Turn any headphones into bluetooth wireless headphones for $20

There are few things as unpleasant in life as getting a headphone cable snagged on a doorknob. Or the corner of a table. Or the watch of a total stranger passing me on the sidewalk.  Because the cable runs the length of my body, from the earbuds on my head to the phone in my pants pocket, it’s way too easy for it to get caught on just about anything, and it’s a truly jarring experience every time it happens.

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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.

While You’re Deleting that Uber App…

Uber’s been under fire lately for their shady practices, and rightly so.  (Well, they’ve actually been under fire for a while, but this week was the tipping point for many people.)  There’s a new movement afoot by Uber users — like John Hodgman — to delete the app from their phones.  I say, while you’re doing that, here’s some other apps to get rid of:

Every two weeks? Really? That's a "better" experience?!

Every two weeks? Really? That’s a “better” experience?!

Facebook.  Forget the fact that they’re selling out user privacy like it’s their business (actually, that IS their business), they just offer a crappy app.  It uses way more data and battery power than it should, making you wonder what else is going on under the hood.  They also intend to update the app, in full, every two weeks.  Sorry, but mobile operating systems don’t change that quickly, necessitating such constant adjustments.  Something’s fishy here.  Get rid of it.  If you must use Facebook, check it from the web.

LinkedIn.  Is the app as buggy and battery draining as Facebook?  No.  In fact, it seems pretty well designed.  I just say delete because it’s LinkedIn and I’m still mad about that time they spammed everyone in my address book.  Stupid, Linkedin.

Crazy Eye.  Yes, this was one of the very first apps you bought in 2008, to impress your nephew so that he’d think you’re the cool uncle.  But it hasn’t been updated since, looks terrible on new phones, and your nephew is now in college. Also, it didn’t work.  Steve is still the cool uncle. Sorry!

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Crazy Eye needs to be deleted ASAP. (Crazy Mouth, though, is still good to keep using. Especially on JDates. Jewish girls love it!)

Kill A Random Person.  Not sure how this even got approved by Apple.  You push a button and a random person someone across the globe dies.  I’d delete it.

The Phone Dialpad.  I’ve had an iPhone since they came out in 2007 and I still have no idea what this app should be used for.

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If anyone knows what this is for, let me know.

The curious case of a curious case: A review of the X-Doria Engage Folio for the iPhone 6

“You have a Costanza.”

That’s what a producer on Grey’s Anatomy said to me several years ago, when the show was in its infancy and I was an assistant in the writers room. I had no idea what he was talking about.

“I have a what?” He pointed to the wallet I was holding, a leather trifold filled beyond capacity. I still didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Seinfeld,” he said, “you know the episode with Costanza’s wallet?” And then it hit me. That was the episode where Costanza’s wallet, overstuffed with receipts, coupons, scraps of paper, and, well, just about everything besides actual money, started affecting his health. Carrying it around — and specifically sitting on it — was giving Costanza tremendous back pain. I looked down at my own overstuffed wallet. Yep. I had a Costanza.

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The Costanza wallet in all its glory.

I became immediately self-conscious about the size of my wallet. I traded my triple fold for a double fold. But that wasn’t enough. Some time later, I traded the double fold wallet for a super-slim one that basically held an ID and a few credit cards, and that’s it. That worked well for a while.

Until I lost the wallet.

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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.

Quick Review: Platinum Power Case for iPhone 5 and 5s

This has been a crazy summer, and I’ve been pretty negligent about posting to this site.  Sorry about that.  To play catch up, I’ll be unloading a bunch of a “mini reviews” over the next few days.  First up — The Platinum Power Case for iPhone 5 and 5s.

449A6223My wife’s iPhone 5 has a habit of dying on her at the worst possible time (like when her car has been towed).  So I went to Best Buy to find a “power case” for her — i.e. a case with a built-in reserve battery.  I was going to get a Mophie juice pack, which seems to have cornered the market on such things, but then I saw a Platinum-branded power case — a “Best Buy Exclusive” — that cost considerably less than the equivalent Mophie.  The Platinum Power Case offers a 2100 mAh battery for $70.  To get a Mophie with that sized battery, you’d have to spend well over $100 (closer to $120, actually, at the moment).  That’s a pretty big price difference, so I figured we’d give the Platinum power case a shot.

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The case has a simple one-piece design, allowing your iPhone to be easily slid in-and-out (when you need it to — otherwise, the phone stays in solidly).  There’s an indicator on the rear of the case that tells you how much power is left in the reserve battery. And there’s a switch. What does the switch do? Basically, the power case works like this:  1) Slide your phone in.  2) Use your phone like normal.  3) When your phone’s internal battery gets in the red, you slip the switch, turning the case on, which will start recharging your phone’s internal battery.  Like the gas engine in a Chevy Volt, the power generated the case doesn’t actually run your phone, it just recharges the battery that still does all the work.  

Note: According to the Platinum documentation, they recommend re-charging your phone back up to 80% and then stopping, as recharging your phone past 80% takes more power than it’s worth.  Not sure if that’s a limitation shared by its more expensive competition.

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Anyways, the case works exactly as advertised.  The company says that a 2100 mAh battery should give your iPhone an additional 8 hours of talk-time, but we never tested the case to its limits.  I just let my wife use it as needed, and she found it to be a convenient — if bulky — addition to her phone. 

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Other than its size, there is one more potential limitation to the case.  The shell engulfs your phone’s built-in headphone jack. If you want to use your headphones, you probably need to use the mini-extension cable that comes with the case (see photo below). 

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That’s not a deal breaker, so we kept it, right?  Saved the money over the Mophie?  Nope.  Because its size, my wife always kept the phone in her purse.  Twice in one week, she pulled her phone out of her purse only to find that the case had gotten switched on by accident — powering her phone when it didn’t need any juice, and leaving her without reserve power when she actually needed it.  That was a deal breaker.  Back to Best Buy it went.

We wound up getting a Mophie Juice Pack Helium for ten dollars more.  The battery isn’t as big — only 1500 mAh — but that’s still a enough reserve power for my wife (and probably most people).  The Helium is also much slimmer.  The slender profile alone is worth the slightly higher price over the Platinum (if you don’t really need the extra-extra power).  If I needed a power case for myself, the Helium is the one I would get. (But I don’t.)

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