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Hardware Notes: Belkin Charge+Sync Dock for iPhone

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71bQtPPPf5L._SL1500_.jpgAfter I got my new Mac Pro, I decided to clean up my desk a bit. Gone are the random papers and gadgets that used to surround my workspace; now I have a clean desk, and I can see the nice oak beneath my hands and around my keyboard and trackpad.

One thing I needed, however, was a better way to connect my iPhone and iPod touch when syncing. I used to lay them flat on the desk and connect them to a lightning cable. But that’s annoying; since the cable connects at the bottom of the devices, I needed to turn them with the cable coming out toward me to be able to see notifications and texts on my iPhone, and that cable gets in the way.

So I thought of getting a dock. I queried some friends, and asked on Twitter, and Manfred L. recommended the Belkin Charge+Sync Dock for iPhone. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) One thing that was important was that the dock fit with the the iPhone and the case I have; an Evutec Karbon Sleek case in teak. (Apple Store.) The case is only 7mm thick, so I thought the dock should work.

Well, it does. The dock fits with the case on the iPhone, and probably with a few mm to spare. It sets the iPhone at a good angle for viewing, and takes up little space.

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There’s not much that a dock does, other than connect to a computer, and let another device sit on it, but this one is fine. I don’t need a very long cable – as you can see above, it’s on my desk right in front of my Mac Pro – but the cable it comes with is 1.2 m (4 ft). The cable is permanently connected to the dock, so the only downside is that if you need a longer cable, you’ll have to get an extension, and if you want a shorter cable, you’ll have to use cable ties to wrap it up.

But it holds the iPhone securely, as well as my iPod touch, and will even hold my iPad Air, but it’s delicate to set that device on the dock correctly. Given that may main need was a dock that can work with my case, this one fits the bill. If you need an iPhone dock, check this one out.

Will Apple Allow Headphones to Use Lightning Ports? What’s the Point?

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Apple has reportedly introduced specifications for headphones that use a lightning connector; that’s the one you plug into your iOS device to sync and charge it. According to 9to5Mac:

Apple will allow two configurations for the headphones. Standard Lightning Headphones are described by Apple as using minimum components when paired with a digital-to-analog converter supported by the Lightning Headphone Module. It also has an Advanced Lightning Headphones specification that allows digital audio processing features like active noise cancellation and uses a digital signal processor and digital/analog converter.

This makes no sense. The 3.5mm headphone jack is a standard around the world; you know that any headphones you buy will work with that jack, unless they have a larger plug, 6.5mm, which only works on amplifiers. (In that case, you generally get an adapter.)

Would you buy headphones that you can only use on Apple devices? I wouldn’t, and I wouldn’t recommend that anyone buy such headphones. Why spend money on good headphones – because these specs aren’t talking about earbuds – and not be able to use them on other devices? Also, you wouldn’t be able to use the headphones when charging a device. I sometimes do this to talk on my iPhone while it’s charging.

Financially, this would make sense for Apple, since they own the lightning specification, and charge licensing fees for its use. But for users? Ridiculous.

This sort of specification makes sense for other devices: DACs, headphone amplifiers, docks, and DJ tools. But for headphones, it requires that the devices have batteries; it’s sending a digital stream, and it’s not clear if it can also send an analog stream. There are times when you want powered headphones, for things such as noise cancellation. But powered headphones don’t sound as good as passive analog headphones, which don’t alter sound in any way.

The future for powered headphones is wireless, using Bluetooth technology. If you’re going to have powered headphones, the idea of connecting them with a wire is foolish. There are better Bluetooth codecs, such as aptX, whose lossless version can even handle 24-bit 96 kHz audio. It would make a lot more sense to work in this direction, and eschew the cord.

Some comments I saw suggest that removing the headphone jack from an iPhone will allow it to be thinner. I think people making such comments have never seen an iPod touch, which has a headphone jack, and is substantially thinner than an iPhone. When you look at it, you can see that the lightning connector and the headphone jack are about the same thickness.

If this rumor is true – and it’s healthy to be skeptical, given some rumors that have run rampant recently – I don’t see this as being for headphones, but rather for other audio devices.

Update: Turns out that this is true. However, nothing suggests that this would replace the standard headphone jack. I’d still not buy headphones that can only plug into that connector.

Beware of New Phishing Emails Targeting iPhone Users

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There have been reports of iPhone users being held hostage by scammers locking their iPhones. No one hacked Apple’s servers; more likely, iPhone users got stung by phishing emails, and gave up their Apple IDs and passwords.

I just got another one of those emails. At first glance, it looks legit, and scary: the subject is Your Apple ID was used to sign in to iTunes on an iPhone 5. And the body of the message tells me that my Apple account might be disabled.

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photo.PNGDon’t fall for it. Hover your cursor over the link in the email, or, if you’re on an iOS device, tap and hold the link until this pops up; you’ll see, as you can in the screenshot to the left, that the domain is not apple.com.

Be careful. If you give up your Apple ID and password, not only can someone access your iTunes Store account and spend money, but they can also access your email, and your Find My iPhone settings, locking your phone, as the current scammers are doing.

Hardware Notes: Anker 40W 5-Port USB Charger

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001.pngYou know how, when you have a dozen or so devices to charge, that it gets increasingly complicated to charge them? You only have so many USB ports on your computer to plug them in, and it’s annoying to keep playing musical USB ports with your cables.

Here in The Barn, I’ve got lots of stuff (and I’ll only list my own devices, not my partner’s): iPhone, Android phone, iPad air, iPad mini, iPod touch, iPod classic, iPod shuffle, digital camera, Kindle, Bluetooth headphones, FitBit; there are probably a couple of others I don’t see.

To charge these devices, I’m constantly moving them around, disconnecting their cables, and connecting them to one of my Macs, or to a wall charger (for the iOS devices).

A couple of months ago, I spotted this Anker 40W 5-Port USB Charger (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), for a mere £20 on Amazon UK (it’s currently $26 on Amazon.com). It plugs into the wall, and has five USB ports that can charge any device that connects to that type of port. They say it’s a “smart” charger, adapting its voltage to the device. I don’t have anything to measure it, but it’s certainly made my life easier. I keep it on a shelf, with five cables sticking out of it, and use it to charge everything that’s not an iOS device; I charge those from my Mac, most of the time, when I sync them. (I also charge my iPhone with a wall charger overnight.)

It’s a life-saver. No longer do I have, well, all my devices on my desk; it’s still a mess, but less than before. For devices that don’t sync, there’s no need to ever connect them to my Mac, and I have half a shelf in a bookcase with the charger and a bunch of cables. I keep some cables connected to the charger all the time; I leave one free port to connect others as needed.

It’s a small device, about the size of a pack of cigarettes, and it’s one of the most practical gadgets I’ve bought in a long time. Until we get wireless charging for our portable devices, this is the best way to keep them juiced.

Why Are Digital Cameras So Complicated?

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I take most of my pictures with my iPhone, and I have to admit, I don’t know how to use its camera very well. I’ve never found good documentation, and I’m only now starting to figure out some of its features. Heck, I only learned a few months ago that I could force the camera to focus by tapping on the display.

But digital cameras are worse. I have a good compact camera, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ30 (what an easy to remember model number…). I bought it about a year and a half ago for a few reasons: I wanted a camera with GPS, with an optical zoom, and with good image stabilization. I’ve used it for basic photos, but never looked into how it really works. So I’ve recently tried to make some sense of it.

Unfortunately, the manual for this camera, at nearly 200 pages, is daunting. I’m not a photo neophyte; I know how to shoot with SLRs, adjusting apertures and f-stops, since I had many film SLRs back in the day of analog photography. I’d probably find it much easier to work a DSLR, but I don’t want something that bulky, and don’t need to spend that much on a camera, given how few photos I shoot.

I want to take pictures, and I want to know which features will help me. But the manual is far too long, and written as many technical manuals are. Yet a text on the title page suggests that I can do without it:

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Heck, I don’t need the advanced features; so show me the manual for the basic features… Oh, there isn’t any.

And, anyway, a bit lower on the page, the manual tells me:

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I’m doomed…

If You Want to Save Space on your iPod or iPhone, Check Your Album Artwork

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If you have a large music collection, and have to cull it to squeeze as much as possible on your iPhone or iPod, you may want to look at another way to save space. If you have album artwork for all your tracks, you may want to consider checking how much space it takes up.

When you add album art to an album, it gets copied to every track. So, if an album has ten tracks, and you add album art that takes up 200 K, you’ve added about 2 MB to the size of your music. If your album art for that album is 1 MB, then that’s 10 MB. And so on.

If you manually add album art to songs, you have many choices. You can search Google for the artist and album, and, in most cases, find a number of appropriate images. They come in varying sizes, and a couple of different formats.

The first way to save space is to choose smaller images. I went looking for album art for the Grateful Dead’s Live/Dead album, and found lots of choices.

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The one above is 600 x 606 pixels; I find that to be an appropriate size. It displays well on my iPhone, and on my Apple TV. (Apple provides 600-pixel artwork with music it sells.) But if you only look at your album art on a portable device, you may find that 300 x 300 pixels is sufficient; for an equivalent image, this takes up 1/4 the space.

There is also the question of format. The above image is a JPEG, and it takes up a mere 74 K; that’s pretty small. Apple’s equivalent image is about 200 K, but it does have more detail, and it’s a PNG. JPEGs are generally smaller, but, depending on the level of compression used, they may not look as good.

At the other end of the spectrum, I found a 1423 x 1423 PNG which looks very nice, but it takes up 4.7 MB. That’s about as much space as a three-minute song at 256 kbps. If all your artwork is that size, you’ll be using about half the space on your iPod or iPhone for artwork.

So think carefully before you add huge album art to your music. It will take up a lot of space in your iTunes library, and on your portable device.

An iPhone User Goes Android

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Moto g 2732952bI’ve written about the Motorola Moto G here on Kirkville, and I’ve written an article for Macworld, discussing my experiences with an android phone.

“I’ve been using an iPhone for a few years, but I’ve always been curious about Android. Not because I didn’t like my iPhone, but I wanted to know if I was missing anything. I’d seen how Android works when friends showed me their phones. But given the cost of smartphones and tablets, it wasn’t worth getting an Android device just to play around with it.

“But then, a couple of months ago, Motorola released an Android smartphone—the Motorola Moto G—at a low enough price that I was tempted to get one, just to see if it might be better. I decided to take the leap, and here’s how I fared.”

Read Can an iPhone user learn to love Android? on Macworld.

Apple’s Touch ID: I Want It Everywhere

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As I check my iPhone from time to time during the day, I’m occasionally reminded of how efficient Touch ID is. Instead of typing a passcode, my fingerprint unlocks my phone. Granted, the passcode is only four digits, but with Touch ID, I’ve set my phone to lock immediately, instead of having the security risk of leaving a few minutes before it locks. If I lose the phone, there’s no longer a several minute window for someone to access it.

I notice Touch ID more when I use my iPad, because that device does require a passcode. I use the iPad much less, though, and it’s less of a bother. And I can’t forget my Macs; I have them set to lock and request a password when my screen saver goes on, after just a few minutes of idle time. That actually bothers me more than the iPad, since I have to type my password on a keyboard.

So I hope that Apple will expand Touch ID: first to third-party developers of iOS apps, then to the iPad and iPod touch, then, hopefully, to the Mac. It would be great with the iOS apps I use which are password- or passcode-protected: the two I use most are 1Password and Dropbox, though there are others that occasionally ask for a password. I’d like to be able to get access to my passwords on 1Password with a touch, instead of entering my (admittedly strong) password, as it’s just annoying, now that I know there’s a better way.

I also hope Apple brings Touch ID to the Mac. I can imagine a Magic Mouse and/or Magic Trackpad with a section to use with Touch ID. It would need a special sensor, the same kind that’s on the iPhone, so it most likely could not work with the entire touch surface. But looking at my Magic Trackpad, I can see that if it were in a corner, it would be usable, and not get in the way. (The same would be the case on a laptop.)

As Apple often brings out a new technology first on the iPhone, then moves it to other iOS devices, or on the MacBook Air, before bringing it to other Macs, it’s obvious that they’re planning on rolling out this technology at least to the iPad in the future. Hopefully this will coincide with an SDK for third-party apps, and perhaps availability on the Mac as well. Touch ID is one of Apple’s technologies that saves a lot of time, and makes life easier. I want it on all my devices.

Update: Shawn King, of Your Mac Life, suggested on Twitter that one might use an iPhone to unlock a Mac. There could be some sort of “remote” app on the iPhone, which would let you then unlock your Mac. This might take longer, though, because you’d need to unlock the iPhone, launch the app, then unlock the Mac. But it would mean that the Touch ID would be able to interface with other hardware.