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Amazon Fire TV: First Impressions (Spoiler: They’re Not Good)

I got an Amazon Fire TV today. It’s finally started shipping in the UK. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) I have to say, my first experience with the device isn’t very positive. After plugging it in, I saw a screen asking me to choose my language, then I saw this:


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The progress bar moved, slowly, for about ten minutes, then I got a message that the update had failed, and I should unplug and replug the device. I did that, and the progress bar is moving very, very slowly. I called Amazon, wondering if there was something wrong, or whether it was just a Very Large Update, and the support person didn’t know. And there’s no way to reset the device to factory settings.

This isn’t a very good customer experience. To have a device that simply isn’t ready to work out of the box, and to have to download what may be several gigabytes of software to get it to work, is just wrong. The device should work, using its current software, and let you set it up and see how to use it. It should then tell you that there’s an update, and, perhaps, give you an idea of how long it will take to download the update.

Compare this with setting up a new iPad, which I did yesterday. Through every step of the process, the iPad tells you what’s happening, and shows you what you need to do.

That’s the difference between Amazon and Apple. Amazon doesn’t care very much about the customer experience; for Apple, it’s the key to keeping customers. From the packaging to setup to usage, Apple devices make you feel comfortable. Amazon, they just flog the stuff and let you deal with it.

How Will Apple Implement Touch ID on Macs?

Last year, after I had had my iPhone 5s for a while, I wrote about how I want Touch ID everywhere. I have a new iPad Air 2, which has Touch ID, so the two mobile devices I use most let me unlock them with my fingerprints. It’s not as big a deal on the iPad, because I don’t use it anywhere near as much as my iPhone, but it’s nice to have.

But I want Touch ID everywhere (at least on all my Apple products).

I’ve been wondering how Apple can implement Touch ID on Macs. The sensor is very small; the size of a home button on an iOS device, so it would fit on the corner of a trackpad; I can imagine Apple release the Magic Trackpad Touch with this feature.

Some have suggested using an iPhone to unlock an Mac. While this is an interesting idea, I think I could do it faster by typing my password on my Mac. Using the phone, you would have to a) unlock the phone with Touch ID, then b) activate something that lets you then choose to unlock the Mac. With the Handoff technology built into iOs 8 and OS X Yosemite, this is certainly possible, but I wonder if it would save any time.

I can imagine that future Mac laptops may have a Touch ID sensor built into a power button; it’s about the same size as the old power buttons on MacBooks Pro of years past. But that wouldn’t work with desktop Macs.

I hope Apple does something in that direction. It would make life easier, saving just a bit of annoyance when I want to access my Mac.

The Committed Podcast Discusses iOS Keyboards, Yosemite and More

The Committed Podcast Icon 1400x1400 01On this week’s episode of The Committed podcast, Ian Schray, Rob Griffiths and I welcome Greg Scown of Smile, and we discuss iOS Keyboards (Smile makes the essential Mac utility TextExpander, whose iOS version is a custom keyboard), OS X Yosemite, and much more.

Listen to The Committed, Episode 55: “This Show Costs Me Money”.

Tag Items in Your iTunes Library in a Single Window

iTunes 12 has made a mess of tagging media files; the new Info windows are hard to navigate, and, depending on the type of content you’re editing, the tags you see change.

Doug Adams, purveyor of the wonderful Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes came up with an AppleScript-based applet that lets you edit all the tags in a single window. Using this, you not only can avoid the hard-to-manage iTunes 12 Info window, but also not have to switch tabs to edit multiple tags.

The $2 Multi-Item Edit gives you a single window where you can edit most of iTunes’ tags. (Album Artwork is one that’s not available.)

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Check out Multi-Item Edit. It’ll definitely save you time tagging your iTunes library.

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:


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


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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.


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(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:

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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:


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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:


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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:


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(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).

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