Man, Apple really didn’t want me to use their new iPhone Upgrade program…

If you follow Apple news, you’d know that in addition to announcing new iPhones a couple weeks ago, Apple also announced a new way to purchase them — an Apple-branded upgrade program where you can upgrade your phone every year and never have to pay full price for one.  The program is similar to programs that the carriers offer, where you pay a monthly installment for your phone, and after a certain amount of time, you can simply trade in your current phone for a new one, even if you haven’t paid it off yet.

The Apple plan doesn’t really save you that much money on a month-to-month basis, but it does offer other perks — Applecare is included and the phone is unlocked (so it’ll work with just about any carrier anywhere).  Those were enough of an incentive for me to give it a try, so I made an appointment for Friday at 8am at the Apple store nearest me, so I could get a phone with the plan (the upgrade program isn’t offered online).

I encountered just one problem:  Apple really didn’t want me to use the program.

Did I fail the credit check?  I don’t know.  I never even got that far.

When I made the reservation to buy the phone in person, the confirmation email made sure to say that I needed to bring my carrier info, two forms of ID with the same full name on both (credit card could be one), and my old phone (if I wanted to trade it in).  That’s all it told me I need to have.

I showed up with all items in hand, only having to wait in line for a few minutes (seriously, if you ever want to buy an Apple product in person, use their reservation system).

I entered the store and met my sales rep.  He already knew the model I had reserved and just wanted to know how I would pay for it — through my carrier, through the upgrade program, or just buy it outright.

“Through the Apple upgrade program please,” I said.

And after spending the next twenty minutes trying to enter my info to get me approved for the program, it never came close to happening.

The problem?  The address on my driver’s license didn’t match the address on my credit card, and I kept getting kicked out of the system.

I get it.  Apple is super-concerned about fraud.  But there are plenty of legit reasons for those two addresses not to match.  You could’ve moved recently.  You could prefer your bills get sent not to your home.  You could have a PO Box or a mailbox at a neighborhood postal center (which are way more secure than most home mailboxes).  You could be using a business credit card that, naturally, won’t bill to your home address.

What’s weird is that this appears to be an Apple-only rule.  Apple partners with a third-party bank to offer the “interest-free loan” for the phone (which is basically what the program is), and I could see the software that the Apple sales rep used to submit the loan application.  The app never actually asks for the address off the driver’s license.  In fact, the software specifically asks for the address from the credit card, but the sales rep was instructed that he had to use the address off the license.  For many people who’d want to use the upgrade program — people Apple would love to retain as customers — this technicality makes the program a non-starter.

Oh well.  I wound up using the upgrade program offered by my carrier.  And you know what “perk” they offer that Apple can’t?  For my next phone, I don’t have to upgrade to an iPhone.

Your move, Apple.  The iPhone 7S had better be something special, because your internal policies have kept the door wide open for me to consider other platforms.

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.

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.

 

One more reason to love Vizio TVs

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Whenever someone tells me they need a new TV, but they don’t want to pay through the nose for above-average performance, features, and size, I steer them towards Vizio.

Another reason to love Vizio smart TVs: They replicate a lot of the functionality of Google’s remarkable Chromecast.  This is something I first noticed when I did my Chromecast review, but I didn’t realize just how extensive this functionality was until last night, when I found myself able to “fling” Youtube content from my iPad directly to the TV.  Here’s how it works:  Mobile apps like Netflix and Youtube now have a “cast” button — the button you’re supposed to use to send audio and video to a Chromecast device. But Vizio has smartly used the same “casting protocol” that Chromecast apparently utilizes.  So if you’re watching a movie on Netflix or a video on Youtube and you want to continue watching it on your TV, just hit the “Cast” button and select “VIZIO DTV” (see above screenshot of the Youtube app for the iPad).  The Vizio’s built-in Netflix/Youtube app will kick in and pick up right where you were on your smartphone/tablet. You can then use your mobile device to control the video on the TV.

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This is the iPhone Netflix app. Notice the “VIZIO DTV” option.

Note: I’ve only done it with Netflix and Youtube, but I’ll try some more apps next time I get a chance. I’m guessing that any service built-in to the TV will work, so long as there is a corresponding mobile app.

Oh, and, of course, the TV and the mobile device need to be on the same wifi network.

So you want to listen to music throughout your whole home…

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So you want to listen to music throughout your whole house/apartment/condo/etc…

The good news: It’s never been easier.

The bad news: It’s never been more confusing.

It used to be simple: if you wanted to wire your whole house for audio, that’s exactly what you did — you wired your whole house for audio.  Now, wires are entirely optional (if not still preferred, see below).

Here are some of your options, ranging from cheapest to not-so-cheapest:

1.  Just wear earbuds.  For ten bucks, you can get a pair of perfectly fine earbuds at your local drug store.  Plug ’em into your favorite portable audio device and, boom, you’ve got music wherever you go.  You can even take the music OUT of the house!  The only downside? The inherent danger of walking around with a loose cable dangling from your neck.  Get it snagged on a doorknob and you can snap your head off.  Also, sharing music is tough if you don’t have a great singing voice.

2.  Embrace Bluetooth.  For less than $50, you can get a Belkin Bluetooth Receiver that plugs into any stereo and wham-o, you can wirelessly beam audio from your iOS/Android device to whatever sound system you already have.  The downside?  This isn’t a solution for sharing the same audio throughout multiple rooms (not a strongpoint for Bluetooth), so it doesn’t exactly qualify as a “whole home” experience.  But if your smartphone is  your main music listening device, this is a great way to get the music onto your stereo without  spending (at least) twice as much to get a new stereo just because it has bluetooth built-in.

3. Embrace Airplay.  Airplay is very different from Bluetooth.  It’s Apple’s standard for wirelessly sharing audio (and video) across multiple devices.  The chief benefit over Bluetooth?  You CAN share the same audio source across multiple rooms at the same time.  From any iOS device (or computer), you can send music to any room(s) with an Airplay compatible device.  The set-up is super easy — you just need to make sure all the devices are on the same home network.  That’s it.  Great for parties.  The downside?  If you don’t already have a Mac or an iOS device, you’ll probably have to get one.  Sidenote: An Apple TV is a great way to share music from your iOS device (or Mac) to your TV’s speakers.

4. Sonos! A few Sonos devices can create a wireless blanket of sound across your home using neither Bluetooth nor Airplay.  What is Sonos?  Click here for a better summation than I could ever provide. Sonos is now the go-to system for distributing audio throughout people’s home, from non-tech savvy folk who seek simplicity to high-end customers planning to shell out tens of thousands of dollars on their media rooms.  How does it manage to fit both niches?  Because it’s currently the only game in town for what it does.  It’s also very flexible.  You can go crazy and spend thousands of dollars for ultimate customization, or you can keep it simple and still do some cool stuff for $500 or less.

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The Sonos iPad App allows for tremendous, user-friendly customization.

Every device that Sonos makes comes with the ability to talk to other Sonos devices.  They also come with their own built-in software to access your favorite internet radio options (Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Cloud Player, etc.).  That means set-up is minimal.  You literally plug them in, turn them on, then use your tablet/computer/phone to tell it what you want to listen to.  If you own two or more Sonos devices (up to 36, I believe), they’ll form their own invisible network you never have to deal with.  If you already have a home with speakers wired into the walls, you can buy a Sonos Amp for each speaker set and let Sonos do all the heavy lifting, connecting all the rooms together.  There’s no need for a receiver of any kind, unless you really want one (like if you want to share audio from a home theater).  For most people, the combination of Pandora, various internet radio stations, and whatever music they have on their own devices is enough, and Sonos can handle all that on it’s own.

If you don’t have any speakers already wired throughout your home, that’s not a problem.  Most of Sonos’s products are speaker systems with connectivity baked in.  You can easily place one on a bookshelf or kitchen counter without drawing any undue attention. Their cheapest HiFi music player starts at $300, though, which is more expensive than comparable Airplay-compatible sound systems.

My overall recommendation?  If you’re starting from scratch and have the money, wiring speakers is still the classiest thing to do.  And it’s actually not that expensive these days. Just don’t let the installer try to upsell you on speakers.  That’s the biggest cost.  Speakers for a kitchen or a dining room don’t need to be terribly expensive because the rooms themselves aren’t built for sound.  No point in splurging on high end speakers if you’ll never hear the difference due to acoustics.  If you’re good at following directions, you might even be able to install speakers yourself.  Pulling wire through an attic or crawlspace is easier than it sounds.  When I first moved into my house, I hired custom installers, but after watching them I realized: “Hey, I can do that!”  And then I did.  Pulling wire through a crawlspace under my house might be dirty work, but it’s free!  Anyways, once the speakers are installed, whatever closet (or cabinet) houses the ends of the cables is where the Sonos Amps will go.  A typical set-up is one amp per speaker set per room.   If you have the money and/or time, it’ll be well worth it.

If you don’t have that kind of money, you can always skimp.  You can get a multi-zone receiver and use that to control the various sets of speakers wired throughout your home.  For example, to control three separate zones with Sonos, you’d need $1500 in Amps.  A 3-zone receiver should be available for less than a $1000.  The receiver might not come with all the internet connectivity of the Sonos system (especially at that price point), but chances are you already have at least one device in your house that can access Pandora and/or your digital music collection.  Just hook that computer/ipod/whatever up to the receiver and your ears will never know the difference. (The trade-offs are in the area of flexibility and convenience.)  Or you can do what I did: Use fewer Amps.  Instead of having one Amp to power the speakers in the front yard and another Amp to power the speakers in the backyard, I just have a single Amp marked “outside.”

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This closet contains all the Sonos equipment you need to run the audio for an entire house.

If wiring speakers throughout your house sounds like a hassle or isn’t an option, then I’d recommend looking at what you already have, then building a sound system around those.  For example, if you already have an iPhone, iPad, or Mac, then just get an Apple TV ($99) for any room where you have a TV and an Airplay compatible stereo for any room that doesn’t. And if you’re an Android/Windows user… then I’d still recommend going the Airplay route.  For example, here’s a cool primer on three apps that’ll allow Android and Windows users to utilize Airplay.

Before you do anything, though, I’d just ask this… WHY do you want the ability to listen to music throughout your whole home at the same time?  If you entertain a lot, then, sure, spend the money and make it happen.  But, seriously, if this is just to listen to music while you do housework, then just buy a pair of good headphones.  Or even earbuds.

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Products mentioned in this post:




Why I returned my HTC Evo 4G

The Super Phone

First up, I didn’t do it because of the iPhone 4.  Doubt me if you will (and I know you will), but it’s true.

I also didn’t return it because of the screen.  Sure it might not have the highest resolution available, but it’s still pretty darn impressive.  In fact, the screen size was the one thing I might’ve kept the phone for, despite my other gripes.

I didn’t do it because of Android.  Well, not explicitly because of Android.  I don’t mind Android.  I love the widgets, I love the way I could customize the home screen.   I really liked many of things Andoid does that aren’t even options on the iPhone.  I even liked HTC’s custom “Sense” interface.

I didn’t do it because of the battery.  Sure, the battery life of the brand new Evo was only marginally better than my two year old iPhone 3G, but it was a lifespan I could deal with, and if it got worse, buying a new battery would be easy and painless.

And I didn’t do it because of the lack of 4G.  Guess what?  Despite the fact that Los Angeles isn’t yet an officially supported 4G city, I found plenty of places around town with 4G service, including my own neighborhood.  That was actually one of the biggest, more pleasant surprises about the phone.

No, I did it because of one word:  Podcasts.

Yes, you read that right.  Podcasts.

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