IOS 12, Siri ShortCuts APP and the PCalc App

Along with being a big fan of Apple, I am a fan of MacStories.Net and Federico Viticci who founded that Apple-centric website from Italy and his writing. What caught my eye recently was a great review of the PCalc App’s update (version 3.8) to take advantage of the APIs that Apple recently in IOS 12 regarding Siri Shortcuts.  Federico really praised how PCalc integrated setting up Siri Shortcuts in the app and he said it was a great model for other apps.  Federico also gave an example about how cool the automation will be in iOS 12 with the Siri Shortcuts and the Shortcut app that Apple released.    You can read Federico’s article here.   

One of the things Federico highlighted was the the PCalc app now allows you to create Siri Shortcuts using the clipboard in iOS as an input.  And he gave an example where PCalc can convert currency to another currency using input from copying a number to the clipboard.  He then explained that after you create some Siri Shortcuts for PCalc, you can then see those Shortcuts in the Shortcut App that Apple created and then you could chain together the shortcuts and name the combination for a shortcuts for that combination.  Basically, the idea is that you can pick a number for the currency you want to convert, and then it will convert it to various currency using the Shortcut App and the Shortcuts that are in PCalc that you created.  

So I tried doing that but I ran into a problem.  When I used the Shortcut App and selected PCalc Shortcuts, the problem was that once it converted one number, it than put the answer in the clipboard, and so the next conversion, rather than using the original number in the clipboard used the new number in the the clipboard.  

For example, I experimented with converting Euro’s to British Pounds and also to the U.S. Dollar.  The input was 100 Euros.  It converted to Pounds correctly, 88.88 Pounds, but then used that number to convert to dollars, instead of 100 Euros.  

So on Twitter I reached out for assistance from Federico and the developer of PCalc, James Thomson, was kind enough to respond also.   Here is what he said.

Blog picture

So James Thomson confirmed that the way PCalc works is that the output is added to the clipboard. 

Referring to features in the Shortcuts App, Mr. Thomson suggested the following that could be a possible fix.

Blog pics 2  

Well with that solution, I found a workaround.  And while I used the clipboard, I also added a feature where the Shortcut prompts me to fill in a number for the Euro, and then it first tells me that the first conversion number was an English Pound, and then when I was ready give me the Pound conversion number, and then tells me the next conversion is the U.S. Dollar, and the answer for the conversion to the Dollar, and then tell me the next conversion was the Chinese Yuan, and then the conversion answer.  

In the Shortcut App here is how I did it.  First, I used the scripting function “Ask for Input” where I set the question for the prompt to be “Enter Euro.”  That prompts an input and I set the value to “number” as I want a number, the value of the Euro I want to convert.

Then I add the script “Get Variable” and I set the “Magic Variable” to the “Ask the for Input.”  This grabs the input and then passes on that variable to the next step, the script “Copy to Clipboard.”  The number I input becomes a variable which was then pasted into the Clipboard.  Because when I first did this the output was just a number without a label, I inserted a script to first label what the next number that was shown would be.  So I installed a script “Show Result”  and typed in Pounds.  This shows the word “Pound” before the conversion number is revealed.  The next step was that I added the Siri Shortcut I created in PCalc, which take the variable I added to the clipboard and converting the Euro number to the Pound number.

 

I repeated these 5 steps for the conversion to Dollars and Yuan.  So all together 15 steps.  The trick is because each time, the “Get Variable” is set to “Ask for Input” and then pastes into the clipboard, the clipboard for the subsequent conversions is not the output from PCalc’s prior conversion, but instead the original input that I typed in. That way, for example, if I convert 100 Euros, each conversion uses my original 100 Euro input.  

Here is a video showing how it works.  

ScreenRecording_09-17-2018 20-24-45.m4v

I agree with Federico that PCalc’s implementation of Siri Shortcuts is really great.  You should check out Macstories.net and PCalc. 

Why I Am Upgrading To The iPhone XS From The iPhone X

Early this morning, 3 a.m Eastern Time, Apple pulled the trigger and started selling [1] the newest iPhones that will be in stores on September 21, 2018. These iPhones are the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. Last year, paying over $1000, I purchased the iPhone X. I got the one with the most storage, 256GB. But just short of 1 year later, I have decided to upgrade and purchase the newer model, the iPhone XS. Why did I do so? The main reason is that despite what some people think, the iPhone XS has all sorts of new technology that the iPhone X doesn’t have. Let’s go through all the new technology that the iPhone XS has.

Better Face ID


Face ID, the technology that last year replaced TouchID as a security feature for the iPhone, is supposed to be better in the iPhone XS (whenever I refer to the iPhone XS I also am referring to the iPhone XS Max, which is the same as the iPhone XS but has a a bigger screen, 6.5 inch diagonal versus a 5.8 inch diagonal.). Apple in its keynote on Wednesday, September 12, 2018 , and on its website, highlights that the iPhone XS has “Advanced Face ID.”  According to Apple Face ID is “even faster” with the new IPhone XS.  

More Powerful Bionic Chip


Apple has upgraded the Bionic Chip, which it first rolled out in the iPhone X. The new chip is called the A12. The iPhone X has the A11 chip. According to Apple, the Bionic chip controls augmented reality experiences, Depth Control pictures and “speed and fluidity in everything you do.” Quoting Apple’s website.   A12 Bionic chip is “up to 50% faster graphics performance,” has “8-core Neural Engine, “Up to 15% faster performance cores,” “up to 50% lower power usage in efficiency cores,” “Enhanced image signal processor,” and “advanced performance controller.” Quoting Apple’s website. Significantly, the iPhone XS’s A12 Bionic chip features a 7nm design, which is the first 7nm size chip in any smartphone. The A12 Bionic chip in the iPhone XS can perform 5 trillion operations per second.  By comparison, the A11 chip in the iPhone X can perform 600 billion calculations per second. See AppleInsider.  This more powerful chip will help make all the pictures and video look better.

Better Photo Taking and Video Shooting

The iPhone XS has something now called “Smart HDR,” which Apple describes as “Leveraging multiple technologies – like faster sensors, an enhanced ISP, and advanced algorithms – Smart HDR brings more highlight and shadow detail to your photos.” Quoting Apple.
Also, with the more powerful algorithm’s and chips, Apple has a new editing feature called “Bokeh and Depth Control.” Essentially, the iPhone XS can now do a bokeh feature that is just like the large DSL Cameras and lenses that cost thousands of dollars. See Apple. 

As for the picture sensor itself on the dual cameras on the back of the iPhone XS, Apple says they are “twice as fast.” See Apple. But Apple also improved the front-facing camera on the iPhone XS. Among other things, that camera now has “all-new video stabilization.”  See Apple

More Storage — 512 GB

Another reason to upgrade from the iPhone X to iPhone XS, is that the IPhone XS is the first iPhone to have storage up to 512GB storage.  The iPhone X top storage that customers could choose was 256 GB storage.  Since I use the iPhone to take so many pictures and videos of the family and also listen to music and watch movies downloaded from Netflix or Amazon Prime, having more storage is a real blessing (even if it is expensive)[2] . So having the ability to have a phone with 512GB of storage is reason enough for me to upgrade.

Better Cellular Connection Over LTE


Apple also upgraded the cellular connections in the iPhone. The IPhone XS supports faster LTE cell service, known as “Giga-Bit class” LTE.  T-Mobile announced IPhone XS supports T-Mobile’s 600 MHz service.  See MacRumors.com. Having faster and stronger cellular connection is very important to me. I am on the T-Mobile network. And where I work, all the cellular connections are very weak. The iPhone XS will support T-Mobile’s 600 MHz service. Hopefully this will improve my cellular connections.

Dual Sims, Including an eSim


The iPhone XS is also the first iPhone to support dual SIMs for cellular connections. This means you can use your iPhone with two different cellular phone numbers. Even better, one of the SIMS will be an eSIM, which means from the settings you will be able to choose cellular connections and switch whenever you want to purchase ad hoc connections. The iPads have long had eSIM cards. They are fabulous. A number of years ago, I went to Spain, and on the plane after I landed in Spain, through GigSky in my iPad settings, I purchased 5GB of data for a reasonable price to use for one month in Spain. The eSIM in the iPhone XS works in 10 countries including the U.S. (Austria, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, German, Hungry, India, Spain, the UK and the U.S.)   In the US, T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T support eSIM. You can use GigSKy service on the iPhone XS.  See the Verge This is a huge feature for me and others who like to travel abroad.

Better Water Resistance


IPhone XS is water resistant to a depth of 2 meters for up to 3 minutes (IP68), while iPhone X is only up to 1 meter depth for 30 minutes (IP67).  See Apple. This means your iPhone XS is less likely to be damaged by water compared to the iPhone X. It could also mean you might be able to film or take picture of underwater activity.

More Ram and L1 Cache


For those who are into more computer technology stats, the iPhone XS has more Ram and L1 Cache than the iPhone X. In terms of ram, the iPhone XS has 4GB of ram, while the iPhone X has only 3GB of ram. The iPhone XS has 4 times more L1 cache memory than the iPhone X’s L1 Cache. See AppleInsider.com. All this is better for computing power.

Helps Family Trickle Down Device Plan

Finally, upgrading to the iPhone XS will help my family’s trickle down device plan. For several years, the practice in my family is for me to purchase a new iPhone ever year, and then give me last year’s iPhone to my wife, and then my wife gives her iPhone to my oldest child and then the oldest child hands down that child’s phone to the youngest child. So when I upgrade, everyone in the family gets a newer iPhone. [3]


  1. Or allowing you to reserve to purchase on September 21, 2018.  ↩
  2. Choosing 512 GB of storage, the iPhone XS costs $ 1,349 and the iPhone XS Max costs $ 1,449.  ↩
  3. Although my youngest child would like me to purchase for that child the latest iPhone, the iPhone XS!  ↩

The Success of Apple Pay/AppleInsider.

AppleInsider.com has a nice overview and analysis about how Apple’s Apple service and technology has thrived.  It is a great read.

My personal experience is that Apple Pay is really thriving.  I use it almost every time that I purchase something in real life.  Pretty much every store I go to in NYC takes wireless payment and I use Apple Pay.  When I took a vacation in Spain and Italy with my family this summer, almost every restaurant and store I purchased anything from took wireless payment and Apple Pay.  On top of that when I need cash in NYC where I live I don’t need my bank card as Chase allow you to use your Apple Pay on your iPhone or Apple Watch to enter an ATM space and activate the machine, just like a bank card.  It has gotten to the point that I don’t actually carry that many credit cards in my wallet and leave them at home.

I would like to see more websites use Apple Pay for payment. Right now one of my frustrations is that I have to type in and put credit card information on website. Apple Pay on websites has not taken off like it has in the physical world.

One of the main reasons to use Apple Pay, other than convenience, is security. No vendor or retail operation will get your credit card information if you use Apple Pay.  Credit card fraud is a real problem.  I recently had to replace a credit card because I saw a charge that I didn’t make.  I am sure I once used that card in the regular way instead of Apple Pay.

The other thing about Apple Pay is that it is not only for transactions.  Pretty much most tickets I purchase end up in the Apple Wallet.  Including U.S. Open tickets and air travel tickets.  Soon the subway and buses will probably allow for entrance with Apple Pay or Apple Wallet.

What is going on is your iPhone or Apple Watch is replacing your wallet.

iOS 12 and Mojave

Thoughts on iOS 12 and Mojave

Some time has passed since WWDC 2018 and I have had time to play with the betas of IOS 12 and Mojave for the Mac.  Here are some thoughts.

Betas On Main Devices

FYI, unlike some people who are afraid to put betas on their main devices, I have been putting brand new betas on my main devices for several years now and I haven’t really suffered that much.  I have benefited from using the brand new bells and whistles in the new operating systems.  And the most I have suffered is a crash here and there. The crashes usually have occurred my iOS devices, not the Macs that I have put betas on.  And the thing is that back in the old days of Apple, back before OX 10 on the Mac, Macs used to crash a lot.  It was a normal thing.  So a few crashes here and there is not a big deal for me.  The crashes have occurred this year on my iPhone X.   It just now and then crashes and reboots. Same for the Apple Watch.

iOS 12

The big thing this year at WWDC is that Apple didn’t announce or release any new hardware. Instead, it was all about software. In particular, Apple announced hundreds of new features and services in iOS and OSX operating systems for all its current hardware. Here are some of the features I have teste out and which I really like and stand out.

Performance.

With iOS 12, Apple says it is optimizing performance. In particular, it will run much more efficiently and powerfully on older iPhones. For years, Apple has been critized when it releases new iOS systems because older phones would be bogged down and not run quickly after upgrading to a new OS. Apple was accused of purposely doing this to force consumers to upgrade to new model. Because every year I got a new iPhone, I never experienced this phenomena. However, my daugther, the youngest in my family (now 12), has observed this as she has an iPhone several generations older than the newest — she has an iPhone 6s. Her phone is a hand me down. Prior to the release of iOS 12 beta, she was complaining about the lack of performance of her iPhone 6s. Two things drastically improve her performance. First, I had a local Apple Store change iPhone 6s battery. They were going to charge $35 but then they saw that the serial numbers of the phone made it eligible for a free upgrade. So no charge. Around the same time, I installe iOS 12 beta. My daughter says her phone now feels like a completely new phone. It is running much zippier. She is much happier with it.

I haven’t seen the same performance boost on my iPhone X. Others conducting tests say there is a performance boost. My iPhone X was already running very fast. So I haven’t really seen a big boost running iOS 12 beta.

Animoji and Memoji Upgrades

These features really only work on iPhone X which has the built in face recognition and face tracking hardware. But eventually, probablly this fall, more iOS devices, like the iPad, will have this type of hardware, as well as the entire lineup of iPhones. Animoji and Memoji are gimmicky, but they also feel to me like the future. As you may remember when the iPhone X was launched, Animoji is the feature where you can layer anmimated face over your face, and it will replace your face, and will move around and have facial movements similar to that of your real face. Now, Apple has upgraded this feature by adding toungue and eye wink tracking. Also, Apple had expanded the use of this feature by allowing you not only to use this as a video clip insert into iMessage, but also use it live in Facetime. Also, Apple has expanded this not only by adding new Animoji faces, but also by allowing you to create your own Animoji face, or what Apple calls a Memoji. You can now build your own Memoji, or many Memojis by using a built-in Memoji builder and choosing from a menu of different features that makes humans look different – hair color, hair style, eyes color, eyes shape, etc. Then Apple expanded where you can use these Animojis and Memojis. Before you could use them only in iMessage on an iPhone X. If you wanted to use that Animoji some where else, you would save the short video clip from your iMessage to Photos and then from there transfer them to another app. That is how last year when iPhone X came out so many people figure out how to make Animoji Karoke videos. Now Apple puts the Animojis and Memojis for you to use in other apps, most notably Facetime.

I think this technology is huge. The customization you now have with Memojis means we are getting closer and closer to something that evenutally will be ubiquitous. Soon, when we do video calls or shoot videos of ourselves or others, we will be able to swap out the faces or other body parts in real time. And it wont’ be just Animojis and Memojis. Eventually this technology will do the equivalent of photo touch but on real time video. I am sure there will be filters that clean up your face of any blemishes or age lines or anything else you don’t like. Or, the filters will give you other human faces, not just Animojis and Memojis. You will soon have anyone’s face instead of your face or the faces of those in your video. Crazy stuff. But also useful stuff. There a lots of people who don’t Facetime Video because they are selfconcious of thier look. Using an alternative face will make it easier for them to use the technology. Similarly, there are people who might be hesitant to make videos, like the tutorials or vlogs on YouTube. They may be hesitant because they don’t like their looks or because of privacy. The Internet allows anonymity. But if you use your real face in videos or photos, eventually you will be identified. Particiularly with software that identifies faces. Having another face will make it easier for people to particpate on the internet with video, live or recorded, without giving away their identity. Couple that with technology to give different voices, and you have even more anonymity.

There are other upsides: For example, it will be easier for individual creaters or small crews to make movies with many characters without hiring a large cast or using expensive animation software.

There will also be huge downside problems. How will we know what is real? With this techology imposters could pretend to be various famous politicians an individuals, and it will be tough to tell who is reall and who is not? We have already seen how people fall for fake news. What happens when people see videos or live feeds of someone like Hillary Clinton saying something when it isn’t really her? Or Putin? Or Trump? The posiblities for mischief are huge. This technology could be so powerful and disruptive that it may be come regulated. Just like color copiers in the United States are required not to copy United States currency, it is possible we could have regulations preventing providers of this type of software and hardware from allowing individuals to copy reall people to become the new “skin” for someone else. Given the nature of digital and how technology advances, I don’t know how any government will be able to effectively regulate this type of technology.

The State of Apple – Where Is The Excitement?

We are coming up to the week before WWDC, which starts on Monday, June 4, 2018, and I have been thinking about the “State of Apple.” How is it doing? As a longtime investor in Apple, I am obviously thrilled with its financial results and its stock price. Recently it reached an all time high of $190/share and it is now trading slightly above $188/share with a market capitalization of $926.7 billion dollars. Obviously investors are thrilled and are still bullish about how Apple will be doing financially. Among other things, the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet, recently increased Berkshire Hathaway’s investment in Apple and it is now one of the largest shareholders. Buffet is one of the most successful stock market investors, and that is why he is one of the richest person in the world.

But while Apple is really successful financially, something does not feel right for me. I don’t feel the excitement that I usually felt in the past when WWDC was approaching. In the past, I felt that WWDC was Christmas in the summer. Apple would release some application or some new IOS or Macs OSX system that had incredibly interesting features that made you feel Apple was pushing the human race forward into the future. In the past, Apple would announce a new software application that was so interesting and exciting that I could not wait to try it out. That is why for many years I participated in Apple’s Developer program. I joined mainly so I could check out Apple’s beta programs and apps. I just could not wait until fall when Apple would generally release the software to the public. Also in the past, Apple would announce some new hardware at WWDC. Many moons ago the new iPhone model would be announced at WWDC. But then Apple switched to announcing the new iPhone models in the fall.

I am also apprehensive about how exciting Apple’s WWDC will be this year because the few interesting things that Apple has announced in the last few years are overshadowed by the zillions of devices released by all sorts of companies. Of the devices Apple released in the last few years, I am really wowed by the AirPods. I use them all the time. They are not perfect, but they greatly improved how I listen to audio from my iPhone and iPad. The main thing is I am no longer hampered by wires and cords. And Siri works well on the AirPods. Of course, I am impressed with the iPhones getting better every year. But they don’t wow me. I expect that the cameras in the iPhone will get better and the processors will get more powerful. I expect that the iPhone’s screen will get better. Other devices haven’t wowed me. The HomePod has really nice sound, but the controls aren’t great (I can’t fine tune the audio volume among other things) and Siri isn’t great on it. The best thing about the HomePod is how well it recognizes one’s voice even when whispering.

In recent years I purchased AppleTVs, the upgraded ones after purchasing the 1st AppleTV many years go. They are nice and better than prior models. But gaming on the AppleTV has never really taken off. I have two kids, ages 12 and 13, and they never got into gaming on the AppleTV. They love games on their iPads and iPhones, but they never got into it on the AppleTV. As for the Macs, I guess I am wowed by the iMac Pro, but the problem is its hard for me to justify $5k or more. My 27-inch iMac from 2010 is running well. And if I want to edit videos, I can borrow one of the 2017 13-inch MacBook Pros that I purchased for my kids last Christmas. And even those computers are nice, but not a wow-factor. Among other things, there is a controversy about the keyboards on those computers. And while we haven’t had a problem with broken keys, I don’t like the keyboard action. It is too shallow. The keyboard on the Apple SmartCover for the 12-inch iPad Pro is better.

Speaking of iPads, I like them and use them heavily. I have the original 12-inch iPad Pro and use it all the time. And I would like to purchase the newer model because of the better screen and better refresh rate for the Apple Pencil, but I can’t justify getting it as the 1st generation 12-inch iPad Pro still works really well. In fact, I am writing this post on that device using the Byword app. I am bullish about the iPads future. I think Apple’s release of a $300 iPad that also works with the Apple Pencil will get more schools to adopt that device and also get more everyday people to use the iPad as their main computing device or as an auxiliary computing device. My 88-year old mother has long used an iPad as her main computing device, for surfing the internet with the Safari browser, or reviewing messages, photos and videos of the kids.

I am sure that Apple will continue to iterate on the iPad, as it does with the iPhone. Those devices will continue to get faster processors and better cameras. Also, at some point, they will get faster cellular speeds as 5G cellular services role out. And as in the past, Apple will add new sensors. Now if you could transport me 5 years from now I would be floored by the Apple iPhone and iPad models available then. The problem is that getting from here to there requires incremental steps. I am sure in Apple’s labs and internal strategic meetings they have a road map for where in 5 years Apple will be with those devices. And I am sure if I could peak at those plans I would say “wow” and be blown away. But I am pretty sure that next week I won’t be blown away. And then after I learn of the incremental improvements next week, I won’t be blown away at next year’s WWDC. What has happened is that during the last 10 years, I have gotten used to the incremental march forward of technology. Mind you, the increments are much bigger. One increment change in technology this year that Apple has put in the iPhone and iPad, compared to last year, is really like an incredible leap forward compared to the incremental change in technology that Apple had back in the mid–1990s. Can you even remember the changes in a Macintosh from 1995 to 1996?

Rather than by Apple, I am wowed today by the zillions of devices that are coming out that are cheap and innovative. For example, earlier this week, I ordered the Wyzecam (version 2), which that company sells for a mere $19.99 plus shipping costs. This tiny cube-like device has a 1080p Full HD camera which can stream through the internet to a Wyze app on your iPhone or iPad, and has motion tagging and night vision with no service cost and no need to purchase an SD card. You can purchase an SD card if you don’t want the internet streaming service and just record locally and also have stop time lapse shots. But it works well even without an SD card. It has a speaker in it and a microphone so you can listen in to the audio as well as watching streaming video from where you placed that camera. And you can talk through the speaker to anyone near the camera through your Wyze app. What blows me away is how cheap this device is and how well it works for that price. The people who created this worked at Amazon, so they know something about impressing consumers. Thus the low price for decent quality. But the concept that for a low price I can install video and sound monitors in all sorts of places is kind of mind-blowing.

Similarly, I was blown away several years ago, and also in recent years with updates, by the Raspberry Pi computer made by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Basically, for a price as low as $35 or even $5 you can get a computer microprocessor with ports and sensors. People have created all sorts of interesting projects with these little devices. I used a Raspberry Pi to create an ad blocker on our family WiFi network at home so that anyone using our WiFi can automatically have ads on the internet blocked when they use a browser. And other than the cost of a $35 Raspberry Pi, this service is essentially free. You download the PiHole software onto your Raspberry Pi, and hook it up to your local network and boom, that is it, you have an ad-blocker for everyone on your network.

I used another Raspberry Pi to solve a problem. I have at home a Brother laser printer that is not AirPrint-enabled. I connected a Raspberry Pi to that printer by usb connection, then downloaded some software and drivers to the Raspberry Pi, and now all our Apple devices, mainly iPhones, iPads and Macs, can AirPrint to the laser printer.

I am also blown away with the crazy advances in drones that the Apple-like company DJI undertakes. The price of these drones and their abilities are extremely impressive. Similarly, I am impressed with the advancement of personal mobility devices like electric skateboards, and the advances that Boosted Board have made in creating some of the best electric skateboards.

Whenever I see devices like these, the Wyzecam, the Raspberry Pi, the DJI drones, the Boosted Boards, I sometime wonder why didn’t Apple come out with something like that. And then I think, of course Apple cannot do that. Apple’s finances require it to produce products that it can sell to a mass market and charge at least a 30% margin. Apple can’t experiment with releasing devices that have a small market that have a small margin. From a business perspective, it makes no sense for Apple. Such efforts would distract its engineers and more importantly impact Apple’s stock price and financial statement. That is because Apple’s stock prices is tied to its revenue growth and maintaining its large profit margin.

But maybe there is a way that Apple could tinker with devices that are low margin and might not at first sell to a mass market. Remember, years ago, when it first released the AppleTV, Apple called it a hobby and did not break it out on its financial results as it was such a small part of revenue. Why cannot Apple pursue more hobbies? What if Apple embraced the 20% model that Google has. That model allows Google employees (i.e. engineers) to spend 20% of their work time pursuing projects they find interesting. Many services that Google launched have come out of those efforts. Why not allow engineers at Apple to tinker with releasing innovative devices with low margins and smaller markets? I guess executives at Apple would worry that releasing such devices could hurt Apple’s brand. Apple is known for releasing polished products and maintaining secrecy until launch. Apple is know also for its premium products. If Apple engineers released various experimental devices that were cheap, it could hurt Apple’s brand. But what if Apple carefully rebranded that effort as something experimental that was apart from Apple’s regular brand. Apple could give it a name and call it the “Beta Hardware Program.” Apple could also tell its engineers to try to create projects that further Apple’s services. For example, there are devices that act as buttons to trigger HomeKit functions. You can hack an Amazon Dash button to work with services like IFTTT and even as a HomeKit trigger. Apple’s HomeKit service is competing with Amazon’s Echo service and Google’s Home service. If Apple released all sorts of devices that were cheap and worked well with HomeKit it would help HomeKit to dominate that market. Similar, Apple is competing with Spotify as well as Google Music and Amazon Music to become the dominant music streaming service. What if Apple released all sorts of cheap devices that have quality and work well with Apple Music and HomeKit? Wouldn’t that help Apple Music overtake Spotify? The AppleHome Pod is too expensive to count as such a device. Not enough people are going to pay $350 for a HomePod.

What I am proposing goes against what Apple had done to become the most valuable company in the world. But undertaking such efforts that allow its engineers to release cheap and innovative devices could help Apple engineers’ morale. Let the engineers experiment and release some devices. It will not only raise the morale for engineers to tinker and release devices, but it also could then make us consumers go “WOW” when something truly crazy is released. Apple, make me go “Wow” on WWDC’s first day this year.

Using the Wavelength App from Micro.Blog To Podcast

One of the reasons I signed up for the Micro.Blog service is because recently it created a great way to podcast using a new free app on the iPhone, Wavelength.  You pay $10 per month for Micro.Blog to host the podcast and it automatically creates a podcast feed that you can put into iTunes and other podcast apps. (More of that later in this post). 

The app is pretty straight forward and it works with the built in mic on the iPhone but also with microphones that are connected to the iPhone.  

This is what the Wavelength app looks like when you add it and open it.

IMG 1531

Here I have the the first podcast that I created.

IMG 1532

An Overview.

If you click on one of your podcast episodes, like I did above, you get the sub audio files that are part of that podcast episode.    On of the cool things is you can rearrange the sub-audio files for the podcast episode.  When you send the episode up to Micro.Blog’s servers, it stitches them together.  

But how do you add intro music, or zingers or other audio files that you didn’t record on the microphone to your podcast episode?

IMG 1537 

If you click on the + sign when you are editing a podcast episode, you can add a new recording to that episode or you can add a file.   Well adding a file is how you add music or a prerecorded opening or prerecorded ending.  

On my iPhone, when I click that Files button, I get the following “Locations” on my iPhone that I can open.  See below. 

IMG 1539

I am not sure why other cloud services are not being shown, like Dropbox or Google Drive. (Note that BitTorrent Sync is being shown in addition to iCloud Drive.)  You can add music from your iCloud file drive on your iPhone.  And then when you put that file in your podcast episode, you can drag that file to the opening or ending or somewhere else depending where you want it.

When you are editing an episode and you click on a file, you can do some rudimentary editing.  See below.

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Essentially you can split the file and also use a zoom button to look closer to the audio waves.  I suspect that the developer, Manton Reese, will add more editing features to this app if a lot of people sign up for the $10 plan for podcasting.

One feature I would really like to have is the ability for other audio apps to easily share to the Wavelength app. The share button on a lot of audio apps, like Ferrite, a great audio editing app, allow you to share a file to other audio apps.  Unfortunately, none of my other iOS audio apps can find Wavelength to share their audio file to the Wavelength apps.   Similarly, Wavelength doesn’t have a share button to make it easier to share the audio file to another audio app on iOS.  

Wavelength makes it really easy to create and post a podcast right from your iOS device.  For that reason, it would be great if Mr. Reese made it very easy to share files to and from the Wavelength app with other iOS apps. Then Mr. Reese wouldn’t have to add editing features on Wavelength.  One could use an app like Ferrite, which has many editing and multitrack features, and have it directly share to Wavelength.  Right now, the workaround appears to be to have another app like Ferrite record your podcast and share it to an iCloud folder that Wavelength can import.  But you can only import it into a podcast episode you already created.  You can’t import it into a brand new podcast episode.  The workaround is to create a few seconds of a new podcast, open it to edit and than add the new audio file from the iCloud and delete then the initial audio you recorded.  This isn’t ideal. But its a brand new app, and these type of basic features, like making it easy to important and export audio should be added.  

I should note that there is no easy way to save audio you created on Wavelength to another app. The only place you can send  it before you send it to Micro.Blog is a service in the cloud that cleans up your file.  Its called Auphonic.om and it gives you 2 hours per month of free audio file clean ups.  After that, it is $11 per month for 9 hours per month of audio clean up.  Basically, when you are ready to post your podcast episode to the your Micro.Blog account, and in settings you signed up for an Auphonoic account, Wavelength first sends the file to Auphonic.com which processes it and a few minutes later sends it back to Wavelength which then posts it to Micro.Blog.  

Main Settings for Wavelength in iPhone Settings

The main settings for Wavelength in the settings section of iOS are pretty limited  You can put off and on 1) allowing the app to use your microphone on the iPhone; 2) you can allow Siri and Search to use the Wavelength app; and 3) you can put on and off the cellular data to be used by Wavelength.  I am sure as this app matures Mr. Reese will put in more things into the settings.

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Posting to iTunes.

If you want to post to iTunes or other Podcast directories, you have to find the feed for your podcast.  Mr. Reese, answered my question regarding where I could find my podcast feed when I emailed the support for Micro.Blog.  Your feed is your URL for your Micro.Blog plus /podcast.xml.  It is that simple.   Here is my podcast feed. 

http://macsfuture.micro.blog/ podcast.xml

I submitted to iTunes and I am waiting for it to be approved.

Conclusion

Overall, this is a great service and easy way to podcast. I think it is definitely worth $10 per month. 

Are Services like Micro.Blog the answer to Problems like Facebook, Twitter and Fake News?

Recently, I have entered a Renaissance. Long after having abandoning blogging and podcasting, I have decided to start blogging and podcasting again. I was motivated listening to Mason Reece and Danial Jalkut, on their podcast, CoreIntuition. Both of them are long term developers on the Macintosh and iOS. Mr. Jalkut has long developed MarsEdit, which is a program on the Mac to blog and handling websites on different services.

For several years, I have listened to them talk about developing software and discussing the web and Apple. In recent years, Mr. Reece has discussed creating a web service called Micro.Blog. My understanding of this service is that it would be an open service on the Internet to micro blog, which is sort of like what you do on social networks like Twitter, and Facebook where you write short posts. One of the key difference between Mr. Reece’s project and Twitter and Facebook is that with his micro blog service the real customers would be the users and not advertiser. Mr. Reece pointed out that on Twitter and Facebook you don’t control your posts and work. Twitter and Facebook control your own work. And because they are free service, you are not really the customer, rather advertisers are the real customers as they are the ones who pay Twitter and Facebook.

So Mr. Reece created Micro.Blog, with the goal to create a service where the users are the real customers. It is free to use if you want to host it on your own WordPress blog (self-hosted). Alternatively, for $5 per month, his service, Micro.blog, gives you your own url sub-website and you can post your micro posts on that site.

Here is the key thing: By requiring users to pay $5 per month to have a sub-website on Micro.Blog, Mr. Reece is sending the message that the user is his real customer. And this is important, because we have seen that when these things are free, eventually the users are getting screwed. Twitter and Facebook are showing that when a social network is free, it can eventually became terrible for real users. Twitter in recent years has become filed with bots that post advertisement or worse, they post fake news. Similarly, Facebooks news feeds has been filled with creepy advertisements and of course fake news that possibly swayed the last presidential election. And now we find out that millions of users on Facebook had personal data take by entities for nefarious users. The answer is that social networks will be better off if there is a true cost to being a user.

When MySpace.com was at its zenith, Facebook was created and overtook it because MySpace had become a cesspool with junky accounts and Facebook offered quality. Facebook offered quality because you had to have a real identity. Initially you had to have a Harvard.Edu email account and later .Edu email accounts at other colleges and school. Facebook became the place where real identities had be used. This insured that real people and not fake accounts were in that social network. The problem with Facebook’s business model is that since it wasn’t charging users, it had to make revenue from advertisers. And to get advertiser, Facebook had to get more users, which resulted in Facebook making it easy for anyone to create an account, including fake accounts.  As Facebook grew its users, it grew its advertiser base.  And advertising has eroded the enjoyment of the service. Same with Twitter. Even worse, free for users meant that there is no friction for those who want to create bots and fake accounts to flood Facebook and Twitter. Free means a troll can open an account, and if its closed, it can open another account.

So the answer to creating a social network that doesn’t devolve may be what Mr. Reece has created. $5 per month is too great a cost for trolls and the creators of bots to flood Micro.Blog with users accounts. $5 per month helps keep the crud off of the social network. But it also not just about that. Micro.Blog is also about the movement to allow the users to control their own data. Mr. Reece has made it easy to use his micro blogging service for free on one’s own blog. But if you pay him to host it, he has made it easy to save your data and also to cross-post the micro posts to services like Twitter.

In the spirit of control, I have also hosted my main blog, MacsFuture.com on a web server hosting site, A SmallOrange and used WordPress software to set up the site. This way I can easily take my website to another web server host if I don’t like SmallOrange.com to host it.  Now I give up something by doing this. There are much larger users on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram than on Micro.Blog and those who come across my WordPress site. So I am likely to get fewer eyeballs looking at anything I post. But if we are going to take back the Web and keep it independent and in control of small users, we need to pursue sites like Micro.Blog. Sites that are not cynical about the user.

So let the experiment begin.

Posting to Micro.Blog With MarsEdit App On Mac

I recently signed up for a paid Micro.Blog account. Its address is MacsFuture.micro.blog.  In terms of posting to it, I would like to use MarsEdit on the Mac as you can post to multiple blogs with that app and I could then post to this WordPress blog and also to the Micro.Bog account.  So here is how to set up Mars Edit to post to your Micro.Blog account.

I figured out how to post to my Micro.Blog account through the MarsEdit app on the Mac.  The key is to generate an app token on your Micro.Blog account and use that as your password in MarsEdit.   Your Micro.Blog user name is the user name you put in Mars Edit.   Pretty cool.  Buried at the bottom of this Micro.Blog post is the information.

I Am Back Blogging!

After many years of not blogging, I am now back blogging.  This time, I am using WordPress.  I am hosting it on SmallOrange.  I hope to do a better job blogging about Apple, Apple products and various technologies and technology news.  Let’s hope I have the stamina to do it!