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Category: Tech

The FaceID Only Conundrum

New tech is not always better just because it is new.  Over the last year while rumors of FaceID becoming reality on the next phone were out there, we also heard how Apple was working on getting TouchID working on the screen.  Well they didn’t, and now it’s FaceID only on the iPhone X.  

Judging by the first reviews this move will be a tad controversial.  I have two worries.

  • Checking the phone discreetly is now impossible.  If you are in a meeting, out for a meal, or just walking down the street a great feature of the iPhone was unlocking it while taking it out of your pocket and just peeking down at the screen. The phone never had to get a few inches outside your pocket and you had the ability to respond quickly to message, read a note, etc.  Now if you want to unlock it, the phone has to see your face.  
  • The other worry is Apple Pay. I know there is a new gesture (double tap power button) to launch Apple Pay, but again your face to authorize?  This is where the previous home button was perfect.  

Both of these issues can be resolved if you use an Apple Watch with your phone.   I wonder if Apple starts pushing the Watch as the “needed” accessory to get the everything working as it did before.  I know it would not be Apple like, but I wish they just put a fingerprint sensor on the back like Google did and let you unlock with your finger or your face.  We will all find out in just a few days if my worries are founded.

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48 Hours With the Samsung Note 8

I have been using iOS as my main phone for a few years, but I always have a line with an Android device on it for testing and playing (I also had a third line for Windows devices, but alas that is no longer needed).  I have had Nexus devices, the original Moto X, as well as two from Samsung.  So it was time to replace the S6 with a newer Android device.  So now I have a Note 8!

I am going to write more about this after using it for a few more days, but a few notes.

  • The screen on this phone is breathtaking.
  • Samsung has finally figured out Android.  While the tech press goes on and on about “vanilla Android” and devices that run it they miss a huge point.  Most people are not tech nerds, and they want a finished product out of the box.  This is why Google has now started adding their own differentiators on the Pixel devices whereas the Nexus devices did not.  Yes you can still change defaults, but if you don’t you have a device that works and works well.
  • A big concern I had going in was Bixby. Again after reading about the device online all I kept reading about was how Samsung has Bixby instead of Google Assistant when Assistant is better.  Turns out this is not true.  First the phone has Assistant and Bixby turned on by default when you get your phone.  They have different trigger words, but holding the home key down launches Google Assistant the same as it does everywhere else.  It also turns out that Bixby and Assistant do different things and have different uses.  Imagine complaining your phone came with the Gmail app because it comes with a browser that can also access that Gmail.  That is pretty much what is going on here.

I am going to put my phone through the paces, but here is my home screen as I start my first work week using this phone as my main device.  The second image is from a Samsung slide over feature.  You swipe in from the right edge and you get a list of apps, people, or tasks that you always want access to. I have put most of my messaging apps there and have been using it a lot.  This was a feature I thought I was going to disable.

Update: One thing I was rightfully worried about with this phone was the awful location of the fingerprint reader. Well it’s not great, but once I put a case on I found it much easier to use. I was also plesantly surprised how well the iris scanner works.  I had only used this before on a Lumia 950 and the process was slow and clunky so had low expectations. Samsung also offers facial recognition to unlock, but it’s not secure so just skip that.

Amazon Link to case: Spiegen Thin Fit for Note 8

More to come……

 

 

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How to Handle All That News

So much news, so many sources, so much to read, so where does one start? If you are a news junkie as I am this is the ultimate question of our times (tad exaggeration).

My system for trying to keep up is not complicated, but it works for me and something similar might work for you. First I have 3 “old media” sources that I subscribe to so I read those as you would have in 1950 at the kitchen table. Those would be The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. These three are also the only news apps that I allow to send me notifications on my phone, breaking news only of course!

The next bit is how I take in the rest. It pretty much works like this. I see a link in a number of places and save it to Pocket. There are a few services that allow you to save items to read later, but Pocket works everywhere and has the best tools. Then a few times a day I go into Pocket on my phone or PC and read away.

I have two primary ways to find stuff I want to send to Pocket. That would be my RSS app (RSS explainer) and Twitter. Since the death of Google Reader I have used Feedly as my RSS service. I do however use third party apps to use Feedly though they provide more than adequate first party apps. On the MAC and iOS I use Reeder, and on Windows I like Nextgen Reader. Both apps do a great job of syncing with the Feedly service and most importantly make it easy to save to Pocket. For Android I still have not found anything better than Feedly for Android.

Those that know me understand I like and use Twitter a lot. While the social stuff is fun, I have found it be a useful place to see what news is breaking in the now. With the right Twitter app you can save anything that looks interesting with one quick click. On the Mac and iOS I use Tweetbot, on Android I like Talon, and on Windows I like Tweetium.

While a setup like this can take time to curate it is quick and easy to use. During the day or when I am busy I just quickly scan my Twitter and RSS feeds. If I see a headline or lede that draws my attention, I just click save to Pocket. Then when I have a few minutes I open Pocket and read!

Like anything the news is only as good as the sources you choose to follow and read. Don’t just read the sites and authors who you know you will agree with. Push your boundaries, remember there is a world outside of the borders you live within, and become an informed citizen.


Apps and services mentioned above:

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A Few Unneeded Thoughts on WannaCry

Since everyone is dumping their two cents about WannaCry I was feeling kind of left out.  I have a few thoughts about all this.  The overarching thing is this, the current system is broken.

Since the news broke of the malware late last week this has all started to take on a political war.  Everyone get on your side and start blaming someone.   In times like these we have to remember that nuance is hard, but nuance is needed.  Is Microsoft financially liable for this?  Given that they have been very clear about what gets support and what does not the answer is obviously no.  When it comes to PR that is a different story.  Microsoft released a patch to those paying for extended Windows XP support a few months ago.  This means that Microsoft had the tools in place to stop this outbreak.  Those that paid received it which seems to make sense as long as you don’t consider the fallout of having a huge malware story leading the evening newscast talking about “Microsoft Windows”.  Given that Microsoft quickly released the security update to everyone following the incident they also noticed this.

Last night Microsoft posted this:

The governments of the world should treat this attack as a wake-up call. They need to take a different approach and adhere in cyberspace to the same rules applied to weapons in the physical world. We need governments to consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits. This is one reason we called in February for a new “Digital Geneva Convention” to govern these issues, including a new requirement for governments to report vulnerabilities to vendors, rather than stockpile, sell, or exploit them. And it’s why we’ve pledged our support for defending every customer everywhere in the face of cyberattacks, regardless of their nationality. This weekend, whether it’s in London, New York, Moscow, Delhi, Sao Paulo, or Beijing, we’re putting this principle into action and working with customers around the world.

I strongly disagree with this stance from Microsoft.  First if you tell the NSA that they have to turn over everything they find, guess what happens next?  They don’t have the need to do this anymore.  What incentive would our intelligence agencies have to do Microsoft’s work for them?  Microsoft’s job is to sell a product that makes money, the intelligence agencies job is to defend the citizens of the United States of America.  Now the tools, and how they do that is another debate.  If you think that the NSA is going to hand over bugs they find without wanting something back you are living on another planet.  Do we really want a world where the large tech companies have a symbiotic relationship with the CIA, NSA, etc?  Step one in this argument seems easy, where it goes from there is a tad harder.

We have to do something to address this in the future.  One of the big memes that has come out of this mess is that what will happen when your autonomous car is requiring $300 not to drive you off a cliff.  This is a bit much, but it made me think.  Right now car manufacturers are required to pay the cost of repairs and fixes that hit the level of needing a “safety recall” for ten years.  That means they must fix the seatbelt they sold with issues for ten years after the last one is sold.  This is a good starting point for tech.  Operating system and hardware vendors alike must come up with a standard across the industry that all must follow.  I think ten years for security should be that standard for business or institutional related devices.  If every company or government knows that every product they buy has a max of 10 years of shelf life they will be able to budget and plan in a better manner.  It will also allow vendors to offer longer service as a sales point.  I am talking a bare minimum.

We also need a similar setup for consumers.  Google announced last week that their own Pixel phone will get three years of security patches before it is cutoff.  That is three years from launch not from your purchase date.  This is not good enough. Security, not feature, updates should be required for five years from the last day the OEM sells the device.  Tying security to some average wireless contract is just dangerous.  There are many parts of the world where secondary market phones are big business.  You are pretty much telling those customers that their safety and security does not mean anything, and in many cases they live in places where security from their own government is paramount.

How do we do this?  How do we even start this discussion?  I am sure I am wrong about a few details above, and I may be off on how long things should be supported but I am confident in my belief that something has to be done now.  I have zero faith in tech companies doing this on their own.  This is why we have government, and it’s time they act. People look at the word “regulation” as some obstacle.  Remember the next time you get on an airplane that it is government regulation standing between your safety and some airline actuary selling shareholders on how many crashes they can incur before it hurts the bottom line.  Hey we saved a few billion on repairs and only seven planes crashed, pop the champagne as the stock price just went up!

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A Cynical View of Windows 10S

I know it will shock many that I am looking at the launch of Windows 10S in a different light.  I am going to start with my conclusion and go from there.  Windows 10S is about finding a different way to keep Windows revenue afloat while they continue to evolve into the Azure and Office company.

A few points:

  • The first selling point from Microsoft is that devices with 10S in a managed environment like a classroom is safer thanks to it being so locked down.  One of the items they mentioned is Microsoft Intune.  Reality check, if you are using Intune you already have the other tools as an administrator to lock down systems to do pretty much what S offers.
  • Another benefit they mentioned is the security of using just apps bought through the Windows Store. Now there is some truth there, however in the next sentence they talk about how easy it is to package your standard Win32 apps and throw them in the store.  Many security experts who I trust have made the point that using Microsoft’s Project Centennial (how you package those old desktop apps for the new world) tarnishes many of the security benefits.
  • Windows 10S locks Windows Edge as your default browser and Bing as your default search engine.  While Microsoft said that other browsers are welcome in the store, you will not be able to change either of those defaults.
    • UPDATE: May 10, 2017 Ed Bott at ZNDET has been told that the original consensus from the press that Google and others could just package their browsers and put them in the store was wrong.  

Now with those points in mind, Windows 10S is about one thing and one thing only.

 

  • Outside of security, what else does the Windows Store do?  Like the App store on iOS and the Google Play store on Android it allows Microsoft to take a 30% cut off the sale of your app.
  • Having Edge and more importantly Bing as your default does what?  It makes Microsoft money.  Like Google, Microsoft monetizes the data used in search and other things.  Unlike Google they do not have that marketshare.
  • Microsoft offers OEMs steep discounts on lower end PCs.  So now you put Windows 10S on those devices allowing Microsoft to make up some of the lost revenue with forcing you into the store and to use Bing.

Here is the real kicker.  Microsoft is allowing you a very easy way to change that Windows 10S install into a full version.  Just hand over $50.  So Microsoft is setting up a system where you either make them money by using the store and Bing, or you can just hand over the $50 making up for the future lost revenue.  This is what some would call the “freemium” model just taken to the OS.

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Small Look Behind the Numbers

Streaming Music Numbers

https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/02/spotify-50-million/?ncid=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29

 

The streaming firm clocked 40 million ‘Premium’ subscribers in September 2016, having hit the 30 million mark in March, so the growth rate has continued to be fairly consistent. Aside from its $9.99 paid plan, Spotify also offers a more limited free option that it monetizes via ads. Back in June last year, the company disclosed that it had reached 100 million registered users — including paying and non-paying users — but we haven’t had a newer figure since then.

There’s plenty of competition in the market, and Spotify’s nearest rival is Apple Music, which reached the 20 million paid user mark in December. Tidal, the service owned by rapper (and soon-to-be-VC) Jay-Z, reached three million last March which was its last update.

These numbers made me think of the famous quote that “a rising tide lifts all boats”.  The only difference being that in this case it might be only two boats.  Since Apple Music has launched Spotify has done more than hold its own.  While there are other players out there like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Tidal it does seem that it’s a two horse race right now.  Has Spotify become the go to for Android?  The irony is that Google has by far the best deal out there right now as you get Google Play Music with a YouTube Red subscription for the same monthly price as the others.  The libraries are all pretty similar as of now, so it should not be hard for people to jump around.

Spotify yesterday also announced they will be adding a lossless audio plan similar to what Tidal offers.  This is interesting, and I still think Apple will add something like this with the purchase of Tidal.  It seems Tidal was created as something to be purchased.

The Battle For the Classroom

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/02/technology/apple-products-schools-education.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0

Of the 12.6 million mobile devices shipped to primary and secondary schools in the United States in 2016, Chromebooks accounted for 58 percent of the market, up from 50 percent in 2015, according to the report. School shipments of iPads and Mac laptops fell to 19 percent, from about 25 percent, over the same period. Microsoft Windows laptops and tablets remained relatively stable at about 22 percent, Futuresource said.

The next generation is being taught that the default is Google.  It’s pretty incredible that an OS that is just a few years old is getting close to a 60% market share in the US.  Now with new Chromebooks running Android apps it will be interesting to see if they can start to grow in any meaningful way outside of the education market.  They are offering something today that Microsoft is trying to promise in the future.

 

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3D Touch Actually Can Be Useful

3D Touch for Power Users – MacStories

https://www.macstories.net/stories/3d-touch-for-power-users/

Author: Ryan Christoffel

It has been over fifteen months since I began using 3D Touch, and I’m convinced that the true value of it only becomes evident through dedicated practice. If you just use 3D Touch now and then, you may find yourself frustrated by not knowing or remembering what all it can be used for. The lack of iPad support doesn’t help here.


If you have an iPhone 6S or later this is pretty good roundup on some 3D Touch.

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My New Favorite Bluetooth Keyboard

I have never been a huge fan of many of the portable bluetooth keyboards being sold out there. Logitech and Microsoft both make some of the better ones, but even those felt small and crowded at times. I was just browsing on Amazon last week and a keyboard from Anker popped in my recommendations.

On sale for $19.99 I just went and ordered the Anker Ultraportable Keyboard. While it is a little heavier, and a little bigger than some of the competitors I love this thing. It feels and sounds like a true desktop keyboard. I have been using it with my iPad Air 2, but you should have no problem using it with any device. I have not used enough to test the battery claim since it says it can go 6 months on one charge. I obviously have not had to charge it yet!

Anker Keyboard

Other recommendations:

Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard

Logitech Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard

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My iPhone Homescreen as we Enter 2017

  • FantasticaliTunes Store App Website While I find the built in Calendar good enough for most things, there are a few features that bring me back to Fantastical. First it combines both my calendar and reminders. I like seeing reminders with dates on them show up on my calendar. It also just accesses the system setup for your calendars and reminders allowing you to still use Siri as you would with the stock apps. Lastly, you can use natural language to add events. You can type “lunch at 3:00PM with John at Union Square Cafe” and it will parse that and put the data in the right place. There is a separate iPad and MacOS app as well.
  • Notes I have been using the stock Notes app after being both an Evernote and OneNote user. All of these apps are fine, but Notes is simple and good enough for daily use. My favorite feature is that I can lock certain notes behind TouchID allowing me to put pretty much anything in there.
  • Workflow iTunes Store App Website This app has become a go to for so many things. It allows you to combine multiple steps from multiple apps with just one click. You build your own “workflows” or select from the gallery. Just go read all the coverage of this app over at Mac Stories as I can’t do this app justice in a writeup.
  • Mail Yes I use the stock Mail app. I use both an exchange account and an iMap account that is hosted by Fastmail. I find the stock app still handles Exchange well, and Fastmail worked directly with Apple to get real push using iMap. If you are a gmail user I would recommend Outlook for iOS as it gives you push e-mail without having to use the awful GMAIL app. I am not a fan of one app housing my mail, calendar, and contacts so that is why Outlook is not my default.
  • Clock Yes a clock! I just like easy access to my alarms, Next!
  • Snapchat iTunes Store App Website I avoided this app for a while, but I find it kind of fun. I don’t use it much for messaging, but making and watching stories is cool! Give me a follow.
  • Slack iTunes Store App Website By now most people know what Slack is, and what it does. I have it on my phone for work purposes.
  • Tweetbot iTunes Store App Website This is by far the best Twitter app on iOS. Just for the design itself it is worth using. If you use the product on the Mac or iPad it also does a great job of syncing your timeline via iCloud. I still keep the Twitter app installed for the few features that Twitter keeps for themselves.
  • Washington Post iTunes Store App Website The Washington Post is one of two newspapers I subscribe to. The app itself is great, and I have been a loyal reader for two decades. If you are an Amazon Prime user you get a nice discount starting with six months for free. You literally have nothing to lose.
  • New York Times iTunes Store App Website The other paper I subscribe to is the sad and failing New York Times. While some may not like it, it is still the paper of record and employs some of the best writers in the world.
  • Apple Music App Website After using other music services I have come to settle on Apple Music. Most of the music services have similar catalogs at this point so the default service on iOS had some advantages. I did miss my Spotify playlists, but Apple has done a good job adding the feature over the last few months. Having Siri capabilities is what ultimately made this decision a no brainer.
  • Overcast iTunes Store App Website I subscribe and listen to a lot of podcasts, so this app choice is important. First, I need an app that allows streaming because I don’t listen to all the podcasts I subscribe to so I don’t want the app downloading what I don’t want to hear. Second, I like speeding up the podcasts. This is where Overcast excels, I have found the app has the best sound quality even when sped up. Third, I listen across devices so it has to sync. The app does a decent job of that, and even has a minimal web version that is usable. I also like Pocketcasts if Overcast is not your thing.
  • MyFitnessPal iTunes Store App Website This app is personal. I started using this app five years ago when I was over 300 pounds. I still use the app and weigh in around 190. I did not do anything special. I setup a profile, it told me how many calories I should eat, and I followed it. When you exercise it allows you to increase what you eat which is a nice bonus. While what you eat is the most important part of losing weight, exercise is needed to keep you healthy. I am still on my journey and hope soon to celebrate my ultimate goal of 165. Feel free to add me as a friend.
  • Dark Sky iTunes Store. This is one of those hyper local weather apps. It tells you when it is about to start raining or snowing down to the minute. The feature that gets this on my first page is the great widget.
  • 1Password iTunes Store App Website Everyone should use a password manager these days. Use it on every system you have, and set crazy passwords that are only used in one place. I use 1Password as I find it does the best job on iOS. If you want another to look at try Last Pass, just use something! You should also use two factor authentication on every service for that. While it’s not on my first page I use Authy as it syncs across devices and has browser plug-ins for the desktop. P.S. Your browser saving your passwords is not smart, so stop and turn that off now. You’re welcome!
  • Wallet Yes Apple Wallet sits on page one. I love Apple Pay as it safer and easier than having to whip out your credit card. I also have my other cards from places like Starbucks and Duane Reed sitting in there so quick access is important. Most airlines also will throw your boarding passes in there which is handy.
  • Apple Maps This is a newcomer for me with iOS 10. Apple Maps was never good enough to be the default during it’s first few years of existence. I have found this has changed with the most recent version of iOS. Now to be clear this depends on where you live. The main reason I have gone to Apple Maps is that it now does a better job with mass transit in the New York City metropolitan area. They have directions down to which set of subway stairs to use. If Apple Maps is not good enough where you are, just go ahead and get Google Maps. For mass transit apps, both Transit and CityMapper are both great.
  • Instagram iTunes Store App Website The only product from Facebook that made the cut is Instagram. It is one of my favorite social networks as you can say a lot with just images. The latest updates were put in to compete with Snapchat, and they have done a good job with this. Hey follow me!
  • Photos and Camera I am lumping these two together for obvious reasons. The camera is well the camera. The default iOS camera is still the best in class when it comes to what ships with your device. If you want more professional options I have been a longtime fan of Camera+. Photos has been rebuilt from the ground up, and I like what they have done. As someone who does not want my life being part of Google’s learning alogorithm I am happy that Apple has managed to include some of those features without the privacy worries. I do backup my photos to OneDrive in case anything happens to my library. I get plenty of storage as part of my Office365 subscription, so might as well!

Page 2

I keep everything else on Page 2 in folders. I rarely open these apps from here, but instead open them via Siri or Spotlight. I am still working on folder structure, but as long as the app is on the device it really does not make a difference.

The Dock

  • Phone Yes it’s the phone app which I still have to use once in a while on a phone.
  • Messages This is the app which many argue has the most lock in of any service on iOS. While all your text messages sit in here, using iMessage to chat with other iPhone users is great. If you are an iPad and/or Mac user you can also chat from those devices with ease.
  • Safari While apps have killed many needs for the mobile web, it has not killed everything. I still use Safari for many things including Facebook since I don’t want to install their battery eating hellscape of an app.
  • Drafts iTunes Store App Website There is so much to say about this app. It is a blank canvas where I start most of my writing. It has what the app calls “actions” that lets you then decide what to do with the text. You can send to e-mail, send to Messages, etc. I use it as my default way to start every e-mail message. Then I have “actions” that apply the correct signature I want with that message. When you have multiple aliases this solves a big problem. I also use it to tweet when I have hashtags saved around something. You can easily setup an “action” that appends the hashtags after you type your tweet before it sends it out. Check out the Action Directory to see what else you can do with this app. Let me just point this out. This entire post was written on my phone in Markdown before sending it to WordPress via a Workflow from the app above. As someone once said, it’s “magical”.
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