Bill Bennett

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Apple is one world’s largest companies. It got there by giving people the technology they want. Products include the Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and AirPods.

iPhone 5S – six months later

After an extended review loan, the gold iPhone 5S is winging its way back to Apple. Here are my thoughts after six months with the Apple iPhone 5S:

Passed the acid test

Apple’s iPhone 5S passed the patented Bennett device acid test with flying colours.

Here’s how it works. I keep all the review kit along with my own devices charged up and sitting on or near my desk. Everything connects to cloud services and either synched or easily synched. There are some spare sims in the phones.

This means I can pick any device without having to think about it as I leave the house. After giving everything a try, I make a snap decision as I go out, picking up what I think is likely to be useful. Some devices get left sitting on the shelf, others get a lot of action.

It’s not scientific, but it means I can quickly learn which tools work and which don’t. Useful stuff gets used, less useful kit collects dust.

For most of the past six months, the iPhone 5S was my first choice phone. That speaks volumes.

Apple’s walled garden is close to Eden

That’s the biblical Eden, not the suburb where the All Blacks play Rugby. Microsoft, Google and Apple all offer walled gardens, they are pleasant places to spend your time and moving around inside the garden is easy. For most of the last six months I’ve lived in Apple’s cosy garden, the walls might be slightly higher than the alternative and the entry fee is a little more expensive, but, my word, it makes work much more productive.

The whole thing was close to Nirvana when Microsoft released the iPad Office apps. True, I can count the times I used Word from my iPhone on my fingers, but each of them saved a huge amount of effort or pain.

Lovely, however, I’m not buying one

While the iPhone 5S was my first choice for most of the past six months, it wasn’t numero uno all the time..

Until two months ago my plan was to tell Apple I’ll buy the review phone when it was time to return the device. Then I started getting distorted vision in my right eye. My left eye is weaker than my right eye. I have a medical condition called macular degeneration. The downside is that, for now, I can’t read small text. And that, sadly, is why the iPhone 5S and I must part.

Last November I was delighted by the four inch iPhone 5S Retina — there’s irony in that word — screen. Today I can barely read it. Few apps offer larger text sizes, even fewer websites display large text. There’s an access feature, so I can tap the phone to magnify the display, but scrolling is awkward and clunky.

Android phones are no better although giant screen models might work for me.

In contrast — more irony there — I can easily read text on my, now ageing, Nokia Lumia 920. The screen is only fractionally larger, but Windows Phone 8 displays text more crisply, does a better job of enlarging print and has high contrast, essential for my eyes at the moment.

Looking for the next iPhone

Presumably Apple will deliver a new iPhone later this year. I prefer to steer away from writing speculative stories about forthcoming products, but those rumours about a larger screen iPhone are suddenly a big deal. Hopefully doctors will fix my eyes by the time the next iPhone arrives, if not, I’m looking for something that’s five inches or bigger.

A less expensive option is the iPhone 5c.

iPad Office: Powerful and polished

Microsoft is late to market. Yet don’t underestimate incoming Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s move to launch iPad versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

The iPad Office software is powerful and polished. Microsoft clearly had time to iron out the kinks before launching.

It looks as if Microsoft has been ready for some time.

Apps have never been more strategically important

Despite Microsoft’s official message about moving from being a software giant to a ‘software and devices’ business, Office is still the company’s biggest moneymaker. It pays the bills. Giving that away to rivals, Google, Apple or anyone else who tried to fill the gaping void for Office software on the iPad, was just dumb.

Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as Office for the iPad, just Word, Excel, PowerPoint or OneNote for the iPad. Each appears separately in the app store.

They are free downloads. You can do basic things with them in their raw state, but to unlock their full power, you need an Office 365 subscription.

More clever iPad Office strategy

And that’s another strategic win for Microsoft: a standard 365 subscription means you can use all the Office apps across Windows and Macintosh PCs, Windows or Apple tablets and on Windows or iOS phones.

The glue holding all this together is OneDrive — formerly known as SkyDrive — Microsoft’s cloud service.

With OneDrive you can compose a document on a desktop, edit it on a tablet and deliver it from a phone. Better still, you can share documents with others.

While similar functionality has been possible with Google Drive and iCloud for some time, Office remains the gold standard for business productivity software. If you want to play nicely with other companies, Office remains a must-have.

Joining all the dots should help Microsoft keep it in that top spot and keep the lucrative Office revenues rolling in. Office for the iPad is a triumph in its own right, a great start for the new CEO and an indication that Microsoft is back on track.

iPhone 5C – what you may have overlooked

Apple’s iPhone 5C is hard to miss. The phones come in highly visible colourful, shiny plastic cases.

Yet in the days and weeks immediately after the 2013 iPhone launch phone buyers overlooked the 5C. Apple sold five flagship 5S models for every iPhone 5C.

That’s partly because hardcore iPhone users looking for the most powerful, feature-packed version of their favourite device automatically gravitated to the top of the range.

Since then the sales gap has narrowed. Less demanding iPhone fans and people moving from other brands look at the 5C’s charms in a different light.

iPhone 5C in a nutshell

The 5C is essentially last year’s iPhone 5 wrapped in a protective, plastic shell. It gets a new front-facing camera and a better battery, but otherwise there’s little new. The phone is fractionally chunkier than the iPhone 5 or 5S – hardly enough to notice.

You wouldn’t want to upgrade from an iPhone 5. You may want to upgrade from a 4S. You probably would like to upgrade if you have an older iPhone.

In New Zealand a 16GB iPhone 5C sells for $900, the 32GB version is $1050. This compares with $1050 for the 16GB iPhone 5S and $650 for the 4S.

Tricky price

That puts it at a difficult price.

If you’re on a tight budget you can save $250 and do almost everything the 5C does with an iPhone 4S. It’s still an iPhone and will still run most apps.

On the other hand, just $150 more buys all the extra stuff the iPhone 5S delivers – you get a lot more technology for the extra money. And, if you care about these matters, there’s extra prestige.

Which means you choose an iPhone 5C because you like the physical look of the phone, because you get a good deal from your phone company or because it has that Goldilocks just right combination of features for your needs.

Differences from the 5S

Apart from the looks, the immediately obvious difference between the iPhone 5S and the 5C is the Touch ID fingerprint reader. After weeks of using both phones I can report this makes a difference. Although some people report otherwise, I find it works like magic almost every time.

Once you start using the technology you probably won’t want to go back. On the other hand, if you haven’t used it, you probably won’t miss it.

If making the path to security easier is important to you, then find the extra $150. You’ll save at least that much in time and trouble over the life of the phone.

Speed bumps

At this point I could get all technical and bore you with the merits of the Apple A7 and A6 processors. That’s missing the point. The iPhone 5S has a newer, more powerful chip. It does things faster.

While that’s true, it’s not as if the iPhone 5C is sluggish. In practice I can hardly tell which is faster. Processor speed is a big deal in PCs, less important in smartphones.

In other words, yes a faster processor is nice, but it isn’t worth a large price premium.

Other innards

Storage options are much the same across the two phones although there is a 64GB version of the 5S for data hungry users or people with large iTunes collections.

The 5S comes with a motion co-processor which helps monitor you and the phone. At the moment there are not many apps that make use of the technology, no doubt developers will soon find ways to exploit the chip. It’s likely to be especially useful for health and sport apps.

On paper the two phones have much the same camera. In practice, the 5S has more features and can take better pictures. If you’re concerned about image quality, this will make a difference.

Better value?

As I’ve already said, you might consider the 5S worth the extra money for the Touch ID fingerprint reader alone. Otherwise, the better processor, motion co-processor and smarter camera could add up to $150 of extra value depending on your needs.

For me there’s another consideration. Smartphone technology marches forward at a fast rate. The 5S is likely to be current technology for at least six months longer than the 5C. That would be enough for me to find the extra money.

Overall?

There’s a lot going for the iPhone 5C. It’s an iPhone. You get all the apps, all the functionality. The price, while not cheap, is reasonable.

It’s hard to know who this phone is for – at least in the New Zealand context. The 5C appears to be designed and priced specifically to fit into overseas mobile phone company contract plans more than for a clear cut audience.

It makes sense if you like the phone’s look, can’t justify the extra $150 for a 5S or love iPhones but don’t need all the trimmings.

Having said all that, unless you are an Android fan or committed to Windows Phone, it’s still one of the best phones on the market. Just not the best one.

iWorks iCloud, Office Web Apps collaboration

For years Google Docs had the online collaboration game to itself. If you needed to work with colleagues on a single document it was the only option.

Google Docs showed everyone the value of collaboration. It was a far more efficient way of working than, say, the Microsoft Office approach which meant batting documents and revisions back and forth.

Tricky editing jobs that would take days with Word could be done in minutes on Google Docs.

Then Apple added collaboration to the cloud versions of its iWorks apps. A few days later Microsoft pulled similar features into the Office web apps.

All three competing software suites now allow co-workers to co-operate on the same documents, making real-time changes. In their way, each of them is good.

Although I’ve investigated the iCloud version of iWork’s – or more accurately Pages – and the Word web app, I’ve not needed to use either yet for serious production work.

I have worked extensively in the past on collaborative Google Docs documents.

Collaboration

The collaborative approach is well suited to modern publishing where colleagues often work from home or remote offices. I’ve filed stories from overseas hotel rooms, then worked online with editors to tidy them up for publication.

Significantly all three online suites are free – which means publishers get full access to advanced tools for no more than the cost of a computer, phone or tablet and a data connection.

It’s partly a matter of taste and partly to do with practical matters, but I’ve always found, collaboration aside, Google Docs is a second-rate tool for serious writing. It is fine for short snippets of writing.

In comparison, Both the iCloud version of Pages and the Word Web App are powerful, elegant writing tools. I know of friends and colleagues who are perfectly happy with Google Docs.

Either way, publishers, editors, journalists and bloggers now have real choice when it comes to online collaboration.

Using Apple Maps in New Zealand after shaky start

Apple Maps got off to a shaky start when it launched in September 2012. To say there were errors is putting it mildly. At the time chief executive, Tim Cook made a public apology.

Back then I tested Apple Maps by driving from one end of Auckland’s North Shore to the other.

While all the streets and locations I searched for were in the right places, I found the turn-by-turn directions were badly flawed. Although the software instructed me to make, what appeared at first sight, logical moves, on three occasions on the journey the software wanted me to make illegal right-hand turns.

More than a year has passed.

On Friday I used Apple Maps to navigate as I moved around Auckland from appointment to appointment. This time there were no illegal turns. That problem seems fixed.

 

I’m not sure the direction plotting is as good as with Google Maps. On one journey from my home on the North Shore to Mount Eden Apple Maps directed me via Queen Street. It’s not that wacky a route, but according to the calculations show on the map, it’s three minutes and 200 metres longer than the route offered by Google Maps.

It took me through more traffic lights.

Oddly, neither of the two alternatives shown by Apple Maps were the same as Google Maps’ two routes. Given that this week’s project is to live entirely using Apple technology, I followed Apple’s advice.

Apple Maps and iCloud

There’s a button at the top of Apple Maps on OS X that allows you to send directions to various destinations including an iCloud link to your iPhone or iPad. I chose the iPhone and within seconds the map and details were ready to go.

Although I rarely need to use GPS, I normally turn to the Nokia Drive app on my Lumia 920. Maps show up clearly on the phone’s big, bright screen and the turn-by-turn directions are easy to hear. The iPhone did a worse job in both these departments.

Much of the time the iPhone 5S screen is more than adequate. It’s just a fraction too small for quick glances while driving and, frankly, squinting at the screen gets a bit dangerous. I suspect I could have been pulled over by the cops if they saw me trying to read the map even at traffic lights.

Another GPS, another posh woman’s voice

Apple’s turn-by-turn voice directions are quite different than Nokia’s. There’s less of “at the next roundabout take the third exit” and more of “stay on Onewa Road for three kilometres”. If anything the information is better.

While Nokia’s Drive uses a British woman with a BBC accent, Apple’s app has an Australian accent. Both sound foreign but perfectly acceptable although a New Zealand accent would be nicer.

Choosing the iPhone turned out to be a mistake. While the Nokia app is loud and clear. The speaker on the iPhone is feeble, even when cranked up to the maximum. I could barely hear the instructions over the car’s air conditioning. Even with that switched off, the voice was too soft and quiet.

Because the iPhone is so much lighter than the Lumia 920, I could put it in my shirt pocket – a few hundred millimetres nearer to my ears. Even this wasn’t enough, I found I had to put the phone up near my ear to hear the instructions properly – hardly safe.

The other problem was that something, almost certainly me, kept turning the voice off. I’m not sure what was causing this problem, but struggling to turn the sound back on is the last thing you need to do when driving through Auckland’s rush hour traffic. In the end, I completely overshot my destination because I didn’t hear when I arrived.

Apple iWorks hits limits

Last month Apple rebooted iWorks. The apps are now free on iPhones, new iPads and OS X computers.

Apple has rewritten Pages, Numbers and Keynote so that users see similar software no matter what device they use. Along the way, it stripped back the OS X iWorks apps — they now have fewer features.

From my point of view that’s a good thing. I write for a living. That means putting words on a screen.

Most of my freelance work is paid by the word, so the more words I write in a session, the more money I make. Playing around with fonts, layouts – all those other features found in modern word processors – makes me less productive. All I need is a blank display, basic editing and a word count.

Well for most of the time, that is.

Trouble with iWorks tables

Yesterday I wrote two stories that needed tables. An article about Android’s market share and another comparing the price New Zealanders pay for the new iPad Mini with Retina display when compared to US prices.

Apple iWorks

You’ll notice the two tables look different on the web pages. That’s because I had to handcraft the HTML directly in the WordPress online editor.

This isn’t ideal. One of the basic rules of successful publishing is to make everything consistent. I normally get around this by creating my online tables in Microsoft Excel on the Mac, loading the table to SkyDrive then embedding the online Excel app table directly into a WordPress story.

Apple iWorks

You can see how this works on my guide to iPhone 5S prices. I think this is an elegant way of publishing tables.

Yesterday I created my first table using Apple’s Numbers app. My plan was to produce something similar to the Excel table embedded in the post. It quickly became clear this wasn’t going to happen. Still, I thought it might be possible to create a good looking table, turn it into HTML and use that code on the web page. Again, Numbers doesn’t do this. If it can generate HTML, I couldn’t find any documentation. I left messages on Apples Community Forum, but it doesn’t seem that Numbers to HTML is doable.

Excel does this better

Never mind, I’ve had success in the past with Excel turning tables into images. Even that doesn’t seem to work with Numbers. I could have taken a screen capture of the table, but that’s a clumsy, horrible way of doing that job.

My other fallback for making nice-looking tables is to use a tool like PowerPoint – or in this case Keynote. In PowerPoint you can make a table then either embed the single page or turn the table into a graphic and post that.

It’s easy to make a pretty table using KeyNote, but once again there’s not simple way to embed the result on a web page.

In the end I couldn’t even easily extract the table from Numbers or KeyNote in a way that simplified making the HTML tables you see on the two examples. I tried playing around with the table in DreamWeaver – but in the end, I had to handcraft the two tables.

Not a deal-breaker, but…

OK, so none of this is a big deal. The tables are adequate, even if they are less than elegant. The job got done, but I’m surprised something trivial like creating a nice-looking online table isn’t easy in iWorks.

Of course in the real world, I could just copy the Numbers table into Microsoft’s Excel web app and get the job done. On the other hand, this is the first practical barrier I’ve bumped up against in my project of trying to stay in the Apple technology stack.

All of this had me reflecting on the nature of what people in the business call ‘office productivity suites’. Are they still relevant in a world where people switch from phone to tablet to computer?

The answer depends on what you want. Office is huge and let’s face it bloated. It comes with thousands of features you may never use, but it does make creating nice-looking tables easy. iWorks is stripped down in a way that’s great for day-to-day productivity, but every so often a task comes along that means downloading another app. In this case, I couldn’t even find an app for creating pretty tables in Apple’s app store.