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Alexa, can you finish my blog post?

19 Jun

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Connecting the home is nothing new, its been possible through services such as Apple’s HomeKit for a long time, but the market is finally embracing it head on and we should be prepared for smarter homes going into the second half of 2017 and even more so in 2018.

We are almost half way through 2017, and for the first time I am finding myself pondering over getting a ‘smart speaker’.

It is a strange realisation that I thought I wouldn’t be having until a few more years down the line at least. I have never used Siri on my phone, and smart speakers are essentially just a box that has a virtual assistant built into a speaker, so whats changed?

The Amazon Echo range came out late last year in the UK, very shortly followed by Google Home, and at the time they never really caught my attention. Virtual assistants just seemed to be too far off being useful to your average consumer, despite tech companies pushing ever more intelligent AI on us with each phone update.

Fast forward to now and after seeing one in action and how easy it is to change a track or turn up the volume on Spotify, my interest has peaked. That combined with the increasingly affordable Smart LED bulbs available (such as this), have made it a little more useful.

Having a smartly driven home is something that I think appeals to a lot of people, we have all seen it in the films, but never thought it would become a reality.

Well now, it kinda has. 2016 saw Mark Zuckerberg embark on a challenge to build an AI (Jarvis) that would make his home smarter and more efficient. Jarvis was able to do a number of things, including:

  • automatically open the front door to friends and family who he recognised
  • control the heating and lighting in the house
  • fire a t-shirt from a t-shirt cannon…

Mark has the resources and money to make a smart home a reality right now, and I really don’t think it will be far off before it is more affordable to all of us. The trend has begun and this year will see the start of the snowball which will continue over the coming few years. Imagine a home whereby your heating knows when you are on your way home so automatically turns on ready for you? The technology is there and waiting, it just needs the affordability and widely available integration to make it happen.

Amazon Echo Dot only retails at £49.99 in the UK, and it connects to many services that we already use, such as Spotify, Uber, and our favourite take-away apps. In the coming months we will begin to see its popularity and intelligence advance and force more and more services and hardware to adapt.

There are three main offerings:

  1. Amazon Echo £149.99 (or the Amazon Dot which is £49.99)
  2. Google Home £129
  3. Apple HomePod (not yet priced)

Right now I am not quite sure what I would recommend, as this wasn’t intended to be a comparison of the products, more of a gentle note that smartly connected living areas are no longer a fantasy of the future, there are a product of the now.

 

iPhone 6 – does size matter?

19 Sep

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Just over a week ago, Apple announced the next instalments of it’s flagship product – the iPhone. Today they followed up those announcements by releasing two new devices, and giving consumers a choice this time round, an option of two screen sizes.

A bigger screen is something that iPhone users have wanted for a long time, and it’s caused a lot of users to move to Android alternatives in search of more pixels, but is it too late for Apple to win back the customers who have taken the leap? It seems not. Reports have indicated a influx of trade ins for Samsung phones prior to the iPhone 6 release.

Today my new iPhone 6 arrived. I opted for the iPhone 6 over the iPhone 6 Plus because I have small hands and I think that 5.5″ is too big for standard day to day use of a phone. Going for the smaller of the two comes at a cost, we lose out on higher pixel density, battery life, image stabilisation and landscape mode.

Design

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Overall, I like the design of the phone, the curved edges take the phone back to its roots of the original phone through 3GS and gives the phone a smooth feel as it sits in your hand. One downside to this is that it feels loose in your hand, and without a case I can imagine it won’t be long until the phone will slip out of your grips.

The on/off button being on the side of the phone is strange, I still haven’t got used to it. I don’t feel that the move is justified on the iPhone 6, I can still reach the old position of the wake button just as easily as I did with my iPhone 5. As with older iPhones the buttons feel robust and responsive. This is my first iPhone with Touch ID and so far it has worked every time without fail. It’s going to take a while to get used to using it instead of my passcode though.

The protruding camera was an odd move for Apple, and although it will grow on me in time (especially as it’s hidden by my case) I don’t think it was a smart move. I can’t imagine it was a design choice, it was more likely because they couldn’t fit the sensor in the thinner design, I think i’d have been happy with a slightly thicker device to hold the full sensor, that would mean it would hold a bigger battery too.

I was expecting them to release some removable lenses (macro, wide angle) that could clip onto the extra rim of the camera. I doubt it will be long before someone else takes advantage of the idea.

Display

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The display on the larger screen looks great, it’s crisper and brighter than the previous versions. You can also see the improvements they’ve made with viewing angles. But you can tell the pixel density hasn’t increased, which is one of the biggest let downs for me. I cannot understand why they haven’t upped the PPI in this phone like they have done with the 6 plus. Possibly to leave room for improvement next year? Maybe.

So far i’ve had no issues with reachability, my hands are quite small but i’ve not had to adjust my normal tasks to accommodate for the bigger display. The new reachability mode as seen in the image above works well to prevent any pulled muscles in your fingers.

iOS 8

My first impressions of iOS 8 haven’t been great. It’s a buggy release. I downloaded iOS 8 on my iPhone 5 last week which instantly broke my nike running app, and I haven’t been able to get it working since. The phone has crashed a few times and i’ve noticed lag between tasks. I’ve also noticed the phone running hotter than usual across both devices. It’s dampened my opinion on iOS 8, and to me it’s the most disappointing iOS release to date.

The upside is that these are all software issues, so hopefully they will be fixed in an update soon.

Case

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I opted to go with the brown leather version of the case, as I have been impressed with my Apple Leather case for my iPhone 5 (See: The case that gives you a new phone). It is a nice case again, although I don’t prefer it over the iPhone 5 version. I don’t particularly like the lack of protection across the bottom and I preferred the tan colour to the brown. But overall it’s a nice, slim and stylish case that gives some friction to a somewhat slippy phone.

Battery

I’ve not had the phone long enough to conduct a proper battery test, but early indications seem to show a better battery life than my iPhone 5. It isn’t draining anywhere near as quickly as my iPhone 5 has been recently. I’ve read in some reviews that the iPhone 6 has been coming out with better battery life than the iPhone 6 Plus, but i’m not sure how true this is.

So, is bigger better?

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When the phone was announced last week I was unsure between going for the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus. Today I went down into the Apple Store to try out a iPhone 6 Plus and it made me realise I made the right choice. It is just too big for a phone. I can see that it would appeal to some people, but it’s defiantly not for me. The iPhone 6’s 4.7″ is a needed increase from the iPhone 5S, but I cannot see myself wanting a screen any bigger than that.

The upgrade was worthwhile from my two year old iPhone 5, but if I was an iPhone 5S owner and wasn’t bothered about the 0.7″ screen difference then I’d probably consider waiting out until next year. Touch ID is a good feature for me but is already on the 5S, and Apple Pay won’t be widely used for a few years. The camera quality is better, especially with the improvements in autofocus, but there is only so much they can do without upping the megapixel count.

To those sitting on the fence (Android users / previous iPhone users) you won’t be disappointed with the upgrade, especially if you want more real estate on your display.

Post PC era, reality or marketing ploy?

5 Jan

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First of all it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything – I think life may have just gotten in the way. But as I sit here feeling those January blues on this dreadful Sunday evening, I thought to myself I would make my Sunday even worse by using my brain for something productive.

Now that I’ve got the happy introduction out the way, let’s move on!

Post-PC Era is a term used to describe the decreased PC sales in favour of mobile devices (tablets and smart phones). With the rise of tablets over the past years the Post-PC Era is a phrase that has been thrown around a lot, and every time it is mentioned I still feel as uncomfortable as the first time I heard it.

When I think of Post-PC, I envision a world where tablets replace PC’s. This scares me. To an average consumer, it’s great, their device does everything they need it to using a simplified operating system. But to a more advanced power user it’s a nightmare. As much as device manufactures want to promote their device and applications with user productivity in mind, I strongly believe that you can not get the same amount of productivity out of a tablet.

At the start of the tablet era, just before Apple announced the first iPad, I was hoping (more than anything) that it would come with a feature rich, fully functional operating system. Alas, it didn’t, and productivity in the early days of tablets wasn’t to be seen. I will give it some credit through,  with the addition of better suited apps it is much better than it was.

But even to this day I couldn’t use my iPad as a device for website programming, it is just not practical. I need a fully functional operating system will full versions of applications. There is still so much that a tablet restricts you to.

I have been through various iPads – I’ve had the iPad 2, iPad mini and iPad mini retina. Each time I have purchased one I have questioned over and over how it will fit into my life. I have a phone that does everything I need on the go, and my laptop that I use for all my more advanced tasks. I could never replace my laptop with a tablet so why do I need a one when my current devices do everything the tablet would?

I don’t think the full sized iPad is the way to go. After my iPad 2 I was very much ‘anti-tablet’, it was too big and bulky and I hardly used it. I could have just carried around my laptop instead. It was too big to play games, read books, or watch movies on. So when Apple released the iPad Mini, my interest in tablets resurfaced, and eventually I purchased one.

The iPad mini is fantastic for reading books, it’s about the same size as a book so it just feels natural. The screen on the retina makes the text look crystal clear too. It’s also brilliant for playing games as it’s lightweight and easy to hold, and watching TV no longer requires a gym membership to hold the device up for long periods of time.

Even after being happy with my iPad mini, there was still doubt in my mind. How will this fit into my life? Will I stop using my phone or laptop? I don’t want any of my devices to be redundant!

Now I think it’s key to really think how tablets have emerged and become so popular, so quickly. It’s provided easier accessibility to the internet for people who were reluctant to use a big scary computer. Any idiot can pickup a tablet and use it, they are intuitive devices, and this is where the majority of their market share comes from. However, for the more ‘techy’ folk, this isn’t a replacement device, it’s a new device completely.

I still use my laptop for the more advance tasks and I use my phone for simple tasks (like making phone calls!!!). My iPad seems to have flown right in and settled as a new device in its own right.

At work I now use my iPad for listening to music, my phone doesn’t hold all my music but with the extra 16GB I have on my ipad I can store all my music. The free Deezer app that I get with my contract is great on the iPad for streaming music too. It’s great for quickly replyin

It’s that interim device that I can use when I am not on foot, such as at work or on a train commute. It doesn’t replace my existing devices – it extends them. It may mean that I use my phone and laptop less, but, thats all for good reason.

Yes – It has taken me 4 years to finally fit a tablet into my lifestyle.
No – The Post PC-Era is not reality, its a marketing ploy. A Post-PC Era indicates a time after PC’s.  Mobile devices will not replace PC’s (completely), they will work alongside them for a long time to come.

The case that gives you a new phone

22 Sep

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That time of year has come and gone again – Apple’s flagship phone launch. Once again it left me in a state of flux.
I currently own an iPhone 5, it is a fantastic device and was a worthwhile bump up from my 4S last year. Despite having it changed a few times for a number of issues (one of which within the past week or so), Apple’s support system takes the pain out of any problem I have faced. In all cases I’ve been in and out the Apple Store within 30 minutes holding a brand new phone.

The day after iOS7’s release I had booked a genius bar appointment because of dust under my camera lens causing issues with my photos. The usual procedure whereby they tell me they don’t do repairs, they just replace the handset with a “service” (refurbished) model.

I was totally fine with this, but was faced with a dilemma. One day before the iPhone 5S launch I had two options:

  1. Sell my now, brand new, iPhone 5 and buy myself an iPhone5s
  2. Stick out my soon to be out of warranty iPhone5

When it came to release day I was still torn, I contemplated walking into the Apple Store in my lunch break and buying one, and worrying about the consequences later. When I got there they were sold out, and I’m kinda thankful in hindsight, in case I had impulsively brought one. I did, however, end up purchasing something that I do not for one moment regret. One of the new leather cases.

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Regardless of if I had upgraded to the 5S, I already had my eye on these new cases. They are advertised as an iPhone5S case but they also fit the iPhone 5 perfectly. I have been waiting a long time for Apple to release a good, simple and smart case for the iPhone. It’s been long overdue and they have done a very impressive job. I’ve always liked the look of Samsung’s flip cases that you can now get for the Galaxy S, and surprised it has taken Apple so long to release a case to compliment their models.
Now I have a brand new iPhone 5 with a fresh new leather case that looks beautiful. I no longer feel as if my iPhone is last years model, it feels new again and the impulse to have the new one has faded. I can wait that extra 12 months for my contract to run out and I can get the iPhone 6.

The case is genuine leather with a suede inner to prevent the inside of the case scratching the phone. The phone sits in very snugly. I can imagine, being leather, that it will stretch the case after use so I plan to not take it out of the case too much.

The colour is a nice tan, looks great on black but looks even better on the white/silver phones. The colour you go for would be based on personal preference, tan is definitely my favorite. Colour will fade after use but this is not something I can review until a later date.

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The 5S is a nice phone, but other than the TouchID feature (and the fact I want to switch to a white version), it is not worth an upgrade if you own a iPhone 5 already. The processor is a big jump from the 5, but, early reports in testing have shown very little difference in speed between the iPhone 5 and 5s. Navigating your way around the phones UI will feel a seamless and fast on the 5s as it was on the 5. There isn’t a massive difference in speed like there have been in past years, the speed difference between the 3G and the 3GS, and the 4 and the 4S were sometimes enough to warrant an upgrade. But not this year.

If you aren’t bothered about the dual-LED camera and better optics, or the TouchID technology (which works amazingly well, it is truly innovative, no other company has come close to implementing as well as Apple have), then don’t upgrade. Wait until the 6, which will have these features plus a lot more.

iPhone 5 owners, go grab yourself a new case and you’ll forget the iPhone 5S exists. You’ll be £200 better off too.

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- DC

iPhone 5C… Crayola?

10 Aug

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No, of course not. It isn’t going to be called Crayola, but i’m not far off as iPhone 5 Colour seems like a very safe bet.

I haven’t blogged for a long time due to my lack of time to do so, despite spending the majority of my life sitting at a computer desk I do not have the time to allow my thoughts to be put into blog form. However, it’s getting to a very popular time of year in terms of technology, and this is a subject that I cannot pass up writing about.

It’s become no secret to the world that Apple are releasing a budget iPhone in the fall, no official announcement of the sort but an abundance of panel leaks have proven that we will be on the receiving end of a budget iPhone in an assortment of colours.

Why?

Well that is a good question. Many people might think that the iPhone is already a mass produced product, so why release a less powerful, plastic version when you can just get the latest high-spec one with diamond cut “chamfered” aluminum housing? To win over the cheap budget Android phone users is why.

Although a budget iPhone may not sway existing iPhone users to a new phone, it is certainly going to bring in a new wave of iPhone customers. Presently, people who have an iPhone can not only afford one, they generally want to have one. People that don’t have one are sitting on the fence of being unsure of owning one, and eying up that cheaper Android alternative.

There is a perfect gap in this market for Apple, they know they already have their existing high-end customers with the standard iPhone. The people who are caught on the fence, and ultimately end up going for a cheap Android handset on a £15/month contract will now have the option of a better quality iPhone alternative for roughly the same sort of money.

Maybe I am being bias here by saying the cheap Android aren’t good quality, but it is true. I have nothing against Android phones and the Galaxy S 4 is a fantastic phone, but it is up there with the same price range as the iPhone. The cheaper phones are rubbish, and if someone releases a high quality low spec phone it will be a massive goldmine for the first past the post.

The only mistake I see Apple are making with this launch is timing. As part of their yearly refresh of phones they have a major launch one year followed by a spec bump launch the following year, usually giving the iPhone a trailing “S” on the spec bumped model. By releasing the low budget coloured phones alongside the “S” model, may be enough to pull away the people who are sitting on an iPhone 5 and unsure of whether to upgrade to a 5S.

If you are one of these people, and are not satisfied with the difference between the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 5S, you may find yourself considering going for the C. As it’s something different and something new. Apple will have to be very careful not to pull away their current customers onto the cheaper model, they must market it perfectly for it to work and provide a clear gap between the two markets they are now targeting.

Apple may have lost some of its innovation since Steve Jobs, but they still have a huge team at their disposal, and if they market the iPhone 5C right it will be a huge success for them. I just hope that it’s followed closely by something new and innovative.

- DC

iOS 7 – A review of sorts

13 Jun

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If you had read my previous blog, you will have seen that Apple recently announced the next installment of their mobile operating system – iOS 7.

Since writing my last blog I have had the chance to download, install and use the operating system for a few days. I am starting to get to grips with it.

Prior to installing I was very skeptical about it. I did not like the idea of flat design as I believed that it was going against everything that Apple had always “been about”. I felt like Apple were giving in to their rivals, because lets be honest, there is nothing innovative about iOS 7. Its practically a polished up Android design.

One of the reasons I own Apple devices is because I’ve always liked the easy to use, skeumorphism designs that the company are known for, and turning to flat designs made me question if it would be better to go for another phone that have had more time to develop their ‘flat’ designs. Such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, which is a very nice phone indeed. However, after using the new operating system it is clear that Apple’s take on flat is very different, and much better than first pictured.

Ease of Use

Even though iOS 7 looks different to previous versions, you can tell that the six years worth of work that the team at Apple have put into this operating system still exists. The very core of the OS has not changed at all, it pretty much just has a new lick of paint with some added features.

Everything works in pretty much the same way, we have new features such as the control center that gives us features that our long loved jailbreak SBSettings has provided us with for many years now.

The only noticeable design change that has hindered the ease of use occurs mainly within the calender application and some other little aspects of the OS. The new design in many cases does not provide clear separation between different sections of various applications. It is most noticeable within the calendar app where by there is no separation between the months. You can see this within the screenshot below. It can be confusing and a clearer method of presentation could be used.

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Design

The design I believe is a refreshing update from what was a stale and outdated operating system. Although I was originally skeptical to move away from what I thought was great and worked the way I wanted, I now look back at iOS 6 on my old devices and wonder why I ever put up with the old clunky design. The new IOS makes much better use of the retina display too, the lockscreen is beautiful.

There is more good news about iOS 7 too, according to reports it is still in its very early stages of design. Between now and the public release there are going to be many different design changes to the OS, meaning we should not worry about some of those awful looking icons, as they are most definitely not here to stay.

Jony Ive has also reported that it wasn’t actually his own design team that worked on the icon set for iOS 7. He passed on the task to the company’s marketing and website design team. A strange but clever move, because after all, why use the same designers that have been working on the old design when you could bring something fresh to the mix?

I am very excited to see what the final product will look like. Jony Ive has only had 6 months to put this together, he now has a further 3ish months to finish the job properly.

RIP SBSettings.

-DC

iOS7: Flattened all over

10 Jun

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Well, as expected – say goodbye to skeuomorphism and hello to flat.

It’s been half an hour since the WWDC ended and all through the event I kept seeing parts of the new iOS that I did not like, to begin with I hated the icons, they looked like Apple had fired all their designers and used a free source icon set they found on Google. But when picking the photo to use for this blog post, my opinion had already changed. I like them.

Change is never good, except when it is. At first people don’t like change if it is too different, it puts people off when they have to sway away from what they are used to.

This is what will happen with iOS 7, people will see all these changes and their minds will go into overdrive trying to work out how this new system works. This in turn will make them want to hold onto something they are used to – iOS 6.

We all wanted change and that is exactly what we got. I imagine it will be a huge success and people will grow to like it. I can already feel myself liking the things I didn’t like to begin with, I’m sure this will continue.

Throughout the announcement I couldn’t help but think that if Steve Jobs and Scott Forstall were still at Apple then this (flat design akin to other phones) would not have happened, the move goes against everything that Apple used to stand for. A lot of people will argue that Apple has changed since Steve passed, we are still waiting to see if this will be a good thing.

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There are certainly some design elements that Apple could improve on in iOS 7, they could have done SO much better. The look of “Control Centre” for example, is atrocious, they could have made it look so much nicer. To me, its the most disgusting feature I have seen on a phone, and goes against everything Apple have ever said about “Simple, beautiful design”.

If you really think about it though, this is only the start of flat design at Infinity Loop. It has its flaws but I will still use it in hope I will grow to like the new designs or they will change. Thinking back to iOS 1, it was horrible compared to iOS 6. Here is to iOS 13.

- DC