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. ••
Hi everyone! I’m finally on Christmas break for the year, so I’ve got some more free time, and I wanted to get back to the blog and do some writing. A lot has changed in the way I use my tech in the past year. I’ve discovered several new apps that have really changed the way I use my devices to get things done. That being said, I wanted to share a few of them over the next couple of weeks.
One app I’ve just started using is 2Do. I’d been using the stock iOS reminders app for almost 4 years now, and it’s never worked away I wanted. 2Do, on the other hand, meshes with the way I use reminders perfectly, and I really enjoy using it. This post isn’t meant to be an app review, it’s more just a commentary on the way I use 2Do to get things done.
The way I used the reminders app was weird. I had all notifications except the app badge turned off, and all reminders set for the morning (the default time of 9am). That way, everything was technically “overdue,” and the app badge just showed my total number of tasks for the day (side note: I know some people hate app badges but I love them and think they’re incredibly helpful and useful). That worked OK, because most of my tasks aren’t time specific. But that meant I couldn’t make a reminder that went off at a certain time (or location) if I wanted to, since notifications were off. This system had once worked for me, but more and more now it felt like I was fighting it (and don’t get me started on fighting the Reminders app itself).
I know there’s lots of great to do list apps out there, but I refuse to use one that doesn’t at least sync with iOS reminders: I simply can’t give up setting reminders with Siri. I had initially overlooked 2Do because I didn’t think it supported iOS reminders – it doesn’t ask to access your reminders the way it would photos or contacts. However, 2Do supports syncing with iCloud reminders as a CalDAV server. This seems odd to me, but it does work, so no complaints I guess (and I’m sure there’s a good reason for this that I don’t understand).
One of the most important features 2Do has is separate due dates and alarm times. This means I can have most of my reminders due on a certain day, without that 9am alarm, and yet still have notifications on for other alerts. I ended up turning off notifications for 2Do and letting the stock reminders app handle them, just in case I add a reminder with Siri that goes off before 2Do gets a chance to sync. More on the way I implemented Siri later.
Before that I want to talk about the app itself. It runs so much better than the stock reminders app, which is always crashing for me. And it has so many more features, like due dates and tags and projects with subtasks. Some of these advanced items are a little wonky when they sync over to the reminders app, which I still use on the Mac (because 2Do for Mac is $50), but it’s not a big deal. I realized that I’d really outgrown the Reminders app; I really need the extra power of 2Do.
Speaking of power, the last thing I want to talk about in 2Do is smart lists. 2Do has unbelievable search and filter tools, with lots of keywords and AND/OR/! logic operator support. My first smart list is my “Today and Location” smart list, which uses the search: !hide type: nodue OR overdue OR duetoday. This list shows everything due today (or that I missed prior), and the “nodue” keyword includes location-based reminders (which don’t have a due date). This list also excludes anything with the “hide” tag.
My other smart list is my “Inbox” for tasks I’ve set with Siri. Trying to implement Siri was a conundrum. I wanted alerts if I told Siri to “remind me in two hours” or “remind me when I get home,” but I didn’t want that default 9am reminder for something I set for next week. So first I went to the reminders app and created a new default list named “Siri.” Any new reminders created with Siri go on this list, but 2Do’s default list is still my standard “Reminders” list. All this mess brings me to my smart list: !hide Siri type: alarms AND !duetoday OR nodue AND nolocation. This shows all reminders: #1 On my Siri list, #2 That still have an alarm, and #3 That aren’t set “in two hours” or “when I get home.” I then just keep an eye on this list and remove the alarms on any task that show up here (and then they disappear from the Inbox because they no longer match #2).
Is this a little convoluted and maybe even absurd? Sure. Does it fit the way my brain gets things done and help me accomplish more? Oh yes. ••
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 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.
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. ••
One of the first iOS 8 features I wrote about last summer was actionable notifications. Basically, this feature allows notifications to have buttons that let you respond to them without even opening the app. When I first saw this feature, it was in the context of banner notifications on the top of the screen. I thought this was definitely a cool idea, but not quite an earth-shattering one. However, once I realized that these actions are also available on the lock screen, I realized how much time this feature would actually save me.
Let’s go through a hypothetical situation here. Let’s say I’m sitting in class and my phone is buzzing off the hook. I’m not going to look at it in class, so when it ends, I have a bunch of notifications. Let’s say I’ve got a text from my brother, asking me a question about church tonight. I’ve also got 16 texts from a group message, a notification from WordPress that someone linked to my post, two emails about my scout troop, a Twitter mention, two Instagram likes, and a Snapchat. (Of course, I rarely open my phone and see notifications from all of these apps at once, but for the sake of this example, I’ve named lots of apps which have notifications I can act upon.) Let’s go through each of these one at a time:
First is the text from my brother. Since Messages is an official Apple app, it can have much more functionality than Apple would allow a third-party app. Because of this, I can swipe right on this notification and tap reply. A keyboard then pops up right on the lock screen, allowing me to respond to the text (rest assured, random people who find your phone can reply to your texts only if you’ve turned this feature on). The only thing that’s annoying about this is that iOS won’t let me use SwiftKey on the lock screen, because that keyboard requires full access, and I guess they don’t want it to run unless I’ve put my passcode in.
Next are the group texts. If it’s not something I want to reply to, I can just read them all right there on the lock screen, and then swipe right and dismiss the most recent one. Now the cool part happens: I don’t have to dismiss every text. If I dismiss one text from a thread, all texts that came in before that also clear. The assumption is that if you’ve read the most recent, you’ve read them all. This is great, because sometimes I open my phone to 50 or more group texts.
After dealing with all the messages, I’ve got a WordPress notification. Since most of my pingback notifications are from my own blog (which is a whole different can of worms I can gripe about), I just want to approve them right away. Fortunately, I can swipe on the notification and tap “Approve.” The only annoying part is that this doesn’t mark the notification as viewed in the WordPress app; messages, in contrast, are all marked as read when you dismiss the notification.
Now come the emails. I was a Boy Scout for seven years, but I aged out last fall. I’m technically an Assistant Scoutmaster, but I don’t really do anything in that post. That being said, most of the troop emails don’t apply to me. With actionable notifications, I can swipe on each notification and tap “Mark as read.” And they’re gone. This is also nice because, while my read states do sync between devices, this process can take a while. So if I read an email on my iPad, then see it on my phone, I can easily mark it as read.
Now on to social media. More than likely I want to favorite that Twitter mention, and I can do so right from the lock screen. As for the Instagram likes, I can just dismiss them. Like WordPress, these don’t mark as viewed in the Instagram app, but I can just clear them next time I’m there.
Now all I’m left with is the Snapchat. The difference here is that you can’t do anything to Snapchat notifications on the lock screen (besides clear them), so I have to unlock my phone for this. Since Snapchat focuses on pictures, there’s not much they can do with actionable notifications. However, I’ve just gone from 24 notifications to 1, without even unlocking my phone. That’s a major boost in efficiency, and even better, one that I can use every day. ••
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. ••
♦ This post is one of the Best of 2015 ♦
Ah, the iPod Touch. I remember how badly I wanted one in middle school, and how excited I was when I got one in 7th grade. Back in those days, the iPod Touch was about the coolest gadget a kid could have. Nowadays, though, it seems like every kid over 10 has an iPhone. However, the iPod Touch continues to pay off in spades for Apple. Why? Indoctrination.
What does indoctrination have to do with the iPod Touch? Easy. Apple marketed the iPod Touch as something for kids, and parents bought it (literally). Honestly, it was a good device for kids: it allowed them to do most things that an iPhone could do for around $200 flat. Not super cheap up front, but there were no expensive monthly bills to deal with. Kid friendly? You bet.
After that, however, is when things got interesting: all those kids grew up. They grew up and, like their parents, wanted smartphones. And what kind of smartphones do you think these kids wanted? iPhones of course! Having already been indoctrinated into Apple’s ecosystem – the apps, iMessage, Game Center, and so on – they didn’t want to leave. Apple continues to see these benefits to this day. Most of my friends in high school and college used to have iPod Touches, but now they have iPhones. The iPhone is well established as the gold standard; almost everyone agrees it’s simply the best you can get. Sure, Android still has a substantial presence, but the iPhone remains in the lead.
What allowed Apple to completely take over this market? I think it’s in part because of Apple’s previous dominance with the iPod in general. And with the iTunes Store. They had already set themselves up as the go-to for media players; it was only a natural jump to a touch screen. More than anything though, Apple won this market because they tried. It’s not like Android couldn’t have done anything about it. Android phone manufacturers simply didn’t see the value in creating touch screen media players. They did exist; I remember reading about a couple of them. However, they never got off the ground the way the iPod Touch did, mostly because they were never pushed very hard.
Maybe Android didn’t see the long-term value in the market. Actually, I don’t know for sure if Apple did either; maybe to them it was just a good product in the short-term. But whatever the reason, Apple invested a lot into the iPod touch from around 2007-2012. However, that has begun to change.
As I’ve said, I see fewer and fewer iPod Touches these days. More and more I just see iPhones, being held in increasingly smaller hands. And since we didn’t see an iPod revision last fall (which would have been on par with the previous two-year update cycle), it would seem that the iPod Touch has just about breathed its last. But it had a good run. In fact, it had a great run; one that put the next member of the relay team – the iPhone – a few extra strides further ahead of the competition. ••