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.

But It Comes With A Bug Deflector

It’s not supposed to happen like this.

Especially in consumer electronics where new tech comes along and knocks the leader of its perch. Look no further than the gaming consoles pioneered by Atari and Nintendo which eventually gave way to the Sony Playstation. Until, of course, Nintendo regained its footing with the Wii only to have Microsoft waiting in the wings with its Xbox and hot selling Kinect.

But that’s not what we’re witnessing in the consumer tablet market. In fact, it’s not really a tablet market as much as it’s the iPad’s market where a few companies dabble from time to time.

Competitors like Samsung, Blackberry, Sony, Toshiba, and Motorola have had two years to produce something that gives Apple a run for its money. And, to date, each of them have created tablets which consumers find less appetizing than a turd sandwich.

I see these competing tablets each time I visit Fred Meyer or Fry’s Electronics because they stand out like a sore thumb. You’ll find them sitting on a table, screens covered in dust and seldom turned on. If consumers cared about them wouldn’t they be operational? Have Samsung and Sony executives never stepped foot inside an Apple store to see how real people interact with their products?

The new iPad’s most fearsome competitor is the iPad 2. Even the original iPad holds its own! Think about that for a minute. Apple is replacing the best selling iPad ever (that has no peer) with another iPad.  Honda used to do this to the mid-sized sedan market every few years. Just when the Camry or Taurus began to gain ground, Honda would release a new Accord that reset the bar. In a sense, Apple is doing the same thing except, in their market, they also make the Camry and Taurus.

At this point, anyone purchasing a tablet without the Apple logo is intentionally telling everyone, "I do not want the best tablet available". They may have philosophical differences with how Apple conducts business, but from a product standpoint nobody else is even in the game.

Imagine the cost of a BMW M3 and the Ford Fiesta were identical. The non-Apple tablet buyer is akin to the guy who, given that choice, selects the Fiesta and then tells everyone else that his car came with a bug deflector and rear spoiler.

My Favorite iPad Apps

A few months into iPad ownership and I’m as excited as Beavis with a bowl full of nachos.

I keep my iPad screens quite tidy. In fact, I now keep all my apps on one screen and remove those I don’t use often. Those I use regularly but not each day go in a folder. Those apps I use almost each day, gain a spot in the upper four fifths of the screen. And finally, those I have open all the time, are pinned to the lower bottom.

Here’s the run down on my favorites:

Alarm Clock Pro – Made for the iPhone but works on the iPad. Simple but gorgeous. 99 cents

Weather HD – The best look weather app I’ve found. 99 cents

Speed Test – Tests Wi-Fi and 3G speeds such as Ping, download and upload speeds. free

Writings – You may never go back to Word again. Love this simple text editor. 99 cents

ABC Player – Catch up on Modern Family, the Bachelor or, my favorite, the Shark Tank. free

Slacker – Check out my full review, but this is how music apps should be done. app is free, subscriptions run $3.99 to $9.99/month

Daily – Cancelled local paper and bought the daily, the newspaper designed for the iPad. app is free, annual subscription is $39.99

60 Minutes – Always something to watch in the archives. Brings out my inner news junkie. $4.99

Air Video – Amazing app allows me to stream video from my PC to my iPad. Get your nerd on. $2.99

NPR – You could waste months diving into this app, but you’d be a lot smarter. free

Video Time Machine – Just download this now. Seriously. Stop reading and do it. 99 cents

Car Buzz – Everything you wanted to know about cars from total car nuts. free

MyPad+ – If you’re on Facebook, you’ll want this. 99 cents

Twitter – I prefer TweetDeck on Windows, but Twitter on iPad and iPhone. free

Diigio Browser – Do you wish your iPad browser looked and acted like Google Chrome? free

Week Calendar – A major upgrade to the default calendar. Love this app. $1.99

Reeder – Saved the best for last. My favorite app. Makes reading RSS feeds fun, and syncs with Google Reader. I spend more time in this app than any other. $4.99