Yet Another Round of Apple OS Betas

Apple has been busy over the past six to eight weeks…

I admit it – Hello, my name is Chris; and I’m a software junkie.

iosbeta

While this very first step to entering a twelve step program for something that is most likely bad for you, I have to wonder if being a software junkie is really a “bad” thing. My guess is that its not, but if you step back and think about it, its all relative – it depends on what software you’re talking about, what devices you put it on, and most importantly, what state that software is in.

Unstable software on your most important devices isn’t only (potentially) stupid, it can be dangerous. I know more than person who has irreparably bricked their device when trying to install something that wasn’t quite ready for prime time. It’s a risk; and honestly, its likely something that people like me don’t always think through.

Case in point – Apple just released a bunch of updates to nearly every platform they develop on. This isn’t always a good thing. If you remember, a couple of years ago, I had declared iOS 8 a train wreck

Hands on with early iOS 8 Beta Releases
Hands on with iOS 8 Beta 2
iOS 8 Beta 3 – A Train Wreck of a Different Color
iOS Beta 4 – Still not Soup Yet

This experience was SO bad for me, that I didn’t chase after betas of iOS 9, and have left iOS 10 pretty much alone. There are rumors that its as big – if not a bigger change – than iOS 7 was over iOS 6 and earlier versons.

Anyway, if you’re the brave type, you’ll be interested to know that Apple has recently released updates to not only iOS, but to every other platform that it develops for. Recently Apple released Developer Beta 6 and Public Beta 5 of macOS 10.12. They also released Developer Beta 6 and Public Beta 5 of iOS 10. Apple also released Developer Beta 6 of both tvOS 10 and watchOS 3.

While there were some issues with getting many of the developer beta releases, as of this writing, they should be resolved. macOS 10.12 Dev Beta 6 should be build 16A294a. If you’re interested in grabbing any of the betas for your own perusal, you can head over to this link and sign up for as little or as much beta as you want.

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Olio Released Model One Firmware Updates 1.1.61 & 1.1.63

olio updateOlio recently released firmware updates to help address bugs and issues in their smartwatch, the Model One.

If you recall, I recently published a review of Olio’s Model One smartwatch. Unfortunately, I declared it pretty much one of the worst train wrecks I’ve ever seen in an electronic accessory, and most certainly, the worst product I’ve looked at in 2015. My initial reaction was so poor that I recommended everyone stay away from it for now.

Recently, I’ve received noticed of not one, but two, device firmware updates for the Model One, direct from Olio. Firmware version 1.1.61 was released on 2015-12-25 and addressed a number of different issues. You can see the specifics on those, directly below. Firmware version 1.1.63 was released to resolve a firmware update issue where the watch may get stuck in “update mode, ” and not recover. In this case, as long as the device is connected to power and showing connected in Olio Assist, Olio says version 1.1.63 can be passively downloaded to the watch and the watch updated, resolving the issue. Watches successfully updated to firmware version 1.1.61 without issue would simply update to 1.1.63, and would see no additional issues or new functionality other than what came with version 1.1.61.

Thankfully, I didn’t experience this particular issue. My watch updated to versions 1.1.61 and 1.1.63 without a hitch.

Bugs and Issues Resolved:

  • Bluetooth on your watch and phone settings should no longer randomly disconnect. If it does, it should automatically reconnect.
  • Improved gesture sensitivity and optimization.
  • Added tap only setting on watch so that if gesture sensitivity doesn’t work well, you can put it on tap-only mode to save battery life.
  • Bug fixed that can cause the watch to run out of battery in less than 4 hours.
  • Automatically setting all watches to medium brightness to prevent the ALS from causing some screens to turn off. A long-term fix to use auto brightness is in development.
  • Fixed accelerometer bug that can cause the watch not to turn on via gesture. The watch will reboot when the accelerometer is in improper state.
  • Implemented synchronization protocol to ensure all Android phones display accurate time within 10 seconds. Some Android phones don’t send notifications continuously over Bluetooth, so the time update takes a while to send.
  • Fixed bug that can cause the wrong caller to be displayed on the watch during phone calls.
  • Fixed bug that causes the “updating” screen to stay on too long when updating day/night.
  • Fixed bug where “auto” mode didn’t transition properly in day/night mode.
  • Fixed bug that can cause notification actions to not work properly when notifications first came in on watch.

Based on the information above, some of the big problems that have been causing the watch to run through its full battery charge in four hours or less has been resolved. I’ll be looking at this VERY carefully, as it speaks to how the device uses Bluetooth as well as power management.

Battery life still remains the biggest issue with the Olio Model One. Even though I’ve got the latest updates on my watch, I’ve still had to have my watch sit on its charger part of the day today. (and the thing still gets bloody hot when it charges…)

Honestly, things are getting a bit better, as the update from 1.1.61 to 1.1.63 for me happened over night as planned – and was the first firmware update to happen this way. Every other update I’ve had to babysit and try to coax along. The battery life does seem a bit better, but not much.

There seems to be a long interval of time between 100% charge and 90-85% charge, and then after that, the device’s charge level drops like a rock to the mid 40%’s, where it again sits for about an hour before dropping like a rock again to the mid 20%’s. From there, it’s a gradual and steady decline to the end. I’ve also noticed that when my watch hits one of these plateaus, I can often expect it to restart on its own, out of nowhere, and when it comes back, the charge rate is much reduced (by as much as 15%).

Olio is also working on other issues, and has other updates planned. Items up for release next include, but aren’t limited to the following:

Known Issues with Pending Fixes

  • The iOS app can show disconnected when the phone setting and watch settings say connected. If this happens, turn Bluetooth off on the watch, wait five seconds, and then turn it back on. If the issue persists, kill the Olio Assist app, turn Bluetooth off on the watch, restart the phone app, and turn Bluetooth on the watch back on.
  • In “gesture off” mode, the watch will detect some wrist turns as taps. We are tuning tap detection to prevent this.
  • Despite the watch being on the charger for a long time, it might show less than 100% charged. The wireless charging firmware stops charging the watch when the battery reaches 100%, and does not restart until the battery drops below 90%. We are working on an update to the firmware that will keep the battery topped off without degrading the battery health.
  • We have identified a state that can cause the watch to charge slower than it should (>90 minutes). We are working on a fix to prevent this state from occurring.
  • It is possible that your watch will enter a state where the screen does not turn on. This is a known issue with the ALS calibration and we are working on a permanent fix. In the meantime, if you notice this issues, shine a bright light (your mobile flashlight should work) to get the screen to turn on, and set the brightness to medium.
  • When entering a new time zone, watches paired to iOS can take up to two hours to update to the new time zone. We have identified a new way to update the watch time from iOS and are working to implement that change. Temporarily, restarting Bluetooth on the watch will reset the time.

I’ll keep everyone posted on how things go with some of these updates. I still can’t recommend this smartwatch to anyone, even those that are used to beta testing and to living on the bleeding edge of technology. It’s just a bit too cold and bloody out here…

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Microsoft Releases Windows 10 Build 10565 to Fast Ring Insiders

Build 10565 is the latest build to hit the streets for Fast Ring Insiders

Introduction
It’s been a while since you’ve heard me say much about Windows 10. Quite honestly, I haven’t been too happy with the way things have developed. I recently updated everyone on the status of the disappearing ink bug. It hasn’t been an easy go of things. Even with all of the potential fixes installed, the problem still remains.

It’s been very frustrating for me, and I know that there have been a number of others who have indicated that this particular issue has reduced the amount of value received from the device to near zero. They purchased the device because it was supposed to work so well with OneNote. (if you remember, the Surface Pen’s top button – the one that looks like an eraser at the end of the pen – actually opens OneNote. However, that’s not working right, especially under Windows 10; and as I said, ink is still disappearing.

windows-10-build-10565

My level of confidence in the overall stability and quality of the OS has fallen since its launch on 2015-07-29. With Threshold 2 set to deploy to production sometime before the end of October 2015 – and TH2 represents the FULL vision of what Windows 10 was originally supposed to be when released – my level of confidence isn’t very high. In fact, I’m quite disappointed… but that’s another conversation entirely.

In the quest to get us closer to the final TH2 milestone, Microsoft has announced the release of Build 10565 to Windows Insiders on the Fast Ring. As with all pre-release builds, There are a number of release note items that you need to be aware of. While there are bugs and known issues that need your acknowledgement, the current build of Windows 10 isn’t feature complete. As such, Microsoft has also released a number of new features for testing to Fast Ring Insiders as well. I’ve got a run-down of both, below, for your consideration.

Bugs & Known Issues
Bugs and known issues are part of every prerelease (read: beta) software build or release and as someone testing or evaluating the software, you should be aware of these. These are the issues that Microsoft is currently working to resolve (or at least, the ones that they’re willing to admit to. Notice, my disappearing ink bug isn’t in this list). If you bump into any of these issues, then its assumed that you wouldn’t submit any kind of feedback about those.

Bugs

  • You should no longer see a warning message in the Settings app – Update & Security – Windows Update, regarding changed ring settings for preview builds unless you actually change your ring settings. (From Fast to Slow, or vice-versa.)
  • Background audio playback works again when apps like Groove are minimized.
  • Microsoft fixed the issue where clicking on the system icons in the notification area quickly results in Windows Shell blocking the launch of fly-outs like Audio, Networking, etc.
  • After Build 10525, Microsoft heard a lot of feedback that some context menus were too big for mouse. Therefore, they made adjustments to many of the context menus to make them smaller for using them with a mouse.
  • You can now pin contacts to the Start menu from the People app.
  • Certain apps won’t appear twice anymore when pinned to the taskbar.
  • Hiding desktop icons via context menu on the desktop now works.
  • Windows Store apps should now be updating automatically.

Known Issues

  • The search box does not work if you are in a locale where Cortana is not available. Microsoft is currently investigating workarounds.
  • The Xbox app for Windows 10 will consume gigabytes of memory on your PC if you have any Win32 games (non -Windows Store games) installed on your PC that have been identified as games or added by you in the Xbox app. Closing the Xbox app will release your PC’s memory.
  • WebM and VP9 have been temporarily removed from the flight builds. Microsoft continues to develop a VP9 implementation that we intend to ship in Windows. Expect VP9 to return soon in a future release.
  • Small form-factor devices, like the Dell Venue 8 Pro, that boot with rotation or virtual mode screen size set larger than the physical screen size will experience a bluescreen on upgrade and will roll back to the previous build.

New Features
As Microsoft moves closer towards the release of Threshold 2 – again, scheduled for release sometime during the month of October 2015 – additional, planned features are finally making it out to testers. Here are some of the newer and/ or enhanced features that you can expect to find in Windows 10 build 10565.
Skype
Skype will now offer integration at the OS level in Windows 10 Build 10565. The new app allows you to respond directly within Windows without having to open the actual Skype app. The integration will also appear in Windows 10 Mobile when an updated build is released to Insiders testing that OS on supported devices.

Microsoft Edge
Slow and steady wins the race. Microsoft Edge is making incremental improvements with every update and every new Windows 10 Build. Build 10565 gives Microsoft Edge the ability to show webpage thumbnail previews when users hover over a tabbed browser page. This build of Edge also introduces Favorite and Reading List synching to users. While the feature isn’t fully implemented in Build 10565, it’s definitely a start.

Cortana
Cortana is one of the more intelligent digital assistants. In Windows 10 Build 10565, Cortana has been updated to allow tracking of your free time activities, like movies and other event reminders. Cortana can scrape this information through email notifications, and will notify you of an upcoming event up to two hours prior to the start of the event.

If your Windows 10 PC has a touch screen, Cortana can also read your inked notes and will set reminders based on your location, the times in your notes and the information you write.

User Interface Enhancements
Build 10565 can now change the color of your window’s title bars to match your selected theme. Users interested in this type of customization can check out Settings – Personalization – Colors to check out the feature. Microsoft has also added new icons and improved context menus in Build 10565.

win-start

Those that are interested in customizing the tiles on their Start Menu will appreciate this next update. A fourth column of tiles has been added to the Start Menu to allow users to place two large or two wide tiles side by side.

Finally, Microsoft has also made it easier for users to clean install the OS, if they choose. All you’ll need is your valid Windows 7 or Windows 8.x product key, and you can do a clean install.

Conclusion
This latest build of Windows 10, Build 10565, is available to Fast Ring Insiders now. I’m still not showing the build as available yet, but that’s somewhat to be expected. Microsoft rolls new builds out incrementally. If you don’t see it now, keep trying. It will eventually show up, provided you’re registered as a Windows Insider, and you’re on the Fast Ring.

Interestingly enough, Slow Ring really is slow. They haven’t seen a new build for quite some time. Honestly, I’m not certain what the last build was (extra points to the reader who can tell me in the Discussion area, below).

How is Windows 10 holding up for you? Are you on the Fast Ring? Have you installed Build 10565 yet? Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below, and let me know? While you’re at it, give me your thoughts on the overall stability of Windows 10 on your PC’s. Is Windows 10 working better for you or was your PC better under Windows 7 or Windows 8.x?

Do you have a Surface Pro 3? Do you have the disappearing ink bug? How bad is it for you? Have any of the fixes worked for you? Again, tell me all about it in the Discussion area, below. I’d love to hear how things are working for you.

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iOS 8.0.2 Released to Resolve Cellular Issues

The QA Manager at Apple is having a really bad week…

I know I’ve said this before, but I’ve got 25 years in QA management. I know that Apple hires only the cream of the crop; but you have to wonder if after not one but two huge software bug blunders in the last two years if the guy running the QA ship at Apple is the right guy. It’s a reasonable question. And I’m certain that its something that is likely crossing the mind of EVERY member of Apple’s senior leadership team’s minds.

Earlier today (as of this writing), Apple released iOS 8.0.2 to resolve the issues with cellular connectivity and TouchID functionality. Specifically, the release provides the following improvements and bug fixes:

ios801

Unfortunately, the big issues around cellular connectivity and TouchID were tested by the same QA organization responsible for the same testing type of misstep that occurred with Apple Maps. That particular issue was enough to get Scott Forestall fired. However, it didn’t go much lower than that.

Now, a couple releases later, there’s another huge testing bungle hot on the heels of the iPhone 6 release and iOS 8. Funny how the same QA manager that blew Apple Maps also blew the testing on this particular release.

This was a big one; and from what I’ve read on Bloomberg, this guy has had a really crappy week.

iOS 8.0.1 was aimed at fixing issues from the iOS 8 GM release, and also introduced Apple’s health and fitness-tracking application HealthKit. Unfortunately, the update also disabled some people’s – and the estimates around “some” is around 40,000 – access to their cellular network so they couldn’t make or receive phone calls.

While some may try to make the story about the QA guy and the fact that he blew the testing on three huge bugs (Maps, TouchID and cellular connectivity), the issue shouldn’t necessarily be about what was missed, but how it was missed.

Apple does most of the right things the right way. Its clear from their sales, stock prices and consumer loyalty. I’m not entirely certain what went south with iOS 8.0.1, but I have a few ideas; and I’m going to offer them briefly with the hope that they will be taken constructively and not as deconstructive criticism.

While Apple ranks their bugs with an industry standard process, its said that their bug review meetings can get ugly. Engineers often argue for more time to fix a problem while product managers push to move the release forward. In the case of Apple Maps and iOS 8.0.1, too much risk was assumed by the product manager(s) in question. Its obvious that more time should have been given to issues in iOS 8.0.1 or the issues weren’t discovered until after the software was released.

The biggest issue that I’ve seen – IF it in fact proves to be accurate – is that software testers and engineers don’t get their hands on the latest iPhones until the actual release date. This is the biggest reason why there is normally a software update to iOS a week or two after the release of the device. Testing and Development get the latest hardware, install the OS, and then start poking around. Prior to that, QA and Dev team members either use existing hardware to test the new mobile OS, or run the new software in an emulator.

While this seems like a no brainer to resolve, the problem exists because of one word, really – Gizmodo. The leaked iPhone 4 hardware that got passed around is still giving Apple heartburn, nearly 5 years later, and as such, Tim Cook has limited use of unreleased hardware to only senior managers, unless special permission is granted. This makes testing difficult.

Internal turf wars also create issues as teams responsible for testing cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity will sometimes sign-off on a release too early, and then – as in the case of iOS 8.0.1 – connectivity or other compatibility issues are discovered. There tends to be a lot of finger pointing when things like this happen, and that’s never productive.

No matter how you slice it, there’s something very wrong with the way Apple’s SDLC (software development life cycle) is working. The in-fighting going on between development, testing and product management is leaking out of Apple’s nigh impenetrable walled garden and into the streets. It happened with Maps a couple years ago, and its happened again with iOS 8.0.1. While the fallout from the latest SNAFU won’t be nearly as big as it was with Maps, its toxic none the less, and needs to either be buried, or stop completely (the preferable outcome).

I’ve been in situations like this. Its hugely problematic, and hugely indicative of individuals that put themselves before the company…. and it never ends well, especially for individuals that are involved. The activity breaks down relationships, productivity and creates problems that kill opportunities to get future work done. It also breads additional problems, so the issues are circular.

This may go underground again; but then again, it may not. No matter how things are looked at, however, Apple has to make it stop.

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What Siri Really SHOULD Be – Part I

Siri leaves a lot to be desired. Here are my thoughts on what Apple’s introduction to AI really should be.

I recently read an article at a major, pro-Apple website that said that if Steve Jobs were still alive, he’d absolutely hate Siri (as currently implemented). Given what the general public knows about Steve, I’d have to agree. While CLEARLY labeled a beta effort, Siri leaves a bit – ok… a great deal – to be desired. With Apple’s WWDC event coming up, and the opening keynote, presumably given by Tim Cook, I think its important to expect some major developments related to Siri as a precursor to the introduction of Apple’s 6th generation iPhone, currently expected in October 2012. I’ve got a couple of ideas on what needs to happen to Siri, and what the digital AI/assistant really should do. Let’s take a quick look in this multipart series…

Beta-Be-Gone

The iPhone is revolutionary. The iPad is a magical device. The iPod/iPod Touch completely transformed and modernized the music industry (even if it did go kicking and screaming into “that good night”). Apple has done some extraordinary things with its products over the years, and I haven’t even come close to listing them all.

The beta label currently attached to Siri, Apple’s artificial intelligence powered digital assistant currently ONLY available on the iPhone 4S, needs to go.

And it needs to go YESTERDAY.

What does this mean? Simple – Apple needs to stop whatever its doing as far as iOS development is concerned and ring the all hands bell and rally the resources around Siri and finish the damn thing.

Siri has some major bugs and some major holes that need to be plugged and the biggest is that it needs to become, at the very least, a 1.0 released product ASAP. This means that its recognition engine needs to come out of the garage and join the rest of the iPhone in the spotlight – meaning it needs to be finished and improved…for all supported languages.

I’d like to be able to be John Malkovich, and have a one word conversation with Siri through my iPhone 4S; but its not currently possible. I don’t have any kind of speech impediments; and I’ve lived in the Midwest US most of my life, meaning I don’t natively have any accent to my English as a first language, voice. Siri should understand just about everything that I say; and she doesn’t.

I make simple requests now and again – what’s the weather like, will it be chilly the rest of the week, remind me to pick upat the grocery store when I leave the train station, or something as simple as, Siri, call myetc.

I often get, “I’m sorry, Christopher. I didn’t quite get that,” or, “I’m sorry; but I can’t do that right now.” This morning when I asked if it would be chilly the rest of the week, Siri responded, “Ok Christopher, which Beth would like like to call?” and then presented a list of 5 people named, Beth or Elizabeth out of my contact list. I checked. It correctly grabbed and displayed the right question, “will it be chilly the rest of the week?” I looked more than once to confirm it; but instead Siri asked me which Beth I wanted to call.

What?! Really? REALLY?

If its not something totally off the wall like that, the Siri simply doesn’t understand what I’m saying. Blurring the words, “wife” and “life” is sort of understandable. I often get “What do I call my life?” instead of “Siri call my wife,” or something similar. Its really ridiculous. I don’t have anything in my mouth when I talk, and as I mentioned, I don’t have any kind of speech impediments or thick accents that would make my speech difficult to understand, and yet Siri and I don’t seem to see eye to eye on a number of things.

These basic comprehension and speech recognition issues have to be resolved immediately, or else the device is never going to be able to make reliable use of the digital assistant at all. If Siri has trouble understanding even the most basic of questions or commands in the car, in a room with moderate to low volume or even in a quiet room (I’ve encountered my problems with Siri in all of these locations), then Apple may as well hang it up and kill the feature.

Its getting a bit silly, really. This is the feature’s basic functionality and I can’t rely on it for anything at this point.

Support for Bluetooth and other External Microphones

As I mentioned in part 1 of this multipart series, Siri has some serious comprehension and recognition issues that need to be resolved in order to break it out of its beta label and become a full-blown 1.0 feature.

As either part of that effort or in a separate update, Siri needs to really support use through a wireless headset and other external microphones. Right now, while use via a wireless mic is possible, the recognition and comprehension issues that Siri has when used with a wireless headset really prohibit that interaction.

This is a huge problem, as I know many people that use an iPhone often do so with a wireless set of headphones or a wireless headset (or both in a single unit). They may also use Apple’s included set of wired ear buds. Siri’s recognition quality through all of these leaves a bit to be desired.

The Bluetooth and wireless microphone issues with Siri are mostly well documented and widely reported. The entire tech journalist world has been ripping clothes, wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth over Siri’s inability to understand most anything when used in conjunction with any other microphone other than the hardwired mic in the iPhone itself. Recognition quality through Apple’s own wired headset isn’t completely horrible, but isn’t as accurate as it is via iPhone’s built in microphone.

Most of the people that I know use their iPhone with a wireless headset. Let’s face it – Apple’s wired headset is ok, but the wires constantly get hung up on something and one of the first purchases most everyone with an iPhone makes, is a wireless headset or hands free kit for the car.

Bluntly put, if Siri can’t accurately, reliably, consistently work through a headset, then the feature is never going to get used while a user is on the go, defeating the need for it – nearly – all together.

I recently saw the two new John Malkovich iPhone 4S commercials and decided to give Siri another go. As I mentioned in part one of this series, it was a waste of my time. Siri muffed the job entirely, despite understanding what I had said.

Removing a headset or wireless mic from the picture to help improve recognition reliability and accuracy isn’t realistic either. I’m not going to turn a headset off, wait for the iPhone to realize that it’s no longer paired with the headset and ask Siri my question and then turn it back on and repair my headset, just to give Siri the best chance to do her job right. THAT’S totally unrealistic and totally silly. I think I can actually HEAR Steve rolling over in his grave as I mention that. (No disrespect intended; but THAT would totally drive him nuts, based on what I learned about him while reading his biography from cover to cover.)

So, in order to get Siri correctly implemented as a usable feature, Apple needs to do two really big things:

  • Improve Siri’s general reliability, accuracy and comprehension (no small task)
  • Have all that work regardless of whether I’m speaking to her through the iPhone’s built in microphone, Apple’s included, wired headset, or a Bluetooth headset or hands free car kit.

Get that done, and done well, and I’d call that Siri 1.0.

Come back next time, and I’ll go into what features Siri should really provide once the bugs are ironed out.

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