Thursday, November 1, 2012

iPhone 5 impressions after a month

With our iPhone 4's on their last legs as telephone communicating devices due to various issues with speakers and mics, I got up to pre-order the iPhone 5's at 2am when they went on-sale. Unfortunately, due to a snafu with the plan configuration software on Apple's website, I had to abandon that effort, and AT&T was no better. Both sites offered me different plans that I did not want. I'm assuming that was caused by our grandfathered existing plans. I finally pre-ordered two phones around 4:30 pm on the first day of pre-orders in an AT&T store where I didn't have to change anything, and was told to expect a 14-21 day wait.

Our phones finally arrived on October 1st, nicely within the 14-21 day window. I tried to order Applecare+ for them over the phone but was told that I had to take them into a store to get them checked out. So I decided to try out Squaretrade, which had no requirement like that and was comparably priced. We'll see how that works out. The process to acquire the Squaretrade warranty is really easy - you just have to upload your receipt.

First impression of the iPhone out of the box was how light it was, and also that the build quality was better than I was expecting given some people's complaints about it being prone to scuffing, etc. I already have a couple of dings on the outer band from dirt getting into the case. It does seem to scratch easier and since the black model has a coating, it's immediately noticeably  But I've never been one to treat my devices as they are in a museum. We kept our old phones to use as music players around the house, and I expect we will do the same with the iPhone 5's, so these devices will likely not have another owner.

The phones went right into cases that I had purchased the day before. I've never been a naked phone person as it gets dropped and just generally mishandled too often for me to take my chances. (hence why we also purchase the extended warranties/damage protection even though they are generally considered a waste of money). My wife has dropped her phone multiple times already in the first month, so I'm glad it is in a case.

I backed up both our old phones to iCloud, so I started an iCloud restore to both of them. This took all night to complete on my slow internet connection, due mostly to the number of apps and photos that were still on our camera rolls. Katie's phone actually got stuck in restore mode, draining the battery by constantly trying to connect but not actually downloading her whole camera roll. I finally fixed that the next night by restarting her phone.

My first impression upon actually getting to use the phone was that it was significantly faster than my old phone. Everything is snappy. The camera loads very quickly and takes excellent pictures. I'm jumping 2 generations, so I'd expect that, and it didn't disappoint.

The larger screen size is appreciated more than I thought it would be. The extra home screen icons are a nice benefit, as well as the ability to fit more content on the screen in apps like Mail, Tweetbot and Listary. The new technique for integrating the touch sensor with the screen is nice, it does make it feel like the screen pops a little bit more.

iOS 6 is a nice update with a lot of new subtle features, but not a a ton of major updates. Maps changed, tons has been written on this. I have mixed feelings about it, mostly from a search perspective, their local database is not as good as Google's, there's absolutely no doubt about it. Simple searches for things like Gas in my area omitted gas stations, a search for Hardware pulled up a store that's been closed for over a year, and other things like this just on searches in my area. I've found some substitute apps like Quick Route, which uses Google's database on Apple's map tiles in iOS 6, but none of these solutions is perfect. To be honest, Google Maps wasn't always perfect either but it's probably still the best for local search. Yeah, you can use an html version in Safari but it's a sub-par experience at best.

One area that I'm not thrilled with is how the Music app now handles iTunes match. In iOS 5, you could download music to your phone on an individual track or full album basis, and then pick and choose which tracks remain on your phone, deleting items you didn't want to store locally. I used this quite a bit to load and remove items locally. On iOS 6, Apple manages the downloaded tracks for you based on free space. It doesn't give you a way to delete the tracks manually when iTunes Music Match is turned on. You can delete tracks off the phone, but you have to flip music match off, delete the tracks, and then turn it back on. It's a bizarre head scratching change to what I thought was otherwise a well designed service. Since I am using my iTunes library less these days due to Rdio, I am considering not renewing my Music Match and going back to managing tracks the old way. I hope Apple addresses this in a future update, and I'm not the only one.

Much has been made about the integration with Facebook and the feature where you can integrate the address book. I was leery about using this feature at first, mostly based on anecdotal evidence from other platforms, where Facebook contact data permanently merges with the data set used locally on your phone. Apple does a very good job of keeping the data segregated from your built in contacts unless you explicitly hit a button that merges the data onto your phone's data set. For people that it can match up, it shows a unified profile when you click on their name, and it's pretty evident where the information is coming from. This unified profile works pretty well out of the gate, though I had to adjust some of my friend's names to get them to match up. Since I use Facebook only with people I actually know, I've actually found this to be a somewhat useful feature for filling in contact information gaps on a few occasions already. I honestly wish more of my friends would put their phone numbers and address information into Facebook, but I understand the reluctance to do so. I feel like Apple handled this integration very well given privacy concerns of past implementations of this on other platforms, and I plan to keep using the feature.

One other feature that I'm enjoying more than I thought I would is Passbook. Here's an example of Apple going out and evaluating NFC, probably deciding that it wasn't ready for prime time yet, and coming up with something of a stopgap solution which may turn into a more permanent one should NFC never fully take off to its potential. I would kill to get rid of my wallet as it exists today and just carry a phone around. I think we're still a few years away from being able to do so, but Passbook could and probably will go a long way towards reducing the size of my wallet. I'm already using it for Starbucks and Walgreens on a regular basis (having never had a physical Walgreens rewards card, since they just started rolling the program out) and I'm hoping most of the other loyalty programs that grace my wallet find a way to get on this platform soon.

One challenge I'm still having is the phone seems to have a much higher latent use of data. I'm using this term to describe data use that's occurring in the background or by system processes that's not explicitly triggered by the user. Apple's always been really good about giving the users control over this data, but something on the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 seems to be violating these settings. I'm using double the data I was before, and I haven't changed any use patterns that I can determine would be driving this increase. My wife is also using more data on her phone, though she's such a light user that it's a huge deal. It's just really curious, and Apple does not give the user the tools to figure out what's using the data, and blocks apps that try to do so. This is one area where they need to improve.

Overall, the iPhone 5 is a nice upgrade from my iPhone 4 that will serve me well. Many of the things I liked about my old phone are true here. It's comfortable and familiar, and I like that, for now. I'm still not ruling out looking at Android, we'll see what things look like in another two years.

Figuring out what to do with writing

I work in corporate finance for a major bank supporting a business line. I spend most of my days knee deep in spreadsheets and reports. I write and receive a lot of emails. Most are a couple of sentences. They do not challenge me as a writer. I love my job and what I do right now, and I have no desire to change my main career focus at this point of my life. I envision a time where I'd burn out or tire of working with numbers all day, but now is not the time.

However, I want to write more than I have been. I am a voracious consumer of the written word. I typically read for several hours a day on my iPad, both novels, as well as shorter form pieces in Instapaper and on the web. I want to rededicate some of the time I spend reading to writing. But this is where I struggle.

What should I write? I have a lot of interests that I could write about on a blog, this one, or another one I create. I've kicked around starting a blog focused on technology and how it integrates into a young family's life. There's a bunch of daddy bloggers out there covering this angle. I dislike reading most of them because they tend to judge, preach, or just act like general assholes. I think there's a place for something else but I also see myself falling into that same trap.

I should write more about my kids and their lives. We have a blog for my daughter that we haven't updated since her sister was born, and a domain parked for her sister. I'm not really sure what to do with these. I never want to write them. Serious lack of motivation.

I see a lot of Apple and technology oriented writers making a living writing and freelancing, building up multiple income streams. I don't desire to be that serious about it at this point in my life, but I like the way some of them approach it and some of the things they do might be applicable to what I eventually want to do. I don't aspire to be Kottke, but I like his style.

A lot of ideas are floating around, and I know I can do anything I set my mind to, it's just an issue of making the time to do it and having the motivation to do it. The motivation is growing stronger and I can find the time.

So this is the first step, just to put this out there and think about it a little more.