Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Tap to speak time on Apple watchOS 3.0 beta

Apple watchOS 3.0 beta offers a number of new features including improved app performance (faster app launches), a new app launcher, activity sharing, new Breathe app, new watch faces and Face Gallery, scribble feature feature to reply to text messages.

Additionally, watchOS 3.0 beta offers a new "Tap to speak time" feature for both the Mickey and Minnie Mouse watch faces as shown in the video below


 Enable this feature by opening the Apple Watch app on an iPhone running iOS 10 beta and enabling "Tap to Speak Time" under "Sounds and Haptics"

"Tap to Speak Time" option in the "Sound & Haptics" settings in the Apple Watch app on iPhone

My next task is to enable the ability to unlock my Apple MacBook running macOS Sierra with my Apple Watch instead of a password.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Apple WWDC 2016 and iOS 10

Just one month after Google IO, Apple's World Wide Developer (WWDC) conference took place in San Francisco last week.  Watch the videos on Apple.com.  Key announcements included:
  • iOS 10 includes a redesigned lock screen, Siri SDK, a new an improved Messages app with a new app store, HomeKit app, improved Apple Music and Maps app, the ability to delete several iOS installed apps, Cisco VoIP integration (Enterprise)
  • watchOS 3 includes improved app performance (faster app launches), a new app launcher, activity sharing, new Breathe app and new watch faces (e.g. Minnie Mouse), scribble feature feature to reply to text messages
  • macOS Sierra, the new name for OS/X, includes Siri integration, auto unlock with Apple Watch, deeper iCloud integration, Universal Clipboard with iOS (Continuity), deeper iCloud integration
  • tvOS 10 includes improved search, expanded Siri capabilities, single sign-on authentication, and new Apple TV Remote app for iOS
As expected, there was no mention of new hardware (e.g. (new Macs, new Apple Watch, new iPhone) as the event is focused on software. New hardware announcements are coming. 

Overall, it was a solid but not knock-your-socks off event. As is typical, Apple didn't show all the new features.  The developer betas have even more than what Apple was able to show on stage and even more features are expected when the new operating systems ship this fall.  Public betas are scheduled for next month.

I liked that Apple acknowledged improvements are needed (e.g. Apple Music) and the focus on integration with other Apple devices (e.g. Continuity) which is a key strength and advantage over Android.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Google IO 2016 and Android N

Google hosted its annual developer conference, Google IO last week.  Key announcements included:
  • Android N 7.0: successor to Marshmallow
  • Google Assistant: replaces Google Now
  • Google Home: smart speaker system (similar to the Amazon Echo)
  • Allo: messaging (similar to Apple iMessage)
  • Duo: video chat (similar Apple FaceTime)
  • Daydream: virtual reality (similar Oculus Rift)
  • Android instant apps: use apps without downloading them
  • Android Wear 2.0: connect to wi-fi, support for iOS

I upgraded my Nexus 5X to Android N beta over the air and it was the easiest Android upgrade so far.  I registered for the beta on my Mac/PC and within moments, I received a notification on my Nexus 5X to upgrade with one tap.  I've been impressed with how stable the beta is and the number of new features including improved notifications and split screen multitasking.  I'm looking forward to trying the new instant apps that launch immediately without downloading.  A good list of the new Android N features can be found on Android Central.

Apple's annual developer conference, WWDC, kicks off on June 13 in San Francisco.  I'm looking forward to Apple's announcements.


Monday, May 23, 2016

Android Nexus 5X smartphone - thumbs up!

I recently purchased a new, Nexus 5X 16GB unlocked smartphone on eBay for $229 (deal of the day).  The phone itself is made by LG and uses Google's Android reference architecture including a native Android 6 Marshmallow experience. After using the Nexus 5X for over a month, I'm a fan.

The new Imprint fingerprint reader is easier to setup and quicker to use than Apple TouchID. Initially, I didn't like the placement of the fingerprint reader but I quickly got used to it. Using Imprint to unlock the Nexus 5X is much easier than entering a passcode.  However, there are relatively few apps that support Imprint for app authentication at this time.

Pros:
  • Low cost
  • Just the right size - not too big and not to small; can be used with one hand
  • Very nice LCD screen and build quality
  • Nice camera
  • Native Android 6.0 Marshmallow experience
  • Android Imprint fingerprint reader
  • Native Android experience
  • Lots of security updates from Google that are installed automatically
  • USB C connector

Cons:
  • Buttons for power and volume are awful - way too small 
  • Dual speakers look great but sound awful
  • Security updates take a long time (20 minutes+) and have to process each app installed on the phone - the more apps the longer the updates take
  • No integrated visual voicemail

Specs:
  • 5.2 inches
  • 1920x1080 LCD at 423 ppi
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Fingerprint- and smudge-resistant oleophobic coating
  • Rear Camera 12.3MP, 4K (30fps) video capture
  • Front Camera 5MP
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 Processor, 1.8GHz hexa-core 64-bit
  • Memory & Storage RAM: 2GB LPDDR3
  • Internal storage: 16GB or 32GB.  No external storage options



Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Apple iPad Pro review - Thumbs down!

I've been testing the Apple iPad Pro 12.9 inch for the past several weeks and while I appreciate the incremental improvements, it's not worthy of a separate "Pro" model and the extra cost. The iPad Pro 9.7 brings even more enhancements but is still just an incremental upgrade to the iPad Air 2.

Hits:
  • Larger 12.9 inch screen. While not for everyone, it's great to have choice - small (7.9 inch), medium (11.7 inch) and large (12.9 inch).  While most apps aren't optimized for the large 12.9 inch screen, they are coming. Slide Over and Split View, introduced in iOS 9 provides multitasking capabilities and work great on the large 12.9 inch screen. 
  • Apple finally eliminated the base model with 16GB of limited storage and replaced it with 32GB.  I hope Apple follows suit with the new iPhone and also increases the paltry 5GB of free  iCloud storage.
  • Smart Connector.  While I'm not a fan of the Apple Smart Keyboard (there are much better and less expensive third party keyboards with backlighting and support for multiple screen positions), I am a fan of the new Smart Connector as it eliminates the need to charge a Bluetooth keyboard and it delivers "instant on" capabilities. 
  • Faster A9X processor, 4GB RAM (12.9 inch) and improved front and back cameras (9.7 inch).
  • Improved four-speaker design sounds great. 
  • Improved cameras. The iPad Pro 9.7 inch now has support for 4K video and an improved FaceTime camera

Misses:
  • Additional cost. Apple hasn't delivered enough enhancements to warrant the extra cost or the "Pro" moniker 
  • Too many models. Apple makes the iPad Pro, iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4 and iPad Mini 2.  Apple needs to consolidate and simplify the product line.  Why not just call it the iPad and make it available in three sizes?
  • Apple Pencil. There are plenty of excellent third-party styli and the Apple Pencil seems like an afterthought.  There is no eraser, no way to turn off the Apple Pencil to conserve battery life, no magnet to attach the Apple Pencil to the iPad for travel/storage and charging using the Lightning port is awkward.  However, it's unforgivable to ship the Apple Pencil without handwriting recognition in iOS.  The Apple Newton had this feature in 1993. 
  • Smart Keyboard.  Only one position and not backlit
  • Apple marketing.  Apple touts the iPad Pro as a Windows laptop replacement. Why isn't the iPad Pro also positioned as a Mac replacement?  The sad truth is that the iPad Pro isn't a replacement for a Windows or Mac PC for most users. 
  • Software. iOS hasn't been optimized for the larger 12.9 inch screen. Finally, Apple's focus on new hardware is overshadowing software and quality has suffered as Walt Mossberg and others have noted.

Like the original Microsoft Surface, I expect the iPad Pro to improve with future updates.


Monday, February 08, 2016

What tech accessories do I use for work?

In my previous posts, I shared the smartphones, tablets and PCs I use for work as well as how I have my Apple iDevices configured.  In this post, I share my favorite tech accessories:

High Sierra Business Elite backpack is my everyday gear bag for all my electronic devices. I've owned several High Sierra backpacks and I've found them to be well made with plenty of pockets to keep all my gear organized

Amazon basics laptop sleeves are affordable, high quality and keep my gear protected and free from scratches and dents

Velcro cable ties keeps my cords under control

Vaultz mesh bags keep all my cables and dongles together

Beats Studio Wireless headphones are a great way to listen to music, watch movies on flights and keep out the noise. Yes, they are expensive, but there are deals to be had online (I picked mine up new on eBay for $120)

Pencil by Fifty-three is an excellent stylus for the iPad Air 2 and works with several apps including Paper and Microsoft OneNote as well as others.

Anker PowerCore 20100 is an outstanding external charger to keep all my mobile devices charged and ready to go

EasyACC 4 port USB charger is inexpensive, small and charges 4 USB devices

Ergotron LX desk mount LCD arm is relatively inexpensive, easily adjustable, well made and frees up precious desk space in my home office.  I recently upgraded to the Acer B286HK 28 inch 4K monitor and it pairs well the the LCD arm.

There you have it. My favorite tech accessories. What are some of yours?

Monday, January 18, 2016

What laptops, smartphones and tablets do I use for work?

As a follow up to my earlier post on how I have my Apple iDevices configured, I thought I'd share details on the hardware I use for work:

Apple MacBook Pro (13 inch) my primary work laptop. When I work out of my home office, I connect my MacBook Pro to a 24" external monitor and an external Apple keyboard. I have other Macs (MacBook, MacBook Air) that I use for testing as well as several Windows laptops and tablets that I use for testing

Apple iPhone 6 (64GB) is my primary work smartphone. I have several other smartphones that I use for testing.

Apple iPad Air 2 (64GB) is my primary work tablet. I have several other tablets (Nexus 7, HP Stream) that I use for testing.

Apple Watch is my primary smartwatch and I use it to read alerts, flip Microsoft Powerpoint slides and more.

Apple TV (Gen 3) is my primary streaming device since I use Apple products. I always keep an Apple TV in my work backpack to deliver wireless presentations to colleagues and clients. At home, I use an Apple TV Gen 4


Saturday, January 02, 2016

Ambient Weather Station WS-1400-IP - thumbs up!

A year ago I purchased the Ambient Weather WS-1400-IP OBSERVER Solar Powered Wireless Internet Remote Monitoring Weather Station for my home and I couldn't be happier. For $150, it's extremely easy to setup and use, full-featured, wireless, solar-powered and allows me to share my data via Weather Underground free of charge. 

My home weather station is a perfect example of the Internet of Things (IOT), cloud, big data and analytics in action and I used it as a teaching tool for my kids. The following is a presentation with more details, including photos, that I delivered at my son's local middle school.


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

SteelSeries Nimbus Wireless Gaming Controller - thumbs up!

I previously reviewed the Apple TV gen 4 and one of my complaints was that the new remote control wasn't great for playing games. I'm happy to report that the SteelSeries Nimbus wireless gaming controller solve this issue. Sold at Apple stores and online, the Nimbus can be used with iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and Mac and easily connects via Bluetooth. The controller includes a built-in rechargeable battery and is easily recharged via an Apple Lightning cable.  The controller is well-made, comfortable, responsive and comparable to other game controllers like XBox and PS4.  At $49.95, the Nimbus $10 less than those controllers.

A brief demo of using the controller with an iPad to play Pinball Arcade:



Happy gaming!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How I have my Apple iDevices configured

A colleague recently asked me how I have my Apple iPhone, iPad, Mac, AppleTV and Apple Watch configured. While everyone will have their personal preferences, here are mine:

iTunes - I use a single iTunes ID for all my Apple devices as well as my family. This allows all my iTunes (music, videos, book) and App Store (apps) purchases to be available on all devices. While I was initially excited with the prospect of the new iOS 8 Family Sharing feature, I was disappointed to learn that it doesn't support iTunes Match (see below) so I'm unable to use it. I use the same iTunes id for work and personal, for iCloud and iMessage. However, my wife and kids each have a unique Apple ID that they use for iCloud and iMessage (see below).

Apple Music - I'm not a fan and I don't subscribe. I have a large MP3 music collection in my iTunes library  I also subscribe to Sirius/XM satellite radio in my two cars and use the mobile app extensively to listen to music both at home when connected to wi-fi as well as when traveling and using cellular with unlimited data from AT&T (DirecTV 2016 promotion)

iTunes Match - I'm a huge fan and for $24.99 a year, it's a bargain. Our family has a huge number of playlists which are available on all our devices.  Unfortunately, Family Sharing isn't supported so each of our devices (maximum of 10) needs to log into the same iTunes account.  I hope Apple addresses this limitation.

iCloud - Each of the members in our family has their own iCloud account in their own name.  It's easy and free to create a new id on Apple.com.  My family makes due with the free 5GB account. I pay $1 a month for the 50GB plan so I have enough space to backup all my devices. I hope Apple increases the 5GB free storage.

iMessage and FaceTime - Each of the members in our family uses the same iCloud id (above) for their iMessage and FaceTime ids on all their iOS devices.  If you use the same id for each family member, everyone will get each other's messages  I've configured my iOS devices so if I get a message on one device, I get them on all. My kids have disabled this feature.  I've also configured all my iOS devices to ring when I get a phonemail or text message. As an AT&T customer, I've also enabled NumberSync so I can receive phone calls on my iPad even when I don't have my iPhone with me.

OurPact and iOS Restrictions - I use OurPact and native iOS restrictions to limit my kids access

Find my iPhone/iPad - enabled on all my devices and I use it at least a couple times a month to find one of my kids lost devices.

Find My Friends app - installed on all our iPhone and iPad. We've invited each other to share our locations. We also have "Notify Me" alerts set (e.g. when the kids arrive home, at school etc.).  It's an incredibly useful app.

That summarizes my recommendations and preferences.  What are yours?