Posts Tagged ‘iPhone’

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This Androidless Life #2 – Getting the Jitters

June 4, 2013

Vista busy cursor  This is the second post in my series documenting my experiences in attempting to make the switch from Android user to iPhone user. As previously explained, this is not down to any kind of dissatisfaction with Android – I have been delighted with my Galaxy Note. Rather, I now get an iPhone paid for by my employer so it makes sense to use that as my one smartphone for everything and save the cost of the monthly contract on my Android.

My initial expectation was that I would miss some of the Galaxy Note’s benefits but find I could pretty much get the same basic utility out of the iPhone. After all, when it comes down to it I have only a few basic requirements out of a smartphone (aside from the obvious ability to make/receive calls, send/receive text messages, email, calendar) namely:

  • Podcast download and playback (via podcatcher app)
  • Audiobook download and playback (via Audible app)
  • Ebook reader (via Kindle app)
  • Bluetooth A2DP support so I can listen to podcasts/audiobooks on bluetooth earphones or in the car

Let’s start with podcasts. I first tried Apple’s default stock podcast app and rapidly realised it was far too basic, much as Google’s stock podcatcher is reputed to be. For example, it does not allow me to set the fast forward/back buttons on the bluetooth (or any) headset to skip forward or back by 30 seconds or a minute, as opposed to skipping to the next podcast. That alone was a dealbreaker. So I “cast” around, read some reviews and alighted on iCatcher! by the charmingly named Joeisanerd.com. Now iCatcher! is the real deal and very comparable with Doggcatcher, my Android podcast app of choice.

Another key requirement for me is the ability to vary playback speed. Typically I listen to podcasts at 1.5x speed otherwise I’d never get the time to listen to them all. In the Android world there is the Presto app which is used by other apps to carry out the clever digital signal processing that allows speed to be varied without changing pitch or losing quality. In the iOS world, Apple have built a utility into the OS and iCatcher! unsurprisingly uses it. Which would have been fine except that on speech podcasts I can hear a distinct and annoying “flutter” or “jitter” at 1.5X speed. It’s fine at 1.25X, but that isn’t quick enough to get through my podcast listening schedule and still squeeze in some decent progress with whichever Audible book I happen to be reading.

I can’t think of a way round this one other than wait for Apple to improve their software to the standard of Presto.

Not a great start.


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This Androidless Life #1 – The Holy Grail

May 28, 2013

Vista busy cursor Android has come of age in the last year or so, matching the iPhone for polish. It was already ahead in terms of flexibility and customisability. It is no longer anathema to switch from iOS to Android and former Apple fanboy bloggers have been known to share their experiences and learning processes on dipping their toes in the Android world.

Not so much comment, however, on how well dyed-in-the-wool Android users get on with switching to the iPhone. After all, it is hard to imagine many wanting to go in that direction just at the point when even the Apple faithful are running out of  reasons to put Android down. But that is what I may well find myself doing.

Blackberry substitute

Blackberry substitute

Until last Friday, I had never had an iPhone. I bought them for my wife and children, but chose a Samsung Galaxy S for myself when the contract on my old Windows Mobile phone expired. I confess that at the time it was mainly down to not wanting to follow the herd, but I have since become very partial to Android, enjoying the larger screens, custom launchers, automation apps such as Tasker and slick keyboards such as Swype, all of which are denied to iOS users.

So why am I moving to the iPhone? Well, it’s actually the company I work for that’s switching allegiances. In addition to my personal Android phone, I have for the last two years been carrying around a work’s Blackberry. It’s one of those horrible little dumpy things with a microscopic physical keyboard and tiny screen. But it was the only way to get at my corporate email and calendar while on the move. And the firm paid for it. I made all my work calls on the BB and personal calls on the Android – which made things easy for me when it came to claiming expenses.

But now my employer has replaced my BB with an iPhone 5 and that raises a question: can I justify going around everywhere with two smartphones? If I can use the iPhone to do all the things I would have used the Android for, then I can dispose of the latter, saving a considerable monthly bill, and have fewer devices to lug around. In principle I would have achieved the holy grail. That to me carries more weight than any petty loyalty to one mobile platform or another.

So I’m starting a series of posts to chart my attempt to make the switch to the iPhone, by analogy to my old “This iPhoneless Life” series. And I have already hit some potential showstoppers, but that’s for next time.


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iCloud iNightmare

October 15, 2012

Vista busy cursor  It has taken days of anguish bordering on despair to resolve an iCloud crisis which has seriously soured the arrival of my wife’s new iPhone 5 and at times threatened to raise the spectre of divorce. Contacts disappearing time after time, replaced on each occasion by someone else’s, text messages going to the wrong person …. all guaranteed to stress everyone out. I cannot deny it was my own error that triggered the panic, but the horrors endured in righting it reflect very poorly on the way Apple have implemented Apple IDs in general and the iCloud in particular.

For some months, my mother in law (Pauline) had been using my eldest son’s old iPhone 3GS, with an O2 PAYG SIM. He had wisely carried out a factory reset before handing it over to her and I had (in hindsight unwisely) hooked it up to the long-standing Apple ID which had been set up for iTunes purchases on the family desktop PC years ago, certainly long before the advent of the iPhone. My wife (Naomi) was using the same Apple ID with her own iPhone 4 but there was no real conflict as Pauline does not buy music and only downloads a few free apps.  

I knew I should really have set Pauline up with her own Apple ID but that meant having her go through the full Apple ID creation process including entering payment card details and all the rest of it.  It seemed an excessive bother given she does not have her own computer and does not actually buy anything off the Apple ecosystem.

The extent of my folly started to come to light when Naomi’s new iPhone 5 arrived.  Her existing iPhone 4 (which had very recently been upgraded to iOS 6, complete with iCloud) had been promised to Pauline.  As the family tech-savvy person it fell to me to deal with the handover practicalities, even though I am not an iPhone user myself. My first task was to obtain a new micro SIM for the iPhone 4 and arrange for O2 to port her existing phone number across, since the SIM she had been using with the 3GS was the wrong size.  That part of it went fine.

The next step was to move her contacts across. In practice these were all on her (first generation) iPad and I used the bump app to “bump” the contacts over from iPad to iPhone 4. I had foolishly not first carried out a factory reset of the latter, so all of Naomi’s contacts were still on the phone.  Naomi manually deleted most of those before handing her mother the phone.

Everyone was then happy … at least until the next morning when all of Naomi’s contacts disappeared off her new iPhone 5 to be replaced with her mother’s. She was at work and some key colleagues’ numbers were now not available. I will leave it to you to imagine how delighted she was and who she decided was to blame, in fairness quite rightly.  I made the most convincing reassuring noises I could think of and that evening restored Naomi’s contacts off a backup of the iPhone 4 made just before the iPhone 5 arrived. Smiles all round … until the next morning when again all Naomi’s contacts were replaced by her mother’s. The annoyance factor was starting to take on alarming proportions, and aggravated because the restore had unset Naomi’s pairings on our car bluetooth systems and she had to set up all her speed dials from scratch. My popularity rating was very much on the decline.

I had been puzzled about how Pauline’s contacts had ever found their way to the iPhone 5 when the latter had not been involved in the transfer of contacts in the first place.  All I could think of was that maybe iCloud (which I was aware of but had little concrete knowledge of)  might be implicated. It looked like Naomi’s iCloud now held Pauline’s contacts and regarded them as more up to date than the backup I had used. So I looked in the iPhone 5’s settings, found the iCloud settings and disabled iCloud contact sync.  I felt sure that would put an end to the disappearing contacts. I was still left having to reinstate Naomi’s contacts from backup with the loss of bluetooth pairings and all the rest of it. My marriage had not been under such strain in some while.

To be on the safe side, I brought Pauline over to my home and at last arranged for her to have her own Apple ID. I switched her Apple Store and iCloud settings to work with the new ID. I now felt sure that the unwanted links between iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 had been broken.

I was still puzzling over how to reactivate iCloud on Naomi’s new phone without losing her contacts when another bombshell struck. Our daughter who is away at University sent Naomi a text message from her iPhone and Pauline unexpectedly received the message too.  There was nothing secret or private about the message, but there might have been and when Naomi found out she started to panic.  She had lost all trust in her new phone and more so in my tech skills.  

It turned out that the text in question was an iMessage, because all three iPhones involved were on wifis. All I could think was that Pauline’s phone was still linked to the original Apple ID at least for iMessage. I could try to track down and fix that setting, but how many more hooks to that ID might still be left in place? In desperation I carried out a factory reset on Pauline’s phone – I had to explain the situation to her and, bless her, she was very understanding and patient. This cost her all her contacts, but no way was I going to risk a backup and possibly reinstate some links to the Apple ID used by Naomi. I just used bump again with the iPad and all was well.

Finally the cord had been severed.  And finally I was able reactivate Naomi’s iCloud contact sync in a way which merged her contacts with the ones on her iCloud, and she was able to pare them down to the ones she wanted after that.

Crisis and marriage were saved but I was left thinking that I had suffered disproportionately for the simple innocent shortcut I had taken with Apple IDs. The issue for me is that iPhones appear to have lots of distinct connection points to Apple IDs such that one phone can use different Apple IDs for different purposes; music/video purchases, iCloud, iMessage and maybe more. My own phone is on Android where everything works off my identity expressed as my gmail account.  There is no need for explicit backups or restores. When I get a new phone I enter my gmail account once and it becomes my phone in every sense, with all my contacts, apps, calendar and everything else there for me. No confusion, no ambiguity.

I was surprised that there was no way to enforce the “direction of syncing” with the iCloud. Clearly we had a situation where the contacts in the iCloud were wrong but still took precedence over the contacts from the backup because they had a later time-stamp.  There should have been some way to “tell” iCloud to respect the data from the backup, rather than just keep overwriting it. Another frustration was that restoring is itself an all or nothing process.  It would have been handy to be able to restore just Pauline’s contacts from a backup if I could be sure I would not also be restoring any settings. I was desperate to avoid any action which might reinstate links between Pauline’s phone and Naomi’s iCloud.

Of course it would all have been different if I had gone to the trouble of ensuring Pauline had her own Apple ID from the outset and factory reset Naomi’s iPhone 4 before handing it over, but Apple’s implementation of ID and iCloud turned a mere drama into a full blown crisis. I thought that Apple’s guiding principle was that things were supposed to “just work”. If even a reasonably technical minded person can fall into that trap then I fear for the less geeky among us.

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This iPhoneless Life #11 – iTunes’ Secret Agent

August 27, 2010

iPod To describe my life as iPhoneless is a slight exaggeration. There is definitely an iPhone in my life, my wife’s iPhone 4, and it robs me of sleep.

My wife is addicted to Angry Birds.  It has not quite taken over completely from reading in bed at night (I can thank the late Stieg Larsson for that) but there seems to be an unwritten rule that we have to get through at least 2 or 3 levels of the aforementioned smash hit game before calling it a night.  I am often called in to help out clearing a level if my wife is stuck on it and wants a break to read another chapter of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I am expected to keep going until every last grunting green pig has been blown to bits.


So I know all about the iPhone 4, it’s beautiful “retina” screen and gorgeous build quality. But for my own use I still have my old, battered Windows Mobile phone – an HTC Tytn II (in O2 “Stellar” livery).  It has done a job for me but now enough is enough and I want a modern phone.

Largely out of sheer bedevilment, I am determined not to become an iPhone user like everyone else in my family. And I’m wary of being a Windows Phone early adopter, much as I believe that platform holds out great promise. How could I forget what it was like to be an early adopter of Vista, when the pain of it is still faithfully documented in this blog? So I will go Android, at least for the foreseeable future, and currently favour the Samsung Galaxy S.

It was while I was checking out what the podcast client options look like in the Android world that I came across a free open source application called iTunes Agent. The idea is very simple. It makes your random non-Apple music device look, to iTunes, like an iPod. That means you can use iTunes directly and seamlessly to synchronise music and podcasts with any mp3 player or phone.  iTunes Agent has been around for quite a while and I can’t think how I missed it, particularly when I was casting around for a podcast solution for my HTC WM6 phone. As explained in an earlier post, I have a more than workable solution using iTunes for podcast capture and WMP for synchronisation, but iTunes Agent looked like a neater fix and I thought I should try it out.

I had no trouble installing and running iTunes Agent on my Windows 7 PC, and it hooked up immediately with iTunes. The difficulty I had was getting iTunes Agent to link up to my phone when the latter was connected to the PC via USB.

The way it is supposed to work is that you specify the folder on your music device where you want your synchronised music to live, in my case a folder on the HTC phone’s micro SD storage card. When you connect your phone, iTunes Agent is supposed to detect that this folder  is available on the Windows file system and therefore knows your phone is ready for synchronisation.  The limitation is that iTunes Agent requires your phone or music player to have been allocated a drive letter by Windows, but Windows was just listing my phone under “Portable Devices”. I could easily navigate through the phone’s folders and files using Windows Explorer but no way could I persuade Windows to allocate a drive letter.  And without a drive letter, iTunes Agent refused to accept any folder on the storage card as synchronisation target.

This stumped me for a while until, by dint of frantic Googling, I discovered the difference between the MTP and UMS protocols for connecting storage devices over USB. My phone naturally connects to my PC using MTP (Media Transfer Protocol) – a technology which is reckoned to offer the widest device compatibility with media players – as opposed to UMS (USB Mass Storage) which is targeted more at USB keys and SD card readers. Unfortunately Windows only allocates a drive letter with UMS devices, not with MTP.

More Googling and I found out about two applications that can be installed on a WM phone to make it emulate a UMS device and thus qualify for a drive letter, W5torage and Softick Card Export.  The former was written by a lone developer and is free whereas Card Export is a commercial product. Both were created so that you can in effect use your WM phone as a card reader.

I tried W5torage first.  It installed fine on my phone and appeared to be running, but in UMS mode my PC was not able to detect my phone at all. A quick uninstall and I tried Card Export, which is free to trial for 21 days. I took an instant dislike to the latter because it automatically added an annoying status display to my Today screen and an icon in the notification tray. It did however work. My phone now appeared as the G: drive and at last I was able to configure my phone in iTunes Agent. My HTC now showed up as a device in iTunes.

This did not though constitute a happy ending. Before going much further I was determined to rid my phone’s Today screen of the unwanted Card Export status display.  I went into the phone settings and unticked the Card Export option from the list of Today items. This resulted in my phone locking up. A reboot later and the Today Screen was free of Card Export status, but now my program icons were missing. There was clearly some clash between Card Export and the application manager software from O2 which came with my phone. Now the O2 software is lot more important to me than use of iTunes Agent – my researches in that direction were more curiosity than need – so it was Card Export that was going to have to go.

It took about 10 reboots before the phone was working normally again, with no trace of Card Export, the Today screen displaying all the right items and no lock-ups when I tried to access the Today settings.  There was a moment when I thought I was going to have to ditch the phone as a write-off, or at least restore factory settings.

That is, unfortunately, one of the most problematical issues with Windows Mobile. Lots of apps but easy access by developers to the deep innards of the operating system, which can readily become unstable as a result. I don’t know why iTunes Agent had remained a secret to me for so long but I could have done with it remaining a secret.

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This iPhone 4 wife

August 8, 2010

iPod It seems very strange that I have now purchased 4 iPhones but am still using a Windows Mobile phone. For a while at least I will continue to lead this iPhoneless life. The first 3 iPhones (all 3GSs) were for my children, for the festive season, and just recently an iPhone 4 for my wife, Naomi.

My children are absolutely besotted with their iPhones. In heaven with them. Naomi hates hers and keeps begging me to get rid of it. Until very recently she was a Windows Mobile user too, and had been since the first O2 XDA came out 7 or 8 years ago. But her O2 XDA Orbit2 was suffering death throes (symbolic of the Windows Mobile platform as a whole) and the iPhone seemed the obvious, safe alternative. Naomi had had a play with the kids’ iPhones (admittedly mostly Doodle Jump) and I expected her to take to it straight away. But she is finding the transition very hard going.

Steve Jobs has shown us that the one true smartphone experience has no room for a pesky stylus. Such things are fiddly and keep getting lost or broken. There is no need for any such contrivance if the user interface is properly thought through. Except that Naomi had had plenty of time to get very efficient writing texts etc with a stylus and finds the iPhone keyboard to be a beast, as many do on first acquaintance. Coupled with exceptionally unhelpful predictive text and her unfortunate tendency to hit send on SMS messages by accident and the results are utterly infuriating for her, when they’re not hilarious.

Last week she replied to a text from my son Jonathan which asked for advice on making sure a text he planned to send to a friend was not misinterpreted. She wanted to suggest he tack a smiley on the end of his text. But thanks to her keyboard issues, the unwanted incompetent interference from the predictive text facility and an untimely use of send she ended up advising him to add a “skills” to his text.

The reply came back: “what is a skills and where do I put it?”

Naomi dissolved into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. She could hardly breathe, let alone say a word. Which was highly inconvenient because at that moment I was driving the two of us around the horrible Coventry ring-road system (which I do not know at all), was struggling to make sense of the Satnav and was hoping for some help from my co-pilot. I had to manage without help.

I sense Naomi is settling down, very slowly, to the iPhone. And what are the alternatives? Another moribund Windows Mobile phone? Just putting off the inevitable. A Blackberry with a real keyboard? She likes the tiny buttons even less than Apple’s virtual ones. And there really is no going back to the horrible texting systems we had before smartphones.

So I imagine the iPhone will stay. But in trying to help my wife get on speaking terms with her new phone I have spent a fair bit of time with it and I do see where she is coming from. The more time I spend with it, the more I think Windows Mobile has come in for an unfairly bad rap.

I don’t think I will be buying a fifth iPhone. Not for myself. I know Windows Mobile is on its deathbed and Windows Phone 7 is still some way off being ready to invest in. Most likely I will go with the trend towards Android.

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Keep taking the tablets

January 28, 2010

Vista busy cursor I had a bit of a “Doh!” moment when I finally discovered what the iPad was all about.  It should have been obvious long before Steve Jobs’s announcement yesterday.  My only excuse is the constant reference to the term “tablet” which I associate with devices that look superficially like conventional laptops but have swivelling screens.  I have one of those but they are in general regarded as a failed concept.

The iPad is not in that space at all.  It is not Apple’s answer to the tablet PC but Apple’s answer to the netbook and Amazon’s Kindle combined.

As ever, Apple pick up after a need for something new has already emerged and others have already created inadequate products in response. Usually those early attempts by others fail because they are trying to adapt something that already exists but the paradigm does not translate properly.  The tablet PC is a prime example.  Another would be every smartphone prior to the iPhone which was some unhappy marriage of PDA type device and conventional mobile phone, often involving use of a (ugh!) stylus.

Apple won in the smartphone stakes, improving on the earlier failed attempts by starting from a different direction.  They realised that they needed a device that was all touch screen but with an interface that did not need a stylus.  And not to try to do too much. Most users want to be able to get their media on there, browse the web and access their email, but not necessarily care about getting into the gubbings or hacking the device.  If they wanted to play games or expand the usefulness of the phone they would just download applications.

Similar story with the iPad. Netbooks have arisen because many people just want to browse the web at home or do their email but don’t want to wait ages for a PC to boot up.  They don’t need to do serious gaming or video encoding so something smaller, lighter, cheaper is fine.  To date the answer has been a smaller, lighter, cheaper laptop – ie the netbook.  Another need has been the eBook reader.  The Kindle has been successful but eInk is not everyone’s cup of tea.  Low contrast, slow page turning.  The only real benefit is a long battery life.

The iPad takes the paradigm that worked for the iPhone and reapplies it to the need to date met by the netbook and Kindle.  It brings the benefits of ease of use, touch interface without stylus and quick/convenient access to the lightweight tasks (web, email, reading a book, watching a movie) that most people actually want.  It will stretch to work type things but that is not its main market.

Do I want one?  Hell no, but I do think it will be successful.

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This iPhoneless Life #7 – Simply music

April 13, 2009

iPod Most iPhone users will think of the media capabilities of the device as mainly about music and video. So far, in looking at my Windows Mobile based alternative to the iPhone, I have been focusing on podcasts and audiobooks. That’s partly because they are important to me and partly because they need the most effort to get working smoothly on a WM PDA-phone, whereas music is obviously trivial, right?

Well, maybe if all your music takes the form of CDs you ripped yourself in mp3 format, using say iTunes. Provided it is all sitting in a folder which is “watched” by WMP on your PC it will appear in your WMP Library. If you want to sync a particular album to your phone, you just go the Album view in the Library, find the desired album, right click and select “Add to Sync List”. Next time you synchronise with your phone the album will be copied across. It is then easy to find and play in your phone’s WMP Library, and the album art will be there too if you had added that.

It gets more complicated though if you have bought iTunes music and have songs in say .m4a (AAC) format. Natively, WMP will not recognise them so they will not appear in the Library, whichever folder they are in and WMP will not be able to play them. Thankfully, there are WMP plug-ins available to fix that. As far as DRM’d music is concerned (.m4p) you really can’t use those in the Windows world outside of iTunes. The only option is to remove the DRM encryption so you end up with an m4a. I’ll leave you investigate that for yourself if you wish.

To enable desktop WMP playback of (unprotected) AAC there is a free plug-in from Orban technologies. The plug-in works well but on its own won’t make your m4a files visible to the WMP Library. For that you need a tag extender plug-in. There are several available and generally seem to work well. You can try the Softpointer Tag Support Plugin, or maybe this plugin among others.

With all that in place music is fine on a WM6 phone. The AAC files play fine natively on the phone in WMP. No click wheel but I would have to say that WMP works well enough as a vanilla music player.

Speaking of click-wheels and Apple, did I get this wrong or does the iPhone NOT support bluetooth stereo streaming (A2DP), even in its 3G manifestation? That’s a complete and utter showstopper for me. I had been giving serious thought to getting an iPhone when my WM phone’s contract runs out in December.  But my bluetooth Sennheiser earphones have transformed my mobile audio and no way would I go back to wired. Suddenly, I’m entirely happy with my iPhoneless life.

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