Keep your PC’s hardware working to the best of its ability with Smart Driver Updater

Keep your PC’s hardware working to the best of its ability with this important Windows utility.

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One of the most important parts of any operating system as the drivers for each component under the hood or connected to your computer.  Having really good drivers can mean the difference between your PC running well, your performance tanking or not being to use either an accessory or peripheral or the entire PC.  This is especially important with newer operating systems, as updates to drivers can come, literally, all the time.  At that point, versioning can become an issue as app and driver installers are notorious for leaving artifacts behind and in some cases, drivers can even become outdated. This is why I really like Smart Driver Updater.  It helps you find and keep the best drivers for your Windows PC, up to date.

Just because a file is a driver file, doesn’t mean that it’s excluded from errors and other kinds of file corruptions that happen to other Windows components.  As peripherals and accessories move through their life cycle, drivers get updated and your copies can become out dated, quickly; and you often won’t know if that happens. Most computer connected devices don’t have auto-updaters.

Sometimes, installation processes can go sideways and an update gets applied incorrectly.  Or sometimes OTHER drivers get updated, and that update effects the performance of another peripheral or accessory because they share some kind of soft-component…  When something like this happens, it can take one, the other or both drivers – and devices – down.

Provided that the device or accessory isn’t damaged, all you likely need to do is update the actual driver file(s) for any related accessories and you’re back in business. Unfortunately, trying manually track this stuff down can be a HUGE headache. I know from firsthand experience. It can be a nightmare, especially if you’re trying to update drivers for more than one device at a time. This is where Smart Driver Updater comes to your rescue.

Smart Driver Updater has a database of over 600,000 drivers. The app’s database is constantly updated and edited to make sure that the best driver updates are available. With Smart Driver Updater, you’ll always have the latest driver updates available to you.

Having a Windows PC – especially for someone like me who is constantly testing both software and hardware – means that you’re always only a few months away from a complete tear down and rebuild of your PC.  If you ever have to nuke the hard drive and start from scratch, getting right back where you were with all of your drivers is very easy with Smart Driver Updater. It backs up all of your drivers to a zip file that is easily exported, giving you a quick, easy way to get back to where you were.

Smart Driver Updater isn’t the kind of application that has a lot of bells and whistles. It’s no nonsense, pragmatic approach to keeping your computer’s and peripheral’s drivers updated and current isn’t going to be the application that you ache to run every time you boot up your PC… That is, until it saves your bacon.  Then, you’re probably not going to want to run your computer without it.

The app’s Scheduler gives you standard “set it and forget it” functionality. Once activated, the app will scan your drivers at startup or at a day and time during the week or month and tell you what needs updating.  Putting that in place should be part of EVERY Windows PC’s boot process so that your PC is always running at peak performance.

 

Download Smart Driver Updater

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The Next Item Up for Bids

Eddy Cue Apple SVP is offering a one hour lunch AND a 13″ MacBook Air and it’ll likely only cost you a couple hundred grand…

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Following Tim Cook’s lead, Apple SVP Eddy Cue has decided to offer an hour long sit down with anyone as well as a 13″ MacBook Air – valued at $1199 – to the highest bidder.

This “Fortune 500 Charity Dunk Tank” is a GREAT idea. The MB Air chaser is an awesome idea, as the winner not only walks away with a dozen or so selfies with Cue, but a 13″ MacBook Air as well. I’m certain that if you bring a Sharpie, you could get Cue to autograph the case, and/ or the box, as well.

Tim Cook’s last time out brought nearly $1.0M in a direct donation to the RFL Center for Justice and Human Rights, as that was his choice for the destination of the winning bid. This time, like Tim, Eddy will host up to two guests after they have both passed a security screen. Depending on schedules, you may have to wait up to one year before you get the sit-down; and Apple doesn’t cover travel or lodging. Honestly, if you’re going to be able to afford this, travel and lodging probably aren’t high on your worry list, though.

This is the one thing that bothers me the most about something like this. There’s NO WAY the little guy has a chance in the Hot Place to win this kind of thing. It’s clear to me that the bids for this auction will soar, like Tim’s did. For example, as of this writing, bids were currently up beyond $10,500. The whole sha-bang is valued at $10k, so it’s already reached saturation. Bidding started at $1000; and has quickly climbed to the current $10,500 over the past couple of days. Bidding started on 2014-06-20. The auction closes at 2:20p EDT on 2014-07-16.

These high bids are good for the charity; but as I said, the little guy doesn’t have a chance at scoring the sit down. And while I get it – it IS for charity, after all – it would be really great if something like this could also be around for the little guy.

I know, I know… and yes, it is a bit of sour grapes on my part, I freely admit it. I need a little cheese with this whine; but it WOULD be cool to have the sit down, don’t you think? I have a ton of questions I’d like to ask, and I’m certain that with YOUR help, I could come up with one HECK of a list, especially with up to a year’s lead time. After the general, “whaddaya wanna do?” stuff ends, I’d have all kinds of questions about internal development processes, challenges, product development processes, testing and prototyping processes, NONE of which, I’m certain Cue would (be willing to) answer. Still, it would be awesome to go to the campus and have the meeting.

If you won, what would you ask Apple SVP Eddy Cue? What charity would you like to see the winning bid go to? What charity would you donate to, if you won? Whom would you bring with you; or would you go alone? Why don’t you join me in the Discussion Area below, and let me know. If you’re gonna dream… dream big!

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IOS 8 Beta 3 – A Train Wreck of a Different Color

I’d like to say things are getting better.   I really would…

Those that know me know that I’m a long time mobile device maven. I’ve got years of experience in mobile computing, telecommunications and mobile broadband as well as mobile app testing. If it runs on a handheld device of just about any size and OS (or laptop, too), I feel confident that I can give you a solid set of test results after playing with it for a while.

While extended testing is always the best way to go, I’ve also learned to trust my instincts.   As a product reviewer, extended testing helps you identify issues, trends and perhaps issue root causes. This is the best way for someone like me, in a beta testing role to test, as the results you get from this activity are more focused, more accurate and very reliable.   Quick looks as what was released are great for press hounds and getting article views, but don’t always provide the best details on the ins-and-outs of encountered issues.

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IOS 8 Beta 3 was released to the Apple Developer Community on 2014-07-07.   This one was just a few days longer than I initially anticipated, as I had heard that Beta 3 would be made available on or around 2014-07-03.   Honestly, it could have come sooner for me. iOS 8 Beta 2 was nearly unusable. I have no idea how someone would be able to test any of their app mods or new apps on it.   I had a hard time getting many apps to run with any level of consistency.

So I’ve spent a bit of time with iOS 8 Beta 3, and here are my first impressions. It’s still a train wreck; and not ready for even developers to really use to create apps with yet.   Testing existing apps for compatibility will also be very difficult.  I say this as an experienced software QA professional.   In not so technical terms – train wreck is a kindness.

Here are the issues as I see them at this point. I may update this column with additional information, or expound upon it in an additional column as things become clearer over the next couple of weeks (Apple’s traditional time period between beta updates).

Please note that when installing any new beta release, I never, EVER restore a backup. I always set the new release up as a new iPhone. It’s more work to do this, but insures that all settings and plist files on the device are created from scratch, without any legacy issues or problems from previous builds being brought over.

App Crashes and Other Issues

·    Facebook – often force quits when initially started.   Doesn’t update as expected.   Newsfeed contains items that are totally fresh (minutes old) next to items that are completely stale (10-18+ hours/ days old).
·    Gmail – mail items don’t update as expected. App force quits or freezes unexpectedly during updates
·    Mail – Stability is greatly improved, but comes at the expense of occasional app force quits.  The app also freezes unexpectedly during an update; but at least I can delete 4-5 messages at a time without the app crashing or force quitting on me.
·    Pebble App – No consistent BT LE connectivity (see the Bluetooth section, below)
·    Angry Birds Friends – The app won’t connect to Facebook and therefore, you can’t play the game with your power-ups or other in-app purchases. The app hasn’t worked right in all 3 iOS 8 Betas.
·    Health – this app is about as intuitive and easy to use as an operations manual for a nuclear power plan is to read and understand. IOS 8 Beta 3 is supposed to incorporate a way to count steps in Health.  I have no idea how to do this, and the app doesn’t yet have any info in it that explains that this requires the iPhone 5s or later (as it has the M7 chip and accelerometer which enables this).  It’s also NOT communicating with any other apps as of yet that I can see. I can’t get it and Run Keeper or Nike’s Fuel Band app to show up as sources.
·    Phone – the actual call screen and the phone app seem somewhat disconnected or discombobulated.   The app often doesn’t show the in-call screen or displays a combination/overlay of the two after attempting to end a call.   Dialing from Favorites is a problem. I’ve had occasions where the device has frozen without connecting a call when trying to dial from a saved Favorite, yet the devices top speaker seems engaged as you can hear dead air from it at that point (but the call likely will NOT connect).

Adding a Favorite from the Recent Calls list doesn’t always present you with the correct number or options you want for actually adding the Favorite (FaceTime, Voice Call, etc.)  Again, Apple is playing with the core code it uses to communicate with all of its radios in the iPhone.  I would have thought this would have been worked out in Alpha Builds and not in Beta releases…apparently, that’s just me.  However, from what I’m seeing, the app’s behavior suggests that there’s some heavy logging going on in the background, and this may be the cause for its sluggishness, crashes, graphic artifacts, etc… or it could be that the code is still in flux, too. It’s difficult to say…

My confidence level is set to – Low

I’m not happy with the way app compatibility is working out, and I’m certain that many 3rd party developers won’t be either.  With the way things are shaping up, they’re going to have to do some serious reworking of their products to get them to work correctly with iOS 8.  This means that after reworking, testing and getting everything set, they will need to rev the app and have it resubmitted to the Apple App Store.  Given what I am seeing, I think a huge backup of apps needing review will be experienced and Apple will bump into a problem with backlog.

Bluetooth
Front, back – cha, cha, cha.

This particular area seems to have taken one step forward and two steps back. I have had trouble pairing my iPhone 5 with EVERY Bluetooth device I have, including my Kenwood BT CD/R-6P1 car radio, Pebble Steel smartwatch and LG and Beats wireless headphones. I haven’t had an opportunity to try connecting my Nike+ Fuel Band.   The one thing that did connect without a problem is the Tile I have attached to my key ring. It connects without issue and STAYS connected, which flies right in the face of a known issue.   Currently, CoreBluetooth services are totally borked:

The CoreBluetooth State Preservation and Restoration feature does not work. If your application is jetsammed while in the background performing long-term action(s), with CoreBluetooth, those applications will cease and the application will not be restored.

Honestly, I’m really surprised that Bluetooth is working at ALL in iOS 8. As I stated before, they seem to be rewriting the Bluetooth stack from the ground up, and as such, I’d expect problems with Bluetooth connectivity with any and all device types. I don’t care how long this takes to resolve; but in the end, this really needs to be totally rock solid.

My confidence level is set to – Medium

Unless Apple does a much better job at pulling this together (and it still IS a bit early in the beta cycle…) in the next couple beta releases, I think this is an area that will need to see updates AFTER the initial release of iOS 8.0 in order to make things work correctly.   I do want to qualify this a bit though.   Apple can extend the beta period as long as it needs to.   This can still come together. I’m basing my statement on three beta releases.

Settings
This is a huge mess. It’s clear to me that Apple is still working on (tweaking is too delicate of a word…) much of the core code rewrite of the mobile OS, and as such, it’s no surprise that Settings is in a worse state than it was in previous beta releases.  Unfortunately, because Settings now behaves like a child throwing a tantrum (on occasion), using the device in any way has become challenging.  If you can’t set anything up, it’s difficult to use the device at all…

In no particular order, here are items of concern that I’ve noticed about Settings since installing iOS 8 Beta 3.
·    The app often force quits unexpectedly, sending you back to the home screen without notice.
·    PIM (mail, contacts, and calendar) data doesn’t always sync consistently for non-Apple accounts.  Fetch doesn’t fetch data. You may have to change “Fetch” to “Manual” and then run the associated app in order to get data to come down to your device.  I’ve noticed this with Google Accounts/ Google Apps Accounts more than any other.
·    Bluetooth settings are difficult to change.  Discovery works just fine, but actually pairing a new device can be challenging. It took me over 10 times to get my car radio to pair with my iPhone 5 running iOS 8 Beta 3, and that process involved initiating the pair from either the radio OR the iPhone, completely turning off both devices at different times, putting the radios in airplane mode, etc.  I actually thought at one point that I wasn’t going to be able to get the two devices to pair…
·    Settings often force quits when trying to modify Bluetooth settings.  The app crashes here more than in any other area, though it does force quit when trying to work with Wi-Fi settings, too.  Apple is obviously changing the way it communicates with your iPhone’s radios, and as such, Settings is very flakey.  This is problematic when the Bluetooth stack itself is in bad shape.  When the Settings for it often force close the Settings app, you really have to wonder just HOW you’re going to get any testing or other work done in this area.
·    There are issues with Notification Center.  I’ve noticed that Notifications often don’t register (new mail coming in, for example) when they are configured to do so. Running Notification Center itself doesn’t always resolve the issue. Opening Settings—Notifications doesn’t always resolve the issue.  This however, is to be expected, as this is an area that Apple is known to be making some big changes in with iOS 8.

My confidence level is set to – Low

iOS 8 is still in heavy active development. I would have – and actually did – expect things to be much more mature by now than they were in Beta 1 and Beta 2. Apple Beta’s are often very mature releases and seeing things in this state is a bit surprising to me when you look back at 6-7 previous beta releases of Apple’s mobile operating system.  Honestly, I didn’t expect iOS 8 to be the major reworking that its turning out to be. Apple tends to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary and as such, development has historically been a progression and not a tear down and rebuild.  iOS 8 seems to be, and very much has, that kind of feel to it. Apple is rebuilding a lot more of their core services than I thought they would.  This isn’t a bad thing. I am just surprised by these developments.

Some people wouldn’t be surprised given all of the rumors out there for the iWatch.  I’m surprised because we haven’t gotten any official word or anything really substantial from the rumor mill that would suggest that a newer, completely different type of iDevice is going to be presented to the public.

However, if Apple IS going to surprise us with some sort of watch or fitness band with a boat load of new sensors and functionality, then doing this type of tear down and rebuild to allow for new and different kinds and types of communication and device interaction wouldn’t be very surprising.  So, I’m interested and intrigued; but not much more than that because I have nothing substantial to hang that raised eyebrow on.

Conclusion
iOS 8 Beta 3 is an evolutionary beta release. I can see progress in it over Beta 2, but it’s clear that Apple has taken a step or two back in some areas in order to move things forward in the end. Communications – which is the heart of any mobile device OS – is a huge focus for iOS 8; and Apple is doing a lot of work with the iPhone at a grass roots level. If you were hoping to jump on to iOS 8 Beta 3 and have a mostly usable device, you’re not going to be happy yet. A lot of the device is still unusable. Apple is clearly still on the bottom end of the development curve with iOS 8 Beta 3.  There’s clearly a long way ahead of us before we can consider this feature complete and all Apple is doing is refining code and squashing bugs.

Are you looking forward to iOS 8?  What are you most interested in as far as its feature set and capabilities are concerned?  Do you have a specific area of interest that you’d like me to comment on, test or research?  Why don’t you give me your thoughts in the discussion area below, and I’ll do my best to get something written up and posted on it in the coming days before Beta 4 hits, in an expected two week time frame (which would be somewhere around 2014-07-21).

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Secure your PC with Privazer

Secure your PC with this must have Windows utility.

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Keeping your PC safe while you use it is probably the most important thing you can do while actually using the device. Unfortunately, its one of the hardest things to do. Simply going online opens you up to all kinds of attacks, malware hacks and other nasty bugs and viruses. That’s why having an app like Privazer is so very important. It’s a Windows security utility, and its worth a bit of a look.

Privazer cleans your PC in-depth and removes unwanted traces of your activities at home or at work. You can see what can be recovered of your past activities and securely clean traces to get a PC Privazer cleans your PC and your external devices. Privazer is a smart cleaning tool that helps you master your security and freedom, free up disk space and keep your PC fit and secure.

With simply one click, Privazer is able to clean securely your browsing history and files, your registry, RAM, virtual memory file and hibernation file. It will also clean IM tracks of your computer as well. With the use of such apps (browsers, key system files and IM clients) nearly universal, this is something that everyone can benefit from.

Most security apps can do all of this. Its really nothing to write home about. However, what really makes Privazer valuable is its ability to scan the contents of your drive’s free space to see what data fragments have been left behind in what was once previously used space. The app will intelligently scan this space and can remove data traces that need to be reset to “0.” Performance of the app improves over time

Privazer is a great application that handles some very important, very complicated tasks. Having a tool like Privazer is something that every PC owner needs. The price is free and the risks of using are non-existent. If you don’t have a tool like this, then you need to give it a try. You likely will not be disappointed.

Download Privazer

 

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Would I be a Mac, if…?

It’s a great box and I love it, but…

For those of you that know me, you know that my love affair with the Apple ecosystem is very recent. I’ve been a Windows advocate most of my computing career.  In fact, most of my computing chops were earned in the Microsoft ecosystem – Windows, WindowsCE, PocketPC/ PocketPC Phone/ Windows Mobile and Windows Phone. I am still listed as a Sr. Content Editor for WUGNET, the Windows User’s Group Network and have been associated with them since 1997. For example, most of contents of their Windows and Computing Tips database are my work.

There’s been a bit of talk in the tech world about some changes Apple is making. Recently, Apple announced a decision to kill both Aperture and iPhoto. Jason Perlow over at ZDNet wrote a column about it.  It got me thinking about my own Mac journey.

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I bought my first Mac in 2006; and believe it or not, I bought it to be a Windows machine.  Boot Camp is a GREAT tool; and Intel-based Macs do a great job of running Windows (though I know Steve Jobs can hear me, and is definitely rolling over in his grave as I type this.)  I apologize, Mr. Jobs; but your hardware, IS the best in the business. Period…AND they make awesome Windows PC’s.

Since 2006, I’ve owned 3 different MacBook Pro’s or Unibody MacBooks.  However, it wasn’t until late 2010/ early 2011 that I made the complete switch over from Windows to OS X. This happened for a number of reasons.

1. I Invested in the Mac Ecosystem
It’s gotten better over time, but even though iPods were Windows compatible, they REALLY didn’t want to live there.  The differences in their operation were subtle – and still are – but if you have a chance to have an iPod or an iPhone pair up with a Mac, you will see they are much happier speaking their own language with their own people than they are living as an exile in a foreign country. In other words – you iDevice wants to pair up with an iTunes library on a Mac rather than on a Windows box. It’s easier to manage. It’s easier to sync content to, though that may not be as obvious today as it was back between 2004 to 2010.

It was also about this time, that I started buying more audio and video directly out of the iTunes Store rather than buying CD’s and ripping them myself.  As I began doing this, I decided to move my music library from the Windows side to the Mac side of my MBP. Since I knew that my iDevice life would be a better experience as a native Mac device AND I had a Mac to do this with, it simply made sense to move everything to the Mac side.
2. I Became Lazy
I don’t want to say that I made the permanent switch to OS X from Windows because I got tired of stopping and starting my PC when I wanted to watch a movie or sync my iPod/ iPhone; but stopping what I was doing and trying to quickly swap over was becoming a bit of a pain.  There wasn’t a real good way to reading or writing to an HSF or HSF+ volume from the Windows side of things, though you could at least read from an NTFS volume via OS X, natively at the time.

My biggest problem at the time was Office for Mac 2008 – it stunk. Period.  Word, Excel and PowerPoint were DEFINITELY behind in both technology and functionality with their counterparts from both Office 2007 and 2010. As I was (primarily) a Windows tech journalist/blogger at the time, and all of the GOOD tools that I was used to using were on the Windows end of things, it made sense to stay there, despite the fact that I had a Mac.

The other big problem I had was that despite how much I tried, despite how much I upgraded my Mac(s), running Windows as a VM with either Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion was a horrible experience.  The only way you could get good performance was to run Windows via Boot Camp, and that meant bopping back and forth between the two operating systems. Running Parallels or VMWare was painfully slow, and threw a boat anchor around the host OS, too.  So, I stayed a Mac owner running native Windows.  However, it was becoming clear that if things ever did improve, or if I ever did get a Mac that could run Windows in a VM with decent performance, I’d make the switch.

It was in late 2010 that Office for Mac 2011 became available and I jumped on early betas thanks to my TechNet subscription. It was also during this time that I was able to purchase an Early 2011 15″ MBP that had decent enough specs to push Windows as a VM via Parallels Desktop that it made sense to make the full switch over to OS X.  I’ve been a full-blown Mac ever since.  However, I do want to make one very important point.

I’m not made of money.  I love the Mac ecosystem; but the price of entry is WAY too high for the average consumer, in my opinion. While it may be easier to get there with iPhone and iPad, buying a Mac laptop or desktop costs a LOT of coin, and honestly, I wouldn’t own a Mac computer if I wasn’t a technology journalist.

Since I can VERY EASILY run OS X natively and Windows (as well as any variant of Linux) in a VM with decent performance thanks in no small part to Intel’s i7 processor and 16GB of RAM it makes sense for me to stay here. Running a VM of OS X or Linux on a PC hasn’t always been easy, and I gave up on tweaking and pushing hardware to do things they REALLY don’t wanna do (even though they should be able to) a few years ago. It’s just not worth the hassle, and I have better things to do with my time.

However, Jason Perlow brings up a very good point in his Aperture/iPhoto argument – would I be a Mac for any other reason?  Jason’s pull was digital photography. Mine was the need to easily run more than one computing OS at a time without having to reboot OR having to put up with crappy performance so I could write about apps, hardware, accessories, etc. used with those operating systems.  I was forced recently to admit – and rightly so – that if I weren’t getting paid to do that, I wouldn’t have purchased a Mac in 2006 in the first place.

It’s true. I really like my Mac, OS X and the way all of my iDevices work and integrate so well in their native environments and operating systems.  While it isn’t as “just works” as it used to be, owning and using a Mac is still a lot more elegant than anything that I’ve seen on the PC side.

Are you a Mac?  Have any of the recently announced changes to the Apple ecosystem turned you off to the Mac?  Why don’t you let me know your thoughts in the discussion area, below? I’d love to hear what you have to say.

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Smartphone 101 – Making a Phone Call

OK… now that we have everything synching between your phone and your email account, let’s figure out exactly how to use it.

If you remember I started this series a few weeks ago and had one article about setting up your email account and address book and then one about synching that data to your smartphone. At this point, any changes or additions you make to either your email account via your computer or on your smartphone, to any of that data, will appear in both places.  It’s really pretty cool.

Integration, remember..? It’s all about integrating your data into the places where you will make the most use of it. That’s what makes your smartphone smart. It puts your data where you want to use it most – meaning your phone – and even anticipates how you want to use it, sometimes.

Your address book can hold listings for friends, family, businesses and the like. You’re likely going to want to call your parents on the weekends, your children’s pediatrician when they’re sick or need a checkup, and your dry cleaners to make sure that your clothes are read to be picked up, among many, many other things.  You may just want to yack your head off with your best friend.  Who knows…

Here’s the best way to do all that in all three major mobile operating systems. There are a couple-three scenarios here.

  • Making a Call

  • Receiving a Call

  • Retrieving Voice Mail

Let’s run through all of them quickly.

Making a Call

There are a few different ways to make a call – you can dial directly, search for a person in your address book or dial from a Favorites – or frequently called numbers – list.  I’m going to try to make this easy and have screenshots from all three operating systems in each section so we only have to do this once. Please note that the instructions here are going to reflect calling numbers here in the United States. If you live in another country, please sub in your country specifics for direct dialing numbers.

Dialing Directly

  1. Open your device’s Phone app and switch to the dialing pad screen

    DD-ios-01 DD-and-01 DD-WP-01
    iOS Android Windows Phone
  2. Dial the 10 digit phone number:  (area code) phone-number and press the (usually green) Phone button on the dialer to initiate the call.

DD-ios-02 DD-and-02 DD-WP-02
iOS Android Windows Phone

Please note – in the US, you do not NEED to dial a “1” in front of the phone number as you do on your land line phone.  While your call will still connect if you do, it’s not required on the cellular network like it is on the land line network. In most cases, unless you’re going to do any regular, international travel, you should NOT store your phone numbers as +1 (area code) phone-number.  Leave the “1” (or “+1”) off unless you DO travel internationally; and then it’s a good idea to have the “+1” prefix.

    1. Conduct your call.

      DD-ios-04 DD-and-03 DD-WP-03
      iOS Android Windows Phone

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Is Surface Pro 3 Microsoft’s Last Chance

…as far as the tablet market is concerned..?  Uh…yeah.

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I’m a big fan of Windows Weekly on the TWiT NetworkPaul Thurrott is a former co-worker and friend, Mary Jo Foley and I chat every now and again on Twitter.  Leo is also full of awesome-sauce.  He’s done a huge amount of work to advance consumer understanding of the tech world in general… Do they give medals for tech-awesomeness..??  ‘cuz I’m just sayin’…

Anyway, I was listening to episode WW367: Mucho Calibre of Windows Weekly, and about three quarters of the way through the show, the Leo, Mary Jo and Paul begin discussing the immanent, public release of Surface Pro 3, and start talking a little bit about whether or not this is Microsoft’s last real shot at the tablet market (and whether Surface and Windows RT is dead or not…). I have a couple quick things to say about this that I wanted to follow up on before it evaporated.

1. Surface Pro 3’s Last Hurrah?
Um, yeah…  This is the last real chance that the platform has. I love Surface Pro and I’ll be excited to see Surface Pro 3 when it really starts making its way on to local Best Buy, and other retail shelves.  However, no one really knows what Surface Pro wants to be, either. Microsoft has done a lot of work to try to define what that is exactly, but I’m not convinced that the public will connect the dots.

In Microsoft’s eyes, it’s the perfect combo device – tablet and ultrabook.  However, most consumers just think its overpriced and unproven.  While Microsoft may be offering a $650 trade-in for users of MacBook Air’s (making the Surface Pro 3 a $149 dollar device…), a lack of confidence in Windows 8.x and the public’s unfamiliarity with Surface Pro devices, as well as its high price point make the Surface Pro 3 a NEAR non-starter for many.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the hardware is solid. They did a lot to improve the pen and writing experience on the device with Surface Pro 3; but $799 is a lot to pay for a digital notepad (the Surface Pro and Microsoft OneNote are a completely AWESOME combination); but I don’t know many beyond the tech-savvy, executive management type who will actually give Surface Pro 3 a shot…And because Microsoft rebuilt the device from the ground up – different size, form factor, aspect ratio power supply, and pen (just to name a few) – I don’t know how many current Surface Pro/ Surface Pro 2 users you’re going to see upgrading to the latest version of Microsoft’s premier hardware line.  If this one doesn’t generate the kind of following that the MacBook Air enjoys with Mac lovers, I doubt you’re going to see Surface Pro 3 last long (and you won’t see a Surface Pro 4…). I hope Microsoft got it right.

And yes… changes to desktop Windows to make the tablet/ ultrabook even more compelling, while leaving the train wreck that is Windows 8.x behind…will be a must.

2. Is Surface/Windows RT Dead?
Um, yeah…  That ship sailed a while ago.  The fact that its recently been made public that Microsoft killed the Surface Mini just days or weeks before its launch isn’t helping much.  The fact that there’s no real big differentiator between Windows RT and Windows 8.x (aside from where you can buy apps from and which apps will run) isn’t helping matters. RT has a desktop and looks and sorta feels like Windows except when any ModernUI apps run. Microsoft should have killed the desktop entirely on RT, went full ModernUI on RT and really pushed the tablet as a lean-back device.  They didn’t, and the result is a total muddying of the Windows waters. There’s more OS confusion as Microsoft really didn’t draw a line between the two platforms and differentiate them.  No one knows what Surface and WinRT are, and at this point, the public is beyond the point of caring….that and a $900B write-off will not only get ya fired, but it will kill a platform.

Honestly, Microsoft just needs to realize that the only thing left to do is put flowers on the grave.  Windows RT died with Surface RT. They just apparently didn’t know it after the write-off, new CEO and the release of version 2 of the doomed platform.  What were they thinking?? Doesn’t a billion dollar charge kinda say that the public isn’t interested and doesn’t want the platform?

I don’t want to be hard on Microsoft. They need all the cheerleaders they can get right now; but I unfortunately think that Leo, Mary Jo and Paul are wrong on this one.  The Surface Pro 3 will be the last Surface tablet from Microsoft if this one isn’t just something that is “magical,” giving the MacBook Air and/ or an iPad with an awesome keyboard a run for its money.

What do you think?  Do you have a Surface or Surface Pro tablet (of any generation)?  Do you like it?  Do you use it?  Do you think that Microsoft can make a difference with Surface Pro 3..?  or is it all just too late, and everyone is just refusing to see the writing on the wall?  Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area, below, and give me your thoughts on the subject?  I’d love to know what you think…

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Hands on with iOS 8 Beta 2

Oy…

I’ve been in software a LONG time. I’ve been in mobile devices and mobile computing even longer… What I’m about to say may draw a great deal of criticism and some harsh debate (and at least a great deal of, “well what did you expect, Chris..?   iOS 8 IS in beta after all…).   But to tell you the truth, I’ve been a registered Apple developer for a while now, (since just before iOS 6 was in Beta) and as a QA Guy, I’m very good at identifying patterns and trends… it’s what I do. So, here goes…

screen-shot-2014-06-17-at-10-03-05-am

While iOS 8 Beta 2 improves some things over Beta 1, Beta 2 seems a worse train wreck than Beta 1.

In other words, the latest development milestone release (beta) is worse than the last.

In past releases of iOS 6 and iOS 7, by the time Beta 2 was released, the OS was usable.   While the official stance is always to put beta software on non-mission critical devices, as a software tester, if I don’t have it on a primary computer or device, I’m not going to give it a real good burn in test.   There’s a difference between working with a device and living in one; and in my opinion, you’re going to find more bugs, buried deeper in the code by living in a device than by simply using it and running test cases.   Don’t get me wrong.   I know that formal structured testing is a MUST.   However, living with a device and using it outside of a structured test can provide more information on the overall performance, look, feel, etc. of a system than can be found in a formal test setting (though, in all honesty, this ad-hoc information is USELESS without the formal feedback provided by structured testing, so you can’t cut corners…)

This is the major reason why I run new iOS betas when they become available.   Yes, yes… I have the beta software itch. I gotta have the new stuff; but I file bug reports as I find issues.   This week, I think I’ll be filing a boat load of them.   I’ve bumped into the following and have a great deal of feedback to provide Apple on iOS 8 Beta 2.   The following issues are listed in no particular order of severity or priority:

  1. Personal Hotspot  – Personal hotspot fails to provide internet service to devices connected to it for over 15 minutes.   Even though the iPhone indicates that a guest device is connected, and the device itself has internet connectivity, the guest won’t have access to the internet through the host after a 15 or so minute period has elapsed.   I’m not certain why yet.   It’s not a matter of the iPhone going to sleep and cutting internet access off. I’ve got my iPhone set to sleep after a few minutes.   I’m good for the first 15 minutes or so, and then internet access just disappears.   This issue needs more exploration. I will report more on it as I find out more.
  2. Bluetooth and Bluetooth LE  – This is the biggest train wreck of them all, I think.   The BT stack is a hot mess, failing to communicate with any number and types of devices.   BT-LE service is nearly unusable at the moment. My iPhone 5 won’t (officially) pair with any LE device I’ve got, no matter how hard I try, though LE notifications can travel across the link at times. My Pebble Steel is little more than a hockey puck on my wrist right now. I have Casio calculator watches that are smarter than my Pebble right now as a result…Bluetooth connectivity, especially BT audio, is spotty at best and doesn’t always work.   There are times when I try to listen to music while at the office, or watch videos after work. Audio comes across the link inconsistently with both audio and video media. Sometimes it doesn’t come at all.   Sometimes, it drops during brief periods of silence in the audio track and may or may not pick back up after the silence ends.   During music playback, this happens in between songs, and can happen during podcast playback when there’s a brief silence among the show hosts.   The only reason I can attribute to this, is that the signal activity in the audio track (of either media type) drops and the BT device and stack on the iPhone are trying to conserve power by cutting off use of the radio and the device when it senses inactivity.   The problem is, it’s WAY too sensitive.ALL of my Bluetooth devices – from different headsets, keyboards, Pebble, etc. – also drop connections on a random basis.   I have not been able to put any kind of a pattern to the losses of connectivity; and it doesn’t seem to be limited to any one kind of device or during or after any specific kind of activity or with any specific media.   Connectivity just drops, and reestablishing it is VERY difficult. Currently, it may require turning either device on or off, tuning the Bluetooth radio on either device on or off, or forgetting devices on either end of the pairing chain, and then repairing. This often has to be repeated, as it doesn’t always work.   Part of this was a problem with BT-LE in iOS 7.x and it seems to be amplified in iOS 8 Betas 1 and 2. Which brings me to the next big issue…
  3. Battery Life  – Oh, it sucks.   Anything processor or radio intensive – like playing a game or long data downloads – really sucks the life out of my iPhone 5’s battery. I wouldn’t make a point of this if it were the same thing in iOS 7; but it’s not. It is clearly more noticeable in iOS 8. When things are (seemingly) working right, the same battery that may last the entire day with moderate game play in iOS  7 may  only last 1/2 that time in iOS 8.   A fix is needed here for certain.
  4. Performance  – The train derails and comes off the tracks, here too.   There are still a number of issues with core apps.   Most, if not all of them – Mail, Calendar, Podcasts, Music, Clock, Siri, Maps, etc. – just plain don’t work right.   Previously working functionality just doesn’t work (deleting messages is still broken, calendar info doesn’t sync or display right, audio doesn’t play correctly, tracks are often skipped and don’t play, even if they are local to the device, Siri is being belligerent and won’t listen, etc…); and the device clearly seems to try to compensate for it.For example, there are performance stutters throughout the ENTIRE system. Any and ALL apps appear to freeze but then release and catch up to where they need to be based on physical or data input.   Scrolling through posts on Facebook or messages in Mail seems to be a big hic-cough right now.   My phone can freeze at any particular moment and may or may not come back, requiring a hard reset (home button-power button until the screen blacks out and the Apple logo appears, then release both buttons) before it will come back; and then it takes about twice as long for that process to complete as it did in iOS 7.x… I’ve also found that my phone will just spontaneously reboot, usually at an inconvenient time. It’s happened three or four times since I installed Beta 2, just the other day.I’ve also had the screen go completely black out of nowhere with only a white spinner appearing on the screen.   This usually happens during navigation (with Apple Maps, but has also happened with Google Maps). The last time it was right near the end of a route (and of course, I didn’t know where the destination was located at, so I nearly missed it…).   The OS, just simply isn’t reliable by any stretch at this time.
  5. Storage and Logging –  I have a 16GB iPhone 5.   I know exactly what it will hold and what it won’t. I know which apps I can plug and chug off the device when something interesting is released, how much music I can have on the device, etc.   With iOS 8, I’m at a total loss.   The device is CLEARLY in debug mode by default at this point, as it seems to be going through a large amount of event logging.Storage on the device gets eaten up very, very quickly. I’ve had Beta 2 installed for less than a week, and I’ve already had to blow it and restore it twice because I’ve strangely run out of storage space.   When this happens, the battery life tanks, the device gets VERY warm and the device becomes very unreliable.

To say that I am disappointed with the overall stability and performance of iOS 8 Beta 2 is an understatement. I was really looking forward to it after working with Beta 1 for about 15 days.   Historically, the reliability of Apple software goes up as the asset moves through its development lifecycle.   Unfortunately, that’s NOT the case here with iOS 8. Beta 2 clearly feels less finished than Beta 1.

At this point, I have no idea what to expect from Beta 3 and beyond. However, I would HOPE that Apple is aware of the issues with Beta 2 and will push to get a replacement for it – i.e. Beta 3 – out sooner rather than later.   While I will be filing these issues as bugs, I would hope that they all end up being duplicates of bugs found by other developers (meaning, they are already aware of the issues…).

I wish I could comment of some of iOS 8’s newer features at this point.   However, I’m loath to do so, not because of any NDA that comes with my developer’s account (Apple changed their NDA so I can speak freely about any and all items in either Yosemite or iOS 8.   I cannot, however, post screen shots…yet); but because I’m having trouble with regression issues and with legacy functionality, let alone the new and shiny stuff.

Suffice it to say that there are issues throughout the ENTIRE system at this point. Apple has a long row to hoe with iOS 8; and if they wish to make a July/ August iPhone announcement and a September/ October release, then they better get their butts in gear and start pumping out the testable code. With what I’m seeing, it could be quite a long time before iOS 8 is ready for GM or RTM status.   With iPhone 6 highly anticipated to ship with iOS 8 AND with new screen sized and form factors, this is gearing up to be one of – if not the MOST – highly anticipated iPhone releases yet. It could likely surpass that of the original iPhone or the iPhone 3G as well.

What questions do you have about iOS 8?   Is there anything in particular that you’re curious about?   I’d love to have your input and questions on the new iDevice mobile OS.   Do you find it compelling?   Are you an existing or potentially new iDevice user?   Are you someone who left the iPhone behind and went with either an Android device or Windows Phone when iOS 7 was released?   Does the look and feel of iOS 8 interest you?   Are you interested in switching back to iPhone with iPhone 6 when it’s released later this year?   Why don’t you meet with me in the discussion area below, and ask a question or two?   If possible, I will answer your question(s) and/ or address them in a separate column as soon as possible.

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