Maybe I am a “Apple fanboy” after all?

It turns out that despite my protestations to the contrary, I may be an Apple fanboy after all.

I wasn’t happy with the simple, non-smart phone I bought at Walgreen’s in March. The sound quality wasn’t great, and everybody here seems to like to “text” a lot, and the simple texting feature on that phone was very 20th century and cumbersome to use.

So I changed my pre-paid GoPhone plan to a smart phone plan and bought an Avail 2 Android 4.1 device for $54 at Target on Sunday. But it was just horrible. The sound quality was better, but it was slower than Moses, and plain didn’t work well. The reception in particular was very poor.

I had originally wanted to use my AU iPhone 5, but was not able to unlock it from AU. So I can only use that phone on wi-fi.

Finally I decided to try my hand on getting hold of an inexpensive, used AT&T iPhone. I found a 16 GB iPhone 4S yesterday on Craig’s List for just $120!

The AT&T store here was very cooperative and gave me a free SIM card for it, so I could continue with my current GoPhone plan (unlimited talk and text, plus 2.5 GB of data for $60/month), and even transferred over my Android contacts for me. I returned the Android to Target today for a refund. (One thing I like about shopping in the U.S. is that it’s a lot easier to return things. In Japan, it tends to be more difficult to return something that isn’t actually broken.)

Anyway, it works just fine. It’s about 500 times faster than the painfully slow operating Android device. It’s used, and looks a somewhat used, but everything works fine and I guess I am just more comfortable with the Apple ecosystem. It was nice to see all my photos, calendars, reminders, etc. just automatically be there via iCloud.

It’s one version older than my iPhone 5, but the camera is more or less the same quality.

The battery is a bit old, and doesn’t hold charge as long as a new one, but I bought a recommended $10 do-it-yourself replacement battery kit from Amazon and will update that when it arrives.

Anyway, it’s nice to have a contract-free iPhone to use in the U.S. The texting is integrated with the Messages app, which works a lot better than the texting feature on the Android as well.

 

iTunes Radio – a nice new feature – and info about skipping songs

Tech tip: rating – complete novice.

One of the new features of the latest iTunes 11.1 – and also found in the iOS 7 upgrade for iPhones and iPads – is iTunes Radio. It’s a streaming music feature that lets you play unlimited songs for free in genres (stations) you can select from – or you can create your own stations based on artist, song or song type. The basic features are at http://www.apple.com/itunes/itunes-radio/.

I think anybody who likes music would enjoy trying it. I assume it works on Windows iTunes as well.

Note: This feature is only available to people with U.S. iTunes accounts. Hint: It doesn’t matter where you physically are – what matters is where your iTunes account is located.

My initial impression was “cool!” Then I got frustrated because I wanted to skip songs that weren’t interesting to me. I really don’t want to hear “This is just another silly love song.”

The problem, though, was that after skipping a few songs I was stuck. It wouldn’t let me skip any more. After that, every time I returned to the station I had to listen to the rest of the last song or I couldn’t go on. It was like being stuck in some sort of song purgatory. I was wondering, “If their purpose is to sell me songs I like, why don’t they let me freely skip over the songs I don’t like?”

Anyway, after some research I realized the rationalization for it, and what the actual limitations are, and it isn’t as bad as I thought. In fact, understanding and working through the limits makes the feature seem very reasonable and fun.

  1. You can skip again after an hour. The limit is 6 song skips per hour per station.
  2. You can always create a similar station and get 6 more skips per hour.
  3. The reason has to do with royalties. Apparently Apple has to pay some kind of royalty whenever a song is played, even if the listener skips and goes on to the next song in the middle.

Understanding how and why it works makes it seem not so bad and, in fact, interesting. Today, while working (yes, I actually did some work today too) I found myself listening to a lot more music than I usually do, outside my somewhat limited collection. It’s a fun feature.

If you have a computer or device that’s compatible I recommend trying it. Your musical horizons will be expanded. For free.

Short review of iOS 7 – the good (some nice new features), the bad (the new Calendar app) and some hints to get going

Overall

Despite my initial complaints and apprehensions about the appearance, I find I actually sort of like iOS 7 on my iPhone 5 and iPad 2 – except for the new Calendar app, which is really awful (see below for more on that, and a recommended alternative app).

But basically iOS 7 seems nice to me. There are some convenient improvements to the main apps, like Mail (some smart mailboxes),  Safari (a improved tabbed view), Photos (some nice, automatic organization), new Siri voices and features, improved multitasking, and some other new features as well. A more complete list is here.

I still don’t see the reason to redo all the colors and icons and aesthetics, but it’s not bad getting used to. It seems the whole web is moving more towards these lighter, simpler, flatter icons and user interfaces. Perhaps as time has passed, people more “just know” what to do, and so overly-heavy visual cues are becoming less important. After playing with it, it does feel lighter and more modern.

Two hints

  1. The contrast of the icons labels is reduced in iOS 7. If that bothers you (depending on your background image), you can go into  Settings > Accessibility and turn on bold text. That does help.
  2. A security hint! There are important improvements to Find My iPad and Find My iPhone which make it even more worthwhile to use, to protect your important data in case your device gets lost or stolen. To get maximum protection, you need to turn password lock on. Many people (perhaps most people, including me) never did this before because it seemed like a nuisance to have to enter the 4-digit PIN every time I unlocked my screen. But there is a setting in the password lock so you don’t have to do it every time. You can specify how much time has to pass before you have to re-enter the PIN. I set mine for an hour to see how that goes. You can set it for up to 4 hours. For the extra security it seems worthwhile.

Easy upgrading

Many sites have recommendations on tedious and elaborate precautions to take before upgrading. I really think the following is safe and sufficient enough for a quick upgrade:

  1. Connect your device to your computer and do a complete encrypted manual backup via iTunes. This allows a simple restore of everything, including passwords, automatically after the upgrade. If you don’t have a computer, and you are running iOS 6, just make sure you have a backup in iCloud first and then do the upgrade.
  2. If you haven’t been prompted already, check for the software upgrade inside iTunes and just do it.

Your device will be upgraded, everything will be restored to where it was, and you just need to go through a few simple settings pages on your iPhone or iPad. It’s simple.

The awful new iOS 7 Calendar

On the downside, I do want to mention the problems with the new default iOS 7 Calendar app, particularly on the iPhone.

  1. The worst problem is that the month view now takes up the entire screen. In iOS 6 on the iPhone, the bottom half of the screen conveniently shows the selected date’s events. In iOS 7, if you are in month view, you can no longer see at-a-glance what today’s events are without touching the date. It’s a waste of space and forces the user to “do more stuff” to get the same work done.
  2. This one just plain buggy. If you click on a date with an event, apparently it’s supposed to auto-scroll to the event time so you can actually see it. But many times that doesn’t happen, so you don’t see the events even if you touch the event date! You have to scroll up and down to find it. Very sloppy.
  3. In the single date view, there is a horizontal, scrolling list of dates at the top of the screen to slide through. But there are no indicators of which dates have events! There’s plenty of room there to include the event indicator dots, but Apple left them out. So in order to see where your other events are you have to (a) go back up to the month view; (b) click on a date with an event indicator; (c) then get back to the single date view; (d) then scroll the time until the event comes into view. In iOS 6 you could do all this at-a-glance, or just by touching each date in month view.

The iOS 7 Calendar app on the iPhone is a huge usability step backwards I think.

Fortunately there is an alternative! A really nice one too – the free Sunrise” Calendar app for the iPhone. The developer is responsive, and says they are planning an iPad version too. If you are using Google Calendars (and why not – Google Calendars are more compatible across more devices than the iCloud Calendar) then Sunrise is really nice, and syncs quicker than the iOS Calendar app.

If you want to switch to using Google Calendars it’s extremely easy to move your iCloud Calendar events over and then just turn them off to avoid seeing duplicates. You can continue to use Google Calendars in your iOS Calendar app if you prefer.

Sunrise is 500 times better than the standard iOS 6 Calendar app (it syncs instantly for one thing, while there is a noticeable lag with the standard app) and 1,000 times better than the awful new iOS 7 Calendar. It’s a great example of what the iOS 7 Calendar could have been. It has a clean, modern design, and a very thoughtful use of space that actually provides more info (even the weather) at your fingertips, rather than less, which is what the iOS 7 Calendar does.

It accomplishes the same “scrolling through months” that the iOS 7 Calendar app does, without having to do multiple touches to see the events. You have to try it. It’s very clever.  It’s also free.

Conclusion

If you have a compatible device, go for it.