7 Years of iPhone

I realised this week that it has been seven years since I got my first iPhone, a 3GS model, back in 2009. I happened to be in the same place, Newport, Isle of Wight, which made me reminisce about how much has changed in 7 years.

Back then I had a Nokia N95, which had a brilliant camera and proper GPS – none of which could be said for the iPhone 3GS. Back then it was so unbelievably cool to be able to download a entire web page on a phone, or even a large file such as a podcast over 3G. My network plan included something like 500MB of data, but I never got anywhere near that limit. My iPhone changed this. At the time I was familiar with iOS, having owned the first generation iPod Touch, so getting a phone that did the same but more – an always-on Internet connection, a compass, a camera, and it was so much faster too (the ‘S’ in 3GS was for ‘speed’ remember) was absolutely brilliant. At the time I’d been working as a junior developer for just over 18 months – my first proper job as I like to say. 

It’s amazing what a difference 7 years makes. Back then, sitting smugly on a train or in a dentist waiting room surfing the Internet was only something us geeks did. Tweeting what you had for lunch was a novelty. Now technology has gone mainstream. Everyone is on the Internet all of the time. The iPhone was to mobile phones as broadband was to the Internet. It redefined normal. 

I do wonder what will be next. Yes there is the cloud, there’s deep learning and VR/AR, but these are technologies that have yet to be productised in the way that capacitive screens and low-powered ARM chips were with the iPhone. All I know it, the world we live in will be exciting in 7 more years. Roll on 2023.

iPhone SE

I did it. I bought a an iPhone SE. Not just any old iPhone SE, a Rose Gold one.

Why this madness?

iPhone SE, Rose Gold
iPhone SE, Rose Gold

The last phone I bought was an iPhone 5 back in December 2012. I was pleased with the phone and only gave it up last November when I decided to start using my company issued iPhone 6 as my main phone. The reason for switching was mainly because its ageing A6 processor was beginning to start showing its age, and the lack of M-series motion co-processor meant any motion tracking applications needed to keep the entire phone awake when in use, so battery life wasn’t that great for me. The iPhone 6 also has a much better camera. I’d refrained form upgrading my personal phone for so long because the iPhone 6 and the 6S did nothing for me – they don’t look particularly good, and they’re way too expensive for anything but the 16GB model, which I would not recommend to anyone but my worst enemy.

Modern processor niceties aside, I wasn’t too happy with the size of the iPhone 6. It was awkward to use with one hand, and impossible to put in a pocket while running – I needed to strap it to my arm instead. So when Apple announced the iPhone SE a few weeks ago, I knew this was the phone for me. The classic, beautiful iPhone 5 design and more importantly a usable size, but with the far superior camera and processing smarts of the iPhone 6S. I feel like this is a product Apple made just for me.

Upon going back to the smaller size everything felt so much nicer. The phone just sits in the hand much more naturally, and I can reach any part of the screen without using two hands or performing a balancing act in order not to drop it. There is also something particularly cool about using such powerful applications as Pixelmator, iMovie and Numbers on a 4 inch screen – there is a certain elegance in making an app that can do so much with such little screen real estate.

I went for the 64GB mode, which makes this the first iPhone I’ve ever owned with more than16GB of storage space. What a difference it makes. 16GB was fine back in 2009 when I had a 3GS, but in 2012 it made no sense, and it’s worrying that Apple still sells them. I can for the first time actually install apps without needing to delete something else first. Before I had to consciously keep applications installed to a minimum, in order that I could have 2 albums downloaded (for running) and space ready to take photos (usually 500MB or so). Now I don’t have to worry, and I can even install games. If anything, the storage upgrade is more significant than the superior processor and camera.

Finally I went for Rose Gold – why? I just felt like a change. I’ve always had the black iPhone, and Rose Gold was this year’s “new colour”. People can joke that it’s a girly colour, but honestly, I’m confident enough with my own masculinity to use a pink phone and not give a damn what anyone else thinks.

Overall I think it’s a brilliant upgrade over the iPhone 6. More usable, nicer camera and much faster. It is missing the barometer (sad face) and the front-facing camera isn’t as good, but that’s a small compromise, there’a also no camera bump.

On the demise of the iPad

Unrelated: iPad's do not land very gracefully.
Unrelated: iPads do not land very gracefully.

 

So it seems iPad sales have fallen for yet another quarter. As someone whose iPad is their favourite computer; on the one hand this surprises me – why wouldn’t everyone and anyone want one of these fabulously useful and fun gadgets? But on the other hand I can absolutely see why many people wouldn’t have a space for this relatively expensive, yet limited device in their lives.
The problem is that a tablet does some things really well: browsing the web, watching videos, taking notes, editing photos. It also does some things very poorly: you can’t import music purchased from someone other than Apple into your music library (iTunes Match) for example and the apps are in general baby versions of their desktop counterparts. Need to rotate, annotate and save a PDF? Create a PivotChart? Have two Word documents open at the same time? You’re out of luck.

 

Most people don’t create

The iPad’s big differentiator is that unlike an iPhone, it can actually be used to create content (By content I don’t mean social network updates!). Witness the suite of applications Apple provide for free or next to nothing; GarageBand, iMovie, Pages, Keynote and excellent apps like Pixelmator, which is the only image editing application I’ve ever been able to comprehend (I even managed to ‘photoshop’ someone who was in from one photo and place them into another, while making it look convincing). The problem is, most people don’t create content very often. Outside of work and school (where people obviously do), most people’s computing needs boil down to what is the quickest and most comfortable way to consume content. The iPhone’s success in business was dominated by it’s consumer success (the so called ‘consumerisation of IT’) but the iPad hasn’t followed this because for most people, the phone is simply ‘good enough’ to check Facebook, lookup that recipe or watch Netflix.

The phone is the best compromise, for now

Most people have learnt this over the last four years of iPad usage. The iPad isn’t better than a phone at the ‘phone’ things people do (Facebook, messaging, email) and it’s not better than a laptop at the ‘create’ things people do (with all the edge cases these entail). If you’re going to put down £400 or more on a new computer, why would you buy an iPad when you know it’s not going to replace your aging laptop and you’ll still need to replace that thing when it dies too. So most people buy new laptop instead, and that would seem like a smart decision to me.

Phone sales remain strong and this is because the phone is currently the best compromise for mobile computing. A small screen with lots of sensors and are useful while you’re out and about – camera, GPS, compasses etc. The iPad is a more enjoyable and productive device to use than a phone because of it’s larger screen size, but that also means it can’t replace a phone because nobody wants to carry a large bag on them at all times. It’s not an ‘always with you’ device. The phone is therefore the best compromise between having a nice big screen, and having something that is always on your person. Will this always be the case however? Once smartwatches are able to connect directly to cellular networks and don’t need to be tethered to a phone, will they be able to take on the role of ‘always with you’, for messaging, directions, checking headlines etc? If this happens then what do we need the phone for? It’s no longer necessary to have this compromise of a smaller screen. In this case, would people decide that a watch and an tablet (or laptop, if the iPad or its competitors haven’t improved its software yet) will take on the roll of web browsing, Netflix and Facebook, fulfilling the rest of their computing needs? I could quite see myself using just a watch and a tablet, if both devices progress in the right directions over the next few years.

Apple Watch Battery Saving Tips

If you have the smaller version of the Apple Watch, then you may find the battery just about gets you through the day. Over the past 6 weeks of using it I've been experimenting with the various settings to find the best way to save battery life.

Note: Like with battery saving tips for phones, these tips will reduce functionality, so they're not meant for daily use. Apple Watch has a built in power save mode, but with that switched on the watch is less useful than a £10 Casio watch (at least you don't have to press a button to see the screen on one of those!). These tips are meant for those long days or weekends where you want to keep the watch going for as long as possible, while maintaining the fitness tracking and ability to receive notifications (these things are not possible in Power Save mode).

Turn off Wrist Raise

On the watch itself, under Settings > General you can turn off Wrist Raise. This makes the watch a lot less useful because you will have to press a button to see the screen, but if you are out and about on a weekend and don't particularly care about the time, but want to make sure your fitness progress still gets tracked, it's a great way to save significant battery life.

Use the X-Large watch face

If you can do without seeing the weather or other useful widgets on your watch face, the X-Large's use of lots of black and no widgets means it uses far less battery juice, in my experience at least.

Use Power Saving Mode for workouts

In the Apple Watch app on your phone, choose the settings for the 'Workout' app, and select power saving mode. This stops the watch from continuously reading your pulse during workouts – very useful if you're doing long runs or walks, as the heart rate monitor sucks battery life. It will mean however, that your calorie burn stats wont be as accurate.

Turn on Airplane Mode

This one is only slightly better than Power Save mode. You'll still be able to track your activity, receive stand notifications or notifications for appointments already synced to your watch – obviously you wont get any alerts that come from your phone (such as messages). If you're away camping for the weekend, maybe that's OK?

Stay near your phone

I've noticed the battery life is a lot worse when I spend a lot of time away from my desk at work, but leave my phone at my desk. This makes sense – when the phone is within Bluetooth range, the watch will use this connection for things like alerts. When you move away from your phone, it instead has to connect to Wi-Fi directly. Wi-Fi is much less power efficient than Bluetooth.

 

 

Apple Upgrade Regret

As someone who owns an iPhone, Mac, iPad and an Apple TV, I can safely say I’m deeply embedded into the Apple ecosystem. I got my first Mac, a white iMac n 2001 at the dawn of the OS X revolution and loved it. I had switch back to a Windows PC for university as back then a lot of the software development tools I needed were PC-only or required I keep upgrading my OS on the iMac to install them (the poor G3 processor struggled from the offset with OS X).

I came back into the Apple ecosystem with an iPhone in 2009, and later an iPod Touch (now retired), iPad and more recently and Apple TV. They all work well together, and the hardware design and quality is second to none.

So I was excited when Apple announced as WWDC that iOS 8 and Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite would further deepen that integration. About a month ago I finally upgraded my phone (a trusty 2-year old iPhone 5) and iPad to iOS 8., and two weeks later my MacBook Air to Yosemite. My Apple TV also got upgraded (after weeks of nagging me) to iOS version 7.0.2 (oddly it seems to be on a different versioning system).

In short, I have regrets.

Yosemite on the desktop is the polar opposite of 10.9 Mavericks. While Mavericks was all about optimisation, whether it was battery life or memory consumption, Yosemite is a lavish excursion into a world of translucency and bright colours and unfortunately, some bugs.

Take for example listening to music over headphones. No longer possible if you have an Apple TV on the same network. You either need to unplug the Apple TV, or turn off Wi-Fi. Animations are choppy, and the new looks resembles the much derided Windows Vista. There are a few useful new features; Safari now feels much more streamlined and being able to send and receive SMS messages from the Mac is brilliant. I’d rather have a fast, bug free system running Mavericks and sacrifice these small but useful features, however.

On the Apple TV side things are even worse. It used to be that from a Mac or iOS device you could start beaming audio or visual content while the Apple TV was in deep sleep mode (“off”). This no longer works. Now I need to hunt around for the infrared remote and switch on the Apple TV first. This also rules out using the iPhone Remote app, as it uses the same mechanism and cannot wake the Apple TV. Often I try and beam a video to the Apple TV an get sound coming out of the TV but no audio. Frustrated, I reboot my iPhone or Mac and it still happens. In the end I learnt that I actually need to reboot the Apple TV to get my videos to play.

Nothing major on its own, and yes the very definition of a 1st world problem – my frustration is that this stuff used to work so brilliantly, and now it doesn’t.

On the iOS 8 side things have been surprisingly non-eventful. After the upgrade that was iOS 7 it might just be it seems that way in comparison,  but it seems to work pretty well. I love being able to use LastPass in Safari. Occasionally I find Safari will show me a white page, only to show the content when I try and scroll. No big issues though.

Writing bug free software isn’t easy, I know that all too well, so I don’t feel like its fair to call out Apple as being any different to say, Microsoft (one word: Excel). However Apple could make the lives of its users easier by letting them downgrade! There’s nothing wrong with trying something, deciding it’s not for you right now, and going back. Software should be running on a device because the user wants it, not because they have no way of removing it.

iOS Disappearing Calendar Notifications – Mystery Solved

Ever turned in your iPhone to see a calendar notices suddenly disappear from the lock screen? I've been seeing this a lot lately, and it's really bugged me – especially when my phone is on silent (as it is most of the day), so I can check it at chosen intervals rather than be disturbed (developer thing, no doubt) .

Well it turns out iOS will remove a notification after the event has finished. Kind of makes sense, although it does mean if you totally miss an appointment, you'd be none the wiser unless you pay very careful attention and see it before the notification quickly disappears.

Odd quirk, but probably not a bug – just a design choice (I would say it makes sense to remove them from the notification centre, perhaps not the lock screen) and Apple should probably hide it before the screen turns in to avoid the confusion of seeing something for a split second.

o2 Aims to Make Your SMS Allowance Relevant Again With New App

Tu Go is a a great idea. It can turn your iPod, iPad, laptop, or Android Tablet into a phone. Call people as if you’re calling from your mobile, and have up to 5 devices ring when you receive a call, send and receive SMS messages and see a list of voicemails. 

Unlike Skype, there’s no ‘free’ calls if you call someone else using the app, all calls are charged as if you made them on your phone, as are messages.

To me this is less of a challenge to Skype, but might have more of an impact on people using iMessage, BBM or Google Talk for messaging across their devices. Now instead of being locked into your device operating system vendor’s ecosystem (iOS, Android, Blackberry), you can be locked into your network operators (albeit far more interoperable) system instead. This is a nice idea, since SMS messages sent from this app can still be receive by someone with an old phone. I do like iMessage, the typing indicator is particularly useful for knowing whether to keep you phone out because you can see the other person is about to respond but I am seriously considering switching to this since my contract gives me unlimited SMS anyway.

It remains to be seen how this app will affect battery life. On iOS at least, VOIP apps get launched on system boot and can poll their sever a minimum of every10 minutes. On Android anything goes with regards to background activity. Of course users without a cellular network connection (most iPads sold) will only be able to receive calls when they’re in a WiFi area. If it had a big impact, I probably wouldn’t use it.

What this does blur the line between what a phone is, and what a tablet is. How long before we just buy a device with a 3G/4G connection, and download our favourite VOIP app for making calls with? With a Bluetooth headset, could the iPad mini be your next phone?

Size doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with it that counts

Apple seems to be getting a lot of bad press recently because of their refusal to release a larger iPhone. That and the fact that iOS is apparently getting 'stale' because hasn't changed much since its release in 2007.
I completely disagree with this criticisms – and here's why: Firstly, when it comes to a phone, I don't believe bigger is better. What matters to me is the portability of the device, coupled with software which is of a high standard and turns this 'black mirror' into something useful. If anything, quality and resolution of the screen matters far more than the dimensions.
When people start talking up screen sizes, it reminds me of the TV market, where people routinely buy the biggest screen they can get for their money, even if it means the screen will disproportionately intrude into their living room. There hasn't been much innovation in TVs in the past 6 years, we've seen half-hearded attempts at 'app' ecosystems, but ultimately people just want to sit passively and watch stuff, not mess about with apps. Since the iPhone was released in 2007, introducing multitouch, inertia scrolling and a touch screen that didn't need a stylus, we haven't seen any other big changes in paradigm. The iPhone 4 got a super high resolution screen that made reading text all the more pleasurable. Apart from that, in terms of hardware at least, we've gotten thinner, lighter and faster and that's all.
With phones, the quality of the apps and ease of use is what makes the difference – not the size of the thing. Price also plays a part – a big part. Having used Android for the past 18 months (HTC Desire S, and a Nexus 7) I can't help but be drawn back to iOS, purely because th software is so much better.