Archive for the ‘Apple’ Category

The Apple TV 4K Device is a Deeply Flawed and Frustrating Product… for Me

Pictures are so broken on Apple TV

About 12 years ago, in 2006, I had what at the time felt like the biggest technological change in my life. I switched from a PC to my first MacBook Pro. Switching computer operating systems at the time seemed like a massive chasm to overcome, but I did it and I’m glad I did. My main motivation was that I was tired of all of the errors that I was getting from PCs and all my friends with Macs just kept saying pretty much the exact same thing, “it just works.” After hearing that enough I broke down and made a decision that it was time for a change.

Over the last decade, that first decision has brought dozens of new Apple products into my life. Every three years or so I’d upgrade MacBook Pros. I bought a Mac Mini for the kitchen which I upgraded to a nicer iMac latter. I bought a high end iMac to edit my photos on for my home office. I bought a Cinema Display as a second monitor. I spent the night in line overnight to buy the very first iPhone. I bought the iPhone 3g, the iPhone 4, 5, 6s and most recently the 10. I’ve bought iPads, MacBook Pros and iPhones for my wife and kids. I always buy Apple Care. Apple iCloud storage, movies, tv shows, airpods, the list goes on and on.

I haven’t added it all up yet, but I’d say over the past decade I’ve easily spent tens of thousands of dollars on Apple products.

I feel like at some point I’ve just about purchased every product as a good Apple consumer is supposed to… except maybe the watch. The watch feels stupid to me. If I want to know what time it is I can just look at my phone. I haven’t worn a watch in 20 years. I don’t need an uncomfortable thing strapped to my hand and my health is good enough that I don’t need to constantly run ECGs or have someone notified if I fall down and can’t get back up (which hasn’t happened once yet in the 50+ years I’ve been on the planet).

Unfortunately for me though, it’s the Apple TV which I’ve always been the most excited about and which has also unfortunately frustrated me more than any Apple other gadget I’ve ever owned. I’ve bought every version of the Apple TV as they’ve been released dutifully. Giving Apple my hard earned money for the promise of something great, the ability to watch my photos in my living room — and it’s been a completely frustrating experience along the way.

I’m not sure exactly why I’m writing this blog post about Apple TV. I haven’t blogged in a while. In part it’s probably cathartic for me. In part I feel like I’m giving up on photos tonight and hope that maybe someday someone will Google one of my error codes and have a better answer. Maybe someone will read it and have some suggestion that I haven’t considered. Maybe someone will suggest a better way to watch photos on a TV.

My most recent problem revolves around the new Apple 4k TV. Of the six Apple TVs in my house I have two connected to Vizio 4k TVs. Of course I upgraded to the 4k Apple TV because what’s the point of having a 4k TV without a 4k device.

For the most part over the life of the AppleTV product photos have been frustrating. I have a large library of images that I want to play on my Apple TVs. I use home sharing and point my iTunes to a folder of images and ask for my Apple TVs to stream those images. (File >> Home Sharing >> Choose Photos to Share with Apple TV…) Frequently my AppleTVs lose their connections to my iTunes library and the only way to get the photos to play again is to quit iTunes and relaunch it. I frequently would have to restart the Apple TVs. The Apple TV in the living would be working but then the one in the attic couldn’t connect. The one in the attic would work but then the one in the bedroom wouldn’t connect. It was a constant exercise of frustration. I set all of the Apple TVs to update automatically and I’d constantly check for updates to apply them manually.

About a year ago I spent several weeks working with Apple Engineers. They sent these trace packet things to me by email and I’d do different things, run the logging software and send them log files. After several weeks and many log files I did get an answer back about a year ago that Apple engineers had found a problem related to my Apple TVs constantly disconnecting from home sharing and that a fix would be coming. They couldn’t tell me when but said that it was an issue on their end and to keep checking for updates. So at least I wasn’t totally crazy and at least there was hope… kind of?

Although this was a frustrating way to use my AppleTV, the payoff of being able to relax on the couch and watch my life’s work, my photos that I love so much, while enjoying a glass of wine was such a high payoff that I put up with it… until, unfortunately now, with the latest dreaded TVOS12 update.

Last week I updated all of my Apple TVs to TVOS12. On my non-4k Apple TVs, it’s the same sad, frustrating experience of having to restart Apple TVs, restart, my iMac, restart iTunes, constantly to get them to work. But when they do work it will play my photos for hours. Unfortunately on the two 4k Apple TVs photos crash 100% of the time. Usually within 10 seconds, but sometimes I can get them to play for 20 seconds or 45 seconds or maybe even 2 minutes before it crashes. But they crash 100% of the time. I’ve spent at least 20 hours trying to fix my photos over the past week (including a good 3 hour phone call last night with an Apple Care tech) but nothing seems to work.

If I try to stream photos on my iMac to my 4K Apple TVs the photos crash. If I try to stream photos on my MacBook Pro to my 4k Apple TVs the photos crash. If I try to stream photos on my home network to the 4k AppleTVs the photos crash. If I create a hotspot with my iPhone with just my MacBook Pro and one 4k Apple TV photos crash.

If instead of pointing home sharing to a folder, I import all the photos into Apple’s Photos app on my iMac (I hate the Apple Photos App on my iMac) and share from there instead still photos crash.

Every time after the photos crash there is a brief error message on the screen for about 1 second that reads “No iTunes libraries available. Home Sharing lets you stream content from your computer’s iTunes library to your Apple TV. To access your iTunes library, turn on Home Sharing on your computer and use the Apple ID. Retry.”

That message disappears and brings me right back to the main home sharing page on the Apple TV.

I’ve made sure that the photos that I want to share are all on the internal hard drives of the devices I’m trying to stream. I even upgraded yesterday to the new Apple OS Mojave, in the hopes that this might fix things. I’ve turned my Comcast router on and off.

The bottom line is there is simply nothing that I can do to make photos work on my 4k Apple TVs since updating to TVOS 12. And, of course, Apple will not allow you to roll your OS on your Apple TV back to a previous version so there is no getting out of TVOS 12 hell. I did a reset of the entire device back to factory settings, but instead of resetting it back to the factory setting from when I bought it. It reset it back to the factory settings for TVOS 12.

The Apple Tech I spent hours on the phone with yesterday suggested that I take my Macbook Pro and my 4k AppleTV into the Apple store and set an appointment to show them there. I had an appointment this afternoon at 2pm to do just that, but after only getting three hours of sleep last night trying to troubleshoot my Apple TV I just couldn’t go through with it today. It’s just too much, too soon.

In the meantime it looks as though I wasted $200 each on some useless Apple hockey pucks, but maybe at some point I’ll regain the strength to try again, or maybe someday, somewhere I’ll find an answer on how to make these devices stream photos for me again.

Or maybe like I ditched Windows back in 2006, it’s now time to ditch Apple again and maybe go find something that you know, “just works.”

Needless to say, your 4k AppleTV may work flawlessly and perfectly for you. This is my personal experience though and it’s my blog and this is what the experience has been like for me.

I made a video of this problem here. If anyone does have any constructive advice I’d love to hear it. Thanks.

Update, October 7, 2018, I am still struggling with photos not working on the Apple TV and trying to get them to perform consistently. One thing I have found that helps, at least temporarily is to turn off home sharing on the Apple TV unit. Next turn home sharing back on. Next reboot the Apple TV. Next try to launch photos. Typically it fails here and crashes. Keep trying to launch photos until it works. It may take 4 or 5 times. I’ve found a few times now that if I repeat that process in various forms photos will not crash immediately.

Update, October 14, 2018, I am still finding photos crashing all of the time. I have tried a new sequence though that will sometimes get photos playing for a few hours. Step 1: log out of iCloud on the Apple TV. Step 2: Log out of iTunes on the Apple TV. Step 3: Log out of Home Sharing on the Apple TV. Step 4. Restart the Apple TV. Step 5. Turn on iCloud (enter password). Step 6: Turn on iTunes/App Store (enter password). Step 7. Turn on Home Sharing (enter password). Step 8 (important): Restart the Apple TV again. Step 9. Launch photos.

I find that if I do that sequence photos do not crash immediately. It is only a matter of time before they crash again but it can sometimes last several hours.

Thoughts on YouTube TV

YouTubeTV

I’m currently on day 3 of my 7-day free trial with YouTube TV and I’m very torn about what to do and if I should continue it or not. I think that the only way to justify the $35/month charge is if I actually use it to cut the cord with Comcast for my TV content.

Pros

1. I *LOVE* that YouTube TV is now available on Apple TV. This is my biggest beef with Comcast. Because Comcast wants to sell you dumb cable boxes at $10/month on all your TVs, they make using Apple TV very difficult. Not only does Comcast not have a TV app for Apple TV (even though they falsely advertise watch TV anywhere at anytime) but they make you reauthenticate over and over again on all the individual content apps from people like CNN, CNBC, HBO, Showtime, etc. Having to reauthenticate over and over and over again is a huge pain. At present I’ve got 7 Apple TVs in my home and it would be nice to watch live tv on every one of them.

2. I could get rid of the ugly Comcast box that sits in my living room and I would also no longer need to toggle between inputs on that TV when using it. I would be able to get rid of one more remote control.

3. I would save money (I think?) I’m not so sure on this one just yet. I’m currently paying Comcast around $328/month for their triple play service. When I called them about cancelling TV they said they’d still charge me $65 for highspeed internet (up to 250MB) another $50 for unlimited usage, another $99 for the upgrade to 1 gig service (which has never really been at 1 gig, usually at 500MB to 800MB at best), and another $44 for phone with long distance (I’ve wanted to cancel the house phone for years but can’t sell this idea to the wife yet). So that’s $258/month before all the fees and extras, so $70 less — but once you add in all those miscelaneous fees and Showtime and HBO, I might be pretty much already at where I’m at today in terms of cost. I need to get the fine tip pencil out and do the exact math, but I’m not sure the savings would be as much as I’d hope for. I wish Google Fiber or somebody else would offer service in my area (Oakland, CA) in order to compete with Comcast, but at present it seems that Comcast is the only high speed provider in my area. ATT Uverse offers service but at only 50MB that speed is too slow for me.

4. Skipping commercials with the app on AppleTV using YouTubeTV seems easier than skipping them with the Comcast remote.

5. I like the YouTube TV interface better than the Comcast interface. I like that I don’t have a bunch of stupid channels getting in my way in the guide. Comcast won’t let you hide channels in the guide and it’s always seemed dumb to me that I’m constantly having to navigate around shopping channels, foreign language channels, unsubscribed pay channels, etc, that I’ll never use. While I haven’t used the app on my phone or laptop much I suspect that Google’s nice clean interface is better there too.

6. I like that YouTubeTV offers me an unlimited DVR.

7. YouTubeTV has the Warriors which I’d want on my TV package here in the Bay Area.

8. Up to 6 people in my family can use it and with four kids our family has exactly 6.

9. I feel much more favorably towards Google than Comcast generally speaking. Google seems to care more about their users than Comcast does and if given the choice I’d rather my money go to Google than Comcast. I’d love to be able to stick it to Comcast.

Cons

1. The biggest con (and frankly probably a deal breaker for me) is that I’ve read that YouTube TV will replace your DVR’d shows after a few days with on demand versions that don’t let you skip commercials on that version. Other than live sports, CNBC and some live news, I simply refuse to watch commercials. If this is true and my DVR’d content only lasted a few days per show, this would unfortunately probably kill the deal for me. I haven’t confirmed this myself yet, but I’ve read this in other places and in comments on blogs about YouTube TV.

2. I think YouTube TV broadcasts in 720p. AppleTV now has 4k capability. I’m blown away at how good some of Netflix 4k content looks and sounds on my 4k TV. I’m not sure what Comcast broadcasts in but on some of the content it feels like the Comcast version still looks a little better than the YouTubeTV version.

3. While YouTube TV does have a pretty strong lineup (all the major networks, strong sports, AMC, FX, etc.) it is missing CNN. I’m a little bit of a cable news junkie and would worry only being able to watch Fox News each night might move me too far to the right. Of course since every single night these days over and over again CNN is just Trump/Russia on repeat, I might not miss it so much after all. 😉

There are some other minor channels like TNT, Spike, etc. that I could live without but which are nice to have from time to time. Comcast has way more networks (most that I never watch, but once in a blue moon I just might).

4. YouTube TV still doesn’t exempt you from ads on YouTube. YouTube has a paid service called YouTube Red that lets you skip ads on YouTube. It sort of feels to me like this should be bundled in for free when you are paying $35/month.

5. I think I like Comcast’s voice controls better. If I say “CNBC” into my Comcast remote it just smartly tunes the TV to CNBC. With the Apple TV it seems like even when in YouTube TV if I try and use Siri on the remote it doesn’t limit it to YouTube TV. And when I say CNBC into my Apple TV it launches the CNBC app which stupidly takes me to a menu page rather than to CNBC where I want to watch live. From the menu screen I then have to navigate to watch CNBC live.

Anyways, these are my initial thoughts. I’ll probably cancel YouTube TV before the 7-day trial ends unless someone else can convince me I shouldn’t. Appreciate anyone else’s thoughts on the new service vs. Comcast.

Update: I cancelled YouTube TV earlier this week. Unfortunately I did it on day 8 instead of day 7 of my free trial so I’m stuck with the service until March 8th and had to pay $35. Oh well, I should have paid better attention to my trial. Maybe someday if they give you a true DVR and not one that replaces your recordings with on demand that don’t allow you to fast forward adverts I’ll be back. 🙂

The 4th Generation AppleTV is a Flawed and Frustrating Device

*Disclaimer: Many of the problems of the 4th generation AppleTV are problems by the app creators for the device. Further, cable companies and content providers in many cases are likely disincentivized to make AppleTV a good or smooth experience. Cord cutting certainly hurts the profitability of cable companies and content providers are probably paid more by cable/satellite than AppleTV. I do understand that Comcast is directly responsible for much of what is broken on AppleTV. That said, I believe that Apple could do more to ensure that app creators fall into line. As the largest publicly traded company in the world, Apple has unique clout, an enormous amount of cash, and should bear more responsibility for a solid end user experience.

I purchased 4 new AppleTVs last year when Apple launched the new 4th generation AppleTV. I have also owned each previous generation of the device. With each release I’ve been hoping for something more and with each release I’ve been let down and disappointed by my experience with AppleTV. While AppleTV may offer the best solution available today, it’s a shame that it is still such a flawed and frustrating device.

AppleTV-5
AppleTV-3
AppleTV-2

1. My number one issue with AppleTV at present is that it feels like the content companies are at war with the device. Many of the content companies have created apps for the new AppleTV but these apps still require you to maintain a cable/satellite subscription. I am actually fine with this. I don’t mind paying the cable company to access content on my AppleTV. What annoys me though is what a miserable experience it is trying to actually consume your cable subscription content on AppleTV.

The basic way that content apps on the AppleTV allow you to access their content is by authenticating with your cable subscription. When you launch the app it asks you to go to a website with your phone or computer. Once you are there (each content app has it’s own unique approach) you are required to enter in your cable TV credentials and a code from your TV screen to “activate” that content. Having to do this multiple times for multiple apps on multiple AppleTVs is a drag. With my four AppleTVs it took me over an hour to authenticate all of the content on all of the devices. It should not be this difficult.

If consuming cable paid content on your AppleTV were as easy as spending an hour authenticating 50 times, even that might be ok. The problem with AppleTV though is that these content apps make you re-authenticate over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. When you are tired at the end of a day and just want to turn on HBO and watch Vinyl, it’s a drag to be jolted with the reauthentication screen yet again. It boggles my mind that my AppleTV and Comcast cannot find an easier way to verify that I indeed do pay and am entitled to consume the content. I’m sure Comcast makes it hard on purpose (it feels like you have to reauthenticate content every 48 hours or so), but Apple shouldn’t let them get away with that.

2. If the reauthentication were not bad enough, some of the content that I get through my cable provider that I want to watch the most is not even available. AMC is probably my favorite network for content right now (Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead) and there is no AMC app for the AppleTV.

Apple TV is a Flawed and Frustrating Experience

3. Watching live TV is difficult. While there are apps (like CNN and CNBC) that let you watch live TV, it’s a pain to get to this content. With my Comcast X1 remote I just press and button and say “CNN” into the remote and instantly CNN comes on. When I press the mic button for Siri on my AppleTV app and say “CNN” I get a message on my screen that says “I’m sorry, I can’t do that here.” Even if I say “CNN Go” and get to the app, it still won’t let me watch live TV with Siri. I have to manually go through the menu process to watch TV (and many times once I go through all of this I’m just prompted with yet another requirement to reauthenticate for the 75th time).

AppleTV-6

4. Streaming content on AppleTV is a crappy experience. The other night I decided to watch a Bruce Springsteen documentary on the River on HBO on my AppleTV. While watching the show locked up at least 10 times. Sometimes it would take five minutes or more for content to resume streaming. While it’s tempting to blame my ISP for this issue, it should be noted that HBO plays flawlessly on my cable TV box and I have the fastest available internet speed available at present in my neighborhood. Content streams just fine to my computers, it only has freezing issues with my AppleTV.

AppleTV-4

5. Photos are boring on AppleTV. I have hundreds of thousands of photos that I’d like to consume on my AppleTV, but seeing the same photos over and over again gets boring very quickly. When you point AppleTV to a folder on your hard drive (through iTunes) of photos to share to the device, it will allow you to create a slideshow or use the screensaver for those photos. Unfortunately AppleTV only chooses about 100-200 random photos from the folder selected and just plays those photos over and over and over again. I would love to watch photos on my AppleTV but it needs to truly send me all of the photos randomized in a folder, not just 100 of them.

6. I was hopeful that Flickr would work better on the new AppleTV. On my 3rd generation AppleTV Flickr photos suffered the same limitation. If I had Flickr as my screensaver and pointed it to my 100 faves or more album, it would just recirculate 100 or so of the photos from that album. On the new AppleTV Flickr slide shows have the same limitations and Flickr screensaver does not even work at all.

7. I hate watching commercials. I love the Americans on FX and watch it each week. When I watch it on my Comcast box I just fast forward through all of the commercials with my DVR. When I watch it on AppleTV I can’t fast forward through the commercials, that’s a big drag. Also when commercials play on AppleTV it’s the exact same commercial over and over and over and over again. At least on real TV they mix up the commercials. Having to watch the exact same commercial 5 times in a show is dumb. It makes you hate the product being advertised even more.

For a 4th generation device I expect something better than what AppleTV offers up today. It’s easy to pass the buck and blame Comcast and the content providers for such a miserable experience on AppleTV, but I think that AppleTV also bears some responsibility for ensuring a better experience for their customers who purchase the device.

Cable TV is So Broken, Can Apple and Google Save Us All?

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, Allen & Company, 2015
Billionaire Comcast CEO Brian Roberts

Last night I spent a frustrating hour trying to cancel Showtime with Comcast, my current cable TV provider. I could not find (nor is there) any way to cancel any Comcast service online and their customer service department was closed.

Finally I was able to get chatty with one of those chatbots online who confirmed to me that there is simply no way to cancel Showtime on Comcast without speaking with a human representative. Even though the chatbot convinced me they were a human, they were not allowed to cancel it for me and I would need to try again tomorrow on the phone only. Interestingly enough I had no problem signing up for Showtime online originally, it’s just when you want to cancel that Comcast gives you such a hard time.

This morning after navigating the Comcast phone voice response menu I was finally able to talk to a human being, who tried to talk me out of cancelling my Showtime. I was committed though and I did finally get it cancelled.

I actually love Showtime and don’t mind paying for it. Masters of Sex and Ray Donovan are two of my favorite shows on right now. I also like the series Homeland. I had several reasons for cancelling it with *Comcast* though.

1. Why am I paying Comcast $19.99/month for Showtime when I can just buy it direct from Showtime on my AppleTV for a free 30 day trial and then $10.99/month after that?

2. Watching Showtime using the AppleTV app through Comcast is a royal pain in the ass. I’ve had to re-authenticate and prove I’m a paying cable customer at least 20 times with the app.

I go to watch one of my shows and am interrupted with a message and code on the AppleTV telling me that I have to go to Showtime online on my phone or computer and authenticate. Next I have to log into my Comcast account enter in the code from my television set and then after that I finally get my access.

I wouldn’t mind it if I did this one time, the first time I signed up for the app, but having to re-authenticate over and over and over again, especially late at night when I’m in bed and just want to watch my favorite show is a drag.

3. Last night I wanted to watch episode 2 of the current season of Master’s of Sex on the app but it wasn’t available. I could only watch episode 3. I have no idea why Comcast customers were not allowed to watch episode 1 or 2, but I didn’t want to watch episode 3, before episode 2, so I just gave up and didn’t get to watch a show that I’m paying $20/month for. No wonder so many people just say screw it and go to bitTorrent.

4. I hate the way Comcast abuses the AppleTV ecosystem. If I pay for CNN with Comcast, why do they not allow me to watch it on my AppleTV. Comcast’s decisions here feel entirely arbitrary. They will let me watch CNBC if I subscribe, but not CNN. I can watch HBO (although I have the same re-authentication problem there over and over again) but when my wife wants to watch Lifetime she has to figure out some weird hack to try to authenticate the app through some hard to find link in a forum on the internet.

It is clear to me that Comcast is purposely trying to make your AppleTV experience an ugly and difficult one and so any chance I can get to bypass Comcast and purchase premium content elsewhere, I’d rather do that — by contrast Netflix has always been an absolute breeze to use with my AppleTV.

According to Buzzfeed today, Apple is rolling out a new version of AppleTV in September which will be setting AppleTV up to offer their own subscription service in 2016. This is such welcome news. I love my AppleTVs and if I could get my content directly through Apple I’d love to cancel my Comcast cable TV subscription entirely.

I’m much more optimistic about an AppleTV service working on my AppleTV than Comcast’s current service. Also with AppleTV I can just buy a device one time and don’t need to have a cable box for every single TV in my house at a price of $10/month each. Will Apple finally be the one that saves us from Comcast?

My other beef with Comcast is their highspeed internet service. At present I’m paying for the maximum speeds I’m allowed which give me 120MBps down and 10MBps up. Frankly, in today’s world these just feel too slow to me — especially the 10MBps upload speeds. I use the internet a lot for uploading high res photos and I wish I could get faster upload speeds.

I was excited about Comcast’s new residential gigabit service announcement the other day until I saw the pricing for it: $1,000 to set it up and $320/month with a two year commitment. PC World lists the service at $300/month, but when I called to ask about it they told me that there would also be a $20/month equipment rental fee on top of that fee. That’s just too expensive for high speed internet.

By contrast Google sells their gigabit internet service for $70/month with no installation fee — which is even less than I’m paying Comcast today for my crappy 10MB/second upload speeds — for less money Google Fiber users can upload 100x faster than I can.

I was reluctantly willing to pay Comcast’s highway robbery fees for gigabit internet and was hopeful when a Comcast rep told me I could get it. They told me though that they would need to do a survey of my house in person to confirm and would call me for an appointment. I never heard back from them on this appointment so after a week I called them back only to be told that they did in fact do the survey and that I did not qualify at present.

Unfortunately AppleTV’s subscription television is not here…. yet. Unfortunately Google Fiber is not here… yet. Hopefully both of these services will eventually get to my neighborhood though. It would be so nice to just be able to cut Comcast out of my life entirely.

While I realize I could just go ahead and cut the cord right now, with a family of six, the rest of my household is just not ready to cut the cord yet and I’d have a mutiny on my hands if I cancelled our Comcast — so for now I continue to pay my $233/month. However, I’m looking optimistically towards the future, to a day when Apple and Google will let me cut Comcast out of my life for good.

How Apple Botched This Morning’s Livecast

How Apple Botched This Morning's Livecast

I’m a huge Apple fan. My wife and I both have an Apple iPhone 5s and both own MacBook Pros as our primary computers. We have 5 Apple TVs connected to the 5 TVs in our home. We have Mac minis in the kitchen and in the home office.

I’ve pretty much purchased just about every iPhone ever sold. I waited in line overnight for the very first iPhone down in Palo Alto.

So, as you can imagine, I was looking forward to this morning’s livecast of Apple’s new announcement.

Like millions of other Americans, however, the livecast took place at 10am on a Tuesday morning when I was at work. This is prime time as far as product announcements go. It doesn’t get any more prime time than Tuesdays at 10am.

I tried to watch the livecast at apple.com this morning from work. Unfortunately for me, however, the Apple livecast was only available on Apple products. That’s right, in order to watch this morning’s Apple livecast you had to stream the video from Safari, an Apple browser. So anyone on a PC could not watch.

Even though I’ve spent thousands of dollars buying Apple products for my home and for myself personally, like millions of other Americans, my work computer is a PC and that effectively locked me out of the Apple livecast. Why Apple can’t stream to Google Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer in 2014 boggles my mind, but for some reason this morning they could not.

This left me having to try and watch the livecast on my iPhone. Here I tried watching for about 30 minutes and then finally just gave up. The first 10 minutes or so it just gave me the weird Flint screen at the top of this post. After that it sort of connected, but it was hard to follow because the livecast was overdubbed with an annoying translator translating everything live into Chinese. I kept trying to relaunch the livecast and it would hang, or wouldn’t work, and after about a half hour I just gave up.

I was watching CNBC and trying to follow the announcement on TV, but even there when they pulled to a clip of Tim Cook talking about the new product it was with the annoying Chinese overdubbed translator on it.

Personally speaking I don’t think I’ll get an Apple Watch or an iPhone 6 — but Apple lost a great opportunity to try to sell me and millions of other people one by botching up their livecast so badly.

As far as the watch goes, I’m just not sure why I’d want one. I asked my 13 year old son what he thought of the Apple watch and he told me he thought it was stupid. Why would you want a watch when it already shows the time on your phone, he asked. I guess I sort of feel the same way. I don’t know what the Apple Watch would do for me that would make me want to have an uncomfortable thing strapped to my wrist.

As far as the iPhone 6 goes, the best I can tell is that it’s bigger and bigger is supposed to be, well, bigger? I don’t need bigger on my phone. The size is fine as it is. There was also something about payments in today’s livecast I think, but I’m not sure why I would want to use my iPhone to pay for things. These days I mostly use credit cards because I try to maximize my points/miles I get on purchases. I suppose it would be cool if my phone stored my reward credit cards, but that’s not really something that would make me buy a new phone.

For future presentations, Apple should consider hiring a more reliable company to do the livecast for them or maybe just stream it to YouTube, Google seems to do better at that sort of thing. They should also be aware that if they are going to announce a new product at 10am on a Tuesday morning, that many of their potential customers will be at work and on PCs and they should consider allowing you to stream the livecast from your PC. It’s really not that difficult to stream video to a PC these days, certainly a technology company with Apple’s mad skillz can figure that out.

More of a technical analysis on why the livecast was so badly botched this morning here. (Thanks Buzz!)

More from the Verge.

Converting from Android Back to the iPhone, Initial Observations

I’ve been using smartphones for a long time. I was an original owner of what I believe was the very first smart phone, the Kyocera PDQ 800 back in 2000. I had a couple of Microsoft Windows based phones after that. I waited in line down in Palo Alto with my pal Robert Scoble to get the very first iPhone when it was launched back in 2007. I then upgraded to an iPhone 3G, then an iPhone 3Gs. I skipped the iPhone 4 opting instead to give Android a run for the money. I switched to a Samsung Vibrant in 2010 and then in 2011 to a Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

On Friday my new iPhone 5s arrived.

I returned to the dark side of Apple for a lot of different reasons. I hated the poor battery life on both of my previous Android phones. I hated that it felt like the only way to get updates on Android phones was to buy a new Android phone. I thought it sucked how difficult it was getting updated software and I thought Google didn’t do enough to pressure the hardware manufacturers and carriers to better support Android updates in the aftermarket.

A lot of things felt broken on my Android phones all the time. Things crashed, didn’t work, etc. People kept suggesting that I “root” my phone to fix things — but I didn’t want to root my phone. I’m not a phone geek. I just want something really good that consistently works with little effort.

On my recent trip to New York City last month, I felt like I spent the whole trip apologizing to people who couldn’t get a hold of me on my Nexus because it was constantly dead. I didn’t dare listen to music on it or it would die even faster.

It’s totally unfair to compare my new iPhone with a 2 year old Galaxy Nexus, but I’m going to do it anyways. Maybe Android’s come a long way since my Nexus, but I’m not interested in shelling out $500 to see if in fact this is the case — not after feeling like I’ve been burned twice with my last two Android phones.

I’ve only been using my new iPhone for a few days, but here are my initial observations.

1. The iPhone battery is wayyy better than my old phone. Last night I went to bed with my iPhone fully charged, but unplugged. This morning it had 98% of it’s battery life still. That was amazing to me. My Nexus would have been dead. It’s so nice having a phone that actually has a battery life.

2. The internet reception is better on this phone than my Nexus. For the last two years I’ve thought that Verizon just had really crappy internet service in the Ferry Building here in San Francisco. It turns out it was my phone! All the places in the Ferry Building where I couldn’t get Verizon LTE service on my Android, now work perfectly with Verizon LTE on my iPhone. I was so frustrated all the time when my LTE connection wouldn’t work on my old phone. I was constantly blaming Verizon when the real culprit was MY PHONE! Verizon LTE works GREAT. I just needed the right phone.

3. I didn’t care about the fingerprint technology on the new iPhone. I never locked my Nexus and didn’t think I’d lock this one — I’m one of those optimists who never thinks they will lose their phone. It turns out that the fingerprint tech is so easy that I do now lock my iPhone. I totally get that the NSA likely now has my fingerprint, but I don’t care about stuff like that.

4. It’s nice to be able to hear my music again. One of the things that I disliked about my old Nexus was the music volume. It was too low at max volume. Sometimes when you are on a train or something you want the music louder. The iPhone music can go louder and that’s nice.

5. It’s nice having my iPhone sync with my iTunes. I transferred about 7,000 of my favorite songs on it. I tried downloading doubleTwist to somehow port my iTunes to my old Nexus, but I could never get it working. I think my music library was too large for doubleTwist or something. Letting iTunes manage my music flawlessly with my iPhone is great.

6. My new iPhone just feels better. I don’t know how to describe it. It feels more responsive, more accurate, faster. It feels smoother. The Flickr and Google+ apps flow easier on it.

7. The first shocker for me was how much smaller the phone and the screen felt to me. I got over this quickly and barely notice at this point.

8. I don’t really feel like I’m missing the best Google stuff from my Nexus. I can get Google Maps on my iPhone. I can get Gmail on my iPhone. I can get Google Chrome on my iPhone. All of the best things that sort of set Google apart initially for me as an incentive to go Android feel like they are now on iPhone.

9. Setting up my new iPhone took me a lot longer than I thought it would. Some of this was my fault and some was the phone’s I think. I couldn’t activate it at first. My phone couldn’t connect to the activation server. I finally got it activated and it wouldn’t connect with my wifi at home initially (now it works fine). I had to download all of my favorite apps. It seemed to take longer to download my apps than I would have liked. I had to reset some passwords because I’m always forgetting my passwords (on Flickr now your password must include upper and lowercase letters, a number, a special character AND be at least 8 digits!) I spent about an hour trying to figure out how to get my Google Calendar into my iPhone calendar. It turns out what was screwing me up was two step authentication. Once I turned that off at Google it worked.

Thanks to everyone online on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc. who gave me input on what phone I should buy next. Rosa Golijan was especially helpful. 🙂

Apple: The Perfect Retail Experience

Happy Birthday to My Totally Awesome Daughter Holly!

Disclaimer: Obviously people will have different experiences at different Apple stores at different times. This is just a single experience, in a single store, at a single point in time.

Today is my daughter Holly’s birthday. She’s been asking for an iPad for her birthday for months. I’ve been telling her that an iPad is too expensive, but I broke down yesterday after work and stopped by the Union Square Apple Store in San Francisco to buy her one. She was thrilled and ecstatic to receive it — can you tell by her photo above 🙂

I’ve purchased many things at many different Apple Stores over the years, but yesterday’s experience was so fluid and flawless that I thought I’d write a short post about it.

5pm (approximately) I walk into the store. I don’t get more than two feet into the store before making eye contact with an Apple employee strategically positioned by the door. “Welcome to Apple,” he says. “Can I help you something?”

“I’d like to buy an iPad,” I reply.

“Ok, great,” he says. “Would you like an iPad or an iPad Mini?”

“I’d like an iPad,” I reply.

“Ok, do you just want the basic 16GB one?”

“Yes.”

“Alright, hold on, I’ll be right back.”

Less than two minutes later he returns with a new iPad in a shrink wrapped box.

“Would you like to put this on a credit card?”

“Yes,” handing him my American Express.

“Can I see your ID?”

I hand him my drivers license, he confirms it’s me, hands it back, says thanks and runs my card through a hand held device.

While the device is running the card he asks me, “are you buying your iPad for business or pleasure?”

I tell him that it’s for my daughter’s birthday. “Great,” he says.

A few seconds later he hands me his electronic device and asks me to sign it with my finger. I sign it with my finger.

“Would you like a printed copy of your receipt, or is just an email fine,” he asks. (God I HATE printed receipts, email receipts are sooooo awesome!).

I tell him that an email is perfect. “Ok,” he confirms, “to tom(at)thomashawk.com.”

“That would be great,” I answer back.

“Alright we’re all set then,” he says, “do you need a bag?”

“No,” I reply, “thanks for the help,” and put the iPad into my own bag and walk out the store — and just like that, four minutes later, I’m done.

This morning I received a follow up survey in my email about my experience at the Apple store. How could I not give them the highest possible ranking in every category?

Being able to walk into a store and purchase something right there at the entrance in less than five minutes is the absolute height of customer service. It’s delighting a customer who will certainly remember that experience the next time it comes to making a purchase and who will be back. No wonder so many people are buying Apple products.

Steve Jobs RIP

Sad news today.

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

— Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement speech, June 2005

Why I’ll Probably Switch Back to an iPhone From Android When the New iPhones Come Out

Rumor has it that iPhone 5 will be coming out this Summer/Fall and there’s a good chance that I’ll make the switch then from Android back to the iPhone. I’d owned every new iPhone up until iPhone 4 when I decided to make a switch to the Android operating system last Fall. I mostly made the change I think because I hated AT&T so much, but I’d also heard a lot of good things about Android and wanted to give it a try. After 9 months of Android now I think I’m ready to make the switch back. Here are the reasons why.

1. The iPhone 4 is now on Verizon and maybe iPhone5 will be on other carriers besides AT&T (whose network always sucked when I used it).

2. Updating the operating system on your Android phone is a huge pain in the ass. In order to update my Samsung Galaxy Vibrant from the Eclair operating system to the Froyo operating system (keep in mind that Google’s working on honeycomb now apparently, which is two operating updates ahead of what I just updated to), I had to go through hell to get it done. No OTA for Samsung. No iTunes for Samsung. No, I had to manually find the file somewhere on the web on a confusing website, download it to a Windows machine (yes Windows only), and update my phone through a long confusing process. And this was only *after* Samsung/TMobile were sued!

By contrast, I can trust Apple that any updates available for my iPhone will be easily available to me, making my phone better and better in the future.

3. The stupid little things matter. Apple is really, really, really good about making sure that their devices just work right. They just do what their supposed to do. They’re not wonky or contain little stupid glitches.

For example. Let’s say I’m walking to my office and I have a little battery life left. Presently my Android device automatically dims my display to an unreadable level. This is fine and I can certainly appreciate them wanting to look out for me in preserving what battery life I have left. But… since I’m 5 minutes from my office, where I know I can plug my device in again, I’d just as soon go ahead and use what little battery life I have left for a display that I can actually see. So I manually go into the settings and change the brightness slider to full strength. Then I go back to my phone and start using it again. It stays bright until I hit a web page and then it goes back to the super dim screen. That’s just dumb. My manual setting should stick. But it doesn’t.

Another example. I will plug my Android phone in to it’s charger and the screen comes on. I don’t know why. The screen doesn’t need to come on — but it does. So I hit the button to turn it off — only it won’t turn off, the screen is locked — so I have to unlock the screen, *then* push the screen off button and it goes off. Of course inexplicably the next morning the screen is back on again when I go to get my phone. Did I mention that I have screen burn on my Android phone now?

4. The battery life on this thing sucks ass. With my old iPhone I’d keep it plugged in all day at work. I’d then leave work, use it on the way home, use it at home and when I got up in the morning I always had enough charge to last me until I got to work again where I could plug it in and recharge. Not so with Android.

If I don’t plug my phone in to charge both at work *and* home, I will not have a charge enough for my morning commute the next morning. I don’t think that it’s the phone or the battery that are inferior. I think it’s that the stupid operating system uses power when it shouldn’t be. When I have the phone display off in the middle of the night, there is no reason at all why the screen should come back on (but it does, like to remind me that I have low battery, doh!). The phone should hibernate similarly to how Apple’s does so that when I want to use it again the next morning I can.

5. The fact that I can’t turn off the blaring tmobile dingle sound that goes off really loudly when I turn my phone on or off is terrible. Let’s say I’m at the movie theater. And I now want to turn off my phone. Why can’t I just turn it off without that loud sound? Why won’t Android/Tmobile allow me to disable that sound altogether? Why isn’t there an app for that?

6. Speaking of apps, Android still lags here. I miss using Hipstamtic. Yeah Android has Vignette and some other photo apps, but they aren’t as good. And I’m totally missing out on the whole Instagram thing, which is iPhone only.

7. TMobile started throttling me. When I first bought the Samsung/TMobile phone TMobile wasn’t throttling me. Now they are. It’s simply unbearable. The internet is so slow, I get bitchy and go after them on Twitter constantly and it’s no good for anyone all the way around. I’m not sure if Verizon is any better, but it can’t be any worse I’m guessing.

8. The music player on Android is terrible. I want my iTunes playlists back. It’s so much easier getting my playlists on an iPhone. It wouldn’t be so bad if that’s all it was, but it’s not. The music player on the Android phone is just downright awful. The only way I can make a playlist is to do it on the phone, one by one by one.

9. Contacts are borked. Supposedly people that I put in my Google contacts will autopopulate into my Android phone contact list. Like I said… “supposedly.”

10. The whole ease of use thing sucks. I’m not a phone genius. I shouldn’t have to be. The settings on my Android phone never seem to be where they are supposed to be. Finding things is hard. Navigating the interface takes work. I’m constantly having to set some thing called USB debugging on (which so counterintuitively is under the applications menu, under development, under USB debugging) just to transfer files between my hard drive and my phone’s memory card. It’s stuff like that that I learn to do, but are just a pain. Apple seems to care more about the non-phone developer getting around the iPhone. I shouldn’t have to be an Android developer to know how the settings work or where everything is at.

Two things I’ll probably miss with my Android phone. The GMail app is really good. Also the maps are really good, the way that they interact with Google Maps. Hopefully the new iPhone has a way that I can import my custom Google Maps into the iPhone maps interface. But maybe not. If it doesn’t, this may just have to be something that I have to live with. But a plus for the iPhone is also that I can use it as a remote control for my AppleTV.

So I Replaced My Microsoft Media Center Set Up With an AppleTV

Apple TV

Last month I replaced the last remaining PC in my home with a MacBook Pro. I used to have three PCs in my house. Now we are officially a 100% Mac family (two MacBook Pros and a Mac Mini). I decided to replace the last PC (my Media Center PC) when it stopped working in regular mode and could only be used in “Safe Mode.”

I thought about getting another PC. But there were three reasons why I didn’t.

1. I wasn’t happy with the errors that I’d consistently get on my PC (including this most recent problem of it only working in “safe mode”).

2. Media Center never did a good job managing my large digital library.

3. I needed to rethink my home media strategy as I didn’t like the idea that Microsoft likes to bone you $60 for each media center extender you play netflix on ($180 a year in my case — and really short-sighted thinking on their part when everybody else lets you watch it on their devices for free).

I’ve been super happy with my other two Macs and find them much easier to use and less error prone than PCs — so I decided to replace my dying Media Center PC with a MacBook Pro and get AppleTV to work as my new Media Center strategy.

So here are the Pros and Cons of this new setup.

Pros:

1. Music worked perfectly right away. My old Media Center extenders (XBox 360s) sometimes would hang for 15 minutes or more before the music would start. Not AppleTV. I simply turned on sharing on my Mac Book Pro and AppleTV effortlessly allowed me to navigate to my 5 star smart playlist and played the music immediately. For some reason none of my album art ever seems to show up, but hey, getting the music going quickly and easily with a library of almost 105,000 mp3s is *huge*. Good job Apple.

Netflix on Apple TV
Netflix on AppleTV

2. $99 for a media player that streams Netflix for free is a good deal. A Roku would have been cheaper, but I don’t think a Roku necessarily would have played as nicely with my Macs and I wasn’t sure about what music and photos would look like on a Roku. It’s nice also that Apple doesn’t feel the need to charge you a $60 per year tax on their device in order to watch the Netflix content that you are already paying for like Microsoft does.

Slide Show Transitions on Apple TV

3. Once you get the photos to actually work (more on this below), the Ken Burns interface is very elegant. There are a lot of interesting transitional effects that can be randomized and used for watching your photos on AppleTV. Also for whatever reason, my photos feel like they look better on AppleTV than they did on Windows Media Center. Cleaner. Crisper. Sharper. Less Noise. I’m not sure if they are being streamed at different resolutions or if this is just in my head, but the photos seem to look better on AppleTV.

4. It’s nice that I can set a default playlist to my slide shows. With my old Media Center PC I had to start up my music. And then go start up my photos. Twice the work. With my new AppleTV I can just start up my photos and have it remember the main playlist that I set up by default (my 5 star playlist).

5. Netflix is super slick. Best Netflix interface I’ve seen yet. Much better than the Netflix interface on the Xbox 360 or the wii. In addition to my queue, it has new releases, suggestions, genres and lots of other ways of elegantly looking up things to watch by the cover art.

6. The kids love YouTube. I didn’t think I’d care much about the YouTube integration, but this is the thing the kids are most excited about and so far have watched the most. My son Jackson really likes watching skateboarding and yoyo videos. There is no shortage of these on YouTube and he loves being able to watch it on the big screen. The kids are already very comfortable with YouTube on the computer, so it was an easy transition for them to the TV. Some of the YouTube videos though wouldn’t load and gave me errors.

7. Movie trailers. It’s nice being able to see all of the movie trailers currently playing in the theater in an easy one page format — this will come in handy when the family is sitting around on Thanksgiving trying to figure out what movie to go see.

8. Design. Both the remote and the unit itself are tiny! I really like that I don’t need yet another big bulky box or big bulky remote control in my living room. Exceptional design from Apple as usual — not only great design, but the device is perfectly silent — unlike the XBox 360 which, although quiet, does make some noise when it operates. I’m guessing that my tiny black AppleTV uses less power than an XBox 360 as well, but have no idea on this really and haven’t looked into the power consumption.

Cons

1. Getting my photos to play was an absolute disaster. There are two ways you can share photos for Apple TV (both go through iTunes). You can either point iTunes to a folder full of photos or you can point iTunes to an iPhoto library. Obviously I have a lot of photos. When I first tried setting it up, I tried pointing iTunes to a master photo folder (all JPGs) of mine with about 30,000 photos in it. When I’d launch photos in AppleTV it would act like it was going to load and I’d get a spinning wheel for about 1 minute and then it would just crap out. Nothing. No error message, no explanation — it just wouldn’t load my photos and would go back to the screen it was on before I’d tried to start.

I then changed my setup and pointed it to a folder with only 5,000 photos. Certainly AppleTV can handle streaming 5,000 photos no? No. I had the same problem here — same behavior — it just refused to load the images. I tried this with both a wifi connection and actually plugging in an ethernet cable into my AppleTV box. Neither one could get my photos to load.

I posted on this problem in an Apple Forum, but the post went unanswered. Apple should offer some sort of disclaimer that unless you are trying to share 20 or 30 photos that pointing directly to a folder on your hard drive might be ill advised — certainly it couldn’t handle folders with 30,000 or 5,000 photos in them.

So I gave up on trying to import my photos from a folder and instead begrudgingly decided to attempt to import some of my photos into iPhoto. There are two ways that you can set up iPhoto. By having it create a “Managed Library” or a “Reference Library.” With a managed library iPhoto actually makes a copy of every single photo of yours and includes it in the library. I started out this way but aborted as my iPhoto library was at 50GB and getting larger and larger and I didn’t want to deal with this sort of a mammoth library file, or the space it was taking up on my hard drive.

I then set up a Reference Library (not copying original files into my library) and was able to get iPhoto to import 5,000 photos (and later another 25,000 photos). Unfortunately these photos don’t appear in your iTunes right away to share. You have to wait several hours *after* the import is complete before iTunes can actually see them in iPhoto. If you want to set up a smaller “reference library” instead of a “managed library” in iPhoto, go to Preferences, Advanced and uncheck the box that says “copy items to the iPhoto library.”

All in all, I spent about 48 hours screwing around with trying to get photos to work in AppleTV before getting 30,000 or so of them accessible. It still isn’t 100% though and performance is still a bit spotty.

After getting photos working on Sunday night, when I tried to see my photo library on Monday morning it had disappeared again. I rebooted my AppleTV, rebooted my Mac, launched iTunes and iPhoto and then in a few hours it showed back up again. I’d have expected more from Apple in this regard.

2. There seems to be no way to fast forward a song while you are watching a photo slideshow. I like that the remote is so small and elegant with just a few buttons. Unfortunately skipping to the next song while watching a slideshow with music is something that I’d like to be able to do (and would seem like pretty basic functionality) and I can’t figure out a way to do this on AppleTV.

My 5 Star list has all kinds of songs in it. Black Flag’s “Rise Above” is definitely a 5 Star for me. But if your 5 Star list is playing during a dinner party, it might be nice to be able to fast forward it to something a little more mellow, like Damien Rice or Peter Gabriel or Neil Diamond or some other such thing. Same goes for that 5 Star Eminem song where he’s swearing his head off and talking about murdering his ex-wife. Sometimes not the best song to play if you’re hanging with the kids in the living room. I can’t believe that there is not a way to fast forward songs while in slide show mode on AppleTV.

3. AppleTV doesn’t have an option to show song information when songs end and start. One of the things that I loved about my Media Center PC, is that I could turn on a feature that would allow song, album, artist, album art thumbnail information to show on the screen for a few seconds when songs started and ended. Sort of like an MTV video. Unfortunately AppleTV doesn’t seem to allow this and if you want to see what song it was that was playing you have to completely abort the photo slideshow to see it.

4. No LastFM or Pandora. AppleTV does have some digital radio stations, but no LastFM or Pandora. That’s too bad as I love both of those services. I’m not sure if this is Apple locking out these two interesting music channels, or if they don’t want to develop for AppleTV. I’d suspect the former. Why is it that I can have Pandora on my Mac, Pandora on my iPhone, even Pandora on an iPad, just not Pandora on an AppleTV? At least my XBox 360s supported LastFM.

5. Some of the prices for digital content feel high. $5 for a movie download? Really Apple? No thanks. It’s cheaper at the Redbox down at the 7/11. $5 is too much to pay for a movie. $.99 is about right for a TV show — but should all TV shows be treated equally? I might pay $.99 for an hour long episode of Mad Men — but for a 22 minute episode of Zack and Luther that the kids want to watch? Children’s programming and programming less than a half hour should be discounted. Or even better, maybe Apple should offer a bulk discount package. 15 hours of TV (regardless of content) for $10 or something like that.

In fairness, maybe this rant ought to be directed more at Apple and iTunes than AppleTV, but since AppleTV locks out all other ala carte content competitors, it seems appropriate for me to mention it here.

6. You must have a TV that has HDMI inputs. A lot of older flat screen TVs don’t. This was not a problem for me in our living room where we have a newer 64″ plasma. But it will be a problem in the bedroom where the old 42″ Pioneer plasma went that doesn’t have an HDMI input. I was able to find this thread about converting component video connections to HDMI, but it feels like a daunting task.