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Hey Friend! My name is Nick and I write about the ways we, as humans, interact with technology, perceive technology, and also how we perceive the companies that make technology. Make yourself at home!

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Snapchat Was Just Forced to Copycat Instagram

A story of impulse, habit, and the battle for your camera.

Instagram is putting the heat on Snapchat. And I love it.

I quit Snapchat stories a few months back. I was tired of all the sleazy featured stories that were always plastered all over that page, so I decided to jump ship and try Instagram stories instead. I, like many, had rolled my eyes when Instagram first copied Snapchat like this, but I was surprised to find that Instagram’s story tools have gotten good. Really good. Instagram has better captioning tools. They’re more flexible, more interesting, and allow for more creativity. They’re fun!

But more importantly, Instagram stories are better because you can post pictures or videos from your phone’s camera roll. This allows for even more creativity. I can post time-lapses or photos that I’ve edited in other apps. The stories I see from my church and local businesses are amazing. These people are putting a lot of time into creating incredible, professional looking stories.

Why doesn’t this happen on Snapchat? The answer is found in this app update that popped up in my feed about two weeks ago:

Snapchat used to have this weird white box around any post that you didn’t take directly with Snapchat’s camera. It was awkward. The idea was to force people to use the Snapchat camera.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. When something cool happens in front of you, what do you do? More than likely, you pull out your phone. Then what? Do you launch the stock camera app, Snapchat, Instagram, or something else? I think many, many, people would answer that they open Snapchat.

Snapchat wants to be your camera app. They want everything you capture on your phone to go through Snapchat first. And they want you to share every moment – as long as you captured it in their app.

I’m sure Instagram wants this too – but they’ve decided to take a different approach. Instagram has decided to let you post whatever you want to your story, whenever you want. Instagram is aiming for quality over quantity. Maximum engagement looks like this: Take lots of pictures, caption them quickly, and post them to your story. Curation is different: Take lots of pictures (using your full-quality stock camera app), and then post the best on your story.

There is no way I’m going to document my entire life using both Snapchat and Instagram. That’s why this battle is important. And Snapchat was just forced to give up some ground. Instagram copied Snapchat, that much is for sure. But I honestly think Instagram is doing the majority of the innovating in this space now. I guess copycatting can go both ways.

Setting Up My New Phillips Hue Lights

The Phillips Hue lights are a very polished piece of gadgetry. They work reliably, are easy to configure, and fun to use. They don’t come cheap, but if you want a rock-solid product, you can’t go wrong here.

Awhile back, I was sitting at my desk in my room, thinking about how cool it would be if I could turn my lamp on and off by talking to it. So I decided I was going to get a smart outlet that would connect to Apple HomeKit. Long story short, this escalated[1] until I finally decided I would buy a set of Hue light bulbs to replace all the light bulbs in my room[2].

What I Bought:

I purchased two items on Amazon: The Phillips Hue White Smart Bulb Starter Kit and the Hue Dimmer Switch Smart Remote. These four bulbs would cover the ceiling light fixture and the desk lamp in my bedroom. This cost me a little over $100.

Image Credit: Amazon

Hardware Setup:

These instructions were printed clearly on the inside of the box, and they couldn’t have been easier:

Install all the lightbulbs, turn them all on, plug the Bridge into your router, and download the app.

I walked through the app setup process, which involved downloading a software update for the Bridge, and then I was all set.

The dimmer switch was even easier to set up. I simply stuck the little plate to my wall with the included stickers. No screws, no mess, no fuss. Even better, the dimmer comes out (it attaches magnetically) and acts as a wireless remote.

Software Setup: Hue App

In the Hue app, I have all four bulbs grouped together as one room, which I tied to the dimmer switch. Then I created a “scene” called “Ceiling on,” which I mapped to the “On” button on the switch. So when I press the on button, only my ceiling lights turn on. But when I press the off button, all my lights turn off, including the lamp. No more forgetting to turn that thing off!

Software Setup: Apple Home App

In Apple’s Home app, I also have all four bulbs assigned to the same room. I’ve got three of them grouped together as my “Lights,” and the other one by itself as my “Desk Lamp.” Nice and simple.

Software Setup: Siri

I can control the lights using Siri by simply saying, “Hey Siri, turn my Desk Lamp on.” But the Home app goes even deeper than that with its “scenes” feature. A “scene” is a group of settings for any number of HomeKit devices, which can be configured all at once with a single tap, or by using Siri. So I can say “Hey Siri, goodnight” and all my lights go off.

My personal favorite turns my lamp on to 5% brightness and is called “You up.” So if I need a nightlight, I simply say, “Hey Siri, you up?” Straight magic.

Bugs

Not too much to complain about here, except for a minor signal strength issue. We have two routers in my house, and I originally plugged the Hue Bridge into the one in my basement. In hindsight, this was silly, since that’s the router that barely reaches my room. The Hue Bridge had similar performance issues: it worked most of the time, but occasionally a bulb wouldn’t respond. Moving the Bridge to the other router in the garage — the one that does reach my room — seems to have solved this problem.

Conclusion

I’m extremely happy with my Hue lights. They work well, were easy to set up, and are very customizable. My eye for expansion is now turned to my garage. For my dad’s birthday, we’re going to get him a few more bulbs and a Hue motion sensor, so that the lights in the garage turn on automatically when you walk in. Heck yeah!

[1] Whoops. Never leave a nerd alone scheming about gadgets. Last summer I went on a 20 minute walk without my headphones to distract me, and by the time I got home I had convinced myself I needed to buy an iPad Pro.

[2] Except for my nightstand lamp, which I don’t want or need to be automatic.

Apple’s Going into 2018 with More Than One PR Black Eye

Apple’s brand image has been taking hits left and right over the past six months. I’m not an Apple hater, in fact, I’ve been somewhat of a super fan for many years now. I have the iPhone X, iPad Pro 10.5”, and a MacBook Pro. I use the Apple Pencil and the AirPods. I’ve spent an enormous amount of money on Apple gear, and I love it all so much. Apple’s stuff doesn’t come cheap, but to me, the experience I get is worth it. And I preach that to my friends and family (as best as I can without being obnoxious). But that’s gotten difficult as of late. Here are three things that have made Apple look really bad recently…

iPhone X Price Point

I love my iPhone X. The screen is beautiful, the cameras are amazing, and FaceID is straight magic. It’s the best phone I’ve ever owned.

But it seems like every time I pull it out, someone goes, “Didn’t that thing cost you a thousand dollars??!” Yeah, actually, it did. And I happily paid that. I couldn’t wait for preorders to open. I was so excited.

The iPhone X is an iPhone for fanboys and fangirls like me. If you don’t want to spend $1000, get the iPhone 8. It’s a great phone. Compared to any older iPhone, it’s faster, got a better camera, supports wireless charging, and is priced normally for an iPhone.

But to a lot of people, just the fact that Apple sells a phone that costs more than the entire Cracker Barrel menu makes them seem… out of touch. Bourgeoisie even. Apple has always been about premium. But they’re walking a fine line right now.

Or maybe they’re not. Everyone I know with an iPhone X loves it. If we’re all such suckers, heck, they should charge whatever we’ll pay.

Software Bugs

iOS 11 has been kinda rough. It seems to have gotten better recently, but late last year I was just having all kinds of random little bugs. I think I rebooted my iPhone more last November/December than any other month I’ve had an iPhone. These were all little things, all fixed by reboots. But that’s not like Apple.

And then there was been the ‘A [?]’ bug, where all capital letter ‘I’s were replaced with the letter A and a question mark in a box. There was also the root user security hole on the Mac.

What kills me here is that Apple’s hardware game over the last 18 months has been spot on. The new iPad Pro, iPhone X, and AirPods are all amazing, beautiful devices. But the software game just isn’t there right now. Here’s hoping Apple gets that together in 2018.

Slow Down Gate/Battery Gate

Whatever you wanna call this one, this is easily the worst thing that’s happened to Apple PR in the last few years. Before my opinions, let me first state the facts:

  • Apple admitted that they slow down older iPhones.

Wait WHAT? See that’s what you’re all thinking. “I knew it!” you say. “They ARE evil!” But wait, here’s the rest of the story:

  • As batteries get older (all batteries, not just iPhone batteries), their power output starts to get a little unstable.
  • During times of peak performance need (say, playing a 3D game), the iPhone is drawing a lot of power from the battery.
  • If the battery power output all of a sudden dips during one of these times, the iPhone could simply shut off, because it wasn’t expecting the power to cut out.
  • To fix this problem, Apple has programmed the iPhone to, well, expect this power dip. During periods of peak performance, older iPhones may intentionally slow down the processor if it believes the battery is likely to be unreliable.

The point is, Apple is trying to prevent your iPhone from just randomly shutting off right when you’re using it the heaviest. But that’s not really the point. The real point is, The conspiracy theorists were right. I’ve spent years assuring people that no, Apple doesn’t slow down your iPhone just to make you buy a new one. Even though Apple wasn’t technically doing this “to make you buy a new one,” the public perception damage has been done. Apple has done several things to address this problem, including offering battery replacements at over 60% off through all of 2018. They are also updating iOS soon to allow users to turn off this behavior in their iPhone settings. But still. Apple has a lot of ground to make up in 2018.

How to Write an App Using Google

Do you have 1) a great idea for an app and 2) minimal coding experience?

Step 1 — Google Broadly

Start by Googling a basic description of what you’re trying to do, something like “how to use a scrolling picker in Swift.” Chances are, you’ll find a rather simple solution — and by simple I mean that it will have only a few steps. However, those steps will likely use terminology you’ve never even heard before, things like “view controller” and “app delegate.” For an experienced coder, these are simple steps. For you, not so much (and that’s OK!). Which brings us to Step 2…

Step 2 — Google Specifically

Dive deeper into what you’re trying to learn by Googling any terms you don’t understand. Turns out you place UI elements inside a view controller, but what the heck are constraints? Google that too! This takes time and effort to effectively learn and piece together information. But it does work, and it does pay off in the end.

Except when you can’t find what you’re looking for. Which brings us to step 3…

Step 3 — Ask!

Stack Overflow is a wonderful resource to find other people who’ve had the same problem as you and who have already found a solution. I used to be hesitant to post my own questions to Stack Overflow. To be perfectly honest, I was too lazy and too impatient, thinking an answer would take days.

If you think so too, you’re completely wrong. The few times I’ve posted to Stack Overflow, I’ve gotten an educated response within an hour. It’s an amazing community.

Now, make sure you do your homework. First, be sure the question hasn’t been asked before on Stack Overflow. If something similar has been asked, make sure you cite that question in your post, and explain what makes your situation different. Second, be specific. Include large blocks of your own code. This is the only way anyone will be able to understand what you’re trying to accomplish and, more importantly, what you’re doing wrong.

Conclusion

I recently published my first app. Before starting the project, I had some basic experience with coding, minimal experience with iOS programming, and lots of experience with Google. But enough about me, this is about you! With a little determination and a lot of patience, it is possible to Google your way through almost any programming problem. Happy hacking!

 

Stand Hours – My First App!

I’ve been reviewing apps here for a long time, but today I’m incredibly excited to announce that I’ve made an app of my own! Being an iOS developer has been a dream of mine for years, and I’m very proud of the app I’ve made. Please go check the app out and send me feedback on features you want added!

Stand Hours app icon Stand Hours – Download Now!

Stand Hours is an app I created that helps you live healthier by sitting less and moving more throughout your day. If you work at a desk (like me), or are in school and spend lots of time doing homework (also like me), this is an easy way to become just a little bit healthier each day. Getting up and walking around for even just one minute (at least 100 steps) during an hour counts as a stand hour.


Stand Hours reads your step data from the Health app, which means it works with any fitness tracker that supports Apple Health (including the iPhone’s built-in pedometer).

Stand Hours also gives you hourly reminders throughout the day to get up and move around.

In addition to reading steps from Apple Health, Stand Hours can (optionally) export your stand hours to Apple Health. Yes, Apple Health has a metric called “Stand Hours,” but that can only be used by the Apple Watch. Instead, this app can store your stand hours as ANY activity metric in Apple Health – such as an empty one that you don’t use. It’s a great way to see this data in the Health app, even if you don’t have an Apple Watch!

You can use the form below to submit feedback, request features, or report bugs. This app is still in early stages, so if you’ve got a feature you want added to the app I’m all ears! Thanks for checking it out.

You can view the Stand Hours’ privacy policy here. TL;DR, all data in the app stays on your device, we don’t collect or sell it in any way.
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SoundForest: Patterns and Beats

SoundForest – Free on the App Store

Years ago, when I first got an iPad, I remember playing around with GarageBand. Sure, it was fun to strum on the on-screen guitar, but I actually play the guitar, so that got old pretty quickly. What was fun, however, was the drum machine. There was a grid on the screen, with two axis labeled “Loud/Quiet” and “Complex/Simple.” You would drag each element of the drum kit somewhere onto the grid, and it would play a beat for you. It was honestly really fun.

SoundForest immediately brought me back the enjoyment I used to get from GarageBand. It’s a similar idea, drag icons onto the screen to create music, but even better. In SoundForest, your song moves left to right, playing each “note” that you’ve placed in order. You can stack different icons to play two sounds at once, or play two of the same sound, which changes it slightly. I’d talk more about it, but it’s honestly better to just watch it yourself. Here’s a tune I made:

Best of all, SoundForest does this with really neat, minimalistic artwork of trees and flowers and animals that you might find in, well in the forest. It’s a gorgeous app. Simple, fun, and beautiful. What more could you want?


Thanks for reading! Have comments or feedback? I’d love to hear from you! I respond to all messages I receive. Drop me a line on Twitter @NickFoster56 or email me at staringatphones@icloud.com. And be sure to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Medium!