Favorite Product of 2019

I didn’t purchase a lot of new technology in 2019. I replaced an aging HP printer with an HP OfficeJet 8035 printer my kids use to copy and scan and occasionally print. I wanted to update our AppleTV with a newer model but can’t justify the $150 price tag right now. My Windows 10 PC is starting to act sluggish when I have more than a couple of browser tabs open and try to launch Adobe Acrobat or Photoshop. But for the most part, between my PC and my MacBook Pro, I can perform the tasks I need to for work and play.

A few months ago, my daughter bought AirPods. She loved them immediately. My son followed with his own pair a month later and told me used them every day. So for my birthday, I bought myself some AirPods and figured I could return them if they didn’t impress me.

If you’ve owned wireless headphones or earbuds, you know that Bluetooth can be finicky. My Jaybird buds mostly worked once connected, but switching them between my iPhone and Mac wasn’t as easy as it should be. But they worked for the most part, and I enjoyed them for a couple of years. I never really got used to how they sealed off my ears from outside sounds.

My AirPods have become one of the best Apple products I’ve ever purchased. I use them every day, on my Mac and my iPhone. The only place I don’t use them is while at my PC because I have a Turtle Beach headset there that works well for making calls or joining conference calls.

Like most Apple products, AirPods just work. I open the case and they immediately connect to my device. The tiny case keeps them running for about 20 hours total, or about 5 hours per charge. The ubiquitous white buds fit my ears well and stay in place surprisingly well. They also sound great for earbuds. I highly recommend them.

How to Free Up Space on Your iPhone

If you own an iPhone you might have noticed that your Other category is taking up more storage than before. I haven’t been able to find a definitive answer, although it seems like the Other category grows as you upgrade from one model of iPhone to another.

My spouse and I own 16 GB iPhone 5s, and we’ve recently been looking to free up more space to store music. Normally, I’d remove apps to free up space, but I found an easy way to free up some space, depending on how much storage Other is taking up.

Here are the steps I followed:

1. Plug your iPhone into your Mac or PC.

2. Perform a Backup and select the Encrypt iPhone backup option so you don’t have to enter all your passwords after the restore.

3. Perform a Restore Backup. iTunes will ask for your encryption password. Make sure you select the most recent backup if you have more than one.

I had 1.67 GB of free space before the backup and restore.

After the restore, I had 3 GB. So I freed up just over 1.3 GB.

I find it odd that my apps also shrunk, but everything is working well.

I tried the same thing Kim’s iPhone 5, but I went to Settings/General/Reset on her iPhone and selected the Erase All Content and Settings option after I performed a backup, but before I performed a restore.

She had 3.37 GB of free space before I performed a restore.

After the restore, she had nearly 6 GB. I freed up 2.57 GB.

Other and Apps shrunk quite a bit on her iPhone as well and Other nearly disappeared.

So if your iPhone is getting low on storage, you might want to give a backup and restore a try.

**I first read about this method of saving space at It’s a Very Nice Web Site by John Moltz.

The Nest Screwdriver

My new Nest Learning Thermostat arrived yesterday.

So far, I love it. But I’m not going to talk about the thermostat right now. I want to use it for a few weeks before sharing my thoughts on it.

Instead, I want to talk about a screwdriver.

Installing the Nest requires two screws. Instead of heading to the garage to search for my toolbox, Nest includes the tool I need.

Few companies sweat the details to this level.

The subtle indentation on the handle reminds me of those on the Apple TV remote. Some might say those tiny details don’t matter. I mean, it’s a screwdriver! But that misses the point. Anything that’s in the box should match the quality of the elegant Nest device.

The screwdriver is more than a tool. It tells a story. It says we went the extra mile. It surprises. It amuses.

Does your company have its own screwdriver?

My Windows Experience

I bought my first PC in 1994. It ran both DOS and Windows 3.1. Over the next few months, I’d install more RAM, a modem and a CD-ROM.

Although I justified my purchase by telling myself I’d no longer have to rely on the computers at the library at the University of Utah, my computer wasn’t used for much outside of a playing Links Golf and Doom.

Until Windows 95.

The release of Windows 95 coincided with a time of great interest in connecting to the internet. But doing so wasn’t easy. The user had to gather settings from their ISP and then enter those settings into Windows. It was anything but intuitive.

But Windows 95 cemented Microsoft’s grip on the desktop. If you wanted to run the largest array of applications, games or utilities you ran Windows. And that’s exactly what I did for two decades. I learned about drivers, the registry, file extensions, and printers. Oh man, did I learn about printers.

I stuck with Windows through the good (XP, 7) and bad (ME, Vista). And then Window 8 happened.

So much has been written about Windows 8. The only thing I have to add is that it was not built for traditional desktop users like me. It feels like an operating system build for tablets. Or maybe phones. I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right.

We still have three PCs at our home. As recent as six months ago, all three were used for hours each day. But that’s no longer the case. I still spend most of my day on a PC running Windows 8. It works for the most part. Unless I need to print a document. Or try to search the Windows Store.

A month ago I bought a MacBook Pro, and a strange thing happened: my role as family IT manager came to an end.

The Mac belongs to my spouse, and I assumed it would come with a learning curve. I assumed I’d be called on support it daily, like I’ve done with her Windows PCs for years. But that hasn’t been the case at all. Her Windows 8 PC now collects dusts while her Mac just works.

I want to see the PC prosper. I know Microsoft wants their Surface tablet and Windows Phone to prosper, but they no longer seem interested in the traditional desktop PC.

Maybe Windows 9 will change my mind. But my patience is waning. So much so that this is my first blog post written on a Mac.

Google Maps vs. Apple Maps

I’ve wanted to compare Google Maps to Apple Maps for a while but never got around to it. But a couple of weeks ago I made four trips between St. George and Las Vegas. The trip covers about 130 miles each way or two hours of drive time which would provide me the chance to test both apps in and around a small and larger city.

On my first trip to Vegas, I ran both Google Maps and Apple Maps simultaneously. This allowed me to take screenshots of both apps, and also listen to how they differed in providing turn-by-turn directions.

I considered adding my Garmin GPS to the test, but I just don’t use it much anymore. It’s a portable unit but is a hassle to set up in our Honda Odyssey, provided I can remember where I placed the power adapter and window mount. I’m also not thrilled that Garmin wants another $100 or to update my maps. So I’ve all but stopped using the Garmin in favor of my iPhone 5 on which I tested Google Maps and Apple Maps.

I should also point out that I was a Google Maps user for several years until Apple Maps arrived. I didn’t have any of the bad experiences some Apple Maps users were having so I’ve continued to use it. I went into this test to see if one map app worked better than the other, knowing if they felt about the same I’d probably stick to using Apple Maps.

You’ll notice a blue bar at the top of the Google Map screenshots. It’s there because I was running Apple Maps at the same time but wouldn’t show up if I had only Google Maps running. I don’t count that against it although it resulted in the bottom of the screen getting squished a bit which matters because Google tends to present more information at the bottom of the map while Apple tends to present as much as possible at the top.

The two screenshots below (Google Maps on left, Apple Maps on right) show the different approaches both apps take. Google provides much better surrounding street detail. Apple provides more trip details at a glance.  With Google Maps, I can get more details by pressing the bottom section of the map (1 hr 57 min) but it requires more interaction than Apple Maps.

Here’s another example of how Google Maps provides a lot more surrounding detail including business names. Keep in mind that this is a small town and Google still provides a good level of detail.  This would be incredibly helpful if my destination were one of those businesses or even if I knew my destination was close to one of them.  Apple Maps zooms in closer on your current position. But this screenshot also shows a major issue with Apple Maps in that it tells me to turn onto Black Ridge Dr. which is flat out wrong. Black Ridge Dr. is a street near the freeway onramp but runs in the opposite direction. Yet when I approached the onramp Apple Maps corrected itself and provided correct turn-by-turn directions. In fact, I hadn’t noticed this mistake until I got home and looked at the screenshots. But this was enough to make me rethink how much I should trust Apple Maps.

Once I was on the freeway, both apps worked well. I still prefer how Apple Maps presents the trip details. Apple Maps design also feels more polished while Google Maps looks like an app only an Android user could love. But I wanted to mention a major difference I noticed when I pulled off the freeway to purchase gas. It’s not uncommon to have to backtrack a block or two to enter get back on the freeway and Google and Apple differ in their approach here. While pulling out of the gas station Apple Maps turn-by-turn directions would say, “Proceed to the route.” and assume I knew my way back to the street that would return me to the freeway. Google would say, “Take a left onto Ranch Road and then a slight right onto I-15.”

This may seem like an insignificant difference, but it’s not. While pulling off the freeway to get gas, I was often able to see the freeway entrance so I didn’t need to rely on turn-by-turn directions to get me back on the route. But twice, as I made my way around Las Vegas, Apple Maps assumed I could either see the freeway onramp or knew what street I was on (if I were looking at the map), because all it said was, “Proceed to the route” which isn’t helpful if I don’t know the route well enough to get back on the freeway. It’s easy to get turned around in an unfamiliar area, especially large and often confusing Las Vegas. In comparison, Google anticipated the street I would be on when I exited the station, and then guided me to the freeway onramp. Huge difference and a major win for Google Maps.

I started out each trip by searching for the Palms Hotel and Casino and both found it immediately. As you can see from the screenshots below, Google Maps provide more business names and locations to their map while Apple Maps includes a link to Yelp reviews while providing more street names. I like how Google Maps brings together the trip details at the bottom of the screen. Apple provides more options on the screen including a 3D view, but it’s one of the few times where Google takes the “less is more” approach which I prefer here, although both work just fine.

So in closing, I prefer the look of Apple Maps. If were getting around town by looking at a map, I would prefer Apple Maps. But that’s not how I use a map app in my car. Google Maps detailed turn-by-turn direction trumps Apple’s better-looking maps for me any day of the week. In fact, the less I have to look down at my phone the better! The the main reasons I’m going back to using Google Maps is that I trust it more than I do Apple Maps today. The goal of any mapping software is to get the user to his or her destination. Google Maps may not look as polished as Apple Maps, but it nails the key features and shows why Google services for consumers are the best in the business.

If you’re using an iPhone I recommend using Google Maps over Apple Maps.

A Tale of Two Ads

Steve Wildstrom for Techpinions comparing the different approaches Apple and Microsoft took with their latest ads:

I have worked with both companies for many years and can assure you that while they are very different from each other, both are fiercely competitive, touchy, and as huggable as  hedgehogs. But there can be big difference between what you are and the persona you choose to present to the world.

Apple’s “Misunderstood” ad is one of the best ads I’ve seen this year. It wasn’t that long ago that Apple was running their I’m a Mac ads that, while sharing a few Mac features, were primarily focused on making anyone using a PC look like a buffoon.

Today we have Microsoft ads walking all over Google, but spending little time explaining why a customer might want a laptop with Windows 8. As someone who works for a company that builds computers, most of which run Windows, I’d love to see Microsoft spend less time obsessing over Google and more time focused on building great products.

Apple’s ads work because they make great products.

My in-laws stopped by on Christmas Eve and watched as my kids sent videos and pictures they’d taken to our TV using their iPods. My mother-in-law asked how they were doing it and I showed her the hockey puck sized Apple TV. My father-in-law then took out his iPhone and did the same, playing a number of videos of the kids when we lived in Seattle. I didn’t have to show him how it worked, nor did we have to pull out a manual and fiddle with any settings.

It was one of the few times when the technology melted into the background, and everything worked seamlessly.

This afternoon I asked Kim what her parents were up to. “They are online buying an Apple TV,” she replied.

My Thoughts on the Apple TV

A few months ago my father-in-law let me borrow his first generation Roku. I hooked it up to the smaller TV in the basement our kids normally use to play video games. I was surprised to find them using it more than I had imagined and decided to purchase one of the newer Roku models for our larger TV upstairs.

While at Best Buy I checked out the Roku 3 they had on display and was impressed at how much more responsive the menu was compared to the older model at home. That’s when a Best Buy associate asked if I watched HBO. I told him that yes, we do watch a number of shows on HBO, such as Game of Thrones. He then asked if I was a Comcast, Dish or DirecTV customer. When I told him DirecTV he cringed and I figured there must be a catch.

Of course, there’s a catch. There’s always a catch when dealing with cable or satellite providers.

What I found out was that DirecTV doesn’t allow HBO streaming over a Roku device. Of course, they do allow it over Xbox and Apple TV (and probably other similar devices) but not Roku. I have no idea why. I had no reason not to believe the Best Buy associate but did a quick Google search on my iPhone to confirm the bad news.

So I ended up buying the $99 Apple TV even though it has fewer apps than the Roku. I was disappointed, but that didn’t last too long. When I got home, I plugged the Apple TV into the back of my Samsung TV via HDMI cable and began the setup process.

And here is where Apple schools everyone – they make the setup process as painless as possible.

As you begin the setup process, the Apple TV asks if you own an iOS device. I have an iPhone so, once I select the automatic setup link, the Apple TV connected to my iPhone and pulled off data to connect to my iTunes Store account, configured itself for my Wi-Fi network and chose my language, region, and format preferences. I assume the Apple TV came with an instruction booklet but I didn’t need it.

I wish it could have transferred over my Netflix account and password but otherwise, the entire setup process is brilliant.

Using the Apple is like every other Apple product I own in that someone has taken great pains to make sure even the smallest of details are clear and easily understood. The remote has three buttons and the best testimonial I can give it is that my 5-year old can use it. That’s not the case with the DirecTV remote which must have been designed by someone who hates life.

Everything works as you expect it to work and is a joy to use. Since I added the Apple TV, our Xbox and horrendous “Genie” DVR from DirecTV haven’t been used as much. The Xbox sounds like a jet engine once the fans spin up and DirecTV seems more interested in placing more and more ads inside their guide than delivering a quality product. If it were not for live sports, I’d get rid of DirecTV today and I still may do that soon.

I’m not going to cover all the features of Apple TV. A full list of available channels is available here. But I wanted to mention our favorite feature called AirPlay. In short, it allows me to stream pictures or video from my iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad to the Apple TV. This sounds geeky but is freaking awesome in practice. Tonight, my daughter took pictures of her brother who turned 1-years old today and then sent them to the TV for us all to see.

So, although I was initially bummed about the Roku 3, I’m thrilled I ended up with the Apple TV.

Apple Support

While at a friend’s birthday party last Friday evening, Luca dropped her iPod Touch and the screen cracked. She was almost as devastated as her father.

I went to the Apple website and was quickly able to determine what support options were available. Since the nearest Apple store is two hours away in Las Vegas, I decided to send the broken iPod Touch to Apple. The whole process took less than five minutes.

Apple provided the address to the nearest UPS Store where we’d drop off the iPod. UPS would take it from there which included the boxing and postage which is a very nice touch. That was last Saturday.

On Monday Apple sent me an email saying that had received my daughter’s iPod and would follow up shortly. On Tuesday I received another email saying I should expect shipment of the replacement iPod by Thursday.

Today, another blue iPod Touch arrived in the mail. It took about 20 minutes to restore the backup from my PC to the iPod. It was an expensive $150 lesson to learn, but Apple’s support is nothing short of fantastic.

Last week my friend told me how it took him a month to get Samsung to replace a damaged Galaxy 4 phone. No way could I go back to typically crappy support like that.

Apple is one company where you might pay a little more but, in return, you receive a lot more too.