Thinner, Lighter, BrighterFriday, August 29, 2014
  • I just watched an awesome video where this guy is running around in New York City asking people which tablet they prefer, a Samsung Galaxy Tab S or an iPad Air. A couple of people stack the two tablets on top of each other and determined the Samsung is definitely thinner. And they nailed it. The Samsung is, in fact, thinner than the iPad (by less than one millimeter). Several other people hold a tablet in each hand and determined the Samsung is definitely lighter. A whole packet of sugar lighter. That's right, the Average Joe in New York with no measuring devices at all, was able to determine the Galaxy Tab S was definitely four grams lighter then the iPad Air. 
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    OvercastFriday, August 29, 2014
  • “Why would I need any podcasting app instead of using the built-in apple player?” That was pretty much my friend’s reaction when I suggested he download Overcast. Frankly it was my reaction too, at first. I’ll be honest, I hate paying for apps (or in this case, in-app purchases for upgrades). I’ll buy $100 shoes, spend $20 for lunch, and pour premium gas in my car. But asking me to shell out a single dollar for an app on my phone is like asking me to give up one of my kidneys for a person I don’t like very much. But Overcast convinced me to give up five “kidneys” to unlock all the premium features. 

    I’d love to tell you that I was sold on the great interface design, maybe the careful selection of the Concourse font, or the smarter playlist functionality. But honestly, I didn’t care about any of those features (sorry Marco). Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they’re available, but I wasn’t going to pay for them. Nope, the single feature that flipped me was Voice Boost. 

    I listen to all of my podcasts while driving. Not most of my podcasts, all of my podcasts. In fact, I’ve never listened to a single podcast episode somewhere other than in my car. Also, I drive a convertible. In San Diego. If you’re still not getting the picture, let me explain: I very rarely drive with the roof up on my car. Not very ideal conditions for listening to people talk. 

    In professional recording studios and professional sounds systems for live events, there’s a device commonly used called a compressor. In a nut, the system takes the quieter sounds and pushes them up slightly, and it takes the louder sounds and brings them down. This makes more of the sounds being pumped through the system come out more evenly, which provides clarity to the listener. 

    Well, that is what Voice Boost does. 

    Prior to using Overcast, I would constantly adjust the volume on my radio. One person would speak and I’d crank it up a bunch to hear him/her talk. Then the other voice would speak and blow out my ear drums. Now I set the volume once and I never have to readjust it for different people. 

    When you upgrade Overcast, you also get Smart Speed. I didn’t pay the premium because I wanted Smart Speed, but now I’m glad I got it. Smart Speed is interesting because what Marco Arment has managed to do is figure out where there are pauses in the dialog, and speed up through them. If you watch the app while a podcast is playing (which, of course, I would never do while driving), you can watch the playback speed move around as the app automatically speeds up through silent spots. 

    Here’s the thing about insanely great features: the best ones are the kind you don’t even notice when they’re working. That completely describes Smart Speed. If you watch the clock, or time a 30 minute episode, you’ll notice the difference in time. But you never actually hear it happening. 

    I never figured I’d pay money to replace one of the built-in apps on my iPhone; Apple-made apps are usually about as good as you’re going to get. But this was the best five bucks I’ve spent on any app so far.
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    DrivePop Online BackupWednesday, August 27, 2014
  • I keep hearing about how great online backups are. There’s nothing to remember because it’s all automatic, secure, and safer than an external drive that can crash. So when StackSocial ran a deal a couple of months ago for a lifetime subscription to DrivePop Cloud Storage, I jumped on it. Things didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped. 

    After purchasing the deal from StackSocial, I was sent an email with some simple instructions on downloading and registering my new backup utility. DrivePop runs a small utility (an app called Livedrive) in the system tray and keeps tabs on the system for new files to backup. I expected the initial backup to take a while, but I didn’t realize exactly what I was in for. 

    The entire time Livedrive is active, my machine is being hammered. I suspected a problem when I heard the fan on my laptop kick on. A quick look at the Activity Monitor revealed CPU for the Livedrive process would go as high as 85%... the lowest I ever saw it drop was 56%. The “energy impact” (which is how you can monitor the impact an app has on battery life) hovered around 70. Keep in mind, Photoshop stays below 10% for CPU and around 10 for energy impact. 

    Real world conditions... this means the bottom of the laptop gets so hot I can’t stand to hold it on my lap, and the battery lasts less than an hour. 

    I continue to let the backup hammer my system for six weeks. I’m still assuming the initial backup is going to be rough, but once it’s done I’ll be in good shape. Livedrive is running the entire time during my usual 40 hour work week, plus I leave the machine awake all night. My estimates put the backup at running 72 hours per week for six weeks, totaling more than 430 hours of scanning and uploading. Checking the status of my backup, the time it should take to complete is 73 days. Give or take. 

    I should mention for background that I’m pretty good about backing up my laptop. If I know I’m going out of town, I always make sure I run a backup right before I leave. I also have multiple backups... one at home and one at the office, both external hard drives. I figure I’m covered unless my office and home burn down at the same time (at which point, I may have bigger issues to worry about)! 

    Last year I had my laptop stolen while I was on a road trip in Indiana. When my replacement arrived, I booted up the new machine, plugged in my external drive, and a little while later my new laptop was exactly in the same state as the one that was stolen. Every application, every setting, even windows I had opened, were back like I had simply booted up my old laptop. This is not even an option with the DrivePop backup. The backup manager will only let you select certain folders on your machine to backup, mostly directories inside your users folder. If I actually let DrivePop finish, the backup won’t include any files in the root directory of my hard drive. 

    I contacted DrivePop and explained my frustration with the backup utility. Their response was that I purchased the subscription through StackSocial, so I have to talk to them. StackSocial has a pretty firm “no refunds ever” policy (even on items that come broken, believe it or not). The cost of the subscription was cheap, so it’s not worth my frustration to do anything except kill the Livedrive process and go back to my external backups. 
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    iWatchSunday, August 24, 2014
  • Many people expect Apple to release a watch soon, and expect it to be similar to the recently announced – but not yet released – Moto 360 from Motorola. I’ve yet to see the Moto 360 in person, but it looks kind of cool in pictures (minus a small flaw in the design). But the it really appears to be not much more than a notification device that also tells the time. The speculation reminds me of the months leading up to the initial iPhone announcement when pretty much everyone thought an iPhone would simply be an iPod that made phone calls.

    If you haven’t learned anything from Apple by now, learn this: Apple does not release a product that is “just” anything. The iPhone was not just an iPod that made calls or just a touch screen phone. The iPad was not just a bigger iPhone, and the MacBook Air was not just a smaller laptop. Even the original iPod was not just another MP3 player. Each, in their own way, changed the world. So Apple cannot release just a watch that gets notifications.

    We already have that device, by the way. It’s called the Pebble. And while I think the Pebble is a fun device, it’s not revolutionary. It’s not even very useful. And it’s not a device Apple is going to release. The problem with the Pebble, and so far all the other smartwatches to date, is that it only serves to tell you to pull your phone out of your pocket a split second sooner than your phone can.

    Here’s a scenario without a smartwatch on my wrist: A text comes in and my phone buzzes in my pocket. I can either ignore the buzz, or pull the phone out of my pocket, read the message, and reply.

    The same scenario with a smartwatch: A text comes in and I read it on my watch. I can either ignore the text, or pull the phone out of my pocket and reply. (I should also mention that it’s even harder to read a text on your watch while driving than it is on your phone.)

    Not a lot of benefit. 

    So why not just reply using voice commands? Other than the fact that composing a message by talking is not at all private and looks ridiculous, it plain sucks. Even the best speech-to-text system is hindered by one variable: Me! Every time I try to dictate to my phone, I fumble on a single word in the middle of my thought. It’s impossible to correct without rewording the entire message.

    There’s another problem with Apple releasing a “watch”. There are two types of people in the world: watch people, and everybody else. The thing about watch people is we rarely have only one watch. A watch matches your outfit or a mood, or it reflects your personality. A smartwatch, like the Moto, Pebble, or Galaxy Gear, proposes that you pick one design and that is the watch you wear every day for the next several months (or even years).

    I think it’s more likely that whatever Apple introduces will be a fashionable object, and cheap enough you can – and will want to – have more than one.
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    iPad Event 2014Saturday, August 23, 2014
  • This is what I expect Apple to announce in October at their annual iPad event...

    The iPad Air and iPad Mini will be upgraded to match the specs of the iPhone 6, and will also gain the Touch ID feature. Physical size and screen resolution won’t change from the current models. The current generation iPad Air and iPad mini will get a plastic casing like the iPhone 5C and be offered as the lower priced models of each.

    After much anticipation Apple will (finally) announce a wrist-wearable device, but it won’t be the iWatch all the critics have been expecting. It will not be a watch, or a device for reading texts and email. Picture a fitness tracker of sorts, but obviously not like anything currently on the market.

    As usual, the stock will take a drop following the announcement because the iPad doesn’t come with 1TB of storage, or run Mac OSX, or some other nonsense. Plus the iWatch isn’t the same thing as the Moto 360 proving Apple has lost its way. Shares will drop more than $10.
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