iOS 7 and What It Means For You

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Been away for a few weeks focusing on other tasks. What better way to jump back into the Studio than with the shiny new iOS 7 straight from day one at WWDC. Admittedly I missed the keynote, but I have all the goods you need to know right here. Enough with the rumors, which I have been studiously avoiding over the past few months, let’s get down to brass facts.

There are a lot of changes – Apple clearly is interested in keeping people interested in their devices, which is no surprise given the mounting consumer interest in Android software and hardware. The first thing you will notice when you get to load up the shiny new OS is the new look. It’s called flat design and it quite literally takes the 3D out of the icons, pages and apps.

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But pretty is as pretty does, right? What will iOS 7 do?

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 11.12.54 AMControl Center: Control Center is an overlay screen that offers quick access to your most used controls and apps. Swiping up from any screen, even the Lock screen, will get you into Airplane mode, Wi-Fi on or off, screen brightness, and even a flashlight. There goes my Flashlight app.

Notification Center: Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 11.17.28 AMBeefed up and more usable – Notification Center gives you alerts for  mail, missed calls, still to-dos, and more. “Today” is new and provides a summary of the days’ important features, such as weather, birthdays, traffic, etc., with a nod to tomorrow’s events. Looks a bit like Google Now in aspect. Swipe down from any screen, as usual.

Multitasking: Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 11.24.25 AMIt’s gotten smarter. App updates happen automatically now in a strong Wi-Fi signal without battery drain. It will learn when you like to use what app and update the app before your usual use. Access preview screens of open apps and flick them closed (Hello Android and WebOS). Imitation is the highest form of flattery after all, and these are undoubtedly nice adds to iPhone / iPad / Touch users.

Camera & Photos:Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 11.29.10 AM Some tweaks and nods to Instagram, with square format options and filters. Plus easy access to still shots, video and panorama shots. Fun. The Photo app also has some upgrades – Collections, Moments and Years. Photos will be automatically slotted into these categories to make for a bit better organization of those sometimes vast libraries.

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 11.32.46 AMAirDrop: This has been available on Macs but it has now made its even more useful entre onto iOS. AirDrop is a sharing tool – quickly and easily share photos, videos, contacts — and anything else from any app with a Share button. Tap Share,  select the person you want to share with and BAM – using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the media is transferred. Transfers are encrypted too, which is nice. iPhone 5 and later iPad and Touch versions only.

Safari:Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 11.36.52 AM Much better than before and finally catching up to some of the other decent mobile browsers. Unified search / address box. Nicely executed visual tabs – think overhead Coverflow view. Full screen so you can take full advantage of those tiny screens. Swiping allows you to quickly move forwards or backwards through pages. Improved interfaces with Reader and Twitter. And a password storage keychain for Safari via iCloud. Or have Safari generate passwords for you. Finally up to 21st Century standards.

iTunes Radio:Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 11.39.31 AM Seems strange that the pioneer of digital media retailing took this long to develop its own radio streaming app, but here it is. It’s not really radio reinvented as Apple proudly claims – its a lot like other streaming radio apps that allow you to build stations that get more personalized the more you listen. Nice that it’s free, though.

Siri: Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 11.42.56 AMStill a work in progress, but definitely progressing. Siri has a new flat look and can speak to you in either a male or female voice. It is faster, and checks more sources. Unfortunately, it will be defaulting to Bing for web search rather than Google, which I think is a step down. It will perform more tasks now, like  returning calls, playing voicemail, controlling iTunes Radio, and more.

App Store: Some minor tweaks with a new “Apps Near Me” category that offers suggestions on apps that are popular in and around your locale. A good add for parents is a new Kids section that offers suggestions based on age. And, as noted above, apps will now update in the background, which is a welcome change.

Find My Phone: It’s gotten a little better. Your Apple ID and Password need to be inputted to actually turn off Find My iPhone or erase the device. Good luck with that, phone thieves. Find My iPhone can also continue to display a custom message, even after the device is erased. Also, your Apple ID and password are required before anyone can reactivate it, so it becomes quite onerous to do nefarious things with someone else’s device.

What about iPhones for business users? Along with some of the obvious usability improvements (business users love those), AirDrop and stronger phone security, some other commenters have noted certain features on the SDK slides that might be interesting to the enterprise.

Enterprise Single Sign-on This allows users to authenticate once to the enterprise, and then get access to apps without having to repeatedly log in. Reduced log ins is a good thing.

Per-app VPN – Virtual Private Networks are necessary for mobile/remote users, possibly allowing better user experience and ease network burdens.

App Configuration Management presumably, mobile app management, perhaps offering the ability to push apps to or remove apps from managed devices. Maybe even prevent loading unauthorized apps.

App Store Volume Purchase possibly an improved volume purchasing program, which would benefit larger businesses and educational clients.

Smart Mailboxes likely similar to smart mailbox feature in OS X’s Mail app. They act as permanent email searches, which makes it easier to find emails matching certain characteristics. Better search means more efficient communication.

PDF Annotations I love this one! No more opening your PDFs in a particular app to annotate them? Sign me up!

Wi-Fi Hot Spot 2.0 Likely better mobile hotspot/tethering.

Phone, FaceTime, and Messages Blocking Believe this to be blocking of communication based on phone number, email, or other factors. Sort of like the next generation of Do Not Disturb.

Peer-to-peer Connectivity probably involves the new AirDrop feature.

Data Protection By Default better security for apps. Possibly part of the data encryption that is already in place. And probably involves that encryption that will accompany AirDrop sharing.

I haven’t identified all the changes with iOS 7 and there could be additional features added (or subtracted) before it all rolls out in the fall. Nonetheless, there is a lot here to sink your teeth (or your fingers) into so kudos to Apple for coming to the party with something to offer.

OS X Mountain Lion – Is It For You?

 

OS X Mountain Lion is now out and available to Mac users everywhere. For $19.99, you can tap into Apple’s latest OS for its more traditional computers. But the new OS brings Apple’s traditional computers as close to their popular iPhone and iPad products as Apple has ventured yet. Some really smart people I know predicted this move a couple of years ago  – Apple’s migration to a single OS that favors its mobile and spreads iOS functionality to all Apple computers. So, if you are wondering whether to upgrade, you should first ask yourself: how much do I like the iPad and iPhone interface?

 

Another question you should ask yourself is: how much do I use or want to use iCloud? Last year’s Lion knocked on the door of the then-newly introduced iCloud integration, but Mountain Lion just barges right through with a fanfare.

 

Finally, you should take a look at your set-up and ask: do I use a Mac, an iPad and/or iPhone? Because with all the great integration across devices, you will want to make sure you are actually using the devices this new operating system favors – Apple’s own products.

 

There are more than 200 new features, and I won’t list them all in this post, but you can see them all here.  I will highlight some. First, there are the iOS features that you can now find on your Mac with Mountain Lion: Notifications, iMessage (in which you can easily switch to Facetime Video Chat), the iOS Share button now available in Safari, iPhoto, Preview and offering one-click sharing to your favorite social networks after you log into them once. Another feature, which some might find troublesome, is the same gatekeeper mentality found in the iOS app store now protecting your Mac from downloads – the Gatekeeper application pushes you to download  from the Mac App Store or a registered Apple Developer (I used to be one!). The idea is to protect you from malicious or undesirable downloads, but the obvious downside is limiting access or making access to other fine applications that don’t necessarily fit these narrow parameters more difficult.

 

As noted above, iCloud is far more able in the new OS – you can now get synced access across devices for Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Messages, FaceTime, Game Center, Safari, Reminders, iTunes, the Mac App Store, and Notes. With iCloud documents from the Pages app, you get a new document library with views, sharing and foldering.

 

Safari has a unified search box / url box, a la Chrome and iCloud tabs to be shared across devices. Like previous integration of Twitter in Lion, Apple has now married Facebook with single sign on and Facebook sharing features throughout. You can also match your contacts with their Facebook photos, so they look prettier (or not as the case may be). Game Center is now incorporated on your Mac. Dictation is now available in any app via a keyboard shortcut. There is AirPlay mirroring from your computer to your TV as well.

 

These are the high points. My sense is that you will get a lot of value for your buck with Mountain Lion is you are sold already on Apple’s mobile OS. Even more bang for your buck if you are sold on iCloud. Nonetheless, even if you are not so sure on these, there are improved security and system features that fill out the $19.99 price tag without making you feel like you bought a bag of air. All in all, Mountain Lion offers some very nice features for a very nice price, many that will make managing your business and personal life easier.

 

 

WWDC 2012 – The (Near) Future of Apple

 

Lots to digest from today’s WWDC Keynote, the first fronted by current CEO Tim Cook. Glaringly, albeit unsurprisingly, absent from the keynote was the famous “One More Thing.” But there was plenty more present than absent, in my opinion, in the offerings.

 

It’s hard to give every detail, as the keynote did not attempt to list or explain every detail. With over 200 new features in iOS 6 alone, it would have taken a lot more than two hours to do the list justice. The keynote hits the highlights and the next few days and months will fill in the blanks.

 

The high points include a refresh of the MacBook Airs and MacBook Pro, some with quad core Ivy Bridge processors, up to 8 GB of RAM, improved graphics, and USB 3.0 ports. The real star of this part of the show, though, was the new MacBook Pro 15.9″ with a full blown, 2880 by 1800 resolution Retina Graphics display. With a price as stunning as the new display at $2,199. Ouch.

 

OS X Mountain Lion will bring lots of cool new features as well. The new OS X will include the same dictation function found on the new iPad, with the ability to update statuses on social networks and more. More and better iCloud syncing, including documents, reminders and notes. iMessage is coming to the Mac via Mountain Lion. New Notifications bearing a striking similarity to the iPhone / iPad notifications. Airplay mirroring from your Mac to your Apple TV. Game Center. A Power Nap state allows the Mac to run certain updates while in sleep mode. Safari is about to get measurably better, with a similar search function from the URL bar as Chrome has already been employing, syncing of tabs across devices, greater speed, and more. Mountain Lion will come with a much more modest update price of $19.95.

 

Then, the keynote turned to iOS 6. For me, the best news was Siri coming to the new iPad! Siri is also getting more full featured, with the ability to launch apps and provide sports knowledge, movie listings, and better restaurant interfacing. Like Twitter in iOS 5, Facebook is getting heavily integrated into iOS 6, with instant share for photos, websites, maps and other things. Facebook events and birthdays will sync with the iPhone calendar. And Siri will go hands and eyes free with integration of hardware by auto makers –  Siri and the iPhone will be accessible with the press of a button on the steering wheel.

 

There is a great new set of features for the phone app, believe it or not, including dismissing incoming calls and sending a message to the caller.  Or setting a reminder to respond later. Facetime, previously WiFi only, is about to go cellular too. You can set a “Do Not Disturb” button to silence notifications. Shared Photostreams encourages social photo sharing and commenting. There is a gorgeous new Maps app that all but kills third party navigation apps like Navigon – 3D mapping, turn by turn directions from Siri, Siri integration to launch the mapping app, crowd-sourced, realtime traffic information, and all of this on the lock screen. And it integrates with Yelp to help you find businesses while traveling.

 

iOS 6 also includes the cryptic new Passbook, which collects data such as movie tickets, train tickets, airline tickets, sporting event tickets, making them available in one application. The tickets, etc., will have QRCodes and 2-D barcodes. Passbook will allow you to  purchase tickets through Fandango, have them sent to your iPhone, and then offer access to the movies by simply flashing your iPhone. The lock screen, no less. Same with airline tickets. Very cool.

 

Mobile Safari is also getting spruced up with the ability to sync open tabs from Safari on a desktop to Safari on an iOS device via iCloud. There is also a Read It Later type Reading Lists functionality with a list of items for later perusal when off line. Email has been improved with the ability to designate VIP email senders which allows you to prioritize emails on your iPhone. You will be able to add pictures and videos to emails directly from the email application, rather than the Photo application. There will also be the ability to use different signatures for different email accounts. About time.

 

And this is just a partial list. Looking forward to getting the release in the Fall (maybe September – I am hoping). While I was a bit disappointed not to hear officially about the new iPhone, I was not displeased with the updates to the old standbys, including the introduction of some cool new features. I have seen the (near) future of Apple, and it shines brightly, in very high resolution.

Updates to Google Docs Are Spiffy

Yes, I said spiffy. One of the questions most frequently asked of me is how to work on documents across devices and ensure that changes made in one place show up everywhere. There are plenty of different options for reaching this result, but one of my favorites is Google Docs. In its early days, Docs was a super-stripped down word processor that primarily offered the ability to access the document from anywhere. Heavy on the access, light on the processing feature set. But Google has been steadily improving the interface and the tools, making Docs more like a replacement of your local processor, rather than a supplement. And mobile improvements are high on the priority list.

Case in point. Google Docs Blog has just announced a few nice new features specifically designed for Android, including the ability to designate certain files as available for offline access and write-ability and improved view on Android-powered tablets. For files that you’ve selected to make available offline, Docs will automatically update the changes when you enter Wi-Fi. Or manually update when you are in a data connection by simply opening the file. For tablet users, get ready for a high-definition version of your document when viewing online. Swipe left and right to navigate through pages or use the slider at the bottom for quick maneuvering.

Some people are put off by working with their documents on their phones or tablets, but I have found the ability to do so very helpful in certain circumstances. Google Docs and Android users now have even more to love about mobile word processing.

The All New Google Presentations

Google Docs, the cloud suite of productivity tools offered by Google for free, has always been a favorite of mine. I have used Presentations, the slide deck creation tool, to make visuals and collaborate with others. I have always found Presentations to be more than serviceable, and definitely useful.

Google has just made Presentations even more useful with a dramatic feature roll out. The changes focus on improving collaboration by including presence markers to show where collaborators are working, allowing simultaneous editing by team members, showing a use revision history to see who made changes or to revert to an earlier version, and a building in a chat feature to permit dialogue between collaborators while working on the document. There are more than 50 other new features , including better transitions and “spicier” (their word, not mine) 3D effects, new animations, new themes, drawings within presentations, and rich tables.

The new stuff is rolling out slowly but you can help it along – just click on the gear in the document list, select Document Settings, hit the editing tab, check the box to “create new presentations using the latest version of the presentation editor” and voila!, you’re in. But don’t bother if you are running an older browser: the new Presentations is optimized to work with the latest browser editions, so update one of those first before trying this at home, kids. Check this link for what works.

I love shiny new playthings from Google!

iOS5 – Down & Dirty

Of course I updated my iPhone 4 to iOS 5 as soon as it became available yesterday. Damn the torpedos, and claims of borked iPhones, full speed ahead! With only a few little glitches, my newly outfitted phone seems to be running pretty smoothly.

I have figured out many of the new features already, like double pressing the home button when the phone is asleep to pull up the camera – woot! But I have also been fielding quite a few questions from other new iOS 5-ers about how to set up the many new bells and whistles.

Rather than build it from scratch, I thought I would share this decent Lifehacker post that outlines the set up on some of the new features, and certainly the most important ones, including how to set up: wifi sync; iCloud; Notification center; and, Text Expansion. The post also has a quick overview video and screen tour highlighting the best features.

Check out the first few set up screens and what they are all about with this Mac Observer article – if you haven’t updated your phone yet, don’t be shocked – you will have to do some initial set up before you can even check to see if you phone is still intact.

Here are articles from TUAW that go in depth on the very helpful Reminders appCalendar app updates, changes to Camera and Photos, and Twitter integration.

Also, if you would like to take a look at a list of 200 new iOS 5 features, check out this International Business Times post, with a short description of each.

Thanks guys for the leg up!

Comparing Google+ & Facebook by the Features

PC Mag has a useful infographic that compares the features sets on Google+ and Facebook, side by side. It is valuable to see the features this way, provided you can get past a subtle Google+ preference and some spelling and grammar difficulties. It is also a bit premature to compare the very mature Facebook platform with the still beta, fresh from the lab Google+ – I anticipate seeing scores of more features in + in the ensuing months. Nonetheless, thanks to PC Mag and the creator Technobombs.com for the work on the status of these two platforms at present.

Become A Mad Email Scientist with Gmail Labs

Gmail undoubtedly is one of the most popular cloud-based email systems out there. I would hazard a guess that a majority of those spending any reasonable amount of time on the web have a Gmail account. I myself have been moving more of my email activity over to my several Gmail accounts. The basic Gmail interface is excellent, with decent functionality and filtering in its unaltered state.

But, perhaps you want a little more from your Gmail. If so, then maybe you are adventurous enough to enter Gmail Labs.

What the heck is Gmail Labs, you ask. It is a subsection of Google Labs, those wacky guys who invent crazy apps (like Wave and Buzz), and set them loose to see what works and what doesn’t. Google is known for permitting (even encouraging) its engineers to spend 20% of their time on innovating and developing their own novel ideas. Everything within Google Labs, and consequently, Gmail Labs, is in a state of testing. That means the results may be buggy or might even be pulled from use at any time. Others may graduate to become regular Gmail features.

While the loss of a favorite feature may be sad, it does not occur very frequently, and you still are able to use cool new features between Gmail development cycles, which is certainly better than nothing. If a Labs feature breaks during use, Gmail offers an “escape hatch” (link here).

So, short of attaching the surname Frankenstein to your moniker, how do you gain entry to the Lab? It’s simple – click on Settings on your Gmail page and then click on the Labs tab. You will then be presented with different Labs features. Select any or all of them to start using them on your account. Save changes before exiting this dialog and Gmail should reload with all your new goodies in place. Labs displays as active via a little green beaker along the top of your screen next to Settings.

There currently are more than 50 different add-ons available in Labs to hot rod your Gmail. Think of them like you would extensions to Google Chrome or Gadgets to the now-defunct Google Wave. They range from creating a Google doc from an email conversation to setting up canned responses to formating options and emoji. You can get photo, Google docs, Google Maps and Yelp previews in your Gmail, set up a Google calendar, docs or voice gadget, enable mail previews, translate an email, select mouse gesture navigation, manipulate your labels and threaded conversations, format for quotes and even enable games.

The newest Labs feature is really cool: you can broaden your Gmail search to include Google docs and web sites. Click on the box in labs for Apps search, as seen below: 

Once enabled, you will get a list of search results below your Gmail message search results showing relevant docs and sites. Nice add, Gmail Labs team!

Check out the Lab for more cool features and you too can customize your Gmail to reflect its best use.