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Apple Watch: Extraordinary sense of taste and balance

Posted on by Mike Evans

  Photo: Apple

Photo: Apple

The past year has been awash with smart watches yet none has captured the public's imagination. How many smart watches have you seen being worn in the wild?

All this is about to change, according to John Martellaro, writing for The Mac Observer. Referring to an incisive article by Mark Hibben at Seeking Alpha, Martellaro says that the forthcoming Apple Watch will so change people's lives that no other device on the wrist will do, and that will bring incredible success:

In addition to the engineering resources Apple can bring to bear on a new product category is Apple's extraordinary sense of taste and balance. In the case of the Apple Watch, its inner technical workings, which we'll get very excited about, are wrapped in a fashionable design. That leads to a corresponding physical affection for the device that leverages the technology.


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Meet Mr. Gadd, 83, of Fontwell Magna in Dorset

Posted on by Mike Evans

"Meet Mr. John Gadd, 83, of Fontmell Magna in Great Britain. He keeps a diary. He keeps the most incredible diary I have ever heard of. It is huge,  as in 21,000 pages, filling 151 volumes, and also contains some 33,000 photos and ephemera. The diary dates back 66 years to 1947 and contains some four million pages."

These words are written by Nifty the Notebook Addict who writes a fascinating blog about notebooks and all things scribbly. I never cease to be amazed at the quality and quantity of esoteric information that comes into my inbox every day. While the established print media disappears inexorably behind its self-defeating paywalls, hundreds of thousands of individuals throughout the world now have their own voice. And, in the main, they write more interesting stuff than the paid hacks of the press ever did.

  The Parker 51 had a hooded nib which was relatively stiff but wonderfully smooth, quite unlike most fountain pens we are used to. This vintage Parker from  Penhome.co.uk  is similar to mine except that mine has a brushed aluminium cap, a sign of the basic model, which I much prefer

The Parker 51 had a hooded nib which was relatively stiff but wonderfully smooth, quite unlike most fountain pens we are used to. This vintage Parker from Penhome.co.uk is similar to mine except that mine has a brushed aluminium cap, a sign of the basic model, which I much prefer

Nifty's notebook blog strikes a chord with me. I subscribe to several other similar sites because I have always had an interest in journals, notebooks, pens, pencils and stationery in general. In my younger years I could spend hours in stationery shops, back in the days when there was really interesting stuff around.

Nowadays everything is bubble packed and stripped to the minimum; gone are the tooled binders, boxes of carbon paper, gummed envelopes (heaven preserve us from self-adhesive envelopes that lose their stick after a month or two) and paperclips by weight.

Pens, in particular, have been a lifelong passion. In this I follow my grandfather, Harry Evans, who had a rare collection of fountain pens dating back to his earliest days at the beginning of the last century. They were all bequeathed to me, unfortunately at such an early age that I failed to appreciate them. For my part, my first real pen was a Parker 51, back in the 50s when this was the pen to be seen with. It cost me all of £6.30, or six guineas, at Boots The Chemist in the Manchester Stock Exchange building.

I don't know what happened to this paragon of penmanship but it obviously dropped off the perch somewhere along the line. It was replaced with a long succession of Watermen, Scheaffers, Pelikans and Montblancs; but no pen ever provided the sense of satisfaction I derived from the Parker.

Miraculously, only last weekend, I found an exact replica of my old Parker at The Penman in the Portobello Road market. It is reconditioned expertly and writes like a dream; but it cost 13 times more than I paid for the original all those years ago. Of course, six guineas was two weeks' wages in those days, a quite enormous sum to spend on a pen. Now, £80 is almost petty cash. Were it still made, the 51 would probably be priced north of £300.

As a result of this surprise purchase I have made a resolution to write a page of notes every day, just to keep my calligraphy skills in harness. If you don't use it, you lose it: And this applies to handwriting as well as any other skill. Reliance on keyboards means that eventually none of us will be able to write fluently, Parker 51 or no.

I'm grateful to Nifty for reminding me of this. Mind you, I have a long way to go before I fill 21,000 pages with notes. Sad to say, my daily journal is kept in the Cloud via the estimable Day One app. I confess that, unlike the single-minded Mr. Gadd of Fontwell Magna, I have never managed to keep a handwritten journal going for more than a week or so. But with Day One I am now nearing four years of doings, all without missing a day. Sometimes technology helps; it's just that it's nice to have the best of both worlds. Welcome back, dear Mr. Parker 51, the best pen ever made.

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Landline: Is it time to bury that clunky old phone?

Posted on by Mike Evans

These days I seldom use the landline phone at my home and, perhaps in sympathy, it seldom rings to disturb my peace and quiet. Twenty years ago I had persuaded myself I needed four lines: Two for voice, one for the fax machine (what's that?) and one for the dial-up modem. This was the last word in modernity in 1995. It turned out to be the apogee of the landline and it has been downhill ever since.

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Desktop Clutter: How Hazel can clean things up automatically

Posted on by Mike Evans

I've been using Hazel's automated features for years but I am the first to admit that I merely scratch the surface of this deeply capable application. So I was all eyes when I saw that Harry Guinness at Tutsplus has produced a detailed guide to getting Hazel to tidy up my the desktop of my Mac. As he says:

Hazel is a great app for automating file management in OS X. You can assign certain folders for Hazel to watch and then perform specific actions if the files within meet set criteria. Hazel can automatically put videos in the Movies folder and audio tracks in the Music folder. It can also, as you’ll see, do a whole lot more. In this tutorial I’ll demonstrate how to create the ultimate workflow for keeping a Mac clutter free—or at the very least, keeping the clutter organised—using Hazel and a dedicated Inbox.

Armed with Harry's step-by-step instructions I shall be commanding Hazel over the Christmas holidays and hope to start 2015 with a pristine, uncluttered desktop. I plan to make just one tweak to Harry's sage advice. Instead of putting the Inbox in my computer's user folder I will place it in Dropbox. I keep all my current data on Dropbox so that it is available wherever I am and on either of my two Macs (MacBook Pro and MacBook Air). 

Read the full guide to uncluttering your desktop here

If you are not already familiar with Hazel, try this guide first

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Size Matters: The incredible shrinking iPhone 6 Plus

Posted on by Mike Evans

You know what? My iPhone 6 Plus is shrinking. Every day it gets smaller and now it looks perfectly dinky in its dark grey silicone case. I have had it about my person for all of two months and the size shock has well and truly subsided. Like a pricked balloon. Instead, the 5.5in screen is the new norm. I've even compared it with friends' "small" iPhone 6 devices and, frankly, there isn't that much difference, certainly not enough to make me feel that the 6 is in any way superior.

And here's another thing. Despite also buying a full-size iPad Air 2 "for use around the home", I find it is the convenient iPhone 6 Plus that has become my default pick-up device. For instance, at first I would take the Air 2 up to bed so I could read a few chapters on that wonderful, large screen. Then I found myself preferring the 6 Plus. It is lighter and just so much easier to hold. I now invariably read books and news on the 6 Plus and do not miss the larger screen.

Magazines

  Reading magazines is certainly possible on the iPhone 6 Plus but more rewarding on an iPad. The long format of the iPhone screen is not ideal for publications such as this and results in wasted space top and bottom

Reading magazines is certainly possible on the iPhone 6 Plus but more rewarding on an iPad. The long format of the iPhone screen is not ideal for publications such as this and results in wasted space top and bottom

The only time when I feel it better to open the Air 2 is when viewing magazines in the Readly app. In order to get the best out of magazines, the larger screen of the Air 2 makes it possible to read a full page without feeling tempted to zoom in or, perhaps, split the page into two.

Admittedly, some popular applications, especially writing and productivity apps, do still work better on the iPad. In particular, there was initially a lack of support for landscape use in many products. Gradually, though, this impediment is being removed as more developers come to realise that the iPhone 6 Plus is nothing less than a small iPad. There will soon be no real difference between iPad and iPhone apps.

Cannibals

It isn't surprising to read that the new iPhones are beginning to cannibalise sales of iPads, especially the mini. Or that users are consuming more content on the new iPhones. Owners of the iPhone 6 now view content 72% of the time on the new device compared with only 55% of the time with the old 5 and 5S. And those fortunate individuals who chose the 6 Plus are happy to view content 80% of the time on the larger screen. I would say that these figures neatly mirror my own experience.

As I said, every day the iPhone 6 Plus appears more normal and less of an odd-ball. I am sure many people who felt the Plus was too big now realise it was a mistake to settle for the smaller iPhone 6. I have certainly not regretted opting for the Plus, despite a couple of minor quibbles.

Quibbles of the true addict

First, I am now less inclined to leave the 6 Plus in a pocket all the time, especially when around the house. The 5S was the perfect pocket size; the 6 Plus is just a tad long. This brings me to the second, connected quibble. Because the bigger phone is not always in my pocket it is easier to forget to pick it up when leaving home. This happened occasionally with the 5S but, invariably, I had always an iPad mini in my bag and could manage a day without the phone.

Now, because the 6 Plus combines the talents of both phone and tablet, I have occasionally found myself setting off with absolutely no way of keeping in touch. Call me an addict, but I cannot manage a day without electronic communications, especially now an Apple device of one sort or another represents my only access to books and news. I am seriously considering sticking a pay-as-you-go SIM card in my old 5S and then leaving the phone at the bottom of the bag for emergency duties.

Apple has never been afraid of cannibalisation and I imagine the evidence of iPhone 6 Plus sales harming iPad numbers is hardly causing a blip on Cupertino's radar. After all, the 6 Plus is more expensive than the Air 2 and, with the demise of the 32GB middle memory option, there has been a significant shift to 64GB, something that will benefit Apple's bottom line in a big way.

After two months living with the new iPhone, my advice is unequivocal: Get the iPhone 6 Plus if you possibly can.

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Squarespace 7: Blogging just became a whole lot more enjoyable and productive

Posted on by Mike Evans

Anyone starting a weblog such as Macfilos from scratch faces a daunting choice of platform. When I developed this site I knew absolutely nothing about web design or blogging but I had heard of Wordpress, the default choice for most newcomers. It is by far the largest blogging system with a plethora of templates and loaads of independent add ons. But it does require a degree of knowledge, particularly in initial setup. I eventually settled on Squarespace, a New York-based hosting platform founded in 2004 by Anthony Casalena in his University of Maryland dorm.

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iPhone 6 Plus: Developers working on landscape view, updates promised soon

Posted on by Mike Evans

Several leading developers of productivity apps have noted the problem with using the iPhone 6 Plus in landscape mode and are working on updates. I wrote to several of the developers whose apps I use regularly and will post the responses here.

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David Sparks on choosing iPhone 6 or 6 Plus

Posted on by Mike Evans

Everyone I know has had trouble choosing between the iPhone 6 and the larger 6 Plus. I eventually chose the 6 Plus and am very happy with it. David Sparks of MacSparky had a similar dilemma but made the opposite choice. He exchanged his 5.5in initial choice phone for the smaller 4.7in device which suits him better as he explains here.

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Phone is just an app which is not frequently used

Posted on by Mike Evans

I am fully with Horace Dediu on this:

Phone is just an app which, for me at least, is not frequently used. I communicate with my iPhone but the go-to app is iMessage or FaceTime or Skype or maybe Email or Twitter. Phone is something I use so rarely that the interface sometimes baffles me. And yes, it’s an Internet appliance. Browsing is something I do quite a bit but many of the browsing jobs-to-be-done are done better by apps. News, shopping Facebook and maps are “things which were once done in a browser."

He makes the point that when Steve Jobs launched the iPhone he described it as a combination of a wide-screen iPod, a phone and a breakthrough internet connector. These three things, says Dediu, are no longer the most used features.

Similarly, the Apple Watch was launched as a precise timepiece, a new, intimate way to communicate and a comprehensive health and fitness device. But it will develop over the coming years and who is to say what its most useful features will be seven years hence?

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Dropbox: Overpriced and over here

Posted on by Mike Evans

Dropbox is to open an office in the UK So it is now a case of over priced and over here, to borrow a second-World War metaphor. Come on Dropbox UK, let's have some pricing action.  If you still want to woo me with your American charm, better reduce the cost of the nylons and the chewing gum.

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App Store turns six and we've never looked back

Posted on by Mike Evans

This week six years ago Steve Jobs launch the Apple App Store for iOS devices. It is now hard to imagine how we ever managed without it. Not only has it transformed the way we use and interact with our phones and tablets, it has revolutionised the whole rigmarole of buying and installing software, not only on smartphones but also on the Mac.

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iOS Extensions and TouchID freedom will be big for Apple

Posted on by Mike Evans

The big news this autumn will come directly from Apple’s decision to introduce Extensions and free the fetters surrounding Touch ID. Already developers are working on making iOS life easier by extending their apps to talk to other applications and services. And the opportunities for Touch ID are virtually limitless. 

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Apple a day keeps the doctor away

Posted on by Mike Evans

Today is the ninth anniversary of my first Mac. As long as I was working in a corporate environment I was forced to use Windows. I had often looked at Macs and wondered what it would be like to own one. But it just wasn't possible. One day, nine years ago, I took myself off to the Apple Store in Regent Street. A friend had bought a Mac Mini for just over £200 and was enthusiastic to the point of boredom. She was using it with her old keyboard and monitor and having a blast.  It occurred to me that this inexpensive Mini could be an ideal suck-it-and-see opportunity to scratch the Apple itch that had been bothering me for some years. After all, if I really hated it, I could put the Mini on eBay and get a fair chunk of my outlay back.

I returned home with the new tiny computer, plugged in my peripherals and entered the strange new world of Mac. I was smitten. Within days I was back at Regent Street buying a 15in Power Book G4, a computer I still keep on the shelf for old times' sake. Within a month I had transferred everything from the PC and I was wholly committed to Apple. Some experiment.

Halo effect

This was pure happenstance born of a long-time curiosity of what it would be like to work with a Mac. It was certainly not the halo effect of the iPod that I had owned for several years. Sure, I liked the iPod but, alone, it wasn't enough to convince me to ditch Windows and opt for a new future. The opposite is now the case because the iPad, and the iPhone to a lesser extent, is definitely a catalyst for Mac sales.

Moving to a Mac in 2005 was not as painless as it is now. For one thing, the library of software for Macs was very limited. I soon realised that I couldn't do without several PC programs and had to install Boot Camp on the Power Book just to remain productive. I had to compromise a lot and, where I couldn't compromise, I just continued running stuff in Windows. It took eight years before I was able to ditch Windows completely, uninstall Parallels Desktop (which had by then supplanted Boot Camp) and move entirely to OS X. 

Since 2005 the Apple scene has changed beyond recognition. For starters, one of the biggest problems when I moved to the Mac was synchronising PIM data with my HP iPaq. It wasn't easy, nor was it accurate, despite several helpful bridge programs. I remember asking for help on the Apple forums and offering my opinion that it would be useful if Apple produced a PIM manager and phone to compete with HP or with Palm. I was shot down in flames. Diehard Apple fanboys told me categorically that Apple would never make a phone. Absolute nonsense, they said. 

To this end, the arrival of the iPhone was a godsend although it took me a year, until the second iteration of the device, that I felt confident enough to ditch my Palm Treo which, by then, had ousted the HP. That was the moment things came together in a big way and my new-found reliance on Apple reached maturity. There was no going back, not that I wanted to return to Microsoft. For me, nothing signifies the advantages of the Apple system more than the seamless synchronisation of calendar, tasks and contacts. Once fraught with difficulty, duplications and errors, unification of data is now so commonplace and reliable that we don't even think about it. 

Transformation

The iPhone was followed by the App Store and the iPad; and Apple as a company has been transformed into a completely different organisation to what it was in 2005 when I joined the clan. Apple is now the word's largest company and presides over an eco-system that has removed much of the fear of computing from the minds of non-technical users. It has also improved security and minimised the threat of malicious attack―largely, it has to be said, because the Mac operating system still holds a relatively small part of the market. There are richer pickings in the Windows field. 

I can now look back on nine years of Apple and understand that my first steps in buying the Mac Mini have changed my outlook completely. Not only do I feel happier and more in control thanks to Apple, I also have the advantage of being able to write about technology from a new and exciting perspective. Three years after buying my first Mac I was starting Macfilos and writing about my experiences with Macs, iPhones, iPads and all the wonderful software we now take for granted. 

I feel a great debt of gratitude to Apple for making my life easier, more productive and certainly more organised.

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Rumour: iOS 8 to offer multi-tasking

Posted on by Mike Evans

According to 9to5Mac, the forthcoming iOS 8 could bring limited multi-tasking to the iPad by allowing two applications to run side by side. This would mirror the popular feature of the Microsoft Surface which allows users to "snap" an additional application to the main screen. The lack of multitasking has always been one of the biggest bugbears with Apple's mobile OS.

  9to5 Mac's mockup of what the iPad Air could look like with side-by-side application windows

9to5 Mac's mockup of what the iPad Air could look like with side-by-side application windows

The first iPhone didn't even allow cut-and-paste or copy and it now seems incredible that we had to wait a year for such a basic feature. Multi-tasking, however basic, would make iPads much more viable for serious work. It will be particularly useful to have one window open for reference while working in another. At the moment it is necessary to exit one app, switch to another and try to remember stuff before switching back. Perhaps, by the end of this year, we will be looking back on the bad old days of single-tasking.

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