iCloud and Apples new services = iConfused?

December 22nd, 2011 1 comment

There have been a lot of questions lately around some of the new services offered with the iOS5 and the 5.0.1 update.  The free iCloud service was introduced as part of the much anticipated iOS5 release that premiered in mid-October 2011.  The iCloud service offers a seamless synchronization of data across iOS/OS X (10.7+) devices.  Per Apple,

“iCloud stores your music, photos, documents, and more and wirelessly pushes them to all your devices. Automatic, effortless, and seamless — it just works. “

True.  But, it’s not as simple as advertised (but not so hard either).  Much of the configuration is buried within OS/Application settings that need to be set up on either the iOS5 device or on OS X.  Windows users can also use the iCloud service by installing the iCloud Control Panel.  The purpose of this post is to just outline what you can do with iCloud in hopes to clear up some of the misconceptions or confusion around the service.

The service is accessible through the iCloud website which provides a very simple interface.  Apple gives all users a 5GB storage limit with the option to upgrade for an additional cost.  Users can double their storage to 10GB for $20 a year, 20GB for $40, and 50GB for $100 a year.  Just log in with the Apple ID you use on your iOS5 device or Mac, and you’re ready to begin.

icloud iCloud and Apples new services = iConfused?

The simple iCloud front end interface

 

Users see this interface and might wonder, “Where are my pictures”, “Where are my apps”, “How do I create a new document”, “How do I update my settings”, etc…  These are all fair questions, and I don’t think Apple has done a good job of making their users aware of how they can leverage the new service.  Let me start by outlining what you can do via the iCloud.com front end, and then I’ll talk about what you can do from your iOS5 enabled device or machine running OS X.  The iCloud services also work on a PC by using the iCloud Control Panel, but of course the functionality is a bit different.

  • Mail – The Mail application requires a me.com account which can be created at no cost.  This email can be accessed through the iCloud interface and also through your iOS5 device like an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.  Users can read and compose email messages through a nice interface on the iCloud.com site pictured above.  Like any web based email, your messages appear the same in iCloud as they do on your iOS5 device.
  • Contacts – Contacts are maintained in iCloud.  When you add a new contact to your phone, it is automatically reflected when you check your contacts on iCloud.  When you add a new contact via the iCloud interface, you will see that contact on your iPhone as soon as it is added.  Contacts are also synched to iCloud through the Address Book application on OS X.  Just open the Address book (requires Lion – 10.7) and go to Preferences -> Accounts and make sure your iCloud account is added.
  • Calendars – This is your iCloud calendar which can be accessed and modified from iCloud, from your iOS5 devie, or from your Mac (iCal) running OS X 10.7 or higher.  One important note is that your iCloud account must be set up on your iOS5 device and your Mac in order for this sync to function properly.  Otherwise the calendars will be separate.
  • Reminders - The reminders can be managed from the “Reminders” application as well as from the calendar on iCloud.com.  Just toggle reminders from Settings -> iCloud on your iOS device if you find they’re not synching.
  • Find My iPhone – You may or may not see this option depending on whether or not you have set up this service in the past.  The Find My iPhone service allows you do locate your iPhone, iPad, iPod and even your Macbook that has been registered with the service.  In the event the device is lost or stolen, just launch this application to pinpoint it on a map.
  • iWork – If you have installed any of the iWork applications (Pages, Keyote, Numbers) on your Mac or iOS5 device, this option will be available from iCloud.  The applications are $19.99 each for Mac, and $9.99 each for iOS.  From the iCloud interface, you can upload documents from your Mac and they instantly become available on your iOS device.  If you create a document from one of the iWork applications on your iOS5 device, the document is immediately available from iCloud.com as well.  In order to configure this however, you have to make sure that “Documents & Data” is turned on from your iOS device from Settings -> iCloud -> Documents & Data = On.  You also have to go in to each application setting (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) from Settings -> <Application Name> -> Use iCloud = On.  Deleting documents from an iWork application on your iOS5 device will also remove it from iCloud.  One common misconception with iWork is that documents automatically become available as soon as you create them on your Mac.  This is not the case.  They need to be uploaded through iCloud.com first.
  • There are settings all over the place between iCloud.com, iOS5 settings, iOS5 application settings, and Mac application settings.  The one setting available through iCloud.com is the “Reset Photo Stream” feature.  I’ll cover Photo Stream later, but if you click your name in iCloud and click “Advanced” -> “Reset Photo Stream”, the link between your iOS5 device and iCloud is essentially re-set/broken (ie – pictures you have taken on your iPhone no longer show in iPhoto if you have enabled Photo Stream in iPhoto).

So those are the things you can do from iCloud.com.  What about things you can do from your iPhone or Mac OS X?

  • Backups – This is a pretty cool feature.  If your iPhone is locked, connected to Wi-Fi, and Backups are enabled, the phone will be backed up every day.  I’ve found that my phone is fully backed up every night around 1 – 2AM since I plug it in every night and have Wi-Fi at home.  Just go to Settings -> iCloud -> Backup and Storage and make sure to turn “iCloud Backup” = On.  You can also take backups manually by touching “Back Up Now” from the same screen.  The nice thing about backups is that you can set what you want to back up and what you don’t.  I’ve turned off backups for most applications, but my camera roll takes up 1.3GB (330 pictures and a few short (2 – 3 minute) videos).  You can restore from your iCloud backup if you need to set up your new or existing iOS5 device again.  See here for more details on Backups.
  • Photo Stream – This feature allows you to take a picture on your iPhone and immediately view it in iPhoto on your Mac without having to import/sync photos from iTunes.  You will need to enable Photo Stream in iPhoto for this setting to take effect (iPhoto -> Preferences -> PhotoStream -> Enable) and your photos will show up as soon as they’re taken.  You’ll notice that you can’t view these from the iCloud.com interface which seems to cause a bit of confusion given that you can reset Photo Stream there.

So that covers it for now.  I am sure I will be adding more as new features are added/discovered.  Please post if there is something I have left out or if you have questions on enabling/disabling certain features of iCloud on your iOS or OS X devices.


GNOME 3 – At a first glance

April 14th, 2011 3 comments

For those of you that have not yet heard, GNOME launched their version 3.0 on April 6, 2011. You can check out some of the new features on gnome3.org. I downloaded the live CD yesterday and booted up in to the OS after burning the ISO.

 

home4 300x187 GNOME 3   At a first glance

First boot to GNOME 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Glance

 

I was initially impressed by the UI, but very quickly began to miss some of the features I am used to seeing on my other OS’s (I use Snow Leopard at home, and Windows XP/7 at work). As for the GNOME 3 UI, the transitions are very smooth (although do not rival those of OS X), and fonts are very distinguished. The built in messaging service is very useful and accessing applications is very simple.

 

fontzoom1 300x183 GNOME 3   At a first glance

GNOME 3 Fonts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

apps1 300x187 GNOME 3   At a first glance

GNOME 3 Applications Menu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Classic OS Features?

 

Locating and launching applications is very simple, however once a few applications are open, it is not as straight forward as to how you are going to manage multi-tasking. There is no minimize/maximize button on applications, although there is a right-click -> minimize and physical buttons can be re-configured by the advanced user.  And speaking of right-clicking, there is no right-click functionality on the desktop.

 

min 300x187 GNOME 3   At a first glance

Minimizing an application

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Applications actually don’t seem to dock anywhere when minimized.  After minimizing three applications, my desktop looks exactly like the first picture in this post (First boot to GNOME 3).  There is no visual indicator of what is running once the applications have been minimized.  In order to see the applications, you can hover over the top left corner of the screen (or use other keyboard shortcuts like alt+tab).  These things would take some time for the average user to figure out.

 

desktop 300x187 GNOME 3   At a first glance

Hover over "Activities" to see running applications

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Search

 

The search capabilities from the Activities menu is pretty cool though.  It offers users that kind of Google Desktop functionality (searching your machine for something with an integrated web search too):

 

search 300x187 GNOME 3   At a first glance

Searching for applications

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Workspaces

 

This is one of the things people are fuming about with Windows 7.  Still no workspaces?!?  GNOME 3 offers these capabilities in a pretty simple to use fashion.  Just send an application to a new workspace and it appears in the sidebar for fast switching:

 

wkspc 300x187 GNOME 3   At a first glance

Send to Workspace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

wkspc2 300x187 GNOME 3   At a first glance

Switch Workspaces

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I started to wonder why a Linux based OS would cater so much to the average user yet fail on some of the simple things that simplify the  user experience.  Smooth transitions and fancy fonts are great for every user, but lack of minimize/maximize buttons, no good indication of what the system is running on the desktop and no right-click seems like it should be a given.  I also want to call out that the lack of a terminal in the left sidebar is just plain offensive.  I’m pretty sure Windows even puts a cmd prompt in the quick launch menu.

 

Overall, the UI is good.  Yes, “good”…I have no better words.  I just think there may have been some confusion between what constitutes a powerful desktop UI versus a powerful consumer smart device UI (ie – iPad), and from my initial review, GNOME 3 is the result of that confusion.

 

Let me know what you think.  You might change my mind! icon smile GNOME 3   At a first glance

Tab skips dropdown and other controls on Mac OS X

April 12th, 2011 Comments off

As a relatively new Mac OS X user, this has been one of the more annoying nuances about making the switch from PC to Mac OS X.  I love using the keyboard to navigate form fields on a web page/application, especially given the fantastic (yet so simple) ergonomics of the Macbook keyboards.  The problem is that when using the tab key to quickly change fields on a page, the tab key only stops on about half of the fields, skipping by drop-downs and radio buttons.

Any time I have to select my birthday month/day/year, I have to switch to the mouse when the tab key flies by these useless (yet always required) fields…  Yes, I know…boo hoo…I have to switch to the awesome easy to use trackpad instead…

 

tabstop Tab skips dropdown and other controls on Mac OS X

Tab does not stop for the fields in the boxes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was on a page today that was ridden with nothing but dropdowns and radio buttons, so I just had to look it up.  I found this post which describes the perfect solution!  The funny thing is, the post was made in 2006 and Mac OS X still behaves this way.  Why why WHHYYYYY is this the default setting?  For those of you using Snow Leopard, the solution is the same, except the setting is found under “Keyboard” rather than “Keyboard and Mouse” (they’re separate now).  Well, that’s it….I’ll be going to empty my trash now, or shall I cancel emptying my trash with my new and improved tab key?  The possibilities are endless!

 

trash Tab skips dropdown and other controls on Mac OS X

iOS 4.3 HomeShare over VPN?

March 12th, 2011 4 comments

So I’ve been exploring some of the new features of iOS 4.3 and found the iTunes Home Sharing feature to be somewhat useful, however am interested in getting more out of it if possible.  For those unfamiliar with the new feature, when connected to your home network, you’ll see a “Shared” option under iPod -> More from your iPhone.  From there you can stream content from your iTunes library on your computer to your iPhone.

I appreciate the fact that I can share my iTunes library on 5 different machines at home and can access them from my iPhone while I’m at home, but that doesn’t seem all that innovative, does it?

What I really want is to be able to access my library no matter where I am, without having to sync it to my iPhone every time I get something new.  It sounds picky/lazy/greedy, but it really isn’t an unrealistic expectation given the price we pay for all this content and subscription based services.  Frankly, I’m sick of managing my different iTunes libraries and figuring out how to sync them all to my phone without too much struggle.  Why am I limited by the amount of local storage on my iPhone?  Can’t we just get past this dated architecture yet? I’d also like to add, I don’t even use the iPod features of my iPhone much at all.  Those of you that do must be bleeding for something like this.

Kind of brings me back to my post a few weeks ago on Chrome OS…

So, assuming this kind of “cloud based” content streaming is coming soon (cheesy subscription based one-offs aside)…what I want to know is whether anyone has tried using iTunes Home Sharing over a VPN with their iPhone?  I’m really asking….has anyone done it?  Does it work?  If it does…does the VPN cut out after the phone goes to sleep like normally, or does it recognize that there is data streaming and stay on?  How is the audio streaming from Wi-FI, from 3G??  Is there some other method available that I’m overlooking?

I set up a VPN on my Windows 7 machine, however while looking for the PPTP setting on my Belkin Wireless N router, I quickly found out that it does not support VPN.  I could replace it, but am wondering what the experience was like for anyone that has been successful so far. So with that said…. I look forward to hearing your experience!!!

Are you ready for Chrome OS?

January 21st, 2011 2 comments

There is a lot of hype about Google’s new open source project, Chromium OS. The new OS will run on portable devices that run strictly web based applications. An introductory model dubbed the Cr-48 is being offered by Google through a very exclusive pilot program.

google chrome computer notebook cr 48 Are you ready for Chrome OS?

The Cr-48 seems to have adopted a design similar to that of an Apple MacBook, but that’s not the reason Google thinks the new OS will become popular. Rather than placing strong focus on hardware, the new offering places emphasis on what Google does best – innovation. If you are among the lucky chosen to participate in the Cr-48 pilot, I suggest that you not focus on the hardware, but consider how the OS changes the way you interface with the web both for the better and for the worse.

Click here for a demo of the Cr-48 running ChromeOS.

The concept is cloud based, similar to services already offered by IT service providers like IBM or Amazon. Current cloud models require the user to access the cloud based system through their primary device (ie – a Windows machine). With Chromium OS, you’re sitting on the cloud 10 seconds after powering up your machine. Click here to see how the boot process has been improved compared to a traditional device.

There is no more concept of what Google refers to as “legacy” applications. This means that your brand new copy of Microsoft Office 2010 would be considered obsolete since it is not one of the cloud based applications available on Chromium OS (nor could it be installed on your machine running the OS). Rather than local storage hosting your content, you rely solely on the cloud for all your computing needs.

The Cr-48 (and I suspect all Chromium OS models) has built in Wi-Fi, and also a 3G card capable of picking up a signal if you do not have an internet connection available (same connection your modern hand held device uses).

So now that you know the basics (if you didn’t already)…do you think we ready for a device that relies solely on an infrastructure that still lacks the speed to keep up with features of lesser powerful modern devices? Take the iPhone for example. The iPhone relies pretty heavily on an internet connection of some type, and many of the features of the iPhone are restricted by our internet capabilities (ie – Tethering, FaceTime, ). Take away the iPhones internet connection however, and you still have the ability to use the apps loaded on to the device that do not require a signal to function (ie – you can still play Angry Birds if you’re lost in the woods). Take away the signal from a device running Chromium OS, and you have a nice paper weight with a built in flashlight.

chrome os Are you ready for Chrome OS?

The good news? Your devices become simply an interface to the same portal hosting the same content you have personalized over a period of time. For example, I have a Windows desktop, a laptop running Windows, a netbook running Windows, a MacBook Air, and a few Windows desktops I use at work. Sure, all my own machines are running on a home LAN and I can access files from any machine assuming they’re all turned on and have acquired an IP from my wireless router, and I can also access my work files by turning on my VPN….but I have a hard time remembering which applications and files are on which machine. Even if I had the best memory in the world, is that something I want to waste my brain power on?

What if you could access your personalized content (ie – desktop, personal settings, etc) not just through your device, but through any device? Yeah…you can do it now with one of those subscription based apps running on your PC that is always connected to the internet whenever you need it, right? Actually, my trusty $220/mo internet connection is down as we speak and I can’t even submit this post when I’m finished until it comes back up. What if you didn’t have your device with you and needed to access some content, or even just wanted to check your email on a friends device without hunting around on his device only to find he only invokes his browser through command line because he deleted his shortcut by accident and never figured out how to get it back? Just log off of his account, log in with your credentials, and it’s as if you had your device all along.

What about the concept of having all your content hosted on a “cloud” that you can’t touch or feel? What happens when that cloud is down, and all you wanted to do was look up the address for that interview you’re running late for (because you know that’s the only time it would ever actually go down, right?)?

question cloud Are you ready for Chrome OS?

For me, there are some things I prefer to be hosted elsewhere, but other things that I prefer to store locally. For example, I am comfortable with the fact that my email is hosted by Google and not taking up precious space on my own devices. Initially, I was outraged by the fact that Google thought they could store my precious emails whether they were doing me a favor by hosting it or not. When I delete an email, is it actually deleted from all their servers? Probably not…

Have you or anyone you know been locked out of GMail for one reason or another (ie – forgot password, hacked, stolen, sold on a Chinese auction site, etc…) and tried to recover within a reasonable amount of time? I’m pretty sure that most of the time, you can just kiss that account goodbye. Let’s face it…Google does not offer the kind of support most folks expect from their (albeit free) services. Can you afford to lose all your personalized content and applications because of an account issue that Google could not reach out to you within some kind of reasonable SLA to address quickly?

So let’s just look at the features highlighted by Chrome OS. I want to comment on each separately since there are only 6:

Features1 Are you ready for Chrome OS?

Instant web: Boot time in 10 seconds, and instantly wakes up from sleep. Sounds like my MacBook Air (only it might boot faster than 10s). Websites load quickly and smoothly…nothing new there. And let’s be honest…support for Flash wasn’t considered a feature until the iPhone lacked it.

Same experience everywhere: This is the bread and butter, I’ve already commented about the benefits of this above.

Always connected: 100MB of free 3G isn’t all that much, especially if this is a primary device being used for multimedia. It seems we should be past the point where we’re paying for “Always connected” these days anyway. In my opinion, if anyone is going to lead the way into free mobile internet access, it should be Google.

features2 Are you ready for Chrome OS?

Security built in: While this doesn’t really sound like a “feature”, Google has done lots to ensure the protection of your data on the cloud. There is an interesting video here on the details. It is still not known how secure the data actually will be once your friendly neighborhood hacker becomes more familiar with the architecture of the OS, but sounds like a good implementation to me.

Forever fresh: Simple enough. I’m not sure how much easier updates could get than what most modern OS’s already have today.

Amazing web apps: From what I’ve seen in the demo video, this looks pretty exciting. I’m not sure anyone really uses CD’s to install software anymore, but nice to highlight anyway.

I don’t doubt that the way we access our personalized content will significantly change over the course of time, but are we ready for something like this just yet? Consider the advantages/disadvantages I’ve touched on, and let me know your thoughts on this technology.