Saturday, October 18, 2014

The top 5 announcements from the Apple October 2014 event

While I didn't attend Apple's October 2014 event in person, I did watch the streaming video online.  The following are the top 5 announcements from the event:

  1. Apple Payments arrives on Monday, October 20 via a free iOS 8.1 update along with additional, minor enhancements.   Only iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, with include NFC, will be able to used to make payment in a physical, brick and mortar store like McDonalds, Whole Foods, Macy's and more. Other devices, including the new iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 3 and the iPhone 5S will be able to make online purchases, via apps and the web.  In both cases, you'll need to associate a supported credit card (e.g. Chase) with your iTunes account.   Apple Payments was the single most important announcement at the event and has the opportunity to revolutionize the industry.
  2. New iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3.  Evolutionary, rather then revolutionary changes, the new iPad Air 2 is thinner, lighter, adds TouchID, a faster processor, improved rear-facing camera and is now available in gold.   The changes to the iPad Mini 3 are more modest and only include TouchID, an improved rear-facing camera and is now available in gold.  I was disappointed that Apple didn't include more enhancements including updating the front-facing camera
  3. New iMac 27" Retina 5K and new Mac Mini.   The new iMac looks the same as previous models but sports a gorgeous Retina 5K display, a quad-code i5 processor, AMD Radeon video card with 2GB of RAM, and 8GB of system RAM.  Two years since its last upgrade, Apple upgrades the Mac Mini with a faster processor and integrated Intel graphics. 
  4. Mac OS/X Yosemite.   Available now, via the Mac App Store for free.   I've been running previous beta versions with good results.   Key features include a new user interface, integration with iOS (Continuity), iCloud Drive, enhanced Spotlight search and an improved notification center.
  5. I was disappointed that there were no announcements for AppleTV or MacBooks.  I'm a big fan of AppleTV and have owned every model (except the most recent REV A model introduced in January 2103).   While Apple has introduced a handful of new apps and minor user interface enhancements, a major hardware and software update is overdue.  HomeKit home automation capability was rumored but there were no announcements.  I was also disappointed that there were no new MacBooks announced.   The MacBook Air hasn't had a major redesign since it was introduced in 2008.  Perhaps 2015 will bring changes to both.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Looking for faster in-home wi-fi performance? Consider the Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 Smart WiFi Router (R7000)

I'm a work from home employee and my wife, kids and myself have a wealth of wi-fi devices from phones, tablets, PC's, Chromebooks, media players and more.  My wi-fi router is a critical component of my home network and I recently upgraded to the Netgear Nighhawk AC1900 WiFi Router (R7000) with support for 802.11ac.

I've been using a Netgear N600 router since 2010 but it was starting to drop connections which forced me to manually reconnect devices.  In addition, with more 802.11ac compatible devices available, like the iPhone 6, it made sense to upgrade to take advantage of the increased performance.  However, as a cheapskate, I was concerned about the cost.

The advantage of  802.11ac is increased throughput but with slightly less range as it uses the 5GHz band.  802.11ac advertises gigabit speed but a network is only as fast as its weakest link and in my case it's the 50 Mbps Internet connection provided by my local cable company, Charter Communications. I rely on both wi-fi and gigabit Ethernet wiring throughout my home.   More details on my home network can be found here.

Based on low price, $129 after rebate (regular price is $199), prior positive experience with Netgear products, and positive reviews online,  I decided to purchase the Netgear R7000 from Staples online.  While the router is a bit large, it was easy to install and I'm seeing increased throughput of ~20-30% vs my older router.  Range seems to be improved as well as there was one area in particular in my house which had poor connectivity with my old router and has improved dramatically with the new one.  Perhaps this is due to the fact that the new router has improved external antennae and my old router was 4 years old.

Among the many features of the Netgear R7000 is the ability to connect two USB drives (one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0) and use Apple Time Machine to backup Macs.

If you're interested in what other gadgets I have in my home, I use Engadget to keep track of them (formerly GDGT)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Microsoft announces Windows 10: questions and answers

In a small media event in San Francisco earlier today, Microsoft officially unveiled Windows 10 - the successor to Windows 8.  Microsoft also announced Windows 10 on their blog.  While I didn't attend the event, here are a few of the questions and answers I assembled from various sources on the web:

Q: What is Windows 10?
A: Windows 10 is the successor to Windows 8.  Windows 10 is designed to power not just PC's and tablets, but phones, Xbox and the Internet of Things.   While Windows 10 is one platform, it is several user experiences - optimized for the device.  In the past, Microsoft offered multiple platforms and user experiences that weren't optimized for the device and input methods.

Q: What happened to Windows 9?
A: While the original name was supposed to be Windows 9, Microsoft decided to change the name to Windows 10 and to position it as a major upgrade.  Microsoft also appears to want to distance itself from Windows 8 which hasn't been a great success.

Q: What was the focus of today's event?
A: The focus was on enterprises rather than consumers.  Why? Enterprises have been slow to adopt Windows 8 because it doesn't offer a compelling reason to upgrade.  However, Windows 10 will also be targeted to consumers and we'll see more consumer-oriented features coming soon.  The following blog from Paul Thurrott has a great overview of the enterprise features.  I'm most interested in the data separation and protection features.

Q: What features of Windows 10 were shown at today's demo?
A: Automatic switching between mobile and desktop interfaces (Continuum), return of the start menu, floating universal (Metro) app windows, multiple desktops, notification center and more.

Q: When is Windows 10 expected to ship?
A: 2015

Q: How much will Windows 10 cost?  Will it be free?
A: Rumors abound that Windows 10 will be free (like Macintosh Yosemite) but Microsoft did not reveal price, versions or licensing for Windows 10 at today's event.

Q: Where can I get the Windows 10 Technical Preview?
A: Windows Insider Program (coming soon!)

I've included a video from Microsoft below

Monday, September 22, 2014

Upgrading the enterprise to iOS 8 and iPhone 6

Apple released iOS 8 and the iPhone 6 last week and the upgrade is well underway inside IBM.  IBM has over 125,000 mobile devices in use with iPhones and iPads being the most popular smartphones and tablets. IBM began testing iOS 8 when the first beta was released in June to ensure that applications that IBM sells to customers as well as the applications that IBM has developed internally work with iOS 8.

Key applications like Fiberlink MaaS360, IBM Traveler, Connections and others had support for Apple iOS 8 the day it was released.   Other applications like Sametime chat, Meetings and Worklight had updates available shortly after the release.

Employees began upgrading to iOS 8 on Wednesday, September 17 as soon as employees started receiving the update from Apple.   IBM employees in Australia were the first to purchase the new iPhone 6 on Friday, September 19 and enroll their devices in Fiberlink MaaS360 to connect to IBM's corporate infrastructure.   To date, there are over 100,000 Apple iOS, Google Android smartphones and tablets enrolled in Fiberlink MaaS360 - the same cloud-based mobile enterprise management solution in use by thousands of clients around the globe.

On a personal note, I've upgraded a total of twelve Apple devices - work, personal and family devices, to iOS 8 without a hitch.  My wife upgraded from an iPhone 5 to the new iPhone 6 (AT&T) and I'll be upgrading my corporate owned device in the coming weeks.  The changes in the iPhone 6 and iOS 8 are evolutionary, rather than revolutionary.  My thoughts:

  • Multitasking e-mail allows multiple mail windows to be open simultenously.  Just swipe down while creating a new email or reading an email and you can flip between browser windows. 
  • Autocomplete and the availability of third party keyboards make it easier and faster to type
  • Handoff allows you start a task on one device and pick up on another device,   While iOS 8 is supported today, for example, you can start to compose an email on an iPhone and pickup on the iPad, integration with OS/X requires Yosemite - currently in beta.  Important note: you'll also need a later generation MacBook with low-energy Bluetooth 4.0 support to use this feature.  List of supported devices.
  • HealthKit: lots of promise but unfortunately, Apple has temporarily disabled integration with apps as it works through bugs. Update 26 Sept - Apple has released iOS 8.02 which enables HealthKit integration.  I'm looking forward to using this functionality as applications become available. 
  • Apple Pay: of the three announcements at Apple's last event (iPhone, Watch, Payments), this was the one that I was most excited about.  Inclusion of NFC in the iPhone 6 allows tap to pay and integration with Passbook for secure transactions.  Retailers plan to start rolling this out just in time for the holiday shopping season.  I can't wait!
  • Battery usage of specific apps is now available via Settings - General - Usage so you can tell which apps are using the most battery power
  • "Hey Siri" hands free.  A welcome feature to activate Siri via voice without having to touch the phone.  Required that the Phone/iPad be plugged in and charging
  • Family Sharing.  As a parent of three kids with iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices, I was looking forward to this feature so myself and my wife could be notified of app purchase requests from the kids and approve or reject them right from our device.  However, I was disappointed to learn that Family Share doesn't support iTunes Match.  For my family, iTunes Match is  MUST have it allows us to access all of our music and playlists in the cloud from ANY iPhone or iPad (up to 10).  We currently have over 9,000 songs and over two dozen playlists.  Unfortunately, the iTunes Match subscription is associated with a single Apple ID and there is no way to share.  Apple also requires the creation of new "kids" Apple ID - there was no way to covert an existing Apple ID.  Hopefully, both of these limitations will be addressed in a future release.  In the meantime, I'll continue to leverage a single iTunes ID on all the family's devices to share purchased apps and iTunes Match.  I'd also like to see Apple either expand the number of devices that can use iTune Match beyond 10 or provide a better way to authorize specific devices.  Today, it's first come, first served and if another device joins, other devices are locked out and I need a PC and iTunes to remove devices from the list temporarily until they try to use iTunes Match again and the process repeats.  We need a better way Apple, are you listening?
  • Touch ID API.   Previously, the fingerprint reader was limited to device passwords and iTunes purchases.  Now, you can  authenticate with any app using the fingerprint reader that leverages the new API.   I use Dashlane password locker and have enabled the Safari extension to automatically enter usernames and passwords. 
  • Peer-to-Peer Airplay for AppleTV.  iOS 8 also includes an upgrade for AppleTV which includes a new "flat" user interface, some new apps and peer-to-peer support.  Previously, AppleTV and iPhone/iPad needed to be on the same wi-fi network to work.  Now, all you need is wifi and BlueTooth enabled on your iPhone/iPad and you can see the AppleTV via Airplay.  This is great for conference rooms or when guests come over since they don't need to be on your wi-fi networ.  Note that AppleTV Gen 3, Rev A model 1469 is required - earlier devices won't work,  The model number is on the bottom of the Apple TV in very small print - you may need a magnifying glass to see it!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Enterprise Implications of the iPhone 6, iOS8 and the Upcoming Apple Watch

My interest in the new iPhone 6, iOS 8 and the upcoming Apple Watch is more than just personal. I'm part of the team responsible for enabling "MobileFirst" for 435,000+ IBM employees world-wide.

Inside IBM, we support three mobile platforms: Apple iOS, Google Android and BlackBerry. IBM provides corporate owed devices to select employees in addition to offering a BYOD or Bring Your Own Device program. At present, there are over 125,000 smartphones and tablets in use inside IBM.

Apple's iPhone/iOS8/Watch/Payments event and press release on Tuesday has far-reaching implications for the enterprise - including IBM which recently entered into a partnership with Apple.  Many IBM employees will be upgrading their phones to the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus on September 19.  In addition, many iPhone 5S, 5, 4S, iPad 2, 3, 4, Air, iPad Mini (standard and retina) and iPod Touch 5 will be upgrading to iOS 8 when it's released on September 17.  There are a number of key features in iOS 8 that will appeal directly to enterprises including:
  • Expanded data protection
  • Automatic reply (e.g. out of the office), calendar free/busytime search, swipe, drag to flag, mark and delete e-mails, per message S/MIME, VIP thread.  Many enterprises run the business on email and saving just a few seconds each time a user checks e-mail can add up.  
  • iCloud Drive. Includes the ability to access files from both iOS and OS/X without creating duplicates by copying to multiple iOS applications (containers). In addition, Apple is including storage provider extensions in iOS 8 for any app to connect to storage providers (e.g. Dropbox, OneDrive etc.).  This feature also introduces security issues with storing confidential, corporate data on the cloud.
  • Increased inter-app functionality and usability such as the ability to annotate a PDF file from within the mail application. 
  • API for Touch ID allows integration with applications for authentication.  Today, Touch ID is only used to unlock the device and making iTunes purchases.  IBM enforces a device password on mobile devices but also supports Touch ID to unlock the iPhone 5S which is a huge productivity gain for users.  The alternative is entering an 8-digit, alphanumeric password after 15 minutes of inactivity.   It will be great to be able to use Touch ID as an alternative to entering passwords for both enterprise and consumer applications.  This feature will become even more useful when Apple releases new iPads with Touch ID 
  • A new programming language, Swift, compliments Objective-C and should make it even easier for application developers to create mobile applications quickly. 

The addition of NFC to the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and the upcoming Apple Watch offers a wealth of possibilities for the enterprise!  For example, enterprises could sunset plastic employee badges and move to a digital badge, stored on the iPhone that could be used to open doors.  Apple Payment uses proven NFC technology and the Apple focus on the user experience, security and the partnerships with banks and retailers will help drive the adoption of mobile payments.   This introduces opportunities for IBM to assist clients with developing solutions that leverages Apple Payments.

How will Apple's announcements impact the deployment of iOS solutions at your enterprise?