One Home Screen on Apple TV – one big pain in the backside

When making major changes to how devices work, it’s important to not foist them on users – and to at least enable reversion should someone not like something. The new Apple TV OS, tvOS 11, failed for me on both counts.

I have two Apple TVs: one is in the office, used as a ‘review’ device for my app and game round-ups; the other’s in the living room, and used primarily for watching telly.

On turning on the living room Apple TV recently, I was surprised to see its intentionally stripped-down Home screen suddenly littered with dozens of games and apps. It turns out it had implemented One Home Screen, a new Apple TV feature that syncs Home screens across your devices.

This was mildly irritating. What pushed it over the edge into bafflingly stupid was when I turned this feature off, all the ‘new’ apps and games remained. And if you know how much of a pain in the backside it is to remove tvOS apps, you’ll know the next half hour wasn’t exactly a thrill ride.

Perhaps this was a glitch, but I’d have much preferred a dialog box to confirm the sync, rather than the Apple TV wrongly assuming I wanted One Home Screen on, and merrily doing what it wanted all by itself.

October 12, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Dear Apple: it’s time to steal an idea from Google for your iOS App Store

Apple says iTunes 12.7 has been “updated to focus on music, films, TV programmes, podcasts and audiobooks”. In other words, the iOS App Store is dead on desktop. The only remnants are iTunes Preview pages for apps, which can be viewed in a browser.

The lack of a desktop component for iOS apps means some things are now impossible. You cannot browse the iOS App Store on the desktop, download and manage local copies of apps (to, for example, later reinstall apps that are no longer available), redeem promo codes on a Mac, install apps to your devices from macOS, nor queue them for later if you’re tight for space.

Google Play’s approach at least manages to do some of these things. You can browse the entirety of Google Play from Safari, and buy/install apps, choosing which of your Android devices to send them to.

Google has always been more comfortable with the internet than Apple, and in this area Apple now falls short. If I’m reading about great iOS apps or games on my PC or Mac, I can no longer quickly grab them in iTunes, and later download them to my iOS devices. There’s not even a wish-list option. I now have to send myself a link, or switch to an iOS device. (Also, some apps are device-specific, and I still can’t buy an iPad app from an iPhone, which is absurd.)

Apple should steal an idea from Google. It should be possible to buy apps directly from iTunes Preview, and choose where to send them. Better: iTunes Preview should grow to become the entire iOS App Store online, giving greater visibility to apps, and freeing browsing and buying them from the confines of iOS.

The other downsides of iTunes losing the App Store are likely permanent losses. Apple doesn’t want you making local app archives. Apple doesn’t want you installing old apps that may have compatibility and security issues. Apple does, though, want your money – and having a web-based take on the App Store would further that goal.

September 18, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Relying on smartphones is the opposite of future-proofing

I’ve written several times about the impending appocalypse. If you’ve not heard, 32-bit apps are dead as of iOS 11. They simply won’t open. This will consign many great iOS apps and games to oblivion.

Fortunately, many games have been updated since the issue became widely known, including Osmos, Beat Sneak Bandit, Mos Speedrun, and the original Reckless Racing, but a recent TidBITS piece by Marc Zeedar flagged another important issue regarding swathes of apps ceasing to function:

Worst of all, some of my obsolete apps are linked to hardware. For instance, years ago I bought a toy car that’s controlled via an app on my iPhone. That app is on my obsolete list. When it goes, the car is useless.

For Stuff magazine, I recently reviewed smart robot Cozmo and Sphero’s R2-D2. Both are very good – I was particularly taken by the former – but both are also totally reliant on smartphones to function, to the point that they stop working the second you close their controller apps.

It’s curious to think that as technology evolves, and companies furiously try to interlink everything, we’re setting ourselves up to make so much technology obsolete. At some point in the future, these controller apps will simply stop working, after an OS update. Then Artoo and Cozmo will be little more than paperweights.

You could of course keep an old device specifically as a controller for a favourite, but it’s sad to think we’re zooming away from electronic toys a child might one day be able to share with their own children. And that’s all before we start thinking about smartphones and apps being vital for critical aspects of a home, such as security, lighting, heating, and dealing with appliances.

Still, I’m sure it’s all worth it to not have to get off of your arse to turn on a light.

September 6, 2017. Read more in: Opinions, Technology

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Burger King, ‘OK, Google’, and the effect of intrusive advertising

You’ve probably heard by now that Burger King in its infinite wisdom decided to run an advert that had someone leaning into the camera to say: “OK, Google, what is the Whopper burger?” Cue: every Google device within earshot obediently reading the Wikipedia article about one of the company’s burgers.

Google’s since put out a fix, which I assume had the code name ‘Die, Burger King, die’, and reports suggest the company’s working to have devices respond to owners rather than anyone.

Speaking to BuzzFeed, Burger King president José Cil argued it was a “cool way to connect directly with our guests”. I’d argue it was a clever way to get column inches, but the company seemingly makes the assumption everyone is a potential Burger King customer, and is happy to be in on the experiment.

More bafflingly, in the Guardian’s report, Charlie Crowe, president of a publishing and events company, appeared to back Burger King, although he started well when talking about the nature of the advert. “Any advertising or media idea which provokes us to think about the absurdities of modern day digital life is, in itself, a good thing,” he said — and that in itself is a good point, as is: “Perhaps what is so unnerving about this is that it makes us think about how digital technology is impacting our lives in ways we are only beginning to appreciate.”

But then he added: “Maybe this all is a little uncomfortable… so why shouldn’t this make us want to leave our homes and visit a Burger King with our friends?” Frankly, any company overstepping the mark into my living room and disrupting my world uninvited can piss right off. But perhaps this is it now: intrusive and aggressive advertising is here to stay. It’s not about winning you over, but bludgeoning you into submission, so you’ll buy something or visit an outlet, in the hope that the companies in question will eventually leave you alone.

April 13, 2017. Read more in: Technology

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Are you Siri-ous?

Google FTW! Siri is awful! That’s the typical opinion throughout the tech sphere, and one Matt Bircher aims to nix in his video.

Bircher makes plenty of good points, although largely showcases all of these AIs have a long way to go. Mostly, I’ve discovered Siri’s shortcomings while trying to use the thing in the car.

Naturally, I’m not a massive idiot when it comes to driving. I reduce technology usage as much as possible, and avoid touching my iPhone’s display. But maps are pretty important things to have available, not least when you, say, take a wrong turn on the way to the airport and end up zooming towards Gatwick when you should be picking up your wife from Heathrow, thereby very rapidly needing to know the fastest route in the right direction.

Me: Hey, Siri! Get me directions to Heathrow Airport, Terminal 2!
Siri: Which Heathrow airport terminal? Tap the one you want.

Yeah, thanks, Siri. I’m driving. I’m not going to be tapping anything. And your list omits terminal two, which is even better. Apparently, you cannot comprehend that when I asked for directions to Terminal 2, I wanted directions to Terminal 2.

After two more frustrating attempts, I hit upon a cunning plan:

Me: Hey, Siri! Launch Google.
Google launches
Me: OK, Google, get me directions to Heathrow Airport, Terminal 2.

Done. Instantly. Which of course means Google is amazing and Siri isn’t. Apart from during another car journey where it appears the two had got drunk together.

Me: Hey, Siri! Open Google Maps.
Siri: OK, here’s the App Store.

Me: Hey, Siri! Send a message to my wife.
Siri: You have no new messages.

Me: OK, Google! When’s the next train from Gatwick to North Camp?
Google: spews out a load of web searches for The Train Line and carries on drinking gin with Siri
Me: wishes driverless cars would arrive a whole lot sooner

February 15, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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