FEATURE REVIEW – iPhone 7 Plus

After the initial out of the box experience, here are my thoughts on the iPhone 7 Plus

Introduction
I’m going to try to make this quick, as I’m currently working on a number of longer articles for Soft32 that I really want to get done in September as opposed to October; but to be honest, this one really can’t wait. If I don’t get it posted, its value and relevance will really fall; and I just can’t have that…

I’ve been an iPhone user on and off since 2008. I originally bought an iPhone 3G (or what could now be called the iPhone 2). It was the second iPhone that Apple released; and back in the day it you had a choice of two (2) colors – white or black. I was at a local AT&T store and while I wanted black, I had to take white, as all of the black phones were sold out. It’s also the last time that I actually stood in a line to buy a phone.

Things have changed a great deal in the last eight years.

I’m running with an iPhone 7 Plus this time around. I’ve had it for about a week; and I’ve developed a few opinions about it. Let’s take a quick sec and run over them… Shall we..??

Size, Finish and Form Factor
Damn, this phone is big.

I remember back in the day – and we’re talking 2004 to 2006 time frame – having a device with a screen larger than four (4) inches (measured diagonally) was a dream to view content with; but was considered a major issue because it completely interfered with one hand operation. The iPhone 7 is 4.7″ diagonally and the 7 Plus is 5.5 inches diagonally.

I found the following picture of all of the iPhones that Apple has ever released. It clearly shows the change in size over the past nine (9) years.

iphone-history

The iPhone 7 can still be used one handed, but requires a larger hand to really make this work without risking some serious and possibly painful, stretching. The iPhone 7 Plus simply can’t be used with one hand. At 5.5″ diagonally, the form factor (often) requires two hands to hold the device, let alone, use it.

I’ve got a serious case of arthritis in my hands, and to be honest, I don’t even think about trying to use the 7 Plus with one hand. For me – and I would think most of the Plus user base – it just isn’t possible.

If there was one thing that hit me when I got into my 7 Plus, it was the size of the device. My wife has the iPhone 6s Plus, and has been using that for a year; and of course I’ve occasionally used it; but it’s a different story when your daily driver is as large as the Plus size devices.

I know I will get used to it, but this is going to take me some time. I need to stop stretching my hands across the device to the upper left corner, trying to reach things. It’s just not going to happen…

With the device’s increased size, I’ve noticed that its rounded edges are a problem. The device is so smooth that it really feels like it wants to fall out of my hands when I’m holding it. If there was one thing that I would change about this device, it would be squaring off the rounded edges, making it a bit similar to the design of the iPhone SE and the iPhone 4/4s/5/5s. It would just make it a lot easier to grip and hold on to.

At the end of the day, the screen size is a huge reason to upgrade, but it makes the device a lot bigger (duh…) and it requires a bit of getting used to, especially for someone with arthritis issues, like me.

I purchased the matte black iPhone 7 Plus. My wife got the jet black iPhone 7 Plus. Both colors are VERY black. This is not charcoal, or a dark space gray. This is black.

My wife’s jet black 7 Plus arrived on 2015-09-27. The best way to describe it is as having a black, glossy, glass finish all the way around. The back looks as though it is covered with the same glass as the front is. It looks beautiful.

The Full 360
Here are some comparison photos of the iPhone 6, the iPhone 6s Plus and the Matte Black, iPhone 7 Plus.

dsc_1317 dsc_1318
From left to right, the front of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 & iPhone 6s Plus From left to right, the backs of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 & iPhone 6s Plus
dsc_1319 dsc_1320
From left to right, the bottom of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 & iPhone 6s Plus From left to right, the left side of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 & iPhone 6s Plus
dsc_1321 dsc_1324
From left to right, the tops of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 & iPhone 6s Plus From left to right, the right side of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 & iPhone 6s Plus

Home Button
This is a huge change in iPhone 7; and aside from the loss of the headphone jack (see below…), is perhaps the biggest, most controversial change in iPhone 7. 7 Plus.

The Home Button is no longer a physical button. The TouchID sensor is hidden under a haptic enabled, Force Touch/ 3D Touch, round, recessed section of the screen. User adjustable, haptic feedback simulates a click or press when you press on it with your fingertip.

The “button” works via capacitive touch. There is no physical, depressive hardware or button mechanism that depresses when you push the button. Like the trackpad on a MacBook or MacBook Pro equipped with a compatible trackpad, the new home button simulates a press when you “push” it.

I’ve noticed that while this is similar to the experience and feeling on the MacBook or MacBook Pro that’s equipped with a Force Touch trackpad, its simply does NOT work the same way. The trackpad “click” feels like you’ve actually clicked a trackpad. The feeling you get from the Home Button on the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus does NOT feel like you’ve pushed the Home Button on an iPhone 6s/ 6s Plus or earlier, and it never will.

While you WILL get used to this change over time, it’s the miniaturization of the haptic engine and the other components in the “button” that make this implementation of this technology different. It works on the trackpads because everything is a bit bigger, there’s more surface area to work with and the vibration from the haptic engine can be applied to a larger area and has a better chance to dissipate a bit to help simulate a depressed click, all without any physical, moving parts.

Because it has no moving parts, AND requires a capacitive connection, you can’t get a press out of the button with a finger nail. You have to have a physical, flesh to button connection. This coupled with the new click feel, is going to require some getting used to.

As a quick aside, iOS 10 also implements a, “press home to unlock,” process. This was done in large part due to complaints that Apple received from users of the iPhone 6s/ 6s Plus who indicated that the performance of the touch sensor on those phones was too good, unlocking the device before they had a chance to read all of the notifications on the lock screen. You can “disable” this somewhat by changing the Home Button behavior in Accessibility Settings.

You’re going to be pressing the Home Button a lot more, so you can either get used to it all, or change the settings to better match the way you work. Your call…

Headphone Jack
First things first… Apple did NOT simply cover up the headphone jack on the iPhone 7/ 7Plus with the new, left side speaker grill. They removed the jack and all the associated hardware from the device completely. Please note that drilling a hole in your iPhone 7/ 7 Plus looking to “activate” the “hidden” jack under the speaker grill is only going to destroy your new iPhone. There is no hidden jack.

Plainly put – drilling a hole in your phone is just a mark of stupidity. Don’t do it. Period. The headphone jack has been removed from the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus, not hidden.

That nasty bit out of the way, the big question is, “how has this affected me?”

The answer is, “not much at all.”

I love music. It’s a key part of my life and a large part of who I am. I’ve got songs – originals and covers – running through my head all day, every day. Literally.

The main place I listen to any audio content is my car; and I’ve been listening to it via lightning connector/ USB cable connected to my car radio for about five (5) years. The only time I’ve ever really used any of the ear buds I’ve received with any of my iPhones – or any smartphone, for that matter – is when I’ve needed to make a phone call while having both hands free (and I wasn’t in my car). I very rarely listen to music at the office, as someone is likely to say something to me, and I’m not going to hear them if I’m plugged in. At home, I play audio through desktop speakers set at the appropriate volume level.

Now, that isn’t to say that I will NEVER use a set of headphones at office. However, when I do, I’ve got that covered. iPhone 7 and 7 Plus both come with a Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter (a $9 accessory). If I want to listen to music at work, I’ll put that adapter on the wired end of the Beats Wireless On-Ear Headphones I bought on Amazon.com.

Yes, they can also work wirelessly; but I never use the wireless connection any longer. I’ve had too many problems. The wired connection is much more reliable. So, again, I’ll just put the adapter on the AUX cord that came with the headset and leave it there.

While lots of folks hate change; this one isn’t bothering me much. At the end of the day, we’re going to do the same thing that we did when headphone jacks moved from 1/4 inch to 3.5mm… we’re going to get an adapter, attach it to our favorite headset, and we’re going to get over the fact that the jack we’re used to is gone.

Camera
There are a great deal of camera improvements in the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus. The table below compares the camera in the last two iterations of Apple’s flagship phone.

Feature

iPhone 7

iPhone 6s

Sensor Size 12MP 12MP
Aperture WA: f1.8, T: f2.8 f2.2
Zoom Optical: 2x, Dig: 10x Digital Only: 5x
OIS Both Plus Only
Lens 6 Element 5 Element
Lens Cover Sapphire Crystal Sapphire Crystal

I’m a decent amateur photographer, and quite honestly, the above features are the ones that I’m really interested in and concerned about when it comes to the camera. These are the core camera features that anyone really interested in the camera will really care about. The faster rating (f1.8 vs f2.2) on the iPhone 7’s rear camera means that it should take better pictures in low light situations. The camera should also be better at capturing sports or other fast action shots.

To be honest, these are all still photo feature related. While the ability to take video is also nice, I don’t do it much. Thankfully for me, though, the video camera feature set between the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus and the iPhone 6s/ 6s Plus hasn’t changed. It’s the same as last year’s model.

Since I’m coming from an iPhone 6 to the iPhone 7, I haven’t really had a chance to take or play with Live Photos. To be blunt and honest, I’m not impressed. Live Photos are three to six second movies that your phone takes. The photo appears as a still until you either press and hold or apply Force Touch to your screen.

Live Photos is turned on by default and are taken in Photo (default) mode. I’ve found them to be some of the worst photos AND videos I’ve ever taken. The still shots in them are mediocre at best and the videos are often blurry. When most stills are in the 175kb to 512kb size range and Live Photos are about 2MB in size, they are really nothing more than a waste of space, I’ve found. Unless you’re in a really well lit, naturally lighted area, I’d stay away from them.

Other photos I’ve taken with the iPhone 7 Plus look really good. Take a look at the table below. I’ve got two photos of the same subject taken with both devices and their Info sheets, below. Both photos are of our new puppy, Maggie, a havanese puppy, about 16 weeks old.

img_0102 img_0102-info
img_5820 img_5820-info

There’s nothing special done to either of these photos. I haven’t applied any filters or retouched them in any way. You can see the photo taken with the iPhone 7 Plus has much more detail and is a much clearer, more focused, sharper picture. That’s what a faster lens with a longer focal length and 4 additional mega pixels will get you. The quality and improvement is unquestionable.

When you look at these two sample photos, it’s clear which is the better one – the one taken with the iPhone 7 Plus. It also clearly illustrates why the camera on a smartphone is perhaps the single biggest reason why people upgrade their phones every 12 to 24 months. Their phone is the camera they carry with them everywhere they go.

When you make quality jumps like f1.8 from f2.2 and 6.6mm from 4.5mm, upgrading your smartphone to get a better camera is easy to understand. While I’d quite honestly rather have my DSLR with me to take pictures, this point and shoot camera on the iPhone 7 Plus is really a good substitute in a much more convenient form factor.

NOTE: I’m going to say just this about the pending Portrait mode and the Gaussian blur effect it performs – the blur needs to be more pronounced than some of the sample photos I’ve seen taken by those individuals running the update on an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus. Currently, the effect doesn’t feel strong enough to me. You can see some sample pictures published on c|net, here.

I am NOT currently running the iOS 10.1 beta that has this update, though I have access to the software. I wanted to be able to review my iPhone 7 Plus without the possible issues that may come from early betas of this first major update to iOS 10.

Battery Life
The iPhone 7/ 7 Plus and the iPhone 6s/ 6s Plus are effectively the same size. Each corresponding model in each device series has the same dimensions as the other. However, the inner workings are a bit different and are laid out differently. As I understand it, the batteries in the 7/ 7 Plus is slightly bigger than the batteries in the 6s/ 6s Plus.

Battery specs for the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 6s Plus are below. You’ll notice that the battery ratings for the 6s Plus are slightly better than the 7 Plus. While the battery is slightly bigger, the lower battery life ratings can be accounted for in the updated A10 processor, extra 1GB of RAM (the 7 Plus has a total of 3GB of RAM where the 6s Plus has 2GB of RAM) and the higher resolution display.

Feature

iPhone 7 Plus

iPhone 6s Plus

Improvement 1 hour Longer

N/A

Talk Time – 3G Up to 21 hours on 3G Up to 24 hours on 3G
Standby Up to 16 days Up to 16 days
Internet Use Up to 13 hours on 3G
Up to 13 hours on LTE
Up to 15 hours on Wi-Fi
Up to 12 hours on 3G
Up to 12 hours on LTE
Up to 12 hours on WiFi
Wireless Video Playback Up to 14 hours Up to 14 hours
Wireless Audio Playback Up to 60 hours Up to 80 hours

During the day, I take and make a moderate amount of phone calls. I have some moderate app use. I play a couple hours of games; and I’ve always got at least one smartwatch connected to it – either the Olio Model One or the Apple Watch Series 0. With the iPhone 6, I found that my device’s charge would drop to between 15 to 20% power by the end of the day. I’ve found that with the iPhone 7 Plus, I can make it through the day with well over 55% charge left. That’s about 1/3 more battery life. I find that it also charges back up fairly quickly. I’m usually back up to 95-100% by the time I’m back home from work (a 45 to 60 minute ride).

Conclusion
I have some work to do getting used to the increased device size of the iPhone 7 Plus. I know I’ll get there; but right now, knowing that I have to finish adjusting and have to learn to feel comfortable using two hands to run the device instead of just one will take some time.

The jury is still out for me on the Home Button. We’ll have to wait and see what happens. I’d like to “like” how the device functions since I’m technically stuck with this until at least next year.

I’ve moved on from the loss of the headphone jack. You should too. It’s not that big a deal… really. As long as I have the 3.5mm to Lightning adapter on my Beats headphones audio cord, I’m fine. If not, then I have to go across the street from the office to the Apple Store to get a new one.

The camera is really great, but I need to spend some more time taking pictures with it. It’s a huge improvement over the iPhone 6 that I’ve been using and its enhancements warrant some serious work.

Battery life on the 7 Plus is decent. While its somewhat less than the 6s Plus, its enhanced components can explain that away, and honestly, it’s a lot better knowing that I’ve got extra battery power to get me through the day when I really need it.

The iPhone 7 Plus would have been a good upgrade for me regardless of the metrics or reasons and results of my first week of use. The device has a larger screen, bigger battery, a better camera and an extra 1GB of RAM (for a total of 3GB) than my iPhone 6, so this was a slam dunk based on those older device specs. Everything else I got was just gravy…

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WWDC 2016 Part 1 – macOS Sierra

A lot came out of the WWDC Keynote…

Apple WWDC16

There was a great deal of information that came out of Apple’s software only keynote address to press and WWDC 2016 developer attendees.  In this article, I’m going to concentrate on macOS Sierra.

macOS Sierra concentrates on a few different things. The ones that really caught my eye include Continuity, iCloud and Mac Fundamentals.

Continuity blends the lines between your devices. Your entire computing experience with you logging into and unlocking your computer. macOS Sierra now allows you to auto unlock your Mac by simply opening up your Mac while wearing your Apple Watch.  Apple Watch users can simply open the lid of their Mac laptop while wearing their Watch, and the Mac auto unlocks. Proximity and time of flight networking technology insures that it really is YOU opening up your Mac laptop.

Apple is also implementing a universal clipboard that works between your Mac, and all of your iDevices.  When you find something on your phone that you might want to use on your Mac, you don’t have to email or text it to yourself.  Now, the data is in your clipboard, and all you have to do is paste it.  One of the things missing here – at least as of this writing because I haven’t had time to play with Sierra yet – is clipboard history: the ability to remember a set, number of items copied to your clipboard.  Sierra may support this, it may not.

iCloud Drive makes documents available across all of your connected Apple devices whether they be Macs or iDevices, it doesn’t matter.  With Sierra and iOS 10, you get not only all of your documents, but your desktop and its contents available too.

iCloud Drive also now includes a feature called Optimized Storage.  Modern computers – laptops especially – come with SSD’s.  Unfortunately, most of those SSD’s are smaller than the spinning disk hard drives that everyone is used to.  Macs come with 128GB, 256GB or 512GB SSD’s; and even with half a terabyte, your drive can fill up quickly. iCloud Drive will now intelligently make room for new files on your Mac by moving older files from your Mac to the cloud, allowing you to access them there, instead.  iCloud Drive now only REALLY keeps the data that you’re working on, locally on your Mac.

Apple Pay now works on the web through Continuity.  When you’re buying something online on your Mac, you can use your iPhone to pay for it through Apple Pay via Continuity.  All you need is your iPhone handy, and you should be good to go.

For Mac Fundamentals, Apple has taken a logical, straight forward approach.  For example, tabbed windows now appear on every app, Apple created and included with Sierra or third party app.  This change comes at the OS level and no additional third party developer support is needed.

Picture in Picture (PiP) support is now also included at the OS level.  That means you can be writing a really great Mac article (like this one…) while also watching a video in a POP window that will travel with you from Space to Space and will work with full screen apps as well.

Siri is also included as part of Mac Fundamentals. Siri has her usual sass, but includes the ability to ask the system complex queries that you can pin to Notification Center. From there you can even drag and drop them into a document.  The seamless integration of it with other new and existing Apple features make the complete package very compelling, if not ungodly expensive…  However, if you ARE all Apple all the time, AND you have a compatible Mac, then you’re really going to love what you can do with all of your Apple gear.

You can see demos on all of this (as well as the rest of the Apple WWDC Keynote) here.

Speaking of compatible Mac hardware, Apple has also released the Mac hardware compatibility list for macOS Sierra.  Those computers include the following:

2009 and later

  • MacBook
  • iMac

2010 and later

  • MacBook Air
  • MacBook Pro
  • Mac mini
  • Mac Pro

While this list seems pretty decent, there are some pretty obvious computers missing from this list.  In the pre-2010 list, it seems that only MacBooks and iMacs get Sierra love.  Missing from that list are ANY kind of MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, Mac minis and Mac Pros.

For me, this means that my wife will be eligible for the upgrade, but my son-in-law with his Late 2008 Aluminum Unibody MacBook, will be left out in the cold. All of the other Macs in the house – my daughter’s Late 2015 13″ MacBook Pro, my Late 2013 15″ MacBook Pro and Mid 2012 13″ MacBook Air – will all get updates.

As of this writing, I’m installing macOS Sierra Developer Beta 1 on the MBA.  I’ll do my best to put it through its paces and then have some kind of write up in the coming weeks.

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Uninstall QuickTime for Windows – QUICK!

That is, if you want to remain virus free…

Uninstall QuickTime for Windows

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been a bit absent from Soft32.com, not because I wanted to and not because there wasn’t cool stuff to write about, but because real life intruded.  It’s always an interesting time when real life gets in the way, especially for those of us that have routines.  Thankfully, though, I didn’t have THIS problem to deal with – more malware.

However, if you’re an iDevice user on the Windows side of things, you’ll remember that iTunes historically always wanted you to install QuickTime for Windows. It used to play all video out of iTunes via QuickTime.

That, my friends, has changed.

Apple is no longer using QuickTime for Windows to play video in iTunes and apparently, has also stopped issuing security patches for it as well. Unfortunately, Apple didn’t tell anyone about this.  This was picked up and reported by Trend Micro and their Zero Day Intuitive; and has been making quite the stir ever since.

Trend Micro released the following statement on the issue:

“Apple is deprecating QuickTime for Microsoft Windows. They will no longer be issuing security updates for the product on the Windows Platform and recommend users uninstall it… Our Zero Day Initiative has just released two advisories ZDI-16-241 and ZDI-16-242 detailing two new, critical vulnerabilities affecting QuickTime for Windows. These advisories are being released in accordance with the Zero Day Initiative’s Disclosure Policy for when a vendor does not issue a security patch for a disclosed vulnerability. And because Apple is no longer providing security updates for QuickTime on Windows, these vulnerabilities are never going to be patched. We’re not aware of any active attacks against these vulnerabilities currently. But the only way to protect your Windows systems from potential attacks against these or other vulnerabilities in Apple QuickTime now is to uninstall it.”

While nearly everyone should have seen a number of third party reports to this effect, there’s no information on Quick Time for Windows’ demise coming from Apple.  They just seem to have flushed it, and moved on.

Those Mac users in the audience don’t have anything to worry about. Apple doesn’t seem to be deprecating or ending support of Quick Time for Mac, just the Windows variety.

It is highly recommended to everyone who uses Quick Time for Windows, to remove it from their Windows PC’s immediately.

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Do I have the AceDeceiver Malware?

Most – if not all – iPhone users, can relax…

AceDeceiver-Malware

There’s but a great deal of hub-bub over the latest revelation that non-jailbroken iPhones can be breached with a man in the middle attack (MitM) that comes to iDevices via flaws in Apples DRM system, FairPlay.

Apple’s FairPlay DRM (digital rights management) system insures that only authorized users can get access to purchased content (apps, music, movies, etc.) through a given AppleID. However, this MitM attack allows hackers to install malware on iOS devices without a user’s knowledge or consent, bypassing Apple security measures.

According to PaloAlto Networks,“In the FairPlay MITM attack, attackers purchase an app from App Store then intercept and save the authorization code. They then developed PC software that simulates the iTunes client behaviors, and tricks iOS devices to believe the app was purchased by the victim.”

While this has previously been used just to pirate iDevice apps in the past, this is the first time this particular attack has been used to install and spread malware.  Victims first download a Windows program called Aisi Helper which is supposed to provide jailbreaking, system back up and device management and cleaning services.  Once installed, it installs malicious apps to any and all iDevices that are ever connected to the PC.

From that point forward, the malicious app redirects App Store requests to a malicious store, where your AppleID and password WILL be phished.  So, what does this mean for YOU, the iPhone user right now?

Honestly, not much; and there are two really big reasons why:

  1. Currently, this effects users in China
    … and that’s about it right now. So unless, you’re an iPhone user, in China, at least for the moment, you’re safe.
  2. This is currently a Windows only Attack
    So, if you’re a Mac, you’ve got nothing to worry about. It all starts on the desktop, as I noted above.  If you’re using a Windows PC, then be vigilant; but again, unless you’re a Windows user that actually uses a Chinese localized version of Windows (and actually resides IN China), then you don’t’ have anything to worry about.
  3. If you’re OTA Only
    …Then don’t sweat it at all. If you NEVER connect your iPhone to a Windows machine, like…EVER… then you’re perfectly safe.  Apple’s on device security measures have already covered for this, and you have nothing to worry about.

So, what can you do to protect yourself, if you’ve been to China recently, use a Windows PC, and think maybe you might-could, possibly be infected??  That’s really easy.

  1. Don’t Jailbreak your iPhone
    I know, I know, I know… I said earlier that this attack hit NON-jailbroken iDevices. The whole thing starts, though on the desktop through the program Aisi Helper. While you may not be interested in its jailbreaking services, it can be used to backup, and clean cruft from your iDevice.Here’s a piece of advice – the only thing you need to use to back up your iDevice is iTunes. Period. If you don’t connect to iTunes on your computer through a USB cable and are OTA only, then use iCloud to back up your device. If you think you need to reset your, iDevice, then use only Apple provided tools (iTunes or the Reset functionality in your iDevice’s Settings).  Using third party tools for any of this is just an invitation to trouble
  2. Uninstall the Desktop Software
    If you have Aisi Helper on your PC, uninstall it. Period.  Don’t ever install any third party tool to backup, clean, or manage content on your iDevice, unless you REALLY trust the developer. And then, it’s really, REALLY risky.
  3. Run a Virus Scan
    After its gone, run a full virus scan with the tool of your choice, and then  make sure you quarantine and then remove any threats that are found.

This development is interesting, and monitoring for it on your iDevice and outside of China (where it’s the only place this is currently a threat) isn’t a bad idea.  However, at this point, for everyone else, this isn’t too big of a deal.  The biggest thing you have to keep in mind though, is that jailbreaking your iDevice is risky, no matter how much you might hate Apple’s walled garden.

While you may not be able to do everything you might want to do with your iDevice in terms of customization and side loading applications, with the threat of malware that steals your personal information that can lead to identity theft, the cool factor and the value in breaking free largely lose their appeal.

What do you think? Is jailbreaking still a thing?  Does it really offer you the options you’re looking for?  Is it too risky?  Do you have a jailbroken iDevice?  Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below, and let me know?

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The Difference between iCloud and iCloud Drive

Boy is THIS one a big muddled mess…

icloud vs icloud drive

About a month or so ago, I had a VERY good friend of mine have an issue with his iDevice.  He thought he had copied something to iCloud, but when he went looking for it after he reset his iDevice, it wasn’t there.  The hullaballoo that ensued was one for the record books as he scrambled around trying to find what he lost.

What he was looking for and if he was successful in restoring it to a place he wanted the file to reside in – while interesting – isn’t relevant.  The problem is that Apple’s cloud storage offering, iCloud, is pretty much a train wreck; and everyone that *I* know of, is pretty much totally confused and out to lunch when it comes to figuring out exactly what gets stored where, and more importantly why that object is stored THERE rather than someplace else.

I’m going to do my best to break this down and explain this as quickly and succinctly as I can. Bear with me, some of this is going to make sense. Some of it won’t. The BEST thing you can do, if you’re a Mac and/ or if you use any kind of iDevice, is simply accept that it is what it is; and then try to follow the rules.

If it doesn’t make sense to you, all I can say is, “Ask Jobs…”

What is iCloud?

This question should be labeled as one of the Seven Wonders of the [Modern] World.  Honestly, I don’t think that Apple really knows EXACTLY what they want iCloud to be; but this is the closest analogy that I can come up with –

iCloud is a giant, nebulous, all-purpose, storage locker.

Similar to the underside of a teenager’s bed, it’s the place where Apple wants to shove junk you want to save and/ or reuse from either your Mac, your PC, your iDevice, or all of the above.  Unfortunately, it’s just as organized, too.  Let’s face it, it’s a mess in there.

There are two basic components of iCloud (there are likely more, but for our purposes, and for the sake of argument, let’s just stick with two, ok?) – iCloud Backup and iCloud Drive.

ICloud Backup is the place where you can stash junk.  The data you “place” here is data like your text messages, email, contacts, calendar, photos, notes, and reminders.  Backups of your iDevices (iPhone, iPad, etc.) are also tossed in here.  Apple’s productivity suite, iWork, also places Pages, Numbers and Keynote files into iCloud Backup (and not into iCloud Drive, which I’ll get to in a bit…)

There are a few issues with all of this, and its mostly related to iWork.  However, the big thing you need to remember here is that the data here… is COMPLETELY unstructured.  You have no control over it, how or where its stored in iCloud, or even what is used to retrieve it; and this is the key to iCloud Backup.

Apple doesn’t want you to think about where you stash your stuff or what you used to create or modify it with.  The app that you use, handles all of that.

In other words, when you take a picture with your iPhone (if you have the device set to do this…), it automatically gets copied over to iCloud. After that, it’s available on every device that’s associated with your Apple ID, Mac, PC or iDevice, included.  The data just sorta shows up.

If you have to reset or rebuild any of those devices, the data is just supposed to show back up after you log back into it with your Apple ID.  There’s no “restore” command to invoke.  It just shows up in its own time. This is both good and bad.  Your data is constantly “backed up” and you don’t have to do anything to get it back.

The problem is, most people don’t think that way (when it comes to restoring data that may be lost).  There’s also NO way of going into iCloud Backup and cherry picking just the stuff you want to pull down or restore. It’s an all or nothing deal.

When it comes to your iDevices, things start to get a little muddy.  IDevice backups used to include the firmware, data and all the content (music, videos, photos, apps, etc.) on the device. The backup was a total and complete image of the device.  Now, it’s really just the configuration – a list of what apps you have installed, a list of what music, videos and other consumer content are on the device, etc.  When you restore a backup to your iDevice, the content you want comes back, but it’s all downloaded through iTunes,  or synched back to the device from iTunes via USB cable.

The issue here is, in my opinion, how everything in iCloud Backup is structured.  It’s totally UNstructured. Everything is either managed by the iCloud enabled/ aware app that created the content; or more like, it’s just shoved there, and if you want it back, the app that controls that data likely has settings that handle it all.

Apple doesn’t want you to HAVE  to think about all this. They just want to handle it for you, and unfortunately, NO ONE but the folks in Cupertino think that way. It goes against everything that the public’s been taught since 1980-blah-blah-blah.

Apple’s been fighting this paradigm for over 30 years when they first introduced the original Mac 128’s back in 1984. The whole, “you just WORK and let us think about HOW you work,” thing has never worked for the majority of the general public who, at best, work on Windows machines at work and have Macs at home. It just rubs us the wrong way… but I digress.

What is iCloud Drive?

iCloud Drive is probably the easier of the two to understand. ICloud Drive is Apple’s version of Drobox.  It’s also likely the most (in my opinion) organized part of iCloud. Period.  As such, again, it’s likely the easiest to understand; but it’s not without its foibles.

ICloud Drive is cloud-based document storage and retrieval. Like Dropbox or any other cloud-based file system, you can control what is there, what folders it’s in, etc. Whatever you place there, will copy down to any and all Macs (or iDevices running the iCloud Drive app) and PC’s running the service.

You can picture it as the box of specific junk that’s shoved under that teenager’s bed.  Everything else is a jumbled mess, but the stuff in that box is neat and organized.  Like Drobox or Google Drive you can copy items in or out of the service, and the changes will sync up or down to all connected end points.

The Lynchpin in iCloud and iCloud Drive

The one gotcha here is the way storage is managed.  It’s a one size fits all kinda thing; and its totally finite.

When you buy iCloud storage, you buy an amount that is shared between ALL iCloud services, including iCloud Drive.  So, if you buy 50GB of iCloud storage for $0.99 a month, you have 50GB available for everything you want to store, including, device backups, iCloud Drive, Photos, etc.

With the way Apple has this setup, it’s very easy for one particular service – say iDevice backups – to swallow up all your storage, leaving you with nothing for everything else.  You have to watch and manage what is being stored in iCloud; and you can do that via the iCloud control panel in Windows or via iCloud settings on your Mac or on your iDevice.

Thankfully, iCloud storage pricing tiers are now a bit more in line with everyone else’s.  All prices are monthly charges and in US dollars.  You can get

  • 1TB – $9.99
  • 200GB – $2.99
  • 50GB – $0.99
  • 5GB – Free

So, iCloud and its storage amount is very much like the space under that teenager’s bed. There’s only so much space and unless you get more (or in this analogy, a bigger bed…) once the floor space under the bed is gone, so is your ability to store anything new there.

Both OneDrive and iCloud offer 5GB for free. Dropbox only offers 2GB. Google Drive offers 15GB for free.

I hope that this helps make this clearer for everyone.  If there are additional questions on how this all works, let me know via the Discussion area, below. You can also shoot me a tweet at @chrisspera.

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Apple Tells the FBI to go Pound Bits

The FBI’s request for Apple to crack the San Bernardino terrorist iPhone 5c isn’t as cut and dry as it might appear…

apple and the fbi

This story has been making headlines for quite some time now, and I honestly think that it will continue to make headlines for some time to come. In fact, I can see this subject staying in the news for at least the next couple of months…

This is perhaps one of the most controversial issues I’ve seen out of the tech sector in a very long time. I’m also not entirely certain that there has EVER been such a controversial or politically charged issue on the minds of nearly every personal computer user – like, EVER.

At the heart of the issue is the iPhone 5c used by Syed Farook.  Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people and injured another 22 during a training class and party in December 2015.  The FBI has tried to access the iPhone 5c, but have not been able to get past its passcode, which resets after 10 failed attempts, rendering the device inaccessible.

During the week of 2016-02-14 to 2016-02-20, a federal judge ordered that Apple must assist the FBI in getting past the passcode screen.  Apple, has since refused to comply with this order, stating that they intend to fight the order, which they see as a violation of the right to privacy and of civil liberties.

At issue, is not this one single iPhone, owned by the (uninvolved and unknowing) business that Farook worked for.  According to Apple, the only way to gain access to an iPhone locked with a passcode is to crack the encryption and build a back door into the OS.  According to the FBI, Apple doesn’t have to create that back door. They can simply modify this one, particular iPhone 5c and give the FBI the access they need.

First of all, I think it’s interesting that the FBI can make this determination. If they’re smart enough to figure THAT out, then why can’t they crack the Farook’s iPhone themselves?

The logical answer here is they don’t.

They’re making an assumption, and I don’t believe they know what they’re talking about. If they had the technical hutzpah to make that statement, then they wouldn’t need Apple.

Now, according to an interview with Tim Cook that aired on ABC World News Tonight, there are some very serious problems with this request. Actually, Tim Cook called the issue “complex.”

According to Cook,

“If a court can ask us to write this piece of software, think about what else they could ask us to write — maybe it’s an operating system for surveillance, maybe the ability for the law enforcement to turn on the camera,” Cook said. “I don’t know where this stops. But I do know that this is not what should be happening in this country.”

In a message from Cook to Apple customers during the week of 2016-02-14 to 2016-02-20, Cook said that they had provided assistance to the FBI, but wouldn’t create a backdoor that would have the potential to crack any iPhone.  This decision was applauded by both Google CEO Sundar Pichai and WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum, among other Silicon Valley big wigs.  Currently, there are approximately two dozen iPhones held by law enforcement agencies around the country where those agencies are interested in the outcome of this case.

If the FBI prevails, precedent is created for Apple to provide them with the same kind or type of tool or service for unlocking those two dozen or so iPhones as well as any other encrypted iOS devices in the future.

This is the biggest concern of all, as then this leaves Apple open to similar requests from nearly every legal agency in this country as well as other’s around the world, to provide them with the same kind of access.  So, every political dissident or activist that is detained by a dissenting, international governing body that owns an iPhone or other iDevice, will demand that Apple provide them (that governing body) with the same services.

The story here only gets more and more interesting…

Bill Gates, one of the founders of Microsoft, was recently quoted as coming out AGAINST Apple’s plight against the FBI.  When asked for clarification, Gates replied,

I was disappointed, because that doesn’t state my view on this. I do believe that with the right safeguards, there are cases where the government, on our behalf — like stopping terrorism, which could get worse in the future — that that is valuable. But striking that balance — clearly the government [has] taken information, historically, and used it in ways that we didn’t expect, going all the way back, say, to the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover. So I’m hoping now we can have the discussion. I do believe there are sets of safeguards where the government shouldn’t have to be completely blind… The courts are going to decide this…  In the meantime, that gives us this opportunity to get [in] the discussion. And these issues will be decided in Congress.”

However, in a statement released on 2016-02-26, Microsoft itself has come out in support of Apple, and not the FBI, like its co-founder, Bill Gates.  Microsoft’s support comes in the form of an amicus brief that it will file with the court next week.  Microsoft’s support is joined to that of Google’s and Facebooks, but really, according to Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith from testimony taken from a congressional hearing, the government, not the courts needs to discuss the [implementation of]new legislation to govern privacy.

The focus of Microsoft’s statements can be nicely summed up with a statement from an industry group, “while it’s ‘extremely important’ to deter crime and terrorism, no company should be required to build back doors to their own technology.”

Personally, I #StandwithApple.  While I support the US government’s stand against terrorism and generally consider myself to be a conservative, the government doesn’t need a back door into my smartphone.  Giving the government too much power and access into my privacy and personal life is NOT what I want.

I’d love to hear everyone’s opinion on this.  If you agree or disagree, support Apple or support the FBI, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue. Please share them with us in the comment section below and lend your voice to the discussion.

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Featured Review – Voila Screen Capture for Mac

Capture screen shots and video clips with this much needed Mac utility

voila-logo@2x

I’ve been a freelance writer for over 20 years.  I’m also a software QA guy.  I’ve always had a need for a screen capturing tool.  I either want to take screen shots of the programs I’m reviewing or of the errors in the software that I’m testing.  I’m actually a bit of a screen shot-aholic. Most everything that I do either for my writing gig here at Soft32 or during the day for my software testing job requires me to take screen shots of something.  This is why I really like Voila Screen Capture for Mac.  It’s a really cool utility for your Mac.

Voila is an ‘all-in-one’ screen capture solution that can capture, edit and share anything on your computer’s screen. Users can also video record the screens of their iOS device, like an iPhone or iPad in full resolution. After a screenshot is captured or recorded, the user can then share them on popular websites, send via e-mail or print using the buttons located on the UI. A complete set of tools including different capture methods, full webpage recording as well as easy sharing options make for a comprehensive and complete application that saves time and is easy to use.

Voila captures video with audio in high quality. You can capture the whole screen, or simply a user defined section. You can also capture video on your connected iDevice as well.

Voila captures full and partial screen stills as well.  Voila has a flexible capture option that allows you to grab full or user defined areas of your screen. If needed, you can also capture entire web pages along with important metadata like page title, menus and other page elements.

Once you get your screen grabs, you can also annotate them using different fonts, shapes, blur options and speech bubbles, or callouts. Once you have everything set, Voila can also help you manage your screen shot collections.  You can group similar images and videos together using custom labels.  You can add titles, tags and descriptions so you can catalog and search for just the media object you need.

Voila Screen Capture for Mac is a decent application.  It starts when you start your Mac and sits in the Menu Bar until its needed.  You’re supposed to be able to activate it via a set of user-definable hot keys, but these didn’t work consistently for me.  More often than not, pressing the hot key combinations didn’t do anything at all on my El Capitan powered 15″ MacBook Pro.

Download

VSCM-01 VSCM-02

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Feature Review – Boom 2

If you want to make it sound good, you more Boom, Boom, Boom..

boom2

I’ve been using computers for a very long time. I do just about everything that I enjoy on them. In fact, most everything that I do all week long is on a computer. Mostly… I write, as I’m certain that many of you who follow this blog know and understand.

While I write, I often either watch movies or listen to music. The biggest problem with doing this on a laptop is, of course, audio. Laptop speakers are just so-so, no matter what brand of computer you have. Computer speakers are a dime a dozen; and honestly, Apple doesn’t make any. They may include them inside all of their computers, but I don’t think they’re that great. I think they can use all the help they can get. That’s why I really like Boom 2. Its THE app to have if you want to improve the quality of the sound coming out of either your Mac’s internal speakers or from your third party, desktop speakers… and its really cool.

Boom is a system wide volume booster and equalizer that make everything sound louder, clearer and better. Built from the ground up, Book takes advantage of the latest audio technology in OS X. The latest version several features that offer users a variety of professional audio options that allow them to take complete control of their computer’s audio.

When the app starts for the first time, it auto calibrates itself according to the type of Mac that you have. It has power system wide volume boosting capabilities, and provides advanced, precision equalizer controls, that give you control over every aspect of your Mac’s audio. It was designed for Macs running Yosemite and higher, taking full advantage of both the hardware and the OS’ 64-bit architecture.

The app effects all audio coming from your Mac. It makes the audio coming from your speakers sound louder, richer and fuller. It has advanced controls allowing you to put a professional spin on the sound coming out of your Mac, regardless of whether or not you know anything about sound mixing. Boom guarantees you finer audio control.

To help make your Mac’s audio the best it can be, Boom comes with new audio effects – Ambience, Fidelity, Spatial, Night Mode, and Pitch. These are all effects that can be used to bring out the best in the sound coming out of your Mac.

  • Ambiance helps you feel the music around you. With it active, you can hear notes from every corner of the room, making it feel like a live performance.
  • Fidelity makes the music come alive with crisp, sharp tones.
  • Spatial puts you in the center of your audio, immersing your in realistic sound
  • Night Mode nominalizes the audio to produce sounds that aren’t too loud or too faint. This is the perfect setting for action movies.
  • Pitch allows you to change the actual pitch of the audio that is playing. You can listen to things a full note higher or lower than its actually recorded.

Boom has a cool remote app, too, called Boom 2 Remote, downloadable from the iTunes App Store, and it works with both iPad and iPhone. With the app, you can control the audio on your Mac. You can also manage play of VLC, Spotify, QuickTime and iTunes on your Mac, from across the room.

I’ve got Boom 2 installed on my MacBook Pro, and I have to tell you, I’m really impressed. The audio coming out of my Mac is fuller, deeper and so much more alive that it was before. Its really hard to believe that a desktop app can make the sound coming out of my computer sound so much better, but it has. For the price, this is probably one of the better “upgrades” you can give your non-upgradable Mac.

From my perspective, there’s no reason why any Mac owner shouldn’t be running this. Its one of the best apps I’ve installed in a very long time.

You can download Boom 2 here

Boom 2  Boom 2 Boom 2 Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 11.28.05 AM

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