyboards? Ones that work. Ones that are not hard to use and that just work. You should not have to think about HOW to type while typing.

User Interfaces are another source of frustration.  For example, the antiquated Windows desktop is very difficult to use simply because its widgets are just too small for your fingers and designed to work with a mouse and not your finger.  On iOS, they did a much better job with the UI, however, the multifinger gestures do not always work the same. And, sometimes you swipe down, sometimes you swipe left to right to do the same thing. iPhones present a real challenge due to the screens size. I find it difficult to play some games on this device because of the size of the screen. Other apps, like the music player app, can be difficult to use, especially if you have larger fingers. I find myself constantly selecting the wrong thing simply because the icons are too small.

In this new world of touch, designers need to take a step back and actually use the stuff they put out, before they put it out.I suspect a number of things would be caught and corrected prior to release. I’m sure such products would dominate. 

OneNote for Mac is for real and it is free

Microsoft not only released a version of OneNote for the Mac OS X, they made it free as well. It is free not only for the Mac, but for all platforms. There is still a business edition that is a paid for product, but all of the rest are completely free.Onenote

I have downloaded and installed the Mac version, but have not yet used it, so I cannot yet compare it, but from what I have seen, it looks and works just like its Windows counterpart.

Finally, our Apple friends can now use what is, perhaps, the greatest piece of productivity software ever to come out of Redmond’s software factory.

Not only did Microsoft make OneNote available for free, they have added features.  An improved API, LENS for Windows Phone (which turns the phone into a scanner), enhanced the OCR ability and released a library of plug ins.

Go here for a list of apps and services that work with OneNote.

With OneDrive, you can now keep all of your Notebooks in sync.  You can even protect your notebooks and all of the various versions (except for the Windows Store version) will be able to access the protected notebook.  Even the web version. Yes, you can even use the web version with YOUR notebooks.

If you are an EverNote user, you can easily migrate your data to OneNote. The easiest way is to save your notes out as HTML and then import them into OneNote. You can also PRINT TO ONENOTE each of your EverNotes, but that could be quite an involved process.  You can also email your notes to your OneNote mail address. (To set this up, goto the OneNote.com site, scroll down about midway and look for ‘Send Mail’. Click the Setup email link. It will show a list of email addresses that you have linked to your Live account. Select the one to use with this feature. From now one, you can send mail  from that account to ‘me@onenote.com’ where ‘me’ really is the word ‘me’ and NOT your name. The email will then go into your default notebook and section.)

I am a huge fan of this software and have written several posts about it. Click here to check them out.

OneNote is available for Windows, Windows RT, Windows Phone, Android, iOS and, now, Mac OS X. You can download the package for your device here.

RIP, Windows XP, it was a heck of a ride

Windows xp ProfessionalWindows XP is nearing the end of its long run.  Microsoft pulls the plug on support for the dinosaur of operating systems.  What this means is that it will no longer be patched for security issues.  It also means that, as time goes on, fewer applications will run on the beast. 

For whatever reason, people are clinging to it for dear life. Granted, most of the remaining installations are at corporations, corporations that may have internal apps that will not work on newer operating systems. However, there are a fair number of people who just do not wish to upgrade. Many think that moving on to Vista, Windows 7 or 8 would be a ‘downgrade’. Well, sorry people, that’s just nonsense. Many of its supporters now say it is ‘tried and true.’

It might be ‘tried and true’ now, but, when it was released, it was a disaster. So much so that Microsoft put off development on its replacement to focus on XP’s problems. Among them was a security hole big enough for Jupiter to go through.  And, People HATED it. Hated it worse than Vista or Windows 8 today. I recall many, negative reviews, articles and such that just skewered it.

There were Windows 98 diehards still. There were those who were clinging to Windows NT 4. It’s look and feel was called ‘Fisher Price’. Many thought its hardware requirements were ridiculous. It’s bundled apps, like Movie Maker, were laughed at (even though it was quite functional.) And, consider this:

  • George W Bush was in his first year of his two terms
  • The World Trade Center had only ceased to exist just weeks before
  • We still had a Space Shuttle program with all orbiters (but Challenger and Columbia broke up years later)
  • No one knew who this Obama guy was
  • Compaq was still a big name
  • Apple was still pretty insignificant

It wasn’t until the second service pack that XP became robust and stable. By that time, most Windows users had made the switch.  Those who disliked the Fisher Price interface switched back to the old, battleship gray, 3D-ish UI that adorned 95,98, Me, NT and 2000. There were all kinds of third party tools available to alter its appearance and the way it worked.  This indicated that its users still were not happy with XP.  Indeed, most business did not begin to switch to XP until 2006 or later.  By the time most business had switched, Microsoft had released Vista, at which point, there was this sudden XP fanboy thing.  Suddenly, it seemed, everyone who hated XP suddenly LOVED it and began hating Vista. The hate for Vista was so bad, that Microsoft, very quickly for them, got Windows 7 ready and out the door. Windows 7 seemed to be what people wanted and the mass migration, among ‘normal’ people started. They all skipped over Vista. The XP diehards, however, still clung to it.  At that point, Microsoft announced its imminent demise. And, then, NETBOOKS saved XP. Microsoft practically gave it away. And, in doing so, moved its death sentence way out.

Well, now that day is upon us.  It will be interesting to see how many stay on the aging platform and how many will, begrudgingly, move on Windows 7 or 8. Or, GASP! onto Mac or, worse, Linux. I doubt many will go that far.

Now, just because XP is being buried by Microsoft, does not mean it will just stop working. Quite the contrary, if you are careful, keep your antivirus updated, don’t do anything funky on the Internet, you should be able to continue to safely use XP for a long time.  Sure, as time goes on, those hot new games or applications will not run or even install on XP, but there is still enough of a user base that that will be a year or two off before it becomes a real problem for you.  If you move to Windows 7, you can still use Windows XP via XP mode. For Windows 8, you can always install a virtual machine and run it, safely, there. Of course, you can always just unplug it from the Internet and you know it should be nice and safe.

So, lets hear it for XP one more time…hip, hip, hoorah!

Free Mac OS X? What? Apple, what gives?

mavericksApple, in a ploy to garner more coverage (which worked), announced that its Mac OS X upgrade, called Mavericks, would be free. In addition, it would be made available to users of machines as old as six years and running ‘ancient’ versions of the OS, all the way back to ‘Snow Leopard.’ While I applaud them for the move (Microsoft, your turn) I have to wonder what it really means.

Way back when the iPad came out, I speculated then that iOS and OS X would, one day, merge.  I am thinking that ‘Mavericks’ is OS X’s swan song. Oh, they may release another point upgrade and struggle with pointing ‘features’ (and, sorry, tagging is not a feature that screams ‘hey, buy a Mac, look what it can do.’) No, I think Mavericks is the end of the innovation line and that a combined operating system (OS XI?) will come out in two years which will move the Mac line into iPad territory. Sure, they will have one, maybe two Macs running something for development, but consumer ‘Macs’ will be iPads with keyboards. This is a tact that Microsoft has begun: Surface Pro and Surface 2 are the start of the blending of the two worlds.  Microsoft has even hidden the traditional desktop in RT for Surface 2 (they removed the tile on the Start page.) I’m thinking Windows, as we know it, has two, maybe three, years left. 

The introduction of the iPad Air pretty much confirms that the next generation Macbook Air will be an iPad with a keyboard. Now, this is my supposition, but why else would they stick an Mac moniker on an iPad? Apple is very thoughtful and deliberate in its actions. This is more than just reusing a corporate brand name.  Personally, I think it is a great idea.  Put the iPad in a nice case with a sturdy keyboard, and you have a very nice, fast and easy to use laptop.  iOS, even version 7, is way more easy to use than Mac OS X, which, for me, is one of the most cumbersome operating systems out there. I’d rather use BeOS-which was just awful.

And then there are iLife and iWork. Both products received substantial upgrades, with iWork, finally, getting some real productivity chops that could actually give Microsoft reason to pause. Microsoft really, really needs to get Office Touch out there for both the Surface 2 (and Windows RT) as well as the iPad if it wants to stay in the game. Otherwise, Goolge and Apple will be competing heavily and Microsoft will be scratching its collective head trying to figure out what the hell just happened.

Apple, you are one sneaky company.  And…that’s good for competition. Keep it up.