(Return of the Mac) Come on, (You know that I’ll be back) Here I am

Oh, Apple.  What an enormous pain in the bottom you are at times!  Nearly four months away, and I return to discover that your software is just as buggy as when I left.  But, when it works, is infinitely better than that offered for and by Windows / Microsoft.  The last straw was when I created a spreadsheet in Excel 2016 on the Dell UHD laptop, only to find that due to dodgy Windows scaling, the row sizes were all over the shop when the same file was opened on a Mac also running Excel 2016.

  • Importing 8,163 photos and videos into Photos caused Photos to crash half way through.  Thankfully as Adobe Lightroom organises photos by year, I did one year at a time and everything is now inside the Photos ecosystem.
  • Restoring iTunes to a new machine (regardless of platform) while you have an Apple Music subscription is the biggest load of nonsense I have ever encountered from any software company ever.  All seemed to go well – iTunes picked up the freshly copied Windows iTunes folder and organised/consolidated it as it should.  But, alas, while Apple Music was switched on and signed in, iTunes told me otherwise.  A workaround was to browse and/or play something directly from the Apple Music catalogue web site (within iTunes – iTunes essentially acts a glorified browser), then offline stuff could play.  In an attempt to fix the problem once and for all, I turned iCloud Music Library Off (and Apple Music) and switched them back on.  Big mistake.  As soon as that happened, iTunes attempted to reupload music and match, resulting in the duplication of all Apple Music albums and tracks.  At least some 2,000+.  Sorting out the duplicates in the Gilbert & Sullivan 450 track multi-disc album was, to say the least, [censored] annoying.  This was even after nuking the entire iTunes library and letting everything (inc. matched non-Apple tracks and iTunes purchased tracks) download again from Apple’s servers.  This incident has made me extremely nervous of ever having to restore an iTunes library from a backup.  Maybe Apple is promoting Apple Music’s strength as an online service that you really never need to back up to anything other than their servers?  *shrugs*
  • Playing Team Fortress 2 using the AMD Radeon R9 370X is fine and dandy, but things went a bit wonky straight after Steam/TF2 installation, with TF2 and Steam quitting immediately as soon as the game started.  Restarting MacOS seems to fix it.
  • Switching to Apple’s Two Factor Authentication was a pain too.  If you had Two Step Authentication, you have to disable that, create a new series of security questions, then wait a bit before the Two Factor Authentication settings pop up on the iPhone or iPad.  Trying to get the Apple TV to recognise HomeKit involved logging in and out about six times before it finally worked.  Lots of logging in and out across all devices overall.  Apple Watch needed a reboot to get the MacOS unlock functionality working, else the system complained that it couldn’t find the watch.

Otherwise, I am enjoying the Retina display, the quad core processor, and super fast SSD drive.  I’ve come to the conclusion that Windows is not ready for 4K/UHD and above displays.  Not until software developers start making the use of it.

But I will remain a Mac/iPhone/iPad user for the foreseeable future.  The alternative is good, but for me – and despite all the problems with Apple’s software division – it’s not enough. Apple have won.  I surrender.

Apple Music Redux: MUCH better now

Or: How Apple Got Its Groove Back

A while back I wrote off Apple Music as “buggier than a buggy thing in the land of insects” and gave up on it (and Apple) due to the sheer frustration of the thing (along with the bricked iPad Pro that stayed bricked until I spent £50 getting the blasted thing replaced at the nearest Apple Store in London).

Anyway, four months later I was curious to know if Apple finally got their act together after hearing that they were making substantial improvements to Apple Music in iOS 10.  Well, it turns out they have.  I think in part this is due to not having iTunes Match enabled.  iTunes Match allowed you to upload your music library to Apple’s servers and listen to your music on any device supporting iTunes.  Then Apple Music came along and mucked it up on a scale I can’t describe as it involves a large number of expletives in a row.

Without iTunes Match enabled, Apple Music actually works as intended.  I can listen to my complete music library from my Windows 10 PC, my work Mac and my (soon to be retired) Android phone running Apple Music – downloading tracks to the other devices for offline listening, if necessary.

There have been relatively few problems – the only big one has been with the release of iOS 10 in which Apple’s servers were under siege from everybody downloading the latest versions of iTunes (which provides a beautiful new and much-improved user interface) and iOS.  But now that everything’s calmed down again, Apple Music is a pleasure to use.  I’ve terminated my Spotify subscription and have gone back to Apple Music full time.

My musical tastes are eclectic, that's for sure!
My musical tastes are eclectic, that’s for sure!

The Great Apple Break Down

It’s been an absolute pain in the arse this past month for all things tech-related.  We’ve had Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 recall shenanigans, and now Apple’s new IOS release caused temporary bricking as soon as it was released due to a corrupt over the air image.

I was pretty miffed when I updated the 9.7″ iPad Pro OTA (over the air) and found it wanted to be connected to iTunes.  Apple advertises this as a standalone computer.  A standalone computer shouldn’t need another computer to be able to fix update problems.  Does Apple expect us to own two or more computers as a consequence?  Even if you had two iPad Pros, it wouldn’t have fixed the issue – it must be a full on desktop machine (MacOS or Windows) running iTunes.

Except because when I got home, Apple’s iCloud services were in a mess.  In order to perform a manual update/restore of the iPad, iTunes had to download version 9.3.5 of iOS first.  Took well over an hour.  Couldn’t update iTunes via the normal means because Apple’s servers were completely borked.  But thankfully when 9.3.5 downloaded and was applied to the iPad Pro via a USB cable connected to the Dell, the iPad eventually sprung back into life and all settings and data was preserved.  Unlike last time, when the hardware was completely knackered and I had to get entire iPad replaced. So a big phew! there.

As iTunes (with a vastly improved interface for managing Apple Music) wasn’t updating, it was actually quicker to download the installer file from Apple’s web site and update it that way.  I could then update both iPads to version 10 of iOS.

How I do wish Apple would take better care of iOS releases.

To ease the pain somewhat, I discovered that Apple has added practically every single Studio Ghibli soundtrack album to Apple Music, and spent a very happy evening listening to some classic Joe Hisaishi music.

The Smartphone Games: Catching Fire

Catnip Everready prepares to fight the evil President Lith-Ion in the sequel to ever popular The Smartphone Games: The Smartphone Games.

– Description of my new novel, The Smartphone Games. LOL.

Samsung has made available an IMEI checker that tells you if your phone is affected by the battery defect.  But then again, it may just be a list of phones that haven’t been returned to them yet.  In any event, this is what happened when I typed in my phone’s IMEI:

2016-09-13_10-12-34

The Galaxy Note 7 was a truly lovely phone, but with more reports coming in (including reports that other Samsung phones may be affected too), I thought it best that I returned the unit to Carphone Warehouse and get a refund.  Which I did. Amazingly, despite the recall and the press, they told me that this was still a phone very much in demand.  Unfortunately, I think that the reputation of this brand is now tarnished sufficiently that if I were to go travelling with it, it’d attract too much attention.

Update: As if exploding batteries weren’t enough, the S7 and S7 Edge are suffering with a caching bug which is causing all manner of problems.

So I’ve now gone for the iPhone 7 Plus.  It seems a safe(r) bet than many flagship Android phones at the moment anyway.  I was especially encouraged after reactivating my Apple Music subscription.  It’s proving to be a much smoother experience than last time (I think they key thing here is the lack of iTunes Match) – indeed, I downloaded a 456 track, 21-disc version of the D’Olye Carte Company’s recordings of Gilbert & Sullivan without any issues at all.  In one sitting.  So very promising.

Generally speaking, Apple isn’t a bad company at all.  I still have reservations for their cloud services and the dependency that many of its operating systems have on it, but ultimately providing one can take backups of everything on a regular basis, it really shouldn’t be a big concern.  I still say Apple should offer an AppleCare+ like product for iCloud, however.

iPhone 7 Unboxing Day

Update: Meanwhile, in Australia, Galaxy Note 7’s are banned on three Australian airlines. For how long is anybody’s guess, but as nobody can be sure that somebody is carrying a non-defective replacement, it’s probably better to be safe than sorry.

After iPhone7-mas, we’ll soon have iPhone Unboxing Day.  That’ll be September 16th.  But will I be trading my Samsung Galaxy Note 7 for a fancy pants iPhone 7 Plus?  Very likely given the very slick presentation, the phone’s telephoto lens, quad-core A10 processor (one pair for performance, another pair for efficiency), cinema colour optimised display, and – for me, this is perhaps the most important – a static force-touch home button with haptic feedback.

Very likely given the very slick presentation, the phone’s telephoto lens, quad-core A10 processor (one pair for performance, another pair for efficiency), cinema colour optimised display, and – for me, this is perhaps the most important – a static force-touch home button with haptic feedback. When I’ve used previous iPhones, I’ve always felt the home button to be something that could just stop working at any moment.  And indeed, this actually did happen (iPhone 5, I think).  So Apple to incorporate from other products (Mac’s touchpad) within its flagship smartphone product is a darn good move IMHO.  The fewer moving parts, the better.

Personally not bothered by the lack of a headphone socket.  Bluetooth has been a regular thing for me for over a year.  Like Apple, I believe the fewer cables the better.  Not interested in AirPods because I can imagine that even with the case they’re going to get lost.  Also, as somebody remarked on Twitter, it looks as though you’ve got tiny dicks in your ear (their words, not mine).

My journey back and forth between iOS and Android has been a very good learning experience.  There are many, many things I like about Android – but there is still the problem of fragmentation.  It’s considerably better than it used to be, and indeed the Galaxy S7 Edge has just received the September security update from Google (but missed out on the August one).  That I can swap out the default SMS/messenger software for a third party one is also commendable – although the Gear smartwatch software will have a right old moan about it.  I think next time I’ll invest in a second, cheaper Android phone (such as the OnePlus Three) as an Android device to ensure that I’m kept up to date with developments (also handy for dating purposes – I get very nervous handing out my phone number, and I’ve changed my number twice over the past three years).

One thing that interests me about going back to iOS, and also one of the thing that makes me the most nervous given my experience with Apple online services – is the use of iCloud to store one’s entire photo archive.  I still think Apple should – maybe as either part of AppleCare+ or similar – a paid SLA that protects the content of anything uploaded to their servers.  And/or allow third parties to be able to use all iCloud services to take backups of data (in the same way I pay a third party a nominal fee to backup my entire Google Apps account – email, Drive contents, etc).  Apple’s Photos app is still one of the strongest photo management tools I’ve come across and it makes it very easy to split photos into separate events.  With Adobe Lightroom, I find it to be a massive PITA organising photos into events.

Then there’s the dual lens system in the iPhone 7 Plus.  One wide angle lens, the other a telephoto lens to offer optical zoom for the first time in an iPhone.  With the promise of superior digital optical zoom thanks to a reworked Apple Image Processor combined with the optical zoom, photography on an iPhone looks to have been taken up quite a significant notch.  But what REALLY caught me eye was the (future) ability to take DLSR quality Bokeh photographs.  Just how well this is going to work in the real world has yet to be seen, but the demonstration photos shown in the presentation were extremely impressive.  I doubt that the iPhone 7 Plus’ camera will have an autofocus system as fast as that implemented by Samsung in its S7/Note 7 series, but I’ve never found it to be a big problem in the past.

The one thing that Apple really needs to work on is wireless charging.

As an aside, but still relevant, the Apple Watch Series 2 looks to be an excellent incentive to get swimming again.  Waterproof up to 50m with built-in GPS, you can now go running (and not get lost, or at least, track where you’ve been) and swimming (where a GPS won’t be much good – unless you’re planning on swimming the English Channel, I suppose) and keep a complete track of your activity.  It also tells the time.  But like the previous generation, the battery life is of similar strength.  You will have to charge the thing every 24 hours.

Meanwhile in Sonyland.. the PS4 Pro was announced.  UHD gaming, but absolutely no UHD Blu-Ray player.  Well done Sony (the creators of the Blu-Ray format).  They’ve said that “the PS4 is a primarily gaming machine”.  My argument to that is that if you’re providing the ability to playback Blu-Ray movies on disc, if you’re going to offer a UHD version, you should have UHD Blu-Ray player as a consequence….