Thinking about my tech ecosystem again

This past week was the WWDC conference, held every year by Apple to tout its newest features that will be making their way into their operating systems. This year, for the first time in a while, it felt like Apple had its ‘mojo’ back.

A couple of the announcements have me thinking about my ecosystem again. A few years ago I started moving all of my things into the Google ecosystem. Google Docs and Gmail were taking the world by storm and jumping on board seemed like the place to be. I was able to access my documents from any web browser, and I didn’t think twice about what it meant to participate in this new world that Google was creating.

I also jumped on board with a Chromebook, and for a reasonable price had a portable computing device that could easily access this new world. I eventually retired my Chromebook, due to age, and went back to a MacBook. Before I had gotten my Chomebook I had made my first attempt to make my iPad a fully fledged computing device. I tried to weave together a bunch of different apps to create a desktop-like experience, but it just wasn’t there yet.

Over time a lot of different apps have come to the iPad, including dedicated apps for Google Docs, Microsoft Office, and Apple’s iWork suite. These have helped to fill a huge gap in the productivity arena, and this past week Apple showed off their newest creation, a dedicated iPadOS. This operating system takes iOS and expands it to create a more robust, laptop like experience on the iPad. It was a bold move by Apple, if for no other reason than they had been resisting it in the past. This recent keynote showed that they’re finally acknowledging that people need a bit more power that allows them to go beyond the Apple paradigm of how to get work done.

With the inclusion of real file access, better text manipulation, and a much needed boost to Safari, I feel like I could actually use an iPad as my main mobile working device. Especially since there are now iPads in the $329 range that I could pop a ruggedized bluetooth keyboard and case on, and feel comfortable biking and camping with.

The next thing that’s got me thinking more and more about getting out of the Google ecosystem is the continued drumbeat of the past couple of years around the technology society that we’re living in. For so many products on the market, the actual “thing” for sale is not the device, but the user of that device. From Google’s “free” services, to Roku streaming services, everyone seems interested in knowing everything about me so that they can convince me to buy whatever they want. Apple drove this point home with its announcement of their new login service, “Sign in with Apple” that allows you to sign in to websites using your Apple ID instead of Google or Facebook. Apple has stepped up to promise that they won’t sell your data, and are even taking steps to help you obfuscate your email address from apps.

People sometimes complain that Apple devices are just too dang expensive, especially compared to other devices. There is certainly some truth to this, and they opt to go for the premium side of the market, but at the same time, Apple has chosen to make their business more about the hardware that you buy up front (along with the services direct cost), and less about selling the data around who is using the device. That means that they can’t subsidize their hardware through advertising revenue, and hopefully it stays that way. My wife and I had a conversation just the other day about this, and she commented that perhaps Apple should lean more into this in their messaging to consumers. It might draw in more people who are simply done with the way that companies have been using their users.

All of this is to say that I’m thinking of going back more deeply into the Apple ecosystem, and moving more away from Google. It might spur the purchase of a new device or two, and most certainly would influence the choices I make around the services that I use. I’m not decided on anything yet, but its quite a bit of food for thought.

iOS 11 first impressions

The other day I plugging in my i-devices and let them update to the latest and greatest iOS 11. Sometimes these releases wreak havoc on launch day, but I was pleased to say that my devices updated without issue. I’ve had a couple days to spend with the new OS now, and I had a couple of initial thoughts.

First, on my iPhone I really don’t see much in the way of a difference. The visual aesthetic is only mildly changed, perhaps most notably in the animations when changing applications. Some of the apps have switched to a new design that focuses on a big block letter heading before letting you at the content. Otherwise, it looks like the same old iPhone I’m used to.

The main place where you notice a change is in the revised Control Center. The new layout of icons feels cluttered, but since it’s almost all text, it still feels sleek. I do have to say that I was a little confused by the new sliders for volume and brightness. It’s more akin to something you find in Star Trek styled technology. I have managed to navigate around it just fine though, so I can’t complain too much.

On my iPad there are more striking differences, most notably in the Dock. You can now add many more icons to it, and it keeps track of your previously used apps for quick re-launch. This is a nice and welcome feature, as the dock space always felt under-used in previous iOS iterations.

There are other neat tweaks that are more behind the scenes, like turning off notifications when driving, and drag and drop functionality. However, since I’m not a power iPad user, these don’t get much of my day-to-day attention. I would highly recommend anyone who has considered using an iPad as a regular laptop check out my friend Wes, as he is almost completely converted to an iPad life. He writes often about his experiences and has recently shared his thoughts on iOS 11.

For me, I’m just glad to get a nice new refresh, as that often makes it feel like you got a new phone. It gives it that “new device smell” again for a short bit. Overall, my first impressions of iOS 11 are fine. Nothing that blows me away or strikes me as revolutionary, but it’s a solid update.

iPad workaround

A few months ago, while camping, my iPad apparently took a spill, and the power button broke. It’s flush with the casing, and it refuses to pop back out, telling me that the internal mechanism is probably not working either. Today I decided to take it to the Apple Store to get an estimate on how much it would be to fix it.

Apparently, that isn’t a part that they will fix, and my only option was to get a new, re-manufactured, iPad to replace it for a couple hundred dollars. However, before the Genius even told me about the replacement option, he pointed out some little known features of iOS that might help me get by and make my iPad last longer in it’s current condition. iOS comes with all types of adaptive features to help with accessibility. One of these features is  AssistiveTouch. This feature allows you to operate some of the physical buttons on the iPad through on-screen controls. With this, I can turn off the iPad, as well as take screenshots.

The only thing that it won’t let me do, is a hard reset if I end up with crashed software. I decided that these features were more than enough to keep me using my current device, and I think my next investment will be in a bit more solid case for the iPad. I was happy that Apple was able to come up with a feature that can get me by with a device that is in perfect condition apart from the single button.

Installed iOS 10

Earlier this week iOS 10 launched, and without really thinking about it I clicked the update button on my phone when I saw it was available. As it was downloading and preparing to install I started seeing articles about how the installation was often failing, and people were needing to download their phone backups and start over. I was at work when I did this, and started to have a bit of trepidation about what I had just kicked off.

Thankfully, I was one of the lucky ones, and my installation went off without a hitch. The OS installed just fine despite my limited amount of space (around 500MB free), and in no time I was back up and running. The first thing I noticed was the redesigned look and feel of the notifications screens on the lock screen. The bubbles are much more stylized and less utilitarian, and from what I’ve been told, all of the OS looks a lot more like watchOS.

As far as new features, there wasn’t a ton I was looking for in this release, but there are a couple things I’ve found nice. First, my favorite new item is the redesigned lock screens. Having an easier to work with widget screen is much nicer than in iOS9 and I can see myself using that from time to time.

Additionally, I like the ability to interact with notifications right on the lock screen. I find that to be very useful instead of opening up the phone, and selecting the app I need and then waiting for it to load (I’m on a 5s) before getting to respond to a message. It only saves a couple of taps, but it feels smoother and more convenient to me.

Beyond these features, there’s not a ton I was looking forward to in iOS 10. I’m not big into stickers and weird apps in my iMessages, so those items don’t really do it for me. I do appreciate the under-the-hood enhancements to make everything run smoother though. Hopefully, everything will continue to work smoothly for months to come.

Quick thoughts on iOS 9

Last week the iOS 9 install landed on my devices and I’ve had some time to play with it. Overall, this is a very minor update, and I didn’t even notice much of a visual change when I started using the phone again after the update. There are changes, for sure, but it certainly feels more like an iterative upgrade, and not a revolutionary one.

One of the first things that I noticed after updating is the new application switcher layout. Previously, iOS borrowed heavily from the old Palm webOS with a carousel of application windows that you flick off the top of the screen. The flicking motion is still there, but the visual is more in-line with a stack of cards that you’re thumbing through than a rotating series of apps.

Swiping left from the main screen brings up yet another change. The home screen not contains many more frequently used apps and contacts, as well as quick links to find things like food and coffee nearby. There is a news widget at the bottom that comes by default, but honestly I haven’t bothered looking at it.

The other change that I noticed, and went seeking, is the new battery information panel, where you can get more insight into which apps are causing your phone battery issues. I’ve found this insight to be really helpful, and shows me pretty quickly if an application is running away in a loop.

There are more changes for sure, and I haven’t gotten a chance to play with some of the new tablet features yet, but these three are ones that caught my eye right from the start. Overall, I’m happy with the upgrade, and hope that it continues to work solidly into the future.