Amazon's Echo might just prove a winner

by Mike Evans
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The new Echo cylindrical speaker from Amazon is a unique beast. Apart from usual the speaker rôle of playing music, the Echo incorporates a Siri-style intelligence. It responds to the "wake word" (another one for the Oxford English Dictionary next time round) which is "Alexa", not to be confused with "Siri". 

Alexa listens for your every utterance and attempts to answer all your desires, including the usual Siri-style information but also ready to add items to your shopping list and other useful tasks. Echo is being launched in the USA and potential buyer can request an invitation that will allow them to buy the speaker for $199 when it is available in the next few weeks. Prime members can snap it up for only $99 for a limited time. 

Echo sounds like an interesting concept. Unlike the phone flop, Amazon could have a winner on its hands this time. When it gets to the UK I could be tempted.

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iPad continues to dominate US tablet web traffic with 80% share

by Mike Evans

We hear a lot about Apple's shrinking tablet market share and the impending world takeover by Android. Yet the statistics continue to show that Apple's tablet is bought by serious users. They account for 80 percent of all North American tablet web traffic, leaving other devices to fight for the remaining share. We can also infer that iPad owners are being exposed to more advertising and are responsible for the lion's share of tablet web commerce. Quite remarkable, really.

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iPad Air 2: Slim, light and beautiful to behold

by Mike Evans

On Friday I picked up a space-grey 128GB cellular iPad Air 2 from the Apple Store in Covent Garden. It wasn't an impulse buy, I had been planning this ever since the iPhone 6 Plus appeared and I decided to sell of my iPad mini.

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Kindle Edition Newspapers: A waste of my valuable time

by Mike Evans

A month ago I responded to an Amazon offer of a free month's introductory Kindle subscription to a newspaper. There was a choice of several papers including the Daily Mail, The Times and The Guardian. I chose The Telegraph and have been downloading it every day during October. Had I not cancelled I would be in line for a charge of £9.99 a month as from November. 

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Tim Cook: The Apple Watch will likely require daily charging

by Mike Evans

Shock, horror. Tim Cook says we might need to charge our Apple Watch every day? What is the world coming to? But just who, with anything but the most tenuous grasp of physics, expected that the Apple Watch would not require daily charging? All those naysayers haven't got a clue.  I will be happy if the Apple Watch lasts a day on a full charge, just like the iPhone and iPad.

Nightly charging is a good discipline and a good routine. I don't really like devices, such as the Kindle Paperwhite, that last days or even weeks between top-ups. At some stage you are going to be left high and dry without power unless you are meticulous in checking and breaking your routine to plug in the charger. Better to plug in nightly. Think of it like brushing your teeth.

iPhone 6 Plus: Your store without iPhone in it is shit

by Mike Evans

Apple's new iPhone 6 Plus is proving far more popular than analysts foretold. Even Apple, by all accounts, has been astounded by the buoyancy of the bigger "phablet" in relation to the iPhone 6, which is itself larger than the 5S. Tim Cook has said that supply may not catch up with demand until 2015. 

In the USA, T-Mobile's John Legere said that the 6 Plus is generating unprecedented demand and at one point accounted for 55 percent of the company's smartphone sales. T-Mobile was expecting the smaller 4.7in phone to account for up to 80 percent of sales. Instead, demand for the 6 Plus was huge: "We got hammered by it," said Legere. He is also reported to have told his staff, "Get on your knees, crawl over there, do whatever the hell you have to do. Your store without the iPhone in it is shit."

Via Apple Insider

iPad Air & iMac 5K: New toys, new decisions, more cash to spend

by Mike Evans

The Apple event last week had been widely trailered and it was no surprise to find new iPads and a new iMac. I was disappointed not to find the rumoured retina-screen MacBook Air making an appearance nor, for that matter, any upgrades to the laptop range in general. This rather puts on hold my strategy of replacing my 15in MacBook Pro retina in the near future. 

Seductive display

The new 27in iMac was a pleasant surprise. I was immediately seduced by that gorgeous 5K retina display. Having previously stated that I would never again buy an iMac (a great display to last five years trapped in a body that will be out of date in two) I felt my resolve weakening. I can just imagine this beast on my desk and I am sure I would love the resolution, especially for my photographic work. The problem is, this becomes a very expensive computer when tricked out to my satisfaction. Add the 4.0 GHz quad-core i7, 32GB of memory, a 1TB SSD drive and a few other fripperies and the bill comes to an eye-watering £3,500. This is very much in MacPro territory but, of course, you do get that wonderful 27in retina display thrown in. And if you follow Marco Arment's suggested specification you could shave off a few hundred pounds without serious compromise.

There is still a big snag. After two years the computing bits will be looking ancient but the magnificent screen will easily last another three or even five years. So, again, I have to ask myself if this is the right choice. Had Apple had introduced a retina-display Cinema Display at the same time I would have snapped one up in an instant. It is what I have been waiting for for several years. I understand, however, that a new 5K display would not play well with any other current Mac, including the latest MacBook Pros, so that is probably the principal reason the Cinema Display has again been neglected. It's a pity, though, because it would be the perfect answer for many users who prefer to keep their computing power up to date and don't want to have to lose a display every time there's an upgrade. On the contrary, it would be possible to use the new 27in iMac as a monitor in conjunction with a new generation of Macs a couple of years into the future. On that basis the iMac seems more justifiable.

Faced with these choices, my decision is to sit on the fence a few more months. If in doubt, do nothing is very wise advice.

iPad choice

The new iPads don't demand as much thought. Last year I chose to go with the retina-screen mini in preference to the iPad Air. In the meantime, along came the iPhone 6 Plus which, although not an iPad, is sufficiently large to be a daily carry-around device for casual productivity work. After a few weeks with the 6 Plus I no longer want to carry the iPad mini. And if I don't need to carry it, why not get an iPad Air 2? 

That's the logical plan. My mini is up for sale at Amazon and I will be buying one of the new iPad Air 2 models, primarly as a house device for reading magazines and browsing. It is also something I can pack when I know I am going to be doing lots of writing or editing while on the move.

The thinner, lighter and much faster iPad Air 2 offers a great excuse to upgrade. In addition, I am fascinated by Apple's new built-in SIM card and can't wait to try it out. I now see ultimate freedom from these annoying bits of plastic that are so easily lost. Federico Vittici has produced a masterful overview of the new iPads on Macstories and I recommend a browse if you are in the market for one of these svelte newcomers.

With the introduction of the Air 2 and the iPhone 6 Plus, the poor mini is squeezed. As far as I am concerned, it has almost lost its raison d'être.

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

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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Apple's Cinderella Cinema Display: Will it ever be updated?

by Mike Evans

Lots of rumours about tomorrow's Apple event, mainly concerning the new iPad Air and the possibility of a retina-display 27in iMac. But there is one product that never seems to get the glass slipper treatment: Apple's ageing Thunderbolt Cinema Display. My 24in Cinema Display has done sterling work for over six years. I wanted to upgrade to the Thunderbolt version but have not done so because, for some unfathomable reason, it still supports only USB 2. 

 

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

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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Review: Snugg leather flipcase and stand for iPhone 6 Plus

by Mike Evans

Two weeks into my iPhone 6 ownership and I have already explained how I decided to keep the larger phone instead of exchanging it for the 4.7in model. I like it and I do not find the size a problem. I also recounted my adventures with the cannibalised Logitech Folio Keyboard and I now have a serviceable, ultra-thin little keyboard to go with the 6 Plus. Just one thing was missing: some form of stand. The orange teapot was merely a temporary diversion.

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David Sparks on choosing iPhone 6 or 6 Plus

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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Road Tax: Now you see it, now you don't

by Mike Evans

As from this morning, drivers in the United Kingdom have a clearer view of the road. Gone is the round tax disc that motorists have had to display for the past ninety years. Instead, authorities will now rely on roadside cameras to read number plates and check with the national database. Police officers can check that a car is insured and taxed just by feeding the licence number into the computer.

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iPhone is dead. Arise the OneDevice

by Mike Evans

But why do Apple and other tech manufacturers continue to differentiate between phones and tablets? They now essentially the same product except that the so-called phone is able to make cellular calls. The tablet can do everything except make cellular calls. These days people are making fewer cellular calls. VOIP calling, which is perfectly possible on an iPad, is arguably now more important than cellular. It is free, for starters.

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Apple's silicone iPhone case more grippable than leather

by Mike Evans

In anticipation of the arrival of my iPhone 6 Plus I bought a red leather case from the Apple Store. Quality is excellent, the leather is softer than I remember from previous cases. Yet when I clipped it to the phone I was not happy. It is too slippery and the phone feels less secure in the hand than it ought. I also took exception to seeing the red border around the front of the case. 

I have now exchanged the leather case for the silicone version, in dark grey, which is more practical and easier on the eye. 

The new case is slightly rubbery in feel and immediately I felt more comfortable holding and using the phone. It's £10 cheaper as well.  

 

iPhone 6 Plus: Nightmare at the bedside

by Mike Evans

Choosing between the new iPhone 6 and the huge 6 Plus is a problem for everyone. I outline some of the differences in my article on Macfilos/tech. But what of photographers? Many, I know, carry an iPad as a showcase for favourite shots and there is no doubt that the larger screen of the Air or, even, the iPad mini, is a great showcase for photographs. 

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iPhone 6 Plus arrives on time. Hugeness explored

by Mike Evans

I expected the UPS man to be dressed as Father Christmas when he appeared at the door this morning. It must be nice pleasing so many people in one day. I soon had the Plus up and running. Restoration from the iCloud backup was painless and quick, thanks to my new 150Mbps Virgin broadband. 

The device is now snuggled inside an Apple Project Red leather case (which, incidentally, appears to be made from a smoother and less rigid leather than previous 5S cases) and it even fits in the Belkin iPhone 5 dock without toppling over.

But it is big. When I briefly played with the two new iPhones in the Apple Store I decided that the 6 Plus was not as huge as many people suggested. Now it is on my desk I see the full enormity of the Apple phablet. In some ways the red case surround emphasises the size.

I will reserve final judgment until I have used the phone for a few days. However, since I have been boring you over the months about my preference for a phablet, a one-size-fits-all phone and tablet, I shall no doubt soldier on for the next year. I have no plans at the moment to bottle out and exchange it for the smaller 6.

There is also an unknown factor in the offing: The Apple Watch should play well with the larger phone, enabling it to be kept in a bag and brought out only for web browsing and reading.