I'm Not Using iCloud Photos, but You Probably Should

Over the years, I've talked a lot about photo management in the smart phone era. I'm not going to recap that here other than to say:

  1. We are taking a ton of photos
  2. No one has a clue how to organize them

With the release of Mac OS X 10.10.3 , Apple has unified their photo management solution. It's called iCloud Photos, and they have apps for iOS and Mac. The simple version is that all your photos are in sync everywhere without requiring you to store them locally. With that feature alone, I am going to recommend that everyone I know use it. That solves most of the photo managements issues for iOS and Mac users.

I have a very specific method for organizing my photo library (2015 Folder with a 2015-04 inside of it), and I want to keep that. I've got every photo since 2005 (when I got a digital camera) organized with that method. It's backed up in multiple places, and I feel very secure with the safety of my most treasured items. Photos.app is similar to iPhoto in that the photos are stored inside a database file. I know you can link them on the initial import, but new photos would have to be added to the database. My concern is that I'd have to give up my preferred organization method, and it would be a pain to break it back up again if I ever wanted to leave. My method will easily scale up for 20-30 years. One area that it really needs to address is sharing your entire library with a spouse. I imagine this will eventually be a feature of Family Sharing, though.

If you've got more than 5 GB of photos, iCloud Photos isn't going to be free. The pricing is a bit high in my opinion. I'd like to see 20 GB be the free trier and 200 GB be closer to $1.99/month. We can argue about hardware margins vs cloud storage costs, but Apple is not in that business. They are in the business of solutions.

Overall, Apple has provided a solution that will work for 99% of its customers. They took the guesswork out of syncing and backing up. In my experiences, the syncing worked very well. I'm just in the 1% that takes the time to organize their photos. I have zero complaints against Photos.app and iCloud Photos, other than that say that it wasn't built for my needs.

I'm not using iCloud Photos, but you probably should.

Our Favorite Podcast Client for iOS

There are many podcast clients in the App Store. Our new pick for what we consider to be the best podcast client for iOS is Overcast. Overcast has a very easy-to-use interface, in the year since it was released it has seen frequent updates, and it’s available as a universal iOS app and a web-based player. But best of all are Overcast’s two most useful and compelling features: Smart Speed and Voice Boost (which we’ll get into later).

I've been listening to podcasts since the beginning, and Overcast is my favorite app. Read my review over at The Sweet Setup.

Force Conference Room Display on Apple TV

Fraser Speirs:

Apple TV comes out of the box with all of Apple's movie and TV services enabled, as well as all the additional channels that keep appearing on the Apple TV home screen.

In times past, the typical practice was to laboriously go through and hide all the channels. This becomes a game of whack-a-mole as channels come and go.

There is a way, however, to have the Apple TV boot into Conference Room mode by default. Conference Room mode is a view that hides all of the extraneous features and just provides information about how to connect to the Apple TV.

Saving this to Evernote.

Disney’s $1 Billion Bet on a Magical Wristband

Cliff Kuang:

It’s amazing how much friction Disney has engineered away: There’s no need to rent a car or waste time at the baggage carousel. You don’t need to carry cash, because the MagicBand is linked to your credit card. You don’t need to wait in long lines. You don’t even have to go to the trouble of taking out your wallet when your kid grabs a stuffed Olaf, looks up at you, and promises to be good if you’ll just let them have this one thing, please.

This is just what the experience looks like to you, the visitor. For Disney, the MagicBands, the thousands of sensors they talk with, and the 100 systems linked together to create MyMagicPlus turn the park into a giant computer—streaming real-time data about where guests are, what they’re doing, and what they want. It’s designed to anticipate your desires.

Which makes it exactly the type of thing Apple, Facebook, and Google are trying to build. Except Disney World isn’t just an app or a phone—it’s both, wrapped in an idealized vision of life that’s as safely self-contained as a snow globe. Disney is thus granted permission to explore services that might seem invasive anywhere else. But then, that’s the trick: Every new experience with technology tends to gently nudge our notions of what we’re comfortable with.

I went last fall, and it was impressive. Cliff nails it when he says that it removes friction. Disney World is a well oiled machine. Their free Wi-Fi isn't half bad either.

My Favorite Run Tracking App

I’m a firm believer in the mantra that what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done. Did your doctor want you to start running 3-4 days a week? Did you? If you don’t track it, then it probably won’t happen. All that is standing between you and tracking your run is an app download.

If you already use your iPhone while running to listen to music, there is really no reason to not track your runs using the built-in GPS. The apps provide useful statistics during and after your run. Likewise, It’s helpful to know your current pace and distance. It helps keep you on track and on pace with your desired speed.

I wrote all about iPhone running apps. Which one is my favorite? Read the review here.

How to Manage Subscriptions

Rishabh Dassani:

So, why shouldn’t you sign up for yearly subscriptions? Many subscriptions offer discounts if you subscribe on a yearly basis, but a year is simply too long a time to accurately determine if you’re using the service and/or deriving real value from it.

I spoke about this on managing digital subscriptions on Mac Powers Users back in January. Rishabh makes a great point on yearly subscriptions. You'd be a lot better off to do the monthly option for a few months to make sure that you will want it for a year.

You might also choose to sign up for a service intermittently. For instance, I have a Netflix account that I only pay for occasionally when I know that I’ll make time for watching films in a given month. It also makes watching TV more active versus watching it passively, and the same goes for magazines, online subscriptions, online services, etc.

Another great point.

Chipping Away at Amazon's Retail Dominance

Amazon is my default place to buy just about everything. I'm a big fan of Harry's for all of my shaving products, though. The products are great quality at fair prices. They are not sold at Amazon. Brands like Harry's are, in my opinion, a big threat to Amazon long term.

Does Amazon sell shaving products? Absolutely. Do they sell Harry's? No, they do not. It doesn't matter what prices that Amazon can sell razors for because they don't carry the brand that I want. In talking with my wife, she said there are a number of makeup brands that she prefers that aren't on Amazon (unless it's a third party seller, and they are usually knock-offs). They only are sold through makeup specific retailers.

Amazon, in some ways, relies on brands not mattering to the customer. What they rely on is you trusting the Amazon brand and the Amazon shopping experience. Amazon's biggest threat isn't Apple or Google, it's everyone else. As Amazon continues to grow as a store, they are open to smaller brands chipping away at their retail dominance.

Our Favorite iPhone Timers

Over at The Sweet Setup, I took a look at the state of the iPhone timer market.

Timers are one of those things made better because of the iPhone. Gone are the days of fiddling with the timer on the stove or microwave. Simply ask Siri and you can have a countdown going effortlessly. For some tasks, however, the iOS built-in tool doesn’t offer enough flexibility or power.

This was a fun article to write, so I hope you will check it out.

A Few Pointers for Surviving Holiday Tech Support

Me, over at the Sweet Setup:

The Christmas season is a magical time of the year for our families. This is the time of year when we get to provide in home technical support for all of their products. They’ve got you as a captive audience for a few hours, and they’ve been waiting all year to ask you a number of questions. We decided to make a list of things you need to do to be proactive in taking care of your family members’ iOS devices and Macs.

They've been waiting for us since last year.

The Post-Mobile Era

Fraser Speirs:

When you work in educational technology, you have to be a little like the Roman god Janus and look both forward and backward. You look backward because everyone else is behind you: pupils, parents, colleagues, administrators, regulators, government. These are the people you have to take with you into the new.

At the same time, we have to periodically make very clear judgment calls about what is happening right now - without reference to the past or the future. This is what happens in your summer refresh: it doesn't matter what's coming out in October or at CES and it doesn't much matter what you've deployed in the past - you have to sign your PO in June and the trucks roll up in August with whatever is the best possible decision at the time. Such are the hard scheduling realities of school life.

This is what I call "real talk".

Taking Control of My iPhone

My first iPhone was the iPhone 3G. I then went to the iPhone 4, 4s, 5, and now the iPhone 6. The iPhone is a magical device. Let's list all the practical things it can do:

  1. GPS enabled maps
  2. An incredible camera that is always available
  3. Mobile media player with access to a lifetime of content (music, book, movies, etc)

That's just the three I came up with in ten seconds of brainstorming. It can do a ton more. It's literally a portable computer in your pocket. It's more powerful than the PC I had in college in 2002. Do you know what the problem is with a portable computer in your pocket? You have a portable computer in your pocket. It's begging to be fed. It wants your attention. With every notifications and vibration, it's an opportunity to be distracted. Up until a few weeks ago, I was all in on notifications. This included Twitter, Email, Slack, etc. It was too much.

The problem with notifications is we are thinking there is going to be something we are going to miss. "I've got to check that email. It might be Tim Cook emailing me to get some advice on Apple's latest product". Let's be honest: how many notification have you gotten in the past year that required immediate action? I'd bet that for 99% of us, it's 0.

Here is what I've done to take control of my iPhone:

  • Email doesn't show badges and only downloads new messages when I open the app. Not only has this resulted in better battery life, but I've not missed out on anything important. If something is urgent, I will get a phone call or a text message.
  • No social media notifications (Twitter, Instagram, etc)
  • Slack is set to only push @replies
  • Do Not Disturb runs from 5:00 PM to 7:00 AM, but allows phone calls. This makes my iPhone act like an actual phone.

These small changes have resulted in me feeling less attached to my phone. It can stay in my pocket for hours without a single vibration. I can pull it out to take a photo without seeing pages of notifications. I check in with email and social media when it's convenient for me. Technology is supposed to be an enabler. For many of us, it has become a chain. This is my attempt to reverse that.

My Favorite Way to Easily Share Files, Images, and Links

Me Over at The Sweet Setup:

The Apple ecosystem has no shortage of ways to share files. There are countless apps and services that aim to make this as easy as possible. With a lot of the articles we write here at The Sweet Setup, we are comparing apps and services that are virtually identical outside of user interface. With this category, that is not the case. These apps, while appearing similar, all have a different focus.

Spoiler: it's Droplr

iOS 8 and Yosemite Wi-Fi Issues Explained

Mario Ciabarra:

There are many internet forums with thousands of users scratching their heads, wondering if the reason their WiFi performance is severely degraded on iOS 8 is because of their router, their DNS settings (please help these folks the most), that they need to reset their network settings, and more.

I’ve narrowed down the issue to the use of Apple’s Wireless Direct Link (AWDL) that is used for AirDrop, AirPlay, and Gaming connections.

I’ll go out on a limb and say the WiFi issues are because of Apple’s choice of using Bonjour over AWDL and that, given the constraints of the WiFi hardware, this will be difficult to get right. But perhaps I’m crazy, and this is just a bug that can be fixed by Apple.

A long read, but worth the time.

My Favorite App For Tracking Packages

The Sweet Setup:

Buying items online has completely overtaken the amount of items I buy in-store. With 2 kids and a full-time job, the less time I can spend driving to and from stores, the better. Amazon Prime and other services like it makes purchasing easier, but tracking packages can become tedious the more you order.

Over at The Sweet Setup, I pick my favorite app to track packages.

Cutting the Cord

Me over at Tools and Toys:

With the growth of social media, video games, and streaming services, many people are finding they don’t use their cable subscription enough to justify the continued expense. We get our news, entertainment, movies, and TV shows through other channels now. This guide is about getting the right gear to make a smooth transition away from cable or satellite into cheaper alternatives.

“Cord cutting” is the term people use when they refer to cutting off their cable or satellite subscription. Most do it to save money—TV subscription pricing alone has continued to tick higher year after year.

4,000 words on saving nearly $1,000 per year.

Learning to Love Google Drive is Now Available!

My latest iBook/screencast training guide is now available. It's called Learning to Love Google Drive.

If you are like me, then you've had a Google Drive account for years. Between Google Docs and Spreadsheets, we've all probably used them for collaboration, but not much else. With its recent price cuts, Google Drive is a great alternative to Dropbox. With this screencast series, you'll learn more about how I use Google Drive (along with why I think it's better than Dropbox). Get all 10 videos for $2.99

Purchase stand alone videos (DRM-free MP4 in a .zip file).

Purchase iBooks edition (iPad or Mac only)

Credit to Jared Callais for the cover design.

Amazon Announces Unlimited Prime Photos

Sarah Perez:

Amazon says Prime Photos will not have any file or upload limits. Customers can upload photos from any device, in their original file size. But Amazon’s problem is that unlike companies like Apple and Google, it has very few smartphone customers of its own, so is at the mercy of app store dynamics in terms of getting its mobile app in the hands of new users. And unlike Flickr and Facebook, it’s not considered a “social” company where photo-sharing is the norm.

It looks like a Mac app is in the works. This is an interesting turn of events for Apple. They are facing competition from Yahoo, Google, Dropbox, PictureLife, and Amazon.