Tag: Technology (page 1 of 5)

Mojo

I recently wrote about being 10 years on a Mac. It’s been a remarkably stable time with access to a lot of great software and hardware. However there’s no getting away from it – Apple have been stagnating when it comes to Mac’s.

Going back 10 years and there was a marked difference between buying a Mac and buying a PC. Apple owned the software and hardware process and there were very few product lines compared to the hundreds of PC’s available and the crapware that afflicted every PC from Dell to HP, Dan to Acer. They all did it and it stunk. No virus or malware issues either. And for me the difference in how the hardware was designed was massive.

PC or Mac from 2006. Which would you have rather had?

PC or Mac from 2006. Which would you have rather had?

This was also the time of the Mac vs PC adverts that went on for a few years. How times have changed.

This week saw Microsoft and Apple launch new desktop and laptop products. The difference between then couldn’t be more stark and shows that Microsoft have got their mojo back…and Apple are looking a little lost.

The problem for Apple is iOS. It’s a great problem to have, but Mac and iOS are two very different platforms that share quite a bit in common. iOS is the rising platform, dominant in sales and very much the future of computing. Mac is much loved amongst the Apple community but sales in the desktop and laptop market are going down. Global PC sales have declined for eight consecutive quarters. End users aren’t upgrading their PC’s as often – my desktop and laptop are over 5 and 4 years old respectively and still going strong.

However iOS is Apple’s touch driven environment and Mac’s have been left behind in that regards. Is it the right approach? Well Microsoft don’t think so and having messed up so much in the past on mobile they’ve bet on having a unified operating system. So Windows 10 works anywhere, mouse or touch driven, so you can take advantage of your hardware depending on the situation you are in. They are also hitting their stride when it comes to hardware. A few years ago the Surface Pro was a nice device but version 4 is great and with the Surface Book and now the Surface Studio there’s a real wow around Microsoft’s hardware from a design perspective.

Microsofts Surface Studio

Microsofts Surface Studio

Microsoft are courting creatives. IBM have rolled out Macs across the enterprise. Microsofts new devices are not cheap unlike Windows products of the past. Good design costs money and the small creative market are willing to pay to get the best devices. Software is not really locked to platforms. Adobe allow you to work on Mac or PC and the experience on both is pretty much identical. The Mac App Store hasn’t done the Mac platform any favours. Equally the emerging VR market is a Windows exclusive right now. Apple hardware isn’t powerful enough to drive any of the VR platforms and they’ve yet to show their hand when it comes to AR or VR apart from Tim Cook verbally favouring AR.

Whats frustrating for me is that Apple look to be slowing down. Stagnating. The Mac market is getting smaller so is the ideal market to innovate in. In contrast last weeks announcements were pretty snooze worthy. Pricey laptops, confusing naming strategy coupled with a lovely new Touch Bar. The laptops aren’t using the latest chips and the RAM looks stingy. Add to that a greater than three years old Mac Pro, and ageing iMac and Mini. What’s going on?

Worse for us in the UK is that all Mac prices rose last week thanks to Brexit. While I can understand the rise for the new MacBook Pro’s and the iMac’s, it’s a disgrace that the ancient Mac pro rose by £500. Poor decision Apple or don’t you care? Seeing as the Mac Pro website still references Aperture, a product that Apple killed over 12 months ago, I’m thinking they don’t care.

Or has Apple got too big? The video above from Steve Jobs is prophetic and could describe todays Apple. This years iPhone is undoubtedly a great phone but it’s safe. Compare it to the Xiaomi Mi Mix which is a gorgeous new Android device and shows some true innovation with regards design and materials.

Xiaomi Mi Mix - stunning new Android phone

Xiaomi Mi Mix – stunning new Android phone

Apple for me right now feels conservative. Undoubtedly making bundles of cash but hedging bets and not as exciting as they once were. However the likes of Microsoft, Google and Samsung have some great products out there. As a tech lover I’m spoiled for choice. Earlier in the week a colleague said they were worried at Apples approach. I’m personally not worried as it’s easy to move platform so I’ll always have access to the best hardware and software…but that should give cause for concern for Apple. Over time if people start to move away, especially developers and creatives, then it could be the start of a slow decline. Hopefully Apple will prove me wrong in 2017. They need to find their mojo again.

Blocked

As happens every so often with the blog I’ve been quiet for a while. Busy at work, busy with other things but also 4 or 5 posts in draft that I will never finish and are stopping me from publishing more. So it’s time for some quick updates and a mass deletion of drafts.

  • I picked up an iPhone 6 and have been enjoying it so far. It is bigger but not as ridiculous as the iPhone 6+. The sculpted edges that meld with the glass are a constant joy, the plastic bits on the back to allow signals through not so much. I’m enjoying the extra battery life, the screen is gorgeous and the camera as always has improved nicely. The power button moving to the side rather than the top is more troublesome than I thought. Muscle memory always takes me to the top to switch it off but I also can’t change the volume without hitting the power button. So fecking annoying. A great phone overall.
  • iOS8 is a bit of a clusterfuck. Buggiest iOS release so far including the 8.0.1 release that removed cellular from the iPhone 6 and had to be pulled. Took a couple of days for Apple to fix but a very poor start. I had loads of wifi problems with the iPad that were finally fixed with the 8.1.1 release. HealthKit still looks to be flaky, HomeKit has delivered virtually nothing and there are still many app’s that haven’t been updated for the iPhone 6 or 6+ new screen resolutions. Only plus point is the many updated app’s now supporting widgets, extensions and touch ID. Lovely. Seen some significant changes to app’s I use daily and maybe 2015 will see some HomeKit movement…and maybe a return to AirPlay working smoothly?
  • Yosemite brought a new look and feel to the Mac alongside some nice integration with iOS devices. I went for a clean start on the iMac which thanks to Dropbox was far smoother than expected. I’ve only installed app’s I need and it has been quick and smooth in day to day operation. Annoying the iMac doesn’t support much of the handoff features but the Macbook Air does and has been quite handy. Best new feature is receiving calls and texts on any device. Really easy and convenient…but is it not beyond the wit of man (ok, Apple) that they couldn’t know which device I’m on and only ring/text that one? One change I have made is the switch to Safari and the dropping of Chrome. Better battery life on the laptop and I love the new favourites view in Safari across all my devices.
  • Plex on the Xbox One was a nice surprise and is now client of choice for my Plex library. Before the year ends I want to complete ripping all DVD’s and pack them off to the attic like I did with my cd’s a few years back. This also means I’m in the market for some external storage. No USB3 on any of my devices and firewire no longer on any new devices I may purchase pushes me to NAS or Thunderbolt. Been burnt with NAS before so edging towards a Thunderbolt drive possibly from OWC. Decisions, decisions.
  • Next year (early March) will see me switching from the Honda Civic to an Audi A3. Tested an A3 and a Mini and while both were nice the A3 was that little bit more comfortable to drive.
  • One of the teams I was working with this year saw some success in the company awards scheme, so much so I was in London at the start of November for an awards ceremony and at the start of December I’ve a few days in Washington DC for another awards ceremony. This will be my third trip to the USA and my first to Washington and while short I’m looking forward to making the most of it.
  • Haven’t been the healthiest of late which I’m putting down to work. Letting things get to me, not taking breaks like I should have seen a couple of issues snowball together. I stop for the Christmas break on December 16th and I’m looking forward to switching off. Time to think about what I’m doing and what changes I must make.
  • Final rant – why are so many game releases broken on day one. Paying £45-£55 for a game is bad enough but multi gigabyte day one patches and constant online issues sometimes weeks after launch are unacceptable. DriveClub and Halo Master Chief Collection – guilty as charged.

Splurge over, hopefully a more regular service will now resume.

2013 was a lost year for tech

As I read this from Christopher Mims I kept thinking that somehow he has lost out on an exclusive over the last 12 months. Or someone stole his toys. To say:

All in, 2013 was an embarrassment for the entire tech industry and the engine that powers it—Silicon Valley.

is just crazy talk. Read John Gruber’s or Om Malik’s response for a more balanced view of what the last 12 months has meant.

2013 was a lost year for tech journalism would be far more accurate.

Adverts

The last couple of weeks have seen some interesting adverts being released by three big tech companies.

Nokia – what were you thinking? So your tablet works for both work and home life and you think a mullet is an effective way of highlighting this? Reminds me of the weird ad’s that Sony used for the PS3. The only play seems to be let’s do something different to let people know we are still around. Worst tech advert of the year? No.

What the fuck? Buy a Galaxy Gear and you too can be a stalker? Were the actors paid to be deliberately wooden? I know Samsung spend a lot on adverts, but where is the quality control?

Finally, Apple.

Cheesy video but sets the right tone for Christmas. After watching these three ad’s which product would you rather own?

Farewell Google Reader

So tomorrow Google will shut down Google Reader. I’m sure for many this is a non event but for me it’s been an essential tool for years that I will really miss. However this isn’t the end for RSS feeds as has been reported. Instead there’s been a surge in new services and app’s taking advantage of Google leaving the market.

Farewell Google Reader

Farewell Google Reader

Before looking at alternatives the first thing to do is back up your subscriptions via Google Takeout. With that step complete you can then try out the many alternatives that have sprung up oner the last few months. Here’s my thoughts on the few I’ve tried over the last few weeks.

Feed Wrangler
Feed Wrangler takes a different approach than the many other Google Reader clones. Feed Wrangler is a website where you can import and view your feeds and the developer has also released app’s for iOS and also an API so that app’s like ReadKit and Mr Reader can be used to sync your feeds. Once your feeds have imported you will notice that there are is no folder or tag support. Your reach your articles by visiting Unread, All Feeds or Starred. I found this quite disorientating as I’m used to browsing the many feeds I subscribe to via folders/tags.

Feed Wrangler Smart Streams

Feed Wrangler Smart Streams

Feed Wrangler’s most powerful feature is Smart Streams and that did allow me to create a folder structure that I’m used to. Create a new Smart Stream and once it is named you can select from all feeds or a select few to display in a Stream. The trick with Streams is that a search term can also be applied, so you could have a stream based on all your feeds that pulls out posts on Glastonbury or E3. While only search terms are supported right now, it would be great to see date ranges or authors supported so you can pull out articles easily from the past – Olympics from August 2012 for example. It’s also easy to add a Stream that pulls out your essential reads – those feeds that you don’t want to miss but when you’ve had a busy few days and faced with 2000 articles to read you want to quickly read those important ones only. Smart Streams is great for that.

News article within Feed Wrangler

News article within Feed Wrangler

Feed Wranglers presentation of articles is nice and clean. The UI doesn’t get in the way and the articles are presented well. Speed on the web app is good enough and there is similar keyboard shortcuts for Google Reader refugee’s. The iOS app’s are fairly basic right now but do enough although I’ve been mainly using other clients with Feed Wrangler so I don’t think this is reason alone to move to Feed Wrangler. Pocket, Pinboard and Instapaper are also supported as Read Later services.

Feed Wrangler costs $19 a year bought from the website or as an in-app iOS purchase.

Feedbin
Feedbin provides an almost straightforward clone of Google Reader. It’s a paid service ($2 a month or $19 a year) and once your feeds have imported you will be immediately familiar with the web app and it’s layout.

Feedbin Layout

Feedbin Layout

It supports keyboard shortcuts so you can easily navigate through folders and feeds. You can view articles in a couple of different ways but out of all the new services I tried I found Feedbin’s rendering of articles the worst by quite a margin.

Feedbin Sharing

Sharing is very flexible as you can set up sharing to the service of your choice via URL’s. While this allows for great flexibility (and there’s a good list of URL’s on Github) in many cases it is no better than bookmarklets so it feels less integrated.

With Feedbin’s API in place app’s like Mr Reader and Readkit give you a far better reading experience than the web app but I found the overall performance of Feedbin slow compared to other services.

Feedly
Feedly has been around for a while and was always an alternative to Google Reader but only if you wanted to use Feedly’s website or mobile applications. It also chased the magazine market in presenting feeds in a far more visual manner like Flipboard than what users in Google Reader are used to. However with the demise of Google reader they stepped up their offerings, focussing on features that Google Reader users will really appreciate and also providing a sync service for other applications to rely on.

Article view in Feedly

Article view in Feedly

Getting your feeds into Feedly is really easy. Sign in with your Google credentials and feeds are sucked into Feedly as well as your Reader Favourites. Folders are respected so you will instantly feel at home in the web application. Keyboard shortcuts are mostly the same as in Reader but a few are different and annoyingly so.

In the web app there are a variety of views for your feeds and nicely they can be set differently for each folder. The views are Magazine, Cards (like Pinboard), Full and finally ‘Title Only View (Google Reader)’. Yes, thats what it’s called just in case you are in any doubt on the inspiration for that view. Presentation of articles is nice and clean and there is some minor customisation options allowing you to change link colours and overall theme colour.

Feedly does show adverts on it’s home page called Today but I’ve found the display of content on that page hit and miss however you can change your default page so you never need to see Today.

Feedly’s maturity as a service is best seen when it comes to adding and managing feeds as it’s all done via drag and drop and works really well – far better than any of the other new services.

Feedly iOS

The Feedly app’s on iOS are OK. They work well enough but I just don’t like the styling of the app’s. They’ve went their own route when it comes to displaying of feeds within a folder and it just feels wrong. The overall app isn’t smooth either. However with the addition of Feedly API there are now many alternatives for viewing Feedly on iOS or Android including Press, Reeder and Mr Reader.

The advantage Feedly has is size and hence scope. It supports almost all of the large sharing services, has great flexibility via IFTTT support and has developed tremendously over the last three or four months. It’s a free service and for many has become the easy alternative to Google reader.

Newsblur
Newsblur like Feed Wrangler is trying to offer more than a traditional RSS reader normally would. It’s been around for over two years now and while initial versions were slow and the design wasn’t the best, the developer of the service has really stepped on the accelerator over the last few months to support the influx of users from Google Reader.

Newsblur Web App

Newsblur Web App

Importing from Google was easy and it supports folders so already familiar to Google Reader users. Keyboard shortcuts feel familiar and the web app has lots of shortcuts to mark content as read and also easily see how many articles are unread etc. Newsblur really offers a lot more than other RSS readers. On importing from Google Reader feeds that are no longer available or cannot be reached currently are marked with a yellow exclamation mark, with Newsblur offering options for dealing with the problem.

Newsblur presents options to fix unreachable feeds

Newsblur presents options to fix unreachable feeds

I found articles were presented really well in Newsblur and also it works really quickly. Content is prefetched so I found articles were displayed quickly and accurately when moving through my feed list.

Article edits can be displayed in Newsblur

Article edits can be displayed in Newsblur

One feature not seen elsewhere is that article edits can be displayed to allow you to see how a site edits articles over time. Techcrunch has an amazing amount of edits for example – getting content out first still seems to count the most for some of these sites. Against each feed Newsblur can show a number of stats – tag counts, post frequency, subscribers etc. Not entirely necessary but nice to see.

Feed stats

Feed stats

You can also configure how each feed should be presented, so you could view a site in it’s original view if it’s been nicely designed and for those that are less visually appealing you can view just the story only in a simple text view. You can tweak fonts and font sizes and also configure Newsblur to open sites in new tabs. There’s also great support for sharing services with all the favourites nicely integrated and Newsblur also has it’s own social sharing service – Blurblogs.

Signing up to Newsblur will give you a site on the web that you can share stories to. People can comment on your shared stories and share on from that site. You can also follow other Newsblur users and follow their shares and you can see all your own activity in an activity list in Newsblur.

Train feeds to focus on only certain content

Train feeds to focus on only certain content

Newsblur differentiates from other services again by offering Intelligence Training. This feature allows you to select an author, tag or word from an article or feed and give it a thumbs up or down. Once this is done any article that matches a thumbs down will be hidden from view. You can still toggle the feed to view the hidden content but it’s another great way of weeding out good content from bad, especially for noisy sites like Techcrunch, Engadget or The Verge.

Newsblur subscribers can make use of iPhone and iPad apps which support all the features of the web app. There’s also an Android app too. The only feature I missed was offline syncing but that is coming in a future release. About the only other feature I can see that is missing is search but it took Google Reader a while to add that so that’s something I can pass on.

One final point is that Readkit on the Mac now supports syncing with Newsblur. Currently it doesn’t support training or much of the focus mode features but that is promised in future updates.

Newsblur is free for up to 64 feeds and is $24 for a year for unlimited feeds. I think it’s a great service and well worth consideration.

Digg Reader
Digg Reader is probably the newest RSS service and in many ways it shows. Launched just a few days ago you pull in your Google Reader feeds by logging in with your Google credentials. It took a while to import and display properly but I’m putting that down to the service being hammered as Digg is still a big name and there’s not long now until Google shutter Reader.

Digg

Digg supports folders and so the presentation is very similar to Google Reader. Although articles are displayed cleanly I found it difficult to see what was new, what was unread etc. The site though was fast and considering it’s only been three months since the Google announcement it’s impressive to see what has been built.

Sharing options are limited though which is not a great surprise as Digg will want to build out their Reader around Digg and Instapaper which they now own.

Digg’s iOS app’s are fast and present articles cleanly. However there are no Android options at the moment and no third party support. If you like the Digg app’s you are in luck but if not there are really no options at the moment.

Digg Reader is free and although it’s early days I can’t really recommend it.

Wither Reeder

Readkit on the Mac

Readkit on the Mac

One surprise of the impending closure of Google Reader is how it’s affected the applications I use day to day. I never used the Google Reader website instead doing all my feed reading through Reeder for iOS and Mac and Press on Android. Press has been updated with Feedly support but surprisingly Reeder is falling behind the competition. iPad and Mac versions will be withdrawn from sale tomorrow while the iPhone version has went free with added sync support for Feed Wrangler, Feedbin, Feedly and Fever. The developer has decided to focus on new versions rather than update old app’s. While understandably the Google Reader change and subsequent lack of one standard replacement causes extra work it’s left a rather large gap in my feed reading process. Step in Readkit. This Mac only app was previously good for catching up on Instapaper and Pocket articles but version 2 brought in RSS support for Newsblur and Feedly with an update just a few days ago to include Feed Wrangler and Feedbin.

This has replace Reeder on the Mac and while it doesn’t have all of Reeder’s features and isn’t as fast as Reeder when syncing, it’s a far better experience than using the web apps of most of the services mentioned above. It’s only £2.99 from the App Store which really is a bargain.

On iOS I’m now using Mr Reader and Newsblur’s own app.

Conclusion
So which service replaces Google Reader? For most Feedly is the strongest option and it’s free so it’s a no brainer to move to that service. For me I much prefer Newsblur so that will be my RSS service of choice although I will keep an eye on Feed Wrangler as improvements to Smart Streams could be really big.

While it’s disappointing to see a service I use daily being shutdown it’s great to see some true innovation now that firms are competing on a more level playing field. Farewell Google Reader.

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