Tag Archives: lightning

Apple Believes in “Magic…” Perhaps Too Much?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a couple clients reach out to me, complaining that the wireless mice that came with their brand new iMacs had “died.” Since these new mice are meant to be recharged, I explained the process of plugging them in with their included recharging cables, and letting their batteries refill, “resurrecting” the mice, as it were. I also suggested we get a backup, wired mouse for such occasions; a mouse that could be plugged in to one of the iMac’s USB ports while its wireless cousin recharged. I suggested that we could also pick up a wired keyboard, as a backup.

And then I went to the Apple Store to pick up these wired devices. To quote the poet Biz Markie, “Oh, snap! Guess what I saw!”

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All the wired devices had disappeared… like “Magic!”

I had to confirm with the Apple employee helping me out: could it be possible that they were no longer selling wired mice or keyboards?

Not only was it possible, they told me after checking their system; that’s exactly what had happened.

Unlike Apple’s controversial moves in the past (which you’re welcome to review here), this one was done without any fanfare. Nobody announced the retirement of the wired peripherals. One day they were on the store shelves; the next day, gone.

This really is a bigger deal than you’d think. Apple had included a wired mouse with every Macintosh from its first 128K model in 1984; until 25 years later, with the Mid 2009 20-inch iMac, the last to ship with a wired “Mighty Mouse.”

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No, not you! (Source: Wired.com)

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“Here I come to save the day?” Not after 2009, you don’t! (Source: Apple.com)

In October 2009, the 21.5 inch iMac would debut with an Apple Wireless Keyboard and the new, less-trademark-threatening “Magic Mouse.” It was the first time Apple gambled that new users would prefer a wireless keyboard and mouse—although the option was still available to swap out those peripherals for their wired equivalents at purchase.

The Magic Mouse connected via Bluetooth, and it took two standard AA batteries. Not long after, Apple started selling—you guessed it—AA batteries.

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Take THAT, Energizer Bunny! (Source: pindelski.org)

Not only was the Magic Mouse sleeker, but it had the same scroll functionality as the Mighty Mouse, without requiring a separate button. Indeed, the smooth scrolling surface of the Magic Mouse put the Mighty Mouse’s fussy, easily gummed-up scroll ball to shame. It was an upgrade in every sense.

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The Magic Mouse (lower) improved upon the Mighty Mouse (upper) across the board. (Source: Macworld.com)

Apple also launched the Magic Trackpad in 2010, for desktop users who preferred a laptop-like interface, as opposed to moving a mouse around on a desk. This, too, took two AA batteries. Unlike the mouse, there had never been a wired version of the Trackpad.

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The first Magic Trackpad. (Source: Amazon.com)

The tale of the keyboard was fairly straightforward. The first Apple wireless keyboard debuted in 2003, taking four AA batteries to run. Over the years, Apple was able to streamline the keyboard’s design as well, ending up in 2007 with a low-profile Aluminum model (and this one only needed three AA batteries!)

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What a difference four years make! (Source: morrick.me)

The biggest drawback to the keyboard, other than the need to replace batteries every few months, was the lack of additional USB ports. Apple’s wired USB keyboards had included extra ports on the back or sides from 1998 until 2009, when the last new wired keyboard was introduced. It was a nice feature, not having to reach around to the back of your iMac to plug in a random USB device like a flash drive (or, say, a wired mouse). But I suppose Apple’s logic was, if your keyboard is wireless, that’s one more available USB port on the back!

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An iMac keyboard, ca. 1998. Note the USB port on its side, lower-left. (Source: Pinterest.com)

Another advantage to the wired keyboard was its usability during diagnostic tests. I’ve run into many circumstances where I had to boot a Mac into Safe Mode (holding down the Shift key); Target Disk Mode (holding down “T”); or the Apple Hardware Test (holding down “D,” or sometimes “Option-D”); and a wireless keyboard just didn’t send the right signal to the computer in time.

Or how about when my own Mac mini’s Bluetooth antenna failed, and my wireless mouse and keyboard were rendered outright unusable? On that occasion, I was very glad to have a wired backup for each.

Alas, …

After the success of the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad, Apple doubled down in 2015 with the Magic Mouse 2, Magic Trackpad 2, and the new Magic Keyboard. Unlike their wireless predecessors, these three models did away with the need for AA batteries (which Apple would stop selling in 2016). These were now sealed systems with internal batteries, rechargeable via included Lightning cables, the same as those used to charge iPhones and iPads.

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Apple’s Lightning cable. (Source: Apple.com)

It was a welcome upgrade in most cases: the Magic Keyboard was the slimmest yet, resembling the flat form factor of those found on Apple’s MacBook family of notebooks. The Magic Trackpad was wider and offered more functionality over its earlier version. And best yet, these devices did not need to go through a tedious hit-or-miss Bluetooth pairing process. Instead, one simply connected them to their computer via the included charging cables, and the device was paired, charging its battery the whole time. And while their internal batteries were charging, they could still be used—not unlike their wired equivalents from years gone by.

Except for the mouse.

For reasons known only to Apple’s Design Team, they put the charging port for the Magic Mouse 2 on the underside, rendering it unusable during pairing and charging.

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Hope you’re not planning on USING that thing while it’s charging! (Source: 9to5Mac.com)

The troubling part of this is that if an Apple user doesn’t pay attention to the mouse’s battery levels, that user could be rendered mouse-less when they need it most–as was the case of a client of mine who was in the middle of a time-sensitive writing project. We ended up getting her the Magic Trackpad 2, which she can use while it, and the mouse, are charging. I suppose there’s a sick logic on Apple’s part: instead of getting $29 for their AA battery kit back when the mouse just used AA batteries, now they got $129 for the trackpad.

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With the charging port on the back, the Magic Trackpad 2 can be used while charging. (Source: Gadgetmac.com)

So yeah, I’m not thrilled with how this went down. People shouldn’t have to buy a second pointing device to use while the other is recharging. Frankly, Apple shouldn’t be surprised if many of their users pick up an inexpensive third-party wired mouse for those occasions when the Magic Mouse runs dry.

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It may not be “Apple pretty,” but it WORKS. (Source: Amazon.com)

I’ve heard rumors that Apple’s working on wireless charging for all their devices, and I’ve even seen a mouse from Logitech that recharges wirelessly while you use it! But it’s not a perfect technology yet, and it certainly isn’t cheap. It requires a special charging mat, which still has to be plugged in somewhere.

It’s still unknown what powers Linus.

I’m also concerned by Apple’s unwavering faith in the Bluetooth standard. As I mentioned before, I had the Bluetooth go out on a Mac years ago, and I was lucky to have wired peripherals that I could rely on while troubleshooting.

It’s also not great that the rechargeable batteries aren’t removable, but Apple’s been slouching toward completely sealed systems that users can’t service for years, now. For example, the last Apple notebook with a user-removable battery was 2010’s 13-inch MacBook. I realize that ship has sailed.

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This is from Apple’s “About Mac notebook batteries” page, linked here.

It bugs me that there’s no simple solution. You can no longer request wired peripherals when buying a new iMac (the Mac mini and Mac Pro, in addition to being woefully out of date now, don’t include peripherals). It’s also too soon since the 2015 debut of the Magic Mouse 2 for them to release a new design, with a more intelligently-placed charging port.

And we’re at the mercy of Bluetooth, a technology that’s always struck me as “just good enough” since Apple first incorporated it in 2003.

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No offense, King Harald, but no technology is perfect; not even technology named after a Viking. (Source: DidYouKnowBlog.com)

Now, just watch: any day now, they’re going to release the Magic Keyboard and Mouse 3, with wireless charging and better-than-Bluetooth connectivity, and other features we can’t even imagine. After all, you can’t call it “Magic,” without having something up your sleeve!

Thunderbolt 3? USB Kidding Me!

On October 27, Apple announced their new MacBook Pro will be equipped with only one kind of data port: Thunderbolt 3.

From Apple’s Thunderbolt page:

“Thunderbolt 3 offers a connection with state-of-the-art speed and versatility. Delivering twice the bandwidth of Thunderbolt 2, it consolidates data transfer, video output, and charging in a single, compact connector. And with the integration of USB-C, convenience is added to the speed of Thunderbolt to create a truly universal port.”

So, that’s Thunderbolt 3… and Thunderbolt 2… and USB-C? Huh?

Let’s break down some of these interfaces, starting with their shapes.

PLUG #1

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The USB Type A Connector. Source: Wikipedia

USB’s Type A connector is rectangular, 15.7mm wide by 7.5mm tall. It’s often difficult to tell which way is “up,” so it’s sometimes necessary to flip the plug to connect it correctly.

THE STANDARD

Universal Serial Bus (USB), first released in January 1996.

THE SPECS

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Many USB 3 plugs use color coding to distinguish them from older, slower 2.0 cables. Keep an eye out for a blue tip.

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The blue tip indicates this is a USB 3 cable. Source: Wikipedia


PLUG #2

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Source: Startech.com

This connector is narrower than USB-A, at 7.5mm wide by 4.6mm tall. It has beveled edges at the bottom of the plug, making it a little easier to eyeball which way it needs to go into the port.

In addition to the plug’s shape, markings on the connector may indicate which standard the cable in question follows: Apple’s Mini DisplayPort; or Thunderbolt, co-developed by Intel and Apple. The easiest way to tell a Thunderbolt cable from a Mini DisplayPort cable is to look for the “bolt” symbol on the plug:

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The Thunderbolt logo indicates that this is more than just a Mini DisplayPort cable. Source: MacWorld.com

A Mini DisplayPort plug may not have any markings on it, or it may have the “display” logo on the plug:

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Likewise, this should only be used to connect a monitor to a Mini DisplayPort on your computer. Source: Wikipedia

THE STANDARDS

Mini DisplayPort, first released in 2008; and Thunderbolt, first released in 2011.

Apple embraced Mini DisplayPort as their monitor connection of choice, starting with their late 2008 notebooks, and then into their 2009 desktops. The only latecomer of their notebooks was the 17″ MacBook Pro, which featured Mini DisplayPort in early 2009.

Thunderbolt, which provided the monitor connection as well as high-speed data rates for hard drives and multi-port docks, replaced Mini DisplayPort on Macs in early 2011. By late 2013, it was standard on all Macs except the 2015 MacBook (more on that model in a bit).

A computer’s Thunderbolt port is backward-compatible with Mini DisplayPort cables and displays, but not vice versa. For example, Apple’s now-retired 27″ LED Cinema Display (produced from 2010 to 2013) will work in either Mini DisplayPorts or Thunderbolt ports, but their almost identical-looking Thunderbolt Display (2011-2016) will only work in a Thunderbolt port.

THE SPECS

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Featuring twice the speed of its predecessor, Thunderbolt 2 came standard on the late 13” and 15” 2013 MacBook Pro Retina models; the late 2013 Mac Pro cylinder; the late 2014 Mac mini; and the 11” and 13” Early 2015 MacBook Air. The MacBook has never included Thunderbolt (again, more on that model in a moment).

So at this point, around 2013, we have two plug shapes, with two formats now capable of delivering 10 Gigabits per second, or more. USB 3 was backward-compatible with its previous versions, and Thunderbolt 2 was backward-compatible with Thunderbolt 1 and Mini DisplayPort.

And then, in 2014, the shape of things changed, yet again. Enter USB Type C.

NOTE: For the purposes of this post, I’m skipping past USB Type B, which is just the house-shaped plug often found at the other end of a standard USB cable. It’s the end that plugs into a printer, a desktop hard drive, or other peripherals.


PLUG #3

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A USB-C cable. Source: LaptopMag.com

This is the dream, realized. A symmetrical plug, with no “wrong” way to plug it in.

Apple did beat USB to the punch in 2012 with their proprietary, symmetrical Lightning connector, but that was only utilized by the iPods, iPads, and iPhone of the time, onward. It was never featured as an interface on any of Apple’s desktop or notebook computers.

And yes, “Thunderbolt” and “Lightning” is a confusing coincidence. 

USB Type C is actually quite similar to Lightning at first glance. USB-C is 8.3mm wide by 2.5mm tall, and Lightning measures 6.7mm wide by 1.5mm tall.

Apple hasn’t indicated any plans yet to replace Lightning with USB-C.

THE STANDARDS

USB-C first came on the scene in 2014, in the Nokia N1 tablet, initially released in China.

It provides the full data rates of USB 3.1 standard (SuperSpeed USB 10 Gbps), as well as the capability to charge mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets (such as the aforementioned Nokia N1).

While Apple sticks with Lightning for their iPhones and iPads for now, USB-C is becoming the go-to charging and data port for Android mobile devices from brands like LG, HTC, Asus, Lenovo; and it was the interface for the late, lamented, combustible Samsung Galaxy Note7 (but the general consensus is that the charging cable was not responsible for the fires: https://www.cnet.com/news/why-is-samsung-galaxy-note-7-exploding-overheating/)

https://www.cnet.com/videos/share/samsung-explains-what-went-wrong-with-exploding-note-7-battery/

Apple may be sticking to Lightning for iPhone and iPad for now, but they took a leap in April 2015 to USB-C as the sole port in their resurrected MacBook line.

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The first-ever Mac powered by USB. Source: abc.net.au

It was the first Mac to use the same port for data and for charging—a controversial move, as this meant no other peripherals could be plugged in while the computer was charging…unless users connected an adapter, such as the USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter (sold separately, of course).

Intel launched Thunderbolt 3 in June 2015, incorporating the increasingly popular USB-C plug shape, and retiring the old “Mini DisplayPort” connector.

THE SPECS

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Much like how Thunderbolt 1 & 2 were backward-compatible with Mini DisplayPort; and how USB 3 Type A was backward-compatible with USB 2 and 1, Thunderbolt 3 is backward-compatible with USB-C devices (but not vice-versa).

So USB and Thunderbolt have now converged. The upshot is, all your USB and Thunderbolt devices will still work if you get a computer with Thunderbolt 3 ports… you’ll just have to buy new cables or adapters to plug them in. Alternatively, you could invest in a dock, such as this 13-port solution from OWC. It’s pricey, but it allows you to use your current peripherals and their own cables, instead of having to adapt each one for the new port shape.

Because this is the shape of things, now… at least, until a new standard comes out.

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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.

tangled

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.