I'm trying not to go all Gollum on the iPhone X but "me wants it" - it's a shame it's not available until 3rd November but I suppose that will give my carrier time to get their act together.

The 'X' will, no doubt, take a bit of getting used to having no home button but it's not so much a learning curve (it all looks pretty logical) as re-training the muscle memory.

Still, now the announcement has happened and the GM build of iOS 11 has been properly released I've decided it's time to put it on my 6S Plus.

Status

Mail appsComments

Ever since Mailbox was shuttered by Dropbox I've been trying to find the "perfect" email client.

I spent some time alternating between Airmail and Polymail on my phone, via the likes of Spark and Newton, but settled on Email by Easilydo (now Edison Mail) as it was close to the standard iOS mail app but with proper support for the vagaries of Gmail.

Now that I have the MacBook I am looking at a more cross-platform solution so have reinstalled Polymail across my iOS devices and Mac.

I was using the native OSX mail app, and it is perfectly functional, but there's just something about it that doesn't quite sit right with me.

Then again, Polymail is an illustration of the inconsistency across Mac apps that I wrote about before. It has a distinct iOS look and feel to it which clashes with other apps, especially native ones.

Perhaps I'm just being too fussy.

This quest for the perfect mail client, however, has lead me to question a few things I currently do and expect:

  • Do I really need push notifications for my mail?
  • Should I finally move away from Gmail? (The email from my domains currently all forwards there.)
  • Can I get by with just the native apps?
  • Do I use any features (beyond push) that warrant a third party app?

So, I'm running an experiment: I have removed all mail forwarding and configured each of my addresses separately in both the native mail app and Polymail on both phone and Mac.

I never used to like checking multiple accounts, forwarding everything to Gmail was always a bit of a hangover from years ago but unified inboxes are a standard feature these days so it's no longer an issue - just a psychological hurdle.

I'm going to run the two configurations in parallel for a few days and see how they compare, and also which one I tend to reach for.

It will also help me better understand the flow of mail to each account and make decisions about what I want going to each one.

Mail apps

It was always going to be too early for Apple to announce anything about automation at WWDC. We're probably looking at iOS 12 before the Workflow acquisition starts to bear any native fruit.

Perhaps we'll see some fledgling - and by that I mean beta - functionality in a later point update but, if we do, it will be minimal.

Seeing as so much of what I do now goes through Workflow I've been thinking about the implications of becoming so reliant on a single solution. Likes, replies, microblog posts, titleless posts, the microcast, they all rely on Workflow.

Apple won't have acquired the app without having a plan for it or its developers, and some form of native automation seems almost inevitable, although most likely in the context of Siri and AI rather than in Workflow's current remit.

Once any native automation arrives I can't help but feel that the Workflow app will be pulled from the App Store potentially leaving quite a vacuum in its wake.

Perhaps other solutions will appear by then. Perhaps native automation will be more powerful and versatile than I imagine. Perhaps I'm worrying over nothing, however, I doubt it.

We may be some time from any changes but the sooner we assess our options the better.

Status

iPhone 7 – the morning after the night before

With Apple events usually starting at 6pm in U.K. It means we get a few hours of hype but can then sleep on it relatively soon after and re-examine things in the cold light of day.

Here's a few initial thoughts:

Does having a similar design for the third year in a row bother me? Absolutely not. As long as it is streamlined and feels decent in the hand it doesn't matter - it's what it does that counts.

While a faster processor probably won't make much of a noticeable difference in normal use (when do we really max it out?) the fact that it will have two extra, energy efficient cores will provide a nice bump in battery life - this will be noticeable.

Apple took the sting out of removing the headphone jack by including both lightning ear pods and an adapter in the box. Saying that, the move never really concerned me.

What does concern me is that Apple persists with the terrible design and quality of their Ear Pods. They don't sound particularly great and leak sound. I can only hope that the lightning variant has a better dynamic range, but I doubt it.

As for the new wireless Air Pods, I'm sure they are a great technological achievement but they are still the same core design as the Ear Pods but with a massive price tag attached.

As others have already mentioned, they may usher in a mobile experience akin to the film "Her" but I think we're probably another year or two away from anything like this.

I won't be buying them.

I'm also still not completely sold on all aspects of iOS 10 as I think the handling of font sizes is too inconsistent across different apps. This is a relatively minor complaint but annoying nonetheless.

Leaks

The iPhone 7 leaks over the past few months gave us an incredibly good idea of what to expect, from the body and its revised antenna lines to the new home button and cameras. Even knowing almost exactly what the hardware was going to be like there were still a few surprises.

The A10 Fusion trademark had been uncovered but it was suspected that it might be a combined A10 CPU and M10 motion processor. Having those two low power cores to handle non-intensive tasks and thus extend battery life was a very welcome addition.

Some lament the loss of a physical home button but the way in which the solid state version ties in to the new Taptic engine is a nice touch and the extent was not predicted.

We knew the iPhone 7 Plus was getting a dual camera arrangement, and leaks within the last week even revealed that one would of them would have a telephoto lens, but seeing exactly how they work in tandem is another thing entirely.

Point and shoot

I love taking pictures on my phone and will snap all sorts of weird shots. I had a bridge camera a few years ago (there's no way we could afford a decent DSLR) but, even though it was relatively compact, it was still awkward to carry around.

The saying goes that "the best camera is the one you have with you" so, when the one you always have with you is mostly "good enough" and is far quicker and easier to use, there seems little point carrying an extra bit of kit - at least for the casual photographer.

iPhones already have excellent cameras but trying to do everything with a wide angle lens can be infuriating; smartphones have been crying out for a telephoto lens for years.

Having 2X optical zoom will be a revelation and if the digital zoom is even half as good in real world use as it seemed on stage then the experience will finally match the convenience. Add in the new depth of field functionality and there is almost no reason for most people to ever need another camera.

I can only imagine how pictures like the one below, shot on the iPhone 6S Plus, will come out.

Will I upgrade?

I am on a contract that allows me to trade in my current 6S Plus and upgrade for free so I was always going to move to the 7 Plus. I'm paying a bit extra per month for the privilege so it would be silly not to.

Saying that, the new camera excites me more than any previous hardware feature on any phone, even the move to a large screen with the Nexus 5 a few years ago.

It could be worth an upgrade all on its own.

iPhone 7 – the morning after the night before

Drafts and Ulysses: a (very) quick comparisonComments

I do everything on my phone including blogging, both the actual writing and posting.

I've been writing on my phones for years, always having the phone with me means that I can tap down thoughts as soon as they strike. But actually transferring that to the blog used to mean sending the text to myself and doing the backend tasks on a PC.

Improvements with both hardware and software mean that we can now be fully mobile bloggers without recourse to desktop operating systems and applications.

Since Automattic introduced native Markdown support for WordPress via the Jetpack plugin it has been easier than ever to write and publish. I recently took some time to rethink how I write, deciding to stop experimenting and focus on one app: Drafts 4.

I first used Drafts a few years ago before switching to Android for a couple of years (mainly due to the desire for a larger screen) so it was natural to come back to it after returning to the iPhone. It gives me almost everything I need.

Almost.

My post on workflows was conflicted, torn between making the most of what I have versus alternatives. I wanted to examine exactly how I write and what I need.

In truth I need very little.

It might, therefore, seem somewhat contradictory to begin looking at another app, another workflow, but the opportunity to beta test Ulysses on my iPhone (with the inclusion of direct WordPress publishing) was too good to pass up. I had not, previously, been able to justify the cost of the app sight unseen so beta testing is a great way to "try before you buy" whilst providing useful feedback to the developers.

Why another app?

Writing in Markdown is so simple, it's just plain text after all; you don't even need a special app as long as you're familiar with the simple markup. So why the need to try multiple applications that do a very similar thing?

As I wrote, there is always the hope that a different app will contain a feature set which streamlines the process and makes life simpler. Most Markdown editors take a similar approach so what could a different app offer to sufficiently differentiate itself?

In this case, the prime draw is native WordPress support but I have also been impressed by the glowing reviews. Along with other apps (such as Byword) Ulysses already supports posting to Medium, since I decided to relaunch my blog and cross post this is no longer a key factor - an extra "nice to have."

Rather than write full reviews of both apps (this has been done more than adequately elsewhere ) I wanted to outline some of the areas that affect me as an end user, as a writer and compare the approaches taken by each.

Perhaps this is more for my own benefit, to search for the best workflow and decide where I am willing to compromise or not.

So let's get into it

Being text editors that excel when using Markdown, Drafts and Ulysses might seem to be very similar - there is a good amount of overlap between them - but they take different approaches to similar problems.

File management

Both apps adopt standard email nomenclature: Inbox, Trash and (in the case of Drafts) Archive, but how each handles this is different:

  • Drafts lets you create filters to view a set of files, e.g. different sections of a project. All files will be in the Inbox or Archive
  • Ulysses works on a more traditional folder structure you might see in an email application and items are moved explicitly to folders

Both approaches are perfectly adequate, although Drafts filters require you to add specific text to files if you want to be able to group them together in this way. Think of them as Search Folders in Outlook.

Section/paragraph organisation

When writing we are often working with brief ideas, parts of a whole that we expand and move around to achieve a best fit and flow. This is implemented in a fashion in both applications albeit in separate ways:

  • Drafts has an overview mode that lets you drag paragraphs around within a single file
  • Ulysses, instead, has you split the file into sections and arrange these instead within its folder structure

A combination of the two would be preferable. Ulysses' approach is obviously targeted towards larger blocks of text such as chapters. Dividing these larger sections would become unwieldy over time so the ability to easily reorganise paragraphs within them would be a welcome addition.

Drafts, on the other hand, would benefit from the manual sorting of files in a filter view providing users with true control over different parts of a project.

Commands and customisation

Both apps utilise an extended keyboard, an additional row of keys above the normal keyboard providing access to formatting, special keys, and other functionality beyond the simple act of typing. The approach each takes, however, is remarkably different:

  • Ulysses has a singular purpose: to enable you to write and the writing stays within the app. Although it can be used for anything, it is designed with longer works in mind. Because of this Ulysses feels much more structured (I deliberately don't want to use the word rigid as that might have negative connotations). All of the additional keys and formatting options are always available housed within the three function buttons on the extended keyboard. You can choose which markup variant you prefer, which in turn limits the available commands, but that is it.
  • Drafts, on the other hand, is designed as a textual starting point. You begin in Drafts but the aim is to move the text out to other apps depending on what you're writing. Notes, tweets, emails, reminders, anything; Drafts is built on flexibility and customisation. While it can be used as a self contained writing stage (and this is largely how I have been using it) this is not really where it shines.

Drafts v Ulysses extended keyboards

I deliberately wanted to outline these points before comparing the developer-written descriptions of the two products on the App Store:

  • Drafts, where text starts on iOS. Quickly capture text and send it almost anywhere!
  • Ulysses for iPhone and iPad is your one-stop writing environment on iOS.

The descriptions lay out their respective positions very succinctly. The interesting thing, however, it that because Drafts is so flexible it can be used as a one-stop writing environment with a little sacrifice whilst still being able to share shorter pieces of text with any other app that supports its methods.

Ulysses has a core purpose and, as such, is unable to replicate what Drafts can achieve due to this intentional lack of customisation, but that won't cause any sleepless nights for it's developers I'm sure.

Which is better?

When two applications approach a similar goal in such disparate ways it is incredibly hard to form an opinion on which is better, especially when they are not being used entirely to their strengths.

Simple, clean writing environments are now de rigueur, a distraction free experience essential. There is no help here for the indecisive.

Personal preferences normally count for so much. On this occasion, however, both apps are a pleasure to work with. Maybe it does come down to specific features like native posting support.

Oh, and before you ask, this post was written in Ulysses.

Drafts and Ulysses: a (very) quick comparison

Apple Music dancing to a different beat

Apple Music

As has been reported, Apple Music is in line for an overhaul both visually and functionally and the feeling is that this is in response to an initial Luke warm reception and ongoing criticism. The application and service has been widely lambasted with calls to almost scrap it and start again.

Apple Music certainly isn’t perfect but there is no way it’s as bad as the doom mongers are saying. It is normally a sturdy streaming service which more than adequately does its job, but it has its flaws which can lead to bad experiences.

Maybe some are unforgiving and expect the “it just works” mantra to hold true – failures just aren’t what people expect from Apple as they hold the company to higher standards; this is what they’ve come to expect after all.

I’ve had my own share of problems such as the phone randomly removing all downloaded music and the occasional issue with it asking me to re-subscribe or the app becoming unresponsive when being opened whilst connectivity is unreliable. But these aren’t the end of the world. Frustrating, yes. Downright inconvenient at times, absolutely. But not a deal breaker.

Separate

The likes of John Gruber are asking for Apple Music to be removed to a standalone application:

“All your music in one app” sounds like a great idea in theory, but in practice, I believe that is what has led to the confusing UI

While I agree that it is currently a bit messy handling both a legacy library and the streaming catalogue, the last thing I would want is to have two separate music apps I have to switch between depending on what I want to listen to.

Rather than insisting on an overhaul, my personal wish list is as follows:

  • A simpler interface - although I don’t believe it’s as bad as it’s made out to be
  • Larger controls – some of them are ridiculously small even on a 6S Plus
  • A concerted effort to extend the catalogue in the UK by licensing the same music as in the US. Improvements to the app will not remove the frustration of being unable to stream certain music
  • The ability to copy straight from iTunes to the phone even when Apple Music is enabled rather than having to upload to the iCloud Music Library. Upload it if you have to but do so in the background after it is copied to the device

Music is music

Irrespective of where it came from, all music should be treated the same; there is no need to distinguish between our legacy library and the iCloud Music Library – at least not up front.

Apple hides the iOS file system to make things simple and easy so do the same for the music library: just give us a list of all our music, regardless of source, and handle all the logistics invisibly in the background.

It should be relatively simple to elegantly handle music from multiple sources within the same app by applying the same principles used elsewhere on the device. If the tech pundits are calling for simplicity I'd argue that this is definitely the way to go, not by creating yet another app.

Iterate

Ongoing development is essential to ensure that a product meets expectations, moves with the times, and keeps pace with competitors. However, perhaps it is better to iterate little and often as an overhaul may end up as one step forward, two steps back.

Apple Music dancing to a different beat

Hop: first impressions

Hop claims to transform the email experience: can it live up to the hype or does the execution fall short of the promise?

HopA number of mobile applications are attempting to reinvigorate our use of email; AOL's web-based client Alto sought to improve the experience with better categorisation and easy access to all attachments (but in an interface that, at times, looked strangely reminiscent of old versions of Lotus Notes) while Mailbox aimed to help us to power towards inbox zero on iOS.

More recently, Hop (formerly known as Ping) has stepped into the ring with the ambition of truly transforming how we deal with email by treating it more like instant messaging.

Get in the queue

It seems to be in vogue that applications are soft launching with users held in a queue while the infrastructure ramps up to cope with them. Mailbox started the trend and were lucky enough to be acquired by Dropbox who could better handle the scale involved.

Hop, on the other hand, were willing to admit that they initially dropped the ball at launch and things finally got moving after a couple of false starts: problems scaling to meet demand causing slow movement of the queue and then the legal wrangling with golfing equipment manufacturer Ping which prompted the change of name.

The legal issues meant the launch of Hop was delayed and this time was spent developing "a new and improved version" but my initial impressions are that the app still feels unfinished.

Using Hop

As mentioned above, Hop tries to change the way we think about and deal with email by treating it more like a conversation in a messaging app but not all email can, or should, be thought of in this way.

At first glance the default email UI is a bit unintuitive and seems messy compared to certain other clients, especially the clean look of Mailbox.

Hop: a conversation with no emailHop lets you toggle between an email list view (Incoming) and a "conversations" view (Chats) but, regardless of which view you are in, all mails seem to be treated as being in conversations or threads even if they are not. For example, deleting a mail leaves you in the conversation view for that sender even if the other mails are not related. If there are no other mails from that contact Hop still keeps you in a blank conversation (see right) with no messages rather than returning you to the Inbox.

While we are on the subject of deleting mails, there is no quick way to do so and you are forced to open an email, long press on it then select the trash icon from the resulting toolbar. As with some other actions in Hop there are too many steps involved to perform simple tasks. You can long press an email in the list view to toggle read/unread but perhaps this should be expanded to include other actions.

Zero no more

Having used Mailbox as my primary mail application for a while I have definitely been converted to an inbox zero kinda guy, consequently there are a couple of issues with Hop that leave me wanting. Firstly, there appears to be no "mark all as read" option or, if there is, I can't find it. Secondly, there is the ability to toggle the view between all messages or unread only by long pressing the view selector at the top of the app but this setting is only temporary and the state does not persist when switching from the message list to conversation list.

It also appears that Hop doesn't properly support Gmail's structure correctly as archived mails still appear in the Incoming view unless you archive them again within the app itself.

One other annoyance is the need to tap the option to view the full message on long emails - it reminds me of being on a Blackberry and does not seem entirely reliable, especially when there are multiple emails in a chat.

Chat

Obviously, the unique selling point of Hop is that it treats mails as instant messages but for this to work all parties involved need to be using the application so that proper real-time messaging functionality can be enabled; convincing someone to switch their mail client will be difficult. I'm a self-confessed geek and early adopter and am having a problem envisioning myself using Hop over Mailbox so, if I'm not yet convinced, I can see more mainstream users wanting to switch.

Until you are in a proper chat the email experience feels clunky and treating all mails like items in a chat feels wrong - it feels as though everything is being forced through one workflow.

The effect is also somewhat ruined when exchanging mails with a non-Hop user who has email signatures attached.

Procrastinate

Like Mailbox, Hop gives you the option of saving mails for later with the ability to assign items to three different categories: couch, desktop and passholder. There is no explanation of the options and it is currently unclear if they are merely flags to highlight messages for you to manually browse or form the basis of a reminder/recall system like with Mailbox.

I get the impression it's the latter.

Sending, or not...

I'm obviously missing a trick (at least I hope I am) but sending mail seems far more complicated than it should be. On hitting the compose button I am shown a few recent contacts with a search box but no ability to enter an address that is not in your contacts.

Surely, this can't be right?

What about those addresses we just want to fire off a quick one-time mail to? Do we really need to add every address we ever want to mail to our contacts?

Update: Paul on Twitter advises that you can enter addresses not in your contacts by typing in to the Contact Search box and waiting for it to pop up "Add address" but this is far from intuitive.

In summary

Hop probably suffers from being a bit too late to market. Other email clients have better interfaces and more intuitive controls for handling emails.

Where Hop shines is in the chat-like conversation view of email threads but not all emails are equal. Hop seeks to make email more like messaging but we do not interact with every sender in the same manner and, just because mails come from the same sender, it doesn't mean that they should be treated as part of the same conversation.

Although the app is divided into two "views" (Incoming and Chats) you feel that everything is being treated as part of a chat and you lose the differentiation between the two modes. It's almost as if the Incoming list view is superfluous to requirements but, at the same time, is a necessary evil.

With a sleeker interface, more intuitive controls and a better distinction between incoming mails and chats, Hop could be an effective and enjoyable email/messaging client. I am a big advocate of the unified inbox but Hop's execution falls short of truly achieving this. I appreciate the move to treat emails more like messages but including all communications with a contact in the same "chat" feels inherently wrong

Hop includes the ability to invite others to try the app but, until its shortcomings are addressed and the need to queue (you want to be up and running immediately) is removed, I can't see it being widely adopted.

I had every intention of giving Hop a fair crack as my default mail client and I really wanted to like it but the more I use it the more unusable it seems.

Hop: first impressions

Waiting for iOS7.Comments

iOS7 bannerWe are just hours away from the WWDC keynote during which we expect the big iOS7 reveal and the rumour mill continues to turn about a possible Jony Ive inspired redesign.

I think we can all agree that iOS needs a new coat of paint, or at least a bit of a touch up, but that should not be the primary focus of the new version and we will be doing ourselves a disservice if we become blinded by the emperor's new clothes.

Apple needs to deliver

It looks as though we will have the launch of iRadio to show that Apple is still able to match Google but we don't want Apple to match anyone, we want Apple to surpass them!

We want better tools, we want a more robust but flexible system, we want better services and a new look can't paper over the obvious cracks forming in an ageing ethos. iOS has come a long way but Google and OEMs are really pushing the envelope with Android, its ecosystem and connected systems.

Apple needs to excite us in new ways. We no longer have Jobs' reality distortion field and Cook can't wow an audience in the same way so for us to be impressed things need to be genuinely awesome.

I wrote last year:

I have no doubt that iOS7 will be a tipping point where we will see the culmination of what has been started with Maps and Siri, the iPhone will become:

  • location sensitive
  • contextually aware
  • intelligent

I still believe that Apple must take the integrated services route to keep the pace. I have also said recently that offline dictation and better social integration are a must but Google has the advantage of its own social network to draw from so Apple has to rely on its partnership with Facebook.

We have also seen rumours of deep integration of both flickr and Vimeo which, if true, would be designed to tackle the threat posed by Google especially now that the search giant is said to be buying Waze - one of Apple's suppliers for mapping data.

Enhanced social integration will help to solve the disconnect between device and service but Apple must also integrate its own services into a more cohesive offering to fully take advantage of the benefits.

Special

Whatever Apple does with iOS7 it has to be special.

We've heard the talk of opening certain system APIs to third-parties (maybe even allowing alternative keyboards) and this will be a key factor in determining the direction for iOS. Opening up in this way need not compromise system security or stability if the APIs are designed correctly and there is sufficient oversight of the development process - Apple can always reserve the right to refuse an application entry to the App Store until it is confident that there will be no repercussions.

I'm really looking forward to trying iOS7, I just hope I won't be disappointed.

Image from iMore.

Waiting for iOS7.

Facebook, Waze and Apple – a new dynamic.

WazeThe news that Facebook is considering a $1 billion acquisition of Waze seems like an obvious move but it also brings me back to a few ideas I had previously considered.

Location is becoming increasingly important with "local" being vital for marketing, advertising and targeting as separate from the global, social conversation. Facebook changed the importance of location in social by killing the check-in and making location integral to everything we do so having access to crowd-sourced data from Waze will take this to another level.

Apple and Facebook

As Waze is one of the suppliers of data for Apple's Maps application any acquisition would add a new dynamic to the relationship between Apple and Facebook; it also makes me wonder about deeper integration between the two companies.

We now have a collective of apps and services which could complement each other rather well:

  • iOS,
  • Facebook,
  • Messaging,
  • Apple Maps,
  • Waze, and
  • Instagram

Putting it togetherBringing it all together

The recent launch of Facebook Home with its ever-present "chat heads" highlighted the more closed nature of iOS but made me ponder how Apple could introduce a similar native UI (a radical departure, admittedly) and integrate Facebook messaging along with iMessage and SMS. A native solution could mean Chat Head like functionality but without the need to change third-party app permissions within the operating system.

While we're thinking a little radically what about integrating Facebook's Graph Search with Spotlight to add a social element to iOS search?

But, seriously...

Maps

In a previous post I suggested how Apple Maps could use shared photostreams to boost their Maps application with crowd sourced images of locations as a way of combating Google Street View in a social way. With Facebook buying Waze the potential exists for Apple and Facebook to really jump in bed together so that a range of Facebook data could be used within Apple Maps.

Forget the added layer of complexity and permissions required to enable shared public photostreams when people are already sharing pictures socially.

Apple MapsBy combining location information and sharing permissions, geo-tagged photos from either Facebook or Instagram (or those specifically tied to a location such as a landmark) could be displayed within the Maps application. Additional context specific data from Waze could be used to display different images or information based on current circumstances using the type of crowd-sourced data already obtained by the service.

How far is too far?

It is obvious that Apple sees Facebook as a leader in the social sphere and integration of the latter into iOS has evolved over time. Apple does not do services as well as the likes of Google - hence the need to rely on the likes of Waze and Tom Tom - but how far will the company go in allowing itself to be reliant on third-party data?

iOS may never get Facebook Home but a deeper underlying integration with the social giant may be of much greater value.

Image by .reid.

Facebook, Waze and Apple – a new dynamic.

Online maps need standardised addressing.Comments

Another iPhone launch, another scandal - if it's not antenna-gate then it's scratch-gate or map-gate.

Apple Maps has its problems, even the most ardent of Apple apologetics can admit, but is it all Apple's fault?

As I have said before, iOS is in a period of transition:

"Dropping Google Maps and going for an in-house solution is brave and an illustration of things to come but there was too little time to realistically do anything with it."

Fingers have been pointed and Apple's data suppliers have been quick to say that it's not their fault and that their data is good - it's how Apple are using it.

Each individual data set from each supplier is, most likely, very good quality but the problem Apple faces is combining these data sets from disparate sources when there appears to be no reliable addressing standard for online mapping.

It's bigger than Apple

Google may have had years to hone its data but the search giant is not unaffected by some of the exact issues that currently plague Apple.

It appears that businesses, at least, are added purely by address - where's the problem with that you ask until you realise that there are problems with long addresses.

Take my village as an example; I live in a village just outside a main town where the address is in the format:

Whatever Street
Village Name
Town Name
County
Post Code

Unfortunately, online mapping solutions tend to ignore the Village Name line so generate issues with shops and businesses being placed in the wrong town or village, especially if the street name is the same.

High Street, Milton Regis, Sittingbourne, Kent effectively becomes equivalent to High Street, Sittingbourne, Kent.

Apple Maps
When viewing Milton Regis High Street on Apple Maps you are presented with a number of business that are in Sittingbourne and not Milton Regis. It even lists a couple that are in nearby Sheerness.

Google Maps

A comparison view using Google Maps shows a number of businesses in their correct locations but there are still a couple (circled) that are being shown on the wrong High Street.

To the point

Turn by turn navigation in Apple Maps is among the best I have used on a phone when driving point to point between known, and accurate, locations. Finding a specific location via its post code (rather than address) is always reliable so it is surprising that businesses etc. are not initially positioned via these known fixed points and then fine tuned using the address details.

Once data providers can agree on a standard format for their data and mapping applications can find the best way to interpret that data then the online mapping experience for all will be greatly improved regardless of the platform.

Online maps need standardised addressing.

Did the iPhone 5 need one more thing?

ThingsThe initial reaction to the iPhone 5 may have been one of disappointment but, now that the cameras have stopped rolling, the crowds have dispersed and people quietly gone their separate ways, a new appreciation for what Apple presented has bubbled to the surface.

I originally wrote that the latest incarnation would need one more thing in order to position itself ahead of the competition, otherwise Apple would only be seen as playing catchup.

Now that we've had 24 hours to digest what has been announced is this really the case?

Well, it depends on who you talk to.

Certainly the Android faithful are very much of the opinion that devices such as the Samsung Galaxy SIII are superior due to their larger screens and quad-core processors.

As we have seen with earlier iPhone models, however, specs do not necessarily account for speed - more, the close harmony between hardware and software can have just as significant an impact. Previous iPhones have shown that they can outperform supposedly "superior" devices due to this tight integration.

Windows Phone 7 & 7.5 has also proven that a well written operating system can be extremely fast on only single core devices which, if you believe what some will tell you, should feel like wading through treacle.

Is bigger better?

Apple has finally made the move to a 4 inch screen as it probably couldn't be held off and still be taken seriously any longer. The taller device allows for a longer battery which in turn can support the power needs of the LTE chip; Apple are well-known for not including connectivity options until it can be done without sacrificing battery life.

It has been suggested, however, that the only reason Apple made the move to a larger screen was so that the device could include a bigger battery and, therefore LTE, giving the illusion of improved up-time due to technological advancement. A pretty cynical view in my opinion.

The screen may be bigger but other measurements have shrunk - the iPhone 5 is thinner and lighter. Apple has been criticised for placing too much emphasis on the minor thing such as they new Lightening connector and smaller speaker assembly but each one of these seemingly minor items has allowed the device to be thinner, lighter and sleeker and Apple should get the credit it deserves for each innovation no matter how small.

One small step

I have mentioned before that iOS6 didn't include much to set it apart from the previous version and, post launch, that is still the case. Saying that, however, the improvements it does offer mean that I would not wish to return to iOS5. Perhaps this, in itself, means that iOS6 is a significant enough upgrade after all as you don't want to be without it once it has been experienced.

There is virtually nothing that iOS6 on the iPhone 5 gives us that we can't get on the 4S, unlike Siri in the previous update, so many will be perfectly happy to stick with their existing device. The iPhone 5 hardware is certainly an upgrade but it is doubtful if many 4S owners could actually justify shelling out for the new model - I know I couldn't even if I could afford to do so. Saying that it will still sell in the many millions.

It is widely recognised that the incremental updates suit a two-year upgrade cycle; one iPhone to the next is not a big leap but it is hard to resist the upgrade at the end of your two-year plan. It is with this in mind that I said the iPhone 5 is a stop-gap between the 4S and the next big leap which will probably come in software rather than hardware.

If Apple wanted to convince 4S users to part with their hard-earned cash then, indeed, one more thing was a must but sufficient numbers will upgrade so as not to require this. Any significant software upgrade in iOS7 would, no doubt, be available for the iPhone 5 so owners need not be alienated over the course of their mobile agreement.

Setting the trend

Where devices like the Samsung Galaxy SIII seek to redefine the mobile industry with size and raw power, Apple seeks to define it with style, with engineering and quality; by the reckoning of many, the iPhone 5 is not a class defining device. This would have required further advances but there is more than one way to be a success and Apple has been pretty good at it so far.

Image by Joe Shlabotnik

Did the iPhone 5 need one more thing?

Apple’s real iPhone fight is not with the competition.Comments

iPhone 5Having now had all the details of the iPhone 5 officially revealed, after using the iOS6 beta and seeing the hardware leaks, you can't help but feel a bit disappointed - it is an incredibly unfortunate situation for Apple to be in.

Apple is notoriously secretive so leaking information about upcoming products is akin to illegal base jumping, an adrenaline rush, with protagonists constantly trying to take greater risks and out-do each other.

Is Apple to blame?

We are our own worst enemies but we can't have our cake and eat it.

Was the iPhone 5 disappointing for some because of the software and device itself or because we already knew just about everything that was coming and were constantly waiting on that one more thing which didn't materialise - you can't call shooting panoramas in the camera app a "one more thing" even though it is nice to use.

I believe that the iPhone 5 is a stop-gap, evolutionary not revolutionary (some confuse the two) but with just about enough to have kept us happy had we not already peeked behind the curtain:

  • when you think about it, the 4 inch screen is a remarkable thing to happen on an iPhone (considering the previous reluctance to even consider it) and potentially stops users from defecting to larger Android devices
  • the 16:9 screen ratio will make it an even better device for watching movies
  • LTE connectivity catches up with the competition and follows Apple's pattern of not including something until they are happy it won't adversely affect battery life
  • 3 microphones is a good move and with wide band audio we now see why the Audience noise filtering system was dropped - Apple no longer needs it
  • Facebook integration throughout the OS, iTunes and AppStore places Apple in a strong social position by partnering with the largest social network in addition to the already present Twitter integration
  • the new finely machined housing looks gorgeous and is the refined quality we come to expect from Apple

I have 3 cases for my iPhone 4S but don't use them, they just feel wrong. I like how the device feels in the hand and the iPhone 5 will probably feel just as nice, if not better thanks to the extreme precision with which it has been crafted.

Technology journalism is incredibly US centric and many forget that with iOS6 users outside of the US will now have a lot more functionality available through Siri including local search which was sadly lacking for the rest of the world in iOS5.

But it's more than that

The iPhone and its software is evolving and it's as much about concept and direction as form and function. Apple have big ideas, time and technology were not in their favour but there is an expectation for an annual refresh to satisfy.

Dropping Google Maps and going for an in-house solution is brave and an illustration of things to come but there was too little time to realistically do anything with it.

I have no doubt that iOS7 will be a tipping point where we will see the culmination of what has been started with Maps and Siri, the iPhone will become:

  • location sensitive
  • contextually aware
  • intelligent

With iOS6 Apple has created a base on which to build bigger and better things but ambition is so often greater than time allows.

Context

Since the launch of Jelly Bean with Google Now, Apple have been left behind the competition and Siri needs to improve. We have some contextual data such as being able to ask for a petrol station whilst en route but there is so much more that needs to happen, I think we'll see it in iOS7, if not in some form of incremental software update during the next year.

Apple is currently gathering "data suppliers" rather than data and forming an amalgam with the mapping engine as a base. I would expect more acquisitions and developments so that Apple is not relying heavily on third-parties for its data (just as it now no longer relies on Google) and, once all this is in place, we will see a full context engine for Siri. This is why the new Maps app is not just about getting rid of Google, it's about building a framework.

Is it going to be a year to late? Some may say Apple is now too far behind the curve but I don't think so. To use Robert Scoble's terminology people are still worried about crossing the freaky line where software and social know what we are doing and, let's face it, the uptake on Google Now is currently minor and will take a while to roll out to a wider range of devices.

We have other applications such as Saga trying to so a similar thing but they're just not there yet. With a contextually aware Siri Apple will do its usual trick of taking an idea and popularising it - taking it to the masses in a way that everyone suddenly says "oh yeah, I see what you did there".

Keeping a lid on it

Apple's main fight between now and the next device unveiling is not against the competition, it is against the geek horde looking to reveal every facet and feature in advance, it is also, however, against itself in that we now have such high expectations.

Siri was such an incredibly well-kept secret prior to the launch of the iPhone 4S, despite iOS5 being beta tested by developers and eager enthusiasts. To wow us once again Apple needs that one more thing for iOS7, to really one-up itself, or risk being left behind for good.

Apple’s real iPhone fight is not with the competition.

Is Google+ about to allow multiple post attachments?

Does the Chrome "share to Google+" option indicate an upcoming ability to add multiple attachment types to posts?

One of the common requests when posting on Google+ is the ability to add multiple attachment types such as a link and additional images. Currently it is an either/or situation but is that about to change?

The latest update to Chrome for iOS introduced sharing to Google+ but, interestingly, the sharing dialog also appear to permit
attaching images as well as the linked site.

The results of attempting this are, at present, inconsistent but show promise; let's look at what happens.

On the web

Somewhat disappointingly, attaching images via the Chrome share seems to take priority over the actual shared link when viewing the post via the web page:

On mobile

Viewing the post via the G+ application for iOS, however, is a completely different story. The post on mobile not only includes the shared link but also adds the additional images to the one included in the rich snippet so that you can swipe between them within the mobile interface as though you had initially shared multiple images on a normal post:


iOS image from snippet   iOS attached image
 

iOS shared link

Things to come?

Whether this is an anomaly brought about by an irregularity of the Chrome sharing feature or, indeed, a precursor to Google+ posts with multiple attachment types remains to be seen. In any event, the ability to add multiple attachments types to any post - be they multiple resolved links, images or videos - should be introduced to provide a better user experience.

Is Google+ about to allow multiple post attachments?

The iPhone 5 needs “one more thing”.Comments

Google's enhanced voice search, the Knowledge Graph and Aro's Saga are all putting pressure on Siri. Will, and can, Apple respond?

Siri understandsAfter the launch of Android Jellybean I said that Google was leading the pack with search and contextual data thanks to Google Now. Both great features but possibly not enough to tempt dedicated iPhone users away.

I've been saying throughout the iOS6 beta process that Siri has been improving and getting more accurate. It is also being tied into the central mapping engine for enhance functionality, especially during navigation, and partnerships with other providers are supplying a wider scope of data such as sports information. By hooking into the knowledge graph, however, Google is striding ahead so Apple needs to respond.

This just got more important than ever now that Google is bringing enhanced voice search and the knowledge graph to the iPhone so that iOS users will be able to witness its power for themselves.

Straying from the path

I already know iPhone users who are buying Samsung Galaxy devices (both the S2 and S3) even without the benefits of JellyBean and Google so imagine how things will be once users have sampled all this and then realise this can be had hooked in to the OS with the added advantage of Google Now. I can envisage many more people moving to Android.

Siri will still have a degree of advantage on the iPhone because it is implemented at the OS level but it needs to go much further or Apple will be left further behind in both search and context.

The recent release of Aro Inc's Saga application for iOS which aims to provide Google Now style information after learning where we go, what we do and who we are with, is applying extra pressure and iPhone users could be left with a definite case of information envy.

Perhaps Apple sees the refreshed hardware, new Maps application and Facebook integration as a sufficient advancement from the iPhone 4S but I doubt many users will feel the same. More than ever the iPhone 5 needs "one more thing".

The iPhone 5 needs “one more thing”.

Thoughts: Don’t forget content, but context is king.Comments

Following on from my earlier post "mobile" is now really about the blend of online and offline; enhancing one with the other - social + sensors.

Context

Google are ahead of Apple at present as they have implemented this at the OS level with Google Now.

Google has the advantage of holding its own data whereas Apple is in partnership with various data providers (and will rely on opening up for other areas such as transit information) but that will change.

The one thing that won't change (at least immediately) is the partnership with Facebook, by necessity that must get stronger, closer and more ingrained - after a disappointing IPO and a share price in free fall Facebook needs all the friend it can get.

And Apple needs the social data.

So how about this scenario:

FB bought Glancee -> Facebook integrated into iOS6 -> contextual awareness via a "Glancee type" route will become native in iOS

iOS needs to have location awareness and Facebook integration with the expertise of the Glancee team is the perfect route to achieve this as easily as possible.

Combined with data from the central mapping engine (and maybe acquire some smaller developers that produce location aware apps) Siri could start providing us the type of information supplied by Google now. Google, however, still has the advantage of the Knowledge Graph.

The advantage of doing all of this at the OS level rather than by relying on apps is that you create a standard install baseline so you instantly know that all those with the latest OS running on (probably) the past couple of phone revisions will all be equally capable - and others will want to upgrade to achieve that capability.

No-one is safe

The question then becomes when does Apple acquire or develop its own data sources before dropping its partners? I've said before that dropping Google Maps shows all partners that no-one is safe from the cull.

Perhaps not even Facebook. Then we might see serious moves on a Facebook Phone.

Image by Context Travel

Thoughts: Don’t forget content, but context is king.

Google acquires Sparrow and a paid Twitter alternative?

Rather than rewrite full posts, here are a few recent items that have been posted on Google+.  Rather than rewrite full posts, here are a few recent items that have been posted on Google+.

The news that Google acquired the Mac and iOS mail application Sparrow caused a mixed reaction with many feeling let down, or even betrayed, by the company for selling up considering the news that the app will not receive any new features and, effectively, be left out to pasture.

Stepping away from any sense of entitlement and consternation I asked:

What are the implications of Google acquiring Sparrow?

In response to the news that Twitter is once again changing the rules around using its API the app.net developer network is being re-purposed as a possible "paid alternative to Twitter" with a real-time API and full support for third-party developers. Would such a network gain traction and would it be able to support itself?

Could a paid twitter work?

Join in

If you haven’t already done so, check them out and have your say.

Google acquires Sparrow and a paid Twitter alternative?

The mobile experience – it’s no longer just about the phone.

As mobile devices become more complex the trend is for applications to provide more data automatically. Google is moving in this direction already but will Apple follow suit?

CloudiOS6, the latest version of Apple's mobile software and currently at beta 3, has a number of parallels with the recently launched Android Jelly Bean in that it initially seems like a minor revision but there are a number of tweaks and small features that you would miss if reverting to the previous version of the OS.

With both iOS and Android, however, the latest updates are creating a deeper symbiotic relationship between our devices and the cloud. Jelly Bean's killer feature is Google Now (the system designed to provide data cards automatically based on what we are doing) and iOS6 continues the development of Siri, especially now that local support is available outside the US, and its interaction with the new Maps application.

On the face of it, iOS6 doesn't look like it has enough new features to be a meaningful upgrade over iOS5 but we have reached the point where mobile operating systems are sufficiently advanced so as to only need minor adjustments - fanboys would probably disagree but the reality is that the OS alone cannot progress much further without the cloud.

Context

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel are collaborating on a book about "the coming automatic, freaky, contextual world" where being always on, always connected and monitored by a multitude of sensors means we can now have more data than ever pushed to us based on our location or activities: the context. Context is something I've been talking about quite a bit recently in a purely social sense but the marriage of context and modern hardware is a powerful mix that will take time for many to feel comfortable with for fears of privacy invasion.

Google is ahead of Apple in this regard in that Google Now pushes information to you whereas Siri pulls it based on your requests but I think it is only a matter of time before Apple goes a similar route and starts to use context to supply data automatically.

Ditching Google Maps is about so much more than just relying on a competitor for data, it is about Apple taking back control of part of its ecosystem so that it can be used for myriad purposes. Maps is just the beginning, the partnerships with other companies (to provide subject specific information) enable Apple to provide far greater utility - this will only continue as more data is hooked in to the central engine. The lines between Siri and Maps and data from the like of Yelp etc. will blur with multiple sources being amalgamated to present a more coherent, useful picture.

The future?

Those now in partnership with Apple may need to heed the Google Maps warning: as Apple builds services around the new mapping service there is a risk that they too may reach a point where they have served their purpose and be discarded as Apple moves to provide its own in-house solution. Perhaps we will see Apple acquire some of these partners to lock the data in to the iOS environment so as to reduce Google's advantage.

Apple will no doubt be accused of copying Google Now but I feel that the data engine behind Maps and Siri will need to become more proactive in supplying us information rather than us just requesting it - this is a logical progression considering the way the market is moving. As I have also said previously elsewhere, the data engine should be integrated with Spotlight search so that we are able to perform text searches on the same information when we are unable, or unwilling, to use Siri's voice capabilities.

The only variable is time but, now that Google are well on the road, is it time that Apple can afford?

Why not discuss the original post over at Google+

Image by Extra Medium

The mobile experience – it’s no longer just about the phone.

Apple Maps, Waze, life with iOS 6 and the ‘social gap’.

iOS 6Rather than rewrite full posts, here are a few recent items that have been posted on Google+.

I am giving myself a week with iOS 6 to see how things go. It is not intended as a tear-down of all the new functionality but, instead, an honest account of my reactions while I use the new OS beta. Once the week is up I will downgrade back to 5.1.1 to see what functionality I miss. You can read the first three days here:

iOS 6 - initial impressions (day 1)

iOS 6 beta - day 2

iOS 6 beta - day 3

Waze is one of the data providers for the new Apple Maps app in iOS 6 and it is interesting to see how the changes in the latest version bring the standalone app closer to Apple's new offering.

Apple Maps and Waze - growing closer.

While the features in our favourite social networks seem to be getting ever closer it appears that the usage gap between them is widening users having different types of conversations in the different locations.

Is the social network gap widening?

Join in

If you haven’t already done so, check them out and have your say.

Apple Maps, Waze, life with iOS 6 and the ‘social gap’.

iOS 6 – a personal perspectiveComments

While the tech press examines every detail of iOS 6 I wanted to present a personal view of key features from my own perspective.

iOS 6Now that the dust has settled after the WWDC keynote and I have slept on the announcements there are a few observations I wanted to make regarding iOS 6 whilst deliberately avoiding the arguments as to whether it is just playing catch-up with Android.

Safari

Firstly, there are a couple of glaring omissions in Safari that should really be low hanging fruit:

  • pull to refresh, and
  • a universal omnibar

Now that we have pull to refresh in the Mail app it would seem obvious to have a bit of consistency and introduce this for the browser.

It is now the expected norm for a browser to use a single combined location and search bar - iOS 6 would have been an ideal opportunity to streamline Safari and introduce this.

There are some "nice to haves" and other features which I personally will probably never use but here's what has me excited:

Maps

The new maps app looks great and you just know that the partnership with Tom Tom (and others) will bring a quality experience. While the 3D views look very impressive I can't envisage it being used that often so see it more as a curio than a really functional tool.

Native turn-by-turn is the big news here.

When I had made the decision to move to the iPhone from Android Navigation was the only feature I was concerned about losing. Consequently, I stopped using the native navigation in Google Maps and switched to the excellent Waze so that the transition from one platform to the other would be as seamless as possible. This has paid dividends and I have been happily using Waze on the iPhone ever since.

The introduction of native turn-by-turn navigation and the integration with Siri is going to completely turn that on its head. You can't beat going native for functionality if it is done well and you just know that this has been done well.

Tom Tom will have been getting worried about their prospects in a world where smartphones were rapidly making the company irrelevant; the deal with Apple to supply mapping data is no doubt massive so will ease the pressure significantly.

Siri - a beta no more

It's great that Siri is coming to the new iPad, it's also great that it will now be able to open apps and search for more things thanks to additional partnerships but that's not what's really important.

As a non-US iPhone user Siri was little more than a curiosity, something you'd use once in a while but never able to escape the feeling that the experience was being hamstrung.

So often those of us outside the US are made to feel like second class citizens by the likes of Apple or Google as functionality and services are introduced that we cannot use; expanding local search to more countries is the key feature to come out of this and will really propel Siri to the forefront in my opinion.

Facebook

I am starting to use Facebook a little more than I have ever done thanks largely to a new group of friends built up over the last 6 months thanks to our shop but I have no doubt that OS level linking of Facebook into iOS 6 will have exactly the desired effect and make me use it more.

The integration is going to be huge for both companies. It is obviously a huge boost for Facebook after the disappointing IPO and a ideal opportunity to really start making a mark on mobile. Apple gets the advantage of being able to leverage the social power of Facebook including Likes within the app store so that Ping can finally be swept under the carpet. While Twitter will probably have been expecting that the special relationship would come to an end at some point, there's no denying that the service is now playing second fiddle thanks to that little blue thumbs up button - such power in a single click.

As I have said before, I seriously doubt that Facebook is looking to build its own phone but I believe it is no coincidence that the App Center appeared just days before the start of WWDC. Even though Likes are going to be included throughout the app store itself and will help to serve the same purpose as the App Center I feel Facebook is making a stand here with regards to its independence from Apple.

What about you?

What excites or disappoints you with iOS 6. We're you expecting more? Discuss this over at Google+.

iOS 6 – a personal perspective

Gmail on iOS.Comments

Since making the move from Android to iPhone and subsequently giving my impressions of living with iOS for a week I wanted to spend some time, and get some further opinions on, the Gmail experience.

Android users are spoilt in this regard, and it is only to be expected, but it amazes me how two tech giants like Apple and Google can't provide an equally stellar experience on the iPhone.

Gmail on iPhone

Politics

How much of it is politics I don't know but it does appear that either Apple is placing roadblocks in the way or that Google is dragging its heels and intentionally not wanting to match the experience on Android.

You could understand the latter's position and Google would live to encourage more users to defect from iOS to Android. Apple on the other hand would be better served by making the experience as good as possible so that users are not even tempted to leave.

Options

Knowing that things are not ideal what are the options open to us for using Gmail on the iPhone?

Apple's Mail app

We can configure the default Mail app to connect to Gmail in one of three ways:

  • the built-in Gmail settings (which is actually IMAP)
  • as an Exchange account
  • manually as IMAP

I'm not an email power user but there are two features that I need: push notifications and Gmail's ability to send email as additional addresses as I use it to send from my colinwalker.me.uk address. Unfortunately, none of the above native options provides us with both of these features.

The only choice here that supports Push is configuring Gmail using Exchange Activesync but this does not provide support for sending as additional addresses.

Although the built in Gmail settings are using IMAP they to do not support additional addresses unlike configuring Gmail as IMAP manually where you can add multiple addresses in the settings (separated by commas) to enable this functionality. Despite this being a handy workaround IMAP does not support Push so it is not an ideal solution.

Extra steps

It had been suggested that I use the Boxcar service to emulate Push on circumstances where it is not supported, for those that do not know you configure your email account to forward to a Boxcar address which forwards the details to the Boxcar app on the phone. This then shows a notification and can be configured to open the email application of your choice.

This seemed like an ideal solution but after testing for a while I found it to be particularly clunky with disappearing notifications and, overall, a far from seamless extra step. A real shame as it is a great idea.

Sparrow

The hot topic as far as Gmail is currently concerned is the email application Sparrow which does indeed look like a fantastic email client. Unfortunately, it doesn't support Push (the developers say yet) and doesn't appear to allow the sending from additional addresses.

Boxcar could be used to get round the first issue - albeit in its own clunky way - but the second issue is a deal breaker.

Google's native Gmail app

Much has been written about Google's Gmail app being poor - it's not stellar but supports Push and, as per an update yesterday, now supports sending from additional addresses. Combined with Labels and some Priority Inbox support (show important mails) this actually gives quite a compelling reason to use it.

The app is not without its flaws, however, as in true Google fashion there are some UI inconsistencies and notifications do not appear to show on the lockscreen or in the notification centre. The app badges do work so at least you have some visual indication of incoming mails.

As is expected with Google the native app looks and acts very much like the mobile web page. It also includes a slide out folder list on the left so users of the Facebook application will feel at home.

The lack of sharing functionality within iOS does mean that the Gmail app is not available when you choose to send something by email such as the link to a web page so I have, therefore, had to leave Gmail configured as IMAP in the default Mail application but have this set to not poll for mails.

Conclusions

As mentioned, the Gmail on the iPhone is less than ideal and we are driven to specific solutions based on the functionality we require. While many will say I'm missing out on the experience provided by apps like Sparrow but I will be using the native Gmail applications for the time being. It is a satisfactory app for a non power user (despite its own quirks) and I shall give it a fair run.

Gmail on iOS.