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.

 

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.

Law Office Technology–Office Lens

The other day, I was in Montgomery County needing to make a copy of the State’s file on one of my cases.  I brought with me the VuPoint Magic Wand II, which is a great little hand-held scanner.

VuPoint Magic Wand II
The VuPoint Magic Wand II

It’s fast, saves documents as jpegs or pdfs to a removable microSD chip, can transfer files via wifi, and is very convenient.  It is also an egregious battery hog, devouring them like nobody’s business.  And when I pulled it out the other day to scan in about 45 pages of discovery, it was dead, dead, dead.

Luck would have it, though, that Microsoft recently published Office Lens to the Apple App Store, (much to the dismay of Windows Phone diehards) and I quickly downloaded it, installed it, and within 3 or 4 minutes, I was “scanning” in the documents to my phone. Less than 15 minutes later, I was done.  It took longer than it would have with the Magic Wand II, but it definitely worked in a pinch, and I’m incredibly impressed with how it works.

Nearly every attorney I know has taken pictures of documents with their phones, and the results are usually less than stellar–images aren’t in focus, or they’re too dark, and printing them out is usually a disaster. Furthermore, you need to hover over the document and get it fit squarely within the confines of your screen, lest you end up with trapezoidal images.  The whole process is cumbersome and less than ideal (hence the Magic Wand, which was purchased to stop taking pictures of documents).

Office Lens, though, is really quite fascinating. You launch it, and select what sort of image you’re taking: a photo, a document, or a whiteboard.  And then it hunts around for document-shaped, um, shapes. When it finds one, it highlights the area, and then you press the camera button.  The next thing you know, the document is full-screen, crisp, and ready to be saved to your phone.

Office Lens In Action
Office Lens in action. Sourced from Microsoft.com.

Which is where Office Lens becomes a titch cumbersome.  This is because there are four steps involved: you take your picture, let it process, click “Done,” and then select “Photo Library.” (You can also choose to export it to OneNote, OneDrive, Word, PowerPoint, as a PDF, or email.) It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it slows down the process considerably always having to select “Photo Library.”  If I could change one thing, it would be that it would allow me to toggle the export selection for the entire “scanning” session.

Other than that, though? It’s pretty incredible technology. It’s available on the Windows Phone Store and the App Store. Android users have to do a preview program though.  And it’s free, so it’s pretty much a no-brainer.

iPhone App Developers Souring?

Macworld has an interesting post about the C4 independent developers conference, and the apparent trend towards not developing for the iPhone.  As the post points out, yes, the App Store has been incredibly popular (more than 2 billion served–watch out McDonald’s!), but the frustrations surrounding the platform are mounting.

Among the concerns cited are the tight grip Apple places on developers (which can be seen by looking at the restrictions Apple puts on how Apps and the App Store can be marketed, even down to the amount of white space surrounding the App Store “badge“) and the low return on investment in developing an App.  It’s a good read, so check it out.

Blackberry Storm

I don’t suppose I can resist talking a little about what everyone else seems to be talking about.  In the world of super-duper phones, there’s the iPhone, BlackBerry devices, and then Windows Mobile devices.  (Oh, okay, fine, there’s Symbian, and now, apparently, Android, too.  Have I missed anyone?)  I personally use a Treo 800w, and I like it a lot.  Is WM 6.1 frustrating?  Yes, it is.  Have I found a fix to what was causing me problems?  Yes, I have.  I happen to like having a Qwerty keyboard, and I don’t mind the stylus at all.  I’m naturally predisposed against the iPhone because I loathe iTunes, and again, there’s the whole Qwerty thing.  I used to have a Blackberry, but I hated it immensely, though I hear that things have gotten much better in the two years since I used one.  (In the interim, I used a Motorola Q, which I will never, ever, go near again.)

So, BlackBerry has been on a rampage lately, and now the latest device is the Storm, which has a “clickable” touch screen.  So what are people saying about it?  Let’s find out:

AppleInsider, which is collecting a compendium of reviews, brings up the Chicago Tribune’s Eric Benderoff review.  Benderoff calls it “a flurry, failing to add much more than a trace of innovation.” He thinks the Bold might be a better idea for BlackBerry users.  In fact, he says the touch screen is worse than the iPhone and G1 touch screens, and when the whole point is supposedly to improve on the touch screen, well, that pretty much kills the deal, there, dunnit?

Rosemary Hattersley and Mark Hattersley over at Macworld say, however, that the touch screen succeeds in taking on the iPhone.  “To a certain extent.”  They tend to like the Pearl-esque Suretype mode, which appears when the phone is vertical.  But they also call it clunky.  So, maybe that’s not such great praise.  But they do love the ability to cut and paste.

Mossberg at the WSJ says it’s pretty slick, though the tactile feedback is not the same as using a physical keyboard.  Also, when the phone is vertical you get a Pearl-esque keyboard; you only get a full Qwerty layout when the phone’s horizontal.  And there’s no Wi-Fi.  That’s plain loony.  Even my Treo 800w has Wi-Fi.   There are some advantages over the iPhone, though: higher resolution, better battery life, a removable battery, nine Gigs of memory (rather than the iPhone’s eight) and expandable with flash memory, and the ability to shoot videos.  Oh, also, MMS, the ability to cut and paste, edit Office docs, and tethering are available, too.  It’s not as sleek as the iPhone, though.  And Mossberg’s test phone is pretty sluggish.  He allows that it might improve with finalized software, but it debuts tomorrow, you know?  Generally, he seems to like it and says “the Storm is a very capable handheld computer that will appeal to BlackBerry users who have been pining for a touch-controlled device with a larger screen.”

Wired’s Daniel Dumas says “keep looking” for the iPhone killer, and gives it 6 out of 10 points.  He says that the touch feedback is quite awesome, and is “just as easy as typing one out on a MacBook’s keyboard.”  He likes the 3.2 MP camera and the video and MMS features, too.  He also hates Verizon’s iron thumb regarding control of the OS.  Generally, he’s not a big fan of the Storm.

PC World’s Yardena Arar says it’s “awkward and disappointing.”  The clickable touchscreen really disappoints Arar:  “I’d tap a menu item, for example, but then when I depressed the screen, the selection would somehow shift and a different item would execute.”  Also, typing is a chore: “Typing on the Storm isn’t much fun, either. You have to click the screen keyboard for each keystroke (the keys flash blue under your fingertips as you click), which ends up feeling like a lot of work in a way that typing on a hardware keyboard (or on the iPhone’s software keyboard, for that matter) never did.”  On the other hand, Arar, unlike Mossberg, likes the Pearl-esque keyboard presented when the phone is vertical.

Lance Ulanoff at PC Magazine doesn’t love the Storm, even though he wanted to.  He thought the interface slowed him down immeasurably.  He also brings up an interesting point about the benefit of having a physical Qwerty keyboard:  “if I look at my Treo’s ‘real’ keyboard, I see characters like ‘Q,’ ‘H,’ ‘L,’ and ‘M’ with symbols—a question mark, dollar sign, apostrophe, and comma—above each of them, respectively. So, I know where the crucial comma can be found. On the BlackBerry Storm, I have to go through a multistep process to find a comma.”

Generally, then, it looks like the Storm has problems that are fairly substantial.  Substantial problems, however, didn’t stop people from buying the iPhone, so it will be interesting tomorrow when the Storm goes on sale.  As it is, there is apparently a software flaw that may cause shortages.