Tag Archives: iPad

Hit the Road, Jack: Saying Goodbye to a 3.5mm Hole

On Wednesday, Apple announced that their new iPhone 7 would be the first in the line not to have a dedicated headphone jack. This was met with some controversy and consternation, and I wanted to offer some brief thoughts on the matter.

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The lonely Lightning port of the new iPhone 7. (Source: WhatHiFi.com, click photo for their article.)

This is Apple’s M.O.

The first thing that surprises me about the response, honestly, is anyone’s surprise at the move. Apple is notorious for moving away from older technology when they create new devices, or new versions of existing devices. Here’s a brief timeline:

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The original Macintosh (right) and the first iMac (left). (Source: MacWorld.co.uk)

1984: While IBM-styled PC manufacturers are still including 5.25” floppy drives, Apple unveils the first Macintosh computer, equipped with the smaller, yet higher-capacity 3.5” diskette drive. Apple’s last computer with a 5.25” drive would be in their II (“two”) series, the last of that line being 1988’s  Apple IIc Plus. PC makers would eventually phase out the 5.25” floppy by the early 1990s.

1998: With the iMac, Apple courts controversy again by removing the 3.5” diskette drive from this new all-in-one form factor, opting strictly for optical media; first in the form of CD-ROM, then DVD-ROM, and finally, rewritable DVD “SuperDrive,” first appearing in 2002’s Flat Panel iMac. Apple would remove the “floppy” drive from its laptops, as well; 1999’s PowerBook G3 would be the first Apple notebook to exclude the diskette drive, in favor of an optical drive.

2008: Speaking of laptops, Apple invents a new model, the MacBook Air (below), boasting unprecedented (for Apple) thinness and lightness in a fully-featured computer. One feature that is notably absent is its optical drive.

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2008’s wafer-thin MacBook Air. (Source: nextmedia.com.au)

Apple is confident, not only that users could rely upon the optional USB SuperDrive for their disk-based needs; but that program installations and media downloads would be performed over the internet, instead of coming from CDs and DVDs. This change coincides with the growth of the iTunes Store (selling music in 2003, TV shows in 2005, and movies in 2006); followed by the arrival of the App Store in 2011, from which users could download their programs directly from Apple, instead of having to insert an installation disc. Ambitiously, Apple both predicts and precipitates the massive shakeup of the disc-based media and software industries.

Apple would eliminate optical drives from its iMac and MacBook Pro in 2012, and it would redesign the Mac Pro desktop tower in 2013 and MacBook in 2015, each without optical drives as a matter of design.

2015: The aforementioned MacBook (below) marks another design change by tossing out all ports but one universal USB-C port for both charging and data interface.

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2015’s redesigned MacBook. Note the single port on the corner. (Source: abc.net.au)

This move would be a boon to the after-market USB hub industry, for users who need to plug in more than one device at the same time, to say nothing of charging the battery in the process.

As history has shown, the iPhone 7’s removal of the headphone jack is just the latest in a long string of bold moves. Anyone who wasn’t prepared for it just hasn’t been paying attention.

Thin is In

During his segment of the keynote, Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing, asked the question outright: “Why we would remove the analog headphone jack from the iPhone?” He would go on to answer:

Our smartphones are packed with technologies and we all want more. We want bigger, just brighter displays. We want larger batteries, we want faster processors, we want stereo speakers, we want Taptic Engines, we want all of that and it’s all fighting for space within that same enclosure. And maintaining an ancient single purpose analog big connector doesn’t make sense because that space is at a premium.

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Phil Schiller’s inside look at the new iPhone 7. (Source: Reuters)

And he’s right. We demand a certain thinness from our mobile devices (as long as they’re not prone to bending, as was the case with 2014’s iPhone 6 Plus, shown below).

Removing the analog headphone jack not only frees up that much space on the phone’s shell, but it also allows for further technological expansion inside the phone. This could result in longer battery life, more processing power, or ideally, both.

This also means the removal of an oft-taken-for-granted component in all other smartphones: the digital-to-analog converter (DAC). Translating digital audio to conform to analog headphones requires a dedicated chip. Apple has this time opted to leave the audio processing to the headphones; be they from Apple, or from other manufacturers who can focus on higher-quality DACs without the limitations of an iPhone’s internal real estate. These chips can be built in to the plug, the cord, or the headphone itself. Some predict this will mean higher quality sound than an iPhone’s native DAC could have generated. Time will tell.

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An X-ray of last year’s iPhone 6S. Note the headphone jack in the lower-left. (Source: iFixit.com, click photo for their full teardown.)

Moving Toward A Wireless Future: CHARGE!

Apple doesn’t expect its users simply to use the iPhone’s built-in speakers for all future audio needs. After all, not only are they bundling with the new iPhone wired headphones that connect directly to the multi-purpose Lightning jack, but they’re also including an adapter (below) to allow users to plug their existing analog headphones into that jack.

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Apple’s included Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter (Source: Apple.com)

Third party companies like Belkin have already announced splitters, such as their RockStar™ (below) to allow for lightning headphone use while simultaneously charging the iPhone.

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Belkin’s Lightning Audio + Charge RockStar™ (Source: Belkin.com, click photo for their page.)

But wired headphones may themselves be the next thing to go. At the same keynote where they announced the iPhone 7, Apple unveiled AirPods (below): wireless earbuds that promise high-quality audio while leaving the Lightning jack free for charging (or other purposes, like an SD Card reader).

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Apple’s wireless AirPods. (Source: Apple.com, click photo for press release.)

But what if the iPhone didn’t need to plug in a cable even to recharge its battery?

Apple’s latest gadget du jour, the Watch, doesn’t require a cable to be inserted into a hole to recharge its battery; it uses a magnetic pad placed on the bottom of the watch (shown in this video narrated by Apple designer Jony Ive).

Likewise, Apple’s latest flagship tablet, the iPad Pro, features the “Smart Connector,” a row of three small circles (shown below), through which electricity can travel from the iPad to devices like keyboards; or to the iPad, from devices like the Logi BASE Charging Station. In both cases, the power goes strictly through touch, through the process of “inductive charging.”

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iPad Pro’s new Smart Connector on the edge. (Source: MacWorld.com)

Third-party manufacturers have been working toward a future with touch-only charging for years. Mophie’s Juice Pack battery case now comes in a model allowing for wireless charging, through their “Charge Force” line (see their video below to learn more).

Even furniture maker IKEA (below) has gotten in on the trend, selling wireless charging pads, and building the technology into some of their lamps and nightstands.

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IKEA’s SELJE Nightstand with wireless charging. (Source: IKEA, click photo for its page.)

I predict that iPhones will eventually have built-in wireless charging technology to take advantage of these options without needing a special case or adapter, just like some Android phones do already.

Eventually, the iPhone may not have any holes for any purpose: not charging, headphones, or anything else. This could bring about a near-hermetically sealed iPhone, with greatly improved water and dust resistance.

Conclusion

I don’t expect the removal of the headphone jack to go over smoothly, and I encourage debate on the subject. I just think that knowing Apple’s history, design philosophy, and ambitions for the future have made this a foregone conclusion. Personally, I’m ready to have one fewer wire to have to untangle.

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Keep On Plugging (in the Free World?), or: On the Prongs of a Dilemma

Recently, several of my clients have told me of their plans to do some traveling. I applaud their adventurous spirit, but I feel it is my duty to explain that some of their mobile gadgets need a little more due diligence when it comes to recharging while abroad. What follows is my quest to properly equip one such traveler before his upcoming African safari.

Mr. K., as I’ll call him, told me he was going to be exploring South Africa and Botswana, and that he was going to be bringing his new iPhone and iPad, and not much else in the way of electronics.

Apple's 12W Power Adapter for iPad and iPhone. Note the modular design for swapping prongs.

Apple’s 12W Power Adapter for iPad and iPhone. Note the modular design for swapping prongs.

Luckily, Apple’s 12-Watt USB Power Adapter can charge either the iPad or the iPhone interchangeably, with Apple’s USB-to-Lightning cable fitting the USB end in this adapter and the new, narrow “Lightning” end in either device. Like most of Apple’s mobile power adapters, this model has removable prongs, so one is not locked in to the North American “Type A” style of plug to charge the iPod, iPhone, iPad, or MacBook. All one must do next is purchase Apple’s World Travel Adapter Kit, and swap out the appropriate prongs for the country one plans to visit. The power “brick” does the appropriate wattage and voltage conversions internally. This travel kit includes prongs for North America or Japan (Type A); China (Type A, but without holes in the prongs); Continental Europe (4mm Type C); Korea (4.8mm Type F); The United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Singapore, Qatar, or the Republic of Ireland (Type G); and Australia or New Zealand (Type I). One point of frustration: Apple doesn’t spell out which International Electrotechnical Commision (IEC) plug type (A, C, etc.) each adapter uses–I had to look everything up. Apple simply describes the shape of the plug, and lists the country (or countries) that support it.

Apple's equally helpful and unhelpful chart, listing its supported countries and their specific plug shapes.

Apple’s equally helpful and unhelpful chart, listing its supported countries and their specific plug shapes.

It’s only a quibble, until you take another look at the countries supported in this kit. Notice anything missing? Like, perhaps a whole continent?

Mr. K is going to Africa. Specifically, South Africa and Botswana. Since Apple does not support either of these countries in its kit (to say nothing of the 51 other African nations), I had to do some more research.

The United Outlets of Benetton.

The United Outlets of Benetton.

The first place I explored was the official IEC website (remember, they’re the ones who establish the electrical standards for all the countries around the world). On that site’s “World Plugs” page, one can go to a map and find each country’s various plug shapes, or start with the plug and work backwards. As much as technology has helped to break down national borders and bring us closer to a “one world” utopian ideal, we’re not quite there yet. That Apple travel kit included five distinct plug types (six, if holes make a plug distinct). According to the IEC, there are 14, from Type A to Type N. Amusingly, the IEC even address this plethora of options on their site, in a section called, “Why so many?”

Now, Mr. K assured me he didn’t need to get any special adapters for his time in South Africa, as those needs had been accounted for over there. He only needed to make sure he was covered for his time in Botswana. Consulting the handy IEC page, I went to their section for that country. It was then I realized how spoiled we are in North America. In Botswana alone, there are three distinctive plug types in use: Type D, Type G, and Type M.

“Wait a minute,” I thought. “Type G? As in The UK, etc. prongs included in the Apple travel kit?” Yes, indeed, Botswana (at least partially) supports the British standard, no doubt due to British Imperial involvement in the region from the late 19th century until Botswana’s independence in 1966.

That history lesson out of the way, I checked on Types D and M, still grumbling that they weren’t included in Apple’s kit.

Here’s what WorldStandards.eu has to say about the two plug types:

The Type D Plug and Socket.

The Type D Plug and Socket.

TYPE D: India has standardized on a plug which was originally defined in British Standard 546 (the standard in Great Britain before 1947). This 5 amp plug has three round prongs that form a triangle. The central earth pin is 20.6 mm long and has a diameter of 7.1 mm. The 5.1 mm line and neutral pins are 14.9 mm long, on centres spaced 19.1 mm apart. The centre-to-centre distance between the grounding pin and the middle of the imaginary line connecting the two power pins is 22.2 mm. Type M, which has larger pins and is rated at 15 amps, is used alongside type D for larger appliances in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan. Some sockets can take both type M and type D plugs.

 

 

The Type M Plug and Socket.

The Type M Plug and Socket.

TYPE M: This plug resembles the Indian type D plug, but its pins are much larger. Type M is a 15 amp plug, which has three round prongs that form a triangle. The central earth pin is 28.6 mm long and has a diameter of 8.7 mm. The 7.1 mm line and neutral pins are 18.6 mm long, on centres spaced 25.4 mm apart. The centre-to-centre distance between the grounding pin and the middle of the imaginary line connecting the two power pins is 28.6 mm.

 

I discovered in my research that Types D and M were also commonly used in South Africa, but since Mr. K didn’t need specific adapters for his time there, that information was a red herring. I needed to find adapters for those two types that could fit on to the end of one of Apple’s included prongs (most likely the largest, Type G).

Because time was a factor, and because I wanted to see each plug up close before purchasing it, I went to the largest brick-and-mortar electronics retailer in my area, Fry’s Electronics. Fry’s carries a wide variety of power adapters, particularly just about the whole range from Conair’s Travel Smart™ line. On Conair’s website, one can even search by country for the appropriate adapter. Encouraged, I typed in “Botswana,” hoping it would bring up the internationally recognized standards, Type D and M.

Instead, what came up were a variety of plugs that looked like what I wanted, but using Conair’s own naming/numbering system. For example, what everyone else in the civilized world calls Type G (although Apple omits such labels altogether), Conair calls NW135C. One can assume this is Type G, because the shape, as well as the countries it supports, line up with the G standard. Sadly, nothing on Conair’s “Botswana” page looked like the Type D or M plugs.

Recalling that Botswana’s Type D and M plugs were also used in South Africa, I typed that country’s name into Conair’s selector page. Using the pictures on their website, I was able to deduce that Conair’s NWG13C was the thicker Type M, and Conair’s NWG14C was the narrower Type D. I picked up each of these adapters at Fry’s and delivered them, along with the Apple kit, to Mr. K. He was less than pleased at all the options with which he was presented, but I explained that he only needed to bring his Type A (US) and Type G (UK, etc.) Apple prongs, and then plug the large Type G plug into his new Type D or M adapters (as needed) while in Africa. I also applied labels to each of the different plugs so he would know which was which, and which countries supported which plugs. Frankly, those labels would have been welcome from the manufacturer.

I now trust that Mr. K is fully equipped for his voyage, and for any power outlet that he may encounter in South Africa and Botswana. For now, I continue to dream of a day when all nations, great and small, near and far, use the same shape and size outlet to power all electronics.

That, or perhaps we’ll all switch to solar chargers, and ignore the wall outlets altogether. I just hope, should that day come, that Conair agrees to call it “The Sun.”

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Review: Scosche controlFREQ II (BTBRCBK)

When I’m on the treadmill, I like to watch videos via Netflix on my iPad, which I’ve mounted to the console. This provides an entertaining distraction from the otherwise less-than-thrilling experience of literally going nowhere fast. My biggest problem has been trying to manipulate the iPad while in motion. Say I need to adjust the volume, or pause the video, or even close the app altogether. If I’m walking or running, it’s hard to achieve the precision required to tap the appropriate onscreen icon. Usually I’d end up swiping, which on an iPad, is an entirely different action. My aim was to control the iPad without having to touch it, so I began the search for a remote control.

Historically, there have been three methods of remotely controlling iOS devices, like the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch: Inline with headphones; via a dock connector; or with BlueTooth. The inline connector is the button on the Apple headphone cord that allows for adjustment of volume, or playing and pausing a given track. Some even allow skipping back and forth. I tried this first, using Belkin’s Headphone Adapter with Microphone. While it was useful to be able to adjust my volume and play/pause music tracks (to which I also work out), I was still tethered to my device with a not-quite-long-enough cord, and the play/pause function did not work on the Netflix app. I wanted a wireless remote.

The 30-pin Dock Connector has been the go-to standard connector for Apple’s iOS devices since April 2003 with their third-generation iPod. This meant that every stereo system designed for compatibility with iPods and iPhones (and some even with room to fit iPads) featured this connector. I tried one device, a clock radio from AT&T, which let me plug in my iPhone (but an extra cable was required to connect the iPad) and use the radio’s remote. Alas, the radio was never designed for the purpose I had in mind, and again, the Netflix interactivity was no-go. Plus, it was another bulky piece of equipment I had strapped to my treadmill, which posed certain safety risks. The other consideration I had to make was the now out-of-date 30-pin Dock Connector, which Apple phased out in favor of the smaller Lightning connector in September 2012 starting with the iPhone 5, and extending to their other devices through the end of the year. Not only was this radio not fully compatible, but it was an expensive investment in old technology. My last resort was Bluetooth.

Controlling some functions via Bluetooth is not a new discovery. My Jaybird Bluetooth headphones let me adjust the volume, skip back and forth, play and pause music, and even accept phone calls (when paired with the iPhone, naturally, not the iPad). The two drawbacks are 1.) I’d have to reach up to my ear to press the relevant button, and 2.) This still doesn’t affect the Netflix app on my iPad. Did anything exist that extended my iPad’s functionality past its touchscreen?

As it turns out, one device fit the bill: the Scosche controlFREQ II. Not only does this device (FINALLY!) control the Netflix app’s play/pause function (although the iPad still wants to play iTunes music by default); but it also has a button that acts as the iPad’s “Home” button, allowing me to quit apps and even engage Siri from a distance. App switching (after a quick “double-tap” of the “Home” button) is still possible, but I still had to reach out and touch the icon of the app I want to run. Other than that minor quibble, it’s the best (and frankly, only) remote option for working with my iPad without having to dangle a cord or utilize the now-defunct 30-pin connector.

Some other functions that I haven’t really made use of yet include a remote shutter button, so I can set up my iOS camera and stand back to take a proper picture; a dedicated Mute button, for when holding down the “Volume Down” button is too time-consuming; and, most curiously, a hidden 12-key keypad, numbered 1-0, with a “pairing” key and an “Enter” key. The keypad (hidden under a sliding cover) only works in text-enabled apps (so no trying to dial your iPhone with it), but the buttons only enter their respective numbers. There appears to be no way to program them so that, for example, if I were to hold down “2” it would cycle through “A-B-C” as is the case on some other devices with numeric-only keypads. There is also a button on the remote for bringing up my device’s onscreen keyboard, but again, since it requires me to type on the actual screen, I don’t see the benefit of that particular function.

My only other complaint about the remote is that when the time came to pair the remote to my device, I had to type the pairing code (a four-digit numeric sequence, followed by “Enter”) on easily the smallest number keys I’ve ever used. I’d recommend keeping a pencil nearby so that you can press–with the eraser–the necessary keys for pairing.

I’ve been a fan of Scosche’s mobile accessories for some time, and I expect that this remote will stick with me, for use on my current iPad, as well as future devices to come. Recommended.

New Year’s Technology Resolutions, #3: Uninstall What You Don’t Use

Now that you’ve gotten your system fully caught up, it’s time to think about what programs you use, and to uninstall the ones you don’t use.

Before you remove anything from your computer, make sure you have the necessary disks or other backups in case you remove something you decide you’d want after all later, or essential system software. More and more these days, the manufacturers are leaving out the recovery CDs, counting on you to burn your own. If you don’t want to bother with that, in many cases you simply need to contact the manufacturer and have them mail you recovery CDs.

The uninstallation process is pretty straightforward in Windows XP. Go into your Control Panel (click the Start button, then click “Control Panel”), then click “Add or Remove Programs” from the screen that comes up. If you’re in Classic View, “Add or Remove Programs” is still there, between “Add Hardware” and “Administrative Tools.” Go ahead and double-click the “Add or Remove Programs” icon to see the list of programs installed.

First, identify the programs you recognize. It’s easiest to start with the big names. For example, let’s say you want to remove Mozilla Firefox. It’s a popular web browser, but maybe you’ve decided you’re going to stick with Microsoft Internet Explorer, or try Google Chrome. Click once on Mozilla Firefox, then click the “Remove” button. Follow the procedure that follows, and restart the computer if prompted. Repeat for all the programs you know, that you know you want to remove.

In Windows 7, the procedure is nearly identical. Go to Control Panel from the Start (or “Windows”) button, then find the “Programs” icon, where it says “Uninstall a program.” From there, you’ll see the list of programs, but when you click on one, instead of getting a “remove” button, you’ll have to click “Uninstall” at the top of the list, or simply double-click the program you’ve selected to begin the removal process. Again, follow that through until you’re told it’s successfully removed, then repeat as desired for the other programs you know.

Identifying the ones you don’t know, on the other hand, can be tricky. When you buy a new computer, the manufacturer may load it up with trial versions of otherwise useful software, samples of programs you’d never use, and games you have no interest playing. If it’s a brand new computer onto which you haven’t put anything of your own yet, go ahead and remove anything undesired, but remember my warning at the beginning of this post about having the important disks in case you later want or need something you’ve removed.

On a Mac, the process is straightforward. Find your “Applications” folder in “Finder” (the blue happy face on the left side of your Dock), then drag the program you want to remove to the Trash (or right-click, or control-click and choose “Move to Trash,”) then empty the Trash. There are many third-party programs dedicated to clearing out the supplemental files you may miss when dragging the main program to the Trash, but since Mac OS X does not include its own uninstaller the way Windows has since ’95, I’m content with just dragging the application icon directly into the Trash. If you want to be extra tidy, simply search Download.com’s Mac section for “uninstall.” There you’ll find programs like CleanMyMac, AppCleaner, AppZapper, etc.

Deleting Apps from iPods, iPhones, and iPads is even easier still. Simply press the icon for the app you want to remove and hold until all the icons start to jiggle, then click the X in the upper-left corner of that icon to delete it. Once it’s gone, simply hit your device’s home button at the bottom of the front, to stop the jiggling.

As always, these are general tips, and your specific case may need more in-depth explanation. I am available by e-mail for any specific questions you may have, and you can also comment below. Enjoy freeing up some space for the new year!

UP NEXT: Resolution #4, Back It Up

New Year’s Technology Resolutions, #1: Check Your Clocks and Calendars

As we crawl, bleary-eyed into a new year, we should take this opportunity to make sure our devices are on the same page (of the calendar) as we are, and that they’re not stuck in a Jumanji-esque time warp.

New Year’s Day is one of three good times each year to make sure everything is set properly. The next is the beginning of Daylight Savings (where applicable), this year on Sunday, March 10, when our clocks “spring forward” an hour. The third, naturally, is the end of Daylight Savings, on Sunday, November 3, when the clocks “fall back” again. Also, if you do any travel outside your own time zone, you should make sure your mobile devices update properly when you reach your destination. Here’s how to check your clocks and calendars.

If the linked instructions either don’t work, or aren’t clear enough, feel free to contact me directly (there may be a specific issue interfering with the adjustment of your settings), or leave a comment on this post.

I’ll be offering more resolutions you can–and should–adopt, throughout January. If you have some tech resolutions of your own, feel free to drop me a line and let me know!

Happy New Year (whatever year it is!)