Yosemite and iOS 8 are Service Killers

Here are the various apps and services that I use that the latest Apple OS releases could replace:

There are probably more, but these were the ones that struck me immediately. It seems clear: With Yosemite and iOS 8 Apple is going after services in a big way.

Apple’s Mail is a perfectly good program, but I’ve always preferred the low-load, low-friction of Google’s Gmail in the browser. I also love the ways in which Gmail saves my ass. That said, I’m always teetering on the precipice of ditching Gmail — it just makes me uncomfortable how much information they have about me, and the fact that I have no idea what they do with it, and that I am not considered their customer. Google serves the interests of its advertisers first and foremost. It skeeves me out a lot.

For me, a lot would have to change with email to make me switch from Gmail. I’d love it if there were a server-side only option, for one. I’d also love it if Mail in iOS supported email aliases. Performance would have to get a lot better too. Still, with Cloud Storage integration, we’re one step closer to a Gmail killer. It will be interesting to see just how hard Apple is willing to fight for our email. 

I’ve also been using Google+ for photo storage and management, as a less than ideal solution. The app and service are almost completely unintegrated into iOS (except for auto-sync). The Google+ app for iOS is not great, and really not geared towards photo management, but Google+ has some nice search tricks (of course!), some nice processing tricks, and it’s free. Still, this is another service I’d ditch if something better came along. ‘Cause: Google.

For integrated photo management — like when I need to get photos from my iOS device to my Mac, or get images into my iPad’s Procreate app — I use Dropbox. Yep. I actually use two apps for image management because Apple’s image management implementation has been so piss poor.

iCloud Photo Library seems to be just the answer to my image woes. It’s fully integrated into iOS and, in time, will be with the Mac as well (hooray!). And it will be very affordable and will, presumably, just work.

I love Dropbox and have been very happy with it overall. It’s main virtues are that it’s wonderfully reliable, and it has deep hooks into the iOS ecosystem. For image management, particularly when I’m working on comics, it’s the best. But it’s expensive, and their recent policy changes have left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Enter: iCloud Drive. This is basically a Dropbox killer that offers twice the storage at under half the price. And it should be fully integrated with iOS and all its apps pretty much out of the box. If it’s reliable, it will be a no-brainer.

Foursquare is a thing I’ve never really used, but I like the idea of being able to find out where someone I want to meet up with is currently located. Not sure I want or need a third-party app and service for this, and, as with Google, I question how this info will be used by an online service.

Apple is essentially integrating this idea into Messages, which I think is the perfect way to go. It’s integrated, person-specific and event specific. Messages is just the right context for location sharing. I will probably use the hell out of this feature. 

Google’s search doesn’t really present a problem for me. But having to fire up a browser to access it is a minor impediment nonetheless.

Using Spotlight to accomplish the lion’s share of my search needs is an appealing prospect (though if I’m stuck with Bing I may not be sold). Again, Spotlight’s already integrated into my OS, so no trip to the browser is required. I like the idea of searching the web in the same manner and place I search my hard drive. I like the idea, though I wonder if I’ll like the practice. Time will tell.

With Yosemite and iOS 8 Apple is finally really attacking services in a big way. And, I think, in a smart way. Apple offers two things the third-parties can’t: integration and better privacy. Remember, Apple’s business model is built on making devices, apps and now services that make you, the end-user, happy, not on collecting and selling your information. 

The new features in Apple’s latest releases address some major pain points that have, thus far, been tackled by third-parties in often less than satisfying ways. With Apple handling cloud storage and photo management themselves, these services have a good chance at delivering a much better overall experience than the solutions I’ve found. I’m hoping they turn out well.

One More Reason to Use Google+ for Photo Backups

I've been using Google+ for free automatic backups of my iPhone photos. It's not perfect, but if you can live with its limitations — the main one being that photo size for a free plan is limited to 2048x2048px — then it's pretty amazing. Seamless, unlimited and free is just what the doctor ordered for me personally since, honestly, most of the photos I take I don't really look at ever again.

Today there's one more reason to use Google+ for photo backups, at least if you use Gmail, which I certainly do. Starting today you can insert photos directly from your Google+ backup into emails composed with the Gmail web browser client. It works great, and it's definitely one of those things I'd been thinking, "Why can't I do this?" about. Well, now I can, and I'm pretty pleased about it.

They say that Google is rolling the feature out gradually throughout the day, so it may not appear instantly for everyone. For me, I was able to get access to it by simply reloading my Gmail page.

Mailbox Is Terrible

I admit, I bought into the hype the first time 'round. I got on the waiting list. I got excited. And then I even used Mailbox for a while. Then I stopped. But then I found a use for it again. For a while I was happy to use Mailbox for certain things, certain use-cases. And then it broke.

After the release of iOS7, Mailbox's notifications got wonky. Notifications were sort of key to my use of the app so it became a non-starter; I stopped using Mailbox. Again.

Yesterday, Dropbox announced a new Autoswipe feature in Mailbox alongside a new Android client, as well as a Mac desktop app in beta. So, like a chump, I decided to take the iOS Mailbox client for yet another spin, hoping they would have corrected some of the issues on this momentous launch day and that Autoswipe might prove useful. What I found was the same app I had installed months ago, with no new features that I could discern and a whole host of terrible bugs.

 Evidence of Mailbox's problems

Evidence of Mailbox's problems

The first bug I encountered was in the Settings section, where setting up Snoozes is just plain broken (see the screenshot above). Also, swiping to archive occasionally had a strange, jerky behavior that did not instill confidence. App Badges don't work reliably. And, finally, the most egregious bug, shaking the phone to undo an Archive action simply stopped working for no apparent reason.

Moreover, the promised Autoswipe feature was nowhere to be found. The Verge said this about manually activating the new feature:

Inbox hero: inside Mailbox's master plan to make email suck less
"If you want to manually archive any thread for good before waiting on Mailbox’s suggestion, you can open it up, and then tap and hold on the archive button."

But try as I might, tapping and holding the Archive button (or any of the buttons, for that matter) simply does nothing. Having seen no evidence of Autoswipe in my version of Mailbox, I can't say one way or the other if this flagship feature even exists in my version of the app. Maybe it's not available on iOS yet, but this is not self-evident from any of the press information I've come across, and if that is indeed the case, I can only say that once again Mailbox fails to come anywhere close to living up to its hype and is a major disappointment.

Mailbox offers a tempting proposition: a new way to access and manage Email. This is something that has immense appeal to me, and to many others. But their implementation seems to be hopelessly broken. There is a sense that they're not really taking email all that seriously, and I feel like a guinea pig. There was a brief moment when the app worked well for me, but that moment ended, and since then the app has only gotten worse.

Mailbox is terrible — one of the worst apps I've ever used — and it seems to be staying that way for the foreseeable future.


Not My Frustrations

The Verge writes:

This is the reversible USB cable that will end your frustrations
With support for USB 3.1, the new cables will offer bandwidth of up to 10Gbps, though their biggest benefit will surely be in eliminating the frustration of trying to plug devices in the right way round.

But the biggest frustration with USB, for me anyway, is the ridiculous assortment of different cable types.

 Current USB Cable Types Image: http://pc-level.com/2010/01/types-of-computer-cables/

Current USB Cable Types
Image: http://pc-level.com/2010/01/types-of-computer-cables/

Adding yet another cable style to the mix is just going to make things worse.

I've never had a lot of trouble figuring out which way to insert a USB cable. There are usually only two choices. Finding the right cable, on the other hand, is a frequent problem that now seems poised to get even more complicated.

People screamed bloody murder when Apple introduced the new lightning cable for iOS devices, after over a decade of 30-pin connectors. But somehow this new USB cable is trumpeted as a problem-solver. It is, in fact, a money grab, plain and simple, and does little to help consumers.