Making the Grade: Does Repairability of Mac Laptops Matter?

Repairability of Apple laptops is something that has evolved in recent years. Whenever a new product is released, there are a few websites that will do a teardown and discuss how it’s made. iFixit, a popular website for repair guides and parts, even publishes a repairability guide for laptops and smartphones. Is this something business/education customers still care about? How repairable are Apple’s laptops? That is what I want to look at this week.

My latest column for 9to5Mac looks at the repairability of Apple laptops. You can read it here.

Where the iPad still excels over Chromebooks regardless of price

While the lower price (compared to a MacBook) indeed is part of it, I would also add that the App Store is a huge part of the reason iPads have sold so well in K–12. The iPad relies on apps, and Chromebooks rely on the open web when it comes to education curriculum.

My latest column for 9to5Mac discusses why App Store is still Apple's ace in the hole for K-12. Read it here.

Why Apple’s Education Strategy Is Not Based On Reality

On Tuesday, Apple laid out its clearest vision of their education strategy to date. That strategy revolves completely around the iPad in classrooms. Apple is keeping the iPad at the center of everything it does in education. Read 9to5Mac‘s recap for a rundown on everything Apple announced yesterday, and read on for my take from a classroom IT management perspective.

Read my entire article over to 9to5Mac.

An Update On Using Google Services

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on switching to Google services. I wanted to provide an update on where I was at with that. One thing I wanted to add is that this was as much as moving away from Apple as much as it was switching to Google. This is why I used Spotify over Google Play Music.

  1. MailPlane 3 is the best way to access G-Suite and Google accounts from a Mac (including Google Calendar).
  2. Spotify is really an incredible service. I think it does a better job at finding you interesting playlists than Apple Music. Apple does a better job at promoting your existing library (and full albums).
  3. Google Photos is faster at scrolling than iCloud Photo Library. The apps are both great on iOS, but Photos.app on macOS is much better than the Google Photos website. Since I have my library already updated, I'll probably keeping the app installed and continue to make a backup there.
  4. The Gmail app for iOS works well, but its lack of universal inbox is maddening.
  5. The Google Home mini is a good product (especially at its price point).
  6. The Google Calendar app for iOS works well, but I was surprised how slow data entry is.
  7. Chrome on macOS seems faster than Safari, but I can't quantify that. I prefer Safari overall, though.
  8. I returned the Google Home minis, switched back to Apple Music, and purchased a HomePod last night. The HomePod is really nice. I'm not an audiophile, but it fixes what I didn't like about Sonos (I loved the speakers, but hated using their app).
  9. I enjoyed the experiment. Google's services are great. I think it probably makes sense (for me) to use the natives services of the devices I use at the moment. Knowing that it's pretty trivial to switch gives me reassurance for the future.

All In On Google

When Gmail launched in 2004, I got an early invite. I used it until 2005 when I got my first Mac. I switched my email over to .Mac. I used it and MobileMe for many years. When iCloud launched in 2010, I kept on using the service. I've used Apple services for the better part of 12 years now. I've been an Apple Music subscriber since the early days. I also switched over to iCloud Photo Library last summer. I ditched Dropbox for iCloud Drive with iOS 11 and the files app. I was all in on Apple Services.

Now, I am all out. I really don't know why it happened, but last Friday night, I switched to Google's services. I exported my calendars and contacts from iCloud to Google, and I forwarded my iCloud mail to my Gmail account. I re-uploaded all of my photos to Google Photos (and recreated my albums). I'm using the Gboard keyboard on my iPhone. Google Maps has replaced Apple Maps. The Google Search and Google Assistant apps are also on my home screen.

I also purchased 3 Google Home minis. I have two at home, and one at work. I spent around $100 in total for them. I like them. I enjoy asking about my calendar, adding appointments, and playing Spotify (I'm back!). The sound quality isn't high end, but it works for my needs.

So for now, I'm all in on Google services. I'm still using Apple hardware, but I like the idea that I could switch to Android or ChromeOS with relative ease. Google's services work well. I enjoy using them. Apple's aren't awful, but Google's seem to be smarter in various ways.

For now, I'm all in with Google.

Thoughts On The LTE Apple Watch

I've had a weird relationship with the Apple Watch. I picked up the original on day one but sold it a few months later. watchOS 1 was slow. The apps were not good. I picked up a Series 2 model a few months after its release. I returned in 2 weeks later. I picked up another Series 2 model in June but sold in by August. I was moderately more happy with the Series 2 than I was Series 0, but something felt missing. It wasn't adding enough to my life to warrant the ownership. It was just another device.

From the beginning of Apple Watch, LTE access always seemed like something that would happen. I didn't expect it this soon, though. Being an avid runner, I have always had my phone with me when I run for longer than ten minutes. I like to have it in the event someone in my family needs me or I get hurt.

I picked up an Apple Watch with LTE recently and having LTE access has been eye-opening for me.

Here's a perfect example: I had to run some errands recently. It included getting gas for my truck and running to the bank. I left my phone at work. While I was gone, I responded to a few emails and to a few iMessages.

On that same day, I ran during my lunch break. I left my phone in my office. I had a playlist synced to my watch, but I could have just as easily streamed via LTE. Since I am in IT, I need to be reachable during the day (even during lunch).

While the battery life certainly takes a hit on LTE, I can see the future. Once this device can last for 12-14 hours on LTE (without a GPS enabled workout), it could be a phone replacement for certain people. Will the Apple Watch Series 6 be the default phones for kids? Will the Apple Watch Series 6 be the new "dumb phone" for people who don't want a smartphone? I think it certainly might.

I'm looking forward to the future where I can leave my iPhone at home for an entire day, but still be reachable. One thing I am missing is the ability to stream music in my car. Thankfully, I have access to this new thing called FM Radio. It's sorta like Beats1, but with local people. I could pair my watch to my car stereo, but I don’t want to drain the battery while driving.

watchOS 4 and the Siri Watch Face

I’ve been running the watchOS 4 beta for a few days now, and it’s given me some ideas on how to improve watchOS.

The Siri face is a great idea, but I don’t think I’ll be using it. I primarily use the Modular face, and the Siri interface doesn’t show me enough information at a glance. What I’d like to see is to bring that intelligence to my existing watch faces.

  • Only show my calendar in the large spot during work hours.
  • Move Runkeeper to a complication around the time I generally work out. Bring the Activity complication from a small slot to the large slot once an hour during a glance.
  • Bring Home to a complication around bedtime.

These are just a few simple ideas, but I like the direction the Siri face shows. I’d just like to see it brought to the entire watchOS experience.

Initial 12.9” iPad Thoughts

I recently switched from a 9.7” iPad Pro to a 12.9” iPad Pro (first generation model). I have often struggled with feeling 100% productive on an iPad. It’s not that I couldn’t get work done, but it often felt like a bigger iPhone to me. Within a few hours, I knew this size was something special. It felt freeing. I spent last night working on it vs my MacBook Pro, and I never felt like I needed my laptop. I was able to get a lot done without being slowed down. The larger screen, plus iOS 11 is a game changer for me.

My new goal: go as long as possible each day without pulling out my laptop. I am going to document what tasks trigger the need.

Ideas on How iCloud Photos Could Work For Families

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Google Photos. I sometimes long for the native aspect of iCloud Photo Library, though. The feature that always holds me back is a lack of unified library with my wife. I know not everyone wants that feature, but I do. Here’s some ways I think Apple could make it work:

  1. Single Library option
  2. Read Access option
  3. Smart library option with face scanning

Single Library Option

With this option, users of a family sharing group should have the option to have a single library. Everything taken on both accounts would be accessible to both. This could be cumbersome as camera rolls fill up some random screenshots and saved photos.

Read Access Option

An option might be for users to be able to have read access to their family sharing library. Users could save anything from a family member’s library to their own. This would create a lot of manual work, though.

Smart Library based on face scanning

The option that I think could really make sense is for me to be able to designate that I want photos of certain members of our family added to my library. This would mean extending the face scanning results to iCloud Family Sharing. I could mark that I was any photos of my kids, me, or my wife added to my library. I wouldn’t end up with the extra stuff, though.

Some Details About Shared iCloud Storage

One of the new features of iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra is shared iCloud Storage among family members. Since I’m on the iOS 11 public beta, I decided to roll it out to my family.

I had previously setup a family account when Apple Music was released, so I had already gone through the hassle of setting it up. The part that was awkward, but Apple has a solution for, is my iCloud account is not the account where the majority of my purchases live. I have the account that I started when I got my first iPod 2004, and I also have my iCloud account. I’ve been around so long that this is also a MobileMe and .Mac account as well. Apple allows you to designate one account as the account your family purchases pull from.

In preparation for all of this, I set up child iCloud accounts for my kids. These are special Apple IDs that can require your consent to make purchases (if enabled).

Devices running the iOS 11 beta can enable it by going to Settings > iCloud > Subscription and Apps > iCloud Storage. I didn’t document the process, but it’s simple.

The neat thing is devices running iOS 10 can join the fun. My kid accounts were automatically enabled to be apart of the shared storage, but my wife had to manually join. You can do that in Settings > iCloud. In the iOS 11 Developer build, there is an option to invite a family member via iMessage.

Couple of things to note:

  • There is no way to allocate space. I’m assuming one family member could technically take up 99% of the space.
  • Only the $2.99 and up plans are eligible.
  • While it seems child accounts auto-join, normal accounts do not.

If you think about the fact that the 2 TB plan was just lowered to $9.99, this makes it an incredible deal when combined with multiple family members.

Between Apple Music ($14.99/month for family) and a 2 TB iCloud storage plan ($9.99 per month), Apple can easily get $25 per month per family. This also creates a stickier ecosystem as well. On the flip side, this is a great deal for users. $25 a month for 2 TB of storage and unlimited Music is a great value.

You Do You

There’s been a lot of discussion of late about iPad.

  • Can it replace a PC?
  • Do I need a Mac?
  • is iOS the future of computing?

These arguments remind me a lot of the laptop vs desktop debate a decade or so ago. At the time, laptops were expensive and slow. After a period of time, they got a lot better. The benefits of the portability outweighed any negatives for some. For others, desktop computers were (and still are) the best tool for the job.

In 2008, Apple released the MacBook Air. This was an underpowered and overpriced ultra portable laptop. Overtime, the price came down and the specs came up. In fact, it’s the laptop I still recommend to anyone looking for the best bang for their buck. Even when it was overpriced and underpowered, some people still loved it. The benefits outweighed the negatived for them.

Here in 2017, we have two types of people. Those that think iPads can be used for real work and those that don’t. I’m going to set the record straight. Some people can and some people can’t. It just depends on your needs (and preferences).

If the iPad can accomplish 100% of your computing needs, that is awesome. If it can’t, then enjoy macOS. If you prefer macOS for some tasks and iOS for others, then do that.

I don’t know if macOS is ever discontinued in favor of something like iOS. I don’t know 100% of what the future of computing holds. The thing I do know is: you do you.

Pick the devices that allow you to do the best work, and use those. The discussion about iPad vs Mac is like discussing a match vs a lighter. Each serves their purpose for different tasks.

Everyone’s work (and preference) is different. Trying to argue your needs against someone else's needs is pointless.

Why I'm Not iOS Only

Being the host of an educational podcast, you would think I'd be iOS only at this point. I'm not, and I'm much more closely tied to requiring a Mac vs requiring an iPad to effectively do my job.

Website Content Management

During my day job, I manage the backend of websites. This isn't writing code, but updating content. This does require a lot of text selection, though. I still find text selection to be quite cumbersome on iOS. In Wordpress especially, some custom pages have "content blocks". These blocks are near impossible to work with on iOS. Is this the fault of iOS? No, but I'd like to see Safari bridge the gap with this regard. We've given it enough time that I feel confident that the creators of these content management systems and plugins are not going to be build for iOS management, so I believe Apple should build some sort of "Desktop" mode for mobile Safari to make it look and behave more like a traditional desktop browser.

Most of the website management apps are built around publishing blogs, but not actual site management.

Ideally, all of these web companies would build native iOS apps that could take advantage of all that the devices have it offer. Since they haven't, it's time for Apple to take control of the issue.

Ergonomics

I stand in front of a 13" MacBook Pro with a 24" external monitor all day. I have both displays at eye level, and I have my trackpad and keyboard (external) at the proper height. I'd like to be able to plug an iPad Pro into an external display and be able to interact with it from an external keyboard + input type device. I finding using iOS for extended periods of time puts strain on my shoulders and neck. What would this look like? I have no idea, but I'd love to see something.

I'd love to go iOS only, but these are the two big things holding me back.

iTunes 4.9 and 12 Years of Podcasting

Almost 12 years later, iTunes 4.9 remains an important update for 2 reasons.

Podcast Support
I've had my own podcast since 2012, and it's also a huge part of my entertainment consumption. Podcast support in iTunes made it easy to find and download almost 8,000 shows. Prior to that, you had to use a third party program. iTunes brought it mainstream. They made it easy to subscribe and easy to find new shows.

I'm sure that number has grown to many hundreds of thousands in the years following. I have friends who make their living off podcasts. While I don't use iTunes or Apple's podcast app (see what I use), we all owe a lot to Apple taking this category of media to the mainstream. It's an open standard, and a way that anyone can create content.

Odeo Releases Twttr
Had Apple not released iTunes 4.9 with podcasting support, it's possible that Twitter would have never been created. Had Twitter not ever been created, there would be a lot of friends I would have never made. I've also discovered a lot of podcasts via Twitter as well. This all worked out well for everyone involved. While Twitter has its problems, I still think it is a net positive for society.

Here's to 12 years of podcasts and many more. Thank you iTunes 4.9.

Brief Thoughts on Fire TV

I picked up a Fire TV stick a few days ago, so I wanted to share a few thoughts.

App availablity

It's very similar to what I have on Apple TV. The main one it's missing is Nick Jr, but it has Amazon Video and Spotify. Overall, most of the apps are very similar to the corresponding Apple TV one.

Remote

I like the remote a lot better than the Apple TV one. The main downside is that the Fire TV remote doesn't have volume buttons. We use this a lot on our Apple TV remotes. I enjoyed going back to a traditional D-pad for navigation.

Interface

In some ways it's better, but in some ways it's worse. While the Apple TV one is very static, the Fire TV one seems to constantly be moving around. I do like that you can get straight to recently watched shows straight from the home screen, though.

Overal value

Do I think the Fire TV stick is better than the Apple TV? I don't. If I didn't have an Apple TV, I don't think I could justify buying one over the Fire TV stick, though.

For $40, it's a really fantastic device. I have ordered a 2nd one to keep on our upstairs TV. Amazon doesn't need Apple here. The Fire TV is cheap enough that people can buy along with something else if they really want Amazon content.

Amazon Video is in a situation where people likely sign up for Prime for the shipping benefits, and the video subscription is secondary. They won't cancel Prime because there isn't an Apple TV app. Apple needs Amazon more than Amazon needs Apple in this situation. The following tweet says it best:

If anything, this just shows where Apple has zero competitive advantage with video content.

Why I've Switched to Spotify

After subscribing to Apple Music since its release in summer of 2015, I've officially moved my library to Spotify for good. I tinkered with this last summer, but thankfully Apple fixed the issues I was having (see this blog post). Over the past few months, I've gradually become frustrated by Apple Music. While my previous frustration was about a technical issue, this issue is much deeper. Apple Music, for me, does a terrible job at discovery. Here's why:

Beats1

I was really excited about Beats1 in the beginning, but the novelty quickly wore off. It seemed like every time I turned it on, it was playing genres I didn't like. There were times that Zane Lowe would interview artists I like, but I had no way of knowing. Why isn't their a push notification when an artist I have saved is the focal point of a show?

New Music Mix

I probably should have said this at the beginning, but this article is really just describing my experiences. You might certainly have a different one. I was really excited about the New Music Mix that launched with iOS 10. Spotify's Discover Weekly mix is great. I have found at least ten artists who I now follow from it. I usually listen to it multiple times each week. While similar in idea, Apple's version of this is boring to me. I hardly ever listened to it more than once. The suggestions were just okay. To make matters worse, I still had Christmas music in it in late January. I don't know if Apple doesn't have the amount of data Spotify has, or if it's another issue, but something is off.

Playlists

I am a big fan of the "Singer/songwriter" and Folk/Americana genres. Spotify has tons of options that are frequently updated. Apple simply does not. In fact, one of the options for Singer/songwriter for Apple Music is "Best of 2015". They didn't even make one for 2016. Apple's playlist might be human curated, but the ones I followed were rarely updated.

For You

I've never loved this feature. I particularly don't love the iOS 10 version of it. It has a lot to scroll through. It tends to offer the same suggestions over and over for playlists that are rarely updated. The new release section is buried at the bottom. (Spotify emails me when artists I follow release new music.).

To sum it up, Apple Music was starting to feel like the iTunes Store where I didn't have to pay per track. Spotify has introduced me to tons of new artists, and Apple Music hasn't. Why is this? I'm not sure, but Apple certainly knows just as much about my listening habits. They just weren't doing as much with the data. I'll miss the native Apple TV app, but AirPlay will do just fine.