Apple Day 2018

Today’s the day that Apple release their biggest products of the year. New iPhones, new Apple Watches. Huzzah! From the keynote last week and also the reviews that have come out I’ve a few thoughts on this year’s products that are longer (almost) than a tweet or two.

  • The iPhone names are just bonkers to me. Everyone calls the iPhone X the iPhone X and not the iPhone 10. I’ve been that guy that corrects people too – what a twat. So this years iPhones being called iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR means even more that they will be called XS, XS Max and XR. No one is going to see XS and think that should be pronounced 10S. The names probably don’t make any dent on sales but just doesn’t make sense to me when everyone (quite rightly in my opinion) praises Apple for their marketing genius.
  • iPhone XS is one of the smaller S upgrades we’ve seen. Same screen, faster chip, slightly improved camera, it records in stereo, slightly tweaked colours and that’s about it? Looks the same too.
  • The XS Max is exactly the same as the XS apart from being a bigger screen and slightly improved battery life. Prefer this than when the Plus phones came out and it wasn’t only the best screen but also the best camera – that stung if you didn’t want. huge phone.
  • The XR surprised me. Expected lesser screen, last years A11 chip, last years camera etc but the only difference is a larger but less pixel dense screen but all this years goodies in the XS are in the XR apart from the dual camera’s. And the XR comes in some great colours.
  • The XS is the smallest phone you can buy from Apple at 5.5 inches. That’s not small and by killing the SE they will lose some customers to Android.
  • The new A12 chip and it’s neural engine is quite the upgrade from last years and is driving a jump in computational photography. Smart HDR looks much better than the HDR modes we’ve seen in Apple products up to now. The amount of computing that is taking place when you press the (virtual) shutter button is boggling. Google’s Pixel 2 was regarded as the best smartphone camera in the last couple of years thanks to how much computation they were doing. Apple have made some big improvements this year and in some tests so far looks better to my eyes than the Pixel 2, but in other tests the Pixel 2 produces the better image. That’s before the Pixel 3 come out next month. To read a lot more about the camera improvements I recommend reading John Grubers iPhones XS review which details a lot of the camera improvements in the XS. Apple really buried the improvements on stage.
  • Not iPhone related, but Siri Shortcuts in iOS 12 is worth spending some time on. Apple acquired the Workflow app and team 18 months ago and Shortcuts is the result. Can get some great results from Shortcuts and really make Siri more powerful than it currently is. Many app’s have updated this week with Siri support but their features are pretty buried which is something that Apple need to help surface.
  • Apple Watch series 4 was the standout for me from last week’s keynote. Bigger screen, focus on health, complications, new colours, faster chip. All in all this was more exciting and a bigger leap than the phones that Apple launched this year.
  • Apple gaining FDA approval to market the watch as an ECG device is a big deal. It’s only one rather than 12 points that a standard ECG captures but being able to do this anytime and pass that info to a medical professional has major implications. Alongside the fall detection and some other heart notifications it’s good to see that Apple finally have clear focus on what the Apple Watch is and isn’t.
  • Prices go both phone and watch have creeped up this year. Buying Apple was always expensive but it’s getting ever steeper. Increasing price a way of keeping up overall sales as numbers decline in an ever saturated market? Time will tell.
  • No AirPower. No new AirPods. Shocker. All the rumours say AirPower is dead but it appears in the XS leaflet that people will get with their new phones. So still in development? Apple should stop previewing products that aren’t ready and get back to what they were good at – here’s a new product, buy it in a couple of days for delivery next week. Stop the bullshit.
  • No iPad or Mac news either so expect some press releases or an event in October. If the iPad is slimmer borders, Face ID, USB C as many rumours are stating then I can’t see that being a press release.

So did I buy anything? No new iPhone for me this year. Small update really when you look at the iPhone X that I currently have and with phones now at £1k it’s an every 2-3 year purchase like an iPad for me. I did order a new watch though. The Series 0 has done well but struggled in the last 6 months with speed and also battery life. Really looking forward to getting the Series 4 as I use the Watch for workouts, notifications etc and being able to playback music and podcasts, answer calls etc without a phone during a workout will be a real step forward for me.

If you are getting a new phone or watch today (or next month!), enjoy it. The last year with the X has been great – easily the best phone Apple has made…until now.

iPhone X

The iPhone X. Is it the future of smartphones, an expensive rehash of the iPhone 8 or is Apple playing catch-up? I’ve spent a few weeks with the new iPhone X and I have a few thoughts.

Unboxing and Setup

The first time you switch on an iPhone X the screen just hits you. Bright colours, deep blacks and a phone that really is all screen…apart from the notch.

Setting up FaceID was painless. Scanned my face a couple of times and I was good to go. As for the rest of the setup, Apple has done a lot to make the process easier than ever. Out of the box the iPhone X came with iOS 11.01 and not the recently released 11.1 which I needed so I could restore from backup. I had toyed with the idea of starting fresh with the new phone but impatience got the better of me. Anyway, instead of having to manually connect to WiFi and iCloud on the new device you can now easily transfer usernames and passwords from another iOS device. In less than a minute I was online and downloading the update.

Restoring from backup, encrypted of course so all passwords are saved, also brought a new surprise. My Apple Watch was unpaired from the old device and setup for the new phone. Another small step to make the swap to the new device a little more painless. And with that it was time to finally use the iPhone X.

So What’s New?

The iPhones move to all screen means saying goodbye to the Home button, a staple of the iPhone and every iOS device for the last 10 years. The first couple of days were pretty rough as muscle memory found me reaching for the old faithful, but the new gestures for the iPhone X more than made up for it. In fact after a few days the gestures now feel more fluid and faster to use than relying on the Home button. Swiping to multi-task or move to another app is so much quicker via a gesture compared to using the button.

Apps embracing the notch

Embracing the notch is the mantra from Apple and in practice I just don’t notice it. The screen is gorgeous and if the price to pay is having a small notch in landscape video’s then it’s a price worth paying. Above are three of the app’s taking advantage of the larger screen. Halide was already a great camera app but the iPhone X update has placed extra information in the two horns (what else do you call them?) at the top leaving more room to focus on controls and the image.

Overcast has included a pure black mode like many other app’s. This looks so good on the OLED screen and also helps with battery life. Finally Netflix which again looks great on the X’s screen especially during playback of HDR content.

FaceID was met with a lot of questions in the run up to the launch. Will it work, is it fast, can it be hacked, will it be awkward and can it really replace TouchID? At first it felt a bit slower as I was waiting for FaceID to work then swiping to unlock the phone but I was “doing it wrong”. Instead of waiting just swipe, and the phone will unlock as if by magic. Most app’s are now updated replacing TouchID with FaceID so unlocking 1Password or Day One are done just by looking. Buying via Apple Pay is also easy, just double tap the side button and look at the phone to pay. Simple. Accessing sites in Safari and using FaceID to fill in a password is awesome. Slightly slower but more secure, and if you aren’t worried about someone logging in using a password in Safari as only you can only unlock the phone you can always disable FaceID for Safari passwords.

I had early issues with unlocking overnight and early morning. I think it was because I wasn’t aligned with the camera properly and also holding the phone to close to my face but since those first couple of days I’ve been trouble free. Face ID also trains when you unlock with a pin code after it’s failed so whether it’s me that’s got more used to it, or the system itself has better aligned to my face I’ll never know. It’s not like TouchID wasn’t without issue. Wet or dirty fingers failed and I certainly had to re-add a finger or thumb over time to make it more reliable.

Tap to Wake is another iPhone X only feature. While it works as advertised, the limited angle offered by the camera means it won’t always unlock unless the iPhone is directly in front of you, or on an angled stand on your desk. Handy when raise to wake doesn’t fire or seems to time out, but not the best when on a flat surface.

Also new are the camera’s. I’ve not had an iPhone with a dual lens so was looking forward to trying the new system and I’ve not been disappointed. Both lenses have taken great pictures and Portrait mode does take some great photo’s. Yes it’s false and some pics can look a bit wonky compared to using a grown up camera with some nice glass, but it’s a phone lens producing some fantastic photos in the right conditions so it’s hard to knock it. The video is also super smooth and if you switch to slo-mo you get 240fps which looks great.

The front camera also supports Portrait mode and has an extra trick up it’s sleeve. Rather than using a dual lens, the front camera uses the TrueDepth camera that powers FaceID to deliver a slightly better/different Porttrait mode effect. This can be best seen using an app like Focos which allows you to visualise the depth map that was captured using Portrait mode. Video above shows Focos in action.

Final notable addition is Animoji. This feature relies on the front facing camera and TrueDepth sensor to animate your face in real-time with a variety of different emoji’s. It’s a great demo of what the hardware can do but it’s a shame you can only access it in the Messages app unless you get creative. Surely Apple will open this up over time via a standalone app?

I’ve deliberately left out wireless charging as I don’t have a charger and it’s not something I’m interested in at the moment. I’ve charge cables everywhere I go and don’t want to replace them with a wireless system where charging is slower. No doubt that will change over the coming months but for now this is something I happy to pass on.

Day to Day with the X

One of the biggest surprises has been battery life. I moved from a year old iPhone 7 and the battery life on the X is much better. Even on heavier than normal days I still have around 30% battery life and typically have around 50% which is fantastic. Not sure if it’s the OLED screen or the bigger battery but it’s something I didn’t expect.

The screen is something I’ve really gotten used to along with gestures and no home button. Moving back to my work device (iPhone Plus) and it feels a bit alien now. It’s amazing how quickly the new becomes the norm and what was once normal now feels dated. The X is physically smaller than the Plus but the screen is bigger and the X is easier to handle.

I vowed before getting the phone that I’d go caseless. It feels great in the hand and looks amazing. However the night before it arrived I ordered a case and I’m glad I did.

Ouch. Accidents happen and with a glass back that costs over £500 to replace it’s just not worth the risk even with Applecare. The X felt pretty slippy and my hands are dry which doesn’t help. The case is a pretty cheap clear one but I’ll upgrade in a few weeks once most case manufacturers have their decent cases out. Challenge with the X is getting a case that doesn’t interfere with the gestures.

iOS 11.2 adds a horizontal bar to highlight where control centre is now

As ever with a new device there are a few niggles. On the iPhone X the swipe up gesture unlocks the phone so how do you get to control centre? Swipe down from the top right. It’s awkward and not ideal. iOS 11.2 has seen a slight change in the addition of a bar under the top right horn highlighting you can swipe. Really Apple? That’s it? You also end up fighting the gesture when moving between devices. I’m hoping Apple will change that how to trigger control centre before iOS 12.

I’m also hearing glitches on the AirPods since moving to the X. Every couple of tracks I’d hear a slight playback glitch but thankfully since iOS 11.2 was released earlier this week this seems to have been resolved.

So is it worth it?

The iPhone X is expensive. It cost over £1000 but the iPhone X has left me in no doubt…this is a fantastic device and it really ages the previous generation iPhones. They look dated and feel even more so when using them. This is a real jump in function and feel. FaceID just works and it reduces TouchID to yesterdays news. It’s also as close as we are going to get to an all screen device until the tech in the notch can be tucked behind the screen. No doubt that’s only 2-3 years away, but once you get used to this much screen without the borders it’s hard to use anything else without it feeling old. Gestures also make using the iPhone X a far more fluid experience helped by FaceID.

Apple have been accused of being stagnant regarding the iPhone despite the hardware inside being best of breed however with the iPhone X they have reimagined what a smartphone personal computer looks like in 2017. This feels like the start of a new generation of smartphones from Apple and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Mac at 30

I first used a Mac at university in the early 90’s. It was in the university library and I’m pretty sure it was a Macintosh Plus. While it worked fine, it was a bit slow and nothing grabbed me about it so my first home computer was an Escom 486 and for years I was a Windows and PC user. It was my main games machine as the FPS market took off and the PC platform served me well for years.

The seed that started my move to Mac was in 2001 when the first iPod was announced. I’m pretty sure it was late 2002 or early 2003 before I finally picked up an iPod and suffered using Real software to sync my music on Windows. I loved the iPod. From the packaging to the ease of use, everything about it felt special compared to the competition. I still remember the button lights slowly fading – never got old.

Roll forward to 2006 and it was time to upgrade my PC, not to a newer model but making the switch to Apple. I bought a 21″ iMac and it was such a step change to what I had before. Quiet, fast and an amazing set of applications. A few months later and I bought a Macbook Pro. I was hooked.

Home Office
Home Office

Now I have a 27″ iMac, a Macbook Air, iPhone 5S, iPad Air and an Apple TV. Overkill but I still love Apple’s product design and software despite my recent moans. I didn’t expect much from Apple to celebrate that today was the 30th anniversary since the Macintosh was introduced but I was wrong. I guess time’s have changed since Steve Jobs passed away.

A beautiful website with a great interactive timeline showing the history of the Macintosh. It also wouldn’t right to not have a video from Apple celebrating the event.

There’s also an easter egg on the Apple site.

A custom font that shows each of the Macs from the last 30 years. Nice.

Despite the iPhone and iPad eating into it’s usage, I still wouldn’t be without one. Happy 30th Macintosh.

iOS 7

While it’s been outed for quite a while I’ve kept quiet on iOS 7 but with a release next week here are a few thoughts on what is the biggest change since iOS was first launched.

New Look
Much has been made of the flat design in iOS 7 which I happen to like. Gone are the textures that had become the butt of many a joke to be replaced by a flat colourful operating system. In general use it’s quick although there are a few animations that on first use are lovely touches but soon start to irritate as they get in the way when you just want to do something.

Over the course of the beta’s many of the jarring aspects have been toned down or improved like the ambiguous swipe to unlock that irritated so many pundits. While the design of buttons are flat there is a depth to the overall system in that panels like notifications appear on top of the current display blurring out the background. It’s an effect I really like. Wallpapers are also clearly behind icons and as you move the phone there is a slight animation highlighting the depth with icons and alerts moving slightly. Nice at first but feels a gimmick over time. Speaking of gimmicks, iOS 7 now supports dynamic wallpapers which react to the movement of your phone. Nice on the lock screen but thats about it.

A quick point on the new icons seen throughout iOS 7. Some I really like. Most are ok. A couple I think are so jarring, so much so I was convinced they were placeholders for WWDC and that they would be ‘fixed’ over the coming months. Alas, I was wrong.

iOS 7 icons
iOS 7 icons

The examples above really jar with me in day to day use. They feel amateurish especially Newsstand. I mean, what where they thinking? Game Center – what do the blobs mean? At the end of the day they are only icons but you can’t change them and you see them all the time, constantly niggling away that they look like crap. It’s funny, I never really gave any thought to the previous icons but thats whats a radical change does to you – makes everyone a design critic. Another change is with folders – the old restriction of 16 apps per folder have been removed but less are now displayed on each folder page which I don’t like.

Another tweak is the removal of buttons and also the reduction of touch area’s. It takes a while to get used to and I really think it’s going to hit the casual user. The mums and dads, the grandparents that we’ve all convinced to use iOS devices as they are easy to use. This update is going to take them a fair bit of time to get used to and is probably the biggest risk for Apple but it’s a risk they had to take as iOS was in need of a restart.

New Features
There’s a lot of new in iOS 7 compared to previous releases. Control Center allows you to quickly toggle wi-fi, bluetooth, do not disturb and also launch the camera, a flashlight and control your music. Nice implementation of something that Android users have enjoyed for a few years and great to have in iOS. Notification Center has also been tweaked to surface more relevant content and also make it easier to segregate the many notifications you receive. It will show you upcoming appointments more clearly and also tell you when to set off to meet your appointment on time.

Another updated feature is Multitasking. A new card view allows you to easily swap to applications and dismiss others but iOS 7 promises to analyse your usage and ensure that app’s you use at certain times of the day will already have their feeds updated. Intelligent updates sound great and I’m looking forward to some of my fav app’s being updated to support this. The camera app has been updated and so like every other photo app it now has filters. Who would have thought filters would have become the must have feature. The Photo app also has does a great job of helping to sort your images by grouping photo’s into Years, Collections and Moments. A visual way of browsing through photo’s and it’s one of my favourite new features. They’ve also finally added shared photo streams via iCloud. A no brainer and shouldn’t have needed a new version of iOS to introduce this.

Airdrop finally allows you to share data with those on the same wi-fi network easily. Was a feature of Mountain Lion (maybe even Lion) so good to see it finally coming to iOS. Worth mentioning is iCloud Keychain which is a secure way of sharing passwords, credit cards, logins between your Mac and iOS devices but it’s now marked as coming soon – probably waiting for Mavericks to be released. Facetime now supports audio only calls too – free audio calling!

Finally app’s can now update automatically. Hurrah, although you miss understanding new features if you switch this on.

Updated Applications
All the existing app’s have seen their design changed to support the new look iOS. Some are quite subtle where as others feel very different. Almost all of the app’s have lost the skeuomorphic textures and design that had been favoured by Steve Jobs and Scott Forstall. Calendar, Maps and Weather fit in very well and even the refresh on Safari and Mail has seen some new gestures added to help with the usability of the app’s although Safari has a habit of hiding a lot of the UI which will cause confusion. Thankfully it’s finally got a unified search field. Thanks Chrome ;).

Updated applications in iOS 7
Updated applications in iOS 7

Reminders and Notes have been refreshed but unlike almost everything else have seen a paper texture applied. It looks weird in context with the changes. The Clock app has also seen one radical new feature – the icon is live and shows the current time with a swooping second hand. Mmm…great.

Verdict
So should you update? Well it’s a moot point as most will update over the next few weeks due to iTunes prompts or the pressure of app’s coming out that require iOS 7. On the iPhone 5 iOS 7 is a really nice upgrade. My 3rd gen iPad hasn’t faired so well. There were lots of rumours that iOS 7 on the iPad was ‘behind’. Apple have never demonstrated iOS 7 running on the iPad and there may well be a good reason with everyone pointing to new iPads in October. iOS 7 updated fine on my iPad but any text input, from unlocking the iPad to searching in Safari, adding text in Drafts or creating an e-mail would cause a 15-20 second pause where any typing was detected but the screen would be frozen. I eventually had to wipe and re-install which cured the issue but I’ve had a couple of reboot’s since. I’m convinced that iOS 7 on the iPad is a bit flaky so if you don’t need to I’d wait until the first patch release or the Apple event in October.

In general I like iOS 7 and despite the odd animation it feels fast on the iPhone 5. What I’m most looking forward to are the applications that will take advantage of the new features and also redesign to fit in better with the new look and feel. It will be an expensive few months as the reset will also be followed by many refreshed app’s that won’t be free. Time to get saving or find some iTunes card deals.

New iPhones
A quick word on the new iPhones. The iPhone 5c looks a solid phone but doesn’t interest me as it’s the same as an iPhone 5 with a colourful shell. What is nice is that iOS 7 knows the colour of the phone and selects a suitable background on first launch – makes the hardware look transparent.

The iPhone 5s, while sharing the design of the 5 features a few new features. Fingerprint unlocking is very nice as I unlock my phone so often with a passcode. The camera updates look great especially the slow motion video and the ability to take 10 photo’s per second. 64 bit should herald faster app’s over time and all this without a drop in battery life thanks to a small increase in battery size without any increase in the overall weight of the phone. I’m far more interested in a 64 bit iPad though.

Instead of black and white the 5s comes in white, gold or space grey which reminds me of the original iPhone. There are enough new features that I’m tempted to pick up a white 5s…but there’s still time to change my mind as there are no pre-order options this year. A solid update of a classic phone.

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.

Design

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.

Screen
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.

Lightning
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.

Speed
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.

Earpods
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.

iOS6
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.

Wrap-up
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.

Boring

There’s something about last weeks Apple event that just doesn’t sit right. It’s not really the event itself. It followed the usual format and first up was the iPhone 5. Larger screen, LTE, better camera, thinner, lighter, improved battery and an improved design. Twice as fast as the 4S it was a no brainer upgrade for me as I’m still using an iPhone 4. I’m really looking forward to the new phone as it’s quite the upgrade although I have to agree with Chris – I’d have kept the same depth of the current iPhone for a bump in battery life.

The iPod Touch saw a great step up as well whereas the Nano…not so much. A far better device than previous but so many wanted a watch sized device so the move back to the taller device hasn’t been well received. iTunes 11 promises…something. The app is so frustrating sometimes that I won’t believe it’s improved until I can actually use it.

One change that wasn’t so well received was the new connector – Lightning. It sounds so cheesy. Yes – we have Thunderbolt and Lightning. Worse, it’s still USB2 so I’m not expecting any speed improvements, at least not initially. I’m sure over the years we’ll see it support USB3 and Thunderbolt. For now it feels an inconvenience. How dare Apple change the connector that they’ve used for almost 10 years. But it had to happen. The dock connector has felt old for a few years. It was bulky and sometimes awkward to use especially on the Touch and iPad 3. Although frustrating spare a thought for Samsung users who in the same time that Apple has made 2 changes have went through 18. Wow.

Biggest disappointment for me was the lack of anything new in iOS6 that wasn’t already known. Last year saw Siri as a surprise. This year there was nothing really – comments in shared photo streams is about the only new feature compared to what was shown at WWDC. I think iOS is the one area that is really starting to stagnate. Will next year see a big change in the operating system? Android is at least as good if not better now so Apple no longer have that as an advantage.

So a great new phone that will probably be Apple’s biggest seller yet. I don’t pay too much attention to the sellout claims of it being 20 times quicker than last year. No one has any figures to work against at the moment so it’s all just link bait.

And I think thats the area that doesn’t sit right. The tech community at large demands new gadgets. New features. New software. However the industry as a whole is one of incremental change. The S3 is better than the S2 but not drastically. Same with the Nokia 920. Ice cream sandwich was mostly polish and performance and low on new features (like iOS 6 and to a certain extent Windows Phone 8 or whatever it’s called this month). Looking at the iMac and the Macbook Pro it’s evolution each year.

I don’t mind that at all. Evolution of great products over time is a good thing. Improved speed and battery life are with incremental design improvements are great. I use this device every day and I love it. But after reading Everything Is Amazing and Nobody’s Insightful tonight I tend to agree with the author – the tech journalists demand more. It’s like an echo chamber. Each site posting leaks and reposting what they have read elsewhere. Leaks become fact due to the amount of blogs copying the same post over and over again. It’s getting boring. Not the technology. We’ve never had it so good. The tech blogs need controversy, they need amazing new machines to fawn over but most importantly they need clicks.

iPhone App Update

I’ve got an addiction. I’m taking the first step’s in curing the addiction by confessing publicly. It’s all apple’s fault. First they make a great device in the iPhone, then they make it trivially easy to download app’s to it. Yes, that’s right – I’m addicted to iPhone app’s.

I think what’s key is that the range of app’s plus the power available in the iPhone make for a really good mobile platform. Some task’s are easier to do on the move – tracking weight, car costs, photo’s, twittering – the list goes on. Many tasks that I used to manage via spreadsheet on a desktop machine are now managed by a small app on the iPhone. One issue with some app’s is how to get the data out of them at a later date. Some allow for exporting or backup via e-mail but that is few and far between.

I last blogged about my app’s in January but since then there have been many many new app’s, some of really good quality that are worth mentioning. The problem I have is that the App Store and iTunes aren’t the best for finding app’s amongst the thousands. Easy to see top 25’s but I’m sure there are gem’s hidden away in the App Store just waiting to be found. Anyway, new app’s since January are (links open in iTunes):

Analytics – £3.49 – I use Google Analytics to track all my websites. This app allows we to pick any of the sites I track and see over 40 different reports on site traffic, visitors etc. I prefer this to the actual analytics website.
Deliveries – £1.79 – I order a lot of, mmm, stuff online. This app allows me to track deliveries of said stuff. Again, easier to see status via this app than it is visiting each individual website or courier company to check on progress. Looks great too.
Tumblr – Free – Good app that let’s me update my Tumblr site.
Convertbot – £1.19 – Unit converter with a great interface. Replaced the free Units app – it’s that good.
Skype – Free – It’s Skype on the iPhone. Not much else to say – installed as a just in case app rather than an essential for me.
Dictionary.com – Free – Many dictionaries on the iPhone cost around $20. This is free, lot’s of content and a thesaurus as well. Very useful and I use it quite often.
Night Stand – £0.59 – Gorgeous clock for the iPhone. Was never really sold on it but once I picked up a MovieWedge I know find it really useful when travelling. No need to depend on hotel having a good clock and it’s great to have it so large as my eyesight without glasses is really poor.

FlickIt

Flickit

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods

Runkeeper Pro – £5.99 – Use the app to track and later analyse my hill walks. Super reliable so far and new features added frequently.
Camerabag – £1.79 – Allows you to apply some nice post processing to photo’s. Recommended in this article in taking better iPhone pictures. Tried it a few times now and can work really well.
Pano – £1.79 – Allows you to stich together iPhone pictures into a panoramic of up to 16 images. I’ve found it a bit hit and miss when trying it. Interface is lovely though, overlaying current view over previous image allowing you to line up the photo better.
Flickit – Free – Let’s you upload images to Flickr. Supports tag’s, sets and geocoding of images. Best interface of any of the Flickr uploaders makes it really easy to use, and quick too. Highly recommended.
Audioboo – Free – Let’s you easily create audio podcasts/blog on the move. Has some potential but can’t see me using it that much.
GB Locate – £0.59 – Displays current OS grid position and latitude/longitude using iPhone GPS. Been very handy on the hill walks to confirm exactly where we are with the map.
iOSMaps – Free – Using GPS, the app will return the OS map for your current location. It downloads the map from a server so you need a good connection, hence can’t be replied upon for hill walking. I’ve found it to be a bit crash happy.
Google Earth – Free – It’s Google Earth. On the iPhone. Technically impressive but not often used.
Wikipanion – Free – Nice app for accessing Wikipedia articles – quicker than firing up Safari and searching.
Road Trip – £2.99 – For tracking car expenses. Always mean to do this but would forget how much I filled up by, what the mileage was etc. Being able to track on the iPhone is much easier as it’s easily done at the garage.
ITN News – Free – The best UK news app. Video reports and it’s quick too. Surprised by how good this is. More suprised that the BBC haven’t released their own app.
TED – Free – Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference app. While it replicates the podcast schedule the advantage of the app is that you can search for any published content and also bookmark favourites which I’ve done. Pretty fast to use too.
Qype Radar – Free – Search for local restaurants, markets etc. Difference is that there are reviews on each result so you can usually sort the good from the bad. Handy for frequent travellers.
Yelp – Free – Much the same as Qype – maybe slightly less UK content though?
WordJong – £1.79 – Cross MahJong with Scrabble and you get this great game. Every day presents a new game board and some of the challenges are really tough. Played this almost daily since I bought it and it’s still very enjoyable.
Frenzic – £1.79 – Fast based action/puzzle game that’s ideally suited to the touch interface on the iPhone. Played lot’s at first – now just an occasional blast.

Zen Bound

Zen Bound

WordJong

WordJong

Tap Tap Revenge 2 – Free – New version, better graphics, same Rock Bandesque gameplay. Nice but doesn’t draw me back.
Zen Bound – £2.99 – One of the most original games I’ve played on any platform. Concept is simple – wrap a rope around a 3D object. But the presentation polish, the graphics and the sound (wear headphones for this one) makes for a great experience.
Contraption – £2.99 – Build a machine to move a ball and complete a goal. Simple concept, complex puzzles but I got bored with it.
iDracula – £0.59 – Arcade shooter. Great graphics, can quite quite intensive but I got bored with it.
Lets Golf – £3.49 – Think Hot Shots Golf for the PSP and you’ve got this game. 4 courses, great cutesy arcade graphics but an accurat control method make for a challenging game. Recommended.
Flight Control – £0.59 – Surely everyone has this by now? Land planes by drawing their flight path. Simple concept, great fun to play and highly addictive. If you buy one game, get this!
Glyder – £0.59 – Fly around levels collecting orbs. Graphically superb but not much of a hook. Take this engine and make Pilotwings! That game would rock on the iPhone.
Who Has The Biggest Brain – £0.59 – Shakeel pointed this one out to me and it’s great. Think Brain Training on the DS and that explains the game. Uses Facebook Connect so you can see how your friends are performing. Cheap and a lot of fun – nice way to fill 10 minutes.
Scrabble – £5.99 – Fairly steep and only just out in the UK (been out for months in the US) but I love it. Can play against AI, another iPhone or two player sharing the one device. Only criticism I have is the dictionary – the AI comes up with some incredible words especially at the highest difficulty.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour – £5.99 – 7 courses and great use of the touch interface. The graphics are very good and it’s a challenging game. Only just out last week but already a favourite.
iFighter Lite – Free – Currently a one level demo game but the proper release is coming soon. If you’ve played 1942 before and it enjoyed it then this is for you. Best tilt control yet I think, probably due to the calibration in the game. There is some slow down when playing which will hopefully be addressed in the paid release.

There is one downside to this addiction. It cost’s money! So far my spend on the App Store is £156 since July 08. That’s a lot of money, far more than I expected. A few purchases early doors were regrettable as better app’s have been released or free alternatives have turned up but overall I’m really pleased with the app’s I’ve got. For another list of iPhone app’s have a look at Gordon’s latest updates – that’s where I found the Flickit app. Any good app’s that you use that I haven’t got?

FixMyStreet

I remember visiting FixMyStreet ages ago and leaving unimpressed. To be fair it was recently launched at the time but there was no local content, nobody reporting issues and it looked liked nobody was listening. However a tweet from Mike Butcher made me revisit the site today and I’ve changed my opinion.

When you visit the site you enter your postcode and you quickly see the local problems that have been reported. You can also report a new problem from this page. Once reported the site then forwards on the problem to the relevant council. There’s no guarantee that problems are fixed but the volume of recent reports tells me this is a really good route for getting issues addressed by your local council. You can also see stats for your council to see if they are responding to issues – here’s Glasgow’s for example.

FixMyStreet with Google Maps

The really nice feature though is the RSS feeds. Click on Local Alerts and enter your postcode to view an RSS feed of your local issues. This is nice and handy. Even better – post this into Google Maps and generate a map similar to the one above. Looks like someone has reported a car left in the car park outside my work.

This is all well and good but it would be handy if I could easily report an issue when I’m out and about. iPhone users now can thanks to a free app. It lets you snap a photo, add a description and it works out your position using the iPhone. Quick and easy way of recording a problem. I’m really quite impressed with how the site has matured over the years into a useful resource. Well worth checking out especially if you can’t find an obvious route into your local council.

Tweetie for Mac

Tweetie for the iPhone has been my favourite Twitter client since it launched. Fast, clean and full of great functionality. I’ve never quite managed to find as good a client on the Mac though. Twitterific was the first good Mac client but it felt slow and lacking in features especially compared to TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop. However both of those clients were Adobe Air based clients and always felt a wee bit sluggish, memory intensive and to be honest over featured for what I need. Thank goodness for Tweetie for Mac which launched today.

Tweetie Conversations

It’s a client written specifically for the Mac and it shows. Great design, fast and clean with a great deal of functionality for a v1.0 release. Things I like? Images open not in a browser but in their own pop-up within Tweetie. Conversations are viewed in an iChat style like the image above. Search is quick and trends are easily available via the search bar. You can also create a new window to hold an individual search – keeps the screen clean and free of clutter but means you can see more if you really want to. Much prefer this over TweetDeck’s way of working which can feel really clumsy but there’s no doubting it’s power for major Twitter users.

Shortcomings are really again only for power users. No easy way to group other Twitter users together apart form creating another Twitter account and using it to follow certain users. It’s a solution but not an elegant one. I’m sure future versions will offer some grouping support. I’ve set-up cmd+T as a new tweet shortcut so I can easily post from any app without finding Tweetie. I’ve also added a bookmarklet to Firefox which will create a new Twitter post via Tweetie of the current site your browsing. I used this bookmarklet instead of the one mentioned on the official site as it also posted the site title. One thing that did trip me up – cmd+return saves and send tweet and not return. Be nice if that was documented somewhere.

Even after just a night of use I’m delighted with Tweetie so far. Good looking, quick and low on resource requirements. It costs $19.95 ($14.95 until May 4th) or is free with ad support. The ad’s are very unobtrusive although once my credit card is back in action I’ll be making a purchase. It’s app’s like this that remind me why I switched to Mac.