The Apple Watch Sport band conundrum: Why doesn’t Apple want you to pair a white watch with a black band?

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Okay, this post is for the Apple junkies out there.  If all you know about the Apple Watch is that it exists, this post probably isn’t for you.

So much has been said about the Apple Watch, I didn’t think I’d have anything new to offer by the time I got mine.  Well, I was wrong.  Apple offers a wide variety of watch sizes, colors, and band choices. But there’s one combination they really don’t want you buy, and I think I figured out know why.

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What to Expect When You’re Expecting Apple To Announce A New Product

IMG_1009Congratulations! You’re due for a new Apple product! Any day now, Tim Cook is expected to birth something revolutionary and magical. Or not. You never know with Apple. What pops out of the largest uterus in Cupertino — and when exactly it will pop — might be a mystery, but here are some things to definitely expect when you’re expecting Apple to announce a new product:

1. Anxiety. The responsibility of owning a new Apple product can seem overwhelming. How do I keep it clean? What if I drop it? How do make sure it gets fed enough data? OH MY GOD, I’M NOT READY FOR ALL THIS RESPONSIBILITY!?!?! Fret not, my friend, you are not alone. Every expectant consumer has those same questions and fears. Just take solace in knowing that people a heck of a lot dumber than you are handling the immense responsibility just fine. Oh, and use AppleCare. Despite GOP efforts to repeal AppleCare, it’s still around, and the piece of mind it offers is well-worth the cost.

2. Weird cravings. The closer you get to the due date, the weirder your desires will become. I want an iPhone 6 with a 7inch double-sided touch-screen! No, I want a 12inch MacBook Air with a retina display and a floppy drive! No, I want an iWatch big enough to mount on the wall and watch 4K 3D TV on!! Relax. The weird cravings will pass. In the end, you’ll be happy if it’s just a healthy device that isn’t delivered to the market prematurely.

3. Sudden weight gain. Knowing that Apple’s next iWhatever will almost certainly be slimmer and lighter than any personal device you currently own will suddenly make you feel much heavier in public. This is normal. My advice is to try something that’ll counter the effect, like starting a juice cleanse or adopting a trendy food allergy. (Warning: juice cleanses and trendy food allergies do not actually help people lose weight, but talking about them incessantly will help you lose friends… which is kinda like losing weight.)

4. Morning sickness. This is the sick feeling you will get the morning of the supposed product announcement, when it suddenly dawns on you that you have absolutely no idea what Tim Cook is about unveil. Sure, it could be a cool new phone. But it could also be a blender. In one fateful breath, you will realize that no one on the internet knows anything. You’ll suddenly notice that every “exclusive report” on every website purporting to know what Apple will release is based on the same “anonymous sources” with specious connections to “overseas suppliers.” Same for all the self-proclaimed Wall Street Analysts who cherry-pick from said reports to make whatever “bold prediction” will get them airtime on CNBC. And, of course, when the spurious predictions turn out to be bunk, they shirk responsibility and act like it’s Apple’s fault. (I’m looking at you, Gene Munster, senior analyst at Piper Jaffray, and the Apple-branded HDTV set you’ve been predicting as “imminent” every year since 2009.) Sorry, got off on a tangent there. Where was I? Oh yeah, morning sickness the day of the product announcement. Try to get plenty of rest the night before, avoid greasy foods when you wake up, and take it easy on the coffee. Also: Don’t believe anything you read about Apple in the days leading up to unveiling.

5. Messiness. Once the mucus plug of consumer innovation finally spills its contents, the internet will become a messy, messy place indeed. Best to stay off social media for at least 24 hours, until the backlash and the backlash to the backlash have subsided. All that really matters is the, um… lash? That doesn’t sound right. But let’s go with it for now.

6. Post-partum depression. This will kick in the moment you hold the new little miracle in your hands for the first time, after your credit card has been charged and you’ve parted with a considerable amount of money. Don’t worry, though. The first time someone in public compliments you on your new acquisition, you will feel much better. The sudden sense of technological superiority will jump-start the pleasure center of your brain. (FYI: For this reason, you never want to be the last person in your neighborhood and/or workplace to get a new Apple anything.)

7. A growing distance between you and your Apple-less friends. It’s a sad fact of life: Once you become an Apple household, you simply won’t be spending as much time with your non-Apple-having friends. You will get new friends, though, and they will be much more awesome than your old friends. They are called Apple Geniuses and they are available by appointment only.

8. Transcendence. This is what happens as soon as you realize your life has been irrevocably changed by the little bundle of joy. You will wonder how you lived for so long without it. You will admit you can never go back to life before it. You will get sucked into your new device. Literally. You will be like Johnny Depp in that movie where he died and was brought back to life as a computer program. That movie had a happy ending, right? I don’t know. Didn’t see it. Did you? No? Did anyone see it? Hmm. Well, let’s just pretend it had a happy ending and move on to…

9. Ennui. This is the inevitable sense of boredom that will overcome you. Life’s old pleasures will cease to have impact. New pleasures will emerge, but they will pass quickly. The rush you felt the first time you unlocked your phone with nothing more than your fingerprint will be long gone. All that will remain: A hole in the center of your being, filled with the dispiriting notion that your new Apple product will one day be obsolete. As will you.

10. Wonderment. You will wonder what happened to the whole iDevice-as-a-baby metaphor. You are probably already at this phase right now.

11. Temptation. The longer you possess your no-longer-new Apple product, the more tempting the Samsung commercials will get. You’ll see some new Amazon product getting a ton of press and you’ll picture yourself holding it in your hands. You’ll take a second look at that ad for… Windows? “Wow,” you’ll say, “Windows is actually looking pretty good these days.” But the temptation will give way to…

12. Mutual respect, deep-seated appreciation, and a Hollywood ending. Sure, the novelty of your new Apple product will wear off. Siri’s limitations will become readily apparent. The device’s heft and quirkiness will become more pronounced as it ages. Curiosity will lead you back to Windows or maybe over to Android or one its many variants, but the experience will be painful, oh-so-very-very-painful: Why does this Windows 8 computer have two separate interfaces that DON’T WORK TOGETHER AT ALL? Why can’t this brand new Android phone be updated to the latest Android OS? Why does this Amazon device seem to be designed solely to get me to spend even more money on other stuff? And you’ll find the only thing that will relieve the pain is your once-new-but-now-old Apple product. The one you came this close to selling. You will apologize to it. You will hold it close, caressing it with tenderness. You will promise never to abandon it again.

Well, at least not until the iPhone 7S comes out in 2017. According to the internet, it’s going to be so freakin’ awesome!!!

For the movie rights to this post, please contact @ericbuchman. All I ask for is casting approval, final say on the script, and payment in German bearer bonds.

Did your new computer come with free packaged software? Here’s why you shouldn’t open it.

Earlier in the summer, I bought a new MacBook Pro at Best Buy.  That’s all I bought, just the laptop.  Before the sales rep rung me up, though, he grabbed a retail box of software off the shelf, told me it’s included for free.  I said “no thanks, if I wanted to use anti-virus software, I wouldn’t be buying a Mac.”  He said he had to include this box of software with the purchase, all their computers come with it.  I really didn’t need or want it, but I also didn’t want to argue with the guy.  I paid for the computer, took the free software, and left the store.

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A few weeks later, when Apple bumped up the specs of the MacBook Pro, I saw that my model got a significant discount.  I could either return my laptop and get a new one (at full price), or get Best Buy to match the newer price of the one I bought.  I opted for the latter.  I went to the store, asked them to match the newer price… and they said they can’t do it.  This post isn’t about the finer details of big box retailer price matching policies, but let’s just say the use of a coupon complicated matters.  I was still within the return period, though, so I said: “How about I just ‘return’ this computer and buy it back at the newer, lower price?”  No problem.  Easy-peasy, they said.  All I needed was the receipt for the original purchase… and the unopened box of  software that I bought with it.  What?  I didn’t “buy” that software.  It was handed to me as I left the store.

Turns out the software was considered “bundled” with the computer, as if I got offered some special deal and only bought the computer because it came with the “free” program.  And Best Buy, like many retailers, won’t allow you to return just one part of a bundle.  I had to return them both together.  Here’s why that’s a big problem:  Hardware can be returned opened and used, so long as it’s within the return window.  Software cannot.  Software can only be returned unopened.  Had I opened that useless piece of software they made me take, I would not have been able to return the computer under any circumstances.

Fortunately, I didn’t open it.  I was able to complete the “return” and save about $150.   But I’ve now been fully warned and so should you — if a piece of hardware you want is “bundled” with a separate piece of software you don’t want — definitely think twice before opening that software package.

A cynical part of me wonders if this whole faux-bundling thing is a deliberate attempt by Best Buy to cut down on computer returns…

R.I.P. The best tech purchase I ever made…

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My HP Laserjet 1200.  2001 – 2014.  You will be missed.

13 years is long time for any piece of computer equipment.  Sure, printers have gotten faster and more colorful, but for an aspiring writer living in his parents’ house just after college, this affordable laser printer was a godsend.  Back then, if you wanted to proof your own film/TV script, you had to either read it on a low res computer screen or print it up.  If you wanted someone else to read your script, you had to send them a hard copy.  PDFs weren’t the norm yet.  Functional tablets occupied just a couple neurons in Steve Jobs’ brain.  Being able to print an entire script at will, without having to go a copy shop… that was freedom.  That printer got me through many assignments in grad school.  It was there for me when I got a chance to write my first produced episode of television.  Thanks to the Airport Express’s ability to make any wired printer wireless, the HP 1200 even survived the transition to wifi.  This workhorse of a machine has quite literally out-lasted every other computer accessory I’ve ever owned.

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Well, except for one.

My Harmon-Kardon Soundsticks purchased in 2000.

How to transfer all your podcast subscriptions from one app to another (the easy way)

Speaking of podcasts, let’s say you’ve gotten a brand new podcast-playing app for your iOS or Android device.  If only there were an easy way to get the new app to know what podcasts you were already subscribed to…  Wait, there is!  If you’ve been using a third-party podcast app like Pocket Casts, Instacast, Downcast, etc., there’s a good chance it’ll allow you export all your current subscriptions into a single file you can then import into your new app.  (Note: Apple’s default Podcasts app, sadly, does not allow this.)

Look in the settings of your current/old app for the option to “export to OPML.”  (If you must know, OPML is a file format that works well with RSS feeds, which are the heart of podcast subscriptions… but don’t worry about the specifics, you won’t be tested on this.)

In Pocket Casts, for example, the option can be found in SETTINGS > SYNC & BACKUP > EXPORT.  The Export window looks like this:

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Just enter an email address you can check on your iPhone or iPad, and it’ll send the OPML file as an attachment to that address.  Open the message on your device, click on the attachment, and then use the “send to” feature (the little box with an arrow pointing up) to send the list to your new podcasting app.  On an android device, you might need to first save the file to your phone’s internal storage, then open it in the new app.

Downcast for iOS makes things a little easier.  Click on the “More” button at the bottom of the home screen, then click on “Tools.”  Select “Export Feeds to OPML” and you’ll see the option to send the file directly to a different application, no email required (unless you really want to use email).

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Overcast makes things even simpler.  In Settings, click on “Export OPML” and a list of compatible apps will automatically come up.

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Pretty cool how Overcast will even recommend other apps you might like if Overcast isn’t your deal. (And I’m guessing all those apps use OPML.)

If you’ve been using iTunes to subscribe to Podcasts, you’re in luck.  Control-click on the “Podcasts” item in your sidebar (if the sidebar isn’t visible, you can unhide it from the View menu), and an “Export” button will appear.  Select OPML as your file format and email it to your device.

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A cursory internet search reveals that a lot of popular podcast apps support OPML, so if you’re switching apps and you’ve got A LOT of subscriptions to re-subscribe to, do take advantage of this convenience.  Note:  This method will inform the new program what podcasts you’ve been subscribed to, but it won’t transfer other metadata, like which episodes you’ve already listened to/downloaded.

And if you’re really, really curious what exactly an OPML file looks like when you open it, here it is:

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 10.21.58 PMSee, I told you it wasn’t that interesting.

 

So you want to get an iPad. Which one is best for you?

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Note:  This post is just for my Mom.  Seriously, she asked for my iPad buying advice, and at this point I’ve gotten better at giving tech advice in blog form than I do over the phone.  Hope this helps, Ma!

At first glance, Apple’s iPad line seems very un-Apple-like.  Apple currently sells four different models, each with its own storage and connectivity options.  Oh, and multiply all those options by two, since Apple sells everything in white or black.  Put simply:  Apple’s usual “good,” “better,” “best” buying options don’t really apply anymore.

But it’s really not that complicated, as there’s only three things you need to consider:

1.  What size screen do you want?

At this point, I think the iPad Mini with Retina display should be the “default” choice.  It’s the perfect size for most people.  Only consider the full-sized iPad Air if you know you really need the extra screen real estate.  If you’re not sure that’s you, stick with the retina Mini.

2.  Do you need a big hard drive?

Apple offers four hard drive sizes — 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB.  Do not consider the 16GB unless you’re really strapped for cash.  It’s just not big enough these days for the vast majority of people.  Even if you get most of your media via cloud-based and streaming services, a typical allotment of apps plus a modest amount of the music, photos, and video you’ll want on-the-go will eat up that 16GB much too fast.

The 128GB option is likewise only for a select few, and probably not you.  Though 128GB is skimpy for a laptop or desktop computer, for a tablet it’s still ridiculously generous (at this time).  The amount of apps, music, and photos it’d take to fill up up a 128GB tablet is more than anyone really needs access to on a regular basis.  If you got the money, go crazy, but you’re either never going to use most of the space OR you’ll fill up, only to never touch more than half the stuff on there.

That leaves just the 32GB and 64GB options.  In my experience, 32GB is enough for most people’s needs.  But if you’re at all worried about not having enough space, then 64GB is a reasonable step-up.

3.  Are you okay with only accessing the internet when you’re on wifi?

To get one with a cellular chip or not, that’s the question.  I used to think a cell chip was worth having, because you never know when you’ll be out and about and really need internet access (and wifi isn’t an option).  I no longer think that.  The vast majority of people can function just fine relying only on free wifi (which is more abundant than ever).  Also:  Unless you want to pay extra for a monthly data plan, you’re not going to get much use from the cell chip anyway.

So there you go.  If you want the most reasonable option, a 32GB iPad Mini with retina (wifi-only) is a great choice for most people.  Consider only a larger screen, hard drive, or cell chip only if you really think you’ll need it.

PS -You’ll notice I only talked about two of Apple’s four iPad models — the iPad Mini with retina and the iPad Air.  Apple sells two others, a Mini without a retina display and an older generation full-sized iPad.  I left them out because those “2nd tier” models are only sold with 16GB of storage space, which simply isn’t enough for one’s primary tablet these days.  As a 2nd tablet that’ll never leave home, you might be able to get away with it, especially if it’s just for checking email, surfing the web, and streaming Netflix, but that’s about it.  (Note:  Non-retina iPad Mini’s with 32GB and 64GB hard drives can still be found on Amazon, but their numbers are dwindling.)

PPS – As for white or black, if you really can’t choose, just flip a coin.

24 Hours with the Pebble smartwatch

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Let’s cut to the chase. I didn’t intend to only spend a day with the Pebble. I wanted it to be my new everyday watch. I read glowing reviews of it at Verge and Engadget. I even read a not-so-glowing review at CNET, but it wasn’t enough to scare me off. I needed a new watch and with the brand new Pebble appstore going live last Monday, I figured now was as good a time as any to get one.

Also, I was eyeing a Fitbit Force as a fitness tracking device. They cost as much as a Pebble, and the Pebble is a full-fledged micro-computer, not just a sensor strapped to your wrist. The Pebble has a range of fitness apps it can run (which I’ll get to in a bit), so it seemed like a no-brainer purchase.

Note: the Pebble now comes in a fancier “steel” version that has a slimmer profile and a slicker overall appearance, but it costs $250 and the functionality is the same.

449A4648For those unfamiliar with the Pebble, it’s a watch with an e-ink display (the same as you’ll find on a Kindle, which means it uses very little power), a small processor, and various sensors. It’s designed to work as a companion to a smart phone (via an always-on Bluetooth connection which, yes, will drain your phone’s power a bit faster than usual). The Pebble should be able to go 5-7 days between charges, which is accomplished via a magnetic connector similar to those on Mac laptops.

The Pebble’s strength lies in its ability to relay any notification you can get on your phone — new text, email, incoming call, Twitter mention, upcoming appointment, sports score update, etc. — to your wrist.  The Pebble works with any app that can “push” a notification to your phone’s home screen. Some apps have even been optimized to work specifically with the Pebble, offering even greater flexibility and options. Whenever you get a new text, for example, your wrist will vibrate and the entire text will appear on your watch. Unless you want to respond immediately, no need to go digging around for your cell. Darren Murph over at BGR wrote extensively in his review about how the Pebble fundamentally changed the way he interacts with his phone and, to a lesser degree, other people.

During my time with the Pebble, I found the notifications worked as promised. The only problem?  I don’t get that many messages throughout the day, and I don’t particular like giving individual apps the power to notify me at will.  This isn’t a feature I’d been yearning for.  What I really wanted to try out was the appstore.

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The Pebble appstore is built into the official (and free) iOS app that’s needed to set-up the Pebble.  (The Android appstore is still in beta.) At launch on Monday, there was no shortage of apps to choose from.  Big names like Yelp and Fourquare were represented, in addition to hundreds of more independent offerings. Some Pebble apps require additional software on your iPhone, but those are clearly marked so there are no surprises.

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Do you like the idea of changing your watch face every five minutes? Great! There are literally hundreds available, completely for free, and I’m sure soon there will be thousands. My favorite was a rather basic watch face that showed the time, date, and current weather.

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In case you haven’t noticed, the screen isn’t in color. It’ll be some time before color e-ink displays are readily available for the masses.

They had an app that’ll control your Nest thermostat from your wrist, and it actually worked. They had another that claimed to control your Sonos sound system, but I couldn’t get it to work at all. (FYI: Neither were official offerings from Nest and Sonos, but, rather, from fans of those products.)

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Above you can see what the Pebble app manager looks like.  The Pebble only allows 8 apps/watch faces on your Pebble at one time, but you can download many, many more to your smart phone and keep them in a “locker” ’til you need them on your watch.

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I tried out two different kinds of fitness tracking apps.  One app was wholly contained on the watch, utilizing your Pebble’s accelerometer to track your movement (i.e. steps). The other syncs up with an app that runs on your iPhone, using the phone’s far more sensitive sensors.

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Moveable is a free iPhone app that sends fitness-related data to your Pebble.

I found neither method was all that reliable. The entirely self-contained Pebble app only works when that app is running on your watch (which makes sense, as the Pebble doesn’t seem to support background processes). Want a different watch face while you track your steps? Too bad. The other kind of Pebble fitness app — the kind that’s tethered to an iPhone app — doesn’t have that limitation. It’ll keep a constant tab of your movement regardless of what else is running on your watch because all the heavy lifting is done by the phone. The downside of this method: Since it relies on the sensors in your phone, you have to always have your phone on your body.  No phone in your pocket, no movement data will be collected.

I’m sure better fitness apps are yet to come, but I’m not convinced the Pebble will ever be able to replace a dedicated fitness band like the Fitbit or Jawbone Up.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I returned it. So what did I get?  That’ll be the subject of my next blog post.

Don’t get me wrong: The Pebble is an inventive, practical, reasonably priced device that offers a heap of functionality and versatility.  If the large, plastic-y, design of the 1st gen Pebble doesn’t launch your rocket, maybe the sleeker new Steel Pebble will.  If my needs were slightly different, I probably would’ve kept it.