What the iPhone, iPad, and iOS need in 2018

Jason Snell on his wishes for an iCloud storage bump this year:

The policy Apple uses to grant a small amount of free iCloud storage space needs to change. The free 5GB just isn’t large enough to do almost anything useful. Apple could raise the allotment, allow an additional amount per every device attached to an Apple ID (or set of family IDs), or even offer a year of a larger data plan with purchase of a device. I firmly believe that Apple doesn’t need to nickel and dime people with its iCloud storage plans—once people use them and get used to them, they will pay for more storage. But the upsell happens way too soon, before users can see how useful iCloud storage can be.

5GB is not a reasonble amount of free storage to give people these days. Google provide 15GB of storage by default on Drive, which is a big reason for people (myself included) to use it. The primary use of iCloud for most people is to store photos and videos that they take on their iPhone. 5GB won’t allow most people to even back up the photos they currently have, never mind take any new photos.

I agree with Snell. If Apple were to increase the free storage tier to something acceptable - minimum 10GB - then that would encourage more people to actually pay for storage beyond that once they realize how useful it is.


Google Analytics Intelligence

I have been using Google Analytics on this site for over a year now to monitor all sorts of things like number of visitors, demographics, pages hit and even screen sizes being used. As 2017 drew to a close, I was curious about some of the numbers specific to the year.

Intelligence is a great feature of Google Analytics that allows you to search over data in plain English. For example, I can ask “Most popular months in 2017” which will return the top list of months per page view in 2017. You can also ask something as specific as “What is the slowest loading page” and it will return a list of pages which have the worst bounce rate.

Google are often accused of being creepy with data. If given permission, they can track your every move in Maps, track your interests using Search, and more - but that’s only if you give them permission. Services like analytics are so good, I am more than happy to allow them to track my site usage. It’s a small price to pay.


Rockstar does not have any iOS releases planned for this year

TouchArcade are reporting that for the first time in a number of years, there will be no iOS release from Rockstar this Christmas. It’s become a bit of a tradition for Rockstar to port old console games to iOS at this time of year, and I’ve enjoyed playing them over previous Christmas holidays. It’s a pity we won’t be getting anything this year, but hopefully there’s plenty more to come from Rockstar in 2018.


Must-have iOS apps, 2017 edition

Another year, another list of favourite apps from Federico Viticci. For the past two years, I have written about the apps that Federico highlights as his favourite, that I also find useful. This year, he has compiled an even bigger list of apps than in previous years, so it’ll be interesting to see have I picked up any new favourites that fall on this list.

Dropbox

Between Dropbox and Google Drive, I have all of my important files backed up online. The Dropbox app has seen a steady stream of updates this year which is always welcome, especially with a service tasked with storing your files online. The addition of the Files app on iOS 11 means I use the official Dropbox app less, but it is still useful to have for reference.

1Password

1Password is one of those services that’ll make you wonder how you got by before using them. All your passwords stored online for reference, quickly accessible from the share sheet on iOS. I would (literally) be lost online without 1Password. An absolutely essential app for anybody to have on their devices.

Spotify

I’m not actually a paid subscriber of Spotify, podcasts fit the bill for me over music for the majority of the time, but Spotify is a great service which allows a free account to play a number of songs and listen to ads in between, albeit losing the ability to select their own songs after a certain number of skips. This is even better on iPad, where you can select any number of songs in any order and just sit through a 30 second ad every half hour - perfect for a casual user like me.

Overcast

Overcast is the best podcast player on iOS. I’ve written before about the advantages of Overcast, over the stock podcasts app on iOS, namely Smart Speed and Voice Boost. The app itself has had some more work on it in the past year and is a breeze to use.

Youtube

I really like the YouTube app on iOS. Last year I complained that the app doesn’t have picture in picture, and that is still the case. I honestly don’t see that changing any time soon, so I’m willing to accept that this might never be implemented - prove me wrong Google. Nonetheless, the YouTube app is really clean, easy to use and receives regular updates which is all you can ask for.

Google Maps

Still the king of maps in my book. Apple Maps is closing the gap bit by bit, but Google Maps is still my favourite. As long as Apple can make a good alternative to Google Maps, I’m sure they will be happy, but Google have long since set the benchmark here and I don’t see any reason to stop using their service.

Google Trips

Google Trips is a clever app in that it can detect based on your emails where and when you have booked a trip, and can offer you tips on where to eat, what to see and what to do in an area. It saves you the hassle of trawling through websites and books trying to plan out a trip, and bases all it’s recommendations on actual reviews. For any travel enthusiast I’d highly recommend it.

myTaxi

Uber don’t operate in Ireland, so the next best thing is myTaxi (previously Hailo). It works just like Uber - set a location, pickup point and order. All payments can be made on card if necessary. It makes ordering taxis much easier and takes out the guesswork by letting you see where exactly your taxi is on a map in real time.

Whatsapp

Probably the most used app on my phone. The majority of my friends and family use Whatsapp, so I find myself spending a lot of time on it every day. The app is fast, well designed and rarely if ever causes me issues. It doesn’t get in the way of me messaging people and keeps a backup of all my chats.


Gboard adds automatic theme switching

Macstories:

This was one of my complaints about the old Gboard: its default light theme looked garish in dark apps; on the other hand, if you persistently enabled Gboard’s dark theme, then it would look out of place in apps like Messages or Mail. With automatic theme switch, changing Gboard’s default appearance is no longer a concern because it adapts to the app you’re using.

Another great update to my favourite iOS keyboard, Gboard.


Apple's had a shockingly bad week of software problems

The Verge:

Let’s recap the week of Apple software problems:

  • macOS High Sierra critical flaw with root admin access
  • macOS High Sierra update released, but breaks file sharing
  • iOS 11 crashing on some iPhones due to a date bug
  • macOS High Sierra fix not installing correctly on some systems
  • iOS 11.2 released early to fix iPhone crash bug

Apple now has more than 1 billion devices running iOS, and any security flaws or problems impact millions of people on a much larger scale than macOS has ever experienced. Thankfully, Apple is able to patch these devices regularly and provides software updates even to older phones and tablets — something we rarely see on Android devices. Apple is now facing the challenging prospect of auditing its development processes to ensure this kind of messy week never happens again.

Bug tracking in software development at any scale is hard, and when you have a huge number of services and products like Apple with an enormous active userbase, it’s almost impossible to remain bug free.

It does seem that there are more and more bug fix updates creeping into macOS and iOS than before, but I can’t help but wonder if it is related to the added complexity of new and more advanced features on these platforms (well, on iOS at least). The ‘root’ bug, is a bit more worrying from a users perspective. To be fair to Apple they were extremely quick in releasing a patch, but I’m not surprised that they are “auditing” their development process to ensure something like that doesn’t happen again.


iPhone 8

It’s hard to describe the iPhone 8 as anything other than a minor upgrade. The ‘8’ branding is really just a way for Apple to justify the iPhone X (10) name. I was due an upgrade from my network, so I decided to upgrade from my two year old iPhone 6S to the iPhone 8. After a week of use, below are my thoughts.

The good

The glass back is a welcome return. I never had a problem with the aluminium back of the 6S, but the 8 has a much more premium feel to it. It also has more grip than the aluminium. One thing to note is that it does collect fingerprints very easily, or at least the space gray version does.

The usual bump in processor is also welcome. I was glad to see that the 8 got the same A11 processor as the X. What that means to the average user is that apps will open quicker, battery will last longer and the phone will feel a lot more fluid in general use. It provides a noticeable boost over the A9 on my 6S, but shouldn’t be taken as a single reason on it’s own to upgrade - the 6S is still plenty fast.

The camera is also noticeably better, particularly in dealing with high and low light, but as with the processor, you have to go fairly far back in the timeline of iPhone releases to find a bad camera.

The speakers have surprised me. They are considerably louder and produce a much clearer sound than before. I often end up finishing a podcast using the speakers after arriving home from work, and this is no issue now, even if the phone is in another room.

The not so good

One step forward with the speakers, one step back with the headphone jack, or lack thereof. Now, I know I’m a year too late, but there’s no getting around the fact that the removal of the headphone jack is just one big pain in the a***. I’m using the lightning to headphone dongle for both my earphones and the AUX in my car which is everything that you would expect - annoying. It was the one single reason that I was reluctant to upgrade from my 6S. On the balance, I think the positives of the 8 outweigh this negative, but if you plan on upgrading from an iPhone 6S or older, prepare for this annoyance.

The design of the phone is nice but it is starting to look dated. This is give or take the same design of the three year old iPhone 6, which is an eternity in the tech world. It’s fine for now, but as we make our way through the X and beyond, it’s not going to age very well.

Final thoughts

That leads me to my final point about the 8. It’s going to forever be the phone living in the shadow of the iPhone X, but that’s fine. The iPhone 8 is a great phone with a proven design and some great updates. If you can bear to live without a headphone jack, or the absolute latest hardware from Apple, the iPhone 8 is the perfect choice.


The case for RSS

David Sparks on the value of using RSS over social media for news curation:

The reason I’ve stuck with RSS is the way in which I work. Twitter is the social network that I participate in most and yet sometimes days go by where I don’t load the application. I like to work in focused bursts. If I’m deep into writing a book or a legal client project. I basically ignore everything else. I close my mail application, tell my phone service to take my calls, and I definitely don’t open Twitter. When I finish the job, I can then go back to the Internet. I’ll check in on Twitter, but I won’t be able to get my news from it. That only works if you go into Twitter much more frequently than I do. That’s why RSS is such a great solution for me. If a few days go by, I can open RSS and go through my carefully curated list of websites and get caught back up with the world.

I’m a big fan of RSS, and I agree with Davids point here. Social media sites like Twitter really aren’t designed for following news or blogs aside from just reading headlines. Tweets get buried within seconds, whereas RSS keeps everything waiting for you when you check it.

The simplicity of RSS is what makes it great. It’s perfect for following a small number of websites and keeping away from the clutter of social media.


Public transport directions are now available in Ireland on Apple Maps

Apple has brought its transport directions feature to Apple Maps in Ireland, enabling users to get correct information on metro lines, buses, trains and ferries.

The feature is now available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Mac devices.

A spokesperson for Apple explained that the transport feature is customised for each city where it’s available.


iOS 11 is the buggiest release in years

Yoni Heisler, at BGR:

What’s unusual about iOS 11, though, is that it seems to be unusually and exceedingly buggy. While new iOS releases often have a few wrinkles to be ironed out, the problems users are seeing with iOS 11 are more pervasive and troubling than any iOS release in recent memory.

I have to agree with what’s being said here. iOS 11 has already gone through three minor releases since the official launch just over a month ago. That in itself is a sign that not all has gone to plan.

Battery issues have been widely reported. My iPhone 6S has never exactly had excellent battery life, but it’s getting slaughtered since updating to iOS 11. I’m seeing all sorts of strange bugs. Unresponsive home screen, apps quitting for no reason, Touch ID needing two takes, Mail stuck refreshing, and today’s bug: the clock has decided to disappear!