Mario and iPhone 7…Pokemon and Apple Watch

Apple had its September press event to announce Apple Watch, Series 2, iOS 10 and iPhone 7.  But, perhaps the biggest thing announced at the event was a game.

Early on in the event, Tim Cook said that there were over 500,000 games in the app store, but that one had been missing. Rather, one character had been missing…MARIO. And, with that, he introduced Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario.

Mr. Miyamoto explained the new game while a demo was being played on the big screen.  This Mario game looks and sounds like a Wii U game, but is controlled via touch on the iPhone or iPad.  You use a single finger to control Mario’s jumps…the longer you hold your finger down, the higher he jumps. 

While the game looked great, the game play is like a neutered Super Mario Brothers 2D side scroller. Neutered in that it appeared that Mario only goes in one direction in single hand play.  The goal is to collect as many coins as you can and raise the end of level flag, before the time runs out. 

More importantly, the game will NOT be a ‘freemium’ game in the traditional sense. You only pay one time, there are no in game purchases.  There’s no having to wait two hours for your lives to replenish.  It is a nice change from the current game mobile game model.

Now, for the other announcements, and I’m not going into detail as it has already been covered else where.

Apple Watch 2 will be out in September and will be faster and more responsive.  Oh, and Pokemon GO! is coming to the Apple Watch.  With some health monitoring additions, this looks pretty decent.

iPhone 7, though, is what I am more excited to talk about. 

Now, before I go on, let me say that I am still not an Apple fan and I LOVE my Windows Mobile 10 phone(s). 

So, what has me excited about the iPhone 7?  Well, even though it isn’t a huge, earth shattering advance in mobile technology, the camera, faster processor and MICROSOFT have me excited for the new iPhone. 

The iPhone 7 will feature a new image sub system, new API’s and better optics. In addition, iPhone 7Plus, the phablet edition, will feature TWO 12 mp cameras in addition to the front camera.  The new image processor enables the phone to record in 4K video as well.

Here are some of the nice new photo related features, from Apple:

  • New Apple-designed Image Signal Processor, which processes over 100 billion operations on a single photo in as little as 25 milliseconds, resulting in incredible photos and videos;
  • New 7-megapixel FaceTime HD camera with wide color capture, advanced pixel technology and auto image stabilization for even better selfies; and
  • New Quad-LED True Tone flash that is 50 percent brighter than iPhone 6s including an innovative sensor that detects the flickering in lights and compensates for it in videos and photos.

Iapple-iphone7plus-zoomn addition to the photo features, Microsoft’s entire suite of apps that are on the iPhone mean that I can continue using my Microsoft services and apps with my Windows 10 desktop just as seamlessly as I can, now, with my Windows Mobile phone.

There are other things, like the subtle changes to iOS and to the phone chassis itself.

There are things I don’t like, such as the removal of the headphone jack, inability to upgrade storage via SD card, no way to project the phone to another screen (at least, I haven’t seen this) and the lack of home screen tiles…a feature I’ve really grown to love on my Windows Mobile phone.  In fact, the lack of live tiles is almost a deal breaker for me. Almost.

For now, I am on the verge of mothballing my Windows Mobile phone and going Apple again.  I’m going to have play with one for a bit.   But, today’s announcements look encouraging.  Of course, if I wait a year, I may like iPhone 8 more…

Apple Announcements 2015: iPad Pro, Watch, iPhone

Microsoft has often be accused of ‘firing up the Xerox’ to copy Apple’s ‘innovations.’  Well, during the Apple presentation on Sept 9, it seems that they are the ones who ‘fired up the Xerox.’  Indeed, the new 12.9 inch iPad Pro they introduced has many Surface 3 Pro features, including the docking keyboard and the pen, which Apple calls ‘the Apple Pencil.’  Cute.  Of course, this harkens back to the Steve Jobs comment “if you see a stylus, they blew it.” Of course, the Apple apologists will say that he didn’t really mean it that way.  Uh huh, right.

iPadPro_Pencil_Lifestyle1-PRINTAll kidding aside, the iPad Pro is a credible machine.  At nearly 13 inches, the screen is big enough to adequately display two apps, side by side. Interestingly, there’s no drag and drop between applications. You copy/cut and paste.  An odd thing to leave out.  Maybe iOS 9.2.

The iPad Pro’s stylus has a nice feature that lets the Pro know the angle and pressure the user is placing on the screen’s surface.  Sensors built into the device communicate this data back to the software, which, in turn, acts on it.  Designer’s can now draw fine lines or really thick lines without having to lift the stylus. 

Microsoft was on stage demoing Office for iOS.  Yep, it is a credible package that turns the iPad Pro into a real, honest to goodness productivity device. 

The Pro’s keyboard dock is very, very similar to the Surface 3 Pro’s keyboard.  In fact, there were many, many similarities, so much so, that it seems that Apple was acknowledging Microsoft’s lead in this space.  A refreshing turn of events.

The iPad Pro also boasts four speakers.  The sound, one would hope, is far better than the tinny monoaural sound that comes out of them now.

On the watch front, native apps are now available as is several new bands.

Apple TV got a major upgrade with the addition of in device memory, a redesigned controller and an app store. Yes, it now runs apps and games with ‘stunning, console quality graphics.’ Someone quipped ‘yeah, if the console is a Wii.’  Hey, the Wii is still a cool little console.  Leave it alone or I’ll give you a wedgie!

Prices for the Apple TV are $149 and $199 for the 32gb and 64gb versions.  No 4k yet.

Prices for the iPad range from $799 to $1069.

Of course, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus were also on display.  The killer feature:  living images.  This is a feature that Microsoft has had in its Lumia smart phones for quite sometime.  Basically, the camera buffers about four seconds of video.  The best frame, for the iPhone and in the ‘middle’ is taken where as the Lumia is usually the best of the last frames.  Either way, the effect is impressive.  Apple has taken it a step further and provides magic that also captures audio.  The Lumia does not do that.

There were other interesting things about the phones…faster processor, more internal RAM, 12mp camera, but the living images is, by far, the best new feature.

Head over to CNET for much more detail.

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. 

iOS 7 Upgrade: good, bad and worth it

IMG_2469Apple released iOS 7 today and reviews seem to be mixed.  I downloaded and installed the new OS and, myself, have mixed feelings about it.  Overall, I like the changes, but some are a bit on the childish side, like the choice of colors on the home screen icons. However, the typography is outstanding. It is very Windows 8 like, which I like.

So, what’s changed? Well, pretty much everything.  From the unlock screen to the settings panels to the App Store. One thing that is better is that the interface is a bit more consistent than the original interface.  The fonts, which are now adjustable, are more consistent and are, well, gorgeous.  Some of the changes appear to be there for the sake of change, like the keypad keys being round. Serves no real purpose to make them round.

Installing the upgrade was a long and tedious task. Downloading it was IMG_2461easy, but the install was long.  I was forced, about a third of the way in, to restart it but, once restarted, it took about an hour. During that time, of course, the phone was useless (and five rounds of Call of Duty helped with the boredom.) Once installed, I had to go through the awful setup again.  Funny thing, though, some of the questions it was asking, it already had the answers for, so I was a bit confused as to why it was necessary. I suppose it was just part of the normal install process, but I would think it could have checked and moved on. Be aware, however, the install requires 2.9 GIGABYTES, which is quite a problem for those of us with 8GB devices. Thanks to Apple, though, I was able to remove some apps and photos, install the upgrade and then restore the apps and copy the photos back that I wanted to stay on the phone.

IMG_2473The Fisher Price like home pages are just awful, though I found making the background one of the gradients helps the eyesore a bit.  As I have an iPhone 4, I do not see the parallax animation that Apple made such a big deal about during the iOS 7 reveal. In fact, many of the cooler features are missing because the phone is a 4. 

As iOS 4 is a hodgepodge of ideas taken from other operating systems, there are a few things that stand out, such as the new task switchIMG_2461er/killer. The card concept, lifted right out of webOS, the best phone/tablet OS out there. This, along with the typography, is what makes iOS 7 worth the upgrade. To use the feature, double tap the home button and then flick from left to right to see the cards. Each card represents a running application.  To activate that application. tap the card. To kill it, flick it up and the app is killed. Simple.

IMG_2461The Apple supplied applets are vastly improved. The calendar is far more useful, mail is nicer and the App Store is very nice.  They all seem faster too, thought the speed increase could be due to the new OS install.

Overall, it is a step up but, like Windows 8, it is a dramatic change from previous iterations and will not be well received from many out there.  Like Windows 8, I think the biggest complaints will be for the home screens. I also think that by the time iOS 8 rolls, this will be a dated look and will be changed again and the haters will claim victory.

Go over to the Verge or CNET to read much more in depth reviews, complete with screen shots and video.

Using your smartphone as a Windows or Mac secondary display: iDisplay

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about ways to use your old smartphone once you got a new one.  A reader asked that I expand on this post, so I am.

idisplay4One of my suggestions was to use it as a secondary display.  There are several apps out that will do this, for the iPhone/iPad and for Android.  The one I am writing about today is for iPhone/iPad/iPod touch.

Called iDisplay, this little gem does a terrific job at adding a second display to your Windows or Mac PC (because, you know, the Mac IS a PC.)

There are two parts to the setup: the iDisplay app for the phone and the desktop app that streams to the phone.  Installing on the phone is as easy as going to the App Store, searching for iDisplay, purchasing (it is .99) and downloading. Then, go to the iDisplay web site and download the appropriate desktop app and install that.  Please Note: it is also available on Android via the Google Play Store, but I am focusing on the iOS version here.

idisplay1Once running, the desktop server uses Bonjour and Wi-Fi to talk to the phone.  In Windows, it acts as a driver, allowing full video and audio as well as adding touch to a non-touch computer.  On my Windows 8 desktop that does not have touch, using this app on my iPhone adds touch.  And, works very, very well.

On my desktop, I let it use the default, which is to extend my display to the second device. The cool thing is that in the Windows 8 desktop, I get the full experience, task bar and right click action all work.  Apps that were running already, will remain on the primary display, apps that you start from the phone will display on the phone. I have to admit, I rather like seeing Windows on my iPhone.

idisplay3Among the features in the phone app are: gestures, integrated on screen keyboard, audio playback, touch, full interaction with your desktop.  From my desktop, I could even watch a video that was streaming from the desktop with relatively high frame rate. Of course, that will depend on your Wi-Fi network and how busy it is.  Also, the phone app works great with Windows 8 Start Page.  So far, it all seems to work nicely. One really nice feature is that the phone app can show you a list of currently running apps on the main display and allow you to move them to the secondary display, pretty nifty and useful. And for an application that has multiple windows or instances, you can select which one to view.

idisplay5I tried running the server app from my VivoTab Smart tablet running Windows 8.1 preview. It works, but only to a point.  I think it is a problem with the video driver and the Atom processor. It is slow and the only mode supported is mirror of the desktop, not very useful. And, really, for a tablet, you won’t need a second screen, but I had to try anyway.

Now, even though this app works very, very well, there are a couple of drawbacks.  One, it does put a load on your Wi-Fi network, so keep that in mind; two, using the Windows Desktop on an iPhone screen is a laborious task. The ‘chrome’, so to speak, is just too small. I had a difficult time closing windows or tapping on the address box to enter a URL. Now, you can zoom, which helps, but using full screen is pretty tough.  Using the extended mode on the phone app allows this.

Overall, I think this is a very well and highly useful application.  Not only is it a secondary display, but it also acts as a remote desktop as well.  Well worth the purchase price.

UPDATE:

I downloaded the Android version to my Kindle Fire. While I am still evaluating it, it looks just as good as the iOS version. Since the Kindle Fire is somewhat bigger than the iPhone, it is much easier to use Windows on the this device. It also works better with the system mouse. In addition, you can use USB to connect your Android device to the PC (or, presumably, your Mac.)  I have a Mac Mini, so I think I may try that as well. How about full Mac OS X on your Android or iPad?

New iPhone or Android phone? So, what to do with that old one?

Palm_Pre_SmartphoneIf you are like me, you probably have two, three or more old smartphones lying around, collecting dust. If they are still functional, they are still useful.  I will pull out the old Palm Pre, charge it and use it to play a few games or even surf the web. It has a good browser and I downloaded a fair number of decent games, a couple will even work with the iPhone/iPad counterparts for multi player action (Shrek Racing, for one.)  So, what can you do with those old phones? Well, read on for a few suggestions…

eReader

  • If you have an old iPhone, Android or Windows Phone 7, there is the Kindle app.  There was also a Nook reader app for Android.  There are also a few e-reader apps from other companies that are available on these and other devices like the Palm Pre. There a thousands of free ebooks as well.

WiFi Phone

  • Older iPhones, Android and Windows Phones have Skype clients that will allow you to use that old smartphone, over WiFi, as a phone. Imagine that. You can use it at home and save those minutes on your cell. Carry one for use when near a hotspot in case your phone has poor service or, again, to save those minutes.  (Granted, it could be cumbersome carrying around multiple devices.)

Web Browsing

  • Most older smartphones come with some kind of browser. iPhones, even the first gen, have the sufficient Safari and Android has it’s native browser. Firefox and/or Chrome may also be available. The Palm Pre has an excellent browser and Windows Phone 7’s Internet Explorer, well, it works. 

Games

  • Here’s where devices like iPhone and Android really shine. There are a ton of games out there for both of these platforms. If your phone is powerful enough, this can be a great alternative to the Nintendo or Sony handhelds. Or, like me, why not have them in addition to the Nintendo or Sony offerings? Lots of the games for the smartphones simply are not available for either Nintendo or Sony handhelds.  I still pull out the Palm Pre and play some of those games. Even my old Motorola Q has a few games I like. It had a nice Sim City game. Hmm…where did I put that? Even older, non-WiFi phones like the Palm Centro had some decent games. If you still have it, why not use it?

285389-htc-evo-shift-4g-sprintSecondary Info Screen for your PC

  • Ok, I’m stretching here, but I use my HTC Shift for weather and email as a secondary screen for my PC. I have it connected via USB so it continuously gets power. Right now, I am using the built in apps, so it isn’t a true secondary display, HOWEVER…there is an app called iDisplay which turns your Android device into a true secondary display.  For more, read here and here. There are also other apps like AirDisplay.

Portable Media Playeriphone4

  • iPhones, especially, make decent portable players. An iPhone is, essentially, an iPod Touch with the cell capability. Android, Palm Pre and Windows Phones are all good media players as well.  My Pre came pre loaded with the Amazon player and Androids have the Google Play store. There are tons of apps, for all major platforms, like Pandora and YouTube. This is, next to games, perhaps the best use of these devices.

Digital Camera

  • Nearly all smartphones have cameras. Some are poor, but most of them are fairly decent. The iPhone and Nokia smartphones have excellent cameras. You can keep one in the car or your bag and when the shutterbug strikes, you’ll have at least one camera around.  I know, your shiny new phone has one too. And it probably is better, but on your older device, you’ll have storage that you may not want to use on your new device. They can make good video cameras as well.

Emergency Calling

  • ALL cell phones, smart or otherwise, can still place a 911 call, no matter if you have service on them or not. As long as they are in a cell network, they can place a 911 call. This is an FCC mandate, so if, for no other reason, you could keep one (charges, of course) in a car or your home for an emergency.  The key, however, is to keep it charged up and readily available.

There are, of course, other uses for the phones, these are just a few suggestions. Others include remote control of televisions, cable boxes, Roku devices and more. Calculators, portable databases, USB storage, etc.  My point is that just because you got something shinier and newer, doesn’t mean these older ones are useless.  They even make great mini-tablets for young children. Since they are no longer in cell service, they cannot make calls so why not let them have one for games or Netflix?

iPhone 5: Are you Siri-us?

iPhone_5_34Hi_Stagger_FrontBack_Black_PRINTYes, I know Siri came out before the 4S. But, it was the 4S that made Siri more common. With the release of the iPhone 5, however, Siri is probably the most well known and used non-existent assistant ever.  And, for good reason.

First, let’s talk iPhone 5.  The phone is nice looking, thin and light-almost too thin.  It is a tad taller than the 4 and 4s, which means it has more screen.  That’s nice, but not a huge selling point since it is the same width.  Apple, if you want to make the screen taller, make it wider as well or just don’t bother.

Size difference aside, iPhone 5 is an iPhone 4 or 4s with a faster (much faster) processor.  So, I’m not going to indulge in another iPhone 5 review. Suffice it to say, it’s a decent smartphone with a really good eco-system.

Now, what really makes it shine, however, is Siri.  I have to admit to being a tad (ok, a LOT) skeptical that Siri was nothing more than Apple induced hype.  Well, some of it is just that, hype. But, there is a real utility to Siri and that is enough to make it worthwhile to upgrade to iPhone 4s or 5. 

Siri, put simply, is a combination of on phone software and a robust back end. Siri, at its core, is a glorified search engine. It searches both your phone and the internet for answers to questions that you ask, verbally.  Any question is fair game, unless you ask Siri about NASCAR, at which point Siri is totally useless. More on that in a moment.

You can ask very serious questions, like what’s the current temp or what’s on my schedule for today. Or, if you are like my kids, ask it stupid things, like ‘Who let the dogs out?’ (which, by the way, she will answer. Go ahead, try it. I won’t spoil it for you.)  My 15 year old carried on a conversation with her for about ten minutes. It was quite entertaining.

Apple is using Google, Yahoo! sports and Wolfram Alpha. With the latest iOS 6 update, you can also purchase movie tickets via Fandango. So, there is lots of useful things you can use Siri for, except, as stated earlier, questions regarding NASCAR. For whatever reason, Apple chose to exclude the nation’s number one spectator sport.  You can ask her about the current year stats in baseball and football (other ‘sports’ are, I’m sure, there as well) but not about NASCAR.  So, why are they prejudiced about the country’s most popular spectator sport? It isn’t Yahoo! Sports, I know. They cover the sport nicely. No, it has to be someone in Apple.  Someone who still thinks it is not a sport or it’s a southern thing.  Whatever. You can’t fix stupid, I suppose.

Sport elitism aside, Siri is, dare I say, pretty cool. Makes me wish I had it on my iPhone 4 that I use everyday. But, I am not going to fret too much. In another year and a half, I can upgrade my 4 to a 5.  If, that is, Sprint still does not have a decent Windows 8 Phone.

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