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First Impressions: IPad Air 2

The delivery guy knocked on my door early today with my iPad Air 2. I hadn’t initially planned to upgrade from the first iPad Air, but I decided to pass last year’s iPad on to my son, who was a couple of years behind. I didn’t see any really compelling reasons to upgrade from the previous model, and most users won’t find any either. The main new features on the iPad Air 2 are, for me, Touch ID and the thinner, lighter form factor. The display is also improved, but I’ll write about that later, when I’ve had more time to use the device.

I’ve been using Touch ID since the iPhone 5s was released, and I think it’s a brilliant technology. However, I’m not convinced that I need it on an iPad; for me, the iPhone is the device I carry with me all day, the one I often check quickly; being able to unlock it with Touch ID is wonderful. I use the iPad occasionally: to read, watch a movie or TV show in bed, play a game, or check email. But it’s not a device I use all day. I don’t mind tapping four digits to access it, but having Touch ID does make it a tiny bit easier to use.

The iPad Air 2 is clearly thinner than the previous generation, but I think Apple will have to stop obsessing about “thinness.” Sure, it’s nice for the device to be a bit thinner, and a bit lighter, but the difference is minimal. Holding each one in one hand, I can barely feel the difference in weight; unlike when I switched from the retina iPad to the iPad Air. As for the thickness, there is a clear difference. Here’s the iPad Air 2 on the left, and the original iPad Air on the right:


IMG 2299

The iPad Air 2 is a tiny bit thicker than the current iPod touch:


2014 10 22 10 24 47

They’re both listed as being 6.1 mm thick, but as you can see in the above photo, the iPad Air 2, on the left, seems to be a hair’s width thicker.

No matter, when you get to this thickness, it’s not much of a big deal. The iPad Air 2 can probably bend if you put it in a pocket, or in, say, a knapsack full of books, and, while Apple will probably keep thinning the iPad in future generations, there’s not much to be gained. Being less thick makes little difference now, and the weight gain would be minimal.

A quick comparison of the displays of the two iPad Airs shows a noticeable difference in gamma – the original iPad Air is a bit more bluish – and the iPad Air 2 doesn’t seem quite as bright. When I compare the two looking at an ebook, it actually seems that the viewing angle on the iPad Air (original) is better than that of the iPad Air 2, while Apple claims that the new model has “more vivid colors and greater contrast,” though it could be the anti-reflective coating that makes it look a bit darker.


IMG 2302

(Photos like this are never good enough to really appreciate displays; they are not focused directly on either display, but I think you can see the difference in brightness here.)

I’ve rarely used the camera on any of my iPads, so I won’t look at that now; I make shoot some photos later and see how they compare.

So the new iPad Air 2 is an excellent device. It’s light, thin, and the display is crisp. That display is a tad darker, probably because of the anti-reflective display, but that’s fine; anything to reduce reflections. If you have the previous iPad Air, I wouldn’t recommend upgrading, unless you absolutely want Touch ID. But if your iPad is a couple years old, and you use it regularly, you’ll find the weight difference between this model and any pre-Air iPads to be noticeable. Also, the new storage tiers make this a good upgrade; the iPad Air 2 cost a bit less than the original iPad, and this with twice the storage (64 GB vs. 32 GB on the iPad Air.)

The iPad remains a great device for doing all sorts of things. The iPad Air makes it better; but just by a little bit.

Note: Following a comment below, I checked with an app called System Activity Monitor to see how much RAM the iPad Air 2 has. It does, as rumors have suggested, have 2 GB:

IMG_0338 2.PNG

Great Apps to Discover and Learn More about Classical Music

Classical music is proving to withstand the tests of time, so you might be wondering how an app can help get you more in touch with this rich, inspiring art form. Sure, you may already consider yourself a classical music buff, but there’s always more you can learn about how orchestras work, or how certain classical works are constructed. Or perhaps you enjoy classical music and want to immerse yourself into the genre some more, but you don’t know where to start. Maybe you have kids, and you want to introduce them to classical music in a fun way.

I looked at a number of apps—and some books—that can help you with any of those scenarios. Whether you’re a novice to the genre, or a seasoned musician, you’ll find something that will help you discover and learn more about great music.

Read my latest Macworld article.

How to: View Your Music Videos in iTunes 12

If you’ve had time to check out iTunes 12, you may have noticed something missing. In iTunes 11, when you selected your Music library, the navigation bar at the top of the window included a button to access your music videos. In iTunes 12, there is no such button:


iTunes.png

It’s odd, but, while there is a way to view your music videos, it’s well hidden. To see them, select the Music library, as I’ve done above, then click Playlists, to show the iTunes Playlists sidebar. Only then can you see your Music Videos library:


music-videos.png

I wonder if this is a bug, or if someone simply forgot to add a button for the Music Videos library in the navigation bar…

Apple’s Weird Math, or the Weight of the iPad

I was looking at the specs for the new iPad Air 2, comparing its weight with last year’s original iPad Air. I’m unimpressed by the difference in thickness between the devices, but wanted to see how much difference the thinner iPad meant in terms of weight. On Apple’s page where you can compare iPad models, I saw this:


compare-ipads.png

(I’ve edited the above, so the images display right about the weight section, which is quite far down on the Compare iPads page.)

I you think for a second, you realize there’s something wrong with the math. The iPad Air 2 weighs 32 grams less than the original iPad Air; that’s almost an ounce, or 1/16 of a pound. But the difference between the two – .96 lbs and 1 lb – is clearly wrong. Last year’s iPad Air actually weighs 1.03 pounds, yet Apple rounds this down to a pound. For other models, they have un-rounded numbers: .98 lbs for the Wi-Fi + Cellular model of the iPad Air 2, 1.05 lbs for last year’s version. But last years Wi-Fi iPad Air is curiously an even pound.

I suspect that Apple rounded down last year, and, since they did so, they can’t change the weight, but a simple calculation shows their error. It’s odd; you’d think they’re want to better highlight the difference between the two models: 32 grams, or just over 1/16 of a pound, or, to be precise, 0.07 lbs. When you compare the two in the above graphic, if you aren’t familiar with the conversion (454 g = 1 lb – you’d think there’s less of a difference in weight.

This isn’t a big deal, but it’s a spec that’s clearly wrong (at least in pounds).

How To: Use OS X Yosemite’s Finder Preview Pane

A neat feature in Yosemite that I haven’t seen mentioned much is the new Preview pane in the Finder. If you display this, you’ll see a preview of whatever item you’ve selected in a Finder window. (This is new in icon view; it has existed for years in column view.)

Here’s an example:


finder-preview.png

I’ve got three files in the folder above, and I’ve displayed the Finder preview pane by pressing Command-Shift-P, or choosing View > Show Preview. I selected a file, and you can see a preview of it; in this case, it’s an audio file, and you can see its artwork, size, duration, date information and more. If you hover the cursor over it, you’ll see a play button; you can play the music. If you have certain types of text files, you’ll see forward and back buttons, and you can view their content.

You can change the size of the preview pane, but not by much. And it doesn’t play well if you use a colored background; by default, I have all my Finder windows set to use a blue background, and it looks a bit odd when the preview pane is visible, as there’s no visible separator between the two sections.


finder-preview2.png

But this is a useful feature, one you may not want to leave on all the time, but one that you’ll toggle when you want to glance at different items in a folder without selecting them and pressing Command-I. It doesn’t display as much information, but what it does show might be enough.

How To: Use Dark Mode in OS X Yosemite

OS X Yosemite features a dark mode option. If you turn this on, your menus, Dock and application switcher (the bezel that displays when you press Command-Tab) will be black, and not translucent.

To activate this, open System Preferences, then click on General. Check Use dark menu bar and Dock.


Screen.png

You can see above what the menus look like. I don’t find this very usable; the contrast is too harsh (it’s always harder reading light text on a dark background than the contrary), and many menu extras don’t display correctly, including some of Apple’s. But if you like this interface, it’s just a click away.

The iPad mini 3 is Not Worth the Money

Apple yesterday updated the iPad line, with a new processor, improved camera and an even thinner body for the iPad Air, and Touch ID added to both the iPad Air and the iPad mini. But the iPad mini 3 sees only the addition of Touch ID; everything else is exactly the same as the iPad mini 2.

Nevertheless, this new iPad mini costs $100 more than the iPad mini 2, which Apple is still selling, for the base 16 GB model. It’s hard to compare other versions, as the iPad mini 2 is only available in 16 or 32 GB, and the iPad mini 3 in 16, 64 and 128 GB.


ipad-comparison.png

Nevertheless, that’s $100 for Touch ID, and for an iPad whose processor is already a year old, and which will have a shorter lifespan in terms of OS upgradability than, say, the iPad Air 2, which has a newer processor.

This seems like a ripoff. With Apple still selling the older model – and even the first iPad mini – it’s obvious that, unless you really need the storage, you’re better off getting last year’s model. You can even get a 32 GB iPad mini 2 for less than a 16 GB iPad mini 3. Touch ID is nice, but it’s not that big a deal, and not worth paying $100 for.

iTunes 12, iTunes Match and “Removed” Files

Apple hasn’t said whether iTunes Match has changed at all, but I’m seeing an issue with a number of purchased tracks in my library with iTunes 12. I have about 60 tracks that show an iCloud Status of “Removed,” and which, while they are in my iTunes library on my Mac, they don’t show up on my iOS devices that use iTunes Match. The Removed status means, according to Apple:

“This icon appears when you remove a song from iCloud (from a different computer). Songs deleted from iCloud are immediately deleted from associated iOS devices, but will remain on other associated computers until you manually delete them.”

As you can see here, Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks album, which I purchased from iTunes, shows several tracks as Removed. Some show as Purchased, as they should.


removed 2.png

This is a bit confusing; I only use iTunes Match with one computer. Since they’re all purchased songs, I think this has something to do with iTunes Match itself, and since I didn’t see this in iTunes 11, something has either gone wrong on my Mac, or on the iTunes Match back-end. I did turn off iTunes Match and turn it on again, and that did nothing.

I found that if I select one of these tracks, then right-clicked and chose Add to iCloud, it gets added to my iTunes Match library as Matched, not Purchased. When I deleted some of the tracks, then re-downloaded them from my Purchased list, they showed up correctly as purchased. This is a problem, however, because most of these tracks come from Bob Dylan: The Collection, a digital box set of Dylan’s music I bought years ago, which isn’t tagged by album. So to find the exact tracks in my Purchased list, I’d need to spend a lot of time, as there are multiple versions of many of these songs.

I’m also seeing some tracks that show up twice, once as Purchased and a second time as Matched.


removed3.png

And on a number of albums, tracks show up as Matched twice. There is one copy in my iTunes library, and another in the cloud, and the durations of the tracks differ by four or five seconds.


Different times

None of these problems occurred with iTunes 11. It looks as though iTunes 12 did something to whatever database is stored on Apple’s servers, which contains information about your iTunes Match library. I have no idea how to fix this, other than, for the Removed tracks, re-downloading them.

As for iTunes Match matching, I tried with some albums where some tracks matched and others were uploaded – this shouldn’t ever happen; if the album is on the iTunes Store, every track should match – and I saw no change. This suggests that the iTunes Match matching algorithm hasn’t been improved, though it would require more rigorous testing to prove this conclusively.

So, if you use iTunes Match, think twice before upgrading to iTunes 12 (though if you do upgrade to Yosemite, you don’t really have a choice). Feel free to post comments if you’re seeing the same problems.

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