I Feel like I’m Sitting on a Time Bomb

Apple’s 15″ Early 2011 MacBook Pros have some serious problems…

macbook pro 15 inch (2011)

I’ve been writing since 1997, but for the longest time I wrote on whatever laptop the office gave me.  After things started to get serious, I bought my own laptop – a Dell Latitude C610 – and was very happy for a very long time.  I purchased my first 15″ MacBook Pro in early 2006 (one of the first Intel-based MacBooks) and as Windows was my platform of choice at the time, used it as a Windows machine via Boot Camp. I finally made the full switch over to OS X in mid-2010, just before I bought a new, Early 2011 15″ MacBook Pro to replace the 13″ Late early 2009 Aluminum Unibody MacBook I had purchased.  The only way I run Windows on a Mac now is with Parallels Desktop for Mac.

I really like my Early 2011 MacBook Pro.  It’s sturdy.  It’s solid. It’s (generally) well built. It’s also end user upgradable… one of the last models of Apple’s professional laptop line to really be end user upgradable, too.

When I ordered it, I got it with the high-end processor, but minimal RAM and the smallest, slowest hard drive they had. The idea was that I could upgrade those components over the course of a few years, and bring extended value and life to what was then – and now – a very large purchase.  I also did NOT purchase Apple Care.  While it does provide you with a few key service upgrades – as well as the extended warranty period – the equipment is so well built, that I didn’t use it on either of the previous TWO MacBooks I had purchased; and thought, after buying the high end model, that I’d save myself $350 bucks.

Unfortunately, I feel like I’m sitting on a time bomb.

The notebook should last at LEAST another 5 or so years without breaking, provided I continue to baby it as I do. It’s in near mint condition, with only very minor wear, despite being upgraded from 4GB to 8GB, then 12GB and then finally 16GB of RAM.  I’ve also left the very slow, 5400RPM 500GB HDD behind for a couple different, faster (though smaller) SSD’s.

The big problem with the Early 2011 MacBook Pro, however is its built-in discrete AMD video card.  They’re failing.  In fact, there are stories all over the place about how the cards are taking notebooks out, out of nowhere.  The graphics boards are failing, making the computers unbootable. Those WITH Apple Care have been able to get the effected logic boards replaced and in most cases that’s fixed the issue; but with Apple’s 3yr Apple Care extended warranty deadline fast approaching, that may be an issue going forward, as it doesn’t always provide a permanent fix.

Some people have been able to “fix” the issue with
·    Restarting in Safe Mode
·    Resetting NVRAM/PRAM
·    Rebooting to single user mode and performing an fsck to check and repair corrupted files
·    Forcing the computer to use the Intel integrated graphics
·    Complete clean installs of OS X

Unfortunately, none of these have had any lasting success, either. Some work for a while.  Other methods initially resolve the problem, but it very quickly returns. Once you “wear out” your options, most systems become inoperable and unusable. I haven’t bumped into this yet; but it’s just a matter of time from what I’ve read in the HUGELY documented forums.

The fix is hit or miss; and there’s no standing order with Apple to replace the part.  Apple has yet to officially respond. As such, a petition has been started at Change.org. The document calls the graphics issue a “manufacturing defect;” and is addressed to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Software Engineering SVP Craig Federighi. It requires 5000 signatures; and as of this writing, it still needed over 1500 signatures before it can be presented to Apple for some kind of response.

Again, while I don’t have the problem at this point, I feel like it’s just a matter of time before I will.  There’s too much documentation out there about this issue; and your MacBook can begin exhibiting symptoms regardless of how well you treat the device. It’s obvious that there is ample evidence that the issue is legitimate and needs to be addressed by Apple either via logic board replacement or complete device replacement. I spent almost $3000 on the PC not three years ago, and at that price point, with the computer’s high build quality reputation, it should last at least another 3-5 years without exhibiting any issues. It’s not unusual for Macs to last 8-10 years before NEEDING to be replaced.

When the average Windows PC costs about 1/6th of what this PC cost placing that level of expectation on the device isn’t unreasonable. I’m not rich or affluent. This was a business expense for me; and is the key to keeping my business going. I can’t drop $3 grand on a new computer on a whim, especially when the one I have should have at least 3-5 more years of value left in it.

I’d like to respectfully ask Mr. Cook and Mr. Federighi to do the right thing here and issue a recall on these, regardless of whether or not the original purchaser bought Apple Care with their Early 2011 MacBook Pro. This is a high-end piece of equipment; and I really do feel like I’m sitting on a time bomb that could go off at any moment, without warning.  At 6x the price of the average competing device, it’s not unreasonable to expect the product to last 6 to 8 years or more.

Are you a Mac?  Did you buy an Early 2011 MacBook Pro like I did?  Is yours giving you problems? Did you have the logic board in it replaced?  Did the problems return after you had it fixed? I’d love to hear from you. Please join me in the comment section below, and tell me about your experience.

Regardless of whether you participate in the discussion, below, please also remember to visit Change.org and sign the petition.

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iOS 8 – What it Needs to Be

The iPhone 6 will more than likely accompany iOS 8. Here’s my annual list of requirements for the latest version of Apple’s mobile OS and its associated hardware.

ios8

As you all know, I’ve been involved in consumer computing since the dawn of the PC. As far as mobile computing is concerned, I feel I’ve been involved with it since the dawn of time as well. Heck, I owned every Compaq iPAQ from the 3100 to the 5000 series, including the 6300-6400 series Pocket PC phones.  Yes.  It’s true…

Hello, my name is Christopher and I’m a mobile device-aholic.

Truth be told, I’m simply a gadget and button junkie who likes to take it with him.  All the time. Everyday. Out loud.  Most of you also know that the iPhone holds a special place in my mobile kit. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that lately, especially in light of the HTC One (M8) review that I wrote for Soft32.  There’s more that’s out there than just the same sized iPhone with relatively the same hardware specs and capabilities that have been in use since the iPhone 4/4S (with a few minor hardware upgrade bumps).

Now, truth be told – I’m very invested in the Apple’s iDevice ecosystem.  From a hardware perspective, I have an iPad, an iPhone and a MacBook Pro. I’ve purchased apps for all of them. More importantly, I have content that I’ve purchased from the iTunes Store in the form of movies and TV shows, music and apps that work with all of them.  I have some stuff in the Google Play and Amazon content stores, but in truth, they are eclipsed by the amount of content I’ve purchased in iTunes. As such, I’ve realized that I’m likely never leaving the Apple ecosystem. It doesn’t make sense to. I have too much content to move or convert; and then I have no idea how to remove DRM from iTunes-based video… I don’t think I even want to try… I’ve simply spent too much time and money on acquiring and organizing the content to worry about trying to get it into another ecosystem.  In the end, I realize that I’ve gotten tangled in the vines of Apple’s walled garden…

If you find yourself in the same boat, don’t despair.  It doesn’t mean that we must simply settle for anything and everything that Apple gives us. We don’t. As a member of Apple’s desktop AND mobile development programs, I file bugs on issues that I see in both iOS and OS X all the time.  Apple regularly looks at that information and at the topics in their support forums before they start planning any release or update to either operating system. In fact, there are several examples of Apple putting out both mobile and desktop releases to specifically address bugs or issues that have been identified in both types of forums.  Apple also (occasionally) looks to the tech press for suggestions and/or escalation of issues that they may have overlooked.

With the iPhone 6 and iOS 8 anticipated to be introduced in about a month at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, nearly everyone is all abuzz about what the changes or improvements are or should be.  As I’ve had this on my mind lately, I thought I’d chime in and give everyone MY two cents worth…

1. iCloud – More at a Lower Price
A few weeks ago, Google made drastic changes to its Google Drive pricing and storage plans.  Previously, I was paying $20/month for 400GB of space. It was more than I needed.  Google grandfathered that storage and pricing plan and upgraded me. Now, for literally half the price ($10/month), Google is providing 1.0TB of space. The only reason why I haven’t put most of my digital photos into Drive is because my internet provider has a monthly bandwidth watchdog; and even though I have the highest tiered data plan they offer (I have Internet only, as you may remember) Cox still sends hate mail when that cap is exceeded every month, suggesting I purchase a larger plan. I would if I could, but I can’t.

Anyway, iCloud… Apple’s free plan only provides 5GB of space.  If you have a full, 8GB iDevice, you won’t be able to back it up to iCloud without purchasing additional space.  Apple still only provides 50GB max space in iCloud, and for that, they want $100 a year (roughly $8.33/ month).  However, for about that much, Google provides 20 times more space.  The time has come for Apple to provide more space at a comparable price, and WWDC would be a decent time to announce that. While they could do it at any time – because you shouldn’t need an OS update to take advantage of the additional space – if they do make a comparable change, they will likely wait until June to announce it.

2. At the end of the day, though, Apple could jump ahead of the curve.  While Google’s storage and plan offerings are insanely large for insanely little, both Amazon and Microsoft are way more expensive.  Microsoft currently doesn’t offer 1TB of space, though they are planning on providing it to their business customers only at $2.50 per user, per month.  Amazon provides 1TB of space for $500/ year, or about $42/ month.  Dropbox Pro provides 100GB for $10/ month (or 1/10th of what Google provides, at the same price).

3. Better Data Management – iCloud/iDevice File Management
Currently, the only way to get non-media related content (documents and such) into iCloud is to save them in an iCloud enabled app.  You can’t copy content directly into iCloud. There’s no synchronized folder like there is with Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive.  Apple needs to get it together and provide this kind of file synchronization.

It would also be nice if Apple gave us some control over the data in the file store on an iOS device. I don’t think we need access to the entire file system, but for those files that you have synchronized to accessible on a device, it would be nice if you could organize them within that folder structure with the device. That’s just me…but I’m pretty certain many users would also appreciate having some level of file management capabilities for iCloud on the device.

4. Change Default Apps
Some people prefer Google Maps to Apple Maps (even though the latter is getting much better with each iOS iteration and release). Some people use 3rd party calendar or contact apps.  Some people use Chrome instead of Safari on their iDevice. It would be nice if Apple gave us a way to change which apps handled which data types so we could use the apps we prefer instead of Apple’s default apps. While Apple’s apps aren’t bad, there are better apps available in the App Store, and it would be nice to be able to use those instead of Apple’s standard apps.

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…Now with less suckage…

I have it on good authority that Windows 8.1 Update doesn’t suck…

Windows8.1

About 18 months ago, I wrote a column for InformationWeek’s BYTE on the state of Windows 8 and its UI at the time. Unfortunately, BYTE is no more. You can’t even find any REAL reference to the project on InformationWeek at this point, though if you know the right search criteria, you can still find many of the articles from most, if not all of its contributors (see the example above…); and in many cases, they may still be relevant today.

Recently, my good friend and former BYTE Editorial Director, Larry Seltzer wrote a piece on how Windows 8.1 doesn’t suck, and it was recently published on ZDNet. He made a couple big points in the article. You can read it if you want to, (it’s a good read and well worth the time) but I’ve summarized them here and added some of my own commentary.

1. Windows 8.1 with Update, is now usable
I’ve got a lot of experience with Windows 8. I’ve been using it since it’s very early days in 2011 when the Developer Preview came out. I had it installed on a touch netbook at the time; and it was a damned mess with both interfaces conflicting with one another, making use of your Windows 8.x device very difficult. It got better with 8.1. It’s gotten better still with Windows 8.1 Update. In fact, you can now use Windows 8.1 on a desktop machine without wanting to rip your hair out. The experience is nearly tolerable. By the time Threshold gets here (Windows 8.2, Windows 9, or whatever they brand it as), it should be just as desktop friendly as Windows 7, in my opinion. (Which I think is the best version of Windows ever, but that’s a discussion for another day).

2. Start Menu Replacements have a limited shelf life with Threshold on the way
This is where Larry and I [may] disagree. I say may, because there’s still one huge wild card left to be played – Windows Threshold. No one knows what it’s going to look like. No one knows exactly when it’s supposed to be released. Microsoft is playing with its release schedule, and while we know there’s supposed to be a release in Q1/Early Q2 of calendar 2015, we don’t know if that’s going to be Threshold or just another “incremental” update. The full Start Menu is supposed to appear in Windows Threshold; and until it’s revealed, it’s impossible to say if it will be positively or negatively reviewed.

Start button/menu apps like Start8 offer as true a Windows 7-like experience as you can get on Windows 8. It’s more about the Start Menu than the button with Start8; and while Windows 8.x may now allow for a more desktop friendly (or Windows 7-like) experience, depending on how the new/revived Start Menu in the NEXT version of Windows is implemented, some users may still want apps like Start8. So I don’t agree with him when he says that Start Menu/button apps are living on borrowed time.

While I think they may not be as popular as they were before Threshold, some users may still prefer them (or at least the one they’ve been using). It all depends on the great unknown – the next version of Windows. Currently, no one knows what that looks like…

3. Windows 8.x is a branding Nightmare
Larry is dead on here. I think just about everyone in the Windows community, outside of Microsoft, that is, will agree. Windows 8.x branding is a worse leper than Windows Vista was. Microsoft needs to get themselves off of Windows 8.x as soon as they can and get to the next version of Windows.

If Microsoft wants to keep the MetroUI/ModernUI look and feel, they will need to draw the line in the sand and make Mobile Windows only for Windows Phone and for their tablets (don’t’ you really want to say Windows Tablet..? I know I do). That will leave MetroUI/ModernUI for the Windows RT/ Windows Surface/2, non-legacy-desktop capable tablets, and leave Windows #.x for their compatible tablets/ultrabooks, laptops and desktops (which, quite honestly, is what they should have done in the first place…)

Anyway you cut it, Microsoft needs to leave the Windows 8.x brand in the past and move on to something – nearly anything – else. If they don’t, they’re going to continue to have sales and revenue issues, going forward.

So, all things being equal at this point, it’s true – Windows 8.1 Update really doesn’t suck. I got it the first day that it was made available to everyone and I’ve been very pleased with what it’s been able to provide.

It seems that Microsoft is listening to the feedback of its customers. It seems as though, under its new leadership from Satya Nadella, Microsoft is getting its act together and is beginning to find its way back to the beaten path. Though many will say that “taking the road less travelled” provides you with a more robust journey, I think that journey has proved to be nothing more than a “bust” for Microsoft up to this point. Getting themselves back to a more traditional version of Windows for their legacy desktop users now insures that their enterprise business is no longer in as risky a position as it used to be.

What do you think? Do you use Windows 8? Have you upgraded to Windows 8.1? Have you upgraded to Microsoft Windows 8.1 Update? Do you use a Start Menu replacement app on top of Windows 8? Is Microsoft getting back on track with its recent releases? Are you more satisfied with Windows 8.1 Update than with previous versions of Windows?

The comments section is just below, and I really would appreciate your thoughts. I know that others would appreciate them as well, as there’s a great deal of opinion on this; and I’d really like to know what you have to say on the whole subject. Please join me in the discussion below and tell me what you think.

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HTC One (M8) – Wrapping it all Up

My time with the HTC One (M8) is almost up. Here are my parting thoughts on the device.

Introduction

My time with the HTC One (M8) is nearly over; and I’ve had one heck of a time with the device. There are some things I really liked; and there are some things that I really didn’t care for at all.

I’ve published a number of blogs here on Soft32. You can search for all of them if you like, or you can simply click through and check out the links below:
HTC One (M8) Unboxing
HTC One (M8) – Initial Impressions
HTC One (M8) – Performance at a Premium
HTC One (M8) – Duo Camera
HTC One (M8) – Is Retro Good Enough?: The Dot View Case

I wanted to take a few moments and give the device the proper treatment before I box it up and send it back, so here are the core essentials of a proper review.

The Specs
The device has some really nice hardware specs from a device perspective. The camera, as you can see in my review of it, leaves a great deal to be desired. It does OK, but if you’re used to 8MP or better on your phone, I think you’re going to be greatly disappointed. However, I also have a decent DSLR and take some (semi-professional quality) pictures. Honestly, I don’t want to be a camera snob at all, but I would definitely NOT buy the HTC One (M8) for its camera. I’m not even certain I would rely on it as a smartphone camera. My iPhone 5 takes much better pictures, and by today’s standards, its 8MP sensor with f2.2 lens is about average. There are smartphones (some Android, some not…) out there with much, MUCH better lenses. If you’re wanting to double up smartphone and camera needs, this is not the phone to look at, in my opinion.

However, as I said, the rest of the specs are quite respectable, and I think, worth the premium price. The camera would have made this a home run, and instead, it unfortunately makes the HTC One (M8) just a mediocre phone.

Quad-core 2.3gHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor
32GB Solid State Storage
2GB DDR3 RAM
microSD Card Slot supporting up to 128GB cards
5″ HD Display
HTC BoomSound
HTC Duo Camera – 4MP, dual LCD Flash
5MP Front facing camera
Bluetooth 4.0

The device does not appear to have BT LE as part of its Bluetooth stack. I’m not certain why. My iPhone 5 does, and its 2 years older than the HTC One (M8). Very disappointing, and somewhat confusing…

The device has enough onboard storage to hold a movie or two as well as most of your music collection. I’ve got a HUGE music library and have about 2300 songs on my iPhone 5. I’ve got maybe 500MB of space left over after that and all my tech podcasts (apps, etc.) are on it. With only 16GB, I don’t bother with video. There just isn’t enough space.

However, the HTC One (M8) has twice that space, and as I said, you can hold 1-3 HD movies, PLUS a large music collection, PLUS other audio (like podcasts) and still have space left over. You can also stick in up to a 128GB microSD card in the device for a max total space of 156GB. The HTC One (M8) gives you enough storage capacity to take everything with you, without having to compromise.

Its 2GB of DDR3 RAM insures that nearly everything you run – games, video player, music player, productivity apps, etc., run smoothly. In the month or so that I’ve had the device, I haven’t had any performance issues with it. It’s been running smoothly and quickly. I really couldn’t have asked for a better performing device.
The Hardware
Despite the camera issue (which for me, is HUGE, due to my photography bent), the HTC One (M8) has a lot to offer. From a hardware only perspective, the (M8) hits a home run.
The Device Itself
The HTC One (M8) is a great looking, great feeling device. Its aluminum body is solid, and it doesn’t look or feel cheap by a long shot. The device is thin and sleek. As you can see from the pictures below, it makes the larger iPhone 5 (with a 4″ 16×9 screen) seem dinky by comparison. I’ve tried to give you a decent look at the device. You have the full 360, plus the device’s front and back.

HTC One (M8) -0001
The HTC One (M8)

However, I did find that with a 5″ screen, the HTC One (M8) REQUIRES two hands to operate. I am huge (and have been for well over 10 years) on one-handed operability. I live in my device, and often have a notebook, pen and cup of coffee in one hand and my smartphone in another, checking mail, messages and the location of my next meeting. I can do this with my 4″ iPhone 5 quite easily. The device is skinny enough that I can hold the device and work the screen with my thumb.

HTC One (M8) -0002

The HTC One (M8) and the iPhone 5 – front view

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I Think Apple found the Smoking Bazooka

Oh snap..!   Google did in fact agree to indemnify Samsung in the original trial against Apple.

A-lonely-gavel

On any given [Sun]day, this might not be a big deal.   However, there are two big problems with this development that had me nearly reeling this morning as I read first the headline and then the article on Apple Insider. Samsung is in a boat load of trouble; and it may be taking Google down with it. BOTH companies may burn on this one.   This is a huge deal for two specific reasons
1.    Samsung KNEW it was Infringing on Apple Patents – Despite anything that it has said over the course of the past few years while the Apple v. Samsung patent trials were under way, based on Samsung’s request for Google to indemnify them (read – foot the bill for the legal fees and direct the path of their legal defense) Samsung ACTIVELY knew that it had been steeling Apple’s intellectual property. If it hadn’t, then it wouldn’t have asked Google to indemnify them.
2.    Samsung Lied…BIG Time – In short (because Apple’s attorney Harold McElhinny really hit this one out of the park, presenting four (4) different exhibits outlining Samsung’s activities to actively hide its request …REQUEST… to Google to indemnify them) – during active testimony in open court, Samsung denied seeking indemnification from any third party (including Google). Here’s where McElhinny hit the grand slam – he presented four examples that clearly shows that Samsung did in fact ACTIVELY pursue indemnification from Google.
That’s not a smoking gun, kids…that’s a smoking bazooka.   There’s not much left of Samsung’s foot.

The final exhibit that McElhinny presented in his examination was,

“…a letter ‘from Allen Lo of Google, Deputy General Counsel Patents and Patent Litigation,’ to Samsung’s JaeHyoung Kim, dated May 21, 2012. The email, titled, ‘Apple litigation alleged patent infringement,’ was described by James Maccoun, [Google's counsel], as ‘Google’s essentially offering to defend Samsung to the MADA (Mobile Applications Development Agreement) and does offer to defend some — some claims.’ ”

While this may seem a bit “open and shut,” it actually isn’t. There’s a great deal of, “he said, she said” going on with all of this. After the last trial, which Apple won and was ultimately (after reductions and retrials) awarded a judgment of about $890M USD (and not the original $1B+ USD), Samsung outlined what was described as “minor damages” related to two patents it purchased in 2011, after initially being sued by Apple; and doesn’t appear to amount to much.

For example, one patent related to a FaceTime-like video system which could send video over a low bandwidth line, has expired. Apple Insider calls this “start contrast to Apple’s patent offense, which focuses on four feature patents that Samsung meticulously detailed as features it needed in its own products in order to compete against Apple, including Slide to Unlock and Apple Data Detectors.” At this time, Samsung refuses to license the patents on Apple’s terms, hence the latest law suit from Apple seeking $2.0B in damages, royalties and lost profits.   However, that doesn’t clear Apple of anything.   How – and even IF – it’s relevant to these proceedings remains to be seen.

However, being able to produce these four exhibits that clearly contradict Samsung’s earlier testimony, is – in a word – damning. The fact that Samsung knew it had IP issues and then actively sought protection against them from Google in Samsung’s first patent trial against Apple is telling. They knew they were (at least potentially) in trouble.

One big question from all of this is, “how does this effect Google, if at all?”   Will they be drawn into this because of their own desire to indemnify Samsung; or because of the conspiracy to hide the truth from both the Court and from Apple during the last trial? Will they be fined, or be held partially responsible for the damages and judgment that Apple won?   At any rate, that, and if and how this development effects the current trial, remains to be seen.

The biggest question I have after all this is – how will Judge Koh take all of this?   Since Samsung has been caught in a blatant lie, will Judge Koh penalize Samsung in any way?   Will she hold them in Contempt of Court?   She’s shown herself to be intolerant of the shenanigans going on between the two companies in and out of the courtroom. Given that this is pretty “in your face,” I wonder if she will retaliate.   I know many that would want to, at least initially.

At the end of the day, it’s clear that the legal issues between Apple and Samsung – and potentially Google now – are far from over.   If there’s one thing that this particular revelation has shown me, it’s that the trial still has a lot of legs and still has a great many more skeletons buried deep within both company’s respective closets that may yet be revealed.

What do you make of all of this? Did this surprise you as much as it did me? If so, were you more surprised by the actual facts of the situation or by the fact that Samsung got caught in a lie? How do you think it will affect the current trial, if at all?   Will Judge Lucy Koh act on this particular issue, holding Samsung and/ or Google in contempt of court, will she let it slide; or will she penalize one or both of them in a different way?

I’d really like to hear from everyone.   This could create a really cool conversation, with a great deal of speculation and interesting content.   Why don’t you log in and give me your thoughts in the comments section and tell me what you think?   I’d really like hearing your thoughts on all of this.

The roller coaster ride isn’t over yet, but you’re going to have to watch out for pot holes and other bazooka-like remnants as you make your way through it all. This one has the potential to get a bit messier still…

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Did Nike’s FuelBand Run out of Gas?

Numerous reports have been seen on the internet recently indicating that Nike recently decided to exit the wearables market and has released or reassigned the members of its FuelBand Team.

If there’s one thing that I know, it’s that wearables are a hot market. Jawbone has one. Fitbit has several; and now Nike has none; or at least that’s what most of us have been lead to believe, if you lend credibility to some reports that have surfaced over the past couple of days. It was reported by a source close to C|Net that Nike has recently announced that it will be exiting the wearables market, leaving its FuelBand and FuelBand SE wrist bands behind to concentrate, it says, on health related software.

Nike-FuelBand-SE

Nike’s wearables division was 70 people big. It was originally reported that as many as 55 of those 70 had been released or reassigned.   That’s 78%+ of the members on the team. It was thought that some of those 55 people may take roles in other parts of the organization, though the specifics of those details were unknown.

Last week, Nike announced a new R&D entity called Fuel Lab. The group is said to concentrate its work on building out products that leverage the Nike Fuel workout metric.   Now, Nike has confirmed to Re/code that a “small number” of its people were let go. They have denied C|Net’s reports that it is closing its hardware division stating that the FuelBand and the FuelBand SE remain “an important part of [their] business.”   They have committed to continuing updating the FuelBand app as well as supporting it for the foreseeable future.

I bought a Nike FuelBand in December 2013 and have worn it every day since it arrived. I now have over 1.1M Nike Fuel in my Nike+ account. The band is comfortable to wear and does a good job of recording MOST movements.   It does a great job of recognizing arm sway while walking. It’s not that great about recognizing running arm sway. I spent most of November, December and January on an elliptical jogger. It did a horrible job of recording and measuring the activity. I’m told that it was the angle of the movement as read by its accelerometer that causes the problem.   For some reason, the Nike FuelBand/SE just doesn’t read the movement correctly. It’s very frustrating.   I run on an elliptical because I have knee problems (and therefore can’t jog…). Running is one of the best ways to lose weight and exercise. However, if my activity tracker can’t measure the activity correctly, then I may need a new tracker…

The iWatch is supposed to address this, if and when Apple releases it, and IF its even called that.   To an extent, the Pebble Steel may address this via Run Keeper (or other connected, compatible app). Either way, I need to eat less and move more; and measuring my progress isn’t as clear-cut as it was about 8 months ago.

Do you use an activity tracker?   If so, which one? Does it have a companion app on your smartphone of choice? Why don’t you join me in the discussion area and tell me about your setup and what you feel the best configuration is?

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Aftermarket CarPlay Support Arrives in 2014

Both Alpine and Pioneer have promised to release aftermarket head units compatible with Apple’s CarPlay in 2014

If you remember, right before Apple announced CarPlay, I put out a lengthy article outlining a vision for what was then known as iOS in the Car. Right after that hit the site, it seems Apple got on the stick and decided to announce their long anticipated and highly sought after automotive integration.  It was pretty cool to compare what I was looking for and what Apple decided to do. I was close, but my vision didn’t quite have synergistic parity with Apple’s actual plans.

14.03.03-CarPlay-2

At the time of the announcement, companies like Volvo, Ferrari and GM announced support.  Shortly after that, a great many others announced support for the info-tainment system, including Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan and Toyota, among others. As long as you’ve got an iPhone 5 or later running iOS 7.1 or later, your iPhone will support CarPlay and your NEW ride will have support for Apple’s ecosystem built in.

The problem comes in iPhone owners with older vehicles. No one knew if or when any aftermarket support for the standard would be introduced either via a firmware upgrade for existing head units or as new, aftermarket hardware that could be installed.  Thankfully, both Alpine and Pioneer have confirmed that they will both have units available for purchase – that should work in many popular vehicles – before the end of calendar 2014.

Pioneer will update the firmware of five of its new NEX in-dash multimedia receivers; and they are compatible with most existing vehicles.  Pioneer will also have entry level options for new receivers starting at $700 USD; and going up to $1400.

Alpine’s offerings will reportedly be offered in both the US and in Europe and are reported to range from $500 to $700 USD and is rumored to include a 7″ touch screen.  Movement for aftermarket support is coming faster than anticipated, as Kenwood said they wouldn’t have any CarPlay compatible systems in 2014. The fact that both of these high-quality, aftermarket providers will being offering multiple units at varying price points indicates huge aftermarket demand for what will likely become an standard across multiple automotive manufacturers.

For me, this means I’m buying a new head unit later this year. Period. My Toyota has a Kenwood system in it right now that isn’t quite iPhone 5 or iOS 7.x compatible, despite what Kenwood says.  The unit is very nice, but it frequently has issues connecting to my iPhone 5, has issues staying connected and then tends to beep or ping unexpectedly when speaking to callers. It gets so bad, that I often have to either delete the partnership between my iPhone and head unit and repair OR I have to remove the head unit face (killing Bluetooth) or turn Bluetooth on my iPhone off/on and allow it to repair.

This happens multiple times a week, and I’ve nearly ditched the head unit on a number of occasions. I recently discovered a firmware update for it and applied it, but it really didn’t improve anything for me. I’ve either got a bad head unit (not quite likely) or the firmware update/ Bluetooth profiles aren’t as robust as they could be/ should be (much more likely).  The problem isn’t my iPhone 5. It pairs with other Bluetooth devices (speakers, headsets, etc. – or those that make specific use of Bluetooth audio) without issues or needing any troubleshooting. I was seriously considering buying another, much more expensive – read, totally iPhone 5/s iPhone 6 compatible – head unit. I spend a great deal of time driving my car commuting to work and driving between Chicago and Omaha.

I need something that’s going to work and isn’t going to requiring a lot of hand holding and troubleshooting. Since I’m going to either stay with my iPhone 5 or upgrade to iPhone 6 (the smaller of the two larger screen models that are currently rumored to be released this Fall), I know I’m going to want something that will continue to work and work well with my smartphone of choice. That’s going to be something that’s CarPlay compatible.  Since I’ll likely keep an iPhone 6 for at least two years, or will keep my iPhone 5 indefinitely, paying a premium for the car head unit will be justified (at $500 that breaks down to about $21 a month).  It becomes an even better deal if I stay with my iPhone 5, as I won’t also have a new device purchase to fund as well as a new head unit.

For my wife, who has a Honda Odyssey with a factory head unit that plays DVD’s on a screen that flips down from the ceiling of the van, any CarPlay compatible replacement for her entertainment system would likely have to come directly from Honda in order to insure that everything works the way it’s supposed to. However, with the kids as active as THEY are after school, it’s likely that she will need something that works well with her iPhone 5, especially since she doesn’t have any kind of Bluetooth headset and Illinois passed a cellphone hands free law that went into effect 2014-01-01.  She’s on her phone all the time. If she doesn’t get something to help her be hands free, she’s gonna get pulled over, I just know it…

And unless the offerings from either Alpine or Pioneer work in her van and interface with her in-car DVD player, the CarPlay unit will likely HAVE to come from Honda, which will make it all the more expensive…if Honda even offers it as an aftermarket/post purchase add-on or upgrade. I don’t want to have to replace everything in that system.

What about you?  Are you an iPhone owner?  Will you be purchasing a CarPlay compatible head unit for your late model vehicle? Will you just purchase a new vehicle instead? Why don’t’ you join me in the discussion below and tell me what you’re going to do?

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Is Retro Good Enough? – The HTC One (M8) Dot View Case

It offers good protection, and the dot view display is cool in a retro sorta way, but…

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When I bought my iPhone 4S, I tended to carry it without a case. Most of the cases that I found, I didn’t like. The ones I liked, were too expensive, or…they wouldn’t work with an Apple branded or third party cradle. I got so fed up with it that I just decided to carry a naked device. Working with the cases that I found was just too frustrating.

That changed a little bit with my iPhone 5.  I’ve been using the same Speck case for nearly 2 years. I’m very happy with it, mostly because the back folds up and out of the way, so it works with devices and cradles that don’t work well with cases. It’s pretty cool to have a case that works – and I mean really WORKS – with your device and not against it.

When I received the HTC One M8 a few weeks ago, I was very excited to see that it came with the Dot View case.  Since it’s a loaner-review unit, the last thing I wanted to do was return it with scratches or dents in the screen or aluminum unibody. I know most reviewers understand that these things make the rounds, but you really want to take care of it. YOU don’t want to work with a beat up review unit. The next guy doesn’t want to, either.

So, the moment that after I unboxed the HTC One (M8), I put it in the Dot View Case. Here’s my feedback, specifically on the case.

1.Dot View Display Doesn’t Always Display

I find this one very frustrating. The Dot View display is supposed to display every time you close the case and then every time you double tap the front cover of the device while it’s closed over the display.  Simply  put, the HTC One (M8) review unit I have initially did this, but then stopped displaying the Dot View Display when the Dot View Case is closed on the device shortly after I started working with it on day one. Since then, the Dot View Display does appear when you double tap the closed case while it’s closed over the display, as required.

 2. Cracks and Wear

I’ve said it before. I have concerns about the hinge on the Dot View Case cracking over time with wear.  The logical way to work with this case is to flip the cover around the back of the device so that the cover stays open while you hold the device.  Over time, that’s going to create stress cracks on the spine of the case, and it’s going to weaken, rip and/ or crack. Period. This is just a matter of time.

3. Dot View Case and the Duo Camera

It’s clear to me that whomever designed the Dot View Case, never used it with the device. Part of the normal use case for the device is to take pictures with the device while it’s in the case.  This presents a couple of problems:

a.   Wrapping the Case Cover around the Device - You Can’t Take Pictures with the Case Cover open and wrapped around the back of the device. It covers the secondary lens, and the camera complains because the lenses are obstructed.  If you’re using the device with the Dot View Case and you want to take pictures, you have to open the case and let the cover flop open…which leads to our second problem.

b.   Elasticity in the Case Hinge – Leaving the case to flop open while you’re holding the device in landscape orientation, using the volume rocker as a shutter button, the Dot View Case cover wants to close shut on the device, turning off the display. This makes taking pictures with the device very frustrating.

In the end, you’re better off taking the device OUT of the case when you want to take pictures with the HTC One (M8).  Having the device in the Dot View Case while using it as a camera is very frustrating and very aggravating. While it’s very easy to take a lot of pictures with the HTC One (M8) and its rapid shutter release, the longer you work with the device as a digital camera, the more you’re going to want to have it out of the case, which completely defeats the purpose of having it in the case in the first place.

I’m not sure what the right answer is here. The case needs a couple of holes in the front at least for the camera (which would screw up the dot matrix look of the case OR require a graphic redesign of the dot view display), or you just need to make a different case choice for the HTC One entirely.

4. Use with Automotive Universal Device Cradles

This is another hot mess.   Most universal device cradles use some kind of spring tension arm to hold the device in place. Arkon makes some great universal holders. I’ve been using them for almost 10 years.

Your device needs to be in a cradle of some kind while it’s in the car. If you’re using it for navigation or for music playback, you’re going to want it secured and within reach so you can change songs, address GPS issues or answer phone calls without diverting your attention from the road.

The problem is that the case is flexible and there’s a great deal of elasticity in the plastic/ rubber hinge. You have to fold it around the back of the device so you can see the device while it’s in the case and in a universal cradle.  Side gripping cradles want to grab the case cover and fold it in half long ways/ portrait style. When this happens, I feel like the case cover is going to crack. Top gripping cradles want to grab the case and fold it in half short ways/ landscape style. When this happens, I feel like the plastic/ rubber hinge is going to rip AND the case cover is going to crack.

Again, this is another instance where you’d think that taking the device out of the case would be best, but at that point. However, that brings me to my final point regarding the Dot View Case.

5. Practicality Over Time – Don’t Bother

The Dot View Case is a book style case that rests its novelty in a dot matrix styled, retro display created by the holes in the cover.  When using this case with the HTC One (M8), I found I wanted the device in some sort of a protective case nearly all the time. It’s a mobile device, and I use mine most when I am in fact…mobile.

However, I found myself wanting to plug and chug the device in and out of the case more often than not when taking pictures and when putting it in a universal device cradle in the car.  The case doesn’t work well in these use cases.

I have an hour drive to work every day. That’s 2 hours in the car. Add normal picture taking/ selfies posing and other use to this, and I think you’ll find as I did.  The Dot View Case is a flop.

The problem is the case design, not the case type – a book style case. In contrast, book cases for the Samsung Galaxy S4 or S5 works and works well because of the huge window cut in them to display the date and time when they are closed. When you fold them back, the opening in the case cover doesn’t obstruct the camera lens or LCD flash, allowing for unobstructed camera use.  The case hinge also doesn’t have the elasticity that the Dot View Case’s plastic/ rubber hinge and doesn’t want to swing closed all the time. I believe it’s also made of leather or other material and will probably weather the stress a bit better.

In the end, while I truly believe you need a case for any and all mobile devices and smartphones, the HTC One (M8) Dot View Case, unfortunately isn’t very practical; and that really bothers me.  I like the retro styled, dot matrix display and the fact that the device can detect a double tap to activate the display THROUGH the case, but in working with it over the past few weeks, I am too afraid of ripping, cracking or breaking it while using it for it to be of any real, long term use to me or any other user of the HTC One (M8).

What do you think?  Is the Dot View Case’s cool factor enough to excuse its many foibles? With its Gorilla Glass front and aluminum shell, is a case REALLY necessary?  Am I being too critical of the design and of book style cases in general?  Why don’t you give me your thoughts in the comments section below and let me know what you think?

 

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