Computers


I gave my initial impressions of the new iOS8 in this post, but after living a day with it, here’s some reconsiderations and updates:

1) Battery life, for me, seems to be much improved. I played with the phone pretty steadily — mostly watching the coverage of the Scottish independence referendum —  over the last 30 hours or so and finally plugged it in about at 18% power. Not seeing a dramatic change on my iPad Mini, although it seems to be charging more slowly.

2) On my iPad Mini, I’ve noticed a glitch that seems to lock up the Mail app if you do a bulk delete of mail. Not happening on the iPhone 5s.

3) The voice recognition is vastly improved. I’ve been using it pretty steadily.

4) The voice for Siri is much much more natural-sounding.

5) I’m actually using the Health app to monitor blood pressure, weight, etc. — but that could just be the novelty of the app, at this point.

Nothing else has particularly grabbed me beyond what was already mentioned in the first post.

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I noticed that the new iOS update rolled up this morning quite by accident, and I think I got in before the masses swamped Apple’s servers. I threw it on the iPad and iPhone and so far, looks good, though I haven’t really dug in yet…

The download process: It seemed very quick, at first, then wen’t glacial about halfway through. Took about 30 minutes, but the actual update process was quick. Set-up was easy enough and the update did turn on the bluetooth, like it always does. I went ahead and fired up the iCloud files, or whatever they’re calling it these days, even though the calendars, etc. look to not be talking to the laptop now. This is supposed to be sorted with the arrival of the next OSX in a month or so. I can get by ’til then. I mostly use my calendar, notes, etc. on the iOS devices, anyway.

The look isn’t much different. The control panel is cleaned up, you can answer a text from the notifications screen. There’s the addition of a “Tips” app that I wish you could get rid of (you can’t), as well as Podcasts (which, again, you can’t delete.)

The great: Family sharing — you can share multiple iTunes accounts between family members, so now you can watch a movie, music, whatever another in the house has bought on their account. The downside — it uses the initiator of the sharing as the lead and billing for everyone’s iTunes goes through you, looks like. I’ll have to investigate.

Siri is much faster and seems to be able to handle accents a lot better. (My weird mid-Atlantic American/Scots blather confuses the ol’ iPhone most days. It also fills in as you speak, instead of waiting until you’re finished, so you can see where it’s having trouble.

The good: Voice messages in the Messages app. The health app could come in handy.

The “meh”: Addition of a timer for shooting pictures with your mug in them. Time lapse video.

Performance: On the iPhone 5s, iOS8 is giving me no dramatic change in user experience outside of the better voice recognition. On the iPad, I noted the predictive typing slowed performance waaaay the hell down and made typing in Pages almost impossible. I turned it off and it started working well. Predictive typing didn’t come into play on the phone so far today, but i turned it off anyway.

Battery life seems a bit low, but then again, I’m playing with the devices pretty much constantly today to see what they could do so take that into account.

Overall, very pleased.

So, I’ve been an early adopter of e-comic books, and loved the Comixology app. I’ve been buying all the Atomic Robo stuff through the app. Problem: they just got bought by Amazon, and all of a sudden they’re doing the out-of-app purchases. Remember, Amazon is sticking to the prickish idea that you don’t own the book you bought; you just “licensed” it — so I suspect this might be part of the issue I’m about to relate:

All my bloody books are goneI did their little two-step. I “restored my books, which only gave me three issues of the latest volume of one series, and one book from another. I keep trying. No joy. I download the new app — those aren’t even showing. That’s right, Stupid here dropped probably close to $100 on a series I no longer “own.”

That’s pretty bad. Worse is I know I’m not the only one. At the last check, the App Store was running almost unanimously 1 star rating for the new version, but hey! where are the hundreds of reviews? They’re not showing. Afraid to have your customers warn prospective customers what a sorry set of sticky fingered thieves you are?

Review: the app is gorgeous and worked beautifully. The downside: you’ll lose your stuff if you’re not careful (or in my case, even if you were.) Final word: don’t download, don’t buy from them, unless you want to shell out hundreds for nothing. Go to the local comic store and make them some money; Comixology wasn’t cheaper, anyway.

Do you want a certain font from your computer on your iPad? Hit the App Store and search for Any Font. It’s a $1.99 app (last time i checked) that allows you to do just that. You can do a sync through iTune with it, but I tried loading a few .tff files into a folder on Dropbox, then opened them on the iPad. Dropbox, of course, can’t view them, but you “Open with…”, then choose AnyFont. The fonts appear in that app, you check them, hit install, and the app will bounce you through Safari to the Settings, where you will get a dialogue that looks a lot like the updater (probably is.) Install. Open up your Pages, or what have you and there’s your new font.

Is it worth $2? Do you need certain fonts to work with between your desktop, laptop, or what have you? Then yes. Otherwise…well, I’m gonna say “yes”, but I absolutely needed/wanted Bank Gothic on the iPad.

Yes, I’ll admit right off the bat: I’m a Microsoft Office hater. Their software is bloated, the interface a brick-to-the-face ugly, and the menus make no damned sense. I was a WordPerfect guy — it was the best word processor out there through to the early 2000s. When I bought an iPad, I found I truly loved the simplicity and surprisingly functionality of the “lightweight” Pages and Keynote apps, enough so that when my wife bought me a MacBook Air, i started using Pages and Keynote on the laptop, even though I’d have to sacrifice the clean fonts and layout when I had to shift the presentations over to Powerpoint (but that’s what we use at work…the cri de coeur of everyone sick of the MS Office suite.)

Pages, however, was a dream to create documents in. Especially for e-publication. ePub is the easiest of the ebook formats and everything looks like it’s supposed to when you go the publish a book (then Amazon makes you go to .mobi, which is like can spray-painting a Ferrari.) So I was kind of excited when the new iWork suite dropped on the iPad. Again, for basic work, it’s surprisingly good — easy to use, there’s a lot of template designs and other things you can use quickly, but it’s not for heavy duty work.

Liking what i saw on the iPad, I upgraded to Pages 5 (I haven’t even touched the other apps, other than to test how quickly they opened)…and I am disappointed I may have to work with Word for a while, assuming that Apple bothers to fix the disaster of Final Cut X proportions that it has foisted on its users. But hey! It’s free!

Doesn’t matter when it’s crap. Here’s a thread on the Apple Support Communities to give you an idea of how big a steaming pile Pages 5 is for the hardcore writer or publisher.

First the good (and there is a lot for the casual word processor user.): The big one — collaborations — now you can work on documents with others using iCloud. I don’t do this, and I don’t like sending my personal IP to someone else’s server if i can avoid it. You can track changes, and it works fine with Word docs that are imported. There’s also support for right to left script (Arabic, Hebrew, and the like…)

It still lets you export your work in various formats, you can still email a document right off, although there was a lot of bitching about this on the thread highlighted above — you “send a copy.” It’s no different from the last iteration, really. I did notice it zips some of the documents, depending on their size. It shouldn’t be necessary and might be a developer artifact that hasn’t been fixed.

It looks nice. I want to be able, however, to create a new button toolbar that suits my particular needs and which speed productivity. That was, perhaps, the single best element of WordPerfect; you could customize the toolbars so that you never needed to use the menu, and it wasn’t crowded or confusing. Apple and Microsoft could learn a thing on interface design from the old girl. The “Inspector” — essentially a condensed window of the most necessary control features is something a lot of people are lamenting is gone.

It’s not. they’ve just moved it to a sidebar on the right of your window and called it “setup” and “format”, much like in the iOS version. I like it. I can key it on and off fast, if I don’t want to leave it open.

Templates: there’s a bunch and they appeal to the casual user…and that’s a problem. It’s a pain in the ass now to create a template or import one. Setting up Styles has never been a great feature on Pages and it’s worse than before. but if you just need a canned newsletter, letter, resume, etc. — Pages 5 has probably got most student or non-publishing types covered. (And honestly, I think the market demographic they were shooting for was the student with the free pricing and the ease of use.)

However, that ease of use disappears the instant you want to do complex documents, or ones that can be quickly and easily reconfigured (like, for instance, a brochure where you want to move a single page of text and imagery around fast.) It used to be you could simply click and drag on a section and move it. That’s gone. so it selecting it to get rid of it or to copy it to another document…no, now you have to select in the document, cut and paste. It’s doable, but it’s more time consuming and a friggin’ hassle. No ability to duplicate or delete pages. (This is the most egregious of the idiot moments the Pages development team had here…did they not have one writer or publishing type in the team? If not, I suggest maybe having a user of your bloody product to review it might be in order.)

Worse, layout breaks, and the ability to do multiple layouts? Gone. Layout margin changes? Gone. Merge fields? Gone. Importing Numbers (their spreadsheet) into a document? Gone. Two page view seems to be gone. Find and replace special characters (like extra character returns so Amazon’s execrable .mobi doesn’t take a crap when you try to publish a manuscript)…gone. Bullet points in comments. Gone. Importing images not in bloody iPhoto? You can do it, but you have to open a finder window and drag and drop a photo into a document. Haven’t tries video dra g and drop, but I’m betting it will work. Unlike hyperlinks to external documents.

Oh, and it doesn’t work and play well with rtf… WTF?

In other words, if you do any kind of work that is more complex than the canned templates, you’re pretty much screwed. Your workflow will be slower and less efficient, and while you might be able to get there eventually, it won’t be without a lot of visits to the Apple community pages and a buttload of swearing. the kind of thing that leads people to say, “Word sucks and is a bitch to use, but it’s a bitch that you can actually use.”

Great job, Pages Development Team! How many of you idiots were on final Cut X? Just curious.

Style: 4 out of 5 — it looks nice and could be really useful for basic and casual users. The target audience seems to be students. Substance: 2 out of 5 — For the 11 or so new elements of functionality and a nicer interface, we lost hundreds of features that were kinda important if you do any kind of word processing for a living.

If you’re a writer or publish who uses Pages 4.3 right now DO NOT UPGRADE TO THIS CRAPWARE  until they’ve flayed the morons that released this, and added functionality back into it.

If you want the usual “look how great Mavericks is on the latest hardware!” kind of review, go to the big blog sites. I’m reviewing Mavericks or OS 10.9 on the kind of machine many users would — an older laptop, in this case a late 2010 13″ MacBook Air with 128gb SSD and 4gb RAM. It’s the kind of machine people might have rushed out to buy because it was the thinnest, lightest, and hippest laptop of the time. My wife bought me one because I liked my iPad so much, and I travel by motorcycle a lot, requiring a lightweight and small computer.

I heard OS X Mavericks was going to be free (at least yesterday) for download, so I backed up my data to an external drive and went for it. The download took 32 minutes on Comcast’s “Blast” internet (I’m pulling about 57-59Mb/s) for slightly more than 5gb. It took another 25 minutes for the OS to load and come up. Sign up is quick, but Mavericks forces you to create a new user profile for the computer — this caused some trouble as the new profile had all the admin privileges, so when I deleted it, I had to call Apple and have them help to repair my rights on the machine, as I could access the external drive. Your old profile will still be there, complete with all your files, settings, etc.

Now for the performance: Battery life is supposed to be much improved with the new OS. I did a couple of battery tests over the last day. The first showed a sharply reduced battery life, but I finally bothered to check and found it had been doing a 64gb backup through the first test, and was burning up the airwaves with the wifi transmitter. Even then, I got about 4 hours on the charge with moderate use. Today, I fired it up and did a usual work morning. Here’s how it looked.

Over two hours, with the screen at 40% brightness, bluetooth off,  wifi up and running a few tabs on Chrome, six Pages files open, mail up and running, the calculator, and notes open, Caffeine, a temp monitor and Sophos running in the background, I averaged about 4 minutes/1% of battery power, or a battery life of roughly seven hours. This is right about where the old Air was running under a similar load. The battery usage doubles if you have Flash intensive sites or iTunes streaming a movie, which is about what I was seeing with Mountain Lion.

So, no — you won’t get better battery life on an older machine, but you won’t see a measurable drop, either.

Heat and the screaming fans of doom was a feature that Mountain Lion brought to my Air. During the first battery test with the backup running, the internet seeing mild use, I was running between 150-190F, about 50F higher than usual. I would only see temps like this when I was ripping a CD or DVD under Mountain Lion. I was worried this would be the normal operating temperature (not good, and not just for the loud fan action.) The next day, after a rest, the Air was running at about 80/80F on the processors. I opened email and Chrome running up to five tabs, some with Flash. The temperature peaked at 169/175F with Daily Caller and other Flash intensive sites up and running. It dropped to 124/133F after a few minutes, once the Flash-enabled sites were closed. With the load mentioned for the battery test, the temp spiked at 117/129F and sat at 109/109F most of the time. So, Mavericks seems to run cooler for most tasks than Mountain Lion — but under any load, the heat spikes faster and seems to hold longer.

The last big thing is the memory management. Allegedly, the new OS compresses RAM use and makes it seem like you have about 50% more RAM than you do. I don’t tend to buy into this and remember software compression for memory that was out for Windows and worked about as well as a sieve to stay dry in the rain. This is unscientific, and totally anecdotal, but yes — I’m seeing more speed out of the Air. Boot time seems slower, as does shutdown — I would usually see about 20 seconds to boot up and 30 to close down; Mavericks is about a third slower coming up, and about the same shutting down.

I just tested a few apps I use regularly to see what I would get. iPhoto is a pig on the best of days — it opened and was usable in 5 seconds and shut down in about the same time; this is about 3x faster than it was. iTunes is similarly terrible about booting up — it came up in 5 seconds, but took 15 to connect to the external drive and bring everything up. It was laggy for another 10 seconds while it connected to my iPad. This is a good 3-4x faster than it was. Acrobat is a bit slow, but came up to a graphics heavy book in Acrobat in five seconds and closed immediately. Pages opened to a graphics heavy file in 3 seconds and closed immediately; Keynote was the slowest of the iWork suite at 7 seconds for a 20 slide presentation, and 5 seconds to close. Word took 26 seconds to open to a blank file — way to go, Microsoft! Thinking this might be related to the program being used the first time, I closed it (it closed immediately), I opened to a file. Three seconds. Fast enough to be well within my comfort zone.

So is Mavericks faster? Depends on the program or application, but it is noticeably faster.

There’s a bunch of additions to the OS — a maps program like iOS7 (won’t use it.) and improved Messages integration (but it’s still not syncing with messages received by the iPad and iPhone.) The notification center is mostly untouched, as are the gestures. iBooks is included (a nice touch and one I will use.)

Is OS X 10.9 Mavericks worth it? Yes. Even on an older machine, it seems to improve performance, without any real loss of battery life (nor an improvement on the late 2010 Air.) It will make your machine run hotter, but it seems to come in spikes, or whenever you are running Flash or video. Heavy wifi use seems to be tied to the heat. There’s a couple of new features that you might notice and a few your most likely won’t.

UPDATE: I’ve had a few days to play with the new OS X and I’m now more happy than I had been. I had a night out working for four hours with documents and a few images — in four hours I was at 71% battery, about a third better than I’d usually get. Not content to have one good cycle, I pulled the plug this morning at 1212 hours and spent the first hour streaming music from my external media drive, and bluetoothing it to an iHome speaker, while working on the internet and playing with Pages 5 (DISAPPOINTED!!!) and at this time, it’s been a bit over six hours with steady internet usage and writing and I’m at 38%. That’s roughly 10 hours of use out of a 2010 Air, or about a 25-30% increase in power.

I got my iPhone 5 (no bloody C or S) for Virgin Mobile about a month ago, and it’s been a marvelous device. The iPhone seems to much better access the Sprint/Virgin network in Albuquerque much better than the old HTC or the dumbphone I had before that. Here’s the original review when it was still on iOS6, so we’ll concentrate on the move to iOS7 here. I turned to the iPhone because the user experience of the iPad 2 has been so good, that I figured it would be recreated on the small phone. I was not wrong. So how did the new iOS7 change the user experience?

For me, it was an excellent switch. There’s a ton of articles online about the technical aspects, the bugs and glitches, the various interface aspects of the software. You can Google them if that’s what you are looking for, but here’s my experience with iOS7: The new interface is cleaner and the “flat” design and new typeface makes it easier to see and use for my LASIK modified eyes. (I’m now mildly farsighted.) The new notification center can be accessed by swiping down from the top of the screen and works from the lock screen, so you can check the weather or any message notes — this makes it very easy to do quick checks of your calendar, etc. without having to punch in your password. (No fingerprint crap here.) The command center, or whatever they call it, swipes up from the bottom. You can set airplane mode or do not disturb from here, use the camera, or the camera flash as a flashlight (a feature I’ve used more than I expected), or adjust the sound or screen brightness without going through your passcode screen.

Once you’ve passcoded into the phone, it operates no differently from iOS6; easy, intuitive, and I saw no slow down in performance, nor issues with phone or wifi reception. Battery life did drop about 10-15% percent. I can get through two days of use with a bit of internet access, messaging, and the occasional phone call. I was able to cut about half of the new battery drain by killing the background app updates, the fancy parallax effects, and limiting the location services to the essential apps. (By the way, if the parallax stuff is giving you some kind of motion sickness, you’re way too damned sensitive; I couldn’t even notice it unless i really concentrated — hence why I turned it off.)

The integration of email/Twitter/Facebook/other app sharing across the platform makes it easy to do most things you might need. Siri works better than I thought it would when accessing functionality on the phone, but still isn’t much use as a search engine. The voice recognition for speech-to-text is quite good and can handle my strange Amero-Scottish accent without too much trouble.

Otherwise, there’s it’s much the same user experience — just cleaner and a bit better integrated than the last iteration of the OS.

Now, on the iPad 2, the experience is much improved. I know others might be having issues with the upgrade; I’m not. As with the iPhone, the new notifications and command centers are handy; and the interface is cleaner, easier to read, but here the functionality is much improved by the ability to still get out of an app to the “switcher” with a quick four-finger flick up. (I wish the iPhone incorporated this, as it would save the double tapping on the Home button and increase the life of the device.) Once in the switcher, you simply flick with a finger the app closed. It cuts down on the use of the home button on the iPad — you almost don’t need it. I’ve also seen not dramatic drop in performance of the device — none of the reported keyboard lag, no hanging apps or sudden app closures (although I do occasionally get one on the phone.) Even Real Racing 3, which is a resource hog of Texas boar proportions (and kinda sucks now that they’re trying to squeeze every last dime out of the player with their new freemium paradigm) runs well, with just a few jitters in the initial menu screens.

So, was the update worth it? Yes, even for an older iPad 2. (My wife also reports no issues on her iPad 3.)

Style: 5 out of 5 — the new look is modern, simple, and easier to use than iOS6. Substance: 4.5 out of 5 — the OS works as advertised and integrates a lot of the functions in ways that make it easy for the user to access. Siri still isn’t too impressive, and Maps is still slower than the DMV if you use a sat or hybrid view; stick to the straight map function and this isn’t an issue.

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