While 2017 isn’t over, Time magazine has already published the list of its “25 Best Inventions of 2017.” Now you’ve probably read about this already, but a little explanation is in store.

 

So after the iPhone X was first announced, the critics lambasted Apple for being late to the party with some of its important features. Take OLED displays, which have already appeared on Android smartphones. It’s important to note that Samsung makes the iPhone X’s display. Whatever you think about Samsung’s penchant for stealing ideas from other companies, it certainly has the chops to build the parts tech companies need, such as displays, memory and other components.

 

Facial recognition is also nothing new, and Face ID was attacked for being insecure and slow even before the critics had a product to evaluate. So even though reviewers, including Consumer Reports, have praised Face ID, there were complaints about privacy and other matters. The difference is that, for the most part, Apple made it work pretty much as advertised. Yes, I know about the problems with twins and some other exceptions.

 

The TrueDepth camera that allows Face ID to work is something altogether new and different from the rest of the pack. You can expect the competition is working full time to somehow reverse engineer this technology.

 

Apple also did away with the Home button, and rather than replacing it with a virtual alternative, which would probably have been the simplest scheme, they devised new iOS 11 gestures to allow you to bypass a physical or virtual button and still get things done. I grant it’s a bit of a learning curve, and it might be confusing to switch back to an iOS device with a Home button, such as an iPad. In the end, you expect the Home button to vanish from those products too as they inherit edge-to-edge displays.

 

When you add all this and other design factors together, it’s no wonder the iPhone X was included among those 25 products.

 

Yes, the Time magazine piece concedes that “some of these features first arrived on devices from Samsung and LG.” But clearly Apple made them work better, which is why it was rated “A Smarter Smartphone.” This is in keeping with Apple’s penchant to take features that originated elsewhere and improve and simplify them.

 

Other top-rated inventions include “Stronger, Safer Football Helmets” and “Guilt-Free Ice Cream.” If you’re dieting, the latter, Halo Top ice cream, touts from 240 to 360 calories per pint. This is in the range of a single slice of pizza from Pizza Hut and Little Caesars, but can you imagine getting a whole pie of decent size with so few calories?

 

Then there’s a sideways elevator! I’m serious, and this is something written about over the years in sci-fi stories. I know I mentioned it in one of my novels.

 

Along with being declared “smarter,” the story about the iPhone X is accompanied by interviews from Apple hardware chief Dan Riccio, and chief design officer Sir. Jonathan Ive.

While those interviews have been quoted elsewhere, call me jaded enough to regard some of the statements about Apple’s design process as corporate spin. Apple only wants you to know of its successes, and how it understood when to drop old features in a product and embrace something new.

 

An example is the headphone jack that was removed from iPhones last year to mixed reaction from customers and critics. We don’t talk about it all that much this year, and Android fans don’t have much of an argument to make in light of the fact that Pixel 2 phones from Google also ship without headphone jacks.

 

This is part of Apple’s DNA, to know when it’s time to remove old features and move on. You can date that practice back to the arrival of the very first iMac in 1998. Apple ditched SCSI, ADB and other peripheral ports, and eliminated the floppy drive. Instead, they embraced USB which, up till then, hadn’t done much on the Windows platform.

 

It took a few years before we no longer relied on floppies, and, with adapters aplenty, you could still use many of those old peripherals until it was time to move on.

 

So today it’s headphone jacks, though they may still exist on the iPad and on Macs for a while. The Home button is clearly on the chopping block, if only to keep the iOS interface consistent among all products. Face ID is also destined to replace Touch ID, perhaps as early as next year, so in that respect the new features on the iPhone X serve as a harbinger of things to come.

Indeed, some day there may not even be a Face ID to unlock your device. Maybe Apple will have an embedded EEG and read your brainwaves instead. While there may be hacker tricks to get around Face ID and Touch ID, brainwaves?

 

No, I have no inside information about Apple’s future plans. Consider my suggestion about brainwaves to be nothing more than a random idea.

 

But Apple is a company known to seek newer and better ways to do things, and ditching old, obsolete features, or features the company deems obsolete.

 

The critics may complain that the iPhone X doesn’t do much that’s original, that perhaps it didn’t deserve the accolades it received from Time. The apparent success of the iPhone X, and how it influences future smartphone designs, though, will probably demonstrate again that the critics are dead wrong about Apple and its abilities to innovate.

 

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Gene Steinberg is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. Gene hosts The Tech Night Owl LIVE - broadcast on Saturday from 9:00pm - Midnight (CST), and The Paracast - broadcast on Sunday from 3:00am - 6:00am (CST). Both shows nationally syndicated through GCNlive. Gene’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc. -- Copyright © 1999-2017. Click here to subscribe to Tech Night Owl Newsletter. This article was originally published at Technightowl.com -- reprinted with permission.

 

Published in News & Information

You can bet that, when reviewing smartphones, Consumer Reports magazine appears to have a blind spot towards Samsung; maybe a few blind spots. How so? Well, I’ll get to that shortly.

Now on the surface, CR ought to be the perfect review source. Unlike most other publications, online or print, it actually buys tested products from retail stores. That includes luxury cars costing over $100,000 if need be. So, in that area at least, it should be incorruptible. Compare that to regular publications that contain reviews, most of which receive free samples from the manufacturers.

Indeed, when I announced recently that Vizio sent me a 4K TV for review — with no preconditions as to how I rate the product — I got a comment from a reader suggesting that my article would somehow be tainted. But I’ve been reviewing tech gear received on that basis for over two decades, and it’s definitely not a factor. Never has been.

But even if there’s a tiny bit of suspicion on the part of some people that product reviews might be slanted if those products are sent free of charge, I am not surprised that CR gets high credibility. So there’s a story from Seoul, South Korea touting the fact that, “Samsung’s Galaxy S8 tops U.S. consumer review.”

South Korea? But isn’t CR an American magazine? Yes, so this story no doubt originated from Samsung, even though a manufacturer is theoretically prohibited from quoting a CR review. So the article mentions the conclusion, not the contents, so even if it was originated from Samsung, the company is off the hook.

According to the latest CR report about smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the Galaxy S8 Plus gained top ratings by CR. Number three, peculiarly, was last year’s Galaxy S7. Really. So where did the iPhone 8 end up? According to CR, fourth and fifth. Number six was the Galaxy Note 8.

I decided to take a look at the factors that put the iPhones below three Samsungs, including one of last year’s models. Let’s just say it didn’t make a whole lot of sense in the scheme of things, but I’ve had these issues before with CR.

Take, for example, the Galaxy S8 versus the iPhone 8. The former is rated 81, the latter is rated 80. So despite the implications of the article from that South Korean publication, the scores are extraordinary close. A minor issue here, another minor issue there, and the results might have been reversed.

But what is it that makes the Samsung ever-so-slightly superior to the iPhone? Unfortunately, the two reviews aren’t altogether clear on that score. So on the basis of 11 performance categories in which the two phones are rated, the iPhone 8 has six excellent ratings, four very goods, and one good. So in theory the Samsung should have scored better in these categories. However, it has four excellent and seven very goods.

From my point of view, the Apple ought to rate better. More excellent ratings, right? But there is a Good rating for battery life, whereas the Samsung rates as Excellent. Evidently that factor must supplant all other considerations and award the Samsung with a higher total. Curiously, the longer battery life of the iPhone 8 Plus evidently didn’t merit a rating higher than Good either.

Just saying.

But there’s more. It turns out that the iPhone is far more resilient to damage than the Galaxy S8. According to CR, the iPhone “survived the water dunk test and our tough 100 drops in the tumbler with just some minor scratches.”

Evidently, being a rugged mobile handset doesn’t count for very much, because the qualitative ratings don’t include that factor. So the Galaxy S8, according to CR, doesn’t fare nearly as well. The report states, “The screen is rather fragile. After 50 rotations in the tumbler, our experts rated it only fair. The display was badly broken and not working. For this phone, a protective case is a must have.”

What does that say to you? It says to me that the Galaxy S8 should have been seriously downgraded because it’s very fragile; users are forced to buy extra protection for normal use and service. Smartphones are routinely dropped or knocked against things.

To me, it’s barely acceptable. To CR, ruggedness doesn’t matter.

Nor does the reliability of a smartphone’s biometrics count, evidently. As most of you know, the Galaxy S8 and its big brother, the S8 Plus, have three biometric systems. The fingerprint sensor, located at the rear, is an awkward reach. You are at risk of smudging the camera lenses instead. Both the facial recognition and iris sensors aren’t terribly secure. Both can be defeated by digital photographs.

In short, you have a breakable smartphone with two biometric features of questionable quality being judged superior to another smartphone that’s rugged and has a reliable fingerprint sensor. But maybe it has somewhat shorter battery life than the competition. In other words, CR seems to regard battery life above other important factors, but how ratings are weighted, and why potential breakability is not considered, is just not mentioned.

But since CR buys the products it reviews, the serious flaws in its review methods aren’t important. The media that continues to quote the magazine’s ratings without critical comment aren’t helping to encourage CR to change its ways.

And please don’t get me started about the curious way in which it rates the battery life of notebook computers.

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Gene Steinberg is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. Gene hosts The Tech Night Owl LIVE - broadcast on Saturday from 9:00pm - Midnight (CST), and The Paracast - broadcast on Sunday from 3:00am - 6:00am (CST). Both shows nationally syndicated through GCNlive. Gene’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc. -- Copyright © 1999-2017. Click here to subscribe to Tech Night Owl Newsletter. This article was originally published at Technightowl.com -- reprinted with permission.

 

Published in News & Information

So let’s put this all together now: Apple allegedly sells higher-priced gear than the competition, yet puts significant restrictions on the use of these devices. You have to accept Apple’s ecosystem — make that walled garden — in order to buy Apple.

 

It may, to some degree, be akin to joining a cult where the leaders, managed by CEO (High Priest) Tim Cook, tell you what to do, what to buy, and what to install on your devices. Well, that’s the impression some might want to convey, but it makes a lot more sense to parse these claims and see if there is any factual basis to them.

 

Of course, on the surface, they do seem a bit much. But it’s worth putting the claims through a fact-check process anyway.

 

So the first complaint is about the price, that Apple deliberately charges high prices to gouge customers. They should be charging less, and in fact competing with mainstream gear.

 

Now obviously, Apple has the right to charge what it wants. It’s up to customers to decide if the prices are fair. If not, there are other choices. What’s more, Apple does cut prices from time to time. A key example is the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display. Prices dropped until they were the same as the older models with regular displays.

 

For months we heard endless complaints about the thousand dollar price for what became the iPhone X. But it was then known as the iPhone 8 until, of course, the iPhone 7s became the iPhone 8.

 

Take a deep breath please!

 

The price was real, well $999 for the 64GB version is close enough. But since the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 doesn’t cost a whole lot less, well $70 less, the argument that Apple is price gouging seems a tad lame. Sure, it’s more expensive than the Samsung, but the difference is very small if you up for one of those 24-month lease/purchase deals, less than $3 per month.

 

Is the iPhone X worth a little more money? That’s up to prospective customers to decide. If not, Apple might eventually cut the prices. That’s what was done with the original iPhone in 2007.

 

Apple is also attacked for alleged high prices on product upgrades. You want to buy a MacBook upgraded to 16GB RAM, it’s $200 extra. There’s no choice, since RAM is soldered to the motherboard. On the other hand, when you compare the cost of RAM and storage upgrades at Apple with similar upgrades on gear from mainstream PC makers, such as Dell and HP, you’ll find the prices are in roughly in the same league.

 

The real complaint is that Apple only produces a few models where you can upgrade RAM yourself. Technically you can upgrade the storage on an iMac, but you really don’t want to make the attempt. And then there’s the Mac Pro, and the promise of a modular version, easy to upgrade, perhaps by next year.

What about being forced to tolerate Apple’s ecosystem?

 

Well, having products that integrate with one another, and allow you to switch from one to the other and continue your work ought to be a good thing. Similar apps and similar services mean that you can work more efficiently. No other platform can match it! Microsoft tried, but Windows Phone crashed and burned.

 

Isn’t reasonably smooth product integration supposed to be a good thing?

 

Now the walled garden means that you are limited to the App Store on all Apple gear except for the Mac. It means Apple curates the apps, and you may run up against some limits in what you can get. I have complained, for example, about not having the equivalent of Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack on an iPad. It’s an app that lets you capture audio from multiple sources and save them as a single audio file. It’s essential for my radio shows.

 

Since Apple clearly wants to make iPads more useful as productive tools, and the enhanced multitasking of iOS 11 demonstrates that commitment, perhaps some of the limits for app developers will be removed going forward.

 

But limiting you to one official app resource provides a much higher level of security, and at least a basic assurance that the app will run. There are few guarantees on the Android platform with Google Play. To use an outside app source on an iOS device, it has to be jailbroken, which creates serious security vulnerabilities. Android users can sideload apps from other sources if they want.

 

So Apple’s policy probably makes more sense for most people even if some of us chafe at a few restrictions.

 

On the Mac, nothing stops you from running the apps you want, good or bad. The Mac App Store is but one resource. And you can easily run Windows with Boot Camp, and loads of different operating systems via virtual machines. All official, all supported.

 

In that sense, the Mac is far more flexible than a Windows PC. While you can hack some PCs to run the macOS, it comes with lots of babysitting to induce even simple functions to work on a Hackintosh, such as messaging. Some things never quite work without jumping through hoops.

 

The long and short of it is that users of Apple gear have lots of freedom to do what they want, the way they want. I’ve only occasionally run across restrictions in doing what I want on the Apple mobile gadgets I’ve owned, and since Apple has expanded opportunities for iOS developers, some of those restrictions may eventually go away.

 

If Apple’s pricing and ecosystem are too stifling for you, rather than complain about the company’s well-known and highly successful policies, nothing stops you from buying something else. Apple obviously cannot tell you how to spend your money.

 

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Gene Steinberg is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. Gene hosts The Tech Night Owl LIVE - broadcast on Saturday from 9:00pm - Midnight (CST), and The Paracast - broadcast on Sunday from 3:00am - 6:00am (CST). Both shows nationally syndicated through GCNlive. Gene’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc. -- Copyright © 1999-2017. Click here to subscribe to Tech Night Owl Newsletter. This article was originally published at Technightowl.com -- reprinted with permission. 

 

 

Published in News & Information

Doesn’t it always seem like your smartphone battery starts dying when you’re due for an upgrade? Same with your car, right? Once the warranty is up something goes wrong. Well, fear not. There’s a way to make your smartphone last longer than you will. A little website called iFixit.com that started as a mine for DIY tech tutorials has grown into the DIY tech preservation tool and parts shop. It’s the first shopping experience that’s nearly brought me tears of joy.

 

I’ve long been a user of iFixit but seldom had reason to pay them. All I needed was information. I once revived a long dead Apple iBook and managed to do some of my favorite writing on it thanks to the tutorials at iFixit. I used iFixit again to repair my dad’s theater projector. It just needed a good cleaning, and iFixit told me exactly what I needed to remove and in what order to thoroughly clean it.

 

Now iFixit is not only supplying DIY tech tutorials online but the tools necessary to preserve your technology. I have an Apple iPhone 6 and just blew off Verizon after a dozen years as a customer. I got a month’s worth of Straight Talk and figured I’d deal with it on a month-to-month basis for the first time. Verizon did its best to retain my loyalty by lowering my bill to $55 per month for 5 GB of 4G LTE data and unlimited talk and text. Straight Talk is $45 per month for 5 GB of 4G LTE data and includes unlimited talk, text, and data, albeit at slower speeds after 5 GB. Straight Talk also doesn’t allow tethering, which means you can’t get on the web with your laptop using your phone as a wifi hotspot. I did that a lot with Verizon, and apparently it does a number on your battery’s life. Now there’s no reason to worry.

 

I simply started by checking prices for iPhone 6 batteries on Ebay. Everything was under $10, so I was immediately excited. But then I Googled “does iFixit have tutorials for replacing an iPhone 6 battery,” and then I was nearly moved to tears and raised a fist in the air – just like the iFixit logo, minus the wrench.

 

It was the most beautiful catalog photo and product I had ever seen. Sears has nothing on iFixit. And the transaction was most enjoyable because the order form uses Doc Brown’s address in Back to the Future as an example. The only thing that could have been better about the transaction is if the billing address example was Marty McFly’s address in Hill Valley.

 

This little box with the big fist is delivered to your door and includes everything you need to replace your iPhone battery for $45 after shipping. You might remember I told you the cost of a replacement iPhone 6 battery was under $10, but the tools necessary to replace the battery are invaluable and most certainly worth $35. Then, when your battery goes bad again in two years, you can replace it for less than $10 rather than spend $750 for the trendiest phone that’s exactly like the last one, and the one before that.

 

iFixit is changing the game with this product offering. I suggest you take advantage of it. You can find parts, tools and tutorials for Android devices, Apple computers, iPads, iPods, Amazon Kindle, GoPro cameras and game consoles. Don’t let a corporation control your pocketbook. In fact, grab the nearest tool and put a fist in the air to let them know your dollars will be awarded to those who allow DIYers like us to take advantage of our willingness to do the work. Take back your right to repair.

 

Editor's Note: This article has not been sponsored by iFixit. An update follows.

 

My iPhone 6 battery replacement kit arrived in a reasonably-sized box with all the necessary tools to complete the battery replacement, but some scary information was also included. A card inside the box said my state (Minnesota) is considering "Right to Repair" legislation. I was scared because at first I figured corporate lobbyists had convinced crooked politicians to make sure we can't repair our devices. Then I wondered why we as consumers would need to pass legislation to protect our right to repair. We paid for the product. What we do with it after paying for it is our prerogative and ours alone. But, of course, corporations would love to force us consumers to buy one of their new devices every two years or so. I can understand a corporation voiding a warranty for opening a device. Apple is famous for this. There was a warning on my old Mac Pro about opening the case. I proceeded to open it anyways and add a 1 TB hard drive.

 

"STAND UP FOR YOUR RIGHT TO REPAIR," the card reads, asking me to visit repair.org/stand-up. Doing so disturbed me further, as eight states were listed as considering Right to Repair legislation, which again, I feel should be unnecessary. Nebraska, New York, Minnesota, Kansas, Massachusetts, Wyoming, Illinois and Tennessee were all listed as considering Right to Repair legislation. Some Right to Repair legislation has already passed in Massachusetts, and some legislation has had strong opposition from corporate lobbyists in New York. I urge you to visit this site regularly to easily tell your state's representatives why you support the right to repair your own stuff.

 

Now, back to the task at hand, which is replacing my iPhone 6 battery. I had to let my battery's charge get below 25 percent in order to start working on it because a fully charged battery is more likely to catch fire when punctured. The folks at iFixit made this very clear, and since there was no tutorial included in the box and I only had access to the iFixit website through my iPhone, I took screenshots of each step of the iPhone 6 battery replacement tutorial and uploaded them to my offline laptop.

 

Once the battery's charge was below 25 percent, I removed the two screws at the bottom of the iPhone near the Lightning power input. In no time at all I had access to the guts of my iPhone, and with the removal of just a few screws, which I was sure to keep in separate plastic bags labeled with their correct location. The whole task would have taken less than an hour if not for one of the adhesive strips under the battery ripping. I had to buy a $10 hair dryer at Walmart and heat the back side of the iPhone directly under the battery because I didn't have an iFixit iOpener. It worked wonderfully, and the battery gave way after just a few seconds of heating.

 

The hardest part was applying the new adhesive strips to the knew battery, but I managed to install the replacement battery with no trouble. I followed iFixit's instructions to calibrate my new battery by using it to lower its charge below 30 percent. I then plugged my iPhone in and let it charge uninterrupted until it was fully charged. Then I did a little research into how to preserve the life of my new battery.

 

Business Insider provided a great guide for battery preservation, revealing that leaving your battery plugged in after it's fully charged is really bad for your battery. I and most of you probably charge your battery at night and unplug it in the morning. Don't.

The story also warns of letting your battery's charge get too low because charging from 0 percent to 100 percent puts a lot of stress on the battery. In fact, you should never charge your phone's battery to 100 percent, with the initial charge being the exception.

The revelation that rocked my world the most was that it's not bad for your phone's battery to receive partial charges throughout the day. I was under the impression that lithium-ion batteries had a lifespan consisting of a certain number of charges. That is not the case. It's actually recommended that "charging your phone when it loses 10 percent of its charge would be the best-case scenario," according to Battery University.

 

Editor's Note: If you purchase something at iFixit.com and enter the coupon code GOGONZOFIX you'll receive $5 off your order. This discount is brought to you by Go Gonzo Journal.

 

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