The Committed Podcast Talks Tips (and More)

The Committed Podcast Icon 1400x1400 01On this week’s The Committed podcast, Ian Schray, Rob Griffiths and I talk tips. We do a round table offering some of our favorite tips for working with OS X, iOS, iTunes and more.

We also discuss Nike+ fuel (because I recently bought a Nike+ Fuelband SE), Dropbox, the cloud, and many other things.

Listen to The Committed podcast, Episode 30: “Tips Extravaganza.”

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iOS Tip: Save Your Battery by Turning Off Background App Refresh

A number of iPhone users have reported poor battery life since iOS 7 came out. I’m one of them; I find my iPhone 5s, which used to get through a day in most cases, needs a bump at some point to make sure I get to the end of the day with power.

2014-03-31 11.53.07.pngOne way you can save power, and perhaps make your battery last a little longer, is to turn off Background App Refresh, or at least turn it off for specific apps. You can find this in the Settings app, under General.

There’s a global setting at the top: Background App Refresh. You can turn this off and prevent all apps from refreshing in the background, or you can activate or deactivate specific apps.

Here’s how Background App Refresh works, according to Apple:

When Background App Refresh is on, apps that take advantage of this feature can refresh themselves in the background. For example, an app can check if new content is available and download the updates, or retrieve the updated content in the background when it receives a push notification, so the new content is ready for viewing when you launch the app. Apps can also schedule background refreshing based on your location. If you force an app to quit by dragging it up from the multitasking display, it won’t be able to do its background activities, such as tracking location or responding to VoIP calls, until you relaunch the app.

Also, the refresh frequency is not fixed. Here’s what Apple says:

iOS learns patterns based on your use of the device and tries to predict when an app should be updated in the background. It also learns when the device is typically inactive, such as during the night, to reduce update frequency when the device is not in use.

Unlike Location Services, where apps will show an arrow when they’ve accessed your location (see the screenshot above), you have no way of knowing when apps are refreshed. So certain apps you use a lot may be refreshing a lot, without you being aware, causing your battery to deplete too quickly. However:

Certain tasks or services can continue to run in the background. To lessen the effect on battery life, normal app background refreshing is scheduled for efficient times, such as when your device is connected to Wi-Fi, plugged into a power source, or being actively used.

So, if your battery’s not making it through the day, try turning off Background App Refresh, either for all apps, or for specific ones. It might make a difference; then again, it might not.

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Does Microsoft Office for iOS Matter?

Microsoft has released iPad versions of its Office apps, Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Microsoft is very late to the party, so the real question here is do these apps matter?

Alas, the answer is Yes! They matter a great deal to people who are locked into the Microsoft ecosystem, mostly because the companies they work for depend on these products to create documents. While Apple’s iWork apps – Pages, Numbers and Keynote – do a good job at importing Microsoft documents, they’re not perfect. If you’ve got a complex report that you’ve been working on in Word, and you want to access it on your iPad, you can either export that file in RTF format, or import it in Pages from the .doc file, but there’s a good chance that the formatting won’t match. If you use any kind of auto-numbering or fields, they won’t transfer at all, so you simply couldn’t use Pages to edit the document (though you may be able to view it).

But this app is expensive. Office Mobile is free to download, and you can use it for 30 days; after that, you need an Office 365 subscription (currently $10 a month, but a cheaper Office 365 Personal subscription will soon be available for $7 a month; you can purchase a one-year subscription via an in-app purchase for $100). You can view documents without a subscription, but you cannot either create or edit documents without paying.

Compare this to Apple’s offerings: Pages, Numbers and Keynote are free. They’re free to download, and free to use. (Granted this is a recent change, but ever before they became free, they only cost $10 each; to buy, not per month.)

However, Microsoft’s subscription also includes access to desktop versions of these apps. If you get, for example, an Office 365 Home Premium subscription, you have access to Office apps on up to 5 PCs or Macs, along with 5 tablets. You also get an extra 20 GB storage on OneDrive, for each of up to five users. So, if you want to use Office apps at home, and have several users, this is almost a good deal.

I’m not a fan of the subscription model, but if I did use these apps regularly (which I don’t), and with multiple users, I’d probably consider that to be a fair deal. The upcoming Office 365 Personal subscription at $7 a month seems a bit steep to me; I think a single user subscription should be about half the price of the five-user version.

By the way, you can get this subscription cheaper from Amazon: an Office 365 Home Premium one-year subscription is currently only $67.15.

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Apple to Refund Some In-App Purchases Made by Children

In-app purchases have been a problem for Apple, but more of a problem for parents, whose kids may have spent lots of money on extra lives, coins or toys in the games they play. Personally, I think the in-app purchase-based economy is evil, and companies like Apple should stop it: there are games where you can spend hundreds of dollars buying extra lives and hints, and the process is just manipulative.

The problem with in-app purchases and children, however, is that Apple allowed in-app purchases to continue for a period of time after a parent entered a password. So, a kind could buy a game – or, more often, download a free game – and the parent would enter a password for the purchase. They could then buy in-app purchases without the parent needing to enter the password again for a certain time.

Apple has sent out emails to iTunes account holders offering to refund some in-app purchases. Here’s what they say:

Dear iTunes account owner,
Apple is committed to providing parents and kids with a great experience on the App Store. We review all app content before allowing it on our store, provide a wide range of age-appropriate content, and include parental controls in iOS to make it easy for parents to restrict or disable
access to content.

We’ve heard from some customers that it was too easy for their kids to make in-app purchases. As a result, we’ve improved controls for parents so they can better manage their children’s purchases, or restrict them entirely. Additionally, we are offering refunds in certain cases.

Our records show that you made some in-app purchases, and if any of these were unauthorized purchases by a minor, you might be eligible for a refund from Apple.

If you’ve made any in-app purchases, you’ll get an email like this. And if you think any of them were made by your kids, take advantage of this opportunity to seek a refund.

Some of the highest grossing apps are “free” apps that thrive on in-app purchases. Apply has changed the in-app purchase process slightly, but I think it’s still a bad way for the app economy to work.

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iWant: Faster iOS Device Syncing

I remember the good old days, when it took just a few minutes to sync an iOS device. Since iOS 7, however, it can take 15 minutes or more to sync my iPhone with my Mac. The longest part is when iTunes is “Waiting for changes to be applied.” This occurs just before audio files are copied to the device.


I’m sitting at my desk right now, waiting to sync my iPhone. I think I started about twenty minutes ago, and all I’m doing is adding a bunch of audio files I want to listen to when I go out for a walk. Which I hope to do before the sun goes down…

Back in the day, this process was much faster than it is now. I don’t know exactly what’s changed since iOS 7, but I see this all the time, on all my iOS devices: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad Air.

What about others? Are you seeing long sync times for your iOS devices?

Just after I finished writing this post, iTunes started copying files. And I see this:


It’s copying about half the music files on my iPhone. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this happen. Somehow, the music database gets corrupted. I think this has happened a half-dozen times since iOS 7 was released. The best fix I’ve found is to just restore the device; then resync everything. Sigh.

Related: it’s amazing how slow it is to copy data to the flash memory on an iPhone. Restoring a device takes hours, if you include media files. Even to copy basic apps (in my case, about 2 GB worth of apps), it’s well more than a half hour.

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iOS Apps Should Be Able To Provide Incremental Updates

When you update an app from the Mac App Store, you don’t always have to download the entire app. I’m not sure how this works, but I see many updates to be only a few MB; even Apple app updates are much smaller than the size of their full apps (for apps like Pages, Keynote, etc.).

But this isn’t the case with iOS apps. There’s no reason that I should have to download this much data to update this app:


When the update is merely for minor bug fixes:


Since a lot of people update iOS apps on their iPhones or iPads, they may mistakenly initiate updates when using cellular data, and be surprised by how much data is used. (The App Store app does specify the size of an update, but I’m sure a lot of people ignore it.)

I’m also a bit surprised that the update is larger on my iPad than it is via iTunes on my Mac:


This could just be the way that Apple calculates space on iOS devices versus Macs. But the two should be the same.

In any case, there’s no need to force users to update entire apps. There are ways to provide incremental updates, and Apple should do this for iOS. Some of us have bandwidth caps, and large apps like this shouldn’t have to be fully downloading just for “minor bug fixes.”

Update: Apparently, the app store is supposed to do this automatically. It’s not clear why this doesn’t occur with all apps.

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iOS Tip: Send Files Between iOS Devices with AirDrop

I had a thought experiment today. I wanted to send a PDF file to my girlfriend, who’s away for a few days, so she could read it. She has an iPhone and an iPad, but the only device with a data contract is the iPhone. However, it’s hard to read a PDF that’s scaled for standard pages on an iPhone. I realized that there’s a very simple way to do this using AirDrop, as long as the two devices have WiFi and Bluetooth enabled. Both devices need to be running iOS 7, and only the following devices work with AirDrop:

  • iPhone 5 or later
  • iPad (4th generation)
  • iPad mini
  • iPod touch (5th generation)

First, you need to activate AirDrop. To do this, swipe up from the bottom of the screen on your devices. Control Center displays. Look for the AirDrop section; if it’s not highlighted – if its text isn’t white – tap it. You can choose to activate it for Contacts Only or Everyone; it’s safest to choose the former. If you need to activate it for Everyone later, you can do this.

Start by sending the file by email. The recipient will open the email, then tap the PDF file in the message body to download it. Next, tap the Share button – the square with the arrow leading from it – at the top-right of the screen. In the panel that displays, you’ll see any devices available to AirDrop in the top section. In the screenshot below, I’ve got my iPad set up to receive files by AirDrop, and my iPhone shows my user in the AirDrop section of the screen.

2014-02-13 12.23.46.png

2014-02-13 12.23.03.png

The receiving device will display an alert asking if you want to accept the file. Tap Accept, then you’ll see a list of apps that can open the file. Tap the one you want to use.

The file will open in the selected device.

A few points. First, depending on the type of file and the apps on your device, you may not have many options. I have several apps that can read PDF files, and they show up in the list. I’m surprised that Safari isn’t listed, but since iBooks can read PDFs, there’s at least one Apple app available.

Some types of files won’t offer any options. If you share a photo using AirDrop, it gets added to your Photos library immediately.

Someone asked my why this is easier than sending emails. There are far fewer taps to send a file via AirDrop than via email, and emails are limited in attachment size, so if I want to send several photos, or a big PDF file, I might not be able to send it by email. Plus you have to wait for the email to be sent and received; with AirDrop, it’s device-to-device, and there’s no upload and download to and from remote servers.

Finally, why can’t you share files between OS X and iOS? This is surprising, since they both have AirDrop. I’d often like to move photos from my iPhone to my Mac more easily than by syncing. And I’d occasionally like to send PDFs to my iPad to read without having to sync or send them by email.

AirDrop can be useful for transferring files across iOS devices, even your own. Even if you’re not connected to a Wi-Fi network, it works seamlessly.

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iWant: Celebrity Siri Voices

Wouldn’t it be great if Apple sold in-app purchases with iOS for celebrity Siri voices? I’d love to have Bob Dylan answer my queries on my iPhone. Or perhaps Sean Connery. On the female side, a sultry Jodie Foster, or a bubbly Christina Ricci. Just think of the possibilities.

Dylan once joked about doing the voice for a GPS device

Which voice would you like for Siri?

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