Instapaper isn’t Instaworth it anymore – switching to Pocket

I think I was one of the earliest fans of Marco Arment’s ingenious Instapaper service. I even wrote up a rave review back in March, 2009. This is the original thing that let you save long web articles to read later in your browser or on your phone or ereader. The amazing feature that first hooked me was Instapaper’s ability to compile a bunch of saved articles into a personalized newsletter and email it once a day to my Kindle. Genius. Just think how many trees have been spared by the reduced volume of printing out long web pages.

But times change, competition grows and it’s now time to move on from Instapaper and its $12/year subscription fee (not to mention the bucks spent on separate iPad and iPhone apps as well as unofficial and finally official Android apps).

The main reason to leave is that competing products are more than good enough and cost less. Pocket, for example, has entirely free apps and a free service. It does almost everything Instapaper does that I need and it looks good, too. Adding the oddly named crofflr service to do the Kindle emailing trick costs a one-time fee of $5.

I’ve switched over to Pocket for the past two weeks and have had no problems at all on my iPad, iPod Touch, Galaxy Nexus Phone and Nexus tablet. Everything syncs nicely. The apps look really good and have enough font sizes to let me read in all conditions. Instapaper has a greater range of font choices but that’s not a critical issue. Pocket’s single serif and sans serif fonts are “good enough.”

To ensure that my reading material is downloaded to each app for offline use, I did need to tweak a setting. Under the “Offline Downloading” section of each Pocket app’s options, turn OFF “Download Best View” and then turn ON “Always Fetch Article.” Otherwise, Pocket sometimes wants to download an article from the web when you go to read it instead of keeping a cached copy available all the time.

Pocket also has those little snippets of code known as bookmarklets that you can slap on your browser’s bookmarks bar to instantly send the current web page over to your Pocket queue. And it has an array of other helper bits, like an extension for Chrome, to do the same. I’ll insert the usual Android brag here: just by installing the Pocket app on an Android device, you can send web pages from any other app directly to Pocket via the sharing menu.

The site’s extensive FAQs and discussion forums offer tips for connecting to other services. I wanted to have Pocket show up on the “send to” menu of Google’s online Reader, for example. A quick Google search found the instructions here.

There are, of course, times when we all pay more than we absolutely must for a product or service because of other benefits we receive or maybe just because we want to support a place we like. I often shop at local stores like Wellesley Books and Lower Falls Wine Co. in Newton, even though there are places to buy books and liquor cheaper, because I value their selection and service and I want to support local businesses and local jobs.

With Instapaper, though, it’s just the opposite. Marco Arment, who I once dubbed “the Mouth of Brooklyn” back in the day, is a one man mis-truth squad when it comes to too many of Apple’s competitors. His wacky theories and misstatements about Android are legion and he’s over-the-top on Amazon’s Kindle products, too. Personal favorite? When he whined about the build quality of a Kindle USB cable because, you know, Apple never has build quality issues or ships new hardware with imperfections or whatnot.

So — much credit to Marco for his beautiful and innovative reading service but time to move on. Sayonara and happy trails.

How to delete the horrid sparsebundle from your Time Capsule

Short version: Here’s how to actually delete a sparsebundle Time Machine backup file from a Time Capsule — use Windows.

Long version: We have an Apple Time Capsule here at home and it’s almost always been an incredibly great wifi router with built in storage. The kids, especially, benefit from having all of their laptop files auto-magically backed up via the Time Machine app without me needing to do much of anything. Sweet.

But even a big, fat Time Capsule hard drive eventually gets full. I was looking at the drive on our capsule tonight via the Apple Airport Utility. Each computer backup shows up as a single file that starts with the computer’s name, adds a bunch of junk and ends with the special file format, .sparsebundle. Under the drive tab, there’s just one option to delete and it deletes everything on the disk. That’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to keep the kids’ laptop backups, stored in the wacky sparsebundle format, but delete some extra folders and an old backup of a computer we don’t use anymore.

So I flipped over to the Finder and down in the “Shared” section I could click through to see the full contents of my Time Capsule’s hard drive. The old sparsebundle was right there so I right clicked on it and choose “delete.” Super. A dialog box asks if I want to permanently delete. I click ok. Then nothing — scrolling bar of nothing that will literally stay up for hours with nothing happening. Yuck.

I tried two solutions I found online but neither worked. One was to right-click on the sparsebundle, choose show package contents, go inside the folder called “bands” and delete bunches of the files in there. Nope — same freeze up.

Another online suggestion recommended doing the show package contents trick and then right clicking on the file called “token,” going to the “get info” screen and unchecking the “locked” check mark. But my token lock box was already unchecked. No dice.

Eventually I found the solution to deleting the unwanted sparsebundle by reading an Apple support board post. The trick is to use Windows. Or, in my case, use VMWare running Windows 8. Open the Windows Explorer and navigate to your Time capsule via the IP address — in the address bar you just type \\ and then the address which for most folks starts with 192.168 and then has two more bits, like A dialog box asks you to log in. I have a password on my Time Capsule but no log in name. I just put anything into the log in name field and typed in my password. Once I was in, all the sparsebundles were displayed and a right click and delete worked in under a minute. So awesome:

using windows to delete a sparsebundle

UPDATE: In the comments, there’s also a way to force the Finder to connect to the Time Capsule the same way Windows connects via Microsoft’s SMB (Server Message Block) protocol. No Windows required. I haven’t tried it myself, however.


Finally, serious Lightroom photo syncing on the iPad – no iPhoto required

Old workflow for getting cool pictures I’ve taken from my camera to my iPad:

Import photos into Adobe Lightroom. Throw out junk, make fixes, sort and rate. Choose photos I want on my iPad and export to a folder on my hard drive. Drag said folder into iPhoto. Make newly imported photos into a new iPhoto album. Hook up iPad for sync via iTunes. Place check mark on new album in iTunes iPad photo syncing tab. Wait.

New workflow for getting cool pictures I’ve taken from camera to iPad:

Import photos into Adobe Lightroom. Throw out junk, make fixes, sort and rate. Choose photos I want on my iPad, drag to Photosmith publishing service, hit sync.

What a great program, though it does cost $20. What I’ve just described, using the app to send pictures or albums right from Lightroom onto your iPad, is worth more than $20 to me. You also have to install a free Lightroom plugin on your computer to make to all work.

But the other side of the app is for doing field work on photos using just your iPad, which I have not done much in the past but may get more into. Using Apple’s Camera Connection Kit, you can import photos right off your camera into the Photosmith app, rate them, tag them, flag them for deletion etc. You can also directly upload them to a couple of services such as Facebook, Flickr and Dropbox. Then just get near your Mac, open up Lightroom and sync back to your computer. Sweet.

photosmith app screen shot

Annoying limits I’ve encountered so far?

You can’t sync iPad screenshots back to Lightroom. That’s because the iPad makes them in the PNG format which Lightroom doesn’t support. But a fix is coming.

It seems like you can’t use the iPad app to re-arrange photos imported from Lightroom among your collections or make them into a new collection and have the changes sync back to Lightroom. Only new photos imported directly from a camera to the iPad (or taken with the iPad, god have mercy on your soul) sync back to Lightroom.


History will show journalists missed the big Amazon story today: ebook discounting is back

There were a gazillion Amazon headlines today across virtually every news site, tech blog and twitter feed I follow but almost none had the truly important news development about Amazon today. While everyone was gorging on the announcement of upgraded “Kindle Fire” tablet computers, U.S. federal judge Denise Cote in New York approved a controversial settlement to the massive ebook price fixing scandal.

The settlement requires three of the biggest book publishers in the world to soon terminate their so-called agency pricing arrangements over ebooks and allow Amazon and others to resume discounting ebooks. Two other major publisher and Apple were bitterly opposing the settlement. But the judge went with the Justice Department and major consumer groups. The law seemed pretty clearly on the side of the government and the settling publishers, as I wrote last month.

This will very soon benefit tens of millions of ebook buyers. And the long-term benefits of a slightly cheaper, slightly fancier tablet? Less so.

Update: Making my point further, the New York Times buried the story inside the business section and it’s not given prominent play on their web site, either. But their blog post about the ruling is the number one most emailed story right now. And, wow, the second-day coverage in the paper is embarrassingly bad, too. The Times story in print, link unseen, aside from various spokespersons, quotes a long-time publishing industry consultant, the head of the Author’s Guild and a publishing industry lawyer. The Wall Street Journal is no better, quoting the same lawyer and the AUthor’s Guild. Come on, people. You can do better.


A Mac user’s travels in Ultrabook land

I spent the long weekend with my family tooling around Cape Cod, which ended up offering two unexpected opportunities to sample the latest and greatest light weight laptops, or ultrabooks as they’re known, in Windows land. My 13″ MacBook Pro is getting near replacement age and I’m keeping an open mind so far about which way to go with my next machine.

Saving the best for first, the most impressive potential piece of kit was a pre-release Lenovo X1 Carbon Thinkpad running Windows 8. This was a fascinating and attractive piece of gear, extremely light in the hand yet with a solid feel from the carbon fiber shell. Lenovo specs say it weighs 3 pounds, just a hair over the weight of a 13″ MacBook Air. But it felt a lot lighter than the Mac perhaps because the weight was spread out over a larger area. The 14″ screen was gorgeous and bright at 1600 by 900 pixels.


I am bored and out of love with Apple’s aluminum unibody styling, an unergonomic and occasionally knife-like pain in the wrists. It’s a turn-off from the legions of Windows laptop makers who have aped it, too. So I also especially liked the Lenovo’s more grippable and stylish black outer jacket. The keyboard was as good as any laptop I’ve tried lately, too. The trackpad was very nice although a bit smaller than I’d like. I’m not a big fan of the Lenovo stick mouse, or whatever that little red nib is officially called, but if you are, this is the laptop for you.

Windows 8 is a strange creature on a laptop. You must start in what used to be called the “Metro” view, where icons to activate programs are mixed on a grid of widgets and other kinds of active panels, showing you the weather, incoming emails, and so on. I love that kind of mixed display on my phone but at least at first blush it wasn’t doing much for me on a laptop. One click takes you to a traditional Windows style desktop, just as good as the one you see in Windows 7. I felt like I’d need a few weeks of use, really trying to get the most out of the Metro interface, to render a proper verdict. To be clear, the X1 does not have a touch sensitive screen so you have to operate Metro, which seems more apt for tablets, with the mouse pointer, track pad etc.

A day later, due to a cousin’s need to return an ill fitting pair of shorts at Macy’s, my son and I had an hour to wander the aisles of a local Best Buy. While he shopped for new Xbox games to put on his wish list, I perused the laptop offerings. At one end of a row, getting prominent play, were three recent Ultrabooks, all running the current issue Windows 7 operating system. If memory serves, they were the Samsung Series 9 15″ model, Toshiba’s Satellite U845W with a very wide 14″ screen and a 13″ MacBook Air clone from Acer, I think the Aspire S3.

These were all slightly to much less appealing than the X1 in my brief examination. The Samsung was just too darn big and heavy. Close to 4 pounds in weight and just massive when folded shut and held in one arm, it’s not what I need for my next flagship, I don’t think. And the screen’s resolution is the same as the X1 just spread over slightly more screen space so the actual gain in productivity from the larger screen would be small.


The Toshiba had some very appealing features. I really liked the grippy, rubberized outer skin that covered a portion of the outside and the bits where you rest your hands inside. One of my biggest gripes about the MacBook Airs is their hard metal and sharp edges. But I couldn’t quite get my head around the screen dimensions. Already many laptops and monitors have gone from the traditional 4 by 3 scale to a more HD-movie friendly 16 by 9. The Toshiba takes the screen another step into Hollywood dream land with a scaling of 21 by 9. The actual pixel count is 1792 by 768, so you are only getting the height of an 11″ MacBook Air screen, for example, with the width more commonly seen on a 17″ notebook. Playing around with a few programs, I could probably get used to using two short, wide windows next to each other instead of the narrower, taller dimensions I typically use now.


Unfortunately, other aspects of the Toshiba seemed less than cutting edge. It had an old-fashioned, spinning disk drive instead of a solid state drive. And battery life of four hours is among the weakest for this niche. The giant screen also left you with an awkward and heavy bundle of tech to tote around when you closed the screen and picked it up.

The Acer was seemingly a 13″ MacBook Air for people who really don’t like Apple. You can run Windows on any current Apple laptop these days thus reducing the decision-making dilemma to one of hardware. Price wise, the Acer running a prior generation of Intel CPU and graphics chips was about $900 versus $1,200 for the entry-level Air.


And that gets to one of the big changes in purchasing decisions from years gone by, the cheapie Acer not withstanding. It used be that Apple offered premium products at a premium price. Today, thanks in part to the company’s amazing efficiencies and massive buying power, Apple offers premium products at the best price. Comparably equipped competing laptops cost more, especially when you start to add to base configurations. A 13″ MacBook Air with a 256 GB SSD and 8 GB of RAM is $1,600 versus $1,960 for the Thinkpad X1 Carbon, similarly specced. Apple also lets you go up to 512 GB on the SSD, not even an option on the X1.

The were some key questions for my needs which I could not answer in these brief peeks, such as how well the laptops worked in “clamshell” mode, sitting closed on a desk hooked up to a full size monitor and keyboard. That’s a real strength of my current MacBook Pro. Some of the tech web sites that get advance releases of these laptops have already posted their reviews, so for a more detailed and less impressionistic run down, check them out:

Wired: Paint it, Black: Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon

Engadget: Samsung Series 9 review (15-inch, mid-2012)

Theverge: Toshiba Satellite U845W and U845 review

Pocket-lint: Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook review – External elegance, functional design averageness

Note: I usually like to post pictures I’ve taken myself on the blog but stores frown on photogs and the pre-release X1 seemed a little out of bounds to be snapped.

Why critical reviews matter

I’m grateful to John Gruber, a great tech writer and proprietor of the popular blog DaringFireball, for linking here the other day and sending lots of traffic to my post criticizing him. I’m also super grateful to the Quick Cache plug-in for WordPress which helped my blog handle all the added traffic without being, as they say, “Fireballed” (I wanted to make a donation to the developer, but couldn’t find the correct link on his current home page, sadly).

The added traffic brought a lot of new commenters, as well, which, as anyone with a blog can tell you, is sort of a mixed blessing. The reason you want comments is to get new perspectives and new information into the mix of whatever you’ve just written about. Blogs with really great commenters, like Fred Wilson’s AVC, create a whole new community that adds even more value. But comments can also bring trolls and idiots and worse.

After reading through the dozens of comments from Daring Fireball readers on my retina Mac post, I guess I can see why Gruber doesn’t allow comments on his own blog. Bada-bing! Just kidding…sort of.

Some I let go. The most egregious I simply didn’t approve. I won’t go through all the stupidity, expletives or b.s. but there was one point worth addressing. More than one commenter questioned why I was even writing a post about someone else’s review. This was typical:

Your article completely went overboard and misses on a major point. Gruber’s MBP Retina review is no different than you would be giving glowing review to the latest version of Android OS or Windows even when most of the third party apps haven’t up updated their software yet. The Retina is pretty much closely tied to Apple OSes. So yeah, it’s the developers’ responsibility to upgrade their software to Retina.

Setting aside the fact that I frequently write here about the various Macs, iPads and other Apple gear we own, there’s the underlying notion that it’s fine to leave out critical parts of a review for some reason or other, or no reason at all (it’s not Apple’s fault? Who cares whose fault it is).

But out in the real world, where I’m looking for which laptop to buy next, which phone will best meet my needs or how to avoid an overpriced, underperforming dud gadget, I want reviewers to be more critical, more discerning and more helpful.

And that need is visible in some of the other comments and later links back to my piece. People who bought the rMBP were surprised to discover an important current failing which very few reviewers felt worthy of mentioning: if you use non-Apple software, the text could look really bad, horrible even and super-distracting.

Here’s one of the comments I saw linking back, for example:

None of the pieces of Software I use day-in-day-out stand any chance of being updated to “retina” display quality anytime soon – so my Retina Experience was terrible – and led me to procrastinate more in Safari, just ’cause it looked “pretty” unlike the utterly ugly pixely-garbage look of Final draft and MS Word. This isn’t Apple’s fault – it’s the app makers taking too long to catch up. And yes, it’s like PPC to Intel where Office took forever – but Rosetta made the transition bearable at worst – the pixely-grossness of the Retina screen in Word/etc… is like using a blown up iPhone app on the iPad 24/7. No one wants to spend $2200 to do that. So my Retina MacBook Pro went back to Apple.

“fyrefly,” Aug. 22, 2012

Personally, I was intrigued by the retina screen after reading so many glowing reviews and then I was surprised and disappointed when I saw it later at the Apple Store. Too many reviews missed the boat. It’s not yet time to make the retina switch if you are one of the millions of people who rely on non-Apple software. That’s not saying anything mean about Apple or blaming Apple or making some sort of massive attack against the whole laptop now and forever. It’s just telling a lot of potential buyers about a critical shortcoming.

The one mainstream review of the retina MacBook Pro I saw that actually got under the hood and highlighted several key problems was over at Anadtech, perhaps not coincidentally a site with no allegiance to any particular company or operating system or niche in Gadget World. Here’s the page describing the text display problems in various programs. No axe to grind, no blinders, no conflicts of interest. The funny thing is that it’s still a very favorable review overall. And I would have had no problem with Gruber’s review  exactly as is if he had just added a few sentences of warning. Not too much to ask, I’d say.

The great Google storage price hike of 2012

(I wrote an updated discussion of online storage prices on December 18, 2012)

The other day, I finally saw a unicorn crossing my lawn — no, not quite. Another almost as mythical a creature appeared on my computer, however: the Google Drive. It’s a long-rumored online storage space for any kind of digital files that lives on Google servers and syncs up with a designated folder on any computer of yours that you’d like. Like Dropbox. Or Sugarsync. Or Amazon Cloud drive. Or…many others. It is Google and that’s cool.

But one less than cool bit? Since Google started letting us upload almost any kind of file you wanted to an online storage bin associated with your Google Docs account, Google has had the most amazing prices on earth. With Google Drive, prices skyrocketed overnight. And even worse, there’s no longer an option to pay for a year at a time. Desperately in need of more customer credit card numbers to feed into its Android Play store and other new services, Google Drive’s extra space can only be paid for on a month-to-month basis. That may be a smart way for Google to catch up with Amazon and Apple in the paying customer accounts department, but for me it’s just blah.

I’m probably a little extra sad because at the instant the Google Drive was announced, I looked at the pricing for extra storage and it hadn’t been changed yet. When I returned a day later, however, I saw this:

Prices for extra storage on the Google drive

Under the old system, 1 GB of extra space cost 25 cents per year no matter how much you bought. Simple and cheap. As you can see, for just $5 I had 20 GB of extra storage. But from now on, storage is about 10 cents per GB per month. For 25 GB of extra space, I’m looking at an annual cost of $29.88, or $1.20 per GB per year. For 100 GB of space under the new plan, you get a better rate — four times the space at double the cost. That’s $59.88 or about 60 cents a GB per year.

Still, it’s cheaper than what others offer and that may be why Google saw room to hike its prices. You start with 5 GB free at Google. Dropbox gives you only 2 GB free and, if you pay annually, another 48 GB for $99 a year, or $2.06 per GB. SugarSync has an annual option for 25 GB in addition to the 5 GB free that’s $49.99 a year, or $2 a GB a year for the extra storage. They go to $1.81 a GB if you buy 55 GB and $1.58 if you buy 95 GB. Amazon’s Cloud Drive gives you 5 GB free. Then it’s smoothly increasing at $1 per GB per year if you ignore that first 5 GB. If you want to be as annoying as I am and exclude that free bit, it’s equal to $1.33 per GB per year at 20 GB, $1.05 at 100 GB and $1.01 at 500 GB. Apple’s iCloud is at the high end, scaling up from 5 GB free at exactly $2 per GB per year but only up to 50 GB extra.

And of course everybody EXCEPT Google lets you pay once a year.

A Day in the Life: iPhone versus Nexus

(People are wondering should I get the iPhone 4S or is the Galaxy Nexus better. Am I a man or am I a muppet, smartphone style. Everyone’s got their own needs and wants from their gadgets. Turns out, mine are best met by the Galaxy Nexus phone. The iPhone 4S? Tried it for a few months and got fed up. One man’s experience comparing and contrasting.)

Pleased with the galaxy nexus

Hearing the the slightly muffled tones of Cee Lo Green’s “F–k You” emanating from your pocket, you slip out your phone with your right hand without putting down the New York Times business section in your left. There’s that familiar, comfortable feel as you reorient the phone rightside up in your hand and then glance over and use your thumb to flick across the screen and answer the call.

Done chatting with Uncle Abe, pull down the notifications screen and see what’s up. Thumb flick away notices from Twitter and Facebook – you’ve got work to do.

But looks like you missed a call earlier – must have been driving through the Ted Williams Tunnel. Google Voice has got your back. The notice shows who called and the start of a transcription of the voice mail they left. Just the dentist’s office reminding you of next week’s appointment. Even if you hadn’t seen the notification, it’s right there on your home screen thanks to the Google Voice widget, too.

No need to call back but let’s make sure that oral appointment is down, shall we? Hit the big fat button for the list of all apps. CalenGoo is right where you expected it, sitting in alphabetical order. Handy. Looks like the appointment is all set. Hit the back button and you’re back in the list of apps.

Near by the Calengoo icon, there’s something new. Last night, after the kids went to sleep and you finally got your hands on the iPad, you read about a new Android app for Twitter that sounded cool, Boid. Zipping over to the web version of the Android Market — oops — Google Play Store, you checked it out and sent it to install on your phone right from the iPad. Play around with Boid for a few minutes and then back to work, salary man.

At lunch time, walking down the street, you decide to text the wife and tell her she’s sweet. Pull out the phone, swipe unlock and hit the microphone icon. Say “Text Whitney Connaughton I love you baby.” Watch as the phone calls up a blank text message and transcribes almost in real time. Hit send. Dictation fails when there’s no signal but you’re comforted that Android warns you immediately without making you waste time bleating into the void first.

Thinking of the wife, she wants you to get on your contractor, Chris, about those new windows. Hit the phone icon, then favorites. Scroll past those cute pictures of your favorites and there’s a handy-dandy list of frequently called numbers Android keeps up to date automagically. Of course, Chris is here — he’s not the world’s most reliable contractor. You can also get to him quick via the contacts app. There’s a button for groups and you’ve got one set up with all the numbers of folks working on the window replacement project. Done harassing Chris, it’s time for a sandwich. Pocket the phone and dig in.

On the walk back, call up some tunes in the Amazon MP3 player. It’s got everything — everything you ever bought from Amazon, saving a ton of bucks from Apple’s not-so-customer-friendly prices, and everything sucked up from iTunes, too. New Springsteen album got mixed reviews but we’re going to check it out for ourselves, aren’t we? It’s not on the phone yet, so hit the “Cloud” tab instead of “Device,” scroll to “Wrecking Ball” and start streaming it. “Heaven knocking on the door that holds the throne…”

Time to go home. Check how bad the commute’s going to be with a glance at the traffic widget on your phone. Yellow? Not good. Better grab a podcast. Love that awesome Pocket Casts app. It’s Friday so there’s a new episode of Hypercritical. Download it in about 30 seconds over Verizon’s super-fast LTE network.

After dinner, kids having grabbed all the iPads, you’re left surfing the Internets on your phone. Boston Globe too pessimistic about the Celtics chances this year? That got your juices flowing for a strong counter-argument to mount for your buddies on Facebook. Hit the share button, type in your unbeatable refutation and post. While you’re at it, jump over to the photo gallery and post that picture of your bike ride from last weekend to Facebook, too.

Time for sleep. Hit the microphone on the phone and say “Set alarm for 7 am.” Click okay. Head hits the pillow before the phone’s out of your hand.

Fade to black…we fade back in to: Three months earlier

Frustrations with the iPhone 4S

Hearing the familiar if far away bleating of the “Marimba” ring tone, you do nothing. Must be someone’s iPhone around here. But the music doesn’t stop. Better check your phone. Grab that sharp slab of metal encased glass and take a look. Upside down again? Flip it over and answer the call.

Done chatting with Uncle Abe, pull down the notifications screen and see what’s up. Try to hit those tiny little buttons to get rid of the Twitter and Facebook stuff – you’ve got work to do. Stab madly a few times and finally give up. Make a mental note to change the default on notifications for Twitter and Facebook so they don’t hog so much of the notifications list.

Back on the home screen, looks like you missed a call earlier. Back to the list of notifications. How did you miss that Google Voice listing? Must have been pushed down below all the Facebook and Twitter junk. Here on the notifications screen, Google Voice tells you who called and adds a transcription of their voicemail. It’s a reminder for your haircut. Wonder for the fortieth time why the notice always adds “Voicemail from [the caller]” at the beginning of every transcription – it already told you who called on the line above. Tap, tap, tap at that tiny “x” to try and clear the listing. Never mind, you just hit the home button.

Got to check the calendar about that hair appointment. We’ve got CalenGoo on the iPhone, too, you self-satisfied Android fanboys, you think to yourself. Now where the heck did you put that icon? In the folder called “utilities” on your home screen? Nope. Slide over to the left, second screen, nope, third screen, nope. Wait, wasn’t it back on screen two in the folder called “organized life”? Right. Okay, tap CalenGoo and you’re all set.

Back on the home screen, seeing the icon for the official Twitter app reminds you of something you were reading last night on your iPad. You bought a new Twitter client app. The app store downloaded it to your iPad, but where is it on this phone? Oh right, just go to the app store app, click on update and then purchased items. Hit the “Not on this iPhone” tab and wait…and wait. Here’s the list, tap the new app and it’s downloaded and installed. Enough time wasted — back to work for you.

At lunch time, walking down the street, you decide to text the wife and tell her she’s sweet. Pull out the phone, hit the home key twice to call up Siri and say “Send a text to Whitney Connaughton I love you baby.” Wait a few seconds, then a few seconds more. “I’m really sorry Aaron. I can’t do that right now. Please try again later.” Doh. Resisting the urge to hurl Siri into the Fort Point Channel, you call up the messaging app and type it in.

Next tap the Google Voice app to call that contractor you just hired to put in the new windows. Hit contacts and a huge list of your iPhone’s contacts come up, straight out of the Address Book on your Mac. Ugh. Google Voice on the iPhone still can’t get to your Google Voice contacts? Right. But don’t worry, you’re syncing Google contacts with Address Book and you have the contractor in the group called “Window Project.” Hit the groups. Oh right, the syncing feature doesn’t sync groups so that group’s not here. Back to the list. Scroll down the list to find his name. Sure is neat-o the way it bounces to a stop.

Grab a sandwich and on the walk back it’s time for some tunes. Bought the new Coldplay album the other day. Is it on the phone? Check the music app. Not here. Purchased? Hmm, weird not there either. You’re so sure you bought it. Oh right – it was on sale at Amazon for like $5 bucks less than iTunes. Wasn’t iTunes Match supposed to match stuff even if you didn’t buy it from Apple? But on the phone iTunes Match can only show either every single song in your entire library or just what’s on this phone. And since the setting to change the view is buried somewhere, you’ve got it just showing local stuff.

Head back to settings, dig around, flick the switch. Wait a while for everything to get up to date. Find Chris Martin’s latest without thinking about his sham marriage to G. Paltrow. Hit play. No, no play – that’s download. Wait for the songs to download. Deep sigh. Wonder about Verizon’s faster LTE service while you wait. Unhappy thoughts. Hit the app store to install Amazon’s MP3 app. No go — it’s not available. Wouldn’t it be cool if Apple’s music app had tabs for on the device and in the cloud? Deeper sigh.

Time to head home and you’re wondering about the commute. Find that darn maps app on side screen four, open it up and click on the traffic overlay. Looks pretty messy. Let’s grab the new episode of Hypercritical. Downloading, downloading, downloading, some day my Siracusa will come.

After dinner, surfing the net on the phone, the urge hits to post an article about the Celtics to your Facebook buddies. Hit the share button. Hmm, no Facebook here, just Twitter. Can’t you just add the services you want? No? Not at all? What the…okay, well then let’s load a photo to FB. Can’t do that either, just Twitter again. Damn you Twitter, how much did you pay Apple for this annoyance-enhancing exclusivity? Go to FB app and post the pic. Then go back to laboriously cut and paste the Celtics article URL into another FB app post. Annoying.

Time for sleep. Double press the home button and say “Siri, wake me up at 7 am tomorrow.” “I’m really sorry Aaron, I can’t…”

Screen wipes to dead TV channel static.

(Coming later, my teen-age daughter’s rebuttal and why she loves the 4S and hates her brother’s Droid 4 with a passion)

Phone to Desktop Computing, Nexus style

I got a little excited by some recent experiments of folks hooking their Galaxy Nexus phones to desktop computer set-ups: big monitor, speakers, full keyboard and track pad. Pretty sure that within a few years, we’ll have just one computing device in a phone form factor that can hook up to different size screens and is powerful enough to do all we need. So has the future arrived, Nexus style?

Well, it’s pretty cool at a rudimentary level. Using a Samsung-made HDMI adapter cable, I hooked my Galaxy Nexus up to a 23″ HP monitor. The screen is bigger than needed since the phone can only output video at a 1280 by 720 pixel resolution. But the HP was the smallest inexpensive monitor I could find with an HDMI port. I also wirelessly linked via Bluetooth an Apple portable keyboard and magic trackpad to the phone. As soon as you connect the HDMI cable to the monitor, the phone shifts to a horizontal orientation.


The trackpad lets you use the computing set up without touching the phone. When you put a finger on the trackpad, a small white dot appears on the monitor signifying where your virtual finger would be on the screen. Taps, double taps and drags all work as expected. It’s easy to watch videos, read via a browser or other app or do pretty much anything you would do on the phone — even make calls using the speakerphone.

The bigger screen and full size keyboard also make it a breeze to get serious writing done — something that’s challenging to say the least using any smart phone keyboard.

Caveats and issues? As mentioned, the resolution is not that great for a desktop computer. I think some of Motorola’s Android phones have a separate operating system or shell called Webtop that can use more screen real estate. Also, the set up at least with the cables and adapter I have was incredibly sensitive to being jostled. In fact, I had to try three different HDMI cables before I got a solid connection. And you’re limited to Android apps. That’s less of a limitation than I thought initially. But with things like Linux for Android on the horizon, that won’t be a barrier for much longer, it seems.

And, by the way, I wrote this post using the set up as described with the WordPress for Android app and it was pretty easy. Adding photos might be even easier than using the full blown WordPress editor.

Without Siri, the iPhone reminder app stinks

One of the cool new features of the iPhone 4S — and the most hyped in Apple’s advertisements — is using the digital assistant Siri to set reminders. When you use Siri, you can usually speak as if  you were talking to another person and Siri will figure out what you mean. Tell Siri “Make an appointment with my dad for next Tuesday at 3 p.m.” and Siri is capable of assessing who your dad is and the date of  “next Tuesday.”

But there’s a big glitch by Apple with this system and that’s when Siri is offline as “she” frequently is. Then you are left to set the reminder by hand. And the problem is that the new Reminders app absolutely stinks. Here are the steps and clicks to set one reminder without Siri:

1. Click on Reminders app

2. Click plus sign – almost never registers first click, so click again with verve.

3. Blank reminder comes in – type in content of your reminder.

4. Be puzzled about how to set the date and time. The virtual keyboard is still up. There is no indication of how to set the date and time.

How to add date & time??

5. Tap uselessly on the reminder text you just typed. iOS helpfully offers to select a word or paste.

6. Get frustrated and click “Done” even though you’re not done.

7. Back to the list of all your reminders. Click again on the reminder you just wrote. Now iOS shows a screen to get to the part where you can set the date and time or other details of the reminder.

8. Click on “Remind Me”

9. Slide the “On A Day” switch to “ON”

10. Click on the day and time. Use the slider control to reset the day and time (be prepared to slide forever if the reminder is not close to the current date).

11. Click “Done” to get out of the time setting slider

12. Click “Done” to get out of the reminder setting screen.

Phew! That’s a minimum of 10 clicks and slides to set one reminder. And the biggest problems with making the app so unintuitive and hard to use is that, usually, you’re using the excellent Siri interface to set reminders. So you only have to wade into this morass occasionally and, when you do, you never quite remember all the different steps and tricks. Yuck.