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

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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Mac Security: Making life harder for those with evil intent

by Mike Evans

It is nearly ten years since I abandoned Windows and bought my first Mac. Better security that came with Apple's computers was one of the most compelling reasons for the change and I took some comfort in the fact that in 2005 Macs were still a niche product. There were so few of them out there, relatively speaking, that most of us believed hackers and malware artists were less likely to target us rather than the soft underbelly of the PC world. This could have been so But, even then, OS X was inherently more secure, requiring a password before the installation of any application for instance.

A lot has changed in those ten years. Mac sales are booming, there is no longer an "Apple premium" and Macs are now reasonably priced, albeit at the higher end of the market. With this success has come more danger as criminals find it lucrative to target OS X as well as Windows. Despite this, many Mac users still do not use virus-protection software because it is intrusive and can undoubtedly cause unpredictable problems.

That said, Mac users tend to be more technically aware and take other steps to operate in as safe an environment as possible. There are some things that every Mac user should do to protect themselves and their computer; they are simply implemented and should be high on everyone's list.

Topher Kessler, writing in Macworld, highlights four security options that we should all know and implement:

While OS X is relatively secure by default, there are some additional steps you can take to ensure the data on your Mac is only accessible by you, even if your Mac is stolen.....Overall, while Apple can do very little to prevent your computer from being stolen, OS X does its best to protect the data it holds as well as offers a chance that you can pinpoint its location. With these options enabled, you can be sure your Mac's data is as safe as possible, with little to no inconvenience for you

You can read the full article here. But Toby's four points are all absolutely essential to your computer's wellbeing and your protection from identity theft or worse:

  1. Enable the OS X firewall
  2. Enable FileVault
  3. Manage your passwords effectively and securely
  4. Lock your computer and enable Find My Mac

Most readers will already have taken these steps, as I have. In particular, FileVault, which encrypts your internal disk (or connected external disks) is an essential protection. It means that even if your computer is stolen and the disk removed for inspection (to circumvent the login lock), data cannot be viewed. I've been using FileVault for many years and have not had the slightest problem. It just works, silently and efficiently.

Similarly, password management is vital. I employ 1Password, as do most savvy Mac users. Not only does it encourage you to create really secure and unmemorable passwords, it manages the whole kit and caboodle brilliantly. All you need to unlock this potential is, as the name says, one password. This should be secure but something you can remember and it should under no circumstances be used elsewhere. 

In addition to Topher's four cardinal precautions, you need to be aware of the security risk that comes with using your Mac in public, particularly on free wifi networks. "Free" often means unmanaged and, if you leave the door of your computer ajar, nasty people could gain access to your data while you are sipping your latte. 

Christopher Breen addresses this problem in another Macworld article. He discusses ways to exclude intruders, particularly by turning off sharing that you might have enabled for a specific reason in the past, and the nuclear option of paying for a VPN (virtual private network) account.

These days, though, I tend not to use public wifi because of the various security scares. With fast 4G cellular networks available in larger cities, it now makes more sense to stick with your phone or iPad's mobile service and enable a hotspot to feed your Mac. In most cases, 4G is actually faster than most public wifi services. Christopher also recommends this and you can read all his advice here.

Desktop Clutter: How Hazel can clean things up automatically

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

Soundbars: Readly leads me to the right choice

by Mike Evans

Last weekend the elderly Denon speaker system that has boosting the weedy sound of my television for the past eight years finally gave up the ghost. I had been meaning to replace it for some time but was stalled because of laziness and a lack of knowledge of what to replace it with. Apart from other considerations, the Denon's age meant that it lacked HDMI ports and the ability to work seamlessly with modern smart TVs.

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Speakers: A portable Bluetooth speaker for Christmas?

by Mike Evans

Here's a nifty idea for a quick Christmas present. 9to5 Mac has published an excellent review of portable Bluetooth speakers just in time to point you in the right direction. It's reviews like this that make consumer choice that much easier.

Read the full review here

Apple's Genius: Comes top in consumer rights survey

by Mike Evans

A survey of tech retailers by British consumer-rights group Which? puts Apple on the top bar when it comes to knowledge and explanation of consumer legislation. Mystery shoppers got a satisfactory result from Apple Genius bars on nine out of twelve visits. And Apple managers scored a full ten out of ten for knowledge and helpfulness.

Other retailers, including Argos and Richer Sounds, scored poorly while Amazon was rated poor for telephone support from managers. 

Which? highlighted the fact that many retailers failed to explain the terms of the Sale of Goods Act which gives consumers the right to partial refunds or service for up to six years from the date of purchase. 

Read more here

Cinema Display: When can we expect a 5K external display?

by Mike Evans

My 24in Apple Cinema Display is well past its sell-by date. It soldiers on, with no Thunderbolt port and old-fashioned USB 2 connectors, but I have long wanted to upgrade. The arrival of the 5K iMac looks like a good starting point for the development of a really scintillating 5K display to go with the new Mac Pro and with the range of Apple laptops. But, for very good technical reasons, such an external display is a long way away.

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Preparing your Mac for a serious bit of travel

by Mike Evans

We all have our own travel checklists and making sure my laptop is catered for always comes high on mine. Arriving in a strange country with no charger, for instance, is a major disaster unless you have an Apple store around the corner. But there are many other things you ought to do before travelling and Harry Guinness has produced a valuable Tuts+ tutorial on getting your laptop ready for the road. Here's just one thing most of us overlook:

If you’re away and the Mac goes missing—whether it’s been lost or stolen—you need to make it easy for anyone who finds it to contact you. One of the best ways to do it is to use a custom lock screen message. Anyone who opens the Mac will see it.

Read the full article here

Size Matters: The incredible shrinking iPhone 6 Plus

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.

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.

Read more here

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.

Read more here

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.