Tag Archives: iphone

Don’t Take Your PIN to the Grave

On Sunday morning, I received an early phone call from the son of a client, informing me that his father, my client, had passed away. It was sad news, but not shocking; he had been ill for some time. The primary reason for calling me, however, wasn’t just to inform me of the loss. The son was locked out of his father’s iPhone, where critical documents and photos were kept. And despite having worked with me earlier to document his passwords for services like Netflix and Gmail, my client never shared with me the PIN to unlock his iPhone.

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Nobody here needs their passwords anymore.

When we set up devices like smartphones, we are typically asked to enter a small (usually 4- to 6-digit) sequence of numbers. This is our Personal Identification Number (PIN), required to unlock the phone. Newer models add to this security by incorporating biometric methods like fingerprints and even facial recognition; but at the end of the day, that PIN is still there, keeping that critical data safe.

For more, here is Apple’s page: “Use a passcode with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.”

In many cases, users can “opt out” of assigning a PIN to their phones; but by default, the step of setting up a PIN is part of the “new phone setup” process. At that point, we just type in whatever number we usually use, and we almost never write that number down.

Don’t laugh; yours probably isn’t that much better.

I have clients who type their PINs so often and so rapidly, the process is now muscle memory. If asked what that number is, they actually have to take a moment to recall it.

In fact, Vanderbilt University performed a study in 2013 on the typing muscle memory phenomenon.

Instinctively tapping the keys in the correct pattern may make for a speedy unlocking process, but it does nobody any good if the phone’s owner takes that PIN to the grave.

When Syed Rizwan Farook died in a battle with police following his December 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, the first course of action the police took was to attempt to unlock his iPhone, hoping to learn more about his motivations for killing 14 people and injuring 22 more. Unfortunately, the iPhone’s security measures meant that they would not be able to get in through conventional methods. 

From the Wikipedia article on the attack:

On February 9, 2016, the FBI announced that it was unable to unlock one of the mobile phones they had recovered because of the phone’s advanced security features. The phone was an iPhone 5C. … The FBI first asked the National Security Agency to break into the phone, but the NSA was unable to do so. As a result, the FBI asked Apple Inc. to create a new version of the phone’s iOS operating system that could be installed and run in the phone’s random access memory to disable certain security features. Apple declined due to its policy to never undermine the security features of its products.

The struggle between the authorities and Apple led to a public debate over safety vs. privacy, one that continues to this day—despite the FBI eventually employing third-party methods to unlock the phone.

If even the FBI has to undertake extraordinary measures to unlock a phone, it’s not going to be any easier for a layperson—and certainly not a layperson who is also coping with the death of a loved one.

While my client’s son had been led to believe that he may be able to convince Apple to unlock the phone by presenting them with a death certificate, I’m honestly not so sure. This relevant 2013 discussion on the Apple Communities page goes into the details on why the system works the way it does, and why it’s not as simple as having the store “unlock” it, the way they can unlock, for example, a Macintosh computer.

For the record, this is NOT how you get into a Mac without a password.

The lesson here is that a PIN is just as important as every other password you use on a daily basis, if not more so. So when you’re compiling your list of passwords (and here’s my article about how and why to do so), start by writing down all your PINs. 

Your loved ones will thank you for sparing them that extra grief.

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“I miss you, Grandpa… but at least you kept all your passwords and PINs somewhere safe and accessible!”

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Yes, I’m (Planning On) Buying an iPhone X. Here’s How, and Why… but WHEN?

When I watched Apple’s iPhone presentation last week, one of the biggest surprises to me came when they unveiled the iPhone 8, because it wasn’t the 7S!

 

First, a brief history lesson (scroll down to “HOW” to skip to my thoughts on the iPhone X):

In 2008, Apple released their first upgrade to the iPhone, the iPhone 3G. Its biggest improvement was, naturally, its ability to make calls on the 3G network. Otherwise, it was the same shape and size as its predecessor, the original iPhone (never actually called “2G” or “Edge”).

One year later, Apple added voice command interactivity—a precursor to Siri—and other improvements in 2009’s iPhone 3GS. The “S,” according to Apple’s Phil Schiller, stood for “speed.”

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Phil Schiller introduces the iPhone 3GS. Source: CNN.com

Then came the iPhone 4, which, if you’re counting along, was indeed the fourth iPhone—incidentally, this was also the last time that number would indicate which iPhone release it was.

Following that, in 2011, came the 4S (this time, the “S” stood for “Siri”). With the 4S, a pattern was established of a “numbered” iPhone, followed the next year by the “S” version of that model. This pattern gave us the iPhone 4 and 4S; the 5 and 5S; and the 6 and 6S. In 2016, true to form, Apple released the 7. Unlike previous “numbered” iPhones, this one was mostly the same shape and size as its predecessors in the 6 line. The biggest (and most controversial) change was the removal of a headphone jack. For a reminder, check out my blog from that time.

By this point, many iPhone owners had gotten into the habit of waiting every other year to get their phone on the “S” cycle. This would allow Apple time to work out the kinks in design (such as the structural issues in the iPhone 6, resolved with the 6S); as well as allowing third-party manufacturers time to release appropriately-sized accessories, such as Mophie’s Juice Pack line of battery cases.

So imagine the surprise in the tech community to hear that the next iPhone would not be the iPhone 7S, but instead the iPhone 8!

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Okay, it didn’t take EVERYONE by surprise! Source: cultofmac.com, click image to go to their article, now proven correct.

In the 8, the most prominent hardware update beyond the camera—they do that with every new iPhone—came in the form of wireless charging, via the Qi wireless charging standard. Not only had Apple defied expectations by not naming this phone the 7S; now they were adopting established standards, instead of inventing a proprietary technology! What’s next?!

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An iPhone 8 charging wirelessly. Source: CNN.com

And then they showed us what’s next.

In a rare move, Apple launched another phone at the event (and I don’t just mean the larger iPhone 8 Plus). No, this is where X marked the spot. But forgive me, I don’t mean to misspeak. It’s pronounced “Ten,” as in the Roman numeral. Just like how the tenth incarnation of its computer operating system, Mac OS, featured an X in its brand for over 15 years. And that was pronounced, “Oh Ess Ten.” Ironically, just as they’ve abandoned the Roman numeral X in their macOS software, they’ve brought it back front and center for a whole new generation of users who will no doubt pronounce it, “iPhone Ex…” at least, until the next model comes out: the “XS?” The “10 S?” I’m sure the brain trust is working hard on that name already.

Strictly speaking, the X (or 10, whatever) doesn’t represent which iPhone model this is. It’s actually either the 18th (if you’re counting 5C, Plus, and SE models); or just the 12th (if you’re ignoring them).

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The 15 iPhones up to 2016’s 7 and 7 Plus (lower right). Source: MercuryNews.com

So if they wanted to match their numbering system the way they did with the iPhone 4, that ship has long since sailed. No, this number represents the tenth anniversary of the iPhone (which, strictly speaking, came and went in June to no official fanfare).

I have to admit, announcing the X at the same time as the 8 is a bold step by Apple. Sure, they’ve done “parallel” releases before, such as the colorful, plastic iPhone 5C (it practically looked like a co-venture with Fisher-Price!). Or the compact iPhone SE, targeted at those who preferred the smaller form factor of the 5 and 5S. But the 5C didn’t call itself the 6. And the SE, released at the same time as the 7, certainly didn’t call itself the 8!

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2016’s iPhone SE (left) and 2013’s iPhone 5C (right). Source: uSwitch.com

For most users, the 8 is fine. It’s got the 7’s familiar shape, size, and interface. Good ol’ home button where it should be, fingerprint sensor and all. Now it’s got a couple more bells and whistles—the wireless charging is certainly an idea whose time has come—but otherwise, there really isn’t much to adjust to with this new phone.

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The 8 Plus (the three on the left) looks pretty much like the 7 Plus (the five on the right)… except not quite as many color choices, this time. Source: Macrumors.com

The X, on the other hand, is for the “bleeding edge” types. The kind who don’t mind beta testing a new design. “Facial recognition? Let’s try it out!” They’d say. “If it fails and I have to type in my passcode because there isn’t a fingerprint sensor anymore, well, that’s the price of living on the edge!” And thank goodness for them. We need them to carry the banner for the latest, crazy ideas. For everyone else, a good, dependable iPhone experience is just fine.

Apple has boasted that the iPhone X is the culmination of ten years of research and development. Whether it lives up to the hype remains to be seen. The official release date of the iPhone X is 11/3/17, with pre-orders starting on 10/27/17. And yes, I’ll be getting one—when I can.


HOW

I used to wait every other year, starting with the 3GS. I didn’t have to suffer the “antennagate” headache that accompanied the iPhone 4; likewise, I missed the “bendgate” controversy with the iPhone 6 (see the video below). But when it was time to get my patiently-awaited 6S, I was presented with a new way of getting my iPhone.

I signed on for the iPhone Upgrade Program upon its debut in 2015. I got the 6S—the Plus was a bit too beefy for my pocket—and, as long as I kept up my monthly payments, I would be able to “trade up” to the new release each year. And so, last December, I was able to turn in my 6S for a 7 (I still don’t miss the headphone jack, truth be told).

When the X is readily available, I intend to turn in my 7, and begin the cycle anew. I understand that the monthly payments will go up—it does retail for $999, after all!—but I appreciate the freedom of a no-interest financing plan. It means I don’t have to shell out a healthy chunk of change for a device that, let’s face it, comes with a limited lifespan under the best of circumstances. I’m thinking about the future!

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Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program (click the image to visit Apple’s site). Source: Forbes.com


WHY

Okay, but couldn’t I get the iPhone 8 on the iPhone Upgrade Program when it comes out on 9/22 (available to order now)? Certainly. But it’s not enough of an upgrade from my 7, if I have to choose between the 8 and the X (seriously, they should have called the 8 the VIII to avoid confusion!). I don’t use the phone as a camera enough to justify the upgrade just for the new camera; and for the vaunted wireless charging, I’ve got a great case by Mophie on my 7 that does that job just fine. Here’s a review!

Besides, Apple’s native charging pad, AirPower, won’t be available until 2018.

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Apple’s AirPower charging pad, shown here with an iPhone X, an Apple Watch Series 3, and a wireless-charging AirPods case. None of these devices are available at the time of this posting. Source: ZDNet.com. Click the photo to go to Apple’s wireless charging page.

So why upgrade at all?

I’m tempted to ignore such a silly question; but since I’m the one who asked it rhetorically, I’ll indulge it.

In my specific use case, it’s my job to introduce my clients to new technology. I have one client who lives on the cutting edge. He’s already told me, he’s definitely getting the X when it comes out. It would behoove me to be as expert in that phone as possible when he, and clients like him, have questions about learning the new interface. The fact of the matter is, not enough has changed from the 7 to the 8 to justify that purchase. The big changes on the 8 will mostly be software-based, in the form of iOS 11, which will be available to all iPhone users as far back as the 5S, starting 9/19. I’ll be putting that on my iPhone 7, so I’ll be pretty much ready to go to help any 8 users with usability questions. But when the X comes out, I’m going to want one… but not just so I can keep up with my clients.

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iOS 11, coming to an iPhone near you 9/19. Source: EgyptInnovate.com, click the image to visit Apple’s iOS page.

The X has two major selling points for me, and they’re both in its screen.

IF IT FITS, I SITS

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Some things work better in pockets than others. Source: CAT-GIFs.com

I’m a bit envious of those iPhone owners who have the Plus models. Those glorious 5.5-inch screens look like a dream come true for those of us who find ourselves squinting at our 4.7-inch screens from time to time—a literal sight for sore eyes, if you will. But those big screens come at a cost: the body of the iPhone 8 Plus, like its predecessors from the 6 and 7 lines, measures 6.24 inches long by 3.07 inches wide. And that’s just too big for my pockets. Compare that with its little sibling the 8, measuring a much more pocket-friendly 5.45 inches long by 2.65 inches wide.

The X, on the other hand, measures only 5.65 inches long by 2.79 inches wide, so it’s closer in shape and size to the 8 (it’s under 10% larger than the 8) than to the 8 Plus, which is over 20% larger than the X.

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The three new iPhones for an at-a-glance size comparison (L to R): iPhone X, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone 8. Source: TheVerge.com

But even with the compact body, the X has the biggest iPhone screen yet, at 5.8 inches, measured diagonally. Apple was able to achieve this feat by nearly eliminating anything on the face of the X that wasn’t part of the screen.

Well, almost.

It wouldn’t be an iPhone announcement without some controversy, I suppose. Last year saw the absent headphone jack; this year, while the 8 series gets away essentially unscathed, the X endures the slings and arrows of its critics for “The Notch.” This strip on the top face of the X contains the front-facing camera and the facial recognition sensors (another neat feature exclusive to the X, but not a “dealbreaker” for me). The primary criticism here is its unusual shape. Unlike past iPhone screens, this would be the first model not to be a pure rectangle, with this small chunk cut out of one side.

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Behold: THE NOTCH! Source: Macrumors.com

Personally, I don’t see the big deal (it’s still so much more visual real estate than I ever would have had before), but I’ll have to see if it truly bothers me when I see it in person.

OLED UP THE GARDEN PATH

The other killer feature, that standout aspect of the X that the 8 models just don’t have, is the “Super Retina HD display,” running at a resolution of 2436 by 1125, with a pixel density of 458 pixels per inch. That’s a 32% increase in resolution over the 8 Plus, and a 14% increase in pixel density. And remember, that’s all in a body still smaller than the 8 Plus.

But what I’m really excited about is the Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) display, a first for iPhone. With OLED, there is no need for a separate, prone-to-failure backlight; the pixels generate their own light! This means the lights are lighter, the blacks blacker, and the phone itself can be thinner and lighter-weight.

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The iPhone X’s OLED display probably needs to be experienced in person. Source: Apple.com, click to visit their iPhone X page.

Hopefully, this will be just the first in a new wave of OLED screens: first on iPhone, then iPad, then MacBook screens, even iMac screens. The final dream would be a large (maybe 30+ inch?) desktop OLED monitor running at 5K or greater. And since Apple hasn’t made their own standalone monitors since the Thunderbolt Display was retired in June of 2016, I’d say it’s about time.

Again, the proof is in the pudding. I need to see this screen for myself. So…?


WHEN

I was lucky when the iPhone 7 came out. I wasn’t in a particular rush to get one, waiting until Mophie would come out with a new Juice Pack case for it. Once that case hit stores, I was able to waltz right in at the end of December 2016 and pick up the iPhone 7. No pre-ordering, no waiting in line. Sure, I wasn’t the “first on my block” to have one, but that’s really never been a priority for me. I did a piece on waiting a while back, take a look.

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Mophie’s Juice Pack Air for the iPhone 7. Source: Mophie.com

With the iPhone X, I don’t really need any external accessories. After all, wireless charging is built right in, and my usage never really demanded an external battery. I’m pretty much ready to go, when it comes out. So we’ll just have to see if Apple can meet demands in a timely manner. Given what I’ve been reading about part shortages, I have to admit I’m not particularly optimistic that I’ll have the iPhone X in my hot little hands before 2018.

But what I lack in optimism, I make up for in patience. After all, I’ve been doing this dance with Apple for… how many years is it, now? V? L? M???

◼︎

My New Best Buds

Happy New Year! In the spirit of putting my best foot forward, I am happy to report that I have achieved closure on one of my lingering items from 2016… no, I still haven’t found a Nintendo Classic. At this point, I may as well set my sights on its rumored successor, the Super Nintendo Classic.

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Come on, Nintendo. One heartbreak at a time. (Source: @trademark_bot on Twitter)

This loose thread from last year involves my quixotic quest to find the perfect wireless earbuds. In my Dec. 12 posting, I touched upon my experiences with earbuds from Sol Republic and Jabra. Neither brand impressed me, nor had models from Plantronics and Jaybird, which I also tried out. In fact, while I was patiently waiting for Apple to release its AirPods, only one brand met my demands for comfort and functionality: Skybuds, by Alpha Audiotronics, Inc.

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Alpha’s Skybuds, enlarged to show detail. (Source: Skybuds.com)

The size and shape were a perfect fit, and the sound quality was great… once I was able to pair them to my iPhone 6S. Out of the box, the setup process was arduous, to say the least. I had to install the Skybuds iOS app, and then, pairing each bud was a fussy process. Sometimes Left would pair without a problem but Right wouldn’t show up; sometimes vice versa; and sometimes neither bud would appear at all. To resolve these issues, Skybuds had a software update I needed to get before I could continue. The update told me it would take three hours to download. Three. Hours. Several times during the download, it would drop the connection and I would have to resume. Luckily it didn’t start over at the beginning of the three hours, but each pause was an unwelcome interruption.

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This tour was only supposed to be three hours, too. (Source: Parade.com)

Once the software was updated and the Skybuds successfully paired in tandem, the listening experience was great. And it had better be, at $249.99 retail*. This was my new gold standard for wireless earbuds, even with the setup headache. Apple was going to have a pretty high bar to cross, whenever their long-awaited AirPods would arrive.

And then they arrived.

I had gotten the Skybuds on 12/12, just after posting my blog about my false starts with other brands. Precisely one week later, on 12/19, my local Apple Store notified me that the AirPods I wanted, and for which I had put my name on a waiting list in September, had finally arrived. I didn’t immediately return the Skybuds; I wanted to try out the AirPods before deciding on a “keeper.” So I bought the AirPods over the phone–mustn’t risk their selling out before I got to the store!–and went to pick them up.

 

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And I didn’t even have to wait in line. (Source: MacRumors.com, click photo for their article on the AirPods release.)

 

The setup process isn’t much to describe. I opened the box in the store, opened the charging case, and the AirPods automatically paired with my iPhone 6S. No app downloads, no three-hour updates. I was reminded of the simplicity of adding components to my first Mac, after switching from a Windows PC over a decade ago. “You mean, that’s it?” I thought to myself. And the answer was a resounding yes… and no.

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For real, that’s the process. (Source: CNet.com, click the animated GIF for their article on how easy it is to set up the AirPods.)

Listening to iTunes or Spotify sounded great with both AirPods in. They even stayed in my ears when I would move my head around, despite this satirical take from Conan O’Brien:

So they sounded good, they paired easily, and they fit well–in my ears, at least. What was left?

 

Despite all the positives, AirPods didn’t get along perfectly with my iPhone 6S, when I tried to have a phone call (fun fact for my younger readers: the iPhone, in addition to supporting email, web, and texting functions, also works as a telephone!). With both AirPods in my ears, paired to my iPhone 6S, the bluetooth would disconnect, forcing the call back to the phone’s built-in speaker. I looked into this issue, and apparently the glitch was even worse for some users, ending the call altogether.

In a recent post at AppleToolBox.com, the topic of “iPhone Airpods Disconnecting Calls” came up.  It appears that I was not the only one having difficulty maintaining a phone conversation with both AirPods in. Indeed, with that hypothesis in mind, I began taking calls with only one AirPod, reminiscent of the classic one-ear bluetooth earpieces of years past. This was not an ideal solution, but at least I could have my calls without worrying about losing the audio, or the call outright.

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Using only one AirPod? I suppose there are worse things I could have done…

According to that Apple Tool Box article, “Currently, the issue appears to affect iPhone 6S and 6S Plus more often than other iPhone models.” I’m not totally surprised. It’s no secret that the AirPods were intended to be a companion piece for the brand-new iPhone 7.

It’s the first iPhone without a headphone jack, remember?

At the end of the year, I upgraded to the iPhone 7. Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program lets me swap out iPhones each year, when the new model becomes available, so it would have been silly not to trade in my 6S (known to have problems with AirPod calls) for a 7. And for readers who recall my frustration with Mophie for not making a Juice Pack battery case that supported the 7, they finally released a compatible case. Everything was in place.

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It’s essentially the same as the Juice Pack Air for the 6/6S, but with a larger opening for the camera (upper left); and of course, no opening at the bottom for a headphone jack. (Source: Mophie.com)

After several days of testing, I can confidently say that the AirPods have none of the difficulties with the iPhone 7 that they had with the 6S. Songs, videos, and even phone calls sound great in stereo from start to finish. But the last lingering question remains: “Are AirPods better than Skybuds?”

AirPods sound just as good. In my ears, they’re just as comfortable. They’re much, much easier to set up. They’re fully supported by Apple; so if I have a problem with the connection, it’s one trip to the Genius Bar to see if the problem is with the AirPods, or with the iPhone. And it should be noted that they retail for $159.00, as much as $90* less than the Skybuds. For all those reasons, if you have an iPhone 7, AirPods get my full recommendation. If you’re still on an older iPhone (particularly the 6S or 6S Plus), save your money, at least until Apple can properly address the issue with phone calls. Heck, just use wired headphones while you still have an available jack for them!

* UPDATE: At publication time, it appears Skybuds have gone down in price to $219.99.

Mophie’s Adhering to Magnetism with Its New Products… But This New Case May Repel More Than It Attracts

Earlier this month, mobile accessory maker Mophie announced a new line of products for the new iPhone 7. These accessories utilize Mophie’s Hold Force magnetic attachment system. From their press release: “The base case fits snugly over your smartphone. Magnetic plates embedded in the back of the case allow you to attach any hold force accessory simply by touching it to the back of the smartphone.”

When I read the description, and later saw images (and video, above) of this new line of accessories, it became clear that these magnets weren’t strong enough to hold my interest. And the shame of it is, magnets may very well be the future of smartphone accessories, but it doesn’t look like Mophie’s compass is pointing in the right direction.

Mophie’s been making battery cases for smartphones for several years now, and the value is unmistakable. Instead of having to lug around a separate battery to recharge your phone when it gets low, the built-in battery in their Juice Pack cases recharge the phone with the push of a button. It’s such a useful accessory, that even Apple has jumped into the game, with their own battery case (albeit one of debatable attractiveness).

Still, Mophie is the industry leader (64% market share in the battery case arena): so what they do matters. And let’s take a look at what they’ve done, just this year.

In February of this year, Mophie unveiled their first wireless Juice Pack battery case, tailored to the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge models:  This means that their battery case does not interfere with the phone’s built-in wireless charging function (a feature still absent from the iPhone). Now the Juice Pack can recharge the same way the “naked” phones could (see image below), on any Qi-certified charging stand.

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The Galaxy S7, charging wirelessly, without a special case. Source: AndroidCentral.com

NOTE: To learn more about the new Qi standard, visit its page at the Wireless Power Consortium site: https://www.wirelesspowerconsortium.com/about/benefits.html

It’s an exciting technology, and it’s easy to predict as the future for mobile device recharging (as I mentioned in an earlier post, I expect Apple’s gameplan is to go completely wireless in the near future, starting with the removal of the headphone jack. But more on that in a moment).

In May, Mophie expanded its Charge Force line to support the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S, and 6S Plus.

Things were carrying on swimmingly. Now iPhone users could finally enjoy wireless charging, a feature built in to many phones across several makers—even Blackberry!— to this point.

I, myself, jumped on the wireless charging bandwagon for my iPhone 6S. I had been using their Juice Pack Plus, along with their proprietary desktop and car dashboard charging cradles. And it wasn’t perfect.

First of all, I bought the Juice Pack Plus almost immediately after the iPhone 6S came out, so I wasn’t sure if it would fit correctly. The package for the case still only said “iPhone 6,” but Mophie’s website indicated compatibility with both the 6 and 6S.

For the record: the iPhone 6 measures 0.27 inches thick, whereas the newer 6S measures 0.28 inches thickDue to the snug fit of the Juice Pack Plus, that .01 inch difference is important, and noticeable. For one, it is near impossible to pry the case off the 6S if need be; and the pressure exerted by the case on my iPhone started to discolor the screen in the middle of my phone.

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An example of the kind of discoloration I noticed in the center of my screen. Source: forums.androidcentral.com

In addition, the charging cradles didn’t always make a solid enough connection to deliver the charge to the case. These cradles feature small metal pins which have to line up with small metal plates on the bottom of the standard Juice Pack case. It’s a terrible feeling to wake up and find that instead of recharging overnight on your nightstand, your phone has worn down its battery, waiting to be plugged in.

 

 

The car charger was fraught in its own way, requiring the phone to be “clicked in” on top and bottom for a secure fit for the ride. If I put it in at the wrong angle—easy to do when in a hurry—then not only would the phone/case combo not recharge in the car, but the misalignment meant that there was the risk of the phone popping right out of the cradle during a drive. This is how drivers get distracted, and how accidents happen.

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The Juice Pack Car Dock, shown in vertical and horizontal orientations. Source: The-Gadgeteer.com

Upgrading to the Charge Force line was a no-brainer. Instead of fussy cradles that may or may not line up, the included wireless charging mat utilized both gravity, as well as a strong magnet, to keep the phone securely charging. Interestingly, this system does require the phone to lie parallel on the mat, as opposed to perpendicular, or at some other angle. But as I said, the magnets in the mat keep things pretty well aligned.

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This connection’s pretty hard to mess up. Source: instash.com

In the car, the only option so far is the Charge Force Vent Mount, which, as you may guess, clips into the car’s air conditioner vent. It’s a solid, stable fit; and with its own strong magnets, I don’t worry about the phone falling off or failing to charge in the car. I am, however, not thrilled with the blockage of my precious AC during long, hot drives in Southern California.

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The Charge Force Vent Mount in use, shown here in vertical orientation, blocking less of the vent. Source: Mophie.com

Hopefully they’ll introduce a dashboard/windshield version to replace their problematic Juice Pack Car Dock.

“Hopefully they’ll introduce” is where we are now. Currently, the Juice Pack connects via the iPhone’s Lightning port to deliver power to the phone. The case itself features a Micro-USB connector on the bottom; and then either Mophie’s unique “frictionless” charging points on the bottom of the Juice Pack, or the newer Qi-compatible Charge Force system on the back of the Juice Pack Wireless. The iPhone 6/6S headphone jack is not easily accessible through the thick case, so Mophie makes a headphone adapter (included with some, but not all, Juice Pack models. Double-check the list of package contents before getting yours. They’re happy to sell the adapter separately, of course).

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Mophie’s headphone adapter to fit bulkier plugs into its Juice Pack cases. Source: Mophie.com

Immediately upon arrival of the iPhone 7, I’m certain Mophie furiously went to work designing a new Juice Pack battery case for the redesigned phone—a case now absent a headphone jack, of course. The hope was—and remains—a pass-through port for Apple’s proprietary Lightning jack. This would allow Juice Pack users to connect Apple’s Lightning-to-headphone adapter and continue to use their wired headphones as they would without the case on.

If Mophie can’t license the Lightning port from Apple, I would also accept an adapter built right in to the case; and thinking about it, I feel that’s the more likely route—after all, third-party accessory makers (like Scosche, below) are already making their own Lightning-to-headphone adapters, so why shouldn’t Mophie just build one into their next case?

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Scosche’s entry in the burgeoning “lightning to headphone” adapter market. Source: Scosche.com

Oh, wait.

“Their next case,” is indeed what they announced on October 3rd. And it has NONE of the features I’d hoped for, nor any of the reliable Mophie design trademarks I’ve come to rely upon over the years.

I honestly don’t understand what they’re doing with the Hold Force case and accessories (currently only designed for the iPhone 7, so they can’t claim this is their new universal platform for all iPhones). Instead of developing a new battery case for the new phone, as they have since the iPhone 4, they’ve pivoted to this strange modular design, allowing for the option to attach an external battery to the “base case,” but connecting to the iPhone with a short, ugly cable. Apple’s “humpback” Battery Case may be unsightly, but at least it has indoor plumbing!

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The Hold Force Case and Battery. Source: Mophie.com

My hunch is that this Hold Force system is the first product of the 2016 merger between Mophie and erstwhile rival accessory maker Zagg. The system has none of the elegance I’ve come to expect from Mophie, and I hope they have something better planned for the iPhone 7.

Despite everything, I’m optimistic, because instead of simply hawking the Hold Force as, “This IS our case for the iPhone 7!,” their website cheerfully displays this banner:

comingsoon

Click above to check on their status. Hopefully they won’t need this banner for long.

Naturally, I signed up to get notified. I’ll be watching their website closely, almost as if I were held to it with… I don’t know, velcro, maybe? ◼︎

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.”

Link

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.