¶ iOS 7

To say that I had felt a little underwhelmed at iOS 6's unveiling a little over a year ago would be an understatement. There had been rumors of a visual refresh, of changing the standard interface chrome from a steel blue to a grayish silver, and I was looking forward for some fresh paint on the pixels. But that didn't happen. The biggest interface change was tinting the status bar to somewhat match the chrome of the app running. And it looked pretty awful.

For the first time, iOS had felt stale to me.

This year, the rumors weren't of subtle changes. They were of big changes. Pave the land and start anew kind of changes.

With iOS 7, Apple did just that.

When you install iOS 7 on your device you'll quickly realize that there was not a single pixel of iOS itself that was left untouched. Everything and the kitchen sink went out the door, and every design started on a blank canvas. iOS 7 is unabashedly different.
 More on the design in a moment. There is a lot that did not change. iOS 7 still operates much in the same way as before. If you knew your way around iOS 6, you'll find your way in iOS 7 as very little interaction changed. And what did change is, in my opinion, for the better.

Examples? It used to be that you had to get to your first home screen and then swipe from left to right to do a Spotlight search. Now, from any home screen, just scroll down on the icon area a little and the search field appears. In Safari (and many others apps) you can swipe from the left or right edge of your device to go back or forward a page in the browser, or a level of hierarchy in an app. iOS 7 just feels a bit more elegant in function.

Where iOS 7 really shines in the simplification of its design. Apple has spent a great deal of effort on pushing two things in iOS 7's design: typography and color. Most things that were handled by and icon before are now a simple and straightforward text label. The icons that remain have been redesigned, thinned out, and simplified, yet overall familiar. Color is used everywhere. Icons and labels in Safari are blue, Calendar is red, Notes is yellow, Music is pink, and it goes on.

Design is not the only change in iOS 7, but it certainly is the most apparent. Other features and refinements have been made as well. The lock screen lends itself to being far less cluttered and showing more of the wallpaper image. Also, from the lock screen, you can now pull down the Notification Center, which has been given a new view called Today. The new Today view is really handy. It tells you plainly what is coming up next on your schedule and the weather. It shows a small portion of your calendar for the next few hours, and even tells you want is on your plate for the next day. In the case of an iPhone, it will tell you how long it would take you to drive to your next appointment, if you entered the address in Calendar. And when you are out and about, it will tell you how long it would take to drive home.

While Notification Center is at the top of the screen, the new Control Center is at the bottom. Slide up from the bottom of the screen to show quick toggles for Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb and Orientation Lock. You can adjust the brightness, audio that is playing, AirDrop and AirPlay, and then buttons to turn the LED flash on as a flashlight, and quid access to the Timer, Calculator, and Camera.

Control Center has become one of my favorite things about iOS 7. And like Notification Center, Control Center can be accessed from the home screen or from within any app.

One of my other favorite things of iOS 7 is the new parallax effect on the lock and home screens. Tilt your device around, and you will notice the icons and wallpaper subtly shift in opposition to each other, giving an effect that is not quite 3D, but decidedly not 2D. It's one of those little attentions to detail that makes iOS 7 feel so great.

Siri debuted with iOS 5 on the iPhone 4S as a beta feature, and remained that way ever since. With iOS 7 Siri loses the beta label, gets a much better voice (and a male voice), and seems overall more responsive and functional. Siri can even now turn certain components like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and off. I'm really enjoying the new Siri, and though I still feel it is a little behind Google Now, I think Siri is far less frustrating than in the past.

The last thing I really want to touch on is iTunes Radio. If you've ever used Pandora, you'll quickly understand iTunes Radio. I've been using the heck out of this, and it's really well done. It's impeccably good at finding music that fits with your tastes, and just keeps getting better the more you use it. This is one of those features that is easy to get lost in the shuffle of the new design, but it is truly one of the best features of iOS 7 if you love music.

iOS 7 takes a lot of risks with visual design, and in some areas it is spot on terrific, and other areas it has gone a little too far. I love the overall change, but I also realize that it is far from perfect. iOS 7 is an enormous undertaking, but what it is doing best is laying a brand new foundation to build upon for the future of iOS. As much as I adore iOS 7, I can't wait to see what happens in iOS 8, because it's a whole new ballgame. And even more than looking forward to iOS 8, I can't wait to see what developers do with their apps now that there is a blank canvas to work from.

Apple has made guides for iOS 7 available on iBooks, one for iPad, one for iPod touch, and (presumably) one for iPhone (I'll add the link when it is available).

1Password 4 for iOS

I am a little late in posting this, as I've been busy at my day job at AgileBits. A week and a half ago we released the much anticipated 1Password 4 for iOS.

It's really fantastic and we worked a long time on it. It is on sale for $7.99 until the end of 2012, and when 2013 arrives it will go to its normal price of $17.99. If you need a last minute gift for the nerd in your life, go get it on the App Store.

Byword for iOS 1.1

This is the first feature update to my favorite text editor on iOS (and the Mac) — Byword. I reviewed Byword for iOS when it debuted in March. While the initial release was really great, it had two shortcomings:

  • The absence of a dark theme, like the Mac version has, and
  • You could only use one storage service at a time — Local, iCloud, or Dropbox — and it was inconvenient to switch between them.

These are the two areas of focus in Byword for iOS 1.1.

Byword now includes a dark theme like its big brother. In addition to that, the keyboard extension has received a little polish in appearance.

The biggest feature is the ability to switch between Local, iCloud, and Dropbox storage in the file browser. It really feels like a best of both worlds approach. You have the deeper file system of Dropbox, while also being able to dip your toe into iCloud. Another nice feature of the new file browser is the ability to create folders on the fly.

If you are serious about your writing, I have no reservation in recommending Byword as the best iOS text editor. It’s a universal app for iPhone and iPad and you can pick it for $2.99 in the App Store.

¶ Apple's New Podcasts App

Me, last week, on the rumor of a standalone Podcasts app for iOS 6:

When Apple touted iOS 5 as being PC-free, one thing they forgot to include is being able to subscribe to podcasts on the iPhone and be able to check for and download new episodes.

Well, it turns out that iOS 5.1 is the release that makes iOS PC-free in this regard. Apple just released their standalone Podcasts app.

Here are the details from Apple:

Podcasts app is the easiest way to discover, subscribe to and play your favorite podcasts on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Explore hundreds of thousands of free audio and video podcasts from the Podcasts Catalog, and play the most popular podcasts, organized for you by topic, with the all-new Top Stations feature.


  • Enjoy all of your audio and video podcasts in a single app
  • Explore hundreds of thousands of podcasts including shows in over 40 languages
  • Try the innovative new Top Stations feature to find new podcast series in a variety of topics, including arts, business, comedy, music, news, sports, and more.
  • Browse by Audio or Video podcasts, or see what’s most popular in Top Charts
  • Tap subscribe for your favorites and automatically receive new episodes for free as they become available
  • Stream episodes or download to listen while offline
  • Skip forward and back using simple playback controls
  • Turn on Sleep Timer to automatically stop playing a podcast while listening in bed
  • Share your favorite episodes with friends using Twitter, Messages and Mail
  • Optionally sync your favorite episodes from iTunes on your Mac or PC
  • Sync your episode playback for seamless transition between devices

This is all very good. The interface is very nice. When you are listening to an episode, tap or swipe up on its artwork to reveal an old reel-to-reel player and the sleep and sound speed settings. If you tap pause, you can see the mechanics of the reel-to-reel player stop.

Another nice touch with the reel-to-reel player is that as the episode progresses, the spool of tape on the left reel diminishes as the spool on the right increases. This also happens quickly as you scribble the timeline.

As for setting up Podcasts, it should pull in any episodes currently found in the podcasts section of Music.app. Also, it should continue to sync with iTunes, just as before. The added benefit of Podcasts, though, is that you can set you device to watch for new episodes and to download the latest. Annoyingly, though, you have to tap into each podcast and toggle each and every one of them to subscribe on the device.

And this is where I see some shortcomings from what I was hoping for. In that post from last week, I stated:

Hopefully Apple will make it easy to use iCloud to keep your subscription list, and allow a new Podcasts app to download new episodes in the background when plugged in to power and on Wi-Fi, in the same manner that it does iCloud backups and Newsstand updates.

Well, this just isn’t part of the app. At least, not yet. iCloud doesn’t keep your subscription list, and while the app will download new episodes, it won’t do so in the background. The app must be open to check for and download new episodes.

What iCloud does offer is syncing the playback position of episodes between devices — say, an iPhone and iPad. Unfortunately, it does this via whatever Apple ID is used for the iTunes Store, and not via the Apple ID set for iCloud.

This identity conundrum won’t affect everyone, as I am sure the vast majority of users have the iCloud ID and iTunes Store ID as one and the same. But for a family? Well, my wife and I each have separate iCloud IDs, yet we both use the same iTunes Store ID. If we were to both be subscribed to the same podcasts (thankfully, neither of us are) we would have a nightmare of playback syncing issues (there isn’t an option to not sync playback).

That aside, this is a very nice 1.0 app. I look forward to how it will improve. Hopefully iCloud will be emphasized more in a future release.

The important thing is Podcasts no longer solely rely on iTunes.

Podcasts is a universal app for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, and requires iOS 5.1 or later. It’s free in the App Store.

While podcasts will exist in both Podcasts and Music apps in iOS 5, it looks certain that the podcasts function within Music will disappear in iOS 6. Use the next few months to transition to the new app.

Apple also has a little support section for Podcasts on its site.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that the only way to add a podcast in the interface is via the Podcast Catalog. However, some podcasts aren’t on iTunes. If you want to subscribe to a podcast that isn’t in iTunes, just enter the feed:// URL in Safari, and it will redirect to the Podcasts app and add it to your feed.

¶ The 7-inch Apple "Tablet"

There has been a lot of buzz lately about a 7-inch Apple tablet — specifically a 7.85-inch tablet — supposedly in the works in Cupertino.

I’ve been thinking about such a tablet for a while now, and wondered whether such a thing, if brought to market, would be labeled as part of the iPad family. To me, it makes far more sense to move the iPod touch product line up to this mid-range screen size.

Odi Kosmatos crunched some numbers and discovered that the difference between 7-inches and 7.85-inches is everything:

Perhaps you’ve read these Steve Jobs quotes before, they go something like this:

“The 7-inch form factor is not a good size for tablet applications” and “7-inch tablets should come with sandpaper, so that users can file down their fingers so they can use them.“

Note the words in bold.

Every rumor and theory about a smaller iPad I have seen seems to claim it will be 7.85″ with a 1024×768 screen. If that were the case, Steve Jobs would be right on the money with the above quotes. A 7.85″ 1024×768 display would be appropriate if the smaller tablet were designed to run iPad applications, because these applications could run unscaled on the device, at a 1:1 pixel ratio. However, the PPI of that 7.85″ screen would be 163. But the size of the user interface elements on iPad applications are tailored for a 132 PPI screen. If squeezed into 163 PPI, every button and control would become smaller, harder to accurately touch. Hence the need for sandpaper.

The same argument applies if the 7.85″ tablet had a retina display with the same resolution as the new iPad’s 2048×1536. It would have 326 PPI, but the UI elements of retina iPad applications are designed for 264 PPI. Sandpaper required.

But consider if the new tablet had a 7″ screen. What’s so special about 7″? A couple of very interesting things.

A 7″ diagonal screen (7.08″ to be exact) just happens to be the exact size of two by two iPod touch retina displays. That’s a 4″ x 6″ display surface. An iPod touch screen has 326 PPI. The 7″ screen would also have 326 PPI just like iPhones and iPods. This would yield a resolution of 1920 x 1280. This resolution would be able to run current retina iPhone applications pixel perfect using the traditional 4:1 pixel scaling, like retina displays do with non-retina apps.

What’s so special about that? By running iPhone applications on a larger screen, as opposed to running iPad applications on a smaller screen, you don’t need the sandpaper anymore. Heck, if you have fat fingers, you’ll rejoice. Larger touch targets are just easier to hit, but still look amazing, especially text, which will be drawn using the full 1920 x 1280 resolution. Anyone that finds the iPod touch or iPhone screen slightly cramped would love it, and could continue to enjoy amazing apps like iMovie, iPhoto, and other apps designed for iPhone.

I have no doubt a 7.85-inch tablet-like device exists in Apple’s labs. I also have no doubt a 7.08-inch device exists. Of course Apple plays around with different approaches to products. I’m sure Apple has both a larger iPod and a smaller iPad, and they are testing which is best.

Everyone has focused on the smaller iPad because the iPad is the new hotness. I am much more interested in what a larger iPod would bring to the mid-range.

Here’s how I see it:

  • The iPhone needs to fit in your hand and your pocket comfortably, hence its 3.5-inch screen.
  • The iPod touch, to date, has been modeled after the iPhone. This is mainly due to transitioning from the old iPod classic size and to simplify software design. Apps made for the iPhone work on the iPod touch. Simple.
  • The iPad is great, and its large screen, while not as portable as some would like, is comparable to a glossy magazine in both size and quality. Its keyboard is very comfortable in landscape, and in portrait, if you split the keyboard.
  • There seems to be plenty of people that want something larger than an iPhone but not as large as an iPad.

That last bullet point is where I see the opportunity for the iPod to move to. I think iPad apps would feel cramped. But if iPhone/iPod interfaces could be scaled up at retina resolution to a 7-inch screen, I think that would satisfy most people desiring a mid-range screen. Thumb-typing would still be comfortable. Text and pictures would be sharp. Developers wouldn’t need to rewrite the book again. And, most of all, the iPod line would be given new life.

When the first iPad was announced, it was derided by many as being “just a big iPod touch”. That clearly has not been the case, because software differentiated it. But does that mean there isn’t a market for an actual “big iPod touch”? I think a 7-inch retina display iPod would grab the corner of the market that Amazon is currently aiming at with the Kindle Fire. It isn’t a full-featured tablet, like an iPad. It isn’t a full telecommunication device, like an iPhone. But it is the best of both worlds for certain people — the people who want a little more screen than an iPhone but want more pocketability than an iPad.

For instance, my three-year-old son uses a second-generation iPod touch filled with kid games, educational apps, children’s books, and Pixar movies. He usually uses it for an hour or two after his nap, and he loves it. But, boy, does he look at my iPad with envious eyes. He loves the larger screen. I do not love him toting around an iPad that is as big as his entire torso.

A 7-inch iPod would be fantastic for him. It’s the perfect size for a young child. I imagine there are many adults who would enjoy it as well.

All-in-all, if Apple is planning to bring a device with a screen in the 7-inch ballpark to market, I think I’d rather see the iPod touch grow up a little, rather than the iPad get squeezed into a smaller screen.

10 Years

10 years ago today, Apple introduced the iPod.

I didn't get one until the third-generation, but then I owned a 4th Generation, an iPod Photo, an iPod nano, and the first iPod touch.

And let's not forget that without the iPod, we may not have the iPhone or iPad, or even Apple as a company.

Most importantly for me, though, is that the iPod rekindled a love and joy for discovering and enjoying music.

Happy birthday, iPod.

Preparing for iOS 5 and iCloud

Tomorrow Apple will undertake what is likely the most ambitious software launch in the company’s history. Tomorrow will see the release of iOS 5, OS X Lion 10.7.2, updates to various supporting apps, and the biggest thing since iTunes — iCloud.

It would be prudent to make some preparations for all of this. First, let’s talk iPhones, iPads, & iPods.

iOS 5

iOS 5 is Apple’s latest software for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. It has loads of new features that you’ll want. Best of all, it’s free.

The first thing you’ll need for putting iOS 5 on your device is iTunes 10.5, which was released earlier today. I would sync each of your devices before upgrading to iOS 5, as that will create a backup. And just for kicks, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to import your camera roll to your computer, as part of iCloud will include significant changes to how photos are handled within iOS. More on that in a bit.

Also, make sure you check for updates to your apps and install them. Apple is approving app updates like gangbusters right now because developers are adding iOS 5 compatibility. If you have an update for an app that lists fixes for iOS 5 and you don’t install them, don’t complain if the app breaks. Install the updates, okay?

Okay, after all that is done, get a good night’s sleep and plug your device in tomorrow afternoon, wait for it to show up in iTunes, then select the device in the sidebar, and click the big Check for Updates button. Then let iTunes update your device while you get a snack.

After you’re all updated, you can enjoy never having to physically plug your iPhone to your computer for syncing again, as long as you have Wi-Fi. From now on you can sync over your home Wi-Fi, backups happen wirelessly with iCloud, and future iOS updates will be pushed over the air to your device.


Where iTunes was the digital hub for the past decade, iCloud is the hub for the next decade or so. iCloud will hold onto copies of your purchased music, TV shows, apps, & books, device backups, contacts, calendars, notes, reminders, documents, photos, and email.

You get a free @me.com email address, which is ad-free to boot. Apps that take advantage of iCloud will be able to sync their data between your devices, as well. iCloud also features location services such as being able to find and lock down a lost device, and even find family & friends that have given you permission to see their location. All in all, iCloud is Apple’s big new amazing technology that will make us feel like we live in the future.

After you update to iOS 5, you will be able to set up iCloud and all its nifty services from the Settings app.

OS X Lion 10.7.2

Ah yes, the Macintosh. The original digital hub. With the advent of iCloud, the Mac has been “demoted” to just another device, and OS X Lion 10.7.2 will bring all the advantages of iCloud with it — including that ability to find and lock down a lost Mac.

The Mac is known for its iLife suite, and part of that will see a little upgrade tomorrow, too. iPhoto 9.2 will include iCloud’s Photo Stream. Take a picture with your iPhone, it shows up in mere moments on your Mac.

A Note for MobileMe Users

If you are a MobileMe user, you’ve probably heard that iCloud is succeeding MobileMe. You’ll still get email, and syncing for calendars, contacts, & bookmarks. You still get Find my iPhone. But a few things aren’t making it. iDisk and Gallery are going away. They are sort of being replaced by Documents in the Cloud and Photo Stream, respectively. And if you’re a multi-Mac user who used MobileMe to keep dock items, Dashboard widgets, and keychains in sync — well, those are going away, too.

But honestly, things like iDisk, and the syncing for dock, Dashboard, & keychains — they never really worked well. So, when you migrate to iCloud, be prepared. On the bright side, iCloud is likely to work much more effectively, and hey, it’s free. Enjoy it.

Tomorrow is a big day. Things are about to get a lot more awesome.

¶ S

Turns out I wasn’t too far off on my late-night predictions yesterday.

The iPhone 4S sports an A5 processor, 8MP camera with vastly improved optics, and 1080p video recording with stabilization. It also features an AI assistant called Siri. It looks exactly like the iPhone 4, which is great because the the iPhone 4 is awesome. It has an improved antenna that can handle both CDMA & GSM frequencies, and is coming to Verizon, AT&T, & newcomer Sprint on October 14.

iOS 5, iCloud, & OS X Lion 10.7.2 will be dropping on October 12. And iCloud did get one more new feature: Friends & Family. This looks like it could be kind of neat for my wife to able to see how close I am to home before calling me to tell me to stop at the store.

And the iPod nano and iPod received very slight revisions. The nano no longer needs a dongle for Nike+ and has more clock faces to choose from since some people have taken to using them as watches. The touch now comes in white (seriously, I don’t think anything has changes as far as specs).

However, I was wrong about the iPod classic. It lives on for yet another year.

iTrip DualConnect

I've been a big fan of Griffin Technology's accessories for Apple kit ever since I bought my first iPod. One of the first things I scout out every time I buy a new iPod (or these days, iPhone) is a way to hook it up to my car.

Back in the day, I used their iTrip device to broadcast music from the iPod to my car's stereo via FM. But having to change stations gets old quickly when driving a decent distance. Griffin has mitigated that over the years with new iTrips that scan for open frequencies, but I hopped ship to AUX ports when those became popular.

My all time favorite car accessory was the TuneFlex AUX with Smartclick for my old iPhone 3G. The best part was the remote that attached to the steering wheel. Fantastic device. Unfortunately, that doesn't work with my iPhone 4.

So I tried their new TuneFlex AUX Handsfree. That didn't work out so well.

Finally, I've settled on a simpler solution. The iTrip DualConnect. It can connect via either FM or AUX. I took the AUX road. It charges your iPod or iPhone and acquires the audio as line-out via the Dock connector. I'm a big fan of line-out.

The play/pause, forward, backward controls are nice (but I do miss my steering wheel remote).

All in all, it works as advertised, unlike the TuneFlex AUX Handsfree. Consider it highly reccommended.

Couch to 5k

A week ago from today, I started something that I have wanted to do for a long time, but I had yet to ever commit to. I want to run a 5K. There’s always been one problem: I’m a couch potato.

Couch to 5k is a regimen that’s been designed to get just about anyone from the couch to running 5 kilometers or 30 minutes in just 9 weeks. Nine. Weeks.

Now, I am all about having structure and a schedule. That seriously helps me keep focused on a goal and away from shiny distractions. But the static grid of the training plan is, quite frankly, not too helpful while I’m on the treadmill.

Now, in my past experiences with running, I have used the Nike+ system with my old second-gen iPod nano. Nowadays, I use my iPhone 4 and a Griffin AeroSport for Nike+. And now that I endeavor to train, and train properly, for Couch to 5k, I needed a little help. You guessed it, There’s an App for That™.

The aptly named Couch to 5k app is my weapon of choice. Like I said, I started a week ago, and this training takes 9 weeks. Just so happens, a week and a day after I complete the training, there’s a 5k in my town. So this is good for me.

So, about the app. It prompts you during each workout for a walking warmup, then when to run, walk, and to do your cooldown. The greatest thing is that you don’t have to think about it. You just let the app guide you and you just do it™.

You can control music playback from within the app, and it works concurrently with Nike+ on your iOS 4 multitasking-capable iPhone or iPod touch. Another nice touch is a complete guide to stretching within the app. It is super important to stretch before and after your workout. Heck, stretch daily, your tendons will thank you later.

If you’re a fellow Apple geek who needs some motivation to uproot yourself from the couch and run a 5k two-and-a-half months, definitely look into this app. To get you started, watch the developer’s video below.

Couch to 5K: the iPhone App from lonelysandwich on Vimeo.