Attention, technology fans! Are you thinking of buying an iMac or a MacBook? Do you already own one? If so, then you MUST make sure you’re following the rules of ownership. Chances are, if you already own a Mac, you’re already obeying the rules, because they mostly seem to come naturally. But read on to make sure.
In general, you just need to remember that it’s the very opposite of Fight Club. Rather than not talking about your Mac, you must do so whenever possible. It is imperative for you to understand that everyone will be very interested in hearing about it, even if it means steering an unrelated conversation around to your Mac just to remind people that you have one.
That’s a bit vague, and it’ll take you a little while to perfect it. In the meantime, here are some specific tips on how you should start to act after you buy your Mac.
1) NEVER refer to having a ‘computer’ or ‘laptop’. This is a wasted opportunity. You should always talk about your iMac or MacBook. This might seem odd at first, but you’ll soon get used to it. Just remember, you can’t remind people enough that you own a Mac. Never use a generic term when the brand name is so much more powerful.
2) Quickly reach the conclusion that, while your life might have seemed fine without a Mac, it really wasn’t. It was hollow and incomplete, and the Mac is key to your happiness and fulfilment. Ensure that you appropriately blend condescension, derision and pity when telling Windows users about their terrible, terrible lives. After all, they need to know that you’re one of life’s winners. Show them the path to enlightenment by scoffing at their choices and disregarding any reasons they might have for not choosing a Mac. Remember, you have right and a glowing Apple logo on your side.
3) At least half of all pictures that you post to Instagram must contain your Mac. But keep in mind, you don’t want to show off too brazenly or there’s a chance that people might dislike you (unlikely, for who wouldn’t like a Mac owner?). Fortunately, there’s a subtle way to adhere to the rule. Take pictures of objects – books, tickets, video games, chocolate bars, anything – but ensure that your Mac is always visible in the background. On most occasions, it will not fall naturally into the shot and will need to be placed there deliberately. And that’s fine. The object in the foreground isn’t important. Yes, it’s very nice for people to know that you have tickets to the hottest show in town, but more essentially, they need to be reminded that you own a Mac. Instagram subliminal advertising will achieve this goal.
4) At least half of all the pictures that you LIKE on Instagram must contain a Mac. Remember, people can see what pictures you like. You don’t only own a Mac; you like other people who do. This one is easy to follow, because Mac owners will be adhering to the rule above. Just remember: don’t like any pictures that contain a Windows laptop. You have standards, after all.
5) Use meaningless Apple speak to refer to parts of your Mac. For example, why call your CD/DVD writer by a term that everyone understands, when you can instead use the word ‘SuperDrive’? You’re part of an exclusive club now, and people will appreciate you using the lingo. Never say “I’m having a problem with my mouse” when you can say “I’m having a problem with my Magic Mouse”. You see? It’s obvious when you think about it. Not that you should ever utter that sample sentence, for reasons covered in the next point.
6) Limit your talk of Genius Bar appointments. You SHOULD mention the benefit of Apple’s retail stores and on-hand customer service, but you don’t want to give out mixed messages. Talking about Genius Bar appointments reminds everyone that you have a Mac, but it also harms the idea that nothing ever goes wrong with them. You’ve made a superior choice. Don’t undermine that with insinuations that it isn’t perfect.
7) You will take many self-portraits (known from this point as ‘selfies’) using your Mac’s FaceTime HD camera (remember to keep using that terminology – NEVER say ‘webcam’). In all selfies that you upload to social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, you must be wearing your Apple EarPods. Although your Mac does not appear in the picture, people will appreciate a reminder that you, as an ambassador for good taste and style, only buy Apple. (NOTE: You may, on occasion, wear Beats by Dr Dre headphones around your neck to show that you’re fashionable, but be aware that this can confuse the desired message. Use EarPods until you are confident that you understand the balance required.)
8) Take screenshots of your FaceTime chats and post them to social networks. You own a Mac, you talk to other people who own Macs, and everyone needs to know about it. If you both wear EarPods during the call, the previous point becomes even more potent. Feel free to make a silly face for the screenshot. Owning a Mac is fun! Everyone needs to know. Aim to post a FaceTime screenshot AT LEAST once a week.
Follow these rules to the letter and you’re sure to be well-liked and popular. People will never tire of hearing about your Mac. If anyone shows a reaction other than complete enthusiasm for your efforts, remember that they’re just jealous of you. And why should you care? After all, they don’t own a Mac, and you do. You win. Every time, you win. You’re an absolute hero. Never forget it, and never let anyone else forget it. They’ll thank you in the end.
“Physical media is dead!” they said. “You don’t need an optical drive these days!” they said. And yet, I’ve bought a brand new laptop with just such a drive. Why would I do such a thing in this age of digital delivery, you might ask? Is it because I’m a dinosaur, rooted in the past and clinging to outmoded forms of acquiring media? Perhaps. But there’s a little more to it than that.
First of all, I should clarify that I’m really not a technological dinosaur. I like digital delivery. I like being able to hear a song on the radio and have it on my iPhone almost instantly. Obviously, I download software to my computer. And I have a Kindle. Acquiring stuff digitally is great. It’s immediate, it’s convenient, and it makes my life easier. But we’re moving towards a position where digital is the only option, and I don’t think that’s good for the consumer. I should clarify here that of course, I’m talking about acquiring content legitimately. If you get your software by other means, you’re hardly going to be affected by it not being available in the shops.
Let’s look at two pieces of software that I’ve got since buying my laptop: Adobe Lightroom 4 and Sony Movie Studio Platinum 12 Suite. I got the physical versions of both products and installed them from the DVDs. From Amazon, Lightroom cost £92.50 and Movie Studio cost £39.99. (Okay, so Studio was from a third-party seller, but it was fulfilled by Amazon and so qualified for all the usual things like Super Saver Delivery.) If my laptop didn’t have an optical drive and I wanted to buy the software, digital download would really have been my only option (short of buying an external DVD drive, or using someone else’s machine and installing over a network). Heading over to Adobe’s website, I see that Lightroom 4 costs £106.45 (£3 more than the boxed physical equivalent from their own site). And at Sony, Movie Studio Platinum 12 Suite costs £79.95 (cheaper than the boxed version from their own site, but only because they charge an even more extortionate price for that). So, downloading those two pieces of software directly from the manufacturers would have cost me £53.91 more than it did to get the physical copies delivered from Amazon. £53.91 MORE. For content delivered digitally.
And talking about Amazon brings me neatly on to the Kindle. I don’t use my Kindle nearly as much as I’d like to, and that’s for one reason only: price. Now, I don’t deny that there are many bargains to be had on the Kindle Store, with many books available for under £1 or even free. But that’s almost never the case with big new releases or popular titles. Often, those books are the same price or even more expensive than their physical counterparts. That bothers me to such an extent that I refuse to buy them. Why would I pay more for a download than for a physical book, which has the associated costs of printing and distribution attached to it? The problem, you see, is that Amazon can’t undercut prices here, because the publishers are able to set the price of ebooks. Amazon make it clear on the product page that they haven’t set the price, but that doesn’t make it any less unpalatable that you’re paying what seems like a very high price. Why should a digital file cost as much as a hardback book?
It’s the same story with games. The much maligned but now supposedly fixed Sim City is £44.99 to download directly from Origin. But if you have an optical drive and don’t mind waiting for the DVD to arrive, it can be had for £34.99 from… you guessed it, Amazon. You’ll see the same story in the Playstation and Xbox digital delivery stores.
I’m not naïve enough to think there are no costs associated with digital delivery. Take the ebooks for Kindle. You’re not just downloading a relatively small file to your device. You’re having that file and other data like bookmarks synced across your devices and stored in the cloud so that it can be downloaded again whenever you feel like it. It’s much the same with software, although often to a lesser extent. In reality, all Adobe and Sony are doing is maintaining the files on a server and allowing people to download them. I refuse to believe that those costs are anything like the ones associated with producing and shipping physical media. Similarly, the printing and distribution costs for a hardback book must be many times the total cost of delivering the same book digitally. So, it feels like we’re being exploited for the convenience of having it without delay. I struggle to see why a digital download should ever cost more than the physical equivalent.
But of course, I do know why. It’s really nothing to do with the costs that the companies incur. It’s about a lack of competition in the marketplace, and that’s why I worry about the increasing trend of things being delivered by download. Right now, if I want a game for my computer, I have the option of going to a computer game shop (providing they haven’t gone bust) or a supermarket, ordering it from any number of online retailers, or opting for the digital download. But increasingly, computers don’t have optical drives, and I can easily foresee a time when companies stop distributing their wares using physical media. And then, you’ll have to pay whatever they want you to pay. Amazon and other retailers can set up digital download stores, but if the publisher is able to set the price there’s still no proper competition.
“But you own an iPhone!” I hear you cry. “You’re already locked into a closed system.” True, but it’s slightly different. I can choose to buy music from places other than iTunes, be that in physical form or by digital download (yep, Amazon again). When it comes to apps, I have to get them from the App Store and pay what the developer thinks I should. But generally, such apps are not and never have been available more cheaply by way of physical media. So I don’t see it as quite the same thing.
It seems like perhaps I’m in a minority. People in general do seem willing to pay for the convenience, and it doesn’t seem to bother them that digital media costs more than the physical equivalent. It seems fundamentally the wrong way round to me, but maybe I’m just not from the right generation. When there’s no competition, though, I can only see prices going one way, and it isn’t down. That can’t be a good thing.
In conclusion, maybe I am a dinosaur. But I’m a dinosaur who saved nearly £54 in the first week of having a new laptop.
I haven’t written in this blog for a while. I predicted this would happen when I started it, of course. It’s kind of hard to keep up the motivation when nobody’s reading. Maybe I should have just started a Tumblr and posted funny cat pictures. They’d have been reblogged thousands of times by now.
Anyway, yesterday was my birthday and I felt kind of down. I don’t think I’m dealing with getting older all that well. It isn’t just about getting older. What I mean is, it’s not simply the fact that I’m 32 now. It’s not even that old in the scheme of things. No… it’s that I’m 32 and I haven’t really achieved anything.
You know that part of a CV or application form that asks not about work experience or education, but about the other accomplishments in your life? I honestly wouldn’t know what to put in that box. I haven’t really done anything since leaving uni, and that was over ten years ago. I don’t have any particular skills. I don’t play a sport or an instrument or speak a second language or have any of the skills that make someone a rounded person. I’m not good at anything. I haven’t been anywhere or done anything to broaden my cultural horizons. I’ve never even been to mainland Europe. I live four miles from where I grew up, for God’s sake.
I’m not really sure what I expected to have achieved by now. I suppose I just thought I’d have made some sort of mark on the world. But then, that isn’t realistic when I really think about it. How many people do something special? How many people are actually remembered after they’re gone? Not very many. It certainly doesn’t seem like I’ll be one of those people. Particularly because I don’t even know what I’d want to be remembered for.
Well – this was fun, wasn’t it? Look out for another badly written, jumbled mess of self-pity around the same time next year.
Yesterday, I wrote a review of iOS 6, and I’m beginning to feel that I gave the new Maps app something of an easy ride. Sure, I said it wasn’t as functional as Google Maps, I mentioned that there was no Street View, and I concluded that it didn’t seem to handle as well. But, I didn’t make much of all the errors. I don’t intend to start trying to list them all now, either. There are already quite a few websites devoted to that, mostly with screenshots of comically inaccurate locations. But I suppose I should update yesterday’s review just a bit.
Today, the iPhone 5 is out. I can’t remember a time when an Apple product launch has been so overshadowed by blanket negative press coverage about one of their products. This isn’t confined to the tech sites and forums. It’s in pretty much all the papers and online news sites, on TV news, and all over Twitter. It’s a worldwide story. Make no mistake, this is very bad publicity for Apple and it’s rare that they get themselves into such a situation.
Yesterday I complimented the colour scheme. And now I need to partially retract that. Yes, it looks nice, but the chosen colours just don’t work properly when you’re trying to actually use the thing. The colour scheme doesn’t convey information about roads very well at all.
To show you what I mean, here’s a screenshot of Bolton (a town in north-west England with a population of 140,000) using Google Maps:
Pretty clear, right? Now, here it is in Apple Maps:
See what I mean? You’d never know it was a town centre, would you? Google Maps uses blue for motorways, green for primary routes, and then orange, yellow and white to designate A and B roads and other streets. By using yellow for motorways AND primary routes, and white for all other roads including A roads, it’s much more difficult to see what’s going on in Apple Maps. (It does use the correct blue and green signs as labels for the motorways and primary routes, but it’s really not good enough.)
Also notice that Bolton isn’t actually labelled on the Apple Map. This isn’t just because I’m zoomed too far in or not. It isn’t labelled at any zoom level. Basically, it never appears on the map. Similarly, if you’re scrolling around and trying to find Blackburn, Bury (in Greater Manchester), Solihull or even Stratford-upon-Avon, you’re out of luck. Seemingly, they don’t exist. I should clarify here that if you search for these places, the app will find them and drop a pin in the correct location. But they’re not labelled on the map.
It just gets worse really. Want to go to Doncaster? Don’t forget that it’s now called Duncaster. And if you’re in London, be sure to visit Westminister. I know this kind of thing is, on the face of it, quite amusing, but there’s a serious underlying point. It smacks of amateurism, of a product rushed to market and not ready for public use. And this goes back to something I was saying yesterday. As well as the hundreds of documented major errors and likely thousands of smaller flaws, it’s clunky and cumbersome to use. Scrolling is juddery, the control system isn’t intuitive (it’s too easy to tilt the map when you’re trying to zoom in or out, for example) and it doesn’t feel polished. In fact, it doesn’t feel like something that’s been designed and put out by Apple at all. Usually, Apple gets this stuff right; when their products hit the market they’re slick and usable. Not so here. Maps feels like a bad third-party app that receives terrible reviews in the App Store. Unfortunately, if you’re an iOS user, it’s now the default option.
It’ll be interesting to see what Google and Apple do now. Rumour has it that Google has already submitted a standalone Maps app for iOS and it’s just awaiting approval. We don’t know how true that is, of course. But even if it is the case, will Apple allow it? It’d be hard to see on what grounds they’d refuse, since there are already other mapping options available in the App Store. But then again, they did manage to hold up Google Voice for a whole year. With such terrible publicity already generated, though, rejecting or delaying a Google Maps app would likely trigger a further backlash.
The fact remains that as an iOS customer, I’m stuck with the substandard Apple Maps for now, as is everyone else. But this is a real mess for Apple. It’s not something that can be put right quickly. Even in the medium term, Apple Maps isn’t going to be anything like the standard offered by Google. And when the Nokia Lumia 920 is released, things will only get worse. Nokia’s mapping system is largely regarded as the best around, and the Windows Phone 8 will allow users to download maps of entire countries, providing offline search and navigation and surpassing even what Android currently offers.
With such fundamental flaws in its design and implementation, Apple Maps is a mess. And the story isn’t going away any time soon.
Over the last 24 hours, millions of people will have downloaded iOS 6, Apple’s latest software for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. And it seems like the world’s most valuable company might have made a fairly serious misstep this time. The problem isn’t that the look and feel of the operating system has once again stayed the same. It isn’t the continued lack of widgets, live icons, or the ability to customise the home screen in any meaningful way. Record breaking pre-orders for the iPhone 5 show that people are generally okay with the way iOS looks.
The issue, really, is what’s been taken away. Yesterday, before iOS 6 was released, I tweeted a few times saying I was worried about the loss of Google Maps and, in particular, Street View. The replies suggested I was concerned about nothing. But I’ve updated my third generation iPad now and, let’s be honest, iDevice fans – the new Apple designed Maps app is a major disappointment.
Road to Hell
Let’s start with the good stuff. It looks nice, with colours and fonts that are pleasing to the eye. It has turn by turn navigation, which has long been available on Android but was missing from the iOS version of Google Maps. Also, it contains very basic traffic information. So, you know, that’s nice.
And here’s some of the bad stuff. There are some pretty major errors with the mapping itself. Quite apart from that, the app itself is horribly sluggish. It doesn’t scroll smoothly in the way that Google Maps used to (and still does on my iPhone 3GS running iOS 5) and zooming can be slow. There isn’t a huge amount of information about local business. Some listings are incorrectly placed or don’t exist (although this was also a problem with Google Maps). And for those based in or visiting the capital, you should know that the London Underground icon hasn’t been used (and probably isn’t licensed). This means that all Tube stations appear on the map looking like a standard train station, and their names only appear at a high zoom level. This is going to make it far more difficult to find your way around.
The introduction of 3D Flyover views for major cities has been introduced. Despite all the recent screencaps of them on Twitter, I think we all know that they’re nothing more than a clever gimmick. They’re not actually useful in the way that Street View was, primarily because you don’t generally hover over a city when you’re walking around it. Plus, they’re quite slow to load and not all of the imagery is particularly attractive.
Oh, and on the addition of navigation, there’s no option to download or cache your route (as there is on Android). So, you’re going to need that data connection.
I’ve seen a few people defending Apple Maps by saying it’s their first version of the software and improvements will be forthcoming. And you know, that would be a decent point if iOS devices didn’t have maps at all before now. But they did. Google has been doing mapping for years now, and iOS 6 is a massive downgrade in this area. The Google Earth app for iOS doesn’t have Street View, and neither does it work on the mobile app for Safari. For now, Google has been cagey about whether a standalone version of Google Maps will appear for iOS. Even if it does, though, there’ll be no way to make it the default mapping app (so address links from websites, contacts etc. will open in Apple Maps).
Elsewhere, the native YouTube app has been removed. All things considered, this is probably a good thing for everyone involved. Apple doesn’t have to continue the licensing deal with Google to include YouTube as a standard app. Google has developed its own app, has more control over it, and can include advertising. Consumers probably won’t be thrilled at the idea of ads, but they’ll benefit from Google updating the app more frequently. As of now though, the App Store only has an iPhone version. An iPad edition is apparently on the way, but for now tablet owners need to use YouTube’s mobile site (or blow up the iPhone version).
Why so Sirious?
Now, what of Siri? Owners of the iPhone 4S have been using it for the best part of a year, but I’ve just started to try it out on my iPad. And you know, it’s kind of fun, it’s not bad to use, but is it really, really anything more than a gimmick? The problem is that, despite it understanding natural speech, it’s almost always quicker to complete the task without Siri. It’s cumbersome, it brings up information in a tiny window, you still have to press buttons to make things happen, and talking to an iPad just feels stupid.
I used Siri to make a calendar appointment. At first, it was ridiculously laborious. “Schedule an appointment.” “When is the appointment for?” “Saturday.” “What time is the appointment?” And so on. Later, I realised that I was making it difficult for myself, and that I could tell Siri all the details of the appointment in one go. Here’s a screencap to show what I mean.
This was actually pretty good, because I only had to press the button once for the whole thing, and I could confirm the appointment by voice. It was probably quicker than doing it manually. Same with setting an alarm or getting directions (“How do I get to Manchester?” for example, will do it), but it isn’t great for typing messages or emails. Obviously you have to dictate all the punctuation, so it’s a slow process. And if you stop speaking for more than about half a second, Siri thinks you’ve finished.
The voice recognition isn’t bad, but it’s not fantastic either. Here’s a somewhat ironic example:
Another drawback with Siri is that all the processing is done online rather than on the device. So, if you want to do something as simple as change the music that’s playing or write a note, you’ll need a data connection. This seems absurd. At least it’ll now find information about local businesses in the UK though.
Apple might claim that iOS 6 has 200 new features, but many of them are simply tweaks to existing applications. Passbook is new, but it’s utterly pointless until companies start to support it. This will probably happen fairly quickly in the US, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens in the UK. FaceTime now works over 3G (providing the network operator allows it) and Safari is noticeably faster, with iCloud tabs, photo upload support, a nicer looking sharing button, but still no unified search and address bar. The Mail app has a VIP function as well as (finally) the ability to insert photos or videos. A Do Not Disturb feature allows notifications to be silenced during certain hours. The list goes on. But to be honest, a lot of these features have been around for ages on other operating systems. They’re welcome additions, of course, but not innovative.
The new App Store is definitely slower, with thumbnail icons in some of the lists taking an age to load. On the plus side, you don’t have to enter your password to download app updates, and it no longer jumps to the home screen whenever you install a new app. Previewing songs in iTunes is also easier, because they carry on playing as you navigate around.
Deep Facebook integration arrives with iOS 6, joining Twitter. And there’s a nifty, useful new feature here. You can update Twitter or Facebook directly from the pull-down Notification Centre, without leaving whatever app you’re using. It looks like this:
A nice little addition and implemented elegantly. It’d be good to be able to insert a picture from this screen, but it’s handy for quick updates.
Even with the third generation iPad, I feel that I’ve sacrificed quite a bit. The new features are handy but not killer, and I’ve lost Google Maps. It’s even worse for other devices. If you have an iPhone 3GS or 4, or an iPad 2, you won’t get 3D Flyover views on Maps, and you won’t get Siri. You won’t get the FaceTime improvements either. New versions of iOS have always included features that don’t run on old hardware. But for probably the first time, depending on the device you own, it really seems like you could lose more than you gain by updating to iOS 6.
Costume drama is the name of the game tomorrow night as Downton Abbey returns for its third series. The most watched drama here for years and wildly successful in America, there seems little doubt that millions will be tuning in to find out how the Crawleys are getting on. Nevertheless, it’s become fashionable recently to look upon the show with derision, perhaps because of the lower quality second series but also because anything too popular eventually results in some sort of backlash. Besides, a lot of these critics would be falling over themselves to praise the show if only it were on the BBC rather than ITV1.
Anyway, let’s not forget that last year’s Christmas special was fantastic, and Julian Fellowes has promised that the third run will be closer in tone to the first series than the second. So, with that in mind, here are eight reasons to be excited about the return of Downton Abbey.
1) Hugh Bonneville
Fresh from leaving us with the ultimate cliffhanger in the final episode of Twenty Twelve, Bonneville is back as the kindly Lord Grantham. Ever reliable and the face of the show, Hugh will once again preside over the family antics. Let’s just hope he stays away from the maids this series.
2) Lady Sybil
The youngest Crawley daughter was notably absent from the Christmas special after moving to Ireland with the chauffeur. Arguably the most interesting of the three sisters, Sybil will hopefully return to the house to champion women’s rights and offend the sensibilities of the traditionalists. Plus, she’s not bad to look at.
3) The ‘Free Bates’ campaign
Poor, poor Bates. No sooner had he found love than his interfering ex-wife (who had previously been nothing but trouble as Catherine of Aragon in The Tudors) turned up to ruin everything. And when she died, things only got worse. Last seen languishing in prison for a crime he (probably) didn’t commit, Bates is presumably still incarcerated as the third series starts. Hugh Bonneville was recently photographed wearing a ‘Free Bates’ T-shirt, so it looks like the campaign continues.
4) Matthew Crawley
A bit of a wet blanket perhaps, but with his perfectly sculpted hair and twinkling eyes, Matthew is the ultimate posh boy fantasy. Able to walk again thanks to a clumsy plot contrivance medical misdiagnosis, and engaged to Lady Mary, what’s next for the heir to the estate and one half of Downton’s premier couple?
5) The 1920s
Time moves fast at Downton, and the First World War is so last series – we’re into the Roaring Twenties now. Lady Sybil will be in her element as women start to dress and act differently to what’s expected of them. But the money’s apparently draining from the Crawley estate. Still, at least the house won’t be cluttered with wounded soldiers.
6) Siobhan Finneran
Always listening in a doorway, storing up information that she can use against people later, or whispering ideas into the ear of Lady Grantham, O’Brien is the character we love to hate. And she’s played perfectly by Finneran.
7) The Dowager Countess
Let’s face it, she was always going to be featured here. The Dowager’s withering put-downs, sarcastic asides and confusion with the ever-changing world provide some of the show’s most memorable moments. Maggie Smith is in her element, and this year she has Shirley MacLaine to spar with. Should be fun.
8) Highclere Castle
The real star of the show, Highclere Castle provides a sumptuous backdrop for both the exterior and (some of the) interior scenes. The start of the first ever episode had a long tracking shot through the house, and the most recent episode finished with a proposal in the snow outside. It’s a gorgeous filming location.
The third series of Downton Abbey starts on Sunday 16 September at 9.00pm on ITV1.