Personal Technology–Garmin Forerunner 35 Part 2

Garmin Forerunner 35
Garmin Forerunner 35

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this series on the Garmin Forerunner 35, you can find it here

What Can This Thing Do for Me?

Because there are now so many options available for tracking physical fitness, I needed to come up with some criteria for making a decision. Whatever fitness tracker I decided to get, the following were essential:

  • Track steps
  • Have a wrist-based heart-rate sensor
  • Display notifications reliably
  • Have device-based GPS rather than connected GPS
  • Have decent battery life
  • Look relatively okay
  • Sync well with things like My Fitness Pal
  • Be less than $200.00

Having settled on what the device absolutely needed to do, I came up with extras which would be nice to have, but weren’t essential.  This list (and it’s not like I wrote all this down, but I kept it in mind) included:

  • Count floors climbed
  • Be waterproof
  • Be able to connect to a chest-strap heart monitor for HIIT since really intense fitness activities tend to mess wrist-based sensors somewhat
  • Display more notifications than simply phone calls, such as emails, calendar notices, and text messages
  • Have a color touch screen
  • Have GLONASS
  • Alert me when I need to get up from my desk and move around a little bit–I have a very comfy chair, and it’s easy to get lost in work for hours at end…

With these criteria in mind, I started my research.

No Smart Watches

Limiting myself to spending no more than $200 meant that smart watches were all but excluded from consideration. This didn’t disappoint me. The Apple Watch interests me very little, and the only version I would even consider–based on my criteria–would be the 42 mm Series 2, since only the Series 2 has on-device GPS.  But it’s $400, twice what I wanted to spend. Other offerings like the Moto360 Sport, LG Watch Sport, and Samsung Gear S2–while sometimes within my price range depending on what discounts retailers decide to offer–still didn’t tempt me much.

Android Wear-based smart watches probably work great with Android phones. Connectivity with iPhones, though, is a different matter. And while Android Wear 2.0 supposedly is going to work even better with iPhones in the future, some watches–like the Moto360 Sport–aren’t going to receive it.

Also, smart watches don’t meet my essential criteria of having decent battery life.  The Apple Watch supposedly gets a day-and-a-half on a charge, which really means you need to charge it every night or bring a charger with you to work. Other smart watches suffer the same constraints.

On top of that, I really don’t need the things a smart watch offers. I don’t call Ubers, I don’t play games on my watch, I don’t need to reply to notifications from my watch (though I could see that being something that could be useful, I suppose) and I don’t need to make calls from my watch. I’m 40 years old, and so I’m less interested in futzing with a device, and more interested in it just doing a few specific things.

Form Factor

Removing smart watches from the equation freed me up to decide on what form factor I wanted. Did I want a device that looked like a watch, or one that looked like a band? I was initially somewhat ambivalent, but I was also aware that bands have the high potential to look like shackles. The Microsoft Band and Band 2.0, for example, always intrigued me, but I couldn’t get past just how bulky they looked. (Not to mention the fact that both Bands had reliability problems with their straps breaking apart).

As far as bands go, FitBit made its name by getting its bands on so many wrists. And they offer a ton of bands.  The Flex 2, Alta, Alta HR, Charge 2, and even the Surge are strappy devices. The lack of on-board GPS, though, counted strongly against FitBit. That and the reliability problems I had with the Charge’s strap–even though FitBit cheerfully sent me a replacement as soon as I told them my first one broke.

Polar, maker of the FT7 that I liked so much, also makes a couple of bands. These are the A360 and the Loop Crystal, and they’re both a little long in the tooth.  And neither offers GPS, so I decided to remove Polar from consideration.  At least as far as bands go.

Another band maker with a good reputation is Garmin, who seems to have found a way to survive the death of the stand-alone GPS navigation systems that were so popular before Google Maps came to smart phones.

Garmin has a dizzying variety of bands: the vivofit jr. (really intended for kiddos), the vivosmart HR, the vivosmart HR+, the vivofit 3, the vivoactive HR (it’s kinda bandy…), and now, the vivosmart 3.  Of these, the only ones that I was interested in were the vivosmart HR+ and the vivoactive HR, because these were the only ones with GPS.

The vivosmart HR+ initially looked like it would be the device for me. It has a built-in heart rate monitor and GPS. It’s waterproof, it tracks steps and floors climbed, receives notifications, syncs with My Fitness Pal, doesn’t look ugly, costs less than $200, has decent battery life, and nudges me to get up and move.  What I didn’t like, however, is that it does not connect to an external strap-based heart-rate sensor for when I want to do HIIT. Which I will definitely be doing. Also, I was concerned about just how accurate the heart-rate monitoring would really be in such a relatively small device. So I removed it from consideration, and considered the vivoactive HR strongly, since it’s an even more capable device, connects to an external heart-rate sensor, and is available refurbished on Amazon for about $165 (it’s normally $250).

More on all this in the next post.

 

 

Note: I have not received any promotional consideration from any company named in this posting.

Personal Technology–Garmin Forerunner 35 Part 1

Garmin Forerunner 35
Garmin Forerunner 35

When I was a kid, I used my asthma an excuse to avoid running. I had no problem hiking for hours and miles on end, but running bedeviled me.  Like most kids, I played soccer, but it was the free-substitution variety.  Meaning that we substituted in and out for oranges and gatorade whenever we got tired or winded. The only seasons I played entire games were those seasons I played goalie. Free substitution and goalie: that’s how I managed to play soccer for 10 years and still avoid a ton of running.

In middle school, my PE coaches–having failed at recruiting me for football–tried to recruit me to try out for track.  They saw me as a person who could throw the shotput and discus (which I was good at).  But, I declined because, you guessed it: everyone on the track team had to run, even if you were not in a running event.

Just Try It

Years and years later, after squandering the hidden secret that I was actually a very fast runner in bursts when I was a kid, my asthma pretty much disappeared, and I was encouraged by some colleagues to give running a taste.

And so I did. And I liked it! I worked my way up to, first, an uninterrupted mile.  And then, an uninterrupted 5k.  And finally, a nearly-uninterrupted trail 10k. It was amazing, and I loved it. I ran two races: the Rodeo Run 5k and the Hog Hunt 10k. I got nowhere close to winning, but at least I wasn’t anywhere close to finishing dead last, either.

And Then it Ended

But, then, I had kids. And having very young kids means that you don’t have a ton of time to indulge yourself, nor do you have a ton of energy in reserve to expend it by pounding the pavement. I found other ways to stay in shape (HIIT and eating right, for example) but I’ve always missed the feeling of getting out and running.

Now that the kids are a little older, though, I’ve decided to take another stab at running. And using some gift cards I got from Amazon and by using Bing instead of Google (Bing Rewards points are good for more than free OneDrive storage, y’all), I bought myself a Garmin Forerunner 35.

Get Back at It

When I make the decision to get into shape, I become extremely focused on data.  What am I eating? How many calories is that? What is the nutritional breakdown? What is my weight this morning?  How many calories did I burn? What’s my max heart rate? How has it improved? How many steps did I take? Smart phones and wearables make a lot of this stuff easy to track.

When I was doing HIIT, I’d work out with the Polar FT7 heart rate monitor. It’s a watch that connects to an included strap-based heart rate monitor. It worked great, and gave me a lot of very specific data, and helped encourage me to work out harder.

It’s not a perfect all-around device, though. Wearing a chest strap all day to monitor my heart rate is a non-starter, regardless of whether the watch is attractive or not. (And it really isn’t.) It also didn’t sync data with My Fitness Pal seamlessly.  Finally, the heart-strap that comes with the FT7 is proprietary and only works with that watch. (More on that later.)

After ending the HIIT program, but still wanting to keep an eye on my fitness data, I got a FitBit Charge. It was…fine. It had a week-long battery life. It measured steps. It counted flights of stairs. It (occasionally) sent phone call notices to my wrist. It told me that I took 26,425 steps on July 23, 2015. It synced with My Fitness Pal pretty well.

It also had a problem with falling apart, and I didn’t like that it didn’t have a heart rate monitor, that it didn’t have GPS, that it didn’t even have the capability of notifying me of anything other than phone calls (and, as I mentioned, that was spotty at best). The iOS App was very slow to sync with the device, and it didn’t have the ability to bug me about getting up and moving. I also felt that it might have been overcounting steps. In short, I wasn’t going to get another Charge.

What to Get, What to Get

Aside from being somewhat obsessed with tracking fitness data, I also rarely buy technology without researching the hell out of it first. For example, I’ve documented some of what went into buying my Miix 700 here.  And when I bought the Charge, it was widely considered the best of those types of devices in that category at that price point. That is, roughly $100, with visual stats, and syncs with things like My Fitness Pal.

Since the Charge first came out a few years ago, wearable technology has improved and advanced considerably. Wrist-based heart-rate sensors, for example, are pretty common–there’s even a version of the Charge with a heart-rate sensor. Microsoft’s Band and Band 2.0 have tons of other sensors.  So-called smart watches–like the Apple Watch, Moto360 Sport, LG Sport–are festooned with all sorts of sensors. In other words, in many respects, there are endless options for a fitness-oriented wearable.

How I went about my decision-making process is detailed in my next post. See you there

 

 

Note: I have not received any promotional consideration from any company named in this posting.

LOT–Future Apple Offerings for Pros

I’ve written so often about my substantial qualms with Apple’s products that I probably should open a glue factory. The recent stories about Apple’s quasi mea culpa regarding the Mac Pro, and the anticipated new-form-factor iPhone coming this Fall/Winter, however, lead me back to the well yet again.

What is a Pro?

Whistlejacket by George Stubbs editThe rumors that have come out recently about the next generation of iPhone(s) highlight some substantial issues that Apple faces as it tries to bring out “Pro” branded products that are aimed at…well, who are they aimed at, actually?  Because it doesn’t really seem like they’re aimed at a certain class of “Pro.”

The new MacBook Pro, for example, introduces a gimmicky touchbar at the top of the keyboard.  It’s a thin and light computer, sure, but it maxes out at 16GB of RAM.  Which is a lot, but surely there are Pros who wouldn’t mind having more. You can’t have it, though.

The iPad Pros, too, are currently marketed as “Super. Computer. In two sizes.”  Clearly, Apple is feeling some heat from people using Surface (and Surface-clone, such as my Miix 700) devices–and liking them. And so Apple is trying to make the argument that the iPad Pro is the one device you really need.  Yes, they’re pretty tablets, and I know a handful of attorneys who use them, and don’t mind them, but I find them less than optimal. Which I’ll get back to in just a second.

Next Generation iPhone(s)

Every year, at about this time, there’re always rumors of what the next iPhone will look like. For the past 2 years, it’s been pointless to worry about because iPhones 6s and 7 look almost exactly like the iPhone 6, with the exception that the 7 doesn’t have a headphone jack, nor does it have a mechanical home button. Otherwise, they all look the same. Rumor has it that there will essentially be a 7s, which….*yawn*

In addition, though, there will be a special 10th anniversary iPhone …. 8? Who knows? But it will purportedly ditch the home button and side bezels altogether, and switch to an OLED display. Which plenty of Android phones have done already.  But this new iPhone will also apparently have dual front-facing cameras? (Or will all next generation phones have this feature? It’s a little unclear…) Which means better selfies, I guess.

Hardware is Only Part of the Equation

Revamping hardware, and putting in a few extra bells and whistles is all well and good, but at some point, the hardware melts away, and you’re left actually having to use the thing. You can have a Ferrari body, but if you put a Yugo engine in it, no one will want to drive it. To be fair, the processors Apple designs for the iPhones and iPads are not slouches. They are sprightly little things. But the operating system…? Ugh.

And this brings me back to why an iPad Pro (or standard) simply cannot be my “computer.” iOS 11, to be debuted at WWDC in a couple of months, is supposed to introduced a refreshed user interface. The design language we’ve been living with since iOS 7 is, in my opinion, an improvement over the language used through iOS 6. However, there are still a lot of annoyances. Not being able to put icons wherever I want, for example. Or the fact that we’re still using a grid of icons at all.

The issues aren’t just cosmetic. Siri is all but useless, serving mostly to amuse and argue with my kid.  The baked-in mail and calendar apps have improved, but they’re still not great.

File System

The most glaring issue, though, is the lack of an accessible file system.  My electronic file for any random case includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint docs; PDFs; jpgs, gifs, pngs, and tiffs;  and various audio and video formats. They all coexist happily in a special folder on my hard drive, which can be synced to remote storage.  But that folder can also be put on a thumb drive, which can be plugged into my Miix 700, and lo and behold, they’re all right where they’re supposed to be, easily accessible, easily worked with, and easily moved aside. I don’t even need access to the internet to work with them.

“Where are you that you don’t have access to the internet?” you might be asking. Well, courthouses, for example. While the Harris County courts have public wi-fi, it’s not secure, it’s slow, and it isn’t reliable in every courtroom. Montgomery County also has wi-fi, but I’ve had to ask prosecutors to give me their guest passwords to hop on it.

“Well, fine, wi-fi is for losers, LTE is where it’s at, anyway.” Sure. If you’ve sprung for the extra expense of getting the model of your device that includes an LTE chip. And if you’ve paid for the extra line on your phone plan. Even then, when you’re on the 18th floor of the Criminal Courthouse, in the middle of the brick, stone, and metal building, your LTE coverage is going to be unreliable. (This would, admittedly, be less of a hindrance in a place like Montgomery County, where you’re at most three stories in the sky.)

Using your phone as a wireless hotspot, too, would potentially be a solution, but anyone who’s done that can tell you how frustrating that can be.

Still: you can’t tell me it’s more convenient to access files over the internet than it is to simply pop a thumb drive into the side of the device.

Peripherals

The other area where the iPad Pro shows real problems acting as a “computer” is in its support for peripherals. The iPad Pro has one port: the Lightning port at the bottom of the device. My Miix 700 has three: 2 USB and one micro HDMI.  That means that if I want to plug my device into the courtroom’s a/v system (which is based on HDMI in most courtrooms in the Houston area), all I need is this $6.50 cable:

micro HDMI cable
Bog standard $6.50 micro HDMI cable.

By contrast, if I want to do the same with an iPad Pro, I need, at a minimum, Apple’s $50 lightning Digital AV Adapter.  Which, for what it’s worth, has terrible reviews. And you still need to buy an HDMI cable. (Theoretically, perhaps, you could order one of those $20-some-odd cables off Amazon, but they’re pretty skeezy.)  For what it’s worth, the Digital AV Adapter does allow you to charge your device at the same time you’re using video.

Not Trying to Sneer

The point of this post is not to say “neener neener Appl3 1s t3h suxxor” (I’ve written a few of those posts, to be fair). Rather, I’m pretty much stuck using an iPhone for the foreseeable future because it’s the least bad smart phone out there and it handles Exchange reasonably well. Since I’m stuck using it, I’d like to see it, and iOS, become better.

 

Technology in the Law Office–Artificial Assistance

The new shiny-shiny right now is artificial intelligence, and how that can be implemented in the devices we use on a daily basis to help us Get Things Done.  Google, for example, showed off it’s new messaging platform Allo at I/O a couple of weeks ago. Part of the gist of that platform is that you would be have a text conversation with a friend, and one of you would say, “I’d like some pizza.” In would pop Google to say “hey, here are some places that serve pizza. Would you like a reservation?”  Useful, perhaps, but a little surprising considering the lack of love for Clippy.

Clippy
Sourced from Mother Jones.

Google Now

Nonetheless, artificial assistance through bots, cards, banners, notifications, gadgets and all manner of similar preemptive technology is where the industry is headed.  Of the three major tech platforms (Apple, Google, and Microsoft), Google is reputationally the furthest along in getting information in front of your face before you know you need it. Arriving at the airport? Google Now has already prepared your boarding pass in a Card. Wondering where your package is?  Google Now has already told you. That’s the theory, anyway, and by all accounts, it works pretty well.

Cortana

Microsoft, too, has gotten into the digital assistant game with Cortana, which comes baked into Windows 10.  (It’s the circle in your task bar.)

Cortana
Cortana Help Screen

You can also install Cortana on your iPhone or Android phone, and you can talk to it.  It will respond, like Siri and Google Now. But Cortana also suggests things for you to read, and will pop toast notifications into the bottom right of your screen, as well, with calendar notices, reminders, and traffic information when you have an off-site appointment.  It… has gotten better since it launched.

Siri

Apple was aware of the need to have Siri do more than tell you it’s raining and cracking stupid jokes.  So  “proactive” features were added to Siri to give you, for example, traffic alerts for when you need to leave for an appointment, and to bring back the left page of the home screen, giving you suggestions on who to contact, and which apps to launch.  Apple’s claimed insistence on protecting user privacy, along with its notoriously cludgy cloud offerings, however, means that Apple tries to do most things on-device. This is alarming to some, such as Marco Arment, who caused a stir a couple of weeks ago with his article, “If Google’s right about AI, that’s a problem for Apple.”

Apple is Doomed

Of course, the past decade has been rife with stories about how Apple is doomed, and all that has happened is astonishing profitability. It doesn’t matter that OS X’s marketshare is lower than that of Chromebooks, and it doesn’t matter that Android devices far outnumber iOS devices–people have purchased enough Apple products to make it the most valuable company in the world right now.  So, yeah, Apple’s probably not terribly worried about this latest problem.

Siri Could Be A Lot Smarter

That being said, Siri is pretty awful, and part of that is likely due to an issue Arment pointed out in a footnote:

“Privacy” isn’t a very good excuse. It’s possible to build tons of useful services and smarts by just using public data, like the web, mapping databases, business directories, etc., without any access to or involvement from the user’s private data. Even more enhanced functionality can be done with the limited set of personal data that Siri already uses, such as location and contacts. Google and others do these sorts of non-creepy or less-creepy services far better than Apple, too — not just the creepy ones.

The other day, I got a Cortana notification on my desktop telling me that to get to court in time, I needed to leave within the next 15 minutes.  It even included a little map that I could click and it would show me my route.  That in itself isn’t what was neat. After all, Siri tells me when I get in my car that it will take about an hour to get to work or home, since it has figured out those locations.

What was neat, however, is that Cortana was able to tell me that I needed to leave even though the only information I put in the “location” field when I added the setting to my calendar was: “56th District Court–Galveston County.” Siri, on the other hand, did not give me a notification, and has never given me leave-now notifications for calendar settings unless I enter an exact address for the location. What Cortana was able to do, and what Siri should be able to do, was figure out that the 56th District Court in Galveston County is at a specific location and give me the leave-now notification.

Admittedly, leave-now notifications are mostly useless to me. I know when I need to leave for appointments,

AT&T is Doing Apple a Heck of a Solid

Applie 2015 invite, sourced from iMore.com.
Apple 2015 invite, sourced from iMore.com.

The 2015 iPhone event (I mean, what else can it be? It’s September, after all) is less than a week away, and the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus will be unveiled. (Presumably. Maybe there will be a change in the naming convention, but that’s doubtful.)  Most rumors have the phones being the same essential form factors as the current 6 and 6 Plus, though perhaps a tad thicker to accommodate the rumored enhancement to a Force Touch screen and a 12 megapixel rear-facing camera.  (The front-facing camera is also expected to receive a bump up in specs.)  There is also a presumed upgrade in the processor, and all around, it’ll surely be a swift machine.  As usual, macrumors.com has a roundup of the rumors surrounding the upcoming event.  (I’ll link to 9to5mac.com, too, since Mark Gurman digs most of this stuff up, but be warned: the site recently underwent a design change, and I find it…unwieldy.)

Abysmal Base Storage

And, as has long been suspected when Phil Schiller was interviewed at WWDC, the base model of both phones are expected to come with just 16GB of storage, his theory being that “price-conscious buyers” can simply stream content if the base amount is too small.  This is, however, a ludicrously low amount of storage considering the increase in camera size and the ability to shoot 4K video (those files are huge).  There is a bizarre contingent of Apple apologists who get incensed when anyone suggests that the base models should come with 32GB of storage rather than 16GB, stating that 16GB is more than enough, and pointing to the availability of the 64GB model if you need more (for just $100 more).  Fair enough–Apple is a corporation with a duty to its stockholders to increase profitability.  And if Apple can charge a premium on dirt-cheap memory, more power to them. But that doesn’t change the fact that Apple is skewering consumers (and apparently making them feel happy about it) while it does so.

How AT&T is Doing Apple a Solid

Of the four major wireless providers in the United States, AT&T is the last one to still offer contract pricing.  To be sure, it’s web page strongly suggests you take advantage of its Next plan, even going so far as to launch a pop-up that shows how buying an iPhone on contract is a really bad long-term idea if you try to do so.  If AT&T doesn’t really want you hopping on a contract, why, then, does it keep them around?

I suspect it’s to give Apple the ability to do this:

iPhone 6 price comparison, sourced from The Verge's liveblog coverage of the 2014 event.
iPhone 6 price comparison, sourced from The Verge‘s liveblog coverage of the 2014 event.

Those prices are only available at contract prices, and even on Apple’s website, the iPhone 6 is marketed by saying “Starting at $199,” even though AT&T is the only major which offers a contract.  It isn’t until you click through and see the unlocked option that you discover that the phone is $649.00.  The 64GB version is $749.00.  To get a 6 Plus, you tack on an extra $100 to the price. There would arguably be much less enthusiasm for the new iPhones if Apple were forced to display the model lineup with the actual prices.  You can imagine what sort of pundit reaction there would be to a $449 iPhone 5c.

The iPhone is Expensive. Period.

All this is to say, with contracts disappearing, getting the new iPhone is not an inexpensive proposition.  Sure, carriers like T-Mobile and Sprint are offering ways to lease the iPhone so that you can always get the latest version. Which is a pretty good idea in many regards, except for my experience in Houston with those companies’ coverages: neither are reliable.  Otherwise, though, consumers are either going to need to purchase the phones outright (at prices which exceed a Mac Mini, and which potentially can exceed a MacBook Air–yes, yes, miniaturization doesn’t come cheap) or finance them with about a minimum of $20 extra tacked on your cell phone bill each month.  Your cell plan may not involve a contract anymore, but your phone purchase sure does.

All this is to say, and while Apple is not the only manufacturer making really expensive phones (Samsung, too, makes really expensive devices, and the impending Nokia flagships are likely going to be available at roughly the same prices, though they probably shouldn’t be), make sure you tack an extra $450 to the price you see when Apple displays its price lineup.

 

Apple’s Fall Event 2015

A quick jump-in: I found myself wondering whether the rumored September 9 date for Apple’s annual iPhone event was actually going to happen given that we haven’t actually seen invitations being released yet.  But then I remembered that last year’s invitations didn’t go out until August 28, so it isn’t surprising that there has been no official confirmation yet.

As you were.

WWDC 15 and Windows 10 Build 10130

Inaccessible_Boot_Device
Image sourced from LegitReviews.com

The other day I griped hard on Apple and its dubious tagline “the Epicenter of Change” for WWDC 15.  And while the keynote devolved into a jumbled mess about the new Apple Music service, the rest of the keynote highlighted very few earthquake-metaphor-worthy elements. (Yes, this post is about Windows 10, too.)

Not Much Change to See Here

As I alluded, I recognize that this cycle of OS updates are more geared toward fit-and-finish and stability improvements–which are definitely necessary–but the features highlighted in the keynote are features already available on other platforms.  The Notes App now allows handwriting? Okay, Evernote and OneNote have done that for years.  (Also, doesn’t this pretty much guarantee a fully-implemented stylus input system, which was heavily resisted–and mocked–by Apple for a long time?)  The Notes App now allows to-do lists and picture embedding?  Okay, again, that’s been available on other platforms for years. Side-by-side multitasking on iPad Air 2 devices?  Okay, that’s been a feature of Windows 8.x since its launch in 2012 (and it’s in Android, too) and you don’t need a $500 minimum device to use it. “Slide Over” to bring up a recently used app?  Again, see Windows 8.x. Picture-in-Picture as a floating window on tablets? Okay, that’s somewhat newish, though Windows 10 allows Start Apps to run in windows even on tablets.  Siri might become useful for something other than eliciting stupid-silly responses from a machine, a la Dr. Sbaitso?  Okay, see Google Now and Cortana.  There’s a new News App that aggregates your news interests?  Okay, again, not new.  Safari on OS X El Capitan now tells you which tab is making noise and allows you to pin sites?  See Chrome and IE11 respectively.  Apple Music is a streaming service that costs $9.99 a month for an individual, or $15.99 for a family of six?  Well, I guess they needed to make one to compete, and there’s human curation, but at the end of the day, it’s a music streaming service like Spotify, XBox Music, Google Play Music, Tidal…. (And to think of how much has changed since 1994, compare these pictures:

Reznor Then and Now
(Images sourced from some random Pinterest user, and from The Verge’s Matthew Panzarino.)

…and then think about the weirdness that he became an exec at a tech company who was the punchline to a hurr-hurr joke: “Trent’s my vocal coach.” Okay, so, yeah, that’s a pretty big change.)

In any event, like I said, fixing the underpinnings to iOS is incredibly important and will hopefully make using the iPhone a less-frustrating experience.  And the implementation of features that have been around for a long time will make the iPad a more compelling consideration for business users (though you still have the problem that getting documents and files on the device requires so many pointless and frustrating hurdles that could be easily addressed by having a USB or microSD slot).  But this event was hardly anything approaching “change.”  (And now that I think about it, for a revision cycle largely focusing on stability, why would you reference earthquakes and change…?)

Speaking of Frustrating

Windows Technical Preview Build 10130 is the most-recent build officially available for people in the Insider Program, and while I got it up and running on my laptop (albeit with quasi-crashy Intel video drivers which may or may not continue to be supported in the future), getting it to install on my wife’s laptop has been an exercise in frustration.

The easy way to do the upgrade is to allow it to download through Windows Update and install itself.  This it would not do. Download progress would get to 22-25% and then fail unexpectedly.  The second easiest way is to download the ISO (which has finally been made available) and put it on a bootable USB drive, which is how I installed the TP on her machine in the first place.  Recall that that process was a breeze.  Not so this time around.  Putting the ISO on the drive was simple, but trying to boot from the USB created a boot failure right out of the gate.

Fine enough, I tried booting into Windows 10 and then upgrading from the USB.  That process worked fairly well, until it got about 70% of the way completed, and then it all failed.  Again, boot failures cropped up.  Fine. I looked up the error code, saw that it had something to do with failed boots due to the presence of a USB device in a USB slot, and could see no way to install from a USB drive without having the drive in the slot. (Yes, I even tried copying the drive to the hard drive and installing from there, but unsurprisingly, that didn’t work.)

Well, great, I’ll just create a bootable DVD.  That went fine for a while, until, again, about 70% of the way through the process, it gave up and reverted. Same boot failure, same error code, but this time, empty USB slots.  Whatever. I gave up. I had already spent three evenings trying to install the dang thing, and the final version is supposedly coming in exactly 7 weeks.

Which, when you think about it: if Build 10130 is the most stable version Microsoft is willing to let us use, and it’s been 9 or 10 days since it came out (I know, I know), and it’s still not really a coherent product… Well, I just hope that Build 10500 (or whatever will be the final release) is secretly amazing. Because the last thing anyone in Redmond wants is a bunch of people asking “what the heck does Inaccessible_Boot_Device mean?!?!!?”)

That being said, I do think it’s notable that my wife would still rather use Build 10074 with it’s cludgy interface and super-crashy Project Spartan–declining to instal Chrome or Firefox as well–than use the Windows 7 partition. Windows 10 really is much faster, cleaner, and though the interface is somewhat different, it’s familiar enough for most uses.  And that’s definitely saying something.

WWDC and Apple Developments

WWDC 2015
WWDC logo sourced from: WWDC Conference site.

WWDC 15 kicks off with the rather dubious tagline: “The Epicenter of Change.”  The logo looks like a bunch of Apple Watch bodies and some circles splooshed together to make a colorful flower, and it’s all very friendly.  Apple fans are super mondo excited about the conference, as we’ll all be getting details on iOS 9 and OS X 10.11.  (That is, unless Apple decides not to do what they do every year during WWDC, and instead decides to go less generational this year.)

I’m, of course, intrigued about what will be announced today, but it’s not because I love Apple products.  I obviously have spent a lot of time talking about Windows 10 on this blog, and with good reason, in my opinion–it’s genuinely exciting! I like how it’s coming along, though I have no idea how Microsoft is actually going to ship something that doesn’t look like a cludgy mess by July 29.  Admittedly, it’s by and large much better to use than Windows 8.x (which is exhausting to use because you have to pay so much attention to what you’re doing and remembering where to swipe, and which settings to use in which context…).  But we’ll see!

Rather, I’m intrigued by what will be announced today because I hate my iPhone, and desperately want things to improve.  I hate my iPhone not because it’s nearing three years of age.  I hate it because it’s boring, frustrating, inconsistent, mediocre, and uninspiring.  I hate the way Messages works, where it’s difficult to tell when you’re sending a message to an individual or a group (yes, the 6+ has convenient icons which ameliorate that, but I see no reason why that can’t be applied to less-than-huge form factors).  I hate how Messages sometimes associates my messages with my phone number, and sometimes with my email address.  For no apparent reason.  I hate how sometimes that back button is on the bottom of the screen, and how it’s sometimes at the top of the screen, and how the close-window button isn’t in the same place across apps. I hate how this supposedly premium hardware had a power button stop working within less than a year of owning it, and while, yes, it’s subject to recall, it requires going to an Apple Store and giving up my phone for a while.  I hate how taking screenshots is wedded to that stupid power button.  I hate how the home screen is just a bunch of boring icons in a grid and that I can’t move them about the screen freely.  I hate how the icons don’t tell me anything about why there’s a little red circle with a number in it.  I hate how the notifications don’t really do anything useful, and how they persist even after the email that triggered the notification has long since been dealt with.  I hate how Siri’s voice dictation is a garbled mess if I’m connected to a BlueTooth device, and I hate how there’s a 3-second delay streaming audio from my phone to my car’s stereo (that may be a car problem, though, as my BlueTooth speakers don’t seem to have the same delay). I hate having to use iTunes to backup my phone, and iTunes is an abysmal experience.  I hate how difficult it is to put something as simple as a PDF on the device to show it to someone later.  I could keep going, but this post is terrible enough as it is.  But that’s just a sampling of how little I like using the iPhone.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, it’s the least worst choice among smartphone platforms.  I had an Evo 4G about 5 years ago, back when Android was on Gingerbread.  It. Was. Terrible. I detested that thing, and regretted getting it.  I recognize that Android has vastly improved since then, now that it’s on Lollipop and soon to be on Macadamia Nut Cookie.  Unfortunately for Android users, though, good luck getting an update to your operating system through your carrier!!! According to Android’s own developer portal, only 11.6% of Android users are currently using an OS that was released a year ago; almost half as many are still on Gingerbread, which was four generations ago.

Android Adoption Chart
Chart Showing Android Adoption, sourced from developer.android.com.

Nearly 80% of devices are not running the most current software.  And then there’s the whole Google thing that you have to deal with when using an Android device, and despite having its tentacles wrapped around everything that passes through my various Google accounts, Google services still thinks I’m currently in Dallas for some reason, even though I haven’t passed through there since I went to Oklahoma City 18 months ago. Despite having hardware makers which are pushing out some legitimately interesting devices with aggressive specs, at the end of the day, Android is a battery-guzzling hog (much like the Chrome browser).  At Google I/O this year, noises were made that a lot of hard work was going to happen which would fix that in Android M(acadamia Nut Cookie).  We’ll see.

I’d love to use a Windows Phone. Absolutely, I would. I love the live tile functionality.  I like that they can be resized.  I like the cameras in last year’s flagship Lumias.  I like the way things flow.  I get the operating system, and now that Microsoft realizes that it entirely missed the boat by ignoring business customers in Windows Phone 7.x and had to catch up to reintegrate something as vital as Exchange, the phones can be legitimately be used for my job.  I’m excited what Windows 10 can mean with Continuum and having a phone that can produce a desktop environment when docked to a keyboard and mouse.  I like Cortana and how useful it can be. Using Cortana on Windows 10 has been really interesting, and surprisingly useful.

 

Windows 10 Mobile
Windows 10 (mobile)” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

But, man, there is no way I can get a Windows Phone.  The App situation is a joke, and developers have been abandoning ship for months.  Shoot, when even banks start pulling their apps from your store, you don’t have platform adoption at a rate that signals long-term success.  Maybe that’ll change with Windows 10, but let’s be honest: probably not.  I also don’t think I could convince my wife to switch over to a Lumia or something similar because she’s too familiar with the iPhone ecosystem. Also, see: lack of Apps.  I mean, Skype could stand in for FaceTime and Messages, but… there’s a lot of other things she does with her phone than call and chat with me.  Additionally, if there was a flagship Lumia worth buying right now that would be intriguing, but there isn’t.  They’re all running last year’s technology, and the new phones coming out are all mid-range with subpar cameras; excellent picture quality is an essential part of my buying decision when it comes to a phone.

And so I’m stuck using an iPhone, and I’m not happy about it. Maybe today’s keynote will introduce something truly interesting, but it sounds like not much truly groundbreaking is expected.  iTunes may get revamped and/or replaced by “Music.” Apple may announce a Snow Leopard-esque cooling off to retool and polish iOS and OS X. But, unless they announce that the grid-of-snapped-icons look is going away and being replaced by an interactive interface, it’s really just more of the same.  Epicenter of Change?  Eh, we’ll see.

Cynicism and Personal Data

IMG_4409I don’t think I’m giving away any trade secrets by stating that a healthy majority of attorneys approach life with a hearty helping of cynicism.  All it really takes to instill cynicism is that first time you present a finely crafted motion to suppress (or opposition to a change of venue, or any other kind of motion, really) to a judge, a motion so meticulously researched and supported by the facts and the law that there is no way you can possibly lose this hearing, and have that judge summarily deny the motion by saying “You’re right, counselor, but I’m denying your motion.”  (Concomitantly, this is also why you will rarely get a straight answer out of an attorney.)

So it is with this (un)healthy dose of cynicism that I read the Ars Technica article on the sale of RadioShack’s assets in bankruptcy with an air of “whattasurprise.”  In other words, it hardly surprised me that the contracts and promises about customers’ personal data not being sold to third parties amounted to not much at all.  In March, the States of Texas and Tennessee filed objections to RadioShack’s plans to sell off its assets, which includes customer data on approximately 117 million individuals. At the time, even AT&T got into the mix, by saying that the data in question isn’t even RadioShack’s to sell; instead, it should be considered AT&T’s data based on agreements and contracts between the two companies.  The case is In re RadioShack Corporation, et al., No. 15-10197-BLS (Bankr. D. Del. 2015).

Fascinating stuff, really, when you think about it.

The story popped back up today because Apple got involved (and if Apple sneezes…) by filing an objection that is largely similar to AT&T’s: RadioShack promised not to sell this data in exchange for the right to sell iPhones and iPads.

This all sounds good, right? States and corporations are trying to protect customer data, after all! And, after all, AT&T’s settlement agreement with RadioShack filed on April 1, 2015 appears to have protected the customer data associated with AT&T interests. So why so cynical?

Well, right off the bat, the very fact that these objections have been necessary shows that RadioShack was trying to sell off the consumer data, in contravention of the promises and privacy statements it promulgated.

Second, as the State of Texas notes in a response it filed on April 27, 2015, even while RadioShack claims in its own filings that it will work with the Ombudsman appointed in the case, it still is very keen on selling off some data.  According to footnote 2 of document 1919, the State of Texas says:

Exhibit A [of Document 1916] confirms that the Debtors have approximately 117 million records in their Customer Database; however they are apparently seeking to sell a smaller subset of those records (8.5 million email addresses and 65 million customer name and address files) and it is unclear what the Debtors intend to do with the remaining 52 million records–e.g., whether the Debtors will continue to market and seek to sell that data in the future or whether it will be destroyed at the appropriate time.

On April 30, 2015, the Bankruptcy Court issued an order that outlined how the bidding process would unfold (document 1981). In short, Verizon and AT&T data is being carved out based on agreements negotiated between those entities and RadioShack. All other data, however?  It went to mediation yesterday. Maybe. That is, “The Mediation will occur if (i) the Debtors select a Successful Bidder for any customer data/personally identifiable information and (ii) the Successful Bidder agrees to be present for the Mediation.”  If the Successful Bidder didn’t agree to attend the mediation, then depositions of RadioShack and the Successful Bidder could occur from May 13 through May 18.  The Ombudsman is also supposed to file a report on May 18, 2015.  Additionally, “Through a notice of filing, the Debtors will provide an updated description of the transaction data offered from sale that will include either (a) a list of the transaction data fields or (b) a 2-3 sentence summary of the transaction data that includes the categories of data that a typical person would find of interest.”  There’s a lot going on in this Order.

Law Office Technology — Surface 3

Microsoft Surface 3
Image from microsoft.com.

Well, this comes out of absolutely nowhere, but Microsoft has just announced the Surface 3.  Not the Surface Pro 3, but the Surface 3, and it could very well solve a lot of problems and could be hugely successful. It also could make OEMs such as Dell very upset.

The Surface Pro 3 is an eminently capable device, running a Core i3 at a minimum. Starting at $799, though, without a keyboard, it isn’t an insignificant technology purchasing decision.

Surface 3 Price and Specs

The Surface 3, however, starts at $499, and while it doesn’t have a 12″ screen, it is nonetheless a very tempting device that will probably cover everything a tablet user needs to be productive.  It has a 10.8″ screen, has a 1920 x 1280 display (9:6 aspect ratio), and uses Intel’s latest Cherry Trail-based Atom processor (x7-Z8700) instead of a Core.  The base model has 64GB of storage and 2GB of RAM, and for $100 more, you can get 128GB of storage and 4GB of RAM.  It has a USB 3.0 port, as well as a micro SD slot and a mini display port.  And, for a limited time, it includes a free 1-year subscription to Office 365 Personal, which is an interesting decision, considering that it was believed that only devices 8 inches and smaller would get the one-year-free Office 365 license.  (I’m of two minds about the Office 365 scheme. On one hand, it’s not a bad value in general, and the argument has always been that buying Office 2013 outright will cost approximately $300 anyway, and you’ll just have to do that again when Office 2016 comes out–you’re just spreading the cost out on a yearly basis.  But there’s something that rubs me wrong about the free one-year license; it isn’t as good a value as I got when I got my Venue 8 Pro last year and it came with the full version of Office 2013, no subscription required.)

The tempting price comes with some caveats: just like with the Surface Pro 3, you will need to buy the Type Pad ($130) separately.  More vexing is the fact that you also need to by the stylus separately ($50), which was also a requirement with my Venue 8 Pro, but it comes standard with the Surface Pro 3 (of course, the SP3 doesn’t come with Office, so there are always tradeoffs). It’s obvious at this point that I think that a stylus is essential, so the price of this device should really be thought of as $549 and $649.  At these price points, while they are a titch higher than ideal, they are still intriguing when compared to similarly spec’d iPads.

Surface 3 Compared to Other Options

Dell makes the Venue 11 Pro, which, unless a hardware update is in the works, uses last year’s Bay Trail Atom chips. It also has a lower resolution screen (1366×768), and starts at $429 with less available storage (32GB) though upgrading to 64GB is a minor cost bump (it’s an extra $30).  Getting a full-HD screen brings the price up to $499, but it does come with 64GB of storage in that configuration.  There’s really no reason to buy the Venue 11 Pro, though, when the Surface comes with a newer processor, and the Microsoft stylus is in my opinion quite a bit better than the Dell Active Stylus. (They’ve made a lot of improvements to the pen, and are now on Rev. A03.  It’s perfectly usable now, but it still isn’t quite as nice as Microsoft’s stylus.)

ASUS has announced the Transformer Chi line of devices.  The Chi t100 is a 10.1″ device, and starts at $399, which makes it an intriguing option.  Like the Dell Venue 11 Pro, however, it sports last year’s Atom chips, and it includes only 32GB of storage.  A 64GB option starts at $449.  However, while the active stylus (which, in screen shots appears identical to Dell’s stylus) is sold separately, it includes a keyboard, which is a nice touch. The screen resolution is also quite stout at the price point, coming in at 1920×1200.  If you’re looking instead at machines in the 12.5″ range, Asus also makes the Chi t300 which starts at $699 running the new CoreM processor.

All in all, though, the Surface 3 is a strong competitor to this segment, which may ruffle some OEM feathers.  Nonetheless, it is a very welcome surprise.  Preorders will start shipping in May, and it will be interesting to see if this summer brings a Surface Pro 4 to the table.