Technology... is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other. ~C.P. Snow, New York Times, 15 March 1971

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Next Generation IOS: A Review of IOS on an iPhone4

This week, Apple released IOS6, the next generation of the operating system for their iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad.  I've been looking forward to this version for a while based on one feature, their Do Not Disturb setting.  Mine phone is an iPhone4, which is the oldest model IOS6 will install on. Apple supports two generations back with each version, so IOS5 supported the iPhone4S which was released around the time IOS5 was, the iPhone4, and the iPhone3.  IOS6 supports the new iPhone5 that's coming out next month, the iPhone4S, and the iPhone4.  Similar things in iPod Touch and iPad lines.

I was a bit nervous upgrading, as those I knew with iPhone3's when IOS5 came out had a lot of problems.  Their phones slowed to a crawl.  As that was the oldest supported model for IOS5, I was worried about IOS6 on an iPhone4.  I need not to have worried.  IOS6 runs as fast as IOS4 did, a bit faster than IOS5, honestly.  IOS6 runs great on the iPhone4.

There are a lot of changes, but most of them are small and unnoticed, small changes in interface or placement of options.  A few things, however, stick out, and I'd like to address a few of them here.

App Store

One major change is the App Store.  It felt out of date and clunky in IOS4, and wasn't updated in IOS5.  It's about time it got an overhaul.  I often said it was ironic that the worst app on the iPhone was the Apple App Store where you get the apps from.  The new interface is very slick and pleasing to look at, a much better design.  Apps scroll right to left like a book rather than up and down like the old version.  There is more detail shown on the search screens making it easier to determine what might be a good app, and the app detail screen now shows what has changed in the newest version and a version history, which was a big missing hole in the old version.The screen shots are now at the top of the detail page, which gives a good visual, but means more scrolling to look at the description which is my main interest.  Not really a flaw there, just a change that is better for some and worse for others.  The only down side I've found is they failed to correct one thing I disliked in the old version.  When you're scrolling through apps and go to the detail of one, then press back, it still goes to the beginning of the list you're scrolling through.  When you're a ways into the list, this is a big problem, one I hope they fix at some point, preferably sooner than later.  There are times I stop looking at apps because of it.  This could mean lost sales, purely do to not saving a page state.

Mail App

The main change I have noticed in the Mail App is VIP contacts.  You can set in a contact for it to be VIP.  What this means is that there's a new item on the Mailboxes page called VIP.  In it, you will find all conversations from all accounts where one of the senders is a VIP.  Very helpful when you get as many emails a day as I do.

Photos App

The big change here is the changes to the Photo Stream and iCloud.  Apple added the ability to have multiple streams, and to share those streams.  It still has the default Photo Stream that everything is automatically added to, though it's now on an Photo Stream tab in the Album view instead of listed as an album, but now you can have more than one stream.  You can create a stream on the Photo Stream tab, or when you are adding photos to it.  You add them, not by clicking Add To, but clicking Share and choosing Photo Stream.  In other apps, when you go to select a photo, it no longer shows all albums, just those with pictures in them.  Empty albums are hidden now.  Below your albums, other apps show your photo streams, and you can select pictures in them the same way you do in regular albums.  The only thing you can't do is edit them in the Photos App.  On the computer now, Photo Stream now shows up as a drive in Windows with all the streams there.  You can create streams there and add photos to them.  You can also share photo streams, except the default, with other people, both in the Photo App and from the computer.  It sends them an invite and they can accept and it adds the stream to their account, if they have an Apple ID, or gives them access via the web if they don't.  The stream is read only for them, and they show as subscribers from your end.  You can also make a stream public, which makes it available to anyone via a web link.

Do Not Disturb

This is the function I was waiting for, and it's very simple.  In the root of the Settings App, there is now a switch for Do Not Disturb.  Switch it and all alerts, sounds, and vibrations are temporarily turned off until you turn Do Not Disturb back off.  This means not having to change the settings, then going back in and setting them all back, and means not having to turn the phone off if you want to be sure it won't make a sound, won't vibrate, and won't create light.  A very good feature.

Facebook Integration

A major feature added is Facebook integration.  In IOS5, Apple added Twitter integration, allowing sharing to Twitter natively in apps and allowing authentication with Twitter without a separate login in apps.  And the ability to have multiple Twitter accounts that you can switch to to share to different ones without logging out and back in, including within the Twitter App itself.  I was looking forward to the addition of Facebook integration, hoping it would be the same.  And it does, all except the multiple accounts part.  That was a part I was hoping for, because I have a Facebook account specifically for some pages I run that I want kept separate from those for my friends and family.  It isn't uncommon in this day and age where Facebook is sometimes required for professional or work purposes to separate those aspects from personal friend and family aspects.  Facebook integration doesn't allow this.  If you use multiple Facebook accounts, you have to log out of one and into the other to share to another Facebook account.  However, unlike Twitter, the active Facebook account for IOS isn't the active Facebook account in the Facebook App, so you can change the account in the app without effecting the account in IOS.  The other Facebook apps, Facebook Messenger, Facebook Pages, and Facebook Camera, use the Facebook App as the default no login required account to log into and don't connect to the IOS account at this point.  I have not had a chance yet to work with the sharing, so can't yet judge on how it works yet.

Podcasts and iTunes U

In the past, the only way to put podcasts and classes from iTunes U onto your IOS device was using iTunes on a computer and syncing them.  They appeared within the Music App.  With IOS6, these have been separated out.  They are no longer present at all within the Music App, but each have their own app.  These are installed apps, not built in, so have to be installed from the App Store.  They allow management of your podcasts and iTune U classes respectively from in the app on the device.  You can purchase or subscribe from in the app, and download them as needed, either manually or automatically, just like songs you purchase from iTunes and songs that you have in iTune Match.  You can delete them from the device and redownload them later if you want to.  A big improvement.

Cosmetic Changes

The rest of the changes I've noticed are cosmetic.  Colours have changed in the Camera App.  The Music App has been completely reworked in how it looks, with reordering of the default placement of tabs, but no real changes I can see except the removing of podcasts and iTune U classes.  There are some small cosmetic changes in the Mail App.  The iTunes App has been reworked in the same way the Music App has, so the two match. The Find My Phone App looks a bit different after the update as well.  There are supposed to be a lot of enhancements to the Maps App but other than cosmetic changes, I don't see much difference.  Maybe I will find more as I use it more.

Bethany Kennedy
IT Professional

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Phone Blogging: Chosing a Blogging Platform (3 of 4)

So you decided to start a blog? Or have been blogging for years? Or don't even really know what a blog is, but think you might ant one? Whether you're a veteran in the blogging world or a neophyte just learning the vocabulary, you need to consider your options and decide on a platform to use going forward. Especially is you are going to blog on the go, as each platform option presents different mobile options for aspiring mobile blogger.

First, some background for new bloggers. The word "blog" came from the term "weblog", "web log", basically a log of articles published on the world wide web. The idea is that you write up an article and post it, and it is prepended (placed at the beginning of the page), so readers see the most recent first. Simple concept, it's the content of the articles, or posts, that takes skill and art.

While existing bloggers obviously already have a platform chosen, there are times the move in necessary when your needs change. And new bloggers don't have experience with any platform, making the decision difficult. Below, I will discuss several blogging platforms I have experience with and their strengths, weaknesses, and some reasons to choose one over the others for your needs.

When I first started blogging in November of 2004, I started on LiveJournal. It was a personal blog to just post my thoughts. I chose LiveJournal at the time because most of my friends across the country who blogged were using it, and it allowed me to read their posts easily. LiveJournal was one of the first blogging platforms, and is an open source platform, and also the name of the website that is the primary User of the software. There are a number of other popular sited that use the LiveJournal platform. LiveJournal is more feature rich than most other platforms, and is one of the few that has group or community blots built in for social interaction. LiveJournal also allows full customization of the look and feel of your blog. It has the best built in integration with Twitter and Facebook, allowing easy automatic sharing on each, and automatic sharing of Twitter on LiveJournal. The Twitter posts, however, give the blog a bit of a spam like feel, so I would only recommend utilizing it on a personal blog. On the actual LiveJournal website, statistics require a paid account as goes a custom URL not ending in, and there are limits that are higher with a paid account. On the downside, LiveJournal has a less professional feel, and the social aspect is designed in a way that lends better to personal than professional applications. RSS functionality is very limited. I have mostly moved away from LiveJournal even for personal blogging, because of the lack of easy import ability and issues getting formatting to work pasting blog HTML code from other blogging software.

Blogger is a platform owned by Google. It is currently the primary platform I use. Blogger does not have the social elements LiveJournal has, but is more professional in feel and allows multi-author blogs. Blogger is completely closed source and doesn't have any option to run on a separate server. Blogger is fully functional with no cost, but requires a Google account. All customization is available in to all users. Blogger integrates with Google Plus, Google Analytics, Google Adsense, and FeedBurner.

WordPress and Blogger are two of the most popular blogging platforms, but WordPress is much more popular for business blogging than Blogger. Like LiveJournal, WordPress is open source, and, unlike Blogger, WordPress can be installed on other servers. WordPress is less integratable with other services than Blogger, but the ability to install it in another website is a big plus in its favour, especially for corporate blogs. WordPress is very well written and very feature rich. It has a very professional look and feel, and excellent import ability from all the major blogging platforms. The downside with using the actual is that, like LiveJournal, a custom URL requires a paid account. Unlike LiveJournal, customization requires a paid account as well. Currently, I import several Blogger blogs into WordPress blogs each time I post, and am still testing to decide if I want to fully move over or stick with Blogger as my primary platform. The import ability makes WordPress an easy platform to migrate to or use as a mirror as I do now.

I've discussed Twitter here before. While it is a blogging platform, it is what is referred to as micro-blogging. It is limited to 140 characters per post, so it works better for quick thoughts, announcements, and sharing links, pictures, and videos than for full blogging. It is useful, as I discussed before, in getting the word out about blog posts on other platforms.

Tumblr allows full blogging, but isn't well equipped for formatting. It is much better suited to sharing pictures, videos, quotes, and links. It is probably the best platform for a photo blog, but not as good for a traditional blog with articles.

MySpace has a descent full features blog. I used to cross-post my LiveJournal posts to it, as I had friends on MySpace that weren't on LiveJournal. I moved away from it because most of my friends moved to Facebook. It is not a good platform for most professional or corporate blogs because of the MySpace integration, but works well for personal blogs and musician and band blogs, as MySpace has excellent support for both the Indy and mainstream music industry.

Microsoft Live had a decent blogging platform in the past that I cross posted to for a while, and Xanga was a decent platform at that time, but I haven't used either for years, so am unsure what they are like now. With some investigation, it appears when Microsoft acquired WordPress, Microsoft Spaces, the earlier Microsoft blog, was migrated over to the main WordPress site.  Xanga appears to be alive and kicking.  Both were good for personal blogs, but didn't have a professional or corporate feel.

Some people blog directly in Facebook and/or Google Plus. While the reach can be very good because readers can stay on one website and read stories and articles directly there, and some readers will read something that way who won't if they need to leave the site, both platforms give little to no ability to format, and don't give the freedom other sites do with online images. So you get better reach with the cost of the ability to create eye pleasing and visually professional blogs.

Of all the choices outlined above and other options available, I'd say for most people looking to start a blog or migrate to something new, Blogger and Wordpress are the front runners. But before you decide. visit all the sites and any others you come across, look the site over, and find several blogs on the website or using the platform, and decide what you think of the look and feel. On the ones you like, go ahead and create an account, you're not obligated to use it. Look around, explorer, play, experiment. Decide what platform you like the best, based on look, interface, and features. And remember, you can change your mind later if you need to.

Bethany Kennedy
IT Professional

Next: Mobile blogging discussion of applications and strategies.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Phone Blogging: Chosing a Device that Fits Your Needs (2 of 4)

I sit writing this on my Kindle Fire, sitting in the evening sun in a hammock, as my huskies play around me. Later this evening, I will open it on my iPhone, sitting on the couch, without doing anything to transfer it between devices, and post it using an app on my phone. Technology allows blogging without a computer, and in settings a computer is not suited for.

Before we can begin blogging on the go, we must first chose a device, or several devices that fit our needs. Here, the Boy Scout Motto, "Be prepared!" applies. Obviously, you need to have whatever device you will need, with the necessary apps or settings prepared, before you need it. If you see the perfect picture for your blog and have no camera, it's too late. If you need to write something down and can't see your screen in the sun, it might be too late by the time you can get in the shade. Think through your potential needs and the available options before heading out. The right device can make or break a post.

Of course, each generation of device adds improvements to features, speed, and what applications will run on them. And cost of course. If you can afford the newest generation, it will mean less headaches and more productivity, but older devices will do most things you need. What multimedia capabilities and quality you desire will be the breaking point on older devices.

The main question in relation to devices is, why choose which range. Obviously, a desktop computer isn't portable, so isn't helpful for mobile writing. But if you don't need portable but need more speed, computing power, and longevity, a desktop of some type is your answer. For portable, you're looking for a laptop, a netbook, a tablet (like older Windows based stylus based tablets from companies like Gateway, iPads, Galaxy Tabs, Playbooks, and other newer tablets, or later book readers that support apps like the Kindle Fire or later Nooks), or a hand held device like a pocket organizer (older Palm devices and they're competitors), a media player (like an iPod touch or a competing portable MP3 and similar format players that support apps), or a smart phone that does both and more like the iPhone, Blackberry, Android, and Microsoft based devices running Windows CE, Pocket PC, Windows Mobile, or Windows Phone.

Laptops are the largest, in size, in power, and in general use. It is the most flexible in use, but also is larger than the other options and harder to use on the fly, as it works best on your lap or a surface where you can use both hands. Also, any cameras it may have are designed for video chat, so can't really be used for taking videos or pictures of your surroundings, but can for video posts of you talking. Laptops are best used when you have a smaller device for on the fly writing and picture taking, then find a coffee shop or restuarant to polish things up and do actual blog posting. Short of a desktop keyboard, laptops have the largest and best keyboards, making writing easier, in the right setting. Another consideration is most laptop and netbook screens are unreadable in sunlight, often even in indirect sunlight if it's too bright. This is also true of older tablets and other devices. If you want to write in the sun, you'll want a different device than a laptop, at least until you get inside.

Think of a netbook as a small laptop. Both the screen and keyboard is smaller, there is no CD or DVD drive, and a netbook has a lot less power. A netbook will run any software a laptop or desktop will, unless the software requires more resources like memory or processor speed than the netbook can handle. It is primarily designed for Internet application (net meaning Internet, book meaning book sized), so it will work great for blogging, if you can handle the small screen and keyboard. However, it still works best on a surface like your leg or a table, and has the same issues as a laptop in the sun. Choose a netbook if you want the function of a laptop, but need something smaller, more portable, or cheaper. I recommend trying one out in a store first, as the screen can be constricting or hard to read for some people, and the small keyboard doesn't work well for large hands.

Like with all ranges of products I'm discussing here, choosing a brand or model of tablet would require a post by itself. If you choose to go with a tablet, research the various options as each one works best for certain people. The first question, then, is do you want or need a tablet. Older tablets, and some newer tablets, are essentially laptops with no keyboard, or a keyboard that swivels behind, to give both options. These use either a stylus or a touch screen with a image of a keyboard in place of the traditional mouse and keyboard. They are like a netbook with a bigger screen in place of a keyboard, essentially. Most newer tablets are essentially large smart phones or related devices, giving you the advantage of a larger screen, but the portability and specialization of the smaller devices. Either type is more portable than a laptop and more usable without a surface to place them on than a laptop or a netbook. A bit less portable than smaller devices, the tablet is easier to type on and has more screen real estate. The book readers like the Kindle and Nook are a bit more limited than other tablets, as they are designed for a certain function and other applications, like those relevant to mobile blogging, are secondary.

Smaller devices vary a lot, and too much discussion id beyond the scope if this post. Smart phones typically have the most features and support more apps than some other types. They also allow Internet connectivity without needing access to a wireless network, through the cell network, which most other devices don't. They also typically have better cameras and microphones, for multimedia creation, from pictures to videos to voice or video posts. Media players have historically had the same shortcomings for blogging that book readers do, but that has changed recently. Many media players, like the iPod Touch, are basically smart phones without the cell network and with less powerful hardware (including the camera if it has one). They are of course cheaper than a smart phone. Pocket organizers are typically very good for writing but lacking to various degrees in multimedia and connectivity. Often they require syncing to a laptop or desktop and posting from there. Most modern smart phoned will do everything the other types of devices will do, but cost considerably more.

Each type of device has it's advantages and disadvantages. In my opinion, the best combination for blogging is a smart phone for portable blogging and note taking on the fly and most multimedia creation, a tablet for composition and text editing of phone composed text, and a laptop for fine polishing, formatting, and multimedia editing.

Bethany Kennedy
IT Professional

Next: A discussion of various blogging platforms and their pros and cons.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Phone Blogging: Making Due With Smaller (1 of 4)

Blogging can be challenging without considering technology. How often do you have an idea to write about but forget it before you can write it down? How often do you start writing then have to stop when you're in the middle? How often do you lose steam and have troubles getting your writing flowing again? How often do you just not have ideas when you need to or want to write? This issues are present for anyone who writes, be it blogging, magazine articles, newspaper articles, short stories, novels, how to books, travel books, school papers, poetry, or private journal or diary entries. There is a long history of writers carrying small notebooks or journals with them, keeping a journal beside their bed, doing whatever it takes to be able to write or jot down notes whenever and wherever the Muse takes them.

This still holds true today, but with laptops, netbooks, tablets, and smart phones, there are more options for the inspired writer. The fact that many of these now have decent if not amazing cameras, wireless Internet capabilities, and apps to make writing and multimedia more accessible and full featured opens up whole new worlds.

But how do you get started? What device, what blotting platform, what apps do you use? Though some things I will discuss in the following posts will help any inspired writer, and many of the ideas, platforms, and apps are available on other devices, in this article, I will primarily discuss blogging from Apple IOS devices, the iPhone and its sisters the iPod Touch and iPad.

I will address the subject of mobile blogging in the next three posts. The first will discuss choice of devices and function and use of each type. The second will discuss some blogging platforms and the pros and cons of each. The third will discuss some apps on mobile devices, the pros on cons of each, and some strategies for effective phone blogging.

Bethany Kennedy
IT Professional

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Google Plus Gets a Facelift

Okay, so Google released a new version of Google Plus this morning.  I was logged in with the old look, clicked on something, and everything changed.

First impressions?

I like it.  It's elegant and original.  It's still fairly simple in design, and I'm finding it easy to use so far.

I've been reading some complaints on Google+ today, and there seems to be three.  First, people with large hi-res monitors don't like all the white space and don't like how it looks.  Second, people think the adding of the cover photo makes the profiles look too much like Facebook's profiles.  And three, people don't like the chat panel at the right hand side.

Google Plus in Wide Screen View
On the first one, I run Windows 7 on a laptop, with a second monitor that's 21 inches, wide screen.  If I make it full screen on the big monitor, yes, there's too much white space, and it looks goofy.  But I normally run Chrome docked on the right hand side of the big monitor, so that it's only half a screen, and the new layout looks quite nice that way.

Google Plus in Narrow Screen View
On the second, though there are similarities, I really don't think they look that much alike.  The profile picture on Google+ is on the opposite side as the one on Facebook, and instead of being a small picture overlapping a fairly tall cover photo, n Google+, the profile picture is large, with the cover photo passing behind it in the centre and showing a small amount on the other side.  The Google+ cover photo is much narrower and longer than the Facebook one.  The name is at the top above the cover photo rather than below like Facebook.  In Google+, the friend related information is on the right of the stream instead of above it like Facebook.  Facebook's Timeline of course has a two column profile stream, whereas Google+ is a single column.  So basically, the types of content are very similar, but the layout and design are much different.

Facebook Profile
On the third, running the browser narrower like I described above completely hides the chat module.  Even scrolling over, it isn't visible.  So it's not really a problem if you run the browser narrower.

The other complaint I've heard is that it's not very intuitive.  I actually haven't had a problem with that.  It all comes naturally on the new interface for me.  Maybe it's just written for the way I think.

Google Plus Profile
Biggest strengths?

I think the profile looks classier than it did, and more business like.  While Facebook's Timeline does look nice, it feels like something that's good for personal things, not for a business.  The Google+ profiles feel very professional, and though not as "fun", seems like a much better design for business.

As expected, and this was already part of Google+, Google Plus has a much better search ability than Facebook.  That has always been my biggest complaint about Facebook.

The sidebar controls take up less vertical real estate, so I don't have to scroll as much as I did in the old interface and in the current Facebook.  And the fact that the bar stays static makes using it much easier.

Biggest weaknesses?

I haven't really found any that cause me a problem.  I think the biggest weakness is that while the new design is definitely an improvement in my opinion, it didn't really fix any existing issues Google+ already had.  It's just basically an interface face lift, not a bug fix or a solution to known issues.  And the added features like Explore and new ways to find people don't seem to be too useful, at least to me.

Bethany Kennedy
IT Professional