Showing all posts tagged iphone:

Thoughts about WWDC '17

First of all, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way; no new iPhone was announced. I was not necessarily expecting one to show up - that seems more suited to a September event, unless there were specific iOS features that were enabled by new hardware and that developers needed to know about.

We did get a whole ton of new features for iOS 11 (it goes up to eleven!), but many of them were aimed squarely at the iPad. With no new iPhone, the iPad got most of the new product glory, sharing only with the iMac Pro and the HomePod (awful name, by the way).

On that note, some people were confused by the iMac Pro, but Apple has helpfully clarified that there is also going to be a Mac Pro and external displays to go with it:

In addition to the new iMac Pro, Apple is working on a completely redesigned, next-generation Mac Pro architected for pro customers who need the highest-end, high-throughput system in a modular design, as well as a new high-end pro display.

I doubt I will ever buy a desktop Mac again, except possibly if Apple ever updates the Mac mini, so this is all kind of academic for me - although I really hope the dark-coloured wireless extended keyboard from the iMac Pro will also be available for standalone purchase.

What I am really excited about is the new 10.5" iPad Pro and the attendant features in iOS 111. The 12.9" is too big for my use case (lots of travel), and the 9.7" Pro always looked like a placeholder device to me. Now we have a full lineup, with the 9.7" non-Pro iPad significantly different from the 10.5" iPad Pro, and the 12.9" iPad Pro there for people who really need the larger size - or maybe just don’t travel with their iPad quite as much as I do.

My current iPad (an Air 2) is my main personal device apart from my iPhone. The MacBook Pro is my work device, and opening it up puts me in "work mode", which is not always a good thing. On the iPad, I do a ton of reading, but I also create a fair amount of content. The on-screen keyboard and various third-party soft-tip styluses (styli?) work fine, but they’re not ideal, and so I have lusted after an iPad Pro for a while now. However, between the lack of sufficient hardware differentiation compared to what I have2, and lack of software support for productivity, I never felt compelled to take the plunge.

Now, I can’t wait to get my hands on an iPad Pro 10.5".

I already use features like the sidebar and side-by-side multitasking, but what iOS 11 brings is an order of magnitude beyond - especially with the ability to drag & drop between applications. Right now, while I may build an outline of a document on my iPad, I rarely do the whole thing there, because it is just so painful to do any complex work involving multiple switches between applications - so I end up doing all of that on my Mac.

The problem is that there is a friction in working with a Mac; I need (or feel that I need) longer stretches of time and more work-like environments to pull out my Mac. That friction is completely absent with an iPad; I am perfectly happy to get it out if I have more than a minute or so to myself, and there is plenty of room to work on an iPad in settings (such as, to pick an example at random, an economy seat on a short-haul flight) where there is simply no room to type on a Mac.

The new Files app also looks very promising. Sure, you can sort of do everything it does in a combination of iCloud Drive, Dropbox, and Google Drive, and I do - but I always find myself hunting around for the latest revision, and then turning to the share sheet to get whatever I need to where I can actually work on it.

With iOS 11, it looks like the iPad will truly start delivering on its promise as (all together now) a creation device, not just a consumption device.

Ask me again six months from now…

And if you want more exhaustive analysis, Federico Viticci has you covered.


  1. Yes, there was also some talk about the Watch, but since I gave up on fitness tracking, I can't really see the point in that whole product line. That's not to say that it has no value, just that I don't see the value to me. It certainly seems to be the smartwatch to get if you want to get a smartwatch, but the problem with that proposition is that I don't particularly want any smartwatch. 

  2. To me this is the explanation for the 13 straight quarters of iPad sales drop: an older iPad is still a very capable device, and outside of very specific use cases, or people upgrading from something like an iPad 2 or 3, there hasn’t been a compelling reason to upgrade - yet. For me at least, that compelling reason has arrived, with the combination of 10.5" iPad Pro and iOS 11. After the holiday quarter, I suppose we will find out how many people feel the same way. 

Talkin' Bout a Revolution

Once again, the seemingly unkillable idea of modular phones rears its misshapen head.

The first offender is VentureBeat, with a breathless piece entitled The dream of Ara: Inside the rise and fall of the world’s most revolutionary phone.

record scratch

Let me stop you right there, VentureBeat. Ara is not a "revolutionary phone" at all, let alone "the world's most revolutionary phone", for the very good and sufficient reason that Project Ara never got around to shipping an actual phone before it was ignominiously shut down.

"Most ambitious phone design", maybe. I’d also settle for "most misguided", but that would be a different article. Whatever Ara was, it was not “revolutionary", because otherwise we would all be using modular phones. Even the most watered-down version of that idea, LG’s expandable G5 phone design, is now dead - although in their defence, at least LG did actually ship a product somewhat successfully.

Now Andy Rubin, creator of Android, is back in the news, with plans for a new phone… which sounds like it may well be modular:

It's expected to include […] the ability to gain new hardware features over time

This is a bold bet, and Andy Rubin certainly knows more about the mobile phone market than I do - but here’s why I don’t think a modular phone is the way to go.

Take a Step Back - No, Further Back

The reason I was sceptical about Project Ara’s chances from the beginning goes back to Clayton Christensen’s Disruption Theory. I have written about disruption theory before, so I won’t go into too much length about it here, but basically disruption states that in a fast-developing market, integrated products win because they can take advantage of rapid advances in the field. Vice versa, in a mature market products win by modularising, providing specific features with specific benefits or at a lower cost than the integrated solutions can deliver.

Disruption happens when innovation slows down because further innovation requires more resources than consumers are willing to invest. In this scenario, incumbent vendors continue to chase diminishing returns at the top of the market, only to find themselves undercut by modular competitors delivering "good enough" products. Over time, the modular products eat up the bulk of the market, leaving the ex-incumbents high and dry.

If you assume that the mobile phone market is mature and all development is just mopping up at the edges, then maybe a modular strategy makes sense, allowing consumers to start with a "good enough" basic phone and pick and choose the features most important to them, upgrading individual functionality over time. However, if the mobile phone market is still advancing rapidly and consumers still see the benefit from each round of improvements, then fundamental upgrades will happen frequently enough that integrated solutions will still have the advantage.

Some of the tech press seem to be convinced that we have reached the End of History in mobile technology. Last year’s iPhone 7 launch was the epitome of this view, with the consensus being that because the outside of the phone had not changed significantly compared to the previous generation, there was therefore no significant change to talk about.

The actual benchmarks tell a different story. The iPhone 7 is not only nearly a third faster than the previous generation of iPhone across the board, it also compares favourably to a 2013 MacBook Pro.

That type of year-over-year improvement is not the mark of a market that is ripe for modular disruption.

What Do Users Say?

The other question, beyond technical suitability, is whether users would consider a product like Project Ara, or LG’s expandable architecture. The answer, at least according to LG’s experience, is a resounding NO:

An LG spokesperson commented that consumers aren’t interested in modular phones. The company instead is planning to focus on functionality and design aspects

Consumers do not see significant benefits from the increase in complication that modularisation brings, preferring instead to upgrade the entire handset every couple of years, at which point every single component will be substantially better.

And that is why the mobile phone market is not ready for a modular product, instead preferring integrated ones. If every component in the phone needs to be upgraded anyway, modularisation brings no benefit; it’s an overhead at best, and a liability at worst, if modules can become unseated and get lost or cause software instability.

At some point the mobile phone market will probably be disrupted - but I doubt it will be done through a modularised hardware solution in the vein of Project Ara. Instead, I would expect modularisation to take place with more and more functionality being handed off to a cloud-based back-end. In this model, the handset will lose many of its independent capabilities, and revert to being what the telephone has been for most of its history: a dumb terminal connected to a smart network.

But we’re not there yet.


Images by Pavan Trikutam and Ian Robinson via Unsplash

Updating the Car

As I mentioned in my one-year review of my car, the one aftermarket upgrade I made was to swap the rather dated factory ICE for a CarPlay head unit. That modification is itself now about a year into its service, so it is also about due a review.

The reason for the upgrade is that the factory PCM 2.1 unit was really showing its age, with no USB, Bluetooth, or even Aux-in. In other words, Porsche were way ahead of Apple in removing the headphone jack… Courage!

This meant it was not possible to connect my phone to the car. Instead, I had a second SIM card which lived in the dash itself, and a curly-cord handset in the armrest between the front seats. Very retro, but not the most practical solution.

The worst part, though, was the near decade-old maps. While we do have some roads around here that are a couple of thousand years old, lots of them are quite a bit newer, and even on the Roman roads, it’s important to know about one-way systems and traffic restrictions.

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My solution for these problems was to swap the PCM 2.1 system for a head unit that is basically just a dumb screen driven by an iPhone, with no functionality of its own beyond a FM tuner. The reason is that I change phones much more frequently than I change cars, and upgrade the software on my phone more frequently than that.

The specific device is an Alpine ILX-007, and I am quite satisfied with it. It has a decent screen, which seems to be one of the key complaints people have about other CarPlay systems. There is occasionally a little lag, but I assume that’s software rather than hardware, since it’s not reproducible. It did crash on me once, losing my radio presets, but that’s it.

Upgrades

Adding this system to my car has been a substantial upgrade. I have all my music, podcasts and so on immediately available, I can make phone calls, and there is even a dedicated button to talk to Siri. I use this a lot to add reminders to myself while driving, as well as obvious stuff like calling people.

Siri also reads messages that come in while the phone is in CarPlay mode, which is occasionally hilarious when she tries to read something written in a language other than English. On the other hand Siri handles emoji pretty well, reading their name (e.g. "face blowing kisses"), which is very effective at getting the meaning across - although it’s a bit disconcerting the first time it happens!

Contrary to my early fears about CarPlay, it works perfectly with my steering-wheel controls too, so ergonomics are great.

The main win though is that my in-car entertainment now benefits from iOS upgrades in a big way. In particular, iOS 10 brings a redesigned Music screen and a major update to Maps.

Show me around

The Music screen used to have five tabs, which is way too many to navigate while driving. The new version has three tabs, and is generally much clearer to use. I don’t use Apple Music, and one of the things that I hated about the old version was that it would default to the Apple Music tab. The biggest reason why I don’t use streaming services like Apple Music is that the only time I really get to listen to music is while I’m out and about. That means either in aeroplanes, where connectivity is generally entirely absent, or in the car, where it is unreliable and expensive. Therefore, I only listen to music stored locally on my phone, but I had to switch away each and every time I launched the Music app. iOS 10 fixes that.

The biggest change iOS 10 brings to the CarPlay experience is to Maps. Many people have pointed out that Maps will now add a waypoint when the iPhone is disconnected from the car, so that drivers can easily retrace their steps to their parked car. I have to admit that I have never lost my car, but it’s good to know that it’s, say, ten minutes’ walk away when it’s raining.

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There are also updated graphics, which are much clearer to read in a hurry. These are not just limited to pretty icons, though; there is actual improved functionality. Previously, users had to switch manually between separate Overview and Detail modes. Annoyingly, there was a significant gap between the greatest zoom on Overview and the widest area on Detail. Also, Detail did not include traffic alerts, while Overview by default showed the entire route, not just currently relevant parts, so a typical journey required a fair amount of switching back and forth between modes.

The new Maps zooms gradually over the course of the journey, always showing current position near one edge of the screen and destination near another edge. This is much more useful, allowing the driver to focus on alerts that are coming up rather than being distracted by ones that are already passed. There is also more intelligence about proposing alternate routes around congestion.

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And yes, Maps works perfectly well for me, thank you. I would probably use it anyway given that, as the system-level mapping service, it plugs into everything, so I can quickly get directions to my next appointment from the calendar or go to a contact’s home or office address. The search could still be better, requiring very precise phrasing, but contrary to Maps’ reputation out there, landmarks generally exist and are in the correct place.

I am on record as an Apple Maps fan even in the early days, and it’s improved enormously since then. Don’t believe the hype, give it a go.

The integration is a big deal, as I saw last Wednesday. I was supposed to meet a colleague out and about, so I used Messages to send him my current location. To be extra sure, I chose the actual restaurant I was in, rather than just my GPS location. All my colleague needed to do was to tap on the location in the chat to be routed to my location. Unfortunately, he is one of those who prefer Google Maps, so he eyeballed the pin location and entered that in Google Maps. Unfortunately for him, the location he eyeballed turned out to correspond to a chain, and Google in its eagerness to give a result (any result) gave him the location of the nearest branch of that chain, rather than the specific location I was near.

It all worked out in the end, after a half-hour detour and a second taxi trip…

Trust the system, it works.

The System Works

This is exactly why I got a CarPlay unit in the first place: so I would get updates in the car more frequently than every few years when I get a whole new car. So far, that’s working out just perfectly. The iOS 10 upgrade cleaned up some annoyances and added convenient new features without requiring me to rip out all my dashboard wiring. I won’t consider another car without CarPlay support.

Dinosaurs Evolving

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Right now, basically the entire Internet is having a massive collective tantrum over the fact that Apple dropped the headphone jack from the newest iPhone. This, despite the fact that (in a very un-Apple move) the box includes both a Lightning-to-TRS audio jack adapter, and a pair of EarPods with a Lightning connector.

Speaking for myself, I already specced out the iPhone I want, but I’m just waiting to pick it up when I go to San Francisco next month. Some times, geo restrictions actually work in my favour, as even with SF sales tax, the US price is a couple of hundred Euros cheaper than my local price. EarPods don’t fit my ears (which also means the new AirPods are out), so I’ll use the adapter while I look for W1 wireless earphones that I like.

The hysteria over the whole thing reminded me of a situation that is the exact opposite, one where an “obsolete" standard keeps soldiering on, despite repeated attempts to kill it or just declare it dead by fiat.

I am of course referring to email1.

A bit of history

To recap, everything started back in those tie-died days of 1965. This was not yet email as we know it, however; even the @-sign was not added until 1971, although for a while there things like bang paths were viable alternatives.

In those days the Internet in general and email specifically were still things that only academics and governments used. However, in September of 1993 - the September that never ended - Arpanet was opened up to the public, becoming the Internet2. It didn’t take long for the whole thing to degenerate into the wretched hive of scum and villainy that we know and love today.

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So why did email survive the transition to the Internet, when many other protocols, including beloved ones like Usenet, withered and died? And why are people still trying to kill it now, with the likes of Slack or Cisco Spark or Microsoft's Yammer or Salesforce Chatter or whatever?

The key thing about email is that it is extremely simple. If you want (and if you can still find an SMTP server that does not require authentication), you can still send email from the command line in just a couple of lines.

 > telnet mail.domain.ext 25

 Trying ???.???.???.???...

 Connected to mail.domain.ext.

 Escape character is '^]'.

 220 mail.domain.ext ESMTP Sendmail ?version-number?; ?date+time+gmtoffset?

 > HELO local.domain.name

 250 mail.domain.ext Hello local.domain.name [loc.al.i.p], pleased to meet you

 > MAIL FROM: mail@domain.ext

 250 2.1.0 mail@domain.ext... Sender ok

 > RCPT TO: mail@otherdomain.ext

 250 2.1.0 mail@otherdomain.ext... Recipient ok

 > DATA

 > Subject: This is a subject

 >

 > This is the body of the email

 > .

 250 2.0.0 ???????? Message accepted for delivery

 > QUIT

 221 2.0.0 mail.domain.ext closing connection

 Connection closed by foreign host.

Try that with Chatter.

Of course nobody would do that except for a stunt - but this is what is going on in the background of every mail client you would actually use on a regular basis. The simplicity of this protocol means that anyone can implement their own tool, offering specific capabilities. Email clients can be arbitrarily simple or complex, and anyone can choose one that suits their own requirements.

Email is email is email

One of the consequences of that simplicity is universality and flexibility. Anyone using email can communicate with anyone else, regardless of what client or server software they are using. Email is email is email.

In contrast, most would-be email killers are walled gardens, consisting of a service that is tightly integrated with its client app and does not allow third-party clients. This makes it much harder for innovation to happen, because there is only one provider, and they deliver only the functionality that they want and can build. If you want a feature to be added to Slack, you can’t build your own Slack client; you have to petition Slack to do it, and they choose whether to implement that feature or not.

Even now, more than fifty years into the age of email, there is constant experimentation, with new email clients popping up all the time. Right now I am using one called Notion, which implements all sorts of gestures to triage your inbox. You can “star" messages, file them, and even snooze them so that they go away but come back to your inbox later. Even in the simplest clients, you still have the option to read something and then mark it as unread so that you don’t forget about it.

Try snoozing a notification from Facebook Messenger, or marking a WhatsApp message as unread to return to it later. Can’t be done.

You don’t need a fancy client, either. There are a ton of features built right into the protocol. Think of the concise power of the CC and BCC headers, or the simple “forward" action. With CC (“carbon copy", a coelacanth term surviving from a previous age of office technology) you can make people aware of a conversation, while also making it clear that they are being informed but are not expected to take action. BCC (“blind carbon copy") lets you send a message without making each participant aware of all of the others, so you can let your boss see the email you sent without the recipients seeing their name. BCC should also be used by anyone sending mass emails, to avoid disclosing the entire recipient list to every recipient, but people regularly forget - with hilarious consequences.

In contrast, chat systems are symmetrical. You can add people to a group chat, but it’s a flat hierarchy; no question of someone being informed as opposed to an active participant, or a silent observer. Forwarding a message with its context is also usually impossible. Sure, you can easily copy the text, but not the group participants and so on. Email’s simplicity make all of these features universal, independent of the generosity of one particular developer.

Email just won’t die

Email is unkillable because it provides substantial utility, and it is easy for people to build additional value on top of a common standard. In other words, if it's a dinosaur, it's the sort that didn't get killed by an asteroid, but instead grew feathers and is still around today.

The old TRS audio jack has only ubiquity in its favour. It does not offer any particular functionality; the TRRRS extended spec that lets in-line remotes work is a horrible hack, and it’s kind of surprising that it works as well as it does.

Also, most iPhone users just use the EarPods they get with their device, so I would not have been surprised if, absent the media firestorm and rending of vestments, people would have just used the Lightning EarPods and not even have noticed the change.

And if you feel that strongly about it, use the adapter that Apple puts right in the box.

Who wants to bet that inside of two years, all the major Android manufactures offer phones with audio over Micro USB or something similar, instead of TRS? Some vendors already do…


  1. Yes, I have given up on calling it “e-mail", although I still think that is more correct. 

  2. An internet, the Internet. Come at me. 

Head in the Vapour

In news which should surprise absolutely nobody, Google - I mean, Alphabet - have killed their ridiculous “Project Ara" modular phone.

Here’s why this was a stupid idea from the beginning. Description from the Project ARA homepage:

The Ara frame is built with durable latches and connectors to keep modules secured. Ara modules are designed around standards, allowing them to work with new generations of frames and new form factors.

All of that means bulk - increased size and weight. Also, you’re still going to be constrained by what can fit on that chassis; there would be a spot where you could fit a camera, but if you want a bigger camera or don’t want a camera at all, this architecture doesn’t help you. It also sounds fragile, with many points of failure. These modules could easily become dislodged in your pocket, so you pull your phone out to take a picture and realise that you need to reconnect the camera module to the phone, but now the OS doesn’t recognise it, so you have to do a hard reboot - and now the sun has set or the child has run off, and you have a handful of modules and nobody to throw them at.

The real problem, though, is the goal of this project. The only attraction of modular systems is if you are going to upgrade components piecemeal: instead of buying an entire new phone every 18 months or whatever your replacement cycle is, you can judiciously upgrade just the screen or add a fingerprint reader or an NFC antenna, or so the theory goes.

In practice, nobody wants to do that. First of all, even on desktop systems where the bulk and weight are less of a factor, the market has moved decisively towards fully integrated all-in-one systems. People have voted with their pocketbooks for integrated convenience over flexible modularity. And that's in static desktop applications. When we’re talking about something people carry around all day, bulk and weight are an even bigger factor.

Secondly, most upgrades require many systems to be upgraded at once - at which point you might as well just buy a new phone anyway. This isn’t PC gaming, where you can get measurable benefits from upgrading your video card. Mobile phone hardware is still evolving far more rapidly than desktop hardware, and the benefits of full integration far outweigh the benefits of modularity.

We used to talk about the notion of a Personal Area Network, back when meaningful computing power was too heavy to hold in one hand. The idea was that you would carry a PC in a backpack, and a screen in your hand, an earpiece in your ear, maybe something like Google Glass, and so on. By the time the tech would have been there to enable that vision, it was already obsolete, because you can hold more computing power than you can use in the palm of your hand.

We may get back to that vision if wearables take off in a meaningful way, but the idea of modularising the phone itself was a pointless detour.

What it is, is typical Google - I mean Alphabet. Announce some random blue-sky project, let nerds everywhere geek out on how it could work without ever considering whether it should be done in the first place, and then kill it off once it hits the real world. The annoying thing is that Google actually gets credit for doing this over and over again, instead of ridicule for not thinking things through. Yes yes, fail fast and let a thousand flowers bloom and all that, but some adult oversight in the planning phases would not go amiss.

I forget who initially suggested the position of VP of Nope, but I think Google needs one. The idea is that this is an exec, senior enough that they have to be taken seriously, who just sits in the back of the room, and when someone proposes something obviously idiotic, they just clear their throat and say “nope". Their salary would be very well earned.


UPDATE: Just noticed that John Gruber pointed out back in 2014 that the emperor had no clothes, and before that in 2013:

you’d still be throwing out old components on a regular basis, and the march of progress is such that it won’t take long until your base board is outdated too.

Exactly.


Images from the Project ARA homepage while it lasts.

Quick Text Shortcuts

I tend to assume that things I know are obvious and widely known, and so I don’t often bother to document them. However, I noticed that a couple of different people did not know this particular very useful trick, so I thought I would share it here for anyone else who might find it useful.

The trick (I refuse to call it a “hack", or even worse, a “life hack") is useful if you often need to type the same snippets of text on an Apple device, whether it’s an iPhone, an iPad, or a Mac. You can do this using only built-in tools from Apple, with no need to install additional components or mess with anything under the hood.

On a Mac, go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Text. Here you can create the shortcuts that will be useful to you. You should have one defined already, which replaces “omw" with “On my way!".

Simply click the + button at the bottom of the window to add your own snippets. I have a couple for my phone number and email address, so that I can simply type “mynum" or “mygmail" to have those appear, with no fear of typos.

This is of course even more useful on an iPhone, where the small keyboard can make it frustrating to type when you can’t rely on autocorrect - and doubly frustrating to type phone numbers in the middle of other text. On an iPhone (or an iPad), go to Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement, and then tap the + to enter your own snippets.

The cherry on the cake of usefulness is that the text snippets will sync over iCloud, so any snippets you set up on one of your devices should be available on all your other devices too.

Enjoy!

Apple Bottom Drawer

There has been a long-running complaint that equipping the entry-level iPhone with only 16GB of storage is not only cheap, but wrong-headed because owners will have a bad user experience. Most of the time, the example people bring up is operating system upgrades, with people forced to stay on older iOS releases because they don’t have enough free space to perform the upgrade1.

As per their usual tight-lipped policy, Apple has not said anything about precisely why it is that they continue to keep the 16GB models around. The general assumption has been that the idea is to offer a (relatively) low entry price for the iPhone range to get as many people as possible through the door.

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Today, though, I overheard a conversation that illustrated a different reason why Apple might want to increase the storage in that bottom-tier device sooner rather than later. Someone recommended an album, someone else searched for it on iTunes, hit “Buy" - and was told that they did not have enough space. When storage limits are preventing sales, this is a problem.

One obvious quibble would be to ask how many owners of entry-level devices spend significant sums in the iTunes Store (or would do if they had the free space available). This overlooks the fact that these days, a significant number of iPhones are actually corporate-owned or at least -funded. Because the owner is not the user, it is not possible to infer the user’s purchasing power or willingness based on the device they have. Companies may well opt for limited storage because that’s all that is required for work purposes, even though employees would be willing to fill additional space with personal data, given the chance.

Bottom line: it’s high time for the bottom storage tier to move up to 32GB. I would also argue that when they do this, Apple should eat the difference and not raise prices, because their margin is big enough and the parts cost is so small. The improvement in user experience would pay for itself in Tim Cook’s beloved “customer sat", without even allowing for increased revenue per user (ARPU) as people are able and willing to fill up some of that free space.


  1. Yes, I know that you can also upgrade by plugging into iTunes without needing the free space, but these days, many iPhone owners don’t come from the iPod experience and would not necessarily think of that. Many of them in fact don’t even have iTunes installed, or may not even own a PC or Mac in the first place. 

Problems that only affect me

It seems that iOS 8.3 changed something in the way multiple keyboards are handled. If you don't know, you can add keyboards to iOS from Settings > General > Keyboard. This is worth doing even if you only type in one language, because it's how you get access to the Emoji keyboard. Enabling multiple keyboards adds a little "globe" key between the numlock and dictation keys:

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Simply tap that "globe" key once to switch to the next keyboard in the list, or hold it to see a menu and select the keyboard you want.

The advantage of having multiple keyboards is that it enables predictive text to work in other languages. It also allows you to choose alternative layouts, e.g. AZERTY for French, QWERTZ for German, or QZERTY for Italian - but I find that confuses me more. Luckily, iOS lets you set all keyboards to use QWERTY.

Now, here's the problem. Before 8.3, if you had a primary keyboard (generally corresponding to your locale), you could switch to another language to type some text. The next time you hit the key, as long as it was within a reasonably short period of time, it would switch you back to your default keyboard. This is great for me, as I type mainly in English, but switch to other languages several times a day.

With 8.3 this behaviour has gone, and the "globe" key always switches to the next keyboard in the list.

This change is probably invisible to almost everyone, and only a minor irritant for those few of us who use multiple input languages frequently, but it is surprisingly annoying when you are used to the old way of things.

I can even understand the rationale, as I have seen people get confused by why the switcher would sometimes go to the next keyboard but at other times revert to the default - but the solution there is to give us preference settings to disable the behaviour entirely or change its timeout. I don't even mind if it's turned off by default, as long as I can turn it back on - but that's not the Apple way.

Sigh.

Wow, these grapes are sour!

There's this hilarious image going around, welcoming Apple to 2012 or something. It's a "humorous" play on the screen size of the iPhone 6 - and of course the 6 Plus "catches up" to monsters like the Samsung Galaxy Note.

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It's okay, Android users, we get it.

I'm not going to pick this apart (not even the really really ridiculous parts - "Battery stats"? "IR blasters"? really? you're going with that?). I'm just going to point out that in the Android world, "innovation" apparently means "made the screen a bit bigger". "Not making the user's eyes bleed" is apparently not a factor.

Let's not kid ourselves: phones used to look like all sorts of things, and now they all look like iPhones.1

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What drives Android fans crazy is that almost everyone - including most Android users! - sees Android phones as a cheap alternative to an iPhone, not anything to desire in their own right. Sure, there are exceptions - until now, if you wanted a big-screen phone, you had to have Android - but that loophole has now been closed.

Wait till people start asking if their Galaxy Gear or whatever is an old Watch…


  1. Actually, kudos to Blackberry for not only sticking to their keyboard guns, but bringing out the only radically new form factor I've seen in ages in their square Passport phone. It's a pity it probably won't sell in significant enough numbers for anyone to learn whether it can work. 

Jumping the fence

Facebook just released their new iPhone client, an app called Paper. It’s quite nice, and gets good reviews.

Bit of a jerk move on the name, mind.

If you are in the US, you can just download Facebook Paper, but if you’re in the rest of the world, you’re out of luck.

Or are you?

There are a few different unofficial ways to get apps onto an iPhone, bypassing these sorts of geographical restrictions: sideloading, changing the country on your existing iTunes account, or creating a whole new Apple ID from scratch.1

Sideloading

Sideloading2 means that you install the app from your computer, but without going through iTunes. You will need to have access to the actual app file, so you will need a co-conspirator in the US to get you the app. Your confederate can find these as .ipa files in the iTunes Media/Mobile Applications subdirectory of their main iTunes directory.

Once you have the relevant .ipa file, you can use the iPhone Configuration Utility3 to load the app onto your phone. Once you’ve done this, the app should behave normally, including for updates.

Changing the country

You can change the country of an existing iTunes account quite easily: open the App Store app, scroll all the way to the bottom of the “Featured" tab, tap on your Apple ID, choose “View Apple ID” in the popup, and tap on “Country/Region” to change to the US store.

There is a pretty big downside to this method: your payment details will be reset, which would not be too bad, except that it also loses any recurring subscriptions you have set up. I have a few that I didn’t want to mess this, so I didn’t follow through, and can’t vouch that this method works.

Creating a new Apple ID

I didn’t want to do this because it seemed like it would be a huge hassle, but it’s actually fairly painless. There is only one wrinkle to be aware of. Apple in their wisdom will not let you create an Apple ID from scratch without setting a means of payment. However, if you sign out from your existing Apple ID, then go to install a free app (such as, oh for instance Facebook Paper), you are prompted to log in with an existing Apple ID or create a new one. If you start the process this way, you will then be able to select “None” for your method of payment.

You’ll need an e-mail address that you have not previously used with Apple to complete the registration. Once you have done this, finish downloading Facebook Paper, then log out of your US account and log back in as yourself.

Facebook Paper should pick up your existing FB credentials saved in iOS and work normally from this point on.


  1. Well, or move physically to another country, but that’s a bit beyond the scope of this post.  

  2. This is the method I used to load Google+ onto my iPad back when it was iPhone only. Remember when we were all excited about G+? 

  3. This page is not really up to Apple’s usual standards: all-lower-case title for a start, and a confusing mix of version numbers and platforms all jumbled together with no explanation.