Olio – Did the Cat Finally Build a Smarter Mouse Trap?

Contestant number five has entered the ring…

olio

One of the bigger things to hit the market this year is wearables. Things like Microsoft Band (part two of the review can be seen here), the Fitbit Surge, the Apple Watch (review pending arrival of the hardware), Pebble Time and Time Steel are all wearables – specifically smartwatches – that will have been released or will be released later this year. As of the first of this month (yes, April 1st; but no, this isn’t a joke), a new player has thrown their hat into the ring – meet the Olio Model One.

The device…? Oh my stars and garters, yes! Have you seen this thing?!

The Model One is beautiful. It’s made of stainless steel and basically comes in two flavors – (brushed?) Stainless Steel and Black. And while it is DEFINITELY drool-worthy, it’s got a few hurdles to get past.

The device itself runs on a proprietary OS

According to Olio, people spend WAY too much time in their computers, in their smartphones and tablets and shortly, in their smartwatches… that are tethered and tied to their smartphones. Olio wants their users to think of the Model One as an extension of themselves and not something that drives them or makes them live in it. As such, there’s no app store to bury you in apps. You get what you’re given (at least initially).

While the device obtains connectivity via both Android and iOS wireless devices, there aren’t any apps for you to run on the watch other than the ones that come with the device. While it does have an “assistant” of sorts, called Olio Assist, providing time saving suggestions, the limited – but value-added – functionality of (just) what comes out of the box, is where Olio sees the Model One hitting the sweet spot. You don’t get lost or waste hours of time playing Flappy Bird (or one of its many device based, or online clones). Instead, you focus on the information you need and only the information you need, so you spend time instead to your family, friends and loved ones.

However, most of the world wants apps. Its why we buy smart devices, and without an app store or a market (more on that, below), you have to wonder what the draw will be? Yeah it looks GREAT; and people at Tech Crunch, The Verge, and Gizmodo, all think saving you from “notification hell” is the bomb; and maybe it is.

Maybe it is….

I know that it drove me a bit nuts with the Microsoft Band, and it didn’t work right on the Surge; but when things are configurable, as they are on Band (and are supposed to be on the Surge), then you have to think a bit more about the purchase. For example, there aren’t any apps or even an app store for Band, either… (and its $400 cheaper).

And by the way, there’s no fitness band functionality here that I can see. This is a smartwatch and not a smartwatch that also measures physical activity. It doesn’t have any activity sensors, a GPS, a accelerometer, or a gyroscope. The functionality appears limited at this time.

It’s Expensive
Yeah… let’s talk about that for a sec.

While Microsoft Band is clearly affordable at $199.99, the Olio Model One is $345 – $395 for the Steel flavor and $495 – $545 for the Black flavor as of this writing with the $250 “friends and family” discount that’s being extended to the public. Normally, we’re talking $595 – $645 for Steel and $745 – $795 for Black (which puts their metal link bracelets at around $50 bucks over their leather bands).

The Olio Model One runs in the same neighborhood as the Apple Watch and Apple Watch Sport. The pricing models may be very different, but their close enough to be similar. You can clearly get a decent and high end analog watch for about as much AND get the band you want, too.

The device has a stainless steel case and an ion exchange glass touch screen that is supposed to survive impacts and resist scratches. It has wireless charging with a battery that can last a full two days with full functionality and then an additional two days, if you turn off connectivity to its Bluetooth-LE radio. The Model One can communicate with both Siri and Google Now via Olio Assist; and can control third party smart devices like thermostats and lights. It’s also water resistant so you don’t have to worry about ruining it when you take a swim.

The Model One is clearly a premium product; and maybe all of this is worth the premium price to you. I’m skeptical at best, at least until I have it in my hands.

It’s got an Initial Production Run of Just 1000
The Model One is a limited edition device.

Other companies release things in “limited edition,” and then they really aren’t limited at all. Olio’s first run of the Model One is limited to 1000 units – Five hundred of each the Steel and Black flavors. According to Olio,

“We decided to do a very limited production for its first release because the company is committed to the quality and craftsmanship and wanted to make sure that every piece holds up the high standards of the company. Olio compares themselves to a craft brewery, and aren’t trying to be everything to everyone.”

Olio likens itself to a craft beer brewery. Brian Ruben from ReadWrite.com said it best, I think. “if I buy a six-pack of a craft brew and I don’t like what I drink, I’m not out $600. Plus, I don’t have to call tech support.”

While the limited run and the high price are, I think, partial marketing tools to help create hype (as well as tech coverage by a number of different outlets, including yours truly and Soft32, at the end of the day you have to wonder how viable a company with such a limited production run with such a high end product will be. Olio appears to be artificially creating a limited supply in order to make the device’s value appear higher. Things that are rare ARE considered more valuable.

Diamonds, like the Hope Diamond, with such a highly desired cut, level of clarity and precision cut ARE rare and ARE very valuable. Olio hopes that watch aficionados see the Model One in the same light and don’t ding it for its digital guts as they do with nearly every other smartwatch; and with nothing really to compare it to (the Apple Watch isn’t even available for pre-order as of this writing, and hasn’t hit the market with either a splash or a thud…), it’s hard to see how well or how poorly the Olio Model One will do.

Have you seen the Olio Model One? Does it interest you? Will you buy one? Stay tuned to Soft32 as 2015 truly does appear to be the Year of Wearables. I’ll have more coverage on devices as they are released or as they make news.

In the meantime, if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments and discussion area, below.

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FEATURE REVIEW – Fitbit Surge

The next item up for review in our smartwatch round-up is the Fitbit Surge. Let’s take a look…

Untitled

Introduction

My quest to stop being a fat slob continues.

What to do, how much of it to do and what else I need to do to keep myself healthy is a never ending battle… and its not easy. There are way too many different daily challenges that present themselves.  Am I moving enough?  Am I eating right?  Am I sleeping right? These questions are difficult to answer as it is, and Fitbit has been trying to help people answer it for more than a few years now.

Their latest foray into fitness band/ smartwatch arena is the Fitbit Surge. It has a few nice things to offer not only the fitness conscious, but the smartwatch curious as well; and in this article, we’ll be taking a look at its suitability in both arenas.

This is the second review in a series – or round up – of smartwatch reviews that I’m doing.  The first on the Microsoft Band was large and in depth enough for me to break it up into two parts. You can see them here and here.  Its good and certainly worthy of more than a casual look.

My review of the Fitbit Surge is likely going to be just as lengthy and just as in depth. I’m going to pick apart the hardware. I’m going to pick apart the software. Smartwatches aren’t cheap. The Microsoft Band is $199… IF you can find one to buy.  I’ll cover the cost of the Fitbit a bit later, but I will say that it isn’t cheap, either.

Is the Fitbit Surge the right smartwatch and fitness band for you? Let’s stop dawdling and get down to it!

Hardware

Like the Microsoft Band, the Fitbit Surge is a single piece of hardware.  It has a wide, silicone/ rubber band with a traditional, aluminum alloy buckle.  Its much easier to wear than the Microsoft Band, as there’s a great deal of give and flexibility in the Fitbit’s rubber band.  Aside from the same kind of issues that you might find in wearing any other sports watch, band or bracelet made of silicone or rubber – where you sweat a great deal and your skin may become irritated due to a lack of exposure to air – the Fitbit wears the way you would expect a sports watch to wear.  Honestly, I was very pleased with the way it felt while it was on. The only comfort issues I had were related to breathabiltity.

Wearability and Usability

I’ve been wearing the Fitbit Surge for quite some time now – well over six weeks.  The device is easy to wear and its very comfortable.  However, there are a few things about it that I am not too crazy about.  Part of that is esthetics, part of that is design and while the device is comfortable to wear, it does have Wearability issues.

 The first thing that I noticed about it is that its BIG, even the small sized Surge is big.  The device comes in 3 sizes, small, large and extra-large.  However, size doesn’t relate to device size, it relates to band length and the size wrists it fits. The device itself is 1.34″ wide (34mm) and the screen is 0.82″ x 0.96″ (21mm x 24mm).

 Here are the sizing requirements, direct from Fitbit:

    • Small fits wrists that are 5.5″ x 6.3″ (13.94cm x 16.00cm) in diameter.
    • Large fits wrists that are 6.3″ x 7.8″ (16.00cm x 19.81cm) in diameter.
  • X-Large fits wrists that are 7.8″ x 8.9″ (19.81cm x 220.61cm) in diameter.X-Large is available as an online only purchase.

There are a couple of gotchas here that you need to be aware of.  While they aren’t mission critical, they are important to be aware of so that you can deal with the issues they present.

  1. The wrist band is made of silicone or rubber
    Wearing a silicone band in and of itself isn’t bad, unless you’re allergic to the rubber.  Even if you aren’t allergic to it, you need to make certain you spend some time with the band off.  Silicone can often cause rashes and other skin irritation, and its important that you spend at least some inactive time during the day with the band off, especially if you start to notice any dry, red or flakey skin, or if you start to have some other sort of skin reaction to prolonged wear of the device.
  2. The device, though flexible is bulky
    While the band in and of itself is flexible, the actual Surge itself, is stiff and bulky. The Surge is much more comfortable to wear than the Microsoft Band but the actual electronics of the device go out a bit farther than you might think.  Its clear that Fitbit have created a device that’s very compact, but if you look at it from the side and feel around the ends of band near the actual device FOR the device, you’ll see that its actually a lot bigger than just the screen.

The device itself is, well… ugly.

I hate to say it, but it is.  It’s a lot bulkier than it first appears or seems and its one piece construction means that you don’t have any kind of style choices with it.  Other Fitbit devices like the Apple Watch and even the Fitbit Flex have interchangeable bands. The Surge is a single piece unit, and… right now… you can have ANY color you want… as long as its black.  It’s the only color currently available.  The Surge is supposed to be available in blue and tangerine, but as of this writing, both are currently – still – unavailable. I’ve had my Surge for about two months or so. It was announced at CES and black was the only color available then.  You would think by now – or at least, I did – that the other two colors – which, quite honestly, aren’t all that attractive either – would be available by now.

However, don’t expect to be able to change bands. Unlike the Apple Watch or even the Fitbit Flex, this is an all in one unit, and you’d better be happy with the color choice(s) you make. Once you buy the device, its yours to keep; and there’s no way to change colors or change bands. What you buy is all that you get.

Notifications

If the Microsoft Band got notifications right, the Fitbit Surge doesn’t even come close.  On the Band, it was very easy to overdo notifications, as you could choose to have ALL of your notifications from your phone come over to Band, or you could choose specific ones that it does and keep the vibrations down to a dull roar.

With the Fitbit Surge, its exactly the opposite. You have just a single on-off setting for notifications on the device and then you get only notification of incoming text messages or incoming phone calls.

That’s it.

That can be good or bad, depending on what you’re looking for Surge to do.  If all you’re looking for is basic notifications from incoming messaging, you may be in luck.  As I said, the only notifications that the Fitbit Surge picks up are text messages and incoming phone calls.  If you’re looking to get notifications from upcoming appointments, Facebook Messenger or some other app on your phone, you’re out of luck.

The other big problem I have with notifications on the Fitbit Surge, is that the device doesn’t seem to understand or know when I don’t want them, or want them to stop.  I had notifications turned on for a while on the Fitbit, but have recently turned them off, as I didn’t need BOTH it AND the Microsoft Band buzzing my wrists every time my iPhone received a message, a phone call, or some other event occurred.

So, as I said, I turned notifications off on both bands.  Interestingly enough, Notifications on the Surge are still occasionally received, even though they are clearly turned off on the watch. I have no idea why. This is clearly a huge bug, as there shouldn’t be any notifications coming over at all.

However it clearly shows that the device’s software is capturing the notification and broadcasting the data. It clearly shows that the watch is receiving it through the Bluetooth partnership created on the device, even though its not supposed to be collecting ANY data at all. I’m seeing issues on both ends of the pairing; and its problematic at best. The fix for this – and it definitely needs to be addressed – will likely involve both a software update on your smartphone as well as a firmware update to the device.

UPDATE – The more that I wear the Fitbit Surge, the more I continue to have issues and problems with Notifications coming to it when they are clearly turned off on the device.  While the device does not alert that any text messages have come it, they are clearly coming across and they should not.

Period.

This is an issue that needs to be resolved immediately.

Battery Life

Battery life on the Fitbit Surge is actually pretty good. Compared to the Micrsoft Band, though, nearly ANYTHING would have better battery life… Well, not everything… the Apple Watch won’t last longer than 18 hours. The Micrsoft Band lasts 36 to 48 hours (even if you have Bluetooth turned off and sync via the USB cable).

The Fitbit Surge on the other hand, will last the better part of a week, even with all of the stuff that it does and all of the activities it tracks. Since the Surge tracks nearly everything you do, including sleep, the best thing to do when you do have to charge it is to charge it when you know you’re going to be inactive, or when you can’t wear it.  Swimming and showering come to mind as good candidate times when you might want to charge your Surge.  While the device is DEFINITELY water resistant, I wouldn’t hold it under water for long periods of time. Its not a perfect world, and my luck would have it getting water damage.

The biggest problem that I’ve found with the Surge is that it doesn’t give you a lot of warning when the battery is low, and you might find yourself out and about when you DO get a low battery warning. I’ve actually had mine die on me a time or two because I didn’t get an early enough warning that the battery was level was low.

Connectivity

The Fitbit Surge uses Bluetooth 4.0 to connect to your smartphone. I’ve found that while there are there are issues with this on other devices, the Surge specifically doesn’t use Bluetooth LE. I’m not certain if that’s why there are less connectivity issues with it as opposed to the Pebble Steel and Microsoft Band that I currently own.  Perhaps it is, and points to some larger issues with BT-LE devices.

What I can say about the Fitbit Surge is that while its connection to my iPhone 6 is much more stable, it isn’t as reactive or responsive as other devices are.  When implemented correctly, BT-LE devices tend to see their paired counterparts better and will actively connect when in range (though there’s even issues with this, as you can see in my article), as opposed to devices that do not pair with a BT-LE profile.

While I have less connectivity issues with my Surge, and while the battery life is decent even with its Bluetooth radio on all the time, I have found that data doesn’t come across the pairing unless the application is open and active. This means that I need to be actively using the app for the sync to work and pull data over.  Leaving it run in the background doesn’t do much… at least not consistently. I see this more as a Bluetooth issue rather than an issue with the Surge.

When you pair your Fitbit Surge with your smartphone, you’re going to see two connection partnerships – one for the Surge and one for Surge (Classic). The connection for the Surge is the one that you’d expect to see, and the one that is responsible for all of the connectivity and communication between the device and your smartphone.  If you want to use your Surge to control music playback, you need to enable Bluetooth Classic in the Settings app on the watch. After your Surge and your smartphone are paired, you can use it to control music playback.

To do so, open up a music app on your smartphone.  Then, double tap the home (left side) button on the Surge.  This will bring up the music control app on its display.  You will see your Surge attempting to connect via the (Classic) pairing, and then the current song’s meta data should appear on the watch face’s display.  You can pause the current song’s playback or skip to the next track. Unfortunately, not all music apps broadcast track information, which means that when using apps that don’t do that, the song title won’t appear on your Surge. However, you can still pause or skip to the next track.

I can see where this might be a great tool for someone who is exercising to NOT have to pull out their phone to control their playlist. Depending on where you have your phone stashed (not everyone fancies or trusts an armband case…), you may have to break your stride or stop exercising all together to retrieve and return your phone to its original place of storage.

However, I’ve tried this, and while its easier than pulling a phone from a shirt or pants pocket while running or walking, it isn’t totally a walk in the park, either. You’re going to need to get used to the interface and controls. You can pause, play, and skip songs. You’re going to have to pull your phone out if you’ want to repeat or replay any tracks or if you want to change playlists, midflight.

If you wear glasses for reading, you may have issues reading the audio file’s metadata, provided that your music app of choice transmits that information, on the Surge’s screen. While this isn’t a deal breaker, you do need to be aware of its limitations. Its hard to handle all of the varied functionality with only three buttons; AND to do it while you’re moving, too.

UPDATE – While writing this review of the Fitbit Surge, I’ve had it synching to my iPhone. Over the past few weeks, I’ve started to notice a few issues with Bluetooth connectivity between them both. They always seemed to work and play well together.

Right now, they are not; and NOTHING has changed on either end to warrant the issue in their pairing.  They just seem to not be looking at each other right now unless I absolutely tell them to get together. This is problematic at best, as when I started my Fitbit Surge journey, getting these two together was the easiest paring I’ve ever seen.  It just worked… straight out of the box.  Now, its like they love each other, but their not “in” love.

 Really..?

This is yet another reason why I think that while Bluetooth offers a LOT of potential, it has REAL issues as a data communications and transmission technology and conduit.

Software and Interfaces

I’ll get into Fitbit’s smartphone software in a minute, but I have to say something here, that’s bothered me since I started wearing the Surge – The information that it tracks and collects isn’t stored in Apple Health. Its stored in Fitbit’s proprietary program.  The app doesn’t share or swap data with Apple Health, and it really seems like it should. Some of what it does can’t be done in Apple Health, and that’s fine, but there really should be a way to have data from your iPhone and the data from you’re the Surge work and play well together, especially where Fitbit falls short.

Next Page

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My Bluetooth has Cavities

Sometimes, I really wonder why I use so many Bluetooth devices…

bluetoothApple has just released iOS 8.3 Beta 1 to its developer partners. The big push behind iOS 8.3? – Wireless CarPlay connectivity. This is a change to CarPlay, which previously required a cabled, lightning connection to a head unit to function.

CarPlay and iOS 8.3 are obviously going to rely more heavily on Bluetooth Low Energy connections going forward. For me – and I think, a number of actual and potential CarPlay users – this is likely going to prove to be a huge headache.

I’ve got a Pebble Steel, Microsoft Band and a Fitbit Surge. These three smartwatches and activity bands all use BT-LE to communicate with my smartphone – currently an iPhone 6 running iOS 8.1.3. I’ve been experiencing some very serious challenges with Bluetooth connectivity over the last number of years and I’ve come to a very clear and solid conclusion:

Bluetooth just plain sucks.

I’ve had more dropped connections, failed connections, and difficulty pairing devices than I think ANYONE should have to put up with. The technology is supposed to be active seeking, meaning than its supposed to actively find paired devices and when it does find them, activate secured communications between devices that are paired and hold and maintain that connection as long as the two devices are in range.

The problem that I run into, with my:

  • iPhone 6
  • Pebble Steel
  • Microsoft Band
  • Fitbit Surge
  • Kenwood BT952HD Car Stereo
  • Beats Wireless Headset
  • MacBook Pro
  • Apple Magic Mouse
  • iPad 1

and any other wireless device that I’m forgetting to list is that none of them…

NONE

OF

THEM

can maintain any kind of consistent level of Bluetooth connectivity between any of the devices that they’re paired to on a consistent basis. Devices always fail to sync at some point. Active connections are dropped (like, I’m on a phone call in the car and the call I’m actively on drops off the car stereo, but the call itself is still connected to my iPhone; and this happens WHILE I’m driving) without any kind of warning or indication of communications problem.

Paired devices often refuse to connect, requiring Bluetooth radios in either one, the other, or both devices to be turned off for 15-30 seconds and then cycled back on before formerly paired devices may connect. In some severe cases, partnerships have had to be deleted and devices repaired, because no amount of trying, begging, pleading, bargaining or cajoling has gotten them to connect (and then even repairing the devices can be difficult…)

Mercedes-Benz at the Geneva International Auto Show 2014

This is why I was so very interested in CarPlay in my vehicle. It REQUIRED a cabled connection, meaning that I wouldn’t have to argue with the head unit and my iPhone and their potentially fickle relationship any more. The devices would connect when the phone was plugged into the cable, and that would be the end of that. As long as CarPlay continues to support hard wired connections, then I think it will be a good solution for hands free operation in a vehicle. The moment that it moves to wireless communications only, is the day that I think the standard will begin to have some serious problems.

What’s even more infuriating is that they stop and start working seemingly at random and completely on their own. I have no idea at times whether or not the devices I assume are connected are in fact… CONNECTED.

But can someone please help me understand what I’m supposed to do here??

Can someone point me to some sort of “wireless crazy glue” that will insure that Bluetooth connections work as their intended all the time? I know I can’t be the only person having this kind of problem. I’ve learned over time that I can’t just assume that paired devices will connect when they’re supposed to and/ or will stay connected as they’re supposed to when the devices come in range. At best, this is a hit and miss sorta deal, and honestly, Bluetooth needs to be better than this.

When I rely on Bluetooth connections to connected and stay connected after pairing (as long as the devices are in range), this sort of hit and miss crap just can’t be tolerated. I can’t get any of the Continuity features between my Macs and my iPhone to work consistently. I can’t get any of my smartwatches or activity/ fitness bands to consistently sync with my smartphone. I can’t get my smartphone and my car radio to connect and work the way it’s supposed to.

How the heck am I supposed to rely on any of this stuff to work and “improve” my life if the connectivity technology – Bluetooth is full of “cavities?”

I have NO idea what to do…

Are you having issues with Bluetooth or Bluetooth LE? Do your devices drop connections like paparazzi drop names (and flash bulbs)? Do your mission critical Bluetooth applications – your car radio, your fitness band or smartwatch, your wireless headset, etc. – crap out on you when you need them most? Am I missing something that I should be doing, but for some reason am not? What words of wisdom can YOU offer ME? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the whole issue. Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below and give me your thoughts on the whole ordeal? Lord knows… I could use the help!

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iOS 7 and Consumer Reaction

iOS 7 removes a lot of the glossy eye candy from iOS 6 and earlier. I’ve talked to some people and have some interesting reaction.

ios7logoI’ve spoken to some users about the upgrade and let them take a look at the new mobile OS on my iPhone 5, and reactions to it have been pretty consistent – most everyone is either disappointed or reacts violently to the new look and feel. Flat…is not good.

The negative reaction so far has been pretty universal. The UI is NOT what consumers are used to, isn’t what they’ve come to expect from Apple, and quite honestly, they don’t like it. At all…

iOS 6 and earlier contains a LOT of eye candy and skewmorphic design elements. iOS 7 removes about 99% of the glitz and gloss that most everyone has equated with Apple’s spit, polish and device finish. They eye candy is part of what made Apple, well… Apple. The new industrial, flat and enterprise friendly version of iOS 7 will provide users with some much needed and long overdue feature enhancements – Control Center, the redesigned Notification Center and the new and enhanced security features that will help prevent stolen iDevices from being sold at pawn and other resale establishments – THAT stuff will be welcomed, if not considered a bit late to the party.

The rest, from a consumer point of view, is the look and feel of the OS, or the UI; and if developers are criticizing the look and feel, and some are, then the reaction from the masses is going to be much louder and much more critical.

Yes, it’s very much the whole Who Moved my Cheese thing, but it’s a bit more than that. Apple customers are used to a certain level of finish when it comes their Macs and iDevices. iOS 7 removed a lot of that finished layer and flattened the 3D look of the OS.

In short, I think iOS 7, while technically a much better version than iOS 6, isn’t going to do Apple any favors. I think it’s going to bring a great deal more negative press, as the flat design isn’t be received well by those that I’ve shared it with, the development community or with the technical community whom may have had early looks since its introduction. It’s unfortunate, too, as there are parts of the OS that I really like – the new security and Control Center features I mentioned – but the look and feel of the OS… yeah. Not so much…

A for effort here, and a nod to Jony Ive for giving iOS a revolutionary, instead of evolutionary, update, but the redesigned UI of iOS 7 – Yeah… Not a fan.

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Apple’s WWDC Starts Today

wwdc13-about-main_2xToday, the rubber meets the road as the wrapper is ripped off of iOS 7 and we see if it’s any more than just a coat of indoor, flat paint.

In mid-May, I pulled together a two part blog series on what I thought were must have changes for iOS 7. It involves much more than just a coat of paint.

Most everyone is saying that Jonny Ive hates skewmorphism, or the implementation of life-like design elements – textures, glitz, gloss, etc. – that makes software look and feel like the real-world elements they imitate. Those that have been watching the rumor mills churn prior to the start of WWDC today (on 10-Jun-13 at 10am PDT), have heard and seen a number of reports indicating that the new OS is much flatter and has what’s being called a “skinny jeans” look with an ultra-thin Helvetica font taking center stage as the default font for the OS.

Many others have said, and I also whole-heartedly agree, that if iOS 7 is nothing more than a new coat of flat, indoor house paint, then Apple is going to have trouble drawing new iConverts to their walled garden of devices.   iDevices are nice, but the user interface needs a refresh, with new and innovative updates that provide an updated sense of ease of use and innovative features.

You can read my iOS7 blog to find out what I think should be done to the OS at a minimum. I won’t repeat it here. Suffice it to say that the rumor mill hasn’t been churning out a lot of leaks or speculation. Everyone seems to be in wait and see mode. Expect a plethora of commentary from industry pundits in the days and weeks to come.

I will have an update tomorrow or Wednesday of this week on what Apple has decided to do with iOS 7. I will also have an in-depth tear-down of the updated mobile OS for Soft32 in the coming weeks. Please watch the site for it as well as a tear-down of  Windows 8.1 after its released by Microsoft at their technical conference at the end of June.

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Top Must Have Changes in iOS 7

iOS 7 is going to need revolutionary instead of Apple’s standard evolutionary changes. This is what I think they need to be for iOS to be innovative again

ios7

Introduction

When the iPhone was introduced in 2007, it brought PDA/PIM data together with your cell phone, your music and videos, and made everything work, and work well. Since its introduction a few years later, Android has matured, and matured well. Windows Phone has been reinvented and revisioned and now the iPhone isn’t the only player on the block that knows how to do convergence and content consumption.

The iPhone turns six soon and it’s still got the same interface and launcher introduced with. It’s time for an interface refresh. So, here are my suggestions for the upcoming release of iOS 7.

Redesigned Launcher

Currently, iOS users can put app shortcuts on any number of home pages.  Users can also organize icons and create folders to hold application icons by placing one icon on top of another. The interface has remained largely unchanged over the past 6 years.

A launcher is nothing more than a way to sort, manage and launch applications. The launcher in iOS is used on all iDevices, and its clearly in need of some improvement, update or change.  Android allows users to install a number of different 3rd party launchers; and while I’m certain that Apple isn’t going to allow users to install a custom launcher, a lot of ideas can be gleaned from apps of this type from other OS’.

Have at it Apple. Wow us and give us something modern and new.  However, choice is important. It would be nice if in giving us a new UI, Apple would allow users to revert to the current UI as well.

Changes to the Notification Tray

This is one of the most valuable features in Android, and it’s been there for quite a while.  While the iOS notification tray is nice, it could, and should, do a whole lot more.  Shortcuts to specific device functions – like turning radios on and off, or pairing with specific devices – would be very valuable.

I’d like to be able to include info from other apps, like recent phone calls or place shortcuts to favorite numbers there so I can call them quickly. I’d also like to be able to customize this a bit, so please, give me more than can fit so I can put my own personal spin on things, or change things as my needs change.

Settings Redesign

A general reorg of settings would be helpful and seen as a big improvement. Some of the options in this area  are quite buried.

One of my biggest complaints with iOS 5 was that it was really difficult to get to the settings switch to turn Bluetooth on and off. You had to go into Settings, get to General, Wireless and then Bluetooth before you could get to the switch.  iOS6 changed that a bit, by bringing both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings up to the top of the Settings menu.  However, you still have to dive in to each category to get to the on/off switch and any other options, like pairing with a specific device.

I’d really like to see a complete tear down and rebuild here. The way Apple has all of its underpinnings and options setup and configured is long in the tooth.  I know I’m likely not to get what I want here, but it would be nice to see some work on organization and logical groupings. It isn’t always clear what is and isn’t stuffed into Settings and what might be tweaked in the actual app.

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How I Jailbroke my iPhone 5 for all of 27.5 Minutes

I stuck my foot outside the walled garden, and quickly pulled it back in…

cydia-appA few days ago, Apple released iOS 6.1.3 to address a discovered and published lock screen bug that allowed someone to gain access to your contacts and other private information by placing then cancelling an emergency call and then doing a whole other bunch of hokey stuff. Shortly after the fix was released, another lock screen bug was discovered that allowed users to bypass the lockcscreen, but this time with a paperclip.  Apparently, NOTHING is sacred anymore.

The iOS 6.1.3 update not only patched the one security hole, it also appears to have patched the vulnerabilities used by the Envisi0n jailbreak tool.  If you have a jailbroken iPhone running iOS 6.1.2, you’re not going to want to upgrade to iOS 6.1.3 just yet. Envisi0n can’t jailbreak iOS 6.1.3; and according to the development team, they aren’t going to fix the tool, instead wanting to prep and be ready for beta releases of iOS 7 and the iPhone 5S.

So, before I upgraded my iPhone, I decided to venture outside Apple’s walled garden of safety and took a plunge into Cydia and the world of jailbroken iOS software.

I’m glad I’m back.

I’ve been working with custom ROM’s and rooted phones for years. I got  into flashing my smartphones back in 2004-2005 when Windows Mobile was still Windows Mobile and not Windows Phone.  I know there’s a ton of really crappy software out there.  Oh my… it can be REALLY bad. So I was prepared, but not prepared enough, apparently.

I think I had my iPhone 5 jailbroken for just under ½ an hour before I decided to stop trying to force a piece of misbehaving software to behave. iPhones are just supposed to work. I’m not supposed to have to argue with the thing to get it to run the HTC styled, lock screen weather display I was interested in; and at the end of the day, I wasn’t going to stay jailbroken if the phone acted strangely…

For me, it was a clear and simple reminder – the iPhone is the way that it is, because Apple has specific quality standards for its products and the software they run.  An iPhone is just supposed to work. You’re not supposed to argue with it to come out of “safe mode.”  The software is supposed to do what it says its supposed to do.  Specifically, in my case, it was supposed to work.

It didn’t. It put the phone into safe mode and it wouldn’t come out of safe mode and the lock screen wouldn’t work. So instead of trying to muscle through it, I remembered why I got into the iPhone in the first place…so I wouldn’t have to deal with gimpy software that only worked when the stars aligned correctly…and I promptly put my iPhone back in the cradle and fired up the update for 6.1.3, and jumped back over the fence…

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iOS 6.x Woes – What Apple Needs to Do

Apple needs to do a LOT to fix the problems it has with every public bugs.

iOS-6.1Apple is definitely in a period of transition both from a stock price perspective and from a leadership perspective.  They also seem to be wobbling a bit when it comes to strategic direction for its mobile OS.  When you move from a high quality to rapid release methodology and then do an about face, you can count on a number of different problems cropping up.  Apple definitely has its work cut out for itself as it tries to refocus its release philosophy back towards the, “it just works” point of view.

With the exit of Scott Forstall, Apple is moving away from what appears to be the industry popular rapid release oriented Agile/Scrum development methodology that focuses more on the introduction of features and functionality rather than quality of code and delivery.  With Leopard, Apple had 11 point releases. With Snow Leopard, Apple delivered 8 updates. With Lion, there were 5 releases.  It’s clear.  Apple is ratcheting down the number of releases and is focusing more on quality rather than quantity.

Given its direction with its desktop OS, I have to wonder what the heck is going on with its mobile OS. Things don’t seem to be righting themselves there. There have been six (6), seven counting the iPhone 4S only 6.1.1 release, releases of iOS 6 since its release in mid-September of 2012. That’s an average of just over 1 release per month.

If you ask me, that’s excessive; and it CLEARLY indicates that Apple’s methodology changes haven’t trickled down to the mobile OS team yet. Development methodologies like Agile/Scrum concentrate more on the release of new features rather than quality of delivery. When problems are encountered or identified, you release a new version and roll the code base forward. There’s little to no time to do any regression testing (testing to insure previously squashed bugs stay squashed). This is the major reason why the lock screen bug that was “resolved” in iOS 6.1.3 reappeared.  It’s also the major reason why it was recently discovered that 6.1.3 didn’t completely resolve the issue.

According to Apple Insider additional methods of bypassing the iOS lock screen have been discovered in iOS 6.1.3, even though this release was designed and engineered to specifically lock the lock screen down.

The lock screen bugs, both this new one and the previous one are not easy to reproduce. You really have to be one demented and dedicated tester, and understand the device, its OS and applet behavior in order to successfully reproduce the exploits.  However, it speaks to a much larger problem – one of development methodology.

This isn’t so much a coding issue as it is a leadership issue.  Apple coders and testers must be allowed to spend the time necessary to come up with these kinds of use cases and scenarios so that proper test requirements can be documented and then tests created and executed.  The key word there is “time.”  Unfortunately, it’s the one thing that Apple doesn’t have an abundance of.

Apple needs to squash bugs, and squash them quickly.  Most importantly, it needs to make sure that the bugs they say they’ve squashed, stay squashed. Finding a way around the released fix one day after its release doesn’t lend confidence that Apple is doing the due diligence to resolve and robustly test the code they’re releasing.  It’s even worse when it seems as though everybody else but “you” knows what to do to get around your code.  Apple needs to change how it develops, tests and more importantly, plans its releases.  If I were Apple’s QA director, I’d be worried for my job at this point.  I’d also march myself into Eddie Cue’s office by the end of the week with a solid plan on how testing is going to insure buggy software doesn’t get released.  This is getting ridiculous, and isn’t going to help Apple’s stock (AAPL) price, either. It’s down 35.5% since its 52 week high six months ago.

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