Telecom Retail CEO Chris Quin at Telecom NZ 4G launch
Telecom Retail CEO Chris Quin at Telecom NZ 4G launch.

 

Monday morning got the working week off to a good start with an informal press event at Telecom NZ. I left the MacBook Air and iPad Air at home before heading into town with the iPhone 5S.

While Telecom Retail CEO Chris Quin was speaking I grabbed this shot with the iPhone 5S. I’m never going to win prizes for my photography, but it’s not bad for an amateur news pic.

This was the first time I used the iPhone to take real photos – as opposed to testing the phone’s camera purely for review purposes. It required almost no effort on my part, just point and click.

While it’s possible to do everything on the run, that’s not how I prefer to work. My usual practice is to take six to ten shots a few seconds apart, pick the best image and send it to a computer. Once there I crop the image to get a decent picture on the page.

iPhone photography app seems idiot proof

Overall this worked well. Although I’m not familiar with the iPhone Camera app, it seems idiot proof. There’s no time to fiddle with settings when taking pictures during a press conference, so it has to capture good images with a minimum of fuss. The lighting in the room wasn’t particularly good, but the phone automatically adjusted its settings.

How does this compare with my normal experience? For much of the past year I’ve used my Nokia Lumia 920 for day-to-day photography. Some of the other images on this site come from the Lumia 920 – see this recent one from the Microsoft Surface 2 launch.

There was better lighting at Telecom NZ, but the image is clearly crisper. You wouldn’t know unless I told you, but I cropped the iPhone image much tighter and it still didn’t lose as much sharpness.

Pixel size matters

On paper the iPhone 5S and Lumia 920 cameras have similar specifications. The iPhone 5S has 8 megapixels, each pixel is 1.5µ. The Lumia has 8.7 megapixels with each being 1.4µ. Those bigger pixels help with noise reduction, which means a better picture. Clearly 0.1µ makes a difference. Both have image stabilisation – frankly I’ll never buy another phone that doesn’t have this feature.

Getting the image from the iPhone to the Mac was harder than I anticipated. I put this down to inexperience. To my surprise Airdrop didn’t work. It turns out the technology doesn’t allow iOS7 devices to share with OS X devices. That’s something Apple needs to fix.

I also ran into problems using a straightforward Bluetooth link between the devices. This is how I send photos to the MacBook from my Lumia, so you’d think this would be trivial between Apple devices. I couldn’t figure out how it was done. Perhaps I need more training.

iCloud rains on the parade

iOS 7’s iPhone photography app has an option to load images to iCloud. I did this. At the time, I couldn’t find out how to access these images from iPhoto on the MacBook Air. In the end I emailed the pictures to myself and picked them up on the Mac. Later, I discovered the iCloud option isn’t visible when you use iPhoto in full screen mode. A useful lesson.
 
In the past I used Adobe Photoshop or Fireworks to crop and otherwise fix up images for the website. Seeing as this is Apple week, it seemed a good time to do the job using iPhoto. It is easier to use and more efficient than Adobe’s heavy duty tools. I can’t see myself going back. Chalk that up as a win for Apple.
 
I’m happy with how this worked. Getting pictures from the iPhone to the Mac was harder than expected. Otherwise I’ve picked up some useful lessons.

For the next seven days, I’m going to work only with Apple devices, software and services. That’s iOS and OS X only.

Working with nothing but Apple technology is no big deal. Millions of people do the same. It’ll be interesting to see how easy it is to make a clean break with Microsoft and Google.

Next week I’ll repeat the exercise with Microsoft technology. Then Google technology.

This week looks set to include the usual mix of working at home, meetings and press functions. There will be some working while on the move.

Apple kit

My kitbag includes a 2013 MacBook Air, an iPad Air and an iPhone 5S. Depending on how things go, I may use Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard.

I’ll use Safari on each of the three devices. For writing I’ll use Pages. I will use web-based tools like WordPress as well. Facetime should cover me for any online communications.

Apple’s Calendar, Contacts and Notes will handle day to day admin tasks. This may or may not include iCloud versions of the tools. If I need to crunch numbers, Numbers will get the job. And photo processing will be done by iPhoto.

Problem areas

There are two problems. While I plan to use Apple’s Mail app, I have to route messages through Google Apps. That’s because I have a personal domain. I don’t think there’s a straightforward Apple-only way to do this.

I’ll have to use Google for search as Apple doesn’t offer anything similar.

Otherwise, it’s Apple iOS and OS X all the way.  Let’s see how it goes.

Last week Rockstar Bidco, a group of phone makers including Apple and Microsoft, filed a suit against Google and Android phone makers for infringing five of its patents.

The patents were acquired from the wreckage of Nortel for US$4.5 billion after a bidding war. Google lost that auction. The winning consortium includes Apple and Microsoft as well as BlackBerry, Ericsson and Sony.

Now, as expected, the patents are being used against Google and its Android partners. The defendants are Samsung, LG Electronics, HTC, Huawei, Asustek, Pantech and ZTE Corp – pretty much everybody who is anybody in the Android world.

Rockstar patents certainly not worthless

Because Google also bid billions for the same patents, it’s going to find it difficult to argue they are worthless.

All Things D has the main news story and a copy of the litigation document.

Yes it’s a mess.  And yes, it shows there’s something rotten with the entire patent system. As John Gruber at Daring Fireball points out, don’t feel sorry for Google. It is just as bad.

So what?

What does the patent action mean in practical terms for phone users like you and I?

Rockstar’s action hangs on five patents that revolve around matching search terms with advertising and user data. In other words, serving personalised advertising. This is central to Google’s business model. Apple, Microsoft and their partners are attacking the core of Android.

Should the Rockstar consortium win, Google will probably have to pay damages. Phone makers may have to halt sales – at least temporarily. It’s possible a settlement will include changes to Android. This could, in turn, mean forced upgrades and even some loss of functionality. Maybe even breaking some apps. All of this will be a short-term disruption.

It could also mean paying licence fees to Rockstar. This will undermine Google’s free-OS-and-apps-in-return-for-advertising business model. It will almost certainly make Android a more expensive option for phone makers. Google may just make advertisers pay more to target Android users.

There’s little chance Google and it’s partners will take this lying down. There could be protracted litigation. If they have any means to retaliate, you can rest assured they’ll be firing their weapons in the coming days. One possibility is less Google support for non-Android operating systems.

Apple dropped a minor bombshell delivering free new versions of OS X and iWorks. Although everyone knew a new operating system was coming, there was little warning of changes to the productivity apps and even less warning they would be free.

As someone who writes for a living, I was most interested to see the changes made to Pages.

Apple describes Pages as a “word processor and page layout app”. In marketing material there is an emphasis on Pages’ ability to create beautiful documents.

How does Pages fare as a tool for someone like me who earns their living from writing?

Looking good

It’s too soon to say for sure, but so far I like what I see.

Last month I wrote an overview of the Mac writing tools I’ve seen in my three months or so working with a MacBook Air. When I looked at Pages I wrote:

Pages is well overdue for an update, the ’09 is a dead giveaway. Four years ago it may have been ahead of its time, today it feels somewhat old-fashioned.

That’s no longer the case. Apple redesigned the software with a new flatter user interface that looks a lot like iOS 7.

That’s no accident because the big change to Pages is that the software delivers a similar whether you work on a Mac with OS X or on an iPad or iPhone with iOS. There’s a unified file format which means files created on one device travel quickly and smoothly to others. 

The glue holding these aspects together is iCloud. You can write a document on your Mac, edit it while on the move using an iPad, then give it a last read before sending it to a client while using your iPhone.

Pages brings better online collaboration

What’s more, people using  Apple devices can collaborate on documents in real-time Google Docs-style. I haven’t had a chance to test this, but it can be a powerful to0l for an editor working with a writer before sending something to a website or PDF.

Another change is there is now better document compatibility with Microsoft Word. That’s important because Word remains the most popular word processor. In the publishing business you can’t function without dealing with the format. I doubt things are much different in any other industry.

Pages can quickly switch to gloriously minimal user interface. It’s possible to hide everything so there’s nothing on screen other than your words. Completely distraction free.

And the competition?

The New York Times says Apple targets Microsoft Office with free apps. I’m not entirely sure that’s true. Apart from anything else, there are probably more than 100 active Microsoft Word users for every Pages user. Many big companies are unlikely to change their software policies in a hurry. Office is the standard, it delivers, companies aren’t going to jump ship just for the sake of shaving a few dollars off their software bill – especially if it means adding more dollar to their hardware bill.

On the other hand, I Apple’s move will wipe out just about every small software developer that produces writing tools for the Mac, iPad or iPhone. That might be less of a victory.

 

Smartphone sales ANZThe mobile phone market’s glory days seem to be in the past with IDC Research reporting sales of non-smartphone tanked in the second quarter of 2013. Smartphone sales also dropped.

IDC Research says phone sales across Australia and New Zealand fell five percent when compared with the first quarter. Compared with the same period a year earlier sales were down 20 percent. About 2.6 million handsets were sold in the two countries.

Sales of feature phones, that’s the name the telecommunications industry gives to non-smartphones, plummeted  45 percent when compared with the year earlier.

Smartphone sales slow

Even smartphones, seen as a hot spot, saw a small decline in sales during the period. IDC Research described this as a surprising slowdown in demand.

IDC Research analyst Aman Bajaj says New Zealand accounts for about 12 percent of phone sales across the region. He says: “There was a slowdown in smartphone shipments in the NZ market with shipments falling by just over 10% compared to the same period last year.”

Telecom NZ confirmed there was a slow down in smartphone sales during the second quarter. It attributed this to excess stock left over from the first quarter.

Bajaj says feature phones now account for less than one phone in five sold. He says this shows most consumers have now swapped over to smartphones.

But with the bulk of customers now moved to the smartphones, the upgrade boom has come to an end.

Android leads

IDC Research says Google’s Android now leads Apple’s iOS as the most popular phone operating system across ANZ. It has been the leader in New Zealand for some time now. Samsung leads the Android charge, but IDC also mentions Sony, Huawei, LG and HTC.

Android and iOS account for nine out of ten phones sold, the only other operating system to register is Microsoft’s Windows Mobile, which remains a distant third followed by Blackberry.

Apple iPhone 5SApple says the iPhone 5s and 5c go on sale in New Zealand on October 25. Prices are lower than anticipated. The 16GB iPhone 5c will sell here for $900, prices rise to $1050 for the 32GB model. The same money will buy a 16GB iPhone 5s while the top of the line 64GB version will cost $1350.

The iPhone 4s will stay on sale at $650.

Meanwhile US sources report Apple will launch new iPad models on October 22.

  • Cloud computing juggernaut Amazon Web Services says it is now offering new services from its Sydney datacentre. Previously Amazon’s Glacier long-term backup and Redshift fast data warehouse services were available from further afield. Amazon says Glacier offers low-cost storage for achieving and cloud back-up, prices start from one cent per gigabyte per month. It describes Redshift as a petabyte-scale data warehouse in the cloud.
  • Samsung has launched a new version of its Galaxy Note smartphone with a curved display. The curve is only gentle, but apparently, it makes the phone more comfortable to grip. Samsung is using the curve as part of the user interface, rocking the device shows an information screen.  Apart from this, it’s hard to see what benefits there are in producing a curved phone beyond the endless search for novelty and differentiation. Don’t be taken in by reports this will lead to wearable computers – a rigid curved screen is a long way from a flexible display.  LG Electronics has also said it will launch a smartphone with a curved screen next month.
  • Reuters reports Cisco, Google, SAP and possibly even Samsung are in talks with BlackBerry about buying parts or all the ailing phone maker. The report says this would be an alternative to the preliminary agreement reached with a group led by BlackBerry’s main shareholder; Fairfax Financial Holdings. There’s a question mark over the group’s ability to finance its bid.

Westpac

Westpac’s new cross-device online bank site has a modern, stripped-back feel. It treats us like adults.

It has a sophisticated, European look. Lots of white space. Spare easy to read type with lots of room to breath. Simple design elements. It’s visually flat. There’s an emphasis on colour and typography.

Icons are minimal.

Putting aside for one moment the bank’s signature bright red livery, the colours are muted. Things don’t shout or scream. It’s a long way from the Fisher-Price inspired designs of a decade ago that characterised the Windows XP era.

Apple-flavoured

While it is different enough to avoid infringing any intellectual property rights, it looks a little like Apple’s iOS 7.

So, being a blunt journalist, I asked Westpac design manager Brendan Marshall the obvious question: “Was it inspired by iOS 7?”

Marshall laughed at first. Presumably, because he understood exactly what I was getting at. But his answer was no, well, a sort-of ‘no’.

An online bank app is a sparse app

The point is he explained, modern computer user interface design is evolving towards these spare looking interfaces. Apple’s iOS 7 and the Westpac online banking site are part of the same general movement towards simpler, easier to understand and use designs.

It’s a good point, you’ll find similar minimal interfaces on other devices; Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 and the software Samsung Android overlays on its S4 phone are part of the same aesthetic.

Marshall says it’s a move away from the more elaborate designs of the past. It looks like the bank app of the future.

You can say that again. Gone are the faux wood panelling book libraries, fake green baize gaming tables and address book icons that look like, well, address books.

Today’s Westpac online bank website looks more like an iPhone app.

Apple MacBook Air 2013

While the Mac may not be a typewriter, many people use it to write. There’s a great selection of tools for the job. Some are conventional word processors, others are text editors and then there is WordPress which can put your words straight on to the web.

There are excellent free options, tools designed to fit niches, full-featured tools that do everything and minimal editors which do little, but keep you focused.

Here’s a run down of the most important Apple Mac writing tools.

Microsoft Word

You don’t have to love Microsoft Word to recognise it as the de facto standard for sending finished writing jobs to clients.

Everyone assumes you use it. Which means, even if you don’t use Word, you need a passing familiarity with it. People expect to to be able to open, write and edit documents in the Word format.

Many tools in this list can do that. All of them co-exist with Word in one way or another.

Given Word’s place in the world, there’s a strong argument for sticking with it when you write for work or for clients. Life can be less trouble that way.

Kitchen sink included

Word has everything you need in a word-processor. More to the point, it has everything anyone needs in a word-processor. That makes it a huge, sprawling monster of an application. It can feel bloated and clumsy. Complexity can also make Word hard to master.

Chances are you won’t scratch the surface of what Word has to offer.

For years the Mac versions of Word were quite different from Windows versions of the software. That’s no longer the case. Today you can switch from Word on Windows to Word on a Mac without any jarring adjustments.

Buy Word as part of Office 365

In fact I can use Microsoft Office on up to five devices. Office is also on my phone and until recently I had a Windows version running the Mac as well as the OS X version.

Depending on how you look at these things, Word is either a powerful, full-featured, professional document creation tool or bloated and clumsy. It manages both. There are tools like Track Changes which I deeply loath, but sometimes I work with a client who insists I use the feature. Well, maybe not if I see Track Changes coming first.

The current Mac version is Word:mac 2011. It feels as if it is two generations behind the current Windows version of the software. I could live with that, but Word doesn’t do a good job of getting out the way on the Mac.

Microsoft Word Mac OS X screen shot
Microsoft Word Mac OS X

Word:mac 2011 has a distraction free full-screen mode – shown above in the screenshot. The distraction free mode is great, or it would be if it stayed put. If I need to switch to another screen, say to check facts in an email or on a web page, the distraction free display reverts to a normal, distracting display. I jump to other screens a lot and find this annoying.

WordPress

WordPress can be as clean as a blank sheet of white paper in an old-school typewriter. It works. WordPress is fast, lightweight and relatively painless.

WordPress editor Mac OS X screen shot

However, it isn’t without flaws. While it is easy to add lists, embed media, link to web pages or produce elegant pull quotes, adding a cross-head is clumsy. I have to take my hands off the keyboard, mouse to the top of the screen and change the display from Visual model to Text mode then manually add the HTML command <h2> or perhaps <h3> at the start of the cross-head and a closing </h2> code at the end.

While WordPress gets the job done for posting stories like this one, it’s not a great tool for other writing jobs. Although I can’t easily write an interview for a client or newspaper then send it to them easily with WordPress, it is the jumping off point for this personal look at alternative writing tools.

Pages ’09

Pages ’09 is part of Apple’s iWork suite of apps. There’s the Numbers spreadsheet and KeyNote, a presentation tool. The three work well together in much the same way as Microsoft Office. Each of the three programs are in the OS X App Store and sell for $25 in New Zealand.

Apple sells the same titles for the iPad and the iPhone. New owners of those devices get free versions, it would cost me $14 to add the iPad version of Pages. That’s not a lot of money, but is in marked contrast to Microsoft’s approach which allows one purchase covering all supported devices.

Pages is well overdue for an update, the ’09 is a dead giveaway. Four years ago it may have been ahead of its time, today it feels somewhat old-fashioned.

Apple Pages '09 Mac OS X screen shot

At first sight Apple’s Pages ’09 resembles Microsoft Word. It has lots of features and options but not Microsoft’s bloat. Unlike Word, it does a great job of getting out of the way, there’s a distraction-free screen that works just as you’d expect. Producing documents that, as far as my clients are concerned, came from Microsoft Word is easy.

While Pages functions as a perfectly good word processor, that’s not what Apple has in mind for the software. Pages is more a flexible layout tool. In the old days we might even have described it as desktop publishing software – although it has nothing like the power of Adobe’s InDesign for professional work.

You can use Pages to create beautiful documents with images, graphs and tables. If I was preparing a business report, a newsletter or a book this would be my first port of call.

Google Docs

Modern Mac writing tools aren’t limited to the apps that run directly on the hardware. Anyone taking a look at the options should at least consider Google Docs and the Microsoft Office Web App version of Word.

Google Docs Mac OS X screen shot

Google Docs is sleek and clean. It’s a great option for collaborating with others although there is one specific and annoying flaw in Google’s software. Google Docs can also be used to send words to other online apps including WordPress.

Google Docs needs a more mouse action than Word or Pages. There aren’t so many keyboard short cuts. If you touch type, this will slows you down and could make your hands ache. If you’re not a touch-typist this may not bother you.

Second, the text can often be too small to read, zooming Google Docs does strange things to the mouse and cursor so they no longer line up properly with the page. This is the annoying flaw mentioned earlier. It means you might add a word or delete characters at the wrong place. If you’re working alone, you can just make the text larger, this is harder to do when you’re collaborating.

Another Google Docs problem is that its text can display too wide. This makes it hard for comfortable reading and means you’ll struggle with proofreading.

None of these shortcomings may worry you — they are possibly personal or just things that bother people like me who write for a living. I know other journalists who tolerate Google Docs, I don’t know of many who love it as a writing tool.

iA Writer

On one level Information Architect’s iA Writer is my favourite Macintosh writing tool. I first found the software on the iPad and now use it on my Mac for small writing jobs. Writer is not so great for anything over around 500 words.

That’s mainly because  iA Writer is a text editor. It is not a word processor.

I like it because it is clean and stays right out of the way. As I have written elsewhere, iA Writer the nearest thing in the digital world to using a mechanical typewriter and a clean sheet of paper. It does spell-check and it does allow minimal levels of mark-up.

iA Writer Mac OS X
iA Writer Mac OS X

iA Writer is fast and productive, but the reasons that make it great for short writing jobs work against it for longer more complex tasks. That’s because navigating long documents is hard when there are no obvious heads, cross-heads or bolded text.

When I purchased iA Writer for the iPad it was just $1.99, it now sells for US$5, the OS X version is US$9.

FocusWriter

Like iA Writer, FocusWriter is designed from the outset for distraction-free writing. The software is free, but you’re expected to make a donation if you use it.

FocusWriter Mac OS X screen shot

When you first open the application you nothing, just blank light grey screen. Start typing and the text appears in black, 12-point Times New Roman. On a MacBook Air the characters are tiny, barely large enough to read.

You can change the font, type size, colour, background colour and the line spacing. To get to the controls you need to mouse to the top of the screen. Once there you can set up themes. Normally documents are stored as plain text. If you need to work with Microsoft Office users you can save as RTF.

FocusWriter is the most basic writing software in this round up, but it gets the job done.

Other Mac writing tools

A couple of people suggested Mars Edit from Red Sweater Software. Others suggested BBEdit. It could best be described as a text editor, which makes it useful for dealing with HTML or CSS.

For short writing jobs iA Writer is my clear favourite. I’m struggling to find the best tool for longer jobs. At the moment I waver between Word and Pages. Neither is completely satisfactory, neither is awful.

Nuance-spills-the-beans

 

What does Apple have planned for September 10? Most people expect to see at least one new iPhone. And many suspect it’ll be the day that Apple officially takes the wraps off its shiny new iOS7.

Apple is notoriously tight-lipped about its announcements. So informed guesses are as far as most bloggers and journalists get.

New Zealand’s own Owen Williams has gone much further revealing a mail message from Nuance telling developers the new operating system launches on that day.

Nice work.

Apple MacBook Air

 

It’s almost 30 years since I first owned a Mac.

I bought one of the first 128K Macs in London in the winter of 1984. It cost more than a new car. I know because we bought a Citron 2CV at the same time.

Macs were my first choice until we decided to spend less money on computers and pay school fees for our children instead. Since then I mainly worked with Windows PCs.

On Friday I picked up a 13 inch MacBook Air from the YooBee store in Britomart.

Apple’s MacBook Air is a beautiful piece of engineering. And it is a delight to use.

Physically it is spot on, although I still find the keyboard and trackpad unfamiliar. There are moments when I’m not certain about the Mac way of doing things: simple things like moving the cursor to the end of a line of text. No doubt command-right arrow will become natural with time. And I guess I learn to stop hitting the Caps Lock key.

One reason I chose the new MacBook Air: battery life.

Apple says you get 12 hours from a single charge. While I suspect you couldn’t watch video non-stop for 12 hours, the claim is not ridiculous. I charged the MacBook on Friday after I got home, did a ton of work over the weekend and didn’t need to plug it in again until Monday lunch time.

At a guess I’d say that was close 16 hours of work in total. Or slightly better than I get from my iPad.

The key is the new Haswell processor. Apple slowed the processor down to help it maximise battery life. The chip is smart at closing down when the computer is not in use.

In practice this liberates you from power worries. If I take this computer out to work, I won’t need to carry a power cable. There’s no need to schedule things around places with power outlets.