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. ••

Advertisements

Staring at Phones is now on Apple News!

Hi everyone!

Well it took four weeks for Apple to approve me, but the Staring at Phones blog is now officially on Apple News!

What is Apple News? It’s that new app that showed up on your iPhone or iPad when you installed iOS 9.  It’s a place to get news – about all kinds of topics – from traditional news outlets as well as blogs.  You can follow a certain account (or “channel”) as well as different topics.  After a month of using it, I really enjoy it.  You can be sure I’ll go into more detail on that in a future post.

But anyway, Apple News is now the latest way to keep up to date with everything Staring at Phones!  You can check out this link here to see my channel (yes, you have to click the link on your iOS 9 device).  Searching “Staring at Phones” doesn’t bring anything up yet, but I’m assuming that will start working soon.*  You can see that I’ve divided my channel into three sub-categories (in addition to “All”), which reflect the new way I’m organizing content here on WordPress as well.  First is “Apple.”  I didn’t start this to be an Apple blog, but that’s where the majority of my interests are, so it naturally happened that a good bit of what I write about is Apple related.  You can find it all under this tab.  Next is “App Reviews,” for the review I do at the beginning of each month.  After that is the “Misc.” tab, which basically means “Everything Else.”  Although I’ve got an Apple slant these days, I still like to cover random things in the technology industry, so I’ve got all that content in this tab.  Now here’s the embarrassing part: right now those tabs aren’t working.  I don’t know why; I know the RSS feeds I gave Apple are working, so I’m just hoping that, again, this will start working soon.  I’ll keep you posted.**

So check it out!  Apple News is joining the many ways to follow this blog, right along side WordPress, email, RSS, and Twitter, and I’m excited to keep pushing Staring at Phones into the future.  Thanks so much for reading!  ••

*Update 10/23/15: Staring at Phones does indeed now come up in Apple News search!

**Last week’s story about Tesla is now filed under the Misc. tab, so it seems those subheadings work, but they’ll only grab content published after I gave them to Apple News.  So those headings should be filling up with posts soon!

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.  ••

Apple’s September 2015 Event

I know the title says “September Event,” but this might have been Apple’s only event this fall.  That’s what sources were telling us leading up to last Wednesday, and it seems like they were right.  This event was jam packed, and did cover pretty much every Apple product.  So what all happened?  Let’s dive in:

Apple Watch
First comes the Apple Watch.  No Watch 2.0 here (it was, after all, just released in March), but there were a few new color combinations.  The Sport model now comes in yellow gold and rose gold aluminum.  In addition, there’s a whole slew of new bands, both colors and styles.  Finally, they briefly mentioned watchOS 2, but they didn’t give much of a demo.  To be fair, they had already demoed it at WWDC, but in the past Apple’s always given a refresher demo right before the release in the fall. For the people who had seen WWDC, it was a little repetitive, but it was probably still worth doing.  However, Apple had so much to talk about at this event that I guess they just didn’t have time.

iPad
Enough of the boring new-colors announcements.  Apple has released an enormous new iPad Pro.  It has a 12.9″ diagonal screen (compared to the iPad’s 9.7″ and the iPad Mini’s 7.9″) that looks like it’s going to be stunning.  It can run two apps at the same time, side by side (the same feature we saw demoed for the iPad Air 2 at WWDC).  For those in the business world, there’s a keyboard case; for those in the creative world, there’s a stylus, dubbed the Apple Pencil.  This new iPad won’t come cheap, however.  It starts at $799, plus $99 for the Pencil and $169 for the keyboard.  Other than the new iPad Pro, Apple also released a new iPad Mini (the 4th generation), with specs on par with last year’s iPad Air 2.  This was the first year we didn’t see a new regular sized iPad.

Apple TV
This was huge.  People have been waiting for this for years.  To drop the most important part on you in one sentence: The new Apple TV runs apps.  There’s an app store, which will include everything from entertainment channels to games.  Games can be played on Apple’s new remote.  It has motion sensors like a Wii Remote, a few buttons, and a small touch surface.  But most importantly, it also has a microphone.  That’s right, the new Apple TV has Siri.  You can use Siri to search for TV shows and movies from iTunes, Netflix, hulu, HBO, and Showtime all at the same time.  Pretty cool.  You can also ask Siri to show you the whether or sports scores in the middle of your show.  The thing that stuck out to me most, however, was that you can ask Siri, “What did she say?”, and it will skip back 15 seconds in your show and turn the captions on for just that 15 seconds.  Someone should’ve thought of that years ago.

iPhone
Yes, of course you’ve been waiting for it, there are new iPhone available.  There’s the iPhone 6s and the 6s Plus, in the same two sizes as last year.  They’re also available in a new color, rose gold.  This is an S model year, so there aren’t that many big improvements.  The biggest one is called 3D Touch.  As far as I can tell, it’s the same as Force Touch on the Apple Watch (in fact, Federighi accidentally called it that once on stage and had to correct himself).  This means that the iPhone’s screen now registers how hard you’re pressing on the screen.  This allows you to do cool things like preview links sent in a text message.  Press hard on the link, and it pops up in a little window.  Press even harder, and it pops to full screen.  Pretty neat.  The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus also have improved cameras, as usual.  They now shoot 4K video, which is cool, until you realize that Apple is still selling the 16gb model of the iPhone.  Let it go, Apple.

iOS
At the end of the iPhone demo, iOS got a short spot.  All it really had was a demo of 3D Touch; like watchOS, they just didn’t have time to redo the WWDC demo.  We did get a release date, however: Wednesday, September 16.

Oddly enough, the Mac didn’t seem to get any time at the event.  It’s not a surprise that there’s no new Mac hardware; we did just get that new Macbook back in March.  But I would’ve thought that they’d at least give 10 minutes to show off OS X El Capitan, and then announce a release date.  That would seem to totally wrap up the product line in a single fall event.  Apple’s website now says that El Capitan will be available on September 30, but I don’t think that was even said on stage (maybe I just missed it?).  Of course, it’s not like this event was lacking in news just because they didn’t talk about the Mac.  ••

WWDC 2015 Recap

In case you missed it, last week was Apple’s annual World Wide Developers Conference.  The highlight of the week was the main keynote, which took place Monday morning.  Unfortunately, I had to work during the keynote, but I watched most of it later in the week.  There were four main topics in the keynote: OS X, iOS, watchOS, and Apple Music.

OS X
First up was the latest version of the Mac operating system.  Named El Capitan (for a landmark in Yosemite national park), Apple said that this update would focus on “Experience” and “Performance.”  Basically, what this means is that it’s a relatively minor update, one that will focus more on bug fixes and small features than large ones.  I think this is good; it’s a welcome rest from the breakneck update pace we’ve seen – and suffered from – over the past few years.

iOS
Next up (as to be expected) was iOS 9 – to be available this fall.  There’s a couple key parts to this update.  First are some features focusing on “intelligence.”  These includes improvements to Siri, but also a brand new Spotlight search function.  This replaces the current search in iOS, but also tries to proactively serve you apps and information it thinks you might need right then: everything from the apps you use each morning to news stories relevant to your location.  The next huge feature focuses on the iPad.  The iPad is finally getting a split screen view – the ability to run two apps at once.  This is huge, but unfortunately it’s not available on all iPad models.  iPads from the previous two years can run one app full screen and have another app at iPhone width “slide over” from the side.  The iPad Air 2 can also run two apps simultaneously that each take up half the screen.  Hopefully this will greatly improve productivity on the iPad.  There were two more quick things that are important.  First, iOS 9 will only take 1.3gb to download, instead of last year’s ridiculous 4.6gb.  The final thing wasn’t even mentioned in the keynote, but I think it’s super important: iOS 9 will be available to all devices that have iOS 8.  Normally, Apple drops one old model each year; I’m hoping this change means that iOS 9 won’t slow down older devices as much.

watchOS
Apple also unveiled the latest version of the Apple Watch software: watchOS 2.  This version will allow developers to create native apps that run on the Watch.  Previously, developers could only create apps that technically “ran” on the iPhone and projected their interfaces to the Watch.  This was a cumbersome, temporary arrangement, one which meant that all third-party apps were pretty slow.  Apple is finally giving developers what they were promised last year.

Apple Music
The last part of the keynote was dedicated to Apple’s new music streaming service: Apple Music.  This service will replace both iTunes Radio and Beats Music.  For $9.99/month, you get unlimited streaming of everything Apple Music has, including many playlists handmade by music experts, not algorithms.  This was one of Beats Music’s key selling points, and Apple is making sure that it doesn’t go away.  The second part of Apple Music is an enormous, worldwide radio station called Beats 1.  This is set up like a traditional radio station, with DJs and interviews as well as music.  It will be broadcast from three studios worldwide (in LA, New York, and London).  I’m actually kind of excited to try Beats 1; it sounds intriguing.  The final part of Apple Music is called Connect.  This is almost like a social network for music artists.  Connect allows artists to post photos, videos, lyrics, and even demos directly to Apple Music.  Fans can follow artists to get access to this bonus content.  Apple seems convinced that this is the next big way for people to follow their favorite artists, but I’m not sure that people will adopt it in place of Twitter, Instagram, and the like.

So as you can see, Apple had a lot to talk about last week.  They released updates to their big three operating systems, and also unveiled their new attempt in the music streaming industry.  Unfortunately, there were no updates to the Apple TV, but I’d still say we still got plenty of cool new stuff.  I guess we’ll just have to hope again for a new Apple TV next year.  ••

Siri Goes to Grad School

I’m guessing you’re familiar with the iOS “personal assistant,” Siri.  If you don’t know what it is, it’s basically a way to tell your iOS device to do things by talking in natural language.  You can ask Siri to “Remind me to…” or “Make a note that…” and things like that.  This feature was first unveiled in 2011 as part of iOS 5, and launched exclusively on the iPhone 4s.  Nowadays, it works on almost all iOS devices.  The idea is pretty cool, but in reality it just works OK.  Apple tried to portray that you could just ask Siri anything, as you would a real person, and Siri would be smart enough to figure out what you meant.  In reality, however, Siri breaks things down in categories, just like any computer does.  (If you’re curious as to what exactly Siri can – and can’t – do, tap the little question mark button in the lower left corner of the Siri screen.)  Looking at the long list of categories makes it seem fairly robust, but in practice, Siri can be pretty limited.  If Siri can’t figure out what specific task you want it to perform (creating a reminder, making a note, etc.) it basically just plugs what you said into a search engine.  This works as a “catch all,” and for some reason this sort of bothers me.  I feel like Siri should do a better job of answering your questions directly, instead of letting Bing do it (if I wanted to do a web search, I could have just gone and done one).  However, I have a solution to Siri’s limited knowledge: allow third-party Siri integration.

Third-party Siri integration would allow other apps to create their own commands for Siri to control their app.  This would be great even for basic things, like Spotify.  When I’m listening to music in the preloaded Music app, I can ask Siri to go to the next track or play a different artist.  When I’m listening to Spotify, Siri can’t even pause the music, let alone skip tracks.  I think this is really stupid, especially since Spotify’s controls show up in Control Center and on the lock screen, just like the Music app.  If Spotify was allowed to program Siri, Siri could skip tracks and even play specific songs or artists.

But third-party Siri integration could be so much more powerful than this.  When Apple allowed third-party Notification Center widgets, they allowed developers to be really creative.  Widgets like Yahoo Weather‘s really weren’t that surprising, but PCalc‘s was.  PCalc gives you a fully-functional calculator right there in Notification Center.  Frankly, it’s fantastic, and I don’t think anyone saw it coming.  I’d love to see what crazy ideas developers think of (that I never would have) for Siri integration.  (I just hope Apple doesn’t choose to shut down the movers and shakers, like they almost did with PCalc.  Apple essentially said that PCalc’s functionality was too complex for Notification Center.  Fortunately, after an ensuing user uproar, Apple backed down.  It’s silly that Apple would open up great new functionality for developers to innovate, then tell them they’re not allowed to do so.)

The only problem with third-party Siri integration is that some apps would abuse it (whether purposefully or not).  This is probably the main thing holding Apple back from doing something like this.  I for one, however, am more than willing to take the bad with the good here, and I don’t think I’m the only one with that view.  I hope that Apple will continue to learn to let go of its precious little “perfect” operating system in order to allow developers more freedom to innovate.  Fingers crossed we see some super cool Siri stuff coming next year with iOS 9.  ••