New iPhone – you decide

Actual photo taken with iPhone 5s. Image courtesy Apple.
Actual photo taken with iPhone 5s. Image courtesy Apple.

So the announcement has now come and gone for the new iPhones. Do you have a decision to make? Perhaps it’s already made, and come September 20 you will be lining up for a shiny or colourful new device. Alternatively, you may be completely underwhelmed by the latest offering from Apple, though I expect millions won’t be, and sales demand will be as strong as ever.

Why you should(n’t) buy a new iPhone

I always find articles with these titles somewhat bemusing. What? You don’t actually know whether you want or need a new phone? Granted, most of us do not need a new phone, we just want a new one. Fair enough, go buy it. Your money, spend it how you like. By all means read about features, improvements, options (now iPhone 5s or iPhone 5c) and the like, though I do not believe the decision should really be that hard.

For me, I am currently in a contract, though my wife will soon be out of hers (both iPhone 4s models currently). Occasionally we swap phones depending on who might want or perhaps be better suited to a newer model. This time? We are not really sure as yet – did someone not just say the decision shouldn’t be that hard? Correct, and it’s not, however until our preferred carrier releases their plans/pricing, we will reserve our decision.

My Considerations

iPhone 5c
Firstly, the iPhone 5c is not for me for two reasons. Though it is no doubt a great phone, having a coloured phone is not my preference. Secondly, the fact that I do not like the additional thickness of a case on my phone, precludes the option to change this by covering the colour with a case. Though in saying this, there is an option for white.

There we go, 50% of the new product range ruled out. One key point here is that Apple have made it quite clear they will not compete on price. The iPhone 5c is basically a colourful iPhone 5, and unsurprisingly will essentially retail at similar prices, particularly on a 2 year contract. The idea here is simple – this is Apple, we make quality products that are worth paying a little more for. Some thoughts on this philosophy and the experience of owning such a product can be found in an excellent article by Ben Thompson on his blog stratechery.

iPhone 5s
So in considering the iPhone 5s, where do we start. For some, such as Shawn Blanc, a few key features such as the Camera, TouchID, and M7 Coprocessor are key considerations, and the article is a concise overview of the rationale on why this is the case.

I have linked to Shawn’s article, as it contains many similarities to my current thinking on the new features, though I also consider the new A7 chip with 64 bit architecture to warrant a mention for me. I think it is worthwhile upgrading every few years to a faster processor (and this one sounds pretty quick), though I would not really consider my current iPhone 4s to be slow in any way. Also, any improvement in 3G/LTE connectivity is always welcome.

One point on the M7 “motion” coprocessor, which is a dedicated tiny chip separate from the main A7 processor. I recently wrote an article on the app Human, which tracks movement and overall activity through the iPhone’s built in motion and location tracking services. That app has been deleted from my phone. Overall performance was good, however it sucked the absolute life out of my battery. The M7 processor aims to change all that, as Apple states:

It’s designed specifically to measure motion data from the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass — a task that would normally fall to the A7 chip. But M7 is much more efficient at it. Now fitness apps that track physical activity can access that data from the M7 coprocessor without constantly engaging the A7 chip. So they require less battery power.

Thanks Apple. Problem solved.

Conclusion

Whether to upgrade or not is simply a matter of having a look at the new features that may be relevant to you, and comparing the price point at which they are offered (don’t forget that come September 18 and iOS 7, everything will look new anyway – and this is free). Do you want it? Can you afford to have it? Often the former question is easier to answer than the latter, but that is up to you.

A bit of further reading if you like:

Advertisements

Human for iPhone

Human4

Human is a recently released free app for iPhone that is designed to track and encourage users to achieve at least 30 minutes of physical activity or movement per day. It joins many other systems such as the Fitbit, Jawbone Up, Nike+ Fuelband, and apps like Runkeeper currently on the market, however the philosophy differs to these offerings. The overall philosophy behind Human is to provide simple, elegant and meaningful data about your daily activity entirely through your iPhone, with an emphasis on the health benefits of achieving at least 30 minutes of daily movement (The Daily 30).

Human was released in the App Store on August 31, with a further update on September 5, said to improve both movement detection/tracking and battery life – two critical features for the success of the app. Users of these types of products expect (and rightly so) accuracy of information without excessive drain on battery life. Having just activated my account, I have not yet had the chance to determine what impact the app has on battery life though it is something I will be monitoring. From the developers:

Human is a passive tracker, which means that the software runs in the background of your phone, and tracks your activity automatically. You don’t have to check-in, log, or record anything manually. We access your phone’s location services and sensors to achieve this. Our primary concern has always been tracking activities accurately without draining too much battery life.

Why Human?

My interest in Human came about as I spend the usual work week sitting at a computer (to the detriment of my overall health and productivity), however routinely walk when I get the chance, getting off the bus two stops early in the morning (after a 45–60 minute commute), with additional walks mid morning and at lunch time. I am keen to see how much of this incidental activity actually stacks up.

To do this, I require an app I do not have to think about, one that will provide accurate results, and equally as important, something that is visually interesting and thoughtfully designed. I have said this before and will say it again now and no doubt in the future, ugly apps have absolutely zero appeal to me, regardless of the feature set (though I acknowledge the eye of the beholder). Finally, I prefer not to wear any additional receiver on my wrist or anywhere else, so using my phone for the entire process also appeals to me.

Using Human

Once an account is set up, the app really is a set and forget system, though you are obviously required to have your phone with you for measurement to occur. Checking the app a few times today showed my progress towards the 30 minutes with an elegant dial, and upon tapping this, a timeline of activities so far (see below).

Human2

Activity is logged in various categories including walking, running, biking, and transport (vehicle etc). Upon reaching 30 minutes of activity in a day, users receive a push notification advising this has been achieved. This app is not filled with excessive statistical data, nor does it provide a timeline of all activity on launch – two positive features as far as I am concerned. If I’m after more specific details around an interval workout, I will continue to use Runkeeper, however as mentioned above, I am simply looking to assess my incidental activity over the course of the day. It doesn’t hurt to receive a pat on the back once you get there either:

Human3

The beauty of Human lies in its simplicity in both measuring your movement (which goes completely unnoticed, with nothing to wear, launch or log), as well as the flexibility in allowing input of various activities (30 minute gym workout for example) or changing those that may have been inaccurately tracked. For example, an 8 minute drive was today picked up as running, which was easily corrected, though may be worth keeping an eye on for accuracy. Reverting incorrectly assigned modes of movement is easily done, and does not require you to remember what the activity was, as it is visually represented on a map within the change screen. The usual sharing options to Facebook and Twitter are also available.

An article by The Verge compares the various systems currently available for tracking and measuring both overall activity and individual workouts, and other reviews of Human can be found at Techcrunch and again at The Verge.

I am looking forward over the coming weeks to see whether my intermittent walking affords the benefits I think they are, though regardless of whether I achieve “the daily 30”, they are certainly worth their ‘head clearing’ benefits. Given my son was with me today in achieving the daily 30, I wonder if we can claim 60 all up…

Human for iPhone is available free in the App Store now.

Time for an iOS app spring clean?

MyPhotoWall (1)

Post WWDC 2013, I wrote a little about the upcoming changes to iOS 7, including some of my expectations around the change.

As the public release of this next version of Apple’s mobile operating system looms closer, more and more information is coming to light on developer progress and approaches, including results from a survey by Twitteriffic developer Craig Hockenberry:

Of 575 valid responses, 545 developers indicated that they were working on an update for iOS 7. That’s an adoption rate of 95%!

In addition, from Macstories:

From what I’ve seen (and heard) so far, it looks like releasing new, paid, separate versions of apps for iOS 7 will be a common trend among developers.

In light of the above, it is probably an ideal time to do a spring clean of your apps, or at least consider what you are using and how. Will you be prepared to purchase a new, paid update for an iOS 7 optimised version of your favourite app?

For me, the answer is a resounding yes, particularly for any apps that are in heavy use in my workflow. Whilst at this point, the above is merely opinion on what may eventuate, those around and within the developer community would have a fairly good idea on what is to come.

Personally, I have no problem paying for an update to an app that takes full advantage of all that will be on offer in iOS 7, however I would have second thoughts with the apps I use less often. Remember, a paid upgrade will provide support to app developers for further enhancements, and may add to the likelihood your favourite app will stick around and see upgrades and added features in the future.

The second question then for me, is whether an upgrade to the operating system will bring me back to any of the native iOS apps. I am currently using third-party apps for email (Mailbox), calendar (Week Cal), notes (Drafts) and reminders (Due). Although it is unlikely we will see third-party apps able to be used as defaults, should there be a compelling reason for me to return to the native apps, I may do so. However the power of Drafts for example is unlikely to be surpassed by anything Apple would have to offer.

What drives me to change an app? Looks? Feel? Function? Primarily function, however I prefer not to use ugly or seemingly disjointed apps simply for one feature they may have above others. It probably comes down to a combination of each of these factors.

We’ll see in a month or two, however in the mean time, have a think about how your apps fit your workflow and consider what actions you may take once the iOS 7 upgrade reaches public release.

 

Riding the Upgrade Cycle

English: Apple iPad 2 launch.
Apple product launch. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Technology moves at a rapid pace these days, and reflection on the various ways we use it is often bypassed in the search for, or acquisition of, the next ‘big’ or ‘shiny new’ thing.

As far as Apple technology is concerned, we are all supposedly waiting on the retina iPad Mini 2; iPad 5, and iPhone 5s (or however Apple specifically choose to name them). Even greater hype surrounds the possibility of an iWatch (again, whether or not this would be the name of such a product or if it even exists).

Why should we reflect on what we have, rather than what we may want to get? Simply because it is well worth considering whether upgrading will, in reality, better serve your needs. In posing this question, you may genuinely believe a newer model will enhance your productivity or be more useful to you, over and above upgrading merely for the sake of it.

There is no doubting the amazing power and capability of the current products on the market, which will become more so with even further technological advancement in the future.

However, it is worth remembering, if you are not using what you currently have to its full potential, a newer tool will not automatically bridge that gap for you.

 

Podcasts

dept4 x 4

dept4 x 4 is a new category of posts, which will be a recurring series outlining my four favourite, best, most useful, or most used items in a particular area of interest. These may include products, services, sites, apps, books…you get the picture. Whenever I post a list of this nature, it will unsurprisingly contain four items, generally in no particular order, though I am sure there is a thesis somewhere proving even a random list contains some sort of hierarchy.

Hopefully these lists may prompt you to view, listen, read, test, try or otherwise “have a crack” at some of the suggestions. I believe the greatest power of the internet lies in the discovery of the new and untried, which may ultimately provide you with an opportunity to learn, or in some way improve on how you do things. Granted, you can also waste a lot of time as well, but sometimes the search (within reason) and discovery is half the fun.

Remember of course there will be many more items in a particular category I have not seen nor heard of, and the lists will be updated over time and with new discoveries, though as always we have to start somewhere. So let’s kick things off……

dept4 x 4 – Podcasts

In this post, we take a look at my four favourite podcasts, however first a little background.

My app of choice for podcast listening is Downcast, and has been for some time. I have also previously used Instacast, which is a great app and has seen some updates since my last use. The reason for my change being at the time of switching, Downcast was also available for the iPad (though I see on the App Store Instacast is now a universal app), however the number of podcasts I have listened to on my iPad number approximately…..zero. Despite this, I have not had a reason to switch back, and have continued with Downcast. I cannot comment on the Apple podcast app having never used it, though have not heard overly positive feedback, so personally I would go with one of the excellent third-party applications.

Some of the shows listed below originally began their existence on Myke Hurley’s 70Decibels network, which has this year joined the larger 5By5 network, run by Dan Benjamin. The change has been a smooth one (from a listener perspective at least), and I assume will provide improved infrastructure and resources for these shows to allow a greater focus on content, which can only be a good thing.

In no particular order, here are my current favourite Podcasts…

(Click the show name links for much more information on the shows and their hosts)

1. The Prompt

Photo 23-06-13 7 52 36 AM

They say: A weekly panel discussion on technology, and the culture surrounding Apple and related companies.

I say: The “UN General Assembly of Podcasting”. Spanning three countries, a trio of hosts (Myke Hurley, Stephen Hackett, Federico Viticci) discussing technology in a way that is interesting for someone such as myself, whom I consider has a ‘keen interest’ in Apple related technology, but is far from ‘tech geek’ stature in terms of ability. A transition from Stephen and Myke’s previous 512 Podcast on the 70 Decibels network. Worth it for Federico’s sublime accent? Probably yes, but as always content is king.

At the time of writing, is number three in tech podcasts in the Australian iTunes Store, having reached number one in the UK. The new format is only 1 episode old, but trust me, there are great things coming here.

2. Back to Work

Photo 23-06-13 7 25 44 AM

They say: Back to Work is an award winning talk show with Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin discussing productivity, communication, work, barriers, constraints, tools, and more.

I say: After almost 10 years of online interaction, and some 122 episodes of B2W, hosts Dan Benjamin and Merlin Mann recently met for the first time and recorded episode 123 ‘in the flesh’. A good deal of humour and effortless banter ensure this has the feeling of just sitting around listening to a couple of mates have a chat. What you will walk away with however are some fantastic insights into managing some of the daily struggles of ‘corporate stoogedom’ and some strategies to more successfully navigate the mire.

Some great messages, delivered in some of the most uniquely entertaining ways. My recommendation? Give it a few episodes to get yourself in the groove – you won’t be sorry, because the first half hour or so from each episode is exactly what people tune in for.

3. Mac Power Users

Photo 23-06-13 7 52 20 AM

They say: Learn about getting the most from your Apple technology with focused topics and workflow guests. Creating Mac Power Users, one geek at a time since 2009.

I say: As someone with a keen interest in Apple related technology, I am always looking for guidance and helpful hints in getting the most out of my digital devices. You may consider this a strange entrant in a list created by someone who actually doesn’t own a mac (yet), however the mix of guests and topics covered (often relating to all other ‘iDevices’), are always helpful in providing tips on workflows, shortcuts, efficiencies, and using Apple technologies to overcome many of the barriers (both at work and home) to achieving what you set out to do.

4. The Pen Addict

Photo 23-06-13 7 52 56 AM

They say: Analog tools are often pushed aside in the digital age but The Pen Addict Podcast is bringing them back, front and center. Join Brad Dowdy, aka “The Pen Addict” and Myke Hurley each week as they discuss all things pen and paper.

I say: Worth listening to for Myke’s unique weekly introduction of Brad, which varies each episode. A podcast reaching 59 episodes on items so analog (pens, paper, stationary), that normally rely on look and physical feel to appreciate, must have something going for it – and this one certainly does. Both hosts have a passion for these non-digital tools, and provide thoughtful discussion week after week on both the philosophical and technical aspects of what is featured.

A key aspect often so rare when seeking out pen related content, is that this is far from the expensive pen collector mindset, with 90% (or more), of the discussion related to very affordable items. However, this hasn’t prevented many a listener (or host) from going mail order crazy on some of the items discussed – but really, that’s why we all listen each week.

plus one more that deserves a specific mention:

+1. Mikes on Mikes

Photo 23-06-13 7 54 23 AM

They say: Michael Schechter and Mike Vardy talk technology and time management, parenting and productivity and all things in between during this podcast, all while sipping on their drink of choice for each episode.

I say: This is where it all started for me. Coming fairly late into the whole productivity game, and discovering more through both hosts respective websites, this was my first podcast subscription, and I continue to listen to the two Mikes and their various guests discuss this ‘genre’, for want of a better word. Filled with tips, philosophies and workflow advice, this is indeed a great place to start (and continue), if you are looking at approaches to improve how you work.

Other honourable mentions

In Summary

I definitely find the format of a podcast useful in gaining an understanding of a large amount of content in a short period of time. An added advantage is often there will be slight or wholehearted differences in opinion by the hosts and their guests around certain topics, which can further clarify your own thinking on a certain topic, or at least provide the stimulus to seek out more information for yourself to gain a greater understanding.

So, time permitting, check out some of those listed above and see what you think.