Everything Missing From iOS 9 Part 2 (or What I Want From iOS 10)

This post continues my list of  iOS 10 features I want to see. Click here for the first part. Other parts will be posted leading up to WWDC 2016.

Location

This could be seen as a continuation of the Maps topic but I want more location features. If Apple is so concerned with their customers, allow more people to define when they are in their car than just those that buy into CarPlay. I own an Automatic OBD2 Bluetooth device and it would be great if the iPhone understood that when I am in very close proximity of the adapter, I am driving in my car.

Triggering specific actions for travel as if you would for an iBeacon would save time: open my Plex Music and start my favorite playlist, automatically open Maps if I have an appointment in my calendar, set my favorite stations when I’m driving my car but set my wife’s favorite stations when she is, allow notification via text/iMessage or third party app when I arrive at a location or if I’m running behind, allow that notification if I arrive at a travel hub such as a train station or airport, if I arrive at a train station and have an appointment scheduled then send me to the URL I’ve defined for a train schedule, etc. Proactive Siri seems like the right tool for this but would it be able to handle location triggers without killing your battery?

I also work in two locations for the same company, alternating between sites on an irregular schedule. Both should be defined as “Work” but for most software that only means one single address. Allow more flexibility since even in the above example, a family can have more than one car. Maybe I also have a vacation home or visit my parents home, places that I would stay at more than a couple of days at a time and could use some automation triggers other than an alarm clock and reminders.

Improving safety between locations is also within the power of handset manufacturers. There has to be a way to strongly suggest that customers driving in cars stop texting. Shocking photos like those posted on cigarette packs in other countries in dialog boxes would be too strong, but making the phone’s use annoying at certain speeds would be a real life saver; obviously the logic behind that would be a hard problem given that it would also annoy commuters. For instance a bus or train car full of people could be within a box defined by beacons as being passengers but a car would be required to beacon so that you have to correctly identify as passenger or driver under penalty of law. Here is a beautiful example of tech used to enumerate objects within a vehicle using Bluetooth.

Siri Eyes Free is a step in the right direction but a physical button still needs to be located on the steering wheel. Studies show that anything requiring interaction with something physical in the car takes seconds away from the average driver, seconds that can be disastrous at high speeds. Muscle memory cannot always be counted on since every vehicle still insists on unique layouts of wipers and turn signals and paddles. A voice activated system is still the best solution not only because being conversational is more subconscious but because it is also something a passenger can participate in as a copilot rather than always have the driver putting lives at risk. Our handheld friends are great devices that we are all obviously addicted to, but we have to smarten up and let ourselves be guided in this case.

Contacts

Another long standing omission is not allowing contact groups to be managed from iOS. The great app Interact came about to help with that missing feature although there have been many apps that have attempted to fix this over the years. Right now you really only have the Favorites group (for allowing calls through from Do Not Disturb) or the VIP group  (for those special people in your email inbox) unless you go into iCloud.com or your Mac to manage contacts. That seems like a crippling speed bump to anyone’s workflow if they never sync their mobile device, are mobile-only, or just don’t have a Mac. That sounds like a corner case but it really is a majority of iPhone users.

Contact duplicates are also a pain. Somehow between all the different mail systems I use (iCloud, Gmail, Yahoo, Exchange, Hotmail) I end up with duplicate contacts that I occasionally review and Link. This is a total waste of time now that my contacts number in the thousands after 20 years in IT. I would love for something like LinkedIn to come along and intelligently manage my contact updates but the fear of them spamming everyone in my address book again still lingers. Improve on the idea of LinkedIn by bilaterally recommending a contact based on sets that others I may know: you have a sales person in your contacts but not the technical engineer that works with him. Just don’t turn it into a giant cold call sheet like LinkedIn has become lately.

With circles of friendship or defined relationships you can start allowing certain groups of people access to your free/busy time (and your calendar details if you so choose), contact sharing, media sharing. Wouldn’t it be great if this linked into Facebook permissions somehow? That would be a great place to start since it’s a mature permissions standard. Otherwise if there is no further development for Find My Friends, it has to be one of the dumbest wastes of time Apple has ever made.

iCloud photos gallery

Apple may not realize this, but I do have friends that have Android devices. I would like to share photos with these non-Apple people, despite their judgement in choice of mobile devices. Currently Flickr and Facebook fill this role for me but they are separate from where I take my photos. Experiments like Facebook’s Moments really show that we are still struggling to figure out how and where we want this to be controlled in a manner simple enough for most to understand. Sharing from iOS 9 into these services is great but it is only a one way flow, and there is no real management going on. Something like this should hook into other social media where we save photos, to aggregate our media: Flickr, Google Photos, Facebook, Twitter, etc to aggregate our images into one view and work with some of the mature controls such as Facebook’s friend permissions for family and acquaintances. This leads us right to more collaborative album sharing where photos taken by people at the same event can be grouped to provide even more dimension. Find My Friends could hook into this to become more useful by managing contacts in a role sense and give some security to where we allow this all to flow. Is that too much for the average user to understand? The confusion surrounding Facebook’s permissions may suggest that is sometimes the case. This can be solved by “interviewing” the user with a sharing wizard and settings some rules managed by some AI: I have kids so do not show photos with kids to anyone outside my immediate family or my closet circle of friends; these are photos at my office, it’s ok to share with coworkers; these are pictures of forms that have health data picked up by OCR so share with nobody.

Additionally, Apple should see that sharing with Android users is another avenue for connecting to Android users to bring them into the Apple fold. Just as Google Photos is available on the iPhone, an iCloud Photos app on other platforms is not a bad idea.

(To be continued)


Everything Missing From iOS 9 Part 1 (or What I Want From iOS 10)

image

This is the first of an 11 part series on what was originally just a bullet list of features I thought iOS 10 could use and then somehow became a 6000 word essay. I thought breaking this up would be more digestible.)

Everyone who pays attention to Apple knows that June is WWDC month. I’ve gotten so used to the excitement surrounding it that every year, months before June I start thinking of all the things I hope that the next version of iOS will bring. This is my wish list of features I hope that Apple will promise at WWDC for the next version of iOS, a bit longer than my previous list 4 years ago. To my surprise almost all of those items are not yet part of the OS. Some of the items below are flaws in the OS which should fixed at some point and some of them would just be nice to have. None of these are major reimaginings of the OS; they are the incremental features we have become used to each year with new iOS releases. It is these types of feature requests that provide fertile ground for the hacking communities to provide jailbreak tweaks that make the device just that much more efficient and productive. While I never jailbreak any of my devices, I can see the point. Some very creative minds are out there constantly improving their iOS device with perfectly valid enhancements in the jailbreak community. Surely the minds at Apple are dreaming up similar big ideas.

Wifi Priority

While our family has a 30 GB data plan for all of our phones, I’m thankful that my cable company provides Wifi around town. Unfortunately, that wifi has plenty of issues – it acts up at random times, has dead spots where you can only get weak signal, and seems to have APs that are broadcasting but not connected to anything. I’m sick of forcing myself off of it when I’m at a location that provides better wifi, so I would like to see a listing of known SSIDs under an Advanced menu that I can reorder as a priority list. If I’m at home, I don’t want to get caught connected to my neighbor’s cable company provided wifi, I want to be on my own wifi. I purposely turned it off at home because I don’t want the rest of my home network directly attached to their network, no matter how security they claim it is, and it don’t want other customers of this cable company using my bandwidth. Right now my choice is to either go into iOS settings and swap networks each and every night I come home, or just leave wifi off when I am away from home. I also don’t want to delete the cable provider wifi profile because it comes in handy at local businesses and other places I stop around town. I want to keep it as a last resort when there are absolutely no other options. Those are not great choices, so please give me a way of controlling wifi network priority through my digital companion’s smarts.

Maps

The mapping software space is a very hot and crowded spot on mobile devices. Apple is quite behind on this and has lots of room to improve compared to Google Maps and Waze. A quick list of missing features:

  • Maps lane guidance accuracy
  • Maps waypoints insertions
  • Select visual theme (night mode all the time)
  • Alternate route choices showing increased or decreased arrival times.Uber/left
  • More transportation choices (biking)
  • Integrate Uber/Lyft

Maps Nearby feature plus Find My Friends – Apple just seems to be flirting with the location game concept. It is begging to be taken all the way into the world of checkins. What the heck, just finally buy Foursquare for cryin out loud!
Allow Find My Friends to have more circles of friendship along with contact groups that iOS still doesn’t allow you to do. More on that later.

(to be continued) 

VR Is the Surprise Technology of 2016

  
SXSW 2016 was one of the biggest tech events of the year. It brought some real focus to the VR/AR efforts being put forth by companies like Sony and Oculus along with some new small surprise players. This year the push to VR/AR is harder than ever. One of the biggest surprise announcements in the social networking world at SXSW is the move of Robert Scoble from Rackspace into the VR space with UploadVR. This is an important indicator because it reflects a shift from mobile entertainment to virtual entertainment.

The shift in the tech industry is worth noting because we have been in a post-PC world since the smartphone revolution of 2007, where most of the computing is being done on our pocket devices and tablets, disconnecting us from the need to be at a static, unmovable, power-sucking workstation. The VR world, in the sense of providing the most realism, requires more horsepower than even the most powerful mobile device can bring to bear for rendering reality. While devices like the iPad Pro are able to edit audio and video streams, this is not enough to drive 360 degree world content. Since dipping into “the Matrix” of VR is something one doesn’t take sitting down for a bite at Panera or standing on a bus, this is not the inconvenience you might first imagine. Nobody “does VR” with the same rapid attention shift we do for quick YouTube videos – it is done for a longer term basis to change the realities we experience. This may also mean a shift back from short staccato burst Vine style entertainment back to the traditional longer involved experiences we see with TV and movie viewing. The difference is the interactive possibilities that will let us participate in some of our entertainment.

I certainly don’t expect VR to turn my job into the “It’s UNIX!” moment from Jurassic Park (plz no) but I think VR is certainly the future of entertainment. Things like 3DTV and curved displays only hinted at what is already going on with VR which will be driving the release of new even higher resolution phone displays coming into the market. I think VR will soon get us to the point of obviating large screen TVs and tablets for the average buyer the way smaller phone and tablet displays took over TV and movies. Nobody will need an 80″ or even a 12″ screen when a 6″ smartphone just inches from your face will fill your field of view and simulate 20′ displays. It hints at the logical extension of this being a future interface that is quite the opposite of the large screen trend; the screen inside the helmet as the only visible interface you will ever need that connects with a tiny headless Wifi/LTE capable black box which your low power Bluetooth devices like a fitness monitoring smart watch and headphones also connect to. It hints at screen resolutions greater than 4K to keep you from seeing the pixels at that close a range. With browsers like Andy Martin’s VRambling Cardboard based web browser, VR makers try to make your long hours of web browsing inside of a visor. This is a further opportunity for advertisers and other accessory segments of the entertainment market to keep you immersed longer if they can avoid making their content take you out of the VR experience. Although I mention the ubiquity of small screens, the screens in your mobile device do not have the power to fully render true realism. For that we need compute intensive resources like Oculus Rift and dedicated workstations. This classic cost/quality/performance decision will be a painful trade off for VR users.

While the Sony PS4 and Oculus promise to be powerful experiences, they are equally and prohibitively expensive considering all the gear required. I am impressed with the HTC Vive and the Samsung Gear VR headsets but they are still overly costly for someone who wants to dip their toe in VR for the first time. There are still ways for the more frugal of us to experience VR:
Step 1: Buy cheap VR headset here or here
Step 2: Enable DLNA in your streaming software (My choice is Plex)
Step 3: Get Google Cardboard compatible SBS VR DLNA player app from your App Store
Step 4: Wow

For now we only had an old Google Cardboard headset in the house because one of the kids sprung for it at Engadget Expand a little over a year ago where they began to push VR. A “VR Box 2″ headset with a tiny handheld Bluetooth controller the size of a clicker is available for $20 (free shipping) which we will be waiting a few weeks for. It can accommodate smartphones 3.5″ to 6” Since I have a Plex server at home for streaming my home movies, I downloaded the @mgatelabs Mobile VR Station app as my Google Cardboard app of choice because it does DLNA. Everyone at home that I showed it to was immediately wow’d by how immersive and close to reality it all was to watch a movie. Mobile VR Station has an extension that you can use to demo HTML5 content such as the reference video Big Buck Bunny from Youtube. Just amazing. While I don’t care much for basketball, the free Big East court side VR seats are really smart way to promote the sport and this is the perfect time of the year to market that. The content out there is exploding with VR possibilities.

There are a few quality VR apps freely available such as the Discovery channel VR, Roller coasters, and travel tours. As someone who can spend hours in a small section of Museum of Natural History, the idea of VR museum tours is exciting. It not only spreads the arts further but let’s you experience something you might not even be geographically close to ever visiting. You should also pay attention for things like @funnyordie’s Interrogation which I really think will be the type of hypnotizing entertainment we will experience as the norm in a few years. The more boring world of real estate VR tours have been around for quite some time, though the 3D they used in the past was gimmicky spherical rerenderings of regular 2D photos. I want real 3D walk-throughout of environments where you actually experience being in that space. I feel the pinnacle of this will be a social VR player where you watch movies or perform other activities “in a room” synced with friends, whether or not actually in same room, and walking through their real or realistically rendered home. Having read Ready Player One last year (too bad the movie isn’t coming out til 2018), I think the book was very prescient about what we will see in VR the next few years with respect to interactions and avatars. It will be way beyond the Sims/Mii level avatars of vTime and provide you with the option to skin avatars with commercially available characters. For those that are uncomfortable or incompatible with the bodies they have been naturally provided, it offers real game changing possibilities. Think of what Facebook or Tinder could do with that!

If you are interested in generating your own 360-degree VR environments today, look at Splash announced by Robert Scoble the day before their app released. While I was very impressed with its ability to generate and share Google Cardboard and Facebook 360 video experiences as easily as someone can Snapchat, the content produced by Splash looks very jerky and improperly stitched. Artists expecting to producing captivating 360 VR content will need orders of magnitude more talent to keep people immersed. For instance, Penny Arcade’s @cwgabriel used Tiltbrush in the latest strip – that level of interactivity can keep users working for extended periods. It speaks volumes on how fast this is all already moving and quickly blooming into a visual revolution. It has truly come a long way from the blocky geometry days of VMRL.

Google would be wise to get a Google Cardboard mode into their Youtube app right away. The early adopters in these early days are going to set the standards and they could leverage Cardboard as the de facto API to cement the foothold in as many areas as possible. This is a nascent era of the tech, a small window of opportunity that won’t come again, and soon mobile vendors won’t have a choice but to API integrate it.

Only real complaint with mobile phone VR is it becomes a dedicated single purpose device, so proper handling of notifications becomes important. Notifications can take you out of the VR experience the same way they can pull you out of other things you experience on a daily basis: work and entertainment. Systems like BigScreen hope to keep you in VR spaces even longer and will need to handle notifications as part of your perceived environment.

We are going to see the gaming space rapidly expand in VR too. Can you imagine Mario Cart in 360 degree? (Look behind you!) Sadly, I haven’t kept up with gaming the past few years and get motion sick pretty quickly. VR gaming will only exacerbate that for me; I even got vertigo with the Cirque demo in Samsung Gear VR because I looked behind myself too quickly, not expecting the edge of the stage to be there. Adaptive systems like IonVR promise to fix that for me. Update: this is what Sony has planned for PlayStation VR which is pretty ambitious: http://youtu.be/0vrUNZR9iro

This is the year to bet big on VR, especially given the mystery surrounding Apple’s rumored VR efforts. I anxiously await the 2016 March Apple event next week to see if anything will be announced given Apple’s history of providing premium hardware with surprisingly new enhancements and shifts in the technology. I am excited for what will eventually come to iOS when all this matures. This will be a great year for these new unexpected technology experiences. By this time next year the VR landscape will be like wildfire. It seems like so much more than a fad this time. I predict every video app will have some Google Cardboard support even if it does not enhance the content to appear 3D, and we will all have personal video headset rigs to enhance our experiences.

Goodbye Evernote

goodbye-evernote

After over 5 years of using Evernotes to organize my notes, I have decided to move on from it. My notes are a very important part of my job, keeping lists of shortcuts and processes that I use day to day. My notes also an important tool for keeping track of lists in my personal life. Evernote has had a spot in my Mac dock and has been open in one of my desktop spaces every day, as well as a spot on the first page of my iPhone home screen.

Unfortunately with Evernote’s layoffs and office closures announced in the past week, as well as their recent heavy push to monetize the product and limit the usability of the free basic accounts, its usefulness to me has grown less and less, while its future is in serious question. It is now time for me to stop depending on it, especially now that the native Notes apps in iOS9 and OS X 10.11 have greatly improved. My fear is that I will find my access to Evernote cut off either because the basic accounts are no longer free or worse because they have closed shop. Evernote started its existence as a free product, eventually leading to a premium tier being established followed by the Plus tier, but without the ability to convert the remaining multitude of free accounts into paying customers, Evernote will not able to survive. Despite their attempt to expand to other physical related products like backpacks, bluetooth pens, and special digitized paper, Evernote has not been able to make a profit. It will be come the first “unicorn” to die. With Twitter’s recent struggles, it may not be the last one this year.

My requirement for a migration tool is just that is be a free small script that uses a language I can read and debug. I found the Applescript at https://www.larrysalibra.com/can-apple-notes-replace-evernote/ to convert my Evernote notes (selecting between 100-200 at a time) in my various folders. Despite a few errors, less than a dozen really, I was able to run a few iterations and had converted everything. The problem notes were copy-pasted or skipped, and I was fully migrated in just a couple of hours. Onward…

Dumping URLs into Pocket

I use Pocket as my morning paper for my commute and centralized place for collecting things to read, with URLs fed into it from IFTTT, Feedly, plus Safari on Mac and iOS8. For a while I even used NYTimes URLs fed from IFTTT as http://www.gmodules.com/ig/proxy?url= URLs which would avoid the paywall.

I like to dump as much as possible into the reader so that I have a variety to ready from. This means any digest emails or other pages full of URLs from Mashable or Medium are ideal to throw into this. Forwarding the email to Pocket will only get you the first link – useless when there could be 10-15 links. To make this easier I created a Service with Automator called ExtractURLs2Pocket which consists of a “Run Shell Script” block feeding into a Copy To Clipboard block in case you need the output:

osascript -e ‘the clipboard as «class RTF »’ | perl -ne ‘print chr foreach unpack(“C*”,pack(“H*”,substr($_,11,-3)))’ | ~/Dropbox/rtf2html.pl -noimages – | ~/Dropbox/geturls.pl | /usr/bin/egrep -v ‘(w3.org|opt|unsub|email-settings)’ | /usr/bin/sort -u | ~/Dropbox/add2pocket.pl

What this does is grab the clipboard as RTF and convert it to a text format, which I then convert to HTML, grab the href URLs, grep to filter out any URLs that might be unsubscribe links, sort and uniq the list, then feed that to my Pocket add script.

rtf2html.pl is the sample script in RTF::HTMLConverter from https://github.com/lvu/rtf2html

geturls.pl uses the list_uris function of URI::Find::Simple:

#!/usr/bin/perl

use URI::Find::Simple qw( list_uris );
my @urllist;
my $url;
while (<>) {
@urllist = list_uris($_);
foreach $url (@urllist)
{
print “$url\n”;
}
}

add2pocket.pl uses WebService::Pocket to use the Pocket API:

#!/usr/bin/perl
use WebService::Pocket;

my $line;
my $url_hash;
my @urls_array;
my $p = WebService::Pocket->new(
username => ‘pocket_username’,
password => ‘pocket_password’,
);

while (<>)
{

$line = $_;
chomp($line);
print “$line\n”;
$url_hash = {url => $line};
push(@urls_array,$url_hash);
}

#break array into chunks of 9 URLs so the add won’t choke
while (my @subarr = splice @urls_array, 0, 9)
{
$p->add([@subarr]);
}

Once you have this in place, just highlight some text anywhere on the Mac, copy it, right-click, select Service -> ExtractURLs2Pocket. It’s even pretty fast!

Open LinkedIn links in your Mac contacts

If you use LinkedIn on your iOS device, your contacts are saved with a linkedin:// URL. These contacts will sync to your Mac and have the same linkedin:// URL in the contact. Unfortunately there is no LinkedIn app on the Mac to open these URLs so you need a helper app of some kind.

Enter BasilSalad.com’s “Open LinkedIn app”. Download the zip file from http://adib.github.io/OpenLinkedIn/ to your mac and drop the app file into your Applications folder. Start the app and set it to Open at Login. The app registers itself to handle the linkedin:// URL and redirect it to your default browser. From now on you’ll have access to the LinkedIn profile for your contacts!

Securing Your Mac Against Malware with Hosts File

gasmask

With zero day vulnerabilities on the loose more than ever before, it is best to take every precaution against being the first to get your system broken by malicious hackers. One way that helps is to avoid altogether any sites that are known to be suspect. One site that maintains a very good list of sites for blocking is http://someonewhocares.org/hosts/. This file can be copied and pasted directly into your system host file (see the directions in the page itself) to immediately give your system protection. It is a long file, which should give you some idea of how big a problem malware is.

Malware protection is a moving target however. The moment you have pasted something into your hosts file, someone else in the world is already setting up another malicious site that will need to be blocked. The hosts file at the above site changes periodically with updates to new blocked sites that you will want on your system. Managing the changes can be a complicated and repetitive task. You wouldn’t want to remember to check the site, then sit and compare the new hosts file to the previous one manually – that’s a foolish use of your time when a computer program can do the job better. Using a tool to automate this takes the headache off your shoulders and provides prompt updates. Enter Gas Mask.

Gas Mask is a tool that lets you manage one or more static or dynamic hosts files and keeps a constant merged list.  I use the original hosts file from my Mac with some local additions, a list of hosts for Adobe updates, and the dynamically updated hosts file from the above site. For those that don’t know, using the localhost address is a shortcut to point to your own machine instead of the bad site. Make sure the tool is set to run at system startup so that it is always doing its job. Your computer will check this file before checking the internet for the location of a web site, so you are always protected no matter where you are.

Gas_Mask_Prefs

The dynamic pieces are constantly checked according to a schedule you define in the Preferences, then assembled and saved as your hosts file. Visiting any of the sites listed as 127.0.0.1 (or 0.0.0.0 if you used the zero version of the site) should come up as blocked. Enjoy your new found safety!

BTW, if you are a Windows user, this will work for you too, however I am not aware of any tools that manage this for you.