To Upgrade or Not Upgrade, That Is The question (iOS 11)

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Apple has released iOS 11.0, the newest version of the operating system for iPhones and iPads.

That means it is time for my annual advice about when to upgrade.

IOS 11.0 brings a lot of changes under the hood. Two of my favorites are the new consolidated control center and the lane indicators for turns in Apple Maps directions.

Many of the exciting “tent pole” features are designed specifically for the iPad: The “Files” app, split-screen multitasking, the icon dock on the screen bottom, cut-and-paste between apps, and much more.

My advice remains the same as last year - If you like having the “latest and greatest” of everything and you don’t mind the occasional glitch, go ahead and upgrade immediately. Then have fun exploring all the new capabilities!

On the other hand, if you are annoyed by having to adjust to even slight changes (“Darn, where did they move the settings for xyz”) or you can’t tolerate the least bit of instability (“I had to reboot my phone again just to make a phone call)”, heed my advice and wait.

I’ve been running the developer beta test versions ( all 10 of them!) since they first started trickling out in mid-June and from my own experience, the early software has been buggy and less reliable than at the same point last year.

No matter how much testing is done, there will always be a few problems that crop up once millions and millions of people start using the new version and all the new IPhones start shipping too.

There will certainly be a quick fix release of iOS 11.0.x within the first few weeks so I strongly encourage most people to wait until then. At that point, the first wave of last-minute glitches will be fixed and the software update will be even more stable.

How To Upgrade

When you are ready to upgrade, either right away or when you feel comfortable, by following a few simple steps you can maximize your chances of preventing any problems that may arise from the upgrade process itself.

For the sake of brevity, I won’t explain all the reasons for each step in detail - if you need more information please contact me directly.

Step 1: Plug in your AC charger. You phone should be as close to fully charged as possible.

Step 2: Backup your device to iCloud.

Step 3: Backup your device to your computer (Mac or PC) using iTunes. Be sure and select the encrypted option to save all your passwords and health data.

Step 4: Close all your open apps. I still like to “force close” everything. There is some controversy over whether this is still necessary, but “no harm no foul” to do it anyway.

Step 5: Power off your phone. Again, you may choose to do a graceful power down, or use the “hard reboot” option - your choice.

Step 6: Perform an Over-the-Air (OTA) upgrade by making sure your device is connected to AC power and Wi-Fi, but not connected to your computer.

An OTA upgrade on your home Wi-Fi network (not cellular) is the fastest and most reliable way to upgrade. By using OTA, your existing apps will be preserved and will not have to be downloaded again. (Downloading all your apps can take hours and hours otherwise.)

What To Do If The Upgrade Fails

If the upgrade fails or does not go smoothly, there are several different ways you can try to solve the problem.

If possible, I prefer to choose “setup as a new phone/device” to get everything working again without worrying about my data or apps. Once I have it working, I then restore from the backup I just made to re-load all my data and apps back into the device.

If you do have a problem, I recommend consulting reliable guides online and taking your time going through the correct recovery procedures to minimize your time & effort and to avoid any data loss.

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What do you think about the new iOS software? Are you going to install it right away or wait?

Battle Royale For Backup - In This Corner...

Backup is essential for all of us with important digital data on our laptops, dekstops, and mobile devices. Choosing the best backup software is probably on eof the hardest decisions to make because the wrong choice may not be obvious until it is too late! Backblaze vs CrashPlan is probably right up there with Mac versus PC!

IMHO, the problem with Backblaze is that is has very easy backup, but restore is painful -- Fairly slow and it doesn't restore in situ back to where things came from. Most of the people that love Backblaze, have never used it to restore any large amount of files, so they have never seen this limitation - it may be years before they ever need to do a major restore.

That is pro or con, depending upon your skill level and what you want in a restore solution.

Another difference is how external directly attached drives are handled. Backblaze will delete all your backup files in the cloud that originated from an external drive if you don't connect it to your Mac at least once every 30 days. CrashPlan has no artificial limitations.

The more obscure difference is that Backblaze ignores macOS file tags, whereas CrashPlan supports them. So if you like to organize and search for files on your Mac using the operating system ability to "tag" files, you will lose all your hard work in in tagging everything should you have to do a restore. (The obvious point is that file tagging is itself obscure and very few people use it.)

The marketing noise that is made about Backblaze being a native app and CrashPlan being a Java app is more questionable. CrashPlan uses an embedded sandboxed copy of Java runtime so really, this is just a private code library inside the app and does not pose the security risk that running Java directly has.

The CrashPlan user interface is not as "pretty" and has an old-school look to it, but it works fine and is not buggy. Since typically you spend very little time in the app, it is a Ronco style "set it and forget it" type of use, that you may or may not want to choose based on the visual appearance.

Amazon Echo Look "First Look"

Just got my Amazon Echo Look today. First impressions: It is smaller than I expected (good), and looks kinda cute. I don't like the power cord location - it plugs into the back in the middle.

Camera does have two mounting screws so I think it will work will a regular tripod stand too.

It has a set of very strong white LEDs for illuminating the photo. This will be very help in a closet or darker dressing area where it might be used. The image and video quality is excellent. Optimized for selfie's the default photo is vertical and fills the whole screen.

My only "gripe" is that the AI-based "style check" thinks I look better in a white polo than an Apple T-Shirt. (Conspiracy or coincidence?)

For security, there is a button on the side you can press to disable both camera and microphone and the center ring changes color to indicate this. (Personally, I wish they had put a mechanical sliding cover over the lens - that would have gone a long way to provide foolproof privacy mode.)

It has a built-in check for the local Wi-Fi and warns you if you try to use it without a LAN (don't know if this is a bandwidth/technical issue or security limitation).

Overall, I think this a fun product, the price is reasonable, and I think it will be a big hit. I can see how people (m or f) that like to swap clothes or compare fashion would truly enjoy using it as a social activity ("style check" parties, anyone?)

I applaud Amazon for taking the chance on this - instead of yet another me-too home IP-Cam they have produced a fresh take and explored a new product niche. As a geek, I really wish they had snuck in ONVIF video support. It would actually make quite a nice home security camera connected to SecuritySpy NVR, but alas, it is not aimed as serious folks like most of MGG.

X-ray Vision for iOS Apps

I rarely promote specific products or services, but a new web site / service is now available that offers a truly unique capability for iOS app developers. The free service at www.appsight.io is delightfully straightforward – enter the name of an iOS app in the search field and the site will display a list of all the SDK’s (software development kits) used by that app.

Think of it like Superman’s X-Ray vision but for app developers. Now you can easily delve inside popular apps to see how they are built. This is more than just curiosity, as each SDK is listed with a percentage score of how often it is used and cross-links to other apps that also use the SDK is listed below.

This is not just a tool for curiosity seekers – it provides valuable actionable information. Here’s a few examples:

By exploring the Uber app, you can see that they use credit card / payment processing SDK from PayPal and they use the Card.io SDK to scan and parse actual credit cards for setting up payment. Click on the Card.io link and you can see this SDK is also used by Lyft, Starbucks, Groupon, and Pinterest (Hmm.. I didn’t know Pinterest charged for anything?)

If you are an app developer and you don’t want to re-invent everything yourself, exploring the SDK’s used by major apps (along with your competitors) can be a great technique to discover tools and libraries you may not be familiar with. The percentage score is a goldmine – not only can you discover interesting SDK’s, but the popularity of usage serves as a crowd-sourced vote of confidence about quality and value.

As a marketer, a few hours spent with this website can be invaluable to understand your competitors and your target market. The simple assumption that an SDK would not be included unless it is being used is a good guide.

Anyone can use the site and you’ll quickly start to recognize common advertising platforms, crash reporting, and app usage stats – all by their SDKs.

New Email software - Not ready for prime time?

In 2016 we have seen a plethora of new email software programs. It seems like there are now zillions of new apps that claim to provide better "must have" ways to manage our daily deluge of email.

After resisting for most the year, I took the plunge during the holidays to install a few of them and try them out.

There are new apps for both desktop and mobile devices. Some are completely free of charge and others have reasonable ($1 to $10) prices. All the apps I tried were free or pay once, none were subscriptions. (For those that are curious, the free apps monetize with in-app advertising or offer upgrades to bigger systems for teams or company use with the free apps only for personal use.)

Why switch email programs? Just about every system you buy includes a built-in email program. In the Apple eco-system, both macOS and iOS include full-featured email handling. However, as is often the case, the pace of innovation in built-in, free software is slow and updates can be few and far between.

Some of the enticing features of the new crop of email software:

  • Unified inbox - all incoming mail from multiple accounts is consolidated into a single inbox for easier review and processing.

  • Snooze feature - emails can be deferred for hours or days so they get out of your way until you are ready to respond. (Snooze works by creating hidden folders and moving messages between your inbox and these hidden folders automatically.)

  • Eye candy - developers have lots of creativity when it comes to visual design and style; the new email apps are not constrained by the corporate/stoic look and feel of built-in apps that must match everything else. Mostly cosmetic, but different screen layouts and visual look can increase productivity or happiness when using email.

  • Knobs & dials - some email apps have an incredible amount of user configurable options. Going way beyond the basics, you can change both visual elements and fuctionality such as gestures/swipes on iOS and keyboard shortcuts on macOS.

  • Mail handling - workflow, macros, and automated handling of mail to streamline daily tasks.

I have not been interested in most of these new features. I don't want a unified inbox (I prefer to keep my "personal" and "work" email accounts very separate), I don't need the snooze feagture (I manage my task list and priorities outside of email), and eye candy has only limited appeal.

My driving motivation is in the advanced knobs & dials and mail handling - I like to manually sort my email into many levels of nested folders and the built-in email software, especially on iOS, makes it very difficult to manage mail folders and move messages to folders that are nested multiple levels deep.

I'm not going to mention specific product names because I don't have anything to recommend. Some apps installed smoothly and were intuitive and easy to use. Other apps were more difficult to install, but offered many more features.

Unfortunately, none of the apps I tried worked well. Some of the problems were significant and left me unwilling to trust any of these apps with handling my email. Cool new features or fancy visual layouts cannot be justified when basic email handling shifts from "it just works!" to "did it work?" with everything you try to do.

I found myself navigating the dark alleys of tech support and fighting annoying bugs or glitches.

Bugs and problems I encountered:

  • Poor compatibility with email servers - I use Gmail, iCloud, and Microsoft Exchange mail servers. Not simply "basic IMAP" email systems. Some of the new apps could not connect to some of these accounts at all; others were flaky and unreliable.

  • Poor performance - the apps took longer to load and run, and didn't present a current view of my mail right away. I had to wait for them to sync/update with the mail servers. Moving messages between folders was convenient, but also slow.

  • Unreliable - this was the biggie. Sometimes my entire inbox or mail folder disappeared and waiting did not make a difference. A random combination of exiting the app, restarting, or even rebooting my system was required.

  • Poor or non-existing tech support - Sure, some of the new apps were free or relatively inexpensive, but email is critical and whether you pay nothing, $5, or $500 for the software it needs to work. If it doesn't, you need to be able to get help quickly. Sending an email off to tech support and waiting a day for a reply or using an online chat where the agent doesn't respond for 30 minutes, is simply not viable for me.

Although I did enjoy more advanced mail/folder handling with one of the apps, the disadvantages outweighed the benefits and I have decided to completely uninstall the new apps and go back to what I already had working (and kept configured).

The allure of the "shiny new thing" wore off quickly. Unless you have a pressing specific feature that your current email app does not provide and you simply cannot live without, my strong advice is to stick with what you have and avoid these immature new offerings.

Apple Telephone support is a great resource

When you have a technical problem with your Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod, or related software, how do you get it fixed?

If you are like most people, you'll fiddle with it on your own, curse a bit, and then complain to anyone within earshot how it is a worthless piece of junk. Unfortunately, none of these actions help to solve the problem or calm you down.

Your next course of action, if you are thinking clearly, is to consult with family members or friends that are "techies". If you still don't make any progress, like most of us, you'll probably turn to Google and start searching online for help.

Although Google is usually your friend, it seems that when trying to find the solution to an important problem, Google can often useless. You'll be lost in a sea of useless search results down dark alleys of questionable forums, misleading advice, and conflicting suggestions.

At this point, you are stuck! No easy solution, no "next step" to puruse. I would to humbly suggest an alternative course of action. The next time you have a problem, the FIRST THING you should do is contact Apple Technical Support.

Unlike virtually every other company, where technical support is a black hole of confusing website navigation, endless automated telephone system menu trees, or calling and waiting forever on hold, Apple support is usually a wonderful alternative.

It starts right from the beginning - you can contact Apple online and initiate a real-time "chat" with a support representative or you can schedule a live telephone call. Did you notice that I said "schedule"? With Apple support, you can make an appointment for a live tech support person to call you back! Apple will show you dates and times on your screen and you pick whatever is convenient.

This is so simple yet amazing. No waiting on hold forever, no wondering if they are too busy right now, no endless automated phone systems. Just schedule a call back and relax. Apple will send you a confirmation email and a link to create a calendar entry too.

Last but not least, when Apple does contact you, the rep will be courteous, easy to understand, and very patient with you. The reps are well trained and able to request additional higher-level help on their end if needed.

Unlike dealing with most other companies, whether high tech products, your local electric company, or the horrible cable company, Apple support is a pleasure. I must admit, with most other companies, I will use Google, friends, online forums, and any other resource as much as possible first to avoid contacting the company itself. With Apple, if I can't resolve the problem on my own, my first, not last, step is to contact Apple Technical Support.

A note about eligibility - Paid Apple services (iCloud storage subscriptions, Apple Music, etc.) are always eligible for free technical support. Most Apple hardware products include a period of free technical support with the purchase of a new device. Optional AppleCare extended warranty options will extend the period of time free Apple Technical support is available in addition to provided extended hardware coverage. Take this into consideration when buying new products - a 3rd party warranty does not include Apple Technical support - so that is a subtle, but important difference.

My simple suggestion - When you buy a new product, find a reason to contact Apple Support during the initial elligibility period. Try them out, see how the process works, how they are on the phone, and how they (hopefully) easily help you. Then you can decide whether to purchase AppleCare to have extended support available to you in the future when you might need it.

The Fallacy of MVP

In mobile application development circles, fads tend to go in and out of style. In the last year or so, the concept of MVP (minimum viable product) has been rapidly adopted as the latest methodology for developing and launching mobile apps.

In a nutshell, MVP (minimum viable product) advocates encourage developing a very minimal app as quickly as possible and launching it into the market. Development time of days, weeks, or at most a few short months is suggested.

The app development is focused on providing only the bare minimum of functionality needed to present the user with the unique function or capability that is the raison d'être for building the app.

This minimally viable app can then be launched into the market and valuable feedback obtained from users that will drive development of enhancements and add-on features in rapid-fire quick succession.

The theory is that rather than painstakingly planning the architecture, design, and development of the entire app - a process that could easily takes many months or years, the benefit of rapid iteration with real-world feedback will result in a better app in less time. Instead of one release after a 12-month development cycle, an MVP app might have 6 or 7 releases in the same period.

The MVP tactics goes hand in hand with current start-up culture. In the past, start-ups required a significant amount of capital, regardless of the end product. Office space, computer equipment, salaries, and infrastructure were significant costs that had to be front-loaded with investment capital long before any product sales or revenue stream could be established.

With today's personal computer power, virtualized servers, and dirt cheap hosting services, many startups today are simply one or two people with an interesting idea, a laptop each, and a big supply of top ramen noodles.

They work without any salary dependent upon the kindness of others (friends and relatives) or part-time real-world jobs. With a much shorter runway, these startups have embraced the MVP concept out of necessity. Their company is not structured to survive a long development cycle, and with overly enthusiastic idealism, they truly believe they can built a world-class product in only a few months.

The MVP concept has developed "legs". Synergistic methods such as continuous integration, frequent time-based release cycles, fail-fast/fail-often mantras and sprint development cycles have replaced traditional meticulous planning, design, and software development methods.

What is wrong with MVP? Here are a few crucial considerations that are overlooked in the rush to release minimal apps quickly:

You never get a second chance to make a first impression! Unfortunately, MVP products are often visually ugly and missing a lot of basic functionality. It is not just bells-and-whistles that are omitted, but a lot of important, but not deemed critical, features and functions are left off.

There is a tremendous battle for user attention in the mobile app market. While the price of many apps have been driven to zero with the race-to-the-bottom in pricing, the number of new apps being introduced is only accelerating.

Consumers and business users do not have the time or attention to spend a lot of energy on app discovery so the first time they come across your app will very likely be the only chance you have to captivate their attention.

An app that is ugly visually (because fancy, interesting icons & graphics didn't make the MVP "cut"); a confusing/lousy first-time user experience (because "on-boarding" tutorials, videos, or help files would require too much time/expense and can be added later); and very bare-bones functionality (because development time was limited artificially to a few weeks or month at most) will inevitably result in a less than pleasing initial experience.

Now I am not advocating that the traditional waterfall based, long turn-around development cycles are ideal, I am more pragmatically suggesting not to "throw the baby out with the bath water" and encourage a hybrid approach that keeps the best aspects of both traditional and MVP methodologies.

I suggest aiming for what I am calling an MPP release - Minimum Pleasurable Product. Focus on the unique functionality or capability of the application, but build the minimum feature set to be an enjoyable first release. Give equal emphasis to visual appearance, design, on-boarding, and critical mass functionality.

Develop a cohesive initial product with enough functionality to be useful and enjoyable along with providing an intuitive user interface. Make the initial experience pleasurable for the user so they can be productive from the start and only pleasantly surprised as future releases add more capability.