iOS

Trackpad mode in iOS 9

One of the many reasons I’m writing this post on my MacBook Pro (with MarsEdit) as opposed to my iPad Air 2 or my new iPhone 6s is because I prefer a hardware keyboard and a trackpad or even better, a mouse, for moving the cursor/insertion point around and selecting text. Over the years, text editing in iOS has improved but its still awkward compared with doing it on a Mac.

in iOS 9, Apple has added a feature that helps quite a bit. If you’ve got any iPad or iPhone running iOS 9 (except the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus which I’ll discuss in a minute) try this:

Run any app that uses Apple’s standard on-screen keyboard.

Type some text.

Place two fingertips anywhere on the on-screen keyboard and press down lightly, the keyboard will dim and turn into a trackpad (trackpad mode). This will initially take a bit of practice as there are two gestures possible here.

A touch with a shorter duration will allow you to move the cursor by dragging your two fingers across the keyboard/trackpad. A touch with a slightly longer duration will allow you to drag/select text from the initial touch point to another (like shift clicking text in Mac OS).

This is a brilliant use of multi-touch and once you get used to it it really works.

If you have an iOS device with a “force touch” or 3D Touch screen (at this point the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus), you can do this a bit differently and more easily.

Run any app that uses Apple’s standard on-screen keyboard.

Type some text.

With a single finger, press down firmly on the keyboard and you’ll feel the “taptic feedback” of 3D Touch kicking in, the keyboard will dim (trackpad mode) and you can drag the cursor around with your finger. Once in this mode to select a single word, move the cursor over a word and press a bit more firmly, the word will highlight. If you release pressure and drag up, down, left or right you can select larger chunks of text. This is taking some practice for me to get but I’m getting it.

These kinds of details are great to know about and while I’ll continue to do most of my writing on my Mac because I’m more comfortable with its hardware keyboard, mouse or trackpad, and Mac OS text editing conventions which I’ve been using since 1984, these kinds of features which make great use of multi-touch will allow me to use my iOS devices a bit more for informal writing where I might have avoided them.

For more on this including a video (with obnoxious music): How to use iOS 9’s keyboard as a trackpad with 3D Touch on iPhone 6s.

Here’s another post on Trackpad mode: On trackpad mode in iOS 9 and the iPhone.

An iPhone 6s story

My wife Anne and I have had iPhone 5s’ for a few years and we decided it was time to update our iPhones. We’ve been looking at the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus at the Grand Central Apple store on trips to New York and have discussed the idea of a bigger iPhone to aid in readability and usability.

So, when Apple opened pre-orders on the iPhone 6s I ordered two iPhone 6s Plus’ for us. The day after I placed the orders, I changed mine to an iPhone 6s (non plus). More on why I did this below.

Given that we don’t want to upgrade our iPhones each year I didn’t see the advantage of using Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program so I bit the bullet and bought both iPhones outright from Apple directly. Frankly, I don’t think Apple has made clear whether there is any advantage in using their upgrade program if one plans to keep one’s iPhone longer than a year.

More on the new iPhones after some back story.

Bigger Screen?

Every now and then while hiking I meet up with one of the Berkshire AMC ridge runners, Dennis. Dennis has a large Samsung smart phone and in watching him use both maps and a variety of apps in the field, it occurred to me that for mapping, a larger phone would be useful.

Over the many years I’ve been hiking on the Appalachian Trail I’ve seen many thru hikers who have a variety of smart phones and a few who have cellular iPad minis which they use to look at maps, communicate with their families, post to weblogs and watch Netflix streaming movies in tents on rainy days. This is an incredible use of the iPad and it’s gotten me thinking about how to balance portability with a larger screen. Yes, one could use a smartphone to do these things but the larger screen on the iPad (mini or Air) makes them much easier. When I was thinking about this, the idea of tethering a wifi iPad to a cellular iPhone wasn’t in the cards for me as I had an unlimited data plan with AT&T.

A few weeks ago I was in the passenger seat driving into New York on a rainy afternoon. I was using Apple Maps on my iPhone 5s to see where the traffic was so we could choose our route to avoid it. It was amazing and it worked extremely well and while I could never have done this while driving, it was easy to both look ahead and provide navigation help to my friend Jimmy who was driving.

I was doing a considerable amount of multi-touch zooming on the small 5s screen and I had the realization that a larger screen would allow me to see more without so much close-in zooming. That could have been the Plus size iPhone or a cellular iPad mini or Air 2. Or, an iPad tethered to an iPhone.

Tethering

I knew there was the capacity to tether another device to the iPhone (called “personal hotspot”) but my A&T plan, grandfathered from my first iPhone, had unlimited data which did not allow tethering to be turned on (too much data for unlimited).

A few days after the New York Apple Maps experience I was having a conversation with my friend Steve who’s been using Apple products for as long as I have (1984) and who’s personal use of Apple products is much like mine. I always enjoy talking with Steve, we connect on many levels and he told me something about his family’s use of iPhones that changed the way I was thinking about this stuff.

He too had unlimited data with AT&T grandfathered from his first iPhone but decided to change his family plan to a 15GB Next plan with AT&T. He found out that even after that change, he never touched the 15GB data limit and that’s with his daughter watching Netflix streaming movies on her iPad tethered to her iPhone (spotty wifi in her college dorm room).

Most of us probably don’t look closely at our data usage on our phones but this conversation pushed me to take a look.

Anne and I both use our phones all the time but had never used more than 512MB (1/2 GB) of data combined in a month in all the time we’ve been using iPhones. This was a huge revelation and I feel a bit sheepish admitting it because I’ve been protecting this unlimited data plan for years (and paying for it).

So, I immediately changed our AT&T plan to a 15GB Next plan saving us about $50 a month. I probably could have gone down to 5GB but I’ll try this for a year and see what happens.

Once I made that change in our plan I could immediately turn on Personal Hotspot in Settings on my iPhone 5s.

Before I get into how easy all of this was I should say that for a while now, I’ve been on the fence about buying a cellular iPad mini to use as a bigger device for the situations I described above but I never did it.

A few days after talking with Steve I found myself with the same friend (Jimmy) on our way to New York again but this time on the train. I brought my iPhone 5s, my iPad Air 2 and turned on personal hotspot on the 5s on the train. I set a password and connected to the iPhone with the iPad. The entire process was incredibly easy.

I then put the iPhone aside and used the iPad all the way to New York for doing all of the things I’d be doing with it at home which I find difficult to do on the small iPhone screen.

I did this again on my way home on the train, this time plugging my iPhone 5s into a Jackery battery as it was getting low. Amazingly, it was both my wifi router and was able to get fully charged at the same time.

So, why did I change my order from an iPhone 6s Plus to an iPhone 6s? Because I knew I could tether my iPad for the times I need a bigger screen and this way I can have the convenience of the smaller phone.

I’m still considering an iPad mini for hiking and as a smaller big screen but it will not be cellular now that I know how easy it is to tether the iPad (or a Mac) to my iPhone.

iPhone 6s

Let me say this up front: the iPhone 6s is absolutely incredible. Using it reminds me of how great the SE/30 felt after earlier iterations of the Mac: it takes all of one’s familiar actions and, instead of waiting for the tool to catch up, the tool is with you all the way. In a word, the iPhone 6s is extremely fast and not just at launching apps, it’s fast at everything.

We had iOS 9 running on our iPhone 5s’ before we got the iPhone 6s’ so we were familiar with a few of the new features, like improved maps and the migration of “Passbook” to “Wallet” and many more. Still, iOS 9.0.2 running on the iPhone 6s is a different animal; the speed of the phone makes old and new features feel more natural, more in sync with one’s actions, especially if one normally works ahead of the iPhone.

One thing that bothered me about the 5s when I first got it was Touch ID. It just did not work well for me. I thought it was my old, beat up thumbs but in fact, as iOS got updated Touch ID improved in its ease of use and for the past year my 5s was recognizing my thumb print and opening almost every time on first try.

On the iPhone 6s Touch ID is completely revamped and works quickly, accurately, and does not get in the way. I’m pretty sure Apple changed the mechanism from the ground up and it shows. Brilliant.

Siri is becoming a seriously useful tool now and “Hey Siri” takes it to an entirely new level. “Hey Siri” is a new feature that allows you to train Siri to your voice so it won’t be triggered with someone else’s voice or by ambient sound. Siri, and dictation are a lot more accurate now and extremely fast. And, I’ve used Siri on cellular with one bar of service and it’s just as fast and accurate. This was never true before.

All of the radios and antennas are improved which means better reception all the way around which also helps speed. We have one or two bars of AT&T cellular coverage in our house so many years ago we bought an AT&T MicroCell which gives us excellent reception anywhere in the house. For some reason the MicroCell did not pick up the new iPhones and calling AT&T got me the all too typical response: it’s Apple’s fault, you’ll have to wait for iOS 9.1 to fix it.

Somehow, last week, with no upgrade to iOS 9.1 in sight, the MicroCell magically started picking up for Anne’s iPhone 6s Plus, then my iPhone 6s. Guess AT&T got some complaints and fixed things.

I haven’t used 3D Touch all that much yet although I can see its potential. For the most part I’m using my new iPhone the way I used my old one and it’s a pleasure in every way. Anne feels the same way about her new iPhone 6s Plus. It’s taking her some time to get used to the larger form factor but she’s enjoying being able to read books on it and use it for more of the things she used to use her iPad for. I remain glad I did not go for the bigger iPhone.

Migration Issues

Before getting the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus both Anne and I went through our iPhone 5s’ and did some house cleaning, getting rid of unused apps, making sure that everything we had on our iPhones was up to date and working well.

We both use iTunes on our respective Macs to back up and sync our iPhones and both of us backed up our iPhone 5s’ a few times prior to the arrival of the new iPhones.

One thing that we weren’t doing that I started doing on both machines is encrypting backups on iTunes. Turning on “encrypt backups” means that the stored backups of our phones on our Macs cannot be opened without a password (which gets set during the first encrypted backup). The other thing encrypted backups do is back up more passwords and settings than non-encrypted backups do which means restoring from an encrypted backup is potentially less work logging into various accounts people usually have set up on their iPhones. This is an important detail given what happened to me a bit later.

We both did one last (encrypted) backup before starting up the new iPhones and restoring our data onto them. I got the restore started on my iPhone 6s and then started working on Anne’s 6s Plus. She has a lot of books in her iBooks library and it took some doing to get them all synced correctly. I don’t know where the bugs, are, iTunes or iBooks or both but there were some small bumps in getting her new iPhone set up and fully synced with her books.

Once my iPhone 6s was finished I started it up and got through the various welcome screens and started poking around to see how things worked. All was well until I opened Wallet. I had an Apple Store gift card in Passbook/Wallet and was about to fly to LA and so, had a United boarding pass sent over from the United App (which is a piece of crap but that’s another story).

When I opened Wallet the Apple gift card and boarding pass were there, but they were over-sized, like they thought they were running on a bigger screen. I couldn’t get to the edges of them and to the “i” button to interact with the back end of them. I quit the app, ran it again, restarted the iPhone but Wallet was messed up. I did manage to add a credit card to Apple Pay and got email confirmation from my bank but had no occasion to use it and was sort of scared to given the fact that Wallet was broken.

My iPhone 6s was running fine except for this but it bothered me because I use Wallet a lot for travel and was looking forward to using Apple Pay on the new iPhone.

Even though the old iPhone 5s wasn’t working as a cell phone anymore (the SIM was deactivated when I got the new iPhone 6s started up) I could still run the 5s and check out its Wallet. It’s Wallet looked and worked fine with the same cards in it. No Apple Pay but all other cards looked fine.

So, this problem was either something wrong with the encrypted backup with iTunes or with the iPhone 6s.

I called AppleCare and got a very nice support rep named Tod on the phone. Sometimes you can tell right away that a support person is going to be good and I knew that Tod was knowledgeable, personable, and would probably help me get to the bottom of this issue.

We went through re-syncing the 5s and then I erased all the data on the 6s but before I restored the backed up data, I started up the iPhone 6s as a new iPhone so I could get to the home screen and run Wallet to see if it looked weird before I restored my 5s data onto it. In fact, Wallet looked fine. That meant that my 5s data was corrupted in some way.

Given that everything else worked fine, I restored the 5s data again and got the 6s working with a broken Wallet. I told Todd I was off to LA and would continue to work on this there, he said to call him back if I figured anything out or we needed to swap for another new iPhone. He gave me his number and extension (unusual for a support person) and was sensitive to the fact that I didn’t want to have to explain all of this from scratch to another person.

I flew off to LA, the broken Wallet in fact did work to get me through checking in (the barcode showed and that’s what counts). On the flight I decided that in LA I’d do a clean install, leaving the 5s image out of it and just build up my app collection from scratch. It took some time but in fact I did just that in LA and while it’s not a lot of fun, a clean install isn’t a bad thing to do from time to time.

Wallet was fine, my boarding pass looked fine as did my Apple gift card. But, there was a new problem: Apple Pay would not allow me to add a card. So, either Wallet was still broken like it was, or it was broken in a new way.

Other than that, the iPhone was working fine and I continued to work with it under the assumption that the problems I was having were either corrupted data (now fixed), or cloud-based and that I’d be able to fix them at some point.

When I got home to Connecticut I found a message from Todd on our land line asking me how things were going. Again, this was above and beyond and it made me feel good to know I was on a list somewhere.

I called him up and described what I’d done. He told me that in fact, a clean install was on his list of things for me to do but it’s enough work so it was a last resort. He was glad I’d done it.

I described the Apple Pay issue and we discussed the various pieces of Apple Pay. He asked me to call my credit card’s bank to see if they could see a problem on their end.

I got a great person at Chase who listened carefully, checked my account and saw that Apple Pay was in fact hooked up to my iPhone. I asked her to delete the connection so that I’d be able to try it again from scratch. She did it, saying to call her back personally if I ran into problems. Another great support person.

This did not solve the problem, Apple Pay would not accept any credit cards at all. So, I called Tod back and he had talked with an engineer in his building who had heard of this issue.

Todd told me to delete my credit card associated with iCloud, log out of iCloud, then log back in and put the card back in. I did this and then went to wallet and lo and behold, the problem was fixed and I set up Apple Pay.

Todd logged this as a potential problem, asked me if there was anything else I needed and we hung up. Case closed.

My iPhone has continued to work perfectly although I’ve not had occasion to use Apple Pay to buy something yet. I have confidence that when I do, it will work flawlessly.

Epilogue

The iPhone 6s is a work of art and hits the sweet spot of what a smartphone should be. I’m prone to hyperbole but I’ll say it: the iPhone 6s is by far the best iPhone I’ve ever used. If you’re on the fence about upgrading don’t be, this iPhone is incredible.

That said, iTunes, migration bug or not, is not a work of art and it needs the same amount of attention that the iPhone is getting. I hate to think that Apple is avoiding making iTunes great to push people to use iCloud to back up their phones. I prefer to back up to my computer, which is always backed up.

What I’ve learned in the past few weeks is that I was protecting my old AT&T unlimited data plan for no reason, that tethering is fantastic and extremely useful, that Apple has continued to improve the iPhone significantly, and that some support people can take the sting out of the inevitable bumps in the road.

Thoughts on the new MacBook

Apple is coming out with a new MacBook computer and it looks fantastic. I’m guessing this computer will be a very big success although it hasn’t been without controversy and the various tech blogs are going nuts with all kinds of speculation about why Apple did this.

I think many are making the mistake of attempting to fit it logically into Apple’s current portable computer lineup and that may be the wrong way to think about it. Maybe an easier way to understand Apple’s engineering and design tradeoffs is to think of it being as portable as an iPad Air with a keyboard running Mac OS X. It’s an extremely light weight, small computer that has numerous design and engineering tradeoffs to support its size and weight. It may not be as powerful as a 13″ MacBook Air or Pro, but it’s more portable than either and portability is what it’s all about.

Having an even more portable Macintosh appeals to me because while my iPad Air 2 is a wonderful device for browsing the web and running apps, I dislike text editing in iOS and almost always pass those tasks back to my MacBook Pro from my iPad when I’m in a situation that makes that possible. And, I like using a mouse with my computers and use Apple’s less than wonderful wireless mouse, which I like better than a trackpad for text and photo editing. So, for me, the MacBook would be a more portable adjunct to an iPad.

The very same engineering tradeoffs that are bugging many appeal to me, discussion below.

Fan-less

This is the first Macintosh portable that’s fan-less and Apple was able to do this because they’re using a lower power and slower processor, they’ve miniaturized the logic board, and like all Apple portables now, it’s got an SSD and not a spinning disk. Fan-less is a great thing in that the machine will be as quiet as an iPad.

But, to make it fan-less, which no doubt was an important design goal the machine had to be lower power than a MacBook Air or Pro with a tilt towards a larger battery relative to it’s size and weight. This computer is all battery which allows it to be used all day on a single charge and that’s the way Apple sees it being used: unplugged, only plugging it in when not in use.

One USB-C Port

The single (new) USB-C port has been one of the most talked about features of the new MacBook; this computer has a single port that’s used for charging and I/O. USB-C is a new protocol (designed by Apple and Intel) and it’s considerably faster than USB 2 and 3 and backward compatible with both.

No longer will the computer have a MagSafe power connection (that’s held in place magnetically), the USB-C port will supply both power and I/O. MagSafe was Apple’s invention to prevent pulling your computer off your desk if you tripped over its power cable. Brilliant invention and it’s saved many a computer.

Glenn Fleishman at Macworld posted a long piece on the physics of whether a cable connection like this could detach, MagSafe-like, saving the computer in case of a trip over its power cable: Will your new MacBook crash to the ground without MagSafe? (Yes.).

I think almost everyone who’s been concerned about this doesn’t understand what this computer is all about. I’m writing this with my MacBook Pro sitting on my desk plugged in. When my computer is on my desk I see no reason not to plug it in and I’m guessing that most people use their MacBook Airs and Pros like I do: while on the desk, plugged in, while off the desk, on battery.

The new MacBook is positioned as an iPad and when is the last time you used your iPad plugged in? Rarely if ever do people do this. They charge them overnight, then unplug them and carry them around and use them. That’s the way Apple has designed this new MacBook to be used. It’s interesting that it’s Apple’s first portable Macintosh designed this way and because of this, for many, it’s a hard concept to digest. It doesn’t bother me at all and frankly, Apple’s latest incarnation of MagSafe (on my Retina MacBook Pro) hasn’t seemed like an advancement to me, it feels cheap compared with the older versions.

The single port is giving people fits because of connectivity concerns as well. But, if you charge your computer at night that port won’t be filled with a power cable during the day when you’re using the computer.

But, what might you want to attach during the day when you’re out and about? It’s not like you’re going to walk around with an ethernet cable hanging out of it, or even a CD/DVD burner. This computer is built to connect to the world wirelessly and while not everything can be connected this way, the few things we need wires for Apple has built dongles for. Again, think iPad: iPads have a single Lightning port and various attachments that can connect to it if one needs video out or to read an SD card.

For me, the lack of multiple ports would not be a problem even though I routinely connect a USB 3 hub to my computer with a LabelWriter and my Epson Stylus Pro 3880 photo printer connected to it (I connect to my laser printer wirelessly though our Airport Extreme), I don’t leave it plugged in all the time as I might go for days without using it.

So, the single port doesn’t throw me at all.

Screen Size

There has been a lot written about Apple’s new MacBook but as usual, it’s Dr. Drang that got me thinking about it from a slightly different perspective.

The importance and unimportance of ports

I’ve been uncomfortable with the screen real estate on my Retina MacBook Pro because before it, I had the 2011 MacBook Pro with the slightly higher resolution matte HD screen (a non-glossy screen) and that screen, while tougher to read because of text size, gave me more space to work in. It wasn’t a huge difference but I do notice it when, for instance, I’m looking at my blog and make Safari’s window big enough to show the background a bit. My old 2011 MBP showed this fine with the window taking up only slightly more than half the width of the screen. The new 2014 MBP’s different resolution makes that window take up close to 3/4 of the screen. This is exactly what Dr. Drang is concerned about with the 12″ screen on the MacBook except he’s concerned with height, not width.

The reason I buy 15″ computers instead of 13″ is that I like to have multiple windows open at the same time and have them positioned so I can see them simultaneously.

If I had an external monitor or iMac (which I’ll probably get soon) then the need to have a larger screen in a portable computer would be diminished, but like Dr. Drang, I see a even a small difference in screen height as a potential problem in reading long web pages (more scrolling) or seeing enough stuff on the screen at one time to get my work done.

This is a tradeoff: portability vs screen size.

The other piece of this influencing me is that I’ve been a one computer guy for a long time: I’ve been using Macintosh portables since there were Macintosh portables and while cloud services now make a multiple computer setup a lot easier to deal with than ever before, I feel myself resisting, wanting to keep things familiar.

I’ve been resisting buying an external monitor for this computer because an iMac is a better investment and the new retina 5K screen iMac is incredible. If I had an iMac and a MacBook Air or the new MacBook it would change the way I work and while this might not be a bad thing, knowing me, it would take me a while to get used to it. Honestly, that kind of change scares me and my computer is such an important part of my life, I don’t consider changes like this lightly.

I think the new MacBook is fantastic and when one changes the way one thinks about it (more iPad running Mac OS with a keyboard, less low power MacBook Air) it makes a lot of sense for many people, including me.

I’m working on my brain to get it a bit more ready for a possible change and for me, the first step is to write about it.

Apple is taking Maps in the wrong direction

Apple hopes ‘real-time’ maps will be a Google beater

It won’t.

Simply, Apple is trying to look good without being good. Watching Big Ben and the London Eye turn is a fun party trick but it won’t help you get around London. Click on a London Underground station and you get no information on which lines run through it.

Apple needs to put a lot more energy into deep and accurate metadata in cities rather than eye-candy like this. There are still no subway line listings on subway stops in New York City. That should have been part of Apple Maps from day 1.

Here is a screen shot of Apple Maps around Grand Central Station in New York. Note that Grand Central is listed but not the two MTA subway lines that run under it: The 4, 5, and 6 (green) lines and the Shuttle:

applemaps_subway

Here is what Apple Maps shows when you click on a subway stop (the only one shown):

applemaps_subway2

If you’re trying to figure out how to get around New York on the subway, Apple Maps is useless.

Here is what Google Maps shows around Grand Central Station when you click on a subway stop:

googlemaps_subway

New York is a major world city. One would think Apple would have this kind of information for the most popular form of transportation but in fact, they don’t. Nothing in London either.

I want Apple to stop putting so much energy into the way things look, a bit more energy into the way things work (or don’t).

Apple updates Yosemite and iOS 8

For those of you who are Mac OS Yosemite and/or iOS 8 users, the two software updates that Apple posted yesterday seem (to me) to have fixed many if not all of the problems I was having with both my computer and my iPhone 5S and iPad Air 2.

Mac OS X version 10.10.2 is the update and it can be gotten through the App store and software update.

My computer wasn’t re-connecting to my network after sleeping and I was restarting it multiple times a day to remain connected. That problem is gone now; wake from sleep is faster and the network connection is solid.

iOS 8.1.3 seems to have fixed the networking problems I was having with both my iPhone and my iPad and I’m remaining connected to iCloud (so far). I had random disconnects on my iPhone. Time will tell if that got fixed.

I’m delighted that Apple released the Mac OS update given the fact that they sold 74 million iPhones last quarter and the iPhone made up 69% of Apple amazing revenue, it’s a wonder anyone at Apple is paying attention to the Mac anymore but they are and I’m delighted as I’m a Mac user first and foremost, an iOS user second. Of course, no matter how much revenue an Apple device brings in, it should work as well as possible at all times and software updates to get rid of bugs are important. Thank you Apple.

For more on Apple’s fiscal Q1 statement, see this amazing list at 9to5Mac. Wow.

The software and services Apple needs to fix

The software and services Apple needs to fix

Glenn Fleishman, a long time Apple guru and tech writer has put together a great post following up on Marco Arment’s post that has caused quite a stir in the Apple tech community. He’s asked for comment-reports on bugs not mentioned and he’s getting hundreds. The comments are worth reading too.

I posted about this earlier here and I’m glad that these higher-profile folks are putting these issues on the table.

We have to be careful to not have a double standard in the Apple world: it’s okay to talk about how bad Windows and Android are, not so okay to talk about problems with Mac OS or iOS. The fact that haters will jump on this is immaterial and should never stop us from voicing our opinions about how Apple is doing.

My concern is that we don’t give the haters stuff to chew on by having a double standard about venting criticism because we’re concerned we’re going to give the haters stuff to chew on.

I think in the end, the Foxconn factory “issue” turned into something positive for Apple. Sure, there are some who will use it forever but they’re outliers. Sometimes its best for this stuff to come out and have faith that Cook and Co. will do the right thing: talk about it themselves to take control of the narrative and work to make it better.

My simple-minded view is that it looks like Apple is concerned with surface appearance and needs to put a lot more time into underlying mechanics which aren’t as sexy and are tough to talk about but now that this meme is out there, it would be easy for Apple to use it to their advantage as they make things better.

Spaghetti or pasta?

Nicholas Carr wrote a brilliant post on a small part of Apple’s demonstration of the Apple Watch and iOS 8 that seems to have gone under the radar: Speak, algorithm.

It’s about a new technology coming in iOS 8 called QuickType, which is a highly contextualized predictive text engine. I think it’s going to be fantastic although will no doubt lead to collections of funny bloopers like autocorrect has.

Now you can write entire sentences with a few taps. Because as you type, you’ll see choices of words or phrases you’d probably type next, based on your past conversations and writing style. iOS 8 takes into account the casual style you might use in Messages and the more formal language you probably use in Mail. It also adjusts based on the person you’re communicating with, because your choice of words is likely more laid back with your spouse than with your boss. Your conversation data is kept only on your device, so it’s always private.

Spaghetti or pasta?

In the old days of hand written and typewriter written letters, a misspelling was a much more serious issue than it is today. Even early, crude electronic editing changed that forever by separating composition from printing.

Imagine you’re writing a note about what you had for dinner last night and what you had was spaghetti. If you choked on the spelling pre-electronic editing you might have substituted “pasta” as an easier-to-spell alternative. The mistake intolerance of pen and ink or a typewriter was creating a filter on your vocabulary.

A spoken vocabulary is almost always larger than a written one at least partially because of this: you use the word “spaghetti” in speech but less so in writing because you’re not quite sure how to spell it. When this happens numerous times in a single piece of writing you might wonder if the finished piece of writing is really what you wanted to say.

Because of my problems with writing I did a lot of thinking and writing about this during the early days of computing: How Computers Change the Writing Process for People with Learning Disabilities.

Tools affect language

When you couple this “vocabulary filter” with informal email, texting, or posting to Twitter things get interesting. It isn’t just that writing is getting shorter (for various reasons, including a sort of world-wide ADD that has coined the term “long read”), it’s that we’re doing these things faster and because of this, possibly in a less considered way.

Then there’s printing, cursive, touch typing and “thumbing” and the affect each has on sentence length and complexity. No doubt how we use our hands to encode language is having an effect on the complexity of our written language.

Many of us old folks believe that this speed issue (the fact that things seem to be moving faster) is generational: younger people can handle it better because they were born into it and those of us born in the stone age are struggling to keep up. There’s certainly an element of that, but I also think many people fully engaged in the “new” aren’t as fully engaged as they think they are. Granted, reading a message about what a friend had for lunch doesn’t need much engagement, but that message is now mixed up with lots of other message about important stuff.

In short: I’m concerned with the effect technology is having on our collective ability to deeply consider things we read and write. This is different from cable news pundits reducing complex issues to knee-jerk extremes although no doubt they are connected. This is a lot of small technological filters turning “spaghetti” into “pasta” and we’re going along with it because it seems like a natural evolution.

The Future

The more I dictate on my various devices the better I get at it and dictation certainly end-runs many of these filtering issues. I’m going to dictate this word: Spaghetti (perfect).

Of course, language itself is a filter: maybe some day Apple will get it’s “haptic” or “taptic” act together and really channel the brain sans-language. Not sure the sensors on the Apple Watch will cut it, one might need a new set of earbuds to get closer to the brain, or a special hoodie.

QuickThink is right around the corner. God help us. What goes on in my head, unfiltered, is not a pretty thing.

How Tony Fadell went from Apple to Google

I find the back story or social process of how talented people move around fascinating and I recently read a number of investigative pieces that caught my eye.

The first piece is by Mark Ames: The Techtopus: How Silicon Valley’s most celebrated CEOs conspired to drive down 100,000 tech engineers’ wages.

The secret wage-theft agreements between Apple, Google, Intel, Adobe, Intuit, and Pixar (now owned by Disney) are described in court papers obtained by PandoDaily as “an overarching conspiracy” in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act, and at times it reads like something lifted straight out of the robber baron era that produced those laws.

The piece of the story that interested me wasn’t the conspiracy to hold down wages, it was the conspiracy to not hire each other’s engineers seemingly “greased” by Bill Campbell, a member of Apple’s board, an adviser to Google with deep connections in Silicon Valley.

Meanwhile, Eric Schmidt served on Apple’s board of directors until 2009, when a DoJ antitrust investigation pushed him to resign. Intuit’s chairman at the time, Bill Campbell, also served on Apple’s board of directors, and as official advisor — “consigliere” — to Google chief Eric Schmidt, until he resigned from Google in 2010. Campbell, a celebrated figure (“a quasi-religious force for good in Silicon Valley”) played a key behind-the-scenes role connecting the various CEOs into the wage-theft pact.

Tony Fadell was the key engineer on the iPod at Apple (eventually VP of the iPod division) and worked on the first iPhone. He and his team (which included Nest co-founder Matt Rogers) were at the epicenter of the rebirth of Apple after Steve Jobs returned and it can be said that the iPod, especially with a Windows version of iTunes which came later, brought more people into the Apple ecosystem than anything had before. Fadell was a star at Apple. jony Ive was also a star as he designed the first iMacs. Apple was coming back from the dead and these three people (along with Steve Jobs) were directly responsible: Jony Ive, Scott Forstall, and Tony Fadell.

Tony Fadell didn’t get along with Jony Ive or Scott Forstall who were both very close to Steve Jobs. This piece by Jay Yarrow lays out a bit more on this: Why Didn’t Apple Buy Nest? A Feud Involving Jony Ive Could Have Something To Do With It.

He [Fadell] was supposedly sidelined at Apple after losing a contest to build the software for the iPhone.

Fadell lost that battle to Scott Forstall who was the head of what evolved to be the iOS division at Apple. Fadell was forced out of Apple or quit and later Forstall was also forced out as he too didn’t get along with Ive.

Could Fadell or Forstall have gone directly to Google on exiting Apple? Executives at this level are given a large enough parachute (stock and money) so that they willingly sign non-compete deals that prevent them from going to another company for a period of time. Or, Fadell (and later Forstall) could not go directly to Google because of the unspoken deal that Jobs, Schmidt and others had to not hire each other’s engineers (to hold wages down). I think had Google attempted to hire Fadell right away Jobs would have been on the phone to Schmidt complaining about it.

Fadell leaves Apple, builds a house, gets the idea for a better thermostat and starts Nest with Matt Rogers, hires many of their key engineers from Apple (not sure how this got under the secret deal radar) and Google invests in them almost immediately.

It was just a matter of time before Google bought Nest, they probably planned to all along. Romain Dillet sums it up here: Nest Team Will Become Google’s Core Hardware Group.

While Nest first became popular with its thermostats, Google didn’t buy the company for these devices. First and foremost, the company wanted to snatch the great product team.

Before the Google purchase Nest could do their thing on their own, get some products out, build a name and customer relations on their own without the umbrella and possible liability of the Google brand. Now that Nest has their tentacles out being associated with Google might make some paranoid but it’s almost too late: the brand is established and Google is no doubt hoping that the paranoia about data collection will pass. In the best of worlds, this is a natural pairing and Google will give Nest a far reaching infrastructure to build and connect products in while Nest will give Google one of the best product engineering teams in Silicon Valley.

The question is, did Eric Schmidt, who was on Apple’s board at the time Fadell’s star was rising, make a deal with him to eventually get to Google under the radar of the secret non-hire agreement. If it is discovered that Google planned to get Fadell all along and did it this way because of the secret agreement, it will provide more evidence of the fact that the agreement exists at all.

Of course, my entire post here may be way off base but even if it is, oh, how I’d like to read the screenplay Aaron Sorkin could write about this. And, if you think this is messy, check out how the musical West Side Story came to be. It’s not quite what you might think.

Out of Touch ID

Touch ID is Apple’s fingerprint recognition technology on the iPhone 5S that allows one to train the home button to learn one’s unique fingerprint(s) so as to unlock the phone by touch rather than passcode. Very slick idea and a great selling point on the iPhone 5S.

Here’s a post on Apple’s Touch ID on the iPhone 5S that is exactly my experience:

Dr. Drang on Touch ID

1. Train it according to spec. To be sure, multiple times on a single finger plus other fingers.

2. Works like a charm a few times.

3. Degrades over time and in a day is almost worthless.

This has been my experience since day one with Touch ID, my wife’s as well. I’ve tossed out all my saved fingers dozens of times and retrained, etc. Works, then degrades. And, I have iCloud Keychain turned on so I can’t leave my iPhone unlocked (well, I can but that would be asking for trouble).

I have little doubt that we’re not alone in experiencing this but others seem to have a much better experience with it. So, either some people have finger prints that cause problems for Touch ID or some iPhones have Touch ID systems that are different from others.

Don’t take this the wrong way: I love the iPhone 5S and I’d have bought it without Touch ID: it’s fast, it has great connectivity, and it’s one slick device. But, Touch ID is one of the technologies Apple is bragging about with this product and at least for me, my wife, and Dr. Drang, it’s not reliable at all.