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  It felt out of date and clunky in IOS4, and wasn't updated in IOS5.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.