When mobile phones outsmart DSLRs

I’ve always enjoyed taking photographs and have owned a number of standalone cameras in my time.  I never enjoyed 35mm film cameras because of the fiddly nature of spooling the film into the camera, so was very happy when I got my first ever digital camera way back in the year 2000.  It was a Sony Cybershot.  It was a big clunky camera.  My most recent was another Sony Cybershot (the well received RX100 MkIII).  Tiny thing.  But I’ve just sold that.

Why?

I’ve come to realise that I just don’t like carrying around two devices that now do the same thing.  In fact, the device that’s replacing it does more – it can automatically tag photos with location data which makes it much easier to identify where a photo was taken.

So..

I’m buying a Samsung Galaxy Note 7.  I already own the Galaxy S7 Edge (which will be sold to make up the shortfall when the Note 7 arrives), and both devices share the same camera optics.  The S7 Edge has taken some of the most impressive photographs I’ve seen from a camera phone to date.  It uses dual pixel technology as found in the Canon 70D camera (which has only just found its way into the new and pricey Canon 5D Mark IV) which means super fast auto focus.  It behaves extraordinary well in low light situations.  In Pro mode, one can generate RAW files.  In short – you’ve got professional camera features in a mobile telephone.

Let them eat cake - photo taken with Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (full auto) - click image for full size
Let them eat cake – photo taken with Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (full auto) – click image for full size

But why the Note 7 in particular when the S7 Edge and Note 7 share such similar specifications?  The first is the S-Pen.  Steve Jobs has always dismissed styluses for phones, but the Note 7 is more than that.  With the Note 7, you can write directly on the screen when the phone isn’t in use and save them.  As I’m always taking down notes, this is going to be a much-used feature.  The second is the curved screen isn’t pronounced.  My biggest problems with the S7 Edge is that I whenever I grip the sides, it results in accidental app launches and whatnot if the phone is unlocked.  Then there’s the slightly larger size over the S7 Edge (a whole .2 inches).  I have large hands, therefore a larger phone suits me better.  Then there is the refined user interface, the iris scanner (though as I wear glasses, I don’t think I’ll get much use of that feature).  The Note 7 is the first Samsung phone to incorporate blue light reduction which I find very useful before heading off to sleep.

I have made the decision to stick with the Samsung Galaxy Note series for future mobile phone tech.  Samsung has taken the lead over Apple (who are currently embroiled in the iPhone 6/6 Plus “touch disease” fiasco).  In particular, I trust Google’s services far more over Apple’s (especially given I have a proper SLA with Google for Google Apps for Work – no such SLA exist with any of Apple’s online services;  I fear that one day,  as Apple integrates its online services even more tightly into MacOS and iOS, they will seriously muck it up, leaving vulnerable Apple users with lost data).  I’m also with Intel in saying that if you’re going to go down a fully digital audio route for headphones and the ilk, USB-C is a better medium than Apple’s own ecosystem.

All these features within a single unit that I carry about every single day and hardly leaves my side.  It’s strange to think how far mobile phone technology has become.  The S7 Edge/Note 7 processors contain neural net technology for crying out loud!  It is a computer, it is a phone, it is a compass, it is a satnav, it is a pro camera.  It’s no wonder why mobile phones have become so popular.

 

Breaking Bad Apple: Firmware update bricks my iPad Pro

I have a 9.7″ iPad Pro to go along with the 12.9″ model, because if you’re reading magazines, books or anything that requires holding the device more than 5 minutes, your arm will ache when using its bigger brother.

So you imagine how extremely hacked off I was when Apple rolled out a new firmware update for iOS last week which worked perfectly well against my iPhone and bigger iPad, but subsequently bricked the newest member of the team.

When I say bricked, it bricked it good.  It’s completely unusable at the moment. I can’t restore from backups, and I can’t restore from an earlier firmware (especially after Apple rolled out a new version of iTunes).  As such, and as I’ve been unwell, I’ve made an appointment to go to London after work tomorrow to get the iPad replaced (reports indicate that Apple are swapping out the units after their own restore processes have failed).

The thing about the restore process, BTW, is that it requires a Mac or PC.  So much for Apple advertising the iPad Pro range as replacement computers.  How can that be if you need a blasted PC to be able to restore firmware?!

Having invested heavily in Apple over the years (although one should say I should have invested in shares, not the gadgets), I am finding myself losing faith and trust in the company every time something bad happens.  And it’s been happening a lot of late (especially with Apple Music, which has been a massive disaster in my eyes).  Recent iOS and to a lesser extent, OS X, updates, have been bug ridden piles of nonsense which should never have seen public release.  I can’t imagine how much testing goes on, but clearly it’s not enough.

The only thing is that unless you’re actively reading tech news, you might not have known there was a problem with the 9.3.2 update for 9.7′ iPad Pros.  Apple sure as hell will email the hell out of you to try and buy their latest product – but if they subsequently remove firmware for a product you own (that’s in warranty) after they’ve discovered a problem – no matter the scope of the problem – forget it.  They rarely apologise for their muck-ups.

So now I’ve got to pay more money to take the train to London and get somebody to swap out the product.  It may well be a refurbished model at that.  Marvellous.

I’d like to go back to a Windows based PC and move to Android, but neither platform is able to do what I want it to do.  At least not completely.  And without cost.   I appreciate nothing’s perfect, but I expect much higher standards from Apple who go out their way to convince you they care about the customer.  This appears to no longer be true.  Apple need to step up to the plate, admit they’ve caused significant problems for customers (regardless of how small or big the problem is) and get it fixed – without cost to the customer.  It’s their ecosystem, their responsibility.

Music streaming is a steaming pile of..

.. nonsense.

Apple Music is now seriously beginning to get on my .. feathery friends.  Not everything is its fault, but plenty of it is.  You see, the biggest problem with music streaming is in the licensing of tracks and albums.  Once a license runs out, the tracks are removed without any notice to you, the subscriber.

None of the services I know of (Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, Google Play Music, etc.) provide any warning or expiry date as to when tracks or albums will be removed.  They just vanish!

But perhaps what’s worse (I’m typing this on an iPad Pro with no easy access to the image concerned, but that’ll come a bit later – thanks, Apple, so much for “PC replacement”!) is that Apple Music will offer albums, but many are incomplete.  Take the case of the soundtrack to the new film, Florence Foster Jenkins (music by the wonderful Alexandre Desplat).  Only ONE track from the album is available on Apple Music.  Add the album to your collection, that one track is there sticking out like a sore thumb.

ONE track available out of an entire album.  This was the straw that broke this camel's back.
ONE track available out of an entire album. This was the straw that broke this camel’s back.

Also take the Deadpool album.  It too is on Apple Music, but one of the iconic themes is not available on that album, but it is available on another.  Apple Music makes absolutely no effort to link to the same tracks available elsewhere within its catalogue.  Spotify has no problem with this.

I’ll have to reconsider my options towards the end of this month.  Not sure I can justify £9.99 a month to a service which is still just too buggy, still too incomplete to be a non-beta service.

Update: Cancelled iTunes Match and Apple Music.  Gone back to Spotify, and I’m using STAMP Premium to convert my Apple Music playlists to Spotify.  Apple need to give their developers a big kick up the arse.  There has been so little improvement to how the catalogue operates, and when you’re still encountering server errors, this is completely unacceptable.

Apple Music: Buggier than a buggy thing in the land of insects

Updates (15th September 2016)

  • I’ve gone back to Apple Music.  Apple appears to have done quite a decent job of fixing everything that was plaguing this service.  With the recent release of iTunes 12.5.1.21, everything works beautifully.  More info here.

Updates (3rd May 2016)

  • With more and more albums missing tracks (last straw was a soundtrack album with ONE available track out of 14 unavailable), more server errors, and general PITA bugs, Apple Music is dead to me.  I’ve gone back to Spotify and am using STAMP Premium to convert playlists.

Updates (8th March 2016)

  • Apple Music/iTunes Match continues to bugger about with metadata.  I have half-complete albums from Apple Music with different artwork and tracks that are no longer available.  Manually uploaded/ripped albums have had their cover art changed DESPITE me manually setting it.
  • Considering moving back to Spotify.

Updates (16th December)

  • Or if you have one track – let’s say the Mad Men soundtrack in which the show’s title track, R2J2’s A Beautiful Mine – isn’t available for whatever reason, but you  if search, you can obtain the official album from which it comes from along with the missing track (in this case, Magnificent City Instrumentals).  With Spotify, if the track isn’t licensed for that album, it’ll make it available from an album that is available – thus you have the full album.  A kind of deduplication, as it were.

Updates (latest 9th December)

  • iOS 9.2 released.  UI is certainly an improvement, but Apple Music still suffers from “split album” syndrome in which for some inexplicable reason, tracks shared across multiple albums (regardless of whether you own/rent them or not) are split into their own separate albums. This is a Apple Music backend issue which has been persistent since launch (and a bloody annoying one).

Updates (latest 6th December)

Updates (latest 15th November)

  • Search is broken with iTunes (but fine with iOS).  Just the spinning wheel of doom if you try to drill down songs or albums.  Apparently this has been acknowledged by Apple according to this forum post. (UPDATE: Fixed, at least for me, since the 18th)

Updates (latest 22nd October)

  • The most annoying thing right now is if you’re in album mode (iTunes 12.3.1), have recent albums shown, and play more than one track within an album – the focus brings you right back to the top of the albums list – taking you completely out of the album you were listening to.

Updates (latest 18th September)

  • iOS 9 update appears to kick streaming music into gear – feels a little faster between selecting a track and hearing it.
  • iTunes 12.3 seems to bring a bit more stability.  One improvement I’ve noticed is that I’ve been able to download previously hidden purchases.   It was, until recently, as stubborn as a mule.

Updates (latest 1st September)

  • Tim Burton’s Batman Original Motion Picture Score has changed to 75th Years of Marvel and soundtrack order has been re-arranged.  Batman Returns score remains untouched.  Under iOS, a TV theme album was suddenly split into lots and lots of separate titles.
  • Apple Music under iOS 8.4.1 has started playing silly buggers.  Try to stream non-offline content and you’ll be asked to join Apple Music.  But I’ve already subscribed!  Rebooting the device seems to fix this for a while.  Apparently this is a “known issue”. Offline content seems to be unaffected.

Updates (latest 26th August)

  • Apple Music is, more or less, playing much more nicely now.  I have found that there are some problems with using other devices (namely my work Mac and my iPhone) syncing properly.  To resolve this involves either rebooting the iPhone or turning off iCloud Music Library (on the iPhone this is bad – you’ll lose offline music) and turning it back on again.
  • I now have over 75Gb of Apple Music content stored offline on my home Mac, around 20Gb on my iPhone 6, and about 10Gb on my work Mac.

Updates (latest 19th August)

  • The iCloud Music Library unavailable status is becoming more regular now, preventing me from downloading purchased music (which is the biggest frustration of all – if I buy from an iOS device, I have to wait until the status clears before I can download to my Macs)
  • Despite my overall disappointment in Apple Music, when it works – it works extremely well.  Therefore, I’m going to subscribe despite all these problems.

Updates (latest 16th August)

  • Unfortunately, we’ve gone back to being able to use Apple Music for about 5-10 minutes before getting the “iCloud Music Library is unavailable message” and not being able to do anything for up to three hours.
  • Have found that when using iOS version of Apple Music during the “iCloud Music Library is unavailable” error in iTunes can cause sync problems when iTunes does reconnect to the iCloud Music Library.  You then have to add albums/tracks manually in iTunes.
  • And there’s this:
An error, you say?
An error, you say?
  • The artwork on iTunes is now screwing up quite regularly.  The following is from the Minions Original Soundtrack (yeah, don’t ask):
Funny looking Minions!
Funny looking Minions!

Updates (latest 15th August)

  • I’ve been using Apple Music with iTunes and iOS today for 4 hours straight without any “iCloud Music Library is unavailable” error messages.  I’ve been able to download a fair number of albums for offline use with just a few download errors – and even then, the tracks that failed to download the first time were subsequently downloaded by clicking the refresh button.  Let’s hope this is a sign that things are improving!
  • There is, however, still a problem with hidden music.   I’m struggling to download music that was hidden (which I think happened at one point whereby I nuked my iTunes library in the process to trying to get Apple Music working).  Clicking either “Unhide All” or individual albums or songs only seems to release some music (which you can download through the iTunes Store -> Purchased link).  Some tracks I’ve been trying to unhide for a couple of weeks to no avail.

Updates (latest 13th August)

  • Apple has just released OS X 10.10.5, iTunes 12.2.2.25 and iOS 8.4.1 which fixes a few Apple Music related bugs.  It still isn’t good enough, however.
  • The good news: the complete album problem looks to be fixed.  If you have a few tracks from an album (whether purchased from iTunes or uploaded via iTunes Match/Apple Music from other sources), you can now add all the tracks from the album from Apple Music without having to delete your original purchased/uploaded music.  It bloody works!  Hoorah!
  • More good news: Apple looks to have fixed the issue where it was splitting albums into sub-albums.  It appears to have happened whenever a track in a compilation album appears elsewhere.
  • The bad news: Some artwork has been mixed up.  iTunes 12.2.2.25 is still laggy (even on a 2014 MacBook Pro Retina) – laggy enough that if you’re downloading tracks and are attempting to add tracks from Apple Music to an existing album, you end up adding the same tracks over and over again – creating duplicates.
A laggy/busy iTunes can cause many duplicates to appear if you keep hitting the "Add" button.
A laggy/busy iTunes can cause many duplicates to appear if you keep hitting the “Add” button.
  • Even worse news: Apple still has not fixed the bloody “iCloud Music is unavailable” problem whereby iCloud Music Library goes away for a few hours.  During this time, you can’t add or download music from Apple Music or the iTunes store (including already purchased tracks).  It appears to be a server-side issue.
Nope - you can't play with Apple Music because iCloud Music Library has buggered off somewhere.
Nope – you can’t play with Apple Music because iCloud Music Library has buggered off somewhere.
  • Despite resetting my iCloud Music Library completely (since I’m a former – and present – iTunes Match subscriber), the bloody thing STILL misidentifies tracks in the iCloud Music Library.  iTunes remains convinced that a Gilbert & Sullivan collection I added in Apple Music is “matched” rather than belonging to Apple Music.
  • Can I only reset the iCloud Music Library once?  The option to try and reset my iCloud Music Library has vanished from my iTunes

Updates (latest 23rd July): 

  • Good (well, it’s not good, but you know what I mean)  to see somebody else experience the pain in the AaaS (Apple As A Service – pronounced “ass” or “arse”) that is Apple Music.  Apple Music is a nightmare (Jim Dalrymple).
  • An IP belonging to Apple has visited this blog post over the past few days.  I hope they’re paying attention.  If it turns out that it’s somebody browsing in an Apple Store, I’ll be quite disappointed.
  • After iTunes 12.2.1.16’s release, I tried removing all content from all iOS devices and trashed my iTunes folder on my Mac, deleting everything in my Music directory on my Mac.
  • After nuking iTunes, I downloaded all previous iTunes purchases and imported everything else I had purchased from outside of iTunes.  I then reset my iCloud Music Library through iTunes -> Account -> View Account menu to ensure that any content is flagged up correctly by iCloud.
  • But it’s all still very, very buggy.  Even doing everything above, downloading any reasonable number of songs or albums will lead to the dreaded Unavailable iCloud Music Library error, and you can’t do anything for several hours.  It’s had the additional effect of not being unable to download anything on iOS which, when iCloud Music Library comes back, requires me to reboot my iPhone to get the downloads to work – it’ll be stuck indefinitely otherwise.
  • There are still issues where iTunes or the iOS music player wants to split “albums” into separate sub-albums.  Plus there is another bug that, to see a complete Apple Music album where you have one or more tracks you’ve purchased individually, you have to delete the purchased tracks to make way for the Apple Music ones.  It also means having to remove the album too and re-add it.
  • In short: Apple Music is a poorly designed, bug-ridden pile of crap that should never have been released this early.  It feels like a rush job.

Previous Updates

  • If iTunes 12.2 is not in focus, and you’re using a web browser (any will do) while music is playing, you’ll experience substantial stuttering during music playback until iTunes is back in focus.
  • Things seem to be settling down iCloud Music Library connection wise in iTunes, but there are still many “Waiting” iCloud Library statuses and tracks cannot be played.  To further confuse matters, some tracks ARE playable but still have the “Waiting” status.
The much publicised Taylor Swift album is there, but why are three tracks unavailable (to stream or otherwise)?
The much publicised Taylor Swift album is there, but why are three tracks unavailable (to stream or otherwise)?
  • Licensing of tracks is horribly inconsistent and poorly implemented.  Take the Vikings TV series original soundtrack (series 1).  The title track by Fever Ray (“If I Had a Heart”) is not available on the soundtrack, but it exists within Fever Ray’s album and as a single on Apple Music.  But you can’t access it within the Apple Music’s Vikings track listing at all EVEN if you’d added Fever Ray’s album to your Apple Music collection (offline or not).  It’ll show as being greyed out and unplayable.  So Apple Music can’t scan its entire catalogue to make tracks available to an existing album if the whole album isn’t licensed.

I have stated on many occasions that I have concerns over the QA of new Apple products and services (case in point, a brand new MacBook Pro and FileVault problems straight out the box).  Apple Music is no exception.

It’s brave that a company the size of Apple, with the resources it has available to it, that it can release a fresh new music streaming service to over 100 countries simultaneously.  That, in addition to releasing new updates to two operating systems and various other product updates.

For me, updating to iOS 8.4 went remarkably smoothly.  Signing up to Apple Music likewise.  But in practice, the service cannot match that of existing services such as Spotify or Deezer, who have had time to refine their catalogue and applications.  To say the iOS version of Apple Music is hideous is an understatement.   The screens are cluttered, and the submenu that allows to you to do various bits and bobs is far too unwieldy to be practical.

As for Apple Music’s catalogue – so much is missing from my Spotify playlists I’m wondering what the hell happened with those high-level discussions Apple had with the various record companies.  On the other hand, there is stuff in the Apple Music catalogue that’s not available on Spotify.  To compare, Apple Music has a much better contemporary selection, but its back catalogue is far too spotty in comparison with more established services.  It may change, of course, but for the time being if you’re hoping to match like-for-like with your Spotify playlists, you’re going to be disappointed.

Searching for content on Apple Music is straight forward enough, but suffers from the iTunes Store search problem I keep experiencing in that you have to be very specific otherwise you’ll end up with weird results.  Usually, the first couple of words followed by the artist should match pretty well.

A big frustration with Apple Music is that you can’t create playlists on the fly.  You have to create them beforehand prior to adding tracks to them.  It is an issue that’s replicated within iTunes 12.2 as well (but more on that later).  You can seemingly nest playlists, but there’s a whole bunch of fiddling to do first.  It’s an enormous PITA.

Downloading Apple Music offline in iOS is relatively straightforward – but you must remember to do this after adding the tracks (or go straight to “Download for offline use”).  Adding the album or tracks and not doing this later will result in a frustrating experience thanks to the clunky interface.

Apple released iTunes 12.2 much later than planned, and while it’s an improvement on 12.1.2, using Apple Music with it is one of the most frustrating experiences imaginable and does not come close to that of Spotify’s app.  Whether it’s iTunes Match interfering with Apple Music or not, or whether it’s Apple’s servers going doolally, or some other issue I’m not aware of, accessing the iCloud Music Library consistently fails.

cloud_fail

The cloud symbol that indicates iTunes is “unable to connect to your iCloud Music Library”.  It does this frequently.  You can be adding albums or tracks and then suddenly the cloud symbol above pops up.  It often fails to vanish for many hours.  Some say it has something to do with an existing iTunes Match subscription, but who the hell knows.  All I know is that Apple clearly haven’t done enough Q&A on this service to have it fixed in time for launch.   I’ve submitted a ticket to Apple Support about this because there’s bugger all information on the Apple service status page about any issues with iCloud Music.


Note: This connection bug only seems to affect iTunes 12.2 on the desktop – the iOS client appears to be largely unaffected by it, but it’s difficult to tell due for sure to lack of decent UI feedback under iOS.


Errors galore!
Errors galore!
You log in, log out, deauthorise, reauthorise, and this still bloody happens. #iClownMusicLibrary
You log in, log out, deauthorise, reauthorise, and this still bloody happens. #iClownMusicLibrary

The following demonstrates the many statuses of iCloud files in your new, improved (read: bloody mangled) iTunes library (read: cesspit).  Click each image to expand.

Managing tracks, when Apple Music/iCloud Music Library is rarely working, is a much nicer experience than the iOS client, but there are many times in which iTunes feels very sluggish and unresponsive – even streaming directly from Apple’s servers.

Apple Music has potential, but it’s technical shortcomings are highly apparent and feels like the service is an afterthought rather than a carefully crafted service with a decent user experience in mind.  It comes nowhere the quality or capability of Spotify, Deezer et al. other than the Beats 1 radio show that is rather nifty.  That’s where Apple Music shines – but for everything else, it’s bloody awful. It feels as if Apple doesn’t care at all for the user experience.  You and I know that’s not true, of course, but you’d be hard pushed to see that when using Apple Music across iOS and Mac devices.

Thank goodness Apple gives everybody three month’s free trial.  But is it a trial or unpaid beta testing?  I’m edging towards the latter.

I strongly urge those considering moving from other services to stick with what you have for the time being – you’ll get a far better experience both technically and in back catalogue titles.  Apple will, hopefully, fix the technical gremlins that currently plague the service – but I dread to think how long this will take and how many different software iterations we’ll have to go through to get there. Hopefully, it’ll be less than three months.

I’m going to try and persevere with it, because with a bit of love and polish, Apple Music COULD be a worthy competitor.  But at the moment, it’s like watching a bunch of clowns honking their way through the “cloud” (weather warning: adverse weather conditions for the next few weeks) in their clown cars scrambling to fix stuff that should have been fixed way before the public launch.

AaaS (pronounced “ass” or “arse”) – Apple As A Service needs some serious work if it’s to be taken seriously by the public.

*Honk* *Honk*