Default Apps 2023

A man standing in the hills of Scotland being invaded by apps

If there’s anything thats going to kick start my blog it’s a trend talking about app’s. I first saw a post from Matt Birchler a couple of weeks back and it turns out it’s inspired by Hemispheric Views 097 – Duel of the Defaults! with Robb Knight going above and beyond tracking a list of people taking part.

Anyway, on with the list: 

The takeaway for me is I use many more default Apple services than before and I’m looking at Apple Podcasts to replace Overcast and Keychain/iCloud Passwords as the enshitification of 1Password continues. iCloud replaced Dropbox in the last 18 months, Apple Mail instead of Spark although Word, Excel and Powerpoint are safe as Apple’s office tools have never clicked for me. So why the shift?

App subscription fatigue is definitely a factor as there’s only so many subscriptions that I’m willing to do that deliver value. There’s also a narrowing of capability over time and ease of use just using defaults when you’re all in on one ecosystem. If only friends could actually use just one messaging platform!

If you do like trying out new apps the full list of participants is a mine of information…and I’ve found quite a few new blogs to follow. Good old RSS. Next up, I really should setup an uses page to make this easier to reference.


I recently wrote about being 10 years on a Mac. It’s been a remarkably stable time with access to a lot of great software and hardware. However there’s no getting away from it – Apple have been stagnating when it comes to Mac’s.

Going back 10 years and there was a marked difference between buying a Mac and buying a PC. Apple owned the software and hardware process and there were very few product lines compared to the hundreds of PC’s available and the crapware that afflicted every PC from Dell to HP, Dan to Acer. They all did it and it stunk. No virus or malware issues either. And for me the difference in how the hardware was designed was massive.

PC or Mac from 2006. Which would you have rather had?
PC or Mac from 2006. Which would you have rather had?

This was also the time of the Mac vs PC adverts that went on for a few years. How times have changed.

This week saw Microsoft and Apple launch new desktop and laptop products. The difference between then couldn’t be more stark and shows that Microsoft have got their mojo back…and Apple are looking a little lost.

The problem for Apple is iOS. It’s a great problem to have, but Mac and iOS are two very different platforms that share quite a bit in common. iOS is the rising platform, dominant in sales and very much the future of computing. Mac is much loved amongst the Apple community but sales in the desktop and laptop market are going down. Global PC sales have declined for eight consecutive quarters. End users aren’t upgrading their PC’s as often – my desktop and laptop are over 5 and 4 years old respectively and still going strong.

However iOS is Apple’s touch driven environment and Mac’s have been left behind in that regards. Is it the right approach? Well Microsoft don’t think so and having messed up so much in the past on mobile they’ve bet on having a unified operating system. So Windows 10 works anywhere, mouse or touch driven, so you can take advantage of your hardware depending on the situation you are in. They are also hitting their stride when it comes to hardware. A few years ago the Surface Pro was a nice device but version 4 is great and with the Surface Book and now the Surface Studio there’s a real wow around Microsoft’s hardware from a design perspective.

Microsofts Surface Studio
Microsofts Surface Studio

Microsoft are courting creatives. IBM have rolled out Macs across the enterprise. Microsofts new devices are not cheap unlike Windows products of the past. Good design costs money and the small creative market are willing to pay to get the best devices. Software is not really locked to platforms. Adobe allow you to work on Mac or PC and the experience on both is pretty much identical. The Mac App Store hasn’t done the Mac platform any favours. Equally the emerging VR market is a Windows exclusive right now. Apple hardware isn’t powerful enough to drive any of the VR platforms and they’ve yet to show their hand when it comes to AR or VR apart from Tim Cook verbally favouring AR.

Whats frustrating for me is that Apple look to be slowing down. Stagnating. The Mac market is getting smaller so is the ideal market to innovate in. In contrast last weeks announcements were pretty snooze worthy. Pricey laptops, confusing naming strategy coupled with a lovely new Touch Bar. The laptops aren’t using the latest chips and the RAM looks stingy. Add to that a greater than three years old Mac Pro, and ageing iMac and Mini. What’s going on?

Worse for us in the UK is that all Mac prices rose last week thanks to Brexit. While I can understand the rise for the new MacBook Pro’s and the iMac’s, it’s a disgrace that the ancient Mac pro rose by £500. Poor decision Apple or don’t you care? Seeing as the Mac Pro website still references Aperture, a product that Apple killed over 12 months ago, I’m thinking they don’t care.

Or has Apple got too big? The video above from Steve Jobs is prophetic and could describe todays Apple. This years iPhone is undoubtedly a great phone but it’s safe. Compare it to the Xiaomi Mi Mix which is a gorgeous new Android device and shows some true innovation with regards design and materials.

Xiaomi Mi Mix - stunning new Android phone
Xiaomi Mi Mix – stunning new Android phone

Apple for me right now feels conservative. Undoubtedly making bundles of cash but hedging bets and not as exciting as they once were. However the likes of Microsoft, Google and Samsung have some great products out there. As a tech lover I’m spoiled for choice. Earlier in the week a colleague said they were worried at Apples approach. I’m personally not worried as it’s easy to move platform so I’ll always have access to the best hardware and software…but that should give cause for concern for Apple. Over time if people start to move away, especially developers and creatives, then it could be the start of a slow decline. Hopefully Apple will prove me wrong in 2017. They need to find their mojo again.

10 Years on a Mac

Hard to believe but it’s 10 years since I moved from PC to Mac. 10 years! I’d been using an iPod for a few years when in 2006 Apple moved to Intel processors and updated their iMac design. It was all too tempting so I said farewell to viruses, tara to malware and hello to hassle free Mac computing. That was the plan and for the most part it’s been true. Here’s some thoughts on my Mac/Apple journey inspired by this post from Elaine Giles earlier in the year.

iMac up and running

Macbook ProI loved that first iMac and picked up an 80Gb iPod at the same time. The first three months was so good that at Christmas I bought a MacBook Pro. What a great laptop that was. Fast, quiet, quick to boot and the design was to die for. 2007 saw the release of the iPhone but it just wasn’t for me. No 3G, no app’s. It was a lovely first phone but not enough to make me move. So I stuck with my Sony Ericson, remember them, and waited for Apple to update their Jesus phone.

2008 saw Apple release the iPhone 3G, iOS 2.0 and the App Store. I jumped in and picked up a 16GB iPhone 3G and bought far too many app’s on day 1. Super Monkey Ball, MotionX Poker and Twitterrific were all stand out app’s even in those early days. The iPhone and success of the App Store started a shift in focus for Apple, developers and consumers.

Subsequent iPhones increased in power and performance and I lapped them up. The 3GS, the 4 and 5 all followed and unlike other phones they kept their value in the second hand market remarkably well.

In 2010 Steve Jobs revealed the iPad. I still remember myself and Shak both dismissing it as a big iPhone…and then a few weeks later queuing for one at the Apple store in Glasgow. For me it was definitely a consumption device. Magazines, books and comics all worked really well on the iPad especially the retina model which came out in 2012. At the end of 2013 I moved to an iPad Air which I still use today.

I tried a couple of keyboards during the various iPad’s I’ve owned and went through a few different styluses but none really stuck. I did do a few work related tasks on them but the iPad remained mostly a media consumption device. When the iPad Pro’s came out I was close to picking one up but stuck with the Air mostly due to the cost and initially being unsure of the 12″ iPad Pro.

2014 saw me move to the iPhone 6 and this year I picked up an iPhone 7. It’s a fantastic phone but it feels the end of the line with a redesign likely next year. Competitors are using better components and catching up on the camera front…and many feel their phone camera’s are now better than the iPhone’s but at least the iPhone doesn’t explode.

Back to the Mac
So iPhone and iOS has become the focus for Apple but I still love the Mac. May 2011 and I upgraded to a new iMac. This was a great machine – 27″ screen, SSD and really fast processor. In fact it was so good (after a 16GB RAM upgrade) that over 5 years later I’m still using it. It still copes with most things I throw at it although there are two main shortfalls. It really struggles to process 4k video which both the camera and drone support and secondly it’s not a retina device.

This is also true for the MacBook Air I picked up in 2012. Non retina and not in any way a powerhouse but it does the job for me in a few key area’s that the iPad Air doesn’t. So apart from the iPhone my other Apple products are all getting long in the tooth. I almost forgot – 2015 and the Apple Watch. It’s been OK and Watch OS 3 makes a big difference but I’ve not moved on to the latest version until I see some app’s that will make a difference. I don’t need a faster CPU to get a notification more quickly.

The sorry state of Mac hardware
The sorry state of Mac hardware

The main reason I haven’t updated the Mac’s is mostly thanks to the slow progress that Apple have made with Mac hardware. Certainly the move to retina is great but if I look at the current Mac platforms, they are all old. Buy a Retina MacBook Pro today, which is probably their flagship Mac platform, and the hardware is over 500 days old. That’s shocking. How many people are buying a Retina MacBook Pro today not knowing that the inner hardware is that old. Same for the MacBook Air although I’m assuming sales of the Air are now very small – the bezel looks dated and it’s a non-retina screen.

The Mac platform is clearly secondary for Apple. The Mac App store is a mess in comparison to the iOS version. The latest Mac release, Sierra, has very little for Mac users. Compare Messages in iOS which saw a massive upgrade in iOS 10 to the Messages in Sierra. Crickets. And where is the hardware from Apple that would support any sort of VR headset? If you are in any way interested in the Oculus or Vive platforms then a Windows PC is the only option.

What’s Next
Over the next 18 months I’ll be replacing my iPad, MacBook Air and iMac…and probably my iPhone too! With iOS and iPhone I have no complaints and I love the platform. My current thinking is that I’ll replace the iPad and MacBook Air with an iPad Pro. No idea on size, but the keyboard and Pencil support of both Pro models will leave me needing only one device to replace the current iPad and Air.

As for the iMac, that’s a more tricky decision. My gut feel is I’ll update to the latest Retina iMac and sufficiently future proof it with fast CPU, SSD and lots of RAM. However I don’t think I can ignore Windows for much longer so I can see me also picking up a 4K second monitor (to replace the current non retina 27″ ASUS) for the iMac and plug in a Windows gaming PC that will allow me to play with one of the VR platforms. That purchase will wait for one of them to be seen as leading as at the moment it’s early days in the VR space.

I depend on my Mac, more than the iOS devices, and it’s where I get most of my work done. Unless iOS devices and iOS itself see’s some significant changes I won’t be able to shift to being iOS only so I do hope that Apple release updates to Mac’s soon – the platform needs some love! Despite my negativity I won’t be leaving the Mac though. Even some stale hardware and unloved Mac updates are better than Windows 10 and it’s woes. Here’s to the next 10 years with Apple.

Day One 2

One of my favourite app’s across Mac and iOS got a really nice update this week. Day One is a journaling app that I’ve used for the last few years and version 2 brings quite the upgrade.

On first launch on either platform you’ll notice that you can no longer sync using iCloud or Dropbox. Instead Day One uses it’s own sync platform. Import your entries from Day One, setup an account and then sync. I found the process to be fast considering I’ve over 800 entries within my current journal.

The previous version had support for only one journal and relied on tags to separate out entries. I had tags for work, movies and runs. Version 2 still supports tags but now supports up to ten journals which can be individually coloured so I’ve setup individual journals and it makes for a much better experience.

Journal entries haven’t seen much change but each entry can now have up to 10 photo’s which is Day One’s 2 ‘finally’ feature.

These are paid updates and both versions are available for 50% off for one week only. iOS is fairly priced but Mac feels a bit steep for relatively little change – £14.99 rising to £29.99 in a weeks time. Future upgrades are promised though.

Day One 2 is an admittedly pricey app but one I can’t do without. It’s polished and if you value journalling of any kind it’s well worth a look.

Small Steps

Apple released iOS 9, watchOS 2 and OS X El Capitan over the last couple of weeks. What’s remarkable about the updates, and it looks to be the same for the upcoming version of Android, is the lack of much new in iOS or Mac OS X. There’s much under the hood but for end users there’s little to get excited about.

El Capitan
A couple of the biggest changes are really for laptop users – split view and mission control. Split view lets you focus on two apps easily at the same time. Nothing you couldn’t do before but maximises focus on the job in hand. Mission control makes it easier to work with multiple screens and desktops and the changes are much welcomed – it’s far improved over Yosemite.

Spotlight improvements are OK but won’t replace Alfred for me. Notes is much improved and really is quite the credible competitor to Evernote which is something I need to look at going forward and Photo’s finally add’s some much needed editing features plus support for extension. For me the best new features are a couple of the smallest.

Pinned tabs but oh so drab
Pinned tabs but oh so drab

Apple have stolen pinned tabs from Chrome and also the ability to see which tab is currently ‘speaking’ and allowing you to quickly mute Safari. However the pinned tabs are so drab looking – why Apple? Also it’s criminal that Safari updates, and many of the App updates, are now tied to a yearly OS update from Apple, especially when the App updates are so small. I doubt Apple will change that strategy as it’s the same across all their platforms. It’s also criminal that Safari really feels like the new IE.

Anyway, it’s free and it’s been stable for me so far so it gets a grudging thumbs up.

iOS 9
I didn’t take part in any of the open beta’s or put on a developer build this year so iOS 9 is relatively new for me but again there is very little to get excited about. It says it all when much of the talk was of a new system font, San Fransisco, which is nice but isn’t really ‘a feature’.

Notes see’s a good upgrade and there is also now a News app but only in the USA right now, seemingly 9.1 will bring that to the UK. Passcode is now Wallet which makes more sense although there still isn’t much support for it.

The iPad updates are probably the most interesting. Slide Over allows a second app to be running at the same time as a main app is visible. It works well but I have a couple of issues with it. You can’t search for an app so you need to scroll through a list of apps that support Slide Over which is only going to grow. I also tend to launch Slide Over when I’m reading on the iPad accidentally. I’m sure it’s just muscle memory but it niggles.

Split View is an extension of Slide Over and allows two apps to run concurrently. For app’s that support it this is excellent but I’m surprised at how many Apple app’s don’t currently work in this mode. The final iPad nicety is picture in picture meaning iPlayer can run in a small window while you work on a document. Works well but again not all apps support it.

Siri has seen a few new features but I still struggle to get into the habit of using it, mostly due to it not working reliably. When it does it can be quite magical but when it doesn’t I just feel frustrated.

The best new feature for me so far has been app linking and slightly behind deep linking. App linking shows when you jump to Safari from an app, say Facebook. In Safari you get a link to jump back to Facebook so rather than double tapping home you just click the link and back to the app you go. Makes for far quicker navigating through iOS. Deep linking is for certain app developers only like Twitter. A tweet link will now open in the main Twitter app rather than in Safari. Better experience although I’d have preferred there to be an option to pick third party apps like Tweetbot instead of the main Twitter app.

So lots to like in iOS 9 but quite an incremental update. If it allows Apple to focus on stability and improving iCloud then all the better.

watchOS 2
This was probably the most anticipated Apple release – could watchOS 2 unlock third party apps and make the watch more usable? Kind off.

Watch faces have a few new options. There are now time lapses which do look great but don’t support any complications. Equally you can now pick a photo or photo album to be used as a watchface background. These can look great but again lack complications. The photo option has also spawned Apple Faces which has a great set of custom photos that can look really good on the watch. I really like the see through watch.

The other tweak to watchfaces is to add some colour. Utility now shows activity rings with colour and I love that change. However it’s caused much angst among some Apple fan’s due to the lack of control they now have in setting the colour in the Utility watchface. I’m surprised Apple didn’t add a multicolour option so that everyone would be happy – maybe watchOS 3. Speaking of complications we’ve now got third party complications which means I can now have Dark Sky instead of the default weather app and I’m sure there will be more from other dev’s going forward.

I’m really liking Nightstand – turn your watch onto it’s side and it turns into an alarm clock. The watch will display the time and alarm then switch off the screen. Touch/move the watch through the night and the screen lights up for a few seconds. Simple but effective.

Other features like Time Travel and improved Siri are welcome but the most anticipated, app’s running natively, has proven to be a bit of a false dawn. Certainly Dark Skies and PCalc now run a lot faster. PCalc in particular is a handy app to have on the watch now that it runs so quickly. Many others though are still relatively slow and I’m not sure if this is as good as this hardware will allow or wether we’ll see further improvements.

So some nice updates but I’m left wanting more. I’d love to see custom watch faces, I’d love to have fuller control over a watch face as well. I want better performance. But the watch for me has been really useful as a notification device and for that alone I wouldn’t want to lose it. watchOS 2 is a definite step up and hopefully we’ll see some more from dev’s over the coming months.

iOS Games

Some really nice games out for iOS at the moment. A couple that I’m really enjoying are:

Alto’s Adventure
It’s not like iOS gaming needs another endless runner but if it looks and plays well who can complain? It costs £1.49 and is very addictive and although I thought it was quite shallow there is a lot of subtle tricks and techniques to learn. You can find out more at the Alto’s Adventure website.

AG Drive
F-Zero and Wipeout are two of my favourite games of all times. AG drive gets pretty close to the feel of each of them but with no weapons. It’s fast paced and looks really good on the iPhone…not so sure on the music though. Lots of tracks, customisable ships and some good challenges as you start to rank up. £2.99 and it could be yours. I’d love a second version that had weapons and allowed custom soundtracks…or maybe a future update?

What’s nice is that both games are ad free and have no in-app purchasing. How refreshing.

Gaming Treats

For a while I found gaming on iOS starting to stagnate. Too many free to play titles with horrible in app purchasing mechanisms, particularly from EA. However April has seen some great new releases:

Monument Valley

At around 2 hours of gameplay many will dismiss Monument Valley but they are fools. FOOLS! This is a 10 level puzzle game that is more akin to a living M.C. Escher image than a game. The premise is simple – guide Ida to the end of the level by sliding and rotating elements of the level to allow her to complete the path.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley

It looks and sounds stunning and is such a satisfying fun game. In many ways the length is perfect as repetition is removed unlike so many games that are longer just because they can be, not for any good reason. If it still sounds too short and the screen above doesn’t convince you, the developer has announced this week that more levels are coming. There are no excuses left – just buy it.

FTL: Faster Than Light

A PC favourite, FTL is a real time strategy game based on your spaceship. Maybe more a resource management game but you take part in a variety of quests, battles and make choices throughout the game with the aim to save the galaxy with you in charge of your spaceship. It’s tough, especially as when you die you start from the beginning again. Works so well on the iPad benefiting greatly from the retina screen and the touch controls.

This is really addictive and each play through is unique adding to it’s shelf life. You can also take charge of different spaceships, again extending the game. Out of all the games on this post, I’d buy this one. Love it.

Hitman Go

I had zero expectations for Hitman Go, expecting an arcade game or first person shooter but what Square Enix has released is a great looking turn based strategy. You control your agent, dictating which path he takes through a level solving various puzzles as you go.

Hitman Go
Hitman Go

The game is a looker and can be viewed from any angle and it’s great to see some of the big game developers developing unique mobile games rather than rushing out a crappy port. One note of caution is that there is an element of in app purchasing for hints and unlocks but they aren’t needed to play the game and it doesn’t get in the way when I’m playing. An impressive game which will take some time to complete.

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Free (with in-app purchase)

Hearthstone is a card collecting 1 vs 1 battle game. Collect cards and play friends or strangers in a number of different game modes. Presentation is fantastic and it’s a very addictive game. There is in app purchasing but it doesn’t blight the game and to be honest I’ve not needed to spend any money on the game. Excellent game and you can play against PC p;ayers too.

Dungeon Quest
Free (with in-app purchase)

Final game worth trying is Dungeon Quest. Don’t let the free and IAP tag put you off. This is a great little Diablo lite dungeon crawler that supports various classes and plays really well. Great for blasting through a few levels if you’ve got 20 mins to spare.

Dungeon Quest
Dungeon Quest

Hopefully there’s something in that list to tempt you and after months of meh, it’s a great time to game again on iOS.

Apple in 2014

I use Apple products every day. iMac, Macbook Air, iPad and iPhone with a little bit of Apple TV thrown in for good measure. I love the hardware, it’s design and performance and the surrounding application ecosystem. As a combination they still can’t be beaten in my opinion. There is a growing problem though – Apple’s own software and services. The software isn’t as good as it used to be, the cloud services are buggy and unreliable and Apple seems to be doing very little to address the slide in quality over the past 2-3 years. This has to change.

A quick list of issues that have affected me over the past few months include:

– Inconsistent as to which device will receive a message.
– Read once, mark everywhere – worked at the start of Mavericks but now only works sometimes.
– Sometimes slow delivery, sometimes none on a certain device. No pattern and easiest way to fix is sign out and in again on the affected device. That isn’t a solution.
– Reminders – sometimes syncs properly and other times it feels like I have two separate todo lists and have to mark off completion of tasks in two places. Then a few days later they are back in sync.
– No faith that contacts and calendars are actually being synchronised correctly.
– Third party dev’s moving away from iCloud as a sync platform.
– Mail is awful. So many Gmail issues compared to Snow Leopard. The new fixes issued by Apple have addressed some but not all of the issues. Every few days I need to stop and start Mail just so I can receive new Mails that are flowing in fine on the iOS devices. Part of that may be down to Google not using standard IMAP?
– I want to use Safari as it’s fast and thanks to App Nap it will save battery life on the Macbook Air but it’s so fucking crashy. I can’t believe how unstable it is.
– Reminders, iCal, Contacts – still a poor usability experience from these core app’s.
– iBooks was new to the Mac and moved books from iTunes to iBooks but only those that you’ve purchased. Anything added manually has disappeared. Nice update.
– Updated across iOS and Mac by removing key functionality so that all platforms are in sync. I don’t have a problem with that approach, more the lack of any updates for 3-4 years and then someone hit’s a reset button this year. But don’t worry, some of the old features will return. Some? Any?
– Lot’s of love on iOS but hardly any on the Mac. The new Garageband also removed Podcast functionality.
– Crashes often, library easily corrupted and I’ve no faith that it won’t happen again.
– Moved podcasts to Instacast which syncs properly across all devices and has had the side effect of improving iTunes.
iTunes Match
– A paid for service from Apple that when it works is brilliant but I’ve had a handful of issues since starting the service that requires me to stop the service on all devices and restart.
– Album art on iOS corrupted. Different covers for different albums. Small beer when I write it down but it frustrated the hell out of me. The only known solution – switch off iTunes Match, wipe any music from your iOS device and start again.
– Duplicated playlists – fine on the iPhone but duplicated 10 times over on the iPad. Solution – switch off iTunes Match, remove any downloaded music and start again.
– iTunes Match will randomly switch off on the iMac. No notice, it just does.
– Springboard in iOS 7 is really unstable. I see frequent Springboard restarts when I use the iPhone and the iPad has a couple of no icon app’s that work fine but don’t display the icon. It feels like an iOS beta on the iPhone at the moment rather than an OS that has been out for months.
– Apple really need to address some fundamentals like inter app operability as URL schemes aren’t a scalable solution. Let me choose my defaults app’s too. Mailbox and Chrome would be better iOS app’s if they could be treated as the default app’s for Mail and Web Browsing. Android is becoming a far more appealing option.
– iCloud backup doesn’t scale. The most you can buy is 50GB for £70 per year, yet I can buy a 128Gb iPad. Cloud backup should come free with each device and not be tied to an iCloud account. Buy an iOS device, get complementary cloud backup for free. Keep it simple.
– Newsstand – some magazine issues will auto download, some won’t. I see the badge indicating a new issue but opening Newsstand I see nothing against any of the news applications. Apple should kill Newsstand and publishers should just have their own stand alone app’s. Newsstand is broken.
– App Store – doesn’t scale, reviews are an issue and Apple seem to be doing very little about that.

Quite a list. Everybody wants Apple to launch a new product category in 2014 – a true TV solution, a smart watch, a larger iPad. I’d rather see them address the software quality issues that can be seen throughout their portfolio before they jump onto something new and I’m not alone. Unfortunately it will never happen – the market demands new hardware and software rarely gets attention, but it’s critical. It’s the lifeblood of the platform and it’s disappointing that Apple’s are often the poor option on a given platform. I look at the Verge investigation into webOS and what could have been with envy. Not just a striking similarity to the visual leap that iOS 7 made but real forward steps with usability on a mobile platform. Maybe in iOS 8 but I doubt it.

What stung the most in all this was a blog post about Evernote. Jason Kincaid posted a couple of days ago on Evernote, the bug-ridden elephant. As an Evernote user myself I’d noticed a dip in quality too particularly with the browser snapshot extensions. The next day saw Evernote’s CEO, Phil Rubin, reply on the Evernote Blog – On Software Quality and Building a Better Evernote in 2014. Time will tell if Evernote’s quality will improve but it was a great response in public acknowledging and committing to resolving software quality. If only Apple were as open and honest.

I used to tell people ‘it just works’ when discussing Apple products. Not any more.

Stop Start Nexus

The original Google Nexus 7 is now 12 months old and has been replaced by a new version that has upgraded much of the tablet – retina screen, faster CPU, more RAM and a camera. Considering it will be only £20 more than last years model that’s quite an upgrade for an affordable tablet. I’ve had my Nexus 7 for just over 9 months and while it’s been a good device the overall experience makes it hard to really recommend an Android tablet.

One of the big selling points of Android 4.2 was Project Butter. Finally Google had addressed underlying performance issues so that there would be no stutter, scrolling everywhere would be smooth and Android could finally be viewed as an equal to iOS from a performance perspective. 9 months on and I have to say that there is still a considerable performance difference between Android and iOS.

On the Nexus 7 the performance issues have been exaggerated by an overall slowdown over time. This has been well documented and I was seeing it too. I’d launch Chrome and it would sometimes take 20 seconds just to launch and show the 2 or 3 tabs I had open. I tried many of the cleaner tools that are in the Google Play store and while they had an impact for a week or two the system would eventually fall back to it’s usual slow self. Thankfully Android 4.3 has enabled trim support and this has certainly had an impact over the last week but there is still a noticeable lack of smoothness throughout Android as a whole and I’ve got no faith that the stuttering won’t get worse again over time.

Can Google keep the new Nexus 7 from the same fate? At the moment, it’s very fast. Powered by a hefty 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and 2GB of RAM, it flits around the OS with ease, and I rarely encountered stutters, jitters, or problems of any kind. (Except scrolling. Cool job Google.) – Google Nexus 7 2013 review

Even one of the most glowing reviews of the 2013 Nexus 7 acknowledges that it still has performance issues at a fundamental level. Well played Android.

When things go wrong
Android’s flexibility is fantastic, especially when compared to iOS. However when things go wrong it feels like you are dumped back a decade when trying to fix it. Just this week after applying Android 4.3 I hit a major issue – I couldn’t update any applications from the Google Play store. Worse, the error message was gibberish.

Google Play Error

I tried switching off and on but it made no difference. To the internets, where it was clear that lots of people suffered the same problem and were stumbling through various fixes to try and solve the problem. I first tried the following fix:

  • Open system settings
  • Go to Applications (or Apps) >> All
  • From all apps select Google Play Store >> Clear Cache and Uninstall updates
  • Again, from All>>Download Manager >> Clear Cache and Data
  • Finally, All >> Google Services Framework >> Clear Cache and Data
  • Now, rerun Google play store.

No dice. All applications would fail to update. So then it was onto the next fix all the while thinking that this felt like trying to fix an issue on Windows 95.

Things aren't going well if you are having to use this screen
Things aren’t going well if you are having to use this screen

  • Go to system settings>> Accounts>>Google>>remove your Gmail account
  • Now from settings>>Apps>>All> Force stop, Clear data and cache for Google Play Store, Google Service Framework and Download Manager (like in method 1)
  • Now again go to settings>> Accounts>>Google>>Add your gmail account
  • Restart your android and then accept all the Google terms and setup Google settings
  • Rerun Google Play Store and update or install your app.

That almost fixed the problem except I couldn’t update Google Maps as it failed with the same error. Sigh. I tried again this morning and still had the same problem. So I wiped all accounts from the Nexus, wiped data on the Google Play Store and Google Services Framework applications, rebooted the Nexus and then added my primary Google account. Finally I could update Google Maps. What a farce. This isn’t the first time I’ve had issues that forced me to clear caches from applications to get them back running properly again and it’s one of the reasons I don’t recommend Android tablets to friends and family as the support time is far higher than with iOS.

Application availability, especially for tablets, is still stronger on iOS than it is on Android. 99% of the time app’s will release first for iOS and generally be the better version. This hasn’t really improved over the last 10 months. I’m sure for phones it’s different but I can only compare what I use which is iOS and Android tablets. The exclusives are to be found on iOS and there is still a richer ecosystem on iOS when compared to Android.

Should I buy a Nexus?
That depends on who you are and what you want to do. Want to customise your device, root it, make it your own and happy to mess around when things go wrong – the Nexus 7 is great and the new hardware looks superb for the price. For everyone else I’d recommend iOS without any hesitation. Superior experience, great performance and devices that in general just work. I still fire up the Nexus from time to time but I’m really back on the iPad even for reading despite the size and weight. Speed wins.

iPhone 5

After months of rumour and a week of waiting I finally have the iPhone 5. Technically the sixth iPhone (and my 4th after the 3G, 3GS and 4) I decided against queuing up and this time pre-ordered online and waited patiently for UPS to deliver mine on Friday. While it was great for me the UPS guy didn’t share my enthusiasm as they had thousands to deliver on Friday. Interestingly Apple still had phones to sell on Saturday in Glasgow despite the long queues. Seems to be a lot more stock than in previous years. After a few days use here are my thoughts on the iPhone 5.


The all black iPhone 5
Despite all the screenshots and video reviews I was still surprised when I held the iPhone 5 for the first time. It is lighter than expected, much lighter. I’m not sure if thats due to it being slightly taller so the expectation is of a certain heaviness…but it even feels kind of empty when you hold it. It’s remarkable how thin and light these devices are getting.

The metal back should make the iPhone more durable and also helps to reduce weight. The iPhone 5 comes in white or black and I chose black as it’s far less distracting when looking at the screen. It’s also all black. Everywhere. No silver antenna around the edge – all black. The buttons are all black. The Apple logo and text on the back – black. I should really do a fifty shades of black joke right now. No?

Some have described the iPhone 5 as jewel like. This is mostly down to the chamfered edge which does prettify the phone and helps the feel in the hand but one downside is the many reports of nicks and scuffs that the black iPhone 5 is now prone too. I detest scrapes, scratches and marks on my gadgets so I will admit to being a bit nervous about damage over time. Looks like a case is a necessity as I do take care of the phone and I will be looking to sell on in a couple of years time. I’ve been burnt before with cases that also scrape (looking at you iPhone bumper!) so I’ve ordered a sleeve for the iPhone 5 until I can sort out a decent non marking case. Annoying as I hate covering up such a great design.

The move to a slightly taller phone and a 4 inch screen has made the iPhone 5 feel narrower. It is exactly the same width as the 4S and 4 but looks and feels narrower. The screen has moved from 3 1/2 inches to 4 inches but the phone has only grown by 8.6mm. Even writing that makes the change seem small but it’s a noticeable change from the 4. It still fits in the pocket and I’m pleased it’s not got wider. I can still use the phone one handed without having to constantly re-adjust how I hold it.

I’ve said all that without mentioning it’s thickness – just 7.6mm. Not the thinnest phone out there but not far off it. The thickness coupled with the slight increase in height and decrease in weight makes it feel a smaller phone. A smaller phone with a bigger display. Quite a feat.

186 pixels. Thats what the move from 3 1/3 to 4 inch has given the iPhone 5. It sounds a small change but it does benefit one area greatly – video. Finally iPhone users have 16×9 playback of video. It also offers developers a chance to re-imagine their apps to take advantage of the screen. Calendar now show’s a full week view, e-mail and messages show an extra row and most importantly you get an extra row of app’s in the home screen. Joke.

A whole extra row of apps

So the extra pixels will get most attention but the screen quality is much improved. Blacks are blacker. Colour is better. Certainly pops more than previous iPhones but not as vibrant as a couple of Android devices I’ve seen which appear over saturated to me. Going back to the blacks, when an app is running in letterbox mode as it’s not been updated to support the iPhone 5 I can’t tell where the screen stops and the facia starts. The blacks are that good. This is the main reason I’ve stayed away from white iPhones – the black facia disappears but the white one stands out.

A controversial change is the new Lightning connector which replaces the 30 pin dock connector that Apple have used for 9 years. The current connector is everywhere – stereo’s, battery packs, cars, hotels. It’s so pervasive that any change was bound to stoke anger.

New and Old – Lightning vs 30 pin dock connector

What I didn’t expect, even after seeing the new slot in the iPhone, was just how small the new Lightning connector is. It’s tiny! It’s like a lego version of the old connector. It’s obvious when you compare both as to why Apple had to change. It’s a painful and expensive upgrade for consumers though. A Lightning to 30 pin adaptor from Apple costs £25. A Lightning to USB cable costs £15. You get one of those cables with the iPhone but I’ll need another two. I’ll also still need the 30 pin cable for the iPad. Transitions like this are painful but necessary. It also makes me think that docks are a thing of the past and that a move to Bluetooth or Airplay for connecting to cars, speakers etc will be the way forward.

One other oddity – USB2. I’d have thought the Lightning cable would have at least made the jump to USB3 but it’s still USB2 only. Apple even made the joke in the keynote that they now have Thunderbolt and Lightning. Sync and charging speeds have improved though and no doubt we’ll see USB3 and Thunderbolt versions of the cable in the future.

The iPhone 5 is fast. Really fast. I’m moving from the iPhone 4 so it’s much more than a doubling of speed that I’m seeing (thats the improvement over the 4S). Across the board the iPhone 5 has been improved. App’s launch faster, wifi speeds have been improved, web browsing is super quick and if you are lucky enough to have LTE or 4G even wireless broadband speeds are excellent. The preliminary tests from Anandtech are showing the iPhone 5 is the quickest smartphone on the market by quite some margin. The video below shows the iPhone 5 (recorded via Reflection) browsing some web pages and launching a couple of apps. I don’t think the speed will get boring anytime soon.

3G or 4GEE
A surprise but welcome addition to the iPhone 5 was LTE aka 4G. This promises up to 100Mb down and 20Mb up, speeds which a lot of consumers in the UK would love for their home broadband connection. 4G in the UK will launch later this year from EE and it will support the iPhone 5. That left me with a choice – stick with O2, move to Orange in anticipation of EE or move to Three. 4G isn’t yet available and there are no details on the cost of the service apart from it will be more expensive than 3G or if there will be any data caps. Orange currently has data caps and while it will be limiting I can’t see EE offering an affordable but unlimited data plan.

As I wanted to move to iTunes Match and also use the iPhone for tethering moving to Three was the sensible option. As I don’t do that many calls I’ve moved to a low cost but unlimited data monthly plan from Three. If EE ends up offering a competitive service in the UK then I can easily switch. Speeds so far on Three have been excellent with download speeds consistently around 7Mb, uploads around 2Mb. One other point with Three is they support HD Voice with the iPhone 5. The call quality certainly seems to be better than with O2 using the iPhone 4.

Camera, Siri and Battery
The camera hasn’t changed much since the 4S but it does have better lowlight capability and it now supports panaroma’s. While many third party app’s have supported this for a while I’ve not seen one quite so well implemented.

Panorama from Glasgow University

The camera app guides you when panning so you don’t go too fast or slow and also directs you to follow a line when panning to give you the best results. I’ve been really pleased with the panorama’s I’ve taken so far. The shot above was from a sunny Glasgow University overlooking Glasgow. The quality when looking at the full size image is good – it only took a couple of seconds to produce that image as well. I’ve been impressed with other pictures I’ve taken and the speed of launching the camera app and taking a picture on the iPhone is fantastic.

This is my first phone with Siri (been using Siri on the iPad for a couple of months) and it’s working pretty well. Some words I say seem impossible for Siri to understand no matter how slow I say them but in most cases it works well. It’s a shame that third party app’s can’t tap into Siri as that would really make it a lot more powerful but for even just asking ‘what movies are playing’ and seeing all the movies in the local area with playtimes and links to reviews Siri gets a thumbs up from me.

Siri – what movies are playing today?

With all these improvements and a smaller size thankfully battery life is the same if not better than with the 4S. I’m getting around 36 hours out of a charge and that involves quite a lot of activity – streaming music from iTunes Match, gaming, browsing, e-mail, messages and watching video’s. After a few days I’m satisfied that battery life has improved although I would have traded the thinness for a bigger battery.

The new earbuds that Apple now box with iPhones, iPods etc are called EarPods and have taken three years of research and design to develop. They are an improvement over the old earbuds but that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Sound quality was ok but for me missing good bass that I have with my current earphones. The EarPods sit in the ear and don’t need pushing in so initially comfort seemed good but after an hour or so I found my left ear was getting uncomfortable. They also lacked volume for me compared to what I’m used to. So a nice upgrade but if you need to replace your current earphones I’d say there are better earbuds on the market for £25 and The Wirecutter has some great advice if your looking to upgrade your earphones.

Before I wrap this up, here’s my thoughts on iOS 6 which is the most incremental update so far. By far the most controversial change is Maps. Plus points for me are the better graphics and turn by turn navigation. The maps look better (colour and design) when compared to Google maps. They are also vector based so draw and render more quickly than the old bitmap tiles. Turn by turn has been reliable so far for me although the journeys have been fairly short and not the most complex. However it’s clear that the Maps app is serving up maps that are sparse, old and in many cases just wrong. Maps isn’t easy and Google has a many year, resource and data advantage over Apple. However Apple have been building this tool for three years so they don’t get a pass just because the app is new.

It’s a worse user experience and thats what disappoints. Over time the maps will get better. The amount of data that Apple will now be capturing is huge. I can’t see the gap to Google being met anytime soon but it’s clear that maps are a strategic asset for Google, Nokia, Microsoft and now Apple and Amazon. Each have or are developing their own mapping service. Apple’s will improve as money, resource, time and also feedback from users improve the service. I just hope Apple focus on getting the basics right rather than spending effort on gimmicks like Flyover.

Amongst the new features I like are Do Not Disturb. I can finally set a time when I won’t be disturbed by Notifications from games and app’s. Used to bug the hell out of me that I couldn’t set a quiet time. Updated Siri is really nice as are the tweaks to Safari. I like how iCloud Tabs work by sharing whats being browsed on each device rather than syncing the actual tabset. Far more useful than Chrome’s tab syncing. I also like the Facebook integration which works similarly to Twitters. My final notable improvement is on the phone app – you can easily send a call to voicemail, set reminders based on the call or send a quick message that you are busy. Handy.

It’s too early to tell how useful Passbook will be. This should integrate store cards, flight, hotel and cinema bookings into one app. Passbook will then present the appropriate card or ticket based on times and locations. It demo’d really well but in practice there is very little support right now.

Unfortunately it’s time for a couple of grumbles. First up – the status bar changes colour to try and match the currently running app. Who in their tiny little mind thought this was a good idea? It is a small change but to me interferes with the purpose of the status bar. I was used to the change in colour meaning something. Why did Apple spend time implementing this?

iOS 6 and it’s colour blending status bar

The colour change isn’t even consistent across Apple’s own app’s. Grumble grumble grumble.

I also hate the look of the music app and also the dialer on the phone. Very little consistency and it just feels a bit out of place. The phone app could have done a lot more to take advantage of the extra pixels but alas, they just made the top section bigger while slightly increasing the button size. Lame.

iOS 5 vs iOS 6 Keypad – new design is a step backwards

The keypad above shows that in iOS 6 they have kept the same button style at the bottom. Yet in Music, the style has changed. It’s those little details and lack of overall consistency thats becoming more and more frequent. The attention to detail given to the iPhone 5’s hardware is clearly lacking in iOS 6.

iOS 5 vs iOS 6 Music app – totally different look and now inconsistent buttons across iOS 6

iOS 6 feels like a missed opportunity. Why can’t I change the default app’s for Mail, Calendar and Browser? Widgets in the notification screen? Coupled with the Map issues and the lack of Passbook support it all feels a bit of a damp squid. There’s no major usability changes between iOS 5 and 6 and really no innovation thats makes the iPhone or iPad easier or better for it’s users. Disappointing.

The iPhone 5 is a triumph in design and specification. It looks great and in day to day use feels just right. The extra pixels are welcome and do make a real difference to applications. Apple rarely get involved in the performance race but everything points to this being the fastest phone on the market today by quite some margin. The speed of the iPhone 5 is for me the most impressive aspect. Web pages fly, app’s load really quickly and tasks like searching in Evernote or checking in on Foursquare are surprisingly rapid.

If anything it’s iOS that’s looking long in the tooth…even boring, not the iPhone. It’s reached a level of maturity as has the app ecosystem that there is little new here to excite users. Apple has proven in the past with the early death of the floppy disk, the DVD, the switch to Intel and now the move to Lightning that it doesn’t shy away from radical change but iOS is evolving at a slower pace than the hardware it supports. Maybe iOS and the hardware will take yearly turns at making major moves forward? Only time will tell.

I don’t see much if any revolution in the smartphone market but Apple has again produced an update to the iPhone that has produced one, if not the, best smartphone around today.