Apple’s Top-Secret Maps Project

Posted by on Oct 3, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

The foibles of Apple’s maps app are both alarming and a lot of fun to write about, with the latest mishap directing drivers across an airport runway in Fairbanks, Alaska in order to reach the terminal.  It’s exactly the sort of press coverage Apple doesn’t want right now, in a season when a new iPhone and a radically transformed operating system are rolling out.

In fact, were it not for the Apple Maps debacle, things would have been going seamlessly well for the last several months.  Its decision to do away with Google maps on its hardware was largely seen either as hubris or as something of a kindergartener’s sandbox tantrum, but after Maps hit consumer devices and became a global joke (coining phrases like the “blue dot of directional death”), Apple went into full damage-control mode.  Two executives lost their jobs, Apple CEO Tim Cook penned an apology and mea culpa, and Apple started buying up map startups in an attempt to fix the problems.

These measures clearly haven’t gone far enough, as Apple continues to use Google Maps for its cloud-based services like Find My iPhone, which we assume they’d like to stop doing as soon as is humanly possible.  Apple is keeping its cards close to its chest, but it looks as though something radical is coming down the pipe.  Last week Apple posted a new job listing for a Maps Designer, which the Cupertino company hopes to have working on an cryptically “secret project.”

Of course, there’s a fair to middling chance that while its job offer is for a Maps position, Apple might have something bigger in mind.  Apple’s job summary states that it’s looking for someone to work on an “exciting new system” involving “an advanced web platform upon which many of Apple’s future services will be based” that has “the potential to change the world”.

Apple’s products have been changing the world for years now, so this may not be hubris, but when it comes to its maps, we’re certainly not alone in wanting to see Apple get its act together.


iOS 7 – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Posted by on Sep 26, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

Change can either be good, bad, or neutral, but if you’re used to something, change is almost always a little confusing.  Sure, it doesn’t take long not to mind the lack of skeuomorphism in Apple’s iOS 7 design, but there are quite a few things about the new operating system that can be a little frustrating if you don’t know how to navigate them.  Here are a few, along with their fixes:

  • Editing Safari’s “favorites:”  When you open up Safari, you’ll probably see sponsored icons for Yahoo, Disney, and ESPN.  To remove those, tap the bookmarks icon, then tap “favorites,” then “edit,” then the minus sign next to the link.  To add your own, navigate to the desired site, tap “share” next to the url, then “bookmark,” then “location:  favorites,” then “save.”
  • Closing apps:  With iOS 6, pressing the home button twice would bring up all your open apps, after which you would press and hold until the minus sign appeared on the top left of the app icon.  With iOS 7, you still press the home button twice, but once there you’ll need to swipe up on any open app you want to close.
  • Control Center:  You can now access your device’s control center merely by swiping up from the bottom of the screen.  Unfortunately this still works while you’re, say, playing Temple Run, and you probably don’t want your volume controls when you’re telling your character to jump.  To disable this, go to Settings, then Control Center, then turn off “Access with Apps.”
  • Battery life:  iOS 7 is a power hog, but it doesn’t have to be.  The default allows mobile apps to refresh their content while they’re not on screen.  If battery drain is a problem, go to Settings, then Background App Refresh, and toggle the switch to “off.”  You will probably want to do this on an app-by-app basis, as GPS apps aren’t terribly useful if they’re not updating their content.  Additionally, turning off the AirDrop feature (by swiping up to the Control Center and toggling it off) can disable it.

If you’ve found any minor annoyances with iOS 7 (and how to fix them), let us know in the comments!


What’s New With the iPhone 5S and 5C

Posted by on Sep 12, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

Apple held its annual iPhone event last Tuesday, and predictably, a fair few blogs and commenters complained that the new devices don’t really do anything revolutionary.   We’re perplexed by such complaints, for two reasons:  1) the iPhone has been a wildly successful product with good reason, so demands that Apple make it something fundamentally different than what it is don’t seem to make much sense, and 2) Apple did do something revolutionary.  Two things, in fact:  the fingerprint sensor and an entirely new phone model.

Here are a few things you need to know about the announcement:

  1. Apple is taking user customization seriously:  While the cheaper iPhone 5C was only a rumor prior to last Tuesday, it’s now a reality.  And while many believe that its purpose is strictly to compete with Android in the low-cost hardware market, with its wide variety of new colors and cases, Apple is encouraging user customization like never before.
  2. The fingerprint sensor is more than a gimmickMuch like Android’s Face Unlock, in its early stages the iPhone 5S’s fingerprint sensor might be seen as a party trick rather than as a useful security tool.  Concerns have also been raised about secret government databases of iPhone user fingerprints, as well as the problems that occur when fingers have been shriveled by the cold or the shower.  We’ll have to wait and see how the technology develops, but using your fingerprint instead of a code to access your phone is just the start.  When working in tandem with iBeacon, Apple’s answer to Near-Field Communication technology, it might not be long before we’re able to make secure purchases in stores without ever having to wait in line at a cash register.  (Unfortunately mobile app developers can’t access the fingerprint function…yet.)
  3. The improvements are awesomeWe’ll be discussing some of these in the coming weeks, but suffice it to say that the new motion sensor, 64-bit processing, and new camera (with slow-motion and low-light capabilities) are all unassailably cool.

iOS App Feedie Takes Lemons and Makes Lemonade

Posted by on Sep 5, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

If you’re of a certain age, there are a few things about the digital revolution that you could probably do without.  “Selfies,” for example – or fake selfies, or Geraldo selfies, or Korean selfies, or selfies-on-a-stick – are probably high on your list, along with the accompanying “duck face” and misspelled captions.

Perhaps not quite as annoying as that (but still pretty annoying) is the incessant stream of other people’s food that we’re subjected to in our social media news feeds.  We’re not entirely sure where, when, or why filtered photographs of somebody else’s steaming plate of bibimbap became a thing, but by now the trend seems to be more or less unstoppable.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, seems to be the motto behind a new free mobile app called Feedie, which hopes to take all those foodie pics and turn them into charity.  It works like this:  if you take a photo of a particular dish at any of the forty-seven participating restaurants and then post it to your social network of choice (Google+, Facebook, Twitter, or FourSquare), that restaurant will donate money to The Lunchbox Fund, a nonprofit organization that nobly provides food security to impoverished children.  And it’s not an insignificant amount of money, either: one uploaded Feedie pic will trigger a donation that will cover one meal for one child.

Of course, we’re not just writing about Feedie because it’s a cool app, which it very definitely is.  We’re writing about it because of its innovative approach to advertising and philanthropy.  Feedie takes the pre-existing phenomenon of food photography and channels it into the very virtuous goal of feeding hungry children, while providing free advertising to restaurants that choose to participate in the program.  As of this writing, a total of 326 meals have been provided to hungry children, and that’s a full month before its official debut at the Lunchbox Fund’s annual gala on October 9th.

We’re naturally delighted whenever a mobile app does something new, especially when that something is as innovative as Feedie.  Now if only someone could think up a way to monetize selfies, we could cure all the ills of the world.


Sassy Upgrades in Store for Siri

Posted by on Aug 29, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

Last January Apple went on the hunt for a writer to make Siri a more engaging conversationalist,  and if Tumblr tags like “Sassy Siri” are any indication, that writer has been doing his job pretty well.  But if you’re really looking to get a rise out of her, try asking her about Google Glass.

To get Google Glass’s attention, the user speaks the phrase “Okay Glass”.  Saying that to Siri will elicit a range of responses, each a bit sassier than the next.  Her responses include “I think the Glass is half empty,” “I’m not Glass, and I’m fine with that,” “Stop trying to strap me to your forehead, it won’t work,” and “Just so you know, I don’t do anything when you blink at me.”

Apparently there are more and sassier comebacks in store for the iOS 7 version of Siri that’s due out next month if rumors are to be believed, but Siri’s sass is indicative of an underlying and ongoing discussion over the future of wearable tech.  While it’s a fantastic piece of technology, Google Glass is suffering backlashes from privacy advocates and fashionistas alike as it tries to gain ground in the marketplace.  The fact that athletes and others have been wearing their tech on their arms and wrists seems to make Apple’s push for the iWatch something of a safer bet.

Still, Siri is maturing, and while I’ve been using “she” and “her” thus far in this post, the iOS 7 version of Siri will come with the option of a male voice.  (Strangely, this option has been available for foreign languages for a while.)  Siri will also be undergoing some cosmetic changes in iOS 7, including a translucent skin, and initial reports also seem to suggest that she pulls up her results a lot faster than she did in previous OS iterations.

Of course, we’re still a long way away from the flirtatious computer voice in Star Trek, but the fact that Apple’s giving Siri the love she needs is good news for iPhone users everywhere.