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.

3 Reasons Why iOS 11 is Incredible on the iPad Pro

I’ve been a big fan of the iPad for a long time. I stopped bringing my laptop to school with me years ago, instead relying on my trusty little iPad Mini 2 with a Bluetooth keyboard and a stylus I bought on Amazon. That iPad was a great little device. I think it’s safe to say that it was my most-beloved piece of tech. It was just such a joy to use. Over time, however, it had gotten a little… slow.

So I bought the new 10.5” iPad Pro back in July. It’s an incredible device. The screen is beautiful, everything is lighting fast, and the Apple Pencil was a game changer for taking notes at school. But a big part of why I bought a new iPad was what I saw of iOS 11 when it was unveiled last summer at WWDC. So after spending three months drooling over the new features, I’ve finally had some time to actually use iOS 11.

And it’s amazing.

Seriously, it’s made using and being productive on the iPad better than ever. It’s also made using the iPad more fun than ever. So, in a slight deviation from my usual focus on specific apps, here are my favorite three features of iOS 11.

One: Better Multitasking

Having all those apps accessible on the new dock, without having to go back to the home screen, makes iOS so much faster and easier to use. I love being able to have all my most-used apps right there, all the time, and the predictive/recent area over to the right is great too. The fact that side by side apps stay paired together is really nice as well – I’ve found it’s super helpful to keep my email and todo list next to each other all the time. 2Do doesn’t need much of the screen, so it stays on the side, leaving most of the real estate for Airmail. Awesome.

Two: Drag and Drop

Why did we not have this before? It’s amazing. The other day I was in a lab at school, and I had some screenshots from the lab computer that I had uploaded to iCloud Drive so I could put them into Notability. Before, I would have had to import them, one at a time, using a photo picker in Notability. But instead, I just pulled up the files app over Notability and dropped all four images in at once. Amazing. The WordPress app supports this too!

Three: Screenshots and Screen Recording

Two features here: You can now take a screen recording of your iPad or iPhone directly on the device, without connecting it to your computer. Pretty neat! Screenshots are even better though. When you take a screenshot, it now appears in a little bubble in the corner of your screen. You can then tap this to bring up an editor, and do stuff like put red arrows pointing to the thing you want to draw attention to. You can then share this screenshot directly from the editor. Or, if you don’t need to edit, you can just drag and drop the bubble directly into whatever app you’re using! ••

Fun fact: You can’t screenshot the screenshot bubble! It just doesn’t show up. That’s the reason the status bar is red in that screenshot above – I actually had to do a screen recording to get that capture.

Link: The Limitations of the iPad

M. G. Siegler writing on 500ish Words:

“But [the iPad] is actually my favorite device. Yes, you read that right. While I certainly use the iPhone far more than the iPad, I enjoy the iPad more. It’s just perfect for what I actually like doing — reading, writing, needlessly getting distracted on Twitter, and such. In fact, I like using it so much that I find myself very annoyed these days.

Siegler goes on to say that he’s annoyed at the iPad because it’s such a great device, but it still can’t fully replace his Mac. There are some things that the iPad simply can’t do, or can’t do well enough. I feel exactly the same way. My iPad is also my favorite device, and it’s frustrating that it’s still so limited sometimes. Recent years have brought some great improvements (like split-screen multitasking), but we still have a long way to go. Here’s hoping Apple prioritizes the iPad, makes it better, and allows it to fulfill everything we all want it to be. ••

Link

Link: Apple Rectangles

Mark Stanton writing on Hacker Noon:

“Ever since iOS 7, app icons went from being rounded squares to something more complex and refined. Apple has created design consistency between their hardware and software.”

This article is fascinating. Fair warning, it’s pretty nerdy, but it’s a really cool and obscure “turns out” that I had never heard before. The level of detail that Apple puts into both hardware and software is incredible. I for one didn’t even notice the app icon change in iOS 7. ••

Link: The iPod-Phone Prototype

iphone_prototypes-0

Image Credit: The Verge

http://www.theverge.com/2017/1/6/14188624/apple-prototype-iphone-ipod-click-wheel

This is a fascinating article.  Obviously, it took Apple some time to land on the design of the first iPhone, but I’d never seen any of their other attempts.  This design basically took the old iPod interface (remember the click wheel?) and added the ability to make phone calls.  The result is… unpolished, maybe even unusable.  The most mind-boggling part is that the click wheel isn’t hardware, it’s on screen (although the article does say that might just be because it’s a prototype).  It’s clear why Apple didn’t go with this design, but it’s really neat to see an idea they attempted.  It was natural to think of the iPhone as an extension of the iPod, so it probably seemed natural to attempt this with the UI.  Fortunately, however, this idea didn’t win out, and we got iOS instead.  ••

Slide Over: Limited, but still Useful

It’s been about a month and a half now since iOS 9 came out.  In general, I like it a lot (except for the new app switcher), and everything is running smoothly.  Not the least of the new features of iOS 9 were the iPad multitasking features.  Unfortunately, the coolest ones – where you can actually run two apps at a time – are limited to the latest model iPad of each size (the iPad Air 2, Mini 4, and Pro).  However, there are two features that are supported on my iPad Mini 2.

The first is picture-in-picture.  This allows you to watch a video in a smaller window while using another app.  This is useful, but I don’t watch a whole lot of video on my iPad.  However, I bet it’ll be great watching movies on our next road trip.

The second feature is the one that I actually get use out of: slide over.  This allows a second, iPhone-width app to “slide over” the one you’re currently using.  Like this:


At first, I thought this wasn’t going to be very helpful.  The newer iPads can have one app take of that width of the screen all the time, with the app to the left still fully functional.  This seems way more useful to me, especially since my iPad case makes sliding from the side of the screen over and over again kind of a pain.  So going into this feature, I was ready to be disappointed.

But honestly, it’s still really nice.  By far the most useful thing you can do here is reply to messages without leaving the app you’re in.  This seemed redundant to me at first, since you could already do that with actionable notifications.  However, pulling down to reply with iMessage has been slow and laggy in iOS 9, so it’s not as useful anymore.  Also, you can only send one message in reply.  If you want to send more than one, or a picture, you’re out of luck.  However, with slide over, you can just pull the Messages app onto screen.  It’s not just a reply box, it’s the full Messages app (well the full iPhone messages app at least).  It works really well and then when you’re done you just tap on the app you were using before and it slides off the screen.  Neat.

It’s not without flaws.  If I’m watching a YouTube video, slide over pauses it, because the first app doesn’t really continue running in the background; it just freezes.  And again, if I’m having a conversation with someone, I have to keep pulling Messages onto the screen, instead of it just leaving it there.  In other words, I wish my iPad could use all of the new multitasking features.  But as a first step, slide over is definitely useful, and it makes my iPad better and easier to use. ••

Why I Really Don’t Want an Apple Watch

I’m not going to lie, the Apple Watch is pretty cool.  And I can definitely see why it’s useful.  But every time I think about getting one (read: think about getting on in like two years when they’ve improved and I have money), I hit this mental block.  But it’s not just the Apple Watch, it’s really smartwatches in general that I have a problem with.

Every time I so much as think about putting an Apple Watch on my wrist, I tense up.  I’m already so addicted to my phone, and the thought of being even more connected just gives me anxiety.  At least when my phone’s in my pocket, I can (do my best to) ignore it when it buzzes.  But when it’s on my wrist, the amount of self control it would take to not just glance down at it seems ridiculous.  I don’t want to see every little message I get right there, instantly.  I’m sure it’d be nice in certain situations, especially if Apple would add a VIP list for iMessage.  That way, if someone in my family texts me, I can just glance down at it real quick and see what they said.  But it wouldn’t work that way.  Instead, I’d get all kinds of notifications, and it would make it even harder to ignore my digital life even for a moment.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think smartwatches are evil.  And I don’t think anyone who gets one is necessarily a pathetic techo-addict.  Depending on how many alerts you have coming in, and how important they are (if your job requires lots of prompt digital communication, for instance), it would be really nice to not have to pull your phone out of your pocket every time it goes off.  And Siri would be nice too – for things like setting reminders or texting someone.  But there are lots of things that I pull my phone out for that really aren’t important – things where I would probably do better to just let the impulse slide.  And that becomes so much harder to do when the screen is right there in your field of view, without its protective denim shield.

So that’s my opinion right now.  I’m a big fan of smartphones; I think they provide more than enough utility to outweigh their drawbacks.  But I don’t think smartwatches are over that hump yet.  I’m guessing they’ll get there eventually though.  Some people would say we’ll never find anything worth doing on that small of a screen, but didn’t we say that about the iPhone too?  ••

OS X El Capitan Review

The new version of Mac OS X is here!  It’s not a major upgrade; Apple said that they’ve got a big focus on performance this year, just like in iOS 9.  However, there are some new features that are definitely welcome.  Interestingly enough, several of them are features that started on iOS.  I think that says a whole lot about the world we live in now: mobile is becoming more important that desktop.

There’s several apps that I use a lot that have gotten new features, but I want to start with an OS-wide feature: split view.  This is actually similar to the new iPad split view features on iOS.  You can now run two apps next to each other in full screen.  Simply click and hold on the green full screen button on the first app, then drag it to one side.  You’re then presented with thumbnails of your other apps to fill the other side of the screen.  Once you’ve got these two apps open, you can leave them at half and half, or you can drag to give one of them more room.  This is definitely a useful feature (one that I’ve missed since coming to the Mac – Windows added this feature in 2009).


Next up is the mail app.  This one’s short and sweet: you can now swipe left and right on messages to mark them as unread or delete them – just like in iOS.  I use this feature all the time on my iPhone, and I’ve definitely wished I had it on the Mac.  Now I do!

After that comes the app I used more than any other: Safari.  Safari has added a feature called pinned sites.  This allows you to leave certain tabs open in the background, permanently, without them taking up lots of space in your tab bar.  It’s great for sites you use all the time.  I haven’t decided which (if any) sites I’m going to put there, but it’s definitely a cool feature.  Also, Safari has added a way to see which tabs are playing sound and mute them, also helpful!


The last thing I want to talk about it the photos app.  It finally allows you to geotag photos!  Both Photos for Mac and iOS already supported viewing geotags, and the iOS Camera app could geotag its photos, but neither one allowed you to edit or add geotags.  I had an app for this both on the Mac and iOS, but it was a pain.  Now, you can finally do this directly from Photos for Mac.

Even though there aren’t any crazy new features in OS X El Capitan, it’s still a solid update.  I mentioned performance at the beginning but I didn’t really talk about it yet: this update hasn’t made my computer feel any faster or slower (although that SSD I put in last spring helps).  Same as iOS 9, I’d say no change is a good thing (last year’s update definitely made it slower).  So all in all, I’m a happy customer, and I’m feeling good about how long my Mac will last.  That’s definitely a feeling Apple should want to cultivate in their customers.  ••

iOS 9 is Here!

Last Wednesday was the official release of iOS 9.  After updating a day late, I’m really liking the new version.  There’s lots to talk about, but I’m going to highlight my two favorite features: the improved Spotlight search and iPad Multitasking.

Spotlight
Spotlight has been moved to a new-old home, to the left of the first home screen.  This is where it was before iOS 7 (interestingly enough, however, you can still access Spotlight by pulling down from any home screen, but you won’t get as many suggestions).  Right at the top of the new Spotlight are “Siri Suggestions” – contacts and apps that iOS thinks you may want to use right now.  So far, they just seem to be recents, but Apple has said that these will slowly tailor based on your usage.  Check Twitter and Facebook every morning?  Those apps will show up at that time.  Under that is “Nearby” – a group of buttons for finding restaurants, gas stations, and the like.  These too will change based on whether it’s breakfast or dinner time.  Finally, underneath that are a few top stories from the News app, which makes its iOS 9 debut.  What’s cool is that you get all this information by just swiping into the Spotlight screen.  If you actually start to search, you’ll see similar results to what you’d have seen in previous versions of iOS.  Except for one major thing: you can now search the content in third-party apps right from Spotlight.  Dropbox, among others, has already added support for this feature, and I think it’s going to be super useful.

iPad Multitasking
Unfortunately, iPad multitasking is a little fragmented.  Let me break it down.  The iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4, and the iPad Pro (so the newest model of each size), can truly run two apps at the same time.  This can be done either with both apps taking up half the screen or with more of a 3/4 split.  So that’s great, but I have an iPad Mini 2.  Well the iPad Mini 2, 3, and 4; the iPad Air 1 and 2; and the iPad Pro can also do what’s called “slide over.”  This is where one app keeps running in the background, and an iPhone-width app slides over it on the right hand side, taking up about 1/4 of the screen.  Like this:


This is useful, but so far not many apps have been updated for it (disappointingly, not even all of Apple’s apps support it.  Why doesn’t Music?).  Hopefully this will get better though.  The final feature of multitasking, which comes to the same models that get slide over, is picture in picture.  This is available both for video apps like Netflix and things like FaceTime, so that’s really cool.

The last thing I want to talk about is performance and battery.  I mentioned in my WWDC post that iOS 9 is available for all phones that got iOS 8.  I was hoping that this, coupled with the fact that Apple trumpeted iOS 9 as improving performance, would mean that iOS 9 wouldn’t slow my phone down.  So far, my phone has been about the same (hooray!), but my iPad is definitely slower (this makes no sense, they’re the same model year).  Still, this is better than the usual performance hit we’ve gotten used it.  So far, battery doesn’t seem to have taken a hit either.  I’ve yet to try out the new Low Power Mode, but I think that’s a good idea too.  All in all, I like iOS 9, and I hope developers continue to add support for all the cool new features.  ••