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.

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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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Ashampoo WinOptimizer 11

Keep your Windows PC running in tip-top shape with this must have optimization utility.

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Security and performance optimization are some of the most needed, important computer features today. With all of the security issues that seem to be cropping up now-a-days, the more you can do to protect yourself, the better off you’re going to be. Having the right tools in your toolbox for this is important, and its one of the biggest reasons why I like WinOptimizer 11 from Ashampoo. Its one f the best Windows utilities you can find on the internet today.

Taking care of your PC is often difficult. With WinOptimizer, you get all the assistance you need. It gives you the most your PC can deliver, allowing you to concentrate on your work, rather than concerning yourself with its performance. For example, new in Ashampoo WinOptimizer 11 is Game Booster. With it, you can automatically free system resources and shut down non-essential system services during game play so that your games run faster and more efficiently. It kills all non-gaming essential services (but not processes) and enhances multimedia processing.

Services for mobile devices support, VoIP, browsers that consume a lot of RAM and Office apps like Word or Excel and their associated services will be shut down; but can be easily restored when you’re done playing your game. The best thing is that Game Booster can be activated manually through Live Tuner’s system tray context menu, a shortcut on the apps overview page, or automatically when a game or system intensive app is started.

One of the app’s newest and biggest features is User Rights Manager. This is a comprehensive module that allows anyone with admin rights to the box adjust system restrictions for a single user or for multiple accounts, based on the internal Windows system Policy Editor. A backup of all user restrictions is created automatically in the background before changes are saved.

For example, you can set policies like always opening flash drives as write protected. You can prevent access to admin features by non-admin users, hide varying shutdown options, prevent access to Control Panel’s System properties that control Display, Bluetooth, Power Management, Network connections, etc. If you have shared computers anywhere in the house and inquisitive computer users, limiting access to these things can save you a lot of grief and troubleshooting later.

I’m always very critical of system utilities for a number of reasons. In many ways they make self service a whole lot easier. However, the more advanced THEY get, the more advanced YOU must get in order to understand the system changes you’re enabling. The biggest reason why I like WinOptimizer from Ashampoo is that they give you the options and capabilities without overwhelming you with all the technical mumbo-jumbo that goes along with it.

WinOptimizer 11 is one of better Windows utility apps on the market today. Its fast, easy to use and understand, yet gives you access to all of the options that many corporate system admins have via the Windows Group Policy Editor, without having to deal with its much more complicated interface.

Ashampoo is one of my favorite software publishers. They have some really awesome apps, and this is definitely one of them. The addition of User Rights Manager and Game Optimizer alone justify the upgrade costs. However, it has a great deal MORE to offer. Download this now and find out for yourself why Soft32 thinks this is a must have for your PC.

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UPDATED – Amazon Releases FireTV

It’s a direct shot across the Apple TV bow. How the industry, and Apple specifically should respond remains to be seen…

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Amazon recently announced the Amazon FireTV, a set-top box similar to the Roku box, Chromecast and of course, the Apple TV. However, there were a few gotchas with the device that have me – and a number of other people – scratching their heads. It’s a good first effort, but; well… I don’t want to get ahead of myself…

Amazon’s FireTV has a similar look to the Apple TV, Apple’s “hobby-based” content streaming project that has them pulling in a great deal more revenue from their content ecosystem than I think most people think or Apple is willing to admit. If you have an iDevice and buy ANY content on iTunes, having an Apple TV so you can play that content on your television set is a no-brainer.

I think Amazon had the same thought. They want to give people that have adopted their ecosystem the opportunity to do the same things – watch their purchased or rented video, listen to their music, etc. on their television sets. However, based on the recently debunked rumors, it seems to me that Amazon had a chance to hit a home run, and instead, swung and missed.

The FireTV… yeah… it doesn’t support Amazon Prime Video. Meaning that you can’t use it to stream any content to your TV from the vastly popular and PAID streaming service Amazon gives its Prime members as part of their (now) $99 annual member fee. Whoever made that decision needs to be hunted down and shot fired.

Apple TV is successful because it allows users to stream items from the iTunes media store as well as a user’s iTunes library. Everything that Apple can stream to your Mac or PC, can come through the Apple TV. Users can also buy and rent content from the set top box.

Amazon won’t stream Prime Instant Video through the FireTV. There’s absolutely NO incentive for any Amazon Prime member to buy the box, even after the $20 price increase most of us have recently been subject to. Again, what idiot thought THAT up? While I understand that they are trying to entice other, new customers and users – many of which may not be Amazon Prime users to the ecosystem – what better way to cement current users into the ecosystem than through a set top box that supports their ENTIRE ecosystem and also allows those users to purchase additional content? I know there was purpose and thought behind the decision not to support Prime Instant Video. I just think their logic is flawed and the decision was, well… wrong.

In my opinion, Apple TV has no direct competitor. Yes. You’re right…there ARE other streaming set top boxes out there. The Roku box and Roku Streaming stick are two big examples at the front of the pack. However, even though it can stream content from external services like Netflix as well, it doesn’t have an ecosystem it could support. The FireTV does.

This decision just feels as though someone was asleep at the wheel. Amazon needs to reexamine it and correct it ASAP. I was seriously considering purchasing one UNTIL I found out it doesn’t support Prime Instant Video. Now, I wonder if I will even bother looking at the product pages for it.

How about you? Are you interested in the FireTV even though it doesn’t support Amazon Prime Instant Video? Would it encourage you to purchase an Amazon Prime membership if it did? Why don’t you join me in the comments below, and tell me what you think of this development.

UPDATE – This article was originally based on initial information available on the internet at the time just before the announcement of the set top box. Much of what you see above has been updated to indicate that Amazon FireTV DOES in fact support Amazon Prime Streaming Video. This is a huge win for Amazon as well as users of Amazon Prime as it corrects nearly every issue I brought up with the service.

What makes this an even more compelling buy, especially if you have most, if not all of your media content purchased through one of Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets, is that like the Apple TV, now you have access to all of your purchased content as well as Amazon’s Prime Streaming Video service.

If you do not have a set top box AND have an Amazon Kindle Fire or Kindle Fire HD tablet, this is the streaming set top box you need to purchase.

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Macgo Mac Blu-ray Player

Play Blu-ray disks on your Mac or on your PC with this GREAT cross platform app.

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The one thing that I’ve always felt has been missing from OS X was Blu-ray support. Apple didn’t – and still doesn’t for that matter – think that Blu-ray was relevant enough to include native support for in OS X. This is why Macgo Mac Blu-ray Player is my favorite DVD player. It provides all the regular DVD support, plus gives you support for Blu-ray DVD and HD video.

The coolest thing about Mac Blu-ray Player is that its the first universal Blu-ray media player for Mac in the world. It plays Blu-ray discs and Blu-ray ISO files on Mac and PC. It will also play all of these on iOS devices. You can also play most any kind of video, audio, or photo formats with it. It has multi-language support and is easy to use.

The app works on both Mac AND PC systems. It will run on any Mac running OS X 10.5 Leopard or later. It runs on any PC running Windows XP SP2 or later. The only obvious hardware requirement you MUST have is a compatible Blu-ray drive for either your Mac or PC

This is probably one of the best apps I’ve got on my computers. I was looking for something that would support Blu-ray on my Mac and on my PC’s and Macgo has a bundle that will allow you both Mac and PC licenses. The app is easy to use, and the interface is decent and easy to follow. With the ability to play nearly any and every kind of video file ever created, this app will give you the ability to play every multimedia file you can put your hands on and then some.

The app can also play HD video on your compatible iOS device. Just like Apple’s AirPlay, the app can project video on your iPod, iPad or iPhone. The only problem is that it doesn’t work with iOS 6.x devices. Macgo says they are working on a solution; but as of this writing, Airx doesn’t work with iOS 6.

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HTC One (M8) Initial Impressions

I have seen the new hardware; and it is good… if you have 3 hands.

As I’ve said, I’ve been in mobile devices for a long time. I’ve used nearly all of them, too; at least on the Windows Mobile and Android side. I had nearly every Compaq iPAQ. I had all the Palm Tungsten T devices (T, T2 and T3… that hardware was totally awesome – solid and well built).One of the biggest and most important tenants of mobile device use has consistently been one handed use.

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With the HTC One (M8), it’s just not possible. The phone is very wide, with the body measuring 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3 mm (5.41 x 2.69 x 0.37 in). Don’t get me wrong. The device fits very nicely in my hand(s). The problem is that you can’t use the device with one hand. The average person’s hand isn’t wide enough and their thumb isn’t long enough to enable one handed use on a device that’s nearly 5.5″ tall and 2.7″ wide. However, it fits well in the one hand that you do use to hold it. The device’s curved back lends to the comfort you do feel, holding the device

This is a big problem with the current smartphone screen size trend as I see it. You can’t work the device with one hand. You must use two, meaning that in order to successfully use the device for the task at hand, you must focus all of your attention on it and nothing else. You also don’t get to have anything else in your hands. This means that you can’t be at the office, walking down the hall on your way to another meeting with a notebook, tablet or a cup of coffee in one hand while you check newly arrived mail with your smartphone in the other. You either need to be empty handed or you have to stop and put something down so you can use your phone. Not totally intuitive or user friendly, if you ask me; and I think it’s the biggest reason why Apple hasn’t jumped on the new wide screen fad/ paradigm shift up to this point. Jobs was all about one handed use (which is also another reason why he didn’t like styli. You had to use both hands AND it was another thing to carry and lose…)

The screen is clear and bright. It’s easy to read and easy to view content on. For someone firmly in the middle of life where eyesight is currently an issue (and it most certainly is with me), this is a great screen to have on a mobile device. Fonts are easy to read and are crisp and clear. Video is easy to view on the large 1080p compatible screen.

The other thing that struck me right off the bat was the dot case and the clock/weather screen. I activated the phone on Saturday 2014-03-29, shortly after I did my unboxing. The first thing I did was put it in the dot case, because it was included and I honestly didn’t want any scratches or blemishes on this device while I had it on my watch.

When you opened and then closed the case, the device clock and current weather conditions would activate as you expected it to. It did that pretty consistently…for about the first hour and a half that I had the device going. Shortly after that, it stopped displaying the time and current weather conditions when the case closed. Now when you close the case, the display just goes dark. The only way to get that information to display is to double tap the case while the cover is closed.

Amazingly, the device detects the double tap through the case cover and displays the time and current weather. However, I have been all through the device’s settings. I can’t find any information or settings page where you control what happens with that case. I find that very aggravating. I didn’t change anything on the device to make that cease from functioning. The HTC One (M8) just stopped doing it on its own. Yeah… I don’t get it.

The dot case itself, however, is a dark gun metal grey. It’s a dark contrast to the HTC One (M8)’s light gunmetal grey metal casing. I like the way it looks. It’s unique in the mobile device world, as I’ve never seen anything like it before; and it does a decent job of protecting the device. The only thing I don’t like about it is that there’s no good way to use the device with any kind of a universal device cradle in my vehicle with the case on.

In order to use the device in the Arkon Slim Grip Ultra mount for example, you have to bend the cover back around the back of the device. This produces two potential problems.

1. Hinge Stress
Unless the plastic in the case will be able to withstand a great deal of stress, I can see cracks developing in the hinge over time. The whole thing makes me nervous; but I’d rather not risk scratching the beautiful screen without one.

2. Flexible Cover
The Arkon mounts I have in my Camry allow me to secure my iPhone 5 as well as any other mobile device (in this case the HTC One (M8)) while I’m driving. That way, I can use either/both device’s built in GPS functionality and/or audio players while the vehicle is moving. However, the Arkon Slim Grip Ultra mount likes to grab the dot case cover while its wrapped around the back of the device and not let go of it when you try to remove the device from the universal mount. I can see the cover tearing away from the case backing, especially if there’s stress cracks in the hinge. You can use a side gripping mount like the Arkon Mobile Grip 2 mount; but honestly, I don’t feel that the device is as secure as I do with the Arkon Slim Grip Ultra mount.

I’ve done a lot of talking about the screen today – size, resolution, etc. as well as the device’s dot case. Come back tomorrow and I’ll have some thoughts on Android 4.4.2 Kit Kat and HTC’s implementation of it on the HTC One (M8) as well as device performance.

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Amazon Free Video Streaming Service?

Yeah… Not so much.  Amazon denies rumors of a free video streaming service.

The interwebs were abuzz the other day when rumors of a new, and free, streaming service from Amazon hit the wire.   The Wall Street Journal had reported that the Everything Store was planning to introduce an ad-supported video and music streaming service in the immediate future.   The service was rumored to feature original series and licensed content, similar to “Betas,” a TV show produced for Amazon’s Prime video service last year.

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The big sticking point in this rumor is exactly that – Amazon’s Prime Video service. Prime Video is a perk offered to Amazon Prime Members as part of their (now) $99 per year membership fee.   How this rumored free service would live alongside Amazon Prime Video was not immediately available.   However, the rumor surfaced ahead of a special Amazon media event where the purveyor of nearly everything available on the internet was expected to announce a set top box or streaming stick, capable of delivering web-based video content to your television set.

Amazon’s Sally Fouts, a spokesperson for the Everything Store, has since come out and denied the rumor. Says Fouts, “we’re often experimenting with new things, but we have no plans to offer a free streaming-media service.”

For me, a long-time Amazon Prime member, this is good news.   One of the best perks of Prime membership, one that I use much more often than Prime’s free 2-day shipping, was its video streaming service. If that could be gotten for free, I was giving serious consideration to cancelling my Prime membership.

When I moved to Omaha to take a new job, I decided not to get cable TV service and decided to be a cord cutter. I stream video via Amazon Prime multiple times a week.   If Amazon was going to offer a free streaming service, ad supported or not, it would have left a number of Prime members wondering what they were really getting for their membership fee.

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iDevice Restore Gotchas

Sometimes the best thing to do is to wipe it and start over. Unless…

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I’ve said this before, but I’ve been in mobile devices since 1996. In fact, I cut my journalistic teeth on WindowsCE devices, getting started with a Casio E10 back in 1996. It’s been an interesting journey that got me involved with many members of the Windows Mobile MVP community.  Along the way, I also helped get pocketnow.com and Gear Diary, both of them mobile device sites (though Gear Diary is more of a mobile computing than mobile DEVICE site now-a-days) off the ground.  During that time, I got involved in custom Windows Mobile device ROM’s for a number of different devices. I was even able to make (albeit very basic) mods to some ROM’s so that when I hard reset a Windows Mobile device or PocketPC Phone, custom software would automatically install as part of the process.  During my brief romp in the Android world, I got very good at rooting Android phones with and without rooting tools.

I got my first iPhone in 2008, with the iPhone 3G. At that point, the device was still an AT&T exclusive, which for me was ok. As a Chicago resident, that metro area provided enough dense coverage that I didn’t think I’d have any call coverage issues.  As many found out, that was an incorrect assumption.  3G was still new at the time, and the iPhone 3G was plagued with both battery and call quality/ dropping issues due to radios and radio ROMS that would desperately try – come hell or high water – to keep or find a 3G signal.  As such, batteries would drain faster than you could say, “Bob’s your uncle;” and call quality tanked.  The fledgling iDevice had tower switching issues; and tended to drop more calls than it connected.  I had my iPhone 3G for less than 3 months before I sold it due to too many dropped calls.  I can remember speaking with a writing partner, and during one critical 20 minute call at my desk, my iPhone dropped the call 11 times.  At the end of the day, I had to ask myself if I would tolerate that level of performance from any OTHER mobile device I was using or reviewing, and the answer was a very quick and resounding, “no.”  So, out it went.

So, fast forward to present day…

I’m currently using an iPhone 5, on AT&T again (I left AT&T for T-Mobile, then came back with the release of the iPhone 5).  When it comes to mobile devices, I’ve somewhat changed my point of view and philosophy – I’m a little tired of the cuts and bruises one receives when living on the ragged, hairy, bleeding edge, so I’m very happy to be back inside Apple’s Walled Garden.  No jail breaking for me… I did jail break my iPhone 5 at one point and ventured outside of the walled garden for all of, like, 27 and a half minutes, and quickly ran back home.  Cydia… Oy!!  What a hot mess THAT is! Never again.

Anyway, the point to all of this rambling..?  Very simple – well, perhaps not THAT simple.  But there are a couple things that I wanted to say to everyone about their phones in general, and then wanted to point out something that SHOULD work, but absolutely doesn’t.  I’ll get to that in a sec…

  1. Do NOT Fear the Hard Reset
    I said this in a lengthy column back when I was writing for pocketnow, I think.  If you have a smartphone (back then, they were called PDA’s (personal digital assistants), and they didn’t have cellular connectivity), you’re going to put apps on it, and not all of them work and play well together.  Some developers just don’t produce quality code and don’t test well.  As a software quality professional with 25 years of experience, you have no idea how much that very common behavior just makes my teeth itch…As such, you’re likely going to wind up with a device that gets really screwed up at one point or another. When that happens, your best course of action is not to pull your hair out trying to fix things.  Most of your information is either backed up in your Google account on your Android phone, in OneDrive on your Windows Phone or in iCloud on your iPhone.  Don’t worry about it. Just hard reset the thing and rebuild the device from scratch and be done with it.If you’ve installed a lot of apps and had a good, functional back up of the device prior to things going south, you could also do a simple restore (which may save you time when rebuilding or reestablishing your device’s setup).  Unfortunately, depending on how diligent you are in backing up your device, you may or may not have a good, device back up available. Yes, you can try to trouble shoot the problems, but the likelihood of you pinpointing what combination of apps and/or settings that sent your device south is very slim.  The best thing to do is admit defeat, put on your big boy undies and wipe the device and rebuild. You may find that you’ll not only resolve the problem, but may see a huge performance boost. Your smartphone likes it when it’s clean.
  2. Make Sure you have a Solid Internet Connection
    Back during the jailbreak hay day, one of the things that Apple did to make certain you couldn’t jailbreak your device and to keep it running the way they wanted it to was to insure that it phoned home during a restore or reset operation.  This is fine when you have a decent Wi-Fi or wired Ethernet connection…and this is where things can get ugly – not so much when you’re using your iPhone as a hotspot.  iTunes puts the device in recovery mode before it verifies the ROM – AND, get this – it does it every single time you want to restore the phone to factory fresh.Dear Apple… STOP IT!This is the one thing that I mentioned above that absolutely should work, but doesn’t.  With iOS 8, though, you probably won’t need to do that anymore.  Apple has made it increasingly harder and harder for jail breakers to find an exploit so that they can actually create a jailbreak of iOS 7.x.  They’ve plugged nearly all the holes. I still think it’s important to verify that the restore file I am using isn’t corrupted or tampered with, but there HAS to be a better way to do this than by phoning home each and EVERY time I want or need to restore the device.  There has to be a way to do that ONCE and ONLY once per mobile OS version. Once that verification is done, I shouldn’t have to worry about what KIND of internet connection I have – Wi-Fi, wired or hotspot via my iPhone. I just wanna restore the thing and get it working again.I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to stop myself from performing a restore because I was out and about and was using my iPhone as a hotspot. In one instance during a recent move to a new geographic area, I had problems with my iPhone, started the restore and then realized I no longer had an internet connection when iTunes tried to verify the restore file.  I had to pack up my MacBook Pro, my iPhone and jump in the car and try to find a MacDonald’s or Starbucks so I could have my cell phone – my only connection to the people who were helping me move – back from the dead.Restoring your phone shouldn’t be so complicated…I’m just sayin’.
  3. Don’t Connect your Smartphone to your PC through a USB Hub
    Yeah… I know this one can be hard, especially if you’re connecting through a laptop and don’t have a docking station (can you say every Mac EVER made) and you hate plugging and chugging a bunch of cords in and out of your computer; but don’t do this if you can help it.  I can’t tell you how many different times I’ve had iPhones get stuck in recovery mode because the signal from the PC burps because it’s connected through a USB hub.  Some people have better luck when the USB hub has its own power source and isn’t drawing juice from the laptop to split your USB port. This isn’t always the case. I’ve found that it doesn’t matter if the hub is powered or not.  I’ve had to retry iOS restores many different times on both iPhones and iPads due to weak or poor USB signals when I use USB hubs.  After the second or third failure, I usually just plug and chug USB cables out of USB ports and plug my iDevice directly into the PC. It usually works first try after that.If you’ve got an Android device, don’t try to root it while connected through a USB hub.  Some Android devices don’t recover well if the rooting or flashing process burps.  Don’t turn your cool smartphone into a brick or paper weight. Connect to your PC directly.

I started out making this totally about Apple products, but found out as I went through the process that the gotchas that I’ve pointed out can occur with just about any and all makes, models and mobile OS’.  The iDevice Phone Home thing is all Apple, though; and it really just needs to stop.

Do you have any mobile device horror stories that you’d like to share? If so, I’d love to hear them.  Why don’t you join me in the comments section, below and tell me what happened to you.

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