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.

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.

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.

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.

Devices! Devices! Devices!

Steve Ballmer, in an email to Microsoft employees today:

“Going forward, our strategy will focus on creating a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work, and on the go, for the activities they value most.”

Now that’s interesting.

The CEO of the world’s largest software company says Microsoft will focus on devices and services.

Translation: Ballmer wants to morph Microsoft into a mix of Apple (devices) and Google (services).

Where does Windows fit into Ballmer’s plans? Well, Windows is already running on Microsoft’s three primary devices: Surface tablet, Xbox, and Windows Phone. And the current head of Windows and Surface engineering, Julie Larson-Green, is now in charge of the new Devices and Studios group.

Microsoft still builds a crapload of other products. But none are as important as those Larson-Green is now tasked with growing.  Microsoft has seen clear success with the Xbox, and with the Xbox One on the horizon, should maintain their lead in the cutthroat console business.

But the Surface and Windows Phone are basically non-players in a game being dominated by Apple and Samsung. If Larson-Green can turn them around to become a bona-fide competition in the smartphone and tablet markets, then Ballmer should turn over the CEO keys to her.

How much are two well-known devices worth to Apple?

The iPhone, which Ballmer famously mocked, has been around since 2007 while the iPad didn’t show up until 2010. These two products now drive more revenue and profit than every Microsoft product and service combined. In fact, the iPhone, on its own, is larger than Microsoft in terms of revenue and profit.

Ballmer finally appears to realize that mobile is the future, even for the company that built the desktop.

Downcast for Podcasts

When I heard Apple plans to remove the podcasting functionally from iOS 6, I decided to see whatIMG_0842 other apps might feel the void. What I didn’t understand at the time was that Apple wasn’t far from releasing a standalone app called, well, Podcasts.

It’s not a terrible app and it’s free. If you occasionally listen to podcasts it won’t get in the way.

But it’s not great, and if you listen to a lot of podcasts (or a few religiously) you want a great app that’s responsive, makes searching and adding new podcasts a cinch, and automatically downloads new episodes in the background.

So my suggestion is to pony up the two bucks and grab the nifty Downcast that does all that and more. 

The best compliment I can give Downcast is that it’s earned a spot on my iPhone’s home screen.